Yechiel Michel Epstein

From Academic Kids

Yechiel Michel Epstein (1829-1907), often called "the Aruch ha-Shulchan" (after his main work, Arukh HaShulkhan), was a Rabbi and posek (authority in Jewish law) in Lithuania. His surname is often preceded by ha-Levi, as he descended from a family of Levites.


Yechiel Michel Epstein was born into a family of wealthy army contractors for the Czarist Russian army in Babruysk (presently in Belarus). His mother was the sister of Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (the Netziv), who would become the rosh yeshiva (head) of the Volozhin yeshiva. (Berlin was later to marry a daughter of Epstein, after being widowed of his first wife.)

Epstein studied Torah locally, and was encouraged to do so by the town's rabbi and his parents (the concept of an out-of-town yeshiva was only slowly gaining ascendance). After his marriage he received semicha (rabbinic ordination) and accepted his first position.

Epstein became the rabbi of Novozypkov (east of Minsk), a town with a large number of Hasidic Jews, mainly adherents of Chabad Lubavitch. He visited the rebbe of the time Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (the Tzemach Tzedek), and forged a close relationship with him; this would increase his statue in Hasidic circles.

Nine years after accepting his position in Novozypkov, in 1863, Epstein was appointed as the rabbi of Novogrudok (or Novogradok, south of Minsk), where he would serve for 34 years, until his death. Here, he was recognised as a posek (decisor of Jewish law), and he was to compose most of his writings in Novogrudok.

Epstein died and is buried in Novogrudok. His son, Rabbi Baruch Epstein, was a bookkeeper by profession but produced a number of scholary and popular works.


  • Or li-Yesharim (a commentary on the classic work Sefer ha-Yashar, attributed to the Tosafist Rabbi Yaakov ben Meir, Rabbeinu Tam)
  • Arukh HaShulkhan (see above);
  • Arukh HaShulkhan he'Atid (Laying the Table of the Future) - a parallel work to Arukh HaShulkhan summarising and analysing the laws that will apply in Messianic times; this work became more relevant when Jewish farming communities were re-established in Israel, since many agricultural laws are covered in this work;
  • Mical ha-Mayim - a commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud;
  • Leil Shimurim - a commentary on the Haggada;


  • Chaim Shapiro. The Aruch HaShulchan. In: "The Torah Personality", ed. Rabbi Nisson Wolpin. Brooklyn, New York: Mesorah publications, 1988. ISBN 0-89906-860-X.

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