Rabbi of Magnificient Funeral... R. Jacob Joseph, Denver 1902
- Sold Winning Bid: $50.00
- 5 Bid(s) View Bid History
- Lot Number 44649
- Title (English) Rabbi of Magnificient Funeral... R. Jacob Joseph
- City Denver
- Publisher The Denver Times
- Publication Date 1902
- Estimated Price - Low 200
- Estimated Price - High 500
- Item # 1128705
- End Date
- Start Date
Large folio sheet, 590:430 mm., usual age staining, wide margins.
Tear sheet of the main article reporting the demise of Rabbi Jacob Joseph, Chief Rabbi of New York. The article appeared in the Denver Times on page 18 of the August 17, 1902 issue.
R. Jacob b. Dov Baer Joseph (1848–1902), Chief Rabbi of New York. R. Jacob Joseph was born in the town of Krozhe (Karziai) a province of Kovno, Lithuania. As a young teenager he was sent to the Yeshiva in Volozhin under the auspices of R. Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, his sharp mind earned him the title of “Rav Yaakov Charif”, he later studied under R. Israel Salanter in Kovno. After various Rabbinical positions throughout Lithuania in 1883 he was selected to serve as the maggid meisharim (public preacher) for the city of Vilna. Soon after he was appointed a dayan on the prestigious Vilna Beth Din, thereafter it’s Chief Rabbi. It was in Vilna that R. Joseph published his book L’Beit Yaakov (Vilna, 1888).
In April of 1888, R. Joseph accepted the call from the Association of American Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (AAOHC) to serve as New York’s first Chief Rabbi. R. Joseph arrived on Saturday July 7, 1888 at the port in Hoboken, NJ were he was greeted by a large crowd of hopeful well-wishers. Two week later an over flowing crowd filled the Beth Hamedrash Hagdol on Norfolk Street spilling over onto the surrounding city streets to hear Chief Rabbi Joseph’s inaugural sermon.
At first R. Joseph met with much success, especially in testing shochtim and replacing those who were unqualified and doubled the number of certified shochtim in the New York area. He also was able to implement the use of lead seals (plumba) to identify the kosher animals. An oversight board was established to periodically check the knives used for ritual slaughter. R. Joseph successfully implemented the same standard for chicken and fowl (an unheard off concept at the time). To facilitate these achievements a one-cent tax per animal was implemented. Advancement in the area of kosher matzoh-flower was likewise achieved. The new Chief Rabbi took an active interest in education, making periodic visits to the Etz Chaim Yeshiva to test the older students. Within the first few weeks of his arrival, R. Joseph established a new Beth Din in New York City. It was the job of the Beth Din to assist the Chief Rabbi with all his endeavors.
R. Joseph’s influence spread in upper Manhattan as halachic authority as well. In November of 1892, the members of Congregation Sharai Zedek sought to uproot its New York City Cemetery due to nearby construction that was compromising parts of the cemetery and have the bodies re-interred in the Bay Side Cemetery in nearby Queens. Although the members were strongly in favor of the move, when it was discovered that the Chief Rabbi disapproved, the idea was quickly put to rest.
R. Joseph’s fame soon spread across the United States. When the newly established Mount Sinai Congregation of Newark, Ohio purchased a former church building to serve as their new synagogue on the day the building was to be dedicated two overlooked crosses were found engraved on the facade of the building. The congregation's Rabbi, R. Browne, turned to the New York Chief rabbi for guidance, asking if the building was permissible for use. In accordance with his ruling the ceremony was postponed until the crosses could be removed. In 1892, the Central Rabbinical Conference of Reform Rabbis decided to make bris mila (circumcision) optional for new converts. The Chief Rabbi did everything in his power to fight back in both attacking the Reform movement as well as promoting the importance of a bris mila. The Chief Rabbi also attempted to reverse the decline in the observance of Tznius. Unfortunately, many of the married women were abandoning the religious practice of covering their hair. R. Joseph tried unsuccessfully to convince the masses the importance of this precept.
Although initially very successful, the Chief Rabbinate was not destined to last. Due to an overwhelming majority of Lithuanian born Rabbanim associated with the Chief Rabbinate, in 1889 Jews of Galician and Hungarian decent formed Congregation Sons of Israel and appointed R. Yehoshua Seigal, as “Chief Rabbi of New York City,” creating two rival Kehillos, with each side having its own Chief Rabbi and Kashrus supervision. A further decline in the Chief Rabbi’s authority was a direct result of his success. The measures to strengthen kashruth caused an increased in the price for meat, chicken, and matzoh, something many were not willing to except. Many local rabbis lost their incomes associated with kashruth supervision as a result of the new policies. Slaughterhouse owners did not take well to their loss of authority while many Jewish housewives complained of the increase in kosher meat prices. These groups united forming the “Hebrew Poultry Butchers Association” to fight back. As such the Chief Rabbi was maligned, assaulted, and attacked on a daily basis both in person and in the socialist, anti-religious Jewish media. He was accused of robbing the poor for his personal gain and worse. It did not take long for all of R. Joseph’s “enemies” to join in and attack other areas of his successes in an attempt to reverse them. He was attacked by those who were offended by his attempts to address the issue of the Shabbat desecration. Anti-religious demonstrations were constantly being organized throughout the Lower East Side denigrating the Chief Rabbi’s authority. With time, the AAOHC was financially destroyed, a final attempt to get prominent Rabbanim in Europe to rally on the side of the Chief Rabbi did little to influence his attackers. Finally, a bankrupt AAOHC could no longer pay the Rav Joseph’s salary. In an effort to maintain the office of the Chief Rabbi the AAOHC reached an agreement with the Hebrew Poultry Butchers Association where they would pay R. Joseph directly for his kashruth supervision.
By the end of 1893, Rav Joseph went from Chief Rabbi to a simple mashgiach at the mercy of the Hebrew Poultry Butchers Association. Eventually they stopped paying him altogether opting for “other kashruth supervision” and refused to renew is contract. Left penniless R. Joseph was forced from his apartment to a small apartment on 263 Henry Street. Throughout this entire period R. Joseph always maintained his dignity responding only to the issues never to the attacks. But inwardly the wounds festered. He soon suffered a stroke; at first he began to recover, however, a relapse four years later left him speechless and bedridden for the rest of his life. The city that had welcomed him so enthusiastically with honor and hope abandoned him, ungrateful of all the effort he initiated on its behalf with the exception of few. He soon was all but forgotten.
In the last year of his life Rav Joseph regained his speech and with assistance was able to walk. Wanting to express his thank to Heshem he asked that he be allowed to deliver the upcoming Shabbos Shuva Drasha. The upcoming Drasha was widely publicized throughout the city. Shabbat morning in front of an overflowing audience R. Joseph slowly with assistance ascended the bima (lectern) and began with the words “shteit in Rambam”, he then fell silent and moments latter burst into uncontrollable tears. After a few moments he said "Du vaist vus es maint tzu fargessin a Rambam far dem illui fun Volozhin" and with that he sat down. The drasha had a tremendous impact on the community. They saw that nothing could break the Chief Rabbis spirit, that is, nothing except the inability to recall a Rambam. A few months later on the 24th of Tamuz he passed away.
In a final irony R. Joseph’s funeral was marred with violence. As the funeral procession following his bier past the printing plant of R. Hoe and Co. the mostly German workforce angrily hurled stones, hot oil, metal pipes, and garbage at the passing procession below. As the ensuing riot unfolded an anti-Semitic police force of over 200 took to clubbing the attacked rather that the attackers. When the dust settled it found scores of mourners hospitalized or incarcerated while the R. Hoe and Co. received a slap on the wrist. The attack led to what was considered the largest “cleaning of house” for the New York City Police Department initiated by then New York City Mayor Seth Low.
The Al-mighty never leaves a debt unpaid, two years later on June 15, 2004 more than 1,300 members of New York City’s “Kleindeutschland” (little Germany), which included the majority of the R. Hoe and Co. workforce, boarded the General Slocum steamboat to spend the day at Locust Grove on Long Island Sound. As the steamboat passed East 90th street on the East River it became engulfed into a ball of fire. The boats captain, William Van Schaick, fearing an explosion should he dock the boat, opted to proceed at top speed to North Brother Island a mile head, further fanning the flames with the increased speed. Although it was on the East River with its usual over crowding of small boats, adequately stocked with lifeboats, and a few yard from shore, more that 1,020 people died by the time the boat finally docked. Due to the tragedy within the next few years the entire neighborhood collapsed. The once German neighborhood of 80,000 was reduced to a handful. Ironically, most every schoolchild can easily recount the events of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory (146 people killed), Titanic (1,500 people killed), Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (1,117 people killed), and the Terrorist attack on the World Trade Center (around 2,800 people killed), few can recall the General Slocum fire.
Around 100,000 people attended R. Joseph’s funeral one of the largest to date in New York City. He was eulogized by the leading Torah authorities in the United States at the time. Each one, stepped forward to defend the late Chief Rabbi’s honor, chastising the people of the city for the way he was mistreated. The Chief Rabbi of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania R. Moshe Shimon Zivits cried out that R. Joseph was only honored twice by the people of New York City - once when he arrived and now that he was gone.
On September 17, 1906, over five thousand people gathered at Union Field Cemetery for the unveiling of Rav Joseph’s tombstone. He was eulogized by the leading Rabbinic authorities of New York City among them Rav Hillel Klein, Rav Yosef Eliyahu Fried, Rav Bernard Drachman as well as by his son Rav Rafael.
R. Joseph description by Baruch Amsel of American Gedolim; CD-EPI; kevarim.com