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Families, Rabbis and EducationEssays on Traditional Jewish Society in Eastern Europe$
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Shaul Stampfer

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9781874774853

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: February 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781874774853.001.0001

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The Making and the Maintenance of the Image of the Gaon of Vilna

The Making and the Maintenance of the Image of the Gaon of Vilna

(p.324) Fifteen The Making and the Maintenance of the Image of the Gaon of Vilna
Families, Rabbis and Education

Shaul Stampfer

Liverpool University Press

This chapter details the development of the image of the Vilna Gaon, one of the best-known east European Jews. The Gaon left few disciples and a very problematic literary heritage. He wrote enigmatic notes rather than clear and readable comments on the Talmud, so that reconstructing his interpretation of a talmudic text is a difficult and arduous task. For this, and probably other reasons as well, he was not often cited. One consequence of this was that later generations could not even learn of his ideas secondhand. If the Gaon's works were not widely studied, how then was his memory preserved? In his lifetime, the Gaon had a very strong impact on a small circle of individuals close to him and a leading role in the Vilna community and region. Therefore, biographies seem to have had an important role in the maintenance of his memory. However, while they preserved his memory, they also helped shape it. Interestingly, one of the elements that seems to have been underemphasized in these biographies was the Gaon's opposition to hasidism.

Keywords:   Vilna Gaon, east European Jews, Talmud, talmudic text, Vilna community, Vilna region, hasidism

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