Last Will and Testament

Mendel Gilinsky, Fanny’s father, died in 1947; two years after my four siblings and I had entered the Cape Jewish Orphanage, Cape Town, in 1945, and one year before the establishment of the State of Israel.

Mendel’s will and testament reveals interesting details about 19th century “Palestine”.

Here are details of Mendel’s “Final Liquidation and Distribution Account” (Archive depot Family History Center of the Mormon Church in Parktown, Johannesburg):

Immovable property – Nil

Movable property (Personal belongings and clothes) – ₤20

Cash found in Estate – Nil.

Claims in favour of Estate (South African Permanent Building Society and Investment Society Johannesburg) – ₤253.12.6.

Liabilities Administrative Expenses – ₤21.10.3

Fees Payable to the Master of the Supreme Court (Estate fee, Taxing fee, Binding fee) – ₤2.3.0.

Extracts from Mendel’s Will:

“I do hereby direct my Executor to set aside, before paying any of the special bequests and legacies hereinafter set forth, the sum of ₤75, of which the sum of ₤25 should go for the purpose of paying my funeral expenses, and the balance of ₤50 for the buying and erecting of a suitable tomb stone for me.”

Mendel bequeathed the following legacies to:

(a) The Jewish Old Age Home, Jerusalem – ₤25. “And I do hereby direct my Executor, when paying the said sum of ₤25 to the said Jewish Old Age Home Jerusalem to notify the Home that the said sum of ₤25 is bequeathed to them with the express wish and desire that a suitable inmate of the said Home should say Kadish (Mourner’s prayers) after me.”

Mendel doesn’t seem to realize that Kaddish/Kadish requires a Minyan (a quorum of ten adult male Jews). So, he really needed 10 “suitable inmates”, not only one.

(b) The Jewish Orphanage in Jerusalem, Palestine – ₤25.

The Official name of this Orphanage was the “Great Palestine Orphan Asylum Diskin”. One of the documents I have in my possession is a copy of the receipt from the Orphanage in “Great Palestine” for the ₤25 received from Mendel’s Estate. On the receipt is a picture of the founder of the Orphanage, Rabbi Yehoshua Yehudah Leib Diskin (1818-1898).

rabbi diskin

Rabbi Yehoshua Yehudah Leib Diskin (1818-1898)

Rabbi Diskin was a Rabbi in Belarus (my father’s country of birth) before he moved to Jerusalem in 1878. He became the leader of Hayishuv Hayashan (Old Community), which refers to the Jewish community that lived in the land of Israel from the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE to the First Aliyah “going up” – homecoming) in 1881, prior to the beginning of Zionist immigration. Here is an account of the importance Rabbi Diskin attached to the Mezuzah, which is  piece of parchment on which is written the scripture verses, Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and 11:13–21. The parchment is rolled  up in a container inscribed with the word “Shaddai” (Almighty). The mezuzah is affixed to the right side of the doorpost. An observant Jew touches it on entering and leaving the house.

From Tales of Tzaddikim [ Sages], Mesorah

The Protection of Mezuzah

R’ Yehoshua Leib Diskin, the famous Maharil, who settled in Jerusalem and founded that landmark, the Diskin Orphanage, would have people go from house to house to examine the mezuzos to see if they were in order. He paid them from the coffers of the orphanage.

When R’ Yehoshua Leib was asked why he did this, he would reply, “You might think that this was an unnecessary, irrelevant expense for the institution. Actually the opposite is true; it is income. The Torah guarantees, ‘So that your days will increase.’ If kosher mezuzos [pural of mezuza)  protect the people of Jerusalem and increase the days of its inhabitants, then there will be fewer orphans and the orphanage will have less expenses. Is this, then, not a form of income?”

Here is a giant Mezuzah. The Hebrew letter on it is the “sh” (shin), the first letter of the word “shma” (hear) of the verse:  “Hear, O Israel:The LORD our God, the LORD is one (Deuteronomy 6:4). Jews don’t touch this Mezuza, because only a complete meshuganna (crazy) would stop his car, jump out and jimp up to try touch it: the Jaffa gate has the most vehicle traffic of all the gates of Jerusalem.

Mezuza Jaffa Gate Jerusalem

Mezuza Jaffa Gate Jerusalem

The mezuzah is horizontal, but the most common placement is at a slant. Rashi (Moses Maimonides) says the Mezuzah should be horizontal so that one can read the words inscribed on the outside. Rabbenu Tam says that such a position is neither here nor there (Yiddish – nit tut, nit tam) and is therefore disrepectful, comparable to burying a person in an uprught position. The mezuzah should be rather placed like the Tablets in the Holy Ark — horizontally. But vertical won the day because the Shulchan Aruch (literal Hebrew “Set Table) – the manual of Halacha (Jewish law) – ruled in favour of Rashi’s position.

I read the following explanation why the mezuzah is placed at a slant. The house is the home of a husband and wife. The slanting mezuzah teaches (Torah means “teach”) every couple how to create a happy peaceful home, shalom bayit. Each spouse  should be prepared to bend towards the other in helping to lead a harmonious family life. That is why the mezuzah should be placed at a slant. That’s fine, as long as they don’t bend over backwards for each other, as that would put the mezuzah out of kilter. Reminds me of the interpretive – often sentimental – excesses of  human nature.

Rabbi Diskin was an antizionist like most of the Torah Jews of his generation. Late in my life – these past few years (2003 – 2009) – I have taken a great interest in the divergent views between Zionism and Torah Judaism. Many Jews, of course, would reject the view that Zionism is the antonym of Torah. One of the most distinguishing features of the Diskin movement is the view that Hebrew is a holy language (Loshon Hakodesh) and thus should not be used as a means of social communication; so modern Hebrew as the language of the State of israel was rejected.

‘According to tradition, writes Rudolph Klein, Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Diskin (1818-1898) refused to speak to a certain Torah Scholar in Jerusalem because that scholar spoke Loshon HaQodesh. One time, the latter entered Rabbi Diskin’s house and began to pose a question to Rabbi Diskin in Loshon HaQodesh. At that point, Rabbi Diskin reprimanded the scholar and exclaimed “Leave my house! Throughout our exile we will only speak Yiddish! ” Thus, Rabbi Diskin opposed the usage of Loshon HaQodesh even without the secular implications of its usage. Some believe that Loshon HaQodesh will be the universal language of the Messianic Era. This belief is based on the prohecy of Zephaniah (Zephaniah 3:9) who foretells that in the future the entire world will call out the name of HaShem in a “Safa Berura” (lit. clear language). The phrase “Safa Berura” is equal in numerical value to “in Loshon HaQodesh.”’

I would have been more – not much more – convinced of this numerical argument if “Safa Berura” was equal in value to “Loshon Hakodesh,” without the addition of “in” (the Hebrew Beth).

When  Rabbi Diskin died in 1898,  his son, Rabbib Yitzchok Yerucham Diskin, took over the reins of the Orphanage, and in 1900  initiated the construction of  the Diskin Orphanage at the entrance to Jerusalem, which has seen continual improvements, to produce an architectural splendour. While the Cape Jewish Orphanage (where i was an “inmate” was demolished decades ago to make way for upmarket Jewish residences, the Diskin Orphanage in Jerusalem, in contrast, is today one of the the ten most beautiful buildings in Jerusalem.

My daughter Natasha, who is half Jewish (her father’s side, of course, married a Miskin.There are two sources of the name “Miskin”. The first is from the Jewish Belarussian patronymic derived from the male personal name Miske, a pet form of Michael. The second source is from the Russian Myshkin (Мы́шкин – Mishkin), more commonly Miskin. This name is derived from the Hebrew “mishkan”, the ancient Jewish temple in  Jerusalem. But the Russian “myshkin”  also means the possessive case of the diminutive “mouse”. Prince Myshkin is a famous literary character in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. Who wouldn’t love to be that kind of idiot? Natasha’s husband doesn’t know whether he is of Jewish ancestry, but if not, there still remains possessive, dimunitive mouse to fall back on.

I wonder why Mendel didn’t send his  ₤25 bequest to the Orphanage where his grandchildren  were rather than to Jerusalem. There could be so many reasons why he didn’t. For one thing, we were sent to the Cape Jewish Orphanage two years before his death and he might not have known (or been informed) that we were in an Orphanage in Cape Town. Or he might have written his will before 1945 and did not  think he should change his commitment to the Diskin Orphanage in Jerusalem. Or Mendel might have thought that if there was someone in Jerusalem saying Kaddish prayers for him  (a condition of his bequest), these prayers might carry more weight than if Kadish was said for him outside Israel.

2 thoughts on “Last Will and Testament

  1. Raphael, you have translated the word takshitim incorrectly. It does not mean brats but rather what we really were to mommy and daddy – jewels. I too, for many years, misunderstood daddy when he used to say to me -” du bist a naar”. For years I thought he was calling me a fool and for years I felt hurt by this. It was only after I came to Israel, and learnt Hebrew, that I understood that he was calling me a youth who didn’t yet understand. To this day I regret not having being able to sit down and talk to mommy and daddy.

    • Bennie, you are right about takhshit(im). Thanks for pointing that out. There is this thing about words, especially spoken words. Behind a word – the dictionary meaning of the word (the semantic meaning) – is a speaking body: body “language”. For example, a person can say the word “treasure” to you, but the tone of voice, look and gesture of the person who is saying “treasure” could mean the sarcastic opposite. I never ever got the impression that I was anybody’s treasure at home. It seemed to me that some of my other brothers and sisters felt the same. I’m glad you’re on my bog to correct me when I tokhshit.

      BogBalmalocha (The BogExpert!)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s