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[Page 75]

Rabbis, Dayanim (Religious Judges),
and Shochtim (Religious Slaughterers)

Dawid Grabiner

Translated by Bill Leibner

Usually, the Jewish community of Zloczew had one rabbi, one dayan and two schochtim (plural of schochet). This was the custom and continued for years. With regards to rabbis, it is worth mentioning that Zloczew had three rabbis with the same first names - Aaron Moshe. Yet, they were not related in the least.

Happy With a Lower Social Status

Between WW.I. and W.W.II, there was a dayan in Zloczew named Meir Skotchilas who decided to abandon his position as dayan and became a schochet. The reason for his decision was based on the fact that the schochet Shlomo Gershon passed away and the community was looking for a schochet. There was also a new rabbi in town and he did not want to have a dayan in the community. (Many rabbis, especially rabbis inclined to religious judicial interpretations, preferred not to have a dayan at their side in the community The elimination of the position also saved money to the kehilla that was always short of money). The rabbi's view prevailed and the Jewish community decided to offer the position of schochet to the dayan. The latter saw the hopelessness of his position and decided to accept the offer. As time went by and his earnings increased, Meir Skotchilas was very happy with the decision to trade places in spite of the fact that his social position was now lower than the previous position he held.

The new rabbi and the new schochet worked harmoniously together as time went by. They respected and understood each other. For example, the rabbi always invited the schochet to be a member of the judicial panel that heard cases between Jewish litigants. When the cases were adjudicated and the parties offered payment to the rabbi for his services, he refused to accept the money and insisted that the schochet take the money. The rabbi claimed that he had no children and therefore did not need the money. But he pointed to the schochet and told him, “You have many children and really need the money - so please take it.”

Let Them Cradle the Casket

With the passing of the last Rabbi Aaron Moshe, a new Rabbi, Yaakow Dawid, came to Zloczew He was previously rabbi in Burzeni. He was a Talmudic scholar and had a way with people. He was at ease in talking to people and explaining situations or problems to those that came in contact with him. His selection and arrival in Zloczew was shrouded in an atmosphere of disagreement and confrontation that was based on the following event. When the last Rabbi Aaron Moshe passed away, there was a big funeral Thousands of mourners from the city and the nearby areas partook in the funeral cortege. Hundreds of mourners tried to come close to the casket, but primarily Gerer Hassidim or followers of the Gerer Hassidic Rabbi surrounded the latter. Suddenly, Yidel Dawidowicz shouted “Let them (Gerer Hassidim) cradle the dead rabbi,
we will receive the living successor!”.

[Page 76]

Due to the respect of the dead, the incident passed without recriminations. Everybody kept his temper under control. But following the funeral, the strains became obvious and soon the Jewish community was divided into two camps: the Gerer Hassidim camp on one side and the Alexander Hassidim on the other side. The disagreements intensified with the search for a new rabbi. Each camp wanted a rabbi that was associated with its own camp. Eventually, the camp of the Alexander Hassidim won the race in spite of the fact that they were a minority in the city. However, they represented the Jewish elite in Zloczew, namely they were the well to do Jews in town. Their position swayed many Jews in the community. The struggle between the two camps would have continued for some time if the Gerer Rabbi had not made peace between the two factions In person, he visited the city of Zloczew when he was in the vicinity and brought the two factions together.

The Last Rabbi

When the Rabbi of Zloczew, Yaakow Dawid, passed away, his son-in-law, Rabbi Henech ((Hanoch) Mordechai was selected by the kehilla to replace him. He was a gentleperson endowed with many fine qualities that helped him to become very popular amongst the Jewish masses of the city. Unfortunately, his reign was not to last too long for angry winds and dark clouds began to darken the skies of hundreds and thousands of kehillot (plural of kehilla) in Europe. Satan unsheathed his sword and destroyed everything in his path. The Jewish communities were totally obliterated and all vestiges of Jewish presence were erased. Rabbi Henech Mordechai was the last rabbi of the Jewish community of Zloczew and together with his flock perished for being Jewish. According to unconfirmed reports, he managed with great difficulty to reach the ghetto of Lodz where he died of starvation, for conditions were terrible.

Schochtim or Ritual Slaughterers

Between the two great wars, Zloczew had four schochtim. One was called Shlomo Gershon and the next one was Zalman. The latter was also a cantor. The cantor-schochet had a pleasant voice and was very popular amongst the synagogue attendants. He also composed melodies and created tunes for passages of the service. I still remember the tune of the line “ Mechalkel Chaim Bachessed “ from the “Amidah” that was very popular and was hummed at many festive occasions by the masses After these two schochtim, we had one named Meir and another named Yaakow Dawid that was also a cantor. The last two schochtim served the community until the Germans annihilated it.


[Page 77]

The First Synagogue in Zloczew

By Yaakow Freund

Translated by Andre Goodfriend

When I was a small child, I remember that my uncle, may his memory be blessed, told me about a shul in Zloczew, about which a number of legends circulated -about its uniqueness, its magnificence and glory, and exceptional beauty.  Regretfully, the shul burned down.

The famous Jewish cultural researcher, Director of the Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in Tel Aviv, engineer David Dawidowicz, mentioned the Zloczew shul in his book “Wall Paintings of Synagogues in Poland”. He writes: “The synagogue was built in the 18th century based on the designs of the famous artist, Hillel Benjamin (born in Lask), who established three similar shuls in Poland: in Lutomiersk, Zloczew and in Kornik.. These shuls stood out because of the unique style of their structure.”  Scholars maintain that Hillel Benjamin was an underlying influence on contemporary Western European architecture.

The Zloczew shul of the time was mentioned in the Yizkor books of the neighboring towns Zdunska Wola and Pavianitz, and therein the tragic fall was also described, that by the structure of the shul in Zloczew did the artist Hillel Benjamin perish, when he fell from the roof of the structure and died when he hit the ground.  He was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Zloczew, where now there is no memorial remaining.

The exterior wall of the synagogue

 

The upper wall of the synagogue


[Page 78]

The Copper Utensils at the Shul

By Yaacov Freund

Translated by Andre Goodfriend

The famous synagogue was completely destroyed by fire, down to its foundations, in the year 1885, in the days of “The Great Fire” as the elders of the town of Zloczew used to call it.

Immediately after the burning of the old synagogue, work began on the construction of a new synagogue, built of stone, unlike the previous one that was built completely of wood. The driving force behind the construction of this synagogue was Yitzchak Wolkovicz, may his memory be blessed, who for decades served as the head of the community in Zloczew and labored greatly on behalf of the people of his town. During the time that he served as head of the community, the Jewish population in Zloczew grew and flourished.

Reb Yitzchak was a liberal man in his outlook, educated and progressive.  During the days of the famous culture war that lasted for many years, he stood on the side of the educated and, while not alone, it was on him to defend the young men of the Bet HaMidrash from the fury of the envious Hasidim. Sometimes, he was imprisoned by the authorities on security grounds because of the rumors that revolutionary books were in the hands of the young men (the authorities, as was known, were very sensitive in this area). Reb Yitzchak Wolkovicz, may his memory be blessed, had to prove that the books were printed with the authorization of the censor (see what was written by Eisik Faiwlowicz, may his memory be blessed – “Origins of Zloczew Jews''- p. 19).

For the construction of the new synagogue, he dedicated his own resources and wealth. Visible to the worshipers in the synagogue, they were always in the presence of the many donations from the house of Wolkovicz. These took the form of sacred paraphernalia such as: cotton torah scrolls, tablecloths, etc. Over the complete length of the eastern wall, the women had hung a curtain (so as not to be disturbed by regular outbursts from the male congregants) that had written on its edges “Sarah Leah wife of Reb Yitzhak Wolkovicz.” One remnant of the sacred vessels in the synagogue that survived the flight after the Holocaust arrived in Israel with one of the townsfolk. The vessels had been made of copper, with handles all around the perimeter, by which the Levites grasped them at the time of the washing of the hands of the Kohens, before the “blessing of the Kohanim.” On the edge of this vessel were inscribed the words: “Donated by - Reb Yitzchak Wolkovicz”.


[Page 79]

Chederim (Hebrew Schools)
and Melamdim (Hebrew Teachers)

Dawid Grabiner

Translated by Bill Leibner

We had a nice tradition in Zloczew that continued for generations regarding children that had to start the cheder or Hebrew school. (The Hebrew school usually consisted of one room that also served as the living place of the teacher). When a boy reached the age of three years, the father would usually wrap him up in his large talith or prayer shawl (practically all were big) and carry him to the cheder that he chose for the child. There, the melamed and the other students would await the new arrival. As they arrived, a young student climbed up the stove with a candy in his hand. The father removed the talith and seated his son next to the melamed The latter would show the boy a page with the Hebrew alphabet. At that moment, the melamed gave a sign to the hidden student to drop the candy on the page of the alphabet. The candy fell on the page and the melamed took it and gave it to the new student. The implication was clear - that an angel from heaven had dropped the candy. The melamed would usually add that if the student will be a good pupil and listen to the melamed, the angel will always drop candy.

Elementary Melamdim

As a child, I started to study my Hebrew alphabet with the melamed, Pinhas Melamed, who was a native of the city. All the students called him by his nickname, “ Kave Kopf” or “ Coffee Head”. I do not know the origin or the reason for the nickname, but this was his name. Of course, nobody referred to him by his nickname in his presence. He had between 15-20 students that came from all segments of the Jewish population in the city. He was very devoted to his task. Money was not his primary concern. He was interested in the continuation of the Jewish way of life. He was not a strict teacher, but had a whip. When a student misbehaved or did not know his material, the melamed would usually ask him to take a whiff of the whip and with this the story ended. There was another elementary melamed, his name was Israel Dawid. There was also a rabbanit nicknamed “Die Toibe” that taught the alphabet to the girls.

Chumash with Rashi (Commentaries)

When a student spent several years with the elementary melamed and acquired the rudiments of reading the prayer books, some basic Jewish law, and some religious customs, his primary schooling was finished He now started a new cheder where the teacher taught the Chumash and Rashi commentaries This was a higher level of schooling. I started the new cheder with Reuven- the-Melamed. He was a strict teacher and sometimes slapped a student or yanked his ear etc… There were 15-20 students and each paid according to the family means. If a student's parents did not have the means, the father was exempt from tuition. There were other Chumash teachers in town, namely someone nicknamed “the koze” or the goat. Some people said that he was a bit on the lazy side. Once, the children played a nasty trick on him. When he was praying the “Amidah” and deeply concentrated in the prayer, some children silently attached a cat to his coat. On finishing the “Amidah”, he took several steps backwards, as is the custom, and stepped on the cat. Another teacher was named Dawid Shlomo and he was the best known Chumash teacher. Most of the children of a certain age attended his cheder.


[Page 80]

Gemarrah (Talmud)
and Tossafot (Commentaries)

Dawid Grabiner

Translated by Bill Leibner

After a number of years of Chumash studying, whereby the student acquired the ability to read Hebrew texts and Rashi script, his middle education was finished. He was now ready for the third level of education, namely the study of the Talmud. There were special Talmud teachers that had their own cheders. There were two teachers in Zloczew: Lozer (Eliezer) and Shaul Abba. Their students were already older boys that started their studies at 7 A.M. until midday when they went home to eat lunch Then they returned to the cheder where they remained until the evening. In winter days, the studies continued until the dark hours of the night and the students had lanterns to guide them home in the darkness. I still remember some of the meaningless rhymes that we recited heading home, namely “the life of Sarah is a long night, that is why we are starting to march tonight” (loose Yiddish translation).

The students were older and some did not pay attention or were distracted in their studies They did not remember or did not comprehend the texts. The teacher was not bashful and used the whip or even slapped the student. The melamed's or teacher's life was not an easy one. His wages were meager. Some of the parents did not pay on time or paid less than they were supposed to. The poor parents could not pay. Thus the teacher's income was always short and he was frequently forced to develop an extra source of income. The teacher Lozer dealt with dishes That is, his wife had a cart that was stacked with dishes. The students of the cheder would push the cart to the market where she would stand and sell her merchandise. The students would take their time returning to the cheder. Along the road, they would play with their pocket knives or roll steel rims. Students spent several years with the Talmud teachers. Then some would continue independently in their studies in the study center or “Beit Hamidrash” while others started to work to help their families.

Young Members of the Agudat Israel
On the right, Moshe Beser, Mordechai Mayerowicz,
Arie Faivelowicz and Arie Kshepicki

 

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