G. Urinsky






At the end of  XVI Century and beginnings of  XVII, were in Pruzhany's rabbinical throne, two famous Rabbis that were very well-known in rabbinical literature for their writings.  Historically is confirmed that they occupied those positions in Pruzhany. We have data only of one of them, the H'B'CH, but we should accept that the second, the H'T'Z, was also rabbi in our city as we will confirm next.




The H'B'CH was known this way by the name of his book "Bait Chadash" (New Home). His name was R YOEL Ben R' SHMUEL SIRKISH.  His paternal last name was YOFFE, and  maternal  was SIRKISH.   He was born in Lublin in 1561 and died in Krakow in 1640. He came from a family of Rabbis. In his youth he studied Torah with his father, and with illustrious rabbis and their pupils in Lublin and Brest. In his youth he was Rabbi in Pruzhany and directed a Yeshiva. Of Pruzhany step to occupy same position in Lukov. In 1601 he was Rabbi in Liubomol, Mezshibozsh, Belza and Shidlov.


In 1615 he was Rabbi and directed  Brest Yeshiva. In 1619 was Rabbi in Krakow, and directed the Yeshiva  until his death. R' YOEL SIRKISH stayed amply, he was a man of good economic position, and he also lent money to Krakow community. His Yeshiva in Krakow was very well-known, and there studied pupils of all Europe communities.  He didn't know foreign languages, but had good knowledge in mathematics. In his answers about different religious questions, he used to be tolerant and enemy of strict religious laws, and of isolation.


He was an advanced person also about education concepts for his time.  For example he said that Bible and Grammar should be learnt, contrary to the opinion of RASHI that demanded to teach children only Guemara and Bible, and not Prophets and later writers.  He stimulated  teaching arithmetic and Guemara to children , only as a test during three weeks, under the supervision of three people to see if the male demonstrated to be capable to study. If he didn't have aptitudes, he should study an occupation or be serviceman.


YOEL SARKISH wrote ten compositions about "Questions and Answers". He also corrected  and explained talmudic texts. Great part of questions and answers were printed in the book "Questions and answers of wise people". His work have rich historical material. He included many texts about testimonies demands, because they had high historical and cultural value. His most important work was - in this time - "Bait Chadash" (New Home). His most aggression was against authorities of the "four countries" (VAA) in Lublin, that ruled prohibitions and curses, with those which R' YOEL SARKISH didn't agree. About his questions and answers of laws and customs, he says: "The trial is correct and I certify it with my signature". This demonstrates his security about his verdict.[i]




The second famous rabbi that occupied rabbinical throne in Pruzhany, at beginning of XVII century, is the outstanding author of "Gold Column", an explanation of the book "Shulchan Aruch". His true name was R' DOVID ben SHMUEL HA'LEVY SEGAL. He was born in Ludmir, in Volin, and he died in 1667 in Lemberg.  The H'T'Z was son-in-law of the H'B'CH.


According to his biographers he was Rabbi in Potlitsh near Rave-Ruske. In 1641  was Rabbi in Ostro, Volin, where directed a Yeshiva. After the verdict of year 1648 laws, he went to Germany, and after a lot of wondering he arrived to Lemberg, and settled there, Later was there Rabbi and directed the Yeshiva, until the end of his life. Although it exists a historical document that demonstrates he was Rabbi in Pruzhany, biographers are not sure. But we should accept as real that was he was rabbi in Pruzhany.  In our city circulated a tradition, transmitted of generation in generation, which tells the H'T'Z, in its youth,  was Rabbi in Pruzhany.


His salary was scarce, and lived in hardship. In winter his house was not well heated, and due to  tremendous cold, of time in time, when he studied until late night hours, he used to go to the tavern, to have some alcoholic drink, to get "inner" heat. The legend tells us where the tavern was located (the house of H. ZAKHEIM, in front of Bet Medresh). Considering that the Rabbi was an indigent person , he didn't have the possibility to pay the drink cash, and debt grew. The debt was registered, as then was usual, with coal on the wall, lime colored.


Each glass of alcoholic drink was registered by means of a line. In an opportunity a Pruzhany community leader entered the tavern, and saw many lines on the wall. He asked to tavern owner  whom was that great debt. Was answered that was the debt accumulated by Rabbi's drinks. The leader of the community called to a meeting of all Kehila members, and they decided to say goodbye the Rabb, and immediately was transferred to another community for being alcoholic.  Another version of this legend adds that he was expelled of the city mounted on oxen and was humiliated[ii]


The legend continued telling that later the H'T'Z  named Pruzhany in one of his "Questions and Answers" as "defame" . About the question if it is allowed to make ' Havdala" (TN: blessing of Shabbat farewell that is made with wine) with a glass of alcoholic drink, he answered affirmatively, and pointed out as an irony "not as people of Pruzhany that consider that this drink is not able to be used". Possibly for this reason was sent a delegation of outstanding proprietors to Lemberg to request him excuses. The H'T'Z accepted the excuses, and in  later editions of his "Questions and Answers", he annulled this sentence.


We were not able to find this sentence among H'T'Z writings  , but many people of the city knew with certainty about this issue, and others add that they saw it with their own eyes. In compensation for suffering humiliations, members of the Kehila imposed the following norm in Pruzhany: "when dying a relative, should be read chapter T"Z (number15) of Psalms because it remembers the H'T'Z, even it should be read in this occasion chapter M"T (number 49)".  This habit stays until today.


In the city was told another legend about H'T'Z. In an opportunity he went to visit his father-in-law, the H'B'CH, that was Rabbi of Brest, to stay on Shabbat. On Friday afternoon he gave his mother-in-law, Rabbi's wife, a  gold coin to keep it until Shabbat passes. The mother-in-law told this to her husband, and he suspected how was possible that his son-in-law possessed a gold coin, knowing that his salary of Rabbi in Pruzhany could not finance this amount.


During whole Saturday the H'B'CH was angry with his son-in-law, and immediately after " Havdala", asked him about the gold coin, because he suspected that the coin was product of a bribe. The H'T'Z. got furious and explained that the coin was not his, but rather it was given him during a rabbinical trial, and he feared leaving it in his house because somebody could steal it, and for this reason he hold it day and night.


Based on this  legend transmitted of generation in generation, and conserved until today, is it certain the rabbinical exercise in Pruzhany? We believe that considering this tradition we should accept the fact as real, about his position in Pruzhany.


We also find an indirect demonstration about the truthfulness of our supposition, among the biographers of the H'T'Z, which is following one expression: "when our Rabbi leaved his father-in-law house, the illustrious H'B'CH, to preach in another town where he was designated, he sent his questions from far away to his father-in-law, and all the answers always coincided with the approach of H'T'Z."


It is difficult to understand the expression "of his father-in-law's house" and "from another town", if we accept just as is said in his biography that his first work as Rabbi has been in Patlitze (Patlitsh) (a small town in Oriental Galitzia near Rave-Ruske). He arrived there coming from Krakow, and there did not live his father-in-law at this time. Of this we deduce, just as it is told in his biography, that when the H'B'CH left his Rabbinate in Brest in 1619, when traveling to Krakow to begin his new function, step in Patlitze (Patlitsh) to help his son-in-law with money, because the H'T'Z was poor.


He resided during his youth in Krakow, which his 'Questions and Answers' confirms. In his writings on sacred laws, paragraph 151, he wrote: "During my childhood I resided in Krakow Saint Community.."


As we see H'T'Z could not have traveled of the house of his in-laws from Krakow toward Patlitze (Patlitsh), because his father-in-law  then was not  Krakow's Rabbi. Therefore we should suppose that the first Rabbinical position of the H"T'Z was in Pruzhany, and the expression of "his father-in-law house" was that he resided in Brest, and Pruzhany was included in Brest District.


We should accept that this happened at the beginning of XVII Century, when the H'T'Z was very young. He was born approximately in 1586. The cause for which his biographers write "from another town" in anonymous form, and they do not clarify that it was Pruzhany, can be due to the humiliation that the Kehila caused him when forcing him to abandon the Rabbinate. For this cause, he resided a short time in Krakow, where he studied, and from there was transferred to Patlitze (Patlitsh)[iii]


[i] Bibliography "Israel's treasures", New York, 1912

[ii] Same style is told about "Lyon Roar" who  was expelled from Minsk, and about Reb LEVY ITZCHOK BERDITSHEVER from Pinsk.

[iii] Bibliography "Israel Treasures" New York, 1912.