Thousands of years ago, the Rabbi figure has been vital for Judaism, due to his knowledge and wisdom about this religion. For Jewish, the Rabbi is who teaches, educates and clarifies the Torah elements and commandments. In other words, he is the one who helps other Jews to understand in a better way what the Torah says. The Rabbi word means “Master”, and for Jews around the world, this important character symbolizes greatness and high awareness about the sacred texts.
Through history, the Judaism has had multiple Rabbis, for letting Jews understand easier and more clearly what this religion is and means. The first mention of this significant figure was in c. 200 CE year, at the Mishnah, which is the amalgamation of multiple Jewish laws developed in an oral way, by the Rabban Gamaliel the elder, one of the most important and recognized figures in Judaism.
Related: Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson: his life, arrest and exile by Yosef Meystel
Having this context clear, we can talk about some influential Rabbis in history, more specifically from the 18th century.
Shneur Zalman of Liadi
This prominent Rabbi was born in 1745 and died in 1812, in Russia. He is considered the founder of the Chabad, which is a Judaism division focused on the understanding and correct interpretation of the Torah. In other words, the Chabad seeks for a deeper knowledge of the Torah commandments. This branch is considered the biggest one in the Hasidic movement.
Besides the creation of the Chabad movement, the Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi wrote multiple texts about the Jewish laws and its philosophy, explaining the most difficult and complex concepts written in the Torah.
The Tanya is considered an essential work of the Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi and the most influential text for the Chabad movement. This writing was developed during more than 20 years by him and its approach is to teach and explain the most important concepts of the Chabad and the Hassidic philosophy. It has five sections, which are the Sefer Shel Beinonim, the Sháar HaIjud VeHaEmuná, the Igueret HaTeshuvá, the Igueret HaKodesh and the Kuntrés Ajarón.
Other important works from this Rabbi are the Shulchan Aruch HaRav and the Siddur. Besides his writings, the Rabbi Shneur Zalman created multiple Hassidic music pieces accompanied by religious verses.
Elijah ben Solomon Zalman
Better known as Vilna Gaon or Elijah of Vilna, he was a distinguished Rabbi from the 18th century for his contributions to the Mitnagdim movement. When he was 20, Vilna Gaon went to different countries of Europe, to learn about the Jewish living in other places, increasing and improving their knowledge about the Torah and Judaism. After his trip, he became better known, for being able to solve the most difficult issues about Judaism and teaching other Jews how to deal with them.
Besides his wisdom and great knowledge about the Torah and its application in Jews living, Rabbi Vilna Gaon wrote multiple notes and concepts in a lot of Jewish books of his age. He also wrote notable commentaries in diverse teaching texts. Moreover, he authored some scripts about math, geometry, and other number sciences.
Rabbi Vilna Gaon was also an adversary of the Hassidic movement, due to the different interpretation this branch has about of the Torah, so he started a battle against those who followed the Hassidic philosophy for some years with no success.
Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
He was known not only for his great knowledge about the sacred writings and the Kabbalah but also for being a prominent philosopher and writer. Through his life, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto dedicated a lot his efforts in the explanation of some Torah commandments and the Kabbalah in different places. Firstly, he taught this in Italy, where he came from, and years later, he went to Amsterdam with the main purpose of teaching his Kabbalistic knowledge, but he had no success. After three years, he went to Acre, where he died three years later.
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto was a brilliant writer, showing and explaining different Jewish concepts through his works. This Rabbi produced more than 50 books where he talked about Judaism and the Kabbalah, like The Story of Samson, Seventy Tikkunim, A Discourse on Prophecy, Milchamot Hashem, The Way of Wisdom, 515 Prayers, A Dictionary of The Principle Elements to The Tree of Life, among other imperative works. After his dead, one Synagogue in Acre took its name from Moshe Chaim Luzzatto and his tomb is visited for various Jewish per year.
In this post we mentioned only three key Rabbis from the 18th century, but there are other fundamental figures for Judaism and the Torah teachings, like Aharon of Karlin, an important and influential Hasidic movement promoter, or Elimelech of Lizhensk, another Hasidic leader, or Hart Lyon, who was the chief Rabbi of Great Britain and Berlin, or Dovber of Mezritch, one of the disciples of Baal Shem Tov, who is considered the founder of Hasidic Judaism.