The Important Role of Rabbi Azriel Gavza (1710-1773):
and his Lyakhovichi Ancestry and Descent
by Deborah G. Glassman copyright 2005
This is a page in our Biography section. Click on the "Biography" button in the left-hand column to read other articles in this section.
The Creation of a Torah Academy in Lyakhovichi in 1748
The Torah Academies of what is today Belarus, in the 1880s-1920s were blessed to be led by men of vision and stature who did not see the formation of new Yeshivot in the region as competition.Instead, people alive today can testify to their seeding those new schools with their best teachers, ablest administrators, and even their most capable students, the last because Talmud study flourishes when classmates can lift their study partners to new levels of learning. Rosh Yeshivot, like Rabbis Aaron Kotler, Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, the Hofetz Chaim, and others, campaigned vigorously, not for one school, but for all schools that could train a generation. They were in the middle of the largest contiguous Jewish community in the world and knew there needed to be facilities to educate a solid cadre of well-trained rabbis, teachers, judges, and knowledgeable community leaders.
One hundred and fifty years earlier, a Rosh Yeshiva in Brest Litovsk, running one of the pre-eminent rabbinical schools in the world, had a similar vision. Rabbi Eliezer Heifetz of Brest-Litovsk, the town the Jews called Brisk, looked around at the Grand Duchy of Lithuania’s 10,000 Jews in 1740 and saw that the need to create Torah scholars for this community could not possibly be met simply by the Yeshiva of the great Rabbi Luria which school Rabbi Eliezer was now leading. Vilna was still taking baby steps in the direction that would make it the Jerusalem of Lithuania and had great scholars but not yet the schools for which it would become famous. There were Yeshivot in other communities of course, in Poland’s Krakow and Lublin and even in the newer Volhynnian community of Ostrog. But the situation of Lithuania’s Jews was not exactly analogous to the rest of the Polish Republic of which the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a part.
Lithuania (which included all of what’s today Belarus) did not provide the same environment as Poland did for its Jewish communities and no one was more aware of that than the Jews themselves. These northeastern territories were very rural, and very short on population of all kinds. There was a huge distance between one town and the next, and the towns were the large units, almost no cities existed. Brest-Litovsk was considered sizable with Grodno and Novogrodek the next in size. Slutsk, the pride of the Radziwills, had only 1200-1400 Jews in the mid 18th century, Lyakhovichi was a contender with over half that number, 700+ would eventually be counted in Lyakhovichi in 1764. In Poland, the King was center-stage in any scene where Polish Jews interacted with figures of authority; in contrast the Grand Duke of Lithuania only controlled Jews on his personal property, anything else was an infringement on the rights of the szlachta [the landed nobility] to control their own property including its residents. In Poland, the largest contesters of royal authority were the municipalities and their burghers, whose most eagerly sought municipal privilege was the right to expel or exclude Jews. In the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the nobles were the owners of almost every town, village, and city, and they encouraged the settlement of Jews to increase the resources of their noble households. Lithuanian Jews not only settled the towns and the occasional cities (which were much more bucolic than urban areas in Poland), but they lived far out in the country in villages with only one or two other Jewish families with the full encouragement of the szlachta.
In 1748, Rabbi Eliezer Heifetz, either led or initiated, a plan to bring Torah teaching back to an old community in “Lithuania.” He needed a city that had always provided the Cheders (young children’s Hebrew schools) as required by the ordinances of the Council of Lithuania (Jewish Governing Body of Lithuania inc. today’s Belarus) both separately and jointly with the Council of Four Lands (the Jewish Governing Body of Poland, Galicia, Podolia, and Volhynnia). Those rulings had provided for schools of higher learning too, but defacto, many of the brightest students had been sent to the few well-known Academies in the region. Brest-Litovsk had graduated many students from towns in Novogrodek palatinate, and even from far to the east in Mogilev.
An able school administrator looking to start a brand new facility has two choices. Put the new facility in a place, which has not had such an establishment previously. Find quality teachers and a patron to support it and you will have to identify high caliber students who can elevate the quality of the classroom. Your second choice is to put it in an old town which has had a tradition of education but whose best facilities have aged, perhaps have been neglected. In that second choice, you may have the infrastructure of educators, patrons of educational support, and perhaps a bank of good students to draw on, students that have previously had to attend Yeshivot far from home.
Brest-Litovsk had no shortage of students from tiny villages and small noble-owned towns in Lithuania. But what it needed was a place of sufficient size that new facilities could be constructed and a place that would draw students from a wide area. We do not yet know how many places filled those qualifications, nor at how many Eliezer tried to begin the process. We know that in 1748 he sent a man to Lyakhovichi who for the next twenty-five years partnered with another in providing high quality rabbinic and teaching services to that community and the 100+ villages around it.
The two men who served Lyakhovichi with a strong knowledge of Torah and a commitment to creating a “kehilla kadisha” (a holy community) were Rabbi Libla Magid and Rabbi Azriel Gavza. It was Libla Magid who was sent to the town and it is the sources telling us about Libla Magid that tell us offhandedly about Azriel Gavza. We know for instance that Libla was contemporary, good friend, and havura [study partner] to Rabbi Azriel. We know that Libla was sent by the head of the Brest-Litovsk Yeshiva to elevate the state of higher rabbinical education in Lyakhovichi and that, either from the beginning or shortly after, Libla described the important part that Azriel Gavza had in the process. Libla Magid, who was well known in his generation, was titled “Magid,” which is Hebrew for preacher or expositor/teacher. His good friend Azriel Gavza was called in every record, Rabin, that is in English, “Head Rabbi.” Libla Magid’s sons were called by the titles Melamed and Szkolnik (teacher and shamas) but Azriel Gavza’s son was called Rabin-ovich (son of the Rabbi.)
Did Azriel Gavza previously study in Brest-Litovsk and so his teacher, or fellow student, Rabbi Eliezer Heifetz naturally thought of him as the perfect partner to Libla? Had Eliezer Heifetz spent any time in the old community of Lyakhovichi that had had a substantial synagogue since the fifteenth century? Did the realization that a large synagogue, and a sizable Jewish community resident in stone and wooden houses on property owned by Jews (so assessed by the tax records of Lithuania) meant that this would be a good place to build public facilities for a Jewish community? Perhaps he had seen the area later called the Shuls court, which, a long time later, would hold six synagogues as well as Jewish schools, and a mikveh. So far that is all speculation as is a scenario we might call “Zebulon and Issachar” that follows.
Around fifty years later, Musar classes (ethics instruction) would fill this part of the world. There would be discussion of the proper partnership of an ideal couple of men, archetypes generally named for the discussion, Zebulon and Isachar. Zebulon was a merchant - as it says in the Torah “he went out in ships.” Isachar was a scholar and his concern was his flock or congregation. The religious community, said these Ethics classes, had both merchants and scholars, both of them knowledgeable in Torah but with different natural roles. Merchandising and marketing, Zebulon’s skills, were the talent of the Maggid, the preacher. He could exhort, he could admonish, and he could bring people to repentance. He could bring people into the synagogue when there was no holiday, when those individuals might otherwise have passed on the chance to pray with a quorum. Community patrons would pay the maggid to come and speak and “fill the house.” Isachar was stable, reliable, and able to be counted on to put his knowledge to the service of his congregation day in and day out. His skills were those of the Rabbi, a Torah scholar whose knowledge was put to the service of a single community. The Maggid could speak beautifully and was greatly knowledgeable in the Torah, in the Aggadot, and in all of the stories that have been told by and about men who were great in the service of the Lord. The rabbi usually had no public speaking skills and his contract with the community only listed one or two sermons a year as part of his job description. The Maggid, on the other hand, had limited legal knowledge of the in-depth type needed to administer a Jewish community, and it was almost unheard of to move from the world of itinerant preaching for gratuities to a multi-year contract with a Jewish community. Unlike the traveling speaker who was forced to “sing for his supper” the rabbi had a three-year contract and a salary guaranteed by both the town and by the szlachta who allowed the community’s operations budget to be deducted from the tax obligation.
If Libla Magid was as old as Azriel Gavza, whose dates were 1710-1773, then in 1748 he had spent around twenty years delivering an audience to other people’s shuls. In 1748 he was sent to Lyakhovichi to bring that audience in from the villages and towns around the area and to create an environment in which they would want their children to study all week long. His market was not just the hundred communities that we know were dependent on Lyakhovichi and on their szlachta family the Sapiehas, but also towns like Mush which was owned by the Sienieawskas and Kopyl which was owned by the Radziwills. He was offered an incentive which few Maggidim ever been offered previously. The learning of a Maggid was inferior to that of a rabbi but the ability to rouse an audience was lacking in a rabbi. This congregation had a rabbi but their budget would now include a permanent Maggid. Libla Magid would partner with his chavura, Azriel Gavza, and they would make holy sparks fly. The result was a reputation for Lyakhovichi of being a holy kehilla permeated with learning, which outlasted the lifespans of both men.
A reputation for being a city great in Torah knowledge was credited with bringing scholars to the town long after Azriel and Libla were laid to rest in the “rabbis row” of the Lyakhovichi old cemetery. Both men died in the same year of 1773 but scholars continued to arrive for decades, and pious people who simply wanted to do business in a community that elevated Torah-learning, also kept settling there. Even when Lyakhovichi ended the eighteenth century in the throes of the Hasid-Misnagid conflicts, you find resident in Lyakhovichi, students and grandchildren of the great Elijah Gaon of Vilna (grandchildren surnamed Chinitz, Donchin, Pinczuk, and Hurwitz), and students of Haim of Volozhin (Israel of Ivenetz), Elijah and Haim epitomized traditional high-level Torah learning and their students and children chose their residences carefully. That same period finds Mordechai of Lyakhovichi offering his classes, passing on the teachings of Aaron of Karlin and Shlomo of Karlin who had received them directly from the Baal Shem Tov. Mordechai was a great leader and proponent of the Besht’s message but Azriel Gavza and or Libla Magid might be credited directly with having created a welcoming environment for the scholarship of both a Lithuanian Traditional Yeshiva and the kavannah and tzadik-merit of a Lithuanian Hasidic Bais Midrash. Because we find that it was Gavza and Magid who invited the great rabbi Pinchas haLevi Horowitz, author of the book HaFlaah to come and teach and be rabbi in Lyakhovichi in 1764.
Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz had been taught by great scholars and then had become the personal disciple of Dov Ber haMaggid Gadol of Mezheritz, the Great Maggid. Pinchas was a brilliant and innovative Torah scholar who had no problem representing the very best in scholarship and he felt that the emphasis on devotion and intensity of prayer that was the hallmark of Hasidim was a gift to every Jew. Some person had to be the one to request that Pinchas Horowitz come to serve in Lyakhovichi, someone had to offer a rabbinical contract, and someone had to make sure that the current rabbis of Lyakhovichi were in agreement. Pinchas did not serve as assistant rabbi, he served as rabbi. Both Azriel Gavza and Libla Magid remained fully active as rabbis in the time period in which Pinchas served, and there is no evidence in Pinchas’ writings, which were numerous, of any acrimony between the men. My conclusion is that Azriel and Libla in the 1760s were feeling a bit stretched. They had been running a major community, one of the larger Jewish settlements in Lithuania at that time, over 700 people in the 1760s. It had numerous students, multiple schools, and over one hundred dependent communities that required them to tend to some needs far from the central town. The Old shul had been outgrown and what would later become the “Groyser Bet Midrash” had been built to accommodate prayer groups and Chevras that were increasing in number: Chevra shas; Chevra tehillim; others. The old shul may have never had a name, now it would be the "cold shul, the Kalte shul" as additional synagogues were built. Multiple synagogues, hundreds of heads of households, students who needed to be taught at the Cheder, Yeshiva, and Bet Midrash levels, a Bet Din (law court) all this, needed two aging rabbis full attention. And the political situation was deteriorating rapidly.
In the same year that the two rabbis must have concurred with or instigated the hiring of Pinchas Horowitz, the body of Jewish self-government that had stretched across Lithuania for almost two hundred years, was forced to dissolve by the Polish government. The Council of Lithuania was an independent agency associated with the Council of Four Lands and they were together the Jewish governing body that had worked with the lawful governments of Poland and Lithuania to ameliorate the relations and conditions of the privileges won by the Jewish communities. The Royal and Ducal governments interacted with the Jewish community by a series of legal instruments called Privileges. These were contracts that offered certain concessions by the grantor in exchange for money and services by the grantee. During the 1500s a series of reforms had culminated with the government declaring the amount that the Jewish communities owed it as payment for these privileges annually would be assessed by the government but apportioned by the Jewish councils among their members. In the 1760s, corruption at every level of the nation’s government was said to be just as entrenched among the Jewish governing agencies and the answer was to dissolve them and collect money directly from the Jews. We will find when we can examine the 1764 Grand Duchy of Lithuania Census for Lyakhovichi which was set up to provide new tax assessments for the Jews that people who were previously officials of the kahal have new titles or none, laying low for a time was the order of the land.
Azriel Gavza was thirty-eight the year Libla Magid came to run the schools. He was fifty-four when the new rabbi, Pinchas Horowitz was engaged. Pinchas came to Lyakhovichi in 1764 and stayed until 1771 and then accepted an offer from a wealthy German community, Frankfurt am main, and we do not know the reasons that Pinchas who was just 30, thought it a good time to leave. If the older men were not upset by the dissolution of the national Jewish organization, or by the new government tax requirements, or the troubles with Moscow and Vienna that were mounting, they still were unlikely to be happy with the departure of a young man that they had thought would be with the community for another thirty years. They had not offered him a lifetime contract, which would however have been extraordinary before decades of service, and if it was the typical three-year formulary, then he left after the expiration of the second three years. Years later, 1771- 1772 would be remembered as the Terrible Year for a cholera epidemic that carried off huge numbers of Jewish children in the cities of Lithuania, hundreds in Vilna alone. As Lyakhovichi dealt with all of the above, Azriel and Leiba may well have seen their loss of a man of stature to lead their school and community as one of the great travails of the time.
Rabbi Azriel Gavza was sixty-three the year he died, which again we know because of a story about his teaching partner. Rabbi Libla Magid was remembered by other writers who spoke of his death in 1773 and being laid to rest on the side of his good friend Azriel Gavza who had died earlier that year.
My Main Source for the information above: Dr. Avigdor Grinspan's historical study - "Rabbi Libla Magid," published in Lyakhovichi Yizkor book. Hebrew. Viewed as an online image from the New York Public Library.
When I began writing this report, my mission was to create a framework for a genealogy of Rabbi Azriel Gavza whose descendants remained in Lyakhovichi for 150 years subsequent to his death. This article sought to place Rabbi Azriel in the context of his time and his role in the community’s history. The historical sources that name him directly are biographical descriptions of Libla Magid but there are other still unaccessed materials in which I think we will find him. But first lets credit the sources so far used. Dr. Avigdor Grinspan wrote a series of biographical sketches of Lyakhovichi Jews who had a formative role in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He began with Rabbi Libla Magid (1748-1773) and continued through the rabbis of his youth. He published these historical pieces in the Lyakhovichi Yiskor book and cited interviews he had conducted with Rabbi Herschel Mas as his source for many of the details on the earliest. Which, since I depend so heavily on Dr. Grinspan's work, means that I have also relied on Rabbi Mas's memory.
Now we can look at what we know about Rabbi Gavza and his immediate descendats to see what additional records are suggested.
The sources for Azriel Gavza’s genealogy are more specific than those with which we write his history. We know that he could not have been born earlier than 1710, the year in which his grandfather Rabbi Azriel died. Based on the ages of Azriel Gavza’s children and grandchildren and on those of another namesake of the elder man, Moshe Azriel Busel, "circa 1710" is a reasonable birthdate for each of the men.
We use Gavza as a surname in talking about Azriel because his sons and grandsons used it in that fashion. But there are few surnames in this time and place except some very old toponyms, names derived from places like Hurwitz, Luria, Spira, Girondi, et al. Most of those place names were from towns, which had expelled or persecuted their Jews into leaving during the Middle Ages (with Horowicze in Bohemia the exception).
Gavza is clearly not part of a co-name Azriel-Gavza because not one of the Azriels among Rabbi Gavza’s descendants carries Gavza as part of a double name. Some carry “Moshe Azriel” and are called Azriel and at least one was Azriel Meir. If not a surname and not a co-name then what exactly is Gavza for Rabbi Azriel? The simple answer is likely to be that Azriel Gavza is the most common usage of all - name with father’s name. Gavza, as Govsey, is a Polish form of Joshua and some of Azriel’s descendants have been given the first name Joshua even though they have brothers named Azriel, again indicating that the names were not linked.
So Rabbi Azriel Gavza (1710-1773) is Azriel son of Gavza and we know that he is the grandson of Rabbi Azriel (1665-1710). But there is currently no evidence that states whether the link between the two men is via Azriel Gavza’s mother or by his father.
So we start the genealogy of Azriel Gavza’s descendants with Azriel Gavza’s grandfather in this way:
The Line of Rabbi Azriel Gavza from his grandfather Rabbi Azriel
with new material added and other material amended 2007
by Deborah Glassman
Rabbi Azriel (1665-1710)
We know that Rabbi Azriel Gavza was the descendant, either grandson or great-grandson,of a Rabbi Azriel who served "on the council of the holy community of Lithuania " [thought to be Council of Lithuania but may also be the Council of Four Lands] in the 1690s. Azriel Gavza was described on his tombstone as "neked" of the earlier Azriel, that is grandson, great-grandson, or descendant, of the first Rabbi Azriel. source - The no-longer extant cemetery stone of Rabbi Azriel Gavza and other historical info on Azriel Gavza who died in the 1770s, was described by Rabbi Hirschel Mas who was interviewed for a history later printed in the Lyakhovichi Yizkor book, by Dr. Avigdor Grinspan. A picture of the stone may still exist though as it was common to take a picture of stones in the cemetery when a new one was placed, in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Many of these show adjacent stones. As Azriel was buried in the old cemetery and late 19th century interrments were in the New Cemetery, we may also have to look for photos taken for other occassions, such as community celebrations of Lag B'Omer, some of which photographs are known to exist.
We know that the elder Rabbi Azriel had two descendants named Azriel in 1710 - Moshe Azriel Busel and Azriel Gavza. We do not know if these were by sons or daughters. Based on the young age at which the senior Rabbi Azriel died, he is most likely to be the grandfather of the children named for him that year which would make him the father or father-in-law of Govsey/Gavza who was the father of Rabbi Azriel Gavza. The elder Rabbi Azriel is probably also the father of either the father or mother of Moshe Azriel Busel. Other children are probable. The information above all comes from Azriel Gavza's tombstone and the historical knowledge of Rabbi Hirschel Mas, but research in 2007 has turned up some exciting new finds.
There is a Rabbi Azriel who was on the Council of Lithuania in the 1690s,who was dead by 1710, and who has a second unusual name long associated with the Gavza family. But most critically, in turn, that Rabbi Azriel's great-grandfather carries the combination name so closely tied to the Gavza family, that it is a signature piece - Shmuel Shaya. The Rabbi Azriel who died by 1710, was Rabbi Azriel Lemel Kohen-Spira who was briefly described in Otzar haRabbanim. Only one of his children was noted as a rabbi, but "Otzar haRabbanim" does continue the line backwards in time. Rabbi Azriel Lemel Kohen-Spira of the Lithuanian Rabbinical Council is the son of Rabbi Yosef Kohen-Spira who was a rabbi in 1660 and was the son of Rabbi Moshe Aron Ashkenazi. Rabbi Moshe Aron Ashkenazi married into one of the renowned families of Prague and was himself son of another Prague luminary, Rabbi Samuel Spira. Rabbi Samuel was a gaon in Prague in 1580 and died as a martyr. It is not clear if previously he had a double name, but all of the children named for him in the immediate generation following are named Shmuel Isaiah, the same form in which that double name appears among Azriel
Gavza's offspring "Shmuel Schaya." . Though one of the people named for the Senior Rabbi Azriel was named Moshe Azriel (Busel) and though the name Moshe Azriel was given to both a grandson and a great-grandson of Rabbi Azriel Gavza, we have no evidence of a longer or combination name for Rabbi Azriel Gavza who died in 1773 or for Rabbi Azriel who died in 1710. Common usage was to call a man by his second name in a two-part combination name, so a Moshe Azriel would be called Azriel and an Azriel Lemel would be called Lemel. In a three-part name, which does appear in this period and in the Gavza family, a man named Moshe Aron Azriel would be called Aron and a man named Moshe Azriel Lemel would be called Azriel.
He is the father or father-in-law of:
Govsey/Gavza (c.1686- ?)
We know nothing about him at this time. In the previous edition of this article, as it still seemed possible that Govsey was the son of Azriel, instead of a son-in-law, I talked about his age relative to the senior Rabbi Azriel and then considered the likelihood of Govsey's grandson being named for Govsey, but it seems that I got ahead of myself on both points. The article had included:Marriage ages for Jewish males in Poland-Lithuania was eighteen to twenty but it is not clear if there is a difference in the more rural setting of Lithuania, from the more urban setting of Poland. If he was born to a twenty-one year old father, then he would have been twenty-four when his father died and it would be reasonable that shortly thereafter he would have fathered a son able to carry on his father’s name.
The fact of his son Rabbi Azriel Gavza's descent as grandchild or great-grandchild from a previous Rabbi Azriel, does not presume a male lineal relationship between Govsey and that earlier Rabbi Azriel. He may have been son, son-in-law, or the husband of Rabbi Azriel's granddaughter. It is likely that the name of Govsey's father will be in records now known to be available for Lyakhovichi, the 1764 Grand Duchy of Lithuania Census. And while descendants of the Gavza family in Lyakhovichi may not have been sure if some of the many Schayas among their number,were really named Joshua or Isaiah (and so the question arose whether Shaya Gavza had been named for Govsey), the extant signature from the 1819 Revision List shows Shaya Gavza's Hebrew name and title in a patrynomic as "the Rabbin, Isaiah." So Govsey's descendants who were named for him, did not include Rabbi Schaya Gavza.
In what records might we find him? The records of the 1764 Census, might show him as a very old man, but might more likely it will show him in the patrynomic of one of his children. The names of the children of those children might help to pinpoint Govsey's death date, too. We might find him mentioned in books that his son Azriel wrote or in references that cite his son as a teacher and mentor. His dates make it possible that we will find him in records of the Sapieha/Massalski family.
He is the father of:
Rabbi Azriel Gavza (1710-1773)
Rabbi Azriel Gavza is the subject of the larger article in which this genealogy appears. He is likely to have had more children but so far we can only document Shaya Gavza. Shaya is a name that repeats in every line of Azriel Gavza’s known descent, almost always as the combination “Shmuel Shaya” in which Shaya is said sometimes to be a diminutive for Isaiah, while others claim that it is a nickname for Joshua [and which we have now documented as Isaiah, see 1819 Revision List citation.] We can make no assumptions about the importance of the name Shmuel Shaya to Azriel Gavza by the frequency of usage among his descendants because all of those so named are also descendants of Azriel Gavza’s only known son. If Azriel Gavza had three sons who had all passed on the name it might have given us a clue to an ancestor of Azriel or his wife. Now, in 2007, we know that Azriel Gavza may have had the name repeating in his family as his 3GGFATHER Samuel Spira of Prague had multiple namesakes carrying the Hebrew name of Schmuel Isaiah Spira.
We can search for additional records about him in the 1764 Census, inventories of the Sapieha estate, the records of the legal courts of the voivode (woiwode), the ziemski and grodzki courts, and records that were entered into minute books of other communities and records of the Council of Lithuania. If we ever find the Jewish records of the community of Lyakhovichi we will certainly find that a rabbi who was in office for twenty-five years will appear there. The Voivode’s court was a court in which he would at least have been called to testify with some regularity - it was the court with jurisdiction over cases that involved both Jews and Christians (all-Jewish cases were heard by three different boards of the kehilla court of the Jewish community depending on type of issue) and which heard criminal cases. Since a new synagogue was erected, a new school put into place, and new salaries allowed we might also find useful information in the Lithuanian Metrika about the privileges these things necessitated. He is the father of:
Rabbi Shaya “Shmuel Shaya [Joshua or Isaiah]” Gavza (c.1730-c.1790)
He was the rabbi in Lyakhovichi following his father’s death. In the 1784 census he is called “Rabin” which means Head Rabbi. There is another person in that census designated “Assistant Rabbi” but no one else has the title of rabbi in that document. It has been stated that one of the signatories to the 1784 document should have been the rabbi of the community but none of the signatures is so annotated.
- END -
At the time of the 1784 census, Shaya was married to Leah, but there is currently no information as to whether she is the likely mother to all of his known children. The 1765 Census would make the matter more clear, as he was around 54 in the later census and would have been in his thirties at the earlier. At least that early tally would show if he was married to a woman with the same name as his wife in 1784. Leah may have been a remarriage after an earlier wife’s death or she may have been the mother of all or some of his children. It is possible that Shaya’s son Azriel who had to have been born in or after 1773 was born to a second wife because Shaya would have already been around forty that year.
Shaya had four children so far known, but daughters are easily lost from the lists and if he did not consistently use Gavza, his sons might be equally hard to trace. Using the Revision Lists to trace people using Gavza as a surname and Shaya as a patrynomic, the names of his known children are Vigdor “Avigdor” Rabinovitch; Leiba Gavza; and Azriel Gavza.
Shaya himself starts off with a genealogical clue we might eventually be able to use, he has an unusual double name - Shmuel Shaya. This could mean that he was named for a man with the same combination or he could have been named for a man named Isaiah who had lived to adulthood and married but died before he was forty. In that case the person for whom Shmuel Shaya was named would have had his name joined to his own deceased father, deceased brother, or to a deceased son who had also lived long enough to stand under the marriage hupah.
We have not found Shaya son of Azriel Gavza in a record using a surname. He is called Shaya Rabin in the 1784 Census and he died before surnames were required in any part of Poland. He died before Lyakhovichi came under Russian jurisdiction and Russian surname laws did not go into effect until fifteen years after his death.
We should be able to find more data on Shaya Gavza in the 1764 Grand Duchy of Lithuania Census, and in the records of the courts described in the section on his father. Many photos were taken in Lyakhovichi’s old and new cemeteries in the end of the nineteenth century to preserve the image of the tombstone for a family member moving away. My hope is that one will have been taken next to his grave by his many descendants and we can get some more information.
He had these known children: Vigdor “Avigdor” Rabinovitch; Leiba Gavza; and Azriel Gavza. Leiba and Azriel’s descendants used the surname Gavza and Vigdor’s descendants used Gavza and Rabinovich often using both in the same document.
I have created a rough outline of some of the branches descending from each of these sons, but many have been working on Gavza and Rabinovich genealogies in Lyakhovichi for years. I especially note Maris Gavzy Rabolini and Marilynn Handelman. I have received permission of the Gavza researchers to append their trees to the generation of the emigrants from Lyakhovichi to this one at the next update. As noted below the document, the information that includes Aaron Rabinovich among the childen of Shimen is courtesy of the research of Marilynn Handelman. The family of Pinchas Gavza, whose father had been adopted by his relatives Moshe Azriel and Daicha Gavza, has been documented extensively by Maris Rabolini. The genealogy charts submitted to the webmaster are awesome and carry details to the present day. Due to privacy concerns, we will not go past adult emigrants in genealogy charts, published on our site - so we encourage you to post your material also on the Family Tree of the Jewish People, which is password protected and subject to user agreement.
The chart that has appeared below is being replaced. It had been damaged as a file and will be substituted with several more clearly delineated lines followed in multiple charts. Look for it around January 2010. The charts that are coming include those created by or from the information provided by Maris Gavzy Rabolini, Marilynn Handelman, Joseph Beder, Henry Soloway, and others in our Lyakhovichi Research Community. All mistakes are solely the responsibility of Deborah Glassman, copyright 2005 and 2007.
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Page from the Pinkas Vaad Arba Aratzot (Register of the Council of Four Lands)
Rabbi Eliezer Heifetz of Brest-Litovsk was a rabbi of great renown throughout Lithuania and served on the Council of Lithuania which was joined functionally with the Council of Four Lands: The "Four Lands" covered Greater Poland (with an administrative center at Poznan), Little Poland (with an administrative center at Krakow), Galicia (with an administrative center at Lvov), and Volhynnia (with an administrative center at Ostrog), and all of what is today Lithuania and Belarus was governed by the Council of Lithuania which had unified the three provinces of Brest-Litovsk, Pinsk, and Grodno. The two different governing councils were unified after a hundred years of separate existence, in the seventeenth century and were a single body in Heifetz's eighteenth century. An important rabbi of the Lithuanian Council, would in this forum, be able to communicate effectively with decision makers for the hundreds of separate Jewish communities across Poland and Lithuania. This page is illustrative only, it contains no content relevant to Rabbi Heifetz, or Lyakhovichi.
It appeared first as a photograph in the Jewish Encyclopedia published 1906 and
it was cited as pages in the possession of the great historian Simon Dubnow. Dubnow was said,
in another article, to have located a complete copy of the Pinkas for the Council of Lithuania
that had previously belonged to the kehilla of Slutsk, in the possession of the Rabbi of Korelitz.
The Vernadsky Library in Kiev had two separate copies of this pinkas,
which I believe have been microfilmed. If you have any information about any of these documents,
photos taken of them or studies made about them, please contact the webmaster!
The Groyser Bais Midrash of Brest-Litovsk
This six-sided synagogue is of unique design and uncertain age. It is claimed variously for the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Was it , like Lyakhovichi's Groyser Bais Midrash, built in the mid-eighteenth century, when rabbis following the precedents of Rabbi Eliezer Heifetz, were building structures that could easily house study societies, in addition to the traditional roles of synagogues for community prayer? This building's fate is also unique. It exists today, encased in a circular glass building constructed to be a cinema in 1959, but still totally recognizable in that structure.
The Fortress Synagogue of Brest-Litovsk
An eighteenth century Rabbi of Brest-Litovsk would have seen this centuries old monument every day.
Built in the period where permission to build a synagogue was tied to the Jewish promise
to help defend the city from invaders, sixteenth and seventeenth century Jewish
communities built these substantial additions to the city's fortifications.
(Almost every wooden synagogue of Brest-Litovsk was destroyed in fire by the
early nineteenth century and the remainder were torn down in the construction
of a military fortress by Czar Nicholas I around 1830) Did Eliezer Heifetz see the
creation of new Torah schools as the form of Jewish defense of the future?
Lyakhovichi's Groyser Bais Midrash
Built for the innovative rabbis
Azriel Gavza and Libla Magid?
This structure has been dated to the mid-eighteenth century and so was
built during the period 1740s-1770s in which Rabbi Azriel and Rabbi Libla led the community.
Its design, which encouraged the active participation of four different study societies
in the nineteenth century, was created with that specific result in mind. The open main floor
and classrooms on the second and third floor, and the central over-sized Russian stove directly
under a gallery so that it could heat two (and sometimes three) floors, were eighteenth century
innovations, designed to bring in people to use the building for study and Torah discussion at
times other than services. The building's features also contributed to the new designation for
the old synagogue - its relatively warm and welcoming spaces through Belarussian winters, cold Spring evenings, and brisk Autumn nights, left the first synagogue with the appelation of the "cold synagogue, der kalter shul". Throughout the Lithuanian communities of the time (including those in today's Belarus), synagogues in this period saw their old prayer houses designated "the cold shul" while newly constructed buildings with meeting areas, libraries, and a large Russian stove, (in addition of course to the sanctuary area) usually took a title like the Big House of Studies, der Groyser Bais Midrash. Many of these new buildings, like Lyakhovichi's Groyser Bais Midrash, were built of masonry, and in their surviving photographic images, appear to be built with more surrounding space, both of which improved their chances in surviving the many fires of eighteenth and nineteenth century communities. Fifty years later, the design had proven so successful that new Yeshivot, like the Mir built in the 1790s and the Volozhin Yeshiva built around 1805, were built on similar plans. Information on the age and structure of masonry synagogues including Lyakhovichi's Groyser Bais Midrash, is from the Belarus State Archive of Scientific and Technical Documentation
The Old synagogue of Lyakhovichi, the "kalte shul"
This synagogue was joined by the Groyser Bais Midrash during the rabbinical administration
of Rabbi Azriel Gavza and Rabbi Libla Magid. When the new leaders arrived, this was probably
the only synagogue building actually in existence though there were likely to have been informal settings
in homes for additional services. When in 1875, the Jews petitioned to build a new synagogue
to replace one destroyed a year earlier, they made their case that four synagogues
could barely hold the population. The Jews in the 1760s numbered over seven hundred people
in Lyakhovichi (by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania Census which is still in existence)
and must have badly need a second facility of size.
This would not have taken away from their attachment to this synagogue which
according to the Hebrew date over the door was built in the time of Vytaut the Great
Image of the 1764 Lyakhovichi Grand Duchy of Lithuania Census
We know that the census material for Lyakhovichi exists.
When an image becomes available we will show the pages that include Rabbi Azriel,
Rabbi Libla Magid, and any information on the Groyser Bais Midrash and the Kalte Shul here.
Image of Register Books from the Holdings of the Sapieha family
We now know that records from the period of the last Sapieha's exist
in the Old Archives of Poland in Warsaw and are investigating further.
We hope to publish material from the estate records of the 1720s through 1760s in the future,
that hopefully will show the arrival and relative importance of Rabbi Azriel Gavza, Rabbi Libla Magid,
Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz, and others.
Images of his descendants
The matseva of a proud descendant of Azriel Gavza and of Azriel's son Isaiah aka Shaya Rabin, Aron Lemel Gavza's tombstone says he is a descendant of Isaiah Gavza Av Bet Din of Lyakhovichi.This was a stone in the New Cemetery of Lyakhovichi
The Children of Schmuel Schaya Gavza son of Yehiel
The elders in this picture, grandparents of three large families, are three siblings, scions of the Gavza family. Alter Gavza, his sister Brocha Gavza Beder,
and his sister Sterel Gavza Busel, all of Lyakhovichi.
Sterel is called Sterel of the Little Cheeses in Avrom Lev's reminisce-laden "Walk through My Devastated Shtetl".
He mentions that both she and her sister Brocha sold cheese on different streets. Sterel is called the wife of
Reb Noah Leib Busel, the candlemaker, and Brocha is named as the wife of Reb Yitzhak Yosel Beder, the baker.
The little girls in the picture are Sterel's granddaughters.
Rifka Leah Lev, called Rivka Leah the widow
The people in the group are identified in the Yiskor book as Rivke-Leah the widow, her sons Shmu'el Shaiye [Lev] and Asher Lev, with Asher's wife Mindel, daughter Chaye Rochel, with her husband Shloime, and their daughter Sloyke, Sloyke's husband Moishe, Sloyke's daughter Gishele and her sister Sora, Asher's daughters Dina and Bashke and youngest son Gedalyo, Shmu'el Shaiye's children Bashke, Freidel and Betzalel. Asher Lev was nicknamed the Keren Ami pushke, for all of the Eretz Israel collections he arranged. At the High Holy Days he ran a mini-fair of Israeli art and industry displays. Rifka Leah has been identified as the daughter of Shmuel Shaya and Basha Rabinowitz and her father has also been called Shaika the dayan (arbiter of Jewish law).