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[Pages 51-53]

The Kobriner Shtiebl

By Shlomo Podolevsky

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's comments in square brackets]


R' David Shlomo (The “Kobriner Rabbi”)


The Hasidism in Horodets differed from that in the neighboring shtetles. Hasidism did not take strong root in our neighborhood. In most shtetles there were no Hasidim, and if there were any of them – they were only tens. Shtiebles of their own they did not possess.

Horodets, through it was smaller than other shtetles, had, in addition to a shul and besmedresh, two shtiebles – Stoliner and Kobriner. The Stoliner Hasidim were mostly the elite of the shtetl – such as Karlinsky and others, while the adherents of the Kobriner Hasidim were mostly craftsmen, butchers, some shopkeepers and some melamdim [kheider teachers].

Until some years prior to WW1, they did not have their own shtiebl but held their prayers in private houses. For some time they prayed in Pinye The Butcher's house on the other side of the bridge. Later they prayed for a long time in Yitskhak Aharon's house near the river. Finally, they bought the house that Binyamin The Doctor built for his daughter Perl, opposite the Rabbi's house, and turned it into a shtiebl to hold prayers in it.

I remember the joy of the Kobriner Hasidim when they celebrated the house-warming of the shtiebl. It was Purim 1910. That Purim fell on Friday and the son of Moshe The Klezmer [musician] from Kobrin - a klezmer himself – was then in Horodets. The folks marched into the Shtiebl accompanied with singing and flute. Young and old were happy that finally the Kobriner Hasidim would have an equal status, and not use somebody's apartment even without pay.

Thanks to becoming independent house-owners, the Kobriner Hasidim felt pride, elevation, and lifted their heads high because the Kobriner dynasty was still young – only 75 years old.

[Ben-Ezra comments that the founder of the Kobriner Hasidism was R' Moshe, Who was a disciple of R' Mordekhai Lekhevitsher. R' Moshe served as a Rabbi 26 years, He died the 28th of Nisan, 1858. His Hasidic beliefs are found in his book “אמרות טהורות”. See also M. Buber “אור הגנוז” pp. 447-462, Jerusalem 1947. After his death, his grandson – Rabbi Noakh Naphtali - succeeded him. His teachings appear in the book “אמרות טהורות”. He died in 1889. His son, R' David Shlomo, succeeded him and he died in 1918.]

The Kobriner Rabbis did not have many Hasidim and their way of life was very simple and modest. They did not have any stables with horses, nor palaces. The “court” of R' David, third generation, was a small brick fenced court in Kobrin, on Ratner Street, and was not much different from the courts of the other house holders. Therefore, the internal conduct of the Kobriner dynasty was entirely different from the other Hasidic dynasties, especially in their way of praying, as if one is out of breath.

Every year after Sukkot, the Rabbi used to travel around the shtetles where he had his Hasidim. Into Horodets he came for the Sabbath of “וייצא” portion of the Torah. The Rabbi was dressed in white, with white stockings, a white housecoat and a shtreimel on his head. His face was noble, white, with a reddish beard, sprinkled with grey spots. For the welcoming of the Sabbath and the evening prayer, some of the Hasidim would eat in a hurry the Sabbath dinner, and return to the shtiebl when the Rabbi started to set the table. From after the evening prayer, the Rabbi used to sit in a closed room to study. Later, when the crowd of Hasidim assembled, he would come out of the room and go to the table and the folks would stand up.

The shames [Rabbi's attendant] – who was also the gabe [manager of affairs] - a short man with a black beard, used to serve the Rabbi a container with water. The Rabbi washed his hands and immediately started reading out “אתקינו סעודתא” [“have the meal ready”] together with the Hasidim who had not gone home to eat. They said the words with heat, with zeal. Later, the Rabbi washed himself, read: “שאו ידיכם” [“raise your hands”] and made a Kiddush. After each course of the meal, the Hasidim used to snatch leftovers. The children of Aharon Leib The Painter – Noakh and Izik - were especially remarkable in snatching the leftovers. I can still see Izik in front of my eyes holding a hand full of noodle-pudding that he had snatched, eating from the handful and singing…

R' David used to sit in a closed room, early on Sabbath and pray alone until “נשמת” [the soul of] and for the prayer of “נשמת” he would go into the shtiebl. This prayer said by the Rabbi, sounded strange. From one sentence to the next, he used to “pass out” and the folks would stand amazed. When they heard him again uttering a word, it sounded as if the Rabbi wanted to return to life again.

Besides Friday evening, the Rabbi arranged meals on Sabbath after praying and Sabbath night “מלווה מלכה” [“accompanying the queen”, the Sabbath, on her way out…this was done with song and a meal and the meal was called the fourth meal]. During the three Sabbath meals the Rabbi delivered a “d'var Torah” [sermon/lesson on topics relating to the weekly Torah portion]. The listeners were attentive. It was already well into the night when the Rabbi finished the three meals and started the evening prayer. Not only Hasidim attended the rabbi's meal, but also Stoliner-Karliner Hasidim and many Misnodgim. At each meal the Rabbi delivered a sermon/lesson. The listeners would fix their eyes and ears to hear the Rabbi's lesson. The overcrowding was indescribable. People stood tight trying to raise their heads above those of the others to catch some of the Rabbi's words. The Rabbi spoke silently, rolled up his eyes, swallowed a word, “passed out” and held back.


Musical notes for Moshe Kobriner's melody to יה אכסוף [“Ya Ekhsoof”]
A poesy written by R' Aharon the Great [Admor of Karlin]

(Recorded by R' Barukh “Kobriner Rabbi” andapted by Moshe Natanzon)


The Kobriner Hasidim, amazed, swallowed with thirst every word they could snatch. Although they did not understand – still every word that came out of his holy mouth was precious to them. After every piece of lesson, they commenced with a merry song or dance in which the Kobriner Hasidim excelled.

The arrival of the Rabbi in the shtetl was refreshing, a continuation of Simkhes To'yre = [joy of finishing the year's reading cycle of the Torah], and it brought a festivity to the monotonous life of the shtetl. Very quiet and calm people became lively during the week that the Rabbi stayed in Horodets.

Moshe Burshtein, or as he was nicknamed “Moshe the Big”, a noble man, a scholar, of the Old Rabbi's family, a quiet man, was transformed into a different man when the Rabbi arrived. A whole year he kept quiet. Only twice a year he was talkative – when the Rabbi arrived and on Simkhes To'yre. At the Rabbi's table he was leading the singing and on Simkhes To'yre he collected around him all the children and he sang “The Savior will come soon, Elijah will come soon”. Then He asked the children: “When will he come?” and they answered him: “Soon in our time, our Messiah” etc., On Simkhes To'yre they permitted additional jargon songs such as “what we are, are we – however, Jews we are” and so forth.

The Kobriner shtiebl was a quite beautiful small besmedresh, in the middle of the market, not far from the cloister, surrounded by trees and with a small garden. The mason Avraham Ezra, son of Shmerl, was the shames. They allocated to the shames a separate apartment. They did not name his wife shames'te but nicknamed her shtiebli'khe because she kept the shtiebl very clean.

Once, a Jew-hater sent a paper claiming that the shtiebl was placed in too close proximity to the cloister. The Tzar's law demanded that between a church and a building used for another religion there should be a large space. I remember how they used a long cord to measure the distance from the church to the shtiebl, and although it was according to the law, they paid some rubles to let the shtiebl stay where it was. It seems that a tavern/pub close to the church was kosher. Piece of evidence - Shmuel Khayim's pub was very close to the cloister… [The Yiddish index of names adds his family name: Sirota]

During the day on Sabbath, Alter the Shmid used to teach the congregation Ein Yaakov [a compilation of all the legendary material in the Talmud together with commentaries.] In addition, older children used to study gemore, all by themselves.

Besides the Kobriner Hasidim, R' Khayim, who lived across the road, used to pray in the shtiebl during the week days. This fact added more importance to the shtiebl and its Hasidim. The fame of the Kobriner shtiebl kept growing until the break of WW1. When most of the shtetl was burnt down, the Kobriner shtiebl was also consumed by the fire, and with it the sweet loved memories.


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