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[Page 83]

Shepherds of the Community
Parnassim and Public Servants

 

[Page 85]


Rabbis & Dayanim in the last century in Sanok

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Introduction

From the title above, the reader will realize that we are only talking here about rabbis, judges, etc. who served in our city throughout the latter three generations. That is to say: those whom members of the generation previous to ours would have been able, or actually did, know personally. The words of this chapter were written by natives of our town, based on their own personal knowledge. Of course, there were rabbis in Sanok prior to those that will be discussed here. Some of them were men of renown and famous Torah giants, but we know nothing more about them other than their names and general information about their residency in our city. We do not know details about the character or style of their rabbinical tenure for there was no set, crystallized form with respect to the bounds of the use of the title of “rabbi”, or the connection of this term to an actual tenure of service in this role.

On the other hand, very reliable sources exist stating that there were rabbis in various cities throughout Galicia and Poland who served in specific rabbinical roles in our city prior to this period. For example, we can read on the title page of the book “Commentary on the Scroll of Ruth” by Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura, the Bone Yerushalayim edition (5649 / 1889), that is exactly 80 yeas ago: “… And I brought it to publication for a second time, I the young one, Zeev Wolf the son of Rabbi Yissachar Berish Heller of holy blessed memory who sat on the seat of judgment in the holy community of Dobromyl and the holy community of Sanok, and is buried in honor in the holy city of Tzefat may it be built up.” This is referring to an actual rabbinical tenure (“sitting on the seat of judgment”) of a rabbi in Sanok who was active more than 100 years ago, at least.

Here is a more concrete example: The writer of the book “Doresh Chamorot” writes in the title page of his book, after describing the benefits of the book: “This book was written by me, the young Yitzchak Hebenstreit… the descendent of Rabbi Hai Gaon, and the Gaonim Rabashkav”a Kekeshe”t[1] the Admor Rabbi Yisrael Hebenstreit of holy blessed memory, the head of the rabbinical court of Sanok, who was called by everyone Rabbi Yisrael Charif, may his merit protect us, aki”a.

There is no shortage of sources such as these, or similar to these, without any details about these personalities. Therefore, we will open our chapter with a rabbi about whom our knowledge comes from a more detailed source, and whose time of tenure in Sanok was closer to ours. He is:

 

Rabbi Yechiel Kuehl

Prior to coming to Sanok, he served as the rabbi of Nowotanice, today a suburb of Sanok but then a town with a Jewish population that maintained a rabbi. We do not know if he was accepted as an official rabbi in Sanok, but we can establish beyond any doubt that the era of his life in Sanok was a continuation of those manifestations and influences that flowed forth from his rabbinic personality, as a rabbi and teacher of Jewish law for those Jews of Sanok who came to consult with him, as well as a leader of the religious community. We find conclusive evidence for our hypothesis in the words of Reb Avraham Arom, the publisher and editor of the composition of Rabbi Yechiel “Zichron Yechiel” in his introduction to that book. The words, which he certainly heard from the mouths of people who personally knew Rabbi Yechiel, and perhaps even his great rabbi Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Schapira of Dynow, are reliable to us, since they are not too distant – for the time between the death of Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Schapira (who died in 5601 / 1941) and the publishing of the Zichron Yechiel book was not more than 53 years. (It is unfortunate that despite this, we were not able to obtain from his descendents, either in the Diaspora or those with us in the Land – the family of Reb Menachem Mani Kuehl – any

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additional details about him from the time he lived in Nowotanice or later after he moved to Sanok.) Reb Avraham Arom wrote on the page opposite the title page of “Zichron Yechiel”, the photocopy of which we include here:

“… Behold I bring before you today a blessing, a book small in size and large in quality. For his words are pleasant and sweet. He was the veteran student, both in the hidden and revealed Torah[2], of our holy Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Schapira of Dynow of holy blessed memory. When he was still a lad (it seems to be he was about 20), our holy rabbi stated the following about him: 'My Yechiel is permitted to discuss Torah in front of 500 people of Israel.' He wrote great compositions of significant value. However some of them were lost in the large flood that took place when he was the head of the rabbinical court of Terjiwa, and others were burnt during the great fire in Sanok. All that is left are those booklets that were copied from the great compositions of his youth. Since this rabbi and author was a relative on my father's side, I took it upon myself to correct the errors in transcription, to fill in what was missing, and to bring it to print, so that he would have a remnant on earth and so his lips can move in the grave. It was not necessary to obtain approbations for this book, for everyone knows that this rabbi, aside from pouring water on the hands of the aforementioned holy Gaon, also served all of the great Tzadikim during his days. All of them drew him nigh with their right hands and bestowed of their grace upon him…”

san086.gif [17 KB] - Title page of Zichron Yechiel
 

The book

Zichron Yechiel

Of the rabbi, Tzadik and Kabbalist, our rabbi Yechiel of blessed memory who was
The head of the rabbinical court of the communities of Terjiwa and Nowotanice
And who was accepted as the rabbi of Sanok in his old age
With great honor for those living there. There he rests in honor
Under his canopy. May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life


Brought to print by the great Hassid Avraham Arom, may his light shine,
Of the community of Przemysl


Zupnik Knoller Printers and Hamerschmid, in Przemysl 5654 (1894)

The prohibition of copying is known
And the laws of the earth are like the laws of the heavens


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Translator's Footnotes
  1. Raban Shel Kol Bnei Hagolah (The Rabbi of the entire Diaspora), and the second stands for Kvod Kedushat Shem Tifarto (the Honor of His Holy Name) – acronyms used in reference to great Tzadkim. Return

  2. The hidden Torah refers to mysticism and Kabbalah. Return


[Page 87]

Rabbi Arye Leibusch Frankel of blessed memory

by Rabbi Alter Maier (of blessed memory), Rabbi and Rabbinical Judge
, one of the heads of the Sanok rabbinate in our generation

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Introduction

Rabbi Arye Leibusch Frankel served as the rabbi of Sanok for approximately 35 years, from the 50s to the 80s of the 19th century. During his time, the problems of the Jewish community were not complex and were not many. The tasks expected of the rabbis in Jewish communities, such as the study of Torah with the residents of the city, supervising kashruth and mikvas (ritual baths), adjudications and rabbinical decisions regarding interpersonal disputes, etc. did not trouble him greatly. This was because virtually all the Jewish residents of the city were Torah observant Hassidim, the butchers were all G-d fearing people who behaved as veteran Hassidim, and there was no suspicion regarding anything that required supervision. Life in the city was quiet, and there were no interpersonal disputes. The residents of the city were like one family, and there were very few people who broke the communal strictures. During the day, the rabbi dedicated himself to studying and teaching Torah. The dissemination of Torah knowledge to the residents of the city was the main expression of the role of the rabbi in the city. He was accepted by all the residents of the city. They would speak about him with reverence, and his name was considered to be a standard of righteousness, piety, and greatness in Torah and rabbinic teaching.

During his day, the Hassidim divided into separate houses of worship. At first, all the Hassidim of the various sects, such as Sadagora, Sanz, Dynów, and Żydaczów, worshipped together in one kloiz. When the dispute between Sanz and Sadagora broke out, the Sanz Hassidim formed their own kloiz in the building donated for this purpose by Reb Abisch Kanner, a renowned wealthy man who was a fervent Hassidic resident of Sanok. This was the first schism between various groups of Hassidim. To the praise of the rabbi, he remained in the old kloiz and did not go with the breakaway group, even though he was a Hassid of Sanz. Later, when the kloiz was destroyed and the building of the large Beis Midrash was erected in its place, he continued to worship in the Beis Midrash in order to remain neutral. His custom was also to go to the Sadagora Kloiz on occasion for “kedusha and barchu[1] and not to separate himself from them, as did the rest of the Hassidim who would not set foot over the threshold of the Sadagora Kloiz.

If we come to evaluate the greatness of Rabbi Leibusch Frankel in Torah in accordance with the standards of the Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Lampronti of blessed memory, who used to say, “the greatness of a person only reaches the level that his books reach,” Rabbi Frankel was one of the giants of the generation for his books were among the most famous. Aside from his deep diligence in Torah, Rabbi Frankel was very active with charitable and benevolent deeds. His house was literally a guesthouse at all hours of the day and night. His house was next to the synagogue and Beis Midrash, as well as the house of worship of the Hassidim. Of course, poor people and guests passing through Sanok gathered around him. The Rebbetzin was not skimpy with guests, but rather welcomed them pleasantly. Almost all of the householders were considered as his students, including some significant scholars.

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Translator's Footnote
  1. Portions of the morning service. return


[Page 87]

The Rabbinical Judge (Dayan) Schimshon Michel Feller
of blessed memory

by Rabbi Alter Maier (of blessed memory), Rabbi and Rabbinical Judge,
one of the heads of the Sanok rabbinate in our generation

Translated by Jerrold Landau

He had a thin build, small eyes peered downward, a wrinkled forehead with prominent veins, a moustache that covered his entire mouth, and a long, wide beard that covered his entire chest - thus was the appearance of Rabbi Schimshon Michel.

Nobody ever saw him outside. His house was near the synagogue, on an alleyway that had few people. He never talked to anyone on his way to the synagogue, and he never peered beyond his four ells[1]. His place in the synagogue was

[Page 88]

behind the oven, and nobody dared to venture into his small area, for his face looked angry even though he was never angry at anyone.

His home consisted of only one room in a dilapidated house. The room had no floor. The furniture in the room consisted of a bookcase, a bed, a chair, a table, and a lectern upon which he would study while standing up. His clothes hung on the wall. Two nails stuck out from the ceiling of the wall. On one hung the brass candlesticks that were used for the Sabbath candles, and on the other hung a small sack with the wheat preserved for Passover.

He only ate meat on the Sabbath. Throughout the week, his meals consisted of leftover challa dipped in milk that he boiled himself. No other delicacy entered his mouth. His livelihood came from his communal stipend of 100 crowns per year as a salary for answering questions on what was permitted and what was not to those who asked. When his students asked him to move into a larger and nicer home, he responded with a verse from the Bible, “Is it not small, and my soul will live”[2] - and that love knows no hardship.

Even though he was liked by most people, he also had many opponents from among the scholars since he gave decisions on questions without having received ordination from anyone; and from the Hassidim since he left their teacher and rabbi without accepting his authority. He forged a unique path for himself and did not wish to be dependent on anyone. His position did have some strength, for he was still among the Hassidim of Reb Shalom of blessed memory of Belz. He was a friend of his son Reb Yissachar-Dov, the second Belzer Rebbe. He studied together with him, and also taught Torah to the grandchildren of the Admor. In the court of the Admor, they relied on his decisions.

He knew the book of the Zohar[3] by heart. He would say that its language is sanctified, and anyone expert in it can accomplish a great deal. When they would sit down and discuss words of Torah and spice their words with statements from the Talmud and Midrash, he would cite entire pages from the Zohar. His melody when reciting the Zohar attracted the hearts. Once, a freethinker passed by the open window of his room, and when he heard his voice, he did not move from the place until his voice became silent. From that time, he turned into one his admirers.

He did not want to become involved in administering divorces and arranging the Get[4]. “I desire the unity of Israel,” he would say, “And not their separation.” He refrained from becoming involved in communal affairs, for all the people of Israel were equal in his eyes, and he did not show preference to one person over another. When a Chovevei Zion group was founded in the city and the youth joined it and spent their time there, the city went into ferment. The powerful people would threaten the Chovevim[5], and there was no shortage of incidents of slander. When Reb Schimon was informed of this, he retorted innocently, “I cannot understand how one can threaten a Jewish person. Go forth and see: it is known that Esau hates Jacob, and every time that his name is mentioned, it is with the adjective 'the evil Esau'. Nevertheless, Jacob went through several gyrations when he met him and bowed down several times when he approached him so that he would not have to engage in war and hand-to-hand conflict. And here, you are not even attempting to approach them in a pleasant manner.”

He would recite the “Tikun Chatzot” service in the middle of the night[6], and would moan as he poured out his heart and soul. The manner of his Tikun Chatzot service was known in the city. It source was his love and strong desire for the Land of Israel. Whenever emissaries came from the Land of Israel, he would invite them to his house, even though he was usually very retiring. He would talk with them for many hours. Eventually, he reached the decision to leave the Diaspora and make aliya to the Holy Land.

He was assisted in this matter by Reb Moshele Kanner, who served as the gabbai [trustee] of the Kolel in Sanok. Through Reb Kanner's recommendation, he received a stipend from the president Schreiber that would enable him to sustain himself in Safed, where he set up his residence. His journey from Sanok to the Land of Israel was an unusual event. Almost the entire city accompanied him with song. All the vehicles on the roads of the city on the way to the train station, even those of gentiles, stopped and gave honor to the person making aliya and those accompanying him, letting them go first. During his farewell speech at the railway station, he said,

[Page 89]

“Parting from you is difficult. It is hard for me if you think that you have separated from me, for indeed, I am not parting from you. I will always live with you in my heart, and I will not turn my attention from you. It is very difficult to understand the secrets of Torah in the Diaspora. That is not the situation in the Land of Israel, where the atmosphere revives souls, raises the spirit, sustains the soul, and even the hidden things are revealed there. It is not for naught that they said, 'the atmosphere of the Land of Israel generates wisdom.' Even simple people raise their level, and their Torah is renewed with every moment, as it is said, 'it shall be to you every day as new'.”

He continued with his holy work in the Land and never moved from the Western Wall, which was the desire of his soul. He lived a life of happiness, for he was always satisfied with little. He did not want to wear the colored garments of the Old Settlement[7], for he said, “I do not want to look like Arabs in my dress.”

{Photo page 89: The gravestone of Reb Shimshon-Michael, the rabbinical judge of the city who died in the Land of Israel and was buried on the Mount of Olives. The gravestone currently exists almost intact. Translator's note: the text of the gravestone is as follows:

Here is buried
The rabbi, Gaon and Tzadik
Rabbi Schimshon Michel the son of
Moshe Daniel Segal of holy blessed memory[8]
The righteous rabbinical judge of Sanok
Died on the 26 Adar 5677 (1907)
May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.}

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Translator's Footnotes
  1. An “ell” is an archaic term for a cubit. Living within the four ells of halacha is a traditional colloquial phrase for a person whose interests in life are focused solely toward the observance and study of Torah. return
  2. Genesis 19:20. return
  3. The Zohar is the primary book of Kabbalah. return
  4. The Jewish bill of divorce. return
  5. Members of Chovevei Zion - an early Zionist oriented organization that predated the formal Zionist movement. return
  6. A non-obligatory prayer services, recited in the middle of the night by particularly pious individuals. This service laments the destruction of the Temple. return
  7. Yishuv Hayashan” - the term for the old Jewish Ashkenazic community of the Land of Israel. return
  8. Segal is a term for a Levite - and is not necessarily used here as the surname. return


[Page 90]

Rabbi Yehuda Katz,
Rabbi and Head of the Rabbinic Court of Sanok

by Ascher Bit

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Rabbi Yehuda Katz was the rabbinical judge and teacher, and finally the head of the rabbinical court in Sanok for almost fifty years. He was a great scholar, with fine intelligence. He was ordained by the Gaon of that generation, the Tzadik Rabbi Chaim of Sanz. His intelligence stood for him well in adjudicating difficult and complex cases to the satisfaction of all the sides. His name as a high level arbitrator spread throughout the entire country, and many people turned to him. His home constantly bustled with disputants and arbitrators. The Gaon Rabbi Tavli of blessed memory, the Rabbi of Dulka, one of the renowned arbitrators, came to Sanok almost every week and conducted judgments and arbitrations together with Rabbi Katz for the Jews of the city and the area.

Rabbi Katz was very diligent in the study of Torah. All of the scholarly youths and young men of the city were attracted to him and brought their study notes to him to receive his confirmation. His response book Kol Yehuda[1], dealing with actual cases of Jewish law that were relevant for the current time as well as for generations to come, is filled with sharpness and expertise. With all this, it should be noted that his concerns for civic matters and the areas of his responsibility were very great, and disturbed his diligence in study. He felt bad about this, and often expressed this in various forms, both orally and in writing. For example, we read the following in one of his responses, “… Believe me, my friend, that I have many things to state on this subject, but I am forced to stop in the middle for I do not have time to delve deeply, as I am writing between day and night[2].” (Kol Yehuda, section 10). Such words of apology are found several times in the book.

With his great modesty and his pleasant mannerisms, he was able to forge paths in to the hearts and earn the esteem of those with whom he conversed, whether in halachic discussions or any other topic. Along with this, he often displayed a wonderful talent in finding appropriate words of expression and response for any opportunity that arose and required such. In a long response in one of his responsa in Kol Yehuda, he writes, “This requires a great deal of delving into the Light of our Eyes, the Pri Megadim of blessed memory, whose eyes are like crystals for every opinion in the Talmud and for early commentators that are hidden from the eye at this moment…”

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Translator's Footnotes
  1. There is a text footnote here: See the appendix. return
  2. An expression meaning that he is snatching little bits of time to do the writing. return

 

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