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Jaroslav Down the Generations


The Beginnings of Jewish Settlement in Jaroslaw

by Rabbi Moshe Steinberg

Translated by Selwyn Rose

We have no trustworthy information concerning the birth of the town of Jaroslaw; when the first Jews settled there. In spite of the fact that it is one of the oldest towns in Poland - founded, according to estimates, by the Russian Prince Jaroslaw the Wise (1019-1054) – there is no document suggesting the existence of Jews in Jaroslaw until the second half of the 15th century and the first confirmed mention supporting the existence of a Jew or Jews in Jaroslaw is from the year 1464 and the supposition of Orlowycz that Jews were settled in Jaroslaw in the days of Casimir the Great, that is during the 14th century, should be completely and utterly disregarded because there is not a shred of viable evidence to support that statement.

The fact that in 1561 (one hundred years after 1464), there lived in Jaroslaw just two Jews, Avraham and David, proves that the development of a Jewish community in Jaroslaw was exceedingly slow. That, and more besides: Rabbi Meir ben Gedaliah of Lublin, who resided at the time in Jaroslaw, is known to have taken part in the Council of the Four Lands (1608), and he declares in his book that the participants in the Council were obliged to bring a Scroll of the Law from nearby Przemyśl because there was not one available in the entire town. Here is clear proof that at the beginning of the 17th century, there was not yet a quorum of Jews in Jaroslaw.

The main obstruction to the development of Jewish settlement in Jaroslaw was the operation of the “de non tolerandis Judaeis[1] that the townspeople received from the town's Princess Zofia Tarnowska in 1571, according to which “there will not be more than one Jewish house in Jaroslaw and at the very most two.” The right not to tolerate Jews within its walls was claimed by towns like Warsaw, Lublin and others on the basis of the same Privilege of “de non tolerandis Judaeis” and they succeeded in exiling the Jews from their towns. But the difference with Jaroslaw was simply that here the two Jews were permitted to remain. One may assume that Tarnowska considered the prevailing situation and allowed the two Jews, Avraham and David, who already dwelt in the town at the same time, to continue to live in Jaroslaw. And all the owners of Jaroslaw after Zofia Tarnowska honored the status quo. Thus, according to the law it was always permissible for two Jews to reside in Jaroslaw.

Of interest, is that in that same year of 1571, Tarnowska brought the Jesuits to Jaroslaw and presented them with the village of Pawłosiów as a holding. It is very possible, therefore, that…

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…the anti-Jewish law was enacted by her under pressure and at the express demands of the Jesuits. Indeed, it is in the opinion of Willus Adam that Piotr Scarga, her loyal friend, influenced Tarnowska in this direction suggesting the founding of the Jesuit monastery in Jaroslaw and as a condition of its development enacting the ban – hence the “Privilege”.

For many years, the city of Jaroslaw enjoyed this right and it was not violated, even in the slightest degree because the townspeople and the town's leading citizens were on constant guard against any infraction. In 1573 the Jew Avraham passed away and his wife Ziklia sold their house which stood between the house of Vasilko and the house belonging to the Jew David on Kozia Ulica “Platea Caprima”, to a woman called Anna making the place available for another Jew – in accordance with the law of 1571 – and Moshe settled in Jaroslaw in 1574 and purchased the property from Ivan Shmiwitz.

Understandably, the law generated hostility towards the Jews and therefore the Council of the Four Lands passed a resolution forbidding decisively that their meetings should be held in Jaroslaw as it was considered a perilous locality. When, in spite of that decision, the Council convened in Jaroslaw, they expressed their regrets and renewed the prohibition on 13th Tishrei 5432 (1672), at the sitting of the Council in Jaroslaw itself, in the following words: “We remember our sins today in that we were reconciled with the mediators and tempters to convene in that place of danger and corruption – Jaroslaw, for many reasons and it is well that those who came before us forbad the meetings there. We wonder about those earlier ones we heard whispering their enticements for us to come here, and we should have owed it to ourselves that we abide by the boycott, which had been established by the officers and the leading elements in of earlier Councils. It is well we accepted the boycott of the aforementioned elders not to convene in the city, the place of danger mentioned above but about ten kilometers from Jaroslaw and at the Kremnitz meeting in 5432 the Council of the Four Lands will decide where we will convene and how many weeks before the Jaroslaw Fair. And there we will not convene for any reason in the world and any such meeting will hold no validity as explained in the previous pages that do not contradict regulations that exist as if they came out of our mouths today. The 24 officers acting on the advice of the Most High Lord, Thursday 13th of Tishrei 1572 in the Holy Committee here in Jaroslaw.”

Having no option, the Jews were forced to comply with the existing law and settled in the suburbs on the edge of town – specifically the Russian suburb (Pełkinie), and there in a later period a synagogue and a “Beit Ha-Ḥaim[2] were built. But gradually, with the passage of time the Jews for all that, managed to infiltrate the walls of the town and “the law”, thus by the year

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1613, there were already living five Jews in Jaroslaw: Moshe, Hirsch, Baru.ḥ “the Licensee”, Wolf and Levi, all of whom appeared as “Jaroslaw residents”.

The open infraction of the law encouraged the Jews to settle in Jaroslaw and the Jewish settlement increased and expanded. In truth, in 1630, the owner of the town at the time, Princess Anna Ostrogzka and in 1676 by King Jan III Sobieski made respective efforts to prevent the development of Jewish settlement in Jaroslaw and to that end renewed the edict of the Privilege 1571, but unsuccessfully, as it had become obsolete.

The Jewish community in Jaroslaw began to grow slowly and more firmly until it became an established fact.


B. The Development of the Jewish Community

Jaroslaw was a known commercial town holding a well-publicised Fair three times a year to which came people from all over the country as well as from abroad. Her streets and markets overflowed with Jews and non-Jews alike who came for the trade Fairs and filled the available accommodation for the period of the Fairs. There is not the shadow of a doubt that many of the Jews who came to the Jaroslaw Fairs wished in their hearts that they, too, in fact dwelt in that commercial town but standing in the way of that desire was the anti-Jewish law of 1571 and for nearly forty years no one was able to violate the staus quo.

Nevertheless when, at the beginning of the 17th Century they did manage to breach the difficulties presented by the above law and Jaroslaw was no longer limited to “two Jewish houses”, Jews wishing to settle in the town began to flow ceaselessly and their numbers grew. In the thirties of the 17th Century there was already a population worthy of being called a community. In 1638 the reality of the situation called for the organization and recognition of the community and the Court of Władysław IV granted a “Privilege” that acknowledged the Jews of Przemyśl as a section of the population of the town.

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In accordance with that Royal decree all the surrounding towns close to Przemyśl including Jaroslaw, were obliged to obey the following instructions:

To recognize Przemyśl as their “big sister”.
To bury their dead there.
To hold services in the Przemyśl synagogue.
To pay taxes.
To purchase there the etrogim[3]
Every licensee will pay 3 gulden for the benefit of the Rabbis.
Any legal appeal is to be addressed to the rabbinical authority of Przemyśl.
It is worth pointing out that in no way was Jaroslaw exceptional since, in accordance with the accepted norms, the defense of every large community spread over the smaller ones and as one of the central communities, they were obliged to accept the authority. And if every individual community chose, in general, between 22-34 community representatives, everyone would number just eight representatives.

And regarding the burial of the dead in Przemyśl, the renewed Privilege changed nothing because even before 1638, the Jews of Jaroslaw buried their dead in Przemyśl since they had no local cemetery. Thus explained Rabbi Joel Sirkis in one of his replies because in 1625, a fire broke out in Jaroslaw at the time of one of the Fairs and one of the Jews named Ya'acov Ashkenazi of Poznań was burnt to death and buried in Przemyśl since there was no cemetery in Jaroslaw. That Privilege was possible only by official authorization of the existing law.

There is certainly no need to emphasize that the Privilege bye-law above obliging prayers to be held in Przemyśl, is completely illogical or unfair and totally unacceptable and is not worthy of further discussion.

During the same period, in the following decade after the 1638 event, the Cossacks, headed by Khmelnitsky invaded Polish territory and in every place they trod they left behind them destruction and suffering to property and people. The terrible devastating year of1647 shocked all humanity bringing calamitous misery not only to the Polish people but first and foremost inhuman atrocities and suffering to the Jews because in their wild behavior and Satanic, bloody depredations three-hundred thousand Jews were martyred – men women and children.

The 1647 storm did not ignore Jaroslaw. The wild Cossacks destroyed the churches and monasteries, beating and abusing the Christian residents, and lost no time in setting fire to the whole town and only extorted money saved the town from being

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totally destroyed. Nevertheless it seems that on this occasion the Jewish population came out unscathed with no loss of life.

Legend has it that with the awareness of the danger hovering over their heads from the Cossacks, the Jews fled the town before the start of the marauding gangs and when their anger had passed, they returned to their homes on 9th Sivan and fixed that day as a day of rejoicing calling it “Jaroslaw's 'Good-day'”

The establishment and numerical growth of Jaroslaw eventually drove the villagers out of their minds. The tension intensified, arguments and fights broke out between the townspeople and the Jews and Jaroslaw Jewish life became bitter until finally open violence broke out and became serious in 1686. The situation was very dangerous and only the intervention of the Queen, Maria Kazimiera managed to contain what was, in fact, a cold war. The Queen sent Cardinal Stanislaw as her personal representative with the aim of reaching a settlement giving him explicit instructions to settle the arguments between the two sides.

But usually the townspeople were supported by the town owners, the clergy and some of the kings of Poland like Jan III Sobieski, who tried to block the expansion of the Jewish settlement in Jaroslaw. For example, in 1664 the town's authorities published a law forbidding the renting of apartments to Jews and in future to exile them and not give them any work. A similar law was published in 1687 by the town owner Józef Karol Lubomirski, demanding “Intra rigorum iurium[4] and to throw the Jews out of the town because “…some weeks after the Fair the Jews were still living in the town” and all those aiding them should be punished to the extreme limit of the law.

After a year passed, Lubomirski renewed the above order. And a final time in 1704, Ludwika Lubomirska renewed the Privilege of 1751.

From every aspect, we see that until the beginning of the 18th Century the Jewish population of Jaroslaw lived in an unstable and insecure atmosphere because of the occasional renewal of the anti-Jewish sentiments implicitly embodied in the laws that there should be “no more than two Jewish homes” in Jaroslaw placing them unavoidably under “the sword of Damocles”. But nevertheless, in spite of the ongoing conflict and the will to exist, the Jewish population continued to increase in number and strength and especially after the economic downturn of the town, the Jews found themselves in command of the town's economy and they increased evermore.

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The common danger experienced by the Jewish population of Jaroslaw that was engendered by the anti-Jewish acts of 1571, pushed them instinctively to draw together in one place since it was a natural response to the hostile surroundings and living together provided a common defense to whatever was coming. Thus was born, towards the end of the 17th Century, the Jewish street in the north-western corner of the town (today, the neighborhood of the Great Synagogue), in other words – the ghetto. Nevertheless, there was a basic difference between the concept of the ghetto as it was created in many European towns of the late middle-ages at the instigation of the Christian communities who forced the Jews to live in them and prohibited them from leaving them, as against the Jewish street in Jaroslaw which was a direct creation of the Jews themselves in choosing to live close together as a form of self defense.

Indeed, as the framework of the Jewish settlement expanded and in accordance with their growing number, deaths within their ranks became more common and the community began to think in terms of creating their own cemetery because the carrying of the dead to distant Przemyśl was becoming burdensome and intolerable, even on occasion leading in some cases of disrespect to the departed. There isn't a shadow of doubt that the general opinion of the Jews of Przemyśl themselves objected strongly to the idea from many aspects but especially budgetary considerations because they would lose the benefit of all the burial fees that were being paid to them for burial services. But the Council of the Four Lands that convened in Jaroslaw in 1700 decided in favor and authorized the creation of a cemetery in Jaroslaw. From then the project began to go forward to a planning stage.

In compliance with the law “De non tolerandis Judaeis”, the cemetery was built outside the city walls in the Russian quarter beyond the Pełkinie Gate. It was in clear defiance of the Privilege of 1638 that was given to the Jews of Przemyśl according to which they were obliged to bury their dead in Przemyśl and also the first step towards the freeing of the community from the authority and regime of the central community of the town.

The purchase of the land cost the Jewish community several thousand Polish gulden in addition to which they were obliged to pay the heads of the Jaroslaw clergy every year on St Martin's day the sum of seven gulden. If it happened that the sum was not available to time, they were compelled to pay an annual interest of 120 gulden. The negotiations on behalf of the Jews were delegated to three Jews, Mordecai, Joel and Zalman Jacobowitz.

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At the same time that the cemetery was being established the burial fees were also fixed. The maximum was sixty gulden and anyone who expressed the wish to be buried in another town was charged thirty gulden. In the event that a poverty-stricken person died during the Fair and it was difficult to determine his place of residence, money was collected from shop-keepers and the compassionate to purchase the burial shrouds. Here we must mention that four members of the Council of the Four Lands, Rabbi Naphtali Cohen of Poznań, Rabbi Shaul and Mr. Zachariah Mendel of Krakow, Mr. Mena.ḥem Mendel of Lvov consecrated the cemetery ground and they also fixed the above-mentioned burial fees.

Among the distinguished people buried in the cemetery who were not residents of Jaroslaw were Rabbi Meir of Husakiv, the father of Rabbi Yitzhak Levi of Bardichev known as the Holy One of Barditchev. Even Rabbi Meir was connected with Jaroslaw because his son Levi Yitzhak studied there during his youth and was known as the “Jaroslaw prodigy”. For all that, it is not known for certain how he came to be buried in Jaroslaw and not in Husakiv, where he was born, or in Przemyśl where he served as the town Rabbi.

During that same period, the 1690's, the Chair of the Chief Rabbi of Jaroslaw was occupied by Rabbi Yeshiayhu, the son of Rabbi Natan Netta of Krakow who, by all accounts was the first Rabbi of Jaroslaw. It seems in those days there was another “Jaroslaw” under the authority of the central government of Przemyśl so there was some uncertainty concerning the Privilege of 1638 – about the Rabbi of Przemyśl. Indeed Jaroslaw was not his last stop because from there he received the Rabbanut of the town of Kowale in Wohlinia and one can assume that already in 1700 he was no longer in Jaroslaw for otherwise he would certainly have taken part in the consecration of the cemetery as the local Rabbi together with the four mentioned above.

From the same period there is preserved from the synagogue the prayer book from 1695 as used by the Jews of Jaroslaw, composed by Josef Kahana. The prayer book, made of parchment, has on nearly every page, hand-drawn various artistic illustrations. Among the prayers were: Reception of the Sabbath, the Angels' praises for King Jan III Sobieski, the prayer for rain, lamentations in memory of those victims of the Cossacks from 1647, and an edited version of the “O Lord who art full of compassion” prayer in memory of the martyrs of Nemyrov (Niemirów, Nemirova) and Tul'chyn (Tulczyn), who fell in 1647,.

That prayer book is therefore an accurate and confirmed, incontrovertible source that at the end of the 17th Century there was a synagogue in Jaroslaw. Nevertheless, because of the lack of historical sources, we know nothing of its architectural design or the materials from which it was constructed but it is certain beyond doubt that because of the law of 1571 they were forced to erect it outside the city walls as was the case with the cemetery.

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Although what Orlowycz tells us that “in the Russian suburb beyond the Pełkinie gate in 1675 the Jews had two synagogues” is simply not acceptable and must be seen as an absurd exaggeration, for in the second half of the 17th Century there were simply not enough Jews in Jaroslaw as to justify two synagogues.

Here we have a Jewish street, a separate cemetery, Rabbi and synagogue – all going to prove conspicuously how deeply entrenched were the roots of the Jewish community of Jaroslaw. From the start of the 18th Century, the community was already a significant element and by then an important factor, with which, not only the city, its rulers and Christian residents, but also the central authority in Przemyśl had to take into consideration. Thus, the Jews of Jaroslaw began the march to independence and in the not too distant future, it would become an independent community in its own right.


Part of the town center, market place and municipality


Translator's Footnotes
  1. Intolerance of Jews. Cities that held the old Privilege de non tolerandis Judaeis were not obligated to admit Jews. Return
  2. Literally “House of Life” but here used euphemistically for a cemetery. Return
  3. A member of the citrus family of fruits used during the Festival of Tabernacles (Succoth) Return
  4. To introduce the full rigor of the law. Return

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C. The Independent Community and its Rabbis

by Rabbi Moshe Steinberg

Translated by Selwyn Rose

There was a significant turning-point in the history of the Jewish community in Jaroslaw in 1774. It was the beginning of a very important period. That same year the Jewish community of Jaroslaw became totally independent of its “big sister” the central authority located in Przemyśl, and became a separate and independent one. There were, however, attempts by the community of Przemyśl to change things back to the status quo ante and at the request of Przemyśl, King August III renewed the Privilege of 1638; but it was simply a voice calling in the wilderness because the independence of the Jaroslaw community was already an established fact.

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In the second half of the 18th Century, the number of Jews continued to grow and according to the statistics of 1765, the number of Jewish residents in Jaroslaw was recorded as 1,884. Together with the increase in numbers, the boundaries of the Jewish settlement grew and from 1785, the surrounding villages were also part of it.

At the head of the community stood six community Elders but in practice all the business of the community was handled by just three of them known as “Reginars” who received their salaries from the community coffers. The functions of the three of them were significantly restricted and upon them was the task of preparing a list of all those paying tax and fixing the amount of tax that each person had to pay. The Elders were elected for a period of three years and at the end of each session, new elections were held. During the second half of the 19th Century, the Reginars decided to forgo their salaries and fulfilled their duties voluntarily.

The first Rabbi of the independent community was Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Horowitz.

Before we continue to write all the names of the Rabbis who came after him, we should note at this point all the others known to us, who officiated as Rabbis of the town in order, in the period between the first Rabbi of Jaroslaw Rabbi Yeshaya Bar Natan Netta (see above in section 'B') and Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Halevi Horowitz above:

Rabbi Ya'acov Ashkenazi, the brother of Naphtali Hertz Ashkenazi, Head of the Rabbinical Court of Lvov.

Rabbi Arieh Leibush Halevi Horowitz, the brother of the above Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua.

Rabbi Zaḥaria Mendel Frankel the son of Rabbi Meir Frankel Head of the Rabbinical Court of Międzyrzec (Mezeritz, Mezritch). He was the son-in-law of the above Rabbi Arieh Leibush and the student of Rabbi Noam Elimeleḥ of Leżajsk (Lizhensk), the author of “Ha-Noam Elimeleḥ ”. There are many who say that the book “The Ways of Justice” attributed to Rabbi Mendel of Łużki (Luzhki) is, in fact by Rabbi Zaḥaria.

Rabbi Ya'acov Ḥaim Halperin was the son of Mr. Avraham of Lublin, member of the Council of the Four Lands. Already as a young child, he was recognized as being exceptionally gifted and married the daughter of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Ḥazak, known as the Physician of Jaroslaw. He was a gifted doctor and sought by many of the great and noble of Poland, extremely wealthy and a member of the Council of the Four Lands. After his wedding, his father-in-law sent him to Prague to the Yeshiva of the Gaon Rabbi Yohanan Eybeschütz and counted among the greatest of his pupils and while still young in years was installed as Rabbi of Jaroslaw. Not long after he was installed as Rabbi of his home town Lublin.

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Ḥaya, the wife of his youth, died 15th Iyar 5512 (29th April 1752), in Lublin and on the first day of the month of Elul 5529, (3rd September 1769), Rabbi Ya'acov Ḥaim Halperin died and was buried with honor in Lublin.

His son, Rabbi Yitzhak Halperin, was the Rabbi of Tarnow, his daughter Zippora was the wife of Rabbi Yosef Hochgelernter, the author of “Mishnat Ḥaḥamim” a commentary on the Rambam, and his second daughter was the wife of Rabbi Avraham Ha-Cohen of Zamość (Zamoshtch), the author of “Beit Avraham - Questions and Responsa”.

Rabbi Ya'acov Ḥaim Halperin was the descendant of the Gaon Moshe Halperin of Brześć Litewski (Brisk, Brest-Litovsk).

It is appropriate to point out here, that the Halperin Family was known in Jaroslaw because at the end of the 17th Century the two brothers. Mordecai and Rabbi Joel Halperin lived there. They were the sons of Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Halperin, Head of the Rabbinical Court of Tykocin.

After Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Halevi Horowitz left Jaroslaw, the son-in-law of Rabbi Zaḥaria Mendel Frankel, the earlier Rabbi of Jaroslaw, was appointed Rabbi of Jaroslaw, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Heller was the son of Rabbi Ze'ev Wolf of Dobrzyń (Dobrin), and the grandson of the Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller, author of “Tosafot Yom Tov”.[1]

In a dramatic scenario, the second son-in-law of Rabbi Zaḥaria Mendel Frankel, Rabbi Naphtali Hertz “Ḥariff” (sharp) was appointed Rabbi of Jaroslaw from among the wise members of the Brody Kloiz. At the end of the 18th Century, when the question of the Rabbinate of Jaroslaw arose, the heads of the community offered the position to the above Rabbi but because of his advanced age, he declined the offer. And because Rabbi Ya'acov Meshulam Orenstein, the author of “Yeshuot Ya'acov[2] the son-in-law of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Wahl, was in town he was chosen and installed as the Rabbi. Nevertheless, the wife of Rabbi Naphtali Hertz continuously agitated her husband for having declined the honor and when this became known to Rabbi Orenstein, he returned the formal document since he was reluctant to show opposition to his uncle, thus he was again installed as Rabbi of Jaroslaw.

Rabbi Naphtali Hertz Ḥarif approved of the book “Shem Shmuel” a work of commentaries on the Torah, by Rabbi Shmuel Salir, Rav and Head of the Rabbinic Court of Lvóv (Lviv Lwów), published by the author's son Rabbi Natan Hecht of Jaroslaw. Old and blessed in years, Rabbi Naphtali Hertz passed away in 1819.

During his incumbency as the Rabbi of the town, the Great Synagogue was erected, and is still standing until today. On 6th Tammuz 1810 a building committee was created for the synagogue headed by Rabbi Naphtali Hertz Ḥarif and already by 15th Av 1811 they had the pleasure of celebrating its completion.

To state the obvious, the synagogue was built within the town itself

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and not outside its walls, as were the first synagogue and cemetery compelled to do in order to comply with the anti-Jewish edict of 1571 then in force.

Regarding the building materials used in constructing the synagogue, Orlowycz had his own ideas. In 1807, the church steeple collapsed during a prayer service and more than twenty people were killed. The Austrian authorities ordered the entire building to be razed and as a sign of support for the Jews transferred the rubble to the Jewish authorities to use in the construction of the synagogue. That proposition has, of course, to be discounted with full vigor since it goes against any possibility of complying with Halaḥa.[3]

In the meantime, the Jewish settlement continued to grow and according to the statistics of 1813, there were 2,355 Jews representing 25% of the total population.

Starting in 1845, the Jewish community was headed by Dr. Mauritz Frankel. He was energetic and courageous, talented and progressive and during the 37 years of his leadership, he was at first a “Reginar” and later the elected chairman of the Jaroslaw community, fighting for its advancement and giving a helping hand to the Haskala movement. At no time, however, was Jaroslaw in any way a bastion of Haskala like Lvóv, Brody and Tarnopol in Galicia and Odessa, Kovno and Vilna and Warsaw then in Russia. Nevertheless the movement did find its way into town and struck roots, due mainly to the tireless efforts of Dr. Frankel on behalf of the town which became almost totally “Haskala

It is quite possible that the Haskala movement in Jaroslaw prepared the ground for Yitzhak Arter, the student of the apostate Yosef Thaler. Arter came from the village of Chojnice (Khoynitsy), in the region of Przemyśl. Until 1814, he was a teacher in Jaroslaw and as such gave his soul to the movement. His activism was continued by the poet Aryeh Leib Kinderfreund who was born in Zamość and moved to Jaroslaw in that year and from there to Brody. Taking his advice, Arter tried to obtain a post as teacher at Josef Perle's school in Tarnopol but when that failed, he moved to Lvov. Here he met fierce opposition from the Rabbi of Lvóv, Rabbi Ya'acov Meshulam Ornstein the author of “Yeshuot Ya'acov” and published a boycott dissociating himself from him, declaring him as mistaken, in error, a deceiver, detractor and inciter. The Austrian government even became involved and compelled the Rabbi to cancel the boycott. Nevertheless, Arter found no means of sustenance in the hostile atmosphere and was forced to leave Lvóv and move to Brody where he quickly made a name for himself as a distinguished writer and a leading Haskala proponent in Galicia.

Among those born in Jaroslaw who were predominant Haskala stalwarts was Wolf Weiler (born in 1819). But unlike most of the Haskala followers, he didn't break his ties with the

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academic world, because the study of Torah was his hobby and as an ex-student of a Yeshiva he had published a number of articles on the Torah under the name Benjamin Ze'ev Aharon, in which were found sharp and knowledgeable comments.

And if, with the beginning of the 19th Century the Haskala movement began its first steps in Jaroslaw and succeeded by the second half of the Century to conquer the community, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Frenkel, the Ḥassidim and scholarliness had made their mark on the town. Among the founding personalities of the Ḥassidim in Jaroslaw were Rabbi Zaḥaria Mendel Frenkel, the Rabbi of Jaroslaw, the student of Rabbi Elimeleḥ of Leżajsk (Lizhensk), author of “Noam Elimelech”, and above all, the Rav Rabbi Shimon Marilys known as Rabbi Shimon the Jaroslawi, the author of the book “Shimon on the Torah”. He was the student of the “Seer of Lublin”, and also travelled to visit Rabbi Shalom Rokaḥ of Belz and other righteous men of his time and wrote in his book on the verse “Justice. Justice thou shalt seek”, in the book of Judges: “and thus I strove to travel to the righteous ones even in my old age.”[a] He passed away on the first day of Succoth, 1850 (Z”L) and was interred with honor in Jaroslaw in a special mausoleum next to the mausoleum on his left bearing his son Rabbi Bonam Mendel and to his right his son-in-law Rabbi Kehat Halperin, in one corner the wife of Rabbi Bonam Mendel and in another corner the wife of Rabbi Kehat, Mrs. Sheyndl Reisel. The others of his offspring, the continuation of the dynasty were Rabbi David, Eliezer and Rabbi Yisrael. The first of them died of natural causes about two years before the outbreak of World War Two and was brought to a burial in the family vault.

A native-born resident of Jaroslaw who became famous as a Gaon and righteous person was Rabbi Aryeh Leibish Lipshitz Head of the Rabbinical Courts of Korosteszów (Korshev), Ścinawa, Wyżnica (Vizhnitz) and Brzesko (Briegel). He was born in 1766 to his father, Rabbi Haim Lipshitz and when he was ten-years old was already recognized as a scholar of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds and considered a child wonder and referred to as Rabbi Leibish “the Sharp”. He was the student of the author of “Ktzot Ha-Ḥoshen” Rabbi Aryeh Lev Ha-Cohen, an authoritative work and a friend of the author of “Yeshuot Ya'acov”.

He authored two books “Questions and Responsa” as Aryeh Devi Ila'i and several learned works on the Tractate of Ketuvot from the Gemara

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his Ḥassidut Rabbi was “The Seer of Lublin” who was his son-in-law from the second marriage of Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, the author of “Yismaḥ Moshe”.[4] When his son-in-law was accepted as the Rabbi of Ujhely (Ihel), he filled his place as Rabbi of Ścinawa from where he moved to Wyżnica (Vizhnitz) and later to Brzesko (Briegel) where he died and was buried with honor. He died on 17 Tevet 1845. His daughter was the wife of Rabbi Yehezkiel Shraga Halberstein of Ścinawa.

A conspicuous personality in the Jaroslaw gallery of Ḥassidim was Rabbi Mendel Hassid (died 1824). According to his will, he wrote that all who would come and pray over his grave on Sabbath Eves would have their dearest wishes fulfilled and consequently masses of people would come and prostrate themselves on his grave.

In conclusion we must mention that a few years before the Holocaust Grand Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach of Jaroslaw, son of Rabbi Issachar Dov of Belz came to settle in town. For many years Rabbi Elimeleḥ Lam a direct descendant of Rabbi Elimeleḥ of Leżajsk, known to all as the “Rabbi of the Land of Israel” because he had lived there for a time. He had the habit of wearing three sets of phylacteries for Rashi, Rabbi Ya'acov ben Meir and a representative group known by the acronym SHaDaR[5].

It is thanks to the activities of these men, Jaroslaw claimed an honored position in the world of Ḥassidut and it is no surprise that they were considered as being God-fearing and reverenced. But in addition to that, Jaroslaw was – and had always been a place of Torah and an indication of such was that the Rabbi Meir of Hýskov considered it wise to send his son the author of “Kedushat Levi” to study Torah in Jaroslaw. There were three elements directing Jaroslaw in the path of learning: A) The Council of the Four Lands made it their meeting-place and the town therefore hosted the great Gaonim of the era, B) The Chief Rabbis of Jaroslaw were among “the greats” of Torah learning, C) The personality of the author of “Yeshuot Ya'acov” who resided there at the time in the Hill of Talpiot.[6] Among the regular visitors, who gathered in Jaroslaw were Rabbi Aharon Moshe Tobias the author of “To'efet Ram”, who later officiated as Rabbi of Śniatyń and Iaºi (Yassi) Rabbi of Tarnogród (Tarnogrud) and approved of by Rabbi Eliezer Horowitz the author of “Noam Megadim”.

Referring to his time in Jaroslaw in his memoirs, Rabbi Ya'acov Meshulam Ornstein the author of “Yeshuot Ya'acov”, praised the Jews of Jaroslaw in general, and its students in particular, as masters of the Torah and scholars.

And although from the middle of the nineteenth century there was a turning point in the fashion and essence of Jaroslaw, a considerable part of it turned its back on Ḥassidism and Torah study, slowly severing its ties with the old world and in the streets of Jewish Jaroslaw began a new spirit of education and progress. And as a result of that there was an increase of assimilation and about twenty years after its beginning, it returned to its former glory and there were again many Torah scholars, Ḥassidim and functionaries.

With the end of the First World War, Jaroslaw began

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The city square and the City Hall

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a vibrant revival of national and religious life and the impact of the revival penetrated deep into the hearts of the youth, and from then the Aliyah began. In the beginning there were mainly individuals, but over time the Aliyah grew and encompassed wider circles and hardly ceased until the Holocaust.

When in 1772 the first division of Poland occurred and Austria acquired Galicia, on the 18th February 1788 a military order under which everyone, irrespective of ethnic or religious background, was obliged to serve in the army. From one point of view, the Jews could consider it a significant advantage because it meant that the Austrian government would be publicly and implicitly recognizing the Jews but on the other hand, the Jews were unable to come to terms with the edict because military service then was terrible in their eyes. They therefore were much relieved when, in 1827, when the above law was corrected and it became possible for those who were unable to fulfill their obligation for personal reasons could send someone in their place on payment of a certain sum of money. In all the towns of Galicia, special committees were created with the aim of raising enough money by contributions that made it possible even for the poor, to pay for someone to replace him in the army.

On the 9th Tevet, 1834 such a committee was brought into being in Jaroslaw with seven members from among respected members of the community, headed by Rabbi Shimon. When in 1854 Rabbi Yitzhak Ya'acov Horowitz the Rabbi of Cieszńow was installed as Rabbi of the town, he became head of that committee. Rabbi Horowitz was the son of Rabbi Arieh, Head of the Rabbinical Court of Trembowla (Trembovla) and he occupied the Rabbi's chair until the day of his death 24th Tevet 1864.

About three years after his death, Rabbi Shmuel Waldberg was chosen as the town Rabbi. He had been the Rabbi of Żółkiew (Zholkeva) for ten years but because of arguments that had broken out between him and the community, he left Żółkiew and moved to Jaroslaw to officiate as town Rabbi in 1867. But the relationships between him and the community of Jaroslaw were also not satisfactory and an open dispute broke out reaching such proportions that in 1871 the community dismissed him and only thanks to the intervention of Rabbi Lowenstein of Lvóv was the feud finally settled. In spite of that, the relationship of the community with Rabbi Waldberg remained cool.

Rabbi Waldberg authored five books: “Omrei Da'at”, “Ateret Shoshanim”, “Davar B'ito”, “Darkei Ha-Shinu'im” and “Divrei Shmuel” a book commenting on the order of the alphabet. He died in 1906 when he was 77 years old.

His brother, Moshe Waldberg was one of the big bankers in Bucharest and among the initiators of the trade

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agreement between the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and Rumania in 1875. As a result of that on 12th June 1875, he was raised to the Nobility and 16th May, 1884 became a Baron. He died in 1901 and almost immediately upon his death his son converted to Christianity,

In the meantime shockwaves had stunned the Jewish community because on the 25th March 1869 gangs of Jaroslaw ruffians had spontaneously descended upon the Jewish community in an anti-Semitic rage, robbing and looting Jewish stores and stalls, smashing the windows of Jewish homes and the home of Adolph Julius Strisower was particularly damaged. And in addition, many among the Jewish population suffered injuries. The rioting bullies exploited the hostile attitude of the local authorities towards the Jews and succeeded in their depredations from the 25th March until the 5th April (with a few small pauses) without any reaction from the authorities. Only through the efforts of the Lvóv Regional representative and thanks to the impassioned plea of a Jew who pleaded with the army in Jaroslaw to intervene in the desperate situation that had developed, did the pogrom come to a halt.

As evidence strengthening our claim that the hatred of Jews was in the hearts of the Jaroslaw authorities, we present the following facts:

When the representatives of the community, Hirsch Barihal and Sandor Gavel appeared before the Regional officer named Halbyk asking his help and that he should act against the hooligans, he replied in vulgar and brutal language: “Clear off out of here!”

According to the advice of the mayor at the time, the Municipality decided to forbid Jews to take part in any form of public auctions.

But exactly as recorded in the Bible: “But the more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites multiplied and spread and the more alarmed the Egyptians became.”[7] – The census of 1872 shows that the Jewish population of Jaroslaw then numbered more than 4,500. Three hundred children attended non-Jewish schools and the community maintained a teacher for Hebrew, and sustained him at their expense. Also maintained was a Jewish hospital with thirty beds financed from the income of the bath-house. A significant element of the hospital's budget was from different donations, legacies and estates.

A most important date in the history of the Jewish community of Jaroslaw was 1876. In that year, the system of the “Reginar” ceased to exist and for the first time elections were held, in which sixteen members were chosen. The rule of the few was replaced by the democratically elected representatives. Even so, the right to vote was still restricted to those who paid taxes and even though there was still not a general election it a great step forward in the direction of democratization of the community. The elections took place on 5th October, 1876,

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and the number of voters entitled to vote, together with the surrounding villagers was 268. It is worthwhile noting that women too, if they paid taxes, had the right to vote but only by appointing a male power of attorney. Dr. Frankel was elected Chairman and his deputy the attorney Dr. Emil Gottlieb.

In 1880, the town of Redimno (Redem) that up until now had been considered an extension of the community of Jaroslaw was granted freedom and independence. In 1883, Dr. Frenkel left Jaroslaw and moved to Lvov where he died two years later at the age of 77. His place as chairman was filled by his deputy Dr. Gottlieb who remained in that post until the end of that session on 31st December 1885. The cooperation between the elected members was not good and when Dr. Friedwald resigned together with five other members Dr. Gottlieb was forced to hold new elections for six new members.

In 1885 the doctor Ya'acov Raff was elected as Chairman and in the four years of his Chairmanship he earned for himself the general support and respect of the community and thus on his retirement in 1889, he was unanimously elected as honorary president of the Community.

His successor was Heinrich Strisower who was elected Chairman 27th November 1889. During his time in office, the new Study House was built on the site of the old one. On the site of the Talmud Torah a school with two classes was erected, named for Baron Hirsch, an old people's home financed from the estate of Chairman Adolph Strisower's father while the chairman himself contributed 1,000 Gulden, paving the road to the cemetery and building there a waiting room. In addition, it was decided to refurbish the Great Synagogue, build a slaughter-house for poultry and a bath-house in the town because the previous one stood in an inconvenient location and was deemed to be unfit for use. A special committee was formed, headed by the Chairman's brother, Julius Strisower. The committee's task was to manage the building of the bath-house. In the meantime, the Chairman Heinrich Strisower passed away in 1905 after he had managed the community's affairs for 15 years. Heinrich Strisower's period in office was seen as a period of construction and creativity. And it is appropriate that if, until now the lingua franca of the community had been German, it was decided in a committee meeting in February 1902 that henceforth the official language of the community shall be Polish.

After him, on 18th January 1906 Dr. Avraham Friedwald was elected as Chairman and his deputy Julius Strisower who was the living spirit of the community. The first actions taken by the new administration were restricted and only the earlier, planned buildings

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were executed; thus the bath-house, the slaughter-house and the Great Synagogue were raised.

And now, after the post of town Rabbi had remained vacant for a number of years, the community approached the election of a Rabbi on 7th January, 1914. The main candidates at the time were: Rabbi Leibush Mendel Landau, the disciple of Rabbi Yitzhak Schmelkes of Lvóv and Rabbi Meir Horowitz from Buczacz (Betshotsh). Because neither of the two candidates received the required two-thirds of the votes, neither one was accepted and installed

With the outbreak of World War One in 1914, the committee decided to institute a special fund to the sum of 300 Kroner, to assist all the needy and poverty-stricken families (with no discrimination of religion) whose head of family had been mobilized into the army, and to the Polish National fund the sum of 200 Kroner.

Immediately with the cessation of hostilities, on June 19th 1918 (sic)[8] anti-Semitic rioting broke out in Jaroslaw and among other damage windows in the bath-house and the Great Synagogue were smashed. In the light of the serious situation with its anti-Semitic background, the National Jewish Council organized representatives from all the Jewish parties with the objective of protecting the rights and interests of the Jews – political, national and economic. The National Council saw itself as the only representative of the Jews and turned to the committee and demanded that it resign and transfer power to the National Council in all matters concerning the Jewish population. Taking into consideration the critical situation, the committee agreed to broaden its framework and named some additional new members from outside the present committee – and the situation became calmer.

In May 1919, Dr. Friedwald resigned as Chairman of the committee and of all public activities he preferred the Talmud Torah of which he had been Chairman for many years. As an old man, Dr. Friedwald passed away on the 6th January 1937.

On the 6th May 1919, Julius Strisower, honored as “Advisor to the Emperor” was installed as Chairman in his place. When Julius Strisower took the reins of power in the Jaroslaw community, he was already well-known as the previous deputy chairman and involved in the life of the community as a founder in 1917 of the orphanage in Jaroslaw, manager of the town's savings fund and as deputy mayor. The first act of the newly appointed Chairman was his war against the profiteering of basic needs and he was active in the field of philanthropy and among other things, he was head of the Jaroslaw branch committee of help for Polish Jews. Among his tasks was to assist all those in need who suffered as a result of the war.

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When life returned more or less to normal, and the situation stabilized, the time came to elect a Rabbi for the town since the post had been vacant for fifteen years. At a joint session of the committee and the residents on 25th May 1921, the father of the author of these few lines Rabbi Yitzhak Steinberg (Z”L), of Halicz (Helitch) was installed as the town's Rabbi. He also acted as Head of the Rabbinical Court until the outbreak of World War Two – until the destruction. The Rabbi Yitzhak Steinberg, the son of Rabbi Shemaiah Steinberg Head of the Rabbinical Court of Przemyśl, the son of Rabbi Avraham Menaḥem Mendel Steinberg, Head of the Rabbinical Court of Brody, the author of “Questions and Responses – Abraham's Play”, was the last Rabbi of Jewish Jaroslaw.

In April 1924 Rabbi Steinberg was elected as Head of the Rabbinical Court in Radom but after a while he resigned his position because of the many internecine arguments and feuds that existed there for many years and also because the pressures brought upon him by the community of Jaroslaw not to accept the post in Radom. On 3rd May 1926 after speaking in the Great Synagogue in honor of a national festival beginning that day, in a spontaneous meeting of the respected leaders of the congregation they demanded of the congregation to make every effort to persuade Rabbi Steinberg to resign his new post in Radom. In consideration of their pleas, he relinquished the seat in Radom.

The Court of Rabbi Steinberg was at first comprised of two Dayanim[9]: Rabbi Pinḥas Hemerling and Rabbi Benjamin Moshe Goldman. As this latter Rabbi aged, a third Dayan Rabbi David Diller was appointed in his place.

Apart from Rabbi Steinberg's normal duties as town Rabbi, he also preached Torah and instituted study classes in his home for the youth and Yeshiva students. He was the manager of the Talmud Torah that in its day was a most important educational foundation in town where several hundred children learned. In 1923 the Talmud Torah became a small Yeshiva that was headed by Rabbi Mordecai Ḥaim Hertzberg of Pistyń (Pistin), the author of “Tamḥin D'oraita[10].

In 1928, the charitable organization “Gemilat Ḥassidim” was created in Jaroslaw headed by Julius Strisower but a few years later Rabbi Steinberg was appointed Chairman. The charity did much to fulfill the needs of the impoverished especially the small traders and stall-holders who received loans at no interest. Because of this help, they were able to manage and save their small businesses from total collapse.

A most praiseworthy and blessed element of Rabbi Steinberg's activities was his dedication to helping the Jewish soldiers serving in Jaroslaw. Thanks to his efforts the military authorities in Jaroslaw compelled all the Jewish soldiers to attend prayers on Shabbat and Festivals in the Great Synagogue as an organized group. He also

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founded a special fund to ensure that religious Jewish soldiers were provided with Kosher food during their military service and with the approach of Passover stood at the head of “Operation Pessaḥ” with the target of ensuring that a special kitchen was organized to supply them with special Passover food for the whole week of the festival. The Passover meal opening the festival for the soldiers was conducted with the participation of Rabbi Steinberg and the Cantor Meshulam Lam.

With the outbreak of World War Two, the Rabbi left Jaroslaw moving to eastern Galicia and from there was exiled to the Ural forests of Russia. He had many adventures during his years of exile especially in Samarkand in Uzbekistan. The wanderings from place to place, the conditions in which he lived, hunger, changes of climate, it all had a negative effect upon him including the death of his son – the writer's brother, Benjamin Ze'ev – who died in Samarkand at a young age. At the age of seventeen, he was licensed as a teacher and left behind him the manuscript of “Commentaries on the 'Tur Shulḥan Aruḥ' of Maimonides”.

After the Holocaust, Rabbi Steinberg was installed as the Rabbi of Brussels, the capital of Belgium and in 1951 immigrated to Israel where he became Head of the Rabbinical Court of the Tel-Aviv area and lastly as the Rabbi of the “Yeshuran” synagogue, in Tel-Aviv. During the Holocaust all his writings, on all the aspects of the Torah were lost among them his manuscript of “Sha'arei Yitzhak” – “The Gates of Isaac” – a treatise on the “Mezuzah”. He died 27th Heshvan 1966 and was buried with honor in Tel-Aviv.

On 1st April 1925, a ceremonial meeting took place in the Council's meeting room, celebrating the consecration of the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, Jerusalem. At the suggestion of Dr. Schorr, it was decided to institute a stipend for a Jaroslaw-born student of little means enabling him to study at the Hebrew University and to send a congratulatory letter in Hebrew and Polish to the Rector of the University.

In 1927, celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Orphanage Home, the institution was renamed in honor of its founder, “The Julius Strisower Orphanage Home” because of the indisputable fact that he dedicated so much effort to its creation and he was as much a true surrogate father to the orphans. Even after they matured and left the home, he interested himself in their progress, welfare and education with heartfelt devotion.

In 1928 new elections were held in Jaroslaw for the community council and on the basis of the new constitution twenty members were elected apart from the local sitting Rabbi. Julius Strisower was again elected Chairman and his Deputy, Dr. Mauritz Ettinger; as Chairman of the Council

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the attorney Dr. Maximilian Segal was elected while his deputy was Eliezer Berish Goldman, an estate holder.

With the ending of that term, all parties in Jaroslaw agreed to prevent at all costs, election wars and a wall-to-wall front was created including economic non-party circles. The agreement found approval in the eyes of the whole town and without an election, the elected members of the community took control in 1934.


The last Jewish community leaders of Jaroslaw

Sitting from R to L: A. Reich, A. Rager, Rabbi Yitzhak Steinberg, L. Diller
Standing from R. to L: Sh. Licht, M. Hass, Piskosh, Sh. Lang, A. Glass, N. Tanzer, L. Metzger


At the head of the management stood the attorney, Dr. Shmuel Schorr, the brother of the Senator Professor Rabbi Moshe Schorr of Warsaw. As a man who stood far away from the stormy world of politics and Party and as a supporter of rebirth, he was considered to be the right man in the right place and Eliezer Berish Goldman was elected as the deputy Chairman. Max Selig was elected as chairman of the council as representative of the Zionist Organization. Shimon Spiegel, the owner of a silk-screens factory and Chairman of the Artisans and Traders' Bank of Jaroslaw and representative of “Mizrahi” was his elected deputy and after his immigration to Palestine, his place as deputy was taken by Adolph Rager as representative of the Craftsmen's Association.

From its very beginning the management of the community under Dr. Schorr ran into serious financial difficulties springing principally from a reduction in incomes because of the notorious Pristor Law. Nevertheless, the congregation participated in the maintenance of the institutions

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by subsidies, and the old people's home was maintained by the congregation alone, at its expense. Two community buildings, each of two storeys, were used by the congregation only. In one of them were the offices of the congregation, the “Gemilat Hassidim” (Charity for the Poor), and the meeting room. In the second building was the old people's home “Taz” of ambulatory residents, managed by Dr. Mauritz Shafetz who for some years, had been the head of the Zionist Federation in Jaroslaw; The offices of the Rabbanut were in the same building.

The full complement of both the management and the community Council until the outbreak of World War Two was as follows:

Sr. Shmuel Schorr (Chairman), Eliezer Berish Goldman (Deputy Chairman of management), Committee members of the management: Moshe Hess, Leib Metzger, Max Folkman, Elimeleḥ Reich, Dr Wilhelm Schwarzer, Mendel Schlafrig and Rabbi Yitzhak Steinberg.

Max Selick (Chairman of the Council), Adolph Rager (Deputy Chairman). Members of the Council: Yona Everett, Mordecai Orenbach, Avraham Glat, Shimon Licht, Yeshaya Lang, Dr. Mauritz Meister, Eliyahu Sandik, Haim Aharon Zilbiger, Adolph Fechter and Aharon Rosenfeld.

These were the names of the last committee members of Jaroslaw before the destruction.


Original Footnote
  1. He used to say that the virtue of longevity was to lessen the burden on the Holy One, blessed be He, for if we do so what will he say if the Holy One says to him “Come up to me in heaven and you will see that everything is in order and that there are no problems” – therefore he who wishes to live long will not visit and will not burden the Holy One. Rabbi Shimon's father was strongly critical of, and looked unfavorably upon his son's strong attraction to the B'ESHT and according to legend compelled his son, before his death, shall not grant him the title of “Cohen” and not recite the Kaddish prayer since he knew that he would recite the section of “Veyatzmaḥ purqaneh viqarev” (And may his salvation blossom and his anointed be near), instead of the accepted pure Ashkenazi version. After his death he regretted with great sadness about it and when the author of “Divrei Ḥaim” came on the customary condolence visit he ordered him to recite the Kaddish with the added “Veyatzmaḥ purqaneh viqarev” because now his father was “b'alma dakushta” [From the Zohar, meaning the “World of truth” a pseudonym for Heaven – trans.] and knows the truth and “Veyatzmaḥ purqaneh viqarev” needs to be said. Return

Translator's Footnotes

  1. A commentary on the Mishnah. Return
  2. A commentary on the equally learned and erudite “Shulḥan Aruḥ” Return
  3. The overall basic framework of Jewish day-to-day law. Return
  4. Considered one of the classic homiletic works of Ḥassidism, “Questions and responsa”. Return
  5. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meshulach for a full description. Return
  6. A synonym for King David derived from the Song of Solomon 4:4 Return
  7. See Exodus 1:12 Return
  8. I am unable to determine why this date is given. Although the later stages of the war did show signs of disagreement and reluctance to continue with the conflict among some of the fringe coalitions on both sides, it is certainly-well known that the official cease-fire and signing of the armistice occurred at 11:00 a.m. 11th November 1918. Return
  9. A Dayan is a specially qualified, respected and highly learned Rabbi who sits in a Rabbinical Court judging cases in accordance with Jewish law. Return
  10. A religious work on the Torah. Return

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Chevra Kadisha in Jaroslaw

by Rabbi Moshe Steinberg

Translated by Susan Rosin

The very first Jewish organization established in our town was the “Chevra Kadisha”, which predated the establishment of the hospital. During that time, the main function of the organization was to transport the deceased for burial in the Jewish cemetery of Przemyśl (Pshemishl). After the establishment of the Jewish cemetery in Jaroslaw, the organization extended its activities to include philanthropy.

Charity for the town's poor as well as for the visiting-poor was always part of the organization's budget. Each year a large sum was distributed before Passover in the form of “Ma'ot Chitim” (This special Passover fund, originally intended to provide the poor with matzah, is known as ma'ot chitim, “the wheat fund ”). The town's rabbi received 10 golden per year: 8 golden for two sermons and additional 2 golden from the annually (during Chol Hamoed Pesach) elected management. Starting in 1714, the organization provided yearly subsidy to maintain the “Hekdesh” which served as a hospital and homeless shelter. The subsidy amount was 20 golden per year and it was paid in four installments: The first day of Iyar, Yom Kippur eve, Hanukkah and Chol Hamoed Pesach. The community contributed another 25 golden as an annual subsidy[1].

Originally there was a “Bikur Cholim” (visiting the sick) organization. Due to budgetary difficulties, Bikur Cholim and Chevra Kadisha merged in 1756. Since that time, the Chevra Kadisha acted also as a Bikur Cholim charity, and assigned special amount for this purpose. From that time on, any new member of Chevra Kadisha had to be a member of Bikur Cholim as well.

The Chevra Kadisha was well organized and operated according to rules and regulations that were well documented. The management was comprised as follows:

5 Heads of households, 6 Gabai'im (beadles), 6 Accountants, 3 Permanent members, 5 Regulators.
The numbers of the management members changed from time to time.

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The members of Chevra Kadisha were always from among the distinguished in town. To be a member was considered a great honor.

The discipline within the society was very strict and any offending member was punished severely. For instance, one of the members slighted the society. It was decided to excommunicate him. Only because of his family, his punishment was changed to lashes. The punishment was carried out in the cemetery, and he had also to go three times to synagogue to beg for forgiveness in public. Normally a punishment would be removal of the member permanently and recording the offender in the society's book.

The “Chesed Ve'Emet” organization served its members only, whereas Chevra Kadisha was a general organization providing services to all. The main function of Chesed Ve'Emet was to assist members during the Shivaa, or during illness when a member was unable to work and provide for his family. In addition, the society arranged for funerals for their members. In the 1930's the society completed the construction of their building that also included the synagogue “Chesed Ve'Emet”.

Another ancient society, but of a different type was “Shomrim laboker” (those who await the morning). The members recited “Shomrim” every day at dawn, and in the evening after the prayers they would study a chapter of mishnayot. It is worth noting that until 1788 the organization had a leader who gave sermons on Saturdays and holidays. The last such leader was the rabbi from Sędziszów.

In 1810 the society approached the synagogue building committee in Jaroslaw. They committed 400 golden to the effort as well as one third of the Monday and Thursday collections. For their contribution, they were to receive a room on the first floor to serve as the Shomrim Laboker synagogue.

Translator's Footnote

  1. Based on the budget of the Synod of Four Lands from 1726, it appears that the “Hekdesh” in Jaroslaw received 60 golden. See Halperin, the Synod of Four lands, page 503. Return

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The Council of Four Lands

by Rabbi M. Steinberg

Translated by Susan Rosin

Jaroslaw was blessed with being the location of the Council of Four Lands meetings. Due to that fact, the town is important in the history of the Jewish people and specifically in the history of Polish Jewry. This supreme institution of Polish Jewry opened a spectacular page in the history of Jewish Jaroslaw. Truth to be told we need to separate the history of the council and the history of Jaroslaw Jewry. The council's discussions were mainly about general, country-wide Jewish issues. However the fact that this town was selected as a meeting place of the council in addition to Lublin, shows the importance and standing of Jaroslaw among the most important towns in history of Jewish Poland. During the meetings of the council, the town hosted the spiritual representatives and leaders of Poland's Jewry. Jews looked-up to this judicial and legislative body in Jaroslaw as it instructed them in matters of education, religion, public and economical life. Many of the issues of the time found their resolutions in our town.

The Jewish population in town was scarce when the council first started meeting in Jaroslaw. In time, the number of Jews in town increased and they were witnesses of this historic institution. It stands to reason that the great and important leaders influenced the local population in positive ways.

Meeting of that sort were held in many countries such as France (in the 12th century), Germany, Castile, and Moravia. The difference is that these meeting were of a local character, whereas the coouncil dealt with general Jewish issues not limited to a certain country. The implications of their decisions can be felt up to this day.

There are some speculations about the origins and reasons for the establishment of the council. The most common opinion is that the establishment of the council is attributed to the Lublin rabbi Mordechai Jaffe (1532 – 1612).

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Every year multitudes of Jews came to the Lublin fair. Disagreements and quarrels were a common occurrence. As the rabbi, Jaffe had to mediate and even judge. During the fair, many rabbis, leaders and heads of Yeshivas used to come to Lublin as well. They normally discussed important general issues affecting the Jewish population. In order to make these spontaneous and infrequent meetings into a permanent institution, rabbi Jaffe initiated the Council of the Four lands.

Another theory on the establishment of the Council is due to the meetings from time to time of leaders of the large Jewish communities. In these meetings they discussed issues pertaining to a certain region and sometimes the entire Polish Jewry. Representatives of the communities appeared before the king to discuss Jewish rights and privileges as well as the hostile attitudes of the local authorities and the church. The relationships between the kehila (Jewish community) branches and the main kehila were discussed during these meetings. There was an opportunity to exchange ideas about religion and tradition during these meetings because kehila rabbis participated. And that is how the Council of the Four Lands came into being.

Another theory – and the most plausible – is that the Council was established as a direct result of the “poll tax” that was imposed on the Jews by the Polish Sejm. Due to the lack of organization, the government itself was unable to collect the tax and the communities were tasked with the collection and distribution of the tax. The common interest of the government and the communities required therefore to establish a responsible supreme institution with authority to deal with this issue. And so, in the year 1580, the Coouncil of the Four Lands was established. It has to be noted that during ancient times and then in the middle-ages, the authorities did not deal with individual Jews, but with the Jewish public as a whole. The obligation to collect the tax and meet the quota was the responsibility of the Jewish communities.

At the beginning the Council was comprised of five countries: Greater Poland, Lesser Poland[1], Russia, Lithuania and Volhynia. Sometimes only three participated, and it was called the Council of Three Lands. In 1623, Lithuania withdrew and established its own council. From that time on it was called the Council of the Four lands (Congressus Judaicus).

The main function of the council was to deal with financial issues and that is where most of its time was spent. From time to time there was a need to change the tax distribution between the communities and the district.

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The total original amount of the “poll tax” was 18,000 golden. In time, it was increased and reached to more than twenty thousand golden. Because the council meetings included rabbis, head of yeshivas, Torah scholars, and spiritual leaders, it is only natural that the council discussed all matters of importance to the Polish Jewry as well as Jews around the world.

The measures and decision of council became laws, and communities that did not comply were punished and fined. The council was a kind of a “kingdom within a kingdom” and was the symbol of the unification of Polish Jewry. It is assumed that the number of members was 70, the same as the number of members of the Great Sanhedrin. Of course this number was symbolic, as not all members were worthy and besides the location of the Sanhedrin can only be in Eretz Israel.

The council was headed by members elected “Parnas”[2]. Other elected officials were treasurers, secretaries, and lobbyists who represented the council externally. The “Parnas” was a “secular Jew” whereas the treasurers and secretaries were rabbis. The “Parnas” and the administrative staff were involved throughout the year and received their salaries from the council's coffers. The rest of the members were involved only during the council meetings and therefore received their symbolic salaries from the communities or the district that elected them. The members of the council were highly regarded.

It appears that the council met for the first time in Jaroslaw in 1591. Since 1680 and until its abolishment, the council no longer met in Lublin, but only in Jaroslaw that became its permanent meeting location. In the 18th century, the council met sometimes in other towns (that belonged to the treasury secretary), such as Ryczywół (Ritchvol), Pilica (Piltz), Konstantynów (Kostentin) and others.

The language spoken during the meetings was Yiddish, as well as the announcements for the public. However the regulations, resolutions and judgments were written in Hebrew.

According to a regulation from 1594, “No books will be printed without the permission of rabbis and champions”. Various authors arrived in Jaroslaw to obtain the council's approval[3] or the approval of a great rabbi.

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In the years 1587 and 1590 a regulation by the council in Lublin determined that no man should be appointed for money. This regulation was renewed during the council meeting in Jaroslaw in the year 1640.

In the middle of the 17th century there was a great danger to the Jewish population due to the Sabbatai Tzvi movement. The council in Lublin announced “A great and terrible excommunication by blowing the shofar and extinguishing candles on the criminals and thoughtless” who follow the Shabbtai Tzvi movement. In the year 1672, the council in Jaroslaw sent out an announcement in Yiddish to the public to this effect.

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These excommunication announcements were apparently not effective, so that in 1731 the council in Jaroslaw placed an ultimatum that if people will not repent, they will be punished with severe excommunication.

The famous controversy between rabbi Jonathan Eibeschitz and rabbi Jacob Emden[4] regarding amulets was a divisive matter among the Jewish population and was on the agenda for a long time. The matter was finally closed during the council meeting in Jaroslaw on the second day of Heshvan 5414[5]. The meeting was chaired by Avraham Halperin from Lublin (the father of the Jaroslaw rabbi Yaakov Chaim Halperin). The judgement determined that “No voice of blame will be heard against the famous genius in his generation rabbi Jonathan” and all the opposing libel writings were burnt in front of the public.

Reading of the bible was not easy for the multitudes and women due to the lack of knowledge of the Hebrew language. So, in order to read and enjoy the holy book, the council in Jaroslaw allowed on the 24th of Elul 5437 (1677) to print the bible in an Ashkenazi – Jewish translation by the printer Joseph Athias[6] from Amsterdam.

Among the many actions of the council and important problems that found their resolutions by the council, we need to note

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that the council never ignored the plight of the poor and those needing help. They were always cognizant of the needs of the poor and there was always an item in the budget for this purpose.

After the Polish-Turkish war of 1672, many communities were destroyed, people lost all their possessions and many were captured and imprisoned. As the council was unable to help all the unfortunate financially, they wrote to both the Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities in Amsterdam requesting assistance for the victims of that war and to do whatever is possible for the captive redemption commandment[7].

The council was involved in supporting the poor in Eretz Israel. Each of the four lands had a specifically appointed representative whose function was to collect funds for the poor in the holy land. A special proclamation in the year 5387 (1627) for Eretz Israel poor: “Awake and remember the poor in Eretz Israel; Please bring all donations to the fair in Jaroslaw - those collected by rabbi Nechemia and all other donations”.

During the Jaroslaw council meeting in the year 5499 (1739) “appointed collectors in every district and every town” to collect donations for Eretz Israel poor.

The council in Jaroslaw devoted much time in an effort to settle conflicts between various communities. In 5452 (1692) the council declared that small towns and villages that do not have their own synagogues and are in a two miles proximity to a main community will have to be under that community's authority in matters relating to business and taxation.

The rabbis participating in the council were involved in halachic matters. The most famous was the “Vienna Get”[8] which attracted the rabbinical world at the time because of the dispute between two very well know rabbis – rabbi Yehoshua Falk[9] and the “Maharam”[10]. The council in Jaroslaw determined that rabbi Falk was right and the divorce stood.

The council devoted most of its time to financial issues. Since the middle of the 18th century, the council's debts grew. The increasing debts were the main topic of discussion and were always part of the agenda until the council was abolished. The first time the council discussed the financial issues in Jaroslaw was in 1687

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and because of the seriousness of the situation, the council's “Parnas” Naftali Zeligowitcz was forced to take a loan of 20,000 golden from Jaroslaw's Jesuits.

The serious financial situation caused the council to meet less frequently. In 1711, when the council met, they were told by one of the senior members that the minister of the treasury is not interested in the meeting, and thus this subject was not discussed.

When the deficit grew from year to year, the council met in 1739 to seriously discuss the matter. However this meeting ended without any real resolution. Only in 1753, the council in Jaroslaw was able to reach a satisfactory solution.

We need to note here that the council discussed internal issues of our town. In 1700, the council approved the community request to establish a separate cemetery.

As there are many questions if the establishment of the council was connected to the poll tax, there is no dispute of the fact that its abolishment was due to it. In the Polish Sejm many argued for collecting the tax directly without the involvement of the council. A resolution passed on June 1st, 1764 (1st of Sivan, 5524) to abolish the council, to conduct a census of all the Jews and collect a tax of two golden per year from every person.

The resolution read:

“It is well known that the Jews collect taxes based on various arrangements. As such, they collect more than the amount established in the 1717 statute in the amount of 220,000 golden. They use the rest of the amount for their benefits and private expenditure. The state can easily collect a higher amount from the Jews. Therefore we cancel the tax as it was determined in 1624 and establish a new system of taxation for all Jews and Karaits in the villages, the towns and under the rule of nobles and the church: After payment of the amount owed for this year (1764), the taxes will be collected as following: After settling the debt for 1764, each one of the Jews and Karaits will pay two golden per person per year starting from the year of birth without exceptions.
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And because the poll tax established in the 1717 statute is now canceled, the various assemblies, apportionments or other kinds of injunctions, levies or compulsions relating to the Jews are prohibited in the towns, cities and villages as of January 2nd, 1765. Non-compliance can carry up to 6,000 golden fine and or confiscation of property.
And that is how this magnificent institution that existed close to 200 years ceased to exist. During its existence it instructed, educated, corrected, judged and represented Polish Jewry and it left behind an illustrious chapter in the history of Polish Jewry and specifically Jewish Jaroslaw.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Lesser Poland, often known by its Polish name Małopolska (Latin: Polonia Minor), is a historical region situated in southern and south-eastern Poland. Its capital and largest city is Kraków. Throughout centuries, Lesser Poland developed a separate culture featuring diverse architecture, folk costumes, dances, cuisine, traditions and a rare Lesser Polish dialect. Return
  2. “Parnas” refers to a civil leader of the Jewish community. Return
  3. For example: a general agreement of the council in Jaroslaw (J. Halperin, Notebook of the council of four lands, page 15) As we gather here in the town in the year 363 (1603) we agreed to give permission to print the assay by the genius rabbi Yaakov Ben Elyakim, the books that were written by the renowned teacher and rabbi, rabbi Isaac Abarbanel. He wrote the books Sefer Zebach Pesac? (Passover Offering), Nachlat Avot (Inheritance of the Fathers). And his books are very detailed and very long, preventing many from reading them. Until came the genius above and copied these two books in a language that is shorter and understood by all. And because the above always produces correct material we allowed him to print the books. Return
  4. Jacob Emden, also known as Ya'avetz (June 4, 1697 – April 19, 1776); Jonathan Eibeschitz (1690 – 1764) Return
  5. Heshvan 2nd, 5414 was October 23rd, 1653 Return
  6. Joseph Athias was a printer and publisher; born in Spain, probably in Cordova, at the beginning of the seventeenth century; died at Amsterdam, May 12, 1700 Return
  7. Pidyon Shvuyim (Hebrew: פִּדְיון שׁבוּיִים , literally: Redemption of Captives) is a religious duty in Judaism to bring about the release of a fellow Jew captured by slave dealers or robbers, or imprisoned unjustly by the authorities. The release of the prisoner is typically secured by a ransom paid by the Jewish community. It is considered an important commandment in Jewish law. Return
  8. In 1611, a 16-year-old boy from Lviv, Yitzhak Walpish became ill, and relatives of his wife, Bat Sheva, from Vienna - who feared that he would die, asked him to give a divorce to his wife, on condition that if he did not die, he would return and marry her again. The divorce was arranged by rabbi of Vienna Manoach Hendel and one of the greatest arbiters of the generation, rabbi Yehushua Fleck Katz. The divorce itself was not enshrined in the condition, but was given unconditionally, with the promise that the boy would marry the woman if he recovers and was given regardless of the divorce.
    The husband recovered, but after a sudden fight with his wife's relatives, they informed him that they will not allow him to marry Bat Sheva again. The husband, who was left without a wife and without assets (his house had already been given as a gift to his ex-wife), turned to the Maharam of Lublin the Lvov rabbi, and he ruled that because the husband recovered the divorce was not a divorce, since the condition that guaranteed its existence (the death of the husband) was not met. Therefore, the Maharam ruled that the wife was still married to her husband, and in order to divorce him, she needed a new get. Return
  9. Yehoshua Ben Alexander HaCohen Falk (1555 – 29 March 1614) was a Polish Halakhist and Talmudist, best known as the author of the Beit Yisrael commentary on the Arba'ah Turim as well as Sefer Me'irat Enayim (סמ״ע) on Shulkhan Arukh. Return
  10. Meir of Lublin or Meir ben Gedalia (1558 – 1616) was a Polish rabbi, Talmudist and Posek (“decisor of Jewish law”). He is well known for his commentary on the Talmud, Meir Einai Chachamim. He is also referred to as Maharam (Hebrew acronym: “Our Teacher, Rabbi Meir”). Return


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