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[Page 37]

On the Writers of Przemysl[i]

by D.N.

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Rabbi Asher Anshel the son of Reb Yitzchak

Rabbi Asher Anshel, a rabbi in the city of Zaslaw in Wolhyn, was famous because of his book of commentaries, “Measher Shmena Lachmo”. His father and brother built the large Beis Midrash in Przemysl in the year 1701. Rabbi Asher apparently preferred to return to his city without ascending its rabbinical seat, even though the post of rabbi became vacant in 1694 after the death of Rabbi Aryeh Yehuda Leib the “Hassid”. Rabbi Asher was the one who eulogized the deceased in the large Beis Midrash of Przemysl. He does not appear in the list of rabbis of Przemysl, even though someone by that name was recorded as the rabbi of the tailors. His aforementioned book was published in Dessau. In the year 5461 (1701), since it was difficult to publish books of novellae [hidushim, responsa – ed.] in Poland during those days due to the ban of the Council of the Four Lands. He also wrote the book “Avnei Miluim” that was apparently not published, but remained in manuscript.


Rabbi Moshe the son of Reb Yeshayahu Kac

It should be noted that he is not to be confused with Rabbi Moshe the son of Rabbi Avraham, who had been a rabbi in Przemysl; whose book “Mateh Moshe” earned him great acclaim. Rabbi Moshe the son of Reb Yeshaya [of Wengrow (Węgrów) and Vilna (Wilno) – ed.] also published a commentary of the Torah by that name in the year 5478 (1718). His books include “Dvar Moshe” (on the Midrash Rabba), “Heshiv Moshe” (questions and responsa), “Vayaged Moshe” (an explanation on the legends of the Talmud), “Vayichtov Moshe” (a commentary on the Ketuvim / Hagiographa), “Berach Moshe” (an essay on the Torah), and “Brit Mateh Moshe” (a Passover Haggadah with two commentaries based on the simple explanation and Midrashim)[a]. The latter was published in Berlin in the year 5461 (1701) also under the family name Kac–Wengrow which originated in Przemysl. The book “Berach Moshe” was also published with that composite name. In the book “Mateh Moshe” of Rabbi Moshe the son of Yeshayahu Kac, two other of books are mentioned, “Masveh Moshe” (lore and Halacha), and “Pnei Moshe” (legends of the Talmud), but it is not known if they were published. It is also appropriate to note that his book “Yad Moshe”, in which he was referred to as the Head of the Rabbinical Court of Premisla, was apparently a printing error, for prior to coming to Przemysl Rabbi Moshe Kac was indeed the head of the rabbinical court of Miedzyborz [Medzibozh, Medzhibozh, Medzhybizh – ed.], but he was not the head of the rabbinical court of Przemysl, for the name of the head of the rabbinical court of Przemysl was not missing in the chain of heads of the rabbinical court between the years 5461 – 5528 (1701–1768). However this error was the cause of the error of Professor Schorr, who identified Rabbi Moshe the son of Reb Yeshayahu Kac Wengrow with Rabbi Moshe “Met” (the acronym of Marbitzei–Torah – disseminator, spreader, supporter of Torah)[b] the son of Reb Avraham, who was the famous rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of Przemysl in the 16th century and wrote the book “Mateh Moshe”. As opposed to Rabbi Moshe the son of Reb Yeshayahu Kac, the Mateh Moshe wrote only three or four books, whereas Rabbi Moshe the son of Reb Yeshayahu was a prolific writer.


Rabbi Yitzchak Izak the Levi the son of Rabbi Yaakov

He was a ritual slaughterer in the village of Zurawica near Przemysl. He lived a life of poverty, isolation and suffering, and dedicated himself especially to the study of Zohar and prayer. He died in his prime in the year 5543 (1783). Only after his death did it become known that he wrote several books. A legend is told that prior to his death, he summoned people of Przemysl to give over his manuscripts to him. Rabbi Sh. Y. Agnon edited this legend in the year 5721 (1961) – see the book “Emuna Tzadikim”, published in Warsaw in the year 1900[ii].

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From among the books that he authored, we should mention: a) “Raza Mehemna” (commentaries on the Zohar), published for the first time in Lwow in the year 5548 (1788) by the Friedenthal Publishing House, a book considered to being a holy book in the traditional circles of Galicia. b) “Otiot Derabbi Yitzchak” c) An anthology of commentaries d) “Yesod Yitzchak”. The three latter ones were published in Zolkiew – the two former ones in the year 5561 (1801), and the latter in the year 5570 (1810). Hassidic stories relate that Rabbi Yitzchak Izak once met Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, but we cannot assume that he was counted among the Hassidic group in his lifestyle, for he did not possess the joy of Hassidim. After his death he was considered as one of the 36 Tzadikim.


About Rabbi Shabtai Sofer of Przemysl

(According to Professor Avraham Berliner, Professor David Kaufman, and Reb Yosef Kohen Tzedek.)

Rabbi Shabtai Sofer, who was mentioned by Professor Schorr by the name of Moshe the Grammarian [Mosze Gramatyk in Polish – ed.] – apparently due to an error with respect to his first name – was a native of Przemysl. He became known as a scholar and a writer throughout Poland, and even outside its borders, especially in Czechoslovakia, due to his literary activities. His birth date and death date are not known, but we know some dates from his life. He wrote a poem as an introduction to the important book “Mateh Moshe” of the famous Przemysl rabbi, Rabbi Moshe the son of Avraham “Met”, which was published in 1591. It is also known that he composed the large, 45 stanza Selicha in memory of the martyr Reb Moshe Szmukler who was burned in Przemysl in the wake of the religious libel of the year 1630[iii]

However, the major literary activity of Rabbi Shabtai Sofer was not expressed in the writings of Selichot or poems as introductions to books but rather in scientific research according to the methodologies of the times. These were research works into the theory of grammar, and glosses on the works of the great grammarians Rabbi Moshe and Rabbi David Kimchi (the RaDaK). His glosses were accepted by the scholars of Prague who used them in their works.

In addition to this, Rabbi Shabtai dedicated himself to research into the version of prayers of prayer books, especially in the Siddur (prayer book) that was in common use in Poland, in order to determine the errors and inconsistencies that crept into it throughout the generations. He inspected every dot and dagesh[1], compared them with old manuscripts, and explained them according to his grammatical theories. His stylistic notes on every letter and dash in the Siddur served as the foundation of his valuable research book. He also authored an emended Siddur with explanations. After the publication of the Siddur, the Council of the Four Lands (in 1617–1619), in a circular to all the communities of Poland, requested to obtain at least one Siddur of Rabbi Shabtai for the entire community, so that the prayer leader could use it to conduct services and according to which all the members of the community would be able to emend their Siddurim. This Siddur won the approbations of the greats of that generation. The Siddur was first published in Prague. Due to its great value, it sold out ten years after its publication. At this time, there are apparently no remnants of that edition. The Siddur was published for a second time in Lublin many years later.

There was no follow–up to this historical research work into the formulas of the Siddur. After the death of Rabbi Shabtai Sofer, there were several unsuccessful attempts to publish his work in Western Europe by those who appreciate it. The book found its way to England in some unknown fashion, and is found in the library of the Rabbinical Seminary of London. At the beginning of the 20th century, Professor Dr. Abraham Berliner, one of the great Jewish scholars of Germany, took it upon himself to publish this manuscript, which consisted of 450 folio pages. Berliner published the book in 1909 in Frankfurt am Main, and added a preface in German, with details on the life and literary activity of Reb Shabtai.

Even before this he was held in esteem by Rabbi Yosef Kohen Tzedek, Professor D. Kaufman, and the great expert in manuscripts, M. Neubauer. From the aforementioned preface of Professor Berliner, we learn, among other things that Rabbi Shabtai, even though he did not occupy himself with deciding halacha, wrote several responsa of questions that came to him on matters of religion. These earned great acclaim. He also published a

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book on religious law and jurisprudence. This man is apparently also worthy of esteem in this area, for Rabbi Meir (the Maharam) of Lublin agreed, despite his own busy schedule with questions and responsa, that he could turn to him in any case of doubt, and he promised to give him an answer.

The relations between Rabbi Shabtai and the great rabbi of Przemysl, the Mateh Moshe, were good. He knew Rabbi Shabtai from his youth and held him in great esteem. According to Professor Berliner, there was a certain case where Shabtai publicly expressed an opinion contrary to that of the Mateh Moshe.

Rabbi Shabtai apparently went blind after the year 1630. 39 years had elapsed from the time he wrote the introduction to the book Mateh Moshe until he composed the Selicha, and then he lost the sight in his eyes in his old age.

Original Footnotes

  1. That are not included in the article on the rabbis. Back
  2. See the chapter “Sources”. Back
  3. See the chapter “Sources”. Back

Translator's Footnote

  1. A ‘dagesh’ is a dot in the middle of some Hebrew letters that can change the pronunciation of the letters. Back

Coordinator's Footnotes

  1. An extensive pilpulistic commentary to the Hagadah.
    Rabbi J.J. Halberstamm, the late Grand Rabbi of Klausenberg was often wont to refer to this Hagadah and saw to it that it was reissued in order that “youth will appreciate the complete their husbands, resulting in children absorbing a disdainful atmosphere. He also chides women for their maltreatment of those in their domestic service. Throughout, the author reproves and castigates those “who Talmudic mastery and acuity of the sages of the 18th century.” (Silberman edition, Brooklyn, 1980). The composer of the Brith Mateh Moshe often digresses to bemoan improper social behaviors of his time (he expresses shock of the satiric parody Masechet Purim); he criticizes women who insistently harangue cause many of the social ills of (the) time, a result of a haughty bearing and slothfulness over ethical behavior.”
    R. Moshe, a disciple of Rabbis Moshe of Horodna and Mordecai Ginzburg of Brisk, states he was originally a member of the Chevra Kadisha of Yehudah Chasid. This fact, as well as his interesting, descriptions of the personalities in this fellowship, has escaped the notice of recent scholars. See Z. Shazar (Rubashov), Reshumoth, Vol. II (1927) pp. 461–93; G. Scholem, Beit Yisrael Be–Polin, Vol. II (1949) pp. 36–56; A.Yaari, Shluchei Eretz Yisrael, pp. 322–3; E. Carlebach, Divided Souls (2001) pp. 84–85. (https://www.kestenbaum.net/docs/Auction_29.pdf) Back
  2. see also: https://books.google.pl/books?id=EAiwCQAAQBAJ&pg=PA16&lpg=PA16&dq=MET+MarbitzeiTorah&source=bl&ots=FiGUkfRC3E&sig=gIlZE0avdSXOvblo94AwvQRaQ4E&hl=pl&sa=X&ved=0CDUQ6AEwA2oVChMIqt2OnL2txwIVY6ZyCh1Z3QAX#v=onepage&q=MET%20Marbitzei–Torah&f=false Back

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Chapter 3

The First Jewish Tradesmen in Przemysl[i]

by Dr. Eliahu Bloch

Translated by Jerrold Landau

At the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17 th century, Przemysl, like Lwow, was a large Jewish center in Red Rusen [Rot Rusn in Yiddish, Ruś (Rus') Czerwona in Polish – Red Ruthenia – ed.]. It is known that the issuing of loans for interest and the maintenance of taverns were not the only sources of livelihood of the Jews, according to the version of [Ignacy – Icchak] Schipper (Viertschafts Geschichte Fun Di Yiden in Poiln in Mitl Alter, Warsaw 1926)[a]. In addition to commerce, trades also formed an important role in the Jewish economy (B. Mark, Maurycy Horn), but had not yet reached the prominence of commerce. Commerce alone was insufficient to sustain the entire Jewish population, which was growing in the cities and towns. This was especially the case when the competing Christian merchants began to restrict the rights and obstruct the large–scale and small–scale Jewish merchants. In the 18th century , more Jews were occupied with trades than with commerce (except for the taverns). (See Mahler [R.], The History of the Jews of Poland, Merchavia, 1926.)[b] It is known that in the 16th century , there were Jewish butchers, glassblowers, tanners and furriers in Przemysl. The sources that we have from the first half of the 17th century mention bakers, tailors, furriers, hatmakers, sewers, weavers, shoemakers, scribes, smiths, dyers and other tradesmen.

The main obstacle to the establishment and development of Jewish trade was the guilds (tradesmen's unions) that embittered the lives of the Jewish members of the trade – the competitors. At the time that the Jews began to penetrate into the branches of trade, there were already well–organized guilds of Christian tradesmen which utilized regular methods to protect their status and attack their competitors. The fierce discord between the two communities of tradesmen did not abate with the passage of time, for there was no personal or professional contact at all, unlike the situation with the merchants who belonged to the two communities. The Christian guilds refused to accept Jews as members, and they had the power to ban any people who were not registered in the ledgers of the union from practicing their trade.

The Jewish tradesmen utilized means to protect themselves and overcome the obstacles and decrees. Having no choice, they did not refrain from giving bribes to officials and people of influence. We know about a case against a civic official in Przemysl named Muzykywicz who was accused of taking a bribe to avoid a judicial arbitration by hiding the accusatory documents that were presented against the Jewish tradesmen who were illegally engaged in their trades (M. Kramer). When the nobility wished to torment the Christian citizens of the city who had begun to display excessive “brazenness”, it took the Jewish tradesmen under its “protection”. Often decisions favorable to the Jews were made at the sejmiks[c] of the nobility (szlachta), without hiding the reason that the Jews indeed serve their interests. In 1645, the nobility demanded that the residents of Red Rusen and Lwow not make it difficult for the Jewish tradesmen of Przemysl to pursue their trades in specific markets. Relations such as this worked for the benefit of the Jewish tradesmen, but they were unable to remove all of the obstacles and dangers that were awaiting them.

From the sources in our possession, it is clear that out of all the trades, the Jews preferred food and clothing manufacturing for reasons of religion (kashruth and shaatnez[1]). The communities had to concern themselves with the provision of challas for the Sabbath, matzos

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for Passover and kosher food for the members of the community, and only Jewish butchers and bakers could provide such provisions. They did not require a special permit from the civic authorities for these tasks.

The dispute with the Christian guilds only arose when the Jewish bakers sold, or attempted to sell, their products to non–Jewish customers.

Additional obstacles faced the Jewish bakers, for they had to purchase their grain from the farmers for a higher price than that which was set by the people of the Christian guilds. The fact that measures were often taken against the Jews shows that they transgressed the restrictions and apparently continued in their illegal businesses.

King Stefan Batory granted the Jewish butchers in Przemysl (1576) the privilege to sell meat to gentiles as well, a right that the Jews enjoyed in other cities such as Krakow and Posen [Poznan – ed.]. This privilege improved the status of livelihood in a practical way. We can[2] assume that prior to this privilege, the non–Kosher meat was buried, which caused the Kosher meat to be more expensive and imposed a burden on the butchers and the Jewish butchers. With the passage of time, a change took place in this matter to the disadvantage of the Jews, for the right to sell the non–Kosher (treif) meat in the open market was taken away from them, and they were forced to give it over to the union of Christian butchers for a price.

Such regulations served as a background for counter–measures and debates with their Christian fellow tradesmen. It was not only the Jewish butchers who plied their trade in a legal fashion who were caught up in these disputes, but the non–professionals (fuszerim in the vernacular)[d] as well were caught in their disgrace. Official private detectives gave the reports about the “transgressions” of the Jews in order to capture those violating and evading the law and to confiscate their merchandise. This was also a fitting time to give vent to their feelings of hatred. We cannot be surprised that the Jewish butchers, whose tools of the trade were the knife and the axe, responded to the battle in kind (Mahler). There were also cases where the mighty patrons of the Jews, for various reasons – and only rarely out of love for their fellow Christians – brought to justice those who acted coarsely toward the Jews. This was not only the situation with butchers, but also with other professions.

The Christian union of the butchers did not suffice itself with its right to collect an extra tax from the Jewish tradesmen for the right to practice their trade. In addition, the Jews were only permitted to purchase cattle for ritual slaughter during specified hours only after the Christian butchers concluded their purchasing.

The realm of food manufacturing also included the manufacturing of strong drink, such as liquor, bear, mead, and others. This manufacturing was independent, and anyone who wanted to occupy themselves with this trade was able to do so. The townsmen, as well as the nobility and the clergy, willingly occupied themselves in this trade, which brought easy income.

In the year 1561, the Jews of Przemysl, as well as the nobility, were banned from brewing and selling beer, since they were not under the jurisdiction of the joint authority of the civic courts and did not contribute to the expenses of the city. From then on, they would require a special permit for each and every instance. Furthermore, the Jews required a special permit from the civic authorities to manufacture and sell strong drink. These authorities knew how to extort significant payment, aside from bribes, for every permit. After the fire that severely afflicted the Jewish residents, they were granted by King Wladyslaw IV the rights to brew mead, to sell beer and to serve liquor.

We should point out that the manufacture of beer, malt, and mead, as well as grinding grain, was permitted only to those Jews who possessed sufficient financial means for such endeavors (M. Horn). Such people would both manufacture and market, and would employ mainly Christians. Nevertheless, they were schemes against by the tradesmen who in general were free of restrictions. They made the lives of the Jewish tradesmen difficult and even attempted to put an end to their professional activity. With conditions such as this, the Jews were pushed away from illegally manufacturing strong drink.

In addition to the trades of baking and butchering, the trade of tailoring was almost solely a Jewish trade.

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The Jewish tailors were fully occupied. Already by the 14th and 15th centuries, they were taking orders from Jewish and Christian customers, and they sold their products at the fairs and markets.

In order to better protect themselves, the Jewish tradesmen utilized a new weapon: the founding of Jewish guilds, especially in those areas where many Jews performed work for influential Christian customers, such as the nobility and the clergy, who willingly purchased the products of the Jews.

In the exceptional cases where the Christian guilds agreed to the founding of an analogous Jewish guild, they had to pay a fee to the Christian guild and at times also to other institutions. The fee had a set amount that was defined in a contract, and was to be paid in money or merchandise.

The professional union of the Jewish tailors, called “Malbish Arumim” (The clothers of the naked)[3], was founded in the middle of the 17th century . The details of this guild are found in the ledgers of the organization, one of the few of its kind, that were uncovered by historians who delved into the archives. A committee that was selected annually stood at the helm of the organization, which had its own charter. Members of the communal leadership also participated in the committee, and influenced its conduct. The organization benefited from material and moral support of the community. A member with the right to vote in the leadership of the organization also served as the head[4] of the guild (patron), and served without receiving any payment, with the exception that he did receive a portion of the fines that were imposed upon transgressors. This head had the sole right to provide “kosher”[5] thread to the tailors and furriers.

The “Malbish Arumin” union imposed an obligation upon its members to be careful about the law banning shaatnez, and had the authority to oversee this. Every Jew who occupied himself in the tailoring trade was required to join the guild. A member was only accepted if he had studied the trade from a professional tailor as an apprentice for two years, worked one year as an assistant, and was then certified. These regulations, to which many changes were introduced with the passage of time, differed from organization or organization and from place to place. The used clothing merchants also had to join this organization. Whoever did not fulfill the conditions of acceptance was not registered as a member, and was forced to practice his trade as an illegal “fuszer”. This was the situation with Jewish tailors in particular, and with Jewish tradesmen in general.

From 1715 and onward, only married men could be accepted into the guild. This regulation was intended to prevent competition from the young generation. Differentiations were made between the inexperienced young tradesmen and the veterans. A tradesman only had the right to employ helpers and apprentices after practicing his trade for many years. This custom was appropriate, for only an experienced tradesman was qualified to impart his trade to the younger generation. After three years of experience in the trade, the young tradesman earned the full rights of a member in the guild. In order to restrict competition, they established directives regarding the number of apprentices and assistants that could be employed in each workshop, and the appropriate salary for them, just as the Christian guilds did. The tailors were for the most part small scale tradesmen who worked in their homes, but there were also some who were men of means and employed a number of employees. The situation of the tailors was not that different from the situation of the furriers, weavers, and smiths. All members of the union, even the fuszers, were required to pay a set fee to the guild to cover expenses, in particular for the payment of the annual Jewish tax to the Christian guilds. The fuszers knew that the Jewish guild had the ability to forbid them from working in their trade, but in return for an appropriate payment to the guild, they would be granted the right to serve specific customers and to work in a provisional fashion. This right was transferred as an inheritance to children, sons–in–law and grandchildren.

According to sources from the18th century , the Jewish tailors in Przemysl were required to pay a set fee to the Christian guild for each new or repaired article of clothing designated for a gentile. The assistants were also required to pay a tax from their salary.

The Jewish tailors did not suffice themselves with the permission to sell their merchandise to their Jewish and Christian (townsfolk, farmers, and the nobility) customers, but they also ruled over the local marketplace. Therefore,

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disputes often broke out between them and the Christian guilds. The authorities were often forced to take measures to protect the Christian trade. Heavy fines were imposed on renting dwellings to fuszers in areas of the city forbidden to Jews. More severe punishments awaited people who transgressed the regulations restricting employment in the trade (either directly or indirectly). In any case, apparently these threats and fines did not deter the Jews.

It is, however, difficult to establish if there were other Jewish professional organizations aside from the tailors' guild in Przemysl during the 17th century . Historical opinions on this question are divided. It is known that the shopkeepers had their own professional organization during the 18th century . We can assume that the Jewish unions organized themselves and conducted activities based on the model of the Christian guilds and attempted to imitate them. However, the Jewish guilds did not have the right to confiscate merchandise, as did the Christian guilds. This severely restricted their authority to actualize their goals.

Like Lwow, the city of Przemysl was a center of the lace making and ornament trades (schmulker in the vernacular). Both of them manufactured twisted threads, bands and fringes, but there was a difference between them. The former utilized machines, whereas the twisting was done manually. The lace makers were for the most part large scale contractors who owned many enterprises and employed many professional and non–professional workers. They also accepted work from outside of Przemysl. In 1630, Moshe, a twister (schmukler) in Przemysl, was accused of desecrating the Christian faith. He was found guilty at a trial, and died a martyr's death through torture[e].

There are only a few hints about the existence of Jewish hat makers. On the other hand, there was apparently a large number of Jewish shoemakers. Therefore, many accusations and punishments that were imposed on Jewish shoemakers due to transgressions of the charter of the trade are recorded.

The struggle of the Jewish furriers in their trade was especially difficult. They were permitted to practice the trade on the condition that they be accepted as members in the Christian professional guild. However, the guild generally refused to accede to their requests, related to them as “disturbers”, and took measures against them. After a long and difficult struggle, the Jewish furriers in Przemysl succeeded in obtaining benefits in their favor from King Wladyslaw IV (1632–1648), albeit with non–trivial restrictions. The Jewish furriers were not able to fulfill the directives that obligated them to sell their wares solely at fairs. They also did not pay attention to other bans and restrictions. They purchased hides in any place that they could, and worked them in workshops where they employed apprentices and assistants. They sold their wares – cheap and expensive furs – to Jewish and Christian customers, to townsfolk and members of the nobility in the markets and in any place where in which it was possible to sell.

The Jewish furriers flourished in Przemysl, for the city was an important commercial center until the partition of Poland.

The annual fairs in the city, which lasted for eight days, had a good name, and their importance grew from the middle of the 17th century , after neighboring Jarosław, known as “the Polish Frankfurt”, declined in its importance as a city that hosted fairs. These fairs brought in large income for the furriers. We should mention here the Przemysl furrier Kalman who attained from King Stefan Batory (1578), in return for a significant payment to the Christian union, the privilege to open up a furrier workshop with an adjacent house for the tanning of hides, and the right to employ apprentices and assistants. Along with this, the king stressed that the Christian guild had the right to keep work away from other Jewish furriers.

Sources about the role of the Jews of Przemysl in the metal trades during the 16th century and beginning of the 17th century are scarce. This fact is surprising, since at a later time the smithing trades was almost entirely in Jewish hands. Aside from working with their anvils, the Jewish furriers were given large scale jobs such as the covering of church roofs and towers. This work was given to them with great trust.

On the other hand, proofs exist that the role of the Jews in the manufacture and marketing of glass products was large. Yaakov, a professional glassblower from Przemysl, received a 15 morag tract of land as a gift in return for his glasswork in the building of the royal palace.

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We learn about many complaints against the Jewish smiths, for the Christian practitioners of that trade felt the competition from their Jewish fellow–tradesmen, and therefore fought against them. Since they were not accepted into the guild of the smiths, the Jews practiced their trade secretly. A Jewish smith in Przemysl was brought to justice, according to the directive of the ruler of Wallachia (Hospodar) on the accusation of forging coins (1629). Another smith was accused of a blood libel (1646), but was exonerated. The connection to and love of the craft and skilled work, and the great expertise of the Jewish smiths, earned the esteem of both Jews and Christians.

The relationship of the Jewish tradesmen in Przemysl to the apprentices and assistants who were employed in the workshops was no different than in other cities.

Without doubt, there was some friction between the employers and the employees in the large workshops. In the small workshops, whose owners were not wealthy, a fatherly relationship to the workers was forged; they were supported at the tables of the workshop owner and were housed under his protection. Not infrequently, the chief assistant would marry the daughter of the tradesman, and, with the passage of time, would become the owner of the enterprise. The apprentices did not only have to listen to the tradesman, but also to his wife who ruled over them with a strong hand. However, in practice, special contracts were forged to protect the apprentices, to promise their support in the trade, and to ensure good relations by their employers toward them. Nevertheless, aside from their parents, who at times did not refrain from using judicial means to defend the rights of their children, there was nobody to care for them.

The ascents and declines in Jewish labor were not solely dependent on the professional and commercial expertise of the tradesman; but rather to objective factors, the great hatred of the outside world, and their ability to stand up to it during times of famine, fires, epidemics, and the like. With the numerical growth of the Jewish tradesman and their increasing strength in the 18th century , the hatred and aggressiveness against Jewish trade from their Christian fellow tradesmen grew. The Christian guilds aggressively demanded the restriction of their Jewish competition in a manner that would be effective. When they reached the conclusion that the city council and other communal institutions did not sufficiently and effectively act according to their desires, they accused them of thwarting the interests of the Christians. The situation in Przemysl was no different than it was in other places with respect to this. The fate of the Jewish tradesmen in Przemysl was the same as that of their fellows throughout the country of Poland. They were part of the larger context of Jewry in that country, with its flourishing and decline, with its joys and sorrows.

Original Footnote

  1. According to facts that were gathered in part by Dr. Dov Nitzani. Back

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Shaatnez is the biblical prohibition of wearing clothing made of wool and linen (mixed). Back
  2. This sentence says “we cannot assume”, but from the context I assume this is an error. Note that after ritual slaughter, there is a percentage of animals that are rendered non–Kosher due to various errors in the slaughtering process or lesions found on internal organs. As well, certain portions of the kosher animal cannot be used as kosher meat. Back
  3. This is taken from the daily morning blessings. Back
  4. The word here is ‘Rav’, which may also be rabbi – and from the next sentence, that interpretation may be plausible here. Back
  5. Kosher here means free of shaatnez. Back

Coordinator's Footnotes

  1. I. Schipper, “Studya nad stosunkami gospodarczymi Żydów w Polsce podczas średniowiecza”, w “Monografie z historyi Żydów w Polsce, IV”, Lwów 1911; “Studia nad stosunkami gospodarczymi Żydów w Polsce podczas średniowiecza„, Warszawa 1930. Back
  2. Mahler, R. History of Jews in Poland. Sifriat Poalim, Merhavia, Israel, 1946 (Toledot ha–Yehudim be–Polin, Merhavyah 1946). Back
  3. sejmik – regional council, local parliament. Back
  4. Fuszer [phusher] – arch. pol., from germ. Pfuscher – craftsman not belonging to (not a member of) the guild, now the term used solely as name for a bungler, muff. Back
  5. Moshe Szmulker was burned at a stake. See p. 28 and The Przemysl Slicha – http://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/przemysl/prz901.html Back

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Chapter 4

The Ancient Synagogue of Przemysl
and its Place in Architectural History

by Professor Dr. Naftali Schneid

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Professor Dr. Naftali Schneid was born in Bielsko–Biala.He studied art history and philosophy at universities in Vienna, Berlin, and Prague.In 1937, he was appointed as the director of the YIVO Jewish museum in Vilna. He wrote books on “The Frescos of the Synagogue of Dora–Orfus”, “Rembrandt and the Bible”, “Chinese Drawing”, and “Classical Art”.Dr. Schneid was invited to Przemysl in 1937 in order to oversee the artistic renovation of the Old Synagogue.After working for a number of years in drawing and sculpting in Jerusalem, Dr. Schneid was appointed as a lecturer in art history in the University of Haifa.He returned to his artistic activities in recent years.Today he lives in the United States.

The ancient synagogue of Przemysl, the destruction of which evokes not only feelings of pain and mourning, but also pride and satisfaction of its irreplaceable grandeur, occupies a very honorable place in the history of Jewish architecture.It is the archetype of a large and unique group of synagogues that provides a solution to dilemmas of construction and technology that arise from the essence of the synagogue and its functions.

In order to understand its importance, we will present a survey of the main problems and solutions related to synagogues more ancient than it.

From several perspectives, there are similarities between this synagogue and that of Worms on the Rhine River which was also destroyed.The year 1034 is apparently noted as its year of founding, but it only really started to be erected during the 12th centuryand was completed in the 13th century .It is Romanesque in most of its forms and details, but the style of its windows is already almost Gothic. The building plan was defined by two columns that stood at its poles and divided it into two “naves”[i]. Buildings of a dual–nave structure also appeared in Christian architecture, but not for the purposes of churches.To the extent that these were lengthwise buildings, the number of rows of columns was paired, and therefore, there was an odd number of naves.In particular, due to the aforementioned Yaakov Finkerfeld, we know that dual–nave synagogues existed in the Land of Israel even before the erection of the synagogue that existed in Worms, such as the Karaite Synagogue and the Rambam Synagogue in Jerusalem from the 13th century[ii].In Worms, there was a simple, moveable table that served as the podium (bima) for the reading of the Torah, without being a part of the plan and structure of the building, despite its primary importance in the synagogue functions.

The Regensburg (Ratisbon) Synagogue is known to us from the two copper doors that were made famous by Albrecht Altdorfer in 1519, at the time of its destruction or shortly thereafter.In these pictures we see a pre–Gothic building, the structure of which points to the 13th century .Columns also stand at its axis.In Worms, there were only two of these;and if the testimony of the German artist is reliable, there were also three columns in Regensburg.We cannot draw too many conclusions from their unclear number.We must recall that the dual–nave plan returned here, which appeared anew in the Altneu synagogue in Prague in the 14th century .In Regensburg there was already a further developed bima, appropriate to its role:between two of the three columns in the third row, raised on a base with steps, built as a splendid stone structure, which is no longer a furnishing but rather an architectural formation:the bima

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was made more of a part of the essence of the Gothic building than in Prague.(Its central role as the place for the reading of the Torah came close to finding its expression through an actual architectural manner.)



The ancient synagogue


The last of the dual–nave synagogues was found in Krakow, which was the “last stop” of

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this style.In this architectural gem, which is also from the 14th century , the bima is built out of iron, the work of artistic smithery, similar to the one in Prague.The relationship between it and the building was even closer in this case, even though here too the bima did not reach the level of an integral part of the building. It was impossible to achieve a decisive solution to the functional problems with the dual–nave style.There was a need to create something entirely new in order to grant the central portion its central place and full central role in the plans and the concept.Here, the plan of a long, dual–nave building was scrapped, and a central, Jewish plan was created.

Actually, the Lublin synagogue could also be considered to be the first, but its date of construction is unknown, and the scintilla of a chance to verify it no longer exists after the great destruction of the Holocaust.On the other hand, with respect to Przemysl, there is an exact date, 5354 (1594), which necessitates the recognition of Przemysl as the place where the archetype of the synagogue was constructed.Here, the bima turned into a square surrounded by four pillars, which join together in arches that become the dome.This extends to the four walls (see the picture).Thus, the bima was a form of root from which the sprouts that bore the dome arose, and thus became the functional–architectural centre. The only remnant of the elongated style is that the Holy Ark is embedded, in a festive style, into the center of the eastern wall.

The beginning, that is the solutions that were offered by the dual–nave style and their incompleteness, are sufficient to convince us that this is an original Jewish architectural creation rather than a product of Italy, where, during that century, the architectural giants were forging the concept of a central building of a different style. The continuation of the architectural innovation that was conceived in Przemysl forms a splendid chapter in the annals of Jewish architecture.During the continuation of the 17th century , several other synagogues were built in that style, of modest dimension, such as in Rzeszow,



A sketch of the northern façade of the old Synagogue

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The south wall

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The yard of the old Synagogue

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and the Great Synagogue of Vilna, which was the pride of the entirety of Eastern European Jewry.Until the first half of the 18th century , the central style continued to be forged by constructional and esthetic innovations. In Tykocin, for example, the central dome, between the four central pillars and the main dome, was raised by two stories.The essence of the plan was brought to its final completion in the synagogue of a suburb of Lwow.In the archetypical building there is no longer a definitive mathematical relationship between the central square and the rest of the sections of the dome.In Lwow, the central compartment of the dome is bordered by eight same–sized compartments, that is one on each of the four sides and in each of the four corners. In this manner, a dome of nine symmetrical compartments was created.

In the eastern borders, an addition was made to the style that originated in Przemysl, which protruded from the outside. This is more interesting from a historical rather than a visual–architectural perspective. This was the addition of compartments for shooters for the purposes of defense.I did not succeed in verifying when Jews defended themselves in these buildings.

Aside from the honorable position that the synagogue in Przemysl takes in the architectural history of synagogues, its beauty is unforgettable in the eyes of the beholder.The contrast between the simple, modest, exterior and the splendid, detailed interior emphasizes the strong impression of this monumental creation.



The ruins of the Synagogue


We read the following about the fate of the ancient synagogue in the Nowa Kultura newspaper, Warsaw, June 10, 1956.

Paweł Jasienica, “O zbyt gorliwych władcach” [„On Exceptionally Diligent Rulers” – ed.], “Nowa Kultura”, Warszawa, 10.6.56.

{Polish text follows, and extends to page 51. The Hebrew paragraph that follows is a translation of it.}

W Przemyślu stała renesansowa, kamienna synagoga z początku XVII wieku. Były to właściwie już tylko mury, bo resztę zniszczyli hitlerowcy. Ale mury ogromnej ceny zabytkowej i tak wielkiej mocy, że jeden buldożer nie dał rady. Urwała się stalowa lina, za którą ciągnął.
Dopiero dwa sprostały wzniosłemu zadaniu i zwaliły narożnik. Reszta poszła gładko. Synagogi już nie ma. Za to Prokuratura Generalna uzyskała nowe zajęcie.
Centralny Zarząd Muzeów i Ochrony Zabytków chciał w tym roku odbudować ową synagogę, przygotował dokumentację i wydał na to pieniądze.
Rozbiórki dokonano bez jego wiedzy.
Wystarczył telefon miejscowego dostojnika.

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The Exceptionally Diligent Rulers

A synagogue built of stone from the Renaissance era of the 17th centurystood in Przemysl.Now, only the walls remain after its destruction by Hitler's troops; however an ancient, extremely valuable remnant remains, that is of such dimensions that a bulldozer cannot destroy it.The steel chains ripped due to the great weight.It took two bulldozers to execute this “wonderful objective” and pull down the corner pillar.The rest was conducted “properly”.The synagogue no longer exists.The main claimant had an additional task.The central leadership of the museums and the guardians of the antiquities decided this year (1956) to renovate this synagogue. They have already prepared the documentation and spent money to this end.They carried out the demolition without the knowledge of the office.They sufficed themselves with a telephone call to a local leader …[a]

Original Footnotes

  1. The expanse between two rows of pillars, and between a row of pillars and a wall is called by this name in architectural terminology. Back
  2. Finkerfeld's conclusions served as the basis for the conjecture that both the First and the Second Temples had a dual–nave structure(Yaakov Finkerfeld, “Italian Synagogues”, Jerusalem, 5714 [1954]). Back

Coordinator's Footnote

  1. Here is direct translation from Polish:
    “There was an old early 17th centuryrenaissance stone built synagogue in Przemysl. Strictly speaking only the walls remained, because the rest was destroyed by Hitlerite soldiers. But the walls were of great historical value and very strong, so strong that one bulldozer was not enough to pull them down. The steel cable gave way. Two bulldozers managed the task and the corner of the synagogue was demolished. The rest went smoothly. There is no synagogue now and the Attorney General has a new job. The Central Administration of Museums and Monuments Conservation planned, this year, to preserve this synagogue. The documentation was prepared and the money spent. The demolition was executed without the Conservation Administration's agreement. One telephone call from some local official was enough.” Back

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Chapter 5


by Professor Dr. Naftali Schneid

Translated by Jerrold Landau

A Section from the Responsa of Rabbi Yehuda the son of Meir of Mainz[i]

Two young orphaned brothers are being raised with relatives. An emergency broke out in the country and the relatives placed them with a gentile in a village to guard them, for they heard that an army was coming after them. They remained there for a long time. The relatives pledged a fee to them for guarding them. Finally, the relatives came to redeem them and pay the amount promised to the gentile. When the gentile saw them, he told them that one lad had died and then gave the other over to them. They gave the gentile what they had brought, took the lad and raised him with them until he got married. He only lived with her for a month before he died. Then one of the members of our community, such and such was his name, was summoned. As they were sitting with the deceased, he began to ask about the deceased, whether he has a brother or a child. One of those seated said that his guardian was his relative, that there were two brothers, and during the emergency there was plundering taking place and captives were taken from the city of Primut. At that time, those two were young, and they were pillaged as they were being taken out from the city to the field. They were tossed into the field, and when they brought him out with his hands bound, we saw as they were being cast upon the field, weeping and pleading. We then saw a merchant whom I recognized, and I asked him to take us in along with those lads, and if G–d will have mercy upon us and free us from captivity I would honor him appropriately and pay him sufficiently. Thus did he do, and a miracle happened to me, I came out of captivity and went to the house of that merchant to request the lads. He told me that one of the lads had died, and here is the second one before you. I took him and brought him to my home. After some time we heard that the gentiles brought one lad to Praga to sell, saying that he had been taken captive from the city of Primut and sold to a Greek Jew. Another person who had come from the Land of Greece said that he had seen him in Constanta…


The Scroll of Selichot of Przemysl

Stanzas from the Selicha that was Written by Shabtai HaSofer in Memory of the Martyr Reb Moshe Szmukler, may G–d avenge his blood.

Oh G–d and G–d of our fathers[ii]
You are the G–d of gods and the L–rd of lords
Unique, you are first among the early ones and last among the latter ones
Where is Your zealousness and might about which our forefathers have told
The great, mighty and awesome G–d who does not play favorites?

With Your word, the Heavens were made, and with the breath of Your mouth all their hosts
You created, You formed, You fashioned them all for your honor, everything accordingly

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At the end You created man to tell of your mercies and faithfulness that he sees
With the word of G–d the heavens were created, and with the breath of Your mouth all their hosts.

G–d you are just and your ways are righteous[iii]
Order the salvation of Jacob and redeem Your children
May our eyes see the righteousness of the holy one along with all the martyrs
May the utterances of my mouth and thoughts of my heart be acceptable before You.

May you keep Your promise to turn our mourning to joy
Build Your Holy temple speedily and we will offer burnt offerings and meal offerings
May our eyes witness the vengeance upon our enemies, and may sighing and grief depart
For Your sake we were killed throughout the day and considered as sheep for slaughter.

May Your words be established and may You save the afflicted nation
May You send the Messiah the son of David and display Your might
G–d, your deeds will be throughout the years, and will be displayed throughout the years.
G–d is a G–d of vengeance, may the G–d of vengeance appear.


Four Inscriptions on Gravestones from the Old Cemetery of Przemysl[iv]

From the year 5335 (1575). Torah and greatness were together with his good deeds, joining together as a leader of the country and the community he built the Holy Temple[v], the bathhouse, the ritual bath and a splendid women's gallery above. He dedicated Torah scrolls, and a candelabrum made of pure silver. His house was also open to anyone. He married off girls, and supported poor people so that they should live without agony. He left behind 100 zloty every year for the Land of Israel until the Redeemer shall come. His merits should last forever, and may his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.

Here is buried a righteous and very trustworthy individual, with the name of a rabbi, the captain and head of the Yeshiva Shmuel Shmelke the son of Reb Yehoshua[vi], who passed away on the 12th of Tishrei, 1628, and he judged[vii] Israel for 30 years, for he was the head and leader of the community and the country, and stood up in any time of need. His house was open to everyone, and any tired person could find rest there. He supported the studiers of Torah. May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.

Here is buried, on the 3rd of Nissan 5479[viii] the chief and head, Yechiel Michel the son of Tzvi Hirsch who was the leader of the community and the country. He served as a gabbai for most of his days, and busied himself with the Burial Society in a praiseworthy fashion. May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.

They brought up the bones of Joseph from the city of dates and buried him here in the city of the Hebrews, and made a bitter lament. Everyone heard a great and bitter outcry for in the midst of Simchat Torah, the soul of the son of the holy martyr, Rabbi Shmuel may G–d avenge his blood[ix]. How did he fall from the heavens, and was removed from the Jewish people, he is the leader Reb Yosef the sustainer, your father was great in his deeds – in Heaven. May his soul be bound in the bonds of eternal life.

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The Essence of the Pastoral Edicti[x] Issued on February 28, 1753 by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Przemysl Waclaw Sierakowski

Relying on the encyclical of Pope Benedict XIV, and relating particularly to his opinion that god rejected the Jews who were punished for the death of Jesus by being eternal slaves to the Christians, whereas with the death of Jesus, the Christians became freemen – the bishop published the following prohibitions in 1743.

  1. To grant the Jews the right of possession of real estate connected to the Christian population through the authority of the government; but, on the other hand, to not grant to the Jews the right of possession of houses and fields where the parade with the holy sacrament passes through the cities and the towns on the Holiday of the Holy Incarnation. If such contracts already exist on such property, they are to be annulled.
  2. It is appropriate that in most cases, one should not refrain from leasing inns and taverns to the Jews. However, the bishop regrets that along with such businesses, the estate owners grant the Jewish lessees jurisdictional authority over Christians, thereby turning the freemen into slaves.
  3. We are to denounce those who hire themselves out to Jews to serve in their houses and synagogues, and especially to those who serve them on Yom Kippur, dress up as Haman on Purim, or serve as nursemaids for Jewish children. Aside from cases of danger to life, one must punish such people with all stringencies of the law, such as having them lie down in the form of a cross in church. In a case where this is performed regularly, such transgressors should be banned and removed from the community of believes in Jesus.
  4. We are to remember the words of David the King of Israel in the Psalms, who said that contact with holy things renders one holy, contact with evil renders one evil, with the chosen renders one chosen, and with the apostate renders one an apostate. Therefore, those who live in the same house with Jews, who participate in Jewish circumcision and wedding ceremonies, and who eat matzos with them are to be severely punished. Similarly, Jews who enslave Christians and who engage in sexual relations with Christians, thereby giving birth to children with “Christian blood” are to be punished.
  5. On Sundays and Christian holidays, Jews who are servants of Christians are not allowed to themselves perform work or engage Christians in hard labor, to open stores, or to sell liquor before the conclusion of the church services. They are not allowed to hold weddings on the days of advent and the great fast, to accompany the marriage party to the synagogues and houses with candles, or to conduct themselves in that fashion during funerals.
  6. It is forbidden for the Jews to conduct religious ceremonies outside the synagogue that was authorized by the church.
  7. The following transgressions are to be judged by the bishop himself. a) Leasing agricultural land, estates, villages, beer breweries and inns to Jews, with the giving over of jurisdiction of the Christian population in some hidden form, or through some pretext. b) Sexual relations of Jews, for either a man or a woman. Similarly, the bishop reserved the right to grant disposition to such sinners, with the exception of cases of the death of the owners of property, estates, etc. superintendents, foremen, directors, etc. who are employed in estates. The members of the clergy were asked to be careful in keeping the aforementioned edicts by order of the pope, who published and explained this.
The edict of the bishop and pastoral letter of the pope must be published at least once a month in all of the churches of the diocese, and be brought to be read before the Jews, who must be called together for a special meeting for this purpose. This edict must be given over to Jews, and must be kept in their synagogues.


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The Hidden Tzadik Rabbi Yitzchak Izak Shochet of the village of Zurawica[xi], the author of the Letters of Rabbi Yitzchak and Raza Meheimna

(From the book “Emunat Tzadikim”, Warsaw, published by Szuldberg in 1900. In traditional, popular Hebrew with minor amendments.)

58) The hidden rabbi and Tzadik Rabbi Yitzchak Izak the shochet of the village of Zurawica near Przemysl in Galicia, the author of the book of the Letters of Rabbi Yitzchak, the book Raza Meheimna, and the book Yesod Yitzchak. His holy manner was to conceal his holy deeds, and therefore, during his lifetime, nobody knew of his holiness and many saw him as a boor and a crazy person, Heaven forbid… Once, one young man came to him in the aforementioned village to ask him to teach him the trade of ritual slaughter. He responded that he does not wish to teach him the trade of ritual slaughter. The young man asked why he did not wish to do so. Then Rabbi Yitzchak Izak took the young man outside, and placed his hand on his face. The young man saw that a man with a knife in his hands was standing on the roof, slaughtering himself, with blood dripping from him. After the blood dripped out he fell to the ground, and a few moments later he came to life again, stood on the roof, and performed the same deed. He did this several times. Then Rabbi Yitzchak Izak said to the young man: this is what a shochet is during his life, and after he dies this is his punishment, for he was not suited for this. There was only one young man in Przemysl to whom he taught the trade of ritual slaughtering. This young man was a dear person, and he too was not to reveal his holiness to anyone… When the time drew near for him to die, the aforementioned shochet sent his holy wife to Przemysl to inform the burial society that her husband was about to die, Heaven forbid, so that the shamashim of the Chevra Kadisha should come immediately to be present at the time of the departure of the soul, make the preparations, and bring him to burial in the city. She went by foot to the city to inform the Chevra Kadisha. The shamashim set out immediately to his home in the village, but did not find Rabbi Yitzchak Izak at home. They asked his wife where her husband was. She responded to them, “My husband went and he will return very soon. He just sent me quickly to inform the Chevra Kadisha that his end has approached.” Then the shamashim began to denigrate her and pour scorn and disgrace upon her, “You are crazy and your husband is crazy. You said that your husband sent you to summon the shamashim for he was about to die, and it seems that he is healthy, so why did you trouble us for nothing?” At this time, her holy husband entered the house carrying a bit of straw in his hands. His face was like a torch of fire, to the point where they were astonished before him. He said to the shamashim, “My masters, listen, my end has now come. I hid myself for all my days from people, and now it is my wish that immediately after my passing, you go to town to inform everyone to come with paper and ink, to transcribe my writings that are located in my trunk so that they can be published. The copying should take place while I am lying on the ground, before they dress me in shrouds” He did not say anything else, but he placed the bit of straw in his hands on the ground, placed himself on the straw on the ground, and began to murmur with his lips, with his face like a torch of fire. Then the Tzadik departed this world. They immediately sent to inform the city about this, and the entire city came to the village with paper and ink. Close to 100 scholars transcribed the writings, as he was lying on the ground. They said that when they would stop copying when they would see his face change. After this his face changed, and the trunk with the remaining writings closed itself. Then they stopped copying, gave him his appropriate last rites, and eulogized him greatly.

Original Footnotes

  1. According to his “Sefer Hadinim”, according to the reading of Rabbi Eliezer the son of Yoel HaLevi in the book of Raby'a # 900 (Published by Aptowitzer) based on the book of P. Kupfer and Professor T. Lewicki called “Hebrew Sources from the 11–13th Centuries about the Happenings of the Slavs and Several Other Nations in Central and Eastern Europe”. Published by the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Jewish Historical Institute of Warsaw and Wroclaw in 1956 (page 36). Back
  2. The two first stanzas. Back
  3. The three last stanzas. Back
  4. According to what was described by Avraham Kahana in “Hatzofe Lechachmat Yisrael”, edited by Dr. Yehuda Aryeh Blau and Dr. Tzadok Hevusi (Budapest, 56882, 1928). Back
  5. It is assumed that this is not the synagogue that remains in our days, which was built in the year 5354 (1594). It would seem that he built a temporary synagogue on a field, where the synagogue of our day was built 19 years later. Back
  6. The Reb Yehoshua Shmelke mentioned here is certainly the son of Reb Shmuel Reich Shmelke of Prague. His future son–in–law, the Maharal of Prague, lived with him when he studied with the Mahasha”l (The head of the rabbis of Przemysl). Back
  7. Shafat (Shin, Fe Tet) = 389 (Translator's note: i.e. 5389 – the Hebrew is a play of words, where the word ‘judged’ is equal numerically to the year. The terminology used here is used as the epitaphs to the judges in the Book of Judges.) Back
  8. Tav, Ayin Tet = (5)479. Approximately 1719. Back
  9. “May G–d avenge his blood” is generally written about all martyrs who died in the Sanctification of the Holy name, and the intention was about the son of this martyr. Back
  10. The aforementioned bishop already issued a pastoral letter against the Jews ten years earlier, in the year 1743. See Professor Schorr in his book (1903). Given over by Dr. A. Freudenheim. Back
  11. See the article on the scribe Rabbi Yitzchak Izak HaLevi (the Scribes of Przemysl). Back

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Chapter 6

Rabbis of Przemysl 5295 – 5653 (1535 –1893)

by Chanan Trau and Dov Nitzani (Knopf)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

A. Przemysl as a Location of Previous Service

Before the rabbinate of Przemysl and its region arose, most of its rabbis showed no desire or inclination to make their position in the city something permanent. In the annals of the rabbinate of cities such as Krakow and Lwow, we find information about several rabbis of Przemysl, as it is mentioned as their former place of residence before coming to these cities. The following five books serve as our main source for such information.

  1. “Ir Hatzedek”, by Y. M. Zunz (Lwow, 1874), henceforth known by the short form as “Y. M. Zunz”.
  2. “Klilat Yofi” by Ch. N. Dembitzer (Krakow, 1888), Henceforth known as “Dembitzer”.
  3. “Luchot Zikaron” by Ch. D. Friedberg (Frankfurt am Main, 1904), in short “Friedberg”.
  4. “Anshei Shem” by Shlomo Buber (Krakow, 1894), henceforth “Shlomo Buber”.
  5. “Daat Kedoshim” by Y. T. Eisenstadt (Peterburg, 1890/1), henceforth “Y. T. Eisenstat“.


B. The Maharsha“l

The first one known as a rabbi, or at least a Yeshiva head in Przemysl was Rabbi Shlomo Luria (Maharsha”l), born in the year 5270 (1510) in Brest–Litovsk, and died in 5333 (1573) in Lublin. With the assumption that the Maharsha”l filled this role already from the young age of 25, it is possible to set the year 5295 (1535) as the beginning of the known chain of rabbis of Przemysl, despite the fact that the Jewish settlement of Przemysl had already existed at the beginning of the 15th century, or possibly even earlier.

Rabbi Moshe Meir Perlish from Prague tells in his book about the Mahara”l of Prague, that he was sent by the man who was to become his father–in–law – Shmuel Reich Szmelke, the wealthy parnas and “captain” who was close to the leadership of Prague – on his account to Przemysl to study Torah there from the Maharsha”l, who was the head of the Yeshiva of Przemysl at that time. Several families of famous rabbis bearing the name Szmelkes stemmed from the son of Reich Szmelke, Yehoshua Szmelkes, who was at that time the “great captain” in Przemysl, as is explained in the book “Shem Vesheerit” of Yosef Kohen–Tzedek (Krakow, 5655, 1895) and in the family tree of the Mahara”l of Prague that was published by Moshe Traube in London.

Information about the Maharsha”l in Przemysl is given over by personalities such as Rabbi Perlish, a fellow townsman of the Mahara”l. This demonstrates the activities of the Maharsha”l in Przemysl, despite the doubts of the writer Dr. Avraham Gottesdiner (Ovadya) in his book “Haari Shebechachmei Prague (Hamahara”l)”.


C. Mateh Moshe

He was born in Przemysl was referred to as Reb Moshe of Premishla in the response of the Ba”ch and also by others. His family name was actually “Met”, which some interpret as the acronym of “Marbitzei Torah” (Disseminators of Torah) or “Machzikei

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Torah” (Upholders of Torah). It is interesting that his admirers found it appropriate to call him “Rabbi Moshe Ish Chai” instead of “Met”[1]. He signed his own signature as “Moshe the son of the holy Rabbi Avraham of blessed memory, may G–d avenge his blood). From his own mouth we learn that he was a student of the Maharsha”l and was supported at his table. He was one of the rabbis who was revered at that time in Poland, and earned the nickname “Hamufla” (The wonderful).

His first rabbinical post was in Belz, where he ran a large Yeshiva. After he left Belz and lived in the home of his father–in–law in Ludomir [or Ludmir – Włodzimierz – Volodymyr Volynskyy – ed.] for some time, he was chosen to be the rabbi in his native city of Przemysl, where he lived for many years and wrote his main book “Mateh Moshe”, according to which he is called in the Jewish world.

In the year 5357 (1597) he was already found in the city of Luboml, where he finished writing his book “Hoil Moshe”. In his latter years he was called upon to serve as a rabbi in Opatów and the head of the rabbinical court of the Krakow district. Opatów was one of the most important cities on account of its famous rabbis. He died and was buried there in the year 5366 (1606).

The books of the rabbi include

  1. “Mateh Moshe”, which was published in the year 5351 (1591) in Krakow, which is a methodical book on laws. The book was published for a second time in Frankfurt am Main in the year 5480 (1720), and republished several more times.
  2. The book “The 613 Commandments” in verse, also published in Krakow in the year 5340 (1580).
  3. The comprehensive book “Hoil Moshe” published posthumously in Prague in the year 5372 (1612) with a preface by his son Rabbi Avraham, including homiletical and literal explanations on the Torah, on the words of the sages, and on Rashi's commentary.
It is interesting that in his book “Mateh Moshe” the following is written, “My teacher the Maharsha”l of blessed memory instructed me that whoever does not known the date of death of his father or mother should choose a specific date upon which to fast and recite Kaddish[2].


D. Rabbi Shimon Wolf the son of Rabbi David Teble Auerbach

Rabbi Shimon Wolf is known to us as following the author of the “Mateh Moshe” in Przemysl. There are no sources about the beginning of his tenure as rabbi in Przemysl, but we know about two book approbations which he signed when he was the rabbi in Przemysl from the years 5370 – 5371 (1610–1611). Prior to that he served in Turobin, Luboml and Lublin, and after that in Poznań, which was the most important rabbinate in Poland during those days, and where he remained for at least four years. In the year 5388 (1628), he was called to be the chief rabbi of his native city of Vienna. After a short time he moved from Vienna to Prague, where he served as the state rabbi of Bohemia. He died in Prague in the year 5391 (1631).

Rabbi Shimon Wolf was famous in his time as a great person of Torah who also occupied himself with Kabbalah. His writings were not published. He was a scion of the renowned Auerbach family of the end of the 15th century. His family tree was published in English in London in 1957.


E. Rabbi Shmuel the son of Rabbi Meshulam Feivish

Rabbi Shmuel is mentioned as the head of the Yeshiva and head of the rabbinical court of Premisla by the physician and philosopher Rabbi Yosef Shlomo (Yasha”l) of Kandia, Crete, in his book “Novalot Chachma” from the first half of the 17th century.

Y. M. Zunz presents him as the son of “the Great Luminary of Israel” Rabbi Meshulam Feivish, known as Rabbi Feivish of Krakow, who occupied the rabbinical seat there and who was the son of Rabbi Yisrael Shmuel. The birth and death years of Rabbi Shmuel are unknown to us. Similarly, we know nothing about his parents, except that his father Rabbi Feivish lived between the years 5305 – 5378 (1545 – 1618) approximately. In the opinion of Y. M. Zunz, Rabbi Shmuel was also a Kabbalist. In his book on the rabbis of Przemysl, Friedburg places Rabbi Shmuel prior to Rabbi Shimon Wolf

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Auerbach. On the other hand, Dr. Yosef Gelernter, who researched the history of the rabbis of Przemysl, claims that during the days of Rabbi Shmuel, the rabbis of this city were also the rabbis of the region of Przemysl. Since it is know that the matter took place in 1638, it can be deduced that Rabbi Shmuel occupied the rabbinical seat of Przemysl after Rabbi Shimon Wolf, since the latter died in Prague in the year 5381 (1631).

Rabbi Shmuel is known to us further as the teacher and rabbi of Rabbi Yehoshua the son of Yosef (Pnei Yehoshua) who was the rabbi in Przemysl following him.


F. Rabbi Yehoshua the son of Rabbi Yosef

According to the opinion of Y. M. Zunz, he was born in Vilna in the year 5353 (1593), but according to others, he was born earlier. His father was a rabbi. During his youth he studied Torah from Rabbi Shmuel the son of Rabbi Feivish in Przemysl, and then from the Mahara”m (Rabbi Meir the son of Gedalia) of Lublin and the Sem”a (Rabbi Yehoshua Falk) in Lwow. At first, during his youthful days, he served as a rabbi in the city of Tykocin. From there he moved to Grodno, and then to Przemysl. From there, he was called to be a rabbi in the outskirts of Lwow. He moved to Krakow in the year 5383 (1633), where he ran the Yeshiva without remuneration. Students streamed to him from various places inside and outside of Poland. People also approached him with questions in writing. He was one of the greatest rabbinical decisors of his generation. During that period of time, the author of the “Tosafot Yom Tov”, Rabbi Lipman Heller, served as the head of the rabbinical court of Krakow. Rabbi Yehoshua the son of Rabbi Yosef died during the year of the great disasters of Ta”ch (5408 / 1648).

The following should be noted from among his books: 1) “Meginei Shlomo” – a defense of Rashi against the various conceptions of the Tosafot, first published in Amsterdam in the year 5474 (1714); 2) “Pnei Yehoshua”, Volume I, responsa based on the order of the Arba Turim[3], first published in Amsterdam in the year 5475 (1715); 3) “Pnei Yehoshua” Volume II, an anthology of additional questions and responsa, published in Lwow in the year 5620 (1860; 4) a book on the wisdom of the Kabbalah.

Despite the interest of the author in Kabbalah, he did not allow it to be factored in to halachic matters in his response. He did not like exaggerated didactics. He is known as and is called by the name “Pnei Yehoshua” to this day, in accordance with his book by that name.


G. Rabbi Yitzchak Izak

He was the son–in–law of his predecessor, the “Pnei Yehoshua”. According to Dr. Gelernter, who does not bring a source to support his opinion, he was the son of Rabbi Shmuel Szmelka, and the father of the Gaon Rabbi Yehuda Leib, the head of the rabbinical court and the Yeshiva of Krakow, who served in Przemysl as a rabbinical judge and rabbi. However, it still remains in doubt if he actually served as the head of the rabbinical court in Przemysl, but it does seem that prior to this he was the rabbi in a different city, and therefore earned this title as well. Professor Schorr includes him in the list of rabbis of Przemysl without any qualification. We do not know the dates of his tenure, but it is clear that Rabbi Menachem Mendel who followed him ascended the rabbinical seat of Przemysl in the year 5402 (1942).


H. Przemysl as the Seat of the Rabbinate of the District

In 1638, King Wladyslaw IV issued a directive to create nine regions in the state district of Przemysl: Dynów, Kańczuga, Pruchnik, Jarosław, Mościska, Wisznia, Husaków, Sambor, and all of the villages of Gora–Gory (today Turka)[a] that were dependent on the rabbinate and the community of Przemysl. The king established with respect to the rabbinate that the rabbinical court of Przemysl would be the second instance of all of the rabbinical courts in the aforementioned regions. All of the Jewish tavern–keepers in these regions were obligated to pay three Polish zloty a year to the rabbi in Przemysl. Therefore, the court took on the name as “the rabbinical court of Przemysl and its District”, a status

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that raised the profile of the rabbinate of Przemysl. We should note that the rabbinical district that was carved out was smaller than the political district of Przemysl, and one should not mix up the two with respect to their areas of jurisdiction.


I. Rabbi Menachem the son of Rabbi Yoel Feivish Sztengen (Ashkenazi?)

The original name of his family was Shtengen. He came to Poland from the state [town] of Jülich in northwestern Germany, and married Sheindel the daughter of Reb Mordechai Margolis in Krakow, where the latter was the Rosh Yeshiva between the years 5352–5377 (1592 – 1617). His first rabbinical post was in the city of Pińczów. We do not know in which years he served there as a rabbi. In the year 5375 (1615) he appears as the rabbi of Pińczów in the “Chadashot” responsa of the Ba”ch, with the name Menachem Mendel Sztogni. In the year 5394 (1634), we find a rabbi of the city of Szydłów by the name of Menachem Mendel Ashkenazi, in his approbation in the book “Ahavat Zion”. Six years later, in the year 5400 (1640), a rabbi appears in Przemysl with this exact name – Menachem Mendel Ashkenazi, in his approbation of the book “Ahavat Hashem”. Approximately four years later, in the year 5404 (1644), we again find a rabbi in Przemysl with this name, but without mention of a family name, according to the rabbinical decision issued at the fair in Gromnik, along with a number of rabbis, including the author of “Tosfot Yom Tov”. Still in the year 5403 (1643), we find an approbation of the book “Damesek Eliezer on Tractate Chullin” signed by Menachem Mendel the son of Rabbi Yoel Feivish, without mention of his family name or place of residence. In the year 5406 (1646) the approbation of a man by the name of Menachem Mendel, the grandson of Yoel Feivish Sztengen, appears on the Sha”ch of the Code of Jewish Law, section Yoreh Deah, that was published in Krakow that year. Furthermore, also in the book “Nachalat Yaakov” that was published in the year 5412 (1652) there is approbation by Menachem Mendel the son of Yoel Feivish, without mention of his family name or the date of the approbation. However, the inscription, “Head of the rabbinical court and head of the Yeshiva of the community of Premisla” is written at the top. This is the final approbation known to us signed by Menachem Mendel the son of Yoel Feivish.

According to the opinion of the researcher Yosef Kohen Tzedek, there were two consecutive rabbis in Przemysl named Menachem Mendel. The family name of the first was Ashkenazi, without noting the name of his father or grandfather; whereas the name of the second mostly appears as Sztengen (also Sztengi) and the name of his father (or grandfather) is Yoel Feivish.

With respect to the name Ashkenazi, Dr. Gelernter believes that Rabbi Sztengen used it on occasion to stress his origins from Germany. On the other hand, we should note that shortly after his arrival from Germany, approximately 25 years earlier, he signed with the name Sztengen.

It is not clear why at times Rabbi Menachem Mendel appears as the son and at times the grandson of Rabbi Yoel Feivish. In any case it should be noted that on his gravestone that was uncovered in 1888, at the time of the excavations in the old cemetery in Przemysl, the name “Menachem Mendel the son of the scholar and Hassid Yoel Feivish Sztengen of holy blessed memory” was found. (The word “Sztengen” was identified by Yosef Kohen Tzedek.) Rabbi Menachem Mendel never used the name “Margolis” during his lifetime, although he was called by that name by others, for his children from his first wife called themselves by that name, the family name of their maternal grandfather. Professor Schorr also refers to him by that name in his article about Przemysl in the Jewish American Encyclopedia of 1905.

According to the vas material about his Torah activities that remain for us, in his time, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Sztengen was one of the important rabbis of Poland and one of the great rabbis of Przemysl. He also left behind a righteous generation of Torah scholars, for his sons and sons–in–law were all rabbis of renown.


J. Rabbi Eliahu the son of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Margolis

Rabbi Eliahu, the son of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Sztengen, died a short time after he ascended the rabbinical seat of Przemysl after the death of his father, and was buried next to his father's grave under the same monument. The son of this Rabbi Eliahu, Menachem Mendel, was the son–in–law of the scribe Rabbi Yaakov Eliahu, the head of the rabbinical court of the communities of Złoczów and Tyśmienica.

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K. Rabbi Aryeh Leib the son of Rabbi Zecharia Mendel

We are unable to give over details about the year and place of his birth. However, it is known that he was the student of the “Pnei Yehoshua” who died in the year 5408 (1648) in Krakow. Rabbi Aryeh Leib was the son–in–law of Rabbi Efraim Fishel of Lwow, and therefore he was also known as Rabbi Leib Reb Fishel's. He was a rabbinical judge in Krakow from the year 5412 (1652). In the year 5414 (1654) he was appointed as the rabbi of Przemysl and the district, where he served until the year 5420 (1660). From Przemysl he moved to Vienna, as the head of the Yeshiva, and accepted upon himself the official title “The Hochgelernter Yud”. (The Highly Educated Jew). He returned to Krakow after four years as the head of the rabbinical court and served as rabbi there until his untimely death in the year 5431 (1671). He continued on for a very brief period after Shabtai Tzvi, and even sent to him the Kabbalistic preacher Reb Berechia Brerech Szapiro to tell him the truth. Rabbi Aryeh Leib published a book in Yiddish called “Tikunei Teshuva”, and his articles are found in several compositions that appeared during his time. He is also mentioned in the list of Rabbis of Przemysl of Professor Schorr in the years 1905 and 1915.


L. Rabbi Yosef the son of Rabbi Yekutiel Lozil HaLevi Horowitz

He is mentioned nine times during the 18 year period from 1663–1681 in the protocols of the Council of the Four Lands as the Rabbi of Przemysl. Additional details are not known.


M. Rabbi Aryeh Yehuda Leib the son of Rabbi Moshe

He came from Ludomir [Ludmir – Włodzimierz – Volodymyr Volynskiyy – ed.] and was the grandson of the Rema”h. From the year 5438 (1678) and onward he signed various rabbinical decisions and agreements. He was appointed as the rabbi – and according to some opinions only as the Yeshiva head – of Lwow outside the city. This rabbinate was very honorable, and great rabbis occupied it, including the Pnei Yehoshua. Rabbi Aryeh Yehuda Leib represented his community in the Council of the Four Lands. At the end of his life, in the year 5451 (1691), he moved to Przemysl where he served as the head of the rabbinical court until his death in the year 5454 (1694). The Przemysl native, the author of the book “Shmeina Lachmo”, who also eulogized him after his death, also tells us about this. (His name does not appear in the lists of Professor Schorr). Rabbi Aryeh Yehuda Leib is described in the book “Shem Gedolim Hechadash” as a famous Kabbalist in his generation, and as a “Holy Man of G–d”. Others also tell about the purity of his soul. He was buried in Przemysl.


N. Rabbi Yosef Segal the son of Rabbi Moshe Charif

He was the son–in–law of his predecessor in Przemysl, Rabbi Aryeh Yehuda Leib. Prior to that he was the Rosh Yeshiva of the outskirts of the city of Lwow. He was greatly revered and called “Rabbi Yosef the Tzadik”. He published a book “Tzafnat Paneach” in the year 5431 (1671). He died and was buried in Przemysl in the year 5462 (1702).

He must be differentiated from Rabbi Yosef the son of Rabbi Moshe, who was a native of Przemysl and a judge in that city. After that he became a wandering preacher, until the came to Berlin, where he remained until his death in the year 5462 (1702). He published a book called “The New Tzafnat Paneach” in Frankfurt an der Oder in the year 5454 (1694).


O. Rabbi Yitzchak Meir the son of Rabbi Yonah Teomin Frankel

He was one of the sons of the famous Rabbi Chaim Yonah, the author of the book “Kikayon Deyona”. Rabbi Yitzchak Meir was a native of the city of Prague. He lived in Vienna until the year 5430 (1670), where he studied secular subjects. After the expulsion of the Jews of Vienna in 5430 (1670) he was a rabbi of Trebitsch [Třebíč – ed.], Moravia, and after that in Hamburg, Amsterdam, Złoczów, Slutzk [Słuck], and Pińsk. In the year 5462 (1702) he moved to live in Przemysl, where he served as the rabbi and died there that year. His book “Kutonet Or” was published in Amsterdam.

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P. Rabbi Yechezkel Yehoshua Feivel the son of Rabbi Yonah Teomim

He was born in Grodno in the year 5414 (1654) and was the brother of Rabbi Yitzchak Meir, who designated him as his successor after his death. He was not appointed as the rabbi of Przemysl immediately after the death of his brother, but rather in the year 5465 (1705), on account of his opponents. Prior to this, he was the rabbi in Zülz [Biała – ed.], he was accepted as rabbi in Przemysl also on account of his being the son–in–law of Rabbi Aryeh Leib the son of Rabbi Zecharia Mendel, one of the known rabbis in that city, who was mentioned above. The opposition of his opponents did not cease, for they stressed the fact that he spent most of his time at the home of one of his children outside Przemysl. Due to the strengthening dispute, the community decided, with the agreement of the Wojewoda, to fire him from his position of rabbi. In his place they accepted Rabbi Shmuel Szmelke the son of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Słonim, who was, incidentally, a relative of the fired rabbi. The support of the Council of Four Lands and the district council did not help the fired rabbi. Frustrated and full of bitterness, Rabbi Yehoshua Feivel left Przemysl around the year 5477 (1717) and settled in the home of his son in the city of Breslau [Wrocław] in Silesia. From there, he continued with his dispute with the leaders of the community of Przemysl and with his replacement, Rabbi Shmuel of Słonim, by publishing his book “Teka Shofar” (Blow the shofar) in the year 5479 (1719). It is interesting that he did not stop calling himself “The Rabbi from Przemysl” until the end of his days in the year 5486 (1726). According to Professor Schorr, one of the edicts of the Council of the Four Lands from the year 5473 (1713) was signed by him, which shows that he was the representative of the community of Przemysl on that council at that time.


Q. Rabbi Chaim Yonah the son of Rabbi Yechezkel Yehoshua Feivel Teomim

He was the son of the preceding rabbi, who was apparently sent by his father in the year 5478 (1718) from Breslau to Przemysl to continue his battle over the rabbinical seat. Professor Schorr notes him as a rabbi in Przemysl; whereas Moshe Kramer does not believe he actually fulfilled this role, as described in his book “The History of the Jews of Przemysl in the 17th and 18th Centuries”. Therefore, this matter is open to doubt. In any case, we find him as the head of the rabbinical court of Breslau some time later. He died there in the year 5483 (1723) during his father's lifetime.


R. Rabbi Shmuel Szmelke the son of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Słonim

He was the rabbi of Przemysl from the year 5477 (1717). Prior to this, he was the candidate of the opponents of Rabbi Yechezkel Yehoshua Feivel Teomim, and was supported by the Wojewoda against the will of the Council of the Four Lands and the district. According to Moshe Kramer, in his Master's Thesis which is cited above, a rumor existed that he had apparently paid 10,000 zloty to the community of Przemysl for his position. According to Professor Schorr, Rabbi Shmuel Szmelke was the son–in–law of Rabbi Chaim Kohen Rappaport of Lwow, who conducted the famous debate against the Frankists in the city Cathedral. Rabbi Shmuel Szmelke fulfilled his role as rabbi in Przemysl until the year 5482 (1732), when the Wojewoda acceded to his request that his son Yechiel Michel be appointed as his replacement during his lifetime – on account of his age and illness.


S. Was the Rabbinical Seat Purchased with Money?

Starting from the 18th century, a new factor appears in the selection of rabbis: a monetary payment that was apparently demanded from the rabbinical candidates by the community, despite the fact that more than 100 years previously, a edict was published by the Council of the Four Lands, signed as well by the “Mateh Moshe” absolutely forbidding the purchase of the rabbinical crown. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see any corruption in this matter, for the money was not paid to individuals from among the communal leaders, but rather to the community itself, which had already for decades been in a difficult financial situation due to the incessant wars and disturbances connected to them. It is worthwhile to note that already in the year 1661, King Jan Kazimierz responded to the request of the Jews of Przemysl, who were in a particularly bad situation, to lend them money with the synagogue serving as the security, despite the danger that this matter was liable to lead later to a public sale.

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T. The Authorities Begin to Influence the Selection of Rabbis

In the royal edict of Stefan Batory from 1576, the Jews of Przemysl were promised that the Wojewoda would not have the right to appoint a rabbi against their will, but would only authorize the one selected by them. In the conventions of the Council of the Four Lands as well, resolutions were accepted that forbade the rabbinical candidates from attempting to receive a confirmation or even an appointment by the Wojewoda through the payment of money. Professor Schorr (1903) describes this. During the elections and the firings of the rabbis of Przemysl at the beginning of the 18th century, however, the Wojewodas did not follow this royal edict, and intervened for or against various candidates. This is described in detail by Moshe Kramer in his aforementioned work. This is room to assume that it was not only the Wojewodas that were guilty of such, but that also “some of us” were involved in these affairs.


U. Rabbi Yechiel Michel the son of Rabbi Shmuel Szmelka

As has been previously noted, he apparently ascended the rabbinical seat of Przemysl during the lifetime of his father, and with his approval. He served in that position in the city from the year 5492 (1732) until his death in the year 5471 (1771). Shimon Menachem Lazer refers to him as Rshkbh”g, which is The Rabbi of the Entire Diaspora, and he was called Rabbi Yechiel Litwack by everyone. Rabbi Yonatan Eibeschuetz mentions him in his book “Luchot Edut”. He was on Rabbi Eibeschuetz' side as a zealot in his struggle against Rabbi Yaakov Emden who, as is known, accused him of spreading Sabbataism through amulets. We must note that the important Polish people who came in contact with Rabbi Yechiel Michel related to him with respect.


V. Rabbi Noach the son of Rabbi Yechiel Michel

It is open to doubt if he was a son of the preceding rabbi. Rabbi Noach, who was at first a rabbi in Szarogród, then occupied the rabbinical seat of Przemysl. According to the inscription on his tombstone in the old cemetery of Przemysl, he was summoned to this city. However, it is almost certain that he did not fulfill this role at all, or, if he did, he only did so for a brief period before his death. According to Moshe Kramer, he died in the year 5528 (1768), which means that he was summoned to serve as a rabbi during the lifetime of his father, who died here years later according to Professor Schorr (as well as according to Gelernter).


W. Rabbi Aryeh Leib the son of Rabbi Yechiel Michel

He was the brother of the preceding rabbi. According to the opinion of Gelernter, he lived in Przemysl between the years 5532 –5535 (1772 – 1775), and then moved to Lwow where he was apparently only a “upright preacher” and a “teacher of righteousness”[4] for 35 years until his death in the year 5570 (1810). We cannot even ascertain with certainty if he indeed fulfilled the role of the head of the rabbinical court in Przemysl.


X. Changes that Took Place under Austrian Rule

It is worthwhile to note that during the tenure of Rabbi Aryeh Leib in Przemysl, a change took place in the political status of Polish Jewry, after the First Partition (1772), as it transferred to Austrian rule. The large concentrations of Jews, who lived for the most part in poverty, as well as their behavior and dress, were foreign to the Austrian government. Similarly, the new regime did not understand that civil judgments against Jews, including cases of light litigation, were not under the authority of the general state courts.

No fundamental changes in the status of the rabbinate, especially in its rights of judgment, took place throughout the first 13 years, despite the fact that already in 1776, Kaiser Franz Josef II issued a new law, which became more all–encompassing in 1789. Among other things these laws annulled the legal jurisdiction of the rabbinical courts in areas outside of religion. From another perspective,

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rabbis were obligated to participate, aside from the two witnesses, in a personal way in wedding ceremonies, thereby imparting to them their legal validity. The law established that the duty to appoint a rabbi fell only upon one city in the district (in general – the seat of district government). Therefore, Przemysl became the seat of the district rabbi. It was also established that elections for regional rabbi were to take place every three years. We should note that the appointment of a regional rabbi in Przemysl de facto annulled the title of “Head of the Rabbinical Court of Przemysl and District”, which had existed already from during the time of Polish government in 1638.


Y. Rabbi Yaakov Menachem Mendel the son of Rabbi David Shmuel Szmelke

His father was the head of the rabbinical court and Yeshiva of Krakow, and he himself was the son–in–law of the rabbi of Przemysl Rabbi Yechiel Michel. He was formerly a rabbi in Turka, from where he moved to Przemysl around the year 1776. The historian Moshe Kramer still found in the small Beis Midrash of Przemysl an ark cover (Parochet) that was received as a gift from Rabbi Menachem Mendel's parents in the year 5530 (1770) – that is still from the days of Rabbi Yechiel Michel. Rabbi Menachem Mendel served in Przemysl until his death in the year 5552 (1792). Shmuel Wohl and his son, honorable members of the Przemysl community, were members of his family.


Z. Rabbi Yosef Asher Elenberg the son of Rabbi Menachem Mendel (Erenberg?)

He was the son of the former rabbi, and served in Przemysl during the years 5553–5586 (1793–1826) (and perhaps until 5591 – 1831). He was one of the prominent students of Rabbi Shmuel Szalir, the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of Lwow. He was called Rshkbh”g (Rabbi of the Entire Diaspora) by Sh. M. Lazar. He earned the nickname “The Tzadik of Przemysl”. The popular tradition of this rabbi continued until the latter days.


AA. Rabbi Yekutiel Asher Zalman Enzil Tzuzmir the son of Rabbi Mohara”m Nachum

He was the son–in–law of the preceding. He was the expert student of Rabbi Aryeh Leib HaKohen the head of the rabbinical court of Stryj, the author of “Ketzot Hachoshen” and “Avnei Miluim”. Rabbi Asher Enzil wrote glosses on the “Avnei Miluim” book. The former was the head of the rabbinical court in Stryj, and then in Przemysl after the death of his father–in–law. We do not know for how many years he served. His book of questions and responsa was published in the year 5642 (1882) in Przemysl.

In his book “Hassidism and Haskalah in Galicia and Congress Poland in the Middle of the 19th Century” (Published by the Worker's Library Ltd., Merchavia, 1961, page 170) Rafael Mahler states that according to the memorandum of Yosef Perl to the government of July 6, 1838, the district rabbi of Przemysl, Anshel Tzuzmir (i.e. Rabbi Enzil) occupied himself with business, lived in Stryj, and visited Przemysl once a year for his business. The actual district rabbi of Przemysl was a person named Zeinwil Heller, who was not registered at all with the authorities. This memorandum serves as proof that Rabbi Asher Enzil was still the official rabbi of Przemysl in the middle of 1838.


BB. Rabbi Shmuel Zeinwil Heller

According the Mahler's aforementioned book (pages 124 and 185), Rabbi Shmuel Zeinwil was a renowned scholar, the brother of the sharp Rabbi Hershele Heller from Zamosc who ran the Yeshiva of Brody for a period of time. We do not know whether and if Rabbi Shmuel Zeinwil was appointed as the district rabbi in Przemysl, and for how many years he filled that role. As Rabbi Efraim Weinberger, a native of Przemysl, tells us, Rabbi Shmuel Zeinwil ran a Yeshiva in this city, where the son of the Admor of Sanz [Nowy Sącz – ed.], the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Halberstam, the author of “Divrei Chaim” studied in his youth. Rabbi Chaim's father, Rabbi Aryeh Leibush, was a rabbinical judge in Rabbi Shmuel Zeinwil's rabbinical court, and later was accepted as a rabbi in Tarnogród.

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CC. Rabbi Yosef Chanania Lipa Meisels the son of Rabbi Naftali Hertz

He was born around the year 5583 (1823). He was a descendent of Rabbi Shimon Meisels, the head of the rabbinical court of Zolkiew [Żółkiew – Zhovkva – ed.] and the son of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Meisels, the author of “Chemda Genuza”. He was appointed as the head of the rabbinical court in Przemysl in the year 5611 (1851). On his mother's side, he was a descendent of the Przemysl rabbis, Rabbi Yechiel Michel and his son–in–law Rabbi Menachem Mendel.

Rabbi Yosef Chanania Lipa, who studied in Przemysl under his uncle the Gaon Rabbi Aharon Moshe Taubsz the author of “Karnei Reem” later became the rabbi of Iasi. He was great in Torah and was considered to be very sharp. Many turned to him with questions, and he maintained connections with the Gaonim of the generation, including Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz, Rabbi Shlomo Kluger of Brody, and Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Chajes (The Mahara”tz Responsa). These connections find their expression in their responsa books.

The first two of these rabbis also gave their approbations to his responsa book “Tiferet Yosef” which was published posthumously by his son and student Rabbi Moshe Meisels with his notes and glosses, called “Klil Tiferet”. His known compositions include his book “Pnei Yosef” and “Kuntrus Agunot Lemohara‘r”. His glosses and novellae on the Talmud are including in the Reem, Vilna edition of the Babylonian Talmud. The gaon died in the year 5625 (1865) in his prime, at the age of 42. He left behind a wide–branched family. He was eulogized by Rabbi Yosef Shaul Nathanson, the rabbi of Lwow, and was buried in the old cemetery of Przemysl, which was closed after his burial. The reverence in which his memory was held is demonstrated by the fact that the Przemysl society that was founded in New York in 1891, 26 years after his death, was called “Tiferet Yosef Anshei Przemysl”. This society exists to this day.


DD. Rabbi Yitzchak Aharon the son of Rabbi Mordechai Zeev Segal Ettinga (Rabbi Itza Ettinger).

He was born in the year 5587 (1827), the scion of a well pedigreed rabbinical family that originated in Moravia. He served as the leader of the national president of the holy society of Kolel Galicia, with the approval of the Austrian government. In this position, he sent 50,000 florins annually to the Land of Israel. His father, Rabbi Mordechai Zeev, the author of “Mafrishei Hayam” and the “Maamar Mordechai” responsa, and who died in the year 5623 (1863), also served in that role during his time. It is fitting to note that one of his ancestors, Rabbi Yehuda Leib, had served as the rabbi of Lwow and its district. Rabbi Yitzchak Aharon was accepted as the rabbi of Przemysl around 5626 (1866). As we have heard from Rabbi Reuven Margolis, he was extremely wealthy, and did not want to earn his living from the Torah, so he dwelled in Przemysl only on occasion. In his time, Rabbi Yitzchak Aharon was considered to be an authority on halachic matters, and he authored the response book “Mahari”a HaLevi” which was published posthumously in the year 5653 (1893). He was the head of the rabbinical court of Przemysl for only two years, since he was chosen as the rabbi of Lwow already around 5628 (1868), where he served until his death in the year 5651 (1891).


EE. Hassidism and Haskalah during the Era of Austrian Rule

Aside from the legal change of the district rabbis that took place during the time of Kaiser Josef II – including the status of the rabbis of Przemysl – a change took place with their relationship to the members of the community. The Hassidic movement began to spread during the middle of the 18th century, instilling in the lives of the people emotional factors such as joy of life, love of nature, and the rejection of self–mortification and many fasts. It broadened its influence on the masses of the simple folk, and continued to increase in strength. Along with this, Hassidism introduced changes into the rites of prayer, such as the “Sephardic rite” that was brought from Turkey[5]. This led to strong opposition from Torah leaders, who, on the one hand, saw Sabbatean leanings in this prayer rite, and on the other hand, feared that this new way of life, with the participation of the simple folk, might harm the study of Torah. A ban was instituted against Hassidim, already at rabbinical conventions of the 18th century. However, this did not succeed in breaking their spirit. On the contrary, it strengthened their appreciation for it, which passed through the period of opposition and began to conquer synagogue after synagogue.

Approximately 20 years after the rise of the Hassidic movement in Eastern Europe,

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the Haskalah movement arose in Germany, whose standard–bearer was Moses Mendelssohn and his students. The sparks of Hebrew literature, especially the famous “Biur”[6] also reached Poland. Polish Jewry opposed this new stream coming from the west. During that era, Galicia transferred to Austrian rule, the German language became the language of government and, to a large degree, the language of the government Jewish schools. The district rabbis were forced to understand this language, and, at times, even to use it for government festivities. Thus did the literature of the Berlin Haskalah develop in the German language as well.

A broad Haskalah literature developed also in the Hebrew language during that period of time. Hassidism and the Haskalah aroused the opposition of the rabbis of the large cities of Galicia, and it is known that Rabbi Yaakov Ornstein, the rabbi of Lwow, conducted a fierce battle against both of those movements during the first half of the 19th century. Even though we do not have any information about the fierce opposition and activities by the rabbis of Przemysl against these movements, we cannot assume that they were indifferent to them. In any case, the rabbis no longer felt themselves as spokesmen for a united, undivided Jewish camp.


FF. Rabbi Yitzchak Yehuda Szmelkes the son of Rabbi Chaim Shmuel Szmelke

At first, he was the rabbi of Żurawno in Eastern Galicia. From there he was called to serve as the rabbi of the city of Brzeżany which was the seat of the district rabbinate from the time of Kaiser Josef II. He was accepted as the head of the rabbinical court in Przemysl in the year 5629 (1869), where he occupied the rabbinical seat for 24 years. He was selected as the rabbi of Lwow in the year 5653 (1893), where he served for 13 years until his death.

He was considered to be a Gaon already from the time that he was in Żurawno, and his name preceded him until, with the passage of time, he was a recognized authority throughout the Jewish world. People turned to him with the most difficult of questions from all corners of the Jewish world. A selection of his famous questions and responsa was published during his lifetime in four volumes called “Beit Yitzchak”, the name that Rabbi Yitzchak Szmelkes is known by to this day. After his death, his son–in–law, Rabbi Nathan Lewin, the rabbi of Rzeszów, published two additional volumes with his own long preface.

The rabbi “Beit Yitzchak”, who had a splendid countenance, made his nights like days, immersing his entire self in the study of Torah. He was considered to be one of the decisive halachic decisors of his generation. He occupied himself only very little with secular matters, and was considered to be a particularly intelligent man. He said that when he was a rabbi in Żurawno, he studied Torah day and night and was called the “Great Rabbi”. In the larger city of Brzeżany, where he was not able to study as much Torah, they called him “The Rabbi and gaon”. In Przemysl, where he was forced to occupy himself greatly with communal matters, and only had a little time for Torah, they granted him the title “The Great Rabbi and Gaon”. In the large city of Lwow, where he only had very little time to study Torah, they spoke of him as “The Prince of Torah”.

The “Beit Yitzchak” was among the supporters of the settlement of the Land of Israel, and we can assume that one of his greatest students, Leibish Mendel Landau, later a rabbi in Botosani, and who was a major Zionist activist in the 1890s, one of the veteran activists of Galicia, influenced him in this direction. Rabbi Yitzchak Szmelkes joined the “Zion” organization in Przemysl before he left that city. He established many students in Przemysl, including his nephew Rabbi Gedalia Szmelkes, who later became the rabbi of the city, and his son–in–law Rabbi Nathan Lewin. The “Beit Yitzchak” died on Yom Kippur eve 5666 (1906) after the Kol Nidrei service. His many students and admirers came to Lwow from all corners of Galicia for his funeral, which took place the day after Yom Kippur. His coffin, which was followed by myriads of mourners, was covered with his housecoat, which he wore for decades at the time he would study Torah.

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With the end of this survey of this era of more than 350 years, in which 26 rabbis served in Przemysl, and with all of its background, it is worthwhile to note that the Yeshiva in Przemysl which was headed by the Maharsha”l, who was the first rabbi known to us, was founded and strengthened by the Przemysl parnas Yehoshua Szmelkes, the son of the parnas of the city of Prague, Shmuel Reich Szmelke.

Famous rabbis in Poland bearing the name Szmelke or Szmelkes, descended from the parnas Yehoshua, served for many generations until the final rabbi in the chain of rabbis in this overview, the great rabbinical decisor Rabbi Yitzchak Szmelkes, the son of Rabbi Chaim Shmuel Szmelke.

The aforementioned Yeshiva existed in Przemysl for many generations and attracted not only students, but also great rabbis who stood at its helm. After it was liquidated in the latter generations, Rabbi Yitzchak Szmelkes maintained in a different form its splendid tradition of maintaining many renowned students[7].

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Chai means living, whereas Met means dead. Back
  2. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: “This halachic decision of the “Mateh Moshe” of Przemysl was brought to the attention of the masses by Minister Dr. Yosef Burg in his speech on Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), relying on Mr. David Weisbrod (Halachmi). This custom was accepted by many after the Holocaust. (Translator's note. Yosef Burg was the Minister of Religion in Israel for many years.) Back
  3. The Arba Turim (Four Pillars) is a precursor to the Shulchan Aruch (code of Jewish Law). Back
  4. These terms (Magid Meisharim and Moreh Tzedek) imply that he served as a preacher and rabbi, but not as head of the rabbinical court or city rabbi. Back
  5. This was due to the influence of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria on the founders of Hassidim. Back
  6. Mendelssohn's translation and commentary of the Torah. Back
  7. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: A special article in this book is dedicated to the personality of Rabbi Gedalia Szmelkes, who served as the head of the rabbinical court of Przemysl during our generation. Back

Editor's Footnote

  1. Since“Gora–Gory” means“mountain–mountains”, this is most probably“villages of mountain region (Bieszczady, near Turka).” Back


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