The Pillar of Volozhin: Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin and the World of Nineteenth Century Lithuanian Torah Scholarship

The Pillar of Volozhin: Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin and the World of Nineteenth Century Lithuanian Torah Scholarship

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Gil Perl

Series: Studies in Orthodox Judaism
ISBN: 9781936235704 (hardcover)
Pages: 294 pp.
Publication Date: March 2012

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The work of Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, the Neziv, ranks amongst the most often read rabbinic literature of the nineteenth century. His breadth of learning, unabashed creativity, and penchant for walking against the stream of the rabbinic commentarial establishment has made his commentaries a favorite amongst rabbinic scholars and scholars of rabbinics alike. Yet, to date, there has been no comprehensive and systematic attempt to place his intellectual oeuvre into its historical context—until now. In the Pillar of Volozhin, Gil Perl traces the influences which helped mold and shape the Neziv’s thinking while also opening new doors into the world of early nineteenth-century Lithuanian Torah scholarship, an area heretofore almost completely untouched by academic research.


Gil Perl (PhD Harvard University) is the Dean of the Margolin Hebrew Academy/Feinstone Yeshiva of the South, a Prek-12 private school serving the Jewish community of Memphis.  He has earned rabbinical ordination from Yeshiva University and sits on the editorial board of Ha-Yedion, RAVSAK’s journal of Jewish education, as well as the advisory council of the Institute for University-School Partnership at Yeshiva University. 


No serious biography of Netziv exists; but Gil S. Perl’s The Pillar of Volozhin, a revision of the author’s Harvard doctoral dissertation, not only sheds light on the rabbi’s intellectual development but also identifies a key historical watershed for the Litvish intellectual elite.…Much of the contemporary yeshiva leadership believes it is following Jewish tradition by focusing narrowly on talmudic learning to the exclusion of other fields of knowledge and diverse points of view. In this perceptive book, Gil Perl reveals just how recently this assumption emerged.
— Lawrence Grossman, director of publications at the American Jewish Committee, Jewish Ideas Daily
Through careful precise nuanced textual analysis, coupled with familiarity with the broad canvas of early modern rabbinic creativity and Lithuanian Haskalah, Perl elucidates, in particular, the originality and significance of nineteenth century Lithuanian midrash commentary and provides very important correctives to the work of scholars who have previously written on this subject. It is a major contribution to the field.
— Jacob J. Schacter, University Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought, Yeshiva University