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[Page 274]

A Portrait of Rabbi Shmuel Aryeh Leib, a Holy Person,
of Blessed Memory, the Rabbi of Biale
[a]

by Shmuel T. Halevi Rubinshtein, the Rabbi in Givatayim

Translated by Libby Raichman

“The Biale Rabbi”, that is how he was called by all those of his generation in the country of Poland, who remembered his name with awe and admiration. They all understood the devotion of this genius and mystic, the righteous prodigy, the Rabbi Shmuel Leib, the holy person, who served in our community for 42 years, from 5651 [corresponding to 1881] until 3rd of Tevet 5692 [corresponding to 1922].

He was not a speaker, and not a man of words. I do not recall him ever going up to the bimah[1] to preach nor deliver a religious sermon in any one of the synagogues of our town. I hardly ever saw him disseminate knowledge, nevertheless, his influence was recognized in the town. They all knew that he was a genius and master of the Torah, one of the few remnants of the generation, and considered him a miracle worker, a wonder Rabbi, and that every blessing that he uttered, would be a sign of good things to come. And they would come to him from all parts of the country to seek salvation and compassion because they knew that he pronounced the spirit of God. They feared his stringency and tried not to disobey him in any matter to do with Judaism and the needs of the religion, because those who refused, knew that the matter was in his soul, and for that reason, all his words were like burning coals.

His holiness was spread over his face and his white beard and it all emitted awe and fear. That great fear and the penetrating look in his eyes, made people afraid to approach him and only chosen individuals of those who came to his house, would debate with him and with others who were interested, and turned to him for his help and advice. There was always a barrier, a wall of iron between him and the community. Very little is known to us about his life, but even the few details in our possession, provide perfect evidence about the greatness of his scholarship and the originality of his personality.

He was born to his father Reb Chaim Yisrael in the town of Hurodna in Lithuania, in 5607 [corresponding to 1847]. His father was a learned man, and later a preacher in a few congregations and finally, in the town of Terespol that was close to Brisk D'Lita. There his young son Shmuel Leib, sat and diligently studied Torah, until he became renowned as “the prodigy of Terespol”.

From there, he dispatched responsa[2] correspondence to the great Rabbis of his generation and used to exchange letters with the Gaon[3] Rabbi Yosef Shaul Natanzon, the Rabbi of Lvov, whose great treatise “Sho–el Umeishiv” [Question and Answer] elicited many scholarly questions from Rabbi Shmuel Leib of Terespol. The Rabbi of Lvov believed, according to the letters, that the inquirer was certainly, the Rabbi of Terespol, a young man who signed: Shmuel Leib, the holy person of Terespol; in fact, he was then only a boy of 13. It is told that when his father the preacher, would go from town to town to speak, he once took his young son Shmuel Leib, with him, and reached Lvov. There they went to the house of the Rabbi, Reb Yosef Shaul, to introduce themselves and become acquainted. When they entered, the Rabbi asked: from where are you? From Terespol, the father answered. The Rabbi asked, and how is your Rabbi, Reb Shmuel Leib, who it seems, is a great and sharp–witted scholar. Here the boy intervened and remarked: Reb Shmuel Leib is not such a great scholar. The Rabbi immediately slapped him on his cheek and reprimanded him, scolding him for daring to offend a Rabbi and a scholar. The father could no longer restrain himself, turned to the Rabbi and said: Take it easy Rabbi, my small son, is none other than the Rabbi Shmuel Leib with whom you have been corresponding on new interpretations of the Law. The face of Rabbi Yosef Shaul lit up, at the sight of the “young but clever” and said: I have never seen something like this, in all my life.

The youth spent a few months within the walls of the Rabbi of Lvov and from there he returned to Poland via the town of Radom. There he was seen by Reb Yoav Yehoshua the author of “Chelkat Yoav” [The Portion of Yoav], who was the Rabbi in Kintzk, who kept him in his house for a few weeks and where together they were immersed in the laws of Torah. The Chassidim of Gur in Radom, heard from the Rabbi Reb Yoav Yehoshua that this boy was an amazing expert and extremely sharp and they began to tell the youth about the greatness of their Rabbi, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Gur, author of the “Chidushei HaRabbi Yitzchak Meir” [New interpretations by the Rabbi Yitzchak Meir], and they tried with all their might to persuade him to travel to Gur to receive Torah from him. He took these words to heart and travelled to his home to request permission from his father, who was opposed to Chassidism, to allow him to go to the Rabbi in Gur; and

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it was like manna from heaven, when his father the Lithuanian, responded to his son's request and took him to the Rabbi in Gur.

When Reb Chaim Yisrael went inside to the holy man, he said to the Rabbi of Gur: “I have brought my son, the youth, to learn Torah from his honour, his holiness, but it is not financially possible to keep him here at my expense. The “Chidush HaRabbi Yitzchak Meir” answered him: “When I take him into my hands, he will not be short of anything”. (This was seen in “Ramzei D'Chachmata” of the Rabbi, may the memory of this righteous man be blessed, at the end of the book on the life of the author, may the memory of this righteous man be blessed, that was published by his son Reb Dov Berish, may the Lord avenge his blood).

In 5620 [corresponding to 1859], the youth of Terespol was accepted as a student to the master, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir of Gur and endeared himself to him. There he studied together as a team with his grandson, the young man Reb Yehuda Ari Leib, author of “The Language of Truth”, may the memory of this righteous man be blessed.

Every day, he would go to the holy man within, to receive regular lessons from the Rabbi. In this way he continued with his studies until he entered into the covenant of marriage with the daughter of Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib (who was interred in Jerusalem), the son–in–law of the famous Chassidic Rabbi Reb Shlomo Leib of Lantznah, a contemporary of the Chassidic Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischah. When Reb Shmuel Leib became engaged to the granddaughter of the Chassidic Rabbi of Lantznah, the righteous man was no longer alive (he died in 5603), [corresponding to 1843], but his son, the righteous Reb Yehoshua of Ostrov, author of “The History of Man”, succeeded his father and promised to support the young couple after their marriage so that that they should live in Ostrov in the shadow of their righteous uncle. It is told about an intelligent letter that the youth Reb Shmuel Leib prepared for the uncle of his fiancée, the righteous man of Ostrov, in which he asks him to send him the cost of his maintenance during the time that he lived in Gur as a boy, and a student of our master, our teacher, our Rebbe of Gur. He explained his request as follows: In the Jerusalem Talmud, in the 3rd section, in chapter 1, it says: He who eats of the food of his friend, should be ashamed to face him and turn his face to another side, and the prophet says: (Isaiah 30:20) “but your eyes will see your teachers” – Is it not, that a student must look at the face of his teacher, and how can I look at his face, when I am eating his bread and am strengthened by his purse?”.

He too, his uncle from Ostrov, knowing the answer of Abraham our forefather to his guests (Sutah 10:2) “after they ate and drank and were ready to leave, he said to them: because you have eaten of mine, it is as if you have eaten of the God of the universe, give thanks and blessing to He who spoke, and the world came to be”. From this, it is understood – that you are not eating the bread of your Rabbi, but you and I, and your Rabbi, the Admor[4] – our master, our teacher, our Rebbe of Gur, we are all eating of the food of the God of the universe”.

When the young man married his wife Yehudit Sheindl, he lived in the shadow of the righteous man of Ostrov and ate at his table together with his cousin, our beloved Rabbi, Reb Yitzchak Ya'akov Rabinovitsh, who later became known as the Admor of Biale, and was called Reb Yankele of Biale. A great friendship began between these two cousins.

In Ostrov the young married man Reb Shmuel Leib, continued to devote himself to Torah and engage in piety, within the framework of his uncle, and even after his marriage he continued to travel to the Rabbi of Gur and received lessons from him until the latter died in 5626 [corresponding to 1866].

In 5639 [corresponding to 1879], he was accepted as a Rabbi in the small town of Vludavka and from there he rose to the throne of the rabbinate in 5642 [corresponding to 1882], in the town of Shabarshin in the district of Lublin. With the influence of his cousin Reb Yankele of Biale, he travelled to the Admor, the great preacher, Reb Avraham of Trisk. Many great masters, teachers and Rabbis of the generation travelled there, and the Rabbi of Shabarshin was regarded among them, as a great expert in both the Talmuds [the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds].

It is told that the preacher of Trisk spoke words of Torah at his table and recalled a saying from the Gemarra. After the blessings after food were recited, those who sat at his table asked each other whether they knew the source of the Talmudic saying that the preacher had quoted from the Gemarra. Among them were the great scholars of the generation and they did not know where to find the saying.

The preacher entered the room and asked them for the source of the saying in the Gemarra. So, the preacher said: go to the synagogue and ask the Rabbi from Shabarshin and he will show you the saying because he is an expert in the Gemarra and there is no one like him. The Rabbi of Shabarshin immediately showed them the saying, to the great amazement of the scholars who questioned him.

It was known that the Rabbi of Shabarshin was appointed by the preacher of Trisk, to test his grandchildren during their lessons. One day when the Rabbi Reb Moshe Mordechai of Lublin, the Admor of Trisk, came to Biale to discuss rules of Jewish law, he visited the Rabbi and reminded him that he was tested by him in Trisk when he, the preacher, was on the threshold of his later years, may the memory of this righteous man be blessed. That was in the winter of 5690 [corresponding to 1930].

In the year 5648 [corresponding to 1888], the Rabbi of Biale died – the Gaon Reb Z'ev Nachum Burnshtein, the father of the Rabbi Reb Avraham of Sucht'chuv. Reb Z'ev Burnshtein was famous as a genius, and a great Chassid, one of the most important Chassidim of Kotzk, and the father–in–law of the old Rabbi of Kotzk. The Biale community was proud of him. With his passing, it was difficult for our community to choose a Rabbi who was capable of filling the place in Torah and piety. For three years the community remained without a Rabbi, until esteemed members turned to Rabbi Shmuel Leib, a scion of saints, [holy person], the Rabbi of Shabarshin, to appoint him as the Rabbi of the town. It is quite probable that the Chassid, the Admor, Reb Ya'akov of Biale, who was, as mentioned, the cousin of Reb Shmuel Leib, tried silently to have him appointed as the Rabbi of Biale because they had recognized influence in the town, and apparently the Chassidim of Gur in Biale, who had the most say in these matters, did not oppose this appointment either, because they knew of the genius of this Rabbi, that he was the student of the “Chidushei HaRabbi Yitzchak Meir”[5]. The Admor, the author of “The Language of Truth”, readily agreed to this appointment, because he remembered him from their youth when they studied together as a team. And indeed, in 5651 [corresponding to 1891], the Rabbi appeared at the gates of Biale and everyone in the town came out to meet him because his knowledge of Torah and his reverence went before him, as one of the great men in the land.

In particular, the most prominent scholars in the town amused themselves with him. Rabbi Noach Shachor, (father–in–law of the Admor of Gur, blessed be the memory of the righteous) whose friends admired him greatly for his knowledge of Torah and his righteousness, encouraged him to act stringently in his jurisdiction, without hypocrisy and discrimination.

It is no wonder then, that in every butcher shop, the laws of Kashrut were meticulously observed, for the butcher knew that if the Rabbi were to perceive that there was failure in the observance of the laws, he would be condemned and lose his source of income. So, when a plaintiff appeared before him in dread and fear, his judgement was received as if it was a punishment of fire, for which there was not a hair's breadth opportunity for appeal.

Once, he was told that on the Sabbath, in one of the barbershops, people were being shaved behind closed doors. The Rabbi went to the place of the incident with his supporters, to fulfil his duty, burst inside and caught the shavers red–handed. Those being shaved fled immediately with soap suds on their faces, and the Rabbi slapped the face of the barber, reprimanded him severely, and the barber did not dare to desecrate the Sabbath in this shameless way again.

Even the head of the synagogue and the large prayer house, would not introduce a single custom that the Rabbi had not agreed to, and everything was suspended pending the approval of the Rabbi. I remember, that when we established the large prayer house in our town, a “Magen David” was painted above the door at the entrance to the building, that then symbolized the

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the revival of Zionism. The Rabbi immediately sent word via the beadle, to remove the symbol and scrape it off, for it is forbidden to introduce a new passion into the old prayer house. Understandably, on that day, the Zionist symbol was removed from the wall of the prayer house despite the thoughts of the local Zionists.

However, in spite of his decisiveness and insistence, he was kind–hearted, good–natured, pitied the poor and helped everyone who was downhearted and weak. His home was open to the poor, and his daughter, the righteous Rochele, would cook lunch in his house every day, and on his orders, would distribute the food to the poor in the town, and to every beggar.

The Rabbi was particularly famous for the simple and easy way that he taught about fasting on the four public fast days. Since the First World War and after, Reb Yoel, the beadle, would make the following announcement in the synagogue on the fast of the 17th Tammuz and on the fast of Tish'ah B'Av: “on the orders of the Rabbi, people who are frail must not fast at all. Those, for whom it is difficult to fast, should eat at 1pm in the afternoon, and then complete the fast in the evening”. For this, he was unique in his generation, and renowned throughout the State of Poland, as a Rabbi, who permits eating on the days of the fast (understandably, except for Yom Kippur).

It was said that he had a source for this view, in the words of the Rabbi Yom Tov ben Avraham, in the tractate of Shabbat, in which he says that he who eats well every day, he is able to fast for a complete day and will not endanger his life, but for he who eats food sparingly to stay alive, it is dangerous to fast, lest he die, and according to the language of the Gemarra: “For him, it would be his day to die”. In the light of these words by Rabbi Yom Tov ben Avraham, the Rabbi used to say that during the days of the war, people suffered the shame of hunger, and had very little food, therefore there is reason to exempt those from fasting who are frail, and to bring a little relief to those who find it difficult to fast.

It is interesting, that the Rabbi, Reb Meir Yechiel HaLevi From Ostrovtzah, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, who was known as one who was well informed about fasting and was strict in his observance of the fasts, once met a Jew, a resident of Biale, and asked him to sit alongside him and inform him of the exact language utilized by the Rabbi of Biale on matters of fasting. He wanted to know this because it was told that the Rabbi of Biale permitted eating on the days of the fasts, as if he was negating the decree of “the four public fasts”[6] – seeing that he listened well to the language of the announcement, the Rabbi said to the resident of Biale: I am comforted, I am comforted, for I have a basis for easing the restrictions in this way.

The Rabbi was generally very lenient on questions regarding “what is forbidden and what is permitted”, because he had broad shoulders in these matters. With his expertise as an arbiter and his professional orientation about the quality of the question, he was able to solve difficult questions, that many others struggled to solve. In our town there was a scholar who sat all day in the Chassidic prayer house, diligently studying Torah (out of respect, I will not mention his name). He reviewed the Shulchan Aruch[7], all his days, particularly “Yoreh De'ah[8]. Once a lady came to him to ask whether a chicken was kosher, fit to eat. The learned man looked into the matter and pronounced the chicken unfit for eating. The lady remained silent and approached the Rabbi to confirm the judgement. She then returned and complained to the scholar. Why did you say that the chicken was not kosher, and the Rabbi said that it was! The learned man then took the “Yoreh De'ah” under his arm and went to the Rabbi to argue with him about the matter, for in his opinion, the chicken was certainly not kosher. When the learned man began to speak, the Rabbi approached his bookshelf, and took out the book of responsa “Chacham Tzvi” and showed him that in that book it is explicit to permit, and forbidden to waste, the money of the Jewish people – and the Rabbi continued to reprimand him saying, that if you are not expert in the later Deciders[9], you are forbidden to teach.

Also, in matters relating to what is permitted for women who have been abandoned by their husbands, he was known as a great expert, and great Rabbis sought his opinion in discussions. The Gaon, Rabbi Chaim Solovitchik, the Rabbi of Brisk, that was close to Biale, asked the Rabbi many times to consider a judgement of an abandoned wife who had come to him, and to express his opinion as an arbiter, and he always agreed with his judgement. The Rabbi of Brisk used to say: after the directive of the Biale Rabbi, there was nothing more to think about.

My teacher, the Gaon, Rabbi Moshe Shapira, may the memory of this righteous man be blessed, was the Rabbi of Lublin. A dispute erupted between him and Rabbi Ya'akov Me'ir Biederman, the brother–in–law of the Admor of Gur, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, regarding the provision of charity boxes in aid of the Yeshivah for the Wise of Lublin. Rabbi Ya'akov Me'ir, as head of “The Treasury of Rabbi Me'ir, the miracle worker”, opposed this, saying that this was overstepping the boundary, and undermined the distribution of the Lublin charity boxes. So, Rabbi Shapira turned to all the Rabbis of the communities in Poland, and set before them a booklet in the halachah, indicating that there was no prohibition of any kind, and asking for their agreement in writing, with their signature, regarding this matter.

When the rabbi had gathered 300 signatures about his booklet, he came before the Rabbi of Gur to show him the opinions of the great Rabbis, to allow the matter to proceed. The Rabbi paged through the signatures and did not react at all. When he reached the signature of the Rabbi of Biale, he ceased paging through any further and called his brother–in–law Rabbi Ya'akov Me'ir and showed him the signature of the Rabbi and passed judgement: there is no longer a need to focus on the booklet; after the judgement of the Rabbi of Biale, there is nothing to answer.

As far as he pledged his soul to assist those who were unfortunate, one can learn from “what is permitted to an abandoned wife”, that he allowed an abandoned wife to marry after many great Jewish scholars did not find a way to allow her to marry. And he, with his expertise, made every effort to reveal what was concealed in the law, to free her from the bonds of an abandoned wife, and this was the case. A woman suffered greatly from her free–thinking husband until he finally changed his religion but did not want to give her a get. One day he drowned in the sea and his body was not found. When the woman came to the Rabbinic court requesting that they allow her to marry as a widow, the wise men of the generation did not want to allow it, as there was no witness to the fact that he died in the sea, only that he drowned – perhaps he came out of the water, that he is alive, and we do not know. According to the law that is explained in the Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, paragraph 17, section 32: “He was seen falling into the sea, even if he drowned in the ocean, there are no witnesses to the fact that he died, perhaps he went out from another place”, because the law says: if the water does not have an end, the wife is forbidden”. The woman was persistent and knocked on the portals of the Rabbinic court but there was no one to entertain her plea, until the Rabbi of Biale was asked to consider a judgement and he judged that she be permitted to marry according to the book “HaKannah”, attached to the books of Kabbalah[10], that says, “water that has no end” – it is possible that the drowned man was saved and went out at another place, and we did not see – all this applies to a person who believes in the Holy One, blessed be he, who has no end or boundaries – it is possible that he was saved, but he who does not believe in God's help, and does not believe in water that has no end – he has no hope and certainly drowned and died. And the Rabbi continued to pass judgement: perhaps he was afraid and repented when he was in the water, also here, one should not fear that perhaps he was saved and is still alive because it has already been said (Avodah Zarah 17:1) “anyone who spreads heresy – dies. Therefore, this woman is allowed to marry anyway, because her husband is certainly already dead. And when Rabbi Me'ir Shapira, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, told about the permission given, he said, the reasoning for this, is surely very “strange” but he certainly utilized only one section of the basic laws, whereas the Rabbi of Biale gave permission based on other laws.

In addition to his righteousness and his piety, it is also worth pointing out his wisdom, his original thought,

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and his quick grasp that always enabled him to approach matters directly and in a clear manner.

The Rabbi, Reb Menachem Rubinshtein of Biale (the father of Rabbi Shmuel Rubinshtein, the Rabbi of the Paris community) who once went to the Rabbi, Reb Shmuel Arye Leib, to ask him for a letter of recommendation and intercession to one of the leaders of the town. The Rabbi wrote the letter and when he reached the signature, he concluded: “his dear friend” etc. While doing this, he spilled drops of ink on the word “his friend”. The Rabbi searched for a pocket–knife to remove the drops of ink on the word. Rabbi Menachem was very sorry that the Rabbi was going to so much trouble for him, and remarked; Rabbi, there is no need to delete so much. The Rabbi answered: You have forgotten Rashi's explanation about what is written in the Torah (Genesis 33:4) “And Esau ran to meet him ” and he kissed him” – Rashi says: “the dotting above the word[11] indicates ” that he did not kiss him with all his heart”. Now go and see, if spots of ink remain on the word “his friend”, the leader of the community might think that I am not “a friend” with all my heart. It is therefore necessary to remove the spots properly.

One of the residents of our town told me that he once came to the Rabbi to ask his advice about what action to take in his business, as he was anticipating a great loss and he himself did not know what measures to take to prevent the loss. The Rabbi hesitated and said: who am I – am I a trader that I can advise you on matters of trade? The man was not discouraged, and the Rabbi turned to him and asked: Do you lay Tefillin every day? Yes, said the man. And do you say the evening prayers every evening? Here the man hesitated and said: when I have time, I pray. The eyes of the Rabbi lit up immediately and he said: if you would say the evening prayers, and you said the prayer “Hashkivaynu[12], in which it says: “provide us with good counsel of your own”, then you will be provided with good counsel. Now you ask me for good advice. Promise me that you will say the evening prayers every evening, and God will provide you with good advice of his own.

In my childhood, I heard from my elders, that the Rabbi was very famous in his youth as a Gaon, as a scholar and a great innovator, but in the midst of his best years, he devoted himself to the law of hidden wisdom, that is, the law of Kabbalah[13] and began to engage in ‘practical Kabbalah’[14] until it affected his health significantly and caused a fatal interruption to the course of his studies and his scholarly progress in areas of the law, and in the law that is revealed.

Indeed, I still remember him when he was closeted in his house, occupied with his books, and on very rare occasions we would see him appear in the street or in the synagogue. It was not at all easy to be received by him in his house because he was always engaged in scholarship in his sanctum, studying the books of Kabbalah. His son–in–law, Rabbi Moshe Utchn, served as the Rabbi in our town and directed all the communal affairs of the Rabbinate – only in urgent matters, his son–in–law tried to take people into his room and disturb him from his studies.

However, this was only what appeared to be, for the Rabbi was actually engaged in writing responsa,[15] matters of the law that touched on practice, such as writing legal documents of divorce, religious sanctioning of ritual baths etc. for various communities, both near and far. In particular, he criticized ritual slaughterers and examiners and rebuked the butchers who did not practice according to the accepted custom. He also regulated the laws of Kashrut[16] so that not a single hair's breadth would be altered from what was the custom in the holy communities, in ancient times.

We have already said that he was by nature inclined to lighten his directive and take pity on the finances of the people. I remember, that on the morning of the eve of the Day of Atonement, he would stand next to the door of his room while a long queue of women formed before him, with questions about the ritual lawfulness of the slaughtered chickens that were used as atonement on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Each person held a chicken and showed him the fowl to be examined. He looked at the mark (on the chicken) in question, nodded ‘right’, ‘right’, in his particular Lithuanian pronunciation. It is interesting that in his holy presence, the women who were asking about their chickens, did not forget to ask the Rabbi to bless them for a good year, and a command for salvation. The Rabbi blessed them and urged them to return home quickly, for there was much work waiting for them in their homes, for the forthcoming great day.

Despite all his greatness in Torah scholarship and knowing his personal value, he humbled himself before the righteous of his generation. When Rabbi Mendele Landau, the Admor, of Strikov, came to our town to honour his father the righteous Rabbi, Rabbi Berish of Biale, on the day of the anniversary of his father's death that fell on 25th Sivan, he would go to the grave of his father, with a group of Chassidim. At the graveside he would receive notes on pieces of paper, and his grandson, the young man Reb Shlomo Asher, would come, and in the name of his grandfather, he would ask them to commemorate his name.

In addition, it was his custom to send a note to the Admor of Gur, for the Rabbi of Gur valued him and held him in great esteem.

In his last years he was very ill with bladder problems and suffered terrible pain, yet his face lit up with a supreme light, as if his pains brightened his soul and shone from his holy face.

When he lay sick in Warsaw, the great pious Rabbis visited him, and he would apologize to them, that he had a dilemma with the blessing in “asher yatzar[17] since no urine flows from him, only through a tube. And he whispered to my teacher and my Rabbi, Rabbi Meir Shapira, that he suffered greatly from the power of the blessing, that is not in his hands to decide, than from the intense pain of his affliction itself. When my teacher returned and related this to his students, he stressed with great admiration, how touching the piety of the Gaon, the righteous man was.

In 5691 [corresponding to 1931], on the festival of Tu Bi'shvat[18], the completion of the first circulation of the “Daf Ha'yomi” of the Talmud occurred, and the Rabbi of Lublin announced an appeal to raise money – an amount of 27 zlotte and 2 groschen[19] per page of the Babylonian Talmud (containing 2,702 pages). And the Rabbi of Biale then lay in the clinic of Dr. Frishman in Warsaw. When he heard about the large festive meals that were being organized on the day of the completion of the Talmud, he sent the above–mentioned amount to the house of the Chassidim of Gur, at 19, Nalboki Street, and asked them to send him ‘shirayim’[20] from the festive meal, that as far as he knew, was a great event. The fact that a large community of Torah scholars completed the Talmud at one and the same time, made a huge impression on donors in Warsaw, and many followed his example and donated, like him.

In the last weeks of his life, he was very ill, and he was taken to Utbutzk near Warsaw, and his daughter pleaded with him to return home, and he answered her, that his time had not yet come and that there was still time for him to travel. He intimated that at the end of the days of the festival of Channukah, he would return home. And indeed, at the end of the holy Sabbath, on the eve of the 3rd of the month of Tevet, 5691 [corresponding to 1932], his soul departed in purity after the blessing of the Havdallah[21] ceremony. He was 85 years old. The leaders of our town tried to bring him from Utbutzk, to be buried in our town. People came from all the surrounding areas to honour the spiritual shepherd, who sustained the people of Israel in holy communities, over a period of more than 35 years. Students from the Yeshivah of Nuvharduk, from Mezritsh nearby, walked a distance of 25 kilometers to attend his funeral. All the Rabbis in the vicinity, came to eulogize the deceased. In particular, Rabbi Meir Shapira came from Lublin, the capital town of the district, and stood on the verandah of the house of Rabbi Yitzchak Radzinner (Berman)

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in Brisk Street and delivered a eulogy in a wailing voice, a bitter cry, and below stood the entire community, in their tens of thousands, at the Gate of Cheshbon, with their heads bowed towards the coffin of their righteous and holy Rabbi.

Rabbi Shapira read this verse (1 Samuel 3:3): “And before the lamp went out Samuel lay down in the temple of God”. And he said, I am witness to the great Rabbi of Biale, whom I saw a few times before his passing and his face hovered in loftier worlds and in the palaces of heaven. His body suffered much pain, but his spirit and all his efforts were directed towards worlds of holiness, worlds that do not belong or have a connection to our low and dark world, and the lamp of God – the light and soul of this righteous Gaon – has not gone out yet. It will still shine, it will lie down and hover high above, not here, but in the palace of God, in heaven, the place of the holy angels, and the Tana'im[22] and Amora'im[23], masters of the Torah.

And here the eulogizer turned to the coffin and announced: Great Rabbi of Biale! You were so concerned for the people of your town, to make things easier for them on the days of the fasts, knowing the frailty of their bodies, and their fragility of their health. May you know that today there are many homes among the Jewish people where many fast days are observed, not because they are obliged to fast, but because they do not have food. They suffer the shame of hunger due to the terrible affliction that reigns in your town and in the surrounding towns. Therefore, go and advocate before the Throne of God, that the time has come to bring salvation to the Jewish people, so that they should not have to suffer hunger and poverty anymore.

Jews of Biale, be aware, that in this coffin that you are accompanying now, does not lie a withered body of a righteous and holy person, for here rest the holy Scrolls of the Law, with letters that are shining and burning with fire, a pillar of scholarship who served you in holiness for more than 40 years. You are escorting a Rabbi, a spiritual shepherd, of whom there is none like him in this entire generation. Those who had gathered, cried bitterly. The journey of the funeral lasted from the morning of the 3rd day, the 5th Tevet to the afternoon under a shower of snow. At the cemetery, the Admor, Rabbi Moshe Baruch Morgenshtern the great Rabbi of Vludava, eulogized and the whole community filled a big sack of notes that were lowered into the grave alongside the body. His son–in–law, the Rabbi, the teacher of righteousness, Rabbi Moshe, said some words of his eulogy as the coffin was lowered into the grave and then stopped, overcome by much wailing. He could not complete his eulogy because of his great sorrow and mourning. In silent mourning the community returned to town and mourned: A Rabbi like this, will not arise again in our generation.

The Rabbi left behind a son, an eminent Torah scholar, the Chassid, Rabbi Dov Berish, may the Lord avenge his blood, and two sons–in–law: the teacher of righteousness, the Rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Utchan, a chassid from Strikov, and Rabbi Chaim Yechiel Tzitrinboim, his daughter, the righteous Rochele, may the Lord avenge her blood, grandchildren and great–grandchildren, his granddaughter Mrs. Esther Yehudit Oleh who lives in Bnei Brak, in Israel, his grandson Mr. Ya'akov Utchan in America, his great grandson Avraham Mordechai Hershberg, a Rabbi in Chicago, whose grandfather the Rabbi, may the memory of the righteous be blessed, still managed to ask Rabbi Shapira to accept him into the Yeshivah of the Wise in Lublin because he is a talented young man and was orphaned by the death of his father. And indeed, after the death of his grandfather, the youth came to the yeshivah. There he was persistent and very diligent in his studies and was the author of the book “Machshavat Ha'kodesh”[24], about the succession of holy ones. And today he is considered one of the most distinguished Rabbis in America[b]; but more than all of this, the Rabbi left behind a “good name”, that only few in a generation succeed in attaining. Among the great Rabbis of Biale, his name will shine eternally.

 

bia278.jpg
A certificate issued for a letter purchased and written in a Torah Scroll, inserted in memory of the Biale Rabbi Shmuel Leib, a scion of saints, of blessed memory

 

[Page 279]

An Addition to the Article
about the Rabbi Shmuel Aryeh Leib, a scion of saints

Translated by Libby Raichman

The Biale Rabbi felt that in Jewish law, in matters between an artisan and a businessman, the evidence of the artisan was more reliable. A workman also benefited from a lawsuit judged by the Rabbi, as he was more trusted than his master.

A typical lawsuit before a rabbinic tribunal came before the Biale Rabbi: the distinguished Chassid Yechiel Hersh, a grain merchant of Gur, became destitute and did not have the money to trade. Moshe Lederman, a respected Chassid of Gur, collected 100 Ruble among the Chassidim and gave it to Yechiel Hersh, without telling him, that it was meant as support. Some time later, Yechiel Hersh wanted to return the 100 Rubel, but Moshe Lederman claimed that he did not recall having lent him money. The matter reached a lawsuit before the Biale Rabbi. The verdict was that the person who was loaned the money was believed more than the lender. The 100 Ruble was donated to the Talmud Torah[25].

When I was called up for military service during the war, my father took me to the Rabbi to ask him for a blessing. The Rabbi gave me his hand and said: “may you survive in peace”.

A couple of weeks after my returning home from captivity, when I worked for Gadl Shlosser, Mendl Mulyer came in and asked me to repair a lock for the Rabbi. I went home to put on a tallit katan[26]. (Biale residents will recall that the rabbi had a weakness of inspecting the tzitzit[27]) and I went to repair the lock. The Rabbi was asleep while I was working. A couple of hours later, Mulyer came to call me again, to go to the Rabbi.

When I came to the Rabbi, I asked him if he had something else to repair. No, was his answer. He only wanted to pay me for my work.

Rabbi, you need not have called me specially for this. I would have come when I was passing by.

– Payment for work done during the day may not be withheld after sunset.
– Tell me, who are you, young man? – the Rabbi asked.
– Fyvl, the son of Leibele Meir Fishtshatzer – was my answer.
– Where were you during the war?
– In captivity.
– Did you at least come home with all your limbs?
– Yes. Thanks to you, your blessing Rabbi, that you gave me on the day before I had to present myself for military service.
– Long life to you.
– Shrage Fyvl, are you a locksmith?
– Yes.
– Are you a good locksmith?
– Pertaining to your question, I have been an artisan for two years already.
– Can you make a key for a lock?
– Yes. That is my trade. I can also make a lock.
– I do not need a lock. I need a good tradesman to make a key for a good lock.
– I have not had a lock for which I could not make a key.
– Shrage Fyvl, I need a good locksmith who will be able to adjust a key for the gates of mercy.
– Rabbi, for that, you are a better mechanic than I am.
– No, every observant Jew can be the mechanic, he just needs to be worthy of it.

Fyvl Gold (New York)

[Page 280]

The finest Charedi youth gathered in the small study house in Zidichuv, led by Rabbi Gershon the young cripple, Moni Pulturok, Lippa Gershon and others. Most of them were from Chassidic families of Hushyatin, Churtkuv, Buyan and Kupitchnitz.

Tzvi Hirshhorn who studied diligently with this group, had acquired a little secular enlightenment in his home. Over time, he organized groups of young people in the small prayer houses as the “The Youth of Agudat Yisrael[28], where he was one of the leaders. As he was active in Agudat Yisrael and connected to Rabbi Meir Shapira of Lublin, and the Rabbi of Churtkov, Rabbi Yisrael Friedman was one of the leaders of the association, he was accepted among the pious of Churtkov. Hirshhorn travelled to Churtkov every time the Rabbi who lived in Boino, visited there. These journeys made a deep impression on him, and he found that the Rabbi, according to the Chassidic expression, “uplifted his soul” and influenced him greatly. And the unmarried man came to Zlutchov in the summer of 5684, [corresponding to 1924], to the completion of a tractate, that turned into a conference of the youth of Agudat Yisrael, and he became one of the most internationally powerful youth of the Agudah movement in Poland.

He married the daughter of Rabbi Nachum Pluhar, a Hoshyatin Chassid from Krakow, that was closer to the centre in Warsaw, than Lvov. From that time on, he visited Warsaw more often and participated in meetings and in the sessions of the youth of Agudat Yisrael.

However, he suddenly fell silent. He was not seen at any of the party meetings and did not take part in any of its activities. He was then in Kubrin and studied Torah from the Rabbi of the town, Rabbi Pesach Pruskin, one of the great Torah scholars in Lithuania. He advanced in his studies and was ordained as a Rabbi, by the Rabbi of Kubrin and other great Torah scholars.

In 5692 [corresponding to 1930], he was chosen as the Rabbi in Yabuzsnu, in the district of Krakov. He returned to his work with the “Youth of Agudat Yisrael” and took part in national committees and his speeches were the main event at these meetings. He published articles in the newspapers of the association: “Dos Yiddishe Togblat”[29], “Ortodoksishe Yugnt Bletter”[30], “Darkeinu”[31], and others. They excelled in their polished style and their beautiful, rich language. Everything that emanated from his pen was steeped in his personality, yet his power as a speaker was even greater.

In 1932, he was elected chairman of “Youth Agudat Yisrael” in Poland and since then he stood at the head of the organization and directed its course. Together with the Rabbi Moshe Ephraim Moshkovitz of Ostrik, and Yerucham Berliner of Lodz, and others, he worked to instill Torah into the ranks of the youth of the Agudah. His aim was to establish the study of Torah into the lessons in the small yeshivot[32]. The main activity of the Youth Agudat Yisrael organization, was to push the activities of the party to the next level, to a place that it deserved, as a means to an end.

At the large last gathering before the Holocaust, in 5697 [corresponding to 1937] in Ma'arinber, Hirshhorn appeared on behalf of “Youth Agudat Yisrael”, requesting more intensive activity for the organization. This was, incidentally, his first appearance at an international gathering of Agudat Yisrael, and his talent was fully revealed. There he inspired many great people, while still a young man, at the beginning of his path in life, and in the midst of his diligence for personal advance.

As a result of a controversy in his community due to rivalry, Hirshhorn decided to leave Yavuszna because his refined personality was disgusted with the dissension, and even more, by the means used by its disputers. In 5698 [corresponding to 1938], he was chosen as Rabbi in Biale–Podlaska, a town filled with scholars, Chassidim, and famous Rabbis who studied there. But, immediately after moving over to his new community, the Second World War broke out.

He fled to safety from the Germans, may their name be erased, to Lvov, his previous place of residence. He lived there during the days of the Soviet conquest and after that, during the days of the German conquest.

The bitterness of the Holocaust affected him. He saw the loss of his birthplace the destruction of tens of thousands of Jews in the town, together with the Jewish community of Lvov. He was saved from the first deportations in the summer as his friends and admirers hid him for a certain time, until he too was killed in May 1943, at the age of 42, together with the magnificent Jewish community of Lvov.

According to the book “These are a memorial”, second volume, New York. The institute for Research into Orthodox Jewry.

[Page 281]

In the book “Tif'eret Yisrael”[33], Freeman, we read something about Reb Berish:

“The moderate Admor[34] from Varke, once visited the Admor of Kotzk, escorted by his student, the Admor of Biale. On the morning of the holy Sabbath, the Admor from Biale was invited to the Rabbi of Kotzk to drink coffee together with him, and the great scholars of Kotzk who spent time with their Rabbi at this hour. It was the custom of the Rabbi of Kotzk to debate matters of Halachah[35] at gatherings such as these, and mostly, regarding the Rambam[36]. And the Rabbi of Kotzk reviewed the well–known argument of Mishneh Lamelech (chapter 17, of the Halachah regarding the Rambam laws of the Sabbath). Why do we need a verse from the Torah “you shall bring”, to give special permission to allow salting meat on the Sabbath, when salting meat is not usually forbidden on the Sabbath? Those present provided an answer.

And you, young man, what is your view about this? – the Rabbi of Kotzk turned and asked the Admor of Biale. According to my understanding, it is not that difficult – he answered, – because the sacrifices of the sabbath were “burnt offerings” and the head was not flayed or cut, so it was salted with its skin, and salting hide is usually forbidden.

You see – the Rabbi of Kotzk turned to those around him – this is how you learn. (This means erudite)”.

On the death of Reb Berish, on 6th Tammuz 5636, corresponding to 16. 6. 1876, the following article was published in edition number 24, of the “Tzefirah”[37].

“In Mezritch (close to Biale), the past Sabbath, the 27th Sivan, was a dark, gloomy, overcast day for the Biale community that is near to us, for death was plucked from it, when the Rabbi, the Gaon[38], the righteous famous Rabbi, The Rabbi, Dov Berish Landau died, may the righteous memory of this man be blessed. He was the son of the Rabbi, the Gaon etc., The Rabbi, Avraham Landau, may the memory of this righteous man be blessed, of Tshechanova. In every town, in every place that this bad news reached, crowds of Chasidim gathered, and they came to the town of Biale the next day, to pay their last respects to their Rabbi; on that day he was brought to the cemetery with great honour. The most important of the Chasidim carried him on their shoulders. VaYerav b'vat Biale[39] – he increased in the daughter of Biale, pain and wailing. God will reward you who mourn him, with comfort, and be gracious to his ashes.

Y. N.


Original footnotes:

  1. This article about the Rabbi, Reb Shmuel Aryeh Leib, the second last Rabbi in Biale for over 40 years (1891 –1932), is presented here in the Hebrew original, as the author sent it. Return
  2. The head of the Yeshiva, Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Frommer, gives his lesson. He is the heir of the Rabbi and Senator, Rabbi Meir Shapira, who died young. He repeats his lesson for us, on the same evening at the concluding meal when a young lad – almost a boy, repeats the entire lesson by heart, swaying his long blonde sidelocks at the same time.
    Who would have expected that this young boy would become the current Rabbi Reb Mordechai Hershberg, of Chicago, whom I have heard speaking at the American embassy in Venezuela, as well as in Colombia, to a selected audience where he spoke about the greatness of America and its Jews, and about his friend, the Vice President, Dick Nixon?
    (Dr. Shashkes – “About the remaining Jews in Lublin” – an article that appeared in “Latest News”, number 1552, of 5. 2. 60, where among other articles, there is one about the festivities on the completion of the Talmud that took place in 1938 in the “Yeshivah of the Wise of Lublin”). Return


Translator's footnotes:

  1. A bimah is a podium. Return
  2. Responsa – letters of questions and answers. Return
  3. Gaon – a genius. A Rabbinic title given to a scholar of great stature. Return
  4. Admo”r – acronym for the Hebrew words adonaynu, moraynu v'rabaynu – our master, our teacher, our Rabbi. A title given to a Chasssidic Rabbi. Return
  5. Chidushei HaRabbi Yitzchak Meir – The interpretations of the Rabbi Yitzchak Meir. Return
  6. “the four public fasts” are: Fast of Gedalyah, Fast of Esther, Fast of the 17th Tammuz, Tish'ah B'Av. Return
  7. Shulchan Aruch – Code containing a detailed body of Jewish Laws, published 1550–1559. Return
  8. Yoreh De'ah – This is a section in the Shulchan Aruch, a compilation of halachah by Rabbi Jacob ben Asher. Return
  9. Deciders – Arbiters. Rabbinic authorities on halachic questions. Return
  10. Kabbalah – Jewish Mysticism. Return
  11. The word is “Va'y'shakayhu” meaning – and he kissed him. In the Torah text, there is a dot above each letter of this Hebrew word. The Rabbis inserted these dots because they doubted whether the kiss of Esau was genuine. Return
  12. Hashkivaynu – the first word of a prayer in the Ma'ariv (evening service) that begins “grant that we lie down in peace, Lord our God”. Return
  13. Kabbalah – Jewish Mysticism. Return
  14. Practical Kabbalah – concerned with incantations and miracles. Return
  15. Responsa – questions and answers on religious law. Return
  16. Kashrut – ritual lawfulness. Return
  17. Asher Yatzar – a blessing said before the morning service, blessing God, who heals all flesh. Return
  18. Tu Bi'Shvat – a festival occurring in the month of Shvat, that celebrates the new year of the trees. Return
  19. Zlotte and groschen are Polish currency. A groschen is a small coin. Return
  20. Shirayim – remnants of food that a Chassidic Rabbi has blessed and tasted that the faithful share and consider a blessing. Return
  21. Havdallah – the candle lighting ceremony at the end of the Sabbath that separates the Sabbath from the weekdays. Return
  22. Tana'im – teachers, authorities quoted in the Mishnah. Return
  23. Amora'im – interpreters, sages who interpreted the words of the Tana'im. Return
  24. Machshvat Ha'kodesh – The Concept of Holiness. Return
  25. Talmud Torah – tuition free elementary school maintained by the community. Return
  26. Tallit katan – a four–cornered fringed garment worn under a shirt by observant Jews. Return
  27. Tzitzit – the four tassels on the tallit katan. Return
  28. Agudat Yisrael – literally, the “Society of Israel”. Agudat Yisrael was a religious party in Israel. Return
  29. “Dos Yiddishe Togblat” – The Yiddish Daily. Return
  30. “Ortodoksishe Yugnt Bletter” – Orthodox Youth newspaper. Return
  31. “Darkeinu” – Our Path. Return
  32. Yeshivot (singular yeshivah) – Talmudic colleges. Return
  33. “Tif'eret Yisrael” (Hebrew) – The glory of Israel. Return
  34. Admo”r – acronym for the Hebrew words adonaynu moraynu v'rabaynu – our master, our teacher, our Rabbi. A title given to a Chassidic Rabbi. Return
  35. Halachah – legal aspects of Jewish traditional literature. Return
  36. Ramba'm – acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon – Maimonides. Return
  37. Ha'Tzefirah – one of the first Hebrew newspapers of the 20th century. Return
  38. Gaon – a genius. A rabbinic title given to a scholar of great stature. Return
  39. The original text of this quotation is a verse from Lamentations 2:5 and reads: and he increased in the daughter of Judah. The author has replaced the word “Judah” with the word “Biale” so that it applies to the people of Biale in particular. Expl: Rabbi Yitzchok Javen, Fr. Return


Rebbe Berish Landau

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The first Biala Rebbe was the Rabbi and Gaon [genius] and holy Rabbi Berish Landau, a son of the gaon and holy Rabbi Avrahaml, the Ciechanower Rabbi, to whom all gaonim of the generation related with great reverence. Rebbe Berish was born in approximately 5580 [1820].

While still young, Berish left for the Vurker [Warka, Poland] Hasidim. The Vurker Rebbe, Reb Yitzhak, took Reb Berish under his wing and loved him very much.

The Vurker Hasid, Reb Itshele Tenenbaum, said: When Reb Berish was still in Warka, people spoke ill of him to his father, that he, Berish, neglected his studies and spent time at friendly, festive meals, as were then undertaken by the Vurker Hasidim. Once when all of Reb Avrahaml Ciechanower's sons were gathered on a Shabbos [Sabbath] in order to welcome their father, the tzadek [righteous man], he called every one of his sons to his room and talked with them. He did not call Berish. Berish walked around the front room apprehensively. When his mother saw her son was worried, she could not control herself; she went in the room of the Ciechanower tzadek and she insistently questioned him for so long until he finally called in Berish. He talked with him for two hours and when he came out, the Ciechanower gaon said to those in attendance: I gave my son the name Ber; he is truly a bear, someone who likes sweets, may blessing fall on his head.

Reb Berish would recite words of Torah at a prepared table even during the week and the Hasidim would provide wine, like on a Shabbos or holiday. Once he came to

[Page 282]

Ciechanow to visit his father and Hasidim came with him. He felt himself there in Ciechanow as if he were at home: at a prepared table he recited Torah for the Hasidim. The Ciechanower followers of his father looked askance and went to his father to complain about Reb Berish. When Avrahaml Ciechanower heard this, he answered them: – I beg you, go to my son's meal and offer him a bottle of wine in my name.

Reb Berish was the rebbe in Biala for about eight years. The rebbe's court was located on Krzywa Street.[a] [He] died n 5636, on the 22nd of Tamuz [14th of July 1876]. However, he left five sons: Reb Ahron, Reb Simkha-Bunim, Reb Itshke from Mlawa, Reb Elimelekh Mendl from Wolya and Reb Yekutiel from Wengrod. They were worthy of becoming rabbis, but they did not want to take on the burdens of a rebbe. They agreed that the tzadek [righteous man], Reb Yehiel from Aleksander, who was one of Reb Berish's esteemed students, should become the successor to Reb Berish.

Thousands of his Hasidim, followers and great people of the time came to Reb Berish's funeral.

A joyful celebration took place on Reb Berish's yahrzeit [anniversary of a death]. His brothers, sons, grandsons, Hasidim and followers would gather in Biala in the house of my grandfather, Reb Ahron Landau, to take part in the joyful celebration. The figures, who are well engraved in my memory, were: my grandfather's brothers – Reb Itshke from Mlawa, Reb Yekutiel from Wengrod, Reb Mendl Elimelekh Menakhem from Wolya (later the Strikower Rebbe); my grandfather's sons – Reb Vovtshe, my father and Reb Yisroel from Lodz; the grandsons – Reb Mendl Szedlecer, Reb Yakov Yitzhak, Kinewer Rabbi and Reb Berish from Piotrkow; the elders of the generation – Reb Yisroel from Linik, Reb Dovid Sanaker, Reb Hirsh Leib Minsker, Reb Moshe Chelemer from Warsaw, Reb Borukh Mordekhai Sokol from Brisk, Reb Lipe Lukower, Reb Yisroel Yitzhak from Lukower, Reb Yisroel Dovid from Lodz and Reb Nota Kaminski; the Anshei Biala [people of Biala] – Moyre-Hoyroe [rabbi competent to decide questions of religious law] Reb Moshe Utszen, Reb Yehezkiel Erlich, Reb Moshe der groyser [the large one], Reb Moshe der kleyner [the small one], Reb Ahron Slawatitszer, Reb Ahron Zilberberg, Reb Leibl Mednik, Reb Ruwin and Reb Yakov Szulman, Reb Chaim Liberman and Reb Yisroel Hofer.

Reb Nota, Reb Ahron Landau's father-in-law, would come to Biala every year to the joyful celebration. Once he did not have the money for expenses; he sold his cow and came. When he came the next year, he said that he never had such a blessed and prosperous year as the past year.

The joyful celebration began at night. Everyone would gather in the private house of prayer that was built in 5628 [1867] before the time of Rebbe Reb Berish (on Krzywa Street). The young men of the house of prayer would adorn the house of prayer with varied colored lanterns in which candles burned. The beautiful light spilled out of the 16 house of prayer windows and lit the entire area. After Maariv [evening prayers], they went together for an evening meal at my grandfather's house. Early in the morning, after Shakharis [morning prayers], they left the house of prayer for the cemetery to Reb Berish's ohel [monument over the grave of a prominent person]. Space in the ohel was scarce and a number of Hasidim and followers had to wait outside. The ohel was flooded with kvitlekh [notes to a Hasidic rebbe requesting a blessing]. After reciting Psalms and Kaddish [memorial prayer], they returned home and the sudes mitsvah [banquet held for a religious event] began.

(Taken from the preface to the book about his father, Reb Menakhem Mendl Landau, Shemesh u'Magen [Sun and Shield], written by Reb Yehiel Landau, a grandson of Reb Ahron Landau.)


Orginal footnote:

  1. At the left entrance in Reb Berish's courtyard on Krzywa Street was located his yeshiva [religious secondary school], (F. Gold, New York) Return

* * *

Translated by Libby Raichman

In the book “Tif'eret Yisrael”[1], Freeman, we read something about Reb Berish:

“The moderate Admor[2] from Varke, once visited the Admor of Kotzk, escorted by his student, the Admor of Biale. On the morning of the holy Sabbath, the Admor from Biale was invited to the Rabbi of Kotzk to drink coffee together with him, and the great scholars of Kotzk who spent time with their Rabbi at this hour. It was the custom of the Rabbi of Kotzk to debate matters of Halachah[3] at gatherings such as these, and mostly, regarding the Rambam[4]. And the Rabbi of Kotzk reviewed the well-known argument of Mishneh Lamelech (chapter 17, of the Halachah regarding the Rambam laws of the Sabbath). Why do we need a verse from the Torah “you shall bring”, to give special permission to allow salting meat on the Sabbath, when salting meat is not usually forbidden on the Sabbath? Those present provided an answer.

And you, young man, what is your view about this? – the Rabbi of Kotzk turned and asked the Admor of Biale. According to my understanding, it is not that difficult – he answered, - because the sacrifices of the sabbath were “burnt offerings” and the head was not flayed or cut, so it was salted with its skin, and salting hide is usually forbidden.

You see – the Rabbi of Kotzk turned to those around him – this is how you learn. (This means erudite)”.

On the death of Reb Berish, on 6th Tammuz 5636, corresponding to 16. 6. 1876, the following article was published in edition number 24, of the “Tzefirah”[5].

“In Mezritch (close to Biale), the past Sabbath, the 27th Sivan, was a dark, gloomy, overcast day for the Biale community that is near to us, for death was plucked from it, when the Rabbi, the Gaon[6], the righteous famous Rabbi, The Rabbi, Dov Berish Landau died, may the righteous memory of this man be blessed. He was the son of the Rabbi, the Gaon etc., The Rabbi, Avraham Landau, may the memory of this righteous man be blessed, of Tshechanova. In every town, in every place that this bad news reached, crowds of Chasidim gathered, and they came to the town of Biale the next day, to pay their last respects to their Rabbi; on that day he was brought to the cemetery with great honour. The most important of the Chasidim carried him on their shoulders. VaYerav b'vat Biale[7] - he increased in the daughter of Biale, pain and wailing. God will reward you who mourn him, with comfort, and be gracious to his ashes. – Y. N.


Translator's footnotes:

  1. “Tif'eret Yisrael” (Hebrew) – The glory of Israel. Return
  2. Admo"r – acronym for the Hebrew words adonaynu moraynu v'rabaynu – our master, our teacher, our Rabbi. A title given to a Chassidic Rabbi. Return
  3. Halachah – legal aspects of Jewish traditional literature. Return
  4. Ramba'm – acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon - Maimonides. Return
  5. Ha'Tzefirah – one of the first Hebrew newspapers of the 20th century. Return
  6. Gaon – a genius. A rabbinic title given to a scholar of great stature. Return
  7. The original text of this quotation is a verse from Lamentations 2:5 and reads: and he increased in the daughter of Judah. The author has replaced the word "Judah" with the word "Biale" so that it applies to the people of Biale in particular. Expl: Rabbi Yitzchok Javen, Fr. Return


Rebbe Ahron Landau

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

I spent approximately two years in the house of my grandfather, Reb Ahron Landau, before he became a rebbe. Here, I will describe several episodes that remain in my memory.

The image of my grandfather, who evoked reverence, stands before me even now. Mainly, I remember the time from erev-Shabbos [Sabbath eve] to motse-Shabbos [the close of the Sabbath] in his house. Shabbos to him was literally uniting with a yeseyre neshome [an additional soul]. His face shone like a godly angel, particularly when saying Sholem Aleikhem [peace upon you, said when greeting someone] and at kiddish [sanctification of the wine]. I am unable to describe the beauty and splendor of him sitting at the Shabbos table, his pleasant attitude while eating and drinking. His face smiled to everyone sitting around; he would speak with everyone, and always found pleasant words for everyone. His conversations always were interwoven with words of Torah. Following the blessing after eating, all of the children stood around him and he would distribute pumpkin seeds and sometimes nuts, as he sat and amused himself with us.

He rose in the morning and then as he went through the Shabbos day, he studied the Torah portion for the week, the Midrash [commentary] and the Zohar [Kabbalah]. While he prayed, he truly inspired everyone who stood in his presence.

The concluding evening meal motse-Shabbos was a time for oneself. My grandfather recited words of Torah and there was singing. The meal would last until the middle of the night.

My grandfather was called Reb Ahron Landau in the city without any nickname, as was customary in the Polish cities. Outside of Biala, he was known as Reb Ahrom Bialer.

He possessed a stately appearance. His weighed his words. He spoke gently, pleasantly and modestly to everyone, small and large. He had a gmiles-khesed [interest-free loan] fund, was involved with Hakhnoses Kale Society [society to help poor young brides] and was a hospitable man who had no equal. There was not a week that he did not have a poor guest with him in his house. He tended to make the bed himself for the guest. He was a member of the Khevra Kadishe [burial society] and would accompany the deceased [to their burial].

Both the most-esteemed in the city to the water carrier would come to seek advice from him. His modesty and love of his fellow Jews was apparent in all his ways and deeds.

He was a manufacturer-merchant. Reb Leibish Sauerimper, with the help of my grandmother, ran the business on Brisker Street honestly, trustworthily. My grandfather himself would make the purchases in Warsaw and Lodz. He would go to Warsaw on business matters. The news that Reb Ahron Bialer was coming quickly spread and people would gather from all strata to consult with him. One came for advice in business, another in family matters, a third to ask about his well-being and there were those who came because of curiosity. The door to our house, where he stayed, did not close for a second. People came and went to have had the merit of spending several minutes in the presence of Reb Ahron.

After the death of the Rebbe, the Yismakh Yisroel [he rejoiced in Israel], a great number of the Aleksander Hasidim, many followers of my grandfather and also those who had for a long time not had any connection to the Rebbe, crowned my grandfather, against his will, as their teacher and rebbe. The group of his Hasidim and followers grew from day to day. Every Tuesday a train left Warsaw for Biala with cars fully packed with my grandfather's Hasidim; they would sing the entire way. Various legends circulated during the short time of his rabbinate that were full of praise for him.

I heard from my uncle, Reb Vovtshe that my grandfather, Reb Ahron, during the time of his illness, when he lay in Otwock, said to his relatives:

– I assure you that I will get well, but provided that I am left to rest because I am not in a condition to carry such a burden.
His illness lasted seven weeks; he died on the second day of Shavous [holiday commemorating the receiving of Torah] 5670 [1910].

His death had a terrible impact in all circles [of Jewish society]. The then Warsaw Yiddish press wrote:

“The second day of Shavous 5670, the Rebbe, Reb Ahron Landau of Biala died. Warsaw had not seen such a large funeral in a long time. More than 50,000 men took part. Among them were the rabbis and rebbes from: Skierniewice, Amszinow [Mszczonów], Radzymin, Novominsk, Otwock, Sokołów, Ciechanow, Wengrod, Tomaszow, Kraznik and so on, as well as the entire Warsaw rabbinate.”

(Taken from the preface to the book about his father, Reb Menakhem Mendl Landau, Shemesh u'Magen [Sun and Shield], written by Reb Yehiel Landau, a grandson of Reb Ahron Landau.)


[Page 283]

Our master and Teacher
Rabbi Yitzchak Ya'acov Rabinowicz

Translated by Libby Raichman

He was born on the 14th Tevet 1847, the third son of the Admo”r[1] Rabbi Natan David of Shidlovetza, the grandson of the “The Holy Jew” from Pashischa, after whom he is named.

Chassidim say that the Adm”r of Shidlovetza during a Brit Milah, would look into the faces of the sons that had been born to him, to see if he should name them after his grandfather “Ha'Yehudi” [The exemplary Jew]. It was only after the birth of his third son, the Admo”r of Biala, that he found the child worthy of being called by this name.

While still in his childhood, he was recognized for his strength in Torah, and the sages, the Admor'rim of that generation, Rabbi Yechezkiel of Kozmir, Rabbi Chaim of Tzanz, and others, respected him greatly and said of him, that his future would be to enlighten the people of Israel with the light of Torah.

The righteous Rabbi Yehoshua'le of Ostrov, the author of “Toldot Adam” [The History of Man], the son of the righteous Rabbi Shlomo Leib of Lantzna, took him at a young age as a husband for his daughter. His father-in-law was also his Rabbi and leader in holiness, and the Admo”r of Biala, always saw himself as the faithful student of his father-in-law. His book “Yashrei Lev” was named after his father-in-law.

After the death of the Admo”r, Rabbi Yehoshua'le of Ostrov in 1872, his son-in-law, the young married man Rabbi Yitzchak Ya'akcov, had not yet reached the age of 30, yet the Chassidim of his father-in- law, chose him as their Rabbi and their leader. Rabbi Yitzchak Ya'acov refused to accept this great honor, until Rabbi Ya'acov Aryeh of Radzimin, of the elders of the great Amori”m of that generation, wrote to him saying that it was his duty to accept the leadership, because that is the Divine will. Only then, the Rabbi Yitzchak Ya'acov responded to their insistence and became their Rabbi and their leader.

While he was leader and Rabbi of thousands of Chassidim, it was his custom to travel to an elder of the most righteous of the generation, the holy preacher of Trisk who loved him very much. When the preacher was asked by his sons, why he favors the righteous man of Biala, more than all the righteous of the generation, he answered them: “they come to test me, and he comes to listen to me”.

The righteous Rabbis of the generation, the holy Rabbi Reb Yechiel of Alexander, the holy Rabbi Reb Ya'acov of Purisov, and others, admired him. The holy Gaon Reb Yechiel Meir of Gostinin, one of the great scholars of the Admo”r of Kotzk, despite his old age, visited him a few times and said: “If I had the strength, I would travel to this righteous man regularly”. Also the holy Rabbi Reb Yisrael of Pilov, the grandson of the Admo”r of Kotzk admired him, and said of him: “a sage who is superior to a prophet”.

His manner of worshipping God was inspired by an internal fire that warmed all those who approached him and visited him frequently. This was his weekly routine, and how much more so, on the Sabbath[2]. According to the stories of the Chassidic elders, his face was aglow on the Sabbath, with such intensity that it was difficult to countenance.

In the words of his son, the holy Rabbi Reb Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Lublin, in the introduction to the book “Yishrei Lev”, says, that his father's special feelings that he heard from him personally, regarding the holiness of the Sabbath, came to him, because he was born on the 11th of Tevet, the day that was recognized as the day that the famous epistle of the Sabbath, “The Epistle of Shabbat” was sent to the Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, and therefore, and as a result, he was honored with the celebration of the Sabbath. And he concludes, that from his father's words, he learnt that the roots of his soul are hewn from the holiness of the Sabbath. And also in his testament, he feels that his words of Torah that are specific to the Sabbath, will be printed for the first time “because of this I am sure, that the Lord will advocate honestly for me”.

The words of Torah of the Admo”r of Biala, are in part, gathered and printed in his book containing six sections, called “Words of Wisdom”, about the Torah and the festivals and matters dealing with the Sabbath “Yishrei Lev” [Honesty of Purpose].

His wonderful books that are absolute treasures of original ideas, and explanations of the sayings of the great Chassidim, from whose wells he drank, and from whose teachings he gleaned, and shared with others, in clearly articulated language, appropriate for every soul; and at times, he blends a deep theme into a few lines, in a poetic phrase, so that it will be understood by everyone. The basics of Chassidism are explained by him in a new light, and in his words, he presents the essence of Chassidism based on a solid foundation, such as the explanations of matters regarding travel for Chassidim, or the issues of setting the table, “leftovers”, and similar matters. Everything receives his full and proper explanation.

He was a fierce opponent of the “Enlightenment”, and at every opportunity, he appealed to his Chassidim to distance themselves from it. He struggled against heresy, without compromise, and some of the realities can be observed in the words that are written in his book “Yishrei Lev”; that “the war of Gog and Magog[3], is the heresy of God's providence, may he be blessed. That is the way of bringing, heaven forbid, the people of Israel to heresy by their learning the external wisdom of the heretics. In truth, every Jewish person therefore, needs to seek to be rescued from the snare, and as we see from the legacy of the Messiah, this spiritual impurity becomes stronger, and precious souls are ensnared by the study of external wisdom”. In his explanation of the song “Bnei Hechal”, he writes, that Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of blessed memory, amended the words, Bnei Hechal, saying, that at a third Sabbath meal nowadays, the essence of dining is meant to save us from Gog and Magog, that is the heresy in the customs of the Jewish people. And among our sages of blessed memory, and in this song, we say “they are cast out, they may not enter, these[4] insolent dogs” for they are the heretics and the infidels.

The righteous man of Biala became seriously ill at middle age and suffered greatly. With true devotion he went about his life, as usual, and continued to read Torah for many hours despite his severe suffering. He died in 1905, at only 58 years of age.

He left behind his four sons who continued the holy dynasty: Rabbi Natan David of Partzeva, Rabbi Meir Shlomo Yehuda Leib of Mezritsh, Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Lublin, and Rabbi Yerachmiel Tzvi of Shedllitz, and his two sons-in-law, Rabbi Aharon Menachem Mendl of Radzimin, and Rabbi Tzvi Kalish of Skarnovitz, who, at the end of his days, was the President of the Rabbinical court of Bnei-Brak.

When the heresy arose among the Jews of Europe, the evil axe was also raised on the house of Biala, many were killed in the terrible Holocaust. At the mercy of the Lord, his grandson, the holy Rabbi Yechiel Yehoshua, who led the Admori”m of Biala, survived, the son of his son, Rabbi Yerachmiel Tzvi. He continued the golden dynasty of the “Yehudi” [The Jew], the holy Rabbi Shlomo Leib of Lantzna, in the holy city of Jerusalem.


Translator's footnotes:

  1. Admo“r – stands for Adonaynu Moraynu and Rabaynu meaning, our Master, our Teacher and our Rabbi. It is the title of a Chassidic Rabbi. Return
  2. A joyous Chassidic gathering to celebrate the Shabbat. Return
  3. Armageddon Return
  4. Aramaic quote. “these” refer to forces of evil that are likened to insolent dogs. Return


[Page 284]

The Khevra Kadishe

Received from Alter Wajnberg and Asher Hofer

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

It is appropriate that the Khevra Kadishe [burial society] was founded right at the beginning of the Jewish community in Biala. From the treatise, Yidn in Biale [Jews in Biala] by Dr. Hendl, we know the facts about the activity of such a society a hundred years ago. Here we will add several facts about the Khevre Kadishe for the last 70-80 years, with as many facts, it should be understood, that we succeeded in receiving.

Alas, the activity of the society in the social area during the last tens of years of its existence was very backward compared to the activity of the society in the earlier generations. The least that the society did was distribute talisim [prayer shawls] to grooms for their weddings and it provided shrouds for the poor deceased.

The society had a pinkas [chronicle of the society], but no one had a reason to look into it. After long efforts, the historian Dr. M. Hendl barely prevailed in receiving permission to look at it.

Khol HaMoed Pesakh [during the intervening days of Passover], the gabbaim [sextons] of the society for the coming year were elected.

The Khevra Kadishe would gather for kiddush [blessing over the wine] and banquets: each Rosh Khodesh [celebration of the new month], the last day of Passover, Simkhas-Torah [holiday celebrating the completion of the yearly reading of the Torah and the start of the new yearly cycle of readings] and Lag b'Omer [holiday traditionally celebrating the end of a 2nd century plague]. However, the main banquet would be celebrated on the 5th of Kislev. On this day, the members would fast the entire day and assemble at night to recite penitential prayers for a pardon of their sins if they had not conducted themselves in keeping with Jewish law during a burial and, perhaps, they had, God forbid, given offense to the remains. A true banquet would take place after the penitential prayers. The active members would mainly take part in this banquet.

We will record the names of the gabbaim and members of the society during the last 70-80 years. Understand that the list is not complete.

Gabbaim: Moshe Tuvya Stolier, Moshe Bergsztajn, Yehoshua Hofer (Faya's [son]), Reb. Ahron Landau, Chaim Pesakh Farbiak, Tzemekh Tuchminc, Chaim Levi Rubinsztajn, Yisroel Openhajm (Itshke Shaya's [son]), Yoel Itsl Lerner (the Zeszencz[1]) and so on.

Members: Yisroel Wichnas, Reb. Menke, Moshe Hofer (Faya's [son]), Velvl Czito (called Velvl Doctor). Meir Korman, Zelig Hofer (Faya's [son]), Dovid Hofer (Faya's [son]), Yerakhmiel the soyfer [scribe], Yerakhmiel der kleiner [the small one], Yisroel (bricklayer) Wajnberg, Velvl Mas, Matisyahu Moshe Batszko, Borukh Dovid the shneider [tailor], Berl Batszko, Borukh Dovid the shneider, Berl Batszko, Uziel Fajnbaum, (Zisl the stolier [carpenter]), Moshe Malekh Zilberberg, Mendl Tokarski, Yoal Sztromwaser, Khanina Kaszemacker, Moshe Ahron Perl, Dovidl Geltman, Moshe Mordekhai Geltman, Yakov Shoykhet [ritual slaughterer], Idele Eidlsztajn, Dovtshe (Dovid) Kitie (nickname), Mendl Kitie (nickname), Dovid Potsztaruk, Yoel Gringlas (shamas [synagogue caretaker] at the house of prayer), Eliezer Libman, Chaim Libman, Chaim Yeshayahu the shamas, Kalman Rozenbaum, Yeheil Rozenbaum, Dovid Parcewer, Yehoshua Rubinsztajn, Shlomo Yosef Cukerman, Yoel Meir Hajblum (melamed [religious teacher]), Shlomo Chaim the melamed, Borukh Yankl Brodacz, Moshe Potsztoruk, Yerukhem Lajzerzon, Dovtshe Pesl's [son], Boez Lustigman, Yaker Kohan-Tzadek, Tsalke Openhajm (Itshke Shaya's [son]), Hershl Szajnberg, Motl Minc and so on.


Translator's footnote:

  1. It is uncertain if Zeszencz is a nickname, a toponymic name, an occupational name or something else. Return


The Cemeteries

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The cemeteries, which were located at the Brisker highway, were probably not the first in the city. As was the custom in the city, on Tisha B'av [ninth of Av, commemorating the destruction of the 1st and 2nd Temples in Jerusalem] important Jews would visit the graves of their parents in the Zofie Wald [Sophie's Woods], although in our time, there was no evidence that there were graves there.

At first, the cemetery at the Brisker highway extended over to the new market, but at the building of the Warsaw-Moscow highway, which ran through the new market and would cut the cemetery into two parts, they exhumed the bones of the corpses and brought them to the right side of the cemetery. The cemetery was fenced in with a brick wall in which was a stone with a Hebrew inscription that kohanim [members of the priestly class] should walk a distance of four cubits [ about 6 feet or 1.8 meters] from the fence. During the First World War, the Germans dismantled the brick wall.

More than 60 years ago, headstones could still be found there on which could be seen dates from 130-140 years earlier. Finding eternal rest at this cemetery was the sister of Shakh [Shabbatai HaKohen], who escaped from Chmielnicki's troops during the years 1647-1648 with her brother and on their way, they also stopped in Biala. (See: Yidn in Biale [Jews in Biala], chapter 6, “The Organized Jewish Community and the External World.”

After the brick wall was removed, they surrounded the cemetery with a wooden fence. The

[Page 285]

Christian population, however, would systematically disturb the fence around the cemetery and would drive their cattle and pigs there to graze. All interventions by the organized Jewish community had no success. During the last years before the Second World War, there was no longer any sign of the former cemetery.

The cemetery also suffered the same fate as the previous one on the Brisker highway. During the Second World War, it was destroyed by the Germans and later it was plowed and seeded.

After the Nazi occupation, the survivors exhumed the bones of the Jews who had been shot, who were buried in various places in the city and they buried them in a common grave at the destroyed cemetery. A memorial was erected on the common grave, which was dynamited by the Christians.

Received from Asher Hofer, Alter Wajnberg and according to the facts from the written testimony of Gedalyhu Braverman.

 

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