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[Page 59]

Ostrowiec distinguished itself by the spiritual leaders who shaped the religious character of the community, where the sound of Torah study never ceased, not by day nor by night. The following is a list of rabbis and admorim [the spiritual leader in the Hasidic movement] who brought honor and glory to the name of Ostrovtze throughout the Jewish world.

 

Rabbis and Admorim of Ostrowiec[1]

by M. Sh. Geshuri

Translated by Yechezkel Anis

[ ] translator's remarks

Lacking historical records, we unfortunately know nothing about Ostrowiec's rabbis during its first period of settlement in the 16th to 17th centuries. The Chmielnicki massacres of 1648-9, as well as the Swedish invasion that followed shortly after, left their mark on the Ostrowiec community. Although its Jews were not massacred as badly as those in present-day Ukraine, many of them were forced to flee Chmielnicki's hordes and joined the mass of Jewish refugees that flooded the country's thoroughfares. The town was laid to waste and with it the Jewish community records that contained a list of the town's rabbis and the years of their service.

All we have are the names of those rabbis who served after the community was rebuilt at the end of the 17th century. Even these were not culled from community records, which are missing from that period as well, but from various sources, mainly rabbinic works that mentioned Ostrowiec rabbis and the period of their activity.

 

Rabbi Naftali

The first rabbi of Ostrowiec whose name is known to us is Rabbi Naftali (alternatively, Rabbi Meir), the son-in-law of R. Hertzke. According to details that appear in Sefer HaChassidim, he was the son of R. Aryeh Leibush of Przytyk, a disciple of R. Yitzchak Yaakov Horowitz, the Seer of Lublin, and R. Yechiel Michel, the Maggid of Zloczow. He was among the pioneers of the Chassidic movement in Poland and responsible for its spreading to Ostrowiec.

 

Rabbi Yechezkel, son of the Gaon Avigdor Yosef

The next rabbi whose name is known to us is Rabbi Yechezkel, son of the Gaon Avigdor Yosef. He was the father of R. Eliyahu, AB”D [Av Beis Din, head of the religious court] of Checiny and author of the work Har HaCarmel. R. Yechezkel represented the community of Ostrowiec at the Vaad Arba HeAratzos (the Council of the Four Lands). Very little is known of his activities as rabbi of Ostrowiec.

 

Rabbi Eliezer, son of R. Shlomo Zalman Lipshitz

With the induction of Rabbi Eliezer son of R. Shlomo Zalman Lipshitz as the community's rabbi, Ostrowiec merited a spiritual leader whose fame preceded him in the rabbinic world as author of the important works Heishiv R. Eliezer and Siach Eliezer, used to this day by Yeshiva students.

Rabbi Eliezer came from a distinguished line of scholars and gaonim. His wife was a descendant of the Magen Avraham and of R. Moshe Isserles of Krakow. He eventually relocated to Krakow and from there to Neuwied, Germany, where he died in 1748.

 

Rabbi Shmuel Shmariah, son of R. Yaakov of Zwolen

Rabbi Shmuel Shmariah served as the rabbi of Ostrowiec during the second phase of Chassidism's spread throughout Poland. He descended from a long line of rabbis and gaonim who served in some of Poland's largest communities.

[Page 60]

He was a major disciple of the Seer of Lublin, the Maggid of Kozienice, and the Holy Jew of Przysucha, absorbing from them both Torah and Chassidus. After their passing, he sheltered in the shade of R. Moshele of Kozienice and R. Yerachmiel of Przysucha, who accorded him great honor. He disseminated Torah in his community and produced disciples of great renown, such as R. Shimshon, AB”D of Konskie (teacher of R. Nosson David of Szydlowiec), R. Dov Berish, R. Moshe Yehudah of Kostyantyn, and others. He authored the works Zichron Shmuel and Toras Shmuel on Shas and Tanach, which were published anew on the 100th anniversary of his death in 1947 by his descendants living in the land of Israel.

 

ost060.jpg
Title page of Rabbi Shmuel Shmariah's
book Zichron Shmuel

 

It is told that at the time of his death he was surrounded by many scholars, including his close disciple R. Shimshon of Konskie, when a question was brought before them regarding the kosher status of a lung. The scholars debated the issue in hushed tones, so as not to disturb their master in his final hours. Reb Shmuel Shmariah sensed the conversation and asked as to its nature. They refused to engage him in their discussion, but he insisted on knowing what it was about. They relented, explaining to him the issue and sharing with him the consensus opinion that the lung was not kosher. He groaned and said, “When will you learn to render a proper decision? Bring me a tractate Hullin.” They brought him the requested Gemara and he proceeded to show them from Tosafot that the lung was indeed kosher. As he spoke, his soul departed him.

He was 99 years old at the time of his death in the year 1947 [1847]. He served as rabbi of Ostrowiec for fifty years and was interred in its cemetery.

 

The Gaon, Rabbi Yosef Teomim

Rabbi Yosef Teomim, son of R. Aryeh Leib of Krzyzowa, was amongst Ostrowiec's greatest rabbis. He was a grandson of the Gaon, R. Yonah Teomin, AB”D of Horodna, Metz and Nikolsburg and author of Kikayon B'Yonah. He was also a descendant of the Gaon, R. Shlomo Luria (the Maharshal), with a lineage going back to the Baal HaMaor. His name appears in the community records of Lublin, in Kovetz Pesakim (a compendium of halachic decisions), and in the records of the Lublin synagogue of R. Tzvi Hirsch Doktor...

…Rabbi Yosef had four sons, all great in their knowledge of the Torah: Shaul Yehoshua Yechezkel Faivel Teomim-Frankel, who succeeded his father as rabbi in Ostrowiec after the former relocated to Poznan where he headed a yeshivah; Aryeh Leib Teomim; Shmuel Teomim; and Yaakov Teomim.

In 1785 [1783], Rabbi Yosef left Poznan for Lublin where he served as AB”D until his death in 1783 [1785].

 

Rabbi Shaul Yehoshua Yechezkel Faivel Teomim-Frankel

The eldest son of R. Yosef Teomim and son-in-law of R. Yissachar Berish HaLevi, AB”D of Ciechanowiec, Rabbi Shaul Yehoshua served as rabbi in Ostrowiec until his death in the year 1771. His gravestone in Ostrowiec's Jewish cemetery reads as follows: “Torn from us and buried here is the Ark of G-d, our esteemed master and teacher … Rabbi Shaul Chizkiyahu Yehoshua Faivel z”l, son of the Gaon, our teacher R. Yosef Teomim … His righteousness was like the mighty mountains, his Torah like a pillar of fire. He illuminated for us the path to walk in the ways of G-d and now that our master has died the glory is gone.”

 

Rabbi Uziel Meiselish, AB”D of Ostrowiec and Neustadt

[Rabbi Uziel] came from distinguished ancestry. He was the son of the renowned Rabbi Tzvi [Hirsch Meiselish of Siemiatycze] and a descendant of the Rema and the great Gaon R. Naftali Hertz who descended from Rashi. He was also descended from the Bach and the Maharam of Lublin, which takes his ancestry back to King David.

He was a prominent disciple of Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch, and a trusted friend

[Page 61]

to the illustrious brothers R. Shmuel of Nikolsburg and R. Pinchas, author of the Haflaah; the brothers R. Elimelech of Lizensk and R. Zusha of Annipol; R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and other great disciples of the Maggid.

With a brilliant and incisive mind that plumbed depths, and a pious and righteous character, he mentored many students in both the revealed and hidden traditions. He greatly applied himself to spread the tenets of Chassidism among Poland's more scholarly circles. In his work Tiferes Uziel he cites words of Torah that he heard directly from the Baal Shem Tov…

…He authored some great works, the greatest being Tiferes Uziel, also referred to as Etz Hadaas Tov, whose purpose was to introduce the light of the Torah of Chassidism into the hearts of Israel. It was printed in three editions that quickly sold out and thus remained a collector's item until his grandson in Israel, Rabbi P.M. Hocherman, was stirred to print it anew in an elegant and meticulously faithful edition…

…Rabbi Uziel's repute spread far and wide. He eventually relocated to the town of Neustadt where he died all too soon in 1786.

 

Rabbi Yechezkel Margolies

Rabbi Yechezkel Margulies was the son-in-law of R. Berish, the renowned rabbi of Brest-Litovsk (Brisk). He was among the most illustrious of Ostrowiec's rabbis, wielding great influence over broad areas of Poland and Russia. He died in 1890.

 

Rabbi Chaim, son of R. Yosef Hochgelerenter

Rabbi Chaim Hochgelerenter was appointed rabbi of Ostrowiec at the unusually young age of 19. He was an outstanding scholar whose fame spread far and wide. He was eventually appointed rabbi of the town of Hrubieszow and after that in the town of Grabow where he died in the cholera epidemic of 1809.

 

Rabbi Gershon Chanoch Leiner

In the year 1888 the Jews of Ostrowiec found themselves in need of a new chief dayan (judge) to preside over their religious court. Various rabbis offered themselves for the position. The most prestigious of them, and hence the one with the best chances, was Rabbi Gershon Chanoch Leiner of Radzin. He was renowned in the Chassidic world for having reintroduced among his chassidim the practice of attaching a turquoise thread (techelet) to one's tzitziot (fringed garments). In the end Rabbi Leiner withdrew his candidacy after realizing that the demands of serving such a bustling community would leave him little time to pursue his Torah study and research.

It was at that time that the young genius and native of Sobin, Rabbi Meir Yechiel Halevi Halstock, arrived in Ostrowiec…

[Page 64]

Rabbi Yerachmiel Frimer, the Ostrovtzer Tzaddik

Rabbi Yerachmiel was born to his father [R. Yehudah Leibush Pesach Frimer] the Lipsker tzaddik in 1834. He was educated by his father in the ways of Torah and the fear of G-d. He married the daughter of R. Yitzchak Shlomo, the tzaddik of Zelechow, who was the son-in-law of R. Moshele of Kozienice, son of the Maggid...

…Rabbi Yerachmiel was originally the AB”D of Magnishov, where he emulated his father's form of conduct. From there he returned to Lipsko [in 1868 so as to succeed his father as the second Lipsker tzaddik] … It was only in his later years that Rabbi Yerachmiel left Lipsko in order to settle in Ostrowiec, and it was this final locale with which his name became associated.

His affinity for melody and song was passed on to him as a family tradition, originating with the Seer of Lublin. In his father's case, every niggun (Chassidic melody) he sang was a kind of prayer that spiritually moved all who heard him… Although Rabbi Yerachmiel was not as wondrous a singer as his father, he realized the power of song and implanted that love of niggun in the hearts of his chassidim…

[Page 65]

…Rabbi Yerachmiel died in Ostrowiec on the second day of Shavuos 1909. In his last moments, before passing on, he began intoning [the liturgical poem] Ha'Aderes vha'Emunah. When he reached the words hatekes vha'tohar l'chai olamim (the pageantry and the purity are His Who lives forever), he returned his soul to his Creator in holiness and purity. His final resting place is in Ostrowiec…

 

Rabbi Moshe Elyakim Breiah Frimer, the Ostrovtzer Tzaddik

R. Yerachmiel had great affection for the tzaddikim of the Kozienice dynasty, even entering with them into the bonds of marriage. As a further sign of this affection, he named his son after the Kozhnitzer Maggid's eldest son, [Moshe Elyakim Breiah]... [The younger] Rabbi Moshe… appreciated his genetic link to the Kozhnitzer Maggid and would often make a point of mentioning it. As a youth, he would visit Kozienice from time to time and enjoy the atmosphere of the venerable tradition established there by the great Maggid. Rabbi Moshe was born in 1877.

Already as a youth, Rabbi Moshe stood out for his vigor and intelligence. He was always cheerful and good-hearted, his countenance radiant and his eyes burning with a fire that enchanted all who beheld him… He would often travel to the courts of the Chassidic masters in order to understand the various approaches of Chassidism. At the same time, he would try to hide his own spiritual identity from those close to him so as to remain open-eyed in his search for the hidden truth...

It is unknown as to why he chose not to succeed his father as the tzaddik of Ostrowiec… After great consideration he decided a few years after his father's death to settle in Radom. It was in 1902 that he rented a residence there with an adjoining beis medrash (study and prayer house) … and began conducting himself as a tzaddik.

He was a down-to-earth Rebbe, accessible to all. He especially welcomed the simple artisans and town folk… The burden of earning a livelihood and the struggle for economic survival became increasingly hopeless. There was the need for a guide who knew how to encourage the people, how to console them in a time of misfortune…

[Page 66]

There were those who referred to him as der veibishe rebbe, “the women's Rebbe,” insofar as the womenfolk in particular sought out his counsel and blessings...

Misfortune did not elude him either. One of his sons, a talented scholar, died prematurely at the age of 19. His elder son, R. Yisrael Elimelech, went on to marry into the family of the Alexander Rebbe… His son-in-law, R. Yechiel Michel Goldberg… stood at his side and assisted him in his duties...

…The German Nazis put an end to the years of relative peace and life's routine... I have no details as to Rabbi Moshe's life during this period. One can only assume that he continued to radiate grace and instruct others as to how to withstand the terrible times that had befallen them.

 

Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Halevi Rozhani

Rabbi Yosef Tzvi, who lived a number of years in Ostrowiec, was born in Turobin to that town's AB”D, R. Eliyahu Halevi Landau, a descendant of R. Yechezkel Landau, author of Nodeh B'Yehudah

He was raised by his father in the ways of Torah jurisprudence but saw his own mission in the uncovering of [Kabbalistic] mysteries. He applied himself throughout his life to the esoteric tradition, eventually earning the hallowed title of Admor…While living in Ostrowiec, he attracted a following of chassidim and acted as an Admor, guiding those gathered around him in the ways of holiness that he himself absorbed from his teachers… Masses of Jews streamed to him so as to receive his blessing.

The settlement of the Land of Israel occupied an important place in his program of leadership... He established a society whose mission was to purchase tracts of land in Israel for the purpose settling devout Jews there…

In his final years, Rabbi Yosef Tzvi moved from Ostrowiec to Grochow, outside of Warsaw. He left this world for the next on Simchat Torah 1914.


Tranlator's Footnote

  1. The translation of pp. 62-3 concerning the founder of the Lipsker dynasty, R. Yehudah Leibish Pesach Frimer, has been left out, as it was his son, R. Yerachmiel, who settled and served in Ostrowiec. Return

 

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