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[Page 89]

Chapter 12


Oshpitzin Jewry and the Onset of the Springtime of Freedom

Tzadikim and Hasidim in Oshpitzin. – Hasidism's struggles against royal decrees. - The new generation of Oshpitzin Jewry. – Hasidism ranges from Bukovina to Oshpitzin. – The memorandum to Vienna on the difficult straits of the Jews. - The unresponsive reply. – The abundant supply of silk and satin. – The shock of the Vienna riots of 1848. – Rabbi Meisels of Krakow, Oshpitzin's representative at the Imperial Court. – The promulgation of the constitution is greeted with joy in Oshpitzin. – Russian armed forces on the way to Hungary pass through Oshpitzin. – The visits of Kaiser Franz Joseph in Oshpitzin. – One hundred eighty Jewish smugglers from Oshpitzin arrested. – The Emperor dismisses the charge through the intervention of Rabbi Schnur. – Oshpitzin folktales about the Emperor.


Precisely during times of trouble and distress for Jews, at a time when the sword stood poised at the throat and no savior is sight, the Hasidic movement and its tzadikim rushed in to breathe new life and hope into Galician Jewry and, in essence, turned the situation upside down. Hasidism increasingly united the Jewish masses in each city, town, village, and settlement in defending against the decrees of the Austrian government, gathering to its fold the vast majority of Galician Jewry. As time went on, it became a powerful conservative force, which attracted the greater part of the Jewish middle class to the defense of religion and tradition against the aggressive inroads of haskalah. Zealous adherence to religious practice was paramount in the legends of Hasidism as it fought against government decrees in its vigilance against any threat to the integrity of religion and practice. The eyes of the tzadikim were everywhere, and they stood guard to assist and ward off threatening inroads, so much so that even opponents of Hasidism came to admit that Hasidism had done a great deal to attenuate the worst of the decrees. In this regard Oshpitzin Jewry was no exception, for there too lived Hasidim of the different dynasties, observing their particular way of life together in their shtiblach, and those tzadikim who saw fit to make Oshpitzin their home served as the cornerstones of these communities.

The Hasidim responded to Austrian administrative political suppression not only by mutual assistance and solidarity but also by a kind of organized passive resistance. The entire gamut of malignant adversities and the great yearnings for redemption of the masses of oppressed Jews in the towns and villages found their expression in the Hasidic movement of those times. The essence of Galician Hasidism during that reactionary period (1815 – 1848) is reflected in its teachings and legends, in official documents, and in the writings of its fierce opponents, the Maskilim. In the official governing act on Hasidism of July 29, 1823, the Hasidic tzadikim are represented as the influential leaders of the “lower classes” of Jewry. One regional commissioner, in his report on the Hasidim to the governing council in 1827, writes in part, “A Jewish Hasid of this type is easily recognized; he goes about with neck exposed, rolled up sleeves, dirty clothing and usually disheveled. The most common Jews belong to this sect.”[1]

With the protection of the landed gentry, village Jews were able to get around the decree preventing Jews from being saloonkeepers. The masses practically ignored the decrees on prohibitive marriage taxes accompanied by German language proficiency examinations of the bride and groom, and would marry only according to the “Law of Moses and Israel,” without official sanction, and not by the law of Austria and Galicia. From the official statistics of 1826 it becomes obvious that the number of Jewish weddings in that year numbered over 1,000, while the legally sanctioned ones were only 127. Legal disputes were resolved by Jews among themselves through a besdin and they refrained from turning to the secular courts. The high tax on praying with a quorum was not paid, and they would conceal the existence of a shtibel from the authorities. When the government forbade the printing of books on Hasidism and Kabbalah, the Hasidim would print them clandestinely and the volumes would indicate false publishing dates and bogus publishers. In spite of the order of 1800 forbidding the importation of books in Hebrew and Yiddish from outside the country, Jews smuggled them in from Russia. In order to avoid the draft – which under prevailing circumstances was justly regarded by Jews as too great a hardship – they would provide incorrect birth dates or, wherever possible, would not even report the births. The Hasidim regarded the efforts of the Austrian government to Germanize the Jews as no less restrictive than the taxation decrees. The tzadikim responded in stubborn defense of the Yiddish language and the traditional garb and customs and promised their adherents that in the merit of their loyalty to Yiddish the redemption would come about. Reb Mendele of Rymanow regarded the decree on “gentile clothing” and “new languages unfamiliar to our ancestors” an act of klipa [adaptation of foreign skin], which would bring about the subjugation of Israel by the nations of the world. It was with the most energetic resistance, usually well organized, that Hasidim fought against the tax on candles and kosher meat, and they fought with all their means against these tax collectors. So great was the self-imposed boycott on eating meat that even the opponents of Hasidism surrendered in solidarity to popular pressure and refrained from eating meat. When these bans were in force, dairy foods were eaten even on Shabbat and holidays.

In the 1840s new, younger generations of university graduates in cooperation with older Maskilim of the previous generation attained leadership positions at the helm of Galician Jewry. This influence was also felt in Oshpitzin.

The city of Oshpitzin, situated on the western tip of the country, right on the Prussian-Silesian border, was intimately involved in all the events taking place in the Austrian Galician kingdom. No episode occurred without leaving its mark on Oshpitzin or having effects that were reflected there. In 1839, two heavy losses were experienced by religious Jewry in Austria with the demise of the gaon, Rabbi Yakov Orenstein in Lwow and the gaon, Rabbi Moshe, author of Chasam Soifer in Presburg [Bratislava], both among the most important leaders of religious Jewry. In 1840, two events occurred that greatly influenced the coming development of Jewry. In that year, the Austrian government began to take notice of the intelligentsia when it appointed a kehilla council in the capital of Lwow. For the first time, representatives of the Maskilim, doctors of medicine and jurisprudence, were included and they took up their posts energetically, without regard to the fact that in the same year the famous Hasidic tzadik, Rabbi Yisroel Friedman, of Rozhyn [?] settled in Sadigora in Bukovina, founding the dynasty which branched out to the leadership of prominent tzadikim in Husyatin, Czortkow, Bojan, and Rymanow. From that time, Bukovina Hasidism in East Galicia spread through Central Galicia to reach as far as Oshpitzin.

In 1847, for the first time, representatives of a number of the large kehillot of Galicia convened and decided to petition the government in a memorandum on the difficult straits of the Jews. Since they were not permitted to send a combined memorandum, it was decided that each kehilla would do so individually. Memoranda were sent by the kehillot of Lwow (1847), Brody, Tarnopol, and Sambor; Oshpitzin was probably a participant in this activity. All of these memoranda, which had been dispatched to Vienna, were transmitted from there to the Governing Administration in Lwow. Not until after the constitution was granted in April 1848 was a reply forthcoming (12.6.1848), stating that the constitution provided that these matters would be submitted to the parliament for its deliberation and decision; this was like serving mustard after the meal. Meanwhile, the local Galician governing body occupied itself with injunctions against Jewish forms of dress, ordering Jewish men and women to wear European clothes. The orthodox, fearing the verdict of the government, mobilized a number of kehillot and from all sides petitioned the authorities to allow the current modes of dress, especially since Jewish merchants and tailors had a very large inventory of velvet and silk cloth, and the Sternband [decorative headband covering the forehead of women] often constituted the sole savings of the Jewish family. Despite these petitions, the rule of Prince Metternich was characterized by strict enforcement of all of the regulations imposed on the inhabitants in conformity with the previous system. Taxes in arrears were collected with exaggerated extremism by confiscating the property of those who had not paid the candle taxes. In May 1848, instructions were received from the tax bureau to collect the arrears of 1847 and to sell all of the items confiscated from Jews by the franchised candle-tax collectors.

The events taking place in Vienna in March 1848 caused much fluctuation in all of the governmental departments and shook the very foundations of the Habsburg monarchy. The 13th  of March 1848 marked a drastic and unexpected change in the history of the House of Habsburg and that of the peoples in the territories it ruled. Into the entire accumulation of orders, instructions, decisions, and rulings with which Metternich had attempted to subjugate Austria and Europe, there fell one spark that set it all mightily ablaze. This fire, for which he was not at all prepared, damaged his rule so extensively that it provides the explanation for his complete surrender in favor of the ideas of liberty and nationality. Kaiser Ferdinand was an incompetent, and circumstances forced him to abdicate his throne on December 2, 1848 in favor of his 18-year-old nephew, Kaiser Franz Josef I, who – together with his chief minister Schwarzenberg – forgot all their promises and persisted in the despotic legacy of their predecessors. A Galician delegation that had been dispatched to Vienna, headed by Prince Lubomirski, included a number of Jews: A. M. Mizes [?], Yehoshua L. Horowitz, Rabbi Cohen, and Rabbi Dovberish Meisels (1798-1870) of Krakow as the delegate of West Galician Jewry, in which Oshpitzin had an important place. Rabbi Meisels was one of the delegates received for an audience with the Kaiser. He was a rabbi and statesman in Krakow, from 1848 a representative in the Austrian parliament who was active in the opposition, and one of the central figures during the Krakow Republic (until 1846); he was also in contact with the kehilla leadership of Oshpitzin.

Understandably, news of the granting of the constitution was received by Galician Jewry with great joy, and not less in Oshpitzin than in Lwow or Krakow, despite the fact that in Oshpitzin there were no newspapers that would report this event, as in the large cities. Indeed, the proclamations that were posted in the streets declaring equal civil rights for Jews immediately raised the question of whether the paragraph outlining equal rights for all citizens applied to the special religious taxes that Jews had to pay or whether these taxes were still in force. In any case, meetings were convened in most of the synagogues to express gratitude, speeches were declaimed, and public joy was expressed. In Krakow and nearby Kazimierz the oppressed classes rose up against the [tax] concessionaires and the exploiters who wanted to destroy their homes, to properly express their attitude as the despoiled toward those who exploited them and as taxpayers toward the leeches that sucked their blood.

On April 15, 1848, the authorities published a liberal, restrained constitution that promised freedom to all religions, with an attendant notation that Jewish emancipation was postponed until the publication of further legal amendments at a later time. Nevertheless, the Jews received the right to vote in the parliamentary elections. The constitution, however, was tantamount to clay without an infusing spirit and satisfied no one, so that on May 15th a [violent] demonstration against the authorities broke out once again, with the result that the Kaiser and his entourage left Vienna and moved to Innsbruck to wait out the disturbances. Not until October 5, 1848, after the impassioned speech of Mannheimer, did the parliament declare the cancellation of the special taxes levied on Jews that plagued the masses with profound insult. Just one day after the announcement of the cancellation, new waves of the revolt in Vienna took place. On October 6, the revolt was at its peak. There were bloody clashes in Hungary between the Kossuth party and the southern Slavs, who were supported by the Austrian army. The Russian army under General Paskiewicz, who knew the Oshpitzin area from the time of the partition of Poland and its partial occupation, again responded to the summons of the Austrian Kaiser to rush in to help; this time, too, Oshpitzin became a transit point for the army through which they penetrated Hungary and subdued the Hungarians.

Equal rights for Galician Jewry were slow in coming. In 1848 the proclamation of equality for all Austrian citizens without regard to religion was announced. In 1853 new limitations were announced regarding Jews. The law of 1863, however, granted them full equal rights. From then on the Jews of Oshpitzin, too, breathed easier.

Quite a bit of attention was paid by the Jews of Oshpitzin to their “kind” Kaiser Franz Josef, who loved to tour extensively throughout the regions of his extended empire. He spent time in Oshpitzin and the surrounding area more than once. There were those Jews in Oshpitzin who related that they had spoken to him briefly as he walked through the streets of the town. It is likely that this added to the legendary mantle of the “Good and Kindly” Kaiser, and they would tell only good things of him, omitting those deeds that had a jarring note not conforming to the principles of harmony, in spite of his joke that he bore the title of “King of Jerusalem,” implying that since Galician Jews had crowned him “Kaiser of the Galician Jews,” it was merely a short distance to being king of all Jewry.

In his youthful period, Kaiser Franz Josef had been a cruel warmonger and had shed much blood. In the first decade of his reign, he was responsible for many more deaths than any previous despot of Austria. Subsequent to his victory with the aid of the Russian armies over the Hungarian revolt, his generals continued to carry out massacres in the defeated, desolate land, so much so that all Europe shuddered at the Austrian barbarity. The Kaiser's forces ravaged right and left and inflicted on the defeated nation deep wounds that festered for many years and never healed. In point of fact, he exemplified in his style the realization of Austrian bureaucracy, which was an admixture of villainy and stupidity. After stifling the revolt in Hungary, it reverted to the old Metternich system of spying and sleuthing, and the earlier police methods were renewed.

It bears mentioning at this juncture that as the Kaiser aged, the myth of his kindheartedness and his humane feelings spread, and that legends at times turn into the legacy of history. Franz Josef was beloved by the Jews. If ever there was a Jewish king after the destruction of Jerusalem, then it was the “Jewish Kaiser” Franz Josef. The people held firm beliefs as to his love for the Jews, and the Jewish associations of former Galicians in other countries – especially in America and Canada – were permitted to celebrate his birthday as a great national holiday. The truth is that the Kaiser was not such a great philo-Semite, for two reasons. First, court traditions and his strict clerical education left him devoid of any thought of tolerance for the views, attitudes, customs, and manners of others, and especially those of Jews. Second, the Kaiser believed that all Jews were revolutionaries. He firmly believed that the Jews were responsible for the outbreak in Vienna and other locations. Understandably, these two factors combined to erect a wall of iron in the face of the delegations and petitions that were dispatched to him in an attempt to influence him to moderate his attitudes toward the Jews. A good analysis – perhaps too harsh – on the role played in history by Franz Josef was made by a historian in the following statement, “The Kaiser did not possess even one good nerve. Indeed, he became softer and more humane with each debacle. Franz Josef would consider a compromise only when he became afraid.” Thus wrote Karl Cupik [?], who knew him well, in his book Franz Josef I.

We won't list all of his deeds here, just or wicked, whether in his relationship to Jews in particular or toward all the peoples and minor states that had been accumulated by the kings of the Habsburg dynasty “like a collection of abandoned eggs” and annexed by them. We are obliged, however, to detail the following story, which is current among the former Oshpitziner about Franz Josef. This is how it goes:[2]

Oshpitzin had developed into a commercial city, trading with German Prussia and Russian-ruled Congress Poland. A short hop by train from Oshpitzin and you were in Katowice or Myslenice; with another hop, you were in Sosnowice and the Zagle[m]bia region. In the “Corner of the Three Empires,” where the White Przymsze flows into the Black Przymsze, you would have been able to make the trek on foot from Slopna [?], a suburb of Myslowice to the village of Galician Jiendzor [?] and from there over the river to visit in Niewka [?] and Mordziow [?]. The proximity of the borders to Oshpitzin created, aside from the legal trade of the Jews of Oshpitzin in agricultural products and the supply of timber as raw material for construction, the illegal trade of smuggling merchandise from nearby Germany, such as silk products, fine velvet, and knitted goods, without paying the duties. All of these items were available in Germany at bargain rates, while in Austria the prices for these goods were exorbitant, making it worthwhile for small retailers in textiles to stock German contraband. Smuggling, though, was not always without risk. Once, undercover agents of the authorities caught a large contingent of Oshpitzin Jews as they were taking delivery of a large shipment. Through coercive methods they succeeded in ensnaring quite a number of Jewish merchants, resulting in the arrest of 180 Jews in town who were sent immediately to the prison in Wadowice to pay for their crime. Weeping and wailing was heard all over the city, for people knew that the accused might be sentenced to long jail terms. In despair the wives and children of the prisoners turned to Rabbi Abba'le Schnur, the Oshpitzin Rabbi, weeping and imploring him to speedily help to free their breadwinners, lest they go hungry. The rabbi, R’ Abbale Schnur immediately contacted Baron Teschitz [?] from the village of Kozy [?] near Biala, and the latter paved the way for him to gain an audience with Kaiser Franz Josef at Schoenbrunn in Vienna. The rabbi traveled unobtrusively to Vienna, remained there some eight days and on his return brought a letter to the Wadowice Court. The letter contained an order to the court to release the prisoners forthwith, until their trial clarified the situation. The chief magistrate immediately complied. A trial never took place, because Rabbi Schnur had been able to quash the entire matter during his stay in Vienna. For a long time, the rabbi refused to discuss the incident and divulged nothing. It is said in Oshpitzin that years later, when the whole matter had already been forgotten, at the great international convention of rabbis in Krakow in 1903 [5663], Rabbi Abba Schnur met Rabbi Chaim Leibush Horowitz and others at the residence of the Rabbi of Krakow, where they conversed about current events. Suddenly, Rabbi Usher'l, the Tzadik of Rymanow changed the subject under discussion and began with the following words: “Rabbi of Tarnow. [3] Wonder of wonders. You are not, after all, a Hasidic tzadik, and nevertheless are a great miracle worker. Perhaps the time has now come for you to reveal the secret of how you succeeded in influencing the Kaiser to free the 180 Jews of Oshpitzin from jail.” To this, Rabbi Abba'le Schnur replied, “I threatened him. This is what happened: When I told the Kaiser that I had come especially to request that he free the smugglers, he asked me if I didn't think that they deserved to be punished. I answered that it was my opinion that these Jews had already been punished by having been in jail the past two weeks and by the losses incurred due to the confiscation of the contraband, and so they had been doubly punished. The Kaiser, however, insisted and said that he could not interfere in the matter. When I realized that my mission was a failure I said to the Kaiser, 'I have a plan. Since the Oshpitzin community has few resources and is not able to provide for the prisoners' families, and here in the Schoenbrunn Palace there is more than adequate space, I propose that I return home and bring you all the wives and children of the smugglers. I am not concerned for their well-being here, because I know they will not suffer from hunger here.' The Kaiser burst out in laughter and, after thinking a few moments, told me that on the following day I should turn to the minister of justice and he would take care of the whole matter. Next day I went to the minister's office and there I was handed a sealed letter for me to present to the regional court in Wadowice. 'Inasmuch as our emperor is a kindly person,' the minister explained, 'the matter should be concluded by having all of the paperwork and indictments that have been made concerning the matter of the smugglers sent to a place where they will not be remembered, nor mentioned, nor ever heard from again.' ”

In any case, it is clear that as far as this story reveals only a small part of the positive aspects, it is a fact that it was precisely the defeats he suffered in his wars that influenced him to issue his more liberal regulations. The tragedy of it is that Franz Josef always waited too long and lost many battles and struggles before he came to realize that he should proceed beyond the letter of the law and win the hearts of the oppressed peoples harnessed to his royal chariot.


FOOTNOTES
  1. The subject of the struggle of the Hasidic tzadikim against the decrees of the Austrian government in Galicia is fully detailed and documented in Hasidism and Haskalah in 19th Century Galicia by Raphael Mahler, which includes details of R’ Mordechai Auspitz [?], a Maskil who was the administrative director of the commercial firm Nierenstein (pp. ? and 50). Return


  2. See the article by Yakov Seifter, born in Oshpitzin, in the Memorial section of the book. Return


  3. [Conversational Yiddish and Hebrew not too long ago was highly formal when addressing rabbis, parents, and others due respect. They would always be referred to in the third person. A child would never refer to parents frontally in the second person, but would say, “Does father wish...would Mother like,” etc. Furthermore, even when not present they would be referred to not as “he” or “she”, but rather as der Tate, di Mame, and never by their first names.] Trans. Return

 


[Page 95]


Chapter 13



Oshpitzin and its Tzadikim in the
Hasidic Movement


The march of Hasidism from Kitov [?] to Oshpitzin. – The wandering R’ Elimelech of Lizhensk [Lezajsk] visits Oshpitzin. – The struggle in Oshpitzin between Hasidim and Misnagdim. – The attitude of the Austrian government to Hasidism. – The increase in the number of Hasidic “Shtiblach” in Oshpitzin. – The visits of various Tzadikim in town. – The Oshpitzin Tzadik, R’ Berish Frummer [?].


Galicia deserves much distinction in the history of the spiritual development of our people for the period of about 500 years before the Shoah. This was the home of the great rabbinical religious authorities, the ReM”A [Rabbi Moses Isserles], the Ba”CH, the Ta”Z, the authors of “K'tzos HaChoshen”, and “Chavas Da'as”. Here, Rabbi Yisroel Ba'al Shem Tov [Besh”t], the founder of Hasidism, was born, grew up, secluded himself, and developed his approach, and a number of his greatest disciples were Galicianer, among them Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev. The first wellspring of Hasidism was in East Galicia, in the Carpathian Mountains south of Kossow and Kuty where the Besh”t secluded himself. In contrast to earlier movements in Judaism, which tended towards asceticism, Hasidism rejected afflicting the body and soul leading to depression and demanded that the worship of God be out of joy.

Hasidism was founded in East Galicia, from which it passed during its second stage to Central Galicia, and finally reached even West Galicia, with Krakow as its center, and came as far as Oshpitzin. No other class or popular movement had as profound an influence on the life of Jews in Galicia as did the Hasidic movement. Galicia's function in the renewal of Hasidism was immensely creative. The Besh”t himself was born near the Podolian-Wallachian border and spent a number of years in Brody, Kuty, Kossow, and Tluste, where his ideas developed before he was recognized as a Ba'al Shem [wonder-worker]. While still in Galicia he left behind sparks of enthusiasm, which were influential in later years as well. It is interesting to note that among those who would journey to him in Miedzyborz in order to be in his company, in his inner circle were precisely those of East Galicia, like Rabbi Nachman of Kossow, who later went up to Eretz Yisrael accompanied by other Hasidim, and such as Rabbi Nachman of Horodenka were among them. A third Galician who would visit the Besh”t was Rabbi Menachem-Mendel of Przemyslany who described his conduct in the book “Darkei Yeshorim”. Even the Besh”t's brother-in-law, Rabbi Gershon of Kitov came to him in Brody in order to pay his respects to the former “Am Ha'aretz”.

Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk [Lezajsk] was one of the pioneers of Hasidism and a disciple of Rabbi Dovber, the Magid of Mezritch [Miedzyrzec]. It was his custom to wander from town to town, and village to village [Arranging for the Redemption of Exile], and according to legend he, together with his brother, Rabbi Zushe of Anipoli [Annopol], also reached Oshpitzin. As he stood on the border of Silesia, the land of freedom and enlightenment, he regarded it for a long time, and finally said “You will come this far ”, discerning that Hasidism would halt in Oshpitzin without making inroads into Silesia, an area that was under the sway of the Maskilim, adherents of R’ Moshe Mendelsohn who fought against Hasidism.[1] According to the legend, Rabbi Elimelech and his brother performed a pioneering function in the dissemination of Hasidism and its perspectives in Oshpitzin and its surroundings. The advance of Hasidism in Galicia was halted for a time at the gates of Krakow, and it was obliged to undertake a severe struggle until it succeeded in also penetrating there. In 5543 [1783], Rabbi Kloinimus Kalman Epstein of Neustadt came to Krakow. He was considered to be one of the most excellent of the young disciples of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk. With him were the “Seer of Lublin” (born in Lancut), and Rabbi Mendel from Rymanow. The former spread Hasidism through his marvelous book “Ma'or VaShemesh”, which became a classic of Hasidism and an unfailing resource of the lofty and sublime ethics of Hasidism. It turns out that in Oshpitzin, too, the road was not clear for Hasidism, and here, too, it had to do battle until it gained the upper hand.

Hasidism would unite the masses of Jews to solidarity in defense against the decrees and exploitation through taxes of absolutist Austria, and in its subversive struggles against the Austrian authorities, Hasidism succeeded in consolidating to its banner the vast majority of Galician Jewry. With the passage of time, Hasidism became the conservative force, which attracted the greatest majority of the Jewish middle class in defense of religion and tradition against the aggressive Haskalah efforts of Yosef Perl and his associates. By the end of the 19th Century, the victory of Hasidism in Galicia was already almost total.

What was the attitude of the Austrian government towards the Hasidic movement? In the first half of the 19th Century it was determined by the character and development of this religious movement, and according to the general principles of the absolutist, reactionary policies in the realm of its own nationalism, religion, and culture. By and large, the Austrian authorities regarded Hasidism with great suspicion. As a religious mass movement, Hasidism was a serious disturbing factor for absolutist policies. The authorities realized that Hasidism does not preach “respect and obedience of the laws of the country and its administration”. In spite of that, the government issued a decree favoring Hasidism in 1788. Until 1814 there are no official documents concerning Hasidism in Galicia. On the 14th of February, 1814 a decree was issued by the imperial court that mentions the decree of 1788, which prohibited the persecution of “Hasidim or the pious, inasmuch as the Edict of Tolerance for the Mosaic Religion applied to them”. Subsequently, barely six months later, the government ignored the Edict of Tolerance of Kaiser Josef II, and an era of oppression of Hasidim commenced. The Hasidic movement was hounded at every juncture. These persecutions were the direct result of the work of informers, mostly from the ranks of Maskilim. It was only in 1838 that the authorities in Galicia finally realized that the Hasidic movement had become so widespread amongst Jewry that there was no possible way to suppress it by law. The 1848 Revolution, which put an end to the deprivation of the rights of Galician Jewry, terminated the series of suppression of the Hasidic movement by the authorities.[2]

It can be assumed that in Oshpitzin, too, Hasidism was not ascendant for a certain period, and that there were Mitnagdim who fought it as either a majority or a minority. It was only when the storm abated and the influence of the ban against Hasidism that was pronounced in Krakow waned that peace was restored, and the Hasidim in Oshpitzin continually increased. “Shtiblach” were established in town reflecting the various dynasties where they followed the same customs as were current in the courts of their Tzadikim. From time to time the different Tzadikim would come to visit their Hasidim in Oshpitzin, and on those Sabbaths and Holidays the city took on an air of festivity. The Admorim themselves, however, only began to visit after Rabbi Dovberish Frummer had established his home in town. Oshpitzin was preceded by its neighbor Chrzanow, some 18 kilometers away, in boasting of having an Admor resident there, in the person of Rabbi Shloime Bochner, who was a disciple of Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg [Mikulov]. He was the first Rabbi and Admor in Chrzanow from 5546 [1786] on. At first he engaged in business, despite his Torah genius and was in contact with the Gaonim and Tzadikim of his generation. He died on the 18th of Iyar 5588 [May 2, 1828].

The first Hasidic Tzadik who lived in Oshpitzin was Rabbi Berish Frummer, who was born in Chrzanow and studied Revealed Torah [Talmud and Halacha] as a student of Rabbi Shlomo, the Av Besdin of Chrzanow, and the Esoteric Torah [Mysticism and Hasidism] as a disciple of the Seer of Lublin, Rabbi Yakov Yitzchok Horowitz. He was a mighty Gaon, an incisive and marvelous debater, but hid his great Torah acumen from others. In his youth he had been a Melamed of little children, and only after establishing his home in Oshpitzin was his great authority in Torah and worship revealed. He was a mighty wonder-worker and people traveled to him from near and far. In his later years he was also appointed the Av Besdin of Oshpitzin. He did not, however, live long as the Chief Rabbi, since he passed away on Iyar 20 5598 [May 15 1838]. The book “Divrei Tzadikim” was published after his death. In the book “Three Flocks of Sheep” (Przemysl 5637 [1877]) the author, Menachem Menli Sofer, expresses his sorrow that his Hasidim had not been very impressed with him and did not consider him to be an illustrious figure, but rather as only great in Torah and piety, while he saw him as one who was divinely inspired. In nearby Prussia he also had many Hasidim and admirers, as well as among the Admorim of his generation, such as Rabbi Shloime, the Admor of Chrzanow, the Tzadik, Rabbi Moshe Biderman of Lelow, and the Tzadik of Dzykow, all of whom were his enthusiastic admirers.[3]

Another Rabbi and Admor lived in Oshpitzin in the person of Rabbi Shloime Halberstam (son of Rabbi Meir Noson, the son of the renowned Tzadik, Rabbi Chaim of Sacz, author of “Divrei Chaim”). It was about 100 years ago that he was appointed the Rabbi of the city. He was a great Gaon like his grandfather, Rabbi Chaim of Sacz, and his path in Hasidism was based primarily on the study of Talmud and Codes. He also excelled as a great philanthropist and disbursed much money, as his grandfather, Rabbi Chaim did, distributing hundreds of thousands gold coins to poor Hasidim, while he himself led an extremely frugal existence. Rabbi Shlomo was from an illustrious lineage, a great-grandson of Rabbi Boruch Frankel-Thumim of Lipnik, the author of “Tuv Ta'am”, and other Gaonim. His own genius brought Rabbi Shloime fame as a Torah Gaon in all of Galicia, and during the years he lived in Oshpitzin he attracted many Hasidim. Around him gathered most enthusiastic Hasidim who did not tolerate any new practice or deviation from the accepted norm, and it was they who brought about the controversy in town. He also conducted a Yeshiva in town and had many students. The leaders of the Oshpitzin Kehilla tended towards modernity, and they greatly preferred a Rabbi who was a Maskil. Due to the controversy with the community leaders he was obliged to relinquish the Rabbinical post in Oshpitzin, and in 5640 [1880] was appointed the Chief Rabbi of Wisnicz, near Krakow, where many famous Torah luminaries had served in earlier times. Rabbi Shloime established a Yeshiva there and he conducted it for 13 years. The Yeshiva of Wisnicz soon became known as a fountainhead of Torah, piety, and Hasidism. It produced many outstanding Rabbis, Talmidei Chachamim and scholars, Hasidim and men of renown. In 5653 [1893], due to a heart condition, he was obliged to leave the city and move to the city of Bobowa, near Tarnow, a city endowed with fresh air, and there he founded the Hasidic dynasty of Bobowa. He died on Tammuz 1 5666 [June 24 1906], and his son, Rabbi Benzion, was selected to succeed him as the leader of thousands of Bobower Hasidim. He was remembered with admiration in Oshpitzin also after he left the city.

During the First World War (5674 - 5678) Rabbi Shloime'le, the Tzadik of Sassow, came to live in Oshpitzin, and the town turned into a center of Sassower Hasidim. He had been raised by his grandfather, Rabbi Sholem, the Tzadik of Belz, and from him he received his approach to Hasidism. His ways of dealing with the many people who came to visit were marvelous. The Sassower Hasidim toiled together studying Torah for its own sake to uncover the profundities of the Torah and its unwritten secrets. Most of his Hasidim were outstanding scholars who strove not only to keep the [Mitzvah] “…And thou shalt study it day and night”, but also to learn, to teach, and to uncover the hidden aspects of Torah, and it was they who created the spiritual atmosphere at the court. At the start of the war, Rabbi Shloime'le lived in Lwow, which was captured by the Russian troops, who in every place that came under their heel led pogroms against the Jews. In Lwow, too, they murdered some 40 Jews on the Eve of Yom Kippur 5675 [1914]. The Rebbe did not want to wander to Austria where there were few traditional Jews, and after the Russian armies were held back in their advance before Krakow, the Rebbe decided to stay in Oshpitzin, which was situated right on the German border. In a short time he succeeded in attracting many Hasidim and to restore his position to what it had been in Sassow and Lwow. He became renowned as a wonder-worker and healer of many sick people. His talents for good counsel also came to the fore. He had an extraordinary memory and remembered the names of his Hasidim who came to him only rarely. For the Sabbaths and Holidays only his close circle of Hasidim would come, but on weekdays multitudes would stream to him from faraway places. He was the Rebbe of the multitudes, and there were many who came to him from Hungary. At the end of the war he moved back to Lwow, and shortly thereafter he died there on the 12th of Adar II 5679 [March 14, 1919] and was buried near the grave of his friend, the Gaon, Rabbi Yitzchok Shmelkes who had preceded him 13 years earlier. Rabbi Shloime'le would mention his stay in Oshpitzin with great affection.

Also the Rabbi, R’ Elazar HaLevi Rosenfeld, chose the city of Oshpitzin as his home. He was called the “Admor of Oshpitzin”. He was born in 5621 [1881], the son of Rabbi Yehoshua, who had been the Av Besdin and Admor in Kaminka, an outstanding disciple of Rabbi Naftoli, the Tzadik of Ropszyce. Rabbi Elazar was blessed with the superior talents of memory and a quick grasp, and at a very young age he was betrothed to the daughter of the author of “Divrei Chaim” of Sacz when he was still living and who was delighted with the match. The wedding took place in 5638 [1878], after the demise of the Sondzer Tzadik, so that he was supported for a time by his brother-in-law, Rabbi Yitzchok Tuvia, and later by his brother-in-law, Rabbi Shloime Halberstam of Wisnicz, where he completed his Torah and Rabbinical studies. At the outset [of his Rabbinical career] he held the Rabbinical post at Bochnia. From there he relocated to become the Admor of Oshpitzin. His center of activity was his Bes Medrish where he disseminated Torah and Hasidism to the many. He became famous in town and was admired by all the residents from all the Hasidic factions. He himself never went forth from the confines of Hasidism and the service of God, and his income was very meager. It never once occurred to him to do anything to improve his situation whether through business or through secular activities. He did not travel much through the towns of the district where a great many of the Sondzer Hasidim, and adherents of the great Rabbi, R'Chaim, lived. This might have increased his income in some measure and vastly improve his economic status. Even the very little that he had he would distribute as charity to the poor. He instructed his household to the scrupulous maintenance of the Sondz and Kaminka customs without relinquishing in the slightest any of his ancestors' ways. He embarked from Oshpitzin to live in Jerusalem, where he set up his Bes Medrish near Meah She'arim. He would pray with great fervor and make his way from time to time to the Western Wall leaning on the arms of his Hasidim. In Jerusalem he lived a life of distress and want, and also suffered the pains of illness. His ailments and advanced age weakened him further. Finally, he acquiesced to the insistent pleas of his family and came on a visit to Oshpitzin in hopes of regaining his health and strength and then to return to Jerusalem. Thus, he returned to Galicia in 5699 [1939]. It seems that Divine Providence had taken a hand, and that he who had lived a life of purity in Jerusalem should be afflicted together with his Hasidim in Poland in the evil years of the Shoah at the very beginning of the outbreak of the Second World War. With the expulsion of the Jews from Oshpitzin in the month of Nissan 5701 [April 1941] he moved to nearby Chrzanow where he died and was yet fortunate to be receive a Jewish burial.

Most of the town's residents were comprised of the Hasidic adherents of Belz, Sacz, Czortkow, Bobowa, and Radomsko, among others. The overwhelming majority at the end were Bobower, Belzer, and Radomsker Hasidim. The success of Bobower Hasidism should be attributed to the fact that the Bobower Tzaddik, Rabbi Benzion Halberstam, son of Rabbi Shloime, had formerly lived in Oshpitzin, where he had placed the emphasis on the education of the Haredi youth, and had established lower Yeshivot towards that end. He maintained close contact with the young and nurtured their spiritual growth. This relationship also influenced the parents of these youths in positive directions. When the national and geographic barriers between Congressional Poland and Galicia fell in 1918, and Radomsko was no longer beyond the border, Rabbi Shloime Chanoch Rabinowitz, The Radomsker [Admor] lived in Sosnowice and was also engaged in setting up Yeshivot named “Keser Torah”. He also did so in Oshpitzin, where he established an outstanding Yeshiva where many students were educated. Through this Yeshiva, the Radomsker gained a reputation for Radomsker Hasidism. The Admorim of Bobowa and other courts would frequently visit Oshpitzin and were warmly received by all the townspeople.

Many of the townsmen were accustomed to travel to the courts of the various Tzadikim by train and also by car, and equally there was great activity in the courts of the Oshpitzin Admorim when the great numbers of Hasidim would come to be near their Tzadikim and bask in the warmth of the pure prayer and Hasidic melodies that sweetened the atmosphere. Hasidism knew how to add content and enthusiasm to prayer and reinforce the undying eternal faith of Israel.


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FOOTNOTES
  1. The legend about the appearance of R’ Elimelech of Lezajsk in Jewish communities near the Silesian-Prussian border is also current in other localities near Oshpitzin. Return


  2. See the book by Raphael Mahler on the policies of the Austrian government towards Hasidism in Galicia during the reactionary period (1815-1848), Chapter 3, pp. 87-131. Return


  3. There are several accounts of the Hasidic Tzadikim in Oshpitzin, and seemingly due to their modesty their influence and number of adherents was restricted. Return

 


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