Tag Archives: Agudas Yisroel

Jews of the Week: Rav Uziel and the Chofetz Chaim

The Chofetz Chaim

The Chofetz Chaim

Israel Meir Kagan (1839-1933) was born in what is today Belarus to an Orthodox Polish-Jewish family. After his father’s passing when he was just ten years old, the family moved to Vilnius where Kagan continued his Jewish studies. Quickly noted as a great scholar, at the age of 17 he was married and appointed rabbi of the town of Radin. Soon after, he founded the Radin Yeshiva, which would go on to become one of the greatest yeshivas in the Ashkenazi world. Meanwhile, Rabbi Kagan wrote many popular books of wisdom, most notably Chofetz Chaim, a book about the laws of proper speech, the title of which became Rabbi Kagan’s nickname. His Mishna Berura became a standard text of Jewish law, and still used extensively today. He wrote nearly two dozen other books on a wide array of topics. At the same time, the Chofetz Chaim traveled across Europe to inspire Jews to observe the Torah, and to counter the growing secular movement. He was also an important member of Agudath Israel. Click here to see rare footage of the Chofetz Chaim at the First Congress of Agudath Israel in 1923.

Rav Uziel

Rav Uziel

Ben-Zion Meir Chai Uziel (1880-1953) was born in Jerusalem, the son of the president of the city’s Sephardic community. Like the Chofetz Chaim, Uziel was also quickly noted as a great scholar, and by age 20 founded his own yeshiva. By 31, he was the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Jaffa, where he worked alongside his Ashkenazi counterpart, Rabbi Kook, bridging the two communities together. During World War I, he worked tirelessly to stop the persecution of Jews, which earned him a sentence of exile in Damascus. In 1923 he returned to Israel as the Chief Rabbi of Tel-Aviv, and in 1939 became the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, a post he held until his passing in 1953. Rabbi Uziel was a founding member of the Jewish Agency, and played a key role in the founding of the State of Israel. Of course, he wrote a great deal of widely-read Torah thought and commentary as well. Rav Uziel and the Chofetz Chaim passed away on the same day, twenty years apart: the 24th of Elul.

Shana Tova! Rosh Hashanah Begins This Sunday

Words of the Week

In Jewish history there are no coincidences.
– Elie Wiesel

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Menachem Ziemba

Rabbi of the Warsaw Ghetto

Rabbi Menachem Ziemba

Rabbi Menachem Ziemba

Menachem Ziemba (1883-1943) was born in a Warsaw suburb in Poland, and raised by his grandfather, a Hasidic rabbi. As a young man, Ziemba quickly proved himself as a genius Torah scholar and Hasidic master. By 18, he was already married, and for the next few decades was wholly dedicated to Jewish studies, writing over 10,000 pages of his Torah-related thoughts, and teaching at the Mesivta Yeshiva. Out of both humility and devotion to Torah, he refused to take on more prestigious roles of rabbinic leadership, including an offer at being Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. However, in 1935, at the request of his own rabbi, Ziemba started taking on community roles and obligations. He soon became world-renowned for his wisdom and took up a key position with Agudas Yisroel, the central organization of Ashkenazi-Orthodox Jews. Following the Nazi invasion of Poland, Ziemba was quarantined in the Warsaw Ghetto along with 400,000 Jews, in an area less than one and a half square miles. Despite the fact that he lost his wife in the Ghetto, Rabbi Ziemba constantly worked towards inspiring hope and optimism among the Jews. He laboured tirelessly to ensure that Jews could continue observing Torah law in the Ghetto, smuggling in provisions (including Kosher for Passover goods) and religious articles, secretly setting up areas of Torah study, and continuing to teach Judaism quietly. He even broke through his own apartment roof so that he could build a proper sukkah for the community. Rabbi Ziemba was given multiple opportunities to leave the Ghetto (including one by the Catholic Church) but refused to abandon his people. Though initially favouring passive resistance, after the 1942 deportations that killed hundreds of thousands of Jews, Rabbi Ziemba was convinced that the Jews had to fight back. He was an important supporter of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and was himself the first to donate funds in order to purchase weapons. To quell the uprising, the Nazis began destroying the Ghetto and burning it down. Rabbi Ziemba was caught in one of these fires, and shot by SS troops while trying to escape. To great shock and sadness, he was killed on the 19th of Nisan, 72 years ago today. Following the uprising, the rest of his family was rounded up and taken to Treblinka, where they were also killed. The vast majority of his writings and teachings were burned in the Warsaw Ghetto, though three books survived, and are still studied today. In 1958, Rabbi Ziemba’s body was exhumed and brought to Israel, where he was finally laid to rest.

Words of the Week

In the past, during religious persecution, we were required by the law ‘to give up our lives even for the least essential practice.’ In the present, however, when we are faced with an arch-enemy whose unparalleled ruthlessness and program of total annihilation know no bounds, Halakha [Jewish law] demands that we fight and resist to the very end with unequaled determination and valor for the sake of Sanctification of the Divine Name.
– Rabbi Menachem Ziemba