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[Pages 79-98]

Rabbis Of The Lubtch Community

by Moshe Tzinovitch

Translated from the Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer

 

Rabbi Yosef-Moshe-Simcha Rapoport

He was the son of Rabbi Zvi-Hirsh HaCohen Rapoport, head of the rabbinical court in Mir. He received a religious education in Lithuania in the small town of Mir, which was considered one of the oldest communities in that area. Later R' Yosef-Moshe-Simcha lived in Zamut, northern Lithuania, as son-in-law of R' Yaakov, head of the rabbinical court in Krozi and some time later returned to his former surroundings. Lubtch was his first place of office as rabbi and head of the rabbinical court. There, in 5505 (1745), he preached many sermons which are mentioned in his book, “Bigdei Moshe”.

Afterwards, the rabbi made a big jump: from Lubtch, which is in Greater Lithuania, he wandered to Zimrod (Western Galicia) to take office as head of the rabbinical court, and from there he came to Lintchna (District of Lublin). Here he became famous as a genius and righteous man until the members of the community of Untsdorf, in distant Hungary, heard about him from the great rabbis of Poland, “for this man Moshe we know what has become of him. He toiled and found success and is indeed a genius, a great rabbi of the generation”, and they sent him a letter offering him the opportunity to be their rabbi, and he moved to Untsdorf.

Rabbi Yosef-Moshe-Simcha wrote and edited a wonderful and valuable book entitled “Bigdei Kodesh” on “Pirkei Avot” (Ethics of the Fathers), containing two commentaries: A) “Bigdei Moshe” of his own and B) “Bigdei Kavod”, written by his son-in-law, the Gaon Rabbi Yisrael Menachem-Mendel, head of the rabbinical court in Tromboli. With the completion of the book, Rabbi Rapoport printed two responsa of his own dealing with rendering decisions based on the authoritative interpretation of the law which he sent to the Gaon R' Yechezkel Landau, head of the rabbinical court in Prague, as well as a few new interpretations on the Torah by R' Moshe-Mordechai HaLevi Itingai, son of the Gaon R' Lipman of Sanuk.

The book, “Bigdei Kodesh” was published posthumously in the year 5566 (1806) and appeared with the approval of the Gaonim: R' Yaakov-Meshulam Ornstein, head of the rabbinical court in Lvov, R' Meir, head of the rabbinical court in Brodi, R' Yehoshua-Heschel Babad, head of the rabbinical court in Tarnopol and R' Chaim, head of the rabbinical court in Czernovitz, (author of “Be'er Mayim Chaim”), all of whom were lavish in their praise of the author as a great Torah scholar and an outstanding expositor of Scripture. R' Meir writes about him: “He left behind several essays on several tractates of the Talmud and his name is famous as one of the giants of his time”.

Some of his children whom he raised and educated did not follow him to Galicia and Hungary and stayed rooted in their mother country. These include his son, R' Yaakov-Yokil Rapoport, who was a rabbi in Yanov, near Pinsk, and his son, R' Zvi-Hirsh, who wrote the preface to the aforementioned book. His daughter Shprintza was married to the Gaon R' Meshulam-Zalman, head of the rabbinical court in Pakroi (Zamut) and his daughter Gruna was the wife of R' Yisrael-Menachem-Mendel, head of the rabbinical court in Tramobovli.

From a document belonging to the rabbinate in Untsdorf, we see that the name of Rabbi Yosef-Moshe-Simcha Rapoport was famous. They sang his praises and his greatness in all branches of learning: “The famous genius, the great eagle, the great, broad-winged eagle, renowned in the farthest ends of the world and sea, whose mouth uttered pearls of wisdom and who was well-mannered and crowned with the crown of Torah, priesthood and kingship” and another tenure of office. The date of this document from the rabbinate in Untsdorf is Sunday, the day after the Feast of Weeks (Shavuot) 5540 (1780). He disseminated Torah knowledge there until the day of his death in 5560 (1800). The Jews of the community admired him and related to him with love and honor.

 

The Gaon Rabbi Eliezer Shapira

Details of Rabbi Eliezer Shapira's biography have not been preserved and the scant information that we have has come down to us indirectly from the identification of famous rabbis to the above-mentioned rabbi, who was a special descendant of the Shapira family of Vilna-Lubtch.

We know that R' Eliezer was a native of Vilna. His father, the Gaon R' Aryeh-Leib Shapira, 5461-5521(1701-1761) served as a scribe and judge in the rabbinical court in Vilna and acquired fame in the world of Torah as the author of a two-part treatise, “Nachalat Ariel” (based on its plain meaning) and “Ma'on Arayot”, (based on argumentation) on the Talmud tractate, “Sofrim” (1732). He also wrote a book on the Torah “Kvutzat Kesef” (1742).

It is impossible to determine exactly when R' Eliezer served as head of the rabbinical court in Lubtch. However, it was a long time after the term of office of R' Yosef-Moshe-Simcha HaCohen Rapoport, who is discussed above. We can point out that R' Eliezer was famous in his time and was known by the great rabbis of Lithuania, many of whom were related to the rabbi who functioned in Lubtch, as we shall see further in this article.

We don't know if R' Eliezer Shapira had any sons, but it is known that he had two daughters: one was married to R' Menachem-Zundel, head of the rabbinical court in Eibnitz, and the other was married to R' Chaim Epshtein from among the notable families of Vilna, the “Jerusalem of Lithuania”. R' Menachem-Zundel and his wife had a son while they were living in Lubtch and were still dependent on their father. The child was a child prodigy named Aryeh-Leib (after his grandfather), who later became famous as the genius of his generation. He studied Torah in the local study hall in Lubtch with his relative, Shmuel Bakshter, who was five years his senior, and together they went to study at the yeshiva in Volozhin, which was then founded by the Gaon R' Chaim. R' Aryeh-Leib achieved fame afterwards as a lion in the company of the leading rabbis of Lithuania. He was head of the rabbinical court in Iliya (where he became friendly with the Gaon, the Researcher, R' Menashe, a leading figure in Ilyia, and with his restricted circle), in Vasilishok, Smorgon and in Klavaria, where he died in the year 5613 (1853).

R' Aryeh-Leib Shapira had the merit of establishing a chain of rabbis and scholars who were active in disseminating Torah knowledge in Lithuania, Russia, Poland and independent Israel. Among them, we can mention the Gaon R' Raphael Shapira, of blessed memory, head of the rabbinical court and rabbinical college in Volozhin and his sons R' Yaakov Shapira, who succeeded his father at the same yeshiva; R' Aryeh Shapira, official communal rabbi in Bialystok; R' Yisrael-Isser Shapira, director of the kolel for married students, “Sha'arei Torah” in Tel Aviv; R' Moshe Shapira, (son of Aryeh), head of the rabbinical college and principal of Yeshiva “Be'er Ya'akov”; R' Raphael Shapira (son of R' Yisrael-Isser), head of the rabbinical college and principal of the kolel for married students “Tifferet Israel” and “Tifferet HaCarmel” in Haifa, and R' Shimon Langbort (son-in-law of the Gaon R'Ya'akov Shapira), head of the rabbinical college and principal of the “Gaonei Volozhin” yeshiva in Bnei Brak.

The Gaon R' Chaim Epshtein, the second son-in-law of R' Eliezer Shapira, was likewise a Torah personality of distinguished birth. He was the son of R' Mordechai Epshtein (R' Mordechai Gitke Toives) from Vilna and grandson of the Gaon and Kabbalist, R' Aryeh-Leib Epshtein, (author of the book, “HaPardes”, and head of the rabbinical court in Koenigsburg, capital of East Prussia). R' Chaim lived a number of years in Lubtch after his marriage, soaked up the religious atmosphere and then moved on to Vilna.

R' Shmuel Yosef, who knew R' Chaim very well from the period of their studies at the “Yisod” yeshiva in Vilna, relates the following about him: “R' Chaim did not depart from the “tent of Torah” and did not go home except to have lunch. He had a special room in the attic of the study hall of the aforementioned yeshiva, where he had a treasure of books and where he would sleep all week. He was tall and thin. He face always bore an expression of anger and there was never any laughter on his lips. His steps were few and measured. He was noble and refined.”

In his old age, R' Chaim went on “aliya” to Eretz-Yisrael. He settled in Jerusalem, the Holy City. Although he wasn't conspicuous among the many, the notables of Jerusalem from among the “Porshim” [“Secluded ones”] admired him and showed him great respect.

He passed away in the year 5610 (1850). His memory is recorded in the book, “Toldot Chochmei Yerushalayim” by Frumkin-Rivlin.

 

R' Nahum Bar Moshe

R' Moshe, father of R' Nahum, was head of the rabbinical court in Zhital, near Novogrudek. His second son, R' Chaim, went off to “explore” together with the Gra [Gaon from Vilna], from whom he received secrets of the Kabbalah [Jewish mysticism]. This family is related to the Maggid from Dubno and to R' Shaul Vahl, from Brisk in Lithuania who, according to a legend, was king of Poland for a day.

R' Nahum, head of the rabbinical court in Lubtch, had a famous son named Eliyahu-Chaim, who replaced his father in the rabbinate in Tortz. R' Eliayhu-Chaim became famous with his treatise “Aderet Eliyahu”, which contains two explanatory commentaries on the laws of ritual slaughtering. Because of its importance as a guidebook for ritual slaughterers and meat inspectors as well as for rabbis in matters of ritual slaughtering and meat examination, it won the approval of the leading rabbis including R' Moshe-Avraham, head of the rabbinical court in Mir, R' Yitzchak- Elchanan, head of the rabbinical court in Novogrudek, R' Yosef, head of the rabbinical court in Slotzk, R' Shmuel-Avigdor Tosfah, head of the rabbinical court in Karlin and R' Eliezer-Moshe Horovitz, head of the rabbinical court in Pinsk, all of whom praise and extol the author and his book “in which there is a great blessing for the profession of ritual slaughtering and meat examination”. This book merited a second edition in the year 5654 (1894), published by Rosenkrantz-Shriftzitzer in Vilna. In the preface to this book, the author calls his father, R' Nahum, head of the rabbinical court in Lubtch, “my teacher and rabbi, Luminary of the Exile, famous in his Torah and piety, and who was also given a fitting memorial in the writings of the Chochmei HaEmet”. At the time of the printing of the book, the author was 70 years old.

R' Nahum's second son was R' Yaakov, preacher and “teacher of righteousness” [rabbi] in Kovno.

 

Rabbi Dov-Baer Yaffe

He was known by the name “Berl Toretzer” after the name of the little town of Toretz, where he had earlier served as rabbi and head of the rabbinical court. It was also written about him that he was the head of the rabbinical court in Karelitz. (Both of these small towns are near Lubtch - Moshe Ts.)

R' Dov-Baer Yaffe was apparently born in Korelitz where his father, the “Renowned Righteous Gaon” R' Yaakov, served as head of the rabbinic court. (According to “Sefer Klilat Menorah” published in Berditchov, 5652, he was the son of R' Natan Halevi Rubinstein, head of the rabbinic court in Dubno - district town of the Volin region). Likewise, according to the aforementioned source, R' Yaakov was the brother-in-law of the “holy, pure and famous” R' Nahum from Tchernobil, generation after generation of great rabbis going as far back as Our Teacher Rabbi Mordechai Ben Avraham Yaffe, 1535-1612, author of “HaLevushim” (From a letter written by R' Mordechai Gimpel, son of R' Dov-Baer Yaffe, to the Hassidic “Admor” from Toriski, who came from a home in Tchernobil, as mentioned in the same book).

We know that R' Dov-Baer Yaffe was one of the first and select pupils of the Gaon R' Chaim in his upper-level yeshiva in Volozhin. R' Dov-Baer's friends at the yeshiva were students who subsequently became famous rabbis: the Gaon R' Yitzchak, who succeeded his father, the Gaon R' Chaim in his position as head of the rabbinic court and as head of the rabbinic college in Volozhin, and the Gaon, R' David-Tuvia Rabin, the official city rabbi in Minsk, capital of White Russia. R' Chaim highly regarded his pupil Berl, both on account of his Talmudic erudition and his righteousness, and he would say of him, in the presence of his other students (all of whom were destined to become famous as great scholars) that in his direct argumentation he was like one of the “Rishonim” (earlier great Talmudic authorities) - the Rashba, and the Ran of blessed memory - and that he himself had learned from Dov-Baer how to pray with intent and devotion.

The Gaon R' Dov-Baer wrote a book of his own which contained new interpretations on the Mishnah Order “Moed” as well as several books with a commentary on Scripture through the simple elucidation of the text and through conceptual analysis. One of his students, R' Yisrael-Michael Yeshurun (native of Karelitz) made some of his works suitable for printing; however, not all of them were printed, although many of his writings which were in the possession of his son, the Gaon R' Mordechai Gimpel Yaffe, were found to be suitable for printing. The Gaon R' Dov-Baer Yaffe was rabbi and head of the rabbinical court in the important community of Otian. He died in Vilna in the year 5589 (1829), in the prime of life, on his way to consult with his doctors.

In his eulogy, the Gaon R' David, head of the rabbinical court in Novogrudek said, “With profound sorrow we heard about the passing of the wise Torah scholar, the sharp-minded rabbi, Dov Baer, who was a preacher of justice and a teacher of righteousness in many communities adjacent to our community and, at the end of his life, was accepted as preacher and rabbi in Otian.” (See “Glia Masechet”).

In the preface to his book, “Avot D'Rabbi Natan” (5593), the Gaon R' Eliyahu, son of R' Avraham, mentions the “eminent and acute Rabbi Dov, who was a preacher and rabbi in Lubtch.”

Rabbi Dov-Baer's sons were: R' Yosef-Yehoshua Yaffe, head of the religious court in Toiragen (mentioned in the book “Sh'eilot v'tshuvot Tsioni”, par.28) and the Gaon R' Menachem Gimpel, head of the rabbinical court in Dartchin and Rizinau, interred in Petach Tikvah, Eretz-Yisrael. R' Dov-Baer's son-in-law, R' Yaakov, served as rabbi in Otian, the city of his last position in the rabbinate.

The research scholar, Rashi Fin(e), included the name of R' Dov-Baer Yaffe in a list of inscriptions of tombstones in the old cemetery of Vilna which he published in his well-known book, “Kiriya Ne'emana”.

In the addendum of the book, “Tsemach David”, it is written: “Dov-Baer from Karelitz, rabbi in the holy community of Otian, was renowned as a genius and righteous man who raised up many students, and his family lineage goes back generation after generation to the Gaon R' Mordechai Yaffe, author of 'HaLevushim'”.

His son, the Gaon R' Gimpel Yaffe, was about nine years old when he was orphaned from his father. He may have been born in Lubtch when his father was serving as rabbi in that town. All his life, R' Mordechai Gimpel was in anguish over the fact that “most of his writings on the Torah were in my possession including his responses and essays-and most were burned in a big fire that broke out in Brizhinoi, and I didn't manage to publish the remnants of his writings which are more valuable than gold.” (From “HaRav HaMeyuchad”, by Binyamin Yaffe, Jerusalem 5718.)

The grandson of R' Dov Baer's sister was the Gaon R' Avraham-Yitzchak HaCohen, head of the rabbinical court in Jaffa, chief rabbi in Jerusalem, and Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, who would always speak respectfully of his holy great-grandfather, R' Dov-Baer, a personality from Lubtch.

 

The Gaon Rabbi Yehonatan

He was known in the Lithuanian world of Torah as Yehonatan from Volin, referring to the Volin region, where the little town of Stanov, his birthplace, is located.

From the days of his youth, he was absorbed in theoretical learning in Talmud and its commentators and was distinguished by his wonderful skills, exemplary diligence, his piety and acts of righteousness. His father, a “Hassid” (follower of the sect of the “devout” founded by the Baal Shem Tov), as were the other people in Stanov, wanted his son to continue on the path of Hassidism, to go to the Admor (Hassidic rabbi) and stay in his surroundings. R' Yehonatan, however, aspired to be dedicated to the study of Torah, and his only wish was to go to a place of Torah learning in Lithuania. Not long afterwards, his young wife died, and so he went to study at the Volozhin Yeshiva. The head of the yeshiva, R' Chaim, was amazed at the student and reserved a special room for him in the yeshiva building. His meals were provided by the yeshiva. R' Chaim would go in to see him to discuss matters of Torah and the authoritative interpretation of the law. In addition to his diligence in his studies, R' Yehonatan would conduct himself with piety and with abstinence like a saint, and all the days he stayed at the yeshiva in Volozhin were devoted to Torah and its service.

At that time it was the custom at the Volozhin Yeshiva for the students to be sent on holidays to well-to-do families in the small towns of the area, and in this way they would renew their strength after a period of extended toil in their studies. R' Yehonatan was sent to Lubtch to the home of R' Shmuel Bakshter. R' Yehonatan's noble soul was joined to that family, which he came to every holiday, and he became a regular guest of R' Shmuel, who treated him as one of the family members.

In the year 5581 (1821), R' Chaim passed away and his son, R' Yitzchak, was appointed to replace him as head of the rabbinical court and head of the college. R' Shmuel Bakshter consulted with R' Yitzchak as to whether he should take R' Yehonatan as a groom for his daughter. R' Yitzchak answered him in these words: “I also have a daughter who has already reached marriageable age, but I would like to fulfill what is said: 'I have given my daughter to a man in the full sense of the word, and not to an angel.'…” Nevertheless, R' Shmuel gave him his daughter for a wife, since his daughter was also in agreement. Later on, R' Shmuel realized that this match was indeed not so suitable, for his son-in-law was too far removed from the affairs of this world and that he yearned only for Torah….

And indeed, while at Lubtch, R' Yehonatan devoted himself to Torah and service to God and became a shining example of holiness on his way, not only in Lubtch but also in all the small towns of Lithuania and Zhamot. However, his days were not long there as he passed away in the prime of life in Lubtch while his father-in-law, R' Shmuel Bakshter, was still alive. Many men from Lubtch who were born the year that R' Yehonatan passed away recall that they were named Yehonatan in memory of the saintly rabbi who died childless without leaving any progeny after him. The married yeshiva student, R' Yaakov-Moshe Direktor, head of the rabbinical court in Mosh, called his son Yehonatan, and his son later became a well-known rabbi in Israel.

R' Yehonatan from Volin is mentioned three times in the book, “HaHut HaMeshulash”.

The Gaon R' Eliezer-Yitzchak Fried (who replaced his father, the Gaon R' Yitzchak as head of the rabbinical court and college in Volozhin), writes about R' Yehonatan, “…renowned in Torah and piety, my soul friend, (par. 23), who lived here in the holy yeshiva of Volozhin”. The great genius and renowned saint, revered rabbi, R' Yisrael-Meir, of blessed memory, from Radon, author of “Hehafetz Chaim”, who knew R' Yehonatan when he was young, brings down in his well-known book, “Ahavat Hesed”: “'Marganita Tava - Containing Good Rules of Conduct' by the true genius, saint and renowned rabbi of the preceding generation from among the sages of Israel, the genius and splendor of the Jewish People, devoted to God in his steadfastness of heart and awesome deeds, from the town of Lubtch, where everyone called him R' Yehonatan from Volin.”

According to one source, R' Yehonatan served a short time before his death as rabbi and head of the rabbinical court in Lubtch. However, he resigned sometime later on account of his restrictions which he didn't want to force upon the members of the community. The same source, (“HaMelitz”, 5660-1900: Ben Ephraim), relates that one of the students of R' Yehonatan in Lubtch was the then young R' Eliezer-Chaim Meizel (who was subsequently head of the rabbinical court in many large communities in Poland). Also R' Eliezer Bakshtansky from Pinsk, a native born son of Lubtch and relative of Shmuel Bakshter, studied under R' Yehonatan and heard words of Torah from his mouth.

 

The Gaon R'Aharon-David Baksht

This rabbi, one of the great Halachic authorities in Lithuania, was the author of the book “Peulot Adam”, which contains new interpretations of laws, remarks and philosophical thoughts on the book “Chayai Adam”, by the Gaon R'Avraham Danzig, rabbi in Vilna. However, it was only in 5643 (1883), fifteen years after the author's death, that this book had the fortune to be published in Vilna.

The manuscript, which was in the possession of the author's son, R' Chaim-Eliezer, resident of the town of Darbani, was published at the expense of the author's son-in-law, R' Shniur Zalman, a well-to-do Jew of the Habad Hassidim and one of the important figures in Vilna. In his preface to the book, R' Shniur Zalman writes that his father-in-law had written two other important works which had remained, one entitled “Sha'ar HaMishkal”, containing two explanations of the Rambam's (Maimonides') “Sefer HaMitzvot”, and the other, bearing the name “Moreh Da'at” dealing with exegesis and ethics.

According to the following source, we know that R' Avraham-David Baksht was one of the close friends of R' Yitzchak of Volozhin. Printed at the front of the book “Peulot Adam” is a letter of R' Yitzchak to R' Avraham-David Baksht from the year 5586 (1826) regarding a matter of law concerning the grafting of a tree. This question was sent by R' Avraham-David in his time to R' Chaim from Volozhin, father of the Gaon R' Yitzchak. In the meantime R' Chaim died and R' Avraham-David asked R' Yitzchak if he would kindly send him the response that his father, the Gaon, of blessed memory, had written. R' Yitzchak replied that this response was not found among his father's writings due to a fire that had broken out in Volozhin. He mentions something en passant about an illness which struck him the previous year and the following summer. R' Avraham-Yitzchak is described in these words: “My beloved friend, the Rabbi, Light of the Exile, sharp-minded, reasonable in handing down decisions, astute branch of the family tree, standing with its roots.”

In the preface to the book, R' Chaim-Eliezer praises R' Avraham-Zadok Boigen, head of the rabbinical court in Darbani, who encouraged him to tend to the printing of this important book of his father's, and blesses his brother-in-law (his sister's husband) with the blessing that “he should dwell in the shade (protection) of money”, and this blessing, in fact, became a shield against that, and he published the book at his own expense - it is for the merit of the many and for the merit of the soul of the rabbi and author who toiled all his life in learning Torah. And indeed, this author from Lubtch revealed himself as an authority in Jewish law and an expert in handing down decisions, and in this book he often surpasses what he wrote in “Chayai Adam”, which is intended for use by deciders of Jewish law based on the “Orach Haim” section of the “Shulchan Arukh” (Code of Jewish Law). He likewise surpasses the book “Chochmat Adam”, which is devoted to the “Yoreh Deyah” component of the “Shulchan Arukh” written by the author of “Chayei Adom”. Only some of the ideas were printed in his book. The rest are found in manuscript and are awaiting someone to come to the rescue and pay for the printing.

According to the preface of the book, it is known that R' Avraham-David Baksht lived a life of suffering and distress until his acceptance as a rabbi in Lubtch. He would teach his pupils for the sake of Heaven without accepting any payment in return. Apparently, the honorable resident of the town, Rabbi Shmuel Bakshter who, I seem to think, was a relative of his, helped him obtain a position in the rabbinate. And indeed, this family was famous in its importance, as the Gaon R' Yitzchak emphasizes in his letter to R' Avraham-David, “the branch of the family tree”.

Rabbi Avraham-David passed away in the year 5627 (1867). A death notice appeared in the Hebrew weekly “HaLevanon”, year 4, 5627-8 , issue 25. The author of the report is the Bible scholar, R' Yehoshua Bar Elchanan HaLevi Levinsohn, a distinguished person from Lubtch.

 

The Gaon Rabbi Shmuel Zibertansky

R' Shmuel Zibertansky was born in Lubtch in 5578 (1818). He was the son of Rabbi Yosef, a member of the Maslovty family. He was orphaned as an infant and received his Torah education from his father's father. His splendid abilities were already evident as a child. He later came to Vilna to soak up religious instruction at the upper level yeshiva where he studied under the patronage of his relative, the Gaon R' Yisrael Zartcher, one of the leading rabbis of the city. The youth, whose soul craved clear and outstanding learning, soon gave proof of his great skills, rapid grasp of ideas, and amazing memory. His mind abounded with new interpretations, which made him famous as the “child prodigy from Lubtch ”. His classmates with whom he exchanged ideas were two “geniuses”, R' Hillel Mileikovsky, head of the rabbinical court in Salant, and R' Alexander-Moshe Lapidotsohn, head of the rabbinical court in Roseini. They remained R' Shmuel's friends all their lives.

There were rabbis among the well-to-do property owners who wanted R' Shmuel as a son-in-law. The wealthy and respected R' Moshe Rodominer succeeded in winning him as a husband for his daughter, thus removing the burden of making a living from R' Shmuel so that he could continue to study Torah and become famous as one of the geniuses. And indeed, R' Shmuel became a household name in the world of Torah.

In 5638 (1878), when still diligent as a private person in the “tents of Torah ”, R' Shmuel was appointed supervisor of the kolel [yeshiva for married men] in the “Opatov” Beit Midrash in Vilna, which was maintained by a special fund from the estate of the wealthy R' Yudel Opatov. There, many superior students, including great Torah scholars, warmed themselves in his light. When the scholar, the Gaon R' Yaakov Barit, a rabbi in Vilna, died in 5643 (1883), R' Shmuel was appointed to assume his position, a role he performed with much success until his death on 8 Tammuz, 5658 (1898).

R' Shmuel's grandson, the Gaon R' Hanoch-Henich Eiges, (son-in-law of the son of R' Shlomo Zibertansky) published letters remaining after R' Shmuel's death in a special book entitled “Olam Shmuel” (Vilna 5661, 1901). The book contains two parts: Part I - differences of opinion, new interpretations and elucidations on subjects from the Mishnah; Part II - sermons and concluding remarks on various tractates of the Talmud. R' Hanoch-Henich attached new interpretations of the Torah of his own to this book entitled “Minchat Hanoch” (on matters relating to sacred offerings).

A eulogy delivered upon the death of the Gaon R' Shmuel may be found in the book, “Makor Haim” by the Gaon R' Chaim Seglovitz, rabbi in Vilna. The author knew R' Shmuel very well, having regularly engaged in give and take with him on certain matters of Jewish law. He quotes the Gaon R' Shmuel several times in this book.

R' “Shmuel from Lubtch” was known by this name within and without Vilna. He even liked being called by the name of his hometown, which produced famous personalities of Torah and spiritual leaders who were renowned among the Jewish people.

R' Shmuel once received a letter from the rabbinate in Lubtch. This was apparently around 5628 (1868) after the death of the head of the rabbinical court, R' Aharon David Baksht. According to Mr. Pisiuk, R' Shmuel served as head of the rabbinical court in Lubtch. However, he missed Vilna, returned to his family and gave up his position with the rabbinate in Lubtch. It seems that his wife and children, who were in Vilna, refused to settle in the small town of Lubtch.

 

The Gaon R' Yechiel-Michal Epshtein

The Gaon R' Yechiel-Michal Epshtein was born in 5590 (1830) into a distinguished family in Bobruisk (Belarussia). His father, R' Aharon, devoted his son to Torah and hung all his hopes and wishes on him. He studied at the yeshiva in Volozhin where he was the pupil of R' Yitzchak, from whom he acquired a way of learning involving methodical expertise, examination of versions and words of the early Talmudic expositors. He was especially occupied with rendering definitive Halachic decisions through exposure to all sources. He was 22 years old when he was ordained by the great rabbis of Lithuania. However, he gave up the rabbinate and dwelled in the “tents of Torah”. His livelihood was assured thanks to his well-to-do father and father-in-law, R' Yaakov Berlin, a resident of Mir, who was also well-off, distinguished, scholarly, respected and a lover of Torah.

However, owing to conditions at the time - his father died and his father-in-law went to live in Eretz-Yisrael - R' Yechiel-Michal accepted a position with the rabbinate in Novozibkov (Tsarnigov Region). Although this city was home to numerous Habad Hassidim, the Hassidic Admor [rabbi] agreed to the appointment of the rabbi in his community.

He was assiduous in his learning also in Novozibkov. In 5629 (1869), he wrote a book entitled “Or Layesharim” dealing with the “Sefer HaYashar” by Rabbenu Tam. R' Epshtein's work was published by the Zytomir Press a few generations later.

He was already famous as a genius when he was accepted as the head of the rabbinic court in Lubtch and the Jews of the town rejoiced over his appointment. However, their happiness was premature. The leaders of the Novogrudek community “snatched” the rabbi away from them unbeknownst to the people of Lubtch. On the first day of Tammuz 5634 (1874), the Jews of Novogrudek welcomed him with honor befitting a king. And this incident became the topic of conversation in all the small towns of the area. R' Yechiel-Michal became a great “responder” to questions on matters of Jewish law; people turned to him from far and wide with serious questions and for the sake of obtaining rabbinic ordination.

Despite his concerns for the affairs of the community and for two additional matters mentioned above, R' Yechiel-Michal Epshtein surprised the Torah world with the writing of his great “Arukh HaShulchan” on four parts of the “Shulchan Arukh #148; (Code of Jewish Law by Joseph Caro) characterized by its originality, independence of thought, fine planning and clear style. Designed according to the format of R' Mordechai Yaffe's “HaLevushim”, this major work deals not only with laws in force in his time alone, but also with all subjects pertaining to Halacha and even pertaining to three “Orders” of the Mishneh (Zera'im, Kodashim and Taharot) from the first sources of Talmudic literature to contemporary deciders of Jewish law. In this book, he brings down decisions based on vague and unknown sources unfamiliar to several great Halachic authorities. He deciphers them in a clear and simple style which is understandable to everyone. He shows the give and take of Halachic clarification in the subject under discussion and thereby one arrives not only at knowing the law itself in light of its definitive judgment, but also the sources themselves, which is very beneficial even to rabbis who are experts in these matters.

Two parts of the “Arukh HaShulchan” appeared in print by the day of the death of the Gaon R' Yechiel-Michal Epshtein in 5668 (1908); seven additional parts were brought for printing after his death (Vilna, 1923-28) by his daughter, Brayna Volbrinsky. R' Yechiel-Michal Epshtein left behind new interpretations on the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud and a mass of responses which have yet to appear in print. In 1938, a continuation of his above-mentioned decisions appeared entitled “Arukh HaShulchan le-Atid” (Yalkut Publication) on the Mishneh Order of Zera'im with a preface by his grandson, Rabbi Meir Berlin, son of the “Netziv” of Volozhin, and likewise a third part (1946), published by the Mosad Rav Kook-Jerusalem.

The sons of the author of “Arukh HaShulchan” were R' Baer and R' Baruch Epshtein: R' Baer was a great scholar who emigrated to Eretz-Yisrael in 5666 (1906) and settled in Jerusalem. He was the treasurer of several Torah and charity institutions of the former Jewish population in Palestine. He died in 5691 (1931) and was laid to rest on the Mt. of Olives. R' Baruch Epshtein, a resident of Pinsk, is the son-in-law of the Gaon R' Eliezer-Moshe HaLevi, of the Horovitz family. He was the author of the book “Torah Temimah”. He likewise wrote his autobiography and the life of his ancestors entitled “Makor Baruch” in three volumes including a long introduction in a separate volume (Vilna 5688-1928).

 

Rabbi Tzvi-Nahum Titkin

We do not have any special information concerning this rabbi. He was head of the rabbinical court in Lubtch after the death of Rabbi Avraham-David Baksht and he remained in that position until 5638 (1878). In that same year, he was accepted as head of the rabbinical court in Kletsk (Slutsk District) and left Lubtch.

Zvi-Nahum was a distinguished scholar as was fitting the level of Talmudic erudition of Lubtch, especially as at that time the righteous and venerable R' Shmuel Baksht was still alive and active there. R' Zvi-Nahum died in Kletsk in 5641 (1881) at the age of 61.

During the period when R' Zvi-Nahum served in office in Lubtch, his son R' Moshe-Chaim (Rabinovitz) grew up and was educated by his father, who designated a group of learning partners for him among the finest yeshiva students in the town. Among them was the renowned Talmudist R' Malkiel Tennenboim, the son-in-law of a wealthy Jew who owned an estate near Yarmitch, close to Lubtch. R' Malkiel would come to Lubtch to refresh himself with words of Torah with the head of the rabbinical court, R' Zvi-Nahum and he chose a fixed place for himself in the study hall in Lubtch on the days he came there. Later on, R' Malkiel was prominent as head of the rabbinical court in Lomzhe and wrote a book entitled “Divrei Malkiel”.

Moshe-Chaim also studied in Minsk in the company of rabbis, R' Aryeh-Leib, the official town rabbi and R' Gershon-Tanhum, head of the rabbinic college (Mesivta) in the “kloiz” [synagogue] in Limks and likewise with R' Shmuel Zibertansky (native of Lubtch), and R' Eliyahu-Eliezer Grudzhensky - both of whom were rabbis in the city of Vilna.

R' Moshe-Chaim was a distinguished Talmudic authority and was considered a giant in Torah in the circle of the younger generation of rabbis. He emigrated to America where he guided the new spiritual leaders in the traditional ways of Torah. In 5648 (1888), he was rabbi and leader of a congregation in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York and established regulations for strengthening religion, exalting Torah and the honor of the rabbinate. R' Moshe-Chaim had the merit of living a long life and he died in 5692 (1932), at the age of 82. He left behind works on all subjects of Torah.

R' Moshe-Chaim always remembered his hometown of Lubtch and would often send sums of money for the benefit of religious and charitable organizations in the town.

 

Rabbi Yitzchak HaLevi Bonimovitch

We have no information regarding the biography of Rabbi Yitzchak HaLevi Bonimovitch. He may have been born in Volozhin if we consider the fact that this name was common in that town in those days and that several people bearing that name were heads of the community and town workers.

R' Yitzchak was accepted as rabbi in Lubtch after R' Zvi-Nahum Tiktin moved to Kletsk. In 5659 (1899) he was very active on behalf of the town and devoted himself with great energy to the rehabilitation of the “burned ones”, those who were burned in the great fire that broke out that year in Lubtch.

Certain details of that fire, an event which served as a date marker in the history of Lubtch, can be found in the daily newspaper, “HaTsfira”, issue #117, of the year 5658 (1898). There we read: “Yesterday, God's hand was evident in the city. At twelve o'clock a fire broke out and consumed more than 150 homes and buildings including a synagogue, and two study halls. The public bath, post and telegraph office and the pharmacy were also burned to their foundation. More than 200 families whose homes were reduced to embers are suffering want and hunger. The condition of these unfortunate people is awful and it is impossible to describe the disaster which befell them so suddenly.” This report is signed by A.Ch. Itzkavitch from Delatitch who appeals “to the generous among the people to hurry to the welfare and aid of the “burned ones”, adding that “every donation, even the smallest, will be accepted with many thanks.”

In the newspaper “HaTsfira”, issue #182, the head of the Lubtch rabbinical court, Rabbi Yitzchak HaLevi Bonimovitch, appeals directly to public opinion in Lithuania and Russia asking for help for the victims of the fire of our town in the following words: “A appeal for aid! The voices of the moaning of the victims of the fire in our town will reach Heaven. It is impossible to describe in words the extent of the affliction, misfortune and distress which befell this city, as the victims were unable to save any of their belongings, lacking even slight relief, and they have nothing to feed themselves or their children. Also the study halls and synagogue, which were built for our prayers, were burned down to their foundation, and there is no place to pour out our prayers before God the Merciful on the High Holy Days, which are coming upon us for the good”.

“Please, merciful sons of merciful fathers, take pity on the souls of the misfortunate who are wandering around the streets of Lubtch. Bear in mind that the days of autumn will not be long in coming and that there is no place of refuge for those stricken by the disaster to hide from the cold and from the terrible lack of food and clothing in every corner to which we turn- in our city. Please hurry to our aid! And all who have pity will themselves be pitied and will acquire wealth in their homes, and their charity is everlasting”.

This special emotional appeal of Rabbi Bonimovitch made a great impression on the Sons of Israel in the near-by communities and on certain individuals among the generous people in other places. In connection with this, we read in a “Tsfira”, # 206, the following: “On behalf of the poor people in our town who were victims of the fire”, Chaim Bonimovitch (apparently the rabbi's son) expresses his special thanks to the honorable gentlemen: “the respected citizen, Dr. Shapira, and Pan [Sir] Beiten for not sparing any effort and toil in raising money and collecting food from the estate owners - hundreds of rubles which will be divided among the misfortunate to help them in every way possible, and yet their hand is still outstretched. And may the blessing of the poor, who are awaiting the Lord's salvation and the aid of men, come upon them.”

One of the sons of Rabbi Yitzchak HaLevi Bonimovitch was R' Aharon HaLevi, head of the rabbinical court in Shatsk (Slutsk District) from 1884 to the day of his death in the month of Tammuz 5674 (1914), some twenty days before the outbreak of the First World War. The Orthodox Hebrew weekly, “HaModia”, which appeared then in Poltava (Ukraine), carried this news report. Special emphasis was placed on the fact that the late rabbi was “the son of the Gaon R' Yitzchak HaLevi (Bonimovitch), head of the rabbinical court in Lubtch.”

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Rabbi Yitzchak HaLevi Bonimovitch (R'Itchele)

 

Rabbi Meir Abovitz

He was born in the small town of Shniadova (Lomzhe District) in 5636 (1876). He received his Talmud education at the yeshivot in Lomzhe and Radon as well as in the Kolel [school for married men who left their wives to study] in Kovna. He was ordained for the rabbinate by the “Gaonim”: R' Moshe Danishevsky, head of the rabbinical court in Slobodka, R' Hirsch Rabinovitch, head of the rabbinical court in Kovna, and R' Malkiel Tennenboim, head of the rabbinical court in Lomzhe. He served as head of the rabbinical court in Delatitch and later in Lubtch after the death of the previous rabbi.

However, Rabbi Abovitz served for only a short time as head of the rabbinical court in Lubtch. In the fall of 5675 (1915), during World War I, Lubtch was destroyed to its foundations. The Jews who were living there became war refugees. They were uprooted and wandered to other places. Rabbi Abovitz found a place of refuge in Novogrudek, which was then occupied by the Germans. He remained there afterwards and was active in the rabbinate for many years- until 5701 (1941) when World War II was raging.

Rabbi Meir Abovitz was a great rabbi, highly respected in the districts of Polish Lithuania and represented the glorious rabbinate of Lubtch with honor. He was also a great scholar of the Jerusalem Talmud, something which was uncommon among other rabbis, even the most well-known among them. He won recognition and great renown in the rabbinical world with his book “Pnei Ma'or” on both Talmud tractates of Shabbat and Eruvin in the Jerusalem Talmud (Vilna, 5686, 5698) In this book, the author mainly explains remarks by the Gra [the Gaon from Vilna] pertaining to his elucidation of the Jerusalem Talmud. He is aided in several places by substitutions of texts brought down in the book “Ahavat Tsion viyerushalayim” by the sage, R' Dov Baer Ratner from Vilna. Likewise, he attached to his book “HaNer HaMa'aravi” by the Gaon R' Yosef-Shaul Natansohn, and “Eyn Mishpat” by the Gaon R' Mordechai-Zev Itinga, in addition to the two above-mentioned tractates of the Jerusalem Talmud. He also added to his book, “Pnei Ma'or”, pamphlets entitled “Shvivei-Or”, containing remarks, completions and additions next to each tractate.

R' Abovitz lost many of his writings in Lubtch on the day the Germans occupied the town during the First World War. Nevertheless, new interpretations of his, on most of the tractates of the Babylonian Talmud as well as on the majority of the tractates of the Jerusalem Talmud remained in his possession. Close to his death, on the eve of the dreadful Holocaust, his book of discourses, “Kochavei Or” also appeared (Vilna 1938). It contains sermons, elucidations of legends and explanatory discussions given at the conclusion of a tractate of the Talmud or an Order of the Mishna. Included also are his remarks on the “Azharot” of R' Shlomo Ibn Gvirol, referring to the 613 commandments in poetry form (recited on the Feast of Weeks in many Sephardic congregations).

Rabbi Meir Abovitz was a loyal Zionist, devoted to the “Mizrachi” movement and participated in its conferences and congresses. He was also active on behalf of the Jewish National Fund and the Keren HaYesod and took part in special fund raising drives for the benefit of the renewed Jewish settlement in Eretz-Yisrael.

In 5679 (1919) Rabbi Abovitz took part in a meeting which took place in Vilna to establish the “Mizrachi” movement. Most of the rabbis and rabbinic judges of the “Jerusalem of Lithuania”, including R' Yitzchak HaLevi Rubinshtein, R' Hanoch-Henich Eiges and R' Meir Karelitz took part in the meeting. He signed a manifesto presented by a group of rabbis in Polish Lithuania appealing to others to join the “Mizrachi” movement, emphasizing the great need “to develop branches and associations in all cities near and far in Lithuania which will work for the benefit of the building of our people on the mountains of Zion and to correspond in writing with the rest of the “Mizrachi” centers”, and [they called] “on the central committee to try to improve the education of our children according to the spirit of the written and orally transmitted Torah and to plant in their hearts faithful love of our Torah for our people and our land”.

He also participated in the first conference of “Mizrachi” rabbis in Greater Poland which took place in Warsaw in the summer of 5683 (1923). He signed a manifesto on behalf of the “Mizrachi” rabbis in Poland (Elul 5683) encouraging Jews to join the “Mizrachi” movement, emphasizing the great value of the movement “which aspires to strengthen the Torah and the revival of Eretz-Yisrael, the Jewish People, and the language of Israel wholeheartedly”.

Rabbi Abovitz helped found the “Mizrachi” branch in Novogrudek - the only religious organization in the city - and greatly endeavored to strengthen national-religious education in that city as a safeguard against the influence of secular schools that had sprouted in and around Novogrudek after the First World War. He also set up a lower division yeshiva in Novogrudek (1922) which was permeated with the religious Zionist spirit in the style of “Mizrachi” . He likewise established a “Shas” society next to “Mizrachi”.

Despite his being a loyal Zionist, Rabbi Meir Abovitz was accepted as well by the rabbis in the area who tended towards “Agudat Yisrael” [ultra-orthodox party]. The Gaonim R' Chaim-Ozer Grudzhensky from Vilna, R' Zvi-Hirsch Kamai from Mir and R' Elchanan Vasserman from Baronovitch considered him to be a great person, both crowned with Torah and God-fearing.

The son of the Gaon R' Elchanan Vasserman, R' Simcha (lives in the USA), was R' Meir Abovitz's son-in-law. In his father's book, “Kovetz Shiurim” (published in Israel), R' Simcha points out that his father-in-law, R' Meir Abovitz, died on 7 Tevet 5701 (1941), had the merit of dying on his bed and was buried in Novogrudek.

 

Rabbi Yitzchak Weiss (Veis) - May the Lord Avenge His Death!

He was a native of Yanova (Grodno District). He received an outstanding Talmudic education. For a number of years he attended R' Yosef Yozel's “Musar” (Ethics Movement) yeshiva in Novogrudek. He then studied at the Mir Yeshiva for some time and was a close friend of the Gaon R' Eliyahu-Baruch Kamai, head of the rabbinical court and rabbinical college of this town. He was a son-in-law of the Gaon R' Meir Abovitz, head of the rabbinical court in Lubtch and took his place in the rabbinate of that small town after his father-in-law was accepted for a position in the rabbinate of Novogrudek and settled there.

R' Yitzchak Weiss was considered an outstanding and innovative student according to the style of learning of the Lithuanian yeshivot. His way of learning in understanding the secrets of the various topics of the Talmud according to the explanations of the early Talmudic authorities was based on the approach of his teacher and rabbi, the Gaon R' Raphael-Alter Shmuelovitz (also a native of Lubtch), head of the rabbinical college in Novogrudek. He had some written lessons of his above-mentioned teacher and rabbi on various tractates of the Talmud, and many of the Mir Yeshiva students came to him in Lubtch to become “intoxicated” with the learning method of both R' Alter and R' Yitzchak.

For some time R' Yitzchak maintained a group of yeshiva and Torah students in Lubtch who were blessed with special ability and who learned diligently under his guidance in the local study hall. He saw to it that they had lodging and food. He would sometimes come to the Mir Yeshiva to participate in the Talmudic give and take with the famous yeshiva boys and rabbinic college students. The following real-life description of R' Yitzchak may be found in the preface to the book, “Imrei Da'at” (Jerusalem, 5722, 1962):

“I have a holy obligation to recall the memory of my childhood friend, the gaon [genius], and wonderful innovator of Halacha and ethics, R' Yitzchak Weiss, the Lubtch rabbi, who was called at the yeshiva “Yitzchak Yanover”, may the Lord avenge his blood!”

To our sorrow, not a trace remains of his family. We became friends forever in a written contract for Torah and work, and we shared our expenses. We went into seclusion in summer as well as in winter in some village where we spent days and nights undisturbed. After we each got married, we moved to the yeshiva in Baronovitch. Later we decided to seek positions in the rabbinate. Together we studied the rulings of the deciders of Jewish law and in the same week he got a position in the rabbinate of Lubtch and I in Horodishets. May his memory be blessed and may the Lord avenge his blood!

The writer of these lines is Rabbi Yitzchak Veinshtein from Zhetil, who was head of the rabbinical court in Horodishets, spiritual director of the Volozhin Yeshiva and head of the rabbinical court in Vishniva and now a resident of Jerusalem.

It is worth mentioning that with all R' Yitzchak Weiss' devotion to Lithuanian learning and to the aims of the “Musar” [ethics] movement in Novogrudek, he was cordial to religious Zionism and contributed to the Zionist fund and “Mizrachi” fund raising drives. He likewise engaged in propaganda to encourage young people from the small towns to go on “aliya” to Eretz Yisrael.


[Page 98]

Reb Itchele's Curse

By Yitzchak Shlimovitch

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

Year after year, the Jews of Lubtch were involved in law suits with the gentiles over their claim to the pasture fields by the Neiman River. Meanwhile, the gentiles inflicted great harm on the animals: they would drive the cows away from the pasture, beat them pitilessly and even cut off their udders.

One night, a fire broke out on Delatitch Street, where the gentiles lived. Their sheds containing stored crops from the fields also caught fire. On that very same day, the gentiles had cut the udders off several cows belonging to Jews. The Jews had apparently forgotten about that and eagerly helped the fire fighters put out the blaze.

The rabbi at that time, Reb Itchele, seeing now hard the Jewish boys were working to extinguish the fire, said to them:

“Children, don't exhaust yourselves! If their property burns down every year, they'll forget about us.” Since then, not a year has gone by that there haven't been fires among the gentiles on Delatitch Street.

My father, from whom I heard this story, used to add: – The “zaddik” (righteous man) had put this curse on them.


[Pages 99-104]

That's How We Lived…

By Gershon Jankelowitz

Transcribed and expanded by Greta (born Grunia) Katz (nee Jankelowitz) for her father Gershon

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

My father, Hershel Zvi, was a country man and lived in the little village of Zaluzshok, near Ostashin. At that time, many Jews lived in villages, owned small stores and taverns, bought up products from the gentiles, sowed fields and gardens and struggled to make a living.

Although we lived among gentiles, we kept our “Yiddishkeit” [Judaism]. We prayed three times a day, obeyed the dietary laws, sent our children to study with teachers or brought teachers to our homes, observed the Sabbath and, on the holidays, we would go to the small towns (“shetlach”) to celebrate the festivals together with all the Jews.

Certainly, all the stories which were told about the country people were exaggerated. Perhaps the country folk were a little more primitive, more naïve than the city people. There were also a lot of ignorant and coarse people, but they could just as well be found in the cities, but no one told stories about them and put their every word on display.

The rhythm of life flowed by quietly and peacefully with its small worries and small joys. People made do with little, didn't have great aspirations and thanked God for giving them life and a piece of bread.

But suddenly, a decree was issued by the Czar that the Jews must leave the villages and move to the small towns. My father, may he rest in peace, harnessed the horse to the wagon, placed a few things on it, seated mother and her 5 sons and 5 daughters, said goodbye to our Gentile neighbors and left for my grandfather's home in Lubtch.

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Gershon Jankelowitz

 

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Chaya-Basha Jankelowitz

 

My grandfather, Yoske Yisrael-Isaacs, was a rich landlord and owned a big place and fields in the small town. When my father arrived and began to cry: “What should I do now with my family?”, my grandfather calmed him and said: “You know, my son, I divided the inheritance while I'm still alive among your brothers and sisters, and I won't do you an injustice either. Take the backmost place for yourself with a small field, build a house, plant a big garden with vegetables and God will help you”.

Father followed his advice and we became residents of Lubtch. But, as we didn't have any income, my father became a “village traveler”. He would borrow merchandise from Shlomo Chazkels and sell it to the peasants in the surrounding villages. In addition, he would lay out 3 rubles in cash to buy products from the peasants. Every Sunday they would settle their accounts and borrow more merchandise until the following Sunday. That's how Jews did business at that time and, thank God, made a living. Trading consisted mainly in buying and selling linseed, flax, cattle, horses, mushrooms, hog bristles, small hides, fowl and eggs.

At the beginning of the [20th] century, 400 Jewish families were living in Lubtch and of those, 100 families were “village travelers”, going out to the villages on business. The rabbi at that time was Rebbe Itchele, a superlative scholar and great “zaddik” (righteous man). His salary was 10 rubles a week and when the people wanted to add two more rubles to his pay, he refused to accept it. The rabbi's salary came from a tax on yeast and slaughtering animals. The “chazan” [cantor] was called Reb Meyer-Ozer, and he had a very pleasant voice. In general, one must remember that the Jews of Lubtch were connoisseurs of singing. They were ready and willing to pay a lot for a good cantorial “piece”. How many small towns allowed themselves the luxury of maintaining their own “chazan”? But, let's get back to that time. The rabbi used to pray in the red study hall. There were also, of course, scholars and actually good scholars: Moshe-Mordechai from Novogrudeker Street, Reuvke the Scholar and others.

When Rebbe Itchele passed away, his son, Rebbe Yosef-Eliahu succeeded him as rabbi of the village. However, some of the Jews in Lubtch didn't agree and demanded that another rabbi be appointed- Rebbe Hirsh, the brother of Reb Moshe Rabinovitch. A fire of contention broke out, and finally there were two rabbis in Lubtch. The taxes on yeast and slaughtering continued to support both rabbis.

When I was supposed to get married, it turned out that my fiancee's relatives were followers of Rebbe Yosef-Eliahu, whereas my family belonged to the other side. My fiancee's relatives announced that if Rebbe Hirsh officiated under the “chuppa”, they wouldn't attend the wedding. Their ultimatum made us very sad, but I wouldn't give in. Of course, Rebbi Hirsh did, in fact, marry us under the “chuppa”, and my fianc?e's family did attend the wedding (Did they really have a choice?), but the next morning my father-in-law went to pray in the other study hall and didn't bring me into shul as required by custom. Therefore, we refused to go to the “sweet ginger cake and brandy” ceremony at my wife's family's home. Some good friends, however, got involved and made peace in the family at the sweets table. These were the kinds of problems that concerned us at that time. It is really hard to conceive of the great change that has taken place in Jewish life in the course of the last two generations.

After my marriage, I had to worry about providing for my wife and our children, who came into the world one after the other - may they have long lives! I rented orchards, had a dairy farm, traded in whatever was allowed and nevertheless could hardly make a living.

When the First World War broke out (1913), we were driven out of the town. We spent the entire war years wandering through various villages around Novogrudek. After the war, we returned to Lubtch, but the village lay in ruins and we had to start all over. We were hungry and suffered a great deal until we managed to get back on our feet.

The situation in Poland got progressively worse. A serious economic crisis accompanied by blatant anti-Semitism oppressed us and also provided warning about the future. Jews started to seek out countries for emigration. They would go anywhere if only to get away from Poland and from the smoldering volcano-Europe.

In 1930, I left Lubtch for South Africa. Four years later I brought over my children just before the onset of the bloody deluge.


[Page 104]

For the general good…

By Shalom Leibovitch

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

Jews in Lubtch generally enjoyed neighborly relations with the gentiles in the village. However, there were instances where they tried to abuse us. Naturally, we wouldn't let them.

One Sabbath day, the gentiles took their herds up to graze on the “vorek”, which belonged to the Jews.

Obeying the rabbi's orders, we went out to the “vorek” and chased off the gentiles with force. We wouldn't allow Jewish property to become ownerless. The gentiles thought that we wouldn't react on the holy Sabbath, but they were mistaken. The rabbi permitted it, having the general interest in view.


[Pages 105-110]

The 1915 fire in Lubtch

By Yitzchak Shlimovitch

Translated from Hebrew by Harvey Spitzer

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Yitzchak Shlimovitch

 

People in our village spoke a great deal about the war. The “statesmen” and the “strategists” would gather in a corner of the house of learning and discuss the war for hours at length. As was the custom, there were “Russian” and “Germans”, that is, those who supported the Russians and those who sided with the Germans. But, when the war was already knocking at our door, the “statesmen”, who followed the progress of the war on their hand, did not know what to think. And even when the first refugees began showing up around the high holidays, they still assured us that “it will not come to us”. It was simple and clear: a forsaken village, 30 miles from the railroad line, what do armies have to do here?…

At the conclusion of Yom Kippur, when Jews were sitting down and breaking their fast, a loud noise of heavy wagons and horseshoes was suddenly heard. Our house was on a street which cut across the entire village. We went out to see what was going on. The whole street was filled with several rows of wagons harnessed to four and six horses which kept on moving ahead. No one could sleep at all that night because of the noise. This went on for two full days without a stop. An entire army with all its weapons and soldiers was passing through: foot soldiers, horsemen, adjunct divisions and “provisions”. At the side of the road, exhausted and thirsty soldiers walked along in disarray. Many of them were wounded, with bandages covering their body parts. Some would run into the houses asking for a piece of bread or a drink of water. When there was only a small loaf of bread remaining in our house, which we wanted to keep for ourselves, a soldier came in just then asking for bread. Father told him that we had only that single, small loaf and that he couldn't give it away to him. The soldier raised his gun and pointed it at father's chest and called out: “If you don't give it to me, I'll put a bullet right through you!” And this wasn't the only such case.

In the morning on the eve of the holiday of Sukkot, a Russian colonel came into our house. He was a tall, slender man with a long, gray beard and a good-natured expression of true intelligence on his face. He asked if he could buy a fur coat. We handed him a coat and he put it on. He asked the price and paid. This made a great impression on everyone. After the terror of the Cossacks, who took everything without money, besides honoring us with beatings, this was certainly a surprise and my father started to cry. The colonel placed his hand on father's shoulder and said:

- – Don't cry, little uncle, you needn't. The Germans will actually soon be here, but don't worry. If they go another seven years the way they have been going, we will lose some territory, but their feet will become swollen as they move on and they will fall.

The two days of Sukkot went by in ever-growing fear. The village was under the command of the Cossacks, who took over in their own way. On the second day of Sukkot, in the daytime, an airplane flew over. People said it was a German plane and that it would drop bombs. There was a panic. People went down into the cellars to find shelter, but the plane went away and nothing happened. An hour later, two explosions shook the village. There was great confusion. No one knew what to do, where to run. With fingers shaking from fright, people began harnessing their horses to wagons and hurried out of the village onto the “vorek”, between the Neiman River and the study halls. That evening, someone came to tell us that the first bomb had hit Binyaminke's cellar and that there were dead and wounded.

Binyaminke, the rich wholesale grocer, was a whimsical Jew, stubborn but very smart with various ideas. A story was told about him: One morning he unloaded a few barrels of herring in his store. A neighbor who was just then passing by noticed that sauce was leaking from one of the barrels. The Jew did not waste a second, put out a finger and began licking the sauce. When Binyaminke saw this, he began shouting at the Jew: “Oy, Reb Meir, you are a Jew, a 'nasher'!” [lover of dainty foods, a gourmand].

A few years before World War I, Binyaminke's house burned down together with other houses. When re-building his house, Binyaminke said: “This time I'll build my house in such a way that if there's another fire in the village, my family and I will sit calmly in the cellar, drinking tea.” He did, in fact, build a house with several floors, the loveliest brick house in the village, and he saw to it that it had a very strong cellar besides. When the airplane was flying over the village, he gathered his family and neighbors together and they went down to the cellar to seek protection. As fate would have it, precisely his house with the cellar was the first one to be hit and produced the first Jewish casualties in the village.

When night fell, fires could be seen. The sky was red in several places, indicating that the surrounding villages were burning. After midnight, the staccato sound of machine guns and rifles was heard. From time to time, cannons also thundered. Fright and panic increased. Jews with stronger nerves calmed the general populace and people were told to recite psalms, which was accompanied by the wailing of women and children. The whole time, soldiers kept on running away in order to get to the other side of the Neiman River. An airplane appeared and dropped bombs. The bridge started to burn, but the Cossacks ran through the fire on their horses, while those on foot went into the water.

Fires, which the Cossacks purposely set, began to break out in the village. A quarter of an hour later, the village was burning on all sides. The heat was so intense that we could not stay in our place, so we moved to wherever there was moist grass. Bullets were flying over our heads and hit the wagons, wounding horses and many people as well. We all prayed to God to save us from the great danger.

Suddenly, the shooting subsided. From afar, we could see the steel helmets of the approaching German soldiers. They soon, in fact, reached us and ordered us to “disappear” as quickly as possible on the other side of the village, closer to the smaller villages because the battle was still going on. We started on our way at once and hid out in one of the smaller villages.

When we came back home the next day, we found only chimneys and ovens, our houses having been destroyed by the fire. We had no other choice but to take up our walking sticks and set out on the difficult way of war refugees.

 

Our Culture Club

At the end of the war, we returned to the burned down, devastated place which was once our village, Lubtch. It took some time until we re-built our house, as did many other Jews from Lubtch who had wandered from place to place during the war years and had, at the first opportunity, come back to re-build their homes on the ruins.

The children, who had grown up during the war years and had become young men and women, barely knew one another and felt like strangers. They slowly began to get closer, to talk and meet in the evenings. A club was created which had the pretension of setting the cultural tone of the village and did, in fact, help set Jewish life on a new, more modern foundation.

The following people belonged to the club: Berele Kabak, Reuvke Berkovitch, Chaim Bruk, both Shapiros, Aba Rozovsky, my male cousins Yoel and Kushe , my female cousins and others. Our meeting place was at the home of one of our members, Bashke Shimshelevitch (Shia-Niames). Their neighbors, Sheinke Gelfand and Rashke, and Chaim Bruk's two sisters also came to the meetings.

Aba Rozovsky aspired to be a poet. He did, in fact, write lovely poems which he read aloud to us with great pathos. One of his poems has remained etched in my memory to this very day. It goes something like this: “A Jewish mother tells her son about the “Sambatyon” River and about the Jews who live there and that no one ever dies there. When the child gets older, he comes to his mother with a complaint: he is studying geography in school and has not found a place called “Sambatyon” on any map. “You foolish little child”, answers his mother. “No one knows where it is located. No one dies there because, in fact, our people have not yet set a foot in there”.

At the end of 1921, two sisters, Leah and Frumke Osherovsky, came into the village. The small children would always gather around them. Dear Frumke liked to occupy them like a good nursery school teacher. It was then that we thought about organizing an elementary school. We set up the school in a part of the white house of learning which had been repaired. The first two teachers were Chaim Persky and Leah Osherovsky. Money for the school and for the repairs was provided by the “Yekopo” assistance organization in Vilna. Incidentally, I would like to mention that this was done at the initiative of my father and Tuvia the Shamash (Shimshelevtich), who devoted a lot of time, effort and work to bringing this plan to fruition.

We also set up a library, and right away many loyal readers of Yiddish and Hebrew showed up to borrow books. The first books were also received from “Yekopo” in Vilna. If my memory serves me correctly, the first organizing committee of the library consisted of the following members - Chaim Bruk, Berel Kabak, Bashke Shimshelevitch, Reuvke Berkovitch, Rashke, the blacksmith's daughter, Sheinke Gelfand and my humble self.

I left Lubtch in 1923.


[Page 110]

A comedy

Translated from the Yiddish by Harvey Spitzer

The founding of the Beitar academy took place in the fire brigade coach-house. Shlomo Kalmanovitch stood at the door and let the people in.

A teenager comes up and asks him:

– Shlomo, what's taking place?

– A Trumpeldor comedy, Shlomo replies.…

 

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