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Beit Midrash: Rav Shlomo Kluger: Historical Background Print E-mail

Rav Shlomo KlugerThe 30th of Sivan is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Shlomo (ben Yehuda Aharon) Kluger (1783-1869), author of Sefer HaChaim (a commentary on Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim), and Chochmas Shlomo. Rav Kluger was born to the Rav of Komarow, who died before age 40, leaving his son a homeless orphan. One day, Rav Yaakov Kranz (the "Dubno Maggid") met the young boy wandering the streets of Zamosc, Poland, and he took him in. The Dubno Maggid arranged teachers for his charge, including R' Mordechai Rabin, rabbi of Zamosc, and R' Yosef Hochgelernter. A prolific author and posek, he wrote of himself that he had authored “115 large works on Tanach and the entire Talmud, and commentaries on the early and later poskim." This statement was written in 1844, 25 years before his petira. Ha'eleph Lecha Shlomo, his best-known work of halachic responsa, has 1,008 chapters. He also authored Imrei Shefer on Chumash. Rav Kluger served as Rosh Beis Din in Grodi, Galicia, and Rav in Broide. Rav Shalom Mordechai Schwadron, the Brezener Rav, was one of his foremost talmidim.

 

Galicia became a province of Austria after the partition of Poland in 1772. The census of 1789 made by the Austrian government showed hundred and 78,072 Jews among 3,039,391 inhabitants.

Most of the Jews lived in cities, and in seven of them they formed the majority of the population. In Brody they constituted about three quarters of the population.

Jewish rights were limited. The Jews were forbidden to own bars, concessions on mills; they were permitted to engage in agriculture. For transgressing, a Jew was given 15 lashes and deported to his native city.

There were neighborhoods in Jewish sections where only the privileged, those that had an academic education or those that possessed 30,000 Gulden, were permitted to live. To travel from one city to another one had to have a passport. Jews who came from Russia to Galicia had to pay a steep tax.

Christian guilds did not admit Jews. It was forbidden for Jews to buy homes or lots from Christians. The special Jewish taxes enacted in the days of Maria Theresa were trebled. This included the tax on fowl and meat. Because of this high tax, poor Jews hardly tasted meat at all.

There was a candle tax of ten Kreutzers on each two candles for Friday night. Every married woman even though she didn’t have the money to buy candles had to pay this tax. There was a wedding tax, wine tax, and a tax for opening a synagogue. A Jew suspected of evading these taxes had to give a clearing oath in a Tallit and Kittel before a rabbi.

As a prank, the Austrian government took over the control of religiosity. For eating non-Kosher there was a threat of a steep fine or arrest. Under these circumstances the Kehillah institution was demoralized. The poor had no voting rights. Only those who paid the candle tax were entitled to vote. A candidate for Rabbi or Parnas had to produce proof that he paid tax for from four to seven candles.

The government wanted to Germanize the Jews and suppress Yiddish. It was decreed that all officers of the Kehillah must know German. Hebrew documents were not admitted in courts. Emperor Leopold II decreed that all religious worship should be in German.

The Jewish quarters were densely populated. Barring Lemberg and a few other towns, where the Jews were confined in special suburbs. There was no restriction on freedom of domicile. Only those Jews were allowed to settle the villages who were agriculturists or artisans. However, they were forbidden to lease land, except on the condition that the cultivation of the soil was to be done by themselves and not through hired labor. Choose had been forbidden till then to own farms and therefore, this measure was tantamount to expelling them from the villages.

Jews intending to marry had to pass an examination in the German language as well as Jewish religious and moral laws. As but the fewest could pass, the majority contented themselves with a religious marriage which was not recognized by law.

The city of Brody was unique. It was known as the Jerusalem of Austria. Jewish life was pulsating there fully. Long before Australia took over Brody it was known as a city of scholars, rabbis and leaders in the Council of the Four Lands.

Jews from all over turned to the scholars of Brody with their religious questions. There were also in Brody, Jews who possessed secular education, doctors and merchants who spoke German and knew Latin.

However, Brody's major development occurred after it became part of Austria. Brody then became a transit center between East and West; it became a meeting junction between Breslow, Leipzig, Manchester, Lvov and Vienna on the one hand, and Berditchev, Kiev and the region of Wallachia and Moldavia on the other.

No wonder that Brody became the seat of many merchants who spoke many languages. There was also an increase of teachers who taught the children foreign languages. This condition brought about a more rapid adjustment on the part of the Jews of Brody to the surrounding civilization then elsewhere in Galicia. The teachings of the Enlightenment movement found here receptive years among the youth.

Brody was known as a city of Talmudic scholarship. In the great Klaus sat great scholars who were known as the Wise of Brody and the wise of the Klaus. The city took great pride in the fact that the erudite Rabbi Shlomo Kluger served their as Rabbi for 50 years.

In addition to being a city of Enlightenment and rabbinic scholarship, Brodie was also a citadel of Chassidim. A major part of the struggle between the Baal Shem Tov and his opponents took place in Brody.

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