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September 23, 2014 / 28 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Lithuania’

Lithuania’s Support of Ritual Slaughter May Turn the Tide

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

The Lithuanian parliament has taken the first steps to legal ritual slaughter in what could be move that turns the tide against the wave of initiatives in Europe to defend the “rights of animals” as a higher priority that freedom of religious practices.

“The fact that Lithuania currently holds the Presidency of the European Union means that this law will have an extremely strong symbolic significance for the rest of Europe,” said Jewish Congress president Dr. Moshe Kantor.

The bill passed its first reading in the parliament by a lopsided margin of 51-2.

Religious slaughter was banned in Poland on January 1 after its Constitutional Court deemed it incompatible with animal rights legislation, and there have been other attempts in Europe to ban religious traditions like circumcision.

“We face significant opposition to our traditions in Europe, but we are glad to be winning some significant victories for freedom of religion on our continent,” Kantor said. “Freedom of religion is one of the EU’s founding pillars and those who fight against it are compromising the principles of tolerance and mutual respect which the new Europe is supposed to be built upon.”

Peres Flying to Lithuania, Will Thank Blacklisting Hezbollah

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

President Shimon Peres is flying  on Sunday to Latvia and Lithuania, temporary president of the European Union whom he will thank the European Union for blacklisting the Hezbollah military wing as a terrorist organization. The EU decision does not affect the Hezbollah political party, which gives orders to the branch.

He will return just in time to celebrate the English date for his 90th birthday in Friday. His Hebrew birthday was on Shabbat.

President Peres will attend memorial ceremonies in Ponar, Lithuania, where nearly 100,000 Jews were killed during the  Holocaust, and in Riga, Latvia, where Nazi soldiers slaughtered 25,000 Jews.

 

 

Anti-Semitic Slogans Found near Nazi Work Camp in Lithuania

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Lithuanian police said they discovered Nazi slogans drawn on a former concentration camp after Adolf Hitler’s birth date.

The slogans “Heil Hitler,” “Jews out” in German and a swastika were scrawled on the pavement near the HKP 562 labor camp in Vilnius, Evelina Pagounis of the Vilnius police told the French news agency AFP.

The graffiti was discovered on Tuesday, two days after Hitler’s 124th birthday.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius stated, “It is especially horrific that these anti-Semitic slogans appeared near two historically sensitive sites for the Jewish nation.”

The work camp also is situated near an area where Nazis selected which Jews would be sent to work and which to death.

Miriam Ben-Porat: A Woman of ‘Firsts’

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Miriam Scheinsohn was born on April 26, 1918, in Vitebsk (Belorussia), the youngest of eight children (she had three sisters and four brothers). Soon after Miriam’s birth the family moved to Kovno (Kaunas) in Lithuania, where her parents owned a textile factory.

After finishing high school in Kovno in 1936, she immigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine by herself; siblings Binyamin, Reuven and Bella soon followed her. Her brother Shimon managed to escape to Russia and her sister Rachel, to South Africa. Her parents, Chayah and Eliezer Scheinsohn and her brother Pinchas were murdered by the Germans in Lithuania in 1941.

A year after arriving in Palestine, the determined young girl from Lithuania enrolled at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem – “the first female law student at the university.” By February 1945 Miriam Scheinsohn had completed her internship and received her lawyer’s license becoming “the first woman lawyer in the Eretz Yisrael.”

A year later she met and married a fellow Eatern European immigrant, a Polish-born manufacturer, Yosef Rubinstein. They later changed their name to Ben-Porat.

In 1955 Deputy State Attorney Ben-Porat – “the first woman in this position”- became a mother — to daughter Ronit, now a mother of three.

In 1959 Ben-Porat was appointed as a judge in the Jerusalem District Court – another first. In 1975, she became the President of the Jerusalem District Court. From 1964 through 1978, she was also a professor at the Hebrew University, specializing in contracts and commercial notes. She was the only faculty member without a doctorate.

In 1977, she became “the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court.” In 1988, upon reaching the retirement age for judges, she was elected by the Knesset to be the State Comptroller. She was the first woman to serve in this position as well. After five years, she was reelected.

Upon her retirement from the Supreme Court in 1988, Ben-Porat was appointed State Comptroller and Ombudsman for Public Complaints—a position in which she was again the first woman—and she filled this role in a dynamic and innovative manner. She significantly changed the office’s modus operandi replacing scrutiny of government action after the event with preemptive reports and measures intended to prevent improper governmental behavior before it occurred. One example of such action was her report during the Gulf War (1991) about gas masks not fitting the faces of many inhabitants. As a result, they were replaced.

On July 4, 1998, she retired from her position as State Comptroller, although she stayed involved in public activity and writing. She is the author of a variety of articles published in legal journals, of a book on state comptrol (An Interpretation of the Basic Law: State Comptroller, 1998 [2005]), and a commentary on the law of assignment. She remained active in public causes, such as the battle against the destruction of antiquities on the Temple Mount. In 1991 Ben-Porat received the Israel Prize, the country’s most distinguished award, for her special contribution to the State.

On July 27, 2012, Miriam Scheinsohn Ben-Porat, a woman who paved the way, a woman of milestones – of firsts — died at the age of 94.

Lithuania Passes $50 Million Holocaust Compensation Package

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

This April, 70 years since the Nazi invasion on Lithuania destroyed the 800-year connection of the country with the Jewish people, a $50 million package was passed to compensate Jewish families whose property was stolen during the Holocaust, according to a report by JTA.

Though Jewish groups call the move a milestone for Lithuanian-Jewish relations, some say Lithuania has never taken responsibility for its role in the Holocaust.

Before World War II, the Lithuanian Jewish population was approximately 160,000, about 7% of the total population with Vilna’s population of nearly 100,000, comprising about 45% of the city’s total population.

Today, only about 3,000 Jews live in Lithuania.

Title: For the Love of Torah – Stories and Insights of Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel

Friday, April 6th, 2012

Title: For the Love of Torah – Stories and Insights of Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel
Author: Rabbi Hanoch Teller

Publisher: Feldheim

This book is very riveting. It is a comprehensive biography of the Mirrer Rosh Yeshivah, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zt’l. It starts out telling us about the Mirrer Yeshiva escaping to Shanghai from Lithuania during World War II because of the invading Germans. It then describes Rabbi Finkel’s family, and then Rabbi Finkel himself. It is important for young adults to see our gedolim as role models, and Rabbi Teller’s biography provides just that. Also, Rabbi Finkel is a relatable role model, because he grew up as a typical American Jewish kid.

Rabbi Finkel was born in Adar 1943 in Chicago. At that time, Chicago’s Jews were greatly exposed to the secular world. Rabbi Finkel even followed baseball as a kid. He was also very popular amongst his friends. His great-uncle, Rabbi Lazer Yudel Finkel, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Yerushalayim at that time, made sure he would learn there. Many of Nosson Tzvi’s relatives worked in the school’s administration. He learned with many prestigious chavrusos, one of them being Rav Chaim Kamil. During his years at the Mir, Nosson Tzvi always went to Rav Lazer Yudel for advice. He married Rav Lazer Yudel’s granddaughter when he was 20 years old. Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel worked hard, and eventually became the rosh yeshiva of Mir, influencing thousands of students, including two of my uncles.

The book is filled with anecdotes about Rabbi Finkel’s life. Many of the stories show Rabbi Finkel’s amazing displays of ahavas yisroel. One such story took place during an air raid warning in the first Gulf War, when students were in a sealed room in the yeshiva. Rabbi Finkel braved the dangerous streets to be with them. I also enjoyed reading about his fundraising skills.

We can see from this book how talented of a writer Rabbi Teller is. He often makes comments within parentheses that add humor to the stories. If you were wondering how Rabbi Teller was able to author such a detailed biography so soon after Rabbi Finkel’s petira, it was because he was a close talmid of Rabbi Finkel, and he knew many people who could provide first-hand stories and information.

I would recommend For the Love of Torah to adults and older children who like biographies of gedolim.

Shmuel Holczer is a seventh grader. He is an avid reader of interesting books. He can be reached at magazine@jewishpress.com

The Controversial Mordecai Moses Mordecai

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Introduction1
 
   The first ordained rabbi to settle in America, Abraham Rice did not arrive here until 1840. Before then, few men with anything more than a rudimentary Torah knowledge resided in America. One exception was Mordecai Moses Mordecai.
 
   “Mordecai Moses Mordecai was born on January 16, 1727, in the Lithuanian town of Tels [also written Telz, Telshi]. His father was evidently a rabbi, Moses, son of Mordecai. The majority of Jews in Northern Europe had no family names at this period, and were known simply by a patronymic. On his arrival in America, our Mordecai discovered a Moses Mordecai, from Bonn, Germany, residing in eastern Pennsylvania. Probably to avoid confusion, our subject styled himself with his father’s and grandfather’s names as Mordecai Moses Mordecai, usually adding ‘of Telz.’”
 
   At the time Lithuania was one of the major centers of Torah scholarship in the world. Therefore, it is not surprising the Mordecai received a comprehensive Torah education, “but there is no evidence to show that he achieved ordination. On the contrary, he would have signed himself ‘Rabbi’ had he been so entitled. He left his birthplace in northwestern Lithuania to become the first known Jew from his area to arrive in North America.”
 
   In 1760 Mordecai married Zipporah de Lyon of Easton, Pennsylvania. Zipporah’s father, Abraham de Lyon, and grandfather, Dr. Samuel Nunez, were among the original Jewish settlers of Savannah, GA. Mordecai and his bride settled in Lancaster and lived there for about ten years. However, by 1770 they had taken up residence in Baltimore. Mordecai became a distiller, but apparently was not particularly successful in this endeavor. 
 
   “By 1782, the British raids on the coastal cities had caused many patriot citizens [among them the Mordecais] to flee to Philadelphia for safety. The city’s Jewish population was enlarged by refugees from Newport, New York, Baltimore, Charleston and Savannah. A long-deferred project came to fruition when thirty-six heads of families signed themselves as agreeable to building a synagogue [which was named Congregation Mikveh Israel]. Mordecai M. Mordecai was among the signers.
 
   “At long last his rabbinic training could be put to use. He was assigned the important task of writing letters in Hebrew to the more established Sephardic synagogues of London and Amsterdam for approval of the architectural design, since this had ritual significance. Mordecai also penned a Hebrew letter to the thriving congregation in Paramaribo, Surinam, seeking a contribution. The overall appeal brought contributions from sixty-one individuals.
 
   “Mordecai must have been elated when he was chosen by the congregation as one of three experts in traditional Jewish law to rule whether the congregation’s minister, Rev. Gershom Mendes Seixas, might perform a marriage between Jacob I. Cohen and the widow of the above-mentioned German Moses Mordecai. The problem arose from the fact that the bride-to-be had been born Elizabeth Whitlock, a Christian; and, despite the fact that she had been converted to Judaism in her native England prior to her first marriage, her fianc? was a Cohen.”
 

   Mordecai and another member of this group rightly voted against this marriage, since the Torah prohibits a kohen from marrying a gayarus. Based on this, the congregation’s board of directors forbade their chazzan, Reverend Gershom Seixas, to perform the marriage. Nonetheless, on August 28, 1782 the couple was married without the participation of the chazzan in a ceremony held outside of the synagogue but in the presence of three of the congregation’s leaders. Mordecai took this as a personal affront. “The day before the wedding, Mordecai had received a rude shock when his application to become shammash [sexton, a position requiring some ritual knowledge] found him an unsuccessful candidate.”

 

Confrontations with Congregational

Authorities2
 
   “In 1784 [Mordecai] found himself in trouble with the congregational authorities. A niece of his in Easton, Judith, the daughter of Myer Hart, had fallen in love with a Christian, Lieutenant James Pettigrew, and they had been married by an army chaplain in May 1782, without her father’s knowledge or consent. Thereupon he had closed his door to her, but, with a child on the way, the girl’s mother was anxious to effect a reconciliation between the father and his daughter, so she asked her brother-in-law Mordecai, ‘a man who is well learned in Jewish law,’ to come to Easton to help settle the family problem.
 
   “What happened thereafter became a matter of serious contention. Only one fact was agreed upon – that the father had become reconciled.
 
   “Barnet Levy, also a brother-in-law of Mordecai and a resident of Easton, being in Philadelphia one day, told some members of Mikveh Israel, including the parnass Simon Nathan and Benjamin Nones, that he had been present when Mordecai remarried the couple according to Jewish law, and that he, Levy, had actually signed the ketubah, or marriage contract, as a witness. Mordecai was ordered to appear before a congregational court to answer the charge, and was found guilty of performing an act contrary to Jewish law.”
 
   Mordecai indignantly protested and wrote a letter to the vice president and the Adjunta of the congregation challenging their actions. He gave a number of reasons why he felt that what the congregational court had done was invalid.
 
   However, this was not the only controversy Mordecai was embroiled in with Congregation Mikveh Israel. A certain Benjamin Moses Clava, who was not a member of the congregation, died on March 14, 1785. He had been married to a gentile woman by a Christian minister. Despite this, “a year before, fearing that he was about to die, he called in several Jews and recited the Viddui, or confession of faith. The question was: should he, or could he, be buried according to Jewish custom?
 
   “One group in the congregation at first insisted upon a Din Torah, or legal interpretation, from Holland. But another group, somewhat more realistically, felt that an immediate decision would have to be made. After all, the corpse could not be kept unburied until an answer came from abroad. Consequently, the decision was left up to a panel of experts, consisting of Carpeles, Josephson and Moses D. Nathans. It was their judgment that Clava should be buried in a corner of the cemetery, without ritual washing, without a shroud and without a ceremony.
 
   “In spite of the fact that disobedience to this judgment would bring upon the transgressor exclusion from the religious functions of the synagogue, Mordecai M. Mordecai once again opposed his judgment against that of the congregation. He not only attended the body to the grave, but washed it and clothed it.”
 
   In an attempt to resolve these matters, the congregation sent a letter to Rabbi Saul Lowenstamm of the Ashkenazic Community of Amsterdam, Holland, asking him to rule on the matter. Unfortunately, Rabbi Lowenstamm’s answer, if there was one, has not been preserved.
 
   As a result of these actions Mordecai Moses Mordecai became persona non grata to the power structure of the Jewish community of Philadelphia. No further mention is made of him in the congregational records.
 
   Once the Revolutionary War ended many of the Jews who had come to Philadelphia to escape the British left the city. Mordecai apparently went to Richmond, Virginia, because his name appears on the list of the founders of Richmond’s Congregation Beth Shalome, which was established in 1789. In 1799 Mordecai was residing in Baltimore where he operated a distillery.
 
   “Mordecai had passed his eightieth birthday when on March 4, 1807, he had the joy of performing the marriage of his granddaughter Judith Russell to Isaiah Nathans of Philadelphia. The American Daily Advertiser of Philadelphia calls him ‘Rev. Mordecai M. Mordecai of Richmond, formerly of this city.’
 

   “Mordecai’s death came on January 19, 1809. The Baltimore papers took no note of the event, but The Republic and Savannah Ledger, of Savannah, Georgia, where his son Samuel and several Russell grandchildren were living, in its issue of February 9, 1809, paid him this tribute:

 

     Died at Baltimore on 19th, Mr. Mordecai M. Mordecai aged 83 years, an old and respected inhabitant of that city. This gentleman acquired at an early period of his life the sincere esteem of many of his fellow citizens being one of the patriots who fought and bled in the glorious struggle for the independence of this country. In a private capacity Mr. Mordecai distinguished himself as a tender husband, fond father, and faithful friend. He has left 26 children and Grand children and many acquaintances mourn his loss.”3

 

1 All quotes in this section and the next are from “Two Jewish Functionaries in Colonial Pennsylvania” by Malcolm H. Stern, American Jewish Historical Quarterly (1961-1978); September 1967-June 1968; 57, AJHS Journal. This article is available online at www.ajhs.org/scholarship/adaje.cfm.
 
2 All quotes in this section are from The History of the Jews of Philadelphia from Colonial Times to the Age of Jackson by Edwin Wolf and Maxwell Whiteman, The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1957, pages 128-131 unless otherwise noted.
 
3 “Two Jewish Functionaries in Colonial Pennsylvania.
 
 

   Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

 

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/the-controversial-mordecai-moses-mordecai/2011/02/02/

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