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The Rabbis of Nesvizh, Famous People, and Nesvizh Natives

Prepared by: Moshe Tzinovitz

Translated by Rabbi Molly Karp

 

The Rabbi the Gaon[1] Reb Yehoshua Rabinovitz

Av Bet Din[2] of Nesvizh in 5627–5647 [corresponds to 1867–1887]. Reb Yehoshua was born in the year 5579 [1819] in the village of Shat, Kovno region, to his father the Gaon Reb Eliyahu, who was Rabbi of the village. Reb Eliyahu was considered one of the geniuses of Lithuania. Reb Eliyahu received his fundamental Talmudic education from his father the Gaon in Slobodka (next to Kovno), his father's third rabbinic placement. He founded there a great yeshiva, and many greats of the Torah and famous rabbis were counted among his students in this yeshiva. Reb Yehoshua's friend during this period in Slobodka was the Rabbi the Gaon Reb Gershon Tanchum Pozniak from Mir.

Reb Yehoshua was also the spiritual heir of his father, who was exalted in the way of his learning, his qualities, and his conduct in communal matters. His father was also an original instructor, expert and sharp in all Talmudic literature, distancing himself from all the long–winded debate, and his innovations distinguished themselves in their clarity and great concision. Like the Gaon Reb Eliyahu of Vilna, he too commanded the study of Tanakh[3] with the interpretation of Rashi. His son Reb Yehoshua likewise held to his method and his approach to learning, mentioned above, and he remained faithful to it for all the days of his life.

Reb Yehoshua married a woman from among the daughters of Kletsk, from one of the respected families of distinguished lineage in this village. He continued to study instruction and practical halakha with the aged Av Beit Din Reb Meir Eisenstadtin the nearby Nesvizh, and was additionally supported by his greatness in the Torah, both as an expert in instruction and as a master of rational and intellectual legal decisions as one of the veteran rabbis in the streets of Lithuania. In the meantime, the position of the Rabbi Av Beit Din of Kletsk (in the year 5617 [1857]) became open, and he was the Rabbi Av Beit Din there for twenty years, during which time he acquired his fame as Rabbi–Gaon and an expert judge in [the people of] Israel. In that same time the book “Tree of Life” (two parts) appeared, by his childhood friend the Gaon Reb Gershon Tanchum, mentioned above.

Reb Yehoshua wrote to the author the Gaon a number of critiques of his erudite book. When the third section of this book appeared in print (in the year 5625 [1865]), Reb Gershon Tanchum replied to his friend Reb Yehoshua's critiques. These critiques, in grand scholarly dimensions, aroused great attention in rabbinic circles and their students, and this tipped the scales in his position as contender to be appointed Av Beit Din in Nesvizh, after the great Gaon in Nesvizh Reb Reuven HaLevi Levin moved from there to accept the rabbinate of Amtsislav. Reb Yehoshua, who was called by all during that time Reb Yehoshualah the Nesvizhi, served successfully as the Rabbi Av Beit Din in this important city for about twenty years, and went honorably to his death in the year 5647 [1887]. We read about the power of Reb Yehoshualah's greatness in Torah, and his many deeds in the rabbinic field, in the following words of appreciation in the well–known “The Congregation Israel” (of Shaul Pinchas Rabinovitz) in the section “Field of Weepers:” For Eternal Memory of This Great Man the Famous Rabbi the Gaon Our Teacher the Rabbi Reb Yehoshua Rabinovitz Av Bet Din in the City of Nesvizh (Minsk District). This Rabbi Reb Yehoshua was one of the excellent ones of distinguished characteristics and in the attributes of his pure soul, his Torah and his wisdom.

He was a man whose soul was present in him, and who could understand the soul of each and every person. On the strength of his wisdom he was appointed Rabbi while he was still young in age, and he led the communities of Kletsk and Nesvizh with honor, and he performed holy work in his twenty years in each of them. In all of these forty years, he did not stop expounding, and his nights became as days for God's Torah and his service for it. He became expert in both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, and the books of Kabbalah [mysticism], and all four orders of the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] were known to him almost by heart. He did not accept his rabbinic post as a crown with which to make himself great, or as a spade to dig with,[4] but rather that they entreated him much, and took him on the path of honor, and loaded on him this sacred work leading sheep from his flock. Afterwards, they recognized him as having a faithful spirit, wise in all his ways and gentle to all creatures. Even Christians had complete faith in him, for all his decisions were righteous and he did not render an unjust verdict,[5] and he did not distinguish between members of his own faith and members of another faith, and therefore it never happened all the days of his sitting on the seat of his instruction that when petitions on law and cases between Jews and Christians would be delivered to the courts, and they would always transmit their disputes and their decisions into his hand, that they would leave him feeling dissatisfied, a sight that was not widespread in those days.

The famous Hebrew poet Yehudah Leib Gordon wrote the wording on the gravestone of Reb Yehudah Leib “The Hidden Heart,” in the Nesvizh cemetery, and this is its text:

He will come here and he will rest in peace in his resting place
Walking properly and speaking truth in his heart,
Dwellers of the height will applaud to greet you
The time of your day has come, our Father, to return to your ancestors,
In the heavens gladness and on earth weeping and moaning
Alas our Master the Genius of his people the Teacher of Righteousness!
You were a judge in Israel for forty years
You made justice both for your own people and for foreigners
Since you were known as an honest true judge
They believed in you and you sanctified the name of Heaven,
And now that God has taken you, your people will weep and moan
My Teacher has been exiled to me, who will bring me his recompense?
(“The Harvest” of Nachum Sokolow, 5649 [1889]).

Eulogies for the Rabbi the Gaon Reb Yehoshualah Rabinovitz are brought in the homiletical books, below: “The Nut Garden” of Rabbi Eliezer Zalman Grayevsky from Kletsk, who commemorates the late Rabbi as a great man among giants. He did not leave sons to take his place, but rather daughters…and his sons–in–law are famous, some as great masters, and some in learning.

“The Shore of the Sea,” Volume III (Vilna 5649 [1889]) of the Rabbi the Gaon Mr. Yechiel Michel Wolfson, Av Beit Din of Yanishok, and for which he was named,[6] and the Gaon Reb Yehoshua, son of the Pious Gaon Reb Eliyahu from Kalish. Likewise he was singled out for praise and adoration and glory in one of the books of the religious rabbi Reb Moshe Shlomo Zalman Zaturensky, a Nesvizh native residing in Kletsk.

Reb Yehoshualah, as an example of the previous Rabbis who were Av Beit Din in Nesvizh, would set his fixed placed for Torah and prayer in the (old) Great House of Study that was in the city, except for one day on Rosh Hashanah, and Kol Nidre which is on Yom Kippur, since his place was in the great “Cold” synagogue (it did not have any heat at all, and was used only for prayer). A local Nesvizh writer tells us, about the importance of the old House of Study in Nesvizh,

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from the pages of “Hamelitz” (5650/1889, #263) the following things:

“The Great Study House of Nesvizh was also called “The Old Study House,” since it was quite ancient, and was the first and foremost of all the Study Houses in Nesvizh, since from the day of its founding, prayer and study did not cease in it. For in it sat before God, day and night, men who dedicated all of their days to Torah and the mission of worshipping God. This Study House was also taller in height than the synagogue, in which would also be heard the sound of Torah and prayer.”

It can be noted that before the great fires, the Study House was a great Torah library, in which even famous rabbis of the area were assisted in their rulings, or the composition of their books on Torah.

In the house of Reb Yehoshua, in his old age, the Rabbi Gaon Yechiel Michel Tucazinsky was raised – the future leader of heads of yeshivas of Talmud Torah and Yeshivat Etz Chaim in Jerusalem.

 

Rabbi Aharon Burgansky

Born in Chernobyl (Kiev District) on the 15th of Shvat, 5645 [1885], to his father Rabbi Chanina, Ritual Slaughterer and Inspector of the village. He learned Torah with his father, together with the sons of the Admor[7] of the House of Twersky, which was in this famous Chasidic village. At Bar Mitzvah age he travelled to Cherkassy to learn in the local yeshiva and from there transferred to Slobodka, to the Yeshiva “Beit Yitzchak.” He learned there with the Head of the Rabbinical College, the famous Rabbi Chaim Rabinovitz (known by the name Rechaim), and was largely influenced by his rational–inquiry method of learning, and he would frequently mention him for his reverence and loftiness. There also he was found frequently in the shadow of Rabbi Baruch Dov Leibovitz, who filled the place of the Rechaim, mentioned above, as the Head of the Rabbinical College, first in the famous yeshiva mentioned above, after he moved to be the Head of the Rabbinical College at the famous Yeshiva of Telz. From Slobodka Reb Aharon moved to Novohorodok and spent much time with Reb Yechiel Michel Epshtein, the Av Beit Din of the town, author of the “Aruch Hashulchan” [digest] on sections of the Shulchan Aruch, was ordained by him for instruction and became his close associate and one of the regular fixtures at his home, and assisted this old Rabbi Gaon with legal decisions, the writing of “Responsa” [written decisions and rulings] to rabbis who turned to him from near and far in matters of serious and complicated instruction.

Reb Aharon Burgansky took for a wife the daughter of Reb Tzvi Izraelit, one of the honored teachers of Nesvizh, and with his arrival at this important village, he awakened the attention and respect of all of the groups of the city. A number of important rabbinic positions were offered to him at that time, since he was dependent on his father–in–law, but he preferred to remain in proximity to his father–in–law's house, and to accept the rabbinate in Kazimir, a suburb of Nesvizh. Only after the First World War did he move to become the rabbi of the neighboring village Snov and worked there in the role of religious leader, until the middle of the Holocaust. He was tragically killed with the members of his congregation on the 30th of [the month of] Menachem Av 5702 [1942].

Aharon Burgansky was accepted by all parts of the community as significantly learned and a pleasant preacher. He dealt with the needs of the community with dedication and uniqueness that was outstanding in the days of the emergency, when his village passed from the hands of the Russians to the domain of the Poles and Jews were put into danger. At that time, he represented the community to the occupying authorities, and worked in the distribution of aid to those affected, and in the freeing of agunot [abandoned wives] from their husbands who were killed during the years of the world war. Rabbi Burgansky was a lover of Zion and a committed friend to the Mizrachi [Religious Zionist] movement. In his sermons he advocated making aliyah to the land of Israel, and he himself aspired to go up to the land. To the best of his ability he supported the prosperity of the Chalutz Mizrachi [Zionist Pioneer] in Poland, worried about its material and spiritual advancement, and awoke to action for the national funds, and from his modest salary he donated regularly to the Jewish National Fund and Keren Hayesod [United Israel Appeal]. Because of his righteousness and honesty he was accepted by the members of Agudah[8] in the yeshiva of nearby Kletsk.

 

Rabbi Yerachmiel Yitzchak Tzvi Borgman

Rabbi Av Beit Din of Nesvizh (In the years 5688–5692 [1928–1932]).

He was educated in his youth in the house of the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik in the city of his birth, Brisk of Lithuania; he was born there in the year 5641 [1881]. He was trained in the method of learning of the famous Gaon mentioned above, who invented the “Way of Understanding” in the famous Lithuanian yeshiva. For some time afterward he learned in the yeshiva of Slobodka, and became well–known as one of the best of the learned. He took as a wife the daughter of the Rabbi Gaon Reb Yitzchak Lipman Sharshefsky, the Rabbi of Nesvizh.

He would sometimes come to the neighboring town, Mir, and argue words of Torah with the Gaon Reb Eliyahu Baruch the Av Beit Din and Head of the Yeshiva of that town, and with the best of the young men in that yeshiva, a few of whom would later become famous men of Torah. After the death of his father–in–law, the rabbi mentioned above (in the year 5668 [1908]), he was appointed to fill his position in the rabbinate of Nesvizh, when he was only 25 years old. Rabbi Borgman was a Zionist, committed and faithful to this movement all the days of his life, even though he was reproached for it by his Teacher and Master the Gaon Rechaim the Levi. He would make demands on the community for the good of Zionism and the “Mizrachi,” acted and moved other rabbis to act for the good of the national funds, even if around him the two famous Geonim actively stood in opposition to the “Mizrachi:” Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kamai, Av Bet Din and Head of the Rabbinical College of Mir, and Rabbi Aharon Kotler, Head of the Rabbinical College and Head of the Yeshivas of Kletsk. He publicly held his resolutely positive opinion on national Zionism, and became a good example of that to the groups of rabbis in the surrounding area. Rabbi Borgman participated in rabbinical Torah groups, among them in the monthly journal “Gates of Zion” that appeared in Jerusalem, edited by Reb Shlomo Bleizer and Reb Yitzchak Zaslansky, and likewise in the religious–scientific anthology “The New House of Study,” whose editor was the well–known scribe and Hebrew linguist Reb Avraham Mordechai Piyurka in Grayavah.

Rabbi Borgman died on the 14th of Kislev 5692 [1931], at the age of only 51 years. They eulogized him in the surrounding villages, and also special knowledge of the event was brought in the Jewish newspapers in Poland of the time, in “Gates of Zion” and in the Hebrew and Yiddish periodicals in America.

Rabbi Borgman bestowed his approach in his lifetime to Rabbi Reb Isaac Rabinovitz. He was one of the elite of the yeshiva at Kletsk, and filled his place as Rabbi of Nesvizh. Rabbi Yaakov Rabinovitz served as Av Beit Din of the Nesvizh congregation for only a short time. He was murdered in the Shoah with the members of his community on the 9th of Cheshvan 5702 [1941].

 

The Rabbi Gaon Yitzchak Eliezer Lipman Sharshefsky – Av Beit Din Nesvizh (5649–5668 [1888–1907])

The Rabbi Gaon mentioned above was known by the name Lippele Nesvizher, from the name of the place of his last rabbinate. He was born in Vilna in about 5595 [1834], to a rabbinic family of distinguished lineage, of the descendants of the Gaon Rabbi Shmuel, the last Av Beit Din in Vilna. He learned in yeshivas in Vilna, and had the privilege of hearing Torah there from the mouths of the Geonim Rabbi Yisrael Salanter and Rabbi Mordechai Meltzer (afterwards Av Beit Din of Kalvaria and Lida, and there he went to his honored resting place).

In the years 5624–5629 [1863–1868] the Rabbi in the great Soloveitchik, 5629–5649 1868–1888] Rabbi in Zasliai, Vilna district, after its Av Beit Din the Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Rabinovitz, who was known by the name “The Genius of Kreva” (the village of his birth), moved to become Rabbi – Av Beit Din in Slobodka – Kovno. In Nesvizh, Reb Lippele was Rabbi Av Beit Din nineteen years, and here he went to his honored resting place in 5669 [1908].

Shlomo Damesek, who was able to meet him in his childhood face to face, informs us about the following things about Av Beit Din Sharshefsky:

“The old Rabbi Eliezer Lipman Sharshefsky was the established claim holder of the Neilah prayer [concluding service on Yom Kippur], and his voice was fine and pleasant. On Simchat Torah he showed his cantillation ability, for his cantillations were known and sung by all, and even the babies on their coming and going to the cheder would sing them.”

About the death of Rabbi Sharshefsky, the writer mentioned above informs us:

“The Rabbi of Kapluya, who was at that time 55 years old, eulogized him. Actually, because of the strength of his words – he was a wonderful preacher – a mouth producing pearls, his eulogy then made such an impression that it rattled and shook the hearts of young and old alike, and all the townspeople, men, women

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and children cried out with bitter and terrible weeping. This unbearable sobbing entirely agitated me and stuck in my memory, and it has forever remained with me.”

The name of the rabbi who delivered the eulogy was Krawczynski from Grayavah, afterwards Av Beit Din of Mariampole, which is in Lithuania. His son was the Rabbi Preacher Reb Zev Gold, one of the leaders of the “Mizrachi” movement.

 

Rabbi Eliyahu Inselbuch

One of the leaders of the Religious Zionists, a famous rabbi in the United States.

Born in Nesvizh, on the first day of Shavuot, 5627 [1866], to his father Reb Aharon. He was a student at the local yeshiva in the city of his birth. At the age of 13, he acquired for himself tremendous expertise in one of the large sections of the Talmud. Afterwards, he learned at the great Yeshiva of Mir in Volozhin, in the city of the ascetics, Eishishok, and even in Brisk of Lithuania [Brest], under the patronage of the Gaon Reb Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Av Beit Din of the city. At the age of 24, he was ordained as a rabbi. In the year 5651 [1891] he married the daughter of a wealthy man in Oszmiana in a regional village in Vilna district, Reb Zevulun Siskovitz, who was also exalted in the Torah, beloved and respected by rabbis. In Oszmiana, he worked diligently for a number of years “in the tent of Torah,” and would give a lesson in a Talmud group that was in the village, and which assembled around it wonderful learners.

Afterwards, he became a merchant; he had an iron shop in his father–in–law's village, and he set times to study Torah. When his financial situation worsened, in the year 5666 [1906] he became, on behalf of the Gaon Reb Eliezer Gordon, an emissary for the Yeshiva of Telz in the United States. He moved afterwards to become a rabbi in this new land, and was chosen to be the rabbi in the city of Schenectady, New York, and from there, the Rabbi of the Bet Midrash Hagadol in Brooklyn, New York, which is next to greater New York. Rabbi Eliyahu Inselbuch was an exemplary and splendid rabbi who carried high the mantle of power as a religious man in Israel. He was distinguished as an exalted rabbi, a great activist in the needs of the community, exceptional in his distinguished character, encouraging and bringing closer hearts that were distant from Torah and purpose. He occupied an honored place in the rabbinic world, and in the groups of communal men of influence. He was a member of the leadership of the Jewish Congress, and a member of the leadership of the Union of Charedi rabbis of the United States and Canada.

Rabbi Eliyahu Inselbuch became more attached to his students in the “Hibbat Zion” movement. In Nesvizh he was still active in this area. He began in it while he was still studying in Eishishok, when he swore faithfully to work for the good of “Hibbat Zion,” and afterwards for the national Zionist movement. In a special meeting with Our Rabbi the Righteous Gaon Reb Yisrael Meir HaKohain in this Eishishok, which is next to Radin, this young man emphasized the importance of the “Hibbat Zion” movement, and that he saw in it a lifesaving anchor for the Jews and Judaism in the near future.

In the year 5653 [1893] he was appointed a delegate to the Odessan Council with the “Hovevei Zion” in Oszmiana. With the establishment of the “Mizrachi” in Vilna in 5662 [1902], he was one of the founders of this convention, and participated in it actively. He likewise participated in the First Zionist Assembly that was established that same year in Minsk. Until his arrival in America, Rabbi Inselbuch dedicated great efforts to Zionist activity.

With the coming of Rabbi Meir Berlin to America, at first Rabbi Inselbuch extended to him his full support in the organization of the “Mizrachi” union in America, and he became one of its spiritual leaders. For a certain period of time he served as Vice–President of the “Mizrachi” in the United States, (5686–5690 [1926–1930]), and for many years he was a member of the Executive Committee and a member of the Honor Court of the world “Mizrachi” movement. He was a delegate to a number of the Zionist Congresses, and a member of the American Jewish Congress.

He started and led the Board of Rabbis in Brooklyn; together with this he moved the Charedi community in the place of its rabbinate as an organized congregational community, since not once had there been established one religious coalition of the “Mizrachi” and the “Agudah.” He was sent once, on behalf of the Union of American Rabbis as a member of a delegation to “(The First) Great Congress” that took place in Vilna, in the year 5683 [1923], for the purpose of the foundation of such a joint coalition – however for a few reasons, to his great dismay, this effort never bore fruit. Rabbi Eliyahu Inselbuch published articles in newspapers such as “The Mizrachi” in America and in the land of Israel. A number of his responses on matters of Jewish law and his articles in “The Mizrachi” were published in “Flowers of Aaron” (Two volumes, New York, 5714 [1954]), by his son–in–law The Rabbi the Gaon Reb Aaron David Burck, the Head of the Yeshiva of Reb Isaac Elchanan[9] in New York (educated in the Yeshiva of Telz), and one of the heads of the “Mizrachi” movement in America.

Rabbi Eliyahu Inselbuch was one of the first rabbis in America that visited the land of Israel, and that was still in the year 5687 [1927]. In the year 5691 [1931] he had already fully settled in the land of Israel. He dwelt in Haifa, and was immediately appointed to be rabbi of the Elijah the Prophet Synagogue in the “Achuza” neighborhood, not to receive a reward, and served there as rabbi until the day of his death on the 15th of Tamuz 5696 [1936]. A few months before his death, a big article was published on “The Mizrachi and Its Achievements (Yiddish) in the 25th Jubilee Collection of the “Mizrachi” organization in America (New York). Of great importance in a number of aspects is also his article “Words of Peace and Truth” in “Hedad” (Adar 5695 [1935]), in which he informs about his controversy, in his youth, with our Teacher The Chofetz Chaim on the issue of the idea of settlement in the land of Israel and the Hibbat Zion movement, which at the head of these activities were the two Geonim, Rabbi Samuel Mohilever and Mordechai Eliasberg.

 

The Rabbi the Gaon Reb Leib Stolbetzer

The Rabbi the Gaon Reb Leib Stolbetzer was a rabbi in Nesvizh. The period of time in which he served is not known to us. The single source for this are the words of The Rabbi the Gaon Reb Eliyahu Feinstein, Av Beit Din of Pruzany and a native of Slutsk, from the words of his close associates: Reb Eliyahu Prozner, mentioned above, was a son of Reb Aharon the Levi, Av Beit Din of Starovin (Region of Bobruisk, Minsk District), a grandson of the Pious Gaon Reb Leib Stolbetzer, Rabbi of Nesvizh and the great–grandson of the Gaon and the Lord Naftali Hertz Charif (of the house of Harkabi).

And perhaps it is possible to identify this Reb Naphtali Hertz Charif with the Rabbi the Gaon Reb Naphtali Hertz, Av Beit Din of Nesvizh, who is brought following:

 

The Gaon Reb Naphtali Hertz

The book “Words of Desire” (Vilna, 5650 [1900]), by The Rabbi the Gaon Reb Mordechai Rabinovitz, Av Beit Din of Vashilishok, Sapotzkin, and Vashilkov, contained forty sermons. The Rabbi gave 29 of them in the name of his father “My Father, My Beloved, My Elder the Gaon, Our Teacher Rabbi Naphtali Hertz, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, the Av of the Holy Beit Din of Nesvizh.”

The details of the genealogical history of this Rabbi Gaon of Nesvizh – we do not have. It seems that he was Av Beit Din in Nesvizh adjacent to the time of the Righteous Rabbi Reb Meir Eisenstadt, for after Reb Meir we have a list of consecutive rabbis in Nesvizh, one following the next.

It may be said that the Rabbi Reb Naphtali Hertz mentioned above was Av Beit Din in Nesvizh after Reb Meir, mentioned above, who died in the year 5599 [1839], and who before that was Rabbi Av Beit Din in this community, until before the arrival here of the Gaon Reb Yitzchak Elchanan in the year 5606 [1846].

The Rabbi Reb Mordechai Eliyahu Rabinovitz, the grandson of the Rabbi Reb Naphtali Hertz, the Av Beit Din in Nesvizh received rabbinical ordination at the hands of the Gaon Reb Yehoshualah at the time that the rabbi mentioned above was still Av Beit Din in the nearby Kletsk. He was also ordained by the Great Gaon Reb Reuven the Levi Av Beit Din of Dvinsk, rabbi of Nesvizh before that.

 

The Rabbi Reb Tzvi Hirsch Av Beit Din Nesvizh

This name is brought in the book “Sefer Klilat Yofi” (part 1 page 66) by the Rabbi Gaon Natan Dembitzer Moreh Tzedek[10] in Krakow. The author rabbi mentioned above knows also that Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Charif the Nesvizhi was the son of the Rabbi Reb Shalom, Av Beit Din of Kamen–Kashirsky, next to Brisk of Lithuania (actually, Kovel district, Vahalin region).

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The Gaon Reb Reuven HaLevi Levin

The name of Nesvizh the religious community was greatly publicized by Reb Reuven HaLevi Levin, who was considered to be the Gaon of the generation in his time period, and who was known in the Torah world as by the name Reb Reuvalah Dvinsker, by the name of the city of his last rabbinate – Dvinsk, and before that Rabbi Av Beit Din in Amtsislav, a district city in the region of Mogilev.

Before Nesvizh, he was Rabbi Av Bet Din in the communities of Ilya, Levdova, and Ivanyets. Reb Reuven HaLevi was the first rabbinic authority of that degree. He was known as decisive in instruction, an example of his Teacher his Master the Gaon Reb Arieh Leib Shapira, who served before him in Smorgon, (the city of his rabbinate before Kalvari, Kovno), and even a great critic of the books of the Acharonim.[11]

Reb Reuven was known as one who went to great depths in his learning, and though in his life he did not author even one book, except for a few of his Torah innovations in the books of other religious writers, nevertheless all of the famous great ones of his generation trembled to greet him and considered him among the greats.

Reb Reuven HaLevi always missed Nesvizh, the quiet city of his previous rabbinate. He used to correspond with a number of its people, and when a great student would come to him from there in order to be ordained by him, he would receive him generously and would enjoy him with counsel and resourcefulness,[12] and even with warm recommendation in discussion of the organization of his rabbinate as Rabbi Av Beit Din of one of the villages.

As one example of the many of this kind: one time the Talmud student Reb Dov Ber Horvitz, who was for a number of years supported by his father–in–law (from the house of Milevski), visited him, and in giving him Sages' Ordination, he wrote about him: “I recognize this rare man, the great, sharp and proficient Rabbi… that he is brilliant in Talmud, and decides matters of Jewish law with common sense, and also truly fears God.” He was interested in the same thing with religious authors who came from Nesvizh, and when they would come to him for an agreement or spiritual or material encouragement – he would attempt to provide this to the best of his ability.

Reb Reuven HaLevi especially encouraged the exalted Jew of Nesvizh, Reb Moshe Krainz, the son of Reb Nachum Krainz, who met this young Moshe when he was Av Bet Din of Nesvizh, and corresponded with him afterwards, when he was already a yeshiva student residing in Vilna, and sitting in the tent of Torah in the Klois,[study hall] of the GR”A [Vilna Gaon] – his Torah – his faith (his wife was the great–granddaughter of the Gaon Reb Yosef David Shachar Av Beit Din and Head of the Rabbinical Academy of Mir), and his livelihood was on account of the scholarly Talmud teacher the Master Reb Matityahu Strashun, the community leader of the Jerusalem of Lithuania [i.e. Vilna]. Reb Moshe mentioned the Gaon Reb Reuven in his two famous books “Ohel Moshe” (Vilna 5640 [1880]) and “Nachal Moshe” (Vilna 5646 [1886]). Thanks to the special advice of Reb Reuven HaLevi, Reb Moshe Krainz was accepted to be the “Teacher of Righteousness” in Vilna (in the year 5645 [1885]).

Reb Moshe died in the year 5653 [1893] (when he was only 50 years old).

Reb Reuven HaLevi ascribed great importance to this Nesvizhi, Reb Moshe Krainz, and describes him as a “Gaon” among the learned yeshiva students born in Nesvizh, who the Gaon Reb Reuven HaLevi encouraged greatly.

When the Gaon Reb Reuven HaLevi died, the great preachers in their eulogies heaped lavish praise upon him. The Rabbi the Gaon Reb Yechiel Michel Wolfson, Av Beit Din Yanishok which is in Lithuania, in the special eulogy that he gave for him, brought in his important book “Sfat Hayam” (Vilna 5649 [1889]) describes the late rabbi as a “Great Gaon,” and expresses his great sorrow in the fact that with the death of Rabbi Reuven, “Who will explain existence, who will clarify problems from the Talmud and Tosafot [commentary on the Talmud], to whom will we run for help, when we have doubts about some matter, for the late Gaon would explain every matter from the Talmud and the Tosafot.”

The Gaon Reb Reuven HaLevi, as the student of the visiting Gaon Reb Menashe from Ilya, was not extremely fanatical against the Enlightenment. He saw a positive side to acquiring the language of the state and scientific matters that were useful to the young generation, even if he did not, understandably, tolerate the Russification trend of the Tzarist authority in Russia.

One of the writers of the Enlightenment in “HaMelitz,” in writing about the enlightenment movement, and the foundation of a Russian–Jewish school in Nesvizh in the year 1864, a matter that aroused the ire of the leaders of the community who came out in sharp reaction against all of it, brings in connection to it an opinion of the Gaon Reb Reuven HaLevi, who was at that time Av Beit Din of Nesvizh, that compels the opening of a school in Nesvizh for the children of Israel that will train them to be useful citizens and faithful valuable members of the social life of the land of our birth, on condition that they will supervise it and its actions, that the teacher will not teach anything contrary to Orthodox belief.

It is possible, that this matter is endorsed by the Gaon Reb Reuven HaLevi, is not necessarily precise, and one should approach his words on this matter with caution. The publisher of “HaMelitz” himself, Zederbaum, writes in the margins of this letter that “We take absolutely no responsibility for his words (of the writer mentioned above).” Nevertheless it is clear to us, according to the testimony of the elders of the previous generation, that he greatly obligated the learning of the language of the nation, Hebrew, and other basic matters for the young generation, and had, even in Amstislav and Dvinsk, a teacher of lessons for the members of his household, to acquire for them basic general enlightenment knowledge.

On one Jewish question to the Gaon Reb Reuven HaLevi, on the topic of Hibbat Zion: “Why did only people who don't engage much in Torah and mitzvot, and also who are not so God–fearing and trembling[13] begin to engage in this mitzvah; and if the mitzvah of settling the land of Israel is so very great, wouldn't it be most proper for the great rabbis and God–fearers to engage in it?” – on this the answer of the Gaon Reb Reuven HaLevi “Is there anything that is not written in the words of Torah?”.[14]

Rabbi Levin concludes his words in the aforementioned: “A jewel was in the mouth of the holy one (of his father the Gaon) that if all the sages of Israel agreed to this matter with one heart, maybe from this would grow salvation for all.”

 

The Rabbi Reb Yitzchak son of Reb Meir Ashkenazi Eisenstadt

Reb Yitzchak was the son–in–law of Reb Tzvi Hirsch Ashkenazi (author of the Chacham Tzvi), Av Beit Din of Lvov [Lviv]. Before that, his brother–in–law (his wife's brother) the Gaon Reb Yaakov Yaavetz of Emden, a resident of Altona, wrote the compendium of questions and answers “She–aylot Yaavetz” and more.

Reb Yitzchak was Av Beit Din of Nesvizh in his youth, and in the “Questions and Answers” of Reb Chaim HaKohain, in the section Even Ha'Ezer (Chapter 69) of the Gaon Reb Chaim Rappaport, Av Beit Din of Lvov, is brought a question from Reb Yitzchak the Av Beit Din in Nesvizh to the Gaon mentioned above from the period when he was still the Av Beit Din of Slutsk (before Lvov), which was adjacent to the city of this rabbinate. The question was characteristically Nesvizhian: were they permitted, halakhically, to arrange for Jewish divorces in this city?

The Gaon Reb Chaim HaKohain responded to him, on the basis of reliable Talmudic sources, that in times of duress they were permitted to do so, but on condition that they receive agreement to that effect on this matter from the Av Beit Din of the community of Mir; none other than the Rabbi the Gaon Reb Moshe (the uncle of the asking Nesvizhi rabbi, who was the brother of the Gaon Meir Eisenstadt author of the book of questions and answers “Panim Meirot”).

Reb Yitzchak moved afterwards to be Rabbi Av Beit Din in Biala Podlyaska and the nearby Slovotitch; these two communities were next to each other and belonged at that time to the Brisk region of Lithuania, and both of them, like Nesvizh, were under the control of the well–known Radziwell family, of which Nesvizh was the capital city.

Reb Yitzchak's name is remembered in the great controversy that broke out between his brother–in–law the Gaon Rabbi Yaakov Emden, mentioned above, and the Gaon Rabbi Yehonathan Eibeschutz, Av Beit Din Altuna–Hamburg, and in this literature his name is mentioned a number of times in Germany.

The head of the combatants against the Frankists in Poland was the Gaon Reb Chaim HaKohain Rappaport, who stood even at the head of the dispute with them, according to the royal command of the city of his rabbinate, Lvov, (in the years 5516–5518 [1756–1758]), and the main combatant outside of the country, once again the Rabbi Yaakov Emden with the help of his in–law Reb Baruch Yavan mentioned above (his son, Reb Eliezer, was the son–in–law of Rabbi Yaakov Emden). However, Rabbi Yitzchak, (the previous Nesvizhi Rabbi), was still in this war and in his two letters to him in Altona in the years 5516 and 5517 [1756 and 1757] we see him as of one mind with this brother–in–law in the conflict mentioned above.

Reb Yitzchak Av Beit Din of Nesvizh was the in–law of the Rabbi the Gaon Reb Mordechai of Lithuania. It can be said that Reb Yitzchak prepared the Gaon Reb

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Yehonatan from their youth in the time that the two of them learned together in the Yeshiva of Eisenstadt with the Av Bet Din and Head of the local Rabbinical Academy, the father of the first – he was the Gaon Reb Meir Ba'al Hapanim Ha'Meirot. The second brother–in–law of Reb Yitzchak the Nesvizhi was the Rabbi the Gaon Reb Arieh Levi, Av Beit Din of Amsterdam, who was also the son–in–law of the Gaon Chacham Tzvi.

Reb Yehuda, the brother of Reb Yitzchak mentioned above, filled his place in the Nesvizh Rabbinate after Reb Yitzchak moved to become the Rabbi in the Brisk region of Biala Podlyaska and Slovotitch. Reb Yehuda also moved afterwards to live in Biala, and wandered a far distance, even to the cities of Israel [Jewish cities] that were in Austria and Germany.

In the year 5526 [1766] Reb Yehuda printed the book of his father, the Gaon Reb Meir, “Or HaGanuz,” which consisted of innovations on Tractate Ketubot and on the laws of wine made by non–Jews. He printed this book in the Hebrew Press of Fuerth which is in German Bavaria. For financial reasons, Reb Yehuda disseminated this printing in known communities of Israel in and outside of Poland; this was after the pogroms that were carried out against the Jews of Biala Podlyaska in the year 5564 [1804] by Polish troops, as he himself describes to us in the special dedication of this book.

From the documents about the book we see that he became personally known to the three Geonim, Reb Yosef Shteinhardt, Av Beit Din Fuerth, Reb Meir Barbi, Av Beit Din Pressburg, and Reb Yehezkel Landau, Av Beit Din Prague, while he was spending time there in the framework of his travels outside of the land, and they describe him as the exalted religious rabbi “Our Teacher and Our Rabbi the Great Rabbi Yehuda, May God Preserve him, from Biala.”

Apparently, Reb Yehuda had already settled in one of the communities of Israel in Ashkenaz [referring to eastern Europe] without having already returned to Poland–Lithuania; the one who filled the place of the rabbinate in Biala – Slovotitch was his third brother, the Rabbi the Gaon Reb Shabtai, who previously had been Av Beit Din of Shershovy (Pruzany district), which was next to Brisk of Lithuania.

 

Rabbi Reb Kalonymus Kalman Levin

Rabbi Reb Kalonymus Kalman Levin, Righteous Teacher in Dolinsk, the son of The Gaon Reb Reuven the Levi Levin Av Beit Din of Nesvizh, was born and educated in Nesvizh, wrote an opinion on the question: “Is the settlement of the land of Israel permitted or obligatory?”

“Regarding that which was asked me by the Union of Seekers of Zion and the Lovers [of Zion], as to my opinion on the question of the matter of the settlement of the land of Israel, if it falls into the area of permitted or commanded – if it is a biblical or a rabbinic commandment, or if it falls into the category of cessation of work, in other words, to stop them from their work, since by this they are keeping the people from their work. There are in it matters of permission and matters of commandment, and also other various matters of concern.

He expresses his positive opinion on this in a clear and explicit manner, contained in his words, following: “I too am ‘One of the Seekers of Zion and Lovers of Zion,’ not only in word and thought but in deed as well. Since it is the destiny of those engaged in it, may God permit us to merit seeing our brothers engaged in the holy working of the land [of Israel], and in the commandments that are dependent on the obligation of working the soil, so that we may merit seeing that which is written [in Scripture]. “Your servants take delight in its stones, and cherish its dust,”[15] speedily in our day, amen selah.”

Regarding the remainder that have a brain in their heads and the enthusiasm for this matter, and say that the miracle is wrapped in the covering of nature, and the miracle worker doesn't recognize his own miracle, from these people certainly did not, God forbid, come any damage, and God's lovingkindness for those who are God–fearing and on the contrary in our opinion “The one who is afraid of an idea in the world that flowers in the air,” and even according to the words of those who are afraid of that, and because of that are we willing to nullify a great mitzvah like this because of some idea that we are afraid of? Isn't it so that even in a tree and standing grain one must be precise about settling the land, as is explained in the Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 151:7. And in the same way that it is brought in “Magen Avraham” [Avraham Gombiner, 17th century C.E. religious authority] Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim,[16] and more.

The one who asks of our fellow Israelites to be strengthened in this matter – is Kalonymus Kalman of the Gaon Reb Reuven HaLevi (Levin) may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, a Righteous Teacher.

 

The Rabbi Reb Meir Eisenstadt

Was one of the sons of the sons of the Gaon Reb Meir Av Beit Din of Eisenstadt (Austria), author of the Questions and Answers “Panim Meirot” (who died in the year 5484 [1724]), whose origins were in Lithuania. The Rabbi Reb Meir continued the tradition of the fathers, who served magnificently as Rabbis – Av Beit Din in Nesvizh (and likewise in the nearby Kletsk). Reb Meir, son of Reb Moshe, spent much time in the tent of Torah in the old local Study House that was in the village of his father's birth, and was engaged all his days in Torah and God's work. He was known in the place and in the surrounding area as a righteous man who conducted himself with holiness and purity. His righteousness and his lovingkindness overshadowed to some extent his great scholarliness, however he was actually known as a brilliant scholar, an expert master of instruction. They listened to his words on everything in the area, near and far, and even the famous greats of his generation in Lithuania and White Russia consulted with him on complicated matters of instruction. He would sometimes come to Mir or to Novohorodok, which were next to Nesvizh, at the invitation of the two famous Geonim that served magnificently as the rabbis of these two old–time cities, at first the Gaon Reb Yosef David (he was in the midst of his family's people, whereas on his mother's side he too, the Gaon Reb David, was considered a shoot of the distinguished lineage of the Eisenstadt family mentioned above), and secondarily by the Gaon Reb David the son of this Reb Moshe, who became famous afterwards with his famous book “Galia Masechet” (questions and answers, homilies and eulogies on the great ones of the generation that passed away in that generation.)

The great authors of that time took great issue with his agreement with Reb Meir the Nesvizhi.

Reb Meir is signed as “Av Beit Din Nesvizh” in the year 5594 (1834) on the book “Ateret Zvi” (which contains Rashi's interpretation on the Torah), by Reb Yitzchak Yaakov son of Tzvi Hirsch from Mir (later a resident of Vilna. This approbation was amidst other approbations, among which appear Rabbi Geonim, of the Talmudical famous of Lithuania of those days, such as: Reb Avraham Avlei Fassweiler, Head of the Beit Din in Vilna. Reb Yosef David Av Beit Din Mir, Reb David son of Reb Moshe Av Beit Din Novohorodok (author of the book of Questions and Answers “Galia Masechet”), Reb Binyamin son of Reb Yehudah Leib Fiskin, Av Beit Din of Volkovysk (later Av Beit Din of Lomza), and others who were well–known.

 

The Gaon Reb Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor (5577–5656 – 1817–1896)

One of Rabbi Geonim of the last generations. Born to his father Reb Yisrael Isser in the village of Rosh (District of Volkovysk, Grodno Region) in which his father served as Rabbi. In the year 5606 [1846] he moved to Nesvizh. In the year 5624 [1864] he was appointed Av Beit Din in Kovno, and served there 32 years. There he earned renown as the highest rabbinical authority, of the first degree, of all of the Israelite dispersion, as the decisor of the generation, deeply engaged in communal and religious affairs alike.

Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan participated in the Assembly of Rabbis in Petersburg (Leningrad) in the year 5642 (1882), after the pogroms against Russian Jewry, and recommended to the government through lobbying for Israel in the Russian capital mentioned above to also appoint rabbis to the committee for Jewish matters that the government was seating. There was then established by him a member of the activists in Kovno (among them was an especially active member, his secretary Yaakov Lipschitz).

Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan concerned himself with strengthening religious–Talmudic education. He opposed the establishment of a rabbinical House of Study in Kovno, saw to the establishment of cheders and schools from an official aspect, and attempted by means of Jewish lobbying the annulment of the decree against Jewish kosher slaughtering in Russia. In the Jewish settlement in the land of Israel he supported Torah and benevolent institutions in the Old Yishuv [pre–Aliyah Jewish community in Israel], and in the other cities of Israel. He looked favorably on the substance of the organizing of “Chovevei Zion” for the return to Zion and the settling of the land, and for new settling in the land of Israel, and helped them greatly. He would also give the essential halakhic permission to the settlers in the land of Israel to plow and sow by means of Arab labor in the year of the shmitah [Sabbatical year] 5649 (1889). He was also an honored member of the society of disseminators of the enlightenment in Petersburg, and attempted by circuitous routes around its rulers to prevent them from touching the traditional “cheder” [elementary school] in the area of

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the Jewish settlements [the Pale] in Russia. The Gaon Reb Yitzchak Elchanan was accepted by the Jews in the dispersion in general, and particularly by the Jews of Russia, as a faithful leader.

With all of his troubles in communal matters, he was highly diligent in matters of Torah, and was considered the head of those who engaged in it in his generation. He was known in all the dispersion of Israel for his industriousness in the Torah, and his expertise in halakha.

When he died in Kovno, they said about him that he was the Rabbi of Israel, and gave eulogies for him in all the congregations of Israel in Russia, and also in the Great House of Study in Nesvizh, the place of his previous rabbinate, in the presence of all the men of the village, and with the closing of all the shops for the afternoon hours of that day.

 

The Gaon Reb Shmuel Avigdor Tosafa'ah

After the departure of Gaon Reb Yitzchak Elchanan from Nesvizh to become the illustrious Av Beit Din of Novohorodok, the community of Nesvizh succeeded in finding for itself a Rabbi Av Beit Din who also was famous as one of the geonim of Lithuania in his generation – none other than the Gaon Reb Shmuel Avigdor Tosafa'ah, who served previously as Av Beit Din in the district village of Augustow in the Suwalk region.

Even ten years before he came to Nesvizh, Reb Shmuel Avigdor is described as one of the geonim of Lithuania. With all of the greatness of Reb Shmuel Avigdor in the field of expert rabbis and in deciding halakha, this Rabbi–Gaon acquired for himself his spiritual world while he was still in his youth, by means of his composition “Tana Tosafa'ah” (Teach Tosefta[17]) (on the Toseftot of the entire Talmud). From this perspective this Nesvizhi Rabbi was one of the first spiritual pioneers in the returning the crown of glory of the Toseftot to their important status in the literature of the Oral Torah [Talmud]. Since the collections of the “Toseftot” are from remnants of all the collections that we had on the six orders of the Mishnah, there are manuscript errors and material not connected to the deciding of halakha on the basis of the Toseftot. Their omission from the collections of the Mishnas and the Gemara caused a diminishment of interest in the focused learning and consideration of the Tosefta, and as a result of this, there was a neglect, except for a little here and a little there, in the creation of compositions on the Tosefta, and only by the Gaon Reb Eliyahu of Vilna, who was the giant of many generations, and his essays in this area began a favorable turning point; the one who came after him in this important field was the Rabbi the Gaon Reb Shmuel Avigdor Av Beit Din Nesvizh in the years 5606–5611 [1846–1851].

The Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor had great outrage for the neglect on the matter of the Tosefta.

His comprehensive composition “Tana Tosefta” about the Tosefta came to fill the empty void in this area. He began this in his publication in the year 5597 [1837] and continued with this publication in the year 5601 [1841] on the two tractates of the orders of “Seeds” and “Festivals.” There are two faces[18] of this comprehensive composition of his, which reflects before us this great man in his full spiritual stature: A) Mizpe Shmuel,[19] which includes source references for the Tosefta in all of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, Sifra, Sifre,[20] and other sources. B) Minchat Bikkurim,[21] which includes explanations of brief extracts of the Tosefta that is based on the sections of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds in a network of the innovated laws in the many issues that are brought in Maimonides, the Shulchan Aruch, and the like, in the branching of innovations in the law by the author in various fields that are connected to matters of the Tosefta.

This matter arose for the author due to his personal–spiritual immersion for a number of years in the study of topics in the Tosefta, including also steadfastness and precise observation of its wordings and from a perspective of all that was connected to it in the depths of the sea of the two Talmuds, their interpreters, their explicators, and in the midrashim[22] of the Oral Torah. And as the author himself says in the words of his introduction to his first book: “I made nights like days[23] to expound on a book, together they will be perfect.[24]” The geonim of his generation know how to value the great worth of his composition.

In his second book, in light of the precedent of the first one, Reb Shmuel Avigdor broadened the framework of his composition with the two additional orders mentioned above, with “many things doubly useful,” but with all that there lacked, because of reduction of the funds that he had for the printing of this his great work, many innovations by the author are only slightly hinted at in the sources in his “Mizpeh Shmuel.”

For the Tosefta for this second part, the author took for himself two additional approbations from the geonim, Reb Dov Berish Ashkenazi Av Beit Din Slonim (afterwards Av Beit Din Lublin) and Reb Yosef David Av Beit Din of Mir. His complete work “Tana Tosafa'ah” on all the tractates of the orders of the Talmud were already printed late in the complete edition of the Talmud of Romm Printing in Vilna that appeared entirely in 5640–5646 [1880–1886].

Rabbi Reb Shmuel Avigdor was born in the year 5566 (1806) in Slonim, to his exalted father Reb Avraham. He received an intensified religious education from his father and from his brother–in–law the Gaon Reb Binyamin Diskin, who also was born in Slonim. Already in the spring of his life, Reb Shmuel Avigdor had become famous as a prodigy. When was 15, he had the courage to write a book about Rabbi Moses Maimonides on the laws of testimony. The Lithuanian geonim, among them Reb Yaakov Meir Padola (afterwards Av Beit Din of Brisk of Lithuania) yearned to see the publication of this work.

Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor became the son–in–law of the Gaon Reb Tzvi Hirsch Broide Av Beit Din of Salant, and since he was supported by his father–in–law, he added strength and intensity to his study of the sacred in all fields of the Torah. The grace of the residents of the academy of this famous village, among them the Gaon Reb Yisrael Salant, increased greatly because of his spiritual character. At the age of 20, he already had a wonderful composition on the Shulchan Aruch, the section Choshen Mishpat. Senior Geonim who saw this composition before them stood it on the same level as “Sefer Urim V'Tummim” of the sharp and wonderful Gaon Reb Yehonatan Eibeshutz, although this book too did not succeed in seeing the light of publication. Meanwhile, he was occupied with the idea that was the purpose of his life, the publication of the central work of his life. The Tosefta distracted his mind from the publication of his two works mentioned above; he was solely focused on his life's work seeing the light of publication, and he would earn the credit of the masses for it.

The first rabbinate of Reb Shmuel Avigdor was in the suburban neighborhood (Farshtadt) in Grodno (“beyond the river” – Neiman), in the position replacing the Gaon Reb Binyamin Diskin, who moved to become Av Beit Din of Volkovysk (a district village in the Grodno region). In the year 5598 (1838) he received the rabbinate of Svislach (an important village in the Volkovysk district mentioned above). He moved from there to Augustow, on the recommendation of his brother–in–law Reb Binyamin Diskin, mentioned above, and from there he moved to become Av Beit Din in Nesvizh. The son of his brother–in–law, the Gaon Reb Yehoshua Leib Diskin, and the Gaon Reb Yitzchak Leib Spector, the previous rabbi of Nesvizh, advised him to do that. In the year 5615 (1855), he moved to become Av Beit Din in the community of Karlin.

Reb Shmuel Avigdor the Tosafa'ah died during the intermediate days of Sukkot, 5625 (1865). Knowledge of that was brought in the Hebrew newspapers, and they eulogized him in all the communities of Israel in Lithuania and White Russia.

One of the many examples of the great fame of Reb Shmuel Avigdor in the rabbinic and learned circles of Lithuania shows us the following detail: in the book “Kanfei Shachar[25]” (Petersburg 5695 [1935]) of Reb Dov Ber Eisenstadt, who was in the year 5626 [1866] Av Beit Din of Knishin, we find the words of eulogy of this famous Rabbi–Preacher about the late Rabbi Reb Shmuel Avigdor. This Gaon is described as “a great person among giants, the splendor of our generation, and like the great famous Rabbi Gaon on the face of the earth in his precious compositions, he was ‘Sinai’ and ‘Oker Harim’”[26]. Together with this, the eulogizing rabbi mentioned above points out that “I eulogized him here in a great community here, and all the people were overcome with grief[27] and they wept much, they lowered their heads to the ground[28] and we remembered his soul with the voice of wailing and weeping.”

The Gaon Reb Shmuel Avigdor worked only a few years in the role of Av Beit Din of Nesvizh, from 5613–5615 (1853–1855), but he managed in this short period of time to make a name for himself as great as any of the geonim in the entire surrounding area. Reliable testimony to that fact is the relatively immense correspondence with the famous rabbis on matters of religious law, prohibitions and permissions for which they waited for his utterances on his opinion of serious matters, on which they did not want to be the sole deciding force.

Among those who turned to him with strength, we see famous Torah personalities

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who became well–known over the course of time as the geonim of the generation: Rabbi Naphtali Zvi Berlin, and Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, who were together Head of the Rabbinical Academy in the famous yeshiva of Volozhin.

Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor is considered the first of the great authors in Lithuania who dedicated himself to write a special composition of his own in general Talmudic matters.

 

Rabbi Yitzchak Davidovski Teacher of Righteousness, Nesvizh

Son of the Rabbi the Gaon Reb Yehonatan Av Beit Din Zelva (Slonim district), who became well–known in his time as a righteous man and a miracle–worker. Reb Yitzchak received his education from his father at the Yeshivas of Slonim, Mir, and Novohorodok and served afterwards as a judge and a Teacher of Righteousness in Nesvizh. He was a man of Mussar,[29] upright in his ways and in his relations with other people, dwelt in Torah's tent, acting for the benefit of others with his deeds and lovingkindness, accepted and appreciated by all groups, even those who were estranged from tradition. He was a lover of Zion, and with its renewed foundation by the “Mizrachi” movement in Poland and the frontier areas. With the establishment of the government of independent Poland, he joined this movement and was active in it both orally and in writing, and so, in a personal way. He was among the signers of a proclamation that a group of rabbis in Poland published in 5686 [1926] in support of Keren Hayesod, which was the first fund to build our land, towards which the eyes of all Israel turn.[30] This is the national capital that builds our land, and every Jew whose heart is touched by the destiny of our land, and every one that desires the revival of Jewish life in our land, is obligated to pay the personal tax to Keren Hayesod, and to aid and continue the productive work of establishing our holy land (Otzar Ha'aretz, Jerusalem 5686 [1926]).

The participation of Rabbi Davidovski in Zionism made a great impression in the circles of the rabbis and yeshivas in Polish Lithuania, since he was also a relative of two of the Gaon Rabbis, Reb Yitzchak Bleizer, one of the heads of the Mussar movement and Rechaim Ozer Grodzinski from Vilna. From a few sides, they attempted to influence him not to publicize his positive opinion of Zionism, the “Mizrachi” and Keren Hayesod, but he kept faith with these movements mentioned above, since he saw in them a rescuing anchor for the life of the nation from both a material and spiritual aspect, on which the future of the nation of Israel depended.

Rabbi Davidovski was murdered by the Nazis, those impure humans, together with the members of the Nesvizh community, in the days of the Holocaust.

 

Mordechai Nachmani (Gorodansky)

Born in Nesvizh on 26 Kislev 5626 [1866], to his father the Rabbi Reb Yosef (Head of the yeshiva in the village) and his mother Rosha daughter of Reb Patskovsky. He learned in cheders, in his father's yeshiva, and afterwards in the famous yeshiva of Volozhin, and was taught by the two famous heads of the Rabbinical Academy, Rabbi Naphtali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, and Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik. Together with that he was active in the Chovevei Zion groups that were in the yeshiva.

When they advised his father to travel to the land of Israel and purchase a plot of land in partnership with a farmer who would work the land and give to his partner, the Head of the Rabbinical Academy, a part of the income from the share–cropping, the son Mordechai objected to this business and took it upon himself to go up to the land, to get to know the conditions of living and the work, and to get accustomed to doing the work himself. Thus he went up to the land in Tammuz of 5650 (1890).

He worked as an agricultural laborer in the Ekron settlement, which had already existed for about seven years, became ill from the hard work and after he grew well again, moved on Chanukah 5651 [1891] to the new settlement of Rechovot, which was then in its beginning days. He worked for some time as a day–laborer for some private farmers, and afterwards settled on his land and Hebraized his family name to “Nachmani.” In the year 5651 he married Leah, the daughter of Shraga and Nechama Kibelevitz, and they established a fine family. Out of diligence in the work, Reb Mordechai participated in communal efforts. He was a member of the settlement council, a member of the agricultural council, a member of the council of the union of vine–growers, and a member of the council for internal law in Rehovot. He grew near to the national groups that were in the moshava, and acted for the sake of social equality, in opposition to the trend of the intelligentsia from among the intellectuals of the farmers, who attempted to create a kind of higher position of literati, above the simple and naC/ve masses of workers. He fought also for the sake of Hebrew labor, and for the rights of the hired worker.

A few years before the First World War, when a suggestion was raised in a meeting of the Moshava Council that in its settlements Hebrew should be the only language, he opposed it for a democratic reason – so as not to negate the right of self–expression of people who had not yet commanded enough of the necessary knowledge of the Hebrew language; first and foremost he intended that for his own comfort. On his way home pangs of remorse attacked him: is it possible that he himself, a committed Zionist from his youth, should take a position against the Hebrew language, and on top of that in the land of Israel?! He then took it upon himself to speak Hebrew both in his private life and in public matters as well – and this vow that was in his heart he fulfilled from that moment all the days of his life, and accustomed others to do so as well. He kept this practice continuously and completely until the last day of his life. In the last years Reb Mordechai Nachmani was active in the religious organizations in the settlement of Rechovot.

His descendants: Dr. Yitzchak (a physician in New York); Ammihud (an engineer in New York); Rachel, Avinoam, (Tidhar: “Encyclopedia of the Pioneers of the Settlement,” Tel Aviv 1949).

 

Reb Meir Eisenstadt

(5628–5689 [1868–1920]) Lover of Zion, Scribe and Publisher

Still in the days of his youth, the name of the deceased went out for praise in Nesvizh, the city of his birth and all the surrounding area, in the role of Torah scholar and intellectual. His father, Reb Tzvi Eisenstadt, educated him and his second son (the doctor M.A. Eisenstadt, the Rabbi for Petersburg–Leningrad) according to the Talmud and traditional Judaism. He learned in the yeshivas of Volozhin and the Kovno–Slobodka. There he filled his belly with Talmud and with the decisors, and was ordained for instruction by the Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan, may his memory be for a blessing, when he came to Warsaw. Meir Eisenstadt dedicated himself to Hebrew literature, as he was also a scribe and a veteran reader, and also one who was engaged in its publication. Hebrew literature at that time did not financially support its authors or its publishers. Nevertheless, Meir loved Hebrew literature with all his soul, and he became engrossed in it from the day he came to know it. In “Hatzefirah” of Ch. Z. Slonimski the deceased wrote articles, poems, and literature, and at that same time worked in the publication of the books of “Ahiasaf,” “Tushiah,” and more. In the publications of “Tushiah” was also printed the book of the deceased, “Some of My Journeys in the Lands of the East.”

In those days there was not even one national assembly, not even one project for Hebrew literature, in which Eisenstadt did not participate. He did all this with dedication and modesty. In the last period he directed the publication of the book “Jewess” in Warsaw. He published articles, literature, and poetry in the Zionist newspapers: “Hatzefirah” and “Yiddish Folk.” The deceased excelled in sharp wit and honest logic, and was considered one of the significant “arbitrators” in Warsaw. Thanks to his honesty and righteousness, he acquired for himself the trust of the people, and before him were brought many conflicts between writers and publishers, and he would reconcile between the two sides with good sense and wisdom.

Reb Meir Eisenstadt died on 19 Nisan 1920 at the age of 42, after a difficult illness.

The daily Hebrew newspaper “Hatzefirah” that appeared at that time in Warsaw dedicated an article of appreciation in Edition 2, Nisan, 5680 (1920), and the previous material on the deceased mentioned above is taken from that article. Together with this, the newspaper pointed out that the deceased Reb Meir Eisenstadt was “one of the best–known writers of the old generation and those engaged in Hebrew literature. Because he was modest and humble, he was known only to a narrow group of doers and deeds in literary matters. He was in effect one of the best among the residents of Jewish Warsaw.”

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Tzvi Hirsch Eisenstadt

Reb Tzvi Hirsch Eisenstadt was the model of a Hebrew teacher, a Nesvizh man in the period of Hibbat Zion. He died in Soroka (Bessarabia) at the age of 47.

He was a complete man on every level. He knew Hebrew like one of the experts, and he was devoted to the ancient literature. He knew the Hebrew Bible by heart, and was a wonderful critic and explicator. A modest and humble man, he never made an effort to publicize himself, and was not interested in spreading his words. He was learned and well–versed in the Talmud. He also did not withhold his hand from secular studies; he knew Russian and was knowledgeable in accounting.

For 18 consecutive years he worked as a teacher in the Holy language in Soroka, which is in the district of Bessarabia, far from his family and the members of his household in Nesvizh. For only about two months in the year (Nisan and Tishre) did he dwell amongst his family. All his desire was for the sole purpose that he would be able to provide his sons with a good education, and as much as his money would allow he paid good teachers and instructors to unite in his children Torah and enlightenment.

He did much for the improvement of Hebrew knowledge in the younger generation in Bessarabia, which before him was a desolation in it. His work and his effort were not in vain, for over the many days there those who knew the Hebrew language and its literature multiplied, and all of this by his work, that he established many students, as was brought in “HaTzephirah” a few years ago.

(“Hamagid” 7 Tevet 5650 (December 18 1890), #37)

Comment of the Publisher: The son of Reb Tzvi Hirsch – Dr. Moshe Eliezer Eisenstadt was Rabbi by appointment of the King in Rostov–Don and Petersburg.

 

The Teacher and Writer Shmuel V. Kahanovski

Taken from “Today,” a daily newspaper in Warsaw 10 Shvat 1923 No. 323, January 25, 1926.

To many Hebrew readers of the young generation the name of Sh. Kahanovski is unknown, but to the previous generation, in the period of “Hamelitz” and “Hatzefirah,” this man was known as a writer of great ability and a significant author who acquired a respectable place in Hebrew literature and journalism.

Shmuel Kahanovski was born in the year 5615 [1855] in Nesvizh. His father was a well–known and well–educated Talmudist, and he educated his son in the spirit of Torah and the enlightenment. Still in the days of his youth, he distinguished himself in his great knowledge and ability in sacred and secular studies. After his marriage, he moved his residence to Brisk of Lithuania, and there began his activity in the field of Hebrew literature. In the years of the ‘80s, after his move to Warsaw, he was a regular helper with “Hamelitz,” and especially with “Hatzefirah.” In “Hatzefirah” he publicized feuilletons in a lively and current style. He also published a number of books that attracted readers; they especially acquired for themselves there his two books, “Metropolin” and “Hamalshin.”[31]

However, Kahanovski was not only satisfied with the writing of books and articles; he also showed his vast knowledge in the role of linguist. His book “A Treasury of the Hebrew Language” and “Hebrew Reading” that were published by the publisher “Tushiah” also made a great name for him. In the days of the first Russian revolution (1905), his story “Money and Work” appeared, and from then on his voice was almost silenced in Hebrew literature and journalism.

Kahanovski did not live afterwards by his pen, but by his pension (boarding school) that he led in Warsaw for students who were the children of the wealthy Jews in Warsaw.

When the First World War broke out, he went out to Ekaterinoslav (currently Dnipropetrovsk) which is in Ukraine – Russia. He returned to Poland after the end of the war crushed and broken; at that time he endured many doubts, and came afterwards to Miechów (a village in the Kielce district) and managed for a time a public room on behalf of the local “Mizrachi.” Afterwards he was a teacher in the Polish–Jewish government school in Miechów, but he did not enjoy pleasure from this, since he was forced to learn the Jewish religion in Polish – a language that was not usually in his mouth.

He spent his last years in his modest room, abandoned and alone. Only the widows and orphans that were in this city knew him, since he would support them secretly, without them knowing about it. He died on 6 Shvat 5686 [1926]. All the townspeople participated in his funeral. The local rabbi, Reb Chanoch Sheinfrucht eulogized him with his words of praise for an author and scholar that still belonged to the Old Study House. He left behind in his writings a composition on the order of the prayers.

By Shimshon Dov Yerushalimski

 

Reb Yosef son of Michael Barishansky

Born in Nesvizh to wealthy parents and educated on the knees of Torah. He loved wisdom and science and excelled in his great love for Hebrew literature. Not only in this was he distinguished from all those around him. He was a symbol of the good and the lovingkindness for decades. From the day that he settled in Vilna and from the day that the life of his family was destroyed, he dedicated all of his fortune, strength and soul to the poor. All the downtrodden and embittered souls found a helper and supporter in him. He was a father to orphans, took care of widows, had compassion for the poor, clothed the naked, educated children, fed the hungry, healed and took care of the sick, gathered firewood and cooked in the hospitals for the poor, sought purpose for the hopeless, advocated and pleaded in the tzedakah houses for the good of the poor and the needy, and more. He did it all with his own money; he did not turn to others to help.

Only the poor of the city knew Barishansky, but even they did not know him by name. He was known to many of the poor by the name “Master of the Recipes.” In the last years he dedicated his soul and his powers to helping the indigent sick; every day he would run to doctors and patients. He carried a full basket of cures; wine, kefir,[32] eggs, bread, sweets, tea, coffee, newspapers – all for his indigent sick.

This wonderful man went naked, hungry and barefoot. But he was poor only to himself, not for his poor, whose needs he filled completely.

They distributed great respect to him. They gave many eulogies for him, and also he was given a grave in the upper graveyard. However, this respect was given to him only by the poor and the manager of the “Tending the Sick” house, who knew the worth of this good, inspiring, man, but only at the end of his days. The people carried his coffin to the cemetery in their hands, and fine was the interpretation of one of the eulogizers, who said that this time we saw the coffin lift up its carriers.

This excellent man died alone and abandoned, but the poor surely remembered this man of great lovingkindness, and wept for his death. Only he saw the person that was in the soul of the poor, and understood how to come to his aid with compassion and lovingkindness.

 

Simcha Chaim Vilkomitz

(News From the Land, Issue 11, 4 Tammuz 5668 [1908])

Born and educated on the knees of observant parents in Nesvizh, Minsk district. He learned in the yeshiva of Mir, “renounced his faith” and learned Russian, German and various sciences from various private teachers, engaged in instruction in the cities of Minsk, Vilna, and was well–known there as one of the best teachers and as an enthusiastic Zionist activist. When he received the advice from Mr. Shukien from Vilna to go as a teacher to the Rechovot settlement in the land of Israel, he did not inquire as to the terms of the assignment, and replied with a brief answer– “Here I am – send me!”

From then began the period of his unceasing and exhausting work in the land of Israel. From Rechovot he moved to Metullah, and from there to Rosh Pina, where he also found his final rest. In the beginning of his work in instruction in the land of Israel, he mulled over many questions about textbooks and questions relation to the various fields of science.

For the purpose of our work, he translated entire books (such as Dubnow's “History of the Jews”), but time did not allow him to work on them and prepare them for publication. Literary work was his life's desire all his days. However, the feeling of obligation towards the schools whose administration was dependent upon him, and his aspiration to perfection in everything, prevented him from dedicating time to literature. He had time only to publicize

[Page 198]

– except for those attempts in his youth – an article on the matter of immorality in children's literature in “Hashiloach” and “The Outing of a Hebrew School” in “First Fruits;” both are signed in the name of Ch. Harari. Besides that, he published excellent lessons in “Education” and wrote a book on engineering, for which he too could serve as an example, from many aspects, for the regular “experts” who look down a little from the heights on teachers who are not “professional.”

Vilkomitz's knowledge was great, but he was very modest and as such he was known only to a few of those close to him, for over the course of the two years that he spent before the twelve years in French Switzerland, he had the time to complete agricultural school with distinction – something that was very useful to him in the realization of his aspiration to spread knowledge of working the land amongst his students in theory and in practice.

He worked to organize a fixed and ordered course of learning for schools in the region and terminology for various professions, for agriculture, music, and gymnastics in the schools. He worked fruitfully in the “B'nai Brith” organization, at the head of which he stood for a long time – for all of these the name of the deceased will be remembered for a blessing. He was a sociable person; there were not many like him, whose whole heart was given to his few friends, and to whom his dedication knew no limits.

Anyone who knew Vilkomitz well knew his dedication to work, his faithfulness to his lofty aspirations, the purity of his spirit and the honesty of his heart. He was a man of true spirit, who did his work wholeheartedly, without calculations or private positioning. Vilkomitz was one of the unique few who, even in the camp of our teachers, has uncompromised vision. A teacher in all of his 248 limbs[33], exemplary organizer and administrator. Communal activist of the first degree – all of these virtues were gathered together in the deceased, who for more than twenty years served the sacred work in the land of his desire with unusual, tireless, perseverance.

The school in Rosh Pina surpasses all other schools in our settlements in its order, its curriculum, in all the spirit of the work and the discipline that governs it. He always worked with every scrap of his strength, gave his soul to the Teacher's Union, and was plucked before his time in the middle of his vast, pure and productive work, one of the chosen very few who we can never replace.

In a far corner of the slope of Mount Canaan, between the lofty cypress trees of the cemetery of the settlement of Rosh Pina, I see in my imagination the new mound of earth, under which will rest from the toil of his long–short life Simcha Chaim Vilkomitz – and how much did I want to moisten with my tears this precious mound of soil.

Dr. N. Torov


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Although used to refer to the Jewish head of one of the Babylonian academies at Sura and Pumbedita from about 589–1038 CE, it is also used as a title of honor for an eminent religious scholar and judicial authority. Return
  2. Head of the Rabbinical Court. Return
  3. Hebrew Bible Return
  4. Mishnah Avot 4:4 “Rabbi Tzaddok said: … Do not make the Torah into a crown with which to aggrandize yourself or a spade with which to dig.” Return
  5. Leviticus 19:15 “You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kinsman fairly.” Return
  6. Authors often were called by the names of their books. Return
  7. Admor is an acronym for “Adoneinu, Moreinu, VeRabbeinu,” a phrase meaning “Our Master, Our Teacher, and Our Rabbi. This is an honorific title given to scholarly leaders of a Jewish community. Return
  8. Agudath Israel, political arm of Ashkenazi Torah Judaism Return
  9. Usually referred to by its official name, Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, or the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Rabbinical Seminary (abbreviated as RIETS), at Yeshiva University. Return
  10. an “auxiliary” rabbi who is responsible for making halakhic decisions Return
  11. later Sages, post–15th century C.E. Return
  12. Proverbs 8:14 “Mine are counsel and resourcefulness; I am understanding; courage is mine.” Return
  13. Haredi Orthodox Return
  14. In Aramaic, quoting the Talmud, Taanit 9a, meaning that there is nothing that the words of Torah do not hint at. Return
  15. Psalms 102:15 Return
  16. While praying, he should not hold anything in his hand lest it fall and distract him… Return
  17. Collection of rabbinic material from the era of the Mishna Return
  18. Aramaic Return
  19. Shmuel's Vantage Point Return
  20. Rabbinical narrative material on the Torah Return
  21. A Gift of First Fruits Return
  22. an ancient commentary on part of the Hebrew scriptures Return
  23. From the Talmud, Masechet Mo'ed Katan 25b: “Women, make your nights like days in weeping, over a man who made his nights like days studying the Torah.” Return
  24. From Exodus 26:24: “They shall match at the bottom, and terminate alike at the top inside one ring; thus shall it be with both of them: they shall form the two corners.” Return
  25. The Wings of Dawn. Return
  26. Uproots mountains; Babylonian Talmud 64a: “This may be derived from an incident involving Rabba and Rav Yosef, as Rav Yosef was Sinai, extremely erudite, and Rabba was one who uproots mountains, extremely sharp.” Return
  27. Numbers 14:39 “When Moses repeated these words to all the Israelites, the people were overcome by grief.” Return
  28. Lamentations 2:10 “The maidens of Jerusalem have bowed their heads to the ground.” Return
  29. a Jewish ethical, educational and cultural movement that developed in 19th century Lithuania Return
  30. An allusion to Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem. Return
  31. The Informer Return
  32. a fermented milk drink Return
  33. according to the Mishna in Oholos (1:8), the human body contains 248 limbs and 365 tendons Return

 

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