The Works of the Malbim

Malbim's fame and immense popularity rest upon his monumental commentary on the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible).  He composed and published it between 1845 and 1870. 

It was the first work of its kind since medieval times.  Not since the likes of Rashi, Gersonides and Abrabanel had a biblical commentary of comparable size and scope been written; and not since the golden age of Jewish philosophy had such a far ranging Jewish theology been formulated. 

Nor, since that enlightened Spanish era, had such a determined and focused attempt been made to grapple with the challenges presented by secular learning and mores to the loyalties of contemporary Jews.  

His first published commentary was on Megillas Esther (1845).  His commentaries on the remaining books of the Bible were published between 1845 and 1876.

Written in a lucid style, his often original comments pay close attention to nuances and derivations of words. 

His commentary of the Early Prophets is considered a modern classic. 

His commentary on Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy is always printed with the Halachic Midrash on those books, to which Malbim makes frequent reference.

Malbim was also the author of:

  • "Archot ha-Hayyim," commentary and novellæ on the Shulchan 'Arukh, Orach Chayyim (Breslau, 1837);

  • "Archot ha-Shalom," collection of sermons (Krotoschin, 1839);

  • "Ha-Torah v'ha-Mikvah," commentary on the Pentateuch and Sifra (Warsaw, 1874-80);

  • "Mikra'e Kodesh," commentary on the Prophets and Hagiographa (ib. 1874; this commentary is double—on the words and on the sense; Malbim always endeavored to explain the different meanings of synonyms):

  • "Mashal u-Melikah," dramatic philippic, in verse, against hypocrisy (Paris, 1867).

The Malbim ---
Rabbi Meir Leibush

'Malbim' is an acronym of the full name of Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel. 

Malbim was born at Volochisk, in Volhynia Russia, in 1809.  He was still a child when his father died.  He was educated in Hebrew and Talmud first by his father, and then by his stepfather, R. Löb of Volochisk.  He studied in his native town until he was thirteen.  He showed unusual talent from his early childhood.  His works indicate that he also had a considerable knowledge of secular sciences. 

When he was thirteen, Malbim went to Warsaw, where he was known as the ‘Prodigy from Volhynia.’  He wandered much of his life, serving as Rav in various cities for several years at a time.  Wherever he went, he was persecuted because of his uncompromising stand against Reform, even suffering a brief imprisonment on a false accusation.

From 1838 to 1845 he was rabbi of Wreschen, in the district of Posen.  In 1845, he was called to the rabbinate of Kempen, where he remained until 1860.  He was thereafter known as "Der Kempener."  In 1860, Malbim became chief rabbi of Bucharest, Rumania.  For a short while he was Chief Rabbi of Rumania. 

In Rumania, he could not agree with the rich German Jews there.  They wished to introduce the Reform rite, and did not shrink even from violence in the pursuit of their aims.  By intrigues they succeeded in throwing him into prison.  Though he was liberated through the intervention of Sir Moses Montefiore, it was upon the condition that he leave Rumania. 

Malbim went to Constantinople and complained to the Turkish government, but obtained no satisfaction.  After staying six months in Paris, he went to Lencziza, in the district of Kalisz, Russian Poland, as successor to his deceased father-in-law, Chayyim Auerbach (1866).  Shortly after, he was rabbi at Kherson; and from there was called to the rabbinate of Moghilef, on the Dnieper (1870).  

There, too, his lack of subservience provoked the resentment of the richer Jews.  These denounced him as a political criminal, and the governor of Moghilef ordered him to leave the town.  Malbim then went to Königsberg as chief rabbi of the Polish community, but there he fared no better than in Bucharest and Moghilef.  He was continually harassed by the German Reform Jews. 

When Malbim passed through Vilna in 1879, the community there would have appointed him rabbi in place of Isaac Elijah Landau, but the governor of Vilna opposed the election on the grounds that he could not sanction the appointment of a rabbi who had been expelled from Moghilef as a political criminal. 

In September of the same year, Malbim was on his way to Krementchug, where he had been appointed rabbi, when he fell sick and died at Kiev, September 18, 1879.

On the narrative level, Malbim's interpretation of Job is quite straightforward; it is all a matter of tests and trials.  The person Job is being tested; first by prosperity and then by adversity.  It is, however, on other levels that Malbim's Job really comes into its own.  Malbim believed the Massoretic (Hebrew) text to the Book of Job to be a coherent whole that faithfully records what the book's original author, Moses, actuallly wrote.  As such, its standing in matters of moral and natural philosophy must be on a par with that the Torah has in matters of Halachah.  Just as the whole of Halachah is inherent in the text of the Torah, so must all the wisdom of philosophy and metaphysics be present in the Book of Job, there in its poetry and imagery.  Moreover, Malbim asserted, whereas previous commentators had failed to show how the text of Job supported the philosophical affinities they had attributed to Job and his friends, or how these designations helped to elucidate the text, he claims to do both.  Exhibiting an originality of interpretation and a love of the Hebrew language that matched the Haskalah of his contemporaries, Malbim finds support for all his ideas in the actual words of the Book of Job itself.  Whether or not his interpretation is truly the sense of Job, what Malbim produced is undoubtedly a masterpiece of theology and exegesis.