Vilna Gaon

Vilna Gaon

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Genetic master list for relatives of the Vilna Gaon


By Chaim Freedman 23/08/2018

The family of Chaim Freedman holds a tradition of descent from the Vilna Gaon.

 This tradition was supported by oral history conveyed by diverse relatives as well as persons who were familiar with the family and knew of its claim to a relationship with the Vilna Gaon.

 A religious book passed down through several generations of the family, included handwritten inscriptions which indicated the manner of the relationship, namely descent from Ester, a daughter of the Gaon’s second son Rabbi Yehudah Leib of Serei, Lithuania.


 Full details of the evidence, before DNA testing was used,

is explained in Chaim Freedman’s blog,

With the advent of DNA testing as a valuable aid in genealogical research, it is now possible to validate the Komisaruk descent from the Vilna Gaon including relationships with some prominent figures such as the President and the Prime Minister of Israel!

 In 1997 Chaim authored a book “Eliyahu’s Branches, the Descendants of the Vilna Gaon and His Family” published by Avotaynu. The book recorded 20,000 relatives of the Gaon. Following the distribution of the book extensive correspondence with about 10,000 potential relatives, yet to be recorded in Freedman’s database.



Chaim Freedman began his genetic testing about ten years ago through the company Family Tree DNA.

Knowing families whose descent from the Gaon was definitely established, Chaim searched his database of DNA marches and located a number of such families with whom he shared a genetic match.


The Family Finder of Family Tree DNA searches for markers on all of the autosomal chromosomes and measures the degree of overlap with each individual in its database.

An explanation can be studied on the FTDNA site


In order to establish that his matches were through the Komisaruk line of his ancestry, and not via other lines such as his father, Chaim was granted access to two cousins’ databases:


1) Mel Comisarow whose great-grandfather Velvel Komisaruk was a brother to Chaim Freedman’s great great grandfather Rabbi Pinchas Komisaruk.


2)Stella Krasik whose great-grandmother Reizel Kogan was a sister to Chaim’s two great-grandfather’s Meir Komisaruk (father of Chaim’s maternal grandmother Chana-Reizel Komesaroff/Kaye) and Menachem-Mendel Komisaruk (father of Chaim’s maternal grandfather Shlomo-Zalman Komesaroff/Kaye).


Thus, Chaim was doubly descended from the Gaon through his mother’s Komisaruk two grandfathers.


A third line of descent is through the Zmood family as can be seen from the attached chart, yet to be verified by genetic testing.


These two cousins, Mel and Stella also matched the same families, as did Chaim, known descendants of the Vilna Gaon.


Chaim contacted several branches of the Gaon’s family to add further proof to the relationships. These families allowed Chaim to access their databases. Chaim discovered that such families not only matched his DNA, but also matched each other. Thus, a genetic source control established a means of testing the claims of families for a relationship with the Gaon.


In some cases, the families, which held such a claim, were compared with Chaim’s list of genetically related families and if there were no matches, it was established that those families were not related to the Gaon.


The connections appear in the attached table which to date includes seventeen descendants of the Gaon through his children and grandchildren and seven members of the Rivlin family, descendants of the Gaon’s great uncle . In addition appears the Netanyahu family reputedly descended from an unknown cousin of the cousin of the Gaon. This genetic match confirms such a relationship although the identity of such a cousin has not been established.


A close match is Eli Eshed. His grandmother was a daughter of Rabbi Eliyahu Landa, son of Elazar, son of Yaakov-Moshe, son of Avraham, youngest son of the Vilna Gaon. Lists of descendants of the Gaon were compiled by Eliyahu Landa when he visited them in Europe and the USA in the early twentieth century. Having Eshed’s match with the people on my list provides a DNA marker for claimed descent from the Gaon.


An earlier ancestor of the Gaon, Rabbi Moshe Kremer is represented by a match with his descendant, the late Chief Rabbi of Israel, Isser Yehudah Unterman. So it seems that the ancestry of the Gaon may be confirmed by the use of genetic matches between his ancestral families and Freedman‘s genetic marker list.


Chaim is currently searching for other links based on families that appear in his book.


To add additional families to the growing list of Vilna Gaon descendants whose descent can now be proven by DNA testing Chaim is encouraging his relatives and others to do the test, only at Family Tree DNA in order to endure matching with Chaim’s database.



Gary Mokotoff asked:

“Is there a Vilna Gaon “gene”? That is, can a person tell if he is descended from the Vilna Gaon by taking a DNA test?”

Yes, absolutely!

 I discussed this with a cousin who said, “We don’t have the DNA of the Gaon.”

But we do!

All the people on the list of my DNA testing matches carry the DNA that we received from the Gaon.

We are preserving the DNA of the Vilna Gaon.

The later Rebbitzen Devora Shternbuch, from whom is descended a prominent Charedi rabbinical family, once commented when she heard people boasting of their ancestry, “Yichus alone is not enough. It is obligating !”



The principle upon which the above research is based takes into account the statistical probability that two persons whose DNA matches each other, to whatever degree of centimorgans, and who also match people who all genetically match each other, and hold a tradition of descent from the Vilna Gaon or his blood relatives, provides scientific evidence of their relationship with the Vilna Gaon.





Thursday, 31 March 2011

Telza, the Mother of Rabbi Moshe Rivkas

Telza, the mother of Rabbi Moshe Rivkas.
(updated 30.03.2011)

My article "Ancestry of the Gaon of Vilna – Descent from King David" was published in "Avotaynu" Volume XXI, Number 3, Fall 2005.

Hebrew translation by Benyamin Pantelat

Further research provides  a possible explanation for the confusion between Moshe Rivkas' father's identity as Naftali Tzvi Hersh Sofer of Prague or Hersh Fass of Krakow.

I discussed the identity of Rabbi Moshe Rivkas' mother:

"Little is known about the Gaon's female ancestors. There are two versions as to the identity of Naf­tali Tzvi Hersh Sofer's wife. Shapira[1]  refers to Naftali as Tzvi Hersh Fass and records his wife's name as Rivka, a daughter of Natan Mandel, son of Meir of Krakow.

But Hersh Fass lived in Krakow, whereas the father of Moshe Rivkas, Naftali Tzvi Hersh lived in Prague where he held the position as Sofer (scribe) of the Kahal.i Hersh Fasi held a position as Parnes Umanhig (a community leader) in Krakow. Kahana[2] lists the children of Hersh Fass but the name of Moshe Rivkas is not included. Naftali Tzvi Hersh Sofer died in Prague in 1601, whereas  Hersh Fass is recorded in the Pinkas Hakahal (a community register book) in 1632. Therefore it can be seen that Shapira has confused two individuals. A possible explanation for the confusion may be due to the fact that Fass ' son Leib was the father-in-law (by his first marriage) of Rabbi Gershon Ashkenazi of Nikolsberg and Vienna (1615-1693, author of Avodat Hagershuni) who referred to Moshe Rivkas as his “Mekhutan” (meaning that their children were married) in Gershon’s approbation to Rivkas’ Be’er Hagolah" 

Benymin Rivlin[3] identifies Moshe Rivkas' mother:

About Reb Naftali Hirsh Sofer of the Holy Community of Prague, son of Reb Petakhiah, related his son Reb Moshe Rivkas, in the above introduction [to his book Be’er Hagolah] that “he drew water and served before the rabbi the Gaon our teacher the Rabbi Reb Falk Katz of blessed memory in the Holy Community of Lvov, after his marriage, in the year 5356 and 5357 [1596 and 1597], and there edited the Shulkhan Arukh and wrote at the side some matters from the Shulkhan Arukh of the above rabbi the Gaon of blessed memory.
His wife was Mrs. Telza – of the root of the Gaon Reb Shaul Wahl, and apparently he was “His Honor Hirsh the son of the master the honorable Petakhiah Sofer, tender in years, Sofer son of Sofer, who passed away in Elul 5361 [1601] in Prague.

This reference to Telza, Moshe Rivkas’ mother, appeared prior to Benyamin Rivlin’s comment in 1971, in 1900 in Bentzion Eizenstadt’s Dor Rabanav Vesofraf[4]

Rivlin refers to other relatives of Moshe Rivkas[5]:

c. According to Rabbi Moshe in Be’er Hagolah his relatives were the Rabbi Reb Yeshaya Horowitz, the author of Shnei Lukhot Habrit (43) and the Rabbi Mordekhai Krasnik of the holy community of Zeil (44.
d. The Rabbi the Gaon our teacher the Rabbi Reb Gershon Ashkenazi Av Beit Din of Nikolsberg and Vienna, who was among the approbants to the book of Reb Moshe, writes of him that he was his Mekhutan.
(43). Be’er Hagolah, Orakh Khaim 645, 7, 30 and see there Khoshen Mishpat 67, 68.
(44). Ibid, Orakh Khaim 586. 1. 5.

Questioned my relative the Rabbi Reb Mordekhai Krasnik P of the Holy Community K [an abbreviation which may mean Parnes of the Holy Community of Krakow][6]

Moshe Rivkas' father was clearly identified by Moshe Rivkas in his introduction to "Be'er Hagolah" as Naftali Hersh Sofer of Prague who died in Prague in 1601.

Moshe Rivkas was then a young boy of five. His mother was a young widow aged about twenty one. It is reasonable to assume that she remarried.

Hersh Fass' first wife Rivka, daughter of Natan Mandel died in 1606. She was the mother of Leib Fass whose daughter married Gershon Ashkenazy (also know as Ulif and Fass, 1615-1693) who is referred to by Moshe Rivkas as "Mekhutani"[7]. In modern times this term indicates the relationship between the parents of a married couple. In the rabbinic literature it indicates any relationship by marriage.

Hersh Fass' second wife was "Teltzel"[8] who managed the considerable fortune left by her husband.

Details of Mordekhai Krasnik, referred to by Moshe Rivkas as "She'ar Besari" meaning a blood relative state that Rivkas lived in Krakow "among his relatives" before he settled in Vilna.

Since Fass' first wife died in1606, and since Moshe Rivkas' father's wife, also claimed to be Telza, was left a widow in 1601, it is possible that she moved to Krakow where lived a relative Mordekhai Krasnik, and there became the second wife of Hersh Fass.

Thus the apparent contraditions in the sources as to the identity of Moshe Rivkas' father as either Nafatli Tzvi Sofer of Prague or Hersh Fass of Krakow, arose from the possibility that Fass was Rivkas' step-father from his mother Telza's second marriage.

This also explains the term "mekhutan" used by Rivlas to refer to Gershon Ashkenazy who was a son-in-law to Rivkas' step-brother Leib Fass.

Additional Notes:
1) Eliyahu Landa's notes on the family of the Vilna Gaon do not mention the above relationships.
2) "Sefer Yukhsin" by Ch.Y.D Weiss (2007) confuses the relationships.
3) Gershon Ashkenazy in his book "Avodat Hagershuni" refers also to Rabbi Shabtai Hakohen the "Shakh" as "mekhutni". This may be explained by the fact that Ashkenazy's father-in-law Leib Fass had a sister who married Moshe Leizers, a nephew of Moshe Isserles, the "Rema", whose great-great-grand-daughter was the wife of the Shakh.


[1] Shapira, Yaakov Leib. Mishpakhot Atikot Beyisrael. Tel Aviv 1981.
[2] Kahana, S.Z. Anaf Etz Avot. Krakow 1903.
[3] Rivlin, Benyamin. Reb Moshe Rivkas. Jerusalem 1971
[4] Eizenstadt, Bentzion. Dor rabanav Vesofrav. Vilna 1900.
[5] Fishman-Maimon, Yehuda Leib. Sefer Hagra. Jerusalem, 1954.
[6] Dembitzer, Chaim Natan, Krakow 1893
[7]  "Yeshurum"  1999,  page 685 article by Betzalel Landau, originally published in "Hamodia" in Av 1964, "Rabbi Moshe Rivkas – author of "Be'er Hagolah",
[8]  Dembitzer, Chaim Natan, Krakow 1893.

Monday, 28 March 2011


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קובץ שושנים
Luria, Shaul."Ateret Shaul". Vilna, 1841
עטרת שאול
Luria, Tsvi. ed."Maalot hatorah" (by Avraham Ragoler). Jerusalem 1947.
מעלות התורה
"Otsar Yisrael"
אוצר ישראל
Maggid, David. "Toldot Mishpakhat Ginzberg". St.Petersburg, 1899.
תולדות משפחת גינצבורג
Mandelbaum, Simkha. "Asara Dorot Be-Eretz Yisrael". Jerusalem, 1994.
עשרה דורות בארץ ישראל
Margolis, M.L. & Marx, A. "A History of the Jewish People". Philadelphia, 1963.
Markovitch, Moshe. "Lekorot Hair Keidan Urabbaneha". Warsaw, 1913.
לקורות העיר קיידאן ורבניה
Markovitch, Moshe. "Lekorot Hair Rassein Urabbaneha". Warsaw, 1913.
לקורות העיר ראסיין ורבניה
Markovitch, Moshe. "Shem Hagedolim Hashlishi". Vilna, 1910.
שם הגדולים השלישי
Menton, Arthur. "The Book Of Destiny: Toledot Charlap". Cold Spring Harbour, N.Y. USA. 1996
Michelson, T.Y. "Beit Yekhezkel". Pietrikov, 1924.
בית יחזקאל
"Misgav Ladakh" - records of old age home in Jerusalem. Gorr archive.
משגב לדך
Mokotoff, Gary & Sack, Sallyann. "Where Once We Walked". Teaneck, NJ. USA. 1991.
Montefiore Census 1839,1866, 1875.
Morgenstern, A."Geulah Bederekh Hatevah".Jerusalem, 1989.
גאולה בדרך הטבע
Morgenstern, A."Meshikhut Veyishuv Eretz Yisrael". Jerusalem, 1985.
משיחות וישוב ארץ ישראל
Moshe, ben Yehuda Leib of Pinsk. "Shnot Eliyahu". Lemberg, 1799; Warsaw, 1860.
שנות אליהו
"Nature" Vol 339, 1989 - "New Light on the Lysenko era".
Neumark, Avraham Yaakov. "Eshel Avraham"
אשל אברהם
Nikitin,N."Yevreiski Zemlyedeltsi" Jewish Agriculturalists. St.Petersburg, 1887.
Ovchinsky, Levi. "Nakhalat Avot". Vilna, 1894.
נחלת אבות
"Pinkas Hakehilot - Lita" - Yad Vashem, Jerusalem,  1996,
פנקס הקהילות - ליטא
"Pinkas Hakhevra Kaddisha DePraga" - 1788-1870.
פנקס החברה קדישא דפראגא
 Minutes of a burial society   in the Praga district of Warsaw. Original manuscript held by "The  Central                      Archives for the History of the Jewish People", Jerusalem, Israel.
"Pinkas Klois Hagra" - the minutes of the Gaon's study circle - manuscript    held by the "Central                                Archives For The History Of the Jewish People"
פנקס קלויז הגר"א
"Pinkas Khevra Kadisha Slutsk" - records of the burial society in Slutsk, Byelorussia, c.1650-1925.
פנקס חברה קדישא סלוצק
Pinkhas ben Azriel. "Nakhalat Azriel". Grodno 1817
נחלת עזריאל
"Project Chicago".
Records of donations from Chicago Jews to  the settlers in Eretz Yisrael during the nineteenth and early                     twentieth century, published in "Shemesh Tzedakah" and researched by Shmuel Gorr with notes by                     Charles Bernstein (Chicago).
Rabinowicz, H. "The World Of Hasidism". London, 1970.
Rabinowitsch, W.Z. "Lithuanian Hasidism". London, 1970.
Rabinowitz, Meir Mikhel."Meir Leolam" - Vilna, 1903.
מאיר לעולם
Ragoler, Avraham. "Maalot Hatorah". Vilna, 1824.
מעלות התורה

         Ragoler, Shlomo Zalmen."Beit Avot", Berlin 1889      
בית אבות

Ran, Leyzer. "Yerushalayim Delita". New York, 1974.
ירושלים דליטע
Rapaport, David. "Tsemakh David". Keidan 1925.
צמח דוד
Rivlin, Benyamin.
      Personal archive containing his research, that of his father Eliezer Rivlin, and genealogical lists of                                Rabbi Eliyahu Landau. Jerusalem.
Rivlin, Benyamin. :Reb Moshe Rivkas". Jerusalem. 1971
ר' משה רבקש
Rivlin, Eliezer."Sefer Hayakhas Lemishpakhat Rivlin veHaGaon miVilna." Jerusalem, 1935.
ספר היחס למשפחת ריבלין ומשפחות הגר"א מווילנא, אליש, ראש-יוסף ולידא
Rivlin, Eliezer. "Hatzadik Reb Yosef Zundel MiSalant Verabotav".Jerusalem, 1927.
הצדיר ר' יוסף זונדל מסלנט ורבותיו
Rivlin, Kh.Z. "Khazon Tzion". Tel Aviv, 1947.
חזון ציון
Rosenblum, Yehoshua Mordekhai. "Heavar" Tel Aviv, 1965.
Rosenstein, E. & N. "Latter Day Leaders, Sages and Scholars". Elizabeth, NY. USA. 1983.
Rozenkranz, A. "Sefer Yukhsin". Warsaw, 1885.
ספר יוחסיו
Sackheim, George. "Scattered Seed". USA. 1986.
Samsonowitz, Miriam."Grandma".Israel, 1994.
Schechter, Solomon. "Studies In Judaism". New York, 1958.
Schwartz, Pinkhas Zelig."Shem Hagdolim". New York 1958.
שם הגדולים
"Sefer Zgierz". Tel Aviv, 1975.
ספר זגירז
Selavan, Ida. "In Search of Sarah Menkin Foner"
Shabad, Avraham Khaim. "Toldot Hayamin". Vilna, 1904.
תולדות הימים
Shapira, Yaakov Leib. "Mishpakhot Atikot Beyisrael" Ancient Families of Israel. Tel Aviv, 1981.
משפחות עתיקות בישראל
"Shemesh Tzedakah"
שמש צדקה
          - records of donors and recipients of funds supporting Jewish settlers in Eretz Yisrael - 1884-                    1924.Gorr archive held by Chaim Freedman.
Shverdsharf, M.Y. "Nakhalat Yesharim". Sziget, 1903.
נחלת ישרים
Sieff, Israel (Lord), memoirs
"Sinai" 1961. Mossad Harav Kook, Jerusalem. - article by Benyamin Rivlin about the children of           the                       Gaon.
Sirkis, Pinkhas."Ish Haemunah". Tel Aviv, Israel.
איש האמונה
Slush, David. "Reshit David". Warsaw, 1881
ראשית דוד
Steinshneider, H."Ir Vilna".Vilna 1900
עיר ווילנא
Stern, Y.Z. "Zekher Leyehosef".Warsaw. 1898.
זכר ליהוסף
Sternberg, S."Heter Tarmat". Tel Aviv 1986 היתר תרמ"ט
Sternbuch Family, "Shirat Devorah". Bnei Brak, Israel, 1994
שירת דבורה
Teller, Hanoch."The Lion's Share, Reb Leib Gurewitz."
"The Age", newspaper, Melbourne, Australia.
"The Anixter family".
The Jewish Agency." Register of Jewish Survivors". Jerusalem,1945.
"The Jewish News", newspaper, Melbourne, Australia.
"The Times", newspaper, London, England.
Tidhar, D. "Encyclopedia lekhalutsei hayishuv ubonav". Tel Aviv, 1947.
אנציקלופדיה לחלוצי הישוב ובוניה
"Toldot Kehilat Pinsk 1506-1880".History of the community of Pinsk 1506-1880. Tel Aviv, 1973.
תולדות קהילת פינסק 1506-1880
Treves, H.D. "Avodat Hakohen". Warsaw, 1889.
עבודת הכהן
Wasserman, Yosef Zundel. "Megilat Hayakhas". Tel Aviv, 1957.
מגילת היחס
Weinkle, Marcus Joseph,memoirs 1928,edited by Charlotte Chassin.
Jamesburg, N.J. USA.
"Who's Who in America 1972"
"Who's Who in America" 1955
"Who's Who In Israel"
Wilensky, Mordekhai. "Khassidim Umitnagdim". Jerusalem, 1970.
חסידים ומתנגדים
Wolf, V. "Der Geshikhte fun di Yidden in Lettland'. The History of the Jews in Latvia.Riga, 1923.
דער געשיכטע פון דער יידן אין לעטלאנד
"Wolkovisker Yizkor Book" - New York 1949.
וואקאוויסקער יזכור בוך
Wunder, Meir. "Elef Margaliot". Jerusalem, 1993.
אלף מרגליות
Yaari, E. "Igrot Eretz Yisrael". Ramat Gan, Israel, 1971.
אגרות ארץ ישראל
"Yahadut Latvia". Latvian Jewry. Tel Aviv, 1953.
יהדות לטביה
"Yahadut Lita". Tel Aviv, 1967.
יהדות ליטה
Yedaya, ben Avraham. "Or Khakhamin". Horodno, 1795.
אור חכמים
Yevnin, S. "Nakhalat Olamin". Warsaw 1882
נחלת עולמים
Zagorske-Menkin, Efraim. "Torat Almavet". Vilna 1860.
תורת אל-מוות
Zandman, Felix."In a Hole Under the Floor"Anti Defamation League Bulletin, 1989.
Zeligman, Yisrael."Megilat Yukhsin". Privately published, Latvia, c.1939.
מגילת יוחסין
          Zev Wolf halevy. "Emek Halakha". Vilna 1845.
עמק הלכה
"Zikhron Eliyahu ". Bnei Brak,  Israel, 1989.
זכרון אליהו
Zinovitz, Moshe. "Mir". Tel Aviv 1981.