18th Century Gedolim

She'eilat Ya'avetz

Rav Yaakov Emden was born in Altona in 1698. The son of the Chacham Tzvi, he was the author of a set of responsa, known as She'eilat Ya'avetz, as well as a commentary on Ketubot, Beit Yaakov. In addition to his writings, he is known for his accusations against Rav Yonatan Eibeschutz, claiming that he was a follower of the false Messiah Shabbtai Tzvi. Rav Emden passed away in 1776.


Rav Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman of Vilna, known as the Vilna Gaon or G"RA, is one of the most dominating figures of halachic Judaism since the Shulchan Aruch. Born in Brisk (Brest-Litovsk) in 1720, he was the author of countless works in all areas of Rabbinic literature, including Aderet Eliyahu on the Torah, a commentary on the Mishna, and commentaries on both the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmuds. He also wrote commentaries on the Mishne Torah of Rambam, as well as on the Shulchan Aruch. Demonstrating his versatility and familiarity with all areas of Jewish knowledge, he penned a work on the Sefer Yetzirah, one of the main kabbalistic books. He was the student of the Pnei Moshe, as the teacher of, among others, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik of Volozhin. He passed away in 1798.

Rav Chaim Yoseif David Azulai

Perhaps the Sephardic equivalent to the Vilna Gaon, Rav Chaim Yoseif David Azulai, known as Chida, was born in 1724 in Jerusalem. His works include a collection of responsa known as Yoseif Ometz, as well as many other commentaries and essays (almost all of which utilize at least one of his names in their titles). He passed away in 1806 in Livorno.

Ginat Veradim

Rav Avraham ben Mordechai HaLevi was born in 1650 in Egypt. His Ginat Veradim is a collection of responsa frequently cited by commentators to the Shulchan Aruch. He passed away in 1712.

Machatzit HaShekel

Rav Shmuel ben Natan Neta HaLevi was born in 1738. His Machatzit HaShekel appears as a commentary on the bottom of current standard pages of the Shulchan Aruch. He passed away in 1827.

Rav Avraham Danzig

Rav Avraham Danzig was born in 1748 in Danzig. His main works are the Chayei Adam and Chochmat Adam, halachic compendia on the Orach Chaim and Yoreh De'ah sections of the Shulchan Aruch, respectively. He also wrote glosses on Seder Zera'im. His teachers included the Noda BiYehuda. He passed away in 1821 in Vilna.

Be'er Heitev

Rav Yehuda ben Shimon Ashkenazi was born in 1748 in Tiktin. His main work, Be'eir Heitev, one of the major commentaries on the first three divisions of the Shulchan Aruch. The precise date of his death is unknown.

Rav Akiva Eiger

Rav Akiva ben Moshe Eiger was born in 1768 in Hungary. His many works included commentaries and glosses on the Talmud, a commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, a set of responsa, and the Gilyon HaShas, a minor commentary on the Talmud which references sources around the Talmud and now appears on the standard page of the Babylonian Talmud. Among his many students was Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer, one of the early Rabbis of Neo-Orthodoxy (the forerunner of today's Orthodox Judaism). He passed away in 1838 in Posen.

Yad Ephraim

Rav Ephraim Zalman ben Menachem Margoliot was born in 1762. His work Yad Ephraim is a commentary to the Shulchan Aruch. He has also left a collection of responsa, known as Beit Ephraim. He passed away in 1828 in Brody.

Chatam Sofer

Rav Moshe Sofer (Schreiber) was born in 1763 in Frankfurt. He is generally considered to be the leader of the third strain of Judaism during the enlightenment era. While the Neo-Orthodox sought to engage the maskilim (enlighteners) and to directly combat them, Sofer adopted the view of "Chadash assur min HaTorah" - all that is novel (in this case, in religious practice), is forbidden by the Torah. His main work is a collection of his responsa, encompassing several volumes, and he also authored a commentary to the Shulchan Aruch. His students included his son, known as the Ktav Sofer. He passed away in Pressburg in 1840.

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