Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chayut
Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chayut, known as the Maharatz Chayut, merited three crowns: The crown of Torah, the crown of greatness, and the crown of a good name. Yet he also merited being crowned with the people’s love. The people appreciated and loved its Rav with a very great love indeed. As for him, he was as humble as he was great, welcoming everyone with kindness and always being the first to say hello. He was always ready to offer his help to whoever was in need and his home was open wide to all, which is why everyone respected and loved him.
The son of Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch was born in Brody, Galicia during the month of Kislev 5566 (1805). He was an only son, and his father, who was wealthy and educated, taught him the ways of Torah and wisdom. Thanks to his intellectual gifts and great diligence, as a boy Tzvi Hirsch succeeded in every subject, be it in sacred matters (Tanach, Talmud, and the Poskim), foreign languages, or the sciences.
By the age of five he knew the Torah and early prophets by heart, and by the age of 11 he was studying with the greatest rabbis of his generation. He acquired an immense knowledge of Gemara and meticulously studied the works of Ramban, which he knew in detail. When he turned 13, he was already exceptional for his age.
At the age of 22 he received semichah (authorizing him to make Halachic decisions) from the Gaon Rabbi Zalman Margaliot of Brody, who loved him dearly. Great honors were bestowed on Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch when he became the Rav of Zolkiew, and when he arrived in town everyone went to welcome him with great joy, acknowledging him as their Rav and Av Beit Din. The town of Zolkiew was a large Jewish center, and 17 communities were under his jurisdiction. He quickly became famous as a Rav who was very learned in Torah and very knowledgeable concerning the affairs of the world, as a man who was extremely intelligent and pleasant to speak to. He always knew the proper Halachic response to give, and his words of wisdom spread to all segments of the community.
One story goes that when he accepted to become the Rav of Zolkiew, he was given a meager salary that did not allow him to sustain his family. After a year, he addressed the leader of the community and asked for a raise to be able to devote himself to Torah without having to worry about material concerns.
The community leader replied, “I’m surprised at the Rav’s behavior. Should a man as great as he is in Torah also want to profit from the good things of this world, just like one of us?”
Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Chayut replied, “What do you think – that the Holy One, blessed be He, went to the trouble of creating good thing of this world only from the ignorant and unlearned?”
Another story concerning Rabbi Tzvi states that one day he was questioned about a certain wealthy man (who was very wicked) because he was eating a fine meal in the middle of Tisha B’Av, a meal consisting of fish, meat, and all sorts of delicacies. The Rav replied, “For a wicked man such as him, this meal is the greatest of sufferings.”
“So as a result,” one asked, “should he also drink a glass of wine during this meal, for then he will have fully carried out the mitzvah of mortifying oneself?”
“At that point,” the Rav retorted, “his life would be in danger, and nobody is obligated to go to that extent to mortify himself.”
The Maharatz Chayut wrote many important works, and his commentary on the Babylonian Talmud is well known. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch was 29 years old when he first published his books. The first that he had printed was Torat HaNeviim, in which he shows that G-d’s Torah is perfect, eternal, and immutable. This book made a tremendous impression on the Torah world. Next came Ateret Tzvi, Mishpat HaHora’ah, Tiferet L’Moshe, Darchei Moshe, and many others. Much of his works has been translated into several languages. He also wrote the Responsum of the Maharatz, and in his answers we see that he was in contact with the greatest of his generation, such as Rabbi Moshe Sofer (the author of Chatam Sofer) and Rabbi Shlomo Kluger (the Rav of Brody). Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch published all his works within 14 years, from the age of 29 to 43.
The Maharatz Chayut did not live exclusively within books. He was also very active with the needs of the community and he fought G-d’s battles. During his time the Reform movement began to spread in Germany, and certain people wanted to “update” the Jewish religion by permitting things that our fathers and forefathers had always forbidden. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch wrote a book entitled Maamar Minchat Kanaut (“An Article on the Jealousy Offering”), in which he described this movement using an in-depth approach and revealed the evil intentions of the Reformists. He demonstrated such zeal for the religion of Israel and its holy men, and for Zion and Jerusalem (which the Reformists had erased from their prayer books), that he called the leaders of the movement “accursed criminals.” He arrived at the conclusion that “they modified the fundamentals of the religion. Without a doubt, they have done so because they believe in nothing.”
Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch remained in Zolkiew for 29 years. In 5612 (1852), he was appointed as Rabbi of the large city of Kalish, but he only stayed there for three years, during which time he suffered greatly from the Russian authorities. He also suffered from people who did not understand him, and all these troubles made him ill. Under the orders of physicians, in the summer of 5615 (1855) he went to the springs of Marienbad to treat his ailments. There his illness became worse, and he returned to Lvov, dying there on the first day of Heshvan, 5616 (1855) at the age of only 49. He is buried in Lvov.
Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch lived a short, difficult life, yet it was rich and potent in good deeds and creativity, full of substance. All those who study Torah mention the name of the Maharatz Chayut with great respect, awestruck by his holiness. Indeed, his memory is a blessing for all.