The rabbi sits in the house of the rabbinical court, flicking through the pages of a book but he can't concentrate on the issue at hand. Several times he takes it in his hands, but each time his ideas become jumbled.
The book Be'er Yitzchak was written by a friend from his youth Dear friend he calls him in his letters. His father's sharp mind had inspired both of them they had sharpened their minds on the same book by the Maharam Rabbi Menachem Schiff.
Today his friend Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan sits on the rabbinical chair of Kovno (Kaunus) where he himself had previously sat. But the other was not just the rabbi of Kovno, but also the head rabbi of he Diaspora and his name rings far and wide. From all the corners of the land they come to him for his judgements, the Greats of Volozhyn and Mir. His word is also accepted by royalty, and his book is world famous .He is a great facilitator; he finds a solution to every problem. He lightens the fast of Tisha Be Av and allows the use of chickpeas for Passover in a famine year.
But Joshua Leib is a strict judge and will not move a hair's breadth from the letter of the law. Would he have not allowed Passover to be in the month of Av? For whom did he suffer? Not for honor or greatness, but for justice. For the poor and underprivileged.
A wealthy and insolent man obtained the rights to collect the meat tax. As a result, the paupers could not afford to even buy a piece of offal. The rabbi called his gabbehs (synagogue deacons) and ordered them to throw out this vulgar person. But the Governor threw out the rabbi within 48 hours, not the guilty party. That's how Joshua Leib lost the rabbinical chair of Kovno and wandered in the diaspora until he was appointed to Shklov. From Shklov he came to Brest. Was he guilty of occupying his friend's seat? God forbid!! If Yitzchak Elchanan did occupy the rabbi's seat, he would have ruled over the world as a rabbinic authority. He had earned his good name, although Joshua Leib did not fall behind him in his Torah knowledge and sharpness
One would have to look through the book; it is not enough just to ask the question. Once again he looks through the pages and immerses himself in the contents but as many times he looks at Be'er Yitzchak his ideas continually become muddled
Rabbi Joshua Leib Diskin was born in Grodno in 1817. His father, Rabbi Benjamin was a Great in Torah and was the Rabbi of Grodno, then Wolkowitz, and later Lomza. Joshua Leib already was known as a prodigy in his youth he was knowledgeable in both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, in the rabbinical laws, both ancient and later.
Aged 25, he inherited the rabbinical chair from his father in Lomza. But as he was a fanatical, uncompromising and very pedantic person never trying to win favor with his congregants he therefore could not remain in the rabbi's seat for long
It happened that Joshua Leib suspected one of his congregants, a very wealthy man, of desecrating the Sabbath, for which he openly and publicly castigated him. The wealthy person was extremely offended. The community leaders and the other rich people of the town witnessed this and banded together in defense of their fellow townsman and ousted the rabbi from their town. From there he became the rabbi of Mezrich, and after Mezrich there he came to the large Lithuanian city of Kovno (Kaunus) with much honor. This was a city where even the simple folk had great Torah scholars amongst them.
A stormy dispute broke concerning the one who collected the meat tax the rabbi was unhappy with his greedy practices. But he himself was banished by the authorities from the city. He then became the rabbi of Shklov and after that rabbi of Brest.
After his first wife passed away, he married Sarah Hotner, a divorcee who brought with her a dowry of 40,000 rubles. This woman became the famous Brisker Rebbetzen. She was a very capable and educated woman and she spoke many languages. However, like her husband, she was very uncompromising and confrontationist. She was his greatest supporter, faithfully assisting him in all his community work. The Brisker Rebbetzen became famous in Lithuania and abroad; and was the subject of many articles in the Jewish press of many countries.
After the Rabbi and his wife went to the Holy Land and settled in Jerusalem, they began battling with the inhabitants of the new settlements. It was said of his wife that she ruled all the community affairs that she was very knowledgeable and learned and that she also wore a small prayer vest (Tallit katan).
To recite another incident in Brest it happened that a young couple came to Rabbi Diskin and asked for a divorce. The husband agreed to grant his wife a divorce on the condition that she grant him a large sum of money, to be deposited with the rabbi. This was done. After the divorce was granted, the Rebbetzen took matters into her own hands and saw to it that the agreement was nullified, and quietly returned the money to the wife. Her irate ex-husband refused to forego this payment and took the rabbi to a civil court claiming a breach of trust. The rabbi was found guilty and about to be sentenced to Siberian exile, but the Brest community saved him, and the rabbi and his wife hastily left for Israel.
From the time of his arrival, his name was amongst the signatories that demanded excommunication for the educated secular intellectuals and the atheist unbelievers. He was against modern education and the rebuilding of Israel by establishing new Jewish settlements. However, he considered the act of settling in Israel as holy. In 1881 he agreed to be the Jerusalem representative of the Society of the Founders of the Settlement, which founded to build Petach Tikva. He also gave this society his support by sending emissaries to various countries in the Diaspora to collect monies for this cause.
He founded the large Orphanage home in Jerusalem, where unfortunate and abandoned children could learn both Torah and a trade. He was the director of this institution until his death.
He left behind many manuscripts with revisions of the laws and illustrated examples, which were preserved in the library of the orphanage - these revisions were called the Questions and Answers of Rabbi J.L. Diskin (Jerusalem 1911). Also published after his death was the book Yalkut Amarim (Satchel of Sayings) which was a collection of commentaries on the Torah.
He died in Jerusalem on the 29th Tevet 1898.
Although she had very strong opinions, she was very knowledgeable in the laws of what was forbidden and what was permitted she would even at times give her opinion in front of her husband the rabbi. And it would happen that she sometimes disagreed with her husband's rulings. Joshua Lieb's method was to try and make things easier for people the Rebbetzen was far stricter.
Once, on the eve of Passover, a Jew came and asked a question - a kernel of corn had fallen into the soup . Rabbi Diskin considered and decided that the soup remained kosher for Passover. When his wife the rebbetzen heard this, she jumped into the conversation and said: Although I'm not allowed to give my opinion in front of my husband the rabbi, if we should follow Rabbi Diskin's verdict, then God forbid, the whole city would eat Chometz during Passover!
After the writing of the marriage contract, she said to her husband the groom Joshua Leib: Mazal Tov! Don't take your brides blessing lightly .
On the eve of Passover she would even scour the door handles, afraid that there was a residue of Chometz on them.
It was said that she was responsible for the majority of disputes and fights between the Neturei Carta and the leaders of the new Zionist settlements.
She passed away in Jerusalem in 1907, and was accorded much honor after her death. She once asked her husband: why did the sages create the blessing that is said every morning by males thanking God for not making me a woman? Is the shoemaker who can't learn the Torah or Gemarra better then me who is educated and learned? Or is it because I am I woman that I am inferior?
The rabbi replied: every man says this blessing, but only in regards to his own wife. The rabbi thanks God that he is not his wife the Rebbetzen! The shoemaker thanks God that he is not his wife .
One Passover eve, after the burning of all the Chometz, the rabbi said: I have already cleaned all the Chometz that is in my property, except this Chometz (pointing at his wife) which I can't get rid of .. You are wrong she answered her husband, this Chometz doesn't have to be cleaned out because my father already sold it long ago to a Gentile!
Rabbi Joseph Dov Ber (Yoshe Ber) was a relative of Rabbi Chaim Volozhyner. In his youth he studied in the Volozhyn yeshiva and became renowned as a prodigy for his outstanding and keen intellect. It was said of him that as a child he already knew entire tractates by heart. As he grew into adulthood, he became famous for his penetrating insight and incisive understanding of universal dilemmas. He was close to the common man and also strove for a close relationship with learned men. He became very eager to meet Rabbi Shlomo Kluger of Brody and to become close to him personally, feeling that he would benefit from his pure wisdom and great knowledge of the Torah. The long journey from Volozhyn to Brody at that time was however fraught with difficulties and risks, and also great expense. What did Rabbi Yoshe Ber the son of a pauper do?
He hired himself as a teacher to the son of a wagon driver, traveling with him until they reached a town near Brody. In that town he again hired himself as a teacher to a driver, thus he went from one wagon driver to the next until he reached Brody and was privileged to study there for a time with Rabbi Kluger. During the time that he worked for the wagon drivers as an assistant, he collected the experiences and stories that later reflected his astuteness and sharp observations of people the relationship between the uneducated and the learned scholars and rabbis. In reality, his wanderings were concerned with the miserable horses and their owners who walked them slowly, step by step, stopping at steep difficult hills. Rabbi Yoshe Ber witnessed the day-to-day existence of these poor folk he combined what he had witnessed with his great learning in his writings that later became an integral part of the treasure of our folk wisdom.
Upon the death of Rabbi Eliezer Yitzchak (the son in law of Rabbi Volozhyner) the head of the Volozhyn yeshiva, they searched for a replacement. There were differences of opinion whether it should be Rabbi Naphtali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin who was known as the Natziv, or Rabbi Yoshe Ber. For along time, the debate raged as to who of the two was better The Natziv, the quiet achiever, the Mt Sinai, or the mover of mountains? Finally they decided to go to a rabbinical court of four rabbis for a decision. The rabbis decided in favor of the Natziv.
Rabbi Yoshe Ber left Volozhyn and took the position of rabbi in Slutsk. However, not only was he great in Torah and the problems of the world, he was also resolute and unwavering in his opinions. He never sought favour with the synagogue officials and would make no exceptions for the wealthy. He punished the lawbreakers and confronted he hypocrites in his congregation. It was not long before a bitter dispute broke out within the congregation because of him and he had to resign his position as rabbi of Slutsk. For several years he earned no income - when the position of rabbi of Brest became vacant he humbly recommended that Rabbi J.L. Diskin was more suited to the position and personally intervened on his behalf to the Brest community.
When Rabbi Diskin was forced to leave Brest, only then did Rabbi Yoshe Ber occupy the rabbinical seat of Brest occupying this high office until his death in 1892. He left behind him a large volume called The House of Levi which contained much sophistry and writings about Jewish laws. He possessed a strong allegorical talent. His writings about the weekly Torah chapters were presented in an attractive style, containing clever reasoning and ethics. He included short stories with details intended to enlighten and uplift the soul. From these stories we can see that Rabbi Yoshe Ber was not only a genius instilled with the highest morals and ethics, he had listened and learnt from those select and talented scholars who had both understanding and emotions combined together with enthusiasm and alertness, learning with compassion. Because of these personality traits, Rabbi Joseph Dov Ber Soloveitchik occupied a very important position in the gallery of great rabbis of the world.
As well as the books he left us, and his famous name, he also left us his son, the famous Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, whose skill was as strong as his father's, if not greater.
Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik was born in the town of Volozhyn in1853. His father, Rabbi Joseph Ber was the Rosh (head) of the Volozhyn Yeshiva. Whilst still a child Chaim already excelled in his intelligence and sharp intellect. At the age of twenty he married the daughter of Rabbi Raphael Shapiro who was the Rosh Yeshiva at that time. In 1880 Chaim was appointed as head of the yeshiva his name was already famous as a genius and sage of the Torah. Over the next twelve years he taught thousands of students amongst whom were some of the greatest Torah scholars. In 1892 the Russian authorities closed down the Volozhyn Yeshiva, and Rabbi Chaim went to his father's home in Brest. In the same year his father passed away and Rabbi Chaim became the Rabbi of Brest.
After the expulsion of the Jews from their city in 1915, Rabbi Chaim arrived in Minsk and lived there until 1918. On his doctor's orders he settled in the town of Otwotsk, and on a Tuesday the 21st of Av, he passed away.
Rabbi Chaim's strength was not only in the Torah, but also in his quest for truth. With his sharp intellect, he would analyse every detail. He would delve into the sea of the Talmud and discover pearls. His teachings possessed the greatest power of clarity and giving understanding by explanation. He would say the inability to explain a matter shows in itself, that you don't understand it.
With his methods of analysis, Rabbi Chaim was able to explain clearly the commentaries of the Firsts the great sages of the Torah the Rambam (Maimonides), and the Ravid (Rabbi Avraham Ben David). His book: New Commentaries of Rabbi Chaim the Levi (Brest 1896) was published many times with additions and clarifications about the writings of the Rambam.
His great love of truth was expressed not only in his style of teaching but also in his personal behaviour. This brought him great respect and honor also from people who did not grasp his greatness in Torah. He was described by everyone as Man of Truth. His ideas, speeches and actions were completely intertwined with his honesty.
Rabbi Chaim would not seek favor with anyone, and would not concede his opinions, even if it meant displeasing someone influential. On the occasion of Professor Kwalson's 50th birthday, all the Jewish towns sent congratulatory telegrams; even some famous rabbis found it proper to congratulate him due to his defence of Beylis against the blood libel accusation, and his great influence with the ruling powers of that time. When the Brest officials came with the telegram to Rabbi Chaim and suggested that he also sign it he refused, saying: I don't send telegrams to converts.
On another occasion he refused to sign a petition to the Tsar that was sent by a rabbinical assembly saying: why should I send a petition to this cruel king? When there was no reaction and result to this petition, only then did the rabbis admit that Rabbi Chaim had been correct.
In matters of Torah and the public interest Rabbi Chaim was very conservative and a zealot who would not give in at all. He opposed the new methods of education and the new administration and resisted any changes or reforms. However, his opinion was accepted by all different sections of the community who followed and obeyed him. In 1905 there were waves of unrest and strikes in all the cities of Russia. The factory workers in Brest also petitioned their employers and went out on strike. The workers were keen for Rabbi Chaim to intervene on their behalf in this matter. Rabbi Chaim got involved and influenced the employers to concede to the workers demands.
Rabbi Chaim was an opponent of the Zionists, but without malice and did not fight them as aggressively as some others did. On the other hand, he did much to help the settlement in Eretz Israel in that time. Certain yeshivas and establishments in Jerusalem were under his supervision. He was a Mitnaged and the son of a Mitnaged, but very few attained the respect and were as treasured even by the Chassidic followers in Brest. Also the Chassidic rabbis respected him and valued his opinions. We cannot say that Rabbi Chaim ever recognized the Chassidic movement, but he never denied that it was a creative power in Judaism.
It was said that anyone who witnessed Rabbi Chaim's self sacrifice and compassion after the great fire of 1895, would never again see such utter compassion in their lives. After the fire, Rabbi Chaim would not sleep in his home, but went to the synagogue and slept on the floor there when his family tried to convince him to sleep in his own bed he said: I cannot sleep in my own bed, when so many others here have no roof over their heads.
Rabbi Chaim's home was a home to the Sages, to the talented students, learned men and others who passed through Brest. His doors were open to every pauper and everyone in need, to every troubled and embittered man. He did not possess riches and did not own any assets. No one hated corruption, extortion and dishonesty more than he did. He gave generously to the poor and the charities.
Two wealthy Brest Jews came to Rabbi Chaim and gave him an envelope containing bridal monies for a couple that he was to marry. At the same time, a beggar came to his door and asked for a donation Rabbi Chaim did not hesitate, took the envelope, and gave it to the pauper.
The funeral was most impressive the entire city was engulfed in deep sorrow when the death notices were pasted throughout the city saying: Today at 4.35 in the afternoon in the town of Otwotsk, a Great of our generation has passed away, the Rabbi of all the diaspora Jews, the Sage Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik (blessed be his memory), of Brest.
The Jews of Otwotsk would not allow the honor to be taken away from their community and would not allow the Warsaw community to remove Rabbi Chaim's body from their town. In the presence of all the rabbis a ruling was issued that the Jews of Otwotsk would perform the purification ceremony, but that he would be buried in Warsaw.
A large crowd - representatives of all the neighboring communities amongst them many Rabbis and Rebbes assembled in Otwotsk to participate in the funeral procession. Later in the evening, his coffin was brought in a special train to Warsaw. People streamed from all over the city to accompany the train. Hundreds of youths from various organizations (with the exception of the Bund), restrained the crowd. Amongst those who accompanied the coffin were the leaders of the Brest Aid Society with Shereshevski the spokesman for the Jewish community, as well as L. Davidson, Dr Poznanski, and Rabbi Kahane as the representative of the rabbinate together with other famous rabbis.
An honor guard took over the train at the station and entered the carriage where the coffin lay accompanied by the family of Rabbi Chaim and the dignitaries of Brest. Official authorization was given for the burial of Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik. The coffin was carried out by a select group of rabbis and officials, and an entire delegation of cheder youths and yeshiva students filed past the coffin, row by row. His entire family followed behind the coffin, and behind them were thousands of mourners accompanying them through the Jewish quarters where all the businesses and shops closed as a sign of sorrow and mourning.
Tens of thousands of Jews walked to the cemetery to pay their last respects to the deceased. Then the eulogies began with the Chief Rabbi of Warsaw, Rabbi Perlmutter, followed by a eulogy from Rabbi Chaim's best student, Rabbi Gutshechter. When they began to dig the grave in the tomb of the Natziv - Rabbi Naftali Tsvi Judah Berlin of Volozhyn, the group of prominent Brest residents announced to all that they had decided to appoint Rabbi Chaim's son, Rabbi Ze'ev Soloveitchik, as rabbi to their community. Everyone said Mazel Tov. After the grave was filled with earth, everyone broke out sobbing.
Published in New York 13th November 1918.
Three nations Lithuania, Poland and Wolyn. Forests stretching over 100s of miles, green gardens, hives with honey, and cottages with weaving looms.
The wagons roll by and the Jews conduct their business on land and over water, and they pay their taxes and tithes for Torah and charity.
They pay the king a part of their revenues he gives the Jews good protection.
So live the merchants, the arendars, and the tradesmen.
The Ukrainians break out in a period of robbery and violence.
Cossacks are rushing in with a brand of slaughter, rolling in blood and destruction.
Rolling around in blood of Brisk D'lita. Standing up and not waiting for the pain of the Shloshim (mourning period).
On the old road, the old wheels will make noise. The gentiles are buying salt and alcohol.
Powers fall, the Moscovites come, already having put in their pockets Wolyn and Lithuania now he goes after Poland. To put fur on his back, along comes the Moscovite and says: 'here it is necessary to build a fortress on the Bug'.
And the town forcibly moved backwards. Is there any point of arguing with such a storm? The old city shifts towards the banks of the Mukhavets.
They carry and drag the carts, pull the baggage with utensils and dishes. Where there was a cemetery, there is now a fish market. From the small woods, a church with a large cross was constructed. In the big houses, with pockets full of gold, the Moscovites are building on swamps, building and paying. Employed are the merchants, the tradesmen, the painters and carpenters. Also came the barracks and shops. Breaking from the warmth, in the churches ring the silver in the bells. From the port every day sound the guns. Streets, shops, markets are full of soldiers. And the mothers and fathers click their tongues.
The soldiers need kasha (buckwheat) and uniforms. And the officers like to have a drink and if woman walk past, they don't stop from making acquaintance.
Knowledge of Russian - not without curses a stamp is required for everything.
The butcher's shops and the street of red lights, the poor cook berries during the week
There is enough as not to scrimp every penny so they built here a big synagogue and school and a mikvah for women.
One can hear the Brest heavens rain with poppy seed. Drawn towards Brest are tradesmen, middlemen, and the poor that arrive on foot, or train or covered wagon.
For every rich person there are 10 poor people, and the poverty grows between rags and silks.
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