This Day in History – 26 Cheshvan/October 30

26 Cheshvan

In 5701/1942, the Nazis murdered 12,000 Jews of Minsk. Hy”d.


5398/1637, Harav Shlomo Charif, Rav of Lvov, zt”l

5691/1930, Harav Aryeh Mordechai Halberstam of Shinev, zt”l

5702/1941, Harav Simchah Soloveitchik of Mohilev, zt”l, son of the Beis Halevi

5766/2005, Harav Elya Jurkanski, zt”l, Rosh Yeshivah, Mir, Brooklyn



Harav Refael Hakohen of Hamburg, zt”l, mechaber of Toras Yekusiel and V’shav Hakohen

Harav Refael Hakohen Katz was born in 5483/1723 in Liphland, where his father, Harav Yekusiel Ziskind, was the Rav. He was an only child. When he was just 10 years old he was stricken with a deathly illness and the entire city gathered to daven for his refuah sheleimah. He recovered but for the next two years, fearing a relapse, his parents kept him at home. His father was his personal rebbi and also hired a private melamed who came to their house to teach young Refael. The boy grew steadily in Torah.

When he was 12, his father brought him to the Shaagas Aryeh, who took Refael under his wing.

When Reb Refael was all of 19 years old, he was appointed Rosh Yeshivah in Minsk, replacing his rebbi, the Shaagas Aryeh. At the age of 23, he was chosen to serve as Rav in Rakow.

Reb Refael later became Rav in Smilowitz. It is told that during his hachtarah, a woman burst through the crowd towards the bimah. “I am a divorcée, and I have a din Torah with the Rosh Hakahal!” she cried out.

Immediately, Reb Refael sent his attendant to call over the Rosh Hakahal. The Rosh Hakahal refused to come. Reb Refael sent another message: If the Rosh Hakahal wouldn’t come at once, he would put him in cherem! At that, the community leaders came up to Reb Refael to say that they were proud to have him as their undisputed Rav. The “case” was set up to see how, being so young, he would cope with pressure from the Rosh Hakahal, and he passed the test with flying colors.

At one point his rebbi, the Shaagas Aryeh, settled in Smilowitz, the city where Reb Refael was Rav. It was amazing to see his humility before his own talmid, as he refused to pasken or to judge any din Torah unless Reb Refael allowed it. But Reb Refael could not tolerate such a situation, so he moved to Douckar, an hour away from Smilowitz.

In 5523/1763, Reb Refael was appointed Rav in Pinsk. Here he wrote Toras Yekusiel, a work on Yoreh Deah, with an appendix of halachos pertaining to agunos.

Later, he became Rav in Posen. On his way to the new post, Reb Refael fell gravely ill. On Erev Yom Kippur the situation deteriorated further, and the doctors forbade Reb Refael to fast. On Yom Kippur night he asked the Rabbanim to look into the shiur of water allowed. In the meantime he fell asleep and slept the entire Yom Tov. When he woke up again he was well.

Reb Refael ruled in Posen with an iron hand, and formulated many takanos for the improvement of the city.

In 5536/1776, Reb Refael was chosen to be Rav of the famous three kehillos, Altona, Hamburg and Wandsbeck. He fought tenaciously against the Haskalah movement which had begun rearing its ugly head. He put in cherem both Moses Mendelssohn and those who used his translation on the Chumash. Reb Refael cited the passuk in parashas Emor, “Mashchasam bahem mum bam — For their corruption is in them, a blemish is in them” (Vayikra 22:25), saying the roshei teivos are the same as those of  Moshe Ben Menachem Berlin.

The maskilim were very upset with the new Rav and his acerbic comments about their leader. They set out to fight Reb Refael with the publication of Mitzpeh Yekusiel, a so-called response to his Toras Yekusiel. Reb Refael was not deterred, and did not even issue a reply.

In 5559/1799, Reb Refael gave his last drashah in Altona, explaining that in his capacity as Rav he was sometimes forced to speak lashon hara and this he could not tolerate. After he resigned his post the Napoleonic Wars broke out, forcing Reb Refael to settle in Hamburg. He said of that war that it may be the war of Gog and Magog, and Moshiach may be coming, with the Beis Hamikdash about to be rebuilt. Since he was a kohen he dedicated himself to learning the halachos pertaining to kohanim.

Reb Refael was the mechaber of She’eilas Hakohanim Torah on the avodah of the kohanim. He also wrote She’eilos U’Teshuvos V’shav Hakohen; Mapei Lashon, on the issur of lashon hara; and Daas Kedoshim, drashos in halachah and aggadah.

Reb Refael was niftar on 26 Cheshvan 5564/1803, at the age of 80. Zecher tzaddik livrachah.


October 30

In 1735, the second president of the United States, John Adams, was born in Braintree, Mass.

In 1893, the U.S. Senate gave final congressional approval to repealing the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890.

In 1912, Vice President James S. Sherman, running for a second term of office with President William Howard Taft, died six days before Election Day. (Sherman was replaced with Nicholas Murray Butler, but Taft, the Republican candidate, ended up losing in an Electoral College landslide to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.)

In 1945, the U.S. government announced the end of shoe rationing, effective at midnight.

In 1961, the Soviet Union tested a hydrogen bomb, the “Tsar Bomba,” with a force estimated at about 50 megatons.

The Soviet Party Congress unanimously approved a resolution ordering the removal of Josef Stalin’s body from Lenin’s tomb.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter announced his choice of federal appeals judge Shirley Hufstedler to head the newly created Department of Education.

In 1985, schoolteacher-astronaut Christa McAuliffe witnessed the launch of the space shuttle Challenger, the same craft that would carry her and six other crew members to their deaths on January 28, 1986.