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{3 - Yiddish} {601 - Hebrew}


Translated by Jerrold Landau

As we approached the task of preparing the book of Sochaczew, we set the following goal: to describe the Jewish character of Sochaczew as it was in the past, the development of the Jews there, as well as the perpetuation of the final drama of Sochaczew – the era of Hitler. Today, this is not easy at all, for to our sorrow, everything is now in the past, much of the historical material was lost along with the destruction of the Jews, and whatever survives in the archives is not accessible today to the Jewish historian. Nevertheless we have succeeded in including in this book historical chapters that are authoritative and worthwhile, and which present somewhat of a picture from the beginning of Sochaczew Jewry.

The older history of Sochaczew occupies a relatively small part of the book relative to the history from the period of the 20th century. This is understandable, since to our great sorrow, the events during the time of Hitler are equal to all the past difficult periods of our history.

The material of the second part is drawn for the most part from memory. Its chapters describe the ups and downs, the negative aspects of Jewish life in Sochaczew along with the high points, the embodiment of Jewish life – and along with this, the final fire before the complete annihilation of this city.

In the chapters of memories, there are descriptions that portray and perpetuate the various aspects of Jewish Sochaczew: the institutions, organizations and groups, as well as the personalities who worked in these institutions.

Wondrous is the strength and dedication of the activists and leaders who involved themselves in Jewish activity in all spheres of communal life, and who help to raise the level of Jewish culture. It is especially wondrous given that the relationship with the outside world was difficult – and especially during the 1930s – unfriendly and hostile, and it required much spiritual strength to oppose the world which was becoming more distant and treacherous. The Jews of Sochaczew possessed this strength.

Jewish Sochaczew had a special character, which gave rise to its great and well-known people, its great Admorim (Hassidic Masters), scribes and wagon drivers, as well as working intelligentsia. Great personalities shine out from the pages of the “Pinkas”, such as: Alexander Zusha Friedman, Ozer Warshawski, Pinchas Graubard, Shmuel Lehman, Vove Rosenberg, and others who raised themselves above the local scene, and left their mark on Jewish life in Poland in general. The Admorim of Sochaczew, of blessed memory, who were among the establishers of Polish Hassidism, spread their light beyond the borders of Poland. The Hassidic world absorbed the spiritual radiance of “The House of Sochaczew”, which was a gathering place for the wise. Jewish Sochaczew was comparable to any large city in Poland in quality. This well connected city, which lies on the banks of the peaceful Bzura, was turned into a vale of tears during the evil days of Hitler, a place where the lives of its dear Jews were stamped out.

In the Pinkas Sochaczew, there is an expression of deep agony as well as a fierce pining for the world that was destroyed – the wonderful Jewish world that was destroyed. However, alongside, these pages awaken feelings of great pride, as they point out the heartening fact that complete and pure Jews such as these had their dwelling place in Sochaczew. These are not just the Jews of the Sabbath and festivals – but also the personalities of Jews during the six work days, filled with purity and warmth, such as: Chaikel the wagon driver, Yakir the shoemaker, and many others like them, simple Jews, common-folk, sublime souls.

Regarding the era of the destruction, this book will describe those who suffered the frightening tortures with their own bodies, that is the few brands who survived the destruction of the city of Sochaczew. These survivors, who were saved in a miraculous manner from the ghettos, the crematoria, the forests and the bunkers, as well as the modern-day Conversos[1] – they describe here what they experienced with their bodies: tribulations, oppression, degradation, the full load of evil which afflicted them during the days of Hitler, may his name be blotted out. From this material, the heartening fact emerges that even during the terrible conditions that prevailed during the oppression of Hitler, the Jews of Sochaczew did not lose the Divine shadow from their faces. This was the way of Sochaczew.

Someone looking in from outside may get the impression that the wounds of these survivors have been healed over time. However when their heart opens, the wounds appear unbandaged to any onlooker. The wounds have been dressed externally, however they will never heal.

As has been mentioned, the memories described in this section are based on the personal experiences of the eyewitnesses. However their content is so true and convincing – described in almost a stoic manner – that we can see through this personal lens the tragedy of the entire people of Israel – the frightening demise of eastern European Jewry.

Without doubt, a linguist who examines this work carefully will find here a word that is not appropriate, and there a sentence that is not organized. However, is it possible to tune a cry of grief with a tuning fork? Since all of their words are one collective cry, a voice from the depths of despair, we did not want to edit the material that we received, and we left it in its original fashion. In our opinion, the manner of presentation is not important here, but rather the frightening content. Therefore, the words are brought down here without paint or comb, without any change, in the simple manner in which they were written. However, due to their simplicity, they are so stirring, and they connect us with the most frightful drama that overtook our nation that knows grief, from the time that it became a nation.

On occasion there will be some repetition, and even contradictions, however we did not permit ourselves to “fix” the content and to resolve the contradictions. On the contrary, it is possible that a historian will find in this text new facts, which will enable him to complete and fully understand material that is already known from other sources.

We made every attempt to retain the style of the writers in order to stress the collective character of this book. For this reason, we retained the different writing style of material that we have copied from other sources.

May the Pinkas Sochaczew be a spiritual monument to the Jewish life of Sochaczew that was annihilated, and may it be an addition to the Holocaust literature of Jewry in general.

Gavriel Weissman

{7 - Yiddish} {603 - Hebrew}

From the Editorial Committee

Translated by Jerrold Landau

With feelings of trepidation and holy trembling, we – a group of Sochaczew natives in Israel – succeeded after ten years of effort in publishing a Yizkor book to perpetuate the destroyed community of Sochaczew. This activity demanded great dedication and communal responsibility. We were unsure if we were worthy of describing the tribulations, and of eulogizing our most dear ones and relatives.

We knew from the outset about the great difficulties that overtook them, and about the great responsibility that was placed upon us, and therefore we decided, with seriousness and deep faith, to gather documents and testimonies about the lives and deaths of our relatives and friends. We gathered photographs of organizations, institutions, schools, rabbis, and simple folk – all of which had ethnographic value.

We were faced with the challenges of recalling things from the forgotten recesses of the memory, and of perpetuating the era of destruction. The time was pressing, as it was still possible to rescue the information from oblivion, as it was possible that tomorrow or the next day would, G-d forbid, be too late.

We set out the goal, to the extent that it was possible, to present an authentic and non-divisive picture of Jewish life in Sochaczew; not to diminish the value of one faction and to glorify another. We attempted to portray the cooperation between members of different groups. If it happens that a group or faction was not described to the appropriate extent, it was because there was nobody available to fill the gap. We can only lament this fact.

As far as possible, we avoided tendentious descriptions, and even more so unintentional negative descriptions. We attempted to portray an accurate picture even of the time of the Holocaust, and if distressing events took place due to the pressures of the era – we also recorded them. Nevertheless, the negative events are few in comparison to the sublime moral tales – even in the face of the Nazi enemy. It is wondrous how our martyrs maintained their faith – despite everything – and guarded their divine spark. Not only the martyrs, but also the warriors among the people of Sochaczew, maintained their faith. All of them light up in front of us as an eternal flame. We will remember their memory in our hearts forever.

Very few Sochaczew natives survived – however the survivors also preserved their faith in the eternal existence of our people – and they stubbornly persisted in continuing their creativity and constructive activity despite everything.

It was obvious to us even before we began collecting material for this book, that it would only be possible to collect and publish a small portion of the great sea of tears and troubles – however we have not succeeded in collecting more than this at this time.

It is also quite conceivable that we neglected to mention the names of some of the martyrs whom should have been mentioned, and to describe their lives and deaths. However, we cannot be blamed, as we were not able through any means to obtain any more information than we present here.

Pinkas Sochaczew is a communal Kaddish[2] prayer for the Jews of Sochaczew as they were, a memorial to the 5,000 pure victims, and a gravestone on their unmarked graves.

Jewish Sochaczew was viciously destroyed and its voice is silenced. Pinkas Sochaczew will transfer the melodious echo to the descendents of Sochaczew from generation to generation.

We must give our best wishes to all of those who participated in the production of this book. To our great distress, not all of the participants merited to witness the publication of this Yizkor book. Those that passed on include our dear Sochaczew natives Yaakov Friedman, Moshe Eliezer Bornstein, Pinchas Graubard, Vove Rosenberg – of blessed memories.

We remember with deep gratitude the editor A. Sh. Stein, who gave a great deal to consolidate the format of this book. He was snatched away by a cruel death in the midst of his work. It is an honor to memorialize him.

With feelings of holiness, and full of somber respect to the martyrs of our city, we present this book to our readers, with the hope that our goal to establish a monument to the former life in our city has been realized.

Tel Aviv, Shvat 5722 (1962)

{11 - Yiddish} {607 - Hebrew}

The History of the Community

(a translation and digest)

by Y. Trunk

Translated by Jerrold Landau

The Jewish community of Sochaczew is not among the oldest of Poland. It is numbered among the Jewish settlements from the middle era of Poland-Mazowsze[3]. The first official document that we have of Jews in the locality is from 1426, and its content is a debate between the “szlachta”, that is the nobleman, and the Jew of the “land” of Sochaczew.

However, there is no proof from here that Jews settled in the city only in 1426. On the contrary, the above mentioned dispute seems to indicate that there was a Jewish settlement there already predating this time. We have knowledge of Jewish settlements in the vicinity from earlier times – and all of these are links in the general trend of population settlement. (The community of Plock is an exception, as we have the first records of a community there from 1237.)

According to a survey conducted by the Starostowa (mayor) of Sochaczew in 1599, the Jews of the city owned twenty houses. If we estimate that four families lived in each house, the Jewish Population at that time would be 320 people (with an estimate of four people per family).

Twenty years later, in 1620, there were already 22 houses, which would translate to a population of 352, approximately. Mention is already made of a synagogue in the survey of 1599.

We have in our possession records of the Jewish population of 1,349 in Sochaczew and environs from 1765.

In 1800, the Jewish population numbered 972 souls, and eight years later – 1,085. In 1827 – the population was 2,322 souls, in 1857 – 2,936, and at the end of 1897 – 3,776. To sum up, the population increased fourfold in ninety years. According to the census of 1921, the Jewish population of the city was 2,419 souls. The reduction in population was due to the First World War. At the outbreak of the Second World War, the population was 4,000.

Year Jewish Population Total Population[4] % Jews
1599 320 (approx.)
1620 352 (approx.)
1765 1,349 (including environs)
1808 1,085 1,342 80.8
1827 2,322 3,142 73.9
1857 2,936 3,848 76.3
1897 3,776 5,763 65.5
1908 4,520 6,397 70.6
1921 2,419 5,070 47.7
1931 10,800
1939 4,000

The facts in this table prove that –

1) From the 17th century, the Jewish population grew continuously, in particular during the last quarter of the 19th century. Between 1857 and 1897, the population grew by 28.6%. The city was almost completely destroyed in the First World War, due to the battles that were fought along the Bzura.

2) Nevertheless, in relation to the non-Jewish population, there is a continuous relative decrease of the Jewish population. At the beginning of the 19th century, the Jews were 80.8% of the population, in the middle (1857) – 76.3%, in 1897 – 65.5 %, and in 1921 – 47.7%. This was a general trend in Poland at that time.

There are few sources about the economic activity of the Jews. During the 16th century, the Jews were mainly occupied in credit activities – granting loans with interest to Christians, noblemen, and other Jews. There were regulations that set out the conditions of the loans, and were meant to protect the lender.

It appears that the role of Jews in business was very small. We do not find mention of them in the list of taxpayers and in the international fairs. However, at the beginning of the 18th century, a large tannery began to operate.

The Jews of Sochaczew paid a special tax to the Starostowa (mayor), over and above their general taxes. Each Easter, the Jewish homeowners supplied a liter of pepper, and the renters supplied one half a liter. From this, we can deduce that they lived in the area that belonged to the fortress, and were under the jurisdiction of civic law.

In 1599, we know of two Jewish royal stewards from Sochaczew – Michael and Mordechai (Marek) the sons of Shlomo. At the beginning of the 17th century, there was a Jewish physician named Felix.

Sochaczew belonged to region of Greater Poland, according to the Jewish organizational structure.

Sochaczew was represented at the first congress of the communities of Greater Poland that is known to us, that is the congress of 1519 that dealt with the division of national taxes for the years 1519-1521 at the rate of 200 guilder annually.

The physician (or rabbi) Yaakov was one of the five regional parnassim (administrators) appointed for tax collection.

In 1569, Sochaczew was counted among 33 communities of Greater Poland, the income of which, to the tune of fifty guilder per year, was granted by King Zygmunt August to one of the members of his court.

As it was a small community, it did not fill a recognizable role in the activities of the regional council, however the regional council convened there more than once.

Reb Moshe Sochaczewer, a Sochaczew native, was known as “A parnas and leader in the region of Poznan” in the latter half of the 17th century. His son-in-law Rabbi Meir Eisenstat, known as the “Panim Meorot”[5], praised him in the introduction to his book for his role in saving 24 people who were convicted on false charges.

Justice in Sochaczew (1556-1557)

Natural disasters, such as fires and epidemics, affected Sochaczew, as did man-made disasters, such as blood libels, destruction, and wars.

One such blood libel cost three Jews of Sochaczew their lives, and started a wave or persecutions against Jews of the entire region.

Four Jews – Beinish the sexton, his son Yaakov, and the two brothers Yosef and Yaakov Socha (during the court case, their father Tritel was also indicted), were convicted in April 1556 (on the eve of Passover) on the count that one of them – the sexton – enticed a Christian woman, Dorota Lawancka (or Lazancka) to steal the host from the nearby village church, which they then purchased for the price of three Taller and a piece of cloth[6]. Afterward, they were accused of piercing the host and collecting the blood in a vessel… They were imprisoned together with their wives in the Plock fortress (with the exception of Beinish, who was imprisoned in the Sochaczew jail) and subject to severe interrogation by the interrogators of the diocese. They were not able to stand up to their oppressors and were sentenced to death. The sentence was carried out, and the only one saved was Yaakov, the son of Beinish who escaped. Prior to this, they executed the Christian woman Dorota. The bodies of the three who were executed in Plock were hung until January 1557. After the intervention of the king, the bodies were turned over to the community of Plock. The king, who was a fine but weak person, did not intervene, even though the Christian woman confessed before her death that the accusation was false, which was made only because of her desire for revenge.

After the conviction became known, persecutions against the Jews took place in all areas of Mazowsze [3]. Many were imprisoned and killed. Only later, on June 3rd, 1556, did the king issue an edict in the form of “an iron letter”[7], to protect the lives and property of the Jews.

Nevertheless, the persecutions did not stop, and king was forced to issue other such “iron letters”, and made it clear that the confessions of the accused were extracted by torture.

Representatives of the Jews, who were leaders of the community of Plock then appeared before the king in person to complain against the regional rule Rawe and the mayor of Sochaczew, who broke the law, trampled on the rights of the Jews, mocked the edicts of the king, extracted confessions from their victims via torture, and sentenced them to death. On January 15th, 1557, the royal court of law decreed that the accused were free from any wrongdoing, and that from now on, any case against the Jews with regard to desecration of Christian holy objects or blood accusations must only be tried by the royal court.

In 1619, the community of Sochaczew had another martyr, who was sentenced to death for the “murder” of a Christian child.

During the war between Poland and Sweden (1656-1657), the city was besieged by the enemy, and the fortress was destroyed by fire. We assume that the community was destroyed.

With all this, there was no shortage of disputes between the Jews and Christians in the area of economic competition.

Jews of Sochaczew tended to move to the capital city of Warsaw. In 1765, there were 8 families from Sochaczew (39 people) in Warsaw, and in 1781, there were 27 families (61 people). In 1784 (after the temporary expulsion from Warsaw), there were 5 families (16 people), and in 1792, there were 10 families (35 people).

Since the community of Warsaw did not have its own cemetery until 1806, they would bring the dead for burial in Sochaczew or Grodzisk.

The Jewish court of law in Warsaw issued a decision that if a Jew was brought for burial to Sochaczew, the heirs would have to pay 1/3 of the burial cost – 18 red coins.

The administrator of the cemetery of Prague[8] was a Jew from Sochaczew, Shimon the son of Natan. His salary was 6 guilder per week. He was the trusted advisor and aid to the leader Shmuel Zwitkower.

The community of Sochaczew financially assisted the revolt of Kosciuszko[9], as did other communities. The community collected 300 guilder for this purpose. The Jews showed patriotism to their land.

The Prussian occupation (from the partition of Poland in 1795 until 1807) was filled with decrees against the Jews. Included with these decrees was the requirement to obtain a permit for marriage, which was only granted with proof of age and property ownership.

Yochanan, a Jew from Sochaczew, was well known as a surgeon and the local obstetrician. His son Levi Noelson completed his studies in medicine in Frankfurt auf Oder. Two young men of Sochaczew completed their studies at the rabbinical seminary of Warsaw in January 1830 – that institution was regarded at that time as a bastion of heresy. [10]

{64 - Yiddish} {612 - Hebrew}

The Voice and the Echo

by Eliezer Sztejnman

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Between Kotzk and Sochaczew

Translator's note: This long section extends from page 612 627. Only the first half of this section was translated, up to page 619. This section is not written from a historical perspective, but rather presents in a lengthy fashion the spiritual foundations of the leader of Sochaczew Hassidism. It is somewhat repetitive, very esoteric, and replete with mystical innuendoes, Kabalistic thoughts, and spiritual messages. This translation hardly does it justice, however it is included here as it does present to the reader a glimpse of the mindset of the sublime form of Hassidism that was represented by Rabbi Avraham of Sochaczew. Note that the other sections of the Hassidic dynasty of Sochaczew, which immediately follow this section, are not written in the same style, are much easier to read, and present a more historical viewpoint of the Hassidic dynasty of Sochaczew.

i. The Sochaczew Version of Hassidism

The Besht[11] was born in 5460 (1700), and Rabbi Avraham of Sochaczew died in 5670 (1910). For approximately two hundred years, the banner of the kingdom of Hassidism fluttered in the heights of the people of Israel, and the wellspring of Hassidism flowed and spread out in the deepest recesses of Jewish existence. In Kotzk they used to say: "until the Holy Jew[12]all of Hassidism was explained by the teachings of the Besht, and from the time of the Holy Jew and onwards all of Hassidism was explained by Pshischa". It is possible to state that Rabbi Avraham of Sochaczew was the last expositor of the house of Pshischa, that is to say of Hassidism in general. The Holy Jew died in 5574 (1804). We have before us two timeframes, from 5460 until 5574, and from 5574 until 5670. There were approximately one hundred years in each timeframe. Just as the Holy Jew was the first prince of Pshischa, Rabbi Avraham was the final prince.

The kingdom of Hassidism spread over our heads a firmament of lofty souls and spread before us a mosaic of lofty Jews; the rabbis were referred to only as wonderful Jews in conversations among Jews in the entire Jewish Diaspora. The Hassidim did not praise their rabbis because they were erudite and great scholars, and also not because they were workers of portents and miracles. In the study hall of Pshischa there was no talk of miracles or signs. They used to say "signs and miracles on the land of Ham[13], only Ham goes after miracles but rather each Jew praised his rabbi that he was a fine Jew, a proper and G-d fearing Jew. There is no higher praise than being considered G-d fearing. What is wisdom worth without the precursor to wisdom[14]? What is the praiseworthiness of wisdom? Even the Satan (lehavdil)[15] and the evil inclination, Heaven forbid, can engage in great learning of they so desire, and can have great power in Torah debates. Therefore the purpose of everything is good deeds. Of course, someone with fine character traits will also excel in Torah and wisdom. For a master of fine character traits, his Torah knowledge will also be a fine character trait, and all of intentions will be for its sake, for the honor of Torah. A proper and upright Jew will also have a straightforward intellect, and will not convolute his reasoning, but will rather always be diligent in pursuing the truth.

It is not, Heaven forbid, that the Hassidim did not consider the Torah to be at the pinnacle of the world of Israel, but rather they attempted to learn with love and modesty, and not for the purposes of pride, and certainly not for the purposes of instigating disputes, or to be able to claim that they possessed the title of Rabbi. Since the Hassidim did not extol a sharp wit in its own right, and did not consider the accumulation of knowledge to be a fitting cause for honor, they attained a reputation among the opponents to Hassidim as well as among those who were neutral that their rabbis were not diligent in Torah learning, and were not masters of Torah (with my apologies to their honor for stating this). It is difficult to disprove wisdom that is passed down from person to person via tradition and constant repetition. The world may ask questions, provide excuses, and suspect however the suspicions of the world are of no value. A faulty idea such as this is destined to become popular and be passed down from generation to generation. Thus did think members of the community who were not expert in even the minute part of the Torah of the Hassidic teachers. They believed that this was the truth, and that there was no point in disproving the matter. However in truth, even in a place where nobody protests the lie, a person himself will not budge from his opinion. The truth is that the great Hassidic teachers were almost without exception prominent sages. Were not all the rabbis experts in Torah? This was not only two for the rabbis, but also for almost all of the Admorim[16] who was an expert in Hassidism was also an expert in the revealed[17] Torah, with the exception of a very small number of the famous Tzadikim who were not great Torah scholars. Many people already had denigrated the Besht himself, and minimized his knowledge of the revealed Torah, only for the reason that he did not want to publicize his great knowledge of the revealed Torah. In truth, he was sharp and expert in all areas of Torah. One cannot find a statement from him that is not full of innuendoes to a verse of the Torah or a statement of the sages of blessed memory. His eyes scanned all of Jewish law and lore, and he was very familiar with the Zohar, the Shela, Maimonides' commentary on the Mishna, books of exposition and books of character refinement[18]. In short, he was a great sage, while at the same time a cautious sage, terrified and frightened that people should find out about the extent of his erudition. He was not only pious, acting beyond the letter of the law, but he also studies his books with greater care than was customary. He was public in his Hassidism but private in his Torah. The two very great students of the Besht, pillars of the teachings of Hassidism, the author of "Toldot" and the Maggid of Mezerich were prior to their embracing of Hassidism, lions in the council of the scholars. Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, a student and associate of the Besht, was also a great sage. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, the Maggid of Koznitz, rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg, the author of "Haflaah", Rabbi Elimelech, and it goes without stating Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the Holy Jew, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, Rabbi Chaim of Tzanz, Rabbi Avraham of Czechnow, as well as many other Admorim of the early and late period were all outstanding scholars.

Now go forth and learn: how great was the level of Rabbi Avraham of Sochaczew in Torah, in that he had the title of Gaon even among the Misnagdim [19], who desired to decisively remove the crown of Torah from the Hassidim. Those that argued did not argue with Rabbi Avraham. All of them stated in unison that he was the elite of the geniuses. His sun already shone brightly as a wonder child. He was a wonderful navigator through the sea of Talmud, Jewish Law, and responsa throughout all his days until his old age. We do not at all have to prove his greatness in Torah, however it can be said about him that in the same way as you can find his greatness in Torah, you can also find his greatness in the teachings of Hassidism.

Some people have their greatness revealed through their revelations of new methodologies in Torah, wisdom, actions, or character traits. There are other great people, who are even superior to the aforementioned, who do not present us with any new ideas, and who in all routine matters appear to be average, however their great praiseworthiness is in that they do not invite praise upon themselves by strange mannerisms and exceptional deeds. On the contrary, they restrain themselves, behave discreetly, and conduct themselves with simplicity. They are diligent in their judgements, and diligent as well in the trait of grace that surrounds them. They are modest, discreet, and go about without fanfare. Apparently, they repeat over old matters, but with a novel charm. They do not formulate their own doctrine therefore they do not follow their own systematic method, but rather they march to their own tune. They are very careful not to separate themselves from the community. They hide themselves, and even hide their own state of concealment. It is wondrous that they do not go after wonders, lest they enchant the masses and cause actions that are not sanctioned by law. Such completely modest people are found in the midst of the community of Hassidim, and among the teachers of Hassidism. They always found for themselves a shadow in which to hide and stand off to the side, to hide for days and years under the canopy of the tallis of the rabbi, even when they themselves had already reached the top of the ladder and were fitting to lead a congregation. They would say: it is not for us to influence, it would be sufficient that we would be worthy of receiving influence. A proper Jew flees from the position of leadership as long as he is not forced into it.

Rabbi Avraham of Sochaczew, who was as great in Torah as he was in Hassidism, spent many years under the cloak of the Kotzker, and he also relied on the rest of his rabbis. He spent seven years in the house of his father-in-law Menachem Mendel, and he learned Torah and fine character from him. After the death of the Kotzker, he subordinated himself to the "Chidushei Harim". Afterwards, he cleaved to Rabbi Henech of Alexander. He used to say: "all my days I suckled from Kotzk". At the Bar Mitzvah feast of his grandson, he stated: "until this day I have not forgotten even one word from what I had learned in Kotzk". He was of fine character, he made himself small and always had a superior rabbi from whom he could gain influence. He was not only a master of fine character traits and modesty, but he also had a sharp mind, was mighty and was a master over his inclinations. It took a large measure of might to fulfil for himself the verse "do not awaken or stir up the love until the desirable time"[20]. That is, to restrain the brimming wellspring for himself until the appropriate time, to gain knowledge, to know how to investigate and deliberate, and even so to restrain his mouth. Rabbi Avraham of Sochaczew was blessed with a large measure of the power of silence and the trait of humbleness.

Once the Rabbi of Kotzk, who was already well on in years, said about him: "I never saw someone as mighty as him even amongst ten thousand brave warriors. The physicians cannot imagine what type of proper vessel laden with might he is unto me." This statement was made about the fourteen-year-old prodigy just after his marriage, and at that time he was dangerously ill with jaundice. Indeed, he was dangerously ill all of his life, however the illness did not in any way drain his power for Torah. This was so much the case that the Hassidim used to say of him that he lives and breathes through the power of the Kotzker lung, that is to say, in the merit of the blessing given to him by the Kotzker he was able to live even though his own lungs were weak by nature. The admiration of Rabbi Menachem Mendel with regard to the might of his illustrious son-in-law also applied, in an even greater measure, to his spiritual power. Rabbi Avraham was a mighty man in all of his ways. He was mighty in thought and deed, in his conceptual prowess and the modesty of his spirit, in his diligence in Torah and his immersion in Hassidism, in his new ideas on Torah and in his novel mannerisms. His most admirable characteristic was his powerful ability to master his various powers, some of them contradictory to each other, and to bind them together in a pleasant manner, so that they would not oppose or struggle with each other. He made great peace in the depths of his soul. His multi-facetedness brought him to unity. The contradictions, which would have been apparent in others, presented a vision of wholesomeness in him. He possessed nobility without stuffiness. He had an enthusiastic spirit without being bitter. Even though he was humble, he was not downcast. His spirit was not oppressive. Rather than being weak minded, he was always of clear mind and settled. His ideas wee clear, and he was pure in his deeds. Even when he was broken hearted, he did not lose his reason or his hope. In this area he was opposite of his father-in-law, his revered rabbi and teacher. The Rabbi of Kotzk was almost not in the realm of flesh and blood, he was like a mass of black gall, a living embodiment of existential despair. The Rabbi of Kotzk was like a type of adversary, whom no detractor could touch at all anything that belonged to him, no foreign army could smite his disciples by sword, he was a man of G-d who could not set fire to his sheep and cattle and nevertheless, the wrath of G-d was poured upon him, for the creator of the world sent fire to his bones, overtook his spirit with a great wandering, and brought trembling to all the recesses of his soul. Rabbi Menachem Mendel stood in solitude for many years, trembling and fearful in the midst of the congregation and community. The holy flock of Hassidim surrounded him, pining and waiting for their holy rabbi to speak to them some words of comfort, or even some words of wrath and indignation which would be as bitter as gall and as tough as sinews, just not to leave them on their own. He stood in front of them startled and pensive, for the most part mute without word, with only grumbling coming from his mouth, or a shout or cold curse from his lips. Even Rabbi Avraham, the youth he fostered and the child of his delights, stood in fear and trepidation in his presence, relying on him and hoping that he would utter something. However, Rabbi Avraham did not tremble. The quaking did not affect his soul. He was calm externally, and perhaps even internally, for apparently the trait of peacefulness was his lot from Above. Is not such a sublime grace, which was guarded in him throughout all difficult times, a wondrous thing?

Rabbi Avraham appears to us as a type of wonder within a wonder. He always remained as the embodiment of purity and might, yet nevertheless Kotzk was the root of his soul and the traditions of Kotzk his birthright. He suckled from Kotzk. Nevertheless Kotzk flowed with blood, but with him the blood was uprooted and turned into good milk. His soul flowed with milk and honey.

This was a tale of two people, who were both walking on the same path designated for very special people, and one of them went out on a path on his own. This was a path that was already trodden by many before him. However, the path of the many, which is walked on without any specific intention, following established custom, is not similar to the path of the many which is reached after exploration and searching. Rabbi Avraham went out from the remorse to the level-headedness, and from the isolation to the community, to public prayer to communal life, and to the spreading of Torah as the head of the Yeshiva before the community of his students. Even greater than this, during the years that Rabbi Avraham lived with his father-in-law, that is until the death of Rabbi Menachem Mendel, the Kotzker would teach his students the ways of isolation and separation from the community. It would come to pass that the Hassidism would flock to their Rabbi and stand before him waiting and imploring him for his words. At that time, Rabbi Menachem Mendel would say to his son-in-law: "Go and see, my son Avraham, what has happened to me. In my youth, when I had my full strength, I did not permit the mixed multitude to come close to me. And now look at what has happened in the end. You should be careful to always stand your ground, so that you will not G-d forbid come to this state."

Rabbi Avraham was indeed careful not to go out from the confines of isolation.  He trod in the path of Kotzk. He fled from positions of authority. He attached himself to the dust of the feet of other rabbis, so that people would not attach themselves to the dust of his feet. He stood strong in Torah, and minimized himself in Hassidism, as his Rabbi of Kotzk advised him, in order that he should not come to neglect the Torah.

The Rabbi of Kotzk examined and found that in the world there is no vessel as fitting as Rabbi Avraham to fill up with Torah. Even Rabbi Chaim of Tzanz, himself a genius in Torah, acted from the authority of the wisdom of Rabbi Avraham. For years after the death of the Kotzker, Rabbi Avraham still resided in the home of his father-in-law and gave himself over completely to Torah. He no longer had anyone to support him, and he saw poverty himself. Finally, due to the great hunger, he was forced to leave the sanctuary of Torah and accept a rabbinical position in Parczow. However, even as he sat on the rabbinic seat, the Kotzker spark overtook him, which prevented him from becoming involved with people. In order to counteract this, Rabbi Avraham attempted to become involved in communal matters, and to conduct learning sessions in the city, without showing favoritism to the trustees and parnassim.   He took hold of the trait of truth, and he was not silent for the sake of the honor of the Torah. He quickly stirred up the ire of the leaders of the community, and became an antagonist to them. As a general principal, a rabbi who is not yielding is persecuted. Rabbi Avraham, who was humble in all his ways, was forced to enter into constant controversy not only in Parczow, the first city in which he held the rabbinate, but also in all other cities in which he held the rabbinate for temporary periods. From this there is not proof at all that Rabbi Avraham imposed his authority upon the community through the strength of his opinion. A rabbi does not have to be forceful in order not to be at peace with his congregation. Even the modest and good Rabbi Levi Yitzchak suffered from persecution in several cities in which he served as the rabbi, and he had to move from one place to another due to the difficulties which came upon him, until he was accepted as rabbi in Berdichev. There, they respected him, and the name of Hassidism was made beloved by him. The same experiences came to Rabbi Avraham, who at the end of his movement from city to city finally arrived in Sochaczew, where he fortified himself with honor and greatness. It is said that he was elevated, and elevated others in his city. This proves the adage in "Pirke Avot"[21], "There is no person who does not have his place". Every person comes to his source when he comes to the city that is prepared for him due to divine providence. Just as there is a 'root soul', there is also a 'root city'. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Berdichev, Rabbi Avraham and Sochaczew, were pairs paired up from heaven. Rabbi Avraham derived joy from Sochaczew. Beauty to you, oh Sochaczew.

After Rabbi Avraham had been sorely tried through the tribulations of the rabbinate, he was chosen by the quorum of Hassidim to be their rabbi and spiritual guide. He avoided the rabbinate for many years, but in the end it caught up with him. For one whose mission is to be a shepherd to a holy flock, there is no alternative other than accepting the mission. Whether with consent or per force, there is no choice but to ascend the seat. One does not refuse the public. If one attempts to refuse, they force him. He may claim: "I do not want, I cannot, I am not fitting". One answers him: "so want, and you will be able to, and you will be fitting. But what then? Is it your desire to be only modest, hiding among the vessels, but is that not invalid modesty? There are those who flee so that they might be pursued. It is better not to flee, and that one should not be pursued. Is it your desire to be diligent in Torah? You will be. The masses have not yet come. Will you also distance yourself from the individuals?" One may try to desist… there are many excuses. However it comes down to this: there is a time when a man is forbidden from separating himself from the community.

Such a time came to Rabbi Avraham. In the year 5630 (1870), this time came upon his window and said to him: "go out from your current path, become a rabbi." Rabbi Chanoch Henech of Alexander died that year. Rabbi Chanoch Henech was at peace with Kotzk, very emotional. Even more accurately: he was a chord from the Kotzk violin, a thin and fine chord. He knew how to bear the burden of the Kotzker groan, even though he did not bear the heavy headedness of Kotzk. Nevertheless, he was the continuation of Kotzk, a memory of the Kotzk movement, and a living testimony to that greatness. When Rabbi Chanoch Henech went to his eternal rest, the pillars of Kotzk shook to their foundations. In 5619 (1859) the sun of Kotzk set, and in 5630 the moon of Kotzk set. Rabbi Avraham was called to the seat. There was no other Kotzker like him in the world. Therefore, Rabbi Avraham, the dandled child of the elder Rabbi, the true ornament, should stand up to preserve the greatness of Kotzk.

The situation was slightly strange. In the study of hall of Kotzk they taught that a person is required to be fearful of the rabbinical seat, just as one is fearful of a snake or scorpion. And now the command, through the authority of Kotzk, came to Rabbi Avraham to take honor for himself and occupy the seat. Is this not contradictory to the main point? The beautiful soul should be in dread of such a situation. Nevertheless, Rabbi Avraham was in the deepest sense of good disposition, a soul that desired propriety;  he was level headed, and his spirit was even and deliberate. Rather than complicate matters, he would loosen the bonds, burn out the difficulties, and bring problems close to the mind. The Kotzker himself taught him on several occasions how to extricate himself from difficulties. He said to him: "Avraham, if it is decreed unto you that you should become a rabbi, when the day comes, lead only a small congregation. Do not turn to the masses. Get close only to the special people. Prayers ascend much better from a small quorum, and there will also be time to learn. The larger the congregation, the more neglect of Torah there will be. The glory of a Tzadik is in a small community, and in a place of the masses there is no joy and no peace for the soul."

After lengthy deliberation, Rabbi Avraham agreed to accept the yoke of the rabbinate upon himself. He explicitly made a condition that he should be the rabbi of a small group of Hassidim, and that anyone who is not diligent in Torah should not become close to him, and that they should let him lead a large Yeshiva, and not take him away from the study of the Torah by spending time around the table, and requests for advice. At that time, a new leader came into the world of Hassidism, and he set out on his path, which was not yet trodden, but was later trodden by other people. To be more accurate, a new style of Hassidism arose, that of Sochaczew. The style of a leader and Rabbi, head of a Yeshiva and Admor, all in one body, the style of Hassidim who sit before their Tzadik in the tent of Torah. This was an innovation, whose foundation was in the unique way of Kotzk, with the enthusiasm of Kotzk for isolation, with the desire of the Kotzkers for a sublime and exalted Hassidism, ennobled by exalted people, special people of noble character, all beloved and clear, masters of sublime and exalted intellects. The way of Kotzk was thus: with thunder and lightning, indignation and strong emphasis, being brazen toward heaven, knocking on the locked gate, presenting complaints before the Master of the World, by debating and litigating with Him and with man who was created in His image: with a great shout, calling out incessantly: arise, awaken, become alert, shine. However, the style of Sochaczew was quiet and deliberate, without fanfare or force, without a stormy wind, but rather with the power of Torah and with peace. Perforce, if anger and bitterness ascend like a ladder to heaven in a holy manner toward the sky, even more so would the Torah, whose ways are ways of pleasantness, would serve as a ladder to the heavens. This was the style of Sochaczew, which did not come at all to contradict Kotzk, but rather came out of Kotzk as an infant from its mother's womb. Rabbi Avraham did not at all come to argue, to define a new path, for this was the path from old. A simple person cannot be righteous. It is assumed that a righteous person would have been taught well. Whomever is not immersed in Torah, how could he be immersed in Hassidism? Who is a Hassid? Someone of refined character and there is nothing as refined as Torah. The Torah teaches us to be wise and good. It plants in us the love of righteousness and uprightness, graciousness and truth. And behold, these are the traits which glorify the Hassidim. Rabbi Avraham would say that there are many paths in the worship of the Creator. The best of them all is the study of Torah. Only the Torah can open the gates of light, and instill in us the heavenly influence. Rabbi Avraham held the opinion that above all levels is the level of receiving divine influence. The learning of Torah is what helps one receive this influence. He who learns Torah will become a vessel that collects, for he will expend much energy in understanding the hidden and revealed aspects of it. You might ask as to why we say in the blessings of the Torah "He who gives the Torah" rather than "gave" in the past tense. That is because the Torah is given on a constant basis. As it says "From the desert it was given as a gift". We dwell in the desert, and if it were not for the Torah that stands before us we would die of thirst. The sages said: "Anyone who sits and learns Torah, the Holy One Blessed Be He sits and learns with him." Due to the exercise of learning, a divine influence comes upon him at all times. The Torah is constant. As long as a Jew sits and learns, he is in the category of those who receive Torah, of course he cannot come to haughtiness at such a time. The Torah teaches us modesty. From the source of modesty all other good traits flow. A haughty person cannot be upright. A haughty person does not even have a straight intellect, since his mind is always scheming. A true learned person is truly modest. The Torah is the pillar of light in our paths.

Rabbi Avraham never ceased to speak of the praise of Torah study. He who learns Torah sees the world through the eyes of a freeman, and is saved from fear due to strange thoughts and evil contemplation. He who learns Torah inherits joy. The primary aspect of the commandment to learn Torah is to be happy and derive pleasure from one's learning. Therefore it can be said about him, that he came to renew Hassidism in the light of Torah. There were many learned Hassidim and rabbis who were expert in Torah. However only Rabbi Avraham made the Torah into the coat of many colors for Hassidism, and was diligent to pour into the Kiddush cup of Hassidism wine that was steeped in Torah and to fill the cup to the brim. He did not say that it is sufficient to have a little Torah, but rather he aspired to an abundance of Torah. The aim of his soul was to dig a deep well for Torah from which water would come out for the many, that the knowledge of Torah would fill the souls of his Hassidim as water to a large sea. Great lovers love the object of their love with great love, and therefore they aspire to attain a great amount, not only Torah itself, but also the sea of Torah. The Torah is compared to fire and this fire quenches other fires. This was the main point of the Hassidism of Sochaczew. The Torah is a tree of life and the potion of life, a medicine for all ills. In Kotzk there was a frightful wound that was not healed. He left after him broken hearts, tormented spirits, downtrodden souls, who were more pained due to their knowledge. The style of Sochaczew prepared for the trembling of Kotzk a healing remedy of old, whose power is always new: the light of Torah. However, this light was blended with the light of Hassidism. Just as there is fire on top of fire, there is also light on top of light. Kotzk is fire on top of fire, and Sochaczew was light on top of light. He who says "light" also says "it is good"[22]. A voice came out of Kotzk: "it is bad", and Rabbi Avraham answered peacefully: "it is good"!


1. Conversos were Jews who disguised their Judaism and presented themselves externally as Christian during the time of the Spanish Inquisition, while secretly maintaining their Judaism. The term Marranos is often used for these people, however it has been deemed inappropriate as it originated as a derogatory term meaning “pig”. The reference here is to Jews who disguised themselves as Christians in order to survive the Holocaust. Return

2. Kaddish (literally “sanctification”) is among other functions in the daily Jewish prayer services, is recited by mourners in memory of dead relatives. It affirms the meaningfulness of life and Jewish belief despite loss. Return

3. Mazowsze, known in English as Mazovia or Masovia, is the Polish province surrounding and including Warsaw. Return

4. The column heading, which I have translated as 'Total Population', is actually 'Non-Jewish Population' in the original. However, the percentages given are actually the percentage of column 2 (Jewish Population), in relation to column 3. Since the percentage column is entitled “% of Jews', I interpreted the third column as being the general population (Jews + non-Jews), in order to make the statistic meaningful. The percentage of Jews relative to the non-Jews is a meaningless statistic, whereas the percentage of Jews relative to the general population is a meaningful statistic, and is probably what was intended. If the third column was indeed the non-Jewish population, then the % in column 4 should have been calculated by (column 2 / (column 2 + column 3), rather than column 2 / column 3. This footnote also applies to point 2 below the table. Return

5. Literally “Face of Splendor”. Often Rabbinical leaders who published significant works were known by the title of their major publication. Return

6. This is describing a classic medieval style of blood libel, known as the 'desecration of the host'. Jews were accused of obtaining a 'host' (a wafer used in Church services, which according to Christian tradition, acts as a 'host' to the body of Jesus), piercing it so that it would exude blood (obviously a fictitious charge, but based on the Christian belief that the wafer actually contains an embodiment of Jesus), and using the blood for the baking of matza (unleavened bread) for Passover. This is a variant on the more common blood libel, where Jews were accused of murdering a Christian child so that they could use the blood for the baking of matza for Passover. These types of libels were the cause of untold suffering for the Jews of Europe during the middle ages. Return

7. An iron letter is a document protecting one's right to travel or reside in a given area. Return

8. Most probably, this refers to Prague, the capital of Bohemia (currently the capital of the Czech republic), but it may possibly be referring to the Polish town Praga. Return

9. Tadeusz Kosciuszko was a Polish general who led “Powstanie Kosciuszkowskie” – the Kosciuszko uprising against the Russian oppressor. Kosciuszko is well known in the United States for his contribution, together with General Pulaski, during the War of Independence. Return

10. The Hebrew word used here is Apikorsut, which roughly translates as heresy or religious skepticism, although the full flavor of the word cannot be described in English. The word derives from the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who was well known for his philosophic outlook on life that stressed unbridled enjoyment of this world, since there is no future world. The Jewish concept of heresy took its name from Epicurus. This seminary must have been known at the time for a liberal outlook on religion. Return

11. The acronym of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidism. Return

12. From the context, this is referring to Rabbi Simcha Bunem of Pshischa, the founder of the Pshischa dynasty of Hassidism. Return

13. "He Who performed signs and miracles in the land of Ham" is a quote from the daily evening (maariv) service, referring to G-d's sending of plagues and performance of miracles in Egypt at the time of the exodus. The ancient Egyptians were descended from Ham, the son of Noach. Here this phrase is lifted from the maariv service and its meaning is altered to indicate that the performance of miracles and signs are not appropriate for the Jewish leaders. Other Hassidic groups were very involved in the performance of miracles, and this was obviously a point of debate. Return

14. A reference from the daily morning (shacharit) service: "The precursor to wisdom is fear of G-d". Return

15. The interjection 'lehavdil' appears here. This is used when talking about a bad subject just after talking about a sublime idea. Here the Satan is referred to just after a reference to the fear of G-d. Return

16. An Admor is a Hassidic master. Admorim is the plural. Return

17. The revealed Torah generally refers to the study of the Bible, Talmud, and Jewish law. Hassidism stresses study of the 'hidden Torah', which refers to Kaballah and mysticism. Return

18. Various traditional books of Jewish wisdom. The Zohar is the main book of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah), and the Shela was a medieval commentator. Return

19. Misnaged, plural Misnagdim, are the opponents of Hassidism. Return

20. A verse from the Song of Songs. Return

21. Pirke Avot is the Mishnaic tractate "Chapters of the Fathers" or "Ethics of the Fathers", which is an anthology of saying of the sages, primarily about the topic of character refinement. Return

22. A reference from Genesis, where G-d created light, and then said that the light was good. Return

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