Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
In the late 1800s, a great migration began, as many Jews left Europe for America. Though many were religious, no religious hierarchy was established. Rabbis in America were few and far between; the need for rabbis was great, as religious Jews thirsted for Yiddishkeit. Rabbi Shraga Yechezkel Halberstam, zt’l (1813—1898), Shiniva Rebbe, was the eldest son of Rabbi Chaim Halberstam, zt’l (1793—1876), revered Sanzer Rebbe and author of Divrei Chaim. The Shiniva Rebbe was asked to come to America and serve as the religious leader for the Jews here. He agreed that the need was great and that he desired to go, but that he was old and no longer had the energy necessary for such a formidable task.
The Shiniva Rebbe described the religious challenge that America posed with an illustrative story. A general ordered his lieutenants to lead the army straight ahead. “March!” was the command. The army moved ahead; it came to the banks of a river. The army stopped and the lieutenants reported back to the general. The general thundered, “March straight ahead!” The army moved ahead; the initial group of soldiers drowned. The soldiers that followed also drowned. As the bodies piled up, the remainder of the army was able to march across the river on top of the bodies. That, the Shiniva Rebbe said, was how Yiddishkeit would be built in America. The first wave of immigrants would be sacrificed so that later immigrants would have the opportunity to lead religious lives here.
The history of Jews in America is a study of the continuation of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. History records the visits of rabbis from Palestine to the Americas during the late 1700s. Their visits were generally for fundraising purposes and none took up residence here. Most notably, Rabbi Raphael Chaim Isaac Carregal, zt’l (1733—1777), was a traveling maggid. He is the first rabbi recorded to have visited the colonies that later became the United States.
He was ordained at the age of 17, and in 1754 set out on a series of voyages, usually remaining a brief time in the places he visited: Constantinople (1754—56); CuraÃ§ao (1761—63); Hebron (1764—68); London (1768—71); Jamaica (1771—72); and British colonies of North America (1772—73). On July 21, 1773, he sailed for Suriname, and in 1775 he was in Barbados. He spent some time in New York and Philadelphia, and sojourned in Newport, Rhode Island (March through July 1773) as the guest of the community. Though he was not formally connected with Congregation Yeshuat Israel, now renowned as the Touro Synagogue, he often officiated at services, preaching in Spanish. The entire membership of the shul at the time was Sephardic. Most of the congregation had come from Barbados, so they spoke Spanish.
While in Newport, Rabbi Carregal became a close friend of Ezra Stiles, who later became president of Yale College. Letters that they wrote each other, almost all in Hebrew, together with Stiles’s copious notes on their visits together, still exist among the unpublished Stiles papers in the library of Yale University.
Stiles took advantage of his friendship with Rabbi Carregal to improve his skills in the Hebrew language, feeling that such was advantageous for the study and understanding of Biblical texts in their original language. In his diary, Stiles speaks lovingly and admiringly of his Jewish friend. He gives a long account of the rabbi’s dress, manner, and personality. In a series of entries, Stiles records a complete history of Rabbi Carregal’s sojourn in Newport. Stiles also commissioned a portrait of the rabbi by famed artist Samuel King for Yale College.
Stiles describes Rabbi Carregal at the March 1773 Purim service at the Newport synagogue as “dressed in a red garment with the usual phylacteries and habiliments, the white silk surplice; he wore a high fur cap, had a long beard. He has the appearance of an ingenious and sensible man.” For Passover, he portrays the rabbi as wearing “a high fur cap, exactly like a woman’s muff, and about 9 or 10 inches high, the aperture atop was closed with green cloth.” Most favorably affected by the rabbi, Stiles invited him and Aaron Lopez, a respected local Jewish merchant, to his home on March 30, 1773. The two immediately ignited a warm friendship.
According to Stiles’s records, the two met 28 times before Rabbi Carregal’s departure six months later. They discussed a wide variety of topics, including the politics of the Holy Land. Rabbi Carregal authored two brochures, both yomtov sermons, published in Newport in 1773. The brochures are the first Jewish publications in Colonial America. Rabbi Carregal was born in Hebron and passed away at the age of 48 in Barbados, where he is buried and his matzeivah still stands.
The first ordained rabbi to take up permanent residence in the United States was Rabbi Abraham Joseph (Reiss) Rice, zt’l (1800—1860). Rabbi Rice served with distinction as rosh yeshiva in Zell, Bavaria. Beginning in 1836, Bavarian Jews began emigrating to the United States by the boatload. Rabbi Rice, a great talmidchacham, was designated by the gedolim and chief rabbis of Bavaria and England to settle in the United States and serve as spiritual leader to the growing Bavarian immigrant community and as chief rabbi of the United States. He arrived in 1840 and assumed the pulpit of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Kehila Nidchei Israel. As the only ordained rabbi in the United States, Rabbi Rice effectively was the chief rabbi. Rabbi Rice passed away at the age of 60 on 5 Cheshvan 5623 (October 29, 1862), and is buried in Baltimore.
The first chassidishrebbe to permanently reside in the United States was Rabbi Eliyahu Yosef Rabinowitz, zt’l, Linitzer-Sokolivker Rebbe, who arrived in 1899 and initially resided on the Lower East Side. The Linitzer-Sokolivker Rebbe was a great-grandson of the chassidish luminary Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro, zt’l (1720-1796), Koritzer Rebbe. A large Linitzer-Sokolivker immigrant community then resided in the city of Buffalo, approximately a half-hour’s drive from Niagara Falls. The much-adored Linitzer-Sokolivker Rebbe was invited to assume the pulpit of Congregation Sons of Israel, known as the Jefferson Street Shul, where he served until the day of his passing on the 13th of Cheshvan in 5671 (November 15, 1910) and was interred in the Ahavas Shalom Cemetery. An ohel was built over the gravesite at that time by his chassidim. Sadly, the Linitzer-Sokolivker Rebbe left no children.
In 1999, for the first time, two groups were organized to visit the gravesite of the Linitzer-Sokolivker Rebbe. The groups were led by Rabbi Yonah Landau and Rabbi Elozor Friedman. On motzaeiShabbosVayakhel, a large group, including many members of Kollel Tiferes Bachurim of Kiryas Joel, Monroe, traveled by bus and car to Buffalo.
The group arrived in Buffalo on Sunday morning and conducted Shacharis at Congregation Achei Temimim, which was established in 1905. Several members of the congregation were emotionally overwhelmed to meet the chassidish group arriving to specifically pray in Buffalo. Following the morning services, the group visited the ohel of the Linitzer-Sokolivker Rebbe, where the entire SeferTehillim was recited.
On Wednesday, erevRoshChodeshNissan, March 17, a second group boarded buses and automobiles leaving Williamsburg at 4Â a.m., stopping in Kiryas Joel at 5:15 a.m., at the gravesite of the previous Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, zt’l (1896—1979), Satmar Rebbe and author of Divrei Yoel. They davenedShacharis on the buses en route to the Ahavas Shalom Cemetery in Buffalo; the group was joined by Rabbi Abraham Goldstein of the Vaad Hakashrus and Velvel Tenenbaum, president of the chevrahkadisha, who is the appointed keeper of the key to the ohel, together with several members of Congregation Achei Temimim. At the cemetery, which is only minutes away from the New York Thruway, Rabbi Shalom Fishbein, rav of Achei Temimim, accompanied by its president, escorted the group to the ohel, where the entire Tehillim was recited.
After Minchah at Congregation Achei Temimim, the entire congregation joined a seudasroshchodesh that was served for the visiting group. The meal was sponsored by Shalom Feldman of Kiryas Joel who conceived, implemented, and arranged the visit. Rabbi Yonah Landau, noted scholar and author, addressed the congregation and described the great efforts of the first rabbis that settled in America and the tremendous debt of gratitude that we all owe them. America’s religious communities today are the fruit of their great sacrifices. Rabbi Fishbein, eminent rav of the congregation, described his ongoing efforts to establish a kollel in Buffalo and acknowledged that the visit of so many chassidim buttressed his efforts and raised the community’s religiosity.
An emotional note was struck by Gedalyeh Solomon of Buffalo, who related that his father emigrated from Sokolivka, Ukraine after the members of his family were killed in a pogrom there. His father, a member of Congregation Sons of Israel, named him Gedalyeh after the Linitzer-Sokolivker Rebbe’s father, Rabbi Gedalyeh Aaron, zt’l (1815-1865), founding Linitzer Rebbe, and always relished describing the greatness of the Linitzer-Sokolivker Rebbe. During his trips to Israel, Gedalyeh Solomon visits the Monastrishtsher Rebbe in Jerusalem, a nephew of the Linitzer-Sokolivker Rebbe. In Buffalo, Solomon recites the Kel Malei at the ohel on the Rebbe’s yahrzeit.
The local secular press reported extensively on the visit of such a large chassidish group. Undoubtedly, these visits left an indelible impression on all participants.
This year, on Monday, October 26, 13 Cheshvan, busload upon busload arrived at the ohel. Minyan after minyan surrounded the ohel as Tehillim was recited again and again. The Linitzer-Sokolivker ohel is a Jewish holy site in Buffalo, of all places.
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.