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Figures & Types

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Emissaries, Rabbis and Slaughterers
The Emissaries of Volozhin

by Eliezer Leoni

Translated by Meir Razy

Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin founded the “Etz Chaim” (Hebrew: The Tree of Life) Yeshiva with his own money. However, the financial burden was soon beyond his financial means. This fact was demonstrated in the following story: one of his students, Rabbi Mordechai of Minsk, formed a Yeshiva in Minsk. A famous benefactress named Blumka took it upon herself to pay all of the expenses of the Yeshiva, including the living expenses of its students.

Rabbi Chaim used to say that the Yeshiva in Minsk gave him more satisfaction than his own Yeshiva in Valozhyn. People asked him how that could be as his Yeshiva was bigger and was considered more important. He explained that he was getting more satisfaction from the Yeshiva of Minsk because it was sustained by one benefactress, while he was obliged to work tirelessly for his Yeshiva's funding[1].

As the Yeshiva expanded and the number of its students grew, he realized he was no longer able to support it by himself. He asked the Jewish people for help and many people donated. However, he thought that having traveling agents and emissaries would help publicize the Yeshiva in the Jewish world and thus bring in even more donations. Rabbi Chaim wanted to give a more moral aspect to these donations. He would quote the Talmud: “Rabbi Elazar of Bartosa would say: Give Him what is His, for you, and whatever is yours, are His.” (Pirkey Avot 3:7)

He explained that G-d gives a person everything he has and is asking the person for a small portion in return. He also warned that G-d may take everything away from the person who would not “give back”[2].

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The emissaries were Torah Scholars as well as good orators and they were dedicated to raising generous donations[3]. They were the Foreign Ministers of the Yeshiva. They traveled to different European countries and served as the reporters and distributors of Jewish news among these communities. The Gaon Rabbi Chaim, the NATZIV and other leaders in Volozhin learned much about the Jewish life in all these different communities and about their leaders and rabbis. They were able to gather information about the economy, culture and political developments in all these different Jewish centers.

It very quickly became clear that some of the emissaries spent most of the donations they collected on their traveling and personal expenses. Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik commented: Now I understand the sentence (the Bible, Numbers 13:2) “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites. From each ancestral tribe send one of its leaders.” He said that the Hebrew word for “to explore” could also be understood as “to leave some of the money Moshe allocated for the expenses of their trip” (a Hebrew play on the words ‘yaturu’ and ‘yatiru’)[4].

One emissary explained to Rabbi Chaim that he had trouble raising large donations because his appearance was that of a poor man. It would be different if he had a nicer wardrobe and drove a fancier carriage.

Rabbi Chaim obliged and that man went out for another round of fundraising, this time nicely dressed and with a nicer horse and carriage. He visited a generous Jewish farmer, but this time the farmer refused to donate.

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When Rabbi Chaim heard the story, he himself went to visit that farmer. The farmer welcomed the Rabbi and said that he would not donate to a Yeshiva that was wasting so much money on the appearance of its emissaries.

The rabbi explained to him (Exodus 35:31) how Betzalel constructed the Holy Arc. Some parts of the Arc were more holy than other parts but all the parts were important and necessary. Similarly, every person who donated his or her gold and silver had wished that it be used for the Holiest of the Holy, but Betzalel could read their real intentions. Some intentions were pure love of G-d and their gold was used for constructing the Arc. Others hoped more for recognition and their gold was used for the legs of the Arc.

He continued: Supporting the Yeshiva is similar. The holiest part is the ‘student body’ but the students would not be able to devote their time to learning without adequate fundraising. Fundraising requires an emissary who requires a wardrobe as well as a horse and a carriage. The horse requires food; the carriage requires tar for the wheels. The different donations are used according to the holiness of the intention of the donor. Some donations are used for studying while others are used to feed the horse.

The farmer accepted this explanation and continued donating generously to the Yeshiva[5].

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The author of the book “The Vineyard” (HaKerem) wrote about the benefits of having emissaries. “These emissaries brought a lot of plusses to the communities they visited. They spread the knowledge of G-d and love of Torah during their annual visit to communities that had no other connection to Jewish life. One could see how many slaughterers, cantors and Torah teachers joined these communities in recent years. This growth of Judaism was driven by the spirit that the emissaries had brought to the towns and villages. The Yeshiva of Volozhin benefited from paying the expenses of all these emissaries who, in their turn, helped promote the Jewish spirit in these neglected communities.”[6]

The custom of sending emissaries to collect donations for the Yeshiva continued after Rabbi Yitzale succeeded his father, Rabbi Chaim, as head of the Yeshiva. A famous emissary at that time was Rabbi Yitzale of Volozhin who visited the U.S.A and Siberia. He used to travel to America, crisscrossing it for three or four years collecting donations. Then he would return to Valozhyn and shortly after he would travel to Siberia for a few years.[7]

The number of emissaries grew significantly during the time of the NATZIV as the number of students grew rapidly and expenses increased. Many people immigrated to the U.S.A. at that time and established communities based on their original towns (landsmanship). These communities became active donors.[8]

The great fire of 1886 destroyed a large section of Valozhyn and pushed many people to immigrate. It was that year that the “Association Etz Chaim Volozhin People” was established in New York with one of its declared goals being the continued support of the Yeshiva.

The NATZIV sent a letter[9] to the Polish and Russian Jewish expatriates in the U.S.A. pleading for help and explaining the urgency of their need for support. Jewish communities in the Russian Empire were under great economic pressure from the government and many residents were immigrating. He signed the letter thanking “those who live far away but their hand is opened for charity, and G-d will reward them.”

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In his memoir, Yehuda David Eisenstein wrote about Rabbi Meir Freiman who studied at the Yeshiva in 1862-63. He was an emissary and an active member of the New York Jewish community and collected donations for the Yeshiva.[10]

The Head of the Yeshiva gave each emissary a Letter of Nomination that was used to open doors, hearts and wallets of the communities they visited. In 1886, a letter written by the NATZIV and given to Rabbi Zvi Hirsh, the emissary to Prussia stated, “The Yeshiva of Volozhin is better than all the other Yeshivas of Poland and Russia in educating teachers and rabbis.”[11]

One of the emissaries for the NATZIV was Rabbi Shalom Eliezer Rogovin. He had been born in the town of Dzyatlava and was brought to Volozhin by the NATZIV. Each year the NATZIV selected ten promising students for a five-year study term at the Yeshiva. At the end of his term, Rabbi Shalom Eliezer Rogovin was nominated as the emissary to the U.S.A.


Rabbi Shalom Eliezer Rogovin


In 1892, the Russian government closed the Yeshiva after it refused to expand its curriculum to include general studies and languages. The institution of emissaries stopped functioning. However, it was reopened in 1899 under the leadership of Rabbi Raphael Shapiro. Rabbi Akiva Meir and Rabbi Peretz were the emissaries to the U.S.A. between 1909 and 1912.

However, the fundraising activity never again reached the level of the Yeshiva's earlier years.[12]


Original Footnotes:
  1. R' M. Lipson, Midor Ledor, Vol 2, #1213 Return
  2. Ruach Chaim, page 51, Kerem Shlomo Publishing, 1958 Return
  3. R' Yitzhak Rivkind, The Story of Valozhyn Support in America, Hatzofe daily newspaper, Jan 21, 1966, issue #10021 Return
  4. R' B. Yahushzon' Fon Unzer Sltan Otzar, Vol 4 page 63 Return
  5. R' Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, Toldot Rabeinu Chaim miValozhyn, pp 18-19, Kinor David Publishing, Jerusalem, 1957 Return
  6. Olam Barur, by Hakorem, 1887 p.79 Return
  7. R' Meir Berlin, MiValozhyn Ad Yerushalaim, p. 29 Return
  8. Erez, Yeshiva Shel Maala, Hameliz, issue #9, Feb 1, 1885, p. 140 Return
  9. The letter was printed in Hameliz, Feb 4, 1885 #10, p. 159 Return
  10. Yehuda David Aizenstein, Otzar Zichronotay, part 2, p. 253B, New York, Oct-Nov 1930 Return
  11. Hanatziv MiValozhyn, by Rabbi Moshe Zvi Neria Kook, Yahadut Lita, Am Hasefer Publishing, 1960, p. 367 Return
  12. R' Yitzhak Rivkind, The story of Valozhyn support in America, Hadoar, 29 Tevet 5726, issue #12, p. 188 Return

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Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Namiot (aka “Der Shaliver”)

by Benyamin Shafir (Shishko)

Translated by Meir Razy

Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

Volozhin was the spiritual center of Jewish life for Lithuania, Poland and Russia. The town was a magnet that attracted the best and the brightest of each new generation of students. These students were drawn to G-d, the study of Torah, high spirits, brave new ideas, and love for Israel. They longed to return to Eretz Israel.

Being a leader of any Yeshiva in Volozhin was a privilege and a very demanding occupation for any Rabbi. One such privileged person was Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Namiot. In 1935, he founded the small yeshiva “Darkei Noam” (Pleasant Ways) and served as its Head Rabbi and spiritual teacher.

The name he chose for the Yeshiva reflected the spiritual heritage of Rabbi Chaim and echoed Rabbi Namiot's way of life.

Rabbi Zvi was murdered by the Nazis on November 22, 1941.


Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Namiot


The letterhead and the stamp of Yeshiva “Darkei Noam”


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Rabbi Shmuel Fried

by Benyamin Shafir (Shishko), (Karkur)

Translated by Meir Razy

Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

Rabbi Shmuel Fried was born in Volozhin in 1869. His maternal great-grandfather was Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin and his paternal great-grandfather was Rabbi Hillel Fried of Hrodna. He received his rabbinical education in the Etz Chaim Yeshiva in Volozhin.

In 1897 he married Feiga-Lea, a daughter of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Chazanowitz, the Rabbi of Nowyswiat near Vilna and a descendent of RASHI. Rabbi Shmuel became the Rabbi of Nowyswiat after the death of his father-in-law in 1906 and became a member of the Vilna Rabbinical High Court in 1910.


Rabbi Shmuel Fried


In 1912, he was a member of the Vilna delegation to lawyer Oscar Gruzenberg regarding the Beilis Trial [Menahem Mendel Beilis was a Russian Jew accused of ritual murder in Kyiv and although Beilis was acquitted after a lengthy process by an all-Slavic jury, the legal process sparked international criticism of antisemitism in the Russian Empire]. In 1914, when WW-1 broke out, he was in Germany and solicited help for Lithuanian war refugees. Afterwards, he returned to Vilna and continued his work in assisting the refugees.

In 1919, the Vilna Regional Office of YAKAPA was founded with Rabbi Shmuel Fried appointed as its Director.

He was one of the founders of the Jewish Bank of Vilna, and when the Polish Government instituted Jewish self-governing Committees, he became the Chairman of the Committee on Religious Matters. In this role, he founded several Talmud Torah schools.

He was a member of the Mizrachi Zionist Movement. In 1927, he was nominated by the local Governor to the Agency which was in charge of assisting flood victims in Galicia.

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Rabbi Shmuel Fried helped Jews and non-Jews alike. His sister, Rebbetzin Friedale, used to refer sick people from her town for his assistance in Vilna. His accomplishments followed the great traditions of Valozhyn and influenced this great Jewish center of Lithuania in Vilna.

In 1941, Rabbi Shmuel Fried was murdered in Ponar along with many other victims from Vilna.

(Source: “Pinkas YAKAPA”)

My father, Rabbi Yehoshua Hacohen Kaplan z”l

by Rabbi Meir Hacohen Kaplan
(Member, Tel Aviv Rabbinical Court)

Translated by Meir Razy

Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay




My father was born in the town of Patchize in the Babruysk Region around the year 1872. The family and the whole region followed the CHABAD tradition. In his search for a Jewish education, he attended the Yeshiva of Slabodka, near Kovna. At that time, the head of the Yeshiva was the GAON Rabbi Yitzhak Belzer and the lead teacher was Rabbi Nathan Netta Zvi Finkel. Rabbi Nathan was very strict and emphasized ethics classes, classes that my father skipped while he concentrated on following the “GEFET” method. This method was known for its study of the Talmud, the RASHI interpretations and the later commentary on the RASHI interpretations. He was known as “Hamatmid (the persistent) from Babruysk” but his disobedience caused tension between him and Rabbi Nathan.

The GAON Rabbi Hirsh Rabinowitz, the Chief of the Jewish High Court in Kovna, tried to help him and asked Rabbi Nathan to ease his criticism, but to no avail. Eventually, my father found a Chabad-Lubavitch family that supported his studies and he moved to the Yeshiva in Ponimon[?], a suburb of Kovna, and continued studying there.

In 1899 he moved to Volozhin. He was embraced by Rabbi Raphael Halperin, the Head of the Yeshiva. He married Beila, the only daughter of Rabbi Yehuda Felishetz z”l.

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During his time at the Yeshiva in Volozhin, he studied the Poskim (the term in Jewish law for legal scholars who determine the position of the Halakha in cases of Jewish law where previous authorities are inconclusive or in those situations where no clear halakhic precedent existed) and graduated as a Teaching Rabbi. He first started teaching in Kolel Brodeski in Volozhin, moved to the town of Lubavitch and then to Vilna, where he published several books. These books became popular within the Chasidic community of Poland.

My father's life was dedicated to religious studies. He built an “iron curtain” around himself protecting him from the outside world. He invested all his time in studying and understanding the Holy Scriptures, including problems that arose from the writings of the RAMBAM. He studied Morals, the meaning of Paradise, Hell, and Death.

He declined several propositions to serve as a Rabbi of a community, even those that came from important and respected communities. To supplement his income he became a teacher in a school on Mila Street in Warsaw. At the start of the First World War, he left the city and returned to Volozhin. After the War, he moved among several small Lithuanian towns. First, he settled in Kruki, then in Chovenichky. In 1927, he became the Head Dayan (Judge) of the court Vidukle near Kelme.

He and all the Jewish community of Vidukle were murdered on July 24, 1941.

My father wrote several books: Sheari HaKodesh (two volumes elaborating on the services in the Temple according to Chaim Yosef David Azulai: Mo-re beEtzba and Ziporen Shamir), Mayanei HaYeshua, Shaar Yehoshua, Likutei Shoshanim, and Sheari HaVesatot.

The Slaughterers of Valozhyn
(Before the Second World War)

by Moshe Elishkevitsh

Translated by Meir Razy

Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

Three slaughterers worked in Volozhin before the war. They were Rabbi Israel David, Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Namiot and my father, Yoseph Elishkevitsh who was known as “the shochet of Arapecho”. My father, who had been a slaughterer in Zbazaza, came to Volozhin to take the place of Rabbi Wolf, who was both a slaughterer and a cantor.

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The Jewish slaughterers had hard times after the government banned Kosher slaughtering. This 1937 edict put the slaughterers and the butchers under economic stress.

The Jewish leaders announced a two-week strike by all the Jews in Poland, showing the Government that they had real economic power. The Jewish residents of Volozhin showed their commitment to their values while the non-Jews were amazed by this manifestation of unity.

The Government took a step back and allowed four kosher butcher shops to continued operating. As a result, the slaughterers agreed to allow the other butcheries to sell non-kosher meat to non-Jews.

Rebbetzin Feyga Unterman

by Rabbi Israel Shapiro

Translated by Meir Razy

Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay




Rebbetzin Feyga's father was Rabbi Yochanan, a respected and modest man who was a Torah scholar. His father (her grandfather) was Rabbi Avraham who was called Avramil Yankel Yochanans. He was a Torah scholar, a very religious man who completed reading the whole TALMUD every nine months.

This was the home where she grew up and where she absorbed the love of Torah and good deeds. She saw her destiny in life as helping Jewish scholars.

She married Rabbi Shlomo Hayman (he was called Shlomo Pritzer) who was the Head of the “Shearei Torah” Yeshiva in Kremenchuk. Later, they moved to New York where he also became Head of a Yeshiva. During the twenty years she lived in New York she was known as a person who was always lending a helping hand to people. During the Second World War, she helped refugees who wished to marry and start families and who were looking for spouses. She was like a mother to orphans and poor brides and a sister to people who suffered from depression. Her home was the place where many people would come looking for aid. This included yeshiva students and even important Rabbis. She also helped raise the funds required to publish several books. She did not wait for people in need to find her but used to search them out and provide support.

Her husband died while they were in the U.S.A. and she remained a widow for fifteen years. In 1958, she came to Israel and married the GAON Rabbi Unterman, the then Chief Rabbi of Tel-Aviv, who later became the Chief Rabbi of Israel.

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She continued her charity work until her last days. She used to say, “I want to be healthy and to do a good deed today. Life without doing good deeds cannot be considered a life.”

She passed away on December 31, 1964, at age 68.

Rayne Batya Berlin
(A granddaughter of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin)

by Rabbi Bharuch Halevy Epstein z”l

Translated by Meir Razy

Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

Rebbetzin Rayne Batya was the first wife of the NATZIV. She was a daughter of the GAON Rabbi Yitzale of Volozhin, intelligent, modest, and highly educated. All through her life, even in summer, she used to sit next to the heater in the dining room with the table covered in books. The Bible, the Talmud, “Ayn Yaakov”, “Menorat Hamaor”, “Kav Hayashar”, “Zemach David”, “Shevet Yehuda”, and other similar books were among her reading matter. She focused on reading and studying, paying no attention to the world around her.

I heard her many times complaining about the condition of the women in her world. She protested against the limitations put on women who could not enjoy the mitzvahs of Tefilin, Tzitzit, Sukkah, and Lulav and all the other mitzvahs that men were obligated to fulfill. She envied men who were instructed to follow 248[1] mitzvahs while the ‘deprived’ women had to follow only three.

At one time, she expressed deep sorrow saying that not only did men disrespect women with regard to mitzvahs but they also respected women less than four-legged animals.

“Let me show you”, she said. She opened the Shabbat section of the MOED part of the Talmud and read from chapter 5:

MISHNA I.: What gear may we let animals go about in and what not?

Then she read from chapter 6:

MISHNA I.: In what (ornamental) apparel may a woman go out, and in what may she not go out?

“Here you can see! Our sages did not hesitate to discuss animals before they discussed women! Is there a greater disrespect than this?”

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She was very bitter about the fact that any man, no matter how uneducated or contemptible he was (even someone who could not read or understand what he was reading), that very same person who would need to ask for her permission to even enter her home, could arrogantly say in front of her:

“Blessed are You, Adonai our God, King of the Universe, Who did not make me a woman.” (in the Morning Prayer).

And she had to say “AMEN”. She considered this as the ultimate insult to all women!

Rebbetzin Rayne Batya realized how short I was of money while studying at the Yeshiva. She tried to make me feel better by quoting the Talmud:

“Such is the way of Torah: Bread with salt you shall eat, water in small measure you shall drink, and upon the ground you shall sleep; live a life of deprivation and toil in Torah.” (Talmud, Avot, Ch 6 Mishna 4). She then explained that the difficult conditions would persist only while the student is “on his way” to learning. His conditions would improve after he learned enough.

She promised me that one day I would become a smart Rabbi and then I will be respected and my economic condition would greatly improve.

(From “Makor Baruch”, Vol. 4, Ch. 46: “The wisdom of Women”)


Translator's Footnote:
  1. A typo error in the original book shows 245. Return

Batya Miriam Berlin, (nee Epstein)[1]

By Rabbi Meir Berlin z”l[2]

Translated by Jerrold Landau based on an earlier translation
by M. Porat z”l that was edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel




Rebbetzin Batya Miriam,[3] the second wife of the great rabbi of Israel, the Netziv, was a woman of powerful spirit, character, and energy. For more than twenty years, she was a helpmate of her husband in his private life and communal affairs, in times of ease and times of suffering, in work hidden from the public eye and with an obvious, recognizable partnership, with internal quietude in the household, and with a stormy soul in public.

This woman was great before she reached a public position. She was a significant person in the full sense of the sublime term even before she became the wife of a significant person. She was recognized for her spirit and deeds while she was still young,

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for she was unlike most women. She had the spirit of the love of Torah, deep outlook on life, and extraordinary energy.

She was born to her father, the Gaon Yechiel Michell Halevi Epstein, while he was in Bobruisk. She was raised and educated in Novozhibkov, where her father had been accepted as the rabbi. When she reached the age of marriage, many of the best young men from the finest and richest families were ready to ask for her hand, for she was very beautiful, and she had a good intellect and pleasant manners. She was well educated with respect to the concepts of the time. She read and spoke Hebrew, and knew Russian and some German. However, she informed her parents that riches, beauty, and pleasure do not interest her. She desired that her husband be a scholar who occupies himself in Torah – that was her entire wish. Despite this, she was matched with a young man, the scion of a very wealthy family from the city of Chernigov. He was a proper and fine man, and he and his parents both promised that he would dedicate time to Torah and would be appropriate for his young wife and her demands.

It was not long before the women got to know that her husband, although he sat and learned and perused books here and there, did not possess the talent and desire for the study of Torah and for being a scholar in accordance with the concept that she knew from her home and family. She rose up and informed her husband and father-in-law that she cannot and does not desire to become accustomed to such a life, a life of wealth and honor, but a life devoid of Torah, and she therefore desires to separate and get divorced. She left behind all the jewelry that she had received, and she did not touch any of the beautiful dresses that she possessed. She stood her ground, stating that she had nothing against her husband and his family, but she was simply unable to live with an ignorant person. She left the home and the city, since her husband and his parents refused to grant the separation and divorce. Russian law of that time allowed a husband to search for his wife via the police before a divorce took place. The husband and his father, being mighty and strong-willed individuals, took advantage of this. The police went out to search for the rebel wife in any city or place where they suspected she might be, find her, and bring her home accompanied by police escort. Of course, she did not return to her parents' home, but rather hid for several months until she received a get [Jewish divorce document]. She did not demand anything, not even the conditions of the ketubah[4], so long as she could be free to marry a scholar. When she returned to the home of her parents, who considered her to be abnormal for abandoning wealth, riches, and a house full of everything good without a sufficient reason, her parents and relatives asked her about her thoughts for the future. She answered openly that she would even marry a poor or elderly person, even if the person is of poor pedigree, as long as he is scholar, for a person who does not know Torah, even if his honored by people, is unfit in her eyes.

During that time, the Netziv, who was around age 55, lost his first wife[5]. One of the meshulachim [emissaries to collect charity], Rabbi Dov of Slutsk, traveled to the area of Novozhibkov. He knew the rabbi of the city and his divorced daughter, as well as all the wonderful things that were said about her – that, despite her beauty, youth and intelligence – she preferred to live a life of poverty, as long as it would be a life of Torah and fear of Heaven, over a life of wealth and honor with a man who was lacking Torah. He recommended

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to her father and mother, Michla, the younger sister of the Netziv, a match with the illustrious uncle from Volozhin. Both the father and mother chastised that man for his craziness and outlandish recommendation. However when the “one spoken for” heard this herself, although she had never met her uncle but had only heard of his great name from afar, said, “I will cleave to the dust of his feet, I will be to him like a daughter and servant, only that he spread his wings upon me, for I can have no greater pleasure in my life than being the wife of this great man. Age and a life of hardship mean nothing to me, so long as I merit to be the life partner of the Gaon in Torah and the great one of Israel.”

The emissary continued on his way, returned to Volozhin and put the suggestion of marriage before the rabbi. He did not finish describing his proposition when he heard the sound of censure, “Is it possible that a woman thirty years younger than I, and accustomed to different conditions and life of a big city, would consent to come to me? And as for me, I do not wish to begin a new life, so how can I do such a great travesty to my flesh and blood, the daughter of my sister?” This emissary did not back off, and did not stop recommending time and again this unusual proposition, both in Volozhin and in Novozhibkov. After much discussion, the two sides met in Molodechno, close to Volozhin. Then that wonderful 28-year-old woman became the Rebbetzin in Volozhin and the wife of the Netziv.

As great as her love for the Torah, so was her love for charitable work and benevolence. Words of Torah and discussions of scholars were pleasant to her. She herself was also diligent in Torah, to the extent that was possible. Even with all her efforts in matters of the household and especially in matters of the Yeshiva, she never missed the daily portion of Psalms and Maamadot[6]. Every Sabbath, she would review the weekly portion twice, with three translations: the traditional Unkelos, Russian, and German. Aside for this, she completed the book of Proverbs every Sabbath, and studied Pirkei Avot in the summer. She had full understanding and she delved into the explanation of the verses and the Mishnas, so many words of the sages were on the tip of her tongue, and she knew how to conduct discussions and debates on the proper sources of the verses and the words of the sages.

She was also familiar with the tribulations of the young scholars, and would search for solutions and recommendations to improve their lot. She would comfort them when they would complain to her, reminding them how bright their future would be both physically and spiritually. Her assistance to the Yeshiva students was especially expressed in exceptional cases. When one of the students got sick, she would busy herself with summoning physicians. In cases of serious illness, she would bring expert doctors from the large cities. It is no wonder therefore that the young Rebbetzin became known in a wonderous, splendorous way. Yeshiva students, rabbis, and communal activists who came from afar would tell of her praises and laud her deeds.

The great affection for her was especially demonstrated at the time of her illness. The many physicians who were summoned from various cities did not find a remedy for her illness, and suspected that a day would come when she would not survive. Men and women gathered by the hundreds, prayed and cried out to the Healer Of The Ill to send His help.

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All the Yeshiva students burst out in crying, recited several chapters of Psalms, and added a name to the ill person, who would now be called Chaya Batya Miriam[7]. The crisis passed that night, and she arose and was healed.

Immediately after her marriage, her illustrious husband asked her whether she would prevent him from traveling to the Land of Israel. She did not hesitate for a moment and responded that she would be happy if she were to merit coming to the Holy Land, to live there, and not just to die there. She did not merit this with her illustrious husband, but many years later, she made aliya with joy, witnessed the upbuilding of the land, and blessed G-d day by day that she reached that place.


Translator's Footnotes:
  1. There is a footnote in the text here: From the book Rabban Shel Yisrael [Rabi of Israel], chapter “His helpmate in his holy work” (pp. 131-134). Return
  2. Rabbi Meir Berlin is the renowned Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan, and he is writing here about his mother. Return
  3. Mr. M. Porat notes here: known in Litvak Yiddish as “The Rebetzin Bashe Mirl” Return
  4. The Jewish marriage document, which specifies a certain amount to be paid to the woman should the marriage dissolve. Return
  5. Mr. M. Porat notes that her name was Rayne Bashe (Reb Itsele's daughter) Return
  6. A daily recitation of various sections of the Torah, Mishna, and Talmud that is considered to be in lieu of the daily Temple sacrifices. There is a seven-day rotation of Maamadot. This not required by Jewish law, and is generally regularly read by especially pious individuals. Return
  7. There is a tradition that adding a name to a sick person changes the decrees from Heaven, as the decree was made to a person with name x, and now the name is y (or xy). Return

My Grandmother Miryam

by Tova Berlin-Papish[1] (Jerusalem)

Translated by Meir Razy

Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

My grandmother, Batya Miriam, was revered in our family. In my memory, grandmother Bsia-Mirl had become a legend well before I even met her.

My sister Michal z”l and I called her “grandmother angel” in our conversations. My father Yaakov was the eldest son of my grandmother and her husband, the NATZIV. My father was very talented; he taught himself and earned the Government's Matriculation Certificate in our town of Mogilev on the Dnieper and was certified as a Rabbi. He was a pure and innocent man who kept himself away from the physical “real world”. He spent his days and many nights studying the Torah. From an early age I carry this picture in my memory: my father is leaning over an enormous opened book. The book is sitting on a “stand” made of wood and he is rocking against the stand, reading and sometimes even singing.

The duty of running the home and educating their two daughters was always the responsibility of Chaya-Raisa, my mother. She was the daughter of a wealthy family and, like her mother-in-law, preferred dealing with spiritual and educational matters. She dedicated most of her time, energy, her drive and income to these purposes. Her modest income was the financial support she received from her wealthy parents. This money had to support the lifestyle of the social circle she belonged to and to provide everything for her daughters. As wife of the Rabbi, she had to do all of this without revealing any of the difficulties she might be having to the community.

[Page 480]

I believe that my grandmother knew about these difficulties and supported her daughter-in-law's lifestyle, especially her aspiration to give her daughters the best possible education.

The unwritten agreement between them led to ongoing assistance. My grandmother used to send regular shipments of food, apparel and even rolls of fabrics.

At that time, my grandmother lived with her husband Rabbi Chaim Lurie, whom she married after the death of my grandfather, the NATZIV. They lived in the town of Byerazino near Minsk. Each Wednesday we had a visitor. This was Hillel, grandmother's coachman. He was a big man who wore tall leather boots in the summer, felt boots in winter and was always holding a long whip. We were always happy to see him. He slowly unloaded the coach revealing surprising gifts: silk cloth for our dresses, a piece of jewelry for my mother, a nice tablecloth, blanket covers and the like.

The food “menu” made us happy too. There were jars of jam made by our grandmother, jars of honey, jars of goose fat, dried fruit, nuts, and sweets. This was why we referred to our grandmother as “grandmother angel”. We had loved her before we even met her for the first time.

With each shipment, Hillel brought a letter from grandmother. The letters were written in Yiddish but we only spoke Russian. In these letters grandmother was always concerned about our health. Mother, who translated the letters for us, was always excited when they came.

We were all very excited when we were invited to visit grandmother one year for the High Holidays. She wanted to meet her granddaughters. I think it was 1913. I do not remember any visits she made to Mogilev.

This was a major event. We packed our suitcases and were happy to ride on the train. Meeting grandmother was lovely and staying in her home was special. We were not used to such a large and beautiful house with so much furniture, a large kitchen and a wide yard with many trees.

I can hardly remember her husband, Rabbi Chaim Lurie. He was short and discrete. The home was organized and managed like clockwork by grandmother.

[Page 481]

Grandmother decided what we would eat and how we would dress, how we would spend our time and what relatives we would visit. Her control over everything seemed so natural.

The house had two servants. One of them was Jewish and the other was a Christian named Dossia. Until today, I remember one event that impressed me to tears.

It was following the meal before the fast of Yom Kippur. We were all dressed festively, ready to leave for the synagogue. Candles were lit in tall candlesticks and the atmosphere in the home was of awe and fear for the coming Judgment Day. Just before leaving, grandmother approached each person. With a weeping voice she asked for forgiveness in case she had done or said anything that had offended or hurt them. I was surprised she even asked the servants, including Christian Dossia, for their forgiveness.

All her life she was involved with charity work which included helping the poor, “Gmilut Chasadim” and “Hachnasat Kala”. She and members of her charity group visited the homes of well-to-do people where they collected money and clothes which they discretely distributed to people in need.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, my uncle Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan (Berlin) and his daughter Yehudit (may she live a long life, she is now the wife of Professor Shaul Liberman) happened to be visiting us in Mogilev. After much difficulty, my uncle found his way to the U.S.A. His wife Beila z”l and children (may they live a long life) daughter Shulamit (now the wife of professor Avraham Halkin) and son Tuvia (Doctor Tuvia Bar-Ilan) came to New York later. Daughter Yehudit stayed with us and arrived in New York in 1919. After the death of her second husband, my grandmother moved to New York. However, she did not like New York and in 1923 she moved to Jerusalem. In 1924, we moved to Eretz Israel with help from my grandmother and my uncle Meir.

For a while we lived in her apartment in the Zichron Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem and I had an opportunity to come to know her better and to appreciate her generosity and gentleness.

Although she was very strict in following all the Mitzvahs, she recognized and accepted the progress of time. She now assisted young religious men who wanted to get a good general education. She actively supported educational institutions just as she had when she was the wife of the NATZIV in Volozhin, especially the Yeshivas, of course.

She spent her little “free time” reading newspapers and religious books.

[Page 482]

In 1932, at the age of 84, she was afflicted with several severe illnesses. On the day the physicians admitted they could not help her anymore she asked to read the Bible story of chapter 20 in Second Kings, the story of the miraculous recovery of the sick King Hezekiah. As in that miracle, she surprised the physicians, recovered and lived for six more months.

My grandmother died in early 1933 at the age of 85.


Translator's Footnote:
  1. Ms. Tova Berlin-Pepish is a cousin of Dr. Tuvia Bar-Ilan Return

Melameds and Teachers
The Cheder of Rabbi Betzalel the Melam

by Rachel Rogovin (Rubinstein)/ Rehovot

Translated by Meir Razy

Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay

When I think of Volozhin I picture in my mind the modest house of Rabbi Betzalal the Melamed. During the summer the house was covered with moss while during the winter it looked as if it were collapsing under its heavy cover of snow. The windows were very small but the inside was always bright, illuminated as it was by the shining light of the Torah. The Melamed's back was crooked, his eyes sparkling black and his long, white beard framed his pale face.

I was very young when I was first introduced to the Cheder. With my friends Gittel Arotzker and Bielka Shaker, we sat around a long table. The rabbi sat at the head of the table holding a “hand” (a pointer that looks like a pointing finger) and we read from Alphabet sheets. The girls studied only until noon while the boys stayed until late in the evenings. Every day, even in snowstorms, the Rabbi who loved all his pupils, used to walk them home holding a lantern.

The Rebbetzin liked us. She used to send us on chores such as fetching a pail of water from the well or feeding the goat some hay. We loved these chores because we used the opportunity to play in the yard. We especially loved Fridays. She used to cook a pot full of beans and as soon as she left the house we sneaked into the kitchen and helped ourselves.

[Page 483]

Chaim-Yehoshua, the son of the Rabbi, taught the girls math, grammar, Hebrew and penmanship (calligraphy).

The Cheder was our mental foundation and we studied in it until we started Elementary School. Here we learned to dream, built friendships and established our links to Eretz-Israel. Rabbi Betzalel was a “Chovev Zion” and instilled the love for Zion in us. This love brought us to settle in Eretz Israel.

Starting Elementary School marked the end of our early childhood and the beginning of making new friendships.


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