R. Yitzchak Isaac ben Dov Ber Krasilschikov (1888 – 1965), also known as the Gaon of Poltava, wrote a dual-commentary on the Yerushalmi, in Moscow during the years 1952 – 1965.
Before World War II R. Krasilschikov learned under R. Elijah Baruch Kamai the rosh yeshivah of Mir Yeshiva. In 1926 he published in Poltava the first volume of his commentary on the Rambam, Tivuna, the last Jewish religious work published in communist Russia. During the war he managed to avoid the Nazis by residing in Siberia and afterwards he settled in Moscow.
His commentaries on the Yerushalmis were written in secrecy due to the fear and oppression of the Communist regime which had outlawed the study of Torah and whose violators were subject to severe punishment and exile. The work of R. Krasilschikov was done without the benefit of any formal academy and with very few reference works. It is reported that he did not even have a complete set of Talmud Bavli.
On May 12, 1965, R. Levin, the chief Rabbi of Moscow, asked R. Tzvi b. R. Yaakov Dovid Bronstein of the Al Tidom Association to accompany him to visit R. Krasilschikov in the hospital saying, come quickly, he is deathly ill and his hours are numbered.
At the hospital, R. Krasilschikov confided to R. Bronstein that beneath his cushion is the second volume of his manuscript, Tivuna on the Rambam. However, he cautioned R. Bronstein to be very careful when he removes the manuscript; he feared that some of the nurses were secret agents of the K. G. B.. He then whispered to R. Bronstein that beneath the cushion is also a thermometer and that when he removes the manuscript from beneath the cushion it should appear as if he is removing the thermometer. R. Bronstein waited until there were no nurses present. With one hand he reached beneath the cushion to extract the thermometer and with the other he removed the manuscript which he promptly placed in his sock around his leg.
R. Krasilschikov asked R. Bronstein to shake his hand and assure him that he would publish the manuscript. R. Bronstein responded that he cannot guarantee that he will be successful in smuggling the manuscript out from behind the iron curtain, but that if he does manage to get it out of Russia he commits to publishing it. In 1976 R. Bronstein was able to keep his word and fifty years after the first volume of Tivuna was printed in Poltava the second volume was printed.
During that same meeting R. Krasilschikov, also confided that he wrote a dual commentary on the Yerushalmi that will make it easy for those who wish to study the Jerusalem Talmud. The twenty volumes containing some twenty thousand pages were, at that time, hidden in his daughters houses. On the following day, on May, 13, 1965 R. Krasilschikov passed away.
R. Bronstein made many attempts to smuggle the manuscript out of Russia. However, on June 5, 1967, R. Bronstein was arrested at the airport in Kiev, declared persona-non-grata, deported from the country and was forbidden to enter any soviet controlled state. After he was no longer permitted to enter the Soviet Union he continued his efforts to smuggle out the manuscript through intermediaries.
During the first attempt to smuggle out the manuscript all twenty thousand pages were microfilmed and brought to the American Embassy in Moscow where they were to be taken out the country via diplomatic pouch. However, on the night before they were to be flown out, a fire broke out on the eight floor of the American Embassy and the microfilm were destroyed.
Finally, on the 17th attempt the first of the 20 volumes of the manuscript was successfully smuggled out of Russia by R. Yaakov Pollack, the Rabbi of Congregation Shomrei Emunah of Borough Park, in Brooklyn, New York.
In 1980 the Mutzal Meesh Institute, under the auspices of R. Bronstein of the Al Tidom Association published in Bnai Brak, tractate Berakhot of the Yerushalmi (Library of Congress number 79-83518). This volume, edited by a team of scholars headed up by R. Shacna Koliditzki, includes the text of the Yerushalmi which is surrounded by the dual commentary of R. Krasilschikov titled Toldos Yitzchak and Tivuna. The Toldos Yitzchak commentary is a clear and lucid explanation of the Yerushalmi while Tivuna is a more detailed discussion of issues in the Yerushalmi that also contains emendations to its text.
Also included are the commentaries of R. Eleazar Azkari (Perush Mibal Sefer Haredim), the Gr”a (as editied by R.Shmuel Luria of Koenigsburg, in 1858), and the commentaries of the brothers-in-law R. Zev Ettinger and R. Yosef Shul Nathanson (Ner Maaravi) and others. The back of the volume (and the following volume) also contain the dual commentary of R. Moshe Margolis, as well as that of the Ridba”z, R. David Darshan and all the other popular commentaries on the Yerushalmi.
From 1983 – 1985 Lawrence H. Schiffman (Director of Undergraduate Studies, Chairman, Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies) was the project director for the Mutzal MeEsh Institute of the Al Tidom Association during which time he received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities for the publication of the Krasilschikov Commentaries to the Palestinian Talmud.
The printing of the Yerushalmi with the commentaries of R. Krasilschikov is an on-going effort which is currently under the auspices of R. Chaim Kanyevsky and R. Berel Weintraub,. The entire Order Zeraim has been published in two sizes (9 ½ x 13 ½ and 6 ½ x 9 ½) as follows: Berakhot (two volumes) in 1980, Peah in 1985, Demai in 1988, Kilayim in 1989, Sheviit in 1982, Terumot in 1987, Maaserot and Hallah in a single volume in 1991, Maaser Sheni in 1991, Orlah and Bikkurim in a single volume in 1995. I understand that tractates Shabbat and Eruvin have also been published but I have not yet seen them.
To order this set or for more information you can contact the Al Tidom Association directly at:
Al Tidom Association
3825 Oceanic Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11224
As time passes, the commentary of R. Krasilschikov is being recognized as the best, clearest, and most straight-forward explanation of the Yerushalmi. When the publication of the entire commentary is complete there is no doubt that it will stimulate the study of the Yerushalmi and that it will become the preeminent and predominant reference source for all those, throughout the world, who study the Yerushalmi.
R. Krasilschikov is survived by two daughter who currently live in Brooklyn, New York.
From the Preface to Masechet Berachot of the Mutzal Me’esh Yerushalmi, by Rabbi Harry Bronstein.
Translated by Arnold Robbins, on August 8, 1994, for the occasion of his siyum on Yerushalmi Berachot.
The day on which appears the Yerushalmi with the commentaries Toldos Yitzchak and Tevunah–the works of a great man the true giant R. Yitzchak Isaac Krasilschikov who was known in the Torah World as the Gaon from Polatva– is a day of rejoicing and happiness for teachers and students and for all who are involved in Torah, including all who love Torah and hold it dear, who rejoice and look forward to the raising of its crown in honor.
The collection of Torah Books is full to overflowing, and it continues to grow from day to day with the appearance of new S’farim and even so, no-one who wishes to know Hashem’s word and who loves Torah ever said “It’s enough for me with the old ones, why do I need the new ones?” Just the opposite. Each new Sefer is received with love and joy and unbounded happiness. Chazal have said, “And you shall grow great in the midst of the land (VaYigdu). Just as fish that grow in the water, when a single drop falls from above, they receive it with thirst as one who has never tasted water, so are B’nai Israel who grow in the water of Torah, when they hear a new word of Torah, they receive it with a thirst like one who has never heard Torah before in his life.” [Beraishit Rabah 97]
And so, if the appearance of each new book is a holiday for the Rabbis, how much more so, this work whose effect will be very great, through its commentary that is clear and the wide understanding of the author, and the comments of the great commentators who have preceded him. It is written in a clear language and a smooth expression. Through it the gates of the Yerushalmi will be opened wide to all whose soul desires Torah to learn the Talmud Yerushalmi in the same way that he learns the Talmud Bavli. (As the Gaon R. Moshe Feinstein points out in his Haskama, “this is a commentary, page by page that brings light to the eyes and it is made to lighten considerably, as the author wished, the learning of the Yerushalmi.”) That Tzadik, the author, went to so much trouble, since the Torah of the Yerushalmi is placed in a locked box, and few are the people who are involved in it, “because the commentators that commented and explained the Yerushalmi, in their commentaries, they made it into a work for the privileged few. Only those who ‘filled their stomaches’ [are exceedingly well versed] with Shas and Poskim were able to understand their commentaries. They used few words and little hints. The opposite of Rashi’s commentary on the Talmud Bavli, that made it into a book that all who learned the Oral Torah could understand all that is in it. But the Yerushalmi, with its commentaries, remains a work for great Talmidei Chachamim, that from generation to generation grow fewer in number.”
There is a third reason [to rejoice in the publication of this work], the book was written entirely under the heavy yoke of the land of Russia beneath the communist rule that enacted difficult decrees to destroy Torah from Israel, decrees much harsher than those of the Greeks and Romans in their times. They used any excuse to uproot the eternal tie between Israel and the Torah. Human speech lacks the ability to describe the difficulties and dangers in which were placed those who toiled in Torah. In conditions like these, the author wrote his work, created a monumental creation (like a citadel) that amazes all who look into its depths with its clarity. It would have been amazing if it would have been written under relaxed conditions and intellectual stimulation with the closeness of peers and interchange with students. So how much the more so, that this was written in conditions of loneliness, no students, no peers, few S’farim and in a situation of danger and continual fear, day and night–is there a wonder greater than this? Is there a clearer testimony than this to the eternal covenant between Israel and its holy Torah, that all the evil peoples of the world have not been able to destroy it?
The Gaon put his life into his work, from a strong hope and faith that the merit of Torah would stand up for him and that the work would come to print and affect the spreading of the learning of the Yerushalmi. To this he gave his life, even though in the course of nature, there did not seem a shade of a possibility that his goal would ever come to pass. That even for Torah manuscripts, the government had ‘given its eye for bad’ and not just printing them was forbidden, but even their possession was considered illegal. Anyone found to have Torah manuscripts was likely to be killed or at the least subjected to a difficult exile with conditions that made it like death. The fact that this manuscript, which is incredible in volume, was preserved in its entirety is an open miracle.
Also, its removal from the borders of Russia was accompanied with open miracles. Its existence was made known to me by the author himself when I visited him on the last day of his life (2 Eyar, 5725) in the hospital in Moscow. I was taken there by Rav Levin zt”l , the Chief Rabbi of Moscow, who said to me, “Let us hurry to the hospital. There is the Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Krasilschikov and his hours are numbered.”
When I came to him, he gave me the manuscript of the book T’vunah, on the Rambam, part 2. Part 1 was printed in Polatva in 5686 and it was the last Torah book printed in Communist Russia. At its end are emendations on the Yerushalmi, Seder Zerayim. He had kept it under his pillow and at his request, I obligated myself to him to publish it. (Thank G-d, He helped me to fulfill my promise and I published it in Israel in 5736 and in my introduction there, I told in detail about this meeting with the author.) Afterwards, he told me, whispering and with great effort, because his strength had left him already, that he had written a large work, broad in scope, that included thousands of pages on the Talmud Yerushalmi. And that it was a commentary that would make it much easier to learn the Talmud Yerushalmi, that is neglected because it is so hard to learn and lacking clear commentaries.
This revelation astounded me. Who would have thought, in Communist Russia, that in such conditions, such a monumental work would be created as a commentary on the Yerushalmi? While I was still standing there, surprised and amazed, he revealed to me its location and pressed on me that I should promise him that I should do all that I could to publish it. I promised him, even though I knew that it would not be easy to fulfill it. However, at that time, I had no idea at all that in fact it would be so difficult and complicated. I had already done some things like this, and had been successful in taking manuscripts out of the borders of Russia. I thought that with enough effort, it could be done.
From the time this manuscript was made known to me, I found no rest. Even though I was very involved in saving people, that for their sake, I put myself in ‘the mouth of the lion’ [great danger] in my journies in Russia. And not because I made the promise, did I do this, but because the saving of manuscripts was a primary purpose in my actions. I also understood, immediately, that this was a precious manuscript, impossible to describe its great importance, and without doubt, a monumental work.
As soon as I approached the matter, it became clear to me that this time, I stood before great difficulties. That a great wall [barrier] prevented me from obtaining the manuscript. Nonetheless, I did not give up and I continued to work to attain it and to remove it from there. From the effort that I expended, in the years of my work in rescuing [Jews] from Russia, I learned that one should never give up. Even when it seems, apparently, that all hope is lost. I continued to work even after I was forbidden entrance to Russia. I continued to work via messengers. Sixteen messengers were sent there, even though this required spending large amounts of money, and with all this, we did not succeed to obtain the manuscript. After we had been given help and aid from friendly consular representatives and we had a copy of the manuscript, there happened an unexpected occurrence and the copy was lost. With all this we did not give up and continued to work. We sent there yet another messenger, number 17. This is Rabbi Yaakov Polk, Rabbi of Congregation Shom’rai Emunah of Boro Park, one of the most important American Rabbis, who traveled there five times for this matter, and Thank G-d he was successful in taking out the first volume on Masechet B’rachot (with the help of his wife who accompanied him on several trips). This was the beginning of our success. He was successful in taking out one of the twenty volumes that made up the manuscript. We showed this volume to the Gedoley Torah of this generation. They praised it greatly and they encouraged us with strong words to increase our effort to save the entire manuscript. And so we did. The end of the matter is Hashem made our efforts successful and our toil has born fruit. and with the help of those friendly consular representatives we were successful in removing the entire manuscript and bringing it to a safe place. Now it is being published by the Mutzal Me’esh Institute of the Al Tidom Association, which views the rescue and publication of this manuscript as the `capital on the pillar’ of its blessed work.
From the Preface to Masechet Ma’asroth, also by Rabbi Bronstein
So I asked him in wonder, “How could one of the greatest Rabbis of Lithuania, like himself, spend many years of his life on the Yerushalmi?” When he heard my words, tears flowed from his eyes. When he calmed down a little, he answered my question. Because of his weakness, it was difficult for him to speak. He spoke slowly and in short phrases, and this is what he said: “All my days, I have turned my soul towards our Holy Land … to Jerusalem, the Holy City … the rejoicing of our heart and the precious part of our soul … for many years I bore the hope I would be priveleged to reach Jerusalem, the Holy City … When I saw that my hope was lost … the ways were closed … the gates locked … and the years passing by … I picked up the Yerushalmi and in it, I placed all my yearning towards the land and our holy cities … I began my work on the Yerushalmi on Masechet Sh’vi’it, that I wrote in the year 5712, which was a Sh’mita year. I said in my heart “It should be your will, as if . . .”
These are the words that I heard from his mouth. It will certainly serve as encouragement. And this is their place.