R. Jacob David ben Ze’ev Willowski (Ridbaz, 1845–1913) was already recognized for his brilliance in his youth. In 1868 he was appointed rabbi at Izballin; in 1876 of Bobruisk; and in 1881 moreh zedek and Maggid meisharim of Vilna. He later served as rabbi of Polotsk, Vilkomir, and Slutsk, in the latter appointing R. Isaac Zalmon Meltzer as principal. In 1903 he moved to the United States where he was appointed chief rabbi of a group of Orthodox congregations in Chicago. He was also designated the zekan ha-rabbanim (elder rabbi) of America by the then newly organized Union of Orthodox Rabbis. On Sept. 8, 1903, he was elected chief rabbi of the Russian-American congregations in Chicago. He endeavored to introduce order into the religious services of his congregations, but met obstruction and opposition on the part of a former rabbi, R. Zevi Simon Album, and his followers; not being able to withstand the persistent opposition, Ridbaz resigned his position ten months later. His comments in Nimmukei Ridbaz caused R. Album to rejoin with Devar Emet (Chicago, 1904), in rebuttal of the allegations by Ridbaz. R. Album was in turn attacked by P. Gewirtzman in a pamphlet entitled Aken Noda ha-Dabar, in defense of Ridbaz.
R. Willowski, due to what he considered to be the neglect of religious life in America, emigrated to Erez Israel in 1905, settling in Safed, where he founded yeshivah Torat Erez Israel, known as Yeshivat ha-Ridbaz. He took issue with R. Abraham Isaac Kook, then rabbi of Jaffa, for his lenient ruling permitting farmers to work the land during the Sabbatical Year. In the Sabbatical Year of 1910, R. Willowski urged them not to work the land, and established an international charity fund to sustain those who followed his decision. His was particularly renowned for his two commentaries to the Jerusalem Talmud, one of which followed the method of Rashi, the other tosafot. His other works are Migdal David (1874) and Hanah David (1876), both containing novellae and comments on the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds; Responsa (1881); Responsa Beit Ridbaz (1908); and annotations on R. Israel of Shklov’s Pe’at ha-Shulhan (1912).
הקדמת המחבר כוללת גם תיאור מצב הרבנות, החינוך והכשרות בארצות הברית.