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[Page 295]

The Religious Life


Lutsk Rabbis

by HaRav Elhanan Sorotzkin/Jerusalem

Translated by Sara Mages

Little is the information we have of the history of the early days of the large and ancient community of Lutsk, which, without a doubt, was established at the beginning of the15th century AD. The first events of the five hundred year old community are shrouded in fog, and there


HaRav Elhanan Sorotzkin


is almost no trace of them in Jewish sources until the middle of the 16th century. And similarly also regarding to the information about the rabbis of the city, because it is indescribable that they did not exist at the beginning of its days. However, until the middle of the 4th century of the 6th millennium (the end of the 16th century AD), we have no information about the rabbis of Lutsk and even their names are unknown to us. Admittedly, the community of Lutsk is no different in this regard. The history of the rabbinate in Eastern Europe - the Kingdoms of Poland and Lita [Lithuania], that is, the area included in the jurisdiction of the Council of Four Lands[1] begins, as we know, only from the beginning of the 4th century of the 6th millennium, and at the earliest at the middle of the 3rd century, and only a few names of rabbis and famous heads of yeshivot are known to us from an earlier period.

And these are the names of the rabbis of Lutsk, from the middle of the 4th century until the beginning of the 7th century to the 6th millennium, according to what we were able to gather from various sources and books.

  1. The first Rabbi of Lutsk, whose name is known to us, is HaGaon[2] R' Aharon HaLevi Ish-Horowitz, a relative of the Shelah (R' Isaiah Horowitz, author of the book Shenei Luchot HaBerit [Two Tablets of the Covenant], and it is possible to determine the time of his rabbinate in Lutsk to the years 5340-5350 (1580-90). His son was HaGaon R' Shmuel, who filled the place of the Shelah in the rabbinate of Dubno, and later served as president of the court of Ludmila.
  2. In the year 5363 (1603), served as the Rabbi of Lutsk one of the greatest rabbis of his generation, HaGaon R' Moshe son of R' Yehudah HaCohen Shapira, grandson of the well known Gaon, R' Yitzchak Shapira, president of the court of the holy community of Krakow. HaGaon R' Moshe, the Rabbi of Lutsk, was the son-in-law of R' Shaul Wahl, the Polish “King,” who carried the crown of Poland on his head for one night. There are many legends about this matter in the history of the Jews of Poland, and R' Shaul was undoubtedly the leader, and the “lobbyist,” of the Jews of Poland and Lita in that generation. From Lutsk, HaGaon R' Moshe moved to serve as the Rabbi of the Krakow region. He wrote the book, Questions and Answers Maharam[3], which remained in a manuscript and was not printed. There is consent from him on the book, Mekor Chachimim [The Source of Sages], which was printed together with the consents of famous Geonim, the Shelah and Ba'al Halevushim[4]. He passed away in the year 5377 (1617).
  3. HaGaon R' Yosef Aharon Peretz Yehudah, served in the rabbinate in Lutsk in about the years 5370-5975 (1610-15). His son was the Hasidic rabbi, R' Yitzchak Yakov Koppel, who was described as, “a wise student in the kollel[5] who studied the Torah day and night.” He passed away in Lublin in the year 5407/1647 (according to what is written on his tombstone). His daughter-in-law - the widow of R' Yitzchak Yakov Koppel - was a rich woman with great property. A debt of 900 Polish zloty, which the heads of the State of Lita owed to her, was recorded in “Pinkas HaKehilot Lita.”
  4. HaGaon R' Alexander Susskind, son of R' Moshe HaCohen Ashkenazi, known as Susskind Katz, served as president of the court in Lutsk in the years 5375-5381 (1615-21). He was one of the greatest and most important rabbis of his generation, and among the signatories of the ban on the printing of SeferMe'irat Enayim[6] for ten years (the famous commentary on Choshen Mishpat[7] known by his abbreviated name S'ma). He signed, together with the S'ma, the Maharsha[8], Ba'al Halevushim, and HaGaon R' Moshe HaCohen Shapira, his predecessor in the rabbinate in Lutsk, the consent for the book, Zikhron Moshe [Memorial for Moshe], by HaGaon our teacher R' Moshe Zevulun Eliezer of Brisk. There is also a consent from him on the famous Sidur of R' Shabbethai Sofer. There are eulogies about him in the well known book, Eitan HaEzrahi [Eitan the Citizen], and it is also said there that the elderly Gaon, R' Susskind Katz, Rabbi of Lutsk, passed away in the year 5381 (1621).
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  1. HaGaon R' Avraham HaLevi Segal, the elderly uncle of the TaZ[9] (Turei Zahav [“Rows of Gold”] about Shulchan Aruch), president of the court of the community of Lutsk in about the year 5390 (1630). His son, HaGaon R' Yitzchak, was a rabbi in Biaroza, Bocki and Pappenheim in Germany. Was the father-in-law of HaGaon R' Aharon Katzenellenbogen of Brisk, author of the book Minchat Aharon about Masechet Sanhedrin[10].
  2. The famous Gaon, R' Yakov Shor, son of HaGaon R' Ephraim Zalman Shor president of the court of the community of Brisk and author of the book Tevu'ot Shor[11]. The mother of R' Yakov Shor, Henla, was the daughter of the famous R' Shaul Wahl. According to legend, the Polish king, Sigismund III, coveted her and wanted to marry her after the queen's death. R' Shaul Wahl hurried to marry her to the seventy year old R' Efraim Zalman Shor, who, at that time, was widowed by his wife, to prevent the king from taking her. R' Yakov Shor was born from this marriage. After the death of his old father he was brought up by his mother, who raised him in yeshivot and traveled with him to the distinguished men of the time to receive “ordination.” R' Yakov Shor was president of the court of the community of Lutsk to the year 5398 (1638), and later he was accepted as president of the court of the community of Brisk in place of his father. He wrote the book Beit Yakov about Masechet Sanhedrin that was printed in Amsterdam. There are also responsa[12] from him in the book Teshuvot Geonei Batrai and also in the book Helkat Mehokek about Eben Ha-Ezer[13]. He passed away in the year 5415 (1654). His sons-in-law were: HaGaon R' Issac Heilprin president of the court of the community of Tykocin, HaGaon R' Shaul president of the court of the community of Pińczów, and R' Avraham, leader of the Council of Four Lands.
  3. HaGaon R' Yosef, son of R' Eliyakim Getz Heilprin, son-in-law of the Maharam of Lublin, was the president of the court of the community of Lutsk in the year 5400 (1640). Was among those who gave their consent to the book, Siftei Cohen [Lips of the Priest], on Shulchan Aruch, and the father-in-law of R' Nachman Rappaport, president of the court of the communities of Kremenets and Belz - grandfather of HaGaon R' Chaim of Volozhin. From Lutsk he was accepted president of the court of the community of Lwow (out of the city), and passed away in the year 5412 (1652). There is am answer from him in the book Eitan HaEzrahi, in which he allows to ignore a Jewish murderer who was caught by the authorities, and rules that no effort should be made to save him from the death penalty that threatens him. In Pinkas Lwow it is written that a “place” in the synagogue, belonging to the husband of his daughter Liba, was sold to redeem her from prison. On his tombstone it is written among other “He was the president of the court in honest and righteous judgments, and an important head of a yeshiva, he taught the Torah with many pure and refined sayings…and was buried here in Lwow with loud and strong voices in the streets and the markets.”
  4. HaGaon R' Man (Menish), Rabbi of Lutsk in the years 5408-5409 (1648-1649). He was murdered with 200 Jews from Lutsk by Bohdan Khmelnytskyi, on the sanctification of God's name, (Ṭiṭ ha-Yawen[14]).
  5. HaGaon R' Mordechai HaCohen Rapoport (Schrenzel), was a rabbi in Lutsk after the year 5410 (1650), son of HaGaon R' Avraham author of the book Eitan HaEzrahi, and son -in-law of HaGaon R' Shimon Klaif of Germany. He redeemed from the hands of the students in Lwow the manuscript of Eitan HaEzrahi that they robbed in the riots organized by them. His nephew, R' Avraham, president of the court in Bohuslav, published the book in the year 5526 (1766).
  6. The Kabbalist, HaGaon R' Yitzchak son of R' Avraham, who was unique in his generation in the Torah and Kabbala, (according to the testimony of the book Shem Yakov). Was the president of the court in Lutsk to the year 5424 (1664). From Lutsk he was accepted as President of the Court in Vilna [Vilnius], and from there to Poznań. HaGaon R' Yitzchak also taught the wisdom of the Kabbalah to many students. The author of Magen Avraham[15], one of his greatest students, mentioned him several times in his book. He wrote a book of responsa, Be'er Yitzchak [Yitzchak's Well], and was a descended of a privileged family. His father, HaGaon R' Avraham, was the Rabbi of Ostroh, and a descended of HaGaon R' Yitzchak author of Shaare Dura. His son, HaGaon R' Yakov (son-in-law of HaGaon R' Naftali HaCohen author of Semichat Chachamim) filled his place in the rabbinate in Poznań. In the year 5443 (1863), HaGaon R' Yitzchak, signed a judgment issued in the conflict between the leaders of the State of Lita and the community of Brisk. He passed away in Poznań in the year 5447 (1687).
  7. HaGaon R' Moshe Katz -Kahana, son of HaGaon R' Pesach son of HaGaon R' Tanchum, son of Sherit Yosef [Rabbi Yosef Reyzen] brother-in-law of the Remah[16] -was president of the court in Lutsk after HaGaon R' Yitzchak son of R' Avraham. He previously served as rabbi in the kloiz in Brisk, later as president of the court in Slutsk and from there moved to Lutsk. He was a great and famous rabbi in his generation. He gave his consent, together with Turei Zahav, to the book Amudeha Shivah, in the year 5424 (1664). R' Moshe Katz was the son-in-law of R' Meir Wahl - son of the minister R' Shaul Wahl, and brother-in-law of the famous Gaon, R' Yona Teomim-Frankel, author of the book Kikayon deYona. His sons: HaRav R' Yosef Katz president of the court of the community of Friedeburg, and HaRav R' Yehudah Leib of Lutsk - father of HaGaon R; Moshe Cohen president of the court of the community of Beltz and the country. HaGaon R' Moshe Katz -Kahana passed away in the year 5430 (1670).
  8. HaGaon R' Schmeril Horowitz, son of HaGaon R' Yeshaya Magid, served in the rabbinate in Lutsk probably at the same time and together with HaGaon R' Moshe Katz-Kahana, because he passed away in the year 5429 (1669) - a year before the passing of HaGaon R' Moshe Katz-Kahana.
  9. From the year 5430 (1670), served in the rabbinate in Lutsk HaGaon R' Tzvi Hirsh, who is defined as “the most important president of the court of the four leaders of the Wolyn region in the Council of Four Lands” (according to Voschod[17], October 1894 booklet). There are no other details about his activities and his attribution.
  10. HaGaon R' Yisrael, son of R' Shmuel of Ternopil, president of the court in Lutsk from the year 5439 (1679). He was a student and relative of Turei Zahav. R' Yisrael, son of R' Shmuel carried on his head the crown of the rabbinate, and the crown of the leader of the Council of Four Lands as one, and signed a document that was given to the Polish Minister of Finance in Braslaw [Wrocław] in this language: “I, Yisrael son of Shmuel of Ternopil, chief supervisor of all the Jews in all the Kingdoms of Poland, and the leader of the general committee that will be held in Lublin, and with me the 18 superiors of all the Jews in the four countries of Poland… We acknowledge in our own name, and in the name of all the Jews in the Kingdom of Poland, that we have truly and innocently committed to pay the nobleman, Georg von Meltenberg, Minister of Finance of the Royal City of Braslaw - for 12 years… in cash, while enslaving all our soul, our capital and property, and that all the Jews from the four countries of the Kingdom of Poland…” According to the testimony of his contemporaries, he was “the most famous among the geniuses of the sages of his generation, and no committee was established without him.” Before he became the Rabbi of Lutsk he was a rabbi and head of a yeshiva in Ludmir, and was probably also rich, because he doanated “a decent alms for printing of Even Ha'ezer in Krakow in the year 5430 (1670). His signature is desplayed at the top of many documents, judgments and consents on books (Lev Arye, Nehamot Tzion, Sefer Haishel, Divrei Shemuel, Kene Chohama, and more), and he signed first before the famous Geonim: R' Moshe Kremer president of the court in Vilna, HaGaon R' Yitzchak son of R' Avraham of Poznań (formerly
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    the Rabbi of Lutsk), HaGaon R' Nachman Rappoport and HaGaon R' Tzvi Hirsh of Lublin. In the year 5437 (1677), he signed an appeal to the Jews of Amsterdam asking for help in redeeming the prisoners taken by the Tatars in the states of Podolia and Pokuttia. In the year 5438 (1678), he was elected leader of the Council of Four Lands (and served in this capacity to the year 5440 (1679). In the year 5441 (1680), he signed a judgment given in a conflict between leaders of the Council of Four Lands and the State of Lita, and in 5443 (1683), together with HaGaon R' Yitzchak son of Avraham, on a ruling in the dispute between the State of Lita and the community of Brisk. He was also among those who gave their consent at the Jarosław fair to copy the Bible into the German language and print it in Amsterdam, and also about the ban not to rule between HaRav Shabbatai HaKohen against Turei Zahav. He enthusiastically supported the book Meginei Zahav that protected Turei Zahav, and settled the disputes in the book Nekudat HaKesef of Shabbatai HaKohen against Turei Zahav - his rabbi and relative.
  1. HaGaon R' Yisrael, son of R' Mordechai Yollis of Krakow, known by the name R' Yisrael Swinocher, president of the court in Lutsk after HaGaon R' Yisrael son of R' Shmuel of Ternopil. Before he was the Rabbi of Lutsk, he was president of the court in Ludmir. His father was the leader of the Council of Four Lands, and his brother-in-law was the “leader of the generation” - R' Issachar Berish son of HaGaon R' Heschel of Krakow. His daughter was the wife of HaGaon R' Simcha Katz Rappoport - grandfather of HaGaon R' Chaim HaCohen Rappoport chief of the court of the holy communities of Zittel, Slutsk and Lwow. He was among the rabbis who participated in the well-known debate with the members of the Frankism movement[18].
  2. HaGaon R' Yoel Heilprin, who were called in his time “R' Yoel the Great” - served as president of the court in Lutsk in the years 5449-5451 (1689-91). Was the son of HaGaon R' Yitzchak Isaac, president of the court of the community of Tykocin and son-in-law of the Holy Rabbi, R' Mordechai Segel who was killed on the sanctification of God's name in Lwow. He was the son of Turei Zahav. At first, he was a rabbi in Brody and later in Lutsk. From Lutsk he moved to serve as a rabbi in Pinsk, and from there to Ostroh to take the place of his father-in-law, HaGaon R' Naftali Katz, who moved to Poznań. In the last year of his life (5474 - 1713), he was elected president of the court in Lwow, but died on his way to his new place of service. There are consents from him on dozens of books that were published during his time, and he was also active in the various meeting of the Council of Four Lands, the Committee of the State of Lita, and chairman in the meetings of the rabbis of the Wolyn Region.
  3. HaGaon R' Mordechai Klausner, president of the court in Lutsk in the years 5458-5481 (1698-1721). His father was HaGaon R' Tzvi Hirsch, Rabbi of Lublin and Lwow, son of HaGaon R' Zechariah Mendel who is known as “Zechariah the Prophet.” He signed a judgment given in regards to the conflicts between the communities of Tykocin and Siemiatycze, together with the former Rabbi of Lutsk, R' Yoel Heilprin, (in the year 5460 - 1700). There are also consents from him for the books, Lekach Tov and Brit Shalom. He also signed the ban on importing books from outside the country, to protect the books printed in the new printing press in Zhovkva established by R' Feibush Segal. His daughter, Malka, was married to HaGaon R' Tzvi Hirsch Horowitz, president of the court of the community of Chortkov, the father of the famous Gaon R' Pinchas HaLevi Horowitz author of the book Hafla'ah[19].
  4. HaGaon R' Tzvi Hirsch, son of R' Asher, a famous rabbi in his generation. Served as rabbi and president of the court in Lutsk starting from the year 5482 (1772).
  5. HaGaon R' Avraham HaLevi of Krakow, head of a yeshiva in Lutsk - passed away in the year 5511 (1751).
  6. HaGaon R' Yakov, son of HaGaon our teacher Arye Leib, president of the court in Lutsk from the year 5514 (1754). His father, president of the court in Hrodna (Grodno), was among the greatest rabbis of his generation. His father-in-law was HaGaon R' Yehusua, president of the court in Szydłów, from the family of [Yehusua Hoschel] the author of Maginei Shelomo. HaGaon R' Yakov was first a rabbi in Leźno, and from Lutsk he moved to serve as head of the rabbinical court in Lublin. During his stay in Lutsk the well-known dispute broke out between the Geonim, R' Yonatan Eibeschutz and R' Yakov Emden. He was among the enthusiastic supporters of R' Yonatan Eibeschutz, and signed the boycott against the opponents of HaGaon R' Eibeschutz in the meeting of the Council of Four Lands in the Jarosław fair in the year 5514 (1754). In the year 5515 (1754), he signed the ban against the Six Orders [of the Mishnah], which was printed in Sulzbach twenty five years after the printing of the Six Orders in Amsterdam, together with the Geonim: R' Chaim HaCohen Rappaport (his father-in-law) and R' Meshulam Zalman Gunzburg the Chief Rabbi of Russia. For lack of financial means, only twenty four pages of his book, Kokhavei Yakov, were printed in Zhovkva in the year 5534 (1774). There are consents on the book from fifty rabbis who praised it, and also these consents were not printed in the small book for lack of space, only the signatures were brought in it. He had two sons: the famous tzadik rabbi, R' Yosef, president of the court of the community of Biala, maternal grandfather of the famous Gaon, R' Shlomo Kluger of Brody, and HaRav R' Moshe president of the court of the community of Somberhaben [?].
  7. HaGaon R' Yakov Aharon Heilprin, grandson of HaGaon R' Yoel the Great, was the president of the court in Lutsk in the years 5549-5551(1789-1791). His father,' R' Mordechai, was a famous rich man in Ostroh and head of Chevrah Kadisha in his city According to the opinion of all he was the author of Mazkeret leGedolei Osṭraha . HaRav R' Mordechai was also a rabbi in Lutsk before he moved to Ostroh, a place where he stripped off the rabbinical cloak and became a merchant. HaGaon R' Yakov Aharon Heilprin was previously a rabbi in Stepan. While he was there, gold vessels and precious jewels were stolen from the city's Duke. Suspicion fell on two Jews, who were imprisoned and severely tortured until they “confessed” that they had stolen the jewelry and the gold vessels, and handed them over to the rabbi's son, (HaRav R' Yosef Yoel Heilprin a preacher in Stepan), who sold them abroad. The rabbi and his son were arrested and handcuffed. The court issued a death sentence for the rabbi's son if he wouldn't not return the theft within a certain time, or if he wouldn't l not convert his religion. And here a miracle happened. That night the thieves were caught with the theft in its entirety, it was returned to the Duke and the rabbi and his son were released. To commemorate this event, HaGaon R' Yakov Aharon, wrote a scroll in which the entire miracle is recounted in rhymes. He commanded all his descendants to fast, “until the end of all generations,” on the twenty-second day of the month of Menachem Av, to recite the Slichot prayers[20], and in the evening to have a mitzvah feast for the poor, and tell the generation to come the story of the rescue and the miracle. In Lutsk he served as rabbi and president of the court to the year 5519 (1759).
  8. HaGaon R' Avraham Horowitz, president of the court of the community of Lutsk, and the region, in the years 5520-5526 (1760-1766). He was the son-in-law of HaGaon R' Asher, the Rabbi of Olyka who was one of the greatest of the generation, and son-in-law of HaGaon the author of Kodesh HaKodashim [The Holy of Holiest], R' Meir Horowitz of Tykocin. His son was R' Avigdor president of the court of the community of Kamenka, and his grandson, HaRav R' Yitzchak Shimshon, served as president of the court in Chernovtsy and Zhovkva, and published the famous book Chemdah Genuzah [Hidden Desire].
  9. HaGaon R' Avraham HaLevi, served as president of the court in Lutsk until the year 5537 (1777).
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  1. HaRav R' Avraham, son of R' Manis, Rabbi of Lutsk in the year 5542 (1782). His father was one of Dubno' richest and most important, and left large sums in his will to charity and the poor of Eretz Yisrael.
  2. The tzadik rabbi, R' Gershon Lutzker, of the great students of the Maggid of Mezeritch[21] (a student of Baal Shem Tov). Passed away in the year 5548 (1788).
  3. HaGaon R' Avraham Arye Ashkenazi, president of the court in Lutsk in the years 5544-5549 (1784-9), father-in-law of HaGaon R' Binyamin Broda of Hrodna [Grodno], and grandfather of HaGaon R' Duberush Ashkenazi author of Noda baShearim [Known in the Gates], (served as president of the court in Lutsk after 40 years).
  4. The righteous rabbi, R' Shlomo son of R' Avraham Lutzker (the Maggid of Sokal), was the outstanding student of the Maggid of Mezeritch and the spreader of his teachings, the Hassidic doctrine. He published the book Maggid Devarav leYaakov [Teachings of the Maggid of Mezeritch]. In the introduction to the book, he writes that the Maggid of Mezeritch asked him to write his innovations on the Torah, “For it to be a keepsake to the work of the blessed Creator.” He was the rabbi of the first Admor of Belz. In the year 5533 (1773), he signed as a witness to the will of the Maggid of Mezeritch. He wrote the first volume of the book Dibrat Shlomo, on the foundations of the Hasidic doctrine. The following inscription is engraved on his tombstone in Sokal: “Died on the tenth of the month of Shevat 5573 [11 January 1813] by the abbreviated era, HaRav, the genius preacher, student of our rabbi Dov Ber z”l, the bright light and supreme saint, learned and sharp-witted in the Torah and the Kabballa, the honorable Shlomo son of Avraham zt”l author of the book Dibrat Shlomo.”
  5. HaGaon R' Yosef Katzenellenbogen, son of the famous tzadik rabbi, R' Mordechai of Neskhizh [Niesuchojeże], of the greatest Hassidim. At first, he was a rabbi in Hrubieszów and Ustylúh, and later president of the court in Lutsk in the years 5580-5590 (1820-30). He was well known as great a Ba'al Mofet[22]. His wife was the granddaughter of the famous tzadikim, R' Pinchas of Korets and R' Yakov Shimshon of Ostropoli. He left behind five sons, great in the Torah and Hassidut, and they are: the tzadik rabbi Pinchas of Ustylúh, HaRav R' Baruch of Konstantin, and HaRav R' Levi Yitzchak of Stepan. His father-in-law was the famous tzadik, R' Avraham Yehoshua Heshel of Opatów. He passed away in the year 5590 (1830).
  6. The famous Gaon in his generation, R' Duberush, son of HaRav R' Moshe Ashkenazi, grandson of the above mentioned, HaGaon R' Avraham Arye the Rabbi of Lutsk. He was a great-grandson, and grandson, of HaGaon author of Chacham Tzvi[23] and HaGaon author of Sha'ar Efraim[24]. Even at a young age he was famous as one of the greatest rabbis and was approached with questions and answers. In the year 5591 (1831), at the age of thirty, he was accepted as president of the court in Lutsk, in the year 5598 (1838) we find him as president of the court of Slonim, and a few years later as president of the court in Lublin. He wrote a responsa book Noda ba-Shearim [Known in the Gates] (first and last addition) and in it negotiating in Halacha [Jewish law] with all the sages of the generation who called him “The miracle of our generation, the crown on our heads, one of the pillars on which all Jews lean.” (By the way, in this book there is a comprehensive answer on the eruv[25] in Lutsk that relies on the Styr River that surrounds the city as a partition for the Sabbath). He was the father-in-law of HaGaon R' Shlomo Eger, and a relative of [Yaakov Lorberdaum] the Rabbi of Lissa, author of the book Netivot HaMishpat [The paths of the trial]. He passed away in the year 5613 (1852) - and he was only fifty years old. He didn't leave sons and daughters after him. His brother, HaRav R' Avraham Arye, published his books, and the wealthy of Lutsk helped him as “subscribers” who paid the signing fees in advance.
  7. HaRav, HaMaor HaGadol[26], R' Eliezer of Torchyn, head of the court in Lutsk in the year 5608 (1848). There is a question from him in the book Noda ba-Shearim.
  8. HaRav R' Yitzchak Landa, “Rabbi of the holy community of Lutsk,” was a rabbi and teacher in Jerusalem in the year 5610 (1850). His consent was printed in the book Bracha Meshuleshet [Triple Blessing] which was published in Lwow.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. The Council of Four Lands was the central institutions of Jewish self-government in Poland and Lithuania from the middle of the 16th century until 1764. Return
  2. HaGaon (lit.“The Genius”) is an honorary title for a Jewish scholar who is noted for his wisdom and knowledge of the Talmud. Return
  3. Maharam is an acronym of the words Morenu Ha-Rav rabbi M… (Our teacher the Rabbi M...). Return
  4. R' Mordecai Yoffe is also known as Ba'al Halevushim for this book Levush Malkhut (lit.“Robes of Royalty”) Return
  5. An institute for full-time advanced study of the Talmud and rabbinic literature. Return
  6. SeferMe'irat Enayim (lit.“An Eye-Opening Book”) was written by R' Yehusua HaCohen Falk. Return
  7. Choshen Mishpat (lit. “Breastplate of Judgment”) is the last of four sections of Shulchan Aruch (lit.“Set Table”), the code of Jewish law written by Rabbi Yosef Karo in 1563. Return
  8. Shmuel Eliezer HaLevi Eidels, a renowned rabbi and Talmudist, is also known as Maharsha, Hebrew acronym for Our Teacher, the Rabbi Shmuel Eidels. Return
  9. David HaLevi Segal is also known as Turei Zahav (abbreviated TaZ) after the title of his significant commentary on Shulchan Aruch. Return
  10. Masechet Sanhedrin (lit. “Assembly of Judges”) is a tractate in Seder Nezikin (“Order of Damages”) that addresses the judicial system. Return
  11. Ephraim Zalman Shor was a 16th-century Czech rabbi who is best known for his rabbinic work on kashrut and the proper ritual slaughter of animals called Tevu'ot Shor. Return
  12. In rabbinic literature, the responsa are known as She'elot u-Teshuvot (Questions and Answers). Return
  13. Even Ha'ezer (lit. “The Stone of Help”) is a section of Rabbi Jacob ben Asher's compilation of halakha (Jewish law). Return
  14. In his book, Ṭiṭ ha-Yawen [lit.“Place of Suffering'), Samuel Phoebus describes the massacre during the Cossacks' Uprising under Bohdan Khmelnytskyi, a Ukrainian military commander, in Ukraine and Galicia in the 17th century. Return
  15. R' Abraham Abele Gombiner, known as Magen Avraham (Shield of Avraham), was a rabbi, Talmudist and a leading religious authority in the Jewish community of Kalisz, Poland Return
  16. Rabbi Moshe Isserles (meaning “son of Israel”) is also known by the acronym Rema. Return
  17. Voschod (lit. “Sunrise”) was a Russian-Jewish monthly (1882-1899). Return
  18. Frankism, was a heretical Sabbatean Jewish religious movement of the 18th and 19th centuries, centered on the leadership of the Jewish Messiah claimant, Yakov Frank. Return
  19. Rabbi Pinchas HaLevi Horowitz (1730-1805) was the rabbi of Frankfurt and the author of Sefer Hafla'ah, a novellae on the tractate Ketubot Return
  20. Selichot (lit. “Forgiveness”) are penitential poems and prayers, especially those said in the period leading up to the High Holidays, and on fast days. Return
  21. Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch, also known as the Maggid of Mezeritch (lit. The preacher of Mezeritch), was a disciple of Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (the Baal Shem Tov), the founder of Hasidic Judaism. Return
  22. The Miracle Worker, this role, known in Hebrew as the Ba'al Mofet, was often assumed by Hasidim to involve expertise in Practical Kabbalah. Return
  23. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Ashkenazi, known as the Chacham Tzvi after his responsa by the same title, served for some time as rabbi of Amsterdam. Return
  24. R' Efraim HaCohen Katz of Vilnius Lithuania Return
  25. The eruv is a boundary that allows observant Jews to carry needed things in public on the Sabbath. Return
  26. HaMaor HaGadol is an honorary title for a very learned rabbi. Return

[Page 303]

The Fortress Synagogue in Lutsk

M. S. Geshuri

Translated by Sara Mages

The large fortress synagogue that was built in Lutsk in 1626 next to the fort, served not only as a place of prayer, but also a war and shield position. In days of pogroms and riots the Jewish community gathered in the fortified house of prayer and defended itself against an enemy and an avenger. Synagogues of this type were all over the State of Poland. Each of them was a memorial monument related to the events and actions of previous generations, and legends that told about the lives and hardships of the city's Jews were woven around them. Almost all of the fortified synagogues in Poland were built in the second half of the 17th century, which was rich in Jewish-religious monuments which were built in accordance with the government's instructions in which we can clearly read: “The synagogue of the Jews must be fortified so that they can defend themselves in the event of an invasion by the Tatars, or in the event of a fire they would be able to save their property and their ritual objects.” In the aforementioned century there was a new device for collective defense, a unique device of its kind in the history of the Jews, and it is: the fortified synagogue.

As for the Great (fortress) Synagogue in Lutsk, it can be assumed that in the beginning it was one of the parts of the fortress built by Prince Witold in 1380 along the city. At the end of the 16th century, King Sigismund III gave the stone building to the first Jewish settlers In Lutsk as a place of prayer. Later, they changed the building, added a brick structure and repaired it. An underground tunnel extended from the synagogue along the east side of the city, connecting the Catholic Church, Lubart Castle, the District court and the Russian Orthodox Church to the Voivode House (the Region Minister). This synagogue is in the “old town” of Lutsk, which is located on an island surrounded on all sides by water channels of the Styr River, and therefore it was able to hold on against enemies' siege. On the other hand, a connection was established between the island and the outside of the city with the help of the tunnel that extended underground it was possible to bring supplies and weapons without interruption. The tunnel also took on a legendary shape and served as a historical site for visitors to the city.

From an inscription engraved on the old tombstone of the woman Blyoma daughter of R' Pesach, who passed away in 5355 (1595), we learn that she was work hard to obtain a license from the ruler for the repairs of the local synagogue and its expansion. She had to fight against the great influence of the Catholic priests in the city, who delayed the progress of the city's Jews and also hindered the expansion of the Jewish synagogue.

The Great Synagogue in Lutsk has its own history. We know of the fire that broke out in 1869 inside the building and then all the sacred vessels were consumed by fire. The synagogue remained standing in ruins for many years, and the Jews did not have the means to repair and restore it to its former glory. Only in 1886, the public activists awakened to organize a donation collection and contributions for putting the house in order, for its repair and refinement inside and also out.

What led to the establishment of the fortified synagogue, and what are the causes for the appearance of this type of synagogue that was not like it in previous periods? It should be known that during the Turks and Tatars wars against Poland in the 17th century, Poland especially suffered in its eastern borders and therefore did not miss any opportunity to build fortifications. In the eastern borders of Poland there were several synagogues who' from the outset, were built to serve as fortresses. The stone buildings of the churches had to be built as fortresses against the enemy's attacking on the city. These instructions were given in order to strengthen the defense of the city. When an enemy approached the city, it was necessary to destroy everything outside the wall, and wooden synagogues were burned so that they would not serve as shelter for the enemy. That's why the Jews chose to build the synagogues out of stone, and strengthened these buildings with protective walls and strong balustrades on the roofs. This construction method slowly became a law that cannot be changed.

After King Sigismund III saw the considerable numerical development among the Jewish community in Lutsk, he gave a permit to build a synagogue in Lutsk. In a law from 5 May 1626, he gave permission to build a stone synagogue under the condition that the Jews must build it as a fortress in all its details, and on the roof of this synagogue they will make, on all four sides, a suitable location to place firearms for the defense against the enemies, and will provide a cannon at their own expense. And at the time of the attack of the idolaters they will place there well-known people who are needed for the defense of that place, and with that they will be equal as residents of the city.

The Jews hurried to start the work, and soon the roof was placed over that building. And here, the Lutsk's Dominicans came out in protest against the completion of the building, saying that they built the synagogue too close to their house of prayer and, besides that, the synagogue was too high, a matter that opposes the decisions of the Synod[1]. The Jews were forced to stop the construction of the synagogue and to turn to the king. After long negotiations the king recognized the right of the Jews (5 August 1628): “After clear information reached us that the aforementioned synagogue does not interfere with the prayer house of the Dominican Fathers at such a great distance, and that it is necessary for the defense of the city.” The license for the construction of a synagogue of this type was related to the ordinance, because the synagogue - without protective towers - should not be taller than a normal house, and it should be for protection in case of an enemy attack. And indeed, a buttress was erected on the roof of the synagogue in Lutsk with open places and holes to shoot through them and also a tall defense tower, or rather: a fortress with four corners. Therefore, the synagogue building took the form of a fortress. Strong defensive walls, with portholes to fire from, were erected on all four sides, and at the ends special towers for placing large cannons. During the Russians and the Cossacks attack this fortress was used many times for the defense of the city of Lutsk.

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To protect fortified synagogues the Jews had to provide soldiers at their own expense. In the orders of King Sigismund III we read that the Jews must place cannons, according to a predetermined size, at their own expense on the synagogue's roof, and a known number of defenders for the protection of the place. We know documents from the years 1648/49 that according to which the Jews took a very active part in protecting their place of residence. They participated in the defense of the cities Tulchyn, Nemyriv and Polonne.

However, as if the king intended to undo the Jews' Joy, who enjoyed themselves from the sight of their magnificent synagogue, he suddenly remembered that their old wooden synagogue, and the Karaites' wooden synagogue, stood on the king's land. To emphasize the point that it is forbidden to take the king's land, he gave the two synagogues, together with the surrounding gardens, as a gift to his court secretary, Jan Banderman. We do not know if these synagogues were indeed transferred to Banderman's possession, or if, as in other cases, the matter ended with redemption of money. In any case, this fact is typical to the history of the Jews and the Karaites synagogues in Lutsk.

The Great Synagogue in Lutsk was a magnificent building on which applied at the time the instructions of the king himself, his district representative or the cities' governors, and this mainly in matters of defense arrangements. Thanks to its architectural beauty this fortified building in Lutsk gained a reputation around the world. Not only Jewish writers, artists and researchers such as Ansky, Meir Belaban and others, but also well known Christians admired the magnificent building whose beauty was revealed mainly in the purposefulness of its forms without any inefficient building addition. The square shape of the house stood out. The central construction was felt here not only in the highlighting of the monumental square block of the building, with its larges dimensions, whose thick walls were secured by supportive beams, but also - and perhaps mainly - in the structure of the supporting pillars, the massive support of the dome, inside the building and their concentration. The synagogues of the fortresses excelled in their interesting exterior architecture, in the material of the banister around the roof, the beautiful buttress. In Poland, the buttress served as a classic example not only for the exterior decorations of most of the ancient Baroque synagogues (the fortress type), but also for the facade decorations of the Polish secular luxury buildings from the Krakow revival period and after that.

The buttress, that handsome exterior decoration of the fortified synagogue, its motif is repeated in the interior of the building as well. And here it appears on the building's walls, mostly under the row of windows. It should also be noted the massive and impressive structure of the bimah[2] which stood between the four pillars. It is the structures that can be define as inner splendor. This bimah nicely marked the transition from the Renaissance synagogue with a “furniture Bimah” to the Baroque synagogue with a “tower bimah.” This transition was felt from the development of the “Holy Ark” which, from a small structure in the Renaissance period, arrived to a spacious structure with several combinations rich in motifs taken from the plant and animal world, as well as the decorative.

In 1876, the historian Stezki, author of the book “The History of Lutsk” (in Polish), describes the synagogue in these words: “It stands on an island outside the lower fortress, and in its appearance it resembles a small scale fortress. To the left of the fortress, with its two floors and slits for shooting, leans a tall tower. On it rests a lower building with one floor and a broken roof, and the ceiling inside the building is in the shape of an arch.” The picture of this synagogue was first published in the newspaper “Kelosi” in 1872 (page 377).

In the Lutsk synagogue, and also in the fortified synagogues of the communities of Lwow [Lviv], Z'olkiv, Łańcut and Rzeszˇw, it is necessary to note the Renaissance arcade that decorates the wide walls. The arcade was fixed in the area between the windows in the upper part of the wall and between the small portholes in its lower part (those connected the prayer hall with the “women's section”). The upper cornice of the arcade passes through all the walls of the synagogue includes the eastern wall. The classically built arcade in the synagogue is made according to the best examples of the Lombard Renaissance artists.

The synagogue in Lutsk was no different from other synagogues in terms of its holy vessels. It also served as a kind of an antiquities museum for artifacts, furniture, and for historically, stylistically and ethnographically valuables such as: Holy Arks, bimot, parochets, Elijah's chairs, candlesticks, chandeliers, prayer books and other ritual articles. In his book, “The Destruction of the Jews of Poland, Galicia and Bukovina,” the writer S. Ansky tells, among others, about the act of rescuing the treasures of the synagogue of the Lutsk community:

… The community of Lutsk gave me a large crate and in it valuable antiques from the old Lutsk synagogue. A certificate from the 18th century, two silver lamps decorated with various drawing, the work of an artist from the end of the 16th century or the beginning of the 17th century, Levi's silver funnel, myrtle, yad and tray - all made of silver- and the craft - ancient work of art. Two parochets[3], an antique tablecloth embroidered with gold and worth from twenty to thirty thousand rubles. I brought all these items to Petrograd [St. Petersburg]. In 1918, when the Soviet government wanted to take over the Jewish Museum, I gave the crate, together with four other crates full of valuable objects belonging to the museum, for temporary storage to the museum named after Alexander III and received a receipt for it. All the crates are placed there to this day… Ansky himself regretted the great work he invested in collecting ancient treasures in order to establish an ethnographic museum of Jewish antiquities, and in the end he was forced to seek refuge beyond the Bolshevik rule and leave his precious treasures in Petrograd without compensation.

However, Ansky did not take all the precious items from the Lutsk synagogue. Mr. Max Sternfeld from Montreal Canada, a native of Lutsk, tells in his letter that in his time he was in charge of the Great Synagogue's property in Lutsk, and his job fell to keep an inventory book. After Simchat Torah he found 72 Torah scrolls in the Holy Ark, because on Simchat Torah all the Torah scrolls were taken out for the hakafot. He also says that he counted and packed in a special crate 60 parochets, among then those who were over hundred years old they were used to decorate the synagogue walls in Hoshana Rabbah[4]. They were rare antiques and he enjoyed looking at them feeling as if he was the housewife taking all the silverware out of the pantry in order to decorate the Seder table with them for Passover night, including silverware inherited from her parents and her ancestors. The parochets, if they had a mouth, could have told a lot about those who donated them and the circumstances in which they were embroidered.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Synod is the council of a Christian denomination, usually convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application. Return
  2. Bimah (lit. “Stage”) is the raised platform in the synagogue from which the Torah is read and services led. Return
  3. Parochet (pl. Parochet) is the curtain that covers the Holy Ark. Return
  4. Hoshana Rabbah is the seventh day of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Return

[Page 305]

Beit HaMidrash named
after “Rabbi Wolf HaKadosh”

M. S. Geshuri

Translated by Sara Mages

In Lutsk there was Beit Midrash that bore the name of “Rabbi Wolf HaKadosh” [the Holy]. The members of the ethnographic delegation, founded by the writer S. Ansky who visited Lutsk, asked the residents of the city who was Rabbi Wolf that earned the rank of “Kadosh” in Lutsk and Beit HaMidrash was named after him - and they led them to the ancient cemetery and the supervisor showed them a tombstone that could barely be read:

“A tombstone for a Kadosh who had died a cruel death, received cruel torment and a special Kiddush Shem. The scholar, Yehudah Ze'ev Wolf, son of our master and rabbi R' Tuvia, ascended to the heavens on the Shabbat and received his bitter judgment on 25 Tamuz 5522, may his soul be bound in the bond of life.”

The members of the delegation heard about that Rabbi Ze'ev several legends, different from each other in content, and all of them end with the motif of Kiddush HaShem[1]. The manner of his death - is also related to yesh omerim [those who say].

At the same time, the Christian residents of Lutsk built a new church in the city and priests and senior clerics gathered for its inauguration. Lutsk's priests complained to the visiting priests about Rabbi Wolf, that they cannot overpower him in a debate and consulted with them on how to overcome him. And then, they came to the general opinion that Rabbi Wolf should be invited for a public debate, and this time the guest priests, with their great wisdom, would prepare a long list of difficult and serious questions. In addition to that, they will also participate in the debate and surround him with a lot of difficult and complicated questions until they confuse him and he wouldn't be able to answer them correctly.

Lutsk's priests listened to the advice of their guest priests and again invited Rabbi Wolf to appear for a public debate. Also this time Rabbi Wolf accepted their invitation. A high wooden stage was erected in the middle of the market, and on one Sunday, in the afternoon, farmers and their wives, from the towns and villages surrounding the city, gathered in large numbers after their priests informed them about debate that was about to take place.

At the appointed time, the guest priests, in their expensive robes which inspired awe in the eyes of their viewers, came on stage and sat in a semicircle. Rabbi Wolf also came and sat in the middle between them, and the debate began. The battle of words lasted for hours, the priests asked questions and he answered without difficulty. The priests moved from the light to the heavy, and were sure that after they reached the difficult questions he would get confused and tired and eventually surrender to them. But Rabbi Wolf answered all their questions without any hesitation. In the end, he also won this debate and the priests' faces were covered in shame. Also the important guests fell silent after they had spent half of their debate, and their faces were covered in shame before the large crowd. They, together with Lutsk's priests, began to consult and look for a way not only to take revenge on Rabbi Wolf, but also to eliminate him completely, so as not to suffer any more insults and shame from him. They sat and consulted for a long time, until they found a clever plan.

In those days there was a strange law in Poland, according to which, if a dead pig is found in a man's house that did not belong to him, he was obliged to give the pig's owner a lot of millet so he could cover the pig's carcass when it was placed on its hind legs. If the culprit wasn't able to provide the necessary amount of millet - he should be kept in prison until the judges pass his sentence, and the judges also had the power to sentence him to death. The priests decided to use this law against Rabbi Wolf. They knew very well that Rabbi Wolf was poor and without means, and certainly won't able to fulfill the demands of the law, to provide millet to the required extent. Then, they would be able to put him in prison and even to influence the judges to sentence him to death. And so they had done. They killed a big pig and in the middle of the night threw it into Rabbi Wolf's house. When Rabbi Wolf woke up from his sleep he found the pig's carcass in the house, and until he had time to understand what was happening, the police came, led him to prison and demanded from him the full measure of millet in accordance to the law. When he was unable to satisfy the demand, the judges, under the priests' influence, sentenced him - to hanging. Before the execution of the sentence he was offered the choice, to convert to the Christianity faith, and then he would remain alive. Rabbi Wolf gave his soul for Kiddush HaShem, and his soul left his body in the recitation of Shema Yisrael[2].

So far the first version of the legend, in contrast the second version of the legend is telling:

Once, the Christians in the city plotted a blood libel on the Jews of Lutsk. The Christians threw a dead Christian boy into the Great Synagogue, and the authorities turned to the Jews with a demand to hand over the murderer within a month, if not - they would kill all the Jews. Great fear fell upon the city's Jews because of this plot since they were innocent and knew nothing about this terrible act.

The Jews of Lutsk declared a fast, prostrated themselves on the graves of the tzadikim and kedoshim, prayed a lot in all the holy places, collected funds and begged before the authorities - but in vain. The judges, led by the priests who were thirsty for Jewish blood, stubbornly stood by their cruel demand - hand over the “guilty man” to them. And here, one day, at the end of the appointed time, on one Shabbat eve, when the city's rabbi and the entire Jewish community were in the bathhouse, the authorities surrounded the bathhouse building, broke in and threatened the Jews that they wouldn't to let them leave the building. They will arrest everyone as guilty of murdering the boy if they do not immediately inform them the name of the murderer and do not hand him over to the authority. Masses of incited Christians stood

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outside and threatened to set the bath house on fire on all sides with everyone in it.

And then a Jew came out from among the bathers - Rabbi Wolf was his name - approached the authorities and announced that he was the man they were looking for, and he who murdered the Christian boy. He was arrested on the spot by the authorities and the Jews of Lutsk were saved from certain death. Rabbi Wolf was immediately sentenced to public hanging in the middle of the city. And some say, that they did not sentenced him to hanging, but tied his hands and feet to four thick tree branches bent together by means of pressure, and after that the tree branches were separated at once and the condemned man's body was torn into four parts. Another version says that they executed him and cut his corpse into twelve parts that were sent to different places, for them to hear and see…

The two aforementioned formulas end with one version, that the Jews of Lutsk were very moved by this event of Kiddush Hashem. They buried Rabbi Wolf in the old cemetery, crowned him by the name Kadosh and placed the aforementioned tombstone on his grave. Later they built Beit Midrash in the place where the hanging tree stood (or where the debate had taken place) and named it after him for eternal memory. His burial place is called “The grave of Rabbi Wolf HaKadosh,” and the local Jews recounted the event to visitors with trepidation and reverence.

These are the main versions of the “act of Kiddush Hashem” around the grave of Rabbi Wolf HaKadosh. However, the highly developed power of imagination among Judaism gave birth to additional legends, different from the first ones, which were also passed down from generation to generation. Here are some of them: 

Once, a stone was thrown in a large religious procession of masses of Christians that passed through the city streets. The city governor blamed the Jews and threatened to kill all the Jews if they did not bring him the “guilty man.” The Jews were in great trouble and prayed for heaven's mercy, and here, Rabbi Wolf, a Lutsk man, volunteered. He accepted the blame, was condemned to death and his body was divided into four parts. According to another legend, Rabbi Wolf was a handsome man and the city governor's daughter fell in love with him. The governor agreed to take him as a bridegroom for his daughter, if he would convert his religion, but Rabbi Wolf, who was a faithful and righteous Jew in all his ways, refused to convert his religion. The governor's daughter lost her mind and the governor could not find rest for his soul and ordered to kill the man who caused the death of his daughter. The legend adds that on the grave of Rabbi Wolf, whose body was cut into four parts by order of the priests, grew an apple tree and after the apples ripened they saw to their great amazement that they were not round like normal apples, but square, as a sign of the manner of death of the Kadosh who was torn into four. The Jews saw this as a symbol of the Kadosh's righteousness. HaRav R' Zalman Sorotzkin, the last rabbi of the city, told me that he once gathered the city Jews in the cemetery regarding an important matter, and delivered his words to them while standing on this apple tree so that his words would reach all those gathered.

And there is another legend saying that once, on Yom Kippur eve, stones were thrown at Jewish children next to the synagogue, and they did not stand idly by and threw stones back. And behold, one of the stones hit the son of the city governor and he died. The governor demanded that the Jews will bring him the stone thrower, threatening to destroy the synagogue and take revenge on the Jewish inhabitants in the city. And then, Rabbi Wolf came out of the crowd of Jews, stood before the governor and took the blame on himself. The governor consumed all his anger on him, ordered to tie Rabbi Wolf to the legs of two horses that dragged him until his body was torn in two. Then, he hung him on a tree for food for the fowl of the sky. A Jewish butcher disguised himself as a soldier, gave the guard a drink until he got drunk and brought the body to a Jewish grave.

This event of Kiddush Hashem has not been forgotten, even though two hundred years have passed since then. Many, especially women, flocked to the kadosh grave and told him their troubles and feelings. And there was also a person who took care of the tombstone which, over time, sunk into the ground, and erected a new tombstone in its place. One of the regular visitors, who visited the grave until the last few years, was the woman Chaya Sarah Loifer. She showed interest in the fence surrounding the grave and also in the tombstone itself, which were partly destroyed during the First World War, and took care of its repair. Indeed, thanks to the woman's care the headstone stood on the kadosh grave until the days of the German Nazis Holocaust, while the rest of the old tombstones in the ancient cemetery were destroyed with the passage of time, and also fell into the hands of various terrorists who occasionally caused damage to the cemetery.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Kiddush HaShem - Sanctification of God's name. Return
  2. Shema Yisrael (lit.“Hear, O Israel”) is a Jewish prayer that serves as a centerpiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services Return

[Page 306]

The history of the Hasidic Movement
in Lutsk

M. S. Geshuri

Translated by Sara Mages


A. The Hasidut in Wolyn

The great Wolyn Jewry, in its Ukrainian-Polish historic borders, has not yet had the privilege of having an historian who will write and summarize the story of its glorious and tragic life as one. Starting from the beginning of its growth in Wolyn, through three periods of the oppressors of the Jews: Bohdan Khmelnytsky, Ivan Gonta and Symon Petliura, may their names be blotted out - and ending with the destruction and annihilation that the Nazi murderer inflicted on it. A large Jewish community was rooted in Wolyn for many generations (900 years ago), and created in all branches of life. In many settlements, cities and towns, Wolyn Jews were the overwhelming majority. They lived in them for generations upon generations, succeeded and weaved the tradition of their lives, and mutual relations were evident between them. In any case, it is clear that already in the 16th century there were important communities in Wolyn: Volodymyr, Lutsk, Kremenets and Ostroh. Later, Greater Dubno, Kovel, Rivne, Slavuta, Zvhil [Novograd-Volynskiy] and others - famous names related to the Jewish history and culture. Each community and its special virtues, distinguished people in all areas of wisdom and creativity, the synagogues, Betei Midrash and Yeshivot from which our revival movement drew its inspiration. Jewish Wolyn wrote a beautiful page in the history of the Jewish people in the Diaspora.

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The Hasidic movement, which mostly grew in Podil- Wolyn, produced great personalities, a community of tzadikim[1] and kedoshim [holy ones] abundance of radiant figures of the heads of Jewish ethics, exemplary men, great in faith and ideas, mighty in thought and action. In the darkness of its existence, Wolyn was also awarded with spiritual luminaries in the Hasidut who were a support and a fortress for the people. In normal days, Wolyn Jewry established its own version of prayer and on the siddurim[2] and machzorim[3], selichot[4] and kinot[5], from the ancient and famous printing houses in Wolyn, was written: “According to the Wolyn version.”

The new religious movement, the Hasidut, arose among the Jews of Poland and Russia in the middle of the 18th century and within a short period of time it reached a wide spread that was unprecedented in the history of Judaism. In the first decades of its existence there were those who thought that the movement would not go beyond the scope of a religious “cult,” but they soon found out that they were wrong in their assessment. The sect broke through its boundaries very quickly: in several places in Poland and Russia the number of its members exceeded its opponents, and at the beginning of the 19th century the division between the Hasidim and the “opponents” (so were called those who remained loyal to the rabbinical system), had already come to an end. And if in Greater Lithuania and Raysn [Belarus] the Hasidim encountered the resistance the Pharisees[6] and the rabbis - they conquered without resistance almost all the communities in Ukraine, Eastern Galicia and Poland, including the communities of the Wolyn region, with the exception of Dubno which was conquered for the Hasidut only after a while.

The creators of the Hasidut never touched the religious tradition and its customs (except for slight changes in the order of prayers and several customs), and moreover, it did not occur to them to deny the essence of nationalism in Judaism. Their purpose was positive and not negative. They came to strengthen and emphasize the inner personal element in religion. Not to remove but to add, to attach an intention to every religious act. To bring back life to practical mitzvot which were emptied of their content. The Hasidut comes to increase the emotion in the brain, the Torah in the heart over the Torah in the book. The Hasidut declared enthusiasm during work and prayer, work out of joy and the joy of life in general. The Hasidut took Judaism down from the world of nobility and adapted it to every person, and in this manner succeeded in evoking a profound mental revolution among the Hasidim, reviving their spirits with hope and fill their hearts with joy. The Hasidut considered sadness, monasticism and extreme celibacy as a grave sin, and showered courage and joy of life on the believers. And indeed, for a short period of time, the Hasidut had great and wonderful success, and in its war with the Pharisees - a difficult and prolonged war - emerged victorious.

Baal Shem Tov[7], the founder of the Hasidut, resided in Miedzybˇz in Podolia, but his stronghold was spread far and wide, and even reached the cities of Wolyn. Even in his life he had groups of Hasidim in the cities of Wolyn, Podolia and Galicia, and there is room to assume that their number was large and reached thousands. Even R' Ya'akov Emden of Altona, the great opponent of the Hasidut, wrote in anger: “Now a new Hasidic sect has arisen in Wolyn and Podolia and indicates the spread of the sect.” Baal Shem Tov liked to travel from place to place to preach for Hasidut. And just as he traveled around the communities of Galicia and Podolia: Horodenka, Katowice, Nemirov and more, he also visited the Lithuanian cities: Slutsk and others. And they also saw him in the cities of Wolyn: Polonne, Waslaw and more. H also visited Ostroh and all the townspeople went out to meet him (Mazkeret L'gedolei Ostroh, page 150), and there is reason to assume that he also visited the cities near Ostroh, among them also Lutsk. Thanks to his visit he prepared the city for the acceptance of the Hasidut and his teachings until it became a center for the Hasidut.


B. Lutsk as a center for Hasidut

Baal Shem Tov lived in Podolia, which was the main center for the Hasidut, and his numerous students and Hasidim flocked to it. He also had many Hasidim in the cities of Wolyn and his emissaries came from time to time and preach for Hasidut. There is no doubt that in the city of Lutsk there were already Hasidim from the first generation of the Hasidut, among them those who visited Miedzybˇz and enjoyed the teachings and behavior of Baal Shem Tov.

The leader of the Hasidut in the second generation, after the passing of Baal Shem Tov, was a native of the town of Torchyn near the city of Lutsk. Torchyn, which was twenty kilometers from Lutsk, was an ancient community among the communities of Wolyn. We mean, Rabbi Dov Ber son of Avraham the Maggid[8] of Mezeritch, or the “Great Maggid.” Before that he worked as a teacher in his town. From Torchyn he later moved to Rivne. It's being told, that once, R' Yoske author of Yesod Yosef, son-in-law of HaRav R' Aharon of Rivne, stayed in Torchyn. When he was in the hostel he heard across the partition a melamed [teacher] teaching two boys. He listened to the melamed's words and enjoyed it very much. He wasn't able to resist, entered his room and greeted him. When he returned to Rivne he told his father-in-law: I found a scholar in Torchyn who is the only one in the world. R' Aharon said to his son-in-law: send him to Torchyn we will keep him here. R' Dov replied that he couldn't leave his students in the middle of the “period.” Late he came to Rivne. R' Aharon allocated him an apartment on Road Street of the road and provided all his needs.

After Baal Shem Tov's only son was not worthy to serve in his place, the Hasidic center moved to the ancient city of Wielki Mezritch in Wolyn, to Rabbi Dov Ber (5470-5533 [1709-1772]), who got closer to Baal Shem Tov in his last days. From now on, Mezritch became the capital of the Hasidut, and during the 60s of the 18th century the center of the religious movement moved from Podolia to Wolyn. Rabbi Dov Ber, as one of the greatest in the exoteric and esoteric Torah[9] of his generation, inspired his students who gathered in his Beit Midrash and spread his teachings throughout the neighboring countries. Among his students were men who later achieved great fame: R' Levi-Yitzchak of Berdychiv, R' Nachum of Chornobyl, R' Zev of Zhitomir. From Galicia: R' Elimelech of Lezajsk and his brother R' Zosia of Hannopil, R' Yechiel-Michel of Zolochiv, the “Reprover of Polonne[10]” and R' Abie of Osttroh. From Lita [Lithuania] and Raysn[Belarus] - R' Aharon of Karlin, R' Mendeli of Vitebsk, R' Avraham of Kałyšk and R' Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the brothers R' Shmuel Shmelke HaLevi Horowitz of Nikolsburg and R' Pinchas [Horowitz] of Frankfurt (author of Sefer Hafla'ah).

The sage, Salomon Maimon, tells in his memoirs about the Hasidic center in Mezritch, and even the Hasidic legend knows to tell about the prophetic spirit of the maggid. He saw the future and influenced the upper worlds with his prayer: “his prayer and his words were heard. God decrees and he cancels” - tells his student R' Shlomo Lutsker (in the introduction to the book Magid Devarav le-Ya'akov[11]). And the same Lutsker attests to it in the introduction: “… the holy words of my teacher the maggid, are very important. He speaks words of the highest echelon that not every brain can absorb…. as is known to all those who hear his pleasant sayings to the hundreds and the thousands, among them the greatest of the world. His words entered their heart like a burning fire and their soul was enthused

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to serve God.” This Lutsker student believed, in complete faith, that Baal Shem Tov gave the maggid the secrets of the world: “he taught him the language of the birds and the language of the palm trees, the secrets of holy and unique names,” and he had the “revelation of Eliyahu” etc.

R' Shlomo of Lutsk, like R' Yakov-Yosef the Maggid of Polonne and the author and distributor of Baal Shem Tov's opinions, was the author of the Maggid of Mezritch. He was the one who published in 5544 in Korets the maggid's sermons in the book, Magid Devarav le-Ya'akov, or Likutei Amarim, which serves as a first source to the teachings of the Maggid of Mezritch.

Already during the maggid's lifetime dozens of Hasidim settled in communities that had not yet been touched by the new movement, in Wolyn, Lita [Lithuania] and White Russia [Belarus], and R' Shlomo of Lutsk preached his words in the cities of Wolyn. Rabbi Dov Ber the Maggid was the first to change the wording of the prayer. He instituted the Sephardic style in place of the Ashkenazi to all the Hasidim, while Baal Shem Tov changed the wording only for himself and his students, and R' Shlomo of Lutsk has done a lot to fulfill his rabbi's desire and led the prayer in the Sephardic style. After the maggid's death the group in Mezritch separated and each student went to his country with a strong desire to spread the Hasidic teachings in all the Jewish communities, despite the rabbis' persecutions, and to acquire more members. Mezhirichi served for many years as a center for the Hasidut in Wolyn and Podolia, and besides R' Dov Ber the Maggid, R' Nachum Kosover, and other tzadikim, moved to live there. There are a number of ohelim for tzadikim, among them for Rabbi Zusha of Hanipol. In Rivne, where the maggid had lived for a number of years, they showed the maggid's bench and lectern in the old kloyz.

Besides R' Shlomo of Lutsk, R' Gershon Lutzker, whose influence was strong on the Hasidim of his time, was among the maggid's students. It's a shame that there are no details about him in the Hasidut books. The author of the book, Seder HaDorot HaHadash, also includes Rabbi Gershon Lutzker among the thirty-nine distinguished students of the Maggid of Mezritch.


C. Lutsk's influence on Hasidic Wolyn

Lutsk was one of the oldest communities in Wolyn that existed for hundreds of years and had a deep-rooted and creative Jewish population. They were used as a place for learning and Hasidut and as such their names became known far beyond the borders of Poland. R' Shlomo and R' Gershon, both from Lutsk, had a great influence on their city and there is no doubt that thanks to them their hometown received a Hasidic character and the Hasidim acquired a decisive influence in it.

As a symbol of the Hasidut of Wolyn we should mention the name of one of the greatest of Baal Shem Tov's Hasidut - R' Pinchas of Korets, or as he was called by the Hasidim “R' Pinchas HaGadol” (5485-5557 [1724-1796]). He was a Lithuanian from Shklow, who especially excelled in Korets and was known as “HaRav HaKadosh,” [the Holy Rabbi], a sharp scholar in pilpul[12] and debates, who was the height of simplicity and humility and followed the Hasidut in his own manner. Many came to Korets to hear his teachings and his ethics. Also well known men in those days joined him, and the most famous of them: R' Rafael of Bershad, R' Ze'ev of Balta, R' Mordecai the “cantor of Zaslav,” R' Dov son of R' Bunim and R' Ze'ev of Zhitomir. Due to an unknown reason, a dispute broke out between R' Pinchas and R' Shlomo of Lutsk who lived at that time in Korets. R' Pinchas moved from there to Ostroh where he lived for over twenty years. His students and Hasidim followed him to Ostroh. In 5551[1790], he wanted to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael but, when he arrived in Shepetivka he fell ill and passed away.

The town of Milinow, in the Lutsk-Dubno crossroad, was privileged to have R' Aaron the second of Karlin (grandson of Rabbi Aharon HaGadol) buried in its soil. An ohel[13] named “Zion” was erected on his grave and many came to it, even from afar, on the anniversary of his death. All the city's Jews were Hasidim and related to the dynasties: Olyka, Trisk and Stolin. The three Batei Midrash in the city were named after them, but most of them were Trisker Hasidim. When the Admor of Trisk came to the city all the Hasidim came to welcome him. Also the Olyka and Trisk Hasidim also came to welcome the Rabbi of Stolin who was related to the Karlin Hasidic dynasty. The Hasidim of the three dynasties ascended to “Zion” of R' Aharon (author of Beit Aharon).

R' Dov Ber the Maggid of Mezeritch, who was also the Maggid of Rivne, first lived in Torchyn and later in Korets. At first, R' Dov Ber lived in Rivne, later settled in Wielki Mezeritch and in his old age reterned to Rivne. R' Leib son of R' Yosef, who was called by the name Leib Sarah's, after his mother Sarah (5490-5560 [1729-1799]), also lived in Rivne. He was a special man in his righteousness and manners, and lived longer then Baal Shem Tov and the maggid. He was a lobbyist and mediator and took care of the 36 Tzadikim Nistarim.[14] He became holy, all kinds of wonders and miracles were attributed to him and many legends were told about him. His wife had a small shop in Rivne and supported herself and her children and R' Leib rarely came to his home. He passed away in 5560 [1791] in Podolia.

The city of Ostroh, which has been known since ancient times as “the major city in the Wolyn and Ukraine region,” was also given the name “Ot Torah”[Letter of the Torah] because it was full of geniuses and sages, tzadikim and Hasidim. In the city lived the Tzadik, R' Yakov-Yosef son of R' Yehudah-Leib (“Rabbi Yevi”), who served as Maggid Mesharim [“Preacher of Righteousness”]. The synagogue, in which he prayed, was named, “Beit HaMidrash of R' Yosil,” after him (he passed away in 5551[1790]). Also lived there HaRav HaGaon R' Meir son of Tzvi-Hersh Margaliot, author of the books Meir Netivim, Sod Yachi U'Boaz , Haderch Hatov V'Hayashar, and Kutnot Or. He was considered a student of Baal Shem Tov and HaRav HaKadosh R' Yona'le HaTov (Der Guter) and a friend of R' Leib Sarah's. Beit HaMidrash at the beginning of Tatarski Street was named after him.

Of the people of Shepetivka the Tzadik, R' Yakov-Shimshon, became famous in the Hasidut. He immigrated to Eretz Yisrael and was a rabbi in Tiberias. He was influential in his time, and also credited with a debate with Noda Biyhudah[15] about the Hasidut. A legend is told about his expulsion from Acre, his trip on a mission to Tunisia, and more.

The city of Zasław suffered greatly from Khmelnytsky' persecutions and his massacres, and the matter was brought on the pages of the book Yeven Mezulah[16]. Great and famous personalities lived in the city and in a later period HaRav HaGadol R' Leibush Bolihower served as the city's rabbi. He was a descendent of Baal Shem Tov, was clever and influential and wrote the books Shem Arye and Arugot HaBosem. During his forty years as Rabbi of Zasław he was very active and also became famous outside of Wolyn.

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The Trisk dynasty, of the Twersky family, moved after the passing of its founder, the maggid R' Avraham to Kowel, one of the ancient county cities in Wolyn, and the Hasidut, which already dominated the city, increased even more until ninety percent of the Jewish population were Hasidim. Rabbi Yakov-Leibele, son of the Maggid of Trisk who resided in Kowel, was an acceptable personality in all Wolyn and even outside it. He was followed by his Tzadik son, Rabbi Velvele, who perished in the Nazi holocaust at an old age.

The city of Ludmir [Vlodymyr] was famous in the Hasidut as the place of residence of HaKadosh Rabbi Shlomo of Ludmir, who filled the place of R' Aharon HaGadol in Hasidut Karlin after he was murdered by a Cossack in the middle of his prayer in Beit HaMidrash. While he was engrossed in prayer he did not notice the flow of blood from his wounds, lost a lot of blood, became weak and his soul ascended to the heavens in holiness.

Lutsk, which occupied a prominent place in the religious and spiritual life, integrated well into the Hasidic life and its Hasidim were proud of the tzadikim of the great old dynasties who lived in it.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. Tzadik (lit.“Righteous” [one]) pl. tzadikim, is a title in Judaism given to people considered righteous, such as biblical figures and later spiritual masters. Return
  2. Siddur (pl. siddurim) is a Jewish prayer book containing a set order of daily prayers. Return
  3. Machzor (pl. machzorim) is the prayer book used on the High Holidays. Return
  4. Selichot (lit. “Forgiveness”) are penitential prayers recited before and during the High Holidays and other fast days throughout the year. Return
  5. Kinot (lit. “Lamentation”) are religious poems written to memorialize the tragedies that befell the Jewish people on Tisha B'Av. Return
  6. The Pharisees were an influential religious sect within Judaism in the time of Christ and the early church. They were known for their emphasis on personal piety (the word Pharisee comes from a Hebrew word meaning “separated”). Return
  7. Rabbi Yisrael, known as Baal Shem Tov (lit. “Master of the Good Name” also known by the acronym “Besht”), was the Eastern-European 18th century founder of the Hasidic movement. Return
  8. A maggid is a traditional Jewish religious itinerant preacher, skilled as a narrator of Torah and religious stories. Return
  9. The Torah possesses both an exoteric and esoteric dimension; these are called peshat [simple meaning] and sod [secret], respectively. Return
  10. The “Reprover of Polonne,” R. Aryeh Leib Gliener, was among the first disciples of Baal Shem Tov and disseminator of his teachings. Return
  11. The Teachings of the Maggid of Mezeritch Return
  12. Pilpul is a method of studying the Talmud through intense textual analysis in attempts to either explain conceptual differences between various law rulings or to reconcile any apparent contradictions presented from various readings of different texts. Return
  13. Ohel, pl. ohelim, (lit.“Tent”) is a structure built around a Jewish grave as a sign of prominence of the deceased. Return
  14. Tzadikim Nistarim (“hidden righteous ones”) or Lamed Vav Tzadikim (“36 righteous ones”) refers to 36 righteous people, a notion rooted within the mystical dimensions of Judaism. Return
  15. Yehezkel ben Yehudah HaLevi Landau was an influential authority in halakha (Jewish law). He is best known for the work Noda Biyhudah, by which title he is also known. Return
  16. Yeven Mezulah (lit. “Abyss of Despair”) is a 17th-century book by Nathan ben Moshe Hannover. It describes the course of the Khmelnytsky Uprising in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from a Jewish perspective. Return


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