A Latvian Chanukah Present - Day 7 #latvia

Nancy Siegel


One of Latvia’s Greatest Rabbis

by Ann Rabinowitz 

In memory of my great uncle Max Hillman, who was born in Bauska, Latvia, and who started me on my genealogical research, which is so long ago now, I am posting a piece about Latvia every day throughout Chanukah. The posts will be about people, events, and daily life. These posts can also be viewed on the JewishGen Blog at: https://www.jewishgen.org/Blog/

The Jewish religious world of Latvia was known for many outstanding rabbis, both Mitnagdim and Hasidim. According to The Sentinel, Friday, February 6, 1925, Pg. 4, one of the most noted was Rabbi Joseph ben Ephraim Fischel Rosen, born in 1858 in Rogachev, Belarus, and died in 1936 in Vienna, Austria. He was considered by many to be the greatest living Talmudical authority and was known as the Iluy or Gaon of Rogachev (Belarus).

From 1889 until 1916, at the onset of World War I, Rabbi Rosen had held one of the two positions of Rabbi of Daugavpils (the other rabbi was Rabbi Meir Simha Cohen who served the Mitnagdim community). Rabbi Rosen had been evacuated at the beginning of World War I and he settled in St. Petersburg where he was offered the position of Chief Rabbi, which he had readily rejected. He returned to Latvia to resume his former position as the Rabbi of Daugavpils, who served the Hasidic community there. 

Whilst in Russia, he used his time to write fourteen major religious books. He was given special dispensation to bring the books with him when he returned to Latvia. It was said by the poet Chaim Nachman Bialik that Rabbi Rosen was a greater genius than Einstein because he knew most of the Talmud and Midrash by heart.

The rabbi’s grandsons were mentioned, one of whom was an engineer and one a mathematician. They were said to have refused to take government positions as it would not allow them to be observant Jews.

You can learn more about Rabbi Rosen's family on Geni.com. Also, additional information about Rabbi Rosen and other Latvian rabbis can be gained from the Yizkor Book for Latvia (“The Jews of Latvia”) on the JewishGen website:


The Rabbi’s works are in great demand, and even five of his post cards were sold at auction for $10,000


Nancy Siegel
Director of Communications
(San Francisco, California)

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