The Old Home
[Pages 17 28]
(Its history and that of the Jewish community
until the end of the 18th century)
by Ithak Raizman (Detroit)
Translation reviewed/revised by Tina Lunson
Edited by Bea Opengart
Informational editor's notes by Tina Lunson
Sokolow and Podlaski were built as private towns around the 15th century and were the property of the at the time well- known family Kiszkow.
According to the historian Bielski, S'. was first mentioned as a town in 1443 in relation to the border disputes between Duke Boleslaw of Mazowiece and the Lithuanian Great-Duke Kazimir Jagiello who bought from Boleslaw the land of Dorohick (Drohiczyn). According to Bielski, Kazimir Jagiello acquired also the land of Wegrow. The river Liwec served as the border between Mazowiece and Lithuania. On the right bank of the river was the town of Wegrow.
At the time, the area of S'. and Wegrow was of great importance because the highways from Lithuania and Danzig crossed in this area on the way to Warsaw.
S'. was only 16 wiorsts from Wegrow [Ed.: one wiorst equals 1065 meters] and was part of the Wegrow Jewish community, paying taxes to it. The community of Wegrow was a part of the Podlaski district and for a certain period of time was subject to the district center in the town of Tiktin.
In the second half of the 17th century (in 1665), the entire region became the property of a new ruler, Jan-Kazimir Kraszinski; the new owner, the King's finance minister, renewed the privileges given to the Jews of Wegrow and S'. by the previous proprietors. [Ed: A summary of the privileges may be found on page 5.]
These privileges strengthened the economic and legal position of the Jews in the area. At the same time, the Jews of Wegrow began their struggle for communal independence from Tiktin, the center of the Jewish Podlaski district. The Jews of Wegrow succeeded and began to send their representatives to the Council of Four Lands [Ed: The four lands consisted of four regions where Jews resided in large numbers during the 16-18th century: Poland, Russia, Galicia, and Lithuania].
During this period, eight towns and twelve settlements were part of the Wegrow district. Among the towns were S'., Cichanow and Mezricz. In 1717, the district of Wegrow had about 20,000 Jewish taxpayers (families?), who paid as a unit a head-tax in the sum of 3,914 gilden and 27 groszes [Ed: Austrian-Hungarian Empire currency].
Because the inhabitants of S'., unlike the Jews of Wegrow, were primarily preoccupied with making a living, we don't have documents describing unusual activities or plans to become independent, as happened in the case of the Jews from Wegrow. Most of the inhabitants of S'. were craftsmen and small merchants wandering from village to village in search of work, as later statutes relating to apprentices and journeymen could attest.
Here, possibly, is the reason why the local Jewish community was not very active and confined its attention only to the most important functions of the rabbi and community leaders.
As we mentioned earlier S'. was a private town, in contrast to other towns which belonged to the Crown.
In order to understand the difference between a private and a Crown town and its significance to the Jews who lived in both, it's important to acquaint oneself with the existing economic situation in Poland at the time.
As it is known, Poland was a classical country of unlawful estates. When rich noblemen, the so called influential Szlachta [Ed.: Polish word for noblemen], the landowners of the large estates, villages and towns, defended the Jews residing on their lands and paying leasing fees, the less influential Szlachta, searching for ways of making a livelihood in towns, befriended elements who hated the Jews, including some priests and towns' inhabitants in general; everyone from his point of view, they viewed such Crown positions as royal tax collecting, a right the Jews leased from the Crown, as a violation of their exclusive rights. The priests exploited this hatred in settling their personal accounts with the Jews.
In spite of the special privileges officially proclaimed by the King, the towns' nobility, with the active support of the clergy, were at the roots of countless problems the Jewish inhabitants encountered in the Crown towns, including blood-libel trials often publicized in various towns.
The persecution of the Jews in these towns was further aggravated by the Christian professional guilds that denied the local Jews admission to the professional organizations.
In the Crown towns, in addition to the local hatred of the Jews there was always pressure from the central government to regulate the economic cooperation between Jews and Christians. The cooperation was usually achieved through agreements the Jewish communities signed with the magistrates. These agreements provided the Jewish inhabitants with privileges for at least a given period of time.
In contrast to the Crown towns, in the so-called private towns and villages that were the property of individual noblemen, the towns' owners leased part of the property and employed all available means to attract Jews as inhabitants and lessees of the private lands; this was one way of insuring in a round- about way a steady intake of taxes. The town of S'., like many others, was a private town with privileges provided by its owners and continuously renewed by its inhabitants and their heirs; the objective of these privileges was to win new inhabitants and retain the old ones.
As it was mentioned earlier, S'. was built in the 15th century. However, it is not known when exactly the Jews first settled there.
Based on the work of N.N., The History of the Jews in the Towns of S'. and Wegrow, it can be assumed with considerable certainty that already in the first half of the 17th century Jews settled in S'., because in the privileges issued in 1650 by the new owner of S'. and Wegrow, Prince Bohoslaw Radziwill, it is clearly stated that these privileges were given not only to support the existing privileges, but also to win new inhabitants.
Taking under consideration that the town changed ownership when Radziwill was a minor, and he issued the privileges when he was an adult, it can be assumed that the Jews resided in S'. before that time. It may be further assumed that some Jews lived in both towns already at the time of the Kiszkow family about the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th century.
Dr. Jakob Shacki in his above- cited article describing the period when Jews first began to settle in S'. proposes the period 1766-1775 as the beginning of the Jewish settlement in the above- mentioned towns. The author bases his assumptions on the statutes (published together with the article), which were issued by the then new owner, Duke Andrzej Oginski. We will not attempt to contest the time of Duke Oginski's statutes; however, we'll underline the mistake in the calculation of the honorable author because he omitted to note that the proclamation of the various privileges was first issued in 1650 by the owner of the region, Duke Radziwill, whom we quote somewhat further in the text; the same privileges were then approved by the new owner, Kraszinski; then these privileges were renewed by his heir, the crown officer Jan Kraszinski; and the later recognition of the privileges by the proprietor Duke Oginski is in fact not more than a renewal of old privileges which were issued for the Jewish inhabitants by previous owners of the region.
In all the privileges, there are explicit references to earlier privileges which the new owner only reinstated; in doing so, the owner underlined the fact that he not only supported the various privileges of the past, but added new ones to attract new inhabitants. Therefore, there can't be any doubt that the settlement of Jews in S'. dates back to the end of the 16th or the beginning of the 17th century.
Chronologically, the entire region of Wegrow and S'. was the property of the following proprietors: the family of Kiszkowce; Bohuslaw Radziwill; the Crown's financial minister Jan Kazimir Kraszinski and his heir Jan Kraszinski, the Crown's officer. At the end, in the middle of the 18th century, the town of S'. became the property of Andrzej Oginski.
The introduction to the document which we defined as privileges reads as follows:
with God's benevolence, the duke of Birzhes, Dubinki, Sluck, Kafil and the Holy Roman Empire in order not only to reinstate the privileges of the past, adds new ones to attract new inhabitants to settle in town, assuring all the dear political subjects with various kinds of liberties, and protection, and provide defense from all irrelevant people.
Time and again, the document was renewed by the proprietors because the points in these privileges were concrete guarantees for the Jewish inhabitants of the town that their earlier rights would continue to be protected and they could continue, undisturbed, to pursue their daily routine as they did under the previous proprietors of the town. Therefore, the renewal of the privileges was also in the interest of the new owner who had to worry that the source of his taxes should not dry up; for this reason it's understood that the approval of the privileges by a new owner was given almost at the same time when the purchase of the town was agreed upon.
In 1764, one of the lands' courts for the noblemen of the Drohicziner region was established in S'. as approved by the Polish Sejm [Ed.: Polish parliament]. The establishment of the court brought about an economic revival in the town of S'. During the 1793 1794 period a member of the Oginski family, Michail Kleofas, the last Lithuanian finance minister, established in S'. a textile weaving factory where he brought in foreign specialist-masters. This attempt at industrializing the town was part of the noblemen's policies of industrializing the country at large. What remained in S'. from the undertaking was a small factory making cloth. However with the coming of WWI, even this industry ceased.
In the above- mentioned sources, there is repeated reference to the prosperous growth of a number of shoemakers and tanners in Wegrow and S'. Most likely, this phenomenon can be traced to the fact that the area had large grazing pastures for cattle, and that countless hunting expeditions by the noblemen in the Podlaski forests produced an abundant variety of hides. The raw hides were finished by the tanner and the leather sold to shoemakers for making footwear. At this point it should be mentioned that until the outbreak of WWI (and partially in the period between the wars) tannery developed in Wegrow and shoemaking prospered in S'. Merchants from all corners of Russia came to S'. to purchase footwear for the Russian markets.
The economic well-being of the S'.'s Jews was primarily dependent on the guarantee of security and protection that was provided by the privileges. The privileges also laid out provisions for Jewish autonomy within the community. At the same time, the noblemen used the Jewish local self-government and the Council treasury to burden the Jews with a long list of taxes pure exploitation of the Jews by the noblemen. At this juncture, we'll attempt to summarize the various points of the privileges.
The Jews had their Beit Din [Ed.: rabbinical court] and did not have to use the province or the city courts. Only in the case of an appeal, the Jews could address the nobleman or his representative.
The Jews did not pay city taxes and the Christians could not force them to do so. Part of the taxes collected by the Jews was divided among the members of the Jewish community while the elders collected taxes from the Jews and forwarded the money to the town's treasury.
All Jews employed in a craft had to pay dues to the guild of their particular craft according to the rate set by other guilds.
The Jewish community council consisted of five representatives, elected each year on the second Sunday after the Holy Jan from among proprietors who contributed no less than 25 gilden in dues. In turn, the five elected officials selected the community's elders. The final selection of the elders had to be approved by the nobleman. The treasury of the community council was a separate organization. The treasury was administered by the president and trustees of the community, and a trustee from the nobleman.
The communal treasury chest had three keys. To open the safe, all three trustees had to be present with their keys.
Every month, the Jewish community had to submit to the nobleman's economist a report about the income and expenditures of the communal treasury.
The communal chest could only make out payments for debts, interest on loans, and wages for the rabbi and other communal employees.
From the long and detailed list of taxable items, we selected some items as examples to provide the reader with an idea of the economic situation of the shtetl in those days.
The tax on merchandise purchased by a merchant for cash, and sold within the limits of the town, was two percent; the tax on merchandise taken to other markets and sold wholesale was smaller; the tax on merchandise bought with borrowed money or taken on credit was one percent.
The following items are mentioned in this list: a variety of raw and finished hides; items made out of metal and parts for plows; tobacco leaves; wax and other merchandise which was exported to other countries. Apparently, there were a certain number of items which were exported to other countries.
The list of local shopkeepers includes the following merchants: bakers, butchers, fishermen, makers of liquors, handlers of flour and oxen, handlers of food products, brokers, marriage brokers, innkeepers, and coachmen.
From the craftsmen, the following professions are listed: milliners, tailors, lace makers, glass blowers, sheet metal workers, and barrel makers. The list of merchants-shopkeepers consists of: bakers, makers of liquor, and butchers; though they all worked at producing the item for sale, they did not have any problems with apprentices and study-students, and in addition, there were not too many of them. They were a minority in comparison with other craftsmen who had problems with competition and apprentices; both issues were the responsibility of the guild and professional organizations. The fishermen were considered merchants because they did not actually catch the fish, but bought it from fishermen who caught them in the river.
It should be added that in case of the craftsmen as well as the merchants, whenever they borrowed money to purchase merchandise or raw materials to produce an item, they paid smaller taxes; the same applied to merchandise sold in the city, or outside the city. From the above, we can assume that there were a considerable number of merchants and craftsmen who had to avail themselves of loans in order to manage daily business transactions or continue working in order to make a living. In addition, it can be assumed that the local craftsmen served a much larger area than the town and its inhabitants.
The organization of craftsmen into a guild deserves a special chapter. The rules of the organization, dated 1731 (paragraph 8), describe the cases when a master may or may not hire an employee to help him in his craft. This specific example talks about milliners, but from other points of the statute it is obvious that the statute applies to an organization in charge of a number of professions because there are rules which govern the right of the craftsman to take workers on a job to a village. These rules refer specifically to a tailor, who may need on- the- spot help to complete a specific task.
Among the same statutes there is an example of an apprentice who breaks a work contract and leaves the employer before the expiration of the contracted time. According to the statutes, no member of the guild could employ an apprentice who broke a contract without the permission of the trustee of the organization.
In comparison with statutes of guilds from other towns the S'. statutes seem to be more liberal. This leniency can be attributed to the fact that the craftsmen and the working students, or the apprentices, were all in the same economic situation and the desire of the guilds to avoid competition was in some ways in their mutual interest. In comparing guilds' statutes in various towns, one feature draws the reader's attention, and that is the fact that in each of the statutes there are references to personal conduct, dress code, the proper way of dealing with customers, apprentices, and etc. These rules of behavior are the reason why the punishment for abusing the statutes was so severe (a craftsman could be banished from the town, forbidden to work with customers for a period of a year, his produced clothes confiscated, etc.). In S'. the guilds' punishments were much milder.
As we mentioned earlier, it can be assumed with near certainty that the Jews settled in S'. as early as the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th century. However, it is difficult if not impossible to state how many Jews lived in S'. especially in the first period of settlement.
The first official census was taken in 1765 when the Sejm disbanded the Council of Four Lands and ordered the Jews to pay their head-tax directly to the treasury of the government. [Ed: The Council of Four Lands was an organization of Jews from four regions.] At the time, the entire Podlaski region had 19,043 Jews living in settlements with each settlement containing between 89 to 1,577 souls. Considering the fact that we don't know how many settlements there were in Podlaski at the time, we can't point to any one settlement and state how many Jews lived in it.
Dr. Szacki, in his previously mentioned article, writes of 163 Jews in S'. in relation to the census of 1765, but does identify the source for this number.
As to the census from 1765, it is not wise to accept this official count of Jews in the S'. community as an exact figure. The mentioned number was compiled by the special order of the Sejm in 1764 which established the Council in Poland and Lithuania, which in turn levied on the Jewish population a head-tax (on everyone from the age of one) at the rate of two zlotes [Ed.:Polish currency] per head, per year.
Obviously, this kind of government count (for the sake of head-tax) forced every Jew and Jewish community to make every attempt to hide the true number of taxpayers from the government inspector who came to do the counting.
To prove that our assumption is correct, we should examine what Dubnow quoted from the Memoirs of Dov Ber Bolechowski:
Ber Bolechowski admits that he alone helped to hide Jewish souls in order to keep his community from poverty... in such a way it came to be that a community of 1,300 souls, had according to the census not more than 883 souls. Therefore, it can be assumed that in Poland, in 1765, there lived about one- third more Jews than the official count indicated.
The large number of debts that the Jewish Council owed and paid interest on -- can serve to demonstrate that in fact a larger number of Jews lived in Sokolow than was shown in the official census. According to the previously cited statute the Council owed the Churches in various places in and around Sokolow the sum of 23,300 gilden, for which they paid the sum of 825 gilden in interest.
In addition to these holy loans from the churches, the S'. Jewish Council owed also money to priests, many noblemen, and to Jews from Wegrow. (To the last, a loan for taxes in the amount of 5,000 gilden); altogether they owed the sum of 13,400 gilden for which they paid 1,188 gilden in interest per year. These loans were noted in the document as made by consent. In addition, the community had special debts to reconcile which were owed to various Jews in excess of 1,234 gilden. For the last sum the Jews did not pay any interest.
When we add all the above- mentioned loans, the total amounts to 37,934 gilden for which the Jewish community council paid over 2,000 gilden in interest. Let us add to this the wages of the rabbi and other hired community employees, and we come up with over 1,000 gilden. In conclusion, it makes sense to assume that at the time there were more than 163 Jews in S'.
(Compare: In the 17th and 18th centuries, the rabbi's salary was between 8-10 gilden a week in a large town and 5-6 gilden in a smaller town. In Witebsk, for example, the rabbi received in 1738 5 gilden a week; in Gorki in 1637 200 gilden a year).
Another fact which can underline the nonsense of quoting such a low figure as 163 souls is the fact about the head-tax which the S'. Jews paid yearly. According to the privilege mentioned earlier, the Jews paid head-tax in the sum of 934 gilden. If we were to count two zlotes for a soul, then according to the official count, there should have been 467 souls over the age of one year. Even in this case we can say with confidence that the true number of Jews was greater than the official one.
As far as later periods are concerned, we have exact statistics. According to B. Wasziutinski, we have the following tables about the general and Jewish population in S' from various years:
|Year||% of Jews||Jewish
In the Geographical Dictionary the following data is provided for two years:
In 1858 in S'. there were 2,522 Jews out of a total population of 3,964 inhabitants; in 1861 there were 2,420 Jewish inhabitants from a total population of 5,154. From the above cited figures from the Geographical Dictionary it is clear that the number of Jews slightly diminished. The same can be seen in the statistics of Wasziutinski, where in 1893 the number of Jews was 5,329 and in 1897 only 4,248.
The fact that in a given time in S'. there were fewer Jewish inhabitants can be attributed possibly to the fact that some Jewish merchants or even craftsmen came to S'. for a given period of time and when they did not have anything to do there anymore, they returned to where they came from.
In relation to the exact number of Jewish citizens in S'. we reach a certain agreement; when it comes to the economic situation of the Jewish population, their professions and the exact number in given professions, especially in the early period, there are almost no documents on which one can rely. Therefore, all that remains is to depend on every possible conjecture as a true coin.
According to the article by Dr. Szacki (Writings on Economics and Statistics), the Jewish inhabitants in private towns lived a somewhat less restricted life and were exposed to less persecution from the clergy and the non-Jewish inhabitants. However, there was a price for this: the Jews had to pay, in general, higher taxes; as a result of the higher taxes, the majority of Jews in private towns occupied themselves with brokerage and trade. It comes to mind also that in S'. brokerage and trade were great sources of income because of the larger number of noblemen who lived in the area and congregated in town on various occasions.
According to the same author, craftsmen had to be employed in more than one occupation, because one trade did not provide enough income for an honest subsistence. Because trade that required interacting with the surrounding villages was constantly developing in S'., it made sense for the craftsmen, going on jobs to the villages, to sell also sundry items and in this way make some extra money.
Rebi Yitskhak Zelig Morgenshtern,
may his memory be for a blessing
By Gad Zaklikovski (Petakh-Tikva)
Translated by Tina Lunson
The Sokolover Rebi Rov Yitskhak Zelig Morgenshtern was born in Kotsk in tav-resh-khoftet (1869), and at about the age of twelve (in tav-resh-memalef) was engaged to the daughter of R' Avrom Mordkhe Sheynfeld of Pintshev (who was known by the name R' Motl Pintshever, as both learned and wealthy, a well-known righteous man, a distinguished scholar, wealthy and clever). The bride, Khaye Hinde, who was older than the groom by barely two years, was of lovely appearance, a slight build, and with great grace and many good qualities. She could also read and write Yiddish, Polish, German and a little Russian and loved Jewish learning. The Rebi married young, at about 16 years (1884) but the first-born R' Yankev Menakhem Mendl may God avenge his blood, the Rov of Wengrow, was born several years after the wedding (at the end of tav-resh-memvov 1886). From then on she had a child almost every year. When the Rebi took over the seat as R' in Sokolow on the 11th of Tevet tav-resh-samekhzayn (1900) he was the father of 9 children.
When the Sokolow Rebi R' Binyumen Ali left Sokolow after sukes in tav-resh-nunkhes (1898) to go to Zaloshin, it had already been known since after peysakh that the Pilever Rebi would become rov in Zaloshin, a discussion was promptly held with R' Pinye Oshers, who traveled on shavues to the Pilever Rebi to talk about his taking over the Sololow seat, and, receiving a positive answer from the Pilever, they held a meeting with the parties at R' Pinye Oshers' where he gave them the details of his talk with the Pilever Rebi. And a second meeting was held with R' Pinkhasl, with representatives from the Hasidic shtiblekh [prayer rooms], shuln [synagogues] and bote-medroshim [study houses]. Everything was discussed. The misnagdim [Jewish enlightenment proponents] and the artisans asked that they be given time for two sabbaths to consider, and ten days later R' Eliezer Shakhnes held the last meeting where they invited the representatives to Pilev. They gave them a contract with signatures to accept the Pilever Rebi as a rov and as the town rov (he wrote Rov Ben-tsien Shemesh in his beautiful script). They left a blank space to write in the amount of money that they would have to pay the rebi.
The composition of the representatives was as follows:
R' Pinkhasl Ayzenberg, R' Pinye Oshers Hendl, R' Zelikl (the Sfas-emes' main teacher), R' Eliezer Shakhnes Rozentsvayg, R' Shakhne Eli Tuvias Rubinshteyn, R' Fayvele Hokhman (the old hasid of Kotsk), R' Yankev Shimeon, R' Hershl Shmerls Zshitelni (an outstanding tailor, social activist for the folk), R' Khayim dem rebns Ayzenberg (a grandson of the Sokolow Rov, before R' Binyumen himself R' Yudl Plotsker) and R' Alter Dovid Rozenboym. The agreement with the representatives included two conditions: a:) Not to take less than twelve hundred rubles from the Pilever, a sum that they had committed to give the kosher slaughterer R' Yosl Ber Skulski, who they had to remove from his duties as slaughter because of his old age, and both the Ger and the Kotsk hasidim consented to that because R' Yosl Ber had gone to see R' Mendele to the surprise of the others. b:) Not to accept as their rov any of the Pilever Rov's sons, only the Pilever Rebi himself. The first condition the money question they settled quickly, got the 1,200 rubles, but the condition that from the money that they would get from the slaughterer, that they would take after R' Yosl Ber, that two thirds should be given back to R' Meshl Bialistoker. (The old Kotsk hasid R' Moyshe Movshovski reported that the first three hundred rubles of the twelve were his father's.) The second condition, of taking the Pilever Rebi for their rov, they could not support for various reasons. First of all the Pilever should conduct himself properly and have nothing more to do with gifts from his hasidim and they could not make it right. That meant that with a rebi who had a livelihood from his hasidim, he could make enough ________; and secondly he would want a nice apartment (and in time, also a separate study house) in an apartment no less nice than his own, and he had shown them his rooms, but the representatives knew that there was no such apartment or similar income to be had in Sokolow. They did not want to go home empty handed, it was left to them to take a son of the Pilever Rebi for a rov, since the Sokolover Rov had indicated that they should befriend them, and also seeing his sharpness and knowledge in both the revealed and occult literature and his information about worldly things, they liked him right away especially as he did not present any conditions. It remained to take a new ritual slaughterer they gave the writ to the rabbinate. It is true that R' Shakhne Eli Tuvyes, the calm quiet one and very wise, maintained: What's the hurry, have they discussed it with them? We should go home and deliberate, but the majority of them countered that the town had been too long without a rov, and R' Yosele dayan, already eighty, had difficulty in ruling on questions and they must soon name a new authority. It was smoother to take a rov and put an end to the situation in town.
|The Sokolover Rebi R' Yitskhak Zelig Morgenshtern
may his righteous memory be blessed
|The Rebitsin Khaye Hinde Morgenshtern
may her memory be blessed
It was strongly advised that they take the Sokolover Rebi as their rov and have the father too, the Pilever Rebi, because the Sokolover Rebi already had too strong an influence in the Pilever court. It is a known fact that the Pilever Rebi's Sholem yerushlayim about the settling of Hasidim in erets-yisroel was, for the most part, written and edited by the Sokolover Rebi (this is also in one of the rebi's letters). And the representatives wanted the Rebi to come for the Days of Awe. But given that he had many things to dispose of, and especially to prepare for the examination by the Russian board of education, in order not to be a podrobin but a kazioner rov he asked to put off his arrival until after sukes. The rebi took the rabbinical seat on the 11th of Tevet tav-reyshsamekh .
It is also worth mentioning the imposing welcome: from both sides of the town, from Vengrove and Shedlets streets, came wagons, carts, coaches and carriages carrying rabeyim, rebis and hasidim. The drivers rode astride their freshly-combed horses, and Yehoshue Yosl the wagon-driver the Ger hasid in his holiday satin kapote sang his standard shiru lo zemru lo shikhu b'khol naflosey from the front of the parade on another horse (borrowed from Khaym Velvl Vikher, the Pshezshadker arendar and an old Kotsk and Ger hasid) with a clean, handsome and beautifully polished horse-collar hung with little brass bells. Leading off, on stilts, were Yoynele and Alter the tinsmiths with Mendele Yehudis's between, accompanied by the sound of music. Marshalls and policemen wearing white gloves kept order, and when the rain stopped, people considered it a miracle and marveled at the rebi's greeting the [Jewish] marshalls in Russian.
|Meyshe (Shakhnes) the shames
may his memory be blessed
may his memory be blessed
(son of the Sokolov Rebi)
|At Left in photo: The Sokolov Rebi's son-in-law (On left)
On Right in Photo: The Sterdiner Rov Binyumin may God avenge his blood (son of the Sokolover Rebi)
From the shul they led the Rebi to Pinye-Asher's house, where he was quartered in Leyvi Hendel's apartment, and all the residents stood outside and welcomed him with blessings and beaming faces. The first shabes evening was very impressive, when Ger and Kotsk hasidim among them old Kotskers and old Gerers (from Mendele and from the Khidushey harim) from the town and from the nearby areas gathered together to offer congratulations. Tossing aside learned sayings from the olden Kotsk beys-medresh for more conversational talk, the Rebi in his open silk gabardine and pure white vest stood by the table and spoke in a stream of unusual Torah interpretations and with gematria.
Much has already been written about the famous conference that the tsarist government called in Petersburg in sav-reysh-ayin (1910), and there is even a printed account of the proceedings (although many important details are missing). Among the representatives of the kehile were also the genius of his generation, Khaym Soloveytshik, the Brisk Rov, the Libnovitsh Rebi, the Baron Ginzburg, the famous attorney Shlosberg and the well-known millionaire, banker Lazar Poliakov.
There were also prayers at the Petersburg conference. In the rabbis' everyday speech it was said that at every conference he is an authority and a student [ a rebi un a talmid]. And that the newspapers knew only to describe what he had taught with the learned, but not what he had learned from them. Later, when the Agudes ha'orthodokism had become the Agudes Yisroel, and the Rebi a ranking minister of the Agude known for his sermons and sharp-minded polemical lectures even beyond Poland and when an audience of thousands often came to hear him speak, he said among his intimates: They think that I only learned to give such lectures in our Agude. That kind of shoemaking I learned in Petersburg, and in the Agude I made a good pair of shoes. But of course Rebi Yokhnan ha'Sandlar was also a good shoemaker, but it was not that shoemaking that made him Rebi Yokhanan, and that Sandlar taught us that if one wants to come out of a conference as able to speak, it must be on account of heaven. Now there are many complainers who say now that rabbis must also become doctors too, but we must manage it so that doctors do not become rabbis.
The Rebi used always to be at meetings, or to send a representative so he could be informed about the details of philanthropy, and not just to know but to do, or to see that what was needed was done. In the affairs of the Agude he often sent his son Binyomen, may God avenge his blood, who was also an energetic leader in the yeshive. The town also did well because of the Rebi, both in livelihood (Hasidim were always coming to visit) and from the yeshive which the Rebi supported with all kinds of efforts, through donations and with his own money. The yeshive was well-known in Poland and in Lithuania. The town gained prestige because of the Rebi.
By sav-reysh-tsadizayin (1937), at the funeral of Meyshe (the Rebi's son) the Rebi was already seriously ill, but as everyone knows that did not diminish his genius or brilliant responses in his polemic with Jewish opponents or his acute and erudite talks. It did not weaken his enthusiastic attention to various events, either; thus, it may be that the doctors did not consider him seriously ill. And perhaps also because he was familiar with the field of medicine and read about cures, he protected himself from some of the unexpected surprises that often happen to the ill, that the sudden misfortune with R' Mendl (his son) the Rov of Vengrov, may God avenge his blood, so broke him that he did not recover and since he was already weakened, he could not last for more that a few weeks.
Hasidim tell how on yon-kiper sav-shin (end of 1939), before ne'ila, exactly during the time when his son was being tortured, the Rebi let out a mournful cry, Mendl, my son, where are you?! I cannot see you! Help, Jews, they have killed him! And he collapsed. And when they wanted to lay him in bed, he asked that he be allowed to sit through ne'ila. Afterwards, they laid him in bed, which he never left until his soul's departure on giml kheshven sav-shin (1939), at the age of about seventy-two. The Hasidim repeated for the Sokolov Rebi the verse that the Khidushey harim said for his grandfather Rov Mendl's demise, who also passed away at age seventy-twoat yomekh amlo. Amlo signifies 72 (two and seventy in bal ha'turim, in shmos [Exodus] 23 to 26, and also according to Khazl [sages of the Mishne] such was said upon the death of a saint.)
The Rebi's funeral was very oppressive: a few minyons of Jews risked their lives to carry the deceased from Otvotsk to Varshe [Warsaw]. On the way they were attacked by Germans who cut off their beards along with pieces of flesh, beat them mercilessly and drove them away. But when the Germans had gone away, the hasidim continued the funeral procession. So with bandaged faces they arrived, on their last strength, in Varshe after their many troubles and the community wardens in particular due to the efforts of Rov Ayzik Ber Ekerman, the Agudas representative and journalist succeeded in letting the funeral proceed.
The Rebi was buried in the Gensher cemetery near the grave of Rov Avrom Mordkhe Alter, the son of the Khidushey harim and father of the Sfas emes. Thus the succession of the Kotsker chain and dynasty was broken, the links lay scattered, and who can raise them and unite them?
Here I will presume to record the Rebi's children for posterity: Rov Mendl Yankev Menakhem, the Vengrover Rov murdered; Ester, Toybe, Rokhl, may God avenge their blood. Rov Meyshe (died in Varshe/Warsaw in 1937), who sometimes with the Rebi's permission represented the Rebi in rabbinic matters; Rov Binyomen, the Sterdiner Rov and the Amshinover Rov's son-in-law. And after the Sokolover's Rebi's demise the Hasidim crowned him Rebi, may God avenge his blood; and may she have long life Beyle (the rebitsn of AMDOR); Rov Nakhum Mordkhe Perlov may his strength grow in Brooklyn, New York); Yokheved may God avenge her blood and Shabsay (Shepsl died as a child). And those born in Sokolov are: Rivke (the wife of Rov Aron Yisroel Borenshteyn the son of the Sokhotshover Rebi, the Bal-shem MiShmuel of blessed memory); Sore, may God avenge her blood, and may she have a long life Leye (the wife of Rov Aron Yankev Grinberg, Vice Chairman of the Keneset).
by Yizhak Caspi (Tel Aviv)
Translated from Hebrew by Shoshi Tzudiker-Shatit
Rabbi Moshe Zvi Vingerten, who was the Rabbi of Sokolov Podlaski in the middle of the 19th century, was an interesting and even a legendary figure.
After a lunatic informed on him to the authorities, he had to leave the throne of Sokolov rabbinate and move to Sieldce, where he later served as the head of the Yeshiva and the head of the rabbinical court. R' Moshe Zvi also had to leave Sokolov because of quite a few fanatic Hasidic followers, whom he had been fighting with over religious views.
Before coming to Sokolov Podlaski, Rabbi R' Moshe Zvi Vingerten had served as a Rabbi in Makov and, in total, served as a Rabbi for forty years. Rabbi Moshe Zvi was a great scholar, very knowledgeable in the written Torah, Mishna and adjudicative literature. He exchanged letters with some of the great Rabbis of his generation, who turned to him with questions and answers.
Even though he used to be a great opponent of the Hasidic Judaism, he used to converse with the Jewish -who was a Rabbi in Hurjal, were burned in one of the fires there ,
Only one, The Book of Hidushei Maharim Zvi, was published years after his death in Warsaw in 1890. The book included sophistry on Talmudic tractate (Hulin) and also sermons the Rabbi gave, including two sermons he gave in Sokolov in 1856.
Rabbi Vingerten was also a very modest and God-fearing person. He had a custom to sit and fast from Saturday night till Friday evening [sic]. He also used to get up at midnight, go dipping in the Mikveh and have his midnight prayers until daylight.
Although he was an intense fighter of the Hasidic movement, Hasidic Rabbis honored him, especially Rabbi Yizhak from Warka, who used to visit Rabbi Vingerten whenever he came to the communities where the Rabbi used to serve. However, not all Hasidic followers respected him. Part of them were looking for excuses to tease him and in one opportunity they even sent a dog through his window while he was having his Shabbat meals.
When Rabbi Moshe Zvi became old his eyesight became very poor and, in spite of his indescribable mental torture, he continued to rule Halacha law (Jewish law).
When Rabbi R' Yizhak from Warka saw that, he said about him: This Jew, who truly asks The Blessed Lord to light my eyes to Thy Torah, is answered.
While he was serving as The Rabbi of Sokolov, R' Vingerten, together with the towns leaders, found a source of income in order to fund the community needs. He imposed taxes on various goods like Kosher Shehita, Kiddush wine, flour and yeast. Even after he left Sokolov, these taxes continued to be collected. In 1867 the income from these taxes reached the amount of 1916 Rubles. The occupying Russian authorities did not like that fact at all. In a secret memorandum that the legal counsel, Perioverezniski, sent to the district minister in Sieldce on the 14th of September 1873, he condemned this illegal tax collection.
It turned out that Perioverezniski had been following Rabbi R' Vingerten and the town's leaders and that he had had detailed information about them and their activities, especially about the income of each and every item for which taxes had been collected.
People from Sokolov used to tell the following story about the cause of the Rabbi's escape from the town:
There used to be an informer that gave away some Yeshiva students during the days of The kidnappers The Rabbi warned him to stop but the informer didn't listen to his warning. Suddenly, the informer got paralyzed - organ after organ. People in town were whispering that since the day the informer got sick, the Rabbi completely disappeared.
Later, it was found out that the Rabbi was secretly creating a clay cocoon and the bigger the cocoon became, the sicker the informer became. The informer saw the Rabbi as responsible for his condition and complained about him to the authorities. R' Moshe Zvi had to leave Sokolov and was accepted as a Rabbi in Sieldce.
He didn't change his way of life nor his views in his new community either, and moreover, his fanaticism against the Hasidic Judaism grew even greater.
On the first day of Passover, he ordered his wife to cook dumplings and present them in the window in order to demonstrate to all that the custom of Sruia (soaked in water) was not a biblical custom.
Rabbi Moshe Zvi Vingerten passed away and was buried in the Sieldce Cemetery in 1858. His tomb was neglected until 1904 when a tent was constructed above his grave. He left four sons and two daughters. Three of his sons became famous Rabbis in Jewish communities.
In The Book of Hidushei Maharim Zvi'there is a list of four respectful people from Sokolov, who helped the Rabbi's son to publish the essay; Shena Rubinstein, Zvi Tuvia Beki, Eliezer Berish Rosenzweig and David Shlomo Weizman.
by Khayim Meyshe Mayzlish (Jerusalem)
Translated by Tina Lunson
Every Jewish town in Poland and probably in other Eastern European countries too had its melody. All of Jewish life in those countries was full of melody, and the small town was always a concentrated source of yidishkayt. The small town as a matter of course bore a large share of the general melody that sang forth from the Jewish community at large. And one did not have to be a learned musician to perceive the specific and original melody that was spread by each individual from the venerated Jewish settlements on the Eastern European continent. First and foremost the Torah melody dominated, of course, and with it the particular style of khazones [cantorial singing] that had bloomed in each settlement in its way. That flowed together with the voice of the Torah from the besmedresh [study house], the yeshive and the khasidim shtibl [hasidic prayer-room] and its accompanying melodies, both the yeshive and even more, the hasidic. The folksong grew up alongside it, from the street-tune to the refined, modern song. Then add the general melodic atmosphere of the environment, which had its influence and its part in the blossoming of the diverse Jewish melodies in any given country. The soil of the authentic, deep-rooted yidishkayt and as a result also the source of the Jewish song was in the small town.
I only know about Sokolov, though Sokolov Podlaski in the official language near Shedlets and close to the eastern border of the Podliash area.
Sokolov had its own melody, it could be felt in the air, it hummed from people's faces, was sung out in the [local] articulation of words, even in the very gait of the Sokolov Jews, and more so in the Sokolov Jewish youth. It was a way of being, longing, sadly pleasant, and homey, one's own.
Sokolov's youth were musical, they loved to sing. And they sang everything, without much particularity about political differences or language divisions. There were, of course, ideological songs of the various party groups that had taken the place with the youth of the individual hasidim shtiblekh with all their minutia and also with certain other melodies or songs. But the love for a tune overcame all divisions. And when Kipnes and Zeligfeld began to spread Yiddish folksongs and the first pioneer songs began to arrive from erets yisroel, the Sokolov youth and intellectuals began singing with such enthusiasm that it captured the heart. From every corner from the party locals, to the little houses along the length of Sokolov's streets and the dusty alleyways poured heartfelt, blissful Yiddish music full of longing and consolation.
Sokolov youth had its musical messengers. They were usually very touching. Every Monday and Thursday one or the other of the group would hop down to Warsaw and bring back the very latest hit from Kvipro Kvo or Morske Oko. And the new verses and juicy tangos would soon be grabbed up by the youth groups and the homey repertory of songs was constantly cultivated and refreshed.
But it was not in the number of songs they sang or in their newness that the Sokolov youth were revealed. It depended how one sang a song. On the other side of the Bug River, Litvakes with short jackets and hard caps sang the songs a little differently. It seemed like the same tune, but, more melodious, sweeter and more nostalgic. Before you knew it the song, whatever its origin, was suited for everyone, a heartfelt tone of one's own song that became a part it. And a natural collecting of imported songs and melodies took place. Some came and went, not staying for long; perhaps they were not easily suited to the musical mien of musical Sokolov. Others though rose to the level of chief melodies, became the official hymns of the various little groups, so to say, amid oceans of warm friendship in shared melancholy and dreams, angst and song and the restrictions and the urge to get out of the small town.
* * *
Sokolov also had its achievements in the musical arena, and although it may sound unbelievable it is a fact that Sokolov produced it own Yiddish opera.
In the Rebi's besmedresh, in that big, bright building, a yeshive was founded during the First World War. The Kotsk hasidim generally believed in study, and very sharp study at that. It was a homey yeshive for the use of the town, and local youths recited the Talmud lessons in the same besmedresh. The Sokolov Rebi, may he rest in peace, only came occasionally to look in on the yeshive boys and give them an examination, and gave special attention to the lesson-reciting boys themselves. It was only later that yeshive boys came over the sea from the other side of the Bug River Litvakes with short jackets and square caps, who were the biggest surprise in Hasidic Sokolov. The RaShI yeshives were founded then, with well-known scholars and so called professional lesson reciters, and the yeshive became renowned. Before my time everything was amateurish, in a homey style, without the yeshivish momentum.
A choir rose organically out of that yeshive, really from the yeshive boys themselves. However plausible it was, a choir in a yeshive and especially in a rebi's court, someone thought of it; and how it was brought from idea into reality I do not know. I imagine that Yankl Grinberg was responsible for the whole thing, since he was responsible for everything with others. Yankl was then a passionate Mizrakhi, right in the rebi's Agudas-affiliated court, and the idea of a choir was probably connected to the whole complex of dreams and aims of a national renaissance.
In short, though, a choir was established, a real, trained, disciplined choir. The tenor and baritone were provided by the brothers Yankl and Dovid Lustigman, the latter also a lesson-reciter in the yeshive; there were stories told around town about the two brothers and it was said that even the tsar's henchmen were afraid of them. The altos and sopranos were the yeshive boys themselves. But the driving spirit of the choir was Shmuel Gosovski, the watchmaker and prayer-leader of the Mizrakhi minyen, a kind-hearted young man and a very impressive musician. And he taught the choir various pieces, several of which remain etched in my memory: Mizmor shir khanukasn in two styles, one more lovely than the other; Ahavo rabo, Neritsn large, complicated chorale compositions created by God knows what unnamed
author. Once in New York some 25 years later, I recognized someone humming a part of that Mizmor shir khanukas and he told me that it a Kotsk melody. If the other songs were also from Kotsk, then maybe Kotsk is renowned not only for its sharp thinking but also for it rich melodies.
The choir even gave open concerts. Once, on a khanike, for example, one such concert was presented in the Rebi's besmedresh. The audience parents of children and invited guests came to look at the wonder and we sat on long rows of benches as in (not to mention it in the same breath) a theater. At the front, the elite sat on a platform with the Rebi's son at the head, and they gave lectures on the topics of the day and the choir sang. When Shloyme the miller's son, the soloist of the choir, launched into Ma beytsa b'domey in his sweet alto voice everyone's heart melted. Sokolov had never heard or seen such a remarkable thing.
But the high point was the presentation. For Purim the choir prepared a real opera, something of a mix of the stories of the sacrifice of Isaac and the sale of Joseph with the megile of Ester, where the heroes do not speak a word of prose but sing everything in rhyme. And the melodies: sweet, haunting, or gay and playful, for that matter a lot of folk tunes. Today, the preparation of the opera is studying the roles and arranging the stage. The writer of these lines has in his home the fabric for the attire, the costumes and so on for the players. And what attire! Golden crowns and kingly robes for Abimelekh and Akhshverush, and of course for Vashti and Ester. Little wings white for the good angels and black for the bad ones who had to do with the sacrifice of Isaac, today's oriental idea of Abraham in his long peasant cloak, of Mordkhe and Haman with his sons, and regular court roles and court women, maids and special servants. It took weeks to prepare, and everything was made of paper, of course. For decorating the set they used sheets and rugs.
The presentation was supposed to take place in the Rebi's besmedresh, and they had already stretched a rope to hang the curtain on. But at the last minute there came an order from on high that it could not be done in the besmedresh. It's Purim, but who would know? So the presentation had to be given in the cellar, in a storage room for the yeshive. But the heartfelt singing made up for everything.
* * *
Sokolov also had a musical vunderkind. Shloyme Golumb was his name, a small, pale boy who looked like a Jewish child from a poor home. His older brothers, already maskilim [enlighteners], sensed a talent for music in him and found him a fiddle and took him, after kheyder, for lessons from the town's antisemitic music teacher. After a short time the teacher already had nothing else to teach him and even with his short temper had to admit that the boy had something. The enlightened brothers then took him to Warsaw and enrolled him in a conservatory, where he was treated with kid gloves. The professors took him to every concert where world-famous violinists were performing, to inculcate him in the ways of higher music. And when the little one came home for a holiday or a vacation, he went around in a daydream, as if he had come from another world.
Where is he today with his violin?
* * *
The greatest success for Sokolov in the area of song was Yekhezkel, the afternoon prayer-leader at the Aleksander Hasidim shtibl.
Yekhezkel Kramazsh was his name, but everyone called him just Yekhezkel. Hasidim have no love for rabonim or great scholars. When I met him, he was a Jew in his sixties, a poor man, a pauper, who dealt in something in a market somewhere and full of aches as would be usual. Inside that dear, old, weary Jew there lived a soul that, one could say, had not forgotten the heavenly singing that it heard before it came down to dwell in this sinful world. There was something elemental, ancient, in his chanting, and yet musically subtle and modern. Have you ever heard Ravel's Kadish, by the famous composer of Bolero? One single motif is drawn out through and enveloping the whole piece. That is just a more remote and paler echo of Yekhezkel's style. And light emanated from his prayers, a bright illumination of elevated soulfulness streamed from the whole area around his cantor's stand.
Yekhezkel was, as stated, the afternoon prayer leader at the Aleksander shtibl, which was in a side room off the entrance of the big shul. And he prayed in his own style. What next, they were celebrating khazones in a hasidic shtibl? And what a style! It seemed that someone who listened to his b'kol tfutsos yisroel heard it, and then someone completely different, a passerby, heard the style
and took it in in another way entirely, deeper and more melodic, more ancient Jewish, almost like a besmedresh, and might swear that that was how the Levis celebrated their song in the ancient Temple. So original was that style that no one in town could ever copy it in any way; not even Dovidshke Rozenboym who could memorize a tune in an instant and could mimic all the voices and sounds in the world including the conversations of animals and birds could not grasp it. I began to believe that even musical notation would not be able to exactly convey Yekhezkel's praying during the Days of Awe in all its sweetness and refinement.
Perhaps because of his frailty, or because of his modesty, he did not pray at the cantor's desk on ordinary days or on shabes but held his strength and the gift that God had given him for the Days of Awe. And when once on a New Moon, at the late minyen, there was simply no one else, Yekhezkel went to the cantor's stand and began to recite the order of psalms; it was literally, physically, lighter in the besmedresh.
It was that light that they extinguished, it was that very sweet Yiddish song that they murdered. May their years be foreshortened for all time.
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