RIDBAZ (WILLOWSKI), JACOB DAVID B. ZEEB (known also as the Slutsker Rav):

Russian rabbi and commentator; born Feb. 7, 1845, in Kobrin, government of Grodno, Russia. He was successively rabbi at Izballin (1868), Bobruisk (1876), Wilna (1881), Polotsk (1883), Vilkomir (1887), and Slutsk (1890-1900). In the last-mentioned place he organized a yeshibah, in 1896, over which he took general supervision, appointing R. Isaac Zalmon Meltzer as principal. Ridbaz is the author of "Migdal Dawid," Talmudic novellæ, Babli and Yerushalmi (Wilna, 1874); "Ḥanah Dawid," novellæ on the treatise Ḥallah (ib. 1876); and "Teshubot ha-Ridbaz" (ib. 1881). But his principal work is embodied in his commentaries on the Talmud Yerushalmi, entitled "Ḥiddushe Ridbaz" and "Tosafot ha-Rid" (Piotrkow, 1899-1900). The former is a simple commentary on passages not satisfactorily explained by other commentators; the latter is more critical, and is written in the style of the Tosafot. Ridbaz freely used a copy of the Jerusalem Talmud which the Wilna Gaon had annotated. After studying the Jerusalem Talmud for thirty years and working steadily on his commentaries for seventeen years, Ridbaz began the publication of an edition of the Yerushalmi which included, besides his own, all the commentaries incorporated in former editions. The subscription fund being exhausted before the fourth section, Neziḳin, was completed, Ridbaz was persuaded to go to America (1900), where he succeeded in securing subscriptions for many sets of the work. Returning to Russia, he dedicated the section Neziḳin to his American patrons. The second time Ridbaz went to America he dropped his former name of Willowski and assumed the name of Ridbaz (="Rabbi Jacob David ben Zeeb").

The United Orthodox Rabbis of America, at their annual meeting in Philadelphia, Aug. 16-19, 1903, elected Ridbaz as the "zeḳan ha-rabbanim" (elder rabbi), and on Sept. 8, 1903, he was elected chief rabbi of the Russian-American congregations in Chicago. He endeavored to introduce order into the religious services of his congregations, but met obstruction and opposition on the part of a former rabbi, Ẓebi Simon Album, and his followers; not being able to withstand the persistent opposition, Ridbaz resigned his position ten months later. He next published "Nimmuḳe Ridbaz," a homiletical commentary on Genesis and Exodus (Chicago, 1904). This caused Rabbi Album to rejoin with "Debar Emet" (ib. 1904), in rebuttal of the allegations by Ridbaz. Album was in turn attacked by P. Gewirtzman in a pamphlet entitled "Aken Noda' ha-Dabar," in defense of Ridbaz.

After resigning his rabbinate Ridbaz traveled extensively through the United States, lecturing and preaching. On returning to New York he endeavored to establish a yeshibah on the European model, but found little encouragement. In 1905 Ridbaz left America for the Holy Land, where he intends to spend the remainder of his life.

  • Hebrew Standard, Dec. 14, 1900;
  • Eisenstadt, Ḥakme Yisrael be-Ameriḳa, pp. 38-40, New York, 1893;
  • American Jewish Year Book, 5665 (1905), p. 222;
  • Zeeb Kaplan, 'Edut be-Ya'aḳob, Warsaw, 1904.
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