Few leaders so capture the imagination of their people that their reputations, even their legends, continue to grow generations after they are gone. The Chafetz Chaim -- Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan of tiny Radin, Poland -- was such a man.
He transcended titles, movements, regions, factionalism. Revered by all, he was consumed by two loves: for his Maker and for his people. He lived for nearly a hundred productive, selfless years, and during that time he was teacher and guide to four generations. Scholars respected him as a phenomenal sage, gnarled laborers regarded him as a witty friend and neighbor, indigent students loved him as a surrogate father.
He died in 1933, but his imprint on Jewish posterity intensifies steadily. Halachist, Talmudist, ethicist, educator, leader, author, innovator, diplomat, saint -- the Chafetz Chaim did so many things so well that the range of his activity and achievement is mind-boggling.
For decades, the monumental work of Rabbi Moses M. Yoshor has been the definitive biography of the saint and sage of Radin. Rabbi Yoshor was not only a student of the Chafetz Chaim, but was also close to the family. He collected biographical material on his great mentor and began to commit it to writing shortly after the Chafetz Chaim’s passing.
Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, the world-renowned sage of Vilna who was the Chafetz Chaim’s most intimate contemporary, gave warm praise to Rabbi Yoshor’s book. He wrote that the author had succeeded in capturing the essence of the great gaon and tzaddik, and in presenting the reader with an accurate portrait of a man who inspired love and reverence for nearly a century.
First published in Yiddish in 1937 and considerably enhanced in a 1946 edition, the biography was published in Hebrew in 1959 with much additional material. Rabbi Yoshor’s classic continues to be the sourcebook about the Chafetz Chaim’s life. Filled with heartwarming vignettes and memoirs of the Chafetz Chaim’s contemporaries, it is an inspirational slice of Eastern European Jewish life as well as a major contribution to the history of the period. The seeds of much of today’s Jewish life were planted in the Poland, Lithuania, and Russia of the Chafetz Chaim. And those seeds were watered and nurtured by him, his colleagues, and disciples.
This is a masterpiece that has stood the test of time and -- in this new English version -- will enrich countless Jews for years to come.