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[Page XXI English]

Korelitz: Sages and Students

 

The Poem of Korelitz's Bet-Hamidrash

by Yitzhak Katzenelson

There it stands, your Bet–Hamidrash! Deep in my heart
I feel a tug – you are known to me, yet unfamiliar…
This is the sacred spot where I used to romp about,
Where portly young men used to chat, and the pious prayed.

This is the sacred site to which Jews once came
With aching hearts, and emerged requited;
This was the place where the speechless were heeded
And the weak refreshed with strength.

O Jewish Bet–Hamidrash, home for every Jew,
Recipient of supplication, repository of pain;
To you the Jew his joys recited,
Within your walls the exile lost its edge.

In summertime the birds chirped their song of praise,
Their melodies came through the open windows
Like birds on the wing and sunlight streaming in,
And in the winter nights we sought your warm comfort.

O Jewish Bet–Hamidrash, home of all homes!
O our only guardian – can anything replace you?
We the wanderers, you our guiding light.
The comforter who soothes our weary wandering.

Your door is ever open – whene'er I wish, I enter.
Your kindly shamash does not ask: Who and wherefrom are you?
If I wish, I pray; if not, silent I remain;
No other home so warms the heart.

Your Holy Ark is filled with Torah scroll,
Its curtain by pious brides embroidered;
A preacher's stand for quoting Scripture,
A lectern with two lions, carved into gentleness.

Your shelves are lined with ponderous volumes,
Ancient Talmud tomes and Rambam folios, books on end!
Over which pallid students pore and sway –
No! No house with such treasure troves is poor.

Your study lecterns, where wars are waged,
Was more worthy than most tranquil peace;
Your benches, for soul and body restful,
For slumber sweet and the best of dreams.

Lowly built, you rise above all others!
Unbeautiful, your beauty all exceeds!
Your loyal roof reflects the brightest sunshine,
The warmest ray through your windows stream.

 
Published in “Hajnt”, Warsaw, 1935, No. 265


 

[Pages XXIII-XXIV English]

Once there was the Rabbi's House

by Yehoshua Ovseyewitz (Y. Ovsi)

Small and of meager means as it was, the town knew how to safeguard its way of life, its spiritual wholesomeness, its inner light and atmosphere, quietly spinning the continuous fabric of faith and tradition. It withstood adamantly the barbed shafts of assimilation, an island beset by an inimical environment.

The town's weapons in this relentless struggle were the institutions which it created and maintained: the houses of prayer, the schools and academies, the societies and organizations founded to support and supplement them: the Talmud Study group, the Visitation Society, Free Loan Aid, and others.

The Rabbi's house was one of these institutions, singular and outstanding, the center of kindliness and the core of understanding. Owned by the community, this house was the rabbi's residence during his tenure, which in many cases meant for life; (rabbis left at times to assume positions elsewhere; rarely was a rabbi dismissed). Within the walls of this house dwelled, in the course of many decades, Torah luminaries whose decision and impact was felt in the community's religious, social and cultural life. Theirs was the decisive voice in litigations between man and his neighbor, and their esteemed personality lent weight and credence to their judgment.

The Rabbi's House, in itself, lent a distinctive charm to the town, in comparison with the external aspect of Korelitz. The town's appearance was drab, at best. Its plainness was accentuated even more sharply by the beautiful expressions of nature all around it: hills, glades, meadows, and the bright blue skies above - all of which combined to show up the mossy houses and their crooked walls, their ragged roofs and smoke-stained windows, a blot on the creation of the Almighty.

Nor did the appearance of the town fare any better from its mundane life. The days were filled with the rasping sound of people engaged in earning a living, the harsh tumult of the masses, the peasants and the hangers on of the market place, uncouth, boorish and often closer in appearance to the animal world.

In this depressing atmosphere the Rabbi's House stood out in magic relief. It was located on the town's boundary line, on a tract of land adjoining the open fields. Its dignified exterior was matched by the serenity within its walls, by its cleanliness and soothing atmosphere. Here one could readily shed the barnacles of gray reality, straighten up, and face an uncontaminated world.

This was the Rabbi's House that I knew, the gathering place for the cleansing of the soul. Now it is gone, and the heart weeps over the destruction that overtook it, as it shared the fate of the town and its Jewish inhabitants.

HADOAR, 3 Tevet 5703, Vol.6. Poland Edition


[Page XXIV English]

Men of Stature and Scholarship

by Yehoshua Ovseyewitz (Y. Ovsi)

Excerpts from the collection of stories about the Torah associations, written by the Hebrew writer and teacher Y. Ovsi (Yehoshua Ovseiewitz), a native of Korelitz

The tradition of supporting Torah scholars is one of the most ingrained customs among Jews. It was not so long ago that many of the rabbis, in assuming a new post, would insist on the consent of the community leaders to support a certain number of Torah students. The communities gladly filled this condition.

In every Bet-Midrash where such an association held its sessions, there was always someone (usually the shamash) who arranged "meals-for-the-day" places for the out-of-town scholars. Every family in town regarded it as its sacred duty to provide meals daily for at least one scholar; the wealthier families invited two or three to partake of their meals.

Unlike the yeshivot, these associations were not supervised but were under the authority of the rabbi of the town. He and the other town scholars were aware of the capability, diligence and progress of each of the students.

In the small Jewish communities there were several pious women who provided food for every scholar for whom no other meal arrangements had been made. In Korelitz the woman was Dvorah Shimsheilevitz [see elsewhere in this volume], affectionately known as Dvorah Pia Rashe's.

The following is a collection of brief sketches of some of Korelitz's Talmud Association members:

 

Rabbi Zvi Menachem Zisling

Born in 1856. Father, Rabbi B.Z. Arye-Leib, was a writer for Halevanon (“The Lebanon”, a Hebrew periodical). Settled in Eretz-Israel in 1914 and became instructor on Talmud in “Tachkemoni” High School in Tel Aviv. Longtime member of Tel-Aviv's Community Council and Municipal Council.

 

Rabbi Meir Levin

Studied rabbinics and community administration under Rabbi Yechiel Yizchok Davidson. Later was rabbi in Vitalka, near Wilna, and became active in political Zionism. Helped young rabbis in other communities to set up academies for Torah study.

 

Dr. Yehuda Leib Davidson

Received fine Hebrew education, wrote poetry and prose. Went to Wilna and studied for matriculation certificate. Urged establishment of Academy for Jewish Studies in Russia. Wrote articles about farming and manufacturing among Russia's Jews. Received certificate in Warsaw (1882). Studied medicine in Warsaw University, received M.D. degree in 1890. Encouraged his relative Yitzhak Katznelson to become a Hebrew poet in Israel.

 

Rabbi Michael Tennenbaum

Born in Motele, birthplace of Dr. Haim Weizmann (a relative). Married daughter of wealthy merchant; finding that the tumult of trade was interfering with his studying at home, he spent the weekdays in the Korelitz Bet-Hamidrash. His diligence with the Talmud was legendary. His wealthy father-in-law supported many of the students and provided for the widow of the rabbi of Korelitz. In 1887 was invited to serve as Rabbi of Lomze, and filled the post until his death in 1910.

 

Rabbi Meir Hillel Zunser

A diligent Torah scholar, he studied Hebrew philology and other tongues, mathematics, social sciences and general history. Was ordained for the rabbinate but went into trade. Was accountant for large firms in Lodz and Warsaw, but maintained his scholar's schedule.


[Page XXVI English]

The Rabbis of Korelitz

Material compiled by Moshe Cinowitz, Zvi Menachem Zisling,
Noah Gottlieb and Batsheva Asherovitz

Much has been said in comment on the remarkable number of outstanding rabbis, scholars and Torah luminaries born in Korelitz or who had served its community over a score of decades. This volume would be incomplete without a record of their activities and contributions, and only lack of space prevents the publication of a fuller account of their lives and deeds.

 

Rabbi Moshe b'r Dovid

Position as chief rabbinic authority in Korelitz was his first. Was appointed on recommendation of his father, head of the rabbinical court in Novohorodok. His Torah writings were published in Wilna in 1848. Was in his late twenties when he died.

 

Rabbi Hayyim Tur

An outstanding scholar and commentator on difficult Talmud tractates (comments published in Wilna in 1873). Served in Korelitz from 1840to 1856 and later became heard of the “Gmilut Hassadim” Congregration in Wilna until his death in 1874. In Wilna he helped many young men from Korelitz who came to the famous Lithuanian Torah center to pursue their studies.

 

Rabbi Yitzchok Yechiel Davidson

Among the most outstanding scholars, researchers and pietists of his generation, he added great luster to the name of Korelitz during his 17 years in the town (1857-1874). Fame as Talmud pedagogue drew many young men to Korelitz, among them Rabbi Yaacov Reiness, later a leading figure in religious Zionism. The Korelitzer landsmanschaft, organized in New York (April 4, 1904) as a congregation, with a Synagogue of its own, was named in his memory.

 

Rabbi Eliyohu Feinstein

The scion of an immensely learned family, he studied in Wolozhin and was the favorite of its leading spirits - Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin and Rabbi Yossef Dov Soloveitchik. Became rabbi of Korelitz in 1874, succeeding his father-in-law, Rabbi Yitzchok Yechiel. Served for five years before being called to larger communities in the region. Among his achievements in Korelitz: eased recruitment of Jews for the Russian army, arranged an orderly birth registry, established popular Torah classes to combat wave of “enlightenment”, sent talented young men to yeshivot, and persuaded Baron Horatio Ginsburg to employ pious young men in his enterprises.

It is worth noting that his writings are referred to by his grandson, Rabbi Yossef Dov (b'r Moshe) Soloveitchik in his lectures at Yeshiva University.

 

Rabbi Eliyohu Boruch Kamai

Encouraged community to build a hostel for poor travelers coming to Korelitz, and later persuaded it to build a medical clinic for the indigent in town. He reorganized the Talmud Torah in town and appointed a competent teaching staff. His fame drew offers from other communities, and he left Korelitz in 1887 for Wekeshine.

 

Rabbi Mordechai Weitzel

Spirited away from a rival community (Bitten), he was in Korelitz from 1887 to 1891. Established yeshiva in the town. People flocked to ask his advice in such numbers that he had to plead, via announcements in the newspapers, to be allowed to fulfill his rabbinic duties. He was well-versed in medicine; he healed a Polish landowner and distributed his compensation among the poor.

 

Rabbi Meir b'r Yossef Feimer

Led frugal existence (of his salary of 18 rubles weekly, he gave 8 to augment salaries of town's judges). Was in Korelitz from 1893 to 1896 after serving in the large city of Slutzk. His son studied in Korelitz and later (1925) became rabbi of Bet-El Congregation in New York.

 

Rabbi Avrohom Yitzchok Kohen

Came to Volozhin Yeshiva at 18, already famous for his scholarship. Called to Korelitz several years later. Issued call to communities in region to aid Korelitz when more than half the town was consumed by fire.


[Page XXVIII English]

Torah Scholars born in Korelitz

 

Rabbi Nissan Broidah

Was Rabbi of Shiniyawski, Krewei and Horodok; recommended for the last-named post by Rabbi Mordechai Weitzel. Was energetic public figure. Erected synagogue and community institutions in Horodok. Ardent Zionist and close worker with Rabbi Shmuel Mohilover. Elected delegate to the Third Zionist Congress in London. Joined Mizrachi when it was formed (1902) and called on religious Jewry and its rabbis to support the Zionist movement.

 

Rabbi Yisroel Michal Yeshurun

Appointed head of yeshiva attached to the Great Synagogue of Minsk, Described in “who's who” of Minsk's rabbis as “wise, of great intellect and a master of Torah.generous, industrious and insipring”. Edited works of Rabbi Duber Yoffe.

 

Rabbi Uri Dovid b'r Yossef

His book “Aperion Dovid” (Wilna, 1872) gained him standing in rabbinic world (Aperion was his family name). Inherited love for Torah study from long line of rabbis and judges. Carried on intensive correspondence with scholars, among them another native of Korelitz, Rabbi Yitzhok Yehoshua, a judge in Mir. Contributed to the Sir Moses Montefiore project in Jerusalem.

 

Rabbi Abrazshinsky

Came to Korelitz from Mir. Known as a linguist and expert in literature. Was a successful merchant. Daughter Nechama married M. Gvirtzman, veteran of Hapoel Hamizrachi and former member of the Jerusalem Municipal Council.

 

Rabbi Idl Isaac (Alter) Osherowitz

Left Korelitz at an early age to study in the yeshivot of Mir and Slabodka and was ordained for the rabbinate., but preferred to teach and accepted post of head of the “Ohel Yitzhok” Yeshiva in Kovno. Was drawn to Zionist movement and served as delegate to Mizrachi conferences in Lithuania. Sought to return to Korelitz but was prevented by the strained relations between Poland and Lithuania. Passed away at the age of 48.

 

Rabbi Yossef Korelitzer (Shimshelevitz)

Went to Eishishok at the age of 15 and became renowned Talmud authority. Settled in Jerusalem and taught at one of its yeshivot. He was a favorite of Chief Rabbi Avrohom Yitzhok Hakohen Kuk.


 

[Pages XXIX - XXX English]

The Korelitz Shochet

by David Cohen

This happened two or three generations ago. Korelitz, pursuing its life at the slow pace of its Ruta River, the power source for the flour mills in the area, was already famous for the many sages and scholars in its midst. But the man whose fame spread with the advent of Zionism was R' Moshe Avrohom Volfin, the shochet of Korelitz, a pious man of learning whose soul yearned for Jerusalem and whose heart wept for it, in the midnight prayers which he offered for its redemption.

One wintery night the cold penetrated his lungs and laid him low with a high fever. The town physician, an expert on pneumonia, prescribed several drugs, plus goat's milk. Thus was a goat added to the shochet's household, a white goat which R' Moshe Avrohom prized greatly.

The news of the forthcoming First Zionist Congress reached Korelitz and at once R' Moshe Avrohom became an “active Zionist”. During the Congress he donned his Sabbath clothes and greeted his fellow Jews with mazel tov. As soon as the Congress proclaimed the establishment of the Palestine Bank, he began campaigning for the purchase of its stock. His main concern was to set an example for the others, but the shares cost money - a rare commodity with R' Moshe Avrohom.

The white goat! True R' Moshe Avrohom had grown attached to the animal but he would do it! He would sell the goat and buy a share, and let the people of Korelitz thus know how dearly he regarded the Zionist idea! He sold the goat, went to Novohorodok to acquire the share, and read what it said in Hebrew to the delighted congregants in the synagogue. They applauded heartily - and bought shares.

The story about the goat and the shares reached Wilna, and the Zionists there tendered lavish praise to Korelitz and its energetic and devoted Zionist. When the Second Zionist Congress came around and the shekel campaign was proclaimed, it was again R' Moshe Avrohom who spurred shekel sales in Korelitz. When the authorities got word of it, they issued a warrant for R' Moshe Avrohom's arrest. As the constables came to get him, R' Moshe Avrohom stood up and pronounced the Shehecheyonu benediction, thanking the Almighty for having given him the privilege of being arrested for selling the Zionist shekel.

It is said that when Dr. Theodor Herzl was told about it, he said: “If I have such Zionist Jews as the shochet of Korelitz, it will be much easier to surmount all the difficulties that the Jewish nation will encounter on its way, to Zion and Jerusalem”.


[Page XXX English]

The story of Korelitz's Shochtim

by Sarah Begin (Gal)

In R' Moshe Yitzhok Volfin the Jewish community of Korelitz had a real find: he was shochet, cantor and mohel all in one, and therefore saved the poor community a tidy sum. When R' Moshe Yizhok grew old and retired, he was followed by his son Chloineh. In time the community grew considerably; low economic state did not prevent the Jews of Korelitz from multiplying. In time, R' Chloineh ceded half his seniority to his son, R' Bertche, and the other half he gave as a dowry to his daughter Duske, later the wife of R' Kalman begin, son of R' Yitzhok Dovid, the rabbinical judge of Kletzk.

R' Yitzchok Dovid gave his eight children a marvellous education: his daughter Freide Hinde was able to learn a “blatt Gemoreh”. R' Kalman engaged in shechita, and before his death he deeded his portion equally to his son Nachum-Eizik and, as dowry, to his daughter Sarah-Dvorah.

For a while R' Bertsche was the only shochet in Korelitz. Nachum-Eizik, having fallen victim to the wave of enlightenment and Zionist literature, had little desire to be a shochet. He wanted to leave the town and seek his future elsewhere, but he had little to say in the matter. He had to grow a beard and earlocks and to study shechita. Later, when he married his sister off to the son of R' Alter Morduchovitz, Rabbi of Baksht, he transferred to her his share and went to live in Minsk, where he went into business with his brother.

Toward the end of the First World War, a quarrel broke out in a town near Minsk, between the butchers and the shochet. The local rabbis decided that the official (Torah) verdict would have to be given by a shochet from another locality. Since R' Nachum-Eizik was no longer actively engaged in shechita he was invited to be the arbiter. On the morning after he had given the verdict, he was found on the ground, in his tallit and tephilin, stabbed to death. The news of the murder spread quickly throughout the region, but for certain reasons the whole matter was kept quiet. The roads were then clogged with soldiers, and it was impossible to bring the deceased to Korelitz for burial, and he was interred in the Minsk cemetery.

When R' Bertche's eyes grew too weak for his calling he transferred his post to his son, R' Moshe Avrohom Volfin, the noted Zionist from Poltava. From that time until the destruction of the Korelitz community there were two shochtim in the town, the other being R' Avrohom Yitzhok, a neat, fine-looking man. The two were great friends, played chess together and gave Korelitz much of its good name. Since their sons were swept up in the Zionist movement and did not want to enter their fathers' field, the latter were the last of an illustrious Korelitz's dynasty of shochtim. Alter Morduchowitz was one of the very last shochtim prior to the annihilation of the Korelitz community by the Nazi murderers.


[Page XXXI English] [Page 90 Hebrew]

Dvorah and the Talmud Association

by Alter Gitlin

Dvorah, the provider for the Kibbutz (Talmud Association) in Korelitz, was well on in years, and so was her dwelling, a rambling structure so low that it seemed to be bowing before the Torah students that kept crossing its threshold. Inside, however, there was a sense of spaciousness. A long table, covered with a spotless white cloth, ran down the middle of the main room, and white benches paralleled it on either side. The room was bright even on bleak winter days, and the scholars (young men who were not invited by other households in town for meals) couldn't tell whether the light came from the pert white curtains at the small windows or from the fond look in Dvorah's eyes.

Dvorah had a system: each weekday morning she would make the rounds of the well-to-do and generous homes in the town and collect the funds which their owners had pledged. Then she would proceed to the market place, purchase the commodities she needed, and prepare a meal for the young men “worthy of Solomon's table”. She knew who liked what, and delighted in preparing the special dishes. The scholars also knew what Dvorah liked - the lively sound of pilpulistic disputation, and they engaged in Talmudic debate as Dvorah kept refilling their plates. Then, as they recited the Grace After Meals, she received her reward: “May the Compassionate One bless the mistress of this house”. Her eyes would fill with tears of gratitude for the privilege of serving Jewish scholars.

Dvorah also fried potato pancakes for all the Kibbutz scholars, poor and rich alike, and none dared not to partake of them, for to have done so was to run the risk of being charged with heresy. Thee scholars gathered at 1pm at Dvorah's home, crowding each other to get at the morsels. Dvorah apportioned the pancakes to each according to his scholarliness, and the largest portions went to those who spent longest hours on their studies. Amazingly, she knew exactly who was studying how hard, for, in the course of her rounds, she would go up to the women's gallery in the Beth-HaMidrash and look down n her charges, as they argued over a jot and fought over a tittle. If she spied a group sitting behind the stove and simply chatting, her face would darken and she would cry out: “Bums! Robbers! Why are you wasting your time? Back to your studies! ” At the sound of her voice, all the young men in the place would rise to their feet and yell: “Long live Mama Dvorah”, at which their benefactress, contrite because of the break in study that she had caused, would hastily withdraw.

Such was Dvorah's custom, for thirty years on end. When she died, the young men took apart the table and fashioned a coffin out of it. The entire town was at the funeral and three rabbis eulogized her. Many have since forgotten her - but not the young men whom she had fed so lovingly, and I, one of them, am paying her this tribute.

Hamizrachi” 18 Shvat, 5681 (Third year, No. 4), 1921

 

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