Chaim Freedman examines traditional rabbinic genealogies

Nu ? What's New ?

The E- zine of Jewish Genealogy

Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 7, Number 1 February 19, 2006

Chaim Freedman Stirs the Pot

There are some people with names not very familiar to the general Jewish genealogy community who have made significant contributions to genealogy and Jewish history. The person I would like to cite in this issue is Chaim Freedman of Israel.

Chaim has made a number of breakthroughs in the realm of rabbinic genealogy. He is a descendant of the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797) and has devoted a lifetime to researching the genealogy of this great scholar and his descendants. Avotaynu published in 1997 the results of his research in Eliyahu's Branches: The Descendants of the Vilna Gaon and His Family. It identifies more than 20,000 descendants of the Vilna Gaon.

But the important part of the book is not the list of descendants. It is the introductory portion where Freedman conjectures about the genealogy of the Gaon's family (how many children did he have, the order of their birth, etc.). It is this scholarly portion of the book that is Freedman's contribution to Jewish history. Freedman has also found entries for the Gaon's household in the 1764, 1784 and 1795 censuses of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It helped him understand the order in which the Gaon's children were born.

Now Freedman is stirring the pot in areas of rabbinic genealogy that were previously considered proven. He claims he now has evidence that the MaHaRaL of Prague (1525-1609) was not descended from King David in the manner previously believed for three centuries. He has disproved the accepted pedigree of the MaHaRaL by a method seemingly lacking in rabbinic genealogy: primary source evidence. Much of rabbinic genealogy is based on lore; information passed down from one generation to another. Freedman disproved the MaHaRaL line to King David by examining the tombstone of the MaHaRal's alleged great-great grandfather, Yehudah Leib (Liwai) Hazaken. Apparently the tombstone was misread three hundred years ago and the error has been perpetuated. Yehudah Leib Hazaken died in 1540 not 1440 and, therefore, was a contemporary of the MaHaRaL not an ancestor.

Freedman's evidence appears in the Spring issue of AVOTAYNU.

Another yichus (pedigree) Freedman is challenging is that the Jaffe family can trace its ancestry back to King David through Rashi. Freedman claims there is no convincing evidence. He believes that the confusion arose from a comment by Yosef Levinstein on page 154 of Ir Tehilah published in 1885 where he states that Yekhiel Mikhel Epstein was a son-in-law of Mordekhai Jaffe, known as the Levush, and that the son-in-law of Yekhiel- Mikhel (Avraham Heilprin) was a descendant of Rashi. But that does not mean that the Levush was descended from Rashi. This error was perpetuated in the Jewish Encyclopedia (Funk and Wagnalls, 1903). Freedman is also planning an article on this subject.

I still recall that shortly after Freedman published his opus on the family history of the Vilna Gaon, I was contacted by one of the recognized experts on rabbinic genealogy who challenged some of Freedman's claims. "On what basis did Freedman conclude such-and-such," implying the expert was very knowledgeable on all known lore about the Vilna Gaon. My answer was "birth records."

Additional information about Eliyahu's Branches: The Descendants of the Vilna Gaon and His Family can be found at

Nu ? What's New is published biweekly by Avotaynu, Inc.Copyright 2006, Avotaynu, Inc. All rights reserved

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