Jewish History Soundbites
Frum Politics: Rav Yehoshua of Belz, Rav Shimon Sofer & Machzikei Hadas

Frum Politics: Rav Yehoshua of Belz, Rav Shimon Sofer & Machzikei Hadas

June 12, 2022

Founded in 1879 the Rav Yehoshua of Belz and Rav Shimon Sofer, the Machzikei Hadas political party was the first Orthodox political party in Jewish history. The unique status of Galician Jewry of the 19th century, as a heavily traditional, demographically large community who had already received emancipation from the Habsburg monarchy in 1867, led the leaders of Orthodox Jewry there to utilize the benefits of emancipation to further the cause of traditional Jewry. Rav Shimon Sofer even got elected to the Austrian parliament. 

The mouthpiece of the organization was a newspaper of the same name, and emerged as another modern tool to preserve tradition. Though its influence waned after an initial decade of success, this pioneering endeavor left a lasting impact on the developing environment of Orthodox politics.

 

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Shavuos Musings & Uri Zohar Tribute

Shavuos Musings & Uri Zohar Tribute

June 3, 2022

The recent passing of Uri Zohar is an opportunity to pay tribute to this unique individual who made the journey from the apex of the Israeli entertainment world to embracing religious observance.

With Shavuos approaching, it’s an opportunity to reflect on some of the historical events which are associated with this season throughout history. From the deportations of Hungarian Jewry in 1944, to liberation a year later, to the events of the First Crusade and the Khmelnytsky massacres of 1648-49, many tragic events somehow occurred around this time. The yahrzeits of both the the Baal Shem Tov and the Ger Rebbe the Imrei Emes are on Shavuos as well. These and several other curious events, are analyzed in these musings on Shavuos and Jewish History. 

 

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A Chassid in Krakow: The Maor Veshemesh

A Chassid in Krakow: The Maor Veshemesh

May 22, 2022

Rav Klonymous Kalman Halevi Epstein (1751-1823) is known by his posthumously published work the Maor Veshemesh. Born into a poor family, he spent the bulk of his childhood selling bagels in the streets of Krakow to support his family. He eventually emerged as a budding Torah scholar, and later joined the nascent Chassidic movement, becoming a close follower of the Noam Elimelech of Lizhensk. 

He later attempted to establish a chassidic presence in Krakow, but faced much opposition from the establishment. Eventually returning to his home town of Neustadt, he gained a following, while he himself continued to travel to the great tzadikim of his day. His burial site in Krakow is much visited until this very day, while his primary legacy in the form of his sefer Maor Veshemesh is sometimes referred to as ‘the Shulchan Aruch of Chassidus’. 

 

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Shylock & Friends: The Jews of Venice

Shylock & Friends: The Jews of Venice

May 16, 2022

Jews have lived in Venice for more than a millennium. In 1516 the Jewish community of Venice was restricted to one area of the city, and this came to be known as the Ghetto, the first of its kind in Europe. Jewish life flourished, and it became a pioneering center of the printing of Hebrew books, most famously in the printing press of the Christian Daniel Bomberg.

Though there were many famous Jewish personalities of Venice, including Don Yitzchak Abarbanel who lived out his last years in the city, the most famous Venetian Jew never even existed at all. Shylock is a fictional character and the primary antagonist in Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice. While Shakespeare used - and to a certain extent created - anti-Semitic tropes which unfortunately were perpetuated by subsequent anti-Semites over the ensuing centuries, in many ways the character reflects the restricted reality of Venice’s Jews at the time.

 

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Hungarian Royalty: The Chasam Sofer & His Family

Hungarian Royalty: The Chasam Sofer & His Family

May 7, 2022

One of the most influential Torah leaders in the modern era was Rav Moshe Sofer, the Chasam Sofer (1762-1839). Rabbi, rosh yeshiva, posek, prolific author, and most of all, a charismatic leader who confronted the challenges of modernity, and led the forming of a traditional response in changing times.

A component of the legacy of the Chasam Sofer was his illustrious family, who emerged as something of a rabbinic dynasty in the ensuing generations. His son the Ksav Sofer succeeded him in Pressburg, while another son Rav Shimon Sofer was the rabbi of Krakow. Many of his descendants were rabbis all over the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Many either escaped or survived the war and continued his legacy in the rebuilding during the post war until this very day. 

 

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Get it? The Strange Story of the ’Get of Cleves’

Get it? The Strange Story of the ’Get of Cleves’

May 2, 2022

The strange story of the Get of Kleve (or Cleves) rocked the rabbinical world of the 1760’s. What commenced as an innocuous question regarding a young man’s mental faculties, and his resulting capability of participating in a divorce ceremony, soon exploded into a general dispute about a rabbinical courts sole jurisdiction over a halachic dispute and the imposing of majority opinion among rabbis. 

While the Frankfurt rabbinical court maintained that the groom in question was insane and therefore the get which he delivered was invalid, an increasing number of rabbis across Europe agreed with Rav Yisrael Lifshitz regarding the validity of the get. Eventually Rav Yechezkel Landau of Prague, the Noda B'yehuda, entered the fray, insisting that the divorce document was valid. The dispute can be viewed within the larger context of events of Jewish society of the 18th century, with loosening control of the kahal and early signs of modernity causing instability within the circles of established authority. 

 

This episode is sponsored by Legacy Judaica in honor of their upcoming auction, Sunday, May 8, 2022, 1:00 PM EST. The catalog is available here: https://bidspirit.com/r/3axy For a unique opportunity to purchase historical artifacts, books, letters of historical personalities and more, check out the Legacy Judaica auction. 

 

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More than a Miracle Worker: Rav Eliyahu Guttmacher

More than a Miracle Worker: Rav Eliyahu Guttmacher

April 25, 2022

Rav Eliyahu Guttmacher (1796-1874) was a German rabbi who gained renown as a miracle worker during his tenure in the rabbinate of Gratz (Greiditz). Thousands from Poland and all over Europe would petition him asking for his blessings and prayers on every conceivable issue. A student of Rav Akiva Eiger, he was also a Kabbalist, and later a proto Zionist and supporter of the ideas of his colleague Rav Tzvi Hirsh Kalisher.

In 1932 a large cache of kvittelech sent to Rav Guttmacher was discovered. An analysis of this rare collection yields much information on the social, economic and religious life of Polish Jewry during the 19th century. 

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From Rugby to the World Stage: Rav Avigdor Miller Part III

From Rugby to the World Stage: Rav Avigdor Miller Part III

April 14, 2022

With his appointment as congregational rabbi of the Young Israel of Rugby in East Flatbush in 1947, Rav Avigdor Miller embarked on the most famous aspect of his storied career. He saw his role as rabbi primarily as a teacher of Torah, and he envisioned a community committed to Jewish observance and Torah study. To that end he focused on teaching Torah, engaging in the delivery of classes for beginners in Gemara and a myriad of other topics.

With the demographics changing in East Flatbush in the early 1970’s, Rav Miller took the unprecedented step of moving his entire congregation to Flatbush. In his later years his impact and influence exponentially increased beyond the confines of his congregation through the publication of his books, the increased attendance of his lectures - especially his Thursday night lecture - and the dissemination of his recorded lectures on cassette tapes.

 

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Rabbi & Educator: Rav Avigdor Miller Part II

Rabbi & Educator: Rav Avigdor Miller Part II

April 7, 2022

Rav Avigdor Miller assumed the rabbinate of Walnut Street Shul in Chelsea, Massachusetts in 1939, and would remain there for six years. Seeking better educational opportunity for his children, he moved to East Flatbush, Brooklyn in 1945 and would remain there for the next three decades. He assumed a position as mashgiach in Yeshiva Chaim Berlin in Brownsville, and began educating his young charges with the values he had brought from Slabodka.

At around the same time he was hired as congregational rabbi at the Young Israel of Rugby, where he would have a decisive impact on generations of congregants. Following his departure from Chaim Berlin in 1965, he expanded the scope of his activities with his involvement in other Brooklyn Yeshivos such as Netzach Yisroel, Mir and Eastern Parkway. In addition, he gave classes to the girls of Bais Yaakov in Williamsburg and Boro Park.

 

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The Maharal of Prague

The Maharal of Prague

April 3, 2022

The Maharal of Prague (c.1512-1609) was more legend than reality. His teachings and diverse scholarship seem to grow more popular with time, but who was he and what was the world that he lived and operated in?

The Maharal was a communal rabbi in his hometown of Poznan (Poland), Nikolsburg (Moravia) and Prague (Bohemia). He was a posek and kabbalist, a communal leader and a prolific author. He stood at a crossroads of Jewish history and made a decisive impact in his own time and through his legacy. Emperor Rudolf II of the Holy Roman Empire moved the seat of the royal court to the Prague Castle in 1583, and his religious tolerance coupled with his eccentric obsession with the occult sciences added to Prague’s mystical reputation. And it was in Prague where the Maharal would lead the community, teach his students and publish many of his acclaimed works.

 

This episode of Jewish History Soundbites on the Maharal is sponsored by “Short Machshava on the Daf”, a project of Machsheves Yechezkel. The Short Machshava Shiur aims to give an understanding of the Agadita/Machshava of every Daf in shas, following the Daf Yomi schedule, adding a new Depth to the Daf, and is given by Rabbi Yechezkel Hartman, a Talmid of Rabbi Moshe Shapiro zt"l, Maggid Shiur in Lawrence NY and son of Rav Yehoshua Hartman, the publisher and editor of many works of the Maharal.

 Available on machshevesyechezkel.com

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