Yechiel Michel Epstein
|Birth||24 January 1829, Babruysk, Mogilev Region, Belarus|
|Death||24 February 1908, Navahrudak, Navahrudak District, Grodno Region, Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (aged 79 years)|
Yechiel Michel Epstein (24 January 1829 – 24 February 1908), often called "the Aruch ha-Shulchan" (after his main work, Aruch HaShulchan), was a Rabbi and posek (authority in Jewish law) in Lithuania. His surname is often preceded by ha-Levi, as he descended from a family of Levites.
Yechiel Michel Epstein was born into a family of wealthy army contractors for the Czarist Russian army in Babruysk, Russian Empire (presently in Belarus). His wife was the sister of Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (the Netziv), who would become the rosh yeshiva (head) of the Volozhin Yeshiva. (Berlin was later to marry a daughter of Epstein, after being widowed of his first wife.)
Epstein studied Torah locally, and was encouraged to do so by the town's rabbi and his parents (the concept of an out-of-town yeshiva was only slowly gaining ascendancy). After his marriage he received semicha (rabbinic ordination) and accepted his first position.
Epstein became the rabbi of Novozybkov (east of Gomel, now Bryansk region), a town with a large number of Hasidic Jews, mainly adherents of Chabad Lubavitch.
Nine years after accepting his position in Novozybkov, in 1863, Epstein was appointed as the rabbi of Navahrudak, where he would serve for 34 years, until his death. Here, he was recognised as a posek (decisor of Jewish law), and he was to compose most of his writings in Navahrudak.
Epstein was involved in many charitable endeavors. He was particularly close to Rabbi Shmuel Salant, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, and wrote extensively on the obligation of all Jews to support the Rabbi Meir Baal Haneis Salant charity that Rabbi Salant founded in Israel in 1860.
Epstein died on 22 Adar II 5668 (1908), and is buried in Navahrudak. His son, Rabbi Baruch Epstein, was a bookkeeper by profession but produced a number of scholarly and popular works, most notably the Torah Temimah.
- Aruch HaShulchan a work of Halakha, which traces the origins of each law and custom to its source, states the view of the Rishonim and arrives at a psak (decision) - often supported by (and sometimes in disagreement with) the Acharonim;
- Aruch HaShulchan he'Atid (Laying the Table of the Future) - a parallel work to Arukh HaShulkhan summarising and analysing the laws that will apply in Messianic times; this work became more relevant when Jewish farming communities were re-established in Israel, since many agricultural laws which apply only in Israel are covered in this work;
- Or li-Yesharim (a commentary on the classic work Sefer ha-Yashar, attributed to the Tosafist Rabbi Yaakov ben Meir, Rabbeinu Tam);
- Mical ha-Mayim - a commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud;
- Leil Shimurim - a commentary on the Haggada.