Translated by Yael Chaver
Taken a few years before the war, when a Kurow native came to visit from America
In the picture:
At the center, the guest, Khayim Bornshteyn and his wife Rekhl, Yosl Zisls, Ayzik Loberboym, Yisro'el Volf Zaydenvorm, Hersh Yekhiel Shamesh, Yankl Shnayderman, Hersh Shtrasburg, Brayndl Borekh Ziseles, Royze Dineh Klimentberg, Nosn Klimentberg and his wife Khane, Mordechai Volfs, Hersh Kotlarz, two daughters of Royze: Dineh, Hinde Buchvayzer.
by Rabbi Tuviya Gutman Rapoport (Toronto, Canada)
The Year of My Birth, and My First Teacher
I was born in Kurow in 1875. At the age of three, I was sent to a teacher of young boys named Mordechai Ayzik. Teaching wasn't his only profession he also manufactured snuff tobacco…
I remember the way he ran his factory… He had an earthenware bowl, in which he placed various kinds of herbs. Then he would stir the mixture for hours (we students would usually help him stir, even fighting for the honor of doing it). Every so often he would pick up a pinch of the mixture and sniff it. When his sniff assured him that the merchandise was ready, he would say, with a sweet smile; Well, thank God, this is the real thing, with a heavenly taste. His snuff really was famous in the town. Almost all the Jews of Kurow used it. I remember my father saying, with a smile, Well, praise be, his snuff has the best aroma. Most of the customers would come on Friday, laying in a supply for Saturday, when a Jew of Kurow treated himself to fresh snuff.
In those old days, there was only one kind of snuffbox, traditional, all in the same size and shape. It was also customary that when a Jew came to buy tobacco, he brought his own snuffbox.
We have few historical works about the town, and our knowledge is amplified by memoirs, especially by older people. When we received items from our important fellow native townsman, the scholar, educated person, and writer Rabbi Tuviya Gutman Rapoport, we were impressed by the quality of his writing: its fine style, directness, and fascinating content. We therefore approached him, the elder of our tribe (who turned 80 this year -- may he live until 120) and asked him to write an autobiography. It would also be a biography of our small town with its daily life, customs, characters, and figures. He responded very generously. His autobiography and his Biography of a Generation are important studies and achievements, for which we thank him whole-heartedly.
In fact, our teacher-manufacturer
never measured or weighed out his merchandise. He sold by the box, charging everyone the same price. A packed snuffbox cost three kopeks.
I remember Friday as the happiest day of the week, when I would run to my teacher's house with my father's snuffbox. I felt proud when I handed him the three-kopek coin.
After I had learned Hebrew with Mordechai Ayzik for a year, my father said that I knew as much as my teacher (with all due respect, my teacher himself did not know Hebrew properly). So my father decided that it was time for me to move on to a teacher of Torah.
My First Torah Teacher
Unless I'm mistaken, my first Torah teacher was called Meir. It would have been bearable if he had started with the book of Genesis, with the wonderful stories that are so suited to the mind of a young child and spark his imagination (though the Torah teacher himself could barely read a Torah portion correctly). But he followed the old tradition, and started off with a section of Leviticus that deals with oxen, cattle, and sacrifices. For the life of me, I can't say that we young boys began to understand what it was about. One other boy and I had good memories, and we mechanically repeated the teacher's words after him. The other children couldn't do that. Well, those poor souls were liberally pinched and beaten by our grouchy teacher. I stayed there for two six-month sessions, after which my father decided to send me to a Talmud teacher.
My First Talmud Teacher
My first Talmud teacher was a fine, decent young man, but poor soulsickly: thin, with sunken cheeks, who could barely breathe. His name was Kalman, but because of his appearance was called Kalmaleh.
The cheyder, which was also his apartment, was a small cubicle. The furniture consisted of
two beds, an old wardrobe, and a single chair. There were six of us boys, and we sat three to a bed. The teacher sat at the head, on the only chair. This is where we young children started our first Talmud study, with small, skinny, sickly Kalmaleh as our Talmud teacher.
Before I tell you what I learned with my first Talmud teacher, let me describe what I didn't learn (and what no Talmud teacher of those days taught his students). The Prophets and the Writings were nowhere to be seen. Not only were they not taught to children, but we had no idea that they even existed. The teacher occasionally mentioned that the Twenty-four was unsuitable for small children; and we were always happy to avoid studying.
We did learn Torah there, and even Rashi's commentary. However, we did not learn Torah chapter by chapter. Rather, we would learn part of the portion for each week. All of Rashi's notes on grammar were ignored. Grammar, said the Rabbi, is not studied; of course, we did not know what grammar was. We always enjoyed not having to study. Talmud teachers, in general, considered studying even a small portion of the Torah to be trivial; it was done only once a week, on Thursdays.
Naturally, our teacher had no concept of the proper curriculum. Instead of gradually introducing us to the Talmud by beginning with the Mishna and then moving on to the Talmud, he immediately began with the Talmud. It is worth mentioning the language that the teacher used. Our first Talmudic extract was related to the Mishnaic tractate of Bava Metsi'a. He began chanting the translation of the opening phrase, Two people are holding a tallis as Two people are holding a dress. We young folks immediately realized that this was a gross error. Though the teacher was very bad-tempered, we did want to catch him out, and said, Rabbi, what does a dress have to do with a tallis? So the teacher explained that tallis here does not mean prayer shawl, but refers to a garment. But we still could not understand what a woman's dress was doing in the sacred Talmud. Couldn't they at least find a velvet coat? In general, we children marveled that the Jews who composed the Talmud were not ashamed to fight over a feminine article of clothing. But we were afraid to go on asking, because the teacher was very irritable.
Our teacher did not understand that children should first be taught only Mishna,
because it was easier and more accessible to youngsters, yet he realized that they should also be taught Tosfos and Maharsha. So, after only three months of teaching Talmud, he started teaching the Tosfos, and gradually introduced Maharsha as well. I was the smartest student in class, with a very quick grasp. One other bright boy and I repeated the Tosfos and Maharsha after the teacher (though we did not fully understand the text). The other boys could not recite the material, and the teacher would scream at them as though he were possessed by a demon: Peasant-boys! (that was the worst swear word, because only a donkey-people …work the field).
After I had finished two terms of study with my first Talmud teacher, Kalmaleh, and had reached the ripe age of six, my father (may his memory be for a blessing) decided that it was time to go higher.
My Second Talmud Teacher
Only one teacher in Kurow taught older boys and was the best teacher in town was Mendl Partsiver (from Parczew). My father sent word that he wanted to see him, and Mendl immediately came over. My father proposed sending me to Mendl's cheder. Mendl responded gently, Abeh, I'm in a bit of a dilemma. You know that students in my school learn more advanced materialPoskim, Yoreh De'ah and Shakh. All my students are grown boys, and your child is still too young for such studies.
My father smiled and said, Mendl, first listen to him. He immediately took down a volume of Talmud and told me to recite my lesson. I practically knew it by heart the Talmud section as well as Tosfos and Maharsha. I was a bold kid, and recited the lesson loudly. Mendl was amazed. He tried to trip me up, asked this and that; but when he saw that my answers were to the point, he smiled, and said, Abeh, he's mine… They agreed on the price, and it was my great luck to study with the best teacher in Kurow, at six years old.
Mendl Partsiver and His School
As Mendl Partsiver was a true scholar, and taught advanced material, it's worth telling the readers of today what that institution of highest study looked like.
Mendl Partsiver's school was in a back alley, and you had to zigzag
among the old houses, before you came to the right place. The school consisted of two rooms. The first was the home of a widow who was a baker, and the other was the location of our school (the entrance was through the widow's room). Both rooms had no flooring, and the surface was hard, lumpy earth. The schoolroom itself was actually not bad: larger, and furnished… with a table, two long wooden benches for the students, and, of course, two beds.
But there was a problem with the baker: she was old, and her eyesight was failing. Whenever she lit the oven, the rooms filled with smoke, to the point of suffocation. In summer, our teacher flung open the windows and did not stop the lesson, saying, Never mind, you won't end up covered in soot… So, poor souls that we were, we sat there and studied. The pillar of smoke soared over our heads effortlessly, passing from the school to the world. In winter, however, when the windows of Kurow were sealed with clay, it was truly miserable. All the doors had to be opened, and the teacher would chase the smoke out with a towel. We young guys enjoyed the fun, because the teacher allowed us to go out into the fresh air. Well, it was a game for us, but the teacher was very angry at the baker. (When I remember that tragic scene now, with the poor teacher quarreling with the widowed baker, old and half-blind as she was, and the fight often ended in curses, I tear up.)
My Second Talmud Teacher, Mendl Partsiver, Taught Only Poskim
Although my first Talmud teacher mainly taught Talmud with the Tosfos, we did learn some of each week's Torah portion (though not in depth). On the other hand, the more advanced teacher, Mendl Partsiver, taught no Torah at all. He said that we could study Torah by ourselves on our free day, Friday (when there was no cheder). Naturally, we young kids utilized Friday for better purposes than studying Torah. During the week, we barely studied Talmud, either. Almost all the studies consisted of the Poskim.
But study of the Poskim was also haphazard. Instead of studying the Shulkhan Aruch, Orakh Khayim, morning rituals, regulations concerning the tsitsis, and other rules of everyday life that incorporate Jewish qualities, morals, and ethics; or even romantic material that appeals to a young child and caresses his soul, the teacher taught mainly Shach. We, young innocent children, were taught, day in and day out, rules governing commerce,
fraud, theft, and robbery. One of the boys in our group became so immersed in the regulations concerning theft that he himself became something of a thief: he swiped three rubles from the teacher's chest of drawers. But he wasn't an expert, and was immediately caught.
My aim is not to describe the conditions of childrens' education long ago. Yet a Jew who wants to write his autobiography, which is naturally closely bound up with the cheder, must express his great dismay at the sad state of old-time cheders and teachers in general, and the wretched curriculum in particular. It is hard to grasp how old-time Jews, who were so dedicated to the ideal of raising their children to be religious scholars, were so negligent about our sages, who issued stringent warnings against changing the curriculum. This is specified in the Mishna as follows: At five years old a person should study the Scriptures, at ten years the Mishna, at 15 the Talmud. My heart aches, thinking of the poor intellectual and economic situation of the Jews in the small towns of Poland. Financially and intellectually, they were unable to set up schools with proper teachers and mentors. Almost none of the teachers, from those who taught toddlers to those who taught grown boys, had the slightest training for his profession, or understanding of the meaning and significance of childhood education. When a Jew lost his livelihood, especially if he was physically weak, he took up teaching. So it was that we lost a golden phase during which a Jewish youth would study nothing but Torah; only a few emerged as true scholars, due to their poor education. (In 1943, I published a long article exclusively devoted to childhood education, in which I comprehensively addressed and illuminated the problem of child-rearing among Jews. It included the opinions of great Jewish teachers on the matter, starting with the words of Talmudic scholars and commentators, and going on to the teachings of world-famous pedagogical experts. The article was published in the 25th Jubilee Anniversary Book of the Toronto Eitz Chaim Talmud Torah school.)
Pilpul and Peshat
My teacher would always tell me that the main thing a boy needed was a keen mind. In addition to laws of theft and robbery, along with Shach, Ketsos HaKhoshen, and Pilpul, which I studied regularly, he began introducing me to complex cases of pilpul, to sharpen my mind. He showed me how to do it: he would take one page of Talmud for instance, from Tractate Kiddushin and another page for instance, from Tractate Eruvin. Using pilpul, he would combine the two Talmud passages so that they became as one.
I really envied the teacher, and
also started doing mental acrobatics: using cunning peshat interpretations, I would link sections that had no relationship to each other, such as A virgin who marries (Tractate Ketubot) with All the idols, (Tractate Avoda Zara), Tractate Makkot, and Tractate Berachot. In short, the peshats were going very well. As such intellectual acrobatics were highly valued at the time, I became a famous child prodigy…
I Turn Seven Years Old, and Become a Bridegroom (In An Auspicious Hour)
As I was already a renowned prodigy, and as in those days rich Jews sought scholarly sons-in-law, all sorts of matchmakers started turning up. Of course, the entire business of matchmaking concerned only my father, not me. After some time, a new matchmaker appeared: my grandfather, the Rabbi of Ostrowce, David HaKohen (may his memory be for a blessing), my father's father. He wrote my father the following letter:
My dear son, Abeh, I know that you have a son who is a scholar. I have a good match for you (not for me) with the daughter of a Jew from Opatów, a Jew who is renowned for his devoutness and scholarship, as well as for his wealth. He is looking for a scholar for his only daughter. His name is Ya'akov Vizenfeld. Arrange this match, and don't even think about other matches.
Naturally, my parents agreed to my grandfather's proposal, and hoped that I would soon become a bridegroom.
It was easier said than done. Months of correspondence between my father (may his memory be for a blessing) and my grandfather, as well as with the bride's father, were required. My mother (may her memory be for a blessing) also corresponded with my grandmother, the Ostrowce rabbi's wife, about the bride and whether she was beautiful. Finally, after agreeing on the dowry, the only item was left was for my father-in-law to come and test my knowledge. So, on one freezing winter day, he came to Kurow to examine me. In order to make sure, he brought a scholar with him, a kind of expert examiner. The test began. Now, if the examination would have focused on a Torah portion, it would have turned out very badly. However, they tested me on a complicated issue in Maharsha, a Peshat from Chidushei HaRim, and a difficult passage from Shakh. Well, I was an expert in these texts. So, I came out very well. The only thing left to do was to write out the engagement contract, in an auspicious moment.
Comical and Serious Episodes Relating to My Engagement Contract
The day set for writing my engagement contract was the eve of a new month. So my father-in-law postponed the actual signing to the next day, the first day of the new month, which was considered auspicious. My parents agreed, and spent the free day preparing a poor meal (the term for a meal
specially made for the poor). They gathered a few impoverished men and provided them with a fine spread in our home. After the meal, my mother (may she rest in peace) gave each of them a paper packet of nuts, raisins, and almonds, and asked them to each make a wish that they would live long enough to scatter sweets over the wedding couple on their wedding day. After each blessing, my mother called out loudly, Amen!
My father-in-law was set on going to the ritual bath before writing out the contract… As he knew that the Kurow ritual bath was heated only once a week (even during winter), he called for the bath-house attendant, and instructed him to heat the bath an extra day. But he demanded that he be the first to enter the bath. As he came out, he gave the attendant a ten-ruble piece. The bath-house attendant was confused at the sight of such a coin, and remained standing, ruminating. My father-in-law said, jokingly, Attendant, what are you thinking about? Not enough? Here's a fiver, too.
Kurow was soon in an uproar over the incident of the bath-attendant's sudden riches… The whole town soon rushed to the hot ritual bath. My father-in-law joked, Aba, my in-law, only now do I realize what an important person you are in your town: the whole town is going to the ritual bath because of your son's engagement…
The next day, the first day of the new month, my parents prepared everything for the ceremony. Our house slowly filled with guests. My father, my father-in-law with the expert examiner, as well as the local rabbi, and the rabbi of Markuszów, a special guest invited by my father, headed the table. Almost all the important people of Kurow were there. My mother and her guests were in a separate room. They began writing the engagement contract.
My mother was a cheerful person; and now, when her child's engagement contract was being written, she was in an especially good mood. She felt like playing a practical joke, before the plate was broken. She called me in to her, in the women's room, and asked, How long until the wedding? Seven years, I said. Why such a long time? That's not good. What can I do? I asked innocently. What do you mean, ‘what can I do?’ she said. Go in there and tell your father-in-law that you don't agree to such a postponement.
I rushed back to the men, and said loudly, Father-in-law! I don't agree to such a long postponement of the wedding…
The crowd rolled with laughter. My parents, as well as my father-in-law, were pleased at my retort.
How Old-Time Scholarly In-Laws Said Their Farewells
The day after the engagement contract was written, my father-in-law and the examination expert prepared to leave. It was understood that they would set out at night, after having a home-cooked family meal, a sort of farewell dinner. My mother probably made sure that it would be a fine feast, for parting with my father-in-law. They had some brandy, and my mother served each person with a dish of esrog jam. My father-in-law paid my mother a great compliment, saying that she had understod how special a treat of esrog jam was. He also said that his rabbi (may his memory preserve us) considered esrog jam the only treat suitable for a feast celebrating a mitzvah, as the esrog had been blessed during Sukkes, and that it was extremely significant. My mother was delighted at this compliment, but soon had regrets at her choice of a treat. This is what happened:
While he was eating the esrog jam, my father-in-law remembered that there was a very difficult passage in Maimonides' discussion of rules concerning the esrog and lulav. He immediately began talking about this difficult passage, to which my father replied that Maimonides wasn't perplexing at all. My father snatched the volume out of the bookcase, and a great fight broke out between my father and my father-in-law. They almost came to blows… My poor mother, in the next room (at the time, women did not sit in the same room as men) went greenish-yellow, worrying at the outcome of such a fight… But the cart-driver came in to remind everyone that it was time to leave to catch the train at Klementowice. They finished off the meal hastily, began saying their farewells, and expressed their hope to participate in the wedding soon (in other words, in seven years' time). Most importantly, my father-in-law said, at the last minute, that he would not remain silent… He would send letters to prove that he, not my father, was right. He and my father exchanged letters rich in pilpul, all on the same issue. All these letters are in my possession; I keep them as a historical document about the relationships between scholarly in-laws in those bygone days.
How I Spent My First Day of Being a Bridegroom
After my father-in-law parted from my parents, he came up to me, pinched my cheek, and said, Little bridegroom, be well, and for God's sake, continue to love studying. He gave me five rubles as a parting gift. I had no idea what to do with such a huge sum. Of course, I wanted to celebrate becoming a bridegroom by treating my friends, but did not know how. So I went to all the shops in
Kurow, and bought the only two items I knew anything about: carob pods, and chalk… I bought up the entire stock in every shop. Later, I gathered my friends and gave each some carob pods and some chalk. The latter was very useful, as we used it to play tic-tac-toe. I was busy all day, having fun. But my happiness was soon over. In the evening, I remembered that I had been so excited all day that I had forgotten to pray. Sobbing, I immediately confessed this to my father. He consoled me, saying that a bridegroom is forgiven all sins. He gave me an easy way to repent and told me to recite ten chapters of Psalms each day for an entire year…
I Receive the First Presents From My Father-in-Law, and Become a Perfect Jew
About four weeks later, I received my father-in-law's first presents. They consisted of a very expensive sable shtrayml, a silken sash, a Zhitomir Talmud,and various silver objects. Among the latter was a silver snuffbox, with a letter saying that he was sending it to me on his rabbi's advice: it was a talisman for a long life…
My joy was boundless, mainly because of the shtrayml, even more so than the Talmud set… In addition to the gifts from my father-in-law, I also received a gift from the bride: a red plush bag for matza, that she had embroidered with silver thread. She also wrote a letter to my mother. Not a single word to me, God forbid, or even about me… And, in truth, the bride's gifts and letter did not interest me in the least…
Now that I had a sable shtrayml, my parents decided that I should also have a satin kapote made. (It was actually my mother who demanded it. My father said that it wasn't necessary, and would be a waste of money… But my mother was adamant, and that was the end of it.) They sent for the devout tailor, Eli. He was renowned as a specialist in satin kapotes, and immediately took measurements. My parents specified that the kapote be padded, to keep me warm… Jews in Kurow generally wore satin kapotes on Shabbes, except for artisans and butchers. That was the festive garb of respectable Jews, or those who wanted to be thought respectable… All the satin kapotes were padded, to be appropriate in summer and winter… Incidentally, it was a very practical garment. A satin kapote was never considered too dilapidated to use. Even when it was badly torn and bits of padding protruded from all its sides, it was still a respectable Shabbes garment, according to the concepts of those days. After the tailor was regaled with cake and brandy, my mother asked him to wish to live to see our wedding very soon (in seven years' time). The devout tailor took on a God-fearing expression, and spoke his wish, to which my mother responded with a loud Amen.
I remember vividly that Shabbes, the happiest day of my life, when I went to the house of study with my father, wearing my new satin kapote, silken sash, and a very tall sable shtrayml…. And, of course, two long, curled peyes. No one could outdo me! When we came back from prayers, my mother looked me up and down, and said, Now, my child, you really are a perfect Jew…
I Turn Eight, and a Son-In-Law Becomes My Teacher
I must interrupt my autobiography here for a bit, for an important digression. Although I have criticized the curriculum studied in old-time Jewish towns, I meant only the system. As far as Judaism, decency, and Torah study in general are concerned, we need to bow to the traditional Jew, for whom Torah and study were so dear and important. When educating their children, they emphasized ethics rather than a career. The traditional wish for a new father was May you live to raise your child to achieve learning, marriage, and good deeds. (And, in fact, there were no child criminals in those days.) Amazingly, almost every man who made a living wanted a scholar as a son-in-law, and sustained the young couple for a few years, all for the sake of learning. There were always such sons-in-law who sat and studied in the Kurow house of study, while their in-laws beamed.
When I turned eight, my teacher, Mendl Partsiver (who was a true old-time honest man) came to my father, saying: Abeh, you should take your son out of my school, because he is much more advanced than all the other boys, and it's slowing his progress.
It so happened that at that time a young man arrived in Kurow
as the son-in-law of Yisro'el Yitzchok, the ritual slaughterer, to start his period of supported study. The young man was a real prodigy, with an incisive mind. So I left Mendl's cheder immediately and became the young man's student.
Devotion to Study, and the Diligence of Children Long Ago
Our sages showed us how to study, saying (in Tractate Avot): Such is the way of Torah: Bread with salt you shall eat […], and live a life of deprivation, and toil in Torah. Although as noted previously the bad study system, and the fact that it was not suited to all children, caused only a small number of young men to become true Torah scholars, there were a few whose attitude towards study was very serious. Living a life of deprivation, they emerged as great scholars. I remember only a few of them: Sholem, the rabbi's son, whose dedication was clear at a very young age; Itshe-Meir (son of Khayim Gedalia Leyb), who studied day and night; and another excellent one, whose name I can't remember but whose father was called Balkaleh the tailor: a small man who made clothing for both men and women… He was very poor, and his son had the honor of becoming very devout and a great scholar. A rich man from Puławy snatched him up as a son-in-law; everyone in Kurow envied Balkaleh and his fine son. It is impossible to imagine the father's pleasure it was certainly greater than the pleasure parents nowadays derive from their children who are lawyers and physicians. No doubt, there were other such fine guys in the house of study, whose names escape me.
I would now like to give a brief description of the process of studying with my teacher, the son-in-law of Yisro'el Yitzchok the slaughterer, in the house of study. His name was Kalmen, but everyone called him Kalmaleh. I would get up at 4 a.m. and go to wake my teacher by rapping at his shutters. He lived next to his father-in-law, opposite the cemetery. The mud in the street was very deep. In the winter, during the worst cold snaps, I would leave the house without even a spoonful of anything warm, grab my padded zhupitse, my Russian leather boots, which were always too large (my father was very particular about having boots large enough to insert enough chopped straw), light my paper lantern, and wade through the mud until I reached my teacher's shutters, and rapped on them until he yelled, Enough, I'm getting up.
One winter morning, when the cold was
horrendous, the mud was deep, and a cold, wet snow came down, I walked as usual at 4 a.m. to wake up my teacher. He lived down the slope from the synagogue, close to the slaughterhouse. As I passed the synagogue, I thought I saw a light in the window. I was steeped in stories about the dead of Kurow coming into the synagogue at night to pray… I became so frightened that I lost my footing, and fell face first into the deep, wet, snow-covered mud. The cold mud filled my boots, my throat, even my ears. In this state, I barely made it home alive, sobbing. When my parents saw me, they were appalled. I didn't look like a person, but like a blob of mud… Of course, they immediately removed my clothes and placed me in a warm bed. I had a bad cold, and developed a fever. I was seriously ill for two weeks. With God's help, I regained my health; but my father decreed that I would no longer go to pre-dawn lessons. To make sure, he locked the door every night and put the key next to his head as he slept. This lasted for several days, until I outsmarted him: I quietly slid the top and bottom bolts open, stole out before dawn, and went to wake my teacher. I was the victor, not my father…
My first class with the slaughterer's son-in-law began at 5 a.m., and ran straight through until 1 p.m. (all without having eaten). Then, I said my prayers, and went home to have lunch, as it were; there wasn't much to eat in those small towns. Immediately afterwards, I returned to the house of study and lay down on a bench, with a brick under my head. Following the afternoon and evening prayers, I ran home again, grabbed some warm food, and back to the house of study. I continued studying with the teacher until 11 p.m.
I Reach the Age of Ten, and my Father Becomes My Teacher
When I turned ten, my father took me aside for a serious conversation… that began as follows:
My child, now you are ten years old, thank God. In only three years from now (may we live to witness it), you will become Bar Mitzvah, and the burden of Jewishness will rest on you alone… It is only fair that I begin preparations in good time. I say this because you should know, my child, that this is the age when lust will start to bother you… You must be very wary against a sin, or even the thought of a sin… And, as the Bible says, ‘There is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins,’ and a Jew must think of penitence each night before he goes to bed… (My father actually created a special prayer for himself in the
style of the penitence prayers, which he said each night. This prayer is now in Jerusalem, at Rabbi Maimon's home, along with the manuscript of a religious book that my father wrote, and which Rabbi Maimon promised he would have published together with the special prayer by the Mossad HaRav Kook Publishing House.) Therefore, my father continued, from now on I myself will be your supervisor, of studies as well as of morals and ethics. Beginning today, I will teach you two sessions a day, one in the morning and one in the evening. But for company, find a decent young man, and I will teach you both.
I chose a friend with whom to study: Sholem, the rabbi's son (as he was known). He really was a very fine boy, with many good qualities: he was very quiet and unassuming, and at the same time cheerful (though he did not play pranks like other boys). Most importantly, he was serious and loved to study. My father immediately liked my choice; as time passed, his approval increased, and he would say, Little Sholem has a fine quality: he won't be short-changed on learning, and won't leave a passage until he understands it fully.
My father (may his memory be for a blessing) certainly did not believe in children studying for long hours at a stretch; it only weakens them, and is pointless. He used to say, Better only a little, but with intent. He taught us only three hours during the day, and three hours in the evening. The morning session was from 8 to 11, and the evening session from 6 to 9. One session focused on the Talmud with commentaries, and the other focused on the the Orakh Khayim section of the Shulchan Aruch. He said, A boy must know the laws of tzitzit¸tefillin, and reciting the Shema. Those are the most important things. He taught us in this way for several years.
We Start Repenting, and Try To Mortify Our Flesh…
I had actually become friends with Sholem, the Rabbi's son, a few years earlier, and occasionally even studied a bit with him. But once my father began teaching us, we became very close, and almost ignored the other boys, our former friends. We studied together, went for walks together, and mused together. On one of our walks, I discussed what my father had told me: that every day a Jew must repent, at least before going to bed… We really liked the idea, and decided on the spot that we would start doing that. So, even though we did not know what sins we had committed… we immediately realized that repenting was a good thing… but had no idea how to go about it… So, first of all, we began studying books of ethics and morals. We started off with the
two most popular books of morals at the time: Kav HaYashar and Shevet Mussar. We began to be devout. The first change concerned our prayers. Whereas previously we would finish praying quickly, we now devoted more time to our prayers. We no longer started off the morning prayers in the conventional way, with Ma Tovu and Adon Olam, but also recited such pre-prayer texts as Yehi Ratson from No'am Elimelech, and Patach Eliyahu from the Zohar… Our morning prayers now lasted longer. However, our evening recitation of the Shema in the evening took even longer. After the Shema, we recited Tikkun Leah and Tikkun Rachel. Later, we began reciting Bet Rachel and Sha'ar Hallel as well. The latter, with varying texts for each day, combined with the long recitation of the Shema, left us calm and ready for sleep…
At that time, both of us usually dedicated every free moment to reading various books of ethics and morals; when we discovered the number of fast days and mortifications of the flesh we needed to undergo in order to be saved from the sufferings of hell, we decided to start them.
The first mortification was fasting on Mondays and Thursdays; but we gave up right after the first fast… we were very hungry, and couldn't overcome temptation… Then we decided that we would at least immerse ourselves every day before prayers. So that our parents wouldn't find out, we immersed ourselves in the Klementowice stream. This continued for a long time, summer and winter. We dipped ourselves even on the coldest days, and never missed a single day.
I Become Bar Mitzvah (In an Auspicious Moment) and Receive the Second Gift from My Father-in-Law
The moment I began my thirteenth year, my father started to receive letters from my father-in-law, emphasizing that he needed to keep watch over me, as I, poor soul, was now responsible for my own sins… At the same time, he asked for the exact day of my Bar Mitzvah, as he wanted to give a meal for the poor of Opatów. My father told him that it would be eight days before Hanukah. My father-in-law now sent a letter directly to me: if I would send him a textual interpretation for Hanukah, he would send me a fine present. My father therefore began adding a lesson on Tractate Shabbat and the regulations of attending to faulty candles… Once we had gone over the arguments thoroughly, my father said: Now, my child, I want you to come up with an innovative commentary on this matter. I won't help you with it,
because that would be cheating your father-in-law… And you're prohibited from cheating, as you now deserve to be punished as an adult…
I got to work seriously. I worked out an innovative interpretation and showed it to my father. He said, It's very good for your age. I, however, would have done it differently… My commentary was sent to my father-in-law, and I immediately received a gift: a tall Hanukah menorah made of silver. For the first time, my bride wrote a letter to my mother, about me… She wanted her groom to be a scholar and required nothing more…
At that time, Bar Mitzvah feasts and parades were unknown in Kurow, but I was, after all, the son of a rich family. I bought some brandy, and some two-penny cookies from Khaye-Dinah the baker (this was quite lavish… treats usually consisted of penny cookies…) and handed them out to the guys in the house of study. In an auspicious hour, I started to lay tefillin.
From then on until my wedding, my father (may his memory be for a blessing) was my only teacher.
I am Married, In An Auspicious Hour, and Leave Kurow for Opatów
At age 16, I was married to a girl from Opatów (Radom governorate). My father-in-law, Rabbi Ya'akov Vizenfeld (may his memory be for a blessing) was then at his zenith: he was very wealthy and influential, and a renowned scholar. It was really wealth and scholarship in one place. He owned a large wholesale dry-goods warehouse, and another one with fabric. My wedding was very expensive, with hundreds of guests.The klezmer band played throughout the seven days of the festivities, and the final Sheva Brokhes was attended by the righteous rabbi of Ostrowce, Yekhiel-Meir (may his righteous memory be for a blessing).
|Rabbi Ya'akov Vizenfeld of Opatów (father-in-law of Rabbi Rapoport), a great businessman and man of influence, later Rabbi of Zaklików|
My Father-in-Law Becomes My Teacher
A few weeks after my wedding, my father-in-law (may his righteous memory be for a blessing) had a serious talk with me, saying: My child, until now, you were under your father's supervision, and he was your teacher. Now that you are, thank God, living in my house, I must take you under my wing. I will have one lesson with you every day, and you will then study on your own in the house of study.
And so it was. We started each day with a concentrated lesson of Talmud with commentators, as well as the early and later Poskim. Our lessons continued on for a number of years (my father-in-law, may his memory be for a blessing, had an enormous library in his home, numbering thousands of books, beginnning with rabbinic literature, hundreds of Responsa, and a large number of Talmud commentaries, as well as books of ethics, science, and philosophy; thanks to that we were able to study at home without needing any books from the house of study).
I Start Studying in Rabbi Meir's House of Study
Every day, after ending the lesson with my father-in-law (8 a.m. until 12) and eating the midday meal, I went off to study in Rabbi Meir's house of study, where mostly unmarried men and young folks would study with great dedication… In keeping with the customs of the time, I spent several nights a week studying there until morning. At first I studied on my own; later, I met a young man who asked me to teach him.
As soon as I began studying with my young student, I was amazed to discover that he had a sharp mind and wisdom. He was my star student almost for the entire time that I studied in Rabbi Meir's house of study. He became a great scholar (later becoming the rabbi of Leczno, in the Lublin province) and wrote a Halachic book titled Emek Avraham. I had the pleasure of my student sending me, as his former teacher, a copy of his book.
I Begin Thinking About a Livelihood, and Decide to Become a Rabbi
After regularly studying with my student for seven years, I began thinking about making a living. I understood that I couldn't go on being supported by my father-in-law forever. Though I was the only son-in-law in the family (my wife was the only daughter), I knew that when the time came for me to make a living, a flourishing and well-established business was ready. But I had no desire to become a merchant it would lead to neglect of religious study and felt an internal
urge to continue my studies. I therefore decided on the rabbinate as my career, and concentrated on rabbinical law. In order to gain practical experience, I sat alongside the rabbi of Opatów every Wednesday and Thursday. Each question that came up was handled by consulting the Talmud, Shulchan Arukh, and the later Poskim. After I had been doing this for some years, I was ordained by Rabbi Tzvi Aryeh (may his memory be for a blessing), the rabbi of Opatów, and by the rabbi of Ostrowce, the great and righteous Rabbi Yekhiel Me'ir (may his righteous memory be for a blessing). I then began thinking about a rabbinical position. In the meantime, I continued to be supported by my father-in-law.
My Father-In-Law Liquidates His Business, Switches to the Rabbinate, and I am Left Without Support
It is rare that wealth and scholarship reside in the same place, and are able to survive for long. That is what happened to my father-in-law. As he was mainly preoccupied with religious study and Hasidism, he did not supervise his business as properly as the business required but relied only on his appointees, managers whom he trusted completely. But gradually the business was weakening and going downhill. A special bookkeeper was installed as the primary overseer of the books. It became clear that regular, systematic thefts of merchandise and money were occurring through false bookkeeping. My father-in-law (may his memory be for a blessing) was a very honest person, and did not even think of suing his managers. He immediately decided to liquidate the business. As soon as it became known that Ya'akov Vizenfeld was no longer a businessman, various rabbinical posts were offered to him. At first he refused, not wanting to be a rabbi; but finally, based on the advice of his own rabbi, he took the position of rabbi in the town of
|Rabbi Ya'akov Vizenfeld in old age|
Zaklików, Lublin province. By then, I had two young children; naturally, a rabbi's position in a small Polish town could not sustain two families. I began to seek a rabbinical position for myself.
I Suddenly Become A Merchant, of All Things
When I had only begun to think about finding a rabbinic post, I accidentally became acquainted with the representative of a company in Berlin, which was interested in purchasing various forest products of Poland. He proposed that I become the agent of his company. This involved locating and buying the products and delivering them in Berlin. He promised me a percentage of the profits from the products, varying according to quantity and quality. I promptly agreed to become the agent. Immediately after receiving instructions from the company concerning handling and delivering the products,
|Rabbi Rapoport as a rich businessman|
as well as volumes that illustrated the various species in their habitats. I dedicated all my youthful enthusiasm to this business, travelling to remote forests and areas, seeking and buying all the relevant species from the peasants (who were experienced foresters), and transporting them to Berlin. The business went well, thank God. Somewhat later, I began setting up sub-agents in the product locations. These agents were based near railroad stations, from which they shipped the merchandise to Berlin in my name. The business developed very nicely, and I became rather wealthy. I did not regret not having become a rabbi…
I Settle in Lublin, World War One Breaks Out Immediately, and I Lose My Livelihood
Now that my business was well-developed,
I needed to travel almost every week to visit my supply sites, I decided to make my permanent center in a larger city that was serviced by a network of railroads, and settled on Lublin. However, before I had begun to arrange my new location, the first war broke out. The bitter year of 1914 arrived. On that historically tragic day, the ninth of Av, 5764, the streets of Lublin were festooned with posters: War, Mobilization. Germany was closed off. All my far-flung merchandise worth thousands, packed and ready to be shipped stayed where it was. In addition, all the money I was owed in Germany was lost. I lost not only my livelihood but also my entire fortune. Naturally, I was in great despair, and consoled myself with the thought theen common: a war so violent could not last long (in every war, people have this thought…). A year went by, then another, and the war intensified. A livelihood was vital. So, having no choice, I decided to become a shopkeeper. However, as my entire personality was far removed from shopkeeping, I was unsuccessful. My shop went the same way as Bialik's coal supply business… The situation was dire.
I Organize a Committee For Publishing a Local Lublin Newspaper
At first, the organizing committee consisted of myself and my dear friend, the scholar and writer Shloyme-Borekh Nissenboym (may his memory be for a blessing), author of Notes on the History of the Jews of Lublin. We often spent long hours pondering whether Lublin could indeed support its own daily newspaper. After we had decided that this was a possibility, and that Lublin with its large Jewish population really deserved to have its own press, we began thinking about the financial means required. We were both very poor, and we began to count the wealthy men of Lublin. We came up with quite a few rich men, who had mostly made their fortunes during the war, but doubted whether they would be ready to invest money in such impractical projects… Thinking about finances, we were very pessimistic at first, but never stopped thinking about and assessing the newly rich men. I must say that both of us had personal interests. We thought that we should certainly
be among the writers in such a newspaper.
We approached Zionist organizations, as well as the Mizrachi organization, but our attempts were like voices crying in the desert… Eventually, after many transmutations and an endless number of meetings, we finally succeeded in interesting several men of wealth in the project. These followed quite different political directions.
The committee of donors consisted of only a few people: the two Katzenelenboygen brothers, who owned a cigarette-paper factory (they were Folkists and followers of Pryłucki), a young man named Gradel (I don't remember whether he was a Folkist or a Bundist), my brother-in-law (the only brother of my wife, may she rest in peace) who was a fervent Zionist. I think there were also some young typesetters, who were Folkists as well. They brought in the well-known writer S. I. Stupnicki (a dedicated Folkist) as the editor; the first paid worker was the Kurow native, Yankl Nissenboym (a sworn Bundist), who turned out to be a very successful journalist. After a long series of preparations and preliminaries, the newspaper finally began to appear under the heading Lubliner Togblat. Naturally, the newspaper was far from Zionist… But they nonetheless supported me. I was the only person to write anything with a Zionist tone; I also wrote almost all the special holiday articles and feuilletons (without pay, of course). Due to differences of opinion and political disagreements, the newspaper was auctioned off, and sold to the typesetters.
|Rabbi T. G. Rapoport when he was a founder and worker in the Lublin Togblat, as a representative to the Ministry|
A Strange Episode of Those War Years
When mobilization began in Lublin, the local magistrate received an
order from the ministry in Warsaw, not to call up grammar school students temporarily. The Lublin magistrate interpreted this to mean students of the government grammar schools only and not the students of the Jewish grammar schools. (There were Jewish grammar schools in Lublin, which were attended exclusively by Jews.) There was quite a commotion in the city; it was decided to send a delegation to the Ministry, because people were sure that the local magistrate's interpretation was due to simple anti-Semitism… Only two people were selected as delegates, I and a certain Sheftel, a very intelligent person. Incidentally, we both were keenly interested in this matter: both of our sons were students of the Jewish Gymnaziya (my son Shabtai, may he rest in peace).
|Shabtai HaCohen Rapoport, son of Rabbi Tuviya Gutman. He was a renowned pedagogue, writer, beloved community activist, who died in Canada at the young age of 52. His friends inscribed his headstone as follows: He reflected the brightness of his generation.|
In order to ensure the success of our mission, we decided to approach the only observant member of the Agudas Yisro'el delegation to the Sejm, Mr. Perlmuter, who was highly esteemed by the government. We therefore decided to take along a letter from the rabbi of Lublin at the time, Rabbi Kliatskin (may his memory be for a blessing). I immediately went to the rabbi, with whom I had very friendly relations, and told him, upset as I was, about what was happening. I was so surprised when Rabbi Kliatskin asked,Tell me, are these young Gymnaziya students religiously observant and devout?…
For some reason, I am reluctant to write about this. I was completely astonished at such a question in a time of great danger, coming from a Jew such as Rabbi Kliatskin (may his memory be for a blessing). To this day, I am convinced that he said this solely out of
fear of the Agudas Yisro'el party in Lublin, which considered it a sin to send a child to the Gymnaziya. He was timid-natured, especially concerning his party. I immediately realized that arguments would be useless, and said, Rabbi Kliatskin, I assure you that all the young people are honest and true to the Torah and its commandments. I can give you my son as an example: he never forgets to prepare the water for his ritual morning wash before going to bed…
If you say so, Mr. Gutman, he said, with a satisfied smile. Please sit down, and I will write you a letter immediately.
I did receive the letter. As it happened, we did not meet Rabbi Perlmutter (may his memory be for a blessing) in Warsaw; we went to the Minister, and were successful. We received a letter from the Ministry to the Lublin magistrate, and the edict concerning the Jewish students was promptly rescinded. (Although this episode is not directly connected with my biography, I think it is worth noting, as it reflects specific notions of that time.)
I Become the Director of Keren HaYesod for the City and Region of Lublin
As soon as the Keren HaYesod campaign was announced, and Lublin started to prepare to collect funds for the organization, I was elected the local director for the city and the region. The first campaign in Lublin proper was inaugurated by the Secretary General of Keren HaYesod, Leyb Yaffe (may his memory be for a blessing) who came from Jerusalem for the occasion. He was based in the center of the city, and held his speeches in the Maharshal synagogue, which could accommodate 6,000 people, as well as at other locations. Naturally, Yaffe had his own committee to help in his work. My activity was around the center, Czechiw (Wieniawa), Zamoyski, Bichowski sands. I had my own committee for those areas. Both of our campaigns concluded very successfully.
After the end of the first Keren HaYesod campaign in Lublin, and following Leyb Yaffe's fond farewell to Lublin, marked by a lavish banquet arranged by the Zionists and Mizrachi members, he left Lublin to continue on his itinerary. I remained the local director of the Lublin region. I visited all the cities and towns in the vicinity of Lublin. As I was a fervent Zionist, I devoted all my youthful energy and enthusiasm to this work, and enjoyed great success. My work received very good notices in the Hebrew newspaper HaYom (September 14, 1925), in Haynt
|Rabbi Rapoport as the director of Keren HaYesod in Lublin and the vicinity|
(November 17, 1925), and in the Lublin newspaper Togblat. This was my occupation for a number of years. Although Keren HaYesod did not provide its directors with lavish salaries, I made a good living. Most importantly, the work provided me with great spiritual happiness; I regarded it as a sacred mission.
At that time, the slogan Stay with your own kind was becoming widespread in Poland. The anti-Semite Grabski and his Ministry of Finance had a single aim: destroying the Jewish merchants. They were taxed with sums that exceeded their entire income. All Jewish commerce was declining. There was a deluge of defaulted promissory notes and bankruptcies. As the donations to Keren HaYesod in Poland were also in the form of promissory notes, they were obviously not paid (we did not let promissory notes for Keren HaYesod go into default). It was very difficult,
Rabbi Rapoport (sitting fourth from right) as director of Keren HaYesod,
with the local Keren HaYesod committee for Lublin and the vicinity.
almost impossible, to obtain money from the impoverished, unfortunate Jewish merchants. Only a few very wealthy people were still able to contribute; they endured, though with difficulty. However, it would certainly not be a general campaign. As a result, the Keren HaYesod leadership had to reduce its expenses and have fewer spokesmen. Considering this difficult situation, I immediately handed in my resignation, and once again remained without a livelihood.
I Decide That My Only Choice Is To Leave Poland
I had a young son in Canada (long may he live), who fled at the outbreak of World War I, and eventually settled in Toronto. He later brought his family over as well. I began to correspond with him about my plan to go to Canada, and he wholeheartedly agreed. However, before making a final decision, I wrote to the great Rabbi and scholar, the righteous Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook (may his memory be for a blessing), whom I knew very well from my work in Keren HaYesod. I asked for his approval of my plan to go to America. Naturally, I told him about my situation, saying that I saw no other solution, but I did not want to do this without his approval. I immediately received his response: he approved, and sent me heartfelt wishes for success in my new country. He also sent the following letter of recommendation:
An Accurate Copy of Rabbi Kook's Letter (may his memory be for a blessing)
Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook
Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel
Head of the Rabbinical Court in the Holy City of Jerusalem (may it soon be rebuilt, amen)
With God's help, the 14th day of Av, 5688.
In this letter, I wish to ask of all my acquaintances and those who are familiar with my name, to show honor and respect to the most deserving of men, the important rabbi, a man of high quality and traits who has done much for the good of his people: Rabbi Tuviya Gutman Rapoport HaCohen (may he live a long and happy life). Following his initial spiritual and material success, he has now been ruined by recent events, and must now travel far afield in order to seek a suitable livelihood. As people in a strange place especially one as honored and important as he have difficulties making their way among strangers, I am honored to be the speaker for this noble and trustworthy person, and address every Jewish person of high standing: treat him according to his fine qualities, and as befits his great family as well as his important works for the general good; and especially for the benefit of the Holy Land and its development. I sincerely hope that he will be satisfactory. It would be a very good deed to restore the standing of such a fine person, who is worthy of recognition by all those who possess Jewish feelings. His supporters will achieve happiness and all the best, selah.
Signed, with blessings from the sacred mountain of Jerusalem,
The insignificant Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook
A Yiddish Translation of Rabbi Kook's Letter (may his memory be for a blessing)
Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook
Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel
and Chief Rabbi of the Holy City
With this letter, I request all my acquaintances, and all those who know my name, to extend great respect and esteem to the excellent person and very important rabbi, Rabbi Tuviya Gutman HaCohen Rapoport (long may he live).
In addition to the fact that he is remarkable for his admirable features and qualities, he is also of illustrious descent.
Years ago, Rabbi Rapoport attained a high spiritual and material status, but the stormy events of recent times have ruined him economically. Now he must leave his previous homeland and travel far away, to find a way to make the kind of honorable living that befits such an important person. I am writing this letter in order to introduce Rabbi Rapoport, and I request all my acquaintances to treat him as he deserves thanks to his qualities and attributes, his important family, his great activity for the sake of the Jewish people, and mainly for his work to benefit our sacred land. All those who help him in this matter will have done a very good deed in providing an honorable position for a person who has earned the respect and appreciation of all honest Jews. All those who help in carrying out this mission will be greatly rewarded. Selah.
The insignificant Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook
I Begin Preparations for My Journey
Once I received the letter from Rabbi Kook consenting to my move to Canada, I wrote my son and asked him to start the process of obtaining a permit for me. After procedures that took several months, he sent me a permit together with a boat ticket. Both of these were only for me and not my family: first, they were extremely expensive and second, the immigration regulations of the time did not allow my son to bring his brothers and sisters, so that my wife and the other children remained in Poland. After parting from my wife and children, and shedding some tears… I left Poland and arrived in Canada on September 4, 1928.
My First Days in Toronto, and Meeting with Townspeople of Opatów
During my first days in Toronto, I felt uncomfortable and lost, as I had no family or acquaintances in the city
besides my son. However, only one week later, two Jews came up to me and greeted me warmly by name, saying, Sholem Aleykhem, Rabbi Gutman. They introduced themselves as natives of Opatów. They knew that I was the son-in-law of the scholarly and formerly wealthy resident of that town, and later the rabbi of Zaklików. They remembered me sitting in Meirl's house of study and teaching students. They said they had been sent to invite me to their synagogue, to meet the Jews of Opatów whom I had known long ago, and where I had spent my best years enjoying studying and teaching. They asked me to come with them now, because the Opatów natives were waiting. How surprised I was, when I entered the synagogue, to see a very large crowd sitting at tables covered with a wonderful spread. Everyone greeted me happily, and crowded up to greet me, as if I were excuse the comparison a Hasidic leader…
Before I knew it, I was sitting at the head of the table… They started filling small glasses of liquor, and the gathering became quite tipsy… I pretended to smile, but was secretly sad, knowing that I had left my wife and children at home with no means of subsistence. I thought, Where will my help come from? The assembly immediately noticed this, and they shouted as one: Don't worry, Rabbi Gutman! You'll be olrite. You'll make a living!
I had no idea what olrite and make a living meant… After the magnificent feast, I was accompanied home, with good wishes; and once again reassured, You'll be olrite, we'll try.… I didn't know what try meant, either; but I supposed that it wasn't a bad thing. Two weeks passed, and I hadn't seen anyone. My pockets were empty, but my brain was full of thoughts. I was constantly tormented by thoughts of my wife and children. I thought to myself, What kind of people are the American Jews? I don't need their pomp. All I need is a livelihood. I immediately thought of the verse from Ecclesiastes, What does pleasure accomplish? (Ecclesiastes 2,2); or, as the Aramaic translation puts it, Laughter at a time of pain is mockery. But what can I do? All the Opatów natives had disappeared.
The weeks go by, and I am still pondering the meaning of the words make a living…
The Jews of Opatów Coerce Me… and Make Me a Rabbi Against My Will
After some time, two Opatów Jews come to see me, not the same ones as before, greet me in a friendly way, and say,Do you know, Rabbi Gutman, why we've come?
We have a request of you. We'd like you to come with us to our Opatów synagogue. Forgive us, but please come with us now. We have a special meeting concerning you, and we need you to be there in person.
Naturally, I went at once. This time, there was only a small group of people in the synagogue. They explained that were the delegation of the entire community and were authorized to make decisions on its behalf. After the usual greetings, they began a serious conversation, as follows.
Rabbi Gutman, we'd like you to know that we've all been thinking constantly about the best way for you to make a living. We've come to the conclusion that you should be our rabbi. We know that you're ordained, and we're asking you whether you'd be willing to be a rabbi here.
I answered, I don't know what the rabbinate means here; I'm still new, but if you think I can make a living at it, I consent. I certainly have no desire to do so; I stopped being a rabbi when I was young, and have been a merchant for a long timebut to become a rabbi now, in my old age?
But they immediately had a counter-argument: Your father-in-law, Rabbi Ya'akov, also became a rabbi after a lifetime of being a merchant.
In short, I had no choice, and I agreed. I'll be a rabbi, as long as I can make a living. Then and there, a contract for a lifelong appointment was written, and we all had a drink (which had been previously prepared) to celebrate. There was a feeling of merriment. As for me, I looked at the whole thing feeling somewhat strange. I had come as a simple Jew…and here I am, a rabbi… But I must say that I was secretly pleased. True, I remembered that my father-in-law had wept when he was appointed rabbi, at becoming a rabbi late in his life. But I consoled myself with the fact that my father-in-law came from a family of merchants, whereas I felt a throb in my heart: my roots were stirring… All my ancestors, as well as their ancestors, had been rabbis. I thought that this might be divinely ordained; as our sages said, The Torah seeks its home. When the Opatów men told me their secret they had sent my wife a check for $100 I was quite happy and optimistic. I felt more certain that I would make a good living; and, most importantly, send for my family. At times, I would pace my room in thought, but in general I felt very confident.
I Start Learning About the Situation of Rabbis in Toronto
I slowly began to go out and visit long-established rabbis and learn about the situation of rabbis and how they made a living. The information that
|Rabbi Rapoport as rabbi of the local Opatów community|
I received put me in a bad mood once again. I found out that there were two sorts of rabbis on the American continent: those with beards, and those without beards… I could not grasp how it was possible to have beardless rabbis. I knew that in our town only the local medical practitioner was shaven, whereas here it was rabbis?… An old rabbi (a familiar-looking rabbi with a beard and peyes) told me:
Rabbi Gutman, as you are so surprised, I will tell you one more thing: you should know that beardless rabbis here receive very large salaries, ten thousand dollars a year or even fifteen thousand, and more (these enormous sums made me dizzy…) They give speeches in English in their synagogues, and are greatly respected… But almost all our rabbis slave away for a paltry salary. They receive no salary from their own synagogues, but must seek out additional income… such as supervising the kosher standards at the butcher's, giving rabbinical approval for kosher standards during Passover, officiating at an occasional wedding, and similar income such as, for example, giving eulogies… I gradually gleaned information about the situation of old-time rabbis with beards and peyes… I realized that it was the truth. I knew that I was not at all suited to such ways of making money. Meanwhile, I found out that chicken-slaughterers made good money, more than the rabbis. I also discovered that there were rabbis who were slaughterers as well, and most of their livelihood came from this occupation (in addition to rabbinic ordination, I also had a chicken-slaughtering certificate issued by the rabbi of Sokołów, Rabbi Y. Z. Morgenshtern, may his memory be for a blessing). I gathered my Opatów Jews and announced that I had decided to become a chicken-slaughterer. At first, they did not agree, and promised me a certain salary; but I told them that I wouldn't be able to bring over my family on this salary I needed boat tickets, an apartment, furniture,
|Rabbi Rapoport's wife upon arriving in Canada|
housewares, etc. After a long, amicable conversation, they finally agreed. At that point, I said, I'm not saying, God forbid, that I decline the position of rabbi; but my main livelihood must come from an additional source.
Immediately afterwards, they rented a fine slaughterhouse for me, and truly supported me. Everyone came to me to slaughter their chickens, and often paid higher prices than usual. Thank God, it was very successful. I hired When I saw that I was able to pay for boat tickets, I immediately sent them. (Naturally, I had bank credit.) On October 10, 1929, I had my family with me, in an auspicious, lucky hour. I immediately settled them in an apartment, and felt that I was a resident of Toronto. The Opatów Jews were truly delighted when my wife arrived. It was no small thing to welcome the only daughter of Ya'akov Vizenfeld, the rabbi of Zaklików. They promptly held a banquet, gave speeches, and presented various gifts and housewares. They also declared me once again in my wife's presence their rabbi and spiritual leader for life.
The Beginning of My Spiritual Struggles
As long as I was on my own, I had no patience for anything. All my thoughts and actions were dedicated to one purpose only: to gain economic security and bring my family. But soon
after my wife and children arrived, with God's help, settled in a home, purchased the necessary furniture and housewares, and became properly set up; and finally, with God's help, there was a proper housewife in my home, I began thinking about the true, and main purpose of human life.
From the innermost depths of my heart, I began hearing the quiet, but very powerful, cry of our great prophet, the prophet of destruction and rebuilding, who ended his Lamentations with the fiery wordsRenew our days, as of old. I recalled my youth, my best, blossoming years, which were exclusively dedicated to Torah and Jewish studies. It is only the private destruction-Lamentations of each person, the constant Lamentations of cruel life, rushing, and seeking a livelihood, that cause most people to renounce spiritual life in favor of transitory pleasure. These were the reasons why I myself underwent a long period without spiritual study. It was the extreme change in my life, the change of place and the change of profession, that impelled me to take stock. The life-flow of my ancestors began to course through me ever more strongly.
I decided that it was time to spend most of my time studying, and that my livelihood should take second place. I reached the conclusion that I needed to spend the rest of my days following in the paths of my forebears. My grandfather, David HaCohen (may his memory be for a blessing), the rabbi of Ostrowce, bequeathed his children sacred books and manuscripts that he had composed. My father (may his memory be for a blessing) composed ten sacred books in his lifetime, which were divided among my brothers and sisters. My unclemy father's brother Rabbi Tuviya Gutman (may his memory be for a blessing), the rabbi of Kielce, bequeathed his children his Responsa, titled Birkat Cohen (published after his death by his son, Aba HaCohen, who inherited his father's position as rabbi of Kielce. He honored his father by publishing the manuscript in Piotrkow in 1907; he was one of the murdered Polish martyrs (may his soul be bound up in the bundle of life). Thinking of all this, I felt that I was bound to carry out the injunction of our sages, We continue the customs of our ancestors. I needed to pass on to my children, and to future generations, a spiritual inheritance. However, I did not know how to do this, as I was constantly occupied with my business.
A Revolution in My Way of Life a Spiritual Monument to My Wife (May She Rest In Peace)
After a serious conversation with my righteous wife (may she rest in peace), in which I revealed my thoughts and feelings, and concerns about not living a spiritual life, she said,
Listen, my husband. As I see it, you make most of your livelihood on Wednesdays and Thursdays. True, a bit of money arrives on the other days of the week, which we really need. We are still newcomers in a strange land. We need our own space, and other necessities. We will have to take care of the children's weddings. But for now, the only things we need to worry about are food and clothing. As to the rest, we trust to God. She continued, I advise you to devote only Wednesday and Thursday to work. Close your slaughterhouse on the other days, and you'll have time to devote yourself to study, as your heart desires. That is what happened. As in the good old days, I dedicated myself, heart and soul, to studying Torah and Jewish literature.
Summary and Contents of the Books I Have Composed With God's Help (Still in Manuscript Form)
|Khaya-Sarah Rapoport (may her memory be for a blessing), wife of Rabbi Rapoport, who died in 1949, aged 75|
Shortly after my wife's death, I emigrated to Israel and my children, but with no specific plan, except for consulting with my children about the possibilities. For various reasons, mainly because of the need to liquidate all my economic affairs in Toronto, I left Israel, intending to return. If God grants me life, I hope to immigrate to Israel in the near future, and publish my last books there.
Rabbi Tuviya HaCohen Rapoport
Bella Rapoport-Miodovnik, daughter of Rabbi Rapoport,
was an announcer on Kol Zion LaGolah
The Editor: Below are the reactions of great scholars to the works of Rabbi Rapoport:
The Hebrew University
Jerusalem, between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, 1950
The esteemed rabbi of priestly lineage, Tuviya HaCohen Rapoport, had the admirable plan of collecting all the sayings of the Sages concerning the Land of Israel in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, the Tosefta, and Midrash, and publishing them in a book.
If this work is carried out properly and suitably, it would be a blessing.
The rabbi, author of this book, is worthy of help to enable him to complete the work and to publish it. The major rabbis of the Land of Israel have recommended it, and I concur in the opinions of those greater than I.
Yitzchak Ayzik HaLevy Herzog
Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel
The Sacred City of Jerusalem (may it soon be rebuilt)
June 4, 1950
This book, The Encyclopedia of the Land of Israel, by the great rabbi who is perfect in every way and of great lineage, Rabbi Tuviya HaCohen Rapoport (may he live a long and good life) has been read by important scholars (see the recommendation letter by the righteous man who contributes to the world's foundation, my close friend Rabbi Ya'akov Moshe Charlap, may he live a long and good life). I join them in saying that it has the virtue of awakening hearts to love the Land of Zion and its sacred places.
I sincerely hope that our generous brothers, God keep them and guard them, will extend their generous help to the dear writer so that he can distribute this work throughout Israel. May God bless them with many good wishes.
Yitzchak Ayzik HaLevy Herzog
Chief Rabbi of Israel
|Meir Rapoport, Zionist activist, man of letters, the brother of Rabbi T. G. Rapoport|
Ya'akov Moshe Charlap
The Sacred City of Jerusalem (may it be rebuilt soon)
With God's help, Jerusalem, May 24, 1950
I encountered a man who carries out his sacred work speedily: my friend the great Rabbi, of distinguished lineage, Rabbi Tuviya HaCohen Rapoport (may he live a long and good life), who aspires to gather and collect everything in the writings of the Sages, the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, Tosefta, Sifra, Sifrei, Mekhilta, Queries to the Zohar, and many passages in Midrash about the Land of Israel. God's will has guided his hand, and he has amassed thousands of phrases, which will serve to increase our nation's love for the Land of Israel and atone for the sin of disliking the land, as the verse states, They despised the pleasant land. May they repent out of love, to reverse malice into merit, and may God be inspired by this to send us the righteous Messiah in our time, and complete what we are now witnessing: the beginning of the redemption.
Anyone wishing to compose works about the Land of Israel will also find this book very useful, as it contains thousands of well-organized phrases. Many will thank him and praise him for his great work in compiling this book. He also added several comments that will be very helpful to those wishing to gain knowledge on these matters as part of their professional work.
The beloved people of Israel will bring this book into their homes, and will appreciate their privilege in sharing the love for the Land of Israel. Our redemption and salvation depends only upon realizing the importance of the Land of Israel and striving to restore its children to it as soon as possible.
I therefore address my brethren with all my heart: hear me, and God will hear you. Acquire this book, for full price, and God will do good unto his nation of Israel, and will spread compassion across the entire world. I will redeem you at the last as at the beginning, I am the Lord your God.
Written and signed, with the blessing of God from Jerusalem
Ya'akov Moshe Charlap
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