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[Pages 96-97]

Rabbi Isaiah[1] Ben-Zion Baru[2]

by Abraham Baru (his eldest son)

Donated by Barnett. F. Baron

He was a colorful personality, full of good deeds and actions, and a great scholar who devoted himself to public welfare from the moment he ascended to the rabbinate in his twenties. He was also well-versed and appreciative of the research literature of Judaism, the fruit of the “enlightenment.” This knowledge, however, did not affect one bit his faithful adherence to the Torah and its traditions. It just broadened his opinions and enriched his knowledge. He was one of “Hillel's students;” that is, he sought the good even among the most unworthy. At the same time, he jealously guarded his independence from the men of means who wanted to obtain privilege unjustly and made them obey his sentences.

He suffered a great deal from the spiritual schisms in his home town, which resulted from the nasty competition and the meanness of some establishment figures. As a responsible person and an intelligent man full of noble ideals, he strived to help existing enterprises flourish and helped establish aid societies for the needy. In this work he revealed his prowess and determination. He labored first in establishing a mutual savings and loan association. He collected the first subscriptions from the members but then refused to serve on the Board of Directors. He was also of great assistance in establishing the Bank for Mutual Credit. He invested much time and expense in traveling to Kharkov and Kiev until he managed to convince the managements of the great banks to extend mortgage credit on favorable terms to the merchants of Zvihil. In this way he saved many of these landlords from bankruptcy and loan sharks.

He also labored hard to establish legal aid. When a regulation was enacted to expel Jews from their rural estates he traveled far to St. Petersburg and met with great and famous Jewish lawyers such as Gruzenberg and Schlossberg[3], and convinced them to open in Zvihil a legal consultation office of the General Committee of Jewish Lawyers in Russia. To this office were invited evicted farmers, and after examining their individual cases, all efforts were made to secure for them legal permission to return to the rural areas. These are just a few examples of his activities on behalf of his community and his help to the needy.

He could not confine himself only to the framework of his own community and its mundane preoccupations, but was also devoted to the solution of national problems. He was an ardent Zionist and in his time, the time of Herzl's initial movement, he influenced Professor Mendelstein[4] of Kiev, when he visited him for consultation, to come out in an open declaration against those rabbis who were inciting the people against Zionism. Rabbi Isaiah proved to him that many of the observant Jews were working within the Zionist camp and did not respond to the rabbis' incitations. Later he softened the language of the Professor's declaration which was written at first in the sharpest language which would have had the effect of creating greater dissention.

He was a moderate, broad-minded, and peace-loving person. When there was a fierce battle around the group of “rebels” that formed around Fireberg, he joined the group and protected it. He even helped Fireberg[5] when he brought him his first writings, his first story “The Calf”, and so on.

Even though he was a Zionist, his heart was broken when the waves of emigration grew larger. When he learned that the emigrants to Argentina had failed and that many emigrants were leaving the collapsing enterprise and refused to wait for transportation and absorption facilities in Israel, he made great efforts to secure an emigration permit from the British Government in the form of an official charter to establish Jews on the land in Canada. The first Jews who entered Canada under this charter received government help, were absorbed into agriculture, and met with great success.

Many public officials became interested in these affairs which were widely publicized in the Jewish general press in Russia. This greatly annoyed the dictatorial minister Plevor and he published an official declaration in the Government Gazetteer: “Since some provincial rabbi, in the name of Baru, appears officially as the representative of the English Government, and helps in the emigration of Jews to Canada, we hereby announce that this action is illegal and is forbidden to continue, otherwise he will be indicted and punished.” This sudden announcement broke his heart. He became very ill and was forced to go to Germany to seek a cure.

Due to the effort he invested in the program, many people accused him of being anti-Zionist. But soon the libel was dispelled as he continued with even greater zeal in his Zionist efforts and his home was the meeting place of various Zionist committees. He wrote a number of Zionist tracts but did not manage to publish them or take them out of Russia when he immigrated to Israel.

After the pogroms and the big fire in Zvihil, he left the city in 1919 and stayed in Warsaw until May 1921 and in the beginning of August of the same year arrived in Israel. He took up residence in Tel Aviv among the common people and refused to serve as a rabbi. His children arrived in Israel and supported him, while he concentrated on his studies and published two books, The Return to Zion and The Defense, in which he exalted the building of the land. He was preparing other volumes when a sudden death snatched him away when he was full of energy and desire to publish his writings.

He loved the land but was not always happy with the ways of the young, since his vision was to see the land built on the basis of the old tradition. He was very happy to see the beginning of construction and the first ones who built the land “in the natural way,” since the land would be built by their efforts and not by the rabbis who pretended to be great sages and yet refrained from participating in the work of establishment.

He left after him a son and two daughters in Israel, two sons in America, and one daughter in Russia.


Notes by Leonid Kogan (resident of Zvhil [Novograd-Volynsk])

  1. The real first name of the rabbi is Shaya or Shaya-Fishel, a son of Ben-Zion Baru (from historical archive in Zhitomir) Return
  2. The full title of the article is "Rabbi Shaya, a son of Ben-Zion Baru, blessed be his memory (5627-5697) [1866-67 - 1936-37]" Return
  3. The real name of a Jewish Lawyer is Sliozberg (not Schlossberg). Henri Sliozberg (1863-1937) - attorney, leader of the Jewish community in St.Petersburg Return
  4. The real name of a professor from Kiev is Mandelshtam (not Mendelstein). Max /Emmanuil/ Mandelshtam (1839-1912) - ophtalmologist, professor of the Kiev University, head of a clinic Return
  5. The real spelling of the name of a writer from Zvhil is Feierberg (not Fireberg) Return

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