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[Pages 111 – 114]

Characters and Types

 

The Rabbi of Zloczew

by Eisek Faiwlowicz

Translated by Max Lipszyc

Rabbi Moshe Aharon Natanzohn was rabbi in Zlocew in 1862 and deceased in Zloczew in 1914. Zloczew was the sole town where Rabbi Moshe Aharon Natanzohn served as rabbi. Notwithstanding that he occupied the rabbinic post for over 20 years, he did not succeed in making close friends in our town. People had indeed a lot of respect for him, but nothing more… Rabbi Moshe Aharon Natanzohn came from an old and illustrious family of rabbis and erudites. His father, Rabbi Naftali Natanzohn was rabbi in Kahnin. His grandfather, Rabbi Avraham Natanzohn was rabbi in Gombin and later on, his brother Rabbi Note Natanzohn became rabbi in the same city of Gombin. His sister was Rebbetzin in Bloshki. His entire family was thus dispersed all over Poland. Rabbi Moshe Aharon Natanzohn had obtained at the age of 18, the title of Rabbi and Halachic Teacher and was a follower of the Rabbi of Ger. A short while later, he became son-in-law to a wealthy Hassidic family in Lintchatz. Truly, the bride, Reisele, had only one eye, but for this flaw, Rabbi Moshe Aharon received a stipend and a nice matrimonial income. In the 1850's, the person that occupied the post of Rabbi in Lintchatz was the well-known and great genius Malbim z”l. The Hassidim of Ger were great opponents to the Malbim z'l and Rabbi Moshe Aharon was in the lead as one of the fiercest. The Malbim was strongly disliked at that time by the Gerer Hassidim.

The Rabbi of Zloczew, Rabbi Moshe Aharon, remained childless his entire life. One said that he had been punished from Heaven for the misery he had given the Malbim. He had seemingly also repented…. This is what was said! Only, his deeds showed something different altogether as his jealousy was always strong and bitter. He never wavered about the means as long as he reached his goal.

In need of a Shochet (ritual slaughterer), I once heard a story about Rabbi Moshe Aharon Natanzohn that occurred in Zloczew about 1890. It was told to me by Rabbi Simcha Zisman Helfgot, who heard it from his father Rabbi Itschak Helfgot, who was a genuine Zloczewer, but lived later in Kalish. By the way, Rabbi Itschak Helfgot was later a table guest in Ger with the last Gerer Rabbi, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter Zts”l.

The story ran as follows:

In 1818 or 1819, there was a request for a Shochet in Zloczew. One day, there arrived for the daily prayer, a man who was at the same time a Shochet and also a good Hazzan. He quite pleased the congregation, but was faulty at not being a Gerer Hassid. And for not being a Gerer Hassid, he was declared a cripple and of no use. That same Shabbat, Rabbi Moshe Aharon paid a visit to the Gerer Rabbi - The Sfas Emes. When he returned from Ger, his disciples came by and told him that the situation was bad, as the greater part of the Congregation desired the Shochet Hazzan to remain in Zloczew.

Fooling the Congregation:

Rabbi Moshe Aharon told his followers he would find a way to cope with the Shochet Hazzan. Later that same day, when the Shochet Hazzan came over to Rabbi Moshe Aharon to pass a test, the Rabbi sent his servant to get ten men from the congregation - men who had their say, but had little or no knowledge of Ivrit (holy Hebrew language) or halacha. These ten men were quite honored by the invitation knowing that usually for matters of electing a Shochet or Hazzan, the most respectable people of the town were called for - erudites, rabbis, shochtim and the like, and certainly not simple men from the congregation who were far from being erudites.

As soon as the Shochet Hazzan appeared, Rabbi Moshe Aharon said to him:

“I have heard you are a good hazzan and also a proficient shochet, but what about halacha and laws? Have you studied these too?”

“Of course, I have learned”, was the Hazzan's answer.

So Rabbi Moshe Aharon went on asking: “Listen. A slaughtering knife may have an indentation (being unusable) and an animal lung may have an outgrowth. What is it you do when a knife has an indentation?”

“I will refurbish and repolish the knife until usable.”

“And what do you do”, proceeds Rabbi Moshe Aharon, “when the knife has no indentation?”

The Shochet Hazzan smiled at this question. It seemed a joking and unreal question. He did not imagine Rabbi Moshe Aharon would gather 10 men from the Congregation in order to fool them, to make believe that he, the Hazzan, knows nothing of the halacha. The ten men looked at each other and at the Shochet Hazzan with empathy in their eyes as if he already had failed the test.

From what happened in the room, the Hazzan understood that these ten men would not say a word that the whole situation was a theatrical game. He waited and silence fell in the room. Rabbi Moshe Aharon stood up and looking at the 10 men said: “See here, we are dealing with having a whole congregation eating, G'd forbid, treif (unkosher) food and this guy here is just laughing at it.” After these words, the Rabbi asked his servant to bring a book for him, not the halachic treatise Beith Yossef, neither the Tviot Shor - another treatise, but the Talmudic section Hulin. The Rabbi opened the book, turned a few pages and started to learn with great devotion.

The Talmud says that if the outgrowth peels from itself, it is kosher… and he ended with the words…the outgrowth has been peeled and is to be found on the knife.

The ten men did not understand a single word of what had been said, but they obviously believed the Rabbi. And again, the Rabbi looked at the Hazzan and cried out: “and he is laughing!!!!”

The Hazzan Shochet looked at the men around him. It was clear to him that the men did not even begin to understand that the Rabbi had tricked them. It was a comedy played by the Rabbi. It was also clear to him that he will never become a Hazzan Shochet in Zloczew. He lowered his eyes and said: “Be well Rabbi and accredit a Shochet that will be able to retrieve the outgrowth from the knife.”

The Rabbi did not feel offended for a minute. He even told the man farewell with a glimpse of dislike in his eyes. Farewell and better luck in another city.

Rabbi Moshe Aharon knew perfectly well he had plainly and simply broken the man's heart. But he couldn't care less as long as he could execute his will at any cost.

The Rabbi's followers were delighted at the way their mentor had solved the problem. His idea had been fantastic. They were pleased that the Rabbi had fooled the 10 uneducated men who in all truth did not understand anything of what had happened or what had been said. They had blind confidence in him.

Comments

The publishers need to make two comments about the above article.

Firstly: The description of the events of the story concerning the Shochet Hazzan and his dismissal by the Rabbi also has a subjective side. If there happened to be a complaint that the Rabbi fooled these 10 congregation members, then that story could not have been told by the latter. On the other hand, the Rabbi was certainly not interested in telling a tale concerning himself and implying his own misconduct. Thus, the only source of this tale must have been the Shochet Hazzan himself, which makes it a subjective opinion – either he did not understand the facts or he accused someone else of guilt.

Secondly: A second version of this story has been transmitted by Mr. David Grabiner. According to him, the story concerned a Shochet Hazzan who came to Zloczew from Milmarzitch and his voice was really appreciated by the congregation. But he had one flaw. He was slightly crippled in one hand. As the Rabbi was utterly scrupulous, he was afraid that while slaughtering the animals, the Shochet might make an unsteady movement with the crippled hand and then the whole congregation might eat, G'd forbid, unkosher meat. This was the reason he decided to dismiss him. To avoid the accusation of embarrassing one in public, the Rabbi decided to give the Shochet Hazzan a test.

Mr. Grabiner adds that it seems unnatural to request ten uneducated people for such an interview, and even more to pretend they did not understand a single word of what was going on.

I happened to know Rabbi Moshe Aharon Natanzohn in later years. Amongst all and everything he despised, he had a particular hate to Gerim (proselytes). I recall an episode that occurred in 1906. That particular Ger Zedek who had credentials from great rabbis that he was indeed a Ger Zedek and that his name was Avraham ben Avraham came to the study house of Zloczew and asked to be introduced to the Rabbi. He wanted the Rabbi to give him a credential letter to enable him to collect more money in the city. He was so strong-minded that I could not but introduce him to the Rabbi while explaining what the man desired. At that time, there were two personalities in the study house, Rabbi Jacob Hertz Krotch and Rabbi Meir Israeltchis - both halachic educators. Rabbi Moshe Aharon, listen to my words, gave a deep sigh and immediately asked the Ger Zedek where he came from and how old he was. 52, answered the man. “52” as in DOG, as is represented in Hebraical numeric calculations, added the Rabbi, showing his perennial antagonism to things and men.

Rabbi Moshe Aharon Natanzohn had at this time commanded the writing of a Torah Scroll. When his wife Reisel passed away, he held a hesped at her burial. He claimed that half of the book was legitimately hers and that he also gave her half of his own world to come. The Rabbi's Hassidim moved their heads in wonder and their wives envied the late Rebbitzin for the amount of world to come she was given. Rabbi Moshe Aharon married a second time. He took a very fine lady as Rebbitzin, but it had no effect upon his manners. The Hassidim wondered also why Rabbi Moshe Aharon visited two famous Gerer rabbis - the Hiddushei Harim and the Sfas Emes, but did not visit the last Gerer Rabbi - Reb Avraham Mordechai Alter.

Rabbi Moshe Aharon Natanzohn passed away in the good old age of 90 years in 1913.


[Page 118-119]

Yaakov Bilewski

by Mordechai Majerowicz

Translated by Daphna Brafman

Yaakov Bilewski,
a man of talents and
“born to be a leader”

He was one of the outstanding figures in Zlozcew's public arena, a central figure in the town's Zionist movement who stood as its head for many years.

Yaakov was born in a traditional-religious home, and this is the way his father, r' Yitzhak (Yitchi)-Meir, an enthusiastic Ger Hassid, a wise and devoted learner, knowledgeable and sharp in studies of the Talmud and the Mishna, brought him up.

It is, therefore, no wonder that already in his early years at his father's home did Yaakov absorb big portions of spiritual and educational enrichment, and on that foundation he added more and more layers during the years he studied in Beit Hamidrash and Yeshivas. But young Bilewski, in as much as he was involved with the family's ultra orthodox customs and way of life, and in as much as he was devoted to holy studies, did not limit himself to that world. On the contrary, from it, he inhaled the vital essence that served him as background for jumping into the thought about the spirit of Judaism and it's future while searching for a road that leads to the vision of national renaissance.

With the outbreak of World War One, he immigrated to Germany, and with it came the opportunity to acquire and absorb a secular knowledge and to enrich his spiritual treasures by exploring the European culture and education. Being gifted with unusual talents, he widens his horizon and knowledge to such extent that will benefit him in days ahead when he sees blessing in his rich public activity for the fulfillment of the Zionist ideology, an ideology that became the calling of his life and that filled his entire being. Upon his return to Zlozcew after the war, he became completely immersed with his heart and soul in our town's public activity. Being close to the traditional circles, he devoted his efforts to bringing them close to the Zionist ideal and getting their involvement with the movement.

Yaakov Bilewski was a man of many talents, undying vitality, and strong personality, born to be a leader who demands from himself and his fellowman, with unlimited devotion to his way and public duties. Due to so much activity, he could not even find time to provide for himself and he, therefore, knew poverty and shortage all his years. To help him with a minimal income, a position was arranged for him as an agent for the insurance company “Reuniona Adriatika Desikorta” hat operated under the auspices of the Jewish Agency. The leaders of the movement, headed by Yitzhak Greenbaum, arranged this matter. Bilewski was also dear to the great Zionist leader when he stood as the local Histadrut head of “Al Hamishmar” party (As known- the general Zionists in Poland were divided into two parties: “Et Livnot” and “Al Hamishmar”, and Yitzhak Greenbaum led the latter.)

In the field of art, Yaakov Bilewski devoted time
and ability to producing artistic shows
and he even took part in directing them

Central Activity

All year round, Bilewski was deeply immersed in the activity of the Zloczew's local Histadrut. But in times of general awakening, as in days of tests and decisions, elections to the Zionist Congress etc., his activity exceeded the local boundaries and he became involved in central duties that were bestowed upon him by the central leadership, and did so with his typical loyalty and devotion. As a talented lecturer he traveled throughout the land, appearing before members and supporters and others of the people of Israel, and making converts to the Zionist cause.

Yaakov Bilewski was also a man of good values, a good friend and a man whose good manners influenced his surroundings and who shared his rich knowledge with those who sought his friendship.

It is difficult to exaggerate when describing Yaakov Bilewski's important part in the development of the Zionist arena of Zloczew. He was a man of many actions who did not spare himself from interest and activity in the various tasks. He was involved in the cultural world and devoted his time and ability to produce shows and even direct and participate.

With the outbreak of World War Two and the Nazi occupation, he went through all the misery and tribulations under this monstrous regime and he was unable to escape the preying nails of the Nazi beast. He perished in the Shoa together with thousands of the town's holy and pure martyrs, may God avenge their blood.

With his tragic death, the Zionist movement has lost one of its most devoted and gifted servants and messengers, and Jewish Zloczew lost one of its dear sons and outstanding figures.

His memory will dwell in our hearts with love.


[Page 120-122]

Rabbi Gedalye Moroko

by Eisik Faiwlowicz

Translated by Motl Rosenbush

Reb Gedalye was one of those enlightened spirits among the Jews of Zloczew. He possessed the talents of a “gaon”, a genius. When he was 16, he already had the reputation of a “harif”, a fiery and shrewd mind. And by age 18, he had received the title of “more-hora” - rabbinic legal scholar from many great rabbis. But, since the greatest number of Polish Jews, and especially those in small villages, lived in penury, Reb Gedalye himself was also a poor man. In spite of this, he made light of his poverty.

He made his living teaching several young men, but only those whose fathers were able to afford a higher tuition. Reb Gedalye had only four students and his fee was two rubles a week per student.

All would be well and good, but Reb Gedalye had one major weakness – he had a strong habit of giving slaps…

I'll never forget the time it happened to me – 54 years ago. The new school term had just begun after Pesach and my father had sent me to study with Reb Gedalye in the beit-hamidrash. On the very first morning, as I sat down next to his two students, he suddenly slapped me so hard that I became confused for a few minutes, and I remember this slap till today… he would do this quite spontaneously. After this slap, I no longer wanted to study with him. Sometime later, my father went to him and requested that he not slap me anymore. Reb Gedalye agreed to it and I began to study with him again; but it lasted only weeks – until he hit me again. His reason was that he had to hit all his students and he could not make an exception for me. But not interested in his rationale, I ceased to study with him – forever.

At that time Reb Gedalye was about 30 years old, but later his personality changed. He had more serious things on his mind than to slap people around. I know that my brother Vove had studied with him for more than two years and had never been slapped. His world outlook began to change. He would devote himself to such outlandish activities as were beyond the comprehension of the local Hassidim. For example, he arranged for sick people who were poor to obtain their needed medications and at night they had night attendants look after them. For Reb Gedalye, it made no difference if the sick person was a tailor or a shoemaker. He would often say that a sick shoemaker is just as sick as an ailing Hassid. He always took the side of those weaker and oppressed. It was very easy to conclude that Reb Gedalye was more at ease among the enlightened than among the Hassidim.

Zloczew was indeed a small town, but it always had 6 or 7 Talmudic court judges. Nevertheless, when people had questions that needed answering, they would turn instead to Rav Moyshe-Arn Natanzon. Only in cases when the Rav was sick or away for a few weeks summer holiday would people turn to the court judges to ask questions.

Reb Gedalye was an Aleksander Hassid and his greatest pleasure was when a Ger judge of the Ger “study house”(shtibl) declared an issue to be “non-kosher”. Reb Gedalye would then say: “Of course it is non-kosher, since the judge has made it non-kosher”.

Reb Gedalye was familiar with Talmud and post-Talmudic commentary and very proficient in the writings of the early rishonim and later aharonim teachers. He remembered where a full stop occurred or where a letter was scraped out, and with his acuity, he could prove that because of the full stop or the scraped out letter, the question could be declared kosher.

The Ger judges said that Reb Gedalye had a great heart, a clear, sharp brain and, as a result, he could not possibly have a sense of rigor…. His quick comments were always aimed at the clergy. For example, three young Ger students were sitting and studying; the middle one was called Avrom-Shimen. Reb Gedalye walked by them and declared: “If you look at the tail you will see fire”– the letters for fire: “alef” and “shin” form the first two letters of the name “Avrom-Shimen”.

A Sexton with Definite Heritage Rights

I recall an event in Zloczew dating perhaps to 1906 when the sexton of the synagogue died and left an heir for his job – a son, still a young man, who wanted to take up his father's position. Opposing sides formed immediately. And, as was their wont, the Ger Hassidim sided against the young man right off. Their complaint was that since the sexton must from time to time perform the duty of “badekn di kale”(to cover the face of a bride), and since the sexton often sits in the office where women come for advice asking questions of a “female” nature, and since the young man is simply not that observant, so the Ger Hassidim did not want him as sexton.

The young man, on the other hand, argued that he was entitled to the sexton's job because his father, his grandfather and great-grandfather were sextons for more than 100 years in Zloczew and, therefore, the position was owed him.

But since the opposing sides themselves could not come to agreement, the only recourse remaining was to set up a court in which each side would be represented by three arbitrators who would appoint a decision-maker from among themselves. The Zloczew Rav - Moyshe-Arn Natanzon refused at all costs to be mixed up in this whole affair. And so the Ger Hassidim had to go to other towns in search of four rabbis of whom one was a decision-maker.

Reb Gedalye voluntarily undertook to take the side of the oppressed son of the sexton and brought on two others as arbitrators.

The congregation was tense with curiosity and waited for the next day for further developments. It was already late morning after breakfast as we stood on the steps to the beit-hamidrash which led to the courtroom and we waited impatiently. Finally, we saw from afar the four rabbis approaching. Suddenly, Reb Gedalye blurted out: “Well, folks, say a benediction “boyrey pri adome”. You now see the “four simpletons” (thus Reb Gedalye saw and appreciated the clergy). When the arbitrators resumed discussing the issue of the sexton in the courtroom, the Ger Hassidim had by then conveyed their compromise to their arbitrators - to pay the widow of the sexton a certain sum of money as well as provide other amenities, and to add a forewarning, that even under the direst of circumstances, the young man could not become sexton.

Reb Gedalye, in the meantime, had managed to prove to the arbitrators that according to law the claim of a sexton to “heritage” is a deciding factor. The “decision-maker” of the rabbis stood up and explained to Reb Gedalye and his arbitrators that it was quite foolish on their part to make a stand against the community, that the compromise is a fair one, and this issue must be resolved peacefully.

Reb Gedalye listened to his words as if hearing a nice story by a “shrewd rabbi” and he responded: “Hear me, gentlemen! As I see it, you have some very smart ideas about what is a compromise, but I want to tell you something: you may recall that the government emitted an edict obliging rabbis to pass a test. Polish Jews began to panic that as a result of this edict it may turn out that four Polish towns will have to have only one rabbi, because what rabbi will be capable of withstanding an exam? Later, when railroads were built in Poland, everyone thought that horses would become so cheap that one would buy a horse for 10 kopeks. Who would need horses if one could travel by train? But nowadays, gentlemen, continued Reb Gedalye, we see the very opposite, that horses are more expensive and that each town has four rabbis - a sign that the horses became “rabbis”. And now, gentlemen, Reb Gedalye continued, I accept your “compromise”. With this, Reb Gedalye ended his speech.

Helping the Sick

In 1919, after the First World War, when there was a great plague in Poland, and the small towns simply had no means to protect themselves against the tragedy, Reb Gedalye organized in Zloczew a private first aid station, turning the bais-hamidrash into a temporary hospital. He worked day and night and helped hundreds of people, but as a result of hard work and constant stress he became weak and then sick. Alas, he was unable to save himself from his illness and died a victim for his ideals and high sentiments. This great Jew and human being devoted himself to his last breath in a campaign to help others. It is a great honor for all Zloczew that it had in its midst one of the enlightened spirits of Polish Jewry, Reb Gedalye Moroko.

Eisek Faiwlowicz Z”L

Eisik Faiwlowicz lived for many years in New York. When, after World War II, Zloczew refugees arrived in America, his door and his heart were wide open to them. Anyone who sought him out would always encounter a warm readiness and a will to help with whatever he could. Many times he would drop his own activities and would run off to assist a co-citizen to settle some matter – to have a roof over one's head or a job to earn a living.

His activity did not limit itself to the problems of individuals. Possessing a broad worldview, he undertook initiatives in the interest of the broader community –Eisek was one of the major founders of the Zloczew Society in New York and became its honored representative. Imbued with a deep sense of obligation to perpetuate the memory of our unforgettable Jewish town of Zloczew, so tragically wiped out, Eisik Faiwlowicz devoted time and creative energies to make a major contribution to the spiritual memory of a lost community. In 1956, he wrote a memorable introductory overview of Jewish Zloczew, from earliest times on to World War I. It was sent on to the editors of the Zloczew book committee in Israel.

(The text written in an ordinary folk Yiddish is printed in its entirety in the book of Zloczew – editor's note).

On May 17, 1968, Eisik Faiwlowicz passed away after an illness. He would have still been able to achieve a lot. The surviving refugees of Zloczew Jewry mourned the death of their devoted comrade and friend and will always remember him with consideration and love.

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