Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki and Aviva Kamil
[The founding of the Musar Movement in Novogrudok represents a glorious chapter in the history of the town.
For those who are unfamiliar with Musar we enclose a short introduction by Mr. Gurevitch, the Principal of Yeshiva Beit-Rivkah.]
The Musar Movement stressed the importance of INDIVIDUAL SELF IMPROVEMENT in every aspect of the human character. Virtues (Midot Tovot) of the individual should be developed to the utmost and bad characteristics (Midot Ra'ot) should be combated and conquered.
[The transliterated Hebrew words in the text are in italics.]
A. What did the method (shitah) of Musar represent, and who developed its ideology and were its founders?A. I am beginning with trepidation (bedchilu urechimu) the brief recitation of the story of one of the greatest Jewish personalities of our time. We are going to stress here certain characteristics and historical notions of one of the main personalities of the Musar movement - Reb Yosef Yoysl Hurovitz, who has written a golden page in the history of the Russian -Polish Judaism at the beginning of the XX century. Before we start to describe directly the personality of Reb Yosef Yoysl, we will sketch briefly what the whole Musar movement represented, what were its aims, and how it differed from other movements of that time. What brought the Musar method into the Jewish life? How big was its influence on the young generation, which found in Musar a deep ideal and had become devoted to it with their life and soul. We will try to find an answer to these brief questions. Musar meant a method of life, built on preaching and practicing good deeds (midot tovot) . Musar meant simply learning, castigating, showing to others that they had left, alas, the path of righteousness, if their dealings, affairs and deeds were not in agreement with the principles of Musar. In our modern language, we could interpret the word Musar to mean ethics, morals or religious behaviour. In fact, (bedi'avad), however, the word Musar is not translatable, just as one cannot translate into another language the word Torah or cedoka and such like meanings or idioms. As much as one would like to translate the word gemilat chased it is impossible to provide a correct and precise translation into another language. The same applies to the word Musar, the root of which is deeper than the words such as morality, righteousness, and ethics. Musar means, first of all, to have a religious foundation, because it is not conceivable to live by the principles of Musar and at the same time be without belief (emunah) . Many may think perhaps that it is possible to be an ethical and honest being without a religious base.
B. The specific role of Reb Yosef Yoysl Hurovitz and his colossal influence (hashpa'ah) on the religious youth of his time.
C. The drastic actions of Reb Yosef Yoysl in order to enter the shrine (hachpa'al) of Musar, his great mind and deep understanding (havanah) of Musar, great willingness of sacrifice, which he brought on the altar (misbe'ach) of Musar
D. Novogrudok was the Mecca of Musar. Musar in Novogrudok was created by Reb Yosef Yoysl.
However, it is not so with Musar, which includes the religious behaviour (hanhagah) of the individual (yachid). This means that he will observe precisely (b'deiuk) all commandments (mitzvoth) to do or not to do (ta'aseh ve lo ta'aseh), all commandments of the Torah (mitzvot hatorah) and to be aware of sins of a man to God and a man to his fellow man (nizhar averot benadam lamakom ubein adom le'chavero). Surely, the roots of Musar are in the deep religious philosophy, which is concerned with human life on earth, its tasks and obligations, which have to be fulfilled and which are in general the aims of human life. Musar is seeking to get to the basis of the raison d'etre of creation (tachlit hayetzirah), why the life of a man is so short and loaded with heavy problems, and in all (ve al kulam) - which are the consequences of living on the sinful earth. But the earth is, after all, only a corridor (prozdor) to the next world, where a permanent life exists. Musar has addressed all philosophical levels, which we have encountered to this day. The nearest to us, however, is our own Tanach, which includes all the foundations (yesodot ) of the Musar and it is also contained in the Mishna, the Gemora and, in the recent centuries, in the large number of cardinal Musar works, which have tied our people with the eternal reality (amitan) , which is arising from the sources of Musar. Some of the books are: The obligations of the heart (Chovot halevavot) by Rabeinu Bakhye: Eight chapters (Shmona prakim) by Rmbm (Rabbi Moshe ben Mimon - Mimonides), The book of Chasidim (Sefer chasidim) by Rabbi Yehuda Hachasid, Gates of repentance(She'arei Tshuvah), The road of Musar (Shevet Musar), Two tablets of the covenant (Shin Lamed Hey-Snei Luchot Habrit) by Reb Yishayahu Horowitz, The road of the just (Mesilat Yesharim) by Reb Moshe Chaim Lutzato.
B. Let us sketch a chronological picture of the founders and representatives of the Musar movement. Reb Yosef Yoysl Hurovitz was not the originator of the great movement. He joined an existing movement, and he brought to it his great character and determination, which placed him close to the forefront of the founders of Musar. Reb Yosef was a fanatical leader of the Musar. For him Musar was not a method, an idea or an encyclopedia of ethical notions. No, a lot more than all of these. Let us however approach the matter gradually (behadragah) and describe the Musar movement starting from its first founder and visionary, Reb Israel Salander (whose surname at birth was Lipkin). Reb Israel Salander had established, to begin with (le'chatchila), a Musar Yeshiva in Vilno. Later he founded a Yeshiva in Kovno and one in Slabodka. He has become known as the father of the movement. There are opinions, however, that Reb Israel was not the first to come out with the Torah of the Musar movement (Torat Hamusar). Some believe that he took over from Reb Yosef Sundul Salander, father-in-law of Reb Shmuel Salander of Jerusalem. Obviously, Reb Israel had become acquainted with the Musar literature, which was published at the time in Vilno, such as the book Improvement of the virtues of the soul (Tikun midot hanefesh) by Reb Shlome ben Gavriel and other works. The first Kovno Musar Yeshiva was established by Reb Israel in the year 1844. It became a centre of the Musar and consisted not only of Yeshiva people and students, but also of a number of business people who joined the movement. Fifteen years later i.e. in the year 1859, Reb Israel moved to Koenigsberg, where he established a new Musar Yeshiva, and from there his influence had reached Memel, where he fired the imagination of many followers. Memel has become a centre of the Musar movement. Similarly, a Yeshiva was established in Berlin and in other places. The movement continued to grow, but at the same time a strong opposition was encountered from the members of the Haskala (knowledge) movement (Maskilim). At the time some great rabbis and holy men in Russia thought that Musar was a superfluous undertaking. They were adamant that they did not need Musar, not for themselves and less still for others. A sharp polemic started in the Hebrew press of that time (egz. in Hazfira and Hamelitz), and it almost came to a holy war (milchemet mitzvah) between the followers and the opponents of the Musar system. It got to a point when threats were made that Musar would create a third orientation in the Jewish life, just as the Chasidic faction had constituted a second orientation. A large movement which opposed the Musar method were the Misnagdim, which included the Rabbi of Kovno Reb Arie Leib Shapiro, the Rabbi of Janov Reb Jehoshua Hashl, the Rabbi of Salant Reb Yeshoel and above all (ve'al kulam) the world famous Gaon of Kovno Reb Itschok Elchonon, who had spoken against the Musar Yeshiva, which was created in Kovno by Reb Itschok Bloser, a pupil of Reb Israel Salander. The division grew. Over 40 rabbis came to the defense of Musar. They argued that Musar was not just good but also useful and, which was most important, that it would result in positive outcomes and be of benefit to the Jewish nation.
C. After the closure of the Yeshiva of Volozin, the Yeshiva of Slobodka was considered the outstanding school among the followers of the Torah and 200 students gathered in Slobodka.
As for Reb Yosef Yoysl, he was a distinguished (muvhak) pupil of Reb Itschok Bloser and he had already created an important circle of students of religious studies (kolel), who were engrossed day and night in the study of Torah and their endeavours (yomam valailah al hatorah ve'al ha'avodah) and were totally absorbed in learning. A little later, Reb Yoysl created the famous circle of religious studies in Novogrudok, with the aim of educating young men to become rabbis. But Reb Yoysl was not satisfied with creating only the Bet Yosef Yeshiva in Novogrudok. He had a volcanic nature, and when he undertook something, he was [dedicated to it] with all his heart and soul (bekol libbo and nafsho). He created also a Yeshiva in Shavl, later a Bet Musar in Jerusalem with the help of the philanthropist (nadvan) Nathan Strauss, who was strongly influenced by the movement.
How did Reb Yoysl view the world? He began with the assumption that it is not enough to be a great scholar, to know all religious laws and traditional laws (halachot) of the Shulchan Aruch and Knowledge of Teaching (Yoreh Deah) , but one should also be aware of bad habits, as for example anger (ka'as) and haughtiness (ga'avah) . How can one reach the high level of Musar? To this Reb Yoysl had an answer - to study and dwell in the famed Musar books (sifrei) , which we mentioned previously. And even then one is not certain that one would reach the limit of the depths, which exercise a pressure and an influence on the human heart.
What were the theses of the followers (ba'alei) of Musar? For them sufficed, for instance, such an expression as: you live despite yourself (be'al korchecha ata chai) or know where you came from (Avot) (Da mea'in batah (Avot)) and similar basic thoughts, which we could consider to be paradoxes. Reb Yosef Yoysl displayed at all times an appearance of worry and sadness (atzvut) (though within himself he was filled with Godly dreams and ideals) and only dreamt of the end of all humanity (sof kol adam) (when) one will have to face judgment and to give an account at heaven's court (beit-din shel ma'alah liten din ve'cheshbon) of all deeds (ma'asim) . Reb Yosef Yoysl had always an open ear for every word and he even listened to mundane subjects (advar-chol), a voice heard sometimes at the market place, to hear if in the substance (etzem) lay a grain of Musar. And, let us add that the amount (s'chum) (of findings) with attributes (midot), which have created the cult of Musar was by no means small. Together they were generating a very large field, with seeds of plants of many principles (ikarim) of Musar. In them, one was looking for fulfillment (hashlamah). Reb Yosef Yoysl was distinct from all scholars, from all pupils of Reb Israel Salader, and just as the High Priest bore the names of all the twelve tribes on the priestly garments (chushan ve'ephod), so did Reb Yosef Yoysl cast roots of twelve principles (ikarim) of Musar, which was the general program of the Musar method. Firstly one must consider the matter of rest (menucha), which meant that one should be calm, have peace of mind (menuchat-nefesh) and not be disoriented, bewildered, lose balance. The second characteristic of Musar was savlanut , which means simply patience, and was intended to provide a reason why even to suffer troubles one must employ a measure of patience (midah shel savlanut), because otherwise a human being could not bear his heavy destiny. Savlanut meant also to be able to suffer undesirable elements, which one may meet in one's way. To put it simply, one should be able to suffer every kind of misfortune (pegah-rah) and not lose one's bearings. The third attribute (midah) of Musar is order (seder) - to keep things in order, which would save a man much time and many worries when he is orderly. Then follows diligence (charitzut), which means to weigh and measure every step, each deed, and then to do everything with diligence and meaning. To other good attributes belong (nekiyut), cleanliness and tidiness of both the body and soul, both in dress and in habits. A human should have a clear conscience and cleanliness in all his dealings. Another characteristic is anavah - modesty and recognition of personal faults (tauyot,) and only later to look for faults in others. The other six characteristics of Musar include the notion of kimutz - thriftiness, frugality, not to waste assets on unnecessary things. Zrizut is yet another attribute, which teaches not to waste time on useless activities, but also not to concentrate on practical and useful things only, either for oneself or for others. With it all one must learn the art of silence, or as it is called in Hebrew shtikah. This refers to all human beings, and it means that before one speaks one should consider if it is worth saying. The last two rules (klalim) of good manners in Musar are relaxation (nichutah), which means to fulfill (mekayem) the attribute that words of wise men are listened to with pleasure (divrei chachamim be'nachat nishmaim) and the last is the friendliest (acharon chaviv), and the truth (emet), which means not to say things that can create a suspicion (chashad) that something is not true or whether it is really all true (kulo emet). Reb Yosef Yoysl Hurovitz had strictly followed the teachings of all the recommended books (se'ifim) of Musar. He was not satisfied with the opinion (svarah), that he was only better than others (oleh al kulam) were. He had his accretion (hosafot) of knowledge, which helped him to overcome his previous limitations (gader) of the ordinary (stam) Musar.
D. Reb Yosef Yoysl was a son of Rabbi Shlome Zalmon Ziv (?), who changed his name later to Hurovitz. Reb Shlome Zalmon was the rabbi of Flugian and from there moved as head of the (religious) community (marah-de'atrah) of Kurtuvian, close to Shavl of the Kovno district, where he lead the community (kehile) for a period of 20 years. As would be expected, Yosef Yoysl acquired his basic education under the supervision of his father. The great abilities of Yosef Yoysl became obvious, when at the age of 16 years he was reciting the lesson (hasheur) in the synagogue of Kurtuvian. He married young, as did many young scholars of those days. After the wedding, he had to engage in commerce (mischar) because his father-in-law died before the wedding. However, as it happened, it was this need for his frequent journeys (nesiot) to Memel that introduced him to the holiest of holies (kodshei kodashim) of Musar. Reb Israel Salander, the founder of the Musar method lived at that time in Memel. No matter how much his soul was attracted to Musar, it can not justify his remarkable determination to leave behind his neglected (hefker ) wife and children and lock himself up, hidden from the world (bechadrei chadrim ), to study and plunge into the depth of Musar. This attribute gives a full picture of the character and obstinacy of Reb Yosef Yoysl. Obviously, almost everyone tried to dissuade Reb Yosef Yoysl from such an undertaking and advised him to return home, but he did not yield until his wife came to him and stayed with him in the circle of religious studies. Even Reb Israel could not persuade him to change his mind and return home to his family. Obviously, all this caused much anxiety to his father and even more to his wife, but the fire of Musar was to prevail (gover) over all. We do not intend to convey here the details (befrotrot) of all the insides and happenings of Yosef Yoysl's life. We are describing here only, based on his conduct (hanhagah), a man of the greatest enthusiasm (hitlahavut). His spirit had a great influence on everybody in Novogrudok. Its Yeshiva created a new way of life and Reb Yosef Yoysl called the tune, and was the guide (moreh-derech) for hundreds of youths and adults, who found shelter under the wing of Musar. How did Novogrudok react to his (Musar) method? What was the attitude to the young people who were in the Yeshiva and the circle? A great many local inhabitants were almost hypnotized by Reb Yoysl and were prepared to tolerate (hanachot) and endure all sacrifices (korbanot) as long as he could continue with his method and create a generation of God fearing and complete (beings) (yere'im ushlomim). There were however a large number of inhabitants who did not agree with all the eccentricities and have quietly, from time to time, protested against his behaviour (hanhagah,), against the epidemic of Musar, and even the heads of the community (mara-de'atrah) of Novogrudok, were initially (lechatchila) protesting against the Yeshiva and against its leader Reb Yoysl. Non-the-less this remained an internal matter and nobody publicized (mefarsem) the dispute (sichsuch). Reb Yoysl was a remarkable character, he was obstinate and would not let anything stop his endeavors. When he had to leave Novogrudok because of divisions of opinions (chilukei deot) with his community (kehile), he found another way of following the method of Musar. But he did not surrender. This characteristic could be observed in his character on each occasion, though in later years he became more flexible. An interesting fact is that when his father died in 1890 and Kurtuvian offered him the position that he would have inherited from his father as head of the community, he did not accept it because he had a sister who was left an orphan and he rejected the rabbinical seat (kise harabanut ) in favour of his future brother in law. On the anniversary [of his father's death?] Reb Yoysl decided to shut himself in a room of a blacksmith's house and not allow anyone near him, but sit and immerse (chakirah) himself in Musar. To bathe in he even made for himself his own ritual bath (mikvah ). He showed strength of character, so that on the New Year he did not go to the synagogue to hear the blowing of the ram's horn. This was not done with ill intent, but he preferred to study rather than to pray. Books kept on his table were books on religious laws and morality (sifrei halachah ve'sifrei Musar ). He studied repeatedly the Shulchan Aruch (a book of religious laws) Orach Chaim (A Way of Life) Choshen Mishpat (a book of (religious) laws) and other books, which would separate him from the everyday world and change into a sort of asceticism (nazir). It is interesting to read in Hamelitz in No. 18 of the year 1883 (Tof Rez Mem Giml) an article (ma'amar ) by Reb Moshe Yehoshua Halevi Levin, where the author made a joke about Reb Yoysl and called him nazir beisrael (an ascetic among the people of Israel). He was also exposed to criticism from the Goan of Kovno Reb Itschok Elchonon, who sent for him once and asked him why did you not appear to listen to the blowing of the ram's horn? Reb Yoysl was not fazed by this question and replied that First comes avoidance of the bad (sur mera) and only then comes the doing of good (ve'ase tov) by which he meant that it is better to avoid people with their faults (chesronot), than to listen to the blowing of the horn. Basically he was a type of an ascetic (parush), because asceticism (prishat) was his main characteristic, However, in later years he convinced himself that such isolation (prishat) is not natural (lo kederech hateva) and he began to mitigate his principles.
E. The ways of Reb Yoysl have disappointed even his teachers (Rabeim), Reb Simche Zisl from Chelm and also Reb Itschok Bloser. To their aid came Reb Itschok Elchonon, a giant of his generation (Gdol Hador) and they all were looking for a solution or tricks (tachbulot) to extract him from his lethargy and his solitude (hitbodedut). For entire two years they conducted discussions with him to convince him to abandon his isolation, until in the end he had to give in and re-enter the open world. Giving up the isolation (prishut) meant that he admitted that the time of seclusion had ended for him. Now he could teach others so as to recompense the multitude (lezakot et harabim). Leaving his seclusion had altered his new way of life, he entered the era of spreading the learning of the Torah and this had become his obsession, and again with the same zeal (kanaut) as he displayed in his previous solitude (hitbodedut), he engaged in creating small circles of learning (kolelim). He could not be satisfied with Novogrudok alone, but he entered the wide world with the same teaching of Musar and zeal (kanaut). He created a circle (kolel), a sort of branch of Novogrudok, in Lubch and established a big new network of circles in Dvinsk, Minsk, Warsaw, Berdichev, Lida, Zetl etc. He insisted that the head of the movement should be the famous leader of Musar, Reb Itschok Bloser, who was at the time (be'et) the main strength of the Musar movement (tnuat Musar) and carried Reb Yosef Yoysl on his shoulders. Notwithstanding all the branches and circles, the Novogrudok house of the big Yeshiva Yosef (bet Yosef Yeshive Gdole) was his main centre, his spiritual arsenal, from which he has drawn inspiration for himself and for others. Later he endeavoured to centralise all small Yeshivot (Yeshivot ktanot) in the Yeshiva of Novogrudok and dozens of students from many towns of the district came to Novogrudok. Some come from as far as Caucuses and other alien places, to study in Novogrudok. And many chasids have sent their children to study the Torah and Musar in the Centre Yeshiva of Yosef in Novogrudok (Merkaz Yeshiva Novogrudok bet Yosef). The Rabbi of Novogrudok Reb Yechiel Michl Epshtin helped Reb Yoysl to succeed. Reb Epshtin was the author of the book Aruch Hashulchan (a book of religious laws, using the title of the famous Shulchan Aruch in reversed order). Reb Epshtin did not follow the method of Musar, but had respect for Reb Yoysl and approved (haskamot) of his followers (meshulachim). A letter from Reb Epshtin of Novogrudok exerted at that time a large influence. Also, the lay world respected the young men who received permission (heiter hora'ah) from Reb Yechiel Michl Epshtin to teach. At that time, the Centre Yeshiva of Yosef had about (karov) three hundred students in addition to the large number of young men in the circle, which together amounted to four hundred students of the Torah. Reb Yoysl had put all his body and soul into the circle of Novogrudok. He endeavoured (mishtadel) to influence the military authorities to exempt his pupils from military service, so as not to interrupt their study of the Torah. He was, however, the one in charge (moshel bakipa) in the Yeshiva and in the circle. He did not allow anyone to interfere in the affairs of the Yeshiva. He alone was the head of the Yeshiva, he alone recited the lesson and he alone set the innovations to the Torah (chidushei Torah). To be better prepared for the task (mlachah) he spent some time in Brest, where he gained much from the teachings of Reb Chaim Soloveichik the head of the (religious) community of Brest. When the workload had become too big for one man, he divided the Yeshiva into groups, according to the level of knowledge of the pupils. He involved his brothers-in-law Reb Alter Shmulovich, Reb Eruchim Varhaftig and Reb Simche Sokolovski to help with the load. Reb Alter did not assist for long, because of differences of opinion with Reb Yoysl and, at that stage, his son-in-law Reb Avrom Yaffe undertook the task. This was actually the best period in the history of the Novogrudok Yeshiva, because it was crammed with studies (sugiyot), problems, justifications, chatter and discussions. The main input of Reb Yoysl was the fundamental principle of teaching Musar, because this was the highest aim of his life. Reb Yoysl was at his happiest when he heard the pupils arguing (nitvakeyach) at a difficult study or discussion and he did not leave until the matter was settled (Reb Dov Chof Cadic wrote about this subject in his book Tnuat Musar (The Musar Movement) p.199). Naturally it was a long process until the Novogrudok bet Yosef Yeshiva obtained its citizens' rights, because it was a new type of a Yeshiva, a Musar industry with which, to begin with, the common people (hamon ha'am) were not familiar. As I remarked before, I do not pretend to have exhausted the full picture and all characteristics of the great Reb Yoysl. Even after the publication of two books by rabbi Chof Cadik and rabbi J.L. (Jud Lamed) Nekrit, many characteristics remained that were not yet not explained to this day (ad haymow) and have not been investigated. Reb Yoysl was a colossally great personality and in proportion to his greatness he was also a great possessor of faults (bal chesronot) and immensely obstinate and the obstinacy robbed him of a great part of his life and of his appeal. His worries regarding the building of the Yeshiva and the physical well being of his pupils, the continuous battles with the surrounding opponents and jealous people (be'alei kinah) , the disorganised family life and other problems have shortened his life. At the time when the first world war started, he was left a shepherd without a flock (k'eroeh bli tzon) . The pupils had departed, fled. The living conditions had become very difficult and that was his second bitter calamity, because in 1905 he lived through a big catastrophe, when many pupils have been exposed to evil influences (le'tarbut ra'ah). The Russian revolution had brought to an end his woes and battles, though he thought that the revolution will result in strengthening Musar. Let a future Jewish historian look at Reb Yoysl's difficult battles in Novogrudok, which he later lost, because the public opinion (da'at haklal) turned against him. There were also thousands of other details (pratim) which must be left for the future. It is a rich canvas of many colours, but not everything can be accommodated in one article (ma'amar), even if it were somewhat longer. The book about Novogrudok that should serve as a monument to the past Great Novogrudok community should provide space for many other matters, with an apology to the respected reader (ve'im hakore hanichbad haslicha).
[The Yiddish writing (particularly of religious texts) of those days was intermingled with many Hebrew words. Their translation is a hazardous task. We include the transliterated Hebrew words next to the translations for each to select a translation, which pleases him best.]
Translated from Yiddish by O. Delatycki My memories of Novogrudok are connected with a time before the First World War, when our town was renowned for its famous Yeshiva led by Reb Yosef Yoysl Hurovitz ZLB. The Yeshiva took on the specific 'derech Hamusar' (the way of the Musar), which had become known as the Novogrudok derech (way). My father Reb Zvi Hirsh Gutman ZL was a principal of the Yeshiva and at the same time he travelled to various towns in southern Russia as the representative of the Yeshiva.
Reb Yosef Yoysl, who was later the head of the Yeshiva, and the founder of the new derech (way), had a significant past. I will try to relate a number of events that are known to me as well as to others.
Reb Yosef Yoysl was born in 1850 in the small town of Kurtuvian close to Shavl in Lithuania. His father, Shlome Zalmon, was the Rabbi of the town. His father was considered a great scholar and a God fearing man. Yosef Yoysl had three brothers and four sisters. He had distinguished himself as a young man of great abilities and keenness to study. He joined the Chelm Yeshiva when he was still very young. At the age of 18 he married in the township of Svechne, which was on the German boarder. His father-in-law to be was a businessman. However, he died before the wedding took place, having left a wife and eight children. Yosef Yoysl took over the task of caring for the whole family. He undertook to continue his father-in-law's business. He was successful. Because of his business commitments he was a frequent visitor to Memel, where Reb Isroel Salander was the Rabbi at that time. There are several versions of the story of how Reb Yosef Yoysl met Reb Isroel Salander. I was told the following account: once, as Reb Yosef Yoysl was walking rapidly in a street of Memel in pursuit of his business, a pupil of Reb Isroel Salander, Reb Itschok Bloser (later known as Reb Itchele Peterburger), stopped him. Reb Itschok asked him where he was rushing to. Reb Yosef Yoysl answered that he was in a hurry, because he was about to buy stock for his business. Reb Itchok, seeing that he was speaking to a learned (ben Torah) young man, said that he should give up business and turn to studying Torah and Musar. Reb Yosef Yoysl replied: 'Yes Rabbi, but how will I get my livelihood?' Reb Itchok had allegedly replied: 'Why are you concerned what you will live on, when your concern should be what you will die with. A Jew must be concerned with what he will accomplish before he dies.' Reb Yosef Yoysl said that those words had left a deep impression on him and gave him no peace. He sent back home the money he had on him, remained in Memel and took up studies with Reb Isroel Salander.
He became one of the scholars who began spreading the learning of Musar in the Yeshivas. He established a Yeshiva in Berdichev. When that Yeshiva was functioning well and had 200 students, Reb Yosef Yoysl went to other towns to bring together young men and establish other Yeshivas. On one of his journeys he met a wealthy Jewish merchant, Reb Gershon Sazyner, who owned estates around Zetl. Reb Yosef Yoysl asked Reb Gershon to build for him a hut in his forest, where he would be able to study without interruptions. Reb Gershon built the hut. It had become known that the hut was built with the assistance of a wealthy man named Lachman, from Berlin.
Reb Yosef Yoysl lived in that hut for 9 years. My father was the principal of the Yeshiva, when it was created later. In our house, a number of stories were told about the time of Reb Yosef Yoysl's solitude. One story was that Reb Yosef Yoysl sat in a room, with the door locked. The room had two openings through which food was served to Reb Yoysl. One opening was for milchik (food based on milk) and the other for fleishig (food made with meat). This is why Reb Yosef Yoysl was called the man of the gash.
After Reb Yosef Yoysl had spent 9 years in seclusion, he, together with other students of Reb Salander, went into the world, to towns and townships, where they created organisations for young people. The purpose was for them to collect money to make it possible to study Musar. The youth who joined were young men who left their homes and took up full time studies. Such organisations were created in the towns of Novogrudok, Zetl, Lubch, Shavl, Dvinsk and Lida. Young people were studying everywhere. They were supplied with food from a special kitchen and were given 6 roubles per month by the communities they lived in, which the students passed on to support their families. Reb Yosef Yoysl travelled to all the schools, stayed for a while, taught the students and was implanting the way of the Musar. He would stay in a place for no more than a month before going on to the next place. Once a year, in the month of Elul, a get together of the students from all the schools would take place. The venue would change from year to year. One year they assembled in Novogrudok, the next year in Slonim and so on.
Finally Reb Yosef Yoysl had decided to establish a Yeshiva. He has chosen Novogrudok as the preferred place. At that time the Rabbi of Novogrudok was Reb Yechiel Michl Epshtin the author of the book ÒAruch HashulchanÓ, who was the father-in-law of the head of the Yeshiva in Volozyn, Reb Naftale Zvi Yehuda Berlin, known as the NZYB of Volozyn. Reb Yechiel Michl was supportive of the initiative of Reb Yosef Yoysl. A number of local inhabitants helped. Thus, in 1896 the Yeshiva was created. It was the first of hundreds of Yeshivas of Musar, which were created subsequently. They all assumed the name of Novogrudok Yeshivas.
At the beginning, Reb Yosef Yoysl created in Novogrudok a circle of learning. Later he assembled in Zetl all members of the circles, about 50 young men. He than found suitable spiritual leaders and created a Yeshiva. However, a division occurred in respect of the way of the Musar. A number of Rabbis had declared their opposition to the Yeshiva and insisted that the citizens of Novogrudok should not support it. The Yeshiva had, however, its supporters, foremost among them the Rabbi Epshtin. He supported the Yeshiva and its management.
Let us mention some of the other supporters. I remember well some of them. They were: Leib Kabak, Yehoshua Leib Harkavy (father of Alexander Harkavy), Eliohu Faigenberg, Shmuel Krasnopiurka, known as Reb Shmuel Matuses, Eliezer Levin, Velvl Movshovich and others.
The opposition to the Yeshiva had come to public notice in the paper Hazvira. The struggle subsided only after the Rabbi of Novogrudok, Reb Yechiel Michl Epshtin had openly denied in the Hazvira all inventions and suspicions expressed about the Yeshiva and its ways.
At that time Reb Yosef Yoysl had summoned my father, Reb Cvi Hirsh Gutman ZLB, who was at the time the Rabbi of Tshelba in Crimea. My father travelled to the towns and townships of Southern Russia to create there Yeshivas modelled on the Yeshiva in Novogrudok. My father, influenced by Reb Yosef Yoysl, created Yeshivas in Cherson, Mohilev-Podolsk, Kamieniec-Podolsk, Berdichev, Nikolaev, Balty, Odessa and other places. Reb Yosef Yoysl sent young scholars to lead the Yeshivas. The connections with those Yeshivas were of big importance during the First World War, when the teaching of Musar was concentrated mostly in the Ukrainian towns.
In 1908 the Rabbi of Novogrudok, Reb Yechiel Michl Epshtin, died. The town wanted to appoint a suitable Rabbi as a replacement. Among the prospective candidates were Harav Burshtain from Tavrik in Lithuania and Reb Itzchok Jankef Reines from Lida. Both candidates were unsuccessful. They opposed the way of the Musar of Reb Yosef Yoysl. Yosef Yoysl and his friend did everything to prevent the appointment of these two Rabbis. The town was for a long time without a Rabbi.
The story of the development of the Yeshiva, which was a model for many Yeshivas in the world, was of great interest. A condensed version of the history of the Novogrudok Musar Yeshiva can be found in a collective book. It was written by Rabbi I. L. Nekrich, who is at present the head of the Novogrudok Yeshiva in Brooklyn.
I would like to add a few details about the family of Reb Yosef Yoysl. He had three sons-in- law: Reb Alter, Reb Isroel Yankef Lubchanski and Reb Avrom Yoffe. Reb Alter was a renowned scholar and was a follower of the education by 'derech hapilpul' (by way of conversation). After each of his lectures the students discussed the topic amongst themselves for a long time. He was not a follower of Reb Yosef Yoysl's way of Musar. This led to frequent altercations between father-in-law and son-in-law. In the end Reb Alter left Novogrudok and he became the head of the Yeshiva in Schuchin. Reb Isroel Yankef followed the direction of his father-in-law. He was the supervisor of the Yeshiva in Baranovichi 'Oil Torah' which followed the way of Musar. In later years (from 1921) Reb Alter Wasserman was the head of the Yeshiva. My father Zvi Hirsh Gutman was the principal till the last day of its existence. Reb Isroel Yankef Lubchanski and my father were killed by the Nazi (may their name be erased) together with the Jewish community of Baranovichi.
Reb Avrom Yoffe was the head of the Novogrudok Yeshiva in Bialystok, the biggest Yeshiva in Poland between the two world wars. This Yeshiva 'Beit Yosef', which was the name of all Novogrudok Yeshivas in Poland, supervised 30 other Beit Yosef Yeshivas. Reb Avrom Yaffe survived by a miracle. After many tribulations he came to the United States, were he established the Novogrudok Yeshiva. At present he is the head of the Beit Yosif Yeshiva in Israel.
The 8 December is the anniversary of the Kehile Gdoyshe in Novogrudok. This is the date of the first slaughter in Novogrudok, in which 5000 victims were killed. Novogrudok was destroyed in this and subsequent actions. The town was famed before the war of having great and wise men as well as good and honest Jews. It was changed from a Kehile Gdoyshe into a Kehile of the dead IZAV Ibone Zion Veureu (let it be rebuilt in Zion and its towns).
There was once a habit among the Jews that when in a document the name of the community was written the words HID Hashem Incom Dumom were added (my G-d take revenge for their innocent blood).
I don't know how the habit had begun. Maybe this contained a premonition that if a community would be destroyed the Jewish spirit would not be eradicated. The destroyed settlements will be rebuilt in Zion.
Perhaps this will be a certain consolation for the big catastrophe, which occurred.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Novogrudok, Belarus Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2023 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 7 July 2006 by LA