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[Page 146]

Chapter 5

Jewish Education

by Yeshayahu Arif

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Torah Education in our City during the years 1898-1925

I remember my melameds (elementary teachers) in Przemysl from my early childhood until 1925, the year I left the city. Here is a list of the teachers that taught Torah to the Jewish children during those years, according to my memory. Aside from the teachers whose names are listed below, there were also “hourly teachers” (stunden geber) who did not have their own cheders and who would come to the home of the students to teach privately for an hour. They also taught Hebrew reading to the girls who were not sent to cheder. The teachers of reading and prayers were called dardakim. The teaching of Jewish law (halacha) was the highest level (fourth level) in the city

  Name of the teacher Nickname Family name Place of teaching Subjects
1 Natan   Wolk Beis Hamelamdim (6) (later Ratuszowa) Reading, Prayer
2 Yitzchak Reb Itchele Muster (1) Wolk Chumash
3 Zalman     Reading, prayer
4 Chaim Sofer Reisfeld
5   The Dobromili (1)  
6   The Sosnovai (1)  
7   The Moszciskiai   Talmud Torah
8 Yisrael Reb Sruel   Talmud (Gemara, decisors, Tosafot)
9 David Reb Davidl (2) Uri
10 Yaakov Reb Yankele (3)   Targowica Halacha (Jewish Law)
11 Yosef Reb Yosef (4)   Talmud (Gemara, decisors, Tosafot)
12 Eliahu Reb Eli Wolk Zasanie Reading, prayers
13 Aharon Reb Aharele   Ratuszowa
14 Yitzchak Reb Itzikel (5)  
15 Mordechai Reb Motele Ores Talmud (Gemara, decisors, Tosafot)
16 Efraim Reb Froim   Targowica
17 Shlomo Reb Shlomole   Walowa Chumash
18 Shmerl Reb Shmerl  


1) In accordance with the place from where they came to Przemysl: Muster is from the town of Mosty Wielkie.
2) Reb Davidl Uri later served as the rabbi in the town of Krzywcza (between Przemysl and Dubiecko). Among everything else, he was the educator of the following rabbis: Dr. Shmuel Hirschfeld, later the rabbi of Biala Galicia; and Rabbi Eliezer Mieses, the son of Rabbi Yehoshua Meisel, later the rabbi of Sambor. He was the educator of the well-known and erudite orator Dr. Herzl Landau who lives with us in Tel Aviv.
3) Reb Yankele was a teacher even though he was blind in his old age.
4) Reb Yosef was the son of the teacher Reb Yankele.
5) He is not identical with Reb Itchele Muster (Wolk). He was the father of the writer of this article.
6) After leaving Beis Hamelamdim he went to Ratuszowa.
General notes:
a) There were about 60 students in the cheders of the youngest children (dardakim). For this reason, they had to use assistants (Reish Duchna, Belfer, Bahelfer)[1]. Their job was to look after the students of the cheders
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of the dardakim (children from ages 3-5). The Belfer taught the children Modeh Ani[2] as he got up, dressed him and washed him, and if the child had trouble walking, he would carry him on his shoulders to the cheder. The Reish Duchna was often hungry for bread, and he would often share the child's food due to the extreme hunger.

b) In the cheders where Chumash was taught, the number of children was not more than 20, or at most, 25.

c) The Talmud Torah that is mentioned here should not be confused with the Talmud Torah of the Sartar foundation where they taught secular subjects aside from Torah subjects. Reb Yehoshua Mieses looked after this institution.

d) Before this, most of the cheders were located in the Beis Hamelamdim, which was in the center of the Jewish city. This was the house of Reb Moshe Leizer “Haszter” who himself was once a Reish Duchna. Later he became wealthy through providing the army. He was an agent in loans, and he himself would also issue loans for interest. The teachers left this house on account of the filth.

e) The second center of Torah education was the Talmud Torah in the home of Sosha the dairywoman (she earned the livelihood and her husband “studied Torah”). The classes there started with Chumash. There were good teachers there, and the tuition was low. The supporters of the institution, to the degree that they were expert in the Torah, would also participate in the education of their children, in order to preserve the level of study.

f) The professional levels of the teachers were not firmly established. A teacher of Chumash could also teach introductory Gemara, and a teacher of Gemara would also continue teaching Chumash and Rashi, even into the fourth level.

g) They did not teach the prophets, since there was a suspicion that the study of the prophets was a causative factor in apikorsus[3] (opposition to sacrifices without repentance, a universalist spirit, and more).

h) Many students would only come to the cheder in the afternoon, since they would study secular subjects in the public schools in the morning.

i) The best of the teachers earned their livelihood with difficulty. In the best case, the cheder was in a two room dwelling with windows. At times, light would only come in from outside in one room. In any event, this room not only served as the cheder room, but also as the dining room and bedroom of the teacher's family. Furthermore some of these teachers also had other tenants, such as poor widows or divorcees. In most cases, the family of the teacher would also work a little. For example, the wife would pluck feathers or the daughter would sew or be employed in other houses as an assistant for the “wealthy daughters', etc. On Sabbaths and festivals, there were minyans (prayer quorums) of tradesmen. In all of these gatherings, the people did not earn sufficient livelihood.

The members of the editorial committee add the following comments to this article:
a) (D.N Ch. T.) A number of these teachers would also teach the weekly Torah portion, Mishnah or Ein Yaakov[4] to the congregation in the various houses of prayer on Sabbaths and festivals and also sometimes during weekday evenings. Others would preach Midrashim or (in accordance with the house of worship) Hassidic stories as well. Among these teachers who told stories, we should note Efraim “Froim” the Melamed, who attended the small Beis Midrash. When he came on the Sabbath, those who listened to stories would leave the other storytellers and gather around Froim the Melamed, who always knew how to attract them with his stories that appealed to the imagination of the listeners.

b) (Ch. T.) Reb Itzele the Melamed was an idealistic dreamer. He loved his fellow Jew. Despite his great piety, he also valued those who only observed the interpersonal commandments. Regarding his son, who abandoned orthodoxy but observed the interpersonal commandments, he would even say at times: “I am indeed pained that you do not observe the commandments between man and G-d, but I am at least comforted that you observe the commandments between man and his fellowman.”

c) (Ch. T.) Reb Yoshe [Josef] Spatz was a different character. He was one of the best Talmud teachers,

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who was not mentioned in the words of Mr. Arif. He was indeed a “dry” man, but very diligent. There were few teachers who were his equal in diligence. From among his students we should mention Abraham Trau, who was one of the young students of the author of the “Beis Yitzchak” in Przemysl and studied Talmud with the congregation in the Szajnochy Street Synagogue in Lvov after he moved there.

d) (D. N.) Our former comrade on the editorial committee, Jacob Kerner [Kõrner] of blessed memory, would say the following things about his grandfather Reb Sinai the Melamed: He was not poor. On the contrary, he had his own house where he conducted his own cheder for young children. Aside from exceptional circumstances with children from wealthy homes, he did not request or receive any tuition. He had 36[5] mattresses in his home designated for poor wanderers who had no roof over their heads. Their quarters were prepared every evening. Therefore he was known in the city and he was not lacking in guests any evening. The mattresses would be laid out in the large room on the floor and on the tables, and the poor people would have a place to sleep. Every one of them was given a cup of tea. Despite the disturbances from the police, Reb Sinai did not abandon his custom, but rather continued with it. Reb Sinai the Melamed was the son-in-law of Reb Berisch Kerner [Kõrner], all of whose children joined the nationalist camp. Reb Sinai's grandchildren include the Dirstfeld family of Jewish activists in New York. One of them, Leon, served in his time with great talent in the Przemysl youth movement of this city.

e) (Y. A.) It is appropriate to mention here one other teacher, who in his time was known as an excellent teacher: Reb Mordechai Pechtalt. He was the head of a large family. Among others, he is the grandfather of the Altbauer brothers of Tel Aviv. He was a relative of Rabbi Gedalia Schmelkes, who often had need of him, as a great scholar, in matters of Halacha. Reb Mordechai was the teacher of the children of wealthy families. Several of them studied with them until their weddings. A few of them later became famous in science and in communal activism. These include Professor Moshe Schorr, the brothers Josef and Matityahu Mieses, Professor Kartagener (today in Zurich), the brothers Dr. Mordechai and Nachman Frei [Frey], Dr. Freymann, and many others. Aside from Talmud at a high level, they also studied Bible, especially the prophets, without being concerned about the extreme orthodox circles who did not look upon this type of study positively and suspected it of leading to apikorsus (heresy). In addition to teaching, he was active as a preacher in the small Beis Midrash and other prayer groups in the city. Many streamed to the Oseh Tzedaka on Kazimierzowska Street at Mincha on the Sabbath in order to listen to his wonderful sermons on the issues of the day. His well-known student, Professor Moshe Schorr, who continued to study with him during his vacation time from University, spoke of him with great love and deep appreciation, and nicknamed him “my professor of Judaica, Reb Mordechai Melamed”.

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The Tikvat Yisrael School

by D. N.

Translated by Jerrold Landau

A Chapter of Memories

In the autumn of 1894 or the spring of 1895, the noted nationalist activist in Przemysl, Reb Awigdor Marmelstein, founded the Tikvat Yisrael Hebrew School, which was one of the first Hebrew schools in Galicia that was conducted by the new fundamentals. In the Jewish street, even in the big cities, the cheder still had complete domination. To the extent that the Maskilim had broken into the walls of education, they did this by introducing secular subjects to the Talmud Torah. At times they succeeded. This was the situation with the Sartar Talmud Torah in Przemysl. However the religious studies were conducted in accordance with the old methodology and the secular subjects were taught in Polish in order to fulfill the state educational curriculum.

The Tikvat Yisrael synagogue[6] did not even make any attempt to include secular subjects in its curriculum. It was organized only with Jewish studies. The children were required to study not only for three hours ever afternoon, except on the eves of Sabbaths and festivals (considering that the public schools were in session in the morning), and six hours on Sundays and public school holidays, but they also had homework. The German language of instruction was understood by most of the children as it was close to Yiddish. They did not use the Polish language as the language of instruction even though most of the children knew it, for two reasons: a) most of the teachers were not sufficiently fluent in it; b) the Jewish community related with tolerance only to the German language in the synagogues and schools. It is interesting that despite the great opposition to the Tikvat Yisrael School by most of the Orthodox, the issue of the German language was not at the center of the attacks. There were many claims of missionary activity and apikorsus. Therefore, why did they not study in Yiddish? This was not in accordance with the zeitgeist, and it was not easy to find teachers who would be able to do so, for the teachers had to be educated, and most of the maskilim were weak in Yiddish.

The use of the German language caused difficulties for the students who were not proficient in it and were educated in the Polish language in their homes.

There was no religious studies subject in the curriculum, even though the school brochures advertised such a subject. Only on specific circumstances, especially before the holidays, were explanations given about the various ceremonies and prayers (Hallel, the Passover Haggadah), and the Megillot that were read on the specific holiday were studied[7]. A formal teaching of the principles or religion was not acceptable. Hebrew grammar was taught each day in a comprehensive manner, and the students attained great proficiency in it. This was also the situation with the Bible, which was studied in German translation along with grammatical dissection.

There were also several chrestomathies used, appropriate for each class. Written lessons were prepared based on them. The study of Talmud began in the 5th grade. The Ashkenazic pronunciation was used for Hebrew, but the accents were in accordance with grammatical principals (ultimate or penultimate)[8], which gave the language an appropriate tempo, and improved the richness of the sound. This pronunciation was rare in Galicia. At first, the school was located in an old, one-story house that stood on Lwowska (Mickiewicza) Street, on a large lot that was owned by the Eisner family. Later they built large houses on it, including a post office. Apparently, at the time that the lot was built up, the school moved to a small one-story building containing four rooms which housed five classes. This was on Snigorskiego Street. It remained there even when the institution passed to the ownership of the teacher Schapira. From among the important teachers that taught there, we should mention Nissim [Nissan] Taffet and Melech Panet in addition to Schapira.

The tuition was 6 crowns per month, a large sum in the 1890s. Reductions were given to the children of poor people and to large families.

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Religious Studies

by A. Bloch

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The study of the Mosaic religion was the stepchild of the educational authorities of Galicia. The national educational council, a division of the Imperial governor in Lvov, was the exclusive domain of the upper class of the nobility and clergy of the Polish community. Austrian law promised equal rights to members of every religion, so they had no choice but to “concern” themselves with the religious studies of the Jewish children in the official schools. However this “concern” led to the neglect of the law and its actualization.

Only one hour per week was dedicated to this study in the high school curriculum as opposed to two hours for the rest of the religions. The textbooks that were used were summaries lacking in depth, and their authors, teachers of religion, were not appropriately qualified for this work. They paid particular attention to the demands and aims of the government. There was practical benefit to their work, for the large editions were reprinted over and over again and became a reliable source of income.

No concern was given to the professional qualifications of the teachers. Anyone who had attained “sufficient” general knowledge in the eyes of the community, that is to say – the ability to teach in the Polish language, and presented the certification from any rabbi about his “Jewish” knowledge that was necessary for this position – would be granted the rights to be a teacher of religion. Of course, this was under the condition that there were no political suspicions.

Mordechai Braude, a reliable witness, states that even rabbis who did not look favorably upon studies in the official schools did not hesitate to grant such a certification without paying attention to the qualifications of the candidate, in payment for a large sum of money.

There was reason to believe that the situation would improve when a number of Zionist idealists decided to dedicate themselves full time or part time to the teaching of religion. After they had mastered a comprehensive education in traditional Jewish studies from their homes, they took their matriculation exams and received their rabbinical ordinations from the seminary in Vienna as well as their academic diploma from the university in that city. However the hope did not materialize – the number of candidates was small and they were not able to stand up to the multiple difficulties that were piled up before them. The situation did not change greatly. The typical character of the teacher of religion was as it had been – that is, an unqualified person. It is no wonder that such teachers were unable to earn the admiration and esteem of the students and the parents. Those who supervised them, who were teachers of other professions, did not earn any recognition for their authority.

The situation was thus in all of Galicia, and in Przemysl.

While we are on the subject of teachers of Jewish religion in our city, one must note Jakob Baumgarten, even though there were such teachers before his appearance, during his time, and after his retirement. Baumgarten arrived in Przemysl from the intelligentsia city of Zurawno, apparently around the year 1880. He was familiar with Chachmat Yisrael in German translation. He had his own teaching style. He did not use a textbook in the high school, and the students were not required to study from textbooks. The teacher delivered lectures on the course material, which included Bible stories in the younger grades and the fundamentals of the Mosaic religion and Jewish ethics from Pirke Avot in the upper grades.

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In every class, Baumgarten selected a specific student who sat in the first row at the end of the bench to his right, who was forced to stand during the time of his lecture (a faithful sacrifice for his methodology) and to listen to the words of the teacher, at least outwardly. The rest of the students did this as well without standing. The teacher reacted with sharp irony and biting sarcasm toward any student who disrupted in a major fashion. He never lost his patience, and he never required the assistance of the school principal, the class teacher or another teacher. Anything that took place between the teacher and the pupils during the time of the study of the Jewish religion remained a Jewish internal matter.

In accordance with Baumgarten's teaching methodology, homework was never given and the students were not tested. Therefore those students whose parents did not concern themselves with the Jewish education of their children left these studies were a very scanty amount of knowledge. A situation like this was not possible with other subjects, for there was no supervision at all similar to what there was for the study of other religions and general subjects. The community that was responsible for this was completely derelict in its responsibility.

In Galicia, the supervision of the Jewish religious studies was the responsibility of the representative of the religion on the national educational council, appointed by the government. During the days of Baumgarten, this role was filled by a professor of ancient Greek literature in the University of Krakow, well qualified in his own field but not beyond. The strange thought of ruining his relationship with the influential ruling authorities over the matter of religious studies would not have entered into the mind of this scholar, who had no connection with Judaism. This was even more the case after the hot-headed Zionist youths hatched the idea of taking religious studies under their wings and demanding appropriate knowledge in the Hebrew language as the language of prayer within an acceptable curriculum of study.

On account of the situation, the problem of how the religious subjects should be graded came to the fore. This subject was at the top of the list in the students' report cards. Baumgarten's main line of reasoning was clear: that one must not “sully” a good report card, and one must take the social status of the parents of the students into consideration as much as possible. Jakob Baumgarten was not an advocate of the idea that a mark should reflect the level of knowledge, even if the level of knowledge was equal (for better or for worse) between the son of a lowly tailor and the son of a lofty physician. However, we should stress that the teacher never asked for any personal benefit, either social or material, on account of this. His sole intention was to prevent dissention between the various factions, which he knew would come.

It turned out that the parents of the students did not see a need to debate with the teacher on account of the progress or behavior of the children in the religion courses. Actually, there was no opportunity for this, for Baumgarten was absent from the teachers' room on “parents day” when all the teachers would give over a short report to the parents on the status of their children. As an assistant teacher – which was his official title – Baumgarten was not a member of the teaching staff and he did not participate in meetings of the pedagogical council.

The “Mincha services” that were arranged each Sabbath for the high school students is a chapter unto itself. They gathered at a set time in the school yard and marched two by two through Slowackiego and Jagiellonska streets to the synagogue, where the cantor conducted the service accompanied by a choir of the students. Baumgarten would then deliver a sermon on the weekly Torah portion. When his sermon was interrupted by unruly students, the preacher saw no other means than to interrupt his sermon and call the disturbers to order, as he would do during his classroom lessons.

The teacher of Jewish religion, Jakob Baumgarten, would march at the head of this troupe of students to the “youth service” in the synagogue, with his silver tipped cane in his hand, a top hat on his head, wearing spending clothing, with a short but erect stature. He himself worshipped in that synagogue and was numbered among the honorable householders. Many students, especially the youth and troublemakers, encouraged by the aforementioned circumstances, saw sufficient reason to mock their own “cachet” (that is, the teacher of Christian religion)[9]. This was not only due to his poor mastery of the Polish language

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which was far worse than their own mastery of the language. They would play pranks in order to hurt him. Only a small group of the older youths of the upper grades saw it as their personal duty to treat their Jewish religious studies and their religion teacher in an honorable fashion – on account of their Zionist activity.

We do not know Baumgarten's own relationship to Zionism and Jewish nationalism. He would attend lectures in the nationalist Yeshurun and Zion organizations. He himself presented lectures at the Yeshurun organization during the 1890s, and gave a course in history. He never took a stand against Zionism, or against the aims of the Jewish national movement, which would have raised his stature among those who paid his salary. It is important to point this out in contrast to the fact that many of his professional equals in other cities did not behave thus.

The reverence with which Baumgarten was treated by his students was surprising. There was a long-standing custom that every year on his birthday, the Jews of the older class would gather in his house and give him a special gift (a silver or gold object, in accordance with his prior hint), aside from class pictures. The walls of Baumgarten's house were decked with photographs of generations of his students. The joy at these celebrations was great. The most appropriate student delivered a speech of blessing, and the guest of honor himself ensured the exalted spirit of his guests.

There was also no shortage of humorous scenes. Similar to the students of the upper gymnasiums, there were female students in the lineup of those issuing words of blessing. It once happened that the spokeswoman did not know how to continue her address. The teacher himself rose up and salvaged the situation: he whispered a few appropriate words into the ears of the perplexed student, which were well understood and assisted her in successfully completing her speech.

The jubilee of his teaching served as an appropriate opportunity to express special appreciation to Baumgarten. On this occasion, a festive service was arranged at the synagogue, in which many former students participated, including those who had moved away from Przemysl in the interim. The cantata that was sung by the student choir accompanied by the military band was composed by Arnold Gahlberg, who had no connection at all with the Jewish religion or with the nationalist Jewish movement. (He was active for some time in the Z.P.S. In general, he took interest in issues of philosophy and art that were remote from Judaism.) His feelings of honor toward his elderly teacher who taught him many years ago – and that alone – inspired Golberg to compose his musical composition. Professor Moses Schorr, who had also been a student of Baumgarten in the gymnasium, delivered a festive speech.

What was the secret of the true admiration and honest love that Baumgarten earned of his former students, even though they were already adults? His decency, his impeccable character, also his sense of humor, and not least, his faithfulness and dedication to his profession work, to the best of his ability under the circumstance of that era – all of these helped him earn this friendship.

As has been noted above, other teachers of religion preceded Baumgarten in Przemysl. There were also other teachers in his time and after. The first one, in the 1870s, was apparently Menachem Brodheim, who is mentioned in another place in this book. Wilhelm Diamant was also a teacher of religion. In his day, he also served as the general studies principal of the Talmud Torah. He dedicated a great deal of his time, with his heart and soul, over many years to his work in the “Two Kreitzers” in a voluntary fashion. During the First World War, the religion teacher Spiro would visit the sick and wounded in the military hospitals in his capacity as an assistant rabbi. The young woman Antonina Wolf was much loved as a religion teacher in the girls schools. Dr. Josef Mieses, later the chief military rabbi of Poland, and the brother of Matityahu Mieses, was the first in our city to attempt to introduce the study of the Hebrew Language into the curriculum.

Sch. Menkes, an enthusiastic follower of Heinrich Heine, served as a religion teacher in the period between 1918 and 1939. When one of the students mentioned the name of the poet, he would immediately interrupt the religion class and begin

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recite from the “Rabbi of Bacherach”[10] until the end of the class. This was to the joy of the class, who used this trick frequently in order to avoid being tested on that day. Mr. Gottesman also served as a religion teacher in the public schools.

In the Hebrew gymnasium, the study of “religion” which was included in the official curriculum of study, was combined with the study of Bible. The Hebrew Language and literature teachers also served as religion teachers. These included Jakob Eisen, Feiga Haber, Josef Ortner, and the young writer Shabtai Rappaport.[i]

* * *

Aside from one, all of the teachers of the Jewish religion in Przemysl – those whose names have been mentioned and even the others – were well intentioned. It was not their fault that their poor sowing brought a meager harvest – they were victims of circumstance. There was reason to suspect that what was once called “the study of the Mosaic religion” and everything involved with it would be soon forgotten, for it only lived in the scanty and blurred memories of a small group of people, who were shrinking annually year by year through the course of nature…

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The Study of the Hebrew Language in Przemysl
during the Last 25 Years of Austrian Rule

by D. N.

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The study of the Hebrew Language was not considered to be one of the customary subjects of study by the Jews of Przemysl until Awigdor Marmelstein founded his Tikvas Yisrael[12] school at the beginning of 1895. After years of difficulty in the maintenance of this school Marmelstein grew weary and came to the conclusion that it was not possible for him to maintain his stand. He turned over the leadership of the school to the teacher Schapira. Marmelstein thought that he would ease his family's livelihood by giving private lessons. Schapira as well was not able to maintain his stand for a long time in his battle to maintain the institution, even though his elderly father-in-law, the veteran teacher Teller, lived with him and taught in his school (in order to save expenses). With the passage of time, he was forced to close the school.

The curriculum of studies and the restricted time that the students had was the factor that caused difficulties for the activities of Marmelstein and Schapira. In the Tikvas Yisrael School three hours in the afternoon were designated for the teaching of the Hebrew Language and Bible (except in the first grade, where all the hours were dedicated to the study of the language). This was not sufficient time of the study of Bible. It was impossible to increase the number of hours for this purpose, since most of the students attended public schools during the morning hours.

Extending the school day to more than seven hours (this was the era when students studied in two schools simultaneously) made the students weary and also prevented them from doing their homework. The fact that German was used as the language of instruction in Tikvas Yisrael also added to the burden on the students.

In the period after the closing of the Tikvas Yisrael School, the “Hebrew in Hebrew” style of language instruction with the Sephardic pronunciation came in vogue in Galicia. With the influence of the Zionist movement, the youth demanded that the Hebrew Language be taught through new means. Girls were also among those who desired to study Hebrew, though the influence of the Zionist movement. Since the Tikvas Yisrael School was designated only for males, it is no wonder that this institution was destined to be liquidated completely.

After the liquidation of this school, competitors arose. These were the Hebrew teachers who gave private lessons.

Before he left Przemysl in 1896, Shimon Menachem Lazar attempted to earn his livelihood solely through the teaching of Bible. It was not difficult for a personality of this nature, who had a deep knowledge of Bible, to be a competitor for the school. However, he left for Krakow to become the editor of Hamagid.

Starting from 1896, Nissan Taffet, a native of Debica, and the son-in-law of Zinnmann of Rzeszow, became known in the city as a teacher of Hebrew. When he arrived in Przemysl, he first became a teacher in Tikvas Yisrael and was considered to be among the most important people who worked in this school throughout the years. As a father of a family with a large number of children, he had difficulty in sustaining himself from his salary. For this reason he was forced to leave his position. He began to work as a private teacher. The experiment succeeded. In many homes in the city, Taffet was the educator of the sons and also at times the daughters. He imparted to them knowledge of Bible and the Hebrew Language. He taught according to the methodology of translation, and also according to the “Hebrew in Hebrew” principle, with

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both the Ashkenazic and Sephardic pronunciation. He would even teach the children of the army captains who wished to give their children some sort of Jewish education, using the western German pronunciation. He fulfilled his duties faithfully and with the recognition that this was an important national calling. Despite his hard work with private lessons from morning until evening, Taffet found time for Zionist activity. He participated in the meetings of the committee of the Zion organization, in the selling of shekels (tokens of membership of the Zionist parties), etc. Along with the future writer Shmuel Meisels, he founded an organization called Safa Berura in Przemysl at the end of the 1890s, whose purpose was to encourage the speaking of Hebrew. Taffet spoke Hebrew with his children starting from their childhood. This was a rare phenomenon in those days, even in the homes of veteran Hebrew teachers, especially when the mother of the family was not fluent in that language. Tafet escaped with his family to Vienna in September 1914, where he remained until 1935. After the death of his wife and the aliya of his only daughter to the Land of Israel, Taffet returned to Przemysl, where in the interim his sons Efraim and Yeshayahu had settled. In Vienna, Taffet enthusiastically continued his Zionist activity and his teaching of the Hebrew Language. Taffet was among those who would visit the chief rabbi Peretz Chaies, who held him in high esteem. He died suddenly in Przemysl as he was preparing to make aliya to the Land of Israel.


Nisan Taffet


We can compare the unmarried teachers who began to arrive in the cities of Galicia, including Przemysl, to wandering birds. They came primarily from Russia, beginning in the year of the revolution of 1905 until the outbreak of the First World War. For the most part, they were escaping from Russian military service, and regarded the cities of Galicia only as merely the first stop in their escape.

We will not mention all of them. However it is worthwhile to speak extensively about one of them, who was an important teacher in the wisdom of Israel, and who stood out in his professional talent and national consciousness during his three years in Przemysl, despite the fact that he did not particularly excel in teaching.

This was Efraim Einhorn (later Porat, in Jerusalem) a native of Volhynia, who arrived in Przemysl around the beginning of 1906, when he was escaping from service in the Russian army. He was a modest and serious man. He did not seek wide spaces. His desire was to expand his knowledge of the Hebrew Language and its literature. He dedicated himself especially to the literature of the Middle Ages, and also to the study of the German language, which was a sort of key to the wisdom of Israel. Abraham Sonne expressed his opinion after several conversations with him, that “The youth Einhorn takes interest also in the technical problems of grammar, and he has wide knowledge in this field.” Einhorn was liked by a number of young maskilim in the city, as well as by the youths of the kloiz who had nationalistic feelings. He especially influenced the development of the circle from which the founders of the Ivriya organization sprouted. He was one of the supporting pillars of the nationalist youth in Przemysl while he lived in the city.

During the three years that Einhorn lived in city, he learned to read and understand German. With the assistance of his friends in the city, he was accepted to the Azara Teachers' Seminary in Jerusalem, where he concluded his studies in 1913 during the time of the battle of the languages. After the First World War, A. Porat studied Semitic languages and Jewish studies in German universities, and received his Ph.D. degree. After he married a wife who was a native of Bukovina, he was appointed as the principal of a seminary for Hebrew teachers in Romania. After some time, Porat made aliya to the land, worked a great deal in research, and published translations and books of commentary on the Middle Ages. He participated in the meetings of the Academy of the Hebrew Language. Porat was connected to Przemysl throughout his life, even though he only lived there

[Page 156]

for three years, and never saw it again for approximately 50 years. He was loved by the natives of Przemysl, who did not cut off contact with him until the day of his death in 1961.

From among the “wandering birds” of the teachers of Przemysl, we will mention four more bachelors who came to Przemysl and did not remain for a long time. None of them came to the level of knowledge and dedication of Porat. One of them, Cohen, was a native of the old settlement in the Land of Israel. His family had originated in Galicia. He was forced to leave Jerusalem and search or work in Galicia as a Hebrew teacher. He did not excel in his knowledge and had no influence upon the youth. The second one, Rozovski, was a Russian refugee. He was pleasant in his manner. He focused primarily on the teaching of language. He did not remain in Przemysl for long. The third one, Dlugacz, had the abilities of a normal teacher, but he did not succeed in winning the love of the youth. The fourth one, Wiewiorka, did not see the teaching of the Hebrew Language as the goal of his life. His goal was the writing of poetry in Yiddish.

Henderl was a teacher who loved his job and attempted to perform it to the best of his ability. He came to Przemysl from a nearby town and remained there for a number of years prior to the outbreak of the First World War He dedicated himself particular to the teaching of the Prophets and the Writings (Hagiographa), and to reading works of medieval Jewish philosophy with his students.

The breadth of his knowledge was wide, and his commitment to his job was serious. He was far from Zionism, and even opposed to it. His students would relate that at times during the reading of a sublime chapter in the Bible, for example in Job, he would be overcome by great enthusiasm. If he recognized talent and dedication to learning in a student, he would at times continue to read with him on Sabbaths chapters of books from the Middle Ages even after the student concluded his studies with him, without expecting any recompense.

The circles of “consumers” of the study of the Hebrew Language and literature grew with the awakening of the Zionist movement in the city among the youth during the years preceding the First World War. However, the possibilities of teaching in exchange for a modest payment were not great. It was not always possible to find parents, even well-to-do ones, who were prepared to spend large amounts of money to impart the Hebrew Language to their daughters. Then, in 1912, Dr. Josef Gelernter established the Safa Berura organization on a modern basis, which took upon itself the task of concerning itself with the maintenance of a Hebrew school for both boys and girls. Several veteran maskilim joined the committee, including the veteran Zionist activist and esteemed thinker Reb Jakob Ehrlich as chairman. For this purpose, a small isolated house on Rejtana Street was rented, and appropriate furnishings were obtained. They also concerned themselves with appropriate teachers. Among them, the excellent and experienced teacher Mrs. Cipre [Zipre] Haber was invited by Dr. Gelernter. She remained in Przemysl and later taught in the Jewish public and high schools. However, the joy over the establishment of the enterprise did not last long, for it was destroyed at the outbreak of the war in 1914.

Mr. Yeshayahu Arif, currently a member of Kibbutz Sarid, tells in his reminiscences of Przemysl from the time after the Balfour Declaration, that a great desire to study the Hebrew Language was felt among the nationalist youth in those days. He and his friend Abraham Avni (Steiner) organized language lessons for a token tuition for these youths, who were for the most part poor. The number of students was very large. After some time, a pair of Hebrew teachers, a brother and sister named Stadlen, appeared in the city. They had excellent teaching abilities. Arif and Avni gave up giving their classes, for they hoped that the students would gain more benefit from the new teachers. However, the result was otherwise: a number of new male and female students did indeed join, but most of the veteran students disappeared. The Stadlen duo was not able to sustain themselves on the token salary, so they raised the token tuition to a realistic one. Then, most of the poor students gave up continuing their studies.

In The meantime, during the renewed Polish era, the establishment of a Jewish public school was begun. Later, a Jewish gymnasium with a curriculum of general and Hebrew studies was formed according to the new methodology of teaching the Hebrew Language in Przemysl.

Original Footnote

  1. Shabtai Rappaport concluded his course of studies in the Institute of Jewish studies and rabbinics in Warsaw, and in psychology in the university in Warsaw. He excelled in his literary talents. Already at the age of 24 he began to publish his articles in the Hebrew periodicals in Poland “Baderech” and “Gilionot” on the topic of the doctrine of Freud, psychology and Hassidism. In 1937[11], approximately 20 articles of Sh. Rappaport were published in the literary anthology, that appeared in 1930 in Warsaw with the name “The Yearbook of Jewish Writers”. His articles on the Baal Shem Tov and the Hassidic movement were published. He perished in the Holocaust at the age of 33. Back

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Reish Duchna is an Aramaic term. Belfer is a Yiddish term for an assistant teacher of a cheder. It is a corruption of the more proper term Bahelfer, which literally means 'helper' or 'assistant'. Back
  2. The first prayer that one is to say upon arising. Back
  3. Apikorsus is the traditional Jewish term for heresy - deriving from the name of the Greek philosopher Epicurus. Back
  4. Ein Yaakov is an anthology of the aggadaic (lore) material of the Talmud. Back
  5. 36, being a multiple of 18, is considered to be a propitious number. Back
  6. I suspect that this was a typographical error, and the intention was 'school' rather than 'synagogue'. Back
  7. Hallel is the psalms of praise (Psalms 113-118) that are recited on the major holidays. The Megillot are the five short Biblical books that are read on various Holidays: Ruth on Shavuot, Esther on Purim, Lamentations on Tisha BeAv, Song of Songs on Passover, and Ecclesiastes on Sukkot. Back
  8. Yiddish (and by definition old fashioned Eastern European Hebrew) tends to place the stress on a different part of the word than Modern Hebrew does. Back
  9. teacher of Christian religion, catechist, is katecheta in Polish. Back
  10. One of Heine's compositions. Back
  11. From the context, I expect that this is off by 10 years, and 1927 is probably intended. Back
  12. There is a footnote in the text here: See the memories of the Tikvas Yisrael school on page 149. Back

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