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{Page 101}

Reb Yosef Reich

By Shlomo Tal

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Reb Yosef Reich was one of the wonderful personalities who imprinted his stamp upon Jewish Rzeszow. The elders of Rzeszow of our generation remember him in his youth: a sharp and intelligent lad, full of energy, mischievous, “Der Roiter Yossel” (Yosef the Red). He was involved in all practical jokes and tricks that took place in the “Tzanzer Kloiz”, and he was the living spirit behind them. All of this was between lessons, between absorbing entire pages of Talmud, decisors and commentaries, and delving deeply into the four sections of the “Shulchan Aruch” (Code of Jewish Law) and Responsa. Suddenly, as if in a night, the man became serious, he grew up, and he straightened out his tall stature – and before us there was Reb Yosef Reich, or “The Rebbe”, as he was referred to by his students: “The term Rebbe without a proper name refers to Reb Yosef Reich”.

His father, Reb Menachem Mendel Reich (Reb Mendele the Judge) arrived in Rzeszow from Stryszow, and was a member of the rabbinical court. He was an expert decisor in areas of permissions and prohibitions. He was quiet and modest. Reb Mendele the Judge had two sons, Reb Chaim and Reb Yosef. Reb Chaim was a great scholar who occupied himself with business. Reb Yosef made Torah his vocation. Reb Yosef had a phenomenal memory. He was an expert in Talmud and its commentaries. He knew the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch by heart along with the commentary of the Rema. He was a great expert in books of Responsa, homiletics and moral teaching.

At first, he earned his living from teaching children. Every Torah oriented lad studied with Reb Yosef Reich. This was the highest rung of education. After they studied with Reb Yosef Reich, the lads would continue to study in the Beis Midrash on their own, without the help of a teacher. Everyone was accepted to his classes, provided that they wished to study. It is difficult to understand how he supported his large family, replete with small children. He never demanded a fee from his students. When his students brought him his tuition on Rosh Chodesh, he would put it in the pocket of his kapote without even looking at it to determine how much they had given him. I recall that once, one of the students was brazen enough to ask him why he is acting so. Reb Yosef answered that this is the law: “Behold I have taught you laws and statutes”. Our sages of blessed memory explain: “Just as I have done so without payment, you also do so without payment”. “Despite this, you are taking money”, asked the student. Then Reb Yosef answered him with his sense of humor: “I teach you for free, and you give me money for free.”

Nevertheless, even the money that he received on Rosh Chodesh was not sufficient to completely sustain his household. When he received the money, he would first send emissaries from among his students to repay the loans that he took out for various people in need, and for the good-for-nothings and tramps who came daily to the Beis Midrash, some with a letter of approbation in their hands, and others without. The students had to go about begging on Thursdays, and in the meantime, Reb Yosef was giving “his” money to those in need. If he did not have any, and for the most part, he did not have any money, he would send his students to obtain loans from businessmen who were his friends. On Rosh Chodesh, when he received the tuition payments, he would pay his debts, and his money ran out before he even got home.

As a teacher, he was not dependent on the parents of the students, as were other teachers. Since he did not demand payment and did not engage in any discussion of this sort with the parents of the students, they were not exacting with him. He was also not exacting with the hours of study. Reb Yosef set up his place in the Beis Midrash that stood between the large Kloiz and the synagogue. Unlike the Kloiz, where the Hassidim worshipped in a quorum [minyan] during all hours of the morning until noon, the Ashkenazim worshipped with only one quorum in the Beis Midrash. The Beis Midrash was empty all day, and therefore Reb Yosef set up his place there. His lesson extended from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. In practice, only rarely did they study for these hours.

Reb Yosef Reich was one of the two mohalim [circumcisors] in the city. Reb Elisha Abramovitch, a Hassid of Dzykow and a merchant of Hungarian wines for Kiddush and Havdallah, was an elderly and veteran mohel. Reb Yosef was young, and possessed fine interpersonal skills. Days without a circumcision were very rare in our city. At times, there were five and six in a day. He often had to travel to the nearby villages. There were occasions when he spent the Sabbath in the village, when the eighth day would fall on the Sabbath. As a mohel (without expectation of reward) Reb Yosef was occupied daily, and the students waited for him impatiently, for one hour, two hours, three. Sometimes, they hurried him along right after the conclusion of prayers in the Kloiz, and he did not have the chance to put on the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam. Only after he returned to the Beis Midrash from the circumcision did he put on the Tefillin of Rabbeinu Tam (without a tallis). He then sat at the table to teach. Even when he came late he did not begin the lesson right away. First he would tell a few “stories” of Tzadikim, slowly and deliberately, for Reb Yosef was a conversationalist. With a smile on his lips, as he was smoking a cigarette and puffing out a long column of smoke from the tip of the cigarette, and with an inviting, penetrating glance from his small, alert eyes, he told stories that instilled the trust in Tzadikim to the hearts of his students. Through these discussions, hundreds of his students were educated in the fear of Heaven, Hassidism, and good, upright character traits. Only after this discussion did he begin to deliver the lesson with Hassidic enthusiasm and clear explanation. Often enough, the discussions lasted longer than the lesson itself. Reb Yosef Reich was a natural educator, and he knew that education in fear of Heaven and good traits is more difficult than teaching Gemara. He accomplished this wonderfully through his many discussions.

Reb Yosef was one of the Hassidim of the lineage of Tzanz. He would travel to Reb Simcha Yissachar Ber of holy blessed memory of Cieszanow, and he was one of his enthusiastic Hassidim. After the death of the Rebbe of Cieszanow, Reb Yosef was left without a Rebbe, even though he would frequent all of the Admorim who lived in Rzeszow, Reb Elazarel, and the Rebbes of Rozwadow, Plancz, Zielona, Blazowa, and Kolaczyce. However, in truth, he himself was like a Rebbe of Hassidim. He worshiped in the Large Kloiz, where he served as a prayer leader on Sabbaths, festivals, and particularly on the High Holy days. After the death of Reb Shlomo Teitelbaum, Reb Yosef also lead the Yom Kippur Katan services on each eve of Rosh Chodesh. His deep voice made both the walls and the hearts tremble.

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He read the Torah there every Sabbath. He read the Megillah on Purim. He blew the Shofar there. He taught a class on the weekly Torah portion on Friday nights in the presence of a large gathering. He also conducted a Seuda Shlishit (Third Sabbath Meal) like one of the Admorim.

Reb Yosef was by nature a zealous Hassid. He opposed Zionism and Mizrachi. Even Aguda did not satisfy him. Nevertheless he was well received by everybody, and lived in peace with everybody. He was a man of friendship. Reb David Hager, an Agudist, was one of his personal friends. One could see him go on long walks and share confidences with Naftali Tuchfeld, the energetic Mizrachi activist. He would share exciting conversation, filled with humor, with the Zionists Eli Wang and Yaakov Alter. Reb Yosef knew how to get along with people. His entire appearance commanded respect: his dress was Hassidic in the style of Galician clergymen – a long black kapote, a velvet hat, half-shoes, and on the Sabbath – silk clothes, a streimel and white socks. One could never find a stain on his clothes. His peyos were neat, and his long, red beard was combed, and flowed over his ironed, shiny clothes.

On the 22nd of Iyar 5678 (the day after the national Polish holiday of May 3rd, 1918 [other sources cite the year as 1919] the Poles perpetrated a pogrom against the Jews of Rzeszow. They broke into the Kloiz during the time of prayers, and dealt the Jews deathly blows. A tumult broke out, and some succeeded in escaping. Reb Yosef jumped out of the window and broke his leg. He was laid up for months, and suffered greatly, until he was able to go out with a cane. Nevertheless, his energy and diligence were not diminished. With the same characteristic diligence, he ran to the Mikva at daybreak during the summer and winter, in the rain and snow. From there he went to the Beis Midrash to present his class before prayers. From there, he went to the Kloiz to worship, and he then returned to the Beis Midrash or went to a circumcision, as if nothing happened.

Reb Yosef was tied with all the strands of his soul to Rzeszow. His name went out before him as a great scholar and Halachic decisor. He was offered the rabbinic seat in various places, including the opportunity to take the place of Reb Shmuel Engel of blessed memory of Kashau as the head of the rabbinical court. However, he refused to leave Rzeszow. Later on, after the death of his father, he was accepted as a judge in Rzeszow, and sat on the court of the rabbi of the city, Reb Aharon Lewin, may G-d avenge his blood. His economic situation thereby improved.

It is told that the Nazis beat him with cruel blows on his lame leg and on his entire body, until his soul left him in purity. May G-d avenge his blood.

{Photo page 102: The Yeshiva of Reb Yosef Reich in Rzeszow. (Photo: A. Kacyzna).}

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