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Translation of Raseyn chapter from
(Lithuanian Jewry), Vol. 3
Published by The Association of The Lithuanian Jews in Israel
Published in Tel Aviv, 1967 (Vol. 3) and 1984 (Vol. 4)
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[Pages 359-360 - Volume 3]
The provincial capital of Raseiniai, or Raseyn, lies on the bank of the river Raseykah, 8 kilometers from the Dubysa, near the communities of Girtigula (10 km.), Namukesht (25 km.), Kolm (55 km.), and Shidlova (15 km.), and 12 km. from the nearest train station in Shilovka. There were were no paved roads leading to Raseyn until the Kovno-Raseyn-Memel highway was built in 1936.
Raseyn is one of the oldest cities in Lithuania and appears in records of the 13th and 14th centuries under different names, including Rushigen, Rossyen, and Rasseyne. In 1253 Prince Mindaugas ceded one part of the Zamut territory, including some of the district around Raseyn, to the Livonian Order of Christian knights, and the rest to the first bishop of Lithuania, Kristyan. From this area the Livonian order began to spread Christianity, and this led to bloody warfare in the area.
At the end of the 14th century the city occupied an important position, and its representative participated with others from Zamut in signing the peace treaty of Koenigsberg in 1390. At the end of the 15th century, Raseyn received its Magdeburg Rights. In the united Lithuanian-Polish state, the city became the most important in Zamut. Government institutions were located there, and it served as a mercantile center for the area. In 1580 the local aristocrats met there in order to choose their representatives to the Seym or Parliament in Warsaw. From 1585 Raseyn served as the permanent location of the county parliament or Seymik. In 1792 its Magdeburg rights were renewed.
However, the city suffered no small amount from Napoleon's invasion and the Polish rebellions. It passed into Russian control with the third partition of Poland, its rights as a free city were annulled, and it became a provincial capital within the larger jurisdiction of Vilna in 1796 and that of Kovno subsequently. An economic decline then began. In independent Lithuania Raseyn was still a district capital, but because of its geographic position and distance from the railroad and the main highways, it remained economically isolated.
The Jewish community of Raseyn was among the first to be established in Lithuania, and the city became known as the Jerusalem of Zamut. Jews continued to settle there in large numbers throughout the 17th century. Among Jewish sources the city is mentioned in the book Makom Shmuel (The Place of Samuel) by R. Moshe Mordekhay Rabinovits (1822), which refers to a question asked of R. Shmuel of Altona, Germany, regarding a woman whose husband was killed in nearby Kruzh. In 1842 the city had 7,455 inhabitants, the majority of whom were Jews. By 1897 the number of Jewish inhabitants reached 9,000 (90% of the general population). Their number decreased after WWI. In 1926 only 2,226 Jews lived in Raseyn, and in 1939, about 2,000 (40% of the general population).
The Jews lived mainly by means of commerce. There were 25 handworkers and a few farmers. Besides two flour mills and a sawmill (owned by Perlov and Kagan), the city had no industry, and most Jews lived from the market days (Monday and Thursday).
In 1929 504 members belonged to the Jewish popular bank. There were about 10 synagogues in the town, among them the big synagogue and house of study, as well as the congregations called, The Khosid, The Life of a Human Being, Eyn Yakov, and The Hatmakers'.
In independent Lithuania there was one small yeshiva in town (under the direction of Rav Rose and afterwards Rav Goldshlag). Before WWII the yeshiva from Kamenets (under the leadership of R. Reuben Grazovsky) moved there. There also was a Tiferet Bokhurim (Honor of the Students) society, led by R. Elyahu Alinik, a Ben Zakay society, whose R. Avraham Elyahu provided gemara classes for the students of the Hebrew gymnazium, as well as Shas, Mishna, and Eyn Yakov societies. The educational institutions in the city included a Hebrew kindergarten, a common Tarbut school (under the direction of Levinzon and Aba Yaffa), a common Yavneh school run by a man named Kirsh, and a Hebrew gymnazium. There was a large library in town called, Mendele. Among the prominent institutions were the Jewish hospital, the Union for the Aid of Poor Mothers (administered by Mrs. Blokh), the Hospitality for Travelers, the Burial Society (which kept records going back many years), and the Old People's Home. All the branches of Zionism were active in town, including the Union of Israel and the youth groups, Beyt'r, The Covenant of the Zealous, Gordonyah, The Eastern Pioneer, the Zionist Youth, the Young Guard, and the Makaby, in addition to preparation groups for those intending to make alyah to Israel. Raseyn also had a women's organization, Beyt Yakov, run by the pharmacist Volpert, and a branch of the Women's International Zionist Organization run by Roza Ziv.
The majority of people in Raseyn were Zionists. When Herzl passed away, R. Haym Zaks, one of the leading local Zionists, eulogized him in the large house of study, and many sat on the ground with the eulogist during the speech. The community also had a tradition of Torah learning and community activism besides being a center for distinguished Rabbis, proponents of Enlightenment, and writers of renown in the Jewish world.
Raseyn also brought forth a long line of prominent people who brought honor to the city of their birth. Avraham Mafo, Shneyur Zakesh, and the carpenter/writer Moshe Markovits lived and worked in the city.
Its Rabbis included R. Avraham Ben Haym Lisker, who wrote the commentary, Be'er Avraham (The Well of Avraham) on the Mishna in 1684, R. Volf, R. Moshe Tsaytlin, R. Avraham Schmuel Rabinovits (d. 1806), R. Aleksander Moshe Lapidot, R. Moshe Soloveytshik, R. Yehoshua Mordekhay Klotskin, and its last Rabbi, R. Aharon Shmuel Kats (YHD).
Among its leading citizens in the last generation were R. Ezriel Yitshak Ahronson, Mehulam Fishl Bar, Shmuel Yitshak Ger (YHD), Gedalyah Helperin (YHD), Tsemakh Volpe, Aba Yaffa, Libovits, Max Levi (YHD), Fishl Mogilovsky, the lawyer Friedland, Asher Tserlin, Barukh Reuven Kaplan, Leyb Kaplan, Zev Kaplan, the teacher and head of the community council until 1925, Dr. Raphael Rabinovits, and Yisroel Shogen (YHD).
Its native sons included, among Rabbis, R. Avraham Lisker, R. Hanokh-Henekh Eygish, R. Yekhezkiel Lifshits, R. Pesakh Finfer, R. Neta Tsvi Finkl (the grandfather), R. Elyahu Barukh Kumay, R. Simkhah Reuven Edelman, R. Yakov Benditman, R. Moshe Yitshak Siegal, R. Benyomin Friedman, R. Tankhum Sharga Revel, the grammarian Aryeh Leyb Gordon, the educator and writer Fayvl Gets, the publisher Yisroel Yitshak Volf, the publisher of HaMagid R. Eliezer Lipman Zilberman, the writers and publishers Adolf Landau and Haym Raphaelovits, the activist Bar-Mishna Abramovits (who served until WWI in place of a Rabbi), the doctor and activist Immanuel Soloveytshik, the educator and writer Yekhezkiel Fayvl Rutshteyn, the legal scholar Yosef Kohen, Rav Menakhem Mendel Ahronson, who was one of the Mizrakhi activists in South Africa, the Rav of Telz and head of its yeshiva R. Yosef Yehuda Leyb Blokh, and Dr. Tsemakh Tsemeryon (Halperin), a writer and educator, who still lives in Haifa.
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