Many have asked me to explain who the Rabbi in this picture is and why I use his likeness in my blog sometimes. His name is Rabbi Yoel Shorin zt”l but he was more widely known as the Poltava Illui (The Prodigy from Poltava). He was a student of Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin zt”l (the Netziv) and was the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Torah Ohr in Zvhil.

We should note that, while nowadays the term “illui” is thrown around to describe basically anyone who can read, in Volohzin Yeshiva it was considered praise when they called Rabbeinu Baruch Ber Lefkowitz zt”l (one of the main students of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik tz”l) “half an illui”.

He is known mostly for three things:

  1. A brilliant halachic mind.
  2. Fighting to bring Jewish education to everyone.
  3. Pursing peace among Jews from all walks of life.

Here are some facts and stories about his life:

When he was young he learnt bechavrusa with Rav Avraham Yitzchok HaCohen Kook tz”l in the Volohzin Yeshiva. He corresponded with Rav Look via letters throughout his life.

After he got married he went to a Kollel in Mintz as was asked to become the Rav there. He refused because he wanted to spread Torah where there wasn’t yet a Yeshiva. He founded a Yeshiva in in Volyn. When the Soviets took over Volyn, he moved the Yeshiva to nearby Koritz. Eventually he founded Yeshivas Torah Ohr in Zvhil.

He spent most of his life spreading Torah and trying to bridge the gap between the hasidim and misnagdim. He also tried to make peace between the various Zionist and anti-Zionist factions in the Jewish community. When Agudath Yisroel and Mizrahi split up he great made efforts and wrote several letters to the heads of both organizations in attempts to patch things up between them.

It’s said on him that he was very loved by the Netziv and that the Netziv “appreciated the harmonious nature of his brilliance in Torah and his sterling middos.” ( Translations my own.)

For more info on the Poltava Illui see footnote 8 here in Yeshurun vol 11 (it’s a 4 page long footnote) by this article written by Rav Eliezer Katzman about Rav Aharon Volkin tz”l.

He also has a teshuva about isha katlonis that was published in Moriah, Sivan 5745.

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