by HaRav A. Y. BRUMBERG
Translated from the Hebrew by Sara Mages
R' Yehoshe'le so he was called in Poland was born to his chassid father, R' David, on the month of Kislev 5581, in the community of Płock. When the boy was two years old, his mother took him to Lwów to visit his father, R' David, who studied at that time at the yeshiva of HaGaon R' Orenstein author of Yeshuot Yaakov. In his old age, R' Yehoshe'le used to tell that he remembers the shape of the mouth of the author of Yeshuot Yaakov.
As was the custom in those days, when R' Yehoshe'le was three years old he started to study Torah and commentators in the cheder, and when he reached the age of six, he already studied the Gemara and wrote Torah innovations by himself. The teacher and instructor of the young genius was his father, R' David. R' Yehoshe'le was a great diligent from his youth, and when he was given bread and butter to eat, he never wanted to waste his time spreading butter on the bread, and ate the bread dry unless his mother spread the bread for him, and ate hastily so as not to waste time from his studies. Already in his youth he became proficient in the Six Orders of the Mishnah and Poskim, and knew well the four sections of Shulchan Aruch. Every Shabbat he used to go over two tractates, Shabbat and Eruvin, about two hundred and sixty pages of Gemara. The young genius, R' Yehoshe'le, was the favorite child of all the scholars in Płock.
When R' Yehoshe'le was about eleven years old when his father died, but his righteous mother watched out for him and he continued to engage in the Torah diligently. When he was about fourteen years old, R' Yehoshe'le became engaged to a girl his age, Miss Frida daughter of HaRav R' Chaim son of HaRav HaGaon, our teacher and rabbi R' Yehuda Nomberg of Rawicz, but R' Chaim was not granted to enter his genius son-in-law to the chuppah. He fell ill a few weeks before the wedding and passed away.
In spite of it, after the wedding the genius continued to be supported by his mother-in-law for six years, and engaged diligently in the Torah. From his father zl, R' Yehoshe'le inherited the affinity for the chassidut and occasionally traveled to the old Kocker Rebbe. Once, R' Yehoshe'le stayed in Kock for more than three months and the Kocker Rebbe, who was accustomed to guide each of his chassidim in his own way, called R' Yehoshe'le to his room and said to him: In my opinion, you should go home to engage in the Torah and we will see what will come out of you. He recognized in the young married yeshiva student that he was created for greatness, and he must be in the future the rabbi of all the people in the Diaspora and decisor of halachot, and did not want him to waste his time with the chassidim in Kock. R' Yehoshe'le listened to his rabbi, returned home and invested himself entirely in the Torah. His young friend, HaGaon of Sochaczew, used to tell that his father-in-law, the Kocker Rebbe, highly valued R' Yehoshe'le as a genius and expert in all the secrets of the Torah, and most of all, the Rebbe liked the honesty in him and that he does not shame anyone. And when R' Yehoshe'le was accepted as rabbi in various community there were Kocker chassidim there, and each time the chassidim traveled to Kock to the Rebbe, the Kocker Rebbe was interested to know how the young rabbi was doing. And even though in the following days R' Yehoshe'le was not a subordinate to another Rebbe after the old Kocker Rebbe, he remained a Chassid all the days of his life. And the interesting thing is that in 1886, HaGaon of Kutno wrote to a rabbi in Radom regarding the hot mikveh on the Shabbat, that I heard from a genius that also the Holy Rabbi, our teacher and Rabbi Shalom ztzl from the community of Bełz, introduced it (responsa Yeshuot Malko, Orach Chayim, mark19) and according to this he authorized it.
In the community of Płock served at the same time the famous genius rabbi, R' Chaim Auerbach of Łęczyca author of Divrei Chaim, and he also greatly valued the young genius and every opportunity he played with him in Divrei Torah and halacha. Already at that time, when he was still young, R' Yehoshe'le has taken an important position in the community life in Płock. In those days, the well-known community leader, R' Shlomo Zalman Posner from Warsaw, decided to make the attempt and revolutionize the lives of the poor Jewish masses, by transferring them to farming so that they can make a living from the labor of their hands. He bought an estate in the Płock District and settled Jews there to work in the fields. The name of the estate was Kuchary, and in order to attract the Jews to farming, R' Shlomo Zalman also founded a yeshiva in this estate and invited the young genius, R' Yehoshua, to visit him at the estate. He took him out into the fields and showed him how Jews work the land and also study the Torah in their free time from work (Gelber The Jews and the Polish Uprising p. 21).
In 1840, at the age of nineteen, he was accepted as rabbi in the community of Szreńsk, and sat there seven years with dignity and rest. In Szreńsk, R' Yehoshe'le founded a yeshiva and he himself was the head of the yeshiva. Many scholars in Poland came out of this yeshiva. In this period of time R' Yehoshe'le used to meet the well-known genius, R' Avraham of Ciechanów, who often visited Szreńsk. Even though HaGaon of Ciechanów was older than him, he greatly appreciated him. In 1847, R' Yehoshe'le moved from Szreńsk to the community of Gabin in place of the righteous genius, R' Shraga Fayvel Dancyger of Grójec who, at that time, left the community of Gabin. Here, in Gabin, he started to write and answer questions to those who ask him. From this period only two answers remained in his book Yevin Daat, in the collection of responsa, mark 7, from 5607 . To my student, the sharp and wise, our teacher R' Chaim Mordechai, this student later published Sefer Keritut by Rabbi Shimshon of Chinon with his comments and was known as a great scholar, and in mark 27 there, To HaRav R' Yitzhak of Zychlin, from 5608 .
But here, in Gąbin, a controversy broke out against him and even though his predecessor, R' Shraga Fayvel, came to Gąbin to silence the controversy, and to explain that they should know how to behave with their great rabbi, he did not influence them and in the end, three years later, in 1850 he moved to Warka.
In Warka, R' Yehoshe'le became famous as the greatest of the generation, and was approached with questions from all corners of Poland. From that period various answers remained and they were printed in his book, Yeshuot Malko, marks 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, 20 and more from 5611-5613 [1851-1853].
At that time, the tzadik, R' Menachem Mendel Kalisz, son of the tzadik R' Yitzhak Kalisz, lived in Warka. He was one of the admirers of HaRav HaGaon R' Yehoshe'le, and used to visit R' Yehoshe'le in each pilgrimage festival, to fulfill the saying of Chazl: I am obligated to greet my rabbi on the pilgrimage festivals. To his friends he said: as long as R' Yehoshe'le serves as our rabbi, I sleep at rest, because I trust him that all religious matters are conducted appropriately. In 1853, when the tzadik, R' Menachem Mendel found out that R' Yehoshe'le was about to leave Warka to move to Pułtusk, he came to him, offered him to stay in Warka, and he himself would add to his salary from his pocket. Also, the Warka Chassidim, from all over Poland, treated their rabbi, R' Yehoshe'le, with respect and many scholars among them were accustomed to come to him and converse with him on Divrei Torah. The genius tzadik, R' Berish of Biała, son of HaGaon R' Avraham of Ciechanów, of the important Warka Chassidim, was also a visitor to the home of R' Yehoshe'le.
In spite of that, R' Yehoshe'le did not want to remain in Warka, and after
he sat there for about three years, he moved in 1853 to Pułtusk, and there his only son was born, HaRav R' Moshe Pinchas, who later filled his place in Kutno. This son married the daughter of HaGaon R' Avraham Meir president of the rabbinical court of the community of Białobrzegi, who was the son and friend of the tzadik R' Yeshaya of Praga, and son-in-law of the tzadik R' Yitzhak of Warka. The Admor R' Mendel of Warka, attended the wedding of R' Moshe Pinchas as the bride's uncle, and R' Yehoshe'le then said to R' Mendel of Warka: I give you my only son with my body and soul, and this son of his really excelled as a tzadik and a scholar.
In the month of Tevet 5621 [Dec 1860- Jan 1861], R' Yehoshe'le was accepted as rabbi in Kutno, and here he became famous as a genius and respondent to D'var Torah to all who turn to him, and in the name of this community he became famous in the Jewish world, R' Yehoshe'le of Kutno. Everything that came into being in the Jewish world, the rabbinic literature, was connected to the name of R' Yehoshe'le. Apart from the answers to halacha that he wrote to various rabbis, he was also the consent minister, and every rabbi or author, who wanted to publish a book in print, came to R' Yehoshe'le to receive his consent, and on the hundreds of books that were printed in this period, from 1861 to 1893, the year of his passing, we find his consent.
In the first years of his rabbinate in Kutno the question of the children of poor, who grew up without education, without good manners and without piety, arose there. These children were left to fend for themselves, stole fruit from the sellers' stalls, slept in abandoned ruins until they were abducted to the Tsar's army where they were forced to convert from Judaism. The leaders of the community of Kutno addressed this problem and began to work on correcting the situation of the Jewish children. They worked on regulations and acquired members to establish for these children a revised Talmud Torah, such as in the big cities in the country, in which the study of writing and arithmetic also entered its program. However, opponents of the foundation of such a Talmud Torah arose from among the Chassidim who feared heresy. Both sides came to the Rabbi of Kutno to offer before him their claims. Those, who argued against, tried to persuade the genius not to give his consent to the new institution, because they feared that its students will fall into bad ways. On the other hand, those who supported it argued that the children of the poor should not be neglected and it is necessary to educate them in the Torah and good manners, they will be literate people, who will be able to engage in trade and craft, and the number of criminals among them will decrease. The argument between the two sides was heated and lasted a long time, one forbids and the other allows, until HaGaon of Kutno ruled in favor of Talmud Torah. He was the first to donate a tidy sum from his salary for the upkeep of the institution, and watched over it all the days of his tenure. (Asaf Elberg. Told by R' Ze'ev Yehuda [Wolf Leib] HaCohen Szymanowicz).
As is well known, there was a strong friendship between the two geniuses, the author of Chiddushei HaRim from Ger, and R' Yehoshe'le, despite the great difference in years between them. Chiddushei HaRim was twenty-one years older than his friend HaGaon of Kutno. Whenever HaGaon of Kutno was in Warsaw, he used to go to the home of Chiddushei HaRim to talk to him, and stayed with him for a long time in conversations on Divrei Torah and, as was customary, they argued with each other.
Once, he came to Chiddushei HaRim. The matter was before Rosh HaShana. As they were accustomed to, they sailed into a discussion on one of the issues in the halacha, their opinions were divided and each of them defended his opinion. In the end, the Rabbi of Kutno called out of disagreement to Chiddushei HaRim: your honor is already immersed in the atmosphere of the impending Rosh HaShana, and since your honor hovers in the upper worlds in the manner of the Chassidut, his mind is not free to the body of the halacha. Chiddushei HaRim smiled at the words of his young friend and they parted out of friendship. However, immediately after he left, HaGaon of Kutno began to consider the words he had said to HaRim, and felt that he disrespected the honor of his friend, the great scholar, who is older than him in years, HaChassid HaGaon as he used to call him, and committed an explicit offense of despising a scholar. He immediately returned and came to the HaRim's house, took off his shoes, and entered to him, as if he was reprimanded, in his socks, asked for forgiveness for the slip of the tongue he unintentionally emitted. Chiddushei HaRim hugged his young friend, sat him down and reassured him by saying that he had not heard any insult, or a word of contempt, from his mouth. Since, their friendship has grown stronger.
In 1870, R' Yehoshe'le published his book Yeshuot Israel on Choshen Mishpat. The book made a great impression on the learners, and the genius, author of Avnei Nezer of Sochaczew, said about this book, that it was arranged for great wise scholars and only they can understand the deep things written in it.
In 1864, HaGaon R' Zvi Hirsch Kaliszer, the Rabbi of Toruń, turned to R' Yehoshe'le to write a consent to his book Derishat Zion in which he suggested two things: A) To establish the Society of Eretz Israel, to build the country even before the coming of the Redeemer. B) The renewal of the sacrifice service in Jerusalem based on of the words of Chazl Sacrifice even though there is no Temple. R' Yehoshe'le wholeheartedly agreed to R' Kaliszer's proposal regarding the settlement of Eretz Israel, and wrote in his consent from 10 Tevet 5624 [20 December 1863] My honorable friend, the great rabbi, renowned for his genius and glory, his name is his glory, our master, R' Zvi Hirsch Kaliszer may his light shine brightly, his precious words have shed their light upon me, and I am glad to see that he has invested great efforts on behalf of the Society for the Settlement of Eretz Israel, when one begins a mitzvah, we say to him, finish it, continue and you will surely succeed. Do not become disheartened or discouraged by the words of the opponents. R' Yehoshe'le of Kutno, in addition to his signature on the proclamation, turned with answers to the great rabbis to support this enterprise of the etrogs of Eretz Israel. Blessed are those who strive for it. I hereby say shalom to his honor, and shalom to the leaders of the organization, and although their beginning was insignificant, their end will be exceedingly great. This was the beginning of the appearance of the Gaon R' Yehoshe'le on behalf of Eretz Israel. From now on, the mitzvah of settling of Eretz Israel takes first place for him.
In 1874, his genius son-in-law, R' Chaim Elozor Waks, author of Nefesh Chaya, who was president of the Kollel Poland, published a proclamation calling to buy etrogs from Eretz Israel and not etrogs from Corfu. The proclamation was signed by the chassidic leaders and the Rabbis of Poland and Galicia, among them were the author of Sefat Emet of Ger and the tzadik Yechiel Meir of Gostynin, the Admor R' Avraham of Sochaczew and more. R' Yehoshe'le, besides signing the aforementioned proclamation, wrote answers to the great rabbis to support this enterprise of etrogs from Eretz Israel, to HaRav R' Elazar HaCohen of Pułtusk, author of Chiddushei Maharah, son-in-law of the genius author of Chavat Da'at from Leszno, R' Yehoshe'le writes wittily as usual, indeed, many exaggerate, to a very large extent, choosing these etrogs for themselves… as if a voice had come from the heavens saying that the 'fruit of the citrus tree,' mentioned in the Bible, is only from the inhabitants of the oppressors of the Jews living on the Island of Corfu.
He also demanded, with all his might, to support the settlement of Eretz Israel. In one of his answers to the Admor R' Israel of Pulawy, grandson of the old Admor of Kock, he writes: and according to the opinion of Kessef Mishneh, the one who ascends from Babylon, even to Eretz Israel, transgresses a positive mitzvah and it is not understood, for it not only said about the land of Babylon in particular and not of the rest of the countries abroad, and the reason is, that after they were negligent in the days of Ezra, they did not want to return for they did not consider it a complete command, that they must settle there until the final visitation, as the prophet foretold. However, those who dwell in these countries, who were exiled from Eretz Israel by Titus, along with the people of all the other lands, are not included in this rule, and it is a great mitzvah… And the Maharam of Rothenburg feared the dangerous roads and lack of livelihood… Therefore, now that there has been a change for the better (with God's help) both in terms of the dangers of the roads and in terms of poverty, it is certainly a great mitzvah etc. In any case, the essence of the mitzvah is not only in inheritance and dwelling there like a like a person does in his own property, to acquire Eretz Israel that will be under our inheritance and not come empty-handed like today… It is undoubtedly a great mitzvah, because the gathering in the beginning of redemptions, and read in Yevamot page 64, that the Shechinah does not rest upon less than two tens of thousands of Jews, especially now that we have seen the great desire, either by lowly and average people, and upright people, it is almost certain that the spirit
of redemption sparkles. (responsa Yeshuot Malko, Yoreh De'ah, mark 66).
HaGaon, R' Yehoshe'le, did not stop working on the matter of Eretz Israel despite the opposition from several sides. In 1886, he left for Eretz Israel together with his son-in-law, R' Chaim Elozor Waks, author of Nefesh Chaya, from Kalisz, who was the president of Kollel Russia and Poland. Before their journey these geniuses received ten thousand rubles from a wealthy Polish man for the benefit of the poor of Eretz Israel. They left Odessa on a simple passenger ship, in third class, and after a difficult journey of several months they finally arrived to the Holy Soil in Jaffa.
Both, R' Yehoshe'le and his son-in-law Nefesh Chaya, received a special welcome. All the Jewish residents in the country came out to meet them. At first, R' Yehoshe'le and his son-in-law wanted to spend the money on organizing a group of Jews, residents of Jerusalem, who will leave the city to the village to engage in farming.
When they arrived in Jerusalem all the city's dignitaries, headed by HaRav HaGaon R' Shmuel Salant, came out to meet them. The distinguished guests stayed in Jerusalem for about three weeks, they visited all the holy sites and institutions of Torah and charity in Jerusalem, and on the Shabbat Parashat Pinchas [16-17 July 1886], Nefesh Chaya preached a farewell sermon to the members of Kollel in Jerusalem and said: You should know, my brothers, that all my thoughts, and all my work, are only for your benefit, and now I have made the decision to come to Zion and ask for means to improve your life so that you could live from the labor of your hands and you will not have to eat the bread of charity, contaminated bread of kindness…
HaRav Waks did not bring into account all the recipients of charity, and decided to buy a number of courtyards in the northern part of Jerusalem called Bab Huta, which, at that time, was not inhabited by Jews. By doing so he expanded the area of the Jewish settlement outside the wall. Also, his father-in-law, R' Yehoshe'le, when he saw the economic situation in Jerusalem, said to the residents of Jerusalem: why are you sitting idle and only waiting for charity money, you loath a job that earns its owner a respectable living? and just because of the respect they felt for this famous righteous genius, they did not boycott him. Other than that, R' Yehoshe'le and his son-in-law Nefesh Chaya, bought an orchard in Kfar Hittim near Tiberias, and planted etrog trees in it. On 6 Elul 5646 [6 September 1886], when they returned to Poland, the author of Nefesh Chaya published an enthusiastic declaration and in it he writes:
To the honor of the tens of thousands of Jews, the chosen people, the leaders of our brethren in the Diaspora, the genius rabbis, etc. God, by such things men live. Here, since I informed the venerable geniuses that I have planted etrog trees in the Holy Land in Kfar Hittim, which is called in the Midrash Kfar Hittaya, and brought plantings from those kosher in the Masora from generation to generation, but this year, when I was privileged to ascend to the Holy Land and dwelt in the desert, not in a guest hotel, I set my eyes on the disgrace with greater vigor and corrected everything I could for the better and, with God's help, they grew and succeeded in appearance and shape, beautiful in appearance and nicer than the etrogs of Corfu… and surely, every person will be enthusiastic to take an etrog from the Holy Land, and also according to the law, and as the Jewish righteous agreed, that the etrog of the Holy Land is kosher and even if the Corfu etrog is more beautiful than it, it is only appropriate to bless the etrog from the Holy Land (History of HaRav Chaim. Elozor Waks from Beit HaLevi p. 74).
HaGaon of Kutno was the first to touch the question of the Arabs, even before Herzl. Once, when he talked with the Zionist leader, Nahum Sokolow, R' Yehoshe'le asked and what will happen in Eretz Israel if the Arabs would not agree to the immigration of Jews to the country? and he immediately answered I have a piece of advice, bring your young people from Lithuania, they are not as lazy as the young people in Poland, and they will not be afraid of the Arabs (told by HaRav Brot zl).
HaGaon R' Azriel Hildesheimer from Berlin, who was in contact with R' Zvi Hirsch Kaliszer in the matter of the settlement in Eretz Israel, also came especially to R' Yehoshe'le to settle with him the matters of the settlement of Eretz Israel.
HaGaon of Kutno was an educated man, proficient in the written Torah and also in the Oral Torah, the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmud, in Rishonim and Acharonim. He was an excellent scholar and bibliographer of medieval literature. And so, he wrote in one place: And it is a simple fact that Sefer Chassidim, which was written in Beit HaMidrash of R' Yehuda HeChassid in Ashkenaz, in the city of Regensburg, was about Rabbeinu Gershom Me'Or HaGolah because, for a long time, Rabbeinu Gershom Me'Or HaGolah was his rabbi's rabbi, Rashi, and R' Yehuda HeChassid lived in the year 1808, and R' Yitzhak Or Zarua was his student. (Yeshuot Malko, part Even Ha'ezer, mark 2), and so he writes And it appears from the words of the one who says that the Halachot Gedolot in our hands is a collection from the Halachot Gedolot written by R' Shimon Kayyara, as they were written by the Rabad and the Ramban, and from Halachot Pesokot written by Hai Gaon as was written by the SeMag, therefore it is not surprising that his words sometimes contradict each other. In the time of the HaRan and Ribash, Beit HaMidrash in Barcelona of the Rashba expanded, and elsewhere writes Indeed, I looked in the writings of the Maharam, and he was an earlier rabbi of the rabbi, the son of the Rashba, and because it is a rare book, I decided to copy his words. (Yeshuot Malko, Ketuvim, mark 20).
He used to name anyone, who moved away from the life of tradition, weak, and not, God forbid, a Jewish criminal or evil. Each time one of the residents of Kutno, who was a modern Jew and deviated from the ways of tradition, entered his house, R' Yehoshe'le asked him: Why are you so weak? At first, the man thought the genius was asking him why his health was weak, the man replied that his health was fine, but the genius did not let go of him and asked him again why he was so weak, until he learned from his family that in the concept weak the genius meant not his state of health but his state of Judaism.
Many communities turned to the genius to accept the burden of the rabbinate in their community, but he did not want to leave the place he liked, Kutno. Although, that he himself was accustomed to say, when he was in a humorous mood, that Kutno is not a city and here is proof from the verse (Melachim II, 5/2) 'and captured from Eretz Israel a minor young girl,' the Gemara asks (Chulin 5a) 'And it is difficult for us to understand why the verse calls her a young woman and also calls her a minor? And Rabbi Pedat said: 'she was a minor girl who was from a place called Naaran', meaning, a minor from the city of Niran, and why the Gemara doesn't explain that 'she was a young girl from the city of Kutno.' But the conclusion that emerges from the words is that Kutno is not a city at all.
HaGaon R' Yehoshe'le, apart from his greatness in the Torah and righteousness, excelled in moral personality. He hated greed and did not know the shape of a coin. He never had a pouch of money, gave all his salary to his spouse, the rebbetzin, and sometimes, when a banknote was laid on his table and R' Yehoshe'le, in his usual manner, was immersed in his studies he took the banknote and wrap the smoking tobacco in it.
In 1891, HaGaon of Kutno turned seventy years old, and thirty years to his sitting on the rabbinate chair in Kutno. The members of his community decided to celebrate the 70th anniversary. Out of appreciation and affection to their rabbi, the members of the community decided to declare a great holiday in his honor and to invite, from near and far, great Torah scholars, to participate in their joy, that they were privileged to have a great genius rabbi would sit among them. The initiators of the celebration knew their rabbi's great humility and feared that he would not agree to it. Therefore, they came and offered before him the need for this holiday in honor of the Torah, its students and supporters.
When they heard the absolute opposition of HaRav HaGaon, the community leaders were forced to cancel their will for his will, and even though the Rabbi of Kutno did not exclude himself from parties of joy, and used to attend all the mitzvah meals even with the simple homeowners, to fulfill the saying of Chazl: Seven descend to the Heaven and some say also the one who is not in a group of a mitzvah (Pesachim 113b). Nevertheless, the jubilee celebration was not considered a mitzvah meal for him and he did not agree to have the celebration held in his honor, and the community leaders were forced to cancel their will for his will.
In 1893, HaGaon of Kutno fell ill, the doctors, who visited him, forbade him to put too much effort into studying and reading the Six Orders of the Mishnah and Poskim, because they weigh on his heart, but the genius did not listen to them and said to his family, life without Torah is life of a beast, and it is not worth continuing to live without studying the Torah. Near his death HaGaon of Sochaczew came to visit him, the two geniuses secluded themselves and talked about D'varei Torah. When HaGaon of Sochaczew parted from the patient, he wished him a complete recovery and long life. R' Yehoshe'le answered him: His Honor surely means a world that is all long. When HaGaon of Sochaczew came out he said to his escorts: I saw R' Yehoshe'le watching and looking into the distance.
Before his death he ordered to take the burial expenses from the money he had saved especially for it from the day he turned seventy years old, to buy him a new tallit to bury him in it. Not to carry on with a lot of eulogies and not to build an ohel on his grave. On Sunday, Parashat Matot and Mase'ei, 25 Tamuz 5653 [9 July 1893], he returned his soul to the Heavens. All the great rabbis of the time, among them the Admor R' Avraham of Sochaczew, HaGaon R' Eliyahu Chaim Maisel of Łódz, HaGaon R' Yitzhak HaCohen Feigenbaum chief of the rabbinical court in Warsaw, HaGaon R' Shimon Orenstein of Kalisz, his student HaGaon R' Yoav Yehoshua [Weingarten] of Gostynin, and others, came to his funeral and gave him great honor.
He left important books. Yeshuot Israel on Choshen Mishpat, was printed in his lifetime, in 1870.
Yeshuot Malko, responsa for the four sections of Shulchan Aruch, was printed after his death, in 1928, by his grandson HaRav Yitzhak Yehuda Trunk of Kutno.
Yevin Daat, innovations and responsa, was printed in 1932 by his grandson HaRav Yitzhak Yehuda Trunk of Kutno.
by Pinchas ben Zvi GRAYEVSKY
Translated by Sara Mages
We have great affection for those rabbis, Hovevei Zion]- the immigrants, who conceived the idea of Hibbat Zion not only in words, but in action, and one of them is Rosh Golat Ariel, the head of the geniuses of Poland and the leader of his people, Rabbi Israel Yehoshua ztzl, author of Yeshuot Israel, who immigrated to the Holy Land fifty years ago, in the year 5645, together with his son-in-law, HaRav HaGaon Rabbi Chaim Elozor Waks zkl, president of the court of the community of Piotrków.
Their immigration to the Holy Land was not just to prostrate on the graves of the tzadikim, weep over the suffering of our people and our country, and the destruction of our Holy Temple, but rather to do and act for the benefit of the population in general, and for the benefit of the community (Kollel Warsaw) in particular. To take care of their existence in both matter and spirit. Their first work was the founding of Beit Talmud Torah and Yeshivat Chayei Olam, which, to this day, is seen in the distance, in glory and majesty, in and out of the city, in magnificent buildings, and a large Beit Tavshil [soup kitchen] for orphans.
They also bought, from the money donated by one of the wealthy men, the amount of 13,000 ruble, houses and courtyards in Bab Huta quarter (in Givat Betzata) for the poor of Kollel Warsaw. Unfortunately, the Jewish settlement was destroyed there and gentiles live in it.
They brought beautiful arrangements in the affairs of the Warsaw community and got as far as Kfar Hittim. There, a large orchard, for the benefit of the community of Kollel Warsaw, was bought earlier by the aforementioned, HaRav HaGaon R' Chaim Elozor Waks, and the fruits of the citrus tree were sent from it to the cities of Poland. We will talk again about this abandoned orchard. There is enough to talk about it.
Already in his youth, R' Israel became known to glory as one of the great geniuses. All the excellent virtues that Our Sages, may their memory be blessed, counted in a scholar were united in him, and over the years he became the head of the geniuses and the leader of his people. In all the Talmudic literature he was unparalleled faithful. His mind is clear and sharp, diligent and fast, and there is no limit to his understanding. He was approached with question from all the Jewish Diaspora, and answered every person's question. Indeed, in all these, he did not want to print his innovations and his very many answers. But one book of his manuscript, Yeshuot Yisrael, was published by his grandson, HaRav R' Yitzhak Yehuda Trunk ztzl.
He served in the rabbinate in several communities in Poland, and most recently, in the city of Kutno for about thirty years. As was his greatness in the Torah, so were the qualities of his soul, honesty and humility, the love of man, justice and peace met in him, moderation, desire and tolerance for every opinion.
He passed away on 25 Tamuz 5653 in the city of his residence. In the affectionate name, Rabbi Yehoshe'le of Kutno, he remains in admiration to this day.
(Doar HaYom, Friday 7 Tishri 5696)
by Aharon Shlomo ELBERG
Translated by Sara Mages
Not for nothing the Jewish city of Kutno was praised, at the time of its greatness and glory, by the title Jerusalem of Poland, because great Torah scholars, who served with honor as its rabbis, left their mark on it and made it a place of Torah known for glory even in the distant places.
In the long line of outstanding rabbis, whom the community of Kutno was privileged to add its name to them, there were two, whose action and influence were also a blessing for strengthening the settlement in our country, in material and spirit: HaRav Moshe Yehuda Leib Zilberberg, author of Zeit Raanan, who emigrated more than a century ago, settled in Jerusalem, managed its institutions and taught the Torah. He played a great part in the constructions of Jerusalem neighborhoods outside the wall, and in the encouragement of the founders of the first moshavot. After him, worked wonders, Rabbi Israel (Eliyahu) Yehoshua Trunk, who was called by the short affectionate name, Rabbi Yehoshe'le, but, despite the shortening of his name, he was known in his immediate and distant surroundings, and even in rabbinical circles throughout the Jewish Diaspora, as a great among the great, and in the British Encyclopedia, and the Russian Jewish Encyclopedia, he was mentioned by the title The greatest student in the world.
His three names have their own historical symbolism. In doing so, his father, R' David, intended to chart his path in life in the direction of the greatness in the Torah and the merging of the currents that previously divided the Jewish people. Therefore, he named him Israel after Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, Eliyahu after the Vilna Gaon, and Yehoshua after the author of Pnei Yehoshua. In the general use, the name Eliyahu was omitted, and he was called only by his third name, but, in practice, he made sure to mention his names in full. And when his daughter, the Rebbetzin of Kalisz, divorced from her first husband, and it was necessary to write the name of her father in the divorce certificate, he ordered to write two certificates for her, in one daughter of Israel Yehoshua, and in one daughter of Israel Eliyahu Yehoshua.
In the manner of the two great ones that he was named after, Baal Shem Tov and the Vilna Gaon, he also followed with his affection of Eretz Israel, and in his days, when this affection began to touch on questions of practice and demanded actions, he contributed his share with courage and vigor. In 5645 (1885), he came to Eretz Israel with his son-in-law, Chaim Elozor Wax, the Rabbi of Kalisz, and invested a lot of effort for the planting of an etrog orchard in Kfar Hittin, so that the Jews in the Diaspora would fulfill the mitzvah of etrog from the fruit of Eretz Israel for greatness and glory, and from an orchard in the land (to fulfill and you will take for yourself what belongs to you, from Israel), so that in keeping the commandment of God they would also remember Eretz Israel, as the Prophet wrote Remember God from the distant past, and let Jerusalem enter your mind (Jeremiah 51.50). And on Shabbat Chazon that he spent in Petah Tikva, when its settlers were still struggling with the difficulties of earning a living, the climate and the disturbances of the bad neighbors. His words of encouragement, which had a great weight in the mind of the settlers, the faithful of the Torah, who knew the high value of the guest, strengthened their spirit to struggle and withstand difficulties, because at the end of the blessing would come.
When Rabbi Zvi Kaliszer wrote his book Drishat Zion, to inspire the people to fulfill the commandment of settling in Eretz Israel in a clear national trend,
to establish an agricultural and urban settlement in the country, and to strive with the great powers to obtain for it a national autonomy as the beginning of redemption, but the elders of the rabbis opposed his revolutionary idea. He came to R' Yehoshe'le of Kutno, who was indeed about half a jubilee younger than him, but was already known and accepted as a genius, and the consent and encouragement he received from him strengthened his hand to continue his action. The rabbis, who opposed a real settlement in Eretz Israel, found references in the Talmud and in Tosafot, but the Gaon of Kutno, in his answer to the question of Rabbi Israel of Kock, and in his responsa book Yeshuot Malko (paragraph 66), and also in a special article, contradicted the views of the opponents and proved that the truth is, that in the Jewish law there is no crime in the settlement of Eretz Israel, but, on the contrary, it is a great mitzva. He proved, that according to the Jewish law there are indeed differences in the sacred ranks of different regions in the country, but the Transjordan, the Gaza Strip and Ashkelon, are also included the sanctity of Eretz Israel.
He worked wonders in 5648 (1887-1888), on the eve of the first shmita year of the renewed agriculture settlement in our country. HaGaon, Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever of Bia³ystok, fought hard with the great rabbis of Lithuania, who demanded a complete shutdown of the agriculture in the country for the entire year of 5649 (1888-1889), and to require the settlers to eat the bread of charity (and maybe move to another livelihood or to another country, lest they desecrate the shabbat of the land) and the Gaon of Kutno was among the greatest who gave a hand to the Gaon of Bia³ystok in providing a temporary permit for the work of the land by selling it fictitiously to a gentile, so that the Jewish law can exist and the settlement will also be able to exist.
And, as was his way regarding the settlement of Eretz Israel, so was also his way in the teaching of Jewish law regarding the life of the people in the Diaspora. Great is the heroism of the lovers of severity, who can show their greatness to the simple people, their strong hand in severities upon severities. Whereas, the Gaon of Kutno worked diligently, as much as possible, in the areas of Jewish law to facilitate and not to be strict, so that Jewish law can exist and also the people can exist. And so it was, then butter was a very essential commodity for Jews living in Polish cities, but it was not possible to provide them with butter made only by Jews. Came the seekers of severities, and asked him to declare a ban on the butter of gentiles. But he rejected them on grounds based on Jewish law, and taking into account the needs of the masses, and allowed them to be strict on themselves, but without burdening others with their severity: and so he has done regarding eating dumplings on Passover, that those, who were strict, presented it as a total ban. And he, while still a young rabbi in the town of Szreñsk near P³ock, considered the extent of the ability of the masses to withstand harshness, and was not only satisfied with a permit, but even displayed dumplings in the window of his house on the holiday of Passover, so that the masses will know that by eating dumplings they do not unload the yoke of commandments, and they should keep, and observe, all the other commandments properly.
When Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer established in Berlin the Rabbinical Seminary for orthodox rabbis with a broad general education, so that they could influence, in the spirit of the Torah, their members of the community who are educated in western culture, the great rabbis, especially in Hungary, strongly opposed him that new is forbidden by the Torah. He came to Kutno and received from the Gaon consent and blessing for his enterprise, as well as encouragement for his work for the settlement of Eretz Israel.
Among his students was also Nahum Sokolow, who bragged all his life that he got to study with the Gaon of Kutno, who, according to his words, was his rabbi in the Torah and his instructor in politics!
He passed away on 25 Tamuz 5653 (23 July 1893).
May the memory of the Gaon and righteous be a blessing.
(HaBoker, 17 July 1958)
by M. Y. SZATAN, Montreal
There must have been something phenomenal in R' Yehoshie'le Kutner, for me, a secular Jew, to still remember him. It has been over seventy years since he died and I see him quite clearly before my eyes, as he stood and walked in street, in the Beit Midrash of his permanent eastern city, near the Holy Ark. And in his own courthouse, sitting on his large, rabbinical chair, swaying over a pile of books. Of course, I chose not to give a scholarly review here, but a few memoirs. I just wanted to tell you what I heard in my early childhood, both at home and in my whole neighborhood, where Jewish scholars, Jews of Torah, spoke about R' Yehoshie'le with outrageous respect: that he is a Gaon, a great Torah scholar, with self-understanding, a knowledgeable and sharp man, second to none. He is proficient in the Torah in depth and breadth, swims in it with such ease, as a good swimmer in a quiet, calm river. And that people come to him almost from all the Jewish Diaspora, with harsh Torah questions. His word is accepted as the final arbiter
There were enough reasons for me to hear it all, to know it. And as a child of three or four years, absorbed in myself my first and most important life impressions. Indeed, we lived in the synagogue street, in the house of Abraham Chlap. This was the first house near the Beit Midrash. This meant being the first neighbor of R' Yehoshie'le. Because the rabbi lived in those years in a community house, which was in the second half of the Beit Midrash. Every day, I had various opportunities to see R' Yehoshie'le and hear conversations about him and his greatness. The Jews of Kutno were proud of their rabbi and uttered the name, R' Yehoshie'le with trembling smiles. It would probably not be an exaggeration to say that this was felt, or at least expected, from a large part of the city's Christian population and they also showed this at every opportunity, giving him, R' Yehoshie'le, great honor, with due respect for Rabbi. It was most noticeable when R' Yehoshie'le walked around the long synagogue street every day, around three o'clock in the afternoon, accompanied by his shamash, R' Hershel Naman. Of course, as many Jews were living in the synagogue street, they came out to say, Good morning, Rabbi! and at the same time wished him eternal life.
My mom, too, was out in the street every day, with me perhaps no more than a two-three-year-old child, pointing out:
See, Moshe'le, this is R' Yehoshie'le, may he have a long life. Repeat my words, she told me, because we all live thanks to him. He is a great righteous man!It would not be an exaggeration to say that the few Christians who lived on the synagogue street, did the same. They watched him for a long time, many took off their hats and reverently crossed themselves. The words: Rabin idzie, wielki Rabin could be heard from every mouth. In Yiddish it means: The Rabbi is coming, a great Rabbi!.
And as soon as the carriage of a Gentile arrived, the foreman seeing from a distance R' Yehoshie'le, with a sable shtreimel on his head, dressed in the long black atlas overcoat, with a belt wrapped around him, slowed down. And getting closer, he was completely on one side, to make way for Rabbi. He watched him for a long time, crossed himself and muttered his prayer, moving his lips.
When it ever happened that Yehoshe'le, deep in his thoughts, had wandered into the non-Jewish part of synagogue street, the tall, well-built colonel (whom he then called General because he knew he should have been promoted to a higher rank) always came out and
greeted Rabbi in a military manner, raising his right hand on the chest and at the same time stretched out straight, like a soldier for a general, or a general for the emperor. R' Yehoshie'le naturally answered, with a shake of his head and with his always gentle smile. Quite often the general's wife, a young lovely girl, looked out of the front window and greeted, shaking her head, this dear visitor and they both watched him for a long time, as he slowly moved forward, step by step, with something of a divine spirit.
It became true expression of adoration, when R' Yehoshie'le became ill. The general then ordered straw to be strewn all over the street, between the Beit Midrash and the synagogue, so that there would be no noise if anyone crossed it or passed by, in order not to disturb the rest of the sick. In addition, the municipality's officer placed a policeman on both sides of the street. They did not let anyone ride in a cart with noisy iron-covered wheels, only carts on a rubber-covered wheels but they had to ride step by step, so as the rustling of the horses would not be heard. The heavy carts were directed by the policemen to drive through a street on the other side of the synagogue.
The whole time R' Yehoshie'le was sick, there was no normal life among the Jews in town. It was a mess. One would hardly work and even trade. And in the Beit Midrash, they lit candles for days and Jews kept on reciting psalms, begging the Lord of the universe to send a miracle cure for the sick. The women ran to the cemetery, stormed to the graves of the righteous, that they should pray to the Lord he should have mercy on them and save their R' Yehoshie'le
But as it turns out, R' Yehoshie'le no longer had any years and after a long illness, he exhaled his holy soul
On a Tamuz morning, around ten o'clock, R' Yehoshie'le died. As an expression of grief, people immediately stopped studying in all chederim. And the whole city was filled with great sorrow. Each and every one ran to and entered synagogue street. The street, wide and quite long, was quickly filled with Jews, Is it really true?! one asked the other No more R' Yehoshie'le? Hearing the answer, Baruch Dayan HaEmet, they simply pulled their hair from their heads in great sorrow. And the women cried out in a great commotion, which made the stones of the street weep. Even a certain part of non-Jews came into the synagogue street, looked for a long time at R' Yehoshie'le's apartment, at the large crowd of devastated Jews and left with their heads bowed.
The Jewish poors felt completely like real orphans. For R' Yehoshie'le always approached the poor with the same gentle smile as the rich. And when R' Yehoshie'le was with the congregation in the Beit Midrash and in the synagogue during the winter, coal and potatoes were immediately carried away to the poors' cold houses, so that the poor children would not be left freezing and starving in the winter cold.
R' Yehoshie'le never wanted to take any money from anyone. He kept telling his visitors, Give away to charity, because the world stands on charity. And when people left certain sums on one side of the table, he did not even touch it with his hands but called his shamash, R' Hershel Naman, to take it and give it away to charity.
Many Jews flocked to the city on R' Yehoshie'le's death, more than it could handle. Of course, there were many Rabbis among them, from all over Poland. A special new funeral bier had been made for the holy dead, as well as new purification tools. The purification was not performed by the Chevra Kadisha staff, but by the greatest Rabbis. He also admitted a number of cohanim to the purification. The Rabbis had declared that R' Yehoshie'le was a pure-dead person and that the learned cohanim should and may engage in the purification ritual. I remember as if it was today, that my own father, a Cohen and a scholarly Jew, despite the deep sorrow, felt very exalted to be allowed to participate to the purification.
The funeral took place on the next day. It began early in the morning, perhaps seven o'clock, with circles seven times around the bima in the Beit Midrash, while both doors of the Holy Ark were wide open and the Torah scrolls, clad in their silver crowns (also in mourning), looked out with all their holiness on the pure dead. The bier was carried by rabbis and prominent cohanim. The funeral procession was large, it is
impossible to tell how many people were there a packed crowd, impossible to count. In front of the bier, all the Jewish children of the chederim went and said aloud: Righteousness is before you and other appropriate verses of Psalms. The bier was open and high, with boards on both sides, which made it look like a bed. All the way, Jews, and perhaps even Gentiles, kept throwing in wish notes. If I remember correctly, my father, being one of the bier-carrying cohanim, dropped a note saying that R' Yehoshie'le should pray to God, that he should send a miracle cure to my sick mother, and of course also livelihood. This was probably the wish in all the other wish notes.
The funeral lasted an entire day, until well into the night. If I remember correctly, R' Yehoshie'le was given a tomb as a Cohen.
A shudder seized everyone, and the great crowd wept as it approached the open grave. The congregation realized the truth, that already, R' Yehoshie'le really left us and we remain without him like sheep without a shepherd
At the first shovel of earth, which he had dropped into the tomb, and with a great sigh, was also heard in a loud voice the words: Mazal Tov! This is how the Kutner community has informed R' Yehoshie'le, through a Mazal Tov, that it was taking as Kutner Rabbi his only son, Rabbi Moshe Pinchas, in his place, to be his successor. And his son R' Moshe Pinchas really became the Kutner Rabbi.
For a whole week after the funeral, the Beit Midrash was packed with Jews and Rabbis, who one after another performed eulogies from the very morning until late at night. They also sat shiva in the homes. And as in the Beit Midrash, candles were burned in every Jewish house, in deep mourning for the great leader and Gaon R' Yehoshie'le, whose whole life was for them a light, whose divinity illuminated their way of life
Long after the death of R' Yehoshie'le, the life of the Jews in the city was not easy. There was a commotion in every corner, where only a few Jews gathered, or a minyan in the Beit Midrash, or in which there was a Chassidic shtiebel, there was no talk of anything other than R' Yehoshie'le whether about his death, which has so disturbed the Jewish world, or his exalted life, which has radiated our city with all that is beautiful and good. That's why it was really not easy to make peace with the idea that R' Yehoshie'le was truly away from us forever
As a native Kutner, I may allow myself to say that both Rabbi R' Moshe Pinchas ztzl and Rabbi R' Yitzhak ztzl, a son of R' Moshe Pinchas and a grandson of R' Yehoshie'le, sitting on the Kutner rabbinate chair, wore for years the crown of R' Yehoshiele's greatness The generation of Kutner Jews who remember R' Yehoshie'le well, looked at them as the children, the heirs of their great father and grandfather, the Gaon and sharp R' Yehoshie'le Kutner
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