Thursday, March 20, 2014

HaRav Shmuel Yitzhak Churgin; Teacher Of Teachers, Lover of Zion

HaRav Shmuel Yitzhak Churgin, son of HaRav Eliahu Ben Haim Churgin, was born in 1865 in Karlin near Pinsk, Belarus, in the Polesia region of Russia. He was from a family of rabbis, biblical schloars- Torah and lovers of Zion. He was educated in the Cheder (alternatively, Cheider, in Hebrew חדר, meaning "room") which is a traditional elementary school teaching the basics of religious Judaism and the Hebrew language Shumel excelled in his studies. He had a love for the Torah and the Halachic rulings, Halakha (Hebrew: הֲלָכָה) also transliterated Halocho (Ashkenazic), the collective body of Jewish religious laws, based on the Written and Oral Torah, including the 613 mitzvot and later Talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions compiled today in the Shulchan Aruch, "the Code of Jewish Law." It was this great love for the Torah - the Bible, that he later taught to thousands of students at " Gates of Torah" and Mikveh Israel (Hebrew: מִקְוֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל; "Hope of Israel") the first Jewish agricultural school in Israel

At the age of twenty, in 1885. he married Chasiyah Eisenberg (Daughter of Aaron Eisenberg). A few years after his marriage in 1889, he was offered the opportunity to immigrate to America to study at a university there. HaRav Churgin and many young Jews had been affected by the wave of pogroms of 1881–1884 and anti-Semitic May Laws of 1882 introduced by Tsar Alexander III of Russia. These incidents of ant-Semitic hatred prompted mass emigration of Jews from the Russian Empire. HaRav Churgin decided to join with many other inspired young Jews to heed the call of the Lover's of Zion and to make Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael and to assist the rebuilding of the Jewish Homeland in the backward desolate portion of the dying Turkish Empire. So he became a Pioneer or Bilu (Hebrew: ביל"ו which is an acronym based on a verse from the Book of Isaiah (2:5) "בית יעקב לכו ונלכה" Beit Ya'akov Lekhu Venelkha ("House of Jacob, let us go [up]")) The Bilu'im were part of a movement whose goal was the agricultural resettlement of Eretz Yisrael - the Land of Israel.
Jewish settlers ("Biluim") in Palestine, 1880's

In 1889 he made Aliyah - immigrated to Israel. He went through some very exasperating experiences upon his arrival. as did many new comers in the early days of the First Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. At that time the area was a sleepy backwater of the dying Ottoman Turkish Empire. Sparsely populated and filled with marauding bands of Arab Bedouin thieves. The land was treeless and barren. It was filled with rocky spaces and mosquito filled swamps with deadly malaria.
"Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent. The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee sleep in the midst of a vast stretch of hill and plain wherein the eye rests upon no pleasant tint, no striking object, no soft picture dreaming in a purple haze or mottled with the shadows of the clouds. Every outline is harsh, every feature is distinct, there is no perspective--distance works no enchantment here. It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.
Small shreds and patches of it must be very beautiful in the full flush of spring, however, and all the more beautiful by contrast with the far-reaching desolation that surrounds them on every side. I would like much to see the fringes of the Jordan in spring-time, and Shechem, Esdraelon, Ajalon and the borders of Galilee--but even then these spots would seem mere toy gardens set at wide intervals in the waste of a limitless desolation.
Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies. Where Sodom and Gomorrah reared their domes and towers, that solemn sea now floods the plain, in whose bitter waters no living thing exists--over whose waveless surface the blistering air hangs motionless and dead-- about whose borders nothing grows but weeds, and scattering tufts of cane, and that treacherous fruit that promises refreshment to parching lips, but turns to ashes at the touch. Nazareth is forlorn; about that ford of Jordan where the hosts of Israel entered the Promised Land with songs of rejoicing, one finds only a squalid camp of fantastic Bedouins of the desert; Jericho the accursed, lies a moldering ruin, to-day, even as Joshua's miracle left it more than three thousand years ago; Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and their humiliation, have nothing about them now to remind one that they once knew the high honor of the Saviour's presence; the hallowed spot where the shepherds watched their flocks by night, and where the angels sang Peace on earth, good will to men, is untenanted by any living creature, and unblessed by any feature that is pleasant to the eye. .... The noted Sea of Galilee, where Roman fleets once rode at anchor and the disciples of the Saviour sailed in their ships, was long ago deserted by the devotees of war and commerce, and its borders are a silent wilderness; Capernaum is a shapeless ruin; Magdala is the home of beggared Arabs; Bethsaida and Chorazin have vanished from the earth, and the "desert places" round about them where thousands of men once listened to the Saviour's voice and ate the miraculous bread, sleep in the hush of a solitude that is inhabited only by birds of prey and skulking foxes."
 A section from Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad On the land of Palestine
The Jewish community in the ancient seaside port city of Jaffa was very small. It was located within the Arab Old City. From here every day at the crack of dawn he would walk the 25 kilometers to the new Jewish town of Rehovot. It was here in this newly founded colony/settlement he would work alongside other new immigrants. As the evening drew near he would walk back to Yaffo and with the dawn he would return once again to go to work. The work was physical, hard and long but he and the other young Zionists enjoyed the work. They knew that they were rebuilding the Jewish Homeland.
Rechovot 1912
After a few short years he was able to bring Chassiyah and their three children to be with him in Eretz Yisrael. They lived in Jaffa, since the new Jewish City of Tel Aviv had not yet been founded. There were no living quaters available so they rented in the old city of Jaff/Yaffo. Because of this the Jewish women were forced to go out veiled dressed in burqas (an enveloping outer garment worn by Moslem women to cover their bodies) whenever they ventured into the streets out of fear of attack from their Arab neighbors.

HaRav Churgin who had once dreamed of becoming a farmer settling in one of the agricultural settlements, was forced to abandon his dream due to financial considerations and the severity of life in the Yishuv. To feed his family he returned with fervor to his first love as a teacher in the Talmud Torah -"Sharei Torah" or "Gates of Torah". "Sharei Torah" had just been founded and it was the only institution of it's kind for Jewish children in Jaffa. He remained a teacher there for decades eventually moving with them to it's new quarters in Neve Shalom. Thousands of students learned from him his passion for the Halachic rulings and  especially the Torah / Bible. He was able to also inspire in them his love and passion for Torah as well as for the Land of Israel.

In my research I found that it was a high probability that when HaRav Kook moved to Ottoman Palestine in 1904 to assume the rabbinical post in Jaffa, which also included responsibility for the new mostly secular Zionist agricultural settlements nearby. He may have been in contact with HaRav Churgin since they both shared a love for Halacha and the rebirth of Jewish life in Eretz Yisrael. As a respected teacher he may have influenced HaRav Kook as he engaged in kiruv ("Jewish outreach"), creating a greater role for Torah and Halakha in the life of the city and the nearby settlements.
Talmud Torah Sharei Torah 1912 -1938
What is notable of HaRav Churgin is that he had been educated in the writing style of the ancient Hebrew writers. So in his leisure time he began writing poems in the long forgotten oratorical style of the ancient Jewish writers. He soon became recognized throughout the reborn Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael as a famous scholar in the rebirth of the Hebrew language and grammar. Dozens of private students from the best houses in the new Jewish city of Tel Aviv flocked to take lessons from him in the reborn language of modern Hebrew. These students -as well as his son Yakov later formed the original core group of new Hebrew speakers and writers.

Despite all the hardships of eking out a living and having a large family. HaRav Churgin was able to participate in public affairs in the Yishuv. As the years moved on and his health began to fail him only than did he stop his love of writing and teaching but not before leaving his contribution to the re-establishment of the Jewish home land in Eretz Yisrael and his love for Torah and Zionism was passed on.

I include below a picture of the daughter of HaRav Shmuel Yitzhak Churgin and Chasiyah Eisenberg (Daughter of Aaron Eisenberg) Rachel Churgin the wife of David Blick and their daughter Esther Blick -wife of Chaim Brownstein grandmother of my wife Rena.

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