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Synagogues and Religious Ministrants

 

My translation of parts of the “Rowne; sefer zikaron“ is dedicated to
the memories of my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles:

Meir Ross and Hodil (Bernstein)
        Azriel Razy and Malka (Rutenberg)
        Ethel Ross
        Israel Ross and Shulamit (Ma-Yafit)
        Yaakov Ross and Fania
Rabbi Chaim Rutenberg and Rikel (Sfard)
        Chaya
        Chana
        Wolf and Jennie
        Lazer
        Maya and Asher
        Debra and Itzhak Sapir
        Shifra
        Feiga and Itzhak Gorinstein
        Brendil and Moshe Spector
And their children
Meir Razy
2018


Synagogues and Religious Seminaries

Aharon Amihud

Translation by Meir Razy

Rovno was populated by Jews, most of them were practicing their religion until the last generation, so it is not surprising that the city was blessed with many synagogues, seminaries, chapels, “Kloizim” and “minianim” and the lives of many generations were centered around them. Each was used for prayer and Torah study, and each had its own history. Some of them were old–fashioned and had a glorious past while only a few were new. All the holy places will be mentioned In this short list, including their cantors and beadles: The Great Synagogue, The Old (Great) Beit Midrash, The Old Kloiz, The Rabbi Leibush Seminary, The American Synagogue on the Volya, Adat Yeshurun, The Mishnayot Assembly, Dakrasna, Beit Yoseph, The Tailors' Synagogue, The Shoemakers' Synagogue, The Waggoneers' Synagogue, The Carpenters' Synagogue, The Builders' Synagogue, The Water Transporters' Synagogue, The Merchants' Synagogue (Subbotniks), The Pisiuk Synagogue, The Blank Synagogue, The Trisk Kloiz, Beit Levi (of the Stepan Hassidim), Beit Israel (of the Stolin Hassidim), Beit Shmuel (of the Brazna Hassidim), The Olyka Hassidim Synagogue, The Kamenka Hassidim Synagogue, The Prayer House of Admo”r Meir'ke of Brazna, The Prayer House of the Rabbi of Kaszowka, The Prayer House in the Talmud Torah school, The Great Synagogue of the Kavkazka, Minyanenu of Pinia Gleit and some regular “minianim” attached to prayer houses and elsewhere.

The Great Synagogue. According to information in the encyclopedia, Josef Lyubomirsky, the Duke of the city, allowed the Jewish community of Rovno to erect a modest building as a general synagogue in 1786, and it was kept as the Great Synagogue. The wooden building burned down in the Great Fire of 1830. The construction of a large brick building began on the same spot ten years later (in 1840) and it took 34 years due to the lack of funds, until it was completed in 1874. The building was erected at the initiative of Rabbi Miasi, who temporarily resided in Rovno at the time, and by his relative Rabbi Avraham Mamtis. The construction of the building was carried out with the efforts of Rabbi Shmuel Velvelle, the father of Rabbi Alter Nachtenstein. For almost forty years they have collected alms and donations from many people to complete the building and to prepare it for its purpose. According to old stories, a weekly tax of three kopecks was levied on every Jewish family in Rovno, and the collector, who committed himself not to receive a reward for this mitzvah, was Yoseph ben Feiga–Zelda. When they came to complete the inner ceiling and again faced funding shortfall, the rabbis declared that it was the duty of every Jew in all the synagogues to donate again for the completion of the building. A prayer shawl or object of silver or gold was taken as a pledge from each person, forcing him to redeem the pledge with real money. The benefactor Sheinka Zilberfarb contributed the funds to complete the building's roof. For a long time the outside of the building remained unpainted and without proper furniture inside until Rabbi Shlomo Nemirovsky's efforts to obtain five thousand rubles for this purpose from the kosher meat tax receipts that the Russian government had collected. Nemirovsky worked to enlarge the area of the synagogue courtyard by drying part of the adjacent swamp and building a fence around the courtyard. The treasurer Rabbi Shlomo Kulikovicher brought a beautiful,

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gold–plated ark into the synagogue. Recently, the treasurers Michal Reznik and Shimon Tabachnik set up two shops on the side of the synagogue for producing regular income. They also planted a number of trees in the courtyard and renovated the building. This synagogue encompassed a lot of “history”: all kinds of events, receptions, etc. echoed between its walls, and it was witness to the joys and tribulations of the Jewish community in the city for many years. Recently, after the Holocaust, it served as a temporary shelter for the survivors.

The latest leaders of the synagogue were: Valvell Gendelberg, Schuster, Bronstein, Noah Gam, Moshe Stok, then his son David Stok and others.

The Old Great Beit Midrash. A brick building built in 1770 by a local Jew, Rabbi Meir of whom only little is known. He had properties and was a philanthropist who covered all the expenses of the building, including its furniture and its antique clock, from his own wealth, without asking others to contribute. The man enjoyed his great work, which gave the city a unique holy place, where the voices of Torah and prayers were always heard. This building is considered among the oldest in the city. The community leader, Rabbi Shmuel Velvelle, introduced changes in the building and improved it during the 1890s.

The Old Kloiz. The Kloiz was built near The Great Old Beit Midrash, around 1760, by Rabbi Aharon ben Shmuel HaCohen. The building was leaning on its side due to its old age so the leaders of the city and its worshipers decided to rebuild and renovate it. The philanthropist Rabbi was rich and a great Torah scholar, one of the Hassidic leaders. He supported a number of scholars who devoted themselves only to Torah study for the sake of the same Kloiz at his own expense. Among these students was Rabbi Dov Ber, one of the great disciples of the Ba'al Shem Tov, a “talmid chacham” and a saint, who would be known in the world of Hassidism as “HaMagid of Mezhrich and of Rovno”.

The Elders of the generation tell that the basement of the Kloiz housed the mikveh of Reb Dov Ber and his disciples. It is also said that the Rabbi of Lyady[1] the author of the book “Tanya”, studied there with Dov Ber.

The Rabbi Leibush Seminary. A beautifully plastered, two–story brick building that stood at the corner of Minska and Suvorna streets. The building was the wholesale trade center for manufactured goods. Ten stores filled the lower floor while the upper floor served as a magnificent Beit Midrash named for Rabbi Leibush. The building was erected around 1830 by Rabbi Leibush Hertzberg, a philanthropist, to serve as a place of Torah and prayer for himself and his wife Rochce. In his Will from 1857, it was stated that the income from the shops of the building would be used to support charities and charitable institutions for the poor of the city and to maintain the seminary.

The Krasna Synagogue. This general synagogue is named after the street where it stood. One of the oldest wooden synagogues of Rovno, built around the year 1840. When the building was burnt by one of the great fires of the last century, a beautiful stone building was constructed in its place with donations from the city's donors and worshipers. One of the trustees, who took care of the construction of the new building, was Rabbi Ya'akov Banis who probably was also one of its beadles and builders. Officially, it was called The Vinnitzky Synagogue.

Beit Yoseph Synagogue. Beautiful and internally ornate, this building stood in Kanyazaski Alley in the downtown part of the city. It was erected in 1892 with the efforts

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and concerns of Rabbi Joel–Ber Grinwald. It was a unique synagogue whose worshipers knew how to care for the masses in difficult times. During the days of Petliura's calamities they opened a store selling bread and meat at the lowest prices and made matzahs for the needy. They served as a model for the worshipers of other synagogues, who followed these leads.

The Trisky Kloiz stood on Zamkowa Street across from the Great Synagogue and was officially named “Rosenstein” after its builder. Berke Esther Scheinchis, Rabbi Berke Rosenstein's wife, donated a large plot of land to the Trisk Hassidim, on which they also built two hostels (“Hospitality” and “Linat HaTzedek”). These buildings were given to the Rovno community in memory of the late Tzeitel Shimshonos', the daughter of Rabbi Shimon of Nowy Staw, wife of Rabbi Moshe Leib of Rozhyshche. After the wooden building of the Kloiz was destroyed by fire, a new building was erected in its place, with the support of Rabbi Shmeryl Beharal, Avraham Pinchas, Fischel Melamed, and Lazer Schleif, who left the seminary because most of his worshipers were “dissidents”, followers of the Stepan Hassidim.

The Volyan synagogue. This synagogue, one of the older synagogues, was the first in the Volya suburb and was built in 1839 on Tomarowska Street at the corner of Minska. Repairs and improvements were made to the building which served as a central synagogue for its neighborhood in the 1880s.

The Mishnayot Synagogue. A wooden building, built in 1892 in the Pikarski alley near Tomarowska Street by the Learning Society on the Volya, under the dedicated leadership of the beadles Rabbi Dov Signer, Pesach Hoichberg, Yomtov Sosna, Joseph Pinegar (aka Joseph Siseshkar). The official name of the synagogue was Komarcheski, that is “of the merchants”. After a few years, the building was in need of major repairs, and in 1922–4 it was rebuilt in stone with the dedication of Rabbi Asher Janinger, Yeshayahu Sosna, Isaac Grinshpon, Ben–Zion Roiz, Avraham Kaziel, Zvi Heller, Yechiel Madvad and the old Rabbi Avraham Isaac.

Beit Levi Synagogue – Stepiner. It was a chapel of Stepan Hassidim in Rovno, named for the Admo”r Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Stepan. It was built in 1892 on Minska Street with donations and the sale of “Mekomot” (=reserved seats). One of the treasurers was Rabbi Meir Brik.

The Beith Israel Prayer House – Stoliner. The wooden building of the Stolin Chapel for the Admo”r Rabbi Israel Parlov of Stolin stood on Kowalska Street. In 1908 a brick building, improved and decorated inside, was built in its place. Funding for the building came from the sale of “Mekomot” and the collection of donations, vows, etc. It is known that the prayer style of the Stolin devotees was filled with great enthusiasm and their voices would come out of the chapel.

The Merchant's Synagogue (Subbotniks) stood at No. 62 Wartowa Street. The synagogue's worshipers were mainly merchants, but at earlier times they prayed there only on Saturdays and holidays and so remained the nickname “Subbotniks” meaning Sabbath worshipers. It was built in 1892 by Aharon Margalit and Mendel Rydel. In 1902 it went up in flames, and a year later, in 1903, it was rebuilt in brick by Manish Efrat, Hirsch Lichtan and Jacob Fishbein, with donations and income from the sale of “places.” In distant days

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it was known as the “Berke Sheinches Minian”, and it is believed that Rabbi Berke was its first founder in the last century.

The Wagoners' Synagogue. This was a brick building built by the wagon drivers who worshiped in it. The building stood at Strorokladbyszczanska Street and was built with the efforts and activities of the beadle Rabbi Yechiel Polishuk, who served as the gabbai (treasurer, beadle) of the synagogue for many years.

The Tailors' Synagogue. Stood at 49 Shkolna Street. It was first built in wood, and after it deteriorated it was replaced in 1895 by a new stone building that was beautifully decorated. The person in charge of constructing the new building was Yoseph Alba, who raised funds from the sale of Mekomot, Aliyot (=reading the Torah during the services) and more.

The Shoemakers' Synagogue. Was at 5 Sapozna Street. One of the oldest wooden synagogues in the city; A beautiful brick building was built in 1883 with the efforts of Mr. Melamed and Mr. Gedaliah Eisenman.

The Carpenters' Synagogue. Stood at 7 Krasna Street. After it was burned in 1903, a new brick building replaced it. The active treasurers were Simcha Vinokur and Elimelech Blay, who collected donations from the owners of the “places” and various donations.

The Builders' Synagogue. A brick building was built in 1912 with the active efforts of Yudel Finkelstein and Moshe Duchlas. The funding was collected from donations and the sale of “places”.

The Prayer House for the Olyka Hassidim. It was also called “Kupaczka Shihal” where many worshipers from the Volya region (even not Hassidim) gathered. The chapel was built in 1900 in place of the “Olyka Shtibel” in memory of the Admo”r of Olyka and the Olyka dynasty. The construction continued for several years due to lack of resources, and was finally completed with the efforts of the Ephraim Reis, Shmuel Konstantinovsky, Zelig Halberstrom, Rabbi Yitzhak Birstein and others. It was Halberstrom who was successful in receiving of the ground for the synagogue from Duke Lyubomirsky as a gift.

The photograph shows the interior of the chapel and the artistic ark that was brought into it in 1913 by the beadles of those days. The first sitting on the right is the famous Hebrew teacher Rabbi Asher–Lemel Kolker Z”L. Among the others, Rabbi Gershon Gonik, Ziga Bronstein, and high–ranking workers who took the trouble to collect money for the completion and improvements of the building, and who later ran it.

 


The prayer house for the Olyka Hassidim

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The “America” Synagogue stood on the Volya on Aleksandrowska Street. It was built in 1890 with the participation of Mr. Kamin (the contractor of the barracks in Rovno), who donated materials and money, and of some residents from the neighborhood around the “American Rovno”. The officials took care of providing furniture at the end of the construction and they became the beadles of this synagogue and ran it.

The Quart Chapel stood at the end of Barmatzka–Mickiewicz Street, and was among the less popular chapels in the city. It was called Quart because it was built by Rabbi Yodel Quart, who also took care of his furnishings and maintenance.

The Synagogue of Water Transporters. It was located in Kavkazka Street and was built in 1904. One of its initiators was Rabbi Israel Gritze, and there were others. Its construction took more than two years. With the growth of the community around the synagogue and the addition of worshipers, the building was expanded in 1922 by Shimon Buchman, who gave a considerable loan for this purpose and also continued to look after the synagogue afterwards.

The “Adat Yeshurun” Synagogue was located in Tomarowska Lane in front of Manizhny and the corner of large Minska, a beautiful brick building built in 1900 with contributions from its worshipers and their payments for permanent “places”. Mr. Yudel Etkes provided materials worth a thousand rubles for the completion of the building and then announced that he was donating the materials for the benefit of the synagogue.

The Pisiuk Chapel stood on Afrikanska Street, on the top floor of the house that was dedicated by the owners, Hertz Meir and Shulamit Pisiuk, to be a vocational school. It was a beautiful synagogue, planned by Mr. Pisiuk and built at his own expense. A library and a choir with a conductor were also situated next to the synagogue. The chapel had income from renting the lower floor to a mechanical bakery, one of the first in Volhynia. The deficit was covered by Mr. Pisiuk himself. Famous cantors always served in the chapel, among them Khemlenytsky (from Zhitomir) and Koussevitzky, before he moved to London.

The Blank Chapel (on the Volya). Was built by the governess Shifra Blank with her money in memory of her late husband (died in Otowock in 1920) and her two sons, who were murdered by hooligans–robbers in their home in Rovno on the 18th of Adar 1919.

The prayer house in the Talmud Torah. Since the establishment of the Talmud Torah on Suvorna–Klastorna Street, a “Minyan” had been set up for prayer in one of its halls for the students. It became a synagogue for workers in stores after some time.

Beit Shmuel Prayer House for the Hassidim of Brazna. Was named after the Admo”r Rabbi Shmuel'ke Pachnik of Brazna on Krasna Street. A modest brick building in the style of most of the city's synagogues. The building was built by the followers of the Brazna dynasty with Rabbi Feivish Reznik as its head. Donations were collected and “places” were sold to worshipers as usual but barely enough to complete the building. One of the well–known treasurers of the chapel was Rabbi Meir Kitman, a respectable old man who had spent years improving the chapel.

Rabbi Meir'ke's Chapel. This was a spacious room in the apartment of Rabbi Meir'ke of the Brazna dynasty on Krasna Street. The room was adapted as a regular prayer house with several “Minyanim” of regular and occasional worshipers.

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The Synagogue of the Rabbi from Kaminka. At this Rabbi's house in Nitzala Lane opposite Wakazalna–Kolyova Street, a regular prayer room, carrying the name of its owner, was arranged.

The Prayer House in Linat–HaTzedek Hostel. A regular prayer room was dedicated as a synagogue in the building of the hostel that stood in the alley opposite the Great Synagogue on Zamkowa Street. On Sabbaths and holidays, this synagogue was full of worshipers from different circles.

The Minyan at the Etz Chaim Yeshiva. From the beginning of the Yeshiva in a building dedicated by Rabbi Yitzhak Ze'ev Zop and his wife Chanche a minyan was set. Its worshippers were mostly yeshiva students, teachers and neighbors.

There were also “minyanim” for public prayer in the guesthouse of Rabbi Pinchas Gleit in the alley on the side of Suvorna–Klastorna Street; in the “Linat HaZedek” on the Volya and in the entry rooms of several chapels; in the apartment of the Rabbi of Kaszowka and more.

About 30 “holy places” for prayer and Torah were in Rovno, and all of them were full of worshipers. Some of them served as hospices for the Torah, in which people took Mishna lessons, Ein Ya'akov and Gemara lessons regularly between Mincha and Ma'ariv prayers. Remembered are the scholars who sat studying Torah all day in the old synagogues and “Kloizim,” such as Rabbi Aharon Bar Shmuel HaCohen and the dozens of Talmudic scholars whom he was supporting two decades ago, at his expense at the old Kloiz, and they had not stopped learning. Next to them were just those learning for the sake of learning: the famous Rabbi Leib Sarah's, who had studied for years at the Kloiz in Rovno; Rabbi Dov Ber, the Great Magid, who for years was absorbed in his studies together with his students in the old Kloiz. Even in the current century children were climbing up to the old Kloiz attic to see the “pillar” and the bench of “HaMagid” that had been kept there. The elders of the generation tell that a dispute had broken out as they approached the Kloiz inspection: some said that the Kloiz, its order, shape, and benches should be preserved as they were in the days of HaMagid Dov Ber, and to make only the necessary repairs, while others saw the need to rebuild and improve the Kloiz. Each side had their arguments. Finally, a compromise was reached: they refurbished the outside walls and later completed the internal arrangements.

Recently, the benches have been replaced, as well as the way they are positioned.

Later on, Rabbi Todros Rosenthal, author of “Halacha Psuka”, Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac Harif, Rabbi Aharon Lipper, Rabbi Shmulik'l Rutenberg, and many others studied in Rovno.


Translator's footnote:

  1. Shneur Zalman of Lyady, was an Orthodox rabbi, the founder and first Rabbi of Chabad, a branch of Hassidic Judaism, then based in Lyady in the Russian Empire. Return


The Rovno Melody

Shlomo Ravitz

Translation by Meir Razy

It is well known that the Jews of Volhynia excelled in their cordiality and all their ways of life, their deeds were directed towards the heart. Hence the birth of Hassidism and cantorial music in Volhynia, the natural tendency of its Jews to play and sing, and their fondness for cantorial music all these years.

Close to Berdichev, which became known as the cradle of cantorial music, Rovno enjoyed the fame of the famous cantors Zaidel Rovnor (Margovsky), Yaakov Furman and others. However, if the publicity and the respect for Rovno did not match that of Berdichev which produced a whole line of famous cantors, in terms of eagerness for cantorial music, Rovno was no less. The Jews of Rovno had always flocked

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The notes of The Rovno melody

 

to the many synagogues that glorified the city, to listen to the songs and prayers of their cantors, and especially to the Great Synagogue – to listen to the hymns and the prayers of resident cantors and visiting ones.

To what extent did the Jews of Rovno feel affection for the tunes? This fact may witness: I was a resident of Kharkov in 1918. A Jew visited my house (his name slipped out of my mind) and introduced himself as a Rovno resident, a merchant by profession, who had come to Kharkov for his business. In the conversation that developed, the man revealed to me that he had come to see me mainly because of my cantorial abilities and his desire to absorb some of my favorite creations. It was a wondrous thing to me and I did not immediately get it. A merchant who came from distant Rovno, his time may be limited, and yet he was searching cantorial music? In the course of the conversation it became clear to me that my guest was fond of the most

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prominent cantors, and before we set out on this subject, he began humming an unfamiliar melody, full of Hassidic outpouring and heart–warming joy. When he sensed in me that my ear was absorbing the sounds of his melody, he also took out a bunch of sheets of notes from his pocket, leafed through them, and handed me one page to sing. I looked at the notes and was impressed. I did not hide my excitement from him, and it pleased him very much.

It is a deep melancholy melody, a kind of Hassidic rhapsody that raised great interest in me. It has been more than thirty–five years since, and this melody that we called “The Rovno Tune” has not been forgotten, its taste has not expired. I brought the melody to my students and we adjusted it for a prayer. It is sung to this day.


Cantors, Cantorial Music and Folk Singers

M. S. Geshuri

Translation by Meir Razy

The Rovno population was fond of its cantors and singers. Several famous cantors, some of the greatest cantors of Russia, appeared in the Great Synagogue and in the famous seminaries. Rovno gave its name to some of the cantors; among them was Zaidel Rovnor, one of the lions in the group, who will be discussed later.

In addition to the regular cantors who served in Rovno for certain periods, several famous cantors visited the city on their travels to the large cities of Russia and Poland for public performances and concerts. The Rovno audience would fill the synagogue or the theater, and listen with trepidation and trembling to the prayer of the cantor and his choir.

Rovno usually kept the traditional version of prayers and melodies accepted for generations, and its cantors knew how to keep this line without the introduction of foreign implants into their poetry and without trying to decorate the prayers with melodies borrowed from the secular world; At the same time, they brought innovations, based on the established style of the usual songs to the audience, and these were accepted by the local audience.

Dozens of cantors passed through Rovno, and almost each one left a trace of inspiration in the hearts of their listeners. Moreover, the choirs of the cantors also drew local talents, from which they later emerged as cantors and singers who enriched the traditional Jewish folk music. A number of cantors who served in Rovno or who passed through it during different periods will be listed here.

Ben–Zion Opandik–Hoffmann was born in Uman in the region of Kiev in 1871. As a child, he sang in his father's, Cantor Meir Opandik, choir in the Friedland's Kloiz. He had learned musical notes from Michal Balter, and when he was fourteen he composed several cantorial works and began to stand before the box in front of admiring audiences.

At the age of eighteen, he served as conductor for the famous cantor Gershon Sirota in Odessa, where he became known as the “white conductor.” Others called him “Notes Feaster”. He had many students, among them Mordechai–Leib Baghdarsky, Peretz Sandler and Joseph Gotbatter. At the age of twenty the young Cantor travelled across Russia and served as cantor in the cities of Tetiiv, Shargorod, Piascezno, Lida, and Rovno where the audience enjoyed

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his pleasant prayers and appreciated it. He would have remained in Rovno for many years, for he too liked the city, had he not received a call from the great city of London.

In London, he had been a successful cantor in several synagogues and composed a series of new recitatives and melodies, changing his family name to Hoffmann.

Rabbi Elyakum–Ephraim Goldin, a native of the town of Mezhrich in the Rovno district. At first he lived in the town of Alexandria (Oleksandriia) and served as a cantor. When his reputation reached Rovno – they invited him to serve as a cantor in the Old Great Beit Midrash. A cantor with reputation was Rabbi Elyakum Ephraim (known as Rabbi Yokel the Cantor), and many people from other synagogues in the city would come to hear his prayers and singing. Simcha Koussevitzky, who was one of his singers, received training and guidance, as did many others whose name became famous in the cantorial world. Rabbi Yokel also engaged in the sale of prayer shawls in order to earn a living and his righteous wife Farrell helped him in this trade.

Rabbi Yokel lived in Rovno for forty years, and his natural abilities were not abated. After he remained alone and his daughter was already in Eretz Israel, he also immigrated there. A few years later he went to visit his family in Rovno, stayed there, and perished in the Nazi Holocaust in 1942.

 


Rabbi Yokel the Cantor

 

Rabbi Eliezer Schleif – also known as Rabbi Lazer, the cantor of the Trisk Hassidim Synagogue. A skillful cantor from the old school with a strong and melodious voice. Many people still remember his prayers and melodies. Hassid and extreme in his piety, he induced much of the Hassidic enthusiasm in his prayer, which was accepted by the audience.

Rabbi Moshe Zagranitschny – one of the veteran cantors of Rovno. Throughout his life he served as cantor in the rabbinical school of Rabbi Leibush, a scholar and an excellent cantor. If his prayer on the Sabbath was a lift for those who heard it, the joy of his prayer during the High Holidays attracted many worshipers from other synagogues. He was accepted in the city and respected by everyone.

Rabbi Moshe Erlichman – the cantor of the old Kloiz for many years. He was born in the town of Norinsk to a Hassidic family and was enthusiastically involved with people. He would pray with emotion and enthusiasm and inspire the audience. This won him a place among the cantors of Rovno.

Rabbi Yehoshua Shorim. Served as cantor in the Tailors' Synagogue. He was born in the town of Koretz in 1864 to his father, Rabbi Wolf–Zalman, the Melamed (teacher), who was called “Der Gemara Melamed”. Already when he was still a boy, Joshua had a strong tendency to sing, travelled to Rovno to Zaidel Rovnor, and was accepted into his choir as a singer. From then on, Yehoshua was attached to Rovno and to being a cantor until he became a cantor in his own right. He was accepted into the tailors' synagogue and arranged a choir of his own.

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Rabbi Yehoshua lived in Rovno for twenty–two years. After the First World War, he wandered to Canada and was received as a cantor in the synagogue in Montreal.

Meir–Gedaliah Bargad. Born in Slavuta, Volhynia, but raised and educated in Rovno. He began singing with the cantor Moshe Asher in the Rabbi Leibush School at the age of eleven, and at the age of twelve he moved to the choir of Zaidel Rovnor. After the latter left Rovno, Meir–Gedaliah sang in the choir of Rabbi Ahara'le Feintuch in Kovel, and later as a tenor and conductor of the cantor Chemalnicki in Rovno. From 1922 he was in America.

Cantor Offenhandler – served as cantor in the Great Synagogue as the substitute for Zaidel Rovnor and was considered one of the greatest of his contemporaries in cantorial studies. He was musical not only when he stood before the ark, but also in his conversation with people. Every sentence he said was uttered with such emphasis, as if he had been said with traditional biblical notes. His appearance was captivating and dignified.

Once it occurred to him to show signs of progress so he wore a high skullcap of cantors – without covering his head with a prayer shawl – instead of the traditional skullcap of traditional cantors and the prayer shawl on his head as usual. This aroused resentment among the worshipers, who considered it a deviation from the norm, but with his respectable personality and beautiful prayers, they were satisfied with the decision to forbid him from carrying the “modern” kippa and the subject got off the agenda.

Shlomo Zigel. A native of Mezibuz, he was a singer among the great cantors of his generation and learned a lot from them. When he felt capable of passing before the ark as a perfect cantor, he made a journey through the Jewish shtetls until he was accepted by the city of Volochysk on the border of Russia and Galicia as the cantor; He was a cantor, an improvisator and the conductor of large choirs. He trained many students in cantorial art and some of his students served in Vienna and other large cities. From Volochysk, Rabbi Shlomo Zigel moved to Shepetovk. He stayed there for a few years, and then moved to Rovno. Here the name of Rabbi Shlomo the Cantor became famous and many people came into the synagogue to enjoy his beautiful singing. He was imaginative and used his cantorial abilities to entertain the audience with his pleasant prayers. He educated his sons in Zionism and to settle in the land of Israel. One of them is the educator and pedagogue Yitzhak Livni (Zigel), who has lived in Jerusalem since before the First World War. Years later he accepted his sons' invitation and made aliyah to Eretz Israel where he would sing from time to time in synagogues in various places. Many people heard him in the synagogue of the Rabbi of Drohobycz in the Bukhara neighborhood of Jerusalem, and although his voice was no longer as clear, the worshipers were nevertheless attracted to his improvisations.

Yaakov Fruman. Like Zaidel Rovnor, Jacob Fruman was called – “Yankel Rovnor” even though he had served in Rovno for only a few years. He was a musical force known as “playing with divine grace” with his tenor voice. In 1909 he moved to Rovno and served as a cantor in the Great Synagogue (before that he was a cantor in Mezhrich, in the Polish city of Siedlce and in Kiev). Fruman captured the hearts of the people of Rovno and his melodies were sung by everyone. His house was a sort of home for musicians and singers. He trained students with talent for cantorial and religious singing.

Fruman left Europe in 1911 and went to America. In New York he was accepted as a cantor

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and his name became famous. He died in 1924. To this day many people respect him and mention his name with admiration as one of the greatest cantors. Among his compositions – “Kol Ya'akov” for Slichot – is common in the world of cantors, and many are singing it.

Jacob Goldfix. Born in 1880 in Rovno, where he grew up and was educated. At the age of eight he had a beautiful alto voice that developed over the years to tenor. At a young age he was appointed as a cantor in the synagogue of the Frayshtatl in Rovno thanks to his musical talents. Soon after he was invited as a cantor to the synagogue in Rozhyshche (between Rovno and Lutsk), wandered to Canada and the United States and served as a cantor there in various places.

Y. S. Chemalnicki. A cantor and devotee of poetry. Although he was considered a medium level cantor who did not demand respect and publicity, he stood out during the years he spent in Rovno as a cantor and singing force and gained a respected position in the city. When he was invited by Rabbi Meir Pisiuk in 1919 to serve in his synagogue, he organized a large choir that built up his reputation over time, and many would listen to his prayer, accompanied by the choir he himself orchestrated and conducted. He was appreciated by not only the people of the city, but also many cantors and guests from other cities.

Chemalnicki, accompanied by his choir, would travel from time to time to the towns of the surrounding areas for prayers and concerts. Among his singers were Meir Bargad, Shayke Inspector (who later became a cantor in the city), Foxman, Shechukel, Asher Rachman and Zarenkin, who were excellent in their voices and singing. Chemalnicki was called in 1931 to London and went to serve as cantor there.

 


Cantor Y. S. Chemalnicki

 

Aharon Amihud (Kipnis) came to Rovno from his town of Ushomyr and was accepted as the cantor in the Krasna Synagogue. More than he excelled in singing, he stood out as a cantor with an emotion and a pleasant voice. The synagogue worshipers, most of whom were of the “Amcha” (simple people) type, were connected to the prayer of the cantor Kipnis. He served them during the twenty years of his staying in Rovno, from 1903 to 1923. He had styles and melodies that were popular with the Rovno audiences. He was a modest man and a scholar, who had faithfully carried out his duties. Upon his arrival at Eretz Israel, he became a cantor in the Great Synagogue of Tel Aviv.

Cantor Zingerman. After the First World War, Zingerman served with a short break during the years 1923–1927 as cantor in the Great Synagogue. He had a successful choir, the conductor of which was Baruch Kinstler, a musical son of Kremnitz. In 1924 he left for one year and then he returned to Rovno. Feldman fulfilled the role of conductor of the choir during his absence, and the famous alto, Yitzhak Waldman, of Kovel, stood out.

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Cantor Kartka served as Cantor of the Great Synagogue of Rovno in the years 1930–1937. Like his predecessors, he was accompanied by a choir. The tradition became nature, and the worshipers of the Great Synagogue got used to a cantor with a choir and could not give it up anymore.

Mordechai Hershman. He was famous for many years in the world of cantorial music and was called in 1927 to Rovno to serve in the Great Synagogue, where he remained on duty until 1929. Rovno was proud of him as a cantor, which the city did not easily attract. There were 25 singers in his choir, among them some outstanding voices who became famous over time. Among these were: Cyrkel, Yoseph Livie, Tuvia Livie and others. The choir conductor was Feldman. Hershman's performances elsewhere raised the reputation of Rovno, the city of his tenure, as a “cantorial force”. However, Hershman was attracted to the great world and when he left Rovno, he was honored in America and served for ten years at the Beith–El Hall in Brooklyn. From there he immigrated to Eretz Israel. His numerous recordings made him famous in the world.

Cantor Zinger from Zhitomir served in the tailors' synagogue in Rovno for about three years after Rabbi Yehoshua Shorim left the city and moved to Canada. His choir became famous and many would come to listen to his praying and his singing.

The Koussevitzky family was famous in the cantorial world for its special heirloom charm. The four brothers: Moshe, Yaakov, Simcha and David all excelled as artists, singing and chanting for almost fifty years.

The Koussevitzky brothers, who came from Smargon near Vilna, had a strong connection to Rovno, the place of many of their performances, and the pride Jewish Rovno. Brother Simcha made his first steps and set up a choir of high quality. For nearly three years he served as cantor in the Great Synagogue and ascended to the heights in cantorial singing. At first his brother David Koussevitzky was the conductor of his choir, and later he was replaced by the talents of the singers Cyril and Feldman. Koussevitzky was liked by the Rovno people and was fond of them too. After he left, he would occasionally visit and perform in concerts.

His brothers, David and Moshe Koussevitzky, also visited Rovno and appeared before the public in prayers and public concerts. The youngest of them, David, made his way across Vilna, Rovno, Lvov, Warsaw, London, and other Jewish centers to New York, where he settled after World War II, where he had great opportunities and possibilities for climbing the musical success ladder. He often visited Jewish congregations in America, Europe and Israel and conducted concerts of cantorial music, folk songs, operas, etc. The concert halls and art galleries in America saw him as a very welcome guest and his fans increased.

Other singers and cantors of Rovno were:
Rabbi Berl Petlis. A cantor of the Subbotniks Synagogue for many years, from the beginning of the twentieth century.

Rabbi Ze'ev Presant – the permanent cantor at the Linat HaTzedek Synagogue in the city between 1918 and 1925.

Rabbi Yitzhak Birstein. Known as “Rabbi Itza the Melamed” and the cantor

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of the synagogue for the Olyka Hassidim (he was also one of the founders of the chapel and its beadles), a scholar and supreme cantor.

Rabbi Avraham Smoliar served for many years as a cantor in the Valian Synagogue on Tomarowska Street.

Rabbi Pinchas Smoliar – a cantor in the Aderet Yeshurun Synagogue on the Volya. Was accepted and respected by his audience.

Rabbi Levi Smoliar – an educated Jew who taught in the Talmud Torah and had many cantorial talents. He was called to be an official in the Pisiuk Synagogue on Afrikanska Street.

Cantor Teichtil – a cantor at the Rabbi Leibush Seminary. He served for many years and was known in the city as a rabbi. When a choir of Hashomer Hatzair youth was organized in 1919, the cantor Teichtil volunteered to guide it for a period of time.

Rabbi Pinchas the Cantor was a renowned cantor in the city for decades. His voice was hoarse, but his prayer was pure and remembered by many.

Froyke Shliapek – the cantor of Berdichev and the cities Beserabia (known as “Fidel”). The 1925 edition of the “Volhyner Leben” newspaper described his visit and services in Rovno as arousing admiration among the masses. At that time he was offered a permanent cantorial position in the Great Synagogue. And indeed, his heartfelt prayer entered the hearts of the faithful, without the help of a choir.

In addition to the cantors and chaplains mentioned, the greatest cantors of the time appeared in Rovno occasionally and sang their prayers to the audience who was thirsty for religious singing; among them was Gershon Sirota, who prayed at the Rabbi Leibush Beit Midrash, accompanied by the great choir of the Pisiuk Synagogue. Later Sirota appeared with his daughter Helena at the concert.

Other Rovno cantors should be fondly remembered: Yeshayahu Inspector in the Great Synagogue, the veteran cantor Rabbi Moshe Asher and Hazan Fishbein at the Rabbi Leibush Beit Midrash, Ya'akov Goldstein in the Tailors' Synagogue, Rabbi Ze'ev (Velvelle) in the Wagoners' Synagogue.

The Elders of the generation remember the Rovno visits of the cantor Betzalel Schlesinger of Odessa, Shlomo Kashtan (Weintraub), the famous cantor Razumny, Yerucham the Little, Nissi Belzar and others.


The period of Zaidel Rovnor and his singing
(The history of Jewish religious music)

M. S. Geshuri

Translation by Meir Razy

Zaidel Rovnor was a cantor who created a complete theory and founded a school of Jewish liturgy in the synagogue. His music and singing touched the hearts of many of the Jewish congregations in Europe and America at the time. He was a strong power in the art of cantorial music and became famous as one of the leading singers.

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Zaidel Rovnor passed through several stations. His many admirers and acquaintances in the Jewish world knew him by his nickname. He was considered one of the world–famous trio: Yerucham the Little (Blindman), Nissan Belzar (Spivak) and Zaidel Rovnor (Margovsky), all of whom performed as cantors in Berdichev, the cradle of emotional Jewish liturgy. Although Zaidel's residence in Rovno was temporary, as was his temporary stay in other cities where he served, nevertheless he was named after the town of Rovno: Zaidel Rovnor.

 


Rabbi Zaidel Rovnor

 

Even he did not know why he was named “Rovnor” but he justified it by saying: “It all depends on luck, even if it is just a nickname.” His fame grew out of Rovno, which at that time was a respected and important community in the Ukraine and was famous among the Jewish communities in Russia. Zaidel remembered Rovno and the periods he dwelled there and the pleasure his singing gave the audiences until his last day.

By virtue of the attitude towards him and with his distinguished position in Rovno, Zaidel could have remained a cantor in Rovno for the rest of his life, and he did not dream of a “journey” like other cantors; But because of the rivalry of the various communities who envied Rovno and tried to pull Zaidel away, he was finally tempted to move from Rovno to Kishinev.

What was his strength? He found himself in the transition period between the “new” and the “old” in the liturgical music and continued the music of Yerucham the Little and even more of that of Nissan Belzar of the same generation. He received his cantorial training from teachers but created his works with his own great talent. The listener can feel that Zaidel absorbed the melancholy melody of Torah study on the one hand, and the singing atmosphere at the court of the Tzaddik on the other. He studied music notes from the famous Jewish violinist Aharon Moshe Pedhatzur in Kiev and also

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studied the music theory of its various branches: reading and writing notes, harmonics, composition theory, counterpoint, the laws of polyphony, Music Sheet, and so on. He used his knowledge to infuse his compositions with Hassidic style, the sad spirit of his youthful years, along with the gentleness of the Rabbi's melodies as he made Sabbath and holiday tables, the playing of violinist Pedhatzur and the marches of the military. All this was merged into the soul of Zaidel, expressing his own style. His lively tunes were fondly received. Zaidel left behind him a treasure trove of richly pleasing melodies, made with Jewish taste and in a light and pleasant style, which the worshipers liked and even more – the cantors and musicians of his time liked them too. One old man, a son of Rovno, who lives in Israel, praises Zaidel's strength in music, and keeps reminding us of his forgotten song which won hearts. The charm of Zaidel's prayer and singing did not fade from the memory of that old man, who understands Jewish singing and music.

Many of the Rovno Jews were lovers of singing and their critical listening skill was quite developed, so they found in Zaidel's prayer performances the art that only really talented singers can convey, and he opened the gates of music to them. His music and prayer at the synagogue would penetrate the hearts of the worshipers, bringing awakening and elation.

Zaidel was gifted with a pleasant voice, though not very loud, but when he was joined by the voices of his choir – it was a colorful and extremely varied music. His radiant and clever eyes had something lofty, filled with the essence of this faithful and whole Jew, whose art was accompanied by deep religiosity, as he stood there and served his congregation in front of their God. So on Saturdays and on holidays and especially on “High Holydays” he would enchant the worshipers who would be captivated by him.

Zaidel was an ideal type of public emissary who combined all the attributes and skills of this kind of personality: an extremely religious, kosher Jew, a “son of Torah”, “old and at ease, handsome, with a large beard and a pleasant voice”, knowledgeable of his trade, recognizing the values of his mission as serving under God and dedicated to prayer. To this day, his cantorial compositions and works are heard often.

He was one of the most senior of his time in the field of cantorial studies, and Rovno was proud of him. For three years, 1882–1884, he sat in Rovno, and then moved to Kishinev and from there to Berdichev. In 1910 he was called back to Rovno, spent two years in the city and went to America, where he spent the rest of his life as a cantor.

Zaidel taught many students in Rovno and in other places where he practiced. In America, his former students gathered together with his singers and he conducted a performance in one of the largest halls in New York. Zaidel participated in many concerts for choir and orchestra in European and American cities, concerts that attracted large audiences, and he himself conducted them as one of the famous conductors.

Zaidel's life was remarkable. His original name was Yaakov Shmuel Margovsky. He was born in 1856 in Radomyshl, Ukraine, in a Hassidic neighborhood. He was the only son of his parents, who, from their fear for his health, as a boy called him “Zaidel” – an accepted

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virtue for health. His father was a merchant who died when Zaidel was only eighteen months old. His widowed mother made a minimal living from a small leather shop. At the age of three, Zaidel was the best student in the “cheder”, and in the course of his games with children he would hum and sing melodies of prayers that his memory well absorbed. Even when he grew up and sat in the Makarov Kloiz on the Gemara (the holy books) days and nights, he used to sing a lot in his “Alto” voice at the time, and when the Makarovs had a happy event, he joined them with their tunes. Cantor Shpielianski, in whose home Zaidel and his mother lived at that time, was impressed by the child's voice. When he was eight years old, the cantor wanted to add him to his choir but the mother refused, since the child had the reputation of being a Torah scholar and she had hoped to see him growing to be a Rabbi, so he continued to study Torah until the age of sixteen.

And then Zaidel's soul wanted to play the violin and he devoted himself to practicing it. They immediately realized his good musical aptitude. Once he tried to read a book of Torah and his reading amazed the listeners. By now, his youth had passed, and he had to start earning a living, so he started selling and buying flour.

His first appearance as a musician was with the tzaddik of Makarov, Rabbi Ya'akov Yitzhak Twersky, after he accepted the invitation of the Hassidim of his town to go to the Rabbi. The Hassidim, who loved Zaidel very much, told the Rabbi at the Rosh Hashanah table about the tenderness and sweetness that Seidel sang his melodies, and the Rabbi immediately honored him by asking Zaidel to sing “Blessed is He Who Will not Forget You.” With the reverence of the Rabbi and a large congregation of Hassidim, the sixteen–year–old Zaidel sang and since then he began to appear as a Torah reader and later as a cantor. The Rabbi, who was very impressed by Zaidel's prayer and his interpretation of “Blessed is He..”, told his followers a year later that Zaidel would pass before the ark (manage the service) on the High Holydays in the Makarovian Kloiz of Radomyshl. Zaidel immediately went to Makarov and pleaded for his release from the prayer service before the ark, but his claims that he did not know how to pray and did not know any other version or style did not help. He returned by order of the Rabbi to Radomyshl, learned some versions from the cantor of the Kloiz, and prepared himself to serve before the Ark on the High Holydays. Then Zaidel failed in the first Selichot. He went to Makarov and told the Rabbi about his failure, but the Rabbi assured them that he would be “one in his generation” and insisted on his command that Zaidel would pass before the Ark on the High Holydays. Zaidel obeyed the Rabbi's order, stood in front of the ark on the Sunday of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur at the Makarov Kloiz of Radomyshl and excelled in his prayer. This is how “Zaidel Radomyshler” became famous throughout the region as the perfect cantor.

At the same time Zaidel rose through the ranks to become a large merchant in flour. Yet he began to studying music notes and took lessons in music with one of the singers in the municipal synagogue. Standing all day in the flour store he recited his lessons in music, and there he also composed his first treatise of cantorial music – “Blessed Forever”. Jacob Marmar, who later moved to America and received a cantor position in Baltimore, was a famous cantor at that time, and was praying with a large choir in the municipal synagogue. The cantor befriended Zaidel, and when Zaidel showed him his first work, “Blessed Forever”, he was very surprised. He made a few comments that Zaidel accepted. This work is one of Zaidel's best. Trade relations with the large flour merchants in Kiev resulted in them inviting him to lead the prayers in Kiev on the High Holydays. Since then,

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Zaidel had prayed in Kiev during the High Holydays for five years in various synagogues. The famous Jewish violinist Pedhatzur heard him for the first time in prayer. Pedhatzur was very impressed by Zaidel's cordial and heartfelt prayer and invited Zaidel to his house for a cup of tea. On this occasion, Zaidel revealed that he had no knowledge of music theory, and Pedhatzur began teaching him the first musical scales. Zaidel's fame grew, and once, during one of his visits to the Rabbi in Makarov, when he passed in front of the ark on the Sabbath and read the Torah, the Rabbi invited him to his room and said to him: “Seidel, leave the flour trade to others and be a cantor. This is your destiny. Assemble a choir of singers, and I will bless you that people will like you.” Zaidel returned to his home, liquidated his business and began singing, as the commandment of the Rabbi. Thus Zaidel became a cantor, went from one high point to another in the art of prayer and composed melodies that had a reputation all over the world. The people of the city and many of the nearby towns began visiting his services to listen to the prayers of the new star who had rose into the skies of cantors, and spoke a great deal about his wonderful genius and innovations.

In those days a dispute broke out in the city of Zaslav over the position of cantor. The rival community leaders consulted the Makarov tzaddik who instructed them to invite Zaidel from Radomyshl. On Rosh Chodesh (the first day of a new month) Elul (the month before Rosh Hashanah, New Jewish Year) 1881 he arrived in Zaslav, and on that day he performed a small Yom Kippur service that made a strong impression on the entire audience. The opponents therefore agreed to appoint him as the cantor of the Great Synagogue in place of the well–known Rabbi Mordechai, and peace was restored in the city. Zaidel began to take great responsibility for his role and his mind began to ask: What will he do with the choir after the High Holydays, when it is needed only for occasional service? When Seidel realized that he had to make a living from his cantor's position, using his success in Zaslav he began composing new melodies. This, again, impressed the congregation and his reputation spread. The Rovno people sent him messengers, inviting him to move to Rovno and appointed him as the cantor of the Great Synagogue.

During his time in Rovno, Zaidel's ambitions for music grew stronger. It was necessary to create new music for his choir and he successfully innovated a great deal. It was a special experience listening to his choir singing his own works under his guidance.

In 1884, when Nissan Belzar left Kishinev and moved to Berdichev, he suggested to invite Zaidel to take his place. The negotiations between the community of Kishinev and Zaidel took about two years until he agreed to leave Rovno and move to Kishinev. He found it difficult to leave Rovno where he spent ten years. In 1896, when they were about to introduce “Reforms” in the Great Synagogue in Kishinev, Zaidel left the city and became the cantor in the municipal synagogue in Berdichev, in the place of Yerucham the Little, where he served for seven years. In Berdichev, people became fond of Zaidel's prayers, his singing and his melodies, and he had thousands of admirers. He discovered great musical talents in Berdichev and composed interesting works in a Judeo–Hassidic tone for Shabbat prayers, holidays and high holidays – tunes that are remembered and loved to this day.

Zaidel left Berdichev for London in 1903 where he served as a cantor in the “Religion Faithful” Synagogue. Many came to listen to his prayers there too. He raised their spirits with his tunes and musical evenings and the newspapers were filled with his glory. A year later, in 1904, when he returned to Russia, they stopped him in Lvov (Galicia) and invited him to be the cantor in the Porstadt synagogue. Zaidel stayed in Lvov for a while until he was overcome by the demand of the Rovno community to return. Zaidel returned to his post in Rovno in 1911 and by that time he was about

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fifty–five years old. The people of Rovno considered it a great privilege for themselves when “their” Zaidel returned to them.

While in Rovno he planned his move to America, where the Jewish presence grew and he arrived in New York in 1914. The cantorial art in America did not meet his expectations and he planned to return to Europe, but he delayed and waited due to the great respect, publicity and honor he had received, and in the meantime the First World War had broken out and disrupted his plans to leave America. Since his family was in Vienna, he wanted to move there based on a proposal he had received from the cantors' association of Vienna. However, as soon as the news was published in the newspapers, his friends and admirers, together with rabbis and great cantors, hurried to convince Zaidel to stay and created a special foundation for publishing the works he had created for forty years and to ensure his livelihood in old age. Zaidel gave his consent and decided to stay in America. They formed “The Zaidel Rovno Musical Treasure” committee and brought his family from Vienna and celebrated his golden wedding. Zaidel lived in America for about twenty years and died in 1943 at the age of 87.

Zaidel Rovnor, one of the greatest cantors, made his name with his singing; a name will be cherished in the world of Jewish religious music.


Righteous, Devotees and their music

M. S. Geshuri

Translation by Meir Razy

Since distant days, the people of Rovno heard not only the prayers of cantors and their singers, but also popular folk songs of the righteous and devotees (Hassidim, followers of leading Rabbis) who captured the hearts of the masses and pulled them into Hassidism and into music. Music had great influence on the Jews of the city. The righteous brought it to the Jewish street and music added inspiration and enthusiasm. The founder of the Hassidic movement, Rabbi Israel Ba'al Shem Tov (1698–1760), who lived in Mezibuz (in the region of Podol), spread his network over Volhynia, and it was evident that he would visit Jewish settlements in the Volhynia region including Rovno and recruited devotees to his practicing method of Judaism, a method that made its mark on the Jews of the period.

 

The music of Rabbi Dov Ber Hamagid (1700 – 1772)

The power of Hassidic music was not yet felt in the days of the Ba'al Shem Tov. However, at the time of his successor and great disciple, Rabbi Dov Ber, HaMagid of Mezhrich and Rovno, where the leadership of the movement had moved to, and because of his residence in Rovno and other places in Volhynia which were close to Podol, the Hassidic music was greatly enhanced. Indeed, Rabbi Dov Ber was very musical but he refrained from singing during times of fasting and restrained himself while studying Torah and getting into Kabbalah. Only after the Ba'al Shem Tov proved to him that the work of God was not possible through self–torture and sadness and it had to be with joy and the awakening of the soul – he changed his attitude, and since then joy had become the main staple in the work of God. This influenced him to increase his efforts in the composition of melodies and songs, some of them are still being sung to this day by the followers. According to Rabbi Dov Ber, “joy extends from the world of pleasure, which is spiritual, unattainable, and very lofty to become holy.” He would say: “One must always be happy, for sadness is a great inhibitor for the work of the Creator. If, God forbid, a person failed and committed an offense, he should not spend time on being sad, which prevent him from practicing the worship of God.

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He shall be sad for a short time and return to rejoicing the Creator”. Joy is integrated with music. This is how HaMagid appeared with the musical group of the Ba'al Shem Tov and played his melodies at the parties of the Ba'al Shem Tov and his students, and the melodies passed on to his son, Rabbi Avraham “the Angel”, and to his grandson, the righteous Rabbi Israel of Merzin, who later went on to sit in Sadigura, and to other righteous people. The Jews of Rovno, where the HaMagid lived for years (with some breaks), absorbed his melodies and the holiness of his singing penetrated their hearts.

Hassidism was severely shaken by the contrasts of the “opponents” (Mitnagdim) during the days of Rabbi Dov Ber in Rovno and his disciples would come to him for advice. Rovno was the cornerstone of his students' conferences, in which vital matters that stood at the top of the Hassidic world were decided. An open war broke out between the Hassidim and the Mitnagdim in Nisan 1772, after the Ga'on of Vilna and his faction boycotted the Hassidim. In the summer of that year the students of HaMagid gathered in Rovno to discuss the situation and to decide how they would continue to face the danger to their movement. Among the speakers at the rally were also Righteous rabbis from Lithuania and Raisen (Belarus), Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, the Rabbi of Lyady (the founder of Chabad), Rabbi Avraham of Kalisz, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev–Pinsk and others. They decided that the Hassidism would stand firm against its enemies. In this case, too, the singing that encouraged the spirits was not absent. “HaMagid” did not live much longer after that and died in the town of Anipoli on the 19th of Kislev 5733 (1772).

 

Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli in Rovno

One of the most important disciples of HaMagid, was Rabbi Zusha (Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli). Rabbi Zusha had been with HaMagid for years in Rovno and absorbed his spirit and singing, He walked in holiness, all his talk was in melody, he liked the singing and always engaged in reciting Psalms in melody. There were many legends about him in Rovno and elsewhere.

 

Rabbi Leib Ben–Sarah (Sarah's) 1729 – 1790

Rabbi Leib Sarah's was considered a Rovno man after he had lived there for many years and was one of the leaders of Hassidism. Rabbi Leib was quite different from the other leaders. He left no books or individual writings behind, nor was he distinguished in the dissemination of Hassidism, but rather he was a mediator between the “Hidden Lamed Vav Tzaddikim (36 righteous)” and the masses. HaMagid of Mezhrich gave him a letter of recommendation, saying “a man called Rabbi Leib Sarah of Rovno, who deals with the highest level of charity” and in the eyes of the people he becomes a holy and pure man. The rich fantasy of Hassidism described Rabbi Leib's personality as full of wondrous legends, as a man who always moves around, travels from city to city with remarkable speed, in magic leaps, who gathers money for the “hidden” righteous of his time. For this purpose he used to go to the fairs, in Berdichev, in Yarmolintsy and others where he opened a small store that was almost empty for the duration of the fair (hence the name of the poor shops – “Rabbi Leib Sarah's shop”). The imagination of the Hassidim created many wonderful stories about him and his memory remains alive among the people to this very day. His wife who made a poor living from a small shop, stayed in Rovno, while Rabbi Leib moved from place to place.

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The descendants of this Tzaddik were the members of the Beharal family (Hebrew abbreviation for: Rabbi Leib's sons) remained in the city. No Hassidic music is attributed to Rabbi Leib due to his avoidance of publicity.

 

Rovno – The Center of Hassidim

Rovno has not served as a seat for Hassidim leaders after Rabbi Leib Sarah's. In the city, however, the saintly Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz, who “put a good word” for the songs of Hassidim, was often seen. Also seen was Rabbi Ya'akov Yoseph of Ostraha (knowned as “Rabbi Yebey”) and other disciples of the Ba'al Shem Tov and HaMagid, who did much to spread Hassidism. Tzaddikim of the type of Rabbi Ya'akov Shimshon of Shepetovk, who immigrated to Eretz Israel and settled in it, walked through the streets of Rovno. Indeed, Rovno's surroundings were full of righteous people, who attracted masses of devotees to the Sabbath and Holidays services, the Hassidic melody was heard aloud, and Hassidic dances moved the masses and introduced a joyful spirit into the grey light of the everyday life.

A large part of the city's population tended towards Hassidism, which developed deep roots in the city. Different dynasties had their synagogues in Rovno: Trisk, Makarov (of the Chernobyl dynasty), Stepan, Brazna (from the house of the righteous Rabbi Michel Mazlotchev), Stolin (Karlin), Olyka and others, where you could listen to the songs and music of the various sects. The melodies penetrated the hearts of Hassidim and their families, especially on Saturdays and holidays, not to mention anything about the High Holydays when the best cantors performed in the synagogues.

On occasions people could see Tzaddikim who came to visit their flocks and stayed with the city's Hassidic dignitaries. Crowds from Rovno and from the surrounding areas would join parties and charity meals at these times, and the cantors and local musicians performed.

Indeed, the life of the Hassidim in Rovno was full of joy, music and the elevation of the spirit.


HaMagid of Mezhrich and of Rovno

Ben–Zion H. Eilon

Translation by Meir Razy

Rabbi Dov Ber was born in the town of Torczyn, near the city of Lutsk in Volhynia, between the years 1704–1710 to his father, Rabbi Avraham Friedman, who was a poor teacher but a privileged man according to the testimony of the “Pedigree” book, connecting him to Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi (the editor of the Mishna, born 135CE). His mother's pedigree reached Rabbi “Yochanan the Shoemaker” (born in Egypt, circa 100CE). An instructive fact is told from the time of HaMagid's childhood in this context: Once a fire broke out in the town and his father's house went up in flames. When the boy, who was then about eight years old, saw that his mother was very sad, he asked her: “Is it so unfortunate to have a house burned?” She said to him: “Forgive me, not for the house that was burned, I am sorry, but for my burnt–out genealogy list, showing my direct ancestry up to Rabbi Yochanan the Shoemaker”. The boy answered: “Then a new reference will begin from me”.

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The HaMagid of Mezhrich and Rovno

 

And indeed, a new dynasty began with Rabbi Dov Ber. His father sent his son, who was gifted with uncommon talents, to various yeshivas to study Torah. In the great yeshiva of the famous genius of the time, Rabbi Ya'akov–Yehoshua, Av Beit Din (chief Justice) of Lvov and the author of “Pnei Yehoshua”, he studied the Talmud and became known as a great scholar, well versed in many matters of Torah and Hassidism. He composed many important dissertations regarding Torah and Hassidism and trained well–known students.

In his native town of Torczyn, Rabbi Dov–Ber married a daughter of a Talmudic scholar and in order to provide a living for his family he took his father's profession and became a melamed (Jewish teacher) in a nearby village. His time was relatively free in the loneliness of that village and he devoted himself to Kabbalah in general and to the “HaAri” (abbreviation: Isaac (ben Solomon) Luria Ashkenazi who created a new way to interpret the Kabbalah) method in particular. He began fasting and restraining his body and kept himself away from everyday life. In the village he suffered great poverty, returned to Torczyn where he continued his studies, and after a while he moved to Rovno to live and teach there.

In the world of Hassidim he is named HaMagid of Mezhrich due to his residence there for twelve years (1761–1772). From Mezhrich he disseminated the teachings of Hassidism after the death of the Ba'al Shem Tov. HaMagid was known to have lived in many other places in Volhynia and Podolia, and especially in Rovno, where he lived before and after the periods of Mezhrich. He used to sign his name as “HaMagid of Rovno”. The old Kloiz in Rovno, where he had studied and prayed was named after him.

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People told this story about setting his first seat in Rovno:

Rabbi Yoske, the author of “Yesod Yoseph,” who was the son–in–law of Rabbi Aharon of Rovno, once visited in Torczyn. Rabbi Yoske heard a teacher's voice guiding two students across the wall in a hostel where he stayed. He enjoyed the flow of sharp thoughts he heard very much, so he entered the other room, greeted Dov–Ber and spoke to him in words of Torah. When he returned home, Rabbi Yoske told his father–in–law that he had discovered a great Torah scholar in Torczyn, one of a kind who was wasting his energies in teaching young boys. Rabbi Aharon, who was a very rich man and a supporter of and a provider for Torah scholars, immediately sent for Dov–Ber. But Rabbi Dov–Ber refused to leave his students in the middle of the “time” (pre–arranged teaching term) and was ready to move to Rovno only later. Rabbi Aharon gave him an apartment on the “paved street” and provided sufficient food for him to study Torah comfortably.

There is no detailed information about the life of HaMagid in the period preceding his meeting with the Ba'al Shem Tov, and we do not know exactly how long his stay in Rovno lasted. However, due to his alertness and involvement in the public affairs of the city where his name became known among the local Jewish residents and even the Polish authorities, we can assume that this was a relatively lengthy period of time. The following story explains the reason that forced Rabbi Dov Ber to move away from Rovno and to find another place to live.

The Duke of Rovno decreed high taxes on salt. Rabbi Dov Ber and Rabbi Aharon were not satisfied with this regulation and expressed their negative attitude. When the rumor reached the Duke's ears, he got angry and wanted to punish them with beatings. Both of them ran away from Rovno until the storm passed.

It is very possible that had this incident not happened – Rovno, the first permanent seat of HaMagid, might have become what Mezhrich became to the world of Hassidism.

Rabbi Dov–ber settled temporarily in the small town of Krepa (Goringrod) near Rovno, where he was accepted as a HaMagid in the cities of Koritz and Rovno. He travelled and passed through various cities of Volhynia and Podolia. In those days, the Ba'al Shem Tov, who aroused the people to serve God “with joy” became famous. His method, which was based on finding divine reality in every man and in all creations, both in good and in bad, found fertile grounds among the masses who suffered under the burden of double enslavement, religious and civil. The methods of the Rabbis and “Geonim” (Geniuses) of those days were strict and rigid.

The rapid expansion of Hassidism among the people caused a “resistance” among the rabbis who feared for the unity of the Jews and the unique version of Judaism teachings. Already during the lifetime of the Ba'al Shem Tov there was resentment towards this new doctrine, but it was only passive resistance. However, during the days of HaMagid, with the flourishing of the movement, the opponents came out with warnings and distributed letters full of insults against Rabbi Dov Ber and his followers, and in 1782 the rabbis influenced the Ga'on of Vilna to sign a “Boycott” against the heads of Hassidim and all those who follow them.

The persecutions and boycotts of the “opponents” forced Dov Ber to move from place to place. After another duration in Rovno he lived his last days in Anipoli, where he died on the 19th of Kislev, 5633 (1772) and was buried here.


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HaMagid Rabbi Dov Ber and His Letters

Collected by Moshe Tzinovitch

Translation by Meir Razy

In the history of Hassidism, the name of Rabbi Dov Ber HaMagid of Mezhrich (Volhynia) was also known as HaMagid of Rovno, who had previously lived in Tuczyn and then in Kuritz. At first, Rabbi Dov Ber sat in Rovno, and later made his place in Mezhrich (once in the district of Kuritz and then in the Rovno district), and again in his old age he returned to Rovno. It is impossible to say for sure how much time he spent in Rovno, but there is reason to believe that he lived for many years in Rovno, where he held several Hassidic conferences, conferences that concentrated the “Suns and Moons” of Hassidism, both students of the Ba'al Shem Tov and his own students. He was among the disciples and students of the Ba'al Shem Tov. From the following, it seems that he also sat in the town of Tuczyn.

Rabbi Aharon–Shmuel HaCohen, son of Rabbi Naftali Hertz, the Supreme Justice of the Kloiz in Ostraha, who served as the Supreme Justice in the town of Stepan, and afterwards in Ostraha and at the end of his life he filled his father's place in city of Bielia Cherkov (aka “White Fields”, where he died in 1774), was one of Rabbi Dov Ber's most enthusiastic followers. In his book “Yetzaveh HaCohen” he brings several words of Torah that he heard from the “Devine Hassidic Rabbi, Our Teacher Dov Ber, Blessed His Memory for Life in the Next World”, noting with reverence and holiness: “Even as a child, I was in front of my teacher for two or three weeks each year in the town of Tuczyn and in the town of Rovno, close to my place in the city of Stepan where I stayed for several years and sat on the chair of the rabbinate.” In his preface to his second book, “Reading in Advance” on Midrash Rabbah, “I visited Rabbi Hassid, Our Teacher Dov Ber Blessed His Memory for Life in the Next World, several times a year, when the light of his Torah shines in Rovno and Tuczyn”.

The Igrot HaKodesh (“Letters of Holiness”) in the “Tamim” (a book titled “Innocent”) of the Hassidic movement of Chabad, published in July 1936, the writer presents letters of HaMagid of Rovno from 1771:

  1. A 1771 letter addressed “Rovno, from the HaMagid (Dov Ber) to Rabbi Shneur Zalman (Rabbi of Lyady)”.
  2. Another letter dated 1772 from Rabbi HaMagid (Dov Ber) to his son Rabbi Avraham of Rovno.
  3. In a letter from the Saturday night of Parashat Shemot 1771 from Rovno to his wife.
  4. In a letter from Wednesday of Parashat Vayikra 1771 in Rovno to Rabbi Zusha (of Anipoli) Rabbi Dov Ber instructed Rabbi Zusha to come to Rovno at the command of the Admo”r (HaMagid of Rovno).
  5. To the same Rabbi Zusha, HaMagid of Rovno writes again on the Tuesday of Parashat Emor 1771
  6. In a letter from Thursday Parashat Behaalotcha, HaMagid of Rovno writes to his friend Rabbi HaCohen.
  7. On Thursday of Parashat Shelach from Rovno to his son, Rabbi Avraham,
and
  1. A letter from Thursday Parashat Vaethanan that was sent from Anipoli, where HaMagid died on the 19th of Kislev 1772.
In Shimon Dubnow's book “The History of Hassidism” Part I we read: “In the summer of 1772, immediately after the famous proclamation in Brody that responded very strongly against the Hassidic movement, headed by HaMagid of Mezhrich, the students of HaMagid gathered in the city of Rovno, where their rabbi was staying, to discuss what to do about the danger to the Hassidic movement. The leaders at this gathering were the righteous from Lithuania and Raisin (Byelorussia, Belarus). “

From the letter of Rabbi Shneur Zalman to Rabbi Zvi Kalisker, we know that they travelled together to Rovno in the summer of 1771 to their great Rabbi Dov Ber of the Mezhrich (then in Rovno) and that HaMagid sent them to debate with the opponents in the winter of 1772 at Shklov. They went to their homes and returned back to Rovno in the summer

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(according to the book “Beit Rav”). That summer, the students of Rabbi Dov Ber met in Rovno, among them was Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev and others, and Rabbi Shneur Zalman, who was the tenth man for the Minyan (gathering of ten men for praying). There they consulted and discussed at length and declared a boycott of their persecutors.

Indeed, in one of Rabbi Shneur–Zalman's letters to Rabbi Avraham Klisker, he mentioned that they had travelled together to the Holy Community of Rovno to see the great Rabbi in the summer of 1772, where they all gathered in the holy community of Rovno for advice. And HaMagid of Zlochew (Rabbi Michal) was also there at the same time.

In the book “Derech Emunah” by Rabbi Menachem Mendel, author of the “Tzemach Tzedek” (at the end of part 3) Rabbi Menachem Mendel says: “I heard from our Rabbi, blessed his memory, before his passing that the son of HaMagid, Rabbi Avraham (the Angel) used to visit his father in Rovno on a holy Friday evening and on Sunday he would return home.”

Rabbi Elimelech, the Admo”r of Lizhensk (the brother of Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli) would call Rabbi Dov Ber “HaMagid of Rovno” (see “Noam Elimelech” Parashat Vayeshev and other places).

Rabbi Dov Ber gave his endorsement to the book “Halacha Psuka” by Rabbi Todros of Rovno in 1765. He used to sign “Dov–Ber son of Rabbi Avraham” and would add his city.

In the “Questions and Answers” part of Rabbi Shneur Zalman's “Shulchan Aruch” he included a special answer to HaMagid of Rovno.


Rabbi Leib Sarah's

Translation by Meir Razy

(Based on the articles by S. A. Horodetsky: The Writings of Jacob Wasserman, in “The Shiloah”, vol. 13 page 481 and comments included in “Pinkas Rovno” by Z. Heller)

Rabbi Leib son of Rabbi Joseph of Rovno, known as Leib Sarah's, after his mother Sarah (apparently his father died in his childhood and he was called by his mother's name), was born in about 1730, and is considered as one of the righteous of his generation who followed the Ba'al Shem Tov. He was not one of the students of the Ba'al Shem Tov, nor was he a student of HaMagid Rabbi Dov Ber like those who had rushed to him to Rovno or Mezhrich, but he had visited HaMagid's house many times as a member of his town, Rovno. Unlike the first great disciples of the Ba'al Shem Tov, Rabbi Leib did not leave behind any books or individual published articles. He intended this, because in his opinion the righteous should not “talk Torah” publicly but his actions themselves should serve as the example of the proper conduct. It was not for hearing the Torah he went to HaMagid, but to see what he was doing, to see how he had taken off his socks and how he was tying them (see: “Seder HaDorot HaChadash”).

He was a special man in his righteousness and manners, who lived long after the Ba'al Shem Tov and HaMagid. Hassidism developed in front of his eyes and changed a lot without him taking a real part in its growth. He left the dedication to spreading Hassidism to others while he became a lobbyist, mediator, and caregiver of the “Hidden Righteous” and became the provider of their every day's needs.

It is said that the role of providing the needs of these Hidden Righteous in every generation was handed over to one of the righteous people of the generation, and the first to be given this responsibility was Rabbi Leib Sarah's.

Rabbi Leib

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knew the location of each of the righteous people; he mixed with them and met them in the fields, the forests and the markets in Berdichev, Yarmolintsy, Lenczna, and elsewhere. He collected small donations from the regular Jews who were asked and answered. To provide the needs of the righteous he had a letter of recommendation from HaMagid attesting to Rabbi Leib's honesty and righteousness and the purpose of donations he collected in a vague manner. The letter, published in the book “Darchei Yesharim” by Rabbi Meir of Przemyslany is:

“I am attesting that the holder, Rabbi Yehuda Leib, son of Rabbi Yoseph Leib, a man known as Rabbi Leib Sarah's of Rovno, does the utmost charity, who will explain his mission orally, a mission I can not detail in writing, so people who are listening to my voice and messages, my followers, my advice is to help him and to feed him and to support him with all sorts of admiration, both physically and financially. I declare that everything he says is true; there is no hidden intention or meaning in his words, he worships God and helping him is a great duty, and you have no greater commandment than that. And a wise man will understand his obligation to respond early and quickly, and certainly his reward will be doubled. And to confirm that I am certain that using only a few words that convey long messages – I am closing and God will bless you and your souls.

Wishing you well, these are the words of Dov Ber son of Rabbi Avraham, Mezhrich and Korzec.”

Rabbi Leib became a saint and people told stories about all kinds of miracles and legends about him. They said that he knew the secret of “Kfizat HaDerech”, he saw and was invisible, he appeared in front of Emperor of Austria, Joseph II, and rescinded bad decrees against the Jews, which the Emperor and his ministers initiated to force the Jews to convert.

Rabbi Leib's wife owned a small shop in Rovno and supported herself and her children. Rabbi Leib himself rarely came to his home. They also said that Rabbi Leib's two sons, who apparently lived in Rovno, were buried in the cemetery in Rovno, while he, who wandered from place to place, and died in 1791 in Yaltushkov (in Podol) and was buried there. Many people would often visit his grave and pray there.

Moshe Tzinovitch


The Rabbis of Rovno and its (Religious) Judges

Moshe Tzinovitch

Translation by Meir Razy

There is no doubt that ever since a Jewish community settled in Rovno, it had rabbis and judges – the “shepherds” of the community who led and glorified it. Indeed, it is known that the Rabbinate in Rovno was chaired by famous rabbis, Torah scholars and men who served as rabbis and rabbinic judges at the time. The names of the rabbis from the past centuries must have been written in the old records books that vanished and disappeared, but their virtues were engraved in their actions and in the conduct of their community. However, there is little information left because of the absence of the old books and also because some of them left the city and moved to other communities where they lived for years or died, thus tying their names to the places where they were buried.

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Changes that took place in recent decades, the atmosphere of our times and the events of the period did their part erasing many memories and, recently, with the annihilation of the Rovno community in our generation, all the sources from which it was possible to extract information about the rabbis and judges of Rovno were lost.

Indeed, it is our duty to document the community of Rovno in this memorial book and preserve as much information as we have been able to collect from the books and memoirs about the rabbis of Rovno, although it is clear that the list will only be part of that which should have been included in it.

The oldest of the sources about the rabbis of Rovno is the judgment of famous rabbis from Poland and Lithuania regarding the quarrel between the community of Amsterdam and Rabbi David Lida, who served for a time as Chief Justice in Rovno and was forced to resign. Among the signatories to this ruling is Rabbi Meir HaLevi Epstein that reads: Little Meir – son of my master and The Great Rabbi Avraham HaLevi Epstein Z”L (See Avraham Freiman's article in the Jubilee book of Nachum Sokolow, 1904). From this we deduce that Rabbi Meir HaLevi Epstein served as Rabbi of Rovno in the second half of the seventeenth century. It seems that his son, Rabbi Avraham Epstein, sat in his chair at the end of the seventeenth century and later moved to Vienna where he was one of the scholars in the seminary of the minister, the officer Shimshon Wertheimer. Rabbi Avraham received the rabbinate of Rechnitz, Hungary at the recommendation of the Minister, and was also buried there. According to sources, Rabbi Avraham was one of the greatest rabbis of his generation.

 

Rabbi Aharon ben Shmuel HaCohen

Rabbi Aharon lived in the early 18th century. He was born and raised in the home of his father, Rabbi Shmuel, a wealthy Jew from the town of Rovno. He inherited a large fortune of money and assets, which he skilfully used for good deeds. He was a God–fearing, generous benefactor, and at the same time he dedicated time to Torah studies and respected the Rabbis of his town, Rovno. Rabbi Aharon's reputation preceded him throughout the surrounding area, and several stories and tales about him were passed from generation to generation. His name is mentioned in several inscriptions in the old rabbinical register of the community of Rovno. Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Heller, the author of the last volume, told us that it was Rabbi Aharon who in 1760 built the old “Kloiz” near the old seminary (also called “old”) with his own money and years later he built the public bathhouse at his own expense. Before his death, Rabbi Aharon had left a number of shops in the old trade center (the “Brom”) to the Rovno community. One store was known as the “scale” because of its public weighting scale that was available to all the merchants in the market.

Rabbi Aharon was called a rabbi, but he did not serve as a spiritual teacher, but as the supreme justice of the time. In rulings from 1767 and later he signed “Aharon HaCohen Chof'k” (=“Residing in the community here”) Rovno and its surroundings.” Rabbi Aharon is famous for being among the earliest Hassidim in Rovno, who introduced Sephardic and Hassidic customs and praying styles the Kloiz, before Hassidism spread throughout the city.

There is a story: Once the son–in–law of Rabbi Aharon, Rabbi Yoseph, known as Rabbi Yoske of Rovno, visited the town of Torczyn (near Luck) and found Rabbi Dov Ber, a disciple of the Ba'al Shem Tov, who was teaching young boys. When he recognized the greatness and knowledge of his holiness,

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he returned to his father–in–law and suggested that he brings Rabbi Dov Ber to Rovno to teach in his Kloiz. Rabbi Aharon was happy to have the opportunity and brought Rabbi Dov Ber to his Kloiz. Students streamed to Rabbi Dov Ber and Rabbi Aharon provided their living expenses. In the opinion of Rabbi Zvi Heller, author of old rabbinical register, among them were: Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, Rabbi Zusha of Anipoli, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lyady, Rabbi Leib Sarah's, Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk and others who came to Rovno to study and enjoyed Rabbi Aharon generosity.

Rabbi Aharon lived all his life in Rovno, studying Torah and Hassidism and showed a great deal of kindness and generosity to others. Only when he was old did he have to move from his town to nearby Tuczyn. According to one version, Rabbi Aharon was condemned by the Duke of the city for his influence on his congregation against the high tax levied on the Jews of Rovno by the Duke, but it is impossible to know what the truth is. Rabbi Aharon lived in Tuczyn for a year and a half and died there in 1789, having the reputation of great name and righteousness.

 

Rabbi Todros son of Rabbi Zvi

Rabbi Todros was one of the most famous Torah scholars of the community of Rovno in the eighteenth century (about 1740–1780) and the author of the most important book “Halacha Psuka”. He was the first Rovno man who printed a religious book. The book is a compilation of all the poskim (=interpreters), ancient and recent, such as “Beit Yoseph”, the RMA (Rabbi Moshe Ben Israelish 1530–1572), the “Turey Zahav” (“The Golden Columns”, a book by Rabbi David HaLevi–Segal 1586–1667), “Siftey Cohen” (“The Lips of Cohen” by Rabbi Shabtai Ben Meir HaCohen, 1621–1662) and his own interpretations. He wrote the book to present the connections between the current laws and their origins in the Gemara and other ancient texts. This was only the first part of his general work on the four parts of the “Shulchan Aruch” (up to chapter 122) and is based on “Yoreh Deah”, Part I – the laws of ritual slaughter and other rules of Kashrut. The book was printed in Turkey in 1765, quickly became famous and the stores run out of copies in a short time.

The following important Rabbis endorsed it: Rabbi Chaim Rapaport Chief Justice of Lvov, Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Horowitz of Brody, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Chief Justice of Kremnitz, Rabbi Naftali Hertz Chief Justice of Dubno, Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac of Rovno, the Chief Justice of Ostraha and others. The most important of these endorsements was that of HaMagid of Mezhrich and Rovno Rabbi Dov Ber, since it was one of the very few books he had endorsed.

The descendants of Rabbi Todros used the name Rosenthal.

 

Rabbi Yoseph (Rabbi Yoske)

The son–in–law of Rabbi Aharon HaCohen, one of the greatest rabbis of his generation. A native of Koshnyatsha and a disciple of

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Rabbi Dov Ber HaMagid of Mezhrich and Rovno. He wrote the book “Yesod Yoseph” (“The Foundation of Yoseph”) on Kabbalah. According to Zvi Heller of Rovno, Rabbi Dov Ber summoned him to Rovno after he recognized his greatness and holiness.

 

Rabbi Yitzhak Isaac

He sat on the chair of the rabbinate in Rovno around 1740. The son of Rabbi Shmuel of Ostrava (died in 1747) who was one of Volhynia's most important Jewish leaders. He was first a rabbi at Kuritz and later moved to Rovno. He endorsed books, including the book “Halacha Psuka” by Rabbi Todros, on the 21st of Sivan 1763, according to a “Memorial for the Great Rabbis of Ostraha.”

 

Rabbis Meir and Yitzhak Isaac

The two sons of Rabbi Yoseph Juzepa, an officer and a leader in the state of Volhynia (died in 1762), who served as rabbis in Rovno in their times.

 

Rabbi Menachem Mendel

Rabbi Menachem Mendel was the son of Rabbi Feivish Bick who was the Chief Justice in Lenczna. His father was Rabbi Shmuel Bick, one of the greatest of Brody. Rabbi Menachem Mendel served as Chief Justice at Rovno at the end of the eighteenth century and was quite famous. In 1802 he supported the printing of “Mishneh Torah”, written by the Rambam, in Berdichev. His endorsements of other books (“Sha'arei Gan Eden” [Heaven's Gates], “The Jar of Flour” and more) alongside the endorsements of other luminaries, Rabbi Betzalel Ben Meir Margalit of Ostraha, Rabbi Zvi Auerbach of Kremnitz, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev and others. One of the leading men of that time, he used the title: “Rabbi Ha–ma'or (the light), the great Ga'on (genius) and the well–known veteran Hassid Menachem Mendel, staying in the holy congregation of Rovno.” Rabbi Menachem Mendel was a disciple of HaMagid Rabbi Dov Ber and continued with his method.

 

Rabbi Chaim Ya'akov, Chief Justice of Rovno

Son of Rabbi Ze'ev Wolf who served as Chief Justice of Dubno and grandson of Rabbi Naftali Hertz, rabbi of Dubno (died in 1760). Only little information is known about Rabbi Chaim Ya'akov from the time of his tenure in Rovno in the 1830s, but it is known that after the death of his father, while he was still young, he moved to Dubno to sit on his father's chair as the Chief Justice (Dubno was more important than Rovno at the time), and died there in 1850. Rabbi Chaim Ya'akov endorsed several important books.

 

Rabbi Israel “Dayan Ha–Ir” (=“Judge of the City”)

Around 1800, Rabbi Israel served as a judge in Rovno and was known as “Rabbi Israel Dayan Ha–Ir”. He arranged the publication of a new edition of the Babylonian Talmud by Shapira Printing in Slavuta in 1801. Among the endorsers were Rabbi Shneur–Zalman of Lyady, Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev and other great rabbis.

 

Rabbi Chaim Olesker

Rabbi Chaim Olesker was a rabbi and Magid in Rovno, a Torah and Hassidism scholar, one of the pillars of Hassidism at the time. Son of Rabbi Shmuel HaLevi of Brody and the brother of Rabbi Ze'ev HaLevi, author of

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”Chidushei HaRaza”. (=New writings of Rabbi Ze'ev HaLevi). At first Rabbi Chaim was a Magid in Ostraha, and from there he was appointed to the seat of the rabbinate in Rovno. He deserved the respect people showed him.

Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (Chief Justice in Yampol in Volhynia) wrote about Rabbi Chaim Olesker in his book “Tzalach” ( acronym for “A Mark of a Living Soul”), in the chapter Pesachim, page 5: “… I Consulted Rabbi Chaim Olesker of Rovno, a very knowledgeable in Torah and Hassidism … etc”.

The answers and new interpretations of Rabbi Chaim were presented in the book of the book Chidushei HaRaza mentioned above. One of the answers ends with this language: “These things came from the mouth of my great and wise elder brother, Rabbi Chaim HaLevi, the Magid Rabbi of Rovno. The chapter concerning the laws of the sale of chametz includes a question from my famous great brother, Rabbi Chaim HaLevi, The Magid Rabbi of Rovno, and he signed the question: from your brother, the Rabbi Chaim Shmuel Halevy”.

Rabbi Chaim also endorsed the book “Halacha Psuka”, written by Rabbi Ruben Todros and signed: “Rabbi Chaim of Rovno, son of Rabbi Shmuel of Brody.”

Rabbi Chaim participated in the consultations of the great Hassidic leaders in his time and his voice was listened to by many.

 

Rabbi Pesach Son of the Holy Rabbi Binyamin

We know about this Rabbi of Rovno from his gravestone in the cemetery in Warsaw (according to the book “Nahalat Olamim” by Shmuel Yavin, page 61, paragraph 122). This is the engraved contents on the tombstone: “Holy Sanctuary. A great rabbi and minister in Israel, holy from the womb, Tzaddik since youth, always a Hassid, how much he has done and how much he has labored in the Torah, holy and humble, built a fence (=protected the beliefs), stood in the breach (=guarded from deviations and changes), defused of anger and asked God for mercy for his people, caught for the sins of his generation and the sun set at noon. Son of the holy Rabbi Hassid Binyamin of Rovno, grandson and great–grandson of the Lion, man of God Rabbi Leib Sarah's Z”L, he ascended to God on Tuesday, the 24th of Elul, 1873.”

 

Rabbi Miasi of Rovno

Rabbi Miasi sat on the chair of the rabbinate around the year 1830. His name was not preserved and all the stories about him are associated with the name “Der Yassar Rav” [Yiddish]. He happened to come to the city on matters of inheritance of his relative Rabbi Avraham Mamtis, and was asked to serve as rabbi of the Rovno community, even temporarily. Apparently Rabbi Miasi had a vision and was a practical man. In the short time he was in the city, he planned the construction of the Great Synagogue and laid the foundation of the building. His blessed name remained in the community.

 

Rabbi Shmuel Lipper (Rabbi Shmulik Bremker)

He came from the village of Bremke near Rovno. His father, Rabbi Aharon died when he was young and his mother, who owned a flour mill, sent him to study in yeshivas. The boy grew up and became famous for his dedication and knowledge and was ordained by the great rabbis of the generation. The Rovno leaders invited Rabbi Shmulik to be their Rabbi. Rabbi Shmulik married the daughter of the Rabbi from Alexandria and his name became “Rabbi Shmulik Bremker.”

Rabbi Elimelech Blay often praised Rabbi Shmulik, who served

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as Rabbi and Dayan (=Jewish Judge) in Rovno for thirty years – from the 1870s until the beginning of the 20th century. He was presented as a great scholar, full of Torah and wisdom and of lofty virtues, and in general a wonderful rabbinical personality. He was popular with the masses, “Amcha”, and was respected by both Jews and non–Jews. He excelled in his love of truth, when he dealt in money problems he did not discriminate between rich and poor or between Jews and gentiles. There were cases in which the government judges consulted him for clarifications. When two Jews came to argue in front of them, they would tell the litigants: Why do you ask for our trial when you have a wise man that pursues truth and justice as your Rabbi? Trust his sharpness and his perception and his justice! More than once, gentiles brought their Jewish rivals to the “Bremker Rabbi”, with their unparalleled trust that their cases will be heard with justice and truth. People told many legends about him during his life and after his death about his actions and judgment.

 

Rabbi Chaim–Yoseph Lipper

He was the son of Rabbi Shmulik, and inherited his father's good nature. Rabbi Chaim sat on his father's chair after his death as one of Rovno's judges and devoted his time and energy to public service.

 

Rabbi Yitzhak Shlomo–Yoel Sherman

Rabbi Yitzhak Shlomo–Yoel Sherman was born in 1844 to his father Rabbi Shmuel, a descendant of Rabbi Shlomo Harif of the famous Rabbis in the State of Belarus. Rabbi Sherman studied in his youth at Yeshiva of Shklov and then at the Platzk Yeshiva, and was ordained by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lublin. When he married, he continued to study at the Radin Yeshiva together with the Tzaddik Rabbi Israel Meir HaCohen in famous yeshivas including in Grodno, Lida and more. After that he was with the Admo”r Rabbi Israel Naach of Nizn and was ordained by several of his greatest contemporaries.

In 1867, Rabbi Sherman was nominated as Rabbi at Újhely (today – North–East of Hungary) and Barsana and after a while he was called to take the seat of the rabbinate in the town of Cleyrika and in 1885 he became the Chief Justice in Rovno. Rabbi Sherman was one of the founders of the yeshiva and took part in the public affairs and the management of the various institutions and was a “loyal shepherd” of his community.

He published many answers and left behind him the two volumes of “Beit Yishai”, “Opening Gates” and more.

Rabbi Y. L. Maimon (Yehuda Leib Maimon 1875–1962 A politician and leader of the Religious Zionist movement, Israel's first Minister of Religious Affairs.) told about his visit to Rabbi Yitzhak Shlomo Yoel:

“Early in this century I visited the Jewish regions [in Russia and Poland] promoting the building of Eretz Israel. I was also called to Rovno to make souls there for Zion. As my custom, I went to visit the rabbi and the chief justice, who was already very old and considered the greatest of the generation, Rabbi Yitzhak–Shlomo–Yoel Sherman. After our first meeting, I was invited to reside at the rabbi's house. We discussed the Torah and he showed me several volumes in his handwriting that he wrote about the Talmud, Maimonides, the four parts of “Shulchan Aruch”, and hundreds of questions and answers.

Rabbi Sherman told me about the grandfather of his wife Rabbi Menashe of Elyah, his Torah and greatness, about Rabbi Nachumka, who was worthy of serving as rabbi and chose to serve as a Shamas (beadle) in the Beit Midrash and did not want to take a position of a rabbi, not even in his own city.

[Page 423]

He used to say: “As a beadle I would serve the disciples of the wise men but as a Rabbi – others would serve me. As a beadle I can take care of the poor of the city, and who will take care of them I if would be a Rabbi?” So I am doing the same”, Rabbi Sherman finished. “I do sit and study all day, but what do I do for the poor of the city?”

Indeed, Rabbi Yitzhak–Shlomo Yoel was a tzaddik, who had a sharp mind and a deep knowledge of the Torah; he glorified his community throughout his time in the city and left a good name and a memory for generations.

 

Rabbi Simcha Hertz of Ma–Yafit

He succeeded Rabbi Sherman, his father–in–law. Rabbi Moshe Kershon, one of the rabbis of Rovno, tells about him: A great scholar and public figure in Rovno. He sat on the rabbinate chair in the city for 29 years and was liked by the local crowd. Rabbi Ma–Yafit was born in 1889 in the town of Janowiez in the Kovno region. At the age of fifteen he went to study at the famous Volozhin Yeshiva and studied there for six years until he was called up to the army. After the military service he continued studying Torah in the religious centers of Dvinsk and Vilna and became famous as a scholar. When he was twenty–four years old he married the daughter of Rabbi Yitzhak Shlomo–Yoel Sherman, known as the “Clairiky Rabbi” in Rovno, and moved to this city in 1913.

Rabbi Ma–Yafit was ordained by the Ga'on Rabbi Rafael Shapira, the Head of the Yeshiva of Volozhin, Chief Rabbi of Minsk, Rabbi Eliezer and his uncle – the Rabbi of Wolkowysk – Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Ma–Yafit. He also acquired general education on his own.

After the death of his father–in–law in 1914, the Rabbi Ma–Yafit inherited the chair in Rovno, and soon the congregation recognized its virtues and character. People thought of him not only as a scholar and knowledgeable in worldly affairs, but also a man of high integrity, straight–thinking and moderate in his manners with people, who was not afraid of challenges and did not like compromises. They said that he followed the Mishna rule of “never fear from anyone.” Despite of being extremely strict in Orthodox Judaism, he always appeared impeccably dressed as a modern man and did not allow people to insult the tradition and the Torah.

The Rabbi Ma–Yafit was accepted by most Jewish circles, and although he was not a Zionist, he was respected by the Zionists. They even forgave his earlier negative attitude toward the “Tarbut” education institutions, and then sent his daughter to study at the Tarbut Hebrew Gymnasium.

In the 1930s, when the Polish regime was established in the border area with Russia, the Government suggested that the Jews would abolish the rabbinical dualism, a rabbi for matters of religion and a rabbi as the formal representative towards the Government, as was customary in Tsarist Russia, and to elect a chief rabbi for the city. The discussions and debates surrounding this question continued for a long time in Rovno, and opinions were divided: There were those who believed that a large city like Rovno needs an outsider with a experience and known reputation, and there were those who doubted the matter, since the cost of bringing an outsider would be prohibitive, beyond the ability of the community. Rabbi Zalman Greenfeld of Rovno, who had previously held the official rabbinate and his supporters, demanded that he be chosen as the City's Rabbi. On the other hand, people proposed the candidacy of Rabbi Ma–Yafit, indicating that he was at a higher religious level than Rabbi Greenfeld. The main argument was that a rabbi of a community must be a scholar, and the war in the city was fought on this question. The ultra–Orthodox and the richer members of the community were divided and the question was determined by the local Zionists. On October 7, 1934, the Chief Rabbi's election

[Page 424]

was held in the Rovno community. Sixteen of the twenty elected members of the community voted for the Rabbi Ma–Yafit, and he was elected with the votes of the Zionists as the Chief Rabbi of the Rovno community.

The choice was good and blessed. Even the skeptics said “Amen” to the election results. Rabbi Ma–Yafit faced some miserable circumstances, that caused him great sorrow in his home, but he knew how to overcome this over time and stood on guard during the years until the Holocaust brought death to him too. Rabbi Ma–Yafit went with the Jews of Rovno on their last journey to their slaughter site.

 

The Judge and Teacher Rabbi Shimon Rutenberg and his successors

Rabbi Shimon Rutenberg was a member of the “Shimon” family, who were widely praised. He was descended from a famous rabbinic dynasty of twenty one generations, one of the descendants of Rabbi Chaim–Ya'akov of Rovno. After his death, his son Rabbi Shmuel Rutenberg (known as Rabbi Shmulik'l) succeeded him. He served his congregation during the First World War, and suffered from the war. He sat on the rabbinic chair for 35 years and died at the age of 75 in 1919. Rabbi Chaim Rutenberg, who was very respected by the circle of merchants and the leading people of the city, succeeded him in Rovno. Rabbi Chaim died at the age of 65 in 1927 and was succeeded by his son Rabbi Moshe Eliezer Rutenberg.[1][2][3][4]

Rabbi Meir Weissberg, a native of Rovno and a yeshiva scholar served as a judge from the 1890s to 1915. He was a distinguished, dignified and respected Jew, and associated with the Trisky “Kloiz”.

Several rabbis settled in Rovno after the end of the First World War. Rabbi Ya'akov son of Meir Himmelfarb, known as the “Kolki Rabbi,” arrived in 1915 (when the front came closer to his town of Kolki and he moved from it with his community) and was received with honor as a rabbi in the Trisky Kloiz (he was a Trisk Hassid). The man was respected in various circles and admired by the people of his town, but he considered himself as being in the “Diaspora” while he mourned the destruction of his community. His relatives in Rovno took care of him, until he died in 1923 at the age of 73, after he sat on the rabbinate chair for forty years in Kolki and for five years in Rovno.

The second rabbi of Kolki, Rabbi Shmuel Katz, also settled in Rovno at that time. He resided near the Stepan Seminary and was called the Stepan Rabbi.

Several other famous rabbis have been known to serve in Rovno during the years before the Holocaust: Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz (son of the Rabbi of Kaminka), Rabbi Israel son of Rabbi Zier and others.

Survivors of the slaughter by the Nazis say that the rabbis, Rabbi Moshe Eliezer Rutenberg and Rabbi Simcha Hertz Ma–Yafit, among the last rabbis of Rovno, went with their congregation, in anguish, to the pits the Nazis had prepared for the Jews of Rovno and sanctified the name of their people and their community on November 7, 1941.

This was the end of Rabbis in Rovno.


Transaltor's footnotes:

  1. Rabbi Chaim Rutenberg was the translator's grandfather. Return
  2. The family name that appears in my mother's Polish Passport is spelled Rojtenberg. Return
  3. Rabbi Chaim Rutenberg's male sons, Ze'ev (Wolf, William) and Eliezer (Lazar), immigrated to the United States; Two daughters and their mother (his second wife) immigrated to Eretz Israel; His children who stayed in Europe were all daughters. Return
  4. Rabbi Moshe Eliezer, who succeeded Rabbi Chaim as the Rabbi of the community was not the son of Rabbi Chaim, but either his brother or a nephew. Return


[Page 425]

Rabbi Moshe–Eliezer Rutenberg

Pnina Sivan

Translation by Meir Razy

When we remember Rabbi Moshe Eliezer Rutenberg, Rabbi of Rovno during the final era, we are reminded of his lofty image and the memory of his many deeds for the good of the community and the individuals in his community. He was a famous rabbi, a descendant of the famous Rabbi Shmulik'l of the Shimon family, a family with a long tradition of many generations of rabbis. A great scholar was Rabbi Moshe Eliezer, one of the outstanding scholars of his time. From childhood he absorbed the spirit of the Torah and became familiar with the treasures of Judaism. Daily life was not of interest to him.

Rabbi Moshe Eliezer was a man with a good and sensitive heart, pitying people and always helping people with his own money. Being a humble man, innocence and nobility were embodied in him – all the elements of goodness and compassion, and he would share his food with every person without thinking about himself and his home. His attitude toward each person was of love and trust, and he listened to everyone who approached him.

Since becoming the rabbi in Rovno, he confined himself to his narrow apartment on Shkolna Street, without any requests or demands. It was not until years later that the heads of the Trisky synagogue gave him part of the seminary compound on Zamkowa Street, on which he had built a suitable apartment. His household income was minuscule and from that he gave to charity, help, and benevolence. That was why he was always in debt. His wife, Rebbetzin Mattel, was entrusted with the task of providing for the house, a not easy task for her.

In the inquiries and rulings that followed the laws of Torah that were conducted by Rabbi Rutenberg, as well as in the cases of couples' divorce, the rabbi's wise attitude, delicate approach, and moral influence would remove claims and eliminate arguments and bring the parties to compromise, understanding and peace. In particular, he did much for the refugees and displaced persons who had passed through Rovno during and after the First World War by freeing them from arrests and improving their conditions.[1] There were many stories in and around the city about the rabbi's righteousness and kindness. Among other things, they said:

Once, on a Friday evening, a woman entered the rabbi's house. At the time there was no one in the dining room. The woman saw the Rebbetzin's candlesticks on the table and pulled them under her apron. Rabbi Moshe Eliezer, who was sitting in the next room reading a book, noticed the act, but did not want to disgrace her. What did he do? Turned to the woman and said, “You must have the needs of the Sabbath and you want to pawn your candlesticks.” Without waiting for an answer he took out his last three rubles and gave her with a sigh, saying, “You can leave the candlesticks on the table.”

One day there was a rumor in the town that a group of Breslev Hassidim, who had gone to prostrate on the grave of their Rabbi and crossed the Polish–Russian border, had been arrested. The Rabbi was determined to release them. This was just before Rosh Hashanah; would he let Jews to remain imprisoned on Rosh Hashanah? The rabbi set up a delegation and headed to the heads of the government with a request: “Let our imprisoned brethren pray with us on our Memorial Day.” The head of government heard the Rabbi's request and replied, “What if they are released completely?” The Rabbi's face glowed and said, “It will be a great miracle from heaven.” The ruler smiled at the Rabbi and the delegation left with an encouraging promise that the request should be given the proper attention. And indeed the next day the prisoners were released and they celebrated Rosh Hashanah with their congregation.

[Page 426]

Once during Shabbat service, they told the Rabbi about a shopkeeper, who started opening his shop on Shabbat. The Rabbi left the synagogue, went to the shop and stood at the door. Jews, of course, did not dare entering, and the shopkeeper himself regretted his transgression. He came out and asked the Rabbi for forgiveness and closed his shop. Since then, he has not continued opening it on Shabbat.

As a member of the Rabbi's family, I went to say goodbye to Rabbi Moshe Eliezer before I immigrated to Israel. It was a day before Yom Kippur of 1935. The Rabbi entered into a conversation with me, gave me strength and blessed me, and added: “You have a great privilege, my daughter.” The impression of my visit at the Rabbi's house will not be erased from my heart.

I later learned from the survivors of Rovno that in the first Aktion, Rabbi Moshe Eliezer went with the members of his community to the extermination field in the grove of the pine trees, wrapped himself in a prayer shawl and went down into the pit, which swallowed him among the eighteen thousand Jews of his community.


Translator's footnote:

  1. Rabbi Moshe–Eliezer Rutenberg succeeded Rabbi Chaim Rutenberg only in 1927, eight years after the end of the war. The events concerning the First World War probably happened at the time and with the participation of either Rabbi Shimon Rutenberg or his son, Rabbi Chaim Rutenberg. Return


Sofrei Stam
(Scribes of Torah Books, Tefillin and Mezuzahs)

Israel Dinas

Translation by Meir Razy

A special branch of the sacred professions was the writing of Torah books, tefillin, mezuzahs, and other religious texts, in which writers who were known as Sofrei Stam worked in Jewish communities. Special expertise was required in this profession, and in almost every community had such writers, albeit in very small numbers. They were close to the religious leadership. This art required proficiency, experience and knowledge of the Torah. Indeed, those who devoted themselves to the art of scribing were God–fearing men who usually inherited their profession from their forefathers. There were scribes who worked for commissions and others made their products (mezuzahs, tefillin, etc.) and sold them in the markets and in other towns, or even mailed them abroad, mainly to America. In general, the scribes were poor and most of them lived very modestly and had to seek additional sources of income for themselves, such as teachers, beadles or cantors. Others also traded in petty commerce, such as the sale of prayer shawls and tzitzit and other sacred objects.

The Rovno scribes would fulfill the needs of the community and the surrounding area. Among them were Rabbi Aharon Shmuel Zik, Rabbi Hirsch–Neta, Rabbi Feivel Sofer, Rabbi Lazer the Sofer and Rabbi Avraham–Moshe Dinas, also known as the “Slonim Writer.” The latter taught the profession to his son Ephraim and both practiced it for years. In general, scribes in Rovno refrained from conferring their profession to their sons, since it did not support the owners, while they exert themselves to a great extent.

The Rovno scribes were known as Torah scholars and ultra–Orthodox. Most of them were Hassidim and connected to the leaders of their communities (Rabbis and Tzaddikim). Their names were known even outside the Ukrainian territory and they were often requested to write Torah books for other communities. As their numbers were diminishing, the question arose, what would happen to this profession? The question, however, was not put into focus – Jews rely on miracles and they are sure that scribes will not disappear.

Some of Rovno's scribes joined their sons in America just before the first World War and during the period between the wars, and the profession diminished.


[Page 427]

Slaughterers

Moshe Kershon

Translation by Meir Razy

The slaughtering of cattle and poultry was carried out in Rovno, as in every city, by Jewish slaughterers in the butchers' slaughterhouses. The non–Jewish population also bought meat at Jewish slaughterhouses. In the past, there was some lawlessness regarding the place of slaughter, some slaughtered outside the slaughterhouses, not since the First World War, when slaughter was prohibited outside the slaughterhouse, and even the slaughter of chickens and geese in people's houses had been stopped.

The shochatim (slaughterers) were God–fearing scholars who were counted among the community's religious ministrants and did not compete with each other, but their livelihood was limited and they were forced to seek additional sources of income for themselves, including mohels, cantors, suppliers of wine for Kiddush and Havdalah and so on.

Notable in the last few generations in Rovno were Rabbi Yossele Beharal, who was related to Rabbi Leib Sarah's, a man with family tradition of being ritual slaughterers and Hassidim for generations. Rabbi Yossele was born in the 1830s and spent all his years in Rovno. He was a scholar and a generous man. He instructed his son, Rabbi Shmeryl, who was also a scholar and a member of the Trisk Hassidim, in the profession of ritual slaughterers, and brought him to join his work. His son, Avraham Yoseph Beharal, who was attracted to Zionism, immigrated to Eretz Israel at the beginning of the 20th century and worked in the Galilee, where he was killed on guard duty. Rabbi Yossele passed away in the 1890s.

Rabbi Shmeryl Beharal was born in 1846 and served for forty–eight years as a slaughterer in Rovno. His house was first in the alley of the blacksmiths between Krasna and Minska streets, where the slaughterhouse stood since the time of his father, Rabbi Yossele. He died at the age of 72 in Rovno in 1918. His son Shlomo succeeded him as a municipal shochet throughout the Polish rule in Rovno.

In the lifetime of Rabbi Yossele the shochet, another shochet, Rabbi Ben Zion Shostak, also known as “Bnaia the Shochet”, served in Rovno. He was an honest Jew, who had left his place to his son Rabbi Yechezkel Shostak.

Other shochatim are remembered: Rabbi Tanchum, who was respected in the city; Rabbi Avraham Shochat, a ritual slaughterer and a lifelong resident of Rovno, and Israel Shochat (of the Brazna Synagogue). The last slaughterers included Zalman Sherman, son of Rabbi Yitzhak–Shlomo–Yoel Sherman.


A meeting of Rabbis for Yeshivas in Rovno

Pinchas Badker

Translation by Meir Razy

A large assembly of rabbis and yeshiva–seekers took place in Rovno In the summer of 1925. It was one of four assemblies on the “Chofetz Chaim” (The Rabbi of the town of Radun, author of Halachic and moral books, who directed the yeshiva in the spirit of celibacy and had a great influence on ultra–Orthodox Judaism. “Chofetz Chaim” [= Wanting Life] – after his book) expedition on behalf of the Council of Yeshivot that was organized in the regions that were attached to Poland after the First World War. This meeting was preceded by meetings in the central cities of Vilna, Grodno and Bialystok, with the participation of the “Chofetz Chaim”, with the goal of raising funds for yeshivas, Torah Fund and establishing new yeshivas.

[Page 428]

After Passover of the same year, a delegation from Rabbi Moshe Eliezer Rutenberg and the city dignitaries arrived at my father, Shimshon Barker, and asked him to host the “Chofetz Chaim” with his entourage, and to have the public assembly in the second floor of our newly built house, which had not yet been completely finished. My father pondered this in his heart and decided: “The charity of hospitality should be fulfilled, and it should be fulfilled in his home. Rabbi Moshe–Eliezer replied: “Great merit has come to you, Rabbi Shimshon, to host the greatest of the generation.”

The same day my father gave instructions to the construction workers to hasten and finish all the work, so that the house would be ready for the reception of the guests. The next day the hammers hammered and the brushes ran up and down the walls, the work was feverishly continued from morning to evening. Indeed, the floor was completed and ready for the arrival date of the guests.

A meeting was held in one of the halls on the same floor about a week before the assembly. The organizers of the assembly discussed arrangements, and when they saw me wandering around they called me and said that I would be a gatekeeper next to the “Chofetz Chaim” room. I remember that on the day the “Chofetz Chaim” arrived in Rovno, thousands gathered at the train station to meet the great rabbi of the generation, and the police sent a detachment of policemen, infantry and cavalry to keep the order. Because of the large crowds, they moved the “Chofetz Chaim” in a car through the streets of the city to our house, and crowds awaited him and cheered in his honor there too. Everyone tried to extend a “Shalom Aleichem” hand to the important guest and it was not easy to cross the crowd and move into the house. After some rest, he ordered the doors opened and welcomed the guests: representatives of the government, the city's rabbis and administrators. I remembered my humble role and stood at his door, not knowing what, in fact, I was standing for.

And then they rose to pray the evening prayer in public. My father was there and people all around he congratulated him for the dedication of the house during at Mincha prayer with the “Chofetz Chaim”. People came in and went out all that evening and the assembly started the next day.

Among the important figures in addition to the “Chofetz Chaim” that were seen in the assembly, the following should be mentioned: Rabbi Menachem Krakowski of Vilna, Rabbi Kalmanovitz of Rakov (Minsk Region), Rabbi Shabtai Yagel (head of Slonim Yeshiva), Rabbi Moshe–Eliezer Rutenberg of Rovno, Rabbi Zalman Swerochkin, one of the organizers of the meeting – Rabbi Shmuel Greinman, Rabbi Simcha Hertz of Ma–Yafit, Rabbi Yoel Shurin of the Yeshiva Zvihill, The Rabbi of Ludmir and other Torah scholars. Other important Rabbis were Rabbi Moshe Perlov of Stolin, Rabbi Velvelle Twersky, Rabbi Pachnik Brazna, Rabbi Eliezer Ortsky of Poezajew, Rabbi Lerner of Mizocz and the veteran activists of Rovno: Rabbi Mendel Frischberg, Rabbi Yehuda Motiuk, Hertz Meir Pisiuk, Gitzi Wagmeister, Shlomo Trachczanski, Eliahu Gurfinkel, Zusha Barker and many others.

The grandson of the “Chofetz Chaim” presented some of the attendees at the beginning of the meeting and praised them and praised the hosting home, appreciating the importance and purpose of the assembly. The meetings were held in the Hall of Linat HaTzedek Inn and some – in the large hall at the Shimshon Barker's House (before the Zionist Club was established there), where the “Chofetz Chaim” stayed with his entourage.

The assembly became a Torah conference for yeshivas. Much has been said about the obligation to study

[Page 429]

the Torah and its introduction to the regular people. The speeches were devoid of any kind of partisan arguments (Hassidim, Mitnagdim etc), and anyone who was interested in supporting the goal of promoting the spirit of Torah and building yeshivas or improving existing yeshivas could speak. Among other things, the assembly determined that every Jew in Volhynia had the obligation to donate to the yeshiva fund no less than one Dollar a year. The “Chofetz Chaim” was the one who insisted on setting a minimum, in order to allow every Jew to participate in this holy enterprise.

Standing by the door of the “Chofetz Chaim” I was fascinated by his personality that was deeply engraved in my memory. One detail should be mentioned. A Jew with a curly beard, dressed in silk and white socks, entered the room where the “Chofetz Chaim” was sitting, and approached the exalted guest to lend a hand for “Shalom” – he was asked by him: “Wa'er za'nat ir?” (Who are you?) – He replied: I am the “good Jew” from Kaszowka, (a phrase used by many rabbis at that time). The “Chofetz Chaim” raised his head toward the man, released his hand and asked: What do you mean “a good Jew”? Is there a bad Jew? That was the end of a visit by the “good Jew” who left the room immediately.

During the “Chofetz Chaim” visit to Rovno, the city had a spirit of celebration and holiness in all sectors of the population. A wave of awakening arose in the city, which became a huge demonstration in honor and support of the Torah and the idea of yeshivas. A comprehensive operation was undertaken to strengthen the religious influence in the city, a new section of the cemetery was opened in Rovno, a fundraising campaign was held in favor of the yeshivas, and a campaign was held to preserve the Sabbath. At the request of the guest, the barbers and the merchants that were used to work on the Sabbath were invited to meet him. He spoke to them and demanded that they preserve the sanctity of the Sabbath and not violate it. The participants were required to “shake hands” that they would no longer open their businesses on the Sabbath. This action created a great resonance among the population and the Rabbinical Assembly left a long lasting impression.

 

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