Yehuda Leib Tsirelson
Yehuda Leib Tsirelson (1859, Kozelets, Chernihiv Oblast – 1941, Kishinev, Soviet Union) was the Chief Rabbi of Bessarabia, a member of the Romanian parliament, and a prominent Jewish leader and posek.
Yehuda Leib was born in 1859 to the Rabbi of Kozelets, Moishe Chayim. He was considered a prodigy at a very young age and became the Rabbi of Priluki when he was only nineteen. During that time he began writing for various periodicals in Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian. His articles dealt mainly with ongoing Jewish issues, mostly of a political nature. In 1898 he participated in the first all-Russian Zionist conference in Warsaw. At first he supported the Mizrakhi movement and required from secular Zionist letting the religious delegates decide on educational programs of the whole Zionist movement, but later he became disappointed in religious and secular Zionism and finally left the movement becoming less moderate.
In 1908 he was appointed religious and crown rabbi of Kishinev. In 1911 he was one of the signatories of a letter by 300 prominent Russian Rabbis against the antisemitic Beilis affair case. That same year he received the title of honorable citizen of Russian empire. In 1912 he was among a core group of Jewish leaders and Rabbis who laid the foundation for the Agudat Israel movement. In 1918 Bessarabia became part of Romania and Rabbi Tsirelson was nominated Chief Rabbi of the whole Bessarabia. He developed there a Jewish educational system, beginning from kindergarten and ending with yeshiva. Many prominent rabbis, including future Rabbis of Rybnitsa (Rabbi Chaim Zanvl Abramowitz) and Bohush, studied in his yeshiva.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, the new Kishinev yeshiva was established in the building of the old one. In 1920 having knowledge of the Romanian language he was elected to represent the Jews of Bessarabia in the Parliament of Romania in Bucharest. In 1922 he became the only Bessarabian Jewish representative in the parliament. While the antisemitism in Romania was strongly growing. In parliament Tsirelson tried to warn about the growing antisemitism in Romania, but the delegates refused to publish his speeches in the parliament periodical. As a result, Tsirelson resisgned from parliament in 1926. In 1920 he established the Agudat Israel branch in Kishinev, which later became autonomous. He chaired two Agudat Israel councils in 1923 and 1929. In 1923 he strongly supported Meir Shapiro's idea of Daf Yomi. After the Soviet annexation of Bessarabia he was labeled by communist-backed newspapers as an anti-soviet agent. He most likely died on June 25, 1941 during the first bombardment of Kishinev by German forces.
Most of his works were published after his death in Israel and in the United States. Many streets in big Israeli cities such as Tel-Aviv and Bnei Brak bear his name. His great-nephew is the famous Israeli mathematician Boris Tsirelson.