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[Pages 89-93]

Center of Learning


Rabbis and Religious Teachers

by A. Lando

Translated from Yiddish by Rabbi David Haymovitz

Lida was one of the small towns in Lithuania in which there lived famous rabbis of great knowledge of Torah. Rabbi Eliyahu Shik (“Reb Alinkah”), writes in the introduction to his book “Ein Eliyahu” (“The Eye of Eliyahu”) (a commentary on the book “Ein Yaakov”): “And after that events turned out that I was accepted as rabbi in the holy community of Lida which is the famous community and the city filled with rabbis, scribes, and observant”. And it seems, that this was not only a rabbinical figure of speech. As we shall see further we find evidence for that from the seventeenth century and the idea seems to be true that also in the beginning of the sixteenth century great personalities and scholars of Torah lived in Lida.


Reb Moshe The Exile (1449-1520)

The place of his birth is not clear: Shadov that is in Gamot, Tarov that is in the region of Kiev. He was a great scholar of Torah, a commentator of the Bible, a linguist and a cabalist. He was a mathematician and an astronomer of the cosmos. He wandered in his youth to a place of high learning of Torah – Constantinople. Among his educators and guides in general science studies was also the great Karaite scholar Avraham Bashitzi. When he was in Kiev in 1482 the Tatars attacked the city and his sons were taken hostage into the Crimea. He went to the towns of Lithuania to collect money for the redemption of hostages-his children. He stirred up a sharp controversy against the Karaites. He returned to Kiev and in the year 1495, when King Alexander drove the Lithuanian Jews out of the country, he went together with them, and it seems that here is the source of his name “The Exile.” After the Lithuanian Jews were permitted to come back, we find him in Lida in the year 1506, there he was captured and taken hostage (this time he himself) by the Tatars that attacked the city and he was taken to Crimea. He was freed by ransom paid by the Jews of Crimea, and became the head of the community of Kafa (Theodosia), where he was treated with great respect and honor, and there he died. About the time of his presence in Lida, we learn from a report from the great Karaite scholar Abraham Pirkovitz in his own handwriting in his manuscript “A Charming Treasure”, and this is what it says (word for word): “I am the man who saw the trouble when I was fifty-seven years old in the time of our Lord of the Duke Alexander in the year 1506 when the Tatars invaded the city led by Mohammed the son of their king, they came with a huge army to fight for the city of Lida, I was a native of the city of Shadov, I came there to do my holy work and I was also captured by them on the seventeenth of Tamuz in the house of God. I was deprived and taken away from all my dear ones and anything that belonged to me including my manuscript and they exiled me along with the other exiles of the city to Crimea the Kingdom of the Tatars. And we were ransomed by our brothers the rabbinical Jews and the Karaites (may God save them and give them life) may God remember them for good Amen, and I was privileged to do my holy work and I found what my soul loved here books...”

Not even one of the scholars of history that mention this report do not suspect Pirkovitz that he made it up himself (as is well known this scholar was suspected in that time of a few forgeries that he discovered and publicized – “The Famous Pirkovitz Collection” is kept in the museum in Leningrad. There is doubt only as to the real spelling the city of his birth: can we believe in reading Pirkovitz- Shadov, or to assume there was a mistake and it should say Tarov? What we learn from this: in the 1506 Reb Moshe “The Exile” lived in Lida, and there was, as it seems clear, a Jewish community and also a synagogue (“the House of God”). He came to this community “to do his work the work of God”. He does not mean that “the work of God” is necessarily the rabbinate. It is possible it is about an educational role to teach the children of the community or something similar. Anyway, the presence of such a prominent personality as Reb Moshe “The Exile” in a public religious position should be mentioned.


Reb Dovid Lida Born in 1640

All the writers of the history of the great rabbis of the Jewish people dedicate a special place for this original personality, of an important lineage of high quality, very knowledgeable in Torah, an author of many religious books and also an author of mysticism. But it seems that his main publicity came by a disagreement that broke out between himself and some of the Askenazic leaders of the city of Amsterdam. Only for several years did Reb Dovid serve in Lida but its name attached to him for the rest of his life and was also to his son Reb Petachyah. Reb Dovid was born, as said before, in the year 1640 to his father Reb Ariyah Leib, the head of the religious court of the holy community of Zevlin, which is in Vilna. His mother was the sister of the very famous Reb Moshe Rivkes the author of “Beer HaGolah” from Vilna. In the year 1671 he wrote and published his book “Divrey David” and in the same year he was accepted as the rabbi in Lida. From there he moved to Austrog and in 1677 he was called with great honor to Magentza as the chief of the religious court. After three years in this city where he wrote and published a few books he was elected and appointed as the rabbi, chief of the religious court, and the head of the yeshiva of the Ashkenazic community in Amsterdam. There he continued with his activity in writing rabbinical literature. About one of his books “Beer Mayim Chaim” on the Shulchan Aruch one of the greatest rabbis Reb Aaron Teomim testified: “Wonderful counsel, and great wisdom, grinding mountains, etc.” Reb Dovid wanted to live in peace, but the great controversy befell him between himself and one of the very important leaders of the community, Reb Nissen, who was also a descendant of rabbis. The community leader accused Reb Dovid that the words of Torah which he published in his book “Migdal David” are stolen and copied from another author from Aram Tzova, Reb Chaim HaCohen, and Reb Dovid related it to his own (“he wrapped himself with a talis that wasn't his own”). As the controversy spread, many of the powerful members of the congregation joined Reb Nissen and helped to pour oil on the fire. Suspecting Reb Dovid of Shabtaiism: in a song that Reb Dovid composed in honor of a special occasion his opponents discovered the words “tishbi yigalenu” and immediately they interpreted the word “tishbi” as a hint to Shabtai (by changing the order of the letters). Reb Dovid defended himself that these two words did not come from him and they are a forgery added by the printer. The controversy spread and spread and came to the mayor of the city and there was a lot of ugliness and shame. After this controversy calmed down for a while it erupted again in the year 1683 and this time the controversy included excommunication and cherem (shunning). Reb Dovid did not refrain from action and turned to the Four Lands Committee, (rabbinic leadership of four countries that were organized together). The rabbis of the committee excommunicated and put under cherem all those who attacked Reb Dovid. All that in a period that the Jewry of Holland still remembered the taste of other cherems, which did not add respect to the community. The Sephardic rabbis of the city of Amsterdam did their best to avoid the desecration of God's name and to quiet down the controversy. On the one hand they expressed anger at the rabbis of the Four Lands Committee that used the cherem on just evil talking and on the other hand they openly criticized “those who put God's words to shame and touch harmfully the dear young rabbinical scholar and those who put the blemish on the wholesome person who is great in Torah and God-fearing eminence of Reb Dovid of Lida…in all his suffering we suffer and anyone who is hurting his honor is hurting our honor.” But not for a long time did the land quiet. And as the controversy erupted again in 1687, Reb Dovid decided to leave Holland and return to Poland. He settled in Lvov and there he died. The year of his death is not clear because the writing on his tombstone was scratched off: some read it as 1690 and some add to it five or even eight years. This is the history of Reb Dovid who was famed all over the Jewish world under the name “Lida”.

In the Jewish Encyclopedia in the Russian language (Yivreiskyah “Encyclopedia” Peterburg) under the article “Lida” it is said that also the son of Reb Dovid, Reb Petachyah, and also his grandson, Reb Dovid, served as rabbis in Lida. But there is no other source for that. Reb Petachyah served as rabbi in Lvov, Yasi, in the city of Lakatch, and then in Vlovdvi, and Slavitch in the neighborhood of Chelm. He died in Frankfurt Am Main, in Lida he did not even appear since his father left it.


Reb Elimelek Kaminetsky (Reb Meilachke)

We could not find any details of his birth. This endearing name, Reb Meilachke, we discovered only when we talked to elderly people of Lida who mentioned him as a tzadik. Through these discussions we also found out that his grave is located in the Lida cemetery. His family name and also the fact that he served as rabbi in Lida many years (it seems up to 1845 or somewhere around that) we found out by chance from a write up in a Lida newspaper “Halvanon” in the year 1875. In that writing we are told of the funeral of the rabbi (appointed by government) Reb Eliyahu Akiva Kaminetsky, the son of Reb Mielachke, and these are the words of the writer (signed Shmuel Tzvi Kaminetsky –it seems a member of the family) with very little changes without making any radical change in the meaning and even the initials as follows:

The festival of Purim 1875 – the fourteenth of the second Adar on that day all the children remember with rejoicing in their heart the memory of the past…our light was dimmed and our rejoicing stopped, because the president of our community died. The rabbi, the great light, of glorious merit and kindness, the crown of our family and the outstanding glorius living heir to old wisdom, a scion of great family name, our rabbi, our teacher, Rabbi Eliahu Akiva, may he rest in peace, the son of the gaon Elimelek Kaminetsky, may his memory be a blessing that served on the rabbinate of our city for many years.

In his youth he was a merchant. When the wheel turned against him and he was impoverished the leaders of our community decided to appoint him rabbi so that he could be a mouth and a go-between them them and the government and for about twenty years he was leader. He led them in justice and kindness. (But a few years ago he was removed from his position by the government because it was not permitted to appoint a rabbi who did not finish his studies in government schools.) He was wonderful in his teachings, in his Torah and the fear of the Lord. About twenty-five years he taught Mishnah in the Misnayosh Association. And even members of the Enlightment of our time gave respect and honor To his name. A few years ago when he was on a business trip in the capitol city of Peterburg and the government rabbi, Rabbi Neiman was in need, he left his rabbinate position to help him.

The great amount of endearment that the people of Lida felt for their rabbi, Rabbi Elimelek, we can see from the fact that even his descendants after him were given a high status of honor in the religious guidance of the city.

His son Rabbi Eliyahu Akiva served in the city, as we see in the write up above, some twenty years as a government rabbi. A position that necessitated a knowledge of the language of the country, and he successfully merited honor and endearment.

Among the religious judges of the city during the period of Rabbi Mordecai Meltzer, we find the grandson of Rabbi Elimelek, the son of his daughter, Reb Yaakov Kopstein, who left after him a book of interpretation of Torah by the name “Pri Yaakov”. Reb Mordecai, who generally refused to write introductions to books dedicated this time to the author a large introduction, a warm and kind one, and he called him the title “The Great Light”. Also others who remember his name in the write up from Lida in the periodical “Hamelitz” give him the title “Sharp and Knowledgeable”. Reb Yaakov also participated in community affairs and he himself sent articles to the Hebrew periodicals about life in Lida. Among the others, a description of the beginning of the Zionist Movement in Lida even before it was officially called that way.


Reb Eliyahu Schik (“Reb Alinkah”) (1809-1876)

Out of parts of stories that were preserved in Lida, person to person, fathers to children (let us not forget, Reb Alinkah left Lida in the year 1864, approximately), from a number of lines in introduction of a book that include, by the way, some personal details, etc., appears for us a lovable personality combining a very sensitive rabbi of great qualities, great knowledge of Torah and humility all combined, good and benevolent.

In his introduction to his commentary on the book “Ein Yaakov” (Vilna 1929, out of the printing house of Reb Schmuel Yoseph Fine and Rabbi Tzvi Rosenkrantz), he laid out his own genealogy:

From me the young man Eliyahu Schik the head of beit din in Zager Chadash at present, and before that I was head of beit din in Derechin and in Lida, the son of the holy man, our rabbi and teacher, Benyamin Schik, of blessed memory and the son of the gaon, the tzadik, our rabbi and teacher Ariyeh Yehudah Leib, of blessed memory, the head of beit din in Vashilishak, the son of the gaon, the tzadik, our rabbi and teacher Yom Tov Lipman Schik, of blessed memory, the head of beit din in the above-mentioned city and in Prozin, the son of the famous gaon, our rabbi and teacher Chanokh Henickh Schik, of blessed memory, the head of beit din of Schklov the grandson of the gaon and author of “Tosfet Yom Tov” and “Maadenei Yom Tov”, and from mother's side a grandson to the rabbi, the gaon, the tzadik, our rabbi and teacher, Moshe Aaron Gordon the head of the beit din of Vashilshak, the son-in-law of the rabbi, the gaon, the tzadik, our rabbi and teacher Elazar, the author of “Siach Hasadeh”, a grandson of our teacher, the gaon, the author of “The Hamaharsha”, etc.
He was born in the year 1809 and was orphaned from his father when he was a baby. Typical of his reverence to his step-father: “May God remember for a blessing my late step-father, the scholar and God fearing…who raised me until I was about twelve years old and treated me as a son and was to me a father.”

Some of the typical stories about Reb Alinkah:

The story of some Jew from Lida, who was out of work, so Reb Alinkah tried to find for him an living income. He collected a some of money and bought him a horse and wagon, so that he would have income as a carter. It easy to assume that this was not one of the strong horses. Once upon a time the man was carrying sand in his wagon near the house of the rabbi (in the synagogue court). Reb Alinkah, who was still wearing his talis and wrapped in his tefillan (it was very early in the morning), looked by chance through the window and saw this man raising his whip on the poor animal. Reb Alinkah knocked on the pain of the window and yelled out to the angry carter: “Why do you hit the horse?” The poor Jew defended himself: “Rabbi, he is acting wild.” (From the father of the writer of these lines.)

The “kidnappers” (of children to become soldiers in the tsar's army) came to town! A few dozen children, and as usual from the poor people, were kidnapped from the mothers' bosoms and were closed up in one of the buildings, from there, they were to be sent to army barracks in the great and wide Russia – their fate is known. Reb Alinkah got very excited, he grabbed an ax in his hand, assembled around him some workingmen, they all carried their tools and went together to the place where the children were locked up, broke the door and released them. (From a tradition of the Jews of Lida, also mentioned in the book “Sarai Hameah” written by Rabbi Y. L. Maimon. M. Eudansky, of blessed memory, who also mentioned this story in the name of Rabbi Maimon, added another story about residents of Lida that fought the kidnappers of children, among them from the rabbi's family, Reb Zalmon Relyes, who used to hide the children for years. “Lita,” Book 1, page 640)

There is a story about Jewish leaders that met in Kovno in the home of Rabbi Yitzak Elchanon, of blessed memory, to discuss public problems. In that meeting were attending Rabbi Yossel of Slutsk, Rabbi Mordechai Klatzkin, Rabbi Alexander Moshe Lapides and many more powerful Torah leaders of Lida and Jamos, and above all, the leader of the group, the man of glory and humility, Reb Alinkah Lida, they put on the table a samovar for tea and the rebbitzin served “pamerantzen”-the peels of oranges cooked in sugar.

A debate started among the great leaders of Torah, what blessing do you make on this cooked food: either “borey pri haetz,” because the orange grows on a tree, or “borei pri haadamah,” because in fact this is not fruit anymore but peel alone, or maybe-“shehakol nihiyeh bidvaro,” since in the final analysis there is no fruit and no vegetable anymore. A long debate ensued and they could not come to a decision. Reb Yosel of Slutsk proves with his explanation and Reb Mordechai Klatzkin refutes it, and what Reb Yitzak Elchanon pinpoints, came Alexander Moshe and rejects. And the tea gets cold…

In the meantime all assembled look at Reb Alinkah, the humble one, the quiet one, the one who hides, and lo and behold, he already finished the spoonful of pamerantzen that he was served – and they did not finish yet the debate. They all turned to him wondering: “Rabbi, lo and behold you finished you finished your serving, what brocha did you make?” - Reb Alinkah answered them quietly and in sweetness as was natural to him: “Quietly, my rabbis!” (And in this he meant to turn their attention to a law in the “Shulchan Aruch” on the question of “a questionable blessing”). (Was given to me by Mr. Nachum Hinich, one of the students of Reines Yeshiva in Lida, a veteran teacher in Israel in Tel Aviv).

Reb Alinkah wrote a number of books, but as it seems only on of them was published during his lifetime “Ein Eliyahu” (in the year 1859 on the printing press of Reb Schmuel Yoseph Fine and Reb Avraham Tzvi Rosenkrantz, Vilna). This book is a commentary on the legends of the book “Ain Yaakov”. His special attachment to legend, may be testimony of his character, soft and kind to people. After his death another book of his was published, the book “Derekh Avot”, the book is a commentary and explanation on the tractate “Avot”. The book was brought to press by his son and student in the year 1872 in Vilna, and in 1874 in Warsaw, was reprinted in 1885 in Philadelphia in the United States, and in 1936 in Jerusalem, in the printing press “Chorev” (was published by the son of his daughter, Rabbi Schmuel Zeev Berniker).

Reb Alinkah served as rabbi in Lida until 1854 and then became rabbi in the city Zageerchadash and from there he went to Kobrine. The reason he left the congregation of Lida after serving there with great honor and respect twenty years, we heard stories that the reason for it was controversy with the chasidim in the city. Reb Alinkah in spite of his kind nature was very tough and stubborn in his opinion against chasidism and he probably found it better to go away and leave controversy. Even after he left Lida, his name remained Lida.


Reb Mordechai Meltzer of Blessed Memory

Reb Mordechai Kaliatzka (or Klatzky) was inaugurated as the rabbi of the holy congregation of Lida in the year 1864, who was called later Reb Mordechai Meltzer.

Reb Mordechai was born in Vilna in the year 1797, which was the last year of life of the Gaon Reb Eliyahu of Vilna. The people loved Reb Mordechai, when they mentioned this date, read about him the verse from the bible “and the sun rises and the sun sets.”

In those days, “the balebatim” used to visit the yeshivas, to look for grooms for their daughters that reached (or were about to reach majority). The young Mordechai, who attracted the attention of his teachers for a long time, “was chosen with honor” to be the groom of the daughter of the very rich man Reb Lieb Gordon of Vilna, whose business was malt (in Yiddish maltz) was called “meltzer”, the name was inherited from him by his son-in-law.

In the house of his rich father-in-law, Reb Mordechai could give himself completely to study of Torah, in two ways- to learn and also to teach: in the yeshiva of Reb Dovid Shtershon and afterwards as the head of the yeshiva of Reb Myla. For some time, Reb Mordechai left the yeshiva of Reb Myla because of a contest that occurred between him and Rabbi Israel Salanter, who was very famous already then, who arrived in Vilna and was also invited by the leaders of the same yeshiva, as the author of the history of Reb Mordechai stated: “It is impossible for two rabbis to use one crown, because both of them were giant gaons in Talmud.” He returned to his place in the yeshiva only after Rabbi Yisroel decided to forgo his prestige and honor and move to another house of study.

In the year 1846 Sir Moses Montifiore visited Vilna accompanied by his secretary Halevi, and among other places he also visited Yeshiva Reb Myla whose fame reached him. The guests were very impressed by Reb Mordechai who preached before them.

In the year 1850 Reb Mordechai was elected as the head of Beit Din in Calabria, there he served in the rabbinate until 1862.

Reb Mordechai arrived in Lida in old age – about 67 years old when he was already fully recognized as a giant in the Lithuanian Torah world. He had a very tough character, very straight, that does not turn in favor to anybody, not to the leaders of the community, not to the tough rich people and not even to Torah people if he did not like their behavior – this image we get from the stories that were transmitted about him. And when something not clean happened in the year 1884, after the death of Reb Mordechai and “the meat tax” (taxa) –this was the main source of income of the community – was given to a very rich leaseholder without a public auction, as was customary, and probably, in return of private bribery to the leaders of the community – a sharp article of protest was published in the “Hamelitz”. The article begins with the words: “From the day that the great gaon Reb Mordechai Meltzer of blessed memory was taken away from us, the leaders of the community started to rule the money of the meat tax and use it like a person is using his own property.”

Reb Mordechai did not play favorites to rabbis “the book authors”, that flooded the book market with new books very often, and refused to write “favorable introductions” that usually appeared at the beginning of the book. Even though there was some favorable introductions of his on some books of great giants of Torah because he saw in them real innovations and of great importance to the Jewish Torah world. Thus, for example, on the books of Reb Meir of Radin (“Mishnah Derurah”, “Chofeitz Chaim”), or on the book of Reb Yaakov Kapshtein that was mentioned above. In the last years of his life he would agree to sign an introduction for the sake of peace, especially when he lost his eyesight and he could not read the book..

Being loyal to this approach did not leave after him any written material, even innovations in Torah of his own. However, his students and his friends who loved him used to write down on notes things that they heard from him and interpretations of Torah. Only after he died, did Reb Asher his son worked diligently to collect these notes that were spread out and gave them to one of the most best students of the rabbi, one of the most knowledgeable teachers in Vilna who had a good style as an author, Reb Ay Trivish, who edited all the material and printed them as a book which was called “Techelet Mordechai”, which was accompanied with pages about the history of the rabbi and words of honor for his personality.

At the end of his days, Reb Mordechai was dealing also with Kabbalah and the writer of the history of his life added “because many broken hearts, many who suffered from sickness, used to stream to him with the belief of help and salvation that comes from his blessing.”

Old and full of days, at the age of 86 Reb Mordechai died in the year 1883. A special structure was built on his grave in the Lida cemetery and on the gravestone was inscribed the following: “From ancient generations a precious star appeared in our land a rabbi, a gaon mighty as he was is hard to find in our generation the holy words of the Talmud and Midrashim and all their interpretations all of them were engraved on his heart and his tongue as fresh received from Sinai he went down to the depth of the sea of Talmud and brought up pearls in his treasures in many written sources his teachings were carried there you can see his mighty power anything that was hidden and difficult that was brought to him he was quick to answer properly he made himself a name also in Kabbalah to him were revealed hdden mysteries God's love and the love of people of him will both testify Calabria and Lida his righteousness and his holiness will testify.”

We are bringing here some of the stories that were going around about Reb Mordechai from the period of the rabbinate of Lida.

When Reb Mordechai entered his position in Lida, the leaders sent him his salary at the end of the first week. The rabbi checked the amount and found out that instead of twenty-five guilden he was supposed to get they sent him only twenty. He immediately called the leaders. When they came, he told them you know very well that my salary was set to be twenty five guilden a week. And now since you sent me only twenty you will think my salary is only twenty guilden and accordingly you will send me next week only fifteen, therefore, let it be known to you that my salary is twenty five guilden but you sent me only twenty guilden.

On the way Reb Mordechai felt about “the authors of books” this story will testify: Reb Mordechai arrived for a visit in Vilna. All the scholars and knowledgeable people in Vilna came to welcome the rabbi and they asked him how he felt as is customary: “Vos macht eir, Rebbe?” (What does the Rabbi do?), he answered them immediately “Kein seifer nit” (Anyway not a book).

In the court of Reb Mordechai in Lida were famous religious judges of great knowledge in Torah like Reb Yaakov Kapshtein that we mentioned already, Reb Shlomo the Dayan that merited great honor, etc. But there were also some that the rabbi did not respect, especially because they liked to drink, God forbid. When sometime a person came to the rabbi to ask for these judges the rabbi made a face of question and wonder “Why are you looking for them here? Is my house a bar for drunks?” (Vos is by mir – a sheink?)

There is a story about Reb Mordechai when two authors wrote one book, a commentary on “Baba Kama”, Reb Mordechai read the book, he found empty verbiage. “And what name,” – asked Reb Mordechai “did you call your book?” “ Rabbi,” they said “we did not yet find a nice name for our book. We want a name that will be short and both of us should appear in it.” “If so” the rabbi smiled and said “there is nothing more beautiful for your book then this name: The Ox and the Trap.”

There is a story about Reb Mordechai that he had a verbal confrontation with a rich man who was an idiot. The rich man was using insolent and abusive language trying to humiliate the rabbi. “You too,” said the rabbi, “are like a loaf of bread.” “Rabbi,” said the man, “there is no comparison.” “That's what I meant,” smiled and said the rabbi – “You are the rudest of the rude, you are so low that there is nothing that can be compared to you.”


Reb Binyamin of Lida of Blessed Memory and Reb Sholom of Perlov of Blessed Memory

They were not official rabbis in Lida. Never-the-less, we feel it is proper to include them in this list, because they were, it appears, in their time spiritual leaders for a substantial congregation, even though not large numbers, among the Jews of Lida, it was the chassidic community.

The chassidim had two synagogues (“chassidisha shtiblach”) in Lida in our time: one for the Lubavich Chassidim (Chabad) and one for the Chassidim of Koidenov. The first remained in Lida for a long time without a religious leader: they did not travel to the Rebbe, it was far away from Lida. And as far as we remember neither the Rebbe nor his messinger visited them to guide and to inspire them. And we wonder if their chassidism was more than a tradition that became a habit that was limited to reciting “vyatzmach purkoneh” in the kaddish and the custom of celebrating the nineteenth day of Kislev, the day of the release of the old Rebbe (HaRav) from prison with the ascendance to the throne of the Tsar Alexander I.

More alive was the bond with the rebbe of the Koidenov Chassidim (even though we have to admit that in the last generations “the strength of the relationship faded even with them.) Until the First World War, we assume there were still chassidim in Lida (in reality, very few) that habitually continue to travel to the Rebbe of Koidenov which was close to Minsk.

After Koidenov was annexed to Soviet Russia a new scion of the dynasty of the chassidic rabbis of Koidenov settled in eastern Galicia, his name was Reb Zalman Yoseph Zilberfarb (may God take vengence for his blood), that used to visit occasionally his chassidim in Lida.

When did chassidism penetrate into Lida? – We have no exact knowledge of it. But in the history of the Lithuanian Chassidism, we find that one of the chosen students of the founder of the Koidenovian dynasty, Reb Sholom Chaim Perlov (“the old Koidenovian”), who was elected to be rebbe in about the year 1833 and died in the year a862. His name His name Reb Binyomin of Lida.

In the book “Nachlat Avot” by Levi Ovtzinsky (which includes biographic material on the giants of Torah in the last generations in an alphabetic order) we find, under the title of Reb Binyomin of Lida:

“The rabbi, the tzaddick Reb Binyomin of Lida, a great chassid of purity, a miracle performer. The presence of his honor was in Lida, he was a choice student of the rabbi, the tzaddick Reb Schlomo Chaim, may his memory be for a blessing.”
From the above we learn that Reb Binyomin was a man of miracles, which means probably, a miracle maker. We have no more details on the period of his activities. Its probable that the beginning of his activity is between the two dates 1833 and 1862 and continued on some years afterwards. We know more about the rebbe of the chassidim in Lida in the 1880's. Reb Sholom Perlov (“Reb Shlomkeh”), and the grandson of the “old Koidenover” Reb Shlomo Chaim. He came to live in lida ain the year 1878 and spread Torah among the chassidim at the same time, it seems the great rabbis who were not chassidim tried to put out the fire of controversy between chassidim and non-chassidim, that caused for decades much anger and pain and even the desecration of God's name. Also, Reb Mordechai Meltzer that a few decades before that when he served as head of the yeshiva of Reb Maile in Vilna, could not sit in one room together with Reb Yisroel Salanter, discovered now a relationship of tolerance and understanding to his young “competitor.” Reb Mordechai was about 80 years old and Reb Sholom was about 30. Reb Mordechai also who went out of his way never to write confirming introductions to authors for their books, did now write an affirming introduction to the book of Reb Sholom which was printed in 1881 under the title of “Divrei Shalom”. And these are the words of Reb Mordechai about the young author:
“Here is about three years that the rabbi who stands before me established his resience in our camp. His arm was discovered and a great light appeared because many people are gathering to hear from his mouth the words of the living God and enjoy from his light. He is the famous rabbi, the great light, young in years and full of wisdom, a branch of the great tree of our fathers. Even though I did not read the entire manuscript the part that I read can testify to total contents, etc.”
(By the way, among the affirmative introductions to the book we find the Gaon Reb Yitzchak Elchanon Spector, the famous rabbi of Kovna.

As it seems, the chassidim of Lida felt themselves to be very strong and very influential in the city to such a degree that after the death of Reb Mordechai they dared to suggest their rebbe Reb Shlomkeh as a candidate to be the rabbi of the city. Maybe that Reb Mordechai's introductory affirmation to the book of Reb Shomke (especially for the sake of peace, it seems) and the words of praise that it included (usually exaggerated which are given generally in regular rabbinic style) they, too, encouraged the chassidim. Anyway, Lida remained a city that opposed chassidism by majority, and the candidate that was accepted was Reb Yitzchak Yaakov Reinas of blessed memory. But this din not pass or that controvery did not end without throwing stones by one party into the windows of opposing parties.

Reb Shlomke left Lida in the year 1884 when he was elected to be the rabbi in the city of Brezneh that is in Volin and from there he moved to be the rabbi in the town of Brahin (and since then he was known by the name “Reb Sholom of Brahin”). He died in the year 1927.

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Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines,
May His Memory Be For a Blessing

By Aba Lando

Translated by Rabbi Molly Karp

After the death of Rabbi Mordechai Meltzer, may his memory be for a blessing, Lida was fortunate in that one of the great, outstanding rabbis who developed for Russian Jewry at the end of the 19th century settled in it. He was not only one of the great Torah scholars, but also a personality with great spiritual imagination, rectifying and renewing, a dreamer and a courageous fighter for his ideas, a paver of the way for many in traditional Jewish education, in his national movement.


Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines, Rabbi in Lida
Drawing by Herman Struck


Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines was born in the city of Karlin, Minsk district, which is in Russia, on the 9th day of the month of Marcheshvan, in the year 5600 (1840), to his father Reb Shlomo Naftali (a wealthy and honest merchant), who was distinguished in Torah, but he did not make his Torah his craft),[1] [2], and his second wife Bella. Reb Shlomo Naftali went up to the land in his youth, with his whole family, his wife, his children, his father and his sister, and established a Hebrew printing house in Safed. All of them perished in an earthquake that struck the city in the year 5597 [1837], at a time when he himself was in Russia, as an emissary for the members of his community. The shocked Reb Shlomo Naftali requested to return to the land, but his friends prevented him from doing that, and he remained in the city of his birth, Karlin, in which he began, after his year of mourning, to build a new house for himself. The son Yitzchak Yaakov was his comfort after the tragedy that visited him, and in his house in Karlin he attended diligently to his upbringing and education with great love, under his watchful eye, until he became sixteen.

Apparently, the father had a great spiritual influence on the young son. He was also the one who planted within him love for the holy land, and talked to him about the chapter of his aliyah to the land, and the matter of the destruction that uprooted him from there. This memory remained engraved on his son's soul, and excited him even in his old age. The children of Lida who prayed in his presence were witnesses to the tears that he would shed when he arrived at the additional prayers of Yom Kippur, to the verse “and for the men of the Sharon he would say: may it be your will…. that their houses not become their graves,” which would remind him of the destruction of his father's family, whose house became their grave.

The superior abilities of the boy Yitzchak Yaakov were revealed while he was still a tender age. Eight years old, he was expert in a number of tractates of Talmud, and amazed his Rabbi, who was famous as a sharp genius, with his deep questions. At a very young age, he began to set down on paper innovations in Torah, and when he was sixteen years old, he already had in hand upwards of two hundred written pages of innovations, explanations, and “disputes,” many of which were things that were worthy of seeing the light of publication.

In that same period he began to learn from a teacher who had acquired the Russian and German languages for himself, but after a number of months he cancelled these lessons, under the influence of his father, who saw it as a waste of time. Another teacher, Yehuda bar Urion, who was expert in mathematics and happened to be in the Beit Midrash where he learned, began to teach him this subject from the Hebrew book “Complete Arithmetic.” The same educated Jew also brought him into an introduction to the wisdom of logic, which captured the heart of the young lad, and which, on its solid foundation, he requested from here on to base the study of the Oral Torah.[3]

When he became sixteen, his father sent him to the Volozhin Yeshiva, and afterwards to Eisishok. When he was eighteen, he was ordained for instruction by well-known rabbis in the year 5719 [1959].[4] In the year 5719 he took to wife the daughter of Rabbi Yosef Rozin, one of the well-known Geonim in the world of Torah. He was supported by his father-in-law for a few years, in Horodok and afterwards in Telz, where he was diligent in the Torah night and day, and in the writing of his essays.

In the year 5627 [1867][5] he was chosen as the Rabbi of the town of Sukian, and immediately won the hearts of the congregation with his sermons. After two years he ascended to the Rabbinic Chair in the mother city of Israel,[6] Svencionys, which is next to Vilna. In Sukian he began to write a long essay on the laws of testimony, part of which was published after years, (Testimony in Yaakov) and in Svencionys he came up with the idea of writing a book in six parts, which would pave a new path in Talmud study according to the rules of logic. Two parts of this book “Seal of Perfection”[7] were published in the years 5640-5641 (1880-1881], in Mainz and in Pressburg. While his head was mostly immersed in the tent of Torah, the young rabbi had an alert practical sense, eyes that were wide open and that penetrated into the practical world. In the year 5642 [1882], he participated in a rabbinic assembly that convened in Peterburg, and there put forth his idea about changes in the program of studies in the yeshivot, in order to adapt them to the spirit of the times: to bring a certain amount of secular studies into them, in order to equip

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their students with the necessary knowledge for practical life. However, this suggestion encountered lack of understanding on the part of the rabbis who were the great Torah scholars in Russia, who were greater than him in years and also in influence. And then, the young (42 years old) rabbi tried to put his plan into effect by his own efforts in the city of Svencionys. The yeshiva that he founded in that city according to his own ideas existed for four years, but it could not withstand the sabotage on the part of the grumbling zealots, who did not desist in their war against innovation, even by slander. In the year 5643 [1883], while he was in Moscow, Rabbi Reines was arrested due to denunciation, and was held over two days in the prison for political criminals! The yeshiva was finally closed, while its founder was loaded with heavy debts.

Various large congregations in Russia and outside of the country (among others – from America and from the city of Manchester in England) offered Rabbi Reines the Rabbinic seat, but out of them all he accepted the offer that came to him from the city of Lida, after the death of its Rabbi, Mordechai Meltzer. Incidentally, help was promised to him with the repayment of the debts that weighed on him. In the winter of 5644 [1884], Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines was crowned as the Rabbi Av Beit Din of the holy congregation of Lida.

Rabbi Reines dwelt in Lida for 31 years. His active and innovative spirit did not allow him to contract himself into the small circle of local rabbinic functions alone. All the days that he dwelled in Lida passed over him with great spiritual effort; his sharp intellect and his awake and sensitive heart worked together in him as one, partners.

There were three areas of activity to which he dedicated his life, in addition to his official functions as the Mara D'Atra.[8] They were: A: His literary and public religious activities; B: His educational activity (the yeshiva in Lida); C: His Zionist activity.

His tremendous diligence in the Torah in all its ramifications did not stop in Lida. He slept very little. In order to be able to engage in Torah unimpeded, he would rise early in the morning, long before sunrise, before people would come to disturb him in his studies. And during study (according to the saying “it is impossible to go to the study house without innovation”), he did not stop raising his ideas and innovations on the book. Only three of his books were printed in the period of his rabbinate in Svencionys: “Testimony in Yaakov,” on matters of testimony (Vilna, 5632 [1872]), and two parts of the book “Seal of Perfection,” (Mainz, 5640 [1880], and Pressburg, 5641 [1881]). From the time of his appointment as the Rabbi in Lida, all the rest of his books and many articles continued to be published, in halakha, in homily, in matters of nationalism and education, some of which saw light[9] in his lifetime, and some of which reached the printing press after his death (by the efforts of his son, Reb Duber Reines, may his memory be for a blessing,*[10] who all his days engaged with devotion in the publication of his father's writings): Great Lights (Vilna, 5647 [1887]), Light and Joy (Vilna, 5658 [1898]), Light Of the Seven Days (Vilna, 5656 [1896]), The Gates of Light (Vilna, 5656 [1896]), A Wineskin of Tears (Vilna, 5648 [1888]), A New Light on Zion (Vilna, 5663 [1903]), Light for Fourteen (Piotrkow, 5673 [1913], The Two Lights, about the Lida Yeshiva (Piotrkow, 5673 [1913]), The Book of Values, Part 1 (New York, 5686 [1926]), Dew of Lights, arranged by Rabbi Z.A. Rabiner (Tel Aviv, 5715 [1955]), and more. A few of his books merited additional editions. And, even more than that, thousands of sheets of writing, which were compiled into tens of volumes. Words of halakha and words of homily, which according to the testimony of Rabbi Y.L. Maimon, may his memory be for a blessing,**[11] were made to enrich religious literature, and remain to this day in manuscript form.

He did not give up on the idea of the yeshiva even after he effectively failed to implement it in Svencionys. The chapter of “The Great Yeshiva in Lida” is told in another place in this book. It was a chapter which also caused him, apart from financial considerations, under conditions of lack of an assured budget, and dependent on the help of donors, entanglements with dark groups (or we will call them, in euphemism, innocent), who opposed every innovation.

The love of Zion was engraved on his soul even before it became a movement that carried that official name. From the time that Rabbi Tzvi Kalisher began his activity for the settlement in the land of Israel, there began an exchange of letters between the old rabbi and the young Rabbi Reines. When Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever appeared on the public stage, he met with him and proposed an extensive plan of settlement that was bound up with the establishment of religious educational institutions for elementary, high school and higher learning, a plan that appeared too fanciful in Rabbi Mohilever's eyes.*[12] Yet the activities of “Chovevei Tzion” at that time seemed to him to be too paltry, and he had not yet gained real entry to the camp of the activists. Likewise, when Dr. Herzl appeared in the name of Zionism, Rabbi Reines was still standing at a distance, testing and checking the nature of the movements and its plans. But, from the time that his heart was conquered by the personal charm of the great leader, by his ideas and the momentum of his plans, he joined his camp with heart and soul, and from then on he held a central place in the Zionist camp. And he himself explained his path:*[13]

“It's my way to do nothing while I am still exploring and observing for myself all the details of the matter; and what else there is in a matter like this, which stands at the heart of the world of the Jews and of Judaism. It is an important principle for me, all those whose way it is to devote themselves to some new matter or some new movement after a short time without consideration, from these there is not much to hope for. But those who do not quickly and hastily devote themselves to some movement, but only after consideration and restrained deliberation – from these one may hope that they will always be among the standard-bearers.”


Yitzchak Yaakov Reines
21 Sivan 5673 [June 26, 1913]

Av Beit Din Lida

To the Honored Wise and Excellent Rabbi, devoted to his people and his land and its holy ones, the Rabbi of Koretz, much peace and blessing…

It is already known and publicized there, to our great joy, and all the blessing which is hidden in it to teach us and to educate our sons in the spirit of Judaism and humanity together, and all the good ones of our people, and the best of its sages, have already recognized the great favor that will happen [most of this is illegible].

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This is not the place to unroll the chapter of Rabbi Reines' Zionist activity, for isn't it written in the chronicles of Zionism, and especially in the chronicles of the “Mizrachi” movement, which was founded at the Vilna conference in the year 5662 [1902], and at the conference that assembled in Lida in the year 5663 [1903] he set its doors in place.[14]

Rabbi Reines was esteemed by the people of Lida, both by the Charedi groups, who appreciated his great knowledge of Torah, in both the progressive younger generation, who saw the innovator in him, harrowing the traditional education system in Israel, and as one of the standard bearers in the national movement. All of them as one were excited by his vision in matters of the practical world. In the halakha of prohibition and permission, he was known for his power of leniency. Every woman who came to his house with a question of kashrut wanted to have her question heard specifically by him, for it was well known that there was none as reliable as he in finding the permissive side, considering as well the situation of the woman who was asking.

On the Sabbaths on which he would preach before the congregation, the Beit Midrash would fill to capacity. The content of the sermons, afterwards, would pass from mouth to mouth. There was in them something for the scholar, and something for the masses, and a new note was incorporated in them – the topic of the national-Zionist movement.

When the activity to distribute shares of stocks in “The Treasury for Settlement of the Jews” (the Colonial Bank) began in Lida, the rabbi began his sermon with the verse “If you lend money to my people” (Exodus, Parashat Mishpatim),[15] and continued “Where have we heard that a person lends money to the nation?” And he immediately responded: “here, in the purchase of shares of the national bank, the opportunity is given to a Jewish man to lend money to the people as a whole,” and he went on to explain the great importance of the matter.*[16]

Rabbi Reines was a wonderful preacher and a prolific orator, with solid logic and, together with this, fiery emotion. And here was also his weak spot, since from his great emotion, he would sometimes reach the point of tears and on occasion, he would be unable to continue speaking. That's what happened at the time of his preaching a sermon on the occasion of “The Day of the Yemenites,” which was held then at the order of the Central Committee of the Zionist Federation. When he reached the point where he was speaking about the situation of world Jewry, and especially, about the suffering of our Yemenite brothers, he burst into weeping that he was unable to control.

His boundless appreciation of Dr. Herzl (who brought him to say “aye” to the Uganda plan in the Sixth Zionist Congress)[17] was well known. And when the shocking news about the death of the esteemed leader reached Rabbi Reines, he fell ill and was unable to participate in a mourning assembly that was held in the Great Synagogue. The Writer Ch. D. Horovitz, who was in Lida at that time, offered the eulogy in his place.

His public activity, in the area of education and the field of Zionist movement, brought Rabbi Reines into disputes with the great Rabbis of his generation, but since he was sure of his path and firm in his opinion, he was not deterred by them and did not hold it against them. The Rabbi Yisrael Meir from Radin (the writer of the “Chafetz Chaim”),[18] may his memory be for a blessing, came to him especially for an intimate personal conversation, but he did not succeed in diverting him from his path, even though Rabbi Reines appreciated Rabbi Yisrael Meir's greatness in the Torah, and especially, his moral character, but not his understanding of the ways of the world, and his grasp of the situation of Judaism and its needs.**[19]

The Rabbi conducted a battle of a different kind on another front – prevention of the influence of the revolutionary movements on the Jewish street. In his sermons on this topic from the bima of the Beit Midrash, in the years of the revolutionary awakening in Russia in 1905, he stood up against the men of the Bund.***[20]

Rabbi Reines was full of activity, but also was full of bitterness. Fate embittered him, and in the year 5651 [1891] his young son, on whom he had hung his hopes, died before him. While he still young in days, he stood out for his brilliant talents, for his wisdom in Judaism and general culture, and even acquired a name for himself in Hebrew journalism. His death caused a deep wound in his father, one from which he never was healed until his last day. His constant polemic with his opponents, the financial difficulties in leading the yeshiva, in addition to the antagonism in the house, all these undermined the precarious health of the old rabbi.

With the outbreak of the First World War, the rabbi was in a healing spa in Germany. After many hardships, he succeeded in returning, by twisting paths, to his house in Lida, and he was depressed and discouraged from all that his eyes saw in Germany, where he had a chance to see the animal in the human. He had it in mind to set down his opinions in a book, as a memorial. But his malignant illness had already struck him, and on the 10th day of Elul in the year 5675 [1915] he was gathered to his people.

One of the rabbis who eulogized him next to the open grave, said of him in his eulogy: “Maker of innovations, Master of Wars” – and in this short verse, expressed the path of his life well.

A “tent”[21] was put up in the Lida cemetery over Rabbi Reines' grave, next to the tent of Rabbi Mordechai Meltzer. Do the two of them still exist???

* * *

The memory of Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines, may his memory be for a blessing, was immortalized in two places of settlement, one of which exists and flowers:

A. The moshav[22] “Kfar Ivri,”[23] which was established in the year 5684 [1924] by youth of the “Mizrachi” in the hills of Jerusalem, on the road to Ramallah, and afterwards its name was changed to “Neve Yaakov.”[24] Dwellers in this village were surrounded at the time of the War of Independence, and they were forced to retreat from there. The place was reconquered by Tzahal[25] in 5728 [1968], but the moshav has not yet been restored. In the meantime, its members joined the Nachalim moshav.

B. The moshav “Sde Yaakov,”[26] founded by “Poalei HaMizrachi,”[27] which was established in the western valley, next to Nahalal, in the year 5687 [1927], a pleasant living monument to the memory of Rabbi Reines, may his memory be for a blessing, created by the world “Mizrachi” movement.


From the Mouth of Rabbi Reines, and About Him

He used to explain, in his way, the folk legend about the “36 hidden righteous ones” that exist in each and every generation, thus:

“Sometimes the crowd mistakenly thinks that a true and honest opinion is invalid and excessive, and it is accustomed to gossip about the holder of this opinion, and to doubt his honesty and his righteousness. However the man whose righteousness is so great and the truth so beloved by him, that he openly supports this opinion, without paying attention to whether this will cause desecration to his honor in people's eyes – a person like this is one of the hidden righteous, for isn't it true that he is openly not considered

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righteous. And the world stands precisely on these hidden righteous.”*[28]

On the saying “honor flees from each one who pursues honor, and each one who flees from honor, honor pursues him” Rabbi Reines would ask: “why, actually? For indeed, generally, anyone who aspires to something with all his heart, is his end to obtain it?” – and he would respond “a thing that makes sense is said here: when a person pursues honor, he knows that honor will flee from him, for if it is not so – why should he pursue it? And it is the opposite for one who flees from honor.”**[29]

Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines, the Rabbi of Lida, had his own way in halakha and aggadah.[30] His books on aggadah were accepted by the generation, while his books on halakha were not accepted. Even he would say:

“I wanted to teach two things to those who come to the world: scholarship and homiletics. Homiletics exists in their hands – scholarship does not.***[31]

Once an unusual legal case came before the Rabbi:

One young Jew, in his desire to show his “modernity,” expressed in a conversation among friends, that he was prepared to sell his place in the world to come for ten rubles. Another Jew, of the same position, immediately took the required amount from his pocket and offered it to the seller of the unique merchandise. He agreed and the matter was approved and settled with a handshake. However, after the event, the seller regretted it, and his heart began to trouble him. He came to the purchaser and offered to cancel the purchase, but he refused. He dragged him to Rabbi Reines. The matter was not to Rabbi Reines' liking, and he found a way out in his usual way. He said to them: if a Jews sells his share in the world to come, we learn from this that his share is not so great, and therefore he has nothing to sell. And so, this is an erroneous purchase…

Who did not know Rabbi Reines' old Shamash,[32] Reb Yisrael? A tall Jew, frail, his pants tucked into short boots, dragging his long legs with difficulty. Rabbi Reines, who was known for his sense of humor, used to say to him:

“Israel resembles a plant. And did he see someone who was a growing plant? Rather, since he grew, he is known to have grown. (In Yiddish: he has grown up, a sign that he has grown). And if someone sees Yisrael going? Only after he has come, knowing he has gone….”

The Rabbi knew how much his devoted shamash struggled with new names that were too long.

Once, the Rabbi, who was sitting in the company of his close friends, sent Reb Yisrael to the inn to ask if Rabbi Rubinzon from Rotnitza (the Rotnitzer Rabbi Rubinzon) had arrived. “Will you remember, Reb Yisrael?” “Yes, Rabbi” the shamash replies, and turns to go. But when he is standing by the door, the rabbi calls to him again, with a playful laugh and benevolent kindness on his mustache: “And so, Reb Yisrael, what will you ask?” “I will ask if Rabbi Rotnitzer from Rubinzon has arrived.”**[33]

At the end of his years, Rabbi Reines lived on the main street (Vilna Street), in Leizer Poltzek's house. Across from his window “The Club” could be seen, in which the men of the local intelligentsia would gather, Christians and also Jews, and especially those looking to pass the time, mostly in card games, and in the way of those immersed in the games – without having to watch the clock. Sometimes, when the old rabbi awoke from his sleep after midnight, as was his way, in order to peruse a book, he would see that there was a light in that house, and the men would be sitting and doing their own things. The rabbi would set aside his bewilderment with a smile, “Have you ever seen people get up so early to play cards?”

In his search for sources of funding for the yeshiva's budget, Rabbi Reines attempted to turn to the small cooperative bank in Lida for a loan. On the day that was designated for taking care of all the incoming requests, he found it necessary to come himself to the Board of Directors meeting. As soon as he entered the room (by surprise, apparently), the members of the Board, all of whom sat with bare heads, did not put their hats on (except for one, the story is told, who, out of respect for the rabbi, covered his head). The matter angered the old rabbi, but he kept quiet and did not react.

After discussion about the rabbi's request, it became clear that the bank did not have the means for a loan of this kind. The rabbi accepted the decision, but now he found a place to collect his debt, and said:

“When I came to you found you sitting with bare heads, I said to myself: here are members of the aristocrats, certainly they also have money and will give me a loan for the needs of the yeshiva. Now that you have no money, and you are apparently not aristocrats, why are you sitting with bare heads?”**[34]

All his days Rabbi Reines would immerse himself completely in his studies and the needs of the community. With this, his lot was not with those who had gloomy melancholy. In festival and family parties, he knew to brighten his face and those who were honoring him. Among those who were gathered that were seated near him was always “Ba'al HaMusaf,”[35] who was in the rabbi's minyan,[36] Reb Eizik, (who was also his “secret advisor” in the matters of the yeshiva and other public activities, and likewise in matters of the “Rabbi's house”).

Once at a party, when he was feeling good, the rabbi turned to his “Ba'al Musaf:” Reb Eizik, sing us a niggun.”[37] He replied: “what niggun can I sing for you that you haven't heard, and really you already know all of my niggunim by heart.” But maybe you desire, rabbi, for me to sing one of your niggunim before all of you?” The rabbi wondered: “Of mine? What do you mean?”

Reb Eizik sang before him the verse “Return, return from your evil ways” from the prayer leader's repetition in the Neilah[38] prayer of Yom Kippur, which was reserved for the rabbi to lead in his minyan, and he would also mimic the pleading voice of the rabbi in prayer, when it would become thin, with high tones, and inclined to tears.

The rabbi listened with pleasure and a good-hearted and forgiving laugh: “Is that really my niggun? When I am by myself, I don't remember. Next to the lectern, things are said of their own accord (Yiddish: it goes without saying), but if they ask me to repeat it after the prayer, I wouldn't be able.”**[39]


  1. Echoing the rabbinic maxim that one should not make Torah study one's profession, but should work for a living. Return
  2. Original note, asterisk:* Rabbi Reines kept an animal-skin scroll, and on it was written the three lineages of his father, who was related to the family of Rabbi Shmuel Wohl from Brisk (in the 16th century), and, higher in sanctity, Rashi, Reb Yochanan the shoemaker, Rabban Gamliel the Elder, Hillel the Elder, a scion of the tree of King David. Return
  3. The Talmud. Return
  4. This year is erroneous. He was born in the year 5600, so he was 18 in the year 5618, not 5719. Return
  5. Note the return to correct dates. He would have been 27 at that time. Return
  6. 2 Samuel 20:20 Return
  7. Ezekiel 28:13 Return
  8. This title is in Aramaic: The Rabbi of the Place. Return
  9. Were published. Return
  10. Asterisk:* He died in Tel Aviv. Return
  11. Asterisks:** Rabbi Yehuda Lev HaCohen Fishman: This Memory of Yaakov, the History of Rabbi Y. Y. Reines. Return
  12. Asterisk: *Rabbi Y.L. Fishman, there. Return
  13. Asterisk: * Rabbi Y.L. Fishman, there. Return
  14. 1 Kings 16:34. Return
  15. Exodus 22:24 Return
  16. Asterisk:* I heard the contents of this sermon from my Father my Teacher, may his memory be for a blessing. Afterwards I found the words in a pamphlet of Rabbi Y.L. Fishman (Maimon), who is mentioned above. Return
  17. At the Sixth Zionist Congress at Basel on August 26, 1903, Herzl proposed the Uganda Plan as a temporary refuge for Jews in Russia who were in immediate danger. Return
  18. Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaCohen Kagan is known as the “Chafetz Chaim,” the name of his famous work on guarding one's tongue. Return
  19. Asterisks:** In a discussion with his close associates, he once said: Reb Yisrael Meir never left Radin once in all his days. And if you dare to say: After all, he came also in the cities of the world: Warsaw, Moscow, and the like? Rather, also while he was in Moscow, he saw nothing but Radin… Return
  20. Asterisks:*** Y. S. Hertz: The First Russian Revolution - The Story of the Bund published by “Ander Tzeit” New York, 1960, Volume 2, p. 192. Return
  21. Ohel, אוהל; a tent, is a structure built around a Jewish grave as a sign of prominence of the deceased. Ohalim cover the graves of some Hasidic Rebbes, important rabbis, and biblical figures. Return
  22. A collective settlement. It is similar to the kibbutz in that labor is communal, but in contrast to the kibbutz, farms in a moshav tended to be individually owned but are equal in size. Return
  23. Hebrew Village. Return
  24. Jacob's Abode. Return
  25. Tz'va Haganah L'Yisrael – The Israel Defense Force. Return
  26. Jacob's Fields. Return
  27. The Mizrachi Workers. Return
  28. Asterisk:* According to Rabbi Yehuda Leib HaCohen Fishman, in the pamphlet mentioned above. Return
  29. Asterisks:** According to my Father my Teacher, may his memory be for a blessing. Return
  30. “Telling.” The non-halakhic, sometimes allegorical or homiletical, part of rabbinic lore. Return
  31. Asterisks:*** From Generation to Generation. M. Lifson, Volume 2, 1253. Return
  32. The Hebrew word shamash refers to the sexton, or caretaker of a synagogue. It is also the word used for the candle with which we light the eight candles of Chanukah. It has the sense of “one who serves.” Return
  33. Asterisks: **** According to my brother Moshe, may God avenge his blood. Return
  34. Asterisks:** According to my Father my Teacher, may his memory be for a blessing. Return
  35. The one who regularly led Musaf, the additional prayer. Return
  36. A minyan is the quorum of 10 men required for the recitation of certain prayers. Return
  37. A niggun is a wordless melody. Return
  38. The final service of Yom Kippur, “the closing of the gates.” Return
  39. Asterisks:** According to my Father my Teacher, may his memory be for a blessing. Return

[Page 98]

Rabbi Aaron Rabinovitz of Blessed Memory

By Rabbi Avigdor Tzipershtine his son-in-law

Translated by Rabbi David Haymovitz

His image is still standing before my eyes with all its beauty, its holiness and its glorious glow. The image of a rabbi that who stood guard for many years of holiness and served his community with his learning - generosity, with his wisdom and his pleasant ways. From the day he ascended to the seat of the rabbinate in Lida, after the death of his father-in-law the Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Reines who made the city of Lida famous in all the Jewish communities in the world, [he] led his congregation in pleasant ways and was ready to sacrifice himself for it.

He was a child from a village. In the forests of Lida of Lithuania he grew and became a mighty Cedar tree. His father Reb Elimelech Rabinovitz, was a merchant of wood and lived in the forest. He built for himself a house, and also a house of study where the Jews of the neighboring villages, working with tar and resin, studied and prayed. He grew up in the lap of nature. From there he went to the Yeshiva of Volozhin, there he became famous as one of the choice young men of the yeshiva of whom it was proud and claimed glory.

It is he who discovered the prodigy from Maychet, Reb Shlomo Poliachik, in a forlorn little village and brought him to the Yeshiva of Volozhin.

The Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Reines of blessed memory chose him as a son-in-law for his only daughter, Gele of blessed memory, who was his devoted mate all the days of his life, and in their death they were not separated, they died together for the sanction of God.

In the home of his father-in-law he found a wide area for action, any person in bitterness and with broken heart found in him a listening ear, an awakened heart and readiness to help. He distributed his money and even gave away the furniture and the items of his home to everyone who stretched out a hand for help. He never sent any person away empty handed. He knew the heavy responsibility that was on him as the leader of the congregation and joined in its struggle. Always he in his own person went out in bad times, in days of violence, wars and pogroms to defend the city and its residents. He risked his life, did not pay attention to the pleading of his family not to go and with immense courage and generous spirit was the first and only one in the city who gave his life for the rescue of Jews.

A man of truth, this was his way of life and this was the root of his soul. He could not tolerate any lie in life. Wherever he found the slightest deviation from truth and righteousness, he fought like a lion to bring out the truth and rescue the victims of injustice, he did not cater to anybody, whoever it might be.

During WWI, when the city was conquered by the Germans, he sent his family to wander in foreign places but he remained on his duty and did not leave town.

Legends go around about his activities during the occupation in the First World War. Thanks to his influence on the governor of the city, who learned the great value of his pure heart and soul, he succeeded in averting hunger from the city that was the fate of all other towns in the neighborhood.

He was not only “rabbi” as the word is regularly understood. He was a father, a shepherd and an artist. His great worry was how to help his fellow man, because his soul was a noble one, it was from the treasure of holy souls, shining in the light of Torah that is complete and eternal kindness.

Who can evaluate properly his love for Torah? When he saw a student from the Yeshiva he embraced and kissed him. He gave the student honor as one of the great giants of Israel. There was no end to his happiness when he heard some new idea or reconciling a contradiction in Torah. His greatness and his genius as he was, with deep understanding and straight logic in addition to complete knowledge in every phase of Torah, he became so enthusiastic when he heard a new idea from a passing yeshiva student or from a rabbi. Like a fish who is thirsty for a fresh drop of water, so was his soul for Torah discussion.

An innovation in interpreting Torah, a new idea that reconciles texts of Torah - these were, “the bribe” that he took during his lifetime. There was nothing too difficult for him to do for that. He founded a study group in the city for the choice students of the yeshiva. Mr. Gatz, of blessed memory from Moscow, supported by himself this group that sustained itself on his money. Wherever you can find one still alive of those who were lucky to be among those who enjoyed his influence, his soul rejoices when he talks about him and his memory. And there are so many who look back with nostalgia to those happy years when they received teaching and inspiration in the circle of their great rabbi, who was extraordinary, an unusual and unforgetful appearance of love of Torah, the love of students of Torah that was limitless and with a strong and direct stand for truth, honesty, and charity in all his doings and all his ways as it was also in the leadership in the city and his relationship to the public.

He was loyal to Zion. He was among the first rabbis who signed an appeal for support of the Jewish National Fund, and all the time he was a supporter of the Mizrachi ideals, that aimed to awaken the people to rebuild the Jewish homeland and to be rebuilt as a nation. He did not pay attention to any “opposition” that came from certain circles. He saw the rebuilding of the land of Israel, the awakening of the mystical powers of the lower spheres in order to bring closer the redemption - with the self-sacrificing giving of the builders and those who wallow in its dust of the land.

And here it may be the right place to stress one line of his glorious image. How much he loved the truth and the respect of Torah, that was more precious to him than all the treasures of the world. In the last years before the beginning of the Second World War, “a war” erupted in Vilna. The Jewish community of Vilna selected, or were about to select, Rabbi Yitzkak Rubenstein to be the rabbi of the community and the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky, of Blessed Memory, to be his deputy. The rabbis of Poland and the heads of the yeshivot saw in it a wrong step taken by the heads of the Vilna community. A sharp controversy erupted by speech and by writing and it reached all the way to America. Rabbi Aaron Rabinowitz was a longtime friend since the early years of his youth of Rabbi Rubinstein, because Lida was close to Vilna. As friends and brothers they regarded each all the days of their lives. But in these days when the great controversy flared up in Vilna, Rabbi Rabinowitz made special efforts to influence his friend and his comrade to resign or not to accept this position, because this would be according to his opinion a great desecration of Torah. He told Rabbi Rubenstein that it should be a great honor for him to resign. He will be rewarded more by stepping away than by accepting. But when Rabbi Rabinowitz realized that his words were not accepted he stopped talking to him.

Many in the community respected and highly valued Rabbi Rabinowitz for his honest stand, especially who were siding with the Gaon Reb Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky. Rabbi Rabinowitz was the most visible personality who was highly venerated and considered of extraordinary importance by the most popular rabbi at the time, the Chofetz Chaim, of Blessed Memory, and Reb Chaim Ozer, of Blessed Memory. “Der Lider Rov” was always the leading spokesman in the assemblies, in committees, from him they took advice and encouragement. Everyone felt that he was far higher than all those around him. There was no stain on his beautiful garment of many colors. Whatever he committed others to do he was strict with himself, he did not have double standards, whatever he did not permit others to do, he did not permit his sons and his son-in-law. He had one standard in life, there was no difference between him and others.

And therefore his name was always mentioned with a thrill of excitement and with great awe and deep feelings of love by all these rabbis and leaders of Israel that came in touch with him and realized his pure personality, filled with love of Torah and love and respect to those who studied Torah.

The Chofetz Chaim, of Blessed Memory, used to stay over in his home. Reb Aaron Lider he called him. And when his future son-in-law visited the city of Radin and they told the Chofetz Chaim of Blessed Memory, that this young man that came to visit is the “ Dem Lider Rov's chosen.” (The rabbi of Lida's future son-in-law.) - he got out of his chair and exclaimed: “Oh! Reb Aaron's a kind.” (“Oh! Its Reb Aaron's child.)

And at the same place that you can find his goodness, his loving kindness and his humility - there you find also his strong hand and his courage. Like a lion he fought for the observance of Sabbath, kashrut, and education of youth.

When Lida was captured at the beginning of World War II by the Russians and the community organization and all the charity organizations were abolished by the authorities, he did not stop his activity by accepting, treating and finding a place for the refugees that streamed into Lida. And when the door of rescue was opened to leave Lida and go to Vilna that became part of Lithuania, he did not run, he did not leave the members of his community, wherever they were there was he! All the begging, pleading and crying of the members of the family did not help. He decided to stay with his flock. The captain does not run away from his ship when it is in danger.

And so he stayed and did not want to leave at a time when through Lida were passing all the heads of all the heads of yeshivas, rabbis, thousands of refugees. He was staying on guard, he was staying in his place, until the last minute among the members of his community with his family, the rebbitizin and his three daughters. He was the first in the march of death to the trenches where they assembled the residents of the city to die. And he died first a martyrs death.

In the forest dedicated for the martyrs in the mountains of Jerusalem his sister Mrs. Henya Rabinowitz from New York planted grove of trees to his memory, and to the memory of the members of his family that died together with him among the community of martyrs of Lida on the 21st of Iyar, 1942.


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