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[Pages 274]

Rabbi Sh. R., Son of Reb Meir Gliksberg,
of Blessed Memory
[1]

By M. R. Slodki

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

mie274.jpg Rabbi Gliksberg
Rabbi Gliksberg

 

Rabbi Gliksberg was born in Mezritsh to pious parents. His father, a Lomz Hassid, did not entrust his son to just any melamed [religious teacher], but rather ensured that he would receive his early education from the best melamdim in the city. From his earliest youth, Rabbi Gliksberg was recognized as having unusual talents. When he finished his course of studies in the cheders [2], he entered the large Beis Midrash [study hall] in our city and continued to study Talmud and its commentaries. His grandfather, who was a wealthy Jew, loved him very much and wanted him to acquire general knowledge in addition to his Jewish learning. He retained good teachers to coach him in Hebrew and Russian. The young lad mastered both of these languages within a short period of time, and immersed himself in their literature. He tasted the “beauty of Japheth”[3], but was not content to stop there. He began studying Polish, German and French on his own. Within a brief period, he became known as one of the truly educated people of our community, combining profound knowledge of the Torah with substantial secular scholarship. He divided his day equally between religious and general studies: a half-day was devoted to each. His diligence was exceptional. He never stopped studying when he was in the Beis Midrash. When he studied secular subjects, he closed himself in his room for hours on end. Only with difficulty were his parents able to get him outside for a stroll, to take in some fresh air. He had an exceptional memory. I recall that when I would visit his home on frequent occasions, he would recite by heart poems from the middle ages and the Haskalah: M. Tz. Maneh, Y. L. Gordon, Pushkin, Lermontov, Goethe, Schiller, and French poets.

When he came to be of marriageable age, many families wanted him as a son-in-law and offered a large dowry. Apparently, Divine providence had resolved that this fine person would become a rabbi. The story unfolded in the following way. Not far from our town, there was a small village called Mordy[4] where a Lithuanian Jew, and author of Yad Mordechai, had become the town's rabbi. Most of the residents of the town were Hassidim who had no tolerance for a Lithuanian rabbi[5]. A major dispute broke out, forcing the rabbi to leave the town. He came to Mezritsh in search of temporary housing, and found accommodations in the Gliksberg home. This Lithuanian rabbi had daughters, and our young man took a fancy to one of them. She became the rebbetzin, may she live long. When our young Reb Gliksberg offered his proposal of marriage to the Lithuanian rabbi, he agreed, but only on the condition that Reb Gliksberg consent to becoming a rabbi[6].

[Page 275]

The match took place, and the young man traveled to the Gaon Rabbi Yerucham Yehuda Lejb in Minsk, who was known as the “Great One of Minsk”. He returned three years later with his rabbinical ordination. He was brilliantly successful, and immediately accepted a position in one of the neighborhoods of the city of Pinsk. He became known in the rabbinical word as a wonderful orator. Zionism was then at its inception, and the young rabbi dedicated himself with all his heart and soul to the idea of the revival of the nation [of Israel] and the Land [of Israel]. He became an activist in the Mizrachi[7] movement. He was chosen by the Zionists of our city to be a delegate to one of the Zionist congresses. When he returned to the city to present his report, an audience of thousands assembled to hear him in the large Beis Midrash, where he had studied as a youth.

During this time, Rabbi David Sloshetz died in Odessa[8]. That community invited Rabbi Gliksberg to take his place. In Odessa he found a platform for his breadth of knowledge, and endeared himself to all segments of the community. With the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution, he did not capitulate to the new order, but rather devoted himself fully to carrying out his rabbinical duties. The religious debate that he undertook with the members of the Yevsektsikya[9], along the style of the religious debates of the Middle Ages, is well known. The late rabbi spoke to me about his triumph in that debate. All the religious leaders of Odessa virtually kissed him for his public sanctification of the Divine Name.

Eventually, he was able to leave Russia and come to the Land of Israel, but by then he was already old and weak. Here in Israel he successfully published two books that had been in manuscript form: Hadrasha Be-Israel [Sermons in Israel], and Torat Hadrasha - Israel ve Oraita [Theory of Sermons - Israel and Torah] in one volume. As far as I know, there are other manuscripts, including his memoirs, which were never published.

About such a rabbi one can apply the Talmudic adage; “Angels and mortals grabbed the Holy Ark[10]. The angels defeated the mortals – and the Holy Ark was captured.”


Translator and Translation Coordinator's Footnotes

  1. Though the author refers to Rabbi Gliksberg as Shimon R., his name, according to Alexander Gliksberg, a grandson of the rabbi, was Shimon Yaakov. Perhaps the author, Mr. Slodki, knew of an additional nickname, having known the rabbi when they were both young children. Rabbi Gliksberg's books are published under the name Shimon Yaacov Halevi Gliksberg.
  2. cheder – Literal translation: room. A traditional elementary school or class teaching the basics of Judaism and the Hebrew language, usually financed by private tuition and donations. return
  3. The “beauty of Japheth” refers to the arts, literature, and secular knowledge, as opposed to the “tents of Shem” which refers to Torah study and spiritual pursuits. These two phrases are taken from the rabbinic interpretation of Noach's blessing to his sons Shem and Japheth following his episode of drunkenness. (Genesis 9:27) return
  4. Mordy - 53°13'/22°31' was located about 20 kms. from Mezritsh. return
  5. It is probable that the lack of tolerance for a “Lithuanian” rabbi would be due to the fact that he would have been a Misnaged - literally, “opponent”. A name commonly used to refer to Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews who opposed the rise and spread of Hassidism as promulgated by the Baal Shem Tov. Most prominent among the Misnagdim was Rabbi Eliahu ben Shlomo Zalman (1720-1797), known also as the Vilna Gaon. Misnagdim feared that Hassidism would give rise to another messianic Jewish movement that would lead Jews away from the mainstream of Jewish thought and belief. Lithuanian Jewry were mostly Misnagdim. For more information on Misnagdim, see the entry in Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misnagdim. return
  6. Alexander Gliksberg, a grandson of Rabbi Gliksberg, was able to name the “Lithuanian rabbi” referred to in this paragraph as Rabbi Mordechai Dov Alpert, Av Beit Din [head of the rabbinical court] of Svisloch, Belarus (53°02'/24°06', 147 kilometers from Mezritsh). Rabbi Alpert was a great-great-great-grandson of Aryeh Leib Epstein, also known as Ba'al ha-Pardes, of Konigsberg (Kaliningrad, Russia, 54°43'/20°30'). Rabbi Mordechai Dov Alpert's daughter, Cypa Mejta, became the wife of Rabbi Gliksberg. return
  7. Mizrachi Movement – in Hebrew, מזרחי an acronym for Merkaz Ruchani [Spiritual Center]. Mizrachi is a religious Zionist movement founded in 1902 in Vilnius, by Rav Yitzhak Yaacov Reines. It is an ideological and educational movement based on the belief that Torah should be at the centre of Zionism. The ideology of Mizrachi is based on the motto "Am Yisrael B'Eretz Israel al pi Torat Israel” - the Jewish people in the Land of Israel living according to the Torah of Israel. Bnei Akiva is the youth movement associated with Mizrachi. return
  8. According to Alexander Gliksberg, a grandson of Rabbi Gliksberg, the rabbi went directly to Odessa in 1906, after his time in Pinsk. Rabbi Gliksberg lived in Rabbi Sloshetz's apartment in Odessa. In 1917 Rabbi Gliksberg was elected to the Odessa City Council. From 1917-1937 he served as the Chief Rabbi of Odessa. He left for Eretz Israel in 1937. After his departure, his children continued to live in the Sloshetz/Gliksberg apartment in Odessa. return
  9. Yevsektsiya - Founded in 1918, it was the Jewish Section of the Soviet Communist Party. It was established to encourage loyalty to the Soviet regime among Russian Jews. Though Jewish, its members were hostile to traditional Jewish culture and Zionism. Yevsektsiya was disbanded in 1929. For more information, please refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yevsektsiya. return
  10. The Holy Ark is used here figuratively for the human soul. This Talmudic statement can be interpreted to mean that Rabbi Gliksberg's soul was closely connected with the divine. return

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