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The Gaon Rabbi Binyamin Eliahu Remigolski of Blessed Memory
Introduction to the Halachic book (book on Jewish law) “Hadrat Binyamin” [1]

by Rabbi Binyamin Eliahu Remigolski of holy blessed memory

Translated by Jerrold Landau

{Photo page 99: Uncaptioned. Rabbi Remigolski.}

        We are still downtrodden and brokenhearted due to the influence of the terrible loss that occurred in the taking from us and from our people of my father, the great Gaon, famous in all corners of the land, Rabbi Binyamin Eliahu Remigolski of holy blessed memory. Nevertheless, due to the magnitude of our duty and our desire to fulfill, without delay, the last wish of our father of holy blessed memory, we are hastening the publication of his many works that we possess as manuscripts.

        The book “Hadrat Binyamin” is divided into two sections: Volume I, “Hadar Hamikdash” (The Splendor of the Temple) regarding the laws of Kodshim [2]; and Volume II “Hadar Hakodesh” (The Holy Splendor), consisting of discourses in a homiletic and didactic style. This book that we are now publishing is the first of sixty manuscripts that our father of holy blessed memory left us. They cover all areas of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, Midrash and Aggadah, early and later Halachic decisions, as well as responsa that he wrote in answer to queries that he received regarding the word of G-d, that is practical Halacha [3].

        Approximately one year ago, our father the Gaon of holy blessed memory began to organize his novellae on the issues of Kodshim. These were the most precious to him. Until the day of his illness, he dedicated any free moment, during the day and the night, to organize this book, but he did not succeed in organizing all of the chapters of the book. His severe illness that overtook him suddenly on his way from Warsaw to Siemiatycze impeded him, and therefore we present the remaining chapters (the five final chapters of Hadar Hamikdash) as we find them in the manuscripts. The chapter regarding “The receiving of the blood of the guilt offering of the leper”, which our father began to organize and did not complete, is published in both versions.

        We also find it necessary to present a few sections on the origins and life of the author, the Gaon of holy blessed memory. Our father of holy blessed memory was born in the year 5631 (1871) in the city of Kedainai (Keidan) of Lithuania. He was a descendent of the great Gaon who was the author of “Knesset Yisrael”. He excelled in his wonderful talents and his deep diligence already during his youth. When he was eleven years old, he already knew all of “Ein Yaakov” [4] by heart literally. He studied in Volozhin [5] when he was only 17 years old , and there he made a name for himself as one of the greatest scholars of the Yeshiva, and he became known as the “Genius of Riga” (his parents had left Kedainai and moved to Riga at that time). At that time, he already knew the entire Talmud with wonderful breadth and great depth. When he was about 20, he married our righteous mother, Fruma Rachel, may she live, the daughter of the well-to-do rabbi Reb Yehuda Leib Gordon of blessed memory of Baltermantz [6]. After he spent three years being supported by his father-in-law, while studying with strong diligence, he did not want to accept a rabbinic role at all.

        Our mother tried her hand at business, and our father of holy blessed memory continued his holy work. He produced many novellae at that time, even before he was appointed as a rabbi. He received his rabbinical ordination when he was approximately 23 years old, From the Gaon Rabbi Shlomo of Vilna, who advised him to accept the mantle of the rabbinate. However our father chose to listen to the advice of his beloved, true friend, the Gaon and Tzadik Rabbi Moshe Daniszewski, the author of the work “Beer Moshe”, and he went to learn in the Kolel of Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan of blessed memory [7].

        Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan of blessed memory ordained him, and when he recognized his great worth in Torah and deeds, he influenced him to accept the mantle of the rabbinate. Aside from the greatness of his knowledge and his expertise in Torah, our father was also a man of character. He truly hated falsehood, and for all the days of his life, truth was his guiding light. When he was twelve years old, he took it upon himself never to utter any falsehood, and never to take an oath [8]. He never violated his commitment for all the days of his life. He was very modest, and he treated easy commandments with the same respect as difficult commandments. He would put on the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam discretely in his home every day [9], and nobody knew of this aside from his family. His love for his fellowman and his dedication to every Jew were boundless.

        From the year 5669 (1909) he served in the rabbinate for more than 20 years in the communities of Troszyn, Stawiski, Griva, and finally in Siemiatycze. In all of those cities, he excelled in his dedication to his flock. In particular, he did a great deal of good for his community of Stawiski during the years of the difficult war. All the members of his community, young and old, were bound up with his soul due to his wisdom and kindness of heart. For example, the members of the Stawiski community did not let him leave when he received a request to serve as the rabbi of Bransk. The day that our father of holy blessed memory set out for Griva was a day of mourning in the entire city.

        Even though he was constantly occupied with issues of the rabbinate, he excelled in his diligence in learning, and he occupied himself with Torah study during any free moment. He was also very wise in worldly matters, and his legal decisions regarding monetary matters became known even among the gentiles. In general, our father was, as many of the leaders of our generation have written, one of the prime Gaonim. He was a prime Gaon with regards to his wondrous breadth of knowledge of Talmud, both the Babylonian and Jerusalem versions, as well as the Mechilta, Sifra and Sifre [10]. No secret was hidden from him in any aspect of Torah, and he did not desist from learning until the day of his illness.

        He excelled in his deep sharpness, to which more than sixty of his friends testified. He excelled also in the refinement of his heart, and in his love for his fellowman, both in the general and in the specific sense. Anyone who spoke with him from any stratum of the people, even well disposed gentiles, became his friends. He excelled also in his great and deep love for the Land of Israel. In many excellent sermons, he called out with fiery words to the Jewish people to concern themselves with their land and to fulfill their obligations toward the Land. Thus did this great Gaon toil with great enthusiasm for the benefit of Torah, teaching, love of his people, and love of his Holy Land. He toiled with eternal strength and lofty desire until he departed Heavenward on the holy Sabbath, the 25th of Sivan, of the current year 5690 (1930).

Written by the family of the Gaon who was the author of the book, of holy blessed memory. Siemiatycze, Av, 5690.


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The Rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Reuven Kac of holy blessed memory

by Rabbi Zadok Hakohen

Translated by Jerrold Landau

        Our master, the Gaon Rabbi Reuven Kac of holy blessed memory, who was previously the rabbi of Stawiski and latter the chief rabbi, head of the rabbinical court, and Talmudic teacher in Petach Tikva [11], was one of the greatest rabbis of the previous generation. His methodology, his Halachic decisions, and his interpretations were based on the pillars of Torah, ethics, wisdom and knowledge.

        He was one of the select group whose words had a recognizable influence upon the community, both within the Orthodox community and in the liberal community, including upon rabbis and the leaders of the people. His variegated personality, his extensive learning, his intuition and resoluteness along with the sharpness of his intellect all helped forge the image of the community of those that feared the word of G-d.

        Whenever a difficult Halachic issue arose, when observant Jewry was caught up with problems and internal strife, or in strife between itself and the non-observant, they would turn to the rabbi of Petach Tikva to ask him to offer assistance, and solve the dilemma with his wisdom and understanding, so that he could present a clear, blessed solution.

        He conducted his rabbinate with strength and rigor. Even during his old age, everyone would turn an ear to listen to the opinion of the “Rabbi from Petach Tikva” at rabbinical conventions and on the advisory council of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.

        He forged his path of life, not with storming and impetuousness, but rather through diligence, persistence, gradual development, and spiritual ascent step by step. His humble beginnings were upon the rabbinical seat of the small town of Sulevo, and his pinnacle was as one of the leaders of the previous generation.

{Photo page 102 – uncaptioned. Rabbi Kac.}

        His birthplace was the small town of Olshany in the Vilna region. There he was born on the first day of the New Moon [12] of Iyar 5640 (1870) to his father Rabbi Shimon of blessed memory, one of the local scholars who worked in business. It was already evident during his childhood that he was destined for greatness. When he was about eleven years old, he was already expert on the Tractates of Shabbat and Bava Kama [13], and was known as the Genius (Illui) of Olshany. His Bar Mitzvah speech, delivered when he was a student at the Yeshiva of Ivye, included didactics that astounded the local Torah scholars.

        From Ivye he transferred to the Yeshiva of Mir, and when he was 15, he was accepted in the Yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim of holy blessed memory in Radun [14]. After about one year, he went to the Yeshiva Knesset Yisrael of Slobodka, which was headed by Rabbi M. M. Epstein of holy blessed memory, and Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel of holy blessed memory. In the year 5657-5658 (1887-1888) he was numbered among one of the initial fourteen students of the Yeshiva of Slutsk, founded by the Gaon Rabbi Isser Zalman of holy blessed memory [15].

        In the year 5663 (1893) he moved to Vilna. There, the Gaon Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Maskil Leeitan of holy blessed memory, the rabbi of Gicialaukia, chose him as the husband for his righteous daughter Reichel, may peace be upon her. She stood together with him as his partner in all of his activities until her last day upon the earth.

        While living in his father-in-law's house, he became expert in practical Halacha, and was ordained by the leading rabbis of the generation. His first rabbinate was in the town of Sulevo in the Minsk region, and in the year 5669 (1899) he ascended the rabbinic seat of Amdur (Indura). He served as the rabbi of Amdur for fourteen years, and from there his net was spread out afar. As testimony of this was the request of him by the holy Gaon Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, who was known as the “Saba of Slobodka” [16] in the month of Adar of 5683 (1923) to our rabbi to go with him together with the head of the Yeshiva rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein of holy blessed memory on a special mission to the capital city of Petersburg in order to save the Yeshiva. According to words of the Saba, “the Yeshiva was floating between existence and disappearance, Heaven forbid”. There was a special condition upon this mission, for the Saba pointed out: “it is obvious that we must specify that the matter must be a secret, and should not become known to any of the aforementioned people until after it is completed”. There, he spent the years of the First World War with all of its tribulations: the Russian army police, the German occupation government, the transfer to Polish rule, and finally, the evil, cruel hand of the nationalistic Polish ruler. During these years of trouble, Rabbi Kac not only occupied himself with the discussions of Abaye and Rabba [17], but also with public activity. He protected the rights of the Jews with complete dedication with respect to the changing governments, and with the organization of self-defense. He saved thousands of Jewish souls from death. In the merit of his intercession, many difficult decrees were annulled, many people were saved, and many who had been accused were freed. He also did a great deal for the rehabilitation of refugees and those injured at war. He was the chairman of the local assistance bank, and the chairman of the “Joint” American aid committee in the Grodno region. During the time of transition from one government to another, when the hooligans increased in number and there were many attacks upon the Jews, he was strong enough to establish a unit of Jewish self defense, whose duty was the protection of the community. This organization assured the peace of the Jews of Amdur.

        In the year 5682 (1922) he published his first book: “Questions and Answers Degel Reuven” [18], in which he demonstrated his expertise and sharpness in all areas of Halacha. He particularly displayed his ability to explain difficult and complex issues in a straightforward fashion. The book made an impression in the Torah world, and its publication was an important occurrence among the Yeshiva students, who saw the book as an aid to their studies. The publication of the book made a name for its author, and after a few months, he was invited to sit on the rabbinical seat in the city of Stawiski in the region of Lomza.

        In Stawiski, he served as the rabbi of the city, taking the place of the Tzadik who was well known in his generation, the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Leib of holy blessed memory. He was known by all for his greatness, and all the residents recognized his greatness, on account of his deep knowledge, his righteousness, his boundless love of Torah, and especially his love of every human created in the image of G-d, in accordance with the trait of Aaron the priest the head of his family, who “loved peace, pursued peace, loved people, and brought them close to Torah” [19]. In every place that he lived, he established Yeshivas for the young and study groups in the synagogues to delve into the depths of Torah.

        As in Amdur, in Stawiski as well he expended effort to strengthen the institutions of Torah and education, and to improve the economic situation of the city's Jews. Through his efforts, a “Kupat Malve and Gemilut Chasadim” organization was established in the city to grant loans to help sustain the craftsmen and small-scale merchants, who were becoming impoverished due to the burden of government taxes. He also made efforts to establish elementary Yeshivas in the neighboring towns. He was active in the Yeshiva committee that was founded by the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski of Vilna [20].

        In the year 5685 (1925), his second book was published. It was called “Dudaei Reuven” and dealt with homiletics and explanations on the books of Genesis and Exodus. This book was also accepted with esteem in the circles of rabbis and sermonizers.

        During the period of his tenure in Stawiski, in the winter of 5689 (1928-1929), he was requested by the elder of the Gaonim of the generation, the author of the Chofetz Chaim, to embark on a mission to the United States in order to save the Yeshivas of Poland, in particular the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva. The following letter, which was written by the holy hand of the Chofetz Chaim, is testimony to this.

“Blessed is G-d, the 9th of Cheshvan, 5689

To My friends the Gaonim and rabbis may you live long, and to the generous donors who love and respect Torah, the heads of the Jewish communities in America, may G-d be with you, and may you live.

        I am hereby turning to you with a request for support for my holy Yeshiva, which currently, to my distress, finds itself in a situation of terrible pressure, burdened by deep debts that endanger it existence, G-d forbid. I have requested of my friend, the well-known rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Reuven Kac, may he live long, the head of the rabbinical court of the city of Stawiski, the author of the book Degel Reuven, that he take upon himself the great difficulty of travel to your country, in order to inspire the generous people of our nation to save the Yeshiva from its difficult situation, so that it can be set on its proper footing with the help of the Blessed G-d. I am requesting that you honorable people come to the assistance of the aforementioned Gaon in his holy work on behalf of he existence of the Yeshiva that has been spreading Torah for more than fifty years, for which I have toiled a great deal to ensure its existence, and in which more than three thousand young men, experts in Torah and the fear of Heaven study at the present time. The merit of the great Mitzvah (commandment) of strengthening our holy Torah shall stand with all those who assist and offer support, and may G-d bestow upon you much blessing and success in all of your affairs, to them and to all that bless and honor them.

Yisrael Meir Hakohen, the author of the Chofetz Chaim and Mishnah Berura, from the city of Radun.”

        The communal leaders of Stawiski took pride in the request of the leading rabbi of the generation, and authorized their rabbi, Rabbi Reuven Kac, to take a one-year leave, from November 1, 1928 until November 1, 1929. During the period of his absence, his son Rabbi Shimon was appointed to fill his place.

        His mission to the United States was crowned with success. While he was winning over souls to strengthen Torah in Poland, he received an invitation from the Jewish community of Bayonne, New Jersey, to sit on their rabbinical seat. Rabbi Reuven Katz [21] accepted their invitation and received the position. In the United States, he very quickly found an honorable place among the rabbis of the country. He was active in the rabbinical union, and did a great deal to raise the stature of Judaism. A short time after his arrival, during the annual rabbinical convention held in Iyar 5691 (1931), he was chosen as vice president of the Rabbinical Union.

        After the tribulations of 5699 (1938-1939) [22], he said the following during a eulogy to the victims of the cruel murder: “If it is indeed His will to grant the enemies of our soul a complete and eternal response, and also to avenge the spilled blood of our holy martyrs, it is our duty to arise and make aliya to our Holy Land, which has now received an additional dose of holiness by virtue of the blood of our martyrs. We must have mercy upon its soil, support those that have fallen during the course of its conquest, and stand at the right hand of its sons and builders.”

{Photocopy page 105: The permit of travel of Rabbi Kac to America. (Note by translator: In Hebrew script, and not clear.)}

{Photocopy page 106 top: The permit of travel of Rabbi Kac to America, issued by the communal council of Stawiski: (Note by translator: Also in Hebrew script – this appears to be a continuation of the permit on the previous page, and concludes with several signatures of members of the communal council. Not all are clear, but I can partially make out the following, without attesting to accuracy: Chaim Bolinski, Sh. Smaul – chairman of the communal council, Meir Lim, ?, Sh. Szapira – secretary).}

{Photocopy page 106 bottom: The letter of the Chofetz Chaim. (Translator's note: the text of which is included in full in the text above.)}

{Photo page 107: Rebbetzin Reichel (Rachel) Kac of blessed memory.}

        He was not only a good speaker, but he acted upon his words. When he received in 5692 (1932) a request to serve as rabbi in one of the most important settlements in the Land of Israel, Petach Tikva, he left the United States and made aliya to the Land of his desire and his childhood dreams. Many of his friends attempted to dissuade him from this, however his wife, Rebbetzin Reichel, who was famous for her intelligence and common sense, stood at his right side and insured the decision.

        Rabbi Reuven Katz, who served as the head of the rabbinical court of Petach Tikva, was one of the judges upon whose crown was inscribed three great qualities that are fitting for a judge: men of valor, fearers of Heaven, and haters of reward [23].

        New vistas of activity opened up for him in the Land of Israel in all areas of communal life, the rabbinate and the spreading of Torah. Technically, he served as the head of the rabbinical court and chief rabbi of Petach Tikva and the area; however in actuality he did much more than this. A short time after his arrival in the Land, during the days that the mighty Gaon Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook of holy blessed memory served as the chief rabbi, the rabbinate of our rabbi already broke forth from the bounds of Petach Tikva, and shone upon all areas of the Land. He became one of the pillars of the chief rabbinate and Orthodox Jewry in the Land. He was a citadel of teaching and Halacha. Rabbis and Torah giants streamed to him from all across the Land.

        His influence was great not only in his city and in the region, but in all spiritual and public matters in the country. He participated in all meetings to strengthen the situation. He was always chosen as a member of various delegations to speak to the ministers of the State of Israel regarding matters of Yeshivas and the strengthening of religion.

        He was one of the founders of the committee for Yeshivas in the Land of Israel, and he served as a member of the managing committee of that organization. During his old age, when he became weak, the chief rabbis along with all members of the rabbinate would come to his house to conduct meetings of the chief rabbinate.

        He disseminated Torah to his students during all his years, particularly in the Yeshivas of Petach Tikva. One of his prime students described him as follows: “.. In particular when he appeared before us in the hall of the Yeshiva to deliver his regular class in Halacha, when word spread that the rabbi was arriving to deliver the class, the atmosphere became electric. A deep feeling of sublimity, awe and honor enveloped all of the students of the Yeshiva, young and old together. We regarded the Rosh Yeshiva (Head of the Yeshiva) as a man of stature, as is befitting in the world of Yeshivas.”

        His multifaceted work in the rabbinate did not detract one drop from his dedication to his Yeshiva, the large Yeshiva, in which he saw the crowning role of his life, whether in the spiritual realm, in raising the level and character of his students, or in the physical realm in ensuring the existence of the Yeshiva, and in the meeting of the needs of the students. Indeed, the Yeshiva of Petach Tikva was not only the prime Yeshiva in the “mother of settlements” [24], but it was also the “mother of Yeshivas” throughout the modern settlements of Israel.

        Our rabbi dedicated a great deal of time and effort to the issues of the religious education of elementary students. Already in the year 5693 (1933), one year after he arrived in the Land, a large meeting of all of the great rabbis and Rosh Yeshivas of the Land took place in Petach Tikva through his efforts. The deliberations focussed on the subject of religious education. At that meeting, a network of all of the Talmud Torahs throughout the land was established, which flourished as time went on and served as the basis for independent education [25]. He served as the chairman.

        In the year 5700 (1940), he published the second volume of his book Degel Reuven. This volume contained several answers regarding practical Halachic issues of laws that relate to the Land, such as: the applications of orla, leket, shichecha, and peah in modern times [26]. In the year 5709 (1949) he published the third volume of this work, in which he elaborated upon various Halachic discussions with the Jerusalem Gaonim Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, the rabbi of Jerusalem, Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap the head of the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva, and other leaders of the generation. One responsa was regarding the issues of aguna [27] , was from the Gaon Rabbi Shlomo David Kahana of blessed memory, who was originally the rabbi of Warsaw, and served in glory in the old city of Jerusalem towards the end of his life. Rabbi Kahana asked about his opinion regarding women who became “agunas” during the years of Nazi murder. His fundamental understanding of issues surrounding this difficult problem astounded even the expert Halachic decisors who attempted to deal with it. This volume of Degel Reuven won the Rabbi Kook prize from the municipality of Tel Aviv, and has already been published in three editions.

        In the year 5714 (1954) he published the second volume of his book Dudaei Reuven, with explanations and sermons on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. He appended the small work “Ohel Rachel” to this volume, which contained words of eulogy and appreciation for his wife the Rebbetzin Reichel, may peace be upon her, who died on the 20th of Shvat 5714.

        With the establishment of the state, his duties increased as did his responsibility for dealing with difficult, thorny issues that had not been present prior to the establishment of the state. In particular, after the passing of the chief rabbi Gaon Rabbi Y. A. Herzog and the Jerusalem Gaon Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, duties of Halachic decisions fell upon him. Our rabbi recognized his great responsibility to Heaven and also to the people in whose midst he dwelt. He would delve into the depths of the law in order to find reasons for leniency. This was not always possible, however whenever he found reasons for leniency, he rejoiced greatly that he was able to repair the bridge that connected the Land of Israel to the People of Israel through the Torah of Israel.

        With his passing, honor departed from Israel.

        Our rabbi and Gaon of holy blessed memory left behind the children: Rabbi Shimon Katz, who dealt with matters of agunas within his leadership duties in the rabbinic court system of Israel; Professor Dr. Avraham Yitzchak Katz, the president of Dropsie College in Philadelphia, U.S.A.; Rabbi Aharon Katz, a member of the regional religious court of Jerusalem; Nissan Katz, a manufacturer in the United States; Rabbi Eliezer Katz, the chief rabbi of Clifton, U.S.A.; Rabbi Yechiel Michael Katz, one of the heads of Yeshiva University in New York; Dina Harkavi, the wife of the writer Tzvi Harkavi; and Chasida Sorotzkin, the widow of Rabbi Yisrael Sorotzkin of blessed memory, who was a member of the regional religious court of Tel Aviv.


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The Gaon Rabbi Nachman Shmuel Wasserman of Blessed Memory

by Yeshaya Wasserman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

        My father of blessed memory was born in the year 5647-1887 in the town of Nobla in the region of Pinsk. This was a small town that was surrounded by bogs and ponds, with few neighboring settlements due to the difficulty of communication, which took place for the most part by boats on the pond.

        The Jewish residents of Nobla were almost all poor – they were craftsmen and fishermen. When my father reached the age of Bar Mitzvah and there was no teacher in Nobla to teach him, his father, the shochet Reb Yaakov of blessed memory, sent him to one of the Yeshivas that was far from home. When he was seventeen years old, he was accepted into the Yeshiva of the Gaon Rabbi Baruch Dov Leibowitz of holy blessed memory in the town of Haluski [28]. His rabbi admired him greatly on account of his deep understanding, quick grasp, and pleasant mannerisms. He joined him up as a study partner with his expert student the Gaon Rabbi Shlomo Heiman of blessed memory, who later became a teacher in the Yeshiva of Baranovitch, along with the Gaon Reb Elchanan Wasserman of holy blessed memory, and then later became the Rosh Yeshiva of the Torah Vadaas Yeshiva of New York. Throughout his life, my father maintained his admiration for his rabbi, and the rabbi maintained his admiration for his student. I remember that when I went to study in the Yeshiva of Kamenets, which was headed by the aforementioned Gaon, and I mentioned the name of my father to him, his face lit up, he asked about his wellbeing, and he rejoiced greatly that the son of his beloved student was numbered among his students. Once when Rabbi Shlomo Heiman came to Bialystok during a time of a financial crisis in order to collect money for the Yeshiva, he asked my father, whom at that time was already a rabbi in Stawiski, to assist him. My father of blessed memory did not hesitate for a moment, he left his family and rabbinate for two weeks, traveled to Bialystok and dedicated all of his energy and efforts to the task that was placed upon him by his rabbi.

From Haluski, my father went to the famous yeshiva of Volozhin, which was at that time in its prime. There he was ordained into the rabbinate by the Rosh Yeshiva, the Gaon Rabbi Rafael of Volozhin of holy blessed memory. After a few years, he married the daughter of a respected, learned householder from the town of Korelicze (Karelitz), that is near Novaradok [29]. His father-in-law owned a textile store, and was considered a well-to-do man. His daughter, my mother of blessed memory, was the youngest of his six daughters, all of whom married scholars. She helped him in his store. He agreed that after the wedding, my mother could remain in her parents' home and continue to help in the store, while her husband can continue to occupy himself with Torah for a few years. After the wedding, my father went to the Yeshiva of nearby Novaradok, where he studied for two years under the Gaon Reb Yozel Horowitz of holy blessed memory – the Saba of Novaradok. He would go home only for the Sabbaths. These two years in proximity to the Saba were decisive in the life of my father, for under the influence of Reb Yozel, he strengthened in him self the trait of not recoiling from anything, and not fearing any person when he was defending something that he felt was right. Indeed, there were many incidents during his public life when he stood alone against many, knowing that the right was with him. He also learned the trait of faith from him, a trait which was his guiding light during the most difficult of circumstances.

{Photo page 110: Uncaptioned. Rabbi Wasserman.}

        After the First World War, my father and his family settled in Novaradok, where he opened up a textile store. My mother, who was familiar with this line of work from her youth, ran the store. This enabled father to set aside times for the study of Torah and also to occupy himself in communal affairs. He founded a religious elementary school and later a small yeshiva. At night, he taught Torah to the working youth. The great depression that affected Jewish business in Poland during the 1920s caused my parents to sell the business in order to pay their debts to the middlemen. They liquidated the business. Left penniless, he was forced, with no other option available, to accept a rabbinic post.

        At first he served as a rabbi in the town of Lipnishki Valnin, which was near the Polish-Russian border, and was cut off from the other towns of the area. At night, a constant curfew was imposed upon the town, and anyone who was not a permanent resident had to obtain a special permit to enter into its precincts. The isolation affected him, and when his friend Rabbi Moshe Szeckes of holy blessed memory, who in the interim had been appointed as the rabbi of Lomza, advised him to accept the rabbinate of Stawiski, he accepted the advice with joy; for the rabbinate of Stawiski was considered honorable since the time that the Tzadik Rabbi Chaim Leib Myszkowski of holy blessed memory, who was famous in all of Poland, served there. It is superfluous to state that there was no shortage in candidates for this important rabbinate. However, after father went a few times and delivered lectures, the matter was discussed among the honorable people of the city, and he was unanimously accepted as the rabbi of that community.

        The rabbinate of Stawiski imposed a burden upon my father, a burden that he did not know in Lipnishki Valnin. Even though all of the residents of those towns had difficulty in their livelihoods, only very few were in need of actual assistance. The situation was not the same in Stawiski. Here, aside from a number of well-to-do residents and numerous small scale merchants and craftsmen who earned restricted livelihoods but did not require help, there was a large stratum of poor people, who satisfied themselves with a measure of carobs [30] during the week, but require assistance from the public coffers to obtain provisions for the Sabbath. Those people would come to father, and he would give them tickets for challah and meat, and sometimes even a little bit of cash. The charitable fund was meager. The donations came mainly from the “Organization of Stawiski Émigrés” in America, and also from the local wealthy people. In particular, the expenditures of the fund were great on two occasions of the year: a) as Passover approached, and the list of those in need because of the upcoming festival was very long, father and a few of the important householders would go out to collect “Maos Chittin” [31]. Most of the city's residents would participate in this; and b) after Sukkot, as the winter approaches, and there was need to supply fuel for the poor – wood and peat (the farmers would dig up peat – tarf – form it into the shape of bricks and dry it during the summer. Since the price of peat was cheaper than that of wood, it would be used as fuel primarily by the poor.) At that time, father would again go out accompanied by several members of the community in order to collect donations to provide fuel. The role of the Stawiski natives in America was large for both of those campaigns.

        When I met Mr. Yaakov Elfenbaum, the secretary of the “Organization of Stawiski Émigrés in New York” who worked with dedication on behalf of the needy of our town, he showed me the accounting that father had sent to him for the Maos Chitin and fuel campaigns, along with a list of people to whom the money was distributed.

        Over and above the constant yoke of supporting the poor, the burden of loans to small-scale storekeepers and artisans, who often required assistance from the charitable fund, also fell upon the shoulders of father. Since there were few guarantors, out of fear that they would need to pay the loans of the borrowers, the borrowers would often turn to the rabbi of the city, who never refused to sign himself as a guarantor for the Jew. Indeed, on more than one occasion he paid a lender out of his own pocket for such overdue loans.

        During the course of the years, there was only one physician in Stawiski. He was a Pole, who like the majority of his fellow Poles, did not have special affection towards Jews. In addition, he was not greatly expert in his field. It came to the point that, during a meeting of the householders of the town, they decided to bring a Jewish doctor to town. A committee was set, up, chaired by the rabbi, in order to bring a physician from Warsaw. As was intended, all of the Jewish ill moved over to the new doctor. One night, after midnight, a sound of tumult was heard from the house of the rabbi. Large rocks were thrown intentionally into the bedroom in order to injure the residents of the house. Only through a miracle was nobody hurt. We knew that the hand of the Polish doctor was involved in this incident, that he hired some hooligans to break to windowpanes of the rabbi's house. The police came the next day “conducted an inquiry” and recorded notes. Even though the police informed them that they suspect that the hand of the Polish doctor was involved in this matter, no investigation took place against him.

        Anti-Semitic activities increased in Poland during the 1930s, and the atmosphere was drenched with hatred toward Jews. News reached the Jews that on the next market day, when all of the farmers gather in town, they were preparing to destroy Jewish businesses and homes.

        Father traveled to the regional leader in Lomza, brought the matter up with him, and requested that he send police reinforcements for the day that was set for the troubles. He not only requested, but he also reminded him of his duty to concern himself with the welfare of all of the residents of the region, including the Jews. Indeed, the regional leader sent reinforcements for the local police, who stood at the entrances to the town on the market day. The appearance of the police dampened the enthusiasm of the farmers to become rich from the wealth of the Jews, and the market day passed in peace.

        Father's judgements were famous not only in the city that he served, but also throughout the entire region. Even when the litigants were not satisfied with the judgement, they accepted it in good spirit, for everyone knew that the rabbi does not play favorites, and that his judgement is a judgement of truth. Not only the Jews came to be judged before him, but even a Pole who had a dispute with a Jew would often say: let us go to the “rabbin”, and whatever he says will be. On occasion, people from other towns would turn to father and request that he join together with other rabbis in judgment in complex cases.

        Father greeted everyone pleasantly. When a troubled person would come to ask advice of father or to pour out the bitterness of his heart before him, he would leave the house of the rabbi encouraged and in good spirits.

        A teacher in a Yeshiva in France, whom I met in New York, once had a conversation with me about a meeting with my father of blessed memory. When he heard that I was the son of Rabbi Wasserman of Stawiski, he related the following story to me: “My parents lived in a town near Stawiski. I was fourteen years old and studied in Yeshiva. I had relatives in Stawiski, and I went to visit them. In the morning, I went to the Beis Midrash to pray. I did not know anyone, and I stood behind the bimah (synagogue lectern). I did not have the courage to approach the rabbi after the prayers. As I was about to leave the Beis Midrash, the rabbi approached me, and, with a smile on his face, extended his hand to greet me, and asked me my name. He seated me next to himself and chatted with me in a friendly manner for quite a while. I will never forget that pleasant encounter.” Father used to particularly enjoy the companionship of Yeshiva students. I once had the opportunity to spend seven days in Grodno with him. Father spent all of his free time at the Yeshiva of the Gaon Rabbi Shimon Shkop of holy blessed memory, engaged in Talmudic and legal discussion with the students, and felt himself as one of them.

        The Second World War broke out. The Germans invaded Poland, and whoever could, fled. The enemy airplanes flew over the heads of those who were fleeing and bombarded them. My family was among those that fled. We traveled in a wagon. An eyewitness related to me: Every time that an enemy airplane would fly overhead, the travelers would bend over in panic, and only my father would sit in his place calmly. He said: “Every bullet has an address, and it will never hit a place that was not preordained”. This adage of the Saba of Novaradok was actualized by my father during his life.

        When Poland was partitioned between the Germans and the Russians, and the Soviets entered Stawiski, my father returned with his family to the city. At first, the Soviets did not become involved with the religious life of the Jews. The rabbi remained at his post. They did confiscate his home, but they granted him permission to rent another, smaller dwelling. However, they imposed heavy taxes upon him, and it was only with great difficulty that he was able to provide a meager amount of bread for his family. Father continued to teach his class in Talmud at the Beis Midrash. A few months passed, and the route to Vilna opened up. Masses of people streamed to Vilna, including many of the rabbis of the region, since they knew what awaited them under Soviet rule. Rabbi Szeckes of blessed memory told me that he asked father to leave Stawiski and move to Vilna. However, father refused, saying: Particularly in a small town everyone needs a rabbi, and how can I abandon them at such a time of tribulation? He sent my younger, fourteen-year-old brother to Vilna. Only my sister remained. She did not wish to leave mother and father alone. The situation worsened. A rumor spread that they were about to deport the rabbi and his family to Siberia. The route to Vilna was already closed off, and father continued along as always. The Soviets began to show their true colors, and people began to keep away from the Beis Midrash. In the last letters that I received from him prior to the Soviet invasion of Russia, he wrote: “It is very good with us, we stand in line and receive bread, stand in line and receive a glass of milk, and we only have to rely upon our Father in Heaven.”

        One of the Stawiski survivors who was saved, Mr. Kiwajko, told me that even after the Nazi invasion of Stawiski, father continued to go to the Beis Midrash, where he sat alone all day studying from a book. One night, the Nazis closed the Beis Midrash from the outside, set it on fire, and did not allow the Jews to rescue father or the Torah scrolls. One hunchback (I remember that he came for judgements with Jews to my father of blessed memory) endangered his life, and removed father from a back window as the Beis Midrash was becoming engulfed in flames. He then shaved father's beard, dressed him up in gentile clothes, and brought him to Lomza. Father lived his final months in the Lomza ghetto after the destruction of Stawiski. In the Lomza ghetto, he comforted and encouraged the poor Jews, and was their leader until the final hour, when the Jews of Lomza, with father among them, were taken out to be slaughtered on the 26th of Tevet. May G-d avenge his blood.


{114}

The Gaon Rabbi Chizkiahu Yosef Myszkowski of holy blessed memory

by A. Y. G.

Translated by Jerrold Landau

        Rabbi Chizkiahu Yosef Myszkowski of holy blessed memory, “the rabbi from Krynki” was a multi-faceted personality, great in Torah and wisdom, with wide horizons, full of kindness, a pleasant man, of great activity and great insight – and more than anything he was the valorous man of salvation during the years that we witnessed evil, the years of the Holocaust and thereafter, through which he earned his place in the eternal world and inherited an eternal name for himself.

{Photo page 114: Uncaptioned. Rabbi Myszkowski.}

        He became renown in a positive sense during the interwar years in Poland. He had an honorable position among the rabbis of the country, and he served as the vice-chairman of the “Rabbinic Council”, to which belonged the lions of Torah and the finest scholars, exemplary in character and action. He put a great deal of effort into supporting traditional education, as well as into the struggle against the ban of shechita (ritual slaughter) in Poland. From the home of his holy father Rabbi Chaim Leib of Stawiski and from the house of his father-in-law, the Gaon of Torah and Mussar (fine character) Rabbi Yitzchak Blazer – he went out armed with a sensitive internal spirit and the traits of grace and kindness, to serve in the rabbinate and in public service in the finest tradition of the shepherds of the Jewish people from generations past.

        “Everyone who saves one Jewish soul is as if he sustains the entire world” [32] – and how many Jewish souls did Rabbi M. save, and how many worlds did he sustain during the Holocaust and after it! The height of his activity and personal greatness came during the days of anger and tempest. Rabbi M. was one of the sublime people who concerned himself with saving people at any price and under all conditions. The tidings of Job from the vale of murder encouraged him in his rescue work – and he answered the call with all the warmth of his heart and of his aching and flaming soul. He became like an active institution in his rescue efforts. He established a committee for refugees in Russia and breathed a life spirit into the “Rescue Committee”. He became the address for the Jewish people for matters of public salvation. He did not rest and was not silent – as he said: “It is forbidden to be lazy in matters of rescue, for at every moment, the issue of saving a Jewish soul is at stake.” Due to his great dedication to the matter, he did not desist from his work for even one hour, and did not delegate the technicalities to anyone else. He even wrote with his own hand the hundreds of addresses to send packages to the refugees of the sword and captivity.

        The writer of these lines was an eyewitness to the fact. It was an hour well past midnight, and Rabbi Ch. Y. Myszkowski was leaning over pages of addresses – that included thousands of names of rabbis, scholars, and public officials – written in his own handwriting. With indescribable haste, he wrote out the hundreds of addresses – in order to provide food and provisions and greetings to those in the depths of Siberia. Due to his haste, the pen dropped from his hand several times. He put his hand near his weak, broken heart and a heavy sigh issued from his throat. However, he only stopped the work for a tiny moment, and then he immediately continued with even greater haste and strength. This situation was repeated, not for one day or two days – but for many long months without a break.

        When the flood of blood in Europe ceased, Rabbi Myszkowski went to his brothers in the camp to see their suffering and comfort them. He hastened to their aid, organized rescue and aid activities, helped the survivors in the camps, and went to America to awaken hearts. He labored and toiled to save in particular the young children from the strangers, and return them to the midst of the Jewish people. With trembling from the depths of his soul, he asked his oldest daughter to leave her family and her children, and to make haste to assist him in taking care of the young children who were being saved from the claws of apostasy. He said to her: “There in your home, you are the mother to your children alone. Here, you will be the mother of many children who through the fury of the oppressor have been deprived of the bosom of a loving mother and the hand of a caressing father. What is preferable?”

        From the blood and tear drenched annals of the darkest period of Jewish history, the name of Rabbi Chizkiahu Yosef Myszkowski will shine out as one of the giants of rescue in the generation, and his memory will not be lost from us.
From Hatzofeh, 6th Tishrei 5527 – September 20, 1966 [33], at the conclusion of twenty years from the passing of the Gaon Rabbi Chizkiahu Yosef Myszkowski, of holy blessed memory.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Literally, “The Splendor of Binyamin”.Return
  2. Kodshim is the fifth of the six tractates of the Mishnah. Its literal meaning is “Holy Things”. It deals with laws of the Temple and sacrifices. It also includes sections on the laws of kashruth. Return
  3. There are two editions of the Talmud. The Babylonian Talmud is about 200 years later than the Jerusalem Talmud, and is considered more authoritative. It is the version commonly in use today. However, the Jerusalem Talmud covers more tractates (particularly those dealing with agricultural laws of Israel) not dealt with by the Babylonian Talmud. Midrash and Aggadah are works of legends and homiletics from the Mishnaic period. Halacha (literally “the path”) refers to the corpus of Jewish law. Responsa literature is written answers to questions that are posed to a specific rabbi. Many great rabbis wrote down their questions and answers, and this forms the body of responsa literature. Novellae (referred to in the subsequent paragraph – known as 'chidushim' in Hebrew) refers to innovative works and applications of Talmud, Jewish law, etc. Return
  4. An anthology of the Aggadaic sections of the Talmud.Return
  5. Volozhin was one of the most famous Lithuanian Yeshivas of the time.Return
  6. I could not definitively identify a town with this name. Using JewishGen's ShtetlSeeker with Daitch-Mokotoff matching, Baltkarcai in Lithuania is the closest match. Using the Daitch-Mokotoff matching on JGFF, an entry for Baltermansk can be found.Return
  7. A Kolel is a post-graduate rabbinical school for advanced Talmudic study. Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan refers to Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spector of Kovno (incidentally, the rabbinical school of Yeshiva University in New York is also named after him – the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary).Return
  8. Although the Torah permits taking an oath under certain circumstances, it is considered virtuous to avoid such, due to the risk of taking the name of G-d in vain.Return
  9. The tefillin are the phylacteries warn by Jewish men each weekday during the morning prayers. There are two types of tefillin, which vary slightly in structural detail. Most people use on the Rashi tefillin. However, especially pious people have the custom of putting on the Rabbeinu Tam tefillin in addition for a brief period toward the conclusion of the prayer service. By doing so at home, the rabbi was fulfilling the stringency in law by putting on both pairs, but not making a public show of his piety by doing it in public.Return
  10. Mechilta, Sifra and Sifre are Halachic exegetical works on the Torah dating from the time of the Mishnah. The Mechilta is on Exodus, the Sifra is on Leviticus, and the Sifre is on Numbers and Deuteronomy.Return
  11. A suburb of Tel Aviv.Return
  12. The New Moon (Rosh Chodesh), is the minor festival observed at the beginning of each Jewish month. If the preceding month is 29 days, Rosh Chodesh is observed for one day, on the 1st of the next month. If the preceding month is 30 days, Rosh Chodesh is observed for two days, on the 30th of the preceding month and the 1st of the next month. Thus, the first day of Rosh Chodesh Iyar is the 30th day of Nissan, the preceding month.Return
  13. The Talmudic tractate of Shabbat deals with the laws of the Sabbath. The Talmudic tractate of Bava Kama is one of several tractates dealing with jurisprudence, torts, and monetary laws.Return
  14. The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (1838-1933), was recognized as perhaps the greatest rabbi of that generation. His works are used extensively in Yeshivas to this day. The name “Chofetz Chaim” literally means “He who desires life”, and is the title of his book on the laws of interpersonal relationships, for which he is particularly famous. His other famous work is called the Mishnah Berurah, a commentary on the section of the Code of Jewish Law dealing with issues relating to day to day life and the cycle of the year. Incidentally, in the story related below, where the Chofetz Chaim sent the rabbi to America on a fundraising mission, the Chofetz Chaim was already a nonagenarian.Return
  15. Isser Zalman is Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, another of the leading rabbis of that generation. The Yeshivas of Mir, Slobodka, Slutzk, and Radun are among the greatest Lithuanian style Yeshivas of the time.Return
  16. The Hebrew term here is the Saba of Slobodka. In Yiddish, he is often known as the Alter of Slobodka. The term means “the venerable old sage of Slobodka”.Return
  17. Abaye and Rabba are two Talmudic sages who often debated with each other. The meaning here is that the rabbi did not only involve himself with Talmudic study.Return
  18. A book of responsa. Degel Reuven is a biblical quote, based on the rabbi's name.Return
  19. A quote from the Mishnaic tractate Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers). Kac (Katz) is a name that is frequent among the priestly cast of Cohanim (Cohens) of the Jewish people. It is an acronym for Kohen Tzedek (righteous Cohen) Moses' brother Aaron was the first Cohen.Return
  20. Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski is another one of the leading rabbis of the pre-war period.Return
  21. At this point in the narrative, I am changing the spelling of his name from the Polish to the American version.Return
  22. I suspect that this is referring specifically to Kristalnacht.Return
  23. These are the traits that Moses' father-in-law Jethro described in a judge, when he recommended the appointment of judges to Moses in the desert in the book of Exodus.Return
  24. A term for Petach Tikva, one of the earliest areas of Jewish settlement (aside from the ancient cities) in the Land of Israel.Return
  25. “Chinuch Atzmai” (literally: independent education) is a network of independent religious schools in Israel, with a more intensive religious curriculum that the public religious Zionist school network “Mamlachti Dati” in Israel. Israel has two public school systems, a secular and religious Zionist network. Chinuch Atzmai is a third stream, not under direct supervision of the state.Return
  26. These are four areas of Jewish agricultural law that only apply in the Land of Israel. Orla is the prohibition of eating fruit of the first three years of a tree's life; leket is the law that mandates that one or two dropped sheaves from a harvest must be left for the poor (see the book of Ruth for a graphic illustration of leket); shichecha is the law that mandates that sheaves that were forgotten from the harvest be left for the poor; peah is the law that mandates that the corner of a field be left unharvested for the poor.Return
  27. The law of the “bound woman”, which prohibits a woman from remarrying without definitive proof of the death of a husband. This was a common issue in the years following the war, when people often had no definitive proof of the death of their spouse. Nowadays, it primarily refers to the issue of a woman who is “bound” in a marriage by a husband who refuses to grant a religious divorce (get).Return
  28. Haluski may be Glusk, Belarus (with the interchange of the G and H).Return
  29. Novaradok (officially Novogrudek, but known in traditional Jewish circles as Novaradok or Novharudok) is the home of one of the famous Lithuanian style Yeshivas. The Yeshiva of Novaradok stressed the lowliness of man, as opposed to the Yeshiva of Slobodka, which stressed the greatness of man. Like Slobodka, Novaradok had a 'Saba' or 'Alter' (see note 15). Both yeshivas followed along the path of the mussar (ethics) movement founded by Rabbi Yisrael of Salant.Return
  30. A reference to the Talmud of someone who satisfies themselves with very little food due to poverty.Return
  31. Literally “Money for wheat (i.e. for matzos)”. This is a term for charity collected for poor people prior to Passover in order to enable them to purchase the needs of the holiday.Return
  32. A quote from the Mishnaic tractate of Sanhedrin.Return
  33. The date given here is 20.5.66, which is obviously incorrect from the Hebrew date. The date corresponds to 20.9.66. I suspect it is a typographical error.Return

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