By I.M. Sidroni (Sendrowicz)
Translated by Alex Weingarten
The words of the introductory paragraph of the previous chapter, The History of Sierpc (Sheps) are applicable as an introduction to this chapter as well. Here too we say that we cannot claim to be writing the complete chronicles of the Sheps rabbinate, because we know little about the rabbinate in our town in general, and about each rabbi in particular. Just as we did not pay attention to the history of our town in our youth, we never considered the chronicles of its rabbinate. However, it is our aspiration to perpetuate the memory of our town and its martyrs in this book. Therefore, we began to research and discover the accounts of the rabbinate of the community of Sheps. This is how we arrived, partially through our efforts and partially through the efforts of friends and acquaintances from our town, at the material presented here.
Unfortunately, we have not found all the rabbis that served in Sheps in the early days; nor do we have detailed information and exact dates for rabbis mentioned in this chapter. Nevertheless, we have ascertained important facts and found sources that will interest the ex-townspeople of Sierpc, and researchers of its history.
Among the first of the Enlightenment and Hovevei Tzion [Lovers of Zion] in the Town
A. Rabbi Meirel Dvash
The first rabbi about whom we have managed to find any information in our sources is Rabbi Meirel Dvash, the righteous of blessed memory. Rabbi Meirel was called Dvash because these were the initial letters of the three towns, Dobrzyń, Będzin, and Sheps [the sounds b and v use the same letter in Hebrew; dvash is the Hebrew word for honey], where he served simultaneously as rabbi. However, he became famous mainly as the rabbi of Sheps because he is mentioned in books as Rabbi Meir of Sheps or Meir Shepsir. He also died in Sheps and was buried in the old cemetery. There is a crypt above the grave, and even during our times, the townspeople would come to visit his grave, spill their troubles to the rabbi, and drop little notes into the crypt. The notes would ask for complete recovery from all kinds of diseases, prosperity, good luck, and so forth.
Rabbi Meirel Dvash was both a Rabbi and a Rabi [leader of a Hasidic sect]. He had both followers that would travel to see him, and opponents who pursued him. Apparently, he had visions, so that his opponents called him meshuggeh [crazy] scholar. According to our respected townsman Shmuel Itche Lanenter, Rabbi Meirel Dvash was called Baal Shem [miracle worker] because of the deeds and visions that he related to his followers, and his farsightedness. (They said that once, on a Sabbath eve, while sitting at his table surrounded by Hasidim, he saw a fire erupt in Dobrzyń ) Yisrael Karpa (now in Uruguay) wrote to us that his father, of blessed memory (my grandfather Mordechai Yitzhak, a ritual slaughterer and inspector in Żuromin) would tell him wonderful tales of the Rabi Rabbi Meirel.
Apparently, Rabbi Meirel was a great and saintly rabbi, because he was a friend of Rabi Levi Yitzhak of Berdychiv, and Rabi Levi Yitzhak would come to Sheps to visit him.
When was Rabbi Meirel Dvash a rabbi in Sheps, and for how long did he serve?
We have not found exact answers to these questions. However, we know that he was a friend of Rabi Levi Yitzhak of Berdychiv (born in the year 5500  and died on the 25th of the month of Tishrei 5570 ). In addition, the passage quoted below from the book In Polish Forests refers to the year 5573 (1812). In addition, there is the passage from the introduction to the Passover Hagadah quoted below. Using these sources, it seems that the period during which Rabbi Meirel Dvash was rabbi of Sheps was at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries (approximately 1790 to 1812). This also appears in the book Mlawa Notebook [in Yiddish]: It was at the end of the 18th century. Also in the book A History of Hassidism by Dubnow on page 458: A list of giants of righteousness from the year 5558 (1798).
The following are some excerpts from the books a) In Polish Forests by J. Opatoshu b) Mlawa Notebook c) A History of Hassidism by Dubnow d) Introduction to Passover Hagadah and e) In di Blihendeh Yahren by our townsman Yisrael Sapirsztajn. All refer to Rabbi Meirel Dvash.
The following passages about Rabbi Meirel Dvash appear in the book In Polish Forests by J. Opatoshu (translated [from Yiddish to Hebrew] by N. Lipson, Tel-Aviv, 5689 ).
She had great affection for her old uncle, Rabbi Meirel Dvash. Does this seem like a small thing? The friend of Holy Levy! Who had come to Sheps to see how he felt! However, father acts casually with the uncle. But to whom does father not act casually? He calls him 'Rabbi of women' because he would receive supplicating notes from Dobrzyń, Będzin, and Sheps. Nevertheless, who was she and what were her thoughts? Is it possible for a wretched and sinful woman to understand their ways? If Jews travel, there must be a reason. After all, she travels every year, silently and secretly, to Sheps, to the celebration of the Rabi Meirel. She contributes 18 Zuzim [coins] for candles, and communes with the saint in his crypt. The caretaker knows her, and knows not to let any strangers in when Dvorahle is talking to her uncle. Moreover, when she feels she has grievances, she does not hesitate to fling them at him. After all, he is her flesh and bone. And when she finishes she asks him again in the name of Rabi Gatzil, detailing her pedigree
Once, on a very cold day, according to the family, Rabbi Meirel Dvash came to grandfather's house in the forest on matters of charity. This was in the month of Tevet, in the year 5573. Rabbi Meirel accepted Reb Mordechai's invitation to stay for the night. The two of them were together in the room, sitting by the hot stove, smoking their pipes, and discussing the news of the world. Rabbi Meir revealed to grandfather that the days of the Messiah have come, and evil edicts for all of Israel are expected. The shoemaker's apprentice has already conquered most of the world. He is near Moscow, and he will pursue the Greek to the Sea of Ice. But his end is near. The Kosienici has struggled with his minister since the Musaf prayer of Yom Kippur, and if not for the Berdychovi of Blessed Memory, who in the year of his death united the Jews in his prayer for the victory of the apprentice, the Kosienici would have had his way. Rabbi Meirel found a clue for this in Midrash Talpiot. Under the letter zayin [7th letter of the Hebrew alphabet], the Midrash says:
‘They say that there is a marble statue of a beautiful girl in Rome, and it was not created by human hands, but the Almighty Blessed He Be created it through his prowess. However, villains from the gentile nations, evil men, come and warm her, and sleep with her. And the Almighty preserves their droppings inside the stone and creates a living creature inside of her, and generates a fetus, and she splits open, and a man-like creature comes out of her. His name is Armilius the Devil, he who the gentiles call anti-Christ. His length was 12 Amah and his width was 12 Amah. There was a pinkie between his eyes, which were red and deep, and the hair on his head was the color of gold. His feet are green, and he has two horns. He comes to the villains and tells them: I have given you the truth. I am the Messiah; I am your God. They believe in him immediately, and crown him their king, and all the sons of Esau join him, and he conquers all the nations. He says to the sons of Esau: bring me my Torah that I have given you. So they bring him their rubbish, and he says to them: believe in me, for I am your Messiah. They immediately believe him. At the same time, he sends a message to Nehemiah son of Hushiel and to all of Israel, and tells them: bring me your Torah and bear witness that I am your god. Within the hour Nehemiah son of Hushiel rises, together with thirty thousand champions from the champions of Ephraim, and they take the book of the Torah and read to him: I am the Lord thy God, Thou shalt have no other gods before me. So he tells them: there is nothing in your Torah, come and come bear witness that I am god, as all the nations have done. Nehemiah immediately stands up to him and tells his servants: seize him and bind his hands and feet. Then Nehemiah son of Hushiel, who is the Messiah son of Joseph, rises together with his thirty thousand who will go to war and kill two hundred thousand. Then the evil Armilius becomes furious and brings all the nations of the world to the Valley of Haruz and battles with Israel and kills piles of them and defeats them and the Messiah of God is killed. The angels come, take him, and inter him with the Patriarchs. Israel becomes disheartened and abandons the field, but Armilius does not know that the Messiah is dead, for if he knew he would not have left any remnants. At that time, all the nations of the world harass Israel inside their borders, and do not let Israel live with them, and Israel has prodigious troubles, such as it has never known before---.’
While Rabbi Meirel was speaking, a winter coach stopped beneath the window of the house. Some people knocked on the door.
Rabbi Meirel jumped up:
---Mordechai, they are bringing him!
---That same evil one!
His hands were shaking as Reb Mordecai opened the door. A few people entered the house. Their faces red with cold and a white frost covers their beards. They pushed Reb Mordecai aside and whispered a few words to him. Reb Mordecai immediately ordered Sarahle to open the drawing room and offered the bed. He was shaking all over as he waited breathlessly for them to bring in the evil Armilius with the two horns, twelve Amah tall and twelve Amah wide. The men came in carrying a pudgy man wrapped in robes. They say that he is French, a powerful minister, and he had caught a chill on the way.
On seeing the pudgy man, Reb Mordecai became calmer. He was certain that the saintly one was not talking about this man, and he was not even sure that he was a minister. He is very obviously dying! He looked around, called to Rabbi Meirel, and the saint had already disappeared.
The notebook said that the 'Holy Levi' was on his way to Rabbi Meirel in Sheps, and went to their house for the midday prayer. Page 115:
One of them sighed 'He went to war on Yom Kippur as well'. ‘Let him!' The old man lifted his cane as if to strike the Hasid over the head. 'Rabbi Meirel Dvash gave his permission. If you don't know that - put a muzzle on your mouth!’
We did not leave the bushes on Yom Kippur either. Rabbi Meirel allowed it.
We can read about the Rabi Rabbi Meirel Dvash in the book Mlawa Notebook (New York 1950), in a comment on Page 24 [in Yiddish]:
There once lived, in a shtetl not far from Mlawa, in Makowa, the well-known opponent of Hasidism, the Magid Rabbi David of Makowa. He was a pupil of the Vilna Gaon. The battle against Hasidism became the life's mission of Rabbi David. However, he was not able to hold back the storm. Hasidism even spread to the shtetls near Makowa. We know from a letter from Rabbi David of Makowa of a Hasidic shtibl in Ciechanów, and a Hasidic Rabi in Sheps, Rabbi Meir. This was at the end of the 18th century (see Dubnow, ‘A History of Hassidism’ Pages 458, 460: ‘the meshuggeh man of letters of the community of Sheps’. Also on Page 462: 'Someone from this sect traveled to Ciechanów and with heretical speeches that attracted the wild ones established a Hasidic Minyan there').
In Dubnow, A History of Hassidism (Tel-Aviv, 5691 ), Pages 458 and 460, we find: Page 458: A list of the greatest of the Righteous in the year 5558 : Rabbi Meir of Shebsh, Meir Shepser (Shepsir). Page 460: There were also crazy people with false visions and magic makers. Like the meshuggeh man of letters of the Sheps community who shouted on Sabbath in a bitter voice that he saw Nahum Ish-Gamzu and ‘heard the secrets of the Torah from him, which our ancestors never achieved, and they are very embarrassed that they didn't understand them but I discovered it’.
An introduction to the Passover Hagadah called The Glory of Sons and Fathers appeared in Bilgoraj, Poland in the year 5689  with two exegeses. The first exegesis is called the ‘Delicacies of Yitzhak’ by the righteous Rabbi, foundation of the world, a dear and holy light, the cabbalist, our teacher and Rabbi, Yitzhak Itzik of saintly memory in the next world Hurwitz Segal Chief Judge of the Rabbinical Court of the Community of Rypin. He served there in the years 5586 to 5583 [1796 to 1823] and there he rests in honorable peace.. This exegesis includes the following:
Once my lord my father my elder the holy Rabbi from Rypin of blessed memory went to visit the holy Rabbi Meirel Shepser. Rabbi Meirel of blessed memory asked him, ‘Rypiner Rabbi, what have you brought me? ‘ The Rabbi from Rypin answered that he had brought a turkey. Rabbi Meirel ordered him to show the turkey. When they brought it inside, the holy Rabbi Meirel pointed to it and said, ‘How good and fat this turkey is from all the fasting. ’ They did not understand what he meant, so he explained his words. The rabbi from Rypin always fasted for a long time, and in order to hide this from his family, kept the turkey in his room and gave him all the food. Therefore, Rabbi Meirel said the foul is fat from all the fasting. It was well known that Rabbi Meirel of blessed memory was enveloped by the Holy Spirit and immediately understood. From then, the Rabbi of Rypin stopped fasting. He said that it was now public knowledge.
Another part of the life of Rabbi Meirel of Sheps is recounted in the form of a ballad, in the book of poems In di Blihendeh Yahren by our townsman Yisrael Sapirsztajn.
By I.M. Sidroni (Sendrowicz)
Translated from Yiddish with Endnotes by Jerrold Landau
|Elderly people gather together on occasion
In the old Sheps cemetery
That has such renowned association
With one of the greatest rabbis
With the finest, most noble of personalities,
Who is buried there.
Standing by the grave - surrounded by a wire fence --
They then start talking about in detail
It was a short time after
He who was regarded as the highest authority
The following took place: He was going to travel
Yes! He answered his rabbi immediately with joy
Oh-according to one case of such suffering
This lasted for several minutes
And suddenly - he shouted out loud,
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
They also did not forget to mention,
And finally - it happened the next day:
That same pursuer opened the door suddenly
He was already at the time of reciting Yigdal,
At the end of the story
B. Rabbi Shraga Feibl Danziger
Rabbi Shraga Feibl son of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Danziger of blessed memory is the second rabbi of Sierpc about whom we have information in the literature. (Called Rabbi Fibili Gritzer, after the town Grójec, one of the places where he served as a Rabbi.) Rabbi Shraga Feibl was the father of Rabbi Yechiel, the first Rabi of Alexander. He served as the rabbi of Makowa during the last years of his life.
Reb Zvi Hirsch Danziger, the father of Rabbi Shraga Feibl was a rich and respected merchant, and an in-law of the Holy Levi. Reb Zvi Hirsch would sometime travel to Danzig and Poznan on business. Every time he was in Poznan, he would make it a point to hear the words of the Torah from the Gaon [Genius] Rabbi Akiva Iger, who was the rabbi there.
Rabbi Shraga Feibl was a prodigy as a Yeshiva student. He was a pupil of the Gaon of Leszno, the author of Havat Daat [An Opinion], and the Gaon held him in great esteem because of his logical thinking and straightforward ideas.
His father, three brothers and sister were Mitnagdim [opponents of Hasidism]. What then brought Rabbi Shraga Feibl to Hasidism?
In those days, Lublin, the home of the Visionary of Lublin was at the center of Hasidism in Poland. The war of the Mitnagdim against the Hasidim was still going on, but because this was after the death of the Gaon of Vilnius, it was not as harsh, and there was a rapprochement between the two sides. There was even intermarriage. Hasidism became stronger then, as it won over more people, especially the younger ones. Rabbi Shraga Feibl was swayed by it, and he was attracted to Lublin, to the Visionary. He looked for the opportunity to go to Lublin, and this came after his wedding, when he had to go there to receive his dowry from a trustee in that city. When he arrived there, Rabbi Shraga Feibl realized his strong desire, and visited the Visionary. The Visionary recognized him as a prodigy, and made him part of his inner circle. After that, Rabbi Shraga Feibl became an enthusiastic follower of the Visionary of Lublin.
In order not to be dependent on his father-in-law, Rabbi Shraga Feibl studied to become a Torah scribe. When he was lettering a Torah scroll, he would the consult the book HaUrim veHaTummim [The Oracle] of Rabbi Yonatan. He maintained that reading the books of Rabbi Yonatan purified his thinking. The geniuses of the age said that he had two brains, and could write and learn simultaneously.
After the death of the Visionary in the year 5575 , Rabbi Shraga Feibl traveled to see Rabbi Simchah Bunim of Piszczac. The Rabi from Piszczac had a very high opinion of Rabbi Shraga Feibl and they became bound by marriage ties when his daughter married the righteous son of Rabbi Shraga Feibl, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak, who was named after the Holy Levi. Rabbi Simchah Bunim said, Rabbi Shraga Feibl thinks he has received an honor [by the marriage], and I say that I have been honored.
Many tragedies struck Rabbi Shraga Feibl. Three of his four sons died while still young. The youngest son, the remaining survivor, was Rabbi Yechiel, the first Rabi of Alexander [a Hasidic sect].
Because of his hardships, Rabbi Shraga Feibl decided to accept the office of Rabbi of a town. First, he served in Sheps, later in Gombin, then to Grójec, and finally he was the Rabbi of Makowa.
After the death of Rabbi Simchah Bunim of Piszczac in the year 5587 , Rabbi Shraga Feibl went to be with his son, Rabbi Avraham Moshe. Two years later, Rabbi Avraham Moshe also passed away. Rabbi Shraga Feibl then traveled to the Rabi of Warka, Rabbi Yitzhak Kalisz.
The Rabbi of Warka died in the year 5608 . On the Pentecost holiday of that year, the Hasidim of Warka went to Rabbi Shraga Feibl and crowned him as their Rabi. Rabbi Shraga Feibl was a Rabi of Hasidim for only a few months. He died on Shmini Atzertet [the last day of Sukkoth] in the year 5609  and was buried in Makowa.
We have read about Rabbi Shraga Feibl's time as rabbi of Sheps in the books Admorei Alexander [The Rabis of Alexander] and Kdoshat Yitzhak [Holiness of Yitzhak], as follows:
The book Admorei Alexander by Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Bromberg that was published in Jerusalem in the year 5712 , pages 21-22 states:
The Rabi Rabbi Simchah Bunim told Rabbi Shraga Feibl to go to Sheps and accept the position when he heard that they were searching for a Rabbi. Because the town was a town of Mitnagdim, a well-known learned scholar from Makowa accompanied Rabbi Shraga Feibl, and recommended him to the community. However, Rabbi Shraga Feibl was not pleased with his situation in Sheps, where most of the people opposed him because he was a Hasid. He stayed there only four weeks. In spite of the fact that that Rabbi Simchah Bunim ordered him to stay, he had to leave, because it was not in his nature to tolerate conflicts. Years later, after he had suffered many misfortunes and most of his sons died young, he attributed it to the fact that he had not obeyed the Rabi's edict, and not stayed in Sheps.
The book Kdoshat Yitzhak (The Lives of Our Holy Rabbis the Admorim of Alexander, their virtue will protect us) by Rabbi Yehuda Moshe Thiberg, the Rabi of Alexander in Jerusalem, published in the year 5712 , page 21 states:
When the Rabi Rabbi Feibli was the rabbi of Sheps there was much disagreement, and he was forced to leave. But his Rabi, Rabbi Bunim of Przedecz ordered him to return to Sheps. However, the quarrels did not stop and he suffered a great deal. At that time, Rabi Meir Chayim, his brother-in-law's son, studied with Rabi Feibl. He requested permission from his Rabi and uncle to leave Sheps because he could not stand the suffering of his Rabi and uncle and said to him, 'You are commanded by the Rabi of Przedecz to be the Rabbi of Sheps, but I have not been ordered to see the suffering of my uncle and Rabi.' Rabbi Feibli answered him, 'You should be aware of the fact that all my suffering is caused by some negligence when I was Bar-Mitzvah because of your father Rabi Meir Chayim, and now you want to abandon me.'
The same book, page 25, states: When Sheps needed a Rabbi, the Sainted Rabbi Natkha Makower, the son-in-law of the holy Rabi, Rabbi Chayim Chayke of Amdur, recommended Rabi Feibli. He explained, 'It is written Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee [Deuteronomy 16, 18] which means that the judges you are given should have the fear of heaven, and this is what the lord gives you.' The Rabi Feibli was a judge like that, who put the fear of heaven in everyone's heart. However, he was there for only a short time, because the town was full of Mitnagdim, and they hated Hasidim. His Rabi, Rabbi Bunim, felt he should not leave Sheps. Later, when he suffered the loss of his sons, something not to befall us, the merciful one will save us, he blamed that on his departure from the town of Sheps despite the wishes of the Rabi Bunim.
For how long and during which years did Rabbi Shraga Feibl serve as Rabbi of Sierpc? The answers to these questions do not appear in the books Admorei Alexander and Kdoshat Yitzhak. But the answer to the first question can be determined, perhaps not exactly, but not too far from the correct answer.
Both sources tell us that Rabbi Shraga Feibl accepted the office of Rabbi of Sheps after the appointment of Rabbi Simchah Bunim of Przedecz as Rabi. This means after the year 5575 . We also know that Rabbi Shraga Feibl left Sheps when Rabbi Simchah Bunim was still alive, that is, before the year 5587 , the year of his death. Therefore, Rabbi Shraga Feibl's period of service in Sierpc was sometime during the years 5575 to 5587 (1815 to 1827).
This is exactly how Rabbi Avraham Menachem Danziger, son of Rabbi Yehuda Moshe Thiburg, may he have a long life amen, the Rabi of Alexander in Jerusalem, answered our question:
Unfortunately, I cannot tell you precisely. However, it was undoubtedly during the leadership of Rabbi Bunim of blessed memory of Przedecz. This was from the year 5574  or 5575 , after the death of the saintly Jew, his virtue will protect us, and 'visionary', the Rabi of Lublin, his virtue will protect us, until the 12,th of the month of Elul, 5587 , the date that Rabbi Bunim of blessed memory passed away.
We have not found an answer to the second question, how many years, not even an imprecise one. The second excerpt from the book Kdoshei Yitzhak states: But he was there for only a short time. What is a short time? We do not know. The statement in the book Admorei Alexander, He stayed there only four weeks is not reasonable. First, the community agreed to accept him as a Rabbi despite their knowledge that he was of the Hasidim. What great harm could they find as soon as he settled in the town that would cause them to regret their decision enough to force him to leave town after four weeks, with all the problems and conflicts this would cause? Secondly, a faithful Hasid like Rabbi Shraga Feibl would not contravene the command of the Rabi after being in misery for only four weeks.
We can summarize this with two conclusions and an assumption.
C. Rabbi Avraham
We know very little about Rabbi Avraham, the righteous of blessed memory (who was called Rabbi Avrahamel Charif [Sharp]) and even less about his service in Sheps. We present below three excerpts from the pamphlet Tzemach Hasadeh [Plant of the Field] that mention Rabbi Avraham the Chief Judge of the Court of the Community of Sheps.
The pamphlet Tzemach Hasadeh (about the Rabbis and great men of Plonsk) by Rabbi Zvi Yehezkel Michelson (Rabbi of Plonsk and later a member of the Rabbinical Committee of Warsaw, Warsaw 5695 ), states on page 2.
An orphan girl remained. Her brother-in-law, her sister's husband, the notary Yosef Frankel brought her up. He married her off to Rabbi Avraham who later became Rabbi and Chief Judge of the Court of the Community of Sheps, and was called Avrahamel Charif. He was the brother of the Gaon [Genius] Rabbi Itsheli Chief Judge of the Court of the Community of Plonsk.
Page 3 of the same pamphlet states: My great uncle the Gaon Horvitz instilled the Torah in our town of Plonsk and studied with some charming lads in the great yeshiva. He also studied there with the Gaon Rabbi Avraham Chief Judge of the Court of the Community of Sheps. Many of the students left the lessons of Rabbi Eliezer and went to study with my great uncle the Gaon Horvitz because they preferred his teaching. Rabbi Eliezer stated clearly that there is no novelty here, because he is a 'master craftsman' since his brother-in-law, the head of the yeshiva, quotes to his pupils the innovations in the Torah of his father, the Gaon of Lipnic.
Page 8 of the same pamphlet states: It is written in the book Honor Thy Father, ‘The Righteous Rabbi, the rich man Rabbi Yishai son of Rabbi Meir of the community of Plonsk built a large Beit Midrash [prayer and study house] in his town, with his own money. This was in the year 5562  and it is called to this day Rav Yishai's Beit Midrash’. During the great fire in the town of Plonsk, all the buildings burned down, and only the Beit Midrash was left standing. Rabbi Yishai supported ten scholars who constantly studied in shifts in the Beit Midrash, who were called the ten loafers. He also specifically sent the Gaon our teacher Avraham, Chief Judge of the Court of the Community of Sheps to Warsaw to buy a great number of books for the Beit Midrash.
We have here three pieces of information about Rabbi Avraham: about his marriage, that he would instill the Torah in young scholars, and that he was sent to Warsaw to buy books for the Beit Midrash of Rabbi Yishai. However all three of them are about Rabbi Avraham's time in Plonsk, before he became Rabbi of Sheps. The same commentary that appears in the first excerpt, who later became Rabbi and Chief Judge of the Court of the Community of Sheps should also apply to the other two.
We can also find two dates here: the third excerpt states that the Beit Midrash was built in the year 5562 (1802), and later in the same paragraph states that Rabbi Yishai passed away in the year 5576 (1816). However, these dates also tell us only about Rabbi Avraham's life in Plonsk. Therefore, we know that his mission to buy books for the Beit Midrash was between these two dates.
Consequently, we must speculate that Rabbi Avraham's service as Rabbi of Sheps was after the period of Rabbi Shraga Feibl Danziger. This means the third decade of the nineteenth century (approximately 1820-1830).
D. Rabbi Moshe Yehudah Leib Zilberberg
The Rabbi Moshe Yehudah Leib Zilberberg, son of Rabbi Binyamin Zilberberg the righteous of blessed memory was famous as a master of the Torah, a genius and saint. Many of his pupils became masters of the Torah themselves, and great in teaching in the communities of Israel.
Rabbi Moshe Yehudah Leib corresponded with many of the Torah sages in Poland on questions of permission and prohibition. The rule The power of permissiveness is preferable was his guiding light. He tried to be as lenient as possible in most of his pronouncements and in all his searches for the hidden meaning of the Torah. This method is apparent in his book Zait Raanan [The Fresh Olive] (in two volumes, Questions and Answers in Accordance with the Shulchan Aruch). There he displays his greatness and his depth of understanding of the Torah, both written and oral, and his knowledge and genius in the first and last books. The Rabbi used the above rule in many of his answers to Rabbis that asked him various questions, and he would rule leniently in problems of Agunah and other matters. The Rabbi was a Mitnaged [opponent] of Hasidim, who questioned the rabbi, and called him insulting names.
The Rabbi Moshe Yehudah Leib was a rabbi in the towns of Kvuhal, Sheps, Dobre, Lask, and Kutno. At the end of his life, he went to the Land of Israel and lived in Jerusalem for eight years. During his time in Jerusalem, he studied Torah exclusively, learned, taught, and raised great Torah scholars and teachers. He was much respected in Jerusalem and was accepted by rabbis of Jerusalem of all the ethnic groups. He wrote the book Tifereth Yerushalaim [Glory of Jerusalem] about the Mishna, which demonstrates his outstanding knowledge of all the parts of the Torah.
Rabbi Moshe Yehudah Leib Zilberberg was born in the year 5554 (1794) in the town of łęczyca in Poland and died in Jerusalem in the year 5625 (1865).
During which years did Rabbi Moshe Yehudah Leib Zilberberg serve as Rabbi of Sierpc?
We know of two dates which give us a partial answer. In the book Zait Raanan [The Fresh Olive] (published in Warsaw in the year 5611 (1851), on page 162, Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib asks Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Lipchitz ( Hemdat Shlomo) about the problem of a divorce decree in which both parties are from our community. This decree, sent by the holy community of Prague contains a few stutters concerning names. When he took the marriage vows, he was called Mordechai Meshlem Zalman, but was called by everyone by the nickname Matte, was also called Mottel, and later Mordechai Zalman. He was called to the Torah as Mordechai Meshlem and his signature is Mordechai Meshulem (with a ‘u’) Zalman. And there are additional stutters in this divorce decree. It contains ‘Feril’ with an ‘i’, but the authorization writes ‘Ferul’ with a ‘u’. Therefore, it is the Rabbi's opinion that the divorce decree should state, I, Mordechai Meshlem, called Zalman and also called Mordechai sometimes Mottel. The name ‘Matte’ should not be mentioned at all, since it is a nickname for ‘Mordechai’.
The beginning of the question states Blessed be God, Friday, eve of the Holy Saturday, 24 of the month of Shevat, 5599. Therefore, we see that Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib Zilberberg was a rabbi in Sheps in the year 5599 (1839).
We also know that the replacement for Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib, Rabbi Mordechai Grinbaum, came to Sheps in the year 5601 . This means that Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib must have left Sierpc in about the year 5600 (1840).
Thus we have solved the second half of our question: the year that Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib stopped being Rabbi of Sheps. But the first part of the question, when he began his service, is still open. We can only state that Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib Zilberberg was the Rabbi of Sheps in the fourth decade of the 19th century (approximately 1830-1840).
The rabbi mentions that he was Rabbi of Sheps in a few other places in the above book. In the introduction to Part 1 of the book, the rabbi mentions the towns in which he listed the questions and answers and the Torah innovations that are printed in the book. He states, Just some of the questions and answers and few of the innovations are still with me. What I taught in the holy communities of Dobre and Sheps, may our towns be blessed amen, and some from the holy community of Kvuhal, may our town be blessed amen. But I labored very hard over most of them in three years in the holy community of Lask, and here in the holy community of Kutno, may our town be blessed as I taught my exalted and bright sons and my superlative students.
In part 1 page 31, the second page about the Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chayim, he makes a note about the problem the non-Jew who is pledged the leavened items, and mainly, the question came up when I served the holy community of Sheps for about 15 years.
In Part 1, page 110, second column, The famous Rabbi, the Great Genius and Saint, my relative and teacher Avraham the Rabbi of Ciechanów visited him when I was in the holy community of Shepsk.
At the end of Part 1 of the book, in the list Names of philanthropists who subscribed to this book, the following names from Sheps are mentioned: Reb Asher Zalman, Reb Eli Dov, Reb Eli Kaufman, Reb Avraham Hartbrot, Reb Aaron Yoseph, Reb Yisrael Yitzhak, Reb Reuven son of Reb Eli Dov, Reb Shmuel Tatze, Reb Shmuel Zvi HaCohen.
The book An Encyclopedia of the Pioneers of the Yishuv and its Builders by David Tidhar (Tel-Aviv, undated) contains a detailed biography of Rabbi Moshe Yehudah Leib Zilberberg.
Volume 3, Page 1102 states:
Born in the town of łęczyca, Kalisz District, Poland in the year 5554 (1794). His father was Reb Binyamin Beinisch and his mother was Basha daughter of Rabbi Zev Wolfe Aurbach (Rabbi of Vlodimiretz and later Blenchitz, replacing his father-in-law Rabbi Yosef Chayim Kara, who was, according to tradition, a descendant of Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of Beit Yosef and Shulchan Aruch. He served as Rabbi there for 80 years, and died in 5560  at the age of 113. He was head and shoulders above everyone else, and the benevolence of his features threw a light of veneration on his surroundings).
He studied in Heders and Yeshivot, and excelled in his diligence and knowledge of all the particulars of the Torah, and was ordained as a Rabbi.
He was a Rabbi in the towns of Kvuhal, Shepsk, Dobre, Lask, and later in the city of Kutno. He was known in all the Diaspora of Israel as a genius and saint, and educated many pupils who were great in the Torah and teachers in Israel. He wrote the book Zait Raanan in two parts - questions and answers in the order of the Shulchan Aruch. The book increased his fame and genius in the world of rabbis and students of the Torah.
After he gave the Rabbinate of Kutno to his son, and his son agreed to send him sufficient means for his necessities, in order that he could be occupied with the Torah without having need of others, he ascended to the Land of Israel in 5617 (1857). He settled in Jerusalem in an apartment that he rented in the courtyard of the property of Rabbi David Yelin-Tavih of Lomza. It had a room at the end for a Beit Midrash for Torah study and prayer. Every day he would give two lessons of genius and logical thinking, in the Beit Midrash Menachem Tzion which was in the ruins of the courtyard of Rabbi Yehudah Hasid. One was in the morning on the Talmud, and the other in the evening on the adjudicators of Jewish law. Many pupils thronged his house, both young and old men great in the Torah. He would sit all day wearing a tallit and tefilin [prayer shawl and phylacteries] and teach the Torah without asking for any compensation. He would give lessons to outstanding scholars, together with Rabbi Shmuel Salant. In 5618  he became a leader of the Talmud Torah and Yeshiva Etz Chaim (together with Rabbi Yeshayahu Brodki, the Chief Rabbi Shmuel Salant, and Rabbi Shimon Zarchi of Taurage). In Jerusalem, he taught pupils who became great in the Torah. These include Rabbi Yehoshua Zvi Michal Shapiro (son-in-law of Rabbi Nachman Natan Korogal), Rabbi Yehoshua Orenstein, Rabbi Yehudah Bloomfield (Reb Yudel Blumzer), and Rabbi Nissim Sherlin.
When in Jerusalem, he wrote the book Tifereth Yerushalaim [Glory of Jerusalem] about the Mishna (mainly to explain the questions and amazement of Rabbi Akiva Iger). He was the first to introduce public prayer at the Western Wall. A special minyan would gather there every day for the Morning Prayer, but this did not last very long.
All the great men of Jerusalem, no matter what their ethnic group, respected him. He participated in all judicial events of great public interest. His signature remains at the head of all the Ashkenazi and Sephardic rabbis on the agreement between the rabbis of the two ethnic groups in the year 5619  on the problem of titles to properties. He also signed, in 5624 , the bill of emissary of Rabbi Yaakov Sapir (author of Even Sapir). He was fresh and alert until the end of his days. His eyes did not dim, nor did his memory weaken.
He died on Jerusalem on the 3rd day of Shevat 5625 (1865). Hus descendants were Sarah Libe, wife of Rabbi Yisrael Yaakov Halevy (Rabbi of Plonsk, and later head of the rabbinical court in Jerusalem), Avraham Binyamin Beinisch (Rabbi of Kutno, and later Wieruszów, author of the book Alei Zait ['Leaves of the Olive]).
The death of Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib Zilberberg is described in the book One Hundred Years by I. Troiaks, A. Shtigman, and I. Yaari-Polskin, published in Tel-Aviv in the year 5698 (1938). Page 256 contains a footnote:
P. Grayevski (in Ginzei Yerushalaim [Archives of Jerusalem], Part 5, 5680 ) quotes from the report of Dr. Binyamin Rata-Tsigal of the Rothschild Hospital in Jerusalem, from the month of Sivan in the year 5625 . ‘There was a serious outbreak of rose disease [cellulitis] in the city and its surroundings, from the month of Elul to the middle of the month of Shevat which caused many fatalities .I will mention here the cases of two people who fell ill with this disease and died prematurely. One was the famous Rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Rabi Moshe Leib, of blessed memory, who had been Chief Judge of the Court of the Community of Kutno. The second was the wise and well-known Rabbi Rabi Yosef Schwartz of blessed memory. ’
E. Rabbi Mordechai Grinbaum
Rabbi Mordechai son of Rabbi Yehoshua the righteous of blessed memory Grinbaum was appointed Rabbi of Sheps after Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib Zilberberg. He had an impressive pedigree, because he was thought to be a descendant of Rashi. However, he did not just have the pedigree of his forefathers, but was himself a figure of importance. He was a scholar of such high rank that the well-known Gaon Rabbi Akiva Iger called him Gaon.
Rabbi Mordechai Grinbaum was appointed Rabbi of Sheps in the year 5601 (1841). Previously, he had been Rabbi of Nieshtat. He was a Mitnaged, and the Hasidim of Sheps vexed him greatly. His suffering stopped only after lobbying with the Rabbi of Kotsk, and a warning from the Rabi to his followers.
Rabbi Mordechai Grinbaum was the Rabbi of Sheps for 18 years. He passed away on Saturday 16th of Heshvon 5619 (the end of October 1858), and he was buried on Sunday, the following day. The community of Sheps showed their great respect for him during the funeral. On Saturday night, they informed all the towns in the area, and six rabbis from neighboring towns came to the funeral. All the rabbis at the funeral eulogized him and described his mastery of the Torah, his great and good deeds, and the loss to Sheps and to all the communities in the area. The preparations and the funeral lasted all day, till the evening, and all the Jews of the town fasted that whole day. He was buried next to the grave of Rabbi Meirel Dabash.
We can find information on the life of Rabbi Mordechai Grinbaum in the introduction to the book Oznei Yehoshua [Joshua's Ears] (Questions and Answers) Part 1 by Rabbi Yehoshua Segal (grandson of Rabbi Mordechai Grinbaum and also a rabbi of Sheps), published in Jerusalem in the year 5674 . The following is an excerpt from the book:
Two young men from the district of Piotrków in Poland became famous as great prodigies at the end of the passing century. One was called Rabbi Mordechai Grinbaum (I believe that was his family name) who was descended from Rashi, and the other one was Rabbi Chayim Filipover. But while success came easily to the latter and he became the rabbi of his town Filipów, and was respected and almost serene there, the former was not as lucky. Because he was a forceful Mitnaged, he could not find a rabbinate then in Poland. The Hasidim had the upper hand then, and would persecute all who opposed them. Therefore he was forced to be a melamed in the house of the Gaon Rabbi Shlomo son of the Rabbi Akiva Iger, the righteous of blessed memory. He was the melamed of his two sons, one of whom was Reb Leibl. One day Rabbi Shlomo traveled from Warsaw to Poznan to meet his father the Gaon, the righteous of blessed memory, and brought along his two sons and their melamed, Reb Mordechai. When Rabbi Akiva Iger tested his Reb Leibl [on his knowledge of the Torah] he marveled at the teaching method, ‘His teacher is a Gaon and not a simple melamed’. Then Rabbi Shlomo said, ‘The melamed also came here’. When Reb Mordechai came and they split hairs over Torah meanings, Rabbi Akiva burst out excitedly, ‘This Gaon is going to be a melamed? Never! Why shouldn't he be a rabbi? I will ordain you, and you will become a rabbi. ’
He later became a rabbi in the town of Nieshtat in the Warsaw District, where there was also a rabbi for the Hasidic community. Of course, the two extremes met, but there was peace between them at all times. Then he became the rabbi of the town of Sheps in the district of Plotzk. There were constant quarrels and disputes between him and the Hasidim of the town. But at that time, his student Reb Leibl ran away from his father and became a Hasid of a great rabbi in Lublin. When the Hasidim bothered Rabbi Mordechai, he reported it to his student Reb Leibl. Reb Leibl wrote to the Saintly Rabbi of Kotsk of blessed memory, and he ordered all his Hasidim to beware and honor Rabbi Mordechai. Then everyone calmed down and was in awe of Rabbi Mordechai.
We can read about the death of Rabbi Mordechai in the weekly newspaper HaMagid that was published in the town of Ełk (Prussia), number 47, the 1st day of the month of Tevet 5619 (December 8, 1858). The article was written by Rabbi Mordechai's son, Rabbi Yehoshua (father of Yitzhak Grinbaum):
Plonsk. I have just returned from the field of tears of the town Shepsk. There, on the Holy Sabbath, on the 16th day of the month of Marheshvon, the chief Judge of this town, my glory and splendor was interred. That was my father, my master, my teacher, my Rabi, the great Gaon, a man of charm and lover of truth, a man of integrity and wisdom and perfection. He was tenfold above all others, our teacher Rabbi Mordecai HaCohen Grinbaum, the righteous of blessed memory. He first was crowned as the Rabbi of the small town of Nieshtat, near where he had settled. There he instilled the Torah in many pupils, some of whom have been ordained as Rabbis. Later he was appointed as Rabbi and Chief Judge of the Rabbinical Court of the town of Shepsk, and for eighteen years he wore the crown of Rabbi there. On this Holy Sabbath, in the afternoon, the light was extinguished, and the great priest was taken from his brothers, to serve at the secret inner sanctum on high. The sound of wailing was heard everywhere that the bad news spread. I also was bent when I heard that the tiara was taken from me. My soul, my soul, a house of winds has turned me into an instrument of mourning, and the sound of tears is my supplication. How great was the respect paid to him by his congregation at his death. On Holy Saturday evening, messengers were sent to the nearby towns to call the rabbis, his pupils, and also the brothers-in-law of the great Rabbi of the light, the strength of Israel, to wail with the multitude and to eulogize him. And all of them came. Six rabbis. Everyone mourned him, and their numbers grew on that day until the people didn't have the strength to cry more. The people stood, extolling and weeping. They did not eat bread or drink water from the end of the Sabbath until the light of day on Monday, the 18th of Marheshvon, when on the tenth hour, they returned to their homes. The lord will grant amnesty to his ashes and will wrap his soul with the bundle of life. On Monday morning, the congregation of Shepsk returned to do justice and charity for the living as they had done for the dead, and in the lead was the great philanthropist, our teacher the rabbi Yisrael Yitzhak Baden, followed in the doing of charity by my great friend and teacher Yaakov Hirsh Kirsch, the light of Israel, to strengthen my mother, the Rabanit, she of the great sorrow, with two orphans. They did this by taking my brother-in-law, the Rabbi and great light, versed in the Torah, my teacher and Rabbi, who had been Rabbi in a small town to be the teacher and Rabbi of Shepsk, and he supports my mother, the Rabanit, may she live a long life, and her two orphaned sons. My feelings of gratitude come from heart to all the worthy people of the community of Shepsk for their charity and great deeds, your compensation will come from the master of rewards!
These words are for seekers of god and servants of the truth.
Yehoshua son of my master, my father, my teacher, my Rabbi, the Gaon our teacher and Rabbi Mordechai HaCohen, the righteous of blessed memory, Grinbaum.
F. Rabbi Moshe Yosef Segal
The excerpt from the newspaper HaMagid that we quoted above tells us that Rabbi Moshe Yosef Segal, of blessed memory, was appointed Rabbi of Sheps in place of his father-in-law Rabbi Mordechai Grinbaum, two days after his death and on the day following his burial, the 17th day of Heshvon in the year 5619 (1858). But this was not an appointment by the community, but by a small group of enlightened Mitnagdim, who did it on their own initiative.
The background for this act can be inferred from the way in which the affairs of the Sheps Rabbinate had developed. The last two Rabbis of Sheps, Rabbi Mordechai Grinbaum, and his predecessor, Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib Zilberberg, were Mitnagdim. It is also reasonable to assume that their predecessor, Rabbi Avrahamel Charif was a Mitnaged (after the Hasidic rabbi who preceded him, Rabbi Shraga Feibl Danziger, was forced to leave town because of the persecution of the Mitnagdim. The Mitnagdim wanted to continue the tradition and appoint their Rabbi, but they apparently knew that the community would not agree to this, because the Hasidim had become a majority (as we have shown above). Therefore, they took matters into their own hands and appointed Rabbi Moshe Yosef Segal, who was both a Mitnaged and the son-in-law of the previous rabbi. They apparently thought that establishing the fact on their part would force the community to agree. But the community did not agree, and appointed Rabbi Gedaliah of Żuromin as the official Rabbi of Sheps.
The act of the enlightened Mitnagdim caused the community of Sheps to split into two congregations: the community and the Kolhekot.
The introduction to the book Oznei Yehoshua [Joshua's Ears] that we mentioned in a previous section states, This Rabbi Mordechai married off one of his daughters to a great scholar of the Torah called Rabbi Moshe Yosef of Plonsk who was appointed a Rabbi of the town of Kitzburg on the border of Prussia, near Mlawa, a small town that could not give him more than 10 ‘Polish Guilder’ a week. Of course, this wage was sufficient only for starvation, and in this desperate situation, he was forced to also be a Melamed.
When Rabbi Mordechai died, his son-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Yosef was appointed in his place by the congregation of Mitnagdim. But the Hasidim of Sierpc appointed Rabbi Gedaliah of Zrimin, so that at first there was a dispute between them, but later the two rabbis reconciled, and served peacefully.
G. Rabbi Gedaliah
The excerpt from the book Oznei Yehoshua [Joshua's Ears] that we quoted above states that when the group called Kolhekot appointed Rabbi Moshe Yosef Segal, the larger community appointed Rabbi Gedaliah of Żuromin, the righteous of blessed memory, as the Rabbi of Sheps.
We have very little information about Rabbi Gedaliah. From the fact that he was called of Żuromin we understand that before coming to Sheps, he served as Rabbi of Żuromin. The same excerpt tells us that Rabbi Gedaliah was appointed in the year 5619 (1859).
Since Rabbi Gedaliah's successor, Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldschlak, was appointed Rabbi in Sierpc in the year 5625 (1865), we know that Rabbi Gedaliah's term of office ended during that year or the previous year. But we do not know if Rabbi Gedaliah moved to another town, or if he passed away in Sheps.
H. Rabbi Yehoshua Segal
When Rabbi Moshe Yosef Segal, who was the rabbi of the group of enlightened Mitnagdim called Kolhekot, died, his son, Rabbi Yehoshua, was appointed as his successor.
Rabbi Yehoshua Segal, the righteous of blessed memory was born in Kuczbork on the 26th day of Av, 5606 (1846). He was outstandingly talented even as a child. At the age of 10 he was already famous as knowledgeable in the six tractates of the Mishna. Rabbi Yehoshua became great in the Torah and had noble attributes. He received certification as a teacher from the Gaonim Rabbi Leibush Charif of Plotzk and Rabbi Yehoshua of Kutno, and from other famous rabbis. As stated previously, he was accepted in Sheps as the successor to his father as Rabbi of the Kolhekot.
Rabbi Yehoshua Segal, like his father and grandfather, was a Mitnaged, and suffered persecution at the hands of the Hasidim. Quite like the Hasidic Rabbi Shraga Feibl Danziger left Sheps some sixty years earlier because of the harassment of the Mitnagdim, so this time the Mitnaged Rabbi Yehoshua left Sheps because of the provocations of the Hasidim.
Rabbi Yehoshua Segal left Sheps in approximately the year 5644 (1884). He emigrated to America, and settled in New York, where he was called the Rabbi from Sheps. When he left, the affair of the Kolhekot ended, and the community of Sheps was once more united.
In New York, Rabbi Yehoshua Segal served for ten years as Rabbi of the synagogue Chevra Tehilim Anshel Vishkova. In spite of the problems of supporting his family, Rabbi Joshua was busy day and night in America as well with Torah study and writing his books. In one book that he wrote and published there, the Rabbi said carrying an object on Sabbath was permitted in New York, because it was surrounded by water and is considered a single zone. He had a dispute about this with orthodox rabbis who disagreed with him.
Rabbi Yehoshua Segal decided to move to Palestine after the death of his wife. He came to Jerusalem in the month of Ellul, 5668  with his daughter, Bella. In Jerusalem, he contracted malaria. While taking care of her father, his daughter also contracted malaria, and on the advice of doctors left Palestine in the month of Tevet, 5668, and returned to New York.
His health improved in New York, and he returned to his main preoccupation, writing books on Halacha [Jewish Law], among them Halachot Tluyot BaAretz [Laws Dependent on Country] and Halachot Chala [Laws of Illness]. Rabbi Yehoshua died suddenly on the 13th of Adar A in the year 5670 (1910) while sitting at his desk studying and writing.
The introduction to the book Oznei Yehoshua [Joshua's Ears] discusses the life of Rabbi Yehoshua Segal at length. The following are some excerpts from the book:
and the author in question became greater in Torah and good deeds. The Rabbi Leibush Charif who was called in his time the iron brain said about him with great feeling, ‘He is the second Gaon of Vilnius’, and he gave him the teaching certification, and was his advocate with the authorities to be appointed as ‘deputy Rabbi’. The Gaon Rabbi Yehoshua of Kutno the righteous of blessed memory also ordained him, and so did the Gaon Rabbi Yosef Kara the righteous of blessed memory from Włocławek. When he was sixteen, he married the maiden Chanah, the daughter of a rich widow. She was a ‘woman of valor’, modest and god-fearing. She had pure and lofty attributes, very wise, and knew how to give her husband the respect that was due to him. She maintained the great man in a style that was suitable to him, so that he never knew any privation, and kept diligently studying the Torah day and night, in a way that was an example to everyone. When his father passed way, he was appointed as his successor as Rabbi of Sheps. However, since he was also a Mitnaged, he of course also suffered greatly because of the harassment of the Hasidim. In spite of all the warnings of the Gaon, our teacher Rabbi Yehoshua of Kutno, the righteous of blessed memory, that they not show him any disrespect, in the end he despaired of bearing all these troubles, since he was by nature a quiet man. He left Poland and came with all his family to Newark in approximately the year 5644 (1884).
Even in America, the land of commotion and pursuit of the dollar, he applied himself to the Torah day and night, with self-sacrifice that exceeded all others. As all his associates can testify, he never stopped studying the Talmud, and there he wrote most of his doctrines, that I am now publishing. And everyone who is acquainted with that land could only marvel at the generosity of the man, after all the trials he went through. He had to provide a living for his family, something more difficult than the parting of the Red Sea for a man exalted above the common horde, in a country like that. He succeeded in spending days and nights delving into the sea of the Talmud and the adjudicators, with great heroism and boundless energy. He should be an example to the rabbis who rest on their laurels in small towns without any worries or adversity.
After the death of our teacher and Rabbi Rabi Yaakov Yosef the righteous of blessed memory, all the congregations of Newark looked to the Gaon and author and recognized him as one of the great rabbis of the city. But then he started to suffer from the harassment of well know people, who were jealous of the respect he was shown and that he did not pay enough attention to them. Thus they took livelihood after livelihood from him, until he had nothing left. After his saintly wife passed away in the year 5666 , and he had to depend upon his sons for support, he decided to go to the Land of Israel. In the month of Elul, 5668 he came to Jerusalem accompanied by his daughter, the gentle and wise Bella, and his friend, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Louis of blessed memory. His sons sent him what was necessary for him to live with honor.
Here [Jerusalem], he was welcomed by the most respected figures of the city. Our teacher the Gaon the respected Rabbi and Rabi Shmuel Salant the righteous of blessed memory enjoyed debating at length with him on the Torah after they became acquainted. This is based on letters they exchanged containing questions and answers on various subjects. After a number of weeks, both he and his friend Rabbi Avraham Yaakov became very ill with malaria, to the point where they were ordered by their physicians to leave the country. His devoted daughter took wonderful and constant care of him. She labored so hard to relieve him of his pains that she too fell ill with the disease. Then they decided to leave the country in the month of Tevet 5669, and after many hardships during their journey, they reached America.
In the meantime, I was successful in convincing him to publish the innovations of his Torah, and at the end of the winter of the year 5670 (1910), the first editions of this book were printed. But the shocking report reached us of the passing of the Gaon, which occurred suddenly on the 13th of the month of Adar A. His friend Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Louis passed away two days earlier, and on that day the Gaon eulogized him with a heavy heart, that he was his friend and soul-mate since their youth. During the funeral he felt nauseous, and his daughter took him home. When his sons returned home at twilight, the found him slumped over his desk. The immediately called a doctor, who declared that he was dead.
According to the important New York newspapers ‘Tagblatt’, Newark Times, Newark World, and others, the report [of his death] spread like thunder and lightning among all the Jews of Newark. Immediately, hundreds of thousands of men gathered in the streets near his residence to pay their last respects, so that hundreds of policemen were sent to maintain order. Many rabbis eulogized him in the synagogue ‘Chevra Tehilim Anshel Vishkova’; he was their Rabbi and teacher there for the last ten years, and in the synagogue ‘Anshei Makower’. All the streets up to two Parsangs away were filled with men standing shoulder to shoulder who participated in his funeral, and went to his final resting place. May his soul be wrapped with the bundle of life.
I. Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldschlak
Rabbi Yechiel Michal son of Rabbi Avraham the righteous of blessed memory Goldschlak was born on the 12th of Tevet 5591 (1831) in Shrensk (Szreńsk, a town in the Mlawa district). Rabbi Yechiel was descended from lines of rabbis and learned scholars both on his father's and his mother's side. He was descended from Baal HaShach on his father's side and on his mother's side he was a descendant of the saintly Rabbi Yechiel Michal of Niemirów, who was martyred during the Decrees of 408. His grandfather on his mother's side was Rabbi Chayim Zelig of Shrensk, who was considered one of the righteous of his generation. Because of his great modesty, he rebuffed the many Hasidim that became devoted to him and wanted him to be their Rabi (after the death of Rabbi Shmuel of Kurów) and traveled by himself to the Rabbi of Przysucha, and after he died - to the Rabbi of Kotsk.
Even as a child, Rabbi Yechiel Michal was recognized for his great talents. He wrote of innovations to the Torah when he was a boy to the Gaon Rabbi Akiva Iger of blessed memory. The Gaon was amazed by this prodigy when he discovered his age. Other great sages of the Torah who spoke to him and read his phrases and innovations wondered at his wisdom and expertise in all parts of the Torah. He became well known in many towns and he became the prodigy of Shrensk. The Gaon who was the author of Innovations of HaRim, of blessed memory said of him Our Michal is a greater prodigy than all the prodigies of my time.
When he was seventeen years old, in the year 5608 (1848), Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldschlak was appointed the Rabbi of Kikol, a town in the district of Lipno. He was ordained by the great rabbis, and the author of Innovations of HaRim also wrote, In honor of my beloved friend who is the Rabbi that is incisive and expert, wise and complete in virtues and attributes, a patriarch in his wisdom and tender in his years .
After Kikol, Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldschlak became Rabbi of his birthplace, Shrensk, and the towns of Poddębice and Ostrołęka. In the year 5625 (1865), he was appointed Rabbi of Sheps.
Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldschlak was the rabbi of Sheps for 53 years, and was a rabbi of various towns for seventy years. He passed away at the age of 88 on the 21st day of Shevat, 5678 (February 3, 1918).
The community of Sheps paid him great respect when he passed away. On the day of the funeral, the caretaker of the synagogue went throughout the town to call everyone to the funeral of the Rabbi. There were very many people at the funeral, and the eulogies were made at the old Beit Hamidrash, the new Beit Hamidrash, and at the synagogue. During the eulogies, all the prayer houses, including the women's sections, were full, with a great many people outside. The eulogizers were Rabbis from the area who came to the Rabbi's funeral. They talked about the greatness of the rabbi in the Torah and his wisdom and of the great loss to the town and the whole area. At the request of the Chevra Kadisha [Funeral Society], the Mikve [ritual bath house] was heated on the day of the funeral, and all the members of the society immersed themselves before the purification. The funeral society ordered a new spade in honor of the deceased, which was burned immediately after the interment.
In later years, his grandson, Rabbi Yehudah Hashil David, the Rabbi of Sheps, erected a sepulcher above his grandfather's grave.
The Warsaw newspaper Heint, in its edition at the end of the month of Shevat, 5678 (February 1918) published the following obituary [in Yiddish].
A few days ago the well-known Gaon Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldschlak passed away. He had been the Rabbi of Sierpc (Plotzk District) for over fifty years.
The deceased was the oldest rabbi in all of Poland, and was recognized all over the country for his knowledge of Torah and good deeds. He was born in Shrensk in the year 5591 (1841). As a child, he already carried on a scholarly correspondence with Rabbi Akiva Iger of blessed memory, who was amazed at the child prodigy and esteemed him highly.
The deceased was already ordained Rabbi of Kikol at the age of seventeen and a half with the blessing of the great Warsaw rabbis and the author of ‘Innovations of HaRim’ of blessed memory. Later he became Rabbi of Shrensk, Poddębice and Ostrołęka. From there he went to Sierpc (in the year 5625). The deceased led great Yeshivot in all these towns, which instructed many great scholars and rabbis.
In addition to his outstanding knowledge, the deceased was great in virtues and good deeds. He was also admired for his clear language, and among the many compositions that he left concerning law and myth, there are some Hebrew books about Bchinat Olam [An Examination of the World], Sefer Ben-Sira [The Book of Ben-Sira], and Lutzato's Layesharim Tehilla [Praise to the Honest].
May his soul be wrapped with the bundle of life.
In addition to the praise heaped on Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldschlak, it should be added that he was a lover of Zion. He also supported the Zionist movement, in its religious form, when it first appeared. It was only at the express command of the Rabi of Gur that he withdrew his support.
We present below an excerpt from an article titled Talks with Admorim [Great Rabbis and Teachers] in Poland about Zionism by Avraham Green (Ben-Gurion's brother) that appeared in the Tel-Aviv newspaper HaAretz on the 29th of Elul 5695 (September 27, 1935). He tells about Rabbi Yechiel Michal's desire to support the Zionist movement, and his refraining from doing so because of the command from Gur.
The author of the article tells of a delegation of Zionist rabbis that included Rabbi Yitzhak Yaakov Reines of Lida and Rabbi Rashi Rabinowicz of Sopotskin that went (on the 1st of the Month of 5660, 1900) to the Admorim of Gur and Sochaczew to try to influence them to stop their opposition to Zionism. In the rest of the article, he states:
As stated above, the two Zionists from Plonsk, Eizik and Esterson, returned to their homes already on Tuesday, after the meeting at the home of Mr. Yasinowski. That same Tuesday, the elderly Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldschlak of Sheps returned to his town from Gur. He was the author of many well-known books, and had rested there on the Sabbath in the court of the Rabi of Gur as one of his most respected followers. He did not know anything about the trip of our Rabbis there. On his way to Sheps, the Rabbi happened to meet the above Mr. Eizik, whom he had known for some time, on the train. The Rabbi turned to Mr. Eizik with great joy and welcomed him as a guardian angel. Mr. Eizik marveled at the Rabbi's words, and what was behind them. The Rabbi answered ingenuously that he had visited their Rabi in Gur the previous Saturday. On Monday, as they were taking leave of each other, the Rabi asked him if he had already signed the document at the house of one of their associates, whom he named. When he answered that he had not yet signed, the Rabi ordered him to go there and sign it. The Rabbi, who was accustomed to signing A License of 100 Rabbis, naively thought that this was the kind of document that the Rabi was referring to. When the Rabbi came to the appointed place, he asked about the man being divorced, and the divorce decree he wants to give. When the person there told him that nobody is being divorced there, and he does not have anything to do with a separation decree, the Rabbi returned to the Rabi and told him that no one asked him to sign A License of 100 Rabbis such as the Rabi had ordered. The Rabi told him that he had misspoken, and did not mean that he should sign such a license today. He had intended for him to sign the prohibition against Zionists and Zionism that had been prepared at the house of the man where he had been ordered to go. Of course, added the Rabbi, I was forced to return to the man's house and sign this prohibition. Twelve rabbis had already signed, among them Rabbi Ephraim Lubiner, a townsman of his (Eizik was born in Lubien). The Rabbi recounted the substance of the prohibition, which agreed with the contents relayed after the Shavuot holiday by one of the followers of the court, Mr. Elevski.
The Rabbi continued that when he had received the public appeal from the Rabbi of Sopotskin in favor of Zionism, he sent him a long letter praising the idea. (The Rabbi of Sopotskin had already published hundreds of letters like that in the newspapers.) So when the Rabi of Gur's prohibition becomes public, and the Rabbi of Sopotskin will publish his letter in support of Zionism, the wild Hasidim in his town will throw rocks at him and make him out to be a heretic. At his age, he does not have the strength to oppose them and struggle with them. Because of this he asked that Mr. Eizik write to the Rabbi of Sopotskin and request that he not publish his letter until things quiet down.
Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldschlak was not only a great scholar, but also the author of many books, a master of language and poetic phrasing. He wrote many books on Jewish law and literature, faith and thought, homiletics and commentaries, poetry and verse. But only a small part of his compositions ever saw the light of day. Most of them were lost with the loss of the community of Sheps.
A book called Imrai Emet [Truthful Utterances] was published in Piotrków in the year 5681 (1921). It contained the commentaries, new interpretations, and rulings that Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldschlak would write on the blank pages at the beginning and the end and in the margins of the inner pages of the bound books in his library. These notes were collected by the Rabbi's son, Rabbi Yaakov Chayim Zelig. (He was the Rabbi in Tcheroinsk and Lubraniec, and later a teacher in Warsaw. He began collecting the notes when the Rabbi was still alive.) The editor, collector, and publisher presents a list of the books his father wrote in the introduction. These are:
He composed some of the works as a youth, such as the books Crown of the Torah, Proverb of the ancient, and Precious Stone Others he wrote as a young man, after having reached the age of eighteen, such as the books Bread of Tears and Eight Garments which is about the Tamni Api. This also applies to his commentaries on homiletics and innovations on the six books of the Mishna, and his long sermons, which he wrote as a young man in Kikol, Shrensk, Poddębice, and Ostrołęka. This period did not last for eighteen years, and a few of these were written in his middle years, after he came to the town of Sheps at the end of the year 5625 , when he was thirty-five. But the commentaries on the Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and the marginal notes were written when he was 46 or 47, and the questions and answers were written in the last years of his life.
This book, Imrai Emet [Truthful Utterances] contains two decrees that Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldschlak issued on local matters.
The first decree (page 138) is on the matter of Ezrat Nashim [women's gallery in the synagogue] that was built larger (closer to the eastern wall) than allowed for in the sale of seats in the approved plan. The complaints and grievance came from both the men (that the added ceiling blocks the light and air) and the women (that the extra construction lessens their space and their view of the lower level). The Rabbi was asked if it is permissible to neutralize the extra construction that is part of the synagogue. After long negotiations, the Rabbi decided that to allow the demolition of part of balcony ( Ezrat Nashim) that was not built according to the plan, on condition that it does not weaken the whole building.
The second decree (last page) is about transporting the dead to the cemetery. It was the custom in Sheps to carry the deceased on a bed of ropes tied to two poles, with the poles being broken after the funeral and buried with the deceased. The Rabbi was asked if this could be changed to a permanent bed made specifically for this purpose and fitted with legs. And if it was permissible to transport the deceased in a carriage pulled by horses, as was customary in many communities? After long deliberation the Rabbi permitted transporting the deceased on a permanent bed, or transport by carriage, because there is no disrespect to the dead here, but just the opposite, it is a case of honoring both the dead and the living.
Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldschlak wrote short paragraphs in the monthly journal devoted to the Torah, Shaarei Torah [Gates of the Torah] that was published in the years 5663-4 [1903-4]. In Pamphlet 4, page 117, paragraph 45, he comments on various matters of Jewish law found in various books. He agrees with some of them and adds some remarks, and he objects and contradicts others.
J. The Adjudicator Rabbi David Klinman
When Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldschlak could not continue performing his duties because of his advanced age, Rabbi David Klinman the righteous of blessed memory (called Friend David) took care of rabbinical matters. He would stay in the Rabbi's house, and issue decrees on what was kosher and not kosher, and permits and prohibitions. After the Rabbi's death, Rabbi Klinman became the official teacher and adjudicator of the community of Sierpc.
Rabbi David Klinman was a very innocent man. He would be occupied day and night with matters of the Torah. He depended on his wife and daughters for a livelihood. They ran a store that sold notions in their house on the Jewish Street near the bridge.
Because Rabbi David Klinman was occupied with his studies all the time, and did not venture into the outside world, he was far from the realm of wheeling and dealing. Therefore, the Jews of Sheps did not come to him on problems of Torah law and arbitration that concerned money matters. Rabbi David Klinman remained an adjudicator in the town also after Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel David Goldschlak, grandson of Rabbi Yechiel Michal took his grandfather's place as Rabbi of Sheps.
Rabbi David Klinman received a pension from the community in his old age. His son-in-law, Rabbi Yehoshua Popowski (from Neustadt) took over his duties. Rabbi Yehoshua Popowski however was not an official adjudicator of the community, and did not receive a salary. This was because the Rabbi (Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel David Goldschlak) vehemently opposed his appointment to this office. But the public paid no attention to the Rabbi's disapproval, since it knew that the Rabbi had an interest in the matter. He wanted his son-in-law, Rabbi Leibl Fleisher to be appointed as the adjudicator in the town. All the groups in town would turn to Rabbi Yehoshua Popowski on matters of kosher and not kosher, and permits and prohibitions whenever the Rabbi was out of town (and he travelled a lot, because of problems of illness in his family).
Rabbi Yehoshua Popowski was a great scholar, of noble character and sensitive, but he was also active in public affairs. He also taught Talmud, the interpretations of Rashi, and commentaries to young men, with no thought of compensation.
K. The Rabbi From Zelun
Rabbi Nehemcha, the righteous of blessed memory, came to live in Sheps in about the year 1915. He was called the Rabbi from Zelun since he had been the Rabbi in Zelun (a town in the Mlawa District). But because he was a difficult man to get along with, the community of Zelun removed him from office, and he moved to Zhoromin. After a few years (in the last years of Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldschlak's life) he went to live in Sheps, thinking that he would find there the office he had lost in Zelun.
Whereas the adjudicator Rabbi David Klinman was innocent and ineffectual, the Rabbi from Zelun was clever and sharp. Because of this, anyone who needed judgments in Jewish law that concerned arbitration, money, or property would turn to him. He also had his Hasidim, who would come to him with questions of kosher and not kosher. But most of them did this not out of affection for him, but because of their opposition to Rabbi David Klinman. The Rabbi from Zelun lived in Sheps for about ten years, until he was appointed the rabbi of a village near Visla.
L. Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel David Goldschlak
Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel David Goldschlak, the righteous of blessed memory, was the son of Rabbi Yaakov Chayim Zelig (see below) and grandson of Rabbi Yechiel Michal, was a Rabbi in the village of Piszczac. When Rabbi Yechiel Michal Goldschlak died, the Rabbi of Piszczac tried to use all possible means to obtain his grandfather's office as Rabbi of Sheps. He shouted out to the world, knocked on all doors, and sent warnings to all the newspapers and to all the rabbis that they should not dare to trespass on his property. Of course, he was aided in this by his father, and also by the court of Gur, and by the Aguda (the Rabbi of Piszczac, like his father and grandfather, was a Hasid of Gur and a member of Agudat Israel). This widespread publicity campaign achieved its objective when the elections for rabbi were announced. Only two contenders submitted their candidacy: the Rabbi of Piszczac and another young rabbi from a village near Lodz, who was a candidate of Mizrachi [the religious Zionist party]. Many of the townspeople opposed the candidacy of the grandson of the deceased rabbi, so the election was postponed a number of times. When the elections were finally held (in 1922), the Rabbi of Piszczac won, but with a majority of only 14 votes.
Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel David Goldschlak came to Sheps in the month of Av, 5683 (1923). He was almost fifty years old. He was renowned as a great scholar and good preacher. His sermons were interesting, full of content, and spiced with the sayings of our sages of blessed memory that were appropriate to the theme of the speech. He had a large library of books on the Torah that filled the walls of his study. His behavior was a little eccentric. On the one hand, he conducted himself like a Rabi, but on the other hand, he tried to display his modernity. His praying, especially during the Days of Awe was very strange. His movements and tics were overdone, even for the religious fervor of the most pious. It was definitely hard work (as the saying of our sages of blessed memory goes labor is prayer). It is interesting to note that during the Days of Awe he ordered the cantor not to wait for him to finish Kriat Shma or Shmone Esrei. Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel was very careful to maintain all the commandments of the Sukkah and lived in it for all eight days of the Sukkot [Tabernacles] holiday. For each prayer of grace after a meal in the Sukkah, he would invite a minyan of men whose names are those of the ushpizin of that particular day (ten men named Abraham on the first day, ten with the name Isaac on the second, and so forth). He would also invite a minyan for the lighting of the Hanukkah candles. The Rabbi would eat with his sons in the dining room while his daughters ate in the kitchen.
On the other hand, as mentioned earlier, Rabbi Goldschlak would try to present himself as a modern rabbi. In his sermons he tried to display his wide ranging intelligence, his familiarity with world affairs, and his knowledge of internal and external politics. He spoke Polish fluently and read a Polish newspaper.
Rabbi Goldschlak did not have an easy life in Sheps. He received a sufficiently large salary, but he had many opponents, not only from the circles that initially resisted him, but also from those that elected him.
There was a universal, country-wide reason for the diminishment of the respect for rabbis in Poland. The Polish government had at that time promulgated a law concerning elections in Jewish communities. This was a very reactionary law (it had been tailored to meet the objectives of Aguda). One paragraph stated that the rabbi of the town will always be a member of the Community Council. Very few Polish rabbis did not take advantage of this undemocratic clause. Most exploited this reactionary paragraph, used the community [council] for their own purposes and provoked the anger of all the Jewish public in Poland on themselves and the institution of the Rabbinate.
It was the same in Sheps. Rabbi Goldschlak was a member of the community council. He interfered in all its affairs, both those that concerned him, and those that did not concern him. He quarreled with the representatives of other parties, and they quarreled with him. Because of this the general community was irritated with him, and their respect for him was diminished.
We have already mentioned the Rabbi's bitter opposition to the appointment of Rabbi Yehoshua Popowski, the son-in-law of Rabbi David Klinman, as adjudicator. In spite of this, many parts of the public turned to him on questions of kosher ant not kosher, prohibitions and permissions. Rabbi Goldschlak also opposed the appointment of Rabbi Shimon Petrikus, the son-in-law of Rabbi Avraham Shochet, as the ritual slaughterer. In spite of this, all parts of the public ate the meat of animals that he had slaughtered. The Rabbi's war on machine-made matzos is mentioned in another part of this book (in the chapter My Town, Sierpc). He decreed that they were absolutely leavened, but in spite of this, many of the townspeople ate them.
The above mentioned facts are only a small part of the constant disputes that took place between Rabbi Goldschlak and many different groups in the town (although an open and public disagreement in the accepted sense of the word never came to light).
Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel David Goldschlak ended the episode of the Rabbinate of Sheps, together with the episode of the Jewish community of Sheps when the hateful German enemy descended upon them and all the Jews of Poland and Europe. Rabbi Goldschlak was among the exiles of Sheps in Warsaw, and he struggled there greatly for the unfortunate refugees of his community. He tried at the Joint [American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee] and other aid institutions to obtain anything that might ease somewhat the terrible suffering of the Jews of Sheps who were rotting from hunger and disease.
Apparently, Rabbi Goldschlak held a much respected position in the rabbinical world. He is mentioned twice. In the book Diary of the Warsaw Ghetto by Hillel Zeidman, published in Tel-Aviv in the year 5706 . There is an entry on pages 239-241, from 13 April, 1943 (close to the time of the revolt of the Warsaw Ghetto):
public proclamations were declared [asking for] volunteers to go to Poniatowa and Trawniki near Lublin They will work there, under good conditions The National Jewish Council met and decided: not to go When the propaganda to go increased in the Ghetto the rabbis met as a council to discuss this problem. The meeting was held on Kopitzka Street, where Rabbi Menachem Zamba lived, in the apartment of his brother Yitzhak Zamba. The rabbis who participated were Goldschlak from Sierpc The rabbis decided not to counsel the Jews to go to Poniatowa and Trawniki.
Page 248 tells about the [Passover] Seder on the first day of the revolt of the Warsaw Ghetto: A few rabbis gathered at the apartment of Rabbi Menachem Zamba, on 7 Kopitzka Street. Among them were the Rabbi Bar of Zduńska-Wola, Rabbi Goldschlak of Sierpc conducting the Seder
M. Son and Father of Two Rabbis in Sheps
It is only fitting that we remember here Rabbi Yaakov Chayim Zelig Goldschlak, the righteous of blessed memory, son of Rabbi Yechiel Michal and father of Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel David. In the book Ohalei Shem [God's Tabernacles], there is an article on Rabbi Yechiel Michal, on page 55:
Rabbi Yaakov Chayim Zelig son of the Rabbi the Gaon Yechiel Michal Goldschlak was born in the year 5613 (1853) to the above mentioned father, may he have a long life amen, the Chief Judge of the Rabbinical Court of the Community of Sheps. He is descended from Rabeinu HaShach of blessed memory and the Saintly Gaon Rabbi Yechiel Michal from Niemirów. On his mother's side he is the grandson of Rabeinu the Turei Zahav the righteous of blessed memory and the Gaon Rabbi Heshel the righteous of blessed memory of Cracow. The above mentioned rabbi acquired most of his learning in the Torah from his father the Gaon, may he have a long life amen. He was ordained as a Rabbi by: the Gaon Our Teacher Rabbi Yaakov Gezundheit the righteous of blessed memory, Chief Judge of the Rabbinical Court of the Community of Warsaw, author of the books ‘Tifereth Yaakov’ about ‘Hushan Mishpat’, and about Tractates of the Mishna; the Gaon Rabbi Eli Chayim Meisel, may he have a long life amen, the Chief Judge of the Rabbinical Court of the Community of Lodz; by the Gaon Rabbi Yechiel Meir the righteous of blessed memory, the Admor of the Holy Community of Gustinin; and by the Gaon Our Teacher Rabbi Yitzhak Zanwil Klepfish, the righteous of blessed memory, Chief Judge of the Rabbinical Court of the Community of Warsaw. He became Rabbi of the Holy Community of Shrensk in the year 5636 (1876), and then of the Holy Community of Lubrantz. Later he was appointed as head of a Yeshiva and adjudicator of the Holy Community of Warsaw.
The following of his books appeared in print:
There are more writings and compositions on a part of the ‘Shulchan Aruch’ and an interpretation of ‘Tana Divrei Eliahu’.
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