Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, known as the Chazon Ish, was considered to be one of the most important rabbinic voices in Europe and Israel in the period before World War II and its immediate aftermath. The name Chazon Ish was a pen name he used to publish anonymous halachic works in 1911. “Ish,” which means “man” or “person” in Hebrew, was an acronym for his Hebrew name Avraham Yeshaya.

Rabbi Karelitz was born on November 7, 1878, in Kosava, Russia, now Belarus. His father, Rabbi Shmaryahu Yosef, was the rabbi in Kosava and his mother, Rasha, was the daughter of Rabbi Shaul Katzenellenbogen. Young Avraham Yeshaya studied with the renowned Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk, and later returned to Kosava to study with his father.

After marrying Bashe Bei, Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya moved to the huge Jewish community of Vilna in 1920, and became very close with Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, the titular head of East European Orthodox Jewry at the time. Rabbi Grodzinski encouraged Rabbi Karelitz to move to the Holy Land, and with help and support from Palestine’s Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Abraham Kook, he and his wife (they never had children) immigrated to Palestine in 1933 and settled in Bnei Brak.

In addition to his total grasp of all facets of Torah, Rabbi Karelitz self-taught and mastered several scientific disciplines, including anatomy, astronomy, math and botany. Because he was not a Zionist, the Chazon Ish feared that a state led by secular Jews would threaten the Orthodox Jewish life that he and his followers practiced. The Chazon Ish supposedly met with Israeli Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, to argue for a draft deferment for Torah students. He cited the Talmudic passage where two boats simultaneously enter a narrow canal, the boat with the greater cargo goes first. He claimed that the traditional community was the older ship with greater cargo, and should be given deference.

The Chazon Ish, by virtue of his brilliance, charisma and wide acceptance, was one of the leading Torah voices in all of Israel, despite never holding any formal rabbinic position. He avoided the limelight, lived a very austere life, subsisting on his wife’s meager income, and avoided the religious political movements prevalent in the years before and after Israel’s independence in 1948.

The Chazon Ish’s yahrtzeit is today, the 15th of Cheshvan.

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