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About the Rabbis in Strzyzow
The Spiritual Strzyzow

By Shlomo Yahalomi

When I started to write about Strzyzow in general, and about the Rabbis in particular, I started with a prayer: “Dear G-d, help me not to exaggerate where I do not intend to and not to belittle anybody who deserves to be praised. Therefore, I apologize to everyone, the victims and the survivors, if I over looked anything or anybody”.

If an average book is holy, this book about the Holocaust victims is holier than holy. And if someone would ask me: “Who are you to undertake such a task?” my reply would be: “Sorry! Not too many of us survived, somebody had to do it in order that Strzyzow would not be forgotten”. I felt that we are obliged to memorialize the martyrs of Strzyzow.

Nobody really knows when the Jews settled in Strzyzow. The old people used to say that Strzyzow was founded about four centuries ago. There was one gravestone in the oldest cemetery which was located in the centre of the town. The inscription read as follows: “here rests the holy man Eliyahu and his wife who died in the year 1740”.

There was a story going around that this holy man wrote in his will that in time of trouble or sickness, people should come and pray at his grave. And the people carried out the man's request. Also, two pupils of the Baal Shem Tov lived in Strzyzow of which the town was very proud. To the writer of these memories, it was told by one old man that in his father's writings he found a story about these two pupils. One was well known in town and was supported by the community. However, the other man did not divulge his identity, and was very poor, making a living as a water carrier. His wife knowing what a Tzadik he was, demanded that he should stop being so humble, so the people of the town would help him out. But he refused her demands with all kinds of excuses. Subsequently, their situation reached the point of desperation and he surrendered to his wife's request. He announced that the coming Sabbath he would preach in shul G-d's words. On the Sabbath, the shul attracted more people than usual. People attended out of curiosity, wondering what a water carrier could possibly tell them. But lo and behold, they heard a sermon from this man that everybody was astounded. His words penetrated in their souls. People were crying. Everyone said that a sermon like this, they had never heard in their lives.

Strzyzow was once visited by Rabbi Levi Itzhok from Berditchev. He stayed in town over the Sabbath as well as Rabbi Mendele from Rymanov who often visited the town. Both Rabbis were considered the pillars of Hassidism and Strzyzow was very proud to host such visitors.

 

Rabbis who served in Strzyzow and later became famous

Even though the Jews settled in Strzyzow four hundred years ago, I did not succeed to trace the names of the Rabbis who had served during the first two hundred years. The reason is that apparently none of them authored any books or commentary by which we could have identified them. Indeed, there were no gravestones of any Rabbis in the cemeteries except for one – the gravestone of Rabbi Alter Zev Horowitz. The elders in town and Rabbi Tzvi

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Elimelech Shapiro who served as Rabbi of Strzyzow, confirmed that fact by saying that no Rabbi who served the community of Strzyzow ever died in Strzyzow because they always moved to a better place which meant a bigger community.

 

Rabbi Aryeh Leib Halevi

Rabbi Aryeh Leib Halevi was the first Rabbi of whom we know. He was the uncle of Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, the author of the book “Yismach Moshe”. Rabbi Aryeh Leib Halevi was the Rabbi of Strzyzow for twenty five years, from 1740-1765. He was the author of several books on various subjects, strictures and rules, on circumcision and phylacteries and also about Sabbath and holidays. The book “Even Hapina” was left unfinished because he was suddenly summoned before the Creator.

 

The Godly Kabbalist and Rabbi Eliezer Fishel

Rabbi Eliezer Fishel was the author of two Kabbalistic books: Olam Hagado and Midrash Lepirushim. He signed the book as a native of Strzyzow. He was the grandson of the famous Rabbi Itzhok from Krakow who was called, in Yiddish: “Der groiser Rebbe fun Krakow”. Rabbi Eliezer Fishel was also, at one time, the preacher in Brody. Although the historian Dr. Gelber, wrote that Rabbi Eliezer was born in Czeszanov, however, this is incorrect. Apparently, Dr. Gelber never referred to the above-mentioned two books where Rabbi Eliezer Fishel clearly indicated that he was born in Strzyzow. While speaking of Rabbi Eliezer Fishel, let us mention his son, Rabbi Moshe Yechiel who served as Rabbi in Biala, Lithuania. The son was one of the staunchest admirers of Rabbi Mendele from Kock. Rabbi Moshe Yechiel was a wealthy man having received a hefty dowry in the sum of a hundred thousand rubbles from his rich father-in-law.

 

The Tzadik from Ropczyce, Rabbi Naphtali Horowitz

Rabbi Naphtali served as Rabbi in Strzyzow a short time only. He was born on the day when the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidism died. Rabbi Chaim, the Rabbi from Sandz said that there was a sunset and a sunrise at the same time. Rabbi Naphtali studied Torah at his uncle's house, the famous Rabbi Meshulam who lived in Tiszmienice and he was also a pupil of the Rabbi Elimelech from Lezajsk. Rabbi Naphtali was famous for his jokes, however, some Hassidim disapproved, especially his father-in-aw. His father-in-law complained to Rabbi Naphtali's father about his joking and light-headedness and asked him to intervene. Rabbi Menachem Mendel, Rabbi Naphtali's father, went to Dukla where Rabbi Naphtali lived to attend a wedding where his son was supposed to be the jester and amuse the guests. When he heard his son's jesting, he said to his son's father-in-law: “You call this jesting? Behold! He recites whole chapters from Rabbi Chaim Vital's book – The Tree of Life”.

After Rabbi Naphtali from Ropczyce left Strzyzow, a very famous scholar from Tarnov became Rabbi of Strzyzow. His name was Menachem Mendel, the author of the book: Sova Smachot – a commentary of the Talmudic

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tractate Kidushin. This is the tractate that sets the rules and laws of marriage and the relationship between husband and wife.

Strzyzow was very proud to have him as its religious leader. He died in 1871. After his departure, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Shapiro was invited to Strzyzow to be its Rabbi.

 

Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Shapiro

Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech was loved by everyone. He served as Rabbi in five communities: Rybotycze, Strzyzow, Oleszczyce, Dynov and Munkatch. In each city, he served a few years only. Ultimately, he returned to Dynov where he spent the rest of his life. He was once asked why he changed places so often and he replied: “If a man has several barrels and keeps rearranging them, does someone ask him why? The boss above does it; he knows where to put his barrels”.

He was the author of many books: Agra D'Pirka, Agra D'Kala, Beni Yesoschor, Regel Yesharim, Derech P'Kudecha, Magid Taalumot, Vehayah Beachs and Reach Dodaim. Very interesting commentaries on Torah, Zohar and Talmud.

Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech was a fighter. He fought against the spreading of the Berlin Haskala Movement and its founder Mendelsohn. He saws them as the destroyers of Judaism. He was apprehensive that the Haskala movement would cause mass conversion.

Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech was born in Javornik. His father was Reb Pesach Langsam and his mother was the sister of Rabbi Elimelech from Lezajsk. A whole volume could have been written about this Rabbi and his sons, Rabbi Elazar from Lancut and Rabbi David from Dynov, about whom the father said that his soul was drawn from aristocratic stock. But we were limited in space and could not possibly write everything about them, but without intention of demeaning their reverence. The elders in town were proud of their Rabbi and his offspring who added glory to the Jewish world for generations.

 

The Holy Rabbi Elazar from Lancut and Strzyzow

Rabbi Elazar Shapiro was the son of Tzvi Elimelech from Dynov. Rabbi Elazar was name Rabbi of Strzyzow in the year 1838. Rabbi Tzvi Hersh from Ziditchov said about him that he never saw such elegant looks as this young man possessed. Rabbi Elazar was always the first to come into the Beit HaMidrash on Friday afternoon alone to welcome the Sabbath. Once he came very early and his son, Shlomo was with him. In the Beit HaMidrash there was only one man sitting at the oven, dressed in simple Sabbath clothes like the poor people wore and recited psalms. When the man saw Rabbi Elazar coming in, he stood up, merrily greeted the Rabbi and returned to his seat. Said Rabbi Elazar to his son Shlomo: “You know what my father Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech said about this man? He said that this man is the pillar of a third of the world”.

Once, Rabbi Elazar and his son Rabbi Shlomo accompanied by the holy Rabbi Shalom from Kaminka, travelled together to visit the famous Rabbi

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from Ryzyn. On their way back, their funds ran out. This was near the city of Stanislawow where they stopped at an inn to rest. While discussing among themselves about their situation, a blind wanderer came in and approached Rabbi Elazar who, at that time, served as Rabbi of Strzyzow, and told him about a woman relative who lived in Wysoka, a village near Strzyzow, if he would be so kind to take some money for her. The Rabbis agreed happily to deliver the money. In the meantime, they obtained some money on their own. When they reached Strzyzow and inquired about the woman, they found out that there never was a woman by that name in that village. They were sure that the money was sent to them from heaven.

An interesting story happened before Rabbi Elazar's wedding. During the engagement, the father of the bride, Reb Joshua Heshel Holles, a very wealthy man, promised a dowry in the sum of four hundred golden guldens to be paid before the wedding ceremony. The father of the groom, Rabbi Tzvi Helimelech insisted on the full amount to be paid as promised, before the ceremony. The father of the bride became angry and made up his mind to break off the engagement. And so he did. On the way home the father noticed the sadness and the painful expression on his daughter's face. He returned to Rybotycze and paid the dowry and the wedding took place after all. But, it was G-d's will that the money should be lost.

When Rabbi Elazar lived with his father, Rabbi Helimelech, who by then was the Rabbi of Munkatch, his mother Tova Chava gave the money to a wealthy man for which she was to be earning interest. However, when the people in town found out that Rabbi Elazar had deposited a large sum with the wealthy man, they kept coming to ask for loans. Rabbi Elazar, being a goodhearted man, kept giving notes to the holder of his money until it was all gone.

In 1857, Rabbi Elazar was elected as Rabbi of Lancut and there he lived until the end of his days. He passed away in Vienna in 1865. By the intervention of Baron Rothchild and the pleas of his son, Rabbi Shlomo, with the approval of Rabbi Chaim from Sandz, his remains were brought to rest in Lancut.

 

Rabbi Israel Dov Gelernter, of Blessed memory, from Jasienice

After Rabbi Elazar left Strzyzow, Rabbi Israel Dov took his place. He was the author of the book Ravid Zahav. He absorbed Torah from many great scholars in Galicia, especially from Rabbi Naphtali from Ropczyce, with whom he studied for fifteen years. He venerated very much his Rabbi and always talked about his wisdom and skills. Here is an episode that Rabbi Israel Dov Gelernter told about his Rabbi. Rabbi Israel Dov had a very good friend, Reb Joseph, the son of the Rabbi from Plantch. They always sat together at the Rabbi's table. It was customary that Rabbi Naphtali gave small challahs to his admirers who were sitting around his table, and to these two friends, he always gave a large challah. Once, something happened to their friendship and when the Rabbi gave everyone

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The challah on Friday night, he gave to these two men two separate challahs. After the meal, when they went home, they began to do some thinking about what the Rabbi did. Suddenly they realized that the Rabbi noticed their broken friendship. They apologized to each other, drank “l'Chaim” and made up. The next day at the Sabbath noontime meal, the Rabbi gave them again a double challah.

 

Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro of Strzyzow-Munktach

As it was told in the previous chapter, when Rabbi Elazar was elected Rabbi of Lancut, Rabbi Israel Dov Gelernter became Rabbi of Strzyzow. However, when he found out that Rabbi Elazar was not pleased with his replacement, he left Strzyzow in the middle of the night. Later, Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro, son of Rabbi Elazar, became Rabbi of Strzyzow.

Rabbi Shlomo was born in 1832 in Rybotycze, a small town in Galicia. He married Chaya from Ryvka, the granddaughter of Rabbi Moshe Leib from Sassov.

Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro had a good voice to sing and chant with, for which he was famous all over Galicia and Hungary. As a child, he was a prodigy. He authored the book 'Beit Shlomo', a commentary on the Five Books of Moses. Before he became Bar Mitzvah, he travelled to Rabbi Israel from Ryzin to ask for his blessing. When the Rabbi asked him what was his wish, he replied: “My wish is to achieve purity in serving G-d and the people”. Rabbi Shlomo later said that whenever he was praying he felt Rabbi Israel's spirit within him. Rabbi Shlomo was the third generation to serve as Rabbi in Strzyzow. The time he served as Rabbi was marked by scandals and controversy. He handed in his resignation several times but he always came back after the community leaders pleaded with him and apologized for the trouble they caused.

Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro was an ardent admirer of Rabbi Chaim Halberstam from Sandz and stood by him during the controversy which broke out between him and Rabbi Israel of Ryzin. The controversy was about a different approach to Hassidism. The majority of Strzyzow sided with the Rabbi from Ryzin and this caused a lot of friction in the community. Then, another controversy was added on top of this.

In 1882, the Kehillah in Strzyzow wanted to hire a cantor, a retired Austrian officer, about whom rumours were circulating that he did not observe the Sabbath even when he was able to. Reb Shlomo fiercely opposed the hiring of the cantor. This opposition escalated dissention even further and reached a point where a Kehillah member insulted Rabbi Shlomo. Ultimately, Rabbi Shlomo accepted an invitation to serve as Rabbi of Munkatch, a much bigger and more respectable community in Hungary.

Being apprehensive that his admirers might try to persuade him to remain in Strzyzow, he left the town during the night and stayed at my grandfather's farm. This time, he also took his family with him, unlike the previous times. Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro left Strzyzow in 1882 after he served as its Rabbi for twenty four years. His two sons, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh and Rabbi Moshe Leib were also with him, including his little grandson, the child prodigy, Reb Chaim Elazare, who later became the famous Rabbi of Munkatch. After Rabbi Shlomo left Strzyzow, his followers

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Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapiro
The Rabbi of Stryzow-Munkatch

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Rabbi Alter Zev Horowitz
The Rabbi of Strzyzow

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Reb Wolf Deutch, one of the most active and
Efficient Kehila leaders in Strzyzow

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Heschel Diamand
The last presiding Kehila leader in Strzyzow

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and his opponents realized what a great loss Strzyzow suffered. They sent him a letter with an apology and asked him to return, but he refused. Later, the Kehillah leaders turned to his son, Rabbi Moshe Leib, and asked him to take his father's place. Not only did he refuse but he sent back a nasty letter to the Kehillah leaders. Finally, the town gave up on the Shapiros and turned to somebody from the Ropczyce Dynasty.

 

The Tzadik Rabbi Alter Zev Horowitz

A letter of invitation was sent to Rabbi Alter Zev Horowitz, the great-grandson of the famous Rabbi Naphtali from Ropczyce. He accepted the invitation and peace returned to the community. However, it did not last long.

Suddenly, Rabbi Moshe Leib Shapiro returned to Strzyzow. At his arrival, he was asked by the community leaders for the reason of his return and what his future plans were: “I came back just to live here” he replied. Soon the people who still remembered the greatness of his father and also knew Rabbi Moshe Leib's qualifications, began to urge him to claim back his rabbinical post. And another dispute began brewing between his followers and the followers of Rabbi Alter Zev Horowitz who, meanwhile, had established himself in town and was respected by everyone. Ultimately, it was decided to bring the dispute before a rabbinical court.

Three well-known Rabbis were chosen as judges: The Rabbi from Tarnov, the Rabbi from Rawa-Ruska and the Rabbi from Bergsaz, Hungary. However, their decision was inconclusive – two were in favour of Rabbi Alter Zev and one against. And the dispute lasted for generations.

Rabbi Moshe Leib Shapiro was Rabbi in Sassov before his return to Strzyzow. Even though he never got back his rabbinical post, his devoted admirers supported him materially. When World War I began, Rabbi Moshe Leib moved to Vienna where he passed away during the war.

Rabbi Alter Zev Horowitz passed away in 1930 and his grandson Reb Kalonymus Horowitz inherited the rabbinical post, including the unresolved dispute. Hitler put an end to all the arguments.

Rabbi Nechemiah Shapiro, the son of Rabbi Moshe Leib, remained in Vienna after his father's death until the rise of anti-Semitism forced him to return home. He returned to Strzyzow in 1930.

 

The Assistant Rabbis in Strzyzow

Although there were Assistant Rabbis in Strzyzow as in other towns in Galicia in the early years, to us, are known, only a few highly revered Assistant Rabbis during the second half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century up until World War II.

Rabbi Joseph Mordechai Wiener served during Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro. He was a popular scholar, distinguished and a faultlessly righteous man. Reb Joseph Mordechai was admired by the Rabbi of Sandz, Rabbi Chaim Halberstam. He continued to serve after Rabbi Shlomo left and Rabbi Alter Zev Horowitz took over the rabbinical chair. His son, Reb David Wiener was one of the jewels of the town. We will tell more about him in another section in this book. A second son of Reb Joseph Mordechai was

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Reb Isachar Dov, a great scholar, pious and G-d fearing about who it was said that he was holy since conception. He lived in Brzozov. His daughter was the wife of Reb Leib Friedman, the Shochet in Strzyzow. The second daughter, Bracha, was married to Reb Yacov Schiff who was also a pious and humble man and we will also tell more about him in another section of this book. The offspring of Reb Joseph Mordechai perished in the Holocaust, except one son of Reb David Wiener who survived in France.

Later, Rabbi Alter Ezra Seidman was elected as Assistant Rabbi. He served side-by-side with Rabbi Alter Zev. He was acute and clever. He chanted during the High Holidays. His children were Reb Moshe Meir, one of the smartest people in town; daughter Sarah who was the wife of Reb Elazar Weiss and Luba who lived in Limanov. One daughter moved to Rzeszov where she established a large family and Taubha resided in Pilzno.

After Reb Alter Esra passed away, the town remained without an Assistant Rabbi for a long time. It was hard to find a replacement. The more qualified Rabbis refused to settle in Strzyzow and the less qualified we refused by Strzyzow after having a tradition of such good and highly qualified Assistant Rabbis. Finally, Reb Yacov Shpalter from Illitch was named Assistant Rabbi. He was a learned man, well versed in Talmud and Halacha but more relaxed in structures which caused tension between him and Rabbi Nechemiah Shapiro. Reb Yacov Shpalter and his entire family were wiped out in the Holocaust except for one grandson, Ephraim, who lives with us in Israel.

Recently, the book Toldot Noah which was first published in Przemysl in 1929 and re-issued in Jerusalem in 1966, came into my hands. In this book it is written that the author, Rabbi Naphtali Nutman, of blessed memory, served as Assistant Rabbi in Strzyzow. His grandson, Reb Israel Nutman from Strzyzow tells in his foreword to the above book, that the father of Rabbi Naphtali Chaim Nutman was a wealthy man but his son left the house to study Torah with the author Maleh Haroyim. He studied day and night and became a great Torah scholar. He was well versed in religious rules and strictures, especially in authoritative laws. A second grandson of the author, Reb Abraham Pinchos Weisman, told at the end of the book, that before his grandfather's departure (this was on a Friday), Reb Naphtali Chaim asked what time it was and when he was told that it was already afternoon, he said: “Master of Universe, please let me live in this world until after the Sabbath”. Soon he began to feel better. He prayed the afternoon prayer with great exaltation not appearing to be sick at all. On a Saturday night in May 1840, he passed away at the age of forty-two. During the Hassidic controversy between Sandz and Ryzin, he remained neutral.

 

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