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Bidding Information
Lot #    17621
Auction End Date    4/24/2007 10:06:51 AM (mm/dd/yyyy)
Title Information
Title (English)    Letter by R. Jacob Joseph, Chief Rabbi of New York
Title (Hebrew)    ëúá îä'ř éň÷á éĺńó, ŕá'ă đĺé éŕř÷
Author    [Ms.]
City    New York
Publication Date    1891
Collection Information
Independent Item    This listing is an independent item not part of any collection
Description Information
   [1] p., 135:127 mm., ink on paper, backed, 8 lines of text in Ashknazic script, signed, dated, and sealed.
   Rav Yaakov Yosef b. Dov Joseph, (1840-1902) Chief Rabbi of New York City Rav Yaakov Yosef was [1] born in the town of Krozhe (Karziai) a province of Kovno, Lithuania. As a young teenager he was sent to the Yeshiva in Volozhin under the auspices of Rav Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, his sharp mind earned him the title of “Rav Yaakov Charif”, he later studied under Rav Yisrael Salanter in Kovno. After varies [2] Rabbinical positions throughout Lithuanian in 1883 he was selected to serve as the maggid meisharim (public preacher) for the city of Vilna. Soon after he was appointed a dayan on the prestigious Vilna Beth Din, thereafter it’s Chief Rabbi. It was in Vilna that Rav Joseph published his book L’Beit Yaakov (Vilna, 1888) In April of 1888, Rav Joseph reluctantly accepter the call from the Association of American Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (AAOHC) to serve as New York’s first Chief Rabbi [3]. Although the AAOHC was limited to New York Cities Lower East Side it was Rav Joseph’s hope that he would be able to influence the rest of the city as well with a vibrant Orthodoxy comparable to Easter Europe. Rav Joseph arrived on Saturday July 7, 1888 at the port in Hoboken, NJ were he was greeted by a large crowd of hopeful well-wishers. Refusing to disembark [4] on Shabbos the crowd waited patiently until after sundown. After a short reception at the Meyer’s Hotel in Hoboken he was escorted to his new home on 179 Henry Street were a crowd of close to fifty thousand gathered to great him. Two week later an over flowing crowd filled the Beth Hamedrash Hagdol on Norfolk Street spilling over onto the surrounding city streets to hear Chief Rabbi Joseph’s inaugural sermon. At first [5] Rav Joseph met with much success, especially in testing shochtim and replacing those who were unqualified and doubled the number of certified shochtim in the New York area. He also was able to implement the visual inspection of the slaughtered animals' lungs, as dictated by halachah, and the use of lead seals (plumba) to identify the kosher animals. An oversight board was established to periodically check the knives used for ritual slaughter. Rav Joseph successfully implemented the same standard for chicken and fowl (an unheard off concept at the time). To facilitate these achievements a one-cent tax per animal was implemented. Advancement in the area of kosher matzah-flower [6] was likewise achieved. The new Chief Rabbi took an active interest in education, making periodic visits to the Etz Chaim Yeshiva [7] to test the older students. Within the first few weeks of his arrival, Rav Joseph established a new Beth Din [8] in New York City. It was the job of the Beth Din to assist the Chief Rabbi with all his endeavors. Due to Rav Joseph’s success in “cleaning up” the slaughterhouses of the Lower East Side [9] in February of 1889 he was invited by the prominent Rabbanim of the Upper Westside to the Bloomingdale Rooms in an effort to implement similar procedures for the slaughterhouses of upper Manhattan. Rav Joseph’s influence spread in upper Manhattan as halachic authority as well. In November of 1892, the members of Congregation Shaarai Zedek sought to uproot its New York City Cemetery due to nearby construction that was compromising parts of the cemetery and have the bodies re-interred in the Bay Side Cemetery in nearby Queens. Although the members were strongly in favor of the move, when it was discovered that the Chief Rabbi disapproved, the idea was quickly put to rest. Rav Joseph’s fame soon spread across the United States. When the newly established [10] Mount Sinai Congregation of Newark, Ohio purchased a former church building to serve as their new synagogue on the day the building was to be dedicated two overlooked crosses were found engraved on the facade of the building. The congregations Rabbi, Rav Browne turned to the New York Chief rabbi for guidance, asking if the building was permissible for use. In accordance with his ruling the ceremony was postponed until the crosses could be removed. In 1892, [11] the Central Rabbinical Conference of Reform Rabbis decided to make bris mila (circumcision) optional for new converts. The Chief Rabbi did everything in his power to fight back in both attacking the Reform movement as well as promoting the importance of a bris mila. The Chief Rabbi also attempted to reverse the decline in the observance of Tznius. Unfortunately, many of the married women were abandoning the religious practice of covering their hair. Rav Joseph tried unsuccessfully to convince the masses the importance of this precept. Although initially very successful, the Chief Rabbinate was not destined to last. Due to an overwhelming majority of Lithuanian born Rabbanim associated with the Chief Rabbinate, in 1889 Jews of Galician and Hungarian decent formed Congregation Sons of Israel and appointed Rav Yehoshua Seigal, as “Chief Rabbi of New York City,” creating two rival Kehillos, with each side having its own Chief Rabbi and Kashrus supervision. A further decline in the Chief Rabbi’s authority was a direct result of his success. The measures to strengthen kashruth caused an increased in the price for meat, chicken, and matzah, something many were not willing to except. Many local rabbis lost their incomes associated with kashruth supervision as a result of the new policies. Slaughterhouse owners did not take well to their loss of authority while many Jewish housewives complained of the increase in kosher meat prices. [12] These groups united forming the “Hebrew Poultry Butchers Association” to fight back. As such the Chief Rabbi was maligned, assaulted, and attacked on a daily basis both in person and in the socialist, antireligious Jewish media. He was accused of robbing the poor for his personal gain and worse. It did not take long for all of Rav Joseph’s “enemies” to join in and attack other areas of his successes in an attempt to reverse them. He was attacked by those who were offended by his attempts to address the issue of the Shabbos desecration. Anti-religious demonstrations were constantly being organized throughout the Lower East Side denigrating the Chief Rabbi’s authority. With time, the AAOHC was financially destroyed, a final attempt to get prominent Rabbanim in Europe to rally on the side of the Chief Rabbi did little to influence his attackers. Finally, a bankrupt AAOHC could no longer pay the Rav Joseph’s salary. In an effort to maintain the office of the Chief Rabbi the AAOHC reached an agreement with the Hebrew Poultry Butchers Association where they would pay Rav Joseph directly for his kashruth supervision. By the end of 1893, Rav Joseph went from Chief Rabbi to a simple mashgiach at the mercy of the Hebrew Poultry Butchers Association. Eventually they stopped paying him altogether opting for “other kashruth supervision” and refused to renew is contract. Left penniless Rav Joseph was forced from his apartment to a small apartment on 263 Henry Street. Throughout this entire period Rav Joseph always maintained his dignity responding only to the issues never to the attacks. But inwardly the wounds festered. He soon suffered a stroke; at first he began to recover, however, a relapse four years later left him speechless and bedridden for the rest of his life. The city that had welcomed him so enthusiastically with honor and hope abandoned him, ungrateful of all the effort he initiated on its behalf with the exception of few. He soon was all but forgotten. In the [13] last year of his life Rav Joseph regained his speech and with assistance was able to walk. Wanting to express his thank to Heshem he asked that he be allowed to deliver the upcoming Shabbos Shuva Drasha. The upcoming Drasha was widely publicized throughout the city. Shabbos morning in front of an overflowing audience Rav Joseph slowly with assistance ascended the bima (lectern) and began with the words “shteit in Rambam”, he then fell silent and moments latter burst into uncontrollable tears. After a few moments he said Du vaist vus es maint tzu fargessin a Rambam far dem illui fun Volozhin and with that he sat down. The drasha had a tremendous impact on the community. They saw that nothing could break the Chief Rabbis spirit, that is, nothing except the inability to recall a Rambam. A few months later on the 24th of Tammuz he passed away. (wow! powerful) Upon his death, the battling congregation members of the AAOCH fought for the honor of having the Chief Rabbi buried in their congregation’s cemetary. Finally it was the Beth Hamedrash Hagdol on Norfolk Street that received the honor to burry him in the Congregation’s plot in the Union Field Cemetery in Ridgewood, Queens. It was agreed that the congregation would give Rebbitzin Joseph ______ upfront and _____ yearly for the rest of her life. _____ years later congregation stoped paying her. In a final irony [14] Rav Joseph’s funeral was marred with violence. As the funeral procession following his bier past the printing plant of R. Hoe and Co. the mostly German workforce angrily hurled stones, hot oil, metal pipes, and garbage at the passing procession below. As the ensuing riot unfolded an anti-Semitic police force of over 200 took to clubbing the attacked rather that the attackers. When the dust settled it found scores of mourners hospitalized or incarcerated while the R. Hoe and Co. received a slap on the wrist. The attack led to what was considered the largest “cleaning of house” for the New York City Police Department initiated by then New York City Mayor Seth Low. The Al-mighty never leaves a debt unpaid, two years [15] later on June 15, 2004 more than 1,300 members of New York City’s “Kleindeutschland” (little Germany), which included the majority of the R. Hoe and Co. workforce, boarded the General Slocum steamboat to spend the day at Locust Grove on Long Island Sound. As the steamboat passed East 90th street on the East River it became engulfed into a ball of fire. The boats captain, William Van Schaick, fearing an explosion should he dock the boat, opted to proceed at top speed to North Brother Island a mile head, further fanning the flames with the increased speed. Although it was on the East River with its usual over crowding of small boats, adequately stocked with lifeboats, and a few yard from shore, more that 1,020 people died by the time the boat finally docked. Due to the tragedy within the next few years the entire neighborhood collapsed. The once German neighborhood of 80,000 was reduced to a handful. Ironically, most every schoolchild can easily recount the events of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory (146 people killed), Titanic (1,500 people killed), Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (1,117 people killed), and the Terrorist attack on the World Trade Center (around 2,800 people killed), few can recall the General Slocum fire. May the names of the wicked forever be eradicated. Around 100,000 people attended R. Joseph’s funeral one of the largest to date in New York City. He was eulogized by the leading Torah authorities in the United States at the time. Each one, steped forward to defend the late Chief Rabbi’s honor, chastising the people of the city for the way he was mistreaded [16]. The Chief Rabbi of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania Rav Moshe Shimon Zivits cried out that Rav Joseph was only honored twice by the people of New York City - once when he arrived and now that he was gone. In the [17] weeks following his funeral countless stories of the Chief Rabbi’s greatness started to surface. “He never new what money was” said one of Rav Joseph’s piers. “He could of left millions of dollars but he died in absolute poverty because he stuck to his values”. Another, “Millions passed through his hand NEVER a dollar did he hold for himself”. “He devoted his life and every dollar he earned to his fellow beings. No man was ever a broader philanthropist that Rav Joseph” said one of the member of his Beth Din and illustrated his point with the following story. Once two brothers came before the Chief Rabbi to decide a large monetary case that had already started secular legal proceedings. The brothers were so impressed in the way Rav Joseph settled the case they each insisted on giving the Chief Rabbi $200. When Rav Joseph refused the money saying “I don’t want your money I only want to help” the money was given to a member of the Beth Din who said he would convince the Chief Rabbi to take the money. Rav Joseph took the money turned to another member of his Beth Din and said here take the money and divide it between the first eight needy people who apply for assistance. On September 17, 1906, over five thousand people gathered at Union Field Cemetery for the unveiling of Rav Joseph’s tombstone. He was eulogized by the leading Rabbinic authorities of New York City among them Rav Hillel Klein, Rav Yosef Eliyahu Fried, Rav Bernard Drachman as well as by his son Rav Rafael. Rebbetzin Joseph [18] an indefatigable worker for over thirty different chartable organizations passed away close to twenty years later. After a large funeral at the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School, established in honor of her late husband, she was laid to rest alongside him. Some of the known members of Rav Joseph’s family include his two brothers Rav Chaim (________) and Rav Yehuda Leib (cofounder of the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School). His only son, Rav Rafael, was a prominent Rav and cofounder of the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School. His grandson State Senator Lazarus Joseph campaigned for the Kosher Meat Laws in New York City during the years that he served as the City Comptroller. His Great Grandson Captain Jacob Joseph, a Marine Officer was tragically killed during World War II when his plane was shot down during the battle of Guadalcanal over the Pacific Ocean. His two sons-in-law Dr. S. Robert Shultz (the Chief Rabbi’s personal physician) married his daughter Nechama. Mr. Nosson Brody married his daughter Chana (Anna). [1] Rav Joseph’s birth year is subject of much dispute. It ranges from 1840-1848, this work’s adoption of 1840 is based on the engraving of the Chief Rabbi tombstone. [2] Gidolim Fun Unzirer Ztiet, Yaakov Mark, p. 136-140, Veliuona (Vilion) 1868, Jurbarkas (Yurburg) 1870, and Zagare (Zhagory): Jewish Encyclopedia, page 264 [3] See A Brief History of the Chief Rabbi Position in New York City [4] New York Times, July 9 and 22, 1888: The Semi Weekly Age, (Coshocton, Ohio), July 31 and September 11, 1888: Morning Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) July 9, 1888 [5] Safer Hayovel Shel Agudath Harabanim, p. 144: Hamaayan, Shlomo Katz, editor, Volume XVI, No. 1: Rav Yaakov Yosef, Yated Neman [6] The (New York) Daily News, March 24, 1893. The mist generated from steam power mills was found to be mixing with the flower thus compromising the flower for matzah use. [7] Rabbi Isaac Elchonon Spektor life and letters, Rabbi Dr. Ephraim Shimoff, p. 106. The Etz Chaim Yeshiva founded in 1866 was the forerunner of RIETS. [8] Among the members of his Beth Din over the years were: Rav Aaron Gordon, Rav Yisrael Kaplan, Rav Hillel Klien, Rav Hersh Lam, Rav Moshe Mayer Mattin, Rav Asher Noach Rapaport, Rav Shapsi Stock as well as others. [9] Safer Hayovel Shel Agudath Harabanim, p. 145: A Chief Rabbi For New York, Rabbi Shmuel Singer: New York Times, February 18, 1889 and November 28, 1892 [10] Newark (Ohio) Daily Advocate, August 4, 1888 [11] The Lowell (Massachusetts) Daily Sun, October 8, 1892: The (San Antonio, Texas) Daily Light, February 8, 1891 [12] Jews In American Life, Tina Levitan, p. 128: The Galveston (Texas) Daily News, June 1890 [13] Rav Henach Savitsky, Rav of Machzekei Hadas, Kew Gardens Hills [14] New York Times August and September of 1902: The Semi Weekly Landmark (Statesville, North Carolina), August 1, 1902: Idaho Daily Statesman, August 31, 1902: The Gleaner (Brooklyn, NY), August 8, 1902 [15] The Tragedy of the Steamboat General Slocum, Edward T. O’Donnell [16] During his lifetime Rav Joseph never allowed his follower to defend his honor. When attacked by the “Rabbis” associated with the Hebrew Poultry Butchers Association, he simply dismissed them with “they are only trying to earn a livelihood”. [17] New York Times, August 10, 1902 [18] New York Times February 13, 1922.
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Listing Classification
19th Century:    Checked
America-South America:    Checked
History:    Checked
Language:    Hebrew
Manuscript Type
Letters:    Checked
Kind of Judaica