Eliyahu's Branches:
The Descendants of the Vilna Gaon and His Family.

by Chaim Freedman

After decades of research, a noted Israeli genealogist has produced a book about the Vilna Gaon that contains a rare portrait of the illustrious 18th-century Eastern European sage, a discussion of his substantial influence on the Jewish world and a thoroughly-documented family tree listing more than 20,000 descendants of the rabbi and his siblings. A small portion of the tree--the
first four generations--is available on the Web.

For Chaim Freedman, who has lived in Israel since 1977, the compilation of
Eliyahu's Branches: The Descendants of the Vilna Gaon and His Family was more than just a scholarly obsession that took hold of him as a child in his native Australia. Freedman is an eighth-generation descendant of the Vilna Gaon who was spurred into researching his own roots after growing up hearing countless tales about his many cousins in Russia and their celebrated common ancestor who died in 1797.

Eliyahu's Branches: The Descendants of the Vilna Gaon and His Family has already received the applause of a number of scholars.

Besides exploring the life and times of the Vilna Gaon, the 704-page book identifies, provides documentation for more than 20,000 descendants of the Vilna Gaon and his siblings. There is an index listing all persons in the book. The Gaon's descendants seem as diverse as the Jewish people itself, Freedman said. Some descendants were prominent rabbis and academicians. Some were involved in a rare agricultural settlement experiment in Russia, while others variously served in the American Civil War and emigrated to places like England and Australia well before the mass migrations of the 1880s.

Eliyahu's Branches outlines the methodology used in tracing the many lines of descent, and the difficulties sometimes encountered in proving the validity of a longstanding oral tradition where no documentary proof can be found of a particular branch's link to the Gaon or his siblings.

"You wouldn't imagine there could be so many problems in proving the descent of so many people in only seven or eight generations," Freedman said. "I tried to record all of the claims that seemed solidly based. It was important for me to properly record and analyze them. I was able to prove some claims, and some I was able to disprove."

Consulting a multitude of documentary sources from old Hebrew books to tombstones, Freedman made a careful assessment of the oral traditions of many families including the Komesaroff, Chinitz, Friedlander, Bardin, Lipshitz, Grad, Olkenitsky, Bloch, Donchin, Menkin, Volpa, Epstein and Finfer lines.

"Unconfirmed Connections," the last chapter of the book, details the claims of about 100 families that they are related to the Gaon -- claims that Freedman had been unable either to verify or disprove. If all had been valid, he said, "You'd be looking at several tens of thousands of people to add to the family tree."

Just as Freedman continued his research even after publishing smaller previous studies on the immediate branch of the Gaon in the 1980s and early 1990s, he said that he still feels compelled to keep on with his quest to find and document more descendants of the famous rabbi. "I have a fascination with solving the mysteries of this family tree," he said. "I don't think I've solved them all yet. My book asks questions as well as provide answers."

The book includes a foreword by Dr. Arye Morgenstern of Hebrew University and a Dvar Torah.

[Table of Contents]

[Index to 20,000 Names] (700K PDF file)

Eliyahu's Branches: The Descendants of the Family of the Vilna Gaon -- 7" x 10", 704 pages, hard cover with dust jacket -- is available for $69.50 plus shipping.

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