This Day in History – 19 Shevat/January 20

19 Shevat

In 5109/1349, 700 Jews of Basle, Switzerland, were burned alive in wooden houses especially constructed for that purpose. Hy”d.


5478/1718, Harav Binyamin Zev Shapiro, zt”l, of Prague

5665/1905, Harav Yitzchak Baruch Sofer, zt”l, father of the Kaf Hachaim

5676/1916, Harav Shmuel of Slonim, zt”l, the Divrei Shmuel

5696/1936, Harav Elimelech Menachem Mendel Landau of Strikov, zt”l



Harav Shimon Grunfeld of Semihali, zt”l, the Maharshag

Harav Shimon Grunfeld was born in Chust, Hungary, on 4 Cheshvan 5621/1860. His father, Harav Yehudah Grunfeld, was Rav of Semihali. The family descended from the Tosafos Yom Tov.

As a bachur, Reb Shimon learned in the yeshivah of Harav Avraham Yehudah Schwartz, the Kol Aryeh, in Bergsas. Later he learned under Maharam Shick, his rebbi muvhak.

Married at 16, he continued to learn day and night. At 34, he became Dayan in Munkacs; in 5668/1908 he was appointed Rav of Semihali, succeeding his father. He was notable for his humility and exalted middos.

The many halachic she’eilos addressed to him are printed in the three-volume She’eilos U’Teshuvos Maharshag, which contains thousands of teshuvos. He was also the mechaber of Zehav Shva on Torah and Maharshag al HaTorah. Other works remain in manuscript form, including his chiddushim, many masechtos of Shas, hilchos mikvaos and hilchos taaruvos.

He was also well versed in Toras hanistar, which he learned under Harav Yitzchak Eizik Weiss, Rav in Swalieva.

Reb Shimon was niftar on 19 Shevat 5690/1930 at the age of 69.

Zecher tzaddik livrachah.


January 20

In 1265, England’s Parliament met for the first time.

In 1841, the island of Hong Kong was ceded to Great Britain.

In 1887, the U.S. Senate approved leasing Pearl Harbor in Hawaii as a naval base.

In 1921, the new parliament in Ankara declared that the country will be called Turkey, and vested executive power in a council led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

In 1936, Britain’s King George V died and was succeeded by Edward VIII.

In 1942, Nazi officials held the notorious Wannsee conference, during which they arrived at their “final solution” that called for annihilating Europe’s Jews.

In 1957, South Africa denied port facilities to Indian vessels in retaliation for Indian sanctions against South Africa.

In 1958, the Soviet Union threatened Greece with economic sanctions if it agreed to the installation of NATO missile bases on Greek territory.

In 1964, British forces quelled mutinies of Tanganyika Rifles and troops in Uganda and Kenya.

In 1986, the United States observed the first federal holiday in honor of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1987, Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite disappeared in Beirut, Lebanon, while attempting to negotiate the release of Western hostages. He was freed in November 1991.

In 1989, George H.W. Bush was sworn in as the 41st president of the United States.

In 1990, Soviet troops stormed the Azerbaijani capital of Baku, leaving dozens dead and wounded, as President Mikhail Gorbachev defended the action on national media.

In 1991, in Moscow, hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens protested the bloody crackdown on Lithuania and demanded the resignation of President Mikhail Gorbachev.

In 1993, Bill Clinton was inaugurated as president of the United States, taking over from George H.W. Bush.

In 1994, hours after a truce was proclaimed in Kabul, Afghanistan, forces loyal to the president fired rockets at the prime minister’s forces.

In 1995, the Bosnian government and rebel Serbs exchanged nearly 100 prisoners in a move instilling hope in a fragile truce.

In 1997, Bill Clinton began his second term as U.S. president.

In 2002, the government and Colombia’s largest guerrilla group reached an agreement on a timetable for cease-fire talks aimed at ending the country’s long-running civil war.

In 2003, former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic surrendered to the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague, The Netherlands, to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in a 1999 crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.