Hassidim in the Town
by Aaron Tapuchy (Jablonka) of Tel Aviv
Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau
The Hassidic movement, that begin its sweep from the areas of Ukraine, Podolia, Volhynia and Polsia, forged a path for itself into central Poland. It penetrated the large, central cities that were fortresses of Torah and Halacha (Jewish law), and also did not pass over the hundreds of towns that were scattered throughout its borders and the numerous villages that were far from the large gatherings of Jews and the centers of Torah, and for the large part were bastions of boorishness and ignorance.
The gloomy and penetrating reality was that Polish Jewry always was a fruitful ground for the rooting and spreading of various variegated revolutionary movements.
The Hassidic movement was received by the Orthodox masses as a comforting and redeeming messianic movement. Therefore, the masses were drawn towards it. In it, they saw an endless wellspring of joy and enthusiasm, a non-failing source of exaltation, loftiness, hope and faith, a gateway to ultimate redemption.
The influence of the Admorim and their courts on the masses of Polish Jewry strengthened from day to day. They spread their protection upon the masses, and imprinted their spiritual stamp upon the way of life of the masses.
The elderly, youths and young men, including large scale merchants, craftsmen, men of deeds as well as poor folk who lacked a livelihood all of them would be enchanted by the magical personality of the holy Admor. They would travel to the Rebbe in order to grasp his hand, receive a greeting, ask his advice, and to hear words of Torah from his mouth. From near and far, they would gather in the Rebbe's courtyard in order to live for a short period in his precincts. They would cleave to the Tzadik more than to their own families.
They would stream in from all corners of the country. Some were broken and weakened from the tribulations of the journey. Many had swollen and wounded feet from so much walking by foot (dozens of kilometers), and other bodily afflictions. Nevertheless, as soon as they would reach their destination, they would immerse in a kosher mikva (ritual bath) in order to purify themselves from all the filth of body and spirit. Refreshed and purified, they would make haste to greet the festival in the precincts of the Tzadik. They would hurry to find places in the synagogue, and they would stand for long hours in order to merit to see the countenance of the Rebbe, and to bask in his radiant splendor and spiritual nobility.
For dozens of years during the end of the previous century and the beginning of the current century (until the Second World War), Polish Hassidism was considered to be in the era of two Hassidic courts the two most famous Admorim in the entire Jewish world Ger and Aleksander.
The shining illumination of Hassidism had great influence. It broke out from the Hassidic courts, affected all that passed by, and shone its holy glow upon the length and breadth of all Poland. It brightened and illuminated the skies of the dark, gloomy exile that covered our people in those days.
Ger, a tiny town near the capital city of Warszawa, turned in to a metropolis of Hassidism. On festivals, it was like the Jerusalem of below. The Rebbe's synagogue was like a miniature Holy Temple, and the large courtyard surrounding it, filled with Hassidim who made the pilgrimage for the festival was like the courtyard of the Miniature Presence. The Polish capital of Warszawa served as the center of business and secular pursuits for the Hassidic world during the days of the weeks. Tiny Ger the capital of Hassidism and holiness served as their spiritual capital for the Sabbath and festival Jews.
A special small train (Kolika in Polish) was provided by the government to transport Hassidim from Warszawa to Ger. It was always filled to the brim with Hassidism who were making the
Our town of Czyzewo was non-Hassidic from a geographical perspective, for it was surrounded by a ring of towns of zealous Misnagdim, who were a consecutive and natural continuation of the Lithuanian region. Nevertheless, this fact did not change one iota the way of life and thought of the Hassidim in our town, most of whom were faithful to the courts of Ger and Aleksander. From this perspective, they served as the border guards who faithfully protected and guarded the Hassidic movement on the frontier of the Lithuanian influence.
In 1915, at the time of the First World War, the large synagogue that served also as the home of the prayer rooms (shtibels) of Ger and Aleksander Hassidic groups was destroyed. Then, small prayer quorums and prayer rooms in private homes were organized on a provisional basis. The situation continued in that manner until the end of the war.
In 1918, the large synagogue was rebuilt, along with a large, splendid women's gallery. This renovation did not leave any room for the Hassidic prayer rooms, and they were forced to find new accommodations for themselves.
At that time, at the outset of the era of independent Poland, bands of murderous Polish robbers and murderers roved around our region, and instilled their fright upon the travelers along the roads and upon the affluent Jews who lived in villages. In the village of Godlowa, which was next to the Czyzewo train station, lived a Jewish family consisting of a childless husband and wife. Gedalja the grinder, as he was called, owned a large windmill and a well-ordered village farm. One night, the Polish pillagers murdered both of them, Gedalja and his wife.
The relatives of the murdered family donated their house (a wooden house, which was taken down and transferred to the town) to establish a Talmud Torah in their memory. The two Hassidic prayer halls of Ger and Aleksander found their homes in this house. At a later time, the Hassidic followers of Amszynow and Sokolow set up their places in a small room in the attic.
While we are discussing the Hassidim of Czyzewo, we should step back a bit and discuss the differences in approach and style between the Ger and Aleksander Hassidic factions, as they appeared before our eyes at that time, and as they continue to live in our memories until this day.
The Hassidim of Ger were extreme by nature. For the most part they were scholars, and they were accustomed to leaving their homes and families prior to the festivals in order to travel to the Rebbe. On the other hand, the Hassidim of Aleksander were also knowledgeable in Torah, but did not particularly stand out in scholarship, and bore no complaint about that. They would suffice themselves with a trip to the Rebbe on occasion for a regular Sabbath. The Hassidim of Ger were very particular about the traditional garb, with shriveled pant legs rolled up into their stockings, collars without ties, etc.
Their exactitude in this area knew no bounds. Young people who desired a white collar with a tie would be forced to remove the tie before entering the shtibel. Zealots such as Reb Berisz Frydman, Reb Abrahamel Szwarc, Reb Sane Stocinski and others, wearing their shtreimels stood on guard to insure that nobody would break the conventions. If, despite all these efforts, someone managed to enter the shtibel wearing a tie, they would stop the Torah reading, and the violator would be forced to immediately remove it. If he would not, he would be forced to leave the shtibel immediately and forever, for there was no compromise among the Hassidim of Ger! It was impossible for there to be. On the other hand, the Hassidim of Aleksander dressed each in according to his desire, without concern for such Hassidic conventions. There were even those who strutted along in white-heeled shoes, as was the fashion at that time. Hassidic elders such as Reb Szmuel Zelig and Reb Mordechai Hersz did not pay attention to this type of thing. Indeed, the son of the latter was known as the chief dandy of the Hassidim in the shtibel
This tendency toward extremism and separateness also characterized the Ger Hassidim in the communal and social realms. Here are a few illustrative examples:
When the law of compulsory education was passed in Poland, and there was a danger the Jewish girls would be forced to study in mixed public schools (boys and girls together), and would also have to study secular subjects, the Hassidim of Ger in our town found ways to circumvent the law. To protect against this, they established a Beis Yaakov girl's school. They acted similarly in their struggle for the education of the boys. When a progressive school called Cheder Metukan was established in Czyzewo where secular studies were also taught, the Hassidim of Ger arose and established their own school by the name of Yesodei Hatorah, where a small amount of secular studies were also taught. They did this in order to distance the children from the Cheder Mesukan (Metukan, in Ashkenazic pronunciation), as they nicknamed to the Cheder Metukan. They behaved similarly in their relationship to the activities of the communal institutions. Hassidim of Aleksander would be able to sit under one roof with members of Mizrachi and general Zionists in the running of the charitable fund, and were able to act in a unified fashion for the benefit of the residents of the city. On the other hand, the Hassidim of Ger would not agree to such joint activity, and they founded their own, separate, fund. All arguments made by representatives of the Joint did not succeed in convincing them from refraining from taking such a step, which threatened the existence of the funds, since the Joint would not be able to support the two funds simultaneously. No! They had to act on their own. There was to be no joint activity with others, that's that!
In truth, it should be noted that the Hassidim of Aleksander agreed in their thoughts with the deeds of the Ger Hassidim, but they would never be so brazen as to do such acts of disunity, as the Ger Hassidim often did. Apparently, the Hassidim of Aleksander realized that they had whom to depend upon
As is known, the power of the Hassidim of Ger was great even in the political realm. The Agudas Yisrael movement was the work of their hands. They founded it and reared it throughout all the years.
In our town, there was Reb Szlomo Calkes (the son-in-law of Reb Icchok Hersz Melamed), who was the founder of a branch of Shlomei Emunei Yisrael, the first incarnation of the Agudas Yisrael faction. He was one of the young zealots of the Ger Hassidim. He was G-d fearing, an accomplished scholar, extremely erudite. Having received his rabbinical ordination, he at times assisted the rabbi of the city.
The Hassidim of Aleksander did not participate with him. They stood at the side, and even opposed this political organization. These two Hassidic factions were very different in their activities. Ger symbolized might, brazenness, short-temperedness, and negating the fellowman. On the other hand, the Hassidim of Aleksander were quite the opposite they were even tempered, patient, and solidly bourgeois from the perspective of Torah merged with the ways of the world. The points of commonality between the two Hassidic camps were that both worshipped according to the Sephardic rite, and both of them loved melodies, despite their differences in styles of singing.
With regard to melodies, there were on occasion thefts, and there were conflicts between the musicians of Ger: Reb Szaul Hersz, Reb Yehoshua Nissan, Reb Chaim Yudel and Matel-Chaim; and the musicians of Aleksander: Reb Zelig Jankel, Reb Jisrael Icchok Janowski, Reb Jeszaja Gorzlaczani, Reb Botsze Elias, and Reb Lejzer Bitner.
The two groups both felt themselves as the spiritual guardians of the worshippers of the large Beis Midrash, and both expended their energies on their behalf. That is to say, they served as cantors on the High Holy days in the Beis Midrash. Reb Szmeulke Fiszels served as the prayer leader for Shacharit (the morning service) on the High Holy Days, and after his passing, his place was inherited by Reb Yehoshua Nissan of the Ger Hassidim, and later on by Reb Lejzer Bitner of the Aleksander Hassidim. They similarly helped out with Torah study: Reb Jisrael Jona Ratszkowski of the Ger Hassidim taught the daily page of Talmud in the synagogue. In the Chevra Mishnayos group, Reb Jisrael Tyktyn of the Aleksander Hassidim taught Mishna publicly. Both of them, the Hassidim of Ger and the Hassidim of Aleksander, attempted to bestow of their spirit and their erudition upon the worshippers of the synagogue, who were Misnagdim, simple Jews, men of labor and toil.
In portraying the spiritual portrait of the lofty people of the Ger, it is fitting to add a few general points. In contrast to other Hassidim who were particular about the splendor of their clothes and their outward appearance they did not pay attention to such meaningless details at all. Rather, their thoughts were focused on the celestial spheres, as if they were always searching for rectification of their souls from the internal unease that was always afflicting them. Love of G-d from the perspective of with all your heart and with all your soul was actualized with them. They dedicated much of their time to the purity of the body and soul. Reb Berisz Frydman often repeated the adage of the Kotzker Rebbe, that is to say: The I is a silent thief, stealing from the person and poisoning him without them knowing. The poisoned person does not know that he was affected. A person has to look in deeply to himself in order to search out and find this hidden thief, the 'I', and to uproot it from his heart. In the language of the Kotzker, expelling it from himself in order to be free from all influences and motives.
For the most part, the Hassidim of Ger did not travel to the Rebbe to request healing for the body, but rather for ascendancy of the soul
The pure young man Reb Binjamin Jeszaja or the lovely pair, Reb Icchok Tombek and his friend Reb Avraham Yossel the teacher and others like them always felt that a layer of dust was accumulating on their souls and impeding their spiritual improvement. Therefore, they set out on a journey to the Rebbe to shake themselves out, to renew themselves, and to investigate the imperfections and cracks that came upon them since they were last at the Rebbe. Without stop, they always were engaged in self-examination, and the adage Do not be righteous in your own eyes
was always upon their mouths.
Thus were the Hassidim, and thus were the shtibels in our small town of Czyzewo where we children absorbed our first influences. We are still sustained to this day.
Indeed! The chain has not been severed.
The Gaon Reb Szmuel Dawid
of Holy Blessed Memory
The Last Rabbi of Czyzewo
By Rabbi Yosef Pinchas Halevi of New York
Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau
Czyzewo was situated on the border area of Lithuania and Poland, between the vibrant Hassidic centers of Poland on the one side, and the fortresses of the Lithuanian Misnagdim on the other side. Nevertheless, Czyzewo itself was a bastion of Hassidism. It had many Hassidim of Ger, Aleksander, Amszynow, and others. At an earlier time, it was also the honorable dwelling place of the Admor Rabbi Baruch Szapira of holy blessed memory, the student of Rabbi Mendele of Kotzk of holy blessed memory. He led a Hassidic community there. The influence of the Hassidim upon the town was great. They spread Torah and awe of G-d in the town, and they played a very prominent role in communal life. In reality, they were the hewers of the image of Czyzewo in the full sense of the word, until such time as the representatives of other organizations and movements appeared, and the town turned into a town with both religious and secular factions together. There were branches of Agudas Yisrael, Mizrachi, Zionists, Beitar, Poale Zion, and others. Each one of these groups attracted a different circle and faction, and tended to its own needs.
The agitation, deceit and struggle between the factions would break out with greater frequency and might as the elections to the Polish Sejm (parliament) or the local community neared. More than 100 kilometers separated Czyzewo from the Polish capital of Warszawa; however, for some reason, it was as if Czyzewo was some sort of suburb of Warszawa, and it was influenced by the spirit of Warszawa, as if it too was the nerve center of Polish Jewry. The city served as a mixing pot for any question that had to do with Jewish life, whether in the world at large, Poland, or Czyzewo in particular. Every faction and group took its side in the debate and defended their position strongly, for truth and justice could only be with their own side. No small number of debates broke out in this manner.
A stormy conflict broke out in Czyzewo at a certain time in the previous century, when the question of the appointment of a shochet (ritual slaughterer) arose in the community. Two factions formed in town: Wizner, those that wished to appoint Wizna since he was also a cantor, and Szniadowar, who wished to appoint the shochet from the city of Szniadowa. The controversy and provocation in town reached such a point that the police had to become involved in the matter. A few of those involved were arrested, and a black cloud of conflict, vain hatred, and factionalism darkened the skies of peaceful Czyzewo and its Jewish community. The crisis lasted for a long time, until
Until something took place that seemed as if it was a miracle from heaven. A new rabbi appeared in the city, who was revered, opposed by nobody, and appointed by complete consensus. He was my teacher, my rabbi, my father-in-law the Gaon and Tzadik Rabbi Szmuel Dawid of holy blessed memory (may G-d avenge his blood), who loved peace, and pursued peace in the most sublime fashion, hated reward and honor, and immersed himself completely in Torah, wisdom, and fear of Heaven. On account of his noble personality and even temperament, he was able to set himself up as the skipper of the storm tossed ship, calm the rough winds that were still blowing, and placate the town. The Jewish community of Czyzewo considered itself fortunate at that time, in that it merited choosing as a rabbi in such a successful manner a man who was like a savior angel. He was able to restore Jewish life in the town to its normal path as it was previously. He knew how to endear himself to all of the groups and factions in town. He loved people, and brought them near to Torah.
Rabbi Szmuel Dawid Zabludower was a native of Warszawa. He was a scion of a wonderful family, and was the ninth generation from the Gaon Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipman Heller, the author of Tosfos Yom Tov.
He grew up in Warszawa, where he ascended the ladder of Torah. He did not study in the Lithuanian Yeshivas, but nevertheless, he acquired the Lithuanian style of study, which was not customary in Poland. He was taught the secrets of this style of study from one of the famous Rabbis of Warszawa, Rabbi Pesachya, who was a student of the famous Gaon Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik of Brisk, of holy blessed memory.
The Gaon Rabbi Yosef Dov lived for a blessed period of years in Warszawa, after he was exiled by the Czarist government from the city in which he served as a rabbi Slutzk, for the crime of denigrating the honor of Czar Nikolai I regarding the decree of Contonistim (the conscription of Jewish youths for army service and for renouncing their faith). During those years when he was in exile in Warszawa, rabbis who were very great in Torah would gather in his home and study Torah from his mouth. Rabbi Pesachya of holy blessed memory was among these rabbis, and he learned the Lithuanian style from Rabbi Yosef Dov, and he educated his young student Rabbi Szmuel Dawid in that style as well.
He married my mother-in-law Rebbetzin Yocheved at a young age. She was the daughter of a well-laced family, that of the Nagid Rabbi Zwi Srkowicz of Ostrolanka. When he was only 24 years old, he was called to the honorable service as the rabbi of Czyzewo, and he was received there with honor and appreciation. He occupied himself with Torah and service diligently, day and night. His great diligence astonished even great and well-placed people, and his breadth of knowledge and memory were like a pitched well that does not lose a drop. He was expert in all of the many books that enriched his library by heart, for every word that had once passed through his brain would never be forgotten. His sharpness was well known, and his deep penetration into the minutiae of Jewish law granted him great fame, and surrounded him with a splendorous halo. All of the greats of the generation revered him, and enjoyed engaging him in Halachic debates. They asked questions of him. The numerous writings of the Gaon Rabbi Szmuel Dawid, and the hundreds of Halachic letters that he sent out were a veritable treasury of interesting Torah novellae that lit up the eyes of scholars. These writings were hidden away at the outbreak of the First World War in a pit, and to our sorrow, were lost in the Holocaust.
Among others, Rabbi Szmuel Dawid was in contact with the genius of Rogaczow, the Gaon Rabbi Yosef Rozen, the author of Tzafnat Paneach, the person who turned into a living legend during his life, and who was known as the Living Talmud. My father-in-law of holy blessed memory said of him that From the days of the Shach (Rabbi Shabtai Cohen, the author of the commentary Siftei Kohen forming the acronym of Shach upon the Choshen Mishpat section of the Code of Jewish law, who lived more than three hundred years previously), there was nobody as expert as him in all the treasuries of Torah. All of the rabbis of his generation would sent to him their Torah novellae and questions, and even though he denigrated most of the letters, claiming that they were of no worth he would answer each one appropriately nevertheless, he related to my father-in-law's questions with honor and seriousness. When this Gaon received a letter from Rabbi Szmuel Dawid, the rabbi of Czyzewo, he treated it seriously, read it carefully, and answered it in an appropriate fashion. Rebbetzin Rozen related one incident: Once, a month passed without him receiving a letter from Rabbi Szmuel Dawid, and this bothered the Gaon greatly. When he finally received a letter, he said with satisfaction: Thank G-d that I received a letter from the Czyzewo Rabbi. The Rebbetzin pointed out that there were only three rabbis of renown that merited the esteem and reverence of the Gaon, and Rabbi Szmuel Dawid was one of them
The Complete Person
The rabbi of Czyzewo was a lofty individual. He was a righteous in all of his ways, and pious in all of his deeds. Those close to him were able to tell about his wondrous deeds, and his holy and noble behavior. He literally distributed a fortune in charity, his home was open wide to any visitor, anyone in need, or any poor or troubled Jew who would turn to the rabbi of holy blessed memory. He excelled in the attribute of entertaining guests (Hachnasas Orchim) in a splendid fashion, and he received every Jew pleasantly. His refined behavior characterized his noble character. He was pleasant to his fellow man. He never had an argument with anyone, and he never imposed his will upon his fellow. He was able to carry on a pleasant and enthusiastic conversation, and every word that issued from his mouth was weighted with gold. He scrupulously avoided idle chatter or any trace of gossip. He had certain expressions and adages that were unique to him, which flowed with excellence and purity.
During Times of Difficulty
On Rosh Chodesh Tammuz of the year 5695 (1935), my father-in-law fell seriously ill. According to the advice of the physicians who were called from Warszawa, he had to leave Czyzewo and move to Otwock. Leaving the community and the town where he served as rabbi for dozens of years caused him great anguish of the soul. He continued to maintain a strong connection with the residents, and he took interest from afar in the affairs Czyzewo, even when his son-in-law, the writer of these lines, took his place.
At that time, black clouds began to darken the skies of Jewish Poland, including Czyzewo. The general embargo and the pogroms led to a general economic crisis and even the well to do were hungry for bread. After some time, my father-in-law returned to Czyzewo, and encouraged the spirits of the downtrodden local Jews.
When the German invasion of Poland began in the year 5699, Czyzewo was among the first towns that were damaged by the German bombardment. Only the building of the Beis Midrash was not destroyed. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Nazis streamed into Czyzewo. Prior to igniting the Beis Midrash, they removed all of the Torah scrolls, poured kerosene upon them, and ignited them. When he heard of this terrible deed, the rabbi's eyes filled with tears, and he rent his garments.
The 8th day of the month of Av was the bitter day when the rabbi of Czyzewo, Rabbi Szmuel Dawid, was murdered in sanctification of the Divine name along with his wife Rebbetzin Yocheved, their daughter, and all the Jews of Czyzewo, may G-d avenge their blood, by the accursed Nazis, may their names be blotted out.
His Family Members
The eldest daughter of my father-in-law was Czwia (Tzvia) who married Reb Dawid Szniad of Warszawa. He was blessed with wealth, and was a large-scale fur merchant. His home was a gathering place for scholars, and all of the great Admorim who visited Warszawa would be put up at his home. They perished in the Holocaust along with their children.
The son of the rabbi, Reb Chaim, was known as a great scholar who followed in his father's footsteps. He married in the city of Mlodocin, where he lived until the outbreak of the war. He perished in the Holocaust along with his family.
His daughter Rebbetzin Freidel, and his son-in-law, the writer of these lines, were saved along with their only son Herszel. Today, they live in New York, America. They got established there with the great help of the natives of Czyzewo.
Written with tears.
By Yosef Menachem Halevi Lewinson
Rabbi Szmuel Dawid Zabludower
of Holy Blessed Memory
By Gerszon Gura of Tel Aviv
Lines regarding his character:
For the past approximately thirty years, each Passover, year after year, the noble personality lights up in front of me, the holy, refined, and splendorous image who, prior to each Passover, would summon up all of his resources and discourse for hours upon hours about Torah, holiness, Jewish law (Halacha) and homiletics (Aggadah).
I knew him throughout the entire year. He walked in measured steps to the synagogue of the town for prayer, being accompanied by Aharon the Shamash (sexton).
I saw him at various occasions in the town, at joyous occasions, sacramental meals, observances of mourning, funerals, marriage ceremonies, and circumcisions. He was always the same refined personality. He walked upright and erect, with a heartfelt smile on his face, and with loving glances to everyone.
He was the rabbi of the town. He served his community for approximately forty years. These were four decades, variegated and with many changes.
He came to town when all of the residents were hewn out of a single mold. Even though they were divided into Hassidim, Misnagim, shtibels, synagogues, the common factor among them all was that the Beis Midrash, shtibel, prayer, study of Torah, the cheder, and men of the shtibel comfortably ruled over the town. Any edict issued by the rabbi of the city was accepted without complaint or debate. The rabbi would always decide all communal matters.
He came to town as the rabbi of all of the townsfolk. He worshiped with the shoemakers, tailors, wagon drivers, and porters all of the members of the masses of the town. He recited his prayers together with them all in accordance with the Ashkenazic rite. However, deep inside burned the flame of Amszynower Hassidism. That flame was never extinguished in him. As he stood at the eastern wall next to the Holy Ark with his face towards the wall, it was possible to discern that he was not merely praying. Rather, all of his limbs were trembling in accordance with the adage All of my limbs state the glories of G-d.
I saw him for many years. I knew him for a long time, from the time that I began to be aware of my surrounding until I left the town. However, for most of the town, I knew him in only a casual manner. For who in the town did not know the rabbi of the city? Who did not see him in the street and in the synagogue, in the mornings or evenings? To delve into his mysteries, to know him more closely, to penetrate into his soul and obtain a clear picture of his deep spiritual personality, this was a very difficult task, and it is possible to honestly state that most of the townsfolk, whether Hassidim or Misnagdim, did not really know him and did not understand his spirit.
Therefore, when Passover approached, and I remember that in those days, several decades ago, the rabbi of holy blessed memory would invite me to his home to the room of the Beis Din, to assist him for the approximately ten days prior to Passover in registering the sale of chometz. I would assist him in dealing with all of the details, in clarifying to everyone that they must list in precise detail all of the leavened products in his possession, and even any mixture that might contain leaven, or any questionable leavened product. After everything, the rabbi himself would inspect the list, and, prior to accepting authority for conducting the sale, he would ask the seller if perchance he forgot to list one type of chometz. He would even mention various cosmetics and paints that might have chometz components. Each person's list would almost double after the examination of the rabbi. As I remember those days, I once again see before my eyes the sublime image of the rabbi, but the image is completely different. It was not the image that I knew before I became closer to him. It was not the rabbi that answered questions of Jewish law, and adjudicated halachic questions. It was a different personality, sublime, immersed for the entire day in the great sea of Torah and halacha.
Slowly, slowly, small cracks opened before me, tiny windows into his hidden essence. These were windows into his modest life, which was secluded within the four ells of that narrow Beis Din room.
When he entered the Beis Din room after eating breakfast, his order of the day was already planned out. First, he began to remove books, one after another, from the tall bookcases, which were packed with books. (The entire area behind the desk was filled with books.) He sat in the armchair and began to study the books, with exceptional concentration. Most of the books were books of halacha, as well as both old and new responsa literature, written by the great adjudicators of Jewish law from the current generation, and previous generations.
His entire life was dedicated to issues of halacha. When a halachic question, or any other difficult question, came before him, he could dwell for weeks or months upon it. He would spend days and nights clarifying it and researching it until he arrived at the true answer, in accordance with Jewish law.
He would study Torah in an orderly and set fashion. He would start with Talmud, along with all of its commentaries, and follow that with books of responsa regarding the questions and answers from our own era. He never tired of delving into his books, which continued until late in the night.
He was very logical, and he fulfilled the verse do not be afraid of the face of any man in the true sense of the term. There were isolated incidents, of which anyone in the town can relate, where one of the Hassidic residents of the town would visit him and begin to complain about the situation in the town, and about the tasks that the rabbi of the city is supposed to fulfill in a given situation, with out sitting with his arms folded. When he realized that the person standing before him, even though he was a respected Hassid, was exaggerating and going to far, not with respect to his own honor, for he was willing to forgo his own honor, but with respect to the honor of the Torah and the rabbi of the city he acted according to the law of the zealous should attack him and give the complainer a slap on the cheek on account of his brazenness and nerve in speaking against the rabbi.
Such slaps on the cheek, occurred very rarely during his forty years of service. Once it occurred to a certain butcher, and another time to a certain communal administrator (parnas). However, the reason was always one of honor of the Torah or the rabbinate.
There was one matter that he struggled against for many years, almost until the day of his death. This was with regards to a halachic question that many of the rabbis of Poland, even great ones, struggled with.
This was a question with regards to tzitzit (ritual fringes), which came before him in his town of Czyzewo. Czyzewo was almost the only town in the entire world where there were several dozen small factories that made tzitzit and exported them to Jewish communities all around the world.
At first, all of the labors regarding tzitzit were done by people in accordance with the law, and with the intention of the fulfillment of the commandment of tzitzit, from the first moment when the raw wool was converted into combed wool in preparation for spinning, and later when the strands were twisted simple, not interwoven, strings. This work was very difficult on the manufacturers, who made tzitzit with great speed. Once, a few of the larger manufacturers went to a rabbi of Zambrow, near Czyzewo, where the rabbi was elderly and expert in adjudicating Jewish law, and requested that he permit them to perform the work on the strings prior to intertwining them by means of an electric machine, without the power of a human. They claimed that the main act of making of tzitzit takes place from the time of the interweaving, and thereafter. After studying the situation in great detail, the rabbi of Zambrow permitted them to do this.
This news of the permission that was received by the large tzitzit manufacturers to perform the first works on the threads, prior to intertwining (as it was called in Yiddish, far shpin), by machine, without human power, reached the ears of the rabbi. He found out that these manufacturers actually starting making tzitzit in this fashion. He then aroused himself as a lion, and invited in all of the owners who began making tzitzit in accordance with this new leniency. He warned them that he would publicize in all of the newspapers that their tzitzit are ritually invalid.
His efforts to put a stop to this did not fully succeed, since he could not come out in public and invalidate their tzitzit, for they had a legitimate permit to do make them in such a fashion. However, on occasion, notices were published in newspapers directed to the purchasers of tzitzit of Czyzewo that they should make sure that the ritual certification (hechsher) of the tzitzit was issued by the rabbi of the city, and not by any other rabbi. This was more than sufficient.
Such letters were published in the Darcheinu periodical of the Agudas Yisrael organization of Warszawa, in issue 1 and issue 2.
This question took up much of his time, and not a day passed when he did not deal with it. I remember that he once called me to his house and requested that I make many copies of a letter that he gave me. This was a long letter to the Torah leaders of Poland, Hungary, etc. that requested them to express their opinion regarding this question. In his letter to them, he brought down all of the sources and proofs, both to permit and to forbid, and he expressed his own opinion that the situation was forbidden. These letters was sent to the Gaon of Dvinsk of holy blessed memory, to the Gaon Rabbi R. L. Cyrelson of holy blessed memory, and to Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski of holy blessed memory, as well as many other rabbis of Poland. From among the responses that he received, the response of the Gaon of Dvinsk was quite interesting. On his postcard, he only included source references, i.e. look here, look there, look there. The rabbi spent several days in analyzing the postcard of the Gaon of Dvinsk, which included references to several dozen books. His opinion went along with the majority to prohibit the far shpin by machine. There were also some Torah giants who did not have a clear view on the matter, and others who permitted it.
New winds began to steal upon the life of the town. The community began to change. A few members of Mizrachi and the Zionist Council began to become members of the communal council and became parnassim (administrators) in the town.
The town began to change somewhat from the set patters of hundreds of years. Over and above the established cheders of the town, the Yesodei Hatorah Talmud Torah and the Beis Yaakov school, a new school opened, called Cheder Metukan, with a Zionist Mizrachi outlook. Various youth groups were founded, as well as a secular library. The purpose of all of these organizations was to sway from the general custom and traditions.
These matters deeply affected the rabbi, and his soul wept in private. He had come to town when the city was 100% Jewishly traditional. He had never imagined that these pillars of Judaism would, Heaven forbid, begin to waver.
He loved peace by his nature. During the time of his tenure, there was barely any controversy in town. He always would strike a compromise among disputants, and also within the communal council. With the sweetness of his words and his influence, he would always succeed in tipping the scale toward the benefit of religious matters.
As I have stated, not everyone knew him truly, for he was always taciturn. He was always enclosed within his four ells of halacha, in the room of his Beis Din. However, all of the rabbis of Poland knew a great deal about him. Many questions were sent to him, soliciting his halachic opinion.
During his last years, prior to the Holocaust, he was confined to his bed due to a paralytic illness that affected him. Even then, he did not desist from his study, and he was completely immersed in halacha and Torah.
When the bitter day came upon the town, the day when more than 1,500 people were marched on foot by German officers to the village of Szulborze, where gigantic pits were already prepared for the Jews of Czyzewo they placed the paralyzed Rabbi Szmuel Dawid Zabludower into a wagon, and transported him along with the townsfolk, and his entire community. The Germans murdered him by machine gun, and he rests in the large communal grave in the village of Szulborze.
May his memory be blessed, and may G-d avenge his blood.
1. I am not sure of the identity of this area. return
2. Admor (short for Adoneinu Umoreinu) is a term for a Hassidic leader. return
3. In Jewish lore there is an earthly Jerusalem (the Jerusalem of below), and a celestial, mystical, spiritual Jerusalem in the heavens (the Jerusalem of above). return
4. The 'Miniature Presence' ('Zeer Anpin') is a Kabbalistic term for a manifestation of G-d. return
5. Misnagdim (literally 'opposers') are Jews who oppose Hassidism. The spiritual center of the Misnagdim was Lithuania. return
6. A shtreimel is a Hassidic fur hat. return
7. Mesukan is dangerous in Hebrew. In Ashkenazic Hebrew pronunciation, it would sound the same as Metukan, as the spelling of the 't' in that word would be pronounced with an 's' sound. return
8. The religious Zionist organization. return
9. The Joint Distribution Committee, a world wide Jewish assistance organization. return
10. The Full Believers of Israel return
11. The Hebrew word here is 'chutzpa', which is known in English as well. return
12. I.e. they believed in intermingling the observance of Torah with the ways of the world (i.e. business, professionalism, etc.). The conflict of Torah only vs. Torah with the ways of the world is still prevalent within Orthodox Judaism of today. return
13. There are several styles of prayer formats within Judaism. The true Sephardim (Jews of North African origin) as well of Middle Eastern Jews (e.g. from Iran, Yemen, etc.) use various forms of the Sephardic form. European Jews generally use the Ashkenazic form. Ashkenazic Jews who are influenced by Hassidim used a modified form of the Sephardic rite, called Nusach Sephard. This is not the true Sephardic rite of the Sephardic Jews it can better be termed as the Hassidic rite. It has some Sephardic influences due to it being based on the opinions of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed, whose Kabbalistic ideas influenced the early Hassidim. There is much to write about the topic of prayer rites, but here is not the place. return
14. The term here most probably refers to laymen who serve as cantors in the synagogue. return
15. The Sadigora and Rizhin Hassidim are known for this. return
16. A quote from the Shema prayer, describing how a Jew should love G-d. return
17. The 'I' here might be better termed as 'ego'. return
18. A Hebrew term for a leader, rector, or nobleman, quite common in the middle ages but less common in the era that is under consideration here. It would be used for a very honorable and revered rabbi. return
19. A quote from the Mishnaic tractate of Pirke Avot, describing a scholar with a phenomenal memory, who never forgets anything that he learned. return
20. A Torah novella (chidush innovation) is an innovative Torah or halachic thought or derivation. return
21. The Shulchan Aruch, or the Code of Jewish Law, compiled by Rabbi Yosef Karo during the 16th century, has several commentaries on its folios. The two main ones are the above mentioned Shach, and the Taz. return
22. The original text says my teacher, my father-in-law, the author speaking about Rabbi Szmuel Dawid in the midst of the quote, but for clarity I inserted the name. return
23. A play on words from Psalm 145 (the well-known Ashrei prayer recited 3 times daily): G-d is righteous in all of His Ways, and pious in all of His deeds. return
24. Rending of one's garments is a traditional Jewish expression of mourning. return
25. This author's name is different from the name given at the beginning of the article. This difference is hard to resolve, but the fact that the first name is the same, and the Levi status is given in both, it is possible they are the same people. The name at the
beginning does not give a last name, and the one at the end does -- so there
is no contradiction there. The only contradiction is in the middle name --
Pinchas at the beginning and Menachem at the end. return
26. Meals that follow circumcision, the redemption of the firstborn, weddings ceremonies, the week following wedding ceremonies (Sheva Brachos), etc. return
27. Specific references to prayers are given here. The reference is to the prayer of Mizmor Shir Chanukat being recited prior to Hodu. This is in accordance with the Ashkenazic rite. The Hassidic or Nusach Sefard rite would recite these prayer in the opposite order. See footnote 13 for further details. return
28. The Beis Din is the rabbinical court. return
29. On Passover, it is forbidden to eat, and even to own, leavened products (chometz). Prior to Passover, all of the leavened products in one's home are sold to a gentile, so that it is not owned by a Jew for the duration of Passover. The technicalities of this sale of chometz are quite complex, and it is generally arranged by a rabbi. The halachic (Jewish legalistic) details mentioned in the next few lines are complicated, and it is not possible to elaborate on them fully here. return
30. Responsa are questions and answers regarding points of Jewish law. return
31. This verse is from the beginning of the book of Deuteronomy. return
32. There are certain specific areas of Jewish law, where it is recommended that zealous people take the law into their own hands in order to prevent an abomination. return
33. By the quotes, it seems clear that this is not meant to be taken literally. return
34. In accordance with Jewish law, it is preferable, and often mandated, that ritual objects be made with the specific intent of fulfilling the commandment (mitzvah). This would preclude these objects being made by machine. The question being dealt with here is how far does this apply with respect to tzitzit. return
35. Literally pre spinning. return
36. Dvinsk is the city of Daugavpils in Latvia. Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, often known as the Ohr Sameach, was one of the Torah leaders of that era. The rabbi mentioned in the next sentence, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, was one of the leading rabbis of the pre-Holocaust era. return
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