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[Page 24]

The Rabbis

 

The Rabbinic Context

By Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg

Translated by Eugene Sucov

In preparing to write a historical monograph about the Horodetz rabbis, which covers a period of about 150 years, I found it necessary to briefly review the general characteristics and features of the rabbis of those times.

 

gor024.jpg - Rabbi Mordekhai Greenberg
Rabbi Mordekhai Greenberg

 

In the framework of religious living in those times, the rabbi was the greatest authority for the Jews. The rabbi was highly esteemed by everyone and ruled on every moralistic issue. He radiated an elevated influence on his flock. Nevertheless, what mattered most was that he stood outside the business interests, so he could have a dominant role in all the town's livelihood. His outspoken views had a desirable effect on all business problems.

Everyone related to the rabbi with great respect, treating him with great honor and affection. In his own congregation he was as if, in accordance with the Talmudic expression, “He was like a golden goblet”. He was indeed the jewel of the village (shtetl).

A dramatic performance was played out when the rabbi entered the Study Hall. Jews are sitting around the table and studying. As soon as the rabbi opened the door and became visible, immediately everyone stood up and remained standing until he came to his place in front of the Holy Ark. In the Study Hall no one gossiped during the discussions by the rabbi. When they were not praying, each one held a book. One learned “Gemara”, a second, “Mishna”, a third “Ein Yaakov” and a fourth would be reciting Psalms.

Gemara is the summary of discussions from the year 200 to the year 500 CE by generations of rabbis about applications of the statements of Jewish law presented in the Mishna in the year 200CE. The Gemara plus the Mishna make up the Talmud.
Ein Yaakov is a collection of legends from the Talmud by Rabbi Yaakov printed about 1600.
Every Shabbat after services, everyone went to the rabbi and greeted him with a “Good Shabbes” and no one was absent. What were the reasons for this great respect for the rabbi? It was his great knowledge of Torah and his greater knowledge of the minutest detail of Jewish laws and customs. Everyone felt that the rabbi had a higher understanding of the Jewish wisdom in Torah and tradition. In those days, the rabbi was, more or less, an expert in “Shas” (an acronym for the six orders of the Talmud) as well as in rabbinic rulings and the general rabbinic literature. He was always sitting and learning, never wasting his free time. He had literally fulfilled the saying, “You shall learn Torah morning and night.”

For the rabbi of those days, such dedication to learning Torah was an obsession, a basis for his moral principles and a source from which he derived inspiration and elevated wisdom. However, rabbis kept themselves familiar with the problems of their people so they could be wise leaders of their congregations. They did not leave any room for easily criticizing them.

For example. Rabbis very seldom gave sermons in their shuls (small synagogues). Traveling preachers, called story tellers would do this. They would give their sermons in simple language so that all could understand. They would include in their sermons examples and nice stories and would sing with special melodies, using the vernacular of the time.

Such a performance would be an insult to the rabbi. Usually the rabbi gave only 2 sermons a year. One on the Great Shabbat, the Shabbat before Passover, and one on the Shabbat of Repentance, between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. These sermons were aimed at the learned ones. The other listeners only understood partially, but this was enough for them.

[Page 25]

Also, the rabbi did not refrain from teaching a lesson to Jews in foreign lands when he traveled to America. There was no lack of Jews studying in America. One of them gave a class in Gemara, a second Jew gave a class on a chapter of the Mishna, the third lectured on the Ein Yaakov and on the Torah with commentary by Rashi.

Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo ben Itzhak), born 1040, died 1105 CE, was a great commentator on the Torah, using his detailed knowledge of Hebrew grammar to tease out subtle meanings from the text.
When the rabbi would, once in a while, give a lesson, he would present a subtle argument as a problem to the students. But, teaching had no interest for him.

In the larger towns the rabbi would have assistants who carried out many of the rabbi's functions. For example: ruling on a personal question, clarifying Torah laws, performing marriages and divorces. But the more difficult questions would be referred to the town's rabbi. In the small villages like Horodetz, the rabbi performed all these functions by himself.

The rabbi had a special helper, called a “shammes”, but who was called the “court house shammes” because he was mainly used by the rabbi when someone had to be called before the rabbinical court or for any other important thing. In cases when the rabbi decided to call a meeting of the entire village for an important purpose, the shammes would go into every study hall and call out, in the rabbi's name, for all to come to the meeting. Everyone obeyed the call and immediately went to the meeting. Also the shammes would post notices in the study halls when the rabbi wanted to tell his people of some important ideas.

If there was a very serious matter about which he felt strongly, the rabbi would use his authority and send his shammes into every study hall to stop the praying. The shammes would yell out, “The rabbi has requested that you stop praying.” The crowd would become confused. They would all need to come to the rabbi and then go to the meeting and decide what should be done. After the meeting they would all return to the study hall to study the Torah portion of the week and then end the service.

Among all of the other tools with which the rabbi of those times used to exert his influence, the ban (issur) or excommunication (herem) had the greatest force. To emphasize the importance of the decision for a meeting, the rabbi issued, through his shammes, a ban on the study halls during the time of prayers. Every Jew obeyed it with great respect and had great fear to ignore it.

The rabbi would use the “issur” when the ritual slaughterers in the village had an argument. The rabbi would use the “herem” very infrequently, only in exceptional circumstances. The word “herem” alone would generate so much fear that people were even afraid to say the word. In place of it they would say “hit”, using the first letter of the dreaded word “herem.”


Rabbi Moshe Tzvi

by Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg

Translated by Eugene Sucov

One hundred and fifty years ago, Horodetz became, with respect to rabbis, associated with the nearby village of Antipolya (7km from Horodetz) when the rabbi of Horodetz, Moshe Tzvi, also became the rabbi of Antipolya.

Rabbi Moshe Tzvi was the son of Rabbi Israel Rabinowitz, who had descended from a long line of great and respected rabbis. Rabbi Moshe Tzvi was considered to be one of the great rabbis of his time, great in revealed and in hidden things and was called a great master of Kabbalah (mystical Judaism). Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Hirsh was known not only in the local vicinity but even further away. Ordinary people would travel to him for a blessing, an amulet, or a remedy, while rabbis would consult with him on rabbinic or congregational matters.*

Rabbi Moshe Tzvi didn't produce any books, but after he died, his son and successor, Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov, assembled a booklet called “Surprising Things in Halakha and Tradition”, from his father's writings. In this small booklet we can already see the greatness of his learning.

Rabbi Moshe Tzvi didn't split hairs (during analysis of Talmudic arguments) in order to show his range of knowledge in the “sea of the Talmud”, but rather would study a Gemara, a Rambam (Maimonides), or a Tosafot (later commentators on the Talmud) not according to its surface meaning (but rather according to its deeper or secret meaning). And, once in a while, he would take help from Ibn Ezra (medieval Jewish poet and philosopher).

An extremely clever concept is his unique explanation of the phrase, “Like a piece of pomegranate” (from Song of Songs, chapter 4, verse 3). The sages say of this phrase that “the simple Jews are as full of mitzvot (commandments) as a pomegranate has seeds” This phrase is very difficult and it doesn't interpret easily. (A simple interpretation is that the pomegranate is supposed to have 613 seeds, which are the number of mitzvot.) But Rabbi Moshe Tzvi interprets it this way (using Gematria, where Hebrew letters have numerical equivalents). “Pomegranate” (Rimon) has a value of 296. “:Piece” (pelah) has a value of 148, which is one half of the pomegranate value, and which has the same value as flour (kemah). Thus, the phrase means “The observant Jews give flour”, that is, they support the Talmud sages. Therefore they will receive a half divine reward in the world to come.

Rabbi Moshe Tzvi stayed in Horodetz and also fulfilled his rabbinic duties in Antipolya. When his son, Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov was 20 years of age, Rabbi Moshe Tzvi transferred the responsibility of Horodetz to him. Rabbi Moshe Tzvi moved to Antipolya in about 1822, where he remained as the rabbi until his death.

* A. Ben Ezra's comment: As an example, they brought Rabbi Moshe Tzvi from Antopole and Rabbi Yaakov Lifshitz from Minsk to certify the muddled signature on Rabbi Shaul Karliner's will.


[Page 26]

Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov

Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg

Translated by Eugene Sucov

Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov was man, small in stature but a giant in knowledge. Always he could be found in a happy mood. He would tell a joke mixed in with words of Torah. His jokes were very clever. Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov was altogether happy. He didn't want to change his position of village rabbi to that of a town rabbi. He only wanted to sit quietly in Horodetz, learning (studying) and writing books.

Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov was altogether happy. He didn't want to change his position of village rabbi to that of a town rabbi. He only wanted to sit quietly in Horodetz, learning (studying) and writing books.

Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov authored the following books. “Yehoshua Yaakov” (1868), “Beautiful Sayings”, “Generations of Yaakov”, and “Tent of Yaakov” (all 1889), “House of Yaakov” (1892), “Dwellings of Yaakov” (1894), “Yakkov's Sources” (1896), and finally “Listen Yaakov” (1901). The contents of his books consisted of various commentaries and novel interpretations of Torah and Gemara.

He received no income from his books. He didn't even recover his costs. Where did he, nevertheless, get money for printing books? For this purpose he had a special source. Whoever brought him enough money could print his books.

Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov was famous as a great tzaddik (saintly man). His name was known far and wide. He would receive many letters from sick people with pleas for help. Many sick people would come alone to him asking him to bless them and to pray for them. Some of them were suffering from epilepsy. He would give them amulets and for this he would get a donation. He used to have a special pushke (alms box) in which he would throw the money. This money was used to publish his books. He never took money from poor people. He would also announce everyone, so that he would not completely forget them. He would also go to a doctor. (This is a significant comment since his people were using amulets to cure diseases, not doctors.)

The writing of amulets he had taken over from his father, who had a very large following. What is the basis for amulets? They were well read documents which were written and signed with the initials of a posek (Bible expert) and certified with his sealing wax.

Here is an example of an amulet which was written and certified by the initials of a Bible expert. “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in His eyes, and will give ear to his commandments, and obey his statutes, I will put none of these diseases, which I had put upon the Egyptians, upon you. For I am the God that heals you.”(Exodus, chapter 15, verse 26, weekly portion “Bo”). The sick person would hold the amulet in his pocket or hide it in his clothing.

It is interesting to note that both brothers, Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov and Dr. Israel Michal Rabinowitz, both healed epilepsy. One with an old, traditional method and the second with a new scientific medicine method.

The rabbi's income came from selling salt. In later years he, as shopkeeper, changed over to yeast and candles. (The rabbi's wife was occupied with this). Further income for the rabbi came from responding to questions on the application of Halakha and from weddings. From each 100 rubles of dowry he would get 18 gilder. The largest dowry in those times was up to 300 rubles. He also got income from selling hametz for Passover. Jews would bring their hametz (bread or other forbidden to eat food) to the rabbi so he could remove it from their possession during Passover. The rabbi, in turn, would fictionally “sell” the hametz to a gentile, with the understanding that after Passover the gentile would return the hametz. It was customary to make a donation to the rabbi for handling each transaction.

Thanks to the railroad station which was near the village, many travelers came to weddings inside Horodetz from neighboring towns. And, thanks to the river which flowed inside the villages, there were many liberated merchants who would temporarily stop work and stop the rabbinic courts. Because of the river, people would come to Horodetz to receive a “get”(bill of divorce). A “get” must be written in a town which has flowing water. Not only “gets” but also marriage contracts (ketubot) had to be written in such a town. The reason is that the get or the ketuba identified the location of the marriage or divorce by a fixed, geographic feature, such as a river.

All these things were a source of income for the rabbi.. However, the rabbi was not a rich man. While the money did not stop coming in, his hand was always open for everyone who stretched out a hand to him.

The order of Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov's house was like this. Get up every day and study. After studying came praying. In his house there was always a minyan (prayer quorum of 10 men). In his last years he was losing his sight so he would study less and less. In writing his books he would dictate to someone who would write it down.

He had large library, an inheritance from his ancestors. Among them were many books on Kabbalah and also rare books, among them, very old books. Some were several hundred years old, written by hand, and bound with parchment covers. For Passover we would take down the books and lay them outside, along the street, so they got plenty of ventilation. They would take up a lot of space on the street. Each passerby would stop and examine the books with awe and reverence and with pride in their old rabbi, who had so many books.

Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov, of blessed memory, lived for 100 years and was the rabbi of Horodetz for nearly 80 years. To his funeral came rabbis from all the neighboring towns. They eulogized him and together with the entire village, accompanied him to his final resting place. On his grave was installed a memorial stone with a brick protection canopy.


[Page 27]

The Death of the “Old Rabbi”

By Alter Ellman

Translated by Eugene Sucov

It happened on Wednesday evening of the week identified by the weekly portion “Life of Sarah”, in 1902. The village was immediately aroused by shouts of “The old rabbi has died!” In truth there was no surprise since the rabbi was already very old. Some have said that he was 94 years old, while others said he was much older. In addition, he was already half blind and his nephew, Rabbi Yaakov Hayim Greenberg, was already performing his rabbinical duties. The world became speechless for the moment, as though it received a hard blow. For nearly 80 years he was rabbi of Horodetz, for 3 to 4 generations he had been their only rabbi, and now he was dead.

Beryl Rodetzer, the richest man in the village, immediately sent a carriage with a few good drivers to Kobrin to bring to the funeral the Rabbi Meyer Atlas and the Judge Rabbi Pininke (the son of Rabbi Eliyahu Shick). And from Antipolya came the rabbis David Schwartz and R. Hirsh.

[Page 28]

Meanwhile the village home owners gathered to discuss how to carry out the last will of the “Old Rabbi” who had requested the congregation to transfer everything to his nephew, Rabbi Hayim, after he died. Quickly, a letter inviting Rabbi Hayim to become their village rabbi was created for Rabbi Hayim and the home owners were satisfied.

On Friday morning, quite early, was the funeral. After the coffin was carried out of the rabbi's house, the shofar was blown, and the funeral began. Children and mourners all came to the funeral.

The first to speak was Rabbi Meyer Atlas. He began with a quotation from Jeremiah, chapter 9, verse 20, “ For death is come into our windows”. Just as a window shields us from cold and at the same time brings in light, so is a tzaddik. He is the shield of the generation. And when the tzaddik leaves us, we have no one to shield us.

When we reached the synagogue, we carried the coffin inside and Rabbi Pininke spoke. He started with a quotation from the portion of the week, “Life of Sarah”, Exodus, chapter 24, verse 1.”Abraham was old with many days.” Just as Abraham was old with many days, so did Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov come with his many days to his final rest at home where he had spent his days studying.

And at the cemetery, Rabbi Meyer Atlas handed to Rabbi Hayim the “invitation letter” and the crowd wished him congratulations and good luck. Pain and joy were intermingled in us. Everyone felt that the young rabbi, Rabbi Hayim, would not shame the village which was known for the high quality of it rabbis.

The congregation was not disappointed. After the 7 days of Shiva (sitting in mourning ), the new rabbi gave a eulogy. Everyone came to the synagogue to hear the eulogy from the new rabbi. He chose to start with the quotation from Exodus, chapter 34, verse 9, “And Yehoshua bin Nun was full of wisdom because Moshe had laid his hands on him”. This was a very appropriate quotation because the name of the “Old Rabbi” was Yehoshua and his father, who had certified him, was called Moshe.

The eulogy, which was filled with Halakha (directions for how to live an observant life) and Aggada (moralistic stories) made a very strong impression on the listeners. After this, one was reminded of the other eulogies. From then on, Rabbi Yaakov Hayim, whom we called Rabbi Hayim, became the official village rabbi till the month of Elul (September) 1915, when he and all the Jews of Horodetz evacuated the village. And we, the Horodetz Jews, have become unworthy of seeing him and warming ourselves in the warmth of his Torah. May he be a good defender for us (in the heavenly court).

 

gor028.jpg - The old Rabbi's Ohel
The old Rabbi's Ohel
[structure over the tomb of an important person]

 

gor029.jpg - Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov z'l [Rabinovitz]
Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov z”l [Rabinovitz]
(painted especially for the book of Horodets by Israel Zussman)

 


[Page 29]

The Wisdom Of The “Old Rabbi”

by *Ein haKoray

*This is a pseudonym

Translated by Eugene Sucov

If we want to know the face of a certain generation, we need to examine its rabbinic literature. In this literature is reflected the material and intellectual struggles of the people. From the rabbinic literature we can discern also the cultural level of the generation as well as its hopes and ideals. It is not futile for one to speculate about the histories in the rabbinic “Questions and Answers” from various times, because, in them, lay, wrapped up, entire life stories of the people. Through their words are vividly brought out the day by day life of all social levels, from the teacher to the simplest Jews and Jewesses for an entire year, with their various problems. And, not only in the “Questions and Answers” literature, which is established by the rabbis, the great teachers, but also in the rabbinic commentaries is there a lot of material with which the culture researchers and the historians can form a picture of the life and aspirations of the Jew, from his thinking and his anxieties. In the interpretation of a simple comment lies suddenly an entire chapter of the Jewish story, and from the analysis of a commentary, can we, many times, find out the ideals and threads of a certain epoch in Jewish life. In a Talmudic argument about a statement or a legend we see not only the thought process of the author, but also the intellectual position of the entire land in those times.

*“Each Generation and Its Interpreters”. Each generation has its own commentaries and their analysis is, according to the next generation, a kind of sermon.

*This is the translation of the title of a book (published in Hebrew in the early 1900s) that attacks the Wissenschaft (scientific) school of Bible analysis, in which study of the different styles of language usage suggests that there were 4 different human authors of the Bible.) In Hebrew, the title becomes a play on words, using “dor”, which means “generation” and “dorshav”, which means “its interpreters”.
Each generation has its own commentaries and their analysis is, according to the next generation, a kind of sermon. It is not sensible logic to compare Talmudic arguments in a book of Halakha to an argument in a book of Legends. For example, the story of Bilham's donkey created an argument between 2 scholars of the Talmudic period, in which each of them argued according to a fixed method. But the story about the ring, with which Ahashverus decorated Haman, was analyzed according to the laws of buying and selling.

The 8 books by the “Old Rabbi” are an encyclopedia of all sorts of novel interpretations of the Torah, which rabbis from various generations have written. There is found in there, pure and deep Halakhic things, extracted according to the general principles of logic. In his books we find forceful interpretations of Biblical phrases and commentaries with which modern commentators can easily agree. But, we also find in there legalistic hair splitting, which would take a nice story and interpret it according to various methods from the Gemara. This last is clearly a small percent in comparison with the many intellectual pearls which lay hidden in the “Old Rabbi's” books.

The sources which the “Old Rabbi” consulted are quite simple and well known. They are: the Babylonian Talmud, the Jerusalem Talmud, commentaries by Rambam, Maharasha and Reb Nakhman, by Tosafot (later commentators) and a little bit from the Amoraim (last generation of Talmud rabbis). He also had some information about Ibn Ezra and grammar, although he never consulted a grammar book.

How is it then that explanations by the Dubner preacher had an influence on the “Old Rabbi”? Very often the Old Rabbi consulted him about his methods, which illustrated a maxim with an example. Immediately from the examples we can see that the Old Rabbi was familiar with real life in the world. He had eyes and ears which saw and heard what was going on in the world. And he was not such an innocent that one would be able to fool him.

From many examples in his books we see that he was skilled in Kabbalah and in Chassidic books. He operated with their methods of Initials and Gematria. It happens also that his straight forward wisdom prevented him from getting caught up in the various analyses by Initials. He said they were no more than “foolish ways”.

The analytic wisdom of Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov also captured errors in commentaries by Rashbam and in books of other commentators. His corrections were founded on his wisdom. We find also in his books, rationalistic clarifications. He says that the sages often times criticized too much, in order that we should keep ourselves from a sin. Many times have the wise ones extracted a ruling from a verse of the Bible (psok) which is true (in its setting) but the ruling of the sages is not found in there. They had clearly wanted to attach the ruling to the “psok” in order that it should be more easily remembered. The same is also the case with the popular conception of God which we find in the Bible. That God has feet, sits on a throne, and the like, is no more than a popularization of divinity so that the simple people should understand better.

Also we find the Old Rabbi giving a modern interpretation of a saying of the sages or of Rashi. And when a comment from the sages pleased him not, he says so, bluntly and undisguised. If he couldn't understand the simple meaning of a Tosafot comment he is not ashamed to admit it. The same applies to Rashi.

But knowledge alone is not enough. The central purpose of life is to perform mitzvot (God's commandments). In addition to this, one must educate ones self and learn Talmudic arguments. However, arguing for the sake of arguing is not so righteous; much better is it to perform mitzvot. Performing mitzvot is the purpose of living. And because of this (attitude) the Old Rabbi did not approve of flagellation or fasting because they hindered the performance of mitzvot. He goes even further to say that everything God created is only for the benefit of observant people.

What is the definition of observant? What shall a Jew do in order to become an observant Jew? Can a person really be a complete Jew?

Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov understood that a world of pure tzadikim (holy men) is impossible because when all the faithful only sat and learned faith, the rest of the world did not have any observance. Therefore he held that work and learning should go hand-in-hand, since the one who works and simultaneously learns and also does mitzvot is a much greater person than the other learners and mitzvah doers who consider themselves more worthy than the others.

The Old Rabbi understood very well that it was impossible for observant people to do all the mitzvot, therefore he held that only through unity and peace can we be able to observe the entire Torah. He knew that not all people are the same. Some people can be corrected without being offended. But especially intelligent people can be more tainted than an ordinary person. One can be tainted even by one word which is not pure. The person may be a totally attractive teacher, but if his mouth is not pure, his teaching will also be not pure. Therefore, the Old Rabbi suggests that one should incorporate the following 3 good rules. 1. Modesty; 2. Keep yourself from speaking evil about others; 3. Jewish unity. Because we didn't cling to the way we should be in the above 3 rules, we are in exile.

Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov held that too much modesty for a Talmud scholar is not worthwhile, since, if he takes for himself already too much praise for his modesty, he forgets that praise is only for the Torah.

Speaking ill of another does not bring peace, and if there is no peace, one cannot observe the commandments of the Torah. Therefore one must love the Jewish people, since loving the people is the foundation of the entire Torah. Who has hated a Jew is also grieving God, since it is impossible to have love for God and not have love for Jews. He goes further and says,”He who does evil to another is also grieving God even more, since he has sinned against God.”

He was very forceful in his condemnation of those who guarded themselves against eating pig meat, other treif (non-kosher) foods and carrion, but made themselves unaware of “baseless hatred”, even though this sin is equivalent to many sins. Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov held that the sin of “baseless hatred” ranks above all the other sins together. And he provides a cure. If a person wants to cleanse himself of sin, he should love everyone, even the one who sinned against him. Instead of guarding ones self from sinning, says the Old Rabbi, guard against a good friend. And here he provides the proverb, “Protect me from my friends. From my sins will I alone guard myself”, and the selection from Psalm 118, verse 8, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.”

The major principle of the Old Rabbi's way came to expression in a special booklet which contained 62 essays of appreciation. The number 62 is, by using Gematria, equal to “Very Good” in Hebrew.

Very Good = Tov M'Od; Tov = tet,vav,bet and M'od = mem, aleph, daled. The numerical values of each of the letters is as follows:

Tet=9, vav=6, bet=2, mem=40, aleph=1, daled=4.

The various essays were not only concerning God and man but also how a man should behave, even to an animal. He should not beat it and not load it too heavily. The Old Rabbi not only preached this ethical behavior, he acted upon it. It is told, that one time, going from the Beit Midrash with his tallit sack under his arm, he saw how a wagon driver was pulling his horse which had gotten stuck in the mud. The Old Rabbi went over and helped push the wagon. When helping another, he says, we have to help everyone, even the enemy. And we shall not make a distinction between Jew and Gentile. And, if one is insulted by another, he should keep silent and not respond. And, conversely, he should behave kindly to the enemy. And not only should a man not curse another, but even when he is alone he should not curse.

The Old Rabbi warned against anger, miserliness and depression. He worried about the A. D. Gordon (leader of a non-religious, Zionist organization) rules which embittered the people's lives. He always looked for ways to improve the people's fate. Thanks to his psychological point of view, he overlooked several conventionalities of his time. For example, he demanded that the parents should teach their children crafts and trades, in order that the children would be able to support themselves. “A trade is nothing to be ashamed of.”

The Old Rabbi spoke out against a commonly accepted custom in his time, namely, taking dowry. He said, by way of explanation, “Look not at money, take not a wife with a defect just because she has money. Better to take a beautiful wife so that there will be love and peace between man and wife.”

And the Old Rabbi also opposed laws and customs which were nick-named “from my generation to yours”, as, for example, taking or giving presents with a business connection, or selling the “hametz” (food which was not kosher for Passover) through the rabbi. He held that it was simply deception.

Interesting is his opinion about praying. He held not with those who fool themselves in praying. He said, “Better to pray a little bit, but with focused intention, rather than praying a lot, quickly and hastily. God will fill in the letters and the vowel signs.”

In the forewords to his books the Old Rabbi asks that we should not lay his books aside and that we should study them.

May this short appreciation of the Old Rabbi's works lead to increased studying of his books and following of the principles which he had inscribed in them. These principles come from a great humanist who the world didn't know. It is worth while to make a greater study of the life and work of the Old Rabbi, Yehoshua Yaakov Rabinowitz.


[Page 32]

The Rav, Rabbi Yaakov Khayim, of blessed memory

by The Rav, Mordekhai Greenberg

Translated by Eugene Sucov

The Rav, Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov, obm, had 3 sons and 4 daughters, which his first wife, Bonya, had birthed. The oldest daughter was called Itke Rakhel, may she rest in peace. She had all the qualities of her father, obm, his natural humor, his intelligence and his cleverness. She interested herself in helping the ones living difficult lives in the village and in giving charity to the needy.

Itke Rekhil (that's how we called her) had a daughter, Esther, who married the Rav, Rabbi Yaakov Khayim, obm, the future heir of the rabbinical seat, on which Rav Yehoshua Yaakov, obm, had sat for 18 years.

The Rav Yaakov Khayim, obm, was born in Antipolya. His parents were observant Jews and philanthropic. In his early youth they died in an epidemic which had then raged. His grandfather, after whom he was named, was a great scholar and exceptionally zealous in performing the mitzvot. He always sat in the study hall and learned. He would memorize, every day, 40 pages of Gemara.

The Rav Yaakov Khayim had studied in his youth with the Antipolya Rav, Rabbi Pinkhas Michael, obm, who became very interested in him. After this, he was admitted to advanced learning of Biblical interpretation in the Kovne kollel (graduate school for older and better students) . The Rav Yitzkhak Elkhanan, obm, the Kovne rabbi, wrote about him that he was a “genius” (ilui) Rav.

When he arrived in Horodetz, already betrothed to the old Rav's daughter, he became attracted to the rabbinate, rather than to full time study. The Rav Yehoshua Yaakov, was already old, and from the beginning helped only him. Soon all the rabbinical functions were given over to him. The old Rav had arranged a small salary for him. In his home, there was also a small business, which the rebbitzen (rabbi's wife) and her mother, would run. From all this, the rabbi eked out a marginal income.

The Rav Yaakov Khayim was a tall man with a patriarchal appearance. His beard was a little yellowish in his youth and middle age. From his countenance radiated holiness and goodness. He was loved by everyone, and influenced everyone with his friendly attitude and modesty. He was simply running away from empty honors.

He interested himself in everything, large or small. He developed feelings for each one of the unfortunate people who came through Horodetz.

This comment is in reference to the disasters that befell the Jewish communities in what was called the Jewish Pale of Settlement at the beginning of World War 1. Jews were not allowed to leave the Pale without a special passport, so all the Jews of the Russian empire were collected there. The Pale lay between the western lands of the Russian empire and the eastern lands of the German (Prussian) empire. When the war started, the opposing armies would cross into the Pale, burning, scavenging and killing Jews on their way to meet the enemy. Jews ran from their homes to escape the scourge and traveled to nearby Jewish communities that had not yet been destroyed. These are the refugees that passed through Horodetz.
He did what was appropriate to help needy people. In the worst of times he would bring guests to his house, even escaped criminals, and give them food to eat and money. Afterwards, with his friendliest wishes and blessings, they departed. He followed after them, uttering blessings on their future travels.

The refugees were fallen people, outcasts who had lost their livelihood because of the war. They would travel from town to town and from village to village looking for help. They were unable to separate themselves and go alone to the small houses and ask for money. They felt themselves beaten and without purpose. A favorable word was, for them, a soothing balm, which strengthened them and uplifted their spirits. The Rav Yaakov Khayim, obm, understood this very well. He would occupy himself with them, asking about their problems, hearing them completely and showing them his sympathy.

His usual schedule was as follows: He would wake up every night about 3 am, when everyone else was still sleeping, to sit over a Gemara and learn. The whole village was sunk in a deep sleep but the Rav's house was lit up and the sound of his learning carried itself outside.

Since the Gemara was written in Aramaic and had no punctuation, the correct intonation when chanting the passage in Yiddish or Hebrew, proved that you understood the flow of the arguments within the passage.
When it became day, the Rav began to prepare for praying. Coming out of the synagogue he sometimes gave to the townspeople a rabbinic commentary. As soon as he finished with “questions” he would immediately return to his studying. At no time did he sit idle and talk foolish or simple words to his friends. He always studied.

There were times when he was troubled about his eyes. But this didn't stop him from studying. When he was not able to look in a book, he would study from memory. Thanks are due to the village doctor, Naftali Weissman, who took him to Warsaw several times to a great eye professor and sat with him while his sick eyes were treated.

[Page 33]

In Horodetz there was a group of people who subscribed to the Hebrew language newspapers, HaMelitz and HaTsfirah. The newspapers circulated in a very tight circle of people, who transferred them from one to the other. These people would very often get excited about issues of the time and would have public discussions about them. The Rav, even though he was entirely involved in his studies, found it worthwhile to occasionally attend several of the discussions. He didn't consider it foolish words. He was accepting of each person's interests. He answered with quietness, and incidentally, as a guest, would throw in some words of Torah.

In the early years of the Zionist movement some of the people expected a quick establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz Israel. The Rav joined himself to the pessimists. His argument was that the hoped for salvation would not come for a while, but slowly. It would take many years. He had concluded this from the fact that the first aliya to Eretz Israel had taken 40 years till the Jews set foot on the Promised Land. And, afterwards, it took a very long time till they were able to exploit the entire land,

Furthermore, from a logical point of view, the moment had not yet arrived. The kings of Europe were hatefully opposed to the Jews so they would prevent it from happening.

Finally, his opinion was that the hoped for salvation would depend on the morals of the people, through which God's help would come. He had, to support this opinion, various verses from Tanakh, Talmud and Midrash. But, with respect to the settlers already in Eretz Israel, he was very supportive. He would always say that we must buy what land we can and that more Jews should settle in Eretz Israel.

The Rav would give 2 lectures a year: one on Shabbat HaGadol (before Pesach) and the other on Shabbat Shuva (before Yom Kippur). Once in a while he would tell a story about a great Rav. Mostly his talks were filled with “pilpul” (Talmudic nit picking), and practically no one in his audience understood him.

Before he gave the lecture he would consult the Talmud portions and commentaries on which his lecture was based. Here is a summary of one of his lectures.

A person who holds himself better than other persons is full of arrogance. He is better only in his own estimation. But it is an available resource for these people. When he just looks over those who are higher than him, he will quickly realize that he has not what to be proud of, and his arrogance will disappear.

A person who contains the evil trait of jealousy, his jealousy is greater than him. Such a person, who is entirely for himself, needs to observe those he thinks are lower than him. He will quickly recognize that he needs to be satisfied with his own situation and that he has nothing to be jealous of.

Now, what are his options? As the same person has both bad traits of arrogance and jealousy, he holds himself to be better than others and is still jealous of others. What kind of resource is available for these people? Where should he look? He should look above, to someone higher than him so he, in truth, can rid himself from this trait of arrogance. He would find out that he is not as superior as he thought. He will realize that he is nothing.

Now that his arrogance is gone his trait of jealousy emerges. His jealousy strengthens and he will be envious of all those who are higher than him. He should again look above, to that which is higher than him, so that he will free himself from the trait of jealousy. Then he will not have anyone to be jealous of. But then the trait of arrogance will emerge again. He will, in his fantasy, continue to stay higher than everyone, and become a real “master of arrogance.”

For such a person there is no cure. About him, the verse from Psalms, 101:6 says: “ Whosoever slanders his neighbor, him will I destroy; whoso is haughty of eye and proud of heart, him will I not suffer.”

A person whose eyes are full of jealousy and whose heart is filled with arrogance cannot learn. Such a person finds himself good and also wants everything that other people have. He has a dilemma. Theory is not appropriate for dealing with such a problem. Therefore the aforementioned person can only find a way out through controlling himself.”

In the year 5671, on the 27th of the month of Menahem Av, (Aug. 21,1911) the rebbitzen died. This created a very bad situation for the Rav, but in his studying he found consolation and encouragement. And this is how he filled his life in Horodetz till the onset of World War 1.

It was a Shabbat in the month of Elul (September), 1915, when the entire village became full of Cossacks. Heaven and earth and Cossacks. A great fear enveloped all the Jews. All the houses in Horodetz were burning. The village was surrounded by fire on all sides. The grenades were crackling. We heard strongly the shooting of the cannons. It stopped in one barrage, but the war had already caused the end of the village. An order arrived that all its residents must immediately leave Horodetz on account of the anticipated joining of the hated armies.

[Page 34]

In spite of the tragic situation everyone came to pray on Shabbat, early in the morning, just like always on Shabbat. On Sunday, early in the morning, all the Jews left the town. The journey was terrible. The Rav and his family traveled 3 weeks until they came to Katerinaslav.

In Katerinaslav were only 2 shuls which prayed in the Ashkenazi style. One of these shuls immediately named the Rav Yaakov Khayim their rabbi, with great pride. He would lecture on Mishnayot and Gemara and occasionally give a commentary for a particular purpose. His schedule in Katerinaslav was the same as it had been in Horodetz. All day long he sat and studied.

In honor of the arrival of the Rav, the leaders of the shul created a charity fund, greater than those of the other shuls. It had a special help committee for the entire city. For those shuls that had no committee, this shul became the model for all the other shuls in Katerinalsav.

Rav Yaakov Khayim died in Katerinaslav on Shabbat morning, the 7th of Elul, in the year 5679 (Sept. 22, 1919) at the age of 103 years.

The funeral was the next morning, on Sunday. The rabbis of the town, along with all the out of town rabbis, gathered to pay him their last respects. They gave eulogies in his shul and in the cemetery. All the businesses from any town in which he had lived were closed. All were able to come to the funeral. But only the rabbis busied themselves with his body.

“May His Soul Be Bound Up in Eternal Life”

 

gor034.gif - Facsimile of the Rashi section from a sermon by R' Khayim
Facsimile of the Rashi section from a sermon by R' Khayim

 

Author's note:

I thank the Horodetz group “Yehoshua Yaakov” from New York for installing a stone over the grave of the Rav Yaakov Khayim. The grave is located in the cemetery of Katerinaslav at section 25, row 5, #33.

Does the grave still exist? Haven't the Germans (cursed be their name) demolished his grave just as they have demolished all other Jewish graves?

Only in the future world will we know.

The children who survived him are Dr. Tzvi Greenberg, a writer of various articles, who was killed at the Russian front, and his daughter, Reyzl, who lives in New York.


[Page 35]

The Last Rabbi

by the Rav, Shalom Podolevsky

Translated by Eugene Sucov

The last rabbi of Horodetz was the genius rabbi, Ari Greenman. He was from Antipolya, son of a blacksmith and son-in-law of a rich man of Brisk (Brest-Litovsk). When he first came to Horodetz, right after the first World War, as a temporary refugee, he was quite young. But he soon remained in Horodetz permanently. He was a great genius and a holy man. His interpretations would amaze the greatest people. His memory was so good that as soon as he saw something he already understood the thought. He was really an expert on Shas (an abbreviation of the “Six Orders” (shisha sederim) of the Talmud). He had also a very sharp mind which would amaze the rabbis and yeshiva students of the nearby villages with his questions and learning. Also, he was zealous in his practice of the commandments. He would learn day and night. His holiness was so great that he obeyed every law in the Shulkhan Arukh (“The Arranged Table”, an organized collection of the 613 commandments in the Bible). He was a man pure and of sterling qualities. And our village was very satisfied with him.

The rabbi had no children so he arranged for a neighbor orphan to be with him in his house. She became like his only child. Later, when his wife died and the orphan married and moved away to Argentina, he was again alone. His home was the greatest and most beautiful in Horodetz. It was facing the plaza, where had stood, before World War 1, the small synagogue for the Jews of Kobrin. After the war the Korinner Jews bought it back using money they got sent from America. But the Horodetz Jews determined that it rightfully belonged to the Rav. His house was a home for wise men. Whenever a rabbi or a traveler who was a Rav or a good Jew came to the village, they all stayed at the rabbi's house.

The rabbi received no salary from the village. His only income was from buying and selling khametz (food not kosher for Passover), selling gifts for Purim and once in a while he received a gift from his American brother.

The Rav behaved in a very unusual way which generated wonderment and amazement in many people but mainly from the rabbis of the surrounding villages. Namely, he had a cow which he alone would drive to pasture early in the morning, at the same time as did the town leaders. They would stay and look while the Rav himself milked the cow. He would also raise does. He loved very much living animals, but mainly he loved small children from whom he would get much enjoyment.

Our Horodetzers respected and honored him greatly, knowing what kind of genius and holy man he was, and how other rabbis consulted with him.

His plainness and simplicity only increased the love and closeness of the village towards him, feeling that he was one of them. They felt, without a doubt, the same as all the other Jews of the village.

The Rav is no more, even his house is gone. May, at least, be immortalized his handwriting and the official stamp of the last rabbi of Horodetz.

 

gor035.gif - Facsimile of the last Rabbi's handwriting
Facsimile of the last Rabbi's handwriting

Stamp translated:
A. GREENMAN
of Horodetz village
Province of Kobrin

 

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