The Gaon Reb Szmuel Dawid
of Holy Blessed Memory

The Last Rabbi of Czyzewo

By Rabbi Yosef Pinchas Halevi of New York

Translated from Hebrew by Jerrold Landau

Czyzewo was situated on the border area of Lithuania and Poland, between the vibrant Hassidic centers of Poland on the one side, and the fortresses of the Lithuanian Misnagdim on the other side. Nevertheless, Czyzewo itself was a bastion of Hassidism. It had many Hassidim of Ger, Aleksander, Amszynow, and others. At an earlier time, it was also the honorable dwelling place of the Admor Rabbi Baruch Szapira of holy blessed memory, the student of Rabbi Mendele of Kotzk of holy blessed memory. He led a Hassidic community there. The influence of the Hassidim upon the town was great. They spread Torah and awe of G-d in the town, and they played a very prominent role in communal life. In reality, they were the hewers of the image of Czyzewo in the full sense of the word, until such time as the representatives of other organizations and movements appeared, and the town turned into a town with both religious and secular factions together. There were branches of Agudas Yisrael, Mizrachi, Zionists, Beitar, Poale Zion, and others. Each one of these groups attracted a different circle and faction, and tended to its own needs.

The agitation, deceit and struggle between the factions would break out with greater frequency and might as the elections to the Polish Sejm (parliament) or the local community neared. More than 100 kilometers separated Czyzewo from the Polish capital of Warszawa; however, for some reason, it was as if Czyzewo was some sort of suburb of Warszawa, and it was influenced by the spirit of Warszawa, as if it too was the nerve center of Polish Jewry. The city served as a mixing pot for any question that had to do with Jewish life, whether in the world at large, Poland, or Czyzewo in particular. Every faction and group took its side in the debate and defended their position strongly, for truth and justice could only be with their own side. No small number of debates broke out in this manner.

A stormy conflict broke out in Czyzewo at a certain time in the previous century, when the question of the appointment of a shochet (ritual slaughterer) arose in the community. Two factions formed in town: “Wizner”, those that wished to appoint Wizna since he was also a cantor, and “Szniadowar”, who wished to appoint the shochet from the city of Szniadowa. The controversy and provocation in town reached such a point that the police had to become involved in the matter. A few of those involved were arrested, and a black cloud of conflict, vain hatred, and factionalism darkened the skies of peaceful Czyzewo and its Jewish community. The crisis lasted for a long time, until…

Until something took place that seemed as if it was a miracle from heaven. A new rabbi appeared in the city, who was revered, opposed by nobody, and appointed by complete consensus. He was my teacher, my rabbi, my father-in-law the Gaon and Tzadik Rabbi Szmuel Dawid of holy blessed memory (may G-d avenge his blood), who loved peace, and pursued peace in the most sublime fashion, hated reward and honor, and immersed himself completely in Torah, wisdom, and fear of Heaven. On account of his noble personality and even temperament, he was able to set himself up as the skipper of the storm tossed ship, calm the rough winds that were still blowing, and placate the town. The Jewish community of Czyzewo considered itself fortunate at that time, in that it merited choosing as a rabbi in such a successful manner a man who was like a savior angel. He was able to restore Jewish life in the town to its normal path as it was previously. He knew how to endear himself to all of the groups and factions in town. He loved people, and brought them near to Torah.

His Origins

Rabbi Szmuel Dawid Zabludower was a native of Warszawa. He was a scion of a wonderful family, and was the ninth generation from the Gaon Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipman Heller, the author of “Tosfos Yom Tov”.

He grew up in Warszawa, where he ascended the ladder of Torah. He did not study in the Lithuanian Yeshivas, but nevertheless, he acquired the Lithuanian style of study, which was not customary in Poland. He was taught the secrets of this style of study from one of the famous Rabbis of Warszawa, Rabbi Pesachya, who was a student of the famous Gaon Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik of Brisk, of holy blessed memory.

The Gaon Rabbi Yosef Dov lived for a blessed period of years in Warszawa, after he was exiled by the Czarist government from the city in which he served as a rabbi – Slutzk, for the crime of denigrating the honor of Czar Nikolai I regarding the decree of “Contonistim” (the conscription of Jewish youths for army service and for renouncing their faith). During those years when he was in exile in Warszawa, rabbis who were very great in Torah would gather in his home and study Torah from his mouth. Rabbi Pesachya of holy blessed memory was among these rabbis, and he learned the Lithuanian style from Rabbi Yosef Dov, and he educated his young student Rabbi Szmuel Dawid in that style as well.

He married my mother-in-law Rebbetzin Yocheved at a young age. She was the daughter of a well-laced family, that of the Nagid Rabbi Zwi Srkowicz of Ostrolanka. When he was only 24 years old, he was called to the honorable service as the rabbi of Czyzewo, and he was received there with honor and appreciation. He occupied himself with Torah and service diligently, day and night. His great diligence astonished even great and well-placed people, and his breadth of knowledge and memory were like a “pitched well that does not lose a drop”. He was expert in all of the many books that enriched his library – by heart, for every word that had once passed through his brain would never be forgotten. His sharpness was well known, and his deep penetration into the minutiae of Jewish law granted him great fame, and surrounded him with a splendorous halo. All of the greats of the generation revered him, and enjoyed engaging him in Halachic debates. They asked questions of him. The numerous writings of the Gaon Rabbi Szmuel Dawid, and the hundreds of Halachic letters that he sent out were a veritable treasury of interesting Torah novellae that lit up the eyes of scholars. These writings were hidden away at the outbreak of the First World War in a pit, and to our sorrow, were lost in the Holocaust.

Among others, Rabbi Szmuel Dawid was in contact with the genius of Rogaczow, the Gaon Rabbi Yosef Rozen, the author of “Tzafnat Paneach”, the person who turned into a living legend during his life, and who was known as the “Living Talmud”. My father-in-law of holy blessed memory said of him that “From the days of the Shach (Rabbi Shabtai Cohen, the author of the commentary Siftei Kohen – forming the acronym of Shach – upon the Choshen Mishpat section of the Code of Jewish law, who lived more than three hundred years previously), there was nobody as expert as him in all the treasuries of Torah.” All of the rabbis of his generation would sent to him their Torah novellae and questions, and even though he denigrated most of the letters, claiming that they were of no worth – he would answer each one appropriately – nevertheless, he related to my father-in-law's questions with honor and seriousness. When this Gaon received a letter from Rabbi Szmuel Dawid, the rabbi of Czyzewo, he treated it seriously, read it carefully, and answered it in an appropriate fashion. Rebbetzin Rozen related one incident: “Once, a month passed without him receiving a letter from Rabbi Szmuel Dawid, and this bothered the Gaon greatly. When he finally received a letter, he said with satisfaction: Thank G-d that I received a letter from the Czyzewo Rabbi”. The Rebbetzin pointed out that there were only three rabbis of renown that merited the esteem and reverence of the Gaon, and Rabbi Szmuel Dawid was one of them…

The Complete Person

The rabbi of Czyzewo was a lofty individual. He was a righteous in all of his ways, and pious in all of his deeds. Those close to him were able to tell about his wondrous deeds, and his holy and noble behavior. He literally distributed a fortune in charity, his home was open wide to any visitor, anyone in need, or any poor or troubled Jew who would turn to the rabbi of holy blessed memory. He excelled in the attribute of entertaining guests (Hachnasas Orchim) in a splendid fashion, and he received every Jew pleasantly. His refined behavior characterized his noble character. He was pleasant to his fellow man. He never had an argument with anyone, and he never imposed his will upon his fellow. He was able to carry on a pleasant and enthusiastic conversation, and every word that issued from his mouth was weighted with gold. He scrupulously avoided idle chatter or any trace of gossip. He had certain expressions and adages that were unique to him, which flowed with excellence and purity.

During Times of Difficulty

On Rosh Chodesh Tammuz of the year 5695 (1935), my father-in-law fell seriously ill. According to the advice of the physicians who were called from Warszawa, he had to leave Czyzewo and move to Otwock. Leaving the community and the town where he served as rabbi for dozens of years caused him great anguish of the soul. He continued to maintain a strong connection with the residents, and he took interest from afar in the affairs Czyzewo, even when his son-in-law, the writer of these lines, took his place.

At that time, black clouds began to darken the skies of Jewish Poland, including Czyzewo. The general embargo and the pogroms led to a general economic crisis and even the well to do were hungry for bread. After some time, my father-in-law returned to Czyzewo, and encouraged the spirits of the downtrodden local Jews.

When the German invasion of Poland began in the year 5699, Czyzewo was among the first towns that were damaged by the German bombardment. Only the building of the Beis Midrash was not destroyed. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Nazis streamed into Czyzewo. Prior to igniting the Beis Midrash, they removed all of the Torah scrolls, poured kerosene upon them, and ignited them. When he heard of this terrible deed, the rabbi's eyes filled with tears, and he rent his garments.

The 8th day of the month of Av was the bitter day when the rabbi of Czyzewo, Rabbi Szmuel Dawid, was murdered in sanctification of the Divine name along with his wife Rebbetzin Yocheved, their daughter, and all the Jews of Czyzewo, may G-d avenge their blood, by the accursed Nazis, may their names be blotted out.

His Family Members

The eldest daughter of my father-in-law was Czwia (Tzvia) who married Reb Dawid Szniad of Warszawa. He was blessed with wealth, and was a large-scale fur merchant. His home was a gathering place for scholars, and all of the great Admorim who visited Warszawa would be put up at his home. They perished in the Holocaust along with their children.

The son of the rabbi, Reb Chaim, was known as a great scholar who followed in his father's footsteps. He married in the city of Mlodocin, where he lived until the outbreak of the war. He perished in the Holocaust along with his family.

His daughter Rebbetzin Freidel, and his son-in-law, the writer of these lines, were saved along with their only son Herszel. Today, they live in New York, America. They got established there with the great help of the natives of Czyzewo.

Written with tears.

By Yosef Menachem Halevi Lewinson