by Daniel Vinogradov
Translated by Rabbi Molly Karp
May his Memory Be For a Blessing
In the year 1913, we moved in the summer months to live next to Poltzek's house, on Vilneskaya Street, in which the Rabbi the Gaon Yitzchak Yaakov Reines dwelled. My father would arrive home every evening after the closing of the store, which was at 15 Vilneskaya Street, and on the evening of the fast of the Ninth of Av, my father took me to the rabbi's house for the saying of the lamentations.
Before my eyes was the unforgettable appearance of a broad room, and in it Jews from among the respected men of the city who lived in the area were sitting on overturned benches, with the honorable rabbi himself sitting next to the amud on the right side of the room and with a keening voice filled with tachanunim reading the poems of mourning, the piyyutim, and lamenting the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash. The ruddy fiery light of a summer evening falls and radiates on the elegant face of the rabbi, with the big eyes that really penetrate into the depths of the soul; his rich, full, beautiful voice rising and falling as the voices of those present accompany him in a chorus.
At this opportunity it is appropriate to bring some of the words of the distinguished rabbi, the founder of the world Mizrachi movement, on its program and the situation of his yeshiva in the city of Lida, as were written by his hands on the [new] moon of Adar in the year 5667 , which were published in the pamphlet The Certificate of the Holy Yeshiva in Lida Its Plan and Its Situation (Vilna, 5667):
In our paying attention to the Jewish situation and the learning of Torah this day, among Israel in Russia, we have seen a vision that tears heart and soul. In place of the Batei Midrash filled recently with a flock of students, today we see empty and desolate houses… Judaism is not felt all around, their government pours only foreign and strange ideas onto all… our sons continue to leave them en masse, and on the place of our world which continues to be destroyed they continue to build entirely new worlds, on the places of our vineyards they continue to plant other foreign vineyards….
And in a situation of ignorance like this, what's the wonder then if the young people go and trample underfoot everything holy and everything exalted, if they desecrate with their speech everything that bears the imprint of Judaism and we, isn't it so that we never brought them into the storehouse of Judaism, we never brought her words to their stomachs, and we never showed them the light that is hidden in it! To make it so that our children from their youths will abound in foreign practices and to demand from them afterwards a life of Judaism this is more than naiveté on our part.
Before, when the world was entirely in its old situation, the world of Israel was also distinguished and stood in its special place… then a livelihood was found in Israel, life did not require general knowledge and side preparations from the living, each and every one had his livelihood ready in advance, and his position in life was reserved from the start.
But now that the whole entire world has changed, the economic fields that distinguished between one nation and the next have changed, and all have begun to suckle in one, now that all the commerce, the manufacturing industry, and the handiwork have changed for the purpose of change, and indeed they require much knowledge, various preparations and proper use, now that the livelihood is as difficult as the parting of the Sea of Reeds, now it is impossible for the fathers to continue to carry the world of the sons who are devoid of any work or deed if they don't see the material reward that is expected for them in the near future….
After all these, what's the wonder if both the fathers and the sons don't see their future within the tent of Shem, and they go and seek it in another place? And what's the wonder if suddenly we have emptied our study houses, our young people have left us, and we have indeed done nothing to get out ahead of the evil? Did we see to fulfilling the needs and the new requirements that presented themselves like a wall of water before our youth? Did we pay attention to them? No! We did not do a thing, and our hearts storm about this situation? And without Torah there is no Judaism and there is nothing sacred and there is nothing exalted, and in the streets of the Hebrews only the voice of the foreigner is heard as he prevails, and the voice of Israel is silent, and there is no memory of it…
Many of the good ones of our people placed these correct words on their hearts, and after much counsel and wisdom they came to a complete and clear decision to found a new yeshiva in Israel on new foundations, a yeshiva that had it in its power, if God willed it, a salvation point to emerge from this terrible situation, in giving our sons the possibility and the ability to remain in the tabernacle of Torah and to also receive together with this the preparation required to ease their future lives. A yeshiva which would thwart the stones that were scattered on the path of Judaism, and which would return to being as a fortress and a magnet for our young sons… a yeshiva which would educate for us not only rabbis, not only individual sages, but also just Jews, watered and wet from salt flat to the field of Judaism, and which also hands them the other knowledge that is required for them in the practical world that awaits them. In one, a yeshiva for the nation that is entirely for the good of Torah and our Judaism!
These words of the rabbi mentioned above describe for us the crisis that existed for Russian Jewry at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, as a result of the industrial and economic revolution in Europe, and one can see the footsteps of the period of the enlightenment in it.
by Dov Aloni
Translated by Rabbi Molly Karp
Days of Awe
During the ten days of atonement, at the outset of the year 5669 , a circular, with the heading The Certificate of the New Yeshiva in Lida, Its Plan and Situation, was published in the synagogue in the little town of Yezne (Vilna district), which had thirty families. The circular was signed by its founder …Yitzchak Yaakov Reines, Av Beit Din of here, Lida, who writes in honor of the Torah and its students in the month of Adar 5667 .
His hope was that a yeshiva like this would bring a revolution for the good in the mood among Israel, and it was suited to the requirements of the representatives of the members of the yeshivot in Lithuania. The new yeshiva in Lida was indeed opened according to this plan, on Rosh Chodesh Iyar in the year 5665 .
My Parents' Decision
My parents, may their memories be for a blessing, found great interest in this announcement signed by the Gaon of Israel Reb Yitzchak Yaakov Reines. It was difficult for me to decide the matter. In the years of my studies in the yeshiva in Šeduva, I became friends with my friends (among them Yosef Persitz, may his memory be for a blessing, the husband of Shoshana, may her memory be for a blessing). I became fond of my teachers and my rabbis, and especially of the founder of the yeshiva, the man Reb Yosef Yehuda Leib Bloch from Telz, and I came to love the hour of Mussar learning, every day between Mincha and Maariv.
The days that were between the times were dedicated, therefore, in our house, to the topic of the yeshiva in Šeduva, (in which I had already been learning for two years) or the Lida yeshiva. My parents found that I had to transfer, nevertheless, to the Lida yeshiva. Their opinion was that in our world, in which we lived, Torah and knowledge and enlightenment were better together.
(Dov Aloni-Dubin, author of the article, stands behind the rabbi)
On the Way to Lida
My father Reb Avraham Yosef, may his memory be for a blessing, took me under his wing and brought me to Lida. When we reached the city, we went together to Rabbi Reines' house, and my father spoke for me. He told the rabbi openly about all my misgivings, and also my parents' contemplations.
Rabbi Reines called me, drew me near him, entered into conversation with me, by way of which he tested me. And finally he stopped and said the two of you have found favor in my eyes, your father and you. I accept you into the second division, and I am sure that you will succeed in my yeshiva, as you succeeded in your knowledge in the Šeduva yeshiva, with the Rabbi Reb Yosef Yehuda Klein.
I learned in the yeshiva for five years. In the months of Tishre and Nisan, the months of vacations between the times, I would return to my parents' house. To the sons of Yezne in the synagogue, to my friends who were my age, I told miracles and wonders from the yeshiva, its studies and its arrangements. Those of my age in Yezne were very impressed by the world of the yeshiva, in which one acquired Torah and knowledge and enlightenment, in addition to the study of Gemara, Decisors, and Tanakh that were learned in various yeshivot in Lithuania. Under my influence, another five sons of the tiny Yezne traveled with me: Eizik Pertzikovitz (Professor Yitzchak Peretz, may his memory be for a blessing, the linguist and one of the founders of the university in Tel Aviv), and, may they be distinguished for life, my brother Shraga Aloni and Eizik Petliok, residents of the land of Israel, Aharon Kreer and Reuven Grinthagen, residents of the United States.
In the fifth year of my studies, on one of the days of Tamuz the Shammash Reb Yisrael appeared in my lodgings, sent by Rabbi Reines, and gave me a note from him, in which was written the name Dubin (the name of my family outside of the land)
and added that the rabbi requested me to come to him at home. When I arrived, I was amazed by the unexpected invitation. The rabbi began and said: My apartment, as you know, is very large and there are many rooms in it, and we are in the house by ourselves, me and the Rabbanit, and so therefore we have decided to invite one of the members of the yeshiva to live with us in one of the rooms, if you agree come to us even today, you will lack nothing. And could I possibly refuse? The Rabbanit received me with a warm welcome, showed me the room, and invited me to dinner. And so I was made an unexpected guest of the apartment of Rabbi Reines, and the opportunity was given to me to look closely at his daily life.
The Rabbi's Work Rooms
Rabbi Reines had two work rooms, and one door separated them. In the inner room was one part, and it was the book-room (like in the synagogue). The room's furniture: a table, one upholstered chair, a shtender lectern (like in the synagogue), shelves all around the length of the walls up until the lintel of the door, and on them, books arranged according to the subject matters, and mostly according to height. Next to the shelves was a ladder, and Rabbi Reines would go up and down on it quickly, when there was a need to take down one of the books to study it.
In the outer room he would sit many hours, learning and writing, writing and learning. From time to time he was forced to stop his studying and writing when people came to him to litigate, or to ask his advice, rabbis and men of renown. Also just visitors came, summoned and unsummoned, from far and near for a friendly conversation.
The Smoking and the Smoke
Rabbi Reines was used to smoking a lot. In his work room, next to the window, stood two small barrels, made of hollowed logs, about 15-20 centimeters tall. In each one of them were 2-3 pipes of various types and sizes. He would write and study at the same time, alternately. And the room was full of smoke… Such was his custom during the day and evening.
On one of the days I asked the rabbi: Rabbi, doesn't the smoking disturb your health? To this he answered me affectionately: No. And he added and explained to me if I didn't smoke, I wouldn't be able to concentrate my thoughts and write. And the habit becomes nature. Behold, it doesn't matter to me that I don't smoke on Shabbatot and festivals, I have no need or demand to smoke on these days.
Gifts From Outside of the Country
When he went out on his visit outside of the country, he would return laden with gifts from his many friends, and he would especially bring with him bags of tobacco of all kinds. On his writing table he had shelves and drawers, and he would arrange the bags of tobacco in them, in a system of little barrels and boxes, every two-three days he would fill the little barrels that he had on the table.
In a special corner between the chair where he sat and the table, he made a special place for the pipes according to kind; these too he received from his friends outside of the country, pipes made of pine, birch, oak, hazel, in all kinds of sizes, all of them carved and decorated with various decorations, with pictures of trees and flowers.
The Three Walking Sticks
I am reminded of his three walking sticks: the first - the pipe-stick. It was enough for two or three turns, and then the stick was turned into a pipe, which he would smoke when we went on a trip outside of the city. And the second stick a chair for sitting. He would poke the end of the stick on the side of the road, and the handle that was on the other end of the stick, he would open to the sides and sit on it, leaning for rest. He used to use the third stick alternately as a sunshield or an umbrella, all according to the weather.
The Porch of His House
A special tall cabinet stood on the porch of his house, tightly closed, and in it books of enlightenment were kept and organized. Every day at a set time, he would go out on the porch, open the closet, and take out one of the books of enlightenment, and read in it for only about an hour. Once a visiting rabbi happened to arrive at his house, and found Rabbi Reines on the porch, sitting and studying in books of enlightenment, and commented to him about it: Is it possible to waste time that could be spent on Torah? Rabbi Reines answered him immediately: it is good for a person to study also in external books, so that he will know what to reply to the heretic.
The Torn Coat Edge
Once Rabbi Reines was invited to the city of Kovno, to preach in one of the batei midrash. Thousands of men assembled to hear his words. He had only just ascended the podium, when one of the crowd announced insolently: I came to warn you not to dare preach here. The congregation attacked the cheeky one, and was ready to tear him apart like a fish. But Rabbi Reines turned to the angry congregation, calmed them down, and placated them with pleas to remain in the Beit Midrash, each one in his place, in silence. When men of the congregation grabbed the insolent one in order to pull him down from the podium, that one grabbed hold of the Rabbi's silk garment and did not let go of it until an edge of the garment was torn.
When one day we reached his white clothes closet, which had two doors, he took out of it his atlas coat (his interpretation of the initials yet good for Israel sela he said with a smile) and showed me the edge of his garment, torn from top to bottom for about 40 centimeters, and told me the details of this tear.
Rabbi Fishman writes in the history of Rabbi Reines' life that he heard from Rabbi Reines' own mouth … when the day comes I will request that they place this torn garment of mine in my grave…
On Erev Pesach
By the light of day of the 14th of Nisan, I accompanied the rabbi on a check for chametz. He checked in all the corners of the house, in the closets and the cabinets. When we reached one of the cabinets, he pointed out one scroll wrapped in silk, and said to me: here a klaf is hidden and preserved by me, and on it is a history of our family for many generations. Our genealogy, according to what is found written, is from one of the honorable ones of my elder the Gaon our teacher the Rabbi Shlomo Zalman, Av Beit Din of the holy community of Mir, which we connect all the way back to David the King, may peace be upon him. He opened the silk cover and left me to read the scroll, which was written in the letters used for torah scrolls, tefillin and mezzuzot. After I completed my reading, I kissed the scroll, he rolled it, wrapped it slowly and punctiliously in its silk cover, and returned it to the closet.
The Visit of Rabbi Mazah From Moscow
One day Rabbi Mazah came from Moscow to visit Rabbi Reines in Lida, and when he came to the yeshiva, in one of the lessons of the teacher Pinchas Shifman, he asked us, the students, What is your opinion? Were the Jews satisfied that the Torah was translated into Greek? Mr. Shifman answered this for Rabbi Mazah in our place: Rabbi, I too wouldn't know how to answer your question. And then the rabbi answered to all of us: In the forgiveness prayers of the 10th of Tevet (his visit happened in the month of Tevet), it is written: And the King of Greece forced us to write Greek law, and this verse is directed at the Greek decrees. Forced us against the Torah and the Hebrew language. (I was present at this lesson).
by Yaakov Ben-Sira
Translated by Rabbi Molly Karp
My father Pinchas Shifman, may his memory be for a blessing, preceded the members of the family and came to the Lida yeshiva to serve in it as a teacher of Tanakh, Hebrew language and literature, and there was very significant innovation in this. Only the authority of Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines, may his memory be for a blessing, Lida's Rabbi and Head of the yeshiva there, prevented too many debates about it. The senior and junior young men of the yeshiva willingly answered as one. My father's hours of Hebrew learning quickly became a magnet for engagement, an outlet for longing, and an opening for an introduction of reforms in the national Zionist awakening in those days.
Over the course of about the first half of the year my father completed the necessary arrangements for bringing his family, and at the beginning of 1909 we joined him. I spent nearly five years in Lida before my aliyah to the land on Sukkot 5674 .
At first, over the course of two years, I learned in the governmental Hebrew elementary school, whose language of instruction was Russian, and I completed it in the year 1911. In this period I began to learn Gemara in the afternoon hours, as training for entry into the yeshiva. My teacher for Talmud was one of the senior young men of the yeshiva, Mr. Shimon Zak, to whom I am obliged all the days that he trained me for the study of Gemara in the yeshiva. He was the one who taught me Talmud with Hebrew interpretation. The Hebrew was still fluent in my mouth from my father's house, from my learning in cheder, and in cheder metukan in the cities where we lived before coming to Lida.
In 1911, when I completed the government school, I entered the Lida yeshiva and learned there over the course of about three years, until my aliyah to the land.
I acquired many friends during the years of my stay in Lida, both from among my friends in the Hebrew-Russian school, some of them neighbors' children and children of my parents' friends, and also from among the young men of the yeshiva that I met through Rabbi Reines' grandson, Moshe son of Reb Aharon, the rabbi's son-in-law.
Despite the diverse forms of learning and the daily engagement, all of my friends knew Hebrew from their studies in cheder, and were always interested in events and activities of the Zionists who were active in the city. We participated in the choir of Chaikeleh the teacher, we served as emissaries for the transmission of Rosh Hashanah blessings, and as distributors of the Keren HaKayemet stamps all year long. We engaged in presentations in Hebrew for children. I even participated, together with Chaim Ariav, may his memory be for a blessing, of the house of Krupski, and with Chaim Amitai, may he be distinguished for a long life, in one presentation which I remember until today: Morals of a Bad Youth
I remember from those days, especially, Sheliovski's store, as a center for Zionist activity and the store of Temima Yudelevitz, the well-known HaBimah actress. The families that were close to us, outside of the contacts that came from father's work in the yeshiva, were the Krupski and Yudelevitz families. They also lived in our neighborhood.
We, the youth, did not bury our hands in the plate, and we founded an association of speakers of the language of Ever, and we even published a newspaper printed with rubber letters arranged in rows, partly in handwriting, and partly in hectograph. Yet all these were the activities of youth, and were also joined by more than a little mischief while swimming in the river, excursions in the forests, especially in the summer home. And so we played games in a field on the outskirts of the city, and even enlisted in war and defense groups with the shkutzim for the defense of the youths of Israel in a swimming meet on the bank of the river or in certain places between the neighborhoods of Israel and the gentiles.
When I reached the respected age of 12 the pranks stopped and I entered the yeshiva, and in the evening hours I learned secular studies from a university student, who happened then to be in Lida (the brother of Rabbi Shlifer the son-in-law of Rabbi Avraham Ber Reines. Rabbi Shlifer was, afterwards, the rabbi of Moscow).
My secular studies were intended to train me for entrance into the fifth division of the gymnasia in Vilna. Yet the long day of learning in the yeshiva and at home did not prevent me, and other youths like me, from participating in a shared reading group, disputes, dreams about the land of Israel, and even various kinds of games, especially in the days of summer.
I broadened my group of acquaintances, and there were among them also many members of the yeshiva who came from distant places of settlement to learn in the famous Lida yeshiva. Some of them lived in private houses, two, three boys together in one room, and some of them in larger groups, in attics. Such a large group of youths teemed with life and simmered and activated imagination and expression.
In general the youths and young men sharpened each other not only in words of Torah and study, but also in the laws of society and the world. The spirit was mainly Zionist, and the students clung to the love of my father's lessons, drank his words thirstily, and by this their hearts were filled with dreams of the return to Zion and the renewal of the greatness of Israel and the elevation of the reservoir of its language and literature.
It happened that the prosecutors in the yeshiva grew stronger and said to remove secular books from the yeshiva, and to forbid the avrechim who stood on the verge of rabbinic ordination to engage in Hebrew studies. The yeshiva was in an uproar, and it was precisely the avrechim who took courage to stand at the right hand of the Hebrew. They broke the opposition and returned the crown of the study of Tanakh and Hebrew literature to its former glory.
The yeshiva left its imprint on the whole city. The young men whose residences were scattered throughout the city disseminated opinions and ideas and influenced the members of the youth who came into contact with them outside of the walls of the yeshiva. Therefore, in this way interest in the land of Israel increased in Lida, many embroidered dreams to ascend to the land, except that the First World War disrupted their plans.
My friend Elimelech Zelikovitz, may his memory be for a blessing, and I went early, and ascended to the land still in the year 1913, and here too found a few youths who in their time learned in the Lida yeshiva.
But it was not only the yeshiva that gave flavor to the Jewish lives of the Jews of Lida; there were many synagogues and study houses in it, some of them grouped in the courtyards of the synagogue, and some of them scattered in the many neighborhoods of the city. There were also many cheders and organizations for social and cultural activities for many groups of youth. There was in it a Zionist club, yet it is certain that there was no lack of signs of the influence of Russian culture, especially among the local intelligentsia and the wealthy class. In many houses, even in places where the young men learned in yeshivot, the girls attended the gymnasia and received an education that was primarily secular.
The years of my stay in Lida, from the beginning of 1909 until fall 1913, were years of educational and cultural crisis in many communities of Israel in the Russian diaspora. The demands of religious traditional education on the one hand, and the blowing of new winds, which demanded secular education, on the other. The Herzliya gymnasia in Jaffa seemed to many to be a practical solution, and indeed my friend Elimelech and I came to learn in it the wisdom of the gentiles in Hebrew garb.
Lida was a city whose Jewish population was unified in a tradition of the ways of life and religion, commerce, personal and family practice, ways of education and cultural systems. In the memory of all of those who emerged from it there is an image of the sharp character of the various residents of Lida, as if carved in stone and colorful. Here is the market, and men and women traders, in whose rapid speech echoes the pulses and passions of life. Here are the young householders in their shops, and respected householders in their businesses, and gabbaim and powerful heads of the community, and merchants with strangers, nimble and alert. And here are teachers and klei kodesh, rabbis, ritual slaughterers, cantors, tax collectors and butchers and craftsmen, potters and metalsmiths. And here are the intelligentsia, doctors and teachers and all are weaving their own special seal of the vibrant iridescent page of life, activating and stimulating youth to strive for their achievement, to conquer positions for themselves and for their people.
And we were integrated and clinging to the landscape and the surroundings. This street that we lived on, Kreiviyah Ulitzah, which continued from this side to the market, crossing the intersection with Kaminka, and from this side until the ancient Polish fortress, emanating splendor on moonlit nights, and a field for races and running for the youth in the sundrenched days. And on the street across from our house the police building, and to the left the club of the nobles, and the garden behind it that reached Vilneska Street, with the kiosk for ice cream and soft drinks. And at the top of the street on the right the Zamir club. On the same side where we lived, at the top of the street in the direction of the fortress, the courtyard of the Boyars and the dwelling place of the Meitzitai, and from there onward the houses of the gentiles. Ahead and to the right was the way to the railroad school and in the school courtyard, exercise equipment on which they used to train in the hours when it was free of students. Behind our house the park with the stream that wound through it, and the bridges over it and the boats in which one could sail and the square for movie shows in the summer and the place for the playing of the military band.
And here is the main street and shops and businesses of our acquaintances, or our friends' parents, and from it Stikliani Alley, and at the end the house of Chaikel the teacher, and down the street on the way out of the city the beer breweries, the post office, the rabbi's son's house on one side of the street and on the other side the connection to the market, the same Russian-Hebrew school that I learned in, the house of the official Rabbi Dobovski, and at the end, Rabbi Reines' house.
In the patterns of landscape, humanity and these environs our images were cast we the children of Lida of those days.
And in the system of the life of the city and our lives, the Lida yeshiva was embedded, like a magnet for youth, who came from near and far to dive in the sea of Talmud, to argue over its issues, and with this to peek to the sides, to understand the spirit of the transformations and changes in the spaces of the world, and to aspire to national and personal selfhood and independence as one, in the renewing world, in the period of secret dreams.
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