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Rabbis of Sochaczew

Rabbis of Sochaczew

by Moshe Levanon

According to the history of the Jews in Sochaczew, it seems that the first rabbi who occupied the rabbinical seat was Reb Yonah Nachum Hakohen the son of Reb Meir Kac, a brother of the Shach (Siftei Kohen) [1] and a son-in-law of Reb Aharon Shmuel Kadynower, a student of the Gaon Reb Yaakov Tomaszower. He published his father-in-law's book “Birchat Hazevach” in the year 5423 (1669) [2].

It is written in the old ledger of the Chevra Kadisha that the rabbi, before his death, promised the city that in the event, Heaven forbid, of a time of trouble, they should come to pray at his grave, and the city would be saved. Individuals as well would be helped.

After his death, the community waited until the end of the thirty-day mourning period (Shloshim) and decided to erect a canopy over his grave. When they went out to the cemetery to accomplish this, they could not find the grave, and therefore, a canopy was not erected. Others told that some individuals merited seeing the grave and praying there. They were helped.

(See: Shem Gedolim Hechadash” paragraph 5. 8.)

Reb Moshele Charyf

In the old cemetery a grave with a very low, three-cornered stone, upon which one can barely make out the letters. This is the grave of Reb Moshele Charyf, a rabbi of the city.

He was great in Torah and in character. Jews used to pray at his grave.

(According to a tradition.)

Reb Meir the son of Reb Yitzchak Ajzensztadt

He was the grandson of a sister of the Shach (Siftei Cohen), and the author of the book “Panim Meorot”. He was a rabbinical teacher in Sochaczew. He went from Sochaczew to Worms [3], and from there to other communities. His wife was the daughter of Reb Moshe from Sochaczew – probably the daughter of the aforementioned Reb Moshele Charyf. He died in the year 5504 (1704).

(“Shem Hagedolim Leeretz Hagar”. Paragraph 40. 14.)

Reb Aryeh Leib Charyf

When Reb Yeshayale Przedwozer and the Holy Jew left the Yeshiva of Reb Leibish Charyf, the head of the rabbinical court of Opatow (Apt) – he could no longer remain in Opatow, and he took over the rabbinical seat of Sochaczew. There he founded a large Yeshiva in which, among others, Reb Bunim of Przysucha, studied.

He was known by the name Reb Leibish Charyf. He lived in the time of the well-known Gaonim Reb Pinchas Horowitz from Frankfurt and Reb Meir Pozner, approximately in the year 5550 (1790). He was the author of the Novellae of the Mohara on Tractate Gittin [4].

(“Shem Hagedolim Hechadash” 30, 17. See in “Siach Sarfei Kodesh”.)

Reb Michele Magid

He was the head of the rabbinical court, a Gaon and Kabbalist. His son-in-law was the head of the Rabbinical Court of Serock (Reb Aryeh Leib). He was a holy and pure man. He was extremely meticulous. Among other things, in the summer, he was careful about mites in food [5]. Reb Leibish Charyf would often say regarding him that if he had the power to taken on the same afflictions [6] as Reb Michele, the angels would be standing at the door. He died in the year 5588 (1838).

(“Dor Dor Vedorshav” and “Siach Sarfei Kodesh”.)

The Rabbi Reb Shlomo Yissachar Dov Ber

He was a son of Natan Aryeh, the judge and teacher in Hrubieszow. He was a great-grandson of the Pnei Yehoshua. They called him the Kurower rabbi. He had a strong dispute in the city. It is related in the book “Siach Sarfei Kodesh” that his disputant brought a judge into the city. On Friday, when the judge went to the ritual bath (mikva) a large crowed accompanied him with great honor. When this was told to the rabbi, he said: “It is indeed written that this is before the destruction of the Gaon”. Indeed, thus it was. The judge went into the mikva, went into the bath, fainted and died.

Reb Elazarel, the later Sochaczewer rabbi, related that he studied with the Chidushei Harim in Warsaw. A Jew dressed in tattered clothing came to them and said: “There when they do not know me, it is permitted for me to say that I am a scholar. I am an expert, and I know the Even Ezer [7] by heart.” The Chidushei Harim began to chat with him and saw that he was indeed an expert. The rabbi told them that the city of Sochaczew had driven him out…

The Chidushei Harim and Reb Elazarel together collected fifty dollars [8] so that he could get dressed appropriately. Later, he became the rabbi in Plonsk-Nasielsk and a teacher in Warsaw.

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The Rabbi Reb Natan Frenkiel

He was a rabbi in Sochaczew. Responsa from him exist in the book “Divrei Chaim” and also in the book “Kinat Sofrim”. He was also a rabbi in Staszow. His genealogy is written In the book “Tzvi Latzadik Moreh” of his grandson Reb Avraham Natan Ajzenberg (Chapter 9).

The Rabbi Reb Yaakov

He was a rabbi in Sochaczew and Sokolow. He was the father-in-law of Rabbi Yehuda Leib the son of Reb Asher Ginzberg of Vilna (“Anshei Shem”, part 2, Section 10).

Reb Treitel the Rabbi

The rabbi honored his city. He did not want to take a designated salary from the community. He was a person who sufficed himself with little. They wanted to make him into a rabbi, but he did not want to accept a rabbinical seat.

(According to a tradition)

The Rabbi Reb Elazarel Hakohen the son of Reb Zeev Wolf

He was the author of the Novellae of Maharach [9], and the son-in-law of the well-known Lisser rabbi Reb Yaakov the author of Chavat Daat. In Sochaczew, he was called Reb Elazarel. The city related to him with honor and awe. He was great in Torah and Hassidism. He was from among the most important of Kocker Hassidim. He merited carrying the Kocker in his hand [10].

At first he was a rabbi in Pultusk, the in Sochaczew, and later in Plock. Then he returned to Sochaczew. All kinds of stories were told about him in Sochaczew [11].

Despite his greatness in Torah and righteousness, one could find people who impinged on his honor. Among them there was one Jew, a person imbued in Torah, even a rabbi, I still remember the man – from a deeply suffering family. The city related that this was a result of the impingement.

He died on the 21st of Cheshvan 5643 (1883) in Sochaczew. The community erected a canopy over his grave, and it was considered a great honor for a deceased person to obtain a gravesite near the canopy.

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The Rebbe Reb Avrahamele Sochaczewer

Old time Hassidim relate that when news reached the Nasielsker rabbi and Hassidic leader of the time that Reb Elazarel Hakohen, the Sochaczewer rabbi, had died, his sorrow was so great and he could not find any place [12].

Standing thus by the window and looking into space, it was as if he was talking to himself – now they will call me to Sochaczew… It was indeed not long in coming, when the head of the community Reb Mendel Fromer (also a Nasielsker Hassid) accompanied by important householders went to Nasielsk with a prepared rabbinical script for Reb Avrahamel. However, he imposed some conditions: not to live in the communal house that was on top of the mikva, not to be required to be the officiant at every wedding, and that the shochtim (ritual slaughterers) must be under his supervision. He imposed numerous other conditions, to which the emissaries agreed. Nasielsk resisted, not wanting to let the rabbi go, but also not being able to prevent him from taking on the yoke of the rabbinate of Sochaczew.

The day of his arrival in Sochaczew was a festival. The honor at the reception was great. They unhitched the horses from the coach and people led him into the city. The new rabbi asked: “Is it possible that a human being should receive such honor? I have come to the conclusion that this honor is the honor of the Torah.”

The new rabbi settled in his private house on Trajanower Street, which his Hassidim had purchased for him. Hassidim related the following regarding that house: the Kocker Rebbe went through Sochaczew, as he arrived from the villages of Snecemien and Luanczyn [13]. When he arrived at the house where a Russian postal official lived, he stood still and called out: a light of Torah shines out from this house, as well as some aroma of sanctification of the Divine name. (an innuendo of the four holy ones). This house, along with the city, indeed became known as a place of Torah.

The city was indeed happy with the new rabbi and greatly honored him. Jaszunski the forestry merchant sent the coach every day to take the rabbi to the synagogue to worship. The first time that the new rabbi came to worship in the synagogue, he turned to the worshippers with the following request: “I beg of you, Jews, do not take me as presumptuous, from my childhood, I have worshipped in the Sephardic style; and this synagogue worships in the Ashkenazic style, I beg of you Jews to permit me to worship in the Sephardic style [14]. Naturally, nobody objected. His word was holy.

He began to lead the city with love and simultaneously with discipline. From time to time, he sent his assistant to check the scales in the stores. He even sent him to check the fruit stalls in the market to see that they do not display fine produce on top to cover up rotten produce. He penetrated all domains of Jewish life in the city.

For various reasons, he established an early prayer service on the Sabbath (Jews called it “davening by Shkama”) [15].

With time, he also founded a Yeshiva in which students from all over Poland studied. If one talked about a student, one understood that he was a Sochaczewer student of the Avnei Nezer. He simultaneously strengthened Sochaczewer Hassidism. More Hassidim came, and the city was full with the spirit of Judaism and Hassidism. Old Sochaczewer Jews talk about that era with awe and honor, and they refer to it as a “Golden era”. It is necessary to point out, though, that the greater portion of the population was not happy with the strictness in Judaism.

It was once told to the rabbi that there was going to be a wedding in the city at which boys and girls were preparing to dance together after the wedding dinner. The rabbi summoned the good Yeshiva student Feivish (the shochet Reb Shmuel Yechiel's brother-in-law) and asked that he go with him to the wedding ceremony. The parents of the bride and groom found this to be a great joyous occasion – it was a big deal that the Rebbe had come to their children's joyous occasion. How taken aback were the parents when the rabbi sat down to talk and study with Feivish after the ceremony. He did not want to involve himself with the meal. Rather he sat and talked until the last of the guests, along with the band players, left the wedding hall.

Naturally, such incidents aroused ill will among a portion of the Jews. At the beginnings of the Zionist movement, he at first related to Zionism as if to an awakening of the settlement of the Land of Israel, which he held to be a great mitzvah. I still remember the shekalim [16] that were purchased by a Hassidic Jew (a Sochaczewer Hassid), and the Rebbe found out about this.

Similarly, when people began to tell various stories in a certain manner, and therefore the Zionists of Sochaczew founded a modern cheder (Hassidim called in “Cheder Mesukan”) [17] – he called out in wonder: “So is it! They intend something different, not only the Land of Israel”. An order then was issued not to purchase shekels.

Thus, differences of opinion between the two sides began to be formed; Reb Chaim Mordechai Wolkowicz (Yosef Wolkowicz's father), Moshe Czemiernicki and Zalman Albert were at the head of the one side. At the head of the other said were Gedalia Warszawski, Simcha Grundwag, and Aharon Rumianek – all of them Zionists. It came to be a quarrel, and even came to blows. The peace was disturbed.

It was also no easy mater to have a rabbinical judgement with the rabbi. One of the litigants merely called out a loud “Good morning, rabbi”. He considered this as the borderline bribery, and would not agree to conduct the judgement. If a rabbinical judgement was indeed taking place; when the time came to issue a decision, he would wrap himself up in his tallis and shake for a few minutes so that a fear would fall upon the litigants – for he had advised everyone not to hold a rabbinical judgement. It was also not easy to come to the Rebbe in his home. An exception would be made if he were to be informed of an ill person. The Shamash (attendant) would make an announcement, even in the middle of the night. His sermons in the synagogue were also sharp. If the rabbi was going up to the Holy Ark to deliver a sermon, he rapped himself up in a tallis, shook for a few minutes and said, “And may a redeemer come unto Zion and let us say Amen”. Thus did he end his sermon. This caused excitement among the Hassidim, and wonderment among the regular people.

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The First Expulsion

We do not know why the local authorities sealed up the Rebbe's private Mikva and courtyard. The fact is that when Reb Avrahamele needed to go to the mikva, they released the lock and he was able to enter to immerse himself. Shortly thereafter, the authorities in Warsaw challenged him. The wealthy forestry merchant, Yitzchak Engielman, who knew Russian, went with him as a translator. The governor asked, among other things, if it was indeed written that the law of the land is the law [18]. The rabbi answered regarding this that the law is applicable when the rights of all of the citizens are equal, but if the Jews are treated as exceptions to the law, then the law is not applicable to them. (We do not know if Reb Yitzchak convinced the governor of this.) Reb Yitzchak Engielman managed to persuade the governor that he (the rabbi) was not a traitor against the government… (In truth, it was otherwise.) Therefore, he remained rabbi, but received a severe warning.

Two Jews were engaged in a bitter monetary litigation. The sum was not large, perhaps more than a hundred rubles. The lender, seeing that the borrower was denying the loan, made use of the law of that time that the court should demand an obligatory oath. The lender demanded a Torah ordained oath, that is, by utilizing a Torah scroll and a black candle. He also demanded that the administrator of the oath should not be the rabbi but rather the Tzadik (as the Christian people called him at that time). Naturally, the court demanded the oath. They informed them of this in the Rebbe's court, but Reb Avrahamele did not want to obey. His intimates began to negotiate with the lender and wanted to give him a sum of money equal to the claim, but this did not help. He demanded nothing other than an oath. He believed that if his co-litigant would swear, he would drop dead on the ground.

On the designated day of the oath, the Russian judge, his secretary and a soldier in uniform came to the synagogue to administer the oath. However the rabbi did not come. On the spot, they wrote a report to the regional council (gubernia), and a few days later, an order came regarding the upcoming resignation [19] of the rabbi. When he heard the news, Reb Avrahamele called out: “If I would have lived in the forest, the trees would fight with me”.

His intimates made strong efforts to have the decree repealed. The expulsion order was repealed after strong efforts. However, the resignation order remained – and he became an ex rabbi [20]. He was the rabbi of Sochaczew from 5653 until 5651 (1883-1891). He was known as the Sochaczewer Rebbe under the name “Eglei Tal” or “Avnei Nezer” – the works that he wrote over the course of several decades. Even now, in the year 5721 (1961), one can find a new publication of the Mishna with the glosses of the Avnei Nezer, that elicits great interest in scholarly circles.

He died on the 11th of Adar 5670 (1910). From the time of his burial until the erection of the canopy, two Hassidim stood by the grave even on the Sabbath. This also occurred with respect to the grave of the first Sochaczewer rabbi, Reb Yonah Nachum Hakohen.

The city could not make peace with the departure of Reb Avrahamele from the rabbinate. He still remained as the rabbinical leader, the slaughterhouse remained under his supervision, and everything that was done took place with agreement of the Rebbe's court. This lasted for a long time. The community did not want to take on a second rabbi, and no rabbi wanted to take on the rabbinate of Sochaczew. This went on until an order came from the regional council (gubernia): If the city does not engage a rabbi, they would send in a “Kazionem” [21] rabbi. Thus it was.

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The Kazioner Rabbi

Sochaczew was getting a “Kazionem” rabbi, after a long chain of glorious rabbis. First of all, the rabbi was a Lithuanian. It was difficult for him to understand how to speak to the Jews of Sochaczew, and it was also no simple matter to understand him. Therefore, he behaved like a puppy. It never happened that the puppy came to the synagogue later than he did. He was present at every wedding ceremony. The rabbi and teacher [22] conducted the ceremony, and he arranged the civil documents. They never came to the rabbi with questions of kashruth. It once occurred that a Jewish woman came to him with a question about a little bit of milk that ran under a meat pot. The rabbi did not know what the issue was. He asked her: “How much does a pot cost?” She answered, “Five groszy”. He answered her, “Take five groszy, Madame and do not bother me.”

He used to come to the Rebbe's table celebration and even obtained some leftovers and wine [23]. He was not able to remain for a long time in the city, and he left after a few months.

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Reb Yerucham the Rabbi and Teacher

He was a quiet man who did not know how to raise his voice. In his time, he took the position of a rabbi in the city. He came to help Reb Bunem the teacher, the Kocker Hassid and great scholar. They both occupied themselves with answering questions, conducting marriages, etc.

A city must have a rabbi, and the communal leaders turned to the Rebbe to bring in a rabbi. The Rebbe turned to Reb Shmuel Turower, a scholar, important Pulawer Hassid, and a teacher of select students. Rabbi Turower was intertwined in a sharp dispute. Presently, he was having a dispute with Shmuel Yechiel the shochet of the Rebbe's court. For a long time, he would not eat meat that was slaughtered by him, even at the Rebbe's table. Furthermore, they called him “the trusted one”, since he placed candles in the window when it was a Russian holiday. In Sochaczew, there was no need for a sharp dispute to flare up. The sophisticated portion of the people supported Rabbi Turower. On the other hand, the Hassidic Orthodox householders (and who at that time in Sochaczew was not Orthodox?) were against him. During that time, it occurred that young women, mothers of young children of good lineage, died [24]. The Jews of Sochaczew associated this with the sin of the dispute. Rabbi Turower himself left Sochaczew for London, where he died.

Rabbi Shmuel Yitzchak Landau

He was a grandson of Reb Wolf Strykower, and a great-grandson of the well-known Czekanower rabbi, Reb Abraham. After this, when the city was once again left without a rabbi, the “Eglei Tal” sent Shmuel Yechiel the shochet and a few other important residents to Sobota, where Reb Shmuel Yitzchak was, with a rabbinical writ. There they asked him, under orders from the Rebbe, to accept the rabbinate of Sochaczew.

Rabbi Landau left the city of Sobota, acceded to the request of his Rebbe the Eglei Tal, and arrived in Sochaczew in the year 5661 (1901). He was 26 years old at the time. I remember the rabbi very well.

No dispute occurred during his 12-year rabbinate, despite the fact that he was strict in matters pertaining to Judaism. The city honored him. He loved his fellow man greatly. “Linat Tzedek”, “Hachnasat Orchim”, “Bikur Cholim” [25] and other such institutions were founded under his supervision. He supported people with weekly stipends, and poor sick people with free medicine. He was the victim of a robbery. They stole his pillows. He did not want to inform the police, for it is possible that the thief was a Jew who needed the pillows to sleep upon. During that time, they honored him with being the sandek at a bris [26] (such was the custom in the city). When they brought in the child to be circumcised, the rabbi recognized the pillow upon which the child lay as his pillow. However, he did not let on that he knew. At a bris of a poor family, he used to send liquor, bread, and herring, and saw to it that those gathered washed their hands for the meal [27]. Later, someone abandoned the pillows in the rabbi's house. He sent for the man whose child had the bris and asked him to come. He requested that he no longer steal. Following that, he would secretly send that man one ruble and twenty kopecks every Thursday. His sermons excelled in Halacha, exegesis and didactics. Regular people and scholars of Sochaczew enjoyed these sermons. At the funeral of the Rebbetzin of the Avnei Nezer, the Avnei Nezer asked the rabbi to say something. Rabbi Landau delivered a eulogy. At the conclusion, the Avnei Nezer called out to him: “The local rabbi spoke well! Well spoken!” A portion of his sermons, including the eulogy that he delivered for the late Hirsch Friedman, are published in his book Chidushey Sh”Y (Shmuel Yitzchak), published by his son Rabbi Wolf Landau in Tel Aviv in the year 5760 (1960).

He left Sochaczew in the year 5671 (1911) to take over the rabbinate in Czekanow, where his holy grandfather, Reb Avraham of Czekanow, used to be the rabbi. He died on the 24th of Tamuz 5675 (1915) at the age of 40 years. It is worthwhile to read about his death in the aforementioned book of Chidushey Sh”Y.

At that time the following rabbi, Rabbi Frenkiel, was the rabbi.

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The Final Sochaczewer Rabbi

After Rabbi Landau left Sochaczew, a small dispute broke out between the local residents and the family of the Rebbe's court. It was not very widespread. The city agreed in principal that the rabbinate should pass as an inheritance to the Rebbe's court. However, who should be the rabbi: the son of Reb Shmuel (The Shem Mishmuel), the current Syszogroder rabbi and final Sochaczewer rabbi Reb Dovidel, or the son-in-law of Reb Meirl Borensztejn, Reb Avrahamele's brother, the husband of Rebbetzin Hodel who was a granddaughter of the Avnei Nezer. The Shem Mishmuel wished that his son Reb Dovidel would be the rabbi, however he wanted the agreement of everybody. It is entirely possible that if Reb Meirl did not claim that the inheritance of the rabbinate should go to his son-in-law, Reb Dovidel would certainly become the rabbi. Since there was resistance from within his own family, the Shem Mishmuel presently demurred. The Sochaczewer Hassidim even wished to participate in a competition, however the Shem Mishmuel strongly prohibited it. It is interesting that Reb Meir succeeded in attracted the entire Zionist segment of the population of the city, headed by Reb Simcha Grundwag. Thus was the sole candidate, Rabbi Tzvi Frenkiel, elected. The Sochaczewer Hassidim, and the Hassidim in general, did not participate in the election.

Rabbi Frenkiel was a great scholar and expert in all aspects of Torah. He occupied himself with Torah day and night. In his youth, he studied together with the writer Mr. D. Nomberg, and they were good friends. Unfortunately, the city did not have any benefit from his learnedness and expertise. He was hard of speech, and he could not benefit the people with sermons. Therefore he acted quite cautiously with every step in the city which had, in his opinion, any connection to Judaism.

It should be stated here in praise of the Jews of Sochaczew that despite all of this, they honored him. On Shabbat Hagadol or Shabbat Shuva [28], when the rabbi delivered a sermon, the synagogue was packed with householders and Hassidim, not so much to hear the sermon as to give the rabbi honor. Even the sophisticated people related to him with honor. Some juvenile [29] dragged him out of his home by the hands, sick and weak, placed him in a car, and drove him to Warsaw, where he died in the ghetto during the years of the Nazi tribulations.

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The Final Rabbi and Teacher

Reb Leibel Wolman, the son of Chana Bencjanowski (from her second husband) was a grandson of Reb Aharon Grynszpan. He was born and raised in Sochaczew. He was a friend of Reb Alexander Zisha Frydman. He picked up his fundamentals in learning from the teacher “The small Moshe Dovidl”, with whom not more than four youths studied. He also absorbed Torah in the year 5674 (1914) from the Rosh Yeshiva Reb Aryeh Leib Fromer, who headed the final Yeshiva of the Shem Mishmuel, and later in the Yeshiva of Chachmei Lublin. The rabbi and teacher Reb Leibel Wolman taught only in Sochaczew, and was accepted unanimously by all strata. The Jews of Sochaczew said that he was of their own flesh and blood, for he was locally trained. He was indeed great in Torah. He was murdered along with the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto.


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Rabbi Elazar Hakohen

M. B. Sztejn

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Reb Yehoshua, Reb Elazarel's son, lived in Sochaczew until the First World War. He describes the following story in the booklet “Eitz Avot”, printed at the end of Reb Elazarel's book “Chidush Mehrech”.

Reb Elazarel was a Baal Tokea[30] in Kock during the life of the Kocker Rebbe, Reb Mendel. One time near Rosh Hashanah, Reb Elazarel began to ache in his neck, and it was doubtful if he would have the power to blow the shofar. He went to the Kocker Rebbe, Reb Mendel, and complained to him.

The Kocker strongly answered him: “Is it only you and none other who can blow the shofar?”.

Reb Elazarel responded: “I don't know whether or not I can”.

“Hirsch!”, The Kocker shouted out to his steward Reb Hirsch Parcower: “Take out my fir boots from under the bed and give them to the Baal Tokea to wear!”. He said the following to Reb Elazarel:

“Wear my fir boots and go blow the shofar.”

Reb Elazarel was left standing in amazement. The Rebbe was short in height and he was tall and wide boned. The Rebbe's fir boots would not go over his feet.

However, what the rabbi planned for was doomed. Reb Elazarel left the Rebbe and with some difficulty forced the Rebbe's small boots over his large feet. The Rebbe's fir boots hurt his feet until his heart clouded over. He limped with every step. He did what the Rebbe bid, and he went limping into the Rebbe's Beis Midrash, blow the shofar as the Rebbe had commanded, and his neck no longer hurt him. Thus relates Reb Yehoshua the Rebbe's son.

{Photo page 239: Reb Elazarel's grave canopy among other graves in the Sochaczew cemetery.}

If one does not look at the story, it is evident that it is very characteristic of Reb Elazarel's entire life.

He was born in Warsaw to a father who was a manufacturer and merchant, Reb Wolf Lajpcykier, who had the merit of being a Parnas (communal administrator) in Warsaw. In his father's home, Reb Elazarel was raised in a broad, mercantile, wealthy environment, and nothing was too expensive for Reb Elazarel. His father hired the best teachers from outside of Warsaw for his son.

When Reb Elazarel came of age, his father made a match for him with the family of the great Gaon and halachic decisor from that era, Reb Yaakov the Lisser Rav[31], the author of many erudite halachic books and Lisser Rav.

So that he would be able to study as a married man with the Lisser Rav, the wealthy Wolf Lajpcykier invited the bride, Breindel the daughter of the Lisser Rav to him in Warsaw, and sent Reb Elazarel to study in Lissa with the Lisser Rav.

As he did previously in Warsaw, he sat day and night in the Yeshiva of the Lisser Rav and studied; he studied and succeeded. He became an expert in Talmud and halachic decisions. Everyone who came into the home of the Lisser Rav could not stop wondering at him. Thus did he continue to study after his wedding with the daughter of the Lisser Rav as a young man under parental support (kest). Already at that time, he merited being chosen as the judge of Lissa. The story went as follows:

Once, the Lisser Rav issued a decision regarding a question, and later realized himself that he had erred; that his decision was not in accordance with the law. The Lisser judge saw this as a sign from Heaven; from Heaven he was made to err, and they did not want him to decide questions any more. He called together the heads of the community of Lissa, and said to them as follows:

“Chose another rabbi for yourselves, I can no longer serve as the rabbi.”

“What does this mean? For what sin? If the rabbi does not earn enough from the rabbinate, we will gladly add to the amount”, they retorted.

The Lisser Rav answered the communal leaders as follows:
“I erred in a decision, and I will no longer accept any questions to decide upon, for how can I be the rabbi of Lissa? Search for a different rabbi who is able to decide upon questions.”
The Lissa communal heads answered:
“To decide upon questions, one must engage a judge, and the rabbi can continue on as a rabbi.”
The Lisser Rav agreed. The city engaged a judge to decide upon questions, and the judge was the rabbi's son-in-law Reb Elazarel.

Reb Elazarel did not remain in Lissa for long. The time of kest (support) from the Lisser Rav ended, and Reb Elazarel did not wish to remain in Lissa, living in difficulty and dependent on the goodwill of the community. His father's wealth awaited him in Warsaw, and he preferred to be a wealthy householder in Warsaw, giving out with a generous hand, to being the judge in Lissa.

When Reb Wolf Lajpcykier, the wealthy manufacturer and merchant, found out that his son was thinking about returning to Warsaw, he furnished a house for him in regal fashion and opened a silk warehouse for him, so that he would be able to maintain himself on his own and would not have to come to his own father in need.

Reb Elazarel returned to Warsaw with great honor. Being such a great scholar and the son of the wealthy Reb Wolf Lajpcykier, no honor was lacking for him in Warsaw. Both the Hassidim and Misnagdim of Warsaw had respect for the Lisser Rav's son-in-law, and Reb Elazarels's wealthy house became a warm home for scholars and Hassidim.

Rabbis and Gaonim who came through Warsaw saw it as their duty to be with Reb Elazarel, and his name became known among rabbis and scholars. He became an important person in Przysucha with Reb Binem. After the Rebbe's death, he became a householder in Kock, with Reb Mendel the Kocker. One time, when Reb Mendel Kocker was not feeling well at the table celebration (tisch) for Shabbat, Reb Elazarel took him by the hand and led him to his own private room.

Reb Elazarel became a central figure in Warsaw as well. The heads of the community of Warsaw suggested that he become the Parnas of the place of his father Reb Wolf Lajpcykier, who was still an elder at that time. However, Reb Elazarel did not want to be a communal activist, which would take away time from his learning. Similarly, he also did not want to submit his candidacy as a rabbi in Warsaw during this time of the great dispute between Hassidim and Misnagdim regarding the rabbinical seat in Warsaw. The Hassidic candidate was the brother-in-law of the Kocker Rebbe, the Gaon and future Gerrer Rebbe, Reb Itche Meir. The Misnagdic candidate was Reb Yankele Gesundheit, the future Warsaw rabbi. Reb Elazarel's candidacy as a Kocker Hassid and son of a Parnas of Warsaw had every chance of being accepted by both the Hassidim and Misnagdim. However, he did not want to remove the “narrow boots” and enter into a dispute. Therefore, he declined to submit his candidacy as the rabbi of Warsaw.

However, he had to put on the “narrow boots” for many bad conditions. The choice was not in his hands, and he was forced to put them on.

His father Reb Wolf Lajpcykier went the way of all the living, and left his son Reb Elazarel an inheritance of 150,000 rubles (a large sum in those days). This inheritance gave Reb Elazarel the possibility of becoming a larger building contractor, and he undertook via competition to build the Warsaw Citadel for the Russian regime.

The undertaking of such a large-scale project for the Russian regime seemed to everyone to be a stroke of luck. However, the Russian regime told him to send non-salaried workers from Russia for free. Reb Elazarel had to hire workers in Warsaw and pay them from his own account. At the end, he came out of the “large undertaking” as a large poor person. The inheritance from his father was lost to him, and he was left in debt.

He had to take on a rabbinical position in order to sustain his household. It was not to be in Warsaw, but rather where something was available. Thus, he became a rabbi in Makowa, later in Pultulsk, and in the year 5610 (1850) he became the rabbi of Sochaczew.

Walking in the “narrow boots” was painful, and even bound up with greater agony than he had ever lived through. And who was so guarded as Reb Elazarel? Being rabbi in a city meant that he would be the opinion maker of the city. The city had to obey him in every matter, and his words were decisions about which nobody could even question. In what type of city would a rabbi at that time have no opponents? And what rabbi in that era did not have to endure shame and friction from the heads of the community?

Reb Elazarel, as much as was possible, exchanged the “narrow boots” and sought out ones that were mainly still narrower. From Sochaczew, he went to Plock, and again to Makowa. From Makowa, again to Pultusk, and from Pultusk, he came in the year 5630 (1870) a second time to Sochaczew.

He was always wandering. His lot, which the Kocker Rebbe Reb Mendel decreed on him that Rosh Hashanah to wear specifically the narrow boots and blow the shofar, remained with him for his entire life…

Reb Elazarel's final rabbinical position was in Sochaczew. During his first tenure as rabbi, the good earth of Sochaczew claimed his 12 year old genius son Efraimel in the year 5612 (1852) during the cholera epidemic.

The Rebbetzin Breindele could never forget Sochaczew during all of Reb Elazarel's rabbinical tenures, where her Efraimel had died. She returned there in the last years of her life to be near her son in the Sochaczew cemetery.

Reb Elazarel died in Sochaczew in the year 5642 (1882). The Sochaczew community erected a canopy over his grave, not far from the Bzura.

During times of tribulation, the Jews of Sochaczew would pray over his grave, and the peaceful Bzura more than once heard heart-rending cries from his canopy.


{244}

My Father of blessed memory

Zeev Wolf Yechiel Landau

The publisher of the book “Responsa of Sh. Y.” [32]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The writer of these lines is the son of Rabbi Shmuel Yitzchak Landau of blessed memory, who was the rabbi of Sochaczew between the years 5661-5672 (1901-1912).

Peace reigned in the city during the time of his rabbinate, and all segments of the population related to him with respect. He excelled in his fine character traits and in his truth and simplicity with his relations with everybody, whether great or small.

He also excelled in the philanthropic domain. Aside from his activity on behalf of the Yeshiva in which he gave a lesson, he founded the “Hachnasat Orchim” (“Society for Taking Care of Visitors”) under the direction of Avraham Chaim Kuper, Leibush Keller, Meir Dajchus and David Lichtensztajn. He also founded the “Chevrat Linat Tzedek”, which would sent volunteers to protect and help poor sick people. Father of blessed memory used to also give out notes to obtain medicine from the pharmacy, and he would send sick people to the doctor without a fee. The feldschers [33] Skotnicki and Leibush Feldscher used to also visit sick people without taking a fee. I remember that Moshe Engielman, Henech Zajonc and Shlomo Grodzisker – all now have passed away – used to collect money together with father for the needed expenses.

Father of blessed memory was beloved by everyone, including by the members of the Chevra Mishnayot (the Mishna study group) and Chevrat Tehillim (the group of reciters of Psalms). It is worthwhile to mention the image of the Shamash (sexton) of the Chevrat Tehilim, H. Jakir, a shoemaker who used to awaken the Jews to recite Psalms. “My beloved people, I wish to tell you something: the clock has already stuck three, and it already time to recite Psalms”. These words were sweet and heartfelt, and the Jews would get up and go to recite Psalms.

Once on a winter night, Reb Jakir fell down in deep snow, and he was unable to move from there. He was already elderly by then. Suddenly a handsome Jew appeared near him, and bade him to stand up and continue to call the Jews to recite Psalms. He immediately disappeared. Reb Jakir used to say that it was King David [34]

The sounds of Torah and sounds of Psalms were heard in Sochaczew until morning.

{Photo page 245: Reb Hershel Brzezinski.}

I wish to make mention here of the Talmud Torah, with its Gabbai (trustee) Reb Baruch Najman and teacher Reb Moshe Itche. From the beginning of the month of Elul, they would come with the students to recite Psalms in the Beis Midrash every morning; and then they would partake of cookies and candy. Father of blessed memory was the examiner who examined the students. He used to take interest in every child separately, and he concerned himself at the beginning of the winter with the providing of boots and warm clothing for them. The melamed (teacher) also used to study with his students with great love and dedication for every child, as did the other melamdim Reb Yankel Melamed and Reb Yeshayahu Yonah.

Who does not remember the elderly Reb Binem Melamed, who used to occupy himself with raising money for the Land of Israel? He was always studying. His wife had a stall in the market, and did business with bags. Thereby she provided for her home.

I wish to also mention here the mohel of the city, Hirsch Frydman, who would go to the surrounding village in order to circumcise children. He did not ask for wages, and he would not even take money for his expenses.

Our gabbai (synagogue trustee) Reb Hershel Brzezinski would check the eruv [35] with dedication, to ensure that it was in order.

All of these personalities are individuals within the precious human mosaic of old Sochaczew.


TRANSLATOR'S FOOTNOTES

  1. The Shach is a well-known commentator on the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch). The commentaries of the Shach and the Taz appear prominently on the main folios of most printed editions of the Shulchan Aruch. Return
  2. There is a mismatch of dates here. 5423 would correspond to 1663. Return
  3. Spelled in its Jewish form her “Vermaiza”. Worms is a city in the Rhineland area of Germany, and is known as the city of the famed Biblical and Talmudic commentator, Rashi. Return
  4. Gittin is the Talmudic tractate dealing with the laws of divorce. Return
  5. Mites are forbidden to be eaten, and one must be careful of infestations in otherwise kosher food. Return
  6. Self afflictions and denials for the purpose of enhancing one's spirituality. Return
  7. One of the four sections of the Code of Jewish Law, dealing with marital laws. Return
  8. A dollar is not the Polish (or Russian for that matter) unit of currency, and is apparently used here as a generic term for a unit of money. Return
  9. The acronym of his name Moreinu Harav Elazar HaKohen. Return
  10. Possibly meaning “to walk hand in hand with the Kocker”. Return
  11. This implies stories of works of wonder. Return
  12. I.e. he was at a loss. Return
  13. I could not identify these villages. Return
  14. Sephardic style (Nusach Sephard) does not refer to the true North African and Middle Eastern Sephardic prayer style, but rather to an adaptation thereof that is used by Hassidim. European Misnagdim use the Ashkenazic prayer rite. Return
  15. A Hashkama Minyan (early prayer quorum) refers to a Shacharit service conducted at the time of sunrise, considered the most propitious time for this service (albeit the service is valid for the first three hours of daylight). The colloquial name for this given here is obviously a play on words. Return
  16. Tokens of membership in the Zionist organization. Return
  17. This is a play on words. Cheder Metukan is “Modern Cheder”. Cheder Mesukan is “Dangerous Cheder”. Return
  18. There is a Jewish law that states that the law of the land is the law (known as Dina Demalchuta Dina). Return
  19. Seemingly a forced resignation. Return
  20. I assume that this means that he formally relinquished his position of rabbi of the city. He obviously stayed on as Admor. Return
  21. This term means “commonplace”. The implication here is seemingly to a government appointed rabbi. Return
  22. Here seemingly referring to Reb Avrahamele. Return
  23. It is a custom at gatherings around an Admor for the people to eat the leftovers (sherayim) of the Rebbe. Return
  24. This implies that there seemed to be a spate of untimely deaths, probably due to illness. Return
  25. These are the name of various charitable institutions. Return
  26. A sandek is the man upon whose lap the bris takes place. Return
  27. A bris ceremony is supposed to be followed by a celebratory meal. A poor family would have difficulty in affording this. Return
  28. Shabbat Hagadol is the Sabbath before Passover. Shabbat Shuva is the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. On both of these Sabbaths, it is customary for the rabbi to deliver a major address about the upcoming festival. Return
  29. Obviously referring to a young Nazi. Return
  30. The man who blows the shofar for the congregation in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. Return
  31. The rabbi of Lissa. Return
  32. The Sh. Y. is the acronym of the author's father, about whom this article is written. Return
  33. A feldscher is a 'barber surgeon', which would mean a medic or an amateur doctor. Return
  34. King David is considered to be the prime author of the book of Psalms (although various chapters in the book are attributed to other authors). Return
  35. On the Sabbath, it is prohibited from carrying objects from a public domain to a private domain and vice versa, and also from carrying objects within a public domain. (The technical halachic detail of this law is beyond the scope of a footnote). Under circumstances where this prohibition is of rabbinic rather than Torah origin (which for practical purposes includes most circumstances), an entire area can be halachically converted into a private domain by the construction of an eruv (Sabbath boundary – literally 'intermingling' of domains). Today, most cities and towns with a reasonable sized Jewish community have an eruv. Return

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