Rabinoviches of Kovno

Isaac Elchanan Spektor ethical will

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.)



"Ethical Wills: A Modern Jewish Treasury""

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 with a handwritten inscription by the previous owner.

Anyway back to the contents of the book. It is a collection of Jewish ethical wills, categorized into four groups for Traditional Wills (mostly written by rabbis), Wills from the Holocaust, Wills from the Land of Israel, and Wills of Modern and Contemporary American Jews.

The book was edited and annotated by Jack Riemer with translations by Nathaniel Stampfer. The frontispiece is shown below. Rather than try to summarize the Rabbi Spektor will, I will post images of the full translation in the next post, and then after that tell about the other surprise that awaited in the book.

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.

Big surprise: Joseph Rabinowitz had a brother

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!" after noting Zvi Hirsch and Joseph are both named Rabinowitz instead of Spektor. (I have not yet introduced the Einseidler research, but this is one of the few places the LA genealogy researcher misses the mark. I'll have more on this in the near future.

We don't really have an explanation for why some Spektor children and grandchildren became Rabinoviches. Walter says that Shmuel told him it was an accident of the census — that a census taker wrote Rabinovich when told that the children playing outside were sons of the rabbi. By the way Zvi Hirsch and Joseph are close to the same age, even though they are a generation apart, so they might likely be the sons playing outside. I am going to check and see what census was being taken in Grodno guberniya in the late 1850s.

Anyway, in our conversation you could almost hear the wheels turning in Morris' head as he tried to place several pieces of dimly remembered Rabinowitz information that he has encountered over recent years. One is that he thinks he was contacted by another Rabinowitz other than us with questions about a connection to Rabbi Spektor. Since he didn't know of Joseph's family at the time, he didn't give the claim credence, but now it is likely that the other Rabinowitz would be family of ours. If this is a descendant of one of Walter Ruby's siblings, then we'll have found a new American second cousin. If it is an Israeli Rabinowitz, then we'll have another third or fourth cousin to visit on an upcoming trip.

That assumes that Morris is right and he did receive such a message, and also that he is able to find it. He said he would look for it.

The other Rabinowitz thing bothering Morris was something about Tel Aviv cemetery records. I didn't pay too much attention to that when he mentioned it, but a short while later, he followed up with an email containing a most startling revelation. He found a 1929 burial record for Eliyahu Isser Rabinovich, who was born in Kovno in 1859. His father was Rav Chaim Aryeh.

In the comments field of the record is written: "From the family of Rabbi Elchanan Spector of Kovno and Rabbi Yosef of Slutzk. Merchant. Came to Israel in 1923." Here is the link to the relevant page in the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry.

So here we have the first indication that Joseph Rabinowitz had a younger brother. There is only one Rav Chaim Aryeh married to the daughter of the Rabbi of Slutsk, so now it could be that there would have been three Rabinowitz boys playing in the yard.

Now it may well be that Eliyahu's existence is covered in Shmuel Elchanan's Hebrew document. I hope so. He has already told us about another sibling Bluma Rabinowitz who was a school teacher in Kovno. That he did not also tell Walter about Eliyahu may suggest that he does not know about him.

Eliyahu's burial record doesn't mention anything about a wife or children. Hopefully with more searching we will be able to learn more about his life and even turn up living descendants, another possible batch of Israeli third cousins.

Much to digest here, but one thing I am thinking is that of all the Spektors and Rabinowitzes who left Kovno before the Holocaust, almost all went to Israel. Only Joseph Rabinowitz that we know of came to America. We would like to learn how and why it was decided by Joseph and his grandfather Isaac Elchanan that he and wife Lena should set sail in 1875 for a new life in New York.

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