Living Legacy: Rav Yaakov Meshulam Orenstein, Author of Yeshu’os Yaakov

Living Legacy: Rav Yaakov Meshulam Orenstein, Author of Yeshu’os Yaakov

Yehuda Alter 

Shabbos, the 25th of Av, marks the yahrtzeit of the Yeshu’os Yaakov, a great ga’on who was the rov of Lvov. 

Rav Yaakov Meshulam was born to his father, Rav Mordechai Zev Orenstein, the rov of Lvov in the year 1775 (1770, according to some accounts). At that time, Rav Mordechai Zev was the rov in Yampil, Ukraine. They hailed from great ga’onim including Rav Tzvi Ashkenazi, known as the Chacham Tzvi, the Bach, the Tosafos Yom Tov. The Orenstein family is one of the most illustrious and famed families in all of European Jewry, with many rabbonim among them serving in Poland. In Lvov alone, the Rabbonim from the Orenstein family served for one hundred and fifty years.  

In his youth, he learned under his father, and was widely renowned as a great iluy who was familiar in all areas of Torah, with tremendous sharpness and erudition. 

Tragically, his father was niftar when he was a young boy, and his mother was nifteres even before that, leaving him a yasom from his father and mother at a very young age. 

He married the daughter of the famed philanthropist Reb Tzvi, the son of Rav Naftoli Hirtz of Yaroslav, and the couple settled there. 

In Yaroslav (Jarosław is about 35 kilometers from Lizensk, in Galicia), Rav Yaakov Meshulam found camaraderie with the ga’onim of the region who loved coming to speak with him in learning. His reputation spread, and when his uncle left the rabbonus of Yaroslav, he was naturally thought of as a replacement. However, when his aunt heard that her young nephew would be replacing her illustrious husband, she became very upset. Seeing this, Rav Yaakov Meshulam refused to take the position, and he moved to another city where he became the Rov. 

Soon, he was called to assume the place of his father as the rov of Lvov. 

In Lvov, the big city, Rav Yaakov Meshulam began to suffer terrible persecution from the maskilim—and for his part, he did not hold back in battling them. Together with Rav Akiva Eiger and the Chasam Sofer, they held great battles against the maskilim in whom they saw a great threat to Torah and Yiddishkeit. Together with this, he emerged as one of the great leaders of his time, and was seen as the chief Rov of Poland. 

In the 1830’s, he published his Sefer Yeshuos Yaakov on the four sections of shulchan aruch. These seforim were widely accepted by the lomdim and leaders of his time. 

He endured many travails in his life, but the one source of light for him was his one and only son, Mordechai Zev, who was a great ga’on. He sadly preceded his father in passing by two years. 

The Yeshuos Yaakov was niftar on the 25th of Av in 1839 and was laid to rest in Lvov. The photograph of the matzeivah from before the war is featured here. The cemetery was razed subsequently, and all that remains is a monument commemorating the burial of Rav Yaakov Meshulam and other great tzaddikim who were interred there. 

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