Rabbis of Keidan

By Shmuel Hadari and Josef Chrust

The Jewish settlement in Keidan is ancient, and the town’s Jewish community is one of the oldest in Lithuania. The town held a respected place in the “Council of the Land of Lithuania,” in which it was represented from the council’s founding in the 15th century. This council served as a sort of parliament, dealing with all economic, social, legal and educational affairs of the Jews of Lithuania and acting as a decision-making executive body.

Ancient Lithuanian regulations placed all Jewish settlements on the right bank of the Neman River under the jurisdiction of the Keidan community for a variety of purposes.

The events of 1648 and 1649, which brought destruction and devastation to many communities, actually bypassed Keidan and its Jews. These, like many others in Lithuania, sent aid to victims of the pogroms.

Keidan was always an important town among the people of Israel. It served as a center of spiritual activity and an important place of Torah learning. Many rabbis and prodigies occupied its rabbinic chair, and their fame spread far and wide beyond Lithuania’s borders. The town’s first rabbis served also as leaders of the Keidan district, to which many Lithuanian communities belonged.

Reb Yosef bar Uri of Kobrin

We do not know the names of Keidan’s first rabbis. The first scholar known to us among the Jews of Keidan was Yosef of Kobrin (Yossel Kobriner). In 1698 he composed selichot (atonement prayers) in memory of the persecutions of the Jews in various countries (the pogroms of 1648-1649). They were read in all the Lithuanian congregations at that time. He was a renowned scholar but did not have the official title of rabbi, nor serve in that position.

Reb Yehuda Zundel ben Reb Ozer

The first rabbi known to us is Rabbi Yehuda Zundel the son of Reb Ozer, who was the head of the rabbinical court in Keidan and environs. His “haskama” (a type of book endorsement) of 1670, introduces the books “Be’er Avraham” and “Mei Be’er” written by Rabbi Avraham Lisker, head of the rabbinical court in Raseiniai, which were published in Frankfurt an der Oder in 1683.

Rabbi Hillel bar Naftali Zvi (1615–1690)

He was the author of the book “Beit Hillel” about the “Shulchan Aruch.” He was born in Brisk to a family of famous scholars in 1615. He studied Torah with Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Darshan, and possibly also with Rabbi Yehoshua Heshil bar Yakov, who was known by the nickname Rebbe Reb Heshil, and who was his aunt’s husband. He married the daughter of a prominent congregational leader in Vilna and relocated there.

In 1650 and 1651 he served as a judge in Vilna in the rabbinical court of Rabbi Moshe, who wrote the book “Khelkat M’khokek.” From there, he was appointed rabbi in a number of Lithuanian towns, the last being Keidan. In 1670 he became rabbi for the congregations of Altona and Hamburg, and in 1671 the neighboring community of Wandsbek also accepted him as their rabbi. There he remained for about 10 years. In 1680 he became rabbi in Zołkiew (aka Zhovkva, now in Ukraine), where he served until his death on 22 Tevet (January 3) 1690.

Rabbi Hillel was among the most important teachers of his generation. Rabbi Yaakov Amdan termed him “the most saintly rabbi teaching in the tradition of the House of Hillel.” He also excelled in his position as a leader and was chosen to represent the rabbinic committees of Jarosław and Zołkiew. Many books carry his endorsement. He made a number of important religious rulings in his town and his name is recorded in the annals of the congregation.

He wrote a significant book on the four sections of the “Shulchan Aruch” and before his death, he instructed his son, Reb Moshe, to edit and publish it using funds from his inheritance. Reb Moshe fulfilled this, publishing his father’s amendments to the “Shulchan Aruch”, “Yorei Deah” and “Even Ha’ezer,” under the name “Beit Hillel” in Dyhernfurth in 1691. His novel interpretations of the “Shulchan Aruch”, “Orach Chaim” and “Choshen Mishpat” remained in manuscript. These, along with his commentaries on the Torah using the investigation and questioning method, and on the Kabbala, remained in manuscript with his heirs.

Rabbi Elyakim Getsel ben Rabbi Shlomo Halevi (d. 1702)

He was the son of Rabbi Shlomo Halevi, who was head of the rabbinical court of “Khelkat Sadeh” in Vilna in 1671.

Rabbi Elyakim Getsel became head of the rabbinical court for Keidan and surrounding areas after Rabbi Hillel, mentioned above. Prior to this he headed the rabbinical court in Brody (Galicia) during the time of the Gaon, Khacham Zvi. His signature is recorded on a regulation of 1699 in the journal of the Keidan Burial and Benevolence Society. He passed away in Keidan in 1702.

Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel ben Rabbi Elyakim Getsel Halevi (d.1720)

He was the son of Rabbi Elyakim, mentioned above, and served after him as head of the rabbinical court for Keidan and environs, and is recorded in the Journal of the Keidan “Burial and Benevolence Society.” He passed away in Keidan in 1720.

Rabbi Pinchas ben Rabbi Eliezer (d. 1730)

Rabbi Pinchas bar Eliezer became rabbi of the town and environs after Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel, mentioned above. He was known as a great Kabbalist. During his lifetime, there lived in Keidan the Chassid Falk, who is mentioned in the book, “Ben Uri.” This was published in Zołkiew in 1729.

He wrote many books, among them “Even Harosha,” “Even Hashoham,” “Even Pina,” “Even Shtiya” and a commentary on the Pirkei Avot. He passed away in Keidan in 1730.

Rabbi Moshe bar Shimon Margalit (1710–1781)

The greatest of the commentators on the Jerusalem Talmud. He was born in Keidan about 1710, and served as head of the rabbinical court for Keidan and environs. It is believed that the Vilna Gaon studied Torah with Rabbi Moshe Margalit in his youth and when Rabbi Moshe came to Vilna, the Gaon showed him the respect with which a student honors his teacher. Some say the Gaon’s diligence in the study of the Jerusalem Talmud was the result of this rabbi’s influence.

Rabbi Moshe Margalit’s greatest work is his commentary, “Pnei Moshe,” covering and illuminating the entire Jerusalem Talmud. Were it not for him, the Jerusalem Talmud would remain a closed book to us. He was very well versed in both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds, and in all great talmudic literature; together with this he possessed a very sharp intellect and a very refined understanding. To write his commentary he used manuscripts of Tosefta (supplements) to the Mishna and ancient books. He also made efforts to acquire worldly knowledge necessary to understanding of the Jerusalem Talmud.

He left his town and travelled among cities and countries to study Torah. The name of Rabbi Moshe Margalit appears among the students at the faculty of botany of the University of Frankfurt an der Oder. There can be no doubt that his interest in this subject stemmed from his desire to write commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud’s major section, or order, called “Zeraim” (Seeds).

His travels through the cities of Europe took him to Amsterdam, where in 1755 he managed with the help of local philanthropists to publish his commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud’s order “Nashim” (Women). This commentary had two parts: “Pnei Moshe,” similar to Rashi’s commentary, and “Mare Hapanim,” a kind of addendum to the Jerusalem Talmud.

In his introduction he explains that he began with the order “Nashim” because the other two orders had already been interpreted by other commentators (“Zeraim” by Rabbi Eliyahu Polda, and “Moed” by Rabbi David Frankel). Fifteen years later he published the order “Nezikin” (Damages) of the Jerusalem Talmud (in Livorno, Italy). There he also attempted to publish the “Zeraim” commentary and had already managed to publish “Berachot” (Blessings) and the first page of the tractate “Peah” but he apparently lacked the financial means to finish the printing, and the two orders “Zeraim” and “Moed” were not published until a few years after his death.

In the preface to the tractate “Shavuot” (7:6) he declared: “I testify before heaven and earth that this commentary on the six orders of the Mishna, which I have expounded, follows the most intense investigation and study, deliberation, diligence and exhaustive searching, from morning til night, delving, investigating and searching in all sections of the Babylonian Talmud using the methods and commentaries of the sages of blessed memory, to the best of my ability. With God’s help, I have managed to find commentaries and systematic explanations for the Babylonian Talmud and many manuscripts from the earliest sages of blessed memory, which were not to be found in our country. I also found an addendum in a very ancient parchment, over a thousand years old,” and so on. He concludes his introduction to this tractate thus: “May God permit me to publish all these. I await and look forward to coming soon to the Holy Land if God will aid those who wish to be purified there.” However, this did not happen; he managed neither to publish his book nor to make aliya to Eretz Israel, because he died during his wanderings, while searching for the means to complete the printing of his book, as he passed through the city of Brody on 12 Tevet (January 9) 1781.

He also mentions his books of innovative interpretations: “Pnei Hamenora” on the Torah and “Be’er Mayim Chaim,” on the Babylonian Talmud’s tractates Shabbat and Eruvin, which were not published.

Rabbi Yechezkel bar Avraham Katzenellenbogen (1668–1749)

Born about 1668 in Brisk (currently Brest), he studied Torah with Rabbi Mordechai Ziskind, the rabbi of Brisk. He served as rabbi in a number of congregations, among them Keidan, Birzh (Biržai) and environs. The Katzenellenbogen dynasty in Keidan began with him. From there in 1714 he was appointed to the important rabbinic post in the communities of Altona, Hamburg and Wandsbek, where he served for 30 years until his death.

He was one of the most important rabbis of his generation and many notable rabbis sent him religious queries, among them Rabbi Dovid Oppenheim of Prague. Many authors also approached him with requests that he endorse their books. His replies were printed in his book “Knesset Yechezkel” (Altona, 1733) and thus many of his opinions were circulated in books by the sages of his generation.

He also wrote commentaries on the Talmud in a volume titled “Lechem Yechezkel,” which was not published. In contrast, a book entitled “Mayim Yechezkel” (Paritzek, 1786) was published long after his death. This contained commentaries on the Torah, arranged by weekly reading. According to Steinschneider[1], he was also the author of the book “Meorer Zikaron,” which combined references to the Mishna with rulings by Rashi and Tosafot, and was published anonymously (Altona, 1727).

He died about age 80 on 23 Tamuz (July 9) 1749 in Altona. Rabbi Jonathan Eybeschutz, who took his place in the rabbinate of the Three Communities[2], eulogized him twice, and these eulogies were published in his book “Ya’arat Dvash.”[3]

Rabbi David bar Yechezkel Katzenellenbogen (d.1757)

Son of Rabbi Yechezkel, he served after him as rabbi in Keidan and environs. He dedicated himself totally to the education of the prodigy who afterward became known as Rabbi Eliyahu, the Vilna Gaon, and who married the young Chana from Keidan, daughter of the wealthy Reb Yehuda. He is mentioned in the records of the Burial Society of Ragole (Ariogala), near Keidan, where he served as rabbi before moving to Keidan.

He served as rabbi of the town in the time of Shabbtai Zvi. Together with his son Avraham Katzenellenbogen, the rabbi of Brisk, he strongly supported the rule forbidding study of the “Zohar” before age 40. They were concerned that Kabbalistic study would spread throughout the towns of Lithuania. He passed away in 1757.

Rabbi Meshulam Zalman bar David Katzenellenbogen (d. 1771)

Son of Rabbi David, mentioned above, he followed him as rabbi in Keidan in 1758. Like his father, he too first served as rabbi in Ragole, near Keidan, and is mentioned in the records of its Burial and Benevolence Society. He is recorded there in a note from 1762.

His endorsements are to be found in many books, among them “Beit Yakov” and “Tiferet Yisrael” published in Frankfurt am Main. He passed away there in 1771.

Rabbi Menachem Nachum bar Meshulam Zalman Katzenellenbogen (d. 1790)

Son of Rabbi Meshulam Zalman, mentioned above, and the brother of Rabbi Mordechai Katzenellenbogen. He served as rabbi for Keidan and environs after his father, from 1770 to 1778. He is mentioned in the book “Luchot Ha’edot” among the scholars of Lublin. He passed away in Keidan in 1790.

Rabbi Moshe Mordechai bar Menachem Nachum Katzenellenbogen (d.1810)

Son of Rabbi Menachem Nachum, mentioned above, he was a disciple of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin. He served as rabbi in Ragole and afterward in Keidan from 1782 to 1795. He then left for Germany and settled in Frankfurt am Main.

His works include: “Alfa Beta,” a key to the legends of the Talmud in alphabetical order (Frankfurt am Main, 1855-1866); “V’hakna’ani az Ba’aretz “ – a commentary on this verse (Frankfurt am Main, 1857); “She’elot U’tshuvot” (Frankfurt am Main, 1857), regarding a ban on cutting hair during the intermediate days of a festival (Rotterdam,1857); “Ma’ayanei Yeshua” solace from the prophets with explanations (Frankfurt am Main, 1859), “Hatorah V’hamitzvot,” the 613 commandments of the Torah in alphabetical order (Hannover 1863, and in an expanded version, Stettin, 1865); “Divrei Moshe,” in which he admonishes the sons of Israel to bring their hearts closer to Torah (Hamburg 1851); and “Mimshal Koach Melachim Retzon Adonai” about monarchy (1854).

His endorsement is found in various books, for example “Zera Yakov” and “Sha’ar HaRachamim.” He passed away in Keidan in 1810.

Rabbi Tzemach bar Uri Zaks

Born in Keidan, his father was Reb Uri. He served as scribe and rabbinical judge in Keidan and environs in the time of Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Katzenellenbogen. His father was a friend of the Vilna Gaon in his youth, when he stayed in Keidan. He was a descendant of Reb Shneur, who served as finance minister of Hungary and died a martyr. After his death, his sons took the family name “Zaks”– an acronym for “Zera Kedoshim Shneur” (Descendants of the Martyr Shneur.)

He was very knowledgeable in Talmudic literature, Jewish history and also in the books of research and science. He also wrote Hebrew poetry.

Rabbi Yitzhak bar Katriel Troib

He lived and worked in Keidan during the time of Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Katzenellenbogen. He wrote the book “Gaon Olam” about the Vilna Gaon, which was published in Altona in 1798, and “Ykra Dashkevi” published in Altona in 1799.

Rabbi Moshe bar Avraham

He lived in the days of Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Katzenellenbogen, and was known by the name “Reb Meishl Hindes”. He was the brother of Rabbi Eliyahu, head of the rabbinical court in Tovrig (Tauragé), Rabbi Gershon, head of the rabbinical court in Shadova (Šeduva), and Rabbi Shmuel, rabbinical court head in Shat (Šeta). He was the son of Rabbi Avraham, who was the “Preacher of Meisharim” in Shklov, head of the rabbinical court in Krazh (Kražiai) and Ragole, and a brother of the Vilna Gaon.

Rabbi Aryeh Leib Hacohen

He served as rabbi of Keidan after Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Katzenellenbogen. He was a renowned kabbalist and a disciple of the kabbalist prodigy Rabbi Shlomo Landa, who was head of the rabbinical court in Vilkomir (Ukmerge), and a pupil of the Vilna Gaon.

Rabbi Moshe Rappoport (d. 1839)

A Talmudic scholar and philanthropist, he lived and was active in the days of Rabbi Aryeh Leib, mentioned above. Born in Keidan, and as his father was Uriya, he was known as Reb Aryeh Reb Uriya’s.” He wrote the books “Imrei Moshe” – a commentary on the Book of Esther (Warsaw, 1889) and “Toldot Moshe” – a commentary on the Pesach Haggadah (Warsaw, 1889). Both books were published with commentaries by Rabbi Shaul Shapiro, head of the rabbinic court in Ponevezh (Panevėžys).

He is mentioned in “questions and answers” in “Nachalat Shimon” in connection with the ritual bath built in Keidan in 1832. He passed away in Keidan in 1839.

Rabbi Avigdor

He lived during the time of Rabbi Aryeh Leib mentioned above, and was the grandson of Rabbi Uri Feibush, who was head of the rabbinical court in Vilna and who afterwards settled in Jerusalem, where he was called Rabbi Feibush the Ashkenazi. Rabbi Avigdor was the father of Rabbi Yitzhak, head of the rabbinical court in Pumpian (Pumpėnai).

Rabbi Reuven ben Rabbi Tzemach Zaks (d. 1852)

He was appointed rabbi in Keidan after Rabbi Aryeh Leib. He was the son of Rabbi Tzemach Zaks and the brother of Rabbi Matityahu Zaks from Keidan. Prior to that he was head of the rabbinical court in Volpa (Voupa, Belarus). His endorsement appears on the Talmud published in Slavuta in 1835. He passed away in Keidan in 1852.

Rabbi Yehuda Yudel ben Reb Pesach

He was a rabbinic judge in Keidan during the time of Rabbi Reuven Zaks. His father, Reb Pesach, was a teacher and rabbinic judge in Keidan. His endorsement appears, together with that of Rabbi Reuven Zaks, on the Talmud published in Slavuta.

Rabbi Yaakov

He lived and worked in Keidan during Rabbi Reuven’s time. Known as “Yankel Keidaner”, he wrote a major interpretation of the “Tanya” and published an anthology of legends called “Sipurim Niflaim” (Wondrous Stories).

Considered a kabbalist, he was a follower of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liady, who wrote the “Tanya,”[4] and of Rabbi Aharon Halevi Hurwitz of Staroselye and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, author of “Tzemach Tzedek”.

Rabbi Tzemach bar Avraham Shapiro (1777–1838)

He lived and worked in Keidan during the time of Rabbi Reuven Zaks. He was the son of Rabbi Avraham Shapiro, head of the rabbinical court in Telz (Telšiai). Descended from the gaon who wrote “Megaleh Amukot,” he was the father of Rabbi Yechezkel Shapiro, head of the rabbinical court in Vidukle. He was the brother of Rabbi Moshe Shapiro of Krazh (Kražiai), Rabbi Shimon Shapiro, head of the rabbinical court in Birzh (Biržai), and Rabbi Shmuel Shapiro, head of the rabbinical courts in Druya (currently Belarus), Ponevezh and Telz.

Rabbi Binyamin Ze’ev Wolf (d.1865)

Grandson of Rabbi Yechezkel Katzenellenbogen, who wrote “Knesset Yechezkel,” he became rabbi in Keidan after the above-mentioned Rabbi Reuven. He was called “Ironhead” for his very incisive intellect. He passed away in Keidan in 1865.

Rabbi Hillel bar Avraham Hacohen Bishko (1816–1868)

Lived and worked in Keidan during the time of Rabbi Binyamin Ze’ev, mentioned above. He was a disciple of the Gaon Rabbi Yitzhak of Volozhin. Grandson of the preacher Rabbi Hillel, head of the rabbinical court in Ratzki. He wrote the book “Hillel ben Shachar.

He was a diligent scholar of Torah and was among the greatest and sharpest minds in the town. Even the elite of Vilna called him to meetings about communal matters. He is mentioned in the responsa “Nachlat Shimon” by his teacher, Rabbi Shimon Zarkhi of Tovrig (Tauragé), published in Vilna in 1897, and in “Amudei Esh” by Rabbi Avraham Shmuel of Rasseyn (Raseiniai), published in 1875 in Vilna. He passed away in Keidan in 1868.

Reb Zvi Hirsh Halevi

He was the head of the yeshiva in Keidan during the time of Rabbi Binyamin Ze’ev Wolf. He was the father of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Moshe Halevi Sirkin.

Rabbi Rafael Yom Tov Lipman ben Rabbi Israel (1816 -1879)

Rose to head of the rabbinate in Keidan after Rabbi Binyamin Ze’ev, mentioned above. Born in Ruzhanoy (Ruzhany, Grodno district), where his father was head of the rabbinical court. Studied at the yeshiva of Minsk and age 20 was appointed rabbi in Krevo, close to Volozhin. He was named head of the rabbinical court in Keidan in 1841. In 1847 he served as head of the rabbinical court in Ciechanowiec (now Belarus) near Bialystok. In 1849 he served as rabbi in Mezritch (Międzyrzec Podlaski). In 1859 he was invited to serve as rabbi of Bialystok, which had been without a rabbi for 9 years.

Members of the congregation of Mezritch wouldn’t allow him to leave, so he was forced to flee the town in the middle of the night. He served as rabbi in Bialystok for 20 years. He protected ordinary people from abuses by the authorities. Accused of encouraging resistance to the Russian authorities, he was imprisoned and sent to Grodno for an investigation that dragged on for months. When he was released and returned to Bialystok, his congregation organised an elaborate reception for him.

His works include “Oneg Yom Tov, Questions and Answers” (Vilna, 1880, second printing Bilgoray, 1931); and “Oneg Yom Tov – Discourses” (Petersburg, 1906). He passed away in Bialystok in 1879.

Rabbi Avraham Shimon bar Yitzhak Isaac Troib (1814-1875)

Born in Keidan, he ascended to head of the rabbinate in 1852, after Rabbi Rafael Yom Tov Lipman Halperin, mentioned above. The Troib dynasty in Keidan begins with him. He was one of the great Torah scholars of his generation. He wrote many books, among them “Be’er Avraham” (New York, 1947) “Halachot Gdolot” (Warsaw, 1875). He was also a great expert in financial matters.

His first occupation involved agriculture. He owned a large farm, but saw no profit from his labor and was pressed to accept the post of rabbi in Keidan. He was among the progressive rabbis, and published articles in the press. He disputed with Y.L Gordon about reforms in religious practice. He passed away in Keidan in 1875.

Rabbi Binyamin Ze’ev Troib (1789-1869)

Father-in-law of Rabbi Avraham Shimon, above, he served as head of the rabbinical court in Shavli (Šiauliai) for 12 years, then gave up the rabbinate and relocated to Keidan to live with his son-in-law, Rabbi Avraham Shimon. They acquired a large farm which they managed and supervised together, both wearing talit and tfillin.

His endorsement appears in the Slavuta Talmud, published in 1835. He passed away in Keidan in 1869, at age 80.

Rabbi Binyamin Ze’ev bar Issachar (d. 1891)

He lived in Keidan in the time of Rabbi Avraham Shimon Troib. He was a rabbinic judge and a teacher of Jewish law in Keidan for about 30 years. After that he became a judge in the Ashkenazi rabbinical court in Jerusalem. He passed away there in 1891.

Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Simcha bar Avraham Shimon Troib (1829-1911)

Son of the above-mentioned Rabbi Avraham Shimon, he he served as head of the rabbinical court in Krok (Krakès), and was appointed rabbi in Keidan after his father. His endorsement appears in the book “Be’er Yakov” published in Vilna in 1880.

He was the father-in-law of Rabbi Yitzhak Eliyahu Gefen, head of the rabbinical court in Jadów (Poland) and father-in-law of Rabbi Avraham Eliyahu Kaplan, known as the “prodigy from Rakov,” (Belarus) and the father of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Troib from Boisk, Courland (now Basuka, Latvia). He also excelled in general science, mathematics and foreign languages.

He distinguished himself in ethics and virtuous behaviour. He loathed gifts. When forced to accept a gift to respect the dignity of the giver, he kept the money to compensate any poor Jew whose chicken he declared unkosher. He passed away in Keidan in 1911.

Rabbi Meir Dober bar Moshe Elazar Pager (d. 1906)

The son of Rabbi Moshe Elazar Pager from Vilna, he served as assistant rabbi in Keidan during the time of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Simcha Troib. He first headed the rabbinical court in Rumshishok (Rumšiškės) and then served as rabbi in Keidan. He later immigrated to the United States and passed away there in 1906. He wrote the books “Yad Meir,” “Likutei Yaakov” and “Piskei Halachot”.

Rabbi Shmuel Meir bar Yaakov Yosef Shor (1848–1898)

He worked in Keidan during the time of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Simcha Troib. He was the brother of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Shor, head of the rabbinical court in Kretinga (Lithuania).

Rabbi Avraham bar Eliyahu Baruch Kamai hy’d[5] (1860–1941)

Born in Shkud (Skuodas), he was the son of the famous gaon Rabbi Eliyahu Baruch Kamai, head of the rabbinical court and of the Mir yeshiva. He was the senior gaon of his time.

He became head of the rabbinical court after Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Troib, mentioned above, and served as community rabbi in Keidan until 1915. Afterward he moved to Mir and served in his father’s place, both in the Mir rabbinate and also as deputy head of the yeshiva. His teaching was aimed mainly at students already well versed in the Mishna and legal literature, who were interested in innovative discussions. Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Kamai was also renowned for his practical solutions in matters of Jewish law. The students of the adult school that was established next to the Mir yeshiva, “warmed themselves by his light” and benefitted from his wisdom and advice in all matters of prohibitions and permission, religion and law.

He was notably ethical, pure and innocent in his behavior. He possessed many handwritten manuscripts of Talmudic literature, his own and his father’s.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, as the Mir yeshiva relocated to Vilna and then to Keidan, Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Kamai, the rabbi and leader of the Mir community, refused to leave his position and shared the fate of his congregation. At the time of the Russian occupation, he watched as the large, splendid yeshiva building was secularized and turned into a cinema. When the town was seized by the Nazis, he was martyred together with 900 fellow Jews in the massacre on 8 MarCheshvan (Oct 29,) 1941.

Letters from there described that slaughter in shattering detail and told of his final speech to the Jews of Mir before their agonizing death.

Rabbi Shlomo Feinsilber hy’d (1871–1941)

Born in the small town of Jałówka, Grodno province, his father was Rabbi Aaron Yosef Halevi. He served as rabbi in Tovrig (Tauragė) and Vekshne (Viekšniai). During the First World War he was exiled to Russia and served as rabbi in Minsk city for five or six years. He established a yeshiva there and was its principal until he left Minsk. After the war he returned to Lithuania and continued to serve as rabbi in Vekshne. In 1924 he was offered the post of rabbinical court head in Keidan, which had been vacant for many years due to a lack of suitable applicants to continue the dynasty of gaonim (geniuses) that had previously held this position.

In Keidan he developed extensive public activities which elevated him to a position of leadership among the orthodox Jews, and made him one of the great rabbis of Lithuania. He served as chairman of the Rabbinic Association of Lithuania. After the abolition of Jewish autonomy, the Rabbinic Association committee was recognized by the Lithuanian authorities as the Jewish community’s representative, and he negotiated with the government on all matters pertaining to Lithuanian Jewry.

In Keidan he established “Beit Hatalmud,” which served as a type of preparatory school for the yeshiva. With the outbreak of the Second World War, many yeshiva students arrived in Keidan from Poland, particularly from Mir; he then set up a significant yeshiva that continued to exist until the annihilation of the Jews of Keidan by the Nazis. He motivated his congregants with his energy and spiritual devotion until the very last moment, when he was led to the slaughter together with his entire congregation. He led the procession, with a Torah scroll in his arms and prayer on his lips, encouraging them to die as martyrs, fearlessly.

His son–in–law, Rabbi Aharon Galin, who served as a rabbinical judge in the town and helped Rabbi Finesilber in his old age, turned to the Lithuanians standing by and said to them in their own language: “Spilled blood will not be silenced!” But the sound of the shots silenced him.

Rabbi Feinsilber, one of the most famous geniuses in the rabbinic world, wrote many books and left behind many manuscripts. Renowned among his published works was “Nishmat Chaim” dealing with circumcision, published in Jerusalem in 1908, with an endorsement by the most senior gaon of that generation, Rabbi Shmuel Salant, and with additional comments and opposing ideas by Rabbi Pesach Hirsh Frank; ”Hashlamat Hamidot,” dealing with behavior and ethics, published in Keidan in 1925; “Yeriot Shlomo,” commentaries on “Sefer Ha’avoda” and “Sefer Hakorbanot” by Maimonides, which was published in Keidan in 1933.


  • Yahadut Lita” (The Jews of Lithuania), parts 1, 2 and 3
  • Dr Mordechai Margaliot: Encyclopedia of the History of Israel’s Great Personalities, published by Yehoshua Chechik, Tel Aviv.
  • Moshe Markowitz: History of Keidan and its Rabbis, Warsaw 1913.
  • Yaakov Halevi Lifshitz: Zichron Yaakov, Kovno 1927.
  • Shmuel Yosef Fine: Kiriya Neemana, Vilna 1915.
  • Hebrew Encyclopedia
  • Evreiskaya Entziklopedia, Petersburg, edited by Dr. A. Harkavi (Dr L. Katzenelson).

[1] Moritz Steinschneider, German bibliographer, who catalogued and translated Jewish writings from the Middle Ages through the 18th century.

[2] Altona, Hamburg and Wandsbek.

[3] A mystical commentary on the Torah, central to Kabbala

[4] The Tanya, written by Shneur Zalman of Liady, is the main work of the Chabad movement’s philosophy and approach to Hasidic mysticism. Hurwitz and Schneersohn were also major figures in the early Chabad movement.

[5] “May God avenge his blood.”


Translated by Bella Golubchik 


1 Response to Rabbis of Keidan

  1. Claudia Bullock says:

    I am writing to inform you that some of the biographical information posted here for Rabbi Moshe Mordechai bar Menachem Nachum Katzenellenbogen (d.1810) is incorrect, as he was not the author of the books you have listed. Those books were authored by a different Rabbi Moses ben Nachum Katzenellenbogen, who was his 2nd cousin. This other Rabbi Moses (who was my 3rd GGF) was the son of R’ Menachem Nachum Katzenellenpogen, ABD Birzai. Both rabbis were great grandsons of R’ David Katzenellenbogen, ABD Kedainiai. Rabbi Moshe Mordechai died in 1810 in Keidan, which is long before the books in questions were published. Please note in particular that in the book “She’elot U’tshuvot” (Frankfurt am Main, 1857), on page 6, the author says that he is now living in Frankfurt-am-Main, and asks his readers to correspond with him there if they have any corrections. This request was made 47 years after the death of Rabbi Moshe Mordechai in Keidan in 1810, so clearly he was not the Rabbi Moses who made that request! My 3rd GGF was the Rabbi Moses who settled in Frankfurt, and who wrote this book. My 3rd GGF is also the one who studied under Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, as was stated on page 5 of this same book. You may wish to note that in the book, “The Unbroken Chain”, 3rd edition, by Neil Rosenstein, there is an entry for my 3rd GGF, which states that he studied in the Volozhin Yeshiva under its founder, R Haim of Volozhin, and later settled in Frankfurt-on-Main, and a number of my 3rd GGF’s publications are listed there. (see G11.3 R. Moses Katzenellenbogen, ABD Kremenchug, Ukraine, in Volume 3, Chapter 8, page 385). There is also an entry in the same volume and chapter for his 2nd cousin, Rabbi Moshe Mordechai. It is on page 422, and reads as follows: “G11.1 R. (Moses) Mordecai Katzenellenbogen signed his name in Luchot HaEidut, Altona, 1775, with the other rabbis of Lublin”.

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