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Publications of Lyakovichi Shtetl Website:
Rabbi Mordechai of Lyakhovichi
by Deborah G. Glassman copyright 2004, additional update copyright 2008

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.

Rabbi Mordechai of Lyakhovichi (called Mordechai of Lechovitz in most sources but with every variant spelling for the Jewish name of the town) was born in Lyakhovichi around 1742. A story told by Buber claims that Mordechai met the Hasidic leader who would be called Rabbi Aaron the Great of Karlin when Mordechai was under thirteen and Aaron was “old.” But the ages don’t add up for that – Aaron the Great was only six years older than Mordechai who always called himself Aaron’s disciple.

Whatever the circumstances of their meeting, it shook Mordechai to his core. Aaron the Great of Karlin was such a formative influence on the Hasidic movement in Lithuania and White Russian that for fifty years all Hasidim in that area were called “Karliners.” In every reference quoted by his descendants and followers among five branches of Hasidim, Mordechai referred to himself as a personally-taught disciple of Aaron the Great of Karlin and passed on many teachings in that leader’s name. The important tenets of - prayer with kavvanah (prayerful intensity) and the role of the tzaddik - were key elements passed from Aaron the Great to Shlomo of Karlin to Mordechai of Lyakhovichi to each of the dynasties descended from him. He also saluted his special mentor as he passed to each of the groups the custom of singing the Sabbath song “Yakh ekhsof noam Shabbat” [Lord, I long for Shabbat’s delight] that Aron the Great had written.

In 1765 Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezheritch was making a serious effort to bring the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov to Lithuania. His star pupil Rabbi Pinchas haLevi Horowitz, author of “ha flaah” was appointed rabbi that year in the “Lithuanian town” of Lyakhovichi. The Maggid sent other emissaries, such as the learned scholar who wrote down all of his teachings, Zev Wolf of Grodno, to towns throughout Belarus and Lithuania. Solomon Maimon in Neshvizh wrote of the preacher who gathered a large crowd in his town in the 1760s and fired him with a desire to go and meet Dov Ber in Mezheritch, and some say that preacher was Aaron the Great of Karlin. The work Dov Ber’s emissaries were to do was to teach, preach, admonish, and inspire. To reach out to young men throughout the area and to get them to come and share in prayers with the Hasidim. Aaron’s preaching skills were so famous and purportedly inspired so many to lead more holy lives, that he was called Aaron the Admonisher. And Aaron became the first of the emissaries to develop disciples of his own.

Aaron had quickly found that that the help of enthusiastic young men was essential. He set up a Bet Midrash in Karlin (having originally come from the Pinsk suburb of Yanovo) from where two of his most enthusiastic pupils originated, Shlomo ben Meir haLevi of Karlin and Haim-Heikel who was later of Amdur near Grodno. Haim Heikel was a fiery man who was not comfortable with compromise and his unconcealed scorn for those who followed the non-Hasidic path, was said to exacerbate the rising conflict between the Hasidim and the traditionalists. Shlomo had people skills that Haim did not. Both were even younger than their teacher and in 1765, the teacher was only twenty-nine. We don’t know all of the pupils in Karlin at that point but Mordechai of Lyakhovichi was among them.

1772 was the year of disaster for Hasidim and, at their new Lithuanian stronghold of Karlin, it was felt most acutely. The spring was ushered in by a ban of excommunication on Hasidim pronounced by the Jewish authorities in Vilna. A book of anti-Hasidic writings was published and widely circulated. Aaron the Great of Karlin, who was thought likely to become the successor to Dov Ber the Great Maggid of Mezheretch, died at the age of thirty-six, and in December, Dov Ber himself died. For the first time since the Baal Shem Tov’s death, there was no clear single leader among the Hasidim. And this in a year in which the Lithuanian communities were cut adrift from the senior Hasidic leaders of the Northwest (in the Minsk and Vitebsk area) and the Southwest (in Mezhibozh and in Chernobyl) by the First Partition of Poland, leaving Lithuanian Hasidim to take the brunt of the onslaught by Lithuanian traditionalists.

The community leaders and the Jewish governing bodies in each town, used the bans of 1772 to try to drive the Hasidim out of communities in which their numbers were still small, concentrating them in areas like Karlin. In Karlin, Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin, who had been the right hand man of Aaron of Karlin, took on more and more of his responsibilities. First, he obligated himself to the intensity of prayer and devotion that he felt the obligation of a true leader who was to intercede for his community. Then, he began the task of meeting the anti-hasidic onslaught in its Lithuanian place of origin. In 1772, the Karliners began trying to spread into areas where the opposition was not as intense. That year we find Haim Heikel in Amdur. That year we find that Mordechai of Lyakhovichi is back in the town that was among the first to hire a Hasidic Rabbi – Lyakhovichi in the Polesie region. Polesie region communities like Stolin and Lyakhovichi and its smaller centers were slowly growing majorities of Hasidim, while the larger Polesie towns like Pinsk had to fight to hold onto private meetings of like-minded Hasidim. Solomon Maimon described this time period that eight years earlier had begun with his enthusiastic introduction to Hasidim in Nesvizh, as “all that was left now was a few isolated and scattered segments.” The isolation was made worse when the Hasidic leader in Minsk, Rabbi Mendel of Vitebsk, was forced out by its Jewish governing body and in 1777 emigrated to Eretz Israel.

Shlomo of Karlin found himself trying to extend himself to meet the needs of both the Lithuanian and Belorussian communities [more properly, the western and eastern Lithuanian Jewish communities, but the anachronistic terms are handy] but doing it against a rising tide of anti-Hasidism. In the nine years between 1772 and 1781, he had many successes. The Hasidic movement was becoming a popular movement – in the sense that many who saw little of value in the leadership of the Jewish governing bodies were willing to antagonize them openly by praying in a forbidden manner. Prayer in the traditional manner, was denigrated when it did not include the intensity or joy promulgated by the Hasidim, and rabbinic scholarship was held to also be diminished if those characteristics were not present. Students were flocking to the new Bet Midrashim in places like Lyakhovichi. The first Hasidic book was on the marketplace – Yakov Yosef of Polonoyye who had copied down the Besht’s words had died and his son and son-in-law published it at their own expense. But all of those successes were the grounds for strong complaint by the traditionalist forces. That Hasidic book was published without a non-Hasidic approbation, the first time in two hundred years that the right to approve printed material was taken from the heads of the communities. Mordechai of Lyakhovichi was noted as a dangerous agitator, disturbing the minds of the young. Disrespect for Torah scholars and Kahal elders were all part and parcel of what the anti-Hasidic leadership feared most in the groups they still lumped together as “the Karliners.” In 1781 the Lithuanian leadership declared a new and more serious excommunication of the Hasidim. The difference between it and the earlier one was that this one didn’t stop at attempting to close Hasidic prayer houses; it banned all Jews from all social contact with Hasidim. They were not to eat with them, and food they prepared was not held to be kosher. The attacks were effective for a time. The Hasidim were largely reduced to sheltering in their strongholds. We know that they continued in Karlin and Amdur. And the Hasidic majorities that the Polesie communities had by the 1790s indicate they had core followers throughout the area that included Lyakhovichi. But Shlomo of Karlin was not able to reach out to the Hasidim in Belarus in this time period. The strong alliance between the Jewish governing bodies of the towns of Minsk and Vilna (each a Kahal, plural Kehillot), made an outreach from the Lithuanian side of the border that both Karlin and Lyakhovichi fell on, unfeasible. Instead, a Belarus native of great repute – he had been pupil to Dov Ber the Maggid of Mezheritch and he was the “designated heir” of the leadership of Belarus that had emigrated to Eretz Israel – Rabbi Shneur Zalman ben Barukh accepted the leadership role of Belarus. This man, who would become known as the Alter Rebbe and the first of the Lubavitcher dynasty (Chabad Hasidim), soon utilized his unique position as a Hasid who was a gifted rabbinical scholar, to become the head of Hasidim all across the northwest – Lithuania and Belarus. Only the hegemony of Karlin and its dependent communities of Stolin and Lyakhovichi maintained a separate identity in the area, as did the Ukrainian and Galician communities in their areas.

Shlomo of Karlin was forced to leave Karlin in 1784 and he moved to Ludmir, which was still part of Poland but would become part of Russia in the Second Partition. Mordechai of Lyakhovichi and Asher of Stolin (the son of Aaron the Great of Karlin) followed him there, to be at his side. What happened to Mordechai’s Bet Midrash in Lyakhovichi during this time? No information is currently available. We know that between 1770 and the 1780s, Mordechai of Lyakhovichi had at least three sons (corrected in November 2008 from "at least four sons" which was a result of a misunderstanding of the Revision List information by the webmaster)and a daughter in Lyakhovichi. Two of his sons were noted rabbis from the 1790s. In the 1790s, Mordechai’s primary assistant was his son-in-law Yitzhak b. Wolf, who may have been left with the running of the Yeshiva for a time. Certainly, Yitzhak was Mordechai’s major liaison with his followers throughout Lithuania in that same time period. If Yitzhak is the same as "Yitzhak son of Wolf ben Yankel" who was recorded in the 1784 Grand Duchy of Lithuania Census, then he had been unmarried and probably a minor in his father's house less than a decade previous. Mordechai who in his twenties, took on the work of expanding the range of the Baal Shem Tov's teachings into Lithuania, might have had little difficulty in entrusting such important tasks to his twenty-something son-in-law.. We know that the Hasidim in Karlin continued in existence even while their Rebbe Shlomo was living in Ludmir. The training of Mordechai’s children in Hasidic studies through this period (as evidenced by the roles played by his sons Noah and Aaron just a short time later) indicates that the Hasidic presence in Lyakhovichi continued even while Mordechai was “abroad” in Ludmir and later in Mezhibozh. When the Hasidim eventually made their stand against their traditionalist opponents (the mitnagedim) in the 1790s, they started in the smaller towns where they had become the majority. Lyakhovichi was in the district where they made their first assault – when the Hasidim led the attack on the Rabbi of Pinsk District in 1793.

Shlomo of Karlin lived in Ludmir from 1784-1792. In 1792 the war, which would end in the Second Partition of Poland, was at its height. On the 22nd of Tammuz, Russian soldiers killed Shlomo of Karlin while he was at his prayers. His death was a tragedy in many ways, including that he died just before he would have seen his long fight won. His Hasidim were about to flex their muscle in the Polesie where they had been growing in force over the last ten years until they had a solid majority among Jews in most towns. They would first go after the rabbis that had executed the herem against them, and then after the kahal in each individual town. Finally, many would move away from the Chabad movement that they saw as trying to force them back into a path of rabbinic studies vs. the Karliners’ ecstatic devotion. Though Chabad would remain a strong force throughout Belarus, it wasn’t until the twentieth century that it would surpass the other Hasidic traditions in the number of adherents. If Shlomo of Karlin hadn’t been shot, he might have seen the majority of Hasidim in Lithuania and Belarus become followers of his students and of their disciples - Asher of Stolin (son of Aaron of Karlin; raised by Shlomo of Karlin), Mordechai of Lyakhovichi, Noah of Lyakhovichi [son of Mordechai of Lyakhovichi], R. Shlomo-Hayyim of Koidanov [grandson of Mordechai of Lyakhovichi], R. Moshe of Kobrin [pupil of Mordechai of Lyakhovichi and of his son Noah of Lyakhovichi], R. Avraham of Slonim [pupil of Noah of Lyakhovichi]). In the Ukraine’s Volhynnia which adjoined the Polesie of Mordechai of Lyakhovichi –the son of Shlomo of Karlin, Moshe of Ludmir and his descendants, established a dynasty in Ludmir but they never achieved the level of recognition in the Ukraine held in that region by the descendants of the BESHT, of Dov Ber the Great Maggid, or those of Mordechai of Chernobyl. But the Karliner influence was not stopped at the Russian border - even in Galicia, Shlomo of Karlin’s pupil Uri of Strelisk was in power and the level of holiness seen in his ecstatic devotions learned from the Karlin tradition earned him the title of “the Seraph.”

So it’s 1792 and where is Mordechai of Lyakhovichi? The records of Asher of Stolin who eventually inherited the Karliner dynasty, said that year he and Mordechai of Lyakhovichi went to Baruch of Tulchin, the Mezhibozher Rebbe, grandson of the BESHT and studied with him. Baruch was a strong proponent of the role of the Tzaddik in keeping the Jewish community safe and on the path to Messianic redemption. We don’t know how long Asher and Mordechai were there or how long they stayed together. (The Stolin Archive of thousands of documents of the Karlin and Stolin dynasty was in existence up until World War II and is assumed destroyed in the SHOAH.) Asher of Stolin spent a long time out of the region, though Stolin, where he eventually settled by 1801, was one of the three towns that used their Hasidic majority to expel the District Rabbi of Pinsk. Before Asher settled in Stolin, he had again taken a teacher, this time Israel of Kozenitz, whose teachings also emphasized the role of the Tzaddik. But Mordechai had not waited that long to return home. In a book published in 1798, the author of an anti-Hasidic polemic Sefer ha-Vikkuah, Rabbi Israel Leibel challenges specific Tzaddikim of the Hasidim to a debate on the “perverseness of Hasidim” - Shneur Zalman of Lyady (the first Lubavitcher Rebbe), Mordechai Twersky of Chernobyl and the “two Lithuanian Hasidim” – Mordechai of Lyakhovichi and Samuel ben Haim Heikel of Amdur. He goes on to say of Mordechai of Lyakhovichi that “Mordechai had a great influence on the Hasidim, who believed in his 'wonders.' Thus, for example, they were sure that it was only through the influence of R. Mordekhai that the provincial governor, Radziwil, was dismissed from his post because of his hostility to the Hasidim, and another governor appointed in his place.” He emphasized that Mordechai of Lyakhovichi was especially repulsive because he had gained followers even in the Jerusalem of Lithuania, Vilna. According to Ze’ev Rabinowitz’s 1933 book on the Hasidim of Karlin, Mordechai had been named as well in Zimrath Am ha-Arets and Shever Posheim, anti-Hasidic pamphlets preceding 1798.

In 1798, we again find Mordechai of Lyakhovichi in a determining role in the Hasidic movement. That year at the instigation of the conservative Jewish forces, Shneur Zalman of Lyady and the “Tzaddikim of the Karliner sect” were indicted by the Supreme Court in St. Petersburg as revolutionaries. Shneur Zalman, there called Zalman Borukovich, and twenty-two Karliners were imprisoned in Vilna and other places. Seven of the top Karliners were to be sent from Vilna to St Petersburg, but they were stopped at Riga and returned to Vilna. An investigation led to the Czar declaring that he did not find Borukhovich or the others harmful to the state but that they should be watched after their release. Then all of those in prison were released. Though Simon Dubnow gives the report on this arrest in one of his books, the names of those in Vilna who were taken to Riga is not reported there. Hasidic tradition says that this group included both Asher of Stolin and Mordechai of Lyakhovichi. The release of this group on the 5th night of Chanukah in 1798 is still celebrated by all of the groups descending from the Karliner Hasidim as a night of special rejoicing. With the number of times Mordechai of Lyakhovichi’s name was brought up in anti-Hasidic complaints, it would be surprising if he was not arrested when the opportunity presented itself to rid the area of leading Hasidim. In 1800 when Shneur Zalman was again arrested and the prosecution was being assisted by the former district rabbi of Pinsk (the one who had lost his position due to pressures from the Hasidic community), that rabbi was not content with going after the Lubavitcher. He stressed that the Hasidim of Lyakhovichi had spread their influence into the “principal community” of Lithuania –Slutsk. He complained that though the mitnagedim were violently opposing the Hasidim, the Lyakhovichi Hasidim were triumphing because the provincial authorities in Minsk supported them. The actual Russian documents filed in 1800 by the Rabbi of Pinsk (Avigdor Haimovitch of Pinsk) were in existence when Dubnow collected material at the turn of the twentieth century. Before the legal process could proceed to the Senate, a palace coup threw out Czar Paul in 1801. Shneur Zalman was released and action against the Hasidim was stopped.

This is a quote directly from the Rabinowitz book. He uses the name Lakovich to refer to Lyakhovichi: During the years 1794-1801 the numbers of the Hasidim increased, thanks to the legal status that they enjoyed both in Pinsk itself and also in Polesie. Perhaps their numbers were now swelled by all those who had previously been afraid to proclaim their adherence to the movement openly. Small groups of Karlin Hasidim now came into existence not only in central Polesie, but also in other towns of Lithuania. Thus, for example, in Vilna there was a Karlin prayer-house ['shtiebel,' 'shulkhen'], and even a Lakhovich 'shtiebel.' The Lakhovich Hasidim, who appear to have been numerous, maintained contact with their Rebbe, R. Mordekhai, through his son-in-law, R. Yitzhak the son of R. Wolf, who used to visit them regularly and give them moral support in their struggle to maintain their position.

In 1804 the Czar formalized the right of the Hasidim to maintain separate synagogues and to elect their own rabbis while insisting that any town with both forms of worship still had a single Jewish community. We do not yet know much about Mordechai of Lyakhovichi between 1804 and 1810. We know that he was visiting with Asher of Stolin in Stolin in 1810 when Mordechai died and was buried in Stolin. Shalom of Koidanov, presumably a descendant of Mordechai’s grandson Shlomo Haim of Koidanov, wrote in his book Divrei Shalom (pub Vilna 1882) that Mordechai of Lyakhovichi was buried in Stolin. His Yahrtzeit of 13 Shevat is still commemorated among the major groups of Hasidim and all of those that descend from Karlin.

Sources : There were a number of sources for individual details but the work Lithuanian Hasidism, by Ze’ev Rabinowitz 1970 was drawn on the most. Disputes with the sources like Buber, are my own.



The Teaching Chain of a Vibrant Hasidic Group

Click title for enlarged version

Have you found comparable reports for the Koidanover, Kobrin, and Lechovicher Hasidim from Mordechai the Holy Grandfather, to today? Do you have other such teaching chains demonstrating Lyakhovichi leadership, that we can post?

We would like to post more information about this teacher, his life, his closely taught students. Have you written or found articles we can use?

New Find May 2008

Images from A Book for the Hasidic Communities of Lechovich, Kobrin, and Slonim published i nWarsaw in 1924 and reprinted in 1947
Oher Yesharim
by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Kleinman of Brisk, Lithuania
Chidushei Torah, Essays, Conducts & Guidance, Biography, and the Disciples and followers of the four great Rabbis of Lechowitz and Kobrin.
Rabbi Mordechai of Lechowitz
His son Rabbi Noach of Lechowitz
His disciple Rabbi Moshe of Kobrin
His disciple Rabbi Avraham of Slonim

Title Page 1924

A second Title Page 1947


Page 1, Beginning with biography of Rabbi Mordechai of Lyakhovichi

Acrostics including the author's name "Moshe Haim"

More about the Slonimer Rebbe

The first Slonimer Rebbe

A 1947 prayer for all those lost in Poland

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How I long for the Delight of the Sabbath
Taught by Rabbi Mordechai, the Holy Grandfather of Lyakhovichi, a song so widely known among Hasidim that it was called simply "The Holy tune, ha niggun kadosh"

Petropavlovskaya Fortress
Mordechai of Lyakhovichi and Shneur Zalman, the Lubavicher Rebbe, imprisoned twice: Riga 1798 and
St Petersburg 1800
This beautiful building had a different side as their 1800 prison, see this excerpt from "In Russian and French Prisons" by P. Kropotkin, London: Ward and Downey; 1887.

THE FORTRESS OF ST. PETER AND ST. PAUL. No Autocracy can be imagined without its Tower or its Bastille. The St. Petersburg Autocracy is no exception to the rule, and it has its Bastille in the Petropavlovskaya Fortress. This fortress, unlike the Bastille of Paris, has nothing particularly gloomy in its outer aspect, nothing striking. Its low granite bastions facing the Neva have a modern appearance; it contains the Mint, a cathedral where the Emperors and their families are buried, several buildings occupied by engineers and military, extensive arsenals in the new Cronwerk in the north; and the ordinary street traffic passes through it in the day-time.

But a sensation of horror is felt by the inhabitants of St. Petersburg as they perceive on the other side of the Neva, opposite the Imperial palace, the grey bastions of the fortress; and gloomy are their thoughts as the northern wind brings across the river the discordant sound of the fortress-bells which every hour ring their melancholy tune. Tradition associates the sight and the name of the fortress with suffering and oppressions. ...

There, too, during the reign of the Empresses, the omnipotent courtiers sent their personal rivals, leaving it an open questtion in so many families whether their relatives had been drowned in the Neva or remained buried alive in some stone cellar. There the heroes of the first and only attempt at revolution in St. Petersburg, the Decembrists, were confined some of them, like Batenkoff, remaining there for twelve whole years. There Karakozoff was tortured and hanged--almost a corpse, hardly showing any signs of life when he was brought to the scaffold. And since that time a whole generation of men and women, inspired with love for their oppressed people, and with ideas of liberty filtrating in from the West; or nursed by old popular traditions, have been detained there, some of them disappearing within the fortress for ever, others ending their life on its glacis, or within its walls, on the gallows; while hundreds have left those mute walls for secret transportation to the confines of the snow-deserts of Siberia...

Yohanan Malowitsky, Lechovicher Rebbe, killed WWII
Rabbi Yohanon Malowitsky,

the Lechovicher Rebbe killed by the Nazis WWII
He led the Lechovicher Hasidim from the death of his father Rabbi Noach in 1920

Rabbi Noach Malowitsky,
the Lechovicher Rebbe from the 1880s to 1920, including during WWI.

Rabbi Noach Malowitsky was the son of Rabbi Aaron Malowitsky
Rabbi Aaron Malowitsky called Rebbe Aharle, was the son of Rabbi Mordechai II.
Rabbi Mordechai II Malowitsky of Lechowitz was the son-in-law of Rebbe Noah of Lyakhovichi.
Rebbe Noah of Lyakhovichi led the Lechovicher Hasidim after the death of his father, the Holy Elder of Lechowitz, Rebbe Mordechai of Lyakhovichi.

The Ancestry and Background of Mordechai of Lyakhovichi
First Report December 2004
by Deborah G. Glassman, copyright 2004, update copyright 2007 additional update copyright 2008

I started this report with the meeting of Aaron of Karlin and Mordechai of Lyakhovichi. I did not explore Mordechai’s personal background at all. Who was he, what was his upbringing like, what made him choose the Hasidic lifestyle?

His name was Mordechai and he was from the town where he later established his Bet Midrash, Lyakhovichi. He died at the age of sixty-eight in 1810 and so was born around 1742. The Encyclopedia Judaica gives his father’s name as Noah but I don’t know if that is from an extant signature or contemporary description of him, or if it was guessed from the name of his oldest son Noah. Assumptions made about his surname in other Encyclopedias have not stood the scrutiny of original records.

Based on legends in the Hasidic community designed to tell of the deep spiritual connection between Aaron of Karlin and his young disciple Mordechai of Lyakhovichi, Buber tells a story of a meeting between an elderly Aaron of Karlin and the small child Mordechai of Lyakhovichi. Buber’s retelling is not possible. Aaron of Karlin never passed the age of thirty-six. At the latest possible birthdate Mordechai of Lyakhovichi could not have been born past the mid 1740s. The total maximum age spread between them then would be fourteen years and it was likely to be less than ten. Buber’s story seems to be the reason that others have thought Aaron of Karlin and Mordechai of Lyakhovichi were close kinsmen.The fact that Mordechai’s children and Aaron’s grandchildren intermarried and some of Mordechai’s male descendants used the Perlof (Perlow, Perloff) surname of their fathers-in-law, has been taken as a reason to claim that Mordechai’s last name was Perlof. But two of Mordechai’s three known male children use the surname Malovich in the 1816 Revision Lists, and the descendants of Mordechai’s son Noah that headed the Lechovich Dynasty also called themselves Malovitsky.

Mordechai was said to have named three sons for his great mentors: Aaron for Aaron of Karlin; Noah's name antecedant is not ascertained but is assumed as mentioned above by many sources to have been named for Mordechai's father; Shlomo for Shlomo of Karlin. Two additional names reported in the household of Rabbi Noah of Lyakhovichi in 1816, Samuel and Berko, appear on further investigation by the webmaster, to be patronyms of other young men of the Rebbe's household, rather than sons of Rabbi Mordechai. Mordechai’s sons, Noah and Shlomo, both used the surname Malovich in 1816 and that name was sufficiently identified with the Rebbe's house, to be used by other residents of varying degrees of relation. We have no information yet on the contemporary surname choices of Mordechai’s son Rebbe Aaron of Lyakhovichi, who died in his father's lifetime leaving a half dozen children but only one son. Aron’s daughter is said to have used the surname Malovitsky but the report needs to be confirmed by some document contemporary to her life. The son-in-law of Noah Malovich was also called Mordche, in Hasidic tradition he would be called Rebbe Mordechai II of Lyakhovichi. In one source, his pre-marriage last name is given as Ros but he took his father-in-law’s last name as Malovitsky. Interestingly, the name Malovich was changed to Malovitsky in similar circumstances previously: in the mid-eighteenth century the male-line of a Lyakhovichi family with that surname used Malovich and the descendants of a son-in-law used Malovitsky. But the patrynomic of Rebbe Mordechai the Second, is given variously too. In the 1816 Revision List it records Mordche son of Chone (his father’s name was Yohanan or Elhanan) as living with Noah of Lyakhovichi. A history by the respected Dr. Avigdor Greenspan in the Lyakhovichi Yizkor book, gives this rebbe's father as "Moshe Haim." The Rabinowitsch book, that I quote throughout this essay, names his father “Moshe Ber.” Perhaps a later revision list, a property record, or a photograph of his tombstone may turn up, to help us make a conclusive judgement.

There was a large Malovitsky family, described as native to Lyakhovichi in documents created in 1805. Its branches included at least eight heads of family that were contemporary to Mordechai of Lyakhovichi but we do not yet have written evidence tieing Mordechai and those families together. There was a town in the immediate vicinity called Malovitchi and “sky” is a typical suffix for a toponym, which is a surname derived from a place name. Malovich and Malovitsky might both indicate that a early member of the Malovich/Malovitsky family came from that town or lived there for a time prior to the end of the eighteenth century. There is another story connected with the other family in Lyakhovichi that used that surname, that could speak to the origins of the family name or just be a late construct used to explain it.

Descendants of that other Malovitsky family claimed that their name was originally taken by a rabbi. They said he modeled the name he took on the writer of the famous book of the middle ages, "the Rokah". The writer of that early book, was named Rabbi Eleazar and named in various sources by descriptive names like "the Pious" (heHasid), "the German" (h'Ashkenazi), by his book title (haRokah) and by what he called himself - Eleazar the small/humble/of little value (haKatan). The name taken in salute to Eleazar haKatan was said to be the contemporary (late seventeenth century) form of Eleazar which was Leizar with the surname amended to Leizer Malo or Leizar Busel which were supposed to be the variants in Russian and Yiddish of the form of small applied to values (not that of size which might be translated klein). The families descended in the male line from Leizar, supposedly used the name Malovich or Busel and the families descended in the female line used Malovitsky. I searched, and continue searching for the book it was assumed this purported Leizer Malo had written in further mimicry of his thirteenth century hero. Several men named Eleazar or Leizar definitely did write books in this period (late 1600s, early 1700s) with the title of the Rokah. One of those who did so in the 1690s, was an ancestor to Rabbi Eleazar of Lyakhovichi who was rabbi in Gorodok from the 1830s, but I do not yet know the last names that family used. It would certainly be interesting to find if Rabbi Eleazar of Lyakhovichi in Gorodok and Rabbi Mordechai of Lyakhovichi, who were only around twenty years apart and from the same town, each had an ancestor named Leizer who wrote a book named "the Rokah," in the 1690s.

The other individuals that routinely titled themselves "haKatan" in the 1690s were rabbis. The self-given title shows up frequently among signatures in the Council of Four Lands documents. But if the connection is made to a 1690s writer who felt an affinity with the thirteenth century Hasidic movement of the Rokah (the Hasidei Ashkenaz, not connected to that of Baal Shem Tov’s), there is an interesting note. For we find that a number of those who made such a connection in their own lives, to the pietistic teachings of the Medieval Hasidim, were in turn, the parents and grandparents of those who followed the new Hasidic path, offered by the Baal Shem Tov. So, if in fact an ancestor of Mordechai is proved to have written about Eleazar heHasid, then perhaps his subject material was equally influential on choices that Mordechai of Lyakhovichi would make.

What we do know about Mordechai’s possible ancestors is that, if we assume that the Malovich/Malovitsky families of Lyakhovichi are a single family:

  • There was a Mordechai who was ancestor to three Malovitsky cousins who were born between 1740 and 1750, who were named Mordechai in his honor. It would not be a difficult assumption that Mordechai of Lyakhovichi was a fourth grandchild.
  • None of those grandchildren was named with a double name which was mandated when a name honoree died before he was forty so we know that if this was the Mordechai honored in the naming of the “first Rebbe of Lechovich” then he was born before 1702, because he would have had to be not less than forty in the Lechovicher’s birth year of 1742.
  • Because in the other Malovitsky family there were a number of older brothers with other names, we know that the Mordechai who they remembered in the 1740s, had not died a long time before that date.
  • Because in the other Malovitsky family, there were brothers born in the 1730s and because Jewish men did not generally in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries marry much before twenty, we can say that their father could not have been born much later than the 1710s and that no ancestor shared with a non-sibling could have been born later than 1690s.
  • If the Mordechai who died c.1740 was in fact born as late as the 1690s, then we have a fifty-something who was likely to be the paternal grandfather of Mordechai of Lyakhovichi and who should at least show up as a patronym for Mordechai of Lyakhovichi’s father in the 1765 Lyakhovichi census.

    What we know about Mordechai of Lyakhovichi’s family’s background:

    Found May 2005   A. Dubinsky (I have not yet tracked down his source) writing in "The Yizkor Book for the Communities of Toporow and Stanislawczyk" an article titled "Rabbi Meshulam Zalman Yosef Zilberfarb" [Page 411-416], which was a biography of an heir to the Koidanover dynasty, referred to the ancestry of Mordechai of Lyakhovichi. The statement passed down in this line, which descended from Mordechai's grandson Rabbi Shlomo Haim of Koidanov, was that Mordechai was proud of his descent from the great Mordechai Jaffe the Levush and as an homage, would sign his own name "Mordechai Jaffe." Does anybody have an example of an autograph of Mordechai that would confirm this?

  • Mordechai was of a family that committed resources to his rabbinic education even at a Bet Midrash outside of the community.
  • Mordechai’s parents were sufficiently independent of his income that he could be away for long periods of time from his early twenties.
  • Mordechai’s family had sufficient income to support Mordechai’s wife and children while he was away from the 1760s and 1770s.
  • Some family using the surname Malovitsky had been had been living in Lyakhovichi since not later than the 1730s and probably from earlier.
  • The members of Lyakhovichi’s kahal offered a rabbinic contract by 1764 to Pinchas Horowitz who was educated by the Great Maggid of Mezheretch, disciple of the Baal Shem Tov.

    I will continue to write updates on the genealogical investigation of Mordechai of Lyakhovichi and post them to the Lyakhovichi Shtetl website. All suggestions and insights welcome! - Deborah Glassman.