Rabbi Spektor

Meeting with Minsk researcher Yuri Dorn at O'Hare Airport

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 O'Hare Airport as he flew in on Wednesday afternoon. My return flight was out of Midway, but it turned out that there would be a window of perhaps 45 minutes to meet if I would come to O'Hare.

That's what I did. We arranged to meet at his baggage claim and then proceeded to the Hilton bar to discuss my project. Yuri of course remembered the work he had done a year ago for Walter, and thus had some familiarity with our Rabbi Spektor connection and some of the facts of Spektor's life.

I filled him in on the details of Spektor's birth in Rosh, marriage and rabbinical training in Volkovisk, and early career in Isabelin, Baraze, Nishvez and Novogrudok. We talked about the name change from Spektor to Rabinowitz and I gave him my theory about the Novogrudok census. His first reaction was that it is likely someone who had come to the town only seven years earlier would not likely be listed in such a census, but would instead be considered a resident of his birth town.

I hadn't considered this before but recalled that our Tulbowitz relatives from Rezhitsa were still considered townsmen 20 years after they had resettled many thousands of miles away. But Yuri said this is not a sure thing so my Novogrukok theory was still worth checking out.

He said it might also be possible to look for revision lists and similar records from Spektor's birthplace in Rosh. I asked about vital records, mentioning that I had had no success in finding any Spektor or Rabinowitz family records in the Belarus online indexes.

Yes, he said, sadly all the "medic records"--births, deaths and marriages--from most of western Belarus had been lost during the war. There is very little hope that any such records will be found, either in Minsk or in regional archives. By contrast, when I inquired about records from Mogilev in eastern Belarus on behalf of Dale Friedman of Berkeley whom I had spoken to earlier in the day, Yuri said that, yes, vital records for towns in that guberniya are likely to be accessible.

Nevertheless, Yuri felt that our Novogrudok search would still be worthwhile, and there will be other avenues to pursue should that turn up empty. We left things that I would follow up with a detailed email and that he will begin working on our case when he gets back to Minsk.

He also made a request that we contribute the story of Rabbi Spektor's early life to the project his research group has undertaken to renovate a Minsk synagogue. I'm not quite sure how our information can help in this worthy project, but of course I told him that I and/or Walter will be pleased to help any way we can.

New information on Chaim Rabinowitz family

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 had the same name for Chaim's wife, Faiga or Feige, but different names for the wife's father. I have known this man from various sources including Wikipedia as Joseph Böhmer, the rabbi of Slutsk. My correspondent wrote that Feiga's father was the famous Reb Yoselle, Yosef Peimer, the rabbi of Slutsk.

Searching for Yosef Peimer confirmed that he had been the much loved rabbi of Slutsk from 1829 to 1874. Slowly it dawned on me that Yosef Peimer and Joseph Böhmer were one and the same person. My correspondent shared a manuscript written by a relative on the life and times of Reb Yoselle, in which we learn he was originally from Zamut in western Lithuania, grew up in Slutsk in the Minsk region, studied at the great Volozhin yeshiva, and returned in his 30s to become rabbi in his home city.

Rabbi Peimer was about 20 years older than Rabbi Spektor. By the 1850s, Reb Yoselle was at the height of his fame and power while Rav Yitzhok was an up-and-coming rabbinical star, recently appointed to the chair in Novogrodok, about 100 miles from Slutsk, after a series of successful tenures in smaller regional towns. It is in this period that Spektor's son Chaim, also learned in Torah study, was ready to be married. It seems that the marriage between the offspring of two of the most renowned Litvak rabbis of the time would have been a most auspicious event.

Reb Yoselle passed away in 1874 and some time after that his son, Meir, became the rabbi of Slutsk. Meir's son, also named Joseph Peimer, emigrated to America in the 1900s and came to be the rabbi of Temple Beth El in Brooklyn. In 1925, Peimer wrote what he knew of the family of his father's sister Feiga in a letter to another relative. The image above is from an unsent draft of the letter that Peimer kept. On page 10, he writes about the Rabinowitz family. Here is my correspondent's rough rendering:

Feiga had four sons, and these are their names. The oldest is Meir and he is now is Paris and he sells expensive stones and watches. The second son is Eliezer Isser Rabinowitz, who was a doctor in Yekatirnaslav. He became very rich and is now in Tel Aviv. The third son is Rav Yosef Rabinowitz, and he lived with the Rav Hagaon R' Yitzchok Elchonon, and learned a lot from the Torah Scholars. He is now in Moscow. The fourth is Yaakov and he learned under the Torah giants. And one daughter Bluma who never married.

So those are the new details on the children of Chaim Rabinowitz. The source seems credible and some of the information checks out with what we already knew. I am ready to accept this as confirmation of two additional male children, Meir and Yaakov, who we didn't have before, plus new life details on Eliezer's profession and Yosef's location in 1925. Thank you to my correspondent for providing this valuable information.

Rabbi Spektor letters discovered in Paris

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.


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 before his death, in Feb 1896. I have numerized all these letters and their draft answers. The letters are in Hebrew and the responses in German.

Epigraphist & Paleograph
in charge of the Hebrew manuscripts
and of the funds of ancient Hebrew printed books
Library of the Alliance Israelite Universelle, Paris, France.

Advances on several fronts

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 Isaac Elchanon Spektor in 1888, but found an even greater treat elsewhere in the book. I will report in the next post.

In the evening, I visited the Mormon Family Research Center again, ready to locate and scan images of the Kaufler family vital records (described here in previous messages—use the label tags at right to find related posts). There are quite a few records to capture, so here I focused on a few "high-value targets."

The following images include the 1825 marriage certificate of Feigla Kaufler's grandparents, Schulim Kaufler and Reisel Bluma Singlust; the 1831 death record for Schulim's mother Bayla (also Beili), who was born the daughter of Abraham in 1773; and Schulim's own death certificate from 1847. All of those mentioned are our direct ancestors.

In each case, I will show the full size image and one or more detail sections of the image. Note that these are second-generation scans. I printed them at the LDS and scanned them at home—next time I will bring a thumb drive with me to the temple and save the scans directly, so the quality will get better when I redo them next time. But these are good enough to post now.

To keep things manageable, I will post the images in separate posts.


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