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Rabbi Hillel Mileikovsky

R. Hillel Mileikovsky, "Ha-Gaon from Salant" (1821-1899), was born in Zaretchye, Vilna suburb. His father, R. Zvi was "shochet uvodek" known for his outstanding knowledge of Torah. R. Hillel began his studies early, and very quickly he obtained reputation of an expert on Torah because of his outstanding intelligence, wonderful memory and persistence in studying. At the age of 13 he married a daughter of rich Vilna resident, and for next 10 years he lived in his Fther-in-Law's house. The most of his day he used to spend in Zaretchye beit-hamidrash. For long hours he was learning various issues of Torah and Talmud, mostly in standing position. His companions were Vilna rabbis Bezalel Ha-Cohen and Shmuel Liovtzer, and R. Alexander Moshe Lapidot, the rabbi of Rasseinai. In 1840 the new star began to shine on the Talmudic sky of Vilna-R. Israel Salanter which instantly found many followers and disciples for his teaching of musar, R. Hillel among them. Upon his request, R. Israel chose Zaretchye beit-hamikdash as his place of studying and teaching. His further studies R. Israel did in Volozhin yeshiva "Etz Chaim" which at that period was headed by Rav Yitzele. Very quickly he earned love and high esteem in the eyes of the rabbi and his disciples, and was nicknamed "the illui from Zaritza".

R. Hillel began his rabbinical career in 1841 in Krevo, near Volozhin, there he served as rabbi for 6 years. After Krevo, upon recommendation of his teacher R. Israel Salanter he moved to Salant to take the position of this town's rabbi. He was known for expertise in dinei mamanot, the laws of commerce, and numerous merchants and financiers came for his advice or asked him to resolve their arguments. His just and clever reasoning was well known, and the earl, the local ruler, often asked for his advice. Once R. Hillel was accused upon delation to the authorities made by some rich residents unsatisfied with R. Hellel's decisions. But when the specially appointed commission came to Salant for investigation, the earl's evidence of R. Hillel honesty and justice caused all the charges against him to be cleared and the delators themselves were sent to jail. After 18 years of sitting on Rabbi's chair in Salant he moved (in 1865) to Ponivez, the district center, to occupy the same position and some years later came to ancient Shklov to be its rabbi. In this period he was invited to serve a rabbi of Mogilev and Rusiian-Polish Jewish community in Paris, but he declined these tempting proposals.

From Shklov R. Hillel moved to Chislavichi which wished to adorn itself with a prominent rabbi. It was after R. Yehoshua Horowitz, a brother of R. Eleazar Moshe Horowitz of Pinsk lost all his property and desperately searched for rabbi's position. Then R. Hillel stood up and left his chair for him. R. Hillel served the rabbi of Chislavichi for about 8 years (1882-1889), while his major concern were the Torah studies which he raised to new heights. From Chislavichi he moved to Mstislavl, the district center, which wished to have a rabbi known for his expertise in Torah., and there he spent the last 10 years of his life.

R. Hillel was known as outstanding communal worker. Either in Chislavichi and in Mstislavl he worked for recovering the Jewish communities after these towns were on fire. Together with R. Eliyahu Levison from Kratinga, with the help of special messenger whom R. Elyahu held in St. Petersburg, they tried to intercede before the authorities when the Jews were in danger and thus to prevent upcoming calamities. He was also in charge for donations for Eretz Israel all over Belarus, and big amount of money was collected by him for this sacred aim. He was considered one of Russia's foremost rabbis, and in 1894 was chosen as a member of the rabbinical commission, the sittings of which he attended in St. Petersburg. He left a manuscript work which his grandson, Moses Mendel of Wilna, undertook to prepare for publication. Several of his responsa are published in R. Simon Zarkhi's "Nachalat Shim'on".


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