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Rabbis, Hassidim,
and Influential People

 

no caption provided: The title page of Ketzot Hachoshen,
a commentary on the Code of Jewish Law

 

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no caption provided: Several books on a table,
including Ketzot Hachoshen, Avnei Miluim and Shav Shamata

 

Who are the Kings, the Rabbis

“… But if one sees a large crowd of people, one should say: Blessed is the Knower of secrets. For just as their faces are different one from the other, their characters are also not equivalent. Rather, each individual has his own set of thoughts.

You should know that this is the way it is. For, at the time of his death, Moses requested from the Holy One Blessed Be He the following. Thus did he say: Master of the Universe, the character of each individual is known before You, and the character of one person is not the same as that of another person. Therefore, at the time that I am departing from them, I request of You: If You wish to appoint a leader over them, appoint a man who will be able to relate to each one according to his individual character.”

(Midrash Tanchuma on the Torah portion of Pinchas1)


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Rabbis

by Yehuda Har-Zohar Zauerberg

Reb Aryeh Leib Hakohen Heller

The author of “Ketzot Hachoshen”, “Avnei Miluim”, and “Shav Shamata”

(5505 – 5573, 1745-1813)

Cedars of Lebanon, mighty ones of Torah
Champions of Mishna and Gemara
Mighty of strength, who toil in purity –
Their blood was shed and their strength failed.
Oh Merciful One, look down from the heavens
At the spilled blood of the righteous, their lifeblood
Oh King Who sits on the throne of mercy
Witness from your chamber, and remove the blemishes.

(From the hymn of the Ten Martyrs, of Yom Kippur2)

It is impossible to describe the character of a person without understanding the environment in which he existed. It is certainly impossible to describe the personality of a man of the stature of the author of “Ketzot Hachoshen”3without understanding the era in which he was born, raised, educated and forged. That era, the era of the 18th century, was rich in events and changes in the life of humanity as a whole, and also in the life of the Jewish people.

In the second half of the 18th century, the emancipation movement spread out throughout Europe. It also reached Germany and Prussia. In 1740, King Friedrich II decreed the “Manifest”, regarding individual rights and the power of the individual through democratic rule. This marked a turn for the better in the lives of the Jews in Germany and Prussia. Slowly, the walls of the Ghetto broke down, and the sparks of haskalah (enlightenment) began to penetrate even into the Jewish community. This at first took place with the Jews of Germany and Austria, and later also with the Jewish communities of Moravia, Bohemia, Poland, and Galicia.

In the 18th century, great suffering came upon the Jews of Poland. They suffered from degradation, evil decrees, blood libels, pogroms, and attacks in cities and town in which they lived. The Ukrainian “Hydmaks” fell upon them on one side, and the Polish “Szliachta” on the other side. Both of them wreaked havoc on their places of residence, and drowned numerous communities in rivers of blood.

In 1764, the Polish government disbanded the Jewish “Council of Four Lands” that dealt with all Jewish affairs, whether in the private judicial realm or, of course, the public realm. With the disbanding of such a large, recognized, and weighty institution as the Council of Four Lands, the autonomous security foundations that the Jews had until that time were weakened, and days of decline and somnolence came upon the Jewish community.

A decline in the spiritual life of the masses also took place on the heels of the physical tribulations. The circles of students and teachers dwindled, and the deep knowledge of Torah became the inheritance of a small number of elite. The masses were preoccupied with the concerns of livelihood. They were immersed in pain and agony, and they did not have the possibility of delving in depth into Torah and Jewish law. Worst of all was the status of the Jews in the villages, who were far from the Jewish community.

After the downfall of the various Messianic and Shabtai Tzvi4 movements, the mysterious aspects of Torah did not find their place in the hearts of the Jewish masses. Kabbalah5 floated around in the upper worlds. The self-abnegation and separation from worldly affairs of the masters of the mysterious no longer attracted the Jews who were satiated with tribulations. Downtrodden and persecuted, the souls of the masses were content with new spiritual food, simple faith that warmed the heart and raised the spirit, so that they could find a balm for their many difficulties.

From amongst all of these causative factors, a new movement arose in the regions of eastern Poland and the Austria-Hungary of the time. This movement raised the value of the simple man, the man of the masses who had value because he was a Jew. This is the Hassidic movement.

Reb Yisrael the son of Eliezer, or as he was known by the masses, the “Baal Shem Tov”6 (Besht) (1700-1760), was the founder and forger of the Hassidic movement. He was born in Podolia, and was orphaned as a child. After his marriage, he settled near Brody in Galicia, and he later moved to the area of Rozniatow. He lived in one of the nearby villages until he revealed himself to the masses.

The Besht drew the simple folk, the masses, towards fear of G-d, love, brotherhood, and friendship. The masses gathered around their Rebbe, rich and poor, scholar and simple laborer. All of them were equal before G-d, and in that manner, he succeeded in gathering together and unifying the distraught nation, including the simple folk, the scholars, and the wealthy.

As time went on, the Hassidic movement moved in different directions, and divided into different segments. I have not come here to delve into the entire Hassidic movement, but rather to discuss only what relates to our topic: regarding the Ketzot Hachoshen and his era.

In the year 5505 – 1745, a son was born in the city of Kalusz in Galicia to Reb Yosef Heller, the fourth generation from the author of the Tosafot Yom Tov, Reb Yom Tov Lipman Heller. He was the third child of three sons and one daughter, and he was named Aryeh Leib. In his youth, the child excelled in his sharpness and diligence in studies. When the local teachers discovered that the lad Aryeh Leib was succeeding so well in his studies, and that they were not able to satisfy his thirst for Torah, they decided to advise Reb Yosef the Kohen to send his young son to study Torah with the well known Gaon in the nearby reason, Reb Meshulam Igra of Tysmienica. It is worthwhile for us to know who taught our rabbi Rabbi Aryeh Leib Hakohen his Torah and mannerisms that lasted for his lifetime. Therefore, I will spend a little bit of time discussing the personality of his Rebbe, Rabbi Meshulam, the rabbi of Tysmienica. Tysmienica was one of nine large communities in the region of Lvov. He was also the teacher of the following great Torah luminaries and rabbis: Rabbi Mordechai Bennet, the rabbi of Nikolsburg; Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Horowitz, the head of the Ropszyce Hassidic dynasty; Rabbi Baruch Frankel-Teomim, the rabbi of Lipnik; Rabbi Yaakov Lorberbaum, the rabbi of Lissa and later of Stryj, the author of “Chavat-Daat”.

Rabbi Meshulam was a strong opponent (Misnaged) to Hassidism. Nevertheless, one of the great Hassidim of our time, Rabbi Chaim of Czernowitz, the author of “Beer Mayim Chayim”, describes the strong “Misnaged” in his second book “Shaar Tefilla”7 as “the omen of our generation, the master of the shepherds, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen, the true Gaon, the prince of Torah, the light of the world, the clear lens, the pure menorah, the crown of the glory of Israel”8.

Legend states that when Reb Yisrael Baal Shem Tov saw the son of Reb Shimshon (the father of Reb Meshulam) in Buczacz as a boy of four years old, he looked into the face of the child and said to those gathered around:

“Look closely, this child has a new soul, noble from the heavens, of which there was none like him for several generations” (from “Sarei Meah” by Y. L. Maimon).

Rabbi Meshulam dwelled in the city of Tysmienica, which in those days was a large city. Stanislawow was close to Tysmienica. He spread Torah to the masses, and established many students. When the parnassim (communal administrators) of various communities turned to him requesting that he take upon the yoke of the rabbinate, he refused. He spread Torah for 27 years, until something took place that caused him to leave the place. He accepted upon himself the rabbinate of Petersburg.

At that time, a government edict was issued requiring Jews to enlist in the army. The Jewish community of Tysmienica, the crown of the communities of Galicia, was required to provide a certain quota of men for the army on an annual basis. The parnassim of Tysmienica were wont to turn their eyes from the Torah students and scholars, and in their place, they transmitted ordinary people and ignoramuses to fulfil the army quota. Rabbi Meshulam castigated these parnassim with all his might, and decreed in all of the Beis Midrashes in Tysmienica that “there is no favoritism in judgment. All Jews, including scholars, all of them must fulfil the law of the country and enlist in the army. If the government requests of us a certain number of people, we must cast lots among all of those who are fit to serve in the army. Whomever's lot come up, even if he is one of the leading scholars of the generation, must go to army service.”

Rabbi Meshulam jumped up and took an oath: “Even if the lot falls upon my only son Yitzchak Eliahu, I swear that I will my self turn him over to the army” (from Sarei Meah by Y. L. Maimon).

Thus was the Rebbe of Aryeh Leib Heller of Kalusz, the rabbi of Rozniatow. From him did he learn and from him did he absorb.

When the parnassim of Rozniatow invited Rabbi Aryeh Leib the Kohen of Kalusz to sit upon the rabbinical seat in their community, they did not have much to offer him, for the community was small, and the members of the community earned their own livelihoods with difficulty. Most of them earned their livelihood from wine taverns and from transporting cattle and sheep from place to place. The community was small and poor, and it could not sustain the rabbi of the community in an honorable fashion. There were no Torah giants in the place, and therefore they did not bother him greatly with questions and answers, so he was able to sit in quiet and dedicate himself to his studies without interruption. He lived a life of difficulty and pain, and he accepted everything with love. It is told that once, some of the householders came to him to ask him a question, and they found him sitting upon his bed writing his essays, with the inkwell under his blanket so that the ink would not freeze from the cold in the room.

His first work was a modest book, filled with words of wisdom and philosophy on those of elite thought, the holy ones of the Most High, the masters of Kabbalah and mystery. Here we see before us not only a man of halacha (Jewish legalism) but also the master of a broad outlook in the matters of the world and its events, words of philosophy, ideas, and quotes from the words of the Holy Ari9 of blessed memory in matters of Kabbalah and the celestial spheres.

In his introduction to his book “Shav Shamata”, he writes innovations on seven sections of Talmud. This book is fifteen pages long. It begins, as is customary, with an acronym of the Tetragrammaton10 : Yitbarach (Blessed) Haechad (is the One) Veyishtabach (and praiseworthy) Haboreh (is the Creator). This is followed by eleven chapters, ordered by the aleph beit. Each chapter begins with its ordered letter, and deals with lofty general matters, issues of ideas and thoughts on halacha. Rabbi Aryeh Leib wrote this work during his time in Rozniatow. Given that his financial situation was very dire, he was not able to publish it immediately, so he kept it in manuscript form. Only towards the end of his days did he bring it to the publishing house, with small emendations. He wrote the following as a preface to the book.

“I wrote this booklet during my younger days, when I was still in my prime. I erected its cornerstones before I was even a man. Since I have pity on the best days of my youth, and I dreamt about the greatness of my travail and toil during those days, and since I mention it in my book Ketzot Hachoshen numerous times, I had in mind to publish it. Since this work is very dear to me, it is very pleasant to me that it be added to my published works, for it is the first fruits of my labor of the designs of my heart.

Even though it is short, it is now presented to the public with the help of the L-rd, for it is based upon pathways to the Talmud, and it includes powerful, necessary material regarding deep halachot (laws). It will find favor in the eyes of the intelligent, with the help of the Blessed G-d.”

From here we can see how much he valued this book himself. He describes “this work is precious in his eyes” not with regard to his monumental halachic work Ketzot Hachoshen, by whose name he is called to this day. Rather he holds in esteem this modest work, that in accordance with his words “includes powerful, necessary material regarding deep halachot. It will find favor in the eyes of the intelligent.”

His own esteem of his work, which he called Shav Shamata, is sufficient for us.

He also compiled his main work Ketzot Hachoshen in Rozniatow. He began to concern himself with its publication in Lvov. To this end, he went to live for a period of time with his sister and brother-in-law, the well-known Hebrew poet and author known as Shir11 – Shlomo Yehuda Rappaport.

From the introduction to the book Ketzot Hachoshen that he published several years after he left Rozniatow, it is possible to discern how he lived in Rozniatow in difficulty and pressure. Now that he lived in the larger city of Stryj with an ample livelihood, he reminisces about the days that he lived in poverty and lack. Thus does he write in his introduction to Ketzot Hachoshen.

“I will first bow down to my G-d, who rides upon the ancient firmament, who dwells among the Cherubs, the angels of yore, who did show great mercy upon me, the dreaming youth, on the merit of my fathers who walked before Him in purity. Those that fear you will be with the sun, and before the moon from generation to generation 12. You led us with Your wisdom, You fed us in our hunger, You saved us from the sword, You delivered us from pestilence, and You kept us from terrible and persistent illnesses13. All of these I saw with my own eyes. You afflicted me with tribulations, yet You did not give me over to death14, and You will never abandon us.”

Indeed, he does not only write nicely for the sake of the rhyme, but for the sake of actuality. “All of this I saw with my own eyes”. “You fed me in hunger, You saved me from the sword, You afflicted me with tribulations” were the pleasant memories from the days of his residency in Rozniatow.

He concludes his introduction, which is literally an outpouring of the soul of the author on his difficult living situation, by reverting to the topic at hand. “I called this book Ketzot Hachoshen on account of its content, and also because the Torah novellae come from its corners, and are piled up in it.”

Only volume I of the book was published in Lvov in the year 5548 (1788). Due to his difficult economic circumstances, he was not able himself to publish volume II. His grandson Asher Mordechai the son of Reb David the Kohen published it in Lvov in the year 5586 (1826). At the same time, he published volume II of his second work, Avnei Miluim on the Even Haezer15.

The grandson writes the following in his preface to the book Avnei Miluim.

“… They shall teach their statutes to Jacob, and their Torah to Israel16], in order to attain the paths of life, even in the days of our poverty and misery You did not abandon us. From generation to generation, He sent to us saviors who guard the legacy of Torah, and who are like eyes unto us. Even at this time, when the spirit of G-d was still within us, he sent us as a savior and rabbi my honorable grandfather, the Admor, the rabbi and true Gaon, the rabbi of the entire Diaspora, our teacher and rabbi Rabbi Aryeh Leib Hakohen, may his virtue stand us in good stead17, the world lights up from him, and people call to him from the ends of the earth. He appeared to me as the light of his wisdom, and I basked in the splendor of his honor. They referred to my grandfather of blessed memory as the author of Avnei Miluim. His name was fitting to him, for he was like the stones in the crow of the Even Haezer15, and was full of all good18. As well, the acronym of the word Avnei includes the name of the author, and the name of his mother and father of refined spirit, as follows: Aryeh “A” Ben “V” Nissel “N” Yosef “I”.”

At the time that he compiled volume II of the book Avnei Miluim, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Hakohen includes as well the composition of his brother Rabbi Yehuda Hakohen. He wrote as follows in that book:

“… In the interests of comprehensiveness of the efforts of this work, I have included at the end “Kuntrus Hasfeikut”, which was the handiwork of my brother, the proper good and wise, our Rabbi Yehuda Hakohen in the year 5548.”

The brother of the author of Ketzot Hachoshen, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Hakohen was the author of the book Kuntrus Hasfeikut”19 on the Choshen Mishpat section of the Code of Jewish law, in which he went into great depth. He possessed a sharp intellect and clear way of thinking. He left behind blessed generations of righteous descendents, children and sons-in-law, Gaonin, scholars, and wealthy individuals.

At first, he served as the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of the community of Solusz in Hungary. Later he moved to Munkacz, and from there to Sighet, where he died in the year 5549.

As luck would have it, despite the fact that the author of Ketzot Hachoshen and his brother the author of Hakuntrus, and all of the descendents of Yosef Mordechai Hakohen and his son Feivish, and after them Meir, Yosef Mordechai, Yehuda and Chaim Leib were all strong misnagdim by their nature and education; the descendents of these people founded a new Hassidic dynasty that was centered in the small town of Spinka. They changed their name from Hakohen to Kahane, a name that remains to this day. The Admor of Spinka who lives in Bnei Brak and also the Kahane family of Kfar Haroeh and Nechalim, as well as others – are all descendents of sharp misnagdim from eastern Galicia, who originated in Kalusz. From one of them, Rabbi Chaim Kahane of Nechalim, I received a great deal of information on his family, the family of Rabbi Yehuda Hakohen of holy blessed memory.

Rabbi Chaim Kahane told me that his ancestor Rabbi Mordechai Yosef the son of Rabbi Yehuda Hakohen “went sour” towards the end of his days and became of staunch Hassid of the righteous Admor Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager of Kosow, may his merit protect us. He left his rabbinical seat and traveled to Kosow to dwell under the shadow of the protection of that Tzadik. He died there on the 2nd of Adar 5584. His son set up an “ohel”20 over his grave.

If only I had known this during the time of my youth, when I went on Hachsharah in the city of Kosow prior to my making aliya, I would have certainly gone to visit that grave in the local cemetery, and recorded all of the praises that were written on his gravesite. Today, not even one stone remains in Kosow. Everything was destroyed and ruined, and not one vestige remains of that Jewish community.

I have already outlined above the difficult economic situation of the author of the Ketzot, who lived a life of deprivation and poverty in Rozniatow, but loved the place and was tied to it, for there he composed the majority of his works, since they permitted him to work in peace without being disturbed. Even at the time when he had attained fame as the author of Ketzot Hachoshen, and when the parnassim of the community of nearby Stryj approached him with the request to serve in their community, a large community of scholars, and he accepted their offer; he packed up his scanty belongings and ascended the wagon to travel to Stryj, and while he was still sitting on the wagon, he turned to the leaders of the small community of Rozniatow who had come to bid him farewell, and he told them the following in these words: “Despite all this, I wish to remain with you. If you increase my meager salary, I would remain.” His request to the communal administrators of Rozniatow remained unanswered.

It is told that on one occasion, Rabbi Efraim Zalman Margolis, the rabbi of Brody, went on a journey and passed through the town of Rozniatow. He told his servants: “How can I pass through the living pace of the Tzadik and Gaon, and not go to visit him?”. He went to visit him in his simple house, and during the course of the conversation with Rabbi E. Z. Margolis, Rabbi Aryeh Leib sighed. The guest, the Gaon Rabbi E. Z. Margolis though that he was sighing on account of his physical situation, and he asked him: “On what account is your honor signing, and what is lacking for you?” Rabbi Aryeh Leib answered him: “I was weighing in my mind that if I were not a scholar and well known, it would certainly not have been in accordance with the honor of such a powerful rich man as yourself to visit me in such a simple house. Is this not a denigration of the honor of Torah? This is why I was sighing.”

His livelihood improved when he lived in Stryj. He had hoped to live in peace and dedicate himself to his writings and novellae, however the anger of a group of local Hassidim was aroused against him. This was the era of stormy winds and fierce battles between Hassidim and Misnagdim. The ink of the “Kol Koreh” (“manifesto”) of the Gaon of Vilna (Gra) of the year 1772 had not yet dried. This decree called upon the parnassim of any communities that the ban of the rabbis of Vilna reaches “to persecute the sect of Hassidim until the hand of Israel catches them”, for their iniquity is couched in wisdom, and they are as difficult as a psoriatic blemish.

The war against Hassidism was at its height. From Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the rabbi of Posnan and the Chatam Soffer of Pressburg, they received support to fight “against those who cast off the yoke of Torah and who cheapen the commandments”. He himself, as a man of halacha who was meticulous with both easy and difficult commandments, was not able to tolerate the behavior of the Hassidic sect whom he had no opportunity to get to know up close when he lived in peace and quiet in Rozniatow. In Stryj, they overdid themselves, and he was no longer able to tolerate their ways and customs, which cheapen the law of the Code of Jewish Law under the pretext of Hassidism. Due to his great anger and deep anguish, he, along with his court in Stryj, decided to excommunicate the local Hassidic sect.

This is what is written by the expert of Chabad Hassidism21, the scholar and religious adjudicator Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, may he live long, in his book “Tales of the Hassidim”, page 350, regarding the battle of the Ketzot Hachoshen with the sect of Hassidim.

“Why were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses? 22

… “In the city of Stryj, there were many Hassidim of the Tzadik 'The Seer of Lublin' (The Chozeh of Lublin). On account of the difference of heart between the Hassidim and the rabbi, the Hassidim did not act honorably toward the rabbi of the city. The behavior of the Hassidim seemed to the rabbi as violating the Code of Jewish Law. He warned them not to behave in such a manner, but they did not listen to him, and impinged on his honor. He excommunicated them with a rabbinical ban, which, as described in the Code of Jewish Law, is in effect for thirty days. Many of the people of the city took heed not to conduct business with them during this period. The Hassidim conferred with each other, and decided that all of them should travel to their Rebbe in Lublin for the duration of this period, and in the interim, the ban would expire.

It was the custom in Lublin that the shamash would bring to the Rebbe a list of names who have come to receive greetings, and the Rebbe would tell him whom to summon to his inner chamber. When the people of Stryj arrived, the Rebbe told the shamash that they would have to wait over two weeks to receive their greetings. Indeed, this timeframe was calculated exactly to fall on the day when the ban would expire.

The Rebbe said to them: Regarding the verse 'Why were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?', Rashi explains: 'against my servant' – even if he was not Moses, and 'Moses' – even if he was not my servant. Many raise the question: it is obvious about my servant, even if he is not Moses, but what about Moses if he is not my servant – what type of special status or greatness would he have that would inspire awe? However, the meaning is the following: There are two groups among the Jews, the group who occupy themselves with service of G-d, who hug Him and cleave to Him as a faithful servant. This cleaving is evident when they are traveling and when they are staying put, when they lie own or when they are awake, when they eat and when they drink. As it is written: 'with Moses', who is the expert in the revealed Torah – even though he is not my servant in cleaving to me at all moments, and 'my servant' – who occupies himself in the hidden aspects of Torah, and is exacting at all times, even though he is not Moses – with regards to the revealed Torah. One has to fear both aspects! If that is the case, your rabbi, who is a prince of Torah and one of the leaders of the generation in the written Torah, why were you not afraid before him?23

With his words, he delineated the spiritual essence of one of the giants of the Jewish world in the 19th century, who spent his first years of his career as the rabbi of Rozniatow.

During his tenure in Stryj he attracted many students, who became Torah leaders. Among the best known were: the Gaon Rabbi Aryeh Leib Lipschitz, the head of the rabbinic court of Visznicz, and the Gaon Rabbi Asher Enzil Cuzmir. His lessons that he presented publicly excelled in their great sharpness. The breadth of his knowledge was famous.

A typical example of his personality and uprightness can be seen from the following story.

As is well known, the opponent and disputant of the author of the Ketzot Hachoshen was the author of Chavat Daat, Rabbi Yaakov Lorbenbaum. However, he was younger than him by many years. He also sat on the rabbinic seat of Stryj after the Ketzot.

The author of Chavat Daat married the daughter of a very rich man, Reb Herzl of Stanislawow. After his wedding, he lived in Stanislawow, where he wrote Chavat Daat. From Stanislawow, he traveled to nearby Tysmienica to study Torah with Reb Meshulam Igra, the Torah giant of that era. At first, he conducted a business in wine, and after he found that he was not successful in business, he was forced to rabbinate of Monasteriats, and later of Kalusz, the birthplace of the Ketzot. Once the author of the Ketzot passed through Kalusz and went to the house of the rabbi to honor him, as was customary. The rebbetzin wished to honor the guest, and went down to the basement to fetch a bottle of mead for the guest. The bottle was dusty, and the rebbetzin apologized for this. A rumor had reached the ears of the Ketzot that the rebbetzin was involved in the arranging of loans for interest. He said to her “perhaps this is the dust of usury?”24. The rebbetzin, who was intelligent, and the wife of a trustworthy man, answered to him immediately: “No, honorable rabbi, it is the dust of the evil tongue”.

The author of Chavat Daat moved from Kalusz to Lissa. That is where he picked up the nickname Reb Yaakov of Lissa. On account of the difficulties and persecutions that the local Hassidic sect suffered, he returned once again to Kalusz. Two years later, he accepted the rabbinate of Stryj. He died there in 1882.

The rabbi succeeded in establishing many students, including leaders of the Torah generation, an those who were taken by the vision of the revival of the Land and the return to Zion, Reb Eliahu Gutmacher and Reb Shmuel Kaliszer, who were later among the first of Chovevei Zion. The later two merited– on account of their vision, hope, and dedication to the return to Zion – that we, the students of their students, could sit and actualize that which they dreamed. We remember those greats and luminaries of the earlier generation with holy trembling and love, and we pray to the Blessed G-d that we should be fitting to be among those who fulfill the hopes of the dreamers and strugglers.

These are the words of Yehuda Mishel the son of Reb Moshe Zauerberg, the youngest of the brothers of that family, the only survivor of the large, wide-branched family. He gathered together all of this material that was written about the author of the Ketzot Hachoshen.


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The Last Rabbi of Rozniatow Rabbi Yosef Menachem Meczner 25

I remember, when I was still living in my father's house during my youth, that once Reb Moshe Weiser, the shochet of Rozniatow, appeared, accompanied by my brother Avraham of blessed memory. The aforementioned Reb Moshe was his in-law, for his son Reb Zeida married Bracha, the daughter of his brother-in-law Reb Shlomo Stern. They came to consult with my father of blessed memory regarding the great controversy among the shochtim (ritual slaughterers) of Rozniatow – between the aforementioned Reb Moshe Weiser and the shochet Reb David Roth, with regards to the status of the local slaughter. Since my father of blessed memory knew our judge Reb Yechiel Alter Nebenzahl, and held in esteem as an extremely intelligent Jew, and an adjudicator of similar disputes, he advised Reb Moshe the slaughterer to approach the aforementioned judge, and to ask him to intercede for Reb Moshe the slaughterer regarding this controversy.

Since I knew that the grandson of Reb Yechiel Alter Nebenzahl, Rabbi Meczner, was later the rabbi of our town, but I did not know of all of the particulars regarding him and the choosing of him for the rabbinate, I decided to go the home of Reb Shmuel Nebenzahl, the brother-in-law of the rabbi and the grandson of the judge, in order to hear an explanation of these serious issues.

When I came to him, the only survivor of the well-known Nebenzahl family of Stanislawow, today living in Tel Aviv, in order to obtain details from him about his brother-in-law, Rabbi Meczner the last rabbi of Rozniatow; he took out a book from his bookcase entitled Minchat Yechiel, which was written by Rabbi Yechiel Alter Nebenzahl of holy blessed memory. He showed me in chapter 101 a specific answer regarding the Torah court case between the shochtim Reb Zeida Weiser and Reb David Roth In this case, the author interceded on behalf of the shochtim Reb Moshe and Zeida, and the young shochet Reb Yaakov Hochman; and on the second side the Gaon of Dikla Reb Tivele interceded on behalf of the slaughterer Reb David Roth. The third party between them was the rabbi of Przemysl Rabbi Shemayahu Sternberg.

In the above mentioned responsa book, Rabbi Nebenzahl brings three reasons and proofs to the correctness of his words, and he adjucated to push aside the complaints of the shochet Reb David. The following is the crux of the matter.

In the above mentioned book, chapter 101, Rabbi Yechiel Alter Nebenzahl gives his answer with regards to the dispute in the form of a letter to the rabbi of Rozniatow, as follows:

Blessed is G-d, Sunday of the Torah Portion of Vayeshev, 5682 (1922)

To my colleague, the great luminary Yehuda Tzvi Korn, may he live long, the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of Rozniatow.

Regarding the matter upon which I weighed regarding the shochtim of the community of Rozniatow, despite the fact that a legal decision has not been published for reasons that are known, between the two slaughterers Reb Yaakov and Reb Zeida, who purchased the rights of slaughter from the shochet Reb David:

The slaughter Reb David's claims are true, that he sold his rights in the city of Rozniatow to the two shochtim Reb Yaakov Hochman and Reb Zeida Weiser. He was accepted in the city of Premyslan, and worked their as a shochet from the month of Shvat 5691 (1931) until Cheshvan 5692. However, due to the fact that his wife did not want to move her home from there, his hand was forced, and he wished to retract the sale and return the money. Even though he had already left the community and submitted his resignation, he wished to be accepted there again, and that the two new shochtim would be removed from their posts, even though they had already been accepted by the community and were working as shochtim. The opinion of the honorable rabbi and Gaon favored Reb David, claiming that the law was with him due to the fact that his hand was forced, for his wife does not want to travel with him to Premyshlan. This is as is explained in Choshen Mishpat paragraph 207 that if a person sells his land in order to move to a different place, and he is prevented from moving there, the sale is nullified, for it is considered to only be a valid sale on the condition that the seller would do something specific, and that something was not done. However, in accordance to my humble opinion, our case does not resemble the case described in the previous sentence at all, for several reasons.

Here, the author brings down nine specific reasons, based on many sources, and he concludes as follows: Therefore, the law is very clear and simple, that Reb David the shochet of Premyshlan is forbidden from slaughtering in Rozniatow. If he does so, he is, Heaven forbid, violating the law that is explained in the Beit Shlomo, whose words I have brought down above. He must return to his city of Premyshlan, and all will be good.

When Rabbi Yechiel Alter Nebenzahl came several times to Rozniatow on account of this case, he took interest in the physical and spiritual situation of the town. He found that, since the passing of the previous rabbi, Rabbi Hamerling of Jaroslaw of blessed memory, there was no spiritual leader to lead the vibrant Jewish community of Rozniatow. He came upon the idea of advising his grandson, who had recently gotten married, to become the local rabbi.

However, an obstacle arose from another place, a place from where he did not expect this at all.

Suddenly, close to the time of the elections were set to choose Rabbi Meczner as the rabbi of Rozniatow, a large delegation came from the family of the preceding rabbi. They demanded the rights of inheritance, and asked that Rabbi Meczner be brought to a Torah trial.

Warnings were published in the newspapers. They were issued by the new candidate, warning the rabbi in Rozniatow to change his stance regarding “rights”. There were also strong and sharp responsa in the newspaper against this, written by Rabbi Meczner.

The Torah court case between the two sides took place in front of the rabbi…

Rabbi Meczner emerged victorious in the case, and he was coronated as the rabbi of Rozniatow with great fanfare.

The origins of Rabbi Yosef Menachem Meczner were from a family of Hassidim of Tzanz and Bobov from Krakow. He was the son of the chairman of the communal council of Krakow Rabbi David Meczner, and the grandson of Rabbi Godel Meczner, who was a well-known merchant and a frequenter of the home of the Bobover Rebbe. Rabbi Meczner studied in the kloizes of Krakow, under the greatest of teachers of that city.

As is known, the Jews of Krakow, even those in religious circles, spoke amongst themselves in the language of the state. Therefore Rabbi Meczner was fluent in the Polish language. On one occasion on May 3, the day of celebration of Polish independence, the rabbi appeared as a speaker in the Great Synagogue, and he enchanted the entire audience with his clear and excellent Polish. Among those present at the celebration were the captain of the region, and several representatives of the regional government. When the captain of the region heard the brilliant speech of the rabbi, he turned to the head of the community who was sitting next to him and said that they should send the priest to the rabbi to learn how to speak Polish and how to lecture.

The rabbi spoke with Divine grace. He was also an excellent prayer leader and singer. Young and old came from all of the houses of prayer to hear his prayers, and they swallowed up every word that came from his throat.

He was pleasant in his manner, and he knew how to endear himself to the members of the community, even to those who had previously been his opponents. Slowly, his opponents made peace with him, thanks to his personal charm and great uprightness. My brother Avraham of blessed memory was among those who frequented his house. Avraham honored and appreciated him.

When Rabbi Meczner took upon himself the yoke of the local rabbinate and communal needs, he found a free-for-all situation. The shochtim and butchers were locked in a dispute. The rabbi was able to bring peace to the butchers from both sides, between those who supported the Zionist government, and those who supported Reb Zechariah Liberman.

In a meeting prior to the communal elections, called by the Zionists in the kloiz, one of the prominent members of the Zionists was supposed to speak. The opponents of Zionists gathered together, did not permit the speaker to speak, and shattered the windows of the kloiz. The next day, when Reb Zechariah Liberman was supposed to appear, the Zionist youth paid him back, and the entire town was in ferment.

Discretely and with wisdom, he was able to win over hearts, and make peace between the combatants. He tended to his flock in a peaceful manner, until the great storm broke out that swept away the entire community, with their rabbi at the head. A portion of the community was exiled to a camp in nearby Dolina, where they met their death, and another portion was exiled to Kalusz. Rabbi Meczner was among those who were exiled to Kalusz. He died a martyr's death among the members of his community on the 27th of Tishrei, 5703 (October 8, 1942).

May memory be holy and blessed.



{35}

The House of the Rabbi

by Moshe Fruchter of New York 26

The rabbi of the city, Rabbi Yitzchak Tzvi, was pleasant in his interpersonal relationships, and a very modest person. He earned his livelihood with difficulty, and conducted his household as one of the simple folk in the town. Not infrequently, the rebbetzin went on her journey to one of the nearby towns, to visit her relatives or her children, and the rabbi, who remained alone, invited one of the single men of the kloiz to come to his house to sleep over. Not infrequently, I was that young man.

The rabbi would awaken on freezing winter nights, at 3:00 a.m. He would light the stove that warmed up the room, sit next to the simple table that did not have a cloth, remove a book from the bookcase, and begin to study. At 5:00 a.m. he would wake me up to learn a little bit of Torah prior to the prayers. It was difficult for me to get up so early in the morning. However, the rabbi encouraged me with soft words: “Arise, my son, arise to the service of the Creator”. He would remove the book “Yoreh Deah”27 from the shelf and start to read it. I would read after him. He would ask me if I understood the section, and he would repeat it another time, softly and delicately.

Afterward, we would study a page of Talmud. We would discuss the explanation of the topic. We would continue in this manner until the time of the latter minyan (prayer quorum), the “minyan of the rabbi”. We would attend the prayers. I would then go about my matters, and the rabbi would continue with his studies. His entire day was filled with Torah.

People would come to inquire about civic matters; or the shochet would come for a light conversation on matters of shechita or the butchers; or a women would come with a question of a chicken that seems to be not kosher – in which case the rabbi would try as hard as he could to declare it kosher28, for he knew of the poverty and difficulties of the members of his community. If he were to declare the chicken non-kosher, this Jew would have nothing to eat. Therefore he would make every attempt, he would pore over his books, and examine the situation from all angles in order to find a precedent for declaring the chicken kosher, until he found such. When he found room for the leniency, he would say with great joy:

“It is kosher, it is kosher! Dear Jew, go eat and be satiated.”


Members of the Sanctuary

Every one of the Holocaust survivors, regardless of his outlook or relationship to religious matters, when it comes to matters of feelings, each one will give over his entire self to the feelings of the heart, and to the memories of the days that were and are no more, the days of childhood and youth. These feelings raise one up to the highest heavens, the world of piety and Hassidism, the world of quiet, somber tunes that were sung towards the end of the Sabbath, the world of joyous melodies of the festival days, the tunes of Purim and Chanukah; as well as the faces of splendid, dear Jews, with beards as white as snow flowing over their shiny black cloaks with their wide gartels29 wrapped around their thin waist; Jews with red, black, straight and curly beards; Jews with neat, short, modern style beards; short and fat Jews; those who were occupied and worried; merchants, artisans, wagon drivers, and plain old Jews whose memories bring sadness to the heart. This is the world of dear Jews who once were and are no more. May their memories be blessed.

On Saturday nights towards dusk in the darkened kloiz, the shadows of people going to and fro can be seen. Some of them go to the sink, wash their hands, and dry them on the damp, dirty towel, as they recite with a groan “lift up your holy hands”30. They would then sit next to the table, cut open an olive's bulk of challah31, dip it in salt, and recite the Motzi blessing on bread out loud. A few people would answer Amen after his blessing. They would then pass him a large plate of salted fish. The young man Yankele, the son of the shochet, would sit at the edge of the table, and begin singing Bnei Heichalah (Members of the Sanctuary) and Mizmor Ledavid32. A few people would assist him with his tune. The sad, quiet voice would strengthen, getting stronger and stronger, until it stopped.

Suddenly, we would hear the sweet voice of Zeida, the son of Moshele the shochet, singing Yedid Nefesh33 in a tune that is full of strong longing for “The Merciful Father”.

“For so much do I long to see” – cries and supplicates the sweet voice of Zeida, as he repeats the verse over and over again, and then the voice continues pleading: “Please, oh please G-d, heal please, show Yourself please”, and he repeats again “show Yourself”, and “Spread, oh my dear one upon me Your peace!”. The melancholy song, full of longing for “The Merciful Father” continues on until it finishes with the sure, silent promise: “Have mercy upon us as in days of yore”. The Jew sitting by the table is comforted, as he awaits the fulfillment of the promises of “The Merciful Father”, that he should redeem them and spread His canopy of peace upon them.

Those seated would be silent. Someone would groan loudly, and begin with a quiet, slightly melancholy voice to give a lesson on the weekly Torah portion. On the other side, the voice of another Jew is heard, as he gives over the idea of a certain Tzadik or Rebbe regarding a verse in the weekly Torah portion. Shadows of people skip and dance upon the walls. The room becomes completely dark. The children cling to their parents who are seated around the long table. Someone brings “the concluding waters” to wash hands before the grace after meals34.

The shamash (sexton) bangs on the table with his hand as a sign that it is time to begin the evening service (Maariv).

Reb Kopel the shamash lights the chandeliers on the ceiling and the walls35. The children become happier.

At home, mother recited “G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”36. The holy Sabbath has concluded, and the good week comes upon us that should bring us only good, kindness, mercy, etc.

The additional soul37 of the Sabbath queen departs, and with it, the serenity of the Jew who is occupied during the six workdays, and awaits the Sabbath that redeems and delivers him from all of his tribulations and worries.


The Supplication and the Prayer38

There is a well-known adage that in the month of Elul, even the fish in the river tremble. The atmosphere becomes serious and everyone is worried. Everyone is trembling as the Days of Awe approach, may they come upon us for the good. People begin to examine their deeds, and to improve their relationships with their fellowman and with G-d. They become more careful with their prayers. As Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur draw nearer, the seriousness and fear increase as the time to welcome “the great and awesome day” approaches. The days of the penitential services (selichot)38 arrive, and people wake up very early in the morning for the recitation of selichot and the shofar blasts that arouse the nation. “Is it possible that a shofar is sounded, and the people do not tremble?39

This month is also the month of the shochet Reb David Roth, who served as our cantor. During the month of Elul, he began to practice the prayers of the High Holidays with the members of his choir. Many people gathered around his house to hear “The Supplication and the Prayer”.

Reb David the shochet was a man of pleasant countenance. He had a well-kept black beard, and a strong baritone voice. He enchanted his listeners with his heartfelt prayers.

He composed himself the tunes for his prayers, and practiced them with the members of the choir as the Days of Awe approached. The members of the choir included the brothers Mordechai and Zechariah Rechtschaffen, Yaakov Keller, Yaakov Fruchter, and others.

Along with the internal awakening of the soul, the external feeling was also aroused in us on account of the beautiful landscape and the clear, pleasant air that satisfied the body and soul. The hot days of the fiery summer passed, and the season of some rain and some sun approached. This was the time of the falling of the leaves and beautiful sunsets – the splendid autumn days of Lesser Poland40.


The Rebbe of Ulshka

This was Reb Mendele Eichenstein of holy blessed memory who lived in Lvov. My mother was a true Hassid of his. She believed in Rebbes, especially the Rebbe of Ulshka..

Due to her influence, my father also became attached to the Hassidim of Ulshka, and due to the influence of both of them, I also was numbered among the Hassidim of Ulshka. On one occasion, I merited to spend Yom Kippur with him, when I accompanied my father to Lvov to absorb some of the faith of the Tzadikim and Hassidism in me. I was deeply impressed by his pure, holy countenance, for his entire essence was of devotion to G-d. It is told that he sat at the window for days on end, looking and waiting for the footsteps of the Messiah.

Despite the fact that he had a large family, and had a meager income, he distributed all of his donations (pidyon monies41) to charity. Not infrequently, the rebbetzin would complain to the gabbaim (the Rebbe's assistants and administrators) that she did not have money to purchase the needs for the Sabbath. When he heard of some special case where it was necessary to support a person, to assist someone in marrying off his daughter, or to stand him upon his feet so that he could continue with his business – he did not hesitate to go himself to the generous people of the community in order to collect money for the special purpose. The Jews already knew that if the Rebbe is going himself to collect money, the reason must be significant, and they would donate generously. The Rebbe perished along with his family during the time of the great Holocaust.

May his memory be blessed.


Translator's Footnotes


  1. Midrash Tanchuma is an ancient homiletical commentary on the Torah. Back

  2. This is not entirely accurate. In Jewish liturgy, there are two hymns based on the theme of the ten martyrs of the Roman government. One is recited on Yom Kippur, and the other in the elegies of the morning service of Tisha Beov. The first half of the quoted segment (first four lines) is the opening stanza of the Tisha Beov version. The last half of the quoted segment (last four lines) is the closing stanza of the Yom Kippur version. Back

  3. Ketzot Hachoshen literally means “corners of the breastplate”, referring to the breastplate of the High Priest. Avnei Milium refers to the precious stones upon the breastplate of the High Priest. Books of Jewish law and rabbinics are often given allegorical titles such as these. Shav Shamata means “seven topics”. Back

  4. The most famous of the false messiahs that arose in the Jewish community throughout the middle ages. Back

  5. Kabbalah is the term for the mystical aspects of Torah. Back

  6. Master of the Good Name, referring to his using of the Divine Name to elicit spiritual powers. Besht is the acronym for Baal Shem Tov. Back

  7. Gates of prayer. Back

  8. Most of these appellations are biblical references of some sort or another. Back

  9. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed, Israel of the 16th century. He was a Kabbalistic master and a precursor of Hassidism. Back

  10. The Tetragrammaton is the four letter, ineffable name of G-d, consisting of the letters Yud and He, followed by the letters Vav and He (pardon my interspersion of words between the first two and last two letters, as I myself will not write out these letters in order, even in their English form). Back

  11. The word Shir means song or poem, and here is an acronym for the name Shlomo Yehuda Rappaport. Back

  12. A verse from the book of Psalms. Back

  13. A quote from the daily evening (Maariv) service. Back

  14. A quote from the sections of Psalms that form part of the Hallel service on festivals. Back

  15. The Even Haezer is one of the four sections of the Code of Jewish Law, dealing primarily with marital laws. Back

  16. A quote from the end of the book of Deuteronomy, from the blessing of Moses to the Tribe of Levi. Back

  17. I have skipped translating several more adjectival acronyms here, all along the same theme. Back

  18. The word 'Aven' or 'Even' is equivalent in the name Avnei Miluim and Even Haezer. The word 'full' is from the word 'maleh', the root of the word 'miluim'. Back

  19. The booklet of doubts. Back

  20. Literally a 'tent' referring to a booth or canopy over the grave, enabling people to come to the gravesite for prayers and petitions. Back

  21. Another term for Lubavitch. Back

  22. A verse from the book of Numbers, where G-d rebukes Aaron and Miriam for speaking badly about their brother Moses. Back

  23. The hidden Torah refers to Hassidism, mysticism, and Kabbalah; and the revealed Torah refers to the straightforward, legalistic view of Torah. Back

  24. In halachic terms, the 'dust' of something means something that borders on a prohibition, but does not fulfill the actual requirements of the prohibition. The two most common usages are 'the dust of usury' – referring to a transaction that borders upon the taking of interest (the taking of interest from a fellow Jew being prohibited), and the 'dust of the evil tongue' – referring to a statement that borders upon slander or malignment. Back

  25. In several places throughout the text, the name is spelled as Menczer. However, for the most part, it is spelled as Meczner. Back

  26. This section does not have a main title. Each subsection has its own title. Back

  27. One of the four sections of the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch). Back

  28. Meat or chicken can be rendered unkosher by various internal blemishes that are not detected until it is cut open, or by inadvertent mixing with milk, or for several other such reasons. If the situation were questionable, a rabbi would be called upon the judge the situation. Back

  29. A gartel is a ritual belt worn primarily by Hassidim. Back

  30. A verse customarily recited upon washing the hands prior to a meal. Back

  31. An olive's bulk “kezayit” is a halachic measurement that defines the minimum amount of food that must be eaten to constitute a formal meal, which would then require the recitation of the Grace after Meals. It is also the minimal amount of matzo that must be eaten on Passover night, and is the quantity of several other halachic definitions. Incidentally, it is far larger than the size of modern day olives. Bread is customarily dipped into salt prior to partaking of it. Back

  32. Bnei Heichalah (Sons of the Sanctuary) and Psalm 23 (Mizmor Ledavid) are two of the customary hymns of the third Sabbath meal (Shalosh Seudos), that is partaken towards the end of the Sabbath day. Back

  33. Yedid Nefesh (The Friend of my Soul) mentioned in the next paragraph, is another Sabbath hymn. The first line is Yedid Nefesh, Av Harachaman (Friend of my soul, Oh Merciful Father). This explains the meaning behind the sentence above. The next paragraph continues with segments of this song. Back

  34. A meal is started with the ritual washing of the hands. This washing is often known as “the first waters” (Mayim Rishonim). Prior to reciting the grace after meals at the conclusion of the meal, the hands are washed again with “the concluding waters” (Mayim Acharonim). Back

  35. At this point, the Sabbath has concluded. Back

  36. The beginning of a prayer for the conclusion of the Sabbath, generally recited by women at home. The next sentence is a paraphrasing of a part of this prayer. Back

  37. On the Sabbath, it is said that a Jew obtains an additional soul (Neshamah Yeteirah). Back

  38. Harina Vehatefillah (The Supplication and the Prayer) is a quote from the opening penitential service of the days prior to Rosh Hashanah. The penitential services (selichot) are recited before the morning services (and at times in the middle of the night – especially for the first selichot service) starting the first Saturday night prior to Rosh Hashanah, or one week earlier if Rosh Hashanah falls early in the week. Back

  39. A quote from the book of Amos. Back

  40. A term for Galicia. Back

  41. Literally “redemption monies”, money that was given to him by his Hassidim who came to visit him, in the hope that the donation would guarantee them success, health, etc. Back

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