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[Page 45]

Rabbis of the Mir Congregation

by Moshe Tzinowitz

 

[Pages 49-54]

3. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Mirkes

Translated by Moshe Escott

[He was] from one of the best pedigreed families in Poland, the Meisels family of Cracow, whose branches also reached Lithuania. The patriarch of the family was Rabbi Simcha Bunim Meisels, son-in-law of Rabbi Moshe Isserles of Cracow. The grandfather of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman the Rabbi-Av Beis Din[1] of Mir, also had the name Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Mirkes, and he was the son-in-law of Rabbi Yosef, the great Av Beis Din of Mohilev on the Dneiper, and a dayan[2] in Pozna[3]. His son Rabbi Yehuda Leib Mirkes was the son-in-law of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch, [who was] from the descendants of the author of the Tosafos Yom Tov[4].

It seems that Rabbi Yehuda Leib, the father of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman, also lived in Mir and occupied the position of Shamash V'Neeman[5] of the community. At the convention of the Vaad Medinas Lita[6] in 5512 [c. 1752] that was held in Mir, [the following] was signed on one of the official decisions in connection with the rabbis and officers of the Vaad[7] taking a stand on the side of the gaon[8], Rabbi Yehonasan Eibeshitz, in his conflict with the gaon, Rabbi Yaakov Emden : “ and as a witness I have signed, the words of Yehuda Leib, son of the great deceased rabbi, our teacher Rabbi Shlomo Zalman of blessed memory, the meshamesh v'neeman[5] of the holy community of Mir, may Zion and Jerusalem be rebuilt.

In the year 5521 [c. 1761], he was still living, as can be seen from the words of his son Rabbi Shlomo Zalman[9] in his haskama[10] as Av Beis Din of Mir for the book Tzemach Menachem[11] when he writes regarding his father, “ may the Merciful One protect and redeem him”[12]. In the book Ir Vilna[13] by Hillel Noach Magid Steinschneider (Vilna, 5660 [c. 1900]), it is brought that “ Rabbi (Yehuda) Leib Mirkes passed away on 23 Tammuz 5523 [c. July 4,1763 : Gregorian calendar] and his honored resting place is in Mir.”

It is known to us that the three sons of R. Yehuda Leib of Mir were great and prominent and from which respected Jewish families are descended. His eldest son Rabbi Yisroel, was the son-in-law of Rabbi Yosef, the Av Beis Din of Slutzk and Halusk, and he merited to serve as the Av Beis Din in Minsk, which held an important place in Lithuania after Vilna.

Rabbi Yisroel was known as a gaon in Torah and as a charitable and righteous man in Minsk, where he served in the rabbinate and even invested his wealth in this community's organizations. He was the trusted friend of the gaon, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, and assisted him in founding his famous yeshiva in 5563 [c. 1803]. Together with R. Chaim, he gave his haskama to the publication of the Talmud Yerushalmi by a publishing house in Kapust, Reisen [a.k.a. Kopys, Belarus] in 5568 [c. 1808] among others who gave haskamos, that included the gaon, Rabbi Leib Katzenellenbogen the Av Beis Din of Brisk, Lithuania, and the famous Admor[14], Rabbi Levi Yitzchak the Av Beis Din of Berditchev, author of the Kedushas Levi.

Rabbi Yisroel Mirkes passed away at a ripe old age in 5573 [c. 1813]. His burial plot is located near the grave of Rabbi Yechiel Halperin, the Av Beis Din of Minsk and the author of the book Seder HaDoros. With the passing of Rabbi Yisroel Mirkes, the title Av Beis Din of Minsk ceased to exist and the chief rabbis that served after him were merely given the title Mara D'Asra[15]. This was done for two reasons: A) Out of respect for the deceased who was loved and admired by the people of his community, B) Much of his money and estate remained sunk in loans that he lent to the leadership of his Minsk community, and since the community never repaid their debts to his heirs due to the terrible financial situation, the title Av Beis Din remained as a collateral with his heirs until “ things would get better...”

The second son of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Mirkes was Rabbi Shlomo Zalman, the Av Beis Din of Mir who will be discussed shortly, and his third son was Rabbi Yehoshua, the son-in-law of the gaon and kabbalist Rabbi Shalom Rokeach, the Av Beis Din of Tiktin and its surroundings.

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman the son of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Mirkes was by 5508 [c. 1748] the Rabbi-Av Beis Din of Mir. Evidence for this is that in the council of rabbis and leaders of the state of Lithuania held in Zelva in 5508 [c. 1748], a [group] haskama was given to a siddur with the kabbalistic intentions[16] of the holy Ari[17] by Rabbi Aryeh Leib Epstein (author of the Pardes), the Av Beis Din of Koenigsberg. Among those granting the haskama appeared the signature “ Shlomo Zalman, son of my master and father, my teacher and rabbi, that very Rabbi who is the prominent saint, our teacher Rabbi Leib, may his memory live in the world to come”.

By the year 5529 [c. 1769], Rabbi Shlomo Zalman was no longer in Mir since we find him living in Koenigsberg, the capital of East Prussia. There he gave sermons in the position of “ synagogue preacher and sermonizer”. The reason he left his rabbinate in Mir and left Lithuania in general was due to hard times, as he testified himself in the introduction to his book, Shulchan Shlomo : “ ...but in our generation, due to our many sins, the troubles have increased, and hardship upon hardship have met us with the very heavy worry of making a livelihood, it is really like 'with our bodies we will purchase our bread'[18]

One should note that with the worsening of the general and security situations in Poland and Lithuania, many of the great rabbis of Lithuania uprooted their homes and emigrated abroad. Many of them merited to be appointed as Rabbis in important communities. Rabbi Aryeh Leib, the author of the Shaagas Aryeh - a Reish Mesivta[19] in Minsk and Av Beis Din of Volozhin - was appointed as the Rabbi of Metz. Rabbi Refoel HaKohen of Pinsk and Pozna moved to the united community of Altona-Hamburg-Wandsbek. Rabbi Elazar Kalir, the Av Beis Din of Zablodova, moved to Rechnitz and Kalin, Austria. There were also others. In Koenigsberg, they warmly accepted Rabbi Shlomo Zalman. There he had duties in addition to those of the Av Beis Din of the place, the kabbalist Rabbi Aryeh Leib Epstein, who was the preacher and Moreh Tzedek[20] of that community which was still starting to develop and would eventually place itself in the forefront of the haskala movement. In that period, [the people of] Koenigsberg behaved in the manner of a fervently religious community and it was similar in its spiritual demeanor to a typical Lithuanian community.

After a year, in 5530 [c. 1770], Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Mirkes appeared in the city of Frankfurt an der Oder and published his work Shulchan Shlomo in the [local] Hebrew publishing house with the haskamos of the great rabbis of the generation who lavished great praise upon the author.

His book was a novelty among the body of works by the authors of his time. The book included brief summaries of the laws of the Shulchan Aruch and also included opinions of authors who came after the Shulchan Aruch. The book served as a basis for the Chayei Adam of Rabbi Avraham Danzig. and for the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch of Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried. Regarding the content of the book, the author comments, “ Shulchan Shlomo - this is decided law that is selected from summations of the Shulchan Aruch and from the comments of my ancestor, Rabbi Moshe Isserles of blessed memory, and from the acharonim[21] that I the 'junior among the ranks of Judah'[22] composed, Shlomo Zalman, the son of my master and father, my teacher and rabbi, that very Rabbi who is the prominent saint, our teacher, Rabbi Yehuda Leib, may his memory live in the world to come, who is called by everyone R. Leib Mirkes of the holy community of Mir, Lithuania, earlier I lived there and spread Torah in the aforementioned holy community.”

In his book, haskamos of prominent Lithuanian rabbis were printed: the haskama of the gaon Rabbi Refoel HaKohen the Av Beis Din of Pinsk from the year 5526 [c. 1766] writes about him [R. Mirkes]: “The rabbi, the great light, who is famous in Torah and in fear [of G-d]….. from his youth he was a fixture in the beis midrash l'prushin[23], was distinct among rabbis, and he didn't budge from the tent of Torah”. He [R. Refoel] adds that in general, he's very careful about giving haskamos to new books but “with such a great person like him [R. Mirkes] in mind, I have made an exception in his honor”.

Among the others giving haskamos one should note the interesting haskama of the Av Beis Din of Frankfurt an der Oder who calls our author “my relative and mechutan[24], the rabbi who is a light unto the diaspora, the distinguished, the gaon, the elder, the honorable - our teacher Rabbi Shlomo, the very son of the righteous Rabbi Leib, and all of his years he sat in the acquisition of wisdom and his place was well established in that mother city in Israel, the holy city of Mir in the state of Lithuania….. He is crowned in his good name and pedigree from many sides, this is the mark of the family of that master of Torah wisdom, the gaon Rabbi Moshe Isserles of blessed memory.”

While in Frankfurt an der Oder, R. Shlomo Zalman of Mir found those who supported and assisted in the publication of his work among the wealthy and the leaders. He expresses his feelings of thanks to “the rulers, officers, supporters and leaders of Frankfurt an der Oder” and at their head, the renowned, pedigreed, gaon R. Shaul (aforementioned [as the Av Beis Din of Frankurt an der Oder]) that aided him with grants and loans in order that the printing should be of the finest quality. For this purpose, he also visited Berlin, and he gives favorable mention to “the officers and rulers of this mother city in Israel”. Many assisted him such as “heads, officers, supporters, governors, rulers, leaders, sages and distinguished ones of the holy city of Koenigsberg”, and especially “the unique noblemen” that “raised their silver and gold to assist the publication”. And “for about a year they supported the financial needs of himself, his wife and his daughter”.

In his introduction he mentions other works awaiting to be redeemed and printed: Menoras Shlomo on the Torah[25]: Kisei Shlomo on the prophets and scriptures in the method of pardes[26] and Mitaso Shel Shlomo – “broad commentaries and homilies on each and every [weekly] portion of the Torah”.

From the introduction to his book Shulchan Shlomo, it appears that he had a son, Zvi Hirsch, that lived in the city of Breslau in Silesia and he calls him “ the distinguished rabbi, one who could hold his own with rabbis of an earlier period, mighty enough to smite a lion on a snowy day[27], the prominent sage, scribe, officer and leader”.

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman did not return to the community of Mir. From Frankfurt an der Oder he travelled again to Koenigsberg where he spent his final years, and he passed away in 5534 [refers here to late 1773] (according to the author of the Daas Kedoshim[28]). However, Hillel Noach Magid Steinschneider, the author of Ir Vilna, writes that R. Shlomo Zalman passed away in Frankfurt an der Oder on 28 Tishrei, 5535 [c. October 22, 1774 : Gregorian calendar] and “a transcription of his tombstone is in my hands”[29]. In connection with the branches of the “House of Mirkes”, the glorious rabbinical family of Mir, one should note the following additional points:

One of the descendants of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Mirkes the Av Beis Din of Mir, was Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines, the Av Beis Din of Lida and founder of the religious Zionist movement, Mirzachi. In the collection Otzar Safrus Yisroel book two, his son, Moshe Reines, writes the history of his father and also his genealogy: “The father of Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines, Shlomo Naftali, was born in Vilna and was the son of Rabbi Chaim the son of Rabbi Moshe the righteous - a.k.a. R. Mosheleh Reines, named for his wife Reina, an important woman and foundation of her home, the daughter of the gaon, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Mirkes, author of the books Shulchan Shlomo, Kisei Shlomo, Mitas Shlomo, and who descended from Rabbi Shaul Wahl”.

Also descending from the Mirkes family is the Merkin family that was renowned in Lithuania and Belarus. Among them are: the religious maskil[30], and one of the first members of Chovevei Zion[31], Aharon Merkin of Poltava who was crucial in the first Chovevei Zion conference in 5644 [c. 1884] in Katowice. Descended from R. Zev Wolf Ginzburg of Vilna, son-in-law of R. Zvi Hirsch the son of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman the Av beis din of Mir, was the noble and glorious family, the barons of the Ginzburg family of St. Petersburg, whose last representative was the well-known, regal and learned Baron David Ginzburg who passed away in 5671 [c. 1911].


General translation notes:

  1. I have attempted to paraphrase certain passages into idiomatic English to improve flow where a more literal translation would have been awkward
  2. Sometimes, where very similar Hebrew words appear in succession, I haven't always translated the words into the exact same English words as elsewhere in the article due to issues of style and flow
  3. Where Hebrew and Aramaic terms appear, I have chosen to transliterate them with a footnote pointing to a translation/explanation rather than clutter the flow of the text with a term that might present an awkward flow in English
  4. I have used the Ashkenazic mode of transliterating Hebrew and Aramaic terms
  5. My personal comments and insertions appear in brackets []. Lengthier comments appear in footnotes
  6. I have spotted two typos/mistakes in the original Hebrew text. I placed the correction directly in the translation to improve readability while noting the original text in a footnote

Footnotes

  1. Av Beis Din = chief rabbi / head dayan (judge) of the religious court of a town or city back
  2. dayan = a judge in a beis din (religious court) back
  3. The connection between R. Simcha Bunim Meisels and the first R. Shlomo Zalman Mirkes was the following: A son of R. S.B. Meisels was Rabbi Yehuda Leib Meisels of Cracow. A son of R. Y.L. Meisels was Rabbi Simcha Bunim Meisels of Mohilev. The aforementioned R. Shlomo Zalman Mirkes was his son. back
  4. The Tosafos Yom Tov is a commentary on the Mishna that was authored by Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller (1578 - 1654) back
  5. Shamash V'Neeman / meshamesh v'neeman = a sexton and trustee. This was an official position in many Jewish communities denoting a type of public servant. I'm not certain as to the exact set of roles and responsibilities and these might have varied from community to community. The roles might have included being a caretaker of synagogues and cemeteries and a being scribe or witness for legal documents such as kesubos (marriage contracts), gitin (divorce documents) and real estate contracts among other things. back
  6. Vaad Medinas Lita = council of the state of Lithuania back
  7. vaad = council or board back
  8. gaon = a great, exalted Torah scholar back
  9. There was a typo here – the original text had “his son Rabbi Yehuda Leib” while already discussing Rabbi Yehuda Leib himself back
  10. haskama = letter of approbation for a book back
  11. Written by Rabbi Menachem Nachum the son of Rabbi Yekusiel Zusman Kahana?/Katz? back
  12. This would only have been written about a living person back
  13. There was a typo here – the original text had “B'ir Vilna” while the actual name of the book is “Ir Vilna” (as is correctly stated later in the article) back
  14. Admor = acronym for adoneinu, moreinu v'rabeinu : our master, teacher and rabbi. This is commonly used in Hebrew to refer to a Chassidic rebbe back
  15. Mara D'Asra = (literally) master of the place back
  16. Things which a person with kabbalistic leanings might meditate upon during prayers, such as names of G-d and sefiros (mystical attributes through which G-d reveals Himself to our physical world). back
  17. The kabbalist, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534 - 1572) back
  18. Lamentations 5:9 back
  19. Reish Mesivta = Aramaic equivalent to the Hebrew title Rosh Yeshiva which means the head of a Torah academy back
  20. Moreh Tzedek = (literally) one who teaches justice, but a term equivalent to the Chief Rabbi of a community back
  21. acharonim = latter day talmudic and halachic authorities back
  22. paraphrase of Micah 5:1 back
  23. beis midrash l'prushin = A beis midrash for prushin. Beis midrash = a Torah study hall. Prushin = plural of parush which denotes one who might piously separate himself from family for certain amounts of time for the purpose of Torah study back
  24. mechutan = a parent of one's daughter-in-law or son-in-law back
  25. A limited edition of Menoras Shlomo was actually printed for the first time in 5761 (c.2001) (Chen-Tov brothers, London), from Rabbi Mirkes' original manuscript that was in the possession of Rabbi Yisroel Stern of London back
  26. pardes = an acronym which stands for the combined biblical exegetic methods of p'shat (simple meaning of the text) ), remez (hinted meaning), d'rash (homiletic meaning), sod (hidden meaning) back
  27. An idiom based upon a paraphrase of Samuel II 23:20 back
  28. Daas Kedoshim is a genealogical book covering the lineage of several Jewish families. It was published in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1897-98 and was compiled by Rabbi Yisroel Tuvia Eisenstat and by Rabbi Shmuel Wiener. On page 207, it states that R. Mirkes passed away in Koenigsberg on Friday, 28 Tishrei, 5534 (c. October 15, 1773 : Gregorian calendar). back
  29. There was a typo here – the original quote in this yizkor book had “his hands” while the actual text in Ir Vilna (p.169) states “my hands” back
  30. maskil = an adherent of the haskala or enlightenment movement that began in the late 1700s back
  31. Chovevei Zion = Lovers of Zion – an early Zionist movement back

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