Ben-Tsiyon Klibansky

Historian & Electronics Engineer

M.Sc.

Ph.D.

Ben-Tsiyon Klibansky

Historian & Electronics Engineer

M.Sc.

Ph.D.

 

Regards from the Other World

One day in 2013 I received a telephone call from someone who identified himself as Hayim Chait. He made a strange request:

I am holding a copy of a page from the book “Family Purity” written by the rabbi of Kovna, Abraham Duber Shapiro. In the margin there is a handwritten comment. It is possible that the writing is your grandfather’s Rabbi Hayim Ben-Tsiyon Klibansky. Can you send me a sample of his handwriting so that I can compare the two?

 

I didn’t understand why he thought it was my grandfather’s handwriting on the comment. Although Grandfather is mentioned several times in the three volumes of the famous book “Words of Abraham” by Rabbi Abraham Duber Shapiro,[1] he isn’t the only one and the words of other rabbis are mentioned in this book as well.

It is also true that during the 1930’s my grandfather ran the “Kovna Kollel”, which was one of the only kollels in Lithuania and was the most famous world-wide at that time. The president of the kollel was the rabbi of Kovna, and my grandfather was his “right hand man” for everything having to do with that institution. Therefore, my grandfather had greater accessibility to Rabbi Shapiro than other rabbis.

הרב חיים בן-ציון קליבנסקי (1934)

(מתוך מירכתי צפון, עמ' לב)

However, Hayim Chait didn’t know all this... In any case, I fulfilled his request and sent him several samples of my grandfather’s handwriting.

Examples of my grandfather’s writings (on the right from the book Nahalat Avot, on the left from the archives of the National Library)

In the meantime, he sent me a copy of the page. I compared the handwritings and I came to the conclusion, that they both came from the same person.

Many of my questions found answers the next day. Hayim Chait phoned me again and told me that he had forgotten to send me a photocopy of the book cover. It was the cover of the book “Sermon on Family Purity”. On it was written “Klibansky Paneriu 77”.

 

My heart began to pound. The handwriting was indeed quite similar to that of my grandfather. It was a good assumption that the person who had held this book and was named Klibansky was none other than my grandfather. But what of Paneriu Street? There was only one street in Kovna with that name, and it was in the suburb of Slabodka, but Grandfather had lived on Gardino Street in the center of Old Kovna?!

 

I looked again at the cover. The book was published in Kidan in 1940.[2] This was the last year that Jewish holy books were published; On June 15, 1940 the Soviets entered Lithuania, and all Jewish printing houses immediately halted printing Hebrew books. Moreover, a year later, on June 22, 1941 the Germans invaded Lithuania; As soon as July 11th, they ordered all the Jews to leave their homes and crowd into the Slabodka Ghetto.[3]

An ad to the book in the newspaper Idisher Lebn, June 11, 1940, four days before the Soviets entered Lithuania

 

The proximity of dates between the date the book appeared and the date of the Jews expulsion to Slabodka clarified for me what had happened. The book landed in my grandfather’s hands in mid-1940 at the earliest.[4] When he was forced to move to the Slabodka Ghetto he found a place to live on Paneriu Street. Inasmuch as he was the only one from his immediate family who was left, he had to live with other people.[5] Therefore, he wrote on his scanty possessions, which included his books, his name and new address.

 

I immediately phoned my friend in New York, who had been a resident of Kovna before the war, and felt firsthand the horrors of the Slabodka Ghetto. I asked him if it was possible that my grandfather had lived on Paneriu Street after he had moved to the ghetto.

 

“We too lived for the first period on Paneriu Street until the ghetto was reduced in size after a few months” – was his answer.

 

From this I received more substantiation for the possibility that my grandfather had lived on this street in the ghetto, and that the book was there in his possession.[6] But how had the book survived until today? My grandfather was murdered in the Children and Elderly Aktion at the end of March 1944, and his paltry belongings were lost?![7]

 

I found that in February 1942 the Nazis decreed that all the Jews in the Slabodka Ghetto had to turn over their books. Tens of thousands of books were amassed, and a Jewish brigade was ordered to go through them and decide which ones should be preserved. The ones saved, were sent to the Institute for Research of the Jewish Question in Frankfurt, which was established by the Nazi minister Alfred Rosenberg. The rest of the books were recycled by the Germans and turned into paper. It is likely to conclude, that my grandfather’s book was sent to Germany, to the Nazi center until the Americans entered Germany in 1945. However, it was unclear where the book was currently and how photographed pages had wound up with Hayim Chait. I knew that books from the Mapu Library in Kovna had been transported to Germany and from there to the National Library in Jerusalem; perhaps other books found their way to the Jerusalem library as well, including my grandfather’s?

 

I looked through the catalogue of the library. I found out that there were two editions of the book “Family Purity” in Yiddish,[8] and one edition in Hebrew translation – the book we were discussing. Maybe this was the book upon which my grandfather had commented – I thought to myself...[9]

 
 
 

I had to be in Jerusalem in a few days and I planned to go to the National Library. In the meantime, Hayim Chait was in touch, and told me that he was working on a renewed publication of the Hebrew edition and requested that I edit his typing of my grandfather’s comment. He sent me a draft of the book, and I began to read it from the beginning. It turns out that during Chanukah 1936, an All-Lithuanian assembly was held; it was of a new Lithuanian Orthodox women’s union named “Beit Yakov”, and Rabbi Abraham-Duber Shapiro had been invited to give the opening remarks. He chose to speak to the women about Family Purity, following in the footsteps of the “Hafetz Hayim”, who had also spoken to a large congregation of women on the same topic at the Great Synagogue of Vilna exactly six years earlier.[10]

 

Rabbi Shapiro’s speech made a great impression on the thousand women that were in the assembly room. The idea arose that he should print and distribute his speech in order to expand its impact amongst the Jewish women of Lithuania. Indeed, a short while later, a journal came out in Yiddish with his speech and a few additional comments. The edition sold out immediately. Two years later a new edition came out that was double in size and in it many more additions from Rabbi Shapiro.

 

The interest that the Yiddish booklet aroused prompted activist women of the “Beit Yakov” center to translate it to Hebrew and send it to the great scholars of Lithuania. It appears that Reb David Schwartz took the task upon himself,[11] and he was responsible for the translation to Hebrew of the expanded second edition.[12] There were more new comments added to it by Rabbi Shapiro and it was published in 1940. In one of the new remarks Rabbi Shapiro imbedded my grandfather’s observation, and pointed out “one must object to this a bit and the discussion should be expanded, but there is no room here”. However, it is not clear from the short discourse credited to my grandfather, why Rabbi Shapiro felt the need to reject this comment. And here, it is clear from the handwritten remarks that some of the important points went missing in the publication, and therefore, my grandfather felt the need to handwrite what was cut out. After this addition, the rabbi’s reference to my grandfather’s observation is already understandable (in the appendix the full commentary is written). 

 

The day came for my trip to the National Library. I asked to see the book in its Hebrew edition. Unfortunately it was considered to be “rare” and the only copy that was accessible to the public was available in microfilm. I got the microfilm and I put it into one of the reading machines. I started to run the reel. It was a copy of my grandfather’s book...

 

I was very excited. The original was in the library archives several floors below me, but it wasn’t at all accessible.

 

I approached the librarian and asked him for assistance, “You have my grandfather’s book from the time he lived in the Slabodka Ghetto. He was murdered by the Nazis and the book is the only memory of him. Please let me see the original with my own eyes”. The librarian asked the supervisor for rare books permission and it was granted.

 

Soon the book came up from the archives to the local Gershom Scholem Library.

 

I got my grandfather’s book. These were regards from the other world...

Appendix: My Grandfather’s Comments

 

In his discourse during his remarks on “the spirit of impurity”, Rabbi Shapiro determined that this spirit is attached to a menstruating woman as well as to a zavah, inasmuch as for both internal and external reasons neither has the strength to stand before malevolent forces. In the commentary (which was added in the Hebrew edition) he presented an important distinction between the instances of impurity that come out of the body and the instances of impurity that are derived through contact, even though in the Torah the word “impurity” is used for both; upon the first type rests an unclean spirit, while this spirit has nothing to do with the second type. He continued and qualified his words by determining that when talking about a corpse only, the spirit of impurity is not connected, and he based this on the words of the Sifri-Zuta, “One who touches the dead is impure, but the corpse itself is not impure; one who touches the dead is impure, [but] the son of Shunamit [who rose from the dead] is not impure”.[13] Here, Rabbi Shapiro brought my grandfather’s comments on this Sifri:

And my friend the Rabbi and Sage Reb Ben-Tsiyon Klibansky, may his name be blessed, remarked on the Sifri from what is said in Tractate Pesachim (67, a) “one who is impure due to a corpse is allowed to enter the Levite camp, and not only did they say one who is impure due to a corpse may enter this area, but even a corpse itself”. And if you say a corpse itself is not impure – what is its advantage, and why is it written “but even”? As a matter of fact, one who is impure due to a corpse is already impure, while a corpse itself can only cause another to become impure.

From the language in Pesachim it sounds like the state of impurity of a corpse is more severe than that of a one who is impure due to a corpse, in contrast to Sifri’s words. Here my grandfather added in his own handwriting the omission of the rest of his comments brought by Rabbi Shapiro – some very surprising things:

 

Therefore he (Rabbi Ben-Tsiyon Klibansky) says that the Sifri refers to a dead person who has come back to life; he does not become impure, i.e. through touching himself...[14] and this is what the Sifri meant when he wrote [that] the son of the Shunamit isn’t impure.

If so, then it is true that the impurity of the dead is more severe than the one who has been in contact with a corpse, as it appears in the tractate of Pesachim. However, the Sifri discusses a temporary stage of one who dies and then comes back to life; in this case, the impurity leaves him as soon as he is resurrected. Evidence that the discussion is about a temporary stage is the literal parallel to the last words of the Sifri where it is mentioned that the son of Shunamit (who was resurrected by the prophet Elisha) was pure.

 

From my grandfather’s discourse there stems an alleged contradiction to Rabbi Shapiro’s determination that spirit of impurity has nothing to do with the dead. After the rabbi contemplated the issue he concluded: “one must object to this a bit and the discussion should be expanded, but there is no room here”. Still, he signed off by writing: “Among the sages of the secret it is customary to say that the spirit of impurity rests on those who are dead as well as on those who approach them. See Zohar, Hukat portion and others”.

The new and enhanced printing of the Hebrew edition, Jerusalem 2014

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[1] See Devar Avraham [Words of Abraham], vol. I, Sign 15, p. 128; vol. III, Sign 10, p. 70, Sign 13, p. 44 and Sign 19, p. 49; Bezalel Develitzky, ‘Addendum to the book Words of Abraham [Hebrew], Vol. II, by Rabbi Abraham Duber Cahana Shapiro OBM’, Yeshurun, 2011: 171.

[2] For a more accurate date see the letter from Rabbi Shapiro to his son in Nissan 1940 (in: Aharon Vagshel, An Individual and his Generation [Hebrew], vol. I, Jerusalem, 2011, p. 310), from which it becomes evident that the book was published a very short time before the Soviet invasion into Lithuania.

[3] On August 15, 1941 the ghetto was surrounded by heavy security and the Jews were forbidden to stay outside it without permission.

[4] About the book being given as a gift by Rabbi Shapiro see Vagshel (above, note 2), p. 306.

[5] For the reasons why he stayed alone see Gitta Langleben-Klibansky, From the Ends of the Earth: The Struggle for Survival of a Jewish Girl from Lithuania on the Banks of the Arctic Ocean [Hebrew], Elkana: “History of the Lituanian Jewry”, 2013, pp. 41H–42H.

[6] Paneriu Street was a divider between two parts of the ghetto: the large ghetto and the small ghetto. On October 4, 1941 the small ghetto was liquidated, and the Jews who had survived the selektion, moved to the large ghetto.

[7] On this Aktion see Eighty Years to Operation Barbarossa - The Elderly and Children Aktion in Kovno GhettoHaUmah 223 (2021), pp. 75-84.

[8] Lecture on Family Purity, published by “Beit Yakov” center in Lithuania, Kovna edition 1936 and Kidan edition 1938, extended.

[9] The Hebrew edition is also found in the Rambam Library in Beit Ariella in Tel-Aviv.

[10] It was on December 2, 1930 (see Moshe Meir Yoshor, The Chafetz Chaim: The Life and Works of Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin [English], Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1997, p. 649).

[11] He was the brother of Bluma Haya Shwartz from Telz, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenshtein’s mother. His fate was that of most of the Jews of Kovna; according to my New York friend’s testimony, he survived the Great Aktion, but apparently was murdered in the Elderly and Children Aktion in 1944.

[12] According to my friend from New York’s account, the one who translated it was actually Sarah Friedman, Malkiel Friedman’s wife.

[13] Sifri-Zuta, Hukat portion, 19, 11.

[14] Here my grandfather became involved in a lengthy comparative discussion and determined that one who comes back to life temporarily cannot be defiled by himself.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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