Pages 198-207

Three Rabbis from the Modzjitz Dynasty

Rabbi Yisrael, the Admor of Modzjitz, and his Nigguns

by M. Kipnis


Singing has always been the most important element in Hasidic life.

The Hasidic niggunim are always heard in the festivities of the Sabbath and holidays. They always express profound, limitless elation, happiness, agony and hope. The niggunim testify to the fact that singing became the utmost element of the Hasidic world.

It would be more accurate to say that Hasidic singing is a result of the Hasidims' religious flame, their devotion and enthusiasm, and from the Hasidic way of thinking. Therefore, their unique niggunim are one hundred percent Jewish, while the other forms of Jewish singing are questioned by critics and musicologists.

Who are the creators of the Hasidic niggunim?

They are not highly-educated composers, not just players and not theorists. They are also not those composers who add one note to another to create a song.

[See PHOTO-B32 at the end of Section B]

The source of the Hasidic niggun is in the Hasidic ecstasy, their devotion to the limitless highness. This infinite momentum is what created the Hasidic niggun, and therefore the song stands out in its power and attraction. This is why it makes such an exotic impression on them.

The Hasidic niggun is not technical. Its creator was and is the simple, God-fearing Hasid who knows nothing about sheet music, rhythm and scale. However, he has a feeling heart and a poetic soul, and these two are not susceptible to foreign dynasties.

There is no need to go through the entire history of tzaddik dynasties from sixty or eighty years ago or before, who probably had their own permanent singers to prepare for their Rabbi, songs for the Sabbath and the holidays. I know very well, as thousands of others do, names of niggun creators who worked in the near past at the Hasidic communities of Wohlin and the Kiev district as well as throughout Southern Russia.

It would suffice to mention Reb Yosef Metalna, Reb Dan, Avraham Leib Gabay of Hornostopol and others who enriched the Chernobil Hasidim with plenty of Hasidic music, which became famous and is sung today in every Jewish place and home.

However, history also tells us of many tzaddikim who obtained an important place in the Hasidic music. We know that the Tzaddik of Rizhin composed niggunim himself. A niggun that was composed by the Rabbi of Liadi was arranged by various musicians to be played by piano, violin and viola. He had other sects, religious and Hasidic, that composed unique niggunim that were distinct from those composed by other Hasidic courts. We know very well about the distinctive tone and color of Chabad's nigguns.

In the world of Hasidic nigguns, especially well known are the tunes by Reb Ahron Hagadol of Kerlin, which are prayer songs. The niggunim that he composed for the Passover Haggadah have an extraordinary dramatic power. Every sentence carries weight and profound content. The Tzaddik of Kerlin, in the eyes of Hasidim, is comparable only to Wagner in the eyes of the Germans. He developed the lyrics in the Hasidic niggun to a degree of a dramatic play.

The Polish Hasidim did not stay far behind Wohlin. There is a well known difference in the quality. In quantity, the Polish Hasidim are just as fluent as the Wohlin's, and it's possible that he Hasidic courts in Galicia and Romania were more gifted with imagination.

There were few tzaddiks who converted foreign melodies into Judaism, wrapped them with Hasidic garb, added to them a great idea filled with mystery, until the old melody transformed from its crude form and adopted a new, holy form, to be sung in the twilight hours of the Sabbath.

It seems that for the Polish tzaddiks, singing was one way of devotion and worshipping the creator.

Rabbi Yisrael of Modzjitz was the only one of Poland's tzaddiks that based all worship solely on nigguns. He created nigguns by himself, sang them by himself, and distributed them among his Hasidim through Poland's cities and towns.



B

As mentioned earlier, nigguns have always been an instrument for expressing Hasidic ecstasy, and one of the important elements of Hasidic life.

The Rabbi's court has always been the conductor of the Hasidic niggun. Around the court the Hassidim concentrated, and their devotion gave to the niggun, which inspired the court's singers.

Indeed, while in the rest of the Hasidic courts the singing was just one way of worship, the Modzjite Hasidim regarded it as a work unto itself.

Rabbi Yisrael, the Admor of Modzjitz, served as the high priest in leading this work. He himself composed the niggunim, he himself sang them, and he himself distributed them among his thousands of Hasidim.

The most interesting is: The Admor did not know the shape of a musical note. Modzjitz's niggunim were not published anywhere, but nevertheless were known among thousands of Hasidim. They were distributed by word of mouth with great accuracy, as sung by the Rabbi, and were given to the Hasidim with the explicit order to sing them as he did. Every note was considered sacred. Every nuance considered sacred legacy containing valuable hints and secrets.

The niggun legacy that the Admor of Modzjitz left his Hasidim is not small. It contains prayer melodies, song melodies and also imagined niggunim for every occasion. Among Hasidic circles, the “homeless niggun” is famous. The Rabbi composed it during the World War [first], when he was in Warsaw, when hunger and distress plagued the thousands of refugees who arrived in Warsaw looking for shelter and peace during the German attacks. The niggun is shrouded with legends. There are those who call it the “peace and war niggun”. Some say the Rabbi composed it when Emperor Wilhelm offered peace to England and France. Others call it “Song for David”, because the Rabbi used the melody to sing the Song of David on every Sabbath's meal.

The niggunim of the Admor of Modzjitz should not be presented as a new style of Hasidic songs. But many of the Modzjitz nigguns have a special movement, unique to Modzjitz. Not everyone can sing the niggunim in the same way that the Rabbi, in his profound and patriarchal authority, meant the to be sung. His version expresses heart break, sorrow and the Diaspora, endless compassion. The Homeless Niggun, which can be superior material for a large orchestra, expresses both joy and sorrow.

Modzjitz's niggunim are not an exception in the Polish Hasidic tradition, which expresses in song an upbeat movement, as if the orchestra was playing an upbeat military marching song. Such marching niggunim are sung to date in Hasidic homes at the time of havdalah [prayer at the end of the Sabbath], expressing a shift of mood from the third meal. However, a special color and magic characterizes the Modzjitz marching nigguns. After each group of rhythmic melodies, an admoric tone is felt. The march is interlaced with admoric notes and sounds.

This characterized also the Azkara niggun, or the 32-Link Niggun, which is widely known among all Polish Hasidim, and also is wrapped with lots of legends and stories.

According to Hasidim, this niggun was composed in 1913 in Berlin, when the Rabbi was undergoing surgery by Prof. Yisrael. It is told that after the professor operated on his foot, the Rabbi awakened and watched the city's majestic castles. He began to hum: “I shall remember God and sing, when seeing every city is built.” By creating a melody to this verse, he calmed his pains.

The reason for the influence of the general Western music on his large creations can be found also in the fact that the Admor of Modzjiyz liked the outdoors. It is said that once he preferred to ride in a horse-drawn carriage from Modzjitz to a nearby town rather than take the train. He wanted to watch God's greatness in nature. Hasidim tell that once when he rode in the forest, he heard a shepherd singing. He ordered the wagon driver to stop, listened to the singing, and ordered the wagon driver to go on. When he saw the puzzlement among his companions, he told them:

“You wonder why I stopped to listen to the singer? Wonder no more. When a person hums a melody, he confesses, and when a person confesses, he deserves to be heard. There is no difference who the confessor is, as long as he is a person…”

Such attitude to a person's singing soul should be attributed to a very high grade.

This Admor's perception of singing is characteristic, and no less interesting.



C

According to my research with old Hasidim and those close to the Tzaddik of Modzjitz, it seems that he inherited his talent for singing.

He was born in 1849 in Ratzionz to his father Shmuel Eliyahu, the Admor of Zvolin, who was a great singer and sang much with his pleasant voice. His grandfather was the famous Admor Rabbi Yichzakelah of Kuzmiere, who also was a singer and a great fan of music.

The grandson developed his singing talent since early childhood. When he was still a child he composed niggunim, but was unable to write them and therefore memorized them. He conducted services when still a boy and everyone who heard him was puzzled. When he was fourteen, he married a wife from Ozsharov and became the son-in-law of the then Hasid and rich man Reb Chaim Saul Friedman, who had a reputation as one of the great singers and prayers in Poland. Young Rabbi Yisrael was supported by him for fifteen years, during which he was totally devoted to Torah studies and singing. When it became time for him to earn a living, his father-in-law made him a merchant. But he neglected trade and devoted his time solely to singing. He spent days and nights with songs and niggunim as well as music. At that time he received the book Menatzeyah Bingginot [Conductor of Melodies] by Zvi Nissan Golumb of Vilna, and from it he learned everything that was to be learned about general music. By reading the book he learned that there existed a special script for writing music as well as a scale: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti. This was enough for him to understand fully the theory of music, all in his Hasidic way. Of course, he could not learn to read and write sheet music from Golumb's book, but he had a complete understanding of music. Then he spent much time writing his books Klalei Deoraita [Rules of the Torah] and Divrei Yisrael [Issues of Israel], which were publishing later. On the verse “K'chu mizimrat ha'aretz” [Take from the Land's Songs], from the Torah, he wrote a long article on music in kabala, in which he connected the seven basic musical note to the seven days of Genesis, to the seven planets, etc., and tried to develop the complex Hasid idea that is known to just a few. There he touched upon the octave: that the matter is not simple; that there are seven voices in the universe, and the voices got up one by one gradually, and when they reached the eighth tone, a new octave begins with the last tone of the former octave. From this he had a moral: when man is uplifted to the highest step of greatness, he must still remember the first note, the first day, when he was humble…

His father, the Admor of Zvolin, died in 1888, and Rabbi Yisrael was immediately called to replace him. He lived in Zvolin for one year, and one year later was admitted as Rabbi and Admor of the city of Ivangorod, today's Demblin, which is called Modzjitz by Hasidim to this day. The Hasidim bought him a luxurious mansion with a wonderful garden, and since then his songs were known in Poland as Modzjitz's nigguns. The mansion became a temple for the work of Hasidic niggunim. Every niggun that the Rabbi composed was received as sacred among the Hasadim. All admoric courts demanded from their singers to sing only Modzjitz's nigguns.

The Admor of Modzjitz was distinct among other Polish admors not just by his great singing power, but also by his behavior.

He received his Hasidim only in late hours. Warsaw Hasidim took that into account and arranged trips to arrive there late at night. They would arrive with their pieces of paper. The Rabbi would receive his Hasidim until three o'clock in the morning. In summers, when dawn was breaking, he would open the window after his sessions with the Hasidim, gaze at the garden, concentrate and hum several musical motives in silence. At that time, according to Hasidim, he was totally absorbed in the world of music. Indeed, all his tunes were composed at dawn. He would repeat the tunes during the day to his son, Yechiel Alter, who was also musically talented, and his son would distribute the songs among the Hasidim.

Hardly a day passed without his composing a new niggun. If he was unable to, he would be sad. One day he told his family, “Too bad. Today I lost some profound ideas on niggunim.”

Except for the 32-verse niggun Azkara, Niggun for the Homeless and Song of David, which I noted earlier, Hasidic circles know well his tunes for Shma' Kolenu [Hear Our Voice], Omnam Ken [Yes Indeed], and especially Kol Ma'aminim [All the Believers]. In this last song, he sang every verse with a different melody.

He became very famous not only as a composer, but also as a singer and service conductor. The Hasidim tell wonders about the prayer services that he conducted. He had a strong tenor and a wonderful trill. When he vibrated the middle notes, the walls trembled. His uniqueness was that he did not have to correct himself and repeat the same word (perhaps he should be a model for his other prayer services). He used to criticize hazzanim for pulling their voices and pausing in mid word. He used to say that they break the word because they had not grasped the idea.

Singing was so important to him that he used to compose a special melody for every wedding in his family. When the Rabbi's wife complained that she had not yet completed the preparations, he would say: As far as I'm concerned, there is not a problem. I already have a niggun.

In this manner the Admor shepherded his congregation for more than twenty years.

Before the war he became ill with his leg and was forced to travel to Prof. Yisrael in Berlin for surgery. Before the trip, a few admors came to bid him farewell. The Admor of Mamshinov told him, “Only on behalf of your singing, which brought back to Israel thousands of people, God shall give you health.”

During the war he lived in Warsaw and was seriously ill. But he was never weak. Hasidim say that only three years ago, when Dr. Cherkovski put a pad on his ill foot and cut in the live flesh, the Rabbi would hum a tune. Cherkovski once told him, “Mr. Rabbi! I've just told something to a cabinet minister. I cut in his live flesh and he cried bitterly. I told him: Shame on you. I have here an old Rabbi, and when I cut his foot, he sings, and you, minister, cry…”

Singing did not leave him even in his last hours.

Before the second surgery to amputate his foot, in the middle of the night, he ordered that candles be lit and that his family gather around him. When they came to his room, he stood up on the bed and said, “I don't see that it is possible for me to conduct services any more. My prayers and songs are not something out of hand. I would like to repeat all my niggunim the way I did them, without any mistakes.”

Because he was weak, he ordered his young son to sing all the prayers on the spot. Where he made a mistake, the Rabbi motioned with his hand, interrupted him and corrected the tune.

In this way his son repeated all his prayers and songs, including those of the high holidays.

Two days later, the Admor passed away. It was Kislev [about December] 1921, in Warsaw.

The Admor of Modzjitz was, if not one of the original creators of Hasidic music, then one of the major builders of the Hasidic music in Poland.



D

The Power of Modzjitz's Nigguns

(An interesting story I've heard from Hasidim)


The Admor of Modzjitz was especially good when singing at the last meal of the Sabbath. On the Sabbath eves and mornings he would let one of his sons or Hasidim sing. For the third meal, he sang himself, including Bnei Hechala, Yedid Nefesh and Mizmor Ledavid and other songs from his imagination. Usually he sang by himself. The Hasidim listened to him intently, capturing every nuance.

Except for the Hasidim who always filled the Rabbi's beit hamidrash, there were always many people outside, including non-Hasidim, who listened to the Rabbi's singing.

In Fort Ivangorod near the town, a military conductor, a senior officer, conducted the battalion's large band. Nobody in town knew that he was Jewish, and he did not tell his secret to anyone. He did not look Jewish. He was from the Tomsk district.

Once, at the time of the third Sabbath meal, the conductor walked nearby and heard from the distance a strange music. He stood near the window with the people outside. But the longer he listened to the Rabbi's singing, the more he became attracted to it. When it became dark, he entered beit hamidrash, stood at the corner and listened ever more intently, unable to leave.

When candles were lit, he was seen standing at the corner. The hall was abuzz: the fort's conductor was standing in a corner of the synagogue!

The conductor walked to the table and asked to approach the Rabbi.

The Rabbi agreed to speak to him after the havdalah, at the Rabbi's residence.

Immediately after the havdalah, when the conductor was asked to come in to the Rabbi, he came to the Rabbi with tears in his eyes, “Rabbi, I am far away in Russia. My parents were Jewish, but all my brothers became Christians, and I myself has already forgotten that I'm Jewish. But the Rabbi's singing awakened my Jewish soul. The more I concentrated on the Rabbi's singing, the more my Jewish identity became alive. Rabbi! I shall not leave this place. I need help, counseling, so I can feel Jewish from now on. I want to remain Jewish.” As he spoke, his eyes filled with tears.

The Rabbi comforted him an asked if the conductor still remembered a word in Hebrew, from a prayer or from the Torah.

“I forgot all, Rabbi.” Answered the conductor in tears. “I remember only a few words that a teacher taught me in my childhood. I can only say baruch ata [blessed are you], and that is all.”

“Go then home, and every morning, after rising, say several times baruch ata, and come back here in a few days.”

The conductor went home, spirited up. After two days he returned to the Rabbi with his wife.

“Rabbi,” he said. I did as you ordered. I repeated the words baruch ata in Hebrew, and so did my wife. Now I want the Rabbi to tell me something else.”

The Rabbi asked him to come closer, and agreed with him that from then on, he should observe the Sabbath, and that his wife would not cook on the Sabbath but on Friday. He himself should not ride his bicycle to the orchestra as usual, but walk instead. And that in general, he should try as much as possible to observe the Sabbath when off duty.

The conductor promised to obey, and began slowly to act like a Jew. His wife would light candles on the Sabbath eves, despite the fact that they lived with gentile officers in the fortress. She would draw the curtains so they could not see.

Thus the conductor became one of the regular visitors to the Rabbi's court. He would come every the Sabbath to hear the Rabbi sing during the third meal. He also used the Rabbi's tunes for his band. His band played in all the festivities and receptions for the army officers who would often come from St. Petersburg and Warsaw to visit the fort.

Passover drew near, and the conductor intended to observe the holiday lawfully. He asked the Rabbi about every detail, and what he was told he kept sacred. Regardless of the fact that he lived in the fort with gentile officers, he observed Passover, including the mitzvah of eating matzoth. He kept a servant at his home, who was a Christian soldier, and he was not allowed to eat hametz in his home.

Once, when the conductor ordered his servant to eat his bread in the hallway, an officer passed by and saw the soldier eating there. “Why are you eating outside,” he asked the soldier.

“I was thrown out of the house, because I am eating bread. The conductor eats matzoth like the rest of the Jews.”

“What” asked the officer. “The conductor is a Jew who throws his Pravoslav soldiers out of the house?” The event upset all the officers in the fort.

After three days, the conductor received a letter from the battalion commander, in which he was told that he should leave the fort in two weeks, and that he was allowed to look for another job.

After receiving the letter, the conductor ran to the Rabbi and told him about the situation. He also told him that he was teaching the battalion commander how to play the viola. He asked if he should still go to teach him, despite his being fired.

The Rabbi advised him to give the lesson to the commander as usual, and ask him during the lesson to explain the reason for his firing.

So he did.

When he was seen at the door, the commander shouted at him: “How dare you come to me? You must know the rage that you caused for being Jewish and eating matzoth, and throwing out the servant soldier during a Pravoslavic holiday, without letting him eat at the kitchen.”

“Please, commander, let me say my words.”

“Well, say what you have.”

The conductor told him his life story, that he was born Jewish and almost forgot his Jewishness. But that he once walked by the Rabbi's synagogue and heard him sing, and thus was transformed. And that since then, he was influenced by the Rabbi to a degree that he feels like a real Jew, observing the law and unable to act otherwise.

“Is it true that the Rabbi's singing persuaded you to return to your Jewishness? The commander asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“Then I would like to hear it myself,” said the commander.

“I shall play the Rabbi's tunes for you with the violin, if you agree,” said the conductor.

The conductor took the commander's violin and played on it the Rabbi's songs including all the Hasidic nuances and wrinkles and all their soul searching.

The commander listened intently. After the conductor finished the playing, the commander went to his desk, opened a drawer, took out a sheet of paper, and said: “Look,” said the commander. “This is the report of your dismissal which I wrote today to the authorities. I am tearing it in front of you. The Rabbi's music is indeed majestic and religious, and can influence also those who are not Jews. It also touched me, and I am Christian, by its enchanting beauty. Do no worry. You are to continue your work as a conductor. And I would like to know this Rabbi.”

The conductor remained at his job. He would often be seen with the commander walking by beit hamidrash, both listening to the Rabbi singing bnei hechala and yedid nefesh .

The conductor continued to behave privately as a complete Jew, under the commander's protection, without fear. When his wife gave birth to a son, ten Jews were called to the fortress. The Rabbi was the godfather and a mezuzah was affixed on the door.

The commander himself became a great fan of the Rabbi's music. When the Rabbi celebrated his grandson's marriage, and the conductor asked the commander to allow the military band to play all night at the Rabbi's, the commander answered, “Not only that I allow the band to play all night, but I will come to the wedding myself.”

Indeed, the military band with the commander and the conductor came late in the afternoon to the Rabbi's court. It played marching tunes and many of the Rabbi's tunes.

To keep the peace among the thousands of visitors, the commander summoned his Cossack soldiers from the fort…

And so the little town of Modzjitz, by Fort Ivangorod, enjoyed the goodness of the Rabbi's music until the Great World War broke out.

(From the book, Hymn to the Hasidim, edited by M. S. Geshuri, Jerusalem, 1936)




Pages 208-212

The Life, Creation and Death
of the Modzjitzer Rabbi, Rabbi Saul Taub

by Shmuel Rotstein


The Modzjitzer Rabbi was one of the three greatest Polish Rabbis, who through a miracle, was able to survive the Hitler massacre. The Rabbis who were able to survive were the Modzjitzer Rabbi and the Amshinover Rabbi, Simone Kalish.

The death of the Modzjitizer Rabbi occurred on the historic day of November 29, 1947, when the United Nations, with a majority vote, created the State of Israel. The Rabbi, who was unusually devoted to the land of Zion, had visited Israel 5 times. But he, a religious authority, who, with a lot of energy had worked for the creation of the State of Israel, did not, however, live to take part in the celebration which surrounded the great day when the State was declared. He did, however, have the honor to be buried in Israel.

[See PHOTO-B33 at the end of Section B]

Among the religious Jews in Israel the celebration of the 29th of November was considerably diminished because of the death of this saint who was extremely popular there and had thousands of devoted supporters. “For wickedness the righteous perished”. Enough Jewish blood has been spilled in the Holy Land since that day.

The life journey of the Modzjitzer Rabbi would provide enough material for a tremendous biographical work. He went through a lot in his stormy life and more than once he drank from the cup of sorrow. He was, however, a man with a very strong spirit, full of spiritual strength, resolution and faith. He was deeply rooted in the Hasidim of Kuzmiere. He believed in the words of his grandfather, Rabbi Yechizkale of Kuzmiere, that even when something really tragic befalls you, this kind of blow can be worked into a fabric of mercy which will give a person the required strength and courage to bear out the sentence that life has given him. In this he believed the person who receives this kind of sentence receives strength to bear it out. “Blessed be he who is sentenced and persecuted” – this had influence over him and helped him to remain courageous and spiritually fresh, and from every sorrow that he lived through, a new melody was produced.

He was born on the 7th day of Succoth [the day upon which every man's fate is sealed in heaven], in the Hebrew Year 5649 [Common Era 1889], to his father Reb Yisrael, the first Modzjitzer Rabbi, the son of the old Zvoliner Rabbi, Reb Shmuel Eliyahu, and grandson of the famous Rabbi Yichzakelah of Kuzmiere, one of the greatest Hasidic teachers in Poland.

His father, Rabbi Yisrael, was a famous Hasidic personality who had thousands of supporters and followers. His books, “Articles of Israel”, about the Torah, “Laws of the Torah”, and others, were very popular, but the thing that really made him the most famous, was his songs which were distinguished for their originality and composed in an oriental style. Every song of the Modzjitzer is a prayer which brings forth from the person that which one is unable to put into words. The older Modzjitzer Rabbi, who never left the town, had never heard any modern music and the famous musicians and composers, with their immortal creations, were very strange to him; he didn't have anything to do with them. Given all of this, everybody wondered at how he was able to create with such artistry. In hindsight he was truly a quite phenomenal person.

Hasidim recount a whole list of documented incidents in which the elder Modzjitzer was able, through the power of his music, to bring them back to their spiritual roots, their Jewishness, these stumbling souls that were wandering, who later became true and very devoted religious Jews.

To the group of his famous creations belongs the “Azkara” [I Shall Remember], which went through a variety of changes and transformations until it came to its final form in Berlin, during an operation on the Rabbi's foot by the famous Dr. Israelis, and the homeless melody, a psalm of David, which he composed during the First World War. The Azkara is a very complicated composition, it's very seldom that it can be sung to do it justice. The Modzjitzer's Rabbi eldest son had for a short time made a short trip to Israel and he began to work on this composition as if he had a premonition that his days were numbered. He was though, the only person who was really capable to properly sing the “Azkara”.

The elder Modzjitzer died in Warsaw in the Hebrew Year 5681 [Common Era 1921]. At that time he designated his son Saul his successor, who had already held numerous Rabbinical posts in Poland. He was also a successor to his father in that he was someone who composed music himself, with comparable skill in his father's stead.

When he was very young, he had already become a Rabbi in Rakov near Kieltz. An individual with great energy, he undertook an enormous amount of activity on behalf of the community. From there he left and became a Rabbi in Kartchev near Otvotzk and at the request of his Hasidim he settled down in the renowned place at Otvotzk, near Warsaw, where he established his court.

The Modjzitzer Rabbi was engaged intellectually in both the study of things that are manifest and apparent as well as in the study of things that are hidden, both day and night. His Torah commentaries were distinguished for a variety of reasons, sharpness of mind and expertise, hints and gimatriyas [calculating the sum of letters in words so they an be compared with other words, for associating]. His writings were, however, destroyed in Poland, and this fact has been much lamented. Among his lost writings was a research monograph about his grandfather, the elder Kuzmiere wise man. He had worked on that project for many years. He was a very skilled writer. What he wrote was distinguished in both style and form. Only a little bit of his writing was published as a supplement to the “Articles of Israel” of his father's. An interpretation of the Haggadah from Passover entitled “Ashy Yisrael” and seven notebooks of his Torah commentaries and Torah sermons of his forebears with a great portion of notes of the Modzjitzer music, were published in New York with the name “The Glory of Yisrael”, while he was residing in New York.

Of course, when we consider the actual publishing of the Modzjitzer we should remember the strength of his musical creation. He possessed a very rare musical talent. He was able to know all of the events of daily life including things in his private life and give to them a musical interpretation. Thousands of songs, including operas, marches, waltzes, dances, verses and prayers found their way into his melodies he composed. They were quickly spread and sung by all classes of people throughout the whole Jewish world.

His court in Otvotzk was very popular in Poland. Thousands and thousands used to come on the high holidays and other holidays in order to hear his songs and prayers. Extra trains were supplied by the Polish rail authorities for the followers of the Modzjitzer Rabbi.

There, in Otvotzk, he founded a yeshiva where 50 students studied Torah under the guidance of famous Torah scholars. The students, every month, produced a journal with their writings about the Torah.

As has been said already, the Modzjitzer Rabbi was distinguished for his very close bond to Palestine. As soon as the First World War ended, he went there. He was warmly received by greatest Rabbis, the then High Commissioner Herbert Samuel and he prayed in the Ruins of Rabbi Yehuda the Hasid synagogue. Afterwards, the High Commissioner invited him to the palace and they formed a life long friendship.

After the first visit to Israel his bond to the land became even stronger. The melodies and songs that he composed in Israel were very important to him. From time to time he would revisit there and each time his arrival and his presence became a very important event for the community. In order to establish a firm position for himself in Israel 14 years ago, he established his eldest son, his substitute Admor, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu Shlita [acronym for “may live long, good life”] who lives in Tel Aviv and until the death of his father was a member of the Tel Aviv Rabbinate. The Rabbi himself before the outbreak of the Second World War had made plans to settle in Israel, but the world catastrophe wrecked his plans.

When the war broke out, he was one of the first to be able to flee. He sent word to all the Rabbis who were in Otvotzk, but only one of them was able to respond and in so doing save him, that was the Ameshinover Rabbi.

He endured a great deal on a long road of exile. He never ceased to tell the Hasidim what the Lord had done with him until he arrived in Vilna, and there in Lithuania, which had a reputation for its scholarship and antipathy for the Hasidim, he once again established his court which attracted not only Hasidic refugees from Poland but also Lithuanian scholars, who had begun to hum his melodies. The Modzjitzer Rabbi was invited to a variety of Lithuanian towns, like Kovne, Shavel, Ponevetch. Everywhere he came, his presence was an event of the highest order.

The Modzjitzer Rabbi was the first who left the Soviet Union by way of Japan to America and in so doing, he created an escape route for thousands. It was not just that he was able to succeed in persuading the Soviet authorities to give him permission to travel in this way and to leave the Soviet Union, but in so doing, he broke the lock of the borders. He was the messenger of good deeds who was able to break the Chinese wall which a president was able to do later. He was the first European Jew to arrive in Kove, in Japan, where he found a community of 12 Jewish families. He prepared them for a stream of refugees who would need to arrive in their land and would need to get a lot of help.

In 1940, the Modzjitzer Rabbi came to New York and settled in Brooklyn, in Williamsburg, and started a center for Torah Hasidic music. From time to time, he used to visit Jewish centers in the United States and Canada. Everywhere that he visited, it was an event of the highest order. He was able to wake the sleeping spiritual strength, to renew the spiritual inclination, the desire to do good deeds and the desire to study Torah. The number of his friends grew and included people from all walks of life and circles.

His longing for Palestine, which was a piece of his soul, didn't let him rest. The decision that he had made before the War, to go to Israel and settle there, to build a new center for Hasidic studies, constantly drove him and reminded him until he left his house and family. In the month of Tamuz [June-July] in the Hebrew Year 5707 [Common Era 1947], he came to Palestine.

His friends and followers enthusiastically welcomed him at the airport in Lod, where there were gathered hundreds of people, among them respected Rabbis and Hasidim who welcomed the Modzjitzer Rabbi with a Modzjitzer march and dancing. He stayed in Tel Aviv for several weeks where he lived with his son, the present Rabbi, and held forth at a table in the Talmud Study Hall, with the attendance of hundreds and thousands of people. When he used to go out of his dwelling to this Talmud Study Hall, hundreds of his followers would accompany him through the streets of Tel Aviv, with song an with joy. He himself, the Rabbi, was in a very joyous mood, and he composed new melodies and gave a lot of commentaries and was inspired by the fact that the day was coming closer when Palestine would be in our hands.

His hit songs were the melody which he composed on “Simcha LerTzach” and the very heart felt composition that was composed to the prayer, “Joy for your Land”. “He acted not for our sake but for yours, and do not destroy the memory of our remnants.”

He also spent several weeks in Jerusalem where the same enthusiasm that had greeted him in Tel Aviv was evident and afterwards, Haifa and Pentach-Tikva. Hasidim even bought a site in which to build the Rabbi's court in Ramat-Gan, near Tel Aviv, but the sickness which had long been nesting in him suddenly showed itself in a very stark form. He became weaker by the day, but nobody, even the doctors, believed that his days were numbered. The preparations were underway for the high holy days, where he was going to pray in one of the greatest synagogues. But later he wasn't up to it and instead his son stood in for him and prayed at the ceremony, Rabbi Eliyahu Shlita, from which the Rabbi had great pleasure. His crown is given to his son.

He felt better on Succoth. The last day that he held forth before an audience was at a banquet, on the first day of Succoth. It took all day until evening, together with Simchat Bet Hashuvah [a ritual of the second holiday of Succoth], the whole thing lasted more than 8 hours. The Rabbi gave a lot of Torah commentary and sang with great spirit as if he had a premonition that this would be the last time.

After the holidays his sickness became worse. He lost he ability to speak, but his mind was very clear up to the last moment. He would kind of hum to himself the sounds of his melodies which he wasn't really able to actually sing out. He did that until he died, in a day of general celebration for the creation of the State of Israel.

At his open grave, his son Shmuel Eliyahu Taub was present, and he noted the great virtues of his father. In spite of his arrogance in the Torah, he nevertheless continued the tradition of Modzjitz as both a composer and a religious scholar.

Table of Contents | Next Page



This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Deblin, Poland     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Osnat Ramaty

Copyright ©1999-2014 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 02 Sep 2001 by OR