Episodes in the
life of the Brisker Rav, Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin
By Menachem Mendel
Rabbi Yehoshua Yehudah Leib
Diskin, (1818–1898), also known as the Maharil Diskin, was an
important Talmudist and Biblical Commentator. He served as a rabbi
in Lomza, Mezritch, Kovno, Shklov, Brisk and finally Jerusalem
after moving there in 1876, where he became the spiritual leader
of the Yishuv haYashan.
Pillar Of Fire
Yehoshua Yehudah Leib was born in Grodno, then part of the Russian
empire, in 1817. His father, Rabbi Binyamin Diskin, was Rabbi of
that city, then Volkovisk and later Lomza. He was engaged before
his Bar Mitzva and at the age of fourteen he married the daughter
of Rabbi Brode and lived with his father-in-law in Wolkowitz. He
received semicha at the age of 18 and inherited his father's
rabbinate of Lomza at the age of 25.
Along with such luminaries as Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor of
Kovno (with whom Rabbi Diskin maintained a lifelong friendship),
Rabbi Jacob Joseph of Vilna, Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer of Berlin,
Rabbi Eliyahu Levinson of Krotingen, and Rabbi Chaim Berlin of
Moscow, Rabbi Yehoshua Leib was offered the position of Chief
Rabbi of New York in the 1880's, but wasn't interested in coming
to the treifene medina.
Rabbi Diskin's second wife, Sarah, was famed as the "Brisker
Rebetzen". She had a very strong mind and came from a prestigious
family—she was descended from Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (the Nodah
bi-Yehudah) and was also descended from the wealthy family of
Joshua Zeitlin. She brought 40,000 rubles into their marriage - a
huge sum in those days - with which the couple established the "Diskin
Orphanage" in Jerusalem in 1880. She died in 1907.
Exceptional scholars such as Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik and Rabbi
Meir Simcha of Dvinsk were in awe of Rabbi Diskin, as was his
famously brilliant pupil Rabbi Yosef Rosen, the Rogatchover Gaon.
Rabbi Diskin established a yeshiva by the name of Ohel Moshe,
(Tent of Moses). He held the line against attempts by maskilim to
introduce secular institutions to Jerusalem. He died in 1898, on
29 Teiveith 5658.
The Braverman variety of original Palestinian etrog is claimed to
be witnessed by Rabbi Diskin.