Photo Credit: Israel Mizrahi

This past week I acquired a full unpublished manuscript of a sefer, authored by R. Tuvya Yehuda Guttentag (1882-1953) (later he Hebraicized his last name to Tavyomi). Other than the main subject of this sefer – brilliant commentary on the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides – the volume’s pages were filled by the author with various other content, which I found most fascinating.

Born in 1882 in Rypin, Poland, his father was a local Rabbi, Alexander Tzvi Guttentag. From age 15, he studied under R. Avrohom Bornsztain, the Avne Nezer, becoming his devout disciple. At age 20, he received Semicha from R. Yitzchak Feigenbaum and R. Yechezkel Libshutz. By 1910, he was appointed Rabbi of the city of Sochochin, a position he served until his Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael in 1935. Upon arrival in Israel, he refused to accept a rabbinic position, rather supporting his family with a small grocery that his wife managed. Despite being very active in Agudat Israel in Poland, he was at the same time a staunch religious Zionist and wrote tirelessly under various pseudonyms in the press of the day, defending the positions of religious Zionists. During the Holocaust, he anonymously published a sharp response to the words of his long-time friend, the Ger Rebbe, and his approach to the Holocaust. He attacked the Ger Rebbe for abandoning his Chassidim in Poland, nearly all of whom perished, and for insisting on guiding the rescue efforts exclusively via Agudat Yisrael rather than join forces with the Mizrahi movement. R. Tuvyumi’s response to the founding of the state of Israel was a complex combination of belief that it is a miraculous event, a beginning of the final redemption but still very much not a complete redemption until the country is redeemed from foreign influences in spirit.


This manuscript, written beautifully and in clear script, contains firstly his commentary on various portions of the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, dated between 1914-1927. This is followed by some halachic discussions, one being a case that occurred in his town of Sochochin, where he discusses the obligation of burial for a fetus whom died during delivery. Another halachic discussion is addressed to R. Yehoshua Mordechai Zuckerkorn, whom together with Rabbi Avraham Green, the elder brother of David Ben-Gurion (and the only one of the Ben-Gurion siblings to be religious) founded the Mizrahi movement in Polonsk.

At the end of the volume appear several pages of detailed records and calculations relating to the publication of another of R. Tavyumi’s works, Eretz Tovah, printed in Eretz Yisrael in 1947. In an era of printing very much different than just a few decades later, the records indicate the great complexity involved in typesetting and printing books before the advancement of printing technology. The breakdown of the prices included separate costs for the paper, printing, bindings, proofreading, transport, binding string, packaging and postage. On a separate page, the printer wrote a record for each partial payment the author gave for the publishing cost. The following page we find a record of each segment of the book that was received by the author. Rather than receiving a full bound volume upon completing the printing, R. Tavyumi received each signature of the book as it was printed, over a period of many months.

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Israel Mizrahi is the owner of Mizrahi Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY, and He can be reached at [email protected].