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[Page 71]

Episodes

By A. Kostrometski [=A. Ben Ezra]

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translators comments in square brackets]

 

A. The Dispute = [מחלוקת[

[Shoykhet = ritual slaughterer. Shokhtim = ritual slaughterers.]

[Misnogdim = opponents to the Hasidic movement. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misnagdim]

[dintoyre =lawsuit before the Rabbinical court]

When one asks an elderly man from Horodets: “Do you remember the dispute?” he would understand immediately that one means the well known dispute in Horodets about the shokhtim. This dispute continued for about a year (1892-1893), left an impression on the surrounding towns and shtetls and reached even R' Yitskhak Elkhanan. [a Rabbi from Kaunas]

This was not a regular dispute like the disputes that took place in Jewish communities. It was not about this or that shoykhet. That dispute was the climax of the old hatred between Hasidim and Misnogdim in Horodets.

Horodets was a Hasidic stronghold for the Karliner-Stoliner dynasty. Their Rabbis visited Horodets quite often as they had there absolutely fervent adherents. As a result, the Karliner Hasidim had a strong influence over the community-life in Horodets. Their influence was mostly marked in the arrangement of the klekoydesh [he religious personnel]. Admittedly, the Rabbi was not a Hasid but nor was he a fighter against the Hasidim. Therefore, the Hasidim were in charge of half of the slaughtering. In other words: the Hasidim had a Hasidic shoykhet and all that was slaughtered in the shtetl was in cooperation with the “municipal” shoykhet-cantor.

At least there was an understanding. However, the Misnogdim showed contempt for this agreement. The Hasidim, on their part, looked for flaws in the Misnogdim's shoykhet. I was told that a hundred years previously there was a shoykhet by the name of Shmuel. Shmuel used to give out lucky charms, for which he charged money. The Hasidim used this fact as a pretext and the shoykhet had to resign.

Later on there was a shoykhet-cantor by the name of R' David. He was a quiet and honest man who kept himself at a distance from the dispute. For a while it was quiet in Horodets. 70-80 years ago, there was a shoykhet by the name of Yirmiyah Zerakh, a zealous Misnoged who extremely despised Hasidim, and naturally a dispute could not be avoided.

It is told about Yirmiyah Zerakh that when he heard that his son, Itshe Meir, had become a Hasid, he made a krie [tearing of clothes as a sign of mourning over the dead] and sat shive [seven days of mourning]. That son, some years later, became a Rabbi in Retsitse, in the Minsk region. God “punished” Yirmiyah Zerakh, and his second son, Pinye, became a Kobriner Hasid – Pinye the Butcher…

A clash arose between the Hasidim and the Misnogdim. One day, the Stoliner Rabbi, R' Aharon (the “Old Rabbi”) arrived in Horodets. The Misnogdim damaged the mikve [ritual bathhouse; pool for ritual immersion] so that the Rabbi would not be able to immerse himself for purification.

On the Hasidic side, the shoykhet R' Eliyahu Yankl is well remembered. He was a great scholar and knew by heart the entire ש”ס [six books of the Mishnah – the Talmud]. When he was seventy, a “rebellion” started against him actually from among his own followers, that is: his own Hasidim. The leader of that “rebellion” was the young man Asher David (look up the article about R' Asher David), Yankl Khasid's son-in-law. He claimed that R' Eliyahu Yankl was too old and should not be permitted to slaughter.

In the end, the Hasidim sent away Asher David for a year to study slaughtering in Pinsk, at their expense. Until his return, they supported his wife and children.

When Asher David returned from Pinsk with a diploma for ritual slaughtering, the real dispute flared up. The Misnogdim seized the opportunity to reckon with their enemies: “How is it possible that a young man should share in equal part with the town's old shoykhet”?

The “municipal” shoykhet-cantor was then Moshe Meir. He could teach well but he also knew very well the business of creating a dispute. He led a campaign among the Misnogdim that the Hasidim should get a third of the income from slaughtering.

What was the income based on? Besides a payment, the shoykhet got a kishke [guts] with shmalts [fat] from every slaughtered cow.

The Misnogdim influenced the non-Hasidic butchers not to engage the Hasidic shoykhet, guided the cantor to defeat the Hasidic “whims”, and, of course, see to it that he also got the kishkes. When they gave Asher David the opportunity to slaughter a calf, the kishke was quite small. It was the small kishke that ignited the fire: “Why shouldn't Asher David get the same part of kishke as the cantor?”

The Kobriner Hasidim were caught between the two fires and it is safe to say that they were neutral. The reason was as follows: they did not occupy the appropriate peak in Hasidism. The dynasty of their Rabbis was quite young, only the third generation of Rabbis. Their first Rabbi, R' Moshe, was neither a Rabbi's son, nor a Hasid. In addition, the number of the Kobriner Hasidim was small. They were not deeply rooted Hasidim and many of them were former Misnogdim. They lacked the pride and devotion that the real Hasidim possessed. It was only natural that they did not join the Karliner Hasidim. The Kobriner Hasidim were entirely confused. It posed for them a grave problem whom to join. Therefore they took a passive stand.

The Hasidim clamored, came to Rabbi Yehoshua Yaakov Rabinovits and demanded justice, to return to the old agreement. The Rabbi found that the Hasidim were right about this issue. He sent the shames to the shul to declare a ban on the cantor's slaughtering, as well as a ban on imported meat to Horodets, until they arrived at a settlement.

There was a great commotion in the shtetl. Women came to ask questions about what to do with the dishes in which they ate the banned meat. Many people threw out their pots and plates that they had used when they did not know about the ban. There was no meat in the shtetl. The Misnogdim became vegetarian, for the time being, and the Sabbaths dinner were dairy.

Melancholy descended on Horodets. The Sabbaths were marred. Fathers and children sat at the Sabbath table to sing songs and suddenly there was no singing. What was the matter?

How could they sing “Meat and Fish” when it was not permitted to look at meat, and instead of meat they ate sour-milk with cheese, sorrel [a vegetable] and the like? Where could one get a piece of meat?

The fire of the dispute was re-kindled. The Misnogdim realized that the Rabbi supported the Hasidim. The more extreme Misnogdim called everybody to a meeting, just to spite in the Rabbi's house, to pressure the Rabbi to revoke the ban. In their excitement they lost their moral balance. The Rabbi, aware that he was representing the function of justice, did not want to yield to the heated assembly.

Many Rabbis with R' Yitskhak Elkhanan intervened in order to bring peace. Only when the Misnogdim agreed to dintoyre [lawsuit before the Rabbinical court], did the Old Rabbi call off the ban. R' David'l from Antipolye attended the dintoyre, from which the Hasidim came out victorious.

Afterwards, when the verdict was published, the Misnogim's leader came to the Rabbi to apologize and ask his forgiveness. The Rabbi calmed them with some sharp Torah-jokes and gave them his blessing.

With time, the stain between the Misnogdim and the Hasidim in Horodets disappeared entirely and peace and quiet prevailed.

 

[Page 72]

B. The Ta'are Bret

[The board on which dead bodies are laid for cleansing before burial]

[Parts of this chapter, the dramatic ones, were written in the present tense by the author and I prefer to translate these parts using the present tense as well. HK]

In the second half of the 19th century, there lived in Horodets a Jew named Shmuel Kaliker [cripple]. He was nicknamed so because he on his two legs were crippled, almost paralyzed. He walked with the aid of two crutches. Mostly, he used to sit in one place. His hands were also not normal, distorted, Heaven preserve us. However, his mind was clear like crystal, and his natural understanding to analyze things was famous in the whole neighborhood. It is said that he was also versed in ש”ס [ש”ס =the six Mishnah books = oral Jewish laws; the Talmud]. He knew by heart the tractates of Baba-metsi'a, Psakhim and Khulin with the interpretations of Rashi and Ma'harsha. In addition, he knew grammar, Russian, Polish and knew a bit about medicine.

Not in vain was his house a center for people of various classes. From various towns people used to come to him for advice, to consult with him about various problems. For example: A Jew got a lease on an estate from a porets [gentile lord; landowner] for a certain price, naturally after a down payment of a certain sum, but the Russian government does not let him hold the lease. The Jew is perplexed: he gave the porets the down payment, believed him, and he does not have the lease. What should the Jew do? He comes to Shmuel Kaliker and is helped by his good advice. Or, a Jew sits in a village, manages an inn and makes a living. He pays the pristav [police commissioner in Czarist Russia] to be allowed to stay in the village, which was against the law. One bright morning he is told to get out of the village. It is bad. The Jew runs to Shmuel Kalike and gets some advice.

Wood merchants, grain merchants and merchants of other branches, all used to come to consult with Shmuel Kaliker. His advice helped all those who had heavy problems, and Shmuel Kaliker, with all his keen senses, familiarized himself with the problems of each individual. He received each and every person with kindness, and without any charge, as he himself was a man of means. He had a grain-store.

Shmuel Kaliker's house was a societal get together place. People talked to each other, there, and discussed local and worldwide questions. Whoever wished to read newspapers, could do it in Shmuel's house, both in Hebrew and in Russian. Besides Jewish books he owned book of science and literature. If a person wished to know whether his son had a good head, whether he understood tosfos [collective summation of Rabbis elucidation of issues in the Talmud] and Ma'harsha [interpreter] or if someone's future son-in-law was really something special, he would bring him to Shmuel Kaliker to test or appraise him.

Appraising or testing children made Shmuel Kaliker come alive, as he did not have his own children to test. He was childless.

* * *

Shmuel Kaliker left a will in which he bequeathed the larger part of his wealth for various charitable purposes. He appointed 7 guardians to carry out the will. After his death, when they opened the will, the guardians found out that the greatest part of the wealth was composed of promissory notes, debts from various places. They demanded from his wife to give them all that was left. However she handed them only a small part of what was left, and avoided handing over the rest, claiming that she did not know of any other articles except the ones she had handed over.

The guardians brought over the Antipoler Rabbi, R' David, to help the Rabbi of Horodets. The two of them sent the shames to the woman to summon to a dintoyre. She came with her nearest friend to the rabbinical court.

The Rabbis are sitting there, talking to each other: “A good name is better than precious ointment, and the day of death than the day of one's birth” (Kohelet; [=Ecclesiastes] chapter 7;1). This verse fits well the deceased – during his life he was notable for his good name and now for his will. They read out the will: a part for his wife, after her - the shul, the besmedresh, the Hasidim's shtiebles, the talmetoyre and other institutions.

The Rabbis call the shames to bring in the two sides in the dispute. The wife, Gutel, comes in. R' Hillel Karlinsky rises to his feet. He is the eldest guardian, their representative, also the gabe of Khevre Kedi'she [voluntary burial society]. The dintoyre began.

R' Hillel presents his claims. The Rabbis listen to him. Then, they turn to the woman to hear her response and at that they comment to her that the wishes of the deceased must be fulfilled. The woman answer that she knows of nothing else in addition to what she has already handed. The Rabbis speak to her again and say that if she does not remember, they will grant her time to try to remember. They take a break from the dintoyre for a few hours. The two sides and all others who are present come out of the court house. Yisrael Moshe, the cemetery attendant comes in. R' Hillel calls him to the side and commands him to go to the cemetery and bring from there the ta'are Bret to the Rabbi's house. Yisrael Moshe hears this command with great surprise. R' Hilled notices the effect on the man's face and says: “ Yisrael Moshe! Don't ask any questions! The gabe of Khevre Kedi'she is talking to you, bring the ta'are bret and put it in a side room so that no one notices it, and wait until I tell you what to do.”

Yisrael Moshe carries out the gabe's command and brings the ta'are bret to the Rabbi's house. Women in the street notice it and one of them asks: “Who has died?” Another woman answers: “Nobody died in the shtetl. He is carrying a soul from the cemetery on the ta'are bret.” “Whose soul? What soul?”, all the others ask in unison, and they follow Yisrael Moshe's to the Rabbi's house.

The Rabbis resume the dintoyre, tell the shames to call in the litigators, saying something to each other. The litigators come in. The Rabbis turn to them and say: “If it is difficult for you stand up, you can sit down. Only the two litigators can sit down. It is not allowed that one stands and the other sits.” The two sit down. Then the Rabbis ask the woman: “Do you have anything to add to what you said before?” The woman answers: “No, I don't know about anything else”.

Once again the Rabbis say something to each other. R' Hilled turns to them and says: “Allow me, gentlemen, to pose one question to the woman and address the question directly to her.” Again the Rabbis consulted each other and answer: “You can talk to her but do it very calmly, not with anger”.

R' Hillel starts: “Gutel, did you hear what the Rabbis said before, that the will of the deceased as he put down in writing is holy and must be fulfilled?” “Yes,” she retorts, “I heard”. R' Hillel continues: “Do you know that the deceased is present here in court and is waiting for your answer? You should know that Shmuel is here! Here, he comes!” then he calls out: “Yisrael Moshe!” Yisrael Moshe comes in with the ta'are bret.

All the people present get up bewildered, not knowing what is coming next. R' Hillel shouts at the woman: “Quickly, run home, bring everything here, Shmuel will be waiting here until you return. However, don't linger, don't let him wait too long.”

Gutel runs home. R' Hillel tells Yisrael Moshe: “You can take away the ta'are bret”. Whispering, he continues and tells him: “Hold the bret in the street and wait until Gutel returns.”

Gutel returns from her home with a bundle in her hands. She glances swiftly at the ta'are bret in the street, and runs into the Rabbi's house. The Rabbis are sitting waiting. She places the bundle on the table, says goodbye and goes home. Yisrael Moshe takes the ta'are bret back to the cemetery.

The guardians confer among themselves. They reproach R' Hillel for not having asked the Rabbis whether to do what he did. R' Hillel retorts: “Where there is a question there is also an answer. The Rabbis would surely not have dared to take such a step against the woman.” In the meanwhile the guardians sit and open the bundle, check everything inside and find it fits the sum of the will.

In the course of time, the Horodetser community leader collected all the debts, through it took a few years. With a part of the money they renovated the shul, repaired the besmedresh, sent children to melamdim and they divided the rest to cover various charity-matters. Shmuel Kaliker's name remained famous and glorified.

 

[Page 75]

C. A Blut-Bilbl [Blood libel]

Did you get to know Tshernetski? Do you remember that there was a gentile in Horodets, a cobbler, who spoke Yiddish like a Jew?

If not, I will provide you with additional signs: He had flecks on his face and he was a… drunkard. If not for his drunkenness he could be mistaken for a Jew.

One day the Kobriner Rabbi came to spend a Sabbath in Horodets, and Tshernetski came to the Rabbi to “celebrate” saying: “Bless me, Rabbi, that I should stop drinking”. The Rabbi smiled and said: “May God help you”.

I don't know whether God helped Tshernetski to stop drinking because Tshernetski did not help himself, like the saying: “God helps he who helps himself”.

Tshernetski did not stop drinking. He was drunk day and night. However he should be commended as good gentile and even when drunk he did not hit any Jew like the other drunken gentiles in the shtetl whom it was frightening to encounter.

It seemed that Tshernetski did not have a family. He was always seen in Jewish homes. During the day he used to work for Nakhum the cobbler and at night he used to sleep in the attic of Alter the Blacksmith's house.

* * *

One day, or rather one night, between Purim and Passover 1912, Tshernetski slept, as drunk as Lot [from the Bible], in the attic at Alter's house and suddenly there is a bang! crash! The household wake up 'neither-dead-nor-alive', jump out of bed, light a candle and start searching for whoever caused the loud crash. They discover that Tshernetski is lying at the entrance of the house. Not anybody else, but Tshernetski has fallen from the attic. They approach the man; they touch him as if they do not believe it is him.

“Lea” shouts Alter with restrained mood to his wife, “He is dead”.

 – “What should we do, Alter? The gentiles will say that we killed him.”

 – “Keep quiet, go over to uncle Lieber. He is a wise man. He will advise you what to do”, calls out to her their son, Moshe.

Without uttering a word, Lea covers herself with her shawl and leaves to cross the bridge to her brother Lieber.

 – “Open, open, it is I, Lea”, she calls out as she knocks on the window of Lieber's bedroom.

Lieber slides down from his bed and quietly opens the door, not to wake up the children, and whispers: “What is the matter?”

 – “Oy, we are in a mess; Tshernetski fell from the attic and was killed. What should we do? Where do we put him? All his life the gentiles did not want anything to do with him, and now they will all become his relatives and stick up for him, and that will fall on us and on all the Jews of Horodets. What should we do, my dear brother?”

 – “Calm down, my sister. Pack him in a sack and Moshe will move him somewhere near a grove and leave him there. Moshe is a healthy young man. He can manage it on his own and the less people – the better. The night is dark and nobody will see or hear.”

 – “OK, we will do that”

 – “And you know what else, my sister, travel straight to the Kholoz'shiner, and God be with you and with all the Jews.

Lea went home immediately, to deliver the advice. Indeed, on that dark night a sack with a dead body in it was left in a grove, and Lea traveled to the Kholoz'shuner to get his blessing

Things fizzled out. The floes melted. The smell of freshly baked matzos in the shvalnyes or talakes was carried to the street and market. Carrying the matzos one person commented to the other: “Have you already heard: Tshernetski was found dead. “It is said that he was in a sack. The gentiles say that the Jews killed him to use his blood in baking the matzos.”

 – “He is lying in the market near the administrative office until the police commissioner from Antipole and a autopsy will be performed on him”

 – “God will help us that it will be done and that all will end well. It is not a trifle: the world is full of blood libels. The Beilis trial [Beilis was a Ukrainian Jew accused of ritual murder in Kiev in a notorious trial] has poisoned the minds of even the best gentiles.”

And everyone hurries to his home as if he has committed some crime. It is better not to draw attention. Man and wife wish each other “May we eat our matzos with joy”.

Small kids feel that the days prior to Passover of that year are not like those of any other year. The joy of baking the matzos is missing. People walk with bent heads and the Rabbi has a melancholic mood more than ever.”

 – “Have you heard”, asks Yudl the melamed his wife Sarah Beile, “The gentiles say that the Jews strangled him and others add to it that we drained his blood and put it in our matzos.”

 – “Tell me the truth, Yudl, is there no law to put blood in the matzos?”

 – “What nonsense, don't you know that we are not allowed to eat meat that has even a drop of blood in it? How can you even think of such a thing? What does a Jewess know? How to pray teitch-Khumesh [A Yiddish version of the Pentateuch] and write down a short Yiddish letter.

 – The police commissioner is already here, as is also the doctor from Kobrin. Tshernetski is lying on the bare ground in the market near the administrative office, and gentiles – young and adults are standing around him. All of them watching the deceased and moaning over him.

 – “These dirty Jews”, cries one gentile.

 – “They killed our Tshernetski”, cuts in another gentile.

 – “They drank his blood”, helps him a third gentile.

 – “Jewish Passover”, screams a gentile woman.

The doctor attends to his job, cuts the abdomen, looks into the intestines, opens the skull, taps it, weighs it and measures it. At the same time the fate of the Jews of Horodets is being weighed and measured – for death or for life. Their life is now in the hands of the doctor. The gentiles sharpen their ears to hear the doctor's verdict. What will he say? Will he say what they say, or something different? Will they have a fling or will they return to their cabins and fields?

The doctor puts away the skull on the ground and sedately declares in Russian: “He was a drunkard. He fell down and battered his brain.”

The gentiles bowed their heads. One by one, ashamed, they dispersed. Only the deacon and Shakhnow the uriadnik [religious personnel] were left by the post-mortem examined body of Tshernetski. The deacon - to perform the 'rights' and the uriadnik – to see to it that no unholy event takes place.

In truth, nothing unholy took place and the Jews of Horodets breathed freely, went out of their houses again to prepare themselves for the beloved Holiday of Passover, for which they had waited a whole year.

[Ben Ezra comments that this event was reported in the American press at the time]

 

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