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[Page 77]

Love of Zion

 

[Page 79]

Aliya to the Land of Israel
and the Nationalist Movement

by Meir Ejdelbaum

Translated by Jerrold Landau

From an essential perspective, every visit, every aliya to the land of Israel, even one that only comes at the end of a lifetime, is in within the scope of a national endeavor.

Intentionally or unintentionally, this is a return to Zion in the full sense of the word -- the building and development of the Land.

Naturally, the person making aliya prepared for himself a dwelling, and a store, workshop or business, either with his own money or with money received from the Rabbi Meir Baal Haness Fund, and by this means the Jewish yishuv[1] grew and developed. Most importantly, by this means the connection between the Land of Israel and the Jewish people was strengthened.

Mezritsh also took part in this aliya. Individuals began making aliya to the Land of Israel hundreds of years ago. One of these was the rabbi of Mezritsh, Rabbi Nota Katzenelbojgen, who died in Jerusalem in the year 5449 [1689]. This rabbi was the president of Kollel Polin, which was responsible for the “distribution” [of funds in Eretz Israel][2].

In his book “Toldot Chachmei Yerushalayim” [The Annals of the Scholars of Jerusalem], Rabbi Yehuda Lejb Frumkin mentions some native Mezritshers who became famous in Jerusalem, which was a city full of scholars. He wrote, “A righteous and modest man, fearing G-d from his youth, never departing from the tent of Torah day and night. He was expert in the revealed Torah, an honest judge, who judged widows and orphans with justice, who supported the poor and destitute -- Rabbi Mordechai, of blessed memory, the son of Rabbi Eliahu, Head of the rabbinical court of Mezritsh in Poland, who was summoned to the Heavenly court on Saturday, 7 Tammuz, 5621 [1861]. May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.”

In his notes on that, the scholar Rivlin writes, “A rabbinical judge for many years in Mezritsh and here.” Thus states Rivlin. He was one of the principals of the “Etz Chaim” Yeshiva in Jerusalem in the year 5618 [1858]. (The Yeshiva was founded that year by the Gaon and Tzadik Rabbi Shimon son of Rabbi Zerach, the rabbi of Tauragnai, Lithuania). Rabbi Mordechai Meir was one of the signatories to many legal decisions and enactments, along with the rabbis of Jerusalem. According to Rivlin, he was also a rabbinical judge in Biala near Mezritsh, and the chief administrator of all of the kollels[3] of Poland.

It seems that the aforementioned rabbi was one of the important and beloved people of Jerusalem. However, Rabbi Y. L. Frumkin erred in ascribing the title of head of the rabbinical court to his father Rabbi Elia. This Rabbi Elia was never the rabbi of Mezritsh[4]. In the ledgers of the rabbis (see the book “The Jewish City of Mezritsh”) there is no mention of a rabbi named Rabbi Elia. Instead, we find two rabbinical judges with that name. One of them died in the year 5577 [1807]. The second one who was a head of the rabbinical court, and one of the most famous rabbinical judges in the city, the son of the rabbi of the city, Rabbi Nachman, died in the year 5628 [1828], approximately seven years after the death of the aforementioned Rabbi Mordechai Meir. Though it is possible to say that he was the son of this Rabbi Elia who died in the year 5577, it is however,

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difficult to establish this definitively. Perhaps he was the son of the second Rabbi Elia, and may have died young during the lifetime of his father, that is the second Rabbi Elia.

There is no support for the opinion of Rivlin that Rabbi Mordechai Meir was a rabbinical judge in Mezritsh, for we do not find his signature among the signatures of the other rabbinical judges in the ledgers of the rabbis.

Rabbi Y. L. Frumkin also mentions Rabbi Elia the son of Rabbi David Barg of Mezritsh, who was formerly the rabbi of Semiatycze near Mezritsh (died in the year 5626 [1866])[5]. He also mentions the “Tzadik Rabbi Tzvi Zeev of Mezritsh” (died in 5630 [1870]), who donated more than 1,000 silver rubles to the aforementioned Etz Chaim Yeshiva [5].

The aforementioned Rabbi Tzvi, whose family name was Fiszbejn, was very wealthy. His operated a pig bristle trade with Leipzig. He was the grandfather of the well-known scholar and Mezritsh native Rabbi Yehuda Eisensztejn. Once, during a discussion with Reb Yehuda Eisensztejn, he told me that after his grandfather lost his first wife, he married a G-d fearing convert. One can imagine the impact that this wedding had on the Jewish community.

As has been said, these were not the only ones who made aliya to the Land of Israel many years ago in order to close out their lives in the Holy Land. However, it not this aliya to which we wish to devote our discussions, but rather to the organized or unorganized aliya of individual Jews who made aliya for the purpose of inheriting the Land of the Fathers, building a new life, rebuilding the ruins and restoring its desolation, in fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy of a renewed Land of Israel.

Even before the Chovevei Zion movement was founded, a number of Jews made aliya to the land of Israel on account of the [hostile] environment that was created by the suppression of the Polish revolution 1863. As is known, the Jews of Mezritsh supported the revolutionary movement. An oath of allegiance to the movement and its leaders was pledged in the synagogue in the presence of one of the leaders of the movement, Roman Rogonski. The Russian government knew about this, and when the revolt was put down, a levy was imposed upon the city and its leaders, as were various restrictions that affected the manufacturing and commerce of the city very badly. As a result of this, several pig bristle workshops closed, and many of the residents of the city emigrated. Some settled in Leipzig, others went to the United States, and a few set out for the Land of Israel. Among the people who made aliya were the aforementioned Reb Tzvi Fiszbejn, Reb David Janower, Rabbi Zeev Eizensztejn (the father of the scholar Rabbi Yehuda Eizensztejn, author of Baal Haotzarot).

Rabbi Zeev Eizensztejn first immigrated to the United States (he was the first Mezritsh native to immigrate there). However, after some time he made aliya to the Land of Israel along with Gavriel Cukierman, a native of Mezritsh, who had also spent some time in the United States. He founded the Cukierman printing press in Jerusalem, which was very well known for many years. He was buried next to his grandfather on the Mount of Olives. His two sons were also buried there. Reb Tzvi Fiszbejn and his friends worked in business, built houses, and toiled for the settlement of the Land.


Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. Literally: the settlement Refers to the Jewish community of Palestine from the 19th century until the formation of the State of Israel in 1948. return
  2. Chaluka distribution of charitable funds received from abroad benefit of the needy in the Land of Israel. return
  3. Kollel Literally: a gathering. Refers to various communities of scholars in the yishuv which were supported by contributions from abroad. The kollels were often defined geographically Galicians, Hungarians, and Russians each had their own kollel. return
  4. What is meant here is that there is no mention of a rabbi by that name in the appropriate time frame. return
  5. The text here is footnoted -- but there is no corresponding footnote at the bottom of the page. return


[Page 81]

Mezritsh and its First Chalutzim [Pioneers]
Builders of Yesod HaMaala

by M. R. Slodki

Translated by Jerrold Landau

There is a known adage, “If you want to understand the poet, go to his homeland.” If we want to understand the first builders of Yesod HaMaala, we must understand Mezritsh.

During those days, the cities of Congress Poland were overtaken by Hassidism, whose influence spread over all areas of life. The Jews spent most of their time in shtibels, and delved into stories about the wonders of the Rebbe, and as a result, assimilation took root among the Jewish people. The intelligentsia spoke Polish or Russian, flattered the Poles, and turned their back on the rock that forged them. Mezritsh was the exception to this trend in two ways: Hassidism there was considered “traif” [non kosher] and it was not for nothing that Menachem Mendel of Kock[1] said that a secret tunnel leads from Mezritsh to Berlin. This means that connections were established between the Haskalah[2] of Berlin and Mezritsh. Another adage was common among the Hassidim: When the sect of D”M is obliterated, the Messiah will come. This means: when Dubno in Wolhynia, and Mezritsh in Poland are destroyed, the Messiah will come, for those two cities are delaying the coming of the Messiah…

Despite all this, Mezritsh did not have assimilationists of the familiar type, and the reasons for this were simple. Mezritsh was a city of international trade. Its Jews would travel to the depths of Russia, even into the plains of Siberia, from where they brought their raw materials to Mezritsh. In Mezritsh the factories would work the raw materials, and Jewish merchants would then bring the finished products to Germany. It is self-evident that Mezritsh was influenced by both of these cultural sources. The Jews of the city were well known for their generosity and open hearts, like the Russian “Kotzofs”. They brought general and Hebrew culture from Germany. For over 100 years, there existed families in Mezritsh who spoke German and French at home, and studied Hebrew. It is sufficient to look into the books of the Bible with the translation of Mendelsohn that were published in Berlin to see the names of many Jews of Mezritsh. In an earlier era, Mezritsh nurtured the poet Reb Shalom Cohen, who left the town at age 17 for Berlin, where he became a Hebrew and German teacher. The wealthy people of Mezritsh obtained well-educated sons-in-law for their daughters from Germany. They later sent their sons to the yeshivas of Lithuania. Thus a wonderful blend arose in Mezritsh. There was very little boorishness and simple-mindedness. There were twelve Basei Midrash [houses of study] in the city: a separate one for the tailors, a separate one for the shoemakers, and a separate one for the for the wagon-drivers. In each Beis Midrash, a rabbi would teach a chapter of Bible or Mishna between mincha and maariv [afternoon and evening prayers]. In Mezritsh, one could find tailors who knew how to study a page of Gemara by themselves.

Given this reality, there was room for the movements that arose in the city to spread their influence. At the sprouting of the idea of Chibat Zion,[3] Mezritsh was one of the first to respond to the call. Reb Nachman Szajnman, a scholarly and educated Jew, participated in the Katowice Convention as a delegate from Mezritsh. When he returned from the convention, he was diligent in spreading the idea of Chibat Zion to the residents of the city. The first advocates of the concept of Chibat

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Zion spent entire months in Mezritsh. I remember from the time that I was still a child that the Maggid of Kamenetz preached all night about the Land of Israel and Chibat Zion in the Great Beis Midrash, which held 2,000 people. The residents of Mezritsh were full of longing for Zion. The only thing missing was initiative and organization. Then the aforementioned Nachum Szajnman and many other city notables influenced the community, to the point where an organization was established, called “Yesod HaMaala”. This movement worked wonders in our city: almost all of the residents of our city sought to leave Mezritsh in order to make aliya to the Land. Many emissaries were sent to the Land -- visionaries, strong believers, but not practical people.

Many did not succeed in laying down roots and were forced to leave. The persistent ones, however, did not give up. They remained faithful to their ideals and did not retreat. They were the ones who founded Yesod HaMaala.

 


Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. Menachem Mendel of Kock also known as the “Kotzker” Rebbe (1887-1859). He was a Hassidic Rabbi known for high expectations of himself and the Jewish people.
    See a biography in Wikipedia:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menachem_Mendel_of_Kotzk.
    The following biography places him in his Jewish context: http://www.ou.org/about/judaism/rabbis/mmkotzk.htm return
  2. Haskala - The Jewish Enlightenment movement that took place in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, which advocated more integration into secular society. For more information, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haskalah return
  3. Literally, “Love of Zion”, but here referring To the specific “Chibat Zion” movement, which was a precursor to the formal Zionist movement. return


[Page 83]

Rabbi Baruch–Meir Rozenblum
The founder of the Mezritsh “Yesod haMa'ala” organization

by A. M. Charizman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

mie083.jpg
Rabbi Baruch Meir Rozenblum

 

A.

He was born in Brest Litovsk in 5618 (1858). His righteous father was known as Reb Shalom–Menashe. Anybody needing this brilliant scholar [Reb Shalom Menashe] knew he could be found in the “Green Beis Midrash”, morning, noon or night. He would spend almost all of his time in that small study hall immersed in Torah and Divine service, wearing his tallis and tefillin. The son, Baruch–Meir, grew up and was educated in Torah in this atmosphere of complete purity and holiness. Torah penetrated the depths of his soul for all the days of his life. When he got older, his parents sent him to yeshivas to study Torah, where he acquired his style of learning and a great breadth of knowledge. The writer of his history, Mr. M. Y. Slodki says that nature imbued him with an extra measure of enthusiasm and imagination. He displayed a special love of Bible, Midrash and Aggadah [rabbinic lore] even during his youth.

As was the custom in those days, he married, with the guidance of his parents of course, the daughter of a fine householder who resided in the city of Mezritsh in Poland. His father–in–law paid a large fortune for the rights to such a precious “vessel”[1].

Mezritsh was the only city in Congress Poland that did not join the tide of excessive enthusiasm for Hassidism, and was considered a Lithuanian city with regard to its scholarship, commerce, customs and manners. The young Baruch–Meir found a broad field in which to develop his talents, and had the opportunity to observe G–d's world with alert eyes.

However, since he was naturally graced with a practical sense and a recognition of the value of action as fundamental to life, he was neither able nor willing to satisfy himself with Torah and prayer alone. When he realized the secret of Judaism, of life and of activism, he began to spend his free time on good deeds: offering healing to the ill, aid and support to those who stumbled, assistance to the poor, unfortunate, and anyone suffering from difficulties. Every day during the times of prayer services, he would make the rounds of the houses of worship in his city to collect money, which he later distributed discretely to the needy of the city. He became so diligent in this task, that the community of Mezritsh nicknamed him “Baruch–Meir the full–handed”, that is to say, his hands were always filled with money… There were those who began to spread rumors: from where did all this abundance come?! He knew this, listened, and continued with

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his task, as if the words were not directed at him at all –– until he rose to the highest rung: “giving in secret”, of his own [money] and that of others[2]. Mr. Slodki relates, “It once happened before the Passover festival that he entered my house, called me outside, and informed me that his friend N. had no money for the needs of the festival (may such not befall us). He was prepared to help him, but he was sure that he would not accept even one coin from himself as a loan. Therefore, he advised me that I, as his friend, should enter his home and offer him a loan of a sum of money that would be sufficient for him to observe the festival. Of course I fulfilled his request, and that Jew celebrated the festival of Passover whole–heartedly, without knowing that the hand of Rabbi Baruch Meir was involved.”

This is only one of many true stories.

This was the era of the creation of the Jewish nation. The pogroms that descended upon the Jewish population of Russia during the 1880s prompted a revolution in the minds of the leadership of our people. From the frozen landscape of Russian Jewry, the concept of Chibat Zion[3] rose like rays of light. Immediately, Baruch Meir became one of the first people to latch on to this new idea with his entire soul and dedicate himself fully to the service of the people. With the help of Reb Nachum Szajnman, he founded a group called “Yesod haMa'ala”, as a communal example of “menucha and nachala[4], in order to obtain property in the Land of Israel, and turn the urban Jews who had been cut off from the land and from nature, into village dwellers and workers of the land; into a people living a healthy, proper, natural life. With his great enthusiasm, his oratory prowess, and his visionary personality, he was able to assemble masses of people around him. Mr. Slodki says: “I remember the following fact from his Zionist activism. It happened in 1905, the year of the Revolution in Russia. The Jewish youth pursued misguided ideals, and answered “Amen” to doctrines and philosophies stemming from backward, dangerous sources. One day, a thin booklet arrogantly entitled ‘The Plague in Religion’, published by anarchists from England, was distributed on the streets. I, still being very young, snatched it up with great emotion and brought it to Rabbi Baruch–Meir with full faith that he would toss it into the garbage after looking it over and recognizing its contents. How surprised I was, therefore, to see this pious man of faith begin to read the booklet with great interest, page after page, slowly and seriously. After that, he informed me that he intended to write a response to its author. Finally, after weighing and considering the situation, he decided to summon a meeting of the youth, and to denounce before that audience the ignorance and worthlessness of that author who, with the arrogance of empty, hollow thoughts trampled over very deep matters about which he knew nothing. The gathering was called in the women's gallery of the Great Synagogue, and the leaders of the revolutionaries in the city were invited to deliberate over matters of religion. Obviously, a large crowd came. At that very moment, Baruch–Meir stood at the entrance of the synagogue, declaring, ‘Whoever believes in G–d, do not come here. Here there is room only for nonbelievers!’ Indeed, thus it was. With his clear thinking, breadth of knowledge, enthusiasm, and power of explanation, he succeeded in turning the opinion of the impassioned youth to his way of thinking. After this event, investigators were summoned to give an accounting of this ‘secret gathering’.”

Regarding the initial period of the “Yesod haMa'ala” organization in Mezritsh, he wrote

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a long, comprehensive letter to Dr. Hugo Bergman, the director of the national library, which was kept in the archives of Yesod haMa'ala, and later given to the library. It includes the following: “I first corresponded with dignitaries in the Land of Israel, as well as with institutions concerned with the Land of Israel, to achieve our purpose…” (I had many letters, but they were lost during the wartime.) We asked them to purchase land on our behalf, etc.”

“After that, in the year 5643 [1883] a group of 22 Mezritsh natives was constituted, and we sent a delegate, Lejb Rubin, with several thousand rubles to purchase a plot [of land] for us. (Whatever additional money he would need –– we would send from here.) He set out on his way, etc. Time passed, and he did not make a purchase, so we sent another member from Brisk, Reb Fishel Solomon, to join him. He took additional money. More time passed, etc., and they did not purchase, etc. After that, the members implored me to travel myself. I set out in the month of Kislev 5644 [1883].”

Writing on this matter, Mr. Slodki continues: “His joy was boundless. This was the happiest moment in the life of the man who had spent all of his days within the walls of the large Beis Midrash in Mezritsh, who now merited actually making aliya to the Land of our Yearning, to the Chosen Land!”

After coming to the Land, and spending time in Yesod doing what was needed, the matter [of the land purchase] remained unresolved because the French Consul's procurement of kushanim[5] for the land of Yesod on behalf of its pioneering owners had been drawn out, tiring, and accompanied by daily surprises. Reb Baruch–Meir's enthusiasm for the Movement, for action, and for the settling of the Land continued to grow, while simultaneously the sums of his personal money, which he brought with him from his city and home continued to dwindle. However, this did not weaken his resolve for devising plans and thinking up ideas about how to make additional, new purchases. Then he received a letter from his home, from there.from the Diaspora, from which his thoughts had already turned away. The entire letter was like a torrent of cold water. According to the letter, penned by a member of his family, he was forbidden from even thinking about plans for any additional settlements other than those pertaining to the acquisition of Yesod, for which he had worked with all his energy to obtain the requisite purchase documents (kushans in the vernacular) from the courts. “Then you will have reason to travel there with your family.” “If you come here, and the land is not registered (in the courts), you will have no reason to go… And if you think you might purchase a plot in Gush Chalav, I am informing you that you should not even consider such, for your family will not give you anything after they see the fruits of the thousand rubles given to you for their plot in Yesod haMa'ala, and that their toil was for naught!” The writer continues on and asks, “And regarding that sum of money, what is left? –– only the sum of a few hundred silver rubles that your mother–in–law has, from which she supports herself.” Will you take the remaining amount for something whose outcome is unknown? What will remain for them for the expenses of their journey? Will they take all this from your store? Behold, I have warned you. Your glory will not come from [traveling] this path…”

In the meantime, the “agreement” he had made with his wife, the foundation of his home and his sole support, before he left home to go the Land, weighed upon him. He had pledged that he would return after a certain time to organize the matters there. To her this meant that he would spend several more years in the Diaspora, for her heart was as far away from the folly of her husband as Mezritsh was

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from Yesod haMa'ala… The pragmatism of his wife, the mother of children, enabled her to recognize that it was necessary to place boundaries on her husband's enthusiastic plans.

What did Baruch–Meir answer to this? [He said that with] regard to returning to the Diaspora at a time like this, there was nothing to discuss. With regard to the people who sent him, who left him in Yesod without a penny and without any way of sustaining himself for even one day, he writes: “If relief or assistance do not come from another source within two months from this day, I will pursue my intention to travel to Jerusalem, remain there, and find some sort of occupation, so that I will not have to endure the disgrace of hunger.” He then repeated himself and stressed: “The place is generally good, but the entire matter is beyond our power. If G–d helps us, we can reach the goal.” That is to say: [in his view], leaving Yesod for Jerusalem would only be a temporary measure until the wrath passed and assistance, with tenacious effort, would surely arrive. Then a letter suddenly arrived from Father, from the great, scholarly father who dwelled in the “Green Beis Midrash” of Brisk. This letter was full of wearisome, gloomy, oppressive innuendoes: “My son, dear to my heart, the light of my eyes, bound to my soul, etc., may God guide him in right paths as befits His name.[6], etc. I am hereby requesting that you come to your home, for today I returned from Mezritsh. Thank G–d your wife, may she live, and your daughters are alive and well. I must inform you that regarding the hope [you expressed] to the Blessed Almighty G–d that [financial] help in the sum of approximately 5,000 might arrive for your colony – may it be G–d's will that it will be so. Nevertheless, I do not want you to be the activist, and especially not to be involved with argumentative, quarrelsome people. Just as it is with all of the land distributions, so shall it be with yours, and certainly they will send a person to ensure that everything is done in the proper way.” He then informed his son of the main point [of his letter], “You should know as well that since your wife does not want to travel under any circumstances, the agreement does not apply. The main thing is that I am afraid for your health, may G–d have mercy. If you will be here, with God's grace you will establish your dwelling place for good, then you can gain her consent to travel in good faith.” To strengthen the matter further, he adds that “it is the will of the local Gaon, may he live, my will, and your wife's will that you should come [home]. You should know that we are warned about the tears of the wife of one's youth… Though settling in the Land of Israel is a mitzvah, the study of Torah is greater still, for Rabbi Valvi and other Talmudic rabbis left the Land of Israel for the Diaspora to study Torah. The working of the land was given over to strong men, and they rejected it, especially among people who foment quarrels, and especially being their leader, etc., etc. These are the words of your father, who is writing in great agony, etc. etc.”

It was certain that these words, despite coming from his revered father, not only were not accepted, they were very much a deterrent. If he were to return to his home for a period of time, it would be for the sake of furthering the work on this supremely important matter. He went from there to Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever of Bialystok[7], the writer of long, passionate letters to the well–known philanthropist Baron Hirsch[8], [asking him] to assist the pioneers of Yesod haMa'ala, to save them from their tribulations and to solidify their inheritance [of Yesod haMa'ala]. New issues sprang up from letter to letter. Then providence sent a redeeming angel on a different matter, though it was an issue of supreme importance regarding the land of Israel. It was Dr. Chazanowicz, and his idea was to build a National Library in Eretz Israel. Immediately, Rabbi Baruch–Meir girded his loins and went as a messenger to every place in the Diaspora, anywhere where he was able to sniff out a whiff of something precious – whether it was a holy book, or the hand–written notes of some great Gaon. He would pay significant sums of money to purchase it, and then he would give it to his eminent and revered friend

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for his library. Once, while he was digging and searching through old books, he stumbled across a tractate that had glosses in the margins written by the holy hand of the Gr”a (the Vilna Gaon)[9]. He quickly paid what was asked for this precious find, and joyfully ran to give the gift over to Chazanowicz. In the interim, the matter became known to a wealthy man of the city who loved antiquities, especially such an ancient volume with the holy, hand–written notes of the Gr”a. He came to plead before the happy owner of the wonderful tractate: “Please state whatever price you desire, Baruch–Meir, so long as I can merit to have this in my bookshelf.” Baruch–Meir responded, “Far be it from me to do so. Am I an antiques merchant? I purchased it for Dr. Chazanowicz, and I will give it to Dr. Chazanowicz. It is for the National Library that will eventually be established in Jerusalem.”

Whatever he had experienced in the Land of Israel just before–hand, whatever type of suffering he endured there, it was his private matter. Only people of little faith or weak will complain about such matters. His close friend Mr. Slodki relates, “I recall the hours when Rabbi Baruch–Meir would sit with me and tell me about what he experienced there. It was a wondrous thing: His mouth was speaking, and his face was radiating with some sort of inner joy, the significance of which I did not understand…”

 

B.

Even though we do not have details about the troubles, difficulties and adventures which Baruch–Meir endured in the Land, we have some hints of such from his aforementioned letter to Dr. Hugo Bergman. After detailing the troubles suffered by the people of Yesod following the suicide of a youth (which served as a pretext for the French government to empty the pockets of the residents of Yesod down to the last coin, which in turn raised the grievances and anger of the bitter pioneers), he [Baruch–Meir] points out in anguish: “Their complaints were against me, for I was the founder of the group and later on its director. When the situation deteriorated, to whom could they pour out the bitterness of their hearts if not me? The sound was heard far away, even in the house of my father, as well as the that of the seller (the [original] owner of the land at Yesod (this note is by the author of the article, A. Ch.)) He complained about me: You are not the one involved, for Lejb Rubin purchased from me and not you, etc. Therefore, I demanded that Lejb Rubin return here and conclude the issue with the seller.[10] When Lejb Rubin arrived we decided that it would be better if he would serve as the director here instead of me, and that I should go to the Diaspora to arouse the Chovevei Zion in Odessa, Warsaw, and Bialystok to come to their assistance.”

As has been noted, he found himself once again in the Diaspora, and he was again full of excitement, movement and activity. Then a new sun appeared in the skies of Jewry. Dr. Herzl appeared with the idea of a Jewish State. Political Zionism arose, and Mr. Slodki relates that a new world opened up for Rabbi Baruch–Meir Rozenblum. He moved energetically, with his entire essence, as if he was created solely for this purpose. This was not done in a secular manner, but rather with holiness, purity, and awe, as a priest entering into holy service. He once again traveled to the cities and towns of Poland to awaken his slumbering brethren who had given up on the idea of the revival of the nation and the Land. Nothing was too hard for him or restricted his actions. Not his family, not his holy father,

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nor his closeness to the Rabbi of Brisk who was an opponent of secular Zionism, and had the power to remove him from this path, recounts Mr. Slodki. He once told me quietly and with complete simplicity that “If I could be sure that I would succeed at extricating my nation from the murk of the exile, and bring it to the Land, even at the cost of my life, I would sacrifice my life.”

His travels to these places cost him dearly. For example, there were incidents where he was expelled with curses when he came to preach to the residents of Lukow, Biala, and Parczew about the Zionist idea. When he returned home after such an unsuccessful trip, a “portion” awaited him at home as well… However, he did not fear or shrink before anything. On the contrary, he emerged from every failure strengthened sevenfold. It is important to note that he was careful about taking any personal benefit from this work. In other words, the secret of his success and ever increasing spirit and energy was hidden in his serving the movement without the objective of receiving a reward. This independence constantly opened doors and new vistas for him.

He was fully a man of faith. Everything in which he involved himself became a religion for him.

In 1908, the most difficult year of political Zionism, when the Russian police tracked every Zionist activity and investigated anyone suspected of harboring this ideology, the central committee in Vilna decided to arrange a secret convention of two regions –– Siedlce and Lublin. No city agreed to host the convention. Only Mezritsh accepted this willingly, as the fulfillment of an obligation to the movement. It hosted the convention, with the participation of 100 delegates as well as many guests. This took place only as a result of the efforts and intercession of Rabbi Baruch–Meir Rozenblum. He served as the chairman of the convention. Mr. Slodki, who served as the secretary of the convention, describes him standing at the podium with his full grown, unkempt beard, his yarmulke on his head, with his face shining brightly, his sweet voice, his pleasant, deliberate and measured words penetrating the hearts [of those in attendance]. At the end of the convention, Mr. Lejb Yaffe, who had participated in the convention as a representative of the central committee, turned to the organizers and requested that Rabbi Baruch–Meir come to Vilna to speak to the Orthodox people. He agreed, with the condition that this not be set in a contract, and that there would be no payment. Private material benefit from this idea was anathema to him!

After the parties consolidated, he joined the “Mizrachi[11]. He never made peace, however, with expressions of narrow–mindedness, petty jealousy, etc. Therefore, whenever he delivered a lecture, he began with the verse, “Gather together and listen, oh sons of Jacob”[12]. That is to say, first you should gather as a unified nation, that you should all be sons of Jacob… He rose to a pinnacle which cannot be described. He became beloved by the city and the region, and his name traveled through almost all of Congress Poland.

This man practically did not have one free moment in his life. His entire active and fiery personality was dedicated to public affairs. When he returned after being a delegate to the congress in Hamburg, his house was searched and he almost tasted the flavor of a Russian jail. Of course, this did not deter him, and he continued his activity in his usual manner. He worked for a revival of the Hebrew language with the same faithfulness and dedication. Everything was blended into one complete harmony in his wonderful personality.

He went to the Land again. Once again, he immersed himself in the settlement of the Land of Israel,

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practical work, for those near and far: for his children in the Diaspora, for his children or grandchildren in the Land, for various acquaintances, and for ordinary pioneers whom he regarded as brethren. In addition to all this, he was diligent with regard to Torah. There was a story about his son and the son's brother–in–law, who were two merchants in the Diaspora. When they found out about the increase in the price of land in the Land of Israel, they worked to collect 1,000 Palestinian pounds, and send them to Rabbi Baruch–Meir to purchase a certain number of dunams of land for them, with the explicit intention of later selling the land for a profit, which would enable them later on to make aliya and set themselves up there. Rabbi Baruch–Meir immediately hastened to the task, purchased a plot of land in Ir Shalom and planted an orchard there… When the two of them found out what had happened, they were surprised and amazed. They sent him a letter, “How did you see fit to do this, when we explicitly stated, etc.” Rabbi Baruch–Meir's answer was short and to the point, “There is a verse in our Torah: ‘When you come to the Land –– you shall plant!’[13] To speculate on holy land is a sin and an iniquity!”

He displayed his great depth of knowledge during his fiery debates with the Torah giants about the concept of “chibat Zion[14]. When his prominent disputants stubbornly held to their opinions: “The time has not yet come”, and “it is forbidden to hasten the end”, etc. –– he would succeed in pushing his disputants against the wall by quoting a statement of the sages that directly addressed the issue at hand. During a debate between himself and the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, of blessed memory, on the issue of the Land of Israel, the rabbi's main argument was the heresy of the pioneers, who thereby profane the sanctity of the Land. Rabbi Baruch–Meir retorted, “I am surprised at you! You, whose style of learning depends so much on didactics and reasoning, clarifying the situation with clear logic –– why is it that you decided to take hold of hearsay rumors and condemn our Jewish brethren who are sacrificing their bodies and souls to the holy, sublime ideal of the settlement of the Land of Israel. Would it not be better for you to fulfill the adage, ‘do not judge your friend until you are in his place.’?! Go up yourself, and come to the place where events are turning into reality,… so that you can hear with your own ears and see with your own eyes. Then you can judge…”

Mr. Slodki stresses that from his youth, Baruch–Meir had a strong inclination to disseminate Torah and spread knowledge to the masses. Therefore, by his own resolve, he founded Torah study groups in Mezritsh, which he taught himself, and to which he dedicated almost all the hours of the day.

These activities inspired love and honor for him from the residents of Mezritsh. The order of his holy service until the year 1912 was as follows, according to Y.D. Rozenblum, Rabbi Baruch–Meir's son: He would arise at 5:00 a.m. and teach Psalms to a group of tradesmen, with his own commentary and explanation. Up to that time, with of course a few exceptions, they had recited Psalms without understanding the meaning of the words. The following details will demonstrate how great was Rabbi Baruch's dedication to this study. Once, when he and his students reached the verses “Before the mountains came into being, before You brought forth the earth”, etc. “For in Your sight a thousand years are like yesterday”[15], etc. –– one of the listeners (a tinsmith by trade) got up and asked Rabbi Baruch–Meir: “Are the days mentioned in the Creation our days, or G–d's days, where one day is 1,000 years?” Rabbi Baruch Meir explained to him and all of the students the subject of the Creation of the world according to all sources, to the best of his ability. He did not stop his teaching until

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one of the great scholars of the city appeared in the synagogue, and, upon hearing Rabbi Baruch–Meir sermonizing on the Creation in public, pointed out the iniquity in this[16]. This is something that Rabbi Baruch–Meir of course knew, but the desire to explain turned his mind away from this.

The lesson on Psalms was delivered to a group during the first minyan. After that minyan concluded its prayers, he would begin to teach “Ein Yaakov[17], and when that class finished, a third group was already waiting to study the Shulchan Aruch[18]. Then he studied with the “Chevrat Shas Doresh[19]. He would leave the Beis Midrash at 11:00 a.m. to turn to other matters.

He would teach Mishna in the Beis Midrash of Rabbi Sender between mincha and ma'ariv[20]. He deliberately led his classes in that small Beis Midrash since it was located in the middle of the market, and the shopkeepers and tradesmen would leave their businesses in the hands of servants or members of their household and go to the Beis Midrash to attend Rabbi Baruch–Meir's class in Mishna.

Of course, he undertook all of these activities without expectation of remuneration. Once Mrs. Rozenblum pointed out to her husband that if one of those who attended his classes was in need of a piece of cloth or clothing, it would be appropriate if it would be purchased from their store. Rabbi Baruch–Meir disagreed with his wife regarding this, pointing out that the profit would come at the expense of the reward for the study of Torah, which would be granted in the World to Come. Rabbi Baruch–Meir did not act as a rabbi to his students, but rather as a friend among friends. One of his students, who started out completely ignorant when he began to attend his classes, with the passage of time began to understand Torah and Mishna. His habit was to pose more than this share of questions and problems to his rabbi. As time went on, due to his great familiarity with his rabbi, he even began to act haughtily during conversations, forgetting the boundaries between himself and the one who had turned him from an ignorant person into one conversant with The Book. Once, when a local Torah scholar passed by and overheard that student's manner of speaking toward his rabbi, he pointed out to him, “Since you already study Torah, how is it that you do not remember the adage in Pirke Avot, ‘If someone has learned from his rabbi one chapter, or even one verse’, etc.[21]. You have learned much more than one chapter from your rabbi, so how is it that you have not been careful about the obligations of a student toward his rabbi?” When Rabbi Baruch–Meir heard this, he immediately came to the defense of his student and explained to the scholar that, on the contrary, this time he himself, Rabbi Baruch–Meir, was asking and the student was answering. Therefore, this conversation was a conversation between friends.

Mr. Slodki relates that Rabbi Baruch–Meir would serve as the prayer leader for the Musaf service on the High Holidays. His holy service was a true model of soulful dedication. It was as if he had been transformed entirely into a flame, and it was awesome to approach its four walls[22]. (When he uttered from the depths of his soul “And therefore give honor, oh G–d to your nation”, he would rise to the heights of love for, and closeness to, G–d. It is possible to state that this was even to the point of taking leave of physicality. His face turned into a stream of tears, and he evoked weeping in the congregation when he began the section “And because of our sins”[23].) The congregation of worshippers felt that this wonderful prayer leader was their sole and unique representative to their Father in Heaven, and were filled with faith and trust that his holy mission would be fulfilled with completeness, and without any flaw.

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C.

Kibbutz” was founded in Mezritsh in 1913. That institution brought youths from Brisk, including great scholars who had studied under Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik. They then came from Poland and Lithuania to the “Kibbutz”, and he [R. Baruch–Meir] arranged for the funds needed to maintain the institution. The “Kibbutz” closed when the war broke out.

After the First World War, he was among the founders of “Mizrachi”, a delegate to the first “Mizrachi” convention of Poland, and one of its leaders until he made aliya to the Land.

In his latter years when he was living in the Land, he was again bothered by people from the Diaspora, especially by his own family members who were in touch with their relatives in the Land, with questions and accusations about the desecration of the Divine Name by the pioneers. Not only by them (the pioneers) alone, but seemingly by the entire Jewish community of the Land, which was in a state of great decline. The letter that follows, addressed to his in–law, in which the author paints a general picture of the moral and spiritual state of Jewry in the Land from the beginning of its period of renaissance until the time of writing, is a wonderful defense that demonstrates the breadth of heart and nobility of the writer, and no less, his depth of vision and sense of responsibility. Here is the letter in full:

“With the help of G–d. Sunday of the Torah portion of ‘I place before you a blessing’[24] 5646 (1886), here in Jaffa

Life, strength and peace to my honorable in–law, the prominent rabbi, who occupies himself with Torah day and night, Rabbi Shimon Herlsztejn.

I have read your letter to your grandchildren, filled with anguish and complaints about the physical and spiritual state of the Land of Israel. I will discuss both issues, one at a time. Our sages have said: the Nation of Israel is compared to the stars and to the dust of the earth. When they are in ascendancy, they ascend to the stars, and when they are in decline, they decline to dust. The Land of Israel fares similarly among the Jewish people: when they begin to praise [the land of] Israel, they raise her to the stars, and when they belittle her – they reduce her to dust, and humiliate her. The terrified people of Poland who came running here did so without reflection. And today, when they flee from here, they also flee without reflection. Every change of place has some measure of anguish that a person must suffer, especially a move from Europe to Asia, across the seas. The entire world is suffering today from a breakdown (crisis), and in every place people are saying that it is a sickness. Here in the Land of Israel, our elderly mother, all of the sins and defects fall upon her. Even today, with the help of G–d, those who come here know they will suffer to a certain degree to remain in the Land of Israel, and I do not judge negatively those who return. But he who returns to the Diaspora justifies his return with exaggerated stories, whether with respect to the physical situation or the spiritual situation. With regard to the physical situation, neither the Land of Israel nor the Zionists are to blame, only

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the government. Regarding this, there is much to say, but only God, ‘Who is exalted as above all’ – only He can help. And with some perspective, with the passage of time, the situation will slowly improve.

Now I will talk about the spiritual situation. According to your letter it seems that your honorable self is among those about whom the sages say: ‘from where and for what?’ Because ‘they stand in Babylonia and see the disgrace of the land of Israel’. You (the writer of the letter uses the plural, as is customary in Yiddish) write me regarding sins the likes of which no ear has heard here. You write that you saw a newspaper report, certainly it was the ‘Kol Yisrael’ newspaper published in Jerusalem, which was established to speak evil, in a denigrating fashion, about Torah scholars. There were two such newspapers in Jerusalem, ‘Kol Yaakov’ and ‘Kol Yisrael’, both founded to speak evil. When the son of the Chofetz Chaim, may he live, came here, ‘the voices stopped’. The followers of Rabbi Kook heard about this and closed down the ‘Kol Yaakov’ newspaper, but ‘Kol Yisrael’ continues to this day. It is possible that such a newspaper exists also in the Diaspora, founded by righteous people who wish to fulfill the commandment: ‘G–d, I hate those who are your enemies’[25] in a very exacting manner. However, we also have a commandment ‘Do not hate your brother in your heart.’[26] My father of holy blessed memory taught me to cling to this commandment and not to cling to the commandment ‘G–d, I hate those who are your enemies’. For the most part, those who are exacting about that commandment, which is from the tradition, trample over the Torah commandment ‘Do not hate your brother’. Those who are so exacting eliminate large portions of the Jewish people from being considered as ‘your brother’ or ‘members of your nation’. This is a great ruin for the entire Jewish people.

I can write to you about what my eyes see, not what the newspaper writes. The most immodest city in the Land of Israel that is talked about is Tel Aviv. In Tel Aviv, one can find several Basei Midrash, where there is a great deal of worship and study. There is a large synagogue in Tel Aviv that has not been completed yet (but with G–d's help, it will be completed this year). On the lower level there are two large halls where people study and worship. I was there on the 17th of Tammuz, where mincha services took place about ten times, for hundreds of people, with the reading of “Vayechal[27]. Shacharit, mincha and ma'ariv take place there every day. Two large groups study Talmud and Mishna there. In one group, the Gaon Rabbi Shlomo Aharonson, may he be well, teaches a page of Gemara with Tosafot. Another rabbi teaches “Ein Yaakov”. On every street corner, the timetable for the cessation of work from the eve of the Sabbath, to the end of the Sabbath is posted. All of the shops are closed on the Sabbath day.

The Shalosh Seudos (the third Sabbath Meal) is conducted in the Great Synagogue for approximately 100 people. Many come to see and hear the sermons of a particular rabbi who preaches at the Shalosh Seudos. [But] this is also the truth: one can see a person walking with a cigarette in his mouth, and in most cases, such a person is scolded. There was a special group of scolders, but this group was disbanded when they saw that the “provocations” were escalating. In any case,

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when offered with discretion, a great deal of advice is accepted regarding improvement of the situation. There is an “Agudat Torah” group that does a great deal to strengthen Torah among the youth. The expenses of this group are approximately 50 Palestinian Lira a month. In general, there are good and bad people, and the good are a significant majority. Those who are bad, with respect to the commandments between man and G–d, stand at a higher level here than those who are bad in other countries, for here, there is love for all of the Jewish people and love of the Land of Israel. I traveled among the groups, and even the most ‘free’ embrace travelers with complete love, food and lodging. At first I thought that they only embraced me or those like me (that is, activists for the Jewish settlement –– the author A.M. Ch.), but I later saw that they embraced everyone, even the driver of the wagon, camel or donkey, with a full heart inscribed with the name of Israel. In summary, the statistics tell the truth, for two times two must equal four. Approximately 150,000 Jewish people live in the Land of Israel, may their numbers increase. There are approximately 40,000 in Tel Aviv, 50,000 in Jerusalem, 10,000 in moshavot [villages] and the remainder throughout the rest of the Land of Israel –– including several thousand on Kibbutzim. If you add all of these together and compare them to the same number of Diaspora Jews from anyplace you choose, even half of the city of Warsaw –– for Warsaw has a population of 300,000 Jews, – they (the Jewish population the Land of Israel) would be superior in Divine service, in Torah and even in the performance of deeds of loving–kindness! With regard to Torah, within this population there are 20 true yeshivas (aside from yeshivas that call themselves by that name but are not so important). Among these [the former] yeshivas there are some which are very large and important. These include the new Slobodka Yeshiva that is now in Hebron, the Yeshiva of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, and the Etz Chaim Yeshiva that is lead by the rabbi and Gaon from Slutsk.

Among the moshavim, there are some that are like the cities of Lithuania 50 years ago, such as Petach Tikva, a well–populated settlement with a population of several thousand Jews. It is a place of Torah like Eišiškės[28] was decades ago. Even in Rishon Letzion, which is considered ‘free’, you will find G–d fearing people who study Torah. In the synagogues you will find groups who study Talmud and Mishna every day.

Concerning Divine service: Jerusalem is a city filled with Divine service and fear of Heaven. The majority of the people sit in the corner, studying and worshipping with devotion, and occupying themselves with Divine Service for their entire lives. Among them are people the likes of which you cannot find regarding Divine Service and the fear of Heaven, even if you pass through entire districts in the Diaspora. These people do not want to talk about or know about Kook or Zonnenfeld[29], Zionism or anti–Zionism –– only Torah and Divine service. They satisfy themselves with a meager life. My brother–in–law Zusha, of blessed memory, was such a man. Even today there are such people in Jerusalem.

There are those among them who are wise and politically astute, but

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do not want to involve themselves in politics, so that they will not stumble on the sin of baseless hatred and divisiveness.

There are some who wear the garb of a Torah scholar and go by the appellation of rabbi, but are prepared to violate any Torah prohibition “for the sake of Heaven”. However, there are almost no people such as that.

With regard to deeds of loving–kindness, you will find all sorts of large–scale charitable organizations here. The vast majority are helped from abroad, that is to say, from America. However, there are residents here who also donate to all types of charity and benevolence, no less than such an organization in the Diaspora.

Now we will speak about the goodness of the land itself. The climate is very good and clean. For example, you have written me that in the Diaspora, the heat wave is great and difficult. My daughter Chana wrote me the same thing. Here [too] there is a heat wave, but it is clean and easy to tolerate. Believe me, I have forgotten what lice and fleas look like, for it has been three years since I have seen them, with the help of G–d. In the Diaspora, where you are, the heat and sweat bring many of those species, but here they are not seen. Every afternoon, a refreshing northwestern wind begins to blow. The longevity here exceeds that of the Diaspora. Here, we find elderly people over 90 and over 100. Many of them are in Jerusalem and in the moshavot. The reason that some people suffer is due to the change of climate, something that is the case in all countries of the world.

My daughter Masha writes that she hears that people die of hunger here. No, no, Heaven forbid! The depression here is not as severe as it is in other places. Work is apportioned by the leadership. Those who are in the kibbutzim in the villages have work, and all their needs are met.”

After describing the division of work in Tel Aviv based on the family situation of each worker, the author of the letter moves on to his main point, which is:

“My daughter Masha writes me that you had a dispute regarding disparaging comments spoken about Dr. Herzl. I am writing my true opinion, since I have known Zionism from its fundamentals, from its beginning, and in all its detail. Dr. Herzl was far from the nation of Israel and its Torah not out of rebellion, but rather because he was a “captive child”[30]. After he drew close, all of his deeds were truthful and sincere, for he was a man of truth by nature, as well as an idealist. He even would have given his life for his ideals. With him the adage ‘if they return, they will not attain length of life’ was fulfilled. That is to say, people such as he, if they do return from their ways to the righteous path, they attain a level of idealism that is almost self–sacrificial. This was fulfilled by Dr. Herzl, who died in service of his ideals, and because “the love of his persecuted brethren afflicted his heart.” etc. etc. etc.

“Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook of blessed memory also wrote this in one of his letters more than 40 years ago: ‘It should not be considered brazenness for us, for a small group in the Land of Israel is better than a large court in the Diaspora!’ The foundation of the exile and degradation that is prevalent in the world

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comes from failing to appreciate the Land of Israel, its value and its wisdom. One does not rectify the sin of the spies who uttered an evil report on the Land with a like response: [rather we should] tell the entire world about [the Land's] glory, splendor, holiness and honor. After all of the schisms, if only we could merit to express even one part in 10,000 of the charm of the Land of Israel, the splendor of the light of its Torah, wisdom, and the holy spirit that flutters within it. Of course, holiness has degrees, just as it does in the Diaspora, and anyone can be burned under the canopy of his friend. This is a depiction of the type of refined holiness that exists in the Land of Israel for Torah scholars who seek G–d, [the likes of which] cannot be found at all in the Diaspora. Behold, I am a testimony to this, according to my small stature.[31]

It is precisely this generation, which seems to be so empty and unbound from the yoke [of Torah], which is prepared for the light of the return of truth with love and with holy might, as will come with the help of the Blessed G–d.”

Rabbi Baruch–Meir Rozenblum lived and acted with this type of outlook and vision.

 

mie095.jpg
An excerpt from the letter of Rabbi Baruch–Meir Rozenblum to a native of our town

 

D.

Rabbi Baruch–Meir's two most intimate friends were:

  1. his diary, where he wrote with great simplicity and exemplary accuracy regarding every event,

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    large or small, of his personal physical and spiritual life, which occurred during the renewal of nation and the Land.

  1. The “Yearbook” to which he dedicated the best of the years of his life, and which he mentions with joy and gratitude to G–d from time to time in his diary – whether writing it, copying it out in good form, or when, with great agony, he was forced to interrupt that work –– this book served as his “eternal life”. This book, which consists of 721 pages in large format, or 1,442 pages in regular format, was written in two volumes with wondrous clarity. It is called the “Yearbook” in which the author, with his great expertise in both the revealed and hidden Torah[32] (even though, as we already mentioned, he himself was not a man of mysticism) explains both revealed and concealed aspects of the Jewish year with its Sabbaths and festivals in great detail, illuminated by the choicest commentary of the great Jewish thinkers, from the Rishonim to the Acharonim[33]. The book is notable for the author's simple and enthusiastic style, and the architectural style of its sections.
The author merited completing his book on the day of the Ushpizin of King David[34]. The final page of the book concludes with the verse, “Thus it was found for King David and his generations, and for this he merited the Kingdom for himself and for his generations.”

On the night of the 19th of Nissan, chol hamo'ed of Passover[35], he felt very weak after several days of illness. He suddenly called his son Yosef Dov, and hinted to him that the study of Torah is a protection against the Angel of Death. He requested that his son take out Tractate Shabbat from his bookshelf. He strengthened himself, got out of his bed, sat at the table, and began to study the tractate as if he was not ill at all. He studied for two hours and then returned to bed. His soul was returned to its Source about one hour later.

May his soul be bound up in the bonds of eternal life.

 


Translator's Footnotes

  1. The text refers to Baruch–Meir as a precious vessel “kli yakar”. Baruch–Meir's future father in law would have paid a form of dowry, a naddan, for the privilege of having his daughter marry such an illustrious person. return
  2. In Judaism there is a high value placed on giving anonymously, where the gifting is done for its own sake rather than for recognition of any kind. return
  3. Chibat Zion – Literally, “love of Zion”, but here referring to the specific “Chibat Zion” movement, which was a precursor to the formal Zionist movement. return
  4. Menucha and nachala – Repose and inheritance –– a Biblical appellation for the Land of Israel. Deuteronomy 12:9 – “for you have not come until now to the resting–place, to the inheritance that YHWH your God is giving you”. return
  5. According to the Alkalai Dictionary, a kushan is “a certificate for the registration of immovables” – that is, a certificate of land registration. return
  6. an adaptation of Psalm 23:3. return
  7. A leading figure in the early religious Zionist movement. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Mohilever . return
  8. Baron Hirsch was a leading philanthropist of the Zionist movement. See: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Baronhirsch.html return
  9. Gr”a is an abbreviation which stands for Gaon, Rabbeinu Eliyahu, an 18th Century leader of non–Hassidic Jewry, a scholar Talmud and Kabbalah. For more on the Vilna Gaon, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vilna_Gaon return
  10. This passage is unclear. There are innuendoes here which the letter writer, in his time, understood, but which are not clear all these decades later. We have decided to retain the ambiguity of the passage rather than guess its meaning. return
  11. It is not entirely clear which parties consolidated, but the editor and translator assume that Chovevei Zion was somehow merged into Mizrachi. return
  12. Genesis 49:2 return
  13. Leviticus 19:23 return
  14. Here chibat zion likely suggests its literal meaning – love of Zion, rather than the organization bearing that name. return
  15. Psalms 90:2, 4 return
  16. This is a reference to the Babylonian Talmud, Haggigah 11:b, which expressly says that one must not discuss issues of sexuality with a group of (more than) three, Creation with a group of (more than) two, or the chariot [merkava, referring to Jewish mystical teachings also known as Kabbalah] with (more than) one . Rabbi Baruch Meir was speaking to a larger group, hence transgressing in the eyes of the offended rabbi. return
  17. Ein Yaakov is a compendium of all the aggadic material (the homiletic and non–legalistic material) in the Talmud, created by Rabbi Yaakov ibn Habib and his son, Rabbi Levi ibn Habib in the late 15th–early 16th C working in Salonika after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. return
  18. The Shulchan Aruch is the Code of Jewish Law containing the halachic rulings that form the basis of Jewish practice. This book was authored by Joseph Caro in the mid–16th C, and reflects Caro's Sephardic customs. return
  19. Chevrat Shas Doresh – This probably refers to a Talmud or Mishna study group – the word “shas” is an abbreviation for “shisha sidrei mishna” – the six orders of the mishna. return
  20. Mincha is the afternoon service, corresponding to the afternoon Temple offering, and today is often conducted just prior to m'aariv. Ma'ariv is the evening service. It alone among the three daily services, does not correspond to the time of a Temple offering. return
  21. Pirke Avot is the Mishnaic Tractate of the Fathers, consisting of moral teachings and adages. This particular quote teaches that one must honor the person from whom one has learned one chapter, one verse, one word, or even one letter. (Pirkei Avot 6:3) return
  22. Dalet Amotav – a small space of 4 cubits, in this case perhaps signifying the personal space of the prayer leader return
  23. The full quote would be, “And because of our sins we were exiled from our Land and distanced from our soil…” return
  24. Deuteronomy 11:26 return
  25. Psalm 129:31 return
  26. Leviticus 19:17. return
  27. The 17th of Tammuz is a fast day during the summer. It is the day on which the Golden Calf was made by the people of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai, on the 40th day of Moses' sojourn with G–d atop the mountain. That episode is considered a great transgression on the part of the Jewish People. It also marks the day on which the walls of Jerusalem were breached during the Roman invasion of Jerusalem. Three weeks later the Temple was destroyed, on the 9th of Av. The 17th of Tammuz, therefore, marks the start of a three week period of sorrow and remembrance. “Vayechal” is the name given to the Torah portion read on fast days, including the 17th of Tammuz. return
  28. Eišiškės – known to Jews as Eishishok – a city in Lithuania near the Belarus border. return
  29. Rabbi Kook was the leading Zionist–leaning rabbi of the time, and Rabbi Zonnenfeld was the leading anti– Zionist rabbi in the Land of Israel at that time –– those names are both very politically charged. It is unclear why the writer of this letter did not put the appellation ‘rabbi’ before these names –– perhaps it was to accentuate his disdain for the political aura built around them (it is certainly not meant as a sign of disrespect to them personally). return
  30. Tinok shenishba (literally: a child that was taken captive) – this is a general term used for a Jew who is estranged from Judaism not for reasons of rebellion, but rather because he was not immersed in a Jewish environment or milieu from childhood. return
  31. It is not clear in the original text where R. Baruch Meir's quotation of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook's words ends and his own thoughts begin again. return
  32. The “hidden” Torah refers to mysticism or Kabbalah. return
  33. The “Rishonim” and “Acharonim” refer to the great Jewish commentators who wrote from the 11th C–15th C , and 16th C to the present, respectively. return
  34. On each of the seven days of Sukkot, Ushipizin (spiritual guests) are invited into the Sukkah. The guest of the seventh day of Sukkot (Hoshanah Rabba) is said to be King David. return
  35. chol hamo'ed – these are the intermediate days, the non–holy–days, of the festivals of Passover and Sukkot. In Israel, chol ha mo'ed Pesach is the 2nd through the 6th days of the festival. In the Diaspora, it is the 3nd through the 6th days. return


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Pages from the Diary of Rabbi B. M. Rozenblum

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Monday, 11 Kislev, 5644 (1884). I received certification for shechita [ritual slaughter] from the Rabbi of Mezritsh and the shochtim, etc.

Tuesday. I traveled from Mezritsh to Brisk on my way to make aliya to the Holy Land in peace. With the help of G–d, Blessed be He, that very day I received news that fields were purchased for us in the Holy Land. On Wednesday I left Brisk with Reb Dov David and Reb Avraham haKohen. I arrived in Odessa on Friday, 15 Kislev. Reb Dov David and Reb Avraham boarded the ship on Tuesday, 19 Kislev, but I remained in Odessa until Thursday, 21 Kislev, for my passport had not been completed yet. I boarded the ship that Thursday, and arrived in Constantinople on Saturday, 23 Kislev. I was delayed there by the police, for I wanted to go from that ship to the ship upon which our friends traveled. However, they delayed me, and I went with him[1] into the city, where I was forced to violate the Sabbath and do a tiskere[2]. That day I boarded the ship upon which Reb David and Reb Avraham traveled. That day, we set out in peace, and with a good wind, until Tuesday night, 27 Kislev. That night there was a very great “fatune[3] on the sea, and G–d performed great miracles for us. On Tuesday, 3 Tevet, we arrived in Jaffa in peace, where Reb Dov David received me in his home until the day that G–d took note of me.

On Wednesday, 17 Shevat, our feet stood at the gates of Jerusalem. That day, I went with my friends to the place of our Holy Temple. On Friday, I went to worship the mincha service at that holy place. I was there in Jerusalem, the holy city, until 22 Shevat. I then returned to Jaffa, to Reb Dov David. May G–d help me to attain my place and inheritance.

*

On Friday, the eve of the Sabbath of Bo[4], in the month of Nisan, I arrived here in Safed (may it be built and established). On Sunday 2 Nissan, I traveled for the first time to our property in the Holy Land. Thank G–d, it is very good and blessed. May G–d help it thrive, and enable us to live long lives and merit salvation.

On Thursday, 19 Sivan, all of them – Reb Avraham along with Reb Shabtai haKohen and their families – arrived at our property. We established our residence in our moshav, “Yesod haMa'ala”. May it be G–d's will that it succeed, and be blessed with all good things, Selah.

*

On Friday, the eve of the Sabbath of Pinchas, 8 Tammuz, the Torah scroll arrived at our moshav, Yesod haMa'ala. We read it for the first time – from the Torah portion Pinchas[5].

*

As of this day, at the conclusion of the year 5667 and the start of the year 5668 (1907), with the help of G–d, I have attained the age of 50 years. The details of these years are already entered in this book, but

[Page 98]

with this I attain (blurred words) a broader outlook on the 25 years from 5642 [1882] through the end of 5667 [1907]. It was during this time that the concept of Chibat Zion and the national spirit was awakened. As a result there are 27 settlements in the Land of Israel. The committee in the city of Odessa, and in general, helped a bit in bringing near those who were far off, and I arranged the travel to the Land of Israel, as is written within [the diary]. In the last decade, the Zionist idea was revived by a man of great action, the honorable Binyamin Theodore Herzl. This idea has had great value and many activities, including:

  1. Drawing near the hearts of those of our nation who have felt themselves distant, and who are scattered to all corners of the earth.
  2. The restoration of the name of Israel, which had been publicly degraded, even among many of the Jewish people themselves – it is once again proud.
  3. The organization of [Zionist] Congress as a gathering of delegates of the Jewish people from all corners of the earth. To date, there have already been eight such congresses.
  4. The establishment of a bank belonging to the Jewish nation. Today the bank has capital of four million rubles, and is located in London. It has branches in several places, especially in the land of Israel: in Jaffa, Jerusalem, Beirut[6], Haifa, and other places. Its primary activity is in the land of Israel.
  5. The national fund (Keren Kayemet) whose purpose is the purchase of land in Eretz Israel, today has capital of more than 700,000 silver rubles. 159,000 of this is already invested in properties.
  6. The “Ivria” group was founded here in Brest Litovsk with the purpose of renewing the Holy Language. Most of its activities take place in the Land of Israel, where the majority of young people speak Hebrew. With the passage of time, G–d willing, the Hebrew language will be transformed from a language of the past into a spoken language.
  7. At the gymnazjum in Jaffa, ignoring its shortcomings [in the area of] religion, as well as at other schools for young children and at several kindergartens, Hebrew is the spoken language and language of instruction.
  8. There is a trade school and art school, whose curriculum includes painting and other such arts. This school is called “Betzalel”.
  9. There is a large library in Jerusalem which has tens of thousands of books and antiquities belonging to all the Jewish people.
  10. There is a permanent diplomatic commission whose purpose is to always stand ready to guard and act, to create a safe haven with good laws for the Jewish people in the Land of our forefathers. Herzl, the exceptional man who started all of this activity, died from this work with a good name on the 21 of Tammuz, 5664 [1904]. Reb David Wolfson of Cologne was appointed as the head. Etc.
*

A new order has been established in the world since the month of Shevat 5664 [1904]. This is due to the Russo–Japanese war, and to the revolution in the country[7]. Because of this, all people, and in particular the Jewish people, have suffered. They have endured destruction and murder, and none feel secure with regard to their property

[Page 99]

or their lives. The Jewish people suffered pogroms and were continually implicated by the government in judicial matters. The 25 year [period] since the pogroms of ‘41, ‘42, and ‘43 [1881, 1882 and 1883] had a positive effect on the strength of the soul of the Jewish people, but during the three most recent years, from 5664 [1904] until today, the spiritual situation of the Jewish people has declined greatly, due to the resurgence of factions and sects, such as the Socialists, S.S., P.D., and others. Heresy has spread in the world, both among the other nations and among the Jewish people. The pogroms of the year 5666 [1906] did not help to correct their ways.

In the year 5667 [1907], and after that in 5668 [1908], the revolution in Russia quieted down. Along with that, the power of the sects declined as did the strikes, and there was a favorable change in the faith of the Jewish people. Thank G–d, the power of heresy weakened a bit. Of all the parties that were created in the latter years, only the Zionist party grew, thank G–d. –– –– ––, etc. Throughout all these years there were a great many matters for which I required great help from the Blessed G–d, and G–d has helped me to this point.

*

Sunday, 7 Tevet. I arrived in Warsaw in peace, and met with R. Yitzchak Nissenbojm. I asked him when the delegates from Warsaw would be leaving [for the Congress]. He replied that they would be travelling on Tuesday. I therefore did not linger, because I wanted to be at the cultural convention that was to be held in Berlin specifically on the topic of Hebrew language, so I went on my way that very day. In the evening, I arrived at Aleksandrowo. On the train I met other delegates, and I enjoyed their company very much.

*

Monday, 8 Tevet. I arrived in Berlin, and attended the convention on Hebrew language. I participated in the 3rd and 4th meetings that day. There, I saw the great scholars and authors of Hebrew literature of this generation. There it was decided to establish a committee of honorable people to organize the lovers of the Hebrew language, and all the writers of that literature from all over the earth. A convention (congress) will be arranged. It will take place in the Land of Israel.

Tuesday, 9 Tevet. I traveled from Berlin to Hamburg. Along the way, I met other delegates. The next day, on the 10th of Tevet, almost all of the delegates from Russia arrived. On Saturday night there was a meeting of the Zionists from Russia. –– –– –– On Saturday night, there was also a meeting of the Mizrachi organization, which is a special faction within the Zionist movement whose purpose is to fulfill Zionism in accordance with the laws of the Torah. There were delegates from Russia, Germany, Hungary, and Belgium. The great scholars such as professors, doctors, etc. who fear the word of G–d , associated themselves with the Mizrachi faction.

*

[Page 100]

Mezritsh, Thursday, 3 Shevat. Policemen came to my home by order of a police colonel. They conducted a search in my house and took all of my papers, etc. as well as my shares[8]. I was very afraid and in great anguish.

*

At the end of the month of Tishrei, 5678 [1917], the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin gained strength and rebelled against the preceding government led by Kerensky, taking the reins of leadership into their hands. The government is now led by Lenin and Trotsky–Bronstein, a Jew. However, the cost to the people was a great deal of bloodshed throughout the country.

Recently, between Yom Kippur and the month of Cheshvan, there were pogroms against the Jewish people in several cities of Russia.

*

This month, England captured the city of Gaza, then Beersheba, and most recently, also the city of Jaffa[9].

British Foreign Minister Lord Balfour issued a declaration in the name of his government as well as in the name of the coalition governments stating that the Land of Israel will be designated for the Jewish people.[10]

*

Tel Aviv, Nisan 5680 [1920]

The Arab opposition to the Jewish community has grown in Jerusalem and throughout the Land of Israel in general. At first, this was carried out through articles and manifestos that flowed from their pens, but later, through bloody war. It started in the Galilee in the area occupied by the French near the colonies of Metulla and Tel Chai. Joseph Trumpeldor, the brave fighter who battled with total devotion for his people and his land, fell there, along with five of his comrades.

*

Tishrei 5681 [1920]

I was fortunate to see the well–known philanthropist Binyamin the son of Yaakov Rothschild, who came to Tel Aviv and was received with great respect.

*

In the months of Iyar, Sivan and Tammuz, 3,000 Jews arrived [in Israel]. With the help of G–d, during the months of Av and Elul 5683 (1923), more than 3,000 people arrived per month.

*

[Page 101]

On the first day of Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, Shalom Schwartzbard was exonerated in a Paris court for his killing of Petliura[11], taking revenge on him for the Jewish blood that was spilled in Ukraine. Blessed is He who frees captives.[12]

*

With the help of G–d on the 5th of Cheshvan, 5688 [1928] I began to teach a group every evening in the Beis Midrash of the business center of Tel Aviv. Between mincha and ma'ariv we studied “Ein Yaakov” and after ma'ariv, we studied Mishna. On the Sabbath we studied Chumash with Rashi's commentary[13]. May G–d grant me the ability to teach for many years.

In total, during the last half year, the number of people leaving the land [of Israel] was greater than the number entering.

*

Many things happened to me in my private life during these ten years. Three of my children got married: Yosef–David, my daughter Henia, and my son Moshe–Aharon, may they live. I merited to make aliya to the Land of Israel and to settle there permanently.

*

On the second day of Sukkot, 5688 [1928], praise G–d, I reached the age of 70. During the wartime year of 5678 [1918] I did not write at all about issues of the world and the Jewish people, for I awaited good news at the conclusion of the war. However, the war ended, and though many nations were liberated and became independent –– the Jewish people did not. The Divine Face grew still more hidden from the nation of Israel. We will continue to stand by our ancient hope that G–d will send his Messiah, and we will merit and live.

*

5689 [1929]

On Yom Kippur, an abomination took place at the Western Wall. The British police and their commander attacked elderly Jewish men and women who were worshipping there, and beat them mercilessly. They desecrated our most holy place on our most holy day. Perhaps because of this, the eyes of the Jewish activists will be opened and they will act to demand that we have free access to our holy places.

*

On Friday 10 Av, 5689 [1929], there was an Arab demonstration. They approached the Western Wall, and the worshippers fled. They [the demonstrators] beat the shamash[14], and burnt the prayer books and books of Psalms.

The British government is siding with the Arabs.

*

[Page 102]

On Friday the 17th of that month and Saturday the 18th, the Arabs descended upon the Jews of Jerusalem and attacked them. They killed, pillaged, and burnt Torah scrolls. Twenty people were killed, and many were injured. Six Jews were also killed in the village of Motza, including the rabbi, Gaon and Tzadik Rabbi Zalman Teich, one of the rabbis of Tel Aviv.

*

On the 19th of Av, the Arabs attacked the Jews in Tel Aviv. The Jewish people stood their ground, and did not permit [the attackers] to enter the city. Six Jews were killed, and many were injured. Though approximately 20 of them were killed, this is no comfort for us.

The rumors from the holy city of Hebron and the Yeshiva and its dear students are very frightening and shocking, but we do not have clear information yet.

*

We now have clear news from Hebron, Jerusalem, and from around the country. Fifty–nine people were killed in Hebron with terrible cruelty, the majority of them great scholars from the holy Yeshiva, who would have become the glory of Israel in the future. Fifty–eight were wounded, most of them severely, to the point where several of them have already died in the hospitals of Jerusalem. A large percentage of them will remain handicapped, for severe injuries were deliberately inflicted upon them. In Jerusalem there were 20 people killed or who died from their injuries. There were 38 wounded. In Haifa, five were killed, in Hulda –– 1, in Be'er–Tuvia –– 3, in Safed –– 22, and we still do not know the end of the matter. Several settlements were destroyed and granaries were burnt. Torah scrolls were burnt in several places. In general, the government was very negligent, and some Arab policemen even took part in the pillage and plunder. This had the effect of strengthening the support of Jews throughout the world for the settlement in Israel. The anger over the bloodshed has also affected other nations, indeed all of humanity.

*

On Adar 20, 5690 [1930], an Arab delegation opposed to the Jewish people set out for London.

*

The months of Nisan and Iyar passed with anguish and humiliation for the Jewish people, for the Arab delegation succeeded. On Saturday, Iyar 19, a foolish and untruthful edict was issued by the government shutting down aliya. 3,500 certificates for aliya which had already been authorized, were revoked.

After the Arabs murdered and pillaged us, they were given their demands.

*

[Page 103]

On Thursday, 24 Iyar, there was a general strike throughout the Land of Israel. There was a day of prayer and demonstration against the edict blocking aliya. Emotional meetings and demonstrations took place throughout the cities of Israel and in the Diaspora.

*

On Sunday, 11 Kislev, my grandson Avraham Yeshaya, the son of my daughter Pesha, got married. Mazel Tov. The building and settlement [of the Land] has also expanded during these months.

*

On Thursday, 25 Tishrei, my grandson, the son of my daughter Leah from her first husband Aharon–Dov of blessed memory, came from the city of Mezritsh with his wife and two daughters, may they live. In general, the aliya during the months of Elul and Tishrei was successful, praised be G–d. The immigrants, praised be G–d, are settling in and earning livelihoods.

 


Translator's and Editor's Footnotes

  1. Though not entirely clear from the text, it seems R. Baruch–Meir was forced to accompany the police officer into the city of Constantinople. return
  2. Tiskere – From the Russian, meaning “vise”. Here it would mean something like “caught in a vise” – R. Baruch Meir was forced to desecrate the Sabbath against his will. return
  3. Fatune – The exact meaning of this word could not be ascertained. In context this word seems to mean a storm at sea. return
  4. Torah portion Bo is Exodus 10:1–13:16. There is something anomalous here, as Bo occurs in the month of Shevat, not Nisan as the author states. return
  5. Torah portion Pinchas is Numbers 25:10–30:1. Pinchas deals with the apportioning of the land among the tribes of Israel. Also in this parasha, Joshua is empowered by Moses to lead the people into the Land of Israel. One can imagine that these verses of Torah might have been significant to R. Baruch–Meir in light of the historic establishment of Yesod haMa'ala as the “portion” of the land for those making aliya from Mezritsh, and his personal role in the settlement's foundation. return
  6. Beirut was apparently considered to be part of the Land of Israel at that time, perhaps because it was part of the territory conquered by the Triple Entente (Russia, England and France) during WW I. return
  7. The author is referring to the Polish Revolution, 1905–1907. For more information on this, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolution_in_the_Kingdom_of_Poland_(1905–07) return
  8. Though not completely clear from the text, the word ‘shares’ probably refer to shares in the Zionist banks. return
  9. These cities were captured from the Ottoman Empire by the forces of the “Triple Entente” (Russia, England and France) during WW I. For more information on this theater of the war, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_Eastern_theatre_of_World_War_I return
  10. R. Baruch–Meir's diary here is referring to the Balfour Declaration, issued November 2, 1917, and made public November 9, 1917. The letter states in part: “His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non–Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” For more information on the Balfour Declaration, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balfour_Declaration return
  11. Symon Petliura was a Ukrainian politician who led Ukraine's battle for independence after the Russian Revolution. He was allegedly shot by Sholom Shwartzbard. For more on both these historic characters see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sholom_Schwartzbard
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schwartzbard_trial
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symon_Petliura return
  12. Baruchmatir asurim – Blessed is the One who frees the captives. This is the 7th blessing offered daily as part of the morning blessings (birkot ha–shachar). return
  13. Ein Yaakov is a compendium of all the aggadic material (the homiletic and non–legalistic material) in the Talmud, created by Rabbi Yaakov ibn Habib and his son, Rabbi Levi ibn Habib in the late 15th–early 16th C working in Salonika after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Chumash is the Pentateuch – the Five Books of Moses. return
  14. Shamash –the caretaker of the synagogue. He would traditionally keep the synagogue and grounds clean and orderly. return

 

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