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Shabbat Parashat Vayechi 5776

P'ninat Mishpat: Introduction and Biography of the Noda BYehuda

After an extended period of presenting ideas of the Chatam Sofer on monetary disputes, we move on to a shorter series on the works of Rav Yechezkel Segal Landau, often called the Noda B’yehuda. (Although Rav Landau served as a dayan for many years, poskim do not usually publicize their rulings on cases in which they served as a dayan, but on questions asked by other rabbis. The Noda B’yehuda did not include many such cases in his reponsa.) Many view the Chatam Sofer and the Noda B’Yehuda as two of a kind. They were in the same basic time period (Rav Landau was around 50 years older), they were important rabbis of important communities at critical times, and the works of each are among the most respected and quoted by Acharonim.

Most of my information about Rav Landau comes from the introductions to the second volume of Noda B’Yehuda, by his sons, Rav Shmuel, the editor, and Yaakovka, who encouraged the project and wrote a longer piece. Yechezkel Landau was born in Apta in 1713, to Yehuda, a wealthy, scholarly businessman, and Chaya, the saintly daughter of the chief rabbi of Dubnow. In Rav Yechezkel’s own introduction to the first volume, he thanks Rav Yitzchak Isaac Segal, his teacher from age 11 to 13. During his adolescence, he moved to Brody to study there. By the age of 20 or so, the community of Brody appointed him as one of its main dayanim. Rav Yechezkel stayed in that position for about a decade, after which he was appointed the rabbi of Yampol. After a decade, in 1755, he was chosen as the chief rabbi of one of the most important Jewish communities and cities in Europe, Prague.

In Prague, the Noda B’Yehuda continued his local rabbinic duties. (His son praised him for not fleeing Prague before the Siege of Prague (1757) but staying and being of major help.) His reputation drew many promising Talmudic students to study with him, the most famous of whom was Rav Avraham Danzig, author of Chayei Adam. He also was a major spokesman on both halachic matters and questions of the time, such as the attitude toward Moses Mendelson and the Haskala movement. (While enjoying a broad base of knowledge that included sciences, the Noda B’yehuda was a strong opponent.) In one of his most famous rulings, he opposed autopsies except those related to a specific urgent need.

The Noda B’yehuda’s writings are a valuable part of any serious Jewish library. It is interesting that he picked titles to commemorate his parents. His work on several Talmudic tractates is named the Tzlach, abbreviation of “A Memorial for the Spirit of Chaya.” His monumental work of responsa, the Noda B’Yehuda (Known in Yehuda), is named for his father. He explained that the reason that he, Yechezkel, is known, is because he is a son of the illustrious Yehuda. He published the first volume in his lifetime. According to his son, it was a most aesthetic (in addition to brilliant) volume which he paid for with his own money and that he made no effort to profit from sales. It took 17 years after his death in 1793 for the second volume to be published. As both brothers wrote, Rav Shmuel was so busy as his father’s successor in Prague that he did not get around to editing the manuscripts his father gave him. Yaakovka and others from Brody told him firmly that the Torah world would not accept further delay. This volume includes notes and some responsa of Rav Shmuel. We will present selections from the Choshen Mishpat sections of both volumes. 
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