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by M. Cinowitz

Translated by Harvey Spitzer z”l


A. Rabbi Dovid Tevli

He was born in Turetz, near Mir (District of Navaredok[1]) in 5554 (1793), son of Rabbi Moshe. At the age of 15 he was already at the Volozhin Yeshiva, studying under the Gaon[2] (“genius”, rabbinic title), Rabbi Chaim, founder of the yeshiva. Rabbi Dovid Tevli himself writes about this: “And it came to pass in the days of my youth, when I was already 15 years old and on the way, that G-d led me to the home of the Master and Teacher, the Chassidic (pious) Gaon, Rabbi Chaim. There I set my learning at his yeshiva, from which Torah and instruction emanate to all the towns in our surroundings. There I suckled from the breasts of his understanding and from the radiance of his wisdom, and his light penetrated my eyes. I learned the ways of hair–splitting argumentation and direct study to understand and to delve deeper into the 6 Orders of the Mishna and Gemara and the Deciders of questions dealing with Halacha[3] (Jewish law) from the earliest times until he ordained me” (in the introduction to his book, Beit David).

We see Rabbi Tevli at the age of 24 as a teacher of Gemara, Rashi's commentary and Tosafot[4] at the home of the famous “contractor”, Shimon Zimel HaLevi Epstein, in Babroisk, whose son, Yehuda Idel, Rabbi Tevel was teaching (Yehuda Idel was the father of Paulina Wengroff, who wrote a book of interesting memoirs about the period of her childhood in Brisk, Lithuania, where her father lived). Thanks to his learning, which he received from this teacher and rabbi, Yehuda Idel was a scholarly landlord. In his book, Minchat Yehuda which he had already written when he moved to Warsaw), he tells about “the sharp teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Tevli”, who later become famous as a “splendid genius in Israel”, and who was one “of the first great students” at the yeshiva of his outstanding teacher, Rabbi Chaim, in Volozhin, “and my father took him as a teacher before the year 5577 (1816) and I recognized his great qualities and obeyed him, and my learning was clear and in great depth and together we studied several tractates of the Talmud according to this method. Afterwards, we began to study together the 6 Orders of the Mishna and the Gemara in their order for ––––[5] and splendor, which gave him the opportunity to explain so as to increase his erudition.”

Close to that time, Rabbi Tevli became president of the rabbinic court in Steibtz, where he was active for a blessing until the year 5609 (1848). Already in Steibtz, he was renowned as the genius of his generation. From near and far, rabbis turned to him with serious and complicated matters of Halacha, especially with matters dealing with laws of matrimony, divorce, and Granting permission to a woman whose husband refuses to give her a divorce to remarry. Among those turning to him for decisions in matters of Halacha or to benefit from his advice, were even two of the most prominent “geniuses”, Rabbi Yechiel Helir, president of the rabbinic court in Valkavisk, author of Amudei Or, and Rabbi Eliezer Yitzchak Fried, president of the rabbinic court and head of the rabbinic college in Volozhin (from the year 5599 – 1838). Rabbi Dovid Tevli taught Torah to delightful yeshiva students during his tenure in Steibtz. Among his pupils, one can point out two of the most famous rabbis, Rabbi Yehoshua Helir from Koidenhove, who later became president of the rabbinic court in Palangen and Telz in Lithuania, and his relative, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel, who later became rabbi in Skidel ( District of Grodno), Eyshishuk and Rozayni,

In 5609 (1848). Rabbi Dovid Tevli was appointed chief rabbi of Minsk which, after Vilna, was considered the most important Jewish city in quality and quantity throughout Lithuania and White Russia. Rabbis and heads of rabbinic colleges, distinguished Torah scholars, were active there for a blessing and dozens of residents were outstanding in their brilliant erudition.

In 5614 ( 1853), Rabbi Dovid Tevli's first treatise, Beit David, containing part of his responsa[6] in Halacha, was published and gained wide circulation among rabbis and their pupils. It is interesting to note Rabbi Tevli's modesty, for with all his greatness, which was already in evidence then as the genius of his generation and as chief rabbi of Minsk, he considered it proper to obtain approval for this work from two official local rabbis, Rabbi Moshe Zvi, son of Rabbi Yisrael Halprin, the former chief rabbi of Minsk, and from Rabbi Moshe Shmuel ben Yitzchak Piness.

Three other brilliant rabbis also gave their approval of his treatise – Rabbi Yosef, president of the rabbinic court in Slotzk (he, too, a student at the Volozhin Yeshiva), Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman, president of the rabbinic court in Mezritch (later in Bialystok), author of the book Oneg Yom Tov, and Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Padova, president of the rabbinic court in Brisk, Lithuania.

Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman, who was a native of Minsk, calls Rabbi Dovid Tevli “The brilliant rabbi whose fame steadily grows in our country in his knowledge of Torah and his reverence.” Rabbi Yaakov Meir Padova writes about him: “And I have known the honorable rabbi of genius very well for several years– May he live a long life! Rabbi Dovid has done great things to make a name for himself in our country and is a giant in Torah, striving to plumb the depths of Halacha, and a river of streams will gush forth from the source of a living spring of pure water which his distinguished pupils have thirstily drunk from their illustrious teacher, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin.”

We must also note the approval of the Gaon, Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor Tosafah, who calls the author “The great genius in his pleasant and dear new interpretations, who gives excellent advice, increases resourcefulness, whose understanding in argumentation is immense and who is brilliant in rabbinic responsa, which are straightforward and honest.”

Rabbi Dovid Tevli also excelled as an outstanding expositor of Scripture and as a giant authority in the field of religious research and in the books of philosophy of the Sages of Spain. We know this from a part of the lectures attached to the above–mentioned Beit David, in which he is revealed to us as a wonderful thinker who penetrates and deepens the words of our Sages of blessed memory and explains them according to the spirit of authentic Judaism. He sometimes

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brings the words of his teacher, Rabbi Chaim, from whom he claims to have derived the correct way of expounding the Biblical text.

His second treatise, Nachalat David, published three years after his death in 5624 (1863), also achieved great importance. This work is likewise divided into two parts: one part responsa and one part containing some of his clarifications and innovations on two tractates of the Talmud, Baba Kama and Baba Metzia. The publisher, Shaul Horowitz (Rabbi Chaim's son–in–law), who founded the Meah Sha'arim Yeshiva in Jerusalem, similarly attached approvals from the great rabbis of Lithuania, including Rabbi Yosef Hislotskai, Rabbi Yaakov Zvi from Kalenberg, author of HaKtav v'HaKabala, president of the rabbinic court in Koenigsberg, Rabbi Yitzchak Elkanan Spector, president of the rabbinic court in Navaredok and Kovna. His reason for doing this (explains the above–mentioned son–in–law) is that the author himself while alive– despite his greatness– requested approval for his first book, following the example of Rabbi Moshe Sofer (author of the Chatam Sofer), who writes about the decency of this practice in his introduction to the book Sha'arei TShuva. In the section of responsa, the great Rabbi Tevli appears to us as saying that although he was “opposed” to Chassidism, according to his raising and education, he nevertheless had great respect for the Chassidic Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch, author of Tzemach Tzedek, and on page 31 of his aforementioned responsa in the matter of divorce, he writes about him (Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch), “The rabbi, the great luminary, the illustrious genius who will be called holy and all those who are joined to his shadow of wisdom and reverence.”

We must also point out that in both of his aforementioned treatises, we see Rabbi Dovid Tevli inclined somewhat to depart from the course of learning of his teacher, Rabbi Chaim, He tries in some places (especially in Nachalat David on the Baba Kama and Baba Metzia) to demonstrate his power of elegant argumentation, weaving and spinning difficult questions on various topics. In general, however, he doesn't stray too far from his teacher's way, which serves him as a plumb line for his new interpretations on the Gemara, Rashi and Tosefot regarding the two aforementioned tractates of the Talmud. In his new interpretations on the Torah, brought forward sometimes in the name of his teacher and rabbi, he puts us indirectly on the way of learning of Rabbi Chaim in his “lessons” which he presented before his pupils at the yeshiva of Volozhin. With regard to Rabbi Tevli's connection to the community in Steibtz, we must mention his son–in–law, Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib, who served in his presence as a teacher of religious subjects in Steibtz and who labored to have Rabbi Tevli's book, Nachalat David published and later became a rabbi for the community of Minsk.

Concerning Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib ben Shmuel, who was likewise a native of Turetz, his father–in–law writes that he was “a great rabbi, complete and reasonable, whom I consulted in the depths of Halacha for the most part from his published responsa, for he is a great and brilliant rabbi, an expert on Mishna and Gemara and who has a monumental ability for deliberation and supposition and on whom I depended when I was teaching and whose words were published without reservation or mistake and who also took upon himself much toil and trouble, wandering to different places and occupying himself with the craft of printing, May G-d remember him for the good.”

Rabbi Dovid Tevli passed away in 5621 (1860) at the age of 67. He was eulogized in nearby and far off communities in Lithuania and there was even a special report about his death in the newspaper, Hamagid, His pupil, the famous Yehoshua Helir, eulogized him in a warm and moving eulogy, in which the greatness of the deceased is described and words from one of his books are brought forward. In Rabbi Helir's eulogy are these words of esteem: “ A short time ago, my rabbi and teacher left us, the famous Gaon, our master and teacher, Rabbi Dovid Tevli, chief rabbi of Minsk, who served the “Light of the Exile”, the pious Gaon, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, may his virtue stand us in good stead, Amen! And who knew the method of argumentation and gave correct opinions in matters of Halacha and who explained the plain meaning of the Talmud in a sublime way and who clarified the method of the Rishonim (great rabbis of the Middle Ages) of blessed memory, in length, width and depth, and who is to be praised for the good sense he exhibits in his precious book, Beit David as well as in his wonderful lectures on the entire book of Deuteronomy, which are like honey and the drippings of nectar to us in his book.”

Upon his death, Rabbi Tevli left a son of his old age, a child of two and a half. This was his son, Rabbi Yitzchak, who was born to his second wife, daughter of Rabbi Yehoshua, president of the rabbinic court in Tshaous (District of Mohilov) the Gaon Rabbi Akiva, head of the rabbinic college in Slutsk and Bobroisk, who was also counted among the pupils of our master, Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin. This Rabbi Yitzchak was raised in the home of his brother–in–law, the aforementioned Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leib, his sister's husband. He married the daughter of Rabbi Shaul Padova, president of the rabbinic court in Varonova, Brainsk, Polutzk Vilkomir and became the first “Teacher of Righteousness” in Minsk (the second, after the Gaon, the chief rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer Rabinowitz ) and joined the Mizrachi Movement and died in Minsk in 5680 (1919).

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Navaredok: This is the Yiddish pronunciation the name of the city of Novogrudek Return
  2. Gaon: Genius, a rabbinic title Return
  3. Halacha: Jewish law Return
  4. Tosafot: discussions of French and German rabbis of the 11th and 12th centuries on subjects deliberated in the Talmud. Return
  5. There was obviously a typesetting error in the original Yizkor book, and this word could not be translated. Return
  6. responsa: Questions and Answers regarding matters of Halacha Return

B. Rabbi Simcha Shmuel

In the world of Torah, this rabbi is renowned as the author of the treatise, Mesharet Moshe, which deals with the Rambam's (Maimonides') work, Yad HaChazakah. In his study, Rabbi Simcha Shmuel is revealed to us as sharp–witted and acute, without parallel among the rabbis of the surrounding towns near and far and as possessing outstanding logic and understanding such as may be found in the philosophic and religious inquiries of the Sages of Israel in the period of the Middle Ages. He was intimately familiar with the Rambam's book, Moreh Nevuchim (“Guide for the Perplexed”). Rabbi Simcha Shmuel was also an expositor of Scripture par excellence and gifted in writing books in an ornate and original style of Hebrew which became a model for distinguished authors as well. With his logical method of Torah study and with the rules of study of the Six Orders of the Mishna and Gemara, he anticipated the Rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines of Lida.

As a rabbi in Steibtz, we see him, according to his above–mentioned book, between the years 5608 (1847) and 5620 (1859). We see him again in 5621 (1860) as a rabbi in Mezritch (Poland) as a replacement for the Gaon Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heilprin, who had moved from Mezritch to Bialystok. However, the years he spent in that Polish city were not pleasant for Rabbi Simcha Shmuel due to the persecutions and quarrels against him on the part of certain Chassidim (who sought G-d primarily through joy and not study) and one local “Teacher of Righteousness”) (rabbi), and he died there while still young in 5677 (1866).

In the Hebrew weekly, HaLevanon, of the above–mentioned year (5677), (year 4, no. 15), interesting words of appreciation are written regarding this great man.

In the book, Nachalat Avot, by Rabbi Levi Obstinsky (Vilna, 5654– 1893), the following is written about Rabbi Simcha Shmuel: “A great and renowned rabbi, treasure of instruction, developer of new interpretations of the Torah and responsa, with the famous Rabbi Yechiel Helir in his book Amudei Or (Paragraph 4, Section 83).”

During the time Rabbi Simcha Shmuel served as rabbi in Steibtz, his son–in–law, Rabbi Yechiel Michal, was dependent on him for three years and moved together with him from Steibtz to Mezritch, where his son–in–law served as a rabbi in his presence.

Rabbi Yechiel Michal was a native of Slutsk, son of Rabbi Yeshaya. He was great in Torah and very knowledgeable in the wisdom of Kabbala and an expert in investigation and philosophy. Like his above–mentioned father–in–law, he knew the books of the philosophers and the mekubalim (kabbalists) by heart as well as the book of the Holy Shla”h (Shnei Luchot HaBrit, “The Two Tablets of the Covenant” by Rabbi Yeshaya Horwitz).

He became a rabbi in Constantin (District of Biali, in Lithuania) and later in Noviminsk (District of Warsaw). He was persecuted by the Chassidim on account of his being Lithuanian (in his rational way of thinking). In the world of Torah, his work of responsa, Galei Yam, is well–known. Among his many writings, he left behind a book Or Yisrael, dealing with the Book of Genesis.

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C. Rabbi Binyamin Ben Shmuel

He was born in Navaredok and educated at yeshivot in Minsk. There he married the daughter of a notable Torah leader who supported a yeshiva in Minsk at his own expense and distributed charity to the poor from his wealth. Rabbi Binyamin studied and taught at the above–mentioned yeshiva and at the new study hall adjacent to the Great Synagogue in Minsk. He taught for ten years without accepting a salary, and several of his new interpretations which he developed while giving lessons in the “tents of Torah” are from the period when he was dependent on his father–in–law in Minsk.

In 5604 (1843), Rabbi Binyamin was invited to serve in the rabbinate in the community of Zebin, close to Minsk. About 9 years later, he was selected to be the rabbi in Brezi, near Brisk in Lithuania, where he was active for a blessing for 7 years. In 5623 (1862), he was accepted as rabbi in Rayagrod (District of Lomzhe). As the above–mentioned small town was on the Polish–Prussian (German) border and close to Lik, where there was Hebrew printing press (where the Hebrew newspaper, Hamagid, was printed), he had a suitable opportunity to print his book, She'irit Binyamin, Part I, containing new interpretations on the Talmudic tractates, Brachot and Pessachim, and also containing sermons and lectures marking the completion of studying the 6 Orders of the Mishna and Gemara, Mishnayot[1] and the completion of writing a Torah scroll.

In his approval of this book, the Gaon Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heilprin (also known as author of Oneg Yom Tov) writes about the author: “whom I've known from the time of his youth in his diligent study (in Minsk) and like “eyes of doves fixed on rivulets of water[2]”, – his eyes are fixed on the streams of the 6 Orders of the Mishna and Gemara and who now has in mind to publish new interpretations on several Talmudic tractates… And it is proof that we should encourage him and receive his treatise and to make the teaching (of Torah) great and glorious[3].”

It was not long after the printing of his aforementioned book, that the fame and great name of Rabbi Binyamin reached the community of Steibtz, where he was accepted as head of the rabbinic court, replacing the Gaon Rabbi Simcha Shmuel, who moved from Steibtz to Mezritch in Poland.

In 5632–33 (1869–70), Rabbi Binyamin ben Shmuel went to live in Jerusalem and was immediately appointed one of the Ashkenazi judges on the rabbinic court of the Porshim[4] community. The court was headed by Rabbi Meir Auerbach, author of Imrei Bina.

In 5635 (1872), Rabbi Binyamin printed the second part of the above–mentioned book, She'irit Binyamin, which was crowned by the approval of both Chief Rabbis of Jerusalem, the Holy City – Rabbi Avraham Ashkenazi, the Rishon L'Zion, (the Sage – Bashi) of the Sephardic community in the Land of Israel and Rabbi Meir Auerbach– rabbi of the Ashkenazi community.

The above–mentioned second treatise contains opinions regarding the Talmudic tractates of Gittin (divorce) and Kiddushin (marriage), a lecture upon the completion of the study of Mishnayot, with the addition of a special section, a part of a lecture on Rosh Hashana, Shabbat Shuva (Sabbath of Repentance), Yom Kippur, The Four Special Sabbath Torah Readings and the Great Shabbat (before Passover).

Opinions are also expressed in this book from the lectures he heard at the yeshiva in Minsk from his teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Menachem Mann, who is described as a “genius, righteous and pious”. This rabbi was also the teacher of the Gaon Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heilprin and in his approval of the aforementioned Part I, Rabbi Yom Tov says that he was happy that this author decided to publish in this treatise “things which he heard from the mouth of the Rabbi, the Gaon and the pious and modest teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Mendel from the holy congregation of Minsk, and may all men of spiritual sublimity spread abroad in Israel!”

At the end of Part II, two matters can be found regarding permission for a “chained woman” (a woman whose husband refuses to grant her a divorce to remarry) and the halachic negotiations which Rabbi Itzchak Elkanan Kovneh, head of the rabbinic court, conducted with each of them (husband and wife). (Rabbi Binyamin replaced him in the rabbinate in the above–mentioned town of Brezi) And the “Gaon, the renowned Rabbi Yosef from Slotsk” also took part in these negotiations. Rabbi Binyamin served for a long time as Rabbi Teacher of Righteousness in Jerusalem, the Holy City, where he was called by the name of the place in which he had last served in the rabbinate– the Steibtz Rabbi, and his name appears in many regulations and seals (signatures) in the above–mentioned rabbinic court.

Translator's footnotes

  1. Mishnayot: Individual paragraphs of the compilation of the Mishna (Oral Law) Return
  2. Song of Songs (chapter 5:12) His eyes are like doves beside rivulets of water Return
  3. Isaiah 42: 21 He will magnify the law, and make it honourable. Return
  4. Porshim: married men who left their homes for another town to devote all their time to studying. Return

D. Rabbi Meir Noach Halevi Levin

He was born in 5594 (1833) in Brezi (close to Brisk in Lithuania), son of a respected leader, Rabbi Shimon Rafael, who was related to the Maharsha (Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer ben Yehudah HaLevi Eidels, of blessed memory) and to other renowned Torah personalities. Rabbi Meir Noach received an excellent Talmudic education and stood out while still in his youth with his remarkable skills. At the age of 11, he was an expert in the Mishnaic Order of Moed (Festivals) and its commentaries, which he knew by heart and soon after he excelled in the study of Torah, in which he had a remarkable expertise thanks to his profound intellect and great intelligence. Once, the Gaon, Rabbi Yaakov, head of the rabbinic court in Karlin, author of Mishkanot Yaakov, tested him and predicted a bright future for him as rabbi of a large community. At 14 he became the outstanding pupil of the Gaon Rabbi Yaakov Meir Padova in Brisk in Lithuania and three years later he was ordained by him for the rabbinate. While dependent on his father–in–law, the Gaon and sharp–witted Rabbi Elazar Yitzchak Fried, head of the rabbinic court and college in Volozhin, he advanced in his Talmudic expertise (and got married at the age of 15) and served in holiness in renowned communities in the Jewish world.

His first position as rabbi was in Ivnitz (5618– 5622, 1857–1861) and from there he moved to Stabisk (District of Lomzhe), While he was there, the community of

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Prushnitz wanted him as its rabbi, but the community of Stabisk refused to give him up. This matter was considered at a court case before the Gaon and Righteous Rabbi Avraham Landau, head of the rabbinic court in Tzichanov, and the town of Stabisk won the ruling. Between the years 5632–46, 1871– 1885), he was a rabbi in Steibtz. In 5646 (1885), he was given the belated honor of being the spiritual rabbi of the important community of Moscow (replacing his relative, the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Berlin). In 5654 (1893), he became the head of the rabbinic court in Volozhin (replacing the Gaon HaNatziv, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, 1816–1893) and helped greatly to restore the upper level yeshiva, which had been closed in 5652 (1891) by the Russian authorities. In 5656 (1895), Rabbi Meir Noach became a preacher and teacher of righteousness in Vilna, where he died in 5664 (1903).

Regarding Rabbi Meir Noach's blessed work in Steibtz, Mr. Yosef Horowitz writes the following words in HaTzfira newspaper for the year 5645 (1884, no. 50): “The great rabbi, Rabbi Meir Noach, dwells with honor among us. Wherever he teaches Torah, there is his wisdom and wherever he demonstrates his skill in discussing and teaching, there is the rest of his spirit for all matters pertaining to the public. He is also worthy of two worlds, the old world and the new world. He brings those who are far from religion closer, and thanks to this wise rabbi, peace prevails in our town, and there is neither trouble nor dispute.”

However, the above–mentioned writer expresses his concern and that of the residents of Steibtz with regard to the fact that “but we have heard that Moscow has attracted the rabbi and that he, too, has reciprocated and is ready to leave Steibtz to exchange her for her older and better sister. And the above–mentioned writer is afraid that for this reason the worry has been aroused lest all the calamities fall upon the town authorities, and there already seems to be a breach in the wall of peace.”

With respect to this, the writer turns from the newspaper HaTzfira to the inhabitants of the Moscow community, asking that they allow the rabbi, in whom they take pride, to remain in the Steibtz community. However, as it is known, the residents of Moscow did not take this into consideration, and thanks to their efforts, Rabbi Meir Noach Levin moved to Moscow to serve as rabbi.

As rabbi in Moscow, Rabbi Meir Noach did much to consolidate community life in the diversified and variegated city. He influenced all the circles and established peace among all factions of the Jewish community. The wealthy residents also held him in high regard and admired him and thanks to the great influence he had on them, he utilized them for the benefit of lobbying and for Jewish public activity and likewise for their contributing to institutions of Torah and charity in the communities of Israel which were in the Pale of Settlement in Russia. He especially had access among the millionaire Poliakov brothers and utilized them for the benefit of public affairs. He would devote himself to activity for the sake of cancelling or easing laws and decrees on individuals or on the general public and extended his full spiritual and personal aid to the “emissaries” of public and Jewish institutions who would knock on the gates of Moscow for their interests. He also gave attention to strengthening Torah in Moscow. He set up two groups for the study of the Six Orders of the Mishna and Gemara, in one of which he himself gave a “scholarly lesson” to the notable participants of this group, including the erudite Rabbi Baruch Freidenberg, Rabbi Yehosha Zelig Parsitz, Bendet–Gebronski and his brother–in–law, Gootz (both sons–in–law of Rabbi Kalonimus Ze'ev Wisotstki, and other renowned figures.

Rabbi Meir Noach also occupied a central place in Vilna. His sermons were rich in content. He was eloquent in his pleasant expression and fine pronunciation. His lectures became the conversations of the day among all the circles of the “Jerusalem of Lithuania”, and not only would common people come to hear him, but also scholars and the Jewish nobility of this large city.

Rabbi Meir Noach also devoted himself to general and public affairs in Vilna. Being first to contribute to charitable institutions in that city, he was also founder of the first Jewish bank and, at a meeting for the establishment of this institution, he participated in investing several thousand rubles of his personal wealth. He did much to strengthen Torah learning in the numerous study halls in Vilna and was likewise the patron of the elders' minyan (prayer quorum), who studied in the study hall of the Gra (Rabbi Eliyahu ben Zalman, the “Vilner Gaon”), whose Torah was their art. On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the passing of the Gra (5658– 1897), Rabbi Meir Noach set up a permanent class for ordained yeshiva students in the Gra's study hall where they could spend the whole day studying the Gra's explanations of the Shulchan Aruch ( Code of Jewish Law) and he himself taught the first several lessons.

He was also a great lover of books. His Torah library contained thousands of important books, many of which were rare in all subjects relating to Torah and occupied several rooms in his spacious residence.

Rabbi Meir was also a Chovav Zion[1], He delivered many sermons from the pulpit of the Great Synagogue in the town in praise of this movement and he would participate in the festivity held on Shabbat Nachamu[2], which was set as the permanent anniversary of the “Lovers of Zion” Society in Vilna. His positive opinion of the Chovavei Zion movement was brought forward in the book, Shivat Zion, by Avraham Yaakov Slutski.

Rabbi Meir Noach passed away childless on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat 5664 (1903). He left behind in his writings new interpretations of Halacha and sketches of his sermons which he delivered in six of his communities and especially from the time he began to be active as a Teacher of Righteousness in Vilna.

A few of his sermons were included in the book, Shem Olam, printed in 5665 (1904) by Rabbi Gavriel Ze'ev Margoliot, Teacher of Righteousness in Grodno and later in New York (in commemoration of the passing of the late rabbi).The eulogy for Rabbi Meir Noach given by his childhood friend, the Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Meizel, president of the rabbinic court in Lodz, may be found in this book.

Translator's footnotes

  1. Chovavei Zion: A “Lovers of Zion”– movement to rebuild the Land of Israel, preceding Zionism Return
  2. Shabbat Nachamu: the Sabbath following the anniversary – 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av – of the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem Return

E. Rabbi Shlomo Mordechai Brodneh

He was born in the year 5592 (1831) in Smargon, son of Rabbi Eliyahu Leib (5576–5653, 1815–1892), who was a respected merchant in Smargon. His mother was the daughter of the eminent Rabbi Aryeh Leib Halevi Friedburg and the sister of the Gaon Rabbi Mordechai, author of the book of responsa, Divrei Mordechai.

Rabbi Shlomo Mordechai received a Talmudic education. At the age of 11, he was the pupil of the Gaon Rabbi Reuven Halevi Levin, who was then head of the rabbinic court in Iliya (and later head of the rabbinic court in Lavdovi, Ivnitz, Nesvizh, Amtzlam and Dvinsk). When he was 12 years old, Rabbi Shlomo Mordechai studied at the Volozhin Yeshiva in the presence of the Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak, head of the rabbinic court and college there, son of Rabbi Chaim, founder of the great yeshiva.

Rabbi Shlomo Mordechai married Dreizel, daughter of the notable Rabbi Yitzchak Eizik Duvkin in Minsk. He studied for a while in the small town of recluses (Porshim), Eishishok, and afterwards lived in Smargon. His wife helped him in his business dealings, while he sat in the “tents of Torah” with the position holders (in the synagogue) and studied,

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concentrating on his sharp–witted lessons in the Six Orders of the Mishna and Gemara and their commentators. With the opening of the railroad (Levoi–Romani) via Smargon, this small town turned into a city of merchandise and trade, and Rabbi Shlomo Mordechai was an agent of the branch of the Kenigsburg Bank in Smargon and was considered to be among the city's well–to–do residents.

Coming to realize that business disturbed him and kept him from studying Torah regularly, he acceded to the urgings of the community of Radushkvitz and became their rabbi and teacher for ten years. In 5648 (1887), he became rabbi in Steibtz, where he was active for 14 years. In 5662 (1901), he resigned from the rabbinate in Steibtz of his own accord and returned to Smargon, the little town of his birth, where he resided as a private position holder and spent the days of his old age there. He died on the 20th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, 5669 (1908).

Rabbi Shlomo Mordechai left behind in his writings: Chidushei Torah b'Halacha v'agadah (New interpretation of Torah in Halacha and homiletic[1] passages), Drushim v'hespedim (Sermons and Eulogies). A year after his death, his two sons, Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Shlomo Zalman, published part of their father's writings under the name Ohel Shem in two parts: Part I dealing with Halacha and argumentation for teaching Jewish law with clarification of topics; Part II dealing with homiletic passages in the Talmud, sermons and clarifications of the Writings (Hagiography) and puzzling sayings of the Sages.

According to the above–mentioned book, Rabbi Shlomo Mordechai Brudneh appears before us very much like his teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Reuven Halevi, who was a pupil of the sharp–witted Gaon and marvelous critic, Rabbi Menashe from Iliya – possessing an analytic mind, sharp–witted, sober and clever, with a special sense of self–awareness and a unique outlook and viewpoint of life.

He also stood out in his special original Hebrew style, in his clarity of expression and conciseness. With all of this, he was exemplary of the rabbis of his time.


The Rabbi R' Shlomo Mordechai Bruder


Translator's footnote:

  1. Homiletics: the art of preaching or writing sermons Return

F. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak “Maskil–L'eitan”

His father, Rabbi Aharon, was the son of Rabbi Avraham “Maskil–L'Eitan”, who was famous in his time in Lithuania and Reisen as the “genius of his generation” and well known for his precious treatises for the teaching of Torah. Especially outstanding are his thoughts on the Six Orders of the Mishna and Gemara by the name Mitzpe Eitan and on the Shulchan Aruch by the name Yad Avraham in their depth, acuteness and light which illuminate the breadth of the Talmud and Halacha. He likewise produced Be'er Avraham on the Mishnayot of the Order of Moed, Yad Eitan and Nachal Eitan on the Rambam (Maimonides), Ahavat Eitan on Eyn Yaakov (collection of non–legal portions of the Talmud by Rabbi Yaakov Ibn Chabib, 1433–1516). And he also left behind his treatises on all the subjects of the Torah and its commentators, books on the Deciders of matters of Halacha and even matters pertaining to the study of the Kabbala – even in that area he was very knowledgeable and a wonderful innovator.

The source of his quarry was from holy stock: from families of noble lineage in Germany, Austria and Poland, among whom may be counted Rabbi Yosef T'omim, author of Pri Megadim, Rabbi Zalman Mirlish, head of the rabbinic court in Hamburg and renowned great Torah scholars in Prague more than three hundred years ago. (See the introduction to the learning edition of the book Maskil L'Eitan by Rabbi Reuven Katz, head of the rabbinic court and college in Petach Tikvah and district. This work contains new ideas on Halacha for the Orders of Moed and Kedoshim (Marriage) and attached at the end of the book are allusions to the secrets of Rashbi's (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, second century sage) Sefer Tikunim, (Book of Corrections), which were refreshed by Rabbi Shimon, son of Rabbi Reuven Katz, Jerusalem 5716 (1955)).

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Maskil–L'Eitan was head of the rabbinic court in Smolovitz in the district of Minsk, in Chislavichi (known in Yiddish as Choslovitz– in the district of Mohilov) and finally head of the rabbinic court in Steibtz, the last place he served as rabbi. He was active there for only three months when he died on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Marcheshvan[1] 5665 (1904). He left behind manuscripts of books which were lost during the First World War in Russia, but his words are brought forward in other books, as for example: Chakrei Halacha, by his uncle Rabbi Moshe Nissan Maskil–L'Eitan and Malbushei Yom Tov by Rabbi Lippa Mirer.

His son–in–law, Rabbi Yoel Sorotzkin, replaced him as rabbi in Steibtz. His younger son–in–law, Rabbi Reuven Katz gave up his claim to be rabbi in Steibtz for the benefit of his brother–in–law. His wife, Chassia, passed away on the 26th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan 5696 (1935) in Steibtz and her husband, Rabbi Yoel died on the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz 5698 (1939) and is buried in Otbutzk.

Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Maskil L'Eitan's younger daughter Reichel, wife of the Gaon Rabbi Reuven Katz,–may the memory of the righteous be blessed!– passed away on the 20th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat 5714 (1954) and is buried in Petach Tikva.

Zalman Shazar (former President of the State of Israel) described the very impressive welcoming reception for the rabbi from Choslovitz in his book, Kochavei Boker, containing details of the deeply rooted Jewish way of life of Jewish Steibtz in those days. It is related there that “important position holders of the synagogue went out to the town of Choslovitz and brought the rabbi

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the certificate of the rabbinate written on parchment with the signatures of all the treasurers of the synagogues.”

In his honor and in merit of his greatness, they built a new “rabbi's house” for the new rabbi, “the likes of whom there had never been before in our community” and when the seven city elders found out about his meager salary, they increased his “karovkah” (a kind of candy).

The rabbi passed away on the Sunday of the week when the Torah portion Chayei Sara (“the life of Sara”) is read in the synagogues. He died in the middle of the eulogy for one of the town's elders. Seven rabbis eulogized him including the rabbi and teacher Hishish of the nearby yeshiva, the young rabbi and son–in–law of the “great” rabbi (in Minsk), who sits on the chair of the rabbinate of his late father–in–law in the main city of the district.

Zvi Harkavi, in his book about the Maskil–L'Eitan family, adds: “In order to give him proper honor, the funeral was put off until the day after his passing so that great Torah scholars might manage to come from near and far. However, his son–in–law, the Gaon Rabbi Yoel Sorotzkin, head of the rabbinic court in Tzaritzin, was unable to get there. When he later arrived in Steibtz, it was decided that he should sit on his father–in–law's chair as chief rabbi. Close to that time, the Gaon Rabbi Reuven Katz received a document from the rabbinate in the Holy Congregation of Selib.

A very impressive “tent” (mausoleum) made of red bricks was erected over the grave of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Maskil–L'Eitan. On the front wall, a large tombstone made of black onyx stones was inlaid, on which were verses in praise of the great deceased rabbi. The letters were engraved in gold in the stone.

When his daughter Chassiah, wife of Rabbi Yoel Sorotzkin, died in the year 5696 (1935), she was also brought to rest in this “tent”.

During their rule in Steibtz, the Nazis desecrated the cemetery, plundered and smashed the tombstones. The Christian inhabitants and farmers from the surrounding villages helped them and made use of the tombstones for building purposes. In this way, the grave of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Maskil–L'Eitan was also desecrated when the monument was taken apart. The survivors of Steibtz, coming back the day after their liberation from the yoke of the Nazis, found only the tombstone standing and who knows if it still exists today?

Translator's footnote:

  1. Marcheshvan: Called mar–bitter – because there are no holidays in the Hebrew month of Cheshvan. Others suggest that it derives from the Akkadian word meaning 8th month. Return

G. Rabbi Yoel Carmel Sorotzkin

He was born in 5631 (1870), son of the righteous Rabbi Ben Zion, head of the rabbinic court in Zachrin (a chain in the lineage of rabbis of former generations, going back to the Gaon Rabbi Yisrael from Shklov, author of Or Yisrael)

As a child, Rabbi Yoel Sorotzkin was extremely diligent, possessing excellent skills. He was raised in Torah under his father's tutelage and later studied with great perseverance at the Volozhin Yeshiva for seven years. There he served the Gaon Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, who ordained him for the rabbinate while still at a young age.

He appeared in Chislavichi (Choslovitz) as the son–in–law of the head of the rabbinic court, the Gaon Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Maskil L'Eitan, and was already crammed full with the Six Orders of the Mishna and Gemara and the Deciders of questions relating to Halacha. He continued to be assiduous in teaching religious subjects at his father–in–law's home and was one of the outstanding figures of the past generation. Rabbi Yoel knew the Hebrew language and grammar inside out and excelled in Bible, in which he was an expert and also in his lovely style of writing. He also received a license to serve as an official rabbi in any state of Russia. All of this, however, was secondary to his main study and involvement in Torah, in which he toiled with the best of his skills until he became a great and productive man.

In 5661(1900) Rabbi Yoel received his first position in the rabbinate in the provincial city of Tzaritzin (Stalingrad), which was outside the Pale of Settlement and lived there with great honor as a rabbi active in implanting the life of Torah in that place. When his above–mentioned father–in–law, the Gaon died in Steibtz in 5665 (1904), the residents of that small town began to discuss who would replace the deceased rabbi, whether his elderly son–in–law, Rabbi Yoel, or the youngest of his sons–in–law, the Gaon Rabbi Reuven– may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing! (head of the rabbinic court and college in Petach Tikva), who was still dependent on his father–in–law in Steibtz. It was decided that both of the above–mentioned candidates should decide this matter between themselves, and the Gaon Rabbi Reuven Katz renounced his candidacy and the Gaon Rabbi Yoel was accepted as rabbi and head of the rabbinic court in Steibtz in the year 5666 (1905).

Steibtz, which was always a place of welcome for distinguished rabbis, found in Rabbi Yoel the suitable rabbi who did not shame their past. He achieved wide renown as a great rabbi among the Jewish people and as a scholar. Together with this, he excelled as a superior preacher and as a fine public worker.

During the years of the First World War, Rabbi Yoel moved to Moscow. Due to the changes of the times, he engaged in trade and was successful in his business dealings, but the scholar in him triumphed over the merchant and he didn't move from the “tents of Torah”, where he gathered and arranged his numerous manuscripts on Mishnayot, on topics in the Six Orders of the Mishna and Gemara, on inquiries into Halacha and exegesis (critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture) of the Torah.

After much effort, he managed to return to Poland, to his little town of Steibtz. In Poland he was immediately recognized as one of the great rabbis. He learned Polish at the age of 60 and his skill quickly stood him in good stead, for on May 3rd, Poland's national holiday, he delivered a speech in the synagogue in the presence of government representatives and received great honor from the anti–Semitic Poles.

While making one of his speeches on Poland's above–mentioned birthday in 5698 (1937), he caught a bad cold and after a long acute illness, he departed from life in Otbutzk.

One of his brothers is the Gaon Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin, rabbi of great deeds, head of the rabbinic court in Varinova, Zitel and Lozk and currently President of the Council of Great Torah Scholars and Director of the Board of Yeshivot in Israel. Rabbi Yoel's wife was the sister of Rabbi Aharon Volkin, head of the rabbinic court in Grazd, Shad, Amtzislov and finally, at the end of his life, chief rabbi of the magnificent community of Minsk–Karlin,

He left behind in his writings Maskil L'Yosef, containing sermons and explanations of the Bible and sayings of our Sages and Malchei Zedek, in which may be found new interpretations and explanations of the Gemara, Rashi's commentary and Tosefot.

He was replaced by his son–in–law, a native of Steibtz, Rabbi Yerachmiel son of Rabbi Dov Baer Leizerzon. Rabbi Yerachmiel left the town after the Soviets entered in the Hebrew month of Tishrei 5700 (17.9.39). He moved to the small town of Turek in eastern Galizia, where his father lived at that time and there he died a martyr's death together with his family and the inhabitants of the entire small town.

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Rabbi Yoel Carmel Sorotzkin

by Yosef Dov Lechovitsky

Translated by Harvey Spitzer z”l

The Rabbi, the Gaon[1] Rabbi Yoel Carmel Sorotzkin – may the memory of the righteous be blessed! – served as president of the rabbinic court of Steibtz for many years and replaced his father–in–law, the renowned Gaon Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Maskil L'Eitan – may the memory of the righteous be blessed!

I have no doubt that residents of Steibtz and their children will succeed in assessing more than I, the radiant image of their great rabbi whom I had the privilege of knowing only in his latter years. Within a short time I managed to get to know him and to become aware of his magnificent image and his great personality. I would like to mention and exalt, even if only somewhat, his important endeavors and deeds.

The rabbi of Steibtz, with his many skills, had a comprehensive knowledge of various areas of life. His knowledge of Torah stood out in its depth, scope and foundation. His cleverness, sharp–wittedness and perspicacity in worldly affairs were well–known. He excelled in his teaching of Talmud[2] with his clarity of mind and thought and with his great logic. His explanations were clear, a work of craftsmanship, in good taste, order and exemplary reasoning.

When the rabbi entered the study hall, silence prevailed as he approached his table with firm steps, or as he ascended the pulpit. His congregants were thirsty for his words and awaited his remarks with suspense and tenseness and grasped the meaning of his words.

The study hall was always filled to capacity whenever the rabbi appeared. The congregation flocked to the study hall and was drawn there as if by a magician's wand to gain knowledge and to soak up his words and indeed the rabbi's words, which were spoken with much enthusiasm and personal charm, thrilled the listeners and made every fiber of their heart shake.

Everyone derived satisfaction, enjoyment and inspiration from the very same parts of the rabbi's words which were intended for each one of them. The rabbi's words flowed calmly, and his voice became stronger the more he went deeper into the subject to broaden the web of knowledge and thought in problems of life, religion and Torah. In his personality, he incorporated the loftiness and vastness of Judaism, which drew its inspiration and strength from the eternal sources of the Chosen People.

Every subject he considered was worthy of being discussed and exhausted without his mentioning all the details. Everything he said was replete and concentrated with an abundance of ideas and brilliant references to details and highlights, both obvious and implied of various and important matters.

The rabbi remained in Soviet Russia as a result of special conditions and various circumstances during the Russian revolution. In 5689 (1928), the residents of Steibtz agreed to take the rabbi out of his exile and restore him back to the seat of the rabbinate in their crowned town. The town representatives organized, formed ties and made efforts to carry out their good idea.

The rabbi was happy to return to his inheritance with its unique legacy, but nevertheless he put off his leaving from Russia almost a full year because he was engrossed, at that time, in building a mikveh[3]. The town officials urged him not to delay, for miracles don't occur every day and certainly not the possibility of leaving the Soviet Union. The rabbi however was determined to complete his project, and with great self–sacrifice and at the risk of imprisonment which lay in wait for him, he watched over the construction of the mikveh and was unwilling to give up the work which he had begun. He knew that the building of the mikveh would be cancelled and put to an end should he leave.

He arrived in Steibtz in the summer of 5690 (1929). Joy increased with his coming. The whole town – its circles of people, social strata, classes and factions – gave the rabbi honor fit for a king. The residents rejoiced over their having the privilege of seeing him back on the seat of the rabbinate and leading the community as he did previously.

The fact that the rabbi did not abandon his domicile in Russia – until the completion of the building of the mikveh – was the source of unending conversation. Everyone expressed their amazement at his firm position. More than once they came and asked the rabbi to tell them about the episode itself, but the rabbi, who was exceedingly modest, refrained from talking too much about the matter.

I left Steibtz in 5698 (1937) and emigrated to Argentina and from there I moved to North America in 5704 (1943) and then went to live in Israel during the War of Independence. It was my fate to settle in Kfar Sifriah, which was then a deserted village. The ownership of the village was keenly debated between the Hapoel Hamizrachi[4] organization and the Chassidei Chabad[5] movement, and the village was eventually split in half. One part was in the possession of the Chabad movement and was called Kfar Chabad and the other half belonged to the Hapoel Hamizrachi organization and was called Tochelet (hope).

I live in Kfar Tochelet and serve as its ritual slaughterer. I succeeded in forming close and courageous ties with the residents of Kfar Chabad. The friendship of good neighbors prevails between us. This friendliness increased especially after the residents of Kfar Chabad found out that I knew the rabbi whom they loved and admired from the days he lived in Moscow.

In many lengthy conversations, the residents of Kfar Chabad told me about the rabbi's magnificent deeds when he was in Moscow. They didn't stop relating his great and many branched activities in teaching and disseminating Torah in public and his self–sacrifice every single day.

May his memory be blessed!

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Gaon – genius. Return
  2. TalmudMishna and Gemara. Return
  3. Mikveh – ritual bath. Return
  4. Hapoel HaMizrachi –Mizrachi Workers– was a political party and settlement movement in Israel. Return
  5. Chassidei Chabad – Followers of the Chabad–Lubavitcher movement. Return

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Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Maskil–L'Eitan

by Rabbi Reuven Katz, of blessed memory

Translated by Harvey Spitzer z”l

A halo of divine brilliance was spread over the noble image of my father–in–law, the Gaon[1] Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Maskil L'Eitan, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing! This halo enveloped his being at every stage of his multi–faceted activities and deeds, from the time he served in the rabbinate of Smolovitz, continuing on in the town of Chaslovitz and ending his career in the town of Steibtz, where he gave back his pure soul to his Creator as he stood on the pulpit delivering a eulogy for one of the town's elders.

A person's wisdom will illumine his face. A person's image is not the abstract form of one's appearance– it is the direct and exact result of the power of the attributes of the soul that are hidden in it and operate within it.


The Great Genius and Righteous Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Maskil L'Eitan
President of the rabbinic court in the holy congregations of Smolovitz, Chaslovitz and Steibtz


Few and rare are the cases in which a person's full and unique identification can be found between the wisdom that yearned for a dwelling within a person's soul and the setting of one's external image, and this fact was no more evident and stood out and was apparent to the eye than it was in the case of my late father–in–law. The noble image which radiated bright light and brilliant splendor on everything surrounding it and in which – as in a prism illuminating the purity of his soul – the clarity of his thought and refinement of his spirit – participated.

My father–in–law, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing! was the remarkable and special embodiment of the kind of person whose “inside is as his outside”, i.e. sincere. There was no split, duplication or duality in his personality. He was made of one piece of integrity and truth, piety of the soul and sincerity of thought. There were never two ways before him – the way for the individual and the way for the many. His way in life was one: the way of purity of conscience, meticulousness and strictness with himself as with a hairbreadth. He was determined not to change anything of the coin which our Sages minted.

He was a genius par excellence, expert in all the secrets of the Torah, revealed and hidden. A spiritual giant, rich in knowledge, a sharp–witted and clever thinker who dove deeply into the sea of Talmud and retrieved pearls – new interpretations and wonderful explanations which were foundations of Torah aiming for the truth, built and based on the foundation of logic and understanding which set up direction markers for those studying and meditating in Torah.

His diligence in Torah did not know any bounds. He carried out the eternal command of life: “And meditate in it day and night”, meaning exactly what it says. From the dawn of his youth, he imposed the yoke of the life of Torah on himself, a yoke which he carried with strength and pride all his life. He studied Torah under stress and the many hardships which surrounded him, but these sufferings became pains of love, for such is the way of Torah. His expertise in the Six Orders of Mishna and Gemara and in the Deciders of questions of Halacha[2] was practically unparalleled.

As a genius, his knowledge was comprehensive. Together with his expertise in matters of religion, he stood out in his knowledge of worldly affairs with his profound understanding. He was sharp–witted and erudite without it's being possible to determine which of the two surpassed the other – whether his sharp–wittedness surpassed his erudition, or vice versa.

His knowledge of Torah encompassed both the Oral and Written Law. He wrote several books which, if it weren't for the fact that they had gotten lost, to our great sorrow, during the World War, would constitute a mine of information about Torah and Halacha and which would enrich the world of Torah and the academic world considerably. He had a rich library in his home which contained the Six Orders of the Mishna and Gemara as well as a long row of books by the great rabbis of the Middle Ages and the later generations. All these books were completely marked on the margins with remarks and thoughts, signs and criticisms which he made while studying Torah.

His novel interpretations comprised all the subjects of the Torah, Six Orders of the Mishna and Gemara, Deciders of matters of Halacha, the great rabbis of the Middle Ages and those of later generations. In these new interpretations as well as in his new interpretations brought forward in books of other authors, including Cheker Halacha by his uncle, Rabbi Moshe Nissan Maskil L'Eitan, Malbushei Yom Tov by Rabbi Lippa Mirer, in books of Responsa[3], Degel Re'uven, his greatness and his profound and refreshing logic were revealed.

Integrity and wholeness, these were the firm foundations which marked his

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being, both with regard to matters of this world and to Torah and the spirit. He strove to get to the depth of every matter according to its true essence with all his strength and effort.

That he was a genius was a matter of general agreement. In his time, it was not one of the common and usual things for a genius and Torah scholar like him, who was immersed day and night in the yoke of Torah, to be aware of and attentive to all the conditions of the world at one and the same time. His wisdom and intelligence regarding questions of the time amazed and aroused the admiration of his many acquaintances. He didn't always have free time to take part in those matters which were on the agenda, but his voice was heard wherever a reaction was required, and he was always ready to stand in the breach whenever danger to the principles of Torah and Judaism was imminent.

His name preceded him in the world of the rabbinate. His appearances at rabbinic conferences were marked by pomp and splendor. Everyone would gather around him, thirsty to hear his opinion and ready to accept his decision. At a rabbinic conference in St. Petersburg, where the fundaments of life of Torah and Judaism were being considered, Baron Ginzburg, in person, hastened to help him put on his coat out of admiration and esteem for his personality. When he arrived in Vilna, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grudzinski, of blessed memory, came to welcome him, something he was not accustomed to doing for any guest rabbi. His followers and well as his opponents were bound to him with love and devotion. When he gave up the seat of the rabbinate in Chaslovitz, the town provider, a wealthy man with a lot of prestige, lamented that despite the disagreement he had with the rabbi over certain essential laws of Halacha in the life of the community and the town, he nevertheless felt very bad that the rabbi was leaving them.

He conducted the office of rabbi very firmly. His authority was the authority of Torah, which claimed and required absolute and unreserved obedience in accepting its decrees and laws. But his ways of conduct were those of the qualities of Torah, whose ways are “the ways of pleasantness and all its paths are peace”[4]. Together with his great firmness, which didn't know any compromise or concessions, he was endowed with a tremendous power of patience. With all the nobility of his soul and the purity of his wisdom, he strove to avoid quarrels and strife among members of the community or congregation. With all his strength, he preserved the life of peace, brotherhood and friendship. By virtue of his patience, he repulsed the denunciation of brazen and audacious people.

Truth, for him, superseded everything. His truth was always the truth of Torah, the truth of conscience. His truth never knew submission, obsequiousness, flattery or concession.

He served as a figure of an example of an ideal and ethical life for friendship in company and for relations of friendship and mutuality in all the ways of the community.

He had within him a great and devoted love for people. At any time he revealed relations of affection and closeness for an individual or the community, and everyone was amazed by the overt expression of this affection. One could see, whether through deed or feeling, that the love he possessed for people was not affected, but originated and flowed naturally from the depths of his being and the creation of his personality. It was never possible to distinguish any difference whatsoever between the love for his family and his love for people in general. His love was pure with regard to both of them as one, full of compassion, pity and spiritual elevation.

He knew how to encourage poor, wretched and depressed people and to give them hope and trust and to fill their spirit with joy and cheerfulness for the holidays, but he didn't stop there. His love for people was expressed righteously, in deeds of kindness and charity. He shared his bread and water in the daily hardships of those who were struck by the hand of fate. He would disperse and share his money and would often assume the yoke of debt which he had to endure for many days.

His father was Rabbi Aharon, son of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Maskil L'Eitan, who was renowned in Lithuania and Reisen as the “genius of his generation” and known for his treatises on Torah and especially for his studies on the Six Orders of the Mishna and Gemara by the name Mitzpeh Eitan, on the Shulchan Aruch[5] by the name Yad Avraham, on the Order of Moed[6] in the mishnayot[7] by the name Be'er Avraham, Yad Eitan and Nachal Eitan on the Rambam[8], Ahavat Eitan on Eyn Yaakov[9], in addition to a long series of books dealing with all subjects relating to Torah as well as Kabala. With regard to his genealogy, his ancestors were among the privileged families in Germany, Austria and Poland, including Rabbi Yosef T'omim, author of Pri Megadim, Rabbi Zalman Mirlish, president of the rabbinic court in Hamburg, the Holy Shla'h[10], and going back further to Rashi[11] and going further back to King David.

His modesty was that of a great spiritual leader who, the more he ascended to spiritual heights, the more he felt that the way to the summit was beyond his ability and thus humbled himself and lessened his image for the glory and splendor of the area that was nearly impossible for him to attain and grasp. His Torah was the Torah of Life, but he was always afraid and worried that he might, G-d forbid, misconstrue the meaning of a law in a way inconsistent with Halacha and not according to the quality of truth, which is the truth of Torah. This worry swooped down of him, with awe and reverence, whenever he was engaged in the study of Torah and would have to make his decisions based on Torah, and this is what sustained him because his words would always be a matter of Halacha as they were always firmly based, with G-d's help, on Torah.

The great Torah scholars of the generation would await words of Torah and Halacha from his mouth and they knew that his words carried the authorization of Torah and that his agreement was the seal of Torah and knowledge of Torah. When his uncle, Rabbi Moshe Nissan Maskil L'Eitan, published his book Cheker Halacha, he (his nephew) quibbled with him, conducting negotiations over Halacha, and raised remarks and objections concerning the sources of essential laws, their foundations and meanings. In a letter written in response to his nephew's criticisms, his uncle, the Gaon said, “ What I feared has come about”, for indeed there was a sense of holy fear on students and scholars of Torah whenever they presented him with their new interpretations and their studies for obtaining his approval or opinion.

He was humble but, at the same time, was forceful and conducted the office of the rabbinate with honor and courage. Humility and firmness are apparently two concepts which contradict one another, but they actually complement one another when their foundations originate and come from the honor of Torah and the worry to carry out the laws of Torah. He knew how to stand at the gate openly and to reveal his firmness at the time and place when his firmness was required. He never tried to evade taking a stand and making a decision on matters that were wrong, in doubt or in disagreement. He would express his opinion openly, clearly and decisively, without vacillating and without getting caught up in a tangle of anxieties from which there was no way out. He was one of the ardent supporters of the idea of settling the Land of Israel and carried within his heart, with love and thrill of holiness, the vision of the revival of the Jewish nation. The Land of Israel was for him not only hope and vision, but also the aspiration of heart and soul to perform the commandments that are dependent on living in the land and to restore the crown of the forefathers of the Jewish People from the years they dwelled on the land.

During his time, the world of the rabbinate was caught up in a storm of controversy in which he was involved, namely, to allow the use of etrogim[12] from Corfu (an island in the Ionian Sea in Greece), or whether to prohibit their use entirely

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and use only etrogim coming from the Land of Israel. The camps and opinions were divided and my father–in–law did not hesitate to report for battle with the full measure of his stature on the side of those who wished to prohibit the use of etrogim from Corfu. But not only that, for knowing that actions speak louder than words, he made two visits to the Land of Israel to talk and establish ties with owners of groves in order to support the export of etrogim grown in the Land of Israel and their distribution among the communities of the Jewish People.

Steibtz was known and famous as a town of rabbis who were great scholars of Torah and teaching, who sat on the seat of the rabbinate and helped increase its prestige of glory and praise among the communities of the Diaspora. The town was smaller than Chaslovitz within the limits of material wealth but, on the other hand, it was incomparably higher in status in the realm of the spirit. It was close to Mir, where there was a magnificent place for students of Torah (the famous Mir Yeshiva), and many scholars would frequent the synagogue and study halls and devote their days and nights to studying Torah.[13] Steibtz was without a rabbi for a long time. It would select and sift through the scholars who desired to wear the crown of the rabbinate. There were many candidates and, opposed to them, were numerous parties who could not agree on the choice of the most suitable and worthy candidate.

My father–in–law's candidacy united the whole town in the joy of admiration for this choice. A delegation of honor presented him with the document from the rabbinate, signed by the treasurers of all the synagogues who, until then, were divided and split among themselves over the candidacy of the rabbis who wanted to serve in the rabbinate honorably. There was not a single individual who did not take part in the occasion, welcoming the rabbi in the yard of the Great Synagogue. Everyone saw for themselves the importance of the fact that a rabbi who was unique among the great scholars and teachers of Torah of the generation had come to dwell honorably among them. Steibtz quickly blossomed and grew. The life of the community, which was paralyzed during the period of the rabbi's absence, quickly improved. The rabbi breathed new life from his great spirit into the town's life: the study halls filled up with scholars, the sound of Torah grew louder and louder, Institutions of charity and benevolence were established and strengthened. The community was seized with the desire and enthusiasm “to make Torah great and glorious”[14] Even the hardships of life seemingly eased their burden and the pangs of hunger also appeared to lessen. In the town's empty spaces, the spirit of activity was exalted, and the soul was saturated with the encouraging and refreshing feeling of building and the creation of inalienable goods of the eternity of the Jewish nation. The town didn't recognize itself from the joy and delight of having made a good choice, which was very fortunate. The town's representatives and providers sought to do everything possible to increase the honor of the rabbi and his splendor. They built him a house, “the rabbi's house”, which was perfectly beautiful and they increased his salary so that he wouldn't live in such penury.

Admiration for the rabbi grew steadily from day to day, and the rabbi's activities and deeds on behalf of the town also increased and grew immensely from day to day. The rabbi's personality began to mesh and mix more and more in the life of the residents. His presence was required everywhere and everyone looked forward to hearing an encouraging word from him as well as to receiving help from his work and the kindness of his deeds. The Russo–Japanese War, which had broken out, caused many hardships and misfortunes. The Jews were caught between the hammer and the anvil of both sides. The best of the youth and the young men eligible for the draft wandered within the country. Families were disconnected and separated. There was great suffering and many shortages. Hearts were filled with pain and sorrow which did not always find salvation or a deliverer.

In those difficult and gloomy days the rabbi's personality was elevated and stood out for his love for people, invitations to guests, self–sacrifice, deeds and activities of charity which abounded in goodness and compassion in all the surroundings. In those very days of suffering and distress, he devoted himself entirely to the domain of the individual and family. He was seized with a need for doing things for the public and town. He did not watch his health and did not spare his strength and did not see any hindrances, obstacles or restrictions. Every minute of the day was precious to him and devoted to deeds for saving souls, regarding whom he did not take into consideration his own lack of strength or fatigue.

And just then, one of the town elders died. It was a time of suspense, expectation and dread ahead of the coming days. The rabbi wanted to remove anxiety from the heart of the community, to encourage its spirit and to infuse it with hope for a better tomorrow and vision for a bright future. Therefore, the rabbi decided to eulogize the deceased and gathered the whole town together, both the young and old, to the synagogue yard– from the status of the rabbi of the congregation, Rabbi Dumah, to the position of all those who came to welcome the rabbi to the town. Hardly anyone stayed home. Everyone gathered into the synagogue yard and anxiously awaited the rabbi's words. The eulogy was delivered in a loud voice and with enthusiasm. Descriptions of the town were combined with legends and saying of our Sages of blessed memory, spiced with fables and checkered with sections of ethical behavior and rebuke and wrapped in words of encouragement and consolation. The rabbi's eulogy was an occasion of weeping and lament, not only over the death of the man lying before us, but over the difficult and serious situation of the Jewish People. This was an opportunity to be cleansed before the Creator of Heaven and Earth. It was a suitable time to pour out supplications and the emotions of one's heart before He Who dwells on high, pleading with Him to have mercy and pity on His people and to bring them eternal salvation and redemption.

All of a sudden, the rabbi collapsed, sank down and fell. The effort (to get up) was beyond his strength. His whole life was holy for the community, and now he brought himself as an elevation–offering on the town's altar. In holiness and purity he returned his soul to its Creator, on the 14th day of the month of Marcheshvan 5665(1904).

May his memory be blessed forever and may his soul be bound up in the eternal life of the Chosen People!

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Gaon – genius. Return
  2. Halacha – Jewish Law. Return
  3. Responsa – questions and answers regarding matters of Halacha. Return
  4. Proverbs 3:17. Return
  5. Shulchan Aruch – Code of Jewish Law. Return
  6. Moed – Festivals. Return
  7. mishnayot – paragraphs of the Mishna– compilation of the Oral Law. Return
  8. Rambam – Maimonides, 1135–1205. Return
  9. Eyn Yaakov – a collection of the non–legal portions of the Talmud by Rabbi Ya'alov Ibn Chabib, 1433–1526). Return
  10. Holy Shla'h – Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz, author of Shnei Luchot HaBrit. Return
  11. Rashi – Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzchak, 1040–1105, author of the most important commentaries on the Talmud and Torah. Return
  12. etrogim – citrons, for use during the Holiday of Sukkot, the Festival of Booths or Tabernacles. Return
  13. Relates to the famous Mir Yeshiva. Return
  14. Isaiah, 42:21. Return


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