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[Page 232]

More Bialystok Maskalim [followers of the Enlightenment]
Authors and Dignitaries

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Reb Yakov Borukh (BACHRACH)

Rebbe Yakov Borukh is the well-known author of the scientific books: Ha-yahas Liketar Ashuri [a], Ishtadalut im ShaDal[b] (Warsaw, 5656 [1896]), Avur Yekhezkel Yerakh Lamoadim [c] (Warsaw, 5657 [1897]), Hamasa Le Eretz haKodesh[d] (Warsaw, 5644 [1884]), Hagahut Laturim[e]. He was born in 5584 [1824] and died here in the year 5659 [1899]. Here he compiled his books. He was a grandson of the Rabbi and Gaon [Torah genius], Reb Yehuda Borukh, Rabbinical Court Chairman in Sejny, the author of Nimukey haGri”B[f] on the Talmud and Mishnius [commentaries on the Talmud].

 

Yeruchem-Fishl SZNEIDER (or Yeruchem-Fishl MERCHAVYA)[1*]

Yerucham-Fishl SZNEIDER is a Bialystok native. He was the author of Kortov Philosophiya Orginalit[g] Drohobice, 5658 [1898]), Perush Mishley Shlomo[h], Perush Diverey Kohelet[i] (Warsaw, 5664 [1904]), Mishley Reb Levi bar [son of] Khama[j] (Hotza'at Everiya Publishing, Warsaw, 5690 [1930]), in Beis Medrash Khodesh, in HaTzefira [The Siren - Hebrew daily in Pale of Settlement] and in haKetuvim [The Writings – the third section of the Tanakh]. He settled in Eretz-Yisroel.

 

Avraham ber Nisan SCHAPIRO

Avraham ber Nisan was born here in Bialystok and was a merchant and manufacturer here. He translated a book by Prof. Karl Reklem about children's hygiene, Netivot Chayim Lefi Derech haRefua'ah, [The Paths of Life, According to the Ways of Medicine] from German into Hebrew (Warsaw, 5647 [1887]). He wrote Toldot Yisroel veSafruto [History of Israel and Its Literature], part 1, (5652 [1892]) and Toldot Yisroel [History of Israel], part 2 (Bialystok, 5681 [1921]). This work has a very limited significance.

 

Yehiel Mikhail ZABLUDOWSKI

Reb Yehiel Mikhail ZABLUDOWSKI, a son of Haim ZABLUDOWSKI and the brother of the rich man, Itshe ZABLUDOWSKI, was the first Bialystoker who was learned in Hebrew.

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He was called Khinke's Mikhale here [in Bialystok][2*]. He was the pharmacist in the pharmacy that is still found on the corner of Sienkiewicze and Pilsudski Streets. He owned the Rogowe house, the location of the pharmacy, and the square with the brick wall following it. He wrote the books, Ru'ach Chayim [The Spirit of Life], (including commentaries on the Babylonian Talmud) (Vilna, 5633 [1873]), Mish'an Mayim [The Support of Water][22] (Vilna, 5629 [1869]). The last two books explore Hagadus [tales] and Midrashim [body of post Talmudic literature] and explore their Latin and Greek words.

He also wrote scientific tractates for HaKarmel [The Carmel]. His three books were earlier printed there in the years 5621, 5622 and 5623 [1861, 1862 and 1863].

He was very prominent in the city and a philanthropist. Eliezer HALBERSZTAM wrote about him (in his Aley Higayon Vechinor[3*], page 97): “Yehiel had within him a reservoir in which were gathered faith, wisdom and a gentle spirit.”

The form on his headstone is thus: The wise rabbi, a man of charity and compassion, with a sharp eye, our honored teacher Reb Yehiel Mikhail son of Reb Haim ZLABUDOWSKI, may the memory of the righteous be blessed. Wholesome piety, compassion, goodness and mercy, integrity and a sense of justice, pure faith – who has gathered all these in his delicate soul? (His writings): Ru'ach Chayim – [The Spirit of Life], Bemey Michal [In the Waters of Mikhail], Mish'an Mayim [The Support of Water]. With many legends and commentaries he enlightened our eyes; on his right he kept the banner of the Torah and on his left the candle of Science. He scattered his fortune among the poor and the humble and cared for the needy with justice. He named his people 'a jewel', his community 'a crown', the ZLABUDOWSKI family 'a flawless splendor'. He left three thousand for the poor. This memorial is erected for the man who shall rest in peace here in his grave; he was born on 22 Tevet 5564 [6 January 1804], died on 1 Kislev 5635 [10 November 1874]. May his soul be bound in the bond of the living.

 

Dodie ZABLUDOWSKI

Of Yehiel-Mikhail's three sons – Feywl, Yisroel WOROSZILER and Dodie – the last was considered one of the most beloved Jews. He was good with languages and also a legal scholar. He spent a long time in Paris in order to lead a vast inheritance investigation for Buez RABINOWICZ, a rich Bobruisker man, for him to collect his legacy from his convert grandfather, which he also accomplished. He was also a great community leader and advisor for everyone here. He was also beloved by Reb Lipele. He traveled to Petersburg and achieved the liberation of Reb Lipele from arrest in Grodno.

At his death, HALBERSZTAM wrote:

“They bitterly cry out at their loss
In him Torah and wisdom came together
In him religion and intelligence met
And many sought his advice and common sense
He knew the Lord's telling power
In his way of life
There was no distortion
A real man among others
One in a million.”
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The form on his headstone is thus: This is the tomb of the great and wise scholar. The previous generation proclaimed his virtues and righteousness, this generation proclaims his praise and fame; his great wisdom earned him a good name, and he shall live eternally in Heaven.[4*][23] He is praised for his good name and splendor, and respected by all the people of the town, honored in wisdom, knowledgeable in language, our master and teacher David son of the Rabbi Reb Yehiel Mikhail ZABLUDOWSKI, died on Sunday 22 Tevet 5645 [9 January 1845].

 

Reb Haim WITKIND

Reb Haim WITKIND was a son-in-law of the local, respected merchant and member of the middle class, Reb Meir Elihu ZILBERBLAT, who was himself the son-in-law of the “Crown Head,” the Szerszewer [Chorzow] Rabbi. Reb Haim WITKIND was a shopkeeper all of his life. The main shopkeeper was his distinguished wife. Reb Haim was a Hebrew writer and a scientist, mainly of Midrashim and Agadot [Legends], may his name be blessed. He wrote reports and articles in the Hebrew newspapers. He published his Kevutsat Mikhtavim vaMishle Musar [Collections of Letters, Songs and Moral Proverbs] anonymously in 5633 [1873], which was distributed widely. After his death his Tzeror Michetavim [Bundle of Letters] was published[24] (Bialystok, 5674 [1914]).

However, he left a manuscript of his main work, which was his philosophy and new ideas on Midrashim, Sifra [commentary on Leviticus], Sifre [commentary on Numbers and Deuteronomy] and Mishnah [compilation of the Oral Torah], that at the time of the (First World) War was burned by his son in Lodz. This was a great pity.

He himself wrote about the worth of his speculation in his Tzeror Michetavim (pages 8 and 61): “I have a giant treatise of 190 sheets of paper on the Talmud Babylonian, Jerusalem, Sifra, Sifre, Mekhilta [commentary on the biblical books of Exodus and Deuteronomy], and Midrashim with a thousand ideas of [Shulchan] Aruch [Code of Jewish Law], Rashi, Tousefes [Supplements and additions – 12th to 14th century commentaries on Talmud], Ramban, ha-Rash m-Sens [Shimshon ben Abraham of Sens, a 13th century Talmudist], and the Vilna Gaon. I worked on this for 30 years and I am sure that when it would be published it would startle the entire rabbinical world. They would descend from their armchairs and would throw away their lawsuits and streimlekh [wide-brimmed fur Hassidic hats]; they would be astonished and acknowledge that their entire work in the field of Talmud had no worth.[25] I would even belittle him, meeting him in the Ohel Moshe [Tent of Moses], and I

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would bounce many of his innovations off him, but then, a number of them had scholarly worth. He was eccentric only in speaking and writing, and that was how we saw him.[26] However, he was a fine, ancient Maskhil [follower of the Enlightenment] and also a researcher.[27]

 

Menakhem-Mendl DOLITZKI

The well-known Hebrew poet and writer Menakhem-Mendl DOLITZKI was born in Bialystok in 1856. His father was the shoykhet [ritual slaughterer], Welwl. He became famous as a Hebrew poet with his first poem, Likuy Shnei Hameorot [The Eclipse of the Two Lights, in HaShahar [Dawn], in 1878 and in a separate edition in 1874 with Zionist songs – Al Chorvot Tzion [On the Ruins of Zion] , Veyaboshot Khanun [Gracious, Dry Land], Im Eshkachech [If I Forget Thee], Hayekar Vehanetzach [ Glory and Eternity], La'evel Kinori [My Harp is for Mourning], Shir Galut [Song of Exile]. He became a Hovevei Zion poet through these songs.

He also published literary writings: Betoch Leva'im [Among Lions – from Psalm 57:5] (1884), Mi-bayit um-i-Huts [From Inside and Outside] (1891), and a Hebrew letter guide, Shevet Sofer [Pen of the Scribe] (Vienna, 5643 [1883]).

He left Moscow, where he was a teacher of Hebrew for a time, for America where he dedicated himself to writing Yiddish novels in the Morgn Zhurnal [Morning Journal] because of the need to earn a living. It was hoped that he would become a great Hebrew poet. He died in America in 1931.

 

Yitzhak-Shlomo FUKS

Yitzhak-Shlomo FUKS was born in Bialystok in 1862. He was raised in Bialystok by his father Avraham FUKS who was known in the city as the Bodker Melamed, who was a great Biblical scholar and Hebrew grammarian. Later, Yitzhak-Shlomo studied abroad and became a Yiddish researcher. In 1893-1894, he edited the HaShakhar, a scientific monthly. He published a book in German – Die Bedeutung der Hebräischen Sprache für das Judentum [The Significance of the Hebrew Language for Jewry]

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(1887). He translated the book Ha-avdut [The Slavery] of the Parisian Rabbi Tzadek Kohan from French to Hebrew with his observations. He, also, translated LEWATER's letter to MENDELSSOHN.

 

Jakov-Shmuel FUKS

A brother of Dr. Yitzhak-Shlomo FUKS, Jakov-Shmuel FUKS was a Hebrew language journalist. He was born in Bialystok at the beginning of the 1870's. He edited haMagid [The Preacher or Narrator – Hebrew publication in the Pale of Settlement] from 1892 to 1898 (a weekly), and with Dr. A. GUNZIG the collections of ha-Eshkol [The Cluster] (1898-1912).


Footnotes

  1. History of the Assyrian Script Return
  2. An Engagement with ShaDal Return
  3. For Yekhezkel Concerning the Custom of Establishing the Months and Holidays According to the Moon Return
  4. The Journey to the Holy Land Return
  5. Corrections to the Turim [Pillars of Jewish law compiled by Rabbi Yakov Ben Asher] Return
  6. Reasons of the Gaon (genius), Rabbi Yakov BACHRACH – haGri”B is an acronym of his name Return
  7. A Bit of Original Philosophy Return
  8. Interpretation of Solomon's Book of Proverbs Return
  9. Interpretation of the Book of Kohelet Return
  10. Proverbs of Rabbi Levi bar Khama Return
  1. There is a letter to him in the letters of the Hebrew poet, Y. L. GORDON [Yehuda Leib GORDON, 1829-1892] (Volume 1, pages 135-138). Y. L. GORDON thanks him there for his book, Mish'an Mayim [Foundation of Water] and writes a neutral, scholarly critique. However, he places high value on the book. Return
  2. How can such a trunk as Yehiel-Mikhail Zabludowski wither, when his branch is still so fresh! Return
  3. His exchange with his brother's son in France in Tzeror Michetavim is interesting. The other one received a freer education in relation to Tanakh, in Biblical criticism. The other one denied Mosaic Law completely and all religious traditions. However, Haim WITKIND, a pious follower of the Enlightenment, intervened in his letter to reclaim him with his pious half scientific answers. But each retained his own views. The Tzeror Michetavim mentions many matters about the group, Hovevei Zion [Lovers of Zion – a national Jewish movement in Russia at the end of the 19th century; also known as Hibat-Zion], of which he was one of its warmest members here. He also wrote articles favoring Khibes-Zion in the Hebrew newspapers. He also published his discussions with Rabbi Meir-Shimkhah KOHAN about Hibat-Zion; they both prayed and studied in the Gemiles-Khesed Beis-Medrash. But Reb Meir-Shimkhah later became a member of Mizrakhi [religious Zionist organization] in Dvinsk. Return
  4. All of the Rabbis and Gaonim, apparently only in merit of the Torah, resisted the burning of this manuscript. Return
  5. As a young man, an ambitious person, I once played a trick on him: I knew that Reb Shmuel MOHILEWER was an opponent of all critical innovations in Tanakh and Talmud. I told him that Haim WITKIND, who was a supporter of Hovevei-Zion, and was his frequent visitor, said that from the Rabbeinu Hai Gaon [Hai ben Sherira, a medieval 11th century Jewish rabbi and scholar] to him no one understood the Mishnah. When WITKIND came to visit him, Reb Shmuel MOHILEWER said to him: “I heard that you are a great Torah innovator; tell me something of them.” He told him (most likely one of his best things). Having heard it, Reb Shmuel said: “These are innovations characteristic of a badkhn [wedding entertainer who recites rhymes]. You should not occupy yourself with such foolishness.” Return
  6. His commentaries on Midrash Rabbah were brought together with the volume of Torah commentaries of Reb Ahron Kronenberg and the Likutim [compilations] and Hosafos [supplements] to the book Behirat Avraham [Choice of Abraham] (Vilna, 5632[1872]). Return


Translator's Footnotes

  1. MERCHAVYA is a surname derived from the Hebrew word Merhaviya, which means God's space.Return
  2. Mikhale was either the son or husband of Khinke Return
  3. Upon a Ten-Stringed Instrument - The title is taken from Psalm 92, chapter 4: “Upon a ten-stringed instrument and upon a lyre, with singing accompanied by a harp.” Return
  4. The text at this point contains a question mark (?), which could indicate that the inscription on the headstone was difficult to read. Dodie is a diminutive of David. Return


[Page 244]

י”ג    M

Assimilation in Bialystok

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The Haskalah [Enlightenment] movement, which bestowed the Choir Synagogue and all of the writers of the Enlightenment, educated people – Bialystok born and new arrivals – and later also the extensive and widespread Russian People's Schools, middle schools, gymnazies [secondary schools], did not lead to any assimilation here in Bialystok in the direct and full sense, with its terrible consequences for the further existence of Jewry, as happened in other large cities.

In the 19th Century, Dr. ZOMER in his book, Das Judentum [Jewry], says that according to the communications of the Synod 58,582 Jews in Russia converted to Christianity during the 60 years from 1837 to 1897. During the course of the entire 19th Century 69,400 Jews in Russia converted.

When I arrived here, I met only one assimilated family and this was the family of Dr. ZILBERBERG, a Jewish Gorodski Vrats [town doctor], who would drive to the Choir Synagogue only on Yom Kippur for Haskores-reshomes [prayer for those who have died, said on religious holidays]. His two sons-in-law, the popular town doctors, Dr. TRILING and Dr. FARSZTATER, would stand apart from the community and not take part in religious and national life (Dr. FARSZTATER did not have any children and Dr. TRILING's children converted – outside of Bialystok). The second assimilated family was that of the apothecary, WILBUSZEWICZ, but the old apothecary himself was a co-founder and member of the Choir Synagogue and a communal worker.

The only convert among the Bialystok-born Jews was Dr. SHMERL HAJLPERN, the son of HESHL MIEDALSZCZIK, but he also was not much of a convert. He behaved as a Jew; he would speak only Yiddish and only live among and with Jews. He was a visitor of Reb LIPELE, was his doctor and was his intimate. Once leaving the rabbi, he met a girl who was going to the rabbi with a question. He asked her to tell him the question. He thought and said: “Kosher.” Upon arriving at home, the girl said what the rabbi had said. She wondered why the rabbi was wearing a short jacket [pious men wore long coats], although he was wearing a shtreiml (fur hat) on his head. The master of the house understood that something was not correct. He himself went to the rabbi and told him the story. Reb LIPELE understood that this was SHMERL's quiet work, although the question was truly a kosher one.

This SHMERL would recite Torah. He was a follower of water healing (hydrotherapy). He would say to his patients: “And the Divine Presence

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hovered upon the surface of the waters.” (Genesis, 1-2). He once came to Reb LIPELE to wish the rabbi a gut yom-tov [good holiday] on the first day of Succous [the Feast of Tabernacles] after praying, with all of the respected middle class, as was then the custom. He noticed that several upstart rich men were sitting at the table. He asked the rabbi a question: “Why had they instituted the reciting of memorial prayers for the dead on the holidays in a season of our gladness [designation for Succous] and inevitably disturbed the joy? Reb LIPELE answered: “Well! You say so.” He said: “Because on a holiday, those upstart rich men from lower strata dress up and take pride in their richness; we have the memorial prayer for the dead so that they will remember from where they came.”

The legend says that he was quietly given – at his request after his death – a Jewish burial.

During all of that time until today, according to my memory, only six to eight girls in Bialystok converted in order to marry non-Jews “because of love” (and, perhaps because of material interests) and, except for perhaps two, they became estranged from their families. In Bialystok, there are no converted men, even Jews with gentile wives, except for a numbered few[34], until today. There were cases of conversion in a few poor families: a certain cobbler, a shoemaker and a poor carpenter – and a few intelligent, very poor families at that time converted in Bialystok because of hunger and need. They were fooled by HORODISZCZ, the apostate missionary, (not a Bialystoker), who founded a trade house here of missionaries. He built a beautiful Baptist temple for the purpose with a philanthropic institution to support only poor Jews with food products and medical help by a son-in-law, who was a convert and a doctor. He had large sums of money in his possession that he received from English missionaries for this purpose. In addition he agitated in Bialystok and all of Poland through couriers, brochures and money in order to enlist converts However, his work was useless; the small “percent” that his business carried were certainly not worth the great cost to him, despite the fact that the owner and leader of the soul trade did good business – for himself. Here the converts, fabricated by the inferior missionary

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trade, cannot count as a result of assimilation, but of hunger, need and money interests.

True, before the war a small circle was formed here of the diploma-holding and moneyed assimilated intelligentsia, who fought the national and Zionist movement in Bialystok. They stood apart from the Jewish religious life. They founded their own daily Russian newspaper. They also were not earnestly, actively assimilated. Only because of unconscious chance and because of their education in foreign literature and ideas were they estranged from Yiddishkeit [the Jewish way of life], but in essence they were good, devoted Jews. For the most part they worked with and took part in money levies of all of the philanthropic and cultural institutions. They lived among and with Jews. No converts came from their families in Bialystok. Today almost all of them contribute to the Keren HaYesod [central financial fund of the Zionist movement].

One exception at the end of the last century (18th century) here was DOWID CHWOLES, director of the Vilna Bank and, later, of the Riga Commerce Bank. He, himself, was from Vilna and graduated from the rabbinical school there. He was a teacher at the beginning and, later, through patronage, he became the director of the Vilna Commerce Bank in Bialystok. As a bank director he was one of the influential people. His bank was the main force for progress in local trade and industrial life. However, he was considered outside of society in the Jewish kehile because he authored two Russian brochures to show the destructiveness of the Jewish religion for the Jewish people and he blamed it for all of the Jewish troubles. He dedicated these two brochures: The Pathological Side of the Jewish Question and The Nature of the Jewish Question to the Provoslavno Archmandrite [supervisor of abbots] of the Suprasler monastery. With this he showed his traitorous character to the Jewish people and to Jewry.

Usually the Jewish newspapers of that time, such as HaMelitz [The Advocate] and Voskhod [Dawn] and even the general Russian Petersburg daily newspaper, the Galos, considered his brochures as lampoons against Jewry and stamped him as an enemy of the Jews[35], but in Bialystok itself he made no impression with his brochures.

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Theoretically he was assimilated, but actually he would pray in the Choir Synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and religious holidays like all Jews, and on Yom Kippur he would buy the Maftir Jonah [last part of the Torah reading on Yom Kippur] for the afternoon service and would eagerly read the Haftorah [supplemental reading from the Prophets]. He would also celebrate the Passover Sedorim [plural of Seder – the traditional Passover dinner ritual describing the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt] and deliciously recite the Hagadah [text used for the Seder] like all Jews and he had no influence over his assimilated sons-in-law even in his own family, who remained devoted Jews. His son, L. D. CHWOLES, was one of the good community workers here in the Jewish institutions[36]. DOVID CHWOLES died here in 1906[37].

The answer to the question, why did the assimilated here not bring the bad practical results as in other large cities in Poland, is simple: until the [First World] War, Bialystok always was two-thirds Jewish, that they were the tone setters and predominant force in its trade and its industry, and the intelligentsia with diplomas were also Jewish. The Christian third of the residents consisted of Russian officials, bribe takers, who lived off the Jews, of Polish and German workers, a few simple petit bourgeois and several intelligent German manufactures. Jewish society was always the active constructive part of the population and had inevitably built a separate, creative society for themselves: a male convert, a female convert was always hated by society, ejected from it.


Footnotes

  1. Let us here remember one, a certain GRADZIENSKI, who was a Provo-Slavner [Russian Orthodox]. His sister also converted and married a Russian officer. A brother, who remained here alone and poor and was ashamed of such a family, took his own life.

    Of the rich men, ITSHE ZABLUDOWSKI's family converted; a son and daughter of DOVID BEN [son of] MEIR ZABLIDOWSKI, that is, the rich man's two great grandchildren. Return

  2. Reb SHMUEL-JOSEF of Vilna (who was one of the four gabbaim [persons assisting in the running of a synagogue] of the Hovevei Zion[Lovers of Zion] after the Katowice meeting, came here to Rabbi SHMUEL MAHILEWER for a meeting about Hovevei Zion matters, among them Petar Tikvah, which were very bad then. Because of this, a colonist, a courier for the colony, an educated Hungarian Jew named YEHOSHAYA SZTAMPFER, came to Bialystok. We, the representatives of Hovevei Zion, DR. CHAZANOWICZ, YAKUB WOLF and I, went with SZTAMPFER to visit Reb SHMUEL-JOSEF FIN, who was staying with the apothecary WILBUSZEWICZ, his close relative. SZTAMPFER began to explain the situation of the Eretz-Yisroel population in general and Petar Tikvah in particular, when CHWOLES came to visit his former teacher. He sat down among us. He sat as if on hot coals, having to listen to SZTAMPFER's long lecture until he could not hold it in any longer and asked SZTAMPFER: “But why are you speaking at length?” FIN answered him: “Because we are interested in all the particulars.” Later, when he could not wait until the end, he said goodbye and asked FIN: “How do you like my brochures?” He answered: “You write in Russian very well.” He lowered his head and left. Return
  3. See Bialystok Almanac, 1931, page 222. Return
  4. There is a story about a dispute in a local society between DOVID CHWOLES and his townsman, MENDL LEMBERG, who was an enlightened Jew as well as a local resident (his house – on Pilsudski Street – today belongs to GORDON's heirs; he had a liqueur factory there). The first thundered against the Jews and the Jewish religion and the second defended Jews and Jewry. In the end, LEMBERG said: “We are both truly correct. I will give you an example: Once the domestic animals came together to judge their owner. The pig stood up and blamed the owner for the large amount of dirt all over his house. The dog stood up against him and answered: 'Your spot is on a dunghill and gutter. Therefore, you see only dirt all over. But, I, his devoted intimate companion, come into his parlor, office and bedroom, and I can assure you that our owner is the cleanest man. You come from Vilna's lowest, dirtiest place, therefore, you see everything with your dirty glasses, but I come from a great Vilna heritage, I see things with Jews and Jewry as they truly are.'” Return

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