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Center of Learning

[Pages 89-93]

Rabbis and Religious Teachers

by A. Lando

Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi David Haymovitz

Lida was one of the small towns in Lithuania in which there lived famous rabbis of great knowledge of Torah. Rabbi Eliyahu Shik (“Reb Alinkah”), writes in the introduction to his book “Ein Eliyahu” (“The Eye of Eliyahu”) (a commentary on the book “Ein Yaakov”): “And after that events turned out that I was accepted as rabbi in the holy community of Lida which is the famous community and the city filled with rabbis, scribes, and observant”. And it seems, that this was not only a rabbinical figure of speech. As we shall see further we find evidence for that from the seventeenth century and the idea seems to be true that also in the beginning of the sixteenth century great personalities and scholars of Torah lived in Lida.

Reb Moshe The Exile (1449-1520)

The place of his birth is not clear: Shadov that is in Gamot, Tarov that is in the region of Kiev. He was a great scholar of Torah, a commentator of the Bible, a linguist and a cabalist. He was a mathematician and an astronomer of the cosmos. He wandered in his youth to a place of high learning of Torah – Constantinople. Among his educators and guides in general science studies was also the great Karaite scholar Avraham Bashitzi. When he was in Kiev in 1482 the Tatars attacked the city and his sons were taken hostage into the Crimea. He went to the towns of Lithuania to collect money for the redemption of hostages-his children. He stirred up a sharp controversy against the Karaites. He returned to Kiev and in the year 1495, when King Alexander drove the Lithuanian Jews out of the country, he went together with them, and it seems that here is the source of his name “The Exile.” After the Lithuanian Jews were permitted to come back, we find him in Lida in the year 1506, there he was captured and taken hostage (this time he himself) by the Tatars that attacked the city and he was taken to Crimea. He was freed by ransom paid by the Jews of Crimea, and became the head of the community of Kafa (Theodosia), where he was treated with great respect and honor, and there he died. About the time of his presence in Lida, we learn from a report from the great Karaite scholar Abraham Pirkovitz in his own handwriting in his manuscript “A Charming Treasure”, and this is what it says (word for word): “I am the man who saw the trouble when I was fifty-seven years old in the time of our Lord of the Duke Alexander in the year 1506 when the Tatars invaded the city led by Mohammed the son of their king, they came with a huge army to fight for the city of Lida, I was a native of the city of Shadov, I came there to do my holy work and I was also captured by them on the seventeenth of Tamuz in the house of God. I was deprived and taken away from all my dear ones and anything that belonged to me including my manuscript and they exiled me along with the other exiles of the city to Crimea the Kingdom of the Tatars. And we were ransomed by our brothers the rabbinical Jews and the Karaites (may God save them and give them life) may God remember them for good Amen, and I was privileged to do my holy work and I found what my soul loved here books...”

Not even one of the scholars of history that mention this report do not suspect Pirkovitz that he made it up himself (as is well known this scholar was suspected in that time of a few forgeries that he discovered and publicized – “The Famous Pirkovitz Collection” is kept in the museum in Leningrad. There is doubt only as to the real spelling the city of his birth: can we believe in reading Pirkovitz- Shadov, or to assume there was a mistake and it should say Tarov? What we learn from this: in the 1506 Reb Moshe “The Exile” lived in Lida, and there was, as it seems clear, a Jewish community and also a synagogue (“the House of God”). He came to this community “to do his work the work of God”. He does not mean that “the work of God” is necessarily the rabbinate. It is possible it is about an educational role to teach the children of the community or something similar. Anyway, the presence of such a prominent personality as Reb Moshe “The Exile” in a public religious position should be mentioned.

Reb Dovid Lida Born in 1640

All the writers of the history of the great rabbis of the Jewish people dedicate a special place for this original personality, of an important lineage of high quality, very knowledgeable in Torah, an author of many religious books and also an author of mysticism. But it seems that his main publicity came by a disagreement that broke out between himself and some of the Askenazic leaders of the city of Amsterdam. Only for several years did Reb Dovid serve in Lida but its name attached to him for the rest of his life and was also to his son Reb Petachyah. Reb Dovid was born, as said before, in the year 1640 to his father Reb Ariyah Leib, the head of the religious court of the holy community of Zevlin, which is in Vilna. His mother was the sister of the very famous Reb Moshe Rivkes the author of “Beer HaGolah” from Vilna. In the year 1671 he wrote and published his book “Divrey David” and in the same year he was accepted as the rabbi in Lida. From there he moved to Austrog and in 1677 he was called with great honor to Magentza as the chief of the religious court. After three years in this city where he wrote and published a few books he was elected and appointed as the rabbi, chief of the religious court, and the head of the yeshiva of the Ashkenazic community in Amsterdam. There he continued with his activity in writing rabbinical literature. About one of his books “Beer Mayim Chaim” on the Shulchan Aruch one of the greatest rabbis Reb Aaron Teomim testified: “Wonderful counsel, and great wisdom, grinding mountains, etc.” Reb Dovid wanted to live in peace, but the great controversy befell him between himself and one of the very important leaders of the community, Reb Nissen, who was also a descendant of rabbis. The community leader accused Reb Dovid that the words of Torah which he published in his book “Migdal David” are stolen and copied from another author from Aram Tzova, Reb Chaim HaCohen, and Reb Dovid related it to his own (“he wrapped himself with a talis that wasn't his own”). As the controversy spread, many of the powerful members of the congregation joined Reb Nissen and helped to pour oil on the fire. Suspecting Reb Dovid of Shabtaiism: in a song that Reb Dovid composed in honor of a special occasion his opponents discovered the words “tishbi yigalenu” and immediately they interpreted the word “tishbi” as a hint to Shabtai (by changing the order of the letters). Reb Dovid defended himself that these two words did not come from him and they are a forgery added by the printer. The controversy spread and spread and came to the mayor of the city and there was a lot of ugliness and shame. After this controversy calmed down for a while it erupted again in the year 1683 and this time the controversy included excommunication and cherem (shunning). Reb Dovid did not refrain from action and turned to the Four Lands Committee, (rabbinic leadership of four countries that were organized together). The rabbis of the committee excommunicated and put under cherem all those who attacked Reb Dovid. All that in a period that the Jewry of Holland still remembered the taste of other cherems, which did not add respect to the community. The Sephardic rabbis of the city of Amsterdam did their best to avoid the desecration of God's name and to quiet down the controversy. On the one hand they expressed anger at the rabbis of the Four Lands Committee that used the cherem on just evil talking and on the other hand they openly criticized “those who put God's words to shame and touch harmfully the dear young rabbinical scholar and those who put the blemish on the wholesome person who is great in Torah and God-fearing eminence of Reb Dovid of Lida…in all his suffering we suffer and anyone who is hurting his honor is hurting our honor.” But not for a long time did the land quiet. And as the controversy erupted again in 1687, Reb Dovid decided to leave Holland and return to Poland. He settled in Lvov and there he died. The year of his death is not clear because the writing on his tombstone was scratched off: some read it as 1690 and some add to it five or even eight years. This is the history of Reb Dovid who was famed all over the Jewish world under the name “Lida”.

In the Jewish Encyclopedia in the Russian language (Yivreiskyah “Encyclopedia” Peterburg) under the article “Lida” it is said that also the son of Reb Dovid, Reb Petachyah, and also his grandson, Reb Dovid, served as rabbis in Lida. But there is no other source for that. Reb Petachyah served as rabbi in Lvov, Yasi, in the city of Lakatch, and then in Vlovdvi, and Slavitch in the neighborhood of Chelm. He died in Frankfurt Am Main, in Lida he did not even appear since his father left it.

Reb Elimelek Kaminetsky (Reb Meilachke)

We could not find any details of his birth. This endearing name, Reb Meilachke, we discovered only when we talked to elderly people of Lida who mentioned him as a tzadik. Through these discussions we also found out that his grave is located in the Lida cemetery. His family name and also the fact that he served as rabbi in Lida many years (it seems up to 1845 or somewhere around that) we found out by chance from a write up in a Lida newspaper “Halvanon” in the year 1875. In that writing we are told of the funeral of the rabbi (appointed by government) Reb Eliyahu Akiva Kaminetsky, the son of Reb Mielachke, and these are the words of the writer (signed Shmuel Tzvi Kaminetsky –it seems a member of the family) with very little changes without making any radical change in the meaning and even the initials as follows:
The festival of Purim 1875 – the fourteenth of the second Adar on that day all the children remember with rejoicing in their heart the memory of the past…our light was dimmed and our rejoicing stopped, because the president of our community died. The rabbi, the great light, of glorious merit and kindness, the crown of our family and the outstanding glorius living heir to old wisdom, a scion of great family name, our rabbi, our teacher, Rabbi Eliahu Akiva, may he rest in peace, the son of the gaon Elimelek Kaminetsky, may his memory be a blessing that served on the rabbinate of our city for many years.

In his youth he was a merchant. When the wheel turned against him and he was impoverished the leaders of our community decided to appoint him rabbi so that he could be a mouth and a go-between them them and the government and for about twenty years he was leader. He led them in justice and kindness. (But a few years ago he was removed from his position by the government because it was not permitted to appoint a rabbi who did not finish his studies in government schools.) He was wonderful in his teachings, in his Torah and the fear of the Lord. About twenty-five years he taught Mishnah in the Misnayosh Association. And even members of the Enlightment of our time gave respect and honor To his name. A few years ago when he was on a business trip in the capitol city of Peterburg and the government rabbi, Rabbi Neiman was in need, he left his rabbinate position to help him.

The great amount of endearment that the people of Lida felt for their rabbi, Rabbi Elimelek, we can see from the fact that even his descendants after him were given a high status of honor in the religious guidance of the city.

His son Rabbi Eliyahu Akiva served in the city, as we see in the write up above, some twenty years as a government rabbi. A position that necessitated a knowledge of the language of the country, and he successfully merited honor and endearment.

Among the religious judges of the city during the period of Rabbi Mordecai Meltzer, we find the grandson of Rabbi Elimelek, the son of his daughter, Reb Yaakov Kopstein, who left after him a book of interpretation of Torah by the name “Pri Yaakov”. Reb Mordecai, who generally refused to write introductions to books dedicated this time to the author a large introduction, a warm and kind one, and he called him the title “The Great Light”. Also others who remember his name in the write up from Lida in the periodical “Hamelitz” give him the title “Sharp and Knowledgeable”. Reb Yaakov also participated in community affairs and he himself sent articles to the Hebrew periodicals about life in Lida. Among the others, a description of the beginning of the Zionist Movement in Lida even before it was officially called that way.

Reb Eliyahu Schik (“Reb Alinkah”) (1809-1876)

Out of parts of stories that were preserved in Lida, person to person, fathers to children (let us not forget, Reb Alinkah left Lida in the year 1864, approximately), from a number of lines in introduction of a book that include, by the way, some personal details, etc., appears for us a lovable personality combining a very sensitive rabbi of great qualities, great knowledge of Torah and humility all combined, good and benevolent.

In his introduction to his commentary on the book “Ein Yaakov” (Vilna 1929, out of the printing house of Reb Schmuel Yoseph Fine and Rabbi Tzvi Rosenkrantz), he laid out his own genealogy:

From me the young man Eliyahu Schik the head of beit din in Zager Chadash at present, and before that I was head of beit din in Derechin and in Lida, the son of the holy man, our rabbi and teacher, Benyamin Schik, of blessed memory and the son of the gaon, the tzadik, our rabbi and teacher Ariyeh Yehudah Leib, of blessed memory, the head of beit din in Vashilishak, the son of the gaon, the tzadik, our rabbi and teacher Yom Tov Lipman Schik, of blessed memory, the head of beit din in the above-mentioned city and in Prozin, the son of the famous gaon, our rabbi and teacher Chanokh Henickh Schik, of blessed memory, the head of beit din of Schklov the grandson of the gaon and author of “Tosfet Yom Tov” and “Maadenei Yom Tov”, and from mother's side a grandson to the rabbi, the gaon, the tzadik, our rabbi and teacher, Moshe Aaron Gordon the head of the beit din of Vashilshak, the son-in-law of the rabbi, the gaon, the tzadik, our rabbi and teacher Elazar, the author of “Siach Hasadeh”, a grandson of our teacher, the gaon, the author of “The Hamaharsha”, etc.
He was born in the year 1809 and was orphaned from his father when he was a baby. Typical of his reverence to his step-father: “May God remember for a blessing my late step-father, the scholar and God fearing…who raised me until I was about twelve years old and treated me as a son and was to me a father.”

Some of the typical stories about Reb Alinkah:

The story of some Jew from Lida, who was out of work, so Reb Alinkah tried to find for him an living income. He collected a some of money and bought him a horse and wagon, so that he would have income as a carter. It easy to assume that this was not one of the strong horses. Once upon a time the man was carrying sand in his wagon near the house of the rabbi (in the synagogue court). Reb Alinkah, who was still wearing his talis and wrapped in his tefillan (it was very early in the morning), looked by chance through the window and saw this man raising his whip on the poor animal. Reb Alinkah knocked on the pain of the window and yelled out to the angry carter: “Why do you hit the horse?” The poor Jew defended himself: “Rabbi, he is acting wild.” (From the father of the writer of these lines.)

The “kidnappers” (of children to become soldiers in the tsar's army) came to town! A few dozen children, and as usual from the poor people, were kidnapped from the mothers' bosoms and were closed up in one of the buildings, from there, they were to be sent to army barracks in the great and wide Russia – their fate is known. Reb Alinkah got very excited, he grabbed an ax in his hand, assembled around him some workingmen, they all carried their tools and went together to the place where the children were locked up, broke the door and released them. (From a tradition of the Jews of Lida, also mentioned in the book “Sarai Hameah” written by Rabbi Y. L. Maimon. M. Eudansky, of blessed memory, who also mentioned this story in the name of Rabbi Maimon, added another story about residents of Lida that fought the kidnappers of children, among them from the rabbi's family, Reb Zalmon Relyes, who used to hide the children for years. “Lita,” Book 1, page 640)

There is a story about Jewish leaders that met in Kovno in the home of Rabbi Yitzak Elchanon, of blessed memory, to discuss public problems. In that meeting were attending Rabbi Yossel of Slutsk, Rabbi Mordechai Klatzkin, Rabbi Alexander Moshe Lapides and many more powerful Torah leaders of Lida and Jamos, and above all, the leader of the group, the man of glory and humility, Reb Alinkah Lida, they put on the table a samovar for tea and the rebbitzin served “pamerantzen”-the peels of oranges cooked in sugar.

A debate started among the great leaders of Torah, what blessing do you make on this cooked food: either “borey pri haetz,” because the orange grows on a tree, or “borei pri haadamah,” because in fact this is not fruit anymore but peel alone, or maybe-“shehakol nihiyeh bidvaro,” since in the final analysis there is no fruit and no vegetable anymore. A long debate ensued and they could not come to a decision. Reb Yosel of Slutsk proves with his explanation and Reb Mordechai Klatzkin refutes it, and what Reb Yitzak Elchanon pinpoints, came Alexander Moshe and rejects. And the tea gets cold…

In the meantime all assembled look at Reb Alinkah, the humble one, the quiet one, the one who hides, and lo and behold, he already finished the spoonful of pamerantzen that he was served – and they did not finish yet the debate. They all turned to him wondering: “Rabbi, lo and behold you finished you finished your serving, what brocha did you make?” - Reb Alinkah answered them quietly and in sweetness as was natural to him: “Quietly, my rabbis!” (And in this he meant to turn their attention to a law in the “Shulchan Aruch” on the question of “a questionable blessing”). (Was given to me by Mr. Nachum Hinich, one of the students of Reines Yeshiva in Lida, a veteran teacher in Israel in Tel Aviv).

Reb Alinkah wrote a number of books, but as it seems only on of them was published during his lifetime “Ein Eliyahu” (in the year 1859 on the printing press of Reb Schmuel Yoseph Fine and Reb Avraham Tzvi Rosenkrantz, Vilna). This book is a commentary on the legends of the book “Ain Yaakov”. His special attachment to legend, may be testimony of his character, soft and kind to people. After his death another book of his was published, the book “Derekh Avot”, the book is a commentary and explanation on the tractate “Avot”. The book was brought to press by his son and student in the year 1872 in Vilna, and in 1874 in Warsaw, was reprinted in 1885 in Philadelphia in the United States, and in 1936 in Jerusalem, in the printing press “Chorev” (was published by the son of his daughter, Rabbi Schmuel Zeev Berniker).

Reb Alinkah served as rabbi in Lida until 1854 and then became rabbi in the city Zageerchadash and from there he went to Kobrine. The reason he left the congregation of Lida after serving there with great honor and respect twenty years, we heard stories that the reason for it was controversy with the chasidim in the city. Reb Alinkah in spite of his kind nature was very tough and stubborn in his opinion against chasidism and he probably found it better to go away and leave controversy. Even after he left Lida, his name remained Lida.

Reb Mordechai Meltzer of Blessed Memory

Reb Mordechai Kaliatzka (or Klatzky) was inaugurated as the rabbi of the holy congregation of Lida in the year 1864, who was called later Reb Mordechai Meltzer.

Reb Mordechai was born in Vilna in the year 1797, which was the last year of life of the Gaon Reb Eliyahu of Vilna. The people loved Reb Mordechai, when they mentioned this date, read about him the verse from the bible “and the sun rises and the sun sets.”

In those days, “the balebatim” used to visit the yeshivas, to look for grooms for their daughters that reached (or were about to reach majority). The young Mordechai, who attracted the attention of his teachers for a long time, “was chosen with honor” to be the groom of the daughter of the very rich man Reb Lieb Gordon of Vilna, whose business was malt (in Yiddish maltz) was called “meltzer”, the name was inherited from him by his son-in-law.

In the house of his rich father-in-law, Reb Mordechai could give himself completely to study of Torah, in two ways- to learn and also to teach: in the yeshiva of Reb Dovid Shtershon and afterwards as the head of the yeshiva of Reb Myla. For some time, Reb Mordechai left the yeshiva of Reb Myla because of a contest that occurred between him and Rabbi Israel Salanter, who was very famous already then, who arrived in Vilna and was also invited by the leaders of the same yeshiva, as the author of the history of Reb Mordechai stated: “It is impossible for two rabbis to use one crown, because both of them were giant gaons in Talmud.” He returned to his place in the yeshiva only after Rabbi Yisroel decided to forgo his prestige and honor and move to another house of study.

In the year 1846 Sir Moses Montifiore visited Vilna accompanied by his secretary Halevi, and among other places he also visited Yeshiva Reb Myla whose fame reached him. The guests were very impressed by Reb Mordechai who preached before them.

In the year 1850 Reb Mordechai was elected as the head of Beit Din in Calabria, there he served in the rabbinate until 1862.

Reb Mordechai arrived in Lida in old age – about 67 years old when he was already fully recognized as a giant in the Lithuanian Torah world. He had a very tough character, very straight, that does not turn in favor to anybody, not to the leaders of the community, not to the tough rich people and not even to Torah people if he did not like their behavior – this image we get from the stories that were transmitted about him. And when something not clean happened in the year 1884, after the death of Reb Mordechai and “the meat tax” (taxa) –this was the main source of income of the community – was given to a very rich leaseholder without a public auction, as was customary, and probably, in return of private bribery to the leaders of the community – a sharp article of protest was published in the “Hamelitz”. The article begins with the words: “From the day that the great gaon Reb Mordechai Meltzer of blessed memory was taken away from us, the leaders of the community started to rule the money of the meat tax and use it like a person is using his own property.”

Reb Mordechai did not play favorites to rabbis “the book authors”, that flooded the book market with new books very often, and refused to write “favorable introductions” that usually appeared at the beginning of the book. Even though there was some favorable introductions of his on some books of great giants of Torah because he saw in them real innovations and of great importance to the Jewish Torah world. Thus, for example, on the books of Reb Meir of Radin (“Mishnah Derurah”, “Chofeitz Chaim”), or on the book of Reb Yaakov Kapshtein that was mentioned above. In the last years of his life he would agree to sign an introduction for the sake of peace, especially when he lost his eyesight and he could not read the book..

Being loyal to this approach did not leave after him any written material, even innovations in Torah of his own. However, his students and his friends who loved him used to write down on notes things that they heard from him and interpretations of Torah. Only after he died, did Reb Asher his son worked diligently to collect these notes that were spread out and gave them to one of the most best students of the rabbi, one of the most knowledgeable teachers in Vilna who had a good style as an author, Reb Ay Trivish, who edited all the material and printed them as a book which was called “Techelet Mordechai”, which was accompanied with pages about the history of the rabbi and words of honor for his personality.

At the end of his days, Reb Mordechai was dealing also with Kabbalah and the writer of the history of his life added “because many broken hearts, many who suffered from sickness, used to stream to him with the belief of help and salvation that comes from his blessing.”

Old and full of days, at the age of 86 Reb Mordechai died in the year 1883. A special structure was built on his grave in the Lida cemetery and on the gravestone was inscribed the following: “From ancient generations a precious star appeared in our land a rabbi, a gaon mighty as he was is hard to find in our generation the holy words of the Talmud and Midrashim and all their interpretations all of them were engraved on his heart and his tongue as fresh received from Sinai he went down to the depth of the sea of Talmud and brought up pearls in his treasures in many written sources his teachings were carried there you can see his mighty power anything that was hidden and difficult that was brought to him he was quick to answer properly he made himself a name also in Kabbalah to him were revealed hdden mysteries God's love and the love of people of him will both testify Calabria and Lida his righteousness and his holiness will testify.”

We are bringing here some of the stories that were going around about Reb Mordechai from the period of the rabbinate of Lida.

When Reb Mordechai entered his position in Lida, the leaders sent him his salary at the end of the first week. The rabbi checked the amount and found out that instead of twenty-five guilden he was supposed to get they sent him only twenty. He immediately called the leaders. When they came, he told them you know very well that my salary was set to be twenty five guilden a week. And now since you sent me only twenty you will think my salary is only twenty guilden and accordingly you will send me next week only fifteen, therefore, let it be known to you that my salary is twenty five guilden but you sent me only twenty guilden.

On the way Reb Mordechai felt about “the authors of books” this story will testify: Reb Mordechai arrived for a visit in Vilna. All the scholars and knowledgeable people in Vilna came to welcome the rabbi and they asked him how he felt as is customary: “Vos macht eir, Rebbe?” (What does the Rabbi do?), he answered them immediately “Kein seifer nit” (Anyway not a book).

In the court of Reb Mordechai in Lida were famous religious judges of great knowledge in Torah like Reb Yaakov Kapshtein that we mentioned already, Reb Shlomo the Dayan that merited great honor, etc. But there were also some that the rabbi did not respect, especially because they liked to drink, God forbid. When sometime a person came to the rabbi to ask for these judges the rabbi made a face of question and wonder “Why are you looking for them here? Is my house a bar for drunks?” (Vos is by mir – a sheink?)

There is a story about Reb Mordechai when two authors wrote one book, a commentary on “Baba Kama”, Reb Mordechai read the book, he found empty verbiage. “And what name,” – asked Reb Mordechai “did you call your book?” “ Rabbi,” they said “we did not yet find a nice name for our book. We want a name that will be short and both of us should appear in it.” “If so” the rabbi smiled and said “there is nothing more beautiful for your book then this name: The Ox and the Trap.”

There is a story about Reb Mordechai that he had a verbal confrontation with a rich man who was an idiot. The rich man was using insolent and abusive language trying to humiliate the rabbi. “You too,” said the rabbi, “are like a loaf of bread.” “Rabbi,” said the man, “there is no comparison.” “That's what I meant,” smiled and said the rabbi – “You are the rudest of the rude, you are so low that there is nothing that can be compared to you.”

Reb Binyamin of Lida of Blessed Memory and Reb Sholom of Perlov of Blessed Memory

They were not official rabbis in Lida. Never-the-less, we feel it is proper to include them in this list, because they were, it appears, in their time spiritual leaders for a substantial congregation, even though not large numbers, among the Jews of Lida, it was the chassidic community.

The chassidim had two synagogues (“chassidisha shtiblach”) in Lida in our time: one for the Lubavich Chassidim (Chabad) and one for the Chassidim of Koidenov. The first remained in Lida for a long time without a religious leader: they did not travel to the Rebbe, it was far away from Lida. And as far as we remember neither the Rebbe nor his messinger visited them to guide and to inspire them. And we wonder if their chassidism was more than a tradition that became a habit that was limited to reciting “vyatzmach purkoneh” in the kaddish and the custom of celebrating the nineteenth day of Kislev, the day of the release of the old Rebbe (HaRav) from prison with the ascendance to the throne of the Tsar Alexander I.

More alive was the bond with the rebbe of the Koidenov Chassidim (even though we have to admit that in the last generations “the strength of the relationship faded even with them.) Until the First World War, we assume there were still chassidim in Lida (in reality, very few) that habitually continue to travel to the Rebbe of Koidenov which was close to Minsk.

After Koidenov was annexed to Soviet Russia a new scion of the dynasty of the chassidic rabbis of Koidenov settled in eastern Galicia, his name was Reb Zalman Yoseph Zilberfarb (may God take vengence for his blood), that used to visit occasionally his chassidim in Lida.

When did chassidism penetrate into Lida? – We have no exact knowledge of it. But in the history of the Lithuanian Chassidism, we find that one of the chosen students of the founder of the Koidenovian dynasty, Reb Sholom Chaim Perlov (“the old Koidenovian”), who was elected to be rebbe in about the year 1833 and died in the year a862. His name His name Reb Binyomin of Lida.

In the book “Nachlat Avot” by Levi Ovtzinsky (which includes biographic material on the giants of Torah in the last generations in an alphabetic order) we find, under the title of Reb Binyomin of Lida:

“The rabbi, the tzaddick Reb Binyomin of Lida, a great chassid of purity, a miracle performer. The presence of his honor was in Lida, he was a choice student of the rabbi, the tzaddick Reb Schlomo Chaim, may his memory be for a blessing.”
From the above we learn that Reb Binyomin was a man of miracles, which means probably, a miracle maker. We have no more details on the period of his activities. Its probable that the beginning of his activity is between the two dates 1833 and 1862 and continued on some years afterwards. We know more about the rebbe of the chassidim in Lida in the 1880's. Reb Sholom Perlov (“Reb Shlomkeh”), and the grandson of the “old Koidenover” Reb Shlomo Chaim. He came to live in lida ain the year 1878 and spread Torah among the chassidim at the same time, it seems the great rabbis who were not chassidim tried to put out the fire of controversy between chassidim and non-chassidim, that caused for decades much anger and pain and even the desecration of God's name. Also, Reb Mordechai Meltzer that a few decades before that when he served as head of the yeshiva of Reb Maile in Vilna, could not sit in one room together with Reb Yisroel Salanter, discovered now a relationship of tolerance and understanding to his young “competitor.” Reb Mordechai was about 80 years old and Reb Sholom was about 30. Reb Mordechai also who went out of his way never to write confirming introductions to authors for their books, did now write an affirming introduction to the book of Reb Sholom which was printed in 1881 under the title of “Divrei Shalom”. And these are the words of Reb Mordechai about the young author:
“Here is about three years that the rabbi who stands before me established his resience in our camp. His arm was discovered and a great light appeared because many people are gathering to hear from his mouth the words of the living God and enjoy from his light. He is the famous rabbi, the great light, young in years and full of wisdom, a branch of the great tree of our fathers. Even though I did not read the entire manuscript the part that I read can testify to total contents, etc.”
(By the way, among the affirmative introductions to the book we find the Gaon Reb Yitzchak Elchanon Spector, the famous rabbi of Kovna.

As it seems, the chassidim of Lida felt themselves to be very strong and very influential in the city to such a degree that after the death of Reb Mordechai they dared to suggest their rebbe Reb Shlomkeh as a candidate to be the rabbi of the city. Maybe that Reb Mordechai's introductory affirmation to the book of Reb Shomke (especially for the sake of peace, it seems) and the words of praise that it included (usually exaggerated which are given generally in regular rabbinic style) they, too, encouraged the chassidim. Anyway, Lida remained a city that opposed chassidism by majority, and the candidate that was accepted was Reb Yitzchak Yaakov Reinas of blessed memory. But this din not pass or that controvery did not end without throwing stones by one party into the windows of opposing parties.

Reb Shlomke left Lida in the year 1884 when he was elected to be the rabbi in the city of Brezneh that is in Volin and from there he moved to be the rabbi in the town of Brahin (and since then he was known by the name “Reb Sholom of Brahin”). He died in the year 1927.


[Page 98]

Rabbi Aaron Rabinovitz of Blessed Memory

By Rabbi Avigdor Tzipershtine his son-in-law

Translated by Rabbi David Haymovitz

His image is still standing before my eyes with all its beauty, its holiness and its glorious glow. The image of a rabbi that who stood guard for many years of holiness and served his community with his learning - generosity, with his wisdom and his pleasant ways. From the day he ascended to the seat of the rabbinate in Lida, after the death of his father-in-law the Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Reines who made the city of Lida famous in all the Jewish communities in the world, [he] led his congregation in pleasant ways and was ready to sacrifice himself for it.

He was a child from a village. In the forests of Lida of Lithuania he grew and became a mighty Cedar tree. His father Reb Elimelech Rabinovitz, was a merchant of wood and lived in the forest. He built for himself a house, and also a house of study where the Jews of the neighboring villages, working with tar and resin, studied and prayed. He grew up in the lap of nature. From there he went to the Yeshiva of Volozhin, there he became famous as one of the choice young men of the yeshiva of whom it was proud and claimed glory.

It is he who discovered the prodigy from Maychet, Reb Shlomo Poliachik, in a forlorn little village and brought him to the Yeshiva of Volozhin.

The Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Reines of blessed memory chose him as a son-in-law for his only daughter, Gele of blessed memory, who was his devoted mate all the days of his life, and in their death they were not separated, they died together for the sanction of God.

In the home of his father-in-law he found a wide area for action, any person in bitterness and with broken heart found in him a listening ear, an awakened heart and readiness to help. He distributed his money and even gave away the furniture and the items of his home to everyone who stretched out a hand for help. He never sent any person away empty handed. He knew the heavy responsibility that was on him as the leader of the congregation and joined in its struggle. Always he in his own person went out in bad times, in days of violence, wars and pogroms to defend the city and its residents. He risked his life, did not pay attention to the pleading of his family not to go and with immense courage and generous spirit was the first and only one in the city who gave his life for the rescue of Jews.

A man of truth, this was his way of life and this was the root of his soul. He could not tolerate any lie in life. Wherever he found the slightest deviation from truth and righteousness, he fought like a lion to bring out the truth and rescue the victims of injustice, he did not cater to anybody, whoever it might be.

During WWI, when the city was conquered by the Germans, he sent his family to wander in foreign places but he remained on his duty and did not leave town.

Legends go around about his activities during the occupation in the First World War. Thanks to his influence on the governor of the city, who learned the great value of his pure heart and soul, he succeeded in averting hunger from the city that was the fate of all other towns in the neighborhood.

He was not only “rabbi” as the word is regularly understood. He was a father, a shepherd and an artist. His great worry was how to help his fellow man, because his soul was a noble one, it was from the treasure of holy souls, shining in the light of Torah that is complete and eternal kindness.

Who can evaluate properly his love for Torah? When he saw a student from the Yeshiva he embraced and kissed him. He gave the student honor as one of the great giants of Israel. There was no end to his happiness when he heard some new idea or reconciling a contradiction in Torah. His greatness and his genius as he was, with deep understanding and straight logic in addition to complete knowledge in every phase of Torah, he became so enthusiastic when he heard a new idea from a passing yeshiva student or from a rabbi. Like a fish who is thirsty for a fresh drop of water, so was his soul for Torah discussion.
An innovation in interpreting Torah, a new idea that reconciles texts of Torah - these were, “the bribe” that he took during his lifetime. There was nothing too difficult for him to do for that. He founded a study group in the city for the choice students of the yeshiva. Mr. Gatz, of blessed memory from Moscow, supported by himself this group that sustained itself on his money. Wherever you can find one still alive of those who were lucky to be among those who enjoyed his influence, his soul rejoices when he talks about him and his memory. And there are so many who look back with nostalgia to those happy years when they received teaching and inspiration in the circle of their great rabbi, who was extraordinary, an unusual and unforgetful appearance of love of Torah, the love of students of Torah that was limitless and with a strong and direct stand for truth, honesty, and charity in all his doings and all his ways as it was also in the leadership in the city and his relationship to the public.

He was loyal to Zion. He was among the first rabbis who signed an appeal for support of the Jewish National Fund, and all the time he was a supporter of the Mizrachi ideals, that aimed to awaken the people to rebuild the Jewish homeland and to be rebuilt as a nation. He did not pay attention to any “opposition” that came from certain circles. He saw the rebuilding of the land of Israel, the awakening of the mystical powers of the lower spheres in order to bring closer the redemption - with the self-sacrificing giving of the builders and those who wallow in its dust of the land.

And here it may be the right place to stress one line of his glorious image. How much he loved the truth and the respect of Torah, that was more precious to him than all the treasures of the world. In the last years before the beginning of the Second World War, “a war” erupted in Vilna. The Jewish community of Vilna selected, or were about to select, Rabbi Yitzkak Rubenstein to be the rabbi of the community and the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, of Blessed Memory, to be his deputy. The rabbis of Poland and the heads of the yeshivot saw in it a wrong step taken by the heads of the Vilna community. A sharp controversy erupted by speech and by writing and it reached all the way to America. Rabbi Aaron Rabinowitz was a longtime friend since the early years of his youth of Rabbi Rubinstein, because Lida was close to Vilna. As friends and brothers they regarded each all the days of their lives. But in these days when the great controversy flared up in Vilna, Rabbi Rabinowitz made special efforts to influence his friend and his comrade to resign or not to accept this position, because this would be according to his opinion a great desecration of Torah. He told Rabbi Rubenstein that it should be a great honor for him to resign. He will be rewarded more by stepping away than by accepting. But when Rabbi Rabinowitz realized that his words were not accepted he stopped talking to him.

Many in the community respected and highly valued Rabbi Rabinowitz for his honest stand, especially who were siding with the Gaon Reb Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky. Rabbi Rabinowitz was the most visible personality who was highly venerated and considered of extraordinary importance by the most popular rabbi at the time, the Chofetz Chaim, of Blessed Memory, and Reb Chaim Ozer, of Blessed Memory. “Der Lider Rov” was always the leading spokesman in the assemblies, in committees, from him they took advice and encouragement. Everyone felt that he was far higher than all those around him. There was no stain on his beautiful garment of many colors. Whatever he committed others to do he was strict with himself, he did not have double standards, whatever he did not permit others to do, he did not permit his sons and his son-in-law. He had one standard in life, there was no difference between him and others.

And therefore his name was always mentioned with a thrill of excitement and with great awe and deep feelings of love by all these rabbis and leaders of Israel that came in touch with him and realized his pure personality, filled with love of Torah and love and respect to those who studied Torah.

The Chofetz Chaim, of Blessed Memory, used to stay over in his home. Reb Aaron Lider he called him. And when his future son-in-law visited the city of Radin and they told the Chofetz Chaim of Blessed Memory, that this young man that came to visit is the “ Dem Lider Rov's chosen.” (The rabbi of Lida's future son-in-law.) - he got out of his chair and exclaimed: “Oh! Reb Aaron's a kind.” (“Oh! Its Reb Aaron's child.)

And at the same place that you can find his goodness, his loving kindness and his humility - there you find also his strong hand and his courage. Like a lion he fought for the observance of Sabbath, kashrut, and education of youth.

When Lida was captured at the beginning of World War II by the Russians and the community organization and all the charity organizations were abolished by the authorities, he did not stop his activity by accepting, treating and finding a place for the refugees that streamed into Lida. And when the door of rescue was opened to leave Lida and go to Vilna that became part of Lithuania, he did not run, he did not leave the members of his community, wherever they were there was he! All the begging, pleading and crying of the members of the family did not help. He decided to stay with his flock. The captain does not run away from his ship when it is in danger.

And so he stayed and did not want to leave at a time when through Lida were passing all the heads of all the heads of yeshivas, rabbis, thousands of refugees. He was staying on guard, he was staying in his place, until the last minute among the members of his community with his family, the rebbitizin and his three daughters. He was the first in the march of death to the trenches where they assembled the residents of the city to die. And he died first a martyrs death.

In the forest dedicated for the martyrs in the mountains of Jerusalem his sister Mrs. Henya Rabinowitz from New York planted grove of trees to his memory, and to the memory of the members of his family that died together with him among the community of martyrs of Lida on the 21st of Iyar, 1942.


[Page 100]

The Lida Rabbi Aaron Rabinowitz

by Henia Rabinowitz (the Lida Rabbi's sister)

Translated from Yiddish by Roslyn Sherman Greenberg

Our parents lived off the land, in a forest. Their business was buying woods and selling logs. My father understood little of the business. He liked to sit and learn, surrounded by big piles of books. Our mother was the woman of valor. She ran the business. At that time my brother Aaron was twenty years old. He was very handsome, tall, lean, full of life and energy. He learned in the Volozin Yeshiva and used to come home only for the Holidays. His homecoming was the greatest joy for our dear mother and the other children as he was a very devoted son and like a father to us.

In the Volozin Yeshiva

I remember that there was a room in our house that was called, “Aaron's Room”. No one slept in that room except for Aaron. When he came home he used to sit there and learn. He was very happy to come home, first to see the family, and second he loved nature, the forest where he used to walk night and day. He was very brave, had no fear of anyone, and with him we children felt very secure. Our beloved mother used to prepare for him all the things he loved – nuts which were gathered in the woods, dried in the oven, and all sorts of fruits, etc. She also always prepared for him wash and clean clothes to give to all his friends who needed them. Those were the luckiest years of his youth.

Once, when my brother came home from Volozin for Yom Tov a Jew from the shtetl of Molchad came to see him. He brought with him his 13-year old son, who was small and pale but who had deep black eyes. This was POLIATCHEK. The father asked my brother to listen to him. My brother listened and was very awed by the youngster's aptitude. He took him to Volozin, led him in to the Head of the Yeshiva, under his coat so no one should see him, since in Volozin only big young men learned. The Head of the Yeshiva seeing the small boy, said to my brother: “Soon you'll bring Yunkim here.” My brother answered: “Rabbi, listen to him.”

The Rosh Yeshiva (head of the Yeshiva) posed a hard question to him and told him to go into the next room to think it over. The boy went toward the door and turned back – he already knew the answer.

From then on began the closeness, the deep friendship between my brother and Rabbi SHLOMO POLIATCHEK, the well known Molchad genius and gaon (eminent Rabbi).

In later years my brother brought him to Lida as the Rosh Yeshiva of Rabbi REINES Yeshiva. After the first World War Rabbi SHLOMO POLIATCHEK became the Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva of Rav Yitchak Elchanan in New York (now Yeshiva University).

Telling about the bond between my brother and Rabbi SHLOMO POLIATCHEK I can't forget this tale: In the time when he was Rosh Yeshiva in Lida, he once became very sick. He had weak lungs and they began to become bloody. Naturally a doctor did what was necessary, but the sickness lingered on. My brother left his house and stayed with Rabbi Shlomo for two weeks, didn't allow his wife and children into his room, and took care of him like a good warmhearted sister.


Chosen to be Rabbi of the Lida Community

At the age of 25 my brother married Gele, the daughter of Rabbi REINES. For a few years he lived in the home of his father-in-law. One tells this tale: As it is done among Jews, my brother received a dowry. The money was put into the care of Mr. SHIPMANOWITZ – a respected householder in Lida. Some time passed and my brother's wife went to Mr. SHIPMANOWITZ to take out a small amount of money. She was surprised to hear that there was nothing left of the dowry. When she got home she asked her husband, where is the money? He told her that the poverty in the city is huge, and he had to help out in some cases. As a result: a wagon driver lost his horse, and his wife and children were starving. So he gave the family money to buy a horse. He also had to help out a poor bride, when her mother came to tell him and cried that the match is breaking apart, etc. It is true, his wife didn't complain.

The first 15 years after my brother was married were the most relaxing for him. The first years he lived with his in-laws and treated them like a devoted son. I remember that the Rebbitsin – his mother-in-law, was not well for a time. She couldn't get around. He used to carry her from one place to another.

As soon as he came to Lida, he went to the Bais Din (Jewish court) and fulfilled the duties of judge. He never took anything, even for the biggest cases, and this caused unhappiness among the other judges. My brother also founded a cooperative of 30 older young men from the Lida Yeshiva of Rabbi REINES. This was subsidized by the son-in-law of VISOTSKY, Mr. GATZ.

As time passed he also took over the largest part of ministering to the city. This was necessary since Rabbi REINES used to leave the city for several months every year. He used to go to Europe for Zionist Congresses and also for relaxation.

In 1915 Rabbi REINES died, and my brother was selected by the Lida community as the Rabbi of Lida.

At the Time of the First World War

A short time before this, when the Russian Army retreated from Lida, my brother's family, his wife, five daughters, and a small son went into the heart of Russia together with Rabbi SHLOMO POLIATCHEK and his family.

His two older sons, MELECH and MOSHE, with their families, remained in Lida until the end of the war with their father. My mother and I also came to Lida shortly afterward.

The troubles started in 1915 when the Russians left the city. The Cossacks bombed and set fire to CHANA PUPKO'S house. The other residents hid in their houses. The Rabbi was the only one who ran out of his house, knocked on the closed doors, took water, climbed up on the roof and together with those gathered around, rescued the city, doing this at great risk to himself with tremendous bravery.

At the same time a bomb ended the life of BERDOVSKY's son. My brother saw the wounding through the window. He ran out of the house and carried him on his back to an apothecary to give him first aid. This was at a time when the others sat locked in their houses, afraid to go out in the street.

The Germans in Lida

The Russians left and the Germans captured the neighborhood and also Lida. The years of their occupation were very hard. The Rabbi had to send workers to the Burgomaster of the city and do many other things. The Rabbi received a small stipend from him. But, even for money, nothing could be bought. The Burgomaster from time to time brought wagons of provisions for the inhabitants of the city, but certain people wanted to take it over into private hands in order to bring in the black market. The Rabbi was against this with all his might, against his friends and against others, not to let this happen. He made enemies, but he didn't allow any hunger in Lida, which had happened in other areas. My brother, seeing the Burgomaster almost every day, never asked for anything for himself or his family, just asked for things for the community. I personally can testify that if anything was lacking it was solely in the Rabbi's own home.

A short time before this, when the Germans left Lida, a lot of families turned around and came home. My brother's family also returned, but instead of with six children, his wife came home with four. The oldest daughter Shirele died in Russia from typhus at the age of 18, and the small boy also succumbed. It is understood, there was a lot of sorrow and pain in the family.

The Germans left, and the Bolsheviks took the area. Their arrival brought great unrest and troubles for the Rabbi. It didn't last long, however, as the Poles soon took the area. Battles started between the Bolsheviks and the Poles, which lasted several weeks. The inhabitants of the area already waited impatiently for the Poles to take over the city.

The Poles occupy the City

After gunbattles lasting several days, the Poles entered Lida late at night. They made a real pogrom, breaking into my brother's house. They took him out of bed, tore open his box, where he kept important papers and took everything of value. In the morning the Christian woman who worked for my brother, came running to me and told me the news. (My mother and I had a room at Dr. Warshawsky's house, and she was ill.) I ran out to look for my brother, and in the street I saw wounded Jews and Polish soldiers. One tore off my hat, another didn't answer me, but the third one told me where the commander could be found. On the way there, on Kaminke Street, I saw my brother with other householders, in a closed balcony. Going in to the commander, I saw Poles from Lida, whom the commandant was consulting about each person arrested. When I told them that my brother had been arrested, they said it was unbelievable because Poles do no arrest Rabbis. Thus they sent a soldier with me to get him. The Poles from Lida recognized him right away and they let him go free. He went home, changed his clothes, and was ready to try to find a way to have the other householders set free. At that moment, the woman REISL DARSHAN ran into the Rabbi's house and told him that the Bolsheviks had left ammunition, guns, etc. in her cellar. She was afraid that the Poles would find it, and she wanted the Rabbi to go with her to the commandant to tell him about it. He went out with her into the street, which was empty. People had hid themselves in their houses. Suddenly, two Polish officers on horses appeared. They surrounded the Rabbi and took him near the castle. He thought this was the end. He had one hope: They had taken him past the home of a Polish lawyer, Mr. Shimelevich, who knew my brother well. He hoped that if Mr. Shimelevich had seen him, he would rescue him. And so it was! The lawyer was sitting on his porch and saw how the officers were taking my brother. He ran over to the officers and declared that this was the Rabbi of the city, etc. The officer didn't want to listen, so the lawyer's wife and his whole family ran out and pulled my brother out of their murdering hands. They hit him with a gun, tore his clothes, but his body was untouched. After these events, he had to hide himself until the siege of the city quieted down a little.

Also in those dark days and weeks, when the Poles occupied Lida and the whole area, they brought the poet YAFFE and the writer NIGER to Lida from Vilna, on the way to a concentration camp. Their wives rode with them, and they came to my brother to ask him to go the commandant and tell him that the two arrested writers are famous in the whole world, and it wouldn't be right for Poland to imprison such people. In addition he guaranteed that they aren't Bolsheviks. A few days later they let them go and they returned to Vilna. In other similar cases, the commandant told him that he should be cautious to guarantee with his head because, after all, a man has but one head.

My brother had a personal problem. His son MOSHE, after the war, traveled to Moscow to study medicine. When they found out that the Rabbi's son had gone to Moscow, they called my brother in for a hearing. Their general denounced him strongly and scared him. I remember that he returned very pale and shattered. They arrested his wife and eldest daughter, ELKA, and put them in the Lida jail with the intention of sending them, with the others who had been arrested, to a concentration camp. But again a miracle occurred. My brother's family had a cow, and everyone who owned a cow, was obliged every day to give milk to the Polish officers. A soldier came to collect the milk for his officer, and saw our mother and our brother's children (and they were very beautiful children). My mother told the soldier that the children's mother and elder sister were sitting in jail, and the children cried. The same thing happened the second day. The soldier went to the officer and told him what he had seen at the Rabbi's house. The officer became interested and went to the jail to see the “criminals”. The picture he saw evidently made an impression on him. He told the general about this. It became known that this had really happened, and to the last day no one knew how this would end. The day finally came. About ten people were taken to the railroad station, among them my sister-in-law and her daughter. Of course, my brother also accompanied them. The day was very long – the night dark. It was raining. It wasn't pleasant to be outside. Late at night I sat by the window very nervously and impatiently. Finally, my brother rapped on the window of Dr. WARSHAWSKY's house where my mother and I had a room. He told me with great joy that they had not sent his wife and daughter away, but had sent them back to the jail in Lida. A couple of days later they let them go. The other unfortunate people had been sent to a concentration camp.

All these events and difficult circumstances naturally worked a great hardship on the family. My brother's wife who underwent great hardship in Russia, lost two children, came home and found new troubles, became sick. My brother contracted Typhus which was throughout the city. It took a long time before they recovered. In 1925 I left Lida, and to my great sorrow, never saw my family again. What my brother and the other families that remained lived through during the time of the Second World War is well known – they were destroyed with the rest of the Jewish community, by whom he was esteemed up to the last minute of his life.

I know that the written remembrances about my unforgettable brother, do not give a precise picture of him. One had to know him, and understand him, to understand his true value. Outwardly, he didn't have a prepared smile on his face for everyone. He looked earnest. He didn't care to express his feelings openly, but everyone in the city knew that in a time of trouble their Rabbi would do everything possible, and sometimes impossible, to help. My brother was a very modest person, but had a sureness in himself, for he always did what his mind directed him. He knew nothing of jealousy, could not hear any malicious talk, and mastered the talent to be happy for someone else's happiness, and to recognize with awe someone else's greatness.

The HAFETZ HAIM from Radun who esteemed and loved my brother very much, at a conference in Warsaw, where all the Hassidic Rabbis and other Rabbis from Poland gathered, took my brother's hand and said to everyone there, “Do you know who this is? This the Lida Rabbi, a man of truth, a man of truth”.

RABBI SHATZKES, the Lomzer Rabbi, who was a close friend of my brother, once expressed himself thus about him, “The Lida Rabbi is a great scholar and a Jewish aristocrat”. He was indeed an aristocrat in the deepest sense of the word.

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