The sixteenth of Kislev is the yahrzeit of Rav Shaul Yedidiah Elazar Taub, second rebbe of Modzitz (1886-1947). Born in Ożarów, at age 15 he married the daughter of Rav Avraham Eiger of Lublin. The marriage lasted four years, producing a son and a daughter, and the couple then divorced causing a great rift between the two chasidic sects. He then married the daughter of the mekubal, Rav Shaul Schwartz, under whom he subsequently studied, and they had four children. In 1917 he was appointed rabbi of Rakow and the following year his wife died of typhoid fever. He married a third time and had another four children. His third wife died of cancer shortly before the outbreak of WWII. He then married his niece.
Over a period of twenty years he served as rav in a number of communities, and also as rosh yeshiva. In 1921, after his father’s passing, he was named Rebbe. He was famous for his musical compositions and is said to have written in excess of 1,500 songs, some very simple and some complex operas. He did not use musical notation as he felt that a song had to come from the heart and not from notes written on paper. He had a special love for Eretz Yisrael and made three trips there in the interwar years. On his first trip in 1925 he met with Sir Herbert Samuel, the British high commissioner for Palestine. He was also a leader of Agudath Israel.
As the clouds of war began to gather, he was one of the first to encourage his chasidim to flee Europe. When the war broke out he joined many others fleeing to Vilna. His home there became a center for refugees seeking help and comfort. Someone asked him how he was able to appear so calm and focused with all the trials and tribulations he had undergone getting to Vilna. He answered, “Do you think that if someone is worried that they are obligated to worry all day? I put all my worries in a suitcase that is closed and locked. Once a day I open the suitcase and worry about all my worries. Then I put them all back in the suitcase and lock it. That enables me to serve Hashem with joy and not be full of worry.”
Many people came to his tish, especially for melave malka, including bachurim from Lithuanian yeshivos who had no previous exposure to chasidus. Some of them expressed surprise at the chasidic custom of the Rebbe giving out shirayim. He explained to them, “There is war all over the world, because there are a lot of selfish people. If you remember to save a portion of your food for someone else, that resists against the development of disagreements and wars. That’s the concept of shirayim.”
In February 1940 his family received a visa to travel to the United States. However, the Soviet government was refusing to allow refugees to leave believing that everyone was better off in the Communist paradise. Asking to leave was often a ticket to Siberia. Rav Shaul Yedidiah told the officials he met with that the Torah was sympathetic to the Communist cause, as it enumerated many laws to protect workers. He assured them that if they would allow him to leave he would utilize the opportunity to spread Communist ideology to other countries. They permitted him to leave, by traveling through Russia to Japan and then on to the United States.
This changed Russian policy and they began to allow many yeshiva students and others to leave by the same route which led to the large wartime Jewish community in Shanghai, including much of the Mir Yeshiva. When he died in 1947, the Chazon Ish attended his funeral and explained that he had to honor the man who saved the yeshiva world.
He arrived in the United States right after Sukkos of 1940 and spoke positively about the Soviet government to the press. He started a Modzitz community in the United States, but his heart was still in Eretz Yisrael. In 1947 he was finally able to visit again, but shortly after he arrived he became ill and was hospitalized until he passed away.
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The nineteenth of Kislev is the yahrzeit of Rav Moshe Zvi Neria (1913-1995). Born in Lodz, he learned in Minsk and Shklov and was able to obtain an entry permit to Mandatory Palestine in 1930 with the help of Rav Kook. While studying in Mercaz HaRav he developed a close relationship with Rav Kook and his son Rav Zvi Yehudah. He took a leadership role in the Zionist Youth Organization, Bnei Akiva. He also composed music for the members of Bnei Akiva.
In 1939 he opened the first Bnei Akiva yeshiva where Torah study was combined with agricultural work. Some time later, despite his opposition, high school classes were added to the yeshiva. When Israel became independent he was asked to compose a religious service to be recited on Yom Ha’atzmaut. He led a brigade during the War of Independence which was instrumental in capturing the Eastern Galilee including Meron. On several occasions he was elected as a member of the Knesset where he opposed the Oslo Accords, and was involved in improving education, culture and sports opportunities in Israel. He authored a number of works about the teachings of Rav Kook. Many of the current generation of religious Zionist rabbis were his students, such as Rav Chaim Drukman, as well as Supreme Court Justice Tzvi Tal.