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[Page 197]

(Tsimkavichy, Belarus)

53°04' 26°59'


My Shtetl

by Rabbi R'Moshe Paleyev

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

My Shtetl is standing before my eyes, as if alive. There I spent my childhood years, in my parents' home, in the Heder and in the Bet Midrash. I remember my Father-and-Teacher R'Israel z”l and my Mother who has given me life Mrs. Chana z”l, whose only wish was to raise their son to study Torah and be suited for study at the Yeshiva and maybe, as the townspeople hoped as well, become the town's rabbi.

There were 3 synagogues in town: the Big Bet Hamidrash, where the rabbi and the respected residents prayed; “The Cold Synagogue” for the summer days and a small Bet Midrash, called “The Hassidim Shtiebl” where prayer was conducted in “Nusach Sefarad.” On Sabbath they had the Se'uda Shelishit [the Third Sabbath Meal]


The Rabbi R'Moshe Aharon Paleyev


with singing, as was customary among the Hassidim. I should mention that this was the only minyan in Nusach Sefarad in the entire region. In all the other towns and villages, most people were part of the respected well-to-do house owners and the intelligentsia, who read the Hatzefira and the Hamelitz and Russian newspapers. The local rabbi prayed there only once a year, on Simchat Torah, when they danced with the Torah according to the Hassidic custom. The rabbi would be invited to give a sermon and speak about current affairs.

The Timkowitz Jews, as the Jews of the other small towns in Belarus, were far from being rich. Many of them were artisans, working mostly for the village peasants. Most of them went during the weekdays to the neighboring villages, with their wagons and horses, and traded with the villagers. They bought from them the produce of their land, their cows and their chicken, and sold them soap, salted fish and haberdashery. On Fridays they would come home and stay there over Sabbath, until Sunday morning. The shopkeepers in the market place provided the villagers with all their needs in the house and in the field. What they had in common, with a few exceptions, was that they were very poor.

Sundays and Tuesdays were the market days; the peasants from the surrounding villages would come and sell their produce and buy what they needed.

This was the source of livelihood of the townspeople. However, in spite of their constant distress, their spiritual life was interesting and fulfilling: all Jewish residents were God fearing people and observed the mitzvot [religious commandments]; every morning they went to the synagogue and joined the early Morning Prayer [minyan vatikin]. The elderly among them, who did not have to hurry to work, after the prayer would sit around the table and learn Torah, or Mishna, or one of the books. Between Mincha [the afternoon prayer] and Ma'ariv [the evening prayer] the Bet Midrash was full of artisans, who left their workshops to their wives and hurried to the Bet Midrash to learn. The looks on their faces testified to the fact that their spiritual enjoyment from the study was far greater than the pleasure of keeping shop.


R'Eliyahu Govizinianski (Elie Yesels)


This is how it was on weekdays. On Sabbath, when the Shekhina [Divine Presence] was in every person's house and family, even the needy and passers-by would join the table.

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Every respected family made an effort to invite a guest for Sabbath. As they ate the festive Sabbath dinner and sang zemirot [Sabbath songs at the dinner] the poor forgot their poverty and troubles.

Most of the Timkowitz Jews were learned in Torah – some more, some less. Among them were also scholars and ordained rabbis, but they did not use this as a profession to make a living. I remember R'Avraham Moshe Perlin, when he was already a very old man. In his youth he studied at the Volozhyn Yeshiva and was a good friend of the great scholar Rabbi Elie Feinstein from Pruzhin. Several times he was offered the position of rabbi in Timkowitz, but he refused and remained a shopkeeper. He was very learned, and when one of the rabbis left the town, he would replace him until a new Rabbi was appointed. All the time he studied Torah.

Another great scholar, who worked as a shopkeeper all his life, was R'Aharon Ratchkewitz. He had a special quality – he loved the Yeshiva students who came home after completing their studies. On free days he would invite them to his home, discuss with them religion and encourage them to study constantly.

R'Pesach Kamshitzer lived all his life in the village Kamshitz, near Timkowitz, and in his old age he settled in our town. He was a great scholar of the Torah, knew several Tractates of the Talmud and was a friend in study of

R'Avraham Moshe Perlin. R'Yitzhak Shapira, called Itche the Shohet [slaughterer] was an expert in slaughtering laws and all local rabbis trusted him. The melamdim [teachers in heder] were R'Yosef Yudel the melamed, R'Leizer, R'Nachum Borech's and R'Shlomo Perles. The latter was an excellent preacher. When he would eulogize a person at a funeral, all listeners would cry. When he gave a lesson in “Ein Ya'akov” he would sweeten his words with stories and fables. All the melamdim in town were scholars, who knew how to explain to their students a “page of the Talmud.” Some of them were erudite in the Bible [TANACH] and knew Hebrew perfectly; among them was my father-and-teacher z”l.

There were many activist people in town, who ignored their livelihood and their family and worked all their life for the public needs. One of them was my father-in-law R'Elie Yesils, as he was called. He was a public worker and all decisions in town were made after his suggestions. He would see to it that there was always firewood to heat the synagogue and the bathhouse. He also took care of needy orphans and women who gave birth, and collected money for the dowry of needy brides. R'David Reuven the butcher would, during the week, knock on the doors of the charitable people and collect bread and other food for the needy in town. Many of the residents sent their sons to study at the Yeshivas – in time many of those students became ordained rabbis.


The Rabbis in Timkowitz
  1. The Rabbi R'Efraim (I forgot his surname) served as rabbi from 5615 (1855) until approximately 5625-5630. I heard that he never abandoned the study of the Torah and was loved by all residents of the town. They called him lovingly R'Efroyke. He died at a ripe old age in Timkowitz. I met many townspeople who were called Efraim, after him.
  2. The rabbi R'Noah Rabinowitz, who was called R'Noyech'ke, served as Rabbi until approximately the year 5640 (1880). He was a great Torah scholar and an excellent speaker. He left us two books: “The Waters of Noah” and “The History of Noah,” – commentaries on Law and Legend. He was the father-in-law of the great scholar R'Baruch-Ber Leibowitz, the head of the Kamenitz Yeshiva. After he left Timkowitz he was appointed rabbi in the town Shadova (Lithuania).
  3. The rabbi R'Aharon Michael, son of rabbi R'Moshe Zvi Hakohen Dvoretzki, was called R'Arye. He served as Rav in Timkowitz until approximately 5655 (1895). He was a wonderful preacher, and knew the language of the country. After he left Timkowitz he served as rabbi in Ivenitz. In 5664 a great fire broke out in Timkowitz and all the houses, including the Bet Midrash, burned down. When a new Bet Midrash was built, R'Arye from Ivenitz was invited to the inauguration ceremony (at the time, Timkowitz had no rabbi of its own). R'Arye and various other important people were part of the procession with the Torah Scrolls, headed by a music group. Among them was also the Polish nobleman who was the owner of the land, and had donated wood and other building materials for the synagogue. As thanks, he was honored with opening the gate of the new synagogue. R'Arye gave a speech in perfect Russian. I was then about 16 years old and I heard his speech. Later I met his son R'Yehoshua at the Yeshiva in Slutsk.
  4. The Rav R'Menachem Krakovski was the rabbi of the town until approximately 5666. He was a Torah scholar, knew how to explain a page of the Talmud and was an excellent modern speaker. He was firm and rigorous in his opinions. Due to his efforts, the Authorities allowed to hold “market days” on Sundays and Tuesdays. All Timkowitz people appreciated his important activity and he was respected by the “Pristav” and the Judges of the Peace in the Province and he helped many of the accused for political reasons. He knew well the language and did not need translators. From one of the elders I heard an interesting story about his appointment as Rav in Timkowitz: R'Menachem was the son-in-law of the scholar R'Elie Feinstein, the rabbi of Pruzhin. When R'Arye left Timkowitz, Elie came to Timkowitz and visited his old friend the rabbi R'Avraham Moshe Perlin and said to him: If you agree to accept the position of Rabbi in Timkowitz, do it and I am going back home; if not – I would ask you to help assigning the post to my son-in-law R'Menachem. R'Avraham Moshe replied: I do not accept the position of Rabbi. R'Elie said: If so, I am going home and for the coming Sabbath I will return with my son-in-law. And so it was: Next Sabbath R'Menachem gave a sermon in the synagogue and greatly impressed all people, and in the evening the community leaders assembled and decided unanimously to assign the position to him. Suddenly they noticed that R' Moshe was not present, and without him, no one wanted to be the first to sign the decision. R'Elie hurried to the home of R'Avraham Moshe to find out why he didn't come; the latter first used several excuses, then declared: “I have asked you if you wanted to accept the position and you replied negatively; now I command you to go back to the assembly and be the first to sign the assignment.” And so it was. Rabbi Menachem was given the position of Rav in Chaslawitz. I heard that after he died; his sons published his book about the RAMBAM [Maimonides].
  5. The rabbi R'Gershon Moshe Gelbard was rabbi in Timkowitz until the year 5682. Before that he was rabbi in Starabin. He was a great scholar and wrote many new commentaries. I was very happy about his assignment.
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Once, as I came to visit my father, I visited him and showed him some of my Torah commentaries. He made some remarks and treated me as a father.

He was a great speaker, and although he was sick he wrote commentaries and I, with God's help, helped him a little. In 5680 (1920), when I prepared to leave Russia and go to America I went to him to say farewell, he burst into tears and said: I wish I and my family would also be able to go to America (it was at the time of the Soviet rule). When I left he was still Rabbi in Timkowitz, later he was appointed rabbi in the town Oshmina. To this day I cannot forget him, his exceptional qualities and in particular his greatness as a Torah scholar.

  1. The rabbi R'Yakov Kanterowitz was appointed in 5683 (1923) and I corresponded with him, through my grandfather R'Elie Yesils. I wrote to him novel commentaries of the Torah and he replied, and so we got to know each other. When the Soviet rule strengthened, he decided to go to America and I helped him. When he arrived, he was appointed rabbi in Trenton, New Jersey. He was one of the great rabbis of our time. He excelled in the knowledge of the Talmud and Tosfot, knew by heart almost all of the early Sages [Rishonim] and he knew perfectly all four parts of the Shulkhan Arukh [The Codex of Halakha (Law)]. He was very modest. For a short time he was teacher at the Brooklyn Yeshiva Torah Vada'at. He wrote a book, and after his death his sons published another book written by him, about the Tractates of the Talmud (New-York 1948).
  2. The rabbi R'Shmuel Yitzhak Meizus, the last rabbi, was appointed in 5684 (1924). I corresponded with him on Torah subjects. He was diligent and studied Torah day and night, and his family suffered from hunger. Once I received from him a letter with some new commentaries, and Rabbi Moshe Yissachar Goldberg from New Orleans was at my house at the time. I asked him one of the questions that were in the letter of R'Meizus. He asked to see the letter. Sometime later, R'Goldberg wrote a long article about this and sent it to “Pardes” in the name of R'Meizus. From that time I heard nothing about him, since our correspondence ended.


People Born in Timkowitz who Became Rabbis
The rabbi R'Yudel Garfinkel was the son-in-law of the rabbi of Vendzigala and after his father-in-law died he took his place. I remember when he once came to Timkowitz to visit his mother, my father took me to him to examine me – I was then about ten years old. I heard that later he settled in Eretz Israel. In America I met rabbis who knew him, they told me that he was a great scholar and he wrote many novel commentaries on the Torah.

The rabbi R'Israel David Ratchkewitz, son of Rabbi Aharon Ratchkewitz was the son-in-law of the rabbi from Lekhewitz in the Slutsk Province, and after the death of his father-in-law he was appointed rabbi.

The rabbi R'Yitzhak Aharon son of R'Nissan Koifman served as rabbi in one of the small towns in Lithuania. He was a scholar and a great speaker. He died before the last War.

The rabbi R'Elie, son of R'Binyamin Starasta, was rabbi in Shinyavka near Slutsk, after WWI.

The rabbi R'Avner son of R'Yakov Zvi Nankin-Aklianski, son-in-law of the great scholar R'Yosef Leib Bloch, was head of the religious court and teacher at the Yeshiva in Telz.

The rabbi R'Avraham, son of R'Aharon Reichlin, was rabbi in various communities in New York and New Jersey, now he is rabbi in the Bronx. His brother, called Ritch, is serving as rabbi in Chicago.

The rabbi R'Moshe Yehoshua son of R'Mordechai Halevi Shragewitz, studied at the Yeshiva in Slutsk with the great scholar R'Aharon Kotler SHLITA [May he live long and good years Amen]. When he came to America he was appointed as Rabbi in Dorchester.

The rabbi R'Zvi Dov Kontofski, born in America, son of R'Meir Kontofski from Timkowitz. He was teacher [RA”M] in our Yeshiva in Brooklyn.

The brothers, Rabbis R'Baruch Cohen and R'Pinchas Cohen, sons of Rabbi R'Yitzhak Cohen, came to America with the refugees of the Mir Yeshiva. Now they are known rabbis in the Bronx, NY.

The rabbi R'Moshe Aharon Paleyev, born in 5649 (1889) in Timkowitz. Studied six years in the Yeshiva of R'Isser Zalman. He was a merchant, in 5681 (1921) he came to America and was teacher at the Yeshiva in New York. His books: Mahane Israel (New York 5690 [1930]), Beer Avraham (New York 5699 [1939]). He also contributed to two Collections.

The rabbi R'Yehuda Leib Perlman, born in 11 Tishrei [Tzom Gedaliahu] 5604 (1844). He studied at the Yeshiva in Bobroisk and then in Slutsk and Vilna. In 5652 (1892) he published his prayer book [siddur] Minhat Yehuda with added remarks Minchat Milu'im. The scholar Rabbi Reines wrote: “It was a good thing he did for his people – to translate the prayers into the language spoken today, so that those who do not know our ancient language would understand.”

A Passage from “In Those Days”
[Bayamin Hahem]

by Mendele MO”S

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Situated on a large plain about ten miles from Kapoli, it looks from afar as a small settlement. But as you enter it, you smell immediately that it is a Jewish town, by the signs: the market with its shops, the alley of the synagogue and the bathhouse – those three things are for the Jewish community as is water for the fish, even when the community is small and includes only ten people.
The name of the town is Timkowitz. The town is small and its Jews are few. To these few Jews another soul was added: a young man who came to town in the early summer. All day long he sat in the Bet Midrash and studied, although Timkowitz was not a great Torah center. Its Jews needed to make a living: right after the prayer, the Bet Midrash and the entire alley was empty. Everyone went to take care of his own business – his work at home or his shop in the market place. The young man who arrived in town – he did not come to study Torah but to look for food. He was expecting to receive his daily meals in one of the houses. And he did not come of his own free will, but was forced to do so. His mother, a poor widow, had mercy on her beloved son, the eldest of her young children, and sent him to this town, hoping that her acquaintances there will help him.
Shloime'le was the name of the lad, son of R'Chaim. Oh, how sad was his fate! - - - - - The shames [attendant] of the synagogue came and pulled him by his coat, saying:

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Come, young man, don't stand outside, it is time for the Minkha prayer. For Shloime'le the prayer was a ray of light, which pierced the fog of sadness in his soul and lit up the darkness. Maybe there was not much Torah in Timkowitz, but there was indeed prayer – Hassidic prayer. Shlomo had never in his life seen Hassidim; in his hometown there were none. The Mitnagdim [opponents (to Hassidism)] would criticize them, and he imagined them as some strange creatures, whose religion was different and prayers were odd. But when he met them he realized that they were Jews like all others, and was excited by their prayers that were full of enthusiasm and joy; his heart was attracted to them. Most of all he was excited by their singing, filled with love and longing for the Presence of the Holy One, blessed be His Name; he loved in particular the prayer Yedid Nefesh.

- - - - - - From the Timkowitz Hassidim Shloime'le learned to turn his prayer into a prayer of compassion, and he was pouring out his soul in front of the Creator. The prayer became a ray of light, but his soul was still desolate and veiled in a fog of sadness. - - - - Yet, sometimes Shloime'le was excited and his heart woke up. He would see in his imagination a red fat figure with one blind eye, and then a hot current would pass through his body and his face would burn. This was the figure and the eye of the family's fat daughter – the family where he lodged and ate on the Sabbath. Shloime'le has never paid attention to her – blind and fat as she was – but one day he heard secretly that they intended to take him as her husband and this made him very sad.
- - - - Sometimes Shloime'le felt that he missed his home and his town - - - - and one day during Selikhot his imagination took over and he burst out, frightened, from the empty and desolate Bet Midrash, and his feet took him in the direction of his hometown. He met his mother and both cried – it was the poor tears of a forsaken widow and her beloved son, who, because of her poverty, was forced to live far in exile.

From the Press

A Christian woman came out of the Church, took off her overcoat and began to run, shouting that a Jew had done that and that he intended to kill her. Immediately many Christians gathered around and threatened that they were going to destroy the town. A Jewish boy, a student at the Talmud Torah passed there, and she pointed at him saying that he had stolen her coat. The “destructive angels” caught him and took him to the jail. Several days later it was revealed that one of the peasants in town did it, and the coat was found among his things.

(Hamelitz, No. 4, 1882) Shlomo Matzkewitz

The governor of the province visited several towns, including our town. The leaders of our Community welcomed him with bread and salt. He received them willingly and discussed with them our situation.
In Church he spoke to the people, urging them not to harm the Jews.

(Hamelitz, No. 31, 1882) Shmuel Grunem Rabinowitz

There were indications that the Christians were preparing a pogrom. The Pristav called a meeting of the neighboring villagers and elders of the Councils and warned them to take measures of protection.
In town, a “Fair” took place.

(Voskhid, 23, 1882)

A Maggid [preacher] came to give a sermon about Zionism and went on the stage without the permission of the head of the community. The public began to shout “Down!” and the scared preacher left the stage. Zionism was of no importance in Timkowitz, and its young people were shedding tears and complaining about the situation.

(Hatzofeh 137, 1903)


Major-General Kapustin demanded from Giltchik 30 men for the purpose of carrying out a command: to sabotage the Timkowitz Police.
By contact with a Jewish partisan who was also a spy, thirty Jews and forty Russians were given the task to kill the Timkowitz policemen. At night, they approached the police building and cruelly killed 22 policemen in their sleep. They left one of them half alive, to tell the Germans how partisans take revenge on spies and traitors. Following that, thousands of Germans arrived from Minsk and killed many of the townspeople, accusing them of helping and collaborating with the partisans.
Tziganov's unit fulfilled successfully its task: They derailed six enemy trains between Baranowitz and Minsk and on their way back to their base they burned over 200 tons of grains and a large alcohol factory near Timkowitz.

(From The Book of the Partisans by Moshe Kahanowitz).


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