Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

A thin and scarce publication I acquired this week sheds light on the efforts of one rabbi in Berlin during the Nazi era who made a lasting effort to preserve and record the minhagim of his kehillah. Authored by Rabbi Dr Eduard Chaim Biberfeld, born in Breslau (Wrocław today), in 1864. He was a talmid of Rabbi Dr. Esriel Hildesheimer, and received semicha from the Rabbinal Seminary in Berlin. Biberfeld first served as rabbi in Karsruhe, then as a dayan of the Adath Yisrael Community in Berlin, and finally as rabbi of “The Old Synagogue” in Berlin, also known as the Heidereutergasse Beth HaMedrash.

Some of his many achievements include his promotion of Shabbat observance in Germany, and his role as editor of a monthly journal titled Der Sabbath from 1910 until 1914 – when WWI ceased publication. He was a co-founder of the Frankfurt-based Society for Jewish Literature, a society that wanted to establish scholarly Jewish studies with Torah values in mind. At age 37, he took on the study of medicine, and after passing the examination, spent the next decades practicing medicine in Berlin alongside his rabbinic positions. During Kristalnacht, R. Biberfeld remained in his Beh HaMedrash which miraculously survived the battering of the Nazi savages. Shortly after, he emigrated to Jerusalem where he passed in 1939.


An interesting phenomenon among German Orthodoxy was the community’s intense patriotism and integration into German society prior to the Nazi rise to power. So much so that R. Biberfeld named his son Paul (later to gain fame as Rabbi Pinchas Biberfeld) after Paul von Hindenburg, the WWI German General and hero, viewing von Hindenburg’s fight against Russia in WWII as a fight against the Czar and his persecution of the Jews. In a great irony, Paul von Hindenburg was later president of the Weimar Republic, and he appointed Hitler to power.

This volume was published in 1937 by R. Biberfeld as the reality of the Nazi oppression became vivid and the realization that the community will likely disappear forever in its current form. Titled Minhagei Bet HaMedrash HaYashan of Berlin, this slim volume, apparently printed in haste, with no introduction, foreword or index, jots down in brief the minhagim of the synagogue where he served as rabbi. In addition, the book includes the beginning and ending of each Torah reading portion as was customary in their kehillah.

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