From Cheder to Yeshiva
The Beth Hamidrash

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Houses of Prayer and Learning in Zambrów
From the Zambrów Yizkor Book (abridged English version), 1963

At first Zambrów Jews prayed in a little Beth Midrash. The whole town had only tiny houses of wood, even the church was a wooden one. The only real house in the town was that erected by Reb Leibe, the son-in-law of Elijah Kazin, at the Rynek! Reb Leibe was deeply engrossed in Kabbalah studies. He was an upright and honest man. His early death was much mourned by the townsmen. The widow (his wife) Reise the innkeeper handed over part of her house for a Beth Midrash. This was the first synagogue. Later on it was decided to erect a new synagogue. Money was collected for that purpose. Reb Monush Golombek donated part of a plot (behind his house). The synagogue was built out of stones and bricks. During the act of placing the foundation stone a closely shut earthen pot was put among the stones. This pot contained a parchment scroll in which the history of the synagogue and the list of donators was recounted.

Before long even this synagogue grew too narrow and it was decided to build a great Beth Midrash. A dispute arose: The Burstein people maintained that the new synagogue should be made of stone and erected on the other side of the town whereas the members of the Golombek family demanded that the synagogue should be made of wood near the present synagogue. After long disputations the Golombeks resolved to act and not to talk: they handed over to the Kehillah the remaining part of their plot. They also brought boards or planks, rafters or beams, workmen, and within a short time the new Beth Hamidrash was ready ... The Bursteins also went in the footsteps of the Golombeks and started to build a Beth Midrash from stones in a plot donated by Reb Hershak Burstein, near the Cattle Market, opposite the spot where the house of the Fire Brigade was later erected. Reb Shlomo Bloomrosen donated ten thousand bricks for the building of the Beth Hamidrash. Thus the two synagogues were designated respectively: 1) the wooden synagogue, and 2) the stone and brick synagogue or the new Bet-Hamidrash. During the great Conflagration of 1895 the "wooden synagogue" was entirely burned down, whereas the "new" of stone synagogue was left untouched. After some time the burned synagogue was rebuilt, this time out of red bricks. It was therefore called the "Red Beth Hamidrash" whereas the previous synagogue (of stone) was plastered and white-washed with white lime and was thus called the "White Beth Hamidrash." Thus were the two synagogues termed up to the final catastrophe during the Nazi regime.


Called so not so much for its whiteness, which was not too conspicuous, but just in contrast to the second Beth Hamidrash that stood nearby in the vicinity, built with genuine red bricks, a novelty at that time in Zambrów, and known by its original official name as "The Red Beth Hamidrash". The White Beth Hamidrash was sponsored and sustained by the so-called progressive elements of the Jewish population, as the families Bloomrosen, Burstin, Wiliamovski, Lewinson, the popular personalities Reb "Abtche" Rakovski, Reb Israel Lewinsky, Kagan, etc. It was the house of prayer for almost all the butchers in town, including all their in-laws and relatives at large, and likewise almost all the other artisans and working people in Zambrów. In the year 1905, the year of the first Russian Revolution, the White Beth Hamidrash served as the meeting place of the revolutionary youth that "invaded" the premises, disregarding the apprehension and alarm of the elderly people.

The White Beth Hamidrash, in its long history, was the hallowed place of worship and learning, playing also a very important part in the social and religious functions of the community. Here were upheld and entertained meetings, gatherings; here were performed the ritual ceremonies, of weddings, circumcisions, bar-mitzvot. Here too had taken place the compulsory celebrations of the days of the august birth and coronation of the Tsar, with the participation of the school children, the presence of the local authorities, a representative of the police, with a patriotic speech (in Russian), uttered by the "official" (government-appointed) Rabbi, the singing of the national anthem, "God save the King".


This house of worship, known under the moniker "The Red Beth Hamidrash'" on account of its being a red brick structure, was the "citadel", the seat of authority and spiritual power of the venerable Rabbi, Reb Dov Menachem Regensberg, during the sixty some odd years of his leadership in the Jewish community of Zambrów. only to end his long life in martyrdom by the hands of the Nazis who forced the ninety year old patriarch to dig his own grave. Around Rabbi Regensberg rallied the influential family Golombek, nicknamed the "Rabbi's Cossacks," standing by him and giving him fervent support in all his contentions, polemics, in the war of words that flared up from time to time in the social and religious life of the community.

photo: Rabbi Dov Menachem Regensberg (z"l) of Zambrów.


The Red Beth Hamidrash was, though, the quieter place of worship and Torah learning. In the daytime, after the morning worshipers were all gone, the premises were taken up by a group of young men. Former Yeshiva students, mostly now happily married, they enjoyed the free room and board given them by their respective fathers-in-law. They studied Gemarah singularly or in a group, which entitled them to the privilege of living for an agreed time at the expense of the parents of their young wives. The soft sad sing-song that accompanies the study of the Gemarah echoed thus daily in the hallowed shadowy atmosphere of the Red Beth Hamidrash, reaching ofttimes the ears of the passers-by outside. Here, as in the White Beth Hamidrash, were also performed wedding rituals, circumcisions, bar-mitzvot. In the evening, at the conclusion of the evening-prayers, the synagogue turned into a house of learning, a sort of a classroom for elderly gents. In the bright light of the "blitzlamp", a candelabrum, suspended high from underneath the ceiling, Jews of all ages learned, under the guidance of this one or another voluntary teacher, Mishnayess, Schulchan Aroch or Humesh (Pentateuch) with the Rashi-commentary. The daily Torah learning was in those bygone days the part and parcel of the daily life of the average Jew. Rabbi Regensberg himself gave also impressive and imposing instructions in Gemarah in this, his Red Beth Hamidrash.  next ►►

Zambrów 1




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