Rabbi Binyamin was famous in town for his great scholarship and his good deeds. His piety took precedence over his wisdom. He was a descendant of Rabbenu Meshulam Igra, of the Bet Hadash [Rabbi Yoel Mirkes], and of other famous scholars.
He lived in Oshpitzin for many years, but declined to accept the post of Chief Rabbi that was offered him, just as he demurred similar proposals from other places. He was extremely modest and pious, and very gracious to all. He was most careful not to offend anyone, and would caution his family and those close to him to behave likewise.
His wife was the family's breadwinner. She ran a small grocery store and supplemented their income by roasting and grinding coffee beans, a task which was labor intensive for little return.
Their modest and poor home was always open to the needy, and many came, because the man was greatly admired so that many students would come to hear his Torah lectures, or would come for his advice and good counsel.
He constantly studied Torah, day and night. He raised his sons in Oshpitzin and trained many students.
When his brother, the Rabbi Gaon R Ze'ev of Jaworzno, passed away, many of the Torah Great influenced him to take his elder brother's place and to serve as the Av Besdin of Jaworzno. After much hesitation he accepted the yoke of the rabbinate there and served in the post until his death.
When Rabbi Binyamin died, Oshpitzin mourned him as one of its good and illustrious sons. Before his death, Rabbi Binyamin requested that no eulogies be made for him but rather that a request for forgiveness be made in his name from all if he had inadvertently or unknowingly offended them. This last wish was carried out by his disciples, R Shmuel Schnitzer the Mohel, by R Eliezer Getreider, and R Wolwele Wachskerz, as they went from house to house asking for forgiveness in their Rabbi's behalf.
The man was great, indeed. May his memory be a blessing!
Rabbi Mordechai Ben Naftali Rotenberg was born in Krakow in 5632 . In his youth he studied under the first Admor of Bobowa, Rabbi R Shlomo Halberstam, when the latter was serving as the Rabbi of Wisnicz. He was one of the outstanding students in the Yeshiva. He later went on to study in the Hungarian Yeshives, in Klein Wardein [Kisvarad] with the author of Arugas Habosem, in Sziget, and in Tselem [euphemism for Keresztur = cross]. The Rabbi of Tselem, R Dovid Friedman took notice of this excellent student and chose him to marry his daughter. After the marriage he appointed him to be a Dayan, and included him in his Besdin.
The fame of Rabbi Rotenberg spread near and far. When the post of Chief Rabbi in Oshpitzin needed to be filled, it was offered to this young Rabbi, who was then serving as a Dayan in a Hungarian town. There was the familiar opposition by supporters of another candidate who actively campaigned for their man to be selected over the young Dayan from Tselem. Rabbi Rotenberg was chosen by a decided majority, but the controversy did not subside since the opposition continued its struggle on behalf of its candidate in keeping with the old Oshpitzin tradition of quarrel and controversy surrounding the Chief Rabbi's post.
Rabbi Rotenberg, realizing that his selection might lead to a long period of strife and unpredictable outcome, and being a man of principle with the courage to battle for the truth, yet equally finding controversy for the sake of baser motivations and senseless hatred unpalatable informed the Oshpitzin Kehilla that he was not prepared to accept the post.
His decision surprised them all and saddened many of his supporters.
The Admor, Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam, who was very devoted to him, would continue
to call him the Oshpitziner Rabbi for a long time thereafter.
While the majority of the Wadowice Jews were Haredim, the Kehilla leadership was of the intelligentsia, led by the Attorneys Dr. Korn and Dr. Daniel, the Pharmacist, Dr. Mintz, among others, who were chosen by the accepted method granting the professionals a much greater representation than their actual numbers. They were influenced by German Haskala and the Berlin Reform Movement. Thus it happened that leading the Kehilla, whose primary task was to provide the religious needs of its members, stood an individual who cared not at all for religion to the point that he had not even circumcised his son, and who aspired to educate the Jews in the spirit of German culture.
To everyone's amazement, Rabbi Rotenberg was chosen to serve in Wadowice with the support of the intelligentsia who hoped to find him to be a suitable Rabbi, who in addition to his great scholarship was also able to preach in German in the style of the Hungarian Rabbis, and who, on the other hand, was clearly a Haredi Rabbi, closely associated the Bobower Rebbe, to whom most of the city's Haredi Hasidic community adhered.
It didn't take long for them to discover their error when they realized that the Rabbi would not countenance any compromises when it came to religious issues and Halacha.
In the summer of 5665 (1908), with the approach of the 60th Anniversary of the Coronation of Kaiser Franz-Josef, the Jews of Wadowice prepared to celebrate the event with a festive ceremony at the Great Synagogue, at which the Rabbi would speak and offer a prayer for the welfare of the Kaiser and his realm. The Kehilla leaders wanted to exploit this auspicious occasion to demonstrate their power and importance in the Kehilla to the ministers and governors. Special seating was installed for the guests, the government officials, changes in tune with their approach were made, and an organ was installed.
When this became known to the Rabbi, he summoned the Kehilla President and demanded that the organ be removed from the synagogue, otherwise, he, the Rabbi, would not participate at the ceremony. The president not only refused, but went on to warn the Rabbi, that if he would not appear to carry out his duty in the synagogue as required, he would be handed over to the authorities for the offense of contempt and desecration of the Kaiser and would demand his dismissal.
It seems, that the Kehilla leaders were confident that the Rabbi was dependent on them and their good favor, that he would not dare to go so far as to persist in his refusal, and would bow to their wishes by changing his mind. To their surprise the Rabbi remained adamant, and despite their pleas and threats did not attend the ceremony. The turmoil grew, and the ceremony was a complete fiasco for the Kehilla leaders. They were embarrassed before the guests, felt ashamed before the Jews of Wadowice and the courage of the young and daring Rabbi. They lodged a complaint with the authorities and the courts against the Rabbi, charging him with sedition against the empire and demanded his removal from the Rabbinate.
In the first instance at the regional court the Rabbi was declared innocent, since the judges understood the motivations of the Rabbi in his opposition to the changes that were made in the synagogue against his wishes and without his knowledge. The leaders of the Kehilla, however, were dissatisfied, since they realized that this defeat was critical and might decide not only the fate of the progressives in Wadowice, but would affect the destiny of all the assimilated in all other locations too. They presented an appeal to the higher court in Lwow and took many measures to gain support in their struggle against the Rabbi. Indeed, here their luck held out. The Rabbi was convicted, reprimanded, and removed from his office until such time that the Supreme Court in Vienna would review the case.
The deliberations in Vienna took a long time. Defending Rabbi R Mordechai Rotenberg in Vienna was R Wolf Pappenheim who advised and guided him. After lengthy and thorough deliberation the Rabbi was acquitted of all charges and awarded the right to resume his Rabbinical post in Wadowice. The Rabbi, however, who had always tried to steer clear of quarrel and conflict, did not want to return there, even having been vindicated. He was meanwhile chosen to become the Av Besdin of the Machzikei Hadas Kehilla in Antwerp and paid no attention to the calls of the Galician Kehillot who suggested that he come and lead their communities.
He lived in Antwerp from Adar 5673  on, and for thirty years peacefully
led his congregation, did much to enhance Torah study, was involved in
education and religious jurisprudence, developed the Yesodei Torah
[schools], founded Yeshives, and was involved in all of the needs of the
community. These were productive years for the Rabbi and for the Kehilla, which
developed and expanded until the rise of the destroyer who exterminated
Europe's Jewry and its communities. This bitter lot did not escape the Rabbi
and his family. All of the efforts made by the Rabbi's daughter, Mrs. Rechel
Sternbach of Switzerland, who did so much in the Va'ad Hatzala
[Rescue Committee] to save Jews, were of no avail in regards to her father and
family. They perished in 5704 , HYD.
(The Admor of Oshpitzin)
Rabbi R Elazar Halevi Rosenfeld was born on the 10th of Nissan, 5622 [April 10, 1862] in Kaminka. His father was R Yehoshua, the Av Besdin and Admor of Kaminka, the son of Rabbi R Sholem, the Av Besdin of Jaryczow and Kaminka.
The first Admor of Kaminka, Rabbi Sholem, was a mighty prodigy in his youth, and it is told that the Gaon, author of Yeshuos Yakov, said of him that in the four corners of the brain of the Kaminker Rabbi resides the entire Torah in one corner the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, in the second all the books of the Poskim, in the third all the books of the Kabbala, and in the fourth all the Midrashim and Aggada, while in the center there is the locus of the Fear of Heaven which illuminates all the corners with its brightness.
The Gaon, R Chaim Halberstam, the author of Divrei Chaim, and the Rabbi R Sholem, were the primary disciples of Rabbi Naftoli of Ropszyce, he, who was the only one of his generation in Godly wisdom (so written on his gravestone). After the demise of Rabbi Naftoli, Rabbi Sholem of Kaminka attached himself to the Admor Rabbi Sholem of Belz, who loved him dearly.
His only son, Rabbi Yehoshua, inherited not only his throne, but also his wonderful temperament, especially his extreme zealousness. Even in Belz and Sacz they did not have as many strictures as in Kaminka.
Rabbi Elazar was educated by his father who watched over him constantly. His father did not permit him even one hour of idleness, and the son was blessed with exalted talents of memory, and comprehension, so that very quickly he outstripped all of his companions in Torah and holiness.
He was married very young to the daughter of the author of Divrei Chaim, who was most exacting concerning the lineage of those who married his daughters.
R Elazar was the sixth son-in-law of the Divrei Chaim. His predecessors were:
The Divrei Chaim was very pleased with this Shidduch. He knew the grandfather of the bridegroom, R Yakov Yosef of Rawa Ruska, to whom he was related, and who was a great scholar, wealthy, and erudite. R Yakov Yosef was a close disciple of Rabbi Sholem of Belz and a close friend of the Admor of Sacz. Whenever they met their delight was truly overwhelming and they would seclude themselves for many hours in true friendship. The Rebbe of Sacz valued him highly for his greatness in Torah, and would always mention their friendship. The friendship was inherited by the son of Rabbi Yakov Yosef, Rabbi Sholem of Kaminka. He, too, like his father, was an outstanding disciple of Rabbi Naftoli of Ropszyce and later of Rabbi Sholem of Belz, and a true friend of the Admor of Sacz, who wrote to him Beloved of my soul, and heart's desire. They also would enjoy their Torah repartee. Rabbi Sholem would travel often to Sacz and the author of Divrei Chaim was extremely delighted with him and greatly respected him. Rabbi Sholem died on the 2nd of Cheshvan 5612 , and his son, R Yehoshua of Kaminka, the son-in-law of Rabbi Shmuel Zvi of Druszkopol, the brother-in-law of Rabbi Sholem of Belz, took his place. Rabbi Yehoshua passed away on the 17th of Cheshvan 5657 , and his son, Rabbi Sholem, took his place after his marriage.
After marrying in 5638, Rabbi Elazar was supported by his brother-in-law, Rabbi Yitzchak Tuvia, the guardian of the sons of the Divrei Chaim from his third marriage. ([Rabbi Yitzchak Tuvia's] wife, the Rebbetzin Nechama, was the eldest daughter [of the Divrei Chaim]. A year later he moved to the home of his brother-in-law, R Shlomo, in Wisnicz, where he completed his studies.
He became the Rabbi of Bochnia, and later settled in Oshpitzin as the Admor. The townsmen and people from surrounding areas visited him frequently to enjoy his words of Torah. Rabbi Elazar sat in his Bes Medrish, studying and teaching, and would disseminate the Hasidic teachings to the many comers.
He became renowned and was loved and respected by the city residents coming
from all the Hasidic strains. Many of the Oshpitzin residents would stream to
his Bes Medrish on the Sabbath to listen to his prayers, which issued from his
Continuing the Tradition
Rabbi Elazar never left the confines of Hasidism and the Service of the Lord. In all of his life he had never engaged in business or participated in secular life. His income was very sparse and at times he actually suffered from want. It never occurred to him to make any move towards bettering his material circumstances. When people brought him Pidyonos it was fine, and if they didn't it didn't matter to Rabbi Elazar at all.
He did not often travel to the regional towns where so many of the Sondzer [Sacz] Hasidim and admirers of the Divrei Chaim congregated which would have brought him substantial income and would have bettered his financial status.
The little he had, he distributed for charity and would dispense his funds to anyone asking for them. His father-in-law, the Rebbe of Sacz was also a paragon in giving charity and would borrow money in order to dispense charity. Rabbi Elazar did not have the prospects of his father-in-law because his income was meager, but the powerful penchant to be inordinately charitable he did inherit from him.
Whatever Rabbi Elazar had heard from or in the name of his father-in-law, the
Divrei Chaim, he adopted completely. In his youth and early
adulthood he neglected his physical well being for the Service of God, with
enthusiasm and self-sacrifice. He was a true servant of the Lord and risked his
well being to devotedly and sacrificially observe every Mitzvah without taking
cognizance of his state of health or his physical weakness. He persisted in
this to his very last day.
His Sons and Daughters
He had three sons and five daughters. He trained them all in the purity of the customs of Sacz and Kaminka. He was unwilling to relinquish the slightest of these ways of his ancestors.
His sons were: The eldest, Rabbi Alexander Chaim (the son-in-law of Rabbi Yitzchak Tuvia of Sacz); the second, R Shulem Ruven (the son-in-law of his uncle, the Rabbi R Shulem the second of Kaminka, who had died young, and it was Rabbi Elazar who educated the orphans); the third, Rabbi Naftoli Shmuel Zvi (the son-in-law of Rabbi R Shmuel Shmelke Frankel-Thumim of Wieliczka).
His daughters were: The Rebbetzin Sheindel, the wife of Rabbi R Arye Leibush
Rosenfeld of Moszcziska [?]; the Rebbetzin Rachil Dvoire, the wife of the Rabbi
R Yoine Baron from Jaslo; the Rebbetzin Chane Golde, the wife of Rabbi R
Osher Horwitz from Alpin [?]; the Rebbetzin Chaye Sure, the wife of Rabbi R
Yakov Zvi Halberstam from Sucha; the Rebbetzin Malke, the wife of Rabbi R
Dovid Halberstam, the Admor of Trzebinia.
His Journey to Eretz Yisrael
Rabbi Elazar had yearned all his life to go up to Zion, and in his later years was able to realize his powerful aspiration arriving there on the 15th of Menachem Av 5696 [Aug. 4, 1936]. He first settled in Safed, the city of the Kabbalists, but did not stay there long, going up to Jerusalem, the Holy City, where he set up his Bes Medrish near the Meah She'arim neighborhood. He rented a very modest apartment and lived a life of great penury. Gathering around him were the Hasidim of the House of Sacz and the admirers of the House of Kaminka in Eretz Yisrael.
His frailty increased in those years and walking was difficult for him. Nevertheless, Rabbi Elazar continued his holy work. He would pray with extraordinary enthusiasm and even went to the Western Wall occasionally in order there to pray at the remainder relic of our glorious Temple, making his way there with great devotion, leaning on the arms of his Hasidim.
Letters from many people in the towns of West Galicia came to him, pleading that the Tzadik living in Jerusalem, the Holy City, should pray and intercede for them at the holy places. Also from Jerusalem itself, residents would come to the Rebbe from Oshpitzin for a blessing, or for counsel.
Rabbi Elazar experienced a life of pain and distress in Jerusalem. He suffered
pain and illness, making do with very little sustenance. In Jerusalem, as in
the land he came from, he made no attempt to better his economic circumstances,
in spite of his age and the illness which weakened his body and his tolerance
His Return to Poland
His illness worsened, and in the wake of the strenuous and relentless demands of his family he agreed to go down to Poland for a time, until he would recover and recuperate so as to return to Jerusalem. In 5699 , Rabbi Elazar returned to Galicia.
After it was conquered by the German armed forces it was no longer possible to leave the land and return to Jerusalem. It seemed that Divine Providence had decreed that Rabbi Elazar, who had lived his entire life in purity and holiness in the midst of his brethren and his many admirers, should be afflicted together with them in the evil days and perish with them in the Shoah.
A reliable person, who was close to the Rebbe of Oshpitzin during that period,
told me the following:
Once, in the ghetto, when the Germans were celebrating Hitler's birthday [April 20] by many acts of murder and depredations against the Jews, someone reported this to the elderly Rebbe of Oshpitzin, who had then almost reached his eightieth year. On hearing that it was the birthday of that evil man, Rabbi Elazar reflected somewhat and said thus: Precisely on this day more than fifty years ago [April 20, 1889]* , something very amazing happened. It was a Thursday, in the middle of the night, in Sieniawa. He, Rabbi Elazar, was then sitting in the Bes Medrish when suddenly his brother-in-law, the Admor of Sieniewa, opened the door and turned to those sitting in the Bes Medrish:The Admor, Rabbi Elazar died in the Chrzanow Ghetto on the 20th of Menachem Av 5702 [Aug. 3, 1942] and was given a Jewish burial.
– Say T'hilim [Psalms], because this hour an evil tyrant was born in Austria, who, should he grow up will become a greater villain than Haman It is necessary to beseech the Holy One, Blessed be He, that he have a downfall before he grows up
The aged Rebbe concluded his words: We see the power of his pure vision and the long-range gaze of the Admor of Sieniewa.
Uri Hanish [?]
During the Russian occupation in the First World War, the Admor of Sassow, R Shloime'le, together with his extended family and the Hasidim from his court, lived for a time in Lwow and later on in Oshpitzin, turning the city into a center of Sassower Hasidim. Although he stayed in Oshpitzin for only a short period, he managed to attract many Hasidim and restore the esteem in which he had been held so that the appeals to him on various matters, counsel, help, and his resourcefulness, was reestablished as in earlier times in Sassow.
Subsequent to the Austro-Serbian conflict, the First World War broke out in 1914 in a most strange and wondrous fashion. On July 25, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and in the first days of August the cannons were already thundering, as were the European countries and peoples, beginning their conflict and slaughter. Czarist Russia opened a major offensive against Austria and shortly thereafter conquered Bukovina and all its territories as far as the Carpathian Mountains, as well as Galicia as far as the outskirts of Krakow, where they were halted, without advancing towards Oshpitzin.
The Jewish populace of the cities and towns of Galicia were the first sacrifices to the Moloch of the War. With the barbarity of beasts of prey, the wild Cossacks and Cherkassians spilled Jewish blood. They sowed destruction and doom in every place they set their feet and all of the Kehillot in their path suffered the extreme measure of depredation. Wherever Jews lived there were Pogroms of various scopes and the cemeteries filled up with mass graves. On Yom Kippur Eve 5674  in Lwow, the capital of Galicia, forty Jews were murdered in riots there. Galicia became a terrorized area for the Jewish population. The number of Jews in Galicia and Bukovina was about one million at that time. Nearly half of them took the preventive measure of flight from their homes to the valleys of the Austrian Empire in advance of the Russian conquest, so that about one half million Jews became refugees in Bohemia, Hungary, and especially in Vienna, the Capital of Austria which absorbed around 250,000 of them.
The Rebbe, R Shloime'le from Sassow did not want to got to Austria where it was rare to find a religious and observant Jew, and he established residence in Lwow. After the riotous Russian soldiers neared Lwow as well, he decided to continue his trek and go to the western edge of Galicia, close to the border of Prussia which was safer, and he found that Oshpitzin the domicile of Rabbi R Berish Frommer and Rabbi Moshe Yakov Scharf was most suitable for him. Indeed, the Russians advanced as far as the outskirts of Krakow but had not been able to continue any further. Oshpitzin had not been directly affected by Russian depredations, though indirectly a stream of refugees had also reached there. The refugee problems in all its severity and terrible consequences was evident. This was a tragic episode, which should be described and included in the history of Jewish suffering. The coming of R Shloime'le had a calming influence in Oshpitzin as did the reestablishment of his court there. Only after the war came to an end did he remove once more to Lwow. He pleaded that his people find a dwelling for him there, but died shortly after he moved. He was buried next to the grave of his close friend, the Gaon Rabbi Yitzchok Shmelkes, who had preceded him 13 years earlier, on the Eve of Yom Kippur 5666 [Oct. 8, 1905]. Rabbi Shloime'le died on 12 Adar II, 5679 [March 14, 1919], and it was said of the two who had an unparalleled friendship: In life and in death they were not parted.
R Shloime'le who was raised in the home of his grandfather, Rabbi Sholem of Belz, and ordained a Rabbi in 5644 , also adopted his path in Hasidism. He used to tell that his traditional custom as received from his grandfather: When one comes from afar salvation is near. So too, it was: On the Sabbaths and Festivals the Hasidim who lived nearby would come to him, but all of the weekdays multitudes of people from far off would stream to him, some heavyhearted and full of concerns, some afflicted with ailments, and some yearning for advice and instruction. All of them flocked to his court. A great proportion of the visitors were from Hungary whose economic circumstances were better than those of the Jews of Galicia. The visitors were particularly numerous on the special Sabbaths of the Parshiot [the six week period before Passover], and especially on Parshat Hachodesh [two weeks before the festival]. He was the Rebbe of the masses.
He had also learned the way of treating his adherents from Rabbi Sholem. He had a remarkable memory, and whoever would come a second time would discover that the Rebbe remembered his name, his mother's name, and every detail mentioned in the Kvittel he had written at his first visit. The manner in which he related to the visiting groups was also marvelous. Sometimes he would dismiss them with a blessing and a suggestion. It also happened that he would refer them for further treatment to R Avromtche, his first Gabbai, for matters pertaining to business, Shidduchim, or other concerns. Through the process of bringing two people together to form a partnership they were both given a solution. Factories were established as a result of bringing together a wealthy person with one who had initiative and acumen. Businesses were saved from bankruptcy after accepting a suggested partner who succeeded through his expertise to extract the enterprise from its stagnation. Many found themselves prospering as a result of the intervention at the Rebbe's court. There were many who made Shidduchim at the court. A girl from a fine family without a dowry, a Bochur who was a Talmid Chacham and in need of the support of a rich home in order to be enabled to achieve a Rabbinical post, a Hasidic Bocher who had Haskalah leanings and needed a progressive home, but still traditional all of these the Rebbe was able to mesh. There were those who believed that the Rebbe had performed a miracle in their behalf and attributed it to his intelligence and his knowledge of the ways of the world.
R Shloime'le's approach to life, as was that of his grandfather-mentor, R Sholem of Belz, was distinguished in its candidness. In all of his deeds and sayings, in the way he explained the miracles and wonders he performed there was the mark of simplicity, a self explanatory matter. After each event, which stirred up and astonished all observers in amazement of his wondrous powers, he would make a comment accompanied by a wide smile. His words were said slowly, deep-voiced and decisively. His sayings were convincing, and in their simplicity clearly understood by all the people. He would usually deliver them before the Shacharit Prayers while preparing to don the Talith. In lively brevity he would comment on a word or two of the text and display his entire approach to life.
Every Hasidic court had its exceptional characteristics and unique approach. The Sassower Hasidim were infused with a spirit of modesty and inquiry. Along with their Torah learning for its own sake they toiled to plumb the unwritten depths and secrets only hinted at in the texts. The Yoshvim [regulars at the court], who occupied the Bes Medrish of the Rebbe, were one and all exceptional Talmidei Chachomim and their modesty bordered on total self-effacement. Their entire being was bound up in not only in and thou shalt study it day and night, but to learn and to teach, i.e., to reveal those Torah secrets they had uncovered to others as well. They were the ones who created the spiritual atmosphere of the court. This method of studying in teams they had received from their Rebbe, R Shlome'le, who would explain the verses Thou shalt not make thee a graven image [Pessel] (Ex. 20,4), Hew [Pessol] thee two tablets of stone like unto the first (ibid 37), in this way: The word thee denotes, that when your I precedes the Pessel [hewn item] it is an abomination. When, however, you combine the letters so that they precede the word thee Hew thee this is of the highest sanctity. Likewise, every act, which is done for its own sake, including study, needs to be for the benefit of your fellow, in partnership, in brotherhood. Those who would come for a visit to the Rebbe would also visit the Bes Medrish, to listen and absorb a kind of provision for the road, the voice of Torah and to hear the latest novella of the Rebbe from the Yoshvim. The townsmen were accustomed to turn over their sons who had completed their Cheder studies to one of the Yoshvim for supervision in the Bes Medrish as they continued their studies there.
Throughout the entire year R Shloime'le would pray in the large Bes Medrish in his home, but on the High Holidays, when the entire town was transformed, the traffic increased. Hasidim from near and far congregated, and there were those who had come for the first Slichos [Penitential prayers beginning the Saturday night before Rosh Hashana] and would remain until after Yom Kippur. Others came the day before Rosh Hashana, returned the day after, and would come back for Yom Kippur. On Hoshana Rabba, the nearby Hasidim would gather and after the end of the service would go home to celebrate the holiday with their families. The Rebbe would urge them on and encourage them to rush home to their families, and would only rarely permit any of them to celebrate the holiday with him, rather than the family. On the High Holidays, the Hasidim filled the lodging houses to overflowing, and the private homes who took in the many guests. The procession from the Rebbe's home to the Great Synagogue, where he prayed for the High Holidays was accompanied with enthusiastic song. During those days the Hasidim garnered strength and vigor to enable them to overcome the vagaries of life in the upcoming year. A special tune, which is known to this day by the survivors, was sung by R Shloime'le on the evening after Yom Kippur, for Hamavdil. This was a captivating melody. Immediately afterwards the very walls shook as the Hasidim danced and sang Gmar Tov. Hunger was forgotten, fatigue dissipated, and all transcended their bodily needs as they greeted the new year with joy and gladness. Their excitement and enthusiasm took over. The dances continued until midnight, and circle upon circle ringed the Rebbe's Gabboim who stood in awe and amazement of their great joy and delight. Their mood was exalted and inspired them with renewed hopes and high spirits.
There were many who traveled very far to come to R Shloime'le, even from overseas. His fame as a wonder-worker and wise counselor had reached all the centers of the Diaspora. Jews even came from China and Japan to knock on his doors, and they were not necessarily Hasidim. University students came for a blessing before their final exams. Assimilated Jews from the upper classes stood before him in fear and trembling as they requested a blessing on their children's marriages. The townsmen had become accustomed to the visits of a gentile General or Poritz who came for advice or to request his blessing.
Anyone entering R Shloime'le's Bes Medrish was extremely impressed by the artistic drawings that decorated this sanctuary. The first surprise was the Shivisi [a verse reminding all that they were in the presence of the Almighty] which spanned the entire height of the wall on the right of the Holy Ark the place where the Rebbe regularly sat. The ceiling and walls were covered with drawings in oil paint, including the moon and stars, the symbols of the twelve tribes, a harp, a violin, cymbals and drum, trumpet, and all kinds of other musical instruments. Underneath them all the verse Praise Him with harp and violin... Jewish and gentile artists came at every opportunity to see this wonder with their own eyes, which had stood for decades without fading, similar to the artistic masterpieces of the highest order. Professional art critics with highly developed expertise in the treasures of this art form often wrote learned articles full of praise for the paintings that decorated the Bes Medrish. Intellectuals would come for an inspirational visit to this wonderful museum. Who planned all of this? Who had drawn these marvels? They had not been famous artists, nor renowned masters with diplomas, but only a simple, shy, and modest Jew, one of that wonderful group of characters who appeared in the little towns and disseminated their craftsmanship without expecting or getting any publicity. They appeared quietly, as if by chance, lived their meager and humble lives, and made off silently and humbly.
R Shloime'le had a number of standard remedies which he used to heal the sick that turned to him. Among them were: A well worn coin that he would give the patient and order him to place it into a cloth pocket to wear around his neck, olive oil, sugar, and a handkerchief. These items were sold in town in large quantities, so much so that several families had a good income from their sale. Their use often consternated doctors, as they came to learn that these insignificant means brought about a cure. The consternation was great, and who knows if they were not beset by doubts in the efficacy of their medical science, in their experience, and medications. In the waiting room, before the Rebbe's chamber, where for most of the day crowds were pushing, tables were laden with the following merchandise: Bottles of oil, packets of sugar, and handkerchiefs. The owners of this merchandise made a good profit and passersby would contemplate the wondrous ways of God, in that these items which elsewhere were so insignificant, had via the Rebbe's power turned into magical potions.
There was a custom in the Rebbe's house to arise early on Thursdays in the weeks of Shovevi'm [The six weeks beginning with the Torah reading of Exodus] at 4 am and to complete the entire book of Psalms in unison with the Rebbe, an important means of pouring out one's soul and uplifting of the spirit. In their great faith the parents made efforts to involve their young sons in this early service, especially those who were nearing Bar Mitzvah. It wasn't a trifling thing to complete the Psalms together with the Rebbe. It was an experience, a dependable source for instilling faith and soul-preparation of the young in the paths of righteousness. The Rebbe's ardor, his outpouring when he said the meditations before and after the Psalms, indubitably led to a profoundly deep-rooted faith in the hearts of the adults, and even more so in the young.
There were three Gabbaim who held sway over the court each of whom had a unique function: R Yakov was the expert in the ways of the world, knew how to deal with Maskilim, spoke both German and Polish, and thus served as the translator for the gentile visitors. R Leib'ele was the great Talmid Chacham and functioned as the final authority with respect to Rabbis, Torah matters, and Responsa that were brought to the Rebbe. R Avrom'tche was the secretary. All of the letters written to the Rebbe from all parts of the world were given to him and he answered them in the Rebbe's name and would sign them as Meshamesh Bakodesh [Serving the sacred]. Only letters to a select few would be signed in the Rebbe's own hand. R Avrom'tche was also in charge of all outside matters.
With the beginning of the month of Nissan, it was the Rebbe's custom to bid the guests farewell and send them home to their families. This was also true for the regular Yoshvim whom he would send home, and only those without family were permitted to remain in the court for the Passover Holidays. Among those close to the Rebbe were some extraordinary characters quite different and unusual personalities. One of these families was that of R Leib'ele Weinrib, one of the three Gabboim of R Shlome'le.
He was small of stature, haggard and withdrawn, with a thick beard covering almost all of his face, and a glance expressing intelligence, and in spite of all the foregoing, always smiling. Anyone with whom he came into contact for whatever reason, felt that R Leib'ele glance penetrated to the very depths of his soul. He had a pleasant manner and spoke with care. He was a real Talmid Chacham, expert in Halacha and Kabbala. He fulfilled the role of a sort of Education Minister in the Rebbe's court. When the Kvittlach were read he would stand near the Rebbe's desk and because of his amazing memory was able to supply explanations and additional details about the requests of those who wrote them. It was also his task to examine the knowledge of the Bachurim who had been proposed as bridegrooms for the daughters of the court. The authors of manuscripts who wanted to present their work to the Rebbe for his imprimatur prior to publication were directed to R Leib'ele for his judgment. If he found them worthy he would write the imprimatur and present it to R Shloime'le for his signature.
He was upright in all his ways and beloved by all. The townsmen believed with utter assurance that if in their haste on business matters they happened to meet R Leib'ele their errand would be crowned with success. On top of all of the preceding, R Leib'ele was blessed with a pleasant voice. During Shaleshudes at the Rebbe's table, R Leib'ele would sing the Dror Yikra in his penetrating and soul-shaking voice, to the point where one actually saw the Celestial Angels. R Leib'ele reached old age and left behind two sons, both outstanding Talmidei Chachamim: R Chaim Ze'ev and R Zalman. This entire family was exterminated by the Nazis and all that remains of them is their blessed memory in the hearts of the townsmen who survived.
R Shloime'le had two sons and three daughters. His son-in-law, R
Elazar Ruven Ben Harav R Menachem Mendel of Glogow, was a musician who
knew how to read music and composed melodies (died in New York on the 15th
of Teveth 5692  at the age of 70); his second son-in-law, R Michel
Halperin, nicknamed the Tall One, was the son of the Rabbi R
Leibish of Brzezany, from the family of the Magid of Zloczow. He was erudite
and clever, and his witticisms were soon repeated by all who heard of them. He
died young and left behind a son, R Zvi Hirsh living in New York, the
spiritual leader of the Sassover Hasidim there. His third son-in-law was
R Avrohom Mordechai Sholem Taub, the son of Rabbi R Yehuda Zvi of
Rozdol. He was an outstanding scholar and pleasant mannered, a praiseworthy
Ba'al Tfilah, and a wonderful, captivating speaker, but he died prematurely of
cancer in 5697 . R Shloime'le's eldest son was R Yosef Dovid,
who died young and was buried in the Sassover cemetery. He left behind a son
and daughter, and these orphans were raised in their grandfather's home. The
second son was R Michel'e, and he, too, did not live long and died at
about 50 years of age, a short time after his father died, and left behind two
sons and a daughter.
(The last Chief Rabbi of Oshpitzin)
Rabbi R Eliyahu Bombach was one of the important Rabbis and Torah Notables in West Galicia in the generation preceding the Shoah. He was the last Rabbi of Oshpitzin, which had been decreed to serve as the center of the enclosures of Hell of the extermination camp that came to be the infamous Auschwitz.
Oshpitzin's Rabbi stemmed from the highest levels of Yichus, a worthy scion of a dynasty of Rabbis great in Torah and piety, giants of spirit and accomplishment. His father, Rabbi Yehoshua Pinchas, was considered a foremost Gaon and one of the main Poskim [Rabbinical Decider] consulted in the land, the author of a wonderful book of Responsa entitled Ohel Yehoshua and was the Rabbi of the Drohobycz Kehilla. In his latter days, he was a Rabbi and Av Besdin in Oshpitzin. His grandfather, R Yosef Bombach of Jaworow was a Torah Great of whom it could be said that in him there was Torah and greatness all in one. The family belonged to the descendants of the Tzadik Rabbi Eliyahu of Drohobycz, author of Ezor Eliyahu, one of the wonder-workers of earlier generations.
Rabbi Eliyahu was born on the second day of the New Month of Cheshvan in 5644 [Nov. 1, 1883] in Drohobycz. The day of his birth marked a glorious new period in the life of the family because the child was a prodigy, a rare intellect with a phenomenal, unparalleled memory. Family acquaintances report that when barely a few months old he was able to speak and say whole sentences. A short time later and he was already learning Torah with a special tutor hired for that purpose. When he was six or seven years old he began to attend his father's classes and participate in them, along with the regular group of select students. The young lad was the delight of all the Torah sages in town. They all loved to discuss Torah and Halacha with him, and eventually they were somewhat reluctant to do so fearing that he would best them with his great acumen and put the scholars of the town to shame.
The prowess of the child prodigy spread far afield. His fame reached a pinnacle on the day he became Bar Mitzvah. At the meal which was arranged with great splendor in his father's home, he held forth in Halacha before all of the city's prominent people, among them some of the Gaonim of Galicia including Rabbi Yitzchok Leib Soifer, the son of the K'sav Soifer and the father-in-law of Rabbi Akiva Soifer, the Rabbi of Presburg [Bratislava]. His didactic discourse covered with rare incisiveness and expertise 26 enigmatic segments of complex issues that ranged over the entire Talmud and Poskim, amazing all present. This tour-de-force became the talk of the day in Oshpitzin and surroundings.
The reverberations made their way throughout Galicia. The Bar Mitzvah celebrant himself wrote out his lecture and many turned to his father with the request that this magnificent dissertation by his son be published. He hesitated and sought the advice of his father, Rabbi Yosef of Jaworow, who determined that it should be printed. When the book, entitled Ma'ane Eliyahu, i.e., as discoursed by the wise, incisive, precocious child Eliyahu...came off the presses it made a mighty impression in the Rabbinic world and many predicted great things for the new shining star that had appeared in the firmament of the Torah world. His father, Rabbi R Yehoshua Pinchos, writes in his imprimatur to the book that although I know that those who are jealous of Eliyahu will claim that Eliyahu sits and declaims, but all really know that he draws [water = Torah] and irrigates his father's Torah, i.e., Pinchos is Eliyahu [a play on the Midrash claiming that Pinchas was Eliyahu], but with God's help, those who know and are familiar with my intelligent son will bear witness that he is not one of those who would adorn himself in the Talith of another and that those things he has received from others he attributes to them. Through the grace of God he has innovated much in Talmud and Codes and these were said first on the day of his joy... His father, the Gaon, was obliged to deflect unwarranted criticism from his brilliant son, for in spite of the popular knowledge that he was an extraordinary, brilliant student, there were still many who were not able to believe that it was, indeed, he who had composed the dissertation and made those innovations, which in their breadth and originality matched those of a Rabbi who had long ago ascended to the higher level of Torah scholarship.
Indeed, this dissertation, the only one of his essays which saw the light of
print, was not the only essay that Rabbi Eliyahu produced in his youth. His
novella flowed like a gushing fountain, and from the day he began to study
Gemara with Tosfos not a day passed that he did not innovate some fresh
insight into Halacha. He would write them down to remember and keep, although
he didn't initially intend to publish them. His writings are outstanding in the
exemplary order with which he was gifted. His orderly life was expressed in his
manner, his speech, his acts, and even his thought processes. He was an orderly
thinker, and thus he was able to compose well-organized essays
marvelously arranged in the style of Torah works, in a systematic fashion.
Outstanding among them was his work on the Tractate of Makos which he edited
for many years and was ready for publication, but then suddenly came the Shoah.
When yet quite young his father betrothed him to the daughter of the Admor Rabbi Yakov Moshe Saffrin [?] of Komarno, the son of the Rebbe, R Eliezer Zvi and the grandson of the founder of the Komarno dynasty, Rabbi Yitzcho Eizik, the author of Heichal Brocho and Zohar Chai, who was one of the greatest and most famous of the Tzadikim of his generation. When Rabbi Eliyahu Bombach married, he left Drohobycz for Komarno, to be at the court of his father-in-law, the Admor. The latter had chosen him to marry his daughter because of his greatness in Torah and his superior character. There he continued his higher studies and devoted service to God. His father-in-law, the Admor, showed him affection and would often sing his praises, bestowing great honor befitting royalty in the presence of all of his Hasidim, and they too came to love him dearly. Many of them would come to Komarno especially to listen to the discourses of the Rebbe's son-in-law who would graciously greet them. He would not display his genius but would converse with any one of them. There were those who would attempt to stand near him while he prayed, as his prayer was fervid. About his prayers they said that there was more sweetness than animation in them. Every word he uttered had its unique expression, polished with grace and permeated with longing and yearning, like that of a son seeking to be indulged by his father in heaven or a child clinging to his mother's bosom. He had great melodic talents. The silvery notes that flowed from his throat were both heartily sweet and melodious, and when he gave full vent to his voice the very thresholds of the Bes Hamedrish moved to and fro.
After having spent several years under the wings of his father-in-law, the
Admor, R Eliyahu went out to serve in the Rabbinate in the nearby Kety
Kehilla, near Bilice, a quiet Kehilla enshrouded in nobility, populated by
pious Jews who cherished Torah, who loved their young Rabbi and respected him
greatly. Following the sudden death of his father, R Yehoshua Pinchos, he
moved from Kety to Oshpitzin to assume his father's post and was appointed the
Chief-Rabbi of Oshpitzin.
The Chief-Rabbi of Oshpitzin
Oshpitzin was at that time a city replete with Chachamim, Sofrim, Hasidim, and accomplished people. The Chief-Rabbi made great efforts to transform the town into a Torah center. Thanks to his personal charm, his great Torah scholarship, and his prominence, many talented youths were attracted to his Bes Medrish to hear his teaching. He established a great Yeshiva [upper level] in town, daily delivered intense Halachic lectures and educated Rabbis and Torah Scholars par excellence in whom he imprinted his personality and methodology.
Thus, the city of Oshpitzin became a center of Torah. There were in Galicia a number of great centers where Jewish life and Torah flourished. In Oshpitzin such a center was instituted under the direction and leadership of Rabbi R Eliyahu Bombach.
The townsmen loved him boundlessly. He had a most imposing appearance. His long beard and silken frock were impressive. The wisdom of a man is reflected in his countenance said the wisest of men [Solomon], and his aphorism was personified in his likeness. Even non-Jews would stand up in his presence in admiration.
Like his townsmen, many of his acquaintances and admirers in nearby towns deeply respected him. All the elite of the Torah and Hasidic world of Galicia attested to his greatness, not only in Torah but his piety and exemplary traits. The rabbis of many cities would send him their questions on Halacha and request his opinion. He was, however, one of those who was reluctant to break new ground in Halacha, and even feared for his life, saying that his father who often had to make practical decisions in Halacha did not live long. This was in consonance with the dictum of the Sages, The Rabbinate buries its own, i.e., he who serves in it is in a quandary all his life due to the constant concern as to whether he has, perhaps, not made an erroneous [halachic] ruling and thus forfeited his life. He would, accordingly, use every opportunity presented to him to avoid making rulings on practical Halachic questions. There were, however, many instances when he was obliged to respond and decide on complex Halachic issues where no solution had been found by the very best and greatest.
All his life Rabbi R Eliyahu conducted himself in time-honored Hasidic fashion, was subordinate to the Admorim of the Komarno Dynasty and submissive to the current Admor of the court. When the Admor, Rabbi Yakov Moshe died, he continued to travel to his son, his brother-in-law, the Admor Rabbi Sholem Saffrin. A marriage additionally tied them together. The Admor's son, who succeeded him, the Admor Rabbi Boruch, the last of the Admorim of the House of Komarno married the daughter of R Eliyahu Bombach. Typically, when his son-in-law was appointed the Admor of Komarno, the Chief-Rabbi of Oshpitzin continued his journeys to Komarno and would pay homage to his son-in-law like any other Hasid. Consistently, three times a year he would make the trip to Komarno.
His son-in-law, the Admor Rabbi Boruch, would publicly heap honors on him, and he would invite him to lead the Mussaf services. R Eliyahu, though, would comport himself like any other Hasid and relinquish all such honors. R Eliyahu was not concerned with his high status, that of one of the greatest Galician Rabbis, and as the son-in-law of the old Admor, the grandfather of the present Admor, and was one of the admirers of the current Tzadik, his son-in-law. His behavior was exemplary and a symbol for all the Komarno Hasidim, a shining example of the level to which a true servant of God and a loyal Hasid in all his ways could aspire.
In addition to his daughter, the wife of the Admor, Rabbi Boruch of Komarno,
R Eliyahu had four sons and two more daughters. The sons, Yosef and
Yitzchok Eizik were unmarried. Yosef perished together with his father, and
Eizik was sent to a work camp from which he never returned. His son R
Shmuel, the son-in-law of the Admor of Zaloszyce in Krakow, served as a Rabbi
in one of the Oshpitzin suburbs, and later became the Admor in Bedzin, Poland.
One of his daughters was married to R Shmelke, the son of Rabbi R
Alter of Stary Nowy [?], and the other was married to the young Rabbi of
Blazowa. All of them perished in the Shoah.
R Eliyahu was decreed to drink from the cup of poison to its very dregs. He, himself, was obliged to see the affliction of his Kehilla and people. When the Nazis specifically selected Oshpitzin out of the hundreds of towns as a suitable location for the crematoria, where hundreds of thousands of martyred Jews from all parts of Poland and Europe were burned at the stake, he fled to Sosnowice. Shortly thereafter he was sent back to the place where he and his father, the Gaon, had served so gloriously. On his last journey from Sosnowice to Auschwitz he encouraged the Jews with whom he traveled. Several times he called out in a loud voice: Shema Yisrael, H' E', H' Echad. On Lag Ba'omer 5703 [May 23 1943] his soul departed in purity in Sanctification of God.
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