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[Page 191]

Chapter 9

Religious Leaders and Prominent Men
of the Torah in Bialystok

ח    H

Prominent Men of the Torah, Born in Bialystok

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Only a few among the prominent Bialystoker middle class men of the Torah were native to the place. The remaining settled in Bialystok for economic reasons or because of family necessity. Good, brilliant, small town young men would come as sons-in-law to the rich and pious Bialystok Jews and would esn kest [support given by a father to a daughter's husband so that he could study Torah] and, later, their wives, the skillful ones, would run businesses. Like our, local born, those brought from outside arrived and were educated as Torah scholars confirming the then favorable soil in our Bialystok for such young plants and cultivation.

More of them from the past century [19th] were well known. Those born in Bialystok were:

 

Reb Avraham Tzvi, son of the Rabbi Reb Yakov EIZENSZTAT

He is the author of Pithei Teshuvah [Open Doors to Repentance] and Nakhalat Tzvi [Tzvi's Inheritance] on the second part of the Shulkhan Arukh [codification of Jewish law], Khoyshen Mishpet [fourth part of the Shulkhan Arukh], and Even Ha'ezer [Stone of Help] and the order of religious divorce and Halitzah [ceremony by which a brother-in-law can be released from the obligation to marry his brother's widow]. These were the most prevalent books among scholars and rabbis. Today they are published as additions to the Arbe Shu”e [four parts of the Shulkhan Arukh]. His great grandfather on his father's side was the Ba'al Ponim Me'iros[1*] [Shining Countenance], Reb Meir EISENSTADT,[41] who was a grandson of the Gaon [genius or brilliant man] Meir Avi Hashen; he was also a grandson of the Gaon, the sharp-witted one, our teacher HERC, president of the rabbinical court in Zolkovi.

Reb Avraham Tzvi was born in Bialystok in 5572 (1812) to his father, Reb Yakov who was a great Bialystoker merchant and scholar. He married in Grodno and after the wedding had

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a large paper business in Bialystok that placed writing materials in every office. His wife, Jenta Rayzl, a great woman of valor, ran this business and he studied in Nekhe's son Yehiel's beis-medrash with Bigdei Yesha [Shmuel ben [son of] Josef haLevi of Bialystok – he is being referred to by the name of his book - Garments of Salvation] and with Reb Gershon KHEN-TOV. Reb Chaim Zelig SLOMINSKI, a grandson of Reb Yehiel Nekha's also studied there (the latter truly became a great mathematician, but he was not a great scholar). The author of the Pithei Teshuvah said of him that it could be seen that the wisdom of the Torah stands higher and is deeper for him than the worldly wisdom: one then sees that the same Chaim-Zelig, who is a lesser scholar, was a great mathematician. Reb Avraham-Tzvi intervened for Chaim-Zelig that approval be given by Reb Abele PASWELLER for his first mathematics book.)

When the Bialystoker administrative offices moved to Grodno in 5592 (1842), Bialystok [lost its status] as a gubernia city, Reb Avraham Tzvi EIZENSZTAT's paper business failed; he became dayan [religious judge] in Grodno. In 5590 [1840], in Vilna, he published his Pithei Teshuvah on Yoreh Deah [part of the Shulkhan Arukh dealing with Kashrus]. After this, when he had been the dayan in Grodno for several years, he became the rabbi in Brestowic, a small shtetl near Bialytsok and in 5616 [1855] the rabbi in Utiyan [Utena, Lithuania], where he took a salary of 3 rubles a week. When he became a great celebrity, Ponevezh [Panevezys, Lithuania] suggested a salary of 25 rubles a week. However, he refused because he did not want to disturb his study with employment in a large city. He was well known as a sage and a righteous man. He died on the 3 Elul 5625 [25 August 1865] in Koenigsberg, where he had come to be healed from an illness. He was only 53 years old.

His tombstone in Königsberg:

Here is buried

At a time of great mourning and bitter weeping,
The spirit of Torah knowledge and awe
Was taken away from us.
He loved charity and justice,
His understanding of “The Sea of the Talmud” was great.
Our master and teacher the great Rabbi, famous, sharp and erudite,
He delved into the storming waters and wrote his books,
Honored be the name of his Torah knowledge, our teacher Reb Avraham Tzvi, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, head of the Holy Community of Utena, author of the book Pithei Teshuvah.
Was taken to his ancestors with a good name, Friday the Eve of the Holy Shabbat 3 Elul [25 August] and was buried Sunday 5 Elul 5625 [27 August 1865].
May his soul be bound in the bond of the living.

Sheyna-Mashais, his oldest daughter, born in Bialystok, the wife of the Aszmener Rabbi, the Rabbi Meir-Mikhal, was a great scholar, knew the entire Tanakh, Midrashim, Ein Yakov and languages, German, Russian, Polish and French, in addition to Hebrew. Her son from her first husband was Leon Rabinowicz (Aish Yehuda [Man of Judah]) the former editor of HaMelitz.[42]

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Reb Shmuel SALANT

The Jerusalem Gaon and world renowned community worker was born near Bialystok in the year 5576 [1816] and died in Jerusalem in the year 5664 [1904]. He was a student of Reb Abele POSVELER in Vilna. He settled in Jerusalem in the year 5601 [1841]. Traveling to Jerusalem, in Constantinople he became acquainted with Moshe MONTEFIORE, who was there in an endeavor concerning the Damascus blood libel. From that time on, all of MONTEFIORE's activities in Eretz-Yisroel were concentrated in his hands.

He was a man with boiling energy, with a strong willpower and with great abilities. Arriving in Eretz-Yisroel, he energetically organized the divisions and he stood at the head of all of the Jerusalem institutions. In 1848-1851, Reb Shmuel SALANT[43] visited the Jewish communities in Lithuania and Poland and reorganized the Vilna community. In 1850, he visited Germany, Holland and England to create order and to improve the sending of money that went to Eretz-Yisroel for the institutions there.

In 1878 Reb Shmuel SALANT became the chief rabbi of all Azkenazim in Jerusalem and chairman of the Council of the Kehile [organized religious community], which was the central committee of the division in Eretz-Yisroel. Although he was a Talmudic Gaon, he was completely devoted to community work. Thanks to his extraordinary love of work, iron energy and tolerance, he was able to bring unity in Jerusalem which was divided into separate communities, sects and languages. He won the hearts of everyone and had support from all of the kehilus [plural of kehile], the Askenazi as well as the Sephardic. He was the greatest authority in Eretz-Yisroel. He succeeded in reducing the disputes that were provoked against the later arriving greater Talmudic authorities, such as Reb Yehoshua Leib DISKIN and Reb Shneur-Zalman SCHNEERSON from Lublin. Even when he became blind in 1893, he did not stop being the

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administrator of all matters in Eretz-Yisroel. Only at his request, Reb Eliyahu Dovid TEONIM RABINOWICZ of Panevecz was chosen as his aide.

He left manuscripts of texts and a large archive. A special committee was chosen to edit the bequest.[44]

 

Reb Shabsil WALACH

Reb Shabsil was a son of Reb Yakov WALACH. In his youth he studied in Nekhe's son Yehiel's beis-medrash. He married in Rozshinoi [Ruzhany, Belarus] where he lived all his years; when Rebbe Mordekhai-Gimpl YAFA went to Eretz-Yisroel he took over the rabbinate in his place because he was then a Talmudic genius. He remained there until the day of his death. He left many manuscripts.>

 

Rebbe Naftali-HERC haLevi [the Levite]

Reb Naftali-HERC was a son of Reb Leib WAJDENBAUM, or as he was called here, Reb Leib WAJNSZENKER [wine saloonkeeper], a great scholar and preacher in Bialystok. Rebbe Naftali-HERC taught here in BULKOWSZTAJN's beis-medrash with the Talmud Society. He was a Torah genius, in Nigle and Nister,[3*] and also a righteous person and a modest person. He departed for Eretz-Yisroel because of his illness.

After his arrival there, he was chosen by Reb Shmuel SALANT and the Jerusalem Vaad haKehile [Jewish communal council] as rabbi of Jaffa and by the administrator for Baron Rothschild as supervisor of all religious matters in the colonies. He was a great authority and very popular with all parties, religious and secular; they all recognized him as a Jew, a righteous man, a man of integrity and a soyne boste [person who does not chase after money or accept illegal gains].[45] In 5655 [1894], he published the Siddur [prayer book] of HaGra [acronym for the Vilna Gaon] in Nigle and Nister with his two commentaries, Sha'ar Naftali [Naftali's Gate] to the book, Maase Rav [A Great Deed]. He also published the footnotes to Fires of Eliyahu of the Vilna Gaon on Seder Moed [Order of Festivals]. He also organized and proofread the book Rays of Light, the commentary on the Zohar of Aleksander ZISKIND.

He was born in Bialystok in 5611 [1851] and died in Yaffa in 5662 [1902].

[Page 195]

The Rabbi, Rebbe Tzvi-Hirsh

The Rabbi, Rebbe Tzvi-Hirsh was also a Bialystoker. He was Reb Sholem BEKER's son. He was the rabbi of Kopczewe, Sokolke, Amczislew. He is the author of Binyan Shalom [House of Peace], Vilna, 5652 [1892]. The book is considered an important scholarly book. He is also the author of Tosfos Shabbos [Shabbat Supplement], Warsaw, 5646 [1885].

 

The Rabbi, Reb Nakhman ben Morenu haRav vaRabenu [son of our teacher, the great leader and our rabbi], Yakob Moshe GOLDBERG

Reb Nakhman was a son-in-law of Reb Benyamin-Wolf EIGER, Reb Akiva EIGER's son. He is remembered in Responsa of Reb Akiva paragraph 220.
Reb Nakhman was born in Bialystok in 5575 [1814]. He was a bookseller (in 5623 [1862], his bookstore was in Berlin, Neue Friedrichstrasse, no. 57). He was also a well known printer-publisher of the Berlin Talmud (Julius Zitenfeld Printing Press). In the year 5624 [1863] he published the Yad HaHazaka [Codex of the Law] of Rambam, in 5622 [1861]– Yoreh Deah, two parts, Königberg, 5619 [1858], and also Mishnyaus em Tosfot [Talmudic commentaries] of Reb Akiva EIGER, Berlin, 5621 [1860].
Reb Yitzhak ELCHANAN writes about him there in Mishnayus, Seder Kodashim [Fifth Order of the Mishnah]: The Rabbi, the Great Luminary, Sharp and Erudite. He was one of the distinguished members of the Orthodox community in Berlin.

 

Rebbe Mordekhai MENKES

Reb Mordekhai MENKES was the author of the book Maymer Mordekhai [Mordekhai's Essays] on [the tractates of the Mishnah] Pesachim, Betza, Megilla, Bava Kama, Bava Metzi'a, Shavu'ot, Chulin, logical tools used in the Talmud study (Zhitomir, 5660 [1899]). He was a Bialystoker. He was a son of Reb Ayreh-Leib MENKES, a descendant of the great scholar, the Kabbalist, our master and teacher Rev Tzvi Hirsch, head of the religious court and head of the yeshiva in Siedlce. Signed in the conclusion of the logical tools – 5673 [1912] – here in Bialystok.

 

The Rabbi Reb Dober MENKES

Reb Dober is a son of Reb Mordekhai MENKES and was also born in Bialystok. Earlier he was the rabbi in Sokolke and after that in Zhitomir [Zhytomy, Ukraine]. He was the author of Responsa, Anaf Etz Avot [A Branch of the Tree of the Fathers], also of a four part Shulkhan Arukh, published in Zhitomir, 5660 [1899].

He relates that Reb Welwle, the author of the book Mar'or HaTzevaot [The Sight of the Heavenly Hosts], was his sandek [man holding the baby during circumcision] (Ditto, part 1, question 70, end p. 2). He says about his lineage (Ditto, end paragraph 3): From me, the ignorant, the one who does not know much, the son of the righteous rabbi, my master and teacher Mordekhai, of blessed memory, author of the book Ma'amar Mordekhai [The Words of Mordekhai] on the Talmud and Poskim [Jewish law adjudicators]. A descendant of the great scholar, a true example for his generation, our master and teacher Tzvi Hirsh, of blessed memory, head of the Jewish religious court and head of the yeshiva in the holy community of Siedlice in Poland. He also says about himself

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(omission in part 1, question 8, p. 4); “But in my childhood I was rabbi in Socola, when Poland was among the conspirators,” …but later, he was the rabbi in Zhitomir. He signed his name (Ditto, part 1, question 70, p. 1): “Dober, son of the rabbi, our master and teacher Mordekhai, of blessed memory, head of the religious court in the holy community Zhitomir.” In Zhitomir he published his book in 5660 [1899] and also his father's book. The Telcer Rabbi wrote to him 12 Sivan [24 May] (5656 [1896]): To my friend, the rabbi, the erudite scholar of the Torah, our master and teacher Dober [Dov Ber] MENKES, head of the court of the holy community Zhitomir, may God protect him (Omissions, question 5). Although in Volynhia, the Hasidim did not have rabbis, chairmen of the rabbinical courts, he was, it appears from his book, a rabbi, chairman of the rabbinical court in a Lithuanian beis-medrash house of study and prayer].

MENKES is a widespread Bialystok family.

 

The Rabbi, the Tzadek [righteous man], Reb Naftali-HERC

Reb Naftali HERC was from Bialystok, the son of Reb Memi, the son of Rebbe Hercele, who was a son-in-law of Reb Meit Elihu ZILBERBLAT. He settled in Panevezys. He was the author of the book Noam haMitzvot [The Pleasantness of Mitzvot] on the 613 mitzvot [commandments] in Genesis, Exodus (Piotrkow, 5661 [1900]), Leviticus ((Ditto (Piotrkow), 5667 [1906]), Numbers, Deuteronomy (Ditto, 5671) and Part 5 (Ditto, 5672 [1911]), with the book on Likutim Yekarim [A Precious Collection] on The Five Books of Moses.

 

Reb Mordekhai bar Tzvi-Hirsh GIRPIL

Reb Mordekhai was born in Bialystok, a son-in-law of the Rabbi, Reb Elihu Tzvi haLevi HURWICZ, rabbi and chairman of the religious court in Jalowka. He was the head of the yeshiva here, teacher of the 12th class in the Talmud-Torah [school for poor boys]. After this he left to be with his children in America and died there. He was the author of a book Yegi'at Mordekhai [Mordekhai's Toil], Piotrkow, 5664 [1903], and three sections of original thoughts on Talmud.

 

The Rabbi Reb Aryeh-Leib ROGOZNICKI

Reb Aryeh-Leib is now the rabbi and head of the religious court in Glubok. He is considered among the giants of Torah and a righteous man. His children are also ordained rabbis and rabbis. He was born in Bialystok.

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Reb Mordekhai-Dovid bar Yitzhak AIDELBERG

Reb Mordekhai-Dovid was the son of Reb Itsele Shamas [official who takes care of day-to-day synagogue affairs] of Liba Ruchl's beis-medrash. He is today the Plocker Rabbi. He authored a book, Shut Chazon LaMoed [Responsa - A Vision for the Time], Bialystok 5683 [1923].

 

Rebbe Borukh FREYDENBERG

Reb Borukh is descended from a fine Bialystok merchant family. He, himself, was a Moscow merchant for all of his life. He was not a Torato Omanuto [Torah study was not his main occupation], but he was considered one of the greatest scholars in Bialystok. Always in Moscow, he would recite a lesson of gemara at the Talmud Society. They wanted to take him as a rabbi in Moscow, but he did not consent to becoming one. In his youth, he was a maskil [follower of the Enlightenment]; here in Bialystok he was one of the first Hovevei Tzion [Lovers of Zion] and a social worker in Hibat Tzion [alternate name of Lovers of Zion]. He died in Jerusalem.

 

The Rabbi, Our Master and Teacher, Josef, son of the Rabbi, our Master and Teacher, Avraham

Reb Josef was born in Bialystok. He was the author of the book, Patshegen Hashir [A Commentary on the Song] on the Song of Songs. He was the son-in-law of the gaon Avraham Meir haLevi EPSZTAJN, head of the religious court of Nowy Gusz, who was the son of the author of the book Hapardes [The Orchard ].

 

Reb Yohanan bar Yohanan EIZENBERG

Reb Yohanan was born in Bialystok, a former merchant. He was the author of the book, Yahnenu [He Shall Guide Us], a commentary on three Targunim [Aramaic translations of the Torah], Targum Onkeles, Targum Yohanan and Targum Yerusalemi on the Torah (published in Warsaw, 5660, 5661, 5662 [1899, 1900, 1901]. He left for America and died there.

 

The Rabbi, Doctor, Reb Chaim HELLER

Reb Chaim HELLER is the son of the Pinsk prodigy, the well known Rabbi, Reb Yisroel HELLER. He was born in Bialystok, 5638 [1877], was the rabbi in Lomza, 5670 [1909]. He founded a beis-medrash, High Rabbincal School in Berlin, 5682 [1925] (a rabbinical seminar for Russian-Polish rabbis). He published the book in the new style and with explanations Sefer haMitzvot [The Book of the Commandments] of Rambam (5674 [1913]), authored Lehikrei Halachot [A Study of the Laws] on the third part of the Shulkhan Arukh part one (5682 [1921]), part two (5688 [1927]); Pri Chaim [Chaim's Fruit] on Hoshen Mishpat [one of the four sections of a compilation of Jewish law], a booklet on the book, Zera Chaim [The Seed of Life] (Piotrkow, 5667 [1906]); the Samaritan version of the Torah translated from the Masoretic [traditional] version (Berlin, 5684 [1923); publication

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of the Peshitta [Aramaic version of the Torah] in Hebrew with annotations, 5678 [1918]), inquiries about the Peshitta, part 1, Berlin, 1911 (This is his doctoral dissertation). He had scientific works in German about Biblical translations in Syrian and the Septuaginta.[4*] He came out strongly against Biblical criticism.


Footnotes

  1. On his mother's side, he was a grandson of the Rabbi, the Hasid Reb Naftali HERC, a Bialystoker. As is said, the latter was a Torah giant (The author of the Pithei Teshuvah mentions him in the prologue of one of his books, that he made use of innovations in the margins of Yoreh Deah of his grandfather.) It is said that the Reb Naftali HERC's father had eight daughters and took eight sons-in-law, nice young men. He would say as the haMotzah [blessing on bread], “I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Het.”[2*] They were known in the city as “the sisters.” All were respected women. Among them were: Hendl the Rebbetzin, the wife of the Eishyshok Rabbi, Rebbe Zindl; Mariashe, the mother of Rebbe Leib WEINSHENKER, and Shosha, the owner of a wine tavern, the mother-in-law of the Rabbi, Reb Mordekhai SZAC, the Sislevitz Rabbi. Return
  2. See: Khiekl LUNSKI, Gaonim and Prominent Men from the Recent Past, Vilna, 5691; Leon Rabinowicz, Bialystoker Lamdnte [female scholar], Jubilee Issue of Neye Lebn [New Life], Bialystok, 1929, page 22. Return
  3. At that time, he visited our city, Bialystok. Reb NISNBAUM in his Alei Cheldi [About My World] relates (p. 231) that in 5611 (1850) he visited Bialystok. It is probably an error. I only wonder why in speaking to me he did not tell me that he was born near Bialystok. It is also written on the photographs that his family took of him in Jerusalem, when he was already blind. He also has relatives here. Return
  4. See: N. Sakalaw, Yizkor Book, pp. 181-184; also in the Russian-Jewish Encyclopedia and in my Eretz-Yisroel travel writing, BaEretz ha-Mizrakh [Of the Eastern Land], pp. 372, 397. Return
  5. BaEretz ha-Mizrakh, pp. 176-118. Return


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Ba'al is translated as owner, master or possessor. It often appears before the name of a book title and in that case means “the author of.” It is not unusual for the author of a well known book to be referred to by the name of the book, as in this case. Return
  2. The numerical value of the Hebrew letter, Het, is eight. He is using a pun to indicate that it is not easy having eight daughters for whom he had to find good husbands. Return
  3. Nigle is the doctrine of that which is manifest; nister is that which is concealed. Return
  4. Septuaginta derives its name from the Latin word for 70. There is an account that Ptolemy II, the Greek king of Egypt, asked 72 Jewish scholars to translate the Torah into Greek. Each was placed in a separate room and each produced the same translation. Return

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