by Rav Yehuda Leib Levin [zl]
The Rabbi of Moscow
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
|R'Ber Wolf Kozhvenikov zl|
I was only five years old, when my parents moved, in 5659 (1899), from Nikopol to Ekaterinoslav. My paternal grandfather, the Gaon [great scholar] and Tzadik [righteous man] R'Nathan Levy* zl, offspring of the Gaon R'Refael of Hamburg zl, pupil of the Gaon R'Eliyahu of Kalish zl lived, at the end of his life, in Nikopol. In his youth he was a judge in the religious court of the Gaon, the author of Pitkhei Teshuvah , and at the end of his life he was a judge in the court of the Gaon the MALBIM zl. In 5640 (1880), the MALBIM traveled to Krementchog to accept the post of rabbi there, but on the way he became ill an illness of which he finally died. As he arrived in Kiev he was not able to continue his trip, and my grandfather R'Nathan, who traveled with him, remained in Nikopol, which was not far from Ekaterinoslav. They needed a rabbi and had heard about the MALBIM's judge and had decided to invite him, but they didn't know where he lived. Chance had it, that my grandfather was at that time in Aleksandrovsk, not far from Ekaterinoslav. Rav Ragolin zl met him, and immediately informed the Nikopol people about him. The leaders of the community came to Aleksandrovsk and invited him to serve as their rabbi. They presented him the formal documents and he accepted.
Rabbi Nathan lived in Nikopol and passed away in 5657 (1897) and my father and teacher, the Gaon R'Eliyahu Shmuel took his place. In Nikopol there was a Hassidic community as well, they had their own Hassidic rabbi and this caused disagreement in town. My father was from Lithuania, a graduate of the Lithuanian Yeshiva and he hated disputes. Therefore, although he officiated as rabbi and judge, he relocated to Ekaterinoslav and was given the post of rabbi and judge in one of the suburbs.
The head of the religious court was the famous Gaon Rav Binyamin Zakheim zl, offspring of the holy R'Israel of Rozhinoy. In his youth he was the head of the Yeshiva in Rozhinoy and in 5620 (1860) he was accepted as Rav and head of the religious court in Ekaterinoslav, following the Gaon and Tzadik R'Chone'le zl. In this post he served 52 years. He was famous in the entire region of Ukraine and all difficult matters were brought before him. He was compassionate and lenient, and moderate in his verdicts. He lived in the center of town.
In another section of the town, near the river, the Rabbi was the Gaon and Hassid R'Dober-Zev-Wolf Kozhvenikov zl. He was always wearing his prayer-shawl and phylacteries, and was immersed in study and prayer until four in the afternoon every day. A dear man and a doer of good deeds no needy person was turned away from his door. His wife the Rebbetzin would complain that the rabbi used up his salary for charity and there was nothing left for the needs of the household. Following that, a regulation was issued, that the Rebbetzin would receive the rabbi's salary from the community. The river brought many merchants to Ekaterinoslav, since the boats and barges had to stop there because of the many rocks down the river, and the merchants would always bring charity money to the rabbi's house. But all this was not sufficient to cover all the expenses. When the rabbi passed away, he was in debt of about four thousand Rubles. Part of the story of this great man's life was known: he was born in Dubrianka in the Tchernigov district. Many great men of Torah and study lived in that town. He was educated by one of the great men of Torah and piety,
who implanted in him knowledge and feelings of kindness toward his fellows. At the age of twelve he was already knowledgeable in many legends and teachings of Our Sages. In that town, many Jews lived who did not know even the meaning of the words of our teachings. Rabbi Dov-Zev, out of pity for these simple souls, set up times to study with them and teach them Sidur [prayer book] and tell them about the Midrash and the legends of Our Sages. He did this several years, but it was not easy, since he had a speaking impairment and sometimes could not even talk to them. Later, when he lost his father, he began to stutter constantly, however he continued to study with them. At the age of 17 the Rav R'Dov-Zev went to Lubavitch to the Hassidic ADMOR, the author of Tzemach-Tzedek. He told the ADMOR how he was studying with the simple people, and how difficult it was to talk to them. The ADMOR told him to continue working with them as before, and blessed him with the gift of teaching and clear speech.
As he left the ADMOR's house Rabbi Dov-Zev related he did not recognize himself: he felt like another person. He began speaking clearly, not understanding where this ability had come from. When he arrived home, he repeated the Hassidic sayings that he had learned from the ADMOR, and his listeners were truly amazed. Rabbi Dov-Zev proudly told them that he was the Golem of the ADMOR; moreover, The MAHARAL of Prague had made a Golem out of dust and the ADMOR Tzemach Tzedek made a golem of flesh He became a SHADAR [shelucha derabanan = messenger of the Sages] and instructor at the ADMOR zl; was also knowledgeable in the language of the Zohar.
My father zl obtained the office of Rabbi in the new section of the town, which included about ten synagogues, the Jewish hospital, a Home for the Aged and a Talmud Torah. The Jewish institutions in town were in bad state, the rabbis were elderly men. My father was the youngest and it was natural that all the community activity fell on his shoulders. Every day he would go to the house of the rabbi, the Gaon R'Ber-Zev, and almost all matters of divorce and Dinei-Torah [religious trials according to Halacha] and all questions that arose would be handled by him. He was also supervisor in the Yeshiva, in matters of kosher meat and Matzah baking before the Passover Holiday.
In those days there was peace among the rabbis of the town. In Ekaterinoslav there was a suburb called Thetchlovka, where factories and large stores had been erected. The Gaon rabbi Baruch Zaslavski lived in that region, and he was also a member of the religious Court.
In the month of Tevet 5668 (1908) the Rav R'Dober Zev-Wolf Kozhvenikov became ill and on 27 Tevet he passed into a better world, aged 88 years. In the month if Nissan in the same year R'Baruch Zaslavski became ill and passed away two days before Passover. After Passover, on the day of Lag Ba'omer, when my father and teacher zl was at the Talmud Torah examining pupils, he caught a cold and became ill, and on 26 Iyar he passed away; he was 42 years old. The most famous doctors in town treated the three rabbis and after they died the doctors said that they will never again try to treat rabbis because they have weak hearts So it happened that three of the Ekaterinoslav rabbis died in the course of five months.
After the death of the rabbis the peace in town was disrupted. The town was in turmoil; it became divided into Hassidim, Mitnagdim and Maskilim [enlightened]. The Hassidim preferred the Gaon rabbi Levy-Yitzhak Shneursohn zl and the Mitnagdim and the wealthy preferred the Gaon rabbi Pinchas Gellman zl, who was, at the time, rabbi in Tarashcha. The dispute went on and on, and it came to beatings and sacrilege in the synagogues; it continued for several months. Finally the parties came to an understanding, that Rabbi Pinchas Gellman zl will serve as rabbi in the section of town near the river, taking the place of the Hassid rabbi Dov-Zev zl and Rabbi Levi-Yitzhak zl will serve as rabbi in the part of town where my father and teacher zl had officiated.
A man from Vilna lived in Ekaterinoslav, his name was Moshe-Yehuda Yudelsohn zl. He was a merchant, a great Torah scholar and God-fearing. By the influence and persuasion of rabbi Gellman he agreed to construct a building for the Yeshiva. Work began in 1910 and by the end of that year a three-story building was completed. This building contained apartments and stores, the rent serving as income for the Yeshiva. Soon a second, two-and-a-half-story building was completed, comprising housing for the students, a restaurant, a Bet Midrash [synagogue and house of learning] and study rooms. The Yeshiva existed and operated until 5679 (1919).
In 1913, on the eve of Passover, Rabbi Binyamin Zev Zakheim died, after officiating 52 years. After his death it was decided that Rabbi Pinchas Gellman would take his place and Rabbi Levy-Yitzhak would take the place of Rabbi Dov-Zev Kozhvenikov. Rabbi Nachum Gurewitz zl, who was in his youth a lumber merchant, was appointed in the place of Rabbi Levy-Yitzhak. Another new appointment was that of the Gaon Rabbi Yakov-Gershon Akoshki the Kohen, who had been a Maggid Meisharim [preacher] in the Kazatchi synagogue: he was appointed Rabbi in that synagogue and the neighborhood.
In 1917, a Teachers College for religious teachers was founded, by the bequest of R'Chaim Cohen zl from Petrograd.
All studies were conducted in Hebrew, under the leadership of the Gaon our teacher R'Pinchas Gellman zl. About 50 students were enrolled, most of them coming from Lithuania's great Yeshivot, which did not function during the war. On 22 Tamuz 5681 (1921) R'Pinchas Gellman died of cancer, after an operation. May his soul be bound in the bond of the living. After the death of Rabbi Gellman, Rabbi Shneursohn relocated to the center of town, and there he officiated until 1937, when he was arrested and sent in exile to Kazakhstan. He died there and was buried in Alma-Ata (Almaty).
After the Second World War, when the remnants of the Jews began to return from the places they had fled, the authorities issued an order to build a new synagogue in Ekaterinoslav, or, by its new name Dnepropetrovsk. Every synagogue was required to have a rabbi.
I and my family returned to Krasnoarmieskoia (formerly Grishino, Duntzk region) not far from Andizhan (Uzbekistan), and in 1946 I was summoned to fill the post of rabbi in Dnepropetrovsk and I accepted. With my own hands I opened the doors of the synagogue, and I served there until 1947. For family reasons, I had to return to Krasnoarmieskoia. In 1948 I was called again to serve in Dnepropetrovsk and I remained there until 1953. Due to informers who acted against me, I was forced to leave the town and never returned. They did not hire another rabbi, to this day.
Rosin was a simple man, a tailor. He supervised the building of the synagogue and later was the head of the synagogue committee. He was the one who signed the famous Manifesto.
Today the local synagogue is functioning well, and there are two minyanim of Shacharit (the morning prayer). They have a cemetery, but not a mikve [ritual bathhouse]. The number of Jews is approximately fifty thousand.
* My grandfather was not a Levy (Levite). In his youth his surname was Schullman. When the decree was issued, that every young man must enlist in the army, only those who possessed a Kvitantzia were exempt.
And this was the history of the Kvitantzia: During the 1854-1855 Russian war against the Alliance Nations (England, France and Turkey) the government mobilized, among Christians and Jews alike, soldiers in a greater number that was allowed by law. As compensation, the government granted a Kvitantzia to the heirs of those who have fallen in the war, stating that the person who holds it is exempt from serving in the army. My grandfather bought such a document, in the name of Levy.
The author Return
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
According to the newspaper Hamelitz (1887), in that year there were in Ekaterinoslav 17 synagogues and Batei Midrash, and additional 19 regular Minyanim (private gathering of a quorum of men), as follows:
At the end of the 1920s, the following synagogues and Batei Midrash existed:
Today the local synagogue is functioning well, and there are two minyanim of Shacharit (the morning prayer). They have a cemetery, but not a mikve [ritual bathhouse]. The number of Jews is approximately fifty thousand.
*As in all of Ukraine, the prayer ritual was that of Hassidic-Sefarad [Nusach Sefarad]. In the Great Synagogue the Choral Synagogue it was Nusach Ashkenaz. Return
by Rav Dr. Zvi Harkavy
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
The years after the 1905 revolution were difficult years for the Russian Jews: they went through psychological crisis, frustration and disappointment, pogroms and persecutions, and for many it was true misery and despair. A direct consequence was a tendency to retreat to private life, a feeling of isolation, keeping distance from community matters, and on the other hand pursuit of entertainment and amusement. There were many cases of conversion to Christianity, in particular among young people. In addition to all that, the Ekaterinoslav Jews suffered from harassment and provocation by street hooligans and from vulgar AntiSemitism by the local authorities.
The Jewish community in Ekaterinoslav was in great need of a spiritual leader and guide. Rabbi BinyaminZev Zakheim zl was old and sick; Rabbi DovZev Kozhvenikov zl had died; another two rabbis, R'Baruch Zaslavski zl and R'EliyahuShmuel Levin zl died as well. The national circles in the city decided that it was necessary to invite to Ekaterinoslav a younger rabbi, a Torah scholar, an educated man and an articulate speaker, who would, after some time, become the chief rabbi. The name of the young rabbi from Tarastcha, R'Pinchas Gellman, was already wellknown. After a short campaign, he was elected in 5668 (1908) as rabbi of the central area of Ekaterinoslav, and in fact he was the chief rabbi of the city until his death on 21 Tamuz 5681 (1921) [this was related by Gottlieb in Oholei Shem 5672 (1912). In 1914 the newspaper Modi'a, No. 23, announced the arrangement of the Rabbinate in Ekaterinoslav: two chief rabbis Rabbi LeviYitzhak Schneurson the rabbi of the Hassidim and Rabbi Pinchas Gellman the rabbi of the mitnagdim. In addition there were 3 other rabbis who served as Morei Tzedek (deciders of Halachic questions)].
Rabbi Gellman was born in 1889 in the town Tarastcha, Kiev district in Ukraine, his father was R'Israel Efraim Gellman. He graduated from Lithuanian Yeshivas, was a student of R'Chaim Oyzer Grodzhinski zl in Vilna. At the beginning of his career he served as rabbi in his town. He was a follower of Zionism and loved the Hebrew language, was also a Hebrew writer: in 1911 his articles were published in Ha'ivri a publication of Rav Meir Berlin (Berlin, No. 3134): Letters to a young Jew on the appalling spiritual emptiness in the secular life of a person free from mitzvot [commandments]. His first publications he signed by the pseudonym BenYa'ir. He was a great Torah scholar, wise and smart, of great personal charm, good looking, red hair, elegantly dressed. Yet he was modest and friendly. He was a great orator, and as member of the City Council (Duma) he delivered fiery speeches. He was courageous, knew no fear and defended his nationalreligious views in the time of the Czar as in the time of the Bolsheviks. His students and acquaintances mentioned him with awe and admiration. His home in Mstavaya Street has become a meeting center.
He intended to make Aliya, dreamed of a position as lecturer of Hebrew Law in Jerusalem. He studied Roman law, in particular comparative study between Roman and Hebrew law.
Rabbi Gellman turned the small Yeshiva into a big and superb Yeshiva, which attracted from the Lithuanian Yeshivas students and teachers, headed by the great scholar Rabbi Grodzhinski zl, and students from the surrounding villages as well. One of the students was Zalman Aranne zl, former minister of education in Israel. Rabbi Gellman often conducted his lessons in the Yeshiva in clear and perfect Hebrew, as he was a member of the Safa Chaya [living language] Society. He established a Hebrewnationalreligious Teachers College among the students were Rabbi I. L. Levin, the Moscow Chief Rabbi and Mordechai Gover from Kfar Achim in Israel. At the Zionist Rabbis Conventions he was one of the chief speakers.
At the Achdut convention in Kiev, in the summer of 1917, he was elected member of the presidency together with his teacher, the great scholar rabbi Chaim Oyzer Grodzhinski [Achdut was the unified party of the religious organizations in Ukraine]. The convention was opened by Rabbi Shlomo Ahronson zl. Rabbi Gellman, in cooperation with his Zionistreligious friends, passed the EretzIsrael resolution: The settlement of our Holy Land according to the Torah and Commandments if one of our holiest duties. The Achdut organization is very active in the area of education in the old and new settlements. This included supporting the Talmud Torah and Yeshiva institutions as well as laborers and craftsmen in Eretz Israel.
Rabbi Gellman gave two lectures at the convention: 1. On the religious education, which needed changes and improvements, and the establishment of new Torah institutions; 2. On the ultraorthodox literature and press, suggesting to establish a special fund to aid this literature, support publishers, establish a modern printing shop, and publish educational literature and newspapers.
His suggestions were approved by the convention, and as a direct result, the newspaper Achdut began to appear in Kiev, with Rabbi S. I. Zevin as editor. Unfortunately only two copies were published, and in each of them Rabbi Gellman had an article. He wrote also in the newspaper Hazman.
Rabbi Gellman died at the age of 40. He had no children.
About Rabbi Gellman see also: The entry in the Religious Zionism Encyclopedia; Struggle for Salvation by Arie Refaeli, p. 73; The Struggle of a generation, B. West; Att. Aharon Friedenthal, (letter to the editor, Ma'ariv); Research of Families, Zvi Harkavi, p. 52; The Ekaterinoslav community, He'avar 1957, from p. 128; Ekaterinoslav, a big Jewish city, Year after Year to 1969, from p. 288.
by Rav Dr. Zvi Harkavy
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
On Thursday, 28 Av 5704 (1944), Rabbi MenachemMender Schneurson received a telegram with the sad news of the passing of his father, the great scholar and famous Hassid Rabbi LeviYitzhak Schneurson may he rest in peace. He died on Shabat 20 Av 1944, in the city AlmaAta, Kazakhstan. The death of the great rabbi shocked the entire Chabad Hassidism.
The Rav R'LeviYitzhak, born on 18 Nissan 5638 (1878) was a grandson of the great scholar Rabbi BaruchShalom, the author of the book TzemachTzedek. His father was the great scholar R'Baruch Schneur, soninlaw of the respected Chasid R'Zalman Chaykin of Padabrianka [Russia].
Already as an adolescent, R'LeviYitzhak was recognized as an extremely talented person. He was a student of the Padabrianka rabbi R'Yoel Chankin, who was the student of the famous scholar R'Pesach Malastovker, one of the Chasids who served the Old Admor. R'LeviYitzhak was the soninlaw of the great scholar Rabbi MeirShlomo Yanovski zl, the rabbi of Nikolayev.
He was ordained by the great rabbis of his generation: R'Chaim of Brisk, R'EliChaim Meizlish of Lodz and others. In 1909 he received the position of rabbi of Ekaterinoslav.
In addition to his scholarship in Torah, he was very knowledgeable in Kabala and Chabad Hassidism He was pious and Godfearing and of good qualities. He was one of the famous Hassidim of the Lubavitch ADMOR [the RASHAB], who befriended and treasured him very much.
Since 1912, R'LeviYitzhak participated in every meeting concerned with community matters, headed by the Lubavitch ADMOR. He played an important part in the matzaoperation baking matzot for the Jewish soldiers in the war between Russia and Japan (19141915); he also helped collecting material in preparation of the defense in the Beilis bloodlibel trial.
He assisted in the absorption and support of the many refugees who came to Ekaterinoslav from Poland and Lithuania, and was devoted to the support of the Lubavitcher's learning and economic institutions. In general, during the time he served as Rabbi of Ekaterinoslav Torah study and Community life flourished in town and surroundings.
For all these activities, he was arrested in 1940 by the Soviet authorities and deported, with his family, to a desolate place in Kazakhstan. This had a damaging effect on his health and probably caused his death.
He left many written works on Torah and Kabala.
Woe for those who are gone and cannot be replaced. May his soul be bound in the bond of the living.
[The above was written by his inlaw, the Admor, and I translated it from Yiddish to Hebrew, from the Lubavitch Collection, NewYork 1944 Z. H.]
As a matter of fact, he was destined to be Admor. He understood the Chabad teachings in a special way, but he did not put his ideas in writing during his lifetime. Part of his works, which he wrote in Alma Ata, did reach his son the Admor of Brooklyn, and they are printed as The Collections of LeviYitzhak: Notes on the Tanya (Brooklyn 1970, photocopied the same year in Kfar Chabad, Israel); Notes on the Zohar in 2 parts (as above), which includes his photograph taken in Alma Ata, his own history in the framework of Chabad, a facsimile of his handwriting and now a new volume on the Talmud.
I remember him standing on the Bimah in the Kazatchia synagogue on the Shavuot Holiday, passionately speaking about the Mashiach. I saw him also in his own synagogue Pyorovka.
His heroism and his shining and charismatic personality are described by his wife the Rebbetzin in The Memories of the Rebbetzin Chana Schneurson, may she rest in peace (I have 135 photocopied pages). She wrote in Yiddish, after the Holocaust, when she came from the Soviet Union to the United States to live with her relatives. [I intend to publish it, as it deserves, and I gave a copy to the Institute of Contemporary Jewry, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem]. A review by Rav Chanoch Glitzenstein Rabbi LeviYitzhak Schneurson, may he rest in peace, published on his Yahrzeit 20 Av in Kfar Chabad, also contributes to the description of his wonderful personality and his lifehistory. See also about him: The Struggle of a Generation, B, p. 301; an article by Att. Freudenthal in Heint (year?); In a letter to the Korostin Convention in 1927 (Chabad Publication Elul 1970, p. 129) the Admor [the Reitz] writes:
On 26 to 28 Av 5677 , at a meeting of Rabbis in Moscow, the following participated: Rabbi Shmuel from Moscow, Rabbi YitzhakYakov from Ponywezh, Rabbi Eliezer Rabinowitz from Minsk, Rabbi MenachemMendel Chen from Nezhin, Rabbi Israel Meir HaKohen Chafetz Chayim from Radin, Rabbi Chaim Oyzer Grodzhenski from Vilna, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak Schneurson from Ekaterinoslav, Rabbi Shemaryahu Leib from Vitebsk, Rabbi Menachem Mendel from Paritch and others.
He had three sons: Dober, never married, died in Kazakhstan, apparently from depression. May God avenge his blood.
The youngest was IsraelArieLeib, an illuy [prodigy, genius], was caught by the enlightenment movement, followed Marxism and Trotzkism, and wrote for the Marxist publications in the Soviet Union. He made Aliya to Eretz Israel, distanced from Torah and Chabad. He worked as librarian in a private library in Tel Aviv, was married and a father of two. He was an autodidact and mathematician, and was invited to teach mathematics at the University of Leeds in England. After several months he died a tragic death, in the prime of his life, and was brought to be buried in Tzefat [Safed], by the instructions of his older brother R'MenachemMendel.
The third son was the pride of the family, the pride of the town, the pride of the generation, today's Admor of Lubavitch, may he live long and good years, who is still living, for some reason, in Brooklyn.
He left the Soviet Union with his fatherinlaw the REITZ zl. Torah and Chabad he learned with his father. While still at home he studied secular studies, his first teacher in Ekaterinoslav was Israel Idelson (the late minister Israel BarYehuda). He studied philosophy at the Berlin University and Engineering at the University of Paris. He is a certified Engineer.
He is the head of Chabad, one of the great men of his generation, influential in the entire Jewish world, including Israel. A great deal has been written about him. Eliezer Steinman zl, writes an entry about him and his teachings in Beer Hachasidut [The Well of Hassidism] (The Teachings of Chabad, Volume 2, section 3). Ch. Glitzenstein notes at the end of that volume that until 1957 many articles and biographical details by R'Menachem Schneurson were published some years up to 74 items in Hebrew, Yiddish and English. He mastered the Russian, French and German.
About the Rebbetzin Chana, may she rest in peace, see my article in the newspaper Davar: The mother of the Chabad kingdom.
by Rav Dr. Zvi Harkavy
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
He was born on 13 Adar 5654  in Nikopol, 12th District. His family originated in Lithuania, descendants of the famous Rabbi Refael of Hamburg, author of The Teachings of Yekutiel and other works. His inlaw was the Gaon R'ArieLeib son of the Gaon R'Shmuel, head of the religious court and Rabbi of the Grodna District, author of Shmuel's Responsa, grandson of the Gaon author of Beit Shmuel; his family lineage led to Rashi and from there to King David.
As mentioned before in the article by Rabbi Levin about the Ekaterinoslav Rabbinate his grandfather was Rabbi Nathan son of Rabbi Moshe Schullman, nicknamed LeviLevin (he was not of the Levi Tribe), this being the origin of his surname Levin. He was a great rabbi and served as dayan [judge in the religious court] at the MALBIM's court. He was also rabbi in Nikopol, and after him, from 1897, officiated his son, R'Eliyahu Shmuel zl, father of R'Yehuda Leib. In 1899, when another Chabad rabbi was brought there, he left Nikopol (in order to avoid machloket [dispute]) and accepted the office of Rav in Ekaterinoslav. R'Yehuda Leib was 5 years old when he moved to Ekaterinoslav.
On 28 Iyar 5668 (1908) his father R'Eliyahu Shmuel passed away and left 9 orphans, boys and girls. YehudaLeib was 14 years old; while during his father's lifetime he studied at the Ekaterinoslav Yeshiva, after his father's death he left and went to study at other Yeshivot.
At first he wanted to go to Radin, to study with the Chafetz Chaim, and Rabbi Binyamin'ka wrote to the Chafetz Chaim, but enrollment at the Yeshiva was full at the time. By the advice of the rabbis Zackheim and Gellman he went to Nezhin, near Tchernikov, to the Yeshiva headed by the chief rabbi of the town, Rabbi MenachemMendel Chen, may God avenge his blood, brother of Rabbi Avraham Chen zl.
|The last photograph of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin zl, sent to the Editorial Board of this book|
When Rabbi MenachemMendel came to Nezhin in 1907, to replace Rabbi Shlomo Aharonson (who relocated to Kiev and then to Tel Aviv) he revived the Yeshiva, which had been founded 50 years earlier by R'LeviYitzhak Schneurson, grandson of the author of the Tania. It had about 50 students, who learned with the Lithuanian teacher Rabbi Yakobson. The Yeshiva was supported by the Balebatim [respected welltodo people] in town, and was not wellknown [but see Nezhin in Oholei Shem by Gottlieb, 1912]. R'Yehuda Leib studied there diligently.
In 1909 he came to Slobodka, near Kovno, to the Yeshiva Kneset Beit Yitzhak, named after R'YitzhakElchanan Spector zl, the rabbi of Kovno and recognized by all the Jews in the country. Contrary to the Kneset Israel Yeshiva in Slobodka (Rabbi Salanter zl) headed by R'BaruchBer Leibowitz, in this Yeshiva the study was not directed by the Musar [ethics] method. Until the outbreak of WWI, R'Yehuda Leib was supported by his relative in Ekaterinoslav, my grandfather R'Moshe Karpas zl, a descendant of the author of Torat Yekutiel.
R' Yehuda Leib was first ordained by Rabbi Gellman in Ekaterinoslav and was authorized to teach [YoreYore] and in 1916 he was certified to sit in Judgment [YadinYadin] by the Gaon R'YehudaLeib Burstein zl, head of the religious court in NizhniNovgorod. Rabbi Burstein was the soninlaw of R'Mordche'le Ushminer the Gaon R'Mordechai Rosenblatt head of the religious court in Ushmina and Slonim, to whom many went to receive advice and blessing.
He returned to Ekaterinoslav and studied 3 years at the Teachers College a HebrewreligiousZionist institution founded in 1917 in Ekaterinoslav by Rabbi Pinchas Gellman zl from the inheritance of R'Chaim Cohen from Petrograd. In 1919 he completed his studies [Mordechai Gover, his friend from Slonim, also completed his study at that time] and for some time worked as a highschool teacher in Ekaterinoslav.
All that time and later as well he was member of the Zionist Movement.
On Lag Ba'omer 5681 (1921) he married Frieda, daughter of Aharon Feldman, from Lunitz near Pinsk.
By the end of 1923 he was summoned to officiate as rabbi in Grishino, in the region of EkaterinoslavDunetzk [From 1924 the region was called the Stalinski district, today the Dunetzki district, named after the main city StalinoDunetzk, Yozovka when it was founded, in 1869. Since 1938 the name of the city was Crasnoarmyeskoya]. He replaced Rabbi AvrahamYosef Guttman, author of Israel Ba'adam (Warsaw 1913; and see an article about him in Shomrei Hagachelet, which I published together with Rabbi A. Shauli in 1966). He served there until the Nazi invasion, and in the month of Tishrei 1941 he was deported, together with all the other Jews, to the East. Two months later he arrived with his family in Uzbekistan to the GronetzMazar Station, near Idizhan and lived there until the end of 1943, when he returned to Crasnoarmyeskoya. In Uzbekistan he earned his livelihood by working as a religious scribe [sofer stam] and as a watchmaker (?).
In 1946 he was called to serve as rabbi in Dunetzk. He opened a synagogue and remained there with a short pause in 1947 until 1953. Following the slander of an informant he was forced as he testified in his article in the book to leave Dunetzk and return to Crasnoarmyeskoya, where his three married daughters lived: Rivka, a dentist, Hadassa, an engineer and Tamar, a doctortherapist. He had 13 grandsons and granddaughters, as the gimatria [numerical value of the Hebrew letters] of the word Echad [one]. The children were circumcised and were influenced by their grandfather the rabbi. Once, on the day before YomKippur, his daughter the doctor asked him what she should do: The next day (YomKippur) she was on duty and one of her tasks was to taste the food cooked for the hospitalized patients…
In 1957 he was invited by the Moscow Rabbi, R'Shlomo ben R'YechielMechl Shliffer zl to head the Yeshiva Kol Yaakov, about to be opened. The Yeshiva was named after Rabbi YitzhakYakov Reines zl, the founder of Mizrachi and of a Yeshiva combined with a highschool in Lidda; he was also Rabbi Shliffer's inlaw. The Yeshiva was opened on 5 Shevat 1957. On 38 Adar II 1957 Rabbi Shliffer died suddenly of a heart attack it was said that it was due to the fact that he was forced to sign, along with other rabbis and heads of synagogues, a declaration denouncing the Sinai War of 1956. Rabbi Y. L. Levin (who was not among the signatories of the declaration 1) was elected by the Council of the Great Synagogue in Moscow as the head and rabbi of the Synagogue and head of the Yeshiva. The appointment was confirmed by the Soviet authority. The Yeshiva consisted of 20 students, all over 18 years of age as required by law, but the number diminished and today not one was left.
When Rabbi Levin began his triple job, he wrote a detailed reply to the questions he was asked about himself and about the Yeshiva, in the Jewish periodical in English Zionist Record published in Johannesburg, SouthAfrica. His notes were published by the Jewish press in Hebrew, Yiddish etc. [I also published an article on the subject in the Hatzofeh newspaper]. In the meantime, Rabbi Levin resigned (or was forced to resign) from his job as chairman of the Synagogue council. For years he kept his title as head of the Yeshiva, hoping that the Yeshiva will reopen. Every Jew who visits the Soviet Union and Moscow goes to the synagogue and meets with Rabbi Levin, and sometimes he is invited to the Sabbath meal to his house. This is how he treated me as well during my visit in the USSR in the spring of 1962, and upon returning home I wrote about this visit and in particular about Rabbi Levin [for example a series of articles in Ma'ariv: 11 Days in Moscow and Leningrad published by the Jewish press over the world; Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin his life and work, Kol Sinai, 54 1966].
His visit in the United States in 1968 brought him world fame. Not always was his opinion accepted, and he was often criticized. It must be remembered that he never said a word against the State of Israel or its Jews, but the criticism was sometimes cruel and it probably led to his death… In 1968 he published in Moscow a second edition of the prayerbook Sidur Hashalom [The Peace Sidur], in which it is stated that at the end of the YomKippur prayers the congregation must proclaim three times (!) Next year in Jerusalem. For several years he printed a yearly calendar, published by the
Great Synagogue in Moscow. He participated in the Collection of Halacha Studies Shomrei Hagachelet mentioned earlier.
The celebration of his 75th birthday was a Jewish world event. In spite of the absence of diplomatic relations between the USSR and Israel, two invitations were sent to Israel: one was sent to me (due to my health situation my trip was delayed, but I was informed that my visa will not be cancelled) and the other to the chief Rabbi Yitzhak Nissim (his request for 4 visas was denied).
Rabbi Levin was attentive to the affairs of his town Ekaterinoslav Dunetzk; he sent a telegram (in Hebrew) to Mount Zion when a memorial plaque was erected; he mentioned in particular the Dunetzk martyrs at the Yizkor ceremony in Moscow in memory of the two million victims murdered by the Nazis in the USSR; and he participated in the book.
At the beginning of 1970 Rabbi Levin visited Budapest as a guest of the Jewish communities and was welcomed with great honor. It must be mentioned that in the Hebrew Encyclopedia (volume 21 1969) the 26 lines entry about him is incorrect and is not signed [on the cover of the volume: Soviet Union Jewry Mordechai Chenzin]. This should be corrected. His loyalty and devotion to Israel was demonstrated as he wrote on the envelope of a letter he sent to me Jerusalem the Capital in Hebrew.
A note to this article: My article about Rabbi Levin was still in print when the sad news arrived that he passed away on the eve of RoshChodesh Kislev 5732 (17 November 1971) and was buried on 3 Kislev, 25 kilometers from Moscow May his memory be for a blessing! A great luminary died, who preserved and guarded the glowing embers of the Torah, a figure of a rabbi of the old days and he was from our own town. May his soul be bound in the bond of the living.
He has relatives living in Israel. One of his daughters, with her husband and children, intended for some time to make Aliya, and now all his daughters as well as his wife the Rebbetzin, are coming to Israel.
When I visited him in Moscow, he suggested that I take the post of Chief Rabbi of the Jews of USSR. Now it is possible to reveal this matter, but it is not the place to go into details.
This is what I said about him on the Israeli radio Kol Israel on the day he died:
In New York in his hotel he met General Arik Sharon. He invited him to his room, and they talked for about an hour. As they parted, Sharon gave Rabbi Levin an IDF Siddur [prayer book]. In tears the rabbi accepted the gift and heartily embraced the general…
This was Rabbi Levin zl.
by Nechemia Lev
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
And as you walk alone through one of those blessed towns
(Ch. N. Bialik)
The great poet, using these words at the beginning of his poem Hamatmid [the studious, the diligent] did not think that a town like Ekaterinoslav would be counted among those blessed towns. But I, being one of the Yeshiva students in Ekaterinoslav, and adding my voice to the voices of the studious at midnight my ears echo, to this day, the words of Bialik's poem, which I had learned by heart while studying at the Yeshiva.
Who would have thought that Rav Pinchas Gellman's modern Yeshiva, situated in a three-story building, would find its place in the well-planned City of Ekaterinoslav, on a four-lane wide street, with two electric trolley-car railways and two rows of trees known as the Pushkin Prospect. On the right side of the boulevard were cultural institutions secondary schools, the city-park, elementary schools with large sports fields, and even a prison.
The Yeshiva was built several years before the First World War, and was active until the final establishment of the Soviet Rule in Ekaterinoslav in 1919 less than a decade. The founder was Rabbi Pinchas Gellman, helped by several members of the community: Mechl Meidanski, Emmanuel, S. Braslavski and most of all M. Yudelson; this man was very devoted
to the Yeshiva but died while the project was still in its first stages. For years a memorial was held at the Yeshiva on the date of his death, and Rabbi Gellman and others would speak about his devotion and loyalty to the enterprise.
It began with a simple synagogue on the Yelisovetgradaskaya Street, at the corner of the Pushkin Prospect. In the courtyard of the synagogue a small house stood, containing several shops. The Community bought the courtyard and the shops and erected a three-floor building above the synagogue, so that it included the synagogue. This was the building of the Yeshiva. On the upper floor there were 4 rooms classes and a teachers' room. The middle floor contained the synagogue with a separate entrance, and a dormitory for the students from out-of-town. The ground floor comprised the kitchen, the students' dining room and an apartment for the workers and attendants. In the basement there was the central heating room and an apartment for the caretaker and his family, who was not Jewish. Several years later another wing was added, for a Talmud Torah school, preparatory for the Yeshiva. Yeshayahu Scher studied there and after graduation he went to study at the Yeshiva. During WWI another three-story building was erected on the grounds, with several apartments for rent, the income to be used by the Yeshiva.
The Teachers and the Curriculum
The Head of the Yeshiva was the great scholar rabbi Pinchas Gellman zl who, together with some very hard-working members of the community, was the living spirit of the enterprise. The executive director was Yehoshua Halperin zl, who by profession was a shochet [ritual slaughterer]. At the beginning he would still work as a slaughterer several hours a day, in his own house near the railway station. Later he left his house and devoted himself entirely to the Yeshiva. He relocated with his family to an apartment at the Yeshiva and managed all administrative affairs. He would also teach Hebrew and TANACH [the Bible] several hours a day. He was the brother of Zarchi from Nahalal and his wife was the sister of Yakov Uri Zaslavski.
The backbone of the curriculum was, of course, the Talmud, taught by two rabbis, called by the names of their towns of origin: the Semyaticher and the Bobroysker. The first taught the two upper classes and was considered a sharp mind in Talmud study. He was short, thin, agile and quick, his intelligence shining from his eyes, his mouth and his entire body. The Bobroysker taught the lower classes. He was a heavy man, had a long beard, was always quiet and calm and was considered very erudite. Later, when the Yeshiva expanded and the Southern towns absorbed the refugees of WWI, Rabbi Eliyahu Meir Feivelson from Kopishuk joined us. He was a member of the Aguda, author of the book Netzach Israel, a great scholar and a philosopher of ethics. I was in his class, and since there was not enough room on the upper floor we studied on the ground floor, in the women's section of the synagogue. During lunch hour, the Rabbi from Kopishuk did not go to the teachers room, but remained instead in the women's section and continued the study. I took upon myself to perform a duty, which I did with love: I would bring him from the teachers room a cup of tea and cake. He would object: Why should I cause you inconveniency and interrupt your lunch? When I came again to remove the dishes, he would thank me for doing my job so conscientiously.
A student was accepted to the Yeshiva following a talk with the teachers. The candidate was asked about his town of origin, whether he came from a religious and observant home (this was an obligatory requisite), and was given a short examination on several issues in the Talmud. The number of candidates was great, from the town as well as from the surroundings. Only a small number was accepted to the Yeshiva. Students from out of town were given a place in the dormitories, for a fee. The Talmud was indeed the main topic of study, but there were also teachers of Hebrew, grammar, the Bible [TANACH] and some general studies. It was true, however, that these studies were considered of secondary importance, and as a matter of fact they were not compulsory, but optional.
We had a wonderful teacher of Hebrew and Grammar, S. Kantorowitz, who arrived in town with the Warsaw refugees. He had written several elementary grammar books. In 1919 he was teacher at the Hebrew Teachers College. General studies were taught by teachers graduated from the Government Teachers College in Vilna; they taught us in the afternoon (the mornings were dedicated to the study of Talmud), after they had finished their work in other schools. Although these studies were optional, as mentioned, we managed to absorb knowledge, especially in Hebrew Literature. The love for Bialik I acquired from the teacher Kantorowitz.
Most of the students were from Ekaterinoslav, but the real quality students came from out-of-town. This was
understandable, since a boy from town was sent to study at the Yeshiva for one reason or another, went home after school, met his friends and was constantly under contrasting influence unlike an out-of-town boy who was sent by his parents from a distant town or village, was mostly a son of a rabbinic family, of a shochet [slaughterer] or another Torah-oriented family, and remained day-and-night at the Yeshiva among his friends, in an atmosphere of study. It was safe to say that study at the Yeshiva, for a local boy, was not too demanding for his family or for himself. It was easy to go in and easy to leave. The contrary was true for the out-of-town boys. They were about 20% of the students, but they studied in the upper classes and constituted the backbone of the institution.
There was no fanaticism in the Jewish life of the students. The fact that the synagogue was in the same building was a mere coincidence, as was explained above. Indeed, formally the synagogue was situated outside the Yeshiva and the students were not required to pray there. There was no prayer supervisor the students were free to choose their place of prayer. During holidays they would organize a special Minyan. They had cantors with pleasant voices and good Torah reciters, and often the townspeople would come to pray with them, and also donate for the Free-of-Interest Loan Fund [GEMACH] or for the students' library. Sometimes they would take the Torah Scroll from the synagogue to the Yeshiva building and conduct the prayers there.
The language spoken in the Yeshiva was mainly Yiddish, whether at study or in private with the teachers, but Hebrew was spoken as well. During the festivities held on Chanuka, Tu Bishvat [the 15th day of the month of Shevat: the Holiday of the Trees] and Purim the dominant language was Hebrew. The students wrote compositions in Hebrew. Rav Gellman's speech I remember fragments to this day was in Hebrew mixed with Aramaic. From his speeches we understood that the Rabbi had an argument with those who thought that in the Yeshiva it was not necessary to study Hochma Yevanit [lit. Greek Wisdom, that is, secular studies]. I remember that with the director of the Yeshiva (in Yeshiva terms: the mashgiach [supervisor]) we spoke Hebrew whether it was on a religious or a secular subject. By the way, we had the chance to hear Rabbi Gelman's Hebrew-Aramaic mixture later, when we participated in his lectures on Agada [legends of the Midrash] at the Teachers College founded by him, where he brought with him Yeshiva students from Slobodka: Mordechai Guber, Arie Levavi, Yosef Tziftan the poet and the two Levin brothers; one of them, Yehuda-Leib, became later the Moscow Rav.
Only two of the Yeshiva students had the privilege to be accepted at the teachers college: myself and Kopilov, from Krementchug. I do not know where he is now, but I heard from Zalman Aranne that he was active in the Zionist Movement.
The Yeshiva students organized a GEMACH fund, which served as a source for loans to the students, and sometimes we used it to buy presents for the teachers, for example we bought a present for the Rav from Kopishuk. The sources of the Fund were the fees of the Yeshiva students and various donations, Calling to the Torah donations and others. We had also a library for the students.
The students were not required to pass examinations. Every student, before he went on vacation or home for the Holy Days, received a paper of evaluation. I remember that on one occasion I received a letter from Rav Gellman: He has good understanding, when he will so desire he will become wise. The director Halperin wrote to my father: Your son is one of the good and important students, and we are looking forward to his brilliant future.
The Yeshiva students did not abstain from playing various tricks. For example, trading with unused bus tickets that had been thrown away by the passengers, or taking from the bakery several pieces of cake or muffins and paying for one. Only after a reprimand by the Rabbi from Kopishuk did they stop, but probably not entirely.
The first years of the Revolution brought about a decrease of the number of Yeshiva students. A helping factor was the establishment of the Cohen High-School, which attracted many of the students.
The difficulties of communication and of obtaining supplies, the frequent revolutions, the pogroms all this was an important reason for the decrease in the number of students. The consolidation of the Soviet regime in Ekaterinoslav in 1919, with its many decrees and restrictions, brought about the final closing of the Yeshiva, after few, but intense and interesting years of activity.
Several of the Yeshiva students came to Eretz Israel. Among them I shall mention the minister Zalman Aranne zl, and the Hagana commander David Rothenfeld zl. Some became teachers, others held important positions in other areas.
by Zvi Harkavi
Translated by Yocheved Klausner
He was a leader of the Community in Ekaterinoslav; a well-known philanthropist in Russia; a great donor to Zionism and Eretz Israel; a rich man and a great economist mines, heavy industry and international commerce. He erected many Jewish educational institutions, including academic institutions, in the Diaspora and in our Land. Dr. Shemaryahu Levine describes him in Memories of my life (Volume 3, from p. 87).
Her was born in 5612 (1852) to his father Yehuda (a Lithuanian God-fearing small businessman) in Vilna. His parents relocated to Vassilyevka in the Ukraine and he spent his childhood years there. Later he moved with his family to Ekaterinoslav, learned in the Cheder and already as a young boy excelled in wisdom, knowledge, talents and music. He built a violin with his own two hands, but his father broke it since he did not want his son to become a klezmer When he grew up he played the violin quite well, by ear only.
After his Bar-Mitzva his father sent him to study at one of the Vilna Yeshivas, but at 16 he was forced to enter the life of work, to help with the livelihood of the family, since his father was sick. After his father died (he was then 20 years old), he managed to marry off his 3 brothers (one of them, David, I met in Tel Aviv as I made Aliya in 1926) and his sisters and took care of his mother with great respect in his own home until her death at a ripe old age.
He began by working as a simple clerk. At 26 he married, in Simperopol, Pearl (Paulina) Nezhinski, a graduate of the Russian High-School and later the Principal of her own Private School. She taught him Russian and general studies, and was his faithful aide in his business and charity matters, in particular in the education of poor children and helping the needy.
In 1881 he returned to Ekaterinoslav. He worked as manager at the railroad construction, at first on a small scale, but he raised fast. His business grew, as he invested in it money, initiative, energy and wisdom all loyally and honestly, as fit for a God-fearing Jew. He became rich in money and property, owner of iron and coal mines in Dunbas, manager of heavy industry as well as inland and foreign commerce, owner of houses and a hotel (Francia, on Prospect 105/107). His wealth was estimated at 18 million Rubles, with one million yearly profits.
As was his wealth, so was his generosity. He was one of the leaders of the community for many years, until his death. He was the head of the Hevra Kadisha [the burial society], and founder, active, head or supporter of almost all the religious, aid and educational Jewish institutions in town (about 24 institutions). He gave to charity a tenth [ma'aser = tithe] of all his earnings and employed a special person (in later years it was Mr. Frenkel) to distribute the charity money regularly and respectfully, to institutions and individuals, as if it were a tax or a regular salary. The authorities respected him and he succeeded in helping the public and individual persons, in a polite and considerate way. He was for many years member of the Town Council. During his many travels through Russia and Europe he learned the rules of community management and applied them in his community. He was a democratic leader. Many years he was the Gabay [chief attendant, manager] of the Great Synagogue and his opinion was always respected. He was one of the few who really directed and regulated the activity of the community. He contributed to the budget of all community institutions, and was one of the main supporters of the Yiddish newspaper Freind. Among the institutions that he financed was the orphanage named for him and his wife. The orphanage included a synagogue, and he prayed there (I joined him since I was five years old).
His house served as a meeting place for rabbis, community leaders and Jewish artists. He had in his home a remarkable Yiddish-Hebrew library. He donated large sums to general Jewish causes, and in particular for Eretz Israel. His home was a Torah-observant home. A Hebrew teacher came regularly to the house to teach his sons and daughters [when Mr. Zuta was in Ekaterinoslav he held this position see his Memoirs The Way of a Teacher. As he told me I was his student at the Teachers College in Bet Hakerem, Jerusalem he received a salary of 60 Rubles monthly.
His house served also as a shelter at the time of a pogrom. He was in favor of self-defense, knew how to use weapons and had a revolver, to be ready to tackle any trouble. He was one of the founders and a strong supporter of the Commercial High-School, where Jews were accepted freely, without the percentage norm 50% as was the rule in other schools. I went to that school for several years. The teacher of Jewish religion was Bragin; his books on the subject were published in Ekaterinoslav.
Among his friends were: Ahad-Ha'am, Dr. Shemeryahu Levine, M. Usishkin, Dr. Tchlenov. He participated in the Zionist Congresses and corresponded with Herzl personally. He was inscribed in the first Sefer Hazahav [the Golden Book of JNF], reg. No. 275. He was one of the first to buy shares of the Colonial Bank and his house served as the bank's office of the Ekaterinoslav Branch. He also bought shares of the Hashka'a Company and donated to the fund raised for the settlement of Yemenite Jews in Eretz Israel. He was also active in campaigns for the benefit of the Torat Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem.
When Tel Aviv was founded, he bought, following the advice of his friend S. Levine, a plot of land (now Rothschild Blvd. 2, near the empty plot where Levine's house once stood).
|R'Moshe Karpas zl|
He was one of the three donors-founders, with Jack Wissotzki in Moscow and Yakov Schieff, of the Technion in Haifa. Karpas donated 110,000 Marks. He supported Levine and his friends in the Language War at the Technion.
Before WWI he planned to go to Eretz Israel and build a house for himself on the plot he had bought in Tel Aviv (see Levine's letters to Karpas in His Letters pp. 275 and 283). In 1916 he helped the Zionist Organization, during the preparations to receive the Balfour declaration, with a loan-donation [90% loan with indefinite date of payment and 10% donation] of one million Rubles, which he transferred secretly, in Kisloborsk, to Dr. Yechiel Tchlenov, to take to London.
Karpas did not ignore the improving situation of the Jews in Russia. At the time of the February Revolution actually some time before it he helped establish a Jewish Polytechnic School, together with his son Eng. Gregory (David-Hirsh Karpas) and his son-in-law my father Eng. Lev (Yehuda-Leib) Harkavi (see an article about this institution in the book). Several months before he died (Saturday 27 Iyar 5677 - 1917) The Jewish Politechnicum in Ekaterinoslav opened its doors and study started.
Out of respect, his funeral was postponed until Monday (instead of Sunday) and he was put to rest with the participation of tens of thousands of Jews from Ekaterinoslav and foreigners as well, and delegations from all over Russia. The funeral lasted seven hours, passing near more than 20 institutions that he founded-managed-supported. Businesses closed for the time of the funeral. Many rabbis, headed by Rabbi Shneurson and other public figures eulogized at the funeral. Rabbi Gellman, a personal friend of Karpas was out of town at the Herut convention in Kiev and could not attend the funeral. The entire Jewish press echoed his passing, as well as the Russian press.
His offspring: his oldest son Gregory zl, mentioned above; his son Lev (Leib) zl, an attorney, died at 83 years of age in Moscow, had two daughters; The artist Ludmila (Liva) in Moscow and Chana (Ana-Nusia) in Teheran; his son Alexander, professor (Emeritus) of biology aged about 82, lives in Leningrad, in 1972 was editor of a Literature and Arts Magazine in Russian in Ekaterinoslav; his daughter Rasha (Rayssa-Ra'ya, my mother may she rest in peace, wife of Eng. Harkavi zl mentioned above; his daughter Rosa may she rest in peace, wife of professor Dr. Chananya Schechter zl [their daughter Vera is a pianist and professor at the Moscow conservatoire and their son Mark Schechter zl was a poet].
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