The Gaon Rabbi Chaim-Elazar Wachs,
by Yechiel Muterperl
Translated by Martin Jacobs
We do not claim to be writing the history of the Tarnogrod rabbinate, since the information which has reached us about the rabbinate in our city in general and about each rabbi in particular is meager. It is only because of our desire to immortalize the memory of the community and its martyrs in a book that we began to investigate and research the history of the rabbinate in the Tarnogrod community. And so we have acquired, in part through our own efforts and in part through those of the town's residents, the material for an introduction, which is presented in the present section. To be sure, we have not been able to acknowledge all the rabbis who sat upon the rabbinical throne in Tarnogrod in former days; and likewise we have not been able to get exact information and precise dates for all the rabbis. But every detail has something of interest to those who left the city and those who research its history.
The first rabbi in Tarnogrod about whom we could find information in books was the Gaon Rabbi Chaim-Elazar Wachs, of blessed memory. He became famous, however, mainly as the Rabbi of Kalisz. Here is what his grandson writes about him:
My grandfather the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Elazar Wachs of blessed memory was born in the year 5582  in the city of Tarnogrod. His father was the Gaon Rabbi Avraham Yehuda Leibush and his mother the saintly Chaya Tova of blessed memory. We know very little about his childhood and his youth before he became well known in the Jewish world as one of his generation's great halakhic experts and a spiritual giant whose influence is engraved deeply in every area of Jewish life in his own time and for generations after, and this is not at all surprising, for he was humble and modest without equal. For this reason we do not know much about his origins. From a few slips of the pen, however, we learn that he was of a good and distinguished family. He wrote in one of his responsa (in the possession of his pupil, the head of the rabbinical court in the city of Pietrokov, the Gaon Yakov Aryeh Glazer [may the Lord avenge him!]) I quote from memory And I, a descendent of the Bach. [Bach: The name given to Joel Sirkes (16th 17th centuries), from the initials of the name of his major work, Bayit Chadash]. From this we may conclude that he was counted among the descendents of the Bach, of blessed memory; indeed as a child I heard all sorts of versions of his genealogy, such as that he was descended from Rashi and Rabbi Yohanan the cobbler, and that his lineage reached as far back as King David, but I was never interested in investigating the sources mentioned, and I mention these reports merely by way of conjecture. However there is no doubt that his family was numbered among the distinguished families of Israel, and who in this matter can we rely on more than our master, the holy Gaon, the author of Chidushei HaRim (Original interpretations of the Rim) [Rim: Yitzchak Meir Rotenberg-Alter, 19th century rabbi. known as the Rim from the initials of Rabbi Yitzchak Meir], of blessed memory, who says in one of his writings (He who illuminates the eyes of the exile, p. 58, section 16), And he was related ... (I have quoted from this work below).We have no definite knowledge who his teachers were, but from his various responsa it seems that his most distinguished teacher in his early childhood was the Gaon Rabbi Sh. Z. Helir, the rabbi of Przemi_l not to be confused with the Gaon Rabbi Shmuel Helir (of blessed memory), the Rabbi of Safat whose style of teaching and original Torah interpretations were similar to those of the afore mentioned Gaon.
He mentions his father, the Gaon, many times in his books. In the preface to his great book, Nefesh Haya (A Living Soul), he brings interpretations in his name (in the study section Rabutsa). This is what he says: I had it in mind to organize these interpretations from the writings of my father and teacher, the Gaon, of blessed memory, and to attach them to this treatise of mine, but many burdens prevented me, and I intend now to mention one thing in his name. It has remained in my memory from having heard it from his sainted lips when I studied before him while still a little child. He also mentions his grandfather (in Nefesh Haya): I well remember the objection which my grandfather had, the astute Gaon, my master Bezalel (may his memory be a blessing) which I saw in a manuscript where he pointed out a difficulty with a saying in the Talmud. But neither his father nor his grandfather served in the rabbinate for reward, whether because they were wealthy or for other reasons.
As we have said, we know very little about his childhood, and the little we do know must be extracted from the opinions and a few lines in the preface to his magnum opus, and also here and there from his responsa in which he lets such phrases slip as the difficult questions I asked in my childhood or how I debated with the Geonim. (In the response to Baumgeld, in the matter of the perjured witnesses, he reveals that even in his early years he corresponded with the Chidushei HaRim, of blessed memory, and debated with him.) From everything mentioned above we may deduce that even in his earliest years he was well known as learned and sharp of mind, that is, young yet clever.
In the preface to his book he writes about his life story in a style both joyous and heart-rending, and his words are so fittingly written, with so much feeling and warmth, that we here quote them at length:
...my saintly mother thought so well of me as to devote me to Torah and the commandments, and while I was still in the womb all the desires of her heart were to bring forth a son for Torah, for she had had a brother, my uncle the Gaon and master Chaim Elazar (his memory for a blessing), after whom I am named, who died young, being only 18 years old. He was very learned in Torah; he knew the Hoshen HaMishpat from cover to cover and by heart, and he could speak fluently about many a Talmudic tractate, as though they were engraved upon his lips, and he was a friend of my master the saintly Gaon, master in Israel, my master Chaim (of sainted memory) of Sants, brother of my father-in-law the Gaon (of blessed memory). When my mother conceived, my uncle, her brother, came to her in a vision, and she knew that he was dead, and she asked him to tell her the difference between this world and the world to come. He answered that in this world every one is personally free but there one is like a slave under the hand of his master. When she woke she told these things to my father the Gaon (of blessed memory) and he told her that these things were true, and from that day on she was faithful in her desire to give birth to a son dedicated to the Torah. Afterwards, when she had given birth to me and I was about a year old, a holy man of God, the holy Gaon and head of the rabbinic court of Zaklikw (may the Lord provide a good foundation for it) passed through the city and she carried me in her arms to him so that he might bless me. He spoke of great things for me and said that this boy was ready for greatness, and so all the other Jews in the city of Tarnogod (may Lord provide a good foundation for it) came to know this. Even if the words of the holy man had not been fulfilled in me, not even to a small extent, for everything is foreseen by the Holy Spirit, and despite having wasted my days with the free will granted to us, nevertheless it is not a small matter that the Lord granted me favor to minister among his people Jacob, Israel his inheritance, in holy congregations where the great seats of judgment are in the land. From that day on she placed all the desires of her heart only upon me. When I was about three or four I fell very ill, so ill that the doctors gave up all hope. My mother cried bitterly and prayed to the Lord, and she said, What I ask I ask as a mother, that all ill decreed for the child be upon me. As a child can do nothing without his mother, so I ask to take on half of his illness. And so it was. I began little by little to get better and she became very ill, so that the doctors gave up hope of finding a cure, but to her too help was sent from the Holy One to raise her up and restore her to life.From the above words of my grandfather, the author (of blessed memory), we see a man's great modesty. But his modesty turned into greatness, for it was not his desire to become famous in the world of Jewish law with innovative Torah interpretations, but only for the sake of his saintly mother could he be urged to publish his works; this was for him a matter of fulfilling the command honor thy mother. All this we learn from his words above, for from the day he emerged into the world his mission was to serve the leader of the generation, and if indeed he made little of himself because of his modesty, his personality is revealed, in all its scope and glory and its full immense spiritual stature, in several documents which remain from that period.
After this, when I was eighteen or nineteen, she sought to get me appointed to the rabbinate of the congregation of Tarnogrod (may Lord provide a good foundation for it), which is considered to be among the great towns. There were always great rabbis there, such as the authors of Tavnit ot Yosef, Noam megadim, Yam haTalmud, for whose Meforshei hayam they made a crown of gold for its border [Exodus 37:12, describing the table in the ancient tabernacle], as well as other Geonim, rabbis, and great people who did not leave writings. I was then but a tender youth, not knowing how to act, or how to lead the rabbinate as it is now led, or how one deals with the personalities of various men , and she fought my battle with a certain man who caused her such distress that she became ill, and she told me that the rabbi who wrote Tsion lenefesh haya (author of Noda bihuda, the Gaon Ezekiel Landau, of blessed memory, rabbi of Prague) made a memorial for the soul of his grandmother who raised him ...
I will quote from this letter, which is in fact of a detailed nature, and therefore its evaluation is very objective, especially since the letter was drafted by the leader of the generation of Russian-Polish Jewry, the Gaon author of Chidushei HaRim, sent to his brother's son-in-law Yudel Kaminer (of blessed memory), concerning a marital match. Here is an excerpt:
With God's help, the eve of Sabbath Vayiqra 5618
...; I have investigated the above mentioned rabbi (who is called Nefesh Haya); he now studies day and night with great diligence, and if he is not so much esteemed by our followers because he does not go to Kotsk, nevertheless I know him and he is dear to me, and he is a Torah scholar and greatly esteemed for his expertise. There are not many like him, and he is a leader and from a prominent family....Anyone who knows the clarity of the style of the Gaon who wrote this knows that he was not accustomed unconditionally to scatter praises of this sort, such as: Torah scholar greatly esteemed for his expertise, There are not many like him, A leader from a prominent family. This letter serves as a sincere expression, faithful to his lineage and the esteem in which he was held, which the author of Chidushei HaRim expressed for the Nefesh Haya while he was still a youth.
By the way, the following story shows the esteem in which the Gaon HaRim held the Nefesh Haya: They say that the Gaon told his wife of his desire to make a match between his grandson Rabbi Shloymele Alter and the daughter of a Torah scholar. The rebbetzin [wife of rabbi] asked him who, in his opinion, was worthy to be called a Torah scholar. The Gaon answered, the Rabbi of Kalisz, Rabbi Lipman of Radomsk, (son-in-law of the Tiferet Shlomo), and Rabbi Noah Shahor from Bia_a (son-in-law of my Master Rabbi Avraham Mordechai, of blessed memory, from Gra Kalwaria).
While still very young he married Blima daughter of the Gaon Rabbi Moyshele Halberstam of blessed memory, rabbi of Zborw and elder brother of Chaim, the Gaon of Sanz. It was Chaim who investigated the young Gaon for his brother's daughter and was the expert concerning him; consequently it was natural that when the rabbinical office became vacant in Tarnogrod, the city of his birth, in the year 5600 , the Gaon of Sanz would recommend rewarding the young Gaon with this high office.
Many were the stories which were spread among the Jews of Poland about his greatness as a Torah scholar and his generosity in matters between people. We shall limit ourselves to trying to select and bring to the fore the most characteristic of these stories. As is well known, the Nefesh Haya was a very rich man in his youth. In addition to the large dowry which he received from his father-in-law he inherited from his father a rural property in the vicinity of Tarnogrod called Kfar Hammer, with a paper mill attached to it. In his rabbinic office in the course of twenty-two years in his birth city of Tarnogrod not only did he give up his remuneration as rabbi of the city, but he also maintained its great yeshiva from his own private funds, where hundreds of youths studied, a large number of whom served afterwards as well known rabbis, and only after he had lost his fortune and become impoverished, when in Kalisz, did he ask to receive his salary. But even then he set aside most of his income for the needs of the community and especially for his great yeshiva. He protected it as the apple of his eye. The fact that a large number of his students went with him from Tarnogrod on the border of Galicia to Kalisz on the German border serves to show how much he was beloved by his students. He who has ever been privileged to speak with one of his students knows how much affection and admiration they felt for their great rabbi. It is difficult to describe the joy which overwhelmed them when speaking with one of the descendants of their rabbi, and this is not surprising since he truly went out of his way to help them. Not only was he concerned to fulfill their needs while they were within the walls of the yeshiva, but even after they left him he was like a concerned father to them. If a student reached the age for marrying, the rabbi was concerned about making a suitable match for him, and after that a rabbinical position or other appropriate livelihood. If a student became ill the rabbi did not move from his sick bed but supported him and encouraged him. If a youth was having difficulty with his studies the rabbi came to his help until he was doing better. Even school children could say that when the rabbi tested them he never struck fear into them or failed them but, on the contrary, encouraged them with his charming smile.
In secular matters too he was accomplished: he knew several foreign languages and was resourceful and a man of vision. What I heard from my friend Chaim Miller of Haifa is worth noting: Reb Chaim, who was a native of Tarngorod, heard from his father, who knew the Nefesh Haya well, that after the great fire (which is mentioned in his book), when the Nefesh Haya was still young but his intelligence and sharp-wittedness were well known, and even the government was charmed by his appearance, which fully did him honor, a chief minister came and the Nefesh Haya stood before him and with moving words asked for his help in rebuilding the little sanctuary which is the synagogue. The minister was so impressed with his words and his personality that he did his utmost to get the top government officials to set aside the town's open land as a gift for the town's young rabbi, to do with as he wished. The Nefesh Haya demonstrated his ability in the field of commerce here too. On this open space, the rynek [marketplace] he constructed rows of houses for dwellings and shops, selling them at a great profit to the townspeople. With the money he made he erected a magnificent synagogue which was the pride of Tarnogrod up to the time of Holocaust. Chaim Miller told me, having heard it from his father, that when the synagogue was being built the Nefesh Haya helped the builders and with his own hands he passed them bricks and other building materials. This was his way from that time forward and he continued to do every good deed with his own hands and his own body.
by Eliezer Teicher
Translated by Martin Jacobs
My father, Rabbi Gaon Mordechai Tsvi Teicher (of blessed memory) was the rabbi of Zamech and later rabbi in Tarnogrod. He was the son of the great Gaon Rabbi AryehLeyb (of blessed memory), the former rabbi of Tarnogrod. My father was the soninlaw of the Gaon Rabbi Asher Zalka, head of the rabbinic court of the congregation of Grodzisk.
My father was born in Lublin in 1880 and died in 1942 in distant Russia (Chardzoi). He was buried in the old Jewish cemetery there. We know very little about his childhood and youth. He was very humble and did great deeds hidden from the eyes of people. He lived in great modesty. When he was 18 years old he received his rabbinical diploma from the famous Gaon, the rabbi of Berezhany. Soon afterwards he replaced the rabbi of Łaszczów, who had just died. My father at the time temporarily carried out all the tasks of a local rabbi, until the town appointed a new rabbi.
As a young man he also had printed the books which he composed from the collected manuscripts of his grandfathers: Haelef Lekha Shlomo, Imre Maharan, Pne Yitshak, along with his own addendum, Hagahot Mordekhai. Before the outbreak of the World War my father had already prepared the type molds for printing the fourth book, Imre Man, but the great calamity came and interrupted the publishing of this book.
Aside from his being a great Torah scholar he also distinguished himself with noble virtues. He was a great anonymous philanthropist, and regularly welcomed the poor as guests in his home. He also publically taught the Torah. Evenings in the bes medresh he used to teach youths and elderly a Talmud or Mishna lesson and he used to sit by himself studying late into the night.
When I was a child he used to send me as well as the other children on errands, bringing money and food to the needy who, unknown to anyone in the town, had nothing for the Sabbath. He ordered us to say, Father has sent you this to fulfill his obligation.
It is impossible to describe all the fine and great qualities which characterized my father. Let me be permitted, however, to record here what I heard in Israel from Mrs. Kruk, daughter of Yona Ber the teacher (of blessed memory). She lives in Israel now, in Ramathaim. She told me that as a youth, when he was still studying in heder with her father, her father died, leaving a widow and small children who could have died of hunger. My father, just 12 years old, took over the class and for a time taught the smaller children. Their parents continued to pay the tuition, giving it to the widow and her children. This lasted a long time and left a deep impression on the orphans.
In Tarnogrod earning a living was difficult; my father was far from being one of the wealthy. Yet he exerted great effort to get his oldest daughter Beyltshe a great scholar as a husband, Yitskhokl Rayz, a former student of the ChofetzChaim and himself very devout and philanthropic. He had room and board in our house up to the outbreak of the Second World War. My father gave him everything he needed to continue his studies.
He and his daughter Rivkele were killed by the German murderers. The Germans also killed his oldest son JosephMenashe, his wife Rokhltshe, and two children, Yitskhokl and Osher Zalkele. Surviving were his widow, the Rebbitzin Estherl, and two sons, Eliezer and Aaron, and the younger daughter Golda, and a grandson, MosheNaftali Rayz. They all live in Israel.
These were the only survivors from the great Teicher family, rabbis of Tarnogrod, who had numbered about a hundred souls. These, the survivors of the great lineage, preserve the memory, the sacred faith, and the striving for noble deeds. With hearts full of honor we hammer out our sparks in the flame of our great father and great grandfathers.
by Alter Zitz-Tishbi
Translated by Martin Jacobs
The Tarnogrod rabbi, Aryeh-Leyb Teicher (of blessed memory), was descended from generations of rabbis. He had a stately appearance, with a full face and a handsome grayish rather short beard. He dressed in a beautiful silk long fur-lined coat with a wide silk belt.
Every day, precisely at nine in the morning, he entered the bes medresh with his large talis and tefillin sack under his arm. He looked around with great satisfaction and saw how the youths were sitting bent over their Talmud books studying out loud. He went slowly to his special seat at the eastern wall, near the sacred ark. He sat down, opened a book, and looked into it, waiting for the minyan to begin praying.
When the praying had finished he stayed around in the bes medresh until twelve o'clock. The town wasn't lacking in things to do, but there were dayonim [A rabbinical judge or assistant to a rabbi] to decide questions of Jewish law; these were his son Moyshele, Shiele, and also Sander the teacher. As local rabbi he also had to take care of many town matters. In addition he taught a Talmud lesson every day at four o'clock, for students who came to his house.
Before Passover the rabbi's activity was quite intense. He had to make sure that the wells were not unkosher for Passover and the bakery ovens used for baking matzo were properly prepared. He also had to see to it that everyone should come in time to sell their hamets [Leavened bread and anything containing leavening, forbidden on the Passover. The rabbi sells such to Gentiles so it does not remain in the possession of Jews during Passover]; the baking of shmira-matsos [Matsot specially watched so as not to come into contact with anything leavened.] was also his concern.
In those days the rabbi was seen every day walking about with his two shamosim [Assistants to the rabbi, often called sextons in English.]: Nahum and Moshe. The rabbi, carrying his silver-handled stick, walked between them through the town, issuing orders which everyone endeavored most respectfully to carry out.
The rabbi's sermon on Shabos godol [The Sabbath preceding Passover] was really something to be experienced. The rabbi also delivered the blessing of Tsar Nikolai on his birthday, when representatives of the police and the authorities came to the bes medresh.
The rabbi's wisdom was exceptional. Everyone listened intently to him, and in every dispute the parties relied on his decision.
In addition to taking care of keeping kosher for Passover and all year long, the rabbi also had to make sure that the eruv [A cord around the town which designates the town as officially indoors, and so objects may be carried here on the Sabbath; without the eruv objects cannot be carried outdoors on the Sabbath.] around the town was in order, so that on the Sabbath Jews could carry their talis for praying and women could bring home the cholent [A stew prepared on Friday and just kept warm, not cooked, on Saturday, since cooking is prohibited on the Sabbath.] from the baker. It once happened that the eruv was torn in two and a dark cloud descended over the town. The men could not leave the town carrying their talis and hunger threatened, since without the eruv the cholent had to remain at the baker's until the stars came out. The rabbi then allowed employing little children, who are still free from sin.
In those days the congregation gave the Tarnogrod rabbi no problems. They walked in the way of God, kept the Torah; parents sent their sons to cheder and their daughters to Chaim the teacher, who taught them to write using books of sample letters, so that later on they could write letters to their relatives in America. Chaim also taught them enough Russian to write an address.
I remember the circumcision celebrations, which took place in the synagogue, after prayers. As prayers ended the women arrived dressed in black silk dresses, leading the new mother with the baby. They stopped at the entrance to the synagogue, waiting until the husband took the child from his wife. Then they remained in the corner of the synagogue until the circumcision was over and refreshments were served. All that time they stood with downcast eyes and only caught glimpses of the youths swaying piously in prayer. Later, quietly, with fearful step, they left the synagogue.
Every celebration in Tarnogrod was everyone's celebration; the rabbi participated in it as if it were his own, like a shepherd looking over his sheep.
In addition to the sermons which he delivered on holidays, in private conversations the rabbi taught the townspeople to love truth and justice, to hate falsehood and injustice, because the latter is like one building on sand or trying to glue with spittle. He used to say: You may think that you are losing money from truth and earning from falsehood, but only in truth is real security, and when the time comes to transmit my heritage to you, I will bequeath to you my honesty, which has been implanted in me through the Torah. There is no greater aristocracy than honesty.
And at times of boundless grief for the Jewish destruction and devastation, take your place, son of man, surviving Tarnogrod Jew, on the bridge of generations, and shed a tear, a hot burning tear, for the shepherd of the Jewish congregation in Tarnogrod, a tear of love, a tear of deep faith, that
The Rabbi's Pipe
Translated by Martin Jacobs
Funded by Natalie Lipner
in Memory of her father
Szmul Josef (Samuel Joseph) Lipner
In my teenage years I became friends with one of the Rabbi's great grandsons, whose name was Shlomke, and I was one of those who had entry to the Rabbi's house. In the front room, in the corner between the walls facing north and west, stood a cupboard with glass doors and sides. Among the items on the shelves several tubes made of white bone made an impression on me. When screwed together they became a pipe of a meter in length.
All year long the pieces of the pipe stayed untouched in the cupboard. But when the eve of Hoshanah-Rabbah [the seventh day of Sukkot] came the elderly rabbi would approach the cabinet and take out all the parts and attach them to each other, each one in its proper place, until the pipe was complete and shining in its beauty. Then he would fill it with tobacco and light it.
That night many people were seated in the adjacent bet hamidrash [house of study] praying the Hoshanah Rabbah evening tikun prayers. Some were nodding off between prayers. Then the elderly rabbi appeared and went round the benches on which the worshippers were sleeping, touching each one's shoulder with his pipe. They immediately woke up and saw that the rabbi was collecting donations for the needy. No one withheld his contribution. This was the rabbi's custom from year to year, thus fulfilling two commandments at the same time: to wake Jews to prayer and to engage in charity.
Let us mention that in the second room, in the rabbi's living quarters, was an extensive religious library. Here he received all who came to him with all sorts of questions. Here too he diligently studied the rabbinic writings all his days. Since the walls had not been painted for a long time, his daughter Chanale asked his permission to paint the room with beautiful colors. After many entreaties the elderly rabbi agreed, but only on condition that the black square on one of the walls be left to commemorate the destruction of the temple.
The rabbi was very careful not to give out his tallit and kitel [long white linen robe, worn by rabbis and other prayer leaders on important occasions] to be laundered. When he was asked the reason, he answered, My tallit and kitel have absorbed many tears, and you wish to destroy them with water.
His paths are pleasant paths; [quotation from the book of Proverbs] his life's burden was to dig the deep well of Torah, so that many waters would emerge from it. The Torah is compared to fire, and this fire extinguishes other fires and as there is fire on top of fire, so too is there light on top of light. A touch of gracefulness extended across his countenance.
All this nobility can be understood as well as coming from the suffering of generations which he had absorbed, a suffering forged in fire of a Judaism founded in its own blood and satiating all the fields of the world.
Grandson of the old rabbi and son of Rabbi Tzvi
His children, grandchildren, and their descendants walked in his ways, up to the coming chapters of the flames of the Holocaust and the destruction. It is told how the old rabbi's grandson, Yosef-Moshe Teicher, suffered martyrdom at the hands of the murderer.
The Rabbi died two years before the Holocaust, at the age of more than eighty.
May his memory be blessed.
Translated by Martin Jacobs
Funded by Natalie Lipner
in Memory of her father
Szmul Josef (Samuel Joseph) Lipner
One of the phenomena which aroused great interest in the Jewish life of Poland was, without a doubt, Hasidism [mystical religious movement founded in Poland by the 18th century teacher Israel ben Eliezer, also known as the Baal Shem Tov], which also brought new light and faith to the Jews of Tarnogrod, drove away depression, and filled the hearts of all Jews with joy, from which they derived spiritual exaltation and new strength, love of one's fellow Jew, and good deeds. As in every other town in Poland, Hasidism in Tarnogrod too was a way of life and a culture.
Hasidism in our town was a popular movement. Almost every Jew in the town had great faith in the power of the tzadikim [Hasidic rabbis], and when the Hasidic rabbis visited our town the people brought to them notes on which they set forth their desires and needs and asked their advice about matters of business and also about medicines and treatments for various illnesses.
But, despite the fact that they saw the rabbis as miracle workers, listened with astonishment and wonder to their teaching and to their fervent praying, not everyone thought of himself as belonging to the Hasidic movement. Though not everyone was a person of intellect, yet Hasidism took over the religious community in Tarnogrod, absorbing within it love of God and of one's fellow man.
Among them were kabbalists [students of the Kabbalah or Jewish mystical tradition] who studied and meditated day and night in both the hidden and revealed Torah. Several of them used to get up at midnight for the prayer of lamentation for the exile of the Divine Presence and for the destruction of the Temple.
How great was the sense of community that pervaded the Hasidim. They addressed each other in familiar, informal terms. It was considered natural and ordinary to help a Hasid on his way down and lacking a livelihood with various means. They celebrated each other's private joyous occasions. They also knew who was in need of help and who was in a position to offer help.
The shtibl [literally little house or little room which served as a house of prayer] served as the best recreation center for both young and old. Here youths sat and learned Talmud with its captivating chant, and here were brought all the questions and requests pertaining to life of the community and town. For everyone, song and melody were tried and tested means of bringing the heart close to the service of the Creator, for not by afflictions and sadness does one reach his state of holiness, but by worshipping the Lord out of joy and by cleaving to Him from inspiration.
Hasidism was always a matter of song and dance.
The Hasidic rabbis did not make their home in our city. The Hasidim of Tarnogrod used to travel to their rabbis on special occasions and on the High Holy Days and were united with their rabbis through prayer, tish [literally table, a gathering of Hasidim around their rabbi, perceived as a moment of great holiness], and gifts to the rabbi. The sign of adherence to the Hasidic movement was praying in the shtibl in a group, according to the accepted usage in the house of prayer of each rebbe. The shtibl was like a world to itself, a kind of extended family. All who belonged to this family remained connected to their rabbi, the tzadik; his image always hovered before their eyes. At his holy word they came in and went out, acting in the power of that longing for the rabbi and his tish, for his teaching and his illuminating words. They were not pacified until he traveled to be with them, so that they might find shelter with him, look at him, gaze upon the brightness of his face, hear his interpretations of the sublime secrets of the Torah and learn from his deeds and his character.
The material conditions in Tarnogrod did not permit a separate shtibl for every group, and so the Hasidim of Belz, Trisk [Turiysk], and Kuzmir [Kazimierz Dolny] were concentrated in one kloyz [a small synagogue], which was called the Belzer shtibl . In the Sieniawa shtibl the Hasidim of Sanz [Nowy Sącz] and Gorlice also prayed. The Hasidim of Rozvedov [Rozwadów] prayed together with those of Rudnik and Cieszanów, etc.
The shtibl gave the Hasid confidence that he was not alone in the world. He was assured support in time of need. The Hasidic shtibl became both a religious and communal institution. It was sanctified for prayer and for the study of Torah. In the shtibl the Hasidic atmosphere of Tarnogrod was created.
After a hard day's work the Jew went to shtibl and there put away his cares, forgot the burdens of the day and absorbed the joy of a page of Talmud and some small talk. Each one studied at his own level and everyone achieved satisfaction, not merely satisfaction of the soul, but also enjoyment in the literal sense of the word. Jews renew and refresh themselves in these hours, they restore their souls, as the Hasidim say: M'hot zikh mekhaye geven [We got great enjoyment].
From time to time the Hasidic rabbis came to visit their followers in our town, and people flocked to them from nearby communities to drink in their words with great thirst and to seek advice from them on family matters. The rabbis' tish was set with pride on Shabbos in the great study house. The rabbi distributed shirayim [remainders of the rabbi's meal, eagerly eaten by his followers] and joyfully greeted the Guest with the Radiant Face. The Hasidim sang melodies full of longing and devotion.
There were many pearls among these melodies. The sounds were filled with splendor and innocence and dramatic-mysterious tension, and they had the power of softening men's hearts and awakening a man's conscience.
During the rabbi's stay in the city people drew closer together, and not just the Jews of the town, but also of nearby towns. Even though the rabbi did not have the power to join them all together as one, since they were jealous admirers each one of his own rabbi, for only through him was it possible to reach complete wholeness, and they traveled great distances to reach him, and they related to a second rabbi with a negligent attitude, not believing in his power, nevertheless he influences a great part of those who are indifferent to come together under one banner, that of Hasidism.
There were not a few among the Hasidim who were warmly compassionate Jews, full of pain and love for Jews, and who emphasized simple and perfect faith. Is not love one of the foundations of Hasidism? They turn in love to all men and receive them with open arms; therefore they look favorably upon the great congregation that gathers around every rebbe who comes to the town.
Thus the essential nature and character of Hasidism as a whole come to it from the existence of the rebbe rather than from its doctrines, streams, and ways. This is the greatness of Hasidism: in him is the secret and explanation of its strength; he is the center of its being. For a man who has a rebbe the whole human template is different from one who does not have a rebbe in his world. In the image of the rebbe, Hasidism expresses one of its essential foundations. The faith of the rebbe in the Hasidic world is such that even for those who have turned away from religion the authority of the rebbe has not faded for them.
In those days the movement was strong in the city. Every evening people gathered in the home of the Hasid with whom the rebbe was staying; they stood crowded together and his admirers told holy stories. In that hour both young and old forgot the world and its sorrowful existence, and were transported to the spiritual world, to the most fantastic stories in the world, and to every word and sign coming out of mouth of the rebbe.
The day the rebbe left the city everyone recalled the saying of Rashi: When a righteous man leaves the city his glory also leaves, his splendor leaves, his majesty leaves. Hundreds accompanied him and did not leave him until they received a parting blessing from him.
The Elderly Rabbi of the Tarnogrod Congregation
Rabbi Arie Leib Teicher, grandson of the rabbi and tzadik of Kreshiv [Krzeszów] and a descendant of Yom Tov Lipmann Heller, was a great and sharp-witted scholar, learned in Talmud and commentaries, head of the rabbinate for 72 years, at first for a time in the new city of Zamość, similarly in the community of Czchów near Lublin, but most of the years he officiated in our congregation.
In his capacity as mara deasra [local rabbi] and zealot for the religion and sanctifier of the people, he fought strongly against all freethinking. With the awakening of political life in our town he beseeched us to free ourselves from the 49 gates of impurity (may the Merciful One protect us), citing the Biblical verse: None who go to her come back (Prov. 2:19). In the study of the Modern Hebrew language he saw only a striving to learn a modern language, and therefore preached that it was better for us to learn Greek. In his naivety he saw Greek science as ruling the modern world.
In the founding of the library and of the first Hebrew school in the town he saw the root of all evil and so he proclaimed, with all the means in his power, that we had an obligation to a holy war against them, even to the point of his pronouncing a ban on them. He did the same with regard to all Zionist activity carried out on behalf of the branch of the Zionist Histadrut [Federation of Laborers in the Land of Israel] here.
He had four sons, all of whom became rabbis or religious teachers in Israel, and two daughters. He remained the rabbi of the congregation until his death at the age of 95. He passed away two years before the outbreak of the Second World War.
The Last Rabbi of the Congregation
Rabbi Moshele Teicher, son of Rabbi Arie Leib, was the congregation rabbi until the Holocaust. He supported matters of interest to the town with knowledge and intelligence.
His form and appearance spoke of honor to both Jews and non-Jews alike. He was easily approachable, and he knew how to talk to everyone, according to that person's education and class. With his sharp intellect he was very knowledgeable in all branches of commerce; people came to seek his advice. His wife, the Rebbetzin [wife of a rabbi] Malkale, bore him 12 sons and daughters, because of which supporting his household was as difficult for him as splitting the Red Sea.
During the Holocaust his whole family, already numbering several dozen, found a hiding place in a bunker. This became known to a Christian in the city, who informed on them. They were all brutally murdered; not one of his descendents survived.
A Man of Wide Learning
Yehoshule, the third son of the old rabbi, swam in the sea of Talmud and Poskim [Rabbinical scholars who settle matters of Jewish law and ritual]. He was a kind of tsena demale sifra [Talmudic expression defined in Jastrow's dictionary as a basket full of books, a man full of learning, but without method].
As a young man he was isolated in his thoughts; he neglected himself and everyone close to him. He withdrew from the life of this world. He imposed fasts and afflictions upon himself and he constantly walked about the streets, until one day he caught cold, took to his bed and departed this life while still young, to the sorrow of his family and the townspeople.
Yakov the Intermediary
Yakov, or Yekil Mantel, the leader of the congregation throughout his life, was the Shtadlan [official representative of the Jewish community to the government. Such people were generally chosen because of their knowledge of the official language of the country in addition to their own Yiddish] with the Russian authorities and high officialdom. Knowledge of the Russian language was also the source of his livelihood as a scribe, skilled in worldly affairs and in Russian law. He was dedicated to the needs of the community. At one time I had the privilege of working with him in the children's open-plan kitchen, and I saw his great dedication to the congregation in his community.
In his twilight years he lived in poverty because he was not on good terms with the Polish administration and they put someone else in his place, depriving him of his livelihood.
There are those who reveal themselves as great persons by revealing a new path in Torah or in wisdom, in leadership or in their qualities. Then there are great people, exceptionally virtuous people, even more so than the first, who outwardly do not bring all new Torah interpretations to our attention; to ordinary eyes they seem like mediocrities in all their talk and activity, but their praise is great in that they do not arouse praise for themselves with their peculiar ways and exceptional deeds. On the contrary, they are gracious in their power of restraint and in the appropriate superiority of modest behavior. They cover themselves in unpretentiousness. They are deliberate in judgment and deliberate also in the use of the virtuous grace that protects them; they are humble and modest, and their ways are quiet. They return as it were to old ideas, but with renewed pleasure; they do not boast of the performance of some method, and so they act not in accordance with their method, but in accordance with their own interpretation. They are careful not to separate from the community.
Such was Rabbi Moshe-Naftali Teicher, wonderful in that he was not eager for wonders, so as not to excite the people in an unlawful manner. Reb Moshe took great pains not to abandon the protection of humility, for humility is the source of all virtues.
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