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RAGOLER, ELIJAH BEN JACOB:

Early Proficiency.

Russian rabbi and cabalist; born at Neustadt Sugind, government of Kovno, in 1794; died at Kalisz Nov. 5, 1849; a descendant of Mordecai Jaffe through Ẓebi Hirsch Ashkenazi (Ḥakam Ẓebi). After Ragoler's boyhood had passed he studied the Talmudalone; and as he had never attended any yeshibah, his mind was free from casuistry ("pilpul"). He clung to the literal interpretation of the Talmud, preferring the commentary of Rashi, and often endeavored to understand the Talmudic text without the aid of any commentary whatever. Besides Talmudic literature, Ragoler devoted himself to the study of the Bible and Hebrew grammar, and, in addition, of Latin and German. At the age of twenty-one he turned his attention to the Cabala, and, after he had studied alone for some time, he went to Volozhin with the intention of continuing his investigations under Ḥayyim Volozhiner. He, however, remained only a short time at this place; and when he returned to his native town he was forced, by a reverse in his father's fortune, to accept a rabbinical office.

Ragoler was called to the rabbinate of Shat, government of Kovno, and in 1821 to that of Eiragola, in the same government, commonly known to the Jews as Ragola, whence his name, Elijah Ragoler. He remained in this place three years and then (1824) became rabbi of Viliampol-Slobodka, a suburb of Kovno. There he lectured on Talmud before a great number of students; and most of his pupils became rabbis. In the beginning of 1840 Ragoler was called to the rabbinate of Kalisz, where he officiated until his death. Although Kalisz was a larger town, his occupancy of the rabbinate brought him little satisfaction, so much did he miss his former pupils.

Defends Orthodox Judaism.

Ragoler was one of those enlightened rabbis who, in defending Orthodox Judaism against its adversaries, carried on the struggle with moderation. In 1844, when the Reform rabbis, under the leadership of Abraham Geiger, assembled at Brunswick for a conference, Ragoler was invited by Ẓebi Hirsch Lehren of Amsterdam to join the Orthodox rabbis in their protest. He accordingly, in a letter to Lehren, argued against the tenets of Reform rabbinism, but at the same time insisted upon the avoidance of violence and particularly of insulting words. He contended that it was not worth while to bring on a quarrel so long as his party was without particulars of the conference. Besides, he declared, insulting the Reform rabbis would only enrage them the more without profiting Orthodoxy. He contented himself with indicating the means of preventing the mass of the Jews from "falling into the net of Reform."

His Method of Study.

Although, as stated above, Ragoler studied Cabala, he did so only from a scientific point of view; he objected to its practise, detesting the writing and use of "ḳemi'ot" (see Amulet). The chief points of his method of study are: (1) never to tire one's mind with commentaries on Rashi; (2) after having studied a section of the Pentateuch, to study the Talmudic passages in connection with such section; (3) to teach children first the Pentateuch, then the Prophets and Hagiographa, and then, when their minds are ripe enough, the Talmud. In delivering his decisions he followed the Law strictly; he thus abolished many old customs which he considered to be contradictory thereto. His ordinances ("taḳḳanot"), the observance of which he strongly recommended, are very characteristic, e.g., that women in particular should not go to the river on Rosh ha-Shanah for the recitation of the "Tashlik" (he held that it would be well to abolish this custom altogether); that one should not recite the "ḳiddush ha-lebanah" under the open sky, nor on Yom Kippur and the Sabbaths following the Passover feast the piyyuṭim which occur before "Shema'. "

Ragoler left a number of writings, some of which were published half a century after his death by his son-in-law David Levitin, under the title "Yad Eliyahu" (Wilna, 1900), the work consisting of three parts: (1) "Pesaḳim," responsa on the four divisions of the Shulḥan 'Aruk; (2) "Sefer ha-Kelalim," an alphabetical index of Talmudical subjects; (3) "Ketabim," novellæ on the Talmudic themes, arranged in alphabetical order.

Bibliography:
  • Aryeh Löb Frumkin, Toledot Eliyahu, Wilna, 1900.
E. C. M. Sel.
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