שבת ט' בכסלו תשפ"ג 03/12/2022
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  • The Mission Continues

    As in the past so it remains today - we were and still are under the selfsame commitment to adhere to the directions of the Gedolei Yisrael, who stand guard against breaches of purity threatening our camp. When we were required to ask – we asked. When we were instructed to depart – we left. The moment we are summoned back to raise the flag, every other consideration is pushed to the side and we answer: We are ready!

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  • Harav Yisrael Friedman zy”a, the Rebbe of Husyatin

    מוטי, ויקיפדיה העברית

    The ancestral chain of Harav Yisrael Friedman, the founder of the Husyatin chassidic court, originates with the holy Baal Shem Tov. The Husyatin chassidus has its roots in Galicia and eventually came to Tel Aviv, during the turbulent years between the two World Wars.

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  • Maccabi'im Gravesite

    In honour of Chanukah, we will discuss a fascinating, ongoing investigation attempting to establish the place of burial of Mattisyahu Kohen Gadol and his family.

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Reflections

Harav Shmuel Salant

Barak Sarig 19/08/2009 12:00
At the centre of the communal life of the Old Yishuv, the religious Jewish settlement of Jerusalem, for a period of seventy years, stood the figure of Harav Shmuel Salant ztz”l, who was not just the spiritual leader of all the various streams of the Ashkenazi kehillah of the city, but also a father-figure and advisor to all those who lived in the Holy City and those who ascended there from all parts of the world. These were Jews whose aspiration was to ascend in spirituality, and so they came to dwell in Eretz Israel, paving the way for those who followed in their footsteps.

Harav Shmuel Salant was born on the 2nd of Shvat in the year 5576 (1816ce) in the town of Kaidan in Russia. Already at a very young age when he still learned in his home town, he was renowned as the ‘genius of Kaidan’. Afterwards, he went to learn in the town of Salant under Harav Tzvi Broide ztz”l, and later in the Volozhiner Yeshivah. When his father once happened to be in Salant, Harav Yosef Zundel of Salant ztz”l approached him and suggested a match between his daughter and Rabbi Shmuel, to which the father agreed.

During his twenties, Rabbi Shmuel became ill with pneumonia, and the doctors treating him advised him to go and live in a hotter climate, such as in Italy. But Rabbi Shmuel decided that if he was to move, he would rather ascend to Eretz Israel, and so, in the month of Shvat of the year 5601 he arrived in Jerusalem with his wife and son. It was during this period of his life that he began his activities for the benefit of other Jews, whose effects are still felt to this very day.

At the time when he arrived in Jerusalem, his father-in-law Harav Zundel of Salant was the head of the Ashkenazi community there, who had preceded Rabbi Shmuel with his arrival in the Holy Land by two years and served as a Moreh Hora’ah in Jerusalem. Hagaon Rabbi Yeshaya Bardeki ztz”l was then the head and leader of the community, and his was the decisive voice on the main issues of the day.

Jerusalem during this period was home to just a small Jewish community – small in size, but great in stature and full of talmidei chachomim and yerei Shamayim. These were Jews who had left the comforts and conveniences of large Jewish communities of the diaspora and had come to live in simplicity in the Holy Land. They included rabbonim, dayanim and gedolei Torah from all parts of the world, who had previously held positions of prominence in respected Jewish communities. Now most of them were concentrated in the tiny Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Among them could be found Rabbi Yehudah Leib of Kotna, Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin of Brisk, the Aderes (Rabbi Eliyahu Dovid Rabbinovitz-Te’umim), Rabbi Meir Auerbach, Rabbi Avraham Shaag, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, and many others, ztz”l.
Most of the residents of what later came to be known as the Old Yishuv, the Ashkenazi kehillah in Jerusalem, were associated with the ‘Kollel Perushim’ of Vilna, since most of them originated from that city and they or their ancestors had ascended to Eretz Israel together with the aliyah of the talmidei haGra. Originally they had settled in Tzfat, but following the catastrophic earthquake that had devastated the town in the year 5597 they had come to live in Jerusalem. They in fact constituted the first seeds of Ashkenazi settlement in the Holy City, which until then was home almost exclusively to Jews of Sephardi origin.

Before leaving for Eretz Israel, Rabbi Shmuel Salant visited the great Torah scholars of Lithuania and Russia and told them of his upcoming voyage. Before even arriving in Jerusalem, he was informed by the leaders of the community and the administrators of the tzeddakah funds there that he had been appointed as Gaavad of Jerusalem (Gaon Av Beis Din) and the head of the community. However, he refused to promise that he would accept this position of leadership.

As mentioned, those who were resident in the Holy City apart from the fledgling Perushim community were Jews who had in most cases been living there for generations, even some from the period of the Ramban, Rabbi Ovadia Bartenura and Rabbi Yitzchak HaKohen Sholal, who was the last person to be called ‘Nagid’, which was the title customarily given to the leader of the Sephardi world. When he was niftar in the year 5434 his successor, Rabbi Moshe Galanti, refused to allow himself to be called by this title, due to his great humility, and instead he was known as the ‘Rishon LeTzion’, a title which was then adopted by all those who served after him.

There were also many Jews in Jerusalem who descended from those who had fled Spanish persecution or had been expelled in the year 5252. Others came from North Africa, gaonim and mekubalim, and also from Turkey and Babylon (Iraq.) During this long period of hundreds of years, the Ottoman Empire ruled over Eretz Israel, and they permitted Sephardi Jews to establish their own institutions and organise their communal life as they wished.

When the number of Ashkenazi immigrants began to grow, from the year 5602, and they became numerous enough to constitute a distinct community, they were restricted by official regulations that only recognised the Sephardi community. Whereas the Sephardi community was largely homogenous, consisting of families who had resided in Jerusalem for many generations, the Ashkenazim had yet to put down firm roots in Eretz Israel, and in addition, they originated from many different and diverse locations, with differing customs. As such, it was a complicated task to find a person capable of leading such a community, someone who would find acceptance in the eyes of such a wide range of people. They wished to preserve in most cases their individual customs that linked them with their former homes in the communities of the diaspora – they were not seeking a leader who would seek to make them conform to a particular mould.

This was the main consideration of those whose role it was to appoint a head of the community – the ability to create a unified body of diverse elements, without stifling their individuality. This was the task assigned to Rabbi Shmuel Salant. Initially, the community was comprised of some 500 families, but this number quickly grew within a few short years, until it was a sizeable community even in comparison to the established Sephardi community. Eventually, the community became entirely independent, and was centred around the area of the Churvah of Rabbi Yehudah haChassid. This was the focal point of the newly-established Ashkenazi-Perushim kehillah of Jerusalem – the home of Rabbi Shmuel Salant, a tiny apartment, without windows – but this did not prevent him from being an influential force in communal life. At his side in the leadership of the community was his Beis Din of the Ashkenazi community, as well as the elders and talmidei chachomim who were attentive to the needs of the people.

The main role of Rabbi Shmuel was the establishment and management of the institutions of the community; the ‘Eitz Chaim’ cheder and yeshivah. It was for their benefit that in the year 5608 Rabbi Shmuel set out for chutz l’Aretz, in order to travel through Russia, Germany, Holland and England to raise money to establish the cheder and the yeshivah on a firm footing, since they were rapidly becoming the largest Torah institutions of the city. Such an extensive trip gathered much attention from the Torah scholars of the time, and Rabbi Shmuel’s name became known far and wide, as he forged connections with many Jewish leaders and communities.

In Jerusalem, Rabbi Shmuel himself gave over shiurim for a period of ten years to the talmidim of Eitz Chaim, and he knew each of them by name. And apart from his efforts on behalf of ‘Eitz Chaim’, Rabbi Shmuel was also instrumental in the establishment of the ‘Bikur Cholim’ hospital in Jerusalem, and from the monies he raised abroad he also built the ‘Beis Yaakov’ shul on the site of the ruined Churvah of Rabbi Yehudah haChassid.

Because of the sensitivity of the issue of the ‘Mara d’Asra’ of Jerusalem, matters proceeded very delicately. Only someone finely attuned to the differing natures of the various communities of the Holy City could manage to act in a way that did not offend anyone – only someone with a deep understanding of human nature, unaffected by personal bias or interests – and this was Rabbi Shmuel. Once he was presented a she’ilah from a rav from chutz l’Aretz, and he asked Harav Yosef Rivlin, the secretary of the community who was authorised to sign letters in Rabbi Shmuel’s name, to write the teshuvah and sign it ‘Harav Shmuel Salant’ only, without additional titles. Harav Rivlin wanted to embellish this simple title, but Rabbi Shmuel refused, saying that in fact, he did not even feel entitled to call himself ‘Harav’, since there was no longer any person of sufficient stature to be the Rav of the holy city of Jerusalem. He added that he only allowed himself to be called ‘Harav’ since he had been appointed to pasken the she’ilos of Jerusalem. All of this was motivated not only by his extraordinary humility, but also by his desire to maintain a harmonious relationship with the Sephardi community and the chachomim who led it.

In this vein, we can add the words that Rabbi Shmuel told to Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld ztz”l, which attest to the intelligence and abilities demanded of someone in such a sensitive position. Rabbi Shmuel said; “Jerusalem is a city full of chachomim and sofrim, each one of which is capable of serving as the rav of any large community. What then does Jerusalem need in a rav? A measure of sensitivity.”

Before the petirah of Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin, although there were many communal matters that were brought before Rabbi Shmuel, especially matters that involved dodging between the raindrops in order not to cause dispute among the various strands of the community, still Harav Diskin was widely recognised as the head of the community. One delicate matter with which Harav Diskin had to deal was that of the demand of the administrators of the fund of Reb Moshe Montefiore to introduce the study of the Arabic language into the Eitz Chaim yeshivah. Reb Moshe’s demands were not to be taken lightly, since his financial support of the Yishuv was considerable, but nevertheless Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin was firmly opposed to his proposal, which in the end came to nothing.

After the petirah of Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin ztz”l, Rabbi Shmuel’s position as Mara d’Asra gained wider acceptance. Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld took on the custom of greeting Rabbi Shmuel every Leil Shabbos at his home in area of the Churvah of Rabbi Yehudah haChassid, as he had previously done for his teacher Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin – as such, this action was undertaken with the underlying motivation of recognising Rabbi Shmuel as leader. Rabbi Shmuel Salant for his part availed himself frequently of Rabbi Yosef Chaim’s advice on many matters pertaining to the community.
A considerable part of Rabbi Shmuel’s activities in Jerusalem involved the preservation of the institutions against infiltration of the ideas of the Haskalah on one hand, and the influence of the secular on the other, who were endeavouring with all their strength to increase their influence over the Jewish Yishuv in the Holy Land. Rabbi Shmuel issued a ban, together with other rabbonim, on the ‘Torah library’ that had been founded in Jerusalem, since it included heretical works among its selection. Also included in the ban was sending one’s children to study in the schools established by missionaries, and Rabbi Shmuel was also strongly opposed to the establishment of any educational institution that included the study of foreign languages or secular subjects in its curriculum.

Rabbi Shmuel had an exceptionally close relationship with Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, as was attested to by Rabbi Yosef Chaim’s son. He described how in his youth his father took him with him to Rabbi Shmuel to receive his blessings before for the new year on Erev Yom Kippur: “At first I was filled with trepidation and awe, since I feared being in the presence of two such great tzaddikim on the eve of the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. In the end, my curiosity and desire to witness such a meeting prevailed over my hesitance, and I was present at this great event, the meeting of two such tzaddikim on Erev Yom Kippur.

“They sat and conversed for several minutes, and I stood to one side, enveloped in my thoughts as I observed them. When the time came for my father to leave, I was stunned to see how my father and teacher slipped off his chair in a swift motion and bent down under the hands of Rabbi Shmuel, saying; “Nu, please bless me, my teacher!” Then Rabbi Shmuel placed his hands on my father's head and blessed him. Afterwards, when my father and teacher stood up and requested that he might leave, the order was reversed and Rabbi Shmuel himself bent down, turning to my father and teacher and saying “and now, please also bless me, my teacher....””

Similarly, on the first night of Pesach Rabbi Shmuel Salant would eat from the special matzos that Rabbi Yosef Chaim had baked with great hiddur, and with these mitzvos Rabbi Shmuel would fulfill his mid’Oraisa obligation to eat matzah on the first night of the festival. He stressed on many occasions that Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld was the most fitting candidate to succeed him as Mara d’Asra, but this did not come about due to the determined refusal of Rabbi Yosef Chaim to accept upon himself the mantle of the rabbonus.

When he reached the age of eighty Rabbi Shmuel turned his attention to the matter of who would succeed him, even during his lifetime, since he was becoming increasingly weak, and also in order that he should be able to pass on his accumulated knowledge and skills, those which were necessary in order to be able to successfully lead the large and diverse Ashkenazi community of Jerusalem. As such, he understood that the choosing of his replacement was no simple matter, and he feared that Jerusalem might even be left without a spiritual leader if no suitable candidate was found. Apart from his entreaties to Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, he also appealed to Rabbi Chaim Berlin, the son of the Netziv, who was the rav of Moscow for many years. In addition, he received refusals from other rabbonim and gaonim, for various reasons.

In the year 5661, the gaon Rabbi Eliyahu Dovid Rabbinovitz-Te’umim (the Aderes) ascended to Eretz Israel, and he took on the role of aide to Rabbi Shmuel and was prepared to become his replacement. However, soon afterwards he was taken ill and passed away, during the lifetime of Rabbi Shmuel. Meanwhile, the health of Rabbi Shmuel took a decided turn for the worse, and on the evening of the 29th of Menachem Av, in the year 5669 he returned his soul to his Maker, at the age of ninety-three. His only son Rabbi Binyomin Beinish Salant who was among the seven founders of the ‘Nachalas Shivah’ neighbourhood had already passed away in his father's lifetime.

Rabbi Shmuel did not leave any seforim behind, since he found it difficult to write. In the year 5758 his grandson, Harav Nissan Aharon Tikuchinski, published three volumes of teshuvos and psakim of his grandfather Rabbi Shmuel Salant which he had collated from many sources and writings.