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The Jewish Community of Siauliai

by Jeffrey Maynard

Chapter Three - The Rabbis of Shavel:

Rabbi Yechezkel Luntz, born in 1731 in Kelme, was Rabbi in Shavel from 1767/8 to his death in 1808. His father Rabbi Meir was born in Kelme in 1709, and his father rabbi Eliahu Kelmer was Head of the Rabbinical Court of Kelme. After Rabbi Yechezkel died, no one was given the title Head of the Rabbinical Court of Shavel until 1815.

Rabbi Hershele Luntz, son of Rabbi Yechezkel was Rabbi in Shavel until his death in 1839.

Rabbi Yudele Pokroyer was Rabbi in Shavel for just a few years, approximately 1810 to 1812, until his return to Pokroi. After him, Rabbi Eliezer Kupishker, author of the books "Beis Levi" and "Toras HaBayis" was rabbi until 1815 when he returned to his town of Kupishok.

The next rabbi was Rabbi Yankele Shapiro, who was the son of Yosef Shapiro. He was Rabbi until 1828. His brother, Rabbi Dov Ber Shapiro was the father of the kabbalist Rabbi Shaul Shapiro who was Head of the Rabbinical Court of Ponevitch and Shadova. Rabbi Dov Ber Shapiro's wife, Kaila, was the daughter of Rabbi Shaul Luria who lived in Shavel. It is stated in the introduction to the book "Chemdas Shaul", (Odessa 1903) that he was a preacher or member of the Rabbinical Court in Shavel. 1

Rabbi Yankele had two assistants, members of the Rabbinical Court. The first was Rabbi Yitzchok Aizik Rabinowitz, the son of Aaron Rabinowitz, who was the Head of the Rabbinical Court and wrote the books "Netei Nemanin", "Zera Yitzchok", "Divrei Yitzchok" and " Ateres Yitzchok".

The second assistant to Rabbi Yankele, who became a member of the Rabbinical Court around 1816, was Rabbi Moshe Ziw, who had an interesting family history. He was the son of Rabbi Gershon Mendel Ziw, the son of Rabbi Leibele Ziw, the Rabbi of Plunge. He was the son of the Gaon, Rabbi Ezriel Ziw, the Head of the Rabbinical Court of Kovno. Rabbi Ezriel Ziw was the first rabbi of Kovno when the community was founded and he gave his "haskama" (agreement) to the printing of the first Vilna edition of the Talmud in 1836. Rabbi Ezriel's wife was the daughter of the Gaon, Rabbi Naftali Altshuler, the son of Rabbi Asher Altshuler. Rabbi Naftali Altshuler's son was Rabbi Zev Wolf the Head of the Rabbinical Court of Lutzin, whose books "Zebed Tov" and "Sfas Emes" were printed in 1814 by his son Rabbi Elyakim Getz of Pandel. Rabbi Moshe Ziw's aunt (sister of Rabbi Gershon Mendel Ziw) was married to Rabbi Moshe Luntz, the son of Rabbi Yechezkel Luntz. 2

Rabbi Moshe Ziw was previously Rabbi in Kreitzburg. His writings were published by his son, Rabbi Bentzion Yehuda Leib Gershoni Ziw, known as Rabbi Bentzion Pandeler, under the name "Machsheves Moshe (Thoughts of Moshe)" in Vilna in 1866. According to Shimon Cohen, Rabbi Moshe died at a young age, 33, in 1823. 3 However, another source says that he died in 1828. 4 His brother, Rabbi Ezriel Ziw was Rabbi in Birz. He had two other brothers, Rabbi Reuven Ziw in Shkod and Rabbi Shmuel Ziw in Ponevitch, where he was known as Rabbi Shmuel Pinchoses. 5

Rabbi Moshe Ziw's younger son was Rabbi Gaon Binyomin Zev Wolf Ziw, who was born in Shavel and was a member of the Rabbinical Court in Shavel for over twenty years. He died in Shavel aged 48 in 1864. His son Leon Ziw was an agent for a fire insurance company and a director of the Cooperative Bank in Shavel. Rabbi Zev Ziw was also father-in-law to the wealthy Cohen brothers, who owned the chocolate factory, and to Rabbi Moshe Yakov Zebadia, author of the book "Mayin Ganim". Rabbi Moshe Yakov Zebadia was the son of Noson Yeshei the son of Rabbi Simcha the son of Reb Meir. Rabbi Meir was the grandson of the Gaon Rabbi Leib, the Head of the Rabbinical Court of Vitebsk, who was the son-in-law of Rabbi Simcha Hacohen Rapoport, the ancestor of the dynasty of Volozhin. Rabbi Moshe Yakov Zebadia's mother was the grand-daughter of Rabbi Tzvi Broida, the son of Rabbi Yisroel Broida. His mother's mother was the daughter of the Gaon Rabbi Yitzchok Aizik Broida, the Head of the Rabbinical Court of New Zager and Seda. Rabbi Yitzchok Aizik Broida was the father-in-law of Rabbi Mordechai Meltzer, and the son-in-law of Rabbi Leib the son of the author of the book "Shlomo Simcha", the son of the Gaon Rabbi Simcha of Tiktin. The mother of the author of that book was the daughter of Rabbi Yehuda Eidel, the Head of the Rabbinical Court of Kotzk and Mezirich, who was a grandson of the Rema, Rabbi Moses Isserles. The author of that book was also a grandson of the Ba"ch.

Rabbi Moshe Yakov Zebadia's grandfather, Rabbi Simcha Zebadia, was the son-in-law of Rabbi Gaon Binyomin Zev Troib of Keidan who was a Rabbi in Shavel for a few years around 1815, and lived to be about 80 years old. He was the father-in-law of the Gaon Rabbi Abraham Shimon Troib, Head of the Rabbinical Court of Keidan. He moved to Keidan with his son-in-law.

At the same time as Rabbi Binyomin Zev Ziw, there was a Dayan and Preacher called Rabbi Binyomin Beinish. His daughter Rochel was the mother of the enlightened Shneur Zak"sh. 6

After Rabbi Yankele Shapiro died, Rabbi Yitzchok Aizik Rabinowitz became head rabbi, and his assistant was Rabbi Yankele Benditman, also known as Rabbi Yankele Boisker the son of Rabbi Yehuda the son of the Gaon Rabbi Shmuel Chasid of Rasein. He was previously a rabbi in Neustadt Tavrig. Rabbi Yankele Boisker's grandson, the son of the daughter of Rabbi Yudel Likneitzki, Rabbi in Mitau, the son of Rabbi Shmuel Hertz, Rabbi in Linkova, Zager and afterwards in Mitau, published his grandfather's writings in 1874 under the name "Zichron Yakov".

Rabbi Yankele Boisker was only in Shavel for a few years when he was elected Rabbi of Boisk in 1832, where he remained until his death in 1861. An uncle of his, Reb Boruch Bendet, lived in Shavel. Reb Boruch was a great-great-great grandson of Rabbi Bendet Podkeve.

Rabbi Bentzion Aharon Aron replaced Rabbi Binyomin Zev Troib who had moved to Keidan with his son-in-law. He was the father of Rabbi Bendet Aron and the son-in-law of Rabbi Yakov Baret. He left the rabbinate after several years and died in 1860. 7 Rabbi Yitzchok Aizik was left without an assistant rabbi and he died in 1853, aged 68, having been a rabbi in Shavel for 38 years.

After Rabbi Yitzchok Aizik died in 1853, his place was taken by three rabbis. The first was Rabbi Michoel (Deitsh) Kitay 8 who was born in 1810 in Shavel. He was previously Rabbi in Laizeve and Shavlan. He was also Government Rabbi 9 for some years and received a gold medal for his services. In 1861 during the famous blood libel in Shavlan he did his best to help the Jewish community. He died in 1884. His son, Rabbi Mordechai Deitsh published a small volume of his father's writings entitled "Rav Malchia" in Jerusalem in 1905. Rabbi Michoel was a grandson of Rabbi Michoel the son of Rabbi Boruch Deitsh who lived in Tilzit. Rabbi Michoel the grandfather was a son-in-law of Rabbi Tzemach Su"d in Keidan. 10 His wife, Sheine Rivka, died in 1855.

The second rabbi was Rabbi Eliezer Luntz, the son of Reb Zev, the son of Rabbi Getzel the son of the Gaon Rabbi Yechezkel Luntz. He was previously Rabbi in Tzitvian and taught in Shavel for 40 years. His brother was Reb Yehuda Leib Luntz, the author of "Kovetz Shoshanim" and "Geulah Yeshuah". He died aged 80 in 1892.

The third rabbi was Rabbi Gaon Chaim Rabinowitz, son of Rabbi Yitzchok Aizik, who died aged 45 in 1876. His son-in-law was Rabbi Moshe Tzvi Ordman.

When Rabbi Michoel Kitai died, Abraham Abba Abelson was elected government rabbi in his place. However, he did not keep proper registers of marriages and divorces and only kept registers of births and deaths of girls and first born sons. He often did not record the births of daughters at all and was known for his carelessness in recording details of males, where he would record dates of birth where dates of death should have been and vice versa, and list girls as boys. Twenty years later the authorities would call the boy up for army service and fine his parents for non-appearance. Their claim that their child was a girl was ineffectual when the official register said that he was a boy! 11

After Abraham Abba Abelson died, Rabbi Aharon Leib Heller was chosen as government rabbi. He was the son of Rabbi Abraham Heller, the son of Rabbi Gaon Yechiel Heller. Rabbi Yechiel Heller, who was Head of the Rabbinical Court of Suwalk and other communities, died in 1862 aged 47. Rabbi Abraham Heller was Rabbi in Hozenput until 1881 and then was a Rabbi in Libau. He died in 1923. In 1938 Rabbi Aharon Leib Heller was Director of the Merchant's Bank in Shavel and head of the Zionists. He was murdered in Dachau in 1944.

Also, after the death of Rabbi Michoel Kitai, Rabbi Gaon Shimon Sheima Lurie was appointed in 1884 in his place as Rabbi. Rabbi Sheima Luria, born in approximately 1837, was a great-grandson of the daughter of Rabbi Getzel, son of Rabbi Yechezkel Luntz. He was also related to Rabbi Yosef Zechariah Shtern. His wife was a descendant of Rabbi Abram, brother of the Vilna Gaon. 12 He was previously Rabbi for many years in Yelok, and was very respected by his fellow Jews. He was a wise man of intellect and a wonderful memory. He died in 1909 in Shavel. 13 He was survived by three sons, one daughter and 22 grandchildren, most of whom were residing in and around Boston, USA.

In 1862 a new Head of the Rabbinical Court was appointed, Rabbi Yosef Zecharya Stern. 14 He was born in 1831 in Vladislava (Neishtat Kurdiko) and was the son of Noson HaCharif 15. He wrote his book "Zecher Yosef" at age 18, which made a great impression and gained him recognition as a great rabbi. His second wife was the daughter of Rabbi Gaon Mordechai Gimpel of Rozinoi. Rabbi Gimpel was the son of Rabbi Dov Ber Yafe who was known as Rabbi Berl Karelitzer, Rabbi of Rozenoi. In 1888 Rabbi Gimpel emigrated to the Land of Israel and died in 1892. Rabbi Yosef Zechariah has been described as "one of the greatest geniuses of his generation, whose brilliance still surprises scholars who study his works". 16

The writer, Yehuda Leib Gordon, who taught secular subjects in Shavel for five or six years, was a great opponent of Rabbi Yosef Zechariah. In his well-known Hebrew poem, "Kotzo shel Yod" (the point on top of the Hebrew letter Yod, alluding to something very unimportant), he described Rabbi Yosef Zechariah as a religious zealot and pious fanatic. This was part of the general "war" between religious and "enlightened" writers. Shimon Cohen, who knew Rabbi Yosef Zechariah well, writes that actually he was not a zealot and fanatic. 17

Rabbi Yosef Zechariah canceled the old custom of "Tashlich", when the Jews, at the beginning of the year, would symbolically cast all their sins from the whole year into the river. He was a "lover of Zion", and (unlike other rabbi's of his time) would only use Carmel wines (from the Land of Israel) for kiddush and havdalah. His son-in-law, Rabbi Yakov Dovid Rapoport 18, born in 1862, was Rabbi in Rabinishok and in 1896 became Head of the Rabbinical Court of Zeimel. In 1926 he emigrated to Kfar Saba in Palestine. He died in 1928. Another son-in-law, Rabbi Osher Nison Lewitan was a rabbi in Shavel and then emigrated to the United States. Rabbi Yosef Zechariah died the day after Yom Kippur, 1903, aged 73. His genealogy is recorded in "HaLevanon", year six, issue 26. 19

About a year after his death, Rabbi Meir Atlas 20 was chosen to fill his place. He was born in 1848 in Baisagola and in 1881 was a founder of the Telz Yeshiva. He was Rabbi in Libau, Salant and Kobrin. His brother was Rabbi Eliezer Atlas. According to Shimon Cohen, he did not interfere with the business of the city, but no large or small decision was taken in the city without asking his opinion. 21 His son-in-law, the Gaon Rabbi Elchanan Wasserman, 22 sometimes took his father-in-laws place. He was later rabbi in Baranowitch. Another son-in-law, who lived in Shavel, was Rabbi Yudel Kahana Shapiro, the son of Rabbi Zalman Sender Kahana Shapiro of Krinika. 23 Rabbi Meir Atlas died in 1926.

Rabbi Meir Atlas's assistant was Rabbi Avraham Yitzchok Nachumovski born in 1887. of whom Shimon Cohen writes that for every poor and depressed person who turned to him for help, Rabbi Nachumovski would not rest quietly until he has fulfilled their request with much joy. He was murdered in Shavel in 1941.

Rabbi Aharon Bakst, who was born in Ivye in 1867 was the last rabbi of Shavel. He was previously Rabbi in Baisagola, Semiatitz, Tzaritzin and then in Poltave during the First World War, Seduva, and Suwalk. He came to Shavel in 1930. He was killed in the Holocaust together with his son-in-law, Rabbi Aizik Rabinowitz of Telz.


[1]. Kagan, p580. "Yahadut Lita" states incorrectly that Shaul Luria was Rabbi in Shavlan, not Shavel. "Lithuanian Jewish Communities", follows this mistake.

[2]. But see Cohen, p16, where in a footnote Shimon Cohen writes that in the book "Mayin Ganim" by Rabbi Moshe Yakov Zebadia it is stated that Rabbi Moshe Luntz's brother, Rabbi Hirshele Luntz was a son-in-law of Rabbi Leibele Ziw. Either they married sisters, or they are confused in the sources.

[3]. Cohen.

[4]. Y. Lewinshtein, "Dor veDor veDoreshav", Warsaw 1914, page 96, as quoted in Kagan.

[5]. Introduction to "Mayan Ganim", Yakov Zebadia, Petersburg 1914, cited by Kagan.

[6]. Kagan, p580.

[7]. Cohen.

[8]. According to Richard Plotz of Providence, Rhode Island, his grandmother's uncle (by marriage) was Herman Kitay (1867-1958) from Shavel. Herman Kitay remembered that Richard Plotz's Great-grandfather, Moshe Plotz (1830-1901) was a magistrate in Shavel. However, Richard Plotz believes that his grandfather, son of Moshe Plotz, was born in Kalvaria. Herman Kitay's youngest daughter, Naomi, married Jesse Greenstein, professor emeritus of astronomy at Caltech.

[9]. During the reign of Tsar Alexander the First rabbis were appointed to keep registers of births, marriages, divorces and deaths, to swear in Jewish recruits to the Russian army and to be witnesses in the local courts. They were chosen by the communities and confirmed ny the government and regarded as civil servants.

[10]. Kagan, p582.

[11]. Cohen

[12]. Obituary in "The Jewish Advocate", Boston, December 3, 1909, as reported by his great-great granddaughter, Bubbles Segall of Darwin, Australia in a post to the soc.genealogy.Jewish newsgroup on the internet.

[13]. Cohen, p20.

[14]. Otzar Harabonim #8783

[15]. Otzar Harabonim #16363. He was the son of Rabbi Yosef Yanover (#8348) who died in Pinsk in 1825.

[16]. Oshri, p247.

[17]. Cohen, p22.

[18]. Otzar Harabanim #10035.

[19]. The writings of Rabbi Yosef Zecharia Stern have been catalogued, transcribed and edited by David Shapiro of Jerusalem for Machon Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Institute of Talmudic Research).

[20]. Otzar Harabbonim #12756.

[21]. Cohen, p22.

[22]. Otzar HaRabbonim #2024.

[23]. A letter from him to his father was found by David Shapiro of Jewusaem and pubished in the first volume of his fathers writings, Chidushei Hagrazas - Kodoshim, by Machon Yerushalayim.

Copyright@1997 Jeffrey Maynard. This material may not be used for commercial purposes.