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History of the Jewish Community of Grodno (cont.)

4. The Enlightenment (Haskala) Movement

Jewish schools for general education

Translated by Shimon Joffe

It is difficult to decide when the enlightenment movement began in Grodno. It is possible to say that this city was not among the first in Lithuania where the movement began, although it had Jews with a general education (e.g. doctors,) by the end of the 18th century.

Whereas in the other large cities they were already clever, educated and had stopped living a life of spirit, –as told by A. Sh. Friedberg in his book of Memoirs (pp.148), our city froze in its place. Industry, in fact, was lacking, the railway line had but recently been opened, and passersby were hardly seen. Of our residents, only 2–3 dealt with the outside, and who were then the Berliners? Youths who hadn't known yet the taste of sin, who had never yet prayed Mincha and Ma'ariv without a Minyan, who hadn't the courage to shorten their upper clothes or to lengthen the lower ones by a fingers length, who didn't stop studying in the study house all day, but were caught on occasion looking into one of those little books, called in those days ‘Treife Rejected’ or who had written some letter in the language of the Haftara, these were banished, expelled, oppressed and persecuted.

“But this oppression– it helped to harden the hearts of the oppressed who devoted themselves to their love for the written word and reason, to the point in which it passed from the holy to the profane, and from the dead languages to the live ones heard in the land, – and to the few blossoming intellectuals then in the city. They flourished like roots in a dry land nourished by devoted gardeners.”

The activity of the devoted gardeners was given expression in Grodno, first and foremost, in the founding of a secular school for Jewish children. A government schools for Jewish boys was opened in Grodno in 1849, and for girls in 1852, but the first school initiated by the inteligentsia (intellectuals) was started in 1862. ‘Until then’, writes Shimon Kabachnik, who wrote for the Hamelitz (No. 29 of the year 1888), on the development of Jewish education in Grodno, – the community placed its holy flock to be pastured by the man called Moishele Efron–known as ‘Moishele the Writer’. He taught the children to write cleanly and neatly, beautifully and praiseworthy. At the head of each page stood a crocodile and eagle and suchlike drawings he was proud of – and he was better than those few teachers who had started to teach Hebrew and modern languages.

Menachem Manush Bendetsen author and Hebrew grammarian, and Ya'akov Ostrogorski, pedagogue, were invited to be the teachers in the first school founded by the Maskilim. This boys' school functioned for a few years only. Many ‘obscurantists’ rose against the founders. The childrens' parents were incited against them with the argument that they are breaking the law of the Torah and leading ‘the holy flock to the desert and the Torah would be forgotten by them’. The number of pupils kept falling and finally the school closed.

On the other hand, the school for girls founded by Moshe Golobnitzki, was favored by the populace, as it had no detractors, – it had teachers and educators zealous for religion and livelihood alike – and the ‘Jewish girls sniffed the scent of education , and were delighted’. This was true over a period of time. In the beginning, fanatics condemned this school as well, and it ‘almost went down to its knees’, as M. Ostrinski wrote from Grodno in 1867 in the Vilna ‘Carmel’ (no. 30). Eventually the school passed into the hands of M. Ostrogorski later, who developed and enlarged it.

That year, Ostrinski continues, ‘The general government school already had an enrollment of 120 pupils, whereas in the past it had no more than 16–20 pupils from the poorest and the lowest section of the population’. And the two high schools had up to 10 Jewish students. ‘Enlightenment gradually shone into the windows of our city and lit up the streets – not as in the first days, when Grodno lay prostrate with the knife at the throat. Now you won't find any property owner in Grodno who does not teach his son to read the language needed for his enlightenment.’

By 1871, some 40 Israelite youths are enrolled in the Grodno high school – ‘though joy', writes the correspondent,’ is mixed with grief and distress – because after the youth crosses the threshold of the high school, the play fellows mock his mother's Hebrew creed, the Torah and the Initiative. And now they no longer wish to send the youths there, for they say “death lies in the education pot”. Those who enter will not return'. In 1876 the correspondent informs us that in the separate government school Jewish children are taught the tongue of the land, they study the Bible in Russian under the author M. Bendetsen.

In the coming decade matters changed once again, as recounted by S. Kabachnik. In the communication of 1888, mentioned above, he writes ' in the past ten years, youths of our nation, boys and girls, have abandoned our holy tongue and turned to foreign languages. But now hope is rekindled in our hearts, that our sons will return to their own now that the gates to the institutes of learning and science were closed to them'.

Public Atheistic Heresy – The Public Library

In 1862, a public library for literature and periodicals was opened in Grodno by the intellectuals. (Libraries for the holy works existed at the study houses from time past). According to the writer, M. M. Ostrinsky of Grodno, (the Carmel, 1863, No.19), the library also attracted readers from the orthodox community despite the fact that the highly orthodox rabbis didn't spare it their contempt and insults. ‘It is an abomination– lest the eater be accused’. The Grodno intellectuals were proud of their achievement and during Dr. Moshe Leyb Lilienblum's visit to the city in 1869, on his journey from Vilkomir to Odessa, A. S. Friedberg took him to the ‘Bibliotek’ on the feast of Shavuot . Lilienblum found the place fine and elevating, but short on Hebrew periodicals.

Russian intellectuals were also involved in the library, the government also assisted it. It was agreed , in 1865, by the activists responsible for the library, to accept the suggestion of the provincial governor, Muraviov, to change the name to ‘The Public Library of Grodno’. At the beginning of the present century (the 20th), the library still existed as one of the city delights, though the Jewish element was no longer felt.

The main actor behind the library, from its beginning, was Moshe Knorozovski. He was among the first Jewish jurists in the city (born in 1834). S. A. Friedenstein, author of Ir Giborim, writes in a dispatch from Grodno in 1876 (Hamagid No.44), at the time of the trial of the Rabbi from Brisk, Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Yehuda Leyb Diskin, which took place in Grodno (in a matter of money deposited with him and returned by the rabbi's wife), that it was Knorozovski who defended the rabbi (not for gain), and succeeded in proving his innocence. The trial took place on Yom Hakipurim, and this is the second time, Friedenstein notes, that the Grodno residents gather together on this day in the court room. The first occasion was a blood libel in the 19th century, ‘but at that time, not a soul could be found among our ancestors who spoke Russian and who could refute the libel. They were informed of the proceedings by a sergeant convert who gave evidence, whereas now we have speakers of Russian’.

Previously, in 1868–1869, Knorozovski represented Grodno and its districts at the Vilna Convention to arrange ‘Jewish Practices’ which was founded in order to counter the charges made against our people by the convert Brafman. Knorozovski published an article about the activities of this convention under the title ‘Ex Deputy’, in the Jewish Russian newspaper Dien (the day), in 1870, as well as in the periodical devoted to research on Jewish history ‘The Past’ which appeared in St. Petersburg (volume 3, 1911).

The struggle between the Maskilim and their opponents

A sharp conflict broke out in 1867 in Grodno between the Maskilim and their opponents and it was widely reported in the Hebrew press of that time. This happened during the visit of Moshe Aaron Shatzkes, author of ‘Ba'al Hamafteach’ (a critical review of Chazal legends), armed with books to be distributed to the learned. The city Maskilim received him and his book with dignity. But suddenly a storm arose among the conservative believers. They found sectarianism and heresy in the book – the Sha's society brought him to the study house and declared the book to be Treif – and tore out the pages– and placed notes and announcements on the doors of the study house, stating ‘the book is banned by all the rabbis in our land and it is forbidden to have mercy on the author’. The following day, a meeting was held and they renewed the destruction of the book and put it to ire. And they then sent a letter to the author demanding that he leave the city immediately. But the city Maskilim and dignitaries stood by him and promised to avenge the insult. The zealots lost heart and did not utter another sound. Whereas readers of the book in the city became more plentiful and the author already sold 50 copies, and those who understood it honored the author.

A literary argument against the Hamafteach was carried on from Grodno by Rabbi Israel David Miller (more about him later) in his monograph ‘Milchemet Sofrim’. Personal tragedies occurred within the Haskala movement in its background, and dramatic events was occasionally met with in Grodno as well. (More of this later).

Maskilim Authors in Grodno

The Hashkala movement produced a number of authors in Grodno, journalists, writers of fiction and poets.

One of the first Maskil authors in Grodno was Aaron (Arkadi) Ben Alexander Kaufman (born in Grodno in 1803, died in St. Petersburg in 1893; his pseudonym was Afikoman, formed from the first letters of his name). He participated in the first volume published by the Grodno Maskilim, under the name Pirchei Tzafon (Second issue, Vilna 1844) with an article named ‘A letter on Issues of Education’. He was the only participant in that volume – edited by Shmuel Yosef Fein, born in Grodno also and who raised the problem in Pirkhei Tzafon. This was one of the most burning issues of that time.

A. Kaufman was a descendant of Rabbi Alexander Kidskin of Horodna, studied the Torah and taught himself, without the aid of teachers, the Russian, German and French languages perfectly. He also studied various sciences. In the twenties of his life he moved to Vilna and later to St. Petersburg. He was a timber merchant, and purchased from the government the right to harvest forests and was well–known in the trade. He published a book in which he showed his expertise in forestry for which he was granted a doctorate. He became rich and was accepted within the upper ranks of the government, including Tsar Nikolai I. Kaufman was known as connoisseur and patron of the arts, a collector of Hebrew books and antiques, and active in Jewish public affairs, particularly in the St. Petersburg community. He was active in the Society of Chevrat Mefitzei Haskala in the sixties and assisted it in its support of Jewish writers and researchers. He was of great help to the bright poor Jewish students in the high schools in the Russian capitol. In the year 1882, he actively participated in the Chibat Zion movement and later when a branch of the movement was founded in St. Petersburg, he became a member of the committee.

The first among the Maskilim to make his home in Horodna was the educator and grammarian Menachem Manush Bendetsen (1817–1888). After receiving his Torah education in Grodno, where he was born, he continued his studies in Breslau, Germany. There he was assisted by his father in law, the cantor in the Reform synagogue. In 1847, he completed his translation into Biblical Hebrew of Tzacheh Vena'eh which appeared in the pamphlet ‘Der Denunziat’ written in German by the censor of Jewish books, Wolf Tugendhold, sitting in Vilna. The ‘moral of the story’ lies in the motto which accompanies it:

Happy the righteous man! all goes well with him,
For such men enjoy the fruit of their actions,
Woe betide the wicked! with him all goes ill,
For he reaps the reward he has earned.

(Isaiah 3, 10–11, quote from the New English Bible)

In 1840 Bendetsen opened a private school, ‘a School for Jewish Youths’ directed according to his concepts but did not succeed as the ‘melamdim’ (cheder teachers) hindered and frustrated him and he was forced to close it –as recounted by a fellow resident of the city, the teacher and author Arieh Leyb Miller (to be mentioned again later), in the Hatzfira No.'s 68–69 in the year 1888. At the opening of the first government school, in Russian, for Jewish children in Grodno, the community proposed that M. M. Bendetsen teach there. The government did not confirm his appointment on this occasion but some years later he did teach Tanach at the school, in Russian. In 1856 we again find Bendetsen running a private Jewish school, in Russian, but, apparently it did not last as in 1862, when the first school opened under the initiative of the Maskilim, he was invited to teach Hebrew grammar there.

A. L. Miller praises the educational activities of Bandetsen and notes that most of his books were text books, these were:

‘Grammatical rules in the form of question and answer’,
‘Higayon Leitim – Inyanim – providing ethical answers– the duty of man to God, to his soul and to others. ’ (Vilna, 1856, ed. I, 1861, ed. II). ‘This book’ writes A.L. Miller, ‘was favored also by the older generation, as its contents are full of ethics, justice and righteousness. It was praised by the scholars of the time. ’ Furthermore, A. L .Miller writes, this book was taught in many schools in the land for great was the Bendetsen name in the country. Also, it was taught in the Talmud Torah in Paris.
‘Mudah L'yaldei Yisrael’ – compilations in the language of the Bible and in Russian. Genuine stories touching the heart and enticing, teaching Jewish children the laws of virtue and the laws of God, translated from the Ashkenaz language, by Menachem Manush Bendetsen, of Horodno, Warsaw 1871.
‘Aluf Ne'urim’ – (Vilna, 1879), translations from Russian stories for children.
In his introduction to the above book, Bendetsen, who was a fervent exponent of Biblical Hebrew, attacks Hebrew writers who do not cleave to the language of the Tanach and introduce words from Aramaic and foreign languages.

Furthermore, writes A. L.Miller, Bendelson was very punctilious in writing his books. ‘He repeatedly proofread and rewrote anew until all his books left his hands refined and distilled and their language that of Holy Writ’.

‘In his character’, notes Miller, ‘Bendelsen was a peaceful man, at peace with all the residents of his city, both with the conservatives and moderns, and though he was among the very first of the Maskilim he was careful not to transgress the religious rules and did not interfere in matters of belief’.

The first among the Maskilim in Grodno, who turned his hand to poetry, was Issachar Dov Hurwitz–Goldfarb. (Issachar Berush Halevi Ish Hurwitz; born in Warsaw 1845, died there in 1905). A scion of a distinguished family, when young left for Pinsk with his widowed mother where he received a traditional education. Later, he moved to Grodno, was a merchant, and in free moments studied Torah and other subjects.


Issachar Dov Hurwitz –the Poet


He began to write, more or less, in 1855. His first poem appeared in the opening of the Hebrew translation of ‘The Mysteries of Paris’ by Eugene Sue, translated by Kalman Shulman. I. D. Hurwitz published fables and high flown verse in the ‘Hamagid’, in the ‘Hashachar’ of Peretz Smolenskin, in the ‘Haboker Or’ published by A.B. Gotlaber, and later edited by Asher Broides, in the Ha'asif and in ‘Knesset Israel’ of S. P. Rabinowitz. He distributed the first monthly socialist journal in Grodno, Ha'emet, edited by Aaron Liberman, and later wrote in the spirit of the Hovevei Zion. After Il.G. published his poem Achoti Ruchama after the riots of 1881, in which he was skeptical that the Jews could be saved by settling in Eretz Yisrael in its condition at that time, and proposed a Guest Hotel, where the Jews would settle ‘until God our father would take mercy upon us’ – I. D. Hurwitz attacked him in Hashachar (1882) in a poem named ‘Achoti Ne'eshma’ (my sister accused).

I. D. Hurwitz's writings appeared also in a collection ‘Issachar's Fables’ (Warsaw 1887), ‘Jerusalem to Babylon’ (Warsaw 1900), ‘To the Victor of Poetry’ (Warsaw 1904). A.S. Friedberg included extracts of the poems and translations in the book ‘Memories of the House of David’.

Hurwitz often visited Nachum Sokolov at his home in Warsaw, and recounts that the poet was in dire straits in his old age, but that he regretted above all that the modernization process was creeping into Hebrew literature and the press, thus abandoning the classical grandiloquent style.

Menachem Mendel Davidson (born 1831, died in Bialystok 1913). His poetry appeared in Hashachar. He was the eldest in the trio attending the Beth Midrash ‘Chevra Mishniyot’ in Grodno; the author Shalom Friedberg (1838–1901) and the poet Constantine Ab.A Shapira (1839–1900).


M. M. Davidson


‘Our hidden love for the holy tongue’ wrote A .S. Friedberg in his memoirs (vol.II, chapter 23) ‘bound us three to one purpose and its spirit moved and directed each one of us in our writings coming as it were from different inspirations placed before us by the Almighty’. I had the book ‘The Love of Zion’ which I read ceaselessly until its spirit and style became my language. My friend Shapira had the book ‘Divrei Shir’ by M. Leteris before him, and poetry was his delight and ever on his mind. Our friend Davidson read and reread with us two books all at once, and consequently he excelled in writing prose and poetry. This love of the language was our conversation and amusement at all times whenever we assembled in each other's homes. And then Satan appeared and ruined our fraternity'.


The writer Abraham Shalom Friedberg


The poet Aba Konstantin Shapira


This is what happened, Rabbi Eliyahu, father of Asher AB”A, (Asher Ben Eliyahu Shapira). My friend, was a zealot of the old generation, (the father of Rabbi Eliyahu, Rabbi Eliezer Ben Rabbi Asher Shapira, was the Dayan in Grodno), and became most anxious for his son upon seeing that his devotion to the study of Gemara was slacking and began to watch and observe his doings. ‘And the day came, and he found him (Asher) at his desk in the study writing a modern Hebrew love poem The father turned on him with fury and immediately snatched the page and tore it up; and beat the poet vigorously, and bound him with ropes to the table and placed before him the book ‘Shevet Musar’ and demanded that he copy a page from it daily, if his soul really and innocently desired to write in the holy tongue for its own sake, and if his mouth does keep the commandments as it should, and he beat him mercilessly. And broke his bones, and could not control his anger’

But the greatest moral lesson was reserved for our friend Davidson, who was the eldest among us, as the very next morning, when the Chevrat Mishniyot congregation ended the prayers, the father of the poet rose and created turmoil in the study house. ‘And turned against Davidson all his compatriots, a crowd of faithful believers and defenders of the faith, and they took him from the Gemara, which he had begun to study after the prayers, as is commonly done, and they took him by the scruff of the neck and pushed him out of the door and threw him down the stairs, outside’. (the Chevrat Misniyot met in the garret of the Beth Midrash Hagadol).

Our wise and clever friend, Menachem took the hint, saw the lie of the land, and understood that the members of the Beth Midrash were not satisfied with him–and stopped going there.

Rabbi Isser Yanovski, who also attended the Beth Midrash, recalls this event in his memoirs; Asher Shapira , who sloughed off publicly all restraint, suffered greatly from his fanatic father, Rabbi Eliyahu Warshaver who slapped his face in front of the praying congregation, accusing him of spending his time reading prohibited books and writing prose. Whereas M. M. Davidson went through an unexpected experience which drew him out of the Beth Midrash and made of him – a poet. ‘One Sabbath night, ’ writes H. I. Yanovski, ‘as Davidson lay in his bunk in the Chevrat Mishniyot, the spirit of poetry awoke in his breast and he desired to record the rhymes and thoughts which had crossed his mind that moment. Rabbi Menachem forgot all about the Sabbath and requested of the young man, who slept on the other side of the rickety part wall in the neighboring Kloyz, to pass him a match and candle through a hole in the wall. Menachem now came to a bad end. The Kloyz youth, was a fanatic keeper of the Sabbath and told on him to the Gabai of the Chevrat Mishniyot, The very same day Menachem was sentenced to forty blows and the sentence was also carried out the same day between Mincha and Ma'ariv. But Menachem, somewhat unruly and experienced in naughtiness, acted in anticipation of the punishment by placing a pillow in his trousers and thereby mitigated the pain. Nevertheless his sin was so great that he was forced to leave the Beth Midrash and the daily meals he ate at the Gabai's table. And so he became a teacher and poet. ’

‘Whereas A. S. Friedberg’, continues H. A. Yanovski, ‘knew how to smooth his way with the members of the Chevrat Mishniyot and remained acceptable to them. And his name is remembered and revered to this day by the Chevrat Mishniyot’.

After he left Grodno, M.M. Davidson wandered from city to city where he taught until he settled in Bialystok. Here he was a teacher of Hebrew, Russian, German and French. Gifted and sharp, he was known as an originator of smart jokes, a teller of fables as well as a composer. He educated a generation of Jewish intellectuals and Maskilim. He also wrote inscriptions on gravestones in Hebrew rhymes. One of his amusing sayings he devoted to A.S. Friedberg in a charming feuilleton in his memoirs. (love with a borrowed pen).

As to Asher (A.B.A.) Shapira. The blows he received from his father, only strengthened his desire to educate himself and to write poetry. He continued, according to Friedberg, to meet with his Maskil friends in the home of a yeshiva student in the suburb on the opposite bank of the Neman River, who received the publication Hamagid. He delighted with them in the contents of the publication.

In order to remove him from his deviant ways, the father married him off to a girl from a community near Bialystok and added him as a partner in the business. But simultaneously he saw to it that the fifteen year old student should not desert his Torah studies. But the youth did not change his ways even though the father's hold was not loosened. Once, during the Sabbath prayers in the synagogue, seen by all, a book by Mapu, ‘Eit Tzavua’, slid out of his bag, the ‘tefilim zekl’. All hope was lost– and when they reached home the father laid him on the bench and in the young bride's sight, whipped him on his bare backside.

The following morning Asher ran away from his parent's home to Bialystok. He returned after a while, to his birthplace, but only in order to learn a profession which would provide him with an income in the future– photography. This he learned from a Christian friend, and he showed great aptitude and good taste in the work. As the hostility of his family did not diminish, and his profession did not please them, – Shapira left the city finally.

Eventually he wandered to St. Petersburg suffering want, hunger and sickness. As a consequence of developments he saw himself obliged to marry a simple Christian woman, whose parents had taken him in when he was in a desperate situation. They nursed him kindly and saved his life. And thus he left the faith of his fathers. He also changed his name to Konstantin. He became famous in St. Petersburg as a fine photographer and artist. His customers were the select of the city and of the vicinity, including the Academy of Art and the royal court. Yet, in spite of his successes he did not distance himself from his nation and remained emotionally attached to it.

He was particularly influenced, like most of his generation of educated intellectuals, by the wave of anti–Jewish riots throughout Russia in the beginning of the eighties. He was filled with love and longing for the suffering Jewish people. These feelings as well as his anger at the oppressors and desire for revenge against them he expressed in his poem ‘Shirei Yeshurun’, also in the poem ‘Mechizyonot Bath Ami’ into which he integrated his longings for childhood days. For the first time in Hebrew literature – he wrote ballads in a popular folk spirit, among them David Melech Chai Vekayam. In this poem he perpetuates, among others, the winning image of the ‘Cheder Melamed’ (himself and his friend Friedberg). They had studied Torah under Rabbi Ya'akov Ben Rabbi Shalom, the grandfather of the Grodno writer and public figure, Tzvi Tarlowski.

Shapira could not remain at peace with himself considering what he had done and said openly that he intends to return to Judaism and to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael for that purpose. Death forestalled him before he achieved his intention. Two years before his demise he returned to Grodno for a visit. He visited the Beth Hamidrash where he had studied and the corner where he had sat and pondered over books and wrote verse. This is further told by H.A. Yanowski. He did not stay long ‘as a stream of tears burst from his eyes and he rushed out of the house’. His library he willed to the National Library in Jerusalem.

Among his gloomy lyrical poems are Birkat Haneirot filled with innocence and a feeling and longing for Jewish life and the holy Sabbath. Also, in Shadmot Beth Lechem he recreates the image of the Matriarch Rachel weeping for her sons – a verse sung by many.

The best of his poems were collected in the book Shirim Nivcharim, which appeared in Warsaw in 1911, with an introductory essay on the biography of the author and an appreciation of his work by Ya'acov Fichman.

Abraham Shalom Friedberg (Har Shalom under his main literary pseudonym), was the only one of the trio who remained in Grodno. At his Bar Mitzva age when he was already widely hailed as a prodigy, he became orphaned of his father and learned the art of watch making to support himself in addition to also spending evenings in the study house delving into the Torah. At 15 years of age he wandered about in southern Russia and in one of the places, in Balta, he was kidnapped by rascals, who swindled him out of his passport, and were about to hand him over for military service. He was miraculously saved from their hands.

In 1858, aged 19, he returned to Grodno, studied languages and sciences and became a private tutor in the homes of the rich. He was a leading exponent the Haskala and fought its battles. Influenced by the ‘Ahavath Zion’ by Mapu, he wrote his first book ‘Emek Ha'arazim’ (1876), a description of the sufferings of the Spanish Marranos before their expulsion. In the year 1879, he left Grodno having been invited to come to St. Petersburg to be assistant chief editor of the newspaper Hamelitz. Earlier, in 1877, after the riots in southern Russia, in his letter to his friend the poet Yehuda Leyb Levin, (published in the memoirs of Ch.B) he called for a change in outlook, and ‘to found a national settlement in the ancient land of our fathers’. In the Hamelitz he continued to expatiate in favor of ‘Chibat Zion’. Later, he became a member of the secretive Zionist clan ‘Bnei Moshe’ founded by Achad Ha'am. In 1886 he was one of the editors of the Hatzfira in Warsaw. He also edited the Hebrew encyclopedia ‘Eshkol’ published in a number of separate issues.

Of his other books, the best known are ‘Korot Hayehudim Besfarad’ (Warsaw 1893) and in particular ‘Zichronot Le'bet David’ (Warsaw 1897) – a series of historic stories covering the period from the Second temple until the French Revolution. This was very popular with Jewish youth (a new edition was published in Tel Aviv in the years 1937–1940).

The contents of Friedberg's Sefer Hazichronot, both volumes, are also a mine of historic information of the Haskala period in Grodno. His memoirs span the period of the Russo–Turkish war during the 1877–1878 years. He wrote also in Yiddish (a weekly, Der Yid, 1900, issues 49–50). He also translated into Yiddish chapters from Zichronot Le'bet David.

Among his translations, mention must be made of the book ‘Hatorah Vehachaim Beartzot Hama'arav Bimei Habeinaim’ by Dr.Gidman (Warsaw, Achiasaf, 1896), in which the translator identified all the Jewish sources the author used.

Moshe Meir Ben Rabbi Efraim Ostrinski (1842–1870), was one of the vanguards of the writers for the Hebrew press in Grodno. A Maskil with a stormy spirit, happy in the prime of his life, he wrote profusely especially for the ‘Karmel’. He translated from the German, a story called Tzadik Venosa written by Priya, published in Warsaw in three editions. (1868, 1876, 1878).

Yitzchak Ben Rabbi Dov Anders (1854–1920). A student of M. M. Davidsohn and Shaul Pinchas Rabinovitz, served as a teacher of Hebrew for many years in Grodno, published articles in Hamelitz, and in Haivri which appeared in Brod, (Galicia), in Halevanon and other Hebrew publications during the Haskala period, and translated a few stories from Russian and German (Sipurei Alyashiv, from the scientific stories by Lonkewitz, from the ‘Hanilkad’ by Bogrov, from ‘Ekev Anava’ by Hofman, and which appeared in two editions in Warsaw, 1886,1893). He hosted Hebrew writers visiting Grodno.

Ya'acov Mordechai Levinson Ben Moreh Tzedek Rabbi Ariyeh Leyb Rabinovitz, of Grodno, (born in Grodno in 1832, died in Warsaw in 1878). He wrote much for the Hamagid and other Hebrew publications (under the pseudonym I. M. L), as well as in Polish (the Jewish Polish newspaper Jutszenko) and in Russian. Researched the human soul and published a monograph named ‘Ha'adam Betzelem Elohim, Chakirat Hasharat Hanefesh Veruchaniyta’. (Koenigsberg, 1854). He left a manuscript on ‘Toldot Hai Ha'adam’.

Shimon Eliezer Ben Rabbi Yekutiel Friedenstein, born in Grodno in the year 1852 and was a student of Rabbi Nachumke– the chronicler of Jewish Grodno events and author of ‘Ir Giborim’ (Vilna, 1879) who recorded the inscriptions on the gravestones in the ancient cemetery in this city. He also published, in addition to articles in newspapers and supplements (also under the pseudonym Even Shalom and Sha'p) Tikvat Israel and Haroeh Ve'eino Nirah (appeared in Warsaw, the one in 1889 and the other in 1893). ‘Etz Pri’ published in Vilna, 1897, and a volume of historic tales (Stories, Vilna, 1902).

In his old age, Friedenstein published in Vilna, where he was then living, the book ‘Imrei Shefer al Hatorah’, elucidations by the expositor according to the plain meaning of the text of Deuteronomy,(Vilna, 1922).The initials Sh'fer stand for Sh. Friedenstein.

Israel, son of a notable member of the Grodno community, and a director of its yeshiva, Rabbi Benyamin Zerach Weissbrom, was born in the city in 1838 and wrote a number of stories which were published in Warsaw. Later, he settled there. These were; Bein Hazmanim, and Ch'I Agorot, (both appeared in 1887), and Hagoral Vehayerusha (1891) as well as Chizayon al Hazionim Ve mitnagdeihem (Warsaw, 1901).


Title page of Ir Giborim


Among the writers who combined orthodoxy with Haskala, will be remembered Rabbi Israel David Miller, of Grodno. (Born in the forties of the 19th century in a village near Skidel, died in Grodno in 1912). He settled in the city in his youth, taught Hebrew and wrote prose and letters for the city rabbis and the wealthy citizens. His debut publication was ‘Milchemet Sofrim’ (published in Vilna, 1869). In this article he attacks the book by Moshe Aaron Shatzkes, which had appeared at that time, in which the author attempts to explain, rationally, by allegory, the Talmud legends, the essence being ethics. By virtue of this publication, Miller came to the forefront among the orthodox. He wrote many articles in the Halevanon, Hamagid, and the Hatzfira, (also under the pseudonym Yadam), and wrote a book about Rabbi Nechamke of Horodno (Toldot Menachem, mentioned above). It was published after the author's death, by his son Rabbi Arieh Leyb Miller, mentioned above. He also published, in 1881, Ma'asiyot Vesipurim Mikadmonim, under the name Nisim Ben Ya'akov Mikairouan.


The writer Israel David Miller


I.D. Miller wrote and published a number of brochures in Yiddish, mostly dealing with the biographies of great Jews, mostly rewritten from the Hebrew. Among them ‘Toldot Montefiori’, (Vilna,1890), ‘Toldot Ha'Ari’ (1895), and others. I. D. Miller was a bookseller, and turned his shop into a Hebrew reading room and library. He was active in teaching the Hebrew language and its dissemination. He was among the first in Grodno active in the cause of settling Eretz Yisrael.

Among the Grodno Haskala activists were also pioneers in the Yiddish press:

Cohen Uriah was, at the invitation of Alexander Tzederbaum, among the contributors to the ‘Kol Mevaser’, one of the first Yiddish weekly. It appeared in Odessa in the years 1864–1867. Cohen, illustrated the lives of Lithuanian Jewry before their Southern Russian brethren. He also wrote under the pseudonym ‘Ish Ploni’ and participated in the Hamelitz.

Cohen Ya'akov, related to the above, and among the first of the Grodno Maskilim, taught there Hebrew and German. He emigrated to the USA and edited there one of the first Jewish publications, ‘Yiddishe Neis’. The weekly in Hebrew, Yiddish, English and German – appeared in New York in 1871.

Among the Maskilim who wrote in Russian will be remembered: Yosef (Osip) Ben Ya'akov Kopel Horwitz (Gurwitz), born in 1842 in Kamni–Log, Vilna district. One of the founders of the state ‘Beth Midrash Lerabanim’ in Vilna. He was a rabbi appointed by the government in Grodno in the seventies as well as a teacher in ‘Dat El’ in the Gimnasium for girls. A public activist and published articles in Russian in ‘Razsbit’ and Ruski Yevrei (his nom de plume– Ben Ya'akov). He translated the prayer book into Russian (second edition, Vilna, 1870). Also, he wrote, among others, a Talmudic anthology (Musar Chai, at that time a treasury of the Talmudic ethics rules). He published a book on the history of the Jews in ancient times for the youth, together with A. Wohl, (Vilna 1871). He published pamphlets about the blood libels (Minsk), and on the Hebrew prayers (Grodno,1879), articles on public hygiene, the situation of the woman in Jewish society in the ancient days, etc.

Moshe Knorozowski, Jurist, (already mentioned above), in addition to his articles and notes in the Jewish publications in Russia, he published in 1881, an important essay on Jewish agriculture in Russia in the weekly ‘Russki Yevrei’, (folios 35–50). His son, Yeshayahu Knorozowski, (born in Grodno 1858), was an author and musician and editor in the field of music and theater, and at the beginning of the present century (the 20th), the chairman of the Jewish Folk Music Society in St. Petersburg.

The Founding of Social Institutions and Organizations

The Maskilim expressed a special interest in the social institutions in the community and in dealing with their organizations and administration. They did this together with other groups particularly with enlightened prosperous citizens. The 19th century was indeed the period when most of the social institutions were set up in Grodno.

In 1869 the foundations were laid for an orphanage which was later to become one of the outstanding institutions in the city. It was founded by an artisan, a tailor by profession, Zalman Grodzenski and Rabbi Shlomo Lapin, (the in– law of the Rabbi of Brisk, Rabbi Yehoshua Leyb Diskin), and the affluent citizen Yichezkel Ratner who showed their devotion by caring for the orphanage.

Rabbi Shlomo, eldest son of the wealthy Rabbi Fishel Lapin (more on Rabbi Fishel later), was one of the main benefactors in the city and was involved with its public library. He was active in the orphanage and devoted his time towards teaching a trade to the orphans. His brother, Alexander, was instrumental in the opening of a printing press and lithography in Grodno; these became well–known under the name of ‘The Brothers Lapin’.

Yechezkel Ben Rabbi Zvi Ratner was among the community public figures and combined within him both Torah and scholarship. He was the manager of the government bank in Grodno, and ‘conversed on even terms with the members of the court and the aristocracy of the land’. He built the Chor Shul in order to making it into the leading synagogue of the city.

In the early seventies an old age home was opened, an adjunct to the rebuilt Jewish hospital, initiated by the wealthy public benefactor and philanthropist Benjamin Ashkenazi (1824–1894), son of Rabbi Yehoshua Heschel, a leading scholar in the community and later, the rabbi of Lublin, as mentioned above. Benjamin Ashkenazi also headed the group active in the hospital, he was the Gabai of the great synagogue, and ‘all the community business was decided by him’ as noted by Yanovski in the Hamelitz, (January 15, 1894). In 1882 he was a delegate at the rabbinic convention in St. Petersburg, and in 1883– one of the Jewish representatives at the coronation of Tsar Alexander III. He was given the title ‘Honored Citizen of his Times’ by the government.

In the 19th century, the following were founded in Grodno, among others: a Talmud Torah (1844), a society ‘Linat Hatzedek’ (1888), the fund ‘Gmilat Chesedim’ (1864), and the society for the feeding of Jewish soldiers in service ‘Machzikei Bidei Acheina Chayalim Yehudim Lha'achilam Ma'achalim Ksheirim’, especially during Passover and in the summer season when they lived in summer camps across the river. The society was founded in 1875 by the preacher Rabbi Leyb Zalmens, Rabbi Gdalya Zvi Lafiner and Rabbi Shechna Lev, Both of were also active in public life for many years.

In the seventies of the above century, activities by women belonging to the educated class become active in the social welfare sphere. The Womens' League, founded in 1879, after the Russo–Turkish war, to provide a shelter and support for poor widows –more so at that time when widows remained bereft of their husbands who had shed their blood in the recent war.

A. S. Friedberg, the teacher of Shaina Wolf, an educated Grodno public activist, wrote about her to the poet Yehuda Leyb Levin; in the year 1879, in his memoirs (Vol.I), ‘She is now about thirty years of age, belongs to a decent and religious family of the Mosaic faith, – has a good grasp of the Russian, Polish, Ashkenaz (German) and French languages. She is knowledgeable in the sciences, and particularly excels in mathematics, and above all her love for the Hebrew language and her heart goes out to the laws of Yisrael and to everything referring to our people. She is now one of the leading personages in the Womens' League which has been founded in our city for charitable purposes.’ Shaina Wolf was also active, later, in ‘Chibat Zion’. It appears that she is identified with Shaina Krinski of Grodno, who is mentioned, by Zvi Nisan Golomb in his book Kiryat Sefer (Warsaw,1850) as being a writer in the Hebrew Language.

5. Love for the Land of Yisrael

The First Olim to the Holy Land from Grodno

Among the Eretz Yisrael emissaries to White Russia and Lithuania in 1815, immediately after the Russian war against Napoleon, we find one, named Rabbi Shmuel Horodner, whose name indicates his place of origin. Rabbi Aryeh Leyb Frumkin writes in his book ‘Toldot Chachamei Yerushalayim’, (vol.III. Jerusalem, 1828, page 152), that Rabbi Shmuel brought to Jerusalem in 1820, the donations he had collected in the diaspora. In the list of famous Ashkenazis who had immigrated to the Holy land, and whose Yohrzeit (date of death) he had found in Jerusalem in the records of the Chevrat Kadisha where he saw the name A. L. Frumkin, mentioned above, – the record states ‘The Great Rabbi Moshe Ben Rabbi Meir of Horodno, who left this world in the year 1840’.

Rabbi Yehoshua Yellin, father of Professor David Yellin, mentions in his book, ‘Zichronot Ish Yerushalayim’, (Jerusalem, 1923, page18), that in the thirties of the 19th century, their neighbor in the city of Zion, was one from Grodno; the father of Rabbi Leyb Hurwitz, one of the owners of a plot in the Nachalat Shiv'a neighborhood in Jerusalem in the year 1869.

Immigrants from Horodna are mentioned as being among the poor and beggarly in Jerusalem, whom the heads of the ‘Kolel Holland VeDeitchland’ decided to support, in May, 1854, ‘as this is a time of difficulty within Jerusalem, all our people groan, and ask for bread to keep alive body and soul’.

In 1863, Rabbi Israel Moshe Fishel Ben Rabbi Arieh Leyb Hacohen Lapin (born 1810–died 1889), came to Jerusalem from Grodno with his family, among them, his son Rabbi Betzalel and Rabbi Eliezer, both of whom, at a later stage, became community activists. Rabbi Fishel was famous in the Grodno area, according to recorders of his deeds, as a philanthropist and a kind man, and was honored by the great of his day. Among those with whom he was in contact, was Rabbi Israel Salanter, the Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Kalisher and Moshe Montefiori. Rabbi Fishel made a fortune, judged by the standards of the day, from building contracts on the first railway line near Filosa to reach Grodno. The immigration of the ‘Rich Man’ to the Holy Land with his family, was an exceptional event for that period, and according to stories told by the Grodno old men, which they had heard from their predecessors, this move was accompanied by great activity in the city, as they put together a complicated wagon ‘A Boyd’, in which Rabbi Fishel was to make his way, with his baggage to Odessa, the port city.

The coming of Rabbi Fishel was a great event for the community, as he brought with him much wealth, which is why he was crowned Fishel the Prince. He spent his money in Jerusalem upon the poor, feeding them at his expense, and in donations to Torah and sundry charitable institutions. He assisted in building the new neighborhoods outside the walls of ancient Jerusalem, founded a free kitchen for the poor and a free loan society. He was the chairman of ‘Ezrat Nidachim’ in Jerusalem who made it their task to fight the mission (Christian) and assumed the task of teaching a trade to the young members of the community rather than inventing work for the elderly, to enable them to make a living.


Rabbi Fishel Lapin


He was among the first of the Askenazim who joined Rabbi Yehuda Alkelai, in 1871, to found in Jerusalem, the society ‘Kol Yisrael Chaverim Le'ishuv Eretz Yisrael’. Its intention was to build housing and villages and to employ ‘the poor with clay and bricks in the building trade’. The name of Rabbi Fishel is among the 20 names listed as the heads of the community who signed, in 1875, a purchase agreement for a large parcel of land near Jericho bought by the ‘Petakh Tikva’ society. He also invested a fortune to execute a plan (of the Beth Maseit Kesef) to found an agricultural settlement and build in Jerusalem. Rabbi Fishel ended his life in Jerusalem bereft of all, since he had given away all his wealth. He was the grandfather of the Zionist activists, the brothers Betzalel and Leyb Yoffe.

Rabbi Fishel's son, Betzalel Lapin (born1856 in Grodno– died in 1939 in Jerusalem), was an honored activist in the Eretz Yisrael community. He initiated, in the eighties of the 19th century, a regular wagon transport service to Jerusalem, he was active in the ‘Ezrat Nidachim’ society, (mentioned above), and in charitable societies in Jerusalem. He founded a charity loan fund, and a society for housing (it built the Sha'arei Pina neighborhood) on a commercial basis – a venture in which he lost a great deal of money. After he moved to Jaffa in 1890, he continued his activity for Torah and charitable institutions. He was among the founders of the trade school ‘Sha'arei Torah’ and raised funds for it both in Eretz Yisrael and abroad as well as for ‘Bikur Cholim’ in Jerusalem. He was also the representative from Jaffa to the first general conference for the organization of settlement of Eretz Yisrael. This conference was held in Zichron Ya'akov in September 1903. During the First World War he devoted himself to assisting Jews who had been mobilized for service in the Turkish army and the pioneer corps. His brother, Rabbi Eliezer Lapin, was a scholar, and active in Meah She'arim in Jerusalem, and among the founders of the neighborhood Sha'arei Pina. He studied and knew Arabic, and was considered among the forerunners of the Maskilim.

From the year 1865, when the ‘Va'ad Klali Lechol Hakolelim’ was formed in Jerusalem to prevent the worsening of the condition of the Kolelim and of the Ashkenazi community in the city and to present a united front vis a vis the government, we find among the appointees in this committee over a period of years, Rabbi Eliezer Zvi Kav Venaki of Horodna, a member of the committee to erect the neighborhood Batei Machaseh on Har Zion in the Old City.

From this time on we find many names of ex Grodno residents among the Old Community. (e.g. the midwife Dvoshe Bat Rabbi Zalman of Horodna, died in the year 1883), and a few from the Rabbi Nechamke of Horodna group. One of these was Rabbi Yehoshua Horodner (Verblonski), a scholar and teacher pedagogue in the ‘Churvat Rabbi Yehuda Hechasid’ in the Old City of Jerusalem. He walked with Rabbi Nechamke on Saturday evenings, to make arrangements for the feeding of visitors in the homes of house owners, and would not return home for the Sabbath end ritual until the last of the visitors was provided for. His wife, Reine, known as the Rebbitzin, kept a room in their home in Meah Shearim for girls, children too young for the Cheder. His father, Rabbi Haim Leyb, an early immigrant from Grodno was of the Karlini Hassidic sect, and the teacher of David Yellin and Ephraim Cohen, and was the director of the ‘Chevrat Reshet Hachinuch’ of the ‘Ezra’ society in the Holy Land.


Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Leyb Diskin


The Av Beth Din D'Irushalayim, Rabbi Abraham Abba, (Abli), Ben Rabbi Haim Kossovski of Horodna (1822–1888), who had also studied under Rabbi Nechamke, settled in the Holy Land in 1853, and spent all his years in Jerusalem in the Sephardi study house ‘Kahal Hassidim’ learning the secrets of the ‘Kabbala’; he studied with them and was renowned among them. His father, Rabbi Haim Ben Rabbi Abraham of Horodna , also lived in Jerusalem and died there in 1873. The son of Rabbi Abraham Abli, was the Rabbi Ish Yerushalayim, Rabbi Haim Yehoshua Kossovski, who wrote the concordance to the Mishna, the Tosephta, the Talmud and the Onkelos translation.

The Brisk rabbi, Grodno born, Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Leyb Diskin ( 1818–1897),came to the Holy Land in 1876, having been vindicated in a trial in Grodno, already mentioned, and was one of the Jerusalem zealots and a leader of the Old Community. He founded the orphanage, named after him and directed it. In addition, he assisted, in 1880, the ‘Agudat Meyasdei Hayishuv’ to renew the Petach Tikva community. He published ‘Shu't Maharal Diskin’ (Jerusalem 1910), and a book ‘Yalkut Omrim’ dealing with events in the Torah.

His wife, Sarah, the well–known ‘Brisk Rabbanit’, (Sonia di Rebbetzin), had her origins in Grodno as well. She was the sister of the public figure, the wealthy Grodno citizen, Yechezkel Ratner. It is said that she was educated, a scholar and well versed in the laws, with a sharp mind and decisive in public affairs, deciding and defending her views vigorously. She knew foreign languages. It is told of her that she wore a Talith Katan and decided in matters of what's forbidden and what's permitted in the presence of her husband, and was often more extreme in many decisions than he was. She died in the year 1906.

Rabbi Zerakh Braverman, (1843–1923), who had also studied with Rabbi Nekhamke of Horodna, settled in Eretz Yisrael in 1886 while still a young man and studied with Rabbi Diskin. After the demise of the latter, he taught Torah in a Meah She'arim yeshiva, and was considered a great Jerusalem personage and active in the establishment of the community. He founded a society called ‘Shomrei Torah’ for the establishment of an ultra orthodox educational framework throughout the country. He was the leader of the ‘Shomrei Mishmeret Hakodesh’ of the Wailing Wall.

Kolel Horodna

The extent of the religious immigration from Grodno and its vicinity within the Old Yishuv in the 19th century, can be inferred from the number of students in the Kolel Horodna (and its offshoots), which reached the number of 635 in 1881, compared to 500 in the Kolel Warsha, (Prushim and Hassidim from the whole of Congress Poland, excluding Suvalki–Lomzhe regions), 400 in the Kolel Ungarin, 830 in the Kolel Minsk (includes the whole district), 380– in Kolel Reisen (White Russia), etc.

The Kolel Horodna was founded in 1851. After the joint Kolel in Jerusalem began to disintegrate, the Horodna Kolel, at its foundation, purchased a small plot in the Old City (in the Chush), the Horodna Close, and also opened, in 1863, a study house in the same place, (named Beth Hillel). Later, after the beginning of settling in the New Jerusalem, it purchased a plot in 1892, at the end of Yellin D'Ha'idna Street known as Minchat Yehuda, named after the philanthropist Rabbi Yehuda BHR”L (Rabbi Yehuda the Horodner). He had donated the first sum for the purchase of the land. In addition to this housing estate, namely the ‘Batei Horodna’, built there in 1902, the Kolel participated in the continuation of the erection of the housing estate Beth Ya'acov and its development and in the founding of the well–known market near it, ‘Machane Yehuda’.

In 1913 the number of persons in the Horodna Kolel reached 2100. The number was reduced to 1100 during the First World War by 1916, as compared to 1400 in the Warsaw Kolel, 1400 in the Vilna Kolel, one thousand in the Volin Kolel, and one thousand in the Kolel Galicia. In the years 1932–1934 the Kolel Horodna was considered second in the number of apartments available (80), following Batei Warsha (160) apartments, out of a total of 1520 then under the direct management of the Ashkenazi ‘Kolelim’.

The beginning of the Hibat Zion movement in Grodno

Influenced by the concept of settling Eretz Yisrael, whose chief proponent in central Europe was Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Kalisher, an organization was formed in Grodno under the name ‘Dorshei Zion Virushalayim’. After consultations with the participation of some 60 personages, among them great rabbis, as well as wealthy educated public figures from Warsaw, Bialystok, Lomzhe and other places, it was decided that the aim of the society, headed by the Mekubal Rabbi Menachem –Manchen Halprin, (above mentioned), would be modest; to send, annually, at the society's expense and chosen by lottery, one of its members to tour the Land for a few weeks and to ‘Lidrosh Bishlom Yerushalayim’.

The first favored by fate to travel to Eretz Yisrael was Aaron Wolf Stuchinski from Grodno, a donor and fundraiser for the society's fund, which took place in the city in the year 1873, for ‘Our Brethren in the Holy Land Suffering Hunger’. It should be noted that two years earlier, in 1871, an extensive fund raising took place in the Grodno synagogues as well as in other communities, for ‘Our Brethren in Persia and Babylon’ because of the ‘Troubles Oppressing Them’. In this fund raising, in view of the famine which affected Persia in the year 1870 and which inflicted great suffering upon the Jews there, as well as the taxes imposed upon them, 283 Rubles were collected in Grodno, as compared to 286 Rubles collected in Bialystok and 261 in Vilna.


Letter from the Yishuv Eretz Yisrael Society in Grodno 1880, relating to the purchase of land in Palestine.


The Grodno writer and journalist, Rabbi Israel David Miller, (mentioned above), publicized the society ‘Dorshei Zion Virushalayim’ in the publication ‘Halevanon’, (Third year, vol.2), he emphasized that the awakening in Russia and Germany for Eretz Yisrael is not like all the writings about the complete love for the Holy Land, in contrast to the reformers who praise the memory of Zion. Accepting the suggestion of Rabbi Kalisher, Rabbi Menachem– Manchen Halprin agreed to travel to the large communities in order to propagandize and collect monies for the settlement of Eretz Yisrael.

As the society did not survive, Rabbi M. M. Halprin founded a new society, in 1880, named ‘Shutfut Shel Yishuv Eretz Yisrael DK'K Horodna Usvivateha’. The secretary of the society was the writer Yitzchak Anders, (mentioned above), and the treasurer Rabbi Yitzchak Gershon Ben Rabbi Dov, the son of Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel Yoffe of Rozhanoi. They were in contact with Rabbi Yechiel Michal Pines, who lived in Jerusalem and was the representative of the fund ‘Mazkeret Moshe Montefiori’ in connection with the purchase of plots of land in Petach Tikvah. Indeed, two plots were registered in the name of the ‘Shutfut Shel Yishuv Eretz Yisrael DK'K Horodna’ in the settlement.

Rabbi Menachem Manchen Halprin Ben Rabbi Shalom Halprin, was born in Grodno in 1843. He studied in yeshivot under great rabbis, and reached the highest levels in Sha's, in Poskim and in Kabala, though he refused to accept an official rabbinical position, in order not to make the study of the Torah a means of income. He lived off the sale of sacred writings and Ethrogs from the Holy Land for which purpose he visited it a number of times. He devoted his days and nights to the study of Torah, and was close to Rabbi Nechamke. He was known as a zealot and a righteous man, and even capable of doing miracles.

Rabbi M.M. Halprin, published, with addendums, annotations and commentaries of his own, the book ‘Eitz Hachaim’ by Rabbi Haim Vital (Warsaw, 1890). He added annotations and commentaries to Sha'ar Hahakdamot and to Sha'ar Hakavanot, and to Mevo Sha'arim by the AR'I. He wrote and published in Jerusalem, in the year 1897, the book Kvod Chachamim, which was also published later in a second edition. In it he defended the book ‘Chemdat Hayamim’ (dealing with Kabala), which had been disqualified by Rabbi Ya'akov Emden, as sectarian pulp. It served, incidentally, as the inspiration for the ‘Yesod Veshoresh Ha'avoda’ by Rabbi Alexander Ziskind of Horodna.

Rabbi M.M. immigrated to Eretz Yisrael in the year 1900 and settled in Jerusalem. He was much honored in the Mekubal circles and in the Harav Kuk study house with whom he held many conversations about the open and the secret Torah. He died in the Old City in the year 1923.

First agricultural settlers in Eretz Yisrael from Grodno

Among the first settlers in Yahud, near Petakh Tikva, we find immigrant families from Grodno, Rabbi Mordechai Ben Rabbi Yitshhak Diskin (1841–1914), and the son of Rabbi Benyamin (1863–1945) with their families. Rabbi Mordechai, a scion of the Brisk Rabbi, wrote the pamphlets ‘Divrei Mordechai’ (Jerusalem 1888) and Ma'amar Mordechai (Jerusalem 1911), and others while still in the Diaspora, in the suburb across the Neman in Grodno. He was an expert vegetable grower. Upon his arrival in the Holy Land, in 1882, he recounts in Divrei Mordechai (page 32,2), ‘….from the days of my youth, I yearned to work in the Holy land, though I had wealth and houses and gardens, and wasn't short of anything, I could also live off the fruits of my capital, soul and body and the members of my family, we could do this in comfort even in the Holy land without tilling the ground. But I could not live without working the land, like a fish out of water, but when I heard that there is arable land there, and agricultural work for each one, (as at that time land was bought in Petach Tikva), I sold all I possessed and with a wallet of money in my hand, a few thousand Rubles, I traveled to Eretz Yisrael.’


Rabbi Mordechai Diskin


The Diskin family excelled among the pioneers of Petach Tikva rabbis, both by their agricultural work and by their defense of their crops from the thieving neighboring Arabs. Rabbi Mordechai and Rabbi Benyamin were voluntarily active in the public weal and taught Torah to the public. Rabbi Benyamin was a member of the Va'ad Hamoshava (the settlement council), and during the First World War was active in assisting the exiles from Jaffa and Petach Tikva.

Among the first calls made to the Jewish intellectuals and public activists, after the anti Jewish riots in southern Russia, in the spring of 1881, was in Grodno, and came from the pen of A.S. Friedberg. He called for a revision of their attitudes about a month after the riots. On May 26, 1881, he wrote, “… and what will my brother say about the terrible events … Is it due to the exploitation of our compatriots? … are we really composed of well–known elements which draw electric lightening from the storm? or is it that we are the lightening conductor in the hands of others thus drawing the storm results to save them from the evil spirits? … I see no value in the efforts of our leaders to found colonies for our brethren in strange countries – which will later also spirit them out for some hateful reason invented by our enemies … it would be best to found settlements to settle our people in the ancient land of our fathers, we have had enough of wandering among the nations, to lick bones under the tables of others, … We must stop being gypsies in foreign countries, the bitter lands of the Diaspora…”

In September of the same year, A. S. Friedberg calls on the Jewish writers in a kind of manifesto contained in a letter to HL'L and Peretz Smolenskin, and called upon them to “be brave'––– and to clarify to those at the head of our people –––– that the only solution is emigration to Eretz Yisrael, for it is our only demand and it is the only place where we will find our salvation ….”.

As is well–known, Friedberg continued to propagate widely the concept of Chibat Zion in articles and feuilletons in Hamelitz in the years 1882–1885, when he was the de facto editor of this publication, and he tried to make it the mouthpiece of the movement.


Members of the Vilbushevitz family(1883).
Isaac (Yevgeny) standing on the right.


A few months after the arrival of the Bilu'im in Eretz Yisrael, in 1882, a young man arrived from Grodno (actually from Lusosna, near the city), born there in 1862, named Isaac (Yevgeny), son of Ze'ev Vilbushevitz, an adherent of the Chovevei Zion from youth. He was the elder brother to Gedalya, Moshe and Manya Vilbushevitz, deceased, and the brother of the living Nachum Vilbush Vilbushevitz, and the brother in law of Dr. Yosef Chazanovitz, the initiator of the proposal and the layer of the foundation of the national library in Jerusalem. He too was from Grodno. Isaac was among the first Jews who studied agriculture in the Petrovsku–Rasumomvskaya academy near Moscow. He joined the Bilu'im group and worked as a laborer in the digging of a well in Rishon Le'Zion in 1883, until he fell ill with a heavy bout of Malaria. He returned to Grodno in order to report, for national reasons, for army service. In 1885, upon his return to Grodno at night from the family estate in Lusosna, he fell in an opening in the ice and drowned in the Neman River.

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