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The Rabbonim and Religious Leaders

 

Sh. Rotstein

The Gaon and Tzadik Rabbi Avraham Landau

The Gaon and holy man, Rebbe Avraham Landau, of blessed memory, known as “The Ciechanow Rebbe”, was one of the most notable great leaders that Polish Jewry produced. Rebbe Avraml was not a Hasidic rebbe, as is commonly understood by the term Rebbe. Externally, he was far from hasidut and he devoted himself fully to Torah. He even davened according to the Ashkenazi way, though everyone was amazed at him. In all his conduct there was a synthesis of the style of the Vilna Gaon and the style of the Baal Shem Tov.

He was descended of a long line of great men and traditions: his father, Rebbe Raphael, was a hidden tzadik. He operated a tavern in the townlet and dealt with the gentry, but he was a great servant of God. Hasidim told that this innkeeper was a truly holy man. Rebbe Raphael – so hasidic tales tell - once traveled all alone with his wagon on the road. Suddenly several armed robbers sprang out of the forest, with outstretched swords. The robbers did not want to satisfy themselves only with the money that Rebbe Raphael offered them. They wanted to kill him also. At that moment a horseman came along, in the form of a military man. As soon as the robbers saw him, they quickly ran away. But at the same time the rider also vanished. Rebbe Raphael was sure that this horseman who saved his life was Eliyahu Hanavi (Elijah the Prophet).

Rebbe Avraml's mother became an orphan at a young age and she was raised in the home of her grandfather, the Rebbe of Lenchitz, Rebbe Zev Wolf Auerbach Z”L. She was already a grown young woman without a suitor. The orphan cried her eyes out, but her grandfather gave her hope, saying that when the right time came, she will be helped.

Once, a peasant-Jew came to the Lenchitzer Rebbe, to

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arrange for the burial of his deceased wife. After the Rebbe explained all the rites to him, he said to him: “Be so kind as to come in to me after the shiva. I have to discuss an important matter with you.”

When the peasant Jew came to the rebbe after the shiva, he proposed to him that he marry his granddaughter, the orphan, Rhoda. Obviously the rebbe knew the “peasant-Jew” very well, but the orphan girl was shocked – to marry a widower, of all things – someone who is much older than her, and besides, a peasant-Jew, a lessee – is this supposed to be her destined one?

But the grandfather calmed her and assured her that with this widower she will have children who will light the Jewish world. It was only then that she agreed to the shiduch (marriage).

It was this couple who later gave birth to the famous Gaonand Tzadik, Rebbe Avraham of Ciechanow Z”L.

Since he was a very talented child, his parents did not want to keep him in the townlet so they sent him to Plotsk, that was at that time a city full of learned men and scribes/writers. There he was turned over to a melamed (teacher), a very observant Jew, to study.

It did not take long before the whole city was ringing about this young boy who distinguished himself with his keen mind, diligence and astonishing erudition. In addition, he was very kindhearted, feared God, full of modesty and humility. He was also very exact. Every word he uttered was measured and considered. Besides, he was subdued. His davening and learning was done quietly, almost for himself alone. He attempted not to draw anyone's attention. Still, it did not help. Soon he was “discovered.” The teachers of his city were full of wonder at his learning and from his observance and as is the custom, the prosperous of the city began to put forth proposals, draw a net, to get him as a son-in-law.

At that time there was a famous teacher and important man, Rebbe Itchele Plotzker. He kept his eyes on this wonder-boy, in order to try to get him as a son-in-law. So he sent his son-in-law, Dan Landau, who was renowned for his learning, to the townlet of Avraml's parents, to ask them to allow their son-in-law to live in their house until he will grow up.

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Reb Dan, though, had a different objective: since he already had a grown daughter, he represented himself as the interested future in-law, and Reb Raphael and his wife agreed to the shiduch.

Reb Dan did a lot for his talented son-in-law. He made it possible for him to reach what he reached. In thanks, the Ciechanower changed his family name to “Landau” - as his father-in-law was called.

Rebbe Avraham was Rebbe in Ciechanow more than fifty years and he was one of the most recognized great ones of his time. Nothing in Jewish public life was done without his advice and approval. From all over the world people came to him with complicated matters, and though he was not a Hasidic rebbe, he behaved like a Hasid and lived a life of holiness and purity. It was only at the end of his life, after the death of Baal Khidusha Hari'm, that he finally agreed to become leader of the community.

He started to praveh tish (have gatherings at his home), accept written prayers (kvitlech), as the Hasidic rebbes do, and the contributions that were given he distributed for needy purposes. At that time thousands of Jews, including great scholars and tzadikim, through the talmidim (students) of the Kolzker and Gerer Rebbes, came to him in Ciechanow, he did not change his style of behavior. He still davened in the Ashkenazi style, and generally felt more at home with the style of the Vilna Gaon Z”L.

Rebbe Chaim Tanzer said about him that since the days of the Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Avraham Ciechanower was the first tzadik who reached that level without anyone's help. His children were already famous tzadikim; his eldest son, Reb Zev Wolf of Strikov, was one of the great Hasidim, a talmid of the old Kolzker. Still he chose a different system. Besides, he was a person with a poetic soul, with a great command of language and song. His poems, full of the love of God, love of Torah, love of the people, Israel, served as a source of inspiration for Jews. The second son was Rebbe Berish Biyaler – a Vorker Hasid. The third son was the Ciechanower Reb Raphael – and the fourth, Rebbe Yaacov Yezover, who later took up the position of head of the Rabbanut in Ciechanow.


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Harav Reb Yaacov Landau of Yezev

Reb Yaacov Landau of Yezev (Yedzov), the son of Rebbe Avraham Landau who, for fifteen years, from 1875-1890, occupied the position of chair of Rebbe of Ciechanow, was born in the year 1844 approximately. Already as a youth he displayed a great faculty for learning. He grew gentle and refined, and distinguished himself with good qualities and simple yet deep thoughts. The young Reb Yaacov was locked in his studies of Torah. Already in his youth he was recognized as a great prodigy.

When he received his rabbinic degree, Reb Yaacov became the Rebbe in Nashelsk. Later he came to Ciechanow in order to give honor to his father, as is the commandment. His father, Rebbe Avraham, was already an old man and needed his help. When Rebbe Avraham Landau died, his son Yaacov filled his position in the rabbinate of Ciechanow.

Rabbi Yaacov Landau had a great love for the Land of Israel. Twice he made aliyah there: In the years 5650 and 5663. Both times he was forced to leave the Land and return to Poland because his wife could not endure the climate of the Land of Israel.

Since the year 5663, Rebbe Yaacov Landau gave up his position of Rebbe in Ciechanow, and after the death of his brother, Harav Wolf Strikow, ZT'L, Rabbi Yaacov Landau took over the position of Rebbe of Strikov and settled in Yezev, near Lodz. There he got the name of Reb Yekeleh of Yezev.

Reb Yaacov occupied the position of Rebbe in Yeznev for only a short time. He soon became ill. He was brought to Warsaw and there he died. A huge crowd attended his funeral.

Reb Yaacov Landau did not publish any books during his lifetime. His Torah new insights remained in manuscript form.


Harav Zeidenfeld

After Rebbe Yaacov Landau of Yezev gave up his position as Rebbe of Ciechanow, Rov Zeidenfeld took over his place. Unfortunately, no particulars of his life have been found, nor of his rabbinic activities in Ciechanow. We only know that he lived in the tzadik's house.

Rov Zeidenfeld was the father of several sons and a daughter. They emigrated abroad. According to unconfirmed information, one son lives in England. In Ciechanow we knew the Rov's son-in-law -- Avraham Pafa, a respected man in the shtetl.

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The Rov Mordecai Motl was the third son of Rov Zev Wolf of Strikov. After the death of his father, he was the Strikover Rebbe and a while later he moved to Ciechanow, where he died in the year 5677.


The Rav Yitzhak Yehuda Trunk

Rov Yitzhak Yehuda Trunk, a grandson of the famous Rebbe, Reb Yehoshualeh Kutner, accepted the position of Ciechanow rabbi for another five years, from 1907-1912; he was still very young when he arrived as Rebbe in Ciechanow. A total of thirty years.

Harav Yitzhak Yehuda Trunk
Harav Yitzhak Yehuda Trunk
Rebbe in Ciechanow from 1907-1912

Picture Index

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Before Rov Trunk came to Ciechanow he was Rov in Lubranetz.

With his knowledge of Torah, learning and wisdom and love of mankind, Rov Trunk made many friends. His house in Ciechanow was open to everyone, especially for good-learning boys. He had an unusual influence on every Jew who came in contact with him.

During his tenure as Rov in Ciechanow, he did many good things for the community there. Through his initiative a fine shul was built there. The Rov also made sure that around the cemetery there should be built a cement wall so that the cattle should not be able to enter there.

In the year 1912, when his father died in Kutner, Rov Yitzhak Yehuda was called by the Kutner Kehilla to fill his place. The Ciechanow Yiddish Kehilla found it very difficult to part with its dear Rov, but they understood that this is how it must be: the Rov Yitzhak Yehuda Trunk must occupy the position of Rebbe in Kutner, the place of his great ancestors.

The Rov Yitzhak Yehuda Trunk died in Kutner in the year 1939, before the outbreak of World War II. During his lifetime he published a book called Mikreh M'furash, a commentary on the Torah that distinguished itself with a particularly beautiful and lively style.


Harav Shmuel Yitzhak Landau

In the year 1913 (after Rov Yitzhak Yehuda left for Kutneh, the position of rebbe in Kutneh was taken over, in Ciechanow, by Harav Shmuel Yitzhak Landau, a great-grandson of the one-time Ciechanow Rov, Reb Avraham Landau.

The new Ciechanow Rebbe was born in Proshnitz, in the year 1875. He was the son of Rov Yechiel Michael and a grandson of Reb Zev Wolf of Strikov.

At the age of three years, Shmuel Yitzhak lost his father and was raised by his grandfather in Strikov. From his early years Reb Shmuel Yitzhak excelled in learning and in good traits. When he reached a ripe age, he married a daughter of a Strikov learned man and once more busied himself in Torah and hasidut.

In the year 1895, Reb Shmuel Yitzhak, at the age of twenty, became Rebbe in a small townlet in the Warsaw area, and six years later he took up the position of Rebbe in Sakhachev, in the year 1913.

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Drawing of the old House of Study
Drawing of the old House of Study
Above can be seen the windows of the shul.
Drawing by Yehoshua Grossbard

Picture Index

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After two years, Rov Shmuel Yitzhak led the Ciechanow Kehillah. In the year 1914, World War I erupted. In the brief time the Rov managed to do much for the Kehillah in religious matters he was very strict, not departing from the precepts by even a hair. Still, he was a very friendly person and attempted to lighten people's lives. He set aside certain hours of the day when he accepted callers, straightened out disputes, carried out rabbinic judgments, and settled arguments between people. He devoted much time to the needs of his community.

There was no (Gmilat Khesedim Fund) fund for loans, so the Rov himself carried out the mitzvah of lending money without interest to those in need and also to market people who needed a few rubles on market-day.

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Twice a week the Rov went to the slaughter-house to watch the slaughtering and examination. He also took an interest in education and started a yeshiva that he conducted for the Ciechanow boys. From the surrounding shtetlech, yeshiva boys started to arrive in Ciechanow in order to study Torah there.

Rov Shmuel Yitzhak Landau was a strong opponent of reforming the education. He did not allow the establishment of Cheder M'tukan, where yiddishkeit and Hebrew would be taught in a more modern manner and secular enlightenment subjects would be introduced. Regarding this there was quite a controversy between the Rov and the Enlightened of Ciechanow, but the Rov with his principles prevailed, and in Ciechanow, at that time, a modern school was not established. In general, this strictly-religious Rov tried to have a moral influence on the youth and did not allow the dancing of mixed couples.

As in that time, Rov Landau, who was the official Rebbe of Ciechanow for the Czarist government, also had some influence with the local police. With his influence he prevented the allowing of Yiddish Theater to be performed.

At the outbreak of World War I, the strictly religious activity of the Ciechanow Rebbe was interrupted. But even with the tragic outbreak of war for the Ciechanow Jews, Rov Shmuel Yitzhak Landau continued his faithful devotion to his Ciechanow Kehillah.

Ciechanow, as a city on the border of what was Germany at that time, was, like other townlets of that region, amongst the first to be caught in the fire of the War. Many Jews who suffered from the Czarist anti-semitic military escaped from Ciechanow, leaving everything helter-skelter. The Rov, Reb Shmuel Yitzhak Landau, did not want to leave his community, basing his decision on the words of the chazal, that the leader of a community does not abandon his people in an hour of need. And so it is told that the pious Rov saved the rest of his Kehillah, through a miracle, from a terrible decree. This is what happened:

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The leaders of the Czarist military issued an order to the Ciechanow Jews to supply a thousand men to do difficult work for the army. The Kehillah had no choice. The military order had to be carried out.

At the appointed place the thousand Jews appeared, amongst them many elderly, weak people, and at their head was Rov Shmuel Yitzhak, who did not want to leave his flock, though the law allowed the Rov to be free from being taken to work.

While the thousand Jews were waiting thus to be sent to work, important people asked the Rov to go to the grave of his great-grandfather, Rov Avramele ZT”L, to plead for mercy for the Almighty to abolish the decree.

The Rov obeyed the flock and, with the elders of the group, went to the grave of the Tzadik. The cries and wailing at the gravesite split the heavens. The decree was abolished. The Jews were freed from the hard war work.

These life events had a bad effect on the Rov and destroyed his health. After the decree was abolished, the Rov went to the mikveh and from there to the Bais Medresh to daven Shacharit, together with others. No sooner did he remove from himself Rebainu Tam's t'fillin, he felt ill. Those present at the prayer service removed the tallis from the Rov. It was damp with tears. His soul departed in purity and in holiness on Tuesday, Parasha Pinkhas 1915. He died of a heart attack.

The Rov had a large funeral and was buried in the new Ciechanow cemetery where the saintly ones of Ciechanow are buried.

The above was written according to the description of Rov Zev Wolf Yechiel Landau of Tel-Aviv, a son of Harav Shmuel Yitzhak Landau. The son of the Ciechanow Rov published a book called Chidushei Sh “I in Halakha and Agadah by Harav Shmuel Yitzhak Landau of Suvuta, Sukhchiv, Ciechanow.

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Harav Yitzhak Yehuda Trunk
The beloved last Rov, Rov Chaim Mordecai Bronrot
Occupied the position of Rebbe until the outbreak of World War II.
More about him in his biography.

Picture Index

In the year 1916, Rov M. Bronrot was appointed as Rov in Ciechanow. For twenty-three years he was the religious authority of the Ciechanow Kehillah.

Rov Mordecai Bronrot was born in the year 5641 in Astrolenka, a shtetl in the Lomyer region. His father, Reb Nachman Tzvi, a bookseller, brought up his son with a love of Torah and Talmud. In his young years Chaim Mordecai learned Torah in Sakachev in the yeshiva of the famous Gaon, Rebbe Reb Avraham Bornstein.

He absorbed the Hasidic spirit from the well-known Tzadik, Rabbi Yirachmiel, Yisroel Yitzhak Danziger, the famous

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Alexandrian Rebbe, the Baal Yismakh Yisrael. The young genius got his rabbinical motivation from the rebbes, Reb Malkiel Tanenbaum – Lamzer Rov; Rov Moishe Nachum Yerushalimski – Astralenke Rov; Rov Shimon David Anilik – Shedletz Rov.

After being ordained, the young rebbe got married to Faigl Matl, the daughter of the Hasid and great scholar, Reb Shmuel Cohen from Sterdin, Stredletz region. Reb Shmuel Cohen was the son of Rov Yaacov Yehudah Cohen – Rov in Cabrava, a shtetl near Astralenka.

Before Chaim Mordecai Bronrot took up his rabbinic position in Ciechanow, he was Rov in the shtetl Cherbin, by Astralenka. Then he transferred to a larger city, Khurzel, close to the Russo-German border of that time.

During this time, when Rov Bronrot led his Kehillah, World War II broke out. The Russian military command chased the Jews out of the shtetl and Rov Bronrot arrived in Warsaw as a refugee with his family. He was there for two years and occupied himself with organizing help for the thousands of Jewish refugees who were chased out of their homes by the Russian commanders. Rav Bronrot was, in Warsaw, a member of the committee to bring help to the refugees, a committee that was under the jurisdiction of the Central Refugee Committee in Petersberg (Leningrad at the time this was written). From this committee he took up the position of Rov in Ciechanow.

Already in the year 1918, immediately after the Germans left Poland, the Polish state was established. Rov Bronrot participated in a secret conference with forty rabbonim. The conference adopted a positive position toward the Balfour Declaration and decided, in this spirit, to let out an appeal that was signed by the rabbonim and made an unusual impression on the religious, Hasidic world.

Rov Bronrot was also a long-time member in Vaad Hapoel of Agudat Harabbonim. In 1922 Rov Bronrot, together with the former Chiechanow Rov, Harav Yitzhak Yehuda Trunk, went on a rabbinic mission to America. On this trip there was the expression of the great love that the Ciechanow Jews had for their

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Community workers and rabbonim, present at the Museum in Tel-Aviv
Community workers and rabbonim, present at the Museum in Tel-Aviv
At the announcement of the declaration of the establishment of the State of Israel.
Amongst them, seen from right: Rov Chaim Mordecai Bronrot of Blessed Memory

Picture Index

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spiritual and religious leader. All the shtetl came to say farewell to their Rov and to wish him a safe journey. The surrounding streets and the area in front of his house was full of Jews who awaited him as he came out of his house. Many of his relatives accompanied him, and parted from him with the words: “Go in peace and come in peace.”

Rov Bronrot was in America for two years and worked there on behalf of the religious Jewish community. Though in many places, including Chicago, he acted as Rabbi, he did not want to remain there and did not bring the members of his family there because the life of the Jews there was not religious enough for him. In particular, the desecration of the Shabbat bothered him.

During the complete two years, the Ciechanow Kehillah kept his rabbinic position open for him and awaited the return of their leader. Upon his return, Rov Bronrot again led his Kehillah until the tragic year 1939. During all those years he was active in the Zionist movement (Mizrachi) and did much both in the Ciechanow Kehillah and elsewhere on behalf of the Jewish National fund, the Hechalutz Mizrachi Fund, and other Zionist funds. He also participated in several Zionist Congresses.

In the year 1939, two months prior to the outbreak of World War II, Rov Bronrot went on a rabbinical mission to England. He was trapped there because of the war and remained there for several years until he had the possibility, in 1943, to make aliyah to the land of Israel. Here he was appointed Rabbi of Tel-Aviv and Jaffa. He served in this rabbinic capacity until the last day of his life, and was present in the Tel-Aviv Museum when Ben-Gurion proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel.

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In Tel-Aviv also the Rov was active in the community. He was the chairman of the Talmudic Education Net. He was also at the head of the Yeshiva Hayishuv Hakdashah that was created by Harav Emiel. Generally, Rov Bronrot did much to establish Torah learning in Tel-Aviv.

Rov Chaim Mordecai Bronrot was also the author of several books on Torah matters. He wrote publicity articles in various Zionist and Mizrachi publications. In 1950 he died and finished his spiritually creative work on earth.

[The biographical particulars about Rov Chaim Mordecai Bronrot's life and activities were collected by Moishe Tzinovich].


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Avraham Dov

Rav Mordecai Bronrot, the Folk Leader

Portraits of his Personality

The city of Ciechanow distinguished itself with its great rabbinic personalities. The most outstanding personality was the last Ciechanow Rov, Rov Chaim Mordecai Bronrot ZT”L. The title Manhig HaEda (leader of the flock) suited him very much. Rov Bronrot knew his flock very well. The Jews of Ciechanow, their feelings, thoughts, their good acts were very close to his heart and the bad deeds he tried to cast aside, according to the line: “you cast the evil aside from you”, in order to clean out the evil from your surroundings.

Rov Bronrot had a deep understanding of the newly-rising Jewish cultural life of the young people. When he felt the new winds that started to blow in Jewish circles he ruled the winds and led them in the direction that he felt appropriate for the normal development of Jewish folk-life.

The leader of the Ciechanow Jews saw how the Jewish youth is drawn to a new lifestyle, so he did not cast them aside. Just the opposite; he drew them closer and showed them the way of revival of the nation in the Torah spirit. With his beautiful talks, held in a modern style, spread throughout with Talmudic words of wisdom, he won over the Orthodox youth for Zionism, and had an extraordinary influence also on the so-called “freethinkers.”

With his words that “Words that come from the heart…” Rov Bronrot lit up the hearts and won them over to the idea of settling in Eretz Yisroel, tied with loyalty to the Jewish tradition.

Rov Chaim Mordecai Bronrot united in his person the ideal, honest, pure communal worker, and the great Talmid khokhem (learned scholar). He was a great learner/teacher, well versed in all aspects of Torah, in their laws and so on. His books were highly praised in the scholarly world. Many of his Torah commentaries, however, did not reach the public. They were drowned in the ocean together with part of the Rov's baggage during his trip to the Land of Israel: It was only in Israel that he published an important book about the observance of Shabbat. This book has special significance for the agriculture that is going on in Israel, on their own soil, where there is no Shabbes-goy to perform work such as milking the cows on Shabbat, for example.

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Rov Bronrot reached a great depth with his knowledge of Torah and Talmud. An example:

To what is this comparable?
To a bee that sucks the pollen from many flowers.

That's how the Rov and wise men found the deep meaning of every word of every bit of writing in the Torah. His knowledge of human conflict solution was very great.

During a rabbinical court case the Rov would calmly, and weighing all the facts, quickly grasp which side is telling the truth and has a just complaint. He almost never made a mistake. For this reason, he was considered the best arbitrator in Ciechanow and in all the surrounding area. People came to the Rov with the most difficult, complicated matters, both in business matters and in family relationships.

People from other cities also came to the Rov with matters and questions in kashruth, and whatever he judged to be right, that's what was the law.

In addition to all these good qualities of the Rov – leader of the flock, wise man, Mizrachi activist, of a high caliber, a good-hearted person – his journalistic talent must also be mentioned. His journalistic articles always stood out with their humor, clarity and logical approach in communal matters.

A great religious and worldly personality was the leader of the flock in the not-large Ciechanow Kehillah --- Rov Reb Mordecai Chaim Bronrot.

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