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Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan

Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan

Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan (Berlin) was a leader of Religious Zionism, the founder and first editor of the Talmudic Encyclopedia, , and the namesake of Israel's Bar-Ilan University, established after his death. He was born in 1880 in Volozhin, Lithuania, the youngest son of the esteemed Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (known as the "Netziv"), who headed the famed Volozhin Yeshiva, where Bar-Ilan was educated. Ordained in 1902, he travelled to Germany where he became acquainted with a modern form of Orthodox Judaism that had a more tolerant attitude toward secular education and political Zionism. There, he attended the University of Berlin.

In 1905 he joined the Mizrachi movement, serving as its representative at the Seventh Zionist Congress in Basel.  Later on he founded and was first editor of the Mizrachi newspaper “Haivri” (The Hebrew Man), which would later become the national religious daily “Hatzofeh” (The Observer) – which was published until 2008.

In 1911 he was appointed general-secretary of the World Mizrachi movement, and two years later he came to the United States and chaired the first American Mizrachi Convention. Bar-Ilan later became president of the U.S. Mizrachi, holding the position until 1928, whereupon he became honorary president.  In 1925 he became a member of the Board of Directors of the Jewish National Fund devoted to financing the rebuilding of the Jewish homeland in the then British Mandate of Palestine.

In 1923 he moved to Jerusalem. He opposed the Palestine partition plan in 1937, and the British White Paper of 1939, he advocated civil disobedience and non-cooperation by the Jews with the British.

After 1948, his activities were scholastically oriented. He organized a committee of scholars to examine the legal problems of the new state in the light of Jewish law and founded an institute for the publication of a new complete edition of the Talmud. He also served as Minister of Religion in the Israeli government.

He published several articles on Talmudic subjects, as well as a few books –Fun Volozhin biz Yerushalayim (autobiography, Yiddish), Bishvil ha-Techiah (Hebrew) and Raban shel Yisrael (Hebrew). Rabbi Bar-Ilan died in Jerusalem on April 17, 1949,  after giving a speech earlier that day about the significance of Jerusalem as the heart of the Jewish State.

He inspired the founding of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan (1955) by the American Mizrachi movement. "The name Bar-Ilan was chosen, in honor of Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan (Berlin), a spiritual leader who led traditional Judaism from the ashes of Europe to rebirth and renaissance in the Land of Israel."

Last modified: 12/01/2020


Meir Bar-Ilan