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[Pages 100-101]

Reb Shaul Dovid Der Doss[1]

By Mordechai Yoffe

Translated by Judy Grossman

Mordechai Yoffe was born in Dusiat in 1894. He studied at a yeshiva and was self-educated. He was one of the young writers who contributed to the literary journal “Vispe” [Islet]. While an exile in Russia during World War I, he published poetry, stories and articles in newspapers in Odessa and Kiev. On his return to Lithuania he contributed to the local Jewish press. He published a collection of stories (in Yiddish) “Ohn a Zeit” [Without taking a Stand] (1927).

Mordechai Yoffe immigrated to the USA and there he published essays entitled “Ringen in der Keit” [Links in the Chain] (1939) and an anthology (in Yiddish) of Hebrew poetry, in two volumes. He was also a regular contributor to the Literature Section of the “Morgen Journal” [Yiddish newspaper in New York]. Mordechai Yoffe immigrated to Israel with his wife in 1953 and lived there for five years. Yoffe returned to the United States, and passed away in New York, 1961[2].

Some Publications by Mordechai Yoffe


Mordechai Yoffe: …Without exaggeration, there wasn't a single Jewish home that didn't contain a “character”, a person with a special nature, or, let us say, “kleinshtetldike perzonlechkeit” [a small shtetl personality]. I will try to recall a number of characters from my shtetl Dusiat, who were annihilated by the Lithuanians in the days of Hitler, the evil one. It doesn't matter whether they were positive or negative types, silly, or head and shoulders above everyone. The main thing is that they reflect the image of the Jewish Lithuania that once was …[3]

Rivka Levitt: I can also recall several characters:

Yudel “der marviecher” – the smuggler. He read profusely and could quote, but he never worked a day.

Avrom “der malech” - the angel – a good Jew, like an angel…

Avrom “der mord” - the beard – he had a long beard, reaching below his knees…

“Hirshe Poip” – he was the sentry in the shtetl. He was a happy and joyful Jew. He used to walk with a stick, and bang it on the ground…

And there was “die meshugene” - the crazy woman. She had a big mouth, and woe to anyone who didn't give her money…

Rachel Rabinowitz (Slovo): And there was “der groise trit” – the big step – who walked taking big steps. Why? “Because that way my shoes wear out less” he used to reply.

Yosef Yavnai (Slep): – Itze-Ber studied in the Beth Midrash all his life. He was nearsighted, but very strong, a real tough guy. There were exaggerated stories about his stinginess, and it was told that when his wife used to milk the cow, he would stand beside her and oversee her, so that she wouldn't finish quickly, and he would push her to press more and more…

Another story was that he used to mark the food to know whether his wife had eaten and how much.

My brother Avraham Slep and I tried to guess with what he marked it, and said with certainty: a Star of David!

The Jews in the shtetl of Dusiat were very strict about the title Reb[4]. When they called a person “Reb Avram”, Avraham had to be someone outstanding… a great scholar, a virtuous man, and not necessarily a very observant man. Observance itself was not the pinnacle. The tikkun (emendation) came first of all from learning and virtues. Age was also important. The older the man was, the greater the weight of the reb. The proof of this is in the fact that the son-in-law of one of the richest men in the shtetl was Eber [Bernstein]. He had wide knowledge in the Torah and was a very erudite man. He was an outstanding scholar, a cantor and a reader in the synagogue. And he was also observant. Nevertheless, no one in the shtetl called him Reb Eber, because he was too young and his beard was too short. But when the whole shtetl called the ritual slaughterer Reb Shaul-Dovid, they understood that he deserved this title.

The ritual slaughterer Reb Shaul-Dovid, the great scholar, was a wonderful person. He was a venerable, smart and virtuous man. People had faith in him and treated him with respect. If someone asked a question – he answered it. If someone asked for advice – he gave it. If there was a dispute – he settled it. Whenever there was a joyous occasion, he attended it, and in times of sorrow, Heaven forbid, he provided encouragement and consolation. It just couldn't be otherwise.

For example, the butchers used to sometimes quarrel with each other. What did they do? They used to take their butcher's knife and rush at their opponent, threatening to kill him. And the opponent, who was also a butcher, would grab his knife and threaten to do the same. And when two butchers are on the warpath they can really cause damage, and it is very dangerous. The Jews would keep distance in fear, and didn't know what to do. They waited for a miracle…

Suddenly someone remembered and said: “Listen, perhaps someone should go to Reb Shaul-Dovid?” That's all it took. They laid down their knives and went to him. They stood before him like innocent sheep, bent over, as though waiting for blows. And what did Reb Shaul-Dovid do? He sat sprawled in his armchair, like at the Passover Seder table, and after listening to both sides in a relaxed manner, he slowly stroked his long beard, cleared his throat and said, in Yiddish: “Der dos fun derfun is azoi.” [The this of the thereof is thus]… and they already understood what he meant. The meaning of “dos“ [this, in Yiddish] was that Jews shouldn't quarrel. Neither side could be in the right, and hitting each other was without question forbidden. Each butcher had a wife and children, and when the butchers grabbed “this” – it means the sharp knife - they might, Heaven forbid, kill each other, and is there no pity for wives and children!

“And therefore,” said Reb Shaul-Dovid, “der dos fun derfun is azoi“…

The quarrel was thus immediately settled and they drank l'chaim.

And don't be mistaken. If necessary, Reb Shaul-Dovid stamped his foot and banged on the table. Nothing could be worse than this…

And you might think that Reb Shaul-Dovid was a fluent, articulate speaker - but not at all! He was a clever, extremely wise Jew, but the esteem in which he was held and the main part of his status stemmed from his charm, which was evident in his “Der dos fun derfun is azoi…”

Shayke Glick: Reb Shaul-Dovid was also a wonderful Torah reader.

Even as a child I loved to watch him when he passed in front of the Ark of the Torah, wearing a white kittel[5].

“That is probably how the Cohen Gadol [High Priest] looked in the Temple on Yom Kippur,” I would muse.

Tzila Gudelsky (Shub): It was told that my grandfather Reb Shaul-Dovid was ordained as a Rabbi. In order to emphasize his dignity and greatness they used to relate that after his death his room was turned into a house of prayer, and people studied and prayed there during the year of mourning.

Reb Shaul-Dovid Shub lived with his family behind the courtyard of Yoffe's house


  1. [34] Yoffe, Mordechai. Fun Mein Shtetl Dusiat, in Lita, Volume 1, Ed. Dr. Mendel Sudarsky, New York, 1951, pp. 1483-1496 Return

  2. [33] Raphael Chasman,  Jewish Literature and Newspapers in Lithuania, Yahadut Lita, Vol 2, Tel-Aviv 1972, p. 250;

    Kagan, Jewish Cities, Towns and Villages in Lithuania, Dusiat, N.Y., 1990 p. 72 Return

  3. [32] Ibid 1 Return

  4. Honorific attached to a man's name as a sign of respect Return

  5. White robe worn for prayer on the High Holidays Return


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