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ELIASBERG, MORDECAI B. JOSEPH:

Russian rabbi; born in Chaikishok, government of Grodno, Feb., 1817; died in Bausk, Courland, Dec. 11, 1889. His father-in-law, who had settled in Kovno as soon as Jews were permitted to dwell there, established him in that city as a dealer in grain and spices. Eliasberg acquired a knowledge of German, and made several business journeys to Riga. He there made the acquaintance of Max Lilienthal, and became interested in his educational schemes, the two corresponding for some time afterward. Following the advice of his erstwhile teacher, Kalischer, Eliasberg retired from business and devoted himself exclusively to rabbinical studies. In 1852 he became rabbi of Zezmer, government of Wilna, and remained there for six years, until his wife's illness forced him to return to Kovno. About 1861 he became rabbi of Bausk, where he officiated until his death, having declined the more important rabbinate of Suwalki, which had been offered to him in 1876.

When the Zionist movement began to spread in Russia, Eliasberg became one of its most ardent advocates. He gave his decision, as a rabbinical authority, permitting the colonists in Palestine to sow their fields in "shemiṭṭah" (fallow year), which gave rise to a heated controversy with the rabbis of Palestine and other opponents of colonization. Eliasberg's part in the discussion was conducted with mildness and broad-mindedness.

Of the twenty-four works which Eliasberg wrote on various subjects, only one, "Terumat Yad," a collection of responsa, was published during his lifetime (Wilna, 1875). His "Shebil ha-Zahab," which was published posthumously (Warsaw, 1897), deals, with questions of the day in a highly interesting manner, giving the truly Orthodox view on many important subjects. Besides being an eminent Talmudist, he was also a profound thinker and a diligent student of history. Eliasberg contributed to Hebrew periodicals, especially to "Ha-Maggid," usually signing his articles (Mordecai b. Joseph Eliasberg).

Bibliography:
  • Jonathan Eliasberg, Toledot Mordekai, prefixed to the Shebil ha-Zahab;
  • Aḥad ha-'Am (= Asher Ginzberg), 'Al Parashat Derakim, 2d ed., pp. 68-73, Berlin, 1902.
L. G. P. Wi.
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