Joseph ben Yehuda Leib Shapotshnick
Rabbi Joseph Shapotshnick was a Jewish social activist in early-20th century London.
Shapotshnick was born in Kishinev in 1882, and died in London in 1937. R. Shapotshnick's father, Yehuda Leib Shapotshnick, was a Hasidic leader in Kishinev, known as the Belsitzer Rebbe. After his death in 1896 the young Shapotshnick and his mother moved to Odessa where he studied under Dayan Abraham Joel Abelson as well as at the local university. Shapotshnick moved to the East End of London in 1913 and from then until his death he was embroiled in numerous controversies both within and beyond the Anglo-Jewish community. A prolific author of numerous self-published books, pamphlets, newspapers and journals, Shapotshnick published an 80-page treatise on the kabbalistic meanings of G-d's Name entitled "Kedushas H-Shem" in 1908. His most famous publication was his "Shass ha-gadol she-bi-gedolim," first published in 1919. It consisted of one volume of the Talmud - tractate Berakhot - and was and remains the largest-sized rabbinic book ever published.
The Agunot scandal 
From the mid-1920s Shapotshnick offered to help agunot — women whose inability to gain a Jewish divorce meant that they could not remarry — to find ways of resolving their problems. It is not clear whether or not any of the women he helped ever remarried, but there were serious concerns that his dispensations for them to do so were faulty, potentially meaning that their offspring from a second marriage would be considered mamzerim (bastards) under Jewish ritual law. In 1927 the head of the London bet din, Rabbi Shmuel Yitzchak Hillman sought help from senior international rabbis to stop Shapotshnick from issuing spurious dispensations. In the controversy that ensued it was discovered that Shapotshnick had falsely added the names of various colleagues to some of the dispensations, effectively forging their support without their prior knowledge. These rabbis and many others disassociated themselves from him publicly by writing to the Yiddish press in London and urging the publication of their letters of condemnation. In late 1928 the rabbinical association of Poland published a booklet that contained 600 signatures of rabbis condemning "Mr" Shapotshnick and his activities.
He was declared bankrupt in November 1932.
Other activities 
Shapotshnick was a persistent critic of the Anglo-Jewish establishment's mistreatment of the poor immigrants who lived mainly in the East End. He criticised the lack of interest in the welfare and education of the immigrant Jews, and at various times set up his own educational establishments, and more controversially, his own kosher supervision authority. In the spring of 1937, it was discovered that 8 of the 11 butcher shops under his supervision were selling 'kosher' meat bought from non-Jewish wholesalers. One of the butchers was taken to court for the crime of misrepresentation and was eventually convicted and fined. Shapotshnick died quite suddenly during the trial and was never questioned in court about his role, although it was widely suspected that he was out of his depth rather than maliciously negligent.
Shapotshnick's funeral 
Shapotshnick's sudden death caught everyone by surprise. He died on Thursday, 21 October 1937. At first no one would agree to bury him because of his controversial reputation. Eventually, the newly established Adath Yisrael community agreed to inter him at their Enfield cemetery, after the imposition of various conditions on his only son, Levi.
Shapotshnick's funeral took place on Monday, 25 October 1937. Despite the pouring rain, 5,000 people attended his funeral. The crowd was almost exclusively drawn from the common folk of the East End Jewish community, who were mostly unaffected by his controversial episodes, but who saw in him a fighter for their causes and a charismatic religious leader.
- Jewish Chronicle, Nov 28 1930 p. 29; Feb 23 1934 p. 11; Oct 29 1937 p. 8, p. 13, p. 15; Nov 5 1937 p. 25
- The Times, 22 November 1932, p.4
- The Times, 9 July 1936, p.17