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The Rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Reuven Kac of holy blessed memory
Our master, the Gaon Rabbi
Reuven Kac of holy blessed memory, who was previously the rabbi of Stawiski
and latter the chief rabbi, head of the rabbinical court, and Talmudic
teacher in Petach Tikva , was one of the greatest rabbis of the
previous generation. His methodology, his Halachic decisions, and his
interpretations were based on the pillars of Torah, ethics, wisdom and
He was one of the select
group whose words had a recognizable influence upon the community, both
within the Orthodox community and in the liberal community, including
upon rabbis and the leaders of the people. His variegated personality,
his extensive learning, his intuition and resoluteness along with the
sharpness of his intellect all helped forge the image of the community
of those that feared the word of G-d.
Whenever a difficult Halachic
issue arose, when observant Jewry was caught up with problems and internal
strife, or in strife between itself and the non-observant, they would
turn to the rabbi of Petach Tikva to ask him to offer assistance, and
solve the dilemma with his wisdom and understanding, so that he could
present a clear, blessed solution.
He conducted his rabbinate
with strength and rigor. Even during his old age, everyone would turn
an ear to listen to the opinion of the â€Rabbi from
Petach Tikvaâ€? at rabbinical conventions and on the advisory
council of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.
He forged his path of life,
not with storming and impetuousness, but rather through diligence, persistence,
gradual development, and spiritual ascent step by step. His humble beginnings
were upon the rabbinical seat of the small town of Sulevo, and his pinnacle
was as one of the leaders of the previous generation.
His birthplace was the small
town of Olshany in the Vilna region. There he was born on the first
day of the New Moon  of Iyar 5640 (1870) to his father Rabbi Shimon
of blessed memory, one of the local scholars who worked in business.
It was already evident during his childhood that he was destined for
greatness. When he was about eleven years old, he was already expert
on the Tractates of Shabbat and Bava Kama , and was known as the
Genius (Illui) of Olshany. His Bar Mitzvah speech, delivered when he
was a student at the Yeshiva of Ivye, included didactics that astounded
the local Torah scholars.
From Ivye he transferred
to the Yeshiva of Mir, and when he was 15, he was accepted in the Yeshiva
of the Chofetz Chaim of holy blessed memory in Radun . After about
one year, he went to the Yeshiva Knesset Yisrael of Slobodka, which
was headed by Rabbi M. M. Epstein of holy blessed memory, and Rabbi
Nosson Tzvi Finkel of holy blessed memory. In the year 5657-5658 (1887-1888)
he was numbered among one of the initial fourteen students of the Yeshiva
of Slutsk, founded by the Gaon Rabbi Isser Zalman of holy blessed memory
In the year 5663 (1893) he
moved to Vilna. There, the Gaon Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Maskil Leeitan
of holy blessed memory, the rabbi of Gicialaukia, chose him as the husband
for his righteous daughter Reichel, may peace be upon her. She stood
together with him as his partner in all of his activities until her
last day upon the earth.
While living in his father-in-law's
house, he became expert in practical Halacha, and was ordained by the
leading rabbis of the generation. His first rabbinate was in the town
of Sulevo in the Minsk region, and in the year 5669 (1899) he ascended
the rabbinic seat of Amdur (Indura). He served as the rabbi of Amdur
for fourteen years, and from there his net was spread out afar. As testimony
of this was the request of him by the holy Gaon Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel,
who was known as the â€Saba of Slobodkaâ€?
 in the month of Adar of 5683 (1923) to our rabbi to go with him
together with the head of the Yeshiva rabbi Moshe Mordechai Epstein
of holy blessed memory on a special mission to the capital city of Petersburg
in order to save the Yeshiva. According to words of the Saba, â€the
Yeshiva was floating between existence and disappearance, Heaven forbidâ€?.
There was a special condition upon this mission, for the Saba pointed
out: â€it is obvious that we must specify that the
matter must be a secret, and should not become known to any of the aforementioned
people until after it is completedâ€?. There, he spent the
years of the First World War with all of its tribulations: the Russian
army police, the German occupation government, the transfer to Polish
rule, and finally, the evil, cruel hand of the nationalistic Polish
ruler. During these years of trouble, Rabbi Kac not only occupied himself
with the discussions of Abaye and Rabba , but also with public activity.
He protected the rights of the Jews with complete dedication with respect
to the changing governments, and with the organization of self-defense.
He saved thousands of Jewish souls from death. In the merit of his intercession,
many difficult decrees were annulled, many people were saved, and many
who had been accused were freed. He also did a great deal for the rehabilitation
of refugees and those injured at war. He was the chairman of the local
assistance bank, and the chairman of the â€Jointâ€?
American aid committee in the Grodno region. During the time of transition
from one government to another, when the hooligans increased in number
and there were many attacks upon the Jews, he was strong enough to establish
a unit of Jewish self defense, whose duty was the protection of the
community. This organization assured the peace of the Jews of Amdur.
In the year 5682 (1922) he
published his first book: â€Questions and Answers Degel
Reuvenâ€? , in which he demonstrated his expertise and
sharpness in all areas of Halacha. He particularly displayed his ability
to explain difficult and complex issues in a straightforward fashion.
The book made an impression in the Torah world, and its publication
was an important occurrence among the Yeshiva students, who saw the
book as an aid to their studies. The publication of the book made a
name for its author, and after a few months, he was invited to sit on
the rabbinical seat in the city of Stawiski in the region of Lomza.
In Stawiski, he served as
the rabbi of the city, taking the place of the Tzadik who was well known
in his generation, the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Leib of holy blessed memory.
He was known by all for his greatness, and all the residents recognized
his greatness, on account of his deep knowledge, his righteousness,
his boundless love of Torah, and especially his love of every human
created in the image of G-d, in accordance with the trait of Aaron the
priest the head of his family, who â€loved peace, pursued
peace, loved people, and brought them close to Torahâ€? .
In every place that he lived, he established Yeshivas for the young
and study groups in the synagogues to delve into the depths of Torah.
As in Amdur, in Stawiski
as well he expended effort to strengthen the institutions of Torah and
education, and to improve the economic situation of the city's Jews.
Through his efforts, a â€Kupat Malve and Gemilut Chasadimâ€?
organization was established in the city to grant loans to help sustain
the craftsmen and small-scale merchants, who were becoming impoverished
due to the burden of government taxes. He also made efforts to establish
elementary Yeshivas in the neighboring towns. He was active in the Yeshiva
committee that was founded by the Gaon Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski of
In the year 5685 (1925),
his second book was published. It was called â€Dudaei
Reuvenâ€? and dealt with homiletics and explanations on the
books of Genesis and Exodus. This book was also accepted with esteem
in the circles of rabbis and sermonizers.
During the period of his
tenure in Stawiski, in the winter of 5689 (1928-1929), he was requested
by the elder of the Gaonim of the generation, the author of the Chofetz
Chaim, to embark on a mission to the United States in order to save
the Yeshivas of Poland, in particular the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva. The
following letter, which was written by the holy hand of the Chofetz
Chaim, is testimony to this.
I am hereby turning to you
with a request for support for my holy Yeshiva, which currently, to
my distress, finds itself in a situation of terrible pressure, burdened
by deep debts that endanger it existence, G-d forbid. I have requested
of my friend, the well-known rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Reuven Kac, may he
live long, the head of the rabbinical court of the city of Stawiski,
the author of the book Degel Reuven, that he take upon himself the great
difficulty of travel to your country, in order to inspire the generous
people of our nation to save the Yeshiva from its difficult situation,
so that it can be set on its proper footing with the help of the Blessed
G-d. I am requesting that you honorable people come to the assistance
of the aforementioned Gaon in his holy work on behalf of he existence
of the Yeshiva that has been spreading Torah for more than fifty years,
for which I have toiled a great deal to ensure its existence, and in
which more than three thousand young men, experts in Torah and the fear
of Heaven study at the present time. The merit of the great Mitzvah
(commandment) of strengthening our holy Torah shall stand with all those
who assist and offer support, and may G-d bestow upon you much blessing
and success in all of your affairs, to them and to all that bless and
The communal leaders of Stawiski
took pride in the request of the leading rabbi of the generation, and
authorized their rabbi, Rabbi Reuven Kac, to take a one-year leave,
from November 1, 1928 until November 1, 1929. During the period of his
absence, his son Rabbi Shimon was appointed to fill his place.
His mission to the United
States was crowned with success. While he was winning over souls to
strengthen Torah in Poland, he received an invitation from the Jewish
community of Bayonne, New Jersey, to sit on their rabbinical seat. Rabbi
Reuven Katz  accepted their invitation and received the position.
In the United States, he very quickly found an honorable place among
the rabbis of the country. He was active in the rabbinical union, and
did a great deal to raise the stature of Judaism. A short time after
his arrival, during the annual rabbinical convention held in Iyar 5691
(1931), he was chosen as vice president of the Rabbinical Union.
After the tribulations of
5699 (1938-1939) , he said the following during a eulogy to the
victims of the cruel murder: â€If it is indeed His
will to grant the enemies of our soul a complete and eternal response,
and also to avenge the spilled blood of our holy martyrs, it is our
duty to arise and make aliya to our Holy Land, which has now received
an additional dose of holiness by virtue of the blood of our martyrs.
We must have mercy upon its soil, support those that have fallen during
the course of its conquest, and stand at the right hand of its sons
He was not only a good speaker,
but he acted upon his words. When he received in 5692 (1932) a request
to serve as rabbi in one of the most important settlements in the Land
of Israel, Petach Tikva, he left the United States and made aliya to
the Land of his desire and his childhood dreams. Many of his friends
attempted to dissuade him from this, however his wife, Rebbetzin Reichel,
who was famous for her intelligence and common sense, stood at his right
side and insured the decision.
Rabbi Reuven Katz, who served
as the head of the rabbinical court of Petach Tikva, was one of the
judges upon whose crown was inscribed three great qualities that are
fitting for a judge: men of valor, fearers of Heaven, and haters of
New vistas of activity opened
up for him in the Land of Israel in all areas of communal life, the
rabbinate and the spreading of Torah. Technically, he served as the
head of the rabbinical court and chief rabbi of Petach Tikva and the
area; however in actuality he did much more than this. A short time
after his arrival in the Land, during the days that the mighty Gaon
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook of holy blessed memory served as
the chief rabbi, the rabbinate of our rabbi already broke forth from
the bounds of Petach Tikva, and shone upon all areas of the Land. He
became one of the pillars of the chief rabbinate and Orthodox Jewry
in the Land. He was a citadel of teaching and Halacha. Rabbis and Torah
giants streamed to him from all across the Land.
His influence was great not
only in his city and in the region, but in all spiritual and public
matters in the country. He participated in all meetings to strengthen
the situation. He was always chosen as a member of various delegations
to speak to the ministers of the State of Israel regarding matters of
Yeshivas and the strengthening of religion.
He was one of the founders
of the committee for Yeshivas in the Land of Israel, and he served as
a member of the managing committee of that organization. During his
old age, when he became weak, the chief rabbis along with all members
of the rabbinate would come to his house to conduct meetings of the
He disseminated Torah to
his students during all his years, particularly in the Yeshivas of Petach
Tikva. One of his prime students described him as follows: â€..
In particular when he appeared before us in the hall of the Yeshiva
to deliver his regular class in Halacha, when word spread that the rabbi
was arriving to deliver the class, the atmosphere became electric. A
deep feeling of sublimity, awe and honor enveloped all of the students
of the Yeshiva, young and old together. We regarded the Rosh Yeshiva
(Head of the Yeshiva) as a man of stature, as is befitting in the world
His multifaceted work in
the rabbinate did not detract one drop from his dedication to his Yeshiva,
the large Yeshiva, in which he saw the crowning role of his life, whether
in the spiritual realm, in raising the level and character of his students,
or in the physical realm in ensuring the existence of the Yeshiva, and
in the meeting of the needs of the students. Indeed, the Yeshiva of
Petach Tikva was not only the prime Yeshiva in the â€mother
of settlementsâ€? , but it was also the â€mother
of Yeshivasâ€? throughout the modern settlements of Israel.
Our rabbi dedicated a great
deal of time and effort to the issues of the religious education of
elementary students. Already in the year 5693 (1933), one year after
he arrived in the Land, a large meeting of all of the great rabbis and
Rosh Yeshivas of the Land took place in Petach Tikva through his efforts.
The deliberations focussed on the subject of religious education. At
that meeting, a network of all of the Talmud Torahs throughout the land
was established, which flourished as time went on and served as the
basis for independent education . He served as the chairman.
In the year 5700 (1940),
he published the second volume of his book Degel Reuven. This volume
contained several answers regarding practical Halachic issues of laws
that relate to the Land, such as: the applications of orla, leket, shichecha,
and peah in modern times . In the year 5709 (1949) he published
the third volume of this work, in which he elaborated upon various Halachic
discussions with the Jerusalem Gaonim Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank, the rabbi
of Jerusalem, Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap the head of the Merkaz Harav
Yeshiva, and other leaders of the generation. One responsa was regarding
the issues of aguna  , was from the Gaon Rabbi Shlomo David Kahana
of blessed memory, who was originally the rabbi of Warsaw, and served
in glory in the old city of Jerusalem towards the end of his life. Rabbi
Kahana asked about his opinion regarding women who became â€agunasâ€?
during the years of Nazi murder. His fundamental understanding of issues
surrounding this difficult problem astounded even the expert Halachic
decisors who attempted to deal with it. This volume of Degel Reuven
won the Rabbi Kook prize from the municipality of Tel Aviv, and has
already been published in three editions.
In the year 5714 (1954) he
published the second volume of his book Dudaei Reuven, with explanations
and sermons on Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. He appended the
small work â€Ohel Rachelâ€? to this volume,
which contained words of eulogy and appreciation for his wife the Rebbetzin
Reichel, may peace be upon her, who died on the 20th of Shvat 5714.
With the establishment of
the state, his duties increased as did his responsibility for dealing
with difficult, thorny issues that had not been present prior to the
establishment of the state. In particular, after the passing of the
chief rabbi Gaon Rabbi Y. A. Herzog and the Jerusalem Gaon Rabbi Tzvi
Pesach Frank, duties of Halachic decisions fell upon him. Our rabbi
recognized his great responsibility to Heaven and also to the people
in whose midst he dwelt. He would delve into the depths of the law in
order to find reasons for leniency. This was not always possible, however
whenever he found reasons for leniency, he rejoiced greatly that he
was able to repair the bridge that connected the Land of Israel to the
People of Israel through the Torah of Israel.
With his passing, honor departed
Our rabbi and Gaon of holy
blessed memory left behind the children: Rabbi Shimon Katz, who dealt
with matters of agunas within his leadership duties in the rabbinic
court system of Israel; Professor Dr. Avraham Yitzchak Katz, the president
of Dropsie College in Philadelphia, U.S.A.; Rabbi Aharon Katz, a member
of the regional religious court of Jerusalem; Nissan Katz, a manufacturer
in the United States; Rabbi Eliezer Katz, the chief rabbi of Clifton,
U.S.A.; Rabbi Yechiel Michael Katz, one of the heads of Yeshiva University
in New York; Dina Harkavi, the wife of the writer Tzvi Harkavi; and
Chasida Sorotzkin, the widow of Rabbi Yisrael Sorotzkin of blessed memory,
who was a member of the regional religious court of Tel Aviv.