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[Pages 254-264]

Rabbis Born in Lubtch

by Moshe Tzinovitch

Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer

The Gaon Rabbi Eliyakum Shapira

Born in Lubtch in the year 5586 (1826), he was the son of Rabbi Chaim Shapira, who was later head of the rabbinic court in Solchnik (Vilna District). He was part of the family of the Gaon Rabbi Eliezer Shapira, head of the rabbinic court in Lubtch and was also related to the Gaon Rabbi Aryeh-Leib Shapira, head of the rabbinic court in Kovna. The young Eliyakum was a favorite of Rabbi Aryeh-Leib Shapira, from whom he learned the ways of conduct in the rabbinate, serving before him and before the Gaon Rabbi Reuven HaLevi, learning how to put rabbinic directives into practice.

Rabbi Eliyakum was rabbi and head of the rabbinic court in Horodok, (Vilna District), Ibnitz, Eishishok and Grodno. He was considered one of the most prominent rabbis in these places. R' Eliykum was great in Torah learning, an expert teacher and a wise man, who was familiar with the problems of the world. He also had a good command of spoken and written Russian and was well known even in the circles of the authorities and senior officials in the Grodno District. He was invited to rabbinic assemblies at which his advice in matters pertaining to the general public was taken into consideration. He initiated an assembly of rabbis in Grodno, receiving special permission from the minister of the Grodno district for this purpose but, because of various reasons, the convention did not meet.

In his book, “Dor v'dorshav” (“A Generation and its Preachers”) by Eliezer Efrati, Rabbi Eliyakum is described a “a great genius, wise and magnanimous, knows the language of the state and is very capable in arithmetic.” In another book, “Dor Rabbanav visofrov” (“A Generation of Rabbis and Writers”) by Ben-Zion Eisenstadt, it is brought down that in his youth, Rabbi Eliyakum was famous as a prodigy, having an exceptional memory.

His innovations are found in books and essays dealing with questions and responses. More of his essays dealing with questions and responses relating to the Talmud and deciders of matters of Jewish law are found in manuscript. One of Eliyakum's responses is found in the book, “Tshuvat Shmuel” (“Shmuel's Response”) [Laws of Divorce, Law #2] and, in “Beit Vad llChachamim”) (“Meeting Place for Scholars”), [Weekly collection for Torah and Jewish Wisdom by Rabbi Yisrael-Haim Deiches], Rabbi Deiches bases himself on one of Rabbi Eliyakum's questions and answers and writes that he is “the father of instruction, the sage of the rabbis of Grodno, a great genius.”

Around the year 5664 or 5665 (1905), Rabbi Eliyakum Shapira emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael and settled in Jerusalem.where he was honored to be the president of the “Grodno Community”. He died in the year 5668 (1908) and had the honor of being laid to rest on the Mount of Olives. A list of appreciation to his memory appeared in one of the issues of “Havatzelet” for 5668.

 

The Gaon Rabbi Raphael-Alter Shmuelevitch

He was born in Lubtch around 5635 (1875) and received an intensive Talmudic education. He studied at yeshivot in Lithuania and in the yeshivot in Slutzk and Novogrudek where ethical conduct was emphasized. He was famous as having wonderful talents and for his diligence. He abounded in innovations according to the school system of the Lithuanian yeshivot and he became famous in Lithuania and Zhamot.

He was the son-in-law of the righteous, wise and devoted rabbi, Rabbi Yosef-Yozel Horvitch. Afterwards, he was appointed to fill the role of head of the rabbinical college in the yeshiva at Novogrudek. He also spent some time as deputy head of the rabbinical college in Slotzk.

When the upper division yeshiva was established in Grodno in 5676, Rabbi Raphael was appointed head of the college of the yeshiva. However, he was active for only a short time and died the following year, 5677 (1917). His lessons are passed around until this very day in all the yeshivot, and copied from hand to hand.

His son is the prodigy, the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitch, head of the rabbinical college at the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

 

Rabbi Yosef Yossilevitch (5639-5695)

He was born in Lubtch in the year 5639 (1879) and received a Torah education in his hometown and in yeshivot in the area. Afterwards, he studied at the yeshiva “Knesset Yisrael” in Slobodka-Kovna (5654-62) in the period when the Gaonim R' Issar-Zalman Meltzer and R' Moshe-Mordechai Epshtein served as heads of the rabbinical college. He was also among those who came to the house of the Gaon R' Yitzchak Blazer, one of the fathers of Musar movement who was then living in Kovna and whose spirit influenced those studying in the Slobodka yeshiva and in the “kolel” [yeshiva for married students, some of whom left their wives to study] in Kovna.

Rabbi Yossilevitch's first position as rabbi was in the town of Selov (5667-72) and after that he served as rabbi and head of the rabbinic court in Terrestina (Bialystok District), Samiatich (5681-86) and in Sovalk, a district town.

In every place where he served, Rabbi Yossilevitch was active in the area of education and strengthening religion. In Sovalk he supervised the Talmud-Torah and the local yeshiva attached to it, until it was considered to be the official educational institute for Jews of Sovalk and the whole area.

He was known amongst the rabbis of Lithuania and Poland as a genius, a great innovator (discoverer of new interpretations) and as a research scholar in the sea of Talmud and its commentators. He left behind manuscripts on halacha [Jewish law], some of them relating to martyrs based on the way of understanding in the Lithuanian style of learning. He did not live, however, to see these manuscripts in print. A few of his Talmudic innovations were published in his lifetime in the Torah compilations “Sha'arei Tzion” in Jerusalem and “Knesset Yisrael” in Vilna.

Although Rabbi Yossilevitch's growth and education in Talmud were at the yeshiva in Slobodka, where they were opposed to Zionism, he himself joined the “Mizrachi” movement and was loyal to it all his life. His sermons were always about the ideas of revival of the Jewish homeland: he signed declarations calling on Jews to join the Mizrachi movement and acted in support of the Jewish National Fund, the Jewish Foundation Fund and other Zionist settlement and pioneering fund raising drives.

In the year 5683 (1923), he participated in the conference of Mizrachi rabbis, which took place in Warsaw. He was a candidate from the national center of Mizrachi in Poland as a delegate to the 13th Zionist Congress which took place that same year.

All this did not detract from his worth and status as a great rabbi and brilliant scholar in the general rabbinical circles in Poland and Lithuania. He was also accepted in the circle of the Gaon Rabbi Chaim-Ozer in Vilna and among the people of the Musar Movement in the yeshivot.of the Polish part of Lithuania. He took part in a conference of pupils of the Slobodka Yeshiva which took place in Baranovitch in the year 5688 (1928), marking the first anniversary (“yahrzeit”) of the death of the grandfather from Slobodka. He was among the heads speaking at this convention in which the scholar of the Musar Movement, R' Yerucham Leibovitch, a leading figure from Mir, also participated.

 

Rabbi Eliyahu-Dov Berkovsky

Born in the year 5625 (1865), he was the son of R' Netta Mordechai, one of the town honorables and scholars. At the age of 12, he already started learning at the great Mir Yeshiva and was one of the most brilliant pupils of the head of the college, the Gaon R' Chaim-Leib Tiktinsky. Afterwards, he moved on to the Volozhin Yeshiva where he studied Torah from the head of the college, the Gaon R' Naftali-Tzvi Yehuda Berlin (the Netzi“v). From Volozhin he went to Slobodka, where the famous upper-level yeshiva had begun taking shape out of a group of young people who were part of a Torah group. R' Eliyahu-Dov was among the first ten students that learnt in the above group in the synagogue, “Halivyat HaMet”. This was the nucleus of the Musar movement's yeshiva,“Knesset Yisrael” in Slobodka, at the head of which stood the Musar rabbi, Rabbi Netta-Hirsh Finkel. There R' Eliyahu-Dov was close to the Gaon R' Yitzchak Blazer, who was counted among the brightest of the students of the Gaon Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, who inspired him with the spirit of ethical conduct and to whom he was connected with bonds of love.

When he was 22 years old, he married the daughter of one of the honorables of Novogrudek. He then made the acquaintance of the head of the rabbinic court, the Gaon Rabbi Yechiel-Michal Epshtein, author of “Aruch HaShulchan”. After the marriage, he returned to Volozhin and studied at the yeshiva for young married men founded by Brodsky. In the year 5651 he was ordained by the Netziv and by Rabbi Yehiel-Michal Epshtein and Rabbi Yitzchak Bonimovitch, head of the rabbinic court of Lubtch, who pointed out his greatness in Torah and his wonderful qualities.

Several years later Rabbi Berkovsky became active in the Musar movement and filled an important role in this movement. Those were the days when “kolels” and yeshivot were beginning to be established in different cities in the manner prescribed by Rabbi Yosef Yozel. With the approval of R' Yosef Blazer, the town of Lubtch served as the founding place for the first kolel for young married students. At the same time, a kolel was founded in Novogrudek. Some time later, the kolel in Lubtch was dispersed and the one in Novogrudek became the central yeshiva for all the Musar movement yeshivot of the type of R' Yozel Horvitch.

In the year 5657 (1897) when a controversy of opposition to the Musar method was disclosed, R' Eliyahu-Dov went, as an emissary of R' Yitzchak Blazer, to a number of towns where famous rabbis who were sympathetic to the Musar movement were then serving, and obtained their signatures on the declaration, “For the Truth”, which was published on the pages of the “Hamelitz׏ newspaper in the year 5657. He stood for 10 years at the head of the board of directors of the yeshiva in Novogrudek and bore the difficult yoke and heavy responsibility of both the spiritual and financial administration.

When an extreme Musar rule took over the leadership of the yeshiva in Novogrudek, something that was not to the liking of Rabbi Berkovsky, he withdrew from the above- mentioned yeshiva and moved to Lida to sit beside the Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak-Yaakov Reines, to help him in administering his new yeshiva. The whole burden of administration lay on his shoulders in the years during the First World War, when Rabbi Reines died and the yeshiva was uprooted to Yelisotograd in Ukraine. It continued to exist there for four years with the great effort and extraordinary devotion of Rabbis Berkovsky, together with the prodigy from Maytchat, R' Shlomo Polachek. This continued until after the days of the pogroms in Ukraine, and when the yeshiva was closed, it moved to independent Poland. For 10 years he served in office in the yeshiva in Lida, spent a few more years in Rovna and then served half a year as head of the college and spiritual monitor at the “Techachamoni” yeshiva in Bialystok. He made aliyah to Eretz-Israel in the year 5684 (1924) and made his home in Tel Aviv, the final station of his life.

Rabbi Shlomo HaCohen Aronson, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, held Rabbi Berkovsky in high esteem and appointed him head of the rabbinic college and spiritual monitor in the yeshiva for young people, “Yeshivat Tel Aviv”, which was founded on his initiative. Thanks to his hard work and great experience, the yeshiva developed and its prestige spread about in the new Jewish community of Mandatory Palestine. In the year 5695 (1935) he retired from work due to age, but remained connected to the work of the yeshiva, tested students and even set their manners and way of life.

He was also a speedy writer and had a well-developed sense to comment, enlighten and conceive ideas. He published his works in “HaTzofeh”, “HaYesod”, “Bamishor” and “HaHed”. He left behind various manuscripts on halacha and agada.

He was a man of noble character. He walked modestly with every person, shared in the fate of his fellow man and was always willing to help the suffering and the needy with spiritual and financial support. He took a special interest in helping young scholars who lacked material means, and looked after them constantly without taking his mind off their needs, not even for a short time.

As much as he belonged to the rabbinical, patriarchal world, Rabbi Berkovsky was a clear “Lover of Zion”, a loyal member of the “Mizrachi” movement in Eretz-Yisrael. He believed in the redemption of the Jewish People. Therefore, he was enthusiastically engaged with studying the traditional laws and commandments dependent on living in Eretz-Israel. He served as rabbi at Beit Midrash “Yerushalayim” on Gruzenberg Street in Tel Aviv, where there was a large concentration of students from Lithuania. Every day he gave a lesson on a page of Talmud before well-known people.

Rabbi Eliyahu-Dov Berkovsky died in Tel Aviv on 25 Adar I, 5703 (1943) at the age of 78. Editorials devoted to his memory appeared in the daily newspaper “HaTzofeh” and also in “HaYeso” with details about his life.

 

Rabbi Yisrael-Yehuda Halevy Kapuchevsky

Born in the village of Ratchmilla, which is between Lubtch, Slov and Novogrudek, R' Yisrael-Yehuda was the son of R' Yaakov and Feyga, whose ancestors had lived in this village for generations upon generations. Although they were “country folk” from birth, they took pains and saw to it that their children were educated to be Torah scholars. Their efforts bore excellent fruit and from the village home of the “farmers”, two sons went out to the region in search of Torah and knowledge. One of them, the firstborn, Rabbi Yosef HaLevy Kapuchevsky, settled with his wife, Hinda, in the town of Lubtch where he was accepted as a teacher of Talmud for the local youth, and his fame spread as a great expert in the teaching of Talmud.

The second son, Rabbi Yisrael-Yehuda, studied at the Mir Yeshiva, where he attended the lessons of the head of the college, R' Chaim Leib Tiktinsky. At the age of 21, after filling his stomach with Talmud and deciders of Jewish law, he came to Minsk. There he was introduced to a Hebrew and general education and perfected his knowledge of Hebrew and Russian. He excelled as a master of style, a brilliant scholar in Bible and general literature. Upon his return from Minsk, he married the young Mina, daughter of R' Itche Meir and Riva-Nacha from Lubtch.

Influenced by his father-in-law, who owned a bakery and flour shop, R' Yisrael-Yehuda also opened a store, selling flour and grains. After a short time, however, he left the business in the hands of his wife and devoted himself to his pioneering work in the field of education in Lubtch. His aim was to insert an addition of the achievements brought about by time: the study of Hebrew and secular subjects into the framework of the traditional “cheder”(religious elementary school). And, indeed, the “cheder” that he founded in the town was a fine example to all the environs. In the “cheder”, children learnt Hebrew, Russian, arithmetic, grammar, history and other subjects, - a revolutionary idea in those days. The results were positive and justified his experiment. Most of the pupils were equipped with much knowledge in the above subjects, and together with this, they also deepened and strengthened their religious knowledge in the spirit of the heritage of their forefathers.

R' Yisrael-Yehuda's “cheder” also served as a corridor for streaming pupils to the yeshivot. He himself was one who “practices what he preaches” and sent three of his sons to the yeshivot in Baronovitch, Radon and Mir. This Lubtch educator also recognized the importance of the Zionist movement and was wise enough to introduce a Zionist atmosphere in the spirit of traditional Israel into the framework of his “cheder”.

R' Yisrael-Yehuda HaLevy was uprooted towards the end of the year 5675 (1915) from Lubtch, his town which was reduced to ruins in the fire of the war between Russia and Germany. He moved to the town of Dervna, where he set up a perfect “cheder” modeled after the one in Lubtch and saw blessing in the area of education in continuing his method of education.

His name as an educator became famous throughout the villages close and far. The rabbi, the Gaon R' Yehoshua Liberman, head of the rabbinical court in Stoybtch, invited him to stand at the head of the “Talmud Torah” which he had founded in his city, and R' Yisrael-Yehuda accepted his offer. In this new place as well, he conquered the hearts of the parents and the pupils with his modesty, his devotion to his work and with his knowledge. He succeeded in raising hundreds of pupils to Torah and good deeds. Many are his pupils spread around the world and in the independent State of Israel who suckled from his Torah, wisdom and piety.

Mr. Zvi Stolovitsky, in his article “Religious Schools in Stoybtch” ( in his book “Stoybtch- Sverzhina”, Tel Aviv, 5725) reports the following about R' Yisrael-Yehuda's activities:

“With the arrival of R' Yehuda Kaputchevsky, a native of Lubtch and resident of Dervna, to be a teacher at the “Horev” Talmud Torah school, the school flourished. He taught Bible and Gemara (Talmud). Teaching of Gemara was accompanied by a captivating melody, when the eyes of the teacher are closed from emotion and the pupils are reading the verses. In the Gemara lessons, he was used to emphasizing the difference between the Talmud and Bible studies. While it is possible to sometimes continue studying a verse in the Bible even with deficient listening to the previous verses, it is not the case in studying the Gemara, where continuous and complete listening are required, for otherwise the internal connection of the topic under discussion will be cut off.”

R' Yisrael-Yehuda Halevy, a man from Lubtch, perished in the Holocaust in Stoybtch together with his wife Mina, also born in Lubtch, along with their daughter Sarah-Devorah and her husband, R' Avraham Moallin and their children and also their unmarried daughter, Nechama. His son, Rabbi Avraham, who was called “Avrahmel Derevener” was exiled with his yeshiva to Russia and nothing is known of his fate.

The following are members of the R' Yisrael-Yehuda's family who are still alive according to the aforementioned document: His eldest daughter, married to Mr Dov Berger in New York, an intellectual and linguist who serves as a language and literary translator. His daughter, Batya, who lives in Poland, his son, Rabbi Yosef Kapi, living in the city of Providence [Rhode Island], in the United States, and his son, the Gaon Rabbi Moshe Levin, may his light shine!, a former pupil at the Mir and Radon yeshivot, and now the chief rabbi of Netanya.

 

Rabbi Avraham-Yitzchak Nochimovsky

The Nochimovsky family was one of the most distinguished families in Lubtch. Their parents and forefathers were relatives of the well-established families of the town: Bakst, Bakster, Meizel, Shapira and others.

Avraham-Yitzchak was born in Lubtch, where he received a Torah education. He studied at the Musar movement yeshiva in Novogrudek, in Radon and at the Kollel in Kovna. He was a rabbi and judge in Shably (Lithuania), where he had influence of wide circles, bringing them closer to authentic Judaism and in keeping the Torah and the commandments.

He belonged to the “Mizrachi” movement. He was a signatory on its funds and preached on behalf of the Keren Hayesod, Keren Kayment Leyisrael (JNF) and all types of fund raising appeals for the new activities of settlement in Eretz Yisrael. In the year 5698 (1938), his signature appeared on a special petition of a group of “Mizrachi” rabbis concerning the holy obligation to donate towards a department of ultra-orthodox Jews that was founded then close to the main bureau of the Keren Kayemet Leyisrael, a thing that allowed any Jew, even the most orthodox, to give his share.

Rabbi Avraham-Yitzchak Nochimovsky was murdered by the Nazis - may their name be erased!- on 15 Tammuz 5701 (1941) together with the head of the rabbinical court, the Gaon Rabbi Aharon Baksht, may the Lord avenge their death!

 

Rabbi Shabtai Varnikovsky

Rabbi Shabtai Varnikovsky was known in the yeshivot of Lomzha, Slobodka and Novogrudek by the name of “R' Shabtai HaLubtchai”. He was admired by all the great rabbis of the generation in Lithuania.

In line with the recommendation of his teacher and guide, the Righteous Rabbi Netta-Tzvi Finkel (the grandfather from Slobodka), he married the daughter of the saintly Rabbi Tzvi-Dov Heller, spiritual monitor of the Slobodka Yeshiva.

After having been a member of the “Beit Yosef” Kolel in Slobodka for a several years, he was invited to the Lomzha Yeshiva to assume the position of head of the college, a mission which he accomplished with success, raising hundreds of pupils to the Torah and to certification as rabbis. He perished in the Holocaust, May the Lord avenge his blood!

 

Rabbi Eliezer Bar Baruch

In his book “Bnei Minsk v'chachameiha” (Vilna, 5659- 1899-) Part 2, Section “Avnei Tzion”, the author, Ben Tzion Eizenshtadt, brings inscriptions on tombstones on the graves of personalities who are buried in the Jewish cemetery in Minsk. Among these inscriptions is also that of a famous Lubtch resident who was active in Minsk and was brought to eternal rest there in great honor.

The name of this person is R' Eliezer Bar Baruch, who came from Lubtch, his place of birth, to Minsk, where he held the office of head of the yeshiva and rabbinical court judge.

This is the text of the inscription on the tombstone as written in the aforementioned book:

Here lies the rabbi, a genius in Torah and outstanding in piety and good qualities.
Rabbi Eliezer bar Baruch, who was called R' Eliezer Lubtcher, may he rest in peace!
Eliezer, like Aharon, always seeking peace, and caring for the
sacred furnishings was the charge of Elazar [son of Aharon the Priest].
In the synagogue and in the study hall, many heard his lesson.
Judge and yeshiva head he was
He longed to frequent the beloved tent of Torah
Many stood before Eliezer; he issued a law in its light.
And Eliezer said: This is a decree of the Torah. Who knows the explanation of this matter?
He scorned the cunning craftsmen. He will justify the humble person who is pleasing and a friend to God and to men.
His soul departed in purity on Tuesday, 26 Sivan, and Eliezer died in the year 5647 (1887).

Rabbi Ben-Tzion Eizenshtadt, author of the book, adds:

“Rabbi Eliezer Lubtcher, native of Lubtch, was judge and head of the yeshiva in Minsk. He disseminated Torah and knowledge to many and was magnanimous in his actions and one of the great personalities of the city, both its scholars and rabbis.”

According to Rabbi Ben-Tzion Eizenshtadt, the son of R' Eliezer Lubtcher was the leader, our master and teacher, Ha. Antzelevitch.

 

The Gaon Rabbi Avraham-Baruch Kliatchky

“Hayom”, Volume No.264, from the year 1887

8 Tevet 5648. Reporter: “Ben Shalom”

“The Gaon Rabbi Avraham-Baruch Kliatchky, was son of Rabbi Aryeh-Leib from Lubtch, son of the wealthy R' Yaakov-Peretz Kliatchky, (mentioned in the book, “Kiriyah Ne'manah”, p.212) one of the leading members of the distinguished families in Vilna.

Rabbi Avraham-Baruch Kliatchky became orphaned from his father as a child of six (his father died on 4 Tishrei, 5576-1816) and was brought from Lubtch to Vilna where he grew up in the home of his eminent uncles.

As a youth he excelled in Torah and philosophy and was taken for a bridegroom by a wealthy man who gave him a dowry and gifts, a Code of Jewish Law and a good and highly praised bride. In his father-in lawss home, he became great in Torah learning by expanding his heart and mind and by dint of sheer perseverance. In the year 5594 (1834) he eagerly wished to pray in the Beit Midrash [study hall, synagogue] of the great Rabbi Haim“Gitke-Toyvas” of blessed memory, who was the director of an upper-division yeshiva there. The head of the yeshiva chose the young Avraham-Baruch to test the pupils in their studies. At that time, Rabbi Yaakov Horander, author of the commentary “Yagel Yaakov” on the “Tzohar Hateva”, was head of the grammarians, and he too took great pleasure in the young Avraham-Baruch's knowledge of grammar. In general, nearly all the Torah leaders of the generation held him in high regard.

When he was still a young man, he began to give a lesson in the Talmud with its commentators to a group of friends who excelled in learning, and he was the teacher of this lesson for several years. In addition, he was very capable in algebra and geometry. He also read many books on science and education. Nature favored him with good looks, and when he walked through the streets of the city, wisdom shone upon his face. Everyone saw this and gave him honor befitting a king.

Thus did this man live with honor and satisfaction all his life until last year, when his beloved son, Rabbi Binyamin Kliatchky, of blessed memory, died during his father's life (on the holy Sabbath, 25 Kislev). From that time on, his strength abandoned him and the sun of the spirit of his life begun to set until he himself went down in sorrow to his son's grave, a full year and a week after his son's death. He was buried with great honor and the local acting rabbi eulogized him in the above-mentioned Beit midrash and also at the cemetery.”

Printed in the book, “Erech Tefillah” (Vilna 5629-1869) by Rabbi Levi-Yerachmiel Kliatchky (the only son of the aforementioned deceased) is a letter replete with knowledge of Talmud and deciders of Jewish law written in good taste and knowledge by the deceased.

 

Rabbi Eliezer Bakshtansky

Rabbi Eliezer Bakshtanksy was the son of Rabbi Nahum of Lubtch. R' Eliezer moved to Pinsk and became one of the town's notables: a scholar, righteous in conduct and possessing good qualities and good deeds. His name, “R' Eliezer Lubtcher” preceded him in the surrounding towns, close and far.

His father, R' Nahum, was the brother and also father-in-law of the Gaon, R' Eliyahu-Chaim Meizel, head of the rabbinical court in Lodz. He was the pupil of the “tzaddik”, Rabbi Yehonatan Stanover, in Lubtch, his place of birth.

At the age of 14, he married the daughter of the wealthy and generous Rabbi Meyer Soltz from Vilna (father-in-law of the Gaon R' Hirsh Rabinovitch, head of the rabbinical court in Kovno, son of the great and famous Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak-Elchanan Spector, head of the rabbinical court in Kovno) and became a merchant. However, he devoted most of his time to studying Torah, praying and giving charity. In Pinsk, where he lived, he carried on ramified business dealings.

He was a close friend of R' David Friedman, head of the rabbinical court in Karlin and R' Eliezer-Moshe Horovitch, head of the rabbinical court in Pinsk and likewise of R' Eliyahu-Chaim Meizel, head of the rabbinical court in Lodz.

He passed away at the age of 73, 21 Shvat 5669 (1909) and was buried with great honor.

He left behind many sons who were rabbis, giants in Torah and highly educated: R' Moshe-Aharon, R' Assir, R' Leib-Yehuda, R' Ben Tzion, R' Yehonatan and R' Yitzchak. His sons-in-law are the Gaon R' Eliezer-Yitzchak, son of R' Chaim-Hillel Fried, head of the rabbinical college in Volozhin, and the Gaon R' Yaakov Tiktinsky (grandson of the Gaon, R' Chaim-Leib Tiktinsky, head of the college and director of the Mir Yeshiva).

“Dorot Rishonim”, Book One, א-ו
New York, 5673 (1913) by Ben-Tzion Eizenshtadt


[Pages 265-270]

Rabbi R' Chaim Krasilov z”l
[And three other Rabbis]

by Avraham HaCohen Eliyav

Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky and Harvey Spitzer

lyu265.jpg
Avraham HaCohen Eliyav

 

R' Chaim was born around the year 5617 (1857) in a small town near Minsk (White Russia). As a child, he was educated by his father. Still in his youth, he went to study Torah at the Minsk Yeshiva with Rabbi Binyamin HaCohen Shikovitzky of blessed memory, known as “The Maggid from Minsk”. He was considered to be amongst the finest of the yeshiva students with a sharp mind capable of grasping ideas quickly.

He learnt diligently and at a young age was ordained but did not want to serve as a rabbi, preferring a ritual occupation. He said: “Our wise ones said: Love work and hate the rabbinate.” Therefore, R' Chaim studied the laws of slaughtering animals and received the authorization to be a ritual slaughterer and inspector.

About the year 5642 (1882), he married Feygeh, daughter of a Torah scholar from Lubtch, from a family of distinguished rabbis, the older sister of my aunt, Slova Kashtzer, from Ivyeh. After the wedding, R' Chaim was accepted to be the ritual slaughterer and inspector in Lubtch.

R' Chaim and his wife had two sons: I don't know the name of the firstborn, and the second one was named Avraham. They received their education in the parents' home in the spirit of Torah and Good Manners. Aunt Feygeh was a modest woman, pleasant in her ways, especially outstanding in her welcoming of guests. Her house was always open and she received each and everyone with cordiality.

Their firstborn son was one of the participants in the failed revolution of 1905. For fear of being arrested, he secretly emigrated to America.

In the year 5674 (1914), during the First World War, when Lubtch was completely burned down, all its inhabitants remained without a roof over their heads and were forced to disperse to the neighboring cities and towns. Many went to Ivyeh, including R' Chaim and his family; they lived there in the house of my aunt Slova Kashtzer, Feygeh's sister.

During the war years, the residents of Ivyeh, which was close to the front and under German control, suffered from a lack of basic foodstuffs. Feygeh was a sickly woman, her health deteriorated and, with no suitable medical treatment, she died in the year 5676 (1916) on the eve of Shavuot, may her soul rest in Paradise!

In the year 5679 (1919), with the end of the First World War, Avraham married his cousin, Chaya-Feygel, daughter of Aharon-Eidel and Slova (Kashtzer). When the Bolsheviks retreated and the Poles set up government, most of the Jews of Lubtch returned to their town and renewed their life there; R' Chaim and his son also returned to Lubtch.

In the year 5686 (1926), R' Chaim, the ritual slaughterer and inspector died. He was about 70 years old.

His son Avraham was the owner of a bakery in Lubtch. He and his wife Chaya-Feygel were blessed with five daughters: Asna-Eideleh, Chassia, Slova, Miriam and Liba. Chaya-Feygel was a “Woman of Valor”, who built her house in the spirit of the tradition of Israel. And even though she had to look after her small daughter, she also worked in the bakery in order to help her husband bear the yoke of earning a living. Their house stood on Market Street and was wide open to all. They gave charity generously to all the needy. Chaya-Feygel was a good-hearted woman, delicate and modest in her ways. She would receive all those who came to her house with a smile and radiant face. The words of King Solomon, the Wisest of All Men, apply to this lovely woman: “She anticipates the needs of her household, and does not partake of the bread of laziness.”

In the year 5702 (1942), on that bitter and violent day, Avraham, his wife Chaya Feygel, and their five daughters were killed by the murderous Nazis, together with all the martyrs of the Lubtch community.

[Pages 266-267]

Rabbi Yaakov-Shlomo Kivelevitch z”l

Rabbi Yaakov-Shlomo was born in the year 5655 (1895) in Lubtch. In his youth, he studied in the “cheder” in his hometown and then traveled to study Torah in the Novogrudek and Stutchin yeshivot. He was a disciple of Rabbi Alter Shmuelevitch of blessed memory, who looked after him as a son. He was very gifted and learnt diligently. Rabbi Yaakov-Shlomo was close to Rabbi Chaim-Zev Finkel, head of the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

At the end of the First World War in the year 5681 (1921), he married Gittel, daughter of Haim-Leib and Malka Gnissin from Ivyeh and settled there. Rabbi Shlomo and his wife were blessed with two sons and a daughter. In those days after the war, Rabbi Shlomo-Yaakov could not find work to support his family, who lived in a small house with poor accommodations.

Rabbi Yaakov-Shlomo was a quiet and modest man, making do with little and happy with his share. Once, when I asked him about his situation, he answered, “Thank G-d, all right. I can't complain. After all, our Sages of blessed memory said, A person's food is as difficult to come by as the pangs of redemption and the dividing of the Red Sea.”

Because of his difficult financial condition, he decided to try his luck overseas. In the year 5685 (1925), he emigrated with his wife and children to South Africa, where different communities offered him a position as rabbi, but he chose an occupation as a ritual slaughterer and inspector in the city of Bulawayo in Rhodesia. In the last years of his life, although unofficially, he also fulfilled the role of rabbi.

During the Second World War, he was very active in extending help to the Jewish refugees who arrived in South Africa. Day and night his house was full of people requesting aid and support.

Rabbi Yaakov-Shlomo was an ardent Zionist all his life. His ambition and dream was to make aliyah to Eretz-Yisrael, but he did not achieve this ambition in his lifetime.

Rabbi Yaakov-Shlomo died in South Africa on 1 Kislev 5722 (1961). He was brought to rest in the sacred earth of Jerusalem, the Holy City.

[Pages 267-269]

Rabbi Avraham-David Bloch

Rabbi Avraham-David Bloch was born in Lubtch in the year 5662 (1902). He married Feygeh, daughter of Rabbi Eliyahu HaDayan and was known by the name “Rabbi Eli's Son-in-law”. In his youth, he studied Torah at Rabbi Yosef-Yozel's yeshiva in Novogrudek and was a passionate “Musar'nik”, follower of the ethics movement. They had three sons: Mordechai, Yitzchak and Eliyahu and a daughter Malka. They were educated in Torah and in the performance of mitzvoth and good deeds.

The sons studied at the yeshiva in Ivyeh and afterwards went to study in yeshivot in other towns. Mordechai, the oldest, who had a natural bent for fine craft, went to Vilna where he learned Torah and crafts together at a technical-occupational school. Their son Yitzchak studied at the Mir and Kletsk yeshivot. He was very gifted and was numbered amongst the best students at the yeshiva. Eliyahu, who also studied at the Kletsk yeshiva, was a diligent student with a sharp mind capable of grasping ideas quickly.

Their daughter Malka married Rabbi Yehoshua Lev, one of the best students at the “Bet Yosef” yeshiva, which was founded by Rabbi Shmuel Veintroyb in Ivyeh. With time, he became head of the “Beit Yosef” lower division yeshiva. In Ivyeh he was called “Der Mashgiach” because he was the spiritual overseer of the yeshiva.

Like his father-in-law Rabbi Eliyahu, Rabbi Avraham-David also lived a life of poverty and perpetual need with his family, but they were different in their character. His father-in-law was a quiet and slow man in his manners and actions, while he, Rabbi Avraham-David, was fast and energetic in all his ways. He would rush on his way to the Beit Midrash and not even look at the people whom he met on the street in order to do as is written: Be as fleet as a deer to do the wishes of thy Father in Heaven.

In the year 5686 (1926), he moved to Vilna where he entered the Beit Midrash of the “Gra”, the Vilner Gaon, and founded a group called the “Ten Abstainers” [Aseret Prushim], who sat in the “Gaon's Kloyz”[synagogue], wrapped in their prayer shawls day and night, studying the doctrine of ethics according to the Gra.

Rabbi Avraham-David also wrote a few books on Jewish law and ethics: “Keter Tefilin-vetzitzit hakanaf” about laws brought down in the Shulhan Arukh- Orah Haim, “Heshbon Olam” about matters pertaining to Torah and ethics, “Divrei Eliyahu”, selections of Torah remarks by the Gra (together with Rabbi Farfel, “HaMaggid from Oshmina” and afterwards maggid [preacher] in Vilna.

His son Eliyahu was lucky to be saved from the claws of the Nazi murderers and after years of wandering arrived in America where he studied in the yeshiva of Rabbi Aharon Kotler, in Lakewood, New Jersey and was considered to be among his outstanding students. Rabbi Eliyahu wrote two books on Halacha [Jewish law]: “Ruach Eliyahu” [“The Spirit of Eliyahu”] and “Mida Kaneged Mida” [“Measure for Measure”].

All the other family members perished in the Holocaust in the great massacre in Ivyeh on 25 Iyar 5702 (May 12, 1942), and the father of the family, Rabbi Avraham-David, “Haparush” [“The Abstainer”], was slain by the defiled murderers in Vilna.

[Pages 269-270]

Rabbi Moshe Meyerovitz

Rabbi Moshe was born in the year 5651 (1890), son of Rabbi Reuven Meyerovitz, in Novogrudek.. He received a traditional education from the teachers in his town. He studied for a few years at the Lubtch Yeshiva and continued to study at the famous yeshiva of Rabbi Yosef-Yozel Horvitz. Rabbi Moshe was among the outstanding yeshiva students. In the year 5672 (1912), he married the daughter of Rabbi Shmuel of Delatitch, who was a Torah scholar and property owner but also did not disparage the profession he learned in his youthful years, that of a cobbler, and in this way carried out the words of our Sages of blessed memory: “Love work and hate the rabbinate!” When his only daughter reached marriageable age, Rabbi Shmuel turned to the head of the yeshiva in Novogrudek, Rabbi Yosef-Yozel, requesting him to choose a yeshiva student and scholar as a bridegroom for his daughter. According to the yeshiva head's suggestion, the lot fell on Rabbi Moshe Meyerovitz, one of his finest and brightest students.

In the year 5674 (1914), when the Russian soldiers were retreating during the First World War, they looted property and burned the houses of the inhabitants of the towns of Lubtch and Delatitch. Rabbi Shmuel and his family moved to Ivyeh and settled there. Rabbi Moshe and his wife were blessed with a son whom they called Meir.

The town of Ivyeh remained as a flock without a shepherd when the local rabbi, Rabbi Yitzchak Kosovsky, left for the depths of Russia. Rabbi “Moshe from Deliatich” (as he was nicknamed) was chosen to be the rabbi and rabbinic judge in Ivyeh. He was a great scholar, well versed in Talmud and in the decisions of the authorities of Jewish law. He used to arise after midnight and study Torah. He was diligent and tireless and was blessed with the good attributes of Aharon the High Priest, “a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace, loving people and bringing them close to Torah”. He was a brother and friend to all, made do with little and led a modest life. He was humble and simple in his ways, did not know what it meant to be angry, was always cheerful and smiling and was thus loved and admired by all the residents of the town.

Also Rabbi Moshe Shatzkes, the local rabbi and his successor, Rabbi Ze'ev Perlman, respected him, considered his opinions and valued his deep knowledge of Talmud and the decisions of the authorities of Jewish law. They also joined him in discussions and decisions regarding matters of Jewish law, arbitration and public-religious questions. His only son Meir, who was educated by his father and studied at the yeshivot in Ivyeh, Radon and Mir, was one of the outstanding students. During the Second World War, he fled with the Mir Yeshiva to Russia where, according to rumors, he died from torments and hunger.

Rabbi Moshe Meyerovitz and his wife were among the first to be killed by the Nazi murderers in the Massacre of the Intelligentsia, on Shabbat, Tisha b'Av 5701. (2nd August, 1941.) May their memory be for a blessing!


[Page 270]

No More Wars…

by Chaim Yankelevitch

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

“A pleasure”, my grandfather used to say. “Today there's a train and a bus. You can go to Novogrudek like a rich Polish squire. You get there very early and can take care of everything in one day and come back home in time for supper, just like a nobleman. In the old days, however, traveling to Novogrudek was another matter, and there were not even any wagon drivers.”

People would get up before dawn, take their tallit and tefillin, a little food for the trip and leave on foot. When you came to a town exhausted, you had to rest up. Staying at an inn costs money, so where do people go if not to relatives…?

And the relatives: Oh relatives! What cordial relatives! One sends guests to the other. It simply becomes a war. They fight one another over a relative. But today there's no more getting up at the crack of dawn, no more walking, no more going to relatives, and most important, no more war. Just look at what a car has been able to achieve! “We're really living in Messianic times”!


[Page 271]

Chaim Bruk, May The Lord Avenge His Blood!

From the book of records: “Out of the Ruins of Wars and Tumult”,
edited by Moshe Shalit, Vilna 5691 (1931)

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

lyu271.jpg
Chaim Bruk

 

Born in Lubtch in 1893, Chaim Bruk studied in traditional elementary schools and yeshivot and received rabbinic ordination. In 1913 he pursued a general education and went to Frankfurt where he prepared for a degree as a high school administrator.

With the outbreak of the First World War, he was forced to leave Germany and returned to Russia where he became active in the committee for aiding war victims in Minsk. When the Germans captured the Lubtch area in 1915, he worked in the aid committee in Vaseliov.

In 1917, when the Lubtch residents returned to their war-devastated little town, he organized the aid committee in Lubtch and took charge of other social services such as the public bank, public school, etc.

In the years 1928-30, he served as elected chairman of the Lubtch community which included the towns of Lubtch, Karelitch, Delatitch, Negnievitch and was also one of the only Jewish representatives on the community council. He was likewise a delegate at the "Yekopo" conference and a member of the plenum.


[Pages 272-274]

The “Chevra Kaddisha” in Lubtch

by T. Shimshoni

Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky

Among the important institutions that Lubtch was blessed with, it is important to mention especially the “Chevra Kaddisha” [Burial Society]. Its distinguishing feature was that it was not party-orientated. The Jews of Lubtch were divided amongst themselves over many matters, such as appointing rabbis and ritual slaughterers, education, etc. This was expressed in arguments and stormy disputes in the synagogue or at various meetings. But in the “Chevra Kaddisha”, dissention was absent. Even people who were at odds with one another, forgot their squabbles, rows, spats, disagreements, fights and hostility when they came to deal with matters of the society group association. There was no restriction on joining the “Chevra Kaddisha”, and anyone could join it regardless of one's outlook. You only had to be ready, at any time, to deal with the affairs of the “Chevra”, mainly to take care of the “tahara” [ritual cleansing] of the dead person, to recite psalms and to be involved with the actual burial of the deceased.

Once a year, the people who belonged to the “Chevra Kaddisha” came together for a general meeting where the “gabbays” [dues collector] and the “gizbar” [treasurer] were elected. The “gabbays” chose among themselves the chief “gabbay”, who was the chairman of the “Chevra”.

Amongst those active in the “Chevra Kaddisha, it is worthy to note my uncle, R' Tuvia Shimshilevitz, the chief “gabbay” for dozens of years, who was re-elected every year. Actually, he was the controller, without whose authorization, nothing was done. He knew all the residents of the town, remembered by heart when they were born, when they died and the place of their burial. Often the district authorities would turn to him in order to confirm a birth date or a burial date of a person (who, for some reason, was not listed in the district administration records), and they always accepted his word as final.

The treasurer of the “Chevra” was one of those chosen by the general assembly. His duty was to manage the accounts of the “Chevra”. Income and expenses were listed in his notebooks. The treasurer was not a certified accountant but was chosen as an honest Jew, clean handed and good in arithmetic, to whom everyone gave their trust. For many years the treasurer of the “Chevra” was my father-in- law, R' Itzil Der Shochet (the ritual slaughterer and meat examiner, Rabbi Yitzchak, son of Rabbi Feivel Aharonovsky), a person of majestic appearance, of honest ways, good-hearted and accepted by all.

The task of burying those who died in the town was imposed on the “Chevra Kaddisha”. The “gabbays” decided on the amount of money to be received from the family for the burial expenses of the deceased. The fees were progressive, not according to the value of the plot in the cemetery, but according to the property that the dead person had left to his heirs. No payment was requested from a poor family, but since the honor of a family was diminished if they had not paid for a burial plot, the family members tried to pay even a minimal sum so that people would not say that the dead person received a plot for free.

The “gabbays” evaluated the property that the deceased left to his heirs but took into account his personality and behavior during his lifetime. If he had taken part in the activities of the community and donated money to public causes, they settled on a reasonable sum for his burial expenses, allotted him a place in the cemetery, according to his worth, and the family accepted this without complaining. However, woe to the family of a man who had been a miser all his life, not involved in the community and had not donated anything towards its needs according to his ability to do so; for then the “gabbays” would firmly demand a high amount of money for his burial in order to somehow compensate the community for all the years that the deceased had been close-fisted while still alive. Naturally, the family would bargain so that the “Chevra Kaddisha” would lower its price, and the “gabbays” would enter into negotiations. However, it was difficult to argue, and the funeral would often be delayed-sometimes even for several days- until they reached an agreement on the amount to be paid for burial expenses. The “gabbays” stood very firmly on this principle. There were Jews in the town who were so anxious that when their time arrived to be gathered to their forefathers, the “gabbays” would “skin” their heirs, that they sometimes moved to another town when they felt that their time was close in order not to fall into the hands of the “gabbays” of their hometown!

The “Chevra Kaddisha” was a sort of independent institution, with permanent sources of income that never disappointed. They never lacked for funds.

The “gabbays” were mainly from the important landowners in the town and also held important positions in the life of the community in other institutions. They allotted funds from the income of the Burial Society to public needs such as financial support to the schools.

Once a year [7 Adar- the traditional “yahrzeit” of Moses], a festive dinner was held for all members of the “Chevra Kaddisha”. The meal was held in the house of one of the “gabbays” and for several weeks before it took place, the women began preparations. The participants came together with their children, who enjoyed the good things to eat, while the men ate and drank somewhat excessively, but did not lose the “image of God” even when drunk - their drunkenness was expressed in dance, song and a rise in spirit.


[Pages 274-276]

Remember!

by Yehoshua Shragai

Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky

lyu274.jpg
Yehoshua Shragai

 

From my earliest childhood I was told about the pogroms that took place in the Jewish communities of Tzarist Russia, - the riots in Odessa, Bialystok, Kishinov, and other cities. The slogan in Russian was: “Bay Dzhidov Spasai Rossiu!” (“Hit the Jews and save Russia!”); the Jewish youth organized together for defense but did not have the strength to overcome the fierce stream of hatred of the rioters who were supported by the government.

We grew up in an atmosphere of hate and fear, and it is not surprising that we did not feel a friendly connection to the place of our birth. Tzarist Russia was not the homeland for us, and our only wish was to leave it. Although our civil rights were negated, we were obligated “with the great privilege” to serve in the Russian army, where Jewish soldiers were satiated with bitterness and torments.

It is no wonder that the young Jewish youth would deform their bodies, just so they would not be drafted into the army; but that didn't always help. I remember some of my peers who went to the army: Eliyakum Halperin, Reuven Moshkes - the klezmer, who managed later to emigrate to America, my brother Shabtiel and Shabtiel's son Kavak.

When the First World War broke out, there was much worry and lamenting in the town as to the fate of the enlisted soldiers who were called to defend the Russian “homeland”, under the flag of the Tzar “Batoshka”, Nikolai. With twice as much vigor, fathers had recourse to the Jewish means - tested through generations - reciting psalms; mothers lay on the graves of the dead (“greeting graves”), pleading that that the deceased would be advocates in Heaven for their dear ones in the army. They fasted every Monday and Thursday, prayed intently that God would have mercy on them and that the war would end. But nothing helped; the situation continued for a year and half, until the Germans conquered the town.

At Succot, on Shmini Atzeret [Eighth Day of Assembly] , the Cossacks passed from house to house, poured kerosene and ignited them; the Russians made their retreat, as always, by the method of scorched earth. In a number of hours the whole town went up in flames. On the piles of ash, under the gloomy autumn skies, hundreds of families who had lost all their property, sat and lamented.

The Germans entered the town and ordered it to be evacuated, while making false promises, that “in a few days you will be able to return and rehabilitate and build your houses". We left the town, but as to returning, we were able to do so only at the end of the war, several years later. We became refugees (“biezhentzes•) and wandered from place to place. Whole families were wiped out by plagues, hunger and disease, and never returned to their homes.

We returned to the town at the end of a few years. With great toil, we built our houses, but we continued to suffer from anti-Semitic persecution. The Polish government placed a heavier yoke on us mercilessly, by imposing such heavy taxes, that bread was taken out of our mouths….

The desire to leave the town did not give us rest. Everyone who had the possibility emigrated to America, South Africa, Argentina and other places, and even to Eretz-Israel - as long there was free aliyah.

In 1924, a branch of the “Hechalutz Haklali” [General Pioneers] was established. Part of the youth joined the movement because of the ideological thrust while other joined its ranks because of the chance that they would receive an entry permit (“certifikat”) to Eretz-Israel. We received four “certifikats” which we gave out to the members:: Avraham Bruk, Yehoshua Faivoshovitch (Shragai), Moshe (Moshka) and Hadassah Solodocha; the last two returned over the years to the town and were murdered in the Holocaust.

Despite the many years that have passed, I cannot forget my town. I remember all my relatives and friends whom I left behind and will never see again, for the enemy cut them down, fountains of tears pour from my eyes and my heart is sad and bleeds.

I remember the “melamdim” [teachers] from whom I absorbed my Jewish consciousness and my childhood education. By the poor light of the kerosene lamp, they would teach and review with us until the late hours of the evening.; R' Yisrael Yeshayahu, R' Reuven, R' Yehoshua-Yaakov, R' Avraham and R'Yaakov; they succeeded in implanting in us love of the Jewish people and tradition, aroused our hearts to the divine-ethical mission of the Jewish people, thanks to which the Jewish people continues to exist.

I remember the joy and happiness on Sabbath and Festival nights; I loved to go to the synagogues, to see my Jewish brothers praying, pouring out their hearts in conversation with the Creator with happiness, reverence and intense devotion. Although the town was not Chassidic, the prayers were rich in songs, happiness and devoutness.

I remember my taking leave, before going on aliyah, from the rabbi of the town - Rabbi Meir Abovitz, of blessed memory, a Jew with a majestic appearance, with a white beard flowing down his chest, dressed in a black coat and black hat with wide rims from under which peeped his eyes with a look full of good-heartedness and mercy.

I cannot forget my father, R' Zalman-Nachum, of blessed memory, and my mother Itka of blessed memory, or my brothers: Shabtiel, Moshe-Faivel, Zalman-Nachum amd Kalman and their children, may the Lord avenge their deaths! , - the family was slaughtered, till no remnant was left. In my heart I always nurtured hope that I would bring them to Eretz-Israel and would be worthy of having the gratification and happiness which a person attains when he is close to his dear ones.

Sadness envelopes my being…sorrow gnaws and squeezes my heart…. Tears choke my throat….

Can I forget them? Is one permitted at all to forget them? In letters of fire was inscribed the command “Remember”!!!

I will remember until my last day. I will remember and I will not forgive the enemies!!!


[Pages 277-279]

The Memory of My Town is Kept Safe in My Heart

by Chaya Solominsky

Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky

lyu277.jpg
Chaya Solominsky

 

I went through difficult years during the Second World War. Years of hunger, hardship and bereavement of sons, but the memory of my town Lubtch is inscribed and carried in the depths of my heart.

Lubtch - a small town on the banks of the Neiman, peaceful and quiet. Most of the inhabitants were God-fearing Jews, who kept the tradition and religion scrupulously, mainly expressed on the Sabbaths and Holy Days.

Sabbath evening in the town:- the women are busy and active, cleaning and cooking, so as not to shame the Sabbath Queen, to receive her in time and with honor. The men - hurrying to finish their daily work and turning to the bathhouse for purification in honor of the Shabbat.

As evening came, the streets became deserted, in the houses there was an atmosphere of festivity and happiness; the white tablecloth was spread on the table and the candles are burning were with a gay flame. Braided challah breads are waiting for the head of the household who will return from the synagogue and will bless them.

Rosh Hashana: - the inhabitants went to the synagogue to do their moral stocktaking, to be reconciled with their God in heaven, who will open the gates of His mercy and that the new year will be a blessed year.

Yom-Hakippurim: - the Jews of the town rose early to go to the synagogue, and with great devotion poured out their hearts in conversation before their Father in heaven. The children were equipped, earlier on, with parcels of food, but they finished their meals in secret and ran to the synagogue to stand by their parents during the prayers, to absorb something of the holy atmosphere.

Passover: - several weeks before the festival, the household members, mainly the women, would begin the preparations. It was a very thorough cleaning and scrubbing. The tables and chairs were taken out of the house and washed down with boiling water, the floor was scrubbed, and straw was spread out on the floor from fear that it might became defiled, God forbid, with leaven. For the children this was a great festival, there was much going on in the house, they would sleep on the straw and eat in a small corner of the kitchen, causing them endless pleasure that cannot be described in words. It seemed to us children that Passover was winking to us from the corners and promising us that it was not for nothing we were full of expectations. We waited for the Seder night with impatience, and to the “coming” of Elijah the Prophet with happiness mixed with anxiety. The festival was full of pleasantry: new clothes, delicious foods, games with nuts and a festive air, special in its own way. Even the renewal of nature, the warm sun, the chirping of birds, sprouting and blossoming, fragrance of the flowers, filled our hearts with much joy.

Most of the inhabitants were merchants, some of them owned shops in the marketplace, whilst others went out to trade in the villages in the countryside, bought mainly flax fibres and seeds and sold all sorts of fancy goods, soap and matches. On Tuesdays it was market day, when the farmers from all the environs brought their vegetable and animal produce.

On Sunday the Jews had to close their shops. There were shop-owners who looked for revenue, even on the day of rest which was forced upon them. What did they do? They stood next to the closed shop and if a customer came, they smuggled him inside, while one of the family members stood “on guard” outside; sometimes when a policeman passed by, they would lock the shop and imprison the people inside, until “the wrath passed”.

There was much concern to educate the young generation and even the poor people scraped and saved in order to send their children to study. The heart's desire of the parents was that their children would attend the large yeshivot in the area, the Mir Yeshiva and the Volozhyn Yeshiva. There were youth who travelled to Vilna to attend colleges for teachers.

Active social life was carried on in the youth movements, in evenings of readings and in the drama society which mainly put on Jewish plays (I remember “The Jewish King Lear” and “The Orphan Chassia”). Many young people went to the training farm and from there made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael.

Mutual help and willingness to help others in their troubles were foundation stones of the Jewish community in Lubtch. The houses were open to receive guests, and all the poor people who arrived at the Bet Midrash were invited by the heads of the households to dine at their table.

When a poor family needed money, volunteers from the townspeople would go from door to door to request a donation for the needy family.


Lubtch - my little town, in you there lived Jews according to a tradition going back generations, in you they fostered hopes for the future, in you they loved and were active, until the grim reaper fell on them and they were annihilated.

My Jewish town Lubtch is no more, it has disappeared for ever and has been deleted from our life.

lyu279.jpg
Itche Jankelowitz from South Africa with former Lubtch residents in Israel

 


[Pages 280-283]

The Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu-Chaim Meizel,
Head of Court of Lodz and His Relationship to Lubtch

by Moshe Tzinovitch

Translated from the Hebrew by Ann Belinsky and Harvey Spitzer

The Gaon R' Eliyahu-Chaim Meizel was one of the most well known among the rabbis of Russia and Poland in the 19th century, second only after the great Gaon R' Yitzchak- Elchanan. He was one of the most prominent of all the religious and public leaders, and legends were woven around him, even in his own lifetime.

He was born in Horodok (Vilna District) in the year 5581 [1821] and was named after two Lithuanian Gaonim: Eliyahu, after the Gr'a from Vilna and Chaim, after the Gaon Rabbi Chaim, founder of the Volozhin Yeshiva, who died that same year. His father, R' Moshe was a well-to-do religious scholar, 7th generation in line from the saintly R' Yisrael Marozino (put to death as a martyr on Rosh Hashana 5420, 1659). His mother was a daughter of the R' Eliezer Greiver from Slonim, author of “Mishnat D' Rabbi Eliezer”.

In the spring of his life he married a woman from Pinsk. The Gaon R' Yaakov Bruchin, head of the rabbinic court in Karlin, (author of “Mishkanot Yaakov”), was amazed at the wise young man and gave him rabbinic ordination to teach and judge, prophesizing a bright future for him as a light in the heavens of Judaism. The coupling with Pinsk did not work out well, and he divorced his wife and arrived in Lubtch, to his brother, R' Nahum Meizel, and there he married his brother's daughter.

He remained some time in Lubtch, frequenting the “tent of Torah” in the local Beit Midrash, together with a group of newlywed yeshiva students. On the advice of a relative, the scholar and benefactor, Shmuel Bakshter, he traveled to Volozhin to grow there in Torah knowledge. He managed to get to know the Gaon R' Yitzchak, head of the rabbinic court and of the rabbinic college; he was also an aide to the new head of the rabbinic college, the Gaon R' Eliezer Yitzchak Fried (who inherited the chair of the rabbinate from his father-in-law, the Gaon R' Yitzchak), and the deputy head of the college, Naftali-Tzvi-Yehuda Berlin (the NETZIV): from that time on and for the rest of his life, his soul was bound in strong friendship with this great yeshiva.

R' Eliyahu-Chaim Meizel served for some time in the rabbinate in Horodok, his birthplace: his name went before him as a genius in Torah, virtuous qualities and charity, and as unique amongst the rabbis in that he was fluent in the Russian language. He was also accepted as rabbi and head of the rabbinic court in the town of Dertshin (Grodno District, 5613-5621), and Prozshney (Grodno District, 5621-5627). During the time of the cholera epidemic, he was prominent there with his devotion to the community. He founded the hospital for the whole area and thanks to his efforts, the epidemic was stopped and the number of fatalities reduced.

In the years 5627-5634, he sat on the chair of the rabbinate in Lomzha, a district town in NE Poland, whose boundaries were set by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Here he was liked by all circles of the community. He was also liked and accepted by the authorities, as he knew the language of the country and would appear before the district minister and other high-ranking officials. When he came to this city, he checked and found out that too many Jews were being enlisted in the army, as they did not have enough money to redeem themselves with 400 rubles (according to the laws of the time); so he founded a fund for the “redemption of captives”, which helped those boys called up for army duty to free themselves from the “king's service”.

From the year 5634 until the day he passed away in the year 5672 (1912), the Gaon R' Eliyahu-Chaim Meizel served as head of the court (religious and official) in the city of Lodz, the second largest city in Poland, then under Russian control. The area of his activity encompassed all aspects of religious life, the Torah and charity institutions as well as lobbying to the authorities in this large industrial city and its environs. He was active also in bettering the economic condition of the hordes of Jews who swarmed to this city in search of work. When the Jewish workers were supplanted by others from their jobs in the factories in Lodz, he made many efforts, with his personal influence on the Jewish industrialists, to act on behalf of the ousted Jews, and even opened a special factory to employ Jewish workers in the textile industry.

He was dedicated to the public with heart and soul: all matters of the large community were under his control. An orphanage, an old age home, a Jewish hospital, and “Talmud Torah” were all built on his initiative. Even his household belongings were mortgaged in order to help the needy. He helped thousands, and Jews from all over Poland flowed into Lodz to get his help. He helped many of those who were injured or suffered loss in the fire in Lubtch (in1899) and transferred two thousand rubles that were collected from an internal fund-raising drive for their benefit. The authorities showed favor to him, even though he bothered them with his lobbying. His house was the meeting place for the emissaries of the Lithuanian yeshivot [rabbinic seminaries]. He himself acted as the honorary representative of the Volozhin yeshiva, and every year he sent a sizeable donation to ensure its continuation. He worked with great energy right up to his nineties and participated in all matters pertaining to the Jews. He was called to many assemblies of rabbis and lobbyists in the capital city, Petersburg, and his words were used as a guiding line for all the participants at the assemblies where the best of people gathered - highly learned rabbis, lobbyists and public officials - from the whole of Russian Jewry.

He was on guard for the protection of religious life and didn't let into Lodz any changes in religion deriving from imitating non-Jewish customs.

Thanks to his hate of greed, his love for poor people, his many acts of charity and his devotion to his ideas, he was honored in all circles. He was holy in the eyes of the Chassidim of Lodz and even by the “Admor” rabbis of Poland and was beloved and admired by the Jewish masses, who saw him as a symbol of truth, honesty and righteousness. He was honored by the Lithuanian Gaonim, who saw him as one of them: they consulted the Gaon from Lodz, R' Eliyahu-Chaim, on any public issue or any matter relating to strengthening their beliefs. Everyone, in every circle, listened attentively to his words, and his name was great as well outside the borders of Poland and Russia.

When the Gaon R' Eliyahu-Chaim Meizel died, the Jewish masses mourned him as orphans. A general day of rest was announced in Lodz on the day of his funeral. Even Christian shops were closed during the hour of the funeral. The number of those attending the funeral numbered some 100,000. Following the coffin in the funeral procession were Chassidic Admor rabbis and well-known rabbis, among them the rabbis of Warsaw and townships from all the surrounding area.

The Jewish newspapers printed long articles of appreciation in remembrance of this wonderful man, emphasizing that by his death, Russian Jewry had lost its pilot and that all of Judaism had lost one of the best of its children, a scholar who was strong as iron in his ideas, but tenderhearted and merciful at the same time. Many eulogies were made in hundreds of Jewish townships with his passing.

There was much mourning in Lubtch. The elders of the community knew him from the period of his life in their town: here he was found and here he was their glory. All the Jews of the town, from the youngest to the oldest, entered the old Beit Midrash to hear the eulogies delivered by the local head of the rabbinic court, the Gaon R' Meir Abovitz and also the Gaon Raphael-Alter Shmuelovitz, head of the yeshiva in Novogrudek (born in Lubtch). In their speeches they described the background and the Torah-based atmosphere of Lubtch in the day of R' Eliyahu-Chaim Meizel, R' Shmuel Bakshter, R' Yehonaton-from Volin and other famous personalities whose cradle or place of spiritual growth was in the town of Lubtch.

On the 30th day following his death, a ceremony of bitter mourning was organized at the great yeshiva in the town of Mir, close to Lubtch, by the Gaon R' Eliyahu-Baruch Kamai, head of the court and of the academy. About half of the Jews of Lubtch came especially to Mir to participate in this great event.

lyu283.jpg
Beryl Jankelowitz [with cigarette] from South Africa with former Lubtch residents in Israel

[Information from Allen Katz:
Seated at back (head of table): Chaim Yankelevitch]

 

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