Rabbi Ezekiel Landau, also known as the "Noda Biyehudah," after the title of his major work, was born in Opatow, a small town in Poland. He was fortunate in being the son of Rabbi Judah ben Zevi Hirsh Segal Landau, who, in addition to being considerably wealthy, was a learned man and an outstanding communal worker. Rabbi Judah was, in fact, the life-long president of the Opatow community and deputy of the "Council of the Four Lands." Thus the young Ezekiel became acquainted with the problems of Jewish communal life, and had, of course, every opportunity to receive a first class education. The life of wealth, honor and comfort that surrounded him did not in any way spoil him. On the contrary, the young Ezekiel at an early age loved his studies and proved that he possessed great mental gifts.
Ezekiel's first teacher was a great scholar, Rabbi Isaac of Vladimir, who soon recognized what an outstanding prodigy was sent to him for tutoring. Under his care, Ezekiel made excellent progress, and earned the praise and respect of eminent rabbis even before he reached the age of Bar mitzvah.
At the age of fourteen Ezekiel was sent to Brody, a famous center of Jewish learning in those days. During the next four years he spent all his time in study and scholarly discourse with the greatest Talmudists in that city.
At the age of eighteen, as was customary in those days, Rabbi Ezekiel married the daughter of a prominent Jew, Yakelko of Dubno. For a short time he stayed with his father-in-law, who fully provided for the young couple in order that the brilliant Rabbi Ezekiel could cotinue his studies undisturbed. But Rabbi Ezekiel's heart was in Brody, the gathering place of the scholars, and so he persuaded his father-in-law to move his entire house-hold to that city.
Hardly twenty years old, in the year 1734, Rabbi Ezekiel was elected to preside over the Rabbinical Court (Beth Din) at Brody. This was a rare honor and privilege, not usually bestowed upon comparatively so young a man. Rabbi Ezekiel distinguished himself as "Dayan" (member of the Beth-Din), a position he held for eleven years. During this time he rendered important decisions on the manifold questions, religious and social, pertaining to the Jew's daily life, not only of his own city, but of many other cities and communities, near and far. For Rabbi Ezekiel was recognized as an authority of the highest order. These "Shaaloth" (inquiries as to the practical application of the Jewish law under various circumstances and true life experiences) formed the bulk of his "Noda Biyehudah" published later.
From Brody, Rabbi Ezekiel was called to the rabbinate of the city of Jampol (in the year 1745). While serving in this community, he was called upon to give his view on a bitter controversy that threatened to divide the Jewish world. This controversy centered on a serious accusation made by Rabbi Jacob Emden against Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschutz. The latter was the chief Rabbi of Prague, an eminent scholar who was known equally for his piety and modesty. The former was an outstanding scholar zealot, who had quite a following of his own, and owing to his substantial wealth, he was very influential. Rabbi Jacob Emden openly accused Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschutz of issuing amulets (supposed to have miraculous healing powers) which contained favorable references to the famed and outlawed Sabbatbai Zevi. Implications of the accusation were terible, yet so zealous were some people and so afraid of the influence of the cursed Sabbathai Zevi that the accusation was accepted in some quarters, while the controversy raged everywhere, some siding with Rabbi Eybeschutz, some with Rabbi Emden. Finally, Rabbi Ezekiel was called upon to render his opinion on the matter, as he was recognized as an authority on both the Talmud and Cabbalah. Rabbi Ezekiel Landau expressed his faith in the integrity of so eminent a man as Rabbi Jonathan Eybescbutz, and did his best to heal the breach between the two parties. So tactful and sincere was his reply and appeal for peace that it immediately drew the attention of the whole Jewish world.
When the seat of the chief rabbinate of Prague became vacant, the leaders of the Jewish community of Prague invited the young rabbi of Jampol to accept the post in the leading Jewish community of Central Europe. This Rabbi Ezekiel accepted.
Thus Rabbi Ezekiel Landau was given an ideal field to use to the best possible advantage his great gifts as a religious and communal leader.
As might have been expected, however, there was a group of influential Jews in Prague who objected to the election of comparatively so young and inexperienced a man to this responsible position, but the newly elected rabbi soon won them over by his tactfulness and sincerity.
Rabbi Ezekiel Landau devoted a great deal of time to the Yeshivah of Prague, and under his influence it attained new fame and prominence. The most brilliant students of the Talmud began to flock to this Yeshivah, among them Abraham ben Jehiel Danzig, famous as the author of "Haye Adam."
Rabbi Ezekiel Landau was more than a teacher and scholar. He was a gifted Jewish leader whose influence was felt in all walks of Jewish life. The welfare of his people was always foremost in his heart. He never tired of his efforts to better the moral and religious life of his people. He also contributed much to the cordial relationship between Jews and non-Jews.
Rabbi Ezekiel became known as the "Praguer Rav," and Jewish rabbis and scholars from all over the world corresponded with him and sought his advice and guidance on various points of law and problems of daily Jewish life. The material for his "Noda Biyehudah" thus increased daily.
Rabbi Ezekiel Landau was a great patriot. His noble character, the honor he enjoyed from Jews and non-Jews alike, and his great patriotism won him the admiration of the court and government authorities. This enabled him often to intercede on behalf of his people with good results. When the old empress Maria Theresa died, Rabbi Ezekiel Landau delivered a eulogy which was so moving and eloquent that it was translated into German and distributed at the government's request.
As already mentioned, Rabbi Ezekiel Landau's major work was the collection
of Shaaloth-Uteshuvoth (legal inquiries and decisions) entitled "Noda Biyehudab." In this book are to be found inquiries and decisions concerning almost every phase of Jewish life. Even the government consulted him when they had to decide some questions concerning the religious law of the Jews.
In addition to the "Noda Biyehudah" ("Known in Judah"-a tribute to his father, whose name was Judah), Rabbi Ezekiel is the author of the following important books:
Tziyyun Lenefesh Hayyah (Memorial to a Living Soul), notes and commentaries on various tractates of the Talmud. This book is often referred to by the abbreviation TZeLaH.
Ahavath Zion (Love of Zion)-a book of sermons.
Derush Lezion (Sermon for Zion), which contains both sermons and notes on the Talmud.
Derush Lehesped (Eulogy on Maria Theresa).
Dagul Merevavah (Preeminent Above Ten Thousand)-notes on the Shulchan Aruch.
Mareh Yehezkel (Vision of Ezekiel)notes on the Talmud.
In 1793, at the ripe age of eighty, Rabbi Ezekiel Landau, known and recognized throughout the Jewish world, passed away. His passing was mourned not only by the Jewish community of Prague, which he had led and guided for thirty-eight years, but by the entire Jewish people, for in him they lost a real giant of the Jewish spirit.