Rabbi David Segal Halevi – the Taz

Rabbi David Segal Halevi, the son of Rabbi Shmuel, was born in Ludmir, in the region of Volhynia in 1586.

Still very young, he was known for his sharp mind and the depth of his intelligence. His reputation as a brilliant child prodigy spread quickly. At the age of 7, he knew Bava Kama, Bava Metzia, and Bava Batra by heart. His brother, Rabbi Yitzchak Halevi, took him and taught him Torah. His reputation reached the ears of Rabbi Yoel Sirkis, author of Bayit Chadash (Bach), who was then the Rav of Brisk in Lithuania, and he invited him to study in his renowned yeshiva. There he began to study with great diligence and progressed immensely, making a name for himself among the students of the yeshiva.

The Bach had a daughter named Rivka, a young educated girl who knew Tanach inside and out. One day, the Bach was with his students and told them that in the Rambam (Laws of the Sefer Torah: Chapter 7, Halachah 6), there is an allusion to the fact that in the Torah there are words that are 10 or 11 letters long. The Bach asked where such a long word in the Torah was, but no one had the answer. By chance, his daughter Rivka was in the room and heard the question. She jumped up and said, “In the book of Esther there is an 11-letter word. It is .*159$:(!%& [and the satraps]” (Esther 9:3).

The Bach, delighted by his daughter’s scholarship, said to her with a smile: “My dear daughter, you are lovely like the moon.” His student Rabbi David replied, “If she is lovely like the moon, the time has come to sanctify the moon” (a play on words between the sanctification of the new moon and marriage, which are designated by the same word). The Bach, who had his eye on Rabbi David for a long time, laughed at the joke and took him as the husband for his daughter Rivka. After the wedding, Rabbi David left his father-in-law’s house and settled in Krakow. In 1618 he became the Rav of the Potlitsha community, yet because it was a small town whose residents were poor, he himself lived in great poverty. After a few years, he became Rav of the city of Posen, where he stayed some 20 years.

In 1644 Rabbi David returned to Volhynia and became the Rav of the city of Ostrog. There he founded a large yeshiva, and numerous students from every corner of the country rushed to him. In Ostrog, he could live in tranquilly and write his great work Turei Zahav (Taz) on the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah. As soon as it was published, this book immediately spread to all yeshivas and was recognized as authoritative, which earned him universal recognition in the field of Halachah. Even to our day, the Taz is studied in all yeshivas and houses of study. All yeshiva students who want to receive Smicha (ordination) to become a Rav must know the commentary of the Taz on the Shulchan Aruch.

During that time, great catastrophes struck all the Jews of Poland. In 1648, the Cossacks and their cruel leader, Chmielnicki, rose up against the nobles of Poland. The first thing they did was to massacre Jewish men, women, and children.

When the murderers approached Ostrog, Rabbi David and all the Jews fled towards the Olik fortress and barricaded themselves behind its high walls. Because the town was in a state of siege for a long time, and because the enemy had already begun to breach its walls, all the inhabitants assembled together, with Rabbi David at their head, in the synagogue to pray and offer supplications there. Rabbi David prayed so much that he ended up collapsing from exhaustion and fell asleep. In a dream, he heard the following passage being read before him: “I shall protect this city, to save it, for My sake and for the sake of My servant David” (II Kings 19:34). Rabbi David awoke and said, “People of G-d, strengthen yourselves in prayer and supplication, for today G-d will show us wonders.” Hence the miracle occurred. All of a sudden the old canons inside the fortress, which had been completely out of service up to then, began to open fire and launched cannonballs on the enemy camp, terrifying them and making them flee for their lives.

Because of the troubles caused by the war, Rabbi David was forced to wander about, suffering greatly during his wanderings. He was he obliged to sleep with his family under the open sky more than once. Also during this time he encountered the Gaon Rabbi Shabtai Hacohen, author of the Shach, and stayed with him for three days. Even though the Shach had expressed different opinions than his own, and had contested his Halachic decisions, they made peace between themselves. The Shach wrote, “I welcomed him with great honors, truly considerable, and he also demonstrated very great respect for me, to the point of kissing me on the head.”

When the Cossacks’ rioting had abated, the Taz returned to the land of his birth and settled in Lvov, of which he became the Rav. His renown spread throughout the country.

Rabbi David wrote a commentary on the entire Shulchan Aruch. Several great rabbanim wrote their views and commented on his books, the best such commentary being by Rabbi Yossef, the son of Rabbi Yosef Teomim of Lvov, who in his book Pri Megadim explained all the difficult sections of Rabbi David’s work.

At the end of his life, Rabbi David still studied Torah day and night, this being more important to him than the entire world. One day a woman came crying to Rabbi David and begged him to find a cure for her only daughter, who was sick and dying. The Taz told her, “I am not a doctor, and I don’t perform miracles, but I can do this for you: Since today I explained a particularly difficult passage of the Tosaphot, I allot this explanation to her so that its merit may protect her.” The girl immediately began to feel better, and little by little she recovered completely.

Other than his works on the Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi David wrote another book entitled Divrei David, which explains Rashi’s commentary on the Torah.

Rabbi David was greatly respected by the people of his time and the scholars of generations that followed. Yet he himself did not seek honor, and in his responses he signed his name as David Hakatan. He respected everyone and paid great attention to not embarrassing even the simplest of men. People say that for his entire life, on Shabbat and festivals he kept to the practice of reciting Kiddush out of a prayer book. One day, Rabbi David revealed why he held so firmly to this practice. It was because among the guests that were sometimes at his home, there were some who didn’t know Kiddush by heart, and they could have felt hurt by having to read it out of a Siddur. Yet if the head of the household did so, there was no shame in imitating him.

Rabbi David lived more than 80 years. He died on Shevat 26, 1667.

Rabbi Yosef Shaul Nathanson, the Rav of Lvov, recounts that in his time, more than 200 years after the death of the Taz, his tomb was opened by mistake, yet his body was found to be intact, without a trace of decomposition.




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