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July 30, 2016 / 24 Tammuz, 5776

Posts Tagged ‘Lithuania’

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.

JTA

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.

Prof. Livia Bitton-Jackson

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.

Malkah Fleisher

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

Shmuel Holczer

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.

 

Dr. Yitzchok Levine

Renaissance Rabbi

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

This essay is largely based on the book Ish Yehudi by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who over the years has served as mashgiach and rebbi at a number of Torah institutions.

The term “Renaissance man” is used to describe a person who excels in a wide variety of subjects or fields. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s biography of his father, Rav Dr. Yoseph (Joseph) Tzvi Carlebach (1883-1942), provides fascinating information about the life of a man who deserves to be described as a Renaissance rabbi.

In Ish Yehudi (Shearith Joseph Publications, 2008) a book richly adorned with photographs and documents depicting personalities and places of historical significance in pre-Holocaust Europe, the reader learns about an extraordinary man who was the respected rav of a number of prestigious communities in pre-World War II Germany, a towering Torah scholar, a talented orator, a dynamic educator, a prolific writer, an intellectual who earned a Ph.D. in mathematics and philosophy from Heidelberg University, an expert in astronomy, a scientist, a connoisseur of the arts and humanities, and so much more.

When it came to acquiring knowledge, Rabbi Joseph Tzvi Carlebach was never satisfied.

* * *

Joseph Carlebach was born on January 30, 1883 in Luebeck, Germany, where his father, Dr. Salomon Carlebach, served as rav from 1870 to 1919. Joseph’s father was a talmid chacham and an outstanding orator.

Joseph obtained his early Torah education at home from his father and from Rabbi Mordechai Gumpel (a disciple of Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger, the renowned chief rabbi of Altona and author of Aruch Laner), whom his father employed as a tutor for the Carlebach children.

At the age of 18 Joseph went to Berlin to study Torah at the rabbinical seminary founded by Rabbi Dr. Ezriel Hildesheimer. Simultaneously he attended the University of Berlin, where his studies focused on mathematics, physics, chemistry, astronomy and philosophy.

While at the university, Joseph came into close contact with the world-famous physicist Max von Planck, in whose laboratory he worked, as well as with the (then well-known) astronomer Friedrich Wilhelm Foerster and Wilhelm Dilthey, a respected historian, psychologist, sociologist and philosopher.

Joseph also somehow found time to be an instructor at the religious school of Adas Yisroel Congregation.

Despite his extensive secular studies, Joseph never failed to devote several hours each day to Torah study. The Jewish community of Berlin was blessed with many unique men who left an indelible impression on young Joseph, among them such Torah luminaries as Rabbis David Tzvi Hoffman, Joseph Wohlgemuth, Jacob Barth and Ezra Munk.

Jerusalem Years

Joseph passed his state examination in March 1905, graduating summa cum laude. He was now qualified for a high school teacher’s diploma in mathematics and natural sciences.

Ephraim Cohn, principal of the Laemel Teachers’ Seminary of Jerusalem, happened to be in Berlin when Joseph received his diploma. He had come to hire an instructor in mathematics and natural sciences for his institution, and an Orthodox young man, with a diploma from Berlin University in these subjects, was exactly what he needed. He offered Joseph the position.

Joseph had some qualms about accepting the job, since Jerusalem at the time was embroiled in a battle regarding the teaching of secular subjects in Jewish schools. Indeed, a ban had been signed by many of the most prominent Jerusalem rabbonim forbidding anyone from teaching secular subjects in Jewish schools. Those who did risked being put in cherem.

Joseph turned to his father for advice. After consulting with a number of Torah authorities, his father sent him a letter urging him to go. In addition, the faculty of the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary unanimously encouraged him to accept this position.

Thus it was mathematics and science that brought Joseph to Jerusalem in 1905 at the age of 22. The time he spent there was to shape his entire outlook and give his worldview a new horizon.

During his three-year stay in Jerusalem, Joseph was befriended by the chief rabbi, Rav Shmuel Salant, who made Joseph feel welcome both at his shiurim and in his home. Interestingly enough, Rav Salant was one of the signers of the secular studies ban, but he apparently put that aside when it came to his relationship with Joseph.

Joseph met a number of other distinguished rabbis, among them Rav Avraham Yitzchok Kook, who in 1921 would become the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine.

While in Eretz Yisrael, Joseph acquired a good working knowledge of both Hebrew and Yiddish.

The students at the Laemel School soon realized their instructor was a man of unusual talents and methods. In addition to his dynamic classroom presentations, he would take his students for excursions around the environs of Jerusalem. They soon discovered he knew the name of every star in the sky and every plant and shrub on earth.

He knew the hiding places of the animals and would show his students how they lived and fed. He would explain how clouds were formed and he even forecast the weather. When they came upon a historic site, he would dramatize the events that had occurred there.

Furthermore, while walking he had the boys sing songs praising God for the beauty of this world and His abundance.

In 1908, when the time came for Joseph to return home to Germany, the most prominent rabbonim of Jerusalem expressed their deep appreciation for his work with their youth. Indeed, Rav Salant tried to persuade him to marry while he was in Germany and then return to Eretz Yisrael.

Back to Berlin

Shortly after returning to Berlin, Joseph was hired as an instructor for mathematics and the natural sciences at the prestigious (secular) Margareten High School for Girls. His selection for the position was a testament to his qualifications – no Jew had ever held such a post at the school, and Joseph was of course an Orthodox Jew who would be absent from classes on Shabbosim and Jewish holidays.

At the same time he assumed his former position as a rebbe in the Adas Yisroel School and also attended the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary. This was not enough, however, to fill the time of the industrious young man, so, from 1908 to 1910 he worked as well on his doctoral dissertation. His thesis focused on the scientific and mathematical achievements of Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (1288-1344), known as the Ralbag or Gersonides.

In 1919 Joseph married Lotte Preuss, the oldest daughter of Dr. Yitzchok (Julius) Preuss, a physician and scholar of history and Hebrew literature. Dr. Preuss’s Biblical and Talmudical Medicine was an encyclopedic work that reviewed every medical reference in Tanach, the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud, the Midrash, and ancillary works.

During this period Joseph received semicha from Rabbi Dr. David Hoffmann, rector of the Hildesheimer Rabbinical Seminary and author of halachic responsa Melamed Leho’il as well as a number of commentaries refuting the criticisms of those who questioned the historicity of the Torah.

Joseph was now known as Rabbiner Doktor Yosef Carlebach.

Rabbi and Innovative Educator

World War I began in 1914. Serving in the German army, Rav Carlebach was charged by the German Occupation Authority in Lithuania with organizing a secondary school system. After consultations with some of Lithuania’s foremost Torah scholars and with their agreement, he founded a high school based on the principles of Torah im Derech Eretz (TIDE) that featured both Torah and secular studies in the curriculum.

The language of instruction in the Carlebach Gymnasium in Kovno (as this high school came to be known) was not Yiddish or German but modern Hebrew. Within three years the separate boys and girls schools had a combined enrollment of almost a thousand students. Two other TIDE high schools were established in Telshe and Ponevezh within a short time.

(TIDE elementary schools were also set up throughout Lithuania where they were known as Yavneh schools.)

When Rabbi Dr. Salomon Carlebach of Luebeck passed away suddenly in early 1919, Rav Yoseph was offered his father’s position. He did not know what to do in light of the fact that many of the leading rabbis of Lithuania were urging him to continue his work there. His mother pleaded with him to return to Luebeck, and her own sudden passing not long after his father’s death clinched his decision. He became the rav of the city of his birth.

In order to raise the level of Torah study in his hometown, Rav Yosef convinced Rabbi Shmuel Joseph Rabinow to settle in Luebeck. Rabbi Rabinow was an outstanding young talmid chacham who had studied at the famed Slabodka Yeshiva in Kovno. These two rabbonim laid the foundations for an advanced yeshiva in Luebeck that eventually attracted a number of outstanding students.

(When Rav Carlebach moved some years later to Hamburg to become the city’s chief rabbi, both the yeshiva and Rabbi Rabinow also relocated there.)

Final Years in Hamburg

In 1922 Rav Yoseph was offered the position of director of Hamburg’s Talmud Torah Real Gymnasium. This school had been started in 1805 by Rabbi Mendel Frankfurter, a grandfather of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch.

Here Rav Joseph’s full talents as a forward-thinking educator and administrator shone. Hebrew language and grammar were introduced as major subjects, as well as Hebrew literature, with special emphasis on the medieval poets and philosophers. New physics and chemistry laboratories were built. He himself gave a course in the history of the fine arts to the students in the highest grade. He was also concerned with the physical fitness of his students and made participation in swimming and outdoor sports compulsory.

One of his boldest innovations was the one- or two-week excursion to distant parts of the country. Day outings had been part of the school curriculum in the past, but Rav Carlebach took this idea to new heights. On these trips students visited museums and historical sites and were introduced to the geological and biological characteristics of the countryside.

Furthermore, each day on these excursions started and ended with physical exercise. If there was a river nearby, the day began and ended with a swim.

His students enjoyed his classes to the extent that one former student recalled, “We used to turn the clock back ten or fifteen minutes so that his classes would last longer!”

In 1926 Rav Carlebach became chief rabbi of Altona, one of Germany’s oldest and most venerated kehillos. It was here that his extraordinary oratorical powers became known to thousands. In fact, he soon acquired the reputation of being the foremost rabbinical orator in all of Germany.

Blessed with a strong, clear voice, he incorporated his many artistic talents into his delivery. His fluent use of words was enhanced by a style of delivery that employed appropriate arm, hand, and body movements coupled with relevant facial expressions.

He never, however, misused his talents for cheap or demagogic oratory, nor did he ever give an interpretation of a biblical or Talmudic text that was either forced or artificial. He had the rare ability to speak in a manner that enlightened both learned scholars and ordinary congregants. His sermons were always a stirring experience for those who heard them, and his remarks were often the main topic of conversation on Shabbosafternoons.

Rav Carlebach also somehow found the time to publish hundreds of scholarly articles on a myriad of subjects from rabbinics to mathematics, the humanities and the arts.

On April 4, 1936 Rav Carlebach became chief rabbi of the Synagoge-Verband (Synagogue Association), in the Bornplatz Synagogue. Fourteen other rabbis, more than two hundred guests of honor, and 1,500 others attended his installation ceremony.

Despite the growing threats to Jewish life from the Nazis, Rav Carlebach refused to abandon his flock even when he had several opportunities to do so. A contemporary (name unknown) of Dr. Carlebach’s described his role as chief rabbi of Hamburg:

His sermons were masterpieces of diplomacy and wisdom in the face of the increasing focus of the Gestapo. The Gestapo had frequently attended the synagogue over the years. Those who were attentive enough heard with admiration, and also often with fear, how he castigated the current situation, without provoking intervention by the Gestapo. . . .

When numerous community members were arrested in connection with the Pogrom Night of 9/10 November 1938, he asked to share their fate. The Gestapo refused as there was no order to arrest him.

The years 1936 to his deportation to Riga on December 6, 1941 became legendary. The Nazi persecution of the Jews made the Jewish community into one large family, with Dr. Joseph Carlebach as its “pater familias.” He was its courageous spokesman and its tireless religious leader: he visited civil service departments, prisons, concentration camps, and hospitals, always in danger of being insulted and thrown out, but never lost the least of his dignity.

As for Rav Carlebach’s last days, the less said the better. Far preferable to remember his brilliance and praise his achievements than to dwell on his martyrdom. Suffice it to say that on March 26, 1942, Rav Carlebach, his wife Lotte, and their three youngest daughters were murdered by the Nazis.

May his memory long be remembered.

(Rav Carlebach’s older children had been part of a Kindertransport to England before the family’s deportation. His youngest son, Rav Shlomo, the author of Ish Yehudi, survived after spending four years in various concentration camps.)

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. His regular feature, Glimpses Into American Jewish History, appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

Dr. Yitzchok Levine

Title: Minhagei Lita: Customs of Lithuanian Jewry

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Title: Minhagei Lita: Customs of Lithuanian Jewry

Author: Rabbi Menachem Mendel Poliakoff

 

 

“We should practice Judaism just as they did in Europe” is a sentiment one is likely to hear in haredi and yeshivish communities. “We shouldn’t act any differently just because we’re in America.”

 

            And yet, according to a recently published book by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Poliakoff – a nonagenarian Baltimore rabbi who studied in Lithuania’s Telshe yeshiva for eight years in the 1930s – yeshivish batei midrash and communities constantly and consistently deviate from pre-war European tradition.

 

For instance, on page 63 of Minhagei Lita: Customs of Lithuanian Jewry, Rabbi Poliakoff writes, “No one in Lithuania wore his tzitzis hanging out as people do today – not even the Rabbonim, not even in Radin.” A few pages earlier, he claims, “the term ‘glatt kosher’ did not even exist in Lithuania. Meat was either kosher or non-kosher, which, of course, is the correct approach.”

 

The annihilation and displacement of Lithuanian Jewry during World War II, writes Rabbi Poliakoff, essentially ruptured the natural chain of parental and communal tradition, or mesorah, by which Jews historically derived their behavior and mores. And in the “absence of established tradition, the Rabbis turned to the Mishnah Berurah as their guide on the assumption the Chafetz Chaim’s decisions were in accord with the generally-accepted Lithuanian customs. Unfortunately, this is not so.”

 

Among other common contemporary customs that Rabbi Poliakoff attacks are: repeating the word “zeicher” in Parshas Zachor (“in the Telshe Yeshiva or anywhere else in Lithuania they did not repeat it”); holding upsherns (“[it’s] absolutely a violation of halachah, as it is chukos hagoyim and should be discontinued”); collecting tzedakah during davening (“this utter distraction [is] even more unpardonable when these people pose as pious scholars, while disturbing peoples’ prayer”); and starting Kaddish by saying “Yisgadeil v’yiskadeish” instead of “Yisgadal v’yiskadash” in accordance with the Vilna Gaon’s opinion (“no one in Lithuania – not even in Vilna – accepted this innovation”).

 

Rabbi Poliakoff particularly detests people “parading piety.” He writes: “One of the few survivors of Kelm sadly remarked to me some forty years ago, ‘You are a Lithuanian Jew – you call this Yiddishkeit? Where is the admonition of the Prophets to walk humbly with G-d?’ He was right.”

 

With this story in mind, it should come as no surprise that Rabbi Poliakoff derides the “chumrah culture” as well, arguing that “the Sages frowned upon following unusually rigorous practices unless they are in character with the one performing them – and even then only if they did not adversely affect others.” Therefore, for example, he argues that the practice of eating glatt kosher exclusively is wrong, not only because it deviates from Lithuanian practice, but also because it violates the principles of “avoiding excessive strictness” and “imposing needless expenses upon the community.”

 

All this criticism may sound a bit much, and indeed surprising, coming from a Telshe alumnus. One perhaps would expect such condemnation from a Yeshiva University professor, not a rabbi with a black hat and white beard. However, Rabbi Poliakoff’s take-no-prisoner attitude proceeds directly from his stated purpose in writing Minhagei Lita: preserving Lithuanian customs as he remembers them.

 

And so, aside from “hot-button” issues, Rabbi Poliakoff also spends tens of pages recording the Lithuanian nusach hatefillah, bemoaning that so few today remember the proper tunes for the different parts of davening – especially on such occasions as Shabbos Chol HaMoed and Shabbos Rosh Chodesh.

 

The biggest surprise of this slim book comes in the last 25 pages, where Rabbi Poliakoff addresses – based on the principle of “the Torah’s ways are pleasant,” which he says characterized the Lithuanian approach to halacha – the longstanding agunah problem and complaints regarding the second day of Yom Tov, which Jews outside Israel celebrate.

 

Both of Rabbi Poliakoff’s suggestions are broad in scope – annul marriages when necessary, abrogate the second day on Yom Tov entirely – but skimpy on the details. And despite Rabbi Poliakoff’s caveat that only a central or main beis din supported by the world’s greatest rabbis can implement his suggestions, many readers will likely raise their eyebrows when reading this rather radical section, which has echoes of Rabbi Emanuel Rackman’s controversial beis din and the Reform movement’s 19th-century innovations.

 

Nonetheless, at 116 pages, Minhagei Lita is a pleasure to read. Engaging and informative, the book offers a unique view of Lithuanian Judaism through the eyes of one of the few remaining people alive who experienced it firsthand.

 

To order “Minhagei Lita” call 410-358-5557. 

Elliot Resnick

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/books//2009/08/05/

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