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More Bialystok Maskalim [followers of the Enlightenment]
Authors and Dignitaries

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Reb Yakov Borukh (BACHRACH)

Rebbe Yakov Borukh is the well-known author of the scientific books: Ha-yahas Liketar Ashuri [a], Ishtadalut im ShaDal[b] (Warsaw, 5656 [1896]), Avur Yekhezkel Yerakh Lamoadim [c] (Warsaw, 5657 [1897]), Hamasa Le Eretz haKodesh[d] (Warsaw, 5644 [1884]), Hagahut Laturim[e]. He was born in 5584 [1824] and died here in the year 5659 [1899]. Here he compiled his books. He was a grandson of the Rabbi and Gaon [Torah genius], Reb Yehuda Borukh, Rabbinical Court Chairman in Sejny, the author of Nimukey haGri”B[f] on the Talmud and Mishnius [commentaries on the Talmud].


Yeruchem-Fishl SZNEIDER (or Yeruchem-Fishl MERCHAVYA)[1*]

Yerucham-Fishl SZNEIDER is a Bialystok native. He was the author of Kortov Philosophiya Orginalit[g] Drohobice, 5658 [1898]), Perush Mishley Shlomo[h], Perush Diverey Kohelet[i] (Warsaw, 5664 [1904]), Mishley Reb Levi bar [son of] Khama[j] (Hotza'at Everiya Publishing, Warsaw, 5690 [1930]), in Beis Medrash Khodesh, in HaTzefira [The Siren - Hebrew daily in Pale of Settlement] and in haKetuvim [The Writings – the third section of the Tanakh]. He settled in Eretz-Yisroel.


Avraham ber Nisan SCHAPIRO

Avraham ber Nisan was born here in Bialystok and was a merchant and manufacturer here. He translated a book by Prof. Karl Reklem about children's hygiene, Netivot Chayim Lefi Derech haRefua'ah, [The Paths of Life, According to the Ways of Medicine] from German into Hebrew (Warsaw, 5647 [1887]). He wrote Toldot Yisroel veSafruto [History of Israel and Its Literature], part 1, (5652 [1892]) and Toldot Yisroel [History of Israel], part 2 (Bialystok, 5681 [1921]). This work has a very limited significance.


Yehiel Mikhail ZABLUDOWSKI

Reb Yehiel Mikhail ZABLUDOWSKI, a son of Haim ZABLUDOWSKI and the brother of the rich man, Itshe ZABLUDOWSKI, was the first Bialystoker who was learned in Hebrew.

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He was called Khinke's Mikhale here [in Bialystok][2*]. He was the pharmacist in the pharmacy that is still found on the corner of Sienkiewicze and Pilsudski Streets. He owned the Rogowe house, the location of the pharmacy, and the square with the brick wall following it. He wrote the books, Ru'ach Chayim [The Spirit of Life], (including commentaries on the Babylonian Talmud) (Vilna, 5633 [1873]), Mish'an Mayim [The Support of Water][22] (Vilna, 5629 [1869]). The last two books explore Hagadus [tales] and Midrashim [body of post Talmudic literature] and explore their Latin and Greek words.

He also wrote scientific tractates for HaKarmel [The Carmel]. His three books were earlier printed there in the years 5621, 5622 and 5623 [1861, 1862 and 1863].

He was very prominent in the city and a philanthropist. Eliezer HALBERSZTAM wrote about him (in his Aley Higayon Vechinor[3*], page 97): “Yehiel had within him a reservoir in which were gathered faith, wisdom and a gentle spirit.”

The form on his headstone is thus: The wise rabbi, a man of charity and compassion, with a sharp eye, our honored teacher Reb Yehiel Mikhail son of Reb Haim ZLABUDOWSKI, may the memory of the righteous be blessed. Wholesome piety, compassion, goodness and mercy, integrity and a sense of justice, pure faith – who has gathered all these in his delicate soul? (His writings): Ru'ach Chayim – [The Spirit of Life], Bemey Michal [In the Waters of Mikhail], Mish'an Mayim [The Support of Water]. With many legends and commentaries he enlightened our eyes; on his right he kept the banner of the Torah and on his left the candle of Science. He scattered his fortune among the poor and the humble and cared for the needy with justice. He named his people 'a jewel', his community 'a crown', the ZLABUDOWSKI family 'a flawless splendor'. He left three thousand for the poor. This memorial is erected for the man who shall rest in peace here in his grave; he was born on 22 Tevet 5564 [6 January 1804], died on 1 Kislev 5635 [10 November 1874]. May his soul be bound in the bond of the living.



Of Yehiel-Mikhail's three sons – Feywl, Yisroel WOROSZILER and Dodie – the last was considered one of the most beloved Jews. He was good with languages and also a legal scholar. He spent a long time in Paris in order to lead a vast inheritance investigation for Buez RABINOWICZ, a rich Bobruisker man, for him to collect his legacy from his convert grandfather, which he also accomplished. He was also a great community leader and advisor for everyone here. He was also beloved by Reb Lipele. He traveled to Petersburg and achieved the liberation of Reb Lipele from arrest in Grodno.

At his death, HALBERSZTAM wrote:

“They bitterly cry out at their loss
In him Torah and wisdom came together
In him religion and intelligence met
And many sought his advice and common sense
He knew the Lord's telling power
In his way of life
There was no distortion
A real man among others
One in a million.”
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The form on his headstone is thus: This is the tomb of the great and wise scholar. The previous generation proclaimed his virtues and righteousness, this generation proclaims his praise and fame; his great wisdom earned him a good name, and he shall live eternally in Heaven.[4*][23] He is praised for his good name and splendor, and respected by all the people of the town, honored in wisdom, knowledgeable in language, our master and teacher David son of the Rabbi Reb Yehiel Mikhail ZABLUDOWSKI, died on Sunday 22 Tevet 5645 [9 January 1845].



Reb Haim WITKIND was a son-in-law of the local, respected merchant and member of the middle class, Reb Meir Elihu ZILBERBLAT, who was himself the son-in-law of the “Crown Head,” the Szerszewer [Chorzow] Rabbi. Reb Haim WITKIND was a shopkeeper all of his life. The main shopkeeper was his distinguished wife. Reb Haim was a Hebrew writer and a scientist, mainly of Midrashim and Agadot [Legends], may his name be blessed. He wrote reports and articles in the Hebrew newspapers. He published his Kevutsat Mikhtavim vaMishle Musar [Collections of Letters, Songs and Moral Proverbs] anonymously in 5633 [1873], which was distributed widely. After his death his Tzeror Michetavim [Bundle of Letters] was published[24] (Bialystok, 5674 [1914]).

However, he left a manuscript of his main work, which was his philosophy and new ideas on Midrashim, Sifra [commentary on Leviticus], Sifre [commentary on Numbers and Deuteronomy] and Mishnah [compilation of the Oral Torah], that at the time of the (First World) War was burned by his son in Lodz. This was a great pity.

He himself wrote about the worth of his speculation in his Tzeror Michetavim (pages 8 and 61): “I have a giant treatise of 190 sheets of paper on the Talmud Babylonian, Jerusalem, Sifra, Sifre, Mekhilta [commentary on the biblical books of Exodus and Deuteronomy], and Midrashim with a thousand ideas of [Shulchan] Aruch [Code of Jewish Law], Rashi, Tousefes [Supplements and additions – 12th to 14th century commentaries on Talmud], Ramban, ha-Rash m-Sens [Shimshon ben Abraham of Sens, a 13th century Talmudist], and the Vilna Gaon. I worked on this for 30 years and I am sure that when it would be published it would startle the entire rabbinical world. They would descend from their armchairs and would throw away their lawsuits and streimlekh [wide-brimmed fur Hassidic hats]; they would be astonished and acknowledge that their entire work in the field of Talmud had no worth.[25] I would even belittle him, meeting him in the Ohel Moshe [Tent of Moses], and I

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would bounce many of his innovations off him, but then, a number of them had scholarly worth. He was eccentric only in speaking and writing, and that was how we saw him.[26] However, he was a fine, ancient Maskhil [follower of the Enlightenment] and also a researcher.[27]


Menakhem-Mendl DOLITZKI

The well-known Hebrew poet and writer Menakhem-Mendl DOLITZKI was born in Bialystok in 1856. His father was the shoykhet [ritual slaughterer], Welwl. He became famous as a Hebrew poet with his first poem, Likuy Shnei Hameorot [The Eclipse of the Two Lights, in HaShahar [Dawn], in 1878 and in a separate edition in 1874 with Zionist songs – Al Chorvot Tzion [On the Ruins of Zion] , Veyaboshot Khanun [Gracious, Dry Land], Im Eshkachech [If I Forget Thee], Hayekar Vehanetzach [ Glory and Eternity], La'evel Kinori [My Harp is for Mourning], Shir Galut [Song of Exile]. He became a Hovevei Zion poet through these songs.

He also published literary writings: Betoch Leva'im [Among Lions – from Psalm 57:5] (1884), Mi-bayit um-i-Huts [From Inside and Outside] (1891), and a Hebrew letter guide, Shevet Sofer [Pen of the Scribe] (Vienna, 5643 [1883]).

He left Moscow, where he was a teacher of Hebrew for a time, for America where he dedicated himself to writing Yiddish novels in the Morgn Zhurnal [Morning Journal] because of the need to earn a living. It was hoped that he would become a great Hebrew poet. He died in America in 1931.


Yitzhak-Shlomo FUKS

Yitzhak-Shlomo FUKS was born in Bialystok in 1862. He was raised in Bialystok by his father Avraham FUKS who was known in the city as the Bodker Melamed, who was a great Biblical scholar and Hebrew grammarian. Later, Yitzhak-Shlomo studied abroad and became a Yiddish researcher. In 1893-1894, he edited the HaShakhar, a scientific monthly. He published a book in German – Die Bedeutung der Hebräischen Sprache für das Judentum [The Significance of the Hebrew Language for Jewry]

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(1887). He translated the book Ha-avdut [The Slavery] of the Parisian Rabbi Tzadek Kohan from French to Hebrew with his observations. He, also, translated LEWATER's letter to MENDELSSOHN.


Jakov-Shmuel FUKS

A brother of Dr. Yitzhak-Shlomo FUKS, Jakov-Shmuel FUKS was a Hebrew language journalist. He was born in Bialystok at the beginning of the 1870's. He edited haMagid [The Preacher or Narrator – Hebrew publication in the Pale of Settlement] from 1892 to 1898 (a weekly), and with Dr. A. GUNZIG the collections of ha-Eshkol [The Cluster] (1898-1912).


  1. History of the Assyrian Script Return
  2. An Engagement with ShaDal Return
  3. For Yekhezkel Concerning the Custom of Establishing the Months and Holidays According to the Moon Return
  4. The Journey to the Holy Land Return
  5. Corrections to the Turim [Pillars of Jewish law compiled by Rabbi Yakov Ben Asher] Return
  6. Reasons of the Gaon (genius), Rabbi Yakov BACHRACH – haGri”B is an acronym of his name Return
  7. A Bit of Original Philosophy Return
  8. Interpretation of Solomon's Book of Proverbs Return
  9. Interpretation of the Book of Kohelet Return
  10. Proverbs of Rabbi Levi bar Khama Return
  1. There is a letter to him in the letters of the Hebrew poet, Y. L. GORDON [Yehuda Leib GORDON, 1829-1892] (Volume 1, pages 135-138). Y. L. GORDON thanks him there for his book, Mish'an Mayim [Foundation of Water] and writes a neutral, scholarly critique. However, he places high value on the book. Return
  2. How can such a trunk as Yehiel-Mikhail Zabludowski wither, when his branch is still so fresh! Return
  3. His exchange with his brother's son in France in Tzeror Michetavim is interesting. The other one received a freer education in relation to Tanakh, in Biblical criticism. The other one denied Mosaic Law completely and all religious traditions. However, Haim WITKIND, a pious follower of the Enlightenment, intervened in his letter to reclaim him with his pious half scientific answers. But each retained his own views. The Tzeror Michetavim mentions many matters about the group, Hovevei Zion [Lovers of Zion – a national Jewish movement in Russia at the end of the 19th century; also known as Hibat-Zion], of which he was one of its warmest members here. He also wrote articles favoring Khibes-Zion in the Hebrew newspapers. He also published his discussions with Rabbi Meir-Shimkhah KOHAN about Hibat-Zion; they both prayed and studied in the Gemiles-Khesed Beis-Medrash. But Reb Meir-Shimkhah later became a member of Mizrakhi [religious Zionist organization] in Dvinsk. Return
  4. All of the Rabbis and Gaonim, apparently only in merit of the Torah, resisted the burning of this manuscript. Return
  5. As a young man, an ambitious person, I once played a trick on him: I knew that Reb Shmuel MOHILEWER was an opponent of all critical innovations in Tanakh and Talmud. I told him that Haim WITKIND, who was a supporter of Hovevei-Zion, and was his frequent visitor, said that from the Rabbeinu Hai Gaon [Hai ben Sherira, a medieval 11th century Jewish rabbi and scholar] to him no one understood the Mishnah. When WITKIND came to visit him, Reb Shmuel MOHILEWER said to him: “I heard that you are a great Torah innovator; tell me something of them.” He told him (most likely one of his best things). Having heard it, Reb Shmuel said: “These are innovations characteristic of a badkhn [wedding entertainer who recites rhymes]. You should not occupy yourself with such foolishness.” Return
  6. His commentaries on Midrash Rabbah were brought together with the volume of Torah commentaries of Reb Ahron Kronenberg and the Likutim [compilations] and Hosafos [supplements] to the book Behirat Avraham [Choice of Abraham] (Vilna, 5632[1872]). Return

Translator's Footnotes

  1. MERCHAVYA is a surname derived from the Hebrew word Merhaviya, which means God's space.Return
  2. Mikhale was either the son or husband of Khinke Return
  3. Upon a Ten-Stringed Instrument - The title is taken from Psalm 92, chapter 4: “Upon a ten-stringed instrument and upon a lyre, with singing accompanied by a harp.” Return
  4. The text at this point contains a question mark (?), which could indicate that the inscription on the headstone was difficult to read. Dodie is a diminutive of David. Return

י    J


Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

We are now going to [discuss] several personalities who were connected to the Enlightenment in Bialystok, but whose main activities went beyond the city or the area. The best known such maskil [follower of the Enlightenment] was Chaim-Zelig SLONIMSKI. It can be said that this enterprising maskil, born in Bialystok, had an international stature.

He was born on the 21st of Adar 5570 ([25th of February] 1810) to his father, Rabbi Yakov bar [son of] Benyamin BISZKE, a Jew, a teacher who was called Rabbi Yankele SLONIMER [from Slonim], because he came from Slonim (he is buried here [in Bialystok] at the old cemetery among the rabbis). Here he was a son-in-law of Rabbi Yehiel NECHES. Thus, Chaim-Zelig SLONIMSKI was a grandson of Yehiel NECHES.

Reb Yankele SLONIMER had three sons. The oldest was Chaim-Zelig, the second son was Avraham, a textile manufacuturer, and the third was Yona, who had a glass shop. Reb Yankele also had a daughter, Zimke, the wife of Leibl YANOWSKI. As his family said, Chaim-Zelig SLONIMSKI visited the grave of his father every year during the month of Elul.

The wording of Rebbe Yankele SLONIMER's headstone (a flat stone) at the local old cemetery is as follows: Here is buried an honest and righteous man, God-fearing and full of virtues, the exemplary Torah scholar, Reb Yakov son of Reb Binyamin BISZKE, 23 Av 5591 [2 August 1831]. May his soul be bound in the bond of the living.

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Reb Yankele SLONIMER is mentioned in the Pinkas [community record book] for the old house of prayer on Shushan Purim 5566 [5th of March 1806] as a member of Ner Tamid [Eternal Light Society – for the maintenance of the synagogue], a deposit for being the bal-kura [person reading the Torah during services] in the house of prayer for his entire life without payment, in addition to Megilah money [charity given on the morning of Purim]. He is considered one of the three chief gabbaim [sextons] for Khol HaMoed Pesakh [intervening days of Passover], 5571 [1810]; later, he was also a consistent member and one of the auditors of the gemiles khesed [interest free loan fund].

Chaim-Zelig SLONIMSKI was, as is known, a grandson of Reb Yehiel NECHES, the owner of the well-known house of prayer in the Jewish neighborhood that carried his name. Chaim-Zelig studied there with the “Pithei Teshavuh” [Avraham Hirsh EISENSTADT author of an index to responsa, Pithei Teshavuh Open Doors to Repentance.], but he had more of an inclination to mathematics and the natural sciences and he devoted himself to them all his life. At the beginning he only studied handasa (that is, geometry, also mathematics in general) from Hebrew sources, from Elim [Palms] by Joseph Solomon DELMEDIGO, from Tekunat ha-Shamayim [About Astronomy and Calendar-Making] by Raphael HANOVER, from Shevilei de-Rakia [about geometry, trigonometry and astronomy] by Reb Eliyahu HENES, Naveh Kodesh [The Splendor of Holiness] y Reb Shimeon WALTSCH, a commentary on Kiddish Hakhodesh [Sanctification of the Month] by Rambam. Later he completed his training in the German language with the help of Mikhl ZABLUDOWSKI. Mikhl ZABLUDOWSKI warmly befriended him and saved scientific books in German for him, which SLONIMSKI studied with great diligence in secret before [going to the] house of prayer.

As Chaim-Zelig SLONIMSKI married his first wife in Zabłudów [Poland], he wrote his first scientific work there about mathematics in Hebrew, Mosede Hokmah [On the Principles of Mathematics], which was published in Vilna in 5593 [1832] with the support of a patron, Moshe ROZENTAL, and with a recommendation by Reb Abli (Abele) POSWOLER. After this his friend, Reb Avraham ZAKHEIM, published at his own expense in Vilna, 5595 [1834], his book Kokhva de-Shavit [Comet] which was then the question of the day because they were awaiting the appearance of Haley's Comet. In 5595 [1834] he published his book Toledot ha-Shamayim [The History of the Skies] in Warsaw. He published his Yesodei ha-Ibbur [The Book of Intercalation – timekeeping] in Warsaw in 5612 [1852] and republished it with supplements in Zhytomyr in 5621 [1860]. This was also translated into German and English. SLONIMSKI published his book, Yesodei Hakhmat ha-Shiur [Foundations of the Science of Calculation] in Zhytomyr in 5622 [1861].

In 1844 SLONIMSKI created a calculator and received an Imperial Academy prize of 2,500 rubles. According to a motion by the Education Minister Suvorov he received the title Pochetnyy Grazhdanin [Honored Citizen]. He sold the machine in England for 400 pounds Sterling. Visiting Berlin in 1844, he became acquainted with the great, educated Germans, such as IDELER, JACOBY and the like; during his second visit in 1858 he became acquainted with Aleksander VON HUMBOLDT, who presented him to the Prussian King. Then

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he published his book Ot Zikaron le-Aleksander fon Humbold [A Memory Marker Memories for Aleksander von Humboldt, the History of His Life and His Travels to Paris] in Berlin. The book was published at the expense of the Berlin Jewish Parnasim [trustees]. In 1856 SLONIMSKI discovered how to send four telegrams at once through an electrical current.

In 5622 (1862) Chaim-Zelig SLONIMSKI began to publish HaTzefira [The Dawn] as a weekly to enable him to spread natural science and mathematics though it. However, meanwhile, as [Yakov] EICHENBAUM had died, he was elected in his place as headmaster in the Zhytomyr Rabbinical School. He also became the censor. He could no longer publish HaTzefira. Twelve years later, when the rabbinical school was closed, he again began to publish HaTzefira in Berlin as a weekly newspaper because he did not receive permission to do so in Russia. However, when he finally received permission, he published HaTzefira in Warsaw. Later, it became a daily newspaper with Nakhum SOKOLOW as the main coworker.

Chaim-Zelig SLONIMSKI published his book, Mezi'ut Ha-Nefesh ve-Kiyyumah Huz la-Guf [The Existence of the Soul and Its Survival Outside the Body] in Warsaw, 5640 [1879][5*] and in 1860 his Mamari Khokhma [Words of Wisdom], part 1 and 2, a collection of his essays that were published in HaTzefira. He died in Warsaw in 1904. He inherited his longevity from his grandfather, Yehiel NECHES, who also lived to be 95.[29]

In HaTzefira 5640 [1879] the 13rd of Tishrei, number 37, Chaim-Zelig SLONIMSKI tells about his study in his grandfather's house of prayer of the gemara [rabbinical commentary], post-Talmudic commentaries, Rishonim [earlier Talmudic commentators] and Akharonim [later Talmudic commentators]. There, he also befriended an old man, Reb Moshe, who was a Kabbalist and devoted himself only to the books of the Kabbalah in whose margins he would write his observations and commentaries. Still today the same Kabbalah books are found in the house of prayer, with Reb Moshe's written observations and commentaries. When Chaim-Zelig came to Zabludow at 17 to get married, he met a great Kabbalist in the house of prayer, who was renowned and a miracle worker. The young man relied on him completely to perfect [his knowledge of] Kabbalah, but the miracle worker soon died. Earlier he had become acquainted with Rambam's Moreh Nevukhim [The Guide for the Perplexed], which led him into Jewish philosophy.

Chaim-Zelig SLONIMSKI was a great phenomenon for Russian-Polish Jews. He made a great impression on all of the house of prayer young, Jewish men, with his scientific books in Hebrew that were

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written with a modern, distinctive, popular Hebrew style. He awoke in them a drive for exact knowledge. He was called “the Jewish Humboldt.”

He also awoke interest among Jewish scholars with his research about the Jewish chronological system. In his book, Yesodei ha-Ibbur (page 52) and in Frankel's Monthly, 1865, he attempted to show that the order of intercalation according to the central calculations that we use were initiated after the Babylonian Talmud, which the era of Rav Abba [Akria] did not know about. The well-known Jewish scholars, PINELES, SZWARC, A. EPSZTAJN and, finally, Chaim BORNSZTAJN, argued about him. There was a 30-year war, from 5600 to 5631 [1839-1870]. Chaim-Zelig SLONIMSKI also had many opponents from Hebrew literature, at the head of which stood Gabriel-Yehuda LICHTENFELD, [Leon] PERETZ's father-in-law, a good mathematician who also wrote a mathematics book in Hebrew. He strove in his sharp, biting polemic against him in his Hebrew brochures, Tzofnat Pa'neach [Revealer of Mysteries], Tosafot le-Erowem [Additions to the Pledge] and Kohen Lelo Elohim [A Priest to the Non-God – from 2 Chronicles 13:9 – a book of mathematical criticisms] to completely dismiss him as a researcher and inventor. Nakhum SOKOLOW, who was educated and became well-known through his HaTzefira where he had earlier been a co-worker and later his partner and heir, and because of this, great friction arose between them – also tried to lessen his [SLONIMSKI's] literary-scientific worth in the essay about him and his book, Ishim [Personalities] (second part, Tel Aviv, 5605, pages 72-91).

However, Chaim-Zelig SLONIMSKI and his book Me?i'ut ha-Nefesh [The Immortality of the Soul] drew all the pious Jews to him. He considered himself, based on his way of life, one of their class. He would be in contact with rabbis and honor them. Still later, their opinion of him decreased greatly because his earlier article, “What is Chanukah?, in HaTzefira. The article evoked a great dispute among them about him.

The followers of the Enlightenment again considered him a hypocrite[30] and if a man should be judged by his children – so it is. Almost all of his

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children from his second wife, the daughter of Avraham SZTERN, the well-known Jewish mathematician in Warsaw, converted. One of his grandchildren is today a well-known Polish man of letters. SLONIMSKI also was an opponent of the then Jewish followers and writers of the Enlightenment,[31] and also was an opponent of the then arising Hibbat Zion [Lovers of Zion] movement.


  1. See also pages 77-79 in Nakhum SOKOLOW's Sefer Zikhron [Memoir], Warsaw, 5649 [1888] and in the Russian-Jewish Encyclopaedia. Return
  2. Reb Eliezar ATLAS told me about Dr. [Yehuda Leib] KANTOR (the famous doctor-publisher of Ha-Yom [The Day]) that when [KANTOR] was a student in Berlin and SLONIMSKI published HaTzefira, he was a co-worker and writer of the feature articles. KANTOR was a clown by nature and he knew that C.Z. SLONIMSKI was a pious Jew like HILDESHEIMER, and that now SLONIMSKI was awaiting his opponent. On the morning of Shabbos [Sabbath] KANTOR saw through the window that HILDESHEIMER was walking in a top hat after his early morning prayers and had turned toward his [SLONIMSKI's] apartment. He [Kantor] quickly stuck a lighted cigar in SLONIMSKI's mouth and [SLONIMSKI], who had forgotten about Shabbos, smoked it. At that moment HILDESHEIMER knocked lightly on the door (because one is not supposed to ring a bell on Shabbos). KANTOR opened it immediately. Entering, HILDSHEIMER found SLONIMSKI with the cigar in his mouth, and he shouted: “Oh, are you a sinful Jew! – And he ran out. Return
  3. While still in Warsaw I did not know the Jewish writers and followers of the Enlightenment, but when I once sat with my relative, Reb Zev YEBTZ (in 5638 [1877]), C.Z.S. [Chaim Zelig SLONIMSKI] came in for a visit and sat with Reb Mikhl PINS, YEBTZ's brother-in-law, who was then staying with him, traveling to Jerusalem to his post at Mukhtar Moshe. C.Z.S. rejected PINS who had sent him an enlightened Jew and writer with his recommendation and who had asked him [SLONIMSKI] to show him how he could produce a certain technical mechanism. “I immediately grasped,” said C.Z.S., “that his purpose was to counterfeit a 'boiling clock' in a goralnja (alcohol burner). I answered him that it is a sham for a Jew, a follower of the Enlightenment, to be employed with criminal things![6*] In my eyes the followers of the Enlightenment are suspect of [committing] robbery, incest and bloodshed.” The followers of the Enlightenment in Russia and Poland at that time who left the houses of prayer and became their opponents were truly mostly immoral people, but his verdict was too strong. He would therefore sign his anonymous essays, “An old man from the old house of study.” Return

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The date given in other sources for the publication of this book is 1852. Return
  2. The reference to a “boiling clock,” which contains a timepiece, a kettle and an alcohol stove using many gears and levers, appears to be a device to help circumvent some Shabbos prohibitions. Return

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י”ג    M

Assimilation in Bialystok

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

The Haskalah [Enlightenment] movement, which bestowed the Choir Synagogue and all of the writers of the Enlightenment, educated people – Bialystok born and new arrivals – and later also the extensive and widespread Russian People's Schools, middle schools, gymnazies [secondary schools], did not lead to any assimilation here in Bialystok in the direct and full sense, with its terrible consequences for the further existence of Jewry, as happened in other large cities.

In the 19th Century, Dr. ZOMER in his book, Das Judentum [Jewry], says that according to the communications of the Synod 58,582 Jews in Russia converted to Christianity during the 60 years from 1837 to 1897. During the course of the entire 19th Century 69,400 Jews in Russia converted.

When I arrived here, I met only one assimilated family and this was the family of Dr. ZILBERBERG, a Jewish Gorodski Vrats [town doctor], who would drive to the Choir Synagogue only on Yom Kippur for Haskores-reshomes [prayer for those who have died, said on religious holidays]. His two sons-in-law, the popular town doctors, Dr. TRILING and Dr. FARSZTATER, would stand apart from the community and not take part in religious and national life (Dr. FARSZTATER did not have any children and Dr. TRILING's children converted – outside of Bialystok). The second assimilated family was that of the apothecary, WILBUSZEWICZ, but the old apothecary himself was a co-founder and member of the Choir Synagogue and a communal worker.

The only convert among the Bialystok-born Jews was Dr. SHMERL HAJLPERN, the son of HESHL MIEDALSZCZIK, but he also was not much of a convert. He behaved as a Jew; he would speak only Yiddish and only live among and with Jews. He was a visitor of Reb LIPELE, was his doctor and was his intimate. Once leaving the rabbi, he met a girl who was going to the rabbi with a question. He asked her to tell him the question. He thought and said: “Kosher.” Upon arriving at home, the girl said what the rabbi had said. She wondered why the rabbi was wearing a short jacket [pious men wore long coats], although he was wearing a shtreiml (fur hat) on his head. The master of the house understood that something was not correct. He himself went to the rabbi and told him the story. Reb LIPELE understood that this was SHMERL's quiet work, although the question was truly a kosher one.

This SHMERL would recite Torah. He was a follower of water healing (hydrotherapy). He would say to his patients: “And the Divine Presence

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hovered upon the surface of the waters.” (Genesis, 1-2). He once came to Reb LIPELE to wish the rabbi a gut yom-tov [good holiday] on the first day of Succous [the Feast of Tabernacles] after praying, with all of the respected middle class, as was then the custom. He noticed that several upstart rich men were sitting at the table. He asked the rabbi a question: “Why had they instituted the reciting of memorial prayers for the dead on the holidays in a season of our gladness [designation for Succous] and inevitably disturbed the joy? Reb LIPELE answered: “Well! You say so.” He said: “Because on a holiday, those upstart rich men from lower strata dress up and take pride in their richness; we have the memorial prayer for the dead so that they will remember from where they came.”

The legend says that he was quietly given – at his request after his death – a Jewish burial.

During all of that time until today, according to my memory, only six to eight girls in Bialystok converted in order to marry non-Jews “because of love” (and, perhaps because of material interests) and, except for perhaps two, they became estranged from their families. In Bialystok, there are no converted men, even Jews with gentile wives, except for a numbered few[34], until today. There were cases of conversion in a few poor families: a certain cobbler, a shoemaker and a poor carpenter – and a few intelligent, very poor families at that time converted in Bialystok because of hunger and need. They were fooled by HORODISZCZ, the apostate missionary, (not a Bialystoker), who founded a trade house here of missionaries. He built a beautiful Baptist temple for the purpose with a philanthropic institution to support only poor Jews with food products and medical help by a son-in-law, who was a convert and a doctor. He had large sums of money in his possession that he received from English missionaries for this purpose. In addition he agitated in Bialystok and all of Poland through couriers, brochures and money in order to enlist converts However, his work was useless; the small “percent” that his business carried were certainly not worth the great cost to him, despite the fact that the owner and leader of the soul trade did good business – for himself. Here the converts, fabricated by the inferior missionary

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trade, cannot count as a result of assimilation, but of hunger, need and money interests.

True, before the war a small circle was formed here of the diploma-holding and moneyed assimilated intelligentsia, who fought the national and Zionist movement in Bialystok. They stood apart from the Jewish religious life. They founded their own daily Russian newspaper. They also were not earnestly, actively assimilated. Only because of unconscious chance and because of their education in foreign literature and ideas were they estranged from Yiddishkeit [the Jewish way of life], but in essence they were good, devoted Jews. For the most part they worked with and took part in money levies of all of the philanthropic and cultural institutions. They lived among and with Jews. No converts came from their families in Bialystok. Today almost all of them contribute to the Keren HaYesod [central financial fund of the Zionist movement].

One exception at the end of the last century (18th century) here was DOWID CHWOLES, director of the Vilna Bank and, later, of the Riga Commerce Bank. He, himself, was from Vilna and graduated from the rabbinical school there. He was a teacher at the beginning and, later, through patronage, he became the director of the Vilna Commerce Bank in Bialystok. As a bank director he was one of the influential people. His bank was the main force for progress in local trade and industrial life. However, he was considered outside of society in the Jewish kehile because he authored two Russian brochures to show the destructiveness of the Jewish religion for the Jewish people and he blamed it for all of the Jewish troubles. He dedicated these two brochures: The Pathological Side of the Jewish Question and The Nature of the Jewish Question to the Provoslavno Archmandrite [supervisor of abbots] of the Suprasler monastery. With this he showed his traitorous character to the Jewish people and to Jewry.

Usually the Jewish newspapers of that time, such as HaMelitz [The Advocate] and Voskhod [Dawn] and even the general Russian Petersburg daily newspaper, the Galos, considered his brochures as lampoons against Jewry and stamped him as an enemy of the Jews[35], but in Bialystok itself he made no impression with his brochures.

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Theoretically he was assimilated, but actually he would pray in the Choir Synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and religious holidays like all Jews, and on Yom Kippur he would buy the Maftir Jonah [last part of the Torah reading on Yom Kippur] for the afternoon service and would eagerly read the Haftorah [supplemental reading from the Prophets]. He would also celebrate the Passover Sedorim [plural of Seder – the traditional Passover dinner ritual describing the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt] and deliciously recite the Hagadah [text used for the Seder] like all Jews and he had no influence over his assimilated sons-in-law even in his own family, who remained devoted Jews. His son, L. D. CHWOLES, was one of the good community workers here in the Jewish institutions[36]. DOVID CHWOLES died here in 1906[37].

The answer to the question, why did the assimilated here not bring the bad practical results as in other large cities in Poland, is simple: until the [First World] War, Bialystok always was two-thirds Jewish, that they were the tone setters and predominant force in its trade and its industry, and the intelligentsia with diplomas were also Jewish. The Christian third of the residents consisted of Russian officials, bribe takers, who lived off the Jews, of Polish and German workers, a few simple petit bourgeois and several intelligent German manufactures. Jewish society was always the active constructive part of the population and had inevitably built a separate, creative society for themselves: a male convert, a female convert was always hated by society, ejected from it.


  1. Let us here remember one, a certain GRADZIENSKI, who was a Provo-Slavner [Russian Orthodox]. His sister also converted and married a Russian officer. A brother, who remained here alone and poor and was ashamed of such a family, took his own life.

    Of the rich men, ITSHE ZABLUDOWSKI's family converted; a son and daughter of DOVID BEN [son of] MEIR ZABLIDOWSKI, that is, the rich man's two great grandchildren. Return

  2. Reb SHMUEL-JOSEF of Vilna (who was one of the four gabbaim [persons assisting in the running of a synagogue] of the Hovevei Zion[Lovers of Zion] after the Katowice meeting, came here to Rabbi SHMUEL MAHILEWER for a meeting about Hovevei Zion matters, among them Petar Tikvah, which were very bad then. Because of this, a colonist, a courier for the colony, an educated Hungarian Jew named YEHOSHAYA SZTAMPFER, came to Bialystok. We, the representatives of Hovevei Zion, DR. CHAZANOWICZ, YAKUB WOLF and I, went with SZTAMPFER to visit Reb SHMUEL-JOSEF FIN, who was staying with the apothecary WILBUSZEWICZ, his close relative. SZTAMPFER began to explain the situation of the Eretz-Yisroel population in general and Petar Tikvah in particular, when CHWOLES came to visit his former teacher. He sat down among us. He sat as if on hot coals, having to listen to SZTAMPFER's long lecture until he could not hold it in any longer and asked SZTAMPFER: “But why are you speaking at length?” FIN answered him: “Because we are interested in all the particulars.” Later, when he could not wait until the end, he said goodbye and asked FIN: “How do you like my brochures?” He answered: “You write in Russian very well.” He lowered his head and left. Return
  3. See Bialystok Almanac, 1931, page 222. Return
  4. There is a story about a dispute in a local society between DOVID CHWOLES and his townsman, MENDL LEMBERG, who was an enlightened Jew as well as a local resident (his house – on Pilsudski Street – today belongs to GORDON's heirs; he had a liqueur factory there). The first thundered against the Jews and the Jewish religion and the second defended Jews and Jewry. In the end, LEMBERG said: “We are both truly correct. I will give you an example: Once the domestic animals came together to judge their owner. The pig stood up and blamed the owner for the large amount of dirt all over his house. The dog stood up against him and answered: 'Your spot is on a dunghill and gutter. Therefore, you see only dirt all over. But, I, his devoted intimate companion, come into his parlor, office and bedroom, and I can assure you that our owner is the cleanest man. You come from Vilna's lowest, dirtiest place, therefore, you see everything with your dirty glasses, but I come from a great Vilna heritage, I see things with Jews and Jewry as they truly are.'” Return

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