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[Pages 21-28]

B) Rabbis And Torah In Kletzk


1. The Rabbis of Kletsk

M. Tzinovitz

Translated by Avi J. Levin

The First Rabbi

“Although Kletzk is one of the very ancient cities, the rabbis who served there before the 5th century are mostly unknown to us. Then it seems the first Av Beis Din[1] was appointed there. Prior to this, Torah matters and monetary laws were adjudicated in the city of Pinsk and surrounding region” writes B.Z. Eisenshtadt in his article in “Hatsfira”[2], 1900 #19.

The author was of the opinion that the first Av Beis Din in Kletzk was “The sagely and pious leader Rabbi Yehuda Yudel O”BM[3], son of the sagely Rabbi Aryeh Leib the Av Beis Din and head of the Torah academy in Minsk (my father, the “Shaagas Aryeh”, saw “the rabbis of Minsk and its wise men”). [Rabbi Yehuda Yudel was the] father of the sagely and pious leader Rabbi Aryeh Leib, the Av Beis Din in Slutsk, and of the sagely Rabbi Yaakov Mishkelov known as the “Betzias HaPas.” Rabbi Yehuda Yudel was called “The Rebbe” for his great genius in Torah and his strength in piety and asceticism (or simply “der Rebbe”). His signatures are found in the register of the Burial Society of Slutsk. He passed away about 5500 (1740). (See the books entitled “Gevuros Ari” and “Da'as Kedoshim”).

Concerning this it is important to note that since B.Z Eisenshtadt did not rely on any sources, and claims that “prior to this (the community of Kletzk) adjudicated Torah matters and monetary laws in the city of Pinsk and surrounding region,” we can assume that Kletzk was tied to the neighboring community of Nesvizh for Rabbinic matters --- and not to Pinsk which was much further away, since in Nesvizh we find an Av Beis Din at least 100 years earlier.

Furthermore, we know of one Kletzker Rabbi who was earlier than this date. His [writing] appears in the margins of the Book of Psalms with the commentary entitled “Likutei Megadim” [“Choicest Collection”] by Rashi [4] and the Alshich[5]…that was compiled and composed by the wondrous erudite Torah teacher and mentor, Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac, son of the great rabbi and teacher Rabbi Eliahu, may G-d protect and preserve him, from the holy community of Kapulie, and there is cited “the approval letters from the fathers-in-law of the great rabbinic luminary, our leader and teacher Rabbi Asher of Nesvizh near Kletzk” dated Sivan 24 5486 (1726). And the signature line reads “signed by Asher who lives here in Nesvizh and Kletzk.” From this we know that the rabbis of Nesvizh spread their influence even on Kletzk, its neighboring town. And the aforementioned R' Yehuda Yudel was the first autonomous rabbi of the Kletzk community.

It should be noted that R' Yehuda Yudel was also the Av Beis Din of the town of Maytchet (in the vicinity of Slonim).

Rabbi Michoel Eisenshtadt

Later [in this book] the author (B.Z. Eisenshtadt) writes: - “After this, the son of the 'Panim Meiros' was appointed here (Kletzk) as the Rabbi / Av Beis Din. He was the sagely and righteous teacher, Rabbi Michoel Eisenshtadt, and was rabbi from the year 5503 until approximately the year 5520 (1703-1720).” That is all that is mentioned.

And indeed, starting from the time of this renowned rabbi we have an accurate historical list of the rabbis of Kletzk, from numerous compilations. This comes from rabbinic literature and different genealogic lists, even though there isn't always a precise definitive list of the dates of their rabbinic leadership.

We know the following particulars about R' Michoel Eisenshtadt:

He was the son of the sagely R' Meir, the Av Beis Din of Eisenshtadt (Austria) and former rabbi in Poland (Szydlowiec). He was well known in his day in Lita and in Poland. He is mentioned in the book “Katnos Or[6], a commentary on the Torah which is ascribed to his father (in the section of Tazria). He [R. Michoel] was the son-in-law of Rabbi Leib Mirkish [Michoel's wife Leah was the daughter of Leib Mirkish], the Av Beis Din of Mir, who was related to R' Shaul Wohl and whose wife's brother was Rabbi Shlomo Mirkish who had succeeded his father in the Mir rabbinate. In R' Michoel's time “The holy teacher and Rabbi Moshe Ber Chaim” dwelled in Kletzk, and passed away in 5509 (see the cemetery list from Kletzk). During the time that he served as Av Beis Din of Kletzk, a gathering of the Lita State Committee was organized in Mir - this happened in the year 5512. Incidentally, in the assessment of a poll-tax of 60,000 Polish gold pieces from each province, Kletzk and Lychkovtse were thrown together with Pinsk for the amount of 3,640 gold pieces.

R. Michoel was close with his brothers who were renowned Torah scholars:

R. Yitzchak, the Av Beis Din of Nesvizh and Slovatichi (next to Brisk in Lita) - the son-in-law of the “Chacham-Tzvi”; Rabbi Eliezer, the Av Beis Din of Szydlowiec; R. Shabtai, the Av Beis Din of Shereshev and Biala Podlaska;

Rabbi Moshe, the Av Beis Din of Mir (father of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch the Av Beis Din of Mir, and who is mentioned in the responsa of R. Chaim Hacohen Rapaport); Rabbi Yehuda the Av Beis Din in Biala Podlaska, etc. (see “Da'as Kedoshim”).

R. Michoel's children were: Rabbi Moshe, his successor in the Kletzk rabbinate; Rabbi Shlomo of Brisk; and Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch, the Av Beis Din of Lyubcha and Mir. The latter two are mentioned in the sefer [holy book] on Tractate Pesachim entitled “Or Chadash”, written by their relative the sagely Rabbi Elazar Kallir.

Thanks to R. Yitzchak and R. Moshe, the rabbis of Nesvizh and Mir, and their father Rabbi Michoel of Kletzk, the renowned Eisenshtadt family established itself in these three cities.

It should further be noted that prominence was given to this rabbinic family in these three cities due to Rabbi Moshe, brother of the “Panim Meiros”, who served as rabbi in Mir before the three brothers appeared as rabbis in Nesvizh, Kletzk, and Mir. Perhaps, as a favor due to his connections with the community benefactors, they were accepted as rabbinic leaders.

Rabbi Moshe Eisenshtadt

R. Moshe Eisenshtadt practiced in the rabbinate of Kletzk for many years. In the year 5526 (1766) he gave his approbation to the seferMeorei Aish” which was written by his brother-in-law Rabbi Elazar Kallir, Av Beis Din of Zabludow (next to Bialystok) and Kolin (in Austria)[7]. And [he gave his approbation to the book] “Katnos Or[8] by his grandfather Rabbi Y. Eisenshtadt[9].

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His brother-in-law who is mentioned earlier, who was known as a “genius” in his generation and as the author of “Chavos Yair” and “Or Chadash”, mentions Rabbi Moshe from Kletzk numerous times. In “Or Chadash” (on Tractate Pesachim[10]) he characterized him as follows: “What I have heard from my brother-in-law, the rabbi and true genius, great scholar, heroic leader of the diaspora, its teachers and scholars, our teacher and rabbi R. Moshe, Av Beis Din of Kletzk-my cousin, the great and pious luminary, our teacher Rabbi Michoel the honorable child of my grandfather…the author of “Panim Meiros” and “Katnos Or” (Rabbi Elazar Kallir's mother was the daughter of the “Panim Meiros”). This is how he recalled his brother-in-law R. Moshe (R. Moshe's wife named Finkel was his sister) in his addition to the aforementioned “Katnos Or” written by his ancestor the “Panim Meiros” - the rabbi and great luminary, teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Moshe, Av Beis Din and head of the academy of the holy community of Kletzk.

Rabbi Moshe was a great and G-d-fearing Torah scholar, and he was known as one of the greatest leaders of his generation. With him began the magnificent Jewish surname “Eisenshtadt” in Lita, named for the place where his grandfather, the author of the “Panim Meiros” sojourned. B.Z. Eisenshtadt, who is related to this family, writes that in Kletzk, the town in which he was born, they would say about [Rabbi Moshe] their rabbi and teacher that “he conducted himself in holiness and there were wondrous stories about him. As he walked from his house to the Bet Medrash[11] the sun would walk before him and proclaim: 'Turn away, women!', for he never gazed at a woman. And when women would come to him to ask a question, he would speak with them with his head turned aside.”

They also tell the following story (according to B.Z. Eisenshtadt): It once happened that the sagely R. Levi Yitzchak of Barditchev traveled from Pinsk (where he was the Rabbi / Av Beis Din). And when he passed by the city of Lyakhovichi escorted by his companions and confidants that morning, he urged the men who were with him to pray [the morning prayers]. They asked him: Our Master, why do you rush us to pray here, are we not also able to pray when we arrive in Kletzk, without being late for the time for prayer and reading of the Shema? Rabbi Levi Yitzchak answered them: - It is incumbent on us to pray before we arrive in Kletzk for the holy Rabbi Moshe is there, so we should arrive to that city entirely prepared …

R' Moshe's wife, Rebbetzin Finkel, sister of the sagely Rabbi Elazar Kallir, was an expert in the Holy Scriptures, and even in Talmud. They say that she herself tested her young grandson R. Moshe Yaakov (the future Av Beis Din of Kletzk) in Talmud. She transmitted many Torah insights to him by heart. She was also well versed in Midrash[12] and excelled in eloquent written Hebrew.

R. Moshe's son-in-law was Rabbi Yosef Dovid Ben Tzvi Hirsch, Av Beis Din of Mir, one of the sages of the generation in Lita. He was born in Zhitel in 5587 [about 1826][13] (according to the “City of Vilna” – he was born in Vilna, and from there his parents moved to Zhitel). His paternal grandfather R. Chaim was the rabbi of the town. When he was still young he became known as a genius. He married Rabbi Moshe Eisenshtadt, the Av Beis Din of Kletzk's daughter Malka. During that time Rabbi Elazar Kallir would stay in Kletzk when he would come to visit his sister Finkel, who is mentioned above. He made a point to know this young man who was visiting his brother-in-law and sister and saw him as marriageable. The two of them would converse on Torah matters, and he gave his approval for this match. Later, Rabbi Yosef Dovid sent his scholarly insights to his wife's uncle, who was a rabbi in Austria at the time. In time he became the Rabbi / Av Beis Din in Kletzk. And when he turned 26 years old he was elected Av Beis Din in the community of Mir, the famous city of Torah, where he was instrumental in fundraising for the magnificent yeshiva that was established during his tenure as rabbi in Mir. (See the article entitled “Mashal V'Nimshal”, “Davar”, 1937, Erev Rosh Hashanah page). He became famous as the sage of the generation. His [letters of] approbation appeared together with those of the sages R. Dovid of Navahrudak, R. Velveli of Tiktin-Bialystok, R. Yaakov of Karlin, R. Leibele Katzenellebogen of Karlin, and others. He [Moshe] passed away in the year 5606 [about 1846]. Many great Torah scholars and famous Jewish people from different areas are related to this sage. Among them are the members of the famous Shershevsky family in Warsaw.

Rabbi Moshe Eisenshtadt's second daughter, Mirka, was married to R. Shimon Ben Asher Ginsburg of Vilna. In her second marriage, she was the wife of Rabbi Chaim HaCohen, Av Beis Din of Pinsk. She emigrated with her (second) husband to the Land of Israel during the emigration of the “Perushim”, the students of the GR”A [14], and passed away in Jerusalem in 5612 [about 1851].

Rabbi Meir Eisenshtadt and His Descendants

The son [Rabbi Meir] of the Rabbi / Av Beis Din of Kletzk, R. Moshe son of R. Michoel, was amongst the distinguished and prominent supporters of Kletzk whose name became known in the entire region for his good deeds. He passed away in 5599 [about 1838], and left in his stead children and grandchildren who were great men in Torah and good deeds.

And they were:

  1. The preeminent rabbi, the pious and generous Shmuel Moshe in Lyakhavichy, the father of Yudel Eisenshtadt – who was related by marriage to the sagely R. Baruch Avraham Soloveichik, Av Beis Din of Smolensk;
  2. The distinguished rabbi Zev Wolf in Slutsk who, for his great fine qualities was known as “R. Velvel Der Zeideger” (“The Gentleman”);
  3. The wise rabbi Zvi Hersh from Nyasvizh who spread Torah for 20 years in Plac in Serbia, and in his later years in Soroca. (His son was the rabbi and famous erudite scholar Dr. Moshe Eliezer Eisenshtadt, the official rabbi in Rostov and [Saint] Petersburg (Leningrad) and in his final years in Paris and New York);
  4. The distinguished rabbi R. Binyamin Eisenshtadt from Minsk. (His son R. Moshe lived in Kletzk, and was the father of the rabbi and scribe B.Z. Eisenshtadt);
  5. His daughter Feiga was the wife of the distinguished R. Yisrael Ginsburg, who was father of the sagely and righteous rabbi Meir Ginsburg in Kletzk.

Rabbi Nachman “Reciter of Psalms” (“Tehillim Zager”)

In the days of the Rabbi / Av Beis Din R. Moshe [son of] R. Michoel Eisenshtadt, there lived in Kletzk the sagely and famously pious R. Nachman Ben Chaim. He was a native of Rysyn[15], and according to the local tradition he was a dear and close friend of Rabbi Eliyahu, the Gaon of Vilna. It is told that once the GR”A [14] sent a letter to him and asked him to pray on his behalf by reciting Tehillim[16]. Furthermore, they relate that the GR”A from Vilna would turn those who came to greet him from near and far asking for a blessing, salvation, or a prayer that various difficulties not befall them – to R. Nachman the Kletzkite. “Why do you all wander so far to [come to] me, when you have amongst you “The Proclaimer of Tehillim” who is in Kletzk, the righteous Rabbi Nachman. Go to him, ask him to pray on your behalf, and certainly his prayer will be answered.” R. Nachman passed away on 22 Shevat 5562 [about 1801]. Although according to the inscription on his gravestone it would not seem that he was great in Torah knowledge, it was a known fact amongst the elders of Kletzk that he was an expert in Talmud. His son R. Aryeh, who also lived in Kletzk, was similar to his father in piety and asceticism. His afflicted himself all his life with fasts, would pursue charity and kindness to others, and would take pity on the destitute. He passed away about 5590 [about 1829] in Kletzk.

The son of this R. Aryeh the Kletzkite was the famous rabbi R. Eliyahu Goldberg, Av Beis Din of Bobruisk. Prior to this he was rabbi in Paritch. He had been a student at the Volozhin Yeshiva where he studied with the sagely Rabbi Chaim, founder of the yeshiva. For 23 years he was rabbi in Bobruisk, and passed away at age 78 in the year 5635 [about 1874]. Yitzchak Nissenbaum writes about him in his book of memoirs “Aley Cheldy” [“On My Lifetime”].

Rabbi Michoel Eisenshtadt (the Second)

After the passing of R. Moshe, the one to take his place in the rabbinate of Kletzk was his son the rabbi, R. Michoel. He was the father-in-law of one of the honorable leaders of Vilna, R. Yaakov Uri Ginsburg. This Kletzkite rabbi / Av Beis Din was a signatory in the year 5544 [about 1783] on the “Biur[17] of Moshe Mendelsohn, when he was in collaboration with R. Shlomo Dubno. Also, the second son of Rabbi Moshe – Rabbi Elazar, the leader and treasurer of Kletzk, was a signatory in the Pentateuch editions of R. Shlomo Dubno. Rabbi Michoel also had a third son – Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Eisenshtadt. Rabbi Moshe's second daughter was married to Shimon, son of R. Asher Ginsburg of Vilna.

Incidentally, it is worth noting that in Kletzk there also lived the son-in-law of the sagely “Or Chadash” Rabbi Elazar Kallir – namely Yekutiel Zalman, son of R. Aryeh Leib HaCohen. The brothers-in-law of this Kletzkite were famous men in the diaspora – amongst them was his wife's brother, Rabbi Alexander Suesskind Kallir from Brody, who established ties with Vienna, whose personality was respected in Austria.

  1. Av Beis Din = religious chief justice, president of the religious court. return
  2. Hatsfira” was one of the first Hebrew papers of last century. return
  3. OB”M = Of Blessed Memory. return
  4. Rashi = Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, author of voluminous commentary on Torah and Talmud, France 1040-1105. return
  5. Alshich = Rabbi Moshe Alshich, author of commentary on Torah, 16th century Tzfat. return
  6. Hebrew reads “Katnos Ori”, a typographical error. return
  7. Actually, Kolin was in Bohemia/Czechoslovakia. return
  8. Hebrew reads “Ketunos Or”, a typographical error. return
  9. Katnos Or” was actually written by Meir Eisenshtadt, Moshe's father; not his grandfather Yitzchak. return
  10. Hebrew reads “Perachim”, a typographical error. return
  11. Bet Medrash = House of Torah study, yeshiva. return
  12. Midrash = homiletic interpretations of the Torah. return
  13. The birth year 1826 appears wrong. There was a R. Yosef Dovid Adjenstat who was the rabbi of Mir at that time, and who helped found the yeshiva in 1815. However, he was born in 1776. Also, I cannot identify the town/city Zhitel on any map; perhaps it is Zitoll in Austria. return
  14. GR”A = Rabbi Eliyahu, “The Gaon of Vilna”, 1720-1797. return
  15. I am unsure of the location or spelling of this small town. It may be Ruzhany. return
  16. Tehillim = Book of Psalms. return
  17. Biur” = “Explanation”, commentary on the Pentateuch in German. return

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