Stropkov is the name of the shtetl where I was born and where I spent my childhood days. There were about 300 Jewish families in Stropkov and with the help of the Almighty and thanks to the Liberal Austrian Government with Franz Joseph as King, Jews enjoyed a peaceful Jewish communal life for over one hundred years. Then came the destructive Satan, the Germans, may their name be obliterated, who in a brutal way killed all of the Jews and for us the beloved shtetl of Stropkov does not exist anymore. Because the memories of my youth and of my birthplace, the Shtetl Stropkov, are dear to me and also its people whom I cannot forget, I have always waited hoping to hear that someone has written a book describing the life there so that the sacred memories of us shall not be forgotten. This would also serve to perpetuate our name for coming generations so that our beloved shtetl Stropkov will be counted among the other Jewish towns and shtetlach whose fate was similar. Unfortunately, I haven't heard from anyone that something was done about this. I have thought, as our sages have taught us, "Where there aren't any men then you try to be one." Thus I have taken upon myself to fulfill this duty. I pray to G-d that he will help me do the best because my strength is limited.
My knowledge of all that has transpired in Stropkov in past years I was able to gather and absorb because I was brought up by my grandfather and grandmother Reb Yehuda and Toibe Weinstein, may peace be with them. In their house the neighbors conducted services every Friday night, welcoming the Shabbes, Sholosh Seudos (Sabbath afternoon meal) and also Melave Malke, a meal at the end of the Sabbath to accompany its departure.
I have heard many stories told by righteous Jews, I have also heard of many happenings that took place in Stropkov during various times. Also of certain things which they lived through and (things they) heard about from others that happened in Stropkov at various times in bygone years.
My loving and dear Bobbe Toibe, of blessed memory, enjoyed talking to me and telling stories of past years. She felt that the time is not far off when I will leave her. My father, her only son, was not able to support his family so he left for America. Three years later my mother and the children left but I stayed on with my Bobbe and Zaide.
Before my mother left for America she asked the Shinever Rebbe, Reb Yechezkele Halbershtam, of blessed memory, if she should also take me to America. He advised her to leave me with my Zaide and Bobbe so that I will be able to study. My dear Bobbe took it upon herself to watch over me and raise me in her home. I know how hard this was for her but she undertook this as a labor of love.
After my Bar Mitzvah she felt that it was time for me to join my parents. She sat with me, spoke to me and asked of me not to forget her. All that she said to me remained in my memory.
I got the material of the very early years of the community of Stropkov from a book entitled, "Toldot Ish Ha- 'Yod'", whose author was the revered and learned Rabbi Avraham Meir Izrael, may he have a long and good life.
I hope that my short account will be appreciated by those who come from Stropkov and by all to whom the name Stropkov has meaning.
To my distinguished Landsleit I was motivated to write about Stropkov only for the sake of a mitzvah, without any ulterior motive. Only after great physical effort did I succeed in writing and mentioning the type of Jew that came from Stropkov, whose grandfather and great grandfather lived there, so that he should know his roots and this will serve as his honored credentials.
He will also have something to Pass on to his children, after 120 years so that they should know where they are from and also know the family tree of their parents and who they were. There were among them revered and dear Jews who were known in the world as sons learned in the Torah and men of good deeds.
I have also succeeded, Thank G-d, that there shall be included in this book a letter from the Shinever Tzadik, written in his own hand so that even Jews who do not come from Stropkov, but who are Chassidim, will also enjoy having the book in their homes because the rabbis of Stropkov were world famous tzadikim. As far as Shinever Chassidim are concerned, they will certainly value and cherish having such a treasure in their home.
After a few years of successful work and research I found that I am being confronted with certain difficulties that will have to be overcome before printing this book. First, I wanted the book to be printed only by religious Jews. In addition to this I did not want to print more copies than the demand required. I soon found that the cost would run into thousands of dollars.
I hope that you will not suspect me of looking to profit personally from this venture because there are also additional expenses involved other than the cost of printing.
This type of work is usually undertaken by various
groups or societies. While I have taken this upon myself I do expect that
among our Landsleit there will be some who will feel that it is also their
responsibility to help by contributing to this project.
Note to the reader:
Avraham Avish HaCohenWeinstein was born in Stropkov but lived there only until 1914, when he joined his family in America. He wrote the Stropkov Memorial Book, an undocumented compendium of his memories, nearly half a century later. Given the time between the events and the actual writing, it is not surprising to find a number of inaccuracies in the text. Former Stropkover Herbert Tuchman has kindly supplied the corrections, which can be found at the end of this translation. Please note, as well, that this is not a traditional yizkor book, since it does not cover the Holocaust years, nor does it list those who perished during that time.
Stropkov was a small town in the county of Zemplein, in old Hungary. After world war I it was annexed to Czechoslovakia.
The general Jewish population in those days was approximately that of three hundred families but the name Stropkov was known throughout a large part of Austria as well as in Hungary because of its famous rabbis, scholars and tsadikkim. Stropkov was also famous because of its religious community which consisted of honest and learned people and men of good deeds.
Geographically the town was located about four miles from the border town Mezilovritz which was already on the Hungarian side. In those days this was the end of the line for trains from Austria as well as the last stop for trains from Hungary. The passengers who wanted to continue on with their journey from Austria to Hungary had to transfer from the Austrian train to the Hungarian train. Also, those who wanted to continue on with their journey from Hungary to Austria had to transfer to the Austrian train.
In those days, Stropkov was the second city in Hungary in that area.
The date of the founding of the Jewish community of Stropkov is unknown because the archives of the community were destroyed. This happened around the year 1905. Until that year, Jews as well as non-Jews who did not want their sons to serve in the army would go to Dr. Greenfeld who kept records of vital statistics such as dates of births and deaths. He would make the necessary changes to that the young men would avoid serving in the army. This went on for many years until around 1904 when someone informed the authorities. When a committee came to investigate the matter they found that all the records has been destroyed. The Jewish community lived in fear but with the help of the Almighty and much effort the community emerged absolved.
The old tombstones in the Jewish cemetery of Stropkov bear witness to the fact that Jews lived there since the 1600's.
In the year 1740 the wicked Queen Maria Theresa of Austria issued an edict prohibiting Jews from living in the city. The Jews were in a sad predicament, but an arrangement was worked out whereby the government would allow Jews to settle in another town known as Tisenitz.
Tisenitz was located in an area about two villages behind Stropkov. Jews settled in this small village and carried on with their communal life until the year 1800, when permission was granted to them to return and live in the city.
The entire Jewish community resettled that same year in the city and built their first synagogue. On one of the walls of the synagogue there was a stone memorial plaque with the names of the founders engraved upon it: Reb Leib Rosenberg, Reb Mendel Neiman and Reb Avraham Gerhart.
The first rabbi of Stropkov was Rabbi Moshe Scheinfeld,of sainted memory. His name is mentioned in the responsa of the Chasam Sofer. He left Stropkov in the year 1820 and became the Rabbi of Voronov. He was well thought of and highly respected there (as well). He passed away in the 1826.
The second rabbi was the famous Gaon and Tsadik (scholar and saint) Rabbi Yekusiel Yehudah Teitlebaum, of sainted memory, the son of the Drovitsher Rebbe, Rabbi Elezer Nissan of sainted memory, the son of the Baal Yismach Moshe of sainted memory. He was elected to this post about the year 1835.
Rabbi Yekusiel Teitlebaum, of sainted memory, was famous as a scholar and preacher. He was the author of many books,among them Yitav_Lev, Yitav_Panim, Rav_Tov and the Responsa Avnei_Tsedek. His presence in Stropkov added distinction to the town which became known far and wide also because of its inhabitants who were honest Jews, well learned and people of good deeds.
In the year 1841, when his grandfather the Gaon and Tsaddik Rabbi Moshe Teitlebaum, the Oheler Rav, the Baal Yismach Moshe of sainted memory passed away, the community of Ohele invited his grandson, the Rabbi of Stropkov, to fill the vacant rabbinic post of his famous grandfather in the Chassidic kloiz (synagogue). After the passing of his father the Drobitsher Rav, of sainted memory, he served for a short while as the Rabbi of Drobitsh and from there he was invited to come to Siget, where he became world famous for his scholarship and Chassidic impact. He passed away on the sixth day of Elul (5643) 1883. May his guiding spirit always protect us.
During the period that Stropkov was without a rabbi, the Chassidim would travel to Tzanz to the great rabbi and holy scholar, Rabbi Chaim Halbershtam of sainted memory, the Baal Divrei Chaim. They reported to him that the town is looking for a rabbi. He told them that the heavens decreed that they Rabbi of Tertsal should fill the post of Rabbi of Stropkov. When the Chassidim returned, they related this to the leader of the community. He discussed this with the advisors and it was decided by the community leaders to elect the Rabbi of Tertsal as Rabbi of Stropkov. His name was Rabbi Chaim Yosef Gottlieb of sainted memory.
It was told that when the head of the community and his committee came to the Rabbi of Tertsal to invite him to become their rabbi, he told them that he had already heard and accepted their invitation.
The Rabbi of Tertsal, the great gaon and tsaddik, Rabbi Chaim Yosef Gottlieb of sainted memory was born in 1790. He was the son of Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh, of blessed memory. His lineage dates back to the famous rabbinic genius of the century Rabbi Yoel Gottlieb, of sainted memory, Chief Justice of the Rabbinical of Galante. From his mother's side his lineage originates from the stock of the holy Shal-Ha of Sainted memory. He was raised in the town of Krole. His father was well endowed and quite wealthy and like all other wealthy children he attended high school (gymnasium). He had private teachers who taught him Hebraic as well as secular studies. It so happened that as a young man he became very ill (Lo Aleichem) it shouldn't happen to any of you, that his life was in danger. He vowed to his maker that if he recovers he will devote his life to the study of Torah. A miracle happened and he got well. He never returned to his secular studies, but started again with his Jewish studies with great fervor. He was tutored by the finest teachers available and all admired his clear thinking ability. His name became known among the scholars and saints. He became a favored friend of the Rav of Pressburg, the Baal Chassam Sofer, of sainted memory, the Tsanzer Rebbe, the Baal Divrei Chaim, of sainted memory, and also of the Tsaddik Rabbi Mendele Rimonover of sainted memory. There were also other Tsaddikim of his generation who respected him and in whose eyes he found great favor.
When the Rabbi Chaim Yosef Gottlieb came to Stropkov the Jews knew well whom they have as a rabbi. They respected and honored him greatly. He was incidentally an elegant and imposing personality whom you could not help but admire.
He pleased all classes of Jews, both the Chassid element as well as other congregants of the synagogue.Though they followed the Ashkenazic form of worship everyone enjoyed listening to his spiritual sermons and lectures. All during the many years that he was the rabbi of Stropkov and many years afterwards as well, people would relate stories about his warmth, kindness and good deeds.
As you can see many rabbis were good friends of his and whenever he would travel to visit them they showed him much respect. The Tsanzer Rebbe, of sainted memory, once came to visit him and he was overwhelmed by his vast library. He asked him, "Tell me Stropkover Rav, with so much poverty here how could you allow yourself the luxury of such an extensive library?" The rabbi answered, "You see, whenever an itinerant scholar comes to see me regarding financial assistance, I always buy one of his books with my own money."
In the year of 1867 on Friday prior to the Sabbath of the Blessing of the month of Adar, the Rabbi of Stropkov accompanied by three of his sons visited the town of Tsanz.He went to meet the famous Divrei Chaim of sainted memory.The rabbi asked him to be seated opposite him. Both of them started to smoke, one his pipe and the other a cigar. They sat and talked for about two hours. When the Tsaddik of Tsanz got up, stretching out his hand saying, "A Guten Shabbes, Rabbi of Stropkov", Rabbi Chaim Yosef answered him,"A Guten Shabbes Tsanzer Rebbe", and in such a manner the two tsadikkim parted.
After Shabbes he returned home quite pleased, saying to his sons, "At no time have I had such a pleasant conversation with the Tsanzer Rebbe as I did this time." After the rabbi's return home, he took sick and on the Holy Sabbath, the fourth day in the month of Av, 1867 the beloved Rabbi Chaim Yosef Gottlieb, the Stropkover Rav, of sainted memory, passed away.
The funeral was attended by Jews from Hungary and Austria and all of the Jews from Stropkov were at the cemetery in Tisenitz and mourned the passing of their beloved Rav of sainted memory.
Rabbi Chaim Yosef was survived by five sons. Their names were Reb Efraim, of blessed memory, Reb Menashe of blessed memory, Reb Naftali of blessed memory, Reb Yisroel Menachem, of blessed memory and Reb Asher, of blessed memory and one daughter Miriam Gittel of blessed memory. They were all talented and great scholars. They conducted themselves in fine Chassidic tradition. The younger three married in Hungary at Galicia and the two oldest married and lived in Stropkov. Reb Efraim had two sons, Reb Getzil and Reb Leibish. Reb Getzil was a fine upright person and had a nice family, three sons and one daughter. He also had a fine income. He was the owner of a factory that manufactured carbonated water (soda), the only one in town. But his brother Leibish had a rough time supporting his family. He was a lovely person and a fine scholar. The Rav's daughter Miriam Gittel was married in Ziben Burgen. Her husband was an erudite scholar and excellent teacher.
The Rabbi's son Reb Menashe lived in Stropkov. He had a son named Reb Hersh Gottlieb. He was a neighbor of my grandfather Reb Yehudah Weinstein. Reb Hersh was a respected personality with a rabbinic appearance. The neighbors would conduct services in his home every Friday night, Shabbes afternoon, Shalosh Seudes and at night Melave Malke.
Reb Hersh Gottlieb, as far as I know had two beautiful and talented daughters. The oldest was married during Reb Hersh's lifetime. He passed away shortly afterwards and left an unmarried younger daughter by the name of Ruchame.
My grandfather, Reb Yehudah Weinstein, of blessed memory, having been a devoted friend of Reb Hersh Gottlieb would always consult him before doing anything, likewise remained devoted to the widow, the sainted Malke Gottlieb. She also consulted him whenever the need arose and he would go out of his way to help her.
Sometime later when Reb Zalmon Yosef, the father-in-law of the Dayan (rabbinical judge) became a widower, a shidduch (match) was arranged and they were married. They were quite happy together and Reb Zalman Yosef became one of my grandfather's good friends. The minyan of neighbors who used to gather at the home of Reb Hersh Gottlieb now met at mygrandfather's house.
(For more details about the life of Reb Chaim Yosef Gottlieb, of sainted memory, please refer to the book entitled, Toldos_Ish_Ha_Yod, written by Rabbi Avraham Meir Izrael, may he have a long and good life.)
In those days poverty was widespread in the towns of Galicia. Poor men, women and children would come to beg and this was a daily occurrence. Every household was prepared for this and was sure to have plenty of small coins on hand to distribute to those in need. These beggars would usually leave the same day, except for those who came late and remained overnight. Once a beggar came, slept over in the Beis Medrish and stayed on. He spent his day praying and studying and in the evening he would go out begging for a meal. He carried on in this manner for some time. He caught the attention of many people because of his extreme piety and constant studying. He did not enter into any conversation but sat and studies.
He seemed to be a pleasant and likeable person and was never turned down food by anyone. He certainly never went hungry. He finally became the son-in-law of a man named Weinberger. He sat and studies after he married as well and his in-laws continued to support the young could who were a source of much pleasure to them.
When the father-in-law passed away, the neighbors, especially the women, soon noticed that the situation was not too good. They took it upon themselves to see to it that the couple will be looked after as neither the rabbi nor his wife had any other means of support. These women of Stropkov, who were really saintly souls respected this learned rabbi and considered it a great mitzvah to support him. They looked after all of the couple's needs and would always address him with the title Rebbe. In times of stress they would consult him and ask him to pray for them. In time everyone called him Rebbe Reb Wolf, of sainted memory.
The Rebbe had a son and I also remember a grandson of his who was called Reb Wolf Yekils. He was a quiet unassuming person and very honest Jew. His wife was truly a woman of valor and a very conscientious person who also helped support the family. They also had fine talented sons.
The Rebbe Reb Wolf and the Rav, Reb Chaim Yosef,respected each other and there was a good relationship between them because the Rebbe did not mix into communal matters and rarely expressed himself regarding wordly matters. But in the years around 1840 the Hungarians rose up against the Austrian government in an effort to free herself from her reign and be independent. The Austrian government asked Russia to help her by sending Russian troops to Hungary and subdue the Hungarian hero Kavschutlayish. At that time all the Jews became very much interested as they wanted to know what would be best for them. The Rabbi Reb Chaim Yosef felt that it would be better if the Russian troops would come and the Austrians would continue to govern the Hungarians. The Rebbe Reb Wolf was of the opinion that it would be better if the Hungarians would win and be independent and that the Russians should not come to help the Austrians. It has beentold that on Erev Pesach during the baking of the Shmure Matzo, just as the matzo was being put into the oven, the Rav announced that the Russians should come in. When the matzo was done and being taken out of the oven, the Rebbe announced that the Russians should stay out.
Thank G-d this did not lead to a real clash and they continued to be good friends. At the end, the Russians did come and were victorious over the Hungarians. A compromise was reached between the Austrians and Hungarians and they got along with each other. This happened in the year 1845 and Jews lived in peace for approximately seventy-five yearsunder the Austrian Kaiser Franz Yosef.
In those days there was a Dayan in Stropkov by the name of Reb Mordechai Yitschak Samet. He was a great scholar and a very pleasant and sympathetic type of person. Everyone had great respect and admiration for him because of his sincerity. Whenever one spoke to him you were sure of his undivided attention. He showed this by the smile and warm expression on his face. The older people also enjoyed him because he always had something interesting to tell them. Because of these lovely qualities he was beloved by all classes of Jews in town.
He became a widower late in life and married my great grandmother Yehudit of Rimanov. When she cam to Stropkov she was accompanied by her two sons, Moshe and Yudel. She was truly a sainted soul. She spent her time visiting the poor and the sick. Whenever she heard of a sick person who did not have the proper nourishing food, she would supply it. In time everyone called her Bobbe Yehudit. Her youngest son was called Yudel Die Bobbens and this name remained with him to his later years. And he was the one who was my Zaide, Reb Yudel Die Bobbens.
After the Dayan Reb Mordechai Yitschak Samet of sacred memory passed away he was succeeded by Rabbi Shlomo Boruch Tannenbaum, of sacred memory, the Dayan of Stropkov. Also he was a great scholar, perpetual student and always steeped in his studies. He was also a man of few words never getting involved in wordly or political issues. His only interest was studying.
From what I have been told by Rabbi Izrael, the Tsaddik Rabbi Chaim Halbeshtam, of sacred memory, of Tsanz had great respect for Rabbi Shlomo Boruch and wanted very much for his grandchildren to study with him.
The Shinever Tsaddik would likewise advise many who came to him for advice that they should consult with Rabbi Shlomo Boruch because it would be to their advantage. Rabbi Shlomo Boruch was a student of Rabbi Yosef Charif of Zborov and a Rubschitser Chassid. He passed away around the year 1880, may his memory always be blessed.
During the period that Rabbi Shlomo Boruch was the Dayan, somewhere around the year 1845, both the Rav Rabbi Chaim Yosef of sacred memory and the Rebbe Rabbi Wolf of sacred memory were already gone. The Jews of Stropkov somehow felt that there was great need for a rabbi to bring life into the town.
During those days, Reb Hersh Friedman was the head of the local Jewish community. He was very much liked by everyone because of his fine personality, wisdom and scholarship. He was also quite wealthy and extremely charitable, one who gave very freely. He had an elegant home which one might call regal and with it all he was a good person and had find children. Everyone was anxious to learn about his feelings concerning a rabbi and he finally expressed them. He told them the good news that the Shinever Tsaddik is interested in coming to Stropkov to be the rabbi.
The Jews of Stropkov did not have any doubts about this because they felt they could put their trust in Reb Hersh Friedman. Soon enough, this is exactly what happened. The great gaon and tsaddik, Rabbi Yecheskel Schrage Halbershtam of Shineve came together with his family and trustees and they were received amidst feelings of respect and joy.
With the arrival of the Shinever Rebbe in Stropkov the appearance of the place changed considerably. It ceased to be the small shtetel of Stropkov and looked more like a larger cosmopolitan city. The rabbi had many visitors from all walks of life, of varied appearances and also from all types of places.
Wealthy Jews from Poland came and from the way they dressed and from their general appearance you could easily tell that these were successful business people. They were tall in stature and healthy looking. The rabbis who came with them were very well dressed in long silk jackets and hats made of expensive felts. The Polish Chassidim wore fur lines coats in winter time and their rabbis were dressed elegantly. the Hungarian Jews were of similar appearance. The rich Jews looked like lords, quite well dressed. The Hungarian rabbiswore frocks with wide brimmed soft felt hats and some even wore top hats.
And what a contrast with the local Chassidim wearing worn out coats, mostly torn. As for hats, they were mostly made of beaver skins, some looked fine but others not so attractive. On Shabbes morning when all of the Jews came to the Beis Medrish it looked like the return of the exiles. Seeing this spectacle for the first time the Jews of Stropkov realized that Jews are scattered among the various nations all over the world.
Everyday Jews would come and leave for home after having been lucky enough to meet with the Rebbe and give him a kvittel (personal note usually with a request). The Rebbe would then give his blessings and the Chassid, feeling that his trip was a success, was ready to return home. Many Jews were not so successful and had to remain overnight. Thus every Jewish home was willing and ready to house and feed as many as three visitors. By nature, Chassidim are not so particular about comforts at a time such as this, thus each house became a guest house.
Business among the people of Stropkov went on as usual but one could sense a special holy atmosphere in the vicinity of the synagogue and the Rebbe's home. Jews, men as well as women, had one prayer and that was to have a private audience with the Rebbe and receive his blessings before returning home. Any Jew who never experienced this personally cannot appreciate what this was like in reality, regardless of how well one would describe it.
The humming activity around the Bes Medrish morning and evening gave the people of Stropkov the feeling that they were on top of the world. This state of affairs continued until around the year 1882 when the Rebbe decided to return to Shineve.
In Stropkov there was a Jew by the name of Reb Perets Amsel who was a very honest, quiet and refined person. He was far from being a rich man. He would travel in the small villages peddling his wares among the gentiles and would often spend the night with my grandfather Reb Leib Sofer of Floteh. Reb Perets had four sons, the eldest was called Yitschak Hersh. All were fine boys and had good heads for learning. Immediately after their bar mitzvah they left to study in a yeshivah.
Reb Yitschak Hersh was the first to return home and the people couldn't get over his handsome appearance. One would only have to talk to him briefly to detect his great knowledge of the Talmud and commentaries. He received his ordination from the heads of the yeshiva where he studied as well as the gaonim of Hungary. He was a talented and brilliant speaker to whom everyone enjoyed listening. His brothers were also learned people who were ordained by the leading rabbis of Hungary. They were also men of great learning and intellect.
Reb Yitschak Hersh married the daughter of Reb Zalmon Yosef Weinberger, a most respected and wealthy man and citizen. He promised Reb Yitschak Hersh complete support so that he could continue to study without worrying about making a living. This pleased Reb Yitschak Hersh because studying meant so much to him. After his marriage he devoted all of his time to study and delved deeper into the learning of Torah. Time passed on and before long he became the father of a daughter and later on a son was added to the family and its need grew as well.
Reb Yitschak Hersh decided that now was the time to tell his father-in-law that he wanted to assume full responsibility for the support of his family. He was now ready to accept a rabbinic post wherever available and this would really make him happy. Reb Zalmon Yosef Weinberger who was one of the community leaders discussed this with the head of the community and it was agreed that Reb Yitschak Hersh should become the Dayan (Judge of the rabbinical court) of Stropkov. This news was greeted with much enthusiasm and happiness because Reb Yitschak Hersh was beloved and respected by all. Since the Shinever Rebbe Reb Yecheskelle left Stropkov, the mood in town was a sad one but with the new replacement the mood was uplifted and people were happier.
Even the dayan Reb Shloime Boruch agreed with much satisfaction because of his high opinion of Reb Yitschak Hersh, as a most deserving replacement. Reb Yitschak Hersh's brother Reb Moishe became the shochet of Ihel, Reb Eliezer became the rabbi of a town in Hungary and the youngest brother Reb Lippe, also a bright scholar, died at a young age.
With the passing of time the beloved dayan Reb Shloime Boruch of blessed memory passed away at a ripe age so Reb Hershele was chosen as an associate judge. He was the son-in-law of Reb Yudel Friedman. He sat and studied all of the time because his father-in-law promised to support him. Reb Hershele was a fine scholar who was ordained by the great gaonim and he was truly worthy and deserving of the respect given him as a dayan.
As a third dayan to hearings in the rabbinical court Reb Yitschak Hersh would invite the erudite scholar Reb Moishe Sheinfeld[Schönfeld]. He earned his living as a melamed (teacher) of young men but he was really worthy of being a dayan or a rabbi. He was a man of many talents and Reb Yitschak Hersh would spend much time with him studying.
A question arose, "Why does the town of Stropkov need three dayonim?" The answer given was that there developed in Stropkov a lucrative business of building materials as well as successful contractors with many partnerships. When it came to sharing the profits there were always differences of opinion and misunderstandings and only the rabbinical court could (decide) hand down the decision. The Jews involved were Reb Yehudah Hersh Weinberger, his brother Reb Berish Weinberger, Reb Moishe Lorber, Reb Yitschak Reich and others. They were all bright, honest Chassidic Jews but each one considered himself brighter than the others. Especially Reb Berish Weinberger, a Torah scholar who would argue with the court that according to the law he is entitled to the largest share of the profits. The Beth Din had to convince him that he is not entirely correct in his demand. These court sessions would very often wear out the judges.
General conditions in Stropkov around the year 1880 were rather normal and quiet. Every Jew carried on with his daily work and as far as community matters were concerned the Jews were quite satisfied with the mood. Reb Yitschak Hersh though he was officially the dayan, (judge of the rabbinical court) was recognized as the rabbi as well. He would often deliver sermons and lecture on profound subjects in both synagogues where he attended services on Sabbaths. The audience enjoyed him very much and the general atmosphere was quite satisfying. The head of the local community announced though, that some well known rabbis let it be known that they were interested in accepting the post of rabbi of Stropkov.
One of the rabbis was the Rav of Zborov, Harav Moshe Yosef Teitlebaum who was known to the Jews of Stropkov. His name was widely known and he enjoyed the reputation of being a great gaon and one abounding in piety. It was felt that he would bring great honor to the community were he to become its rabbit. A general meeting was held and it was decided that the revered gaon and tsaddic Reb Moish Yosef Teitlebaum was to be chosen as community together with a few trustees were off to the Rabbi and in a warm and cordial way. They notified him of the decision of the Jews of Stropkov. In return, the rabbi thanked them profusely in his own fashion and added personally blessings for the Jews of Stropkov. The day the Rabbi arrived a crowd welcomed him with song and greetings. They all entered the Beis Medrish. All those were in extremely high spirits, blessing each as befits such a festive occasion.
Life went on normally in Stropkov, each one in his own fashion. Actually though, the Jewish community of Hungary was in fear of war. It was a period when Hungary wanted to be out of Austrian rule and be independent. With the help of G-d, it all passed without any serious incident because Austria made a compromise with Hungary which resulted in a peaceful outcome. Jews sighed with relief as only during periods of peace are Jews able to carry on with their activities. This is why Jews constantly pray for peace.
We are told in the weekly portion of Vayeiste from the Pentateuch (Chumash) that our forefather Jacob felt that because of all of the difficulties he encountered in his lifetime until the present, he will try to lead a quieter life from now on. Peace is a good thing that everyone strives for but it is not easy to attain. We have to ask for this from the Almighty, and with some luck it might be bestowed upon you.
The Jews of Stropkov lived through stormy times but because their spiritual life was rewarding, they had nothing to complain about. They enjoyed the privilege of having distinguished and prominent rabbis who brought fame to Stropkov, as well as a wordly reputation. And now, with Rabbi Moshe Yoseph Teitlebaum the well known gaon and saintly tsaddik they rightfully hoped to enjoy spiritual pleasure from the rabbi and the respected dayanim (rabbinical judges).Only fate meant it to be different from what they expected. What happened? For a long time it was rather calm and quiet with Jews busy all week working in their businesses, and on Saturdays attending services in the synagogue and studying in the Beis Medrish as well as reading psalms as was their custom. Here and there though people were seen gossiping or telling secrets. And what were these secrets about? The rabbi hinted that he was not satisfied with the behavior of the dayan Reb Yitschak Hersh. The Jews did not all understand what he meant by this. The head of the community also did not want people to discuss this matter, so he didn't disclose what the rabbi had hinted. But Jews were anxious to know so they would ask each other, though no one could answer as regards the meaning behind the rabbi's claims. The rabbi stood fast in his accusation and was quite aggravated over the matter.
His close friends, though they themselves could not find fault with the dayan were nevertheless disturbed to see their rabbi so aggravated. Little by little the argument flared up. The friends of the rabbi became distant from the friends of Reb Yitschak Hersh because those close to the dayan couldn't bear to see his feelings hurt so by all of this. It finally reached the stage when the rabbi forbade his people to eat in the homes of supporters of Reb Yitschak Hersh because they were not considered kosher.
My father told me that I was born that same week and according to custom, a Sholom Zocher (ceremony greeting the new male) was arranged for Friday evening for family and friends. The Uncle Reb Moishe Weinstein, my grandfather's brother, came to wish mazel tov but did not taste anything because he was a close friend of the rabbi and did not want to transgress that which the rabbi forbade.
That same week the head of the Jewish community invited rabbis from surrounding communities and at Din Torah (rabbinical court session) a peaceful decision was reached,thank G-d. At the ceremony of my briss milah the rabbi and Reb Yitschak Hersh sat side by side and there was complete peace once again. Some time later after the incident the rabbi left for Ihel where he assumed the position of rabbi.
The Jews of Stropkov though satisfied with the outcome of the controversy, with all ending well, would have preferred for the rabbi to remain in Stropkov. When he left for Ihel they had such painful mixed feelings and their conscience bothered them. They kept asking each other how it was possible for all of this to happen. After all both the rabbi and the dayan were great tsadikkim as well as smart people. Various possible reasons were given though they did not satisfy the people. I do want to relate however one opinion I heard from various chassidim.
Two Jews from Stropkov went to Shineve fro a Shabbos. The rabbi asked them about conditions in Stropkov. They told him about Reb Moshe Josef Teitlebaum becoming the Rav of Stropkov. "Oh", he asked, "and I wasn't even consulted?" Suddenly there was a moment of silence after which he said, "I thought that my Sholom would become the rabbi of Stropkov, but now that you have someone else, you certainly won't have Sholom."
No one is of the opinion that the rabbi said this with some hidden meaning behind it and that something was about to happen which did happen. But our sages taught us that when a tsaddik predicts a curse, even unintentionally, it will come to pass.
Some time later, Rabbi Avraham Shalom, the son of the Shinever Tsaddik was elected rabbi of Stropkov. The rabbi arrived accompanied by his son Mendele, a fine young man possessed of many, many virtues. The public enjoyed them both. They had great respect for the rabbi because of his saintliness and rare talent as a Baal Tefilla (one who excels in the leading of prayer). Reb Mendele was likewise a fine Baal Tefilla and a refined person. An air of contentment and joy permeated the Beis Medrish when Reb Mendele sat and studied.
The Rabbi Reb Sholom continued to be the rabbi of Stropkov for the rest of his life, though there were periods when he spent some years in other cities. But he was always known as the Rabbi of Stropkov. When he passed away, his son Reb Mendele became the Rabbi of Stropkov. With his passing on, the golden chain of rabbinical presence ended and the community of Stropkov was destroyed. What a pitiful loss never to be forgotten.
I have met a number of Jews who came from Europe after the war. When they heard that I was from Stropkov they asked me if I knew that Reb Sholom, the rabbi of Stropkov was actually one who could perform miracles. I told them that during my lifetime, 60 years ago, this was already known, and I related to them some of the things that happened. I feel that it is important to write about this so that Jews will read and know.
Many years ago a young gentile from Stropkov left for America. He was quite successful and after some time there he returned home looking like a rich poritz (lord). He had a wife and young daughter. He bought a home and business on the main street. This did not please the Jewish inhabitants as until now the shop keepers were all Jews. This young man built for himself a store with an adjoining inn very close to the home and inn of Reb Shlomo Henig. Reb Shlomo Henig immediately sensed the danger of the competition as he would lose his non-Jewish clients, a serious threat to his livelihood. Reb Shlomo Henig was a good person and an honest Jew and the people were worried and concerned about him.
Somehow, Reb Shlomo himself did not outwardly show signs of fear of what was really happening. This young fellow finished building and stocked his store with all sorts of bottled hard drinks. According to government regulations he was only allowed to sell bottled drinks but not by the glass because his business was located too close to an inn where drinks were sold by the glass. But this young man found a solution (he thought) by fixing up a back room where people sat and drank, which was against the law. Many of Reb Shlomo's former non-Jewish customers started to patronize the new inn and his business definitely suffered. Nevertheless,Reb Shlomo did not show signs of sadness over this and people could not understand his reaction.
The success of the new competitor did not last. The Jewish neighbors reported that after closing hours they heard fierce arguments and insults hurled at each other. The young man accused his wife of flirting with the customers in the back room and even suspected her of becoming overly friendly. His wife's behavior and the way she carried on was enough to make him sick.
One bright Shabbos morning as I left my house dressed in Shabbos clothes strolling down a freshly swept street, I noticed a group of Jewish neighbors rushing from the young man's home amidst a lot of excitement. As I approached closer I soon learned that his wife shot and killed him. People started to gather but when the police arrived they were dispersed. The body was removed and his wife was arrested. Only then did Reb Shlomo tell the secret that the Rabbi Reb Sholom consoled him and predicted such an outcome, assuring him that it would end in a tragedy, as it did. Very few actually heard of this story and they will be satisfied to read about it.
Until now I wrote about the spiritual leaders of Stropkov, the worthy rabbis, the dayanim and of the dignity they added to the community. Now I want to write about various members of the community who were privileged to have such fine leadership. I am sure that any Jew who knew something about Stropkov certainly heard about its fine citizenry.
According to what our sages have taught us, one who makes it possible for others to spend their time studying Torah, then his love of the Torah is actually of a higher degree than one who sits and studies. In this connection I would like to mention the names of individuals who married off their talented daughters to bright young scholars whom they supported and so enabled them to sit and study without worry of outside income. These Jews were not just ordinary people but rather clever businessmen. Their righteousness was so great that the study of Torah was the ideal way of life. They were willing to share whatever they possessed with a scholarly son-in-law.
The first of this group was the much beloved head of the community Reb Hersh Friedman, who was a person of many virtues. He was a wise person, very wealthy and an extremely honest Jew who gave charity very freely. His son-in-law was the great Tsaddik Reb Yaakov Yosef who had many followers in his later years and who enjoyed a worldwide reputation. His father-in-law supported him so that he was able to continue to study.
The second in this category was my great great uncle Reb Yaakov Hersh Gutman. He was a successful businessman and extremely charitable. He had two talented children, a son and a daughter. He married off his daughter to Reb Menachem Orenstein, a great scholar and tsaddik. Reb Menachem and Reb Yaakov Yosef sat all day wearing tallis and teffilin as they studied in the Bes Medrish. Late afternoon they would go home to eat something and for minche they were back in the beis medrish.
The third person was Reb Zalman Yosef Weinberger, a clever dealer in leather goods and a fine citizen. He devoted most of his spare time to do community affairs and he was pleased to have as his son-in-law the Gaon Reb Yitschak Hersh Amsel. He told him not to worry about earning a livelihood but rather to be occupied studying. The father-in-law was happy and thanked G-d for the privilege of having such a scholar for a son-in-law. This meant more to him than anything else.
The fourth of this category of honest people was Reb Yudel Friedman, a respected citizen. He was the owner of an inn in the best locations in town. He had an aristocratic air about him and was a great chassid and honest person. He had two sons and an only daughter. He was looking for a son-in-law, not just an ordinary fellow, but one who is a scholar. He was very choosey. G-d blessed him with a son-in-law whose name was Reb Hershele, a great scholar who was ordained by leading gaonim. His credentials and ordination were of the highest possible sort. He was just the type of son-in-law Reb Yudel Friedman was looking for.
Reb Hersh Reich was a Chassidic type of Jew, a quiet person of good habits and also charitable. He was the owner of a saloon and was quite busy serving his clientele.
He wanted his two sons to be learned. The youngest son Asher was very talented and after his marriage he managed the business. Reb Hersh also had two daughters and both married scholarly young men of respected families. One was Menashe who sat and studied. He was never seen wasting time away from his studies. He was also an honest Jew. The second son-in-law was Yechezkiyahu Greenwald, a handsome,intelligent and religious young man. He came from a rabbinic family and conducted himself accordingly. Reb Hersh Reich supported his scholarly sons-in-law.
Reb Moish Reich was a man of high caliber and a fine Chassid. He was in business selling cloth for men's as well as women's clothing. His store was well kept similar to stores in large cities. He was a strict person but would never hurt anyone. He conducted himself in a dignified manner. He was a learned person and always had a book in his hand when he was not occupied in his business.
He would sit in the Beis Medrish and study the Talmud. He had a son and a daughter. The son was married and did not live in Stropkov. The daughter married a young man from Rayshe, Yitschak Hoizman, who was known as Itchelle, a congenial young man. He sat in the Beis Medrish and studied for many years. His in-laws supported him and he was a source of great pleasure.
Reb Hersh Leib was a dealer in wheat. Though he prayed according to the Ashkenazic rite in the synagogue. He also wore a shtreimel and traditional garb on Shabbos. He was not learned but definitely honest and upright. He had a one and only daughter, very talented who married a yeshivah bochur who continued to study after their marriage. This was a great source of naches to Reb Hersh Leib and his wife. The young man was a talented Baal Tefillah with a very pleasant voice.
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