When one envisions a great Talmudic and Halakhist of the pre-war era, one generally does not think of the American Midwest. An important work on the halakhot related to Mikvaot I obtained this week, published in Chicago in 1897, was written by a great European born Rav who faithfully led the Orthodox Jewish community in Omaha for an astounding 56 years, from 1891 until his passing in 1948. Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Grodzinsky was born in Lithuania in 1857 and studied with his cousin Rabbi Hayyim Ozer Grodzinsky. It was an era where Rabbinical positions in Eastern Europe often led to poverty and hardships, and a growing number of Lithuanian Rabbis were taking positions in the New World. In 1891, Rav Grodzinsky was offered a position as Rabbi of the two Orthodox synagogues in Omaha, which he accepted. By 1907, his community in Omaha grew to 5000 people and continued to grow in coming years.
Omaha’s relative isolation as a Jewish community allowed Rav Grodzinsky to focus more of his time on his writings, and in the ensuing decades, he wrote and published an impressive array of halakhic works. During his period in the rabbinate, the infrastructure of many Jewish communities in the new world had yet to be developed, and proper mikvehs were far and few between. He authored this work as an attempt to clarify the guidelines for building and maintaining a mikveh, encouraging the construction and awareness of the related halakhic laws. In the century since his passing, his work has remained a classic in its field and is often referenced and quoted by those involved in the construction of mikvehs.
As with many American Jewish communities in the early 20th century, the Conservative movement made strong inroads into the Orthodox communities. The younger, American born Jews of Omaha did not appreciate the Yiddish speaking Talmudic rabbi and by 1916, many of his former congregants hired a young and more “modern” rabbi to head their community. Despite the challenges and changes affecting his community, Rav Grodzinsky remained in Omaha until his passing on the 18th of Tevet 1948. As per his request, no eulogies were made at his funeral, and he was buried in the community he devoted much of his life to, at Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Omaha, NE.