town, but since I was right in the middle of the rabbinical dispute, I gave up the idea of being a rabbi, and went into business.
I remained neutral the whole time, and got along with both sides. This ended up being the best choice, since there were people from both groups at my Talmud class, and there was never any dispute during the class.
Whenever there was a wedding where the groom was from one group and the bride from the other, there was a problem about which rabbi to choose to officiate. Inviting one of the two rabbis could lead to confusion at the wedding; inviting both rabbis was impossible. The two families thus had no way out. Since I was neutral, they decided to invite me to officiate. So the custom was to invite me to officiate at any "mixed marriage." However, I didn't take any money to do this.
It's worth describing a small episode. As mentioned, I decided to go into business instead of the rabbinate, and had thought up an idea in opening a leather business. I figured that since members of one group or the other owned the existing leather businesses, mine would be a "neutral" business, and both sides could shop at my store. As soon as I opened the doors of my leather store, shoppers from both camps came by. My plan worked, but I made one mistake. I didn't realize that shoemakers were used to buying on credit; consequently I myself was forced several weeks later to buy on credit, and thus ended up paying a price for my neutrality!
[Photo:] A large demonstration in Drohitchin in honor of the Balfour Declaration May 18, 1919.
A groom dies under the wedding canopy
In the small towns there was a custom of accompanying the bride and groom with music through the streets of town, all the way to the wedding canopy at the synagogue courtyard. If the two families and the couple were from the "Russian" side, they set up the canopy next to the Old House of Study; if they were from the "Polish" side, they set it up at the New House of Study.
There was a case where Yaakov Baruch the Peddler made a wedding for one of his sons, and since he was from the "Polish" side, they set up the canopy at the New House of Study, and the officiating rabbi, of course, was the non-chassid, R. David Mordechai. As mentioned, the couple was accompanied by music to the synagogue courtyard, which was filled with guests and curiosity-seekers. The Polish rabbi pronounced the first blessing, and the couple was married. Suddenly, the groom started to fall to the ground, and confusion erupted. At first people thought that the groom fainted, and they tried to revive him, but when they realized that he wasn't regaining consciousness, they rushed to get a doctor, who pronounced the groom dead.
You can imagine what happened under the wedding canopy. Instead of shouting mazel tov, everyone started crying. At that very moment I was giving my class in the Old House of Study, and we thought that people were shouting because a fire had broken out somewhere. When we ran outside, we found out what happened. The horrible event brought the entire community to the scene of the tragedy. The groom was laid out on a bench, and he was carried to the house where the wedding was to take place. The guests, who had prepared a welcome for the couple prepared instead a funeral for the dead groom.
The Jews of Drohitchin couldn't forget about the horrible event for a long time. People attributed the tragedy to the rabbinical dispute, and saw it as a punishment from heaven for the community dispute. Later they found out that the groom had heart trouble, and the excitement of the wedding hastened his demise. A short time later, the bride had to perform the ceremony releasing her from levirate marriage with the groom's brother [this is required by Jewish law when a childless widow does not marry her husband's brother, called a levirate marriage]. The Russian rabbi officiated at the ceremony in the Old House of Study, and I was also present at the ceremony.
Founding of the Yeshiva
I then became interested in the situation of the religious elementary school, which had three teachers who taught 2 to 3 pages of Talmud a week. I found many good students in R. Moshe Velvel's class who knew how to study Talmud and who needed a yeshiva environment.
In 1905, after making the appropriate preparations, we established a yeshiva for older students, and appointed R. Eliyahu Machles as head of the yeshiva. He knew how to teach Talmud to older students. We also appointed a yeshiva supervisor who oversaw the yeshiva study program; the yeshiva held classes in the chassidic synagogue. We publicized the yeshiva in surrounding Jewish communities, and we recruited a sufficient number of students. We had enough money to support the yeshiva: the students' parents paid some, and the rest was collected in town and the nearby communities. R. Hershel Chaim Lev, who was a community activist, assisted us considerably.
In the second semester I took over management of the yeshiva, which over time grew significantly. We had students from Khomsk, Yanova, Motele, Antapolia, Kobrin as well as Brisk. The yeshiva classes were moved to House of Study Street, and I taught the children myself every day, and showed them how to learn the Talmud on their own. They had to prepare their studies each day and to study on their own. This gave them a desire to study. The program supervisor was the aged R. Getzel, a highly-respected person who assisted the children in preparing their studies. I taught at the yeshiva for three years.
Later, the yeshiva administration appointed Rabbi Yosef David Shub (Binyamin Moshe the Slaughterer's son-in-law). Finally, Rabbi Aharon from Khomsk, a great scholar, joined the yeshiva as its head, and invited Rabbi Eliyahu Velvel Altvarg (Chaim Ber, the bricklayer's son) to teach at the yeshiva.
The yeshiva, which had good students who later excelled in the large yeshivas existed from 1905 until the outbreak of World War I in 1914.
My first trip to America
A few years before World War I, I had the idea to go to the United States. In those early days, a trip to America was easy. All you had to do was think about it, and you went. During the 4 months I was in the United States, my family wrote me begging me to return home. So one day I just appeared back in Drohitchin. Since people didn't know I left, they also didn't know I had returned. When I went to the Old House of Study, I found the rabbi, R. Isaac, teaching a page of Talmud.
Previous Page | Next Page
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.
Drogichin, Belarus Yizkor Book Project JewishGen Home Page
Copyright © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 10 Dec 2001 by LA