Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Lag B’Omer through the eyes of a Litvak in 1925

Lag B’Omer through the eyes of a Litvak in 1925[*]
By Shimon Szimonowitz

Dov Mayani (1903-1952)

A Static and Evolving Chag
Lag B’Omer has infiltrated Jewish culture as a bona fide holiday. While the day is celebrated throughout the Jewish world, it tends to take on added significance in Eretz Yisrael. This age-old disparity has seen a little easement, probably as a result of enhanced communication between the Promised Land and the rest of the world, but the difference is still obvious.

R. Chaim Elazar Shapira of Munkács[1] (1868-1937) states, as a point of fact, “It has been the custom for hundreds of years in the holy land, especially in Meron, to make se’udos accompanied by dancing and music on Lag B’Omer. He goes on to state that conversely, in Chutz L’Aretz, although Chasidim do make Se’udos, “to also have music and dancing as in Meron would be very bizarre[2] since it is not practiced in our lands.[3]” There is no question that a lot has changed since the publication of that Teshuva in 1922.[4]

The purpose of this article is to travel back in time and view Lag B’Omer through the eyes of a Lithuanian Yeshivah student studying in the Chevron Yeshivah in 1925. By comparing his attitude to the festivities to the ones prevalent currently, we can bear witness to the evolution that Lag B’Omer has undergone outside of Eretz Yisrael in the last hundred years. At the same time, it will underscore how little it has changed in Eretz Yisrael.

On his first Lag B’Omer in Eretz Yisrael[5], in May of 1925, Dov Mayani (1903-1952)[6] penned a letter[7] to his close friend Ari Wohlgemuth[8] who was in Europe at the time[9]. In exquisite prose[10], Mayani vividly describes the Lag B’Omer celebration in Eretz Yisrael. One can sense surprise and even a measure of bewilderment which Mayani in turn thought he would provoke in his friend back home as well.

Dr. Joseph Wohlgemuth – Ari’s father

On one hand, we see from this letter that very little has changed in almost a century regarding how Lag B’Omer is celebrated in Eretz Yisrael. On the other hand, we see how much has changed in the rest of the world. Today we are accustomed to the festivities in Meron and we see similar events taking place all over, even outside of Eretz Yisrael. What was entirely novel to a Lithuanian Yeshiva student and his German counterpart in 1925 has now become the norm in many circles.
The letter includes many other interesting and valuable tidbits of information regarding the Chevron Yeshiva[11], but for the purpose of this article we will focus only on the portion concerning Lag B’Omer.

Presented below is a translation of said excerpt of the letter.

The letter

B’Ezras HaShem, Chevron Ir HaKodesh Tibaneh V’Sikonen, Tuesday- Behar Bechukosai
[Following several handwritten pages concerning various important matters, Mayani continues…]  Now I will write to you about our life [in Chevron] … Let me now go over to lighter matters[12]. Today is Lag B’Omer. Today is the day that the entire Yeshiva was desperately[13] waiting for, since they are now able to remove the mask[14] of hair which was covering their faces. You should know that here [in Eretz Yisrael] there are more stringent customs. Starting from Pesach, no man may raise a hand to touch his beard[15]. [The beard] grows and increases until it matures; the hair sprouts and there is no respite from it[16]. Picture for yourself, that even mine  [=my beard] got big and wide, and I already have an idea what I will look like in the future.
Dov Mayani with his friend Yitzchak Hutner in 1928
Rabbi Dov Mayani in his later years
And now on to the topic of the fires… You should know that here there is a custom of lighting a bonfire on Lag B’Omer. And what do they do? They light a bonfire and all the people of the moshav gather next to it and they sing and dance. The source of the custom seems to be in Kabala but it used to have a different character[17].
Lag B’Omer is the Hilula [lit. a celebration] of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the anniversary of his death. It is brought in the Zohar that his disciples would come to his grave and light candles in his memory and they would spend the day as a quasi-holiday[18]. The Mekubalim in the days of the holy Ari z”l [R. Yitzchak Luria (1534-1572)] renewed the custom and through the influence of Chasidim and their entire sect[19] it was adopted by the entire nation. It is self-understood what kind of form it has already taken on by now…
On the day [of Lag B’Omer] they gather from the entire land [Eretz Yisrael], mostly from the Chasidim, Sefardim, and the Bucharim, at the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron, near Tzefas, and they make a big fire and they light candles and oil; all that they can get their hands on[20]. They throw all kinds of clothes into the fire, expensive items, and notes with requests on them[21]. This custom, although opposed by many of the Gedolim, still remained strong, and the masses believe in it and in its powers[22]. It used to be a Yom Tov of Chasidim and Anshei Ma’aseh, but now it has the character described above, and it is certainly not appropriate to be excited about it.
From all corners of the Land, they come with their sick children, and with the young ones which are to get a haircut for the first time[23] and the hair is then thrown into the fire etc. They break out in dances and circles[24]. In short, these festivities are celebrated with magnificence and splendor[25].
Lighting of smaller fires is also done throughout the land. In Chevron the townspeople made a fire last night and they invited the entire Yeshiva. The Hanhala [management] of the Yeshiva itself with the Rav [Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein (1866-1933)] at its helm didn’t respond to the invitation at all, and declared that it totally doesn’t recognize it [= the festivities]. But many of the Yeshiva students came to see, and I[26] too was among the onlookers.
They went climbed up on to the roof after Ma’ariv and lit a large bonfire at the center and sang a Chasidic song. The students of the Yeshiva joined in spontaneously and many of them danced around the fire. It was an amazing sight, albeit a bit wild and lacking Jewish flavor. In didn’t find favor in my eyes at all, but it was interesting to watch.
Mainly it was a Chag for their children[27] who went around with fireworks[28] in their hands and with beaming and shining faces.

[1] “…here there are more stringent customs…”
Mayani comments that in Eretz Yisroel there are more stringent customs regarding shaving during Sefirah. In HaHar Hatov (p. 49) it is suggested in a footnote that it can be deduced from this comment that in Berlin [whence Wohlgemuth hailed] they were lax regarding the customs of the Sefirah days.
I believe this to be in error. Perhaps Mayani was referring to the difference in custom between Lithuania and Eretz Yisroel. In Lithuania, religious Jews refrained from shaving only from Rosh Chodesh Iyar until Lag B’Omer [18 days] and then again from Lag B’Omer until the Sh’loshes Yemei Hagbala [13 days], thus never allowing the beard to grow too long. See Aruch HaShulchan (493:6) where he confirms this to be the custom in Lithuaniaו[29]. In Eretz Yisrael, the Yeshiva students felt compelled to conform to the local custom which was to observe Sefirah from Pesach until Lag B’Omer. Since they couldn’t shave from Erev Pesach, it forced them to grow their beard for twice as long as they had been accustomed to in Europe.

Regarding laxity with Sefirah, R. Eliezer Brodt pointed me in the direction of a letter dated May 10, 1938, in which Ernst Guggenheim, a French Yeshiva student who traveled to study in the Yeshiva in Mir, reports “everyone has a dirty beard, but in other yeshivot, like the one in Brisk, for example, the whole Yeshiva, with the Rosh Yeshiva in the lead, shaves during this period” (Letters from Mir: A Torah World in the Shadow of the Shoah pp. 127-128). Guggenheim writes again about his beard on May 29th (ibid p. 137) “I wear a quite gorgeous beard at this moment, six-week-old and cleaned on Lag B’Omer. It’s not simply a piece around the chin, but a collar à la Hirshler before he trimmed it. Moreover, soon I will make it disappear even though it is already popular at the Yeshiva.” See Nefesh HaRav p. 191.

[2] “Lag B’Omer is the Hilula of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the anniversary of his death”
Lag B’Omer is not mentioned anywhere in the Mishnah or Talmud. An early reference to it can be found in the name of R. Zerachya HaLevi of Gerona (c. 1125-1186). Accordingly, R. Zerachya was in possession of an old Sephardic manuscript of the Talmud which alludes to the fact that Rabbi Akiva’s disciples ceased to die on that date[30]. R. Menachem HaMeiri (1249 – 1306) is probably one of the earliest sources to explicitly mention the day of Lag B’Omer[31]. Despite that fact that these Provencal sages[32] do mention this day as the end of the mourning period, they do not mention it as a reason to celebrate it in any shape or form.

There is also very little in the classical Poskim regarding the origins of Lag B’Omer. R. Moshe Isserls (1520-1572), based on Maharil, simply states that one must ‘celebrate a bit’[33] on Lag B’Omer.[34] The Vilna Gaon (1720-1797) indicates that the reason for celebration is the fact that the disciples of Rabbi Akiva ceased to die on that day.[35] This would also appear to be the reason given by the Maharil. The problem is, as pointed out by R. Aryeh Leibish Balchubar (1801-1881), that the reason they stopped dying is because there were none left. Why would this be a reason to celebrate?[36]

R. Avraham Gombiner (c. 1635-1682) relates in the name of R. Chaim Vital (1542-1620), that someone once said Nachem [a prayer with an expression of mourning] on Lag B’Omer and was punished.[37] It would seem that this event was unrelated to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai or his place of burial. R. Aaron Alfandari (c. 1700–1774) questions this omission and points out that the reason why the man was punished is only because he said Nachem on the Hilula of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and not because it was Lag B’Omer.[38] R. Menachem Mendel Auerbach (1620-1689) prefaces the abovementioned story by saying that it is the custom in Eretz Yisrael to visit the graves of Rabbi Shimon and his son Rabbi Elazar on Lag B’Omer. He identifies the anonymous man mentioned by R. Gombiner as a Rabbi Avrohom HaLevi, and adds that R. Yitzchak Luria delivered a message from Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai to R. Avrohom HaLevi, that the latter is going to be severely punished for saying Nachem on the day of “my happiness”.[39]

Regarding R. Alfandari’s argument that Lag B’Omer was not the reason for R. Avrohom Halevi’s punishment, but rather due to the Hilula of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, R. Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai (Chida, 1724-1806) suggests that Lag B’Omer and Hilula of Rabbi Shimon are one and the same. In other words, the source of celebration on Lag B’Omer was the fact that it was the Hilula of Rabbi Shimon.  Still, R. Alfandari viewed these as mutually exclusive. In any event R. Azulai also concedes that the opposition to saying Nachem was confined to the place of Rabbi Shimon’s burial. Interestingly enough, R. Azulai ends his remarks by praising R. Gombiner’s ambiguous wording since it leads to what he sees as a positive conclusion, that one should celebrate on Lag B’Omer regardless of whether he is at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon or not. He merely points out that the intensity of the celebration is greater near the gravesite.

Although we now know that Lag B’Omer is the Hilula of Rabbi Shimon, we are still left in the dark regarding the exact reason for celebration. The most popular explanation is the one which Mayani mentions here, that it was the anniversary of Rabbi Shimon’s death. R. Azulai mentions this possibility, but elsewhere in his writings he questions it. R. Dovid Avitan in his notes on the Birkei Yosef, argues that R. Azulai’s conclusion was that it was not the anniversary of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s death. This is corroborated by a more reliable manuscript of R. Shmuel Vital’s (1598 – 1677) writings. Instead R. Azulai suggests that perhaps Lag B’Omer was the day that Rabbi Shimon began studying Torah at the feet of Rabbi Akiva.

Lag B’Omer has confounded many halachic authorities throughout the generations[40]. For a more comprehensive treatment of this subject, the reader is referred to R. Eliezer Brodt’s excellent article here and for a great lecture on the subject Professor Shnayer Leiman’s lecture The Strange History of Lag B’Omer is strongly recommended as well.

[3] “…at the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron, near Tzefas…”
It is safe to say that nowadays the name Meron garners instant recognition among most religious Jews. Yet in 1925 this was apparently not the case. Mayani felt compelled to identify Meron as being situated “near Tzefas.” The Chasam Sofer, in his teshuva about the Lag B’Omer festivities, writes that “they gather from all over in the holy city of Tzefas to celebrate the Hilula of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai”[41]. Throughout the entire Teshuva he fails to mention Meron by name. While it is true that in those days they would gather from all over the Land and converge in Tzefas and then go on to Meron, as recorded by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kaminetz (1800-1873) in his Koros Ha’itim, it is still noteworthy that the Chasam Sofer does not mention the name of the town. When discussing the custom of gathering in Meron on Lag B’Omer, R. Aryeh Leibish Balchubar also feels a need to add that this takes place in the village Meron “which is near Tzefas”[42].

 [4]They throw all kinds of clothes into the fire, expensive items… opposed by many of the Gedolim…”
The custom of throwing expensive clothes into the fire in honor of Rabbi Shimon is well documented. One of the earliest descriptions available is found in a letter written by a student of R. Chaim Ben-Attar (1696-1743) in which he writes that R. Chaim went to Meron the day after Purim of 1742 and “lit many clothes” in honor of the Tanna[43]. R. Menachem Mendel of Kaminetz (1800-1873) is an early eyewitness who describes how this was practiced on Lag B’Omer itself. He relates that they would sell the honor of igniting the fire for a large sum of money and the one who bought it would take a large scarf in good wearing condition, light it, and throw it into a bowl of oil. Additional historical accounts of burning clothes are compiled in the introduction to the 2011 edition of R. Shmuel Heller’s Kevod Malachim.

This custom merited the ire of R. Yosef Shaul Nathanson (1808–1875). In a Teshuva concerning an event that took place in 1842, R. Nathanson writes that he has a lot to say about the custom of burning clothing in honor of Rabbi Shimon on Lag B’Omer. He maintains that “they are transgressing the prohibition against wasting[44] and are engaging in superstitious practices[45] which are forbidden”. He adds that this custom was obviously not practiced in the days of the Ari z”l and he is certain that R. Yosef Karo would not have allowed it. R. Nathanson ends off by saying that he guarantees that if they were to take all that money [wasted on the burning of clothes] and use it to support the poor of Eretz Yisrael, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai would derive much more pleasure from it.[46] These very sentiments are also expressed by the Sephardic Rishon L’Tzion, R. Rafael Yosef Chazan (c.1741 - 1820).[47]

In 1874 the Chief Rabbi of Tzefas, R. Shmuel Heller (1803-1884), authored a pamphlet named Kevod Malachim, in which he vehemently defended this practice and thereby encouraged its continuation despite of the abovementioned opposition. For a more comprehensive treatment of this fascinating subject, the reader is referred to Prof. Daniel Sperber’s Minhagei Yisroel vol. 8 pp. 72-83.
It is also possible that Mayani was referring to the Teshuva of R. Moshe Sofer (1762–1839) in which he takes issue in general with the festivities in Meron. According to R. Moshe Sofer, turning a day on which no miracle occurred into a Chag, constitutes a transgression of the commandment against adding to the Torah[48]. Allusion to the lighting of the fires is treated with similar disapproval.[49]

Kever of Rabbi Shmuel Heller

[5] “It used to be a Yom Tov of Chasidim and Anshei Ma’aseh...”
Mayani obviously did some research on Lag B’Omer. In a letter dated April 25, more than a week before Lag B’Omer, he writes:

Here in the Land, Lag B’Omer, the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and many of his disciples, is a great Chag for the people of the Yishuv. Originally it was [intended] only for the Talmidim and people of a high caliber, but now ‘that there are scarcely any men of high caliber and there is an influx of big-mouths and strongmen’, it has lost it pure character. I heard from people in Jerusalem that very few of the very pious[50] visit the village of Meron on that day.[51]
This sentiment that Lag B’Omer used to be celebrated in a more spiritual manner in earlier times is found in some other sources as well. Among others, R. Nathanson (שואל ומשיב מהדורה חמישאה סימן לט) argues that in all probability back in the days of the Ari z”l, they would only learn by the graveside of Rabbi Shimon and recite prayers so that he should awaken the mercy of Heaven.

[6] “…sang a Chasidic song…”
From his letter one gets the sense that Mayani was a bit prejudiced against chasidim as was typical of a Lithuanian Misnaged. This happens to be far from the truth. On his farewell trip leaving Europe he stayed by a Chasid who was an Agudah leader and in addition to discussing with him Torah topics, Dov Mayani learned many Modzhitzer Nigunim during his stay. According to his daughter this encounter made a deep impression on Mayani’s musical style[52]. She also says that in general her father had an affinity toward Chasidus[53].

Nevertheless, Mayani can be critical at times of what he called a “Chasid Shoteh”. In a letter describing his fellow passengers on the boat trip to Eretz Yisrael, Mayani describes a Belzer Chasid whose entire Judaism was encompassed in his sidelocks, his beard, his long gabardine, despised Lithuanians, and minimized interaction with any other kind of people (תמצא לו החברה חסיד בלזאי שוטה, אשר כל יהדותו בפאותיו וזקנו וקפוטתו תלויות, ושונא הליטווקים תכלית שנאה וממעט מכל שיח ושיג עם אנשים אחרים.). On the other hand, in that same letter, he describes a Chasid of Chabad in glowing terms, as someone he considers to be a Lamdan and an important man… (גם חסיד ליטאי, מחסידי חב"ד איש למדן וחשוב בעירתו אשר ירד מגדולתו ועשרו לרגל המלחמה ובעוד כוחו עמו עולה לארץ ללמד בה ולהאחז בה).

Later in his life he came even closer to Chasidus. His daughter Rivka states that despite his Lithuanian upbringing and education, her father possessed a Chasidic soul[54]. He especially appreciated the emphasis placed on music. In his later years, he became close to some Chasidic leaders such as R. Yisrael Alter (1895-1977) and R. Simcha Bunim Alter (1898-1992). He was even asked by the latter to deliver sermons in the Gerrer Yeshiva in Tel Aviv in 1941. He also forged a close relationship with R. Chaim Meir Hager of Viznitz (1887-1972) and Reb Arele Roth of Jerusalem (1894-1947), and even prayed with a Gartel given to him by R. Hager[55].

[*] I would like to express my appreciation to Professor Shlomo Tikochinsky (See note below) and my friend Eliezer Brodt for providing me with important sources for this article. A tremendous debt of gratitude is owed to my mother for spending her precious time editing this article. My friends R. Eli Reisman, R. Shaul Goldman, Binyamin Steinfeld, and Dovey Shapiro also deserve acknowledgement for reviewing this document and offering insightful edits. 

[1] חלק ג סימן ס
[2]כזרות יחשב
[3]כיון שזהו אינו נוהג פה במדינתנו
[4] Here the present Munkatcher Rebbe can be seen lighting a Lag B’omer fire and dancing in front of it. This is a clear deviation from the teshuva of his Grandfather, the Minchas Elazar. While one can be sure that he found good reason to institute the change, for our purposes this observation helps document the evolution of the Chag.
The same change has recently been observed in Satmar. The present Satmar Rebbe of Monroe is on record for having once spoken out against bonfires on Lag B’omer in Chutz La’aretz, saying that they are against the custom, yet he later reversed himself and instituted perhaps the biggest bonfire festivity outside of Eretz Yisroel. See here for more details and for a link to his original speech against bonfires. See also חידושי תורה מהר"א ט"ב תשס"א אמור/ל"ג בעומר p. 194 where the Rebbe writes:
וזה הענין מה שנוהגין גם בחוץ לארץ להדליק נרות ומאורות בלילה הזה...
[5] He arrived in Eretz Yisrael on the tenth day of Shevat 5685 (February 4th 1925).
[6] He was born Dov Karikstansky. In Yeshiva, he was nicknamed ‘Berel Grodner’ after his hometown Grodno. Shortly after arriving in Eretz Yisrael he Hebraized his surname to Mayani. See אעברה נא p. 71 for the story behind the name change.
[7] The letter was transcribed in its original Hebrew and published by his daughter Rivka Monowitz in the digital supplement ההר הטוב of her book אעברה נא. The book and digital supplement are available here. The letter begins on p. 46 of ההר הטוב. Pictures of the original letter were supplied to me by Professor Shlomo Tikochinsky who transcribed the letters published in ההר הטוב. Almost the entire portion of the letter presented here also appears in the original Hebrew in Tikochinsky’s latest and most fascinating book, למדנות מוסר ואליטיזם p. 243. Prof. Tikochinsky was also kind enough to supply me with the pictures of Dov Mayani. His book is available at here. I would like to thank my friend Dovey Shapiro for bringing this book to my attention.
[8] Ari studied together with Dov at the Slobodka Yeshiva in Europe. Later they studied together at the Berlin seminary where they both became attached to the legendary Rabbi Avraham Eliyahu Kaplan. Ari was from Berlin, where his father Dr. Joseph Wohlgemuth served as a professor of Talmud and Jewish philosophy at the Rabbinical Seminary. The younger Wohlgemuth was constantly struggling to reconcile his “Yekkeshe” upbringing with his Eastern European Lithuanian Mussar education. In this matter Dov and Ari were soulmates who worked together to synthesize these two different worlds. (See אעברה נא p. 127)
[9] We can assume that Ari was in his native Germany at the time. One can also glean this information from the last few lines of this letter. Dov writes to Ari that he and another student at the Yeshiva were debating whether Graetz’ book ‘Geschichte der Juden’ [History of the Jews] begins with the Exodus or only after Joshua conquered Eretz Yisroel. Dov says that he remembers reading a half a year ago in a Russian translation of the book about the Exodus, but his friend insists that the book only begins after they entered Eretz Yisroel. He asks Ari to take a look at the book and let him know who is right. It would seem that since Ari was in Berlin he was in the position to easily look up the answer.

For the benefit of the curious reader, it is worth noting that there was merit to both sides of the argument. Graetz begins with the crossing of the Jordan, but then goes back to describe the Exodus. See here.
[10] The letter was written in beautiful Hebrew. It is quite amazing that a Yeshiva student in 1925 mastered Modern Hebrew. See אעברה נא p. 34 for a discussion regarding how Mayani mastered the relatively new language.
[11] There are many interesting parts to the letter, but it is worth mentioning in particular Mayani’s description of Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer’s (1870 – 1953) visit to the yeshivah. Rav Isser Zalman was a brother-in-law of the Slobodka Rav and Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein. Mayani writes that Rav Isser Zalman came to spend the weekend in the city of Chevron to which his brother-in-law had just relocated from Slobodka. He describes an exciting shiur which Rav Isser Zalman delivered on Sunday. He adds that Rav Isser Zalman is a more outstanding Magid Shiur [ר"מ יותר מצויין] than his brother-in-law Rav Moshe Mordechai. He also praises Rav Isser Zalman’s personality by noting that he is a very gentle sweet person with a young spirit which draws his students. Mayani also shares that Rav Isser Zalman had a Yahrtzeit and davened all the Tefillos for the Amud. One cannot help but smile while reading that the musical Mayani admits that he “begrudgingly” (בדיעבד שבעתי מזה רב רצון) immensely enjoyed Rav Isser Zalman’s davening.
[12] Earlier in the letter Mayani tells Wohlgemuth about how he spent the “יום הזכרון” dedicated in memory of their joint Rebbe, the legendary Rav Avraham Eliyahu Kaplan. In spite of the fact that the Alter of Slobodka had an unspoken agreement with Rav Avraham Eliyahu that the latter was not to attract Slobodka students to the Berlin Seminary, Mayani was attracted to R. Kaplan when he visited Slobodka and subsequently joined R. Kaplan in Berlin. This went against the Alter’s view that the Seminary was only for German-born students who grew up with a “Torah im Derech Eretz” upbringing. See אעברה נא p. 45.
[13]בכיליון עיניים
[15]לנגוע בזקנו
[16] Utilizing a clever play on the words of the prophet Yechezkel (16:7), Mayani writes:
"ויגדלו וירבו ויבואו בעדי עדים, השער צמח ואין נגדו עזרה"
[17]"ואף צביון לגמרי אחר היה לו"
[18] יומא דפגרא
[19] כת was a derogatory term used by Misnagdim when referring to Chasidim.
[20]כל אשר ידם מגעת
[21]פתקאות בקשה
[22] סגולות
[23] This custom has many sources and is beyond the scope of this article.
[24] מחול
[25] פאר והדר
[26] אני הקטן
[27] In many sources, Lag B’Omer is described as a day focused on children. Among others see Minhagim of Worms (מנהגי וורמיישא ח"א אות צה וח"ב עמוד קע"ה) where it is described as a relaxed day in which the teachers provide their students with goodies.
[28] In the source, it says אבוקות קטנות – “Feuerwerke”. In HaHar Hatov it is mistakenly transcribed as “Feueraserke”.
[29] וכן המנהג שלנו.
[30] See Sefer HaManhig הלכות אירוסין ונישואין סימן קו.
[31] בית הבחירה יבמות סב, ב וע"ע תשב"ץ חלק א סימן קעח.
[32] R. Zerachya, Me’iri, Sefer Hamanhig were all from the Province. See also Kaftor V’Ferach (פרק ז עוד בענין טבריה) where another Provencal sage mentions Lag B’omer as the end of the mourning period.
[33] מרבים קצת שמחה ואין אומרים תחנון.
[34] רמ"א סימן תצג סעיף ב.
[35] ביאור הגר"א שם ד"ה ומרבים.
[36] שו"ת שם אריה סימן יד.
[37] מגן אברהם שם סעיף ב.
[38]  יד אהרן שם.
[39] עטרת זקנים שם
[40] R. Yosef Shaul Nathanson (שואל ומשיב מהדורה חמישאה סימן לט) questions why one would celebrate the anniversary of a Tanna’s death. He points out that on the anniversary of Moshe Rabbeinu’s death on the seventh of Adar it is customary to fast. Why then would we celebrate on the anniversary of Rabbi Shimon’s death?

תמהתי דהרי אדרבא במות צדיק וחכם יש להתענות ואנו מתענין על מיתת צדיקים ואיך נעשה יום טוב במות רבינו הגדול רשב"י ז"ל ובמות מבחר היצורים משה רבינו ע"ה אנו עושין ז' אדר בכל שנה ואם הזוהר קרא הלולא דרשב"י היינו לו שבודאי שמחה לו שהלך למנוחה אבל אותנו עזב לאנחה.

R. Aryeh Leibish Balchubar (שו"ת שם אריה סימן יד) penned a responsum in which he criticized the “newfangled” custom of turning a Yahrtzeit into a day of celebration. He insinuates that the Chasidim are responsible for what he sees as a deviation, and he chastised them for doing so:

בימים ההם ובזמן הזה החלו בני עמנו במקצת מחוזות, כמו וואלין פאדליא אוקריינא ועוד, לשלוח ידם במנהגים שנהגו בהם אבותינו ואבות אבותינו מעולם.. ועתה באתי לדבר על מה שכתב הרמ"א ביורה דעה ס"ס ת"ב בשם הרבה פוסקים קדמונים שמצוה להתענות יום שמת בו אביו או אמו... ומשנים קדמוניות נהגו כן כל מדינתנו והוא מנהג וותיקין שנתיסד מקדמונים ואין אדם רשאי לבטלו אם לא ע"פ אונס.

R. Balchubar writes that the Chasidim bring proof from the celebrations on Lag B’Omer that a Yartzeit is a cause for celebration. As can be expected he rejects their claim, by saying that it is not the reason why we celebrate Lag B’Omer:

ואומרים כי חלילה להתענות ביום מיתת הצדיק רק מצוה להרבות בשמחה וראייתם ממה שמרבים בשמחה בל"ג בעומר על קרב הצדיק בוצינא קדישא רשב"י כידוע שמתאספים שמה מכל הארצות ומדליקים שם הדלקות ומאורות רבות וששים ושמחים במקום מנוחתו בכפר מירון הסמוך לצפת. ואומרים בתר רשב"י אנן גררינן וממנו אנו לומדים לעשות כן להצדיקים האלה הקדושים אשר בארץ. ומה שנהגו עד כה להתענות ולהתאבל ביום זה, הוא נתקן רק לפני אנשי ההמון ואנשים פשוטים אשר צריכים להתאבל במיתתם, לא הצדיקים והחסידים המפורסמים אז הוא יום שמחתם כידוע מהמעשה בכתבים ובמגן אברהם וכו' ומזה נתפשט המנהג הרע הזה כמעט בכל האנשים כי כל אחד יאמר אבי היה צדיק וחסיד וכו' וכדי לבטל פטפוט דבריהם ושיחה בטלה שלהם נגד תורה שלמה שלנו...

After rejecting the possibility that a Yahrtzeit is a reason for celebrating, R. Balchubar continues with a lengthy discussion regarding the cause for celebration on Lag B’omer.
[41] שו"ת חתם סופר יורה דעה סימן רגל
[42] שו"ת שם אריה סימן יד
[43]  אגרות ותשובות רבינו חיים בן עטר אגרת ז'
[44] בל תשחית
[45] דרכי אמורי
[46] שואל ומשיב מהדורה חמישאה סימן לט
[47] חקרי לב מהדורה בתרא יורה דעה סימן יא
[48] בל תוסיף
[49] שו"ת חתם סופר יורה דעה סימן רגל
[50] היראים
[51] ההר הטוב עמ' 43-44.
[52] אעברה נא עמ' 58
[53] שם עמ' 63
[54] היה בעל נשמה חסידית
[55] אעברה נא עמ' 262-263

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

The 1908 Student Strike at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary: A Newly Discovered Document

The 1908 Student Strike at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary: A Newly Discovered Document
By Eli Genauer
I would like to thank Dr Zev Eleff for his invaluable assistance in helping me frame this article. I would also like to thank Sharon Horowitz of the Library of Congress for providing research assistance.
The Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), present day Yeshiva University, was officially founded on March 20, 1897. RIETS was the first unequivocally Orthodox Jewish seminary on American soil.  Initially, its mission was entirely religious, limited “to promote the study of the Talmud and to assist in educating and preparing students of the Hebrew faith for the Hebrew Orthodox Ministry.”[1] RIETS’ first years were difficult ones.  It did not move into a building of its own until 1904.[2] Additionally, RIETS faced difficulty meeting its financial obligations.  including a student stipend. As a result, in 1906, RIET’s was beset by a major student strike. Among the student’s demands was that RIETS expand its mission beyond religious education and they demanded that they be instructed in secular subjects, including learning English.[3] While that strike was settled, another student strike and a lockout occurred over similar issues in May 1908. The strike was ended when changes were promised by the board of directors.  Yet, that settlement proved fleeting.

By August 1908, the students were striking again. The students’ strike received notice from the national press, when on August 19th, the New York Times reported:[4]

the Talmuds are lying idle on the shelves of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at 156 Henry Street, and the drone of the voices of the students as they walked back and forth reading aloud from the Hebrew text is heard no more. For the last few weeks the students have not received the $3.50 a week which they are paid while they are learning to become Rabbis. Consequently, they have gone out on strike. Boruch Shapiro, Louis Mahler and Samuel Broida, the leaders of the demonstration, stationed themselves at the door of the school yesterday and effectively blockaded the entrance of all the smaller boys. Nathan Lamport of the Lamport Manufacturing Supply Company, at 278 Canal Street, president of the school, and David Abramowitz of 47 Forsyth Street, the Secretary, do not know what to do.[5]

On August 20th, citing financial reasons, the board locked out the students and closed the school.[6] As a result of the closure of the school by the board of directors, some of the students and some Rabbinic leaders tried to form a new school called Yeshiva le-’Rabbanim which was designed to address some of the deficiencies of RIETS.[7]

Although the closure of the RIETS has been documented, the August 1908 student strike that led to the closure is not reflected in any published histories discussing the unilateral closing of the school and lockout of the students by the board of directors on August 20th.[8]

One of the difficulties in piecing together exactly what happened during that August 1908 strike, lockout and its immediate aftermath is the dearth of contemporary records. This lacuna is in part attributable to a general lack of documntation of REITS’ early years.  And, “there are no records extant of the Seminary from its inception in 1897 to its merger with Yeshivat Etz Chaim in 1915. Only the Certificate of Incorporation, scattered newspaper accounts, one or two contemporary citations, and passing references in the memoir literature of the time remain as silent witnesses to the great vision and determination of a few men who…created the first Orthodox rabbinical seminary in America.”[9] As an example, in reporting on the August 1908 closure of the school by the board of directors and its aftermath, one scholar quotes mainly from newspaper accounts of the day.[10] There was an important memoir of that period written by Hayim Reuben Rabinowitz, who was an 18 year old student at the time, but Rabinowitz published his account 60 years later.[11]

Recently, however, a contemporaneous account of the events of 1908 has come to light.  This account was discovered as a result of construction at Congregation Bikur Cholim Machzikay Hadath in Seattle, Washington, when workers came upon a box of papers labeled, “Rabbi B. Shapiro Papers, 1920s-1960’s.” Rabbi Boruch Shapiro (1883-1970) was born in Szmorgon, Lithuania and was recognized as a Talmudic genius (Iluy) at an early age.[12] He was a student of, and received ordination from, Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, (Or Sameakh), one of the outstanding rabbinic leaders of his time.[13] While in Dvinsk, R. Shapiro also received ordination from Rabbi Joseph Rozin, known as the “Rogatchover Gaon”.[14]  R. Shapiro immigrated to America in the early 1900’s and visited Seattle in 1913 on a fundraising trip. His visit became permanent when he ended up marrying a local woman, Hinda Gershonowitz and remained in Seattle until his passing in 1970. Rabbi Shapiro is perhaps best remembered as the Rav of Congregation Machzikay Hadath in Seattle, a position he held for forty years.

Before arriving in Seattle and shortly after arriving in America, Rabbi Shapiro studied at RIETS. Because he already possessed rabbinic ordination, he was considered in a special class of students, receiving a higher weekly stipend than most others who studied there. [15] He was sent by the school to give lectures at a synagogue in Brooklyn during the Sukkot holiday of 1905 as an example of the quality of students that were studying in the yeshiva.[16]

The box of papers discovered contains Rabbi Shapiro’s account of the events surrounding the student strike in August 1908, and the subsequent founding of the Yeshiva Le’Rabbanim. The account was written on October 7th, 1908 and covers the period from August 20 until that time. Because Rabbi Shapiro was one of the three student leaders of the strike, his account is particularly relevant to filling in the picture of the details of the August 1908 RIETS student strike.[17] Rabbi Shapiro’s writings, it should be noted, reflect that he and his fellow students had been involved in a struggle with, in his view, a dysfunctional and stubborn board of directors for over two years.[18]

Rabbi Shapiro records that:

On Thursday night, 24 Av 5668(20 August 1908), the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Yeshiva was closed in a very unseemly fashion. Mr. [Jonathan] Shepp, the treasurer of the Yeshiva called the police several times to evict the yeshiva students from the building in which they learned.[19] But despite all his efforts, the police declined to do harm to the students. They remained there despite his displeasure until midnight and at that time they left for their residences.”[20]
After the students of the Yeshiva had concluded that there was no hope to improve both the physical and spiritual conditions of the Yeshiva due to the obduracy of the leaders whose concern was only for themselves, the students decided to separate from the above named Yeshiva and move to “Adas Bnei Yisroel” at 213 East Broadway, which welcomed them with open arms.[21] On 28Av (25 August-1908), the students of the Yeshiva moved their place of Torah study to the above mentioned address in the company of well-known rabbis, such as Rabbi [Shalom Elchanan] Jaffee[22], Rabbi [Chaim Sholom] Shoher[23],Rabbi [Aaron] Gordon [24], and others, who had gathered there to guide them. After much discussion, it was decided that the yeshiva students would study temporarily in Adas Bnei Yisroel, and that they would acquire a charter. So that the leaders of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan would not collect money in their name, they decided that this yeshiva would be called “Yeshiva L’Rabanim”. Similarly, they decided to send out boxes to collect members and to try to establish this yeshiva on a proper foundation.

From 28 Av 5668 until 12 Tishrei 5669, three meetings of well-known rabbis and prominent lay leaders were held. At the second meeting, an interim leadership team for Yeshiva L’Rabanim was chosen: Rabbi Jaffe, chairman; Rabbi Shoher vice chairman and treasurer; Rabbi [Joseph Judah Leib] Sossnitz, administrator;[25] Rabbi Dr. Rabinowitz from Brooklyn, administrator; Rabbi [Judah Leib] Lazeroff, administrator,[26] and others. The job of developing a “program” both in religious and secular studies for this yeshiva was also assigned to the above leaders.

Even before the closure of the Yeshiva Rabbi Isaac Elchanan, the physical situation of the students was very bad because for seven weeks prior to the closure, all they received was a half a kilogram of bread per week. However, the situation since they left the Yeshiva until now was much worse, and the poverty and embarrassment they suffered is difficult to describe. Many of them could have found other means of support, but because of their love of Torah, they accepted their lot and did not abandon Torah study with which they had been engaged their entire lives.

Many Rabbis, in writing, speech and action, promised to help. From all the promises very little materialized, aside from Rabbi Lazaroff, who had spoken up a few times in his synagogue on behalf of the Yeshiva. He assembled a worthy number of members from whom he collected funds. The prominent Mr. [Abraham J.] Goldstein and his brother-in-law, Mr. [P.] Feinberg from Jersey City came to the assistance of the Yeshiva in the beginning. [27]With the help of other prominent members of their congregation who worked alongside their honored Rabbi [Shlomo David] Posner, that synagogue supported the yeshiva a bit.[28]

To describe in detail all the problems faced by this new endeavor and the stumbling blocks that were placed in front of this new Yeshiva from the beginning until now would amount to an entire book. The task was difficult and the conflict with the administration of the Yeshiva Rabbi Isaac Elchanan weighed heavily on us. Many did not want to support the students of the Yeshiva since they saw that the “Morgen Journal” had “sold out” to those above mentioned administrators to do their bidding. They also felt that the “Tageblatt” was leaning in the direction of those administrators, and not on the side of the Yeshiva L’Rabanim. Many rabbis knew and admitted that the yeshiva students were right, but kept silent due to fear. So much so, even those who had joined the new Yeshiva were not really able to help it.

The primary laborers on behalf of the new Yeshiva were the students themselves and especially a student council that was chosen from among them to lead the struggle. The five members of this council were Mr. A.[vraham] Shapira, Mr.[Ben Zion] Perl, Mr. [Chaim Yechezkel] Mosesohn, Mr. [H.S.] Linfeld and Mr. B.[aruch] Shapira who was the leader.[29] The politics were so intense that oftentimes those in the Yeshiva did not confide in their fellow students for fear that they were supporting the other side. The council worked diligently with the three main activists, Rabbi B. Shapira, Rabbi A. Shapira, and Rabbi Perl who were most instrumental.  They abandoned all their other pursuits such as attending “Preparatory School,” working day and night to battle with the administration of Yeshiva Rabbeinu Isaac Elchanan.  Nothing was too difficult for them or beneath their dignity. Their physical situation was worse than the conditions of other students, as they had no other means of sustenance and they also received a more meager stipend compared to what they had been entitled to. They suffered immensely during this time. They knew that they were making great sacrifices and losing precious time. Nevertheless, they did not consider their own personal situations so that they could help establish this new Yeshiva on a proper foundation. There were times that matters grew so bad that many of the yeshiva students echoed the complaints of the Jews in the desert: they wanted to return to their previous Yeshiva, but thanks to many of the yeshiva students and the student council, especially Rabbi B. Shapira, these complaints were set aside and it allowed the Yeshiva to attain the status it claims today. The result of what has been done so far is small compared to what needs to be completed. Nevertheless, laying the foundation, which was the most difficult to accomplish, has been done. More effort is required to establish this Yeshiva on a firm foundation and to transform it into an excellent school that will train great rabbis in Torah, wisdom, fear of Heaven; who will work within the spirit of ancient Israel and the spirit of this new generation; and who will unite both old and young, thereby bring blessing to our people, our Torah and our holy faith.”

In the end, Yeshiva Le-Rabbanim did not exist for very long because it never had substantial financial backing and support from the general community.[30] The attempt to form an alternative yeshiva apparently did not deter some of the student dissidents to return to RIETS. In 1917, in a RIETS publication, Rabbi Baruch Shapiro and his brother Rabbi Abraham Shapiro along with Rabbi Ben Zion Perl are listed among those ordained by RIETS now serving as rabbis in America.[31] Even more curious, the strike leader Rabbi Baruch Shapiro went on a fundraising tour in 1917 to raise money for the Rabbinical College of America, one of whose components was RIETS.[32]

The strike’s impact, however, on one of the most important future leaders of RIETS and Yeshiva University was profound.  Chaim Rabinowitz wrote “The strikes stimulated the mind of a young Rabbi who had recently arrived in America. This young Rav was Rabbi Dov Revel.” Rabinowitz cites a letter that Dr. Revel wrote to Rabbi Zvi Masliansky in the spring of 1908, where he grieves about the turmoil in RIETS that Rabbi Masliansky had told him about and hopes for better days for the Yeshiva. Rabinowitz concludes “the dream of Rabbi Revel came to fruition in 1915 when he became the Rosh Hayeshiva…and instituted great changes in the order of studies.”[33]

Here is a sample page of the document:

[1] “Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary Association Certificate of Incorporation,” March 20, 1897, (quoted in Gilbert Klaperman, “Yeshiva University:  Seventy-Five Years in Retrospect,” American Jewish Historical Quarterly 54,1 (September, 1964), 6). William Helmreich, however, states that teaching “the language of the land” and Talmud was articulated in the RIETS charter, and, as such, “the first such mention of combining secular and religious studies in one institution.”  William B. Helmreich, “Old Wine in New Bottles:  Advanced Yeshivot in the United States,” American Jewish History, 69, 2 (December 1979), 235.  But, the 1897 certificate does not mention “language of the land,” and Helmreich’s assertion is without citation. 
[2] Gilbert Klaperman, The Story of Yeshiva University: The First Jewish University in America (New York: Macmillan, 1969) 71-72.
[3]Alexander Dushkin, Jewish Education in New York City (New York: Bureau of Jewish Education, 1918), 77-78.
[4] “Boys Go On Strike,” New York Times, August 19, 1908.
[5] The Times report may have been the result of the RIETS’ students, who, to gain sympathy to their cause alerted it to the unrest. See Klaperman, Story, 95
[6] The most complete report on the student unrest from 1906-1908 can be found in Klaperman, Story, 94-112.
According to Rabbi Klaperman, the closure and lockout on August 20th was reported by the Jewish Morning Journal on Friday August 21st, 1908 and the Judisches Tageblatt on Sunday August 23, 1908. Idem. 217n8.
[7] Gurock, Men and Women, 40; Rabinowitz, “60 Shana,” 553; and Klaperman, Story, 118.
[8] There are three discussions regarding the closure of RIETS on Thursday, August 20th, 1908
See Klaperman, Story, 111-12. There is no mention of a strike immediately preceding the board’s action. Rabbi Klaperman does not cite the Times article in any of his footnotes. Additionally, in footnote 21, p.218, he writes that there was no clear picture of presidential succession of RIETS between February 1906 and fall of 1908, despite an indication in the NY Times article that Nathan Lamport was the president of the school in August of 1908.

The second is Hayim R Rabinowitz’s recollections that appeared in Hadoar in 1968. Hayim R. Rabinowitz, “60 Shana le-Shvitot be-Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchanan,” Hadoar, June 14, 1968, 552-554. In 1908, Rabinowitz was an eighteen-year-old student at RIETS, and writes at length regarding the situation leading up to the closing of the school on August 20th, with the resultant lockout of the students from the building at 156 Henry Street, but does not mention that the students had been on strike immediately preceding this event. Although Rabinowitz was a contemporaneous observer, his reminiscences were only published sixty years after the events in question.

The third discussion is by Jeffrey Gurock.  Jeffrey Gurock, The Men and Women of Yeshiva: Higher Education, Orthodoxy, and America Judaism (New York:  Columbia University Press, 1988) 39-40. Citing Rabinowitz, p.553, he writes “Frustrated, feeling that a double cross was in the making, RIETS students were once again talking strike in the late spring and early summer of 1908.” Gurock, however, does not mention that a strike and blockade of the building took place in August as indicated by the headline of the New York Times and in the subsequent article.
[9] Klaperman, Story, 48.
[10] Idem, 217-19.
[11] Rabinowitz, “60 Shana,” 552-554, quoted extensively in Gurock, Men and Women,39-41.
[12] The Jewish American Family Magazine and Gazette (Amerikaner Familian Magazin un Gazetten), vol. XXXIX, no. 47, September 19, 1941, 2.
[13] Rabbi Meir Simcha was the author of “Ohr Sameach”, an important commentary on Maimonides' “Mishna Torah”, and of “Meshech Chochmah”, a commentary on the Torah. Rabbi Meier Simcha wrote of Rabbi Boruch Shapiro “he has the ability to formulate outstanding novella acceptable to all”. The Jewish American Family, 2.
[14] Prior to coming to America, Rabbi Shapiro obtained letters of support from two other leading rabbinic figures in eastern Europe, Rabbi David Hirsch Eisenstein and Rabbi Shlomo Vilner. The Jewish American,2. Rabbi Vilner wrote that he never gives ordination to one so young, but in the case of Rabbi Shapiro, he was willing to make an exception.
[15] Rabinowitz, “60 Shana,” 553.  Rabinowitz also refers to Rabbi Shapiro as a “Gadol B’Torah”
[16] Klaperman, Story, 62.
[17] The New York Times article identifies him as one of the three student strike leaders. See also, Rabinowitz, p.553 As early as 1906, R. Shapiro held a leadership role.   He was among the four students chosen to represent the students’ views before RIETS’ board of directors.  Rabinowitz, “60 Shana,” 553; The Jewish American, 2, which states that Rabbi Shapiro was chosen as a representative by the students in dealing with the board.
[18] Regarding the student’s relationship with the board of directors, Klaperman describes an interaction between the students and the directors as follows: “The student’s dissatisfaction and the obduracy of the directors brought about continuous agitation in the school and highlighted the confusion of aims in the curriculum” Klaperman, Story, 86.
[19] Klaperman, Story,99 writes that in 1906, Jonathan Shepp was elected as the new treasurer, and that Jonathan Shepp was part of the finance committee appointed on August 31, 1908 to assist in reopening the school after it was closed on August 20. Klaperman, Story, 99, 113.
[20] Gurock indicates that the treasurer threatened to call the police, but that in fact the police were never called.  Gurock, Men and Women, 40 (citing Rabinowitz, “60 Shana,” 553).
[21] Regarding the address of the building to which the students moved, Rabbi Shapiro was physically at this new address so it is reasonable to assume that he recorded it correctly. Additionally, on June 3, 2015, there was an auction of documents associated with the newly founded Yeshiva La-Rabbanim (Kedem Auction No.8, Lot 301). One of the documents evidences a stamp which says 213 East Broadway. Rabbi Klaperman lists the address as 123 East Broadway.  Klaperman, Story, 116, 219n38.
[22] Rabbi Shalom Elchanan Jaffe (1858-1923) was an important early American Orthodox Rabbi. He received Semicha from both Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin and Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor. He arrived in America in 1890 and served as a Rav in St Louis and in Brooklyn before becoming the Rabbi in 1901 of the prestigious Beth Midrash Hagadol synagogue on the Lower East Side of New York. He was one of the most influential of Rabbis at the time, especially when it came to the supervision of kosher meat. Jaffe’s motivations for his involvement with this breakaway school, may have less to do with issues than his personality.  According to Klaperman, Jaffe was not one wedded to the idea of secular education, one of the central demands of the students. “On the other hand, Rabbi Jaffe was the stormy petrel on the rabbinic scene, known as an impetuous non conformist who rushed in without fear when his mind was made up.” Klaperman, Story, 117.
[23] Rabbi Chaim Sholom Shochar (Rabbi H.S. Shoher) came to Boston in 1882 to be the Rabbi of Bais Avraham synagogue and subsequently served as the Rabbi of Hadrath Israel and Mishkan Tefillah among other synagogues in Boston. In 1905, he moved to New York City to become the Rabbi of the prestigious Shaare Zedek synagogue located at 38-40 Henry Street. In 1910, he is listed as living at 215 East Broadway, next door to the location of Yeshiva Le-Rabbanim. He authored a pro-Zionist book Shalom Yerushalyim in 1909 and passed away in 1918.
[24] Rabbi Aaron Gordon (1845- 1922) known as the Miadziol (Myadel) Iluy, emigrated to America in 1890 and was the chief Rabbi of Rochester, New York until 1900 when he moved to New York City. He was one of the founders of the Agudath Harabanim and served as head of a Bet Din on the lower east side. He served as the Rabbi of Congregation Talmud Torah Tiphereth Jerusalem at 147 East Broadway. He was a prolific writer, authoring many books on Halacha, among them Even Meir (Pietrokov 1909), Teshuvat Meleat Even (Pietrokov 1912), Minchat Aharon (Jerusalem, 1920) and Sha’arei Da’at (Jerusalem, 1921).
[25] Rabbi Joseph Judah Leib Sossnitz (1837-1910) was born in Birzhi, district of Kovno. He has been described as a Talmudic scholar, mathematician and scientific author. He settled in New York in 1891 and in 1893, founded a Talmud Torah on 104th street in Manhattan. In 1899, he was appointed a lecturer in Jewish ethics at the Educational Alliance at 197 East Broadway.
[26] Rabbi Judah Leib Lazarov (1875-1939), studied inTelz, Mir, Volozhin and Radin before immigrating to America in 1898.He was hired as a preacher at Beth Midrash Hayei Adam at 89 Henry Street in 1903 and succeeded Rabbi S.E. Jaffee as Rabbi of Beth Midrash Hagadol in 1910. He authored a multi volume work Divrei Yehudah (New York, 1906-1910).

Except for Rabbi Dr Rabinowitz who was from Brooklyn, all the above named rabbinic leaders were from the Lower East Side near both Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Yeshiva on Henry Street and Yeshiva La’Rabanim on east Broadway. They most likely would have been aware of the struggles of the students with the board of the Yeshiva and had possibly allowed them to speak in their synagogues during the May strike. See Klaperman, Story, 104. It is also possible they were consulted by the students on an ongoing basis even before they tried to start a new school.
[27] Abraham J. Goldstein emigrated to America in 1884 and immediately settled in Jersey City. One book, Distinguished Jews of America, (New York, 1917), describes him as “a strict Orthodox Jew in every sense”, “one of the richest and most prominent citizens of Jersey City”, and “a member of almost every Jewish organization in Jersey City”. He owned a grocery wholesale business, was president of the Erie Building and Loan Association, and was one of the largest real estate owners in Jersey City.
[28] Rabbi Shlomo David Posner (Rabbi S.D Posner) was a Rabbi in Jersey City, New Jersey, for many decades. He signed his letters “Rav V’Av Beit Din” of Jersey City.  He authored a book of homilies Eshed Hanahar (New York, 1932). In the introduction, he writes candidly about being a Rabbi in America over many years. He was involved on a national level in many Rabbinic organizations and he helped raise money for the Jewish community in Palestine
[29] It is interesting to note that Rabbi Shapiro refers to this group as Mr. but later, refers to three of the group as Rabbi. The two Shapiro brothers and Ben Zion Perl are referred to by Rabinowitz as having Rabbinic ordination already at that time. Rabinowitz, “60 Shana,” 553.
The four referred to by Rabbi Shapiro aside from himself are:
(1) Rabbi Abraham Shapiro was the brother of Rabbi Boruch Shapiro. Like his brother, Abraham already possessed Semicha from Eastern Europe at this time. He later served as a Rabbi in Canton, Ohio and in Utica, New York. He was considered to be a prominent Musmach of RIETS in later years.
(2) Rabbi Ben Zion Pearl served as a Rabbi in Harlem. He was the director of the Uptown Talmud Torah Association which had 2,400 students in 1919. In 1925, he was involved in raising money for the building fund of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Yeshiva. He passed away in 1929.
(3) Rabbi Chaim Yechezkel Moseson came from Lodz Poland, learned in the Yeshiva in Lomza Poland and received Smicha from Rabbi Yechial Michal Epstein, author of the Oruch Hashulchon. He was the principal of Yeshiva Torah Vadath, Mesivta Tiferes Yerushlayim, and other Yeshivot. He wrote many articles for Dos Yiddishe Licht, a newspaper financed by Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt.
(4) Harry Sebee Linfield (1889-1978), was a rabbi and statistician. His Jewish Statistical Bureau conducted research on Jews in America and published numerous reports and other publications on their findings, specifically the Statistics of Jews. He was born in Lithuania and came to the United States in 1905. He was awarded a PhD by the University of Chicago in Semitic language in 1916, and the following year was ordained a rabbi by the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati
[30] Klaperman, Story, 118.
[31] Idem. 262
[32] The Reform Advocate, December 29, 1917, p.501
[33] Rabinowitz, “60 Shana,” 553-554.

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