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[Page 509]

Tamrat (Tamares) Aharon-Shmuel

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Donated by Morty Miller

One of the well-known rabbis and simultaneously one of the pioneers of the Zionist movement in Russia came from Malech [Belarus – Maltsh in Yiddish]. We provide his biography here as it appears in the Leksikon fun der Yidisher Literatur and Filologye [The Lexicon of Yiddish Literature and Philology] of Zalmen Reizen (Fourth volume, pages 898-902).

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Tamrat Aharon-Shmuel was born in 1869 in a village near the shtetl [town] of Malech, Grodno area, in a poor but prestigious family. His father, Moshe-Yakov, a grandson of the Maltsher Rebbe, Reb Orele (who in the 1840s had a good reputation in Polesia as a tzadek [righteous man] under the name the Maltsher Preacher, ran a tavern; he raised his son with only religious studies. While still a child, Tamrat (Tamares) excelled with his love of nature and religious rapture. Every day, he would go to kheder [religious primary school] in nearby Malech. At 13 or 14, he was studying at the Malech house of study and had a reputation in the area as the “Malecher Prodigy.” At age 17, he went to Milejczyce, Grodno area, to get married. He left for Kovno at age 19, where he studied diligently at Kolel ha-Perushim [an organization providing financial support for married male students]; then he spent two years at the Volozhin yeshiva [religious secondary school] where he devoted himself with even more enthusiasm to Torah study and simultaneously caught the scent of the Enlightenment; he also learned a little of the Russian language. Later, he also perfected his Hebrew as well as obtained a certain measure of worldly education.

In 1893, after the death of his father-in-law, he assumed his rabbinical seat, on which he remains to this day (here, it speaks of the period from 1929, when the Lexicon was published – Editor).

With the rise of political Zionism, Tamares threw himself into this movement with the entire fervor of his soul; in addition, he drew even closer to Zionism because of his frustration with the petrified part of the Orthodoxy that advocated against Zionism for minor offenses and then his series of articles appeared on the theme, Shillumim le-Riv Ziyyon [Vindication of Zion's Cause] published in Ha-Melits in 5659 (1899). The articles made a great impression and the Kovno Zionists even turned to the author for permission to publish them in a special edition.

Tamares, however, was quickly disappointed in Zionism; the first stimulus for this was a Zionist conference in Vilna of seven gubernias [provinces], to which he was invited; the leaders of the conference carried it out in the Russian language, causing a great rupture in his earlier enthusiasm and his belief that Zionism was a revival of the Jewish spirit.

A month later, he was elected as a delegate to the Fourth Zionist Congress in London by the Brisk Zionists and the entire empty officiousness that he had previously found at the Vilna conference

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was repeated there at the London congress, too, but on a larger scale; this pushed him away even more from the movement and from London, he sent the Kovno Zionist a prohibition against publishing his articles and he published a brochure on the theme, ha-Yahadut veha-herut [Judaism and Freedom] (1904), in which he sharply [wrote] against falsely understood nationalism and against exaggerated Zionism; in other areas, both in commentary and in literature, he criticized those who used the Torah for their egotistical purposes and his interpretations found a resounding echo in Orthodox circles.

In 1912, when the Rabbi Tzair (Chaim Tchernowtiz) intended to leave Odessa because of persecution by the Odessa governors, he turned to Tamares to come to take over the yeshiva that he had founded there and led for several years. Tamares had already traveled to Odessa, but seeing the tumult of the large city, the estrangement from nature, he, despite the agitation of the gabboim [assistants to the rabbis] of the yeshiva, also of Mendele Mocher Sforim [Sholem Yankev Abramovich], [Chaim Nakhman] Bialik and others, returned to his small shtetele [town] with its small pine forest, where he spent his summers and wrote his works. Here he increasingly strengthened his individualistic doctrine in which the fight against human cruelty and against the precept that “the purpose purifies the means,” the striving for materialistic perfection on the basis of Yidishkeit [Jewishness], (entwined with the main ideas of Jewish life – Orthodoxy, Zionism, Folkism and assimilation) took a central position. From time to time, he brought his ideas to publication in articles and newspapers. While written in a simple, unpolished Yiddish, he made a strong impression with his boldness and passionate tone. Thus in 1911, he appeared in Fraynd [Friend] with a sharp article in connection with the Beilis trial, [writing] against the plate-lickers who justified the authorities as Jews were being persecuted because the young generation was, it was said, appropriating religion and had revolted against the rabbis who came out in talis and kitl [prayer shawls and white kaftans] swearing that Jews do not use Christian blood.

While still in childhood, the death of the son of a neighbor, a peasant, who fell in the Russian-Turkish War, made a strong impression on him; he and the mother, the “gentile woman,” wept bitterly together over the fallen one; since then, he became an opponent and a hater of every form of militarism and in his book, Kneset Yisrael u-milhamot ha-goyim [The Jewish People and the Gentile Wars], (Warsaw, 1922, p. 84) he expressed his protest against the horror of war as well as satisfaction with the bankruptcy that European civilization, “the persecutor of Jewry,” suffered, that war is an inevitable result of the entire corrupt life that the so-called civilized people lead; he laid the complete hope for the redemption of humanity from the horror of war on Jewry, which must be the avant-garde in the fight against war. He expressed his hatred of war in his series of articles in the Vilna Tog [Day] (in 1926 in number 35-41] in connection with the idea and activity of [Ze'ev] Jabotinsky's “Jewish Legions.”

He also published a series of sharp articles against the uproar of Zionism and against Zionist politics in general in the Warsaw daily, Der Yidishe Vort [The Jewish Word] (in 1917 – against the Zionist demands to the peace conference), in the organ of the Folkists, Dos Folk [The People] (1922), in the Vilna Orthodox weekly, Dos Vort [The Word], in the organ of Agudah [Union] – Der Yid [The Jew] and others. He also participated, from time to time, with articles in Ha-Tsefirah [The Dawn] (1920 – “The Liberation of Hebrew Thought”); Ch.Y. [Chaim Yitzhak] Bunin's She'ar Yashuv [The Remnant Will Return] (1922); A. Steinman's Kolot [Voices] (1923).

It is also worth remembering his pamphlet, For the Sorrow of a Persecuted Person… an elucidation on the Radom Matter, and also, by the way, another full pack of painful expressions of vexing incidents, which, during the last years, occurred in the Jewish world, after which a disinfection by several honest and logical words was very necessary… (Piotrokow 5688 [1928].

Published among his rabbinical books were:

Musar ha-Torah ve-ha-Yahadut [Torah and Jewish Ethics] (Vilna, publisher L. Epl); Yad Aharon, Hidushe Torah [Hand of Aharon, New Torah Interpretations – with an introduction about the importance of studying Torah (5683 [1923]).

 

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