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