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[Page 85]

The Rabbinical Courts
in Sadagura and Boyany

by Dr. Samuel Josef Schulsohn (New York)

Translated by Jerome Silverbush

Tiny Bukovina bordered by Russia, Galicia, Hungary and Romania, with its 120,000 Jews played a very special roll for Jews before World War I in the following respects: The political, social and cultural situation of the Jews was unique in the Austro-Hungarian Empire as well as in the rest of Europe. In Bukovina, however where Romanians and Ruthiens lived in equal numbers the Jews played a leading roll as carriers of the German culture and as representatives of business, industry, the learned professions and as estate owners, and enjoyed not only all rights and freedoms in equal measure with all other nationalities in the land, but they also acquired for themselves solid positions in all areas of endeavor. They were able to do this thanks to the generous constitution of 1866, the liberal regime of of Kaiser Franz Joseph and the leadership of Dr. Benno Straucher,

The religious-national situation of the Jews in Bukovina was also unique and exerted a tremendous influence not only on the Bukovina Jews, but also on the Jews in the bordering countries. Chadisidism, as taught and spread by the Ruzyner Tzaddik1 and the Friedmann Dynasty, supported this positive situation in large measure. Both had significant influence on Jewish society and Jewish life. The power and sphere of influence of Chasidism encompassed not only the great masses of simple uneducated village Jews but also, their educated and enlightened children.

In this way, the small insignificant market town of Sadagura in the vicinity of Czernowitz where the Ruzyner Tzaddik Israel Friedmann (1796-1850) settled in 1842 and established his “court2” became the center of Chasidism from where the tremendous influence of the Tzaddik spread to deep in Russia, the Ukraine, Bessarabia , the Moldavia and to East Galicia.

He faced almost insurmountable obstacles and difficulties after he escaped from Russia. The Bukovina district captain at that time, Issaczeskul was one of the first among the non-Jews who recognized the importance of this leader of the Chasidic movement. He leveled his path by stating in his report to his superiors, that “the useful consequences of his settling here and the power of his personality,” and further “this pious Rabbi with his good manners, his civilized attitude, his tactful behavior, and the powerful almost magical power he has on his believers and worshipers,” so argued the district captain, “would exercise a great and strong influence on the Jews and it would be in the interest of the state to give him permission to settle here because of his educational value as well as the material well being and the ascendance of Bukovina.”

His followers acquired for him, the Potok-Zyloty estate and tried to get the agreement of the leading rabbis of Galicia, in this way hoping to get the government to issue a residence permit. Through intercession by the Tzaddik of Ujhley, Moses Teitelbaum, the Pressburger Rabbi, Chatam Sofer declared, that even though he didn't highly value Ruzyner's significance in Pilpul, he could testify however that thousands of Jews were his followers.

The position of the leading rabbis of Galicia, like that of the Vienna sermonizer, Mannheimer and the Krakau Rabbi Dow Berisch Meisels led Chancellor Metternich to deny Russia's demand for extradition of Ruzyner and to allow him to settle in Sadagura.

Physically, Sadagura was a small insignificant village, but spiritually, it became a center for the Chasidic movement and it exercised a magnetic attraction for tens of thousands of Jews who streamed from the most remote regions into Sadagura, either to see the Tzaddik and to be astounded by the magnificence and glory of the court or to learn and experience Chasidism and to be absorbed in Jewish feelings and experience. From near and far, from deepest Russia, from Moscow or the coast of the Black Sea, from Romania or Galicia, Jews traveled to Sadagura, either singly or in groups, especially during the High Holidays.

Sadagura became the most well-known and radiant citadel of Chasidism. The court was distinguished by its worldliness, splendor, riches and luxury no less than through its mysticism The Rabbi lifted his Chasidim, intellectually and spiritually, and awoke in them the longing for God. It was a sort of aristocratic Chasidism. The Rabbi remained unseen, he prayed in private in a small room that was built onto the prayer house, the “klaus.” One heard his sighing, his groaning, and his quiet inward directed praying. It was not a noisy prayer, no body movements or gestures. One saw in Rabbi Ruzyner, whose every move was dignified, no stormy movements. He prayed in the most dignified and serious manner and no believer dared to disturb the solemnity of the service through a profane word or disagreeable movement. Everyone was captured by the spell of this holy man. Also, an uncomfortable silence and an exemplary discipline ruled at meals in spite of the presence of thousands of men. When the Rabbi entered or left the prayer house, his followers formed a cordon and they stood motionless looking full of awe in his radiant face with his glorious glowing eyes from which a magic power radiated as well as at his awe inspiring figure.

In contrast to many Chasidic leaders, who mostly lived in great poverty and isolation, Ruzyner and his successors in Sadagura and Boyany with their aristocratic manners and fashionable elegant ways of life were able to engross and bewitch their followers. His main effort therefore was directed to restoring the external dignity of Judaism to its original brilliance. “We must meet God with splendor and glory,” taught Ruzyner, “and serve him with joyfully shining and glowing faces and appear in fitting clothing before the King of all Kings.” Therefore, the finest taste in choice of clothing, the hairstyle, the walk, the gestures, the dwelling, and every other detail. This contrasted with his early life in which he practiced the most extreme abstinence from enjoyment, which led to an amazing reduction in the quantity of nourishment. He rejected asceticism entirely and replaced it with enjoyment and joy in life. “A small hole in the human body,” so goes the saying, “causes a large hollow in the soul.”

First with the arrival of his family from Kischinew, where they were held by the Russian officials, began the real court life with full splendor, as seen at no other Tzaddik's court

His optimistic “world view” was one of his most striking characteristics. Ruzyner explained his inclination to finery and opulence with the teaching that the Tzaddik is the intermediary and through him the world is provided for, that through the Tzaddik, the people receive nourishment and life and through him all salvation is spread over the earth. In the interest of the well being of the people, the rabbi should not be humble and modest, but should dress in rich finery, and surround himself with luxury, splendor and pageantry using the brilliant lifestyle of King Solomon as an example in order to restore the honor and dignity which was lost during thousands of years of oppression and persecution.

So Ruzyner made pomp and pageantry a principal of Chasidism, surrounded himself with great splendor, dressed himself and his family elegantly, drove in a splendid coach drawn by four horses, had his own band which especially on Purim, and on the evenings following Yom Kippur and Simchat Torah entertained the whole community, old and young, he lived in a magnificent palace and each of his grown children had his own building, in short, he lived the life of a prince. His life was so grandiose that among the people it was said that Ruzyner wanted to build a temple in Sadagura on the pattern of the temple in Jerusalem. His appearances were like those of a king. His followers considered him as leader of the entire Chassidic world and the uncrowned king of the Chasidim.

His fascinating character, his attractive appearance and his piercing intelligence had a tremendous influence on his contemporaries, even on many noblemen and dignitaries and naturally even greater for his followers who streamed to him in droves. The attraction of his personality and his court were so great that his followers came from great distances braving dangers and deprivations only to be in his presence, which considering their huge numbers, was not easy.

The splendor of the court, the cheerfulness, the spirit of joy was so attractive for the people and created so much enthusiasm that the miserable unhappy Jews of Poldolia, Moldavia and Galicia forgot their need and with elevated spirit and a happy mood, came to the court of the Tzaddik, they were transformed, new beings, happy people. Thousands and thousands of admirers swarmed around Ruzyner and asserted that he was the awaited “Messiah,” who would reveal himself as soon as the time was right. His followers belonged to various categories. Many came to Sadagura to take joy in his countenance from which reverence, kindness and intellectual greatness radiated; others sought him out in order to learn Torah and the teachings of Chasidism in order to perfect themselves, intellectually and spiritually. Others wanted his advice or to request his help in a serious situation. To his court came not only the poor. miserable, suppliants, spiritually or physically broken, cripples, barren, but also intellectually great rabbis, scholars, enlightened, rich, landowners, The Tzaddik listened patiently to all the suppliants, spoke to them like a father, showed deep understanding for them, instructed them with anecdotes or similar situations, consoled them and gave them new courage, showed lively interest for their situation and special understanding for their problems, put various questions to them, in order to uncover the reason for the bad situation, spoke quietly with kindness and gentleness, and so analyzed all problems with great wisdom and sent them away with advice and blessings. And not only Jews, but also dignified non-Jews came to him, had conversations with him, asked for his advice, were astounded by his cleverness and experience and were grateful to him for life. All visitors to the Rabbi left with the feeling that a tremendous load had been lifted from their shoulders, they breathed easier, they had full confidence in the wonder working power of the Rabbi and returned home joyfully and full of hope. So the Rabbi acquired an overwhelming influence over the people, not merely because of educated statements and explanations about difficult passages in the Torah, or in the Talmud3but first and foremost by personal contact through which he dedicated many hours daily to the wants and needs of the petitioners and gave them heartfelt interest and understanding and fatherly warmth and kindness.

Ruzyner was however, not only a guidepost and father to the masses, who worshiped him like a god, gave him royal honors and would go through fire for him, he also acquired because of his excellent intellect, in spite of his youth, the greatest respect from all Chassidic notables and leaders of dynasties in Galicia and Poland. They all rendered homage to him and respected him as the head of the Chasidic movement and because of that traveled to Sadagura. According to the dictum of one of the best experts on Chasidism, Israel, the Bal Schem Tov, represents the root of the tree of the movement, while Ruzyner symbolized the crown with the fruit. Rabbi Israel Friedman4 was a man of practical realpolitic5of religious nationalism, the outer regeneration of the individual as well as the national body. He had the idea and carried out the plan, to recreate glory of the Jewish kings in exile, that is to provide the majority of Jews in the East with a leader with true royal grandeur. All the Chasidic leaders bent their knee to him, the great grandson of the Maggid (preacher) Dov Baer von Meseritsch and recognized him as leader of the movement and as the uncrowned leader of Chasidism. He was the “Urim Wetumim6.” They attempted nothing without asking for his advice or getting his approval. And Ruzyner whose fame had spread to the wide world, and who was highly respected, bore on his shoulders, and in his conscience, the burden and the responsibility for their fate. In 1844 he asked Moses Montefiore in London to intervene with Czar Nicolas of Russia to lift the ban on collecting money for the Russian Kolel7. The tzaddik R. Chaim from Kossow and other Chasidic tzaddiks from Galicia came to Ruzyner to ask for advice on how to deal with the bitter battle between the Haskala8 and the Chasidism. He told the collected leaders of the Chasidim, the anecdote of the white roosters who bitterly complained that on the eve of Yom Kippur, white fowl are preferred for Kapores9. An old white rooster advised them to make their white feathers black in the chimney and thus avoid the danger. With his piercing understanding Ruzyner advised them in the same way to put aside their usual white clothing to avoid being conspicuous and offensive because of the clothing.

Actually, there was a great difference in appearance between the Sadagura Chasidim and other Chasidim. One recognized the Sadagura Chasidim by their fine white clothing and their good conduct as well as their sociability and comradeship and solidarity. The better-off Chasidim felt their social obligation to the poor Chasidim and provided materially for their support. So, the Sadagura Chasidim gave the movement a special stamp in that they stressed the modern and refined cultural trends and they wanted Jews to feel their worth and increase their pride and to elevate in the eyes of the outer world, the self respect and honor of Jews and Judaism. The result of this teaching and education was the incalculable blossoming of power in the religious national life of the Jews of Bukovina and the strong very distinct national consciousness. Ruzyner explained the choice of Sadagura as his new residence with the meaningful statement: “Our parents and ancestors, Rabbi Abraham Malach (Engel) our grandfather and Meseritscher preacher Dov Baer, our great-grandfather announced the honor of God and spread his fame in Russia. It is our task to transplant God's greatness and his people's honor to the West and to root it in the people.”

He wouldn't tolerate his Chasidim going around bedraggled and in neglected clothing. The Chasidim tell the story of how when he saw, a youth with overlong, uncombed side-curls, he took a knife and cut them off.

Ruzyner loved the Holly Land with all his heart. He collected great sums to support the Jews there. He was the leader of the Yeshiva of Russia for the Jews who emigrated from Russia to Israel. Every year, the administrator of the Yeshiva in Jerusalem, R. Nissan Back came to him and gave him a detailed report on the endowment for the Yeshiva. His relation to Eretz10 Israel was extremely positive. As a descendant of the house of King David, he saw it as his destiny to stand on the peak of the Diaspora and to make the heart of Israel ripe for the ingathering.” In the persecution of the Jews in Russia, he saw the portent of the coming return to Eretz Israel.

Among the songs that he liked to hear sung were two songs by the Cabalistic poet, Israel ben Mosche von Nagara (1530-1587) that expressed the longing for the Messiah and Kibbutz Galujoth. He regretted deeply that he himself couldn't move to the Holly Land. To emigrate himself and leave the community in the diaspora11, he considered irresponsible and immoral. The emigration of a large group of Jews at that time was an impossibility.

In 1843, Nissan Back told Ruzyner that the Russians intended to buy a parcel of land near the Wailing Wall and build a church there. The Tzaddik gave Back the necessary funds and told him to travel immediately to Jerusalem and to buy the parcel of land at any cost. Back accomplished his mission, purchased the land and built upon it the synagogue “Tiphereth Israel” (the Glory of Israel), for whose dome, the Kaiser Franz Joseph, during his visit to Jerusalem, contributed the gold.

Ruzyner succeeded because of his intellectual greatness and his altruism in bringing the Chasidic movement under his unifying leadership. The Elder of the Chasidim, Jehoschua Apter honored him greatly and ascribed superhuman wisdom to him. The most pious, highly respected leaders and scholars, like Rabbi Chaim Sandzer and Rabbi Jizchak Worker traveled to Ruzyner, studied his teachings, approved of their content and showered him with praise and admiration. “The love and concern of Rabbi Ruzyner for his people is so exceedingly strong that it can't be equaled by anyone.” Sandzer who spent some time with Ruzyner declared later that the sacrifice and dedication of Ruzyner for God and Israel is as great as that shown by Isaac on Mount Moriah. Even the Kotzk Rabbi, his opposite in “world view” and style of living took the road to Sadagura. Not only Chasidic leaders, but also opponents of the movement, Talmudic greats and modern scholars admired Ruzyner's spiritual and intellectual greatness. For instance, the Lemberg Rabbi Ornstein and the Brody Maggid12, Schlomo Klueger. Highly significant and characteristic is the statement by the clear thinking and deeply meditative founder of Orthodoxy and extreme piety in Germany, Rabbi Doctor Samson Rafael Hirsch: “It is humanly almost inconceivable, to comprehend and understand the intellectual greatness of this giant. From all sides Ruzyner is given gold and silver and is heaped with honors. He however, thinks only of one thing and this one thing he considers his main task and goal, namely to spread the honor of God and of His people, Israel and to lift and bring them to their old glory.”

So great and honored was his name and his fame so widespread that Christian nobles and dignitaries came from near and far to get his advice and to plead for his blessing. Newspapers and journals sent special reporters to find the rabbi and report about him in the world press. A wedding or festivity at his court was viewed as a special event and the newspapers described it in great detail.

Ruzyner reached an age of only 54 years and passed away on 3 Cheschwan, 1850. He left behind six sons of whom, the eldest, Rabbi Schulem Josef only outlived his father by one year and died in Leipzig. So, the second eldest son, Rabbi Abraham Jakob, took over the succession and led for 33 years while his brothers, Ber and Nachum settled in Leova and Stefanesti in Moldova and the youngest sons David Mosche and Mordche Schrage emigrated to Czortkow and Husiatyn in Galicia and started new courts there. The sons led the lives of landed nobility like their father did.

The Sadagura rabbi, Abraham Jakob was very clever, a deep thinker, had a tremendous following and was extremely loved honored and treasured. In the 50's, he built a palace in the Moorish style, which represented one of the most beautiful, and view worthy building in Bukovina, and which attracted a great number of visitors who wanted to see the magnificent building. The Rabbi had a princely court and was surrounded all year round by admirers and sycophants. He had a coach with thoroughbred horses, liveried servants and used only gold and silver cutlery. He isolated himself and never ate or prayed together with the Chasidim. His demeanor was always discreet, he never told jokes and was quiet and everyone, rich or poor who came into his room had to remain standing before him while he made his request, for he was the giver and the Chasid was the suppliant. Also, he never personally accepted gifts of money.

The little town of Sadagura grew rapidly. The Jews made up more than 80% of the total population and since 1863; the mayor was always a Jew. Since the introduction of universal suffrage in 1907, Sadagura and Czernowitz together formed a single voting district and so, the Jews elected Dr. Benno Straucher to the Austrian parliament.

Sadagura became a special concept and for the Chasidim a holy city and remained the seat of the Friedmann dynasty also after the death of the Sadagura Rabbi on 11 Elul 1863.

The oldest son, Rabbi Schlome died before the Sadagura Rabbi (1881) and the remaining sons, Rabbi Jizchak and Rabbi Israel led the court in Sadagura. In 1886, Rabbi Jizchak moved from Sadagura to Boyany since his younger brother, Rabbi Israel, following the accepted custom, took over the leadership in Sadagura. It came to a schism. The settling of Rabbi Jizchak in Boyany had the special advantage that the village on the Russian border, was chosen as a seat of a part of the Ruzyner Chasidim.

Rabbi Israel reached an age of 54 years and died at the same age of his grandfather whose name he bore. He left behind 6 sons and 3 daughters. Two of his sons live in Israel: Abraham Jakob and Schlomoh Chaim who is involved in charitable efforts and politics.

Boyany at the beginning of the Austrian occupation, because of the ban on Jewish settlement on the plains, for decades, had no Jewish residents. In 1817, a single Jewish farmer lived there. Jews started settling there in the period, 1839-1842. Until 1860, Boyany belonged to the Jewish Community13 of Sprengel-Sadagura. After 1860 Sadagura, became an independent Community with its own Rabbi. Until 1914, Iser Sternhell was the rabbi. In 1913, the Community numbered 2573 souls of whom 272 were taxpayers. In addition to a synagogue, there were 4 prayer houses in Boyany. There was also a Jewish school and the Barron Hirsch foundation in the town. One time, Russian Chasidim who were traveling to Sadagura for the Shabbat14 were caught by the sunset and couldn't continue their trip. Therefore they had to celebrate the Shabbat in Boyany. Ruzyner consoled the disappointed faithful with the remark that his Shabbat table extended to Boyany. Rabbi Jizchak who was the oldest, was followed a great number of adherents and the larger part of the followers of Ruzyner remained with the Boyany Rabbi.

So Sadagura forfeited its preeminent position in the Chasidic world when in 1886 it split into Sadagura and Boyany factions. Sadagura remained the seat of Ryzyner's descendants until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, but it lost its pre-eminence to Boyany which from that time forward, became the grand and glorious chief residence of the Friedmann Chasidic dynasty. In Boyany, a residence, a prayer house and a festival hall were built. Because of the houses built around the Tzaddik by the Jewish inhabitants, Boyany took on the character of a city. Since the 90s of the 19th century, the deputy mayor of Boyany was always Jewish.

At the beginning of the First World War, the Jewish quarter of Boyany including the residence and the prayer house was burned to the ground by the Russians. With that event, the period of glory for Sadagura and Boyany had ended. To be sure, the prayer house still stands in Sadagura, but it is empty and desolate since very few Jews live today in Sadagura. The burial place of Ruzyner and his followers is still visited by individual Jews who are seeking his help.

After the war, the oldest son of the Boyany rabbi, Rabbi Nuchem lived in a newly built palace in Czernowitz, but the prayer house there was closed in 1950 by the Russians.

His two sons, Rabi Ahron and Rabbi Mottale were among the first of the Jews of Czernowitz to be deported to Transnistrien. One day after Simchat Torah in October 1941 they were sent to Obodowka in Podolia and suffered great deprivation and wretchedness before they perished there.

The second son of the Bojan Tzaddik, Rabbi Nuchem who had his court in Leipzig escaped at the outbreak of the Nazi regime escaped to Eretz Israel where he spent the remainder of his life. In accordance with his last will and testament, he was buried in Safed.

The Nazis murdered his third son, Rabbi Jaankiniu, Chief Rabbi in Lemberg.

The husband of the granddaughter of the Boyany Tzaddik, Rabbi Jizchak, Rabbi Mojscheniu, who last lived in Krakau was the spiritual leader of the famous Yeshiva, Chachmei Lublin. He was murdered by the Nazis on 2 Elul 5703 (1943) together with the Jews of Tarnow (West Galicia).

R. Mojschieniu, who was a major Talmud scholar, left behind a printed comentary collection under the title, “Daath Mosche” which is highly esteemed by rabbinical authorities.

The Nazis destroyed six large volumes of his manuscript and his valuable library.

The youngest son of the Boyany rabbi, Rabbi Mordche Schlomo, lived from 1914-1926 in Vienna and in 1926 he emigrated to the United States and lived in New York where he enjoyed great prestige. He is president of the Association of all Chasidic Rabbis, member of the steering committee of the Aguda organization and the only Chasidic rabbi from America in the Moaza Hagdolah of the Agudath Israel.

Written by Dr. Samuel Josef Schulsohn (New York)

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Notes:

1) Tzaddik: A general term for a righteous person in Jewish tradition. Chasidic sects are organized around a spiritual leader called a tzaddik or an admor. The plural is tzaddikim. Return

2) Court: The Chasidic tzaddikim were treated almost like royalty and therefore the word “court” which encompasses their “palace,” their followers or courtiers, etc. Return

3) Torah and Talmud: TheTorah is the five books of Moses or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. The Talmud is the vast compilation of the Oral Law with rabbinical elucidations, elaborations, and commentaries, in contradistinction to the Torah (written law). Return

4) Rabbi Israel Friedman: This is Ruzyner's actual name. He is probable called Ruzyner because he came from the town of Ruzhin in Russia. He is also known as the Admor, which is a common name for Chasidic leaders. The following JewishGen web page on Sadagura gives a lot of interesting insights into Rabbi Friedmann's life style and accomplishments: http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/pinkas_romania/rom2_00469.html   Return

5) Realpolitic: : politics based on practical and material factors rather than on theoretical or ethical objectives. Return

6) Urim Wetumim: Oracle Return

7) Kolel: the Jewish community Return

8) Haskala: Jewish rationalistic "enlightenment" in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe. Return

9) Kapores: Kapores means atonement in Hebrew and Yom Kippur is also known as the “Day of Atonement.” Return

10) Eretz Israel: Land of Israel. Return

11) Diaspora: The exile, the settling of scattered colonies of Jews outside Palestine after the Babylonian exile. The author uses the Hebrew word, “galuth.” Return

12) Maggid: A preacher or speaker, like a Rabbi without the title. Return

13) Jewish Community: Austrian law required that Jews in a city be organized in a “Kultusgemeinde” or religious community. I translate this as simply as “Community.” The Community had to have elected officials, a president, several committees, a secretary, a rabbi and so on. If a village didn't have enough Jewish residents to form its own Community, it would be part of the Community of a nearby town. Return

14) Shabbat: The Jewish Sabbath. Shabbat starts at sundown on Friday and ends at Sundown on Saturday. Pious Jews cannot travel after Shabbat starts. Return


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