by M. Tzinovitz
Reb Shalom Shachne the First Rabbi
We know that the Rabbi Reb Shalom Shachne was Augustów's first Rabbi. The book Siftei Yesheinim on the Chumash serves as proof of that. The author of the book was the righteous Rabbi, Rabbi Shabtai son of the Rabbi Moshe Zalman , an Augustów resident. He refers to himself in the foreword to the book as the grandson of Rabbi, the famous Gaon and Admor, Our Great Teacher the Rabbi Shalom Shachne, the Av Beit Din of this community.
When exactly did Rabbi Shalom Shachne officiate as Rabbi in Augustów? This matter is not known to us, nor have any details been preserved of the story of the rabbi's life. Nevertheless, it is certain that the period of his officiation began before 5597 (1837), since in that year it is known that another Rabbi was already seated on the chair of the rabbinate in Augustów.
At that same time, the Jewish settlement in Augustów was an important urban Jewish center, according to the ideas of the time. Compared to 239 Jews in 1765 (5526), including the village settlements that were adjacent to it, the Polish government census of 1820 showed that there were already in Augustów 1,167 Jewish souls, which constituted 30 percent of the general population of residents in the city (according to the Hebrew Encyclopedia published by Masada). It is understood that this important community looked forward to famous rabbis.
Reb Yosef son of Reb Barukh
In 5597 (1837) there appeared as Rabbi Av Beit Din of Augustów the Rabbi Reb Yosef son of Barukh. We are taught this by the book Shvil Hayashar (the interpretation of HaRif on Tractate Brakhot). In the list of subscribers to this book, there are also mentioned a few names from Augustów. The first one is the rabbi mentioned above, Rav Av Beit Din of the community. Among those who come after him, respected householders: Yisrael Dov Varhaftig, Reb Yitzchak HaCohain, Reb Eliyahu son of Ezra, Reb Ezra Leib son of Eliyahu of the Reinstein family, and Reb Avraham Charlap. A large number of the offspring of these householders remained to live in this city. A number of them found a respected place in the communal life of their native town. Regarding Reb Avraham Charlap, it should be noted that this family had one of the most respected lineages in Poland-Lithuania. It had a pedigree that went back to King David. One of the members of the family was the Gaon Reb Yaakov Moshe Charlap of Jerusalem.
The Rabbi the Gaon Shmuel Avigdor Tosfa'ah the Third Rabbi
With the beginning of the officiation of the Rabbi, we have in our hands an orderly record of the Augustów Rabbis one after the other, with the exact dates and also the details of the histories of these personalities, and of their spiritual values and their standing in the community.
With the appointment of Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor, the community of Augustów gained a Rabbi Gaon who had a reputation in the rabbinic world for his Talmudic greatness and as a distinctive religious author who had enriched rabbinic literature with his interpretation Tana Tosefta on the Toseftot of the Mishnah.
Rabbi Sh. A. was born (in the year 5566-1806) in Słonim to his father the exalted and well-known Reb Avraham. His father-in-law was the Gaon Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Broide, Av Beit Din of Salant. Already in the springtime of his life Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor became known as a prodigy. When he was 15 years old he dared to write a treatise on the Rambam's Hilkhot Edut, and the Geonim of Lithuania (among them the Gaon Rabbi Yaakov Meir Padva, afterwards Av Beit Din in Brisk of Lithuania), desired to see this book printed, putting it on the same level with the work by the Gaon Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshutz the Tummim. Nevertheless, due to financial stress, the matter was not supported. At the age of twenty, he was accepted as Rabbi in Fahrshtadt (beyond the river) which is in Horodna, as a replacement for his brother-in-law the Gaon Reb Binyamin Diskin (Av Beit Din of Volkovisk and Lomza). From there he was taken to be the Rabbi of Sislovitz, (Śvisłocz, Volkovisk district). From there he moved to Augustów, here he worked as a blessing until 5614 (1854.) In those days, Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor became famous as the writer of a wonderful composition on the Shulchan Arukh Choshen Mishpat, containing excellent innovations on the laws concluding the tractate according to the halakhah. At this same time, he wrote his composition Tana Tosefta, with which he acquired his place in the rabbinic world.
On the importance of Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor in the eyes of the rabbis of his generation, the fact will testify that the Gaon Reb Yechiel Haklier, Av Beit Din Suwalki, who, in one of his replies to him in his book Amudei Or, writes of him: The famous Gaon, Sinai and mover of mountains, Light of Israel, the Strong Hammer.
It must be emphasized that in those days they used caution in the distribution of the description Gaon. In the entire book mentioned above, this description is not given to any other rabbi.
With all the greatness of the Gaon Rabbi Sh. A. Tosfa'ah, he did not achieve the rabbinate of Augustow. After several years, he moved to Nyasvizh in place of the Rabbi the Gaon Reb Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, who had accepted the Rabbinate of Novhardok. (He later became famous, while he was the Rabbi of Kovno, as the Gaon of his generation). The reason for Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor's leaving Augustów is tied, apparently, to his unwillingness to be under the same roof as one decisive local person, who was an influential Man of the Century.
This matter is hinted at in the letter to him from the Gaon Rabbi Yehoshua Yehuda Leib Diskin, Av Beit Din Lomza. The Lomza Rabbi, (the son of Rabbi Sh. A. Tosfa'ah's brother-in-law), was of the opinion that the men of Augustów would prevent their rabbi from leaving them, however he saw that the matter was not so. If so, in hindsight, it was good that his uncle the Rabbi uprooted himself from there because ...if this is what you will call a city and it is given into a single hand, then it is in his hand to overturn a basin and trample and devour and no one to save it from his hand. In connection to that he counseled his uncle the Rabbi in Augustów to decide on his settling down in Nyasvizh, and he sent him blessing and success as Av Beit Din in his new and important community (Questions and Answers). It can be pointed out that from Nyasvizh
Reb Shmuel Avigdor went to officiate as Rabbi Av Beit Din in the community of Karlin, next to Pinsk, which was famous for its rabbis and geonim. He died there in 5626 (1866) when he was only 66 years old. Then, words of appreciation were written about him in the Hebrew newspapers, and they eulogized him in the villages throughout Lithuania and Reisin and the vicinity of Grodno, Bialystok, Lomza and Suwalki. In Augustów, Rabbi Shapira, the local Av Beit Din, eulogized him.
The writer of this article heard in his childhood from the elders of the Beit Midrash in his hometown of Jedwabne, that Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor and the Rabbi of Suwalki the Kabbalist Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Isaac Chaver wanted to impose a ban on the Rabbi from Filipova, because he was lenient in matters of what was unkosher, but the Gaon Rabbi Arieh Leib Shapira Av Beit Din of Kovno, who knew this Rabbi well, dissuaded them from taking this step. He explained to them that the Rabbi is lenient and permits to others from the aspect of sparing the money of Israel, but he himself is highly righteous, abstaining from all the pleasures of this world, honest, hating greed, not accepting any payment for legal decisions, and barely supporting himself on the negligible salary given him by the communities in which he serves as Rabbi. One of the grandsons of Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor, the son of Rabbi Reb Yehoshua Leib Rabinovitz, published a book of his grandfather's, the Gaon mentioned above, sermons in 5647 , She'airit HaPleitah. The Lithuanian geonim gave their unqualified approval to the book, and pointed out in their haskamot that the work contained interesting material for rabbis and preachers. The Rabbis Reb Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor of Kovno, Reb Eliyahu Chaim Meizel of Lodz, and Rabbi Reb Zalman Sender Kahana Shapira of Maltsh, described the author as The great Gaon of his generation a Knight of the Shepherds.
The Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor didn't forget Augustów when he was Av Beit Din in Karlin. In 5626 , he willingly gave his agreement to the book Siftei Yesheinim that was written by an Augustow man, Reb Shabtai Ravidovitz, son of Rabbi Moshe Zalman, the grandson of the famous Gaon Admor, our great Teacher and Rav-Rabbi Shalom Shachne May he be remembered for life in the world to come Av Beit Din of the Holy Community of Augustów (we mentioned him earlier as being the first Rabbi of Augustów). This book on the Torah was completed in 5601 (1841), but its publication was deferred time and again. In Nissan 5625 (1865), Rabbi Zalman Yitzchak Ravidovitz, the son of the author, attempted to publish it with the addition of the approvals of the geonim of the generation: Reb Yehoshua Leib, Av Beit Din of Lomza, Rabbi Eliyahu Chaim Meizel, Av Beit Din of Pruzhani, and Reb Shmuel Avigdor Av Beit Din of Karlin. Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor writes in his approval that he recalls the author from the time that he was a Rabbi in Augustów who was known for his holiness and abstemiousness, and his prayers were heard, and his teaching was a blessing. He returned many from transgression, and taught through holiness and suffering. This, his book, is built on the foundations of the legends of Chazal and expositions and on the principles of Mussar.
For unknown reasons, the book was published only in 5665 , by the New Hebrew Publishing House of A.M. Piyurka in Grayevo. One of the writer's grandsons, from the Horovitz family, attended to the matter; he attached to the treatise the booklet Zera Yitzchak from the pen of the author's son, which has in it annotations and innovations. It should be noted that this book, Siftei Yesheinim, is not widely known and is not registered with the The Book Collection House of Ch.D. Friedberg. The little that is brought here is according to what I have recorded from this that I found about him in his time at the Beit Midrash of my home town, Jedwabne.
Rabbi Yisrael Isser Shapira the Fourth Rabbi
His father, Reb Dov-Ber, was a scion of the well-known Shapira family of esteemed lineage that had produced many men of repute in Judaism. He was one of the respected men of Augustow about a hundred and fifty years ago. He is described as the Rabbi Exalted
in Torah and God-fearing, who walked the straight path with God and people, and pondered the Torah day and night. He negotiated with faith; the fear of God was his treasure. His dealings were in tens of thousands, yet his hands did not redeem a penny that was not his. He was also a great sage in matters of the world, and excellent in negotiations; his wise and knowledgeable advice was always trustworthy. He left six sons and two daughters. The sons were all exalted in Torah, and especially, the two: Reb Yehoshua Heschel Rabbi of Shaki and Szczuczyn in the Lomza region, and Reb Yisrael Isser, who was seen as a Gaon, and was Av Beit Din in the city of his birth, Augustów.
Reb Dov Ber, son of Rabbi Natan Neta, died in Augustów in the year 5621  at the age of seventy. His two sons, mentioned above, eulogized him. An appreciation of the respected deceased was published in HaMaggid (the year 1861 Issue 24) by his grandson, Eliezer Yitzchak Shapira.
Reb Yisrael Isser Shapira was born in Augustów in 5588 . He was the distinctive student of the Gaon Reb Yehuda Bachrach, who established a Yeshiva for young men of excellence in the city of his rabbinate, Sejny. He also visited frequently in the Yeshiva of Volozhin; there he poured water on the hands of the Gaon Reb Yitzchak Barbano Chaim, founder of the renowned Yeshiva mentioned above. He heard lessons from the two young heads of the Yeshiva the brothers-in-law Rabbi Eliezer Yitzchak Fried and HaNatziv (Reb Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin). He took for a wife in Vilna the granddaughter of the Righteous Rabbi Yishayahu Grammer, a notable of the city, and returned to the vicinity of his hometown. He was still a young yeshiva student and assisted the Gaon Reb Yitzchak Avigdor, the new rabbi of Sejny, in the founding of the new yeshiva in this city of his rabbinate, and was already appointed to be a second yeshiva teacher in the telling of lessons for the students. The Sejny yeshiva was planned to be an advanced level academy for the communities of Israel in Poland in the format of the great yeshiva of Volozhin in Lithuania, but because of the decrees of the Russian authority, that was not carried out. Rabbi Yitzchak Avigdor was appointed as Rabbi in Kovno in place of the Gaon Rabbi Shmuel Avigdor who had moved to Nyasvizh. In Augustów Rabbi Yisrael Isser acted as a blessing during the period of time from 5614-5629 [1854-1869]. Afterwards he moved to serve in Mezeritz as the Av Beit Din. There he found his final resting place in the year 5694, at the age of sixty-six.
Rabbi Yisrael Isser Shapira was held to be a scholarly Rabbi; those who knew and admired him considered him the distinguished best in instruction; rabbis from near and far rushed their questions in serious matters of halakhah. The Geonim of Poland and Galicia considered him important and appreciated him; Reb Yisrael Trunk from Kutno, the Rabbi of Bialystok Reb Yom Tov Lipman, Reb Chaim Eliezer Vax from Kalish (author of HaNefesh HaChaya), Reb Yosef Shaul Natanson, author of HaSho'el U'Meishiv, Av Beit Din Lvov, Reb Tzvi Hirsh Orenstein, Av Beit Din of Brisk of Lithuania, Warsaw and Lvov. His name even reached the land of Israel. Two sages from the Sephardi Tiberias, Rabbi Aharon Alchadif and Rabbi Moshe Yedid, corresponded with him in the year 5633  about a complicated matter of law regarding a will. Rabbi Yisrael Isser established a yeshiva in his home for fine young men and provided them with a lesson every day, and also guided them in learning the books of the Shulchan Arukh as a team. With all this, his eyes were looking at issues concerning the city. With the awakening of the Chibbat Tzion movement at the beginning of the 1880s he, too, joined this movement. He was one of those who preferred the etrog of the land of Israel over those that grew in Corfu, which is in the land of Greece, and agreed with all his soul with the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Eliezer Vax, who conducted vigorous propaganda in the boycotting of the etrogs from Corfu. This matter was indeed to the dissatisfaction of the zealots who saw it as a hurrying the end but they did not dare to come out against it openly because Rabbi Yisrael Isser was held, even in the extreme God-fearing groups, and also in the courts of the righteous Admorim, as a great God-fearer, punctilious about the mitzvot, made do with little, and hated greed, like a squanderer, on matters of tzedakah.
The book Ezrat Yisrael that was published in Warsaw in 5650  contains Responsa by Rabbi Yisrael Isser on issues that are in the four sections of the Shulchan Arukh. In this book, we find his letters to his two brothers, Rabbi Gaon Yehoshua Heschel and Rabbi Reb Nisan, and also to his brother-in-law, Rabbi Aleksander Ziskind Maimon from Seirijai. From the period of his rabbinate in Augustów we find in his book, mentioned above, his replies: to the Gaon Av Beit Din of Bialystok, after having been asked to express his opinion on a get that had been issued in Rotzk, even though the Rabbi of that town mentioned above was himself a great scholar; to the Gaon Av Beit Din of Sharashavi (adjacent to Brisk of Lithuania), the Righteous Gaon, God-fearing and complete Reb Ben-Tzion Sternfeld; to the Rabbi Elchanan Tzvi HaCohain Lap, Moreh Tzedek in Grayevo, (the father of Reb Arieh Leib Lap, one of the notables of Augustów); to Rabbi Avraham Yoel Abelson Av Beit Din of Staviski. And also, his own unique conclusion in the matter of a childless widow awaiting levirate marriage to go to market, that occurred in Augustów, the city of his rabbinate (from the year 5624 ).
Rabbi Moshe Yitzchak HaLevi the Fifth Rabbi.
During his lifetime, he was known in the rabbinic world as Reb Moshe Itzel the Ponevezhi, after the name of the town Ponevezh, a town in the Kovno region, where he served as rabbi for a number of years. He also served as rabbi in Susmaken, Libvi, Golding, Kretinga, Tavrig, and Plungyan in Zamot, where he served as rabbi for a number of years. From there he came to Augustów, the place where he functioned as Rabbi Av Beit Din for only about year, and there he found his final resting place in the year 5630  when he was only 52 years old. The reason Reb Moshe Yitzchak HaLevi had been rabbi in seven communities prior to coming to Augustów is explained by the fact that he was a wealthy merchant and therefore was not dependent on the public. On the other hand, every town wanted a Rabbi who was not in need of a salary. Reb Moshe Itzel was famous as the Gaon of the generation, and a significant master of instruction, and also, he excelled at quick comprehension, and had a tremendous memory. The Gaon Reb Yisrael Lifshitz, the Rabbi of Danzig, who knew the Gaon Reb Moshe Itzel well from the time that this Lithuanian Rabbi was staying in Danzig for his business ventures, wrote praises of him for his well-known interpretations of the Mishnah, Tiferet Yisrael. It is also known to us that the Kabbalist Gaon Reb Eliyahu Raguler, who was older than him by many years, and who knew him from the time of the rabbinates of the two of them in Zamot, respected and esteemed him, and would publicize his praise among the masses at various opportunities.
Rabbi Moshe Itzel was quick-witted, expert in worldly experiences, witty and sharp. He also guided the members of his community on occupational matters, commerce and purchasing. For the purpose of his business matters, he would be missing from his residence for weeks and even months. It was told that he would say: the community leaders would have already removed me from the rabbinate, but they don't find me at home. Once, two litigants came to him for a deliberation on a burial place. They had both purchased a burial plot in the excellent place, and they were arguing and deliberating with each other. Rabbi Moshe Itzel studied the matter, turned their claim over, and ruled: whoever dies first will have the right to the excellent grave… and they did not argue again.
Rabbi Moshe Itzel would show extra affection to the boys of the yeshiva and the schoolchildren. When he would enter the Beit Midrash and see a child sitting and engaging in Torah, he would hug him and kiss him and give him coins from his pocket. It happened that the shamash in the Beit Midrash, a difficult and impatient man, got angry at one child and the took the page from his hand by force. The child faltered and fell. When Reb Moshe Itzel noticed the matter, he rushed to the shamash and ordered him with a rebuke: Hurry and kiss the child! You must take it upon yourself as if you threw a book on the ground…
The Jews of Augustów were given only a short time to enjoy this witty and sharp Gaon. In 5629  he came and in the summer of 5630  he passed away. A special article about his death and funeral was published in the Hebrew weekly HaMaggid. He was described there as the great Gaon, the glory of the generation, who left behind him his writings on the Mishnah and decisors, sermons and anthologies, that he left nothing of our Holy Torah that he did not interpret by way of its plain sense, and the true homily. (It can be pointed out that from all his writings, only his commentaries on the Mishnah were published in Stettin); and that the land of Zamot conceived and gave birth, and woe is me, said Augustów - for she has lost her precious instrument.
According to the article mentioned above, we know that many rabbis from the surrounding area participated in his funeral. The elderly Rabbi Reb Yehoshua Heschel Eliaszon from Sejny eulogized him in the Beit Midrash, and Reb Shmuel Mohilever, who came especially from the city of his rabbinate, Radom, in order to pay final respect to the deceased rabbi. In the cemetery, Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Rabinovitz, the rabbi of Suwalki, eulogized him. The writer of the news item sums up his words, that no one left the cemetery until all the men and leaders of the city of Augustów had signed a rabbinic letter to the late rabbi's son-in-law - Rabbi Katriel Natan who was dependent at that time on his father-in-law's table.
In addition to Rabbi Katriel Natan, the young son-in-law of Rabbi Moshe Itzel Halevi, he had two other sons-in-law: the well-known Rabbis Reb Ber Volf Lifshitz and Reb Nachum Shraga Ravel. Reb Ber Volf was Rabbi in the towns of Ventspils and Shavlin - in Kurland, and Sradnik in Kurland. Reb Nachum Shraga was Rabbi in Blinkovi, (Kovno region) and Prani, (Suwalk region). The son of this rabbi was the Rabbi Gaon Dr. Revel-Mashkama of the Yeshivot of Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan in New York, and Head of the Yeshiva and Head Administrator for many years, until the day of his death in the year 5701 .
From the family of Reb Moshe Itzel it should be pointed out that his son, Reb Shlomo HaLevi, settled in Augustów and took as a wife one of the daughters of the Augustów notable Reb Eliyahu HaCohain Rosental (the father of Reb Shabtai and Reb Tzvi Rosental). Reb Shlomo Revel died in 5663  in Konigsberg, East Prussia, when he went there to seek doctors, while he was still in the best of his years. The matter of his death made a great impression in Augustów. The friend of the deceased, Chaim Yosef Markus, published words of appreciation of him by the name of Alon Bachut in HaTzefirah (the year 1903, # 45):
How very much the terrible news shocked and melted every heart in our city when the telegram came from Konigsberg, on Tuesday, 15 Iyar, that a member of our community like the exalted, sharp, precious, the honored Rabbi, our Teacher, the Rabbi Shlomo Revel, may peace be upon him, had passed away there. The deceased was the son of the Gaon Rabbi who knows all secrets, the righteous, as well-known as our teacher and Rabbi Moshe Yitzchak Halevi, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, who served with the crown of the rabbinate in the cities of Kurland and Zamot and whose honorable rest is in our city. And even if it is more than thirty years since he went to his rest, nevertheless his great name is still gloriously raised, and with feelings of holiness, everyone will remember his name.
This his son, who in the days of his youth poured water on the hands of his father the Gaon, may his memory be for a blessing, apart from the fact that he was exalted in the Torah, still inherited from his father, may his memory be for a blessing, noble qualities. He was careful with the mitzvot, good-hearted and with a halo of the light of success on his head, for he was a timber merchant, he was a very excellent philanthropist. He was the head and the first in all matters of holiness, and his home was wide open to all who sought and asked.
But in his last years God's hand was upon him, and on the occasion of the change for the worse that happened in the timber trade, his situation worsened, and the hard hand of heart disease weighed on him. When the condition of his illness improved a little, he travelled after
the Festival of Pesach to Konigsberg, to seek the advice of Professor Lichtenheim but he was only in the clinic for five days, and on the fifth day of his arrival there his spirit returned to the one who gave it, in the best of his years. He was 52 years old at his death. May his soul be bound up in the bonds of life. He left for lamenting three daughters and two sons. And as the man was loved and respected in our community, consolation for our wound will not quickly be found, and in the hidden places all who loved and knew him will weep. I too, who writes with a broken heart.
Rabbi Yehuda Leib Gordin the Sixth Rabbi
The son of Reb Avraham Abba, from among the honored residents of Rezhitse. He received an excellent religious education, and already in his youth he was considered a prodigy. At a young man, he entered into correspondence with Rabbi Yosef Zechariah Stern from Shavli, and Rabbi Shlomo HaCohain from Vilna. After this, he became the distinguished student of Rabbi Moshe Danushevski, the author of Be'er Moshe, who at that time was Av Beit Din in Svir. He also acquired for himself a secular education and learned the Russian language inside and out. In the year 5643 , he was appointed, on the recommendation of his Rabbi, Av Beit Din of Michaelishok (Vilna region), and in 5647  was appointed Av Beit Din in Augustów. From here, he moved in the year 5657  to serve as Av Beit Din in the town of Ostrov in the Lomza region. Even though that city was mostly chassidic, he was accepted by all the groups. Incidentally, after the community of Ostrov Mazovyetsk sent to Rabbi Gordin the rabbinic letter, as was the accepted practice, doubts were aroused in him if it was worth it for him to move from the peaceful Augustów to the chassidic town of Ostrov. They say that at the time, Rabbi Yisrael Meir, the author of Chafetz Chaim, was visiting Augustów, and Rabbi Gordin revealed his hesitation to him. The Gaon from Radin, with a frequent smile on his lips, answered him: What is the fear of the chassidim? And what do they do? Drink a toast to life with a little brandy? So you drink a glass of brandy with them!
In the year 5662  he was appointed Av Beit Din in Smorgon. At the beginning of 5674  he moved to officiate as the Rabbi and Av Beit Din in Lomza, and became known throughout the breadth of Poland as one of the greats of the Torah and instruction. In Lomza, he was conspicuous as an accomplished public activist, and revealed total devotion for the Jews of his city and the surrounding area. During the emergency years of 5674-5675 [1914-1915], when the lives of the Jews in Poland were forfeited to Russian induction into the army and the Polish population at the same time, he stood at his post and saved the Jews of his community. When the danger of expulsion for the Jews of Lomza, the fortified city, could be seen, he travelled to Vilna, presented himself before the military commander there, and thanks to his, the Jews remained in place. Again, when Jews of Lomza were accused of spying for the Germans by an officer who hated Jews, who sought to take them hostage, he endangered his life, and went to the hater, to request that he cancel the order. He was received rudely, but he responded to it
proudly; he even offered himself as a hostage. His courage was convincing, and the decree was nullified.
It should be noted that Rabbi Yehuda remained in contact with public activists in Augustów even when he was the rabbi in other towns. It was thanks only to his special recommendation that the Gaon Reb Yitzchak Kosovski was accepted as Rabbi Av Beit Din in Augustów (and that in accordance with the personal request of the Gaon Reb Chaim Ozer Grodzinski from Vilna, the brother-in-law of Reb Yitzchak Kosovski). In the year 5681 , he was accepted as the Rabbi of the Chicago Kollel. He succeeded in becoming beloved by all the congregations, and in the unification of the synagogues, which consulted him and listened to his words. He was an active member of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada. When Rabbi Yehuda Leib Gordin went to his eternity in Chicago in 5685 , the Gaon Rabbi Y. Kosovski eulogized him in the Great Beit Midrash in Augustów in the presence of a large assembly.
Rabbi Gordin published three important books: Divrei Yehuda (Warsaw 5664 ), questions and answers on the Shulchan Arukh, Orech Chaim and Yoreh Deah; Teshuvot of Yehuda (Vilna 5668 ), questions and answers on the four parts of the Shulchan Arukh; D'var Yehuda, part 1 (Warsaw 5664 ) two sermons: Degel HaGadol for the Great Shabbat, and Degel HaMishnah, for the conclusion of the Six Orders of the Mishnah. In this book, he reveals himself as expert in religious philosophy and possessing a broad general education. He was an excellent preacher; every sermon of his was a public event and assembled an audience from all of the groups.
In the year 5694 , a disgraceful event occurred in Tsarist Russia. A Jewish criminal, an apostate, sent slander to enrage, to the Tsarist government in Peterburg in which he falsely and despicably accused the chassidim, in his description of them as being an illiterate cult that hated the Russian Crown and was likely to endanger its existence. In the Tsarist government, the idea developed to close all the prayer houses of the chassidim, and declaring that people who gather frequently in their shadow were an illegal cult who should be wiped out. The Government imposed on its Minister of Education to prepare a detailed survey of this movement, its nature and function, in preparation for a government discussion. The Minister of Education turned to Rabbi Yehuda Leib Gordin, who officiated as Rabbi of Augustów, with a request to prepare a detailed memorandum on the subject: What is Chassidut? The Rabbi fulfilled the important task appointed to him. He composed in Russian a comprehensive overview from a philosophic-scientific point of view, and about the mystery that is in this idea. In his booklet, Rabbi Gordin tastefully described the system of Chassidism, and proved that this was not a separate class of Judaism. Thus, he nullified the claims of the enemies and the libels of the apostates Pfefferkorn, Eisenmenger, Rohling, and others. The fact that a Rabbi in Israel, who had indeed been known for a long time as a distinguished scholar and an excellent preacher, had also succeeded in writing a book on Chassidut in pure Russian language, made a strong impression also amongst non-Jews. It should be noted that these books of his would be used by the defense attorneys of Mendel Beilis in his famous trial that took place in 1913 in Kiev. Rabbi Gordin also collected all of his speeches that he gave in the Russian language at various opportunities, and published them in the book Slova. He received a letter of appreciation for these books from Tsar Nikolai II. He was also familiar with Russian literature, and was in correspondence with the greatest of the Russian writers, Lev Tolstoy, who suggested to the Jewish rabbi that the rabbi should write a book in Russian volume on the Jewish ethics in the Talmud.
Rabbi Yehuda Leib Gordin followed the Chibbat Tzion movement, and even favored the national Zionist movement; however, because of the special conditions in which the Polish Rabbis were found, not even Rabbi Gordin could not openly act on behalf of the movements mentioned above.
After the Balfour Declaration (in the year 1917), when he had already been Av Beit Din Lomza for four years, he openly joined the Zionist movement and advocated on its behalf in speech and in writing. He became especially active in the religious Zionist Mizrachi movement that was becoming entrenched in Poland at that time. This matter aroused much attention among the Rabbis of the communities that were adjacent to Lomza, and some of them that secretly in their hearts also were inclined towards affection for the Zionist movement, now joined it openly without fright or fear. Among them were: Rabbi Benyamin Eliyahu Remigolski, the Rabbi of Stavisk, Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel, the Rabbi of Grayevo, (later the Rabbi of Antwerp and lastly the Chief Rabbi of Tel-Aviv-Yafo), Rabbi Shmuel HaCohain Kaplan, the Rabbi of Kolno, and others. Concerning the blessed activities of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Gordin in Augustów, the well-known Hebrew journalist, Mr. Y.Z. Sperling, a resident of this town, wrote in HaTzefirah in # 51, 1890 (5650):
The Rabbi Gaon Yehuda Leib Gordin, famously praised, in addition to his great sharpness and expertise in all areas of Torah, according to certification of the great ones of our time, still has a name in wisdom and experiences of the world and the national language, enabling him to stand before ministers and the nobility of the land, and address them in their native language. During this present week (February12), he was called to the test in the knowledge of the Russian language before the council that is appointed in this matter in the Command House of Suwalk region and with God's desire in his hand, he succeeded in withstanding the difficulty. The Head of the Council, who is the deputy of the Minister of the region, together with the teachers (professors), were surprised by his clear speech in the Russian tongue without any error in the rules of grammar and his wonderful ability to formulate in that language every matter that they instructed him to in writing (sochinenie), rapidly and without hesitation, also regarding his great expertise in all the laws that touch on the enumeration of the civil situation which are required of him as a government-appointed Rabbi. He was given by the Council a certificate of excellence in experience that will authorize him as a servant of the government-appointed rabbinate, favorably and to the joy of all who knew and loved him.
In 1896, the Jewish soldiers of the 104th Battalion stationed in Augustów decided to celebrate the completion of writing a Torah scroll in honor of the coronation of Nikolai II as Tsar. The celebration took place in the home of Leizer Vizhinski. Rabbi Yehuda Leib Gordin invited all the officers of the battalion mentioned above, and also the officers of the Cossack regiment that was also stationed in the city, together with civil servants in the city. He even succeeded in including in the celebration the musical troupe of the regiment. Many of the officers and clerks asked the Sofer Stam (scribe) to write, in their names, one letter in the Torah scroll and they grasped the quill and offered speeches in honor of the Kaiser, and they blessed the Rabbi…. A wedding ceremony was conducted, and a parade of two lines of soldiers, with candles in their hands, left the home of Mr. Vishinski to the Great Synagogue that was illuminated with thousands of candles. The Rabbi expounded in the state language for about an hour on the connection between the coronation holiday and the completion of the writing of a Torah scroll. And how all the ministers were amazed to see a Rabbi from the old generation produce such fine words in Russian.
The correspondent mentioned above, in HaTzefirah (the year 1896 issue 51), brings the thanks of the men of the Augustów community to the notables that assisted in the success of the wonderful celebration: Reuven Rotenberg, Y. Varhaftig, Dovid Mordechai Markus, Yehuda Cohen, Sh. Eisenstadt, Y. Grosberg, Leib Glikstein, Y. A. Reichstein, Yosef Trotsky, Yehuda Shapira and Arieh Leib Lap.
Rabbi Katriel Natan - the Seventh Rabbi
The Rabbi Reb Katriel Aaron Natan was born in the town of Latskovi (Kovno region). His father, Reb
Hillel son of Reb Meir, a native of Vilkomir, was one of the greats in Torah there. He was modest, humble, and charitable. He engaged in the study of Torah for its own sake, and died at the age of 84 in the town mentioned above in the year 5656  (according to HaTzefirah, 1896, #134). His son was Reb Katriel, who became well-known as a Gaon already in the spring of his days. The Gaon Reb Moshe Itzel the Levite chose him to be his son-in-law. As mentioned above, Reb Katriel was appointed the Rabbi of Augustów in the year 5630  in place of his father-in-law, and he was but 28 years of age. For fifty-two years, on and off, he served as Av Beit Din Augustów.
In the year 5647 , there occurred a rift in the Jewish community. The wealthy and the scholars supported Rabbi Katriel, while amcha preferred a preacher rabbi, a quality that the rabbi was missing. This division of hearts caused Rabbi Katriel to leave the city in which he had officiated as rabbi for 17 years, and he became the rabbi in Bodki, and afterwards, in Sopotkin. Nevertheless, when the Gaon Rabbi Y.L. Gordin transferred from Augustów to Ostrov, the two sides were reconciled, and Rabbi Katriel Natan was returned with much honor to the seat of his previous rabbinate, and became the teacher and rabbi of all the people of his congregation until the day of his passing in 5682 , when he was 80 years old. His two-volume work, Keter HaMelech, on the Rambam's HaYad HaChazakah (Warsaw 5656 ) proves his extensive knowledge of the Talmud and its interpreters. Many elements of Keter HaMelech: regulations concerning Beit HaBechirah, the Temple implements, the sacrificial procedures, the perpetual and additional offerings, the disqualification of dedicated items, entering the Temple, prohibitions of the altar and the priesthood are a light to the feet of all these who engage in the study of the matters mentioned above from The Order of Kodoshim. Well-known geonim used these volumes and also members of the Kollel Kodoshim, founded by the righteous Gaon Reb Yisrael Meir HaCohain of Raduń, the author of Chafetz Chaim. It is also worth pointing out that in this book Keter HaMelech, the author, Rabbi Katriel, brings many innovations, respecting my teacher and father-in-law the great and well-known Gaon Rabbi Moshe Yitzchak the Levi may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, who served with the crown of the rabbinate in several towns, Zamot and Kurland and his name was raised for glory, and he left behind him many innovations on the Talmud, and the Jerusalem Talmud, and legends, many of which have been lost or burnt, may the Merciful one save us, and now I have brought only very few of his innovations on Rambam, may his memory be for a blessing, that which I found written on his edition of the Rambam, or what I heard from his mouth, may his memory be for a blessing, so that will be for him a reminder there shall be a memorial, and his lips mouthing the words in the grave for a name and a memory.
Reb Katriel promises in his foreword to his book, mentioned above, to publish more of the innovations of his father-in-law, the Gaon mentioned above, that remained in writing together with his other innovations. However, he did not get to do that. In the meantime, the First World War broke out, and the mind was distracted from these things.
In the period of his officiating as Rabbi, crucial changes in the lives of the Jews: a great migration to America began, the Enlightenment movement, Chibbat Tzion and national Zionism sprang up, even the Socialist movements penetrated Augustów. The rabbi that trembled at the unique character of the community attempted to fight the new winds, but when he saw that his splendor would not be on this path, he desisted from it, and consoled himself with his work on his book and his diligence in studying the Torah. When Rabbi Katriel passed away 18 Kislev 5682  the Augustów community, published a mourning notice in HaTzefirah and the Warsaw Heint on the death of its teacher and rabbi, The Rabbi the Righteous Gaon, the great one in the generation, Rabbi Katriel Aaron son of Reb Hillel Halevi Natan.
Rabbi Azriel Zelig, the community's Moreh Tzedek, eulogized him, and said, among other things, (according to the book MiMe'onot Ariot), that the late Rabbi was …a great Gaon, a righteous foundation of the world, the glory of the generation, and that he was for the members of his community as a father is to his sons. He took an interest in each and every one of them, took part in our joys and participated in our sorrows, and when
he saw a small child saying the Kaddish in the synagogue he would investigate and try to find out who was supporting him, and he would speak to him as a father to a son. All the days of his life were days of sorrow and pain, and his book Keter HaMelech, which is a crown of roses, full of buds and blossoms, has beneath it a crown of thorns, because he composed it out of sorrow and distress.
They also eulogized the Gaon Rabbi Katriel in towns near and far. In Lomza, the Gaon Av Beit Din Rabbi Yehuda Leib Gordin eulogized him. In Bialystok, the maggid of the city, Rabbi Rapoport, eulogized him in the old Beit Midrash where the Gaon would pray whenever he came to visit the town. In Jedwabne where they knew Rabbi Katriel well for he often came to visit family there, the Rabbi Eliyahu Bornstein the town's teacher he was eulogized by the Gaon, Rabbi Avigdor Bialystoki.
by Yitzchak Kosovski
The Rabbi, Rabbi Yitzchak Kosovski, may his memory be for a blessing, was born in the year 5637  in the city of Warsaw, to his father the Rabbi Reb Shaul, may his memory be for a blessing, a descendant of a house that merited two tables, Torah and greatness. This was the house of Shachor-Berlin, from Mir, the famous city of Torah. In the days of his youth he was educated by and learned Torah with his uncle, The Rabbi the Gaon Reb Yosef Dovid Shachor, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, in Antopol. When he was about thirteen years old, he travelled to study Torah in the famous Telz yeshiva. He studied with great diligence, he was sharp and proficient in all the tractates of the Talmud and the decisors and while he was still young in days he had already acquired for himself a great name throughout Lithuania.
In the year 5660 (1900), he took to wife the daughter of the Rabbi the Gaon Reb Dovid Shlomo Grodzinski, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, from Ivye (the father of the Gaon Reb Chaim Ozer, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing.)
In the year 5664 (1904), the Rabbi Reb Dovid Shlomo died in good old age, and the Rabbi Reb Yitzchak Koshelevski was chosen to sit on the seat of his father-in-law, while he was still a young yeshiva student. He immediately became the spiritual leader of the community. He had a wonderful memory, rapid comprehension, and common sense. His mouth produced pearls. He spoke with lovingkindness, which amazed his listeners with his sermons. He became beloved by the congregation also for his majestic appearance and his pleasant stature. He knew foreign languages, and was expert in the experiences of the world.
As the brother-in-law of the Gaon Reb Chaim Ozer Grodzinski, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing, he took part in his work for the yeshivot.
In the year 5674 (1914), with the outbreak of the First World War, he was forced to leave the community of Ivye. He was accepted at the beginning of the year 5676 (1915) as the Rabbi of Mariampol, and officiated there until the end of the war.
In the year 5682 (1922), he was accepted as Rabbi of Augustow, where he was active for three years. In the year 5686 (1925), he was called to sit on the seat of the rabbinate of Volkovisk.
In the year 5694 (1934), he moved to South Africa; there he was appointed rabbi of the Association of Congregations in Johannesburg and the surrounding area. Here too he worked for the teaching of Torah, and the strengthening of the religion. Here he was also active for the Mizrachi, and until his final day he served as President of this movement in South Africa.
In the last years, his book, Shabbat U'Mo'ed, was published in two parts, which included conversations, meditations, and sermons on the weekly portion.
The rabbi's aspiration was to go up to our land. In one of his last letters, to his sister the Rabbanit, he wrote, among other things, that Johannesburg served him as only an intermediate station before his aliyah to the land. He let her know that he had it in mind to go up to the land and settle there, if the doctors would permit him the journey.
But he did not get the chance. On 20 Elul 5711 (1951), he died. He was 74 years old at his death.
(According to an article that we received from the Association of Emigres from Ivye).
by Yitzchak Edelstein
Reb Azriel Zelig Noach arrived in Augustow in the year 5645  when he was 18 years old. After he absorbed Torah in the yeshivot of Lomza and Stutzin, he decided to travel to Augustow in order to improve the condition of his health. Augustow is a city encircled by forests, and Reb Asher Zelig Noach needed the clear air for the sake of his recuperation. He hoped that in this place he would be able to learn out of the serenity of body and soul.
He received his sustenance, like all young men who learned at that time in the Beit Midrash of Augustow, from the hands of righteous women, who respectfully provided food to the young men who were studying. Among these women, Mrs. Chaya Sarah Denmark should be mentioned, who brought his meals to the Beit Midrash, where he learned and pondered the Torah.
He fixed his regular place for study in the Yatke-Kloiz. They formerly called this place Chassidim Kloiz, since a minyan of chassidim prayed in it, and they were its founders. Over the course of years, the chassidim disappeared from the city, and the yeshiva boys took their place. The worshippers of the kloiz in those days were householders who were exalted in the Torah, and every night they would learn Talmud there. The sound of the Torah would erupt from within the walls of the kloiz until the bitter and hurried day when the Augustow community was destroyed by the vile Nazi.
Reb Azriel Zelig Noach learned with great diligence and deep perseverance in the Yatke-Kloiz. He also gave lessons in Torah to the householders, in the hours between the afternoon and evening prayers, in the Bridge Street Kloiz, and the Shoemakers' Kloiz, which was located in the vestibule of the Great Beit Midrash. Reb Azriel Zelig Noach became much endeared to the congregation of those who listened to him and heard his lessons, because he was gifted with a wonderful power of explanation and a mouth that produced pearls.
Reb Azriel Zelig Noach married a woman in Augustow, Mrs. Sarah, the daughter of Reb Yehuda Gilda, one of the important householders in the city, who promised to provide meals on his table for several years, so that he could continue his studies in Torah.
A few years after his marriage he travelled to Kovno. For four straight years, he learned in the famous kollel, at whose head stood the Gaon Reb Tzvi Hirsh Rabinovitz, the Av Beit Din of Kovno, and the son of the famous Gaon, Reb Yitzchak Elchanan, may the memory of the righteous be for a blessing. Over the course of these years his spiritual image was formed, his personality matured, and he arrived at full knowledge of all areas of the Torah. He was endowed with two valuable unique qualities: a wonderful memory, and a rare power of concentration. These abilities of his stood him to be counted among the most excellent young yeshiva students of the Kovno kollel. He was ordained for the rabbinate by the geonim of Lithuania, with the President of the kollel, Gaon Reb Tzvi Hirsh Rabinovitz, at their head.
With his return to Augustow he was appointed (in the year 5667 ) as judge and decisor, and over the passing of the years, when the seat of the rabbinate became open, as Rabbi Av Beit Din.
Rabbi Azriel Zelig Noach served his community faithfully and without measure for about 40 years. He positioned his special spiritual qualities, and his comprehensive knowledge of the Torah, as the authority his community. He learned and he taught, spread Torah among the masses, taught righteousness, judged the case cases of the poor and the pauper, served in council and guidance.
He was like a father for the people of his community. He took an interest in the situation of each and every one, took part in their joys and participated in their sorrow.
He did not skip over any communal activity. He worried about the existence of the Talmud Torah in his city, and took care of the Jewish soldiers
that were camped in the city. In the days of Tsar Nikolai, he raised money and gave each Jewish soldier a weekly allowance, in order that they not be defiled by unkosher food. On the Festival of Pesach, he arranged a communal seder for them, and did not go to his house to conduct his own seder until the seder for the soldiers had been conducted according to law and religion.
Every day he taught a lesson in the Talmud society, lectured before the Jewish gymnasiasts, in order to bring them near to Torah. He founded the society Tiferet Bachurim and gave lessons before them. In this way, he molded, in large measure, the spiritual image of his community.
He had a big soul, a noble spirit, a gentle soul; these are the lines that stand out in his personality of many special qualities.
He studied the Torah all his days. He learned with great diligence, with his body swaying. The joy of learning captivated all his existence.
He loved humanity, and was beloved by them. He was humble and modest, sensitive, and pure in thought. All of the qualities that Our Sages, may their memory be for a blessing, included in a learned person were combined in him with great grace.
At that time his trust was in God. Still in the days of his youth his trust in God stood him in good stead to roam to places of the Torah in a condition of terrible poverty.
His heart was open to all the downtrodden, and he did much in the matters of righteousness and lovingkindness. With a kind face he received the face of a guest, and indeed many were the guests in need of help who found themselves in Augustow, in their knowledge that there was a rabbi there who would stand at their right hand.
His soul longed for Zion. When they brought out for sale the first shares of the National Bank, he collected his last pennies and bought a share. In his twilight days, he wanted to leave his rabbinate and go up to the land of Israel, but crucial reasons prevented him from this step. He was a gifted explainer. The words that came out of his mouth were illuminating and joyful. He went down to the people, to the masses, took care of them, taught them lessons in Torah, and succeeded in revealing the hidden light in their souls.
In the year 5682  he published his book Ayin Tzofim, explanations and homilies on the haftarot for Shabbat and the festivals. In this book, he paved a new way in the explication of the words of the prophets, and it constitutes an important asset in homiletical literature.
In the year 5685 , he published his second book MiMe'onot Ariot, eulogies for the geonim of Israel that he gave in assemblies, and for the martyrs of the nations that died, were killed or murdered, in the period of the First World War (5675-5680 [1915-1920]). In this book he stands out as a great national lamenter. Within the book there also came eulogies of notables of the city of Augustow who died in that same period.
In the year 5699 , around the time of the outbreak of the Second World War, he left in the printing press his third book, by the name of Levush Adanim, innovations on Tractate Avodah Zarah. In this book of his he revealed his power in halakhah. To our great anguish this book was not disseminated in the community, because in the meantime the war broke out and all the books were lost.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, in September 1939, the city of Augustow was conquered by the Soviets, and in June 1941, by the Nazis, who established a ghetto for the Jews in a suburb of the city,
Baraki, on the other side of the Augustow canal. They took the Poles out of there, and settled them in the dwelling places of the Jews in the city center, and transferred the Jews to Baraki. There they were crowded together and forced into crowded huts.
In one of the huts there, Rabbi Azriel Zelig Noach sat wrapped in a tallis and tefillin, hunched over his Gemara. His clothing crushed, his hat a cap, his shoes tattered. He sat as he swayed with his gaunt body, swaying over the pages of the Gemara with strong movements in his usual way. His face was distorted, only his innocent deep blue eyes occasionally twinkling, and asking for the mercy of heaven.
At the beginning of the month of August 1941, 1650 men, from the age of 14 and up, from the Jewish community in Augustow were taken by the Nazis to the Shtzavra Forest. There they were killed by gunshot.
In the month of December 1943 the remnant of the Jewish community in Augustow was transported, elderly, children, and women, on the death train to the gas chamber at Treblinka. Hungry and thirsty, broken and crushed, they were packed together on the train that hastened to the place of the destruction. In the choking compartments, the last group of the Jews of Augustow were packed in and concentrated, surrounding their old dying rabbi.
Great was the pain on the death train when they suddenly discerned that their beloved rabbi was no more, that he died from exhaustion, and his pure soul went up to the hidden places on high.
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