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[Page 66]

The Sages

Rabbinical Portraits

Spiritual Leaders of the Community Over the Last Three Centuries

1) Rabbi Meir Getz (1685-1732), the first Rabbi of Piotrkow and Lask (sharing the pulpit in both cities), served for 13 years after a hard and painful life. He was a great scholar and an active man, paving the way for the great Rabbis that followed him.

2) His son, Rabbi R.ElikimGetz(1705-1738), replaced his father for a short period at age 30 after serving as presiding dayan for 7 years. He was a great, learned man and passed away at the age of 32.

3) Rabbi Hanania Liepmann Miesels (? -1811), a great scholar famous throughout Poland, was advisor to many Rabbis and helped them in writing their books. He lived a long life but had no children. After his death, two local Rabbis tried for the position and Rabbi Abraham Zvi Pacanovski was chosen.

4) Rabbi Abraham Zvi Pacanovski (1777-1819), the great Rabbi of Piotrkow and son of the well-known speaker, Rabbi Eliezer from Pocarow, was the descendant of famous Rabbis. He authored the important and famous book Biet, Abraham , published posthumously by his father after he passed away at age 42. He served the Kehila for only seven years. His great-grandfather was Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Piotrkower, a very rich man who built a big walled house for a synagogue, a beit midrash and a Kehila center. Many articles were written about his life, one of them by Jacob Krakovski of Piotrkow.

5) Rabbi David Isaac Bromberg (? -1827), the son of Rabbi Reuben, also of Piotrkow, was a well-known lamdan amt was called “The Sharp One.” He was a student of famous Rabbis and attracted many students to his yeshiva. He acquired the position after a great fight between his supporters and those of Rabbi Abraham Zvi and later decided to move to the nearby city of Ujazd. He wrote the books Beth David and Chidushai HaRadak , edited the book Beth Israel by the Magid of Kuzman, and was a student of Przysucha “HaYehudi Hakadosh.”

6) Rabbi Nathan Neta Piotrkover, the young son of Rabbi Zvi Hirsh, headed the Rabbinate from 1763-1766. He died at a young age and not much is known about him.

7) Rabbi Moshe Pietrekowski (? -1814), a known lamdan, had pupils from all over the country who would come to study at his yeshiva.

8) Rabbi Aharon Pietrekowski, the son of Rabbi Moshe (? -1831), was very sharp. He was a dayan in Lask and studied with his father and with Rabbi Abraham Zvi Pacanovski. He was known for his knowledge in and out of Piotrkow and also as a kabbalist. He was a student of Rabbi Fishel of Strikov. He was very good in math and studied logarithms. His son, Rabbi Itzak, followed him as a Rabbi.

9) Rabbi Yakov Karo (1771-?) was the son of the Gaon Rabbi Arieh Leib, who had to leave his post in Krotechin because of “blood libels” and settled in Germany. Rabbi Yakov served only briefly in Piotrkow and then left for Silesia.

10) Rabbi David Isaac Buchner (? -1827) shared his fame with another Rabbi named David Itzhak Bromberg. Both published books. Rabbi Bromberg wrote Chidushei HaRadak and Beth David. Rabbi Buchner also wrote Beth David on Deuteronomy. After serving in Piotrkow he later served in Czestochowa. His ideas appear in several books.

11) Rabbi Dov Bersh Edelstein (? -1827) served the city for two years after being a Rabbi in Chmelnick. A descendant of a very famous family, he died of cholera during an epidemic which claimed many lives. His life was written about in the book Olat Chodesh by the great Rabbi Sinai Safir of Brezsin.

12) Rabbi Leibusch Meisels (? -1845) served the cities of Kilikov, Zamosc and, for a short time, Piotrkow. His son Rabbi David was a Rabbi in Nashelsk, a real Gaon who advised many Rabanim on various subjects. His son printed the books Ahavat David and Chidushei HaRadak.

13) Rabbi Baruch Zvi Hirsh Rosenblum (? -1883) died at age 65. He served the Kehilot of Rodzin and Vengrow prior to Piotrkow. In Rodzin he was accused by the Russians of supporting the Poles and put in prison. The prison commander, a Pole, helped him and they both escaped. He had to go into hiding for four years until his pardon was announced. In 1865, he began to serve in Vengrow; in 1868, he left for Piotrkow, where he stayed until his death. He had good relations with the Piotrkow chief of officers and got permission to have an Eruv. He influenced Halachic literature and many Rabbis used his answers in public actions.

14) Rabbi Eliezer Shalom Morgenstern was Rabbi of the cities of Cichow and Shedletz prior to becoming the Rabbi of Piotrkow. He was one of the best students of the holy Saba of Radoshitz. He served from 1858 to 1867. He was known as a great teacher and preacher and attracted many followers. The time he served was one of the best for the Jewish Kehila.

15) Rabbi Isaac Kaczka was known as Yitzhakal Charif. He was a great lamdan. He served as the chairman of the Beth Din after the death of Rabbi Pacanovski and was very famous in his generation. His grandson, Rabbi Hanoch Kaczka, published many of his writings, which were praised by the Rav Kook and Zennenfeld, one of the known Chassidim of the Holy Saba. In 1831, on his way to a simcha, he was almost killed as a spy and miraculously was saved by a guard. This was said to be the work of Elijah the Prophet.

16) Rabbi Hayim Waks (1882-1889) was born in Tarnogrod near Lublin. As a young man he served there as a Rabbi and later served in Kalish. In 1884 he became Rabbi of Piotrkow. He was very learned in Torah and was approached by many Rabanim to answer their questions. He was also a practical man who believed in settling in Eretz Yisrael and bought a citrus grove there in 1876. He sold Etrogim from Eretz Yisrael during Sukkot. In 1886, as an old and frail man, he visited Israel. He wanted people to work the land but realized they were not ready. He decided to hay additional housing in order to increase the urea of Jewish settlement and relieve the congestion and crowding. The books Yeshuat Malca of the Kulna Rabbi and Nefesh Chaya of the Piotrkow Rabbi tell of their visit and reception in Jerusalem and their encouragement to Chalutzim in Petach Tikvah to stay although conditions were bad and many had died of malaria, After this visit, he worked hard to help the Yishuv and was elected the President of the Kolel Polin Warsaw, which he served till his death. While visiting his in-laws in Kuzmitz to 1889, he had a stroke and died. He was buried in Kalish after a Rabbinical Decree, since three cities claimed him. All the great Rabbis and scholars came to give him the last honors and his grave became a tent where many came to Pray. He left seven daughters, married to rich Chassidim, and one son. His second wife died in Piotrkow to 1910 and is buried there. Many of his family later were victims of the Holocaust. His grandson, Rabbi Isaac Kalish, and a great-grandson, HaRav Menachem Zinger, survived and lived in the U.S. and some of his descendants live in Israel as followers of the Rabbi Chaim Eliezer Alter. His son-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Kalish, published a new edition of his book Nefesh Chaya in the years 1931-1937. His grandson, Rabbi Israel Yeshoshua Aibeshitz, lived in Israel and published a book with his writings.

17) Rabbi Simcha Yair Rosenfeld (1831-1911) served for many years in different cities. In 1890 he became the Rabbi of Piotrkow. He served the community until his last day and really loved tile city, where he found many wise and learned men. The people of Piotrkow loved him too. An excellent speaker, he maintained close connections with many great Rabbis of his era. At his funeral, scores of Rabbis from other cities honored his memory.

[Page 69]
The Tsadiks of Wolborz
The Tsadiks of Wolborz

The Court of the Wolborz Tsadiks

R. Isachar Dov-Ber Hacohen Turnheim of Wolborz (1803-1878) founded the Jewish community of Wolborz and became its Rabbi in 1862. People flocked to him since he was known as a miracle-working Chassid. He was blessed with a Cantor's voice and organized a choir accompanied by drums, bells, and cymbals. After his demise, his son, R. Jacob Moshe, took over the reins of the Wolborz Court.

The House of the Tsadiks of Przedborz

R. Teshaya'le Weltfried (1770-1831) was the Tsadik of Przedborz. He settled in that small town with other Tsadiks of Poland, as was the custom. He was a descendant of R. Meir Getz, the first rabbi of Piotrkow. He was one of the “Holy Group” of Lublin, whose leader was called the “Holy Jew” or the “Seer.” R. Weltfried replaced the “Seer” after the latter's death.

His son, R. lmmanuel of Przedborz (1802-1865), became the next Rabbi. He was believed to have resuscitated a dead child.

His son, R. Abraham Moshe of Rosprza (1841-1918), replaced R. Immanuel as Rabbi of Przedborz. He had at one time been accused of having violated the blood ritual during Passover, whereupon he settled in Rosprza.

His brother, R Yehezkel Yehiel (? -1919), at that time officiated as Rabbi in Piotrkow.

(Note: Przedborz, near Piotrkow, was an old community and considered to be the center of scholarship in Poland. Its synagogue, constructed of wood, was built by King Kazimierz the Third and his Jewish wife, Esterka).

The Branches of the Radoszyce Dynasty

R. Meir Menahem Finkler (1862-1912) was descendant of R. Yisahar Ben Radoszyc, who was called a second “Baal-Shem-Tov.” His activity was the pursuit of Chassidic virtues: Modesty, the visit of tsadiks, a love of Israel, fervent prayer, a belief in brotherhood, charity, enthusiasm, etc. He was a Rabbi of Radoszyce, and later of Piotrkow.

His son, Itzhak Shmuel Eliehu Finkler of Piotrkow (1902-1945), replaced him as Rabbi. He died in a Nazi camp. (The entire moving story about Itzhak appears in this book.)

R. Moshe Brukman (Brukazh), the “Payer” of Piotrkow (1790-1881), began his labors as paver of roads, slept on the ground in fields and forests. He was a poor conversationalist, but was considered to be a tsadik with a following of at least one hundred thousand people. He was capable of healing with the sheer power of his spirit. When he settled in Piotrkow, he was entreated to intercede in cases of mental illness, especially the “dibbuks.” He acquired great wealth and contributed enormously to the settlers of Eretz Israel. His fellow tsadiks looked upon him with skepticism and slight disfavor; they considered him to be somewhat of a wizard.

[Page 70]

Rabbi Menachem David Temkin

Rabbi Temkin
Rabbi Temkin

The seat of Rabbi Simcha Yair was occupied by Rabbi Menachem David Temkin, son of Reb Michael Temkin, grandson of Rabbi David Temkin, one of the leading rabbis of Warsaw. He was born in 1861 , and studied in Brisk under the famous scholar Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveichik. He became one of the leading students of the leading scholar of his generation, Rabbi Yehoshua'le of Kutna. He received his rabbinical ordination in Brisk. A gentle and exemplary person, Rabbi Temkin became one of the beloved rabbis and sages of Piotrkow. He came from an environment replete with the love of study of Torah for its own sake and dedication to the world of Halacha.

While in Warsaw, he married the only daughter of a wealthy Jew, Reb Moshe Natan Halber, who left his son-in-law a fortune and a large house in Warsaw. His home was always humming with the great sages and leaders of Polish Jewry. The Gaon of Kutna would always stay in his house while visiting Warsaw. Even as a young man, he became known as a leading scholar.

After thirty years of affluence, he awoke one day a poor man. His friends, the sages of Poland, headed by the Ostrovtze Rebbe, counseled him to assume a rabbinical position. At that time the Piotrkow needed a rabbi following the passing of Rabbi Simcha Yair. The Ostrovtze Rebbe went to Piotrkow and stayed there for several weeks until he persuaded the leaders of the community to accept Rabbi Temkin as their rabbi. At first they refused to offer him the position, arguing that it would be the first time they would have a rabbi who had not served in any other rabbinical post. But they were persuaded by the Rebbe who promised them that Rabbi Temkin would serve them well. In 1913 Rabbi Temkin arrived in Piotrkow as the town's rabbi. He was elected as chairman of the rabbinical conference that took place in Lublin on September 12-14, 1916 at the instructions of the central authorities in Warsaw.

His Trials as Leader in Time of Emergency

After World War I broke out, tile town suffered great hardship, and Rabbi Temkin's role became most difficult. The town came under military occupation and then passed from one civilian authority to another. Each time, the rabbi was told that, as spiritual leader, he was responsible for the entire community; if any rules were broken, he would be held responsible. The warnings affected his health and a heart ailment hastened his end.

An interesting incident during then lime led to the rescue of two Jewish soldiers from execution, following a charge of espionage. One night in October 1914, the bell rang at the rabbi's office and two armed soldiers marched in. They handed him an urgent summons from the office of the military governor and told him to sign it. He did not hesitate and signed. But because of the excitement, he fainted. His family members revived him. They opened the envelope and found an order that said: “To the Rabbi of the Local Jewish Community. You must appear personally tomorrow at six o'clock in the morning at the military court at the Russian High School building. Your appearance is mandatory, and you must be on time.” The rabbi turned pale, since it was already past midnight; he needed to take along a lawyer or a Russian interpreter, and it was too late to do either. Finally he decided to invite the writer, Moshe Feinkind, who would serve as his spokesman. In the morning the two walked over to the Russian high school and, when they arrived at the court, they showed the summons. Only the rabbi was allowed to go in. Feinkind remained in the lobby. The rabbi appeared before the court and faced the presiding judge, a general, and the two officers who served as members of the court. On the bench of the accused sat two bearded Jews, whose pale thin faces expressed fear and despair. The rabbi showed his credentials to the presiding judge, who sat comfortably in an armchair, wrapped in his fur coat.

Because of Early Friendship

Suddenly the general turned toward the rabbi and smiled, asking in Russian, “David! What arc you doing here? The rabbi did not utter a word. The general continued, still smiling benignly, “Don't you know me? I used to be a frequent guest al your house.” The rabbi finally remembered who the man was. He had been the commandant of the Brisk fort when his father, Reb Michael Temkin, was the quartermaster of the fort. The rabbi's father and the general had become friends, and the former would visit the general's home and play with his children.

This unexpected reunion eased the rabbi's heart, and he started telling the general his life story, how he came to Piotrkow and what his position in that town was. At the general's order, the chat was interrupted; it was expected to be resumed after the trial. The indictment was read: the two soldiers were accused of passing information on to the enemy. According to the testimony of some Russian soldiers who had been with them in the trenches on the front at the village of Serock near Piotrkow, each time a shell was fired by the enemy, the Jewish soldiers would shout “Shema Israel” in a loud voice. This went on for several days. Eventually the entire unit was killed except for those two Jews and five Russian soldiers. According to the interpreter, those two words signaled the enemy not to direct the fire at the Jews. The Jewish soldiers now faced execution. In reality, the rabbi had been summoned to that trial to witness the sentence that was to be pronounced at the end of the session, and, as a clergyman, he was expected to be with the defendants during their last minutes. The rabbi, who had taken heart from his conversation with the general, asked for permission to express his opinion. Permission was granted. He explained to the judges what the words “Shema Israel,” which had been repeatedly pronounced by the Jewish soldiers, actually meant. He told them that it was the holiest prayer known to Jews, especially in a moment of grave danger or disaster. He eloquently pleaded the case of the innocent soldiers, who had meant no harm and had only called out to their maker from the depth of their predicament. The rabbi's defense reached the hearts of the judges and the soldiers were acquitted.

The old general who presided at the trial agreed to issue a certificate to the rabbi stating that he had always been a loyal subject of the Russian rule, as the son of a family who for many years was dedicated to the affairs of the Russian army in many places in the Empire. The general stressed that Rabbi Temkin should be treated as a distinguished personage who carried the burden of a spiritual leader and who was a first-class citizen. The rabbi considered that certificate a real tribute and guarded it as a valuable document. After his demise it was publicly shown at the home of his son-in-law, Avraham Cohen, the brother of the famous Lodz industrialist Asher Cohen.

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