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[Page 264]

The Rebbe's Court

by Asher Hoffer, Tel Aviv

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

When one said the Rebbe's Court in Biala, everyone knew that one meant the residence of the Biala Rebbe, Reb Yitzhak Yakov Rabinowicz.

The Biala Rebbe was descended from the Yid Hakadosh [the Holy Jew] – Yakov Yitzhak Rabinowicz of Peshischa [Przysucha], but he inherited the position of Hasidic rebbe from his father-in-law, Reb Yehosha, may his memory be blessed, of Lentchna [Łęczna], who did not leave any sons. Reb Yehosha was the Ostrower (Lublin region) Rebbe and his Hasidim were called the Ostrower Hasidim.

I cannot remember in which year Yitzhak Yakov Rabinowicz came to Biala and founded his court. I assume that the reason for moving the court from Ostrower to Biala was that Biala had a train station and Ostrower did not and the Rebbe did not want his Hasidim to come by horse and wagon.

The Rebbe established his court at the end of Mezricher Street, where he had an apartment, a house of prayer and a mikvah [ritual bath] built for him. The land and the buildings were the possessions of the Rebbe.

The Hasidim, who paid monthly money, supported, the Rebbe's court. There were very rich Hasidim who let it cost them a great deal of money to support the court. They would pay a pidyon [redemption – a sum of money] when taking a kvitl [piece of paper with a petitionary prayer] to the Rebbe.

Several young men from the city and married young men who zenen gezesn oyf kest [sat on kest – young men who studied while their fathers-in-law paid their expenses] studied at the Rebbe's house of prayer. Young men from other cities, who would ezen teg [would eat daily meals] at the homes of the city's middle class and also sleep in those houses, also studied there.

Hasidim from Warsaw, Siedlice, Lublin, Brisk, Mezrich, Łuków and other cities came to the Rebbe.

Life at the [Rebbe's] court was led in a rich manner. Life flowed quietly and monotonously during the weekdays. There was a commotion on the eve of holidays and on the holidays. The highpoint of the revival and tumult at the court was on the holiday, when Hasidim arrived from all corners of the country.

On a regular Shabbos, two or three minyonim [plural of minyon – 10 men required for prayer] of Hasidim would come to the Rebbe from the surrounding shtetlekh and then a bit of excitement was noticeable in the court. Reb Mendl Mezricher would come every Shabbos from Mezrich. Reb Mendl played host for his [the Rebbe's] sermon, which the Rebbe recited at his table and which he wrote out at the end of Shabbos. After the Rebbe's death, these were published in books (Divre Binah [Words of Understanding] and Yishre Lev[The Upright of Heart], revised by the Rebbe's son, Reb Avraham, the Lubliner Rebbe).

I saw before my eyes how the court appeared on the eve of holidays, on the holidays and during the Days of Awe.

On Shabbos, the young men, the so-called kest-eidemlekh [sons-in-law who were being financially supported while they studied], and the older Hasidim would arrive for the first slikhos [penitential prayers recited in the days before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur]. The older Hasidim, who could not remain for Rosh Hashanah, would go home immediately in the morning, on Sunday. However, the young men remained until after Yom Kippur. A pot of pearl buckwheat would be cooked for these young men every day. The cooks, Yakov Slawatiszer and, later, Shimshon Parcewer, would be employed doing this. The young men would pay three groshn for a bowl of cooked food. The Biala young men brought bread from home and ate with those from outside Biala at the house of prayer.

On Rosh Hashanah, approximately 800 Hasidim would arrive. The house of prayer was packed and many Hasidim prayed in the courtyard. Immediately after Rosh Hashanah many Hasidim went home and others came for Yom Kippur, but not in such a large number.

Of the prayer leaders with the Rebbe on the Days of Awe, I remember: Moshe Orczechower, as a baal Shakharis [leader of the morning prayers]; Monish Morgnsztern of Brisk, Najtl, rabbi of Neishtot, Benyamin Gampl of Warsaw, Uzial Wajnberg of Biala and the Rebbe's younger son, Hershele, later the Siedlicer Rebbe, would lead the Musaf [additional prayers]. Hershele prayed with the choirboys.

The Hasidim who had arrived for the Days of Awe would stay at the inns of Hersh Yakob Czelazni at Garncarsker Street and with Moshe, the Rebbe's Shamas [rabbi's assistant].

It became quiet at the [Rebbe's] court after the Days of Awe and as lonesome as the autumn days that stretched out through them.

Thirty or 40 Hasidim came from away for Sukkous [Feast of Tabernacles], the majority young men who would need to appear for the draft and came to ask the Rebbe to pray for them so that they would be saved from gentile hands.

During Chanukah, the kest-eidems would come for the entire eight days and older Hasidim for the Chanukah Shabbos.

During the Chanukah evenings, the young men at the house of prayer would plays cards without pictures of people, instead of [the regular] cards. Cards were not supposed to be kept in the house of prayer because they had pictures of people on them. The cards without pictures were numbered from 15 to 20. 15 instead of a nine card, 16 a [10 card], 17 a jack, 18 a queen, 19 a king and 20 an ace. For each number there were up to four playing cards without pictures and each card was marked in the middle with a number from one to four. One meant red, two – green, three – diamonds and four – clubs. Alter Cukerman, who we called Chaim Josl's Alter, was the one who drew the marks on the cards.

Purim passed very cheerfully at the court. True, there were no arrivals of Hasidim but the Rebbe's house of

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prayer would be filled by the city's Hasidim and other members of the middle class, who would come to the Rebbe to tax themselves and see how the Rebbe pravet tish [lead a communal meal at which a rebbe's followers are present].

Ayzshe Libman would lead the entire Purim-shpil [Purim play] at the rabbi's house. He would impersonate the rabbi with a large hump, paste on a large flax beard and long peyes [side curls]. He would get on the table and recite witticisms; the audience would hold their sides in laughter. The impersonated rabbi had a Purim wife and the role would be carried out by Chaim Moshe's [son], Shmuel (Shmuel Kligsberg, a melamed [religious teacher]. The role of the Purim servant would be played by Yosef Meir, whom the Purim rabbi would call Yospe Mirl; he was called Tsigarele [cigarette] in the city. The Purim play would last until late at night. [People in] all kinds of disguises would come from the city and the Rebbe would give them all money. Mikhalkele Droszkarcz would come on a wooden horse, as well as young men from the shtibl disguised as officers.

It also was joyful in the khederim [religious primary schools] with the rebitizin [wife of the rabbi or teacher]. The women of the city would come together there. We, the young men, who were studying at the Rebbe's house of study would sneak into the rebitizin's kheder to see the performance of The Selling of Joseph, which a group from the city would come to perform. The rebitizin would treat the Purim-shpilers [actors] and also give them a fine coin.

Immediately after Purim, they began in the courtyard to prepare for Passover. They would bring the hand grinder from the attic and begin to grind the shmurah [grain grown under religious supervision] that hung the entire winter from the house of prayer ceiling. The shmurah wheat would be sent every summer from Łosice by Reb Yehuda Bekerman from his own fields (he was the owner of a courtyard near Łosice). Every erev Pesakh [the eve before Passover], Reb Bekerman would send a horse-drawn carriage to the Rebbe and the Rebbe would send six shmurah matzos that had been baked in the Rebbe's house of prayer.

We, young men, would turn the handmill and beautiful flour would emerge. For this work, we would receive whiskey at night from the Rebbe. We would work like this for two to three days, grinding the wheat and, meanwhile, be spared from learning, which for we young men, was also a great prize…

As we already had the flour, we needed to bake the matzos. This work also was carried out by the young men and the kest-eidems who studied at the house of prayer. The kneader was Itsl Cukerman; we called him Itsele Minister. Another one was a flour strewer, a third a water pourer. The Rebbe would mostly do the cutting with a wooden knife and we young men would roll the matzos with glass rolling pins. There was a large baking oven in the antechamber of the house of prayer and there we would bake the matzos. The baker shoveler was Alter Note, the bagel baker (the husband of Rayzele, the maker of little cakes). Every evening, the Rebbe would distribute whiskey to the helpers.

Erev Pesakh, we would again bake shmurah matzos and we young men would be the bakers and, therefore, we would receive one shmurah matzo.

On Passover, several Hasidim who did not have wives or children and had to submit to the draft would come to the Rebbe. The young people would need to bring permission from their wives that they agreed that their husbands could leave their homes for Passover. The guests would be at the Rebbe's court for the entire eight days of Passover.

On Shavous [spring holiday celebrating the receiving of the Torah], there would again be a large number of Hasidim, who would come to receive the Torah at the Rebbe's [house].

Summertime, the Rebbe and the rebitzin would travel to various cure spots and often even abroad.

Thus, life in the Rebbe's court flowed the entire yearly cycle, year in and year out.

The entire Jewish population of the city acted with great reverence for the Rebbe, [including] Misnagdim [opponents of Hasidus] and Hasidim from other rebbes. The government also had respect for the Rebbe.

The Rebbe died in Warsaw in 5665 (1904) and was buried at the Warsaw Cemetery.

Shortly after the Rebbe's death, the Rebbe's courtyard was burned and, in general, a rabbinical court ceased to exist in Biala.

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Rabbis and Rebbes in Biala
(Material about religious leaders in Biala)

Meir Edelbaum, New York

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Edited by Libby Raichman

A. Rabbis

The first Biala rabbi who we find in the historical material was, it appears, one of the great ancestors of the well-known rabbis. The name of this rabbi is “Yosef Hurvitz, who settled in the holy community of Biali, he is the very honored master and teacher of Mordechai Segal, may his righteous memory be blessed”.

This is how he signed the approbation that he gave that appears on the well-known book of sermons, Words of the Covenant of Avraham Zvi, son of the rabbi and kabbalist… Meir. The approbation is dated the 2nd of Cheshvan [5th of October] 5489 (1728).

Not only was the Horowicz family of great lineage, but the Biala Rabbi himself cites in his approbation the endorsement of the well-known Brisker Rabbi, Yisroel Iserl, whom he called “in-law.” To be an in-law of the greatest rabbis of his time demanded a great deal of self-worth. This shows that the Biala Rabbi was a well-known rabbinical personality, which was very natural for Biala, which at that time was considered among the most respected kehilus [organized Jewish communities] in Poland.

In any case, the interval of time between him and his successor, Reb Euzer, a son of the famous Rabbi, Reb Abishl Frankfurter, was probably not a very long time. In 5514 [1754], when Avraham Abish, the Mezritcher Rabbi (successor of his father, Reb Tzvi-Hirsh), was welcomed as a rabbi in Lithuania, his son Reb Euzer, was then welcomed in his place as the rabbi in Biala. It is therefore assumed that Reb Euzer was the rabbi in Biala after Reb Yosef, although we cannot say for sure if there was not someone else as rabbi in Biala between him and Reb Yosef.

After Reb Euzer, and perhaps much earlier than even Reb Euzer, the Rabbi was a certain Reb Yehuda Idl. We learn about Reb Yehuda Idl from his grandson, Reb Yehuda Leib, Rabbi in Zager, son of the well-known Gaon [genius], Reb Shimkha Tiktiner. The above-mentioned Reb Yehuda Leib wrote in his introduction to his book, Shalmei Simkha [Complete Joy], Vilna 5566 [1806]: Yehudah Leib descendant of the Gaon ….. Reb Simchah of blessed memory … and so I am the son of Rivkah, the daughter of the great luminary, Mr. Yehudah Iddel of Kotzk, and of Biali, and of Mezritsh, of the family of the Korahites”. This Reb Yehuda Leib died in the year 5596 [1836], two years after Reb Euzer probably became the rabbi in Mezeritch. He was either the rabbi in Biala before Reb Euzer or after him.

After Reb Euzer or after Reb Yehuda Idl, the rabbi was one of those rabbis who led the bitter quarrels against the well-known Rabbi, Reb Yonoson Eibeschitz. His name was Reb Yitzkak. He was a son of the very well-known Rabbi, Reb Meir Asch (Eisenstadt based on the name of the city in Mer, where he was the rabbi [Kismarton, later know as Eisenstadt]), the author of the well-known book of responsa, Panim Me'irot [Illuminated Face].

This Reb Yitzhak previously was the rabbi in Nesvizh [Niasviž], as was well known the second place of residence of the princely Radziwill family, and possibly, that Reb Yitzhak was a member of the entourage of the princely court (by the way, Reb Yitzhak was an in-law of the Liser Rabbi, Reb Mordekhai, the oldest brother of Reb Abushl Frankfurter, both, as is well known, born in Mezritch). He was connected by marriage to Reb Yakov Emdin, with whom Reb Yonoson [Jonathan] Eibeschitz was engaged in many controversies.

When Reb Yakov Emdin began a fight against Reb Yonoson Eibeschitz, whom he suspected of being a follower of Shabatai Tzvi, the entire rabbinic world, with few exceptions, stood in flames in this quarrel. Reb Yitzhak, the Biala Rabbi with his father-in-law, Reb Borukh Marc (previously lived in Biala and later in Konstantyn), who was probably in addition a scholar as well as a rich man, threw himself in the struggle and did everything in his power to persecute and degrade Reb Yonoson Eibeschitz. Reb Yitzhak even went on a long trip through the cities in Volyn and Galicia to recruit rabbis against the followers of Shabatai Tzvi and Jakob Frank, including Reb Yonosn Eibeschitz and tried to convince the Council of the Four Lands, which held a meeting in the shtetele [small town] of Konstantyn, to excommunicate Reb Yonoson Eibeschitz.

It is worth adding that Reb Yonoson Eibeschitz and the Biala Rabbi, Reb Yitzhak, had known each other since their early youth. Reb Yonoson became an orphan at an early age and Reb Yitzhak's father took Reb Yonoson, who had the mind of a prodigy, and studied Torah with him (had something happened between the two friends in their youth that influenced their later quarrels?).

We will provide two letters whose author was none other than the Biala Rabbi, Reb Yitzhak, and which meant a great deal in his time. Although these two letters were mainly dedicated to the matter of Jakob Frank, Reb Yitzhak did not forget to attack Reb Yonoson Eibeschitz in them.

The first letter is taken from the instruction book, Amsterdam in 1759, the year of acquisition.

5520 [1760]. This book is a collection of letters from a number of prominent men in Poland from the Great Council of the Four Lands in connection with the sad events that occurred in Podolia two years

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earlier – here they are talking about Jakob Frank and his followers, who later converted [to Christianity].

This letter is provided with the heading: The letter of the honorable president of the Rabbinic court of Biala, says that Yehonatan will die like a villain on 27th Elul, for “he had power over the angel and prevailed” - Hosea 12:4.

It is not clear who made use of this sharp and ugly pompous curse, which is a paraphrase of the words, “Should Abner have died the death of a knave?” in the well-known elegy by King David over the death of Abner the commander of the Army of Israel who was murdered by David's army commander, Joab, when he defected to David after the death of Saul. David then felt strongly affected by Joab's traitorous act and he called out in resentment: Should Abner have died the death of a knave?

The author of the heading of the letter curses Reb Yonoson Eibeschitz and says: “Should Yonoson have died the death of a knave?” – that he should die like a vile person. Then this author found an appropriate expression in the telling of the story from the Torah about the struggle between Jacob and the angel, “Jacob wrestled with an angel.” The [numerical equivalent of the] letters of the word veyosher [vov, yud, shim, resh] are equal to the number of the year 5515 [1755], when the letter was written: Jacob is the name of the one who liked to argue with Reb Yonoson; malekh [angel] alludes to Reb Yonoson in the sense of the Midrash [commentaries], that the angel with whom Jacob wrestled was the guardian angel of Esau. While in Reb Yitzhak's letter the date cannot be found, there is an opportunity to suspect that Reb Yitzhak wrote the transcription. It makes no sense that Reb Jakub Edmen, the author of the book, should write about himself, “Jacob wrestled [veyosher] with an angel, and prevailed…”

“he had power over the angel”

And here is the content of the letter:

He who revives life, will give him a blessing, and give him life, to my master the rabbi, the famous Gaon, beloved teacher, the Rabbi Ya'akov, may his light shine.

After enquiring about your well-being, all this is about those who believe in Shabtai Tzvi, may his name be erased, and delivered to a reporter from the Rabbi, the Gaon, our teacher the Rabbi Reb Meir, president of the Rabbinical court of the holy community of Horodenka, that was written to the holy community of Brod. It was copied from the evidence that was written in the body of the letter of the Rabbi, the Gaon, the president of the Rabbinical court of Satnov, may God protect and preserve him, who publicly revealed the shame of the followers of Shabtai Tzvi. And for a married woman of the followers of Shabtai Tzvi, it will be regarded as a mitzvah to commit adultery and desecrate the Shabbat.and the text of their prayer, and the celebration of their festivals.[1] And there were among them, those who were taken in iron chains to the master, the Bishop.[2] And God will save our brothers of flesh and blood from the contaminated thoughts of these arrogant people. And also, the wording of the great excommunication that was imposed in the holy community of Lvov, and the holy community of Lutzk, and the holy community of Brod, and the holy community of Dubno, and all the chronicles explained in the Book of Kolboh [book of Halachah, first printed in Naples in 1490]. Anyone who marries, or enters into business transactions or eats of the food of any man or woman of the wicked that are mentioned above, they will be excommunicated like them. And also, any two people who know that someone belongs to these wicked ones, they are compelled to testify in the Rabbinical court and publicize the matter. The ban will also fall on everyone who will study this heretic literature, the books of the Rabbi Natan[3], a prophet of the Shabtai Tzvi movement, and Nechemiah Chia Chivan[4], and the meaning of their amulets, and their flawed books, v'avo el ha'ayin. And everyone who is in possession of the contaminated books mentioned above, or the style of their new amulets, may we never hear or see their likeness, the ban will fall on him too, if he does not burn them, or references to them. The ban mentioned above will also fall on everyone who discovers golden coins. They will be excommunicated and excluded from all the sanctity of Israel. Also, the copying of the prayers that are prayed to his daughter [Chavah Frank, daughter of Ya'akov Frank] may her name and her memory be erased.[5] And today, they will be counted, and their ban will be completed in all the borders of Israel before Kol Nidrei. The Rabbi the Gaon, the teacher Chaim Katz, president of the Rabbinic council of the holy community of Lvov[6], stood among a few of the people of the sect of Shabtai Tzvi, may the name of the wicked rot, before the bishop and his ministers, and God gave Chaim Katz graciousness, and the officials gave him permission to excommunicate the followers of Shabtai Tzvi and take them to prison. And now that the punishment has commenced, he will be satisfied. At the end of all this, all the Jewish people realized that the essence of his words were truth and righteousness, and that “Jacob will rejoice and Israel will be glad” [Psalm 14:7, Psalm 14:7], in our righteous savior and in the building of the heroic city of Jerusalem; and that the wicked will be cut off and that no trace of them will remain, may their names be erased. And these will understand the curse and they will be caught on the side of the ban; in the holy community of Lantzkron[7], the holy community of Busk, the holy community of Aziran, the holy community of Apatshene, the holy community of Kribtshin. Their Rabbi, out of madness, made himself into a prophet, and some repulsiveness that would prevent any entry into Gan Eden[8]. I will see to sending merchants to Danzig or to Frankfort Oder [today, a town in Germany on the Polish border] with foreign currency, for expenses.

And a time will come when man will have peace, the people of Israel will be quiet and at rest, as a green olive tree. [Jeremiah 30:10, Jeremiah 46:27]. Avraham, the community leader of the holy committee, of the holy community of Lublin, and his son the Rabbi[9], are regretful of the past issues, and say: what should we say, and what shall we speak, that the devil tempted us and there were some personal and financial links in some respects.

All the early writings falsely accused and defamed him. But today it is clear, that he Yonatan, the eldest son of the devil, perverted the people of Israel. The holy committee hurried to impose a ban on his books and his amulets. I was in the holy community of Konstantin for two weeks with our in-laws, our teacher, the Rabbi Baruch, may God preserve him. There was a great commotion caused by the confusion that was provoked in the holy community of Yampoli [Podolye][10]that was ensnared in a bad trap with a perplexity of false charges in Pablimash (?) and all the dignitaries were taken in metal chains, may God have mercy upon them, to which all the people of Israel responded, and said, that because of this sin, the blood of Israel was shed in that region. Because of that uproar, I was forced to wait until it was announced in the synagogue, and the Rabbi, our teacher, Pinchas[11], promised that his regret and the announcement of the ban would be published in the holy community of Zalkva. So, his respected mind will be at rest, and the letter would be delayed until the new moon [Rosh Chodesh] of Cheshvan, [the 8th month in the Jewish calendar] in 1747 here in Bialah. And I have come to repeat for the last time, to write an answer that is focused simply on Warsaw and specifically on these two great men – the Rabbi who is our teacher, the Rabbi Avraham Katz from Zamut and the Rabbi, our teacher Baruch, may God preserve him.

And with this I will leave in peace, with thanks to our Rabbis. May God grant that they will be raised up higher and higher, and 'the righteous will flourish like the palm tree' [Ps 92:13]. Likewise, I pay my respects to you, the holy Yitzchak, of the Burial Society, as in the case of Bialah.

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A second letter about the same matter, which is also of historical value, dated 14th Kislev b'shir”h (1837) lp”k here in Bialah, via Danzig.

After greeting him, I wrote to his highness about the Rabbi, his excellence, the teacher, the Rabbi Itzik, of the holy community of Levertov and also about the Rabbi, the luminary of the exile, the Rabbi Avraham Gutman, may God preserve him, the President of the Rabbinical court of the holy community of Dribnin, with a bundle of manuscripts from his honour, the Rabbi, the Gaon, our teacher, the Rabbi Avraham. And I did not know if the writings would reach his honest hand, and I came to repeat for the third time, and to inform of the words that were said in truth, a conciseness, according to the brevity of the speaker; that the voice will be loudly heard because of the enormity of the desecration of the name of God, what had happened in the holy community Lvov where one of the believers in Shabtai Tzvi, the name of the wicked will rot, came on the day that he publicly desecrated the Sabbath, and allowed smoke to rise to the height of his nose, in anger [2 Samuel 22:9], who dared to communicate with God and defied the honour of the Rabbi, the Gaon, our teacher Chaim Katz, in the presence of the Bishop; and God was with him, and for this he was condemned to death. In this way, all the evil people of the land will disappear. I was also in the holy community of Konstantin, with the distinguished Rabbi, our teacher Baruch, mentioned above, together with the community leader of the 'Four Lands”, that is, Reb Avraham of Lublin, and behold he regrets the past, with total remorse, firm, and abiding. He asked us, to request his pardon, of His Highness, to ask for forgiveness for what he said, for he is not the master in this matter, that all the manuscripts of Reb Yehonatan are written in one style, that falsely accuse with lies; and now I will speak the truth to Jacob [Micha 7:20]. In the end, we will see that the essence of his words is true, that this man was caught and excommunicated in the gathering of the wicked, the people of the holy communities of Lantzkron, Aziran, Kaposshetz, Kribshtin. And I sent evidence of the ban to those who studied the books and manuscripts of that heretic, Reb Yehonatan, and those who write the incantations according to their style. And with this, I will go out safe and sound with thanks to the Rabbi, bringing peace to the holy, learned Yitzchak, and putting his mind at rest, as in the case of Biale.

These two letters, among many others, are important documents. In them, we have a report of one of the rabbinical eyewitnesses and chief fighters in the war that Jewry led against Jakob Frank and his followers.

From the letter we see that the matter of excommunicating everyone who was suspected of having Sabbatai Tzvi tendencies was not so simple. It simply could not be assumed that entire Jewish communities such as Łyskornia, Busko

Ozeran [Ozeryany, Ukraine], Kopyczynce and Krivtchin would have declared themselves as followers of Jakob Frank and that at the congress of the leaders of the Council of the Four Nations they would be excommunicated. Perhaps he means the avowed and hidden followers of Sabbatai Tzvi and the Frankists. We must accept with caution Reb Yitzhak's words about the excommunication of everyone who study the books, manuscripts such as Reb Yonoson's “who study the books, the manuscripts of Reb Yehonatan and those who write the incantations according to his style”.

There cannot be any talk here about an excommunication that the Council of the Four Lands placed on Reb Yonoson Eibeschitz. The Council of the Four Lands did not take any clear position in the quarrel. Certainly, Reb Yonoson Eibeschitz found the strongest following in Poland. Even the Vilna Gaon [the Vilna Sage, Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman], then not as well-known and influential as he was later, took the Rebbe, Reb Yonoson, as Polish Jewry later called him, under his protection. Therefore, it is assumed that Reb Yitzhak was describing only the rabbis who were Reb Yonoson's opponents, that they excommunicated him. On the other hand, Reb Yonoson's followers excommunicated their opponents.

In his second letter, Reb Yitzhak again mentioned the quarrel with the Frankists, in which the well-known Lemberger Rabbi, Reb Chaim Kac-Rapoport, an in-law of Reb Yitzhak Bialer, played a main role.

It is also interesting to mention that the Bialer Rabbi said, incidentally, that because of postage, which it was difficult for him to spend, he would send Reb Yitzhak Edmen the letter through the people who were traveling to Danzig and Frankfurt on the River Oder. Therefore, it appears that Biala Jews traveled to fairs in Frankfurt and traded with Danzig.

Reb Yitzhak died in the year 5535 [1775].

After the death of the Rabbi, Reb Yitzhak, his place was taken by his brother, the Rabbi, Reb Sabbatai, who died in 5550 [1790].

The Rabbi, Reb Yosef probably followed him. We know very little about him. According to the well-known researcher about rabbinical lineage, Reb Yosef Lewensztajn, the rabbi in Serock, his [Reb Yosef's] father was supposed to have been the author of a book on Torah named Kokhavi Yakov [Star of Jacob]. While such a book is not mentioned in the lists of published books, it is assumed that what is being discussed is a manuscript. He died in the month of Elul 5563 [approximately September 1803].

We do not know who the rabbi was after him. We know of a Biala Rabbi, Reb Avraham Abele, who died in 5593 [1833] at the young age of 32. This Avraham Abele came from Warsaw. His father is recorded as. “The great, sharp-witted, famous, master, our teacher, Rabbi Chaim of Warsaw, may his light shine”.

This Rabbi, Reb Chaim, may his light shine, was

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none other than the well-known Warsaw Rabbi, Reb Chaim Davidzon, ancestor of the famous Warsaw Davidzon family. When the son died, the father was still alive, which can be seen by the words, Nero Yair – May his light shine. We know this all from the eulogy that the famous preacher and popularizer of the Dubner Magid [preacher], Reb Dov Berish Flam of Mezritch Poldaska, gave about him and after the publication in his book Avel Yakhid [Individual Mourner], which contains a series of eulogies and was published in Warsaw in the same year, 5593.

That Biala was thought of as a great and illustrious rabbinate is seen in that, this Reb Avraham Abele, whom Reb Berish Flam eulogized and called “the Rabbi, the great luminary, the astute, venerated, and perfect. He must truly have been a great prodigy, occupying such a position as a young man. He was then in total 32 years old when he died. That he was a man with great knowledge of Jewish law can also be seen in his responsa that he exchanged with the prominent rabbis of his time, such as the famous Warsaw Rabbi, Reb Shlomo Zalman Poizner. In an answer to the Biala Rabbi in his book “Chemdat Shlomo”, a section of the “Yoreh De'ah”, part 28, he writes to him: “To my friend, the great luminary, of honoured name and glory, he is Avraham Abele, the President of the Religious court of the holy community of Biali, in Lithuania. May his light shine.

The renowned Gaon [genius] Reb Meir Rottenberg, the author of the book of responsa, Our teacher, our Rabbi Reb Meir, earlier the Rabbi in Wlodowa, near Biala and then in Zamocz, asks a question of the young Biala Rabbi, “the Great Luminary” taken from the section “Choshen Mishpat” [4th part of the Shulchan Aruch},” from Yoreh De'ah [section of the book of Haturim and the Shulchan Aruch].

His successor possibly was Reb Moshe Mikhl, whose father, Reb Fishel Strzyzover was widely known as a great kabbalist and author of the famous book of kabbalah, Olam Hafukh [Upside Down World].

About Moshe Mikhl, who died in the year 5596 [1836] in Biala, we know that he was one of the great students of the Kotzker [Rebbe] and close friend of the Khidushei haRim[a], Reb Yitzhak Meir Alter, the heir of Reb Mendele Kotzker and founder of the Gerer [Hasidic] dynasty. A story was told about him that once while traveling with the Khidushei haRim to Kotzk, they traveled past a shtetl, and no one invited them in. The shtetl was punished because of the great dizziness [he suffered] because of the insult to the Torah [in the person of] the Khidushei haRim. A fire broke out as soon as they left there. It is plausible that Reb Moshe Mikhl was the first Hasidic rabbi in Biala.

The successor of Reb Moshe Mikhl was another Kotzker Hasid and the Kotzker's in-law, Reb Nakhum Zev Borenstein, previously the rabbi in the small shtetele [town] Olkusz. Reb Nakhum died in 5648 [1888]. He was considered among the Torah giants in Kotzk and his book, Agudas Eizov [Bundle of Hyssop], on Jewish law is a scholarly book. He led a yeshiva [religious secondary school] in Biala and he established a generation of scholars and Hasidim. All sorts of miracles and wonders were told about him. One is connected to the birth of his well-known son, Reb Avrahamele, the Sochoczewer Rebbi and the author of the famous scholarly books, Avnei Nezer [Stones of the Crown] and Eglei Tal [Drops of Dew – book on the 39 labors prohibited on the Sabbath], which made him famous as a genius of his generation even in Lithuania. It is told that once on Purim, Reb Nakhum was engrossed in learning when the entire Jewish world was enjoying the joys of Purim, and that the world could only have existed in the merit of Torah and would not have had any existence that Purim if Reb Nakhum Zev had not illuminated all seven heavens and heavenly palaces with his nightly study of Torah. Because of this, he was given a son who illuminated all the world with his knowledge and tzedakah [charity] and the great Kotzker tzadek [righteous man], Reb Mendele, chose him as the husband for his daughter, Tzina. And although the Kotzker [Rebbe] would chase away all of the Hasidim and spent his time locked away from them, and even from his great students, he made an exception for his young son-in-law and guided him in study and observed him all of the time.

After Reb Nakhum, Shmuel Leib Zack was the rabbi. Reb Shmuel Leib was a very old man when he died during the winter of 5692 (1932). In Biala and in the area, he was considered a great tzadek and we would go to be blessed by him. He was a student of the famous gaon [sage], Reb Yosef Shaul Natanzon, rabbi in Lemberg, and of the author of the Khidushei haRim, the first Gerer Rebbe. Reb Shmuel Leib hot gegesn kest [financial support while a young groom studies religious texts] with the famous tzadek, Reb Yehosha (Shiele) Ostrower, because Reb Shmuel Leib was a son-in-law of the Ostrower's brother-in-law, Reb Moshe Yehuda Lieb, who was a son-in-law of the Lentshner Tzadek, Reb Shlomo Leib.

Reb Shmuel Leib Zack was lenient in his interpretation of the laws of fasting, and on Tisha B'Av [fast commemorating the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem], 1904, during the great fire in Biala, he announced that they should not fast more than half a day. It should be understood that not everyone wanted to make use of the rabbinical permission, but even those who favored a rigorous interpretation of the laws among the Hasidic Jews did not dare to criticize the Biala Rabbi's permission out of great respect [for him].


Additional Facts:

It is clear that Reb Yosef Hurwicz was not the first rabbi in Biala. However, attempts to learned the name of the previous rabbi were not successful.

Biala belonged to among the old Jewish communities in Poland. The city was established by the end of the 15th century and Jews were already settled in the area, mainly in Brisk-Dalita [Brest-Litovsk].

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It is therefore assumed that after the rise of Biala Jews settled there.

So, it can be seen from the acts of the Brisker municipal court that by the end of the 16th century Jews were found in Biala. As is described in the court proceedings, the relationship between the princely Radziwill family of Biala and the Chodkiewicz family was strained. In 1589, Chodkiewicz's militia men attacked the arendar [leaseholder] of Radziwill's court, Yisroel ben [son of] Eliezer, beat him, placed him in chains and threatened to burn him alive. The same fate awaited the Jew, Marek Yakovich, (Mordekhai ben [son of] Yitzhak?], Eliezer ben Yeshayahu and Joseph's wife – all subjects of Radziwill. However, this was fortunate for them because they were saved at the last moment by one of Radziwill's militiamen.

In his treatise, Yidn in Biala [Jews in Biala], Dr. M. Hendl writes that in 1621, the Jewish community in Biala already was well-established. Therefore, it cannot be considered a community without a rabbi.

According to various sources we see that the names of rabbis are mentioned who sat on the rabbinical seat in Biala even before Reb Yosef Hurwicz, such as:

Reb Ahron Shmuel (Maharshak [abbreviation for Morenu haRav – our teacher, our rabbi – Shmuel Kaidanover]): rabbi and author, 1614 in Vilna, 1676 (1679) Krakow. Rabbi in Biala (near Brisk), in Nikolsburg, in Glogau, in Fürth, in Frankfurt on Main and in Krakow. One of the great rabbis of his generation. During the days of the Ukrainian [Chelmnitski] pogroms, 5408-5408 [1648-1649], he escaped from Biala to Vilna and Lublin. He was wounded; his two daughters were murdered and several of his treatises, his manuscripts, Birkat ha-Zebah and Tiferet Shmuel (novel interpretations of the Talmud), Birkat Shmuel [sermons], Emunat Shmuel (General Encyclopedia, Masada Publishing House, Tel Aviv, volume 6, page 302/3) were lost.

It is assumed that Reb Ahron Shmuel (Maharshak) was the rabbi in Biala for a very short time. Incidentally, here we have a confirmation that the tragic events of 1648-1649 reached Biala.

Reb Eliyahu ben Shmuel, in his book of responsa, Yad Eliyahu, that was published in Amsterdam in the year 5472 – 1712, in question 17 says:. A matter that came before me when I was in the holy community of Biali, in the year 1691, concerning the selling of leavened food on the eve of Passover.
(A question concerning the sale of khometz [foods containing leavening] on the eve of Passover that he was asked when he was the rabbi in Biala in 5451 – 1691). The rabbi carried on a correspondence with the Brisker Rabbi, Reb Yisroel, about this question.

Reb Eliyahu ben Shmuel died in 5495 – 1735.

The mentioned rabbi was probably born in Lublin. In around 5442 – 1682 he settled in Brisk and there studied with the Mofet haDor haMaor haGadol [the greatest of his generation, the great light] Mendel Katz, may his light shine. Reb Eliyahu was the rabbi in several large Jewish communities in Poland and Lithuania, as well in Eibeschitz [Ivancice] (now Czechoslavakia [Czech Republic]). From his book, Yad Eliyahu, which is the only one that remained of his many innovations and writings, we see the Torah war that was carried out between him and the Brisker Rabbi, Reb Yisroel, the Hamburger Rabbi, Reb Moshe bar Mordekhai Ziskind, the Bamberger Rabbi, Reb Mendl Rotschild, and so on.

Reb Tzvi Hirsh kharef [sharp student], a son of the Lemberger chief rabbi, Reb Naftali Hirtz Ashkenazi. It can be seen from his book, Kos Yeshuos [Cup of Salvation], that he was the rabbi in Biala. He died in 5508 – 1748. It is difficult to say if he was the rabbi in Biala before Reb Yosef Hurwicz or after him.

Here we will add still more names of Biala rabbis who were not mentioned in the treatise by Meir Edlbaum.

It is assumed that after Reb Yitzhak, the Bialer rabbinate was inherited by his brother, Yehuda (a son-in-law of Reb Naftali Hirtz bar Khenokh, the Zulkewer Rabbi – book Anaf Etz Avot [ancestral family trees] of Shmuel Khenokh Kahane, Krakow 5664 [1903]; also Dr. M. Hendl Yidn in Biala [Jews in Biala] – about the Jewish community and outside world) and not his brother Shabtai, who was the Bialer rabbi in later years.

It appears that the position in the chapter, “B. Biala Kehile” in the treatise of Dr M. Hendl's Yidn in Biala, about the nomination of Reb Yosia ben Yakov in 1765 as the Biala Rabbi, has a connection to Reb Yosef, baal Kokhavi Yakov [author of Star of Jacob]. It can be assumed that the rabbi, who the duke had dismissed, was the previously mentioned Reb Yehuda.

Reb Yosef ben baal Kokhavi Yakov died in 5663 – 1803. However, it is probable that he was not the rabbi in Biala until the end of his life because Reb Shabtai, the brother of the mentioned rabbis, Reb Yitzhak and Reb Yehuda, who also was the Bialer Rabbi, died in 1790 [5550] (previously, he was the rabbi in Szereszow).

Reb Menakhem Nakhum Ginzburg was probably the rabbi in Biala after Reb Shabtai. We see this in the book, Penei Levi [Faces of Levi – treatise about ritual circumcision], published by the mentioned rabbi's grandson, Reb Naftali-Yosef haLevi Fraind (Piotrkow 5664 [1904], rabbi in Rózan (Lomza region). The author writes in this book: “The Gaon, Reb Menachem Nachum, the President of the Religious Court in the great Biale, wrote booklets in his handwriting about the debate, and it appears that he composed all about (“Ba'al Ha'Trumah”)

Reb Menakhem Nakhum belonged to the famous family of Baron Ginzburg, Petersburg. His father, Reb Kalman, gaon and Hasid, was the Siemiatyczer Rabbi and died in 5543 –1783. Reb Menakhem Nakhum had two sons: Reb Moshe, Rabbi in Siemiatycze and in Kolna, and Reb Asher, Rabbi in Kraœnik. 

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In the book Penei Levi, it is said about Menakhem Nakhum's son, Reb Moshe:

Reb Moshe of Kolno, mentioned above, the son-in-law of the wealthy, exalted Reb Mordechai Blumkes of Biala (and he is the father-in-law of the rich, the grand and the eminent Reb Hirtzel Ha'Cohen, Reb Aharon Sheinberg, and Reb Izik Shachor). The son-in-law of the Gaon mufh”d, Reb Tzvi Hirsh Furlicker (Friluker) of Brisk”.

The author of the book, Daat Moshe [Law of Moses] (Warsaw) 5671 [1911], Moshe ben Tzvi Hirsh, belonged to this rabbinical family. For some reason, his name was Rozenbaum. He died in Biala in 5750 – 1890.

The last Biala rabbi was Reb Tzvi Hirshhorn, previously the rabbi in Jaworzno. He was welcomed as a rabbi six years after the death of Reb Shmuel Leib, a holy person. After the arrival of the Gestapo in Biala in 1939, Tzvi Hirshhorn illegally crossed the German-Russian border near Semiatycze and went to his parents in Lemberg. The rebbitizen [rabbi's wife] remained in Biala with her sister and they were deported to Mezritch, from which they were forwarded to the Treblinka death camp.

M.Y. Fajgnbaum


B. Hasidic Biala

The victorious march of Hasidism did not bypass Biala. It is assumed that the zealous rabbis from this place such as the Biala Rabbi, Reb Yitzhak (later the combatant of the followers of Shabtai Tzvi and followers of Reb Yonoson Eibeschitz), looked with suspicion at each new religious phenomenon in Jewry, particularly in their communities and, of course, were afraid of the new sects – the Hasidim – but they were unable to prevent the victory march of Hasidism. Biala, like all other shtetlekh in the area, became almost exclusively Hasidic. The only two cities in the area that were able to preserve their old path were Brisk and Mezritch.

It is difficult to establish when the first Hasidic sprouting actually appeared in Biala and who was the first leader of the Hasidic movement. It is believed that the first Hasidic rabbi in Biala was the Kotzker Hasid, Reb Moshe Mikhl. There is no proof that the previous rabbi, Reb Avraham Abele, was a Hasid. We have not found any proof for this in the Hasidic books. The fact that from Reb Moshe Mikhl on, the rabbis in Biala were only Hasidim is enough proof that long before this, Biala had a large Hasidic population that could impose a Hasidic rabbi on the kehile [organized Jewish community].

It is also assumed that Biala was a fortress of Kotzker Hasidim. This is shown by the fact that the first two Hasidic rabbis from Biala, the above-mentioned Reb Moshe Mikhl and his successor, Reb Nakhum Zeev Bornsztajn, were Kotzker Hasidim. There were other Hasidim there at that time: Wurker, Lentshner [Łêczna] or Ostrower, as they called themselves after the death of Lentshner [rebbe], when his son and successor settled in Ostrowa, etc. The Ostrower were, it appears, the second in number. After the split of Reb Mordekhai Josef Eibeschitz from the Kotzker court, new Hasidim came to Eibeschitz there who later were known as Ridziner Hasidim. The Kotzker themselves later were divided between the Gerer and Kotzker. This happened when Reb Mendele Kotzker died and Reb Itshe Meir Alter, the Baal Khiddushei haRim [author of commentary on Torah] began to control the position of Hasidic rabbi. The majority followed the Baal Khiddushei haRim and the other remained with Reb Dovid, who controlled the position of Hasidic rabbi in Kotzk after the death of his father.

Although Biala was more geographically Lithuania than Poland, based on the character of its Jews, it was more of a Polish-Jewish shtetl in the sense that it was almost exclusively Hasidic. The third Rabbi, Reb Shmuel Leib Zak, was a Hasidic rabbi. One can assume that his selection occurred not only because of his Hasidus and piety – there were many such Hasidic rabbis who also were considered to be righteous Jews – but more likely because of his support from the Gerer and Ostrower [Hasidim].

As already mentioned, Reb Shmuel Leib was a student of and even an intimate of Reb Itshe Meir's heir, Reb Arya Leib, known by the name of his treatise on the Torah and gemore [commentaries], Sefat Emet [The Language of Truth]. His second pedigree was kinship with Lentshne; he was the husband of Reb Shlomo Leib Lentshner's granddaughter and thus a cousin of Reb Yankele Bialer, the successor of Reb Shiele Ostrower. Both Hasidic camps had enough strength to conquer the other Hasidic groups and elect a rabbi from among their own, which as a result, gave prestige to their Hasidim.

As it appears, there were respected Hasidim, rich men, scholars and influential people in Biala. From a letter that the Baal Khiddushei haRim [Yitzhak Meir Rotenberg-Alter] wrote to his followers in neighboring Metzritch, when a quarrel between the misnagdim [opponents of the Hasidim] and the Hasidim blazed there, it can be seen that the Biala Hasidim became involved and tried to influence the Mezritcher to stop the quarrels. Biala also was well-known for the Hasidic marriage matches it made between people with good lineage. Reb Itshe Meir's ([known as] Khiddushei HaRim) grandsons or sons-in-law were born in Biala. Reb Mordekhai Alter, the last of the old Gerer

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dynasty in Poland, who died in Jerusalem, was a son-in-law of the well-known Biala scholar and Gerer Hasid, Reb Noakh Shur. Reb Avrahamele Chechanower, one of the best-known experts on Jewish law at his time, who began to lead the rabbinate after the Kotzker, also was related to Biala by marriage. Two of his famous sons, Reb Berish, who became famous later as the Biala Rebbe, and Reb Yankele, Nashelsker Rebbe, were sons-in-law of the same father-in-law.

As we are speaking of aristocratic matches, we must also remember another important match, although in the misnagid sector. The Moscow Rabbi, Reb Chaim Berlin, the son of Reb Naftali Zwi Yehuda Berlin – haNetziv [acroynym of his name] – Volozhiner, married into the famous Biala family Shur, taking as his wife, Tila, the daughter of Reb Yitzhak Ayzyk Shur. The Rabbi, Reb Chaim Berlin was then already famous because of the great rabbinical positions that he already had occupied. He lived in Biala and was not engaged in rabbinical matters. Apparently, being a rich son-in-law, he became connected with well-known booksellers and collected a rich rabbinical library. During the years when he, so to say, sat quietly in Biala and devoted himself to Torah, he was called to take over the leadership of the well-known Volozhiner Yeshiva [religious secondary school], which had experienced its great crisis. He did not remain in Woloczin for long and he settled in Jerusalem, where he was soon recognized as one of the personalities there.

As has already been mentioned, Biala was Hasidic through and through. More than that, in the history of Hasidus, Biala also created a concept. We do not mean to say that Biala created something on-the-spot like Przysucha or Kotsk. Biala Hasidus did not create its own doctrines. Yet the name Biala served to underline a center that drew thousands of Jews from Poland to warm themselves in the Hasidic fire that the rebbes who settled there ignited.

The first rebbe who settled in Biala or more correctly said, the Biala resident who became a rebbe and led a rabbinate there was Reb Berish Landau.

Reb Berish, born in about 5580 [1820], was the second son of the Chechanower [Ciechanów] Gaon [genius] and Rabbi, Reb Avraham Landau. It appears that Reb Berish was the only one among Reb Avraham Chechanower's five sons (all became Hasidic rebbes], who in his youth was not engaged with Hasidus and did not visit any rebbes. Although, like his father, Hasidus was also not unfamiliar to him (Reb Avraham was in his youth with the rebbes, Reb Bunem and Reb Fishele Strikewer, but he did not engage in Hasidus and did not even pray in the customary Sfard [Sephardic] manner), he was only engaged in studying Torah.

Reb Berish's father-in-law, the rich man and Hasid, Reb Itshe Meir, who had a tavern in Biala, gave his son-in-law kest [financial support while a young groom studies religious texts]; he did not even think of becoming a rabbi as his father had. He became involved in commerce and opened a whiskey distillery with a partner, and he toiled thus until he emerged penniless from his factory and remained a poor man. Then, his industrious and capable wife, Rukhla, the rebbitzen [rabbi's wife], took over the worry about earning a living and opened a tavern and he sat busy with study and prayer. However, he decided to spend several hours a day at the tavern, not, God forbid, to help his wife, but to watch over the simple Jews with whom he would spend time to assure that, God forbid, they would not drink or eat without reciting a blessing.

How did he become a Hasid? Once he was invited by his friend, Reb Feivele Dancig, Gritser Rabbi, to a bris [ritual circumcision]. Reb Feivele was much older than him and, in addition, he was one of the Hasidim of the Prophet of Lublin, Reb Yakov Yitzhak. After this, he and other bright young men left Przysucha for the Yid Hakadosh [the Holy Jew – Yakov Yitzhak]. After the Jew's death, he [Reb Berish] became a Hasid of Reb Bunem Peshischa [a Yiddish spelling of Przysucha]. Then, [he became a Hasid] of Reb Bunem's son, Reb Avraham Moshe and when the latter died, he became Reb Yitzhak Vurker's Hasid. Reb Feivele knew Reb Berish well and knew of his vanity about his learning and about his virtues. Consequently, it was important for him to reach out to Reb Berish both about Hasidus and his rebbe, Reb Yitzhak Vurker. Whereas his Rebbe was supposed to be his sandek [man who holds the male child during a bris – ritual circumcision], he told him of the Chechanower Rebbe's son, who it was worthwhile to befriend. It seems that, Reb Yitzhak Vurker made a great impression on Reb Berish, and he became one of his greatest Hasidim. Incidentally, he was the only Vurker Hasid in his family, while his brothers traveled to [were followers of] Reb Mendele Kotsker.

In Vurka, he mainly was a friend of Reb Yitzhak's second son, Reb Menakhem Mendl and, when Reb Yitzhak died, he became the right hand of [the new Rebbe] Reb Mendele Vurker.

As is known, Reb Mendele Vurker was a frightfully quiet man, even his teachings of Torah would consist of short sentences, and his Hasidim, even his greatest Hasidim, in the main did not understand the teaching of the Rebbe. They all would come to Reb Berish to have him explain the Rebbe's teachings. Reb Mendele himself would often use affectionate language: the Bialer ganof [Biala thief] knows. When Reb Mendele

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died in the year 5628 [1868], the Vurker Hasidim made Reb Berish their rebbe and leader. He remained in Biala and led in the Vurker way of Reb Mendele until 5636 [1876], when he died. He had a great name and a large number of well-known Hasidim, who themselves were worthy of being rebbes, were his students. The most famous of them were Reb Yehiel Dancig, a son of Reb Feivele Gricer and founder of the well-known rabbinical dynasty in Aleksander near Lodz, Reb Yankl Nadriziner who was Reb Mendele's son-in-law and then himself became a rebbe, the future Skerniewicer Rebbe and Reb Mendele's son, Reb Shimeon and other prominent men.

After Reb Berish's death, the Hasidim took Reb Berish's student, Reb Yehiel of Aleksander (near Lodz) as their Rebbe. Reb Berish's son would travel to [the Rebbe] in Aleksander. After the death of Reb Yehiel, his son Reb Yisroel Yitzhak, who was called Yismakh Yisrael [Israel Will Rejoice] from the name of the book of which he was the author, became the Rebbe.

When the baal [author of] Yismakh Yisrael died, a number of Hasidim took as their Rebbe, Reb Ahron Landau, Reb Berish's son. A second son of Reb Berish's, Reb Elimelekh Menakhem Mendl later became the Strikower Rebbe.

Reb Ahron Landau became the Rebbe in 5670 [1910]. The celebration among his followers of his agreement to become the rebbe of the Biala court was unmeasurable. Masses of Hasidim began to arrive in Biala and they would dance with ecstasy along the entire road from the train to the city. However, his rabbinical position did not last a long time. The same year, around Passover time, he became ill and he died on the second day of Shavous [7th day of Sivan 5670/14th of June 1910] in Warsaw. At his funeral, which took place in Warsaw, a gathering of 50,000 Jews took place.

After his death, his son, Reb Menakhem Mendl, took his place. After two years of being the Rebbe in Biala, he moved to Warsaw. There, he continued as the Bialer Rebbe, to whom were drawn Hasidim from many Polish cities. He sat for fifty years and wrote Torah treatises and writings on Hasidus. Until now, only the book, Shemesh u'Magen [Sun and Shield], has been published, published in Israel by his son, Reb Yehiel Landau.

Reb Menakhem Mendl died in Brooklyn [New York] in 5698 [1938].

A second chapter in the history of Biala Hasidus was written by a second famous Rebbe, Reb Yitzhak Yakov Rabinowicz. He came from a great Hasidic ancestry, being a great grandson, a direct male descendent of the Yid Hakadosh, whose name he carried.

Hasidim say: his father, Reb Nusan Dovid, the Szidlowcer Rebbe and successor of the Rebbe, Reb Yerakhmiel the Jew's son, said that when his wife bore him a son, he should be shown the child at once. The reason for this was his fervid desire to name one of his children with the name of his great grandfather, the Yid Hakadosh, namely, Yitzhak Yakov. Every time his wife bore him a son, Reb Nusan Dovid looked at the child and said, “Not him.” And it is worthwhile to know, that all of the sons of Nusan Dovid became famous Hasidic Rebbes. When the later Biala Rebbe was born and his father looked at the small face of the just-circumcised child, Reb Nusan Dovid's face brightened; “I mean him,” he called out enthusiastically and naming the child, he announced the name with great joy: Veyikarei Shemo b'Yisrael [From the Book of Ruth, words recited at a bris – ritual circumcision] – “May his name be called in Israel, Yitzhak Yakov.”

Hasidim further say: Reb Nusan Dovid would take the child with him to the rebbes to whom he would travel, particularly, to the sage of his generation, Reb Yehezkiel Kuzmirer, who was the greatest student of the Yid Hakadosh, and to the great tzadek and gaon, Reb Chaim Tsanser. The Hasidim said that when the small Yitzhak Yakov was seven years old, his father was with the Kuzmirer Tzadek and when the Tzadek looked at the small boy, he was very impressed with him and said: “A great Polish Rebbe.” The Reb Chaim Tsanser's Hasidim similarly gave the young child great praise and called him Rebbe.

While still a child, he became the groom of the only child of Reb Shiele Ostrower, with whom he studied a great deal. After the death of his father-in-law in 5633 [1873], he was crowned as a rebbe with the agreement of the great righteous men, particularly from the great tzadek, Reb Yitzhak Schizczer. He became famous as a great rebbe. His wisdom and his regal conduct enraptured Hasidim. They saw in him the heir of the rebbes from Peshischa and Lentshen and, after a number of years in Ostrowa, he settled in Biala where he generously steered his Hasidim. Thousands of Jews were drawn to Biala from all over Poland.

Reb Yankele Bialer became ill in the month of Adar 5665 [1905] and died in Warsaw while there for treatment. He was buried at the Warsaw cemetery near his father-in-law, Reb Shiele Ostrower. Although the latter had left a will that no one should be buried for four ells [about 15 feet or more than four and half meters] from him. After a special judgment of the great rabbis, the Bialer Rebbe was buried near him. The judgment was inscribed on the headstone.

Reb Yankele Bialer left four sons who were rebbes and two sons-in-law who also were rebbes. The oldest son, Reb Nusan Dovid, settled in Partchev [Parczew] and became famous as the

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Partchever Rebbe. The second son became his successor in Biala, but later, Rebbe, Reb Meir Shlomo Yehuda, the Biala Rebbe – Mishlei [acronym created by using the first Hebrew letters of his name; Mishlei is also the Hebrew name of the Book of Proverbs] became the rebbe in Mezeritch, near Biala, and became known as the Mezeritcher Rebbe. The third son, Reb Avrahamele, became rebbe in Lublin (author of Yeshuos Avraham [Salvation of Abraham], a book about Genesis, part one, published by his son Ahron Nusan Dovid Rabinowicz, Lublin, 1934). The youngest son, Reb Hershele, became well-known as the Shedlitzer [Siedlce] Rebbe, but he died a year before his father's death.

The oldest daughter, Matele, who was a great tzadekus [righteous woman], was the wife of the Radzyminer Rebbe, Reb Mendl. When she died, only those who had been to the mikvah [ritual bath] that day were permitted to approach the mitah [board on which a body is borne for burial]. The second daughter, Chanale, was the wife of the Skierniewicer Rebbe, Reb Yosele (rabbi in B'nei Brak, Israel), son of Reb Shimeon Skierniewicer.

Reb Yankele Bialer is the author of the Hasidic books: Divrei Binah [Words of Wisdom] on the entire Torah and Ishrey Lev [Honesty of Purpose] on Shabbosim [Sabbaths] and the holidays.

Thus, Biala recorded an important chapter of great rabbinical and Hasidic personalities, who had an effect there and from there to illuminate the heavens of the Jewish people. Alas, this was in the past. The cruel enemy, the Germans and their partners, may their names be erased, destroyed the Jewish people in Poland and everywhere they [the Germans] had control and, together with them, the holy community of Biala Podlaska, referred to in old documents as Biala d'Lita [Biala of Lithuania] and Biala Gadol [Biala the Great].


Translator's footnote:

  1. Khidushei haRim – Yitzhak Meir Alter was known as the Khidushei haRim. It is customary for a Torah scholar to be known by the name of his most famous book. Khidushei is Hebrew for innovations; haRim is the acronym for haReb – the Reb – Yitzhak Meir. Return


Original footnotes:

  1. This focus in Reb Yitzhak's letter relates to the incident in the shtetl Lanckorn.[7] While there, a market took place. Frank was caught with 20 of his students who had gathered in secret at the house of one of their members in a dance around a half-naked woman and kissed her. Return
  2. Meant the Bishop Mikołaj Dembowski of Kamieniec-Podolski. Return
  3. Natan of Gaza, the prophet of the Sabbatai Tzvi movement. Return
  4. Nehemiah Hiyya Hayyun – of the Sabbatai Tzvi movement, author of the book, Mehemnuta deKola [Faith of All], which justified the actions of the futile men believing in Sabbatai Tzvi. Return
  5. Chava Frank, the daughter of Jacob Frank. She also was thought of as a godly symbol by the Frankists. Return
  6. This position in Reb Yitzhak's letter is not clear. The date of his letter, 5517, coincides with the year 1757, when an argument took place between the rabbis and Frankists before Bishop Dembowski. The second, similar argument took place in Lemberg two years later. It is possible that the position relates to the beginning of the era of the fight with the Frankists. Return
  7. He means Łyskornia not Lanckorn. Return
  8. He means the Busker Rabbi, Nakhman ben [son of] Shmuel haLevi, who became a Frankist. Return
  9. This Parnes-haKodesh [monthly leader] and his son at first stood on the side of Reb Yonoson Eiberschits. The son, who was a rabbi in Lublin even dared to excommunicate Reb Yakov Edmen. This evoked rage on the part of Reb Yakov Edmen's followers, and they ousted him from the position. The family had other losses and even cases of death. Under the pressure of the blow that the family received, Reb Avraham, as well as his son expressed their regret. Return
  10. Meant the blood-libel against the Jews in Yampole [Podolia). Return
  11. Son of the chairman of the Lublin Jewish community. Return


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