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[Pages 263-267]

Folklore in Raciaz


My grandfather R' Yosef Hirsch of blessed memory

by S. Weinstock

Translated by Sara Mages

My grandfather, R' Yosef Hirsch, was a member of “Chevrah Kadisha” [burial society]. As was the custom, they conducted a “Kiddush” on Simchat Torah and on 7 Adar. Once, it was on 7 Adar, R' Avraham Pomper came early to my grandmother's house and told her:

- You know, Sheine, your Yosef Hirsch is as drunk as Lot and can't come to the “Kiddush.” My grandmother was very offended, and knowing that my grandfather should return soon, she locked the front door before he arrived. It is clear, that this matter was only a fiction that R' Avraham Pomper invented for laughter and amusement. When my grandfather returned from Beit HaMidrash he stood in front of a locked door, and when he asked my grandmother what it meant, she told him:

- There's no room in my house for drunks.

- Who told you?

- Avraham Pomper - she answered with great sadness.

Grandfather went to one of his daughter's house and said nothing. On Simchat Torah of the same year, grandfather remembered Avraham Pomper's practical joke and how he “framed” him, and decided to pay him back. He turned to his wife and told her that her husband was as drunk as Lot. And indeed, when the latter returned to his home, he was rewarded with a proper “Mi Sheberach” [curse] from her…


A story about a foundling

Once, my grandfather, R' Yosef Hirsch, found an orphan in Beit HaMidrash. An abandoned daughter of the poor who was stricken with boils. What did he do? He picked her up and brought her to his house. Grandmother was shocked and very furious. But grandfather took a sack, filled it with fresh straw, and it served her as a mattress. He collected clothes for her, shaved her head, ordered to wash her, put ointment on her head and dress her properly. My mother also expressed her amazement about my grandfather's act, but my grandfather answered her: Be quiet, give thanks to God that you have healthy children. Thank God and do an act of kindness to this orphan. Eventually he took her to the orphanage. This orphan girl was very smart, her name was Fredel. My brother, Zechariah, who was a boy then, asked her once:

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- Fredel, what would you have done if my grandfather didn't take you to our home, is it not that you can freeze from the cold in the winter?

- Never mind, answered the girl, I would have thawed again in the spring…

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The Litwak cantor

by Elchanan Rachum

Translated by Sara Mages

It 1904-1905, the Litwak cantor was pursued by Rabbi Yehudah Leib Neufeld, who later sat on the rabbinate chair in Nowy Dwor. During the dispute, which broke out between the rabbi and this cantor, the cantor decided to take an original revenge on the rabbi:

When he arrived during “Hallel” [praise] to “Min HaMetzar” [from the straits] (Psalm 118), he started to trill each note and especially extended this verse: “The Lord is for me; I shall not fear. What can man do to me?” and at that moment he pointed, time after time, an accusing finger at the rabbi and while raising his voice he sang: “The Lord is for me as my helper - Woe what can man do to me…”

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The great dispute

by Avraham Yosef Kleiner

Translated by Sara Mages

It was during the revolution of 1905 when a dispute broke out because of the appointment of a Rabbi. Rabbi Reuven Leib Neufeld of blessed memory, who was appointed to the rabbinate chair in Nowy Dwor, was very keen that his brother, Rabbi Dov Berish Neufeld will be appointed as the Rabbi of Raciaz. Then, the community split into two camps. Most of the town's Jews opposed the appointment of the rabbi's brother who preceded him. But, by various schemes Rabbi Yosef Dov Berish was elected as the Rabbi of Raciaz. At the same time a group of people, who wanted to take revenge on the rabbi's opponents, got together and the matter reached a great dispute. Then, a socialist court, which was composed from the organizers of the proletariat in P³oñsk, arrived to Raciaz. Because of the rift and the bitterness that accumulated between the workers in Raciaz and the affluent proprietors, the workers used the opportunity to take revenge against the violators of the strike and the employers.

There were cases where the workers threw stones at the proprietors - the capitalists. One of the most prominent among them was R' Yehiel Birenbaum, a landowner and the owner of the tannery in town. They ambushed him and his sons everywhere to take revenge on them. They sentenced David Meir Kleiner (my father of blessed memory) for a month of house arrest, and then forced him to pay the amount of one hundred and fifty rubbles to the workers committee. They also lay in wait for my father on the roads. And when he left the city, and traveled to Bielsk in order to arrive to P³ock for his businesses, they chased him but couldn't catch him. He wandered from town to town for a few days until he was able to return home hidden in a crate.

One Friday night they entered Yehiel Birenbaum's home and shot him. Luckily they didn't hit him. Only his son Yehoshua was injured. His grandson, Nuska Weinstock , who hid under a table, narrowly escaped a bullet.

The following Saturday, those who rebelled against the rabbi broke into Raciaz's synagogue, and started to pray half an hour early until the head of the community, R' Shaul Yona Lipinski of blessed memory, who supported the elected rabbi, arrived with a Gentile policeman. The officer wrote a report to the Jews who broke into a sacred place and disturbed the peace. When the matter was brought before the elected rabbi, he ruled that their act wasn't against the Jewish customs, but was against the law. David Meir Kleiner was sentenced to sit in jail for a week (it was a detention room without the harsh conditions of a prison). He sat in jail during the day and at night - he went home to sleep.

At the same period of time the rebels wrote, without the rabbi's consent, a Torah Scroll for their shtiebel. They did it on purpose in order not share it, as was the practice, with the new rabbi that they objected to. As precaution, they brought the Admor of Brisk to Raciaz, and to ensure that rabbi's supporters won't attack them, they brought thirty soldiers from the district city of Sierpc to protect the celebrants from all evil.

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Supplement to the above story

by Sheraga Yosef Ostro

Translated by Sara Mages

At the same time, a bull, whose limbs were tied, fell from a wagon. By law they had to examine it for fear that its limbs were broken. This bull wasn't examined, and was slaughtered in its bindings. They went to the rabbi to ask:

- Is the bull Kosher or not?

- Not Kosher! - The rabbi ruled. They went to the Dayyan [judge], Rabbi Shmuel Bingfeld of blessed memory, and he ruled: - Kosher! At the same time there was a wedding in Raciaz and a comedian was brought from P³ock. Pinya the comedian wrote a “Mishnah” with Rashi's interpolation, and a “Gemara” with “Tosafot” [additions]…

Mishnah - A bull that fell from a wagon was slaughtered without an examination is - forbidden!

Gemara - It has been said: a bull that fell from a wagon was slaughtered without an examination - the Rabbi prohibits and Shmuel permits. A division between the Rabbi and Shmuel..!. (meaning, Shmuel Bingfeld).

They brought the Rabbi of Pultusk to mediate between the Rabbi and the Dayyan. When he passed through Raciaz's square, the wife of R' Leib Taub the locksmith - Mrs. Keila of blessed memory (the grandmother of Efraim Tzoref), the well known synagogue attendant, who didn't have sons only a daughter (she's Tzoref's mother), and when she saw the Rabbi of Pultusk she said:

-May I have sons just like him!
When the comedian passed through Raciaz's market, he added this Aramaic title to his amusing rhymes: “Shuka De Neharde'a[1] and some said, the leather market (because the shoemakers lived there).

The rebels' shtiebel[2] was called the “Bikower shtiebel” in memory of the bull, Bik (in Yiddish), and those who disassociated themselves interpreted this name by its initials: B”IK - Benei Israel Kedoshim [the holy people of Israel].


  1. Shuka De Neharde'a - a marketplace in Neharde'a (a city in Babylon). Nher-da‘ã - a river of knowledge” in Aramaic Return
  2. Shtiebel - little house or little room in Yiddish. A place used for communal prayer in contrast to a formal synagogue. Return

Comments about the dispute

Wealthy Hassidim prayed in the “Bikower shtiebel”. Among them were: R' Yehiel Birenbaum, R' Tzvi Tzemach, Itshe Albershtat, R' Meir Keliger, and Shreier the medic. During the dispute about the selection of the rabbi, they refused to give money to “Poalei Zion,” and also didn't get any funds from the supporters of Rabbi Dov Berish Neufeld of blessed memory.

Avraham Hirsh (Yakov Szaranski's uncle) who returned, at that time, from the United States, served as the chairman of “Poalei Zion” in Raciaz. He was the greatest opponent of the Bikower Hassidim. One day, they vented their rage on Avraham Hirsh, and beat him until he fell helpless on the ground. The next day, the members of “Poalei Zion” got together, and threw stones on everyone who walked to the “Bikower Shtiebel”.

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Things reached such a state that on one Friday evening two young members of “Poalei Zion” came from the district chapter, shot into the house of Yehiel Birenbaum and injured one of his sons.

A few weeks after this incident, two emissaries arrived from the central committee of “Poalei Zion” in Warsaw. They arrived in a small carriage with two wheels. One of them was the young man David Grüen (Ben Gurion) who was 17 years old. They entered Birenbaum's house to investigate the incident (probably to investigate the persecution of “Poalei Zion” by the rich, and their refusal to support them on behalf of the worshipers of the “Bikower Shtiebel). When the young men were in Birenbaum's house, one of his sons went and called the policemen to come and arrest the emissaries from Warsaw, because they came from an underground organization that provoked strikes and terrorism in Poland, and fought against the Czarist regime. But, the Raciaz's police didn't come (the policemen feared them). The young men returned to Warsaw after they finished their investigation (and some feel, that this investigation was conducted because the “Bund” warned that “Poalei Zion” caused terror in the Jewish street). In any case, the matter was discovered by the Russian central police, and the underground organizers, who feared imprisonment, were forced to flee to Eretz-Yisrael.


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