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The Rabbinate of Czyzewo
By Gerszon Gora
Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau
The scanty facts that remain for us and merge together for the chapter The Rabbinate of Czyzewo are scattered about, a bit here and a bit there. Indeed, nobody ever would have imagined that a time would come when this type of information would be needed to erect a memorial monument to a splendid past. Indeed, our town did maintain an exacting ledger of the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society), in which all of the special events and experiences in the life of the town were recorded. This ledger served as a source for a great deal of historical material, spanning centuries. The chapter on the rabbinate was significant. However, to our sorrow, even this ledger has passed into oblivion with the terrible devastation of Czyzewo.
Without this, when we come now to record some scanty lines for the chapter The Rabbinate of Czyzewo, we are forced to utilize scattered lists and data from various sources of rabbinical literature or Jewish newspapers from many years ago. From them we can put together a clear picture of the history of the rabbinate in our town.
The following can be clearly established: Czyzewo excelled in its rabbis from way back; and throughout all of the eras was considered to be one of the small number of towns in all of Poland where rabbis who were great in Torah lived even in the earlier times. These were famous Gaonim, who bound the crown of the rabbinate of Czyzewo to their heads, and made it into something splendorous. The reason that these renowned rabbis streamed there was because the populace of the town comprised of excellent, choice people, men of deeds, Hassidim and G-d fearing people. The geographic position of Czyzewo also characterized it and set it apart from all other towns of Poland. It was a border town on the boundary of the realms of Hassidim and Misnagdim in Poland and Lithuania. The town was nestled in an area between the fortresses of the Gaonim and Torah greats, as well as the founders of Hassidism. This fact explains well the phenomenon that both Hassidim and Misnagdim occupied the rabbinical seat at times. These rabbis included those educated in the Lithuanian Yeshivas and students of the Gaon of Vilna, as well as natives of Poland who were brought up on the courts of the famous Admorim of Pszyscha and Kock (Kotzk), or other Rebbes.
As I have stated, we do not have a unified body of material on the rabbinate of our city. Therefore, we will utilize the material that was found for us by the writer Rabbi Mosze Czinowitz. He collected information from the literary sources of the bygone era, starting from the year 5599 (1839). We have no information about the time prior to this. It will be the task of a future historian to produce a book about the entire rabbinate of Poland, from its beginning until its bitter end in the terrible Holocaust.
Rabbi Chaim Leib Epsztejn of holy blessed memory
He was the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of Czyzewo from the year 5599, and for a blessed number of years following. At the same period of time, his signature appears among the signatories from Czyzewo upon the book Shvil Hayashar (The Straight Path) (a commentary on the book of the Rif ) by the Gaon Rabbi Shmuel Shuskes of Vilna, that was printed in 5599. He served as the head of the rabbinical court of Chorzel prior to that (5595). From Czyzewo, he moved to Sokolow, and in his latter years he served as the rabbi of Kolszyn, where he died.
The book of responsa of Rabbi Epsztejn , called Pri Chaim, was published posthumously in the year 5673 (1813). From between the lines of this book, we learn that the author was the expert student of the famous rabbi of Kock, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of holy blessed memory. It is quite possible that he was the first spiritual influence of Hassidim in our town. Perhaps thanks to his influence, this small town on the Lithuanian border became a fortress of Hassidism.
From the year 5599, when he began to occupy the rabbinical chair of Czyzewo, we find a response by him to a question of permitting an aguna . This response was written to the first rabbi of Lomza, Rabbi Szlomo Zalman the son of Moharan, and his two judges, Jechiel Aryeh the son of Reb Josef, and Szlomo Zalman the son of the rabbi and Gaon of Wroblowa. He maintained a Torah oriented correspondence during that era with the greatest rabbis of the generation, included Rabbi Feiwel of Gorysze, the head of the dynasty of Admorim of Aleksander.
In the section on sermons in his book Pri Chayim, we find, among other things, his eulogies for the famous Admor Rabbi Icchok of Warka (died in 5608 1848); the rabbi of Parczew and the rabbi of Wyszogrod Rabbi Jakob Dawid of Mezeritch, who both died in the year 5623 1863, when rabbi Epsztejn was serving in the rabbinate of Kolszyn.
His son Rabbi Simcha Epsztejn served as a rabbi in a variety of communities. In his final years, he served in Pultusk. He spent his youth and was educated in Czyzewo.
The following householders of Czyzewo are appear as signatories of his book Shvil Hayashar, along with others: Reb Chaim the son of Reb Josef Jozel, Reb Szmuel Meir the son of Reb Jehuda Lejb, Reb Aharon the son of Reb Zeev, Reb Szlomo Zalman the son of Reb Icchok Zelig of the village of Sudek, and Reb Mosze Arje the son of Reb Icchok Eizek Meizelzon.
Rabbi Eliezer Szmuel of holy blessed memory
He was born in Krottingen, in the region of Kovno in the Zamot area of Lithuania. He was born in approximately the year 5585 (1825). During his youth, he was a student at the famous Yeshiva of Volozhin. At that time, Rabbi Yitzchak, the son of the founder of the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, served as a head of the Yeshiva. He was appointed as a rabbi in a town near to his native city at the age of 20, and after some time, he was appointed as the rabbi of Czyzewo. There is evidence that he served as the rabbi in Czyzewo until the year 5628 (1868).
We can assume that he was an educated rabbi in accordance with the ways of the time. His brother-in-law was Eliezer Zilberman, the founder and editor of the first Hebrew weekly Hamagid, and also a native of Krottingen.
In the year 5628, Sir Moses Montefiore decided to set up a talmudic Academy in his native town of Ramsgate England. He wished to bring there rabbis who were learned in Torah, who would receive all of their livelihood and sustenance from him. The rabbi of Czyzewo, Rabbi Eliezer Szmuel was among the three rabbis who were chosen for this position, and bestowed of their glory upon the Talmudic Academy that was called by the name Yeshivat Ohel Moshe Veyehudit. It is probably that his brother-in-law, the editor of Hamagid, had a hand in his appointment. This institution survived for a long time, until the year 5648 (1888), about three years after the death of the knight. At that time, the directors of that institution decided to liquidate the Yeshiva, and from the monies received in the liquidation, they would pay compensation to the rabbis who taught at the Yeshiva, supporting them for life in any place that they would choose to settle. Rabbi Eliezer Szmuel of holy blessed memory moved to Montstar, near the hospital. He died there in the year 5654 (1894).
He published several works during his life. These included Toldot Halevi, that is Eliezer the Levite, who was the assistant and translator for Montefiore, who accompanied him throughout all the years of his long life. This work was in Hebrew. He also translated Sefer Yehudit, which was written about the wife of the esteemed knight. It includes her diary and travel log from the year 5599 (1839). In his long introduction to this book, the translator describes the activities and life history of Lady Judith Montefiore. He includes many rabbinical statements that deal with the honor of women, which was great in the eyes of the rabbis of the Talmud. In these books, the name of the rabbi who was the translator is not mentioned, in the same manner as he appears anonymously in his many articles in various issues of Hamagid. In the year 5650 (1890), the rabbi published a sample pamphlet containing selections from his large book Baalei Asifot a book that anthologizes statements of Talmudic rabbis from both Talmuds, and organizes them in alphabetical order. He was not able to complete that work on account of his old age.
Incidentally, it is worthwhile to point out that in his article on the Yeshiva of Sir Montefiore in Hamagid of 1869 (37), the rabbi mentions his Czyzewo, the locale of his former rabbinical service, as a city full of scholars and scribes.
In Hamelitz of 1894 (3), there is a long article about Rabbi Eliezer Szmuel of blessed memory, by Yitzchak Yaakov Hirshborn of London.
Rabbi Yisrael Tyktin of holy blessed memory
According to Reb Zalman Stolowicz (now in Israel) Rabbi Tyktin conducted the rabbinate in Czyzewo for a brief period of time between two kings, that is between one rabbi and the appointment of his successor. He took over the rabbinate after the death of Rabbi Eliezer Szmuel of holy blessed memory. He was a great scholar as well as wealthy. Torah and greatness merged together with him. He ran a large store off iron implements. He was ordained by the Chidushei Harim of Ger. Since he was quite occupied with his multi-branched business, he transferred issues requiring rabbinic decisions to Rabbi Aharon Hirsz Grodus of holy blessed memory, a resident of the city who was a scholar, and knew how to make rabbinical decisions. The two of them together conducted the rabbinate of Czyzewo until a new rabbi was chosen, Rabbi Mosze Joel Hagerman.
Rabbi Mosze Joel Hagerman of holy blessed memory
He was an expert student of the Chidushei Harim, who was the father of the Ger Hassidic dynasty. He was the scion of a family of rabbis and Hassidim. His maternal grandmother was the Gaon and Kabbalist Rabbi Dawid Halevi Horowicz of Olkusz (in the area of Kielce). His father, Rabbi Jakob Szlomo, was related to the Bach, Taz, and Tosfos Yom Tov.
We learn of his greatness in Torah from his book of responsa, dealing with all sections of the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch), titled Shai Lamorah. It was published a long time after his death (Piotrkow, 5672 1912), with the approbation of all of the Gaonim and Tzadikim of the generation.
The Admor Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter of Ger of holy blessed memory wrote about the author of this book as follows: The Rabbi, the Gaon, the veteran Hassid. The Gaon Rabbi Icchok Feigenbaum, one of the chief teachers of Warsaw, honors him with the title The Gaon, the Hassid, who is famous for his holiness and ascetism
who was his friend and cleaved to him like a brother. The Gaon Rabbi Szaul Mosze of Wierszow (died in Tel Aviv) testifies regarding him that still in his youth, this rabbi who authored this book was famous, and he was publicly praised as a sharp Gaon and great Hassid. Other rabbis who granted their approbation were: Rabbi Isuchar Berisz Graubard, the rabbi of Bendin; his brother Rabbi Jehuda Lejb Graubard, the rabbi of Staszow; Rabbi Jakob Orner the rabbi of Sochaczew; Rabbi Mosze Nachum Jeruzalimski, the rabbi of Kielce; and Rabbi Aleksander Ziskind Lipszicz, the rabbi of Ozorkow, who was the in-law of the author. He waxes great in his praise, and writes that he was a great and broad in his Torah knowledge; both in the hidden and revealed Torah were with him in full measure; he also conducted himself in the ways of Hassidism and great asceticism; during his youth, he poured water on the hands of the rabbi of all Israel, the prince of Torah, our rabbi the Rim; he was one of his greatest students, and esteemed him very greatly. It is especially important to point out the approbation of the Lithuanian Gaon Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk, who also testifies that the author was a famous Gaon.
In the words of rabbi Jozef Lewinsztejn, the rabbi of Sirock, that are brought down near the beginning of the book, Rabbi Hagerman composed an orderly essay on the Choshen Mishpat section of the Shulchan Aruch and on several tractates and Talmudic discussions. However, these were burnt, and are lost.
In his Halachic responsa, Rabbi Hagerman discourses with the great rabbis of the generation, including: Rabbi Baruch Zwi Rozenblum, the rabbi of Piotrkow; the Gaon of Kutna Rabbi Jehoszua Tronk, the Gaon of Kalusz Rabbi Chaim Elazar Wachs; and the Gaon Rabbi Avraham Borensztejn, the rabbi of Krasznowice (later the rabbi and Admor of Sochaczew, the son-in-law of Rabbi Mendele of Kotzk). Rabbi Hagerman writes the following to this Gaon: I remember in days gone by, when I stood before him and suckled honey from the rock, with milk under my tongue, as he led me through the circles of righteousness and the paths of study, I still had many days to lean upon him and be supported. He was a foundation rock when I saw the splendor of his face, as he assisted me with everything that my soul requested in the paths of study.
There is evidence that Rabbi Mosze Joel Hagerman was a confidante and friend of the Gaon Rabbi Avraham Borensztejn, or as he was better known, Reb Avrahamele Sochaczewer, the author of the Avnei Nezer during the time that he was supported at the table of his father-in-law the Rebbe of Kock, where the first Rebbe of Ger, the Chidushei Harim also found shelter. According to a story that is told by natives of Olkusz who are now in Israel, Rabbi Mosze Joel Hagerman studied together with the Gaon of Sochaczew in the same cheder during their childhood, and continued to study together in the Beis Midrash of Olkusz, their hometown. This was prior to their being coronated as rabbis in the Jewish world. Every morning, Reb Avrahamele would wake up his friend Mosze Joel, and the two of them would walk together to the Beis Midrash to study their regular lesson.
As is pointed out in his book Shai Lamorah, Rabbi Hagerman served as the rabbi of Jezew from the year 5617 (1857); and in the years of 5635-5647 (1875-1887) as the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of Czyzewo. From there he moved to Zarnowka (in the region of Kielce). He was brought to rest there after he died around the year 5654 (1894).
During the years that he occupied the rabbinical seat of Czyzewo, we find that Rabbi Mosze Joel issued responsa in Halachic matters to rabbis of the area, such as: Rabbi Icchok of Zaromew; Rabbi Jechezkel of Nur; Rabbi Jozef Lewinsztejn of Sirock; the rabbi of Szniadowa (near Lomza); and Rabbi Jehoszua Jechezkel the rabbi of Ostrowo. In a letter from the year 5638 (1878), he turns to the author of Nefesh Chaya with a question regarding a fire that broke out on the Holy Sabbath in Czyzewo. Several kosher and passul Torah scrolls were burnt in the fire, and a number of pieces of parchment were left. He asked a question with regard to the halacha regarding the proper burial of the remains.
A few of his Halachic responsa were directed to the relative of the Admor of Ger, the Gaon and Hassid Rabbi Pinchas Eliahu Rotenberg, the rabbi of Pilce. He also maintained a Torah oriented correspondence with his brother Rabbi Icchok Paltiel, the rabbi of Olkusz, and with Rabbi Jehuda Lejb Graubard, the rabbi of Staszow. The latter, in his approbation of the book, testifies that the author was a great and renowned Gaon, a lion amongst his colleagues, an overflowing well, who spend all of his days in the valley of Jewish law.
His book Shai Lamorah was published by his son and student, Rabbi Icchok Jehuda Hagerman, the son-in-law of the rabbi of Ozorkow, Rabbi Aleksander Ziskind HaKohen Lipszicz, and his successor in the rabbinate of Zarnowka. Incidentally, in the long introduction that the author wrote for his book, his splendid image of a great innovator in the area of Aggada (Jewish lore) and exegesis also stands out. He is expert on the Midrashim (exegetical lore) of the sages, and in investigation to the theory of Hassidism, in accordance with its founder the Besht, to whom he cleaved all of his days, and with all stands of his heart and soul.
Rabbi Jakob Icchok HaLevi Epsztejn of holy blessed memory
He occupied the rabbinic seat of Czyzewo for fourteen years, between 5649-5663 (1889-1903). He died on the 27th of Adar of that year. An announcement of his death appears in Hatzefirah of that year (number 71). The announcement states that the rabbi died at the young age of 42, and left behind a young wife and five young children. (Hamodiah, Reb Zerach Starkowski).
He came from Lithuania, and was a relative of Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein, the rabbi of Novhorodok and the author of the Aruch Hashulchan. He was a student of the famous Gaonim the Netziv of Volozhin and Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk. He studied in the famous yeshiva of Volozhin.
During his tenure, the famous controversy between the Chazan-Shochet of Wyzne and the Shochet of Szniadowa took place, which shook up the entire area and whose echoes reached the governing authorities. This controversy that spread in its time divided the city into two camps of disputants who hated each other with a strong hatred.
The background of the controversy was as follows: our city was a bastion of Hassidism. In particular, the Hassidism of Rabbi Mosze Joel of holy blessed memory, who was one of the first students of the Chidushei Harim of Ger, as well as one of the frequenters of the home of the elder Rebbe of Kock, took root. At that period of time, the community of Czyzewo was searching for an experienced shochet who would serve the role in a permanent fashion. The community divided as follows: the masses, simple householders who worshiped in the Beis Midrash as well as artisans wished to seek a shochet who could also serve as a chazzan (cantor) and would be able to lead the services on the High Holy Days. However, most of the worshippers of the shtibels, the Hassidim of Gur, Aleksander and Kock (excluding the Hassidim of Mszczonow (Amshinov) who sided with the householders) opposed this, claiming that the shochet should be a great fearer of Heaven and not an experienced chazzan, but rather an ordinary Hassidic prayer leader.
During the heat of the controversy, a young man from Wyzne appeared in town, splendid in countenance with a well-kept beard, trimmed with scissors. He had no peer in the whole region of Lithuania, and he did not, Heaven forbid, impinge upon the kashruth of shechita. In addition to this, he was a wonderful chazzan who knew how to sing, and was able to read musical notes. On the first Sabbath that he officiated, he enchanted his audience with his strength in singing and melodies. The rabbi of the city examined him carefully to see if he knew all of the laws regarding the slaughter and ritual examination of animals, as well as if he knew how to properly check the shechita knife (chalaf). He passed the test properly, and the rabbi informed the community that there is no problem or lack with his knowledge of the laws of shechita, and he gave him the approbation to practice shechita. Based on this approbation, the householders appointed him as a chazzan and shochet. However, when the Hassidim of the shtibels, who guarded each dot and tittle of the traditional Hassidic way of life, heard that in Czyzewo they were about to appoint a shochet who was also a chazzan and knew how to sing and read musical notes, and whose bread was trimmed and well-kept they immediately raised a great tumult and declared open warfare.
This battle brought Rabbi Epsztejn into an extremely difficult situation. He was no longer able to become involved in the matter, since the events developed rapidly, and the controversy deteriorated from the usual style and reached the point of provocation, bloodshed, and slander, etc. From his perspective, he had no issue with the chazzan of Wyzne. His dress, his cantorial style, and his trimmed beard were not issues for him, for he himself was a native of Lithuania, where they were used to this style. One the other hand, he understood the spirit of the Hassidim very well; that it might not be fitting and proper in a Hassidic town such as Czyzewo to appoint such a chazzan-shochet.
This controversy (described in this book in a different place) was one of the factors that shortened his life. He died, as has been mentioned, at the very young age of 42.
Rabbi Szmuel Dawid Zabludower of holy blessed memory.
From Ostrolenka, where he was supported by his father-in-law, the rabbinical leader Rabbi Zwi Skrowicz as he studied Torah and served G-d, Rabbi Szmuel Dawid Zabludower was called to serve honorable in the rabbinate of Czyzewo a few years after his wedding. He was an enthusiastic Hassid of Mszczonow (Amshinov), and thanks to that, he was accepted willingly and joyously by the entire Jewish community of Czyzewo. This was satisfactory to the Hassidim, and also served as an appeasement to the supporters of the Wyzne shochet, who included the Mszczonow (Amshinov) Hassidim, headed by the elder renowned Hassid Rabbi Mosze Ber Kackowicz of blessed memory (His son Yaakov David and daughter Yocheved are today in Israel).
This chapter of the rabbinate of Czyzewo was one of the most splendid and interesting in the life of the city, for Rabbi Szmuel Dawid was one of the Torah giants of his generation, who raised the level of the banner of his rabbinate to lofty heights, and who was acceptable to all members of his community for a blessed period of close to fifty years. The era of his rabbinate was one of the most difficult and stormy in all of Jewish history. There were two world wars during this period, and at the end came the Holocaust of Europe that destroyed the majority of the people and the structure of the large Jewish community of Europe, including our town of Czyzewo.
The chapter of his life added a radiant page in the annals of the life of our town. During his tenure, our town knew a peaceful life, and no sound of strife and controversy could be heard. Despite the fact that in the latter part of this era, the winds of the times blew into the town, in the form of political factions and parties that divided the town, such as: Agudas Yisrael, Mizrachi, Zionists, Beitar, Poale Zion, Bund, etc., factions that were born due to the massive changes in communal life in Poland despite all this, the rabbi, with his great wisdom, knew how to repair any breach that would come up at any time, and to set the course of communal matters in the paths of peace and brotherhood.. In a separate section of the book, we will describe his family, his personality, and his death.
Rabbi Szmuel Dawid Zabludower of holy blessed memory was the last rabbi of Czyzewo. He fell as a brave martyr in sanctification of the name of G-d, along with his flock, on that bitter day, the 28th of Av 5701 (1941), at the hands of the Nazi enemy, may their names be blotted out.
Thus was covered the grave of Czyzewo, the holy town.
By Gerszon Gora
Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau
From my early childhood, my soul was bound with his soul. An internal love was kindled inside of me, and drew me to him. I felt that I had some sort of natural affinity to him. My entire self was devoted to him, as a child is devoted to his caregivers and those who embrace him.
He bore my thoughts and my dreams. I wove the visions of my childhood around him.
From him, I drew my youth; true youth, pure and sublime, filled with lofty, holy dreams.
The splendor of his face and the flame of his eyes sustained my thirsty, yearning soul.
I remember when I was still a young child and was interested in stories and tales, that would bestow sublime spiritual content to a child and envelop his soul with pleasant dreams he would always take me upon his knees, caress me with soft, loving caresses, as he told me stories of Rebbes, Tzadikim, and sages. I thirstily swallowed up every word and expression that came from his mouth, his heart and his soul.
Then, I would feel as if all of the chambers of my heart had opened, and wide vistas were exposed to me. He ignited my soul and bestowed refinement and softness upon me.
Thus were the sublime paths of Judaism implanted into my soul. With his stories of the lives of Tzadikim, he crystallized concepts of spiritual life into my frail brain.
Desire and longing, pining and impatience this is how his soul expressed itself towards the Land of Israel. All the days of his life were filled with longing and pining for the Land of Israel. This was the axis around which revolved all the events of his life.
The Land of Israel this was the only word that filled his entire soul. He sprinkled upon it the dew of hope and comfort, of revival and redemption.
His soul went out towards the Land of Israel; to see it with his own eyes and to breathe its air, the air of souls, with his own nose.
He always nurtured the longing to see the Land of Israel. From his early childhood, this hope strengthened his spirit. He thought about this day and night, when he went to sleep and got up, when he was awake and during his dreams.
Sometimes, when he was immersed in his studies, he would stop for a brief moment, approach me and say: Yes, yes, go, go quickly, with the help of the Blessed G-d
To where?, I asked.
To the Land of Israel.
Speedily, speedily. We will soon all merit to see the face of the Messiah, for he is already about to come.
His emotions overflowed as he said these words, until his entire body was trembling and shaking.
Any time that mention of the Land of Israel came upon his lips, his eyes would fill with tears. These were tears of happiness, full of hope and comfort. Tears that almost satisfied his spiritual thirst and burning love. Tears of longing, of pining
He was a straightforward man who sat in the tents of study. The wide world was strange to him. The sound of the turning of the wheel of life in the world did not reach his ears. He was a straightforward person. He never had a moment of emptiness, of vanity. I always saw him poring over a book, whether it was a Gemara, Midrash, or Zohar. He was always immersed in his studies. He would finish the entire Talmud yearly. If he felt that he would not be able to finish on time, he would remain awake for entire nights catching up.
Even during his final days, as his strength waned and his power dwindled, he attempted with all his might to continue his study sessions as previously, without missing even a small amount. He studies his lessons as previously, with great diligence.
Even as he lay seriously ill on his sickbed, he always held a volume of Talmud in his wrinkled, sinewed hand, and his mouth never desisted from study. He studied with a pleasant melody, even though every word that he uttered sapped some of his remaining blood and vigor.
On the contrary, he would suddenly say, When I am learning, I feel as if waves of vitality and joy wash over me, causing me to forget my weakness and pain. And during a time that I am not able to study Torah, I see myself as if sitting in a narrow, choking prison cell, without air to breathe.
The study of Torah was literally his breath of air.
He sat in tents.
He drew waters as clear as crystals from the wells of Hassidism. When he spoke about the Rebbe of Kock of holy blessed memory, an agonizing sigh would issue from the depths of his heart, along with the hushed painful words: Indeed, I did not merit
I did not merit
With a voice suffused with grief and longing, he told me the story, how during his youth he made preparations, along with a group of Hassidim, to go to Kock (in those days, they would go there for the festivals), and to his great sorrow, he was too late to join the journey, and in that year the Rebbe of Kock of blessed memory died.
I did not merit to see him alive, he would always tell me. He was sorry about this for his entire life, and his soul was not settled.
He rectified this omission with regards to the author of the Chidushei Harim of blessed memory, and the author of the Sfat Emet of blessed memory. Throughout the days of their life from the time that Hassidim began to travel to the Rabbi Rim of blessed memory, until the time of the death of the Sfat Emet of blessed memory he would travel there times a year to them, without even missing once. There were no obstacles to him to prevent him from travelling to the Rebbe.
The journeys to the Rebbe for the festivals were to him the essence of his life. Those days were the happiest and best of all the days of the year for him; those days when he was able to bring to fruition his connection and cleaving to the Rebbe. During those days, he expressed his true Hassidic essence.
It is worthwhile to mention an interesting fact, which demonstrates to use the extent of his dedication to his journeys to the Rebbe.
On one occasion prior to a festival, when my grandmother was giving birth, everyone requested of him not to travel to the Rebbe. In order to ensure that he would not travel, they hid his boots on the night before the journey. The next day, he rose early. When he saw that his boots had disappeared, he did not hesitate at all, but put on my grandmother's shoes and thus traveled to the Rebbe.
From the waters of this well, the pure well of Hassidism, he gave drink to his children and grandchildren. He always attempted to instill in the hearts of the young and old ones the Hassidic idea, and the full extent of the Hassidic essence. He attempted to instill in the hearts of his young grandchildren an Orthodox education, which would appeal to their youthful vigor, in order that it would remain forever in their hearts. He saw all of this in Hassidism.
He immersed himself in the waters of Hassidism for his entire life
On his final day, Rosh Chodesh (New Moon) Tammuz that occurred on the holy Sabbath, he arose early as was his custom, and he studied his lesson in Talmud for two or three hours. Then he went to the synagogue to worship, and, arriving there before the time of prayer, he took a book of Midrash and studied the weekly Torah portion. He did not know at all at that moment that his minutes were numbered, and that very shortly, his pure soul would ascend on High. He only knew that every moment that he lived, he was able to collect and acquire many treasures for the eternal world, where all of the pure souls bask in the splendor of the Divine Presence. Indeed, this idea was always before his eyes, and I never saw him sitting idle, without engaging in spiritual endeavors, even for a brief moment.
When the prayer leader started Hodu, he closed the Midrash, wrapped himself in his Tallis, and began to recite the prayers. However, a moment after wrapping himself in his Tallis, a groan broke forth from his heart, a hushed groan, the groan of the soul as it separates itself from the body. His soul ascended Heavenward on the holy Sabbath, as he was wrapped in his Tallis.
One of the Five
Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau
In the list of natives of my town in my notebook prior to my travel to the Land of Israel, I read the first entry in the list:
Benjamin Mosze Jeszaja the son of Riwka Rachel, etc., with a first request to leave a note for him in the Western Wall. The second request was to go to the Tomb of Rachel our Matriarch, and send him a thread that surrounds the grave
Remember to make mention of my name in all of the holy places
Benjamin Mosze Jeszaja the son of Riwka Rachel
The entry in my notebook was written in his handwriting. I still remember those moments when he wrote those words with trembling and solemnity, as two teardrops fell down and wet the name, one on the word Benjamin, and the second on the word Rachel.
He lifted his eyes and grabbed my hands silently, without uttering anything, as if he lost his power of speech. It was if he was like one of the mutes in the courtyards of the Admorim, or one of the unique spiritual people who guard their tongues from speech.
I looked at him for some moment I was also dumbstruck like him. I waited for him to open up his wellspring, as he was wont to do at all times, up until the final day before my travels. I waited for words of parting and support, however it was in vain. He stood silently, and looked at me with two wet eyes and choked words. He strengthened himself until finally he uttered his numbered words:
Know Gerszon, the Land of Israel requires fortitude. Anytime the holiness is greater, the external shells are also greater, Heaven forbid. Therefore go, succeed, and first and foremost, gird yourself!
There was silence again. The two hearts separated. The notebook went from hand to hand, and everyone inscribed it. Everyone wrote their requests and hopes, and I remained standing by the side of Benjamin Mosze Jeszaja. I clasped his hands, and the words: "he Land of Israel requires fortitude burned in my heart like a scalding flame.
He removed his hand from mine, and caused my heart to shudder once again with the following words:
But remember! Fortitude, fortitude! And as for me at that time I am no longer
I always maintained the thought that I would merit to see him again myself, as he wraps his hands with the thread of the Tomb of Rachel for a god omen. The thought remained with me that we would once again be able to continue with those spiritual journeys here in the Land. However, he wishes came to naught. For a letter arrived, saying: Everything was destroyed!
* * *
In the first days after his arrival, the elder Hassidim and men of deeds whispered among themselves that Mosze Zwi the shochet had brought a precious gem into his home. They had never seen a young man such as this before.
He was still in the midst of the seven days of celebration following his wedding, and his dwelling had turned into a shtibel.
Early in the morning prior to dawn, in noon, and in the middle of the night, Benjamin Mosze Jeszaja would sit, wearing his groom's clothing, poring over a volume of Talmud, Zohar, or other Hassidic work.
He was very quiet during the first days. He was modest, he did not know the area, and he was testing out the shtibel with its young men and elders. It was as if he was tracing his way through the new world that he was brought into on account of his marriage checking to see if it was fitting for his spiritual work, and whether he would be able to continue with it, which he had placed as the goal of his entire youth? It was the purpose of his life. Hassidism, belief in Tzadikim, cleaving to their ways these were the main ideas that led him. This was not only for himself, for his 248 organs and 365 sinews, for all of Israel are interconnected with each other, and it is incumbent to show the correct path to everyone, to all who are struggling and perplexed with their spiritual life. On account of this, he examined his new surrounding very carefully; he looked at each young man, every youth, and even every child who appeared in the shtibel, with his penetrating gaze. He searched, and he finally realized that in the shtibel, a large field of activity lay before him.
He began to become acquainted with the people of the shtibel. He examined them carefully, he learned the character of everyone, and he finally established his own group of five people.
Five young men, the pride of the shtibel, headed by Benjamin Mosze Jeszaja, became very quickly the central beam, the living artery of the shtibel.
Matters of charity, good deeds, assistance to the poor, accommodations for an honored guest, a fitting place to sleep all of these were organized by the group of five through the efforts of Benjamin Mosze Jeszaja.
If a rumor reached Benjamin Mosze Jeszaja that in the home of one of the men of the shtibel the furniture was not in order
that the wife of someone was at one point not careful with regards to covering the hair, or if there was a reliable witness that modern fashion entered into the home of someone, Heaven save us his personal response would immediately be forthcoming. That very day, he would enter into a conversation with that individual about some matter, and even invite him for a stroll outside the town.
During his conversation, he would not get to the crux of the matter immediately, but would talk around the issue, discussing Hassidism, Judaism, stories of Admorim and people of renown, and various customs that have penetrated into Hassidic homes due to our great sin. However, during the conversation, he was very careful that nobody should feel that the words were directed to him. His style of conversation was not to speak about the darkness but rather to instill rays of light into the heart, a spark of fire into the soul, and the darkness would disappear on its own.
Thus did he instill droplets of Hassidism into those damaged and cloudy hearts; into those souls to which the winds of the time had begun to penetrate until the hearts began to purify themselves.
If there are no kids, there are no billy-goats he used to say. He was concerned about this if five young men sit and occupy themselves with Hassidism, study Torah, walk in the paths of their fathers and people of like mind, what would be with the children? How can they be directed into the right path, so that Heaven forbid they will not be affected by the vicissitudes of the time, and the spirit of impurity that has descended, Heaven save us, onto the world of late? -- He would gather together sheaves, of those who already had reached the age of Bar Mitzvah, of those whose good inclination had already begun to struggle and wrestle with the evil inclination in their hearts. He would begin to inspire them with his discussions and beloved stories about the Hassidic greats. Slowly, he would take them under his wings, and guard them as something more precious than anything.
The Land of Israel was especially important to him. He did not read papers. He satisfied himself with a brief glance at the newspaper headlines. Nevertheless, he knew everything that transpired. He knew of the enthusiasm in the hearts of the Orthodox youth as they prepared for aliya.
He understood the spirit of the youth. His heart and spirit were with him. He himself registered for aliya, even though he felt that he was not yet prepared, for he was still lacking the spiritual preparation necessary for the Land of Israel. He would always remind us youths of this sentence in Sefer Chareidim.
Every Jewish person is required to love the Land of Israel, and to come to it from the ends of the earth with a great desire, as a child comes to the bosom of his mother. To his friends who began to prepare for aliya, he advised them to look in the book of the Shela, in order to become acquainted with the preparations that a Jew must make for aliya, and what is the order of life there in the Land of Israel.
The sages state that The Land of Israel is the palace of the King. How can one live a simple life in the Land of Israel? he would always remind us. I will not forget these reminders. I will not forget those hours when Benjamin Mosze Jeszaja strolled with me, once he discovered that my lot fell to be among the first of the young Orthodox people of our town to make aliya. We walked among the thick, old trees on the path that was known to everybody as the Hassidic Path. During winter nights, in the latter half of the month of Shvat 5684 (1924), when the cold was at the height of its power, when the frozen snow echoed under our steps, everything was white, the fields were white, as were the strong trees, the branches waved over our heads along both sides of the path as a canopy, through the valley in which the Warsaw-Bialystock train passed a distance of several kilometers and we, two individuals walking arm in arm, covered in winter furs, were the only ones disturbing the idyllic winter white before us, to the light of a full moon, two long shadows.
We were alone on our stroll. He would talk, lecture, and wax with enthusiasm about his streaming ideas on the Land of Israel and life there. I was silent as I followed after his footsteps. I listened very carefully to every word and expression that issued from his mouth, as he described the holiness of the Land of Israel to me.
* * *
Approximately fifteen years ago, a young man slightly older than twenty came to our town. He was short, with red cheeks, refined and thin, with signs of a small beard under his chin. His long peyos (earlocks) were not curled, but dropped straight down over his face as if to cover over his lack of a beard in the center of his face. He had a large, wide forehead, with a number of furrows and wrinkles in accordance with the books of the Kabbalah and the Zohar. He had eyes blue as the sky, which always gazed and looked at everything. He had a constant smile. Every conversation of his was accompanied by this charming, enthusiastic smile.
About fifteen years ago
Now I look over the letter, look for signs of life, read between the lines. Perhaps, perhaps, I can find at least some of those special people who graced our city, who bestowed it with a spiritual life. But for naught
Everything was destroyed
In the large cemetery, in the gigantic communal grave that was erected in my heart regarding my native town, I tearfully pass by the pleasant grave of one of the splendid personalities of our town. It is without a name and inscription, but nevertheless a sublime and important personality, whose image will never be erased from my memory.
This is the noble image of the young man, one of the five:
Benjamin Mosze Jeszaja the son of Riwka Rachel.
Reb Zebulon Grosbard
By Aharon Tapuchi (Jablonka) of Tel Aviv
Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau
When Hillel died, they said regarding him, Oh the modest one, Oh the pious one. Tosefta, Sota 13.
He had a straight, upright posture; wise, quiet eyes; and a branched beard. He had an adorned face that exuded clarification; splendid, that expressed refinement and seriousness. His entire personality exuded honor and nobility. His clothes were always clean and orderly, without any stains, fulfilling the adage: A scholar should not have a stain upon his clothing.
* * *
He was from among the old-time Gerrer Hassidim. He would travel to the Rebbe with pining and heartfelt appreciation. This was not so that he would be able to be honored and well-received, close to the table. He was a serious person, upright and complete with himself, wit his fellowman, and with G-d. He was honest in all of his ways, paths, dealings, and steps.
It was thus that he was created and entered to the light of the world. No common or uncommon wind was able to influence his personality, his level-headedness, and the calm foundations of his soul. He was a member of Agudas Yisrael. Every newspaper and manuscript of the Aguda found its way to his table. He obeyed all decisions of the party, and nevertheless, he placed himself above all factionalism. Not even a trace of deviousness and jealousy cleaved to him. He was never exuberant or angry, but he was always ready to listen to his fellow man with patience and pleasantness until the end. He never departed from his element; he never mocked or mimicked during his friendly conversations, or in his inner heart.
* * *
He was a special, rare personality, as if he was created to serve as an example, in the tradition of see one like this, and sanctifiy. He was a faithful prayer leader, acceptable to his fellowman, always surrounded by a group, though he stood shoulders above them. All of his deeds were measured and thought through in a serious manner. Despite all of this, he was always willing to lend an ear to anyone who was struggling and opposing, to anyone full of bitterness of the heart and anger. He would always listen, and offer explanations quietly and peacefully, as he convinced and won over the heart of the disputant.
* * *
I saw him on many occasions, during public appearances and stormy debates. As the chairman, he always knew how to exert control, not only over the gathering and the order, but also, first and foremost, over himself. He never made himself appear as the victor, but rather he remained quiet and discreet. He regarded himself as the man dedicated to the mission, the servant to all segments of the community, the learned person and man of the book; nevertheless distant from didactics, not an uprooter of mountains. His strength was in his straightforward intellect, his diligence and his breadth of knowledge. He knew how to work with the pen, and he was fluent in three languages Hebrew, Russian and Polish both written and oral. Nevertheless, he never made use of his vast knowledge as a spade to dig with.
* * *
He owned an inn and a coffeehouse in the town. His coffeehouse served as an inn. The wagon drivers and porters of the city could be found there at all hours of the day and evening, whether they waited for passengers, orders, work; or simply passed the time during a break in their work, between an arriving and departing train. They did not leave the place until the inn was closed, that is to say, after midnight. For the most part, they sat and chattered, as was the manner of porters and wagon drivers. Nevertheless, they did not bother Reb Zebulon during his work. He would stand up to deal with a customer, he would pour a cut of tea and bring a slice of bread or cake, and he would even glance at the daily newspaper and manuscripts. He would write requests for various people to the authorities, since he was familiar with the laws of the state.
* * *
He served as a communal administrator in town for many years, and as the head of the community during the final years before the outbreak of the Second World War. With the conquest of the town by the Nazis, he was appointed as the head of the first Judenrat in town, however within a few short weeks, Reb Zebulon submitted his resignation.
He said: I am not capable of continuing on.
The face of the community darkened when news of his resignation spread. They attempted to speak to his heart, to support and strengthen him. He listened silently, and lamented, I cannot continue in this manner. He put his hand to his heart, and everyone understood him.
He was not able to serve as the head of the community, while simultaneously keeping secret the sinister intentions of the enemy towards the community.
He could not impose the will of the conquerors upon them.
He cannot falsify his task, and he would not serve as a tool for the executioners.
With his great understanding, he very early on realized the full extent of their evil intentions, with their diabolical demands. With decisiveness, he left the Judenrat.
He the multi-faceted activist, of refined heart and upright, who looked into the vale of destruction and did not fall into the trap he was one of a kind, one of the most splendid of the natives of our town. May G-d avenge his blood.
1. Rabbi Yitzchak Al-Fasi of Morocco, the author of one of the treatises of Jewish law that served as a precursor to the formal Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch). return
2. A book of responsa is a book about a rabbi's responses to queries on Jewish law. The answers to these queries that would be of public interest would be published into a book of responsa, in question and answer form. return
3. An aguna is a 'bound wife', who is not permitted to remarry on account of the disappearance of her husband, perhaps through war, or on a long journey. Until the husband's death can be proven with certainty, the woman is not permitted to remarry. A large body of rabbinical responsa literature deals with the application of this in specific cases, and tries to find 'openings' to ascertain the death of the husband, and thereby allow the woman to remarry. In modern times, this term is also used to describe a women who is 'bound' and not allowed to marry due to her husband's refusal to grant a religious divorce (get). return
4. I was not able to identify some of the town names in this paragraph and the following one. The versions that I used do reflect actual towns in Poland, but there were several towns with similar spellings that might have matched. The following are the ones I could not identify definitively: Gorysze, Warka, Parczew, Kolszyn. return
5. The list of signatories most probably refers to those whose names are inscribed in the book as having assisted financially with the publication. return
6. The term Maskil here refers to familiarity with secular education. It does not refer to the implication, which often accompanies the term, of abandoning orthodoxy. return
7. The Talmud exists in two editions, the more common, later, Babylonian Talmud, and the less common, earlier Jerusalem or Palestinian Talmud. return
8. The name given to one of the Gerrer Rebbes. The Sfat Emet, mentioned later in this section is the son of the Chidushei Harim. return
9. The literary names of three well-known rabbis. The Bach and Taz wrote commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law). These commentaries appear on the folios of the standard edition of the Shulchan Aruch. return
10. The revealed Torah is considered to be the written and oral law, whereas the hidden Torah is considered to be the realm of mysticism and Kabbalah. return
11. A euphemism referring to someone being in close contact with a teacher as a disciple. return
12. The Shulchan Aruch has four sections. The Choshen Mishpat section deals with the laws of jurisprudence civil law, damages, and court cases. return
13. A kosher Torah scroll is one with unbroken letters and various other features that make it fit for ritual synagogue use. A passul (invalid) Torah scroll has broken letters, missing words, errors, or other such problems that render it invalid for ritual synagogue use. return
14. The acronym for Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidism. return
15. A major work on Jewish law from the 1800s. return
16. An enigmatic phrase follows here, which reads roughly as follows: which, in comparison to military booty, smite and dim the physical life. I did not include this phrase in the translation. return
17. A phrase from the book of Genesis A simple man who sits in tents, used to refer to the patriarch Jacob. This phrase is often used to describe an honest, upright person who enjoys studying (i.e. sitting in the tents of the study hall). return
18. Gemara is a book of Talmud. Midrash is a book of ancient rabbinical lore. Zohar is the main book of the Kabbalah (Jewish mystical works). return
19. The beginning of the prayers on the Sabbath morning (in accordance with some opinions, that recite some of the earlier blessings in silence). return
20. Rachel's Tomb is located just outside of Bethlehem. It is a mystical custom to wrap scarlet thread around the tomb, and then to keep the thread on one's self as a good omen. return
21. The external shells refer to the antithesis of spirituality. It is said that where there is greater spirituality, there is greater potential for the antithesis of spirituality as well. For example, a pious person who falls into sin is in a much worse state than an impious person who commits the same sin. return
22. According to Jewish lore, a human body has 248 organs and 365 sinews. return
23. Literally 'with seven examinations' a term used to define a very careful examination. It is based on the Jewish law that there are seven main questions that one asks witnesses in a legal case to ascertain their validity. return
24. A euphemism for a household problem. return
25. A medieval sage, known by his acronym Shnei Luchot HaBrit Shela. return
26. I am not sure of the meaning of this. return
27. The Tosefta is an addendum to the books of the Mishna, consisting of Mishnaic style statements that were not incorporated into the text of the Mishna itself but which nevertheless are regarded as authoritative. Sota is one of the tractates of the Mishna and Talmud. return
28. A term used for someone who delves into the depths of a subject, perhaps at the expense of breadth. return
29. A reference from Pirke Avot (The Mishnaic tractate of Ethics of the Fathers), which warns one not to make use of Torah as a spade to dig with, i.e. for the means of obtaining a livelihood. return
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