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{Page 42}

The History of the Jews of Rzeszow (cont.)

by Dr. N. M. Gelber

Chapter 5: The Rabbis of the city

The first rabbi, who is known to us only by hearsay, was actually a merchant. However, thanks to his rabbinical knowledge, he filled the role of rabbi as well, apparently without receiving any kind of salary from the Jews, whose numbers were quite small at that time.

In 1628, we know from the annals of the civil servant Marysin Gorgok, that he went to the rabbi in accordance with an edict from the head of the city that was given to the "Jewish doctor" Z. A., with regard to the imprisonment of two youths on the orders of an edict from the city elders, due to the fact that they had caused a tumult.

After him, the following are the rabbis who are known to us:

  1. Rabbi Hertz was the Rabbi in 1648

    Footnote 1. Mentioned in the Pinkas of the state of Lithuania by Simon Dubnow (Berlin 5685), page 99, paragraph 45, as one of the executors appointed by Freidel the widow of Koppel of Lutzk. Also mentioned in the book of Rabbi Dr. Yitzchak Levin.

  2. In 1653, a book called "Petach Teshuva" ("The Opening to Repentance" ) written by Rabbi Gavriel the son of Yehuda of Rzeszow was published in Amsterdam. It describes the troubles with the Cossacks.

    Footnote 2: Dr. I Lewin: Deutsche Einwanderungen, p. 92. Apparently the author was a Rabbi in Rzeszow. In Otzar Yisrael, volume 9, page 319, the well known maskil and scribe A. Apfelbaum mentions the following two gravestone inscriptions: a) Here is buried the well known great person, the head of the captains, and leader of the Council of the Four Lands and the community, the generous Rabbi Azriel the son of Rabbi Yehuda of blessed memory, died on the 27 of Adar 5315 (1555). b) the second inscription: The great leader, the head of the Council of the Four Lands Pinchas the son of Rabbi Azriel of blessed memory who died on the 8th day of Iyar 5352 (1592). Apparently he was a son of the aforementioned rabbi.

  3. Rabbi Aharon Shmuel Kaidenower, the author of "Birchat Hazevach " ("The blessing over the sacrifice") was accepted as a rabbi in Rzeszow. He later served in Frankfurt am Main and Amsterdam.
  4. After him, Rabbi Mordechai served. Prior to his tenure in Rzeszow, he served as a rabbi in Podhajce.
  5. In 1, Rabbi Moshe served. He signed the approbation of the book "Zechor Leavraham" ("Remember to Abraham").
  6. After him, Rabbi Shneur the son of Chanoch served. He gave his approbation to the book "Gevurat Anashim" ("The Might of Men"). He died on the 27th of Sivan 5459 (1699). The inscription on his gravestone is brought in the memorial book of B. Friedberg, Frankfurt am Main, 1904, page 98.

    His son Shmuel was the well-known maggid of Kalisz. His daughter Buna, who died in 1725, is buried in the Rzeszow cemetery, close to his grave.

    After his death, Rabbi Gavriel of Krakow was appointed as rabbi. During his youth, he studied in the Yeshiva of Rabbi Kaidenower. However, he did not continue on in Rzeszow, but rather was appointed as the rabbi of Nikolsburg.

    When Rabbi Yehuda Leib, the grandson of the Bach [35] , and author of the responsa book " Shagas Aryeh Vekol Shachal" (" The Roar of the Lion and Leonine Voice" ) and rabbi of Brest Litovsk, passed through Rzeszow, the heads of the community wanted him to accept the position of rabbi of Rzeszow, but he was not interested.

  7. After Rabbi Shneur the son of Chanoch, Rabbi Shmuel Halevi was accepted as rabbi. He was the son-in-law of Rabbi Yitzchak of Pozna, the rabbi of the " Magen Avraham" [36] . He died on the eve of the New Moon of Tevet 5479 (1719).

    During his time, the well-known rabbi, Rabbi Yaakov the son of Yosef Reisher served as the head of the Yeshiva of Rzeszow. He was also known by the name Yaakov Bach, the author of "Chok Yaakov" ("The Law of Yaakov"), and the responsa book "Shvut Yaakov" (" The Return of Yaakov"). He was born in Prague and died in Metz in February, 1738. From Rzeszow he was invited to be the rabbi of Anspach in 1713, and later served as the rabbi of Worms. He published his book " Minchat Yaakov" ("The Offering of Yaakov") in Prague in 1689.

  8. Rabbi Shmuel Halevi served as rabbi subsequently. He died in 1719. His uncle, Rabbi Yaakov Yehoshua, the author of "Pnai Yehoshua" ("The Face of Yehoshua"), was a rabbi in Krakow.
  9. Rabbi Yechizkiahu Yona (1659-1726), was a rabbi in Przemysl. He had a dispute with the community and was let go from his position. He remained as a rabbi in the province, but he left that position as well, and he was a rabbi in Rzeszow for several years.
  10. Rabbi Aryeh Leib the son of Shaul the son of Heshel the head of the rabbinical court of Krakow, who was a rabbi in Dukla, and later during the years 1718-1724 in Tarnopol, was accepted as a rabbi in Rzeszow. He served there until 1728, and then became a rabbi in Glogow. There, he issued a ban of excommunication on the Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto) [37]. He was also the rabbi of Lvov and the surrounding region during those years. In 1740, he was chosen as a rabbi in Amsterdam, and took part in the controversy between Eibeshitz and Yaavetz. He was the son-in-law of the Chacham Tzvi Ashkenazi. He died on the seventh day of Passover 5515 (April 2, 1755). He was succeeded by Rabbi Moshe Natan the son of Rabbi Yisrael.
  11. He was succeeded by Rabbi David Ber the son of Rabbi Aryeh Leib, the head of the rabbinical court of Zamosz.

    Footnote 4: He described his situation in a letter to Prince Lubomirski in 1758.

  12. When he was invited to become a rabbi in Lvov, he was replaced by Rabbi Aharon Yehuda Leib Itinga, the son-in-law of Rabbi Chaim Hakohen Rappaport. Rabbi Itinga died in 1781. During his term, Rabbi Tzvi the son of Rabbi Yehuda, the author of the book "Gaon Tzvi" ("The Pride of Tzvi") served as a head of the Yeshiva.

    Footnote 5: He died in the year 5571, and the following words are inscribed on his tombstone: " Lament oh earth, woe to the day of trouble, the horn was destroyed and the crown cast down, the rose was gathered in and the glory has left, the weapons of war [38] have been lost ... Here lies the rabbi, the famous Gaon who is the joy of the whole earth, our teacher Yitzchak Chaim the head of the rabbinical court of our city and region." The footstone reads: The son of our rabbi and teacher Yehoshua Heschel of blessed memory, passed away on Thursday, the 7th of Tevet of the year 5571, and we are wracked with grief and we cry bitterly. The praised one of Israel has fallen from the heavens to the earth, he has fallen to his demise. May his soul be bound in the bonds of everlasting life. (from Luchot Zikaron "Memorial Plaques", page 101).

  13. At the beginning of the 18th century, Rabbi Yechezkel Yehoshua Feivel Teomim Frankel served as a rabbi in Rzeszow. He was a rabbi in Przemysl prior to accepting the post in Rzeszow.
  14. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch, who died in 5554, served as rabbi.
  15. After him, Rabbi Yitzchak Chaim Blumenfeld, the son of Rabbi Yehoshua Heschel was invited to fill the post of rabbi. He was the son-in-law of the parnas Shlomo Zalman of Rzeszow.
  16. After him, his son Rabbi Yechezkel Tzvi served as rabbi. He was the son-in-law of Rabbi Mordechai the son of Razav of Brody. He served for 45 years, and died on the 19th of Kislev 5617.
  17. His grandson, Rabbi Yitzchak Wallerstein, the son of his daughter, served as rabbi next. He was previously a rabbi in Rohatin. He died on the 11th of Nissan 5642.
  18. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Orenstein was the rabbi from 1871-1873. He was accepted in Rzeszow after the Russian government dismissed him from his rabbinical post in Brest Litovsk. He served as rabbi for two years in Rzeszow. After the death of Rabbi Yosef Shaul Nathanson, he was invited to fill his place in the rabbinate of Lvov.
  19. Rabbi Yehoshua Heschel the son of Rabbi Yitzchak Wallerstein was the next rabbi. He was the author of two books, "Kerem Yehoshua" ("The Vineyard of Yehoshua"), published in Lvov in 5659, and "Sdeh Yehoshua" ("The Field of Yehoshua"), a book of responsa published in Lvov in 5661. His sons were not rabbis, but rather wealthy forest product merchants. He died in 5664.
  20. Rabbi Natan Lewin was chosen as the next rabbi. He was the son-in-law of Rabbi Yitzchak Shmelkes of Lvov. He served as a rabbi in Rohatin until he was invited to Rzeszow. Rabbi Natan Lewin was a native of Brody, a descendant of a well-known family of rabbis. He was a student, and later the son-in-law of Rabbi Yitzchak Shmelkes of Lvov. He possessed great knowledge in both Jewish and secular matters. He completed his studies as an extern at the Brody gymnasia, where he was successful in his matriculation examinations. Rabbi Natan Lewin was chosen as the rabbi of Rohatin in 1896. His realm of knowledge included a nationalistic outlook, and he avoided getting involved with any dispute between the orthodox and Hassidic groups. He spoke in favor of establishing Jewish schools as well as a Jewish gymnasia, since he regarded an education fitting for the needs of the times as a means of preventing the assimilation of the youth.

    He opposed the attempts of the Admorim to divide the community into factions, as happened in Hungary. He regarded the community as a unity of the Jewish national institutions, which would be beneficial to the interests of the Jewish people.

    During the time of his rabbinate in Rohatin, he participated in the Day of the Communities in 1900, and in 1903, he participated in the first general congress of rabbis that took place in Krakow.

    He was chosen as rabbi of Rzeszow in 1905. The Hassidim opposed this selection, and attempted to protest. They put up announcements throughout the city in which they opposed the decision of the community to appoint Rabbi Natan Lewin. The chief opponent was a Jew who originated from Russia, Rabbi Berish Steinberg, who led the campaign against Rabbi Lewin. However, his fine personality won over the opponents. With the passage of time, the leaders of the Hassidim approached him and recognized him as their rabbi. He was modest in his manner, his home was open to anyone, and he was well known for his rabbinical decisions that excelled in their simplicity and wisdom. He played an active role in all communal activities.

    He served as rabbi until the day of his death on the 5th of Elul 5686 (1926).

  21. Rabbi Aharon Lewin

    He was born in the 14th of Cheshvan 5640 (October 31, 1879) in Przemysl to Rabbi Natan Lewin. He excelled in his Talmudic knowledge and held an important place among the students of his grandfather the Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Shmelkes. He was not satisfied with only gaining halachic knowledge, so he learned the two vernacular languages, German and Polish. He wrote articles in Polish and studied for the matriculation exams of the gymnasia.

    He married in 1901 and lived for a short period of time in Wielicka, where his father-in-law lived. He was chosen as rabbi and head of the rabbinical court of Sambor in 1904. Despite his youth, he took a very strong stand in the community, and won over the learned ones.

    Rabbi Lewin was chosen as a representative to the Polish Sejm in 1922, as a member of the "Jewish Block". He was part of the "Agudas Yisrael" faction in the Sejm.

    As a member of Agudas Yisrael, Rabbi Levin played an active role in its activities. It is important to point out his positive view of the Land of Israel, as is evident from his speech to the third great convocation of Agudas Yisrael in Marienbad in 5686.

    His father who was the rabbi of Rzeszow died in 5686. During the days of shiva [39], a delegation from the community came before him and asked him to accept the rabbinate. He told the delegation that anyone who wanted to appoint him to the rabbinate should come to the communal office and register his name on such a petition.

    During the set time, thousands of the laymen of Rzeszow came and signed the letter to the rabbi of Sambor. A delegation of parnassim of the community brought the letter to him in Sambor. Rabbi Lewin accepted the rabbinate on the condition that the official election be a general election and not just a choice of the communal parnassim.

    Rabbi Lewin arrived in Rzeszow on the 2nd of Adar of 5687.

    During the time that he was Rabbi of Rzeszow, the community of Frankfurt am Main requested that he accept the Rabbinate, however Rabbi Lewin declined this request.

    His books include "Davar Beito" ("A Thing in its Time") (Krakow 5659); "Mateh Aharon" ("The Staff of Aharon") (Krakow, 5668); "Birchat Aharon" ("The Blessing of Aharon") (Dorohowicz 5673); "Hadrash Vehaiyun al Bereshit" ("Explanation and In Depth Study on Genesis") (Bilgorei 5688); Shmot (on Exodus) (Bilgorei 5691); Vayikra (on Leviticus) (Bilgorei 5797); Bamidmar with Targum Unkelos (Numbers) (Bilgorei 5699); Responsa book "Avnei Chefetz" ("Desirable Stones") (Bilgorei 5694).

    Photo at bottom of page 44: Wartime services for soldiers led by Rabbi Natan Lewin (in the center by the menora) in the Great Synagogue during the First World War in 1917.

Chapter 6: The cemetery

Photo on page 45: A section of the new Jewish Cemetery.

The Jews of Rzeszow were dependent on the owner of the city, as were the rest of the residents of the city. They were subject to the whims of his will, and were under his supervision, since they required his protection due to the hatred of the residents of the city.

The Jews of Rzeszow were permitted to dwell close to the palace of the owner of the city. The gate of the Jews was by the Mikoszko River.

Jews were able to enter the city through this gate. There were two synagogues there, the old one and the new one.

The Jewish cemetery was on the other side of the river. It was on the other side of the ramparts, where very few Jews lived. The main dwelling place of the Jews ("Platea Judeorum") was on the Jewish Street within the city boundaries, where the communal offices, the rabbi's residence, the old synagogue, and from 1708 the second synagogue, which was the new synagogue, were all located. The old synagogue was erected during the days of Ligenza, and not at the beginning of the 18th century, as Paczokowski conjectures. According to Kotula, a privilege to the Jews granted by Hieronim Augustin Lubomirski on January 6, 1686 is located in the museum of Rzeszow. That privilege permits the Jews to build a synagogue near the walls of the old civic ramparts which surround the Jewish quarter ("Na murowanie szkoly pod walem na nowym miescie". This privilege granted rights that were to the benefit of the Jews in the old city. This was the new synagogue, for which the Jews took a loan from the Bernardine monastery in order to construct it. They turned over the privilege document to the Bernardines as a pledge. Since this document can be found in the archives, it can be surmised the loan was never repaid. The privilege document was given to the civic museum in 1946.

Apparently, the Rzeszow ghetto was cramped until the middle of the 17th century, since there was not even room for a Jewish cemetery within the city. Jews were buried in the vicinity of the old synagogue until a plot of land could be obtained for a cemetery. This area was surrounded by a gate before the Second World War. The oldest Jewish cemetery was from the 16th century. It was small in area, in accordance with the small number of Jewish residents, and was located in the area surrounding the old synagogue. As the Jewish population rose, the community began to purchase land in Klapkowa in the vicinity of the old synagogue at the beginning of the 17th century. One purchase agreement exists from 1658 in the civic archives. At the time of the digging of the ramparts, the cemetery in the area of Klapkowa remained outside of them. A new cemetery was established in the 17th century. However rabbis, learned ones, communal leaders, and representatives to the Council of the Four Lands continued to be buried in the area of the old synagogue for quite some time afterward, even after the founding of the new cemetery.

There we can find buried one of the important heads of the Council of the Four Lands, and a head of the community Ezriel the son of Yehuda, who died in 1586. Next to him is buried Shmuel the son of Tzvi Hirsch, the grandfather of Rabbi Yaakov Yehoshua, who was a Rabbi in Krakow and the author of "Pnai Yehoshua". His uncle was a Rabbi in Rzeszow, Rabbi Shmuel the Levite, who died in 1719. Shmuel the son of Tzvi, who was a head of the Council of the Four Lands and the head of the community of Rzeszow, died in 1636. Nearby to his resting-place is the grave of the Rabbi of Rzeszow Rabbi Schneur the son of Chanoch, who died in 1699. His daughter Buna, who died in 1725, is buried next to him. From among the graves of the heads of the community, it is important to point out the grave of a person who served as the head of the community for many years, who as the right hand man of Prince Lubomirski, an aristocrat and at the same time an autocrat, Yehoshua the son of Mordechai of Tysmienica. He is referred to as Hozia Markowicz or Rabinowicz in the city books. He died in 1751.

Later, the following rabbis are buried in the cemetery – Herszko the son of Yehuda Radominski who died in 1770; Aryeh Leib Mastonicz the son of Rabbi Shmuel the rabbi of Dubno who died in 1725; Yitzchak the son of Moshe, the grandson of the Shach; later still, the grave of the old rabbi of Rzeszow Rabbi Shmuel the Levite. Among these graves are the graves of their family members. Of these, we know of Reiza the daughter of Yechiel Michel, the head of the community of Rzeszow, who donated a significant sum to rebuild the old synagogue, which had been burnt in 1739. The old cemetery was a pantheon for well known families, who had rights due to their service to the community in various eras, starting from the 16th century and running until the end of the 17th century.

From the old monuments, it can be determined that this was the first cemetery of the community of Rzeszow. However, the Jewish population rose further, and there was an influx of Jews from the eastern part of the country who were fleeing from the Chmielnitzki uprisings to western Poland. These Jews were not accepted willingly by Prince Ostrowski the owner of the city, since they came empty-handed, having left all of their wealth in Ukraine.

Due to this reason, Prince Ostrowski issued an edict in 1658 that resurrected an old command that forbade doing busineswith Jews in non-moveable property. However, his edict was not effective with regard to the cemetery, and he could not forbid the Jews from acquiring land for that purpose. At that time, in 1658, Reb Efraim Zalman purchased the garden belonging to Bartolomiejew Sziglow for the community of Rzeszow, on condition that it be only used for burial of members of the community.

Thus was established the new cemetery, which grew during the course of time due to the large number of Jews. By 1689, there was no longer any room in the new cemetery, however Prince Lubomirski the new owner of the city did not permit the Wojt Pawel Zaglobinski to sell land to the Jews for the purpose of expanding the cemetery. However, when Zaglobinski agreed to purchase a new property with the money he would receive for the cemetery, and build up that property, he received Lubomirski" s permission.

The Chevra Kadisha (burial society), headed by Avraham Lewkowicz took possession of the new property. A "Chevra Kadisha" already existed in Rzeszow from the 17th century, which ran the hospital and the cemetery. It was a legal corpus unto itself, and was not dependent on the community. It held control of sufficient sums of money. The Chevra paid Zaglobinski 3,200 guilder for the cemetery property. The magistrate of Rzeszow protested this transaction. When Lubomirski overrode the protest of the magistrate, the mayor of the city demanded that all payments that had been in effect until that time continue to be in effect for that property, so that the city coffers should not suffer. The Chevra Kadisha tried to obtain possession of the gardens and fields in the vicinity of the cemetery. In 1691, Nawrocki, a member of the Wojt, sold the property adjacent to the cemetery to the community for the sum of 500 guilder. The following members of the Chevra were involved in this transaction: Avraham Lewkowicz, Meir Doktorowicz, Shlomo Pinchasowicz, and Feivish Efromowicz. Since this sale was smaller than the sale of 1689, the Chevra tried to enlarge the size of the cemetery with the passage of years. Zaglobinski possessed another large garden in the vicinity of the cemetery. The Jews of the hospital and the Chevra Kadisha turned to him, and eventually signed a contract similar to the one from 1689.

As the community of Rzeszow continued to grow, the cemetery became more cramped. In 1700, the members of the community Shmuel Kalmanowicz, Avraham Doktorowicz, Aharon Izraelowicz, Meir Salomonowicz, and Hershko Moszkowicz purchased land for the expansion of the cemetery. This transaction was completed in 1705, when they acquired the garden adjacent to the cemetery. It was necessary to expand the cemetery every few years, despite the disapproval of the city council and the mayor. The statue of St. Nikolai was erected deliberately, and interfered with the enlargement of the cemetery. The civic registries do not have any transactions recorded regarding the enlargement of the Jewish cemetery.

Photo at bottom of page 46: Gravestones in the Sobieski Street Cemetery, near the wall of the old cemetery.

Jews were buried surrounding the synagogue due to the lack of space in the cemetery. When there was no longer space there, they were buried in a special place by the wall in the area of Sobieski Street. There can be found the burial places of: The Rabbi of Rzeszow Rabbi Yitzchak Chaim Blumenfeld, who died in 1811; his grandson Rabbi Yehoshua Mordechai Blumenfeld, who was the son of Rabbi Yechezkel Tzvi Blumenfeld, the rabbi of Rzeszow; later on, Yehuda Leib, the son of the Rabbi of Strzyzow Rabbi Avraham Shabtai and the grandfather of the rabbi of Rzeszow Rabbi Heschel Wallerstein, who died in 1904. The well-known communal worker Reb Zalman Parnas, who died in 1789, is buried there along with his family. The family of the son-in-law of Hozia Rabinowicz – the well-known Rabbi of Nikolsburg Rabbi Shmuel Horowitz, is also buried there. 

Translator's Footnotes

35. The acronym B"Ch", pronounced Bach, stands for Bayis Chadash ("the New House"), which is the pen name of Rabbi Yoel Sirkes (1561-1640), one of the most prominent commentators on the Code of Jewish Law. Back

36. Literally "Shield of Avraham", the pen name of another very prominent commentator on the Code of Jewish Law. Back

37. An Italian Rabbi and Kabbalist at the time, who was regarded as somewhat controversial in some circles at the time, but now is universally held in high regard. Back

38. A reference to the "wars" of G-d and Torah. Back

39. The seven-day mourning period prescribed by Jewish law following a death. Back

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