Translated by Jerrold Landau
The well-known rabbinical dynasty tracing itself to Rabbi Yisrael of Shklov the author of Or Yisrael takes an important place among the rabbis and eminent scholars of Minsk. The dynasty is known as Maskil-Leitan (Psalms 89), based on the name of the book of the father of the dynasty, the Gaon Rabbi Avraham. From among his sons, Rabbi Naftali Maskil-Leitan excelled in particular, and from among his grandsons Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Maskil-Leitan the head of the rabbinical court of the community of Shtoivitz. Rabbi Reuven Katz, in his time the head of the chief rabbi of Petach Tikva, is also one of his descendents.
Rabbi Avraham the son of Rabbi Yehuda Leib the head of the rabbinical court of the community of Khotimsk was born in the year 5548 (1788). When he was still young he authored novellae on the tractates of Berachot, Shabbat, Eiruvin, Pesachim, Yoma, Rosh Hashanah, Zevachim and Menachot. These novellae were published in Vilna in the year 5578 (1818) under the name Maskil-Leitan. It states in the introduction: And with Divine assistance, I have come up with novellae on the entire Talmud and on the Yad of the Rambam of blessed memory. The author states that it is his intention to publish a composition on the Torah using the methodology of innuendoes; however these compositions never appeared in print. In the approbations of the Gaon Rabbi Avraham-Abli, the head of the rabbinical court of Vilna, and of Rabbi Menashe of Ilya, we find the following description of Rabbi Avraham: Truly expert, sharp and knowledgeable, a master of wisdom yet young in years He saw well what was hidden from the latter great ones. In the approbations of Rabbi Baruch of Shklov and Rabbi Menachem-Nachum the Bril of Chavusi, it states that He is expert in the entire Talmud and the entire Yad Hachazaka and he also solves secrets in the hidden areas .
In this small, 60-page book, Rabbi Avraham proves his thesis: To delve into the depths of Halacha and to clarify and whiten the material through trustworthy witnesses and clear and decisive proofs without engaging in exegesis and wit . We see in these words a hint to the struggle that took place during the 18th century between the methodology of Torah teaching that was customary in Lithuania and Reisen as opposed to the methodology of the wandering preachers who came from Poland. Rabbi Avraham received this methodology from his father Rabbi Yehuda Leib. He had already written novellae on Yoreh Deah at the age of 13. These were published posthumously in the year 5640 (1880), by Reem Publishing in Vilna. He also studied with Rabbi Yehoshua Tzeitles in Oschia in Reisen, whose house served as a meeting place for the wise men of the generation.
A son, Naftali, was born to him in the year 5589 (1829), in the town of his father Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Radoshkovichi. Around this time, Rabbi Avraham moved his home to Minsk, where he lived until his death in the year 5608 (1848). Despite the fact that he was weak and his livelihood was meager, he continued to occupy himself with Torah and research. With the assistance of his sons Reb Aharon and Reb Kalonymos, his second book Beer Avraham was published by Reem of Vilna in the year 5604 (1844). It included novel ideas on Hahacha on the Mishnaic order of Moed and the tractate of Berachot. This book also excelled in its great breadth on the entire Talmud and the Rambam. Its goal was to resolve contradictions in various places of the Talmud itself. It also harmonized the various commentators through logic.
The rest of the books of Rabbi Avraham Maskil-Leitan were published posthumously through the efforts of his son Rabbi Naftali. They are as follows
Nachal Eitan (Published by Reem in Vilna, 5616 / 1855), including novellae on the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, Sifra, Sifrei, Mechilta, Tosefta, Midrashim and Rambam. In the front of the book there are letters of praise from the Gaonim of the generation: Rabbi Elchanan Spector, Rabbi David Tevil of Minsk, Ra bi Moshe Tzvi the son of Rabbi Yisrael Heilpern of Minsk, Rabbi Betzalel HaKohen of Vilna, and others.
Mitzpe Eitan novellae on the entire Talmud, published in the Zhitomir Shas and the Vilna Shas in the years 5640-5646 (1880-1886).
Novellae on the Sifrei, included in the edition of the Sifrei that was published by Rabbi Shmuel Luria with the glosses of the Gaon of Vilna, in Vilna 5626 (1866).
Yad Avraham novellae on Yoreh Deah Vilna (5640 1880).
Rabbi Avraham Maskil Leitan had four sons: the most important was Rabbi Naftali who was not only great in Torah, but also a poet and bibliographer. Rabbi Naftali was born in the town of Radoshkovichi in the year 5589 (1829). When he was young, his father moved to nearby Minsk, where Rabbi Naftali lived his entire life. He died when he was about 70.
Rabbi Naftali Maskil-Leitan absorbed the spirit of the times. Even though most of his interest was in the study of Torah and Talmud, he was influenced by the letters of the fathers of western haskala, primary with the poems of Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto and Reb Nafali-Hertz Veizel. Rabbi Naftali owned a book enterprise in Minsk, and was accepted and appreciated as an expert, an editor and a publisher both in Torah and intelligentsia circles. When he was young, he published several poems under a pseudonym and wrote the play Esther which won accolades from Adam haKohen, even though it was never published. Throughout approximately 40 years, Rabbi Naftali wrote articles and research studies that were published in various anthologies, such as Haasif and Knesset Yisrael, a volume of legends of the sages called Ruach Chachamim, a commentary on Ben Sira, a Passover Haggadah with commentaries, and a collection of prototype letters. However, his primary literary work was his republication of Seder Hadorot by Rabbi Yechiel Heilprin of Minsk, that was first published in Karelsrova in the year 5529 (1769) in a particularly disorganized form. Rabbi Naftali Maskil-Leitan worked for about 20 years at editing this important book, which was published in three volumes in Warsaw during the years 5638-5642 (1878-1882), and again in the year 5565 (1905). Rabbi Naftali added a biography of the author, the Gaon Rabbi Yechiel Heilprin, to this edition.
Rabbi Avraham-Yitzchak Maskil-Leitan was the son of Rabbi Aharon and the grandson of Rabbi Avraham the author of Maskil-Leitan. At the end of his life, he served as the rabbi in the town of Stolbtsy near Minsk. Zalman Shazar wrote about him that he was the splendor of the generation. His many manuscripts were lost during the First World War and the Russian Revolution, and only sections of them are brought down in other books. His son-in-law Rabbi Reuven Katz, the chief rabbi of Petach Tikva and the father of Professor Avraham-Yitzchak Katz, is his son-in-law.
Rabbi Avraham-Yitzchak studied Torah in his hometown of Smolevichi, Bobruisk, and in the splendid Yeshivas of Minsk. He went to the Yeshiva of Volozhin as a 15 year old student. He studied there for two years and became known for his expertise in Talmud and his deep knowledge of Tosafot. When he was 18 years old he got married in the city of Mezerich, and was supported at the table of his father-in-law for five years. He then traveled to Lida where he studied for two years. He received his rabbinical ordination and returned to his hometown of Smolevichi, where he served as the rabbi of the community for 25 years. In the year 5644 (1884), he was chosen as the rabbi of the community of Khislavichi. He visited Petersburg on communal business and was received with great honor in the home of Baron Ginzburg. Rabbi Avraham-Yitzchak was a member of Chovevei Zion and published articles about the idea of the settlement in the Land of Israel. Along with his uncle Rabbi Moshe Nissan Maskil-Leitan, he proclaimed a ban on etrogim from Corfu and ordered that only etrogim from the Land of Israel be used.
The cause of death of Rabbi Avraham-Yitzchak was related to the tribulations that befell the Jewish communities in Russia in the wake of the war with Japan. When the rabbi came to eulogize one of the scholars of his community, he felt the pain of the kidnapping of Jews to the army so acutely that he fainted and died. A deep mourning overtook the community of Stolbtsy, and several of the Gaonin of the generation from Lithuania and Reisen came to eulogize him: Rabbi Eliezer Rabinowitz of Minsk, Rabbi Eliahu Baruch of Mir, the Maggid of Minsk and his son-in-law Rabbi Reuven Katz.
The author (1899-1966) was a Hebrew writer and bibliographer. The following article was taken from Kiryat Sefer, the quarterly of the National Book-house, year 20, 1944.
Ch. D. Friedberg summarizes the history of Hebrew publishing in Minsk in a 14 line chapter in his book The Annals of Hebrew Publishing in Poland. This chapter is afflicted with lacunae and extraneous material, and I made note of several missing books in my review of his book. Yitzchak Rivkind lists three additional books published in Minsk. Since other books published in that city became known to me in the interim, and also since the known books were listed in great brevity, I will try to summarize here in detail all that is known to us about the publications of Minsk. From this list, you will get a completely different picture about the history of Hebrew publishing in the capital of Reisen.
The first Hebrew publishing house in Minsk was founded by the expert printer Simcha Zimel the son of Yechezkel who worked from the year 5552 (1792) and onward in publishing Hebrew books in Horodno. He worked at first in the Yechezkel ben Nachum of Skohl publishing house, and from 5563 (1803) in the publishing house that he founded there along with Simcha Zimel ben Menachem Nachum Typograph. Later the partners separated, and publishing in Horodno was split into two. In the year 5568 (1808) Simcha Zimel ben Yechezkel moved his publishing house to Minsk. There he formed a partnership with Yehuda Lima ben Aryeh Leib Segal of Minsk, who was a Shamash and communal trustee, and had apparently obtained the money for publishing. In the first book that was published in Minsk, a copy of Ein Yaakov, this partnership is mentioned in the cover page only as the printers (along with Abraham Abli ben Moshe of Horodno). The publisher is listed only as Simcha Zimel himself. However, in two books that were published the following year, 5569 (1809), the publishers are called The Publishers of the partnership of Yehuda Lima ben Aryeh Leib Segal of the holy community of Minsk and Rabbi Simcha Zimel the son of Rabbi Yechezkel of holy blessed memory. The name of the first partner disappeared from the year 5571 (1811), and Simcha Zimel is the only one mentioned as the publisher. From the years 5573-5574 (1813-1814) we do not know of any books that were published in Minsk. The work apparently ceased due to the Napoleonic wars. However, it restarted in 5575 (1815) and continued until 5576. It again ceased for reasons that we do not know until the year 5583 (1823). We know of another book from that year.
All of the books published in that publishing house were printed with the approval of the censor Asher Bokodemia of the community of Vilna, with the exception of one book which was published without such a permit. Therefore, the name of the city and publisher is omitted from that book, however from the decoration in the cover page we can establish with certainty that it was published there. This book is Chidushei Shas by Rabbi Baruch ben Rabbi Yisrael which was published in the year 5575 (1815)...
The publisher imported the first workers from Horodno and other cities of Lithuania. Later he trained workers from Minsk itself. The following are the names of the employees who worked in the publishing house of Simcha Zimel ben Yechezkel in Minsk.
List of Books Published in Minsk
5568 (1808) 1. Ein Yaakov, Part I [Zeraim], an anthology of all of the beliefs, legends and Midrashim the work of Rabbi Yaakov he son of Rabbi Shlomo Chaviv added to it are all of the legends of the Jerusalem Talmud Now it has been republished with many additions The book Beit Yehuda from Rabbi Yehuda of Modina Printed through the efforts of the partners Yehuda Lima the son of Aryeh Leib Segal of the local community of Minsk Avraham Abli the son of Rabbi Moshe of the community of Horodno. With the authorization of the censor Asher Bokodemia of the community of Vilna. Printed through the printing press that was established by the engraver Simcha Zimel the son of Rabbi Yechezkel of holy blessed memory. Published here in the community of Minsk the capital in the year 5568 (1808)]. 180 pages. 8°. 13:22 centimeters. (Square letters and Rashi script). (I did not see the other sections).
At the beginning of the book there is an approbation from Rabbi Yisrael the son of Rabbi Leib Mirkish the head of the rabbinical court of Minsk, dated 10th of Tammuz, 5568. The approbation states: This day we have seen what we were awaiting to be established here in our community of Minsk a new printing press And here the generous spirit of Yehuda Lima the son of Rabbi Aryeh Leib HaLevi a Shamash and trustee of this community Avraham Abli the son of Rabbi Moshe of the community of Horodno moved them to publish the books of Ein Yaakov here
The colophon is as follows: The typesetter Menachem Nachum the son of Shmuel of holy blessed memory of the community of Shklov, presently in Minsk. The roller Yitzchak Levi of Horodno the capital, presently in Minsk. The typesetter Yosef the son of Rabbi Zeev Wolf Katz of the community of Horodno, presently of Minsk the capital.
At the beginning of the book there is an approbation from Rabbi Yisrael the son of Rabbi Leib the head of the rabbinical court of Minsk, dated Iyar 2, 5569. Published on bluish paper.
At the beginning of the book there is approbation from Rabi Yisrael the son of Rabbi Leib the head of the rabbinical court of Minsk, dated 15 Adar I, 5570.
The colophon at the end of the first volume is as follows: Completed and concluded by the typesetter Yosef the son of Rabbi Zeev Wolf Katz of the community of Minsk the capital, by the typesetter Shmuel the son of Yehoshua Heshel of the community of Minsk the capital, by the printer Aryeh Leib the son of Rabbi Yaakov of blessed memory of the community of Minsk the capital, by the printer Aharon the son of Rabi Noach Bloch of the community of Novhorodok, currently of Minsk.
4. Shaar Naftali precious requests from Rabbi Naftali HaKohen who was a Rosh Yeshiva in the community of Ostrovia and later the head of the rabbinical court of Poznan. At the end he was the head of the rabbinical court of the community of Frankfurt Am Main. In the year 5477 he was called to the heavenly court from the community of Stombel Today one of his students who served him in his home has decided to bring to print . It was published here in the community of Minsk the capital in the year 5570 [Published by the partners Yehuda Lima the son of Aryeh Leib Segal and Simcha Zimel the son of Yechezkel].  pages. 8°. 10:16 centimeters (Square letters with vowel signs).
After the introduction of the copier there is a second cover page: Shaar Naftali published through the efforts of the wealthy leader Shmuel the son of Rabbi Dan of the community of Minsk. With the authorization of the censor Asher Bakdemia [!] of the community of Vilna.
The colophon is as follows: By means of the printer Rabbi Aryeh Leib the son of Rabbi Yaakov of blessed memory of the community of Minsk the capital. By the means of the [the printer] the chatan Aharon the son of Rabbi Noach.
The following approbations are included at the front of the book. The approbation of Rabbi Yisrael the son of Rabbi Leib Mirkesh the head of the rabbinical court of Minsk, dated 7 Tevet 5569; the approbation of Rabbi Chaim the son of Rabbi Yitzchak the head of the rabbinical court and a Rosh Yeshiva in Volozhin; the approbation of Rabbi Avraham Abli the son of Avraham Shlomo Fosweler of Vilna dated 12 Av 5569; the approbation of Rabbi Shaul the son of Rabbi Yosef of Vilna, dated 25 Av 5569.
The colophon: By the typesetter, the lad Yisrael the son of Mordechai HaLevi, may G-d protect him, of Minsk may G-d preserve it.
At the beginning of the book, the following approbations are printed: The approbation of Rabbi Chaim the son of Rabbi Y. Tz. The head of the rabbinical court of Volozhin, dated 23 Iyar 5572; the approbation of the rabbi of the community of Shklov, dated 17 Iyar 5572; the preface of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin; the preface of the author (who at that time was in Lithuania as an emissary of the community of the students of the Gra who settled in Tzefat).
The colophon: By the worker the typesetter Rabbi Eliahu the son of Rabbi Mordechai of Minsk. The presser Aharon the son of Rabbi Noach Bloch of the community of Novhorodok, currently here in the community of Minsk.
At the beginning of the book there is an approbation from Rabbi Yisrael the son of Rabbi Meir the head of the rabbinical court of Brod, dated the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul 5574; an approbation from Rabbi Yaakov Ornstein the head of the rabbinical court of Lvov dated 23 Kislev, stating Has there ever been found a man as wise as him; the list of signers of the book from Brod and other cities, with a copy of their statements word for word, some from the month of Cheshvan 5575.
8. A Calendar of the Year 5576 Minsk, published by Simcha Zimel the son of Yechezkel (5575). (I have seen this calendar, but I do not have it before me now, so I cannot describe it in detail).
10. Book of Leviticus with the Onkelos Translation and with Rashi's commentary and the Siftei Chachamim, Toldot Aharon, Mesora and Baal Haturim commentaries Printed in the publishing house that was established by the engraver Simcha Zimel the son of Rabbi Yechezkel of holy blessed memory with the authorization of the censor Asher Bokodemia of Vilna in the year 5576, under the government of the Czar Aleksander Povlovitch Published here in the community of Minsk the capital. 145 pages. 4°. 18:21 Centimeters. (Square letters with vowels and Rashi script).
The colophon: By the typesetter Rabbi Moshe Yoel the son of Rabbi Mordechai, may G-d protect him of the community of Horodno, today working in the community of Minsk.
I did not see the rest of the sections of the Chumash. Perhaps they were not published.
11. All Precious Things That Our Eyes Have Seen [An announcement about the meeting of the deputies in Petersburg to deal with Jewish affairs, signed by the rabbis and heads of the communities of Reisen]. Minsk, 5576. 1 page. 2°. (Friedberg, bookbinding house. He notes the announcement with the error Announcement for the meeting of rabbis; the elections took place in the summer of 5578. It is possible that the year 5576 mentioned by Friedberg is not exact).
12. Selichot, arranged according to the holy communities of Lithuania, Reisen, Zamit, may they be protected, and published anew in the correct order redacted well with large, nice letters and fine paper under the government of the Czar Aleksander Pavelovitch with the authorization of the censor Bokodemia of Vilna. Published here in the community of Minsk the capital, in the publishing house of the engraver Rabbi Simcha Zimel the son of Rabbi Yechezkel of holy blessed memory, in the year 5583. 54 pages. 4°. 19:28 centimeters. (Large square letters with vowel signs.)
Printed elegantly on bluish paper with wide margins. The title page contains a picture of two lions holding a shield and a crown. A I (Aleksander I) is written on the shield.
5580 13. Selichot, arranged according to the holy communities of Lithuania, Reisen, and Zamit may they be preserved. Published anew, in the proper order finely redacted with large, fine letters and fine paper under the rule of the Czar Aleksander Pavelovitch with the authorization of the censor Dokodemia of Vilna. Published here in Minsk the capital may it be preserved in the publishing house that was set up by the young man Gershon Eliahu the son of Rabbi Yitzchak may he be preserved in the year 5580.  pages. 8°. 11:18 centimeters (Large square letters with vowel signs).
14. Words of Poetry. These are various poems about sublime and pleasant topics, for a precious soul. By Meir HaLevi Leteris. Published anew in the community of Minsky by Rev Gershon Eliahu the son of Reb Yitzchak Blaustein. Published by the aforementioned publisher Yaakov Naftali Ginzberg 1832. 164 pages. 12°. 8:13 centimeters (Square letters with vowel signs).
On the side of the title page is the authorization of the censor of Vilna, dated September 2, 1832.
At the beginning of the book is a preface by the poet, written in Zolkova, 5582.
15. A calendar [For the years 5583, 5584, 5586, 5588]. Minsk, published by Gershon Eliahu Blaustein, 5582-5587. Each calendar is  pages. (Kehilat Moshe, eight booklet, section L, arranged by Yosef Bender, Moscow, 1936, number 5577).
16. Haggadah [With Yiddish translation]. Minsk, published anew by Gershon Eliahu the son of Yitzchak Blaustein, 1833. 56 pages. 12°. (Square letters with vowels, and Yiddish). (Wiener, List of Passover Haggadas, number 321).
17. Selichot according to the custom of Reisen and Zamit may they be protected. I published these Selichot with the Yiddish translation. Every unclear matter has been explained. (In this merit), we should merit going to Jerusalem. Published in the new publishing house of Minsk by Reb Gershon the son of Reb Yitzchak Blaustein. An edition like that of Slovita, in the year 5583, in this community 1833.  pages. 4°. 18:21. (Square letters with vowel signs Tzor letters).
On the opposite side of the title page is the authorization of the censor of Vilna from the year 1831.
18. The book Tefilla Zaka copied from the Chayei Adam [by Rabbi Avraham Danzig] on the laws of Yom Kippur. After we saw that many people desired to recite this Tefilla Zaka we decided to publish this prayer in large, square letters with vowel signs in the new publishing hose of the community of Minsk by Reb Gershon Eliahu the son of Reb Yitzchak Blaustein 1833. 8 pages. 8°. 10:17 centimeters. (Square letters with vowel signs).
On the title page is the authorization of the censor of Vilna from 1832.
19. The Book Brit Avraham which was written by.. Rabbi Abraham the son of Rabbi Shabtai Halevi Horowitz The father of The author of the Shela includes almost all the books of morality We printed it on fine paper with black ink in a small volume In the new publishing house of the community of Minsk by Rabbi Gershon Eliahu the son of Rabbi Yitzchak Blaunstein[*2], in the year 5586 1836. 30 pages. 16°. 9:13 centimeters. (Rashi script).
On the opposite side of the title page is the authorization from the censor from the year 1832.
20. The book Derech Tenuvot includes the principles of understanding the Talmud, so that one can easily understand Talmudic methodology and the foundation of didactics, in short form. Written by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto of holy blessed memory. This book was published at one point in Amsterdam in the year 5502 (1742), and not even one copy can be found now. Therefore, I have brought it to be published again Avraham Shmuel the son of Rabbi Ben Zion of blessed memory Winshel in the year Pi Tzadik Yehege Chachma Uleshono Tedaber Mishpat[*3] . Here in Minsk may it be protected, by Reb Gershon Eliahu the son of Reb Yitzhak Blaunstein. 40 pages. 8°. 11:18 centimeters. (Rashi script).
A smaller volume was published prior to this: The book Derech Tevuna in the new publishing house in the community of Minsk may it be protected, by the printer Gershon Eliahu Blaunstein, 5586 1836.
The colophon: Completed and concluded on Tuesday, 13 Tammuz, 5586.
The following appear at the beginning of the book: The approbation of the rabbinical court of Minsk, dated 24 Elul 5585, signed by Yehuda Leib the son of Mohara, Yitzchak the son of Rabbi Hertz Pines, Baruch the son of Tzvi, Yisrael Michel the son of Chaim Yeshurun; Zeev Wolf the son of Reb Moshe, Shaul the son of Reb Shlomo; the preface of the publisher.
Ben-Yaakov notes an error: 5595.
21. The book Alim Litrufa [Two morality based legends] The Letter of the Ramban of blessed memory and also the letter of the Gaon Eliahu of Vilna (the son of Shlomo Zalman) of blessed memory; in the new publishing house of the community of Minsk by Reb Gershon Eliahu the son of Rabbi Yitzchak ... 1836.  pages. 16°. 9:13 centimeters. (Rashi script).
22. Wills of.. Rabbi Sheftil of holy blessed memory the son of Rabbi Yeshaya [Horowitz] of holy blessed memory the author of the Shnei Luchot Habrit. With the wills of the rabbi Rabbi Naftali HaKohen of holy blessed memory. In the new publishing house of the community of Minsk by Rabbi Gershon Eliahu the son of Rabbi Yitzchak  1836. 26 pages. 16°. 9:13 centimeters. (Rashi script).
The authorization of the censor is printed on the title pages, and dated 1832.
The following approbations are printed at the beginning of the book: the approbation of Reb David the head of the rabbinical court of Novhorodok, dated 6 Menachem Av 5583; the approbation of Rabbi Yosef David the son of Rabbi Tzvi the head of the rabbinical court of Mir, dated 227 Elul 5586; the approbation of Rabbi Meir the head of the rabbinical court of Nyasvizh, dated 25 Adar 5584; the approbation of Rabbi Yehuda Leib the son of Rabbi Avraham Metz of Minsk, dated 22 Marcheshvan 5587.
24. The order of the Kinot of Tisha BeAv . We saw fit to publish this book of Kinot in new typeset and on fine paper In the new publishing house of Minsk by Reb Gershon Eliahu the son of Rabbi Yitzchak Blaunstein, 5587 1836.  pages. 8°. 11:19 centimeters. (Square letters with vowel marks).
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