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Rabbis

 

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The Rabbi Gaon (Genius) Reb Meir HaKohen Writer of Hakhafetz Khaim born in Zhetl in 1839

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The Rabbi Reb Yakov Krantz – The Dubner Preacher
1740 – 1804

Excerpts from a larger essay published in “Goldene Kayt”, vo. 19, Tel Aviv 1954 (PP. 39-60)

Translated by Janie Respitz

The rabbi Reb Yakov Krantz is known in the world as the Preacher of Dubno. He was born in Zhetl in 1740 to his father Rabbi Zev Krantz and his mother Hinde, the daughter of the rabbi of Kobrin, Reb Nokhem.

Reb Yakov distinguished himself with outstanding talents. As a child he already memorized many tractates of the Talmud. The preacher of Mezeritch recounted how Reb Yakov learned the entire tractate of Chulin by heart.

At age 18 he arrived in Mezeritch. His sermons, which were filled with parables, quickly made him famous and they invited this young man from Zhetl to become the town preacher. He remained in Mezeritch as preacher for two years, then went to Zhulkove and from there spent 18 years in Dubno.

Great rabbis and simple people would come hear his sermons. He was especially loved by the Gaon of Vilna, Reb Eliyahu. When the Vilna Gaon got sick in 1790 he invited Reb Yakov Krantz to come to him to preach.

The Vilna Gaon once asked him: “how is it possible to always find an appropriate parable for every passage?” Reb Yakov replied with a parable:

Once a man went to a village and saw a practice shooting target with holes only in the middle. When he asked the shooter how it is possible to shoot only in the centre he replied: first I shoot, then I draw the circle. I am the same. First I understand the object of the parable, then I apply it.

In 1795 the Vilna Gaon invited him a second time. On his way he stopped in Vlodove and became the town preacher. After a year in Vlodove he spent two years in Khelm and finally became the preacher of Zamosc.

In Zamosc Reb Yakov Krantz ran a Yeshiva and would explain the most difficult Talmudic passages with a parable. He easily explained what other great rabbis and scholars could not.

His piety was without boundaries. He would wake up in the middle of the night, recite the midnight prayer, study until dawn and then immerse himself in a ritual bath. From dawn until evening prayers he would be wrapped in a prayer shawl and phylacteries. As he prayed, he did not move a hand or a foot. He stood before God like a slave before his master. After the morning prayers he would study until lunch and only then take something to eat. After lunch he would return to the House of Study and teach the Yeshiva boys.

In the midst of teaching he would begin to cry and recite psalms. After he died, the beadle of the House of Study said Reb Yakov Krantz would ask him to inform him of every sick person or tragic incident in town. Seeing as Zamosc was a big city with many troubles, he would cry every day and pray for the sick and unfortunate.

His entire life, from age 18 on, he was awake half the night and every Monday and Thursday he would fast.

He prepared his book “Sefer Hamidot” for publication on his own. His other books were published by his son Reb Yitzkhak Krantz and his student Reb Berish Flam (Kol Yakov, Kokhav Mi Yakov, Emes L'Yakov).

Rabbi Yakov Krantz died on the 17th of Tevet 1804 and was buried in Zamosc. The inscription on his tombstone states he was a famous preacher, well known throughout the world, there was no one like him before and won't be another after. (According to Yakov Dov Mandelboym from Sefer Zamosc).

 

Y.Y. Trunk Writes About The Preacher of Dubno

The Preacher of Dubno travelled around preaching to Jewish communities in Russia, Poland, the Austro – Hungarian Empire and Germany. While in Berlin, the well known Moshe (Moses) Mendelsohn came to hear him and called him the “Jewish Aesop”. This comparison is incorrect. The Preacher of Dubno was not a “fable writer” and he never took his parables from the lives of animals.

The simple audience felt uplifted by the preacher's parables. He saw symbols of a moral way of life in daily scenes of Jewish life.

Even after his death, Jews would come en masse to synagogues to hear his parables which other preachers told in his name.

His parables did not only uplift the simple folk. The folksy piety of his words and his understanding of humanity as seen in his stories

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about Jewish life, was seen as the highest thinking of the Jewish intellect by great rabbis of his generation.

 

A Discussion with the Vilna Gaon

The Vilna Gaon who was considered the greatest rabbinical authority of his day really liked the Preacher of Dubno and considered their meetings to be of great spiritual pleasure.

There is a story told about a meeting of these two great personalities of that time.

As is known, the Vilna Gaon rarely left his house. He would sit all day in his room, with the shudders closed even during the day and study Torah day and night.

When the Preacher of Dubno arrived and saw the Gaon's leadership, how he separated himself from the world and did not leave his home, he said to him:

It's no big trick to be the Vilna Gaon, when you sit closed in your room studying Torah. Going out into the street, seeing the world, meeting people, doing business and being the Gaon, now that's tricky.

The Vilna Gaon answered him abruptly – I'm not a magician!

If the Preacher of Dubno, due to his travelling around to Jewish communities, did not manage to come to the Gaon in Vilna, the greatest Talmudic authority wrote him letters, which are touched with modesty and longing for the folksy righteous man and his stories about Jewish life.

Although the Preacher of Dubno was extremely popular throughout the Jewish world, he wrote very little. It seems he felt the pen stood as a barrier between him and the simple Jew for whom his heart burned with humility and love.

When the Preacher of Dubno stood at the podium, wrapped in his prayer shawl talking to Jews, he did not fear the fires of hell. He comforted the Jews and tried to steer them on the path to justice. He behaved like a holy ascetic and demanded of himself the strictest discipline. He demanded a lot less from others.

 

The Preacher Celebrates the Exile

A folk tale is told about the Preacher of Dubno which also characterizes his lifestyle.

Once on a Sabbath the Preacher of Dubno stood in front of the congregation and gave a sermon. The synagogue was packed with everyone swallowing every word. The Preacher's mouth spewed pearls of wisdom, bright thoughts. The Preacher of Dubno raised himself to the divine chariot in the heavens and to the golden chairs of the righteous. Suddenly he heard an accusation against him from the ministering angels. He searched for his deeds and felt he was nearing the golden chairs of the righteous, he descended from his actual rank. In order to correct his ascent, the Preacher of Dubno took it upon himself to celebrate the exile.

The Preacher of Dubno disappeared for a couple of years among the large nameless masses of poor Jews and wandered throughout the Jewish world as a simple poor man. Together with other poor Jews, he walked from town to town, torn, with a stick in hand and a pack on his back. He slept in poorhouses, took coins from well off Jews and on the Sabbath, together with the other poor people, ate at Jewish prosperous homes. He hid his popular and beloved name from everyone.

In this bitter community among the simple poor people he cleansed himself spiritually. He became engrossed and uplifted in his love of the Jews and his new life experiences helped him create new stories.

I will quote one of his parables.

 

A Parable About a Deaf Man with a Cripple

A lame man and a deaf man who went from house to house begging together formed a partnership. The lame man sat on the deaf man's shoulders. They went together from house to house begging.

One day they came to a house where a wedding was taking place. The lame man heard the musicians playing. He felt like dancing. But how can he dance when he only has one leg? The poor deaf man could not hear the music.

“Dance a bit, jump a bit, I'm happy” shouted the lame man to the deaf man.

The deaf man could not hear the lame man nor the music. What did the lame man do? He took a bottle of whisky out of his pocket and gave the deaf man a sip. The deaf man tasted the whisky, began to feel happy and started to dance. The lame man gave him another sip, and then another and the deaf man began dancing with all he had. The lame man, who was sitting on the deaf man's shoulders was bobbing up and down. This is how they both danced. The lame man because of the music and the deaf man, from the whisky.

How much irony of the essence of a person lies in this simple story. We can not demand too much from a person. We must love him

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in his weakness. This is the content of the Preacher of Dubno's sermons.

 

Why Didn't the Preacher Write Down His Stories?

Jews say: they once asked the Preacher of Dubno why he does not write an essay on Torah, the Prophets or interpretations which would contain his preaching. This is what the other preachers do. He said: I'll answer you with a parable. A rich man was marrying off his child. Many guests came to the celebratory meal, rich and poor Jews. They ate and drank and were very happy. The difference was this: the invited rich man sits at the table, eats the fine food and drinks the liquor according to a certain order. First he eats the fish, then he takes a bit of whisky. Then he eats the soup with noodles, meat and vegetable stew and ends with a glass of wine. The poor man stands on the side and quickly eats people's leftovers. The poor man sadly, cannot follow an order. He mixes the fish with the soup, meat with the herring, hot and cold to make sure he eats everything thrown at him.

The same is with me. The great Gaon of Vilna always sits at his holy table studying Torah. He can enjoy the wisdom and insight which, as if possible grants him order. But me, a Jew who wanders from town to town – I have to be satisfied with what is thrown at me from time to time. Here falls an interpretation of a passage on Khabkuk, and soon after a parable on the words between Balak and Blemen, or an interpretation of the story of Noah. I must take all these things in haste, and without order take note and prepare to continue in my way.


Rabbi Yisroel Meir Hakohen – The Khafetz Khaim
1839–1933

by Rabbi Moishe Meir Yashar

Translated by Janie Respitz

Rabbi Yisreol Meir Hakohen was born in Zhetl in 1839. His father Arye – Zev died young and he moved with his mother to Vilna. At 17 –18 years of age he married in Radin in the Vilna region.

After his wedding he spent his whole life learning and his wife supported the family running a store.

He wrote many holy books. His best known work which made him famous was his book on moral instruction called “Khafetz Khaim” (the Desire for Life) (Vilna 1873), published anonymously. The name of the book became the name of the author. Among his other known books are “Shmiras Haloshen”, “Mishneh Brurua”, a collection of laws from The Code of Jewish Law (Shulkhan Arukh) which included telling Jewish soldiers how to observe Judaism during military service.

Immersed in moral instruction, the Khafetz Khaim strove to spread virtues and strengthen religion through Yiddish. Besides his preaching, he had some of his books published with Yiddish translations under the Hebrew text. One that stands out is “Sefer Nidkhai Yisrael” which is one of the most important new religious literary works in Yiddish; the writer wrote on the cover page: “due to the request from many people, for this to be a useful book accessible to everyone, we translated it into simple Yiddish, so everyone can look at the important matters about our holy faith, which must be known and observed by every Jew, especially those who live in far away places. We also discuss here necessary laws and many other issues every Jew should know.”

His other books translated into Yiddish deal with women's modesty, immersions etc…

He received help with these Yiddish translations from Bentzion Alps and his son in law Hirsh Levinson who was the head of the Yeshiva in Radin for 36 years until his death. The communal activism of the Khefetz Khaim is connected to this Yeshiva which he founded and used his name to make it renown and collected the money it needed to exist. In recent years the name Khefetz Khaim is remembered together with greatest geniuses who influenced generations with their greatness.

From the Lexicon of Yiddish Literature, Press and Philology of Zalmen Reyzn, vol. 2, 1930, Vilna.

 

The Childhood of Khafetz Khaim

In Zhetl, Grodno province, (Polish Lithuania), on the 11th day of the month of Shevat (1839) a child was born to Reb Arye Zev Hakohen and Mrs. Dobrusheh. Reb Arye Zev was not a wealthy shopkeeper. He came from a respected family, he was an important man and a great scholar. In his youth he studied at the famous Volozhyn Yeshiva, probably after the time of the esteemed Reb Khaim of blessed memory.

As a young man Reb Arye Zev studied in Vilna at Reb Khaim Parnas' house of study. In order to earn a living,

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he tutored a few rich boys. He would send a portion of his earnings home to his family.

His wife Dobrushe was a very pious, quiet, modest woman. In honour of the Sabbath she would light many candles and observed the Sabbath with the utmost care. If there was a wire border around town which indicated an area which one was permitted to carry objects on the Sabbath, she would not even carry a key. She would spend her day reading the weekly portion and commentaries. She would not let her prayer book, supplications or psalms out of her hands.

She was Reb Arye Zev's second wife, a sister to the first. She was 14 years old when they married in 1833. Reb Arye Zev's first wife, Miriam left him with three children, a daughter Reyzl and two sons: Reb Moishe and Reb Aron. Reb Aron was 18 years old when his aunt gave birth after her wedding to her only son.

Reb Arye Zev's young wife was very happy seeing her prayers were answered and she was blessed with a beautiful little boy whose beautiful little face shone with heavenly light.

Oy, how she wished the holy temple would already be rebuilt. Then she would consecrate the son she prayed for to the Almighty as Khana did with her son Shmuel. Her son is even more prestigious, he is a Kohen and Shmuel was only a Levi! Whatever happens, her son would study Torah. Torah is the best merchandise! This is the only treasure that has remained since the destruction. When you study Torah you can reach the heights of the High Priest.

As she was thinking these thoughts she looked at her child. It seemed to her that when he smiled at her, she saw in his bright eyes a promise her hopes would be realized.

His circumcision took place on the 18th of Shevat. The rabbi came as well as all the important men in town. When they heard he was being named Yisroel Meir, (Yisroel =Israel, Meir = Light) everyone blessed the parents and said this child will grow up to be a light upon the Jewish people.

“Amen!” answered his mother with a trembling heart and tears in her eyes.

 

His Youth

The Name Yisroel Meir in reality reached its full meaning, as the child grew up to be a true light of Israel, the illuminator of his people.

He recounted, when he was a small boy his father took him to Vilna, took him to an acquaintance, a great rabbi, so the rabbi could test his knowledge of Talmud. After listening to him the great rabbi pinched his cheek and said: “Yes, you are a good little boy, be careful my dear child, do not lose your name”.

He remembered these words his whole life. His parents felt proud and the small Yisreol Meir made them happy, because from childhood they recognized his prodigious talents. He was soon known as one of the best children in town. He stood out with his diligence and enthusiasm to learn. His diligence can be seen from a story his father told, that when they were in Vilna his beloved Yisroel Meir fell asleep while studying. His father carried him sleeping to the bedroom and put him to bed. He was astounded later to see his son studying and repeating what he had taught him that morning.

 

His Honesty

From childhood on he was admired for his exceptional naivety and honesty. Once, when he was a child playing at the marketplace with other children a fruit dealer dropped a basket of apples. The little brats happily grabbed the apples as did the little Yisroel Meir.

Later, when his father finished teaching him the phrases from the bible “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not covet” he asked his mother for a kopeck to buy fruit. He took the kopeck, went to the market and bought apples from the same lady. After he paid, he threw the apples back in her bushel and ran away.

Another story was about a poor water carrier in town. He was a simple man and not very smart. School boys would tease him and pull pranks on him. In the winter when he would leave empty buckets near the well, these brats would fill them with water so they would freeze during the night. At dawn, when the water carrier would come to draw water he had to work hard to break the ice in the buckets. He would become irritated and curse.

When the young Yisroel Meir learned of this, he would go, unnoticed by the other boys, and empty the buckets so that the poor water carrier would not have problems in the morning,

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and without too much effort, fill his buckets and earn his bread.

 

After His Father's Death

When the boy was ten years old, he became an orphan. His father who had studied in Vilna in Reb Khaim Nakhman Paranas' House of Study died at age 47 during a cholera epidemic. As he lay on his deathbed his only worry was who would educate his son in Judaism and raise him to study Torah and perform good deeds.

His father's death did not weaken the steady ascent of this young boy thanks to his noble, righteous mother.

Like a true woman of valour, she carried the burden of earning a living and kept a watchful eye on her child. His brother Reb Aron, of blessed memory also did a lot for him. He was a great scholar and personally taught his little brother. He also contributed financially to his successful education and the Khafetz Khaim always remembered this.

The small Yisroel Meir ascended in his Torah studies and did good deeds. Meanwhile, his widowed mother remarried Reb Shimon, a well established man from Radin. Her second husband committed himself to support her child. However, he was rarely at home. He was already studying in Vilna, the Jerusalem of Lithuania, which from then on he considered his second home after Radin.

An Excerpt from “The Life and Works of Khafetz Khaim”, by Rabbi Moishe Meir Yashar, New York.


My Meetings with the Khafetz Khaim

by Shabbtai Mayevsky (B'nai B'rak)

Translated by Janie Respitz

As it is known, the world–renowned genius and righteous man, Reb Yisreol Meir Hakohen from Radin, of blessed memory, was born in Zhetl. He published his first book “Kahfetz Khaim” at age 18. It is based on a line in the Book of Psalm “He who wants to live, should not speak badly of anyone”.

The book which was published anonymously made a great impact on the world, not only due to its content and great scholarship (there was no shortage of great scholars in those days), but because of its theme which was new to rabbinic literature. No one had written on the topic of slander and gossip before.

The Khafetz Khaim practiced what he preached. He lived his life as he instructed others to do. Those who knew him claimed he never said a bad word about anyone, therefore, deserving of his name.

The Khafetz Khaim wrote about 30 books. I want to mention only one: The Love for Justice. As the previous book, this too was new to the religious Jewish world because of his theme: disinterested act of charity. The book discusses the good deed of giving charity.

There were many biographies written about Khafetz Khaim. In the framework of my few words I would like to recount my meetings with him.

In 1927 I was studying at the Yeshiva in Ayshishok, 12 kilometres from Radin. On the 10th of Shevat, a day we did not study because it is a fast day, a group of us walked to Radin to meet the Khafetz Khaim.

We arrived in Radin frozen and went straight to his house. He made an incredible impression on me. A small Jew with a snow white beard, a high black cap the type old men in Zhetl would wear, his face radiant like the sun. He was by then in his eighties and could barely walk. He snuck into another room and began to drag a chair. His son in law saw this and asked:

“Rabbi, why are you dragging that chair?”

He replied: “the boys are tired, they should rest”.

My second visit to the Khafetz Khaim was when my father of blessed memory got sick and was hospitalized in Vilna. I went to the Khafetz Khaim to ask for a blessing. When I approached him and put forth my request he did not answer but began to cry like a small child. A few days later, my father of blessed memory died.

I believe it is worthwhile that everyone from Zhetl living all over the world should know this great man and lover of the people of Israel was born in Zhetl.


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The Wise Men of Zhetl

by Moshe Tzinovitz, Tel Aviv

Translated by Judy Montel

 

Rabbi Reb Tzvi Hirsch son of Reb Me'ir HaKohen

The author of Torah studies, Rabbi Reb Tzvi Hirsch son of Reb Me'ir HaKohen of Zhetl lived 250 years ago [i.e. early 1700s]. He published a book called “Chidushei Maharsh”a” on the Rashi commentary to the Five Books of Moses. In this book he collected all of the innovations of the Maharsh”a and with this helped explained every problematic passage in the commentary of Rashi.

In the title page of his book, he is described as “a Torah champion from the holy community of Zhetl in the country of Lithuania.” His preface to the book contains valuable historical material about the history of Israel in Lithuania during the days of the northern war that took place between Sweden, Poland and Russia.

Because of persecution, many Jews, including writers on matters of Torah, were forced to travel to Jewish communities in western Europe, especially to Germany, to earn money and also in order to print their books at one of the Hebrew presses.

The author of Zhetl writes: “For I saw excellent people, all of them holy, take to their feet, a large congregation of Israel, each one left their place, expelled and abandoned, some from one place, some from another. Because of the great want and robbery, that is growing in the country of Poland, the sheep have scattered, with no shepherd, as foxes amid ruins and brave people and sin-fearing and wise – in sorrow, destitute and weeping.

Oh to the eyes that see this! The sons of Zion who are excellent in Halacha, how have they been considered no more than a clay bowl at the top of every street? The spirit of my stomach tortures me and my heart shrinks in my chest like a small coin in a large vessel.”

The author tells us of his troubles and travels from the time he left his home and abandoned his inheritance and with his wife and members of his household left the country, spent time in various towns, until he found a place to settle in Manheim in Germany.

There, “the lord, the officer, the elevated and generous champion crowned by a good reputation,” Reb Avraham Zedenheim, noticed him. Reb Zedenheim had a reputation as great as the great ones who are glorified, and he found a refuge with him for a time and was supported generously by him, so that he could recover from the illnesses he had suffered in the 'wandering' lands, far from his birthplace and former influence.

A short time later, Rabbi, Reb Tzvi Hirsch moved to the Jewish community of Hanoi [Hanau am Main]. There he finds succor and support from the blessed Officer Falk who gave him room and board and in this town he was given the opportunity, in 1717, to print his book “Chidushei Maharsh”a” [Innovations of the Maharsh”a].

His excellent book was given “Haskamot” [recommendations] from the great rabbis of the time: Rabbi Reb Yechezkel Katzenelenboigen, the head of the rabbinical court of Altona-Hamburg-Wandsbeck, who had previously been the rabbi of Zhetl and knew the author from this, his birth town; the Haskama of the rabbinical judge and head of the yeshiva in Frankfurt, Reb Shmuel Shatin, Reb David, head of the rabbinical court in Manheim and Reb Moshe, head of the rabbinical court of Hanoi.

In this book, the author of Zhetl brings the commentaries on Rashi; from what he heard from his mentor, the best of the wise men, whose name was known and glorified by many, the elevated champion and wondrous rabbi of Torah learning, Reb. Aryeh Leib Katz, who was secure in his seat in the holy community of Zhetl in the country of Lithuania.

Apparently, Reb Tzvi Hirsch stayed in one of the German communities like other Torah authors, and certainly worked there as an educator.

 

Rabbi Reb Yoseph David

Rabbi Reb Yoseph David was born in Zhetl in approximately 1767 to his honorable father, Reb Tzvi, who was a scholar and a great tradesman. At a young age he was famed for his talents, his diligence and his righteousness. He married the daughter of Rabbi Reb Moshe Eisenshtat of Keltsk.

After his marriage he settled in Zhetl, sat in the tent of the Torah and was a loyal student of his mother's father, Reb Chaim, head of the rabbinical court there. As the rabbi aged, his grandson, Reb Yoseph David helped him in all matter of deciding matters of religion and law.

The elderly rabbi as well as the leaders of the Zhetl community thought that Rabbi Yoseph David would take his grandfather's place in the town's rabbinate. However meanwhile, in 1793, he was appointed as a rabbi in Mir, there he labored for 53 years and became known as one of the great rabbis of Lithuania.

Reb Yoseph David would torture his soul with fasting, study all day in holiness and purity. He was tall, taller than most people and had an honorable appearance. When he sat in judgement, the litigants were in fear of him. He preserved his words with holiness and purity and whatever he expressed verbally, for good or, heaven forbid, for bad, took place.

His second son, Reb Moshe Avraham, was the rabbi of Zhetl. Reb Yoseph David died aged 78 in 1846.

 

Rabbi Reb Avraham Elyakim

Rabbi Reb Elyakim was born in Zhetl in 1797. He was a supervisor in the Volozhin Yeshiva. He died in 1865 in Volozhin. In “Magid” (No. 25, 1865) he was described as follows:

Fourth day of Chol HaMo'ed Pesach, the great, honorable, elderly rabbi, Rabbi Elyakim aged 68. For over 40 years he worked at the Yeshiva and it's been over twenty years since Reb Itzeleh made him a supervisor.

Reb Elyakim knew the great Rabbi Akiva Eiger and his son, Reb Shlomo well. Reb Elyakim was awake all day and at night he also sat in the Yeshiva and would study Torah. He was one of the few who remembered Reb Chayim, founder of the Yeshiva.

 

Rabbi Reb Yitzchak Yehoshua of Karlitz

Rabbi Reb Yitzchak Yehoshua of Karlitz was the head of a yeshiva in Slonim and later on in Zhetl. He was one of the great Torah scholars 120 years ago. Some of his students were: Reb Chaim Leib Tiktinski, head of the Mir Yeshiva and the son of his brother-in-law, Rabbi Mordechai Gimple Yaffe – head of the rabbinical court of Rozhnoi. Towards the end of his life Reb Yitzchak Yehoshua was a teacher-arbiter at Mir and that's where he died.

Rabbi Reb Yitzchak left many manuscripts, but all were burnt except for his book “Beit Yisra'el” on the Passover Haggadah, which was published in Minsk in 1836. This book was reprinted in 1838 by one of his descendants, Rabbi Reb Shimon Heilprin a rabbinical decisor in Vilna and in Jerusalem. Encouraging the publisher to print the book was the great rabbi Reb Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, who was a relative of the author.

 

Rabbi Reb Aryeh Yellin

Rabbi Reb Aryeh Yellin lived several years in Zhetl in the house of his father-in-law, Reb Moshe Pinchas.

This famous rabbi was born in Skidel which is near Grodno. For a number of years, he learned in Volozhin.

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From Zhetl he was accepted as a rabbi in the town of Yeshinovki near Bialystok. In Yeshinovka he wrote his book “Mitzpe Aryeh” and “Kol Aryeh.”

From Yeshinovki he was accepted as a rabbi in Bielsk. In this town he wrote his great book “Yefe Einayim,” in which he demonstrated a deep knowledge of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. This work of his was attached to the new edition of the Babylonian Talmud that was published by the Romm Press, and it drew much attention in the world of Torah scholarship and was considered one of the precious pearls in Talmudic literature.

He was a great leader of Torah and his gaze was always on the literature of the written and oral Torah. He died in 1886.

 

Rabbi Reb David Moshe Namiot

Rabbi Reb David Moshe Namiot was born in Zhetl to his father, Reb Yechiel Michel. He was the fourth generation (great grandson) to Rabbi Reb Eliezer Namiot, the rabbi of Zhetl. Rabbi Reb David Moshe Namiot studied in the yeshiva of Rabbi Reb Chaim Ozer Grodzhinski.

In 1906 he published his book “Divrei Moshe,” which contains new citations and references in the Babylonian Talmud. Rabbi Reb Chaim Ozer wrote in his preface to the book about its author: “He studied with great diligence in my tent here, and I knew very well that a blessing dwelled in him, a new vessel, full of ancient [tradition].”

 

Two Zhetl Residents – married students at the Brodsky Kollel

In 5646 (1885-6) a special Kollel was established at the Volozhin Yeshiva to support ten excellent married students, who would receive financial support to maintain their families until they were qualified to be rabbis and great Torah scholars in one of the Jewish communities. These married students were called “Avreichim of the Brodsky Kollel,” since the lord Yisrael Brodsky from Kiev dedicated an endowment for this purpose.

Among the excellent ten students were two from Zhetl. Rabbi Reb Tzvi Shachor, the grandson of the great Rabbi, Reb Yoseph David, the head of the rabbinical court of Mir. Rabbi Reb Shmuel Tzvi Shachor lived in Zhetl. The second student: Rabbi Reb Shalom Eliezer son of Reb Nachum Yisrael Rogozin of Zhetl.

 

Rabbi Reb Tzvi Yoseph HaKohen Rizikov of Zhetl[1]

Rabbi Reb Tzvi Yosef HaKohen Rizikov of Zhetl was one of the great Torah scholars of his time. He was the head of the Slonim yeshiva. All of his life he didn't not stop learning Torah. He was well-versed in the Talmud and its commentaries which he had committed to memory. All of his actions and way of life were holy. He had excellent characteristics, hated honor, made do with little and had no desire for wealth. He never wanted to be a rabbi. In spite of this, great places wanted to have his honor dwell among them, yet he did not want to relent for a moment from studying Torah.

Rabbi Reb Tzvi Yoseph did want to write down his innovations. He considered that a waste of time. He also did not conduct rabbinical correspondences, and only gave an answer when asked directly.

For 18 years he served as the head of the Sovalk (Suwalki) Yeshiva. He elevated the yeshiva until people arrived there from distant places to study with him.

Rabbi Reb Tzvi Yoseph HaKohen died in Sovalk on the 11 of Nissan, 5672 (March 29, 1912) at the age of 71. He was eulogized by famous rabbis. The rabbi of the town, Reb Moshe Luria said: “If the Holy Temple existed, the deceased could have served there as a high priest.”

 

Rabbi Reb Menachem HaKohen Rizikov

Rabbi Reb Menachem HaKohen Rizikov was born in Zhetl in 5628 (1862) [this is a typographical error. 5628 would be 1868, but elsewhere he is reported to have been born in 1866], to his father, Rabbi Reb Tzvi Yoseph HaKohen, head of the yeshivas of Slonim and Suwalki. Rabbi Reb Menachem served as the rabbi of Kazan in Russia and the rabbi of Brooklyn in the United States. His books are: “Tiferet Menachem,” “Divrei Menachem,” “Sha'arei Zevach,” and “From the Torah of Tzvi Yoseph,” in two parts. His last book was published in New York in 5686 [1926].

 

Rabbi Reb Moshe Eliezer Gavrinovski of Zhetl

In the case of the great, sharp, amazing, knowledgeable, generous and incredible rabbi, Reb Moshe Eliezer, Torah and greatness were united in one place. He was known in the regions of Lithuania as “Reb Moshe Eliezer Mastilevitzer. He was born in Zhetl in 5609 (1849) to his father the extraordinary philanthropist and doer of good deeds, Reb Moshe Eliezer, who died before his son was entered into the covenant of our father Abraham and was named for him.

The orphan, Reb Moshe Eliezer, was educated with his father's father, the governor and philanthropist, Naftali Hertz Gvorin in Slonim. (Reb Naftali Herz's mother was the daughter of Reb Chaim Orliner HaKohen of Orlin, which is next to Zhetl, who had 13 sons who were great in Israel, one of them the rabbi of Zhetl – Rabbi Reb Yosph Tzvi HaKohen.)

Reb Moshe Eliezer learned Torah in the yeshiva of Zhetl with the sharp rabbi, Reb Shlomo. His excellent talents were very much appreciated by Rabbi Eizel Charif, head of the rabbinical court of Slonim. Afterwards he learned in the “Kloiz” [small study hall] of the Gr”a [the Vilna Ga'on] in Vilna, was a particular student of the teacher there, Rabbi Yoseph Sakovitz. In the year 5629-5630 [approx. 1869-70] he was mentored in his Torah study by the great rabbis, Rabbi Yisrael Salanter and Rabbi Yechezkel Landau. Already then, he was a highly respected home-owner in Vilna, after he married the daughter of the famous lord and he studied in wealth and honor.

He managed the estate Mastilevitz near Keltzk. In 5664 [1904] he came to America and founded with his sons a large business for medicines and grew wealthy there. Also in America, in Brooklyn, he continued to do holy work, much charity and did much in general and community matters. Among his many manuscripts we find many Torah innovations in all of the subjects of the Talmud, on which he debated with the great scholars of his time.

 

Rabbi Reb Noach Rabinowitz

Rabbi Reb Noach Rabinowitz was born in Zhetl in 5598 (1838). When still in his youth he was notable for his elevated talents. At the age of 13 he had memorized the orders of Nezikin and Nashim [of the Talmud].

At the Volozhin Yeshiva he was one of the most beloved students of the great Rabbi Reb Yoseph Dov HaLevi Soloveichik, and adopted his study method for himself. When Reb Yoseph Dov was accepted as a rabbi in Slutzk, he took with him his student Reb Noach who worked as his assistant. In 1860, Reb Noach Rabinowitz was invited to occupy the seat of the rabbinate in Turets. He excelled in this position and gave wondrous sermons. In 1872 he was accepted as the rabbi of Silev [Vselyub] near Novogrudek.

Reb Noach Rabinowitz was one of the few rabbis who associated with the Hibat Tzion [Lovers of Zion] movement and in his public appearances he advocated for the settling of the Land of Israel.

In 1890 he was accepted as the rabbi of Shadowa [Seduva, Lithuania] and he ran the community there until his death in 1901.

Reb Noach Rabinowitz was one of the rabbis who didn't content themselves with their spiritual role, but who also did community work. He founded charity organizations and was always ready to help every sufferer.

He wrote the books: “Mei No'ach,” “Toldot No'ach,” and “Sefer HaTorah VeHaMitzvot.”


Translator's Note

  1. In searching online for Rabbi Tzvi Yoseph I found that he was also listed with the last name Reznik, while his son, mentioned below, had the last name Rizikov. Return


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Rabbi Reb Baruch Avraham Mirsky OBM
1840-1912

by Rabbi Y.L. Maimon (Jerusalem)

Translated by Judy Montel

Because I was a member of the editorial board of “HaPisga,” I was fortunate enough to come in contact with a number of great rabbis, first by an exchange of letters, and afterwards with some of them in person. Among these rabbis I feel obligated to mention here one of the greatest of the rabbis, who I first met in the home of “Hapisga's” editor, Rabbi Trivush, and afterwards we became friends and worked together to forward building the land, and this is: the Ga'on, the Tzaddik, Rabbi Baruch Avraham Mirsky of blessed memory.

 

His History

Rabbi Reb Baruch Avraham Mirsky was born in the town of Mir, on the holiday of Shavu'ot, in 5600 [1840]. His father, Rabbi Moshe, was one of the great leaders of that generation, the head of the Yeshiva of Mir. Rabbi Baruch Avraham's mother died when he was still very young, when he was two years old. His father later married a second wife from the town of Nesvizh [Nyasvizh, Belarus] and settled there. Here he founded a large yeshiva for the study of Torah and excellent students came from the entire area to study Torah with him. Over time, his son Rabbi Baruch Avraham also was educated in this yeshiva and became well known as an “ilui” [exceptional].

When he was sixteen, he married – the daughter of one of the wealthy people of Nesvizh and on his wedding day he gave a sermon and amazed the great scholars of the town with his sharpness and profundity. And among those scholars was also the great Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor Tosfa'a who was then the rabbi of Nesvizh.

After his wedding he continued to learn Torah from the greats of that generation: his uncle, Rabbi Tevli of Minsk, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel of Rasayn (author of “Amudei Ha'Esh” [Pillars of Fire]) and Rabbi Avraham Shimon Traub, the rabbi of Keidan (author of “Chidushim veBi'urim” [Innovations and Explanations] for the book “Halachot Gdolot” [Great Laws]).

In 5629 [1869] he was appointed to be head of the yeshiva in Nesvizh and his classes in Talmud and in Jewish Law that he would give to his sharp students (and of whom there were later national leaders) were suffused with sharpness and erudition in a wondrous fashion. In 5633 [1873] the rabbinical seat in Porozowa became vacant, and because of the efforts of the great and holy rabbi Nachum of Grodno, who respected and liked Rabbi Baruch Avraham very much – the latter was accepted as a rabbi and head of the rabbinical court there. In 5652 [1892] he became the rabbi in the town of Zhetl and served there for over twenty years, until he died.

 

Opinions of Great Torah Scholars

This great rabbi was excellent and well known, including among the greater rabbis of the generation, as a tremendous scholar. Once, when he was in Brisk in Lithuania, he visited the home of the tremendous leader, Rabbi Chayim Soloveitchik, and as they were in the midst of the typical conversation of Torah-scholars, Rabbi Baruch Avraham told him of some explanation to words of the Rambam [Maimonides]. From great astonishment over the truth of this explanation, Rabbi Chayim called his friend, Rabbi Simcha Zelig and said to him: “Come, listen, how the rabbi of Zhetl learns Rambam and explains him.”

Rabbi Baruch Avraham Mirsky left several books on various tractates in the Talmud, a valuable book on the commentary of the Ramban [Nachmanides] on the Torah and also the book “Shmatteta DeRaba”, questions and answers and negotiations in matters of Halacha [Jewish Law] with the great Torah scholars of his generation, but most of his books and innovations were lost in the Diaspora, during the days of the previous, terrible world war, and only his book “Shmatteta DeRaba”, which had been typeset ready to print, was miraculously saved and it can be found in the hands of his son, Reb Tevel Mirsky who lives in our holy city of Jerusalem (and was printed with the help of the “Mossad HaRav Kook” Press).

Our teacher the great rabbi and tzaddik Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, the first chief rabbi of the land of Israel, was very desirable of seeing one of Rabbi Baruch Avraham's books published. He didn't have a chance to meet him in person, but once he saw a pamphlet of his with his Torah innovations, and from that he learned his study method.

 

The Rabbi's Humility

He was modest by nature, and at the same time, dedicated to study Torah and teach it. His persistence and dedication are evidenced by this fact: while he was the rabbi in the city of Porozowa, a man came to him from the surrounding area along with his daughter, who was ill and suffered from mental illness, and asked him to arouse heavenly mercy on her with his prayers, so that the Healer of all Flesh would send her a complete healing amid the rest of the ill people of Israel. The rabbi, with his great humility, refused to fill the request of this man. He did not want people coming from other towns to trouble him with such matters. But the unhappy father would not let it rest. Every day, morning and evening, when the Rabbi would walk to the synagogue to pray – he would run after him and ask him to mention his daughter's name in his prayers. According to him, many of his acquaintances had told him that his daughter could be saved only by the rabbi of Porozowa. The rabbi wept and begged his fellow townspeople to try to calm the heart of the sad father and to tell him honestly, that their rabbi did not get involved in such matters. To the question of his congregation: “What does it matter to the rabbi if he promises this unhappy father to request mercy for his daughter that she should be healed and enlivened?” the rabbi answered innocently:

“With all of my heart and soul I want to calm the heart of this poor father, but I fear that if his daughter should coincidentally heal from her illness, people will consider me a miracle worker, and from near and far, sufferers, each one with their troubles, will badger me with their requests and will stop me from the study of Torah, and for this my heart fails (later on, it became known that he had been advised to travel to the Admo”r [Chassidic rabbi] of Porisov, and the troubled father confused Porisov with Porozowa).

Rabbi Baruch Avraham was also well-known among all of the great scholars of his generation for his love and his affection and his longing for the Land of Israel. In a letter by the great & righteous Rabbi Ya'akov Moshe Charla”p of blessed memory, to the writer of these lines, he wrote among other things: “The innovations of the great scholar, our teacher Rabbi Baruch Avraham Z”tl [may his righteous memory be for a blessing], head of the rabbinical court of the holy community of Zhetl – are a wonder. In any topic that he deals with he is a rising spring, a flowing spring, he travels around the depths of the sea of the Talmud and the “Poskim” [scholars of Talmudic law], dives into deep waters and brings up precious pearls. He is known for his great affection, for he was devoted with his whole soul to the holy love, the love of our holy land, and was one of the activists and those who loved it, and for this reason,

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the holy light of the holy air was upon him.”

And indeed, these words were very faithful. Although all his life he never left off studying Torah, he did and acted much in our communities in support of the love of Zion and Zionism. Already in his younger days he would from time to time correspond with Rabbi Natan Friedland on the matter of the Land of Israel, and later, also with the great scholars Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, Rabbi Mordechai Gimpl Yaffe, and also with Rabbi Yechiel Michl Piness.

In 5646 [1886], when the thought arose to several of the leaders of Hovevei Zion who were in Russia, headed by lion of the group, the great scholar Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, to make efforts to purchase the land of the Arbel which is in the lower Galilee, an ancient historical site, that even now contain remnants of an ancient synagogue from centuries ago – Rabbi Baruch Avraham participated in this deal and invested all of his funds in this purchase. And when his friends, acquaintances and those who respected him asked him: why is he so interested in the purchase of the land of the Arbel in particular? He replied to them with a small smile:

“The whole practical idea of settling the land of Israel slowly and with our own powers as preparation for our future redemption reached us from the valley of the Arbel, and as it is written in the Jerusalem Talmud, tractate Brachot (page 1, side 1): “Rabbi Chiya, Rabba and Rabbi Shimon ben Halafta were walking in the valley of the Arbel at dawn and saw the morning star break forth, Rabbi Chiya said to Rabbi Shimon ben Halafta: thus is the redemption of Israel, at first it's little by little, the more it progresses, the greater it becomes”` and from this,” Rabbi Baruch Avraham concluded his words, “the valley of the Arbel is worthy of being redeemed from the hands of foreigners.”

And indeed, despite the fact that this entire purchase was not successful and Rabbi Baruch Avraham lost all of his money in this deal, his love for the land of Israel did not cease nor did his longings for it diminish. The rabbi of Zhetl also took part in the controversy over the Shmitta* permit in the settlements of the holy land and among his writings, which to our sorrow have been lost, there was one pamphlet that dealt with this ruling in which he came to the conclusion – to permit

*[Shmitta is the seventh year in which the Torah forbids working the land of Israel].

With the sunrise of political Zionism, he was one of the first of the Jewish leaders to give it his hand and heart, and with the death of Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, when prosecutors of Zionism were increasing amid a well-known circle of the ultra-orthodox, he answered the request of the Zionist activists in Bialystok (who knew that Rabbi Baruch Avraham was well respected in the eyes of the generations Torah leaders), and despite his weakness and fragile health he traveled to Kovno and met there with the great Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Rabinowitz (son of the great rabbi Yitzchak Elchana), and suggested to him a complete program of joint work with all of the various streams of Zionism to further the building of the land.

Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch agreed to this program and signed it, and also confirmed it with his own seal. Afterwards, he travelled to Lodz and to Brisk, met with the great rabbis, Rabbi Eliyahu Chayim Maizel and Rabbi Chayim Soloveitchik, and they hesitated whether to lend their hands to Zionism, going back and forth on the matter, unable to take a decision.

Meanwhile, well-known forces intervened, and with their influence the scales were tipped to the negative, a fact that sorrowed that righteous man all of his life, but he stayed faithful to Zionism.

Before the second [Zionist] congress, he participated in the preliminary Zionist conference that took place in Warsaw at the time, and he was also one of the first who helped to found the Mizrachi Histadrut. [Union]

It is worth noting, that while the well-known rabbis who were opposed to Zionism used their opposition to forbid the use of the “etorgim” [citrons, used in the Succot holiday] of Gan Shmuel [i.e., grown in the land of Israel] for a variety of halachic reasons, he came out with a long response, full of sharpness and erudition, to cancel all of the claims from a halachic perspective, and this is written in his book: “Shmatteta DeRaba”.

When the Keren Kayemet Le'Yisrael was founded to redeem the land, and its “Golden Book” was opened, he was one of the first of the rabbis who registered his son Me'ir in the “Golden Book,” who died before his father, and when he himself died (12 Cheshvan, 5673) [September 23, 1912], those who respected and admired that great and righteous man knew to fulfil his desire and registered him as well in the golden book of the Keren Kayemet.

[Taken from the book “Sarei HaMe'a”, Leaders of the Century].


Rabbi Borukh Avrom Mirsky the Lover of Zion

by Moishe Tzinovitch (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Janie Respitz

When the idea of Love of Zion began to spread among rabbis and enlighteners in Russia, Rabbi Borukh Avrom Mirsky was among the first to join the movement. While still the rabbi in Parizov (Volkovisk Region) he began to propagate among the town's Jews to help the colonists in the Land of Israel and organized a society to buy land and immigrate.

Rabbi Borukh Avrom Mirsky was in regular contact with the Bialystok rabbi, Rabbi Shmuel Mohilover, receiving from him news about everything that was happening in the Land of Israel, which he would weave into his sermons which were filled with love for the Jewish land. He ended every sermon with a quote from the Talmud expressing his love for the Land of Israel.

With the appearance of Dr. Herzl, he espouses political Zionism. This step attracted the attention of the Jewish national and religious social fabric in Russia. Rabbi Sh. Y. Rabinovitch from Sopotzkin, one of the Zionists in the country wrote about it: “The esteemed rabbi so well known throughout Lithuania, has dedicated his heart and soul to the idea of Zionism.” “Hameilitz” 1899.

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[This is the Hebrew text of Rabbi Nissenboim's article in “HaMelitz” of 1898,
Nos. 218, 239 regarding Rabbi Mirsky's relationship with Zionism]

Translated by Judy Montel

“The Rabbi Zhetl is one of the first Lovers of Zion and one of the great rabbis of our time. He has knocked on the doors of many rabbis to turn their hearts to Zion and its settlement and has done much work in this area. His son is a diligent laborer in one of the villages [in the land of Israel] and writes his father letters full of fierce love for our country and for working its soil. The father weeps many tears over these letters and a terrible doubt awakens in his heart lest the farmers are not following the path of the Torah as the Jews of Zhetl do and lest also his son may leave the straight path. And this doubt, which leeches the blood from his heart, which burns with the fire of religion, is not able to be assuaged by our letters written in the spirit of the religion nor by the testimony of faithful people, for the farmers of Ekron, for instance, do not fall in their Judaism from the Jews of Zhetl. And the rabbi aforementioned worked with all of his strength to pull the great rabbis to the camp of the Lovers of Zion that they may inspire the towns in the land of our ancestors with their spirit. Whoever has seen the tears of this rabbi, at the times when he asked for mercy from the Zionists on our Torah and our religion, who has heard his words which come from the heart, a heart full of the love of Torah and affection for Zion, saw and felt that before him a righteous, holy man was standing whose mouth and heart are equal and who speaks the truth that is in his heart.”

We learn from this article that Reb Borukh Avrom Mirsky's son lives in one of the colonies in the Land of Israel however the rabbi sheds a lot of tears as he fears, God forbid, his son is not keeping all the Jewish laws and fulfilling all the required good deeds. However, he tries to interest rabbis with the idea of Love of Zion and wants them to use their religious spirituality to influence the new colonies.

Rabbi Borukh Avrom Mirsky participated in a meeting of rabbis before the second Zionist congress which took place in Warsaw in 1898. At that meeting he opposed the suggestion of the rabbi from Poltov, Rabbi Eliyah Akiva Rabinovitch, to create a committee of rabbis that would oversee the Kashrut of Zionism.

I would like to underline the moderate attitude the anti–Zionist rabbis had for Reb Borukh Avrom. They knew his Zionism was for the glory of God.


The Rabbi Reb Shmuel Rabinovitch
Resident of Zhetl and Rabbi of Moscow

by Moishe Tzinuvitz

Translated by Janie Respitz

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch was the grandson of the Gaon and Cabbalist Reb Eliyahu, the rabbi in Slobodke and Kalish.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch married the daughter of the renowned wealthy man from Zhetl, Reb Shloime Namiyat. For years he lived in Zhetl at his father in law's Reb Shloime, and would study in the House of Study every day. After his father-in-law lost his wealth, Reb Shmuel became the rabbi in Zholudek.

In 1911 he was appointed as rabbi in Moscow, replacing the deceased Rabbi Eliyahu Yerukham Veysbrum. At that time Moscow chose a special commission to elect an appropriate rabbi. The commission searched throughout Russia and they chose Reb Shmuel Rabinovitch. Since Reb Shmuel did not have a permit to live in Moscow, he was officially hired as an assistant to the Kazyon rabbi, Rabbi Yakov Maza and that is how he received the right to reside in Moscow.

During the First World War Jews were permitted to live in Moscow. Of course, Jews exercised that right. Reb Shmuel Rabinovitch's house was open to all. The Jews kept him so busy he simply had no time to eat or rest. However, he always found time to answer everyone and gladly arbitrated on various religious themes.

Under the Bolshevik regime he suffered from hunger and destitution. His face swelled up, he lost all his strength and suffered from a neurological disease. He would often sit and study all night until dawn. His household would beg him to rest, but he would study without a break.

Reb Shmuel Rabinovitch was a great scholar. He had great insight and was extremely talented at explaining. In addition he was modest and hated greed. He could have lived in comfort and luxury as he was the chief rabbi of such a wealthy community as Moscow, however he lived in poverty, often dire.

In 1922 his friends suggested they sell Etrogim to the wealthy Jews in order to alleviate his poverty. Reb Shmuel rejected the suggestion.

He was very active on the Moscow Jewish communal council and his opinions were respected.

Although he was not a big talker, his few words had a persuasive influence.

Reb Shmuel Rabinovitch passed away in the month of Elul in 1924. His death announcement in “Izvestsia” did not mention he was chief rabbi of Moscow. The announcement said that Shmuel Rabinovitch who lived here and there died, and his acquaintances are invited to attend his funeral.

There were many commentaries written after his death. It was stressed everywhere that he was the last rabbi of the Jewish community of Moscow.


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The Life Journey of Rabbi Zalmen Saratzkin

by Rabbi Elkhanan Saratzkin (Jerusalem)

Translated by Janie Respitz

Rabbi Zalmen Saratzkin was born in 1880 in the town Kharine, Mohilev province, the youngest son of the local rabbi Reb Bentzion of blessed memory. All his brothers were rabbis and his sisters married rabbis. The family stems from great rabbinic pedigree from the renowned Shklov rabbi Reb Yisroel, author of “The Light of Israel”.

Rabbi Zalmen Saratzkin studied in the Yeshivas of Slobodke and Volozhyn and was known to be an assiduous and sharp student. In 1905 he married the daughter of the world renowned head of the Telz Yeshiva the esteemed Rabbi Eliezer Gordon. Within a short time he perfected his secular studies and was a candidate to enter university in Pernov (Kurland) together with the renowned Dr. N.Y. Shteynberg who later served as Minister of Justice in the Kerensky government.

After his father in law died in 1910 he became rabbi in Voronove where he opened a Yeshiva for young boys. He became well known as a great speaker and was active in the community and was offered the position of official state rabbi in Slonim. He turned down the post as he did not want to leave the rabbinate in the actual meaning of the word, though the Slonim Jewish community wanted to appoint him as one competent in deciding matters of rabbinic law and city preacher.

At this time the Zhetl rabbi, Reb Ari Dvoretzky of blessed memory, died. He was invited to give the eulogy for the deceased rabbi. As a result of this visit to Zhetl he was invited to become rabbi of Zhetl and he did in 1912.

 

In Minsk

In 1915 when the Germans were close to our town and there was a danger he would be taken “hostage” by the Russians. He left Zhetl with the retreating Russian army after he did all he could to prevent the Russians from staging a pogrom in town. He left with the last group of Russian soldiers and settled in Minsk. Here he headed the committee to help the tens of thousands of refugees and became very well known for his communal work.

After the outbreak of the revolution he headed the Agudas Yisroel party in White Russia and was chosen as a deputy to the All Russian Jewish Conference (The Jewish National Council). He headed the rabbinic delegation to St. Petersburg which demanded rabbis be exempt from military service just as the spiritual leaders of other religions. He travelled to St. Petersburg 12 times until they achieved this goal.

He then was chosen, secretly, as head rabbi of Irkutsk, the capital of Siberia where many Jews settled during the war. He turned down this high paying post not wanting to leave the Pale of Settlement, and waited for the first opportunity to return to Zhetl. The opportunity was found when the Germans captured Minsk. He returned to hungry Zhetl.

 

Returning to Zhetl

He began his work helping the needy population through intervening with the German authorities to provide the town with produce and food supply.

When the Polish legionnaires marched into Zhetl he went under a hail of bullets to the military commander and negotiated that if the legionnaires won't rob the town he would provide the soldiers with food and cigarettes.

After the military left town he began to rebuild the ruins and improve the economic situation. He founded a bank, an interest free loan society, a food cooperative, rebuilt and expanded the building of the Talmud Torah, opened a school for girls, (the first religious girl's school in the region), repaired the bathhouse and the shelter for poor travellers and helped to reopen the Yeshiva.

At this time he was invited by the rabbi in Kovno, in the name of Agudas Yisroel in Lithuania, to take on the position of Minister of Jewish Affairs in the Lithuanian government, however, due to various reasons he did not accept this offer.

 

Communal Activity on a National Scale

Representing the institutions in Zhetl he travelled to many conferences and meetings and took on a leading role. He was chosen as chairman of the Society for Caring for Orphans in Bialystok (which Zhetl then belonged to), chairman of the Sanitation – Medical Organization of The Joint and chairman of Cooperative Banks. Later he spent many years as a member of the Council of Cooperatives

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in Poland and would travel almost every month to meetings in Warsaw where he played an active role. For a while he was chairman of the Central Cooperative Bank in Vilna.

He also participated in all rabbinic meetings in Poland and became known for his speeches. He was chosen for the highest positions in rabbinic organizations taking a place of honour. He was known as the confidant of “Khaftez Khaim” and Reb Khaim Ozer Grodshensky who were the rabbinic leaders in Poland.

He was one of the founders of the “Council of Yeshivas” in Vilna and played an active role in its activity until he left in 1940. He was one of the leaders of the religious school organization “Khorev”, the central organization of the Talmud Torahs and religious schools in the region. He took part in the World Congress of Religious Jews in Vienna in 1923 and made a great impression with his speeches which were marked with logic and rhetorical power.

In 1928 he was a candidate for the Sejm (Polish parliament) on the Agudas Yisroel ticket. He received a lot of votes, but due to a split in Jewish votes, no Jews were elected.

In 1929 he was elected head rabbi of Lutzk, a community which had more than 30 thousand Jews and was a big administrative and political centre where almost one hundred towns and cities from Volhynia Township were concentrated.

Zhetl could not “compete” against a Jewish community as large as Lutzk as they did when their rabbi was offered chief rabbi positions in towns like Ayshishok, Semiytitch and Ostrov – Mazavietzk and they were able to influence him to remain at his post. Now they had to give up their struggle.

 

In Lutzk

In Lutzk, as his work was broader and more diversified, he quickly became known as a complete rabbinic personality who was respected by Jews and Christians, in and outside the city. He was recognized as the religious and political leader of Volhynian Jewry. Rabbis consulted with him on all religious questions, sending him their questions and answers and communities would seek his advice when electing rabbis or ritual slaughterers and about Jewish politics in the country.

He stood at the helm of rabbinic delegations to the Polish government and presented the demands of religious Jews in Poland, like the organization of Jewish communities, and rights for a religious school system. He took part in the large, famous rabbinic delegation to the Polish premier Prof. Bartel, together with the Khafetz Khaim and other prominent rabbinic personalities. He was chosen by the government as a member and later chairman of the “State Rabbinic Collegium” which confirmed the election of rabbis and rabbinic judges throughout Poland after they were chosen by their communities. After the decision of the Rabbinic Collegium the Ministry of Education would confirm the election and the rabbi could take on his position.

When the sad, famous regional law emerged prohibiting ritual slaughter, he worked tirelessly in order to have it repealed and was elected chairman of the committee to defend ritual slaughter in Poland. He spent months in Warsaw organizing the political struggle against this edict which reached its culmination with a strike of the entire Jewish population of Poland who did not eat meat for 17 days in a protest against this law.

In 1937 he participated in the congress Agudas Yisroel in Marienbad which then discussed dividing the Land of Israel into Jewish and Arab states. He read for the Religious World Congress the famous resolution which stated Jews were not permitted a piece of the Land of Israel. He was then chosen as a member of the Council of Torah Scholars and at the same time a member of the international executive of Agudas Yisroel. The speech he gave as an introduction to the resolution became famous throughout the world and reverberated in the circles of the mandate commission of the British government.

That same year his first book “Idea and Talk” was published. It was a collection of articles and sermons on actual problems. It made a great impression in the rabbinic world and was quickly sold out. The book was published again in 1946 in London and will soon appear in its third edition in Jerusalem.

 

In The Land of Israel

After the fall of the Polish state and its division between Soviet Russia and Hitler's Germany, Lutzk was in Russian hands. At first it seemed possible to continue Jewish communal activity under the Soviet regime in religious and educational fields

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and various circles exerted pressure on him to remain to continue with his work. But soon it became clear that this was an illusion. The Soviet authority quickly began to liquidate all Jewish institutions and from a good friend who had contacts in the NKVD he learned he was a candidate to be arrested. He ran away to Vilna which was independent and after many transformations, made it to the Land of Israel in 1940.

In the Land of Israel he founded a “Council of Yeshivas” based on the one in Vilna which was a union of all the Yeshivas in the Land Of Israel, and headed it until today. The Council of Yeshivas, under his direction, has grown into a powerful institution with a budget of almost one million pounds a year, with almost one hundred Yeshivas and learning institutions and thousands of students.

 

The Envoy for Religious Jewry

He quickly occupied a respected place in religious and political life in the Land of Israel. For a while he held the position of chairman of Agudas Yisroel in the Land of Israel. He was also a member on many aid committees for refugees that arrived during the Second World War.

In 1946 he visited England for the Council of Yeshivas. He went to the largest cities giving talks that were well received by English Jews. He was offered an important rabbinic position, but he turned it down. He did not want to leave the Land of Israel. In 1948 he published the second volume of “Ideas and Talk” which dealt with Jewish holidays and eulogized the great destruction of European Jewry, particularly those Jewish communities where he served as rabbi, Zhetl included.

The same year he flew to New York in order to organize aid for the Yeshivas in besieged Jerusalem. He participated in a few conferences bringing the call of Torah Jews in Israel and organized an appeal for support of Yeshivas in this difficult period of war. While in New York he participated in the Agudas Yisroel Congress where it was decided they would participate in the provisional Israeli government.

When he returned to Israel in 1950 he was chosen as a substitute chairman of the “Council of Torah Scholars” and after the death of the eminent Rabbi Isar Zalmen Meltzer of blessed memory, he was elected chairman.

In 1951 the first part of his large work on the Book of Genesis was published called “Ears to the Torah” which places him in first rank of rabbinic authors of today. He received the Rabbi Kook Prize from the Tel Aviv city council for the best book published that year.

With the introduction of the state educational system the Agudas Yisroel decided to maintain its independence from the educational network. He now is heading the “The Non – Partisan Independent Education of Agudas Yisroel” and accepts the position of chairman of the board of directors and manages a network of schools for boys and girls with more than 25 thousand pupils.

In 1953 he published a second volume of “Ears to the Torah” and in 1955 “the Scales of Justice” which includes questions and answers from his forty years of rabbinic activity. This book was also received in the rabbinic world as a great contribution in the field of Jewish law.

Today, Rabbi Zalmen Saratzkin is one of the greatest rabbinic authorities in the world and remains in contact with all the rabbinic institutions in the world who consult with him on all aspects of religious Jewish life.

His children: Rabbi Elkhanan Saratzkin was the rabbi in Zholudek until the outbreak of the Second World War. He was sent to Siberia, freed in Moscow in 1944 where he worked in the Jewish division of “Committee of Polish Patriots” in Russia. In 1946 he returned to Poland and was elected chairman of Agudas Yisroel and member of the Council of Jewish Communities in Poland. In 1947 he emigrated to the Land of Israel and worked in the administration of The Council of Yeshivas and is a member of the International Council of Agudas Yisroel in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Eliezer is the executive director of the Telz Yeshiva in Cleveland; Rabbi Borukh is head of the Telz Yeshiva in Cleveland; Rabbi Yisroel is head of a Yeshiva in Petach Tikva, and Reb Bentzion is the head clerk in “PIKA” in Haifa. His daughter Temeh, may God avenge her murderer, perished in the Warsaw ghetto together with her husband and child.


[Page 236]

Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Khurgin of Blessed Memory

by Yosef Eliyahu Piekelny – Pniel (Kfar Haroeh)

Translated by Janie Respitz

Among the personalities who distinguished themselves in our town and was respected by all social classes was Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Khurgin, of blessed memory, or as he was called "Head of the Yeshiva".

The writer of these lines had the privilege to live in his time and benefit from this luminary. I must stress that besides his modesty and not wanting to distinguish himself, his personality placed a stamp on the spiritual life of our town.

I do not remember when he came to us, no one really took interest. His life with us was self evident, as if he had always been with us. He was attached to all of us, big and small.

Since I can remember, there was a Yeshiva in Zhetl and the boys would sit in the House of Study with the Head of the Yeshiva. The head of the Yeshiva would either give the boys a lesson or he would sit at his lectern absorbed in the Talmud and commentaries and the entire House of Study would echo with the voices.

The Yeshiva boys found the head of the Yeshiva's home to be the warmest and dearest place. He took interest in everyone personally. The boys did not feel like they were in a private home but rather continuing their studies in the House of Study.

On holidays his house was filled with guests and students who would come from different Yeshivas. To his great joy there were no boundaries, everyone was welcome and he showed interest in everyone. He would ask about their learning, their situation and progress while his wife would cook delicious food and prepare a holiday feast where each one would demonstrate what he knew.

The room where the head of the Yeshiva taught was filled with sacred books and he had a Torah in a special holy ark. Often, a quorum would be organized in his home. He would begin prayers exactly on time. Regularly, at the exact same time every day, you could see him going to pray even though he lived far from the House of Study.

Disregarding the fact that his economic situation was difficult, he never complained. He also did not demand a special position in town. He took upon the job of teacher and educator and he would often substitute for the rabbi in his duties. He was always ready to give to charity.

Everyone knew you could find the nicest Etrog and four species at the head of the Yeshiva's as he was a great Lover of Zion.

Everyone knew his hands were clean and he could be trusted. People would deposit their money with him as well as dowries for poor girls. The truth – this was his main motto, and with great devotion and self sacrifice he protected the religious character of our town.

One Friday night when Jews were already in synagogue for evening prayers someone told him that some people are still working in a certain workshop in town. He quickly stopped praying and ran there. He turned over the table with the work tools and did not budge from the spot until they closed the workshop. His handling of the situation made a great impact in town.

Another incident worthwhile recounting: he made a deal with the pharmacist, his former student, that he would only give out medication on the Sabbath in the event of a life threatening emergency. In order to ensure this, he gave up his Sabbath nap and sat in the pharmacy (of course with a sacred book) to prevent the pharmacist from desecrating the Sabbath.

The majority of his students were youngsters from our town who finished their studies at the Talmud Torah and under his influence continued studying at the Yeshiva. Many of these boys went on to study in large Yeshivas.

In Polish Lithuania, where the majority of Yeshivas were concentrated, there was not one that did not have a student from Zhetl. The majority of them excelled in learning and in time became rabbis, ritual slaughterers or just well established Jews who held a respected place in society.

I have spoken here about a personality from our town who had many virtues.

In memory of all the communal leaders, I have described the great personality of our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Khurgin who perished in horrific circumstances together with all the other Jews of Zhetl in the big slaughter of 1942.

 

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