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The Rabbis of Ostrolenka

M. Cynowicz

 

In the literature of all types of rabbinic essays, no information has been preserved from which we can discover who the Ostrolenka community's Chief Rabbis were.

Although we have no substantive proof of details, we do have traces. In the responsa of the Gaon, Rabbi Jeszajahu Jehuda Lejb Diskin at the time of his rabbinate in Lomza (for the first time, 1840- 1844), answers the Rabbi of Ostrolenka, called “Rabbi Icchak”, in the matter of a community dispute regarding one of its ritual slaughterers. From this, it seems that the town already had a learned teacher (moreh tzedek), as well as the above-mentioned Rabbi.

I could not find any more detailed information about this Rabbi Icchak from any other source. We have more details, however, about a second rabbi in Ostrolenka shortly after, who served there as Rabbi-Av Beit Din (Father of the Rabbinical Court) for a few years until 1865, namely:

 


Rabbi Jechiel Michel Goldszlag

Rabbi Jechiel Michel was born in 1831 in Srensk. He came from a family of distinguished lineage. He was related to and named after the Kabalist and Gaon, Rabbi Jechiel Michel of Nemyriv, who was martyred under Chmielniski's decree in 1648. On his mother's side, Rabbi Jechiel Michel was the grandson of the wellknown Chassid, Rabbi Zelig Srensker, one of the strong supporters of Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the famous Admor of Kotzk.

Rabbi Jechiel Michel was known in his childhood as a child prodigy. He studied Torah and lovingly served the Gaon, Rabbi Israel Jeszajahu Trunk, then the Av Beit Din at Srensk (later in Kutna). He studied for a while with the Gaon and Admor, Rabbi Icchak Meir, known as the Chidushei Harim, in Warsaw, and was ordained by him as a teacher. He was also ordained by Rabbi Chaim Dawison, the Rabbi of the Kollel of the Holy Community of Warsaw, and by other famous rabbis. He became known later on as an outstanding rabbi of his generation on all subjects of the Torah, as well as the Kabala.

In 1848, when he was only 18, Rabbi Jechiel Michel became Rabbi of Kikol (in the Plock [Plotsk] region), then in Podniewicz and Srensk. From there, he went to Ostrolenka and, from 1865, to Sierpc, a district village in the Plock region, where he was Rabbi of the city for 53 years. When he died at the age of 88, after being a rabbi and learned teacher for over 70 years, articles in his memory appeared in the Jewish press in Warsaw, in the Heint, the Moment and Dos Yiddishe Vort. Among other things, they mentioned this detail – that before Szraptz, this Elder Rabbi was the Rabbi-Av Beit Din of Ostrolenka.

Two books written by Rabbi Jechiel Michel are known in the rabbinic world: a) an exegesis on the Psalms called Yerushalayim, dedicated to an understanding of the depth of the text, as well as through kabalistic indicators of the names of holy persons according to initials and acronyms, and b) explanations of Ecclesiastes called Lev Da'at and Einaim Lerot, collected from the Holy Zohar and Tikunim. In his writings is an essay on the Song of Songs, according to the above-mentioned method.

In 1925, his son, Rabbi Jakow Chaim Zelig Goldszlag, published his father's book, Imrei Emet, which included the latter's new interpretations of Biblical verses, halacha and aggadah, matters of religious research, mitzvot, blessings and prayers, religious rulings and customs. In the writings of this Elder Rabbi, remain his interpretations of all subjects of the Torah, as well as many responsa in halacha and in practical instruction to those near and far.

His only son, Rabbi Jakow Chaim Zelig, mentioned

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above, was born in 1853. Raised and educated by his father in Ostrolenka, he was also a great Torah scholar, and served as Av Beit Din of Lubranitz and then Rabbilearned teacher in Warsaw. He became known in the world of Torah for his Vayeche Yakov, containing responsa and exalted interpretations of Torah. He published the essays of the Gaon Rabbi Jonatan Eibeschutz (from hand-written material), with commentaries and notes of his own. In pre-World War I Warsaw, he supervised a religious high school for ten yeshiva students, excellent Torah scholars, where they were educated in pedagogy, to become expert learned teachers.

Of this Rabbi's additional essays, the following should be mentioned: Yareach LeMoadim and Kochav MeYakov, about the holidays and the chapters of the Five Books of Moses; Emet LeYakov, Yalkut Katan, Al Midat HaEmet, Marom Harim – a eulogy of the famous, saintly Admor, Rabbi Jechiel Michel of Gustinin; Chasdei Yonatan, Gevurat Yonatan, Da'at Yonatan and Birchat Yonatan – four important books from the writings of the Gaon, Rabbi Jonatan Eibeschutz, with his own commentaries and interpretations and a pamphlet of the leadership of the synagogue. In his writings are also an essay on Yoreh De'ah, Part One, and on the book Tana Devei Eliahu.

 


Rabbi Nachman Dawid Hakoen

It appears that this Rabbi was Rabbi of Ostrolenka before the Gaon, Rabbi Mosze Nachum Jeruzalimski, and may have been appointed there as Rabbi immediately after Rabbi Jechiel Michel left Ostrolenka for Sierpc. While his predecessor was a rabbi in the style of Chassidic Poland, and was devoted to the Admorim, Rabbi Nachman Dawid Hakoen belonged more to the world of the Lithuanians, the “Misnagdim”. He was a descendent of the Gaon, Rabbi Klonimus Kalman, Av Beit Din of Orly and Zabludowa near Bialystok, the son of the Gaon, Rabbi Nachum Hakoen of Orly, author of the book Shevet Achim – a descendent of the Gaon Rabbi Szabtaj Hakoen, author of Siftei Cohen (known as the Schach) on the Shulchan Aruch.

There is also no detailed information about him for this article. We only know that his name is mentioned in HaTzfira in 1893, regarding the operation of the Ma'achal Kasher, for kosher food for Jewish soldiers in Russian Army companies encamped near Ostrolenka.

We find new Torah interpretations by this Ostrolenkan Rabbi at the end of the book Machane Kehuna (responsa on the Shulchan Aruch, part of the Orech Chaim of his relative, Rabbi Nachum Hakoen Biskowicz, a learned teacher in Bialystok).

 


Rabbi Jeszajahu

At about the same time, Rabbi Jeszajahu was the learned teacher of Ostrolenka. This Rabbi was known in the pedagogical world for his essays: Chomat Yehoshua, Avnei Yehoshua, Beit Yehoshua – about the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah and kashrut [kosher food] laws.

Rabbi Jeszajahu was born in Lipne. He was a learned teacher in Plock [Plotsk], a Rabbi in Schrantzk, a learned teacher in Ostrolenka, Laszka and later, Av Beit Din in Zacharek. He died there in 1905. He had a strong, authoritative personality, was zealous of religion and openly opposed the Zionist movement. He wrote the book Da'at HaRabanim, differing strongly with those rabbis who agreed with this “dangerous” (in his opinion) movement. It appears that he was devoted to the Alexander Admorim, who had great strength in Ostrolenka.

 


Rabbi Mosze Nachum Jeruzalimski

(From 1899 to1902)

He was one of the great rabbis of the older generation. He was born on February 25, 1855, in the town of Brashad, in the Podolia region in the Russian Ukraine, to wealthy parents of distinguished lineage, descendents of Rabbi Dawid Halewi Segal (the Taz), Rabbi Joel Sirkis (the Bach), Rabbi Szaul Wahl, Moharam of Padua, the Moharam of Rotenberg and others. He was a blood relative of the saintly Rabbi Awraham Jeszajahu Hesczel of Apt.

From his youth, he was known in the region as a great prodigy. He gained greater fame later, during his stay in Austrian Galicia with two famous Gaonim, Rabbi Josef Szaul Natanzon, the Rabbi of Lwow, author of the book of responsa, Shoel Umayshiv, and the wellknown Admor Rabbi Chaim Halbersztam of Sanz, author of Divrei Chaim. The latter wondered at the “prodigy from Brashad's” strong understanding of the entire Talmud and its commentaries, and knowledge of all its “secrets”.

In 1880, Rabbi Mosze Nachum became Rabbi of Kaminka, in the region of Kiev. He remained in the

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town until 1899. At the time, his economic status was good, as he had inherited a large fortune from his father. He did not wish to leave the quiet town, whose peaceful people did not divert him from his Torah studies.

In a period of two years, he wrote his two most important books, Leshad HaShemen (1881, Lwow), containing commentaries on the Rambam, and Minchat Moshe, containing responsa on the Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim, Yoreh De'ah and Even-Ezra. This book earned a great reputation among the rabbis for its author. Two famous rabbis, Rabbi Chaim Berlin, the Rabbi of Moscow and the son of the Natziv of Wolozin, and Rabbi Szmuel Mohilover, Rabbi of Bialystok, extolled its virtues. The latter, at that time the Av Beit Din of Radom, wrote about the author: “The gifted famous Rabbi has created a lane in the sea of Talmud and the Jewish law adjudicators (morei hora'a) and has made all clear; so mighty is his in-depth study and expertise, that “valleys sink down and mountains rise”. Large communities pleaded with him to be their rabbi. He did not want to leave his quiet town of Kaminka, however, and labored there in the tent of Torah to broaden knowledge.

After a number of years, he published his famous collection, Bircat Moshe, which included three important books in one volume: a) a Responsa Pamphlet, Bringing a Collection of Recent Opinions and an anthology of responsa on various matters of pedagogy; b) the pamphlet Mishchat HaShemen HaTov, about the Tractate Sabbath, which included Likutei Shoshanim Hanechmadim Mezahav Verav Peninim, from the words of our earliest rabbis and more recent great Torah scholars, dispersed among all their books in different places, as a kind of new method of compilation, with his own commentaries; c) the pamphlet Yafe Lebedika, which was “a large collection of some instructions and decisions of the greatest present-day rabbis, to be added to the laws of ritual slaughter and examinations of the lung for the benefit of learned teachers and examiners, with important notes, to clarify actual practice with a decisive Torah opinion, and with good taste and knowledge”.

In 1893, Rabbi Mosze Nachum was selected as the representative of the Kaminetz-Podolsk region for the Fifth Rabbinical Conference (held in 1894 in Petersburg), together with the industrious minister, Baron Naftali Hertz Ginzburg, who was born in Kaminetz.

In 1899, he was chosen to be Rabbi-Av Beit Din in Ostrolenka. This selection aroused a great deal of attention in the Russian rabbinic circles of those days, as this was almost the only time that a rabbi from the Ukraine was chosen for the rabbinate in Congressional Poland. The change of place, from quiet southern Russia to Chassidic, extremist Poland, at that time, brought about a change in his public activities. When he was in Kaminka, Rabbi Mosze Nachum was known as loyal and devoted lover of Zion. In the book, Shivat Zion, to Rabbi A.Y. Slotzky, of blessed memory, he had published an article praising the Land of Israel. For many years, he served on the Odessa Palestine Committee. His home was open to the Hebrew and nationalistic intelligentsia (maskeel). After he settled in Poland, however, he withdrew from all Zionist activity. As “official Rabbi” on the part of the government as well, Zionist activity was forbidden to him, as it was forbidden by the authority.

 

ost036.jpg
Rabbi Mosze Nachum Jeruzalimski

 

In 1901 in Ostrolenka, Rabbi Mosze Nachum published his third book, Be'er Moshe, which included three important books: a) Heshiv Moshe in twelve

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sections: the sections of Torah, the redemption, names, purity, holiness, knowledge, caution, the portions on the justice of the law, the rabbinic solutions of problems and the holiness of the Land of Israel, b) Respect of Sages, including three sections: the section of instruction, the section of the holiness of Israel and the section of prayer, c) Binyan Yerushalayim, including the sections: the building of Jerusalem, a ruling concerning agunot [women who cannot obtain a divorce decree from their husbands], “repairing the world”, the cherem of Rabbeinu Gershom Meor HaGola – a great principle of the Law, notes and decisions clarifying comprehensive matters in practice with a decisive Torah opinion. It contains a special chapter on the matter of “The Unity of the Kollelim” abroad and in the Holy Land.

From his answers in his books, it appears that he exchanged responsa with famous gaonim – most of them when he was already in Ostrolenka. Among these rabbis are the famous gaonim: Rabbi S. Mohilover, Rabbi Josef Dover of Brysk, Rabbi Szlomo Hakoen, the Elder of the Rabbis in Wilan, Rabbi Mordechaj Gimpel Jafe of Rozinoi, who passed away in Israel, and other famous rabbis. Rabbi Szmuel Mohilover called him “the Gaon, the famous Rabbi who is sharp and expert in the Torah, angels of light are with him, 'the cunning binder of spells', who does wonders”. Rabbi Josef Dover, Rabbi of Brysk of Lithuania, describes him: “The Gaon, the great famous Rabbi, sharp and expert”. Great Torah scholars from different countries turned to him in matters of pedagogy, such as the Gaon Rabbi Awraham Palagi the Sepharadi – the Rabbi of Izmir, and Rabbi Szraga Fajwel Tobjasz of Yassi, and Ish Horwicz of Stari. A special matter, of great value for the importance of Ostrolenka in the rabbinic world, is the composition, Birchat Chachamim, which includes letters of greeting from famous rabbis, in honor of the selection of Rabbi Mosze Nachum as Av Beit Din of Ostrolenka. Among them appear these well-known gaonim: Rabbi Shalom Mordechaj Hakoen Szwadron of Brzezany in Galicia, Rabbi Cwi Hirsz Rabinowicz of Kowna, Rabbi Eliahu Chaim Meizel of Lodz, the Aderet (Rabbi Eliahu Dawid Rabinowicz-Teomim) of Mir and Rabbi Milchael Cwi Tenenbaum, Av Beit Din of Lomza, the Elder Gaon, Rabbi Josef Zcharja Sztern, Rabbi of Szavel, Rabbi Chaim Chezkiahu Medini, author of Sede Chemed, Rabbi Rafael Szapira, Rabbi of Wolozin, Rabbi Jechiel Michel Epstejn, author of Orech Shulchan, and Rabbi Icchak Halewi Horowicz, Rabbi of Stanislaw. Rabbi Milchael, Av Beit Din in Lomza, near Ostrolenka, wrote about its new rabbi in a letter of greeting to him: “The Gaon, the famous Rabbi who is sharp and expert in the Torah, keeper of the Torah and the fear of God”, and wishes him well: “May he be blessed in his coming and may he succeed”. In addition, he blesses him with “Good luck to his honorable congregation, for with his coming, he brings honor to their city. They will succeed and prosper, they will recognize and appreciate the value of his greatness, and will obey him.” The greetings of Rabbi Eliezer Czulewicz, principal of the Holy Yeshiva of the holy community of Lomza, contains these words of congratulations and praise: Greetings to the great Gaon, on the day of his coming in peace to sit on the seat of the new rabbinate. It gladdens our hearts that the Rabbi will bring honor into our midst. It is our hope that he will spread his wings of justice not only over the holy community of Ostrolenka, and administer to them in the light of Torah and his wisdom, but that he will illumine the land and those residing in all its environs. Many will go toward his light, and will enjoy the holiness of his Torah and justice. He will be a fortress and a refuge to establish the word of God and to close the breaches that time has made in the wall of faith. In his days and ours, the light of our holy Torah and of our nation will be raised.” At the same time, Rabbi Eliezer describes Rabbi Mosze Nachum Jeruzalimski as “The Gaon, the great Rabbi, the saint and righteous person, the splendor of our generation, and his famous glory radiates to the end of the world in beauty and honor.”

A special congratulation, printed in the abovementioned book, from the Admor, Rabbi Menachem Mamshinov, who had a large congregation of Chassidim in Ostrolenka, was sent to him by Rabbi Szlomo Irmijahu Dometz (Dayan Umoreh Tzedek [Judge and Learned Teacher]) of the holy community of Ostrolenka. In this letter, he blesses Rabbi Mosze Nachum: “May God grant him great success and may he be able to use his influence for the good of all the members of his house”, and describes him as “the Gaon, the great Rabbi, who is famously praised for his splendid name”.

Rabbi Mosze Nahum served as Av Beit Din of Ostrolenka for less than four years. His name was praised all over Poland. In 1902, he was chosen to be Rabbi-Av Beit Din of Kielc, a regional city in Congressional Poland, where he found broad leeway for public work. There, he was greatly concerned with

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matters of the city and those of all of the Jewish people. In 1903, he appeared with the Gaon, Rabbi Eliahu Chaim Meizel, Av Beit Din of Lodz, and another two famous rabbis, before the Supervisor of Studies of the Warsaw region, Mr. Czwartz (who later became Minister of Education in Russia), in the matter of easing decrees concerning religious education in heders in Russia and Poland. They succeeded. Regarding Rabbi Eliahu Chaim Meizel, it should be noted that this Gaon and famous rabbi had a high regard for Rabbi Mosze Nachum, and when the latter became Rabbi of Ostrolenka, he called him “famous for good name, beauty and praise” in his congratulatory greeting.

In 1910, Rabbi Mosze Nachum was elected to the historic Sixth Rabbinic Conference in Petersburg. He was considered one of the most honored members of the conference. As Chairman of the Religious Committee, he did a great deal to unite the opinions of the two extremes: the Admorim and Rabbis, on the one hand, and the intelligentsia and community leaders on the other, who took his word and opinions into consideration in all matters on the religious and general public agenda of the Jews of Russia. The Russian government, uneasy about the decisions of the Rabbinic Conference, decided that they should be tabled; afterwards, World War I broke out.

During World War I, he sacrificed himself to save Jews from the Russian gallows. He stood in the breach and did a great deal for thousands of refugee families that poured into Kielc. It was his bitter fate to accompany innocent Jews who were sentenced to death. The many troubles destroyed his faltering health, and he was forced to leave his beloved city, Kielc, to rest in the city of Horol, in the Poltava region, where his sons lived – Dawid Jonah (the son-in-law of Rabbi Eliezer Mosze Megiowski of Horol) and Jeszajahu Hesczel (the son-inlaw of Rabbi Awraham Mlynarzewicz of Kopisk, near Lomza).

After a short time, he became ill in Horol and passed away on June 30, 1916.

During his illness, with him were only his children and grandchildren, his student, Rabbi Chanoch Henach Flakser, and Rabbi Szmuel Frydman, who tended him day and night. His son, long may he live!, Szymon Dow Jeruzalimski, raised and educated in his childhood in Ostrolenka (and who later lived in Miechow, in the Kielc region) accompanied his father to the Rabbinical Conference in Petersburg and published interesting recollections about the conference in the Jewish press, both in Yiddish and Hebrew. He now lives in Tel Aviv, fulfilling an important position in the Tel Aviv Comptroller's office.

ost038.jpg

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ost039.gif
Copy of the Ktav Rabbanut (Official appointment as rabbi of the city)
given to Rabbi Mosze Nachum Jeruzalimski by the community of Ostrolenka
(See My Ostrolenka, by S.D. Yerushalmi)

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About Rabbi Jeruzalimski in the Press

Ostrolenka (Lomza region) “It is my pleasure to notify our readers that the Gaon Rabbi Mosze Nachum Jeruzalimski, the glory of our generation, Av Beit Din of the Holy Community of Kaminka, after being evaluated by the greatest officials of the regional city of Siedlce, excelling in comprehensive knowledge, and being certified to serve as rabbi on behalf of the kingdom in all Polish cities – will now hold a high position of honor in our congregation.

We cannot describe the great honor given to our Rabbi on his arrival: hundreds of people came out to greet him in the city of Siedlce and on the railway tracks near our city. Many visitors came to his home every Sabbath and Motzei Shabbat Kodesh (Saturday night) to hear his pleasant words, which made a strong, good impression.

In the name of all the members of our congregation, I hereby express my congratulations to the Gaon and Rabbi.

May he, in his great wisdom, succeed in making peace between all political parties, for the good of our congregation which is content with its lot – that it has been privileged to choose this excellent Rabbi.” Y.M. Lewinsztejn, son of the Gaon of Serock (HaTzfira, No. 3, 1899)

B

With deep sorrow of heart and souls full of longing, we have said farewell to our beloved Rabbi, the Gaon Rabbi Mosze Nachum Jeruzalimski, Shlita [may he live a good long life], who has been appointed Rabbi-Av Beit Din of the city of Kielce.

All the townspeople went to the Rabbi to receive his parting blessing, prior to his departure with the members of his family this week, to bring honor to the place of his new employment.

Indeed, during the four years of his tenure here, the Gaon Rabbi led his congregation with intelligence, understanding and leniency. May our shepherd be loved by all Jews, as well as by citizens and high-level officials, because of his greatness and lofty attributes.

Blessed is the congregation of Kielce, which has secured this exalted Rabbi. We bless the Gaon Rabbi, that he may go onward and upward, and succeed in everything he does.

Signed by
“The representatives of the Congregation of Ostrolenka” (HaTzfira, No. 192, 1902)

 

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