The Gaon of Vilna: The Man and His Image

By Immanuel Etkes; Jeffrey M. Green | Go to book overview

1
Ha-Gaon He-Hasid
IN HIS OWN TIME AND FOR
SUCCEEDING GENERATIONS

During his lifetime the Gaon of Vilna wielded comprehensive and exceptionally powerful authority. Striking testimony to this effect is found in the words of the Hasidic leader Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lyady to his followers in Vilna in 1797: “According to all accounts, no one in the districts of Lithuania will raise his heart so high as not to yield his own opinion before that of ha-Gaon he-Hasid and to say wholeheartedly that the truth is not in his mouth, perish the thought. 1 Rabbi Shneur Zalman's remarks imply that, even were it possible to persuade rabbinical authorities that the path of Hasidism was correct, they would not dare disagree with the Vilna Gaon. The organized campaign against Hasidism in 1772 offers a forceful demonstration of the Gaon's public status, for he led that struggle from the start, and he imbued it with his authority. 2

How can we explain the extraordinary authority of this man? This

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