Liepāja Rabbis

In most cases little is known about Rabbis because many documents were destroyed in the two World Wars and those preserved in the State Historical Archives were not researched. The Jewish historiography of the period highlights socio-cultural aspects (Zionism, Bund, wars between the Gebraists and Idishists, not the religious aspects).

Rabbi, (Hebrew: “my teacher” or “my master”) in Judaism, a person qualified by academic studies of the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud to act as spiritual leader and religious teacher of a Jewish community or congregation. Ordination (certification as a rabbi) can be conferred by any rabbi, but one’s teacher customarily performs this function by issuing a written statement. Ordination carries with it no special religious status. For many generations the education of a rabbi consisted almost exclusively of Talmudic studies, but since the 19th century the necessity and value of a well-rounded, general education has been recognised.

He participates in prayer on an equal footing with ordinary members of the community. His primary duty is be an expert on Torah. The main functions of rabbis are to improve the duties of the judge in conflict situations between Jews, to solve controversial issues of ritual, law, faith in accordance with the Tradition. The rabbi must be independent, obliged to obey only the Tradition and his conscience.His moral qualities must be consistent with his vocation. **

In Latvia, Rabbis were given significant rights. The Rabbi was usually a board member of the corresponding synagogue and was given a place of honor at the east wall. The rabbi ‘s vote was decisive on matters of religion, worship, ritual, kosher food etc.

Rabbis of major communities were exempt from military service. Without the rabbi ‘s permission, performing a number of rites was not possible (i.e. circumcision, name giving, funeral, etc.). A number of rabbis of Latvia even used mail free of charge.

Communities led pinkas – community chronicles e.g. the Libau Hevra Kadisha society in Libau (now Liepaja) was established in 1803 and worked according to the rules recorded in the old pinkas which were kept by the Community ‘s chief.

Of all Latvian pinkas, only two have survived to the present day – that in Riga which is located in the State Archives and the Jelgava pinkas (Mitava), which is stored in the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.

Rabbis of Liepaja (Libava, Libau):

  • In the early 19th century Avrom Boyar was the Rabbi of Liepaja (His estate was called Boyen near Hazenpot (Aizpute)).
  • From 1833 to 1840 – Moiche-Itzhok Levi was the Rabbi of Liepaja.
  • From 1840 to 1844 – Zvi-Girsch Burenstein, then – Mendel Israel.
  • From 1856 to 1882 – Josef Herzenberg, born in Piltene, from 1849 to 1856 was Rabbi in Piltene and then swapped places with Mendel Israelsohn. Rabbi Herzenberg served in Liepāja for 25 years and  died about 1882 at the end of the Simhat Torah holiday.
  • From 1857 Mordehai ben Tvi Galevy- Lewinschtein was the Rabbi of Liepāja and from 1881 until 1890 Dr. Gilel Klein who was born in Berlin. At the same time there was another Rabbi, Abraam Geller, the son of the Gaon R. Geller.
  • Jakob Denezohn, born in 1840 was Rabbi of Liepāja. He was a student of the world-famous Rabbi Joseph ben Ber Soloveichik and in 1896 published his book “Sheerit Yaakov” (The Offspring of Jacob). He died at the age of 80 in 1920 leaving many manuscripts of responsa on the Torah.
  • From 1887 to 1905 Meir Atlas served in Liepāja, then Salantai and Kobrin. He died in 1926. One of his brothers-in-law Gaon Elhanan ben Beynesh Waserman was born in Bauska.
  • From 1888, Toder Leib was the mohel of the Liepāja Rabbinate and died on January 28, 1940 in Liepāja.
  • From 1890-1904 L.O. Kantor was the chief Rabbi of Liepāja and was well known among Russian Jewry as a writer and journalist. He became the Rabbi of Riga from 1909 to 1915 and established the newspaper “Di Idiche Shtime” in Riga in 1910.
  • In 1890  Elion Marcus became the mohel of the Liepāja Rabbinate having studied at Dr. F.Klein ‘s yeshiva.  He died in Liepāia in July 1941 during the Nazi occupation.
  • In 1900  Abramovich Mosus became the mohel of the Liepāja Rabbinate. He died in Liepāja in 1942 during the Nazi occupation.
  • Between 1907 – 1937 Dr. Aron-Ber Nurock was the Rabbi of Liepāja.
  • In 1913 Hassan Schmuel became the mohel of the Liepāja Rabbinate.
  • 1921 Chaim Fishel ben David Shloyme Epstein became the Rabbi of Liepāja.
  • In 1924 Yehoshua Mordechai Klyachkin became the Rabbi of Liepāja 
  • 1929 – 1935 – Tsaruk Label  was the Obercantor in Latvia. Since 1922 – in Riga in the synagogue Zeilen-shul, 1923 – 1929 in Daugavpils. From 1929 to 1935- in the Liepāja Great Synagogue.
  • From 1933  Halpern Haim was a cantor in Liepaja.
  • From 1935 Druyan Iosel Zalka was a Cantor and a Shochet in Liepāja. He was killed in Liepaja in July 1941.
  • From 1935 Eidlin Mikhail was a Rabbi in Liepaja. He too was killed in Liepāja in July 1941.
  • From 1936   – Hosias Issac born in Liepāja in 1913 was the Shochet of the Liepāja Rabbinate and was also killed in Liepaja in July 1941.
  • 1937 – 1941 – Iser Polonsky was the last Rabbi in Liepaja.

* In 1936 there were 12  Synagogues and Houses of worship in Liepāja.