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Chapter I

Rabbi Herzog's Background and Education

 

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Map of the city of Lomza in Poland

 

Lomza
(Yiddish, Lomzhe)
A Town in North-Eastern Poland

Jews lived in Lomza since the beginning of the 16 th century. In 1556 they were forced to leave the city when the residents were granted the “Privilege de non Tolerandis Judaeis” or the repeal of all Jewish rights. The city immediately implemented the document. Jews did not return to Lomza until after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Once they were permitted to live in the city, the Jewish population began to grow. In 1808 it had 157 Jews, in 1825 there were already 737 Jews, and 2374 in 1852. The Jews took part in the Polish uprising against Russia in 1863. The Jewish population increased greatly with the building of the Augustow canal that opened the area to commerce. The city became an educational, and cultural center of north-eastern Masovia as well as one of the three main cities of Podlaskie Voivodeship (beside Białystok and Suwałki). The town is also the home of the Łomża brewery. In 1915 the Jewish population reached 11, 088 including a sizable number of Jewish refugees. They were also very active in the economic and financial development of the city. Jews actively participated in the municipal government. The Jewish population was basically poor, consisting basically of small store owners, stands and peddlers. The Jewish population consisted of “mitnagdim” -followers of strict Torah studying and “Hassidim,” followers of the Hassidic rabbis. The latter were in turn subdivided between the Hassidim of Gur and Alexander. The city had

 

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Rabbi Peysekh Golezynski, head of the Łomża Yeshiva from ca. 1885 until 1920

 

many “heders” where the children were taught how to read Hebrew prayers. It was also the home to a famous learning institution that made Lomza famous throughout Poland, namely the Lomza Yeshiva founded in 1883 by Eliezer Szuliewicz in the style of Lithuanian yeshivas.

The magnificent stone synagogue was built there in 1881 on the initiative of Rabbi Eliezer-Simcha Rabinowicz - The Great Synagogue designed by Enrico Marconi.

 

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The great synagogue of Lomza built in 1881. Destroyed during WWII

 

Many Jews left Lomza where the opportunities were very limited, namely the rabbinical Herzog family. Between the wars, the Jewish population was highly discriminated against by the Polish government and society resulting in greater poverty. The religious life was intense and pious. Political Zionist parties existed in the city. The Jewish population in September of 1939 was about 11,000. A ghetto was established and actions began against Jews. Some were killed locally while others were sent to the Zamborow camp and then to Auschwitz-Birkenau where they were murdered. Following the war, the surviving Lomza Jewish residents did not return to Lomza.

Itzchak Eisik Halevi Herzog was born in Lomza, Poland, about 150 kilometers from Warsaw. He was born on December 3, 1888, to Rabbi Joel Leib Halevi Herzog and Liba Miriam Cyprowitz. The family was a rabbinical family going back several generations. Both grandfather and father were rabbis in Lomza. Itzhak was the grandson of the famous Rabbi Naphtali Hirsh Herzog, leader of the Hassidic movement. The family of Itzhak now consisted of two daughters, namely Esther and Elka, and the new-born Itzhak Herzog[1]. A sickly son was born earlier and died. The Herzog family lived in an attic and barely covered their daily needs.[2] Physical poverty was a steady companion of the Herzog family. This was more than made up for by the rich Torah intellectual milieu of the family. The economic situation was further aggravated by the support of Rabbi Joel Herzog for the “Hovvei Zion Movement,” a Zionist movement that predated political Zionism. The movement consisted of associations that would discuss the idea of the Jews returning to their ancient homeland. This was anathema to the religious Jews who insisted that the Jews must wait for the arrival of the Messiah who would deliver them. To take matters into their hands was a violation of Jewish belief. The rabbi did not pay any heed to these objections and became more active in the Hovvei Zion movement. He was even elected to be a representative to the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1897.[3] Unfortunately, his elder's son sickness prevented him from attending the convention.

These Zionist activities became known and the conservative Jewish population slowly distanced itself from the rabbi. Economic hardship forced the rabbi to look for a position. He was accepted as rabbi in Worcester, Massachusetts. He did not stay too long at the post since differences of opinions developed between the leaders of the community. He returned to Europe and became the rabbi of Leeds, England.[4] The Herzog family left Lomza and joined the rabbi in Leeds. In this small distant town the rabbinical Herzog family lived very economically.

The rabbi was pleased with the small community that also provided him with time to write and exchange Torah ideas. He also devoted a great deal of time to teach Torah and Talmud to his son. Itzhak never attended a cheder or had a private teacher. His father supervised his religious education. The child was a brilliant student and capable of mentally digesting difficult Talmudic concepts. He also had a fine memory and a great intellectual curiosity. With his father's permission he enrolled at the Leeds University where he studied modern and classical languages, indeed, a very surprising move for an orthodox rabbi to permit his son to venture into the area of secular studies. Itzhak finished his studies and obtained a B.A degree. Rabbi Joel Leib Herzog decided that his son needed a better tutor than himself and sent Itzhak to live with the famous Talmudic scholar Yaacov David Wilowsky in Paris.[5]

 

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Rabbi Joel Leib Halevi Herzog wrote a commentary on the “Bereshit” or “Genessis” book of the Torah. The book was published in Lublin

 

Rabbi Yaakov Dovid Wilovsky (February 7, 1845 – 1913), better known by the acronym Ridvaz or Ridbaz or Yaacov David ben Zeev was a renowned rabbi, Talmudic commentator and educator. The scholar was impressed by the young student and had nothing but praise for him. Itzhak was a Talmudic “illui” or genius. By the age of 16, he already knew the Talmud by heart, indeed an accomplishment.

Rabbi Itzhak's sister, Esther Herzog, studied music at the university of Leeds and was an accomplished musician but was very withdrawn. She married Reuven Goldberg of Paris. He was a well-to-do merchant of feathers and had several stores. They had two children: Anna Helene and Rosette Goldberg. During the German occupation of France, Anna Helene Goldberg managed to reach the Vichy administered section of France. She hid there for some time but decided to reunite with her mother in Paris. She snuck over the border between the Vichy section and the French section ruled by Germans. She was caught near the city of Poitiers and was sent to a French detention camp. Later she was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau where she was murdered.[6] She was 21 years old. Her father Reuven Goldberg managed to escape to the Far East where he died. Rabbi Herzog's other sister Elka preferred the name of Helen Herzog. She married Tzudik Levinson of Manchester, England. He was a wine merchant. They gave birth to a child who soon died. The mother went into a severe depression and never recovered. She moved to Paris where her sister Esther tended to her. Both sisters survived the Shoah in France.[7] They later moved to Jerusalem, Israel.

Itzhak continued to study the religious texts. Then Rabbi Wilkowsky examined him and issued him “smicha” or an ordination statement that he was a rabbi and published it. The practice continues to the present amongst Hassidic and religious circles whereby a Torah authority can grant rabbinic ordination to a rabbi without his having attended religious learning institutions.

Rabbi Itzhak Halevi Herzog returned to Leeds very pleased as was his family. His stay was short for Rabbi Joel Leib Herzog was chosen to be rabbi of the new Pavee synagogue on Pavee Street in the IV arrondissement of Paris, France. The synagogue ws officially referred to as the Vaad Hakehilos Synagogue but was better known as the

 

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Testimony page for Anna Goldberg by her sister Rosalie Goldberg. Anna was murdered at Auschwitz in 1942

 

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Pavee Synagogue in Paris

 

The Pavee synagogue. The synagogue was built by private donations. The synagogue was officially dedicated on June 7, 1914 and catered primarily to Polish or Russian-born orthodox Jewish immigrants. This synagogue did not belong to the Consistoire or central French Jewish religious organization that was officially recognized by the French government. The synagogue was in the center of the so called “Pletzel” or Jewish neighborhood that had many kosher butcher shops, bakeries and a variety of Jewish delicacies. The synagogue was built in the Art Nouveau style by architect Hector Guimard, a massive structure. The synagogue survived the attempt to blow it up in the fall of 1941, erev Yom Kippur, and remained standing until the end of the war when it was repaired and restored.

Years later, I had the pleasure of visiting the Pavee synagogue where I was being prepared for my bar mitzvah. The synagogue had a special program to teach Jewish refugee youngsters in Paris to read their weekly portion of the torah and the “haftorah” that follows the reading of the torah. The synagogue was massive outside but warm and luxurious inside. I found the interior very restful while waiting my turn of instruction. The lessons bored a bit since I had poor hearing and could not carry a tune. The discomfort was more than made up by the visit to the bakery shop after the instruction period.

Rabbi Joel was also appointed to head the Agoudos Hakehilos (association of non-Consistoire synagogues in France) that served the Polish and Russian immigrants in France. The Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe, mainly Polish, were not readily accepted by the French Jewish institutions. The large number of emigrants that France imported to replace the fallen Frenchman, especially in the coal mines, also included a sizable number of East European Jews, namely my uncle Chiel Hersh or Henry Findling. He returned from a Russian Prisoner of war camp during World War I where he spent several years. With the end of the war he returned to Zmigrod, Poland. He decided that anti-Semitic Poland was not for him and registered for work in France. Instead of the coal mines in northern France, he selected Paris where he slowly began his tailoring business on the outskirts of Paris. He then brought his wife and son to France. He described to me the cold shoulder that French Jews gave him. He decided to join the various Jewish associations where he met other Polish or Russian Jews. The immigrants organized their own institutions and associations that existed until after World War Two.

Rabbi Joel Leib Herzog was very pleased with his appointment. He was at home with his audience that spoke primarily Yiddish. He understood them and their quests. He understood their feelings and acted to help them as well as other small synagogues that had no contact with the official French Jewish establishment. Of course, his Talmudic erudition was not questioned. He became popular with the members of the congregation who felt at home.

Itzhak continued to study Torah and Talmud. After mastering Talmudic studies at a young age, Yitzhak went on to attend the Sorbonne and then later the University of London, where he received his doctorate. His thesis, which made him famous in the Jewish world, concerned his claim of re-discovering Tekhelet, the type of blue dye once used for the making of Tzitzit. Always possessed of a curious mind, he later switched his focus somewhat to Semitic languages and mathematics at the University of London, where he received his M.A. in 1910. He continued his studies at the University of London and received his Ph.D. in literature at the same university.

Still not satisfied with his educational achievements, Yitzchak took advantage of the fact that his family was living in Paris and Sorbonne. There he delved deeper into science at the Sorbone. He mixed the biblical meaning, of 'Techelet' the mysterious blue dye used in the clothing of the High Priest during the time of the second Temple, the tapestries in the tabernacle, and following the destruction of the Temple by the Romans, on Tzitzit, the specially knotted ritual fringes worn by observant Jews, that are attached to the four corners of the Tallit or prayer shawl.

 

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Prayer shawl with the four corner tzitzit

 

In the Old Testament, Number 15:38 states, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, that they shall make themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and they shall put on the corner fringe a blue (techelet) thread.” At some point in Jewish history the source of the dye, a creature the Talmud called a 'chilazon,' thought to perhaps be the ink in a certain type of snail, was lost.

In his famous 1913 doctoral thesis on the subject Yitzchak Herzog wrote: “As for the present, all hope is to be abandoned of rediscovering the snail that produced the color techelet.” Many years later scientists found that when exposing the dye from the mollusk Murex to ultra-violet light a dark blue with purple hue was produced. This, according to scientists, matched comparisons from a 2,000-year-old sample of techelet found by archeologists at Masada, proving that the young scientist Herzog was probably correct.

His combination of science and religion made him an attractive speaker. He spoke well and kept the listeners' attention. He was appointed Rabbi to the

 

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Rabbi Shmuel Itzhak Hillman

 

small Belfast Jewish community in 1916.He continued to write Talmudic articles and some of them attracted the attention of Talmudic scholars resulting in his being invited to rabbinical discussions. At one of these meetings at the home of Rabbi Shmuel Yitzchak Hillman, dayan or “religious judge” of the London Rabbinical court, he met Sarah Hillman, daughter of Rabbi Shmuel Yitzchak Hillman and Sarah Pokempner. The Hillmans were a distinguished and influential British rabbinical family. Rabbi Hillman was a descendant of his namesake, Rabbi Shmuel Hillman (Helman).

As Sarah brought tea to the guests of rabbi Hillman, she handed the tea cups to the guests but handing the cup to Rabbi Herzog, she spilled the tea over him.[8] Apparently love at first sight. Indeed, they were married the next year. Rabbi Hillman served until 1934 when he retired and moved to Jerusalem where he devoted himself to study and writing. Rabbi Hillman died in 1954. His son David became a well-known artist whose stained-glass windows adorn the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem and the St. Johns Wood Synagogue outside London.

 

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Sarah Hillman Herzog

 

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Rabbi Itzhak Eisik Halevi Herzog

 

In September 18, 1918, Sarah Herzog gave birth to a son Chaim Herzog, in Belfast, Ireland.[9] He was named for the great rabbi scholar Chaim Soloweitchik of Brisk who ordained as rabbi Shmuel Itzhak Hillman, grandfather of Chaim Herzog.[10] In 1919 Yitzchak Herzog was appointed rabbi of the city of Dublin. And, since he was also fluent not only in English but in Gaelic, he was appointed rabbi of Ireland. About 3,000 Jews, most from Lithuania, lived in the Irish Free State. Yitzchak Herzog, or Isaac as he was called in English, reportedly sympathized with the Irish in their struggle for independence. He befriended the Irish leader Eamon de Valera, and the two remained friends for decades. Herzog was known as the 'Sinn Fein Rabbi', and went on to serve as Chief Rabbi of Ireland between 1922 and 1936. On Dec 11, 1921 Sarah Herzog gave birth to another son Jacob (Yaacov) who was born in Dublin. He was named in honor of Yaacov David Wilkowsky, the great French Talmudic scholar.

Although the Jewish community of Ireland was small, Rabbi Herzog was very active, frequently intervening on behalf of the Jewish community. He helped find staff to fill the various religious needs, including cantors, teachers, ritual butchers and rabbis, usually finding personnel from Eastern Europe that supplied not only Ireland but also England with many of religious Jewish personnel needed in the communities, lacking in Ireland but available in Eastern Europe. The Irish or British officials were not jumping for joy in having to admit religious Jews to their countries as the world was slowly but steadily closing the gates to Jewish immigrants.

Itzhak Herzog was also an active supporter of Zionism, especially the religious Zionist party called Mizrahi and Ha-Poel Hamizrahi. He attended some of their conferences in England. He continued to study, write and publish.

 

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Rabbi Herzog's favorite past time: reading and research

 

According to his son Yaacov he considered several options to become a rabbi in a bigger or larger community like Vienna but dropped the idea. He was pleased with the position and was removed from the convulsions that Europe was undergoing. Ireland was a bit isolated from Europe and the press did not devote too much space to European or Jewish matters. Then in May 11,1935, the news reached him that his father Joel Leib Herzog passed away in France.


Footnotes

  1. Herzog, Chaim , Derech Chaim,, Published by Yediot Achronot, Israel 1997, p.18 Return
  2. Chaim, Derech, p. 18 Return
  3. Chaim, Derech, p. 20 Return
  4. Ibid. Return
  5. Ibid. Return
  6. Chaim, Derech, pp. 19-20 Return
  7. Ibid. Return
  8. Chaim, Derech, p. 23 Return
  9. Chaim, Derech, p. 18 Return
  10. Ibid.Return

 

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