Chaim Zelig Slonimsky

by A.S. Hirshberg

Translated by Daphna Brafman Coordinated by Tilford Bartman

Chaim Zelig Slonimsky


Chaim Zelig Slonimsky was born close to the end of winter of 1810. His father, R. Ya'acov son of Rabbi Binyamin Bishke, was a scholar; they used to call him R. Yankeleh Slonimer because his origin was from Slonim.

Chaim Zelig Slonimsky is the grandson of R. Yekhiel Neches, founder and owner of Beit Hamidrash (house of study/academy) in the Jewish Street in Bialystock, and it is named after him.

Chaim Zelig had the tendency for the study of mathematics and sciences. He dealt with these studies all his life. At first he studied engineering and mathematics from Hebrew sources: from books written by Jewish experts like Raphael Hannover and like R. Shimon Walsh's commentary on some of the Rambam's writings. Later he learnt the German language with the help of Michel Zabludowski who became his friend and supplied him with German science books. Chaim Zelig secretly studied in Beit Hamidrash and did very well.

His first wife came from Zabludow. In that town he wrote his first project in Hebrew. It's title was " Foundations of Wisdom", and it was published in Vilnus with the generous help of Moshe Rosental, and the consent of his friend R' Avely. R' Avraham Zakheim funded the printing of his book "Stars of The Comet" in Vilnus in 1834. Many were interested in that subject because they expected the appearance of a comet.

In 1834 he printed his book " Chronicles of The Skies" in Warsaw. His book " Foundations of Conception" was translated into German and English.

In 1844 he invented the calculation machine. He received an award of 2500 rubles from the Czarist academy and crowned with the title "A Learned Citizen".

While visiting Berlin in 1858 he met Alexander Von Homboldt who introduced him to the Prussiam king. Chaim Zelig wrote a tribute book for Alexander Von Homboldt- " Chronicles of His Life, Journeys and Books". The rich of the Berlin community covered the expenses for that book.

Russia and Poland's Jewry greatly appreciated his personality. The young students of Beit Hamidrash were strongly impressed by his science books that were written in a popular, modern and beautiful language. He encouraged them to study sciences. They called him " the Jewish Homboldt".

In 1856 he invented a system for sending telegrams through electric flow. In 1862 he began to publish the weekly magazine "Hatsfirah"*. A short time later Hatsfirah became a daily newspaper. Nahum Sokolov participated in it.

On the 37th issue of Hatsfirah Chaim Zelig Slonimsky tells about his studies in his old man's Beit Hamidrash. He studied Gemara there, first and last Poskim. He also became a friend with one kabbalist, the old R' Moshe, who had studied Kabbalah books and commentaries.

At the age of 17 Chaim Zelig married a daughter of Zabludow and there he met another Kabbalist. He was impressed by that man, who was well known and appreciated, and he wanted to be his student. Unfortunately he did not make it because the man died shortly after Chaim Zelig arrived in town.

His book "The Reality of The Spirit and It's Out of Body Existence" won him the friendship of many pious men. He died in Warsaw in 1904. Zabludow city council named a street after him.

Click on photo to enlarge

*HA ZEFIRAH (translates to "Siren at Dawn", typical issue dated 1880. [Warsaw, Poland; 8 pages quarto size]. Quite an uncommon Jewish weekly newspaper from Poland, then a part of the Czarist Russian empire. It is written mostly in Hebrew, with occasional parts in Russian or German, and was edited by Chaim Zelig Slonimsky. Typical issues inspected contain articles on the Jewish communities in Warsaw and in various Russian towns such as Odessa, Eishishok, Brisk, Disna, Gomel, Zhitomir, and dozens more. Just a handful of scattered U.S. holdings of this significant Jewish newspaper (which was in print 1874 - 1894) are cited in the definitive Union List of Serials (page 4592). Moving memento of a community that would all but perish sixty years later.

**Kabbalah- mystical and esoteric theories of the universe, creation, other world etc.

Information on Chaim Zelig's son Antoni Slonimski

SLONIMSKI, Antoni, 1895-1976, poet and journalist; co-founder of Skamander group; in Great Britain during World War II and until 1951; president of Polish Writers' Union 1956-59; initiator (1964) of Letter of 34 in defense of creative freedom; reflective lyrics associated with traditions of Polish Romanticism; longer poems: Czarna wiosna (The Black Spring, 1919), Popiol i wiatr (Ashes and Wind, 1942); collections: Okno bez krat (Window without Bars, 1935), Alarm (The Alarm, 1940), Wiek kleski (The Age of Defeat, 1945); novels, satirical comedies, essays: Kroniki tygodniowe (Weekly Chronicles, 1927-39, selection 1956); memoirs.

Click here to read "On Jewish Sensitivity", by Antoni Slonimski

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