by Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
He was one of the greatest students of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik zt”l. And yet for the past 31 years his chiddushim were unavailable. Rav Shlomo Polyachek (December 21 1877 – July 8th, 1928) was known as the Meichitzer Ilui – the Genius of Meitchitz and his Torah has been studied in Yeshivos across the world. But if you had the sefer you had it. If you didn’t, you couldn’t get it. You had to make do with photocopies. Until now.
Rav Polyachek was born in the village of Snicinjic near the town of Mołczadź in the Grodno region of the Tsarist Russian Empire – in the very heart of the Pale of Settlement. The Jews of the village actually belonged to the Mitchett Jewish community, hence its nickname. The Meitchitzer Ilui’s father owned the leases for both the local post office and the village tavern (as did many Jews make their living in the Pale of Settlement – most of the inns and bars were owned by yidden).
SLONIM, NOVARDHIK, AND VOLOZHIN
Rav Shlomo began his studies at Talmud Torah in the town at the age of 5, and soon moved to study at Slonim and then Novhardik nearest to grodno. At the age of 12, Rabbi Aharon Rabinowitz, the son-in-law of Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines, brought the young Ilui to the Yeshiva of Volozhin. Despite his young age, he was accepted in Volozhin after an interview with Rav Chaim Soloveitchik. Rav Elchanan Wasserman HY”D testified that Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, the second Rosh Yeshiva in Volozhin, said of him: “I have never seen such a remarkable Ilui.”
In 1852, after the Yeshiva of Volozhin was closed, the students and young men dispersed. Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, who was appointed rav of the city of Brisk, invited him to learn with him in his kloiz in Brisk. and he established his place of study at the Mishmar Kluis seminary in the city. After this, Rav Shlomo moved to Vilna – where a group of Talmidim studied with Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzanski.
A YOUNG ROSH YESHIVA
At the young age of 29, Rav Shlomo was invited to serve as Rosh Yeshiva at Rav Reines’ yeshiva in Lida, where he stayed for 9 years. Following the Russian Civil War, he left the city with his family for Bialystok, where he taught at the yeshiva that was there. After a year he was invited by the heads of the Yeshiva Yitzchak Elchanan in New York to teach there. This was before they had a college. He taught there for about six years, until he passed away at the age of 51. He passed away from complications of a mouth infection.
Rabbi Politchek was married and the father of three daughters and two sons.
His son-in-law, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Goldberg, compiled a collection of his shiurim. These were called Chiddushei HaIlui MiMeitchitz and were printed in 1947. It was reprinted a second time in 1974, a third in 1979, and a fourth in 1989. It was unavailable until this year, recently have just been reprinted in a fabulous new edition by Rabbi Yehudah Assaf the Maimonides Biblical Foundation in Brooklyn. The new edition dedicated in memory of Rabbi Dovid Frost who was of the chashuvei ha’Avreichim of BMG of Lakewood. The new edition has corrections, is beautifully typeset, and is accompanied with an excellent mafte’ach on all 110 simanim.
What follows is a translation by this author of Siman 10 of his Chiddushim.
A Current Chazakah versus an Initial Chazakah
By Rabbi Shlomo Polatchek of Meitchitz
The Gemorah in Kesuvos 9a states that if a groom claims that he found his wife was not a virgin – he is believed to be forbidden upon her. The Gemorah asks: Why should this be? Is it not a double doubt? The first doubt is perhaps she had intimacy before the marriage and the second doubt is perhaps she was physically raped and was, therefore, not a willing adulteress. The Gemorah answers that the teaching is necessary for a case of the wife of a Kohen.
QUESTION OF THE BAALEI TOSFOS
The Baalei Tosfos ask: Why can’t we establish her on her chazakah that she was permitted to a Kohen, and therefore assume that the intimacy was before the marriage and that she was not an adulteress while she was married to the Kohain?
ANSWER OF TOSFOS
It may be answered that the opposite is more logical – that she possesses a physical chazakah that until now she was a virgin so let us assume that this lasted until now and therefore the intimacy is assumed to have happened more currently than previously.
PNEI YEHOSHUA’S AND RAV AKIVA EIGER’S QUESTION
Rav Yaakov Yehoshua Falk, author of the Pnei Yehoshua (1680-1756) and Rabbi Akiva Eiger (1761-1837) both ask on the Baalei Tosfos:
Why not establish her on her status of being permitted! Why do the Baalei Tosfos state that the physical chazakah is preferable? We can say that, as of now she stands before us as a non-virgin. Let’s assume that just as now she is a non-virgin she was also in this status prior to her engagement. Since there is also a chazakah that she was permitted to a Kohain – there would be two chazakos indicating that she is permitted! Just as we say that two Chazakos win out in other cases, such as  in the beginning of tractate Niddah regarding a Mikvah that its waters stand missing before us as well as the status of the impure item before it was immersed [and 2] in Kiddushin 79a– [where Rav rules regarding a case where she had accepted an engagement ring on her own behalf while in the city and her father also accepted a ring while travelling. Rav rules that we are not concerned for the ring that was accepted by the father – for two reasons:] she is a Bogeres before us [which shows that she is an adult – chazakah #1 and #2 – the chazakah that until now she was single and permitted to others – so that her acceptance is the central one – on account of the two chazakos].
MEITCHITZER ILUI’S ANSWER
Rav Shlomo Polatchek (1877-1928), the Meitchitzer Ilui (Siman 10) answers that this assumption of – that she is a non-virgin before us, let us extend that status to prior to her engagement as well – is not a proof that she was not unfaithful to him during the marriage! For one can say that she certainly was a non-virgin prior to the engagement, but she very well could have also been unfaithful during the marriage too! It is just that we cannot make such a statement because of her chazakah of being kosher! It comes out that the chazakah of “she is a non-virgin before us” is completely ineffective without the chazakah of her being kosher! Because we can also say that she was promiscuous both before the marriage as well as after the marriage!
Rav Shlomo Polatchek concludes that for the chazakah of “she is a non-virgin before us” one must also combine it with a chazakah of her being kosher. Thus this chazakah of her being kosher would be utilized twice. Therefore, it is no longer similar to the cse of a Mikvah missing water. For in that case there is a “current chazakah” as well as an “initial chazakah” and they are two separate and distinct chazakos. Therefore they are effective when combined.
Here, however, the Chazakah of her being a non-virgin is the original Chazakah requires the assistance of the Chazakah of her being kosher. It comes out that there is a physical chazakah as well as a Chazakah of her being kosher – but there is no initial chazakah. The physical chazakah beats out her chezkas kashrus.
AUTHOR’S UNDERSTANDING OF RAV AKIVA EIGER AND PNEI YEHOSHUA
We may inquire as to what would be the position of Rav Akiva Eiger and the Pnei Yehoshua in light of the Meitchitzer Ilui’s important point. This author would like to suggest that they would hold that there is a different mechanism working here – the idea of “d’achzukei b’issurah lo machzikinan.” This means, essentially, that we do not assume that something went wrong per se. Rabbi Akiva Eiger and the Pnei Yehoshua would understand this concept as a form of hanhagah – that as a general rule we do not bring up a question – when there is no indication that a question has come up. But according to them the idea of “d’achzukei b’issurah lo machzikinan” has no connection with any chazakah of someone acting properly. It is merely a legalistic approach that we find elsewhere in shas. The Meitchitzer Ilui, however, learns the concet as being intrinsically associated with the underlying good-nature of people.
According to Rav Akiva Eiger and the Pnei Yehoshua, we would have two chazakos at work here and they are no different than the other situations of two chazakos. According to the Meitchitzer – it is the predicated upon the same Chazakah.