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[Pages 24-32]

The Rabbis of Kolbuszowa

By Rabbi Dr. Leon J. Berle

The first Kolbuszowa rabbis were Rabbi Yshayah and his son Rabbi Yitzhak. This we learn from the book Tiferet HaTzvi written by Uzziel Meizlish-Rosenwasser (1744-1785) which appeared in 1802.

According to the calculations (see our essay in the Yiddish portion of this volume), Rabbi Yeshayah, a veritable genius and miracle-worker, was a contemporary of Israel Baal Shem-Tov, the founder of hassidism (1700-1760), who apparently became rabbi in 1740.

His son Yitzhak was Rabbi of Kolbuszowa from about 1760 to 1782. After he died the post was given to the saintly Rabbi Josef of Kolbuszowa who had no wish to exploit his rabbinical duties as a source of livelihood. It is told that for some time after he left Kolbuszowa, no one was willing to assume the post of rabbi there until the coming of the Rabbi of Apt (Opatow).

The eminent saint, and leader of the time, who later served as the Rabbi of Apt, Rabbi Abraham Yehoshua Heschel, served in Kolbuszowa in the years circa 1785-1800. There he experienced grave vicissitudes and it was there, in our community, that his character was formed and he became the great lover of his people Israel. (The Yiddish part of the book carries the full story of the Rabbi of Opatow.) With its growth, the influence of hassidism likewise grew. One of the Galician haisidic rebbes, Naftali of Ropshitz, encouraged his sons and grandsons to become rabbis and dayanim rather than devote themselves to hassidism. Thus they too became rabbis, including his son Rabbi Yakkele who served in that capacity in Kolbuszowa, as did one of his grandsons, Rabbi Yehiel.

In Kolbuszowa there were long since a number of Ropshitz hassidim. Rebbe Naftali came often to visit there, and his eldest son Reb Yaakov was engaged there as rabbi in 1804. He was modest, quiet, reserved and unassuming, a saintly innocent. He did not, however, long remain in Kolbuszowa, only about six or seven years, because Mielec envied our community for having him. Legend has it that some Mielec dignitaries of their Kehilla came in the dead of night and stole him away, earning thereby the appellation "the thieves of Mielec."

About 1810, when Rabbi Yakkele moved to Mielec, his older sister, the wife of Reb Asher, bore a son, Yehiel. This Yehiel, later known as Reb Hilisz Rubin, was, at the age of twenty-five when he was already married to the daughter of the wealthy Eliyohu Reich of Rzeszow, appointed as the rabbi of Kolbuszowa. This occurred in 1835, and many were the questions he subsequently had to deal with. From the Responsa Divrey Hayyim by the Rabbi of Sanz, Hayyim Halberstamm, we learn that the main problem was the so-called "outside shehitta". It appears that in Kolbuszowa the tax imposed on kosher meat was quite high so that it would suffice to cover the Jewish community's expenditures, such as salaries for rabbis, dayanim, schochtim and the like. To circumvent this, the local butchers bought the cattle and took it to be slaughtered in the nearby towns where it cost considerably less.

One day Reb Hilisz traveled to visit Reb Meir'l Premyslaner. When the latter heard that Reb Hilisz of Kolbuszowa was coming to his house, he hastened to open the door and ran out to meet his friend. But all at once he stopped and turning back, wailed, "Oy, oy, the smell of idolatry comes from him!" and slammed the door shut. Reb Hilisz, frightened, stopped in his tracks. Since perspiration covered his whole body, he removed his costly sable fur. As soon as he was free of the coat, the door opened wide and with radiant face Reb Meir'l hurried out to clasp his hand and welcome him with a warm "Sholom aleichem, Reb Hilisz of Kolbuszowa"! And throughout the visit his host was very friendly and cordial. It turned out that the sable fur came to him from his father-in-law, and he in turn got it from a non-Jew....

Reb Hilisz did not live to a ripe old age, dying when he was only fifty years old. His daughter Reitza was already long married to Reb Avram-Aaron Teitelbaum, eldest son of Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda, the author of Yetev Lev, who came from Sygut, Hungary. Reb Avram-Aaron lived in Kolbuszowa and occupied himself with the sale of Hungarian wines. Now, Reb Hilisz's only son, who was fourteen when his father died, was born in 1846 and named Asher after his grandfather. It was understood by all that while Asher was growing up and until he reached an age suitable for his being appointed to take his father's place as the town rabbi, Avram-Aaron should serve in that capacity. The latter was then 34 years old.

Avram-Aaron's installation was attended by his father who came from Hungary with a group of fellow-hassidim. The Sanz hassidim of Kolbuszowa also gave Reb Avram-Aaron their active support. There was, however, serious and considerable opposition to him and this group was looking for a rabbi to serve until the son of Rabbi Hilisz came of age. The man they chose was Reb Wolf Kreizman of Rzeszow who was both rich and learned and was already living in Kolbuszowa. He proceeded to act as rabbi, causing thereby a good deal of unhappiness to Reb Avram Aaron.

Reb Asher married when he was fifteen years old, remaining in Komarno where he and his wife were supported by the father of his father-in-law, the well-known hassidic leader, Reb Isaac. There Asher studied constantly, seeking to attain perfection in all that pertained to the Torah, both the revealed and concealed matter, and above all in matters of worship of the Almighty. He came to Kolbuszowa only occasionally, particularly for the yohrzeit of his father, Reb Hilisz.

From a response in Shoel Umeyshiv, part 11-20, by the rabbi of Lemberg, Yosef Shaul Nathanson, we can see that when he reached the age of seventeen Reb Asher'l expressed a demand for the rabbinate in Kolbuszowa. The response states categorically that the Rabbi of Sandz's judgment directed that Reb Asher must be paid his salary and the rabbinical post be held for him throughout the time he was studying and preparing himself. He stayed in Komarno until Reb Isaac passed away.

The Kolbuszowa Kehilla did decide to pay him some monthly stipend. Some of the prosperous householders of the town and in particular, some of the hassidim of Dzykow also contributed to his support by sending him Hanukkah-gelt, gifts for Purim, holiday funds and coming for Sabbath and holy days to his table. But all this notwithstanding, he lived in constant want.

His piety and worshiping were remarkable. Exactly at midnight by the clock he would unfailingly get out of bed in a deliberate insistence on breaking up his night's sleep, and pray. Then he would sit and study the revealed and unrevealed matter. Precisely at five o'clock he was already in the ritual-bath, and promptly at eight he entered the large bet midrash to participate in prayer with the minyan. He accepted the honor of reading in the Torah-scroll only when prayer-services were held in his own home, so that in the bet midrash the men did not dare to call him up to read in the Torah. He did however himself hurry daily to perform the hagbahah (raising of the Torah scroll for wrapping after the reading) even without being called. Thus he behaved through the years that Reb Avram-Aaron was alive.

During the years that Reb Asher stayed in Komarno, Reb Avram-Aaron entrenched himself in the position of Rabbi of Kolbuszowa. His rabbinical courtroom was frequented by scholars and devoted friends who looked on his position as the rabbi as an accomplished and unalterable fact. When his father, author of Yitav Lev, had died in 1883 in Sygut, a delegation of hassidim had come from Hungary to demand that Reb Avram-Aaron become their rabbi. He had however refused and pointed out that living in his old home was his younger brother Hannaniah-Yomtov-Lippa, who wrote "Kdusbat Yom Tov". The Jews of Hungary looked on Avram-Aaron as a holy man, a paragon. This feeling was shared also by others in and around Kolbuszowa. From a salutation in one of the Responsa in Divrey Hayyim we note that the Rabbi of Sandz did in effect recognize Avram-Aaron as Kolbuszowa's rabbi.

For a long time Kolbuszowa maintained the tradition of having outstanding dayanim, noted for their Torah-learning, wisdom and justice. Among these was Rabbi Yossef who for a time (17821785) also held a rabbinical post in the town. A long succession of eminent dayanim and teachers followed him but actual facts remain concerning only a few of them.

Particularly prominent for his wisdom was the Dayan Shalom Goldberg. He conducted a correspondence with the great personages of Galicia, such as Reb Ittinga of Lwow, Israel Hacohen Rapaport of Tarnow, Yitzhak Szmelkes of Przemysl and Lwow, author of Bet Yitzhak, and Wolf Freankl of Rzeszow. The great men's Responsa contain more than twenty of Shalom Goldberg's questions concerning various points in the social, economic and moral life of Kolbuszowa Jewry in the middle of the nineteenth century. From the salutations they employed to address him in their answers as they appear in their books it is clear that they held him in the highest esteem, for they wrote: "the learned, famous and keen-minded rabbi . . .", "honored friend, the learned and astute judge who penetrates to the most profound depths of justice. . ." and the like.

One of the most colorful personalities in Kolbuszowa was without a doubt the dayan Itzhak-Leyser Greer whose wisdom was known far and wide. As a number of questions requiring Responsa were formulated jointly by him and dayan Goldberg, we find in Reb Yitzhak Szmelkes' book one addressed to both together: "To the excellent judges, keen-minded learned rabbis, dayanim of Kolbuszowa . . ." Others too wrote such combined responses.

Reb Hayyim-Yeshayah Dershowitz was the very opposite of his father-in-law Reb Yitzhak-Leyser. In worldly matters he was altogether impractical, but because of his piety and his father-in-law's standing, he was officially installed as a dayan in Kolbuszowa. There are men living today who still recall the manner in which he conducted prayer-services; he was evidently far from musical.

In the meantime the town's rabbi, Avram-Aaron Teitelbaum, was stricken with a serious illness which partially paralyzed him, rendering him incapable of fulfilling his duties. Henceforth he was able to attend services only on special Sabbaths when he was brought from his home in a wheel-chair.

Now neither the Rabbi nor Reb Hayyim-Yeshayah was able to satisfy the congregation with regard to questions, problems and especially judgments in difficult cases brought by merchants which required a large measure of practical wisdom and penetration. Consequently, the city finally realized it must find a new dayan.

Fortunately, there came home at this precise time the son of Yehoshua Weinman, Yehiel, better known as Hiel-Shyje's. He had been away in Przemysl studying with Rabbi Yitzhak Szmelkes and had received his rabbinical ordination from him. Kolbuszowa regarded Hiel-Shyje's as a wonder-child. On his return he was a young man possessed of remarkable qualities-a harmonious blend of Torah-learning, wisdom and worldly understanding, combined with altruistic kindness, a radiant countenance with merry blue eyes, a fine blond beard, and in addition-a light, attractive walk. He had, moreover, much medical knowledge and hastened to bring aid wherever possible. Mathematics and geometry were also in his ken and when a field had to be measured, he was the expert called in. Settling a dispute to the satisfaction of all concerned was his strong point. Small wonder then that the leading householders as well as the general population including ordinary cobblers, tailors and waggoners, united in acclaiming him as their dayan and rabbi. To him they brought their questions, him they sought for advice and judgment in their cases, to him they sent Purim shalachmonoss and holiday funds. He fulfilled all the duties of a dayan even though officially he had not been engaged as one and was not being paid a salary. The reason was that his father, Yehoshua Weinman, had opposed Yaakov Eckstein, the wealthiest man in town and the Ecksteins were as a result leading a stubborn boycott against Hiel-Shyje's, ignoring the desires and demands of the community.

Reb Hiel-Shyje's was responsible for the numerous and among them rare volumes kept in the bet-midrash, taught the grown young men, supervised and set in order the instruction in the heder-schools, and later brought about the founding of the yeshiva in the city. Finally, in 1915, under the leadership of Yossel Rosenfeld and later of Shlomo Sonntag, Reb Hiel-Shyje’s was officially recognized as the dayan. But in 1919, under the new Polish government, he left Kolbuszowa. and moved to Cracow where he died before World War 11. His wife, Frumma, was a daughter of the dayan of Baranowa, Reb Pinhass, who was famous among the scholarly hassidim of Galicia.

The Ecksteins brought into Kolbuszowa from Tarnow the dayan Reb Yaakov Hacohen Gurgewirt and installed him officially. Reb Yankele Gutgewirt aroused respect with his earnest mien, his dark sad eyes, his short, silky, coal-black beard, and silent, reserved manner. Owing to his behavior and to these qualities he was held in high esteem, but real friendship was not shown him; he remained lonely, sad and in need, for the Ecksteins supported him but the salary he received from the Kehilla was small. He seemed obviously to regret having left Tarnow to come to Kolbuszowa.

The dayan of Tarnow-as he was called-used to pray in -the big bet-midrash. His place was at the east wall, to the left, beside the Ark. That was Eckstein's own place. He avoided interfering in the town's affairs unless compelled. As regards the formulation of responses to troublesome questions he was deemed an authority, with a leaning to severe judgments.

For five years Avram-Aaron Teitelbaum occupied the position of Kolbuszowa's rabbi. He was blessed with a long life and died at 84. At the age of 75 he wrote his will in which he gave explicit instructions as to the care to be given him during his illness, death and burial. The will he entrusted to a close friend. After his demise it was printed and circulated in many copies. (We included the will in the Hebrew portion of our book for this document is characteristic of those times and sheds light on the Jewish way of life in the shtetl.)

Rabbi Teitelbaum's death set off a sharp dispute. True, Rabbi Asher Rubin did not demand the rabbinate for himself, but there remained the two sons of the deceased. The dispute was not so much between the rabbis as between their supporters. The principal instigator was the Eckstein family; by aggressively using their prominent standing in the community as well as their financial ties and enormous influence, they enflamed both sides to such an extent that the case had to be taken to court in Rzeszow where non-Jewish judges handed down the decision as to who should be the next Rabbi of Kolbuszowa.

On Saturday, September 12, 1914, Reb Asher-Rubin died at the age of 68. On Sunday, the day of his funeral, the German and Austrian armies began the great retreat of the first world war. All the roads were crowded with military men and equipment, horses and wagons, when---oblivious of the dangers-a huge mass of people took part in the funeral, with everyone going on foot as the body of Reb Asher Rubin was carried all the way to the cemetery.

During the summer of 1915 and winter of 1916 the Jews, who had fled Kolbuszowa as the war developed, gradually returned. Among them was Rabbi Aryeh-Leib Teitelbaum, then about thirty years old. Ordained by the Lemberg rabbi Moshe Babad, he also conducted services in a good voice, and had an attractive personality. He settled in the rabbinical residence and began to function as the town's rabbi.

After many months a community assembly was called at which Yossel Rosenfeld, a wealthy merchant, gabbai of the synagogue, a man of modern leanings, was elected as the new community head. Under his leadership, Rabbi Leibush Teitelbaum was officially installed as the Rabbi of Kolbuszowa. He filled the post with such tact, common-sense and excellence of behavior that before long he succeeded in uniting all the previously opposed factions; young and old, the hassidim and the enlightened, Zionists and other modern-thinking Jews and officials employed by the authorities, all treated him with respect and friendship.

When Rabbi Aryeh-Leibush Teitelbaum emigrated at the end of 1920 from Kolbuszowa to America, his father, Reb Yehiel Teitelbaum, came from Hungary to take his place.

In 1928-1929 another dispute occurred. This is what prompted it: after Rabbi Asher Rubin died, his Son-in-law Reb Mendele Rubin remained in Kolbuszowa. In 1929, finding himself without a livelihood, he claimed the right to become a member of the rabbinate. Against the wish of the rabbi, the community's president together with a number of other honorable citizens, appointed him as dayan. It came to a lawsuit before a rabbinical court, which ended with a compromise verdict. This decision was made in November, 1919. Peace descended again on Kolbuszowa, to be disturbed once more with the outbreak of World War II.

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