Rabbi Chaim Berlin
Rabbi Chaim Berlin was born in Volozhin in 1832. He was a son of
famous Volozhin rosh-Yeshiva (1854-92) Naftali Tsvi Iehuda Berlin
(known as Natsiv). Rabbi Chaim Berlin was the oldest son of the Natziv
and his first wife, the Netziv's first wife was Reina Batya (daughter
of R. Chaim Volozhiner) She bore him three children: Chaim, Sora
Rosha, and Drayzel. The Netziv's second wife was Batya Miriam, his
niece, the daughter of his sister Michlah, who was the wife of R.
Yehiel Michel Ha'Levi Epstein, author of the Arukh Ha'Shulkhan. She
gave birth to two sons, Jacob and Meir (Bar-Ilan). The Netziv's
daughter Sora Rosha married R. Rafael Shapiro (son of R. Leibel
Shapiro of Kovna). She bore him one son, and a daughter, Lifsha. When
Sora Rosha died, her two small children were taken into her father's
(the Netziv's) home. Her husband married her sister, Drayzel. The
Netziv granddaughter Lifsha married R. Hayyim Soloveitchik. Because
of that the Netziv sometimes called Hayyim his "grandson" and at times
his "son-in-law." ,
Chaim received a rabbinic education from his father..
In the Year 1865 Chaim Berlin became the rabbi of Moscow. There is
a story about his time in Moscow; It was late in the night, and the
shamash of HaRav Chaim Berlin, the rav of Moscow, was comfortably
ensconced in his bed when he heard someone knocking at the door. At
first the shamash attempted to ignore the noise, hoping that whoever
it was would recognize the lateness of the hour and return the next
day, but the knocking only became more insistent. At last the weary
shamash dragged himself from his bed to admit the caller.
The man standing at the door insisted that he had to see the rav
immediately. The shamash told him that only the greatest emergency
could justify disturbing the rav at such a late hour, and asked the
man to tell him what was so urgent that it could not wait until the
morning. But the man only repeated that he had to see the rav
immediately. When it became clear he would not leave, the shamash
agreed to find out whether the rav would see the man.
The shamash found Rav Chaim Berlin still learning in his study despite
the lateness of the hour. After hearing the shamash relate the
circumstances of the strange nocturnal visit, he agreed to see the
Rav Chaim, seeing the obvious distress on the man's face as he entered
the study, asked him what he could do to help. Only then did the man
begin to unburden himself. He began, "My wife gave birth to a baby boy
last week and tomorrow I wish to enter him into the briso shel Avraham
Avinu." Rav Chaim wished the man Mazel Tov and waited for the man to
explain why this joyful event should have occasioned such an unusual
visit or such a look of distress.
The man went on, "I make my living selling religious icons to the
Christians. None of my customers suspect that I am a Jew. If they find
out that I am Jewish, they will surely kill me for trading in their
religious objects. Therefore, my son's bris must be absolutely
Rav Chaim Berlin immediately grasped how dangerous the man's situation
was, and rather than subject any of the city's mohelim to risk, agreed
to perform the bris himself. The next morning Rav Chaim disguised
himself as a doctor and set off for an area of town in which no Jews
lived. There he found the address of that the man had given him, and
entered the house as if to make a routine checkup of the infant. Rav
Chaim performed the bris, wished the parents Mazel Tov, and returned
home. He gave no more thought to the matter until the same man was
admitted to his study several months later under identical
"I thought that you must have been curious," the man began, "as to why
someone who has removed himself as far from the Jewish people as I
have should care whether or not his son has a bris." Rav Chaim Berlin
nodded affirmatively, and the man continued. "I was raised in a
religious home. For whatever reasons, I made the choices I did until I
reached my present situation. I want my son to be able to choose too,
and I realized that without a bris he would be too far removed from
the Jewish people to ever return."
Rav Chaim looked at the man for a moment and then told him, " You have
given me new understanding of the comparison between the Jewish people
and the dove in Shir Hashirim. The Midrash comments on the verse,
'Behold, you are beautiful my love; behold you are beautiful; you have
dove's eyes....' (Shir HaShirim 4:1): 'Behold you are beautiful before
the sin; behold, you are beautiful even after the sin.' The Gemara in
Baba Basra says that the dove has weak eyes, and will never travel
further from the nest than she can see her way home. And so, you would
not go further from the Jewish people than you could see the way
In 1889 Rabbi Chaim returned to Volozhin, and worked as the head of
rabbinic court. In the last years of the Yeshiva's existence the
Hanaziv felt his force and abilities leave him. The Rabbi decided to
pass the Yeshiva management to his son, Rabbi Itsele's grand son, R'
Hayim Berlin. The students strongly opposed this decision. From 1892
till 1897 he was rabbi in Kobrin. In 1897 he became the rabbi of-
Elizavetgrad (today, Kirovograd).
In 1906 he left Russia Empire. He went to Jerusalem. In 1909 he was
elected a chief rabbi of Askenasi community of Jerusalem.
Rabbi Chaim Berlin died in 1912, in Jerusalem.
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Chaim Berlin (1832, Volozhin ? 1912, Jerusalem) was an Orthodox rabbi
and chief rabbi of Moscow from 1865. He was the son of Rabbi Naftali
Zvi Yehuda Berlin, and his younger half-brother (from his father's
second marriage) was Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan (choosing Bar-Ilan as the
Hebraized version of "Berlin").
From 1889-1892 he lived in Volozhin, where he was a head of a
rabbinical court. After this he was the rabbi of Kobrin (1892-1897)
and of Elizavetgrad (since 1897). He left Russia in 1906 and settled
in Jerusalem, where he was elected a chief rabbi of the Ashkenazi
Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin, established in Brooklyn, New York in 1904,
was named for Rabbi Chaim Berlin.