Translated by Jerrold Landau
Rabbi Shlomo the son of Rabbi Elchanan 
Rabbi Shlomo the son of Rabbi Elchanan of Zelkow was the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of Ruzhany from the years 5445-5452 (1685-1692). He was well known in his generation and was called Reb Shlomo Charif (Reb Shlomo the Sharp) due to his erudition. As the son of Rabbi Elchanan, who was the rabbi in the two well-known communities of Buczacz and Stryj in eastern Galicia, and the grandson of Rabbi Zev Wolf (the father of Rabbi Elchanan), the head of the rabbinical court of Ulyka in Volhynia (the son-in-law of the Gaon Rabbi Shlomo Luria the Rash'al), Rabbi Shlomo had a great pedigree. In the ledger of Ruzhany which was prior to author of the Daat Kedoshim of Rabbi Yisrael Eisenstadt of Ruzhany the signature of Rabbi Shlomo appears as the rabbi of Ruznany in several decisions and enactments of the leaders of that community. From Ruzhany, Rabbi Shlomo was accepted as the head of the rabbinical court of Slutsk, which was the main community of Lithuania at that time, where he ran a famous Yeshiva and died there in the year 5466 (1706).
The approbations of Rabbi Shlomo appear in several books of Torah authors of his time, along side the approbations of other famous rabbis. We find these approbations on Rosh Yosef of Rabbi Yosef the son of Yaakov of Saltsi, Netiv Hayashar of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch of Pinsk, the 5460 (1700) edition of the Babylonian Talmud, Or Yisrael of Rabbi Yisrael Yaffa the head of the rabbinical court of Shklov from the year 5661 (1701).
We know of the following sons of Rabbi Shlomo Charif, the head of the
rabbinical court of Ruzhany and Slutsk: Avraham Abli, the head of the
rabbinical court and Yeshiva teacher in the Kloiz of Brest Litovsk, and Reb
Aryeh Leib, an honorable resident of Slutsk.
Rabbi Yechezkel the son of Avraham Katzenelboigen was born around the year 5428 (1668). He was raised in Brest Litovsk, where he studied Torah from the rabbi of the city Rabbi Mordechai Ziskind, and already attained fame as a genius during his youth. He became related through marriage to the wealthy Rabbi Shlomo Zalman the son of Rabbi Yoel. Rabbi Yechezkel served as a rabbi in the town of Zetel (Dzyatlava) (near Slonim). From there he moved to Ruzhany, where he served as the rabbi for a few years until the year 5464 (1704). Then he was appointed as the rabbi in the important city of Keidani. From there he was accepted in the year 5473 (1713) as the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of the three German united communities of Altuna-Hamburg-Wandsbek.
Rabbi Yechezkel Katzenelboigen, who served as the rabbi of Ruzhany for some
time, was one of the great rabbis of his generation. Several famous rabbis
turned to him with their questions, including the rabbi of Prague, Rabbi David
Oppenheim. Many authors also turned to him and requested approbations for their
books. His Halacha responsa were published in the book Knesset
Yisrael (Altuna, 5493 1733). A long time after his death, his book
Mayim Chaim (Paricek 5546 1786) was published. It included
commentaries on the Torah in the order of the weekly Torah portions.
He died at the age of 80, and the Gaon Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeschutz who occupied the rabbinical seat of those cities for three years, eulogized him twice. His two eulogies were published in his well-known book Yaarat Dvash.
The descendants of Rabbi Yechezkel Katzenelboigen returned to Lithuania and
Russia, and became famous as great personalities in Judaism.
After Rabbi Yechezkel Katzenelboigen left Ruzhany, two brothers-in-law appear as rabbis one after the other: Rabbi Moshe Zeev and Rabbi Aharon the son of Rabbi Nathan HaKohen.
Rabbi Moshe Zeev was the son of the famous Rabbi Yehuda Eidel, the head of the rabbinical court of Kowel in Volhynia, and later the head of the rabbinical court of the suburban community of Lwow. This rabbi was related to the family of the Mahar'al of Prague and other people of renown.
Rabbi Moshe Zeev was the head of the rabbinical court of Ruzhany for some time. However, due to the tribulations of the wars in northern Lithuania, he set out for Germany and served as the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of Fürth, Bavaria. He returned to Lithuania after some time, and served as the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court in the upper district around Minsk, and later in Dolhinów, where he died.
In his book Yeshua BeYisrael, the scholarly Rabbi Yehonatan the son of Rabbi Yosef, also from Ruzhany, brings words of Torah from Rabbi Moshe Zeev, the rabbi of Ruzhany.
Rabbi Moshe Zeev's brother was the kabbalistic Rabbi Yosef Jaski, the head of
the rabbinical court of Dubno, Volhynia, and the author of the book of moral
teachings Yeshod Yosef. Rabbi Yosef was related to the famous
historian Simon Dubnow.
Rabbi Aharon, who served as the rabbi in Ruzhany following his brother-in-law
Moshe Zeev, was the son-in-law of the aforementioned Rabbi Yehuda Eidel, and
was related to the renowned Rappaport rabbinical family. His father was Rabbi
Nathan HaKohen, who it is believed was the head of the rabbinical court in Lwow
and the son of Rabbi Eliahu HaKohen Rappaport of Padua, Italy.
Rabbi Yehonatan the son of Rabbi Yosef served as the rabbi of Ruzhany during a period of great suffering.
The first ten years of the 18th century (1700-1710) were years of civil war in Poland, as well as invasions of two foreign countries on its land. The civil war was between the supporters of King August II and the followers of King Stanislaw Leszczynski. Czar Peter I of Russia was on the side of the former, and King Karl XII of Sweden assisted the latter. As always, the Jews were caught between the hammer and the anvil. Every army brigade and every nobleman who headed an army division placed a heavy yoke upon them and drained the remainder of their strength.
Rabbi Yehonatan the son of Rabbi Yosef tells us about the suffering of the
community of Ruzhany in the introduction to his book Yeshua
BeYisrael in the following words:
Many tribulations affected the countries in succession: plague, famine, the sword of nations warring against each other, to the point where we became impoverished, the face of the honorable people of the city and country became diminished, and people lost their possessions. I and my family are among them And today, G-d is with us, and we have become fruitful in the land, for G-d spoke peace for his nation between the heads of the brigades. Would it be that this situation would last forever.
They not only suffered from wars, but also from the aforementioned plagues. Cholera broke out in Ruzhany, and most of the residents of the city died. The survivors left the city and settled in booths on the sand banks on the route to Liskowa throughout the summer. The rabbi and the survivors of his flock lived in tents throughout the entire summer and winter.
Blessed is G-d who did wonders with me. To my right and left, people were felled from the dark thing; however, I, with my wife and family, survived, and harm did not come to our domain It was impossible for me to go out from the door of my house and abandon my flock to which I tend and serve as their eyes Rabbi Yehonatan made a vow that if G-d were to help him and he was able to return to the rabbinical seat of his town, he would walk by foot to the city of Frankfurt to publish a book that he wrote. G-d was his help, he returned to his position as the teacher of righteousness to his flock, and he fulfilled his vow. Rabbi Yehonatan left Ruzhany, Lithuania and Poland, wandered to Frankfurt, and published his book in the year 5480 (1720). He called the book Yeshua BeYisrael (Salvation in Israel) in recognition of the salvation of the remnants of the community of Ruzhany. This was not an ordinary Torah composition, but rather a scientific book on astronomy, about the concepts of the sanctification of the new moon according to Maimonides, with many astronomical drawings.
The following is written about the rabbi from Ruzhany in entry on astronomy in the Hebrew Encyclopedia:
Rabbi Moshe Almoshnino: The Appearance of the Spheres, which is the Hebrew translation of Sphaera Mundi of Havlivud. Later commentaries on that book were produced (in the 16th and 17th centuries) by Rabbi Matityahu Delacroti, Rabbi Manoach Hendel the son of Rabbi Shmaryahu, with glosses by Rabbi Yehonatan the son of Rabbi Yosef of Ruzhany, Lithuania.
(Hebrew Encyclopedia, page 816)Mr. Yehonatan the son of Rabbi Yosef of Ruzhany, the publisher and commentator on the book Tzurat Haaretz (The Forms of the Earth) by Rabbi Avraham the son of Chaim Nasi (see further on wrote the book Yeshua BeYisrael, an explanation of the laws of the sanctification of the month from Maimonides with illustrations (Frankfurt am Main, 5480, 1720).
(Hebrew Encyclopedia, page 823)
Rabbi Eliezer was a famous rabbi of fine lineage. His family was the rabbi and
parnas Yissachar Berish, who was the son of the renowned Gaon known as
Rabbi Heshel of Krakow. According to the book Daat
Kedoshim, Rabbi Eliezer was the rabbi in Ruzhany until the year 5705
From that year he was the head of the rabbinical court of Dubno, which was then a primary community of Volhynia. In the year 5479 (1719), Rabbi Eliezer left the rabbinate and lived in the city of Brody, where he dwelled within the four ells of Halacha. He died there.
Rabbi Eliezer's daughter Chava was the wife of the wealthy Rabbi Yehuda Yudel Landau of Opatow. They were the parents of the Gaon Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, the head of the rabbinical court of Prague, and the author of the responsa book Noda BiYehuda (named after his father, the aforementioned Rabbi Yehuda).
In his introduction to the aforementioned book Noda BiYehuda, the
Gaon Rabbi Yechezkel Landau describes his maternal grandfather, Rabbi Eliezer
of Ruzhany, as The Rabbi and Gaon, holy, Hassid, who spent all his days
in fasting, occupying himself with Torah day and night.
During the 1720s, Rabbi Avigdor, known as Rabbi Avigdor Charif due to his great erudition, served as the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of Ruzhany. Several great rabbis, including Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Murkish, the head of the rabbinical court of Mir, as well as others, found it necessary to beautify their works with the approbation of Rabbi Avigdor.
One of his sons was the famous Rabbi Shmuel of Vilna, and the other was Rabbi
Yitzchak Izak, the head of the rabbinical court of several communities of
Rabbi Yisrael the son of Rabbi Chaim of the well-pedigreed Halpern family was the student of famous Torah giants: Rabbi Menachem Eliezer the author of the book Yair Kano and Rabbi Yomtov Lipmann the head of the rabbinical court of Kapolia, the author of the book Kedushat Yomtov.
Rabbi Yisrael married the daughter of the Tzadik Rabbi Tovia of Ruzhany, a scion of the holy Rabbi Tovia of our town. Rabbi Yisrael served as the rabbi in Olkinik (Valkininkai), Voranava, and then Ruzhany, where he was the head of the rabbinical court until the year 5579 (1819). Then he was called to the honorable position of serving as the rabbi of Minsk. He died there in the year 5599 (1839), at the young age of 43.
A son was born to Rabbi Yisrael in Ruzhany in the year 5576 (1816), who was the renown Gaon Rabbi Yomtov Lipmann Halpern (named after the rabbi of his father the Gaon Rabbi Yomtov Lipmann, the head of the rabbinical court of Kapolia). This son was the head of the rabbinical court of Bialystok and became famous in the rabbinical world for his well-known Talmudic work Oneg Yomtov.
The second son of Rabbi Yisrael Halpern, Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Halpern, was also
raised and educated in Ruzhany. He later became one of the great rabbis of
Rabbi Yitzchak Izak Chaver served as the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court
in Ruzhany for fourteen years, from 5579 to 5593 (1819-1833). He was born in
Grodno in the year 5549 (1789) to his father the scholar Rabbi Yaakov Chaver.
Rabbi Yitzchak Izak studied Torah in Porozovo, was appointed there as a rabbi,
and then moved to serve as the rabbi of Ruzhany.
In his time, he was one of the famous rabbis of Lithuania, and was given the title Gaon of the generation. While he was still in Ruzhany, he would respond about matters of Halacha to rabbis of near and far communities. Among those with whom he corresponded was Rabbi Yaakov Moshe of Slonim the grandson of the Gaon Rabbi Eliahu of Vilna, Rabbi Mordechai Epstein a rabbinical teacher in Slonim (one of his descendants, Rabbi Lima Epstein, was an honorable resident of Ruzhany and the son-in-law of Rabbi Shabtai Wallach, the head of the rabbinical court of Ruzhany), and the renowned Gaon and Tzadik Rabbi Yaakov Meir of Jalowka.
While he was the rabbi of Ruzhany, he prepared his well-known Talmudic work Beit Yitzchak for publication (published by Sokolow, 5596 / 1836). It included novellae on the laws of forbidden and permitted items, and was published when he was already the rabbi of Volkovisk. Later, he published his responsa book Binyan Olam, which was published in Warsaw in the year 5611 (1851), when he was already the rabbi of Suwalki. From that time, the Torah giants of the generation turned to him for every difficult matter.
He was also great in mysticism. His methodology in Kabbala was similar to that of the Gaon of Vilna. He studied mysticism from the Gaon and Kabbalist Rabbi Mendel of Shklov (the student of the Gr'a). In his book Magen Vetzina he defended the accepted tradition that ascribes the holy Zohar to the G-dly Talmudic sage, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
Rabbi Yitzchak Izak Chaver was also famous as a Tzadik. The masses revered him as a holy man, a worker of salvations and a man of wonders. While he was still the rabbi of Ruzhany, people came to him from near and far to receive his blessing. His house was open wide to every poor person and every melancholy person. Several legends were created about his wonders that came as a result of his prayers on behalf of all who turned to him at times of trouble.
It should be noted that despite all of his attachment to mystical wisdom and his status as the Tzadik of the generation, he was opposed to the doctrine of Hassidism of the Baal Shem Tov, and did not permit Hassidism to spread in the communities in which he served as rabbi. In this area, he remained faithful to the principles of the Gr'a of Vilna. In his famous testament, he warned his descendants against bringing unfit books into their homes, Heaven forbid. He also wrote that they must distance themselves from all new factions that are spreading in our days due to our many sins. The only path is to follow the footsteps of our great fathers and rabbis in the spirit of the Talmud and rabbinical decisors. Indeed, the Hassidic doctrine did not spread in the communities of Ruzhany, Volkovisk and Suwalki, and the Hassidim did not have their own Shtibels for all those years. Only in the latter period did a few of them form their own minyan.
Rabbi Yitzchak Izak Chaver had two children who were rabbis of renown: Rabbi
Yosef Chaver and Rabbi Moshe Rabinowicz. Both of them were raised and
educated in Ruzhany during the period when their father served as rabbi.
Rabbi Efraim Zalman, the rabbi of Ruzhany, was educated in Torah in the Beis Midrash of the wealthy scholar and philanthropist Tzvi Hirsch Simchowicz.
At that time, Rabbi Yomtov Lipmann Halpern, the rabbi of Bialystok and author
of Oneg Yomtov, was studying in that Yeshiva during his youth. The
heads of that Yeshiva at that time were the famous scholars:
Rabbi Zalman, later the head of the rabbinical courts of Brisk, Pruzhany and Dvinsk. They set the logical methodology of study of their students.
In the year 5615 (1855), Rabbi Efraim Zalman, who already served as the Rabbi of Ruzhany, eulogized in the Beis Midrash of the city the Gaon Rabbi Yaakov Meir Padua, the Rabbi of Brest Litovsk, who was considered to be his relative. Both of them traced their lineage to the family of the prince Rabbi Shaul Wohl and the family of Rabbi Meir of Padua. Rabbi Efraim Zalman died in his prime, around the year 5616 or 5617.
Rabbi Efraim Zalman's son-in-law was Rabbi Ziskind Shachor the son of Rabbi
Chaim Leib the leader of Mir. Later, Rabbi Ziskind made aliya to the Land of
Israel, and was one of the directors of the Kolel Vilna-Zamot in Jerusalem and
one of the honorable members of the old settlement of the capital. He was
diligent, and was a disseminator of Torah in his city of Ruzhany, his former
place of residence.
Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel was born in Lithuania in the year 5580 (1820) to his father Rabbi Dov Ber. He studied in the Yeshiva of Volozhin and was one of its best students. He earned his acclaim when serving as the rabbi of Ruzhany for 32 years. His sublime personality is described by his student Rabbi Yerucham Fishel Pines, who served him throughout all of the years that Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffa was in Ruzhany, in Misped Mar at the end of his book Zichronot Mordechai. These are his words:
Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel was a great Gaon in Torah, expert in all aspects of Torah, a man of wide knowledge, more G-d fearing than the masses, an excellent and accomplished orator, knowledgeable in world events, possessing of good and upright character traits, a wonderful researcher and expert in Jewish history of every generation, an intercessor with lucid speech, utilizing concise language and riddles, with the pen of a quick scribe. He had control over his inclination and his heart. He had strong opinions, never missed the mark, conducted his leadership in a lofty manner, never bending to any of the wealthy, strong men in our community. He educated all of the members of his household with Torah, fear of Heaven, wisdom and erudition. He married off all of his daughters to scholars, and did not concern himself with silver or gold.
Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel was not only a great Talmudist, but a great
scholar in general. There is barely one book from the ancient or modern
literature that he had not read and studied, and that he had not put under the
critic's lens. This is demonstrated by the numerous notes he wrote on the
margins of the 4,000 books that he acquired with his own money and livelihood.
He collated them, honored them, and valued them with unparalleled dedication
and wondrous, deep love. With all of his great, broad wisdom, he feared G-d and
worshiped Him in truth and purity, as one of the simple pure ones who never saw
the light of Haskalah. He was exacting in easy commandments the same as
difficult commandments in an amazing fashion
He possessed an unparalleled
clarity of knowledge. He was stringent upon himself and lenient upon others,
hard as a cedar tree in matters of Heaven and soft as a reed in issues of the
world. He was exacting about the honor of Heaven and Torah, and always lenient
with his own honor. As a private individual, he was always humble and never
humiliated anyone. He would tolerate his own disparagement and never respond,
or he would respond with words of humor, a parable or riddle, with soft calm
language that could break a bone. He constantly mourned over Jerusalem and
groaned about it incessantly. Every night he would weep over its destruction
with the Tikkun Chatzot service,
with a weeping voice that would rend the heart and soul
He always agonized over the tribulations of the Jewish people and constantly groaned over its honor. His heart was always alert to any matter that related to the nation in general, and would hasten to send letters to hundreds or thousands of rabbis, wealthy people and noblemen, including the wise men and intelligentsia of the generation who also recognized him and held him in great esteem. He was one of the first people to utilize his sharp, rhetorical pen to fight in the newspapers against those who would revise the religion. He made a name for himself in this
|Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffa|
He was also among the first who extended his hand to the Tzadik and Gaon Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher of holy blessed memory, and founded an organization for the settlement of the Land of Israel in his city even before the evil days of thunder, afflictions and deportations came
Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffa was one of the first rabbis in Russia to support
the Chibat Zion movement. He worked greatly for the settlement of the Land.
Assisting the Farmers of Pawlowa to make Aliya
Rabbi M. G. Yaffa assisted Reb Yechiel Beril, the editor of Halevanon who worked as an emissary for Baron Rothschild in selecting Torah observant farmers from the region of Ruzhany to found the Ekron Moshava and to collect money for their travel expenses. In Hamelitz, 1892 (27), Moshe Lewin relates the following:
He was a true lover of Zion, and the settlement of the Land of Israel was
his talk and thought throughout the day. When the rabbi who was the publisher
of the Halevanon periodical came to get farmers for the Pawlowa
Moshava near our city Ruzhany to found the Ekron Moshava, the rabbi removed all
obstacles and straightened out all of the difficulties that lay in the path of
these farmers, so that they could set out toward the Holy Land. Who else knows
as I do how much he toiled and suffered for this. Nevertheless, not only did he
not complain about his toil and suffering, but he rather regarded it as a
source of pleasure and enjoyment, since he knew that one more Moshava was being
founded in the Holy Land with his assistance.
Making Aliya Himself
He was attracted to the Land with bonds of love. At the end of the year 5648 (1888) he left the rabbinical seat of Ruzhany and made aliya to the Land. It was hard for the residents of Ruzhany to part from their beloved rabbi. In Hamelitz 1888 (173), Reb Y. Z. Friedman relates the following:
He was so bound with bonds of love to Chibat Zion and Jerusalem that he actualized his love, and yesterday traveled from there with his entire precious possession his packed up library, the price of which exceeds 5,000 rubles (a gigantic sum in those days)
The people of his city, from young to old, made him a great honor on the
day he left. Those present included city officials who accompanied him on his
Great rabbis such as the Gaon and head of the rabbinical court of Volkovisk and other rabbis who lived close to our city came to bless him and to receive his blessing.
Our rabbi and teacher, your departure is difficult for us. All of the
residents of our city are saddened and your leaving. However our comfort is
that you did not reject us or abandon us to dwell in honor in a different city,
larger and better than ours; but rather your strong love to the Land of our
forefathers and your holy feelings for its soil pulled you with bonds of love
to travel to it. Therefore, we offer our farewell blessings to you from the
depths of our heart: May G-d guard your goings and your comings May G-d
bless you from Zion, and may you see the good of Jerusalem all the days of your
The Rabbi in the Land
Rabbi M. G. Yaffa settled in the Mizkeret Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem. A Talmud Torah was founded in that neighborhood through his efforts. With his influence, Reb Yehuda Horowitz donated a large sum of money to the building of this Talmud Torah, which was called Beit Yehuda. He also succeeded influencing the wealthy Friedland from Peterburg to donate large sums to expand the old age home in Jerusalem.
Rabbi M. G. Yaffa left Jerusalem on account of a dispute that broke out among the rabbis of the city, for he did not want to be caught up within this dispute. He settled in the village of Yehuda. The rabbi moved his many books there, and continued to occupy himself with Torah in peace. He led a small Yeshiva there, which continued on throughout his life.
He felt himself to be in a good situation there:
Three years before his death, he succeeded in making aliya to our Holy Land, which had always been the desire of his heart. He took with him his many books which were filled to the brim with his notes, and dedicated himself solely to Torah and Divine service in peace and calm, far from the bustle of the city, in the village of Yehud, so as to distance himself from the thicket of the disputes and controversies that were found in the cities of the Holy Land due to our many sins. He would ascend to Jerusalem on the festivals. He loved the Land of Israel, and rejoiced with it in true heartfelt joy in a most sublime manner. Not too many people can understand this type of joy, which literally renewed his youthfulness. He dedicated most of his time to Torah and Divine service. During his free time, he would stroll through the olive groves near Yehud to enjoy the fresh air and the splendid nature of our Holy Land. The Gaon Rabbi Shlomo Mohilever spoke accurately when he said that anyone who wishes to gain a concept of the World To Come should go to Yehud and see the world of Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel there a world where there is no jealousy, hatred, or competition, but rather righteous people sitting with their crowns on their heads. (From the volume Misped Mar (Bitter Lament) at the end of the book Zichronot Mordechai).
A precious man went to his eternal world when he died. Many people, including great rabbis eulogized him: the Rabbi and Gaon of Slonim, the Rabbi and Gaon of Porozova, Rabbi Yerucham Fishel Pines, a naive of Ruzhany and the author of the aforementioned Misped Mar, and others. Among other things, Rabbi Moshe Nathan HaLevi, the head of the rabbinical court of Dubno, states the following in his eulogy of M. G. Yaffa of blessed memory:
A Gaon of Israel, a holy elder, the scion of holy roots, his sharpness and breadth of knowledge were like the early sages, he authored pearls of wisdom. He was an elder, and a man of eminence, who left a blessing after him: many novel ideas in his responsa to his many questioners from all over the Jewish Diaspora (Klilat Hamenora, Part I, Berdichev, 5642 / 1882).
In Sde Chemed volume II, Warsaw, 1896, the following is stated
about the deceased: He was a unique man, one of the giants of our
generation, a scholar of Jerusalem, a prince of Torah and a light to his
nation, who was a holy elder, the wonderful Gaon, a remnant of the Great
Assembly, our Rabbi
Mordechai Gimpel of Ruzhany, whose image was like a lion.
From his holy days, rivers flowed from the wine of the Torah to the mouths of the rabbis, life-giving wine.
By Meir Sokolowski
The image of Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffa as a Chovev Tzion is well marked in the tapestry of his character traits. He loved the Land of Israel greatly and deeply. This was not only due to the traditional connection between us and the Land given to us by G-d, but because he felt and believed with true faith that there is no other place in the world aside from the Land of Israel that could serve as a haven and refuge for our nation. One elderly person from Ruzhany told me that on his final Sabbath before leaving the city to make aliya and settle in the Holy Land, he gave a long sermon in his Beis Midrash about the love of Zion and the duty of every Jewish person to acquire some inheritance in our Holy Land. During this sermon about the qualities and holiness of the Land, he told the following story:
There is a story about a poretz (landowner) in Poland who owned many estates, villages and settlements. He leased his estates, liquor distilleries, mills and the inn in every village to Jews. One of these lessees was an intelligent and witty Jew who was not successful in his business and was not able to pay the lease fees to the poretz. One year, and two years passed, and then one winter day, the poretz summoned this Jew and warned him that if he does not pay his debts within a month, he would confiscate all of his property, his efforts and his toil, and would also expel him and his family from the village.
The Jew knew that the poretz was liable to carry out his threat, but he also knew that he had no hope of paying off his debt within a month. Despite all of his wisdom and intelligence, he did not find a way to release himself from his terrible situation. After much thought, he decided to not wait until the end of the month when the poretz would confiscate everything that he had, but rather to salvage anything he could and leave the village within the next day or two. The village Jew gathered up his belongings and his meager property, sat with his family on his winter wagon hitched to one thin horse, left the village and set out along the road that led to the nearby city. They believed that they had already escaped the talons of the poretz, but as is known, Jews have no luck. After traveling only one parsang behold the poretz was traveling in his wagon and met them. He called up in surprise:
Moshke, what is going on today? Why did you suddenly desire to go on a 'vacation' with your family to the city?
The heart of the Jew shuddered out of great fear, but while the poretz was still surprised, he strengthened himself, thought for a moment, and answered subserviently:
My master the poretz, this evening and tomorrow is a festival for us
Jews. And Your Honor knows that the Jews of the village travel along with their
families to the city for the festivals
The poretz, who had dealings with Jews on occasion, knew that it was the custom of the Jews of the village to celebrate their festivals in the city. He was also somewhat familiar with the calendar of Jewish holidays, their times and names. He knew that the Jews have three pilgrim festivals with various names, The season of our freedom, The season of the giving of our Torah, and The season of our joy. He also knew when these festivals fell out during the year. He was surprised to hear that suddenly in the middle of the winter, the Jews have some festival about which he did not know. He asked the Jew:
Moshke, what is the name of this festival?
The Jew immediately answered:
The name of this festival is 'The season of our escape'
The poretz was satisfied with this response, and wrote the name of this festival, which was unknown to him until now, in his notebook. He wished the Jew A good holiday and traveled on to the next village, where he also had a Jewish lessee. He entered the village after the stars came out and approached the home of the Jews to warm himself up with a cup of strong liquor. He found his Jew in this village standing and chopping wood. He knew that such labor was forbidden to a Jew on a festival, and if he required such work to be done, he would utilize a gentile. He turned to the Jew in anger:
Zhyd, when did you begin to desecrate your festivals?
The Jew looked at him with surprise, and thought that the poretz must certainly be drunk. But the poretz continued on:
Shame on you, zhyd, that you do not keep the festivals of your religion. Moshke from the other village is faithful to his religion. I met him today as he was traveling with his family to the city to celebrate the festival that he called 'The festival of our escape'.
The Jew now understood that the poretz was not asking his question out of drunkenness, and answered him:
Yes, my master the poretz, this is a Jewish festival from days of yore and from generation to generation, but it does not have a set time. Moshke is celebrating this festival today, and perhaps within a number of days or weeks, I and other Jews will celebrate this festival, the festival of our escape
Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel then concluded his sermon:
My beloved brethren, every Jew in the Diaspora must not forget that there will be times when he will have to, Heaven forbid, 'celebrate' 'The season of our escape'. He must prepare a refuge and a haven for himself in his homeland, for our sages have said (in 'Torat Kohanim' of the portion of Bechukotai) regarding the verse (Leviticus, 26:5), 'And you shall dwell securely in your land' in your land you will dwell securely but not outside of it
The great and abiding love that Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffa had for the Land of Israel is especially expressed from the following small episode:
When he made aliya and settled in the land of Israel in the year 5648 (1888), he decided to tour the Jewish settlements that had only started to be built a few years before his arrival. During his tour, he visited Rishon Letzion, a settlement that was involved in a dispute in matteres between man and G-d at that time. When the wagon entered the gates of the settlement, Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel stood on his feet, looked to the sides, and said:
A widow, and somewhat insolent, but in any case, Blessed is He who restores the boundaries of the widow 
Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel was the first of the second generation of students of
the Volozhin Yeshiva to make aliya to the land of Israel, not only to see it in
its destruction, but also to assist in its upbuilding.
Apparently, Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffa, with his love of the Land, had a significant influence upon one of his illustrious family members who was a third generation student of the Volozhin Yeshiva, and who made aliya to the Land of Israel, was elevated by it, and assited greatly in both the spiritual and physical development of the Land this is none other than the Gaon and Tzadik Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, of holy blessed memory.
By Rabbi Yehuda Leib HaKohen Maimon
His second grandson was Aryeh Leib Yaffa, who, like his elder brother, was
active in the ranks of Chovevei Tzion in the Diaspora, and in his great
work for the building and settlement of the Land after he settled there. He was
also one of the first builders of the city of Tel Aviv and the expanders of its
boundaries. A street in that city is named for him.
Aryeh Leib Yaffa
His second grandson was Aryeh Leib Yaffa, who, like his elder brother, was active in the ranks of Chovevei Tzion in the Diaspora. In addition, he was well known as a poet and singer. After he made aliya, he dedicated himself, as is known, to work for the Keren Hayesod, and was at the head of its leadership committee.
In this role, he often traveled throughout the world, and was very successful.
In one of his visits to Poland, he was received in Lodz by the Ruzhany native
Moshe Limon who had
moved to that city and headed the Zionist committee of that city. He offered his
greetings to the guest in that capacity. He said, among other things, I
recall how the natives of my city Ruzhany parted from your grandfather Rabbi
Mordechai Gimpel Yaffa, with weeping and joy. With weeping because
it was difficult for them to part from their most beloved rabbi, and with joy
for their rabbi and teacher merited to make aliya to the Land of Israel, the
joy of his soul. With great enthusiasm, the people unhitched their horses, hitched
themselves up, and carried him to the nearby village. Now I myself have the honor,
as a native of Ruzhany, to greet his grandson as he spreads the issues of the
settlement to the Diaspora.
My visit with Aryeh Leib Yaffa
After I made aliya to the Land as a student of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, I went to visit Aryeh Leib Yaffa in his office at the Keren HaYesod. He greeted me very cordially as a native of the town in which his grandfather had served in the rabbinate for decades.
To this day, I see before me his noble image, as he was bound to his office desk, which he graced and from which his grace exuded. I could not imagine at that time that he would meet his death while on duty at that institution, when a mine that was placed under the national institutions in Jerusalem exploded during the War of Independence
By Meir Sokolowski
|Rabbi Shabtai Wallach|
The appointment of Rabbi Mordechai Wallach as the rabbi of Ruzhany. Ruzhany (Grodno District), August 19 after Rabbi Meir Gimpel left our city (as I reported in issue 173 of Hamelitz), our townsfolk called a meeting. All of them gathered together in the synagogue to take council: who should be chosen as the rabbi and teacher of righteousness in place of Rabbi Meir Gimpel. All of them, young and old, rich and poor, wished to hear what he had to say. After several hours of deliberations, they agreed unanimously to choose the native of their city, the Gaon Rabbi Shabtai Wallach, to be their rabbi. After their decision, they went to greet their rabbi with great splendor and glory. All the residents of the city, from young to old, left the house of the rabbi, and with shouting, celebration and song, carried their teacher and rabbi on their shoulders under a canopy. From afar, the sounds of the crowd singing the well-known hymn were heard: 'We will depend on you for every legal matter!' They proceeded in this manner to the House of G-d, where they received him in great honor, with lights and musical instruments, and led him to his special place next to the Holy Ark.
Who would have believed that the residents of our city, numbering more than
2,000 families (may they continue to increase), including merchants, wealthy
people, householders, tradesman and factory workers, divided into factions and
organizations, would gather together as one man when the time came to do
something good and effective, take council with love and brotherhood, and
conclude the matter in a positive fashion, with peace and contentment. In this
matter, the residents of our town can serve as a praiseworthy and pleasant
example to many others.
Rabbi Shabtai Wallach, the head of the rabbinical court of Ruzhany, was
born in the year 5611 (1851) to his father, the Tzadik Rabbi Avraham Yaakov.
The family roots were from Germany, and the family gave rise to several
individuals renowned in the world of Torah and Judaism. Rabbi Shabtai was known
as a genius already during his youth.
He married the daughter of an honorable citizen of Ruzhany, Rabbi Yomtov Lipmann Epstein of the family of the martyrs of Ruzhany, and he studied Torah there for 22 years. He did not want to accept the yoke of the rabbinate. He earned his livelihood from a store that his wife ran. In the year 5648 (1888), when Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yaffa left for the Land of Israel, after the urging of the members of the city and with the recommendation of the aforementioned preceding rabbi, Rabbi Shabtai Wallach agreed to become the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of Ruzhany.
After his death, his son-in-law Rabbi Zalman Weiss inherited the rabbinical
seat. Prior to that, he had served as the rabbinical judge in the community for
many years. A dispute arose regarding the seat of the rabbinate after the death
of Rabbi Zalman Weiss of blessed memory, which lasted for a long time. Several
rabbis wished to be selected as the rabbi of Ruzhany, and opinions in the city
Rabbi Ziskind Richtschreiber was great in Torah, like one of the great ones. He was also of good lineage, a descendent of Rabbi Yomtov Lipmann Heller, the author of Tosafot Yomtov, of holy blessed memory.
When he was still young, he was accepted as the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court in Ludmir, Volhynia, according to the special recommendation of the Gaon Rabbi Chaim HaLevi Soloveitchik, the head of the rabbinical court of Brest Litovsk.
In the year 5675 (1915), the first year of the first World War, when Ludmir was conquered by Austria, Rabbi Ziskind was forced to move to Liskova due to the tribulations of the war. His father-in-law Rabbi Yomtov Lipmann had previously served as the rabbi of that town.
In the year 5676 (1916), the people of Pavlova (Pawlowo) near Ruzhany invited him to be the rabbi of their community. Even though such a small rabbinate was not in accordance with his value and greatness of his abilities, Rabbi Ziskind agreed to come, and remained with them for a period of 15 years.
Rabbi Ziskind died on the 14th of Tevet, 5691 (1931), and was buried in the Ruzhany cemetery next to the grave of the elder Rabbi Shabtai Wallach. His two brothers-in-law, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Meyerson the rabbi of Liskova and Rabbi Eliezer Harkavi the rabbi of Porozowa, eulogized him, as did Rabbi Abba Swiaticki of Kosowo and Rabbi Zalman Weiss the rabbi of Ruzhany.
Imrei Noam by Rabbi Richtschreiber is known in the world as Torah.
This work is mainly a book of sublime exegesis. From among his many writings in
Halacha and Aggada that were left behind in manuscript form, we should point
out the precious book that explains all difficult passages in the Migdal Oz
work on Maimonides.
We are living in the era of encyclopedias. There are people who believe that
the encyclopedia can define the essence of anything, without question. However
I believe that even the finest encyclopedias do not fulfill their obligations.
Who is to blame? Of course the publishers. They believe with perfect faith that
specifically scholars, experts, German professors or doctors at least are
equipped to work in the compilation of an encyclopedia.
According to me, this is not the case. If the matter is given over to the writers of novels and romances, for example, only then would we have encyclopedias worthy of their name.
I will suffice myself with one example, from which we can learn the rest.
For example, you wish to find out about the city of Ruzhany. You open volume R of the encyclopedia, find the entry on Ruzhany on page so-and-so, and find Ruzhany Region of Grodno, District of Slonim According to the census of 1847, the Jewish population was 1,556. It had a Talmud Torah (1910).
Now we will check the article on Pruzhany: Pruzhany Region of Grodno, District of Grodno. According to the census of 1847, the Jewish population was 2,580. It had a Talmud Torah (1910).
According to the encyclopedia, what is the difference between Ruzhany and Pruzhany?
What is Ruzhany?
Now I will tell you what Ruzhany is specifically from a time close to the time of the census ten years before or ten years later.
You should know that my father of blessed memory was a native of Ruzhany. What was my father and how did he earn his livelihood? What is the difference! The main thing was that he was a sincerely G-d fearing Jew who observed the commandments. His business affairs were in Riga. That is to say, he earned his money in Riga and spent it in Ruzhany. There in Ruzhany he had a home; there he had a place in the Beis Midrash; there he paid the tuition fees for his children; there he prepared his clothing and those of his family with the men's tailor Reb Shmerl. At this time, during my youth, this Shmerl was getting on in age. My grandfather and perhaps my great-grandfather ordered their clothing from him. He had a custom with my father's household. He knew the measurements of every family member by heart and this was at a time when measurements were not in vogue. He was able to sew clothing for each person according to his measurements.
It was sufficient for you to bring the merchandise to his home. If someone wanted, a person would not have to trouble himself to go to the shopkeeper to choose the fabric, and certainly not the lining. Everything was awaiting from the outset, and everything was known from the beginning. They would enter the store, choose the merchandise, discuss the sale with the shopkeeper, consult with the tailor, agree on the situation and everything was for the benefit of the sale itself. This was for the benefit of the man who was always making sales at the same time as he was coming to purchase.
Reb Shmerl the tailor used to say: Just as Torah is very deep, the theory of tailoring is very deep.
Indeed, tailoring contains mysteries of wisdom, hidden folds, tall corners. Aside from the revealed wisdom the outer fabric and the lining, there is the hidden wisdom known as the ornaments, the purpose of which cannot be grasped by the mind of an ordinary person. Sometimes a thick hair sticks out, specifically near the lapel on the chest, and the ordinary person does not understand from where it comes and what is its purpose.
This ornament is not within the domain of the purchaser. After he
chooses the fabric and the lining, the shopkeeper calls his assistant, who
hastens to bring stacks of fabric patches and joins them together. Nobody asks
the purchaser, and nobody shows him anything.
Father's coat, about which I wish to tell, was also made by Shmerl the tailor. In truth, a person could believe that there is only one type of fabric in the world, one lining, and one cut for all garments, and even only one tailor
Once my father traveled to Riga at the beginning of autumn and took his good winter coat with him, as usual. First, it was a new garment; second, the cold days were approaching; third, a winter coat would increase the honor of its wearer in the eyes of people, and would be a good portent for credit.
One bitter and unfortunate day, my father was caught in a nail stuck in a pushed-over gate, and the corner of his coat ripped. He entered his inn with a broken heart. The innkeeper, his wife, and several guests who were present at that time gathered around him. All of them were pained and agonized over my father's pain. They talked disparagingly about the owner of the gate and complained about the authorities who do not take care of the things that they should be taking care of. Finally they agreed that the only remedy for the coat would be an expert tailor. After everyone mentioned the name of the best tailor they could think of, the innkeeper sent for one of them that he knew and gave him the coat. Early the next morning, he returned the completed work to its owner, received his fee, and left.
One week later my father had almost forgotten about the incident with the coat. One morning, the innkeeper's wife entered the room and said, The tailor who fixed the torn coat wishes to talk to you.
What do I have to do with him, said my father in surprise.
He does not want to say.
Tell him to enter.
The tailor entered. Only then did my father take appropriate notice of him. Before him stood an elderly thin man with a fallen chest, prominent eyes, and a pleasant face. His essence was of a pleasant, G-d fearing Jew.
What is your wish?
Do you not recognize me? I am the tailor who fixed the coat.
Yes, my father said.
The tailor said that he had asked and inquired about my father, from where he came, and who he was. He found out that he was a Torah personality who feared Heaven.
Why did he go through all this effort? Perhaps he wants to marry into my family?
I do not want to marry into your family, and I am also not a matchmaker. But since you are a G-d fearing person, I wish to tell you something that I did not say after I brought the job back to you.
What is it?
The tailor answered that it is indeed difficult for a person who is not a tailor to understand the matter. The lining of the coat, the coat that he had fixed, was shaatnez.
My father answered that this is impossible. Heaven forbid that he should
purchase shaatnez. The shopkeeper is an upright person, and the tailor who
sewed the coat was a proper Jew. Heaven forbid that something like this should
happen. Shaatnez! Did his ears hear what he had said? It is forbidden from the
It is unbelievable what he had said!
The tailor answered that he does not suspect proper people, Heaven forbid, but that sometimes it is difficult even for an expert to determine matters such as this. When he realized this, he hesitated and did not know what to do. He thought that perhaps my father was one of the lenient ones of the young generation! Certainly that was it And therefore he said to himself, it is better that he err than act deliberately. But he did not rest until he investigated and found out who the owner of the coat was. He was told that he was a person meticulous in his religion. Therefore, he is fulfilling his obligation and informing my father of the matter.
In any event my father could not understand how this could be. Shaatnez! Such is not done among the Jewish people!
The tailor said that he has done what he had to, and if he suspects, Heaven forbid, that he said what he said in order to obtain further work, he is stating from the outset that he would not take on the job of fixing the coat. My father should do what he wants, for he has done his duty.
He said good-bye and closed the door.
The end of the story: my father gave over his coat to check for and eliminate the shaatnez specifically to that tailor, for Father saw that he was indeed an upright man and that his intentions were for the sake of Heaven. Heaven forbid that my father should wear clothing that has the suspicion of shaatnez!
On the day that my father returned to Ruzhany, he brought in Shmerl the long (to differentiate him from a different Shmerl in Ruzhany who was also a tailor, and who was called the short).
Shmerl entered our house after a short time and greeted Father. He began the conversation politely, asked about Father's well-being, his business in the city, and the tribulations of the journey. In the recesses of his heart he was certain that Father had another job for him. However, my father immediately discussed the matter at hand, and showed him the shaatnez that was in the coat.
Reb Shmerl immediately jumped up from his place as if a snake bit him. He did not grasp the matter.
Shmerl would put shaatnez in a garment?! He is prepared to swear to his Creator, and by his peyos. This weaver When did he stop understanding about linings? A man such as he would not do wrong over a piece of cloth worth a penny So what is it? That lazy tailor in Riga how many crazy people are there in the marketplace! He does not wish to hear such things
My father held his ground, and Shmerl held his.
At Mincha time, my father entered the Beis Midrash to worship.
A group of acquaintances and friends gathered around him between Mincha and Maariv, for he had just returned from the city! Behold the entire group of tailors was also there. Reb Shmerl was at the head of them, with the elder, well-pedigreed tailors behind him, those of the second tier behind them, and the apprentices and youths there as well all of them knew the matter, all of them had heard about the shaatnez, and wanted to hear the matter from the mouth of Father himself.
After they heard the matter from Father, they turned to each other, grabbed their shoulders, pulled their beards, and took council with each other: How could this be? It is impossible! Everybody uses this weaver. Our grandparents used him from the time that Ruzhany became a city. Shaatnez! If that is the case, There is no house where there is no dead person That is shaatnez. The entire city wears clothes from the same weaver.
Between Mincha and Maariv in the Beis Midrash one person studies a page of Gemara, another looks into a book, another recites Psalms each according to his abilities. That night the tables were empty. Everyone turned eastward, surrounding Father and the tailors. The entire group stood there, even some of the apprentices stood there.
That evening, all eyes were turned to the tailors.
Incidentally, they remembered an incident that took place previously with shaatnez. The older people coughed, rubbed red scarves over teary eyes, and told stories about events of past times. The young people, with their hands like a button on a stump, and with glittering eyes, also had something to tell.
Maariv!, and it was the end of the discussions.
However, the next day, again between Mincha and Maariv, the tailors and householders gathered at the eastern wall. My father spoke, the tailors spoke, and the entire audience spoke and responded.
Not only did this take place between Mincha and Maariv, but also in the market, on the street, in the store and butcher shop, between customers, between dishes, between man and wife, in the kitchen, and the bedroom the sole topic of discussion was shaatnez.
The land around Ruzhany was divided: the shopkeepers and tailors on one side, and the householders on the other side.
The householders opened up with who knows, disparaged the trust in the tailors and accused all of their deeds until they came to the conclusion that there is no more corrupt trade than this, and that the excess proves this.
The tailors never had such dismal days as those. The tailors, along with their wives, children, and all that belonged to them became a byword.
Who would have known how noisy the city had become had a good idea not come to the mind of the gabbai: since the city of Lodz stands in its place, and one of his relatives is going to Lodz in a few days and would return after a brief period, and the brother-in-law of the gabbai who lives in that city hobnobs with the merchants or at least would know to whom to turn for this matter they should send him one piece of cloth as an example, and he would respond.
They did so, and the city quieted down.
A week passed. It was once again the time between Mincha and Maariv. All of the attendees of the Beis Midrash were in their appropriate places one with a book, another with his chapter, a man in a corner, and another man with his study partner when the door suddenly opened noisily, and a man burst in and did not shut it behind him despite the fierce cold outside. He entered in haste, while he still had wind, with his mouth open, his eyes popping out, and his hands holding the lapels of his coat. He did not greet anyone or respond to any greetings until he came to the center of the room, and shouted out loudly:
In Lodz they said it is shaatnez!!
Were the sky suddenly to split open in the cold of autumn, lightning flash and thunder crack, this would not have disturbed the congregation more than this frightful call: shaatnez! Those seated turned to stone and those standing froze one with his book and another on his podium. Every mouth was open, every hand stretched out with clenched fingers, rubbing and scratching the back and the side.
For the hand of shaatnez was everywhere in Ruzhany: on man, woman, old, young,
rich, poor, Hassid, Misnaged, scholar, common person, on the clothes, dresses,
jacket, tunic, coat, shirt, lapel, sleeve, edges, trains, pocket, collar
there was no escape from it, from the shaatnez. The entire world was shaatnez!
After the first commotion passed, and there was deep silence, a great tumult arose, the likes of which there never had been in Ruzhany. Everyone wanted to hear again the terrible word shaatnez being said explicitly from the messenger.
After that, a second commotion arose: here was a kapote and here was a zufitza! Here was shaatnez! What to do?! To strip? Here is the jacket and the coat! It is of course cold outside! It will be cold. But, but with all due respect to their honor, they must also remove the pants! Let them bring from home what they can: a shawl, a scarf, as long as it is not shaatnez. But how can one go outside without pants? It is impossible to move from the place without pants Woe woe!
To the great dismay, there was no rabbinical judge in the Beis Midrash, and everyone took off their clothes
And it was night and it was morning the second day
The elders of the generation relate: there were no better days than those for the tailors for the expert tailor, for the regular tailor, and even the apprentice from the time that Ruzhany had become a city, and some people say from the time that G-d had created tailors in the world. Everyone stood at the door of their houses, flattered them, ingratiated themselves to them, and enticed them with words. All the tailors, who just yesterday had stood at a low level, today rose to greatness, and many of the householders became tailors, for the fear of the tailors fell upon them.
There was no person who did not need a tailor at that time, and there was no article of clothing that did not fall into the hands of a tailor. The tailors were full of work. They arose early in the morning and stayed up late at night, all of them removing every trace of shaatnez.
Whoever did not see Ruzhany in those days has never seen a wonderful city in his days. Until they expunged the shaatnez, repaired the coats and the furs, and rendered the trousers kosher to be worn in the community every Jewish person went out dressed in sheets and tablecloths, covered with colors and warm kerchiefs, covered with shawls and dressed in anything they could find without a lining, without a collar, without sleeves so long as there was no suspicion of shaatnez. Some of the children of the Orthodox people remained at home, and others went out in undershirts and undergarments of their mothers and grandmothers.
This was Ruzhany.
By Shaul Tshernikovsky, Berlin 5693 / 1933
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