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[Page 59]

Rabbis – Natives of Steibtz

by M. Tzinowitz

Translated by Harvey Spitzer z”l

 

Rabbi Yochanan Mirsky

Sto059.jpg

 

He was a native of Steibtz, son of Rabbi Meir Mirsky. He studied at the Knesset Beit-Yitzchak Yeshiva in Slobodka-Kovna and was the disciple of the Ga'on[1] Rabbi Chaim Rabinowitz, head of the above-mentioned rabbinic college.

He was appointed as a rabbi in Bodki (district of Bilsk in the region of Grodno), replacing the Gaon Rabbi Reuven Zelig Bengis, who moved to Kalvaria in Lithuania.

In the year 5685 (1929), he was appointed rabbi in Zavlodovi (Zabludow), near Bialystok, and led his community with loyalty and devotion and was respected and admired in all circles of the small town. He was active in religious Zionism and joined the Mizrachi[2] party and practiced what he preached in all matters pertaining to the Land of Israel, to the Keren Kayemet[3] and to the Keren HaYesod[4] and signed all manifestos for the benefit of both these funds.

Rabbi Mirsky was active in the area of religious-Zionist education and was regarded as one of the founders of the school in the small town, where the students were educated in Torah, good manners and love for the Land of Israel. In addition, he also encouraged talented students to continue their studies in yeshivot. Likewise he created publicity in his small town to inspire the youth to emigrate to the Land of Israel and worked hard to establish a branch of HaShomer HaDati and Hechalutz HaMizrachi[5] in Zavlodovi.

He was also respected in circles of Agudat Yisrael[6], because of his sincerity and his activities that were performed in G-d's name.

 

Father and Son – Rabbi David and Rabbi Moshe Vilentzik

Rabbi Moshe is described as “wise and perfect and a remarkable preacher”. He was the son of the righteous Rabbi from Steibtz, Rabbi David who was related to the Maharal of Prague[7] and to the author of the book Panim Meirot, (the Gaon Rabbi Meir Eisenstadt, president of the rabbinic court, son of the daughter of the Gaon Rabbi Shabtai HaKohen, author of Siftei Kohen commentary on sections Yoreh De'ah and Choshen Mishpat of the Shulchan Aruch[8]). Rabbi Moshe Vilentzik married the daughter of the Gaon Rabbi Eliezer Moshe Heiligman from Nesvizh. He did not want to take on a position as rabbi and earned a living as a merchant in Tomashpol in the district of Kiev. In the year 5657 (1876), he wrote an important book, Shirat Moshe, an explanation of the Book of the Song of Songs, with his own innovations of Halacha[9]. This book was praised by the great rabbis of the generation in their “Approvals”, among them Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, Rabbi Chaim Berlin, Rabbi Moshe Nachum Yerushalimski from Kaminka, Rabbi Shlomo Freides from Liadi and also special approval from his father-in-law, Rabbi Avraham Moshe Heiligman. Rabbi Moshe endowed other books of Halacha and handwritten religious literature.

(According to HaDorot HaAchronim by Ben- Zion Eisenstadt)

 

Rabbi Yaakov Vilentzik

He was born in Steibtz in 5612 (1851). He was a pupil of the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Zalman Eisenstadt, president of the rabbinic court in Mir. He also studied in Birzh, Lithuania under the Gaon Rabbi Asher Nissan, author of Gan Na'ul. In the year 5648 (1887), he was appointed rabbi and president of the rabbinic court in Pikeln, where he worked for 29 years and died there in 5677 (1916).

He became famous in the rabbinic world with his book, Dlatot Tshuva, dealing with the Yoreh De'ah[10]. He also wrote the books Tehilah L'David (Vilna, 5630/ 1869) and Be'er Yaakov (Vilna, 5639 /1878). Among his writings remained other responsa[11] and new interpretations of Halacha as well as elucidations of Our Sages of Blessed Memory. Dlatot Tshuva was published in HaPeles[12] (Year 1, 5661/ 1900) and also in Divrei Malchiel by the rabbi from Lomzeh and in other essays. The book Dlatot Tshuva includes explanations and markers indicating places in the words of the Achronim[13] concerning the Yoreh De'ah section of the Shulchan Aruch from paragraph 1-122. The first part (from paragraph 1-82) was published in Vilna in 5650 (1889), and the second part (from paragraph 87-122) was published in Vilna in 5651 (1890), including the omissions from the first part. In the epilogue, we read: “In it are compiled all the laws and new interpretations by the former and later Gaonim who “split the heavens” [luminaries]. Among them were laws that were in force at the time of the Ptchey (Gates of) Tshuva[14] and were not included in his book, or those that were interpreted afterwards, to this day… Also many reformed interpretations of laws that came to my mind according to the basic law of the Talmud (Mishna and Gemara) and the Arbiters of Halacha, with G-d's help, may he be blessed.

In the introduction to Part I, the author mentions that he used 800 books of responsa which are in the library of Rabbi Matityahu Shtrashun.


Translator's footnotes:

  1. Ga'on - A title given to a great learned Rabbi. Return
  2. Mizrachi - Orthodox party in the Zionist organization. Return
  3. Keren Kayemet - Jewish National Fund. Return
  4. Keren HaYesod - The Foundation Fund also known as the UJA (United Jewish Appeal) or UIA (United Israel Appeal). Return
  5. HaShomer HaDati and Hechalutz HaMizrachi - These were both religious Zionist organizations. Return
  6. Agudat Yisrael - An anti-Zionist religious organization. Return
  7. The Maharal of Prague - Yehuda ben Bezalel Loew. Return
  8. Shulchan Aruch - Code of Jewish Law. Return
  9. Halacha - Jewish Law. Return
  10. Yoreh De'ah - section of the Shulchan Aruch. Return
  11. responsa - questions and answers regarding Halacha. Return
  12. HaPeles - HaPeles was a magazine in Hebrew, published in the city of Poltava in the Russian Empire, between the years 1900-1905. The editor-in-chief and publisher of the journal was Rabbi Eliyahu Akiva Rabinowitz. (Wikipedia in Hebrew translated). Return
  13. Achronim - Famous Rabbis and last interpreters of Halacha – the Code of Jewish Law. Return
  14. Gates of Tshuva - This may actually relate to his book Dlatot Tshuva (Doors of Tshuva). Return


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Haskala[1] and Zionism in Steibtz

Translated by Sara Mages

  1. A movement to organize an orderly primary education for the children of the poor in 1880, as a complementary or as a replacement, for the local Talmud-Torah. This attempt did not succeed. The situation of Talmud-Torah in 1904.

  2. The beginnings of the establishment of the library in 1880.

In connection with the first matter we find in HaMelitz[2] from 1880 (issue 33) an interesting correspondence that typifies the situation in Steibtz in those days.

The author-correspondent announces these details about it:

“For several weeks now the maskilim of the city have come together and decided to help the poor teenagers, who are wandering idly in the streets and turning the wrong way, and to bestow on them knowledge and wisdom. Each member of the association, and there are many of them, volunteered to give from thirty to fifty kopeks every month. Also many families took upon themselves to help generously to this honorable matter. And on the same day they turned with their request to the city's rabbi (then, the Rabbi of Steibtz was R' Meir Noah Levine), who had a tendency to some sort of moderate education. However, they were disappointed concerning his agreement to this new idea in those days that he would concur with them and at least not interfere with their actions. But, the maskilim erred in their judgment, because the city's rabbi was a zealot in the fullest detail, and when the maskilim presented their intention to him, that they are willing to teach the children of the poor four hours a day the language of the past, Shulchan Aruch, the Russian language and arithmetic, he shouted loudly, raised his voice like a shofar, and angrily answered them: There will be no Shkoles [school] in our city. Do you want that Torah and faith will not be available for our sons?”

The maskilim did not answer him for better or worse, and turned with their request to the deputy rabbi, he is the very wise man, R' Zalman Sander is his name. The rabbi listened to their words and voiced his opinion in public, but, he too, failed to persuade the rabbi to change his mind.

And they also tried to talk to the leader of the community here, and asked him to talk to the rabbi so that he would understand the benefit of their request, but when the leader heard their request and their purpose, horror and shudders overcame him and this was his answer: “What to us and the poor lads, for if they will eat from the Tree of Knowledge, they will choose good and reject the evil, and will not listen to us”.

And the aforementioned writer and author remarks on this with his own sarcastic comment: “And without a doubt, he is afraid that the boys will see a sign of blessing in their education, they will sign their name and surname like him, and over the years they will also be able to take a community job on their shoulders”…

And the writer ends his letter with these words:

“An hour has not passed and S. [Steibtz] was in turmoil. And the voice came out that the heretics want the children of the poor to lose their way behind the teachings of G-d and change their religion. The leaders, and the opponents of wisdom and knowledge, shouted in Beit HaMidrash to frighten the people that evil is facing them… The maskilim worked in vain to explain to them the meaning of this matter, but no one listened to them”…

And the situation in Talmud-Torah in Steibtz remained as it was before, for another period of twenty four years. In 1904, the following article appeared in Warsaw's newspaper HaTzofeh (No. 16):

“The honorable Ivansky brothers, and the honorable elder Mr. Lipshitz, donated a fair sum of money for the construction of a big building for Talmud-Torah. Until now they studied in the women's section without any order and without efficient education. The building will be completed by next summer and will be a luxurious and spacious house”. But the person who brings this news: Y. R-K, comments on this: “But, who knows if the state of education will change for the better in the new house? And if the homeowners in our city had handed over this institution to the supervision of the Zionists, this house would have become a real Talmud-Torah.”

In connection with the establishment of the library in Steibtz already in 1880, and the help received from Hevrat Mefitzei Haskala[3] in Petersburg, we know from two correspondences in HaMelitz from the aforementioned year.

These details are written in the first letter:

“Steibtz (Minsk District) Beit Akad Sefarim[4], that the young maskilim wanted to establish in our city, has come to fruition. And this is what its founders have done: They collected books in Hebrew and Russian which were in the hands of private individuals, to the home of one of them and entrusted him to take care of everything. The committee of Hevrat Mefitzei Haskala also sent us thirty-five books.

And for this we bestow thanks and blessing to the honorable committee in the name of the maskilim of our city, and also add a request that in the coming days they will also give from the fine books in their good treasure. Anyone who takes books to read will have to give a secured guarantee of the price of the books, and pay every month no

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less than fifteen kopeks, and anyone who pays more is blessed, and with this money they will buy new and useful books. Those who do not have the means to pay this price, will be given books free of charge. And if they also don't have the money for a guarantee, they must bring a certificate from one of the founders of the house who is responsible for the books.”

The writer of this article concludes his remarks regarding the establishment of this library: “two or three maskilim, who have so far refused to support the founders of the library, will no longer stand aside and participate in this necessary enterprise that brings great benefit, and they will also bring their books to the library and will be blessed for good”.

The author of this correspondence is Zalman Ivansky, probably one of the “esteemed Ivansky brothers”, who contributed their share twenty-four years ago - “a decent sum to build (in Steibtz) a large house for Talmud-Torah, together with the honorable elder Mr. Lipshitz”.

The second correspondence from the same year on the opening of the aforementioned library in 1880, actually repeats what had already been written in the first one. But a few more details have been added to the facts of this matter. And this is the letter as it was written by “X”.

“The maskilim began to plan Beit Akad Sefarim for books in the language of the past and in Russian. The benefit that will come out of this library is very great, for it is difficult to obtain books from the library in Minsk, and there are also people who don't have the means to pay the “fixed price”. The person, who brings this information, thinks that “the founders of the library will succeed only after Hevrat Mefitzei Haskala in Petersburg will agree to give from their books. This we saw from the letter we received on the 19th of this month from a member of the committee, Dr. Harkavy, and from the list of books enclosed in his letter”.

And the writer “X” ends his words with this:

”Therefore, the educated members hurried to carry out what they had begun to do, and did not pay attention to the maskilim on one side and those who disturbed them on the other side.” Apparently, the reference is to the zealots who disturbed them in the same way that they interfered with the establishment of a school for the poor children in the place in the aforementioned year and succeeded in doing so, “for, without a doubt, you will find many helpers who will support you.”

We do not know about the future of this library because after a while they stopped publicizing it in the aforementioned HaMelitz, or in any other Hebrew newspaper. On the other hand, this information about the library in Steibtz appeared in HaTzofeh:

“Through the efforts of our young people, and especially the efforts of the pharmacist, L. Munbez, a license was obtained from the government to establish a Hebrew and Russian Beit Akad (library - M.Z.), whose number of books exceeds thousands in all subjects of new and old literature. Our young men and women also established a reading room here, in which they gather in the evening to read journals and literary collections in any language the reader desires, and all this for 10 kopeks a month which will fund the institution”.

When HaRav HaGaon[5], chief of the court in the city of Chortkov, passed through our city and saw the great neglect in the Zionists activities here, he spoke in the Great Beit Midrash, which was filled to capacity, and explained in words of taste, spiced with Torah verses and proverbs of Hazal[6] the magnitude of the value of the Zionist idea, and that the duty of every Jew, ultra-orthodox and enlightened, is to lend a hand to the Zionist activity and to volunteer to do the Zionist work. The number of new members, who purchased the Shekel[7], increased and many notes were also sold.

Y.Y. Kahan Ha-Tsefira No. 253 – 28 November, 1903

 

HaRav R' Avraham Yitzchak Maskil L'Eitan[8] in praise of Hibbat Zion[9] and his letter of recommendation for the preacher, Hovev Zion, the well-known R' Yehudah Tzvi Yevzerov

The famous preaching rabbi, who is educated to tell the truth, a man of many activities, Yehudah Tzvi Yevzerov from here, the Holy Community of Choslovitz[10], who has already done a lot and succeeded in all parts of our country for the benefit of the settlement of Eretz Yisrael. He has done good deeds that prospered and bore wonderful fruit, brought all the scattered Jews closer to their origin, and aroused among all the people the affection of holiness and love for our Holy Land. And I ask all our people to support the messenger of the association, a messenger faithful to his senders, who was sent by the leaders of Agudat Hovevei Zion to awaken our brothers to help the association whose every wish is to build up the ruins of our country, to give us a home in Yehudah and to find a resting place for the lost wanderers, to many of our Jewish brothers. And there is a double resourcefulness in this matter, the commandment to settle in the Holy Land, to turn the land of the desert into a fertile land, a desolate and forsaken land into a land of good and precious, and also to save many souls of our brothers who are sighing and groaning and searching for a source of bread and livelihood”.

(Taken from Shivat Tzion by Avraham Ya'akov Slutski)

 

The distinguished young women, M. Z. Ivansky and the sisters M. and K. Rubashov, who are the first in every good and helpful project, volunteered to teach poor young girls for free. Every day, for three hours, they engage in this sacred work, teaching thirty students whose parents don't have the means to pay the salary. Therefore, the parents' blessings will come upon them.

Y. Vinagrad, Ha-Tsefirah[11] No. 258, 1896.

 

Through the efforts of the city's doctor, H. Farman, a women's society was founded here to help the sick, support them and take care of them on their deathbed until they pass away.

At the head of the society stand the ladies: H. Altman and S. Ginzburg, and we must thank the daughters of the masters, the sisters Ivansky, who took the trouble to collect donations for the needs of this association.

Ha-Tsefirah No. 41, 1897.

 

In “Ha-Tsefirah” 1899 (No. 208), we read that “in the city of Steibtz (Minsk District), the preaching rabbi, HaRav Y. Schulman, preached an important sermon dedicated to Zion and many people lent a hand to the approved committee on behalf of the monarchy in Odessa.”

The informant: Vinagrad.

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Steibtz (Minsk District) 29th January, 1889

Like the waters of the Shiloah,[12] which flows gently and its pure and clear waters revive every soul, so was the period when HaRav HaGaon, the glory of the generation, R' Meir Noah Levin, may his light shine, served as the rabbi of our city. He ran his congregation calmly and in his pleasant sermons, which he often gave, pure faith and pure education united and together they were innocent, they permeated like oil among the youth and planted good seeds. And more than he was a glorious and outstanding preacher, he had time for everyone and led his community in knowledge and intelligence according to the spirit of the time, without the slightest hint of zealousness. He was one of the first to participate in the idea of Eretz Yisrael, and in his pleasant sermons aroused the hearts of the youth to pay attention to this matter, and his words were not in vain. And the youth arose and gathered, and within five months collected about 80 rubles for the benefit of Eretz Yisrael, and their hand was outstretched to help wholeheartedly in this honorable matter, but from the day HaRav HaGaon left our city to serve as a teacher in Moscow, the settlement movement in our city came to an end. The period of fanaticism and hallucination began to rule our city. The flattering and hypocritical zealots, who hid in holes all the days of HaRav HaGaon, came out of their holes and have done extremely bad deeds that should not have been done.

Agudat Hovevei Zion was also destroyed to the core by them.

And this is what has happened in our city in recent days.

The small amount of money collected by the leaders of the association (a total of seventy eight rubles and seventy four kopeks), did not give sleep to one of the zealots who camped under the flag of the new rabbi, and he began to entice the members of the society to give him the aforementioned money so that he could establish a benevolent society. The teenagers played on his dreams and on his words, but he did not rest or be silent until he finally reached his goal with the help of the HaRav HaGaon, and the money was given to him as a loan. The rabbi, and that hypocrite, promised in their handwriting to return the above amount whenever the directors of the association would ask them to do so, and everything was firm and abiding.

Two years passed and the money remained in the hands of the zealot as unclaimed property without anyone protesting.

One day, the fifth day of Parashat Yitro, came to our city the glorious preacher, R' Chaim Zundel Maccoby[13], who is known for his pleasant sermons about the settlement of Eretz Yisrael. On Friday morning he came for the first time to Beit HaMidrash to pray Tefilat Shacharit and people, from various strata of society, came to him and asked him when he would say his pleasant words, and he answered and said that he would not be able to say his words until the people, who have pledged in their handwriting, will return the money collected for the settlement of Eretz Yisrael to its original location. Apparently he knew everything that had happened before he came to our city. Soon, the flatterers and the gossipers gave these words to the rabbi who was standing in Beit HaMidrash. When the rabbi heard this, he became very angry and answered heatedly: and who is the one who found the courage to demand money from me? From me? From my community? Money? There will be no such thing! And the preaching rabbi returned from Beit HaMidrash to his hotel in bitter disappointment.

Sabbath passed and the preacher stood his ground and did not deliver his sermon on that day, and the crowd shouted, spoke loudly to each other and discussed the matter of interest, and the gossipers and secret informers were given ample opportunities to do their deeds openly and secretly, to increase the fire and pour oil over the flame of controversy.

On Sunday morning the shamash[14] of Gemilut Hasadim[15] suddenly burst into Beit HaMidrash, placed the keys of Gemilut Hasadim before the rabbi, and said that he was resigning from his job in Gemilut Hasadim because people are gossiping behind his back that he is the evil inclination who hinders the sermon of the magnificent preacher. When the rabbi heard these words that came out of the mouth of the shamash, he was furious and shouted loudly: “Listen to me members of my congregation! I, I am the one who hinders the sermon of this heretic from the gates of impurity, the spirit of falsehood, the spirit of defilement and kelipah,[16] may the Merciful protect us, etc”. When the preacher heard in the distance the insults and the curses that came out of the rabbi's mouth, he hurried over to him to ask him for the reason of this great anger. But, HaRav HaGaon did not let him utter a single word and the preaching rabbi moved and stood at a distance. An hour has not passed, HaRav HaGaon rested from his rage and great anger, and sent to the preacher to ask him to come and visit him at his house. This preaching rabbi, with his great patience, quickly complied with the rabbi's request and immediately went to the rabbi's house, but all the preacher's words did not convinced the rabbi, because he insisted on not giving permission to erect the ruins of the association nor to return the money to its owner. This preaching rabbi was ready to leave the city and travel to the nearby town of Swerznie, because they called him to preach his pleasant sermons there.

And when the people of our city heard that the preacher rabbi was about to leave them on that day, they were very upset and sad in their hearts, and they rose against him all that day, gave him no rest, asked and begged him not to leave them and promised to be faithful to him if he would not leave. If he would only preach to them one sermon, all the difficulties will be settled, all his wishes will come true and the peace of the city will be restored. And they said that the rabbi also agrees with him and he reflects and regrets what he has said. And finally he agreed with them and promised that he would fulfill their wish the next day. On Monday he will preach his sermon in Beit HaMidrash after Tefilat Shacharit[17], and they were happy and parted from him full of hope and joy.

The next day, Monday morning, a large crowd gathered in Beit HaMidrash and waited, like the last rain, to hear the words of the glorious preacher. Immediately after the end of the prayer he walked towards the bimah[18] to preach his words, but when HaRav HaGaon saw that the preacher was on the bimah, he got angry, cursed the preaching rabbi and shamed him.

When the preacher heard the curses coming from the rabbi's mouth, he did not linger in Beit HaMidrash and returned to his hotel without answering anything to the rabbi, and all the people who gathered in Beit HaMidrash looked at each other quietly, wondering about the reason for this great anger… and the faces of the zealots and holy hypocrites brightened on this issue.

On that day the glorious preacher left the city full of shame and disgrace, sorrow and grief, and headed to the city of Mir.

”Ariel” HaMelitz No 30, 5 February 1889.

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The material and spiritual situation in Steibtz

Our city, built on the shore of the Nieman [River], was formerly a city of commerce and its material situation was strong and good. Before the Brest-Moscow railway was built there was large and spacious trade movement here. Many ships, large and small, transported from here abroad grain and all kinds of goods from the merchants, and the workers found good wages.

But in recent years the ship trade has been completely abolished. The goods are transported from here abroad by freight cars that do not bring even a shred of livelihood to our city. The shops multiplied here to a great extent, until the sellers surpassed the buyers and their owners, the shopkeepers, are sitting on pins and needles waiting for the buyer to come. Our station's machine house (Dipa) was moved to Baranavichy, and this matter also caused great damage to our city. The trade movement went down to the lowest level, all sources of livelihood were blocked and many of our townspeople, various craftsmen and market people, were forced to leave the city and wander to distant places, to America and Africa.

Lately, the spiritual and moral situation has improved here in Steibtz: various charities were established for the benefit of the poor of our city, Zionism is developing despite its many opponents, and in addition to that a license was obtained from the government to establish a Beit Akad Sefarim in Hebrew and Russian, and the number of books rose to thousands. A reading room was also established next to it for reading periodicals and literary collections in whatever language you desire.

HaTzofeh, Warsaw, Issue 16, 1904.

 

The positive statement of HaRav R' Meir Noah Levin, the former Rabbi of Steibtz, on the Hibbat Zion movement

”On the question you asked regarding the settlement of Eretz Yisrael: few are the words spoken in Bava Kamma[19] (p. 80b) and Gittin[20] (p. 30b): “And with regard to one who purchases a house in Eretz Yisrael, one writes a bill of sale for this transaction even on Shabbat.” …one tells a gentile to do it, and he does so… because the Sages did not impose this decree due to the mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael.” And it is said in Tosafot[21] Divrei Hayamin, “One tells a gentile and he does” - “Precisely because of this mitzvah.” And it is said in Pesachim[22], and we also know that our rabbis placed Shevut[23] in their writings, but not for Kareth[24] and not for the settlement of Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, in the eyes of Hazal the commandment of Eretz Yisrael is greater than all the commandments in the world. And so it is said in Ketubot[25] and in other places in Shas[26].

In regard to the complaint of the rabbis who oppose the settlement of Eretz Yisrael - now, since among the members of Hovevei Zion, and the settlers in the new moshavot[27] in Eretz Yisrael, “there are people there without morals and values” - HaRav R' Haim Meir Noah HaLevi Levin tells us in these words: “who collected the testimony about it,” and R' Moses ben Mordecai Zacuto said: “from the witnesses' mouths and not from their writing”, even if it was true, “because of the damage done by fools such a great mitzvah will be canceled?” G-d forbid! There will be no such thing in Israel, and I give my blessing, a blessing of truth and peace, and a blessing to all who hold this great and wonderful mitzvah and its supporters will be happy in their souls”.

From the book Shivat Tzion by Avraham Ya'akov Slutski

 

Bikur Cholim[28]

A few years ago the association Bikur Cholim was founded in our city through the efforts of Mr. S. Feigelzhan. The best is available in this house for the poor patients of our people, and every person infected and sick will be saved. Every week, on Friday, Mr. Feigelzhan goes to the homes of the generous people and collects the planned money, and from this money they will pay the pharmacist for the medicines, and from what is left they will support the hand of all the poor and the needy.

Moshe Mordechai Gershonovitz HaMelitz, 20 November 1899.

 

Chevra Kadisha[29]

The situation of Chevra Kadisha in our city has changed for the better, and the society has taken on a new form since the esteemed gabbaim[30] were elected about two years ago, and they try with all their might to make right and honest arrangements in the society. Their first activity was to erect a new fence, strong and good, around the “death yard” [cemetery] in place of the old hedgerow that had many gaps in it, and the cemetery was trampled by all who peck in the dirt, and in the summer it was a place of pasture for all the field animals. And they also fixed a new structure with strong and solid gates and painted it, inside and out, in black as a sign of mourning.

And now the esteemed gabbaim paid attention to rebuild the almshouse (Hekdesh), which was burned during the great fire, but there were separate proposals for the building plan. At that time there was a sum of three hundred rubles for this building. One hundred rubles were sent by the generous wealthy man, Mr. Nachum Brachut, a native of our city who now lives in Warsaw, one hundred rubles that the important wealthy woman, H. Tsirolnik, gave the association for the needs of the Hekdesh after the death her mother-in-law a few weeks earlier, and other small donations at the amount of about one hundred rubles.

Z. Zhukovski HaMelitz No. 28, 2 February 1895.

 

On the greatness of HaRav R' Shlomo Mordechai Brudna, Mr. Gershon Halpern of Kovno [Kaunas] writes the following in HaMelitz, from 1889 (No. 62): “I have known R' S. M. B for about twenty five years and I admit that he is an upright man, and besides his great knowledge in Gemara, Poskim and Tosafot, he is also a magnificent scholar and an expert in Hebrew literature, and in his vocation of faith, for about twenty years, he taught knowledge to people over a large and extensive area. He knows how to deal with life and what time demands of him.

In HaMelitz, Issue 64 from 1885, we read:

In the correspondence from Minsk, from the well-known writer Ayob[31] about the eulogy held there in memory of the righteous minister, Moses Montefiore, who passed away in the aforementioned year, it is stated that the eulogist in the synagogue was HaRav HaGaon, R' Meir Noah of Steibtz, that the idea of the settlement was loved by him, and that he gave a eulogy short in quantity and long and valuable in its quality, that he drew a line and described Moses' righteous ways before the entire audience, first and foremost, his deeds and great desire, his love of Zion and his affection for Jerusalem… and he prepared arrows of morality on a rope to shoot into the hearts of those who harden their heart to Zion and Jerusalem will not rise to their hearts.

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Steibtz (Minsk District), when the rabbi, president of the court, left our city recently to serve as a rabbi in Moscow, the leaders of our community were quick to consider who they would choose for their rabbi. The privileged said to choose a genius whose name is known for fame, because “geniuses” never sat here on the thrones for judgment. But the masses among us complained badly about it and said: this is a bad time for us now, and with what will we support a great rabbi who will not be satisfied with little? This is why we must appoint a simple rabbi who does not have high ideas. But the voice of the masses was like a voice calling in the wilderness, and the privileged and the members of the congregation wrote and signed a rabbinical contract and hand delivered it to Itayel, the Great Rabbi who lives in the Holy Community of Yampil, and he respectfully agreed to come and live in dignity in our city. When the masses heard this thing, they sent a scroll full of disgrace and blasphemy and warned him not to come here because they will disgrace his honor. When the scroll reached the rabbi, he removed his responsibility from the matter and remained in his home in his city.

The informant: Isser Zoosnman.

 

Fires

Steibtz (Minsk District) 11 Iyar - Yesterday, Wednesday, a fire broke out in the city in the afternoon and a large portion of the houses in the city were burned in a few hours. Hundreds of families wander naked and destitute in the city's streets because they only managed to save some of their belongings. Even Torah scrolls and treasures of valuable books, which cost a great deal, were burned. The damage is very great because many homes don't have a fire warranty.

Zerach ben Meir Zhukovski HaMelitz Issue 108, 12 May 1894.

 

Steibtz - our Jewish brothers, merciful sons of merciful fathers, I, signed below in the name of our city, Steibtz in the Minsk District, call them for help. You must have heard about the big fire that was here last Wednesday, 10 Iyar, and in the flame of the fire many houses burned, streets are desolated, and their owners were greatly impoverished and left naked and destitute. There are many among them who saved nothing, G-d have mercy. Please generous people, rise to help your brothers who are asking for your help in time of trouble, and a little help is great at this time, to support the victims of the fire because they collapsed, and so that G-d forbid! they will not fall into the pit of despair. And if they will have something to start with, then their hands will be strengthened, G-d will bring them salvation and remove all sorrow and damage, and you will dwell in peace and quiet in your homes.

From the applicant,
Shlomo Mordechai Brudna, who dwells here in aforementioned community.

Ha-Tsefirah No. 112, 31 May 1894.

 

Steibtz - in the name of the entire community of our city Steibtz, we, the gabbaim of Betei HaMidrash here, ask the esteemed publisher of Ha-Tsefirah to publicly announce that the hand of G-d has touched us last Sunday, 19 Sivan. A fiery fire came out and burned a large part of our city, and all the important homeowners were burned and left destitute. And the most important matter, the fire consumed all Betei HaMidrash we had, and there is no place left to pray. The mikveh and the bathhouse were also burned. G-d will have mercy on us, and we have nothing to start building with, neither Betei HaMidrash nor the mikveh and the bathhouse. Although some of Betei HaMidrash had fire insurance, it is very little and the payment will not be enough even for even one tenth of what it will cost us to rebuild them. Therefore, we, the undersigned, ask your honor to publicly announce, maybe our Jewish brothers will have mercy on us to save us with their donations and help us to build the House of G-d, because we did not know what to do and where to turn. And thanks to the prayers, that our Jewish brothers will pray in Betei HaMidrash that we will have with the help of our Jewish brothers, the blessed G-d will save them from all evil and will send us His help in holiness, and in evidence we came, signed on Wednesday 22 Sivan 5663, Steibtz.

Signed by David Arye Leib Sirkin, gabbai of Great Beit HaMidrash and signed by Yakov Meir Heler.

Ha-Tsefirah, 25 June 1903.

Steibtz (Minsk District), Friday 23 Iyar - the terrible news, which reached us yesterday evening by telegraph, quickly frightened us and upset our hearts and our souls: “the ancient and great city to G-d, Brisk de-Lita [Brest], went up in flame and about three-quarters of the city, wooden and stone houses, barns and cowsheds, were consumed by fire. Families, in the hundreds and thousands, with their infants and children, wallow in the city's streets on heaps of ashes, under the open sky without a cover and a shelter…

The dignitaries of our city woke up early this morning, circled the city in a harnessed cart and collected from each person how much he was willing to contribute. Bread, food, challah bread, thirty down comforters and alms of cash about twenty-five rubles. And now the loaded carts were sent to the railway station, to send them to this miserable city - and our hope is strong that in every city and city alms of money will be collected to support the hand of the burned.

Zerach Zhukovski HaMelitz Issue 102, 9 May 1895.

 

Steibtz (Minsk District) - For many days the great and excellent homeowners among us, who are respectful and broad-minded, support the inferiors who come to stir up quarrel and cause a commotion in the city, and all that for the honor and pride, to be proud of the place to stand by the Holy Ark in the House of G-d, and since this struggle was not born yesterday, and not tomorrow, and peace will not come on the third day to stop any quarrel and argument, I decided to tell all the details as they are:

For many years the Great Beit Midrash, a stone building which was built forty-two years ago by the genius, R' Tabli z”l, who was a rabbi in Steibtz and later in Minsk, became for many unexplained reasons a ruined house. The neglect has grown, its black walls seem to mourn the exile of the Jews and the exile of the Divine, its benches are broken, the stoves are ruined and crushed, and

[Page 65]

there is desolation and destruction in every corner you turn, and all this because there is no gabbai and manager for this house. Anyone who buys an aliyah [to the Torah] does not lose a single agora, the buyers weren't charged and didn't give, and in winter they cannot come there because of the cold. And two years ago, one of the of the city, a very important and rich man, Mr. David Leib Sirkin, awoke and decided to repair the damage in the House of G-d, which was a shame and disgrace to come and pray in it. And he came to the new rabbi, and to the rest of the city's dignitaries, and spoke words of persuasion to their hearts, to repair and improve the House of G-d, and they drew lots for who to appoint for gabbai, and the lot fell on him, on Mr. Sirkin and his deputy L. Neifeld, and the two gabbaim were lawfully approved by the authority, and they began to make the right improvements in the House of G-d: they whitewashed and painted it, cleaned it of all its filth and grime, repaired and washed the windows inside and out, and they made a layer of ornate net for the women's section under the partition of planks and broken beams as it was before. The black and broken bimah changed its shape, and the gabbaim stood on the bimah and demanded payment from those who bought an aliyah, and even increased the income of the house from another source. The first gabbai, Mr. Sirkin, who is a rich man, was not stingy and added a medal to improve the great house, to make it impressive and pleasant, but he made a regulation not to have a small talk in the middle of prayer. And behold, suddenly people arose and envied Mr. Sirkin, him and his place in the eastern wall, and decided to build another Beit Midrash in place of this Beit Midrash, saying, that the house is too small to accommodate all the people. And when Mr. Sirkin realized that if they will do so, all of glory and splendor will leave this Beit Midrash, it will be destroyed and abandoned as it was in the beginning. Therefore, he dismissed their advice and spoiled their thought, even though they already laid the foundation stone, and the work stopped. And the Jewish community was divided into two camps, one half followed Mr. Sirkin and the Great Beit Midrash, and the other half followed those who were engaged in the construction of the new Beit Midrash, and, in any case, the results of this matter are understandable.

The hand of honor and pride was in it, if not that, why did the people decide to split and tear into two divisions? After all, the Great Beit Midrash is very big and only the eastern wall cannot accommodate them all, and maybe because of the fact that the lack of money is not taken into consideration by the inhabitants of Steibtz. Not by any means. Last summer, when the decree came to close the bathhouses, the people were forced to build another bathhouse, and remained in debt of about 1.200 rubles. And this year they didn't slaughter the cows without a note from the rabbi that the man paid his assessment fee, and there was a great outcry in the city, there was also no money to pay the cantors of Beit HaMidrash for their prayers, and there was another outcry. And even now the Great Beit Midrash needs a repair, which will not be repaired for the lack of money. And to build a new Beit Midrash and a new eastern wall, even the poor man will say: I am rich, and a man will give his friend a hand.

HaMelitz, Issue 33, 8 February 1894.

 

Hibbat Zion movement in Steibtz and the opposition of the city's rabbi, R' Shlomo Mordechai Brudna, to this movement

The famous preacher, R' Chaim Zundel Maccoby, was among the first enthusiastic preachers of Hibbat Zion, which was organized as an orderly movement eighty years ago in Jewish Russia. In the 80s of the last century, the aforementioned traveled to Jewish towns in Russia to arouse them and call them to build Zion and Jerusalem. His speeches and sermons greatly helped to obtain supporters for the idea of Hibbat Zion, for the establishment of Hibbat Zion associations, and also led to the strengthening of existing associations.

However, in a large number of towns he had a constant war with the local rabbis, who opposed the Hibbat Zion movement and prevented him, in all sorts of ways, from delivering his speeches, which attracted a large crowd, from the synagogue's bimah. By doing so, the opponents hoped that the local Hovevei Zion would not be able to establish, or to strengthen the branch of Hovevei Zion in their town.

A similar case happened to the aforementioned preacher also in Steibtz. Here, the aforementioned preacher was oppressed by the local rabbi, R' Shlomo Mordechai (Brudna), who was known as a great zealot and an extreme opponent of Hibbat Zion movement. In the middle of the preacher's sermon, R' Shlomo Mordechai turn to him with a demand to stop the sermon and leave the bimah. When R' Chaim Zundel started to descend from the bimah, he explained to the audience that by law he must obey the rabbi, but the large crowd that gathered in Beit HaMidrash showed great opposition to this move. Many people, among them the community's dignitaries, expressed their resentment against the rabbi and the matter almost reached a quarrel. R' Shlomo Mordechai then realized that he had taken a careless step, which could lead to unpleasant results, and he withdrew his command and asked the preacher to continue his sermon.

At the end of his sermon, R' Chaim Zundel turned to the audience and said, that he is satisfied to see zealous rabbis who are not afraid to fight for their principles in public, even though it might harm them. But this time he appreciated even more the esteemed rabbi, who gave up his private dignity before the dignity of the people and the will of the majority of the audience.

From the book, Imeri Chaim by the aforementioned preacher, in the chapter on “The history of his life and his activities for Hibbat Zion and the settlement of Eretz Yisrael”. (Tel-Aviv – 5689 [1929])


Translator's footnotes:

  1. Haskala - Jewish Enlightenment - was an ideological and social movement that developed in Eastern Europe in the early nineteenth century. Its members were known as maskilim. Return
  2. HaMelitz – “The Advocate” was a Hebrew-language weekly in Tsarist Russia. Return
  3. Hevrat Mefitzei Haskala- society for promotion of culture among the Jews of Russia. Return
  4. Beit Akad Sefarim - an ancient name for a library. Return
  5. HaRav HaGaon - the Great Scholar rabbi. Alcalay, R. 1986. The Complete Hebrew-English Dictionary. Massada, 2883 pages. Return
  6. Hazal - acronym for Ḥakhameinu Zikhronam Liv'rakha - “Our Sages, may their memory be blessed”. Return
  7. The Shekel was a certificate of membership in the Zionist Organization. Return
  8. R' Avraham Yitzchak Maskileison (“Maskil L'Eitan”) was a Jewish scholar, rabbi and author active in Russia during the first half of the 19th century. (Wikipedia) Return
  9. Hibbat Zion (Love of Zion) movement was a pre-Zionist Jewish nationalist movement and its followers were called Ḥovevei Zion. Agudat Hovevei Zion- the society of Hovevei Zion. Return
  10. Chislavichi (known in Yiddish as Choslovitz– in the district of Mohilov). Return
  11. Ha-Tsefirah (The Morning or The Dawn) was the first Hebrew newspaper in Poland, founded in Warsaw and issued between 1862 and 1931. (YIVO) Return
  12. Breikhat HaShiloah – The Pool of Siloam- is a rock-cut pool on the southern slope of the City of David. Return
  13. Rabbi Chaim Zundel Maccoby, known as the “Kamenitzer Maggid (preacher),” was an early adherent of the Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) Movement. Return
  14. Shamash - a person who assists in the running of synagogue services in some way. (Wikipedia) Return
  15. Gemilut Hasadim - “acts of loving kindness,” often used in reference to charitable activities. Return
  16. Kelipah - in Hebrew it means a shell or a peel. In Kabbalah this term is used to describe evil or impure spiritual forces. Return
  17. Tefilat Shacharit - the morning prayer. Return
  18. Bimah - a raised platform in a synagogue from which the Torah is read and services are led. Return
  19. Bava Kamma - “The First Gate” - is the first of a series of three Talmudic tractates in the order Nezikin (“Damages”) that deal with civil matters. (Wikipedia) Return
  20. Gittin - a tractate of the Talmud that discusses the laws of the get, the biblically mandated bill of divorce. Return
  21. Tosafot are medieval commentaries on the Talmud. Divrei Hayamim -The Book of Chronicles. Return
  22. Pesachim - a Talmudic tractate dealing chiefly with the holiday of Passover. Return
  23. Shevuth - occupations rabbinically forbidden on the Shabbat and festivals. Return
  24. Kareth - Divine punishment by premature death. Return
  25. Ketubot – a tractate of the Mishnah and the Talmud dealing with marital responsibilities. Return
  26. Shas - the six orders of the Mishnah or the Talmud. Return
  27. A moshava (pl. moshavot) was a form of rural Jewish settlement in Ottoman Palestine. (Wikipedia) Return
  28. Bikur Cholim-”Visiting the Sick.” Return
  29. Chevra Kadisha - Jewish burial society. Return
  30. Gabbai (pl. gabbaim), a person who assists with the running of a synagogue or its services especially the reading of the Torah; also a treasurer of the synagogue, collector of dues, sexton, beadle. Return
  31. Yosef Brill, a Russian teacher and Hebrew writer was also known under the pseudonym of Ayob, the abbreviation of - Ani [I] Yosef Brill. (Jewish encyclopedia) Return

 

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