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[Page 135]

Rabbi Gedalia (Gedalche) Schmelkes

by Chanan Trau and Dov Nitzani (Knopf)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

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Rabbi Gedaliah Schmelkes

 

On the threshold of the new era in Jewish life in Galicia, with the strengthening of their legal status, and with the rise of the Jewish national movement in that land, the Jewish population in Przemysl was fortunate to have a spiritual leader and guide in all areas of religion and morality – Rabbi Gedalia Schmelkes.

Rabbi Gedalia stemmed from a famous line of rabbis. He was born in the year 5617 (1857) to his father Rabbi Mordechai, the son of Rabbi Chaim Shmuel Schmelka and the brother of the author of the “Beit Yitzchak”, Rabbi Icchak Schmelkes, who occupied the rabbinic seat of Przemysl for 24 years, and later was a rabbi in Lvov. Rabbi Gedalia received an expert traditional education, as was the custom, and joined the students of his uncle Rabbi Icchak. He excelled in his quick grasp and memory, in the spirit of “a pitched pit that does not lose a drop”[1]. He inherited the wonderful combination of Torah study and worldly pursuits in his father's home, for his father earned a livelihood in a secular fashion. Reb Mordechai, whose appearance was that of an Orthodox Jew, was also modern, and he did not hesitate to be among the first to join the Zionist supporters in Przemysl. The son Gedalia was of course influenced by this home and communal environment. Signs of genius already became apparent in his personality from his youth. His friends from his youth included, among others, Reb Leibish Mendel Landau, who later became the communal activist, Zionist preacher, and Rabbi of Botosani in Romania, Reb Samuel Knoller, Aharon Landau, and Mordechai Shpitz.

His uncle, Rabbi Icchak Schmelkes, knew how to appropriately appreciate the expertise and diligence of Gedalia. After he concluded his order of studies, he ordained him as a rabbi. However, the youth did not want to make the Torah his source of livelihood, and he thought he would choose business as his source of livelihood, as did his father in his time. When he was 18 years old, he married Estera Silber, the daughter of Reb Berisz Silber of Tarnow, and he moved to that town, where he was supported at the table of his father-in-law for several years as was customary in those days. During that time, he studies in the Kloiz of the Hassidm of Sanz (Nowy Sacz) in Tarnow.

At the end of the period of support (known as “kest” in Yiddish), Rabbi Gedalia returned to Przemysl. He entered the circle of business life and suffered a serious failure. Therefore, he was forced to return to his primary calling. However, according to the new law in Galicia

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the rabbi of big cities had to pass government matriculation exams. Rabbi Gedalia did not hesitate for long. He prepared appropriately, overcame the difficulties of secular studies, and passed the exams with flying colors. His path to a rabbinic seat in one of the big cities of the country was open before him.

During those days, in the year 5653 (1893), his uncle Rabbi Icchak was chosen as the rabbi of Lvov, so the rabbinate of Przemysl became available. Rabbi Gedalia submitted his candidacy, but Rabbi Nathan Lewin, the son-in-law and student of Rabbi Icchak Schmelkes was competing with him. However, the large group of Hassidim and other Orthodox people in the city for the most part opposed both candidates on account of their secular knowledge, which was a stumbling block for them.

Rabbi Gedalia was indeed appointed to the rabbinate, but not as head of the rabbinical court, which troubled him. After a few years (5658 – 1898) he succeeded in being selected as the head of the rabbinical court in Kolomyja. This gave him great satisfaction. He moved to Kolomyja, but the anger of the various factions and disputes that prevailed among the Jewish population of that town at that time caught up with him. Some of the Hassidim of the city accused the rabbi of showing favoritism toward various groups of Hassidim; the Zionists were surprised that the rabbi, when he participated in the celebration of the unveiling of the statue of the great Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz in Lvov, allowed a national Polish band to be affixed to his collar during the celebration; and the Jewish Socialists castigated him for standing, so to speak, to the right hand of their political enemies among the Jews of the city, even though there was no legitimacy at all to these accusations[2]. Of course, all of this did not contribute to the personal satisfaction of Rabbi Gedalia as the rabbi of Kolomyja. Therefore, the rabbi dreamed of returning to his city, and his friends in Przemysl pushed him in this direction.

In the meantime, a completely unfavorable situation had been created in Przemysl. The story was as follows: After Rabbi Gedaliah left Przemysl for Kolomyja, groups of Hassidim and other Orthodox people attempted to take advantage of the situation by bringing Rabbi Moshe Meisels from Mosciska, and declaring him as the rabbi without receiving the agreement of the community council for this. He was the son of Rabbi Josef Chanania Lipa Meisels, who had previously been the rabbi of Przemysl. Rabbi Moshe Meisels did not request and did not receive a salary from the communal coffers. His supporters took their cases only to him, and not before the rabbinical court of the community whose members included the judges Rabbi Nathan Hebenstreit known as the Rabbi of Zamosc, Rabbi Moshe Yaakov Feldstein and Rabbi Leib Meisels, the brother of Rabbi Moshe.

It was clear to everyone that this situation could not continue. Within a short time, the faithful friends of Rabbi Gedalia – with the help of city notables from among both the Orthodox and enlightened circles – turned to him with the invitation to accept the rabbinical seat in the community of Przemysl. He was selected as the rabbi and the head of the rabbinical court in the year 5664 (1904), and was received with great honor and splendor that befitted him when he returned from Kolomyja.

After a short period, Rabbi Moshe Meisels overcame his internal opposition and, following an official visit with his supporters to the newly selected rabbi, joined the rabbinical court of the community.

The tenure of Rabbi Gedalia's service opened up a new chapter in the annals of the community, for he served as its spiritual and moral leader during the difficult days that were to come.

A.

The moral level of the rabbi was very high. In complete opposition to what was customary among the rabbinical circles, the rabbi refused to benefit from gifts from the participants of various family events. He saw this as degrading to the honor of his stature as a rabbi.

The stance of the rabbi in the founding convention of Agudas Yisroel in Katowice in 1912 was characteristic. He was among the supporters of the proposal to abandon the “rachash” (acronym for rabbi, chazzan / cantor, shamash / beadle) to such a degree that the rabbi would be paid directly

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by the celebrant of the festive occasion. In his opinion, the entire fee should come from the communal coffers and not from individual members of the community.[3]

His scholarly genius was famous among Jewry. Those in the know knew that Rabbi Gedalia had attained the level of a great scholar, even though he had devoted several years of his life to business.

In consonance with his communal and political outlook, from the outset and without reservation, the rabbi avoided strengthening the position of the communal strongmen who served the interests of Polish politics in all their deeds and at all times, including during elections. In contrast to other rabbis, he distanced himself from this type of activity and knew how to maintain his independent opinion, without being swayed by communal affairs and questions of the state and the nation.

Despite his official position, the Rabbi Schmelkes did not hesitate to join the national Zionist camp already during the first days of the movement and the Zionist organization of Galicia. With the founding of Mizrachi, he took part in the activities of the organization and in setting the spiritual goals of this new stream of Zionism. His faithfulness to the entire Zionist organization prevented the danger of the secession of the Mizrachi from it, a danger that hovered over the national camp in the last years before the First World War. The rabbi participated in the 9th Zionist Congress in Hamburg in 1909 and the 10th in Basel in 1911. In his speech which he delivered at the latter conference in fluent Hebrew and German, he stressed in particular the role of religious faith in Zionist thought and practice.

Despite all his dedication to the Zionist idea, Rabbi Gedalia stood above all internal disputes and knew how to preserve the unity within the Zionist ranks.

His rare personal qualities, dedication and uprightness of his heart earned him authority within his community. The enlightened people attempted to bring the rabbi close to their Temple, and therefore agreed to his demands and built the traditional “almemar” podium. To accomplish this, they had to expand and renovate the building, which cost a great deal of money.

B.

The first years of Rabbi Schmelkes' tenure in Przemysl fell during the time of vibrant national awakening, political and social, unique in its kinds throughout the entire expanse of the Austrian Empire. This spirit seemingly influenced the way affairs were conducted in Galicia as well, in which the political interests of the Austrian government clashed with the national desire of the nations of the empire – the Poles and Ukrainians – who fomented trouble among themselves.

In this political whirlwind, Rabbi Gedalia demonstrated the greatness of his spirit and strength of heart. When the Zionists of Galicia first registered their own candidate for the elections to the Austrian parliament in 1906 – the well-known Adolf Stand – as a representative for the region of Brody-Zloczow, the rabbi did not hesitate to become involved personally and actively in this national-political struggle. Of course there is reason to assume that the rabbi well understood the dangers of becoming himself involved in public activity against the assimilationist who was supported by the national government. However, a man such as Rabbi Gedalia Schmelkes did not pay attention to this.

This was not enough, and the continuation of events was even more serious. When general elections to the Austrian parliament took place in 1907 in accordance with the general right of suffrage, Rabbi Schmelkes was offered the Zionist candidacy in the region of Buczacz-Tlumacz. However he forewent his right in favor of Dr. Natan Birnbaum, who held out hope for himself for a position in parliament. In return for this, the rabbi agreed to be a candidate in the Mielec-Tarnobrzeg region, even though there was no chance of his being elected there, since his opponent was the official candidate Professor Dr. Michal Bobrzynski, who a short time later was appointed as the representative of the Kaiser in Galicia (stadthalter) and on whose behalf the government was prepared to pay any price to have him elected. With the agreement of his family members, the rabbi did not pass up this candidacy, even though there were clear hints that this was liable to endanger his position as rabbi.

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In Przemysl, a committee for supporting the election campaign of the rabbi in that region was formed. The members of the committee, including students from the Herzl Organization, organized the activities from afar. The appearance of the rabbi in Mielec and in other towns of the electoral region gave rise to strong and unforgettable enthusiasm. Obviously, not he, but the official Polish candidate was elected due to the terrorism and fraud that were common in those days during elections in Galicia. However the willingness of the rabbi to place himself in a political contest against a Polish official of such a level, a contest that was seen as important from the national Jewish viewpoint in the country, was seen as an act of national bravery and a personal sacrifice of great value.

C.

Przemysl suffered greatly during the time of the First World War, since it was placed under siege as an important fortified city. With the approach of the Russian army to the gates of the city, most of the population, including Jews, left. Once again, the dedication of Rabbi Gedalia to his flock became apparent. He refused to leave the members of his community, and remained with them in the besieged city despite the great personal and communal suffering that was associated with this decision, and was expressed in its fullness primarily after the Russians took over the city. Often, the new authorities held the rabbi directly responsible for the behavior of the Jews. He was sometimes forced to appear before the Russian command in the middle of the night in order to defend the members of his community. To his great sorrow and despite his valiant efforts, he did not succeed in preventing the expulsion of the Jews of Przemysl. He supervised their orderly exit, remained among his people, and left the city on the Sabbath along with the last of them.

The rabbi's two sons were deported to Siberia. His younger son Moshe died of typhus there. The suffering of the rabbi during this period weakened the state of his health for the rest of his life. When the cities of Lvov and Przemysl were liberated, the rabbi and his family returned to his city that was bereft of its inhabitants. From there he went to Vienna for recuperation. Many of the Jewish residents of Galicia had fled to there. The residents of the capital suffered from a food shortage, and the refugees, including the rabbi and his family, probably also suffered from this. The rabbi often participated in meetings of the Zionist committee in Vienna. The rabbi returned to Przemysl in 1917.

At the end of the war, Rabbi Gedalia was appointed as a member of the popular Jewish council (folksrat), which consisted of 19 members and was founded by a committee of nationalist Jewish captains. This council replaced the communal council that was disbanded by that new committee, and acted as a decision making body in all former communal affairs, over and above and above the new tasks that were required in light of the struggle between the Poles and Ukrainians.

In those days, the Jewish shopkeepers and merchants in Przemysl were accused of raising the prices of food and other necessities, which caused accusations against the Jews in general. Therefore, it was advised that those raising the prices should be excommunicated. At first, the rabbi opposed this harsh advice for pure religious reasons; however he was forced to agree to it in light of the unstable political situation.

It was a dramatic and tragic moment when the rabbi, accompanied by Reb Samuel Knoller, ascended the pulpit of the synagogue that was filled to the brim, and in an unforgettable ceremony, proclaimed the ban of excommunication, accompanied by the blowing of shofars. For him, this was a great personal effort.

Rabbi Gedalia wished to fulfill the desire of his soul and make aliya to the land a few years before his death, despite his old age, his weak health, and his lack of resources, so that he could fulfill a purpose there, not necessarily rabbinic. However, his efforts to this effect resulted in naught. The rabbi remained on his guard of Przemysl and suffered greatly from the Jew hatred that spread throughout the country.

His interest in Zionist activity and Zionist leaders before the war is known. For example, in 1910, he went to the large lecture hall in the city in order to listen to the words of Adolf Stand. He sat in the upper gallery, opposite the speaker. This was an unusual step for a traditional rabbi, and also demonstrated

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his strength of spirit. When David Wolfson, the president of the Zionist organization after Herzl's death, passed through Przemysl, Rabbi Gedalia Schmelkes was among those who greeted him at the train station.

The rabbi passed away on the 28th of Tevet 5688 (January 21, 1929) and was brought to rest in the cemetery of Przemysl. The head of the community, the well-known Dr. Leib Landau, eulogized him with a major eulogy.

 

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The funeral of Rabbi Gedaliah Schmelkes

D.

The legacy of the rabbi was expressed through the establishment of many important students, and especially through his compositions on Torah literature[4]. These included glosses on the Mishnaic orders of Zeraim and Taharot, notes on the traditions of the Talmud, response, statements on morality, research into the Twelve Minor Prophets, and works of didactics[5].

Despite his wide branched scholarly and rabbinical work, the rabbi found free time to concern himself with social assistance for the members of his community, as well as to arrange examinations in Jewish history for the students who wished to be accepted into Agudat Herzl.

It is worthwhile to note that the generous traits of the rabbi were expressed especially in his purity of character. We know that he placed himself, without being asked, at the disposal of people in their time of need, including people who were known as his adversaries. He was always prepared to make sacrifices when he saw the need to fulfill a moral obligation.


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Religions Functionaries of the Community
During the Last Half Century of Austrian Rule

by D. N.

Translated by Jerrold Landau

  1. The Rabbinic court. After the selection of Rabbi Gedaliah Schmelkes as the rabbinical leader (without appointing him as the head of the religious court) in 1894, the members of the rabbinical court were: Rabbi Nathan Hebenstreit, Rabbi Leib Meisels, and perhaps Rabbi Moshe Jakob Feldstein, who was in any case a member of the court until the return of Rabbi Gedalia from Kolomyja to Przemysl in 1904. Then, Rabbi Moshe Meisels, the elder brother of Rabbi Leib Meisels, also joined the rabbinical court as a rabbinical decisor, and became the deputy head of the rabbinical court. Details on the development of matters with respect to Rabbi Moshe Meisels can be found in the article on Rabbi Gedalia Schmelkes.

    Additional details about members of the rabbinical court:

    1. Rabbi Nathan Hebenstreit was known as the Rabbi from Zamosc, since in his time he was a rabbi in that city in Congress Poland. He was forced by the Russian authorities to leave his post since he was an Austrian citizen. He was known as being lenient about questions of housewives regarding issues of kashruth in the kitchen, and therefore, they approached only him with such questions. Those who knew the matters would say that he was one of the unique people in his generation in this realm. His grandson, Rabbi Babad, a judge in the rabbinical court during the new Polish era, followed in his footsteps.
    2. Rabbi Leib Meisels was the son of Rabbi Josef Chanania Lipa Meisels, the famous rabbi of Przemysl, the predecessor of the Beit Yitzchak.
    3. Rabbi Moshe Yaakov Feldstein enjoyed general esteem in the city thanks to his scholarship and sharpness as well as his modesty. His former student, Professor Dr. Manes Kartagener, describes him in the following words: “Despite his sharpness, his method of study was remote from didactics, and he was very particular about sticking to the text. His clarity of thought was exemplary, and it was impossible to lead him to paths of nothingness.” His son-in-law was Rabbi Shimon, the shamash (beadle) of the synagogue, who was greatly revered in the city.
  2. The shochtim (ritual slaughterers) and kashruth supervisors. From among them, the elders of our city remember the following.

    1. Reb Shalom the Shochet. Not much is known about him.
    2. Reb Chaim Ezra Blum. He was a very honorable man. When he reached the age of 70, the following took his place.
    3. His son-in-law Reb Ascher Kawe, the father of 12 children, all of whom perished in the Holocaust except his son Aharon, who is a teacher in Israel.
    4. And his son Reb Jonas Blum, who taught Mishnah for many years between Mincha and Maariv in the minyan of the shul in the courtyard, who was known as an artist who drew drawings for the needs of the houses of worship (especially the tablets on the eastern wall). He perished along with his wife during the Holocaust era. His two daughters, son and granddaughter made aliya to Israel.
    5. Reb Mechel Hister, a very intelligent man. His son Shlomo was a member of the rabbinical court during the new Polish era, and ran a small Yeshiva.
    6. Reb Nisan Mann, a serious scholar and beloved prayer leader in the kloiz during his time. He was the father of the renowned scribes Jakob and Izaak Mann, who studied most of their Torah from their father. He was forced to leave the kloiz because of them. After he left the kloiz, he lead the Shacharit service on the High Holy Days in the old shul and served as the Torah reader.
    7. Reb Michal Friedman, the kashruth supervisor in the slaughterhouse (see Michal Malach in the article on Houses of Worship).
  3. From among the shamashim (beadles) we should note: Aside from the aforementioned Reb Shimon of the shul – also Reb Wolf of the kloiz, Reb Avraham Itzi of the large Beis Midrash, Reb Eli Singer of the Temple, and Reb Jozef Ascher of the Hirt Minyan.


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Well Known Admorim Connected to Przemysl

by D. N.

Translated by Jerrold Landau

  1. The first of the Admorim connected to the city was Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, known as “the Berdichever”, who was born in the year 5500 (1740) in the town of Husakow near Przemysl. He was the son of the local rabbi, Rabbi Meir, and was educated there. After he got married, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak served as rabbi in the cities of Reczpol, Zelichow and Pinsk. Then he arrived in Berdyczow, and became famous for all generations on account of his unique character. The Rebbe was considered to be one of the greatest Admorim of the first generation. He died in the year 5671 (1811)[6].
  2. The famous rabbi and Admor Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum, who was known by the name of his books as “Yismach Moshe” was born in Przemysl in the year 5519 (1759). He studied Torah from his mother's brother, Rabbi Avraham Aryeh, the head of the rabbinical court of Strzyzow (the author of the book “Drishat HaAri”). Rabbi Moshe was one of the students of the Chozeh of Lublin. According to local tradition, Rabbi Moshe was also a rabbinical judge in Przemysl and later occupied the rabbinical seat of the town of Sieniawa. He then moved to the city of Uhel in Hungary, where he acted as a rabbi and Admor. He died in Tammuz, 5601 (1841). Aside from “Yismach Moshe”, his famous publications were the books “Tefilla Lemoshe”, “Maayan Tahor”, and novellae on Yoreh Deah. Rabbi Moshe was the father of two dynasties of Admorim in Maramures, Hungary – Sziget and Szatmar.
  3. Among the students of the Chozeh of Lublin was also Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech the son of Pesach Schapira, who came from the town of Rybotycze (between Dobromil and Bircza in the vicinity of Przemysl). He settled as the Admor of Dynow on the San River, a town that is located approximately in the center of the Przemysl-Rzeszow-Sanok triangle. During his time, he was one of the greatest Admorim of central Galicia. He authored many books, including “Bnei Yissachar” (he himself was called by the masses according to that name), “Reiach Dudadim”, “Vehaya Beracha”, “Beracha Meshuleshet”, “Derech Pikudaich”, “Igra DePirkei”, “Igra DeKala”, “Magid Taaluma”, and “Kli HaRoim” on the Book of Obadiah. Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech died in the year 5601 (1841) at the age of 52 ½. The scribe Reb Yonah Rosenfeld, “The Shochet of Sosnice”, the student of Nachman Krochmal, received in his time his permit for shechita from the Bnei Yissachar. His eldest son Reb David, the author of the book “Tzemach David” took his place in Dynow after his death. He participated in the dedication of the kloiz in Przemysl, in which his Hassidim had great influence. After the death of Rabbi David, the dynasty was divided up. Some of the divisions remained in the Przemysl-Rzeszow-Sanok triangle – the Hassidim of Blazowa and Bukowsko.
  4. The father of the famous Admor, especially in Galicia and Hungary, Rabbi Chaim Halberstam. He served for a number of years a judge in the rabbinical court of Przemysl during the time that Rabbi Shmuel Heller was the head of the rabbinical court. During that period, Rabbi Chaim Halberstam studied for a number of years in the Yeshiva of the aforementioned rabbi. (See the article on the rabbis of Przemysl.) He later became known as a rabbinical decisor of great importance. Rabbi Chaim used to disburse money among the needy. He also lived a modest life. He is also known for his sharp battle with the grandchildren of Rabbi Yisrael of Rizhin that began in the middle of the 1860s.
  5. During the First World War, Rabbi Pinchas Tabarski, a scion of a Ukrainian family of Admorim that originated from the town of Ustilug in Volhynia, settled in Przemysl. He was the son-in-law of Rabbi Yissachar Dov of Belz. He was a great scholar with general character traits, and he was greatly appreciated in Przemysl.

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    The Hassidim of Belz regarded him as the representative of their Rebbe. His five sons were great scholars, just like their father. Rabbi Pinchas died a martyr's death outside of Przemysl (apparently in Sambor) during the Holocaust.

  6. In the year 5692 (1932), the Admor of Sadagora Rabbi Mordechai Shalom Jozef Friedman (a descendent of Rabbi Yisrael of Rizhin) settled in Przemysl. Due to the great solidarity of the Hassidim of Rizhin, he established his “table” in an important city for the benefit of all the Hassidim that lived in the city and its environs. Nevertheless, the Admor left Przemysl a year or two before the outbreak of the Second World War for Israel, where he lives today.

     

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    The Rabbi of Sadagora

     

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    The Rabbi of Blazowa

     

  7. During and after the First World War, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech, the son of Rabbi David and the grandson of the Bnei Yissachar, lived in Przemysl for a few years. He was known as the Blazower, since he was the head of the rabbinical court of Blazowa. He was known as a great scholar and pleasant prayer leader. He died in Rzeszow during the period between the two world wars. His many students in Przemysl would come to hear his prayers on the High Holy Days. Several members of the intelligentsia, who did not observe tradition at all, were among those who came to his house. The lawyer Dr. Leib Landau, who also came from Dynow, was among those who visited his home in Przemysl.
  8. The residency of the aforementioned important Admorim in Przemysl did not have a decisive influence upon the relations between the Hassidic factions in the city. The Blazowa faction became stronger than originally. However, on the other hand, despite the hegemony of the large factions, in Przemysl their remained room for the action of a modest and populist Admor during the days prior to the First World War. This was the Admor who was called by the people “The Grebzer

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    Rabbi”. His modesty and discreteness were well known. A wealthy Polish Christian, Emil Piskorz, saw it as his duty to provide a dwelling for him in on of his houses without rent. He was a faithful Catholic, and his generosity should be remembered positively. This took place before the First World War.

  9. The popular Rebbe of Grebza was, so to speak, the first of this new type of Admor in the city during the new Polish era, that is after the First World War. We will list them according to the details given by Mr. Shlomo Tuchman, as follows:

    – Originally from Belz: Rabbi Baruch Rokach, whose Beis Midrash was on Basztowa Street; Rabbi Moshe Rokach who was known as “Der Wladyczer Rebbe”; Reb Chanoch Landman, whose Beis Midrash was in Zasanie.

    – Originally from Sieniawa: Rabbi Shmuel Simcha Lazar and Rabbi Shmuel Gewirzman.

    – Originally from Komarno: Rabbi Zeida Safrin, who was known in the city as the Rebbe from Komarno.

    – Descended from Rabbi Uri (Rabbi Urle) of Sambor: Rabbi Eliahu Jolles, the grandson of Rabbi Urle of Sambor and son-in-law of Rabbi Shalom Jolles of Stryj.

    During the 1930s, there was almost a minyan of Admorim in the city. We should note that even then, the Blazowa group was the largest in the city. They sent two delegates to the communal council. According to the law of Polish communities, the right of voting was given to all Jews over 25 years of age, and was no longer connected to the payment of communal taxes.

 

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The chair of the Rabbi of Blazowa

The Admor of Blazowa was greatly revered and appreciated by his Hassidim. One of his Hassidim, Reb Dov Berish Schwarz, did a wonderful deed in donating a splendid chair to his Rebbe, covered in silver, plated in gold, and decorated with three crowns. In its time, this deed left a great echo in the Orthodox community of the city and outside.


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Personalities from the Large Kloiz in Przemysl
  1. Rabbi Michaeli [Mechel] Malach

    When I got to know him during my childhood I did not understand why they called him Malach[7]. (I believe his surname was Friedmann …) An angel without wings, in flesh and blood, walking on earth like each of us – this was beyond the comprehension of a child such as I. Only after growing up did I understand that he was crowned with this name because he was “holy” and pure in his character just like heavenly angels. His soul was noble and refined. He was tall and thin, with a pale face, his dreamy and thoughtful eyes showed that he was immersed in a pure and sublime world, and his only connection to our reality was that he earned his living as kashruth inspector at the slaughterhouse. This was a profession that was on the border between holy and worldly. The man was quiet, and spoke very little about secular matters. His seat at the kloiz was not at the eastern wall among the wealthy and respected people of the town, but next to the northern wall, under the wall clock. But somehow flow of time and changes did not affect him since he seemed to exist outside the bounds of time and place... The clock above his head did not symbolize his life at all.

    The main burden of supporting the family rested upon his wife – like on most Jewish women. She sold fabrics to peasants from one of the stalls on the street, among the rows of tables selling such merchandise. (She did not have a store.)

  2. Rabbi Hershele Esther Jente's[8]

    Rabbi Hershele was poor but always satisfied with his lot – “a lustiger dales”[9]. He was similar to Hershele Osterpoler and Efraim Greidiger of Galicia. Like them, he was known for his joyful optimism and sharp-witted sayings replete with great intelligence and sense of humor.

    One of these remains in my memory till this day:

    Rabbi Hershele Esther Jente's used to say: “ I do not envy the rich, since what is it that they have and I do not? Say silver and gold vessels – and what benefit do they get out of such vessels? They can only look at them, and if I want – I also can go to their homes and also look. But what, they have a right to mortgage these and I do not have this right, correct! But if they come to such a situation where they are forced to mortgage them – then I have no reason to envy them!”

    Thus did Reb Hershele used to mock at wealth and property of the wealthy.

    Rabbi Hershele was friendly and good-hearted. He subsists from one Sabbath to the next on just one measure of carobs[10], and obtained his livelihood from discrete donations of generous people and support from his only son.

  3. Reb Wolf, the Scribe

    I knew Reb Wolf the scribe well as his son Anshel went to cheder with me and was my friend. I often visited his parents' house. Reb Wolf was the most popular of the scribes in our city at that time, since he performed his job not only with faith and for the sake of his livelihood, but as a holy task. I often helped him with the proofreading of the tefillin and mezuzah scripts. We would meet at Belz shtibel whose

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    entrance was in the corridor leading to the Large Kloiz. There he spelled texts letter by letter and I checked the copy to make sure that, G-d forbid, no letter was omitted or added.

    Rabbi Wolf and his family lived far from the noise and the tumult of Jewish street. His apartment was in the Rynek, in a building with non-Jewish tenants. He lived in a dark room in the attic and had no neighbors. It was quiet, silent street. Apparently he needed the quiet and seclusion to concentrate on his work. This quiet was not disturbed by soldiers in the barracks that faced his window and not by bells from the nearby church. They said about him – if my memory serves me well – that before writing the Holy Name he immersed himself in a mikveh. I recall that Rev Wolf refrained from drinking water that had not been boiled for fear of swallowing living creatures living in the drops of water, for he considered this to be like eating a limb from a living animal[11]. His home had a feel of traditional nobleness and purity as Reb Wolf's wife also excelled in her piety and good-heartedness.

  4. Avrahamche Schor

    There many typical characters in our kloiz, reminding one of “Hamatmid” [“The Regular”] by Bialik, but few of them were real geniuses. During the period we are describing here Avrahamche[12] Schor was such a genius to whom turned for all matters. Avrahamche's father had died and his mother supported the family. He was tall, his pale face framed by his peyos and small beard. He was like a beacon of light for all those sailing in the sea of the Talmud and it commentators. Everyone who had difficulty understanding a complicated or unclear matter turned to him, and he would answer questions, solve problems, and shine light upon any matter requiring clarification.

    Usually there was a difference between Hasidism and scholarship. Those who delved deeply in Hasidism preferred to read the books on fear of Heaven of Admorim, sublime holy ones. Some among them turned the study of Gemara into a kind of prayer and Divine service. On the other hand, the scholars who knew how to navigate the sea of the Talmud and dealt less with Hasidism – and it was them that Avrahamche Schor belonged to.

 

prz145.jpg
Hassidic celebration at the cemetery,
in Hebrew: “The Hassidim of the kloiz at a celebration at the cemetery.”

 

Translator's Footnotes

  1. This reference is from the Mishna of Pirkei Avot, and refers to a person who retains everything he learns, without losing anything. Back
  2. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: “Details about this can be found in the article by Moshe Roth on the rabbis of Kolomyja in the Book of Kolomyja, 1957.” Back
  3. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: “According to information that was given by Avraham Kahana in one of his articles about the rabbi.” Back
  4. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: “Avraham Kahana lists these compositions”. Back
  5. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: “A selection of these works were gathered in the Imrei Regesh anthology and were published by his widow, the Rebbetzin Esther, in the city of Piotrokow in the year 5691 (1931). Back
  6. In most histories, he is said to have died in 1810, the latter part of which would correspond to 5671. Back
  7. Malach means “angel” in Hebrew. Back
  8. Jewish men were often nicknamed after their mothers in order to identify them. Reb Hershele Esther Yente's means: Reb Hershele, the son of Esther Yente. Back
  9. In Yiddish, this means “A merry poor fellow”. Back
  10. A Talmudic reference to Rabbi Chanina, who was very poor and survived on meager amounts of food, yet the whole world is sustained for his sake. Back
  11. The Torah forbids the eating of animals while they are still alive. In general, microscopic animals are not considered to fall under this prohibition. Back
  12. This diminutive comes from Polish Abrahamcio pron. like Abrahamcho – ed. Back

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