Jewish History Soundbites

Rabbi Yitzchak Rubinstein & The Vilna Rabbinate Controversy

June 10, 2021

Though Vilna was known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania, it hadn't had an official chief rabbi since a dispute about the position ended in 1791. As a result of the Polish government requiring the hiring of chief rabbi in the 1920's, the Vilna Jewish community council hired Rav Yitzchak Rubinstein (1880-1945) as the official chief rabbi of the city. He had served as the official 'Rav Mitaam' government rabbi since 1910, and was beloved by the community to his leadership and activism during the First World War.

This appointment was made despite the fact that Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski was the undisputed Torah leader in Vilna and across the Jewish world, as well as serving as the unofficial chief rabbi for decades. This led to a bitter dispute which was to have a lasting effect on the community, as well as the wider scope of inter Jewish politics.

The Chofetz Chaim protested on behalf of the honor of Rav Chaim Ozer, and other protests followed. Though the dispute eventually calmed down, resentment remained. Rabbi Rubinstein himself ultimately escaped to New York at the beginning of the Second World War and passed away there in 1945.
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