Vignettes of Religious Life in Skala

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Religious life in late 19th and early 20th century Skala was similar to that in surrounding shtetlach. Many of Skala's inhabitants were chasidish, but there were those who were not. "They believed in God," a Skala native said of his observant family. "But they didn't believe in the rebbes so much."

Skala's chasids were followers of either the Chortkover or the Vishnitzer [also spelled Vizhnitzer or Viznitzer] rebbes. Each of these groups had its own kloiz or synagogue in the town. For more than 100 years, the Drimmers of Skala were rabbis for adherents of the Vishnitzer rebbe.

Some observant men in Skala wore the black hats of chasids, while others wore kipot.
Left to right, top to bottom: Meier, Hersh Eliyah, and Zechariyah Wiesenthal; Mordkho Wolf Wasserman.

Rebbe David Moshe
one of the Chortkover rebbes

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager
Founder of the Vishnitzer dynasty
Skala natives would travel to the palaces of the chasidic dynasties, to seek their rebbe's blessing or to ask his advice about business or family problems. One elder from Skala told the tale of his grandfather, who went to consult the Vishnitzer rebbe in the 1870s, to inquire about a wife for his son. Standing behind him on the line of petitioners waiting to see the rebbe was a man from another town, who had come to ask about a husband for his daughter. The rebbe said the first man's son and the second man's daughter would make a good match, so the two young people -- who never had met -- were betrothed.

A majority of the town's denizens were quite impoverished, but "there always was someone poorer than we were, to whom we could give charity," a former resident said. Economic circumstances sometimes required adjustments in religious observance. Unable to afford separate dishes for Pesach, many Skala residents scrubbed their everyday dishes in barrels, brought them to be toiveled (immersed) in the mikveh, then used them during the holiday.

Every house had an oven in which food was cooked Friday for Shabbat. Housewives kept the food warm over Shabbat by closing the oven's opening with a big stone or making it airtight with clay. Some people brought their Shabbat food to the baker, who kept it warm for them in his ovens until it was needed. Many people employed the services of a shabbas goy, a non-Jewish man or woman who stoked the fire and kept it going on Shabbat, an activity forbidden to observant Jews.
These Shabbat candlesticks belonged to Lanzie Zimmerman, daughter of Daniel Zimmerman and Frima Blang (Blank), who was born in Skala on February 21, 1873. Her granddaughter, Lancy Spalter, believes the candlesticks either were part of her dowry or were a gift to her on the occasion of her marriage to Mayer Mordko Presser, from Suchostaw.

After an obvervant woman married in Skala, she covered her hair with a sheitel (wig), kerchief, or hat.
Left to right, top to bottom: Chana Wiesenthal Herzog, Frieda Weingast Wasserman, Lanzie Zimmerman Presser, Esther Wiesenthal Gottesfeld.
Often a religious man would spend his day praying and studying in the synagogues, while his wife supported the family. Some of our female ancestors in Skala were known to have run inns or bars, to have made bricks, to have tended stores or sold herring or vegetables in the market. Married women usually covered their hair when they went out in public, although there were occasional rebels who refused to dress as the town's traditionalists determined was proper.
Brucha Schwartzbach Wiesenthal scandalized her husband's family by refusing to cover her hair after she was married. Her son described her as "a modern woman."

This prayer book used by Skala native Lancie Zimmerman Presser was published in the town of Bilgoraj in 1911.
While the boys learned Hebrew and Jewish subjects in cheder (religious school), girls in Skala were largely uneducated until the end of the 19th century, when they were required to attend public school. As a result of this secular education, Jewish women often spoke Polish or Ukrainian; but they rarely knew Hebrew, so some of them would read Tsena-u-rena, a popular translation of the Torah into Yiddish. By contrast, Ethel Weisman Wiesenthal (ca. 1847-1915) and her sisters were tutored at home with their brothers, so she read and wrote Hebrew. She used to walk around the women's section of the Chortkover kloiz, show the other women what page the service had reached, and cue them on when to stand and sit during the prayers.

Text and all Wiesenthal photos copyrighted by Helene Kenvin
Wasserman photos copyrighted by Jeff Ritholtz
Presser photo and photos of candlesticks and prayerbook copyrighted by Lancy Spalter
This page created by Max Heffler
Updated Jul 8, 2006. Copyright 2005 Skala Research Group. All Rights Reserved.