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[Col. 123]

10. Rabbis

Rabbinical positions in Suwalk and vicinity were often occupied by great scholars of world-renown. One need only to mention the names of R'Yitshak Ayzik Heber, Rabbi of Suwalk, or R'Yehudah Bakhrakh, Rabbi of Saini. Filipowe boasted of its great R'Hayim Filipover and Ratzk – of R'Hayim Ratsker. R'Samuel Mohilewer went from the rabbinate in Suwalk (and Radom) to the much greater congregation in Bialystok, and R'David-Tebele Katsenelnboygn went from Suwalk to become the chief rabbi of Petersburg.

When Suwalk sought a new rabbi in 1858, it was not immodest in stating in its advertisement that Suwalk had always been “a seat of the greatest rabbis of our time”.[1] The editors of “Hamagid” remark on Suwalk: “…the rabbinate there has always been occupied by great and famous men of Israel”.[2] Rabbi Moshe Betsalel – rabbi of Saini – did not exaggerate when he wrote about his town that: “the great scholars of the world occupied the seat of judgement there”.[3][1*]


Earliest rabbis of Suwalk

We have no accurate information about the first rabbi of Suwalk. However, we can venture the almost certain supposition that it was a man named R'Avraham Abele, son of R'Mordekhay. In 5601 ç1841) he was still the rabbi of Suwalk because his name if found as signatory of one of the approbations in a book published that year.[4]

In 1808, there were 44 Jews in Suwalk. The community grew very quickly and in the 1840's, there were already four-five thousand souls in Suwalk – a large community. It is not logical to imagine that such a large congregation would be without a rabbi for tens of years and since there is no information about anyone else – we must assume that this R'Avraham Abele was the rabbi for 20-25 years.

It is certain that he was there at the end of the 1830's because his name heads the list of subscribers from Suwalk at that time when it was customary to give the name of the chief rabbi of the community.[5] He died in Suwalk in {5}603{1842-1843} and on his tombstone in the old cemetery it is written: “R'Avraham son of R'Mordekhay, rabbi of this place died on 24th Kislev in the year {5}603 may his soul be bound up in the bonds of life”.[6]

[Col. 124]

The second man to occupy this position was also named R'Avraham-Abele but his father's name was Barukh. Since R'Avraham Abele, son of Mordekhay, was rabbi in Suwalk until the end of 1842 and, since R'Avraham-Abele, son of Barukh died in 1850, the latter must have served there for 7-8 years.

There is very little known about the second rabbi. Just a few biographic details are known. His father, Rabbi Barukh, was rabbi in Apta and could trace his genealogy to Rashi. R'Avraham Abele was a Kabbalist in the first half of the 19th century. It was said of him that he had studied both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud through 145 times and had studied the Zohar through 200 times. As it is told in the book: “Shem Hagedolim Hashelishi”, as he was expiring, he managed to write the sentence: “Kamah alumaty” and as he attempted to write the end of the sentence: “ve-gam nitsavah”[2*], he died.

It is quite reasonable to assume that R'Avraham Abele, son of R'Barukh, was already living in Suwalk while Rabbi Avraham Abele, son of R'Mordekhay, was rabbi. On the previously mentioned subscription list from Suwalk, with the name of R' Avraham son of R'Mordekhay at its head, there is also the name “Rabbi R'Abeli the preacher”. This is probably R'Avraham Abele, son of R'Barukh, who probably preached in Suwalk before he became its rabbi.

The second rabbi of Suwalk had two famous sons: Rabbi R'Azriel Aryeh Leyb, head of the religious court of Mariampol and Rabbi Duber of Vilkoviskh. R'Yehudah Leyb Margoliut, author of “Peri Tevuah” and head of the religious court in Buzanov and Frankfurt-am-Main, was R'Avraham Abele's uncle.[7]


Rabbi Yitshak Ayzik Heber

After the death of R'Avraham Abele, son of Barukh, the Suwalk rabbinic seat was occupied by R'Yitshak-Ayzik Heber, one of the greatest scholars of his time.[8] R'Yitshak Ayzik was also a kabbalist and wrote many books on Kabala. Before his death, he charged that only “pure experts” should edit and print his books on Kabala. R'Yitshak Elhanan, rabbi of Kovne, wrote about him.

[Col. 125]

“He was greater in knowledge of the Cabala than all of the scholars of his generation”.[9] at the age of sixty, he had already studied the entire Mishnah through sixty times.

R'Yitshak Ayzik Heber served as rabbi for 37 years. He was born in 1789 in Grodne. He studied Torah with R'Mendl Shklover. {of the Lubavitsher dynasty} While quite young, he became a rabbi in Parazave,[10] afterwards in Rozinoy for 14 years, Volkovisk for 7 years, Tiktin for 9 years and at the end in Suwalk for about 4 years.[11]

The Suwalk community greatly appreciated the honour of having such a great scholar as its rabbi and treated R'Yitshak Ayzik with great respect. He wrote about the Suwalk householders that; “I found their hearts loyal to me and they supported me in my old age”. He praised the “wise men of the city” very highly and mentioned, with gratitude, the names of R'Yehezkel Lipski and R'Avraham Rozntal who gave him a “large sum of money” to help publish his book: “Binyan olam”.

R'Yitshak Ayzik died in Suwalk on the eve of the beginning of Kislev, {5}713{1953}[12]. He was eulogized by the famous scholar R.Yitshak Avigdor, at the time rabbi in Saini, and Rabbi Mordekhay Meltser of Kalvarie and his grandson, R'Mordekhay HaKohen.

His will is a wonderful document. The great righteous man, who studied Torah day and night, asked that he be forgiven by all the people in all of the synagogues in the cities where he had served as rabbi, just in case he had committed a transgression of slander or had hurt someone in money matters, etc.

[Col. 126]

He also asked that his tombstone be very simple and that in the eulogies to be said after his death, that he not be called “gaon” or “gadol”.[13]

His epitaph reads thus:

Man whose command is an obstacle to the pen. Who has prevented much praise being inscribed or written about him. Rabbi Yitshak Ayzik son of Yaakov, who was the head of the religious court in a number of congregations and here, in the congregation of Suwalk. Author of Bet Yitshak and Yad Mitsrayim, Seder Zemanim and Binyan Olam, Magan ve-Tsinah and many more precious books; went up on high and his spirit to the treasure house on high. Thursday, the eve of the first day of Kislev 613. May his soul be bound up in the bonds of life.

R'Yitshak Ayzik's father, R'Yaakov, was a great scholar. He wrote a commentary on the “Migdal Eder”.[14] His mother Chaya was the daughter of the virtuous rabbi R'Yitshak of Amdur. Many years after his marriage, his first wife, Shprintse, daughter of R'Yehudah Idl of Pruzine died.

What is the source of the family name Heber?[3*]

Haver, as is known, is an important title, although not as important as “rabbi”. There is a theory that the name Heber comes from the title “Haver”. Rabbi Yitshak Ayzik's grandfather, who was a simple man, used to travel around the villages working as a tailor and was called “Haver” because of his great righteousness and purity. R'Yitshak Ayzik's father, R'Yaakov, already bore the family name Heber and the street in Grodne where he lived, was called “Heber's Street”.[15]

It is also possible that R'Yitshak Ayzik was part of that famous family which had borne the name over 300 years ago, and whose head, R'Yosef Hever of Vienna, was called: “the brand plucked from the decree of Vienna”.

Prof.G. Scholem mentions in his “Bibliografia Kabalistika” (Leipzig 1927 p.297), that R'Yitshak Ayzik's family name was actually Vildman. The “Otsar beduye ha-shem” (p.128) repeats this in Scholem's name. H.D. Friedberg, in his “Bet Eked Sefarim” new series, also follows this line. Not one of them gives the authority for it. It is therefore probably a mistake to assume that Heber was named Vildman. These are our reasons.

[Col. 127]

  1. The name Vildman does not appear on even one of his many books.
  2. His son R'Yosef, his grandson R'Mordekhay Hakohen, the Verblavskis, who published some of his books, never mention the name Vildman.
  3. It can be seen from “Siah Yitshak” that R'Yitshak Ayzik's sons and grandsons called themselves Rabinovits.
  4. Last but not least, on his tombstone, only the name Heber appears.

The Grodne Heber family is closely related to the famous families of Elijah the Gaon of Vilna, Rivlin, etc.[16]

Addendum: In some of the older books in Hebrew Union College Library, the name appears as Isaac ben Jacob Haber. In other books, it appears as Issac Eiskik Chower Wildmann. Library of Congress has established his name as Isaac Eiskik WIldmann, 1789-1853. As you can see, I have used none of these. Kagan is very upset by the name Wildmann.

Even if he does not have a distinguished lineage, R'Yitshak Ayzik himself was sufficiently distinguished. Much has been written about him and he himself created his own literature: as many as 38 works of which 22 were published, some posthumously. The manuscripts of the remaining works were left with his children. Rabbi R'Yosef Heber, his son, at the end of his book of eulogy, “Tsiyun lanefesh” (Johannesburg, {5}716{1858} listed the names of all of his father's books.[17]

R'Yitshak Ayzik's published books or commentaries are:

  1. Beer Yitshak, commentary on “Likute Hagra”, Warsaw {5}649(1888 or 1889).
  2. Beer Yitshak, {published} by R'Shemuel Luria, Warsaw {5}648{1887 or 1888.
  3. Beer Yitshak, commentary on “Mayim Aidirm of R'Menahem Mendl mi-Shklov, Warsaw.{5}647{1886 or 1887}
  4. Beer Yitshak, commentary on “Aderet Eliyahu” by Hagro, Warsaw. {5}647{1886 or 1887} a new edition, Tel Aviv, {5}715.
  5. Or Torah, commentary on “Amude haTorah” of R'Avraham, brother of Hagra, Jerusalem.{5}647{1886 or 1887}
  6. Bet Yitshak, Sadilkov.{5}596{1835 or 1836}
  7. Bet Yitshak, part two. Berure Hamidot, published by Yehiel Mikhl Verzblovski, Vilne.{5}671{1910 or 1911}
  8. Bet Yitshak, volume 2. Vilne {5}673{1912 or 1913}

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  1. Bet Neeman, part one. Edited and published by his nephew, Yosef Heber. Warsaw {5}641{1880 or1881}
  2. Bet Olamim. Warsaw. {5}649{1888 or 1889}
  3. Binyan Olam, al “Even Ha-Ezer”{?} Warsaw {5}611{1850 or 1851}
  4. Binyan Olam, al “Shulhan Arukh Orah Haim”. Warsaw {5}664{1903 or 1904}
  5. Ginze Meromim. Commentary on ”Masekhet Atsilut” (Johannesburg) {5}624{1863 or 1864}
  6. Yahagot oyf Shas. Vilna. {5}645{1884 or 1885}
  7. Yad Hazakah, commentary in”Migdal Eder” by Y.L. Miller.Vilna. {5}653{1892 or 1893}
  8. Yad Mitsrayim, commentary on Haggadah. Warsaw. {5}602{1841 or 1842}
  9. Magen va-Tsinah. Johannesburg. {5}612{1851 or 1852} published without name of author, year of publication but only as found in Amsterdam”{?}
  10. Seder Zamanim. Warsaw. {5}604{1843 or 1844}
  11. Peri Yitshak, commentary on “Sefer Yetsirah”. Warsaw 1884.
  12. Pithe Shearim. Part 1. {published} by R'Moshe, head of Yedvabne religious court. Warsaw. 1888.
  13. Tsefirat Tifarah, commentary on “Song of Songs”. Warsaw. {5}606{1845 or 1846}
  14. Siah Yitshak, published by Meir Verbelavski. Vilna. {5}672{1911 or 1912}

The unpublished works are:

Bet Neeman, part two. Binyan Olam, part two. Hidushim Melukatim. Afikim (Afike Yam?). Bet David. Ner Mitsvah Ve-torah Or. Or Bahir. Kovets Gadol (Derushim). Biur al Yonah. Biur al Ha-Torah. Biur Maseh Merkavah. Biur Agadat En Dorshin. Kovets Godal (additional Derushim). Kovets Karne Or (commentary on Zohar). Yad Ramah.[4*]

Nehemiah Shemuel Leybovitsh brings some ideas of R'Yitshak Ayzik Hebert on Ari'Modena in his book “Rabi Yehudah Aryeh Modina” (New York {5}661{1900 or 1901. P.80.104}. In Amude Or” by R'Yehiel Heller some responses to him are found (p.69.p.86.87).

His novella are also quoted by Yehudah Idl Shereshevski in “Kur le-Zahav” {Vilna.{5}618{1877 or 1878} by Moshe Ahrnsan in “Mate Moshe” {Jerusalem {5}638{1877 or 1878}, by Shemuel Segal in “Bigde Yesha {Vilne 1844}. Some of his interpretations are quoted in “Emek Yehoshua Aharaon” by Yehoshua Alter Vildman {Warsaw {5}673{1912 or 1913} and in “Daat Mordekai”, part one by Yitshak Rabinovits {Keidan {5}699{1938 or 1939}.

R'Yitshak Ayzik Heber wrote many approbations. We have found them in:

  1. “Brekhot Mayim” (printed in “Enot Mayim”) by Yosef Elhanan le-vet Levi. Warsaw 1856.
  2. “Toldot Haarets” by Yosef Sheynhak. Warsaw {5}601{1840 or 1841}.
  3. “Hidushe Mohrm”Z by Moshe Volf, published by Menahem David Yavets, Vilna 1858.

[Col. 129]

  1. “Bigde Yesha”, Shemuel Halevi Segal. Vilna 1844.
  2. “Bet Aharon”, Yitshak Aharon son of Yehudah Leyb. Vilna. {5}603{1842 or 1843}.
  3. “Zikhron Yehudah” part one. Yehudah Abelzan, Vilna 1851.
  4. “Avot de Rabi Nathan” published by Eliyahu son of Avraham of Deliatits. Vilna and Horadna 1833.
  5. “Likute RTSB” A” Tsevi Hirsh Kahana. Warsaw {5}657{1896 or 1897}.
  6. “Meore Yitshak”, Uri Yitshak Ayzik, son of Abe Kodesh. Warsaw 1857
  7. “Tana Debe Eliyahu” by {or published by} Avraham Shik. Lemberg 1869.
  8. “Tosefet Shabat”. Tsevi Hirsh Bayarski. Warsaw {5}646{1885 or 1886}.

R'Yitshak Ayzik Heber left a wide branching family – most of them in the province of Suwalk or near to it. Based on subscription lists, we have put together the following list, certainly not complete.

Sons: Rabbi Yosef Heber, head of the religious court of Yedvabne. Rabbi Moshe Rabinovitsh, head of the religious court of Yedvabne. Aharon Pundik, Vilna.[18]

Daughter: Chayah.

Sons-in-law: Rabbi Eliezer Shelomoh Veler, head of the religious court in Visoki Mazavietsk. Rabbi Yehiel Heler.

Grandchildren: R'Binyamin Rabinavitsh. Leybush Kats (both Yedvobne). David Rabinovitsh (Stutsin). Eliezer Aharon Epshteyn. Ayzik Rabinovitsh (both from Warsaw). L.Rabinavitsh. Yosef Rabinavitsh (both Deretshin). Yehudah Kats (Lomza). R'Yitshak Ayzik Veler, head of the religious court of Visoki Mazavietsk, author of “Berit Olam” (Warsaw){5}657{1896 or 1897}. Mordekhay Hakohen (Suwalk). Nephew R'Yosef son of Mordekhay, chief rabbin in Zshetl.

Close relatives: Rabbi Reuven Levinku (Olite). Aryeh Leyb Sendak (Yedvobne). Rabbi Be-Tsiyon Yafe. R'Tsevi, son of R'David. R'Kodesh Shatski. Yaakov Yatviski – all in Stutsin. In Warsaw: Eliezer Krunski. Yosef Kisnitski. Yehiel Mikhl Verzblovski and Meir Verblovski of Shaki. Dr. Moshe Glikson, the famous General Zionist leader and editor of “Haarets” and for many years, was also a member of R'Yitshak Ayzik's family.[19]


Rabbi Yehiel Heler

The fourth occupant of the position of chief rabbi of Suwalk was R'Yehiel Heler (Helir), a famous scholar of his time.

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Heler is a famous rabbinical family which goes back to the Tosefot Yom-Tov. R'Yehiel was connected also with the family trees of Bakhrakh and Efrati, which produced rabbis not only for the Suwalk area but also for other places. R'Yehiel Heler is closely connected to the Heber family. His second wife was R'Yitshak Ayzik's daughter Chayah.[20] His first wife's name was Pese, the daughter of R'Eliyahu Ber of Kretinge.[21] R'Yehiel's parents were Aharon and Rivkah. He was also closely related to Rabbi Ayzik Leyb, the Ratsker rabbi. His sister was R'Ayzik Leyb's grandmother.

R'Yehiel Heler was not a stranger in Suwalk. While he was rabbi in near Volkovisk, he would often visit Suwalk. His son, Rabbi Avraham was born in Suwalk in 1842.

R'Yehiel Heler was born in 1814 in Koydenov. From 1836 to 1843 he served as rabbi in Hlusk then in Volkovisk, and at the end of 1853[22] he became the rabbi of Suwalk.

He served in Suwalk for five (or six) years. According to one correspondent in “Hamagid”, there was a controversy about him in town and the community divided into two parties. In “Hamagid” 1858 (n°32) there is an announcement that Suwalk was searching for a rabbi. The salary is given as 15 rubles a week, “aside from other income”.

Controversy or not, when R'Yehiel left Suwalk, the Jews mourned his departure. The entire community escorted him to the outskirts of the city. Many fell at his feet and kissed his garments. People wept as though they were at a funeral.[23]

From there, R'Yehiel went on to Plugian where he died on the 11th of Kislev {5}622{14-11-1861}.[24]

[Col. 131]

R'Yehiel Heler wrote the following books:

  1. “Oteh Or” on the Song of Songs, Memel, 1861
  2. “Amude Or” Responsa, Koenigsberg, 1858.[25]
  3. “Or Yesharim” in “Hagadah Le-lel Shimurim”, Koenigsberg {5}617{1856 or 1857}[26], as well as in the Hagadah with 115 commentaries called “Migdal Eder”, by Yisrael David Miller me-Horodna, Vilna, {5}653{1892 or 1893}.
  4. Commentary on the laws and the order of Pesah of Elijah, Gaon of Vilna in “Hagadah shel Pesah”, with the commentary “Gevul Yam” by Eliezer-Zalman Graieviski, Jerusalem {5}651{1890 or 1891}[27]
  5. “Tosefet Minhagim” on the Passover customs by Elijah, Gaon of Vilna, in the Hagadah with commentary of Yehezkel, son of R'Shalom Ratner, Vilna {5}652{1891 or 1892}[28]
  6. “Kinah Le-David” (at the end of “Kadmut Sefer Ha-Zohar” by R'David Luria, Koenigsberg.{5}616{1855 or 1856}
  7. Commentary on “Sefer Mitsvot” of Maimonides, Jerusalem.{5}689{1928 or 1929}
  8. “Kevod Melekh”, Petersburg, 1856.[29]
  9. “Divre Yehoshua”, Koenigsberg (?) {5}592{1831 or 1832}

[Col. 132]

In “Maaseh Rav” by R'Yissakher Ber (Vilna, {5}592{1831 or 1832}, one can find his supplement: “Seder Kehilkhato”.[30]

R'Yehiel Heler edited the Jerusalem manuscript of the Cabala book “She”elot ve-Teshuvot min Ha-Shamayim” by Yaakov Halevi Mamroysh. He wrote novella in “Ha-Tevunah” by R'Yisrael Salanter.

Approbations by him may be found in the following books:

  1. “Pardes Ha-Binah”. Moshe ben Aharon, Amsterdam 1842.[31]
  2. ”Enot Mayim” Yosef Elhanan Halevi. Warsaw 1856.
  3. ”Hekhalot Ha-Zohar” with commentary of Elijah, Gaon of Vilna, Koenigsberg {5}617{1856 or 1857} (place and date according to Ben Yaakov), with introduction by R'Yehiel entitled ”Mateh Tehilah”.
  4. “Agadot Eliyahu”. Eliyahu Sarahzon, New York {5}663{1902 or 1903}
  5. “Katuv Le-Hayim” Avraham Hayim Shmalevitser, Vilna {5}618{1857 or 1858}
  6. “Minhat Ha-Zevah”. Moshe Aharon Hakohen, Warsaw 1885.
  7. “Yalkut Shimoni”, published by Moshe Yehudah Italiener {5}616{1855 or 1856}

R'Yehiel had two daughters; one of them married R'Moshe Leb Segal.[32]

R'Yehiel's son, R'Avraham, was rabbi of Yanishok from 1860-1877, thereafter in Hasenpoth (or Gazenpot or Gazpute) Lativa and from 1882 in Libau. He was the author of “Yefeh Nof”. He died in 1923. R'Avraham's son, R'Leyb, was rabbi in Shavli.

R'Yehiel's three brothers were all rabbis. R'Yehoshua in Pologne, Telz and other towns. He was the author of Divre Yehoshua, Hosen Yehoshua[33] Toldot Yehoshua, Maoz HaDat, Mayane Yehoshua and Ohel Yehoshua. R'Meir was a Dayan in Vilne and later a rabbi in Troki and Kashtokavitz. R'Yisrael (Harif) {was a rabbi} in Koydenov and before that was a rosh Metivta in Minsk.

Barukh Nathanial Navidl, the rabbi of Tavrik, was a relative. Meir Aylberg of Srednik was R'Yehiel's brother-in-law.

[Col. 133]

Aylberg's daughter (Heller's …) was the wife of R'Moshe-Betsalel Lurie, later rabbi of Suwalk. Thus it seems both rabbis of Suwalk were related to one another.

R'Yehiel Heler knew both German and Russian well. Almost all the rabbis of Suwalk were characterized by knowledge of {European} languages.


Rabbi Samuel Mohilewer

After Rabi Yehiel Heler's departure, Suwalk was without a rabbi for almost two years. There were two reasons for this: 1) the controversy around R'Yehiel Heler which divided the town into two. 2) It was not easy to find an heir to the seat which had been occupied by R'Yitshak Ayzik Heber and R'Yehiel Heler. An additional difficulty was the desire of the Suwalk householders to hire a rabbi who was not only a Torah scholar but was also familiar with the ways of the world. Finally, they were united on the candidacy of R'Samuel Mohilewer.[33*]

R'Samuel Mohilewer came to Suwalk from a position as rabbi in Shaki. Rabbi Y.L.Fishman remarks rights that only after assuming the rabbinate in Suwalk did he become famous as a great scholar and a social activist on an international level.

R'Samuel Mohilewer came to Suwalk on 27th Adar {5}620{1860} A large crowd of people came to welcome him before he entered the city – some of them in carriages. A carriage brought him to his dwelling and there he preached his first sermon in Suwalk.[34]

R'Samuel Mohilewer lived through difficult times while rabbi in Suwalk: the second Polish uprising and the beginning of the dreadful famine of 1868.

At the time of the Polish uprising, there were Jews in Suwalk who sympathized with the Polish rebels. There were also Jews who were active in the uprising. Thus, for example, we know that Pakhutski of Suwalk was exiled to Siberia for many years for his part in the uprising. His son, the journalist, William Pakhutski, was born in Siberian exile.

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The private advokat[5*] Shelomoh Tabalavski avoided being sent to Siberia and was sent to prison for two years for participating in the uprising.[35] Shemuel Rozntal, who later became a famous chess player, had to flee Suwalk after the second Polish revolution.

From R'Samuel Mohilewer's activities on behalf of Suwalk Jews before the ruling powers, it is clear that many Jews of the Suwalk area were involved in the uprising of 1863, although some of them were possibly wrongly accused.

It is known what R'Samuel Mohilewer himself thought about this uprising. Officially he was opposed. He sermonized and warned Jews against participating in the uprising. Naturally, this found favour in the eyes of the rulers and he even received an award from the Russian government. Due to this relationship, he was able to save many Jews of Suwalk from hard labour and from execution. All of his biographers make this claim.

The Jews of Suwalk used to like to tell stories that they heard from their grandfathers and fathers about how R'Samuel saved some local Jews from the gallows. It was Yom Kippur eve when R'Samuel learned that a number of Jews (10 according to one version) were condemned to die for espionage and that they would be hung in public on Yom Kippur. He ran to the Governor and waited hours because the Governor refused to see him. When he was finally allowed in to see the Governor, he was able, with his wise words and hot tears, to persuade the Governor to defer the execution until after Yom Kippur and then after the holiday, was able to save them from death.

He was not always successful in his attempts to save Jews who were accused of participating in the Polish uprising.

[Col. 135]

On March 2, 1864, when he was still rabbi in Suwalk, a Jewish rebel named Leyb, son of Mordekhay Leybman, was hanged in public. He was condemned by a Russian War Tribunal for “being in the camp of the insurrectionists, receiving the rank of sergeant of the cavalry of the execution gendarme, carrying out a court martial and participating in robbing a treasury”.[36]

These sorts of efforts in defending people who had been accused of rebelling against the government, and in such a time of restlessness, put the person making the effort in the greatest danger. Rabbi Avraham Moshe Rabinovits, rabbi of Popelian, Lithuania, wrote in his eulogy on R'Samuel Mohilewer, that: “he often risked his life”.[37]

R'Samuel Mohilewer did a great deal on behalf of the local Jewish poor when the great famine of 1868 began. Thanks to his initiative, the hungry Jews received free food in community soup kitchens. He worked out a kind of tax system whereby every (non-needy) Jew of Suwalk community had to give half a kopek for every pound of meat and every pound of salt he bought per week, and the money went towards feeding the hungry. Afterwards, this system was cancelled because it was shown to be illegal.[38]

Although R'Samuel Mohilewer was beloved by his community, he also had opponents. A long correspondence from Suwalk[39] accuses him of using excommunications too readily and tells about a controversy between him and the Suwalk householder, R'Avraham Dov Gerusalimski. The Yerusalimski family was an important and large family in Suwalk. Many of its members are found on lists of subscriber's to books. At the end of the “Hagadah shel Pesah” published in Suwalk, it is written that the code for the burning of the unleavened was written by “the great scholar, Rabbi Avraham, son of R'Shemuel Yosef Yerusalimski”. He was a very wealthy man who had lost his money. Since he was a great scholar, he became employed making decisions on religious matters. His main goal was to make peace between those who quarrelled. There was a story about a widow whom R'Samuel Mohilewer forbade to get married because of some suspicions on halitsa[6*] but R'Avraham Dov did allow her to marry. She obeyed R'Avraham Dov and not R'Samuel Mohilewer, where upon the latter, excommunicated her. He also wanted to forbid R'Avraham Dov to make decisions on religious matters.

[Col. 136]

A number of other rabbis became involved in this matter; R'Hayim Filipower and R'Mordekhay Meltser, the Kalvarie rabbi. This matter even reached Rabbi Shelomoh Kluger of Brody. All of them decided in favour of R'Avraham Dov.

The details of this story were quickly denied in a brief note by the Suwalk Community members; Mordekhay Rozntal, Moshe Krakovski {and} Nisan Holenderski.[40]

In spite of such incidents, R'Samuel Mohilewer's prestige was very high in Suwalk. The community was very disappointed when he decided to become the rabbi of Radom after eight years in Suwalk. They continued honouring and respecting him for many years, and when the Hoveve Tziyon celebrated his seventieth birthday in Bialystok, with representations from all over the world, there were also delegates from Suwalk.

When R'Samuel Mohilewer decided to leave, the leaders of the Jewish community as well as the Governor tried to persuade him to continue serving in Suwalk.[41]

R'Samuel Mohilewer knew three {European} languages: German, Russian and especially Polish.

He did not publish any books but many of his novella appeared in periodicals and in the publications of other rabbis.

In “Sefer Shemuel” edited by Rabbi Y.L.Fishman {Maimon} (Jerusalem {5}687{1926 or 1927}) his response and novella are printed. In 1956, some of his novella was published in a separate book called: “Hokre Halakhah USheelot Teshuvot” (Jerusalem {5}716) with comments by Rabbi Y.L. Fishman-Maimon called “Vezot Leyhudah”.

We have found approbations written by R'Samuel Mohilewer in the following books:

  1. “Or Yitshak”, Yitshak Noah son of Rabbi Meir, Warsaw {5}650{1889 or 1890}
  2. “Imre Yahim” by Hayim Zundl Makabi, Tel Aviv {5}689{1928 or 1929}
  3. “Eshel Be-Ramah” Efrayim Halevi (Smalenski), Warsaw.{5}657{1896 or 1897}
  4. “Bet Elyakum”, Elyakum Getsil, Warsaw.{5}646{1885 or 1886}

[Col. 137]

  1. “Bene Gershon”, Gershon Liftshits, Vilna. {5}659{1898 or 1899}
  2. “Gan Yosef Eden David”, Yosef Hayim Prager, Warsaw. {5}651{1890 or 1891}
  3. “Devar Eliyahu”, Eliyahu son of R'Avraham Yospa, Warsaw. {5}644{1883 or 1884}
  4. ”Divre Hayim”. Hayim Uriah Hakohen. Vilna {5}649{1888 or 1889}
  5. ”Divre Hakhamim”. Mordekhay Tsevi Halevi. Warsaw.{5}636{1875 or 1876} contains a long article on him).
  6. ”Divre Moshe” (Maimonides).published by Yaakov Maharshak. Warsaw 1886.
  7. ”Dov Sifte Yeshanim”. Dov Ber Toyber, Jerusalem.{5}660{1899 or 1900}
  8. ”Doresh Letsiyon” Hayim Yaakov Kremer. Warsaw{5}646 and {5}651{1885-1886 and 1890 or 1891}
  9. ”Hagadah”. Avraham Abush, Magentsa.{5}647{1886 or 1887}
  10. ”Hod Tehilah”. Efrayim Eliezer Tsevi Harlap. Warsaw {5}659{1898 or 1899}
  11. ”Sefer Hahashlamah”. By Menahem Mendil Shahor. Berlin. {5}653{1892 or 1893}
  12. ”Sefer Hahashlamah” of Rabbi Meshulam, son of R'Moshe with comments from Y.Lubetski.Paris.{5}545 {1884 or 1885}
  13. ”Zekher Lemikdash”. PLA'Y. Warsaw {5}649{1888 or 1889}
  14. ”Zikaron Besefer Veeven Sapir”. Yosef Sapir Shteyn. Berditshev.{5}648{1897 or 1898}
  15. ”Zera Yitshak”. Yoel Yitshak Katsinelinboygn. Warsaw {5}650{1889 or 1890}
  16. ”Hibat Hakodesh” Yekutiel Leyb Elian. Warsaw {5}649{1888 or 1889}
  17. ”Hidushe RI”H. Yehoshua Hayim Epshteyn. Vilna {5}650{1889 or 1890}
  18. ”Hidushe MHRM”Y”. Moshe Yehezkel. Warsaw 1893.
  19. ”Haye Adam”. Avraham Dantsig with addenda by Meshulam Finklshteyn. Warsaw 1888.
  20. ”Yalkut Avne Emunat Yisrael”. Yisrael Pinhas Lintop. Warsaw 1895.
  21. ”Yalkut Erets Yisrael”. Yehudah Idl Tiszling. Vilna {5}650{1889 or 1890}
  22. ”Kaf Hamoznaim”. Aleksander Ziskind Gavrialov. Warsaw {5}657{1896 or 1897}
  23. ”Midrash Rabh” on the Song of Songs published {?} by Barukh Etilzahn. Warsaw {5}657{1896 or 1897}
  24. ”Mizekenim Etbonen”. Ben Tsiyon Kats. Warsaw {5}655{1894 or 1895}
  25. ”Meon Aryeh”. Aryeh Leby Binkovitsh. Warsaw 1886.
  26. ”Mitsvat Yeshivat Erets Yisrael” by Yonah Dov Blumberg. Vilna {5}658{1897 or 1898}
  27. ”Mishnayot ( Zeraim). Warsaw {5}621{1860 or 1861}.
  28. ”Mishnat Yehudah” part I. Yosef Sheraga son of R'Iser Yehudah. Warsaw {5}655{1894 or 1895}.
  29. ”Nehora DeYaakov”. Yaakov Aharon son of R'Tsevi Hirsh. Warsaw {5}659{1898 or 1899 }.

[Col. 138]

  1. ”Nazir min Talmud Bavli” Hagahot Mekubatsot by Yitshak Shemuel Simialitski. Vilna {5}661{1900-1901}
  2. ”Sanigor”. Eliezer Tsevyfl. Warsaw {5}645{1884 or 1885}
  3. ”Itim Le-Vinah”. Josef Gintsburg. Warsaw 1885.
  4. »Sefer Kohelet » with commentary « Kokhav MiYaakov » and « Shevet Mi-Efrayim ». Efrayim son of R'Tsevi Halevi. Warsaw {5}631{1870 or 1871}.
  5. ”Kohelet Moshe”, part I by Moshe Hayim Trivaks. Warsaw {5}661{1901 or 1902}.
  6. ”She'erit Yaakov. Zalman Yaakov Haberman. Vilna {5}644{1883 or 1884}.
  7. ”Shoel Emet”. Avraham Tsevi Shilel. Vilna {5}644{1883 or 1884}.
  8. ”Siah Yitshak”. Hayim Yitshak Gandman. Warsaw.[42]


Rabbi Eliezer Simhah Rabinovits

At the end of 1868 or at the start of 1869, Suwalk had a new rabbi – Rabbi Eliezer Simhah Rabinovits.

R'Eliezer Simhah was born in about 1839. He was descended from 30 generations of rabbis as mentioned by his grandfather, R'Menahem Mendl, head of the religious court in Kovne.

R'Eliezer Simhah married the daughter of R'Levi Yafe in Rogeve, Lithuania. When he was still quite young, he received his first rabbinic post in his father-in-laws' town. He took the position for three years on condition that his salary be used to build a new Bet Midrash, and so it came to pass. Later, he served as rabbi in another Lithuanian town called Shadeve.

When it was decreed in Russia that all the hadorim be closed, R'Eliezer Simhah was one of three delegates that went to Baron Guenzburg to ask him to try to have the decree abrogated. (The other two delegates were R'Samuel Mohilewer and R'Yaakov Barit from Vilna).

R'Eliezer Simhah was a typical rabbi for Suwalk; a great scholar who also had worldly knowledge. Yisrael Zalman Staropolski wrote in “Halevanon” could not praise him enough. He told how R'Eliezer Simhah knew Russian very well and also geography, history, algebra, geometry, etc.[43]

[Col. 139]

R'Eliezer Simhah Rabinovits was the rabbi of Suwalk for 5-6 years and at the end of 1874, he no longer was there.[44] After he left Suwalk, there was much controversy about what kind of rabbi should next be hired. One side wanted a rabbi who would also be knowledgeable in worldly matters; who knew the official language, etc.; and the other side wanted a rabbi with great Torah scholarship; famous for his scholarship, teaching and Responsa.

R'Eliezer Simhah was later rabbi in Lomza. There he was involved in conflict with some of the important householders. He also had some clashes with the police, who could not bear his “non-Jewish” pride. R'Eliezer Simhah was firm in his beliefs and carried a policy of independence in his rabbinate, both towards the local householders and towards officialdom. He became so embittered by these conflicts in Lomza that he went from there to Kalvarie, where he served for many years. In 1909, he left Kalvarie and returned to Lomza where his married daughter lived and where he owned a house. He died there in 1911.

Rabbi Yaakov Rabinovits' son was rabbi in Radvilishak, Lithuania and in Edinburgh. He published his father's comments on “Hilkhot E”Y” by Yakov ben Asher (London {5}660{1899 or 1900}. Some of R'Yaakov's own commentaries may also be found there.

R'Eliezer Simhah believed in a more lenient interpretation of law. When the debate began over the introduction of a suction machine instead of oral suction after circumcision, he stood on the side of the proponents of the machine.[45]

Many rabbis were ordained by R'A.S. Rabinovits.[46]

We have found approbations by him in:

  1. “Agadot Talmud Bavli on “Parashat Mordekay” by A.M.Altshuler, Warsaw {5}656{1895 or 1896}.

[Col. 140]

  1. “Or Yitshak” Yitshak Noah son of R'Meir. Warsaw {5}650{1889 or 1890}.
  2. “Bet Elyakum” Eliakum Getsil Meir. Warsaw {5}646{1885 or 1886}.
  3. ”Divre Negidim”, Yehudah Leyb Hakohen and David Meir Kraliavietski. Warsaw 1894.
  4. ”Venigash Hakohen”, Hilel David Trivash. Vilna {5}642{1882 or 1882}
  5. ”Hidushe AB”Y”, Yehudah Leyb Anikster, son of R'Yitshak Ayzik. Chicago.{5}664{1903 or 1904}.
  6. “Sefer Hamiluim” Yosef Sheynhak. Warsaw 1869.
  7. “Milhemet Aharon”, Aharon Fridman. Vilna {5}640{1879 or 1880}.
  8. “Avodat Eved”. Azriel Zelig, son of R'Yisakher Duber. Warsaw {5}637{1876 or 1877}.
  9. “Karne Or”. Aleksander Ziskind MeHorodna. Vilna 1883.
  10. ”Torat Hatat” on ”Shelame Nedava” by Natan Nete Kalonimus. Warsaw 1903.


Rabbi Hilel Libshits[47]

Because of the above-mentioned controversy in Suwalk after R'Eliezer Simhah left, the town was once more without a rabbi for almost two years. At the beginning or the middle of 1876, a new rabbi was hired – Rabbi Hilel Aryeh-Leyb Libshits. The position had previously been offered to the well-known rabbi and Hovev, Tziyon from Rauska – Rabbi Mordecai Eliasberg, but he refused.[48]

Rabbi Hilel Libshits was a famous rabbi even before coming to Suwalk. Two important communities fought over him: Plungian and Saini. He had been rabbi in Plungian for some time when a “situation” arose and he was suddenly “snatched away” by Saini n 1874. But he served there for only a few weeks and then returned to Plungian.[49] From there he came to Suwalk.

He served in Suwalk for 17 years, almost as long as the four preceding rabbis all together. He served during one of the stormiest epochs of Jewish life; pogroms, mass emigration; BILU, Hibbat Tziyon. Nevertheless, there was little reference to him by correspondence from Suwalk.

While Rabbi in Suwalk, Rabbi Libshits had the opportunity of conversing with the Hafets Hayim. The great scholar came to Suwalk in his eighties and gave a fiery sermon on the provision of kosher food to the Jewish

[Col. 141]

soldiers in the local garrison. He spoke sternly about the responsibility of the local householders to prevent the eating of “tref” food by the soldiers. R'Hilel Libshits asked him after the sermon why he had spoken so sharply. The Hafets Hayim replied: “A mourner is not allowed to work but if he does not have any food, he is permitted to work.” The rabbis have said: “may the {mourner's} neighbours be cursed that they allowed this to happen.[50]

At the end of the eighties, some of the Polish-Russian Jews in New York wished to choose a chief rabbi for New York. Among the famous East European rabbis considered for the position was also R'Hilel Libshits. His candidacy was the strongest because it was supported by the majority of the organizing committee. He responded to its letter of invitation sent in 1887 as follows:

“It is difficult for me to send you my decision until I return, with God's help, to my home (he was then in Jurburg). But, I must request of your honours to respond to my questions with full answers: a) which synagogues have already joined and which are still not in agreement? Please send me their names. B) can such a chief rabbinate be sponsored by the government as an official position so that it can exist forever? When you send me the answers to these two questions, I shall know, if God grant me good advice, on how to respond to you”.

The response of the New York “Directors of the Association of Kehilot” to Rabbi Libshits contains the following:

“ After much research in this matter, we have decided to inform you that you are one of the few people whom we are inviting, and we trust in the Lord that he will fulfil our requests and not turn us away, for who is as worthy of praise in our city as your greatness!”.

The writers of the letter explain that they would like Rabbi Libshits for their chief rabbi because they are searching not only for a great scholar but also for a “Maskil… with polite manners, at ease with God and with people, who can speak clearly and pleasantly in one of the European languages, for example, German”.[51][7*]


All of the negotiations however came to naught. Rabbi Libshits remained rabbi in Suwalk until 1893 when he moved to the rabbinical position in Lublin, where he remained until his death in 1910.[52]

R'Hilel Libshits was a supporter of the Lovers of Zion movement. In “Hamelits” of 1890, n°51, there appears a letter from him in which he explains that settling Erets Yisrael is a great good deed and that all of those who concern themselves with the building of the land should be supported. In the “Shivat Tsiyon” by Avraham Yaakov Slutski, there is a letter of approbation by Rabbi Libshits about the settlement of the Land of Israel.

R'Hilel was the author of the book: “Bet Hilel” {Warsaw 1887). In his father's book: “Maayan Hayim” Vilna {5}650{1889 or 1890}, there appears a commentary by R'Hilel. His comments under the title: “Birkat Horim” appears in his son's book, “Hamedrash Vehamaseh”. One of his Talmudic conclusions {“encore!” said upon completion of a tractate} is quoted in “Hidushe Yehiel” by his brother Yehiel Idl Libshits, Vilna {5}692{1931 or 1932}. Many of his commentaries appear in “Perah Levanaon” published by Eliezer Lipa Vaysblum, Warsaw {5}688{1927 or 1928}. Some of his response are quoted in “Shaare Torah” by Mordekhay Epshtyen, Vilna {5}670{1909 or 1910}. His novellae appear in “Kehilat Moshe” by Yitshak, son of Nisan (Raytbard), Vilna {5}660{1899 or 1900} pp.56.148).[53]

R'Hilel had three sons: Yehezkel, Yaakov and Eliezer. R'Yaakov was the rabbi of Saltin, Courland. R'Yehezkel was rabbi in Jurburg, Bauska, Plock and Kalish, author of the famous “HaMidrash Vehamaaseh”. R'Hilel's father, rabbi Duber Zeev, was rabbi in Srednik and came from a family of great scholars.[54]

Rabbi Hilel Libshits was a genuine link in the chain of Suwalk rabbis who were both great scholars and at the same time, not far from worldly matters. He translated the story “Suss Oppenheim” by Dr. M. Lehmann from German to Hebrew (Mainz, {5}633{1872 or 1873}, and others. He signed the translations: “HAL”H from Plungian.[55]

He was a childhood friend of the famous maskil from Raseyn, “Hasar Haedelmi” {M.Y. Edelman} and even wrote a poem in praise of him: “Shir Tehilah”.[56]

[Col. 143]

R'Hilel's approbations may be found in:

  1. “Bet Elyakum”. Elyakum Getsil Meir. Warsaw {5}646{1885 or 1886}.
  2. ”Yadot Nedarim”. Yehudah Rozenberg. Warsaw {5}648{1887 or 1888}.
  3. ”Kohelet”. Duber Zeev Volf Libshits. Warsaw {5}644{1883 or 1884}. (in the form of letters).
  4. ”Keren Yehoshua”. Part II. Yehoshua Epshteyn. Pietrokov {5}666{1905 or 1906}.
  5. ”Shire Musar Haskel Lerav Hai Gaon “Moshe Yehezkel Fagel. Warsaw {5}658{1884 or 1885}.


Rabbi David Tevlel Katzenelnboygn[8*]

R'David Tevel was a descendant of a famed rabbinic family of Katzenellenbogen,[57] which traced its lineage back to the MaHaRal of Prague. He was born in 1850 in Tavrik to Rabbi Naftali Hert. In 1871,[58]he became the rabbi of Virbaln (Verzshebelove) and was there for about 23 years. From there, he was a delegate to the Hoveve Tsiyon conference in Vilne and was later chosen as a member of the directorate.[59]

His mother Khiene was the daughter of Rabbi Yehudah Abelsan, author of “Zikhron Yehudah”. His brother R'Moshe was rabbi in Kamenets DeLita and his other brother, R'Tsevi Shimon was rabbi in Chicago.[60]

R'David Tevel was considered one of the greatest scholars of his time. He knew Russian exceedingly well and when it was necessary to have someone give a speech in the official language or to go to government officials on a matter of importance to the Jewish community, it was not necessary to request the services of the government rabbi Zeligman.

[Col. 144]

Prof. Yithak Markun tells that R'Yisrael Salanter had advised R'David Tevel to study Russian in his youth because he foresaw that he would become the rabbi of an important community.

In the early months of his rabbinate in Suwalk, R'David Tevel organized a celebration in honour of the rescue of the son of the Czar from an assassination attempt on October 17th, 1888. The main celebrants were the Jewish soldiers of the 6th Dragoon Regiment stationed in Suwalk.


The great Rabbi David Tevel Katzenellenbogen

The Jewish soldiers together with the Regimental Orchestra marched into the synagogue where R'David Tevel and the government rabbi Zeligman spoke. The orchestra played the national anthem and the synagogue choir of R'Yehudah Leby Hasid sang.[61-62]

R'David Tevel Katzenellenbogen was not a great believer in Zionism but, he was also not of the camp of its bitter enemies. In 1899 there took place a conference in Suwalk of all the Zionist organizations in the area. As the community rabbi, R'David Tevel was invited to the conference and he accepted. However, an unpleasant incident occurred at the banquet.

[Col. 145]

As the famous Zionist preacher and leader of Mizrachi Yitshak Nisnboym tells in his memoirs, among the speakers at the banquet was Rabbi Zalman Haskel (?), delegate from Mariampol. He was a flaming Zionist and in his speech he quoted from the Gemara interpreting the citation as a diatribe against rabbis who were opponents of Zionism. R'David Tevel became very upset by the insult to rabbis and to the honour of the Torah. He refused to be appeased and remained cold to Zionism his entire life.[63]

Rabbi Katzenellenbogen was chairman of the Asefat Harabanim in Vilna where such great scholars as Hayvim Soloveichik and the Hafets, Hayim and R'Hayim Ozer Grodzipski participated.[64]

R'David Tevel Katzenellenbogen seemed destined to become the leader of a much greater Jewish community in Suwalk. In 1907, he was invited to take over the Central Jewish Community in Peterburg, Russia where he became the Chief Rabbi . R'David Tevel gained much for the community there and made colossal gains for Jews everywhere, especially at the time of World War I, but this exceeds the bounds of the present work.

One incident should be recounted, however, because it has a direct bearing on Suwalk. In 1908, the Sejm of Finland passed a law forbidding kosher slaughtering. R'David Tevel went to Helsingfors a number of times and finally intervened successfully against this law after seeing the Governor General Bekman. Suddenly, a new Governor General was appointed. Once again this prohibition seemed an actuality. Fortunately, a General Gulkovski was found in Peterburg who was very friendly with the new Finnish Governor General. This Gulkovski had been a Division Officer in Suwalk and knew Rabbi Katzenellenbogen.

[Col. 146]

Gulkovski gave R'David Tevel a letter of recommendation to the new Governor and this helped so that eventually, this prohibition against kosher slaughtering was abolished.

R'David Tevel died in Leningrad (Peterburg) in 1930 after living under the Bolshevik rule for thirteen years.

R'David Tevel is the author of the following books:

  1. “Divre David”. Leningrad {5}688{1927 or 1928}
  2. ”Me Naftoah”. Peterburg. {5}684{1923 or 1924}.
  3. ”Gam Eleh Divre David”. Leningrad. Itskovski Press in Berlin. {5}688{1927 or 1928}.

The first two books are commentary and the “Me Naftoah” is a novella on the tractate Yevamot.

R'David Tevel did not give many approbations as he himself testified. We have found his approbations in:

  1. “Even Lev”. Yehudah Leyb Yafe. Vilna 1900.
  2. ”Agadot Talmud Bavli”, with commentary. “Parshat Mordekhai”. A.M. Altshuler. Warsaw {5}656{1895 or 1896}.
  3. ”Beer Mayim”, Dov Aharon son of R'Moshe Yosef. Pietrokov. {5}669{1908 or 1909}.
  4. ”Shemirat Shabat”. Y.Hasil. Peterburg, 1909.

In “Shaare Todah” part II by Mordekhay Epsteyn, Vilna {5}675{1914 or 1915} there are some response of R'D.T. Katzenellenbogen. In the Krotsyn edition of the Jerusalem Talmud, there are some comments by R'David Tevel.


Rabbi Moshe Betsalel Luria[65]

After R'David Tevel Katsenellenbogen, the rabbinate of Suwalk passed to R'Moshe Betsalel Luria. He was the author of many books. Before coming to Suwalk, he had been rabbi for many years in nearby Saini. He died in Suwalk in 1914.[66]


Rabbi Aharon Baksht

After R'Moshe Betsalel's death, Suwalk too on as its chief rabbi, the great scholar and researcher, R'Hayim Heler. His contract had already been signed and sealed when the World War I broke out and R'Hayim wandered into the depths of Russia. Many Jews left their native city of Suwalk and Suwalk remained without a Rabbi for seven years. At this time, religious activities were led by R'Binyamin Magentsa and R'Moshe Altman.


Visit of Czar Nicholas in Suwalk in 1905

Our reader, G. Marianski from Suwalk sent us this historic photograph of the Jews of Suwalk greeting the Russian Czar Nicholas and handing him a Scroll of Law which had been sent from Erets Yisrael (see “Idishe Bilder” n°7). On the photograph one may see the delegates of the Suwalk Jews (from the right): banker Glikshteyn; banker Burak; overseer Rozental; banker Shaynman; overseer Paruitski; Rabbi Katzenellenbogen (later rabbi of Peterburg); government rabbi Zeligman. In the center: Czar Nicholas II. {Yiddish}

Thirty years ago, the Jews of Suwalk give a Torah to the Court of Nicholas the Second at the time of his visit in the city. (See “Idishe Bilder”, 7). The photograph was sent by G. Marianski, Suwalk. {Hebrew}.

Vor 32 Jaren, eine abordnung der Judischen Gemeinde in Suwalki überreicht im Jahre 1905 dem ehem. Russischen Zaren Nikolai II. Eingesandt von G. Marianski, Suwalki. {German}

[Col. 149]

Only in 1921 was the rabbinate in Suwalk occupied by Rabbi Aharon Baksht, born in Ivie in 1867 and given the nickname “Ivier Ilui”[9*] in his youth. R'Aharon was a follower of the Musar system in Kelm and later was one of the most influential Musar leaders. He was greatly admired by the Hafets Hayim.

R'Aharon Baksht's first rabbinic position was in Baysegole in 1897. Later, he was in Shadeve. After the Jews were expelled from Shadeve in 1915, he went into the distant provinces of Russia. He was rabbi of Tule, Tsaritsin and Poltave according to R'Akiva Rabinovits, author of “Hapele”.

Rabbi Baksht stayed in Suwalk for about four years. During this short time, he formed a kind of “Kibbutz” of good students, boys and young men. Among them were Rabbi Nahman Londinski, later head of the Gateshead Yeshiva (England), now rabbi in New York; Rabbi Yehudah Yaakov Tsimerman, later head of Suwalk Yeshivah, may God avenge his blood; Rabbi Meir Petshiner, later Metivta head in Suwalk and Grodne and rabbi in Orlove, may God avenge his blood; Rabbi Moshe Leyb Pape, later rabbi somewhere in Poland; Rabbi Yitshak Edlshteyn, now in Jerusalem, son-in-law of religious court judge of Augustow, R'Ezriel Zelik Kushilevski, may God avenge his blood; Rabbi Aharon Kaltman, later head of Suwalk Yeshivah, may God avenge his blood.

In 1925, R'Aharon became rabbi in Lomza, and in 1930, he was killed in Shavl along with his community for the Sanctification of the Name in 1941.[67]

R'Aharon Baksht was considered one of the great men of his generation. He was one of the founders of “Agudath Israel” and “Moetset Gedole HaTorah”.


Rabbi Yosef Yoselevitsh

In the year {5}686{1927 or 1928} Rabbi Yosef Yoselevitsh became the rabbi of Suwalk. He was born in 1879 in the town of Lubtsh near Novaredok. His father was R'Yisrael Aryeh and his mother was Tsiporah-Leah, descendent of the famous Kabbalist, R'Hayim of Selib and Zelve.

[Col. 150]

As a child, R'Yosef already showed his great abilities, especially his outstanding memory and his sharp mind, as well as his tremendous devotion to study. He studied in the Slabodke Yeshiva for many years, where he got the nickname the “Lubtsher Ilui”,[10*]


R'Yosef Yoselevitsh[11*]

In {5}664{1903 or 1904} he married Sarah Rivkah, daughter of the great scholar, the righteous R'Hayim Avraham Shas, rabbi of Zasle, Lithuania – a descendent of R'Shelomoh Zalman, head of the religious court in Vilna at the time of the Gaon of Vilna. In {5}667{1906 or 1907}, Rabbi Yaselevitsh became the rabbi of Abel. He was a diligent scholar and became very close to the neighbouring world-renowned scholars of Dvinsk, Rabbi Meir Simhah HaKohen, and the Rogatshov genius, R'Yosef Rozin who held him in great esteem.

Recommended by R'Meir Simhah of Dvinsk, he became the rabbi of Trestine in {5}672{1911 or 1912}. Trestine was famed for its scholars and householders. Here he weathered the difficult years of First World War. When a large portion of the Jewish population fled from the town in 1914, R'Yosef Yaselevitsh did not leave the remnants of the community. He saved many Jews from the hands of the Cossacks, and he often risked his own life.

[Col. 151]

He was very self-sacrificing, and his community never forgot his deeds of valour. He continued his studies with diligence, often studying through the nights. There was no kerosene available so the women of the town would bring him candles. It was during these years that he wrote most of his great work on the Mishnah.

In the first years after the war, he organized relief work via the American landslayt. He was at the head of the committee and he saw to it that the aid was apportioned in an honest and just fashion. The American communal workers and landslayt appreciated the work of the Trestine rabbi and offered him an important position in America, but, Rabbi Yaselevitsh refused to abandon his community during those difficult times.

Inn {5}682{1921 or 1922}, Rabbi Yaselevitsh became rabbi in Siemiatycze. Here he introduced order into the town institutions which had been neglected during the war years. He gave priority to matter of kashrut and kosher slaughtering, organized the Talmud Torah, built a bathhouse and ritual baths, and took charge of all communal matters. Thanks to this, he was beloved and honoured by all.

But he did not remain there long. The name of the rabbi of Siemiatycze became known all over and, in the summer of {5}686{1926}, he received an important delegation from the Suwalk community which offered him the position of rabbi. The delegation consisted of the best known scholars in the community: R'Naftali Fridlender; R'Avraham Shemuel Lizshevski, (both martyred) and R'Shelomoh Gutman, (the latter was rescued and is now in Tel-Aviv).

Rabbi Yoselevitsh's condition for accepting the position made an impression on the delegation. He would go to Suwalk to give a trial sermon (as was done at that time when hiring rabbis) but would accept the position only if the contract were sent to him in Siemiatycze. The delegates spent seven hours with the rabbi discussing Torah and decided then and there to accept his conditions and to hire him.

This rabbinic contract contains the signature of all of the members of the Suwalk Community Council: Chairman Dr.L. Vaysman; Vice-Chairman Hayim Mendl Fridman; members: Rabbi Yoel David Mazesan (now rabbi of Kalverie synagogue in New York); Dr. Naftali Starapalski; Naftali Fridlender; Avraham Shemuel Lizshevski; Hayim Raybman; Elhanan Sukhavalski; Shelomoh Gutman; Meir Yitshak Bramberg; Elkanah Gladshteyn; Yitshahk Sherman; Hayim Smetsekhovski; Yaakov Aylender; Yitshak Yagel; Shelomoh Halenderski;

[Col. 152]

Moshe Iser Rubintshik; Aharon Varabytshik; Yosef Minster; Shukhman; Yaakov Aryeh Eplboym. At the end, there is a signature of the secretary of the Council – Nahum Slavatitski.

During his years as rabbi in Suwalk, R'Yosef Yaselevitsh did a great deal for the various institutions in town and took an active role in all Jewish communal matters. He inaugurated kosher meals for the Jewish soldiers in the Suwalk garrison, carried on all kinds of fundraising for the needy; for example: Hakhnasat Kalah[12*]; Maot Hitim[13*]; Linat Hatsedek[14*], etc. He was especially devoted to the great communal Talmud Torah and Yeshivah – “Ohel Yitshak” – for which he did a great deal, both materially and spiritually, and established it on a high level {of scholarship?}.

Rabbi Yosef Yaselevitsh was a recognized scholar to whom many rabbis wrote with religious questions. He preached in the Bet Hamidrash Hagadol every Sabbath and also lectured at home after the third meal of the Sabbath with profound lessons in Halakhah for the most important scholars of the town's Hevra Shas. In {5}690{1929 or 1930}, the Hevra Shas made a great party to celebrate the conclusion of the study of the entire Talmud. In its honour, there was a parade and a festive meal. At the festive meal, the rabbi began to lecture on a difficult subject – “Hadran”[15*] - which he continued all week. This act of scholarship evoked great wonder and enthusiasm.

His novella may be found in a number of Torah journals: Yagdil Torah (Slutzki); Shaare Tsiyon (Jerusalem); Keneset (Vilna) and others. His manuscripts containing novella on both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud were rescued at the time of the Holocaust by his son-in-law, Rabbi David Lifshits and will soon be published.

Rabbi Yosef Yaselevitsh was one of the leading rabbinic personalities in Poland – a great preacher and public speaker, who would enchant his audience with his profound thoughts and speeches. As a member of the Executive Committee of the Agudat Ha-Rabonim of Poland, he often participated in conferences in Warsaw, Vilna and was often one of the leading speakers at these conferences. At one such conference in Warsaw, he demanded that Jewish factory owners should employ more Jewish workers.

[Col. 153]

Rabbi Yosef Yaselevitsh distinguished himself with his devotion to Zion and his love of the children of Israel. He did a great deal for the yeshivot; for the strengthening of Judaism in town and all over the country, and for matters pertaining to Erets Yisrael. In all of his rabbinic positions, he proudly carried the banner of Torah and religion. He was called: “Man of Truth” because he did not fawn upon or flatter falsely – always battled for the truth even though he often suffered for it.

[Col. 154]

Rabbi Yaselevitsh suddenly passed away early Wednesday morning, 19th Shevat, {5}695{1935} when he was barely 56 years old. His premature and sudden death evoked a great sorrow in the Jewish world, especially in Suwalk and vicinity. All of the rabbis and heads of Yeshivot in the surrounding towns, and many from distant places, came to the funeral in which the entire town participated.



We, the leaders of the community council of the city of Suwalk, have agreed unanimously to place upon the seat of the rabbinate in our city, his honour, the great rabbi and scholar, the famous bastion and tower, our master and teacher, R'Yosef, the son of Rabbi Yisrael Ari Yoselevitsh, may he live long years, amen, to be our chief rabbi for all of the community – to teach us all the laws and to judge all the cases together with the religious court judges in our community; to supervise the kashrut in the slaughterhouses and the ritual baths, and the eruv[16*] and to inspect the studies in the Talmud Torah and Yeshiva, to direct the people to the fear of the Lord and to love the Torah and commandments and to preach to us on Shabbat Hagadol[17*] and on Shabbat Shuvah[18*] and on every appropriate occasion.

And we on our part obligate ourselves to provide him with a pleasant dwelling, fuel and sufficient income in accordance with his stature.

And may the good Lord agree with our choice and say that it is good. In the days of our rabbi and in our days, ma God send us blessing and life and success, and may sorrow and sadness depart and may He take us out of our exile to ease and may we ascend to Zion in joy until it is the Kingdom of God.

And we hereby set our seal on the first day of the portion of the Torah “Naso et rosh bene Yisrael”; the third day of Sivan in the year 686 {1926}[19*] Suwalk[20*].

[Col. 155]

Because of the crowded conditions, the deceased was carried out of the synagogue into the courtyard – in spite of the frost – where heart-rending eulogies were said. There was much weeping and wailing which reached skyward.

At a special assembly of all of the representatives of the community (even before the rabbi's funeral), it was agreed to choose his son-in-law, Rabbi David Lifshits, to take his place.

A year after his death, the community put up a “ohel” monument over his grave and again, there were moving eulogies spoken by his son-in-law and by other rabbis. The tombstone and the monument[21*] did not stand for a long time – the same murderous Nazis who uprooted the living Jews of Suwalk, also uprooted the tombstones from the Suwalk cemetery and destroyed them. Among them – that of Rabbi's monument. In the year {5}706{1945 or 1946} when a handful of Jews came back to Suwalk, a tombstone was again set up on his grave.


The newly set up tombstone after the Holocaust in place of the “ohel” of Rabbi Yosef Yoslvits, may the memory of a righteous man be for a blessing, head of the religious court of Suwalk. The inscription on the tombstone reads: “Here is buried our rabbi, the head of the religious court of our city – Rabbi, the great scholar, prince of Torah, glory of Israel – our teacher Yosef, son of Yisrael Ari Yoslvits, may the memory of a righteous man be for a blessing; formerly rabbi of Abel, Trestene, Siemiatycze and from the year {5}586, head of the religious court of Suwalk. He died in the 56th year of his life, Wednesday 19th of Shevat. May his soul be bound in the bonds of life and may his virtue defend us.

This was the inscription on the old “ohel” which had been destroyed:

The crown of our head has fallen and our glory has been taken away. Here is buried, Our lord, teacher, rabbi and head of religious court in our city. The rabbi, true scholar, prince of Torah, crown and glory of Israel. The most glorious righteous man – foundation of the world, known on high, honour to the holiness of his glorious name, peace upon him. Our teacher Avraham Yosef, son of R'Yisrael Ari Yoslvits – may the memory of a righteous and holy man be for a blessing. He was head of the religious court in Abel, Trestine, Siemiatycze and from 686, here in Suwalk. Author of the book “Heker Hatalmud” on the Talmud and commentaries and other precious novella in manuscript.

May the silence praise him. He was summoned on high and his soul rose up to the heavenly treasure house. In the fifty-sixth year of his life, on Wednesday 19th Shevat in the year 695{1935}. May his virtues defend us. May his soul be bound up in the bonds of life.

The rebbetsin Sarah Rivkah Yaselevitsh was known for her wisdom and learning. She knew the Bible perfectly and also many sayings of the rabbis. She was very devoted to Erets Yisrael and was distinguished for her nobility of character and hospitality and good deeds. After many difficult years of wandering, she was murdered by the Nazis in the town of Semilishok, Lithuania on the first day of Sukkot {5}702{1941}. May God avenge her blood.

An only daughter remained: Tsiporah Havah, wife of Rabbi David Lifshits and two sons: Eliayhu David and Ovadiah Yaselevitsh. (they lately changed the family name to Porat after their father's name, Rabbi Yosef “son of Porat-Yosef”) – both dedicated workers for Erets Yisrael. They immigrated there in the year {5}689{1928 or 1929} where they occupy important positions.

[Col. 156]

The last rabbi of Suwalk – Rabbi David Lifshits

The rabbi, who suffered through the tortuous journey of the Suwalk community during the last war, is Rabbi David Lifshits, born in Minsk. His father, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh, may God avenge his blood, was the son of Rabbi Shelomoh Zalman Lifshits of Grodne, may the memory of a righteous man be for a blessing, and author of the famous book on Seder Kedoshim: “Olat Shelomoh”. His mother, Itl, may God avenge her blood, was the daughter of the wonderful rabbi Yehudah Leyb Borshtsh – one of the most important householders in Minsk.

[Col. 157]

In his youth, Rabbi Lifshits studied in the Minsk Yeshivah. In {5}679{1918 or 1919}, his family moved to Grodne. There, he studied in the Yeshiva “Shaar Ha-Torah” with the famous scholar, R'Simeon Judah Shkop – may the memory of a righteous man be for a blessing. From {5}686 to {5}693{1925 or 1926 to 1932 or 1933}, he studied in the world renowned Yeshiva of Mir. In these Yeshivot, he earned a reputation as an outstanding, keen and profound student. In {5}693{1932 or 1933}, he married Tsiporah Havah, the daughter of Rabbi Yosef Yoselevitsh and after his father-in-law's death on 19 Shevat {5}695{1935}, he was chosen to take his place as chief rabbi in Suwalk.


Rabbi David Lifshits
– may he live for many long years – Amen

During his years of service, Rabbi Lifshits ran all of the institutions and other matters under his charge with great dedication; cared for the poor and tried to reach and help every needy person. Following the custom of his late father-in-law, he would lecture every Sabbath in on Torah novella to the Hevrah Shas in the Bet Hamidrash Hagadol. This group was famed in town for its scholars, for example: R'Hayim Mendl Fridman; R'Naftali Fridlender; R'Menahem Vayksbloym; R'Leyzer Garbarski; R'Hayim Leyb Bakhrakh; R'Shelomoh Dabkin; R'Hayim Raybman; R'Zaydl Khvilavski; R'Tuvyah; R'Tanhum Krutsinitski and others. He was especially devoted to the education in town of hundreds of children in the Talmud Torah. He also founded and directed a Yeshivah where the better students studied after completing the course of studies at the Talmud Torah. Also many young men from the neighbouring towns came to the Yeshivah. It had two grades. The daily lessons were taught by the Dean of the Yeshivah, Rabbi Yaakov Skopski (may God avenge his blood) who was the son-in-law of a family from Filipowe. On Sabbath evenings, the young men would come to the rabbi's house where he would lecture and sometimes even preach a moral sermon to them.

[Col. 158]

The rabbi was especially active in providing for the needs of the Jewish soldiers whose numbers sometimes reached over 500. Once a week, many of them would come to the Beth Hamidrash Hagado where they would pray and the rabbi would discuss all kinds of matters with them, as well as teach them about Jewish laws. He was especially careful on the upkeep of the kosher meals for the observant Jewish soldiers. These home-cooked meals were sent to them to the garrisons. Each year, magnificent Sedarim for 300-400 soldiers were led in a large community hall by the rabbi with participation of representatives of the city council and notables of the city. After that, the rabbi would go home to his own Seder. In order to provide a kosher for Passover kitchen, the rabbi would begin to prepare right after Purim, establishing special committees of important householders who would take care of the finances; and of young representatives of organizations who would drive around with horses and wagons collecting the necessary foodstuff.

The names of some of the devoted communal workers should be mentioned: R'Bertshik Rubinshteyn; R'Avigdor Fayans; R'Yitshak Kviat; R'Aharon Krutinitski; R'Yosef Grayever; Eliyahu Bernshteyn; Hayim Zalman Gradavski; Yosef Miravski; Gutkovski; Moshe Ivri and others. The purveyors would provide the matsah – the butchers the meat and the fishermen the fish, all at no cost. On the holiday, a special women's committee would work in the kitchen and serve the food graciously.

On the eve of the last Passover in 1939, when the Polish Army was on guard due to an impending attack by the Nazi, the Suwalk army officials refused to free the Jewish soldiers for the holiday. The rabbi risked his life, ran to the General and, after great efforts, persuaded him to allow the soldiers to come to the synagogue twice a day to pray and from there, to the kitchen to eat. He took personal responsibility to see that all the soldiers would return to the garrison at the appointed time.

It was customary that various societies would celebrate on certain Sabbaths. On such a day, the rabbi would come and pray and preach for the society, and encourage its members in their activities. Such Sabbaths were: The Sabbath of Parshat Vayera – for the society “Hakhnasat Orhim”; Parshat Shemini; for the society “Tiferet Bahurim”; Parshat Naso; “Hevrah Midrash”; Parshat Behaalotekha; “Hevrat Hayatim; Shabbat Nahamu; “Hevrat Shas Hagadol”.

[Col. 159]

It was customary in the Bet Hamidrash Hagadol and in “Hevrah Torah” that on every Sabbath, the aliyah[22*] before the last, was for the members of “Hevrah Shas”.

On certain Sabbaths during the year, the rabbi would appeal for contributions to be made for various institutions – local and general, for example: Shaabat Parshat Yitro; for the central “Vaad Hayeshivot” in Vilne; Shabbat Parshat Bamidbar; for the communal Talmud Torah; Parshat Emor; for Linat Hatsedek and Bikur Holim. On other Sabbaths during the year, there would be other fund raising appeals: in the winter, an appeal for wood for the poor; kosher food for soldiers; kosher for Passover, when the rabbi himself together with the householders of the town, would go to collect from wealthy people.

The rabbi's many communal activities endeared him to the community and his spiritual influence was great among all classes; scholarly householders; simple folk and the youth. Even though he himself was still quite young, many complex cases were brought for him to judge – even from out of town. Rabbi Lifshits was also active in strengthening Jewish life in Poland, in Erets Yisrael and in the Vaad Hayeshivot; he often participated in rabbinic assemblies and conferences.

In the middle of the month of Elul, {5}699{1939}, the confusion of war broke out. The Nazis entered Suwalk and a dreadful period began. Every day, the destruction increased. Many people fled in all directions, but the rabbi, as his father-in-law, Rabbi Yoselevitsh in Trestine, before him, did not leave his flock though he had the opportunity to do so. He remained in Suwalk until the day he could no longer help his stricken community. One one night, he was miraculously rescued by escaping over the border into Lithuania the night before the German power searched for him to take him hostage for the community. In Lithuania, he continued his dedication to helping the several thousand Jews from Suwalk and vicinity who had escaped from German hands.[68]

After many wanderings, Rabbi Lifshits arrived in America in the summer of 1941. There he was received with great honour by the Suwalk landslayt, who still considered him their rabbi.

[Col. 160]

Rabbi Lifshits, together with a number of dedicated workers, was at the head of the relief committee for the refugees of Suwalk and vicinity. In 1942, Rabbi Lifshits became the Dean of the Yeshivat Bet Midrash Le-Torah in Chicago. In 1945, he became a dean in the famous Yeshivat R' Elhanan in New York. Besides his profound lectures, he is famous for his great influence on his students; many hundreds of whom are already serving as rabbis all over the country.

Rabbi Lifshits was very active in strengthening Judaism; Erets Yisrael; Sabbath observance; education and unity of Israel. For many years, he was chairman of the United Religious Bloc {?}. In 1956, he was chosen as member of the Presidium of The Union of Orthodox Rabbis of America and Canada, and was considered a famous dean of a yeshiva and one of the leading rabbis and Torah scholar.


On the basis of the previous biographies, we can compile the following chronological table for the rabbis of Suwalk:

R'Avraham Abli ben Mordekahy Margulies 1842-3
R'Avraham Abli ben Barukh 1842-3 / 1850
R'Yitshak Ayzik Heber 1850-1853
R'Yehiel Heler 1853-1858
R'Samuel Mohilewer 1860-1868
R'Eliezer Simhah Rabinavits 1868-9 / 1874
R'Hillel Libshits 1876-1893
R'David Tevel Katzenellenbogen 1894-1907
R'Moshe Betsalel Lurie 1907-1914
R'Aharon Baksht 1921-1925
R'Yosef Yoselevitsh 1926-1935
R'David Lifshits 1935-1940[69]


[Col. 161]

It is also important to write about the heads of yeshiva, religious court judges, religious teachers and preachers. There is usually less written about these people than there is about rabbis. Therefore, less is known about them. Therefore, let us tell what little we know.

When Moses Montefiore made his famous journey to Peterburg in 1842, one of the first people to greet him in Kovne was a religious teacher from Suwalk – a blind man of 80. His blessing to Montefiore was: “as you receive today one who does not see you but you see him, so may you be received by one whom you will not see, but who will see you (that is the Divine Presence).[70]

This blind religious court judge was without doubt one of the oldest religious teachers in Suwalk. Unfortunately, we know no details about him – not even his name.

One of the oldest religious court judges in Suwalk was R' Avraham Natan, son of Rabbi H'Shterin. He was born in 1801 and died in 1884. He became a judge in Suwalk in 1839 and kept the position until his death, 45 years later.[71]

One of his approbations may be found in “Sefer Hadeot Vehamidot” by Yehiel Mahriah and in “Even Tsiyon by R'Eliezer Efrati.

A second religious court judge, R'Yaakov, son of Rabbi A, served at the same time as R'Avraham Natan for ten years. His name is always mentioned alongside that of R'Avraham Natan Shterin, with the above-mentioned approbation in “Sefer Hadeot Veahmidot”, also on a notice about a man who had four wives.[72] In “Even Tsiyon” the approbation following that of R'Avraham Natan is that of “Yaakov Margolis local religious court judge” and that is probably the same Yaakov, son of Rabbi A.

One of the famous religious court judges in Suwalk was R'Naftali Frendzel who is always called the “dean of the dayanim” in published correspondence. He died on Yom Kippur eve, {5}656{1896 (sic! It has to be 1895)} in Suwalk.[73-74]

The religious court judge, Rabbi Binyamin Magentsa, was beloved in Suwalk. He played an important part in the local Jewish life in the last decades of the nineteenth and the first quarter of the twentieth century.

[Col. 162]

R'Binyamin was a very righteous man – a great scholar, and was especially famous for his expertise in Talmud. He was always involved in caring for the poor, arranging for places for guests to spend the Sabbath, arranging for Jewish soldiers to celebrate the holidays, etc. Those older Suwalk landslayt who remembered him, mentioned his name with great honour and love. He died in 1925 (Elu 3,{5}685).

Rabbi Hayim Moshe, son of R'Shelomoh Zalman Altman, was a famous religious court judge in Suwalk. He served for half a century in the stormy times of World War I and immediately thereafter. For a certain period, he was the unofficial rabbi of the town. Rabbi Altman was a lover of Zion. His approbation can be found in “Bet Yaakov” by Yaakov Binyamin Zeev Yakimovski (Pietrakov {5}667(1906 or 1907). He died in Suwalk on 18th of Shevat, {5}697(1937). Rabbi Shemuel Sher, former head of the religious court of Subatsh (Lithuania) and today, one of the important preachers of Habad Hassidism in the Lubavitch Yeshiva in Brooklyn, was his brother-in-law.

Rabbi Yaakov Tuvyah Goldberg was the Dean of Suwalk “Talmud Torah veha-Yeshivah Ohel Yitshak” for thirty one years.

Rabbi Simhah Pinsker was a dean of a yeshivah in Suwalk for a long time. He was already living there in 1863. After him came Yehonatan Sheff, one of the founders of the Yeshivah R'Yitshak Elhanan in New York, who left Suwalk in 1886.

Suwalk had its own preachers. They were not preachers in the same style as the later sense of the word – whose orations were full of figures of speech and parables. Their main task was to teach the group which employed them; - some codes, a chapter of Mishnah, and sometimes, a leaf of Gemara. Such preachers called themselves “Magid Mesharim”. They were often given the title: “Rabbi and teachers”.[23*]

One such preacher in Suwalk was Rabbi Mordekhay, son of R'Yehudah HaKohen. He lived there over 100 years ago. He was a grandson of R'Yitshak Ayzik Heber. R'Mordekhay HaKohen was one of the three people[75] who eulogized his grandfather, and he published R'Yosef Heber's book: “Nefesh Naki” (Warsaw, 1853). On the title page he calls himself: “Magid Mesharim of a society in Suwalk”. In the introduction, he tells us that he is the author of a book, “Panim Meirot” and that he had studied Torah for three years under the great rabbi Berush Ashkenazi in Slonim.[76]

[Col. 163]

Moshe Dov Kvint, who came from Suwalk, tells a very interesting story about R'Mordekhay which he heard in his youth. In the 1850's, hooligans began to attack Jews in Suwalk. “Suddenly, Jews were caught in the streets, taken into the police station and their beards and side locks were shorn off”. A great dread fell upon the Jews of Suwalk and they were afraid to leave their homes.

At that time, R'Mordekhay, Sofer's the Magid (so Kvint calls him) lived in Suwalk. He was a good looking man. “He was tall with a round, delicate forehead and deep-set, wise eyes… and a patriarchal silver-white beard”. R'Mordekhay had a warm Jewish heart and worried about the poor and for the suffering. He was shattered by the attacks on the Jews in Suwalk.

It happened that Czar Nicholas himself came to view the military manoeuvers in Suwalk. All ways were barred and a chain of soldiers guarded the Czar. Suddenly, the ruler's escorts were startled to see a man throw himself on the ground in front of the king's carriage. It was R'Mordekhay Sofer's with a paper in his hand. The Czar asked his attendants to find out what the man wanted. R'Mordekhay answered: “I wish to give this paper to the Czar”. The Czar replied that he was not allowed to take petitions from civilians. To this R'Mordekhay replied: “It is true, your Majesty, that you are not allowed to take petitions which are written in ink, but this is a petition written in blood and you must take it”.

R'Mordekhay burst into tears and he sobbed so hard that the Czar ordered the petition to be taken.

This petition was a cry of pain against the hooligans' attacks on Jews in Suwalk and it achieved its goal. It soon became quiet again in Suwalk.[77]

[Col. 164]

Rabbi Eliyahu Sarahzan was also a Magid Mesharim in Suwalk. He was the father of the famous Kasriel Tsevi Sarasohn. Before coming to Suwalk, R'Eliyahu was a Magid Meshorim in Stutsin and Lomza. In his old age, he immigrated to Jerusalem where he was a preacher in the big synagogue.

R'Kasriel Tsevi published his father's book on the Hagadah “Agadat Eliyahu” (New York {5}663{1902 or 1903}). In the introduction, it is told that R'Eliyahu was born in 1800 in Mikhalishok and died on 27th Iyar {5}639{1879} in Jerusalem. His wife, Freydl also died that year.[78]

He was the author of another two books: “Ugat Eliyahu” published by Hayim Mikhl Mikhlin (Jerusalem, {5}673{1912 or 1913} and “Hibat Yerusahlayim” (Warsaw {5}641{1880 or 1881}).

In “Kelil Tiferet Moshe”, by Yeshayah Reuven (Klinger), (Koenigsberg, {5}635{1874 or 1875}) there is a letter of praise by R'Eliyahu Sarahzon and there is approbation by him in “Yadav Emunah” by Tsevi Shlez (Warsaw, {5}640{1879 or 1880}).

Rabbi Tsevi Hirsh Yosef Hakohen, son of R'Yitshak Yaakov Reznik (Reznikov), known as R'Hirshl Maytsheter, was dean of a yeshivah and taught in Suwalk for 18 years. For many previous years, he had been dean of a yeshiva in Slonim. He came to Suwalk in 1894 and died at the age of 71 on 10th of Nisan,{5}672(1912)}.[79]

His son, Rabbi Menahem Rizikov, rabbi in New York for many years and now in the congregation “Ohave Shalom” in Brooklyn[80], told us that Rabbi Moshe Betsalel Lurie once told him: “If the Messiah were to come right now, you would be the High Priest”. R'Ayzl Harif, the famous Slonim Rabbi told him: “Whoever has not studied with you cannot study”. When R'Hirsh was in Slonim, R'Yosel Shluper, then chief rabbi, used to come to him every Yom Kippur eve for his blessing.

R'Hirsh Maytsheter did not publish any books. He claimed that the time invested in writing meant less time for the study of Torah.

[Col. 165]

At the beginning of the 20th century, Rabbi Noah Zeev Bresler was rabbi in Suwalk for a short time. He came to America in 1904 where he published the journal: “Der Vegvayzer”. He was rabbi in Chicago and in Brooklyn.[81]

Mordekhay Tsevi Halevi of Suwalk was neither rabbi nor a Dayan. He was the editor of a scholarly book on Torah: “Divre Hakhamin” (Warsaw, {5}636{1875 or 1876}). In the forward, he gives his family name as Vaysman and his father's name as Yosef Zelik. The book is actually a compilation of articles by various writers on the laws of Sabbath when on shipboard, to which R'Mordekhay added some comments.

R'Mordekhay Vaysman was born in Suwalk in 1845. He was the caretaker of R'Samuel Mohilewer's property around Suwalk. When R'Samuel Mohilewer moved to Radom, he went with him. In Radom, he taught Torah. He published many novellas in the publications of Agudat Yisrael in Poland. His novella was also published in the “Hameasef” of Jerusalem. He was in America for two years then returned to Suwalk were he died in 1938.[82]

R'Mordekhay was the father of the well-known Zionist worker, Dr. Leo Vaysman. He was an expert in Talmud and commentaries, and his nickname in Suwalk was “R'Motele Muflag”.[24*]

Finally, we should mention R'Barukh Yitshak, son of R'Eliezer Lubelski of Suwalk – one of the most punctilious of mohelim. His register of circumcisions begins in 1873 and ends in 1902 – written in marvellous order and listing over 10,000 boys he had circumcised. Lubelski died in New York in 1904.


We were not able to discover the chronology of all of the rabbis of Saini, one of the oldest communities of the nine towns in Suwalk area about which we are writing. If we accept the theory of author of “Mafteah Hahaskamot”[83], one of its first rabbis was R'Nahman, son of R'Shelomoh Naftali who lived some 300 years ago. His approbation may be found among the “approbations of the great scholars holding seats of judgment in Poland and Lithuania…” in the book “Nofet Tsofim” by R'Betsalel, son of R'Shelomoh from Kobryn (Lemberg {5}564{1803 or 1804}).

[Col. 166]

His approbations may also be found in “Amudeha Shevah” by the same 'Betsalel, both in the Dyhernfurth, {5}453{1692 or 1693}, and in the much later edition of Lemberg, 1888 as well as in “Shaare Shamayim” by Yehhiel Mikhl Segal (Prague,{5}435{1674 or 1675}).


Sefer Haberit of Suwalk Mohel Lubelski
{seal reads} Rev. Barukh Yitshak Lubelski, Mohel

This is the Sefer Haberit from the year {5}654 here in New York, Barukh Yitshak, son of Eliezer Lubelski.

According to the approbations, R'Nahman lived in Ladmir or in Vilna. It is difficult to see on what basis Dr. Levinshtayn has decided that R'Nahman was rabbi in Saini. We have found no proof for this theory. In “Ir Vilna” (p.8) where R'Nahman is discussed, there is no mention of any connection to Saini. The famous expert in rabbinic genealogy, H.N. Dembitser, when writing about him, makes absolutely no mention of Saini.[84]

[Col. 167-168]

Facsimiles of pages from Lubelski's register of circumcisions[25*]

[Col. 169]


Rabbi Itsele Sainier

In the eighties and nineties of the 18th century, the rabbi in Saini was a man called R'itsele Sainier. His father was called R'Asher Horodner and he was descendent of Tosefot Yom Tov. At the time of the Black Death, the family came to Lithuania.

Rabbi R'Itsele Sainier was a great-great-grandfather of the expert in international law, Dr.Jacob Robinson, who gave us the above information.


Rabbi Yehudah Bakhrakh (HaGRYB)

The first rabbi of Saini, about whom we have more accurate information, was Rabbi Yehudah Bakhrakh, son of R'Yehoshua Heshil, one of the greatest scholars of his time, known by the acronym HaGRYB. He lived in Saini about 130-140 years ago.

R'Yehudah was a descendant of Rabbi Tuvyah Bakhrakh who was the first martyr in the Razinay (Grodne province) massacre of 1660.[85] Bakhrakh is the name of a town in Prussia where Jews had lived as far back as 800 years ago. It may be assumed that the Bakhrakh family in Razinay was a branch of that family. It is a family of “world renowned scholars, wise men and dayanim”.[86]

R'Yehudah Bakhrakh was born in 1775. He was rabbi in Saini for many years, it seems. He did not accept the offers of much larger communities because he was afraid that in a larger town he would not be able to devote as much time to the study of Torah. He made a business arrangement with a number of men which was very successful so that he lived in wealth. He gave much to charity and served as a role model for the rich men in his town.

The family of HaGRYB were residents of the Suwalk area for a long time; in Vilkovish, Kalvarie, Serey, Sapotkin and Suwalk. His wife Reyzl was the daughter of R'Yisrael Burloyner (Berliner?) in Serey who died in 1863 in Sapotkin in whose house the Vilna Gaon had lived for some time.[87]

[Col. 170]

R'Hanokh Henekh Bakrakh – son of R'Yehudah – was a resident of Suwalk (died in Suwalk in 1863).[88] His second son, R'Eliezer Moshe, also lived in Suwalk and died in Grodne in 1867.[89] The famous scholar, R'Hanokh Henekh, head of the religious court in Kalvarie and Zabludave, was the father-in-law of R'Yehoshua Heshil Bakhrakh – R'Yehudah's father. Rabbi Yitshak Ayzik Bakhrakh's, rabbi of Amdur, wife, was the daughter of Avraham Grayever of Suwalk. The 12th generation of the Bakhrakh family was Eilyahu, son of Avraham Varshavski of Suwalk.[90] A descendant of this same family is the “famous rabbi R'Meir,” son of Volf Halevi Hasid from Saini (lived around the first half of the 19th century). R'Meir's son, R'Yosef Elhanan, was rabbi of Serey.[91] The HaGRYB is very closely related to the rabbinic family 'Efrati' which was even more important in the Suwalk area.

R'Yehudah died in 1846 and was buried in the Suwalk cemetery.[92] This is the inscription on his tombstone:

The great rabbi, righteous man, our teacher R'Yehuda
Son of Rabbi R'Yehoshua Heshil Bakhrakh
Who passed away on 29th of Nisan
In the year 606{1846}
May his soul be bound up in the bonds of life

R'Yehudah Bakhrakh wrote many novellas, but most of them remained in manuscript. In the “Hosafot Hadashot” on the Talmud (Vilna, {5}668{1907 or 1908} are his famed “Nimuke HaGRYB” and at the end of the tractates-novella on Talmud and commentaires. The “Nimuke HaGRYB” also appeared in several editions of Mishnah[93] in “Shulhan Arukh Yoreh Deah” of the Koenigsberg edition {5}619{1858 or 1859}, in Maimonides “Mishneh Torah” (Vilna {5}660{1899 or 1900}, in “En Yaakov (Vilna {5}654{1893 or 1894}. His annotations may be found in “Toraht Hatat” of RM'A (Pietrokov){5}664{1903 or 1904}. In “Megine Arets” in the Warsaw edition {5}653{1892 or 1893} his comments may be found.

[Col. 171]

The HaGRYB gave many approbations of which we cite a few:

“Toldot Haarets”, Yosef Sheynhak, Warsaw {5}601{1840 or 1841}.
“Pardes Hahokhmah”, Moshe ben R'Aharon, Sailkav, 1836.
“Gevurot Ari”, R'Aryeh Leyb, head of the religious court in Mits {Mainz?Metz?}, Vilna, 1862.
“Bigde Yesha”, Shemuel Halevi Segal, Vilna, 1844.
“Hilkhot Rav Alfas”, part one. Vilna {5}599{1838 or 1839}.
“Shevet Ahim”, Binyamin Bishka Kats, Vilna-Grodna, 1833.
“Shir Hashirm” based on the Gaon of Vilna, published by Zeev, son of R'Yitshak Yisrael, Warsaw 1842.
“Teome Tsivyah”, Tsevi Hirsh Blakh Kanigsberg {5}621{1860 or 1861}.
“Tsevaah”, Yosef Moshe Avraham. Warsaw 1845 {New York {5}712{1951 or 1952} second edition.

R'Yehudah Bakhrakh's name may also be found among the approbations on the Vilna Shas {Talmud} of 1835 at the time of the heated controversy between the publishers of the Talmud in Slavuta.


Rabbi Moshe Yitshak Avigdor

After the passing of R'Yehudah Bakhrakh in 1846, another great rabbi took on the position of rabbi of Saini – Rabbi Moshe Yitshak Avigdor, son of Rabbi Shemuel of Brest Litovsk, grandson of the great R'Shemuel, the last rabbi of Vilne. He descended from the MaHaral of Prague.

Rabbi Yitshak Avigdor was rabbi in Slonim and Vasilishok before coming to Saini and afterwards in large congregations of Kovne and Shklov, where he died in 625 {1864 or 1865}.[94]

R'Yitshak Avigdor was rabbi in Saini for around 31 years. He started a great yeshiva there on the model of Volozhin. Even then, he had a great reputation as a scholar and many students began to stream into Saini. The yeshiva was, however, short lived because it was: “like a thorn in the side of many who begrudged”, informing the government that the yeshiva was a hot bed of revolutionaries and lawbreakers. R'Moshe Yitshak was charged before the court. All of his books were confiscated and sent to the government censor in Warsaw, and the yeshiva was closed down. The court's decision was that R'Moshe Yitshak was innocent of the charge of carrying on anti-government activities, but, he was forbidden to continue living in Poland.

[Col. 172]

His books were transferred from Warsaw to the royal library in Peterburg where they remain until the present. Many of his novellas were written in the margins of his books, as was custom in those days. The second part of the manuscript of his book: “Pardes Rimonim” was also confiscated.[95]

R'Moshe Yitshak Avigdor had a very sharp mind. In 1849, there was a celebration of the completion of the study of the Talmud in Saini. Many great rabbis and scholars came to the festive occasion in order to test his knowledge and sharpness. The Saini scholars asked R'Moshe Yitshak Avigdor to make the concluding address[26*], but they did this only two hours in advance. He began his address on Sunday and spoke for five whole days. Every day, he contradicted the previous day's conclusions. Among his audience, were also all the rabbis who had assembled in Saini for the occasion and they all marvelled at his genius.[96]

Since his novellas had been confiscated along with his books, only two of his works were published:

“Pardes Rimonim” – commentary on Yoreh Deah Hilhot Nidah, Vilna. 629 {1868 or 1869} part 1.
“Gilyone Kodesh”. New York 669{1908 or 1909} two parts.

His only son, R'Avraham Shemuel, wrote an introduction to “Pardes Rimonim”. R'Yitshak's wife, Sheyna Esther, was the daughter of Rabbi Yehudah Leyb who was head of the religious court in Minsk.

Some of his response are quoted in “Haye Yaakov” by R'Hayim Yaakov Landa, part one (Vilna, 673{1912 or 1913}p.56, and in “Torah Mitsiyon”, v.1 (Jerusalem, 647{1886 or 1887}).

R'Moshe Yitshak Avigdor wrote many approbations for books. We have found them in:

“Avne Zikaron”, Avraham Firkavit. Vilna 632{1871 or 1872}.
“Bet Midrash”, Moshe MiShklav. Vilna 621{1860 or 1861}.
“Geon Avraham”, Avraham son of R'Shaul MiShklav. Odessa 624{1863 or 1864}.
“Divre Hayim”, Hayim Yoel Sharin. Vilna. 1870.
“Derekh Hayashar”, Tsevi Pinhas Lifshits. Vilna 624{1863 or 1864}.
“Huhak Lezekher”, Yehudah Abelzan. Vilna 620{1859 or 1860}.
“Zikhron Avraham”, Avraham Abli Rozanus. Vilna 619{1858 or 1859}.
“Zikhron Yehudah”, (Yehudah Abelzon). Vilna, 1851.
“Zikhron LeMoshe”, Moshe Raskes. Odessa 633{1872 or 1873}.

[Col. 173]

“Zikhron Menahem”, Menahem Man. Warsaw 635{1874 or 1875}.
“Yair Netiv”, R'Avraham Halevi. Warsaw 639{1878 or 1879} second edition
“Yad Haketanah”, R'Berish, son of R'Yaakov. Koenigsberg 616{1855 or 1856} (re-printed in “Geulah Haharonah” by Shelomoh Halevi Halprin. Warsaw 689{1928 or 1929}.
Sefer “Kritot” of Rabbi Shimshon Mikinon. Warsaw 614{1853 or 1854}.
“Kerem Hemed”, Shelomoh Fraydesh. Vilna 627{1866 or 1867}.
“Likute RTsB”A”, Tsevi Hirsh Kahana. Warsaw 627{1866 or 1867}.
“Ruah Hayim”, Hayim MiVolozhin. Vilna {1858}.
“Teome Tseviah”, Tsevi Hirsh Blakh. Koenigsberg 621{1860 or 1861}.
“Torah Shebikhetav Ushebeal Peh”, Sefer Shemot. Al pi. “Misrat Moshe”, Yehoshua Heshil Sirkin. Pressburg 623{1862 or 1863}.

Rabbi Moshe Yitshak Avigdor approved the Slavita edition of the Talmud in 1835 at the time of the great controversy with the Rom printing press in Vilna on the right to print a new edition of the Talmud.


Rabbi Sheraga-Fayvl Sarna

From 1859 until the end of 1866, Rabbi Sheraga Fayvl Sarna was the rabbi of Saini.[97] We know very little about this rabbi. At the top of the list of subscribers to Jehiel mahrich's “Sefer Hadeot Vehamidot”, one finds the name of “The head of the religious court, Rabbi Sheraga Fayvil”. This is, of course, Rabbi Sarna who was probably rabbi in Saini in 1865 when the book was published.

In “Hapeles” 661{1900 or 1901}p.151) there are Torah novellas under the caption: “Mile De'Agadah” by “Rabbi” Sheraga Fayvl Sarna who was head of the religious court in Saini and afterwards in Horadak. In “Amude Haesh” by R'Yehiel Heler, there is a response (p.56) to R'Sheraga Fayvl, head of the religious court in Saini.

There is an approbation by him signed “Sheraga Fayvil of Sakalk and of Saini at present rabbi in Horadak”. In “Or Matok” by Yisrael Binyamin Lavin called Lamport (Vilna 6. {1887 or 1888}.

There are approbations by him in “Are Yehudah”, Yehudah Leyb (Vilna 625{1864 or 1865}; “ Zeraim” (Warsaw 621{1860 or 1861} published by A.Marksahn); and “Dove Sifte Yeshenim”, parts 1-2-3, Dov Toyber (Jerusalem 660{1899 or 1900}.

[Col. 174]

His grandson, Rabbi Yehezkel Sarna, dean of “Yeshivat Hevron” in Jerusalem, writes that after Saini, his grandfather was rabbi in Astrave (Lomza province) – later in Sokolke and finally in Horodok where he died. R'Yehezkel adds that Rabbi Sarna was famed as a wonder rabbi and that people came from afar to receive his blessing.[98]

R'Sheraga Fayvl was born in 1827 and died on 12th Shevat 652{1892}. His tombstone in the Bialystok cemetery had the following inscription: “This marks {the grave} of a righteous man. Return O soul of the righteous to your heavenly abode. You have done much while you were alive. You were a great scholar, for great glory, who's Torah was your crown. The great rabbi, the famed Sheraga Fayvl, son of Rabbi Yosef, may the memory of the righteous be a blessing; was rabbi in Popolnie, Saini, Ostrove, Sakalke and Haradak”.[99]


Rabbi Yehoshua Heshl Eliason

At the beginning of 1867, the scholar Rabbi Yehoshua Heshl Eliason took over the rabbinate of Saini.[100]

R'Yehoshua Heshl was born in Krozsh, Lithuania in 1799. He was rabbi in Yaneve, Zezmer, Shaki, Vilki and Sventsian before coming to Saini. He suffered a great deal from the community in Yaneve. In Saini on the other hand, he was greatly honoured. He was considered a wonder worker. The Jews of Saini believed that if R'Yehoshua Heshl came to a place of misfortune, salvation accompanied him.

His wife was the daughter of the Hebrew writer, A.A.Fridman. His sister, Sarah Tsirl, is the daughter of Rabbi Bendet – son of the kabbalist, R'Eliyahu of Krazsh.[101][27*]

R'Yehoshua Heshl had a phenomenal memory and was called, therefore, “R'Heshl the iron head”.[102] He was a great opponent of the musar movement and led a campaign against it together with R'Leybele Kovner and R'Yeshayah – rabbi of Salant. When R'Yisrael Salanter would come somewhere to preach about musar, Yisrael Salanter would make a special trip to that place in order to oppose him, often speaking immediately after him.[103]

[Col. 175]

R'Yehoshua Heshl was rabbi in Saini for only 7 years. He died in 1874. He was eulogized by five rabbis, among which, the ritual slaughterer of Saini, R'Yaakov Tsevi Shaynman.[104]

Approbation by him may be found in “Yad Yitshak”, by Yitshak Tsevi Hakohen (Vilna, 1867).


Rabbi Moshe Betsalel Lurie

At the end of 1875, Rabbi Moshe Betsalel Lurie became that rabbi of Saini.[105] He was born in Sukhavol in 1835. Before coming to Saini, he had been rabbi of Vilna, Lithuania for 8 years and of Shaki (Sukhavolie province) for 8 years.[106] He served as rabbi for Saini for 33 years. At the end of 1907, he became the rabbi of Suwalk where he died on 26th Nisan 674{1914}.[107] His second wife was Tserne Miriam, daughter of R'Meir Aylberg of Srednik who died on Tishri 3, 673{1912} in Koenigsberg. His first wife was Devorah (died in Vilan, Lithuania on 13 Adar I, 627{1867}.


Rabbi Moshe Betsalel Luria

[Col. 176]

Rabbi Luria[28*], was a supporter of the settlement of Erets Yisrael. He wrote a letter of approbation for the famous Hovev Tsiyon book, “Shivat Tsiyon” about the need to build the land.[108] Rabbi Moshe Betsalel was the “rabbi famed for his many writings” as follows:

  1. “Nefesh Hayah” on tractate Bava Metsia, Warsaw 640{1879 or 1880}.
  2. “Nehor Sheraga” on tractate Yevamot, Vilna, 1871.
  3. ”Melekhet Hoshev” on tractate Temurah, Warsaw 662{1901 or 1902}.
  4. ”Ma'ase Hoshev” on tractate Arakhin. Warsaw 655{1894 or 1895}.
  5. ”Matsevat Moshe” on tractate Moed Katan, with commentary by his son, Rabbi Tsevi Aryeh Luria.[109] Vilna 684{1923 or 1924}.
  6. ”Melekhet Betsalel” on tractate Shavuot. Warsaw 698{1937 or 1938}. With commentary “Erets Tsevi”by his son Rabbi Tsevi Aryeh Leyb Luria (may the memory of a righteous man be for a blessing.
  7. ”Maaseh Betsalel”, commentary on Piske Maharam MeRikanti. Pietrokov.659{1898 or 1899}.
  8. ”Kova Yeshuah” on tractate Bava Kama. Warsaw 648{1887 or 1888}.
  9. ”Keter Yeshua” on tractate Keritot. Pietrokov. 673{1912 or 1913}.
  10. ”Etek Sukot” on tractate Sukoh, Bilgoray. 669{1908 or 1909}.
  11. ”Torat Hakanaut” on tractate Sotah. Warsaw. 659{1898 or 1899}.
  12. ”Shivat Hanerot” on Piske Hatashbets. Warsaw. 661{1900 or 1901}.

R'Moshe Betsalel left a manuscript on the book “Haparnas” by a student of Maharam of Rotenberg. (428 verses).

In the Vilna edition of “Noda Beyehudah” (1904), there are some commentaries of R'Moshe Betsalel's, among others.

R'Moshe Betsalel joined a number of rabbis in opposition to those French rabbis who said: “there is a condition in marriage”.[110][29*]

R'Moshe Betsalel ordained a large number of rabbis. His approbations may be found in many books. We have found them in:

  1. “Even Lev”.. Yehudah Leyb Yafe. Vilna 1900.
  2. “Or Zarua”. Yitshak son of R'Moshe – part one – Zitamir. 622{1861 or 1862}.
  3. “Bet Yaakov”. Yaakov Binyamin Zeev Yakimavski. Pietrokov. 1907.
  4. ”Bet Yaakov”, Yaakov Ruderman. Vilna. 672{1911 or 1912}.
  5. ”Devar Avraham”. Avraham Zalmanski. Vilna. 671{1902 or 1903}.
  6. ”Dagul Mirevovah”?. Dov Grosman. Vilna. 671{1910 or 1911}.
  7. ”Havaad”. Edited by Reuven Levinbuk. Pietrokov. 674{1913 or 1914}.
  8. ”Hidushe AB”Y”. Yehudah Leyb Anikster. Chicago. 664{1903 or 1904}.
  9. ”Yede Moshe”. Yaakov Binyamin Yakimavski. Grayeve. 669{1908 or 1909}.
  10. ”Yalkut Sipurim Umidrashim”. Zeev Volf Grinvald. Part 3. Second edition. Warsaw. 683{1922 or 1923}.
  11. ”Mibet Meir”. Meir Stalevits. Warsaw. 659{1898 or 1899}.
  12. ”Midrash Rabbah on Song of Songs” by Barukh Etilzahn. Warsaw. 636{1875 or 1876}.
  13. ”Metav Hegyone Hayahdut”. Part I. Reuven Levinbuk. Pietrokov. 674{1913 or 1914}.
  14. ”Meil Shemuel”. Shemuel Hilel Gimpl. Grayeve. 671{1910 or 1911}.
  15. ”Nehura DeYaakov”. Yaakov Aharon, son of R'Tsevi Hirsh. Warsaw.659-670{1898-1899/1909 or 1910}.
  16. ”Avodat Hakodesh”. Hayim Yosef David Azulai. Vilna. 667{1906 or 1907}.
  17. ”Ateret Tsevi”. Efrayim Eliezer Harlap. Warsaw. 657{1896 or 1897}.
  18. ”Shenot Hayim”. Hayim Duber Manushevits. Warsaw. 668{1907 or 1908}.
  19. ”Tehilot Hayim”. Hayim Dov MeAstralenka. Warsaw. 662{1901 or 1902}.
  20. ”Totsaot Hayim”. Hayim Shelomoh Kahana. Pietrokov. 669{1908 or 1909}.
  21. ”Tiferet Avraham”. Part I. Pinhas Moshe Gardan. Warsaw. 657{1896 or 1897}.
  22. ”Terumat Yaakov”. Yaakov Meir Yako. Vilna. 670{1909 or 1910}.

R'Moshe Betsalel's son, R'Hanokh Zundl, became rabbi in Vishneve and a second son, R'Tsevi Aryeh Leyb Luria was rabbi in Koptsheve[111], and Zaludok and was author of “Kuntres Agunah”. 667{1906 or 1907}. His son-in-law was Rabbi Yehudah Leby Palterovitsh – head of the religious court in Bikhav and Samara, where he died. He had possession of R'Moshe Betsalel's manuscript on “Sefer Haparnas”.

When Suwalk did not yet have any Jews, Ratzk already had a rabbi. That was about 270-280 years ago.

In “Ir Vilna”, (p.165), there is mention of R'Gerson, head of the religious court of Ratski. We have tried to figure out when he lived in such a fashion. R'Gerson's daughter was the mother of R'Aryeh Leyb, son of R'Nahum, head of the religious court of Plock.

[Col. 178]

R'Aryeh Leyb was the grandfather of the wealthy R'Yosef Zakhaym of Vilne who died in 1848, “full of years” and was, therefore, born around 1769-1770[30*]. Thus, R'Aryeh Leyb must have been born around 1730-1740 and R'Nahum, around 1710. R'Gershon must have lived and worked in Ratzk around 1670-1680.


The newly raised tombstone (after the Holocaust) on the graves of Rabbi Moshe Betsalel Luria (may the memory of a righteous man be for a blessing). Rabbi of Suvalk (left) and of Rabbi R'Binyamin Magentsa, may the memory of a righteous man be for a blessing, (right)

There is another way of figuring out when R'Gershon was rabbi in Ratzk. The above-mentioned R'Nahum had a brother, R'Shalom, head of the religious court in Birzsh. R'Shalom died (according to “Daat Kedoshim”) around 1725. If we reckon that he lived around 65-75 years, his brother R'Nahum must have been born around 1650-1660, was married around 1675-1680 to R'Gershon's daughter – and this was the time when R'Gershon, R'Nahum's father-in-law, was rabbi of Ratzk.

[Col. 179]

In the fourties and fifties, the rabbi of Ratzk was Rabbi Yaakov Yissakher, son of R'Yehudah Leyb. This may be proved from approbation in a book of his father-in-law, R'Avraham Segal.[112] We have found nothing more of a personal nature on him.

In the seventies, the rabbi in Ratzk was Rabbi Zelik Berman. In “Hamigid” of 1871 (n°42), there is a correspondence from “Zelig Leyb Berman, resident of Ratzk”. It can be taken as certain that he was there no later than 1878 for, in that year, a new rabbi came to Ratzk. That is all we know about Rabbi Berman.


Rabbi Hayim Ratsker

Among the rabbi of whom Ratzk boasted and held a special place of honour was Rabbi Hayim son of Avraham Segal, known by all as R'Hayim Ratzker. In 1878 he was certain, already there, as may be seen from his book “Orah Hayim” (Vilna.639{1878}. His novella can be found in “Teshuvah Shelemah” by Haim Fishl Epshteyn (Pietrokov.674{1913 or 1914}.[113]

R'Hayim Ratzker was an outstanding scholar of his generation and many young men came to be ordained by him. He ordained an extraordinarily large number of rabbis.[114]

His approbations can be found in the following:

“Nefesh Hager”. Mordekhay Levenshteyn. Pietrokov. 666{1905 or 1906}.
“Bene Gershon”. Gershon Lifshits. Vilna. 659{1898 or 1899}.
“Berit Yitshak”. Yitshak Ayzeksan. Vilna. 662{1901 or 1902}.
“Hegyone A”B”. Avraham Duber Galdenzahn. Warsaw. 659{1898 or 1899}.
“Piske Hilkhot Hamordekhai”. Mordekhay Shatts. Warsaw. 662{1901 or 1902}.
“Otsar Kol Minhage Yeshurun Hameshukhlal”. Avraham Eliezer Hirshovits. St. Louis. 1917.
“Minhage Yehushrun”. Avraham Eliezer Hirshavits. Vilna. 1914.


Rabbi Ayzik Leyb Stoliar-Sapir

In 663{1903} the rabbinate of Ratzk was taken over by Rabbi Ayzik Leyb (Yitshak Yehudah), son of Sheraga Azaryah Stoliar.

[Col. 180]

R'Ayzik Leyb was born in Shaki in 1858. In 1887, he became the rabbi of Adelsk and in 1892 rabbi of Kuznitse. He was rabbi of Ratzk for 18 years; (1903—1921). He then immigrated to Erets Yisrael. Until his death in 1935, he was a religious judge in Petah Tikvah. In Erets Yisrael, he Hebraised his family name to Sapir. The Kuznits rabbi, Rabbi Eliezer Lipman was his father-in-law.

While still young he authored a book together with a yeshiva friend, Yaakov, son of R'Shlomoh Zalman Hurvits (who was later a rabbi in New York), in which his outstanding scholarship made a great impression. A few years later, the book was published as “Alumat Alumim” – novella on Halakhah (Vilna. 1882). From the introduction, we learn that his first wife was the daughter of R'Elhanan, son of R'Dov Borkovski of Shaki, and that his mother's name was Toybe.

R'Ayzik Leyb wrote the following books:

“Sheraga Tova”.[115]
“Sherage Nefishi”. Vilna. 659-668-673{1898 or 1899-1907 or 1908 – 1912 or 1913}.
“Tsiyun Lenefsh Yekarah”. Vilna. 653{1892 or 1893}.[116]
“Likui Hameorot”. Vilna. 654{1893 or 1894}.
”Aklida Derahame”. Vilna. 643-673.{1882 or 1883 – 1912 or 1913}.
“Sehfakh Siah”. Commentary on “Avinu Malkenu”. (Yiddish). Vilna. 674{1913 or 1914}.
“Sheraga Nehora”. Vilna. 674{1913 or 1914}.

In honour of the coronation of Czar Nicholas II, R'Ayzik Leyb published a pamphlet entitled: “Kevod Melakhim. (Vilna. 1896).

A letter and some comments by R'Ayzik Leyb may be found in “Divre Shemuel” by Shmuel Aleksandrov (Warsaw. 653{1892 or 1893} p.7. Some of his novellas were published in “Torah Mitsiyon”. (Jerusalem. 665{1904 or 1905} vol.1,4.

His approbation may be found in Pesah Finfer's “Mesorat Hatorah Vehaneviim”. (Vilna. 1906).

Rabbi Stoliar published the “Ohel Yehoshua” by Yehoshu, son of R'Aharon Heler. (Vilna. 642{1881 or 1882} with his introduction.


Rabbi Hilel, son of R”Zeev Volf

Ratzk was a much bigger community in the past than it was in more recent years and it could afford to have permanent preachers who were well known. One of them who lived in Ratzk some 150-160 years ago was R'Hilel of Kovni, son of R'Zeev Volf, rabbi of Razk, as he calls himself on the title page of his book: “Hilel Ben Shahar”. (Warsaw. 564{1803 or 1804}.

[Col. 181]

We read in the lengthy introduction that he was involved in commerce then became a rabbi somewhere, and only in his last years was he a preacher. It seems that he did not have a good life for he writes in his introduction: “commerce, the rabbinate and preaching are “vanity” full of anger and pain”. At the end of the book there are two eulogies: one on the Gaon of Vilna spoken in Vilna.

His brother, R'Arele, was head of the religious court in Kalvarie.[117] His grandson is R'Hilel Hakohen Bishko, one of the greatest scholars and notables of Kaydan who died in 1868.[118] R'Hilel Bishko was himself head of the religious court in Ratzk, as can be seen from many subscriber lists. R'Hilel Bishko's brother-in-law was the wealthy R'Hershl Daytsh of Kaydan.

The famous Hebrew writer, Mordekhay Aharon Gintsburg is a member of R'Hilel Ratsker's family.


Rabbi Elyakum Getsil Altshul

Another Ratzk preacher, Getsil Altshul[119] was one of the greatest preachers of his time. He lived in Ratzk about 140-150 years ago and came there, it seems, immediately after R'Hilel Ratsker.

R'Alyakum Getsil's father, R'Zeev Volf, was the rabbi in “ the community of Lutsin in the district {of Lutsin?} in the state of Ifland {Finland?}”. After his father's death, R'Elyakum took his place. Later, he became a religious court judge in Ponedel, Deretshin, Ratzk and Hlusk.

When was he in Ratzk? On the title page of the book: “Sefat Hayam Vemetsar Yam”, it says: “Elyakum Getsil, judge of religious court in Hlusk and formerly judge of religious court in Ratski in Little Poland.[120] The book is dated 579{1808 or 1809}, Breslau.

[Col. 182]

At that time R'Elyakum Gesil was already in Hlusk. Thus we can estimate that he was in Ratzk at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

R'Elyakum Getsil's father is the author of “Hamishah Haluke Avanim”. (Shklav.554{1793 or 1794} and “Zeved Tov”. (Shklov.553{1792 or 1793}. Warsaw. 574{1813 or 1814} - - a detailed blueprint of the Holy Temple with a commentary by R'Elyakum Getzil.

One of the Altshuls wrote out a family tree in which he tells that: “more than 18 generations before him were all Torah scholars that served as rabbis in great and important communities, or they were suited for the rabbinate and were outstanding in Torah, piety and holiness with a good name and pedigree”.[121]

Approbation by R'Alyakum Getzil may be found in the book: “Derekh Melekh” by Yehiel, son of R'Yehudah of Kalvarie (Shklav.558{1797 or 1798}.

Rabbi Avraham Margoliut, head of the religious court of Telz, was the son-in-law of R'Zeev Valf Altshuler.[122] Zeev Volf's grandson, Rabbi Moshe Zvulun Margoliut, became a rabbi in Boston in 1889 and, in 1906, rabbi in New York – one of the great rabbis in America and one of the founders of the Agudat Harabonim in America in 661 (1901).


Rabbi Yosef Moshe Ahrnzan

Another preacher and writer who was a rabbi and teacher in Ratzk[123], around 110 years ago was Rabbi Moshe, son of R'Aharon of Salant who was born around 1805. He was a religious court judge in Mir for many years and after that in Zelve; “and from there he became a rabbi and teacher in the community of Ratske in the land of P (Poland)”. He was also a rabbi and teacher in Vishtinets. According to the dates on his sermons and in his book “Mate Moshe”, he was certainly in Ratzk by 1844. In 1847 and 1848, we find him preaching in Eybergen, Holland. In 1862 he came to New York where he became the rabbi of “Adat Yeshurun”. He also worked as a scribe and ritual slaughterer in New York.

[Col. 183]

In the sixties, there was a controversy connected to his name in New York. Before he came to New York, Jews used to eat beef that had been stabbed. That is, the animal was stabbed in the throat and most of its blood was allowed to flow out through a blood vessel in the throat. Rabbi Ahrnzan began a fierce campaign against this and forbade this kind of slaughtering. In his book “Mate Moshe”, he bases his arguments {on scholarship?}.

This campaign carried over into other countries and was mentioned in the response of many European scholars such as, R'Yosef Shaul Natanzan; R'Shimson Raphael Hirsch; R'Shelomoh Kluger; R'Elazar Hurvits of Vienna; R'Yitshak Halevi of Virtsburg, etc.[124]

R'Moshe, the son of R'Aharon, was a man of conscience. He fought for whatever he cherished without reckoning the results. The controversy over the stabbed calves was not the only one in which he was involved. He led a campaign against the rabbi of the New York Bet Hamidrash Hagadol – Rabbi Avraham Yosef Ash – for the way he conducted divorce procedures against rabbis who certified the kashrut of wines from California and against the emissaries of the Yeshiva Ets Hayim in Jerusalem.

The controversies were so fierce that other rabbis excommunicated him. R'Moshe was so uncomfortable in New York that he decided to leave for Erets Yisrael. Unfortunately, he never made it there but died in Chicago on 25th Elul, 635{1874}.[125]

R'Moshe, son of R'Aharon, was the author of:

  1. “Pardes Hakukhmah”. Sadilkav. 1836
  2. “Pardes Habinah”. Amsterdam. 1842 {1856}.
  3. ”Mate Moshe”. Jerusalem. 638{1877 or 1878}.


Rabbi Yehudah Leyb Gintsburg

One of the earliest rabbis in Filipowe of whom we have some knowledge. He lived there about 110-120 years ago. In “Letoldot Mishpehot Gintsburg”[126], it is told that among the outstanding Gintsburg descendants in various lands, was Rabbi Yehudah Leyb Gintsburg, rabbi of Filipowe. His name is also mentioned in “Amude Or” by Rabbi Yehiel Helerf, where there is a response (p.6) by the author to “Yehuda Leyb Gintsburg, head of the religious court in Filipowe”.

[Col. 184]

Approbation by Yehuda Leyb, son of the late R'A, resident of Filipowe, may be found in “Arugat Habosem Uveer Mayim” – a commentary on Psalms (Koenigsberg. 612{1851 or 1852} by Shmerl Roznthal. From the author's comment as well as from R'Yehiel Heler's response, we can estimate that he was rabbi in Filipowe in the forties of the last century.


Rabbi Hayim Vasertsug

The rabbi of whom Filipowe boasted, son of Rabbi Shimshon Vasertsug. Very few people knew his surname and he was usually known as Rabbi Hayim Filipover.

Rabbi Hayim was born in Plonsk. He served as rabbi in Tshenstekhov, Raygrad, Filipowe, Seray and Vishtinets. He came to Filipowe in the late forties or early fifties of the previous century. The fact that he was called “R'Hayim Filipover, shows that he served in Filipowe for a fairly long time.[127]

He had a charismatic personality. He took only enough payment for his minimal needs. He took quite literally the injunction: “you shall eat bread and salt” in all particulars. He studied more than he slept. His love of Jews was so great that he always tried to make things easier when it came to matters of money. Because of this ethical value; “and you shall have pity on Israel's money”, he once ruled against a decision made by the Gaon of Vilna.[128] Some rabbis wanted to excommunicate him and a special assembly of rabbis was called to hear the case. But one rabbi's argument persuaded the others to drop the case. He said: 'How can we, who eat and sleep like normal people, judge a scholar who does not eat or sleep enough and who “kills” himself in the tent of Torah?”.[129]

R'Hayim Filipover was a great researcher in matters of religion and Halakhah. He fought against Hasidism and suffered greatly from the opposition of the Hasidim.

[Col. 185]

Many of his novellas remained in manuscript. T.F. Shapira printed some of his articles on Halakha.[130] S.Y. Finn printed a portion of the introduction of his book (in manuscript) “Nishmat Hayim”. Finn says that R'Hayim Filipover was a great lover of truth; therefore, he could not stay in one place too long. He also suffered a great deal because of his bitter opposition to Hasidism.[131]

R'Hayim Filipover died in 1865 in Vishtinets.[132]


Rabbi Zvulun Leyb, son of R'Y.T. Lipman

One of the rabbis of Filipowe was Rabbi Zvulun Leyb, son of R'Y.T. Lipman.[133] It is not clear whether he took over the rabbinate immediately after R'Hayim Filipover left. At the beginning of the seventies, he was certainly the rabbi there.[134] Since there was a new rabbi in 1873, we must assume that he became rabbi there in the sixties (and perhaps at the end of the fifties).

We find R'Zvulun Leyb's novellas in a book by his son-in-law, Rabbi Dov Moshe, son of R'Yehiel Mikhl Namiat, rabbi in Krozsh, Plungian, etc. In the introduction to the book, it is mentioned that some of Rabbi Zvulun's response were published in Halevanon, Hapisgah, Hapeles, Yagdil Torah and in other books.[135]

R'Zvulun died on 2 Sivan 663{1903}.

Rabbi BARY”T[31*] was a strong lover of Zion. He was a friend of Rabbi Tsevi Hirsh Kalisher who praised his sermons on Zionism.[135*] The appeals of the Odessa committee often carried quotations from his articles. A long article on his praising the rebuilding of Erets Yisrael may be found in A.Y. Slutski's “Shivat Tsiyon”. (p.43 section 2.p.55).


Rabbi Moshe Zaks

[Col. 186]

In 1873, Rabbi Moshe, son of Yaakov Zaks, became rabbi in Filipowe. R'Moshe Zaks was born in Vilna in 1829.[136] He studied with the rabbi of Vidz – Rabbi David and with Rabbi Yisrael Salanter. Before coming to Filipowe, he was rabbi for 18 years in Nemakst where he lived in great poverty. He served in Filipowe until 1886 and from there, he returned to Nemaksht. This time he was better paid.

An approbation of his can be found in “Imre Shefer” by Shemuel Naftali Hirsh Epshteyn. (Vilna. 634{1873 or 1874}.

R'Moshe Zaks died on the first day of Shevat 665{1905} in Nemaksht. In his book: “Divre Moshe” (Vilna 638{1877 or 1878}, he writes that he is descendent from “Aharon the priest”.


Rabbi Yeruham Fishl Zabludavski

After R'Moshe Zaks, the next rabbi of Filipowe was Rabbi Yeruham Fishl, son of R'Yehushua Zabludavski – a descendent of the well-known Bialystok family. It appears that he held this position until the early nineties. In his book “Mistore Yam Hatalmud” (Warsaw. 1896), he writes that: “I was the head of the religious court of Filipava”. The approbations in this book praise his worldly knowledge. One of the writers of an approbation was Nahum Sokolow who wrote that: “he examines perceptively many matters that most Torah scholars do not look into.

R'Yeruham Fishl was the author of a second book: “Atarot Yehoshua”. (Vilna. 642{1881 or 1882}.


Rabbi Avraham Aryeh Grasbard

Rabbi Yehudah Khasehesman, former rabbi of Baklerowe, writes from Chicago that in the mid-nineties, Rabbi Avraham Aryeh Grasbord became rabbi of Filipowe having taken over from his father, R'Barukh. Thus, it seems that R'Barukh was therefore but a short time. But we have not been able to clarify this matter sufficiently. R'Barukh was rabbi in Gabri, Lithuania before coming to Filipowe and afterwards, he served in Balbirishok, Lithuania. The name of R'A.A. Grasbord appears on a list of contributors to the settlement of Erets Yisrael in 1899 and 1903 published in “Hamelits”. Rabbi Grosbard was rabbi in FIlipowe until 1923. As of that year, he became rabbi in Shirvint where he was killed with his entire holy congregation by the Nazi murderers.[32*]

[Col. 187]

A man, who was a rabbi and teacher in Filipowe in the fifties, became the rabbi of Reygrad and Serey. He was Rabbi Yosef Elhanan Halevi. R'Yosef Elhanan was born in Saini. In his youth he wrote poetry. R'Yosef Elhanan is the author of “Enot Mayim”. (Warsaw. 1856). He died in Serey on 7th Tishri. 637{1876}.[137]


Rabbi Yaakov, son of R'Yehudah Leyb

The earliest rabbi of the ten towns in Suwalk province which we are here in describing and about whom we were able to find some information came from the smallest community – Krasnepole. He was R'Yaakov, son of R'Yehudah Leyb. He lived there about 160-170 years ago (and perhaps even earlier).

The few facts which we have on him come from his book: “Peduyot Yaakov”, which was published in Frankfurt on 4th of Adar. 556{1796}. On the title page, he states that he is the son-in-law of the famous philanthropist, Natan Neta of Filipowe. He also included an approbation from the local rabbi, Rabbi Naftali Hirsh Ktsnailbogn (Katsenelbogn).

From the introduction of this book, it can be seen that not only was he a son-in-law of a Filipowe resident, but that his father too was a resident of Filipowe.[138]

R'Yaakov lived through many difficulties – had to spend much time travelling and was even jailed for many years. He writes: “Neerdowells made me the target of their arrows and put me in prison… I was eaten by pain (?)…and by ice at night”. While in prison, he vowed that if he were set free, he would write a book. He kept his vow.

This is all that we know about this rabbi in Krasnepole. SY. Finn also writes that he knows nothing more about him.

B.Z. Eisenstadt discovered that his father, R'Yehudah Leyb, was the first watchman of the Vilne cemetery.[139]


Rabbi Aryeh, son of R'Yitshak

We have had little luck with the rabbis of Krasnepole who lived much much later than R'Yaakov, son of R'Yehudah Leyb.

[Col. 188]

According to a note in “Hamagid” (n°34. Sup.). in 1872, Rabbi Aryeh, son of R'Yitshak, was rabbi in Krasnepole.
We know no more about him.


Rabbi Akiva Barakhavits

In 1896, the rabbi of Krasnepole was Rabbi Akiva, son of R'Yitshak Eliyahu Borokhovits. He was born in Skidl in 1866. Characteristically, as with other rabbis of the Suwalk region, he was versed in worldly knowledge as well as in Torah, as we can see from a quotation in his book: “Ekev Rav”. (Vilna.1903). “It is time to study wisdom and science and languages to perfection”. It was also stated there that he was a descendent of Shakh.[33*]


Rabbi Eliyahu-Margalit

At the end of the 1830's, the rabbi in Psherosle was Rabbi A. Eliyahu Margalit. He came from Kalvarie where he was born in 1811. He was rabbi in Psherosle until around the fifties. Later, he was rabbi in Vishey, Radun and Rakishok where he died in 1867.

In “Amude Or” by R'Yehiel Heler, there is a response to R'Eliyahu Margalit, head of the religious court in Preroshle.[33*]

R'Eliyahu had five sons. One of them, R'Asher Margalit, became rabbi of Rakishok after his father. He wrote commentaries on “Hilkhot Gedolot”. (Vilna, 654{1893 or 1894}. A long article by him was published in “Hamagid” of 1957.{i.e. 1857?} n°28. Other articles by him may be found in other issues of this newspaper. Another son, Mordekhay, was head of the religious court and rabbi in Alikst. He is the author of “Sugah Beshoshanim”. (Vilna, 654{1853 or 1854}.

The best known of all of his sons was R'Yitshak Margalit (Margoliut). {Margolies, Isaac Ben Elijah, {1842-1887}. He is the author of “Maoz Hatalmud”. (Warsaw, 1868), “Maoz Hayam”. ((Vilna 1870) and “Sofre Yeshurun”. (Berlin, 1876). He edited the letter “Nun” in “Pahad Yitshak”[34*] published by the “Mekitse Nirdamim” Society in Lyck, 1864. He published a great deal in the Hebrew press of his time.

R'Isaac Margolies was born in Kalvarie in 1842. He lived in Meretsh and in Kovne and at the end of the seventies, became rabbi in Druzgenik. In 1884, he came to New York where he was rabbi in the “Anshe Kalverie” synagogue. He died in 1887.[140]


Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Sandravits

[Col. 189]

After R'Eliyahu Margoliut,Rabbi Avraham Aba Yaakov Sandravits {Sendravits} became the rabbi of Psherosle. It appears that he was there in the seventies and perhaps even at the beginning of the eighties. Some of his Reponses dated 1870 and signed: “head of the religious court in Prirashle” can be found in “Binyan Tsiyon” by R'Yaakov Yukav Ettlinger. (Vilna, 638{1877 or 1878}. In the second half of the eighties, he no longer was in Psherosle because articles published in a Torah Journal in Jerusalem in 1887 were signed: “formerly head of the religious court in Prirashli and now preacher in the Holy City.[35*][141]

There is an approbation by Rabbi Sandravits in “Zikhron Tanhum”, by Tanhum Zarhi, Jerusalem, 652{1891 or 1892}.


Rabbi Ben Tsiyon Zeev Krenits

From 1895 to end of 1897, the rabbi of Psherosle was Rabbi Ben Tsiyon Zeev, son of Rabbi Avraham Aba Krenits. He was born in 1858. Before coming to Pserosle, he was rabbi in Breznik (province of Suwalk) for six years and afterwards, in Pren and Shvekshne.[142]


Rabbi Ben Tsiyon Yehudah Leyb Zaks

At the end of 1897, Rabbi Ben Tsiyon Yehudah Leyb Zaks became the rabbi of Psherosle. He was born in 1870, studied with the Netsiv and with R'Hayim Volozshin. He was the son of Rabbi Moshe Zaks who had been rabbi of Filipowe for 13 years.

R'Ben Tsiyon was rabbi in Psherosle for 7 years. From there he went to Nemaksht where he took over the rabbinate from his father. R'Ben Tsiyon died in Nemaksht around 1933. His book: “Bikure Tsiyon VeAnve Tsiyon” was published in 1928. His approbation may be found in “Hamevaer” by Hayim Halevi Hertsman. (Bialystok, 673{1912 or 1913}.


Rabbi Duber Toyber

In the seventies or eighties, Rabbi Duber, son of R'Azriel Zeev Toyber, was a preacher in Psherosle. After over thirty years as a preacher he settled in Jerusalem in 1896. Before that, he was a preacher in Vabolnik (Lithuania) and religious court judge in Mitave, Tavrik and Nizbotke. Before coming to Jerusalem, he lived in Vilne.

[Col. 190]

Rabbi Toyber is the author of: “Dovev Sifte Yeshenim” part 1,2,3 (Jerusalem, 660{1899 or 1900}; “Shulhan Hamagidim”” (Jerusalem, 660{1899 or 1900} and “Shulhan Hamorim”.[143]


Rabbi Eliyahu Bardin

In 1827, the rabbi of Baklerowe was Rabbi Eliahu Bardin. He was born in 1797 and died in Balkerowe where he had been rabbi for about 40 years.[144]


Rabbi Shelomoh Shemaryahu Margoliut

After R'Eliyahu Bardin, the rabbi of Balkerowe was, it seems, Rabbi Shelomoh Shemaryahu Margoliut, son of R'Yitshak Margoliut. In a note in Hamagid, 1870 n°17 about a Jewish soldier killed near Balkerowe, he signs himself: “Resident here”. It is not known how long he was rabbi in Baklerowe.


Rabbi Yehudah Khashesman

We do not know who the rabbis of Baklerowe were after Rabbi Shelomoh Shemaryahu Margoliut. In 1904, Rabbi Yehudah, son of R'Yisrael Asher Khashesman, became rabbi there. He was born in 1876 in Horoditshts. He was rabbi in Baklerowe for ten years and for one year, he was rabbi in Kreve. From 1925 until 1954, he served as rabbi of “Kehilat Anshe Tiktin” in Chicago.[145]

One of his commentaries is quoted in “Measef Derushai” by Yaakov Meir Sagalavits. (Vilna, 669{1908 or 1909}.


Rabbi Shelomoh Gordan

In Yelinowe 1872, Rabbi Shelomoh, son of R'Yaakov Gordan, became rabbi. He was born in Shaki in 1850. He stayed in Yelinowe for about 10 years. He later became rabbi in Druzgenik and was there until close to World War II. He died at a very old age.

In his book: “Binyan Shelomoh VeZihron Yaakov”, (Grayeve 1908, paragraph 4) there is an interesting question[146] about a man named Yehezkel, son of Yosef, from Yelinowe, born in Suwalk, who had travelled with his wife to Paris.

[Col. 191]

There he participated in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and did not return. His wife returned to Yelinowe and wished to remarry, arguing that her husband Yehezkel had been killed in the war. The rabbi of Wizshan allowed this but later, a letter arrived from her husband that he was in Paris.

We learn from this book too, that his uncle, R'Yehudah Leyb, was religious court judge and rabbi in Raseyn.

At the end of the previous century, Rabbi Goldnson was rabbi in Yelinowe and later served in Chicago and St.Louis where he died.


Wizshan is an old Jewish community but we are sorry to say that we have very little information about its rabbis prior to 1905. In “Hameasef” of Jerusalem (663,v.1,5), there are articles by Shemuel Tsevi, son of Rabbi Moshe Aryeh Halev Vinn[147], rabbi of Wizshan. We can assume that this R'Shemuel Tsevi was the rabbi of Wizshan in the seventies and is probably mentioned in R'Shelomoh Gordon's “Binyan Shelomoh Vesikhron Yaakov” when he writes about Yehezkel, son of Yosef of Yelinowe. The name of the rabbi of Wizshan is mentioned there as “RM”A”, probably the initials of R'Moshe Aryeh (Halevi).

At the beginning of the twentieth century, R'Shemuel Tsevi Vayn was a rabbi in New York.


In the 1850's, the rabbi of Punsk was Rabbi Yaakov Tuvyah Goldberg. In 1864, he became the head of the Yeshivah in Suwalk. He had studied in the Keydan Yeshivah where he also served for a short time as the head of the Yeshivah.

In 1869, a man named R'Yaakov Vilavner died in Suwalk.[148] Yisrael Zalman Starapalski writes that he was formerly “Head of the religious court in a small town nearby”. It is possible that he was the rabbi of one of the 9 towns in the Suwalk area.[149]


[Col. 192]
We should add to this chapter, the names of those who served as rabbis, religious court judges, etc. in other towns but, who came from Suwalk and environ, as well as those who became rabbis, religious court judges and preachers in Suwalk congregations in other countries.

Rabbi Aryeh Leyb, son of R'Eliezer, rabbi of Sasmakin, Lativa, born in Ratzk and later head of a Metivta in Dvinsk and at the end of his life in Radin. Responding to the request of R'Avraham Abli Pasvoler, he became a religious court judge in Vilne. R'Aryeh Leyb studied alongside R'Yehudah Bakhrakh, head of the religious court in Saini. He was a student of the Plotsk rabbi, R'Aryeh leyb Tsuntz. Because of his sharp mind, he was called R'Leyb Harif[36*]. He was the son-in-law of the righteous kabbalist, R'Gedalyah, head of the religious court of Ostre. His son, R'Avraham Yissakhar Ratsker, was, for many years, the head of the Metivta in Dvinsk and Vitebsk. He died in 1890 in Sventsian. R'Avraham Yissakhar's son, R'Tsevi Hirsh Ratsker, was rabbi in Nay-Sventisian. He is the author of * “Zera Avraham”. (Cracow. 651{1890 or 1891}. His response may be found in “Yalkut Eliezer” by Eliezer Ranin. (Kovne. 671{1910 or 1911}.[150-151]

Rabbi Shaul Shapira was born in Suwalk and was rabbi in Sapotkin, province of Suwalk, for over 30 years. He was a student of HGRY”B[37*] and was called R'Shaul Harif. He died in Sapotkin in 1887.

R'Nahum Lipman, born in Suwalk in 1848, went to London in 1870 where he became the chief supervisor of all of the ritual slaughterers in the city.[152]

Rabbi Moshe Hayim Hayimzon[38*] was born in Suwalk in 1862. He was head of the religious court in England from 1901 to 1911 and acting Chief Rabbi of England from 1911 to 1913. He later became the rabbi of the society “Orah Hayim” in New York where he died in 1949 at the age of 87. R'Moshe Hayim was the author of a number of books on religious matters. He translated the “Mishneh Torah” of Maimonides into English and other books as well. He was an expert in ancient and medieval literature.[153]

Rabbi Tsevi Ayzaks, former head of the religious court in Johannesburg and preacher in London was born in Suwalk in 1860.

[Col. 193]

Rabbi Yisrael Yosef Berlin was born in Matislav and was rabbi of “Mishkan Yisrael Anshe Suvalk” in New York. In 1895, Rabbi Duber Abramovits became the rabbi there.[154]

In the mid-nineties in Chicago, R'Yosef Komisarski became the “rabbi of the congregation Anshe Suvalk”. He was born in Filipowe in 1831 and came to America in 1884. He was the author of a number of works.[154*] His approbation can be found in “ShomerEmunim” by Hayim Yehiel Oshri. (Baltimore, 656{1895 or 1896}.

Rabbi Avraham Eliezer Alpershayn was rabbi of “Bet Hakeneset Suvalk” of Chicago from 1884 to 1899. He was born in Kobryn in 1853.[155]

R' Shemuel Kalman Nelinek became the preacher of the London society “Poale Tsedek Bene Suvalk” in 1894.

At the beginning of this century, Rabbi Yisrael Izakson was the rabbi of the big synagogue of the Jews from Suwalk in New York, “Kol Yisrael Anshe Polin”.[156]

From 1906 to 1922, the rabbi of this synagogue was R'Mordekhay Doktor, author of two volumes: “Kovets Neumim Lezemanin, Leinyanim Velemikrim Shonim Behaye Haleum, Hamishpaha Vehayahdut”. (New York, 682{1921 or 1922}. His father, R'Tsevi Hirsh, son of R'Shemaryah, came from Novaradek. His real name changed to “Doktor”. R'Mordekhay's children died in Suwalk at the time of the great scarlet fever epidemic in 1900-1901. After his death, his widow Malkah went back to Suwalk where she later died at the hands of the Nazis in Biala Podlask (may God avenge her blood).

Rabbi Shabetay Sofer became the rabbi of “Mahazike Torah Anshe Sainier” in 1904.[157]

Rabbi Yahim Haliditski was the rabbi of “Anshe Sinier Veanshe Vilna BeNuy York”.[158] At the beginning of the twentieth century, R'Yeshayah Tsevi Avner was the preacher there.[159]

Rabbi Meshil, head of the religious court of Vishkes, was known as the “Suvalk genius”. He was the father-in-law of R'Tsevi Hirsh Yemini, head of the religious court of Vilon.[160]

[Col. 194]

R'Eliezer, son of R'Shemuel Ranin, religious judge in Hayshtat, Lithuania, was born in Korets and lived in Saini for many years.[161]. He was the author of: “Yalkut Eliezer” (Kovne. 671{1910 or 1911} and “Siah Eliezer”. (Vilna.666{1905 or 1906}.

Rabbi Zeev Hayim Vayn, born in Ratzk in 1905, was the rabbi of the Bet Hamidrash Hagadol in Chicago from 1939. Rabbi Mordekhay, head of the religious court of Kibart, Lithuania, was his grandfather.[162]

Rabbi Mordekhay Krimer, rabbi on the Shaseybarg {?} in Kovne, was born in Suwalk in 1897. He partook in the bitter fate of all of the Jews of Kovne.

At the beginning of the century, Rabbi Efrayim Tsevi Minzberg, born in Lipsk, province of Suwalk, studied in the Talmud Torah and Yeshivah of Suwalk for three years with Rabbi Tsevi Hirsh Reznik; Rabbi Moshe Lerner and Rabbi Moshe Shterman. He served as rabbi of a number of congregations in Russia and later in America.

Rabbi Meir Tsevi Levi, who became a rabbi in Toronto in 1902, got his earliest education in the Suwalk Talmud Torah and Yeshiva from the head of the Yeshivah, Rabbi Tuvyah Goldberg.

Rabbi Mordekhay Yitshak Epshteyn, head of the religious court in Zaym, Lithuania and Sheffield America, studied in Suwalk for four years.

R'Moshe Hayim Ratzker was a religious court judge in one of the congregations in Frankfurt-am-main.[163]

Rabbi Aharon Tsharni, now rabbi in Bayonne, New Jersey, is the son-in-law of Hayah Beyle Dalovitsh, the daughter of R'Eliezer Tsevi and Klare Openhaym of Ratzk.

The present chief rabbi of Mexico, R'David Shelomoh Rapalin, was born in Punsk in 1899. He studied in the yeshivot of Suwalk and Slobodke. He was chief rabbi of Cuba for three years from 1922.[163*]

The Bialystok rabbi, Elyakum Getsil Meir, had a family connection to Suwalk. His grandson, Moshe Yehoshua, son of Betsalel Yehudah Fabravinik, who came from Suwalk, published his book: “Bet Elyakum” (Warsaw, 646{1885 or 1886}.

[Col. 195]

On this occasion, one must mention a man who, though not a rabbi nor a dayan, has a role in one of the most prestigious Torah institutions in America: - R'Yehonatan Shepf, son of R'Shmerl Shereshevski, who participated in New York in the founding of “Yeshivat Rabenu Yitshak Elhanan”. He was born in the province of Suwalk, in the village of Shtsera and studied for five years in the Suwalk Yeshivah.


The rabbinical family Efrati

The chapter on rabbis of Suwalk cannot be concluded without something said about the rabbinical family of Efrati which was essentially a Suwalk family.

Rabbi Eliezer Efrati was born in Suwalk around 1846. His father, R'Ben Tsiyon, was a wealthy man. His mother, Yente, was the daughter of a wealthy local man, R'Aryeh Leb Bialistotski. R'Ben Tsiyon's brother, R'Menahem Mendl, studied in Kalvarie.[164] His only sister, Sarah Perl, married Moshe Dov Frid of Lazdey. R'Shemuel Yosef Yeruzalimski, an old resident of Suwalk, was his great-uncle.[165]

R'Eliezer Efrati studied in Brest-Litvosk for a long time and then settled in Kovne. He was the author of “Even Tsiyon”. (Warsaw. 1866, part 1) and “Dor Vedorshav” (Vilna.649{1888 or 1889}.[166]

R'Menahem Mendl's son, brother of R'Ben Tsiyon, was also named Eliezer. He lived for many years in Shavl and during the second half of the past century, was one of the most important notables of that city. His uncle, R'David Tebli, was called “Hagevir Vehaliterat Mishavil”.

The leading member of the Suwalk Efrati family was R'Eliezer's uncle, Rabbi David Tebli Efrati, known as R'David Tebli from Vitebsk.

R'David Tebli Efrati was born in 1850 In Meretsh.[166*], in the province of Suwalk and was the son of Rabbi Leyzer Pruziner. R'David Tebli's other grandfather was the illustrious R'Hanokh Henekh of Kalvarie, son of the illustrious R'Yehudah Safra VeDayna.

[Col. 196]

R'David Tebli Efrati {or Ephrati} was also related to R'David Tebli Brisker (grandfather) to R'David Tebli Ben Nathan from Brody, head of the religious court Horochow and Lissa and to R'David Tebli Lifshit of Slonim.[167]

At the age of 14, R'David Tebli Efrati had already written a work: “Daltot Zahav”. At fifteen, his articles were being published in “Halevanon”. In 1873, he was suddenly arrested because an informer (“I was caught because of secret slander”) and a year later was found innocent.[168]

R'David Teble was the author of the following books and commentaries:

  1. “Divre David” Berlin, 635{1874 or 1875}.
  2. “Yad David Tebli”. Lemberg. 640{1879 or 1880}(with Kuntres “Shetile Zetim”).
  3. “Migdol David”. Mainz. 632{1771 or 1771}.
  4. “Meirat Enayim”, Kuntres. {i.e. pamphlet}.
  5. “Kohelet David Haefrati”. Berlin. 644{1883 or 1884}.
  6. “Shmcnuha (?) BeEfrat”. Pamphlet {first word of title cannot be vocalized because it seems to have been invented}.
  7. “Shetile David” and “Kol David”. (in “Nite Avraham”).
  8. “Toldot Anshe Shem”. Warsaw. 635{1874 or 1875}.
  9. “Mate Efrati”. Premishla. 642{1881 or 1882}.

In “Haye Yaakov” by Hayim Yaakov Landa (Vilna. 673{1912 or 1913} we find response by R'D.T. Efrati.
R'David Tebli's approbations can be found in:

“Kaneh Avraham”. Avraham Abish. Warsaw 684{1883 or 1884}.
“Milhemet Aharon”. Aharon Fridman. Vilna. 640{1879 or 1880}.
”Hamadrikh”. Avraham Binyamin Zinger. Pressburg. 642{1881 or 1882}.

R'David Tebli Efrati edited the ”Ets Hahayim” (Lemberg 1881, Berlin 1884); the ”Hatenuvah” and ”Yagdil Torah” (Odessa).

He left several works in manuscript: “Gefen Aderet”, “Yiytav lev” on Mishnah and a big book on the Zohar.[168*]

Rabbi Efrati was a dedicated lover of Zion. He was active in the movement in Vitebsk. Dr. Chaim Zhitlowsky, who lived in Vitebsk at the time but opposed Zionism, mentions him in his memoirs.

R'David Tebli died in Frankfurt-am-Amin in his prime, at the age of 34.[169]



    1. “Hamagid”. 1858. N°32. Return
    2. Ibid. 1864. N°26. Return
    3. “Nefesh Hayah”. Warsaw. 640{1879 or 1880}. Return
    4. “Taldot Haarets”. Yosef Sheynhok. Warsaw. 601{1840-1841} see also “Mafteah Haaskamot” n°69. Return
    5. “Rav Amfas with commentary “Shevil Hayashar” R'Shaul Sishkes. Vilna 1839. Return
    6. As transmitted by the last rabbi of Suwalk, R'David Lifshits, now in New York. Return
    7. “Shem Hagedolim Hashelishi”. Moshe Markavits. Vilna. 670{1909-1910} p.16. “Eshkol” v.1,p.349. “The Shem…..”gives the year of his death as 610 but this is not accurate because R'Yitshak Ayzik Heber was already rabbi in Suwalk in 609. Return
    8. See introduction to his book: “Binyan Olam”. Return
    9. In the approbation to “Bet Neeman” Warsaw. 641{1880-1881} Return
    10. In “Entsikl. Yudaika” – Parashkov (?). Return
    11. We do not know on what basis R'Efrayim Oshri writes in his “Hurban Lite” that R'Yitshak Ayzik Heber was a rabbi in Shavl. Perhaps he mistakenly mixed his name up with that of a rabbi in Shavl who was also called R'Yitshak Ayzik, but his family's name was Rabinovitsh. Return
    12. Both in “Shem Hagedolim” and in “Shem Hagedolim Hehadash”, it is stated that he died in 612. But this is an error which can be seen from the date of his will, 29th Elul, 612. He lived 64 years not 62 as “Ir Vilna” has it. Return
    13. “Nefesh Naki”. Warsaw 1853. The whole will may be found in “Tsiyun Lenefesh”. Johannesburg. 616{1855-1856}. Return
    14. “Hagadah shel Pesah” with 115 commentaries by Yisrael David Miller of Horodna, Vilna. 623{1862-1863}. The name of R'Yaakov's commentary is “Zikhron Yaakov”. Return
    15. N.T. London in “Bet Vaad Lehakhamim”, New York.663{1902-1903}. Return
    16. “Sefer Hayahas”. A. Rivlin. Jerusalem. 695{1934-1935} “Kiryah Neemanah”. S.Y. Finn. Vilna. 620{1859-1860}p.90. In “Even Shemuel” (Vilna.634{1873-1874}P.55 by A.L. Furmkin, there is mention of a R'Yitshak Heber – “a famous great rabbi”, father of R'Hayim Heber, one of the rabbis in Safed who is quoted in the Responsa of “Bet Yosef” and “Moshe ben Yosef Tarani”. There was also a family named Heber in Italy who were kabbalists. Return
    17. It may be found in the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York. We do not know if these handwritten additions are found in all the copies of the book. R'Yosef Heber's list contains another 30 volumes. R'Yosef adds the note: “printed” next to 8 books but another 14 were actually printed later on. Return
    18. In “Ir Vilna”. P.281, it is told how Aharon Pundik came to Vilna “to sell kosher meat” and remained there and became rich. Return
    19. In “Siah Yitshak” there are details about the family of R'Yitshak Ayzik. Return
    20. She died much later than her husband in Jerusalem: 28 Heshvan. 659{1907-1908}. See “Sefer Hayahas”. A. Rivlin. P.26. Return
    21. Introduction to “Yefe Nof” by Avraham Heler (Pietrokov.668) and introduction to “Amude Or” by R'Yehiel Heler himself. Return
    22. According to “Ir Vilna” and “Jewish Encyclopedia” in 1854. It is however more correct to use the date of 1853 as in “Emek Shoshanim” (Rozntal) in “Hamagid” 1858 n° 27 and “Ani Velo Aher” in “Hamelits”. 1878 n°7. Return
    23. “Hamagid” 1858 n°27.Return
    24. The note in the Encyclopaedia Judaic, vol.VII p.1150 that he died in 1863 does not agree with any other source. The note “Shem Hagedolim Hahadash” – 21, years after his death – that he died not too long ago, is also not so accurate. In “Bet Yitshak” by Yitshak Dantsig (Vilna. 626{1865-1866} Drush 18) there is a eulogy on him. - - S.Y. Finn in “Keneset Yisrael” p.521 says that R'Yehiel left Suwalk “because he was besieged by extremists”. Return
    25. In the introduction, the author thanks Hizkiyah Avraham, son of Y.Rozntal, Yehezkel son of N.Lipski, Yitshak Ayzik son of Y.Litoyer and Elhanan Dov Landa of Suwalk for their help in publishing his book. Return
    26. “Bibliography der Oster-Haggada”. New York 1949 p.25. Return
    27. Ibid. p.39. Return
    28. Ibid. p.40. Return
    29. The Russian government commissioned Leon Mandelstamm to translate “Kevod Hamelekh” into Russian and German. The Russian Minister of Education sent R'Yehiel a letter of thanks for his work.
    The contents of “Kevod Hamelekh” are the same as those of a sermon preached by R'Yehiel sometime earlier in a synagogue in Libau. The Suwalk rabbi was then a guest in the Courland synagogue and he preached in German when the Russian Crown Prince Alexander II and a number of high officials of the Court were visiting the synagogue. His sermon made a great impression and someone suggested, it would seem, that he publish it as a book. A large part of this sermon was previously published in “Shene Perakim” (Peterburg. 612{1851-1852} under the title “Kevod Melakhim Bezemanenu” (German and Hebrew).
    A. Y. Papirna tells in his memoirs (“Reshumot” Tel-Aviv 685 v.i.p.154) that Leon Mandelstamm published a response by R'Yehiel Heler on “the laws of the government are the laws” in a separate brochure with very large print and with a German translation. We have not seen it. Could it possibly be this same “Kevod Hamelekh”? Return
    30. The name of the author as given on the book is YB”A. The “Kohelet Moshe” says, rightly, that these are the initials of R'Yehiel, son of R'Aharon, and this can be proved from the Vilna 645 edition of the same book where R'Yehiel's name is clearly given.Tuesday, September 15, 2015 Return
    31.The date 1842 is a typographical error or a falsification. R'Yehiel's approbation is dated “2 Shevat 615” similar to the other approbations in the book. How then could a book published in 1842 have approbations written in 1855? Moreover, at the head of the list of Suwalk subscribers, appears the name of “Rabbi Yehiel Heller, head of the religious court”. Thus it appears that R'Yehiel was the rabbi as far back as 1842, which is completely false. Ben Yaakov gives the place as Amsterdam, 615 while Friedberg gives the same date with the place of publication as Johannesburg. Return
    32. “Sefer Yayahas”. Rivlin. P.37. Return
    33. In “Hosen Yehoshua” (Vilna, 622) there is a eulogy for R'Yehiel Heler. Return
    33*. The Suwalk community asked R'Yisrael Salanter to be its rabbi but he refused. (“Geklibene Shriftn” S.Rozenfeld. New York 1947 p.88). Return
    34. “Hamagid”. 1860. N°14. Return
    35. “Yamim Veshanim”. M.Y. Frid. Tel-Aviv. 699, p.30.Return
    36. Article by Dr. Y.Shatzky: “Yidn in dem Poylishn Oyfshtand fun 1863” in “Historishe Shriftn”. V.1. Return
    37. “Hameasef”. V.7. Jerusalem 660. See also: “Leksikon Tsiyoni”. S.L.Tsitron. Warsaw 684.p.378 and “Sefer Shemuel”, edited by Rabbi Y.L. Fishman. Jerusalem. 683. Return
    38. “Hamagid”. 1868 n°2 and n°7. Return
    39. “Hamelits”. 1864. N°19. Return
    40. “Hakarmel”. 624. N°41. “Hamagid”. 1864. N°26. Return
    41. Y. Nisnboym in “Luah Ahiasaf”. 659.p.290. E. Deinard in his “Masa Betropah” (Pittsburg.645.p.57) says the opposite: “The Jews of Suwalk did not know how to appreciate him and they let him get away. Return
    42. We write only briefly about the famous rabbis and writers from Suwalk about whom much has already been written. We put the emphasis on those parts of their lives which are directly related to their activities in and around Suwalk or, which have received little recognition. (for example: the bibliography of approbations of Rabbi Samuel Mohilewer). There is a letter of recommendation from Rabbi Samuel in the book “Heshbon hevrat'Misgav ladakh” (Jerusalem, 651). Return
    43. “Halevanon”. 1870 n°22. Mr. Lipman in his “Letoldot HaYehudim BeKovne veSlabodkah”, p.221, tells that R'Eliezer Simhah, with the help of the Suwalk Chief of Police, published a Russian brochure about Jewish names. Return
    44. According to correspondence from Zalman Rozntal in “Hamagid”, 1878 n°47, it seems that R'Eliezer Simhah was no longer rabbi in Suwalk in 1873. But this is not correct. In the middle of 1874, he came to Saini from Suwalk to eulogize the rabbi of Saini, Rabbi Yehoshua Heshil. Return
    45. “Ot Brit”. Dr. S. Kohen. Warsaw. 663 p.212. Return
    46. ”Ohale Shem”. P.61. Return
    47. In ”Ohale Shem”, p.165 his middle name is given as Aryeh and so too in his book: “Bet Hilel”. In the subscription lists, his middle name is given as Fishl. Return
    48. “Jewish Encyclopedia.v.5 p.111 Return
    49. “Hatsefirah”. 1874 n°14. Return
    50. “Dos leben un Shaven fun Hafets Hayim”. Rabbi Moshe Meir Yashar. New York 1947 p.883 Return
    51. The quotations are from Y.D.Eisenstein's “Otsar Zikhronotai”. New York 1929 p.258. Return
    52. “Lublin”. N.Shemen. Toronto 1951 pp89-91. Return
    53. Warsaw 652 part 2 p.26. Return
    54. “Lekorot HaYehudim BeLublin”. Shelomoh Barukh Nisenboym. Lublin 660 p.128; ”Ohale Shem.p.165. Return
    55. See too: “Otsar Beduye Hashem” by Hayut.p.106. “Kohelet Moshe” calls him: “the rabbi who is well known for his translations (?)” Return
    56. “Hakham Vesar. M.Y.Edleman. Warsaw 656 Return
    57. There are many variations in the spelling of the name. Return
    58. “Jewish Encyclopaedia” – according to “Dorot Haaharonim” by Eisenstadt. 1876. Return
    59. “Toldot Hibat Tsiyon”. S.L.Tsitron. Odessa 674{1913-1914}. Return
    60. “Me Naftoah” (?). Peterburg 684, introduction. There is also Rabbi D.T.'s genealogy there Return
    61-62. “Hamelits”. 1894 n°233. Return
    63. “Ale Heldi (?). Y.Nisnboym. Warsaw 689{1928-1929}p.150 Zalman Epstein, however, writes in “Hahed” (Jerusalem 691{1930-1931}v.6, that R'David Tevel “was very positive towards the colonization of Erets Yisrael and Zionism as part of Judaism” – on this occasion it should be mentioned that this same Nisnboym was elected to the Fifth Zionist Congress by six Zionist groups in Suwalk area: Mariampol, Vilkovishk, Verzshbalave, Kibart, Viadislavove and Shaki. Return
    64. “Dos Leben un Shafen fun Hafets Hayim”. Part 1 p.289. Return
    64*”Metsudah” 705{1944-1945} book 3-4 leaf 341.
    65. We make an exception here and continue the list of rabbis in Suwalk up to the Holocaust. Return
    66. More details about him in the chapter on rabbis of Saini. Return
    67. “Toldot Anshe Shem”, part 1 editor A.Rand. New York {1949-1950}. 710.”Eleh Ezkerah”. New York 716{1955-1956}. Return
    68. According to Rabbi David Lifshits. Return
    69* For Rabbi Lifshits' role in the time of the Holocaust, see the article: «The destruction of Suwalk”.
    69. Rabbi A.Oshry writes in his “Hurban Lite” (New York, Montreal 1951) that Rabbi Meir Atlas was a rabbi in Suwalk. This is not correct. There is also an error in the caption “Rabbi in Suwalk” under the picture of Rabbi Yehudah Leyb Gordon in “Otsar Hatemunot” by B.Z.Eisenstadt. “Dor Dor Vedorshav” by Y.Levinshteyn (Warsaw 1941 p.73) is also in error when stating that R'Yehoshua Heler was the head of the religious court in Suwalk. Dr.Yaakov Klatskin writes mistakenly that Rabbi Meltser-Klatsko was the head of the religious court in Suwalk (“Hadoar”. New York 705{1944-1945} n°20). None of the above-mentioned was ever a rabbi in Suwalk. The following inscription on a tombstone in Jerusalem is a puzzle: “Scholar and god-fearing Rabbi Yosef, son of Rabbi Avraham, head of the religious court in Suwalk, who died on 14 Tevet, 630{1870} – may his soul be bound up in the bonds of life”. (“Toldot Hakhme Yerushalayim” part 3, Aryeh Leyb Frumkin. Jerusalem 689{1928-1929}. There is an error here because in those years, there was no rabbi in Suwalk by that name. Our table of rabbis shows this clearly. By the way, the title: “T”H yere Elokim” {which I have translated as scholar and God-fearing} is not the usually accepted style for a rabbi's epitaph. Return
    70. “Gedolim fun Undzer Tsayt”. Yaakov Mark. New York.1927. Return
    71. “Hamagid”. 1884 n°42: Suwalk Torah observers in America tell that many of his comments were written {in the margins} of volumes of Gemara in the local Bet Hamidrash and in “Hevrah Torah”. Return
    72. “Hamagid”. 1874 n°9, supplement. Return
    73-74. “Hamelits”. 1896 n°206. Return
    75. The other two, Rabbi Moshe Yitshak Avigdor and Rabbi Mordekhay Meltser from Saini and Kalvarie. Return
    76. See also chapter on “Publishers”. Return
    77. “Idishe velt” n°2. Kovne 1931. R'Moshe Dov Kvint born in Suwalk in 1858. He was a scholar and a maskil. From 1892 onwards, he was a ritual slaughterer for 46 years in Shavli where he died in 1938 (Yor Ayn – Yor Oys”. Kovne 1939 p.223). The same Kvint was a ritual slaughterer in Suwalk at the start of the nineties, as we can see from his letter in the “Haivri” of New York. (8 Tamuz. 652{1892} on the ritual slaughterer R'Moshe, son of R'Yaakov Kaplan in Albany, New York. R'David, son of R'Eliezer Kleyf, also a ritual slaughterer from Suwalk, co-signed the letter. Return
    78. “Helkat Mehokek”. Asher Leyb Brisk. V.3 part 3 p.32. There it says that R'Eliyahu died in 638{1877 or 1878}. Return
    79. “MiTorat Tsevi Yosef”. Menahem Rizikov, part 1. New York 686{1925 – 1926} introduction: “Dorot Haaharonim”. B.Z. Eizenstadt, p.335. Return
    80. “Ohale Shem”. S.Y. Gotlib. Pinsk. 1912 p.297. Return
    81. “Letoldot Yisrael BaAmerikah”. B.Z. Eizenstadt. New York 677{1916-1917} p.10. Return
    82. “Hahed” v.2 698{1937-1938} Jerusalem: “Hameasef” year 12 v.5. Return
    83. From Dr; Leopold Levinshteyn. Berlin 1923. Return
    84. “Kelilat Yofi” part 1. Cracow 641{1880-1881} p.71. Return
    85. “Daat Kedoshim”. Peterburg. 1897. Return
    86. Ibid. Return
    87. “Dor Deah”. Yekutiel Aryeh Kamelhar. Pietrokov. 698{1937-1938} p.73. “Daat Kedoshim” p.39. Return
    88. “Hamagid”. 1863 n°16. Return
    89. “Anshe Shem”. H. Braverman. Warsaw 652{1891-1892} pp.18,32: “Toldot Anshe Shem”. David Tebli Efrati. Warsaw 635{1874-1875}: “Ir Giborim”. Shimon Eliezer Fridnshtyen. Vilna 640{1879-1880} p.89. The last named says that the tombstone in Grodne reads: “Rabbi Eliezer Hanokh Bakhrakh from Suwalk”. This is an error – his name was Eliezer Moshe. Return
    90. “Toldot Yaakov Yosef”. Yosef Bakhrakh. Vilna 1867. Return
    91. “Daat Kedoshim” pp.38,40. Return
    92. “Dorot Haaharonim” p.335. Return
    93. Warsaw 621-22{1861-1861} Vilna 659{1898-1899} 673{1912-1913}. Return
    94. “Dor Vador Vedorshav”. Levinshteyn. Warsaw 1941 p.77. Return
    95. ”Gilvone Modesh”. Moshe Yitshak Avigdor (New York 669{1908-1909}part 1) published by his grandsons: Yisrael Shalom Shemuelavits of Kovne and Yosef Boteh of New York. Return
    96. Ibid – introductions. Return
    97. We reckon the time of his service as rabbi in Saini on the basis of our knowing the names of all of the rabbis that were there until 1859 and from 1867; and since Rabbi Sarna was rabbi there, we must estimate that it was during these years. Return
    98. Rabbi Yehezkel Sarna of Hevron has notified us that R'Sheraga Fayvl was rabbi in Saini in 1880 for only a few months. But this must be an error: 1) that year, the rabbi there was Rabbi Moshe Betsalel Luria; 2) this is in contradiction to the list of subscribers to the already cited book of Maharih; 3) in his approbations in “Zeraim” written in 620{1859-1860} and in “Are Yehudah” in 625{1864-1865} he signs himself “resident of Saini” – in the introduction to “Devar Emet” part 1, R'Duber (Yahanovits) Poltava 673{1912-1913} it says that R'Sheraga Fayvl was rabbi in Ostrove in 1872. Return
    99. “Pinkas Bialystok” v.1 A.S. Hershberg. New York. 1949 p.462. Return
    100. “Hamagid”. 1867 n°30. Return
    101. “Bet Arazim”. A.A. Fridman. Berditchev. 657{1896-1897} p.7. Return
    102. Ibid. Return
    103. “Sefer Hazikhronot”. A.A. Fridman. Tel Aviv. 686{1925-1926} p.26. Return
    104. “Hamagid”. 1874 n°14 supplement. A.A. Fridman errs in writing that he died in 1870. Return
    105. “Hatsefirah”. 1875 n°9. Return
    106. “Dor Rabanov Vesofrav”. B.Z. Esenstadt. Warsaw 1895: “Encyclopedia Judaica” v.7 p.1213 Return
    107. For something about his private life, see “Yamim Veshanim” part 1. M.Y. Frid. Tel Aviv 698{1937-1938} p.58. Return
    108. Avraham Yaakov Slutski part 2. Warsaw 652{1891-1892}. Return
    109. The publisher thanks his childhood friends from Saini for helping to publish the book: Yitshak, son of R'David Shelomoh Rubin; Yehuda Leyb, son of R'Moshe Nisan Rozngold; Shelomoh Yaakov, son of Avraham Ragalski (all of America) and his brother-in-law, B.Z. Kahan of Peterburg. Return
    110. “En Tenai Benesuin”, Yehudah Lubetski. Vilna 690{1929-1930}p.23. Return
    111. “Kuntres Hearot” in “Emek Sukot”; “Dor Vedorshav”. A. Efrati. Vilna 649{1888-1889}. Return
    112. ”Likute Tehilim”. Warsaw 656{1895-1896}. Return
    113. ”Ohale Shem”. P.421. Return
    114. “Hatsefirah”. 1892 n°75. Return
    115. There were several editions of the book: Vilna 652,659,668,669,673{1891-1892},1898-1899},{1907-1908}, {1908-1909}, {1912-1913}. In “Bet Eked Sefarim”, Fridberg gives the author's name as Spirliar. We only know the hebraized name, Sapir. Stolier is correct – changed to Stolaroff in U.S. Return
    116. “Tsiyun Lenefsh Yekarah” was later included in “Likuye Hameorot” which is part 2 of “Shrage Nefishi”. Return
    117. “Yalkut Maaravi” New York. 664{1903-1904} p.37. Return
    118. “Lekorot Keydan Verabaneha”. M. Markavits. Warsaw 673{1912-1913}p.10: by the way he is in error in writing that R'Hilel, son of R'Zeev Volf, was the head of the religious court in Ratzk. Return
    119. Both in his and in his father's books, the name appears as: Altshu, Altshuler and Altshiler. Return
    120. The book, a commentary on Hagadah, was very successful it seems because in 586{1825-1826}, a fourth edition appeared in Breslau. The first edition was published in Shklov. 554{1793-1794}; the second in Kapust. 572{1811-1812}. “Metsar Yam” is a commentary by R'Elyakum Getsil on “Sefat Hayum” by his father. In “Eshkol” and “Encyclopedia Judaica” Hlusk is not mentioned in the list of towns where R'Elyakum Getsil was a dayan. Return
    121. “Reshumot” new series, v.4 p.133. Return
    122. “Ohale Shem” p.39. Return
    123. In most books of that time, Ratske 'with an “ayin” or Ratski (with a “yod”). Return
    124. See also “Hashohet Vehashehitah Besafrut Harabanut”. Yekutiel Yehudah Grinvald. New York 715{1954-1955}. Return
    125. “Otsar Yisrael” part 1, p.167. Return
    126. page 63. Return
    127. Known also, though less widely, as R'Yahim Vishtinitser. Return
    128. “Hamelit”s. 1874 n°21. Return
    129. D.M. Lipman, the researcher into the history of the Jews of Lithuania, wo died an untimely death, wrote in his “Letoldot Hayehudim BeKovneh VeSlabodkah” (Keidan 1930 p.226) that among those who had accused R'Hayim Filipover of being too lenient and who wanted to dismiss him from the rabbinate, were the great scholars of the neighbouring towns: R'Yitshak Ayzik Heber of Suwalk and R'Moshe Yitshak Avigdor of Saini. They came to the great scholar R'Leybele Shapira of Kovne with their arguments and he was supposed to have told them: “What he learns in one day, it takes a week to learn and what we eat in one day, it takes him a week to eat – how can we judge him?” Return
    130. “Hamelits” 1903 n°18,19, etc. 1874 n°21, etc.[39*] Return
    131. “Keneset Yisrael”. Warsaw 1886 p.344: “Otsar Yisrael” p.272. Return
    132. “Hamagid” 1865 n°11. Return
    133. He is known only as BRY”T[40*] but his relative, David Matityahu Lipman, author of “Letoldot Hayehudim Belita-Zamut” says that his family name was Lipman and it appears that he is correct. Return
    134. “Halevanon” 633{1872-1873} n°3,39: “Hamagid” 1872 n°7, supplement. Return
    135. “Divre Moshe”. Vilna 666{1905-1906}. Return
    135* “Harav Tsevi Hirsh Kalisher”, Yitshak Gur Aryeh, Jerusalem 688{1927-1928} p.152. Return
    136. So it appears from his son's introduction to “Bikure Tsiyon Vaanve Tsiyon”. According to Eisenstadt's “Dor Rabanov Vesofrav” 1837. Return
    137. “Hamagid” 1876 n°39. Return
    138. From this, one can see that the Jewish settlement in Filipowe is at least 200 years old. Return
    139. “Dorot Haaharonim” book 1. New York 674{1913-1914} p.210. Return
    140. “Toldot Anshe Shem” David Tebli Efrati. Warsaw 635{1874-1875} p.12; Jewish Encyclopedia 7 p.330; “Toldot Yeshivat Hayehudim BeKurland”. Levi Avtsinski. Pietrokov 668{1907-1908}p.46. Return
    141. “Torah Mitsiyon” books 1-4. In “Hamelits” 1880 n°173 Rabbi Sandravits came out with sharp criticism of the then well-known Lover of Zion, Yaakov Goldman. Return
    142. “Ohale Shem” p.202. Return
    143. We do not know whether or not the last book was ever published. Return
    144. “Hamagid” 1867 n°12. Return
    145. “Ohale Shem” p.19. “Toldot Anshe Shem” editor A.Rand, New York 710{1949-1950} p.52. The last named source mentions that Rabbi Khashesman was in Baklerowe for 18 years. Return
    146. Some of the questions were put to the rabbis of Suwalk; R'Eliezer Simhah Rabinavits and R'Hilel Libshits. Return
    147. More correctly, Vayn. In “Hameasef” of 664{1903-1904} there are many praises of him and of his wife Hayah Roza for helping the journal. There is also a recommendation by him for “Hameasef”. Return
    148. Elsewhere. Vilner. Return
    149. “Hamagid” 1869 n°48, supplement. Return
    150. “Gedulat Mordekhai; Moshe Mordekhay Yisrael Rivkind. Chicago. 1904 p.4: “Toldot Yeshivat Hayehudim BeKurland” p.130: Yev Entsiklopedia 12,p.336: “Otsar Hatemunot” B.Z. Eisenstadt. New York 1915 p.9: “Torah Mitsiyon” 664{1903-1904} book 3. Return
    151. Ibid.
    152. “Ohale Shem” p.454.
    153. “Hadoar” 709{1948-1949} n°30: “Dorot Haaharonim”. B.Z. Eisenstadt p.156: “Hokhmat Yisrael Bemaarav Eropah” editor: Dr. Shimon Federbush. New York 719{1958-1959} p.510: The Jewish Universal Encyclopedia p.509. Return
    154. “Haivri”. 1895 n°13: “Letoldot Yisrael Baamerikhah”. B.Z. Eisenstadt. New York 677{1916-1917} p.4. Return
    154*. “History of the Jews in Chicago”. H.L. Meites. New York. 1924, p.556. Return
    155. “Toldot Anshe Shem”. A. Rand p.3. Return
    156. “Ohale Shem” pp.306,458. Return
    157. “Hameasef” Jerusalem 664{1903-1904}. Return
    158. “Dorot Haahaornim” p.297. Return
    159. “Migdal David”, Shemuel David Sabel. New York 667{1906-1907} list of subscribers. Return
    160. “Ohale Shem” p.59. Return
    161. This may be seen from his farewell blessing in the form of a poem, published in “Teshuvot Menahem”, Menahem Mendil Pinhas Perevaznik, Jerusalem. Return
    162. “Toldot Anshe Shem”. A. Rand p.42. Return
    163. “Daat Mordekhai” part 1. Mordekhay Yitshak Ayzik Rabinavits Kaydan. 639{1938-1939} paragraph 33. Return
    163* “Boyer fun a Yishuv”. L. Forem. Mexico 1947 p.108. Return
    164. His name is found on the subscribers' list to “Pardes Hahokhmah”(Sedilkov 1836). Return
    165. Shemuel Yosef Yeruzalimski was a brother of R'Aryeh Leyb Bialistotski but, because of fear of being drafted into the Russian army, his brother changed his name. Yitshak Etinger of Suwalk was Yerusalimski's son-in-law. Return
    166. This information was assembled from his books. Return
    166*. “Entsikl Judaica” gives his birthplace as Horadok but R'David Tebli himself writes in his “Toldot Anshe Shem”: “Meretsh is my birthplace”. Return
    167. There are several letters from R'D”T Efrati in “Ir Tehilah” by Aryeh Leyb Faynshteyn (Warsaw 1886 pp.168,179) in which he describes his pedigree going back for many generations. Return
    168. “Anshe Shem” H. Braverman. Warsaw 652{1891-1892}; Entsikl. Judaica and R'David Tebli's books. Return
    168*. “Heasif” Warsaw 646{1885-1886} p.754. Return
    169. Novellae by his nephew, Yisrael Yitshak Haefrati, may be found in “Hatsofeh Baarets Hahadashah” (New York, 1871 n°43,44,etc). Return

Translator's Footnotes

    1*. It is worth repeating here that it is impossible to translate the many synonyms used for rabbi and for scholar. One of these words, for example, is gaon as in the Gaon of Vilne. It is used in modern Hebrew to mean “genius” but in the early Middle Ages, it meant the head of one of the academies in Babylonia. When used by people with a background in Jewish history, it carries all of these associations: head of academy, great Talmudic scholar, genius, etc. I usually translate it as “scholar” Return
    2*. My sheaf arose and stood upright”. Genesis 37,7 Return
    3*. Even though the explanation below argues for the pronunciation Haver as the family name, I have seen it more often as Heber. If someone from Suwalk knows how the name should be pronounced, please correct all of the spellings I have used}. {see addendum}Return
    4*. Impossible to tell which of these are actual titles of manuscripts and which are Kagan's description of these manuscripts Return
    5*. Barrister/solicitor? possibly para-legal? Return
    6*. Getting person to marry from brother of dead husband when there are no children Return
    7*. All the correspondence is in extremely flowery Hebrew Return
    8*. According to EJ the name is David Tevel Katzenellenbogen Return
    9*. The genius from Ivie Return
    10*. The Lubtsher genius Return
    11*. Sometimes the name is given as Yaselevitsh and sometimes as Yoselevitsh Return
    12*. Dowries for poor brides Return
    13*. Passover food for the needy Return
    14*. Hostels for the poor Return
    15*. Encore at conclusion of Talmud tractate Return
    16*. Enclosure around town to allow carrying on the Sabbath Return
    17*. The Sabbath before Passover Return
    18*. The Sabbath between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur Return
    19*. The date is not given in a straightforward fashion but rather via a quotation in which each letter has a numerical value and all of the letters in the quotation are added up: I may have made an error in addition or in transcription Return
    20*. There are 19 signatures, most of them illegible Return
    21*. Word used is ohel, tabernacle or tent Return 22*. Being called to the reading of the Torah Return 23*. Here too the translations are very difficult because there are many degrees of religious functionary which as loosely called “rabbi” in English Return 24*. The wonder Return 25*. Names are difficult to decipher and attempt will be made after work is concluded Return 26*. The Hadran, encore Return 27*. I think he means that she is the wife, or rather was the wife of Rabbi Bendet, otherwise, why was this not his father too? Return 28*. Kagan changes the spelling of name in mid-stream Return 29*. This may refer to the inclusion of various conditions calling for the granting of a divorce being written into the ketuba. However, this phrase is not explained, and this is only conjecture on my part Return 30*. He must mean 1760-1770 Return 31*. Believe the extra A is an error and Kagan meant BRY”T son of Rabbi Yom Tov Return 32*. Kagan spells name 3 different ways Return 33*. As spelled in text Return 34*. Translator? Return 35*. i.e. Jerusalem Return 36*. i.e. sharp Return 37*. Rabbi Yehudah Bakhrakh Return 38*. Rabbi Moses Hyamson, 1863-1949 EJ Return 39*. It is possible that 39 is a typo for 19 Return 40*. i.e. ben Rabbi Yom Tov Return


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