Selected Translation

Amdur Myn Geboirn-Shtetl, (Amdur, mi Pueblo Natale or Amdur, My Hometown)  is a book about the Jewish shtetl of Amdur.  The book was produced in 1973 in Buenos Aires by Yedidya Efron and other Jews who used to live in the village of Amdur. There is a thirty-three page Introduction in Spanish and 252 pages of text in Yiddish.

pS1: AMDUR, MY HOMETOWN by Yedidya Efron, Published by the Comite de Homenaje a la Memoria de Iedidio Efron, Buenos Aires, 1973

pS2: Printed in Argentina, Copyright by David Efron, Buenos Aires. [David Efron is the oldest son of Yedidya Efron, who died in 1951.]

pS3 Dedicated to the memory of my parents, Mordechai ben David and Peshe bat Reb Yehuda.

pp S5 - S33: INTRODUCTION: THE LIFE AND WORKS OF YEDIDYA EFRON by Prof. Lazaro Schallman: (Summarized from the Spanish by Steve Amdur)

{S8} Yedidya Efron was born on July 11, 1878, to Mordechai Efron & Peshe Serguei, and came to Argentina at the age of 17, in 1895.  He had received, as was usual, a religious education.

{S13} Yedidya Efron married Sara Miriam Steinberg (1903?); their children are David, Simon, Tobias, Rafael, and Taibe.

{S17} He was always a militant Zionist.

{S32}  Abraham Zak, also a native of Amdur, wrote an introduction to the book.  Dr. Yitzchak Rivkind, also from Amdur, a famous historian and linguist, wrote the epilogue.

{S33} Fany Rems and Avraham Zak, both of Amdur, prepared the book for printing.

Yiddish Text (Translated in part by Chava Berg, except where noted)


p9-36: Professor Lazlo Schallman, The Life and Work of Yedidya Afron

p39-41: Avraham Zak (1946):  Our Shtetl which is no more

p42-44: Yitzchak Kaplan:  Yedidya Efron, the Chronicler of his Hometown

p45:  Geographical Location of Amdur
p46:  Amdur as an Important Location in Former Times
p47:  The Size of the Jewish Population of Amdur
p48:  Streets of Amdur
p49:  The Gentile Street
p51:  The Great Synagogue of Amdur and its Batei Midrash
p54:  Rabbis, Learned Men, Balabatim (not translated)
p64:  Learned Balabatim of Amdur (not translated)
p93:  My Parents (May They Rest in Peace) (portions translated by Adah B. Fogel (for whom?) acquisition unknown and by Chana Blumenthal (my cousin))
p111:  Cantors and Butchers
p118:  Shamosim
p123:  Scribes
p127:  The Yeshiva of Amdur
p137:  Amdur Teachers
p147:  Amdur Russian Teachers
p151:  Amdur Cohanim
p152:  Hebrew Family Names
p154:  Amdur Doctors
p157:  Amdur Pharmacists
p162:  Amdur Tavern keepers
p169:  Amdur Craftsmen
p168:  Simple People of Amdur
p192:  Jewish soldiers of Czar Nicholas
p195:  Crazy People of Amdur
p199:  Drunkards of Amdur
p200:  Amdur Postal Service
p202:  Yishuvniks  from Amdur
p207:  Amdur Gentiles
p212:  Jewish drunkards
p215:  Russian protest movement?
p220:  Great Rabbis of Grodno
p245:  Dr. Yitzhak Rifkin:  The History of Amdur


not translated

{45} With the destruction of thousands of towns and shtetls in the old country at the hand of the devil Hitler (may his memory be erased), the memory of my hometown was also uprooted: Amdur, which earned a heart of grandeur for itself, and where for centuries many hundreds of Jewish families lived, producing a large number of rabbis, learned men, writers, poets, and other famous personalities. There were thousands of Jewish inhabitants in this little shtetl of Amdur, which in truth occupied a small area of the big map of Lithuania, but which was a whole world in itself. A little world which brought forth a great deal of Jewish patriotism deep in every Jewish heart.


As noted, the shtetl of Amdur lies in the province of Grodno near the capital Grodno, or as the Lithuanian Jews used to say, Horodno. In honor of her importance as a place of Torah and in honor of  her Geonim and Rabbis, Grodno was known, since the time of the "Baal HaLevushim,” as "Har Aroni". [p.46 not translated]


{46}Amdur once was the capital of Poland and served as the location of historic meetings between Poland and Lithuania. This Polish-controlled government did not last long in Amdur, but you may take it as sign of distinction for a shtetl. I note that the Jewish thinker and historian Simon Dubnow had in his library a copy of a chronicle of the Amdur Jewish community, in which was inscribed events of Jewish life there until the year 1824. Regretfully this copy — like hundreds of other documents — was destroyed by the Nazi-bandits, may their memory be obliterated.


{47} With regard to statistics, the number of Jewish souls in a town or group of towns was seen in old times as irrelevant, and according to the Talmud it is even forbidden to make a census among Jews. "It is forbidden to count Jews, even for a mitzvah." (Yoma, 22) So how could they determine the number of Jews in Amdur? I do not know what the estimated Jewish population was in Amdur before World War II, but in my time there were about 200 families. Since in those old fashioned times, our mothers were not frugal concerning children, you can assume that at the end of the last century there were around 1,000 souls.


{47} There were three important streets: Grodner St., Volkovisker St. and Krinker St., named after the three big towns of the Grodno District. (Miestanski St., called the Gentile Street, will be discussed below.) The three main streets were long streets with many houses. The smaller streets did not follow any systematic plan. The houses seemed as if they had fallen down from sky in the middle of the night in an open field. A special part of the shtetl was called Yorzikke, a second one Mitzkrinak. The source of these names was not known.

Nearly all houses of the shtetl had straw roofs... People experienced lots of fires, which made a strong impression on a child. The most terrible fire left all inhabitants nearly bare, without anything.{49} That was 1882, when I was four-years-old, and I remember it like it was today... There was the custom to relate to events according to the year of the fire ...such and such year after the fire or before the fire... Amdur had its own “fire calendar.”

In the last years before I came from Russia to Argentina, they started building houses with tiled roofs. Henach Lichentover and Yankel Farfels built two big halls, and the big Shul and the big Beis Midrash were rebuilt and enlarged with tiled flat roofs.


At the end of the shtetl was Miestanski Street, where only non-Jews lived. In the central Jewish streets, only Jews lived, no gentiles. — There were two different worlds — Jews and gentiles. We lived, traded and worked together, as neighbors, but alas, how strange was one to the other, the Jews to the Christians, the Christians to the Jews.

{50} The Gentile Street was a continuation of a Jewish street, but if you came from the Gentile Street to the Jewish, you felt like you came to an alien environment, like another world. In the whole shtetl, those Jews had never seen a dog. Like the verse [from Exodus] says, "let no dog bark”. On the other side — there were many many dogs: how could Jewish children feel safe among dogs? Even the Jews who lived in the outlying villages, rarely had dogs. Shem and Ham, Jacob and Esau – sons of the same parents — but so different.


{51} Amdur had a Great Synagogue, three Batei Midrashim, and also a hasidic synagogue. The Great Synagogue of Amdur was rebuilt after the big fire of 1882. It was a big, high, large, and very beautiful building in the religious architectural style of that time. As soon as the building was finished, people from the surrounding shtetls came to look at it.

The bima and the Holy Ark — a gift of two honored balabatim — were really works of art. The Synagogue was the pride of the Jewish community in Amdur. The Great Beis HaMidrash, which was really huge, could accommodate nearly all Amdur worshipers. The bima was built artistically with carved fruits and flowers. The initiator of this was Itschke “Bocher” of Amdur. Because he was not married for many years, they called him a "bocher." He had a passion for religious art. This brings to mind another Amdur “artist” who was called Shaul Moid. (I do not know why he was called by this nickname) ... People used to joke about making a match between Itschke “Bochur”and "Shaul Moid". The other two Batei Midrash were named after the two balabatim who built them.

{52}at their own expense. One, Sender’s Beis Midrash, and the second, Bregman’s Beis Midrash.

In the old country, rich Jews loved leaving behind a good name and established buildings at their expense, Shuls, Batei Midrash, Talmud-Torahs, Yeshivas, and other institutions. So we had in Grodno Soloveitchik's Beis Midrash and Bregman’s Talmud-Torah and Yeshiva. In Vilna, there was the Vilna Rav Mayless’ Kloiz, and the same in other places of the "old country".

The Amdur Hasidarnia was used as a center for hasidim of various Rebbes. There were Sloniver, Stoliner, Kabriner, Kasliner, Kotzker, and Noviminsker hasidim. Most of them were quite learned. Especially the Kotzker were great scholars, such as Efraim Abas and Leibe Chana-Ettes.

In the later years, the differentiation between misnagdim and hasidim was weakened, so prayers and learning took place in the worldly shuls and batei midrash. (The misnagdim used to call the hasidim “worldly”.) But there was not often a minyan in the hasidic shul, especially in winter, because there was no wood for heat. It was said that, in the shul of the hasidim once stood the shteibl of R' Hayim Haike from Amdur, a hasidic leader who established his court in Amdur. Amdur was one of the greatest hasidic centers of Lithuania when the battle between the two great sects of Jews, hasidim and misnagdim, was being fought.

{53} Besides this there were other places that Jews gathered and prayed. In the summer, you could hear through the open windows the Sabbath and holiday prayers of four minyans: Matya the butcher’s, Yankel-Moshe the tailor’s, Lazer-Shaul's, and Yaakov Yosef the turner’s.

not translated:
p54: Amdur Rabbis, Students and Balabatim
p64: Learned Balabatim of Amdur
p93: My parents (may they rest in peace)

— portions translated by Adah B. Fogel, not available yet electronically. Portions summarily translated by my cousin, not available electronically.


{111} In almost all Lithuanian shtetls it was taken for granted that the religious professions of both cantor and shochet should be combined in one and the same person. The great Ga'on Rabbi Naftali Chaim Berlin (known for short as the Netziv), the son-in-law of Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner and head of the Volozhiner Yeshiva for more than forty years once referred to this combination with the following joke: — A cantor is an "forewarned ox" (an ox which will be slaughtered if it gores again.) he said — for which the Talmud (Baba Kamma 45b) rules: there is no precaution except the knife — his only safeguard is the knife.

Cantors would occupy themselves with music, an art which goes together with poetry, both subjects not conforming with the Orthodox attitude of olden times. As long as anybody could remember, all cantors in Amdur were ritual slaughterers. My hometown had a reputation for being music loving, and cantors would be fond of performing in Amdur.  The first cantor, who is not generally remembered, was called Moshe Pesach.  The Amdurer singers would forever imitate his "Like Clay in the Hands of the Potter" [A piyyut from the Yom Kippur services] or his "symphony" of "we shall adore and sanctify You" [from the Musaf Kedushah]

{112} The second cantor, whom more people remembered, was David Moscower. He was really a wonderful vessel for the art of song. It was said that a canary resided in his throat. He was cantor in Moscow, and after the "Expulsion from Moscow" he came back to Amdur. [That would presumably be the expulsion of 20,000 Jews from Moscow in the late 19th century under Alexander II.]

All Jews would recount with wonderment the tales of Baruch Karliner who lived in Amdur. An old-timer once told me that when Baruch would say "Remembrances" [Zichronot, a section of the Rosh Hashana liturgy] when he came to the verse "And God sent a wind over the land and the waters calmed down" you could see and feel how the great flood and storm became smaller and smaller and finally — sh, quiet ... (See also what Chaim Tshemeiski wrote about Baruch Karliner in his "My Shtetl Motele" in Notes p.71)

Nachum The Cantor. He was a Jew who was unable to grow a beard; and because of this he traveled to several doctors, to famous professors, drank various medications, used all kinds of remedies, but nothing helped, not even a single hair grew, after all his efforts.  So what's a person supposed to do? In order to be a cantor you have to have a beard; a person who leads the prayers has to be one "whose beard is growing," and the community leaders, the people in charge of hiring someone for the cantor position, did not gloss over this, they thoroughly checked out Cantor Nachum's sorry situation. To make it short, a permission to take him was sought from rabbinical authorities — and gotten! None other than the old Amdurer Rabbi, that stringent fanatic, Rabbi Avraham-Ezra, of blessed memory. He was the one made the Cantor "kosher", and Nachum remained the Cantor in Amdur. And I still recall his "Yishtabach"s and "Mi sheberach”s. He wasn't even such a great expert in music, but he was a sweet Ba'al Tfilla, according to the then prevalent style and taste. I remember him leaving Amdur to take over the position of Cantor in Gomyentz, a city next to a Russian fortress. When years later he came to Amdur as a guest and the then cantor let him pray in front of the congregation, giving him full usage of his choir, Nachum sang "Av HaRachamim" reciprocally with the choir, meaning that the Cantor would sing a phrase of Av HaRachamim, and the choir would answer "v-imru Amen". For instance: the Cantor says: "He counts in benevolence the peace and simple ones" and the choir would answer "v'imru Amen", and so forth. The audience became absolutely enraptured, everyone simply relished it ...and Avremel Ivan Ivanovitch (an Amdurer Jewish citizen) became so excited that he called out loudly: "A scandal in our town! How could we have let go of such a precious vessel, how?!"

Nu, surely you will ask: how come a orthodox Jewish citizen had such a non-Jewish name like Ivan Ivanovitch? This is the story behind it: This Amdurer Jew was born after the death of his father whose name was Avraham, so they gave the orphan a name after his father, and he would be called to the Torah:Avraham, son of Avraham. Amdur was rich in mockers and they teased him with the gentile nickname 'Ivan Ivanovitch"

To conclude the story about Nachum the Cantor, I would like to add that he was connected with the esteemed Amdur family which is mentioned in the description of Jewish balabatim Of Amdur.

Hershel Baltimantzer — He was cantor in Baltimantz (Kovner Province).

{114} He came in Nachum's place, to take over Nachum's position. I remember, that when he came to pray the first Shabbos in Amdur for a try-out, nobody was left to pray in the other Batei Midrash or minyanim; everybody came to the Great Synagogue to hear the candidate; only one Jew, Abba the Melamed did not abandon his Beis Midrash, remaining there alone as worshiper, and that was because he had not the slightest appreciation of music. It was said that after Shabbos, when he heard people comment with wonderment and talk expertly about the new Cantor, he asked that he should be retold — yes, that's how he said it, “re-told” — the cantor's melodies.

Hershel was the first cantor in Amdur who did not pray in a yarmulke, but in a top-hat, and he said "Brich Shmei” facing the open Torah Ark, which was considered like a step towards new-fangledness or modernism. He was a knowledgeable person in music and trained an excellent choir of basses, tenors, altos and sopranos, but his knowledge of Torah was scant. He knew the art of ritual slaughtering, but only the laws of "Ohel Yitzchak"and nothing more. And yet he stayed in Amdur for a good many years in the position of Cantor and Shochet until it was leaked about him that he sleeps with girls for money; this created an uproar among the pious: "Can it be? Zimra gavra bein neshei pritzuta.” [see Sotah 48a] That means: If a man sings in the company of women — it is lewdness!" And therefore Hershel had no choice but to leave Amdur. For a long time the Amdurer cobblers and tailors, while working, sing his “g’al meragel" or "shemetz taher, k’av maher"" of Kol Nidrei.

Since I have mentioned indirectly the town of Baltimantz, I would {115}like to mention a matter which is pertinent between that town and Amdur. In Amdur lived a Jew named Chaim Aharon Mindel Rashes  (he was given his wife's name which was highly unusual in Amdur) who was a Gemorah scholar. He used to learn with his son, Avraham Moshe, to whom he would transmit the Torah with "thunder and lightning" .... (as Sholom Aleichem's Tevye the Milkman would have translated it). Avraham Moshe was accepted to the Yeshiva at a very young age because of his quick grasp. When I left Amdur he still learned in the Yeshiva. Later on that same Avraham Moshe was Rabbi in Baltrimantz. Once I saw at the home of the Rabbi of Montevideo, Rabbi Aharon Millewski, a book authored by Avraham Moshe in fluent Hebrew. Avraham Moshe was murdered by the Nazi invaders, who burnt him alive, may his blood be avenged. A second son of this same Chaim Aharon is today Rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva in a city in Israel. And in this manner both Jewish settlements, Amdur and Baltrimantz, served each other, a sort of mutual influence. Baltrimantz gave Amdur a cantor and the latter repaid the former with a rabbi.

Chaim-Zelig: After Hershel, there arrived in Amdur Chaim Zelig of Washilkave. He was then still a young man, a sweet singer, an accomplished learner and also religious.  During the High Holidays he made such a hit with the congregation, especially with the simple people — the craftsmen — the cobblers and tailors, with his prayers, until he actually brought several of them into the highest ecstasy.  After that he was given a new fox fur coat. He read of a lot of Jewish law — the decisions of {116} and commentaries of the later authorities {Achronim}, also many Jewish history books — a luxury which cost him nicely even during those times. Among his choir he had two young boys whom he had brought in from Tchenstakov. When they sang the solos of "To my voice listen and see the fears of the humble," the congregation was simply electrified and cried from emotion. In general, it used to be a pleasure for Jews to cry themselves out at prayers. I left behind this cantor in Amdur when I journeyed from my hometown to here, to far-off Argentina. What happened later to him I don't know. But his melodies have remained with me.

Isaac the Shochet: Besides being a ritual slaughterer, he was also cantor in Amdur during his first years. Later he remained second cantor, or as the Amdurer mockers would call it, "fall-back cantor". He wasn't a great scholar in the law of slaughtering and yet he was shochet still during the lifetime of the old Rabbi, who was a very stringent person in matters of religious observance. This Isaac took for a son-in-law a great cantor, who was called Yudke Viorst. That's also how they called his father and his brothers because of their tall build. After I left Amdur Yudke became a cantor in Grodno.

Berchik the Shochet: He was ordained, an eminent learner and an expert in the art of slaughtering. He also busied himself with teaching. The old Rabbi Avraham Ezra, may his memory be for a blessing, used to eat meat only from his slaughtering. Everything was fine with him, he had only one shortcoming — he was a great miser. He passed away leaving a fortune (according to the standards of that time).


{118} In Amdur there were always several shamosim at the same time, because each synagogue and every house of learning had its own shammes. But it should be noticed to begin with that the title shammes nowadays has lost its true and real meaning. The shammes of olden times had stature, he filled a certain honorable function in Jewish religious life; especially if the person in question was steeped in Torah and possessed of self dignity, he was respected in accordance with this scholarship and piety. I would like to give here the names of several of them.

Reb Leyme. Even behind his back he used to be called:  Reb Leyme. I knew him when he was already an old man and yet I felt close to him even though I myself was just a boy. He was a great learner, and expert in the Talmud and all of its commentaries. All his days he sat over the holy books. He was the head shammes for Rabbi Avraham Ezra of blessed memory, and used to be in charge of Shabbos boundaries {eruvs}, prepare all the bills of divorce, and was in general the right hand of the Rabbis of Amdur. He was also a wonderful Ba'al Koreh [Torah reader], he almost read by heart. Because of this he actually withdrew from this function, arguing that it is a requirement to read from the Torah, while he said it by heart. He busied himself also with teaching, but only teenaged boys. My older brother Shevach Avraham of blessed memory was one of his disciples. And on top of all that he was a man who asked little of the world, which cannot be overestimated. His needs were so minimal, they couldn't have been less, he didn't need anything. The only vice he had has was snuffing tobacco. Once I asked him, {119} "What taste do you feel, Reb Leyme, when you snuff tobacco?" As a boy I didn't understand that this can be a necessity for certain people. And he answered me, that when he does not snuff tobacco he feels dizziness in his nose ... and by snuffing tobacco he would clear it out. "So go ahead, Reb Leyme, take another snuff" I told him, and he answered, "No, taking two snuffs in a row, that would be too much of a pleasure.” ... During the last years of his life he printed the discourses he had given at various occasions written half in Hebrew and half in Yiddish. (When I left Amdur he was still alive). He had a son named Moshe (known as Moshe Leymes), who was caretaker of the Yeshiva which spread Torah in Amdur and over all of Lithuania, he was a very precious Jew. His son was Meir-Zvi Yellin also one of the most important Jews of Amdur, about whom I wrote in the chapter, "The Balabatim of Amdur."

Rafael the Shammes: All his days he was shammes in the Great Synagogue, that great house of learning. He was not an ordinary Jew, he could learn a page of Gemorah and was an excellent Torah reader, also he would announce the various notices and and warnings of the Rabbi and the rabbinical judges as well as the decisons of the synagogue President.

Itsche Ber the Shammes: He was shammes for many years in Sender’s synagogue. He was an eminent scholar, held the position of second reader in the Amdurer Yeshiva and in addition he kept a soap and salt store which his wife managed. His wife was a "saikevatte" and spoke "goyish" badly. (In Amdur all the {120} non-Jewish languages were called “goyish”). The wags of Amdur would make grotesque jokes about her conversatons with non-Jews while selling them her wares. A short while before my emigration from Amdur, Itsche Ber left his position as shammes and remained only a teacher and with his store. I would like to express my indebtedness to the long-gone Reb Itsche Ber of blessed memory, because even though I was not his direct student I still learned from him. That was when I started to learn by myself, on my own two feet, so to speak, he would help me out several times when I came to a difficult passage in the Gemorah. I remember that where it talks about mustard plants in Baba Basra, he simply opened my eyes... May my words serve as a memorial for the above Amdur Scholar.

Yashe the Shammes:   He was a little Jew with red eyes who would always wear a silk sash. For many years he was shammes in Bregman’s Beis Midrash. For a certain amount of time he was in charage of the Amdur bathhouse. Bregman's was the "aristocratic" Beis Midrash in town. Once it burnt down. According to the Amdur wags, the conflagration broke out because of Yashe's lack of caution while he was baking potatoes in the stove of the Yeshiva. He would protest against this, saying: "See, even a few baked potatoes they begrudge me..."

Yashe the Shammes: He was called Yashe Kugele because for a living he would bake the noodle-puddings [kugels] which served a snack with the "l'chaim"s. The Beis Midrash frequenters would say that Yashe's kugels were fit for a king's table.{121} But also, an Amdur shammes had to be able to do this. Being miserably poor, burdened with a big household including several daughters whom he had to marry off, he managed to make the weddings and give them trousseaus without any outside help, only with "the labour of his own hands". ... In his old age he bought the biggest and most beautiful Vilna Talmud edition with all the commentaries, and had it rebound at Leibe the bookbinder — the best artisan of this kind in Amdur — and all from his own honest work. And when his Talmud was bound and ready, Rav Yashe - he really deserves this title, Rav — presented it to the Beis Midrash where he served as shammes; he put on his Shabbos frock and carried each volume by himself into the study hall and didn't let anyone help him with this mitzvah. That day he gave out honeycake and brandy in the Beis Midrash, and people wished him mazel tov and congratulated him. I myself still learned in his Gemorah class, but not all the young men were required to do so. R' Yashe, the shammes of Amdur, has here in Argentina — in the Jewish colony on Entre-Rios — a big and esteemed family with the name Masis. May his grandchildren and great-grandchildren walk in the ways of their Amdur forebear who was — as I said the the beginning — small in body but great in spirit.

Asher the Shammes: He occupied the postion of shammes after Reb Yasheh. By profession he was a shoemaker, but having been a student of R' Avremel R’ Mateses, in his youth he knew how to learn Mishnah; but also could and liked to take "a kapitshkeh" ... One time, on Sh’mini Atzeres at night he announced in the beis midrash that he would leave his work, since {122} the contributors hadn't given him his holiday-bonus; Reb Avraham Shlomo Tzines, an eminent scholar and a great jester, called over to him, "Asher, forgive them, they thought you had forgotten about it" ... and he, Asher, continued to be shammes, he didn't leave his post.

Moshe Burak: To talk about Amdur shamosim and not to mention Moshe Burak would be simply a sin, and the Amdur gallery of shamosim of my time would not be complete without him. He was called Burak not because that was his family name but because his face was red as a beet-root. And that was also how all all their children and grand-children were called: Burakes ... Almost all of them were bricklayers by profession. Moshe Burak used to say that he worked for a period as the shammes of R' Shmulke Raser’s, who was a hassidic rabbi in the small town of Rash in the Volkovisker province. In Amdur, Moshe Burak was the shammes of Rabbi Avraham Ezra of blessed memory, and after that of R' Baruch Benzion. He himself — Moshe Burak — that is — liked to drink... But he never got drunk. For about sixty years he was the gravedigger of the town, and when he passed away, an Amdur jester said that now he was paid back measure for measure... “before he buried others, now they bury him ... " He was the one who would wake up people for services; people used to say that his cries could be heard as far away as Padgodie (a hamlet two veists from Amdur). He was also a specialist at waking up people for the Slichos. There were people who wold get up extra-early just to hear Moshe Burak's sing-song "Get up, get {123} up, Jews, to serve the Creator ... get up to fullfill the Creator's command ... get up to sanctify the Creator." It seems he had a hoarse voice, yet there was a certain something in it that got people into a mood of penitential prayers early in the morning, for preparing for the Day of Judgement and its mysteriousness... Moshe Burak lived to be a hundred years old.

 {123} There were two scribes in Amdur: Chaim the Scribe and Hershel the Scribe.  Chaim -- a little Jew with blue eyes, always laughing.  He had a son -- Ezshe was his name -- and he was of even smaller build than his father -- a midget.  There was in Amdur a man who was called Itsche Viorst because of his height -- and the Amdur jesters used to say that during winter Manye (a shoemaker, also of short stature) would together with Ezshe rent a pocket  of Itsche’s coat to live in it and that they would yell that it was also for Roskosh (?)...

 Chaim the Scribe and his son Ezshe were good learners, the latter laid a claim to scholarship.  He lived in a small shtibele and made a good living.  Chaim's tfillin were legal tender in Amdur.  He used to make pennies for poor people -- 3 for a groschen. Those pennies made a treasure-- the Amdur appraisers decided.  Nothing to it!  So many pennies get torn and lost -- it's all profit ...

 Hershel the Scribe -- A great learner and great pauper -- very learned and very poor.  I cannot figure out exactly what was greater, his learning or his poverty.  In Amdur they used to say, {124} that in scholarship he was a scholar and in poverty -- a genius ... He lived in a little room at the home of my rabbi R'  Aharon Kadish of blessed memory.  It was his dining room, bedroom, and also his study.  He had a little girl who would scream the whole day and cry by night.  On a little wobbly table lay the open parchment sheets on which he would write the Torah scrolls.  On the side stood the sorrell soup with black bread for his meal.  His little daughter -- a good natured child ...  -- he would hold on his lap and feed with a wood spoon.  "Soup, darling” -- he would talk to her –“ it's a king's  meal."  “No my little lamb, don't touch that!  Those are holy parchment sheets!" This is how Hershel the Scribe would write his Torah Scrolls!  How he could write the section of the Law for which work special holy and sometimes even mystical concentration was required?  There were scribes who used to immerse themselves {in a mikveh} before they would start to write a section or book of the Law.   It was said that the very devout scribes who would write the Torah scrolls for rich orthodox Jews immersed in the ritual pool each time before they wrote the Tetragrammaton.  For sure Hershel the Scribe did not fulfill those stringent requirements, but at best the profession of writing private Torah scrolls was a underpayed and tedious job.  And yet Hershel the Scribe was always cheerful and witty  (a profession itself in my hometown Amdur).

 Hershel the Scribe had another profession:  he was a specialist in bloodletting, almost half a physician when a {125} doctor was needed -- and often no doctor could be found in Amdur, and only the non-Jewish physician was around, so one would make do with Hershel.  Hershel's knowledge in medicine was sufficient for writing out a prescription, naming the popular brands of over-the-counter drugs "pink lemonade", sodium bicarbonate, Valerian tincture, "yachen or vilaten palske" and other folk remedies.  I doubt he knew what "distilled water" was and whether he had any knowledge of the decimal system, all necessary to prepare medicines.  He would even talk about various weights and measures used in pharmacy, but that was just talk.  Actually he could not really be called a physician after all.

 From all these occupations and professions Hershel the Scribe died three times a day from hunger.  A scholar, an excellent scribe and a wonderful healer, and yet a miserable pauper.  I remember that when he went fundraising for new Torah scrolls after the great Amdur conflagration, he kept having one rabbinical court case after the other with the community, since they could not come to an agreement over the amount of money Hershel was entitled to, because according to his reckoning  the collected amount didn't even cover his expenses ...  The result:   Amdur did not remain without scribes, but Hershel remained eternally poor.

 Benjamin-Meir, the Scribe: That's how he was called, but he did not practice that profession.  In any case I don't remember him working at it.  He made his living from packing.  His wife Cheitshe used to sell milk, cheese, yogurt and cream and earned from it the money for the kashe.  She was an expert at making cottage cheese and at selling sourmilk {126} that you get after removing the sourcream, a liquid used in preparing sorrel soup for the third meal of Shabbos.  "Gotta order a jugful from Cheitshe for tomorrow's "shalosh shudes" the women would say on a sunny  Friday summer’s day.  When the fresh greens would be out in May, that was the best period for milk production and that is when buttermilk would appear on the market.  One would bring from the dairy a barrel with this blessed drink and sell it right on the street -- a groschen a quart.  There were poor craftsmen who would drink their quart right there on the street, not without making a “shehakol” blessing before and “boray nefashos” after. “What -- is man like a horse?” the drinkers would remark.  (It was said that once around Shavuos when they brought the first barrel of this drink, Yashe the Bricklayer, a very poor man and a drunkard, made a “shehecheyanu” in the middle of the street.)

 And from such customers Cheitshe, the wife of Benjamin Meir, had to draw a living for her family. Benjamin Meir  himself was almost a man of great distinction, a perfect individual.  A "blessing from God" a beautiful scribe and even well-tempered on top of it.  When he used to say “Brach Dodi” in Bregman's Beis Midrash in front of the congregation, which prayer is sung very enthusisatically in all Lithuanian communities during Passover, the congregation would be thrilled and simply faint from admiration.  But he was not particularly devout.  His close freinds would say, "He is a little Lithuanian", an Amdur expression which meant to say:  not extremely religious.   People used to say that he once wanted to say the prayers for rain but the old Rabbi Abraham Ezra of blessed memory told him gently and with a smile, "No, Benjamin Meir, we might have to pay three half-kopecks for a pound of bread" and Benjamin Meir understood the hint.  He went {127} to America, stayed there for a couple of years and came back -- he couldn't find his place in Columbus' land.  So the Amdur jesters would mock "Where would he get Chayele's buttermilk there?"...

 Unfortunately disaster caught up with him.  On the second day of Shavuos a rabid dog bit his six-year-old boy, who passed away after several days, having suffered terribly.  This incident shook the entire shtetl.  I remember that Reb Baruch Man of blessed memory had developed an entire theory based on the Mishna in Yoma (83a):  "He who was bitten by a rabid dog may not eat the lobe of the dog’s liver [as medicine]."  And people shrugged their shoulders.  R' Baruch in Amdur  had understood this point 60 years before Pasteur's discovery of vaccination.  I left Benjamin Meir in Amdur.  I was told that he passed away in Bialistok in poverty and misery.

not translated
127-136 Amdur’s Yeshiva
137-147 Amdur’s Teachers
147-151 Amdur’s Russian Teachers

{151} I don't know why, but it is a fact:  Amdur had a great many Cohanim.  In every beis midrash and in the Great Synagogue, rows of Cohanim would stand on the platform for the priestly blessing and would deafen the congregation with a cacaphony at the blessing "who has sanctified us with the holiness of Aharon"  Old Jews, young Jews,  unmarried young men and bar mitzvah boys would try to drown out each other.  You would hear voices like from the depths of a barrel, bases, tenors, sopranos, falsettos and just strange voices, and all in a deafening disharmony.  Each one would sing the final words of the blessing, "with love," on a different final note and in the end a youngster with the high pitch like a goat:  "Be-Aha-vaaaah".  I remember that during the holidays, at such occasions, the Great Synagogue would be filled with Cohanim standing from the Torah Ark until the entrance.  Lazar the Rabbi's son once said that Amdur had a whole battalion Cohanim ...  Truthfully, when they would go back to their seats after the Priestly Blessing, it looked like {152} a parade of marchers in socks.  What a fortunate town!


Amdur was famous for its Hebrew surnames, almost phenomenal.  The names of the priestly garments were well represented in Amdur's families, especially in the working class.  The list I am giving here, according to the Hebrew alphabet, will testify to the fact that the Amdur people, especially its craftsmen, were already  into Hebrew:

Avnet, Afron, Buki, Vavsy, Chazzan, Cherem, Yaspeh, Yahalom, Yansuf, Mitznefet, Menaker, Margalit, Nefach, Nachbi, Sapir, Min, Tzarfat, Shir, Sasson, Shoham, Tarshish

 At this point I would like to clarify that my family name is Efron, with an aleph and not with an ayin.  A lot of people think I don't know how to spell .... And their proof for it is what is written in the Torah explicitly: "Efron the Hittite" (Genesis 23:10) with an ayin. However, the founder of the Efron family during the time of Czar Alexander I [1850] was R’ Efraim. When he had to produce a family name, he answered:  I am descended from Joseph whom the evil eye could not harm, from the Tribe of Ephraim, Joseph’s son.  From Ephraim comes Afron, with an aleph.  This became corrupted into Efron with an Ayin. And as to some "scholars"  who brought to my attention my faulty way of signing my name, I would like to cite a Tosefos to the Gemorah of Megillah, page 10B concerning the name of "Rabbah Bar Ofran" (I think he was an amorah [a Talmudic sages of the post-Mishnaic period]): "We read Rabbah Bar Ofran [with an aleph] and not Efron [with an ayin], because the names of bad people [Efron the Hittite] shall rot and one doesn't use them.”

 {154} It should be mentioned that I am writing from memory only and it is certain that many Hebrew family names I overlooked in my notes.  In this long gone Jewish shtetl, people only rarely used to call each other by  family names, rather they were referred to by the name of their father, mother, husband, wife, occupation, profession or nicknames:  Shaul's Lazer; Chana-Ette's Leibeh; Toive's Mateh; Mateh's Pesheh; Faige-Ette's Alter; Mendel's Leibe; Mendel's Eisheh; Abeh's Efraim; Mashe's Hirsch; Efraim the Talmud-Torah Teacher;  etc.

 I am sure that I omitted many Hebrew family names common in Amdur.  But in any case, the Jews of Amdur could pride themselves in not having taken on Lithuanian, Polish, or Russian family names, but rather Biblical or Hebrew ones.

not translated:

154-157: Amdurer Doctors
pp 157-162: Amdurer Pharmacists

{162} Amdur's Jews did not used to get drunk on wine.  A quart of raisin wine for Kiddush and Havdalah Friday night and Saturday night is enough to fulfill the obligation of "remember with wine".  What are we, peasants? You make Kiddush and Havdalah and your obligation is fulfilled.  Wine was not drunk for drinking's sake,  heaven forbid. You drink the beverage because the Torah commands us to make {163} Kiddush.  Wine made from grapes was unknown in Amdur.  To drink wine with your meal, it was said, was what the gentile nobility does.  Those Amdur Jews who used to travel through Bessarbia would tell of wonders and miracles: that the Besarabian Jews would drink wine from a dipper!  During the last years before my leaving Amdur, wine was brought in from Bessarabia.  Not the best kind, of course, but Amdur's Jews would say that it could not compete with raisin wine ...  -- it was somehow "unpleasant," they would remark whle drinking and cluck with their tongue. A new drink!  Amdur's working class would use for Havdalah a kind of drink called "Shliaktzitz" -- a byproduct of Amdurer beer.  It was agreed that it was "the drink of the country."   This drink cost a groschen a quart.  But to call it the "beverage of the country" was an exaggeration ...

 On Pesach, for the four cups, people would mostly use mead -- honey wine.  Its color was yellow, and when it was of good quality, it would be sweet and pleasant.  But you are supposed to have "wine that became reddish" -- well, in times of hardship it is still acceptable.  (When wasn't there a "time of hardship" for a Lithuanian Jew?)

 And for the "winos, "Amdur had three Tavern keepers.  A few words about them here:

 Tzalel the Tavern keeper: He was not  not a Jew learned in Torah, and yet he clearly deserved the title "Rav".  A true tzadik.  An open hand for everyone.  All poor people, widows, orphans, cripples, blind people and beggers, charity-collectors in general -- all came to R' Tzalel and his wife, Chana Shayne.  His home was very large.  There also was a large inn.  -- If someone needed ice in the summer for a person sick with typhus he would run to {164}Tzalel.  In the winter, a sour  pickle for young women -- at Tzalel's.  Such a delicacy would cost a kopeck and older women would mumble that it was a "Lasunstva", – Feh! traif talk ... From him the wine for kiddush, Havdalah, and the four cups would be produced.  Tzalel's raisin wine was renown throughout Amdur.

 The house in which Tzalel lived belonged to Lazer Bregman, a leading figure from Amdur who lived in Grodno.  He renovated the Amdur bathhouse, which was considered at that time to be a modern one, becuase it functioned and was heated by a "porovke"  He also renovated, l’havdil, the Beis Midrash which bore his name -- Bregman's Beis Midrash.  After the great fire, Tzalel's house became the central piont, about the only one in the center of town that had not burnt down.  There the old Rabbi Avraham Ezra,  of blessed memory, moved in, and there he passed away.

 I remember that when the great Beis Midrash was being built - after the fire -- and they endeavored to use the foundation stone of the old one in the new building. Tzalel stood with a pick in his hands and toiled with some other Jews to pull out the old foundation stone, and he sweated heavily -- he was then already an old man.  The holy books say that sweating for a holy purpose is a great remedy for gaining atonement for your sins.

Reb Tzalel passed away Friday night on a wintry day.  He was buried first-thing Saturday night after Shabbos.  The entire town was in mourning.  When Moshe Lymes, the Gabbai of the Yeshiva, came to Friday night services, he called out with a sigh:  Oy! -- a ruined Shabbos for the town.

 His son, Shlomoh Aitsche Israelski was his heir.  He walked in his father's ways:  a great philanthropist, modest, and pious.  He {165} hired a Rabbi to learn Talmud, and was at the center of all the benevelovent societies.  But unfortunately  -- he was chldless.  He wife Rayzel just did not conceive ... a curse.  A "tried and true" remedy was tried:  on Simchas Torah go .... to all Batei Midrash with the young boys ... but the One in charge of making the barren fertile has locked Himself in and doesn't give the key for children ... In the end, after living for ten years with his first wife, he divorced, split the possessions between them both, and remarried a second wife.

 His new spouse was named Sonya, Yashe Anshel’s daughter.  Yashe Anshel was an important balebos. He had half a dozen girls -- besides his boys  - one more beautiful than the other; he kept a kind of count and therefore he was also called "Yashe Sukadoliner."  Sonya, a pretty girl,  knew the art of having half a dozen boys and girls with Shlomo-Aishe, without the spiritual remedy of “the young boys”.  Today [presumably 1952] the family can be found in Montevideo and in Israel.

 Tzalel had a brother, Moshe Dovid  was his name, and he was called Moshe Dovid Tzalel's.   A pious old bachelor, hired to teach Gemorah to my older brother Shevach of blessed memory --a learned Jew – who didn't want to get married.  Lazer the Rav's son  used to say, Moshiach will have come and Moshe David will still be a bachelor ...

 Naftali the Wine Seller was also a precious, devout Jew.  In his young years he was a wealthy balebos, in old age, a pauper.  His house was next to Avraham Shlomoh Tzinesses.  His wife’s name was Bryneh.  He kept a tavern. Every day the Jewish inspector would charge him with selling liquor without a permit -- and each time Bryneh would faint.  Naftali the wine seller became very fanatical in is old age.  He would strongly forbid the young boys {166} to play the card game "31" in the women's section of Bregman's Beis Medresh.  And an anecdote about this went around as follows:  On the eve of Rosh HaShana the young boys started a game of cards in the women's section.  Naftali caught them red handed.  Several boys got away from him.  One, who just had 3 "kings" stuffed them in the shofar that was kept on the side by the shammes for blowing the next day.  In the morning when the shofar was blown, hardly a sound came out of it.  As the congregation said with enthusiasm "May it be His will" Aharon Kadish the teacher -- the shofar-blower in Bregman's Beis Midrash – turned over and gently knocked the shofar against his lectern to improve the sound and -- three "kings" fell out.  Matte Rahshes cried out with tears  "And the angels [homonym for “kings”]  who came out of the Shofar" ... he had it right there.

 Here should be noted R’ Meir Zvi Yellin, of whom I wrote about in the second chapter, because he was Naftali’s son-in-law; he was married to Naftali's daughter Rashke Rayzel; he was really a nice son-in-law.

Itsche Tzirl’s:   A learned Jew, had a big house with a saloon.   The village gentiles would celebrate their weddings there.  The dancing  could be heard in the whole street.  Every thump with the feet would make a hole in the floor.  And after a good drink there would be bloody fist fights to the blood.  In Amdur one would say in such cases:  "Wine goes together with sacrifices.”...  Itsche Tzirel's would also make wine and was a great expert at making honey-wine.  His Pesach honey wine was famous:{167} "Honey-wine [mead] should be bought at Tziel's Ishe" .  Also the gentiles would celebrate with his drink.

 And a typical incident happened with his Pesach wine that is worth mentioning.  I mentioned how Amdur's elders would talk about it and of how Reb Avraham Ezra, of blessed memory would take care of it, and they hinted mysteriously:  Well, the old Tzadik ... he knew everything.

 A day or two before Erev Peseach  someone let the authorities know that in Tzirel's Itsche's cellar sat a batch of brandy -- a thing that was not allowed.  The distillation was made with the purpose of making the wine in the barrels fit for use even if the gentile inspectors touched them.  (Jewish wine that has been touched by a non-Jew is forbidden for drinking by a Jew, but brandy made out of kosher wine, is no longer rendered unfit for use by the touch of a non-Jew.)  Brandy they did not find, but the wine was discovered, which spelled ruin for the poor innkeeper.  Itsche's livelihood for several months depended on this Pesach wine.  The town went topsy-turvy. People ran to the Rav.  The old Rabbi made his way immediately to Tzirel's Itsche, checked the basement and found the barrels closed with a sealed spout.   The Tzadik right away asked a question.  Reb Itsche, you saw with your own eyes how the touched the kegs?"  "Yes Rabbi, I cannot deny it.  The inspector made the wine unfit with his paws "... And R' Avraham Ezra exclaimed sarcastically, "A goyische kopf --- sealed kegs and Reb Ische present ...   -- kosher, kosher, kosher, Reb Itsche.  This year I will buy some for the four cups at my seder only from you, to dispel any suspicion about the wine among people.  The exaggerators would add that that year Tziel's Ische "put aside a nice sum" from the four cups ...  But Itsche {168}was not a wealthy  man.

 One thing I know for sure.  Every Tuesday night after the hard exhausting work of pouring and serving the 'bitter drop' to hundreds of drunkards, all the while worrying that the authorities shouldn't catch him, tired and exhausted he would come to the Beis Midrash to learn Gemorah with my father, big Cheikel and Matye Rashe’s.

 And I say it with pride, they learned then the chapter in Baba Basra “Yesh Nochalin,” and the Gemorah on the Mishna "the daughers of Zelopchad took three parts of the inheritance," truly a difficult piece of gemorah, especally for weary Jews.  I was then studying the above mentioned tractate and was asked for assistance.   I translated  he big Rashbam Commentary which I knew well.  Matye Rashe’s exclaimed, "A prodigious head!"

 How much heroism those Jews displayed:  exhausted from constantly having to use all their wits to eak out a living, they came at night together to worry about the daugshters of Zelopchad getting their part in the inheritance in the land of Israel.  Everything Tzirel’s Itsche had taken care of, the only thing he hadn't done yet was to solve the problems of  the daughters of Zelophchad ... Tzirel's Itsche, may he rest in peace, came to Argentina together with his family.  His daughter Bielke, the dedicated and ardent worker for the  Jewish National Fund married the dear and important Jewish Zionist activist of long standing Yitzchak Kaplan, may God give them long and good years.

 Tzirel's Itsche was hit by a car after emigrating, in 1895, to Argentina and died on the spot.  May my words serve as a nomument for this precious Amdur Jew who became a sacrifice on the altar of Jewish colonization in Argentina.  Here shall also be mentioned {169} his wife Etke, or as she was called in Amdur, Etke Tzirel’s.  A dear and pious Jewish wife and mother.  Accompanied her husband through their hard Jewish life, in joy and sorrow .  In the year 1895, when she emigrated with her family together with my own, to Argentina, she kissed the stones of the Beis Midrash and visited the graves of her close relatives.  She cried out with bitter tears:  Whom do I leave you to, Father, Mother!' ...".  It brings to mind the words of R' Yehuda HaLevi in his elegy, "Zion, Crown of the the Deer":  "My heart longs to embrace the dust of your land and my mouth desires to kiss your stones."

 Etke passed away several years after her husband.   She was the one here in Buenos Aires won the record with the blue charity boxes of the Jewish National Fund.  Before candle lighting she would throw her coins into her pushkeh and after that she would sanctify the Shabbat with the words of her blessing: “Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to light the lights of Shabbat."   Her daughter and her son-in-law are her loyal successors.

not translated

169 - 186 Amdur Craftsmen

{186} I would like to mention some of Amdur's folk-people, who didn't have any great knowlege, were unlettered, and some of them completely illiterate — however, with their quirks of character they are a gallery of shtetl types.

 Yashe Desatnik was an old discharged Nikolayan soldier, a small Jew  with a stubbly face.  He'd like an occasional drink without ever getting drunk.  When he would walk into Kantor's pub he would say:  I'm going to drop a few into R’ Meir Baal Haness ...   What then, drunk like goyim?  Feh!  He goes to throw a few pennies into the pushke of R' Meir Ba'al Haness ... Yashe Desatnik, the ignoramus, made an association between the brandy glass and the pushke of the legendary Jewish tzadik.  In spite of his ignorance, Yashe  Desatnik was {187} very religious and would davven word by word. In order to make sure they were said right, he would repeat them several times. When he wouyld recite by heart the chapter  "Rabbi Yishamel says;  By 13 rules the Torah is interpreted" [from the preliminary morning prayers] it would come out: "He complains and drives off" {Yid:  men klagt an men farte instead of the Hebrew: miklal uprat –  from the general to the specific.) We boys would go over to stand next to him to make fun of his prayers:  "He drives off and complains and complains and drives off."   He alone would smile when he would see us around him.  And wonder of wonders:  This simple Jew  would say Friday night the entire "Ba-meh Madlikin” prayer by heart and with the same niggun as one learns Gemara.  An entire chapter of Mishnah of Masseches Shabbos by heart; an entire B’raisa of R' Yishmael about logic rules of Talmud by heart, a B’raisa of the Aggada “Scholars generate an abundance of peace in the world” by heart ...   Such “ignoramuses” were our treasures.  I doubt  if we have the right to call such a Jew an am ho-oretz.  Maybe Yashe Desatnik did not understand the literal meaning of what he said, maybe he said “Rabbi Treifen” instead of “Rabbi Tarfon” in “Ba-meh Madlikin”, but in the course of this he acquired a host of Hebrew and Aramaic words, and the sound of Hebrew was not strange to him.

 On a market day or a gentile holidays , when all the gentile from the villages would gather in town, then Yashe donned his Shabbos kapote or his fur coat with his bashlik in the winter; on the lapel the Russian medal of honor; he would promenade proudly, like a government official, and radiate authority among the gentiles, just like a "natshalnik".  When a gentile would get drunk and yell around in the street, right away there would be punching. If the gentile kept in his mouth a good tobacco pipe {188}Yashe would yank it out of his mouth.   Gentiles used to say: a curse on that medal, it makes us shiver ...   Such was Yashe Desatnik, who used to recite “Ba-meh Madlikin” and “Rabbi Yishmael” and sow fear among the gentiles with his medal.  How strange it sounds:  a "Desatnik", a government medal together with Ba-meh Madlikin and "according to thirteen principles the Torah is interpreted” ...

 Moshe Kvalish used to be a smith.  His house was the last  in town on the way to the Grodno highway. Later he opened a store and became quite rich.  His nickname -- Kvalish – he got for his unlearnedness and unrefined manner.  Once he made a bet over eating a dozen herring with black bread; he won the bet and was still hungry ...  On a Yahrtzeit-day  -- which fell on a Shabbos -- they let him lead the afternoon prayers and his way of reciting Hebrew evoked great laughter from all.  In the repetition of the shmonah esray, instead of “You are one and Your name is one, and who is like Your people Israel, one nation”, he got confused by the three “one”s, and he connected  them with the wrong three words; the way he said it it came out 'You are one and Your name is; One and who is like Your people; Israel one nation.”

 Shemaya Chana's was  a cobbler, and a great jokester who sang in an undertone  "And who like Kvalish, one goy on earth" ...  He sent his son Herschel, a youth of 16 with red eyes,  to R' Aharon Kadish, the melamed in the cheder, to learn to daven and the Hagaddah.  I was then a little boy of less than seven years old and in my childish brain I could not understand  how a boy old enought to get married does not know how to daven and learn Chumash with Rashi?   I remembered that when the Rabbi  would learn the entire Hagaddah with us before Pesach.  The word 'eat' would be mentioned many times:   Karpas -- you take a little piece of onion {189} dip it into salt-water, you make a blessing “boray pri ha-adamah”  and you eat; motzi -- you have to make a “motzi” and not eat;  matzah -- one makes a blessing “al achilas matzah” and yes, eat maror –  you make a blessing  “al achilas maror” and one eats; korech  -- and one  eats; “Shulchan Orech” -- the table is set, we eat;  Tzafun -- one must eat the afikomen.  And our older student would say:  " Kadesh -- when the father comes from shul, he should  make kiddush and should eat; Urchatz  -- you wash your hands and eat; Karpas  -- you eat ...” and Rabbi Aaron Kadish gets angry and cries out : “May he be hung! Such a treif ‘HARLE’  {He, Aleph underline, Resh, Lamed, Ayin] only fressing and eating!  What a glutton.”  After Pesach he left the cheder and very soon afterwards he was married off.  He never did make it to Chumash with Rashi, the Hagada he knew -- up to “we were slaves in Egypt” and no further, but eating he knew  ....  “The deeds of the fathers are a sign for the sons”.

 Yankel Weisse Kepl was a village tailor.   From birth he had a white head and from this comes his nickname. A very quiet person,  plain and simple, "ha-makeh b-`evreso" – a little wounded in his Hebrew.  When it came to the routine prayers  and chapters of Psalms. he would manage to crawl through them somehow,  but when it came to Hagaddah, Slichos, Kinos or Hoshanos, it sounded like he was chopping cabbage.  At the kinoh [elegy] "Evel amorar, aninos egrar, [From mourning I am bitter, from misery I am dredged] his rendition was: "anines the gander”.  His mistakes in Hebrew always were connected with  a Yiddish noun.

 I remember how my father, olov hashalom, once sent me to get some charoses from Feivel the wine seller. By those that made only a token ceremony out of setting up the seders, you could hear soon  after Ma'ariv already through the window how they would say  the hagada with gusto, and I heard how my hero would sing out: B’sho’o she-matzo umaror m’chutonim l’fonecha” [ when the matza and the maror are “in-laws” in front of you -- insead of munochim “lying” in front of you.{190} By Yankel Weisse Kepl the matzas were counted as in-laws, dear and beloved in-laws.  And instead of “egrar”, “a gander” was familiar to him, what with all the geese and ganders youl would see in a village ...

 He wasn't the only "mistake-maker" in Amdur.  My town treasured a whole bunch of this kind of folks.  I think it would be worth to write an entire anthology of the ingenious and almost erudite mistakes that were created for generations by the tongues of these kosher Jews.

 Nyomeh The Bathhouse Attendant:  A Jew of small stature with one eye and a boil protruding form under one ear.  He always would wear linen pants and walk barefoot in the summertime.  He had various professions:  for a long time he leased the bathhouse and was the sole attendant and whipper [that is, one who switches the backs of people in the steam bath], he was the chimney sweep, he white-washed houses and in wintertime he would carry water.  The latter work was simply backbreaking labor because the well was frozen over, it was almost impossible to get to it; the pumping-handle was covered with ice and when you touched it the hand would freeze to it. Under such circumstances would he Nyomeh, jump and carry water, from before daybreak until late at night, getting for it a kopeck for two buckets of water.  And people weren't content yet, especially those form larger families, who needed a lot of water for daily use -- "we drink our water with money" -- they would murmur ... and with such jobs our jewish laborers  would have to make do.

 It is a lie to say that Jews in the old country would make a living by cheating.  Nyomeh the bath attendant was always bitter, in a sour mood, and would often come out with a little chutzpah against rich people. Once, at a community meeting, it was made known that “Nyomkeh”{191} the Bath attendant had 400 rubles.  Sholom Lazer Rabinovitch suggested that one should confiscate that money from the attendant ... maybe he will kill people in the streets with so much money ...

 As mentioned before, my hero had only one eye.  The other one was a little burnt out by the soot of the chimneys and the lime of the  whitewash, since he was the chimney sweep and the white-washer.  Well for praying from a siddur he didn't need a whole pair of spectacles, one eyeglass would do; two eyes -- two glasses;  one -- enough one glass ... "what?  Am I just a brainless worker?”  Nyomeh would argue ...

 But when Yom Kippur comes around and you say “al chet”at every prayer service, at every phrase, Nyomkeh would not let a single “al chet” go by without giving a good hit on his stomach with the fist -- instead of knocking the chest he would punch his stomach ...  and then our “al chet-nik” was presented with a problem:  in the right hand he held the eye glass; with that same hand you are supposed to knock on your stomach ... and he cannot pray a single word by heart.  Nu, so he would make a movment with the hand to the eye and to the stomach: “For the sin we have sinned before you” hand to the stomach; “whether by force or willingly”, hand holding eyeglass to the eye; “and for the sin we have sinned before you” to the stomach, “by acting callously” to the eye ... And so on through the entire alphabet of sins and five times in the course of the day.  He used to stand by the window next to the laver so that he should have more light, and little boys would imitate the mechanical movements of Nyomkeh and stand on the outside of the window to make fun of Nyomkeh's maneuvers.  But when the mockery would get out of hand there would begin a chase after the boys, and -- forget about machzor, forget about glasses, forget about “al chet''s and forget about punching the stomach -- and in the meantime the congregation would exclaim  "and for the sin {192} we have committed against You by scoffing ... for the sin we have committed against You by running after evil”...

 I can remember an entire gallery of such types of Jews.  Amdur had a wealth of them, but for these memoirs the above-mentioned suffice.  

 My consciousness would not be at rest if I would not mention the lot of ignorant and simple folk known by the name "Nikolayevske Soldaten”' or in general "Yevonim” [lit: Greeks]. Amdur had quite a few of them.

 Estranged and torn away from scholarly and cultural Judaism, they still got used to living with their people and remained loyal Jews, in spite of their ignorance and materialism.  Eternal paupers, they busied themselves with manual labor.  I will commemorate here these victims of Czar Nicholas:

 Yehuda the Greek, a boorish Jew.  Talked with a Russian, rolling "r". Constantly he would say "gevay gramko," Russian for "speak clearly!”...  He had a shaggy beard, and he worked as a barber.  He did not have too much work from Jews, because Jews didn't shave or trim their beards during those times.  A beardless person -- unheard of.  To get a harircut in honor of the holidays at a proper barbershop was also not done;  this work could be done by the wife or mother and if it didn’t come out exactly smooth and elegant but rather choppy, so what? One was not thrown out of the Beis HaMidrash.... Yehuda the Greek had part-time work cupping glasses in the bathhouse or with dangerously sick people with hypertension who required a professional haircut.  For a haircut he would take 10 groschen. {193}  If you would agree with him he would go down to eight groschen, and finally six. He also had a concession from the government to stand Tuesday in the market-place with a barrel organ and play with pits, a kind of gambling which is nowadays practised in coffee-houses and restaurants by many loafers.  It is understandable that his clients were only the village gentiles.  No Jew would ever play dice at Yehuda the Greek's fee!  "Far from profit and close to loss." Yehuda the Greek was -- like all the other "Greeks" of this regime -- an ignoramus.  But he knew how to pray and was observant.  I was told, that once on Yom Kippur at the Ne'ila service, as Jews would exclaim seven times "The Lord is God" he had his fingers in the Machzor on the words "Next year in Jerusalem" which come right afterwards, and exclaimed “Anoko!” meaning, there she is,  there she is .... Yehuda the Greek knew that in the words is contained a fortune, there she is. My precious,  dear ...   kosher Amdur ignoramus, how sweet is your name to me!  He merited  a son who learned in the Amdur Yeshiva, he learned not badly; he had a beautiful and pleasant singing voice, and was a good "imitator." In addition, I was told that he was on one of the first theatre amateurs in Amdur.

 Artshik the Greek -- An old Nikoliyviker Soldat.  In scholarship he was equal to all the "Greeks" of that epoch.  He was all his days the watchman of the stores and therefore he was also called Artshik the Watchman."  A small occurrence floats before my inner eye:  A wintry night, biting cold; I am then a boy of twelve years.  Itsche Ber {194} the Shammes  had explained to me the practical difference between the "four shomrim [guards or bailees]" and "fraudulent use of a deposit by a paid guard", a combination of the section HaMafkid [the depositor] and "HaShoel” [The Borrower]  Artshik the watchman comes in to warm up inside the Beis Midrash.  I say to Itsche Ber, “Let's go and ask Atrshik the law of ‘compulsion’, he is a paid guard.” and ITSCHE BER answers me softly, "No Yedid-keh, he is unfortunately an ‘unpaid guard.’ because, I think, nobody gives him a groschen for his watching.”  Artshik, the discharged soldier, numb with cold, wrinkled and dried out like one of the dried figs of Rabbi Tzadok (a Mishnaic sage who lived during the time of the destruction of the Second Temple who was all wasted from continuous fasting, and according to the doctors` prescription he would only eat a fig each day) calls over to us:  "Aye, Aye,   how good you have it. You have both worlds.  You sit in the warmth and learn Torah. And me?  Not this world and not the next -- a lost brother!" Kosher Jewish laborer!  A soldier under Nicholas through the child-snatchers weary from many years of back-breaking labor, in his old age a watchman whose entire sustenance the whole day was black bread with a herring.

 I also want to mention another watchman in Amdur -- Myrem the Watchman.  A bent reed, broken, blind and hunch-backed, he was forced to beg in his old age after he could continue no longer with guarding.  He would drag himself to all celebrations, to circumcisions and weddings, to get a glass of brandy and a piece of honey cake. He never passed up an opportunity to have a drink.  He would argue:  if not for Jewish simchas, I would already long be in the next world" ...  One time it happened that Avremel the Deaf’s horse, which was his means of earning a living, fell.  It was said {195}that he and his poor family sat shivah. This should not sound like a joke. One must thus describe the Lithuanian poverty in those times.  A collection was taken up and new horse bought, and Avremel the Deaf, out of joy, gave a party; honeycake with brandy.    Of course Myrem the Watchman also came and, according to his habit, wished the celebrator”Avremel,  may you raise your children to Torah, chupah and  good deeds."

p195: Crazy People of Amdur
p199: Drunkards of Amdur
 {200} Many years went by until Amdur attained for itself a post office and became just like other towns. Before that the letters for all of Amdur were sent to the village of Prakapawitz to the "volost" in it -- once a week and from there the entire correspondence would be sent to Amdur.  In those times, the people in Amdur would use the official mail service very little.  First off, to whom would you write?   All commercial ties Amdur did have were with Grodno or Letznes or Bialistok.  To send a note to the city or suburbs to make a "pakupke" in this or that business deal -- all that would be accomplished through the wagon drivers.  But what about a private letter?  Well, you would write on the envelope, “Yaale v’yovo” “may so and so ascend, come and read, so and so.” {start text p201} for the most intimate letters, you would address the envelope "under the ban of Rabbeinu Gershom" [who prohibited reading other people’s mail] and would give it to Meir Guzshikn  or to Hershel Shuliakn and -- finished ...  Often such a letter that a young man  would write to his betrothed -- a "love letter" would go from hand to hand, despite that ban on the envelope.  An Amdur bridegroom writes to his girl  in Krinik , "My heart is in Krimik and I am in Amdur; in Krimik I saw you, in Amdur, I longed for you and in the forest I kissed you."  Such were the postal affairs during those years in Amdur.  When Jewish immigration to America became big and the youth of Amdur left its birthplace in droves, correspondence became many times greater and a regular post office became a necessity.

 After a lot of  red tape the Postal Service came, luckily,  to Amdur.  Correspondence would be sent from Grodno twice weekly.  Those evenings when the vehicle with the bell would arrive bringing the mail, everybody would gather at Dovid Kantorshik's home where the post office was located ... Girls and boys would use the opportunity to meet in the dark and talk about love.  Religious Jews would start to grumble:  how is that possible! Boys walk around with girls for half of the night?! And Shmuel Merke’s, a  Jew who would always mind everybody else's business and a hopeless crazy fool would cry out in the Beis Midrash "The post office has to be closed up!"...  To which Avrohom Shlomo Tzine’s would counter in a serious voice :" Then it will get worse yet, that group will walk on Shabbos to Prokopovitash  and the girls will carry things outside the eruv ...

 Who would transport the letters, before there was a post office in Amdur or after that?      Here I would like to leave a memorial for the {202} Jewish postman of Amdur.  His name was Motke-Cheikel Voiks – a phenomenal cripple: his right hand was attached to his chin and his elbow to his knee, and for a bonus -- a big hump on the forehead.  And this pitiful strange creature used to walk in the old times, before there was a post-office in Amdur, by foot to and from Prakapavitash, to bring and take the and after that to bring them to the addresses.  Whoever had God in their heart would give him a kopek for a letter; most people would just come out with a thanks, and some not even that.  Even when mail service became official in Amdur, he never got any salary from the government, because as a Jew he was not allowed to hold a government position and used a non-Jewish name, "Riar", after the non-Jewish wood-chopper.

 Such was the regime of the Tsars.  How did this cripple execute his work?  How did he manage to walk around with his grown-together hands and legs and service the town almost for free?  Inconceivable,  miracles and wonders!  On top of that he was very religious,  and while crawling around through town he would not fail to pray with a minyan and would take pleasure to spring up at "Kadosh"  Poor Jewish cripple!  From where shall we take a poet to sing the praises of your industriousness, honesty and self-sacrifice.   May my  poor words serve as a memorial for your name.


The Jews of Amdur who inhabited the village looked upon the Jews who dwelled with the peasants as illiterate.  There are many stories about their behavior {203},  and at the expense of other Jews over hundreds of years.  In former years the Jews were very good hearted, and there are tales of how they made the Seder, and how they used to behave during the Days of Awe when they came to town.  Some of the stories told at their expense are almost tragic.  But were I to pass judgement on the people I knew from the outlying districts surrounding the village of Amdur, my opinion would differ from that of the villagers of Amdur.  Some of those yishuvnikim [Jews who settled outside the village of Amdur] were learned in Torah, and some had good virtues and good manners.  I will give a few, of many possible, examples.

 Moshe Yirmiyahu from Baranave was a resident of the big village of Bereanave, a Jew amdidst hundreds of Russian peasants.  None of them were able to read and write, nor even to sign his name, nor to understand what they read .  Moshe Yirmiyahu owned the tavern and he had a bitter life.  He was an ordained Jew, a deep scholar and an expert in Talmud.  I used to see him in town when he came in for Yahrzeit or for the reading of the Megillah.  During the ten Days of Awe, there used to be a minyan in the village surrounding.

 A few weeks before I left Amdur, I went to Berenave, in order to collect a debt  from a gentile.  So I went in to Moshe Yirmeyahu too, in his pub. The pub was full of male and female gentiles, old and young.  They were sitting around a big raw dirty table, which was full with Russian delicacies: praste, grabe, bikike, glasses of "geveleket” made from pig, from horse and calf.  A big hooligan beat up his own father with a foot of the bench . The tumult in this place was terrible.  I got scared.  But the village elder made peace, and all ended well with a drink and father and son reconciled ...  At the pub {204} Moshe Yirmiyahu's wife was in attendance.  In a room by the side Moshe Yirmiyahu sat, studying Jewish codes,  and he looked into the pub.  As he saw me, he called out, "Nu, this people is like a donkey."  And truly, if you compare the multitude of people in the pub with Moshe Yirmiyahu, you can only agree with him.

 You saw two different types of people in this place Bereanave.   One type was lowly, and the second type was higher.  Drunken gentiles, a son who murderously beat up his father --  and the yishuvnik studying Jewish law in the middle of all of that...

 It is known that Moshe Yirmiyahu brought up his children.  But how could Moshe Yirmiyahu raise children when he had to make his living from these village people?  Did this "Beranever Ordainee" abandon his children to this influence or did he preserve a legacy for Moshe Yirmiyahu..  To my sorrow, no.

 I remember when he brought his one son  to town for bar mitzva.  In this year in Amdur all shuls and Batei Midrash aliyahs were dedicated in honor of the one to whom was given the official right to buy the aliya; the people who were chosen to buy this aliyah were those who were held responsible to do the bracha, who made a contribution.  This occurred on shabbos and yomtov in the appropriate places, was done as well in the hassidische shul where there were no changes,  in the shul and in the beis midrash. There was as big crowd for davening. They called “Ya'amod hechosson ben Rav  Moshe Yirmiyahu” ...  Nu, the son of the Rav, alas, could not recite the bracha on the Torah. Jews shook their heads and laughed.  "Nu, a yishuvnik, nebech. " Lazer dem Rav’s  remarked "He will be, God willing, the one who stands in for the Rav in Bereneve."... The village did not bring about a Torah Jew.

 Shmuel-Rasha Prakapavitsher:  Prakapavitch was a village 2 verst from Amdur.  There was situated the district court which heard any disputes.  If it had been ruled that {205} a gentile was to be punished, then the court officer was called into Prakapavitash, where he got the witnesses and then came back to the village.  One down-and-outer, a fool, and a penitent.

 One time a gentile came back to Amdur after receiving lashes.   People asked him, “Fyodor, what's going on?"  And he answered.  Nothing,  I got a 20."  That meant that he had been given a punishment of 20 lashes.

 Shmuel Yesha:  In this village lived  Shmuel Yesha.  He was a learned man and a famous Torah commentator -- in a way  which is hard to understand nowadays.  He used to know all his former commentaries which were very analytical.  They were sharp and sometimes even grotesque.  But the Jews of Amdur tolerated them, as they would Purim Torah.   According  to Shmuel Yesha's "drasha"  Achashverosh got into trouble with Haman according to the method of ye'ush shelo mi-daas, an unintentional waiver, and Shmuel Yesha maneuvered with Abaye and Rava [two sages of the Talmud].He pointed out the two "camels" who forgot that the law follows the opinion of Abaye in certain matters including ye’ush shelo mi-daas.[Kiddushin 52a]  He thought that the king of Persia was right, to underwrite Haman's sentence because [the medieval commentator Rashba] did give the one or other definition about : dina d’malchuta dina [the law of the kingdom is the law] and so even Haman is right, although  the [commentator] Ritvo disagreed ... -- but in the end it came out that Ahashverus was a Yurke and Haman a Petruk because they overlooked a half shekel. [Footnote:  By the way, people said that Shmuel Yesha had stolen  his drashas from the book “The Forests of Honey”  or the book “Crossroads” and he had revised  them according to his own taste.] Shmuel Yesha was a wonderful shmoozer. His children were not lost  (to Judaism) because Prakapavitch was close to Amdur and they used to learn in the cheders in Amdur.{start text p206}

 Yeken Zak:  He was also called Yeken Zarovishter, after the  name of the village where he lived.  He was a tall and round Jew, with a big mustache.  His family name was Zak (Zayin Kuf), a Cohen, which was an acronym for Zera Kodesh, the holy seed [of Aharon the High Priest] .  [Footnote:  He was the great-uncle of Avraham Zak.] Some other Jews with the same family name used to spell it Zayin Caf, which is an acronym for Zera Cahuna, seed of priesthood.  Lazer the Rabbi's  said once:  "I don't know his ancestry, but in one thing I'm sure -- that he is a big Zak (sack) with long ears."...    This was written down in the government chronicle  from the region of Amdur.  He always used all the time to ride in a wagon with a beautiful horse.  He often went into Grodno.   even without having real business there; he spoke very proper Russian.  He was single. On the ten Days of Awe he used to daven in the Great Shul and he let himself be called up to open the Ark at the Neilah service and for the first Hakofo on Simchas Torah.  Even though he was a cohen, people made jokes behind his back:: that the maftir from parshas Korach [i.e., Numbers 18:30-32] belongs to him, because there is talked about the tithing for the cohanim and the Levites and it says clearly there, k’tvuat goren v'ktevuat yekev, (you count what you have on your threshing-floor and you count what you have in your vineyard).  I remember his wife, Trine, came for Pesach to Moshe Esharer, to order baked matzah from the first grinding because the first grinding comes out more kosher ...   Who can get a clear picture of the former Jewish aristocracy: they  keep the fast, they drink with loud exclamations, they play cards with the higher-ups and they get matzah from the first baking like somebody who keeps very strictly kosher -- extremely frum and worldly at the same time.  He had his two sons Moshe  and Heshel  sent to learn in town, but they didn't turn into learned Jews.  His second son learned with Aaron Kadish Tzuzeman {207} together with me. As soon as he was accepted in Cheder, he made a fool out of himself and stood on his head with his feet in the air. My holy rabbi, R' Aaron Kadish,  got very scared and he shouted out “Don’t be a crazy animal”  This was unworthy, the behavior of a Russian peasant, in the cheder.  In the end, Heschel went back again to Zaruvitch. Some years later, I encountered him in the compnay of the kossak from Blishtshendik, which in those times was considered a very wild thing to do ...

not translated

p207-212: Amdur Gentiles
p212-215: Jewish drunkards

{215} During the entire time I can remember, Amdur had only one single police officer and that was the constable --  a sort of sergeant who had the shtetl and its surroundings under his jurisdiction.  There was also an officer for the gentile environs –  and a Jewish officer {216}  All these posts were village characters.  The constable was a certain Strus, a gentile who could hardly sign his name and was over 40 years the Amdur governor; he spoke Yiddish and would say about himself "The uncircumcized one understands the language."  He also knew the taste of Jewish blows.  When he  bothered several times certain Amdur thieves, they thrust a sack over his head in the middle of the night and beat him with stones.  He knew who they were, but he kept quiet, because he know only too well that he couldn't really do anything against them.

 Sunday, when all the gentiles would come into town from the surrounding villages to go to church or the cloister, stores had to be closed for the day or at least half day.  Nu, what do you do when no money can be made from your customers unless you go into the cloister with them.  Amdur's Jews had a solution:  Just turn to Constable Strus ..... and with two pounds of sugar cubes for a present everything is fine and dandy.

 When Jews would get into a fistfight with non-Jews and the latter would leave with broken heads, no Jew ever would go to jail.  To say that the Amdur Jews were suppressed by the non-Jews  is very far from the truth; actually the Jews were in a stronger position than the non-Jews.  That was so until the pogroms of 1905.  Then a different regime took over.

 Amdur belonged to the Krinik-Berstavitz-Amdur regional council, which had a Commissar whose residence was in the first of the above-mentioned towns because many leather factories were located there who employed many workers and an eye had to be kept on them.  I rememmber well the last Commissar,  whose name was Kirkevits, would come {217} to Amdur once a month, on Tuesday to Market when the horse-dealers would arrive.  Gentiles from the surrounding villages, horse-handlers from surrounding towns together with various gypsies  with black beards and thieving eyes.  The babble  reached the heavens; wheeling and dealing  this goes up, that goes down; horses rear and prance, each one tries to cheat the other; this one screams that the “excellent”horse he bought is blind on one eye, that one claims that the “perfect” horse he was sold had been made to move so impressively  because a hot potato had been put under his tail; but really it is just an old carrion.... A dangerous fight ensues and everyone is in an uproar.   In the middle of it comes Kirkevits riding in a fiery horse, a whip in his hand, yelling with his rough voice:  Rus: "What's that?   " A disturbance because of a horse?"  And right away he swings his whip over the heads of they gypsies and peasants, right and left....  The latter cry, "Let's run for our lives, he wants to kill us.'" --  And the marketplace empties out.  Kirkevits  never raised his hand against a Jew, even the most miserable Jewish drunkards and a thieves.  One time it happened that a certain Amdur drunkard got into trouble on marketday in Krenik and got into a bad fist-fight; Krikewits  arrived with two officers  and swung his stick liberally, not at the Amdur Jew but at the Krinik gypsies, yelling  "'Don't you dare, this is an honorable Amdur boozer."  Amdur' Jews used to say:  Kirkevits is not a bad  constable, but a bizarre death on him, he won't let you keep a shmetnik (?) next to your house. ....  Nu, it wasn't the worst  as far as regulations go! {218} Truth to tell the aforementioned constable  busied himself much with cleanliness  and was the first to pave the main streets of Amdur.  May his name get its just due -- through my memories .. .  “And even Charvonah [from the story of Esther] should be mentioned for the good.”

 My holy hometown!  May my recordings be a memorial for you and the life of your Jewish inhabitants who were murdered  so brutally and cruelly by the apocalyptic demon.


[Note: We also include in Yedidya Afron’s memorial book his work “Great Rabbis of Grodno”, because the city of Grodno was not far from Amdur, and we did not want to omit this work from the author’s legacy.]

 {220} From a Jewish point of view it is almost impossible to write about a town with a large Jewish population and not to give proper space to the Rabbis who played a big role in Jewish life of those times.  In the Old Country, where the Rabbinate was an institution;  where the rabbis were the opinion-leaders of the community -- there the religious leaders put their stamp on all Jewish institutions, on all Jewish societies and organizations and in general on Jewish life.  It is a gross error to deny the great influence of the Rabbis in the collective life of East European Jewry and to to take them for loafers.  If not for the bright figures of R’ Dov Beris Meislish, R’ Yitzchak Elchonon, R’ Eliyahu Chaim Meisel, R’ Chaim Ozer Grodensky, Dr. Rubenstein, R’ Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, R’ Chaim Soloveitchick, R’ Elyakim and many others -- the communities of Warsaw, Kovno, Lodz, Vilna, Volozhin, Brisk, Grodno and other big Jewish cities would not have reached their splendor, which lasted until the last World War, in which were destroyed thousands and {221}thousands of Jewish communities and with them six million of our brothers and sisters, may  their blood be avenged.

 The great rabbis of those times used to take part in all activities which were related to the life of the communities, and rabbinical authority was felt in all communal initiatives.  It was rare for a movement to succeed if the great religious leaders had not given their approbation. Initiatives of religious, social, economic, educational, philanthropic character were put into reality only after being sanctioned by the leading rabbis of the generation. Without it they were doomed to failure.  The history of Russian and Polish Jewry in their various epochs is full of examples which affirm that, and it would take up much space to cite them.

 But it is worth while  to show several examples which are authoratative for all times.  During the time of Nikolai the First (1825-1855), when the Russian government undertook to "educate" Jews, with the intention not to teach them but only to -- bring them to apostacy  -- as it proved later on -- it started to found special schools for Jews in every city where they constituted great masses.  For that purpose the Minister of Education of that time, Uvarov, appointed Dr. Menachem Mendel Lilienthal Kaziani Rabbi of the City of Odessa and Defender and Propagandist of the educational system for Jews in Russia.  In this period were founded the Rabbinical academies of Vilna and Zhitomir, which , in truth, produced many learned Jews, but regrettably, also many, very many, assimilationists and apostates.{222} Uvarov understood that in order to reach his goal it was absolutely necessary to get the approbation of the Rabbinical authories so that  Jewish parents  would send their children to the schools and for this purpose he toiled toco-opt R’ Israel Salanter demanding that he take over the leadership of the Vilna Rabbinical-Seminary .  The great Jewish spiritual leader of Lithuanian Jewry of that time, who was considered the greatest Jewish ethical personality, felt with his refined Jewish sensibility that the intention of the enemy of the Jews, Nikolai, was not to educate Jews, but rather only to make them deny their faith; and therefore he refused categorically to authorize  with his word that Jews should of their free will send  their children to the so-called educational institutions.  And he certainly would not agree to be the leader of that Rabbinical School..  And out of fear of reprisals by Nikolai's government he left Russia.

 The evil decree of the Cantonists proved the farsightedness of that great Jew, R' Israel Salanter. As I said, the Russian government appointed  Dr. Lilienthal to put into realization their initiative "to teach Jews other wisdoms other than Torah".   In the great Jewish town of Minsk his work was "crowned"  with the greatest failure; he was pelted with stones among cries of “don’t teach us; don’t give us schools.”  Dr. Lilienthal understood that he must find a great Jewish authority for his  plan, and he barely escaped from Minsk with his life, at night. He treaveled to Volozhin, where he found then the great Gaon and Rosh Yeshiva, {223} R’ Itzele who was the son of R' Chaim the founder of the Yeshiva of Volozhin.  R' Itzele was the greatest religious Jewish authority of that time, recognized even in higher government spheres, because of his great influence on Russian Jewry as well as his knowlege of the Russian language and worldly knowlege.  He was also not opposed to Jews learning secular academic subjects.

 It would take up too much room to describe what discussions went on between Dr. Lilientahl and the Lithuanian Ga'on in connection  Dr. Lilienthal's "sacred" mission.  The result was that soon after the sermon before Kol Nidre, which R' Itzele  gave in the synagogue in Dr. Lilienthal's presence, the latter got up from his seat, went up to the holy ark and exclaimed: “I swear by God and the Torah that my intention is an honest one, and I think that also the government means only for the good of the Jews; but I swear that in case I find out that I erred, I will withdraw from my mission."  In the end, Dr. Lilienthal ran away from Petersburg to America.  He realized that R' Itzele Volozhiner  and other Rabbis were right in their suspicions.  The great rabbinical authorities vanquished the great and  mighty Nikolai.  Jews did not send their children to the new schools because they did not get the Rabbinical approval for it, the agreement of the Spiritual Leaders.  (See "Reshumot"  First volume, 43, 148, and “Zichronot U’shmuot” "  by A.Y.  Papirina,  and the historical work of Shaul Ginzburg, Third Part.)

 It is also worth it to note the tragic and shameful epoch of the Cantonists and conscription at the time of the aforementioned Nikolai the First.  Little children would be cruelly torn{224} from Jewish homes and sent away to the Provinces deep in Russia  and abandoned  in order to turn them away from their faith there in the hands of the Russian "educators".  In Jewish literature of the 19th century very much was written about this terrible time for Russian Jewry -- in Russian, Hebrew and Yiddish.  The  writer Yehuda Steinberg threw much light on this atrocious time in his work "In Those Days." Also Shaul Ginzburg and others wrote about that.

 Now it is no secret that in the so-called Russification of Education period of Russian Jerwy, at the time of the reign of Nikolai the First, many Jews were helping with it, and some of the greatest kidnappers of the poor little Jewish children were our Jewish brethren strengthened by community ringleaders and influential people of the time.

 But the great Rabbis of the time strongly protested against the acts of violence of the “community doorknobs"  who were collaborating with the Czarist goverment in the recruiting and   re-education, in spite of this often endangering the lives of the Rabbis at the hands of Nikolai's servants.  There was a famous protest of R' Tevele Minsker against the Jewish child-kidnappers exclaiming in the synagogue the Verse "And he who steals a man and sells him and it shall be found on his hand shall certainly die.” According to legend, immediately after this outcry two kidnappers fell dead in synagogue yard.

 It also happened that a certain Lithuanian Gaon of that sad time, R' Eliyahu Lider, one time opposed a certain influential person, who ordered the Shamash evict from the shul a  woman whose {225} only son had been taken away from her, because of her protest against the cruel injustice. This Rav exclaimed:  "Murderer! You were fulfilling the verse, “Send away the mother and take the children for yourself ..." And right after that he grabbed an axe and ran to the house where the innocent children were kept locked up, broke the door and let them out.  The Rabbis had this strength of authority because the entire people stood behind them.  They went exhibited self-sacrifice for  the good of the poor masses and were sanctifying God when it came to saving Jewish souls from Jewish and non-Jewish robbers and thieves. And non-Jewish robbers and thieves rarely would they fail to support the strong and the bureaucracy when it came to the interests of the poor and oppressed.  And such great spiritual leaders also were in the town of Grodno, or Horodno as it was called amongst Jews.


It would be my wish to give a detailed, full description of all Rabbis which Grodno was blessed with since Jews settled there.  Regretfully I do not have all the necessary material for this purpose.  In particular I lack the Responsa of certain Rabbis and decisors of the 16th century which would have thrown light on this era.  I am using mainly my memory and incomplete encyclopedical data I will only attempt to give an overview about the greatest rabbis who occupied the rabbinical seat  many years {226} in Grodno.  And it should be emphasized at this occasion that it happened quite often in the old country that a town of lesser stature would have Rabbis of higher stature in Torah and wisdom than a much bigger city.  It was almost a rule the Rabbis would make the town great through their Torah and not the town the Rabbis.  The Warsaw Rabbis were, for example, not as important as the Vilna Rabbis or the Kovno Rabbinate; and Bialistok ranked higher as a place of Torah than Odessa with its greater Jewish population because the respected great Rabbis, like R' Chaim-Ozer Gradzinkski, R' Yitzhak-Elchonon, R’ Shmuel Mahilever, of blessed memory gave sparkle to the above-mentioned city.  It happened  often, although this is forgotten, that the chief Rabbinate of a big city was offered to Rabbis of a much smaller town, but they refused to leave, and abandon their town in spite of the big communities being able and willing to pay much higher and substantial salaries than those smaller than them.  R’ Eliyahu Chaim Meisel of Lodz, R’ Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk, R’ Shmuel Mahilever of Bialistok, R’ Chaim Ozer Grodensky of Vilna and others remained in the places and their honor  made a name for the town of which they were rabbi.

 We find many big cities and especially in former Lithuania who did not have "official rabbis."  The religious Representative or spiritual leaders would carry the title: Head of Court, Teacher of Instruction, Chief Judge, Great One, or Righteous Teacher.  This happened in Minsk.  There the highest religious representative carried the name "Godol" or “Great One”.  The awe  in which were held the deceased rabbis was so great that the candidates used to fear to take over their place, because they might have to change a Rabbinic decree of the previous Rav,  or to enact a {227} new one which is not in agreement with the train of thought of the predecessor. The reason for the reluctance or refusal of new Rabbis to take over the position of departed G’dolim would be as the Talmudic rule teaches, "No Rabbinical court can nullify the decisions of another one unless it is greater and wisdom and number."  (Tractate Megillah) That means, no Jewish authority can nullify the rulings of a second unless it considers itself higher and wiser.  Those rabbis, who would fear this dictum, would rather not take on the Rabbinate's position.  Yet  there were Rabbis with great authority who would say:  We feel we are  stronger than the previous one and we will take his place.  This happened in my birth-town Amdur, after the death of the great Rav R' Isser , when my great-great grandfather, R' Avraham Ezra said:"I take upon myself the position because I feel I have the strength to continue the Rabbinate of my great predecessor."

 For the most part, though, in such cases big towns would remain without an official Rabbi and all big and important religious questions and problems would be be re-routed  to the Teacher of Instruction, the Rabbinical Judges or other Talmudic authorities.  It is clear, that the so-called Referral Rabbis, would always be great Geonim, and their deep understanding in the “sea” of the Talmud would resound and be heard in all Jewish circles.

  The first thing that was demanded of a Rav in a big town or community  was scholarship and genius.  It wasn't important whether the candidate was knowledgeable in the language of the region and in fact it wasn't even considered a great advantage when a Rav was fluent in the Russian {228} or Polish language.  It is common knowledge that neither R' Yitzchak Elchonon nor R' Chaim Soloveitchik, of blessed memory  understood or spoke a single word of the language of the country they were living in.  The same thing held true of Rav Shmuel Mahilever.

 In the last years of the past century a "Meeting of Rabbis" was called in Warsaw,  and among other vital problems that the Russian and Polish rabbis were interested in also surfaced the question, whether to demand from Rabbis in the future a certain preparedness in the language of the country.  A lot of young Rabbis argued that the religious influential people should know the official national-language. Then R' Chaim Soloveitchik got up and said sarcastically, "Concerning what a Rav should know:  he should know how to learn Torah, and if he doesn’t he knows nothing.”  Of course the suggestion of the young rabbis fell through at this  Rabbinical conference and everything remained the same in Russian Jewry.

 It is understood that there were exceptions especially in the first decade of the present [20th] century. Like we find Rabbi Rubenstein, of blessed memory,  who was very knowledgeable in Russian, Polish, German and French, besides his great erudition in Talmud and Poskim.  It is also worth mentioning Rabbi Y. L. Tzierlson, may he rest in peace, who was Senator in the Romanian Parliament and was quite fluent in the Russian and Romanian language.  And again should be mentioned the case of Rabbi Rubinstein,  who applied for the position of Rav--HaKolel of Vilna under the Polish reign.   His secular knowledge qualified him for the position according to the law of Pilsodki’s Government, but his Torah scholarship was very weak {229} when compared to his great rival, R' Chaim Ozer Grodensky, of blessed memory, and the Vilna Community recognized only the latter, because he was the Gaon, the "Prince of Torah."

[The following translation is by R. David Herzberg, Jerusalem]


This is a list of the Rabbis of Amdur:  It is indeed an illustrious family of great Sages and Torah  Scholars:

 1)  Rav Dovid Zak  2)  Rav Shmuel, Rav [Rabbi] of the Galil  3)  Rav Tuvia Yafe  4)  Rav Moshe Horowitz  5)  Rav Yisrael Issur  6)  Rav Yaacov  ben Rav Shimon  7)  Rav Moshe ben Rav Bezalel  8)  Rav Yisachar Be'er ben Rav Lippman  9)  Rav Moshe Yehoshua ben Rav Shimon 10)  Rav Avraham Ezra  haCohen 11)  Rav Baruch Benzion Mishekovsky 12)  Rav Reuven Cohen Tzedek 13)  Rav Yisrael Levenderstein

 The Sage Rav Dovid Zak:  The son of the Rabbi, the Sage Reb Yisrael Zak, the head of the Rabbinical Court of Law in Zaulodoni and Birgle, who was the son of Rav Shalom Zak, who was the son of the Tzadik, the Holy Reb Yisroel of Ruzhynoi (one of the martyrs who gave up his life by sanctifying the name of God during the famous blood libel of 1659), who was known by the name of the holy ones of Ruzhynoi, whose descendants received the name of Zak which is an acronym for Zera Kodesh [holy seed].  From his mother's side, Rav Dovid was a grandson to the Gaon Rav Yosef Yoshi, the head of the Rabbinical Court in Minsk who traces his family lineage to the Maharal of Prague.

 Rav Dovid served as the Chief Rabbi of Amdur for approximately the years 1710--1730.  There is no documented evidence if he was the first official Rabbi in the town of Amdur or if there were others who preceded him in this position that are not known to us by name.  The archives of the previous generation list Rav Dovid as the first Rabbi of Amdur.

 The author of the book Da'as Kedoshim (Knowledge of the Holy) says that Rabbi Dovid signed for the first time the enactment of the Meeting of Amdur on the 6th of Shevat 1720 using the name “Dovid the little one, the son of my teacher and father my master the Rav and Gaon Rav Yisroel of Amdur.”  The signature from Ruzhynoi is not found in the records of copies of the country which are in our hands.  It seems, as was the lot of other enactments, that this too was lost.

 Another source listed by the author of Da'as Kedoshim is his approval of the book Vezos HaTorah (“And this is the Torah”) in the year 1714.  This is the earliest date that mentions his name, but a book with this title is not to be found anywhere.  It is possible that somewhere there was a mistake in the name of the book.  A source that is quite reliable claims that he signed his name as the head of the Rabbinical Court of Amdur and the surrounding villages.

 The town of Amdur merited a renown and honorable status in the world of Torah and wore the crown of Torah proudly.  Under the auspices of the Rabbis of Amdur, renown Torah scholars from all over flocked to this town to draw from the deep well-springs of Torah and to dwell there in holiness.]

 {229} I would like to give some statistical numbers concerning the number of the Grodno Jews during various times.  The town itself was founded in the 11th century, and Jews were found there already in the 14th century; and one hundred years later there even occurred  a Jewish expulsion , decreed by Alexander Yagelon, Grand-Duke of Lithuania.   And a hundred years later, there was a restriction of Jewish rights.  In 1547 the Jews of Grodno got permission to appoint a Rabbi;  the situation of the Jews changed in Grodno with the ascent to the throne of Lithuania by this or that Grand-Duke, and according to the temperament or craziness of that Ruler.

 In the year 1560 , 60 Jewish families found themselves in Grodno, among 543 existing houses.  The Jews lived during that time in the Jewish Street,  having a shul and also their own infirmary on Plebanski Street [Footnote: See, "Otzer Yisrael” by Eisenstein, Volume 4, page 119.]

 R’ Mordechai Yaffee  (known as the "Levush") In the 16th century Grodno had as Rabbi the great and famous Gaon R'  Mordechai Jaffe, the author of the "Levushim" (Garments), who built the great and splendid shul that carried his name until the last years of the previous century.  On the wall of the shul was inscribed "This Synagogue was founded by the Gaon, the "Levush."

 {230} In 1790  a blood-libel occurred in Grodno provoked by the Jesuits on the second day of Shavuot of the same year the holy martyr  R' Eliezer Bar Shlomo of Verbolov was executed by cutting up his body into four parts under the  sign of a cross.  In 1795 Grodno came under Russian sovereignty;  the Jewish population of Grodno was then 2000 ; Grodno was as that time almost a Jewish city.  In 1816 there were  8422 Jews and 1451 non-Jews.  In 1907 Grodno counted a general population of 46,871 souls of whom 25,000 were Jews.

 R’ Nathan Shapiro Ashkenazy:  The first known rabbi of Grodno was R’ Nathan Shapiro Ashkenazy. Nothing is known of his activities, the only known thing is that he was the author of the book “Mevo Sh’arim” [Entering the Gates] -- a commentary on the work "Sh'aray Dura" [Gates of Dura] of the Gaon R' Yitzchak of Dura who lived 600 years earlier.  He is also considered to be the author of the Book “Beurei Rashi” [Rashi’s Commentaries], but this cannot be conclusively stated.  According to the book Be'er Sheva quoting in the name of the great  R' Chaim Yosef Azulay , the author of "Beurei Rashi” was a different Gaon. R' Nathan Shapiro Ashkenazy who passed away in 1577.  It is said that the Krakow Rabbi and mystic, the author of the book “Megaleh Amukot” [Discoverer of the Depths] was the grandson of Rabbi Nathan Shapiro and carried the same name.

 R’ Mordechai Yaffee:  The second known rabbi in Grodno was the previously mentioned Gaon R' Mordechai Jaffe , known in the scholarly world under the name of  “Ba'al Halevushim” [author of the Levush]. The exact date of his birth is not known, but according to estimates, it was 1530, in the city of Prague.  He passed away  in Pozen, {231} on the 3rd of Adar 1612, so that he had a long life (82 years).  Besides his deep genius, brilliance in Talmud, and in the old rabbinic literature, he was also very learned in philosophy, mathematics and astronomy.  He was also interested in the wisdom of Kabbalah. According to what he himself writes in the Foreword of his book Levush, “Or Yekarot” [Light of the Precious Ones],  his teachers were the Rash''al and the Ram''a (acronyms for R’ Shlomo Luria and R' Moshe Isserles) , the two greatest Geonim of 16th century Polish Jewry; and R' Mattisyahu Bar Shlomo  Delacrotte (the former two in Talmud and law, and the latter -- in Kabbalah.)

 We know that R' Mordechai Yaffee was head of the Prague Yeshiva while still in his young years.  In the year 1561 he leaves Prague, togther with all Jews because of the "Prague expulsion"  decreed by Kaiser Ferdinand of Bohemia.  He spends a long time in Venice (Italy).  There, it appears, he learned mysticism with the mystic Delacrotte.  There is an opinion that the "Levush" [R'  Jaffe] was the founder of the Va'ad Ha-Aratzos [Council of the Lands; apparently the original form of the 'Council of Four Lands"] in which were connected Great-Poland (Poznan), Little-Poland (Krakow) and Ukraine or Russia (Lemberg) and later Lithuania.  This opinion is held by Prof. Graetz and other Jewish historians, but Shaul-Pinchas Rabinovitch, translator into Hebrew of Graetz's   work in German “Geshichte Der Juden" [History of the Jews] does not agree with the former.  Eliyahu Harkavi, in  his great work under the title "K’doshim V’gam Y’shanim” [Holy and Hoary Ones] printed as a supplement to the Hebrew text of  ShF''R, also agrees with him, basing himself on excerpts from chronicles of Va'ad of the Three Lands, Va'ad of the Four Lands and Va'ad Lithuania.  One thing, though, is sure, that the Levush  was one of the most influential ones and his word was authoritative.  This we find again {232} in the book “Netivot Olam” [Paths of the Universe] of the Maharal of Prague  -- on whose account was created the legend of the Golem. a cherem [excommunication] signed by the Levush against persons who maligned the honor of a certain family of distinguished lineage descent of that time; and in the chronicle of Pozna we find translated into Yiddish-German an announcement  made at the Yaroslaver  Fair in the year 1640 (signed by the Tosafos Yomtov) affirming a rabbinical ruling made fifty years earlier in the town of Lublin -- Seat of the "Va'ad Ha'Artzos" -- and on which the first signature is that of R' Mordechai Yaffee.  The aforementioned  pamphlet or announcement relates to the strict prohibition on communities from hiring a rabbi who bribed his way into the position .  The Rabbis of that time forbade this act with curses and bans.  It seems that at that time, it was common for a rabbinic position to be acquired by giving a "gift" to the community heads, and this brought no honor to the institution of the rabbinate. Therefore the aforementioned ban  is understandable and the tone of its contents.

 As said, R' Mordechai Yaffee was well known in rabbinical literature under the title  "Ba'al HaLevushim". The name is based on the verse in the Book of Esther (Chapter 8, Verse 14 and 15, where it says: “And Mordechai went out from before the King dressed (Be-Levush) in blue and white and a great crown of gold and a linen and royal purple, and the city of Shushan cheered and rejoiced.  For the Jews there was light and joy and bliss and substance."  Well, so he  was called Mordechai, and the book he gave the title "Garments of Kingship", divided into ten smaller books, parts under the following names:  1):  "Garment of Blue," in which he deals with all laws of the "Tur" and the "Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim" up to the laws of Shabbos, according to the order of early Poskim {233}  2) "Garment of White":  Deals with all laws of Shabbos  3)  "Dressed in a Crown of Gold":  All laws of "Yoreh Deah" -- what is kosher, what is treif, meat and milk, mixtures, etc.  4)  "Dressed in White and Royal Purple":  On the laws of family life, which are found in "Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha'Ezer"  5)  "Garment of the City of Shushan":  On all laws of jurisprudence, according to the "Choshen Mishpat"  6)  "Garment of Light":  A commentary on Rashi and other commentaries of Torah  7)  "Garment of Joy and Happiness":  Speeches and expositions on the holy days, weddings and circumcisions (This book is still in manuscript form if I do not err.  8) "Garment of the Light of Treasures" which is subdivided into smaller books under the titles "Garment of the Treasure Corner" on the "Guide to the Perplexed" of the Rambam.  9)  "Garment of the Dear Treasure":  On astronomy  10) "Garment of the Precious Stone":  On Kabala

All the names of the ten parts of the great book, "Garments of Royalty" are to be found in the nouns of the cited two verses of the Book of Esther which talk about the wardrobe of Mordechai when he was installed as Grand Vizier instead of Haman.


 R’ Mordechai Jaffe carried around with him for many years the plan to condense and codify all the laws which are to be found  in a non-systematic form in the “sea” of Talmud.  The first one who sought to do this was R' Yitzchak Alfasi of the town of Fez in Africa, who reduced the Talmud to its halachic part and the laws which were still {234} practiced after the destruction of the [second] Temple, leaving aside those which were pertinent before the destruction of the Temple.  He is called in rabbinical literature "The RIF", an abbreviation of R' Yitzchak of Fez [born 1013, passed away 1103].

 More daring in this area was R'  Moshe bar Maimon, the Rambam (born 1130, passed away 1205) who created the great and gigantic work, "Mishneh Torah" or "Yad HaChazakah" (“Repetition of the Torah” -- or "The Strong Hand")  - divided into 14 books :  14 is the numerical value of the word "Yad" (“Hand”) - and which covers all the laws of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, and the Responsa of the early Geonim.  All the books of the Rambam were written in the Arabic language, with the exception of "Yad Hachazaka", which was written in Hebrew; and that is the secret of its popularity and accessability  for all levels of students.  If that book had been, chas v'shalom, authored in Arabic, and had been translated into Hebrew, by ibn Tibbon or al-Harizi,  it would not have reached the popularity in the world of Jewish scholarship and would have remained only for a few lucky ones, an elitist minority, as happened with the "Guide to the Perplexed"[of Maimonides] and other books of the Middle Ages.

 The great Gaon R' Mordechia Bar Hillel Ashkenazy, authored the book "Sefer HaMordechai" on the laws of of Altfasi, which deals with all laws of the Gemara, Rashi, and Tosafos.  He lived in the 13th century, was born in Austria, and was martyred together with his wife and children in the unworthy town of Nurenberg on erev Shabbos Menachem Av 1293.  That date is not exact because several Jewish historians are of the opinion that he perished fifty years earlier.

 In the same way followed R' Asher bar Yechiel, known as the "Rosh", born in Germany in the year 1250 and {235} passed away in Toledo, Spain in 1328.    The "Kitzur HaTalmud" [Abreviated Talmud] of the Rosh comes bound together with the text of the Talmud in the big editions of the latter.  The Rif, Rambam, and Rosh are considered the greatest codifiers and are called "the three pillars of instruction".

 A very great, colossal work in the same area was  authored by the great Gaon, Yakov bar Asher, a son of the above-mentioned Rosh, under the name Turim [Towers].  This work is divided into four great books with the names "Tur Orech Chaim", "Tur Yoreh Deah," "Tur Even Ha'ezer" and "Tur Choshen Mishpat", which contain all the laws in the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, Responsa of the Geonim, and the rulings of his father, the Rosh.  The "Tur" is considered as the greatest decisor in the rabbinical world.  He also authored a commenatary on Torah under the title "Ba'al Ha-Turim", and it is printed, in abbreviated form, in all the editions of the Pentateuch. R' Yakov “Baal HaTurim” was born in Germany and passed away in Toledo in 1340.  The year of his birth is not known and the precise date of his passing is also not determined.  It is only known that in 1305 he emigrated from Germany to Syria together with his father, the Rosh of blessed memory.  On his gravestone is documented the weekly Torah portion and the month but not the year of his passing.

 After the Ba'al HaTurim came the colossal codifier R' Yosef Karo, who created his great book, "Shulchan Aruch" a digest of all the laws which were collected by his predecessor R' Yakov Ba'al HaTurim and by himself in his great work "Beit Yosef".  The author of the last-mentioned book and the "Shulchan Aruch" is considered as the last great codifier of the Rishonim [early authorities] and one of the greatest rabbinical authorities in Jewish Jurisprudence, especially among Sefardi Jews.

 R.  Moshe Isserles, in short “Rama”, made a short form of his book "Darchai Moshe" [The Ways of Moshe] and added to the Shulchan Aruch the laws which the "Beit Yosef" left out. [He added an Ashkenazic gloss to Caro’s work.] That  composition is called in the halachic world by the name "Mappah" [ tablecloth], meaning, an overlay on the table of his contemporary.

 R' Yosef Caro  was born in Spain in the year 5248 according to Jewish time-reckoning and passed away in Safed, Israel, in the year 5335, according to reckoning of the creation of the world, or in 1574 according to Christian reckoning.  The Rama was born in Cracow in the year 1520 and  passed away in 1572.  The first reached an age of 87 years while the second -- 52.  Also the dates of birth and passing of the latter are inexact, because some claim that he passed away very young.  A legend tells that he passed away at the age of 33 years – “LaG” in Hebrew-- on  Lag B'Omer in the year shaLaG (5333)or sheleg [snow in Hebrew] and on this day in Cracow snow fell ... It is naturally nothing more than a legend because it is unnatural that snow would fall in Cracow on the 18th day of the month of Iyar, the date of Lag B'Omer [usually in June].

 It is worth noting that the great Gaon R' David Segal, author of the book "Turei Zahav" [Golden Towers], abbreviated Taz -- A Commentary on all  Four "Turim" [Towers] and the "Shulchan Aruch" --  writes in his book on "Orech Chaim" Paragraph 420, that the Rama passed away on Lag B'Omer in the year Sheleg.  From this is probably taken the above-mentioned combination of the number  33.{start text  p237}

 I would like to mention here that with the above-mentioned codifiers {237} I by far did not exhaust the number of works on decisions in Jewish law; but the purpose of the present work is not to give the history of the decisors and also not a treatise about their compilations.

 R' Mordechai Yaffe knew about all the authors of halachic codes from the Talmud, and he was not satisfied with them.  And so he planned to write a book on the same subject, in which he wanted to perfect that which the previous authorities had missed.  Finding himself in Italy,  he was aware that R' Yosef Caro, the author of "Beis Yosef" was about to publish his book "Birurei HaPoskim" [Clarifications of Decisors] or "Shulchan Aruch" according to the outlines of his book "Beit Yosef"; and he, R' Mordechai Yaffe, abandoned the thought to write his intended work.  Meanwhile the "Shulchan Aruch" is published and R' Mordechai Yaffe realizes that the book is not perfect because of its brevity and becasue it does not explain the reasons and motives of all extracted laws, so he sits down to continue to write his projected book in which he wants to give all laws of the Ashkenazic scholars.  (The author of the 'Beit Yosef' was a Sefardi and ocnsequently, his compilation contains only the practices and customs of the Sefardim.  He [R. Mordechai Jaffe]  was aware, though, that his teacheer R' Moshe Isserles, the above-mentioned Rama,  is already busy with his work about halacha; he starts to write his work "Levush Pinat Yekarot" on Maimonides’ "Guide to the Perplexed" (finished in the month of Av of the year 5349 [1589] and printed for the fist time six years later in 1594, with other books.)

 But when he recieved the "Shulchan Aruch" by R' Yosef Karo, printed together with the "Mappah" of Rama, he decides to write down his great  work under the name "Levushim" which is the middle {238} way, a compromise between the long "Beit Yosef" and its summary the "Shulchan Aruch".  Of the Levushim there appeared only the following five parts:  "Levush Techolet"; "Levush Hachor" - on the laws of "Orech Chaim"; "Levush Ateret Zahav" on "Yoreh Deah"; "Levush Boz Ve'Argaman" on "Even Ha-Ezer"; and "Levush Ir Shushan on "Choshen Mishpat."

 It is worth mentioning at this opportunity that the great Gaon R' Yomtov  Lipman Heller, the author of the great book "Tosfos Yomtov" on Mishnah  (Born in Wallerstein in the year 5339 - 1579; and passed away  in Krakow in the year 5414 - 1654) wrote a critique on the "Levush" under the title "Malbushei Yomtov", Garments of Yomtov...

 R' Mordechai writes in his forward to the first five parts of the "Levushim" that he wanted to write his work after the appearance of the "Tur" because he figured that for the great Gaon R' Yakov  Ba'al Ha-Turim his book is a short form of the laws, but for [? missing word?] it is too long, and therefore will he, R' Mordechai Yaffe, write a short work. R' Yosef Karo, though, was faster than him.  The "Shulchan Aruch", though did not please him because of its all-too-great brevity and it does not satisfy those interested in it, "because he shortened it very much and will not satify those who want to immerse themselves, go deeper, being like a closed book and a dream without interpretation and as if everything was a law of Mount Sinai without explanation."

 On the book of his teacher, the Rama, he writes:  "His ways are not my ways; he wrote his words without explanation .  He set a table full with all kinds of food, well prepared but without salt, because a law without a purpose is like a dish without salt ."

 The Levush uses a very clear and explicit language. His interpretation of the laws is full of sound logic. He was a strong opponent of pilpul [dialectic argument] {239} which "cripples the thought, being, to the contrary, a person with a clear mind a strictly systematic in his learning and writing."  Because of this  the "Levushim" was not accepted in the world of rabbinic decisors. The true authorities in the area of decisions of Jewish law remained for the Jews of the entire world -- the "Tur" and the "Shulchan Aruch". [rest of 239 - 244 not translated]

AMDUR'S HISTORY by Dr. Yitzchak Rivkind

{245}  The historian and linguist  Dr. Yitzchak Rivkind, of blessed memory (late of New York) originated from Amdur.  Hereby we give over, as an epilogue, a fragment of his essay (printed in 1937) of the above-described shtetl, which  may serve as a supplement to Yedidya Ephron's memoirs./ The Editors.

 Though I myself was not born in Amdur, but I only was registered there, and it was for there that I received my Russian passport — yet I always felt close and at home to the birthplace of my father, his parents and his grandparents.

 Amdur was a Jewish shtetl with a history that went back several hundred years, to the 16th century. It is not know exactly Jews started to settle in Amdur and when a Jewish settlement there appeared.  But we find a document already from the year 1539 which records claims of Amdur Jews.  Therefore it is also one of the main tasks to preserve and rescue everything which  remains from the past, everything that did not get lost or burnt.{246} and through wars and conflagration, as it happened in the last World War and especially in the Great Fire of 1882, when the town and a great many of its antiquities, like the old Shul, also old chronicles and books were lost to the fire.  After the Great Fire a relative of mine, R' Eleizer Bregman, actually stood by to help his birthplace Amdur in time of need when we rebuilt with a generous hand the necessary town institutions, which costs him a sum of ten thousand ruble, if not more, which was, for those years,  a rather nice sum.

 I myself had the following experience:  A few years back I asked that someone photograph for me the gravestone of my great-grandfather (born in Amdur around 1800 and passed away 69 years later on Hoshana Rabba 5629, a rabbinic judge. It is indicated there that he was the only religious judge of the district his entire life -- only part of the inscription was deciphered and is legible the rest already not.  What can be expected of headstones which date back a few hundred years, who knows if anything is left of them!   And under the stones lay buried not only people but entire worlds.  Headstones are history.

 Even though Amdur is, as mentioned before, a historical Jewish shtetl, very little is written about her. Except for a few lines in the Jewish Encyclopedia {247} it did not merit a greater work being done on it — certainly not a Monograph.

 Amdur played a role in Jewish autonomy and had an honored place in the Jewish "Congress" in Lithuania and White Russia.  The 37th Session of this body took place in Amdur in the winter of 1720 and a series of important bylaws and decisions were taken on at that session.  This raised, understandably, the prestige of Amdur.

 Also the post of rabbi of Amdur was very respected and highly regarded.   The Amdur rabbinate was not only a local municipal one but included the entire surroundings.  This is actually how the district was called. "Amdur and Grodno District." {248} Already the above-mentioned Rabbi David ben R’ Yisrael,  signed an agreement of association with other Communities with Amdur.  About R. Shmuel we talked already, who was called R. Shmuel the District Rav].  He was Rav in Amdur from (?) until 1763 approximately.  After that he moved to Minsk.  He passed away on the 17th of Iyar 5637 (1777).  Reb Shmuel was one of the greatest rabbis at the time of the Vilna Gaon, who held him in high esteem.   When he saw Reb Shmuel's writings, the Vilna Ga'on said of him:  "He is a giant in his argumentation and the way he dissects a problem shows great sharpness of mind."

 From Reb Shmuel are left a good amount of writings, but sadly they got lost with time, part of it was stolen ; (once there was no lack of people with such interest).   Only around 90 to 80 years ago [: ca. 1845-1855] his descendants started to publish a small part of his remaining halachic innovations and responsa, published as the books, "Responsa of Shmuel" (Vilna, 5619 - 1859) and "Innovations of Master Shmuel" (Vilna  5627 - 1867).

 He was also the great-grandfather of a famous descendant , the great Yiddish poet and editor of the most important newspaper  "The Future", Avraham Liesin.  After him, until the year 1769, the Rabbi in Amdur was  a certain Rabbi Tuvia.  Obviously, other communities liked to "grab"  the Amdurer {249} Rabbis.  And so Rabbi Shmuel ended up in Minsk, Rabbi Tuviah in Tiktin.

 I think it is superfluous to emphasize that I do not wish to enumerate all of Amdur's rabbis.  I only wanted to mention some of them and show their greatness in the Jewish world; their influence on Jewish life.  At this moment I am not aware of who were Amdur's rabbis before Rabbi David and after Rabbi Tuvia.

 My father, may he rest in peace, though, used to tell me stories about Rabbi Avraham Ezra when I was a child.  At that time my great-grandfather R' Isser  was rabbinical judge in Amdur and about this there remained in the family various memories.  My great-grandfather would not get any remuneration for his function, but people would bother him with queries  more than the Rabbi.  One time he expressed himself thus in a moment of vexation:  "He (R' Avraham-Ezra) takes the salary and to me they come to ask a questions."

 My father would also mention Rabbi Avraham Ezra's son, R’ Avigdor Mordechai.  Just recently I found out certain details about him.  And since he is possibly the most prolific Amdur author,  it is only right to mention him more in detail.  R’ Avigdor Mordechai was born around 1840.  At the age of 23 he already was the Rabbi in Graiewe and author of a book.  But from his youth, he suffered from a heart condition.  His infirmity forced him apparently to give up the rabbinate and to return to Amdur, where he felt at home , among his own people, as can be deduced from the following heading {250} and expression:  "Among my people I sit in the town of Amdur" which  is printed on the title page of his book, "Korban Toda" [Thanks-Offering].

 While sick and bedridden he would write his novellae (halachic interpretations) and prepare his writings for print.  And in this way he would publish every year or every few years a new book. [ Note:  I am aware of the following books of his: 1) "Anvay Hagefen”  a commentary on the Five Megillot 5623 2) "Anfay T’aynah, ”a commentary on the Passover Haggadah,  Leipzig, 5624 3) "Korban Todah", part of a a larger essay on Talmud, Vilna, 5625 4) "Pri Hadar" about the Shulchan Aruch, Vilna, 5628 -- 1867 5) "Torot Avigdor" on Orach Chaim, Vilna, 5631-- 1870]

Besides being a Rabbi in Gravve  he also held two rabbinical posts, the first  in Ostrin and afterward in Valp, when his sickness wasted him and he left the world while still a young man, not yet being forty years old.

 Of the last rabbis , Rabbi Reuven Katz should be mentioned, the author of the responsa work Degel Reuven" [Reuven's Banner] (Warsaw 5683), who emigrated from Amdur to America, (where he was a rabbi for several years) and was accepted as rabbi in the first and oldest Jewish settlement  in the land of Israel, Petach-Tikva.

 This is the golden chain of the Amdur Rabbis.  But not only in the rabbinical world did Amdur hold a respected position, it also was to play an important role in the history of Lithuanian Chassidus and the heated war between Misnagdim and Chassidim.

 In Amdur settled R'  Chaim Heikel , a disciple of Rabbi Dov-Ber, the Mezeritcher Maggid, and of R' aharon Karliner {251}. R' Chaim Heikel aquired a name as Tzadik of Amdur and miracle worker in the years 1772--1786, who attracted Chassidim from all over Lithuania.  Against him and his court the sharpest arrows of the Misnagdim were pointed.  He was the target of anti-Chassidic literature.

 When the struggle between Misnagdim and Chassidim was renewed, a strcit ban against Chassidim  was announced at the fair in Zelve in the year 1781 (Rosh Hodesh Elul 5541) and specifically it was forbidden  to travel to the Tzadik of Amdur  "and that nobody shall ever travel from our community or any other to a place where there is a Chassidic sect, may their names be wiped out, the accursed and odious, to join the unclean and specifically not to stay in the holy Amdur at all, as we have decreed.”

 The extent of how stubborn and bitter this war between Misnagdim and Chassidim was can be seen from the fact that in certain Amdur families -- my father used to tell but unfortunately I have forgotten the details and names -- they would  sit shiva for one who had been "stolen"  into Chassidus, exactly as one would do for a family member who had died or had {252} converted to a different faith. This action was totally consistent with the Ban of Zelve. evoked and justified  by it.

 On the 23rd of Adar 5547 R' Chaim Chaikel passed away  in Amdur.  After him one of his two sons, R' Shmuel, remained in Amdur and the Misnagdim did not spare him either.  It took more than a hundred years until his writings were printed by his descendants under the name "Chaim  V-Chessed" (Life and Grace) in  Warsaw in 1891.

 But then we find in the book already approbations not only of Chassidic rabbis but also of famous Misnagdic rabbis who would not have done so in  the time of the  Amdurer Tzadik. And thus time made peace between bitter enemies and contending sides.

Amdur, Mayn Geboyn Shtetl is Copyrighted © David Efron

Michael Bohnen compiled and organized the translations.

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