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[Page 134]



[Pages 134-135]

Naphtali the Doctor

by Rabbi Mordechai Greenberg

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's notes – in square brackets]

Naphtali (Veissman) the Doctor


The truth of the matter is that Naphtali the doctor was not born in Horodets. However, he was so acclimated in Horodets that all were sure he and his ancestors were from Horodets. Naphtali came from Drohitzin, not far from Horodets. His father was R' Shimon, the famous doctor in Drohitzin and surroundings. He probably got his first knowledge in medicine from his father.

Naphtali cam to Horodets after the death of his grandfather, Binyamin the doctor, whose place he took over. He had already practiced a bit and won a name as a good doctor. This gave him the right to get the salary of one hundred rubles a year from the shtetl. By agreement he could charge a fixed price for a visit - besides medications that he prepared himself. The price was one for all - rich and poor. However, Naphtali did not want to receive money from the needy patients. He used to cure them free of charge. He even used to help them, quite often, by giving them money off his own small earnings.

Naphtali was a very friendly person. He respected everybody and showed his friendliness to all. Most of all, his attitude toward the poor was outstandingly friendly. He expressed his sympathy and strove to make them feel good. When he encountered a poor person in the street, he was first to greet him. After the prayers in the synagogue on Sabbath, he said “goot Shabes” [Good Saturday] to each and every plain and poor person. When he made a home visit to a sick person, he brought with him joy and encouragement. His motto was the verse from Job [4;4]: “Thy words have upholden him that was falling, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees” which means that your words would raise to their feet the one who stumbles. Therefore, he gave the sick person the spiritual medication that he needed - strengthening him with words and sympathy. He gave the patient spiritual vitamins, infusing him with the hope that he would soon be healthy. All this won him the recognition of all the residents of Horodets. Everybody trusted him. Non-Jews as well as Jews respected and valued him. He was also famous for the generous charity that he gave to the needy.

The first years Naphtali could not make a living in Horodets. Various circumstances were the cause. Those circumstances had to do, understandably, with the sort of life that he led. The main factor was competition. There were two other doctors in Horodets, Non-Jews. They were knowledgeable about sicknesses but they were satisfied with little money for their service. The price they charged was small. Most or their patients were farmers from the surrounding villages. They were of low culture and went only to non-Jewish doctors and Naphtali was left with no patients.

Having no income, Naphtali travelled to Warsaw and became a student. His father enabled him, financially, to do so.

Naphtali stayed some time in Warsaw, attended courses and returned to Horodets as a dentist. He brought with him all the necessary instruments and started practicing dentistry. From then on peopled addressed him as “Vaissman”. From all neighboring shtetls and villages people came to him to fix their teeth. He also continued to treat people as a doctor. However, the problem of making a living was not entirely solved. Dentistry was a small help. So, he travelled a second time to Warsaw and became a student once again. This time he stayed in Warsaw a longer while attending courses and returned as an eye-doctor. Thus Naphtali became an expert in three fields of medicine, but with no diploma. The restrictions that the Russian government imposed on Jewish students made it impossible for him to get the official title “Doctor”.

The problem of making a living remained the same as before. His wife, Dina, died and left him with a number of small children. Naphtali was desperate but led his life the same way as before, as if nothing happened in his personal life. He started looking for ways to better his material status. He started thinking of leaving Horodets and settling in a bigger city. It was difficult to depart from Horodets. He did not want to, but he had to take the step because of his great hardship.

After a difficult inner struggle Naphtali decided to leave Horodets and he settled in the nearest bigger city - Kobryn. He immediately became friendly with the local doctors. He became their colleague and in Kobryn, like in Horodets, he was daily visitor with the local Rabbis, and cured the poor free of charge.

After WW1 Naphtali left Kobryn and settled in Brisk. There he practiced exclusively as an eye-doctor and became friendly with all the local doctors. However, Naphtali went on with his routine life like in Horodets. He studied Torah, treated patients free of charge, and enjoyed the company of Rabbis discussing Torah. Naphtali stayed the same “rich man” as he was before, because it was impossible to make a living leading this kind of life. He possessed only spiritual wealth but not material wealth. He had “Torah without the flour”. [In Pirkey Avot R' Azaria says: “If there is no flour - there is no Torah” which means that material existence is a condition to the study of Torah.]

Naphtali was a bookworm. He was drawn to books. In a letter he wrote to me at the eve of WW2 he wrote with enthusiasm that he had finally composed a book - a sort of encyclopedia - with the sermons of our sages that are scattered in the interpretations of the Talmud and Zohar. He wrote also that the Rabbis in Brisk gave their written recommendations to his book and acclaimed it as beneficial to all. The war broke out and I received no more letters from him. I don't know what became of his book.

A very unique person was Naphtali the doctor. He combined Torah with wisdom, good qualities and good deeds. He was a sample of spiritual strength and refined morality. He mingled with the crowd and treated all as his equals.

[Page 136]


by Makhla Timoner

Translated by Hannah Kadmon

[Translator's notes – in square brackets]

When Naphtali the doctor left Horodets, the shtetl remained in mourning: How can they live without a doctor? It is clearly written in the Gemore (Yerushalmi, end of Kidushin): “It is forbidden to live in a city that does not have both a doctor and a bathhouse”. So they started looking for a doctor. However, not every doctor could take Naphtali's place. Finally a doctor appeared from another town and the landlords of Horodets concluded that he deserved to serve as a doctor in Horodets: First of all, he is a skilled doctor; Second, he has a fine big family and this means that he will not leave the shtetl so quickly; Third, he has a son who is a barber. This last fact was included in the “dowry” because there was no barber in Horodets. When a Jew needed a haircut, he travelled to Antipolye or to Kobryn to get it. Otherwise, his wife or someone else of the family did the job of a barber. Very seldom, a barber from Antipolye came to Horodets to offer a haircut to the overgrown hair. That would occur on Lag Ba'omer or sometimes on the eve of a Holiday.

Horodets did not make any mistake with regard to the doctor. However, he had two flaws: He loved to “canker”, meaning: make the illness worse so that people would need his treatment for long (so they said in shtetl). The second flaw was that he loved the “bitter drop” [intoxicating drinks]…

The landlords of Horodets saw that it was bad, and started thinking of ways to get rid of that doctor. After a few years in Horodets, he left with his family. Horodets was left once again depressed and again had committees discussing in what way to save the shtetl and get a good honest doctor. They printed advertisements in the newspapers, and doctors from all over Russia and Poland, old and young, landed in Horodets. Not a day passed without some doctor coming for interviews. One of the doctors, old with a beard, was an expert in healing with cupping-glasses, offering to apply them even to handicapped rheumatic feet…

This is how they suffered and toiled until doctor David Vitkin came to Horodets.

Vitkin was also a certified dentist and patients came to fix their teeth from the whole neighborhood. In addition to his being a doctor and a dentist, his wife was a certified experienced midwife - greatly in need in Horodets. Both of them - the doctor and his wife contributed a great deal to Horodets. It lasted from 1908 until 1915, when we started fleeing from the Germans. The doctor and his family also fled to Russia where he became a military doctor.

They did not call Vitkin “doctor” like they called the previous doctors. They bestowed on him the Russian title: Feldsher. This is because he and his whole household were very Russian-oriented. Yiddish was not heard in his house. At first he and his wife spoke a very poor Yiddish. His was the first house in Horodets where they spoke only Russian. There it was possible to get Russian daily newspapers from Petersburg or from Moscow. If someone wished to take a look at a liberal Russian journal, they found it in Vitkin's house. In general, his house became the center of the Russian-oriented intellectuals of Horodets. The post-officials and other state officials came to his house to meet each other over a glass of tea.

Even though Vitkin was very Russian-oriented, and was not involved with the Jewish congregation he had a host of admirers among the Jews of Horodets and the neighborhood, because of his honesty and his generosity for both Jews and Christians. He was respected by both. His waiting room was always full with patients. In his free time he always busy with preparing prescriptions.

Until this very day, Horodetsers remember Vikin the feldsher with respect and esteem.


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