This Day in History – 23 Iyar/May 31

In 2450/1311 B.C.E., the Jews arrived in Refidim. Moshe Rabbeinu struck the rock to provide water for the people.

In 3619/142 B.C.E., Shimon Hahashmona’i expelled Bnei Chakra from Yerushalayim. The Chakra ([Greek] akra = fortress) was the fortress of Yerushalayim, and it was occupied by the Greek garrison. When Yehudah HaMakabi captured Yerushalayim, he was unable to capture the Akra, and its occupiers exerted a constant threat against the inhabitants of Yerushalayim. Only in the days of Shimon HaChashmona’i was the Akra captured. The date was observed as a Yom Tov, as mentioned in Megillas Taanis. (See Megillas Taanis printed in the Steinzaltz Shas.)

In 4856/1096, the Crusaders attacked the Jewish community of Vermeize (Worms). Almost the entire Jewish community hid in the home of a nobleman. Since they perished al kiddush Hashem, even though their actual demise took place on Rosh Chodesh Sivan, this date is considered the beginning of their slaughter.

The community observed a taanis in memory of the victims, Hy”d, and the Shabbos between the two dates was called Shvartze Shabbos (Black Shabbos). The minhagim of Shabbos Chazon were adopted for that Shabbos.

A special Kinah that begins “Mi yiten roshi mayim” is recited on Tishah B’Av commemorating the victims of the Vermeize community.


5658/1898, Harav Eliezer Tzvi Safrin of Komarna, zt”l, author of Damesek Eliezer

5573/1813, Harav Moshe Yehoshua Heschel, zt”l, Rav of Dinov

Harav Yehoshua Heschel was the son of Harav Aryeh Leib. The name Moshe was added later, presumably due to an illness.

Reb Moshe Yehoshua Heschel was a talmid of Harav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and Harav Moshe Leib of Sassov.

He was admired by the Rebbes of his generation. Among his Chassidim were Harav Tzvi Hirsh of Ziditchov and Harav Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, who attested that Eliyahu Hanavi would frequently visit Reb Moshe Yehoshua Heschel, and that he was a baal ruach hakodesh.

Reb Moshe Yehoshua Heschel served as Av Beis Din of Dinov for many years, from approximately 5550/1790 until 5570/1810. In 5566/1806, Harav Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, the Bnei Yissaschar, served as one of the Dayanim on the beis din.

Reb Moshe Yehoshua Heschel was niftar on 23 Iyar 5573/1813.

Zecher tzaddik livrachah

May 31

In 1790, President George Washington signed into law the first U.S. copyright act.

In 1910, the Union of South Africa was founded.

In 1961, South Africa became an independent republic as it withdrew from the British Commonwealth.

In 1977, the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, three years in the making, was completed.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush welcomed Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev to Washington for a summit meeting.