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[Page 100]

The Lida Rabbi Aaron Rabinowitz

by Henia Rabinowitz
(the Lida Rabbi's sister)

Translated from Yiddish by Roslyn Sherman Greenberg

Our parents lived off the land, in a forest. Their business was buying woods and selling logs. My father understood little of the business. He liked to sit and learn, surrounded by big piles of books. Our mother was the woman of valor. She ran the business. At that time my brother Aaron was twenty years old. He was very handsome, tall, lean, full of life and energy. He learned in the Volozin Yeshiva and used to come home only for the Holidays. His homecoming was the greatest joy for our dear mother and the other children as he was a very devoted son and like a father to us.


In the Volozin Yeshiva

I remember that there was a room in our house that was called, “Aaron's Room”. No one slept in that room except for Aaron. When he came home he used to sit there and learn. He was very happy to come home, first to see the family, and second he loved nature, the forest where he used to walk night and day. He was very brave, had no fear of anyone, and with him we children felt very secure. Our beloved mother used to prepare for him all the things he loved – nuts which were gathered in the woods, dried in the oven, and all sorts of fruits, etc. She also always prepared for him wash and clean clothes to give to all his friends who needed them. Those were the luckiest years of his youth.

Once, when my brother came home from Volozin for Yom Tov a Jew from the shtetl of Molchad came to see him. He brought with him his 13-year old son, who was small and pale but who had deep black eyes. This was Poliatchek. The father asked my brother to listen to him. My brother listened and was very awed by the youngster's aptitude. He took him to Volozin, led him in to the Head of the Yeshiva, under his coat so no one should see him, since in Volozin only big young men learned. The Head of the Yeshiva seeing the small boy, said to my brother: “Soon you'll bring Yunkim here.” My brother answered: “Rabbi, listen to him.”

The Rosh Yeshiva (head of the Yeshiva) posed a hard question to him and told him to go into the next room to think it over. The boy went toward the door and turned back – he already knew the answer.

From then on began the closeness, the deep friendship between my brother and Rabbi Shlomo Poliatchek, the well known Molchad genius and gaon (eminent Rabbi).

In later years my brother brought him to Lida as the Rosh Yeshiva of Rabbi Reines Yeshiva. After the first World War Rabbi Shlomo Poliatchek became the Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshiva of Rav Yitchak ElChanan in New York (now Yeshiva University).

Telling about the bond between my brother and Rabbi Shlomo Poliatchek I can't forget this tale: In the time when he was Rosh Yeshiva in Lida, he once became very sick. He had weak lungs and they began to become bloody. Naturally a doctor did what was necessary, but the sickness lingered on. My brother left his house and stayed with Rabbi Shlomo for two weeks, didn't allow his wife and children into his room, and took care of him like a good warmhearted sister.


Chosen to be Rabbi of the Lida Community

At the age of 25 my brother married Gele, the daughter of Rabbi Reines. For a few years he lived in the home of his father-in-law. One tells this tale: As it is done among Jews, my brother received a dowry. The money was put into the care of Mr. Shipmanowitz – a respected householder in Lida. Some time passed and my brother's wife went to Mr. Shipmanowitz to take out a small amount of money. She was surprised to hear that there was nothing left of the dowry. When she got home she asked her husband, where is the money? He told her that the poverty in the city is huge, and he had to help out in some cases. As a result: a wagon driver lost his horse, and his wife and children were starving. So he gave the family money to buy a horse. He also had to help out a poor bride, when her mother came to tell him and cried that the match is breaking apart, etc. It is true, his wife didn't complain.

The first 15 years after my brother was married were the most relaxing for him. The first years he lived with his in-laws and treated them like a devoted son. I remember that the Rebbitsin – his mother-in-law, was not well for a time. She couldn't get around. He used to carry her from one place to another.

As soon as he came to Lida, he went to the Bais Din (Jewish court) and fulfilled the duties of judge. He never took anything, even for the biggest cases, and this caused unhappiness among the other judges. My brother also founded a cooperative of 30 older young men from the Lida Yeshiva of Rabbi Reines. This was subsidized by the son-in-law of Visotsky, Mr. Gatz.

As time passed he also took over the largest part of ministering to the city. This was necessary since Rabbi Reines used to leave the city for several months every year. He used to go to Europe for Zionist Congresses and also for relaxation.

In 1915 Rabbi Reines died, and my brother was selected by the Lida community as the Rabbi of Lida.


At the Time of the First World War

A short time before this, when the Russian Army retreated from Lida, my brother's family, his wife, five daughters, and a small son went into the heart of Russia together with Rabbi Shlomo Poliatchek and his family.

His two older sons, Melech and Moshe, with their families, remained in Lida until the end of the war with their father. My mother and I also came to Lida shortly afterward.

The troubles started in 1915 when the Russians left the city. The Cossacks bombed and set fire to Chana Pupko's house. The other residents hid in their houses. The Rabbi was the only one who ran out of his house, knocked on the closed doors, took water, climbed up on the roof and together with those gathered around, rescued the city, doing this at great risk to himself with tremendous bravery.

At the same time a bomb ended the life of Berdovsky's son. My brother saw the wounding through the window. He ran out of the house and carried him on his back to an apothecary to give him first aid. This was at a time when the others sat locked in their houses, afraid to go out in the street.


The Germans in Lida

The Russians left and the Germans captured the neighborhood and also Lida. The years of their occupation were very hard. The Rabbi had to send workers to the Burgomaster of the city and do many other things. The Rabbi received a small stipend from him. But, even for money, nothing could be bought. The Burgomaster from time to time brought wagons of provisions for the inhabitants of the city, but certain people wanted to take it over into private hands in order to bring in the black market. The Rabbi was against this with all his might, against his friends and against others, not to let this happen. He made enemies, but he didn't allow any hunger in Lida, which had happened in other areas. My brother, seeing the Burgomaster almost every day, never asked for anything for himself or his family, just asked for things for the community. I personally can testify that if anything was lacking it was solely in the Rabbi's own home.

A short time before this, when the Germans left Lida, a lot of families turned around and came home. My brother's family also returned, but instead of with six children, his wife came home with four. The oldest daughter Shirele died in Russia from typhus at the age of 18, and the small boy also succumbed. It is understood, there was a lot of sorrow and pain in the family.

The Germans left, and the Bolsheviks took the area. Their arrival brought great unrest and troubles for the Rabbi. It didn't last long, however, as the Poles soon took the area. Battles started between the Bolsheviks and the Poles, which lasted several weeks. The inhabitants of the area already waited impatiently for the Poles to take over the city.


The Poles occupy the City

After gunbattles lasting several days, the Poles entered Lida late at night. They made a real pogrom, breaking into my brother's house. They took him out of bed, tore open his box, where he kept important papers and took everything of value. In the morning the Christian woman who worked for my brother, came running to me and told me the news. (My mother and I had a room at Dr. Warshawsky's house, and she was ill.) I ran out to look for my brother, and in the street I saw wounded Jews and Polish soldiers. One tore off my hat, another didn't answer me, but the third one told me where the commander could be found. On the way there, on Kaminke Street, I saw my brother with other householders, in a closed balcony. Going in to the commander, I saw Poles from Lida, whom the commandant was consulting about each person arrested. When I told them that my brother had been arrested, they said it was unbelievable because Poles do no arrest Rabbis. Thus they sent a soldier with me to get him. The Poles from Lida recognized him right away and they let him go free. He went home, changed his clothes, and was ready to try to find a way to have the other householders set free. At that moment, the woman Reisl Darshan ran into the Rabbi's house and told him that the Bolsheviks had left ammunition, guns, etc. in her cellar. She was afraid that the Poles would find it, and she wanted the Rabbi to go with her to the commandant to tell him about it. He went out with her into the street, which was empty. People had hid themselves in their houses. Suddenly, two Polish officers on horses appeared. They surrounded the Rabbi and took him near the castle. He thought this was the end. He had one hope: They had taken him past the home of a Polish lawyer, Mr. Shimelevich, who knew my brother well. He hoped that if Mr. Shimelevich had seen him, he would rescue him. And so it was! The lawyer was sitting on his porch and saw how the officers were taking my brother. He ran over to the officers and declared that this was the Rabbi of the city, etc. The officer didn't want to listen, so the lawyer's wife and his whole family ran out and pulled my brother out of their murdering hands. They hit him with a gun, tore his clothes, but his body was untouched. After these events, he had to hide himself until the siege of the city quieted down a little.

Also in those dark days and weeks, when the Poles occupied Lida and the whole area, they brought the poet Yaffe and the writer Niger to Lida from Vilna, on the way to a concentration camp. Their wives rode with them, and they came to my brother to ask him to go the commandant and tell him that the two arrested writers are famous in the whole world, and it wouldn't be right for Poland to imprison such people. In addition he guaranteed that they aren't Bolsheviks. A few days later they let them go and they returned to Vilna. In other similar cases, the commandant told him that he should be cautious to guarantee with his head because, after all, a man has but one head.

My brother had a personal problem. His son Moshe, after the war, traveled to Moscow to study medicine. When they found out that the Rabbi's son had gone to Moscow, they called my brother in for a hearing. Their general denounced him strongly and scared him. I remember that he returned very pale and shattered. They arrested his wife and eldest daughter, Elka, and put them in the Lida jail with the intention of sending them, with the others who had been arrested, to a concentration camp. But again a miracle occurred. My brother's family had a cow, and everyone who owned a cow, was obliged every day to give milk to the Polish officers. A soldier came to collect the milk for his officer, and saw our mother and our brother's children (and they were very beautiful children). My mother told the soldier that the children's mother and elder sister were sitting in jail, and the children cried. The same thing happened the second day. The soldier went to the officer and told him what he had seen at the Rabbi's house. The officer became interested and went to the jail to see the “criminals”. The picture he saw evidently made an impression on him. He told the general about this. It became known that this had really happened, and to the last day no one knew how this would end. The day finally came. About ten people were taken to the railroad station, among them my sister-in-law and her daughter. Of course, my brother also accompanied them. The day was very long – the night dark. It was raining. It wasn't pleasant to be outside. Late at night I sat by the window very nervously and impatiently. Finally, my brother rapped on the window of Dr. Warshawsky's house where my mother and I had a room. He told me with great joy that they had not sent his wife and daughter away, but had sent them back to the jail in Lida. A couple of days later they let them go. The other unfortunate people had been sent to a concentration camp.

All these events and difficult circumstances naturally worked a great hardship on the family. My brother's wife who underwent great hardship in Russia, lost two children, came home and found new troubles, became sick. My brother contracted Typhus which was throughout the city. It took a long time before they recovered. In 1925 I left Lida, and to my great sorrow, never saw my family again. What my brother and the other families that remained lived through during the time of the Second World War is well known – they were destroyed with the rest of the Jewish community, by whom he was esteemed up to the last minute of his life.

I know that the written remembrances about my unforgettable brother, do not give a precise picture of him. One had to know him, and understand him, to understand his true value. Outwardly, he didn't have a prepared smile on his face for everyone. He looked earnest. He didn't care to express his feelings openly, but everyone in the city knew that in a time of trouble their Rabbi would do everything possible, and sometimes impossible, to help. My brother was a very modest person, but had a sureness in himself, for he always did what his mind directed him. He knew nothing of jealousy, could not hear any malicious talk, and mastered the talent to be happy for someone else's happiness, and to recognize with awe someone else's greatness.

The Hafetz Haim from Radun who esteemed and loved my brother very much, at a conference in Warsaw, where all the Hassidic Rabbis and other Rabbis from Poland gathered, took my brother's hand and said to everyone there, “Do you know who this is? This the Lida Rabbi, a man of truth, a man of truth”.

Rabbi Shatzkes, the Lomzer Rabbi, who was a close friend of my brother, once expressed himself thus about him, “The Lida Rabbi is a great scholar and a Jewish aristocrat”. He was indeed an aristocrat in the deepest sense of the word.

[Page 104]

The History of the Lida Yeshivah

By M. Tzinovitz

Translated by Rabbi Molly Karp


The Yeshiva in Svencionys

Rabbi Reines was original in all his ways. All the days of his life he distinguished himself as an innovator. He was first and foremost in his time when he created “The Way of Reason” in Talmud study, and he set a goal for himself to spread the light of reason among many, by means of his well-known books “Seal of Perfection,” “Great Lights,” and more, in which he gives of examples of this method of learning on a few significant issues in the Talmud and its commentaries. And he was also the father of the new path in homiletics and preaching, and had his own approach to Torah education in the younger generation.

Already at the beginning of the 1880s he saw the need to found a new yeshiva which would meet the needs of the time in conducting new methods of learning, in order to absorb the religious youth who seeks education and to train him for practical life. With this Rabbi Y.Y. Reines wanted to solve the question of the dual rabbinate, which was at the time a stumbling block for Russian Jewry and stood always on the order of the day of the Jewish public in this large Jewish assembly.

We find information on the founding of this yeshiva, which Rabbi Reines opened in the city of his rabbinate at that time, Svencionys, which was in the Vilna district, in the newspaper “HaMelitz:” “In this winter (5643) [1883], the Rabbi of this city, the Light of the Exile, founded by permission of the government a yeshiva of seven steps (classes)… to teach Torah and faith and knowledge to the youth of Israel, and it was a kind of seminary for the Hebrews. Presently we find about 40 students in the yeshiva. Some of them are beginners, and most of them have already completed their course in Talmud. In this yeshiva they teach Gemara and law codes and the knowledge required for the demands of the time…”

However, the yeshiva in Svencionys was only a temporary episode, and did not complete even its first year, for according to the words of M. Reines “finally, the jealous and harmful, the wicked and malicious, and the flatterers…hurt it and destroyed it down to its foundation.” Rabbi Y.Y. Reines himself also transmits hints of this matter in his books of “The Two Lights,” which was printed in the year 5673 [1913], two years before his death, with his saying: “on the occasion of the war from within and from outside” he was compelled to close his yeshiva on Adar I of that year.


The Plan for the Lida Yeshiva

In any case, Rabbi Reines was not discouraged. If his first attempt in Svencionys was still premature and before its time in the opinion of many, indeed over the course of time this matter became more and more actual for wide circles in the camp of Jewish traditionalists, and the window of opportunity arrived for it.

In the year 5655 [1895], when he had already been Av Beit Din of Lida for eleven years, he again began to take care of the matter of the founding of the yeshiva, which did not work out until the year 5665 [1905], when he was able to open his well-known yeshiva in the city of Lida, the place of his rabbinate.

On the essence of the new yeshiva in Lida, its curriculum, about Rabbi Y.Y. Reines' opinion on this kind of educational-religious matter, we can judge according to the program of learning that he composed even before its opening.

This yeshiva needed to include within it six classes for sacred studies and secular studies, according to this plan:

Grade1: Gemara with Rashi, Tosafot,[1] Rabbenu Asher,[2] Tanakh, and the grammar of the Hebrew language.

Grade 2: Gemara as mentioned above, with addition of learning the Alfas,[3] Tanakh, Homilies of Chazal,[4] and the style of the language.

Grade 3: To Gemara, Codes, and Tanakh, a little of the “Rishonim[5] is added, and the “Acharonim[6] for the sections of Gemara that were being studied. The writing of compositions in Hebrew. The history of [the people of] Israel, Rishonim, and law codes. The necessary laws from the Shulchan Aruch[7] Orach Chaim,[8] the history of Israel, and specific bibliographic information.

Grade 4: Tractate Chullin[9] and Yoreh Deah[10] part 1, Rishonim and Acharonim, broadening the study of the [Hebrew] language in writing, and additional knowledge of the history of Israel and bibliography.

Grade 5: Yoreh Deah part 2, and the necessary practical laws from Shulchan Aruch and Even HaEzer.[11]

The general studies would be in the framework of the contents of the district school, over the course of six years. Alongside the yeshiva it was necessary to establish an appropriate library. The students had to study 10 hours a day: seven hours for sacred studies, and three hours for other studies. The months of Nisan and Tishrei were vacation days.[12] Each and every year tests were held, and the student who did not excel on a test remained in the class for another year. A rabbinic certificate would be given only to those who completed an entire course. In the giving of certificates, the nature of the students' conduct would be considered. The yeshiva would be led by four committees: 1) Rabbis and sages for the testing of the students and for the appointments of the heads of the yeshivot. 2) A committee of householders for the conduct of financial matters. 3) A pedagogic committee composed of the heads of the yeshivot. 4) A committee of students from the higher grades of the yeshiva for matters of the internal lives of the students.

Half a year after the opening of the yeshiva in Lida, someone who was close to it wrote: “The work during the first half of the year succeeded in an excellent superior way. The students were diligent in their learning, and saw the fruit of blessing abundantly, and those who saw them were amazed and even astonished at their success. The renown of the yeshiva quickly encompassed the camp of the house of Israel, everyone rejoiced in her, and hundreds of young people knocked on its doors, and today the yeshiva is rising to glory and splendor…


The Prodigy From Meitzt, Head of the Yeshiva

One of the principle heads of the yeshiva in Lida was Rabbi Y. Reines, its founder and originator, who in the higher grades in the Lida yeshiva was given the opportunity to properly instill his “the way of reason” into the teaching of the Talmud and its interpreters.

Indeed, the following served as eyes for him on this path of learning of his: the writer of the “Korban Aharon,”[13] Reb Aharon son of Chaim from Fez; the writer of “Halichot Olam,”[14] Reb Yehoshua HaLevi; the writer of “Sefer Kritut,[15] Rabbi Shimon from Kinon; Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto in his book “Derekh Tevunot[16] and more, who cleared a path to the ways of reason in the Talmud, according to the testimony of Rabbi Reines in his book “Seal of Perfection.” In any case, Rabbi Y.Y. Reines cultivated this “Way of Reason” according to his point of view; it is the best of him, in that he invested all of his Torah-Talmudic power in the method of reason alone, in showing us that for the sages of Talmud there were special rules in their homilies, which were

[Page 105]

based on logical and strong foundations in the sense of “the central bar”[17] for all of the issues and traditions that are in the Talmud from end to end. This extreme method, which greatly reduces argumentation in the field of halakha, since according to this new method, the abstract rules of Talmud are explained with the help of comparison and equivalency, aroused differences of opinion among the heads of the yeshiva in Lithuania. However, with the founding of the yeshiva, Rabbi Y.Y. Reines strove by himself to limit his approach, to set certain limits for it and to bring it closer to “the path of construction” of the Lithuanian process, of the type of Reb Chaim Soloveitchik, Rabbi Yitzel of Ponevezh, and Rabbi Shimon from Telsi. His greatness in the Torah stood him in good stead, as one of the distinguished Rabbis of Lithuania, for which he developed a reputation in this while still in the spring of his days, with the publication of his well-known book “Testimony in Yaakov.”

Due to his many concerns and his frequent travels, both for the needs of the yeshiva and for matters of the “Mizrachi,” the child of his devoted care, he did not have the appropriate opportunity to continuously voice his talmudic lessons in the yeshiva, and because of that his pedagogic method was not properly absorbed, even in the yeshiva in Lida. For this reason, it was necessary to invite a second famous head of the yeshiva who would give his lessons in Talmud to the students in the higher grades, and according to the advice of Rabbi Y.Y. Reines son-in-law, Rabbi Aharon Rabinovitz, the successor to the Lida rabbinate), was appointed for this distinguished role, the head of the Metivta[18] Reb Shlomo Chaim Poliatshik, who was known in the yeshiva world as “The Prodigy From Meitzt.”

The appointment of the Meitzitai to be head of the Metivta of the Lida yeshiva became the talk of the day in all of the Lithuanian yeshivot in those days. This famous head of the Metivta, the favorite child of the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik who saw him as “the wonderful prodigy,” had a bright mind and genius perception. His intelligence saw into the distance, and encompassed worlds. With his wonderful depth and common sense, he penetrated into each and every passage, and brought out innovations built on the stones of deep refined understanding, faithful to the correctness of the truth of the Six Orders [of the Mishnah], and the “Rishonim.” The lessons that he gave in the yeshiva in Lida were a process for the groups of the other famous yeshivot, and all the best students of the yeshivot attended them. However at first, it was hard for the Meitzitai to get used to the students of the Lida yeshiva, who were mostly young, and he was forced to contract himself and reduce the abundance of his innovations in his lessons. However, over the course of time they made room for him to define himself also in Lida, with the establishment of an autonomous branch of a special “kibbutz,” alongside the yeshiva, especially for those who completed their studies at the Lida yeshiva, or simply excellent young men who came out of other famous yeshivot, who were supported by the funds of the wealthy and famous cherisher of the Torah, Reb Refael Gutz from Moscow.

It should be noted that from a pedagogical perspective and even practically, it was difficult for the young people who came to it from various places to get used to the framework of the program and the order of its studies. However, the general learning was independent, without any connection between it and the study of Gemara, law codes, and Tanakh. An excellent student of Gemara, law codes, and Tanakh in grade 5 was a student in grade 1 or 2 in the evening hours, for general studies. Nevertheless, this matter was complicated enough and to a certain extent it disrupted the peace of mind of the pupils. For the sake of efficiency in the program, there was a “Mechina[19] founded alongside it. This mechina was self-supporting. Its students were mostly children of wealthy parents who wanted to give their sons a complete religious education with knowledge in secular studies. As a teacher of Hebrew, Tanakh, and the history of Israel, one of the well-known Hebrew pedagogues was later appointed - Reb Pinchas Shifman, may his memory be for a blessing.

It can be further noted that the program mentioned above, which Rabbi Reines organized with the opening of his yeshiva, was not carried out completely. For a number of reasons, the pedagogic committee was not established to oversee and inspect the process of the learning, a number of necessary and required courses were missing, such as lessons in preaching, and a special program was not indicated for religious inquiry, and lessons in the knowledge of the foundations of Judaism and original Israelite thought. Budgetary worry greatly troubled Rabbi Y.Y. Reines, and expenses increased. According to the essence of the program, the yeshiva was forced to open new classes in every academic year, and to establish new teachers at appropriate salaries, and the support of the donors to Beit Visotzki and others and also to institutions and organizations that were outside of the land were by chance.

Rabbi Reines stood by himself on these matters with these words:

“With all this it is far from my heart to think that the praise of the yeshiva can be finished, I know that there are still defects that require repair.” And in truth he tried to fix these flaws.

It is possible to determine that over the course of time the Lida yeshiva was developing and was adding its own touches in the design of the spiritual life of Israel in the recent period, for indeed also in the few years of its existence it produced not only excellent Hebrew teachers, faithful public leaders, but also talented religious householders, and even a few rabbis enjoyed its nationalist religious atmosphere, and the lessons of the Meitzitai. Over the course of time the opposition of the heads of the Lithuanian yeshivot softened, as they became aware that there was no encroaching into their yeshivot, and that in the territory of the Jewish settlement there was also room for a new yeshiva of the kind that was in Lida. However in the meantime, the First World War broke out, which put an end to the very existence of the yeshiva in Lida, and in a short while its founder and cultivator, Rabbi Y.Y. Reines, may his memory be for a blessing, went to his eternity.


  1. The Hebrew word tosafot, additions, is the Talmud commentary that was meant as an addition to Rashi's commentary on the Talmud. Return
  2. The Rosh, Asher ben Yechiel born c. 1250 in Western Germany, died c. 1328 in Toledo, Spain. He introduced the French/German discipline of Talmud study to Spain, and synthesized Meir ben Baruch's positions with Spanish tradition and custom. He was an acknowledged Halachic authority. Return
  3. Rabbi Yitzchak son of Yaakov HaCohain Alfasi, born in 1013 in the town of Qal'at Hammad in North Africa. His major work is Sefer ha-Halakhot, The Book of Laws. Return
  4. The acronym for “Our Sages, may their memories be for a blessing,” is a collective term that refers to all Jewish sages of the eras of the Mishna, Tosefta and Talmud. Return
  5. Rishonim (“the first ones”) were leading rabbis and legal authorities who lived in the 11th - 15th centuries. Return
  6. Acharonim, (“the later ones”) were leading rabbis and thinkers who lived in the 16th - 19th centuries. Return
  7. Literally, “the Set Table,” a Jewish code of law written by Joseph Caro (1488-1575). Return
  8. Orach Chaim, “Way of Life,” is the first of four sections of the Shulchan Aruch. It addresses Jewish daily ritual observance, like prayer, Tefillin, Tzitzit, Shabbat, and holidays. Return
  9. From the Talmud, Chullin, “Ordinary Things,” addresses animal and birds consumed in non-sacral contexts, is the third tractate in Seder Kodashim, the “Order of Holy Things.” Return
  10. Yoreh De'ah, “He Will Give Instruction,” is the second and most varied of the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch. It addresses topics not covered in the other sections, including ritual slaughter, kashrut, conversion, mourning, niddah, tzedakah, usury, and laws applicable in the land of Israel. Return
  11. Even HaEzer, “The Stone of Help,” is the third section of the Shulchan Aruch. It addresses family law, including marriage, divorce, levirate marriage, sexual conduct, procreation, and adultery. Return
  12. Nisan is the month when Passover falls, and Tishre is the month when the Days of Awe occur. Return
  13. “Aaron's Offering.” Return
  14. “World Walks.” Return
  15. “Book of Divorce.” Return
  16. “The Way of Understanding.” Return
  17. Exodus 26:28, describing the central bar or plank that ran down the middle and supported the whole structure. Return
  18. Aramaic for “Yeshiva.” Return
  19. Preparatory program. Return

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The Lida Yeshiva

By Shimon Zak

Translated by Rabbi Molly Karp

A candle for the pure souls of my sisters:
Channah, Devorah, Yehudit, and their families, may God avenge their blood.


A. The Founder

A unique kind of phenomenon is that the strength of Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines as a leader and as an accomplished activist came to be especially revealed in the last 15 years of his life. Until he reached the age of sixty, he was immersed in the creation of diverse and expansive religious literature. He composed tens of books on halakha and aggadah, but only a few of them were published. About ninety volumes in all the fields of talmudic and homiletical literature remain until today in manuscript form.

Rabbi Reines revealed his method in teaching Torah and Talmud study, the method of logical study, in his book “Seal of Perfection,” (Mainz, 5640 [1880], and Pressburg, 5641 [1881], which was brought out anew by his son, Rabbi Avraham Duber Reines, in Jerusalem, 5694 [1934]). It contains examples from his great book, “A Path in the Sea.” In the introduction to the book the author explains that his goal is “to put the way of reason in the sea of the Talmud, and to pave the way for the plain meaning of the text and the depths of the dense water of aggadah and midrash[1] institutions of oral Torah and the pillars of tradition were based on strong and fortified foundations, according to the logical and accepted principles, and all the rulings of halakha that Chazal drew from the sacred well of the written Torah. Every halakha can be dissected into its parts, according to the number of its subjects and the value and order of its logic. I have clarified the order of dissection in the book and the matter of the unity of the various halakhot to each other, and their differences from each other.”

This book, even though it is only an abridgement of his great six-part book, “A Path in the Sea,” made a great impression in the Jewish world, for they saw in it “a new light that illuminates Talmudic literature” (from the words of Rabbi Betzalel HaCohain from Vilna who publicized an appeal to the rabbis of Russia to support the author, so that he could publish all of his books). However, many zealous rabbis, who saw his new method of teaching as a revolution against the accepted approaches to teaching, fought a fierce war against the author and his books.

However, Rabbi Reines was a fearless person, with vast initiative and unknown power that was preserved in him until his last days; he was certain in his truthfulness, and independent in spirit, just as he was original in his creations. In the same way that in the period of his life that was after this he did not flinch from the attacks of his many opponents on his Zionist and community activities. He was also not discouraged by their opposition to his method of teaching and his religious creativity. After a few years he also publicized his second great book, “Great Lights,” interpretations and investigations in the principles of halakhot, (Vilna, 5646 [1886]), in which he continued with his innovations according to his method in his previous book.

Rabbi Reines finds supports for his method “in a few of our first rabbis, may their memories be for a blessing, who evaluated their essays with this method, like Rambam,[2] the Meiri,[3] and the Tashbatz,[4] in a number of Responsa[5] and in the book “Temim De'im,”[6] and also their words are built on logical studies… And the 13 hermeneutical rules[7] by which the Torah is interpreted, and which are the foundation of the Oral Torah, who will not admit that the spirit of reason overlaps with them? And all the great ones of the Rishonim explicated the 13 attributes in this way” (from the introduction to his book “The Light of the Seven Days”). In these words of his he intended to appease those who appeal to him to diminish the amount of innovation and originality that are in his way of learning. However, one who studies Rabbi Reines' original books will be easily proven wrong, for we will even admit that the principle of the method is hidden in the sources of the Rishonim that were already mentioned, and that Rabbi Reines succeeded in broadening and developing this method in a comprehensive and sophisticated multifaceted form, until the reader comes to an understanding that the study is a science that is based on the teaching of logic and on logical rules, which the author set for the needs of his inquiries and his explanations. Indeed by way of these investigations of his, he also helps with laws and rules, and with the finest of the fine analyses of the theory of the mind of the individual and the collective.


Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines,
may his memory be for a blessing


Rabbi Reines' influence was also great on homiletics in Israel. Even in aggadah, as in halakha, he took the path of logical operation, and in it he even revealed new perspectives. His vast expertise in Midrashic literature would arouse amazement; in his homilies he never used prepared notes, and he would recite by heart long passages from midrash-aggadah.[8] With a wonderful strength in exegesis, he would bring to life obscure legends, decipher the secrets of enigmatic lessons from the Talmud, which the regular reader does not know how to do,*** and raise brilliant ideas from within them that amazed the readers of his books, and those who heard his sermons, with their clarity, their depth, and their originality. The foundation for the new homiletics, which was suited to the essential needs of his generation, and suckled with it the beauty, the ancient tradition, and the majesty, which were hidden in midrash aggadah,[9] was therefore set down by him.


B. Pangs of Creation

Aside from his religious-literary creation, the Gaon Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Reines saw the realization of his life's dream in two achievements, to which

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he dedicated his great energy and his tremendous ability. The first was his Zionist activity, in the domain of the “Mizrachi” federation, of which he was the founder, and its President until the end of his life. The second was the yeshiva that he founded in Lida. And since his Zionist path was sown with thorns and obstacles by many rabbis of his generation, who were opposed to the Zionist idea, so were the numerous difficulties and the vicissitudes that he encountered in his work to establish the yeshiva, and its development.

Preparatory activities and various experiments preceded the opening of the yeshiva, both by Rabbi Reines himself and by other factors, among them also students of various yeshivot. In a rabbis' assembly in Peterburg which was called in the year 5642 [1882] by the Russian government for the purpose of consultation on Jewish matters, the young Rabbi Reines, who was at that time the rabbi of Svencionys, Vilna district, also participated. He advised the assembly to found a yeshiva, who program of learning would include also the language of the country and other general knowledge. Since his advice was rejected by the participants in the assembly, he decided to try by himself to bring his thoughts into action, and in that same year he founded the yeshiva in Svencionys.

In words that touch the heart, Rabbi Reines describes in his book “The Two Lights” (the article “Memory in the Book,” Section B, Chapter A) the many difficulties that he experienced subsequent to the opening of the yeshiva. He got tangled up in the yoke of financial obligations for the sake of maintaining the yeshiva, zealots from the Charedi camp “embittered his life” and spread all kinds of false rumors about him and about his yeshiva. When they saw that these deeds of theirs did not succeed in destroying the yeshiva, they decided to grasp the tried and true method: informing to the government, which led to Rabbi Reines' arrest while he was in Moscow in the winter of 5643 [1883]. This matter overdid it; “the war from within and from without” forced him to give in to the demand of his family and their pleas, and to close the yeshiva. However, he did not let go of the idea to renew the yeshiva even for a minute, and he was sure that the proper time for it would surely come.

In those days various congregations in the United States, and the congregation in Manchester, England, offered Rabbi Reines the rabbinic position in their cities. The Jews in Manchester even expressed their desire to print all of his books, “and with this matter they really took my heart,” relates Rabbi Reines in the introduction to his book “The Light of the Seven Days.” The rabbi agreed to come to England in order to size up the situation in the place. After he stayed in England for about three months and came to know the spiritual situation of the Jews that dwelt there, and the status of the rabbis there who had come from Russia, he decided to return to Russia, the center of Torah and Judaism in those days, for only there would he be able to continue his religious-literary activity. In the winter of 5644 [1884] he was appointed as rabbi in Lida, which was famous for its great ones in Torah, who sat in the rabbinic seat there.

Already in the days of his youth Rabbi Reines was devoted heart and soul to the idea of the love of Zion, and from time to time he would exchange letters with the heads of the movement. He would hold meetings and consultations with them, and would participate in all their activities, however Rabbi Reines, the imaginative visionary, whose soul aspired always to great deeds, did not find satisfaction in “small things,” in which the activities of Chovevei Tzion[10] were immersed. It is no wonder, therefore, that only after the appearance of Herzl did Rabbi Reines have room for a broad range of his Zionist activities. In the large conference that assembled in the month of Adar I in the year 5662 [1902] in Vilna, in which rabbis and Charedi landlords participated, among them almost all of the rabbis of Vilna and the surrounding area, after discussions that lasted days, the “Mizrachi” federation was founded, and Rabbi Reines was chosen as its President.

In the second conference of “HaMizrachi,” which was assembled in Lida in the month of Adar 5663 [1903] a delegation of students from the large yeshivot in Lithuania appeared, with the demand to open a new yeshiva, which would also allocate space in its program for general studies, and in which the students would be able to openly engage in Zionist work – a thing that was forbidden to them in many yeshivot. After discussion, a decision was accepted in the conference to found the yeshiva, and this function was placed on Rabbi Reines. With his special energy, he approached the realization of the ideal that was his soul's desire for decades, and after the required preparations, the yeshiva in Lida was opened on 1 Iyar 5665 [1905].


C. The Yeshiva

In his book “The Two Lights” (the article “Memory in the Book,” Section B, and the introduction to this article) Rabbi Reines explains the reasons that brought him to recognize the need for a kind of yeshiva. And his simple approach to the matter is interesting. Indeed, as is his way, he finds support for his idea in the sayings of Chazal, and with them proves the righteousness of his opinion and his view, although its starting point is useful and rooted in the actual needs of the new reality.

A) With words that emerge from an aching heart filled with trembling, the rabbi describes the moral decline in our world on the heels of the decrease in Torah learning. However, he is comforted by the fact that, in his opinion, this situation is not a result of the collapse of faith, God forbid, or by a diminishment of love of the Torah among the members of his generation, but rather a result of the “changes in the order of life and the conditions of livelihood,” which do not at all resemble the conditions of life in the previous generations; the commerce, the industry of production, and the handiwork were changed for the sake of change, and they require great knowledge and various preparations.” Since the yeshivot do not fulfill these demands, and do not worry about giving their pupils the necessary training for life in our days, therefore “both the fathers and the sons don't see their futures within the tents of Shem,[11] and they are going to seek it in another place.” I saw therefore, and I came to know, that a yeshiva like this one, which would be mainly built on the Torah and awe of God, and together with this would also give the students knowledge in the measure needed for life, would be able to be a point of salvation for Judaism.”

B) The congregations that were seeking rabbis in our days were presenting new demands to their candidates: besides broad knowledge of Torah, general knowledge was also required of the candidate, in order that he would be able to present himself before ministers and rulers and to be a mouth and a shield for the members of his community. Rabbi Reines also was hoping that this new kind of yeshiva would also solve the question of the double rabbinate, which was customary in the Jewish communities in Russia at that time. The students of the new yeshiva, who would also have a general education, would be approved by the government as official rabbis, and so would get rid of the curse of the “rabbi by appointment,” most of whom were uneducated, distant from the people and inappropriate for their roles. With a change on the situation the end would also come for the unethical means that were customary in the cities and towns at the time of the acceptance of a new rabbi, such as: the purchase of the rabbinic position with money, and unfair methods of propaganda, which caused the degradation of respect for the Torah, and the desecration of the name of Heaven.[12] Rabbi Reines was certain that the students of his yeshiva, who would be educated to high ethical recognition, and the honor of the Torah would be precious and holy to them, would despise these offensive means, when their time came to hold a rabbinic position.

3) The rabbi hopes that various deficiencies in our spiritual and social lives, will come to be repaired by the pupils of the new yeshiva, whether they fulfill their rabbinic roles in congregations of the people of Israel or if they go on to the world of commerce and manufacture, since the latter would also possess

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religious knowledge and would conduct their lives according to the spirit of Israel the old,[13] and they will impart their spirit and with their deeds and their behavior they will also influence life in their surroundings.

These explanations testify to the healthy sense of reality with which Rabbi Reines was endowed, on his direct and simple approach to life, its needs and demands. This plan also distinguished him from most of the great ones of the Torah of his generation, who ignored the demands of the times and believed that with the method of “true judgment would pierce the mountain”[14] they would succeed in driving away the new winds, which had already begun to blow on the Jewish street, and also penetrated into the walls of the yeshivot.

And these were the principles that were laid in the foundation of the yeshiva in Lida:

A) The yeshiva needs to impart to its students knowledge in Gemara, law codes, and Tanakh, Rishonim and Acharonim, and codes as required for a rabbi in Israel. The way of learning would be according to common sense and logic, and would strive for the principle that the halakhah must be in accordance with the tradition; B) The yeshiva would instill in its students suitable knowledge of the Tanakh, in the Hebrew language, its grammar, and its actual usage, the chronicles of Israel in the light of traditional Judaism, the literature of Israel and the necessary bibliographic knowledge; C) The yeshiva would acquire for its students secular knowledge in a lesson in the city school, such as: knowledge of written and spoken Russian language, general and Russian history, geographic knowledge of all five parts of the world, accounting (arithmetic), algebra, and also knowledge of nature to a certain degree; D) The yeshiva would be divided into six divisions, and the time of learning would last six years; The students would pass from one division to the next only by means of examinations; E) Four committees would be appointed by the yeshiva: of rabbi for sacred studies, of scholars and writers for secular studies, for householders for financial matters, and of students for all matters that pertain to the lives of the students; F) They would supervise each and every student, both in matters of learning and matters of conduct, and will educate them to be faithful to God, attached to their nation, observant of mitzvot and guardians of the Torah, with courtesy and manners.

The students would receive material support according to their divisions. The support would increase with each increase in level. The students of the upper levels would receive what they needed for their sustenance. (Study the articles of Rabbi Y.L. HaCohain mentioned above in “Sefer HaMizrachi” p. 152).

The students of the yeshivot from those days will never forget the great impression that Rabbi Reines' “appeal” made in their streets, which brought them the news of the founding of the new yeshiva in Lida. His impassioned words were like reviving dew on the hearts of the yeshiva students. In his words they found a reverberation of their hopes and their most hidden aspirations. And the students of the various yeshivot that transferred to the new yeshiva were not disappointed: they came to know that the Lida Rabbi was, in both his life and his deeds, as was revealed to them in his scrolls and writings that he would publish from chapter to chapter to the public and to the yeshivot; Rabbi Reines, who orally would amaze them even more than Rabbi Reines in writing. They saw before them an elder genius, full of days, who had strong power, whose spirit was a burning fire, his words filled with vitality and worldly strength. The first time in their lives that they heard from the mouth of the aged rabbi words full of feeling and youthful enthusiasm, filled with enormous faith and great trust in the rejuvenation of the people and in our hopes and our national destiny; his words that were seasoned with the sayings and legends of Chazal, and full of sparks of thought and lightning flashes of deep ideas, sparking with fiery embers from his mouth, hundreds of his students were absorbed in their minds and hearts, gripped by the magic, and a flame of burning fire flared up within them, a fire of love for the holy ones of the nation, its values and treasures, its dreams and aspirations.


The Lida Yeshiva (1910) – Rabbi Reines at the Center
(With the Visit of the Donor Gutz, the Father-in-Law of Kalonymus Visotzki of Moscow)

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A short time after its opening, the yeshiva was approved by the governmental education authorities in the Vilna region according to the counsel of the sage Feivel Getz, “the Learned Jew.”[15] Getz, who was a religious Jew, was a pronounced opponent of the Zionist idea, visited the yeshiva, and was so impressed with it that he recommended it to the regional Superintendent of Education, and demanded that it be authorized without delay. The foundation of the yeshiva aroused great reverberation in the Jewish world, and its name became famous. Hundreds of students streamed to it from all the extremities of Russia, and hundreds of requests from students were denied due to lack of space. However, like twenty-five years before, when the yeshiva in Svencionys opened, now too there were found rabbis and simply zealots of Charedi Judaism who tried to sully the name of the yeshiva in Lida and undermine its existence by kosher and non-kosher means. The “emissaries” of the yeshivot and the various “kibbutzim” participated in these activities, and spread all kinds of slander about the yeshiva throughout the people of Israel.

In the first period of its existence, the yeshiva suffered from a lack of appropriate heads of the yeshiva. However after a short time the situation was corrected. Rabbi Reines succeeded in influencing Rabbi Shlomo Poliatchek, “the Ilui from Meitzt,” who accepted upon himself the service of Head of the Yeshiva in the upper divisions of the yeshiva. On the Sabbaths Rabbi Reines himself would give his lessons to the students on halakha and aggadah, in his own way and method. Rabbi Reines' son-in-law, Rabbi Reb Aharon Rabinovitz (Lida's rabbi after his father-in-law's death, perished in the days of the Shoah), stood at his right hand in the spiritual and administrative leadership of the yeshiva, and his son Rabbi Reb Avraham Duber Reines (died recently in the land), and the supervisor Rabbi Reb Eliyahu Dov Berkovski. The heads of the yeshiva elevated the study of Talmud to a relatively high level. Rabbi Reines describes the order of Talmud learning in the yeshiva in this way: “In connection with the learning of Gemara, law codes and Tanakh, the yeshiva tries to set the students at the highest level. A student is accepted in the yeshiva only if he knows how to learn a page of Talmud with Tosafot and commentaries by himself, and in the yeshiva the knowledge of the students begins to be raised. Already in the first division they are learning with them Gemara, law codes and Tanakh in depth, carefully, and with honest and deep opinions. In the next levels they further deepen, and explain all of the approaches that there are in the passage, and there are those who also explain the words of the great ones of the Acharonim with additional matters, and in the even higher levels they learn also according in the way of debate, which is built on true foundations, in connection with the words of the Rishonim, that belong to the passage under discussion, and especially the words of the Rambam. The learning is therefore appropriate to the level of the division. And in the higher divisions, where they learn law codes, in order that they reach the level where they can teach, they learn the Gemara from the beginning, and afterwards the law codes, so that they will know the instruction from its first level.” (“The Two Lights,” the section on Memory in the book, section 2 chapter 1.) In about the year 5671 [1911] there was established next to the yeshiva a “kibbutz” for talented young men, who dedicated all of their time to only Talmud study. The kibbutz was supported by the donor Reb Shlomo Rephael Gutz, and at its head stood Rabbi Aharon Rabinovitz, may his memory be for a blessing.




Rabbis Reines' path was not lined with roses. The yeshiva's main trouble and burden and the worry about its existence were placed on his shoulders. The national situation in Russia in those days was: the Russo-Japanese war, the revolution in the year 1905, and the grievous internal events in the Jewish world: the Kishinev pogroms, the Uganda conflict, the death of Dr. Herzl and the pogroms against the Jews in the wake of the revolution – all these also cast their shadow on the yeshiva, and weighed down the means to sustain it (study in Mr. Moshe Cohen's article about Rabbi Reines in the monthly “Sinai” Elul 5698 [1938]). The opponents of the yeshiva in the meantime continued with their activity to undermine its existence; the broader public did not provide to Rabbi Reines material support, and also not their anticipated and hoped-for moral assistance. However, the deep recognition of the necessity of the institution, and that the eyes of the hundreds of young people who were learning in the yeshivot were lifted to him as if to their angel of salvation; their feeling that the best of the nation were feeling love for his institution, and that the blessing of the entire nation, despite the external indifference, accompanied his endeavor, and above all – the feeling of deep spiritual satisfaction that his activity gave him – all these strengthened Rabbi Reines' soul and encouraged his spirit to continue with his difficult work. In the article mentioned above, at the end of chapter 3, Rabbi Reines describes the happiness and the joy that fill his heart when he enters the yeshiva and sees “the hundreds of students sitting and thinking about God's Torah: this magnificent spectacle will be enough for me to be to be at peace with all of the hardships and worries that I endure.”

It must be admitted that the general studies in the yeshiva – the Russian language, mathematics, nature, and etc., whose language of instruction was Yiddish, and that most of the students indeed learned them with great desire, remained nevertheless in the aspect of “a foreign addition,” which did not merge into one division with the program of learning in the entire institution. The teachers of these subjects in those days were teachers of the well-known Vilna “Institute,” and the main part of their work was in the government school that existed in the city for the children of Israel. These “governmental” teachers did not identify with the institution, its role or its spirit; the method of their learning and their dry and official relationship to the members of the yeshiva were not liked by the students. The yeshiva, its students, their spirit

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and their inner world were foreign to them, as they were foreign to the institution. These teachers did not reveal any aspiration to make their subjects an organic part of the institution. Despite this, relationships of love and a strong emotional bond between the students and the teachers of the Hebrew subjects: Mr. Moshe Cohen and Rabbi Pinchas Shifman (Ben Sira) (the two of them are resting in Eden.) In their devotion to the institution and in their great influence on the students, they became, in one line with the heads of the yeshiva, pillars on which the building of the institution was based. Mr. Shifman, one of the well-known Hebrew teachers in those days, was accepted in the Lida yeshiva in the year 5669 [1909] as a teacher of Tanakh and Hebrew literature, and immediately with his first lesson he acquired the hearts of the students. With his noble and dynamic personality, Mr. Shifman influenced a wide circle of students, instilling in them a fresh breeze and infusing them with some of his spirit and enthusiasm, his energy and his vitality.

In the yeshiva there existed for the needs of the students a library of the new Hebrew literature, and a little of the Russian-Jewish literature. The care of the library and its administration were in the hands of a students' committee. The leadership of the yeshiva tried once to abolish this secular library (Rabbi Reines himself was not involved in this matter). But the students strongly opposed the elimination of the books, and thwarted the attempt. They only agreed to a “compromise,” according to which certain books, which in their content and the form of their writing, were not appropriate for the students of the yeshiva, were removed from the library.

But Rabbi Reines did not find satisfaction in the existing situation. All his days he aspired to develop, to improve, and to perfect that which existed, and also to expand and complete what was missing. The rabbi wanted to turn his yeshiva into a public grade school, both in the aspect of its function and intention, and in the organic-administrative aspect. The yeshiva needed, in his opinion, to educate not only rabbis, but also teachers who were faithful to the tradition, householders who knew the Torah, and officials holding positions in the practical world, who were devoted not only to their craft, but also to their people, its Torah, and its culture. His plan was to open special divisions, parallel to the existing divisions, for teachers,[16] for slaughterers and checkers of kosher meat, merchants, accountants, etc. In these special divisions adult students would be accepted, who would choose for themselves one of the topics mentioned above for their future in life. Also in these divisions the main thing would be the study of Talmud and the rest of the topics of Judaism, but in addition to that the students would receive special training in the topic that they chose.

In his opinion the yeshiva would be completely faithful to its role only if it would provide what was missing in all areas of the life of the Jewish people. He sees with trembling the spiritual decline of the Jews of western Europe; as a result of the boorishness and ignorance that was widespread among them, their lives were devoid of Jewish content, and they were swept away by the waves of assimilation and absorption. A danger of spiritual depletion was expected, in his opinion, also for the Jews of Russia; it is incumbent on us to see to the future, and to take steps against this evil while there was still time. He sees therefore in his vision a yeshiva that would bring forth droves of knowers of Torah, keepers of religion and tradition, lovers of their people, and devoted to its ideals and its hopes; and they would influence the entire nation in all its various layers and strata, will invigorate and strengthen its spirit, and will protect it from the winds of foreign culture.


Pinchas Shifman (Ben Sira)
Moshe Cohen (Kagan)


At various times Baron David Gintzburg visited the yeshiva, accompanied by Mr. David Feinberg, the representative of Y.K.A. in Peterburg, the donor Reb Shlomo Refael Gutz (the father-in-law of K.Z. Visotzki from Moscow), Rabbi Yaakov Maza from Moscow,[17] Rabbi Dr. Moshe Elazar Eizenstat from Peterburg, and many others.[18] Also the Chief Director of the Y.K.A. society in Paris, Mr. Meyerson, came to visit the yeshiva. With the support of all these the material situation of the yeshiva improved. Y.K.A. budgeted one-time support for it of 10,000 rubles, and the Visotzki family established monthly support in the amount of 160 rubles. (The Y.K.A. Council budgeted at that also for the benefit of the rest of the yeshivot, so that they would not, God forbid, suspect it of an inclination to Zionism). Petitions by Rabbi Reines to “All Israel are Friends” in Paris and to “Ezra[19] in Germany remained without results.

With the outbreak of the First World War the stream of new students stopped; the inductions and the fear of them took the adult students out of the yeshiva. In the second year of the war, when the Germans neared Lida, flight began from the city, and also the yeshiva

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was forced to prepare for the road of its wanderings. However, more than the hardships of the war caused the decline in the fund of the yeshiva; the departure of Rabbi Reines, who fell sick with a severe illness at the beginning of the war and died on 10 Elul 5675 [1915], on the eve of the German invasion of Lida. The yeshiva went out into exile, orphaned of its founder, the spirit of its life, and the bearer of its suffering. After various wanderings the yeshiva set its place in the city of Yelisavetgrad. Its friends and acquaintances did not leave it, even in these days of trouble, and supported it with a generous hand. The best of its Roshei Metivta and its teachers also went with it and continued with their work. However the yeshiva that was uprooted from the place of its planting and the source of its life, from the area of Jewish settlement, could no longer return to its first strength. New students were not added, and of those that went with it into exile, many were drafted into the army, and many of them scattered due to the difficult living conditions. Some of the teachers of the yeshiva were also forced to leave it. With the outbreak of the war of the “Whites”[20] in southern Russia after the end of the war, and in its wake the terrible riots against the Jews, came the end of the yeshiva. The remnants of the students scattered to the winds, and the teachers - some of them were murdered by the rioters, and some of them wandered across the sea.

The Lida Yeshiva was like a soft and supple seedling, which had not yet acquired its complete form or fixed face. Everything in it was still in a condition of crystallization and formation, and it did not have enough in its hand to expand its scope and reach the climax of its development, in keeping with the vision of its great founder. However, in the few years of its existence it also filled an important role in the life of the nation, and its value was great in its time and also for our generation. Its students, who today in the lands of the exile and in our land fill the roles of rabbis, writers, teachers, and members of kibbutzim, who are participating in the building of the land, merchants, and people of action, are living witnesses to the righteousness of the ideas of their great rabbi, and prove that great possibilities were embodied in this yeshiva, and that the extensive aspirations of Rabbi Reines and the many hopes that he planted in it for the future, were not only dreams. Great was its importance also as an experiment in a new type of yeshiva, which also made room in its plans for general studies. With this it paved the way, and served as an example for other yeshivot that were founded afterwards, and that still exist in our day. And if there are today among us wise students, who with their character unify the glory of the ancient ones who are in the tradition of Israel, with the beauty and the beneficial in human culture, then after all, a large part of this achievement came from the strength and the power of the Lida Yeshiva.


  1. Midrash is a form of biblical interpretation prominent in Talmudic literature. The term also refers to a separate body of commentaries on Tanakh that use this interpretative mode. Return
  2. Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides, was a Sephardic Jewish philosopher who was one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages. He was born in 1138, in Córdoba, Spain. Return
  3. Menachem ben Solomon Meiri (1249 – 1306) was a famous Catalan rabbi, Talmudist and Maimonidean. Return
  4. Simeon ben Tzemach Duran, also Tzemach Duran (1361–1444), known as Rashbatz or Tashbatz, was a rabbinical authority, student of philosophy, astronomy, mathematics, and medicine. Return
  5. Responsa is a body of literature that are the answers given by authorities in Jewish law to questions put to them. Return
  6. “Of One Mind.” Written by Rabbi Avraham son of David. This title comes from Job 36:4. Return
  7. The thirteen hermeneutical rules of Rabbi Ishmael, who lived in the first half of the 2nd century CE, govern the legal interpretation of the Torah. These principles and their application are responsible for much of the halakhic Midrash in Rabbinic texts. Return
  8. There are basically two kinds of midrash: midrash halakha, which elucidates principles of law, and midrash Aggadah, which comes to tell a story, often illustrating a lesson or moral. Return
  9. Original footnote 1: The anthology “Dorot” [Generations], one of Rabbi Reines' books, which contained his main ideas and opinions in the theory of Zionism, was edited by his most excellent student, Rabbi Z.A. Rabiner and published in “Sefer HaMizrachi,” Jerusalem, 5706 [1946], the book Talelei Orot, a comprehensive and exhaustive anthology, edited by Rabbi Z.A. Rabiner, which appeared recently as a treasure of thoughts and contemplations from Rabi Reines' teaching. On Rabbi Reines' spiritual character, the story of his life, and his Zionist and religious activism, see in the detailed articles of Rabbi Y.L. HaCohain Fishman, and Mr. Moshe Cohen, may his memory be for a blessing, in Sefer HaMizrachi, mentioned above. Return
  10. “Lovers of Zion” refers to a variety of organizations which were founded in 1881 in response to the anti-Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire and which were officially constituted as a group at a conference led by Leon Pinsker in 1884. Return
  11. Genesis 9:27 “May God enlarge Yaphet, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem…” Return
  12. That is, God's name. Return
  13. “Israel the Old” is a reference to the Patriarch Isaac, found in Genesis Rabbah 74. Return
  14. Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 6b. Return
  15. Mayer Feivel Getz was Rapporteur on Jewish affairs to the Ministry of Education in the Czarist Empire. Born near Kovno, in 1853, he was educated at the Universities of Uriev and Petrograd. In 1894 he was appointed to the Ministry of Education. In 1909 he taught Hebrew and Jewish History in the Vilna Seminary. He was a prolific writer in German, Hebrew and Russian. He published several books and was one of Tolstoy's Hebrew teachers. Return
  16. Original footnote 2: By the way, the rabbi explains in the article mentioned above how important the matter was from a pedagogic and educational perspective, that the same teacher would teach the Hebrew courses and the general courses together. Return
  17. 1859–1924, Zionist leader and Hebrew writer. Return
  18. Original footnote 3: Baron Gintzburg visited Hebrew lessons, tested the students only on knowledge of grammar, and argued with them over a certain noun, if it was to be defined as the name of the material or the name of the kibbutz. Gutz was especially interested in Tanakh lessons. Rabbi Maza, a man of pleasant conversation, after he was present at the lessons of the Meitzitai in a high-level grade, and a lesson of Reb Yoel David in a class in the lower grades, assessed the two heads of the yeshiva in approximately this way: “The Meitzitai swims in the depths of the sea of the Talmud, and only a great scholar, to whom the paths of talmudic debate are clear, is able to understand his sharp opinions, while the words of Reb Yoel David are simple and clear, and their taste is as sweet as honey. Return
  19. Aid. Return
  20. The Russian monarchy was overthrown by the 1917 February Revolution, after which came the Bolshevik-led October Revolution. The country descended into civil war, with the two largest combatants being the Red Army, fighting for the Bolshevik form of socialism led by Vladimir Lenin, and the loosely allied forces known as the White Army. Return

One of the Leaders of the Nation

By Dr. H. L. Gordon

Translated by Rabbi Molly Karp


Dr. Hirsh Leib Gordon, may his memory be for a blessing (1896-1969)

The author, native of Vilna, a student at the Lida Yeshiva in the years 1909-1910, learned also in Slobodka, Volozhin, and Odessa. In 1914 in the land of Israel, he was a worker in an orchard. 1915, he was in Trumpeldor's Mule Drivers Battalion.[1] With its dispersal – in Italy – a teacher of Talmud in the Beit HaMidrash for Rabbis in Florence, Italy, and afterwards – to the United States. In 1918 he was again in the land of Israel in the American Hebrew Battalion. At the conclusion of the war, in the United States, he had a rich scientific career, four Master's degrees (in international law, education, psychology, and art history), and six doctoral degrees (archaeology, semitic languages, Egyptology, Hebrew literature, natural sciences, medicine). In the Second World War, he was a Major in the United States' army, afterwards a fleet commander. A professor of psychiatry. Published many books and thousands of articles in English, Italian, Hebrew and Yiddish. He was one of the founders of the Hebrew weekly “HaDoar[2] in New York, in which he published chapters of memories full of admiration for his teachers and rabbis, Rabbi Reines, the Ilui from Meitzt, and Pinchas Shifman, to whose memory and teachings he remained faithful until the end of his days.

Rabbi Reines' name was carried by all, many of whom were his opposition. The Chasidim “testified” about him that he was clean-shaven and wore a short coat in the way of the “Deitshen.”[3] Even though his beard came down to its full length, and his long caftan reached the ground, he had something of a look of patriarchalism. The assimilated opposed him because of his passionate aspiration for the return to Zion, and the zealots dismissed him because he refused to wait and “sit and do nothing” for the Messiah, who was delaying in coming.

His lack of patience in waiting for the “paper bridge”[4] from the exile to Zion was manifested in the founding of the “Mizrachi” in the year 5662 (1902). This was a bold act, revolutionary, whose needs have not yet been fully appreciated, even though it created a great movement in the nation, and its influence still continues. No less daring was the matter of the founding of the yeshivaTorah V'Da'at[5] in Lida, which combined the study of Talmud, the Hebrew language and its new literature, and placed an iron seal[6] of permission on the learning of the secular sciences in the national language. This deed of his also caused a number of disputes, not all of which were for the sake of heaven.[7] But there were also world geniuses, such as Reb Shmuel Mohilever, and Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook,[8] who supported him. Chibbat Tzion and the settlement in the land of Israel were also trained by two pillars of Israel, Reb Yitzchak Elchanan from Kovno and Reb Hirsh Lev, the Av Beit Din and Rosh Metivta of Volozhin, but they did not agree with National Zionism. In any case, he did not supervise prohibitions, whose foundations in ghetto Judaism, which distorted the Torah of the Rishonim, and also did not flinch from the slanders and blasphemies that were his fate. Despite the devotion to and the pursuit of religious Zionism, there were also gathered to his banner at the beginning of the movement several God-fearing students and “householders” who admired him and accepted for themselves his new way. These were the first “Mizrachim,” and the idea quickly found a path to the heart of the nation, and the movement continued to spread, until it became a great force in the nation and in the settlement.

I heard from a few of the great ones of Israel that in Rabbi Reines' generation, if a person came to mention the names of the three geonim in halakhah and aggadah, he could not ignore the Gaon from Lida. But nevertheless,

[Page 112]

the talmudic group distracted him, and when an appeal was publicized to the Jewish public, on which were the signatures of the geonim from Volozhin, Vilna, Brisk, Telz, Ponevich, Mir and Lodz, Rabbi Reines' place among the signatures was missing. It's not hard to find the reason for it; the offense of the rabbi from Lida was “too great to bear.”[9] He could not be at peace with “thoughts that did not have hearts in them,” and when he prayed for the return to Zion, he meant it with complete simplicity, at a time when others were content with unrealistic flowery phrases. His heart was broad enough to absorb all of the nation's values, literally, and he devoted his soul to fulfill them, and did not shrink from the few that were possible to reconcile with the humiliation of the exile. In keeping with the advice of the Rambam, he did not look behind but only ahead, and was distinguished from the rest of the geonim of Israel of his time, in that he did not believe that in compositions about “unconscious despondency” it was possible to establish a nation, which bowed under the suffering of the exile, and most of whose children were approaching “unconscious despondency.” The voices of the prophets reverberated in his heart, and his ears listened to the weeping of the Shekhina,[10] who accompanied her children to the exile.

* * *

He acted with a supreme power of inspiration, and as the elect one of the generation, he went out to awaken the people in a period of fateful crisis. Apparently from his books, there was in this role of his a kind of prophetic mission aroused in him from above. First was, that he toiled to unite the religious and national forces that were in the nation that surrounded the flag of national Zionism. “The House of Israel is not like all the nations”[11] he would say, for them religion and the state are two different authorities, while for us religion and nationalism are connected to and attached to each other by their nature. The political and religious designations were given to us bound together. He kept faith with the ancient distinction between the exile and the land of Israel. “Israel that is outside of the land are considered to engage in idol worship in purity, i.e., unwittingly,” (Babylonian Talmud Avodah Zarah 8a) but “all who dwell in the land of Israel is considered as one who has a God” (Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 110b:23). It is appropriate to point out that in eleven of his books that were published in his lifetime, the author incorporated the concept “light” in their titles. He always preached for redemption and light, in the period of subjugation and doom. In his homiletical books he was the first of his time to discuss the questions of the hour and preached for the resurrection of the nation in the land of its ancestors.

* * *

We, students of the yeshiva, admired him not only as a genius of halakhah, but also because he was the first to Zion. Most of the great ones of Israel in that generation did not dare to found a special party for national-religious Zionism. Some of them felt an urgency about the aspirations of the lovers of Zion to establish settlements in Israel, but, as was said above, they opposed national Zionism, which aspired to establish a Jewish state for the people of Israel.

And here came Rabbi Reines, and added to Herzl's idea, and completed his plan with new wording: “the land of Israel for the people of Israel according to the Torah of Israel” (1902).

The Geonim Reb Shlomo HaCohain (Vilna), Reb Shmuel Mohilever from Bialystok, and Reb Tzvi Hirsh Kalisher preceded him in support for the idea of the state. They foresaw the outcome, and exhorted about deeds, so that they would take preventative steps against the evil that faced the nation. Reb Nachum Grinhoiz, Reb Yehuda Leib Don-Yechieh, Reb Pinchas Rozovsky, and Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Rabinovitz, fought alongside Rabbi Reines for the realization of the idea of the “Mizrachi.” Two great Torah writers also joined them, Reb Ze'ev Yebetz and Avraham Yaakov Slutzky, (the one who suggested the name “HaMizrachi” for the movement). They were among the pioneers of the religious Zionism. But Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov stood at the head of the campaign.

However, religious Zionism alone was not enough to feed the great soul of Rabbi Reines. And even though he did not put off the time of its realization until the days of the Messiah, he understood that many days would still pass until he would reach victory, even if he succeeded. He saw the international obstacles, Turkey's refusal, and the indifference of the powers, who had in them the ability to influence it, if they would only increase their pressure. And in the main he saw the obstacles within the Jewish nation itself, which was divided among itself, and the creative passion for deeds was nothing but the portion of a minority, which was swept up in the Zionist movement, mainly in the ranks of the educated and the youth.

Therefore, he went out to educate the youth of the generation and established the yeshiva, which was entirely different from the other yeshivot of that generation. He brought order into religious education, the Gemara and the Poskim were learned in a fixed order, and without wasting time on debate. With this he returned the study of Tanakh to religious education, which the rest of the yeshivot did not deal with at all. He even brought into the yeshiva the study of the Hebrew language, its grammar and its modern secular literature. In addition to this, Rabbi Reines aspired to abolish the duality in the community rabbinates, which had a rabbi for permission and prohibition, and alongside him a rabbi appointed by the government, who knew the Russian language and was appointed over the registration of the Jewish residents. The Lida yeshiva also diligently imparted to the students knowledge of the Russian language in secular studies at the elementary level.

* * *

In the period of my studies in Lida Rabbi Reines was already 71 years old, and he no longer gave the daily lesson, as had been his custom previously. Yet he was engaged with the composing of his books in halakhah and with preaching for Zion, and in the extensive exchange of letters with learners and activists in all the ends of the earth. Nevertheless, he did not forget the hundreds of his students in the yeshiva, and he would preach before them at least once a week, on Shabbat night after the prayers and the meal. This was a great festival night for us, the students. The Gaon was never absent from this Shabbat night assembly, in which he spoke before the students. On the cold and gloomy winter nights, when the streets of the city were covered with deep snows and slippery patches of ice, the Gaon would tread on the long curved path accompanied by a young student (in the winter of 5670 [1910], I had the privilege of being his escort). He wore a big fur, and a broad hair bonnet for his head. In the nights of the sparkling moon and stars he appeared, in this dress and with his long white beard, like a legendary figure. I would hold his thick sleeve with fear, lest his feet stumble on the slippery path. We stepped carefully and cautiously within the surrounding silence, which was disturbed only by the crunching sound of the snow beneath our feet. I did not dare to utter a sound. The hour was strained, dramatic, and when we with difficulty reached our destination, we were usually among the first ten, especially on tempestuous stormy nights, since the Gaon was punctual and quick all his days.

The structure of his lessons was of a unique kind. He would choose some topic in halakhah, and preach on it for a full year, when he would include every one of the weekly [Torah] portions in its content. In my period his topic was the halakhot of testimony. In the year 5711 [1951] his book “Testimony in Yaakov”[12] appeared, which included a few questions-and-answers on this matter (rebuttal, refutation, interrogation of witnesses and their questioning, swearing an oath, etc.). The first nine sections of the book appeared in 1872. I remember his words in one of those lessons.

[Page 113]

After the debate in halakhah came a teaching in aggadah, which was also connected to the topic of the halakhot of testimony. And the intention of the entire teaching – the love of Zion, the return to Zion, and the building of Zion. When he would come to this chapter, his excitement would reach its peak. The rabbi's voice would go up. He showed that Zion and Jerusalem are at the center of the religion and the prayers. In the “Standing” prayer[13] we read that God brings the redeemer, blows a great shofar for our liberation, builds Jerusalem, and establishes a national Hebrew life – and will establish the throne of David within it, but the redemption of Zion will not come only by way of a miracle, “Zion will be redeemed by justice,”[14] and only on Mt. Zion and in Jerusalem “there will be a remnant,”[15] even though the return to Zion will come “as a dream solution,”[16] the dream of redemption.

When he reached this point he would burst out in weeping over the exile of the Shekhina, and the troubles of the nation. He would sob ceaselessly, like a baby, and our weeping would join his wailing. I had already heard before this the wailing of the practitioners of Mussar[17] in Slobodka. The weeping in the month of Elul was especially great and bitter, but it was the weeping of the individual, the request for forgiveness for the sins of the individual who wept and regretted his own deeds, while the weeping of Rabbi Reines and the congregation of his students was for the exile of the nation, the exile of the Shekhina, and pleading for the redemption of the land. This was longing and higher aspiration.

* * *

The Rosh Yeshiva stood in close connection with the representatives of the hundreds of organizations and multitudes of Jews all over the world, but in his intimate life he was a tent sitter, locked in his office. On Monday and Thursday[18] there was a special “minyan[19] in his house, which I never skipped. When we would come to his house on Kamionka Street at dawn, we would find the rabbi already sitting in his armchair, next to the learning podium, and on it an open tractate of Talmud, and on the nearby table a few books open for study. At the hour of the Torah reading, he would enter the hall of the “minyan” in order to go up to the Torah. After the prayers I would secretly enter his book-room and I would look especially at the manuscripts. The pages began with straight lines, but as all of the lines went down, they became increasingly crooked, and on the last line there was no room except for a few words. In every place that the lines on the page stopped being straight, it was a sign that the writer was tired, and the writing was difficult for him. Especially if the writer suffered from inflammation in his finger joints, he would become tired from the effort of passing the quill across the page. And the Gaon worked all the days of his life with incurable exhaustion, with the total sapping of energy.

In the nights, in the very late hours, I used to love to pass by the rabbi's house and to look from outside, to see what was going on inside his house. I used to see him sitting by himself in his room weeping, and sighing over the exile of the nation and the exile of the Shekhina. He was a type of true tzaddik,[20] openly and secretly righteous. In my eyes it seemed that in the pillars of smoke[21] that he sent up from his long pipe he was dreaming the dreams of the redemption. I was reminded that in the persecution and harshness that our prophets Elijah, Jeremiah and their friends suffered from the cohanim and the false prophets who pretended to stand at the head of the people, and then I stopped being astonished at the severe opposition that was the lot of the Gaon.


  1. Yosef Trumpeldor (1880 – 1920) was an early Zionist activist who helped to organize the Zion Mule Corps and bring Jewish immigrants to the land of Israel. Trumpeldor died defending the settlement of Tel Hai in 1920 and subsequently became a Zionist national hero. Return
  2. “The Post.” Return
  3. Germans. Return
  4. “ … When the Messiah finally comes, he will lead the Jewish people back to our ancestral land, Eretz Yisrael… In this legend it declares that the people would cross the ocean on miraculously reinforced bridges made of paper – papirener brik. The wicked, attempting to cross on iron bridges, would be thrown into the sea… The poem that I cite… is called Tell Me by Moshe Leib Halpern, adapted from the Yiddish by Mary Azrael.” From a Yom Kippur sermon given by Rabbi Gary Creditor. Return
  5. “Torah and Knowledge.” Return
  6. Babylonian Talmud Berakhot 6a:6, gushpanka. Return
  7. Pirke Avot 5:17 “In an argument for the sake of Heaven, the desired end is to attain the truth.” Return
  8. Rabbi Kook (1865 – 1935), was an Orthodox rabbi, and the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine. He was one of the fathers of religious Zionism and the founder of the Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva. Return
  9. Genesis 4:14, said by Cain after God punished him for killing Abel. Return
  10. The feminine presence of God that dwells among the Jewish people on earth, first mentioned in the early Aramaic translations of the Tanakh, and subsequently in the Talmud, Midrash, and later Jewish literature. Return
  11. 1 Samuel 8:5. Return
  12. Psalm 78:5. Return
  13. The Shemoneh Esreh, the eighteen benedictions. Return
  14. Isaiah 1:27. Return
  15. Obadiah 1:17. Return
  16. Genesis 40:5. Return
  17. Mussar is a Jewish spiritual practice that gives concrete instructions on how to live a meaningful and ethical life. Mussar is virtue-based ethics, based on the idea that by cultivating inner virtues, we improve ourselves. Slobodka was one of three Lithuanian centers of this movement. Return
  18. These are the weekdays when the Torah is read aloud during worship. Return
  19. In this context, a quorum of ten men for prayer. Return
  20. A righteous person. Return
  21. From the Passover Haggadah “And when he says, “blood and fire and pillars of smoke” and the ten plagues… he should pour out a little wine from his cup.” Return


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