Infofiles Index


Resources for the Beginner

The biggest problem is for those of us who are inexperienced in the use of rabbinic texts:

  • Hakdomos/Hakdamot or Introductions: Jewish scholars observed a tradition of making personal introductions to their rabbinic works.
  • Haskomos/Haskamot or Approbations: Forewords to published sacred writings were solicited.
  • Shielos V'Tshuvos or Responsa: Works by respected rabbis were in the form of questions and answers.
  • Yechus brief or Pedigree document

What I am about to suggest is for those who cannot read or translate Hebrew.

For the real beginner, I would suggest the following:

  1. A good starter book is From Generation to Generation: How to Trace Your Jewish Genealogy and Family History, by Arthur Kurzweil. The author, by the way, was doing rabbinic research. He had found out that he descended from the Stropkover Rebbe. His initial efforts give a flavor of how one should approach rabbinic research. (See online: "How I Discovered My Rabbinic Ancestry" by Arthur Kurzweil.)
  2. Peruse the Encyclopaedia Judaica (available in many libraries). Many noted rabbis are listed there.
  3. Find the Yizkor book for the town or city where the rabbi in question
    lived or served. Many Yizkor books have a section about the history of the town. Others have specific chapters about famous rabbis. (See the JewishGen Yizkor Book Project for online Yizkor book translations.)
  4. For very prominent rabbis, three publishers have taken the lead in preparing English language biographies. Many are available in libraries. These publishers are: Feldheim, ArtScroll and CIS. Even if the rabbi in question does not have a specific biography published about himself, historically rabbis interacted. If a noted rabbi lived in the same area or timeframe as a famous rabbi, it is likely that something about the rabbi will appear in the famous rabbi's biography.
  5. If the rabbi in question published a book (Sefer), many of these works have been translated into English and published by the same publishers as mentioned above. In quite a number of these cases, biographical material has been included about the author.
  6. A noted historian, Rabbi Berel Wein, has written several books in English on Jewish history that concentrate on rabbinical influences throughout the ages. These books, published by Shaar Press, are available in many libraries and are literally a treasure trove of information regarding noted rabbis:
Echoes of Glory (350 BCE - 750 CE)
Herald of Destiny (750CE - 1650CE)
Triumph of Survival (1650CE - 1995CE)
Beyond this one must consult rabbinic texts, but at least it is a starting point.

Rabbi Mordechai Schlanger
New York, New York, USA

4Check the Bibliography for more resources.