The job of a traditional rabbi (the word is from Hebrew רבי, meaning ‘master’or ‘teacher’) is to lead the Jewish religious community, answer questions on religious matters relating to everyday life and Jewish ritual, write religious books, and provide elementary schooling for boys in a Cheder. In contrast to Christianity, there is no hierarchy in Judaism; rabbis are in principle theologically equal to everyone else (even if, in special cases, they may be deeply admired for their spirituality), and a rabbi is not anointed by God.
Currently, in order to become a rabbi, one needs to complete rabbinical studies, and then for a certain period of time work together with the senior rabbi. It’s the Jewish community that employs a rabbi.
Until the end of the 18th century, Brzesko did not have its own rabbi, and Jews were subject to the kehilla (Jewish community) in Wiśnicz. On December 20, 1784, the High Governorate issued an order to establish in Wiśnicz district separate Jewish communes in towns with significant Jewish population. At that time, 63 Jewish families lived in Brzesko. This number would not have been enough to support the necessary institutions, including the rabbi and the chairman of the kehilla. Therefore, Jews living in the nearby villages were incorporated into the Brzesko Jewish commune.
Rabbi Arie Leibush Lipschitz of Wiśnicz, the founder of the Lipschitz rabbinical dynasty, was one of the first rabbis in Brzesko. He moved to Brzesko at the beginning of the 19th century.
The ohel of Lipschitz rabbis (ohel, from Hebrew אֹהֶל, a tent, – a small building constructed to protect the tombstones of prominent rabbis) forms the center of the Bresko Jewish cemetery. Devout Jews have been travelling to the graves of Lipschitz rabbis for many decades. They pray, leaving on the graves kvitels (from Yiddish קוויטל, “little note”) – notes with petitionary prayers to the tzaddiks buried in the ohel. (Tzaddik, from Hebrew צדיק, “righteous” – in Hasidism the title of a charismatic leader, a model of piety and justice, who is believed to be able to perform miracles.)
This ohel houses the graves of three rabbis of the Lipschitz dynasty. Arie Leibush, son of Chaim, first served as a rabbi in Krzeszów, Biłgoraj, Sieniawa, Wiśnicz, and after that became the rabbi of Brzesko (Brigel). He was a follower of the famous Tzaddik Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Halevi Horowitz, known as the ‘Seer of Lublin’. After his death in 1846, the position of Brzesko rabbi was first taken by his son Meshulam Zalman Yehonatan Lipschitz, and later by his grandson Tuvie Lipschitz (1826-1912).
The Yahrzeit of Rabbi Arie Leibush (anniversary of his death according to the Jewish calendar) falls on 17 Tevet. On that day, which usually falls in January, devout Jews (nowadays many from foreign countries) make a pilgrimage to his grave. The inscription on his tombstone reads:
“Here lies the respected Admor, master, Gaon, expert on the revealed and the secret, Arie (lion) of the great family, great among his people, leader of the nation, pure light, leader of all the sons of exile, man of God, holy, righteous, pillar of the world. In the light of his wisdom all that had been hidden was revealed. Our teacher, lord and master Arie Leibush, son of our righteous teacher, lord and master Chaim, may the memory of the righteous be blessed. He ascended to the heavens on Thursday 17th of tevet of (5)606. May his soul be bound in the bundle of life”
The tombstone with a crown and lions carved on it, is the matzeva of Meshulam Zalman Yehonatan, son of Arie Lejbusz, who died in 1855.
“Lament our sudden loss. Pleasure of the eyes, admor, great gaon, wise and pious sage, famous for righteous deeds, our teacher Meshulam Zalman Yehonatan, son of the lord, the saint gaon, our teacher Arie Leibush, may his memory be blessed for life in the future world, chairman of the rabbinical court of this community, died on the 2nd of the new month of Elul (5)615 “
(Translation of these two inscriptions comes from the website www.cmentarze-zydowskie.pl)
The third of the preserved matzevas is decorated with the symbol of a lion and a deer adoring the Torah. This is the tombstone of Tobias (Tuvie), son of Meshulam, who died in 1912:
“As brave as a lion, Tuvia soared on high, fast like a deer.
Here rests our lord, our teacher, master and rabbi, the great light,
Holy, pious and illustrious, the crown of Israel and its glory,
The splendour of the wise, sage in secret wisdoms, a man of great deeds,
A branch of a fine trunk, glory to the sanctity of his glorious name, Mr. Tuvia,
Son of the righteous master, Mr. Meshulam Yehonatan, of blessed memory, chairman of the local rabbinical court,
Son of the master, the holy gaon, author of “Arie Debay Ilay”, may his memory be blessed for the life in the world to come,
And grandson of the holy gaon, glory to the sanctity of his glorious name, Mr. Naftali Tzvi of Ropczyce, may his memory be blessed for the life in the world to come,
And grandson of Holy Gaon, author of “The Yismach Moshe”, may his memory be blessed for the life in the world to come.
The deceased was the rabbi here for 27 years.
And his soul departed in holiness on 5 adar (5)672
At the age of 86. May his soul be bound in the bundle of life
And may his merits protect his descendants and all of Israel. “
(Translation of the inscription by Yossi Elran)
In addition to the tombstones of three Lipschitz rabbis in the ohel, matzevas of the following members of Lipschitz clan can be found at the cemetery:
• Freida Lipschitz nee Horowic – wife of Rabbi Meshulam Yechonatan Zalman Lipschitz
• Mindel Lipschitz – wife of Rabbi Tuvie (Tobias) Lipschitz
• Tzirel Schiff nee Lipschitz – daughter of Rabbi Tuvie (Tobias) Lipschitz
Descendants of Arie Leibush Lipschitz were rabbis in Brzesko until the outbreak of World War II. Not so long ago, we discovered a photo of one of them, Moshe Lipschitz, who was the chief rabbi of Brzesko from the mid-1920s and until his death in 1942.
Moshe Lipschitz was born in Brzesko on August 9, 1892. He was the great-grandson of Tuvie Lipschitz, who was the chief rabbi of Brzesko till 1912 when he died at the age of 86. Moshe Lipschitz married Lea Halbersztam, who also came from a rabbinical family, and the young family settled in Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad), where they had two children, Riwka Freida (1916) and Yeheskiel Tuvie (1919). Soon after the birth of the son, the family returned to Brzesko. They lived in a two-story tenement house on Długa street.
Mr. Landau (Holocaust survivor born in Brzesko in 1928) recalled how together with his father he used to visit Rabbi Moshe Lipschitz:
“The rabbi of this town, Moshe Lipschitz, used to live here. He was a very noble man. He had a son, Tuvie, and a daughter, Fryda. Every Saturday after dinner my daddy used to take me and together we went to see him. We would sit at the table and sing all those Hebrew songs that are sung on Saturday evening. “
Moshe Lipschitz officiated weddings of Brzesko Jews from October 1923 to December 1939; his signature can be found on every marriage certificate issued in those years. He was murdered together with his wife and children in Bochnia in 1942.
And this photo belonged to Aron Tenenbaum, another Holocaust survivor from Brzesko. After his death, the family gave the portrait to Mr. Landau, it is now in his apartment in Tel Aviv. One of the very few material traces of Brzesko rabbis.
Yitzhak Lipschitz was another Brzesko rabbi from the dynasty of tzaddik Arie Leibush Lipschitz. In the photo taken by Schaje Weiss in 1929, you can see the synagogue, where Itzhak Lipschitz was a rabbi before the World War II. The synagogue was located at today’s Żwirki i Wigury square.
From the testimony by Dov Landau::
“This synagogue near the current bus station, it was Yitzhak Lipschitz’s synagogue, he was also part of Arie Lipschitz dynasty, they called him Wielopole Rabbi. During the war, he fled to Bochnia. When one of the Actions started, he hid in the synagogue located on Plac Zgody in Bochnia. I saw how the Germans threw hand grenades into the synagogue. They were all murdered … “
Testimonies on the tragic death of Yitzhak Lipschitz and his family can be also found in Yad Vashem database. Born in Wielopole, the “great Hasidic rabbi” (as Yitzhak Lipschitz is referred to in these testimonies), son of Natan Nute Dov Lipschitz, was murdered together with his four children: Arie Leibush (who was certainly named after his famous ancestor), Shlomo, Hinda and Sarah. His brothers, Wiśnicz rabbi Aron Lipschitz, and Krakow rabbi Yaakov Lipschitz were also murdered together with their families. Aron had 10 children, all of them perished. Very few descendants of the dynasty of Lipschitz rabbis managed to survive the war.
May the memory of all murdered in the Holocaust be an eternal blessing.
(Initial part of this article is based on the book “Jewish Cemetery in Brzesko” by Iwona Zawidzka, Brzesko, 2001)
© Anna Brzyska, 2022