They Learned 18 Hours a Day and Played Chess as a Break

A talmid of Reb Nechemia of Dubrovna and an incredible gaon, Reb Yosef Tumarkin related how they would learn 18 hours a day, and between sugyos of gemara they played some chess, so they wouldn’t confuse the two sugyos.

Reb Yosef Tumarkin was the son of Reb Eliyahu, a prominent chossid of the Alter Rebbe. Reb Yosef was a chossid of the Tzemach Tzedek and the Rebbe Maharash, and was a talmid of Reb Nechemya of Dubrovna, the great rov and chossid of the Alter Rebbe.

Reb Yosef was a great gaon with an incredible mind. He loved collecting seforim and amassed many rare ones. He was the rov in Kremenchug and devoted himself to his community, especially with freeing Jews from army service.

Reb Yosef’s teshuvos were recently published and were reviewed here.

Reb Yosef passed away on the 23rd of Tammuz, 5634 (1876).

Reb Yosef once told of his schedule of learning with Reb Nechemia of Dubrovna when he was Reb Nechemia’s student, that they would study for 18 hours a day. Between topics of gemoro they would play some chess, so that the intricacies of one topic would not interfere with the next.


When the Rebbe’s great-grandfather Reb Avrohom Dovid Lavut composed his work of Kav Naki on the halachos of Get, he asked the Rabash, the son of the Tzemach Tzedek to write an approbation. The Rabash said that he would not write his own approbation until Reb Yosef would reviewed the sefer and agree with its content.


Reb Yosef once met a man in the mikvah building who said to him, “You will surely be going soon to Lubavitch; please send my regards to the Rebbe”.

“And who are you?” asked Reb Yosef.

“Tell the Rebbe that the ‘deitchel’ sends regards” the man said. (Deitchel, literally a German, was used by Russian Jews to refer to a modern Jew.) Reb Yosef understood that the matter was not simple, and set out for Lubavitch immediately after shabbos.

He went in to the Rebbe Maharash and delivered regards from the “deitchel.” When the Rebbe heard this, he stood up in amazement, exclaiming three times consecutively: “Wow! I can’t believe this; you saw the deitchel?!”

Apparently the “deitchel” was a hidden tzadik, and Reb Yosef merited seeing him and communicating his regards to the Rebbe.

For sources, visit

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