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[Cols. 211-212]

The Great Torah Scholar, Rabbi Reb Shloyme Eli Ushpal,
of Blessed Memory

Rabbi Yitskhok Duber Ushpal

Dedicated to my perished family: my father, Rabbi Reb Shloyme-Eli, of blessed memory; my mother, Khaya-Rokhl daughter of Reb Moyshe, of blessed memory;
my brother, Reb Mordkhe and his wife and children, of blessed memory; my sister, Khane, and her children; my sisters, Dina, Ita-Basye, and Mina, of blessed memory.

Rabbi Reb Shloyme-Eli Ushpal was born in the year 1880 in Kukharishok, a small Jewish settlement near Dugelishok, to a family of Khabad Khasidim and scholars, who were known throughout the whole area.

From early childhood on, he evinced extraordinary abilities, and everyone was awed by his unusual diligence.

At the age of 13, he became a student in one of the largest Dvinsk yeshivas, where very learned, grown-up young men were studying, but even among them, he immediately attained the reputation of a great learner, an expert and sagacious scholar, and they called him: the Dugelisher prodigy.

He was immediately recognized by the local rabbi, Rabbi Yoysef Rozin, of blessed memory, who was even then well-known as a great, world renown Torah scholar and was famous under the name: the Rogatshover [Rebbe].

Rabbi Rozin befriended the Dugelisher prodigy and Reb Shloyme-Eli actually became like a son in the Rogatshover house.

From that time on, their spiritual connection lasted for several decades, and at the time of the First World War, they were even together in Leningrad.

Reb Shloyme-Eli, however, didn't remain in the Dvinsker Yeshiva for long. He was, after all, the child of a khasdic family, and he, therefore, decided to continue his studies in Kapust, at the wonderful, local settlement, which was under the spiritual guidance of the famous Kapuster Rabbi (his soul rests in heaven), who was well known in the khasidic world by the name of: “The Master Teacher of our Forefathers.”

With his excellent grasp[of things], acute memory, and strong

[Col. 212]

understanding, Reb. Shloyme-Eli quickly grasped the study of khasidus [the Khabad interpretation of Torah] and he was soon appointed the permanent 'repeater' of the rebbe's articles.

A short time later, the young 'repeater' was known to hundreds of khasidim, who used to visit their beloved Kapuster Rebbe, to listen to his sermon and get a blessing from him.

Several years went by in this way. In the meantime, the prodigy of Dugelish grew up, and the best matches were presented to him.

He married the only daughter of Reb Moyshe Harmats, of blessed memory, a well known Svintsyaner khosid and prominent member of the community, also an excellent musician and singer, who for the last several decades had lead the additional prayers on the High Holy Days.

Everyone foresaw a brilliant future for Reb Shloyme-Eli as a religious judge, but he didn't want to hear about this. He simply didn't want to make his Torah and wisdom into a livelihood, an “axe to excavate with, [in Heb.]” and he categorically refused to accept a rabbinical position somewhere.

Right after the wedding, he went to Warsaw. There he learned well the technique of rolling cigarettes and became familiar with all the machines involved. Only then did he purchase all the necessary machines and a motor, returned to Svintsyen and erected a beautiful cigarette paper factory.

With lightening speed, Ushpal's cigarette paper factory became famous all over Russia and its merchandise was also sold in Holland, Belgium, and Germany.

Because of business, he very often traveled outside Russia, and everywhere he got

[Col. 213]

the reputation for being a big manufacturer and honest businessman.

*

When the First World War broke out, he, together with his whole family, found their way to Riga, where he continued his business.

He was well known in the business world, and there too business was profitable.

He didn't forget, however, to also enrich his spiritual 'baggage' [sic] and would study Torah every day in the large synagogue; he didn't miss repeating khasidic philosophy to the congregants even one Sabbath.

In a short time, his fate took him to Leningrad, where he rebuilt his factory and was, once again, very successful.

There he lived a fortunate and happy life with his family, in riches and honor. Even in Leningrad, he didn't neglect the teaching of Torah and the study of khasidic philosophy.

*

This, however, did not last long. The Bolshevic Revolution put an end to all of this. His whole fortune was, of course, immediately confiscated. The Ushpal family barely escaped with their lives.

Reb Shloyme-Eli began to make efforts to get permission for him to leave Russia. He only got permission, however, in 1923 and then returned to Svinstyan in great poverty.

The difficult economic situation in Poland and the discriminatory politics of the government regarding the Jewish population took away all of his initiative. He did not feel like putting any effort in manufacturing. He also didn't have the monetary means to do so.

Having no choice, Reb Shloyme-Eli agreed to accept a rabbinical position and became the Rabbi of Disne. From there, he later became the Rabbi of Kurenyets, a Jewish community, who had a good reputation for having great rabbis.

Since he had been a successful businessman for many years, he immediately became popular for his quick and strong decisions in various Torah judgments.

People would come with Torah disputes specifically to him, because they knew that he

[Col. 214]

perfectly understood all life-questions and possessed a profound of love of his fellow man, both in general and in particular.

He quickly won the sympathy of all factions and there were more legal decisions made in his house than in the greatest of courtrooms.

His khasidic congregation became ever more bound to him. Everyone was amazed at his sermons and said about him, “He utters pearls of wisdom. [Heb.]”

He could talk to an audience for hours and kept his listeners in suspense the whole time. Young and old would attend his sermons, listened with interest and actually stood with “open mouths.”

*

About his life and deeds, it is worthwhile to note the following story:

When the First World War broke out, the Jewish community of Kurenits sent 21 Torah scrolls to Leningrad to save them from fires and destruction. Later, other Jewish communities, which found themselves on the front, followed this example. Little by little, over 600 Torah scrolls from the whole area were collected in Leningrad.

When Reb Shloyme-Eli arrived in Leningrad, where he had previously been known as a prodigy and great scholar, he was appointed the overseer of this trust, to guard the hundreds of Torah scrolls.

In the year 1923, when he had to leave Leningrad, the Torah scrolls remained without a guard, without anyone to take care of them. This did not let him rest.

Via all means [at his disposal] and all [his] connections, he tried to find someone to bring back the Torah scrolls. This was not an easy task. All kinds of legal ideas had to be thought up, a lot of money spent to involve the Polish government [in this] and to obtain its diplomatic intervention. Until he was finally successful in convincing the Communist government to release the Torah scrolls.

In the year 1929, according to the address of Rabbi Ushpal, 21 Torah scrolls arrived in Kurenits. At the time, this was big news and all the Jewish and Polish newspapers wrote about this and praised the Rabbi of Kurenits.

During this whole time, Rabbi Reb Shloyme-Eli also did scientific[sic] research and prepared several manuscripts

[Col. 215]

about Torah and khasidic philosophy. He also possessed a great library of religious books, rare volumes.

One handwritten manuscript he called: “Rays of the Dawn.”

The Hitler and Lithuanian bandits burned and destroyed this gigantic spiritual treasure.

[Col. 216]

Rabbi Ushpal and his whole family were martyred along with thousands of Jews from the Sventzian area during the intermediate days of Sukos, 1941.

G-d will avenge their blood!

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The Khasidic Congregations [placed in the wrong column in the original]

There were two khasidic congregations in Sventzian: one on Vilner Street and the other on Pashmener Street.

The rich khasidim attended the congregation on Vilner Street. My grandfather, Moyshe son of Dovid Meyer Harmats, of blessed memory, led the prayers for the congregation on the High Holy Days.

One of my father's closest friends was Reb Meyer Levinson, of blessed memory. (His son, Betsalel, was one of the founders and main leader of the Sventzian landsmanshaft [society] in America.) Every Sabbath, before the service, he would learn with my father from the text: “ A Compilation of Torah [Wisdom]” written by the author of the Tanya. Reb Meyer was esteemed in town as an important and smart person. He was also a good leader of the prayers in the synagogue. All of his life, he had a large wine business and owned his own house on the Market Square.

Among the esteemed khasidim at that time was also Reb Mordkhe Abramson, of blessed memory. His trade was that of a forest agent. He had a principle of not going out after the Sabbath to do business. One time, however, it was urgent that he go [at that time]. He ordered his usual wagon driver, a young Gentile, and they went on their way Saturday night. It was a wintry night. They traveled a hour's time out of Svintysan, and Reb Mordkhe Abramson, who knew well all the roads in the woods, told the Gentile that, according to his opinion, he was not going the right way. The Gentile took umbrage at Reb Mordkhe Abramson's instructions and replied with anger: “You are going to teach me the way?” They ride farther and his suspicion grows. He decides to turn back and says, “You know, we have to go back. I left the money that I have to pay the lord on the table at home.” The Gentile, unwillingly, was forced to return to Sventzian. Upon coming home, he put out some whiskey in order to warm himself from the frost. After several shots, the Gentile became drunk. Then Reb Mordkhe asked him: “Tell me

[Col. 216 cont'd]

the truth, when you were riding with me today, wasn't your taking me on the side roads the result of some bad intention?” “Yes!” the drunken Gentile answered. “Tonight G-d saved you from death. I intended to drag you into the woods, to kill you and take all of your money.” As a result of this incident, he continued his custom of not traveling for business after the Sabbath the rest of his life.

An interesting type among the khasidim of Sventzian was Reb Khaim Dovid the lathe turner. All his life, he supported himself by the work of his hands, by working at his lathe, which he had made himself in primitive fashion. When he got ready to go by foot to Lyubavitsh, he used to take his sharpening machine with him on his back and go from city to city, sharpening knives and earning money to support himself.

Among the simple, sincere khasidim, I remember Betsalel the apple carrier. He had a pleasant voice and would sing beautiful khasidic melodies. He would bring apples to eat after drinking whiskey.

I remember the patriarchal Reb Shneur Rabinovitsh, may his soul ascend. He sat near the Holy Ark by the eastern wall [of the synagogue], liked to throw pears to the children, who used to respond, “Amen, May His great name [be blessed].” I also remember his brother-in-law, Reb Hirsh Leyb Tayts, of blessed memory. Together they had a tobacco factory. As my father told me, the tobacco of Rabinovitsh's and Tayts' factory had a good reputation because of the special taste that the owners used to add.

Rabinovitsh's tobacco maker was very popular among the peasant population of the Sventzian area.

The khasidim of Sventzian were well-organized and close friends of one another. Behind the khasidic congregation on Vilner Street they built a modern bathhouse with a mikva. The whole city used this bathhouse and mikva, because of its modern, hygienic construction.

The khasidim always had their own ritual slaughterer. The last khasidic slaughterer was Reb Moyshe Mendl

[Col. 217]

Berlin, of blessed memory, who came to Sventzian at the beginning of the First World War. Reb Moyshe Mendl was a person of good character. He was always ready to help anyone. The city respected him and loved him.

When I was young, the beadle of the synagogue was Reb Yose Ulman, of blessed memory. He led the congregation with pride. I can remember to this day how he prayed the afternoon service on Yom Kippur. He was also a member of the Burial Society, and his opinion was [always] given strong consideration.

Among those who read from the Torah for the congregants, Reb Khaim Zerakh, of blessed memory, distinguished himself. He suffered from a foot ailment, [but] when he stood behind the pulpit, he would forget about his troubles. He was noted for saying “ ” Malkhius[Reign],” “Zikhroynes [Rememberances],” “Shofros [The blowing of the shofar] [The three major section of the shmone-esra prayer] in the Rosh Hashona service. He had a different melody for each prayer.

His son-in-law, Reb Reuben Abramovitsh, was a Lithuanian yeshiva student, who had also mastered secular subjects. Reb Reuben was a Zionist activist and ran a big business.

On the Sabbath, Reb Yose Zaydl (born in Postav), may his soul ascend, prayed very sincerely. When he began the additional Sabbath service [musaf], a deep silence pervaded the congregation.

All the important community activists in the khasidic circles left the city. It is especially worthwhile to mention Reb Moyshe Bushkanyets, may his soul ascend; Reb Yankev Garber, may his soul ascend; Reb Ahron Tsinam, may his soul ascend, and others.

Reb Ahron Tsinman was in the last years the beadle of the khasidic congregation and also the representative of the khasidim in the Jewish community. Because of their social strength, the khasidim had a great influence on all matters in the city. They always had to be taken into account.

 

Rabbi Reynes and the Svintsyen Khasidim

When Rabbi Reynes was the Chief Rabbi of Sventzian, the local khasidim were divided into three groups: Kapuster, Liader and Lyubavitcher khasidim. The Kapuster khasidim were at the forefront. Well known among them were, Reb Meytsil Levinson, the two brothers Yankev Ber and Falko Lulinski, as well as Yankev Mordkhe, the teacher. The khasidim fought politically against Rabbi Reynes. He was, however, a smart and conciliatory

[Col. 218]

person and got along with them quite well. Very often, he even went to pray at the khasidic synagogue, mostly when the emissary of the Kapuster Rebbe, Reb Khatsl Yanover, came to Sventzian.

Reb Khatskl, may his soul ascend, was then ninety years old. He was very lively and his voice still resounded, when he spoke to a congregation. Everyone in Sventzian loved him. As I recall, Rabbi Manes-Isur Polonsly, of blessed memory, made every effort to get closer to the khasidic community of Sventzian. [Rabbi Polansky] was a well known Torah scholar, a master and sage [in Torah], as well as being educated in general, secular knowledge and being a devoted community activist. His follower, Rabbi Lusky, of blessed memory, also got along well with the khasidic community.

We would be remiss if we didn't mention the beadle of the khasidic synagogue on Vilner Street, Reb Eliezer Levin, of blessed memory. He was an interesting kind of khosid, a religious person and a simple person, who accomplished a lot for the khasidic congregation. In the synagogue there was a room in which people would gather after the services and spend long hours together. Various topics would be discussed there, or they would just chat about political and social questions.

 

The Small Khasidic Synagogue

The small khasidic synagogue stood on Pashmener Street near the river. It was small, but its appearance had a special charm both inside and out and extended also to the order that reigned there.

Approximately 60 years ago, Reb Ben Tsion, Koheyn Tsedek [righteous member of the priestly class, usually abbreviated as Katz], may his soul ascend, one of the rare Jews of yesteryear. He was a smart person, a great scholar, and an ardent khosid. His worked as the controller of banderoles in Shneyer Rabinovitsh's tobacco factory. Then he became the treasurer of the municipal bank.

In his later years, he rented a garden from Itse-Ber, the gardener. Interestingly enough, he taught himself gardening in order to have a suitable occupation for when he immigrated to Israel.

He built a booth in the garden, where he used to sit in his free time and write his religious text. As a lover of Zion

[Col. 219]

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Ben Tsion Katz

 

before Yom Kippur, he sat at the table of [the organization] Lovers of Zion. He died in the year 1905, the night of Simkhas Toyre, while men were carrying the Torah scrolls around the synagogue. Practically the whole city took part in his funeral in order to honor him one last time.

After his death, a manuscript was found in a sealed envelope. It contained extraordinary thoughts of khasidic philosophy and musar [moral instruction]. This manuscript was later published under the name: “Book of Words of Torah.” The publisher was his son, Reb Yehuda Leyb K”ts [sic].

My great uncle, Reb Yoysef Hendl, lived in Svinstyan at the same time. He was a teacher and an ardent adherent to the Chabad philosophy. He traveled often to [see] the Lyubavitcher Rebbe and always thought that he would publish a book about khasidic philosophy. It was said that it contained[sic] a lot of original and interesting thoughts.

Reb Yisroel Soroke of New York, may his soul ascend, the chairman of the Svinstyan landsman society, told me that the friendly relationships among the khasidim, as well as their joviality, won him, the misnaged [traditional opponent of the khasidim], over completely. He would secretly come to the khasidic synagogue on Friday nights, instead of going to recite the psalms in his synagogue with his father, Reb Borukh, may his soul ascend. He remembers the joyous wedding of Itse-Ber, the gardener's daughter. It was summer; the windows of the house were open, and the melodies of my grandfather, Reb Moyshe Harmats, may his soul ascend, and my father, may his soul ascend, and others drew listeners. The house was surrounded by people, who were listening to the festive, khasidic wedding. Reb Borukh Soroka, may his soul ascend, even though he was a misnaged, used to come and learn khasidic philosophy from the rebbe's emissary, who used to come to Sventzian.

 

Reb Gershon Rambam's Synagogue

Reb Gershon Rambam's synagogue was located on Vidzer Street. Reb Gershon, may his soul ascend, an ardent Chabad devotee and a very wealthy man, created a separate synagogue for himself, where the khasidim from that neighborhood prayed. Some misnagdish Jews, who didn't live far away, also prayed there.

Reb Gershon had a large beer brewery and drew a good livelihood from it. The misnagdim didn't like this. They therefore prevailed upon Reb Bere-Itse Bak---___ Bak's father—also to open a beer brewery just to spite Reb Gershon.

And that's how it was. Two breweries, however, were too much for Sventzian. The end result was that, because of this competition, both breweries failed , and both Reb Gershon as well as Reb Bere-Itse Bak lost a lot of money.

When the second great fire broke out in the city, Reb Gershon Rambam's synagogue was, along with other buildings, also burned.

 

The Khasidic M”Ts (Judge)

Among the esteemed khasidim must also be mentioned the teacher, Reb Zalman-Mordkhe, the only gemara teacher in Sventzian in that era. The ritual slaughter also had the reputation for being a Torah scholar and a wise person.

Until approximately 40 years ago, the Sventzian khasidim had their own judge (M”Ts), who used to pray with the khasidim in their own synagogues and pronounced judgment on their [religious] questions. He would also teach them khasidic philosophy, Torah, and [Jewish] wisdon.

The last righteous teacher in Sventzian was Rabbi Gershon, may this righteous person's memory be a blessing. After his death, the Jews of Sventzian no longer had their own judge.

It is worthwhile to mention that at that time Rabbi Emiel left his position as Chief Rabbi of Sventzian.

(During Rabbi Reynes' tenure, the khasidic judge was the well-known, great Torah scholar Rabbi Yekheskl Rabinovitch, may this righteous person's memory be a blessing.)

[Col. 221]

The Rabbis of Sventzian

By Rabbi Y. L. Maymon, of the priestly class (Fishman), Israel

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

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Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines
[1],
may the memory of the holy be blessed

 

There was a rabbi in the city of Karlin in the Minsk region, great in Torah, and an honorable merchant, called Rabbi Shlomo Naftali. His wife bore a son in the year 5606 (1846) named Yitzchak Yaakov. His love for study, deep diligence, great persistence, and wonderful, quick grasp, along with his deep ability to delve into Torah all foretold that this lad would eventually be one of the chief Gaonim of Israel.

He traveled to the Yeshiva of Volozhin at the age of 16, and from there he went to Eishishok (Eišiškės). He continued to study in those Yeshivot day and night, and only slept two hours a day. During that time, he was ordained by the Gaon Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor and the Gaon Rabbi Eliezer Moshe Horowitz of Minsk. He was appointed as rabbi of the city of Šakėnai in the year 5627 (1867). From there he moved to Sventzian in the year 5629 (1869), where he was chosen as the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court.

[Col. 222]

He began to disseminate his ideas in Sventzian, and his good name became known for praise through his excellent books and his communal work.

There, he began to write his great, six volume book called Derech Kiyum. From there, he began to pave a new route in the study of Talmud through the use of logical principles.

In the year 5642 (1882), the Russian government convened a gathering of rabbis in Petersburg to consult with them on issues affecting the Jewish nation. At that gathering, in which famous Gaonim participated, the young Rabbi Reines recommended including the study of the language of the country and other general sciences in the curriculum of the Yeshivot. He expressed his opinion that in this manner, many of the hearts of the young, whose souls desired to master the general sciences as well as modern secular knowledge for the purpose of physical sustenance, would be inclined to return to us and our Torah. If they do not find such in our Yeshivot, they would leave us and go to pasture in foreign meadows and vineyards.

The rabbis, the elders of that generation, did not look into the future, and opposed the recommendation of Rabbi Reines, which was removed from the agenda. Nevertheless, he decided to try to carry out his idea himself. He founded the Yeshiva of Sventzian under his own supervision, which became a Yeshiva of Torah and [secular] wisdom together.

It is difficult to describe all the tribulations that he suffered because of that Yeshiva. They attempted to close down the Yeshiva through all types of pretexts. When they saw that their efforts were in vain, they went and slandered both the institution and its founder. When he was in Moscow in the month of Adar I, 5643 (1883) he found himself in a very bad position, for they put him in a prison designated for criminals against the state on account of those slanders. He was imprisoned for two days, and was only freed due to the significant intercession by rabbis and the city notables.

These persecutions disrupted his calm, and he was forced to close the Yeshiva that he desired so much, which existed for four years.

In any case, many communities approached him with offers of the rabbinate. He finally acceded to the people of Lida, and went to occupy the rabbinic seat there in the year 5642 (1882).

[Col. 223]

Rabbi Pinchas Rozovski

The Chovevei Zion convention of Vilna was the first convention of that organization. Participants included Orthodox rabbis and activists, including Pinchas Rozovski of Sventzian.

Sventzian, a city near Vilna, would only appoint a rabbi who was great in Torah, and indeed merited that three famous rabbis occupied its rabbinical seat: Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Reines, Rabbi Pinchas Rozovski, and Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel, who later became the rabbi of Tel Aviv – Jaffa. These rabbis were renown as excellent giants in Torah. All were the chief spokesmen of religious Zionism, which centered around the Mizrachi movement. Nevertheless, Rabbi Pinchas Rozovski earned his own special greatness.

Rabbi Pinchas Rozovski was born on 21 Tammuz, 5603, in the city of Nesvizh, to upright Jews, not wealthy, but lovers of Torah. He married his cousin in the year 5619 (1859) when he was about 16. With her agreement, he traveled to follow his father–in–law in Volozhin. At the age of 24, he was accepted as the rabbi of the city of Polonka near Slonim, where he lived in holiness for about 19 years, until the year 5646 (1886).

He went to the city of Vilna from time to time, and would sit in the library in the home of Rabbi Matityahu Strasun and read, learn and study day and night from the books of Torah and wisdom. The sages of Vilna knew him. When the rabbinical chair of Sventzian opened up after Rabbi Reines died, the sage Shmuel Yosef Fein made efforts, and Rabbi Pinchas was accepted as the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of that city. He occupied the rabbinical seat until the day of his death on Tuesday, 17 Tevet, 5667 (1907).

Rabbi Pinchas Rozovski was an interesting personality among the great rabbis of his age and generation. Aside from his greatness in Torah, he was also a great linguist and expert in the sciences. He was fluent in Russian, German, French, and Latin, and also knew a bit of Arabic. Along with this he was a deep researcher into the Hebrew and Aramaic languages. He was expert in old and new philosophical literature. He also knew geography and history. Above all, he was graced with fine traits. He was a modest, G–d fearing person, who never said anything bad, even about his enemies and disputants. He would relate with love and understanding to everyone in our city, even to those of lower status. He was retiring by nature, with his head and full body always immersed in books. His diligence in studies and his love of books were boundless. At times, he afflicted himself with fasts (literally) so as to have the money to purchase some book. Thus, he acquired a large, important library. He was taciturn by nature. He was not a speaker on a spokesman - not being graced with the natural traits needed for such. He would only utter a few words on occasion, not always well connected together, but always sharp and powerful.

He wrote and authored many books on various topics: commentaries

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on the Bible based on philological foundations and textual research, novellae and glosses on the Talmud and Midrash, responsa on what is permitted and forbidden in Hebrew law, sermons in the style of research and logic. However, he did not publish even one book. He did not have the money for publishing, for he lived all his life in a meager fashion. Only one book of articles on linguistic research and Torah novellae was published in his name, in various anthologies.

As has been said, Rabbi Pinchas was always immersed in his books, and he was quiet, but when people spoke to him regarding the Land of Israel, the Hebrew settlement that was developing in our Land, and the Hebrew language that was being renewed as a living, spoken language, he would immediately become aroused and enthusiastic. His eyes would sparkle, and his face would light up from internal joy. His faithful love of Zion, which filled all the recesses of his heart, was expressed from time to time from the library and brought to various meetings of Chovevei Zion, and later also to the Zionist congresses and Mizrachi conventions.

 

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Rabbi Pinchas Rozovski

 

Rabbi Pinchas joined the Zionist movement at its outset. He participated in the second Zionist Congress. When the question arose as to whether to introduce cultural and educational work into the Zionist program, he expressed his opinion that it is impossible for a movement striving toward the resurrection of the nation not to concern itself with the education of the nation. Along with this, however, he demanded

[Col. 225]

that this education and culture be in the fundamental spirit and tradition of our nation. At that time, he was elected to the cultural and educational committee of that congress.

When Mizrachi was founded, Rabbi Pinchas joined as one of the founders at the first Mizrachi convention in Vilna, in the winter of 5662 (1902). When it was necessary to confirm the aims of that new movement, and its plans and activities within the Zionist organization, he expressed his opinion that the program of Mizrachi must include: the building of the Land of Israel on an actual political foundation, the knowledge of the Hebrew language, the study and fulfilment of Torah, work of the land, and physical labor. He remained faithful to Zionism and Mizrachi until the day of his death, on Tuesday 23 Tevet 5667 (1907)

 

Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel, may the memory of the holy be blessed

He was born in the town of Pruzhany near Grodno on 12 Nisan 5642 (1992) to his father Reb Yaakov Yosef, a merchant and Torah scholar. He studied in cheder and in the junior Yeshiva in his town, and then in the Yeshiva of Telz, the Kibbutz of the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Ozer in Vilna, and the Beis Midrash of Rabbi Soloveitchik in Brisk. He was ordained to the rabbinate by the Gaonim of Dvinsk (Daugavpils) Rabbi Meir Simcha HaKohen and Yosef Rosen (the Rogachover Gaon). He served in the rabbinate of Sventzian from 5665–5673 (1905–1913), and in Grajewo from 5773–5780 (1913–1920). He became known as great in Torah and as a man of energy and action in leading the community. His sermons excelled in depth and a plethora of fundamental ideas. He joined the Mizrachi movement already at a young age. He was a delegate to the world convention of Mizrachi in Amsterdam in the year 5680 (1920), and as a guest at the national convention of that movement in Holland and Belgium. He left a great impression at these conventions, and as a result was chosen as the rabbi of Antwerp, where he served until the year 5696 (1936).

He was dedicated to the improvement of the situation of the community, and concerned himself with its services and institution. He founded the Tachkemoni School for boys and girls, and provided the impetus for the people of his community to build a synagogue and old age home, and to found charitable and benevolent institutions. He also assisted other communities in Belgian cities to develop religions and communal services. He joined the Zionist movement in an active manner as one of the heads of Mizrachi, and was a delegate to the Zionist congress of

[Col. 226]

of 1913. He visited the Land of Israel in the year 5693 (1933), and was chosen as the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv in 5696 (1936). There, he filled all the multitude of tasks expected of the rabbi of a large community in the Land. He served as the supervisor of religious services of the community, the chief judge in legal matters related to rabbinic ordination, and an intermediary and instigator in the assistance of the workers of the rabbinical institutions for Torah and benevolence. He would deliver public sermons in the Great Synagogue and other synagogues, represent all issues of religion before the authorities, etc.

He died on the eve of Passover 5705 (1945), and was laid to his eternal rest in the cemetery of Nachalat Yitzchak near Tel Aviv.

 

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Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel

 

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Translator's Footnote:
  1. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yitzchak_Yaacov_Reines Return


[Col. 227]

Great Torah Scholars and Community Personalities

by A. Hermoni–Ginzburg of Tel Aviv

Translated by Jerrold Landau

 

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This Lithuanian city was proud of its rabbis. A sort of tradition was formed there that its rabbis must be of the famous Torah greats as well as known communal leaders. I personally knew rabbis Reines, Pinchas Rozovski, and Amiel. I will to perpetuate them in my article.

May articles have been written about Rabbi Reines (especially from the religious Zionists). He was apparently forged in the style of the Volozhin Yeshiva. Since he was graced with a political–communal consciousness, he foresaw from the outset the changes that were about to take place within the communities of Russia. In order to ease the high civil supervision of the deeds of the rabbis and religious customs, and also in order to oppress the Jews, the Czarist government began to demand fundamental changes in the elections for communal leaders and in the religious representation. They decreed that the official rabbis as well as the religious rabbis possess a certain educational [i.e. modern scholarly] sense. To accommodate this, Rabbi Reines founded a “modern Yeshiva” with the study of secular subjects including the Russian language. This effort aroused deep opposition and personal degradation against him from the zealous Orthodox camp. Rabbi Reines, however, had a strong, stubborn, character, and maintained this Yeshiva for four years despite everything. Finally, his zealous pious detractors got the better of him, and he was forced to leave Sventzian and move his Yeshiva to Lida. There, he was forced to disband it.

The issue of his successor in Sventzian aroused stormy spirits. At that time, sharp debate broke out in the city between the Misnagdim [opponents of Hasidism] and Hasidim. The latter aspired to have one of their own be appointed as rabbi. During my childhood years, many different legends circulated regarding this dispute. My father, as a religious man and a maskil, stood at the helm of the Misnagdim and conducted the battle against the Hasidim “immersed in darkness.” In our home it was told that the Hasidim became his mortal enemies. In order to take revenge upon him, they broke in to our store and poured kerosene on several barrels of pickled fish.

I met Rabbi Reines at the fifth and sixth Zionist congresses in Basel. I recall his statements on the issue of culture, which he wished to turn into the voice of Torah, and in a debate on the Uganda proposal[1]. He especially

[Col. 228]

was prominent in the founding meeting of Mizrachi, a party for which he helped forged the goals and was one of its founders and leader. Reines was also prominent in his external appearance, as a veteran Lithuanian rabbi, straight with G–d and also knowing how to get along with freethinkers. His face exuded an extra measure of wisdom, and at times also zealousness. His long, white beard, covering a large part of his face and chest, added splendor and fatherly grace to his appearance.

Reines' successor on the rabbinical seat of Sventzian was Rabbi Pinchas Rozovski. He was a genius in Torah, great in sciences, and deep in philosophy. This rabbi was modest, hiding in the tents of Torah, devoid of far–reaching political and personal communal ambitions. He was pleasant with his fellow, a precious spirit and noble, with his entire honor being from his home and inward. Even though he did not aspire to disseminate his wellsprings of Torah through Yeshivot and public classes, he was able to forge an atmosphere of the honor of Torah and refined Jewish culture about him. Unlike his predecessor, he did not excel as an orator and a disputant in debates on Torah, communal–religious or political issues; he was able to exert influence upon his flock through his deportment and deeds more than through noisy speeches at stormy assemblies. Even his exterior was especially refined. He was tall, slightly bent as if he was bearing a heavy yoke. His pale face radiated goodheartedness and intelligence. He published articles on the love of Zion, and enriched Torah literature in no small way. The composer Shlomo Rozovski was his nephew.

Rabbi Rozovski's place on the rabbinical seat of Sventzian was inherited by Rabbi Amiel. He attempted to renew the tradition of the Yeshiva in Sventzian. However, he did not remain in that city for long, as he moved to Belgium and served for many years in Antwerp until his was called to the honorable position of chief rabbi of Tel Aviv after the passing of Rabbi Aharonson. I met him there, and was astonished at his broad erudition and positive appreciation of modern Hebrew literature.


Translator's Footnote:
  1. An early proposal to found a Jewish state in Uganda. Return

[Picture]

The Tailors' Synagogue

Dr. Moyshe Kuritski

The Tailors' Synagogue stood in the poorest section of the Sventzian synagogue courtyard. The outside looked very neglected. Its four walls suggested gloom, poverty. Inside however, people felt warm and comfortable. . .

Not only tailors prayed in the Tailors' Synagogue; there were also simple Jews and artisans.

Opposite the Holy Ark, to the extreme East, Zalman the fisherman sat comfortably: to his left—Greenfeld the baker: a little further—Yakhai and Kagan, the tanners.

On the other side sat Zalman the tailor: not far from him, Murashkin the wigmaker.

The pride of the Tailors' Synagogue was its [rabbi] Rabbi Yankev-Dovid. He was an old man, who at 75 still read without glasses. At that time, he still looked quite hale and healthy.

Yankev-Dovid was never a [real] rabbi and, therefore, never received a salary. For the congregation of the Tailors' Synagogue, [however], he was a great authority. They utilized him as a Torah reader, as a teacher of children, and as a rabbi.

There was no one to compare with [the way he looked] with his white beard as he bent over a Torah scroll reading from Prophets. He greeted everyone who went up to the Torah with a good-natured smile and, with a bony finger, pointed out the place. When he noticed that someone didn't remember the blessing [before the Torah reading], he quietly whispered it to him.

[Col. 230]

No one ever started the prayers in the Tailors' Synagogue without Yankev-Dovid's presence. They didn't have to wait long for him. He would finish the Eighteen Benedictions not much after everyone else, without any exaggerated [shows of] piety.

Only one time during the year, Shavuos Eve, did he permit himself to keep the congregation waiting. At the beginning, no one understood the reason for this. But people were too embarrassed to complain to him.

Once they did ask him why his behavior on Shavuos Eve was different than during the rest of the year. To that R[eb] Yankev-Dovid responded:

“From Passover until Shavuos, we must count seven weeks, but they must be full [weeks]. That means complete weeks, and therefore, we are not allowed to shorten the last day.

And then we boys pictured the Holy Temple to which Jews made pilgrimage at the time of the holiday of first fruits. We saw the High Priest standing at the altar in all of his splendor waiting for the sacrifice. The High Priest says that the seven weeks have not yet ended, even though the sky over the Temple is already quite studded with stars. . .

Looking at Yankev-Dovid with his gray-white beard, and his deep, intelligent eyes, we children used to see the High Priest standing before us.

Suddenly, the old Rebbe [sic] Yankev-Dovid picked up his head and winked at the beadle, indicating that the prayers could begin.

Mendl the harness maker stood by the pulpit. He was an exceptional Torah reader, with a sweet, sincere, and clear voice. The reader of the additional prayers [musaf] on the High

[Col. 231]

Holidays was R[eb] Leybl Bak, a Jew with a beautiful, majestic-looking, black beard, [and] a good-natured smile: a scholarly man.

Without Mendl, there was no one else who could be sent up to the pulpit. When Mendl sometimes took ill, and someone else led the prayers, Rebbe Yankev-Dovid would mumble: “Not like that, not like that. . . “

R[eb] Yankev-Dovid would leave his customary, honored place by the eastern [wall] when the Priestly Blessing [of the congregation] was given. Otherwise the blessing wouldn't reach him. . . Since those giving the blessing have their arms stretch out in front. How then could he sit behind [them]?

The Tailors' Synagogue possessed another source of pride and beauty, and that was their Torah Scrolls. They are wrapped in lovely shirts. Everything was embellished and decorated with gold. The cases of the megillas were carved of red wood with tiny, round, silver little windows.

On Simkhas Toyre, we boys used to beat each other, [trying to guess] who would carry the beautiful Torah scrolls.

In the Tailors' Synagogue three circuits with the Torah scrolls were made, not two as in other synagogues on Shmini Atserets Eve, on Shmini Atserets itself, and on Simkahs Toyre. People used to come to the Tailors' Synagogue from all over the city on Shmini Atserets Eve. The gabay [manager] would treat everyone to cake and whisky, so that the main goal was achieved: everyone was happy and lively---[they were] joyous, as they should be.

The beadle of the Tailors' Synagogue was Heshl, the baker. His brother, Moyshe, may his soul ascend in peace, left his worldly goods to the Tailors' Synagogue. Heshl was a quiet and honest man. Only during the reading [of the Torah], when the congregation would begin to chat, Heshl would bend over the lectern and pleaded with compassion: “Be quieter; don't desecrate the reading of the Torah.”

Of the other congregants, Mikhle Beynishes, with the red beard, must still be mentioned, as well as Zusha the Red.

Zusha no longer had red hair in my time. His hair was white as milk. Nevertheless, the name had stuck with him since his younger years. He dealt in feathers.

In the fall of 1939, the Tailors' Synagogue ended its career, so to speak. In N.K.V.D. [?] a few

[Col. 232]

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Zusha (the Red) Troytse

 

Frightened artisans were asked to sign some paper and they simply didn't know what they were doing and simply signed. Later, they found out that what was written there was, no more no less, than that on behalf of all the congregants, they, of their own free will, give the synagogue to the Red Army.

That night, they still managed to remove the Torah scrolls and placed them in the Holy Ark of the old synagogue. In the morning, the soldiers of the Red Army were already in the Tailors' Synagogue.

This is how the era of the Tailors' Synagogue ended.

The Red Army stayed there until June 1941, and then the Lithuanians and the German human beasts finished the work.

The Tailors' Synagogue was completely destroyed. Not even a beam remained.

Those bandits not only destroyed the Tailors' Synagogue, they also murdered all of its devoted congregants, those plain, honest, hard working craftsmen of Sventzian.

They were a congregation of simple, decent Jews, who in the best sense of the word embodied the passage: “You earn your bread by the sweat of your brow.” [Heb.]

For their sacred souls we must all say, with tears and pain:

Hallowed and exalted be His great name. . . . [The first line of the kadish, the traditional prayer for the dead.]

 

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