Shershev Yzkor Book - Chapter 3




Shereshev was famous for its great rabbis. One of the best known was Rabbi Pinches Michael, who later was known as a great "baal-moyfes" (a genius). The following text is a fragment of a paper by the well-known Jewish researcher E. Ben-Ezra. The title of the monograph is:


Rabbi Pinchas Michael "Z.Tz. L" (his Holy Blessed Memory)

(Published in Brooklyn in 1953)


Reb Pinches Mikhael was born in about 1808. His father was Reb Yitzchak -Isaac. and his mother was Brayne Henye. He was born in the town of Shershev, Grodno Gubernia. Reb Yitzchak Issac was the grandson of Reb Yehoshue Pinsker, a descendant of Reb Eliezer of Amsterdam, the author of "Maase Rokeach". On his mother’s side, he was a descendant of the "Baal Panim Meirot" (he gives light to faces) whose name was Rabbi Meyer Ben Yitzchak Eizenshtat.


Rabbi Pinches Mikhael was to his parents’ an only son. But he was not pampered like other only sons. From childhood on he devoted himself to the Torah and to the service of G-d. His parents freed him altogether from material worries and from the yoke of having to earn a living. He sat constantly, day and night, studying the Torah and servicing G-d.


Of teachers who left some mark on him and who had a great influence on him, we know only of Rabbi Osher Hakohen, the author of "Birkat Rosh" (blessing on head). Rabbi Pinches Mikhael excerpted himself to follow in the footsteps of his teacher and to follow his example of modesty. Until he was fifty years old he did not want to accept the post of Rabbi, like was his teacher, Rabbi Osher.


In his writings also, he followed his teacher’s path. Rabbi Osher had written a book on the tractate "Nazir" (ascetic).  Rabbi Pinches Michael wrote a composition on the same tractate. It is true that the work of Reb Pinches is not so full of "pilpul"(subtle argumentation) as is the work of Rabbi Osher Hakohen.


Like his teacher, he devoted himself to his studies with great diligence and slept very little. But his father, appealing to the honor that is due to a father, ordered him to sleep for an hour every afternoon. From his father Reb Yitzchak he inherited his love of Jews and his devotion to matters of Tsedakah (charity ]


As was customary at that time, his parents arranged a marriage for him when he was very young. He married Mushke, the daughter of the wealthy Reb Yekhiel Mikhel of Pasval (who was one of the grandchildren of the "Baal Seder-Hadorot" (generations order). His wife kept a store. She supplied the entire income of both of them. She released him form the yoke of making a living so that he could devote himself to study.


Already in those days, when he was still a young man, Rabbi Pinches Mikhael gained a reputation as one who swam freely in the sea of the Talmud and its commentaries. He began to correspond with great Torah scholars on matters of "Halacha" (Life rules in the legislative part of the Talmud). They all became aware of his acuteness, his analytical system of solving various problems, He began to compose his own original observations on "Shas" ("Talmud"), "Rashi", "Tosaphot", "Rif", "Rash", and "Ran" (the last three are acronyms of rabbis). Out of these observations grew a very weighty book (in both senses of the word). His observations were published forty years after his death in the book "Divrei Pinches"(Pinchas words). It was published by his grandson Issac Rabinovitz.


Shershev, the birthplace of Rabbi Pinches was famous for its rabbis, its great figures of Torah and wisdom. The position of Rabbi was filled by Rabbi Dovid, the author of the book Chomot Yerushalayim (on the Orekh Chayim). Of this rabbi it is said that following astronomical calculations he wanted to establish three days of Rosh Chodesh (the beginning of the Jewish month), and that he used to read the Megillah also on Shushan Purim.


Another rabbi of the town was Rabbi Pinches HaLevy ben Esriel Amsterdam, author of the work Nakhles Esriel on Yoreh-Deyah).


The Dayen (Jewish judge) in Shershev was Rabbi Yitzchak Issac Hakohen, the author of the book Shaare Yitskhok.


The leader of the Jewish community in Shershev was Rabbi Osher Hakohen , the student of Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner. He was the author of the work Brakhot Rosh, on the tractate Brakoth, and of hagoes (annotations) on the works of Rashi and the Tosaphists and also Brakoth Rosh on the Tractate Nozir and hagoes and explanations of the commentaries of Rashi, the Tosaphists and the decisions of the Rambam.


At first, Rabbi Osher Hakohen did not want to use the Torah as a source of income. Until his fiftieth year he was a merchant in Shershev, where, in his spare time, he would sit and study Torah. At long last, the parneysim (communal financial leaders) of the town persuaded him and he agreed to accept the position of rabbi of Shershev. But he was not rabbi there for long, because the leaders of the Jewish community of Tiktin, Grodno Province had their eye on him, and in 1853 he became the rabbi of Tiktin.


When Rabbi Osher Hakohen left Shershev, the leaders of the Shershev community started looking for a rabbi who would fit the rabbinical tradition of the community. At last they appointed Rabbi Pinches Mikhael to be Rabbi Osher Hakohen’s successor. In him they say, was someone who resembled their great former more-deasre (teacher), an expert on Talmud, on the Rishonim and Aknaronim, and moreover a modest person with dignified manners.


When Rabbi Pinches assumed the rabbinical crown he did not change his previous way of life. He behaved modestly as in the time before he became rabbi. As before, he acted towards the ordinary people as a friend and a brother. He listened to their conversations; he joined them in their grief and helped them in their need. He was especially loved by the children. He treated them with great respect and addressed them as "ir" [the polite form of "you" in Yiddish].


Although he had the common touch, Rabbi Pinkhes Mikhael was a great Torah Scholar. He was a center to which people came from all directions. On the one hand, famous rabbis sent him their shayles v’Ttshuves (questions and answers) on Halakhah and on practical matters. On the other hand, ordinary people began to come to him, wanting his advice, directions on how to live. His house was open to all, to the poor, and to those who were in trouble.


Thus he was rabbi of Shershev for six years, until 1864. Then a new chapter opened in the life of Rabbi Pinches. In that year, he left his birthplace Shershev where he had grown up and become famous. He settled in the town of Antipole, in the regional district of Kobrin, Grodne - Province. He was rabbi there until 1890. On the first day of the month of Adar in that year, he fell sick with typhus. He was sick for more than two weeks. On the 17th day of Adar he passed away.



Editorial Note:


The book Maase Rokeach, by Reb Eliezer of Amsterdam was first printed in Amsterdam in 1740 and later appeared in another edition in Mohilev in 1804. It is commentary on the Mishnah and also contains some Khidushin (new observations, interpretations) and mysteries of Kabbalah.


We should say more about Rabbi Meyer ben Yitschak Aizenshtat, the Baal "Panim Meirut", from whom Rabbi Pinkhes Mikhael was descended on his mother’s side


This Rabbi Meyer ben Yitskhok was known in the scholarly and rabbinical world as the Maharam Ash. Maharam means (acrostically) "great teacher Rabbi Meyer", and Ash means the town Aizenshtat in Hungary. The name of this town was customarily written with the abbreviation Aleph-Shin.


Aizenshtat was the main city among seven communities in Burgerland, known in Jewish history as the Sheva Kehiloth (Seven Jewish Communities). To the Sheva Kehiloth belonged as well as the capital Aizenshtat also Matersdorf, Lakenbakh, Doytshkreyts (called by the Jews "Tseylem" (cross)), Froyenkirkhan, Kitsee.


Rabbi Meyer was born in about 1670, a descendant of a very famous family, related to the celebrated Shakh. He was a son-in-law of the then well known Shtadlen (intercessor for the Jewish community) and leader of the Jewish community of Poyzn, Reb Moishe Sokhatshever. He was supported by his father-in-law for ten years, and studied Torah. But something happened to the father-in-law that compelled the son-in-law to earn a living and accept a rabbinical post. In the introduction to his book Panim Meirut, he tells about this in the following words:


(The following passage is translated from Hebrew)


Briefly, this means that after being supported for ten years by his father-in-law, the

leader of the community of Posen, and after having studied in his great synagogue which was full of holy books - there occurred the libel on 24 Jews who were brought to trial in the tribunal of Lublin, bound in chains. They were threatened with death. His father-in-law, the leader and wealthy man Moyshe Sokhatshever, took their part. Thanks to the favor he enjoyed in the eyes of the Polish King, and of the courtiers he succeeded in getting the endangered Jews freed. The libelers were punished with enormous fines, in the thousands and the tens of thousands. Bur for his rich father-in-law, who had thrown both his soul and his fortune into the cause - as is well known both to the leaders of the Galil region of Posen and to the rich men of the holy community of Lublin - it was a disaster. He had lost both his own fortune and that of his sons.


It was then that he (the son-in-law) accepted the position as rabbi of Shidlovtse, in the region of Radom. Later, through the recommendation of the famous Hoyf-Lieferant (court purveyor), Shimshen Vertheymer (the founder of the financial company Vertheymer in Germany) he became rabbi in the famous German Jewish community of Worms in 1700. Later, he became rabbi of the celebrated community of Prosniks in Morovia. There, Reb Jonathan Eybeshitz (Freger) of later fame was, as a young man, educated in his house. In 1714 he became rabbi of the principal town among the "seven communities", in Aizenshtat, where he continued to serve as rabbi for both town and countryside until his death on June 7, 1744. On his tombstone are inscribed these words:


(Inscription in Hebrew)


Is Kept The Great Rabbi

Meyer, Honored Excellence and Our Teacher

Chief Justice of the Court of the Holy Community,

Of Righteous and Blessed Memory

The 27th Day of Sivan of the Year 504

Our Time Counting

May His Soul Be Tied to the Continuity of Life


Rabbi Meyer had six sons and two daughters. They (presumably the sons) had very important leading positions in Jewish religious life. They were rabbis and authors of works and they also published the works, which their father had left in manuscript form. His sons were:


1. Reb Yitskhok. A son-in-law of Rebbe Tsvi ben Yankev Ashkenazi, known in the world of rabbinic scholarship as the "Khokhem (wise) Tsvi". Reb Yitskhok was rabbi in Niesvizh and later in ByelePodlask and Slovatitsh.


2. Reb Michael. Died young. His son was rabbi of Kletsk.


\3. Reb Eleazer. Rabbi of Shidlovtse, in the town where his father had been rabbi before.


4. Shabsi (Sabbatai). Earlier: rabbi of Byele-Podlask later of Shershev. When in Shershev in 1765 he gave his haskome (permission) to the book Meore Ash that had been written by his father and that was printed after his father’s death (1766, Furth). In the same book (page 86) are his two comments dated the sixth of Tammuz 1745, and signed "Shabsi haKoth" [the small, insignificant one] of the holy community of Shershev.

This son of Rabbi Meyer, Shapsi, lived to an old age and was rabbi of Shershev for a long time. On the seventh of Oder, 1777 he gave his permission to the book Atores Yosef, by the rabbi of Liskev Reb Yosef Ber Ruber, which was printed in Zhulkev in 1778.


5. Moshe- Yehude. Rabbi, like two of his brothers before him, in Byale. He had a tragic experience there on the day of the King of Poland’s coronation. It took place on June 8, 1764. In his introduction to his father’s book Or Ha-Ganoz, which he published, he related the following


(Translation of text  from Hebrew)


 Because of our great transgressions when our in community Byale-Podlask, two years ago at the time when the King of Poland was crowned someone drank wine that was poisoned.  In that same year Rosh Khodesh came out on the eve of Shabat (parshat - Chukat). The words of the commentator, Unkilus, became real.


On the first day of Rosh Khodesh Tamuz, the people who hate us came to our city in a loud and noisy manor that was frightening. It was proclaimed that they could do whatever they wish to the Jews for a period of three hours. It is called Shlorin (in German)or Plindren. Permission was given to destroy for 3 hours. They stole and

destroyed (may Hashem have mercy). Who can estimate the extent of the immense damage. In particular damage to the Great Synagogue and the Beit Midrash (House of Learning) in our community. They stole all my belongings and stripped my wife, my son and myself and took all our cloths. Despite all this I gave thanks to Hashem that we weren't harmed. My Lord remembered me favorably. The Jewish leaders of Brisk issued a declaration making a boycott that anyone who bought stolen goods from the robbers must give them back [to the original owner] without making a prute (small coin) of profit. This helped the community ( Byale-Podlask ) very much.


From this we learn not only of his personal losses, but also of a very interesting historical fact. There was a change of monarchs in Poland. A band of robbers attacked Byale-Podlask. It was given a “privilagye” (privilege- special license) to rob for not more than three hours; but the robbers were not well disciplined and their work of looting carried on for a full 24 hours. The great synagogue and the Bes Medrash (house of study) suffered terribly. The robbers stole the fine clothes of the rabbi and his family, leaving them stark naked. It is also known that the robbers left Byale and went to Brisk. There, they apparently began to sell their stolen property. The leaders of the Jewish community in Brisk decreed a Khyrem (boycott); that anyone who bought stolen goods from the robbers must give them back [to the original owner] without making a prute (small coin) of profit. This, writes the rabbi of Byele, helped his community very much.


6. Benyumin. Rabbi in Lakenbakh (one of the "Seven Communities") and later in "Ungarish Brod" (Hungarian Brod).


The two daughters of Rabbi Meyer, Khave and Brayndl were also wives of great scholars of that generation.


This is the lineage of Reb Pinches-Mikhael on his mother’s side. As we have seen, one of Reb Meyer’s sons, Shabsi, was rabbi of Shershev for many, many years. Perhaps the name of Reb Pinches-Michael’s mother Brayne-Henye is connected with the name of Reb Meyer’s daughter Brayndl.