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A Background to the Story of Riteve

by Mendel Kaplan

Part One:
Lithuania and its Jewish Community

It appears ironic that the beginnings of Lithuania itself are tied into the Crusades and the ultimate ejection of the Crusaders from Jerusalem. While we were rebuilding Jerusalem after 1967, the mayor, Teddy Kollek, took me on a walking tour and pointed to a church that was being renovated to commemorate the site where the Teutonic Order of Knights was born. This Order of Knights fought their way to the Baltic Sea and eventually dominated the area known in the 13th century as Prussia. The pressure from this order together with the Livonian Order compelled fragmented Lithuania to form a governing body of some 20 dukes who are mentioned in the Wolhynia Chronicle and create a unified defense to maintain their independence.

From the 16th century onwards, the western part of Lithuania, in which Riteve is situated, that is to say the part bounded by the Nevesis River on the east, the Baltic Sea on the west, the Nemunas River on the south and the Latvian border on the north, was known as Samogitia, the name meaning ‘lowland’. However, this name originated around the 14th century in various forms all starting with the syllable Sam … ‘Zem …’ or ‘Zam …’. Because its conquest would open up the way to the rest of Lithuania, Samogitia was right in the middle of the wars of Lithuania against the Teutonic Knights, starting at the beginning of the 13th century and continuing until 1422 when they were finally defeated. Samogitia's sufferings for over two hundred years isolated it from the rest of Lithuania and it developed differently Other areas were divided into palatinates according to the Polish system, but Samogitia had a nominal degree of autonomy as a separate administrative unit, being governed by a semunas (elder), approved by the Grand Prince. It had more private estates than royal

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The teacher Alter Leveite, left, editor of the original edition of this book, which was published in 1975, with a junior class at the Riteve Hebrew School in the 1920s or early 1930s


ones and the peasants had more rights than their counterparts in Lithuania. They were not serfs and only paid a fee to the owners of the estates.

One duke, Mindaugas, is credited with having become the sole ruler king of Lithuania and the large district later known as Samogitia in 1236 and, in fact, was a Samogitian. He was assassinated in 1263 in an incident in which Treniota, the alleged son of Mindaugas's enemy, Prince Gykintas, who had died in battle in 1251, took part. Treniota succeeded Mindaugas for only a year until he, too, was murdered. No other Samogitians ascended the throne and, until 1672, Samogitia was ruled by the Vytenis–Gediminas dynasty.

The accession to the throne of King Gediminas in 1316 was the foundation of the empire of which Lithuania was about to become part and which ultimately stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. King Gediminas solicited foreign assistance to develop this empire and among those to whom he promised tax exemptions, freedom of worship and religious tolerance were Jews, who then moved up either from southern Russia or the German river system. Lithuania was practically the last area of Europe to adopt Christianity; it embraced this only in the early 15th century. The Samogitians were the most resistant to this, although baptisms started in 1413. However, conversions happened slowly and even in the 16th century there were only 38 churches and some people still practised the pagan religion. So it was that the Jews who arrived from Western

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Europe did not suffer from Christian persecution as elsewhere, whether it was through the Crusades or for the Black Plagues of 1348–1350. Under Vytautaz the Great, who reigned from 1401 until his death in 1430, Jews settled in a large number of Lithuanian towns, including Vilnius. They were granted charters spelling out their legal rights and giving them opportunities for economic progress, exempting their synagogues and cemeteries from taxation as well as giving them personal religious security. These charters, their cancellation and re–establishment, were to dominate Jewish life in Lithuania and form the basis of their political, legal, economic and social structures until the 18th century.

After Vytautaz's death, an argument over the union with Poland created a civil war which lasted nearly 15 years until the accession to the throne of Kazimier the Great. He allowed Jews to trade freely, hired them as financiers, permitted them to be tax farmers and appointed them as customs inspectors.

While the Jews remained under the Duchy of Lithuania, their conditions were reasonably stable; but once the Union of Lublin took place in 1569, merging Lithuania and Poland, their status altered. The increasing strength within this union of the Roman Catholic Church made the position of the Jews subject to the ruler of the day and his relationship with the church.

The 16th century saw the creation of an autonomous Jewish authority in the Council of the Four Lands. Under the Council, Jews were allowed the benefits of community organisation and responsibility. It ruled the Jewish communities which were part of the Ukraine. Belarussia, Lithuania and Poland, covering several million Jews. In 1590, the Jewish Regional Council, named Wad Lita, came into existence to speak for Lithuanian Jewry alone. Lithuania still belonged to the overall synod and sent members to its meetings, which were held during the great fairs of Lublin and in the five principal cities of the extended Four Lands: Brisk, Pinsk, Vilnius, Slutzk and Grodno, all of which had rabbinical courts. The establishment of the Councils in the middle of the 16th century was the implementation of the Polish authorities' decision to set up a centralised Jewish leadership. The venue and time of meetings of the Lithuanian Council were determined as circumstances required. The Council maintained a Pinkas (an official minute book) which recorded resolutions and the budget invested by the authorities. In 1763, the Councils both in Poland and Lithuania were dissolved in the wake of the decision of the Polish authorities to change the taxation system.1

Although at times their rights were increased, as in the reconfirmed charter of 1644, the Jews were often restricted in terms of trade and residence. The latter restrictions marked the beginning of fie Jewish ghettos and the eventual establishment of the Pale of Settlement. The slaughter of the Jews in 1648 during the Ukrainian Cossack rebellion under Chmielnicki had its repercussion in Lithuania. However, more important was the invasion of Lithuania by the Russian army and Swedish forces during the Swedish expansion. This was best described by Moises Rifkus, who fled to Amsterdam at the time:

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The whole of Lithuania is suffering from bands of Russians and Cossacks, who destroy cities and kill the people. Thus fell Polock, Vitebsk, and Minsk. In Vilnius, Voivode Christopher Radziwill and his army, as well as many citizens, fled. The murderers looted the houses before burning them. Most of the Jews escaped, some by horse and cart. Others, carrying their children and Torah scrolls, walked for miles in search of shelter.

I left my beautiful house, abandoned my inheritance, my books, my goods, and also my work on the Talmudic Tractates Zevalim and Menahot. We went into exile, not knowing where to go, accompanied by the cries of terrified refugees. We reached the German–Prussian border, where the Swedish army stripped us of the rest of our belongings. We boarded a ship and came to Amsterdam.

There, the Sephardim and their scholars took pity on us and kindly gave us lodging food and clothing. Some ships with refugees were sent off at their expense to Frankfurt and other communities. Everywhere, the Jewish communities received the refugees with kindness. I was invited to stay by Chief Rabbis Saul Halevi Morteirc and Isaac Aboab, and their philanthropists provided me with a comfortable home where I might dwell.2

The commonwealth that had been formed by the Union of Lublin began to disintegrate in the 18th century and by 1767 Catherine of Russia had become the protectress of the commonwealth. Poland and Lithuania were finally partitioned in the last years of the 18th century and in 1795 Lithuania and Samogitia became a part of the growing Russian Empire. In 1843 Samogitia ceased to be a separate administrative unit and became part of the newly created province of Kaunas (Kovtio) in Lithuania and its original name is almost forgotten today.3 Prom 1795. When Lithuania and Samogtia first came under the domination of the Russian Empire, the Jews began to experience maltreatment. By an edict of the tsar, they were restricted to an area described as the Pale of Settlement. This curved across the western border of Russia from the Black Sea to the Baltic. Educational and vocational opportunities were limited by quota and by law.4

In 1827, Tsar Nicolas I (1825–55) issued a decree that the exemption from military service that the Jews had formerly enjoyed would now cease. This was not because of military demands, but – and he made no secret of the fact – because he hoped that separation from their communities would result in converts for the Orthodox Church. The age for conscripts was usually 18, but the age for Jews was fixed from 12–25. Although other conscripts had to serve for 25 years, the time of service for a Jew was to count from the age of 18, thus some had to serve for over 30 years. There were some exemptions, including the only son of a family, and merchants. The Jewish communities, which were respons–

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ible for the filling of the quotas, employed kidnappers (chappers) to seize the youngsters. Not until 1874 was the age for military service made the same for Jews as for other members of the population. The time of service was also reduced from 25 to 6 years. Communal responsibility for finding the quota of recruits was abolished, but so were the exemptions, except for only sons. Jewish merchants objected strongly to their exemption being removed as it could ruin their businesses and affect their families' livelihood. Each potential recruit was personally liable to serve. In order to escape conscription, young men were known to change their names and move somewhere else or emigrate.5

Conscription once more became a fear for the Jews when the war between Russia and Japan broke out in 1904. The bone of contention was the whole area of Manchuria and Korea. The Russian army was defeated and Japan gained large territories and became a world power in the Pacific. The total defeat of the Russian Empire had a very strong impact on the internal situation and precipitated the revolution of 1905 after, on the tsar's orders, there had been a brutal massacre of demonstrators against the war in January of that year. The revolution was crushed by government reprisals against the peasants, sailors and soldiers who had mutinied and also against the workers. Some 15 000 people were killed and 70 000 were arrested.6

For a Jew, conscription meant being totally unable to follow his religion, including dietary laws. It was usual for a Jew to be posted to a far distant place in the Russian Empire: he had no chance of promotion and very often never saw his family again. The threat of conscription caused many Jews in Lithuania to emigrate.7

For more than a hundred years Russian influence reduced the economic stature of the Lithuanian province to a degree which led to mass migration to the West both of Jews and gentiles. The ability to migrate and to take with them their learning heritage, community organisation and economic abilities was developed by Jews during the period when Lithuanians to an extent controlled their own destiny.

Landownership should be mentioned as a factor influencing emigration, although discrimination here did not apply only to the Jew. Until the reform of 1861, when the serfdom system was abolished, the land in the Russian Empire was owned exclusively by the tsar and the aristocracy. In the instance of west Lithuania, in the districts of Telz and Tavrig, these were Polish aristocrats. Under the serfdom system, the serfs were in bondage to the landowner. They could be used by their owner for any kind of work and could even be bought and sold. When in 1861 (in 1836 in Riteve through the local landlord) the serfs were emancipated by an edict of Tsar Alexander II. This decree gave them legal freedom yet left them economically bankrupt. They had to pay a high sum of redemption money for the land, which they could not afford, and so they remained bound to the soil. In the beginning of the 20th century, about 48 per

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cent of the land was still in the hands of Polish and Russian landowners. During the first half of the 19th century, the landowning lords in Riteve were Mykolas Kleopas Oginski, who purchased the land in 1812, and his son, Irenaeus Oginski (1808–1863), who had two sons. As will be seen later in this volume, Irenaeus Oginski persecuted the Jewish community.8

In January 1863, a Polish revolt broke out when an attempt was made by the Russian tsar and his officials to conscript young Polish patriots into the army. The Lithuanians supported the Polish revolt but, by the end of the year, it had been crushed. Many Polish patriots, like Oginski of Riteve, were arrested before and after the outbreak of the revolt.9

Eighteen years later there was far more serious trouble. Pogroms began in the Ukraine and Poland and, although persecution of such severity did not occur in Lithuania, minor incidents were not unknown. Pogroms were riots against the Jews encouraged by the Russian government, which tried to find a scapegoat for the country's most difficult internal problems, especially the strengthening of the revolutionary movement. In 1881, pogroms broke out in a number of towns and villages in southern Russia. Similar pogroms were repeated in 1882, 1883 and 1884. Also, during the 1880s the previous policy of a liberal education available to all was countermanded. The number of Jews attending secondary school or university was limited to 10 per cent within the Pale of Settlement, even though the Jewish population there varied from 30–80 per cent; outside the Pale, lim–

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A postcard of Riteve, probably from the early 1930s, giving some idea of the countryside
Collection of the late Many Singer


itations were worse – 5 per cent of students in St Petersburg, for example, and only 3 per cent in Moscow.10

Restrictions on Jews became more severe in May 1882 when the cabinet of Tsar Alexander III published the Temporary Laws. These restricted the limits of Jewish residence to small towns and villages, making farming impossible for the Jew in the country, for example, or industry in the city.11

The basis of South African Jewry was emigration from the Lithuanian shtetlakh. The final influences which determined this emigration were the conflicts that arose in the 19th century and the failure of the Enlightenment Movement to guarantee equality of treatment of Jews in the expanded Russian Empire. The Enlightenment had postulated the possibility that Jews could live a normal life as full citizens in a majority culture. The pogroms had questioned this and, consciously or subconsciously, the Jewish community of Lithuania developed four responses.

The first was the rise of Zionism, both in the rest of the Pale of Settlement and in Lithuania itself. This was welcomed as an answer to Jewish problems as it would normalise the Jew by giving him his own national state. In Lithuania, including Riteve, Zionist societies were established. Rabbis supported the Zionist movement – in fact, before Theodor Herzl began the Zionist movement, the Mizrachi religious movement was begun by Rabbi Jacob Reines at Lida. And he was only following the views of the Vilna Gaon – who sent some of his students to Eretz Israel – and other rabbis from Lithuania who established a colony in Jerusalem in the 19th century. This was one answer to the pogroms. Another

answer was provided by the development of the Bund, which stated that the Jews should be integrated into the local society, and the struggle for the liberation of the worker. Political development should be encouraged whereby the worker dominated and eventually overthrew the controlling authority.12

The third response was to return to the ghetto – spiritually if not physically – and concentrate on the world of the shtetl and the world of one's own people. Because of the restrictions in Lithuania on Jews owning agricultural land, and the fact that the majority of non–Jewish Lithuanians lived in the countryside, 50 per cent of the inhabitants of most villages and towns were Jewish. Therefore, to the outsider, and to the Jew who lived in the shtetl, the proportion of Jews in Lithuania seemed much greater than it really was. And it was comfortable to return to a life of homogeneity; even though it was one of great deprivation.

The final response of the Jews of Lithuania was to leave the country of their birth for the freedom of the West; to reach towards the 'Golden medina' of America who, in the words of Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty, 'opened the golden door to all migrants', or to other places. And one of the places to which the Jews of Lithuania chose to go was South Africa – some 40,000 Litvaks chose this destination between 1880 and 1910. And that is how the world of Riteve came to the village of Parow, Cape Town, my birthplace.

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Part Two:
Riteve and Its Jewish Community

Year Total population Jewish population Percentage
1859 964
1897 1,750 1,397 80
1923 1,720 868 50
1940 500
1959 2,882 1 0.03
Table from Pinkus Hakehillot (Dov Levin, Editor).

Riteve is first mentioned in historical documents dating from 1253 and from 1527 belonged to the Grand Prince of Lithuania. It was granted permission to hold a weekly two–day market and an annual fair by King Zigmond Vaza in 1590 – from 1767 the number of fairs grew to four per year. Riteve was elevated to the status of a city in 1792 and, three years later, came under the rule of Russia (1795–1915). It was then first incorporated into the Vilna district and, from 1843, into the Kovno district. The aristocratic Polish Oginski family owned the town's lands and neighbouring estate from 1812–1909.

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While this family left many tyrannical stories within the Jewish community, especially that of the desecration of the Beit Midrash, they developed their estate and the town of Riteve in exemplary fashion. As was mentioned in Part One, it was under Mykolas Kleopas Oginski that the estate was purchased in 1812 and under his successor, Irenaeus Oginski, that it was developed. Irenacus Oginski abolished serfdom as early as 1835, well before it was abolished by the tsar in the rest of Russia, and between 1842 and 1850 initiated and encouraged the opening of six savings banks which were the first to be opened in Lithuania. In 1846, Uurynas Ivmskis, with the encouragement of Oginski, published the first calendar in Lithuania. On 1 January 1857, the first Lithuanian weekly, by the same man, was distributed, only to be prohibited shortly thereafter by the tsar. In 1859 the first agricultural school was established and Irenaeus's successor, his son, Bogdan Oginski, developed the first professional music school with a six– year curriculum and programme. By 1885 they had developed a 60–piece symphony orchestra.13 The school building still exists. Today it has been reopened under the auspices of the Catholic Church with some arts and crafts featuring as part of its curriculum.14

In 1874, the major Catholic Church in the centre of the town, begun under the aegis of Irenacus Oginski, was completed by his son. In 1882, the first telephone line in Lithuania was opened between Riteve, Plunge, Krctinga and Palanga and in 1892 the first electrical lights in Lithuania were created in the town of Riteve.15

The first known census of Jews in Riteve was in 1662, when they numbered 421. As can be seen from the table heading Part Two. Riteve reached the zenith of us Jewish population around the end of the 19th century and then declined until the remaining inhabitants were wiped out during the Nazi period.16

The decline of the Jewish population in Riteve came about as a result of the conditions discussed in Part One and a large number of its Jewish population moved to South Africa between the end of the I9th century and the 1930s. The life of the Jewish population, as with the general population, was tied to the attitudes and progressive reforms of the Oginski family and even today remnants can be seen of the music school, the lake and the forests, as well as the tower windmill which created the first electrical power.

Of course, the synagogue and Beit Midrash stood at the centre of the town's religious life. The synagogue was used during summer and High Holidays, but the Beit Midrash served as a place of learning throughout the day where practically every Jew came to study Mishnah and Ein Yaacov or a page of Gemara. Many famous rabbis were born in Riteve, some mentioned in the text of this book including Aharon Shlomo (Solomon) Zalmonovitz, known as the Riteve Rov, to whom a South African rabbi. Rabbi Aloy, remembers giving a Shiur in his town before he left Dokshitz for Canada. One of the writers and translators. Rabbi Getzel Zelikovitz, was an Orientalist and researcher, a lecturer in Egyptology at

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Harry Singer, standing right, and members of his family from South Africa, a photograph taken in Israel at meeting of the Fellow Townsmen Association of Ritevas in Israel and Abroad in the early 1970s.
Harry, who died in 1998, collaborated with the later Alter Levite in obtaining material for the original book and was one of the early members of the Fellow Townsmen Association.
As the Association is no longer active, he willingly gave permission for the new edition and took much interest in it.


the University of Pennsylvania. Among the rabbis who served in Riteve, the last rabbi was Rabbi Shmuel Fundiler, who, having suffered a martyr's death as described later, has since been reinterred in Jerusalem.

The world of the shletl revolved not only around the synagogue and Beit Nlidrash, but also the school system which had a cheder and Talmud Torah and later a Hebrew school which began in 1919 as part of the Yavneh School System. The most brilliant of students went on to study at the yeshiva or Jewish Gymnasium in Telz. My cousin, Alexarder Judelis, was a student at the Telz yeshiva and had chavrusa with the son of Rabbi Bloch.

As will be shown, a philanthropist born in Riteve, Kruskal from Frankfurt am Main, made possible the building of a school and residence for the rabbi during the 1930s. The religious life of the community demanded involvement in welfare institutions such as the Bikkur Cholim Society and Ma'ot Hittim and others described in detail.

Zionism came early to the Jews of Riteve where the Hibat Zion Movement had many members. By 1898 a B'noth Zion Association was founded. (Soon after, in far distant Cape Town, another B'noth Zion was founded in which my mother was happy to serve for over 50 years.) This association distributed the Zionist shekel and Jewish National Fund Stamps. Between 1898 and 1903 there is a

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record of three lists of contributors from Riteve to the Jewish population in Palestine. Among the canvassers was one Shmuel Sacks whose descendant, Archie Sacks, was a mentor of both my father and myself in the Zionist Movement of the Cape.

Riteve Jewry participated in elections to the Zionist Congress that took place from 1925–1939. The largest number of votes was in 1935 when 142 votes were received by Labour Israel, 11 by General Zionists and 101 by the Mizrahi. The Zionist Youth Movements, especially Hashomer Hatzair and He–Chalutz, operated in town as well as an extensive Maccabi segment. As a result of the Zionist movement, many Jews migrated to Palestine in the 1930s.17

The Jews of Riteve dealt in trade and crafts and provided their labour as Jewish plasterers, carpenters and blacksmiths. The following is a survey done by the Lithuanian government in 1931:18

Type of business Total no. No. owned by Jews
Butcher shops and livestock 2 2
Restaurants and bars 2 2
Food products 1 0
Clothing, furs and textile goods 7 7
Medicines and cosmetics 1 0
Watches and jewelry 2 2
Radios, bicycles and sewing machines 1 1
Miscellaneous 2 1

This book is partially dedicated to the memory of a Riteve Jew, Alexander Judelis, who was the only family survivor of the destruction of the town by the Nazis and Lithuanian collaborators who ended hundreds of years of development. It is for those descendants of Riteve Jewry whose forebears had the prescience to migrate and who I hope will learn more about their shtetl that I have undertaken this project.

Part Three:
What Makes a Litvak a Litvak

The development of the Litvak character was influenced by a number of processes through which the Jews lived during the centuries. Va'ad Lita, the break– away Council of Lithuania, met on a large number of occasions in different towns, one of which occasionally was Riteve. The Council was based on Kehillot

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of the various shtetlakh and a hierarchy with a 15–man standing committee who were composed of the two lay leaders and Av Beth Din of the five most important communities. The treasury was operated by a salaried trustee, or Ne'eman, and there was a shtadlan who represented the Jewish interests vis–a–vis the government. The ledger or minute book of the Council of Lithuania is intact for the years between 1623 and 1764, until it was ended by Catherine II, and was edited and published by Simon Dubnow in 1925.

It is quite obvious that the structure of the community was taken by the Litvaks to the regions of the Diaspora to which they migrated. In such places they became part and parcel of the Diaspora Kehillot in which they lived. That is why South African Jewry is so well structured, with an understanding of the role reserved for religious and lay leaders heavily accentuated. It is also the reason why there is a clear differentiation between the Av Beth Din, the lay leadership and the government negotiator.

In 1652, the council ruled that any community which had its own rabbi should have a yeshiva both for adults and youths. This amplified what was already well known about the Litvak: his striving towards education.

Torah study was universal in Lithuania. With the abolition of the Council of Lithuania in 1764, the needs of yeshiva students and the respect of study for study's sake suffered a relapse. In 1803, Rabbi Chaim of Volozchin met this challenge head–on by overhauling the method of financial support for yeshivot and for the young students. Instead of students being responsible for their own financial existence, the yeshiva became the central arm for all its students and was responsible for their financial support. Rabbi Chaim also discarded the pilpul method and based recommended study on the methods of his mentor, the Gaon of Vilna, whose methodology became universal and led to the creation of great yeshivot throughout Lithuania. Among the most well known were those of Telz, Slabodka and Ponevezh. Ponevezh had a South African connection with Rabbi Kahaneman, who was a superb fundraiser, and, with the results of his successes in South Africa and his emigration to Palestine, he was able to continue with Ponevezh in Bnei Brak.

From the middle of the 19th century, the Haskalah (Enlightenment) Movement, which had originated in Germany and swept central Europe, became influential among Russian Jewry. The Maskilim, as its followers were called, sought to promote secular education and productivity among Jewish communities, believing that this would bring them into the more modern world. Although there were circles which supported complete assimilation, the majority of Maskilim sought a middle way which would preserve the national identity of the Jews.

The yeshiva movement felt, of course, the impact of the Haskalah. Should you study secular as well as religious knowledge? After all, did not the Vilna Gaon, the central sage of Lithuanian Jewry, have Euclid translated into Hebrew? But were not

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secular studies only the beginning of the movement away from Judaism and from the practice of Jewish life? Did not the Haskalah, in the end, mean an ultimate conversion to another form of religion – even if that were the religion of science? These thoughts battered on the doors of the yeshivot of Lithuania.

To some extent, the conflict had a response in the development of the Musar movement: the need for adding moral instruction and ethical development to an individual trained strictly in the Halachah. This was a specifically Lithuanian phenomenon developed by Rav Israel Lipkin of Salant, known as the Salanta, in the 19th century. It was an attempt to meet the rising tide of secularist assimilation: to understand the reasons for anti–Semitism; to help the Jews overcome the poverty of their physical state, and to reinforce the yeshiva graduates as they moved into the outer world. The yeshiva world and the world of the Lithuanian Mitnaged continued their way of a dynamic Jewish life based on study and intellect. Rabbi Salanta brought the intellect into the living room of real life. Although the Musar movement split into many groups and divided many yeshivot it eventually became part of the curriculum of most Lithuanian yeshivot.

It is because the anti–Hassidic movement started in Lithuania with the strong stance of the Vilna Gaon on Hassidism that the Mitnagdim traced their origins to his doctrines and are known today as Litaim or Litvaks. The issue of the day was the Hassidic reaction against the control of the communities by the intellectual leaders of the Jewish religion. What of the Amcha (the general society) and the spiritual joys and mystical content of Judaism? What of song and dance? What of respect for the common people? This, then, was the outer clash between Hassidism and Mitnagdim; but inside was a striving for the control of the community and a basic attack on the structure of such control. The Hassidim soon developed a taste for the formation of courts around charismatic personalities and these rebbes became an intermediary between the Amcha and G–d. The question of Hassidism's support of the false Messiahs added fuel to the fire. All this and more was illustrated in 1780 by the Besht Book in which an Hassidic disciple, Jacob Joseph, criticised traditional Jewish leadership and its values. In 1781, the Gaon confirmed the ban on Hassidism and the excommunication of its followers. This strife continued for many years and only when the communities had to meet the common threat of increased anti–Semitism and poverty did it reduce in its intensity. However, South Africa as a Lithuanian community based itself on its Mitnaged origins and with very small Hassidic congregations. Even recently with the advent of the Lubavitch Movement in South Africa, there was strong opposition to the proposed appointment of a Chief Rabbi who was an adherent of Hassidism, to succeed Rabbi Casper. The South African Mitnagdim unified their efforts and were successful in the election of a Lithuanian Mitnaged born in Glasgow, Rabbi Cyril Harris.

The final aspect that gave Lithuanian Jewry and its South African satellite their

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specific character was the attitude towards Zionism. As stated earlier, the religious Zionist movement was begun in Lithuania. While, as is shown later, there was conflict in Riteve between those who wanted to say Kaddish for Herzl and those who felt it to be incorrect, there was little conflict within the Diaspora community where the Litvaks were a majority in their altitude to Zionism. In Riteve, the development of Zionist societies was mirrored by the involvement in South Africa of their kinsfolk in the creation of a strong Zionist movement, possibly the strongest in the Diaspora.

Thus the Litvak character can be said to have been responsible for the disciplined institutional life; the drive towards Jewish education as evidenced in the extraordinary day school movement in South Africa; the non–Hassidic approach to Judaism, and the centrality of Zion in the life of the community.


  1. Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson, Continuity and Variety (Hebrew) Tel Aviv, 1984, pp. 239-257 Return
  2. Waclow Nalkovsky, The Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania. London, 1911 quoted on pp. 33-34 in Masha Greenbaum, The Jews of Lithuania, a History of a Remarkable Community 1316-1945. Gefen Publishing House. Jerusalem. 1995 Return
  3. Enc. Lithuanica EL. Boston, Massachusetts, Vol. V, p. 49 Return
  4. Mendel Kaplan, Solomon Kaplan and Marian Robertson, From Shtetl to Steelmaking Kaplan Kushlick Foundation, Cape Town. 1979 Return
  5. Israel Cohen. Vilna. Jewish Publications Society of America, Philadelphia, 1943 Facsimile reprint: Jewish Publications Society, Philadelphia and Jerusalem, 1992. pp 266-9, 276, 289 Return
  6. David Thompson. Europe since Napoleon. London, 1982, pp 337-338 Return
  7. Kaplan et al. Return
  8. Enc. Lithuanica. Vol. V, pp. 109-110 and recollections in the text of the book Return
  9. Greenbaum, op cit Return
  10. Ibid Return
  11. Ibid Return
  12. Shmuel Ettinger. History of the Jewish People (Hebrew). Tel Aviv. 1969. Vol. 2. pp 193-197 Return
  13. Enc. Lithuanica, op cit. and document prepared for the 100th anniversary of electric lights in Riteve by its municipality. Translation given to Mendel Kaplan. Return
  14. I have this personally. Return
  15. Dov Levin, ed .Josef Rosin, asst ed.. Pinkus Hakehillot, Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities from their foundation till after the Holocaust. Lithuania. Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority, Jerusalem, 1996. Return
  16. Ibid. Return
  17. Information comes from the text of this book. Return
  18. Levin, ed., op cit. Return


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