Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Av 5760 - August 16, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Argentina, Argentina, Where Is That?

by S. Fried

Part Three

About a hundred and eleven years ago, in 5649 (1889), a group of 136 Jewish families left Europe to try to build a better life farming in the vast undeveloped areas of Argentina in South America. They were the first of thousands more that arrived over the next 20 years in Argentina propelled by the vision of Baron Maurice Hirsch and ejected by the terrible conditions they suffered under the Eastern European governments.

Much of the attraction of Argentina was the result of the vast sums invested by Baron Maurice Hirsch, a Jew with a good heart though completely without any Torah background, unfortunately. Though he knew how to make millions in business, he did not even know enough to seek Torah guidance on how to spend them.

The following paragraphs are based on the memories of Boruch Resnik, who came to Eretz Yisroel from Argentina and settled on a (secular) kibbutz. His memories appear in a booklet, Jewish Farmers in the Fields of Argentina.

At the end of 1894, a Lithuanian Jew, named Noach Katovitz, came to Mosesville as a representative of a Lithuanian group in order to investigate the area's conditions. Armed with information, he returned to his dispatchers and organized a group of forty-two families who felt that they were fit for the settlement. They brought along sifrei Torah, a shochet and two teachers. Proper housing awaited them - - two room brick houses with tin roofs. They also received four oxen, two cows, two horses, two hand-plows, a system of harrows, and a wagon with four wheels.

Their successful absorption encouraged the Lithuanians to bring other groups, and Katovitz returned to Europe to interview candidates and obtain new investors. He managed to obtain a large loan from a Jewish banker called Wallberg, and a settlement site was named after him in gratitude.

Katovitz searched for potential settlers mainly among the relatives of the established settlers. Preference was given to families whose father was not overly intellectual but rather a simple laborer, and in which most of the children were boys capable of working the land.

In 1900, a group of fifty Lithuanian families came to Mosesville including the author's paternal and maternal grandparents. A year later another group came from Bialystok, and in 1902 a group from Lithuania and a group from Rumania arrived. The idea of an agricultural settlement across the ocean became less and less strange. The settlement became a land of refuge, to a large degree, when survivors of the Russo-Japanese war came in 1904 and the survivors of the failed Russian revolution in 1905 arrived. (This was an attempted Communist revolution, in which significant numbers of Jews participated. Some of those who fled reached Eretz Yisroel and some, the U.S.A. The wave that arrived in Eretz Yisroel was called the "second Aliya" by Zionist historians, and well-known secular personalities of the Labor movement, such as Ben Tzvi and Ben Gurion, led it. Golda Meir's family, for example, fled to the U.S.A., and Meir later went to Eretz Yisroel from there.)

Among those who arrived in Argentina were Jews of Communist- Socialist persuasion, and they tried to apply some of their ideas in Argentina. They preached independent organization and establishing cooperatives, which is what their counterparts practiced in Eretz Yisroel.

Some years later, a completely different group came to Mosesville -- German Jews who fled from the Nazis. They came between 1938 and 1945, but that was the end of the settlements.

In those years, Mosesville reached the height of its growth: 1500 people lived there! One thousand five hundred souls -- the amount of an average Bnei Brak street -- was the all-time zenith of the Jewish agricultural settlement. And that was with the vast investment of Baron Hirsch, indescribable suffering and toil of the settlers and reams of words that discussed the topic.

Never-ending space -- that is all that could be seen there. Expanses of open fields, of natural pasture, of nothing. Wide rivers flowed between the fields. Sometimes they contained an abundance of water that flooded the entire area, and sometimes there was a drought for years. Rainfall had nothing to do with the season -- it always came as a surprise. It was very difficult to plan a crop that was suitable for the ground and weather.

The Jews at first naturally started raising grain, which they knew from "Mother Russia," but it was definitely not appropriate for the adopted mother Argentina.

And then along came a man who decided to stage a revolution and introduce a new crop -- Meshulam Cohen, an officer of Baron Hirsch. Unlike others, he had good intentions as well as some knowledge of agriculture. He decided that Argentina was a good place to grow alfalfa. Alfalfa was good cattle food, and it was a multi-year crop that did not need much care and was able to withstand drought.

The settlers were suspicious, and Cohen literally forced them to plant the new plant. Indeed, despite the proven success, they did not forget his approach. Years later, when a Jewish writer visited the place, they complained about the sonei Yisroel Meshulam Cohen.


One day, a black cloud was seen emerging from the forest and quickly moving towards the settlement. From kilometers away, the farmers anxiously followed the cloud's path.

It was locusts. The locusts alighted in tremendous bands once every few years and completely destroyed everything. They penetrated the houses and even ate the clothing and curtains. If a huge swarm settled onto the train tracks, the train could not move.

They had to study the life cycle of this insect, which turned from an egg to a larva and then a "pruner" and finally a locust. From fruitful fields, only hard stumps remained after the locusts finished with it.

The war against the locust was conducted by the office of agriculture in Argentina with the resources available. Each stage of the locust had a different tactic.

For the eggs, the farmers were told to dig up the ground where the eggs were laid, load the dirt full of eggs onto a wagon and throw everything into a pool of water. The heavy dirt sank and the eggs floated up to the top. Then they were to fish out the eggs in sacks and burn them.

To destroy the larva, the small flies, they used a flame- thrower. They went through the fields and tried to burn the larva without harming the plants. But the larva quickly turned into pruners and locusts.

On the pruners, which could not fly, they used the barricade method. They built metal walls to a height that the pruners could not go over and they died of hunger. The stench was indescribable.

There were also methods to destroy the locusts attached to trees, but these were also simple: go around at night and scoop the sleeping locusts off the plants and into sacks.

Every farmer received sacks from the government and an official document which was a contract that read as follows: "I am obligated to begin destroying the locust." Everyone had to do his part for indeed, they used to start, but never finished.

The accepted transportation was the horse. The horse was used until the 1930s. Then real cars began appearing on the village's paths, which turned into paved roads as time went on.

A new way of life entered the village and opened it to the large world. This, however, was the reason for the rapid decrease in the number of settlers and the young leaving to the city. The epoch of solitude ended.

The Story of HaRav Aharon Goldman

The first group which emigrated to Argentina came from the Ukrainian region of Podolia. Its members were loyal Jews who had been left empty-handed as a result of the riots and persecutions in Eastern Europe. Reports of a distant land called Argentina, which was prepared to absorb them and to give the lands on which to found an autonomous Jewish settlement, captured their hearts.

They set out on their hazardous way with strong hopes, not forgetting their basic Jewish needs. For that purpose they turned to their fellow townsmen, HaRav Aharon Goldman, and asked him to join them on their journey. HaRav Goldman was a talmid chochom, who at the age of eighteen had already received smicha.

"The Admor of Chortkov gave our grandfather his blessing," relate his descendants, "and he also told all those who turned to him: `If Reb Aharon is going with you, you have nothing to fear.' "

Reb Aharon, who was then thirty-six and had small children, joined them as their spiritual leader, rav, shochet, teacher, baal tefillah, and every other necessary task. During the period in which the emigrants were involved in grappling with the difficulties of their new life, HaRav Goldman did not abandon what he regarded as his mission: the maintenance of Jewish life, as it had proceeded in the Ukrainian towns for hundreds of years.

Mosesville was Named After . . . ?

HaRav Goldman is the one who gave the town its name of Mosesville. His offspring firmly insist that it was called this after Moshe Rabbenu, as if this migration had been a new exodus from Egypt. It was only a year later, they say, that Baron Maurice (Moshe) Hirsch took the place under his wing. For that reason, it is mistakenly thought that the town was called after him. In time, the city was called by the honorary name of "Yerushalayim of Argentina," mainly due to the fact that HaRav Goldman presided as its rav.

Following are excerpts from the letter which HaRav Goldman wrote to HaRav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector in Kovna, in 5692 (1892), three years after the first group came: "Whenever I speak about that period, about which I am so perturbed, my heart weeps in secret . . . If I could, I would describe the great extent of the benevolence of the most charitable Baron Hirsch, who made tireless efforts to revive so many of our brethren . . . But I am very embittered. Every upright person in whose heart the fire of Torah and the love of his religion and his nation is imbedded, will be horrified upon seeing the situation reached by the beloved members of our nation, who were learned in Torah in their native land. They have forgotten what it means to pray and all else that is necessary in order to be called a Jew. The reason for this is that there is no Torah and no Torah teacher.

"There is no Torah because there are no printing presses here, and as a result [there is barely] a siddur, while the sacred kisvei kodesh which they brought with them are no more. There is no teacher because the teachers who come here from Europe have cast the Torah behind their backs.

"Therefore, I call out: Have pity on the scattered lamb, our brothers who are wandering here, lest they stumble on the mountains of obstacles. Send us siddurim, Chumoshim, copies of the Nach, mishnayos, tzitzis and tefillin straps and be among those who turn the many to righteousness.

"Woe to me if I speak and woe to me if I don't speak. This is our third year here and we still haven't recited the blessing over the arba minim on Succos, but not out of contempt chas vesholom. We have written a number of letters to our brothers from Europe and their answers have remained pendent, because the man whom the Baron appointed is busy founding the colonies and worrying about our livelihoods."

That is the end of the quote. Did he have arba minim on the fourth year? We do not know.

Reb Aharon notes in his letter that he sent copies of it also to London and Paris, but as he writes: "Please answer us quickly, because the distance back and fourth is three months [in other words, the mail, which was transferred by boat, was delayed a month-and-half each way] and the closest city is a day away by train."

It seems then that loneliness and detachment from the Jewish centers were very trying during the first period. Among the hints that he dared to write was also one that the clerks of the Baron did not hasten to provide them with their religious needs. The economic basis of the settlement, in the opinion of the secular clerks, was more important. Afterwards, communication -- as well as the economic situation -- improved, and sifrei kodesh and the necessary religious artifacts arrived in Mosesville.

Extensive Correspondence

We found the following letter in the Shailos Uteshuvos Divrei Aharon al Arbaas Chelkei Shulchan Oruch, by HaRav Aharon Halevi Goldman. The book which is a limited edition of the correspondence between HaRav Goldman and the gedolei Yisroel of his time, was published in Jerusalem in 5741 (1981), almost fifty years after his death (6 Adar Alef, 5692- 1932). His grandson, Dr. Dovid Goldman, made great efforts to publish it.

From this correspondence, the image of a remarkable person emerges: a genuine talmid chochom, well-versed in a broad variety of issues, as well as in the Talmud, the rishonim and acharonim, even though, as he testifies, there were barely any sifrei kodesh there. His grandchildren say that he brought his library to Argentina with him from Podolia. However, we must recall the terrible poverty which prevailed there and the high cost of books in that period, in order to understand that he didn't bring with him many books. It seems as if over the years, after he became more established, he expanded his library from various sources.

Among the gedolei Yisroel with whom he corresponded are: the Chofetz Chaim, HaRav Yitzchok Elchonon of Kovna, HaRav Naftoli Adler of London, HaRav Tzadok Hacohen of Paris, HaRav Chaim Berlin of Volozhin, HaRav Shmuel Salant of Yerushalayim, HaRav Shaul Sassoon, the rav of the Sephardic community of Argentina, and others.

About what does the rav of a distant, isolated and small community correspond with the Torah heads of the Nation?

HaRav Goldman was concerned about many difficult and important problems which pertained directly to his community and to the manner of life in Argentina. He was afraid to assume responsibility for ruling in such weighty issues on his own.

Following is an interesting question: In Argentina, where the seasons are the opposite of those in Eretz Yisroel, may one change the prayer version for the request for rain in the Bircas Hashonim in Shemoneh Esrei?

Another question: What is the halocho regarding a duck. Is it kosher or not? What is the halocho regarding a fowl similar to a chicken, except for the fact that its neck has no feathers (apparently a turkey)? What about chickens whose necks and feet are very long?

The question of ducks caused HaRav Goldman much anguish: "Families came here from Russia, among them religious and chareidi Jews, and they testified to me that in the regions of Serbia and Charson, they are eaten and no one forbids them. I relied on this in order to permit them according to tradition . . . However, new families from the Charson region have come here and in one of the conversations with me, they told me the opposite, that in their regions these fowl are not eaten. Now I am terrified lest this tradition have developed mistakenly."

He had even more anguish from the following affair. This letter reveals a picture of chaos in the area of Sta"m, and not only in Argentina. He writes: "Because there are no competent scribes in Argentina, since even the very few who came here confuse the letters. All of the Sta"m artifacts for sale here are imported from Europe, [but they are] from the business concerns in Odessa and Hamburg which accept unschooled youths to study safrus, without any of the personal supervision required for this sacred labor . . . Now a few hundred mezuzas and tefillin have been brought here, but they are completely unfit. In my opinion, a manifesto should be circulated in order to sternly warn that no scribe may sell Torah scrolls, tefillin and mezuzas, which do not have a recommendation and a certificate of a local rav."

Another issue was the question of whether it is permissible to include Shabbos and Yom Tov desecraters in a minyan. He asked: "If we are strict with people like that, and classify them as apostates, we will exclude many people from the nation. Let us then call them fools, ignorant and shallow people, rather than apostates. Some of them desecrate Shabbos and Yom Tov due to the stress of earning a livelihood . . . That will suffice, in order not to deter them from attending public prayer services."

From this correspondence (which was over a period of forty years) a very grim picture of the situation of Jewish family life in Argentina arises. It is clear that the problems pertain to a relatively few, because there was no need to write about the families who did not live according to halocho. One big problem that surfaced even from the beginning was that some fled their homes, leaving behind agunos and going on to sin with non-Jewish women.

Many of the answers deal with questions of divorce. HaRav Goldman was afraid, for example, to invalidate a divorce in which there was a halachic problem lest the man in the meantime disappear and leave the woman an agunah. Another question involves a woman whose husband had died three months before but was still nursing. Could she marry someone else, when it was known that she was alone, even though usually a nursing woman is not allowed to remarry until the infant is old enough not to need nursing?

And the question of questions: conversions.

"I was frightened to hear that there are people here who have cast off the dominion of Shomayim and have with abandon married non- Jewish women who have given birth to non- Jewish children. Yet in order to cover up for their recklessness, they want us to accept their gentile women and children as converts and to include them in the Jewish Nation."

There is nothing new under the sun: "It is a disgrace to call that conversion, because [such a ceremony] entails absolutely no conversion but rather assimilation and hefkeirus. It is a shame for the Mizrachi to be involved in assimilation. About this the earth is angry. It is angry that due to a religious man like him, Heaven's Name is desecrated and such a ceremony is called `conversion.' "

Even these small bits of information testify about the unique personality of HaRav Aharon Goldman, a figure who became stronger against a background which wasn't what he had hoped for. Once more, in order not to malign an entire community, we must stress that most of the Jews of Mosesville adhered to Jewish tradition and tried, under unthinkable conditions, to do their maximum in respect to Torah and mitzvah observance.

The Descendants

We went to speak to HaRav Goldman's grandchildren and great- grandchildren, whose esteem and adulation for their illustrious grandfather is evident. It is hard to say that they remember him, for he passed way in 5692, almost seventy years ago. However, the family still treasures a number of stories.

"Until Zaidy passed away, no one in Mosesville dared to open a store on Shabbos. More than that, Zaidy secured a permit from the government in Argentina for merchants to open their stores on Sundays, something which was absolutely forbidden in all Argentina [which was a strongly Catholic country]. Despite his efforts, there were still many Shabbos desecraters in Mosesville. When he would encounter young people smoking on Shabbos he would tell them pleasantly: `I can't tell you "Good Shabbos," because you don't know what Shabbos is.' Hearing this they became embarrassed and would throw away their cigarettes."

In Mosesville, HaRav Goldman established all of the religious and chessed institutions customarily found in European towns, such as a chevra Tehillim, a chevra Shas, and a Linat Tzedek--Chevra Bikur Cholim. Over the years, a number of shuls, a mikveh, a chevra kadisha, and a Jewish cemetery were also established. He was very strict about kosher shechita throughout his years in Argentina, from the time he arrived there.

Due to his connections with Jewish communities around the world, HaRav Goldman collected much money for institutions in distress especially yeshivos. (This was already when the community in Mosesville had become established.) One of the letters which was preserved is from the Chofetz Chaim, who thanked HaRav Goldman for collecting 73 dollars for the yeshiva in Radin, and blessed him and his community profusely. (The dollar then had more value than it has today.) He also contributed and collected much for yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel. He was known for his hospitality, and the warm reception he extended to all those in need.

It is impossible not to quote from his will, which is brought at the end of Divrei Aharon. The will was written approximately four years before his petirah:

"My first request is that from all of the money and wealth which Hashem gave me, tzedoko be given in the manner explained below." He then lists his brothers and sisters who remained in Podolia, as well as the Vaad Kloli in Jerusalem, Yeshivas Eitz Chaim, Misgav Ladach, Yeshivas Shaar Hashomayim, Yeshivas Chofetz Chaim, the Jewish settlement and deserving paupers. He also allocated money to the Chevra Kadisha for a plot of land.

"During the first year after my petirah, no changes should take place in my house, and everything should proceed as before . . . [My children] should be very careful to avoid hatred and jealousy among themselves, and only peace and love should prevail among them.

"[Prepare] a large piece of flax and the earth of Eretz Hakodesh to scatter on my body . . . The tahara should take place in the mikveh in my home. On my tombstone -- the building of the soul -- do not use too many honorary titles. Do not, cholila, make any sort of iron fence around it, the tombstone should not be prone, but rather perpendicular, according to the custom of our sacred forefathers."

The Second Generation

He had a number of children, all of whom he taught shechita and mila. Some of them remained in Mosesville. Others left for the large city of Buenos Aires. One of the sons who remained in Mosesville was Mordechai. He continued his father's tradition and served as a shochet, a mohel, and a chazan and in every other religious capacity that was needed.

There in the exile of Mosesville, HaRav Mordechai Goldman probed the laws of shechita and treifos, a topic which, as the town's shochet, he felt very responsible for. He apparently knew that not all of the local shochtim were familiar with these laws. As a result, he found a way to simplify the subject and he compiled an abridged version of Simlah Chadasha of the HaRav Alexander Sender Shor.

Reb Mordechai's Divrei Mordechai was written in 5678 (1918) when he was twenty-three, and that was apparently the only sefer which was published in Mosesville. (His sons reprinted it in Yerushalayim in 5727-1967.)

The Third and Fourth Generations

Reb Mordechai had nine children and even though the standard of living in the town had risen, the financial lot of the rav and shochet wasn't easy. He earned his living from the payments he received for shechita and other such tasks, and the town didn't support him generously.

We met three of his sons: HaRav Yechiel Michel Goldman, Dr. Dovid Shlomo Goldman and Dr. Yeruchom Fishel Goldman. We also met the daughters, and the fourth generation which are the granddaughters of Reb Mordechai.

How did they remain bnei Torah and yirei Shomayim in so difficult an environment? Where did they study?

"There was no talmud Torah or Jewish school in the town. (Actually there weren't such institutions in many eastern European towns either.) Abba hired melamdim who taught all of the boys until they reached bar mitzvah age. After that they went to work, or continued to study in a general school. At that time, there was no high school in the town, not even a general one, and whoever wanted to continue studying would go to Buenos Aires, to Cordoba or to other places. In the meantime the Jewish community in South America expanded, as a result of immigration from Europe prior to the Holocaust and after it, and it was possible to live in the homes of Jewish families in the large cities in order to study. After that, religious institutions and even yeshivos were founded throughout South America -- the Chofetz Chaim yeshiva headed by HaRav Shmuel Arye Levine in Buenos Aries, being now the pride of Argentina.

In that period, it was easier to celebrate the holidays. Succos fell in the middle of the winter, and it always rained then. That is what they remember. In time for Pesach, the community rented a flour mill not far from the town. They kashered the mill and baked hand matzos. The men baked, while the women flattened. Afterwards, they also opened a bakery for machine- made matzos.

One time, a Jewish baker dared to bake bread on Shemini shel Pesach. The rav banned the bread, and even the non- Jews in the town didn't buy it.

In those days, there were still four synagogues in Mosesville. Afterwards only two remained, and they rotated services on Shabbosim in order to be sure of a minyan.

The mesiras nefesh to Torah and mitzvos passed from father to son. One of the daughters relates that her mother did not get married until 35 because in all Argentina there was no one G-d fearing enough for her. Hashem helped and she then married a European refugee, and succeeded to raise five children who in turn established wonderful Torah families.

When did they move to Eretz Yisroel? That is of itself a story of mesiras nefesh.

During those not-so-distant days, the early 60's, the Jewish Agency encouraged aliya to Israel. However, then too, the well-known approach prevailed: the youth would make aliya, and the parents would remain in the Diaspora. There were young people who swallowed the bait and were sent to secular educational institutions. The Goldman family did not succumb. The parents did not permit their children to detach themselves from the education of the home, and they succeeded. Others made aliya at the end of their studies.

In 5749 (1989) Mosesville celebrated the 100th year of settlement in Argentina. Only a few of the celebrants were still residents of the town. Most came from all over Argentina, the United States and Israel. The Goldman family asked one of the gedolei haposkim if they should attend the celebration: "It will be a kiddush Hashem," he ruled.

The Goldman family is one which has remained steadfast in its loyalty to Yiddishkeit, even after 100 years of life under duress.


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