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[Page 207]

Memories and Descriptions

What My Memory Reveals

By Rabbi I.Y.Unterman, (Chief Rabbi of Tel-Aviv)

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

In the small synagogue in which my father prayed (The synagogue of Shamai Weint) as they called it, there also prayed one of the leading teachers of the city.

Rav Moishe Aharon Weitzblum was an exceptional Jew. In the town they called him Moishe Aharon Hamotzeh. He was famous as a brilliant pupil, expert in rulings governing disputes between a man and his friend; he did not belong to the usual type of Dayan (religious judge). He did not have any children and in his old age he made aliyah to Israel. He rests permanently in Jerusalem.

Besides his great knowledge of Torah and instruction, he was known as a practical person, a fox with a shrewd intellect in complicated matters.

The local rabbis involved him in the matters of Din Torah, the law of the Torah.

In the synagogue, his influence was demonstrated by how he knew to attract the young people. They were drawn closer to the Torah and were guided by his sound methods of understanding life His entire demeanor commanded respect. Everything that he did was thought through with great attention to detail. He modeled himself on the Vilna Gaon and oversaw everything in the Beth Hamidrash (prayer house and school) that it should be according to the law. He gave special attention to the reading of the Torah so it should remain clear according to the principles of grammar (this was not the custom in our region). He warned against Mileh and Milrah, which was the emphasis on the first and last syllables and pronunciation of each word.

In his home, cleanliness and order reigned…. although his income was limited.

The young men had the special pleasure of going for walks with him and listening to his conversation, from which one could always learn.

Blessed be his memory.

B

In the rabbinical school, they always called on Rav Tzvi Orenstein, who had by his own efforts, opened a school for youths, without a head of Yeshiva, without an office and without an administration. From Brest and surroundings, as well as distant towns, good youths streamed to his school and with enthusiasm they learnt Torah. This began in about 1873 and lasted for several years. The force that attracted students from afar was the desire to be close to Reb Chaim, blessed be his memory, who taught the older youths. There were also younger boys present, who did not participate in the lessons but were drawn by the atmosphere of the Great Yeshiva. It was is this same Yeshiva that I myself began to learn in as a child a year before my Bar Mitzvah. The older boys were very dear to me, I want to tell here of the exceptional people who have remained in my memory.

In the Beth Hamidrash there were the notable businessmen who were famed in Torah and also everyday matters and needs. I can visualize one of them, Reuven Aharaka, a flour merchant. With all his heart and energies he found financial support for the pupils who came to learn from outside the city – he himself supported the great sages because this was his only aim. In the evenings he could be seen walking around between the rows of students, observing them and taking pleasure in their diligence, (not having had the opportunity himself to reach this level of learning). This pleasure gave him the drive and energy for his work.

Until today, I cannot understand how a single person managed to find such large sources of income (donations). He influenced the public with his simple sincerity, and managed to fund and support the pupils over some years – amongst them were those who later became famed in the whole world and became the great teachers of sages.

I remember that for a very short time, the Sage, the author of “Hazan Ish” was sitting on a bench engrossed in an open Gemarrah, and studying in a quiet voice without raising his eyes. I did not dare question him, but I had the feeling that this youth would become a great man. I remember also that all of a sudden appeared a diligent pupil whom they called the 'Setzer Matmid', later I found out that he was as successful in his studies as they thought he would be -he slept only a few hours a night –he became a great scholar.

Reb Reuven Aharaka would stand hour after hour, entranced by the melody of the learning, his face shining with joy. This simple Jew, he by himself supported the entire institution, finding supporters and organizing everything with an inner strength driven by love for the Torah. Let us remember him with love.

C

There was a smaller synagogue that was called the 'Beth Hamidrash of Natan Tishper'. It was said that this name stemmed from the time of the old city, (before the city was moved west at the time of the building of the fortress). It stood on the side of the road that led to Kobryn. There, I saw many outstanding people of whom I will only mention two:
Hirsh Beilin – a great student who could recite a lesson in Gemarrah with rare depth and extraordinary clarity.

Rabbi David Feinsilber – who after W.W.1 shifted to Wolkowitz to take up the position of Dayan.

The former I only knew from a distance, the latter however, I met years later and then corresponded with him about matters of Torah. His occupation was as a supplier of goods to the Russian army. Every morning he would travel to the fortress outside the city, but he made great efforts not to cut himself off from his Torah studies. This is how he conducted himself – every morning he would rise early and study together with a gifted student who came to his house, the friend always brought something new which he had spotted in a book – an interesting question or topic, a matter to be debated over or reflected upon on his way to the fortress. The next morning he would tell his friend what his thoughts and discoveries were about the matter. Thus, I was told, he conducted himself for years.

He knew very well of worldly matters and was also a very pleasant person. In my memories, these people were personified as having many worthy attributes and participated with dedication for the good of the community. Feinsilber also needs to be remembered of a fine example of a courteous, genteel Jew.

D

The synagogue of the 'Elite' was the name given to the Mishmar synagogue that was on the banks of the Mukhavets River. There were people there who achieved a place of greatness in Torah. The best known of then was Reb. Zalman Lifshitz, Reb Tzvi Hirsh Yaffe, the son of Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe and others. In my childhood, I listened to a lesson from Rabbi Simcha Zelig, and sometimes I would sit 'guard'. My heart was particularly attracted to two youths who were studying together and there were always heated debates among them. Rabbi Moishe Sokolovsky who later became a Sage of Torah and the second, Rabbi Henoch who later became the rabbi of Malorita, and returned to Brest to become Rosh Yeshiva (the head of the yeshiva).

These two friends had various abilities and talents – the first did not distinguish himself with a quick grasp but he possessed a rare strength of concentration.

He would preoccupy himself for a long time over one sentence and would tackle the matter from all sides without interruption.

In his books (Omerei Moshe and Malchat) one can indeed see that his intellect was very developed and that his lessons were undertaken with wonder and awe. The second one had a lighter grasp and one could see how he advanced his friend by introducing relevant matters and their debates were very interesting,

The former did not have any children; his students remained loyal to him and spoke of his greatness. He was head of the yeshiva in Brest for many years and had a lasting influence on his students.

The fate of the latter in unknown to me –he was brilliant, there were not many like him.

Blessed be their memories.

Rabbi I. Y. Unterman

 

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