First Jewish Settlers of Vitebsk

The Swedish Prince who was a Jew.—Expulsion of Vitebsk Jews Averted.—Founders of the Vitebsk Community.— Minsk a Center of Torah.
Vitebsk, which later became a great center for Jews, had until the year 5311 (1551) but a handful of Jewish people who were impoverished both materially and spiritually.
Vitebsk was known as a business center, which was in the main in the hands of non-Jews. Vitebsk was situated in a fertile region, producing grain and all kinds of fruits.
In the year 5311 (1551) a small number of Jewish merchants came to Vitebsk to settle there. The Government of the time put all sorts of difficulties and restrictions in their way, and a very limited number indeed was permitted to remain.
In 5365 a Jew named Tevel settled in Vitebsk. He brought a new spirit into the place. He had a son named Nachum, his daughter-in-law was named Deborah, and their daughter, his granddaughter, was called Nechamah.
They were all very pious and loved the Torah with all the fire of their being, and so they immediately established a Yeshivah in Vitebsk and the Yeshivah was called in their name.
But this does not tell the whole story, so let us hear more about Tevel and his remarkable family, at the same time learning of a most exceptional chapter in Jewish history.
In the year 5330 (1570) a Jew named Nachum came to Sebezsh from Prague. Sebezsh was situated at a place which at that time was the border between Poland and Sweden, and which was part of the estate belonging to Count Bontch Zinkevitch, a Polish nobleman.
Count Zinkevitch showed himself very kindly disposed towards the Jews of Sebezsh (who were steadily increasing in number), and particularly to this family from Prague.
In the course of the next few years, the Count planned to transfer his domicile to his estates near Cracow and was anxious therefore to sell his estates near Sebezsh, with all the adjoining villages, altogether comprising some 600 souls.
He approached Nachum, who was by now the leader of the Jewish community in Sebezsh, inviting his help in finding him a customer.
The adjoining estates on the Swedish side of the border belonged to a Swedish Prince named Johann Cambari, who often visited his estates and stayed for long periods at a time. It occurred to Nachum that here was a likely client for the estates of the Polish Count. And so, the next time the Prince paid a visit to his estates on the other side of the border, Nachum arranged to call on him at the castle.
Prince Cambari received Nachum in a friendly manner and chatted with him on all sorts of subjects, but would not discuss the question of the purchase immediately.
He suggested that Nachum see him again about the matter in two or three weeks' time. After a few weeks had elapsed, Nachum called again on the Prince as suggested. The Prince received him this time in a friendlier spirit even than the first time. He provided Nachum with a special room for his private use, and he was given every comfort and shown every consideration.
The Prince made an appointment to discuss the question of the purchase with Nachum on the day he came, and yet when they met, the Prince seemed in no particular hurry to talk about it. Instead he plied Nachum with questions about Jews, of whom he knew very little, he said. But he certainly showed a great interest in them now, and seemed anxious to make up for his ignorance in the past.
Nachum had practically to relate everything from the time of Abraham, and the Prince listened with great attention.
"You really will have to spend a few days with me at the castle," said the Prince to Nachum, "there is so much that I want to ask you! But I don't want your family to be anxious at your lengthy absence, so would you send word home that you are staying here and that you are well and comfortable?"
"Very well," agreed Nachum, "I shall be glad to do all I can to help you." Nachum had never before met a non-Jew with such a genuine interest in Jews and their history. So, not only did Nachum send word home that he would be delayed, but also asked that they send him some food, as he would not, of course, eat the food provided at the castle, and he had only brought enough food for a day, not expecting there would be any necessity to stay longer than that.
His assistant Shalom, foreseeing the possibility that Nachum would have to spend Shabbos at the castle, brought, in addition to the food, Nachum's "Shabbos clothes," including his Tallis with the golden "Atharah" (crown).
He also brought Nachum's miniature "Sefer Torah" in it's tiny "Ark" which Nachum always kept at home and treasured very much.
Nachum's ancestors were amongst the Jews who had been driven out of Spain during the Inquisition, and the miniature Sefer-Torah and Ark had belonged to them. So it was handed down through the generations, from his great-grand-father to him.
The Sefer-Torah was in a beautiful silver case, and the Ark was made of wood which was most artistically carved.
Nachum was very pleased that his servant had brought him these treasures of his, together with his Shabbos clothes and food. For now he would really be able to enjoy Shabbos just as if he were at home, especially as he had been given a private suite of rooms for his use.
When Shabbos came, Nachum dressed himself in his Shabbos clothes with his "Streimel" on his head. The following morning he put on his Tallis with the golden "Atharah" which completely wrapped him around.
During Shabbos afternoon, a messenger came from the Prince inviting Nachum to visit him.
Nachum, dressed in all his fine Shabbos clothes, went along.
When Nachum entered the room, the Prince arose and greeted him with great respect. Nachum sensed something was troubling the Prince, whose face looked sad, and there was a hint of tears in his eyes.
Nachum wondered if the Prince would reveal the cause of his sorrow, but the Prince did not speak about himself. He just kept on asking Nachum endless questions about Shabbos, its purpose, customs, and what it meant to the Jews.
Again and again he came back to the subject of the Jews. He couldn't seem to get to know enough quickly enough. Nachum was sure there was some special reason behind all this unusual interest and questioning about Jews on the part of a non-Jew!
Soon everything was made clear to him for, whilst they were talking, an elderly lady entered the room with great dignity. One could immediately recognize by her stately bearing that she belonged to the aristocracy.
"This is my aunt, my mother's sister," said the Prince to Nachum.
And turning to his aunt, he introduced Nachum, saying:
"And this gentleman, dear aunt, is the friend I told you about, whose acquaintance we are so fortunate to have made!"
When the aunt showed the same keen interest in learning all about Jews, exactly as the Prince had done, Nachum realized there was indeed special significance in their questioning.
He did not remark upon this though, as he felt they would take him into their confidence as soon as they found the time opportune.
During the whole conversation, Nachum saw a look of indecision in the eyes of the old lady, as if she could not quite make up her mind whether or not to tell him their secret, but Nachum did not show he noticed anything unusual in her manner.
The following Monday, Nachum was again called to the Prince and when he entered the Prince's chamber, his aunt was again present. They both greeted him as if he were an old friend!
It was clear that they intended to speak to him freely and take him into their confidence.
This is the story they unfolded to Nachum who listened in wonder and with great interest.


Amongst the Jews who were driven out of Spain there was a wealthy man named Joseph Gabrieli. He had two daughters whom he married to wealthy suitors.
After their exile, they wandered from one country to another and during a plague the husband of the elder daughter died. She then went to live with her sister who had just given birth to a son and who was named Judah. A year later Judah's father also died and this, together with the reduced circumstances in which they now found themselves, caused the early death of the child's mother.
Just before she died, she made her sister promise that when her son Judah would grow to manhood, she would explain his Jewish origin to him and try to induce him to return to Judaism.
The aunt who had taken the child into her care had married a Swedish nobleman who told her that secretly he too was a Jew. He took his bride and Judah to his people in Sweden. They changed Judah's name to Johann and he was brought up as a prince of royal blood, like a true Cambari.
"Two years ago my husband died," concluded Prince Johann's aunt, "and I then revealed to Johann that he was Judah, the grandson of Joseph Gabrieli, who was my father as well as his mother's. He has seen his grandfather's photograph and knows we are Jews."
"Yes, we have both decided we would like to return to the faith we belong to, but you can understand our difficulties," broke in the Prince.
"We have so much to learn and we need someone like you to befriend us and show us the way back!" concluded the Prince pleadingly.
Nachum was deeply moved by the narrative and by the sincerity shown both by the Prince and his aged aunt.
"I am greatly honored by your confidence in me," said Nachum to them. "But I must ask you to give me a few days in which to consider the matter and see what is the best thing to do."
"We know we can trust you to do your best, we have complete faith in you," replied the Prince. "We shall be waiting to hear from you most eagerly!"
With that they parted, and after a few days, Nachum returned to them and told them he had thought of a plan.
He said that he was putting the affairs of the community in Sebezsh, of which he was the leader, in order, so that he should be free within the next month or two to go away.
He suggested that the Prince and his aunt should go to Prague, and he too would come there and do all that was necessary to help them become Jews once again. He recommended to them to keep the whole matter a secret for the present.
They told Nachum they wholeheartedly approved of his plan and suggestion, and that they trusted him implicitly. He must just tell them what to do, and they would carry out his instructions.
"About that matter of the purchase of the estates," said the Prince, "I shall hand over to you the power to negotiate it, and of course I shall be happy to pay you for your trouble. I feel fortunate to have such a trustworthy agent to act for me."
Nachum departed on the best of terms with his grateful hosts, and they, too, returned to their home in Sweden to wind up their affairs there and make all due preparations for moving to Prague.
Meanwhile Nachum returned home and called upon the Polish Count Bontch Zinkevitch, who was delighted to hear that Nachum had found a buyer for his estates.
It was now merely a question of agreeing upon the price, and arranging the transfer of the deeds.
The transaction was concluded in a comparatively short period of time, to the equal satisfaction of both the Count and the Prince.
After Nachum had so successfully and profitably concluded this business matter, he set about making preparations for his departure to Prague, where he had arranged to meet the Prince and his aunt, and see to all that was necessary to bring them back into the Jewish fold.
After a short while, Nachum called together the members of the Council of the Jewish community and informed them that he and his wife were preparing to return to Prague, from which they had come some twenty-three years previously.
As they intended to remain in Prague for a considerable length of time, Nachum said he felt they ought to appoint a leader in his place.
Nachum had a son called Tevel who was quite a fine person, but not a "patch" on his father. He was different in character to some extent, but entirely different in inclination.
Whereas his father was an excellent business man, Tevel had no taste for it at all.
He owned some land which he had received on his marriage from his father-in-law, and, in addition, rented some gardens and orchards, and himself worked there most successfully.
Tevel always used to say he preferred to work next to nature rather than amongst business men who could not always be trusted. He, on the other band, had G-d as a partner, and that is why he was so successful, Tevel ended with a smile.
The estates of the Swedish Prince, together with those which the Prince had acquired from the Polish Count, were being supervised by a man who was very anxious to obtain the expert services of Tevel in the cultivation of this land. But Tevel refused, as it would have meant giving up the care of his own land, and also the land of his father, which was left in his care after his father's departure for Prague. Nachum had sold all his other property and cattle, but knowing how keen Tevel was on working on the land, he passed on his gardens and orchards to his son.
For two years Nachum remained in Prague, and when he returned he began to distribute exceptionally large sums of money for charity, and sent big donations to the Yeshivoth in Poland.
It did not occur to anyone that Nachum was giving money which was not all his own. Actually it was the Swedish Prince Johann Cambari who, having now become a Jew, had decided to donate a worthwhile amount to Jewish causes. He asked Nachum to arrange the matter for him and so that his name should not be mentioned, as he preferred to give the charity anonymously.
This went on until a time came when Nachum felt he was about to die. He decided he must now entrust the secret to his son, so he called him and said to him:-
"My son, there is something I want to tell you concerning a certain person, which until now I have kept secret. Now that I feel my days are numbered, I am going to pass on the secret to you, but I ask you to honor it as I have done, and disclose it to no one."
He then told Tevel about the Swedish Prince Cambari, how he had returned to his Jewish faith and now called himself Judah Gabrieli, the name he was given at his birth.
He told him that he, Nachum, had helped the Prince in Prague, who had become so keen on things Jewish, that he had spent most of his time learning Torah, and was by now already a considerable "Lamdan." He had married the daughter of a well-known and respected Jew in Prague, and now that she had given birth to a son, they had moved to Holland to a place outside Amsterdam, where he had bought a castle. Nachum asked Tevel to travel to the Prince and give him some money that Nachum had of his, and at the same time to take him a message telling him that he would advise the Prince to sell his estates near Sebezsh. Finally he wanted Tevel to say "good-bye" to the Prince for him and tell him he was thinking of him before he died.
Tevel was very moved by all his father told him and promised to carry out all he had asked him to do. He felt now that he had not, during his lifetime, sufficiently appreciated what a great man his father was, and he was determined to improve himself as far as he knew how.
So it was that, when he returned from his mission to the Prince in Holland, he began to follow in his father's steps and distribute large sums of money to charity, so much so, that he became renowned both far and near. And the more he gave, the greater seemed to be his success in increasing his fortune.
But however fine the harvests of his work, he and his wife could find no real happiness, for they were childless.
Then remembering that "to change one's place can change one's luck," he and his wife decided that they would leave Sebezsh, and settle in Vitebsk, in the vicinity of which he had a friend called Mordecai Aaron Segal, who was his partner in a distillery of whiskey, in Batzeikov.


Now, in the year 5365 (1605), the king had issued a decree that the Jews were to be expelled from Vitebsk during the course of two years, and no other Jews admitted.
He made but one exception, and that was, that only Jews who could prove that their presence was indispensable to the welfare of the community could remain.
About a year after this decree, Mordecai Aaron Segal who had become friendly with the Mayor of Vitebsk because he used to sell him whiskey, came to Vitebsk and settled there.
Mordecai Aaron Segal was a respected person and in fact quite charitable, but perhaps he was inclined to give his money where it would bring him the most honor.
When Mordecai came to Vitebsk and saw how Tevel gave charity without making any fuss and without looking for any special recognition or honor, he saw how more preferable was his friend's modest demeanor, and made up his mind be would in future act likewise.
Tevel had brought a few more Jewish families with him when he came to Vitebsk, saying he required their services for his land cultivation.
As Tevel was a friend of Mordecai's and the latter a friend of the Mayor's, the matter was arranged without difficulty.
But two years after Tevel's arrival in the town, Mordecai told him that he had learned from the Mayor that the king was not satisfied with the way in which his decree was being treated so lightly. According to him there were far too many Jews in Vitebsk, and they would have to renew their claims proving they were essential and useful citizens; furthermore, if and when they were granted permission to remain, they would have to pay a very high sum for the privilege!
Mordecai Aaron Segal called a meeting of the leaders of the community and told them they must be prepared for unpleasant news. There would soon be a decree issued ordering the Jews of Vitebsk to leave the town.
The members of the meeting were naturally very disturbed at the news, and decided to call the Jews to a day of fasting and special prayers.
Tevel was very grieved at the tragic turn of events, for though he personally might be granted permission to remain, his heart was sore for his fellow-Jews who, were they to be driven out unceremoniously, would lose their present means of livelihood, and face ruin and starvation!
He spent much time contemplating any possibility of a way out of the trouble, and suddenly it occurred to him that perhaps a bribe would buy the Mayor, in whose hands lay the power to grant permission to individual Jews to remain in Vitebsk; all the Mayor had to do was to say that the man was "indispensable."
Tevel lost no time in calling on his partner and friend Mordecai Aaron Segal.
"See my friend, we must help our brothers in their hour of need! We might so easily have been in a similar dilemma. And so, to show our gratitude to the Almighty we must make a sacrifice. I, for my part, am prepared to give a sum, however large you think necessary, and you know the Mayor well enough to decide what he would regard as a 'handsome gift,' so that he promises to allow the Jews to stay."
Mordecai Aaron Segal was deeply impressed with the generosity of his friend and the sincerity of his desire to help the Jews of Vitebsk.
He hurried with Tevel's offer to the Mayor, who "graciously" consented to accept the present and promised he would see that the Jews were allowed to remain in the town. He pointed out, however, that he would still have to publish the king's decree first, and then afterwards use his authority to grant the Jews "special permission" to remain.
Mordecai Aaron Segal agreed with the plan and sent word round to all the Jews to prepare them for the decree and to tell them they must not be alarmed, as the Mayor had promised the publication of same was just a matter of formality.
Sure enough, after a few days, the dreaded decree appeared on the public-notice boards, throwing the Jews of Vitebsk into absolute panic! It was useless trying to convince them that they must not take these notices seriously.
Four days after the publication of the king's decree the Mayor let it be known that as the Jews were essential to the existence and progress of the state, he was using the authority granted him by the king, and would allow the Jews to remain in Vitebsk, without hindrance or interference,
The relief and joy amongst the Jews was indescribable, and when the news got around that it was Tevel's efforts backed by his money that had secured for them their present salvation, their gratitude to him was unbounded.
The year 5365 (1605) came, and Tevel's wife gave birth to a son. They were so very grateful for this precious gift for which they had hoped and prayed, that it is not surprising to learn that they gave him everything of the best. Tevel was not selfish in his gratitude, for he sent bigger donations even than before to all the Yeshivoth in Poland and Lithuania. 
Tevel named his son Nachum, after his own father, and the boy was a fine lad, and very gifted. He absorbed his studies eagerly and showed excellent results, to the delight of bis teachers and parents who were so anxious to see him grow into a fine-charactered, Torah-loving Jew.
Mordecai Aaron Segal also had a son, whose name was Judah Leib. He was a good lad and anxious to make progress in his studies, but he just wasn't cut out to be a student, and so when he grew up, his father took him into his business where he did so well, that Mordecai Aaron Segal gradually let his son take over the "reins of management," and himself devoted all his time to social welfare.
Judah Leib developed his father's business so successfully, that their whiskey was known and appreciated far and wide.
In the year 5380 (1620) the Mayor of Vitebsk died, and in his place was appointed one who became an absolute thorn in the flesh to the Jews. He hated them, and nothing they did was right in his prejudiced eyes. He found fault with them at every turn and took every opportunity of sending in complaints against them to the government. Of course he would have no association with Mordecai Aaron Segal or his son Judah Leib, and refused even to touch their whiskey!
This new Mayor was so filled with Jew-hatred, that he could not bring himself to accept anything from them, and would not take Tevel's gifts.
This period of persecution had been going on for about two years. During this time Judah Leib had managed, despite these adverse circumstances, to promote his business to such an extent, that he was even receiving orders for his now famous whiskey from the very highest officials in the government, with some of whom he had become quite friendly in consequence.
By 5384 (1624) Judah Leib's whiskey had reached the Royal Court and was so liked by the king, that he eventually invited him to his august presence, praised him for his excellent beverage, and conferred upon him medals of merit in the presence of his courtiers and counsellors!
So it was that Judah Leib became an influential personage and came to play an important role in Polish government circles.
During one of Judah Leib's visits to the capital city, he learned on high authority that the government treasury was empty, and that the king had commanded all bis governors in the various states to obtain loans on the best terms obtainable.
He also heard that the governors, in the main, had met with little success.
As soon as Judah Leib returned to Vitebsk, he immediately called on Tevel and told him of what he had learned.
Tevel at once declared he was ready to loan a big sum of money to the government on long term, the loan to be repaid to him out of government revenue. But he would only advance the loan on the following conditions:
  1. The Jews of Vitebsk and district to have their rights of equality restored to them.
  2. They were to have the right of buying immovable property and to build houses in Vitebsk itself, not as up to now, only in its suburbs.
  3. The Government to grant the Jews of Vitebsk the right to establish a Jewish Community with the same freedom as enjoyed by the Catholic community.
Tevel's friend Mordecai Aaron Segal thought it a very wise suggestion, and said he believed it had a good chance of succeeding.
Mordecai Aaron Segal offered to go with his son to the capital, to meet the respective members of the government and put before them Tevel's offer of the loan and his conditions.
Mordecai Aaron Segal and Judah Leib put the plan into effect and waited hopefully for the result.
Some days passed and then Mordecai Aaron Segal and his son received the Royal command to appear before the king. The king informed them that he was willing to accept the loan from Tevel on the latter's conditions.
The king forthwith despatched Judah Leib as a special messenger to instruct the Mayor of Vitebsk regarding the details of the matter, and to collect the money and bring it back to the king. This was in the year 5387 (1627).
The Mayor was not too pleased at the turn of events but he had no alternative other than to obey the king's command.
He therefore called a special meeting of the City Council, the representatives of the government, as well as the priests of the Catholic church, and with the best face he could bring himself to put upon the matter, made a public proclamation, quoting the king's decree;
"The Jews were henceforth to be allowed to establish their own Community in Vitebsk, and the local government authorities were to do all possible to facilitate their carrying this into effect.
"Further, all Jews were to be allowed to live in Vitebsk with the same rights as other citizens."
After the Mayor had read out the king's decree, it was decided there and then to choose someone to be the Leader of the Jewish community.
There was a unanimous vote in favor of Mordecai Aaron Segal who had so successfully negotiated on behalf of the Jews as intermediary between them and the king.
This same Mordecai Aaron Segal was the ancestor of the father-in-law of the Founder of "Chabad," Rabbi Schneur Zalman, author of the "Tanya."
In this same year, Nachum married the daughter of the Gaon Rabbi Samuel Joseph of Vilna. For five years Nachum studied under the great "Tzadik" Rabbi Yekuthiel Zalman Cracower, who was famed as a saint and recluse.
Nachum was so greatly influenced by his saintly teacher, that he, too, tried to emulate his example. He spent most of his time in prayer and study at the Beth-Hamidrash, only going home to snatch a few hours sleep to refresh himself. Then ie would return to the Beth-Hamidrash to devote himself wholeheartedly to the service of G-d, in prayer, solitude, and Torah-study.
He begrudged himself the pleasure of spending time with his own family, and to no one did he speak, unless it related to discussion of the Torah.
Tevel was very proud of his son Nachum and gladly provided him and his daughter-in-law with all their needs.
But Nachum's father-in-law Samuel Joseph was very far from being pleased. His biggest concern was that his daughter was still childless after being married for many years, and according to the "Din," she ought to obtain a divorce from her husband. This she absolutely refused to do as she had the greatest regard for him, and was very fond of him.
His daughter-in-law's childlessness grieved Tevel too, and he gave still more charity than ever, hoping he would thus earn the privilege of becoming a grandfather.
Tevel's charitableness became a positive by-word, and he made no distinction, distributing his money amongst the needy, Jew and non-Jew alike.
When Tevel heard of the famine in the district of Lifland, he sent his agent to buy large stocks of grain for distribution amongst all the hungry, irrespective of race or creed. For the Torah tells us that, especially in time of hunger, help must be given to all who need it.
One might have thought that Tevel would be justified in feeling "superior" for all his good deeds and all the adulation he earned thereby, but he was, on the contrary, exceedingly humble and modest.
If ever he gave personal thought to his manifold acts of charity, it was in grateful thanks to the Almighty for putting him in such a privileged position where he could help those less fortunate than himself!
It was Tevel's modesty, therefore, that endeared him to everyone.
He had the greatest respect and admiration for Torah-students and scholars since his early youth, and the respect and admiration had increased with time. 
Yet he was to be found equally amongst the very ordinary working people, attending their Simchoth, be it "Brith-Milah," "Bar-Mitzvah" or Betrothal. The people just adored him for it; he brought grace and honor to every Simchah that he came to.
When Tevel was ninety years of age he felt it was time that he put his affairs in the hands of a younger person. He chose one by the name of Tzadok Moshe.
A few years later, Tzadok Moshe asked Tevel to allow him to engage his sister's grandson Zalman Aaron as Accounts manager. This he agreed to, and Tevel's affairs were ably handled by these two men.
When the Jewish Community was first established in Vitebsk, a tax was imposed upon each member. Tevel naturally came forward with a handsome donation towards the city's needs.
For the first time in the history of Vitebsk, Yeshivoth and charitable institutions were established.
When, in 5694 (1634), permission was granted to the Jews to buy land in Vitebsk and build houses thereon, Tevel bought several plots of land in various parts of the town, and gave them as a present to the Jewish Community.
Tevel's generosity helped greatly towards the progress of the Community, enabling the Building Committee to carry out its plan of activity.
With the expansion of the Community, Jews began to build houses and Synagogues in the various streets of Vitebsk, and with each "Beth-Hamidrash" there was always a "Cheder" adjoining, for young children.
Nevertheless, Vitebsk was still in the main, a city of merchants and workpeople. The number of Torah-students was very small.
Tevel lived to the age of ninety-seven, and though one would say he had reached a very ripe old age, everyone regretted his passing. He was so universally loved, that all the town, from the civic and government heads, to the humblest and lowest, all came to offer their last respects to this great Jewish philanthropist. His funeral was attended by many whose tears flowed freely.
Tevel died in the year 5401 (1641). According to his will, a quarter of his possessions was to be distributed to charity. This was to be allocated by the leaders of the Community. The remainder of his money and property was to go to his only son Nachum. Tzadok Moshe and Zalman Aaron were to manage the affairs as before.
Vitebsk was composed of two parts, one was called "The Large Side" and the other "The Small Side." The "Large Side" was the business center, so it was natural that, with the appreciable legacy left the Community by Tevel, they should choose the "Small Side" on which to build a Yeshivah.


Nachum did not allow his newly found wealth to change his mode of life in the slightest degree. He was the same quiet Torah-student and recluse, speaking to no one, and spending all his time at the Betb-Hamidrash.
It was now twenty-four years after his marriage and his wife was still barren. She was already thirty-eight years old, for in those days girls were married at a very tender age. She was only fourteen years old at her marriage.
Her father Samuel Joseph, who had repeatedly urged her without success to agree to a divorce, now finally appealed to her husband Nachum, telling him that he must persuade her to follow the "Din."
Nachum was most reluctant to take this step, for he knew how devoted his wife was to him always, and he appreciated it very much.
Still, however distasteful it was to him or his wife, he agreed that they must conform to the "Din." And so he called three wise and learned men and asked them how he could carry out the matter in the fairest manner possible.
The decision arrived at was that Nachum should settle upon his wife six hundred "gilden" for each year they were married. That meant, a sum of about fifteen thousand "gilden" would be given his wife with the divorce, so that she would be financially well provided for.
Nachum wanted her to know that he was sending her away because of the necessity of carrying out the "Din" and for no other reason, and so he gave her an additional gift of several thousand "gilden."
Meanwhile Tzadok Moshe and Zalman Aaron were managing Nachum's business with great success. They had expanded it with the introduction of flax and wool, and had put this branch of the business in the care of the well-known expert in these lines, Meir Shlomo of Vilna.
In the course of three years, they found that their profits were mounting higher and higher, and Nachum was in fact becoming a very rich man.
Tzadok Moshe proved himself a most successful business man, yet he envied anyone who could devote his time to Torah-study.
In the year 5421 (1661) he traveled to Minsk on business, but even when his business was concluded, he could not tear himself away from the place.
Whilst Vitebsk was essentially a business town, Minsk on the other hand abounded with Yeshivoth and houses of study, where at every turn one met Jews studying the Torah.
Tzadok Moshe was enraptured! Even the ordinary work-people had their own "Beth-Hamidrash" where regular "Shiurim" were arranged for them, to suit their understanding and needs.
As a child and right on into manhood, Tzadok Moshe had spent all his time in Torah-study. But when he married, his father-in-law was weak, and so Tzadok Moshe bad to assume the responsibility of supporting not only himself and his wife, but also his parents-in-law, his unmarried sisters-in-law, and his brother-in-law's orphaned children too.
But whilst he "put his shoulder to the wheel" very conscientiously and efficiently, his heart nevertheless inclined towards Torah-study. So immediately after dawenmg, morning and evening, he snatched an hour or two for study. Minsk, therefore, presenting to him a picture of Torah-study wherever he looked, was to him like a drink to a thirsty man! He just could not have enough, and so he stayed and stayed until he found that he had already spent four months in this "enchanting" city!
One thing that Tzadok Moshe found in Minsk which impressed him very favorably, was the advanced education of the Jewish women there.
In Vitebsk, there was no woman who could read "Ivri" (Hebrew) and those who were anxious to join in the "davvening" in Shool used to gather round some elderly lady who, in the course of the years, had learned the prayers by heart and thus became the "reader" for them, and the others would repeat the prayers after her.
To them it would not only have been an unheard of thing, but an undreamed of thing that a woman could be so educated that, not only could she read, but also learn Chumash, T’nach, Gemorro, and Rashi!
This, then, is what Tzadok Moshe found in Minsk. It was taken for granted that all women should be able to read "Ivri" and "davven." But in addition there were many who could study Torah just the same as the men.
So whilst Vitebsk was much better off than Minsk in the material sense, with beautiful and imposing buildings and a name for business, Minsk towered above her richer sister, in the spiritual sense—with her Torah scholars, both men and women, arid her Yeshivoth and Synagogues.
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© Iosif Vaisman
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