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The Rabbi's Court

The Inscription of the Tombstone of Sara Tzina

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The wife of the Admor Reb Avraham Borensztejn of Sochaczew (the author of Avnei Nezer).
She was the daughter of the holy Admor Reb Menachem Mendel of Kock.

She died in Sochaczew on 24 Kislev, 5670 (1910) and there is her resting place. [1]

I dwelt in the countries, the daughter of a flying angel
The chariot of G-d was in the holy Sinai
The glory of her righteousness flies through the world
Her excellence and merchandise are a new offering
The eyelids should weep and drop water
The Rabbi will supplicate to the heavens
The holy one of the honorable G-d, who reveals secrets
Menachem [2] of the house of Judah awoke those slumbering
The holy composition the Gaon of our strength and glory
A nest for wisdom, the key to our locked hearts
A woman of valor and wisdom, who excelled greatly
The sprout of her righteousness blossoms as a splendid vine
Holy ones assist her among the pure ones
She shines in the Heavenly treasuries
Her righteousness shall shine like the light of the seven days [3]
She will arise to life [4] after resting in peace

May her soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life


A Spiritual Center

A. Chetzroni

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Sochaczew – what Polish Jew does not recognize that name? Its name was also known far beyond its borders. It was apparently a town like several hundred other Jewish towns in Poland. What made it so well known among Jews? Sochaczew has to thank the Rebbe's court, the residence of the Rebbes who were known throughout the world by the name of Sochaczew. It was almost as if these were bound into a concept: Sochaczew Torah and Sochaczew Hassidism!

Sochaczew had a special success with its rabbis. It was a small town, but from way back, famous Gaonim occupied its rabbinical chair. Among others were the Gaon Reb Moshe (the brother of the Shach [5]); Reb Meir Ashkenazi, the author of “Panim Meirot”; later the Gaon Reb Leybish Charyf Helpern. Such greats in Hassidism as the holy Jew and Reb Yeshaya of Przeworsk would come to his Yeshiva. It is assumed that the Rebbe, Reb Bunim of Przysucha also studied with him in Sochaczew. Continuing on with the list: The Gaon and Kabbalist Reb Leybish of Korew; the Gaon Reb Elazar the Cohen of Pultusk the brother-in-law of Reb Yaakov of Lissa the “Chavat Daat”. What was actually the attractive force of Sochaczew? It is possibly that the town permitted its rabbis to conduct a Yeshiva there, that the householders displayed love and respect for Torah scholars, and understood the need to create a home for students who left their homes and came to study in Sochaczew. What more did those Gaonim desire than that they be given the possibility to spread Torah?

It seems that this was also what attracted the renowned genius and Gaon Reb Avrahamel Borensztejn. He was a son-in-law of the Kocker Rebbe, Reb Mendel. He left his rabbinate in Nasielsk and took up the rabbinate in Sochaczew after the death of Reb Elazar the Cohen in 5643 – 1883. That rabbi, Reb Avrahamel, was the founder of the dynasty of Sochaczew Hassidism, through which the town obtained a place on the east [6] in Jewish history in Poland.

A new epoch in life in the town began with the arrival of Reb Avrahamel. It became a force of attraction, and turned into a center of Torah and Hassidism. Youths with sharp minds and a deep striving for perfection, who had a feeling for the new path of the intermingling of Torah with Hassidism which was promoted so basically and consistently by Reb Avrahamel, were attracted here. Kocker Hassidism, which strived for the pinnacle of truth, and the scholarship and sharpness of Reb Yitzchak Meir the Gerrer Rebbe (Chidushei Harim) were united in a novel and captivating manner. This Hassidism implied completeness – the harmony of the soul with the body, both towards the service of the Creator; as well as Torah – the Torah of truth through the clarity of halacha, which were intermingled into a unified concept in the hot-glowing and crystal clear sprit of the Gaon. Well-known rabbis came to the great Torah center, which had already taken an important place in the world of scholarship. They came to the sparkling Torah spring and bound themselves with eternity. Such greats as the Konicker rabbi, Gaon and decisor of Jewish law Reb Yoav Yehoshua (the author of “Cheklat Yoav”); the Gaon of Krakow Reb Yosef Engel, famous for his dozens of books; the head of the Warsaw court of Jewish law Reb Yitzchak Feigenbaum, and others. As well, Gaonim from Lithuania, sharp minds and even sharper Misnagdim (opponents of Hassidism), would come to discuss and study, or to verify points of Halacha, without concerning themselves that the Gaon is simultaneously a Hassidic Rebbe. Kest-youths [7] and scholarly young men who searched for their way in learning with depth, wholeness and Hassidism, remained there for months or even years.

Aside from this, he maintained a constant exchange of correspondence with all of the Torah giants from around the world. They would turn to him from all Jewish communities with questions and difficult halachic dilemmas. The thousands of responsa that he wrote were later published in the seven volumes of “Responsa of Avnei Nezer”, gave him the name in the Jewish world as the final arbiter. He became the decisor for Poland, in the same way as did Reb Yitzchak Elchanan of Kovno become such a generation later.

However, it was not solely rabbis and scholars who arrived in Sochaczew. Hassidim, and ordinary Jews who knew only a simple page of Talmud also came. They realized that they would not be permitted to go to the lesson that Reb Avraham taught in the Beis Midrash daily for an entire morning – and even if they were to be allowed in, they would understand very little. Very few students had the head to follow the deep class – however they came in as Hassidim. Reb Avrahamel was not only a Gaon in the revealed Torah [8], but he was also a Hassidic Rebbe. He would deliver Torah talks during his “tish” [9], but during private encounters, he would elevate souls, and ignite the holy flame of sublimity and fear of Heaven.

He even warded off the Hassidim who came only for Hassidism. However he treated with love and devotion those stubborn ones who remained, and he learned with them in accordance with their understanding.

A Hassid tells as follows: When he came to Sochaczew as a young men, in the first place, when he came to the Rebbe to greet him, he asked: “Can you learn anything?” The young man answered: “I study the laws of Israel”. “So why did you come to me?” The Rebbe asked with veiled hurt. The young man was shamed. The Rebbe noted the young man's hurt feelings and quickly said: “Don't be hurt, if you conduct yourself honorably, it is as if you are learned.” Jews came and indeed learned how to conduct themselves honorably, how to be honest with one's fellow and furthermore – with oneself; not to deceive oneself and go around irking others, but only to concern oneself with being a Jew, an honorable Jew!

There was no contradiction between the Gaon and the Rebbe, both melded into one unit. Revealed and hidden were both studied simultaneously, like two expressions of the same essence. Both were the essence of striving for truth. When he studied the revealed, he was striving for the clarification of the foundations of halacha, and when he studied Hassidism he was striving for the completion of the person, the unanimity of thinking, feeling, speaking and doing (thought, speech, and deed), or as it is referred to by Hassidim: completeness of the soul, spirit, and inner essence.

Thus was Sochaczew known in the world as a center of Torah and Hassidism. Sochaczewer shtibels were established in dozens of towns, where people worshipped, learned and indeed also conducted Hassidic meals, all with the Sochaczew style. If a young man or a son-in-law on kest[7], or a mischievous boy needed a friend to study with, or simply needed a rabbi, he knew and address: the Sochaczewer shtibel. Groups were founded in dozens of towns, who perhaps did not even know where Sochaczew was located, but who wanted to have a part of the learning in the Sochaczew style. For a new methodology in learning was created there, a methodology that stresses the essence, not explanations leading to didactics – only the clarification of halacha in accordance with deep reasoning.

Thus was Sochaczew a spiritual center for Jews in Poland, beginning from the 1880s. It remained an important place until this day. For even after the death of Reb Avrahamel (11 Adar, 5670 – 1910), and his place was filled by his only son Reb Shmuel, who was known in the Hassidic world as the “Shem Mishmuel” after the name of his magnum opus – the stream of Hassidim and students who came to Sochaczew did not abate. This new methodology of Torah consolidated itself and broadened itself under the successor of Reb Avrahamel, and in the hundreds of students who were literally spread around the entire world.

The Yeshiva as well, which almost did not exist in the final years of Reb Avrahamel due to the Rebbe's poor health, was renovated with great scope under Rev Shmuel. Its peak was established by the young Gaon Reb Aryeh Tzvi Fromer, an expert student of Reb Avrahamel, who later became known as the Kozieglower rabbi and the head of the Yeshiva of the famous Yeshiva Chachmei Lublin. A new stream of students filled up the Beis Midrash and court.

Even when Sochaczew was destroyed during the First World War, and the Rebbe Reb Shmuel moved his court first to Lodz and later to Zgierz – the name of Sochaczew remained as the trademark of that branch of Hassidism, as a symbol. This was the same with the third Sochaczewer Rebbe, Reb David, the eldest son of Reb Shmuel, who became Rebbe after the death of his father (24 Tevet, 5686 – 1926). He lived in various cities, first as the rabbi in Wyszogrod, and later as the rabbi in Otwock, Pabianice, and in Lodz at the outbreak of the Second World War. He died in the Warsaw Ghetto (8 Kislev 5603 – 1942) – but he always was known in the world as the Sochaczewer Rebbe. Similarly, the name remains with the current Sochaczewer Rebbe, Reb Chanoch may he live long, the second son of Reb Shmuel, who lives today in the Bayit Vagan neighborhood of Jerusalem. Sochaczewer Hassidism survived beyond the city of Sochaczew.

It is understandable that life in Sochaczew itself willingly or unwillingly followed the rhythms of the life in the “court”. They ate the Sabbath meal hastily in dozens of homes, so that the father could go to the “tish”. Many others went away to worship in the Rebbe's Beis Midrash, and completely conducted their private lives in accordance with the daily schedule of the Rebbe. The young and the curious peered in on the arriving students, and they were proud of their renown. If a boy was fortunate enough to ask a question of the illustrious rabbi, he would be in seventh heaven. It was a dream to be part of the Rebbe's class. He indeed spread Torah among the Sochaczew boys and young men. Older Jews has the aroma of Hassidism.

During a time of tribulation, Heaven forbid, one ran to the Rebbe. If one needed advice, one went to the Rebbe in his home. If one had news, one hastened to share it with the Rebbe. Thus did the court become a center for the residents of Sochaczew, a participant in joy and sorrow. It is obvious that no communal affair in the town took place without taking into account the opinion of the court. And although Reb Avrahamel no longer served as a rabbi (he resigned from the rabbinate in the 1890s due to various reasons, and from then on he occupied himself with being a Rebbe, with writing response, and with his own students), Jewish life in Sochaczew continued to be under the direct influence of the “court”.

The “court” itself was not in the center of town, in the Jewish neighborhood, but rather almost in the outskirts of the town, in the gentile neighborhood. Shortly after Reb Avrahamel was accepted as rabbi, Hassidim did not agree that their Rebbe should live in a communal house, and, having no option, the city agreed with this, based on the claim that Reb Avrahamele was not merely the rabbi of the city of Sochaczew itself. They proposed to purchase an old manor house near the edge of the city, along the way to the slaughterhouse. The Hassidim purchased it for the Rebbe. Various legends arose regarding the origins of the house and the reasons for its purchase. As was told, one of its merits is that it has the aroma of Sanctification of the Divine Name. In the opposite place (in the priest's garden), once, three Jews were burnt in Sanctification of the Divine Name [10].

Indeed , the “court” was like a world unto itself. It was a massive brick house, with large green windows and a high red roof. It was in a little from the street, and had a flower garden in front with a picketed fence, and chestnut trees and lilac trees, which gave off an intoxicating aroma in the spring. It was a large, angular courtyard, paved with stones. On one side, there was a large Beis Midrash with windows on all sides, with the eastern window looking out over the garden. On the other side, there was a small Mikva and a Sukka. A fence closed off the access from the court to the garden, with its stubble walkways and its laden fruit trees. Upon entering the court through the small door (the large gate was always locked), one felt as if one was in another world. Despite the incessant movement of the Yeshiva students and the arriving Hassidim, a calm rested upon everyone. Politeness ruled the mood. Quiet, this is the house of Torah!

On a festival or an ordinary day of celebration, when a large number of Hassidim arrived, and the paths in the garden were full of groups that were walking, moving back and forth and talking about learning or Hassidism – the mood was solemn, like a family who were arriving together for a joyous occasion. However, the politeness pervaded over everybody and tamed the bubbly joy.

The “court” also served as a type of window to the outside world. Hassidim from large cities bought with them the breadth of the large cities, with their tall, high streimels and elegant silk kapotes. The constant traffic of Hassidim, arriving from near and far, brought in a closeness from far away places. People met each other, became friends, and on occasion matches were made. Often this was between a Sochaczewer householder with a visiting Hassid, and frequently with a Yeshiva student.

The “court” was not only a spiritual well and source of pride for Sochaczew, but it was also an important source of business. The “court” itself was a good employer of all types of people, including shopkeepers and craftsmen. Visiting Hassidim required lodging. Not infrequently, householders took advantage of a festival to earn some extra rubles by taking in Hassidim. It was like a Jewish fair in the town.

The relations between the town and the “court” were not always harmonious. There was also friction. Young people rebelled against the domineering attitude of the “court”. Zionism and Socialism were natural opponents of the “court”. When it came time to deal with appointing a rabbi (and Reb Avrahamel was no longer serving as a rabbi by the end of the 1890s – and rabbis were changed a few times), or to appoint a shochet – the mood flared up, and sides were formed. Sometimes a controversy broke out, with all of its accompanying negative manifestations. This picture was quite well known in the Polish towns. However, when the mood calmed down, normal relations with the “court” resumed.

The “court” was conducted in Sochaczew for three decades – until the outbreak of the First World War. It was secluded but also bound up with countless aspects of Jewish life in Sochaczew.

The outbreak of the First World War brought an end to an era of Polish Judaism. Life was changed beyond recognition. This also caused great changes in the “court”. On account of the war and later the destruction of the town, Reb Shmuel settled first in Lodz and later (in the year 5678 – 1918) in Zgierz. The Yeshiva was dissolved and the Beis Midrash was destroyed during the time of the battles. The house was also badly damaged. Even when the town was rebuilt, the “court” remained in Zgierz after the war. Still later, during the time of the third Sochaczewer Rebbe, Reb David, it was not returned to Sochaczew. However, the name Sochaczew remained with this Hassidic stream forever. Neither Krosniewice, where Reb Avrahamel began his tenure as a Hassidic Rebbe, nor Nasielsk where Reb Shmuel settled, nor Pabianice where Reb David lived,, became bound with the name of Hassidim. Sochaczew alone merited being perpetuated, and the famous unique Hassidic-scholarly methodology of Kocker Hassidism was perpetuated through its name.

Sochaczew was destroyed as a city during the First World War – but it was rebuilt. Jewish Sochaczew was finally destroyed by the Nazi beasts. It is no more. A portion of its spirit remains in Sochaczewer Hassidism, the only bearer of its name in its living memory.


  1. This tombstone inscription is written in very cryptic fashion. Return
  2. The name 'Menachem' literally means 'the comforter', and often has Messianic connotations. Return
  3. A reference to the seven days of creation. Return
  4. A reference to the resurrection of the dead. Return
  5. Siftei Cohen, a well known commentator on the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law). Return
  6. A reference to the eastern wall of the synagogue, where the most important people sit. Return
  7. Young men who are supported by their father's-in-law for some period after their marriage, in order to enable them to continue with their Torah studies. Return
  8. The revealed Torah refers to the study of Bible, Talmud, and Jewish law. The hidden Torah refers to the study of Kabbalah and mysticism. Hassidism is considered to be a manifestation of the hidden Torah. Return
  9. Literally 'table', but here referring to a 'table gathering', where Hassidim gather around a table to hear the words the Rebbe, and to partake jointly of food. Return
  10. When a Jew dies a martyr's death, it is considered to be in sanctification of the divine name (Al Kiddush Hashem). Return

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