L. Linkevičius: Vilna Gaon – most prominent Litvak cultural representative
On 23 April, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania Linas Linkevičius, Chair of the Jewish (Litvak) Community of Lithuania Faina Kukliansky, and Israel's Ambassador to Lithuania Yossef Levy honored the memory of the Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman) in the Jewish Cemetery of Vilnius on the occasion of his 300th birth anniversary.
“The Vilna Gaon is one of the most prominent Litvak cultural representatives in the long history of the Jews in Lithuania, who had a major influence on the spiritual life of the world’s Jews. His authority contributed significantly to the prosperity of Vilnius, which then became known as ‘The Jerusalem of the North’. The capital of Lithuania was the world-famous Jewish spiritual center. We can discover this Litvak Lithuania – Lita – not by looking at the usual map, but by learning and understanding their specific culture. Hopefully, the planned events of the Year of the Vilna Gaon and the History of the Jews of Lithuania, which were postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, will be held later, and we will be able to pay due tribute to the world-renowned commentator of Torah and Talmud," L. Linkevičius said.
The Parliament (Seimas) of Lithuania designated 2020 as the Year of the Vilna Gaon and the History of the Jews of Lithuania. The 300th birth anniversary is also included in the UNESCO list of anniversaries for 2020–2021. The aim is to commemorate the glorious contribution by the Vilna Gaon to the religious, cultural, scholarly and social heritage of Lithuania and the world.
The Vilna Gaon is considered to be the guardian of the singular identity and strength of the tradition of Litvak Judaism. He had been devoted to religious studies since childhood. The sage was convinced that secular scientific knowledge could help to better understand sacred writings, so he also studied grammar, mathematics, and astronomy. Although he never had any formal responsibilities, the Vilna Gaon had gained a great religious and moral authority among his contemporaries.
All of the works were written down by his relatives and students, and published after his death.
The Jewish cemetery on Sudervės road was opened before the Second World War and is one of the two Jewish cemeteries currently operating in Lithuania.