This Day in History – 12 Iyar/May 20

In 3830/70 C.E., Roman legions under Titus breached the middle wall of Yerushalayim; a counter-attack by the Jews restored the wall to their command.

In 5162/1402, the pope granted certain liberal privileges to the Jews of Rome.


5668/1908, the Mekubal Harav Masud Abuchatzeira, zt”l, father of the Baba Sali

5669/1909, Harav Yehudah Tzvi Eichenstein of Dolina, zt”l

5515/1755, Harav Zorach Eideles of Prague, zt”l

Harav Zorach was orphaned in his youth and was raised in the home of Harav Yonasan Eibeschutz, zt”l, who treated the young orphan like a beloved son. Recognizing the lad’s genius, Reb Yonasan nurtured him and studied with him, and he soon grew to be one of the town’s iluyim.

With time, Reb Zorach was accepted as a Dayan and darshan in Prague, the capital of Bohemia. His arrival heralded a major flourishing of Torah in Prague, and many talmidim from all over the continent came to learn Torah under his guidance.

When the Noda B’Yehudah, Harav Yechezkel Landau, zt”l, was ordained Rav of the city, for some reason Reb Zorach did not sign on the official letter of rabbanus. The Noda B’Yehudah remarked, “Until Reb Zorach signs the document, the whole rabbanus in worthless to me.” Indeed, Reb Zorach signed it, and they maintained a very close friendship throughout the years.

Reb Zorach wrote a number of sefarim, among which are Ohr Layesharim, Birurei Hamiddos and Meleches Machsheves.

He maintained a unique minhag throughout his life — never to accept any gifts. A certain Reb Yisrael was in charge of collecting taxes in Prague, and since Reb Zorach was wealthy, he named a respectable sum as his annual obligation. Times changed, however, and Reb Zorach’s wheel of fortune turned downward. The tax collector, however, continued to collect the usual sum from Reb Zorach.

Reb Zorach did not object and kept paying, until at one point he simply could not raise the money he owed. When the tax collector realized the unfair tax burden Reb Zorach had assumed, he immediately wished to repay the Rav and sent him a huge container of golden coins. As was his custom, the Rav did not accept the “gift.” The tax collector insisted and threatened that he would not cancel the current tax bill until the Rav allowed him to right a wrong that he had inadvertently perpetuated.

Without a choice, Reb Zorach acceded, but during his lifetime the box remained untouched. In his will, Reb Zorach instructed his children to return the box to Reb Yisrael the tax collector!

Reb Zorach was niftar on 12 Iyar 5515/1755 (according to some, on 5 Iyar).

Zechuso yagen aleinu.

May 20

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act, which was intended to encourage settlements west of the Mississippi River by making federal land available for farming.

In 1925, the newly built headquarters of the United States Chamber of Commerce was formally dedicated in Washington, D.C.

In 1942, during World War II, the Office of Civilian Defense was established.