Researchers Discover the Census Records of One of the 18th Century’s Greatest Rabbis

After his ascension to the throne of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1764, Stanislaw Poniatowski—Poland’s last king and a former lover of Catherine the Great—enacted a series of reforms intended to modernize his country in the face of external threats and internal disorders. As part of these reforms, he organized the first national census that would include the Jewish population. Lithuanian archivists, combing through the census records, have recently found information about one of the foremost rabbis of the day. Yochai Ben-Ghedalia writes:

The census documents are scattered over the archives of all the various states whose territory was then part of the kingdom of Poland. . . . The Lithuanian State Historical Archives in Vilnius houses numerous censuses, including examples from the early 1760s, as well as later censuses, [including that] taken in Vilnius (then: Wilno) in 1765.

The census was arranged according to streets. A few pages are dedicated to one of the main streets of old Vilnius—Niemieckiej, now known as Vokiečių Street (both names mean “German Street”), an area highly populated by Jews at the time. On one of the pages dedicated to the right side of the street, we find one Eliasz Zelmanowiz, his wife Chana, his son Zelman, [and] his daughter Basia, as well as the servant Nachama. The name of the paternal head of the family, combined with the names of the other family members, reveals that we are dealing with Rabbi Elijah, son of Shlomo Zalman, better known as the Vilna Gaon.

The rabbi was forty-five years old at the time. He lived in Wilno and dedicated his life to the study of Torah, but did not serve in any official position in the community. Of his eight known children, only two are mentioned here. Some of them passed away as infants, others were not born yet, and two of the older girls may have been married at the time.

Read more at The Librarians

More about: Lithuania, Polish Jewry, Vilna Gaon

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict