The Kovno Rav

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    July 2, 2014 - 10:53

    The following was posted as a comment in March 2014 on the old Ruby Family HIstory Project blog. It sounds like M. Malthete has discovered an important trove of Rabbi Spektor papers.

    Hello,

    When I travelled to Kovno for the 1st time in July 2007, and when visiting the "Green House" (Jewish Museum) in Vilna, I learned that Rav Itschak Elchanan Spektor had written to the Alliance Israelite Universelle (Paris, France), asking for material help for the Persian Jews. The very day after we came back, I began to search in our archive (I am librarian, in charge of the Hebrew manuscripts at the library of the Alliance Israelite Universelle). I did not find this letter, but I discovered 15 years of correspondance between Rav Itschak Elchanan Spektor and the AIU, from Aug 1881 unto 3 weeks... more

    April 28, 2013 - 12:40

    A recent contact from a younger member of the Orthodox Jewish community of Lakewood NJ has resulted in important new information about the family of Chaim Rabinowitz, the first child of Rabbi Yitzhak Elchanan Spektor whom we used to count as our ancestor. Since I became a minor authority on the biography of Rabbi Spektor on the basis of my writings on this blog, I have received many messages from people claiming a family relationship with him. Most of these have turned out to be spurious, as was our own original supposition based on family lore.

    This message immediately got my attention because many of the facts were in agreement with my research. The informant had correct names and ages for the three Rabinowitz children I knew about—Joseph, Eliezer and Bluma—and also knew of two additional sons. We... more

    August 17, 2009 - 08:29

    Bravo to Dan for all of his amazing research since we got the death records for Joseph Rabinowitz and Lena Lincoff Rabinowitz. I also very much would like Bertha Yesersky to be the sister-in-law of Rabbi Spektor, as it would tie things up nicely with a pink ribbon, but as the culprit who led us down the garden path with my Alex Haley moment in the Yeshiva University archives three years ago, just assuming that the Joseph Rabinowitz mentioned in the Shimoff book and Toldos Yitzhak as having been trained in the Tamlud and Jewish Codes by Isaac Elchanan Spektor, MUST by our Joseph, the grandson of the great rabbi, I will now play the role of skeptic who warns about making such conceptual leaps. In short, I've been burned once before and its a powerful lesson.

    Still, as you say, there is the name Bertha... more

    August 16, 2009 - 21:09

    Receipt of Joseph Rabinowitz's death certificate earlier this week provided near conclusive evidence that the simple story of our relation to the illustrious Rabbi Isaac Elchanon Spektor is false. To have been true, we needed Joseph's father to have been named Chaim or Aryeh but it was in fact Abraham.

    However, Joseph's mother's name opened a new possibility for a close familial connection to the rabbi. She was named Bertha Yesersky. You can see the death certificate here. The thing that is interesting about that is that Isaac Spektor was married to a Sara Yesersky at the age of 13 in 1830, and thereafter lived with the Yesersky family in the town of Volkovisk for a period of six years.

    ... more
    August 13, 2009 - 12:35


    Commentary to come. Click to enlarge.

    August 21, 2008 - 10:29

    I've skipped a number of items from the IAJGS meeting that I hope to write about, but trying to stay in real time, I'm on the flight home having had my last and possibly most important interaction of the trip just before leaving. (Actually, this is posted from home the next morning.)

    Well-known Minsk research Yuri Dorn would be speaking at the Belarus luncheon tomorrow afternoon, but since I would be missing that I had contacted Yuri beforehand to see if we could arrange another time to meet at the conference. You may recall that I had recently been in touch with Yuri with my inquiry about 1858 census records from Novogrudok.

    Yuri was happy to meet but he was not planning to arrive at the conference until Thursday morning. Since I was leaving Wednesday evening, the one chance to meet might be at... more

    August 8, 2008 - 21:37

    On August 4, I received a reply to my inquiry from Miriam Samsonowitz, the translator of Toledot Yitzhak. She wrote:

    I do have the book Toldos Yitzchak which I have not read through fully. It's not an easy book to read because it is written in old rabbinical idiom, is extremely verbose, and the author moralizes for most of the book and just includes biographical details in between the moralizing.

    She says she will translate or make copies of pages for me for a fee, but she doesn't sound terribly enthusiastic. She does provide me with some interesting leads that could be helpful, one to a rabbinical genealogist is Israel and the other to the editor of Yated Ne'eman in Monsey NJ. That is R. Pinchos Lipschitz, a great grandson of none other than Ya'acov Halevi Lifschitz,... more

    August 1, 2008 - 12:33

    Great news today from the JewishGen ShtetLink Project that the Kovno ShteLink page has been taken over by the inestimable Eilat Gordin Levitan. Here is the updated site, containing a wealth of content about Kovno before and during the Holocaust. His Rabbi Spektor info is similar to what Levitan has published elsewhere, but there are many other things to look at here, starting with the slideshow at the top of the page. Enjoy.

    August 1, 2008 - 12:33

    Great news today from the JewishGen ShtetLink Project that the Kovno ShteLink page has been taken over by the inestimable Eilat Gordin Levitan. Here is the updated site, containing a wealth of content about Kovno before and during the Holocaust. His Rabbi Spektor info is similar to what Levitan has published elsewhere, but there are many other things to look at here, starting with the slideshow at the top of the page. Enjoy.

    July 30, 2008 - 17:29

    Google Books is an amazing resource, the result of the online goliath's project to provide search access to all the world's printed literature. In some cases, their collection contains the entire text of books. More often, a table of contents and sample pages are provided. Other times, only small excerpts of text around the search term are offered.

    I have only begun to delve through the myriad hits returned for Rabbi Spektor. Have a look for yourself.

    Here is a clip from volume one of the book "The Brisker Rav," a biography of HaRav Yitzchok Ze'ev HaLevi Soloveichik, by Rabbi Shimon Yosef Meller, in a section about the response from various important... more

    July 30, 2008 - 16:17

    Here is a new-to-us document that offers many rich details on Yitzhak Elchanan Spektor's early life and career. I found it on the web site of Kehillas Zichron Mordechai, the orthodox community in Teaneck NJ. The site aggregates biographical articles about important Gedolim (Torah scholars) past and present.

    The fascinating YES article is adapted by Miriam Samsonowitz from Toldos Yitzchak by Rav Yaakov Haleivi Lifshutz, and is reprinted on the site from an orignal article in the publication Yated Neeman, published in Monsey NY. Unfortunately for us, the chapter ends as YES is assuming his post in Novogrodok, where his two younger sons and grandson Joseph were born.

    The depth of information in the chapter shows that it is not enough for us to rely on Shimoff for retelling the information... more

    July 30, 2008 - 16:17

    Here is a new-to-us document that offers many rich details on Yitzhak Elchanan Spektor's early life and career. I found it on the web site of Kehillas Zichron Mordechai, the orthodox community in Teaneck NJ. The site aggregates biographical articles about important Gedolim (Torah scholars) past and present.

    The fascinating YES article is adapted by Miriam Samsonowitz from Toldos Yitzchak by Rav Yaakov Haleivi Lifshutz, and is reprinted on the site from an orignal article in the publication Yated Neeman, published in Monsey NY. Unfortunately for us, the chapter ends as YES is assuming his post in Novogrodok, where his two younger sons and grandson Joseph were born.

    The depth of information in the chapter shows that it is not enough for us to rely on Shimoff for retelling the information... more

    July 27, 2008 - 12:59

    This story has been brewing for a while. The present-day Lithuanian government is investigating alleged war crimes committed by Jewish partisans during the war. This is denounced by many Jews worldwide as an attempt excuse atrocities by Lithuanian Nazi collaborators on the basis of some kind of moral equivalence. But whatever actions Jewish brigades may have taken in 1943 and 1944 can never be equivalent to the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were slaughtered.

    Here is a detailed report on the controversy from the BBC.

    Separately, I received today an email from a documentary filmmaker, Richard Bloom, who is at work on a film called "The Litvak Connection," which will report on Lithuanian and Latvian war... more

    July 26, 2008 - 22:16

    Among the Spektor descendants who have not gotten much coverage here, at least so far, is Bluma Salomonson, the daughter of YES son Benyamin Rabinowitz, who was one of the first members of the Spektor family to go to Palestine.

    Here she turns up in the academic paper in Tradition. The author cites a chapter about YES written by Samuel K. Mirsky in the 1958 book Guardians of Our Heritage (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1958), which evidently contains excerpts from a memoir by Bluma in which she recalls going to a summer resort with her grandfather, the great rabbi.

    The reference to the Bluma material in the Tradition article is shown below. Besides its depiction of the kindly rabbi feeding a cat, and Bluma's comment that "his love for nature was limitless" (both characterizations that... more

    July 26, 2008 - 21:09

    I've run across the online site for the academic publication Tradition, a "Journal of Orthodox Jewish Thought," a few times in my research, but hadn't gotten around to paying for any downloads till today.

    There are a number of other interesting hits to investigate, but so far I have reviewed only the journal's major article on Rabbi Spektor published on the occasion of the centennial of his death in 1997. The author is Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff, professor of Responsa literature at the Yeshiva University Gruss Institute in Jerusalem.

    Most of the article contains analysis of YES' theological writings, focusing on two of the matters in which he was most influential, concerning the problems of shemita and aguna. In both cases, YES... more

    July 26, 2008 - 20:18

    Among the artifacts in the Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto is a photograph of Shulamit Rabinovitch's June 1944 letter to her sons in Palestine. The photo is credited to Shmuel Elhanan. It is interesting that the date is given here as June 27, not June 6 as in the Ethical Wills book.

    The caption includes this information: "Shulamit Rabinowitz was deported with her husband and child. They survived camps in Germany and eventually were reunited with their family in Israel."

    ... more

    July 26, 2008 - 16:46

    Reading of the Rabinowitz family's terrible experience in Kovno under Nazi occupation, I realized that I needed a better understanding of the sequence of historical events. Looking online, I found a very wonderful multimedia exhibit The Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto, presented by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

    The online exhibit is incredibly rich with photos and other artifacts, and so much well organized information that I have still not read it all. So I highly recommend that you check it out. Make sure you have the latest Shockwave plugin for your browser to view the multimedia content.

    One useful feature of the site is a timeline of events, which I have borrowed below along with a few images.... more

    July 26, 2008 - 15:04

    See below review of Hanoch Bartov's Beyond the Horizon, Across the Street sent to me earlier today by Dan, after we learned of the book in an email from Shmuel Elhanan.

    At its core, the book is a history of the Spektor-Rabinovich-Elhanan family from the days of the Gaon of Kovno to World War II and the Holocaust. It tells the story of the two older Elhanan boys, Amos and Binyamin, who had moved to Palestine as youths in the 1930's and who Bartov came to know as comrades in the Jewish Brigade in World War II. The family was reunited after the war when Amos found them in a refugee camp in Italy, having miraculously survived the Holocaust in the Kovno ghetto and the death camps.

    Unfortunately, the book itself is only in Hebrew. Just reading about it is very powerful as it so palpably... more

    July 24, 2008 - 12:01

    [Update: Following Walter's call with Shmuel Elhanan, we know there are errors in the original post, which I will leave to preserve the context for future posts. Yitzhak Rabinowitz did not change his name; his sons change theirs. Shulamit's family should be Rosenblum. Other spellings are in error.]

    So after reading YES' will several times and reflecting that our family maybe held up his hopes in item 3 if having failed him in most of item 2, I began leafing through the other chapters of the book. Imagine my surprise in finding as the last item in the Holocaust section the text of the letter written by Shmuel's mother Shulamit Rabinowitz from Kovno on June 6, 1944 to her two older children just days or hours before she expected to perish along with her husband Yitzhak and eight-year-old son Shmuel.... more

    July 24, 2008 - 11:35

    There is much that can be said about this document. Perhaps readers will want to contribute their reactions in the comment section.

    (For legibility, I have cropped in as tightly as possible on the text. You can click the images for a larger view.)


    ... more

    July 24, 2008 - 11:35

    There is much that can be said about this document. Perhaps readers will want to contribute their reactions in the comment section.

    (For legibility, I have cropped in as tightly as possible on the text. You can click the images for a larger view.)


    ... more

    July 24, 2008 - 11:16

    Well, we had heard some time ago from Shmuel Elchonan, our third cousin in Israel, that the Rabbi Spektor's "ethical will" had been published in the 1980s in a book titled "Ethical Wills: A Modern Jewish Treasury." I finally got around to tracking down the book and ordering a copy.

    Here's a quick plug for Alibris.com, a online book source that aggregates the used book collections in independent bookstores around the U.S. (maybe the world). When I went looking for this title on Amazon, they had it listed but no new or used copies were available. Then I tried Alibris, and found at least six copies available at a range of prices. My copy cost $14.15 plus shipping and was actually sent from Sea Shell Books, a bookseller in Clearwater FL. It is in very good condition... more

    July 24, 2008 - 11:16

    Well, we had heard some time ago from Shmuel Elchonan, our third cousin in Israel, that the Rabbi Spektor's "ethical will" had been published in the 1980s in a book titled "Ethical Wills: A Modern Jewish Treasury." I finally got around to tracking down the book and ordering a copy.

    Here's a quick plug for Alibris.com, a online book source that aggregates the used book collections in independent bookstores around the U.S. (maybe the world). When I went looking for this title on Amazon, they had it listed but no new or used copies were available. Then I tried Alibris, and found at least six copies available at a range of prices. My copy cost $14.15 plus shipping and was actually sent from Sea Shell Books, a bookseller in Clearwater FL. It is in very good condition... more

    July 24, 2008 - 09:49

    Yesterday was another red-letter day for me, so I want to get some updates in here before other news arrives. I have to hurry, because there is lots to do today for Festival Preview.

    Okay, first in the morning I got email from Marian Rubin of the Rzeszow Research Group that she has some of our Ringel birth records, including Schija's, and that she is making copies and sending them to me by mail. She warns in advance there is no new information beyond what is in the index data we have already seen. Even so, it will be exciting to have images of those records. I'll wait to discuss them in more detail after Marian's mail arrives.

    Next came a delivery from Alibris.com of a book I had ordered, Ethical Wills: A Modern Jewish Treasury. I was thrilled to finally read the words written for posterity by... more

    July 24, 2008 - 09:49

    Yesterday was another red-letter day for me, so I want to get some updates in here before other news arrives. I have to hurry, because there is lots to do today for Festival Preview.

    Okay, first in the morning I got email from Marian Rubin of the Rzeszow Research Group that she has some of our Ringel birth records, including Schija's, and that she is making copies and sending them to me by mail. She warns in advance there is no new information beyond what is in the index data we have already seen. Even so, it will be exciting to have images of those records. I'll wait to discuss them in more detail after Marian's mail arrives.

    Next came a delivery from Alibris.com of a book I had ordered, Ethical Wills: A Modern Jewish Treasury. I was thrilled to finally read the words written for posterity by... more

    July 14, 2008 - 13:13

    But back to Einseidler. What is new and different that we learn from the papers? Most of the new information relates to two brothers of Isaac Elchanan. We know from Shimoff that Isaac had two older and one younger brothers. Of second brother Abraham Aaron, Shimoff writes that he was accomplished in the rabbinate, but he died young before having children. Shimoff tells us Spektor was deeply affected by his brother's death.

    According to Einseidler's reading of the literature, the eldest Spektor brother, Moshe Joseph, then married Abraham's widow, in observation of the law of chalitza, in which an unmarried brother of a deceased married brother is obligated to marry the widow (unless he is released from the obligation in a ceremony involving the taking off of the brother's shoe).

    In this... more

    July 13, 2008 - 17:52

    While Morris keeps feeding me more information, I am trying to catch up with his earlier fax transmittal of the David Einsiedler papers. These include not just the three installments of the researcher's handwritten reports but also copies from nine source documents that are cited in the research.

    I've now had a chance to process the information and will do my best to sift out what is new to us. Einsiedler draws on mostly published information. The most well known are the Shimoff biography and Lifshitz's Toldot Yitshak. But there are four or five different biographical encyclopedias that have listings for members of the Spektor/Rabinowitz family. Several are comprehensive works of important rabbis in history. There is one for Lithuanian rabbis only, and another for the rabbis of Novogrodok. David... more

    July 11, 2008 - 00:38

    Morris Spector and I spoke on the phone again today after he had sent me another important document — six pages of information about the SPEKTOR/RABINOWITZ/ELCHANAN family faxed from Shmuel Elchanan to Morris Spector in 1996. It is in Hebrew, mostly typed but some hand written, so it gets added to the stack of papers that need Hebrew translation — the top of the stack since Shmuel's family knowledge is more complete and reliable than anyone's.

    Morris is excited because news of our Rabinowitz family has revived a research project that he thought he had taken as far as he could a decade ago. What he didn't understand at the time was the importance of some of the Spektor descendants using the Rabinowitz name. Even savvy David Einseidler doesn't know what to make of it when he writes "Again that name!"... more

    July 11, 2008 - 00:38

    Morris Spector and I spoke on the phone again today after he had sent me another important document — six pages of information about the SPEKTOR/RABINOWITZ/ELCHANAN family faxed from Shmuel Elchanan to Morris Spector in 1996. It is in Hebrew, mostly typed but some hand written, so it gets added to the stack of papers that need Hebrew translation — the top of the stack since Shmuel's family knowledge is more complete and reliable than anyone's.

    Morris is excited because news of our Rabinowitz family has revived a research project that he thought he had taken as far as he could a decade ago. What he didn't understand at the time was the importance of some of the Spektor descendants using the Rabinowitz name. Even savvy David Einseidler doesn't know what to make of it when he writes "Again that name!"... more

    July 10, 2008 - 10:03

    Thanks to Morris Spector and also to Jeff Spector of Colorado Springs, I now have my hands on the famous first chapter of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor — Life and Letters by Rabbi Dr. Ephraim Shimoff published in 1959 by Yeshiva University.

    Also in hand are a dozen pages of hand-written research results prepared in 1990 by David Einsiedler of Los Angeles, who was engaged by Morris Spector to research the family of Isaac Elchanan Spektor. There are also various Hebrew source documents that Einsiedler provides, which will further document the Israeli descendants of R. Spektor's brother Jacov David Spektor.

    These documents are rich with new information — or I should say information that is new to me and my attempts to synthesize all available sources to document the immediate family members... more

    July 10, 2008 - 10:03

    Thanks to Morris Spector and also to Jeff Spector of Colorado Springs, I now have my hands on the famous first chapter of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor — Life and Letters by Rabbi Dr. Ephraim Shimoff published in 1959 by Yeshiva University.

    Also in hand are a dozen pages of hand-written research results prepared in 1990 by David Einsiedler of Los Angeles, who was engaged by Morris Spector to research the family of Isaac Elchanan Spektor. There are also various Hebrew source documents that Einsiedler provides, which will further document the Israeli descendants of R. Spektor's brother Jacov David Spektor.

    These documents are rich with new information — or I should say information that is new to me and my attempts to synthesize all available sources to document the immediate family members... more

    July 10, 2008 - 09:03

    Another treasure from the files of Morris Spector.

    September 20, 2007 - 09:39

    Email from Walter on Sept. 20:

    I had a nice discussion this morning with our relative in Rehovot, Shmuel Elchanan. He noted that his father submitted testimony to Yad Vashem in 1955 as to the existence of a daughter of Chaim Rabinowitz (our great-great grandfather), the son of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor. Her name was Bluma Rabinovich the daughter of Chaim and Feiga Rabinovch and she lived from 1871-1944 in Kovno (Kaunas), having been killed by the Nazis either in the Kovno Ghetto or in a death camp. Shmuel, who himself lived in the Kovno Ghetto, remembers her very well, as a school teacher who never married. He remembers that she was a very kind woman. So Bluma was either the sister or half-sister of Joseph Rabinowitz, our great-grandfather who emigrated to New York. I need to check to see... more

    August 21, 2007 - 16:09

    This is the first draft of a piece I expect will show up soon in the New York Jewish media--probably in shortened form. I thought I'll put the full version up here first.

    A FEW THINGS ARE ILLUMINATED: A WILD AND CRAZY ROOTS TRIP TO THE OLD COUNTRY

    By Walter Ruby

    “Searching for family roots is like snorting crack cocaine. The rush it gives will hook you for the rest of your life.”

    If someone had said something like that to me after the deaths of my parents, Helga and Stanley Ruby, three years ago, when I began working on a modest family history project together with my siblings Dan and Joanne, I would have found the analogy ridiculous and more than a little sacrilegious. Yet my fascination with our ongoing search for generations of lost ancestors has grown exponentially since then... more

    August 21, 2007 - 16:09

    This is the first draft of a piece I expect will show up soon in the New York Jewish media--probably in shortened form. I thought I'll put the full version up here first.

    A FEW THINGS ARE ILLUMINATED: A WILD AND CRAZY ROOTS TRIP TO THE OLD COUNTRY

    By Walter Ruby

    “Searching for family roots is like snorting crack cocaine. The rush it gives will hook you for the rest of your life.”

    If someone had said something like that to me after the deaths of my parents, Helga and Stanley Ruby, three years ago, when I began working on a modest family history project together with my siblings Dan and Joanne, I would have found the analogy ridiculous and more than a little sacrilegious. Yet my fascination with our ongoing search for generations of lost ancestors has grown exponentially since then... more

    August 9, 2007 - 13:47

    Ugh! Down with the flu and/or severe jetlag, so am taking it easy today. Let me use this opportunity to clarify some of what Tanya and I learned, starting with the Wolgemuth-Spektor connection. In fact, Eli Wohlgemuth of Montreal did NOT claim that the two families were related. Rather, he said that his great-great grandfather, Rabbi Yishai Wohlgamuth (the name, by the way, means 'good natured' in German) (1809-1898), the chief rabbi of Memel from 1836-1881, was a good friend of our great-great-great grandfather, Rabbi Yitzhak Elchanan Spektor, the rabbi or Gaon of Kovno (Kaunus). We already know that Spektor turned for help to Jews in Memel (just across the German (East Prussian) border from Russian-controlled Lithuania in getting the message about the danger to Russian Jewry when pogroms started in 1881 to... more

    August 8, 2007 - 12:37

    As long as I am catching up, here's information from a newly discovered distant relative who turned up in Walter's researches. He is Shmuel Elhanan, and is a descendant of Binyamin Rubinowitz, the fourth child of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor. That makes him our fourth cousin. He lives in Rehovot, Israel, with his wife Zippora.

    Walter discovered him while preparing for his trip to Lithuania, when he was told that another Spektor descendent had made a similar trip some years ago. Following are two emails that Shmuel sent in response to Walter's inquiries.

    Dear Walter Ruby shalom,

    It was most interesting and touching to receive your mail. As you are asking for quick reply i am doing so and might be a bit short.
    Our home address is:
    5 Goldberg street
    Rehovot, 76283... more

    August 3, 2006 - 10:31

    By the way, I think Rabbi Spektor looks a hell of a lot like Stan, especially in the photo on the right.

    August 2, 2006 - 11:23

    Any family resemblance?

    August 2, 2006 - 05:27

    Since Dan has started down the road of trying to understand our relationship with the Kovno Rav, lets start with this biographical entry from the Eilat Gordin Levitan archive.

    He had four children; Son Benjamin Rabinowitz was murdered in 1906. Zvi Hirsh Rabinowitz died in 1909 his two other children; a son died at age 40 and a daughter Rachel who died in 1876.

    Notice no mention of the Gonif, who would have died around 1855.

    Here's another page from the Kerenets section of the Levitan site that has a lot of stuff on vartious Spektors who fill the gap between 1880 or so and the Holocaust:

    So how and why did some... more