by Berl Cohen (New York)
Translated by Dorothy Anker and Ellen Rifkin
Editing and additional translations by Yocheved Klausner
Telz was mentioned as a small village in historical documents as early as 1320. In 1529 it was already the most important town of the surrounding region (Valscius). The first church in Telz was built in 1536.
When did Jews come there?
It is commonly accepted that Jews began settling in Telz in the seventeenth century. Although the exact date is unknown, approximations can be made on the basis of related events.
We know that in 1623 Lithuania separated from the Polish Council of Four Lands. In the newly created Council of Lithuania Telz became a part of the Kaydoner region. From this one can conclude that in that year, or a little later, Telz already had a Jewish community; in other words, around the first quarter of the seventeenth century, a number of Jews were living in Telz.
Telz never had a very large Jewish community, in comparison with the large populations of Jews residing in many cities in Lithuania. Telz also grew very slowly, such that in 1939 it had almost the same number of Jews as a hundred years earlier.
In 1847, 2,248 Jews lived in Telz. The number almost doubled in 1864, to 4,204, but thirty years later, in 1897, it decreased to 3,088. The specific factor in the loss was the emigration of Telz Jews in the decade of the eighties and later. In 1885, for example, twenty Jewish families wandered off in a few days. In the following years, even during the spiritual/cultural flowering of Telz between both world wars, the number of Jewish residents did not reach even the number of almost a hundred years before.
According to the census of 1923, 1,545 Jews lived in Telz, and in 1939, 2800 lived there.
Two Blood Libels
On the Zaraner road stood a watermill that belonged to Reb Hillel Tverer, a learned Jew, on whom it was said that he never let the Gemara [Talmud] out of his hand.
Around 1758, a servant of the priest in Purple (a village not far from Telz) came to him to get wheat. Afterward he went to Leyzer the butcher to order a cow.
On the way back from the priest, Leyzer noticed that the straw in the back of the wagon was somehow too high. He stopped the horse, lifted up the straw, and was shaken: a corpse lay there, the priest's servant, wrapped around with pieces of gold crosses. Just then Reb Hillel Tverer happened to come along, to whom Leyzer told the dreadful story. Both rode back at a gallop to Telz, and after a deliberation of the members of the household, decided to take the gold and throw the dead man into the lake. They went out of the house, went over to the wagon and stood there petrified: The dead body was not in the wagon… Now they became even more frightened and didn't know what to do.
Early the next morning the priest from Purple came running, with the investigator from Telz and a superintendent, and asked Leyzer: Where is the body? They beat him painfully, bloodied him, put him in chains, and drove him to Vilna.
The Telz rabbi advised Reb Hillel to sell the gold, and for the money hire a good Christian lawyer, and that is what he did. Meanwhile the Gentile peasants spread a rumor that a Jew had murdered one of their own. The fear of a blood libel hung over the Jews of Telz.
The lawyer succeeded in getting Leyzer out of jail for 5,000 rubles bail. This happened close to the High Holidays, and the rabbi told Leyzer to daven Musaf. Leyzer's prayer could have split apart the heavens.
Meanwhile the time of the trial arrived. The priest argued that Leyzer had earlier persuaded his servant to rob the gold from the church and afterward killed the servant. This created a very difficult situation, and the lawyer became quite pessimistic about the judgment.
All of a sudden something amazing occurred: The prosecutor himself stood up and said: Leyzer is innocent! He related how he went secretly to Telz, investigated the Jewish beliefs and their holidays and came to the conclusion that a Jew could not have done such a thing.
Then Leyzer's defense attorney said to the priest: Call out the dead man with the strength of your religion, that he should give testimony. The priest answered: That is impossible. The defense attorney asked the same thing of the rabbi, and he also answered that it was impossible. At that, the defense attorney called out: In that case, I will call forth the dead person, and he turned to a frightening bandaged man in the last bench of the hall: Come here and bear witness! The priest became paralyzed with fear.
The murdered one told how the servants of the priest had attacked him in the stable, beat him continuously with murderous blows until he fell on the ground with no sign of life. They were certain he was already dead, but later, when he was lying in Leyzer's wagon, he gradually came to himself and went to his mother in Purple.
The priest was sentenced to life in prison, and his servantbeaters for twenty years, and the Jews of Telz rejoiced.
The mother of the servant was at the sentencing and she acknowledged that the priest was really the father of her son, and he wanted in this way to rid himself of his bastard child.
In 1827 once again the dark cloud of a blood libel fell upon the Telz Jews. This occurred before Pesach, the sad time of blood libels.
In the vicinity of Telz, in the village of the estate owner Dimsha, the seven year old son of the Gentile Petrovitch suddenly disappeared. The shepherd Zhokovsky was already prepared to testify that he had seen Jews tying up the boy and taking him away somewhere.
The police came and they swept through the whole neighborhood and the surroundings. Later they in fact found the dead body of the Gentile boy. The investigation, however, did not find any trace of evidence that Jews should have carried out the murder.
The whole story was told by the sadly wellknown enemy of the Jews Lutostansky understandably in another tone and with clear insinuations about the Jewish murderers of the boy. At the end he told something that he himself had thought up: he said that before the investigation two Jews had confessed to having killed the boy. However the two were later found dead; he inferred that Jews killed the two, so that they wouldn't be able to give testimony.
The Napoleonic War in Russia in 1812 was accompanied by epidemics, fires and atrocities. The Telz region lost over 2,000 people. Telz, the center of all the surrounding towns with a large percentage of Jews, probably suffered the most.
In 1831, in the time of the uprising, a Reb Monish Lukniker was hung in Telz. The authorities charged him with taking part in the uprising. The bride of the eminent scholar of Hebrew literature Schneur Zachs was in Telz then and witnessed the hanging.
Telz did not avoid the great hunger that was rampant for hundreds of miles during the last years of the sixties in the previous century.
Four persons were appointed in 1869 in the gubernatorial commission of the Telz Jews: Dr. Mapu, YehudaLeyb Gordon, and the merchants Kantsel and Berman.
The commission was later expanded with more volunteers. A soupkitchen was opened for about 300 Jews where people were given food twice a day. On Shabbath eve they were given candles and food for Shabbath. On Pesach close to 1400 needy people received help. The governor sent 1,000 rubles, half of which went to surrounding towns.
Mostly, the wealthy people handled these charity projects: Reb Aizik Rabinovitch and his wife, Reb Yidl Gordon, Reb Yitzhak Eliyashev, Reb Leyb Kantsel, and the community workers Rabbi Chaim Rabinovitch and his soninlaw Broide, Rabbi Khazanovitsh, Reb Yeshiyeh Bay, Reb Shabtai Rosiansky, Reb Aaron Neimark and Reb Gershon Meirovitch.
In 1894 a cholera epidemic broke out in the city. The Telz rabbi Reb Leyzer created a committee to help the poor with doctors and medicines. He was helped by Reb Mordechai Heilperin. The old doctor Bernstein was praised for treating the sick for no charge.
In 1908 the biggest fire in the history of Telz broke out. The fire began on Tuesday morning in the shul alley. Two houses of study burned down, the synagogue, the yeshiva and 80 homes.
Fire fighters from Plungyan helped to extinguish the fire in the evening.
Thursday morning a blaze again flared up, this time from the center of the city. Friday evening fire fighter commanders came to help from Mitave and Shavli.
Jewish organizations from various countries, and also from Russia proper, immediately offered help. The Berlin Federation for the aid of the German Jews sent in 5,000 marks for the Telz Committee for Those Who Lost Property from Fire. 100,000 francs arrived from the Parisian Alliance Israelite.
The Uprava (City Administration) allowed the construction of temporary wooden cottages on the terrain where the businesses had been.
The new Beit Midrash [study house]
In 1860 the building of a new study house out of stone was begun. A large meeting was called, in which 800 rubles were raised, in addition to pledges to contribute windows, brick, boards, lamps, lights, etc. The residents who were not able to donate money or objects promised free labor, such as bringing stones from out of town, etc.
On the committee were the old Rabbi Reb Zev, the wealthy and respected Reb Joseph Luria, Reb David Naftalin, Reb Leyb Talpiot, Reb Shalom Bloch, Reb Eliezer Grushlavker (Rostovski?). The related correspondence was written by Avraham Simcha Mapu and Meir Shapiro, school teachers in schools for Jewish children in Telz.
Rabbis and Torah Scholars
The Telzer Jewish community has a history of several hundred years, but with regard to rabbis, the existing literature includes mostly the rabbis of the town over the sixty to seventy years until the Holocaust. Since they are certainly mentioned in other articles in this memorial book, we will discuss here only their characteristics and relate episodes about them, together with several additions about earlier rabbis.
There is a great puzzle about these earlier rabbis. Our information about the first rabbis in Telz reaches back to the 70s and 80s of the eighteenth century. Even if we do not consider the time of Jewish settlement in Telz from the first quarter of the seventeenth century, as we surmised above, but from the beginning of the second half of that century, there is still a big gap of at least a hundred years.
What happened during that time? It's unimaginable that a Jewish community, even the smallest one, should be without a rabbi for so many years, or even without a kosher butcher. It is a difficult question, for which we have no answer.
The great scholar Rabbi Yechezkel. Two hundred years ago, Rabbi Yekhezkel took over the Telz rabbinical chair. We don't know details about him, except for the fact that the approbations of a 1787 book include the approbation of Yechezkel the cantor and Torah Reader in Telz and the Zamut region. (Yehuda the Levite, of the IshHorowitz family).
On this basis, one can presume that Rabbi Yekhezkel was the town rabbi in Telz in the 80s of the eighteenth century, and perhaps also before.
The great scholar Rabbi Avraham Shapira was the head of the rabbinical court of Telz. His son Rabbi Shmuel inherited the Telz rabbinate from his father. Reb Shmuel was formerly the rabbi of Droye and died in 1838. From this one can presume that Reb Avraham could have been the Telz rabbi around the middle of the 90s of the eighteenth century, and his son from around the beginning of the nineteenth century. A second son of Reb Avraham's, Rabbi Shimon, was the head of the rabbinical court of Birzh.
The great scholar Rabbi Yehuda Ziv occupied the post of rabbi in Krozh, Telz and Plongyan. It is difficult to determine the exact time he served in Telz. He lived in the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century. He could have been Rabbi in Telz before R'Avraham Shapira, or after him.
The great scholar Rabbi Avraham Margaliot. He was Rav in Telz around 18101830 and after him his son R'Yehuda Leib was Rav. R'Yehuda Leib was also rabbi in Drisa. Among the approbations of the Slavita Talmud (printed in the famous printing house in 1835) is included the signature of Leib the son of Rav Avraham. This could be the same R'Yehuda Leib Margaliot.
The great scholar Rabbi ZevWolf Lipkin, father of R'Israel Salanter. It is not well known that R'Zev Wolf was rabbi in Telz, and that he was one of the few who occupied the post of Rabbi for a long time over twenty years. In 1830, R'Zev Wolf was ordained in Goldingen and from about 1835 he was rabbi in Telz, until his death in 1858. He is the author of the book Hanhagot Beit Arie, which contains commentaries on the Talmud, Alfassi, The Turim and RAMBAM (Maimonides) and he wrote an approbation on the Slavita Talmud (1835). His grandson, the rabbi and scholar R'Arie Leib Lipkin was rabbi in Kretinge.
The great scholar Rabbi ShaulTuvia son of R'Mordechai. In a list of rabbis from Lithuania (MeshulamShaul Erdman: Kuntres Hahashgacha Vehama'ase, Jerusalem 1825) the name of Rabbi ShaulTuvia is mentioned. In the book of Responsa Ateret Yitzhak by RYitzhakAizik, head of the rabbinic court in Shavli there are several responsa to R'ShaulTuvia. The questions came from Telz, in the thirties of the 19th century. R'YitzhakAizik calls him my eminent friend in Telz and the proofreader adds who later lived in Shavli and was known as the great scholar R'ShaulTuvia.
The appellation my eminent friend for a rabbi and scholar, without the customary rabbinic titles, sheds some doubt on R'ShaulTuvia's rabbinic status; but if this doubt is unfounded and he was indeed Rav in Telz (others add: in Ponevezh as well) and a clear chronological chart of the Telz rabbis in the 19th century is not to be found we may surmise that he was rabbi either before R'ZevWolf Lipkin or right after him.
The great scholar rabbi Yosef Rozin. He was one of the greatest Torah scholars of his generation. He authored a series of books, was head of the rabbinic court in Telz 18641873 and later was Rav in Slonim. There he had a great dispute [machloket] with the Volozhyn Yeshiva about issuing their own charity boxes: R'Yosef argued that this was robbery, since it competed with the already existing boxes for the settlement of Eretz Israel. He even issued a ban on the Volozhyn Yeshiva boxes. He wrote approbations to Emuna Vehashgacha (collections from the Vilna Gaon) by Shmuel son of Avraham of Slutsk (Lick, 1864), Emunat Hahamim, arranged by DovBer Torsh (Warsaw, 1885) and Divrei Shalom Ve'emet by Shalom son of R'Yehoshua, head of the rabbinic court in Yanishok. The scholar Rav YitzhakYakov Reines was his soninlaw. R'YakovYeshaia son of R'ArieLeib Rosenblum, head of the rabbinic court in Horodok, was his grandson.
The great scholar R'Yehoshua Heller. He was for many years preacher [maggid] in Grodno, later head of the rabbinic court in Plungyan and then rabbi in Telz (18741878). From 1879 he was rabbi and judge in the rabbinic court in Vilna. He went to Telz to pick up his wife and died there on 23 Sivan 5640 (1880).
From 1879 Telz was without a rabbi until 1882, when members of the Gordon and Bloch families began serving as rabbis. Their lives are described in detail
in other articles in this Yizkor book. Here we shall devote several lines to the following:
The great scholar Rav YosefLeib Bloch.
Rav Meir Berlin, the wellknown leader of the Mizrahi movement, rightly characterized this rabbi: Indeed, at the first meeting with R'YosefLeib I had the impression that he belonged to the persons who knew their value and knew how to make others understand this. I saw before me a man, whose every movement displays leadership (…), his attitude toward his pupils was strict, but loving and respectful. Every word whether in Torah matters or secular matters was carefully weighed and measured. (…) His strength was impressive and caused his fellow men to see in him a leader.
Various stories circulated about R'YosefLeib's punctuality. In Telz people would say that they set their clocks by the daily walk of the rabbi. When a student was a few minutes late, YosefLeib would say When I ask you to come at four o'clock, I mean not a minute before and not a minute after, but exactly at four.
The rabbi's house has affected not only Telz, but all of Lithuania. It was rightly called the Mitnagdi Court. Prosperity and power was sensed in and around the house. Not plain richness, but nobleness refined and gracious wealth. This was important for all those who managed the rabbi's house: everyone cold hold up his own ideas and opinions, and feel independent in his actions.
Among the judges in the rabbinic court in Telz we shall mention: R'YomTov son of Michael from Piotrkow (1832); R'Chaim son of Zvi Hirsch, who wrote an approbation for the Slavita Talmud (1835); R'AvrahamAba son of R'Yakov Chayma. The latter wrote several articles from Telz in the newspaper Hamaggid.
(soninlaw of R'Eliezer Gordon zl)
Another judge in Rabbi Yosef Rosen's rabbinic court was Rabbi AvrahamAba Werner.
Rabbi AvrahamAba was born in Telz in 1837. Prior to his position in Telz he was rabbi in Wegger. After Telz he was rabbi in Helsinki (18811891). In 1891 he became rabbi of the Machzikei Hadat Society in London, where he died in 1911.
In London, rabbi AvrahamAba intended to establish an independent community, apart from the community of Rabbi Herman Adler. Many rabbis were involved in the affair, even the Kovno scholar R'YitzhakElchanan Spector. All supported the community rabbi.
Among the great Torah scholars in Telz in those days was the wellknown Rabbi YehudaLeib Hasid. By occupation he was a miller, but he corresponded and exchanged Responsa with several rabbis. R'Leib was a contemporary of the Vilna Gaon, during the second half of the 18th century. It was said, in the name of R'Avraham Rogoler, that he once came to the Gaon for some consultation, and he heard the Gaon say the prayer after meals in a different way. Immediately he took his wagon and horses and returned home, to warn his congregation about that.
R'Leib was brotherinlaw of Aba Hasid from Krazs (Aba Aricha, R'Aba Rozina). About him it was said that the Vilna Gaon came to Krazs to learn Torah from him. The Vilna Gaon said about R'Leib that he was a soul without a body..
Among the scholars who are descendants of the Hasid Rabbi Avraham Schwechsner, we shall mention R'Shmuel'ke Telzer. R'Avraham lived at the time of the scholar R'ZevWolf Lipkin, that is, in the first half of the 19th century..
Nachum the son of Eliezer Sachs from Telz is the author of Likutei Torah Amen, Vilna, 5667 (1907), with an approbation by R'Eliezer Gordon.
The Rav and great scholar R'AvrahamEliahu Kaplan
R'AvrahamEliahu was not an ordained rabbi nor a dayan (judge), but his spiritual influence on the orthodox Jewry in Lithuania and Germany was great. He was born in 1889 in Keidan to his mother Fradl and his father AvrahamEliahu. In 1901, Fradl married for the second time, in Telz, with R'Yakov Rabinowitz, the father of Yankel, who is living now in Montreal.
Strange tragedies have befallen the Kaplan and Rabinowitz families: R'Avraham Eliahu's father died before his son was born, therefore the baby was named after him; Yankel's father died before his son's Brit [circumcision], and Yankel bears his father's name. R'Avraham Eliahu's father died at 33 years of age and R'Avraham Eliahu himself died at the age of 35, in Berlin, on 15 Iyar 5684 (1924).
R'Avraham Eliahu helped in the establishment of the Jewish orthodox education in Lithuania. He was elected, together with Dr. Leo Deutchlaender, to the Jewish National Council in Lithuania as the representative of the religious Jewish population. There he worked in the section of the Haredi [ultraorthodox] education. In Telz he established the Society of Jewish Women [Agudat Benot Israel]. He also wrote the poem Lador, the anthem of Tze'irei Israel [Jewish young people] Organization.
R'Avraham Eliahu had extraordinary talents. He was a basket full of books and nurtured an ambitious plan to write a commentary on the entire Talmud. When he was asked And what about the wellknown RASHI commentary? he would reply RASHI's commentary needs a new commentary.
The scholar R'IsserZalman Meltzer writes in one of his letters that R'Avraham Eliahu moved people with the strength of his Torah and his personality, and thanks to him many young people from Germany came to study in the Telz Yeshiva. R'IsserZalman and the scholar R'Yechezkel Sarna called him the young giant and his plan to write a new commentary of the Talmud a holy venture. The ChafetzChaim saw in him the leader who will restore the situation to its former splendor.
He authored the following books, published after his death: Divrei Talmud, Jerusalem 57185730 (19581970, 2 volumes; Be'ikvot Hayir'ah, Divrei Machshava, Jerusalem 5729 (1960). He was
coeditor of Vom Sinn des Judentums, Frankfurt A.M. 1924, a collection in honor of Nathan Birenbaum.
The Telz yeshiva was a worldinstitution. Besides the Lithuanian young Jews, youths from all over the world streamed here. In order to illustrate the variety of countries, here is a small statistic from the year 1937: besides the youths from Lithuania, there were 30 from Germany; Hungary 5; America 4; England 5; Latvia 5; Africa 1; Switzerland 2; Belgium 2; Netherlands 1 and France 1
Founded by the great scholar Rabbi Eliezer Gordon zl
The yeshiva was founded in 1875 founded, however not built. This happened twenty years later. The founders were R'Meir Atlas, later rabbi of Shavli, YitzhakYakov Oppenheim, later rabbi in Kelm and Rabbi ShlomoZalman Abel, who will be discussed later.
Initially they assembled youths from Telz and studied with them. This was the kernel of the yeshiva, which grew very quickly. However, the Telz yeshiva as a concept that would spread widely beyond the borders of the town, began with the great scholar Rabbi Eliezer Gordon.
The yeshiva was illegal for many years, and for that reason there were many troubles. People tried to help out through bribing the authorities. The worst troubles occurred in the time of Popov, a malicious person, who wanted nothing less than to close the doors of the yeshiva. But a miracle happened (and maybe it wasn't a miracle…) and he was withdrawn from his position in Telz.
The famous wealthy Muscovite Zelik Persitz donated 600 rubles to install gas lighting in and around the yeshiva. This was in 1904, a short time after the excitement of his son coming to study at the yeshiva after he completed highschool.
This was not easily accepted in the Yeshiva. BenZion Dinur, Hebrew historian and former minister of education in Israel, who studied at the Yeshiva for two years, relates that announcements were published at that time in the Hamelitz and Hatzefira newspapers to the effect that no person should be allowed to enroll in the Yeshiva without obtaining in advance the approval of the management. The Yeshiva was really strict in keeping that rule. It was said that the scholar R'Eliezer Gordon once remarked to the twelveyearold BenZion that Those who wrote the recommendations for you are ignorant persons; we would not accept them even for the very first lesson.
As much as we devote ourselves to the study of the Torah, still we are people and we are not always able to avoid disagreement so arguments and disputes often developed at the Yeshiva. Sometimes it was a wellmeaning dispute (lit. a dispute for the sake of Heaven), and sometimes the reason was personal disagreements or bias. The Hebrew writer A.A. Friedman in his memoirs reports such a dispute:
It happened in 1905. A dispute broke out in the Yeshiva, because Rabbi Hirschowitz, soninlaw of R'Eleizer Gordon, was appointed head of a class. The Hebrew press reported that there were fights and Yeshiva students were beaten and some were wounded. In A.A. Friedman's memoirs there are letters from R'Eleizer, in which he denies the reports about beatings and says that in fact only very few students were against Rabbi Hirschowitz's appointment and the others were just dragged along. However, there is also a fact that a watchman was hired, in order to avoid future windowbreaking in the Yeshiva.
The Yeshiva excelled from year to year. Sadly and woefully, its growth in magnitude and in depth came to a bitter end in July 1940 the most frightening day for the Yeshiva: the Bolshevik Power seized the building for the use of the Red Army. The day the Yeshiva was emptied the entire Jewish Telz, religious or not, was shaken: all students, younger and older, rushed out of the building with Torah scrolls and books in their hands, and the weeping shook the Heavens.
The students went to the Batei Midrash and synagogues, where they continued their study. But soon another restriction followed, issued by the evil kingdom: it was forbidden to rent rooms to students who were residents of other towns.
The management decided to divide the Yeshiva into five parts, and relocate in various towns: one remained in Telz, the others went to Trisk, Yelok, Popelian and Szydlow. The Rav and teachers traveled through these few towns, taught and lectured, and guided their students in their behavior through the terrible times. Most of all this was done secretly.
Many have written about the Telz Yeshiva, some have studied there, some were researchers of Yeshivas in general or the Telz Yeshiva in particular. In the Hebrew section of this Yizkor Book you will certainly find material about this Yeshiva. Here we shall add some lines about several other Yeshivas and show how they considered the Telz method.
An author of a book about Volozhyn wrote: The method of study in Telz is different from that of Volozhyn: in Volozhyn there was free choice of the material studied not so in Telz. There all studied the same Tractate and had an examination every month. Musar [a special seminar focusing on ‘personal morals'] was an obligatory lesson, half an hour every day (…). The way the lessons were conducted was different as well: Rabbi Eliezer was brilliant in his interpretations, moved with ease from subject to subject, began with one Tractate and finished with a third. The study in Telz is by Hevruta [two or three students learn together]: the teacher opens, one student asks a question, the other answers, the third argues and presents another opinion etc.. In fact, this was not only at the time of R'Eleizer; the same method continued to the end.
Another source described the Telz Yeshiva as following: Clear thought, straightforward comprehension, religious philosophy, purity and chastity of character according to the particular ethics of Telz as well as quick grasping of the subject without resorting to excessive, hairsplitting discussions of verses and sayings.
The Yeshiva preached and practiced individual education, in accordance with the qualifications and talents of each young man: if one demonstrated diligence and perseverance, he was helped to become expert; another, who demonstrated profound philosophical thinking, was helped to excel in this direction; still another, who showed signs of social involvement, was helped to become socially active, perhaps a leader.
The great scholar Rabbi ShlomoZalman Abel
In newspapers, magazines and books we find articles about Heads of the Telz Yeshiva. However, this cannot be said about one of the first rabbis in the Telz Yeshiva, who, it seems, has not even been given the title Head of the Yeshiva Rabbi ShlomoZalman Abel.
R'ShlomoZalman was born in 1857 in NeustadtSugind. He was one of the prodigies in his time, blessed with talents, and was called the young genius. He was not only extremely erudite in Talmud and Poskim [codifiers]; he was learned in languages and science as well. He published in Halevanon (year 11) a series of articles titled History of the Life of Plants and also wrote poems, published in the Hebrew press of the time.
R'ShlomoZalman was one of the founders of the Yeshiva, where, at the age of 18 or 19 he already gave lessons.
He died in the prime of his life at 29, in 1886. His father R'Kalman later published his son's book Beit Shlomo (Vilna 1893) concerning commandments Bein Adam Lachavero [commandments between man and his fellow man].
R'ShlomoZalman was a grandson of R'Avraham, brother of the Vilna Gaon. In Hebrew he signed his name in abbreviation SZA [the letters shin, zayin, alef = Slomo Zalman Abel.
If one wishes to have an idea of the religiousspiritual influence of the Telz Yeshiva on the Jewish life over the world, it is enough to glance at the following random list of rabbis, who studied there and later most of them spread the Telz spirit throughout hundreds of Jewish communities over the world.
Rabbi YosefDavid Fine, Rabbi in a town near Mozir, Minsk Gubernia, later in Portland, America.
Rabbi Eliezer Popko, Rav in Byalowetz, Kolish, Welizsh, Philadelphia.
Rabbi Avraham Kalmanowitz, Rav in Rakow, Tiktin.
Rabbi Nechemia Robinson, Rav in the Chicago Beit Shalom Anshei Kroz, soninlaw of the great scholar R'Avraham Charif.
Rabbi Michael Higger, author of Otzar Habbraytot and publisher of a series of Talmud tractates from manuscripts, writes that Telz and Slobodka have shaped his life.
Rabbi Moshe Shatzkes, Rav in Lipnishok, Ivye and Lomze, Rav and teacher at the NewYork Yeshiva named after R'Yitzhak Elchanan.
Rabbi Shimon Grossbein, Rav in Brooklyn.
Rabbi Yitzhak Locks, Rav in the Bronx and Westchester.
Rabbi YomTov Lipman Levin, Rav in Shakot (Lithuania), Molodetchne, and Brooklyn Agudat Achim Anshei New Lats.
Rabbi AvrahamEliyahu Regensburg, Rav in various communities in Poland and Lithuania, later in Chicago.
Rabbi MosheShimon Zivitz, Rav in Pikeln, Baltimore, Pittsburgh; author of many books; born in Tzitevian, 1855, died in Pittsburgh, 1936.
Rabbi Yitzhak Aizik Friedman, from 1914 Rav in Korshan, from 1928 in Towrik. Married in Telz the daughter of Meir Halperin. Died in 1944, buried in Nachlat Yitzhak, Israel.
Rabbi Eliezer Pshedmeski, from 1923 Rav in Bronx, for many years.
Rabbi Baruch Rabinowitz, Rav in Zurowitz, Vitebsk and from 1926 in Chicago.
Rabbi Israel Lev, Rav in Ponievezh and Trenton (America).
Rabbi Naftali Zvi Hirsch Trop, 25 years Rav and teacher at the Yeshiva of the ChafetzChaim, died in 1929.
Rabbi MosheZev Cohen, 1911 Rav in Plotel, then in Abel, Breslau, Liewenhof, and from 1924 in the great Beit Hamidrash Tif'eret Zion in Chicago.
Rabbi Dov Revell, one of the leading founders of the Yitzhak Elchanan Yeshiva in New York, was also teacher there.
Rabbi Chaim Schachnowitz, born 1907 in Telz. Rav in Breshice, from 1933 Rav and teacher in Dvinsk. From 1943 in Chicago.
Rabbi MosheMordechai Hakohen Shkop, Rav and teacher at the Grodno Yeshiva, later rabbi in America.
Rabbi MosheBaruch Feivelsohn, Rav in Beisegole, from 1945 Rav in Shevet Achim Anshei Homsk.
Rabbi EliezerMeir Preill, Rav in London, Rav and teacher at the Yitzhak Elchanan Yeshiva in New York.
Rabbi AharonDavid Burak, from 1917 Rav in Brooklyn.
Rabbi EliyahuDavid Rabinowitz, Rav in Ponievezh.
Rabbi Hillel son of R'Israel Berman, from Telz. Rav in Palonge.
Rabbi AvrahamNachman Schwarz, Rav and teacher in Krok, NowyOdess and Baltimore.
Rabbi DovZvi Chaimann, Rav in Minneapolis (America), Rav and teacher in the Baltimore Yeshiva EtzChayim.
Rabbi AharonShlomoZalman Zalmanowitz, Rav in Sapizhishak, Doshkitz, Montreal.
Rabbi Yosef Goldin, the last rabbi in Shaki.
Rabbi AvrahamLeib Schor, Rav in Shaki, Krilov, from 1929 in Chicago.
Rabbi Zev Sissermann, Rav in Levkiew (Volhyn).
R'MosheChaim Mirvis, Rav in Cape Town, South Africa.
Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein, Mashgiach [supervisor] in the Lomz Yeshiva, author of Yisurei Hada'at.
Rabbi ElchananWasserman, well known scholar, Rav and teacher in various Yeshivas. Author of several books.
Rabbi Yitzhak Kossovski, Rav in Ivye.
Rabbi Kalman son of R'Eliezer Maggid, Rav in Armiansk (1912).
Rabbi BaruchYitzhak Chadash, Rav in Landverova (1888).
Rabbi ShlomoZalman Rabinowitz, Rav in Sapizhishok, Dokshitz.
Rabbi YakovDavid Gordon, Rav in Norfolk, Virginia and neighborhood (America).
Rabbi AvrahamYakov Neumark, Rav in Pren (1905).
Rabbi MordechaiZev Silberman, Rav in Motele.
Rabbi AizikLeib Stolyar, Rav in Rotzk.
Rabbi ZviYehuda Ollschwang, rav in Driya, 25 years in Chicago. 19461949 Mashgiach (supervisor) at the Telz Yeshiva in Cleveland.
Schools, Societies, Parties
That Telz had Hadarim [Torah classes for young children] is well known. The interesting fact is, that as early as 1866 a modern school for girls was opened in Telz.
The founder of the school, its principal and one of the teachers was the famous poet YehudaLeib Gordon, who lived in Telz from 1865 to 1872 and was Inspector of the governmentmanaged Yevreiskaye Utchilitche [Jewish School].
However, the government support was not enough, so the parents had to pay tuition.
Some of the Jewish boys went to the public (government) school. The inspector of the regional public school tried to obtain support for the needy Jewish pupils concerning tuition, as well as acquiring books. The inspector of the Jewish public school was Mr. Chazanowitz.
In 1879, a vocational school for girls was founded. The wealthy woman, FeigeLorie, daughter of the Trishker Rav R'KalmanYerachmiel, and some of her friends supervised the school. Feige supplied a house for this purpose.
In 1927, the Tif'eret Bachurim Study Society was founded. In 1929 the Society included 50 members; in 1930 they began taking their Se'uda Shelishit [the third Sabbath meal] together. The rabbis R'Elchanan Wiener and R'Zalman Dobtzanski were their spiritual leaders. They received important support from Rabbi Israel Karaimer (later killed tragically on a NewYork street) and also from L. Shochat, Rabbi S. Scher and Rabbi Rose.
The regional committee of Tif'eret Bachurim included: Sachs, Mordechai Kloff, Shimon Osher, Shmuel Marek. The latter two were the official rabbis of the Society.
The founding and first committee included: Moshe Litwak, Yitzhak Shmulewitz, Yosef Pogramanski, Moshe Helfon.
Among the first active members were: Israel Ketz, Pesach Cohen, Mechl Cohen (my brother), the brothers Leich, Elchanan Klotz, Mendel Tzwick, Berl Wein.
We had in Telz two main parties: Agudat Israel and Zionists. Telz was the stronghold of Agudat Israel its organizational and ideological center.
The opposition to the settlement of Eretz Israel by Jewish organizations began with Hibat Zion. The preacher [maggid] ChaimYosef Jaffe from Wekshne tells us that Hovevei Zion would send out groups throughout Lithuania to propagate their ideas. When ChaimYosef came to Telz to deliver his sermon, the rabbi R'Eliezer did not allow him to speak in the Beit Midrash. He summoned ChaimYosef to his house and they had a terrible argument it was said that R'Eliezer's son, Motke, threw him out of the house.
The wellknown Mizrahi leader Yitzhak Nissenbaum relates about a discussion he had with R'Eleizer in 1904 about Zionism. The Telz rabbi told him that he was not against Zionism; in fact he said Zionism does possess some positive traits, similar to the ritual red heifer in the Temple of Jerusalem: it purifies the unclean and it profanes the pure. It was especially that second part that he didn't like, he added.
At first R'Eliezer actually was sympathetic toward the Hibat Zion movement. However, at the Hovevei Zion Katowitz Conference, when they elected Dr. I. L. Pinsker as chairman of the movement and not Rabbi Shmuel Mohliver, he left them.
In 1889, the Telz Hibat Zion Society was acknowledged by the authorities. Telz was one of the few towns that were asked to participate in the Odessa Conference, [Page 46]
where the first central executive committee of Hovevei Zion was elected.
In 1910, a delegate represented Telz at the Zionist Conference from the Kovno and Suwalk Gubernias.
We shall mention here one of the first, enthusiastic members of the Hovevei Zion movement, the Telz born R'YosefHillel Berman. From 1888 he was Rabbi (appointed by the authorities) in Palonga, from 1898 in Friederichstadt, Kurland and from 1907 in Rostov on the Don. He remained in the USSR and probably died there.
May years before Hovevei Zion, Telz was indeed connected to Eretz Israel, albeit accidentally, through several individuals all from Telz whose names we find on tombstones in an old cemetery in Jerusalem:
Here is buried
Chana wife of R'Aizik, 5622 (1862) (p.45)
Leib son of R'Yakov, 5623 (1863) (p.46)
R'Yakov son of R'BinyaminZev, 5628 (1868) (p. 13)
R'Aizik Nagar, 5626 (1866) (p. 46)
EtaGisha wife of MosheYehoshua son of R'Yechiel, 5636 (1876) (p. 9)
Zlata daughter of Moshe, 5650 (1890) (p. 3)
Sheine daughter of R'Yakov Mendlis, 5651 (1891) p. 19).
In time, the Zionist movement established itself in Telz, even had its own library. However, the dominant Jewish authority in town remained, up to the last days, the Agudat Israel. In no other town in Lithuania has the Aguda so expanded and strengthened its positions: the rabbi's house, the Yeshiva and its preparatory classes, the elementary school, the highschool for girls, the two Teachers Colleges, the Kolel [Torah study classes] all this completely dominated the Jewish life in Telz.
After First World War, the Bundists tried to establish a group in Telz. They have even applied to the authorities with a request to open an elementary school in the framework of the Culture League organization. The leaders of this endeavor were two teachers I remember the name of one of them: Rivka Reivid. However, the influence of the Bund was limited to a small corner of the town, and it soon disintegrated.
Prenumeranten and Correspondents in Telz
A widespread custom among Jewish writers, especially of Rabbinic books, was to sell their books in advance to chosen readers, thus enabling the writer to meet the printing and other related expenses. Usually the author would first take the manuscript to his rabbi and consult him, and if the rabbi found that the manuscript was a worthy one he would suggest a number of respected, scholarly and welltodo persons whom the author should show his manuscript and ask them to subscribe. These advance subscribers were called Prenumeranten. Sometimes the author found his prenumeranten in his own town, sometimes he had to travel to far places with his manuscript. The names of the subscribers were then made public the list was printed at the beginning or at the end of the book.
We found prenumeranten from Telz listed in the following books:
Even Shmuel, Arie Leib Frumkin, Vilna 5634 (1874) 1.
Avnei Zikaron, Avraham Firkowitz, Vilna 5632 (1872) 1.
Imrei Yaakov, A.Yakov Fralgever, Bilgoriya 5674 (1914) 11.
Hilchot Rav Alfas, Vilna 5599 (1839) 6.
Merir Yom, Chaim Herzman, Vilna 5674 (1914) 1.
Mishkan Betzalel, A. Alexandrov, Vilna 5683 (1923) 11.
Ateret Shaul, Shaul Luria, Vilna 5602 (1842) 22.
Hanitzanim, Avraham Ber Gottlober, Vilna 5611 (1851) 1.
Arei Yehuda, Yehuda Leib from Serhiya, Vilna 5625 (1865) 10 + 1.
Tzioni, Aharon Zelig Tzioni, Vilna, 56345635 (18741875) 2.
Karnei Tzvi 2, Tzvi Zev Wyernik, Warsaw 5648 (1888) 1.
Teomei Tzviya, Tzvi Hirsch Bloch, Koenigsberg 5621 (1861) 7.
Tif'eret Shaul, 2, 3, Shaul Yedidya Schachet, Piotrkov 5659 (1899) 13.
The names of the subscribers are listed in the aforementioned books.
The Hebrew press in the second half of the 19th century contains reporters from Telz. We have found the following names the list is certainly not complete:
Avigdor Diemant (Hamelitz).
AvrahamYitzhak Perlman (Yagdil Tora 1909).
Avraham Simcha Mapu (HaCarmel), was teacher at Y.L. Gordon's school.
Eidel Gordon (Hamaggid).
Y.L. Abel (Hamelitz, Hatzefira).
Eliezer Binyamin Dobkin (Hatzefira, Hamaggid), wrote articles as well.
Baruch Margaliot (Hatzefira).
Zev Holzberg (Hamelitz).
Chaim Aharonson (Hatzefira), was a watchmaker, later lived in Petersburg.
Chana Levine (Hamelitz).
Yehoshua Heshel Margaliot (Kevod HaLevanon), also wrote commentaries on the Torah.
Yehoshua Heshel Kalman (Hamelitz, Hamaggid, HaCarmel), also wrote commentaries on the Torah.
Yitzhak Marcus (Hamaggid).
Meir Brik (Hamaggid, HaIsraeli).
MeirEliyahu Shapira (HaCarmel).
S. Zak (Hed Hazman).
Shlomo Friedman (Hamelitz).
Community activists and Philanthropists
Avigdor Margaliot left for Jerusalem, where he died in 1882. His children remained in Telz.
Avraham Margaliot died in 1886.
Avraham Rubinstein soninlaw of the Rav R'Shimon Zarchi. Died 1891.
Yosef Kaplanski was rich and respected.
Yechezkel Berman his two sons, highschool students, were shot by robbers.
Yakov Cohen was from Telz, lived in Petersburg.
Yakov Rabinowitz treasurer of the hospital that was built around 1892 and in 1898 its budget was 10,000 (?) Rubles.
YitzhakAizik Rabinowitz a great philanthropist and donor, left for Bikur Cholim a percentage of the worth of his house, founded the Yeshiva PriYitzhak
in Jerusalem and in Telz and a synagogue was named after him (1881). Died in 1898.
Israel Mechl Troib (Traub) born in 1858, lived most of his life in Telz.
Meir ben Kalman Schoensohn.
Michael Krosskal (Mechl Vorner) died 1888.
Mordechai Natansohn born in Vilna in 1793, died in Telz in 1868. Wrote research papers in Pirchei Tzafon and Dvir (Vilna 1864). The wellknown work Aviezer by M.A. Ginsburg is dedicated to him.
Moshe ZviHirsch Ordman published the Responsa Ateret Yitzhak by Yitzhak Aizik, head of the rabbinic court in Shavli.
Nachum ben R'Eliezer Sachs.
Nechemia Shabtailsohn (Shabtailboim?).
Zvi ben R'Menachem Naftulin.
Kalman Halevi Abel.
Shmuel Lieberman treasurer of the hospital.
In a list of a Society for the support of building Eretz Israel we find several names from Telz: Aizik Friedman, Fishel Katz, Shmuel Lieberman, AvrahamYitzhak Naftulin, Rabbi Shimon Berman, Dr. Broide, Dr. Ziv, Dr. Bernstein.
In the Telz branch of Beit Yaakov we find the following active members: Mrs. Kimchi, Mrs. Scheinkman, Mrs. Shoshana Shochat, Miss Gertzowits, Miss Hirschowitz, Miss Chasia Bloch, Miss Sofer, Miss Krawitz.
R'Moshe Perlman was one of the finest Balebatim [respected persons, lit. homeowners] in Telz and one of its first scholars. He was not seen much around town and was not much heard of he was a real Yoshev Ohel [studious learner, lit. sitting in his tent], working on his book, which was later published under the title Midrash Harefu'ah [Study of healing] (Tel Aviv, 19261934, three parts).
R'Moshe collected from the Talmudic literature all articles dealing with medicine and hygiene. In the opinion of knowledgeable scholars it is one of the best research works in this field.
The poet Chaim Nachman Byalik encouraged him in this enterprise and Dr. I. L. Katzenelsohn, an expert in Talmudic medicine, praised Perlman's work and added notes.
In part III the author expresses his thanks to his wife Sarah Hinde, daughter of Rabbi DovBer Broida (died 5676 1916 in Jerusalem) for enabling him to devote my time and strength to my spiritual work.
R'Moshe was born in 1862 in Telz, Grodno Gubernia, and died in 1935 in Kovno. His father, the scholar R'YeruchamLeib, was known as the great Minsker.
R' Moshe'l Friedman
This is the way he was called, in his youth as well as in his old days, by the name Moshe'l, as an endearment. He was my first rabbi (teacher). In the tens of years that I knew him I never remember him being late, and I never remember him without a smile on his lips.
R'Moshel was very learned in TANACH (Bible) and had a great love for the Twenty Four (books of the Bible). Yet, he was not known as belonging to the ultraorthodox circles in town.
He strictly kept all Torah commandments no question about that. A Jewish writer relates in his Memoirs, that R'Eleizer Gordon entrusted him with the education of his grandchildren.
R'Moshe'l was the step brother of Naftali Friedman, who was a delegate in the Duma.
He wrote poems in Hebrew and novels in Yiddish. He was not a Telz native, but lived in Telz from 1867 about twenty years. He was a friend of Yehuda Leib Gordon and was inspired by him to write poems. In 1893 he immigrated to America, where he died in 1900.
In the Hebrew press of those times one can find his many articles and reports from Telz.
Yitzhak Rabinowitz was born in Kovno and always added to his name: the man from Kovno.
The famous Hebrew writer and novelist from Lithuania, Avraham Mapu, had a son, who did not follow in his father's path. He became a military doctor and was stationed in the Telz ultraorthodox neighborhood. His name was YitzhakLeib Mapu.
Another wellknown poet from Lithuania, who wrote many poems about his native land, wrote a poem about Avraham Mapu's son, not mentioning him by name:
The strict military doctor
From the garrison in the nearby town,
The son of a famous father,
The innocent from Ahavat Zion,
Who saw, in the mirror of the Neman River
The waters of the Jordan and the See of Gallilee,
And in the Alexot Hill a picture of the Hermon Mountain.
Tall, with a nonJewish appearance in his uniform
With golden epaulettes on his shoulders,
With red stripes on his tight trousers,
With sidewhiskers and a smooth chin
He came all dressed up in his uniform,
Filled the room and breathed the entire air.
With one move flung his ornamented cap
And gently put away his sword with the guilded handle.
….His mother spoke to him in Yiddish and he replied in Russian, with the sharp R's and a full mouth….
He answered only to his Russian name: Lev Abramowitch Mapu. He could not read even one line of Hebrew. A news item in the newspaper HaCarmel related that after the attempt to assassinate Alexander II failed, Dr. Mapu demanded that the Jewish community in Telz build a church, as a token of thanks to God….
Israel Leib Popps
He came from Noveran, where he was born on 15 Cheshvan 5644 (15 November 1883). He had excellent talents. At the age of six he studied Talmud, at 9 he was brought to Telz to study, at 11 he was a student at the Yeshiva but at 15 he abandoned the religious studies.
By the name of BenIsrael he became a Hebrew writer, joined the best Hebrew Journal of the times Hashaliach [The Messenger], as well as the prestigious Vilna newspapers Hazman [The Time] and Hed Hazman [Echo of the times].
He raised many hopes in the field of Hebrew Literature. The most famous Odessa writers supported him. He went to study at Heidelberg, began suffering from depression and shortly after that committed suicide by drowning (22 Iyar 5672 9 May 1912).
In his articles, BenIsrael fought against assimilation, conversion and illiteracy, arguing that these three things endanger the existence of the Jewish people.
One of Israel Leib's brothers was Nissan Popps, who was an extraordinarily talented speaker and became a wellknown communist leader in Lithuania.
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