This Day in History – 8 Cheshvan/October 17

In 5481/1720, the shul of Rabbeinu Yehudah HaChassid with its 40 sifrei Torah was set ablaze by Arabs. The rebuilt shul was destroyed by the Jordanians in 5708/1948.

In 5446/1685, the Beracha VeShalom shul on the Jodensavanne (the Jews’ Savannah) in the Dutch colony of Surinam was dedicated. This was the first shul in the Western Hemisphere.


5024/1263, Rabbeinu Yonah, zt”l, the Chassid of Girondi

5541/1780, Harav Dovid, Rav of Yoglinitza, zt”l

5600/1839, Harav Yaakov Halevi, zt”l, Rav of Ponevez

5640/1879, Harav Nachumke Kaplan of Horodna, Zt”l

Harav Nachum was born in 5572/1812 to poor parents. He studied in various yeshivos, including Volozhin. Despite severe hardships, his incredible diligence earned for him vast knowledge in both nigleh and nistar (the revealed and the hidden aspects of Torah).

At the age of 21, when he was already married, Rav Nachumke, as he was called, settled in Horodna. He was already known then as a gadol b’Torah; nevertheless, in his great humility, he adamantly refused to accept a rabbinical post. Instead, he joined the Chevrah Shas shul where he studied day and night.

Realizing that he needed an income, the townspeople, headed by the Rabbanim, offered him the job of shamash in the shul. Rav Nachumke happily accepted the position.

He gained fame for his custom of collecting and distributing vast amounts of tzedakah. Initially he tried to conceal his actions, but eventually they became known, and the townspeople generously responded to his appeals.

Rav Nachumke suffered much during his life. He buried most of his 17 children, and was always weak and sickly. However, his fervor for avodas Hashem remained intact.

Rav Nachumke delivered a drashah every Shabbos; many listeners attended his deep and penetrating discourses.

The Chofetz Chaim considered Rav Nachumke to be his Rebbi, and he kept a picture of him in his home to show to his children. The Chofetz Chaim related that when he was 15 years old, he traveled to Rav Nachumke in Horodna.

After Maariv, he hid in the shul. He watched how Reb Nachumke, believing the shul was empty, approached the bimah and placed his hand into a box reserved for sheimos, removed a sefer Kabbalah and began learning.

Suddenly, the Chofetz Chaim saw a fire surrounding Rav Nachumke. “I became very frightened and was about to yell ‘gevald,’” the Chofetz Chaim related. “Then I realized that this was not the type of fire that we are accustomed to. I remained silent and did not utter a word.

Shaking, I watched Rav Nachumke learn, the entire time thinking that my soul would leave my body. After about an hour, Rav Nachumke put back the sefer, and the fire disappeared.”

When Rav Nachumke was niftar, thousands attended his levayah. It was said that he once remarked he wanted three things in Gan Eden, one of them being a copy of Chiddushei Rabbi Akiva Eiger!

Yehi zichro baruch.

Oct. 17

In 1777, British forces under Gen. John Burgoyne surrendered to American troops in Saratoga, New York, a turning point in the Revolutionary War.

In 1933, Albert Einstein arrived in the United States as a refugee from Nazi Germany.

In 1967, Puyi, the last emperor of China, died in Beijing at age 61.

In 1973, Arab oil-producing nations announced they would begin cutting back oil exports to Western nations and Japan; the result was a total embargo that lasted until March 1974.

In 1989, an earthquake measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale struck northern California, killing 63 people and causing $6 billion worth of damage.