Shneur Zalman Fradkin - Biography
Shneur Zalman Fradkin of Lublin (1830-1902), also known as the Toras Chessed (after his main work) or The Liader (after his place of birth), was a famous Chabad posek and gaon. He was a disciple of the third Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn (also known as the Tzemach Tzedek).
Fradkin was born in Liadi, the city of the founder of the Chabad movement, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, after whom Rabbi Fradkin was named. It is told that as a child Rabbi Fradkin was deaf until age three, and his first words consisted of reviewing one of Rashi's commentaries on the Targum Onkelos.
From all corners of the area people came to see the child prodigy, who already knew the entire Chumash with the commentaries of Rashi and Onkelos at the age of three. At the age of five he already knew several tractates of the Talmud thoroughly. At the age of eleven Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn would assign him questions in Halacha on the subject of the agunah, asking him to express his opinion.
After marrying, Fradkin traveled to study from Rabbi Eliyahu Yosef of Drivin, where he became a great scholar. He resolved not to be sustained from the position of rabbi, but after losing all his possessions, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn instructed him to apply for the position of rabbi in Polotzk, Poland, to which Fradkin was later appointed in 1855.
Rabbi Fradkin and the Rebbes of Chabad
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn gave Fradkin an honored position among his followers, calling him a gaon, and having him take part in matters of the Beth din. He said that Rabbi Fradkin was so knowledgeable that he knew how many times the letter vav appears in the Talmud.
Despite his tremendous memory, he would study the teachings of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn daily for three hours, saying that it is not possible to establish a bond with the Tzadik without studying his teachings daily.
Fradkin was also close with the fourth Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn, and he was one of the three geonim who appointed the Rabbi Shmuel to his position as Rebbe. Fradkin also gave semicha to Rabbi Shmuel (in addition to the semicha given by Rabbi Hillel Paritcher and Rabbi Yitzchak Aizik of Homil, also disciples of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn.
The fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, also held Fradkin in high esteem, and said of him, “even in the earlier generations he would have been considered a gaon!”
After staying in Polotzk for thirteen years, in 1868 Fradkin was appointed as rabbi of Lublin. This was a great honor, for only very few were allowed to be appointed as rabbis there.
His abandonment of Polotzk was regarded as odd. Some have suggested that this resulted from a parting of ways between him and the other Chabad Chassidim of the city, most of whom had adopted the path of Kapust, while Fradkin had continued his connection to Lubavitch, where Rabbi Shmuel Schneersohn had succeeded his father, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn.
While serving in Lublin he became close to Rabbi Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin, and they would study Hasidic philosophy for many long hours. Rabbi Fradkin served in Lublin for twenty years, and became one of the gedolei ha'dor, one of the great sages of the generation. Halachic questions were posed to him from all over the world—from New York, USA, to Melbourne, Australia. His genius was regarded as so great that even the Rogatchover Gaon traveled to learn from him.
In 1892 Fradkin expressed his desire to immigrate to Jerusalem, but his congregation prevented him from doing so. Fradkin “escaped” from Europe by using the pretext that he was traveling to healing springs. From there he traveled to Jerusalem, and only after his arrival did he send a letter of resignation to the community of Lublin.
He was greeted in Jerusalem by Rabbis Shmuel Salant and Jacob Saul Elyashar. Fradkin made set up a Chasidic Beth Din, led the Colel Chabad charity, and led the Tzemach Tzedek synagogue in Jerusalem.
When his first wife died, he married a lady named Yocheved and all the rabbinic leaders of Jerusalem took part in the wedding. Later Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin wrote to his son that it would be worthwhile for him to immigrate to Jerusalem if only to study from Fradkin.
Fradkin would receive written requests for blessings. It is told that if Fradkin would look the person in the face, this was a good sign, but if he would lay the note down on the table, it was not a good sign. It is also told that if someone would ask him for a blessing for a sick person, if he would respond "he will be healthy," this was a good sign, but if he would respond "he should be healthy," it was not a good sign.
Fradkin was a great posek, as can be seen from the testimony of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn: “I am busy and unable to respond ... pose the question to Rabbi Zalman of Polotzk (i.e., Rabbi Fradkin); you can rely on him.” Fradkin gathered the thousands of his responsa into his monumental work, Toras Chessed, published in two volumes (Warsaw, 1883, Jerusalem, 1909).
In the month of Adar, 5662, he declared to the astonishment of his students: “I can no longer tolerate this world of falsehood!” He died soon after, on 5 Nissan 5662 (1902), and is buried in the Chabad section of the Mount of Olives.
- ”The Gaon of Lublin”, Chananel, Kollel Chabad of Jerusalem.
- Promoters of Torah in the World of Chassidus, vol. 2, Rabbi Aharon Soroski, Pe’er.
- Chassidim Ha’Rishonim vol. 1, Yisrael Alfenbein, Kfar Chabad.