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[Page 79]

Torah Scholars born in Korelitz

 

Rabbi Nissan Broidah
(5617- 5664, 1857-1904)

by Moshe Cinowitz

Translated by Harvey Spitzer

Rabbi Nissan Broidah was born in Korelitz in the year 5617 (1857). He was a teacher at the yeshiva in Rozhenoi (Grodno district) under the supervision of Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Jaffe (1820-1890).

He served for several years as head of the rabbinic court in the small town of Shiniavski (near Nesvizh), 13 years as head of the rabbinic court in Krevel, a small town in the province of Vilna and 13 more years in the small town of Horodok in the district of Bialistok, where he was accepted as rabbi at the recommendation of Rabbi Mordechai Weitzel, who was closely acquainted with Rabbi Nissan Broidah when he was the head of the rabbinic court in Korelitz, Rabbi Nissan's place of birth.

Rabbi Nissan Broidah was famous as a scholar, a man of imposing figure and an industrious public and religious activist. He established a splendid synagogue and other public buildings in Horodok. He was involved in benevolent institutions, took care of neglected sick people and, together will all this, frequented “tents of Torah” and gave scholarly lessons to groups of students of Talmud.

He was an enthusiastic “Lover of Zion” and devoted much of his spiritual and physical energies to strengthening this movement in the towns where he served as rabbi and in surrounding towns. The incentive to do so came from his teacher, Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Jaffe. From the time he became head of the rabbinic court in Horodok, he was close to Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, who was among those coming to his house in Bialistok and was influenced by him. Afterwards he gave his support to political Zionism by giving sermons and in practical work. He organized Zionist meetings in his house and encouraged young people to join the Zionist movement.

The leaders of the Zionist movement appreciated Rabbi Broidah's activity and chose him as delegate to the Third Zionist Congress, which took place in London in the year 5660 (1900) and which was also attended by Rabbi Y.Y. Reines of Lida and by Rabbi Yaakov Rabinowitz of Sofotskin. In the framework of this trip, Rabbi Broidah gave sermons on behalf of Zionism in several synagogues in London and Warsaw and took part in the Zionist Conference in Minsk in the year 5662 (1902) and belonged to the “Mizrachi” faction at this conference. The “Mizrachi” faction was founded in the month of Adar 5662 (1902) in Vilna, and Rabbi Broidah established a branch of “Mizrachi” in his small town and worked on behalf of “Mizrachi” in Bialistok and, thanks to his efforts, the group, “Shlomei Emunei Zion” became a branch of the “Mizrachi/; center in Vilna.

In one of his articles on behalf of Zionism which appeared in “HaTsfira” (1900, Vol. 141), Rabbi Nissan Broidah writes: “The Zionist spirit is a pure spirit in whose power even those who have gone away and turned their back on Judaism are now returning and coming close to their people and religion.” He expresses the hope that when the rabbis and the ultra-orthodox community awaken to Zionist activity: “then there will be no more fear of the religious being swallowed up by the free-thinkers who presently stand at the head of the Zionist movement.” Only good will and joint enquiry and discussions will help, according to him, to bring the leaders of the ultra-orthodox and the irreligious closer to working in partnership for the sake of Zionism. At the conclusion of the article, Rabbi Broidah proposes an assembly of rabbis who are sympathetic to the Zionist cause for the purpose of consultations: how to broaden the idea of Zionism and how to enlarge the national treasure. This great rabbi passed away in the year 5664 (1904), when he was only 47 years old.


[Page 80]

Rabbi Yisroel Michal Yeshurun

by Moshe Cinowitz

Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer

Rabbi Yisrael Michal Yeshurun was born in Korelitz. His father, Rabbi Chaim, saw to it that his son received a strong Torah education. Rabbi Yisrael Michal Yeshurun was a disciple of Rabbi Duber Jaffe, when the latter was head of the religious court in Korelitz. He also arranged and prepared his writings for publication. He moved to Minsk, where he was appointed head of the yeshiva attached to the Beit Midrash HaGadol (Great Study Hall or Synagogue).

Rabbi Yisrael Michal Yeshurun is described by the author of the book, “Rabbis and Sages of Minsk” as “a perfectly wise and erudite man, great in understanding and a great genius in Torah. magnanimous, active in many fields and resourceful. ” Rabbi Yisrael Michal of Korelitz gave his approval to the book “Derech Tvunot” (Way of Reason) [Minsk, 5595 (1835)]

Rabbi Yisrael Michal Yeshurun died in the prime of life. One of his associates, Rabbi David Tevli, chief rabbi of the Minsk community, said the following about him: “This rabbi and great luminary was a giant in Torah and a toiler in Torah. And he had vnearly no other occupation than studying Torah. He was a kind of great thinker who plumbed the depths of Torah with his common sense. And he taught many pupils, for he gave a regular lesson at the Beit Midrash HaGadol, covering Magen Avraham and Yoreh De'ah (sections of the “Shulchan Aruch”, Code of Jewish Law). His fame spread far and wide as a result of his responsa and, in addition, he possessed many fine qualities, and all matters pertaining to the administration of the city and general public were articulated by him.”


[Page 81]

Rabbi Uri David ben Yosef

Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer

Rabbi Uri David Ben Yosef was born in Korelitz. He received a Torah education and studied several years in the town of the “abstainers” (men who left their wives to study Torah) - Eishishok. He was the head of the rabbinic court in Niemaksht and later in old Zager. He gained fame in the world of rabbis and yeshivot through his book, “Aperion David”, which was published in Vilna in the year 5633 (1872).

According to the preface of this book, we know that the author, Rabbi Uri David, was a native of Korelitz and that his father's family name was - Aperion. In addition, the author informs us that he is from the family of the sharp and well-versed rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Yosef, of saintly memory, head of the rabbinic court in the community of Oshmina and from the family of the sharp, well-versed and clever late rabbi, Rabbi Our Teacher Moshe, son of Avraham Ne'eman, of saintly memory from the community of Turetz. His mother, Chaya Devorah, was the daughter of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman, a relative of the righteous late rabbi, Rabbi Our Teacher Moshe Yosef, of saintly memory, head of the rabbinic court in Eishishok.

Rabbi Uri David's brother-in-law, Rabbi Ephraim who, some 40 years ago (before the publication of the aforementioned book, “Aperion David”), was appointed rabbi of the community of Paritsh, described Rabbi Uri David as “the venerable, renowned, great expert in both Talmuds (Babylonian and Jerusalem) and also in deciders of questions of Jewish law and who never left the “tents of Torah” all his days.”

We have brought down here the lineage of Rabbi Uri David in mentioning names of spiritual personalities who branched out from this precious stock. Our purpose in recalling the names of these Jewish scholars and men of renown is to make known the remarkably high level of scholarship and piety that characterized the community of Korelitz in those days 150 and more years ago. And as a classical example: the respected family of Rabbi Yosef Aperion. In his book, “Aperion David”, the young author brings down the Talmudic intercourse which he had with Rabbi Yitzchak Yehoshua, a judge in Mir, who was also a native son of Korelitz.

Rabbi Uri David was inclined to the “Chibat Zion” movement which, at that time, was just at its inception and was a matter of interest to exceptional individuals only. We see how this abovementioned rabbi contributes on behalf of the “Mazkeret Moshe” operation in Jerusalem, (named for Sir Moses Montefiore) and thanks to his influence, some one hundred people contributed to this aim from the small town of Zager and the surroundings.

Rabbi Uri David's offspring: Rabbi Eliahu Dov Rabinowitz, (died in Jerusalem), Rabbi Yosef Yaakov Rabinowitz, ritual slaughterer and examiner in Rostov on the River Don and Menachem Mendel Aperion. His daughter was married to Rabbi Shabbtai Chaim, expert ritual slaughterer and examiner and outstanding teacher in Boisk, Latvia, author of the book, “Zahav Shachut” [new interpretations of legends, Berlin 5676 (1916)].

[HS: Note: The following paragraph refers to Rabbi Yitzchak Yechiel Davidson (page 68).]

Children born in Korelitz in the year of Rabbi Yitzchak Yechiel Davidson's death were named after him. Among them was the author, Rabbi Yitzchak Yechiel, son of Rabbi Naftali. This Rabbi Yitzchak devoted himself to the study of Torah. In his youth, he knew both local rabbis, Rabbi Mordechai Weitzel and Rabbi Meir Feimer, who encouraged him in his path. He wrote a book, “Yad HaTalmud”, on the tractate Baba Kama and another book, “Yesodai Torah” on the six orders of the Mishna, which he lived to see published in the year 5690 (1930). The approvals of the two aforementioned rabbis of Korelitz appear on this book. These were given as early as 5670 (1910). We find Rabbi Yitzchak Yechiel in Jerusalem, frequenting “tents of Torah” in the old Jewish colony.


[Page 82]

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Cohen

Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer

 
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Cohen
 
Wife of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Cohen
(née Rapaport)

 

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Cohen, son of Rabbi Shalom Cohen, was born in the year 5612 (1852) in the small town of Pleshtsenitz (Minsk region) to upright and God-fearing parents. From the time of his birth, he excelled in lofty skills and gained fame as “the child prodigy from Pleshtsenitz”. When he was 14 years old, he married the daughter of the respected and beloved rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Ze'ev Rapaport, from his town and in whose house his son-in-law studied Torah day and night and rose higher and higher. When he came to Volozhin at the age of 18, he was already great in knowledge of Torah and occupied the most honorable place among the students at this great yeshiva, where the Genius Rabbi Naftali Zvi Berlin (the “Netziv”) and the Genius Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik - may they live long and happily, Amen! - showed him respect and recognized his worth. He subsequently frequented the home and attended lessons of the Genius and “Great One”, Rabbi Yerucham Yehuda of Minsk, who involved him in all matters of Torah and “halacha” (Jewish law), and this above-mentioned genius mentioned him several times as being wise in regard to his new interpretations. He served as rabbi in 5646 (1886) in the town of Fisatsneh (Minsk region) and a few years later was called to honor to occupy the seat of the rabbinate in the respected town of Korelitz. This notable rabbi excelled in his marvelous expertise of the Talmud and deciders of matters of Jewish law. He takes a place among the great rabbis of Israel with his honest intellect and ability to grasp ideas quickly.

Oholei Shem, pg. 175, Shmuel Noah Gottlieb


[Page 83]

Rabbi Abrazshinsky

by Moshe Cinowitz

Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer

Rabbi Abrazshinsky lived in Korelitz, having moved there from the nearby town of Mir. He was a walking encyclopedia, a man of diverse interests, a brilliant scholar. He didn't stop studying from the dawn of his youth to the day he died. He was familiar with general science, knew Russian perfectly and his knowledge of the Hebrew language and literature was a model for all the Ultra-Orthodox in the surroundings. He also excelled as a man of deeds and as a merchant. He died in the year 5700 (1940). His daughter, Nechama, is the wife of M. Gvirtzman, one of the veterans of the movement in Israel and former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. His daughter, Nechama, received a general education and, like her husband, is also one of the veterans in the vanguard of the HaPoel HaMizrachi.


Rabbi Yosef from Korelitz

by Moshe Cinowitz

Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer

Rabbi Yosef Shimshelevitz from Korelitz moved to Eishishok when he was 15 years old. He studied at least 18 hours a day. His exemplary diligence and his excellent memory served him well and even as a young man was an expert in Talmud and in authorities in matters of Jewish law, eventually becoming one of the outstanding rabbis of his generation with his superior erudition. He could quote Rashi and the Talmud without any hesitation. He would review his studies a hundred times. He was perfectly familiar with the Talmud and authorities in matters of Jewish law, yet he was modest and shunned people and publicity.

Rabbi Yosef Shimshelevitz went to live in the Land of Israel and settled in Jerusalem, where he taught Torah for its own sake at one of the yeshivot without being conspicuous. The élite knew about him, held him in high regard and admired him. He was especially admired by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook, head of the Jerusalem rabbinic court and Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel.

Rabbi Yosef of Korelitz passed away in Jerusalem in the year 5694 (1934). The Genius Rabbi Kook said in his eulogy: “The Scroll of the Oral Law has fallen to the ground and its sheets of parchment have been scattered about.” He died at the age of 70. In the ultra-orthodox weekly, “Yisod”, 25 Tammuz 5694(1934), Rabbi Stolitz wrote an article of appreciation in memory of this great man and described him as “the eternal, diligent student”.


[Page 84]

My father Rabbi Idel Isaac (Alter) Osherovitz

by Bat-Sheva Shula Osherovitz

Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer

 

Rabbi Idel Isaac Osherovitz

 

My father, Rabbi Idel Isaac (Alter) Osherovitz, was born in Korelitz in the year 5645 (1885). He was the son of Rabbi Moshe Avraham and Leah-Deiveh. My grandfather, a copyist of Scriptures, was an upright and God-fearing Jew, a decades-long resident of Korelitz, who lived his last years in the Land of Israel, where he died on 7 Nissan 5693 (1933) and was brought to eternal rest in Petach Tikvah. My grandmother died in the prime of life in Korelitz and left behind three daughters and three sons, the oldest of whom was my father. Already as a child, my father stood out with his keen mind and ability to grasp ideas quickly, and everything he learned was absorbed in his memory and bore fruit. Likewise, he was deeply impressed by everything his eyes saw and his ears heard in his parents' house in his hometown of Korelitz and would often tell his own family about these things until the end of his life. When my grandfather became aware of his oldest son's abilities, he gave much thought to providing him with a good education. My father left Korelitz at a young age and went to study Torah at the Mir and Slobodka yeshivot, where he gained renown as a child prodigy, well-versed in Talmud and in authorities of matters of Jewish law until he was ordained as a rabbi. After his marriage in the small town of Shkidel (Skidel?) which is in (Greater)Lithuania, he went into business but did not derive any satisfaction from this occupation, for all his thoughts were given to Torah and knowledge. The young man likewise turned down an offer to serve in the rabbinate, preferring instead to devote his time and energy to teaching Torah. He was afforded this opportunity when he was appointed director of the yeshiva “Ohel Yitzchak” in Kovno. He would draw pearls of wisdom from treasures of the Torah and its commentators, and his words remained engraved in the hearts of his students and auditors for a long period.

My father was tall and majestic in appearance, and all those who came into contact with him were enchanted by his personality which overflowed with charm and kindness. It was difficult for him to see anyone in hardship and he never turned down anyone's request. Besides his devotion to teaching Torah to his many pupils, his soul was given to dreaming about the final redemption and the glad tidings of national revival which made his heart throb. He took part as a delegate in conferences of the “Mizrachi” movement in Lithuania and educated his family to love the Jewish People and the Land of Israel. He was fluent in Hebrew and yearned all his life to go and live in Israel with his family, but death put an end to the fulfillment of his aspirations, as he passed away in the prime of life at the age of 48. He had always wished to go back to Korelitz to see his family and the townspeople, who were dear to him and were preserved in his memory, but he was unable to realize this ambition as well due to the severing of relations between Poland and Lithuania in those days. I, the sole survivor of our family which perished in the Holocaust, was privileged to go and live in Israel and know my grandfather, of blessed memory, and my Uncle Bezalel and my cousins (my aunt's children) Shaul, Leah and Dov - may they be set apart for a long life!

The opportunity I have been given to recall the memory of my father, of blessed memory, makes me feel, all the more intensely, the beautiful life we had in our pleasant and dear home which was destroyed together with all the homes of the Jewish People in the sorrowful Diaspora. I can see with my own eyes the image of the little town of Korelitz, abounding with tenderness, warmth and love of people - the small town where my father was born and spent his childhood years.

 

Beit Midrash (study hall) in Korelitz

 


[Page 86]

The Talmud Groups in Korelitz

by Moshe Cinowitz

Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer

From the book by the writer and Hebrew teacher, Y. Ovsi (Yehoshua Ovseiwitz), native of Korelitz and well known in the yeshivot of Mir, Novogrudek and Maltsh, where he studied as a young man and was called “Alter Korelitzer” in his article, “Rabbi Yosef Yozel” about various Talmud groups:

The “mitzvah” to strengthen Torah learning was one of the most beloved commandments performed by all the Jewish People. Already in the generations just prior to our generations, many of the rabbis, who were invited by community leaders to bring honor to their town, insisted on the consent of the community leaders to support a certain number of Torah students according to the importance of the town, and the communities very gladly fulfilled this condition.

These groups of students were free of all direction. In every study hall or synagogue which the groups frequented, there was someone (especially the beadle of that study hall) who would try to find “meals for a day” for the young men students of the group who came from other small towns. Every family of whatever means - even a poor family - considered it its duty to share their meals with one of the members of the group, and well-to-do families would feed two or three at their table.

These groups, some of which would gather together from the town itself, were free of all administration - unlike at the yeshivot where they were supervised by the head of the yeshiva. Instead, they were under the supervision (indirectly) of the head of the local rabbinic court who knew (together with the best of the scholars of the town) the power of perseverance, ability and manners of each and every one of the students in the group.

There were also charitable women in several of the small towns who would feed any young man of the group who lacked a place to eat on any day. There was such a woman in Korelitz whose name was Devorah Shimshelevitz. She deserved to be called “mother of the yeshiva boys”. Every day, whether sunny or rainy, she would trudge through the lanes of the small town on her old legs and collect money and all kinds of food, and any young man who needed a meal would turn to her house, where he would find what he required.


A. Rabbi Tzvi Menachem Zisling

by Moshe Cinowitz

Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer

Rabbi Zvi Menachem Zisling was among the students in the group of “abstainers” (men who left their wives to study Torah) in Korelitz. He was born in Shkod in the year 5626 (1866), son of Rabbi Ben-Zion Aryeh Leib Zisling, one of the writers for the Hebrew periodical “HaLevanon” and one of the most active religious public workers in that generation.

Rabbi Zvi Menachem Zisling was an ardent “Chovav Zion” and went to live in the Land of Israel in the year 5674 (1914). He received a position as teacher of Talmud in the “Tachkemoni” school in Tel Aviv and served in that position until recently. He was also a very active public worker and was a member of the board of the Tel Aviv Community Council and Municipal Council. He died on 2 Tevet 5692 (1932) at the age of 66.

(According to: “HaHar”, Tevet 5692, copy 4)


[Page 87]

B. Rabbi Meir Levin

by Moshe Cinowitz

Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer

Rabbi Meir Levin was also one of the students in the Korelitz Talmud group and was later appointed rabbi in Vilaika close to Vilna. As an “abstainer” (after his wedding) in Korelitz, he was taken under the wing of Rabbi Yitzchak Yechiel Davidson, from whom this “abstainer” student learned the ways of leadership in the rabbinate and of guiding a Jewish community. He later became an active “Chovav Zion” and also joined political Zionism. He used to say in public that he had a rabbi from Korelitz, Rabbi Yitzchak Yechiel Davidson, who was also - as he was closely acquainted with his mentality and inclination of spirit - faithful to this movement. He also helped the young rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Avigdor, to establish his yeshiva which opened in the year 5671 (1911) in the town of Svantzian, where he first served in the rabbinate.


C. Rabbi Yehudah Leib Davidson

by Moshe Cinowitz

Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer

Dr. Yehuda Leib Davidson was also included in the “group” of students in Korelitz. He was a nephew of Rabbi Yitzchak Yechiel Davidson, head of the small town's rabbinic court. He was born in the year 5617(1856) in the town of Kapulia. His father, Rabbi Aharon, who was an expert in Torah and also a religious intellectual, put his son in the charge of a teacher who knew Hebrew grammar very well and who taught him Torah with the commentary of “HaBiur” (Moses Mendelsohn). He studied at the Mir Yeshiva for two years and was then taken into the home of his uncle, his father's brother, Rabbi Yitzchak Yechiel, who was a man of the world and shunned fanaticism. He found satisfaction in the young man's flowery language and poetry, encouraging him to gain perfection in the language of the past. After his uncle's death, the young man went to live with relatives in Minsk. He devoted himself to secular studies as well in order to obtain a matriculation certificate. It was then that the young Davidson published his first work in the Hebrew weekly, “HaKol”. It was entitled “Confronting the Evil” ; (in four installments) and dealt with the urgent need to establish a high school for Jewish studies in Russia. This essay drew the attention of many writers including Moshe Leib Lilienbaum.

He likewise published articles about agriculture and manufacture among Russian Jews. In 1882 Davidson went to Warsaw, where he lived in penury. His perseverance, ambition and patience enabled him to obtain a matriculation certificate as an outside student. He went on to study medicine at Warsaw University. The well known Polish writer, Clemence Jonusha, suggested that he translate for him some of the finest Yiddish books into Russian, which he would then translate into Polish. He translated two books by Mendele Mocher Sefarim (a native of Kapulia and a childhood friend of the two brothers, Rabbi Aharon and Rabbi Yitzchak Yechiel): “My Horse” and “The Travels of Benjamin the Third” and Clemence translated them into Polish. In 1890 Davidson was awarded a doctorate in medicine. In Paruzhani, Davidson was close to his cousin, head of the local rabbinic court, Rabbi Eliahu Feinstein, who was previously head of the rabbinic court in Korelitz, where they both spent their early years. Dr. Yehuda Leib Davidson published many articles in “HaMeilitz”, “HaTsfira”, “HaPardes”, “HaShiloach” and others. He also encouraged his relative, the young Yitzchak Katzenelson, on his way to becoming a future poet among the Jewish People. He died in 1912.


[Page 88]

D. Rabbi Malkiel and his connection with Korelitz

by Moshe Cinowitz

Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer

Rabbi Malkiel Tannenbaum, author of a collection of responsa, “Divrei Malkiel” (5 volumes), studied as a young married man at the local Beit Midrash in Korelitz during Rabbi Yitzchak Yechiel's term of office in the rabbinate. Rabbi Malkiel was born in the small town of Motileh, the hometown of President Chaim Weitzman and his family, according to the President's memoirs. He married a girl in her teens when he himself was quite young. His father-in-law owned property between Yarmitz and Korelitz, and he lived with his father-in-law for a number of years. However, because the tumult and noise of doing business during the six weekdays were very disturbing to this diligent child prodigy, the young Malkiel agreed to study from Sunday to Thursday at the Beit Midrash in Korelitz, just a few kilometers away from his father-in-law's home. He studied constantly and several stories have been preserved by the elders of Korelitz about the way the young married student applied himself. On the days he was in Korelitz, he managed to review all Six Orders of the Mishna and Talmud by sheer concentration, and he mastered all four sections of the “Shulchan Aruch” (Code of Jewish Law) as well as all rabbinic literature, something which astounded all the rabbis in the area. Already then, the head of the rabbinic court could see that this young rabbinic student was destined for greatness. Whenever Rabbi Malkiel's father-in-law came to Korelitz to arrange for provisions for his son-in-law, he would also show generosity to the local “abstainers” (men who left their wives to study Torah) who studied in Korelitz. He was like a regular member of the head of the rabbinic court's family in Korelitz and would honor the town's rabbi by providing for his needs and for many years continued to do likewise for the rabbi's widow. In this way, he would respond to the needs of the community and was considered a resident of Korelitz at the community level. In his preface to “Divrei Malkiel” part 2 (5657- 1897), he praises his respected father-in-law.

Rabbi Malkiel served 14 years in the town of Bodki. In 5647 (1887), he was invited to accept a position as rabbi of the town of Lomze which he held for 13 years. He died on 8 Nissan 5670 (1910).


[Page 89]

Rabbi Meir Hillel Zunser

by G.

Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer

In the town of Lubtch (State of Minsk, District of Novogrudek), the joy of Passover turned into deep mourning when an excellent and unique man of inestimable worth was suddenly taken from its residents. He was a great rabbi who had a perfect mastery of languages and sciences, Rabbi Meir Hillel Zunser, of blessed memory.

The deceased was born in Vilna and studied much Torah in poverty and diligently studied Talmud day and night. And in those days, he also studied books of the grammar of our holy language and searched for hidden things. He also set aside time for learning other languages and basic knowledge of mathematics. He studied earth sciences and general history until his knowledge of these subjects was as complete as that of a scholar's.

About 13 years ago, while he was still residing in the town of Korelitz, studying books of authorities of Jewish law, he was ordained by the head of the rabbinic court in Korelitz. Later, however, he went into business and enjoyed the benefits of his toil. In his last years, he was an accountant for companies in Lodz and Warsaw. Few of his friends and acquaintances knew that a living treasure of books was walking among them, for besides his expertise in Talmud and authorities of Jewish law, he read many books in Hebrew, Russian, German and French, and he knew all these languages perfectly and retained everything.

On the first day of the Intermediate Days of Passover, towards evening, he was enjoying himself at home in the company of friends. Then he went to bed but didn't get up again and the doctors' efforts to save him were to no avail, for his soul departed and returned to its Creator. He died at the age of 42 and left behind a wife and seven children. May his dear soul abide in the shadow of the Almighty! And may the Lord comfort his mourners and all his friends who esteem the memory of this great rabbi.

HaTsfira” 5649 (1889), No. 93

Signed: G.

Moshe Cinowitz adds: What is written above that the sage, Rabbi Meir Hillel Zunser, was ordained by the late rabbi of Korelitz, refers to Rabbi Yechiel Yitzchak Davidson, father-in-law of the Genius Rabbi Eliahu Feinstein and father of the mother of the poet, Yitzchak Katzenelson.

Regarding this sage, we must add that he was related to the members of the Meizel family, one of the most splendid and distinguished in Lubtch, including Rabbi Eliahu Chaim Meizel, head of the rabbinic court in Lodz, the Genius Rabbi Baruch Dov Leibowitz, head of the college at the Yeshiva “Knesset Beit Yitzchak” in Slobodka-Kamenitz and - May he be set apart for a long life! - the Genius Yechezkel Avramski, author of “Chazon Yechezkel”. Zunser was also related to the respected Shimshelevitz family, which originated in Lubtch. Several members of this family were residents of Korelitz. One of the female members of the Shimshelevitz family, Mrs. Laske, was an intimate friend of the wife of Rabbi Yechiel Yitzchak Davidson, head of the rabbinic court in Korelitz.

In “HaTsfira” 1896 (No. 38), a “thank you blessing” is transmitted from Korelitz to Mrs. Devorah Shimshelevitz, a generous woman from Korelitz who agreed to establish a Torah supporters group whose aim is to feed 40 young men studying Torah every single day.


[Page 90]

See Dvorah and the Talmud Association


[Page 92]

History of Korelitz's Ritual Slaughterers

by Sarah Beigin

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

Korelitz is one of the small towns in White Russia where Jews settled around the 15th century. Victims of persecution, they were driven from place to place and finally began to develop Jewish communities in the Novogrudek region. Wherever a Jewish settlement developed, the leaders of the community were foremost concerned with maintaining religious life. They saw to it that each town had a rabbi, shochet (ritual slaughterer), mohel (circumciser), chazzan (cantor), etc. People who remember the circle of the shochetim in Korelitz have surely heard of the very popular shochet, Reb Moshe–Yitzchak Volfin, who was everything– a ritual slaughterer, cantor and circumciser. He was brought to Korelitz because he had all the qualities and thus saved the community a lot of money. The town was small and could not afford to support a shochet and a chazzan separately. It is not known where Reb Moshe–Yitzchak Volfin came from, nor how many children he had. The only thing that was known was that one of his sons was a rabbi in Baksht and his name was Rabbi Zvi. His second son, Chloineh, took over the legal claim to serve as shochet in Korelitz when Reb Moshe–Yitzchak was already very old.

In the course of time, Korelitz grew in size and developed. The Jews living there fulfilled the commandment “to be fruitful and multiply” despite the difficult economic situation. The families were burdened with many children.

Chloineh the Shochet was a clever Jew and a Torah scholar. He lived out his years in Korelitz. It is not known how many children Reb Chloineh the Shochet had, but it is known that, in his old age, he gave one half of his legal claim to serve as shochet to his son, Reb Bertche, and the other half as a dowry to his daughter, Duskeh, when she married the son of the rabbinic judge in Kletzk, Reb Yitzchak Dovid Katzenelboigen.

Reb Yitzchak Dovid had 8 children: 4 sons and 4 daughters. His son Avraham Katzenelboigen was a household name. He was a rabbi in the city of Rostov in Russia. He was also very wealthy. A second son, Reb Kalman Beigin, was Reb Chloineh the Shochet's son–in–law. (He changed his family name so as to avoid having to serve in the army.)

Reb Yitzchak–Dovid gave his children a fine education. My grandmother, Freide Hinde, who was Reb Kalman the Shochet's sister, was even able to read a blatt Gemorah [a page of Talmud]. Reb Kalman was a scholar with a very sharp mind. He was known throughout the region as a Torah scholar. Reb Kalman had two sons: Reb Yitzchak–Dovid and Reb Nachum–Eizik and five daughters: Sarah–Devorah, Chana, Chana–Mereh, Malkeh and Etta–Tzireh.

Reb Yitzchak Dovid's oldest son became self–supporting early on. He left the small town and moved to Minsk where he had dairy concessions. Before his death, Reb Zalman called his father–in–law, Chloineh, and his brother–in–law, Bertche, and gave them a handshake in the presence of the rabbi, Reb Eli–Baruch, signifying that he was transferring one half of his share of the legal claim to serve as shochet to his son, Nachum–Eizik, and the second half as a dowry for his daughter Sarah–Devorah. By doing so, Reb Kalman wished to avoid arguments after his death.

After Reb Kalman's death, Reb Bertche remained the only shochet in Korelitz. Nachum–Eizik was not particularly eager to carry out the will of his late father. That was because Nachum–Eizik, a quite modern young man, was influenced by the enlightenment movement and soaked up Zionist literature. He strove to go far away from the small town but was compelled to keep his beard and peot [earlocks] and learn the skill of slaughtering animals. Nachum–Eizik had inherited all his father's good qualities. He had a sharp mind, was blessed with a fine sense of humor and was known as a wise man in the town. After marrying off his sister Sarah–Devorah to the son of the rabbi from Baksht, Reb Alter Morduchovitch, Nachum–Eizik transferred the entire legal claim to serve as shochet to his sister and moved to Minsk by himself where he joined his brother in business.

It happened that at the end of the First World War, an argument between butchers and the shochet broke out in a small town near Minsk. The rabbis from that town decided that a shochet from another place should judge the case involving Torah law and hand down a ruling. Since Reb Nachum–Eizik was officially no longer practicing ritual slaughtering, he was invited to be the arbiter of that quarrel. The morning after the judgment was handed down, they found Reb Nachum–Eizik stabbed to death on the ground, wrapped in his prayer shawl and phylacteries. The report of Reb Nachum–Eizik's murder quickly spread through the district but, for various reasons, the matter was hushed up. As the army controlled the roads at that time, the deceased could not be laid to rest in Korelitz and was buried in the Minsk cemetery. Thus did Reb Nachum–Eizik the Shochet tragically end his life.

When Reb Bertche the Shochet grew weak in his old age and could no longer perform ritual slaughtering, he transferred the legal claim to serve as shochet to his son, Reb Moshe–Avraham Volfin, and from that time until the destruction of the Korelitz Jewish community, there were two ritual slaughterers in Korelitz who lived in unity. Reb Moshe–Avraham returned to Korelitz from Poltava, where he was active in Zionist life. However, due to the respect he had for his father, he came back to Korelitz.

Despite his difficult private life and the “pain of raising children”, especially “the pain of raising daughters”, he was abundantly blessed by the Lord. He led a full cultural life and was socially active in Zionist life in Korelitz. He was the representative of the Jewish National Fund and all the Jews held him in great esteem.

An altogether different sort of person was Reb Alter the Shochet – Reb Avraham–Yitchak, an imposing figure with burning, black eyes and with a long, white beard. His whole being recalled the appearance of the Patriarchs. He was very active in religious life in Korelitz. His clothing was neat and clean and he was always seen with a black hat or skullcap on his head, wearing a white collar. Jews gave him the proper respect and he was held in high repute among the Jews of Korelitz.

Both ritual slaughterers lived, as was said, in peace. When they played chess, they would forget the weekday troubles. In this way, both shochetim shared the fate of all the Jews in Korelitz.

The children of the shochetim did not follow in their fathers' footsteps and did not want to forge the chain of the Korelitz ritual slaughterers. The Zionist movement took them away from their homes. They became pioneers in the Land of Israel.

With the annihilation of the Korelitz Jewish community, the lovely chain of Korelitz ritual slaughterers was also torn asunder and with their death, the dynasty of Korelitz shochetim came to an abrupt end.


[Page 95]

A Shortcut to the Past

by Yechezkel Zaks – Tel Aviv

Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer

I see you now my small town of Korelitz, a small town in White Russia. I see you with your little houses and narrow lanes. The people in the small town are seemingly drawn by an artist's hand - each one with his image and fixed character: the “petit bourgeois” storekeeper hopelessly yearning to make a sale; the craftsman owns a workshop and can hardly make a living; the industrialist owns a small factory.

The sound of a trilling melody of young men students pours out from the study hall and penetrates every single place and comes to say that help does not exist for everyday matters only, but is involved with matters from above, in other worlds.

All this is said regarding the world of the town's boys and young men students. The girls attended the “cheder” (religious elementary school) of Moshe “Shreiber” and learned neither Talmud nor Bible, but just Yiddish script and spelling and simple addition, a kind of incidental learning without content and without enthusiasm. And the teacher was called Moshe “Shreiber” because, in addition to being the teacher of girls, he used to be the town's letter writer (shreiber). If a letter reached a person who had trouble reading small letters of the alphabet, he or she would bring the letter to Moshe, who would read out the letter to the person who received it and would also write a reply written in lovely, curly letters with the wording according to each one's needs and affairs. The Hebrew letters “lamed” and “feh sofit” still stand before my eyes, and it is on account of his special handwriting that I admired him so much.

This is to point out that if a teacher of boys was not considered to be an important professional, a teacher of girls was ranked even lower professionally, for while a teacher of boys has to maintain order and discipline in order to impart knowledge of Torah to his pupils, a teacher of girls would only place before each girl a kind of a copy of script - and each girl tried to copy what was written, but they never dealt with pertinent matters or real learning. Even the content of the material the girls had to copy was not related to the Bible or any other subject.

Reuven “der rotshetzer” (one who values the rod to maintain discipline) used to teach the girls “Hebrew” and “Hebrew translation”, but he too was satisfied with superficial teaching and learning while Yache, his tall and thin wife, helped him, and her voice intermingled with her husband's voice in the translation of words from the prayer book, as her pointer, indicating the letter or word, accompanied her every movement.

The periods of learning in the “cheder” were set according to “seasons”, namely winter or summer and, in general, the girls did not spend many “seasons” in the “cheder” of Moshe Shreiber and Reuven Rotshetzer together. Thus passed the “seasons”: the girls going and girls coming, and the “method” of teaching remained unchanged. Something finally happened, however, that brought about an essential change in the education of girls in the small town of Korelitz and, of course, a change in all the education in the town. One morning, the rabbi's young daughter, who was also one of the girls in the “cheder”, came and told us that her brother Moshe, who was considered a “maskil” (follower of the enlightenment movement) and a “Zionist” and who studied in a large town, was getting ready to come home for the holidays and intended to stay in town for some time after the holidays. There were hectic preparations for the arrival of Moshe, the rabbi's son, as the town was fond of him and he was known as a Zionist preacher and a good organizer. And indeed, with his coming for the holidays, he introduced a drastic change in the method of teaching and learning in the town. He influenced his friend, Alter-Herzl, to take on the responsibility of educating the girls, and a new period in our lives began all at once. Our learning was no longer incidental and without content. Suddenly we began to learn Bible stories like all the boys.

At the same time, the adults organized into various Zionist groups: “Sons of Zion”, “Daughters of Zion” and just Zionists. Torah proceeded from the rabbi's house and reached our “cheder”, which was now called an “improved cheder”. Our teacher was the rabbi's son's right hand and they were both supported by the enlightened ritual slaughter whose house became a center of Zionism and enlightenment. Our teacher let us participate in what was going on and we swallowed every word that came out of his mouth. The rabbi's son himself visited our school and supervised the instruction and even tested us. Each one of us tried not to disappoint him and indeed we did not put him to shame.

The school term (“season”) passes. The rabbi's son returns to his studies in the big city, but he comes back to the town for every holiday, and the town rejoices when he comes. We organize parties, and pictures of Herzl and other Zionist leaders decorate the walls of the house where the parties are to take place. I remember in particular a visit by the rabbi's son on his return from one of the Zionist Congresses. The first part of his visit was at our “cheder”. He spoke before us and in our eyes it was as though Herzl were standing there alive in person before us.

*****

Years passed and the vicissitudes of life took me away from my small town. And behold, one day, in one of the halls, I met the very son of the rabbi from Korelitz, the son whose vision was the dream of our life in our childhood. I recognized him and the vision of the small town of those days passed before my eyes, the small town with the “style” of life of that time and with the cares of those days, many days before the great Holocaust.

These recollections are called to my mind in light of the meeting with Moshe Cohen, the son of the rabbi of Korelitz, who brought me back to those days. I saw our small town again in a hasty glance only for 24 hours in 1930 after an absence of 23 years. I recognized everyone, and everyone remembered me as if we hadn't parted at all. Of course, the young people I met were different from those of my period. This time I encountered young people who were consciously Zionistic, educated, speaking Hebrew and knowledgeable about world affairs. The school was already normal with a full curriculum of subjects. I saw our small town and the young people who were preparing to go to live in the Land of Israel. I saw young people studying in big cities and I thought that a new period had awakened my small town, but that was a vision of illusions: it was an awakening before the great tragedy which had be hovering over the heads of European Jewry for many years and which destroyed everything, nearly everything.


[Page 97]

How Did We Study?

by Esther Shkolnik–Hurwitz

Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky

How did we study in Korelitz? How were we educated from a young age and until we became independent? In order to answer these questions, I first have to describe briefly the image of our town during that period. Korelitz was situated far from the large cities. The biggest city close to us was Novogrudek – which also was not considered to be large.

This was in the period between the two World Wars. After the First World War, many cities had normal educational systems with qualified teachers and study programs – which was not the case with us. Our life did not yet suit these demands. When a child reached the age of three or four, he met with the realities of life at that time: parents troubled with their livelihood, who had no time to worry about the child or his education. Who knew then about children's games? A child's education was haphazard and influenced by the environment, the street and the child's friends

At the age of 6 –7 he was sent to heder. I well remember mine, in the home of R' Aharon Yaakov Dovidovitz – a large room, long table, benches on either side. R' Aharon Yaakov wore a skull–cap, he was serious and attentive all hours of the day; he taught “reading, writing, as well as arithmetic” (the primary steps of addition and subtraction). It was called an “advanced heder”. We studied from morning till evening, reading and transcribing entire pages of the Chumash, after having learned their contents, word by word, in Yiddish translation. And woe to the pupil who failed to remember! A male miscreant was placed in a corner with a dirty shtreimel dunce cap on his head to be the object of ridicule by all the pupils. For girls, the usual punishment was to put their name on the blackboard and write a large zero filled with smaller zeros next to the name. On the other hand, a good student was rewarded with 5's next to her name. Naturally the children were ashamed of the bad punishment and tried to delete the negative grades from the wall, but were also scared that the punishment would be doubled.

The next, higher heder was R' Yitzhok's. He was well–versed in the Bible, Talmud and grammar; he was very aggressive to the pupils, especially to the boys whom he would punish for the slightest thing, pinching them or even slapping their cheeks. He had a much better relationship with the girls, treating them tenderly and with affection and would praise them for their diligence and knowledge.

In the heder the terms of “games” or “entertainment” did not exist – only “to study” and “to study”. But with time – a Yiddish–Hebrew elementary school was established. The teachers were local youth with expert knowledge in different fields – each was invited to teach the subject that suited him: Accountant Yitzhok Klatzki taught arithmetic, Poet Zvi Kivelevitz was invited to teach Hebrew, R' Itzke taught Talmud and grammar, and Mr Shuster taught nature studies.

The pupils sat examinations before entering this school and were divided into classes as in a real school. We opened our eyes and breathed a sigh of relief: we had left the darkness for the bright light: here was a school like “the others” with recesses, bells, and naturally games during the recess. The school did not have a study program or a standard; none of the teachers were qualified; the standard of the studies was different from other schools, but we pupils were happy because we had returned to childhood, which the heder had stifled. We hiked during the holidays, we organized classroom dramatics and felt the pulse of life.

But even with this school, matters were not finished; our parents were worried: how would their children fare, in a foreign land? What would we get with all these studies in Hebrew and Yiddish? One needs to know Polish for the future, for advancing in life, and so we were transferred to the Polish elementary school, with all the “shiktzim” and “shiktsas” gentiles. This was a difficult transition period – The adaptation to the mixed group of Poles, Russians and Jews; learning the Polish language, different study subjects and a different life. The teachers here were qualified. Here we studied new subjects that we previously did not know existed: singing, art, gymnastics. The Jewish students enthusiastically took up their studies and soon outdistanced their Polish fellow students. The result: envy and hatred.

The principal of the Polish school, named Dolemba, was a good–natured but far from being a good educator: he was also a pleasure–hunting drunkard, rolling around the streets at nights and being a bad example to his pupils. But we Jewish students tried to obtain only the good from the school and ignore the bad, damaging side. The aim of the Jewish students was to finish their studies successfully, so as to go on to higher education in the big cities. Together with these aims, we did not forget our origins and we tried as much as possible to deepen our knowledge in the Hebrew language and culture. Here appeared the noble Benjamin Obseiewitz who privately taught us Hebrew. He was the complete opposite of the Polish school headmaster Dolemba: a inspired man, with a delicate soul who succeeded implanting in us love for the national language and the desire to continue to study.

[Those of us who managed to continue with our studies always recalled him with love and affection. Other Korelitz teachers who held classes in their homes were Hershel Dobkes, Berl Feivel from Eishishok, Zelig der Schorser (who also did watch repairing) and Zvi Hirsh Chessler. – written in the English version only –AB]

Only a few managed to realize their desires. But those who did and left the town for the large cities felt a strong spiritual connection to the town where they grew up and took their first steps – the town with the friends and the people that we loved so much.

 

The elementary Hebrew school, Korelitz, 5688 – 1928

 


[Page 100]

R' Zvi–Hershel HaCohen Boyarsky

by Zippora Katzenelson–Nachumov

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

Ignorance had no place in the “Old Shul”. There the folks studied Torah and Talmud day and night. Around it were the public institutions of the community: the Rabbi's home (the “Cold Shul”, so named because the temperature inside was always cooler than outside – summer and winter). Beyond was an even cooler spot – the cemetery, with its headstones sunken into the ground among the weeds – except for the modest mausoleum of the deceased Rabbi, R' Yitzhok Yechiel, for whom Yitzhok Katzenelson was named. On the other end of the courtyard was the warmest spot in town – the schvitzbad, the Turkish bath, so–called.

Opposite the Old Shul and the cemetery was the Hassidic shtibel [a place for prayer and also a place for community gathering] of the Koidanover Rebbe. The First Gabbai of the shtibel was R' Zvi–Hershel Hacohen Boyarsky, a teacher by occupation and understandably a man of modest means. He was a jolly person, rotund and built close to the ground, and he sported a short black beard. He had unbounded faith and was ever in good spirits. His fine singing voice resounded through the alleys and lifted the hearts of his listeners. No simcha [joyful occasion] in the shtibel was worth the name without his presence, and his preparations to visit the Rebbe in his town was an event in Korelitz.

He was beloved for his gaiety by all his students. He was also a born teacher and knew how to handle the children; the pupils who lagged behind were taken into the smaller room for “private instruction” as in the main room the older pupils taught the younger ones. Yitzhok Katzenelson often spoke of the influence that these surroundings had upon him in his childhood days. This was the background of his future folk poem, “The Sun in Flames is Setting”. He often returned to it is later years, visiting the Rabbis house where his cradle was still standing. And on each occasion he would remark, sadly, that R' Zvi–Hershel was no longer among the living.

Coordinator's note: Harvey Spitzer notes that the Yiddish text (Pages 100–101) is almost identical to the above English text. At the bottom of the Yiddish text, it is noted that the article is derived from:

Zippora Katzenelson–Nachumov: Yitzhak Katzenelson: His Life and Works. Ch. 7, Pages 55, 56, 57. [In Yiddish].

 

[Page 102]

The Pedagogic Council and Parents Committee at the Hebrew School in the year 5687 (1927)
(From right): Yaacov Galwitzky, Shamai Klatzkin; Moshe Avraham Volpin; Tzvi Kibelevitz; Spokoyna; Rabbi Vernik;; -------; Chaim Bussel; Baruch Shimshelevitz; Yitzhak Meir Kaltzitzki; Tuvia Kaltzitzki

 

The “Kehila” (Community) Executive Board with Alexander Harkaby
(From right): Bakar; Pesach Kaplan; Shalom Cohen; A. Harkaby; Rabbi Moshe Yossilevitz; Bakar; Michael Shuster; Nissan Rakovitsky

 

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