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[Page 557]


(Syalyets, Belarus)

5235' 2453'

From the Jewish Encyclopedia, published by Brockhaus-Efron (volume 14, page 121).

During the Polish rule, Setz belonged to the Brisk [Brest] District of Lita. According to the resolution of “Vaad Medinat Lita” [Council of the State of Lithuania] from 1623, Seltz belonged to the district of Brisk. In his book, “A Voyage of Mission from Moscow to Poland (1678),” the diplomat Bernard Tanner describes Seltz as “a city built of wood and full of Jews.”

In 1766, there were 260 Jews in the city. At the time of the 1877 census, there were 680 people. In the 1897 census there were 2648 residents in Seltz, of which 866 were Jews.

[Pages 557-559]

Seltz - the cradle the Vilna Gaon

Translated by Sara Mages

(The Vilna Gaon, R' Eliyahu, was born in Seltz. We bring here biographical details concerning his childhood and his parents that include legends)

The Vilna Gaon's mother originated from Seltz not far from Brisk. Seltz was a small town that excelled in its humility. Seltz's prestige rose when Treina from Seltz married a great scholar, R' Shlomo-Zalmen of Vilna. In 1720, their son Eliyahu, the Gaon of Vilna, was born in Seltz. Treina, like all the Jewish women of that time, was a modest woman who has done good deeds. She danced at weddings and brought joy to the bride and groom. Once, she danced over her strength, and when she was told that the dancing endanger her health, she replied that she was dancing for a mitzvah. And indeed, thanks to the mitzvah she gave birth to her son, the Gaon of Vilna.

Simplicity and modesty, which were the manners of Treina, also marked the nature of the Vilna Gaon. He didn't engage in the rabbinate and contented himself with the study of the Torah, and in this manner he followed his father who didn't serve in the rabbinate. When the Gaon was a child, he refused to play with his friends in the seesaw. He explained to his mother that he doesn't want to rise at one end of the swing, when a second boy goes down at the other end…The Gaon was more than six years old when he delivered a sermon at the Great Synagogue in Vilna, and impressed his listeners. The Rabbi of Vilna, R' Yehusua Heschel, examined the boy, asked him a number of questions, and gave him an hour to answer them. The little boy solved all the questions in less than an hour to the satisfaction of the rabbi.

The Vilna Gaon taught many students who treated him with courtesy and respect. Some of this honor fell to the mother. The Gaon's student, R' Chaim of Volozhin, used to blessed the miracle when he crossed the Ramava River. When he was asked for the reason of the blessing, he explained that when the Gaon's mother was a baby her mother held her in a pillow. When she crossed the river, both of them fell into the water and were saved by a miracle. The baby was placed on a warm stove to dry and one of her legs burned. R' Chaim blessed her survival as a miracle, because if she drowned he couldn't have learned the Torah from the Gaon of Vilna ….

The Vilna Gaon was very fond of his mother and called her: my beloved. Among other things he wrote her: I know that you're humble and you don't need my instructions. Before he left on a journey to Eretz-Yisrael (it's known that he returned from this journey), he wrote letters to his family and a special letter to his mother. The letters dealt with the children's education. The letter to his mother is written with great tenderness: “I ask you not to worry about me, and just as you promised me that I will be rewarded to reach the holy city of Jerusalem, the gate to the heavens, I also promise you that I will pray for you.” In his letters to his family members he asked them twice to treat his mother with respect.

Shlomo-Zalmen and Treina lived in poverty, but they gave generously to charity.

The Gaon received a small pension from a fund that his grandfather entrusted in the hands of the community of Vilna. He also added an order that the income will be paid to his offspring who will study the Torah. Every week, the community sent the shammash [beadle] to the Gaon to hand him the income from the fund. After a while, an evil inclination overcame the shammash, he stopped giving the money to the Gaon and kept it for himself. The Gaon suffered from poverty and deprivation, but he didn't turn to the community in order not to shame the shammash. From his mother he learned that you must give to others, but he went too far and allowed others to steal from him.

The Vilna Gaon acted in this manner when he followed his mother.

[Page 570]

Historical information about Seltz
in the book “Rosh Yosef

by Mordechai Berenstein

Translated by Sara Mages

On the title page of the book “Rosh Yosef” is written, that its author was the eminent rabbi, the great luminary, the honorable R' Yosef, may God preserve him, son of our teacher and master rabbi, R' Yakov the righteous of blessed memory, who in the past was the presiding judge and head of the Rabbinical Collage in the holy community of Seltz in the country of Lita. Currently, he's the chief of the excellent judges of the court of the holy community of Tiktin [Tykocin, Poland]. Since the book was published in Amsterdam in 5460-1700 (later, a second edition was published in 5477-1717 in the city of Kiten, and a third edition was published in Amsterdam in 5487-1727), and the consents on the book were given at the same time, it's clear, that there was a yeshiva in Seltz.

The consents on the book were given by the rabbis: R' Yehudah Leib from Brisk; R' David Oppenheim, landrabbiner [rabbi of the land] of Bohemia and Prague; R' Moshe Zev-Wolf from Minsk; R' Wolf Shapira from Prague; R' Avraham Broide from Prague; R' Yakov son of R' Yosef from Vormayza [Worms, Germany]; R' Eliyahu Shapira from Tiktin; R' Yehiel-Michel son of R' Yehudah Leib from Berlin; and R' Yosef Yitzchak son of R' Gershon from Dessau [Germany].

There's also a collective consent on the book which was given at the conference of “Vaad Medinat Lita” in Seltz in 5460-1700. It was the 12th conference of the Vaad in Seltz. Among the signatories were the leading rabbis of Lita: Shaul who sits the holy community of Kroke [Krakow] and currently was elected to the holy community of Brisk de Lita [Brisk of Lita]; Simcha HaCohen Rappaport, a judge residing in the holy community of Hrodna (Grodne); Yitzchak-Meir who sits in the holy community of Pinsk; the young man Hillel HaLevi who sits in the holy community of Vilna; the young man Shlomo from Zolkow who sits in the holy community of Slutsk.

In the same consent it says, that the author is the son-in-law of the genius, R' Moshe son of R' David, presiding judge and head of a yeshiva in Vilna. HaRav R' Moshe is the renowned genius, R' Moshe Kramer, who was the father of the grandfather of the Vilna Gaon. The Gaon's father, R' Shlomo-Zalmen, was the son of R' Yissachar-Ber and grandson of Eliyahu “Hassid,” and the Vilna Gaon, who was the great-grandson of R' Moshe Kramer, was named Eliyahu after him. From the author's signature we learn, that he was not only the son-in-law of R' Moshe Kramer, but also an offspring of the genius of Poland, Rabbi Yakov Palak, who was a rabbi in Lublin and Kroke.

[Page 574]

Seltz for the benefit of “Vaad Hayeshivot

Translated by Sara Mages

The holocaust destroyed, among others, documents and records relating to the Jewish life in Seltz between the two world wars. Fortunately, dozens of letters and lists of Seltz's donors to “Vaad Hayeshivot” [Council of Yeshivot] in Vilna, survived. The documents are in the archives of the YIVO Institute in New-York.

The writer was Meir Chaim Rubinstein, and the letters are from the years 1937-1939. The monthly sums ranged between 10-15 Zloty, except for Sabbath Parashat Yithro, that its revenues were dedicated to “Vaad Hayeshivot.” On this Sabbath, the revenues reached 21.55 Zloty. The contributions ranged from 20 Groszy to one Zloty.

From these lists we learn, that in those years the town's rabbi was R' Yosef Yitzchak Velomavski, the ritual slaughterer was R' Moshe-Noah Garodzky, and there was also a teacher in the town, Moshe Freidkin.

In one of the reports it says: “Now, I find it my duty to be grateful and say something on behalf of the person who said, that there're many who oppose the matter of this vow, to collect donations on Sabbath Parashat Yithro for “Vaad Hayeshivot,” since it is known that the times are very difficult, especially in a small town like Seltz. Only our ritual slaughterer, HaRav R' Moshe-Noah Garodzky, preached before the reading of the Torah, and with his passionate sermon he captured the hearts of his listeners to such extent, that even the liberals, who don't have a sense for it, contributed with kindness, and a decent amount was collected (according to the ability of our town).”

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