The Centenarian Rav
Rabbi Meyer Halevi Horowitz of Tiktin
In our times, we are familiar with two rabbinic branches of the famous Horowitz family. One branch traces back to Rabbi Yeshayah Halevi Horowitz of Prague, known as the Shela. The other, more famous branch, traces its roots to Rabbi Meyer Horowitz from Tiktin [in Polish spelling, Tykocyn] the protagonist of this article. Among the famous rabbanim in this branch are Rabbi Hirsch of Chortkow, and two of his sons Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg, Moravia [Czech Republic] and Rabbi Pinchas of Frankfurt, Hesse [Germany], and Rabbi Itzikel Hamburger.
R’ Meyer’s long life span was very unique, stretching from the late years of the early Poskim, such as the Bach (c.1555–1640), into the era of the Baal Shem Tov (c.1695–1760), the Vilna Gaon (1720–1797), and Rabbi Nosson Adler (1741–1800). He thus lived through a significant portion of the golden years of Jewish history in Poland.
Rabbi Meyer was born in 1637 to his father Rabbi Shmuel, who was called “Der Hoicher R’ Shmelke” due to his tall stature, the Rav of the Jewish community in Tarnów, Poland. R’ Shmelke was a descendant of Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz, the brother-in-law of the Rema of Cracow, by virtue of having married the latter’s sister, Miriam Beile.
Virtually nothing is known about his early years, or where and under whom he learned, other than that his mentor was a R’ Naftali and that he married the daughter of R’ Manis Katz.1Some claim that he was a nephew of the Semichas Chachamim, but this we’ve been verified to be incorrect.
His Rabbinical Positions
R’ Meyer was Rav in three Jewish communities: Bolechów, Galicia [Bolekhiv, Ukraine], Złoczów, Galicia [Zolochiv, Ukraine] and finally in Tiktin [Tykocin, Poland].
We find his signatures in the register of this town, between the years 1696 and 1710. After that, R’ Meyer was invited to take the rabbinical post in Złoczów, whereupon his son, Rabbi Yockel Horowitz [the father of R’ Itzikel Hamburger], was appointed as his successor in Bolechów.
In Złoczów, R’ Meyer served as Rav until 1718. One detail from his tenure there is that when news of the Chacham Tzvi’s passing in Lemberg on Rosh Chodesh Iyar 1718 reached Tiktin, R’ Meyer tore his clothes, sat on the floor, and held aveilus for a full day, which according to Rabbi Yakov Emden, the Pnei Yehoshua and the Maaseh Rokeach did as well.2Megilas Sefer, Bombach edition, Jerusalem 2012, page 62.
Our knowledge of R’ Meyer’s time in Tiktin, where he was inaugurated as rav on 28 Tishri 1718, is much more extensive, based on information appearing in its communal register, or pinkas hakehillah.3The Minutes Book of the Jewish Community Council of Tykocin, Jerusalem 1996. See also Shemen Hatov, Piotrków 1906, sections 143 –146. The following are some of the stories told therein:
From Zabłudów to Tiktin and Back
Once, an agunah from the nearby town Zabłudów, approached R’ Meyer, asking him for a Heter Agunah to enable her to remarry, based on evidence that her husband was no longer alive. R’ Meyer told her: “Since you are from Zabłudów, the right thing to do is to first receive a heter from your local rav. Once you do so, come back and I will issue one too.”
The agunah travelled back home and went to her local rav to ask him to write a heter for her to remarry. “I’m so sorry,” he replied, “but we have a rav in Tiktin whose authority extends to all local communities, including our town. It is not respectful for me to write a heter before he writes one. Please go to Tiktin, and ask him to write a heter, and once you have his heter, I’ll gladly write you a heter myself!”
Without further ado, she traveled back to Tiktin, and said to R’ Meyer: “Our rav said, that since you are the presiding rav of these parts, it is you who has to write the first heter!” R’ Meyer, answered: “Kindly tell the rav in your town that I forgo the honor, and I allow him to write his heter, since he is the rav of your community.”
After the rav of Zabłudów sent her back once again to Tiktin and she asked again that R’ Meyer should release her from her situation, he said firmly, “I’m sorry but I can’t write a heter for you.” When the woman protested that there were reliable witnesses who could give testimony in beis din about her husband’s demise, R’ Meyer’s responded, “What can I do, but I’m told from Shamayim that he’s alive!”
If in three months’ time, your husband does not return, I will write you a heter.” And, indeed, despite the witnesses’ testimony, her husband returned home before the three months had elapsed.4Shemen Hatov 123.
A Bale of Hay
An agunah in Tiktin once approached R’ Meyer for a heter, and after considering all the evidence, he wrote a heter for her stating that according to Halacha, it is clear that the husband is not alive, and that his wife is allowed to remarry.
Before long, however, a rumor spread that her husband had reappeared, alive and well. R’ Meyer was shocked, since this would mean he had allowed a married woman to remarry. He sent his heter, together with the supporting evidence to the famous Klauss in Brody, in order for the talmidei chachamim there to study the evidence for his heter. The rabbanim in Brody studied the heter, and confirmed that it was in fact correct. Upon receiving the response from Brody, R’ Meyer called for the newly-returned “husband” and asked him to accompany him to shul in Tiktin. Once there, R’ Meyer took out a shofar and blew one long tekiah. As the blast rang out, the so-called husband turned into a bale of hay!
Apparently, the Satan sought to wreak havoc upon R’ Meyer, but ended up being vanquished by him instead.5Ohel Naftali, Lwow 1911, section 246.
Sharp, But Not So Smooth
R’ Meyer refrained from giving approbations for shochtim. Once, a very experienced shochet wanted very much to receive an approbation from R’ Meyer, but R’ Meyer kept declining, each time for another reason. The shochet persisted, however, remaining in Tiktin for six months to petition R’ Meyer for his approval.
One day, the shochet decided to confront the rav: “Rebbe, if I know the halachos, then please give me an approbation, if I’m not worthy of an approbation, then please be so kind and tell me what’s wrong with me!” Realizing he wasn’t going to be able to convince the shochet, R’ Meyer told him: “Come with me!” Once outside, R’ Meyer took out his kerchief, and waved it above the shochet’s eyes and told him to look up at the sky. The shochet raised his eyes, and a terrifying scene appeared before him: A huge shochet holding his chalaf in one hand, and a whetstone in the other hand, sharpening his chalaf. “For twenty five years, this shochet has been sharpening his chalaf,” R’ Meyer said to the shochet in a tone of warning. “Don’t think his chalafim were not sharp enough. They were, but still, sometimes he didn’t re-sharpen his chalaf perfectly and slaughtered when the chalaf had some minute nicks. How can you assure me that you will not fall into the same trap, and end up in the same situation as this shochet!?”
And with that, the shochet completely lost his appetite for becoming a shochet, and never again, used his chalaf.6Told by R’ Yitzchak from Ostrolenka, Shemen Hatov 121.
R’ Meyer suffered from cynophobia, or fear of dogs. One day, as he walked down the street, he heard behind him the barking of a dog, which would just not stop. Finally, R’ Meyer had had enough of it, and turned around toward the dog. “Okay, I’ve had enough of you, it would be a good thing if you died now!” The dog fell down, dead, on the spot.7Emunas Tzadikim, Warsaw 1900, page 136.
Rabbi Asher Kametz
One Shabbos, R’ Meyer was walking the streets of Tiktin, and across from him was a young girl. She saw the revered rav, and shouted out in fear: “Rebbe, your shtreimel is on fire!” R’ Meyer turned to her: “Shhh…. Don’t tell anyone and Hashem will bless you with a child who will light up the world!”
This girl turned out to be the fortunate mother of the future rav in Tiktin, Rabbi Asher Kametz.8Told by Rabbi Yitzchak Leib from Trestiny [Trzcianne, Poland], author of the sefer Shai LaMora, Shemen Hatov 131.
A Chesed a Day
R’ Meyer had a custom not to eat at the beginning of the day until he had done some kind of gemilas chessed. Each day following Shacharis, he would go out and try to do kindness for another Jew.
As one can imagine, on some days these opportunities presented themselves quickly while on others, it took time and effort to find them. One day, although R’ Meyer tried in every way possible, to his dismay, he just could not find an act of chesed to perform. He went home, and continued fasting until the evening, when he wanted to eat something and decided to try once again to find a recipient for his chesed.
Walking out onto the streets of Tiktin, he encountered a lumber merchant who, having just arrived in town, was parking his wagon full of lumber. R’ Meyer didn’t think twice; he ran to the local joinery and notified the owner that a new load of lumber had arrived in town.
R’ Meyer didn’t stop at notifying the joiner, because he believed that if one does a chessed it should be done all the way. He waited patiently until the joiner and the lumber merchant agreed on a price, and when they finally had done so, the joiner turned to R’ Meyer, and asked him if he would be able to lend him the sum of money which he had just agreed to pay the lumber merchant. R’ Meyer lent him the money, and at long last, he felt he could finally go home and eat dinner.9Emunas Tzadikim, Warsaw 1900, page 136.
Wait Until Tomorrow
One day, the Rebbitzen asked for the shochet to come and slaughter a goose for her. When the shochet arrived, he showed the Rav his chalaf, and R’ Meyer said to him, “Shecht the goose tomorrow.” The shochet didn’t understand the rav’s instruction, after all, the rebbetzin had asked him to shecht today, not tomorrow, and so he went ahead and slaughtered the goose anyway. To his great dismay, he found a rubber lodged in the neck of the goose, which rendered it treif. Had he waited for the next day, as the rav had requested of him, the rubber would have long descended to the goose’s stomach, rendering it kosher.10Told by the shamash of Tiktin, to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, Shemen Hatov 127.
As in many towns, Tiktin, too, had its own so-called haunted house on the outskirts of town, which people were afraid to enter.
One day, an epidemic broke out in the town. R’ Meyer wondered about this to himself, thinking, “Rav Ami teaches us: ‘There is no death without sin, and there is no suffering without iniquity.’ How is it that I’m not aware of the sins done in my town which must have caused the epidemic?”
That evening, R’ Meyer called in his shamash, gave him a letter and told him: “Go to the haunted house, and pass this letter to the king of the mazikim!”
The shamash took the letter, and made his way to the ruins of the haunted house. To his surprise, although the house looked run-down from the outside, this was not the case on the inside. The interior of the house looked like a majestic palace, with a whole crew of servants and butlers. The house servants, seeing that he was carrying a letter from R’ Meyer, let him in. He entered the throne room, where the king sat reading out loud a letter with a list of names of townspeople from Tiktin. To each name the king nods, and a servant gets a command to go sort him out i.e. kill him.
“What’s your business here?” asked the king.
“I have a letter from the rav addressed to you.”
The king instructed that the letter be passed to him, and after reading it, turned to the shamash. “Next Yom Kippur, someone with belts made from the fur of a fox, and a small piece of wood on his hat, will enter the shul. It is because of him that this epidemic broke out.” The shamash came back and reported to the rav what he had been told. R’ Meyer told the shamash, “On Yom Kippur, when this man enters the shul, please notify me.” When that person entered, R’ Meyer was notified. He took one glance at the man, and he instantly collapsed and died. The epidemic indeed came to a halt, in Tiktin.11Shemen Hatov 128.
The Rav’s Humility
A maggid once came to Tiktin, and gave a drasha in the shul in which he spoke very harshly about the sins of the Jewish people. R’ Meyer sat listening at his place all the while, sobbing without end. Once the maggid had finished, R’ Meyer approached the maggid and asked, “Why do you offend me so?”
On another such occasion, upon hearing the words of a maggid, R’ Meyer was heard to exclaim, “Ribono Shel Olam, please do not listen to the words of this maggid, he’s just lying!”12ibid 134.
As mentioned before, R’ Meyer wasn’t only the rav of the Jewish community of Tiktin, but also functioned as rav for all the towns and villages in the surrounding area. Thus, he frequently traveled to these locations in order to ensure that everything was as it should be. One day, sometime after his rebbetzin had passed away, he visited one of these towns to attend a bris. While bentching, following the meal, R’ Meyer said until after “Harachaman hu yishlach lanu es eliyahu hanavi zachur latov vyvaser lanu…” and stopped.
He was told that the carriage to take him back to Tiktin awaited him, but he said: “I’d like to marry a woman from this town.” R’ Meyer was then in his early seventies.
There was a widow named Mrs. Mattl, née Katzenellenbogen. She was descended from a very important lineage, her grandfather being Rabbi Shaul Katzenellenbogen, the rav of Pinczow. Thus, her name was mentioned as a suitable match for R’ Meyer, and he asked to meet her.
She came, and he asked her if she was willing to marry him. She was shocked to hear this question, and replied, “Rebbi, I would be honored to serve you, let alone have the zechus to be your wife!” Then and there, R’ Meyer had the Teno’im written, and a chuppah was erected.
Under the chuppah, Mattl wondered to herself “Well, now I’m going to be the rebbetzin of the whole area, but here I am, in my fifties. What do I have from all this, if I’m not going to have children with him?” R’ Meyer’s words woke her from her reverie, as he told her, “I promise you two sons, who will be big Torah scholars!”13Told by the people of Tiktin, Shemen Hatov 137.
In circa 1710, R’ Meyer, who was then 73 years old, made a bris for his young Yeshaya, son of Mattl. At the meal, people were talking about the advanced ages of the parents, and one person raised his voice and asked, “The rav is already so old, who will raise this newborn?” The rav heard this question, and, addressing the questioner, said, “You will not live through the year, whilst I will accompany this newborn to his chuppah!” And indeed he did, since he lived for another thirty-four years.14Emunas Tzadikim 40.
In the year 1740, R’ Meyer suffered from a terrible rash. During this time, Rabbi Elazar of Amsterdam, known by a work he authored as the Maasei Rokeach, made his way to the Holy Land. He travelled via Poland, and decided to stop off to receive the blessing of R’ Meyer. The Maaseh Rokeach was accompanied by his son, Rabbi Shalom (who eventually became rav in Tiktin as well), and when they met R’ Meyer and saw his rash, they both prayed that he should recover from it.
R’ Meyer was then 104 years old, and he fully recovered from the rash.
As R’ Meyer lay on his deathbed during his final days, the leaders of the community visited him to ask that he appoint a successor.
R’ Meyer took a quill in hand and a piece of paper, where he wrote down a complicated question. “Whoever will answer this question is the suitable candidate,” said R’ Meyer.
After his passing, these leaders made their way to many gedolei Yisroel, and presented them with this question, hoping to find a suitable successor. It was the above mentioned R’ Shalom, son of the Maaseh Rokeach, who successfully answered it, and consequently was offered to become the Rav of Tiktin.
It seems that R’ Meyer’s son, Rabbi Yokel of Brody, didn’t accept R’ Shalom, believing that he, as the eldest son of R’ Meyer, deserved the position. So he made his way to Tiktin, with the intention of questioning the new rav’s inaugural drasha.
On the night prior to this speech, however, R’ Meyer appeared to his son in a dream in which he instructed him to return home, because this rabbinate had been given to R’ Shalom from Shamayim.15Ohel Naftali 245.
R’ Meyer was survived by twelve children, leading the Lemberger Rav – Rabbi Chaim Rappaport, in his eulogy of R’ Meyer, to exclaim, “Just like the 12 holy shevatim!”