Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov (1912 - 1976)

Today, the sixth of Adar I, is the yahrtzeit of Rav Eliyahu Kitov (born Avraham Eliyahu Mokotow), the author of numerous informational books about all aspects of Judaism.

Rav Kitov's best known work is his Sefer HaToda'ah, an all-encompassing look at the Jewish year and its significant dates, customs and historical relevance. This massive undertaking involved establishing the biblical precedent of each month and continuing through history into modern times; the concise prose and sheer volume of information condensed into each paragraph is astounding, and each chapter comes with sources. It is my belief that this book should be a staple in any Jewish library. The book has been translated by Feldheim Publishers into an excellent multi-volume set The Book of Our Heritage - either language is worth getting.

A similarly themed book, Ish U'Beito, carefully examines the various mitzvot associated with the personal aspects of Jewish living, specifically those pertaining to family life. Again, Rav Kitov's beautiful style of writing infuses even the "least interesting" information with life and excitement, and this carries over into the translated version (The Jew and His Home) as well - a credit to the author as well as the translator.

He also wrote an extensive work on the Chumash and the midrashic, Talmudic and chassidic commentaries called Sefer HaParshiot, which I have heard is being translated into English.

My personal favorite books of his are the stories he wrote about the legendary Chassidic masters (Chassidim v'Anshei Ma'aseh), some of which has been translated into a two volume set Men of Piety and Deed. The first, In The Lion's Den focuses on the original students of the Ba'al Shem Tov and his disciple the Maggid of Mezrich, while the second volume (appropriately titled Sharp as a Needle) introduced us to the world of Peshischa and Kotzk. It is in these books that Rav Kitov's style flourishes beautifully. His poetic, loving language brings out the depth of each story and transports you into the Maggid's kloyz, as if you had the merit to sit in the shadow of their greatness. He is one of those authors that I envy, and can't get enough of.

Rav Kitov had a tremendous love for the Holy Land. It is said about him that he once received a visitor from the Diaspora who couldn't stop complaining about various things he saw in Eretz Yisrael. Rav Kitov quietly took him outside, grasped his arm and walked four paces together with the man. "One, two, three, four - a mitzvah!" he cried. He took another four paces, and repeated the same phrase, clearly showing the man how one is supposed to view his activities in the Holy Land - every step was infused with the holiness of the Land.

Rav Kitov leaves us with a special legacy, with works that can (and should!) be enjoyed by Jews of all levels of observance and give them a deeper appreciation for their status as the Chosen Nation.

Z'chuso Yagein Aleinu

1 comment:

Reb Y. said...

He was asked what was the best way to educate your kids about the beauty of Shabbos. R' Kitov answered by keeping busy all day on Friday, by occuping your entire day with preperations for Shabbos your kids will see and learn the holiness of the day.