Rabbi Yehiel Heilprin is best known as the author of Seder Hadorotha comprehensive historical and biographical chronicle of the Jewish people.
He was born about the year 5420 (1660), and died about the year 5506 (1746) in the city of Minsk, in Russia. Neither the year of his birth nor the year of his death is known with certainty, because the bottom lines of his tombstone containing this information were worn away with time, and the Pinkas (Register) of the community of Minsk was lost during the FrancoRussian war (1812). The same is true of his son and successor Rabbi Moshe, who was laid to rest next to him.
Little is known of his personal life, except that he was a man of extraordinary knowledge of the Talmud, of the whole Talmudic literature, and of the Kabbalah, which is evident from his works. The famous Chidal, Rabbi Chaim David Azulai, in his celebrated biographical and bibliographical work, Shem Hagedolim, praises Rabbi Yehiel Heilprin, the Chief Rabbi of Minsk, in glowing terms: "...in the section of the Tannaim and Amoraim [of Seder Hadoroth], the author displays his knowledge of the Talmud and extraordinary erudition, for no secret escapes him... One who is familiar with [this work] will recognize that the Talmud Bavli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashim have been so mastered by him as if they were in his pocket. His long and tremendous introduction, and the Talmudical glosses following it, and the section of Tannaim and Amoraim, are wonderfully impressive...
Rabbi Yehiel Heilprin was the son of Rabbi Shlomo Heilprin, an outstanding and saintly scholar, who was the Chief Rabbi of the town of Sokolov, who was a descendant of the great Maharshal, who traced his family tree to Rashi, known to be a descendant of the Tanna Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar, the greatgrandson of Rabban Gamliel the Elder. In his Seder Hadoroth, referring to Rabbi Shlomo ben Yehiel Luria (the Maharshal), the author declares that he is in possession of a family scroll, tracing his descent, as described above, to King David himself.
The Seder Hadoroth is divided into three sections, or parts. The first part, Seder Yemoth Olam ("Order of World History"), gives a chronicle of the important events from the Creation of the world to the author's own time (to the year 5457) and the biographies and writings of Jewish leaders. The second part, Seder Tannaim Veamoraim, lists in alphabetical order all the teachers of the Mishnah (the Tannaim) and of the Talmud (the Amoraim), and quotes the sources and passages in both the Talmudim (Bavli and Yerushalmi), as well as in the Midrashim, and other sources, which refer to the lives and teachings of the Sages of our people. The third part, Seder Mehabrim v'Seder Sefarim, gives an alphabetical list of all Jewish authors since the completion of the Talmud, together with their writings, as well as a bibliography of Rabbinic and Hebrew literature for the same period. It also contains Tikkunei Hashas (glosses to the Talmud), with corrections of the names of the Sages incorrectly mentioned in the printed editions of the Talmud. This work was published after the death of the author (in the year 1769, in Karlsruhe), and has since been published in many and revised editions. His Talmudical glosses were incorporated in the Vilna edition of the Talmud in 1880.
In addition, Rabbi Yehiel Heilprin is the author of several other works in the field of Rabbinics and Kabbalah, including a dictionary of Hebrew terms and concepts, called Sefer Erchei Hakinuyim, published in Durenfurt in 1806, and several others which remained in manuscript.
Rabbi Yehiel Heilprin lived to a ripe old age of about 86 years. In addition to being the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community of Minsk, he also headed the well known Minsk Yeshiva, where he was greatly revered for his scholarship and saintliness.