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Rabbi Abraham Abele Gombiner

Rabbi Abraham Abele Gombiner

(5395-5443; 1635-1683)

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The author of the famed work Mogen Avrohom ("Shield of Abraham"), Rabbi Avrohom Abele, the son of Rabbi Chayirn Halevi, was born in the Polish town Gombin (Gombinnen), then belonging to East Prussia, Germany. His family-name Gornbiner, or Gombinner, refers to his birth place. He is also known by the family-name Kalisch, after the Polish town Kalisz, where he spent the greater part of his adult life as Dayan and Rosh Yeshiva of the town.

Abraham Abele was only a Bar Mitzva bochur when the terrible calamity, known in Jewish history as "Gzeros TaCh vTaT (the Massacres of the year 5408-5409) struck the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe. In those years (1648-9), the Cossacks, tinder the leadership of Bogdan Chmielnicki, revolted against the Polish nobility and landlords who had been oppressing the enslaved Cossack peasants. The Cossacks, however, found it easier to kill and plunder the defenseless Jews. They put to the sword and flame countless Jewish communities, and butchered untold thousands of Jews (some historians estimate as many as 300,000) during their bloody march through the Ukraine, Volhynia, Podolia, Poland proper, and Lithuania. Although the revolt of the Cossacks was temporarily halted by peace negotiations, the Cossack attacks continued with undiminished savagery for more than ten years. In the year 1655 (24 Tammuz, 5415), the great city of Vilna fell into the hands of the bloodthirsty Cossacks. They ravaged the city and carried out a mass slaughter of the Jewish inhabitants, giving them the choice of conversion to christianity or death. A number of Jews managed to flee from Vilna and surrounding towns and villages. Among the Jews who escaped was the famed Rabbi Shabse Cohen, author of the monumental commentary on the Shulchan Aruch Yoreh-Deah, named Sifsei Cohen, popularly known by its Hebrew initials "ShaCh," which are also the initials of the author. He was about thirteen years older than Rabbi Abraham Abele. In the same year the Cossacks also destroyed the Jewish community of Gonibin. Rabbi Abraham's father, Rabbi Chayim, was one of the martyred victims who died al Kiddush HaShem. Rabbi Abraham, then 20 years old, managed to escape. Soon thereafter, Rabbi Abraham was appointed Rosh Yeshiva and Dayan in the town of Kalisz, where the Rosh-Av-Beth-Din was the Gaon Rabbi Yisroel Schapiro. (Rabbi Yisroel, author of Beth Yisroel, a commentary on Yoreh-Deah, was the son of the famous Gaon Rabbi Noson Schapiro of Cracow, author of the renowned work, Megaleh Aittkos).

That Rabbi Abraham was appointed to the above-mentioned important posts while comparatively still quite young shows that he was already recognized at that age as an outstanding authority on the Talmud and the Halachah. Indeed, he was blessed with a brilliant mind and was a most diligent and educated student who spent all his time studying the Talmud and Jewish law, day and night. Soon he was recognized as one of the greatest Geonim of his generation.

Rabbi Abraham was not blessed with good health. As his son writes in the preface to his father's work, Mogen Avrohom, his father frequently suffered pain and discomfort. Nor could he forget the terrible tragedy that had overcome his family among countless other Jewish families. Yet he accepted it all with humility, without ever complaining, and did not let it affect his limitless devotion to his Torah studies and to his yeshiva students.

Rabbi Abraham Abele Halevi was not yet 30 years old when he completed his gigantic work, Mogen Avrohom, a profound and comprehensive commentary on Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim. But in his great humility, he did not want it published in his lifetime. His son Rabbi Chayim published it after his death. It was published (Dyrehfuth, 1691) together with an older famous commentary on Orach-Chayim, Mogen Dovid ("Shield of David"), by the famous Rabbi David Halevi, author of Turei-Zahav, popularly known as TaZ. Since then, the two comentaries have been reprinted many times under the title Moginei-Eretz ("Shields of the Earth") and it became the accepted form of printing this part of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach-Chayim) which deals with all the laws and regulations and customs pertaining to the Jew's everday life. In these standard editions, the Mogen Dovid appears on the righthand side (since the TaZ belonged to the preceding generation), and the Mogen Avrohom on the left-hand side, with the text of the Mechaber ("Author," meaning Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the Shulchan Aruch) in the center, similar to the standard editions of the Talmud with the Rashi and Tosfos commentaries.

Actually, Rabbi Abraham Abele had a different title for his work, calling it Ner Yisroel ("Lamp of Israel"). However, his son wanted to perpetuate his father's name more specifically in the title, as well as to link it with the commentary of the Taz, Mogen eavid, so he published his father's work under the title Mogen Avrohom.

Had this work been published under any name, and by itself, it would have also been recognized and accepted as authoritative. But after it had been published, with the approbations of leading Geonim and Rabbis of that generation, side by side with the Mogen Dovid of the famed TaZ, it certainly gained immediate and the most widespread recognition, and acceptance of Jews everywhere. These two commentaries overshadowed many other commentaries on Orach Chayim.

The Mogen Avrohom was composed in great depth, tracing the laws and customs to their origins in the Talmud and Poskim Rishonim (early post-Talmudic Halachah authorities). It often straightens out seeming differences of opinion among different authorities, arriving at a final decision. The references to the sources are sometimes very brief, or only hinted at, so that it requires considerable knowledge of Talmudic and Rabbinic literature to study the Mogen Avrohom in depth. At all times, the author treats every word of the Shulchan Aruch, as well as of the ReMA, with the utmost reverence, for these authorities are for him, as well as for other latter Poskim, the final and indisputable rule of the Halachah.

Not surprisingly, the Mogen Avrohom itself became the subject of commentaries. The best known of them is Machtzis HaShekel, by Rabbi Shmuel Halevi of Koeln, which is a great aid to understanding difficult passages of it. This commentary on the Mogen Avrohom therefore became popular among students of Rabbi Avrohom's work, and it usually appears on the same page with the Mogen Avrohom in the Moginei Eretz editions.

In addition to the above major work, Rabbi Avrohom Abele wrote other work, namely (2) Zayis Raanan, a brief but illuminating commentary on Yalkut Shimoni, published together with the Yalkut. (3) Shemen Sasson, sermons on the weekly Sedras of the Torah of which only a few of the first were preserved and published (Dessau, 5664). Both the above were published by the author's son Rabbi Chavim Gombinner and son-in-law Rabbi Moshe Yekusiel Kaufman (the latter also an outstanding Torah scholar and rabbi in the town of Kutna, amd author of Lechem HaPonim on Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De'ah. (4) A short commentary on Tosefta of Seder Nezikin, published by a grandson together with the second volume of Lechem HaPonim. (5) A commentary on Shulchan Aruch Even Ha'ezer, adding a list of Hebrew and Yiddish namess of both men and women, as they are properly spelled, which is very important in cases of a Get (divorce-document). (6) A collection of Dinim and Halachot pertaining to the other three parts of the Shulchan Aruch (namely, Yoreh De'ah, Choshen Mishpat and Even Ha'ezer) not covered by his major work on Orach Chayim. This was published as an addition to the above-mentioned commentary on the Tosefta (4), together with a number of Shaalos u'Teshuvos (Halachic inquiries and replies, usually called Responsa). (7) Chiddushim ("original insights") pertaining to the Talmudic tractates of Zevochini and Menochos which have not been published because they were not in the possesion of the family.

The "Mogen Avrohom" (as Rabbi Avrohom is popularly referred to) also composed a number of Piyyutim and Kinnos.

Rabbi Avrohom Abele, like his older contemporary, the Shach, did not reach a ripe old age. But in his comparatively short lifespan - less than 50 years - he accomplished so much that he gained a very prominnent place among the Gedolei Yisroel and Poskim achronim. In his great modesty none of his works was published in his lifetime so that no words of praise be inscribed on his tombstone. The inscription on his tombstone reads: "Here rests Rabbi Avrohom Abele Halevi, author of Sefer Mogen Avrohom and Zayis Raanon. May his Soul Be bound up in the Bond of Life."

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Anonymous Chicago December 19, 2011

Kozak Jews? Let’s not forget that prior the Khmel, there were thousands of Jewish Cossacks of Zaporizhia. There were even documents written in Hebrew (not torn and shredded holy books either) in the famous Zaporozhian Sich - the hub of all cossackdom during those days. Cossacks served alongside their brethren cossacks who were also Christian, Muslim, and even slightly pagan. One thing must be put straight, the majority of cossacks were a group of runaway serfs who fled serfdom from countless countries, and they formed a society of "free-men". When they fought other nations in battle, they fought as cossacks, but as soon as a certain amount of them killed Jews, it ceased being an act of cossackdom and became an act of aggression by an anti-semetic INDIVIDUALS. Being a german does not automatically make that person a Nazi, likewise being a cossack doesnt automatically make one a Jew-hater. Shalom i Za Zdroviya. Reply

Hillel Carmeli (Karmiol) Ramat-Gan, Israel December 15, 2008

Family Tree of Rabi Avrom Abebe Halevi My father's grandfather, Zvi Karmio, born in Roshpche in 1857, was the 7th generation of Rabi Avrom Abele Halevi Gambiner.
Is it possible to get the family tree from 1635 to 1857? Reply

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