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[Pages 133-134]

Dedicated to the memory of Arie-Leib Teicher,
Rabbi of the Congregation of Tarnogrod

The Rabbi's Pipe

Yechiel Muterperl

Translated by Martin Jacobs

Funded by Natalie Lipner
in Memory of her father
Szmul Josef (Samuel Joseph) Lipner

In my teenage years I became friends with one of the Rabbi's great grandsons, whose name was Shlomke, and I was one of those who had entry to the Rabbi's house. In the front room, in the corner between the walls facing north and west, stood a cupboard with glass doors and sides. Among the items on the shelves several tubes made of white bone made an impression on me. When screwed together they became a pipe of a meter in length.

All year long the pieces of the pipe stayed untouched in the cupboard. But when the eve of Hoshanah-Rabbah [the seventh day of Sukkot] came the elderly rabbi would approach the cabinet and take out all the parts and attach them to each other, each one in its proper place, until the pipe was complete and shining in its beauty. Then he would fill it with tobacco and light it.

That night many people were seated in the adjacent bet hamidrash [house of study] praying the Hoshanah Rabbah evening tikun prayers. Some were nodding off between prayers. Then the elderly rabbi appeared and went round the benches on which the worshippers were sleeping, touching each one's shoulder with his pipe. They immediately woke up and saw that the rabbi was collecting donations for the needy. No one withheld his contribution. This was the rabbi's custom from year to year, thus fulfilling two commandments at the same time: to wake Jews to prayer and to engage in charity.

Let us mention that in the second room, in the rabbi's living quarters, was an extensive religious library. Here he received all who came to him with all sorts of questions. Here too he diligently studied the rabbinic writings all his days. Since the walls had not been painted for a long time, his daughter Chanale asked his permission to paint the room with beautiful colors. After many entreaties the elderly rabbi agreed, but only on condition that the black square on one of the walls be left to commemorate the destruction of the temple.

The rabbi was very careful not to give out his tallit and kitel [long white linen robe, worn by rabbis and other prayer leaders on important occasions] to be laundered. When he was asked the reason, he answered, “My tallit and kitel have absorbed many tears, and you wish to destroy them with water.”

His paths are pleasant paths; [quotation from the book of Proverbs] his life's burden was to dig the deep well of Torah, so that many waters would emerge from it. The Torah is compared to fire, and this fire extinguishes other fires and as there is fire on top of fire, so too is there light on top of light. A touch of gracefulness extended across his countenance.

All this nobility can be understood as well as coming from the suffering of generations which he had absorbed, a suffering forged in fire of a Judaism founded in its own blood and satiating all the fields of the world.

 

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Yosef-Moshe Teicher
Grandson of the old rabbi and son of Rabbi Tzvi

 

His children, grandchildren, and their descendants walked in his ways, up to the coming chapters of the flames of the Holocaust and the destruction. It is told how the old rabbi's grandson, Yosef-Moshe Teicher, suffered martyrdom at the hands of the murderer.

The Rabbi died two years before the Holocaust, at the age of more than eighty.

May his memory be blessed.


[Pages 135-140]

Rabbis and Hasidim of Tarnogrod

Meir Ringer

Translated by Martin Jacobs

Funded by Natalie Lipner
in Memory of her father
Szmul Josef (Samuel Joseph) Lipner

 

tar135.jpg
Meir Ringer

 

One of the phenomena which aroused great interest in the Jewish life of Poland was, without a doubt, Hasidism [mystical religious movement founded in Poland by the 18th century teacher Israel ben Eliezer, also known as the Baal Shem Tov], which also brought new light and faith to the Jews of Tarnogrod, drove away depression, and filled the hearts of all Jews with joy, from which they derived spiritual exaltation and new strength, love of one's fellow Jew, and good deeds. As in every other town in Poland, Hasidism in Tarnogrod too was a way of life and a culture.

Hasidism in our town was a popular movement. Almost every Jew in the town had great faith in the power of the tzadikim [Hasidic rabbis], and when the Hasidic rabbis visited our town the people brought to them notes on which they set forth their desires and needs and asked their advice about matters of business and also about medicines and treatments for various illnesses.

But, despite the fact that they saw the rabbis as miracle workers, listened with astonishment and wonder to their teaching and to their fervent praying, not everyone thought of himself as belonging to the Hasidic movement. Though not everyone was a person of intellect, yet Hasidism took over the religious community in Tarnogrod, absorbing within it love of God and of one's fellow man.

Among them were kabbalists [students of the Kabbalah or Jewish mystical tradition] who studied and meditated day and night in both the hidden and revealed Torah. Several of them used to get up at midnight for the prayer of lamentation for the exile of the Divine Presence and for the destruction of the Temple.

How great was the sense of community that pervaded the Hasidim. They addressed each other in familiar, informal terms. It was considered natural and ordinary to help a Hasid on his way down and lacking a livelihood with various means. They celebrated each other's private joyous occasions. They also knew who was in need of help and who was in a position to offer help.

The shtibl [literally “little house” or “little room” which served as a house of prayer] served as the best recreation center for both young and old. Here youths sat and learned Talmud with its captivating chant, and here were brought all the questions and requests pertaining to life of the community and town. For everyone, song and melody were tried and tested means of bringing the heart close to the service of the Creator, for not by afflictions and sadness does one reach his state of holiness, but by worshipping the Lord out of joy and by cleaving to Him from inspiration.

Hasidism was always a matter of song and dance.

The Hasidic rabbis did not make their home in our city. The Hasidim of Tarnogrod used to travel to their rabbis on special occasions and on the High Holy Days and were united with their rabbis through prayer, tish [literally “table”, a gathering of Hasidim around their rabbi, perceived as a moment of great holiness], and gifts to the rabbi. The sign of adherence to the Hasidic movement was praying in the shtibl in a group, according to the accepted usage in the house of prayer of each “rebbe”. The shtibl was like a world to itself, a kind of extended family. All who belonged to this family remained connected to their rabbi, the tzadik; his image always hovered before their eyes. At his holy word they came in and went out, acting in the power of that longing for the rabbi and his tish, for his teaching and his illuminating words. They were not pacified until he traveled to be with them, so that they might find shelter with him, look at him, gaze upon the brightness of his face, hear his interpretations of the sublime secrets of the Torah and learn from his deeds and his character.

The material conditions in Tarnogrod did not permit a separate “shtibl” for every group, and so the Hasidim of Belz, Trisk [Turiysk], and Kuzmir [Kazimierz Dolny] were concentrated in one kloyz [a small synagogue], which was called the “Belzer shtibl ”. In the “Sieniawa shtibl” the Hasidim of Sanz [Nowy Sącz] and Gorlice also prayed. The Hasidim of Rozvedov [Rozwadów] prayed together with those of Rudnik and Cieszanów, etc.

The shtibl gave the Hasid confidence that he was not alone in the world. He was assured support in time of need. The Hasidic shtibl became both a religious and communal institution. It was sanctified for prayer and for the study of Torah. In the shtibl the Hasidic atmosphere of Tarnogrod was created.

After a hard day's work the Jew went to shtibl and there put away his cares, forgot the burdens of the day and absorbed the joy of a page of Talmud and some small talk. Each one studied at his own level and everyone achieved satisfaction, not merely satisfaction of the soul, but also enjoyment in the literal sense of the word. Jews renew and refresh themselves in these hours, they restore their souls, as the Hasidim say: “M'hot zikh mekhaye geven” [“We got great enjoyment”].

From time to time the Hasidic rabbis came to visit their followers in our town, and people flocked to them from nearby communities to drink in their words with great thirst and to seek advice from them on family matters. The rabbis' tish was set with pride on Shabbos in the great study house. The rabbi distributed shirayim [remainders of the rabbi's meal, eagerly eaten by his followers] and joyfully greeted the Guest with the Radiant Face. The Hasidim sang melodies full of longing and devotion.

There were many pearls among these melodies. The sounds were filled with splendor and innocence and dramatic-mysterious tension, and they had the power of softening men's hearts and awakening a man's conscience.

During the rabbi's stay in the city people drew closer together, and not just the Jews of the town, but also of nearby towns. Even though the rabbi did not have the power to join them all together as one, since they were jealous admirers each one of his own rabbi, for only through him was it possible to reach complete wholeness, and they traveled great distances to reach him, and they related to a second rabbi with a negligent attitude, not believing in his power, nevertheless he influences a great part of those who are indifferent to come together under one banner, that of Hasidism.

There were not a few among the Hasidim who were warmly compassionate Jews, full of pain and love for Jews, and who emphasized simple and perfect faith. Is not love one of the foundations of Hasidism? They turn in love to all men and receive them with open arms; therefore they look favorably upon the great congregation that gathers around every rebbe who comes to the town.

Thus the essential nature and character of Hasidism as a whole come to it from the existence of the rebbe rather than from its doctrines, streams, and ways. This is the greatness of Hasidism: in him is the secret and explanation of its strength; he is the center of its being. For a man who has a rebbe the whole human template is different from one who does not have a rebbe in his world. In the image of the rebbe, Hasidism expresses one of its essential foundations. The faith of the rebbe in the Hasidic world is such that even for those who have turned away from religion the authority of the rebbe has not faded for them.

In those days the movement was strong in the city. Every evening people gathered in the home of the Hasid with whom the rebbe was staying; they stood crowded together and his admirers told “holy stories”. In that hour both young and old forgot the world and its sorrowful existence, and were transported to the spiritual world, to the most fantastic stories in the world, and to every word and sign coming out of mouth of the rebbe.

The day the rebbe left the city everyone recalled the saying of Rashi: “When a righteous man leaves the city his glory also leaves, his splendor leaves, his majesty leaves”. Hundreds accompanied him and did not leave him until they received a parting blessing from him.

 

The Elderly Rabbi of the Tarnogrod Congregation

Rabbi Arie Leib Teicher, grandson of the rabbi and tzadik of Kreshiv [Krzeszów] and a descendant of Yom Tov Lipmann Heller, was a great and sharp-witted scholar, learned in Talmud and commentaries, head of the rabbinate for 72 years, at first for a time in the new city of Zamość, similarly in the community of Czchów near Lublin, but most of the years he officiated in our congregation.

In his capacity as mara deasra [local rabbi] and zealot for the religion and sanctifier of the people, he fought strongly against all freethinking. With the awakening of political life in our town he beseeched us to free ourselves from the 49 gates of impurity (may the Merciful One protect us), citing the Biblical verse: “None who go to her come back” (Prov. 2:19). In the study of the Modern Hebrew language he saw only a striving to learn a modern language, and therefore preached that it was better for us to learn Greek. In his naivety he saw Greek science as ruling the modern world.

In the founding of the library and of the first Hebrew school in the town he saw the root of all evil and so he proclaimed, with all the means in his power, that we had an obligation to a holy war against them, even to the point of his pronouncing a ban on them. He did the same with regard to all Zionist activity carried out on behalf of the branch of the Zionist Histadrut [Federation of Laborers in the Land of Israel] here.

He had four sons, all of whom became rabbis or religious teachers in Israel, and two daughters. He remained the rabbi of the congregation until his death at the age of 95. He passed away two years before the outbreak of the Second World War.

 

The Last Rabbi of the Congregation

Rabbi Moshele Teicher, son of Rabbi Arie Leib, was the congregation rabbi until the Holocaust. He supported matters of interest to the town with knowledge and intelligence.

His form and appearance spoke of honor to both Jews and non-Jews alike. He was easily approachable, and he knew how to talk to everyone, according to that person's education and class. With his sharp intellect he was very knowledgeable in all branches of commerce; people came to seek his advice. His wife, the Rebbetzin [wife of a rabbi] Malkale, bore him 12 sons and daughters, because of which supporting his household was as difficult for him as splitting the Red Sea.

During the Holocaust his whole family, already numbering several dozen, found a hiding place in a bunker. This became known to a Christian in the city, who informed on them. They were all brutally murdered; not one of his descendents survived.

 

A Man of Wide Learning

Yehoshule, the third son of the old rabbi, swam in the sea of Talmud and Poskim [Rabbinical scholars who settle matters of Jewish law and ritual]. He was a kind of tsena demale sifra [Talmudic expression defined in Jastrow's dictionary as “a basket full of books”, a man full of learning, but without method].

As a young man he was isolated in his thoughts; he neglected himself and everyone close to him. He withdrew from the life of this world. He imposed fasts and afflictions upon himself and he constantly walked about the streets, until one day he caught cold, took to his bed and departed this life while still young, to the sorrow of his family and the townspeople.

 

Yakov the Intermediary

Yakov, or Yekil Mantel, the leader of the congregation throughout his life, was the Shtadlan [official representative of the Jewish community to the government. Such people were generally chosen because of their knowledge of the official language of the country in addition to their own Yiddish] with the Russian authorities and high officialdom. Knowledge of the Russian language was also the source of his livelihood as a scribe, skilled in worldly affairs and in Russian law. He was dedicated to the needs of the community. At one time I had the privilege of working with him in the children's open-plan kitchen, and I saw his great dedication to the congregation in his community.

In his twilight years he lived in poverty because he was not on good terms with the Polish administration and they put someone else in his place, depriving him of his livelihood.

 

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The old rabbi, Arie Leib, with his sons and a grandson

 

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Rabbi Moshe Naphtali Teicher at the time of his stay at the bathhouse in Szczawnica

 

There are those who reveal themselves as great persons by revealing a new path in Torah or in wisdom, in leadership or in their qualities. Then there are great people, exceptionally virtuous people, even more so than the first, who outwardly do not bring all new Torah interpretations to our attention; to ordinary eyes they seem like mediocrities in all their talk and activity, but their praise is great in that they do not arouse praise for themselves with their peculiar ways and exceptional deeds. On the contrary, they are gracious in their power of restraint and in the appropriate superiority of modest behavior. They cover themselves in unpretentiousness. They are deliberate in judgment and deliberate also in the use of the virtuous grace that protects them; they are humble and modest, and their ways are quiet. They return as it were to old ideas, but with renewed pleasure; they do not boast of the performance of some method, and so they act not in accordance with their method, but in accordance with their own interpretation. They are careful not to separate from the community.

Such was Rabbi Moshe-Naftali Teicher, wonderful in that he was not eager for wonders, so as not to excite the people in an unlawful manner. Reb Moshe took great pains not to abandon the protection of humility, for humility is the source of all virtues.

 

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