Yosef Yozel Horwitz
Yosef Yozel Horowitz (Hebrew: יוסף יוזל הורוביץ), also Yosef Yoizel Hurwitz, known as the Alter of Novardok (1847–1919) was a student of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, the founder of the Musar movement. Horwitz was also a student of Rabbis Yitzchak Blazer and Simcha Zissel Ziv and spent some time in Brest, learning from Rabbi Chaim Soloveichik. He established the Novardok yeshiva in the city of Navahrudak. Additionally, he established a network of yeshivas in Dvinsk, Minsk, Warsaw, Berdichev, Lida and Zetl. Some of his discourses were recorded in the book Madregat Ha-Adam (Hebrew: מדרגת האדם, Stature of Man). The most basic and important theme in his book is Bitachon (trust in God).
Horwitz was born in 1847, in Plongian, Lithuania. His father was Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Ziv (later Horowitz), a dayan and rabbi in Plongian and later the rabbi of Kurtuvian. Yosef Yozel had three brothers and four sisters. Horwitz acquired his basic education under the supervision of his father. He joined the Kelm yeshiva when he was still very young. At the age of sixteen, he was already delivering the shiur (lesson) in the synagogue of Kurtuvian.
At eighteen, Horwitz married the eldest daughter of Rabbi Yaakov Stein, a textile store owner from Shvekesna. As Stein died shortly before the wedding, after the wedding, Horwitz assumed the management of his father-in-law’s business, as well as the support of Stein’s widow and eight children.
Meeting Rabbi Yisrael Salanter
Because of his business commitments, he was a frequent visitor to Memel, where at the age of 27, he met Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, who was the rabbi of Memel at that time. After attending a number of Salanter's classes and meeting with him, Horowitz decided to close his business, leave Shvekesna, and to study Torah full-time in Kovno. This was met with some opposition from his father, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Horowitz, and from Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, both of whom were concerned about the reaction of his wife to the decision. He assured them, however, that “she has always understood me, and she will understand me this time, too.”
Seclusion in Kovno
On the advice of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, Horowitz joined Kovno’s Kollel Perushim where he studied under Rabbis Yitzchak Blazer, Naftali Amsterdam and Avraham Shenker, musar students of Rabbi Yisroel Salanter.
Horowitz eventually brought his wife and children to Kovno, where his wife gave birth to two more children and died in childbirth. After his wife's death, Horowitz divided his children among relatives and secluded himself in the home of a Kovno tinsmith by the name of Rabbi Shlomo. He remained in that room for a year and a half without emerging. To guarantee his solitude, he blocked the entrance to his quarters with a brick wall, which contained two small windows through which he maintained contact with his landlord when necessary.
Forced to leave
In 1881/1882, the maskilim published a series of articles in which they ridiculed Horwitz’s seclusion. Later, they threw a bundle of forged banknotes into his yard and then informed the police that his hideout was a base for the manufacture of counterfeit money. That day, Horwitz’s mother came to visit him and she burned the bundle. Soon afterward, the police stormed Horwitz’s room and broke down the wall. Although they found nothing suspicious, they forbade him to live in seclusion.
Shortly after he emerged from seclusion, his mentors urged him to remarry. One evening, Horwitz passed Rabbi Shlomo’s house and heard someone crying. The following day, he asked Rabbi Shlomo what had happened. Rabbi Shlomo told him that the man whom his daughter, Chaya Rivka, was supposed to marry, had broken the engagement. Horwitz told Rabbi Shlomo he would marry Chaya Rivka, but only on the condition that he be allowed to isolate himself all week, returning to his family only for Shabbat and Yom Tov. They agreed to this condition, and the match was finalized. Rabbi Gershon Chirinsky, a lumber merchant who owned estates around Zetl, (with the assistance of Rabbi E. Lachman from Berlin), built a forest retreat, where Horwitz secluded himself for 12 years, visiting his family only on Shabbat.
When his father died in 1890, and Kurtuvian offered him the position that he would have inherited from his father as head of the community, he did not accept it because he had a sister who was left an orphan and he rejected the rabbinical seat in favour of his future brother-in-law.
Once more, Horwitz left his seclusion and founded a network of kollels in 20 Polish and Russian towns, among them Shavli, Dvinsk, Minsk, Warsaw, Berditchev, Novardok, Odessa, Lida and Zetl. Once a kollel was established, he would urge his students to establish adjoining yeshivas. The institutions were financed by Rabbi Lachman and headed by Rabbi Yitzchak Blazer. The Yeshiva in Berdichev had two hundred students. When Horwitz heard the pupils arguing at a difficult study or discussion, he did not leave until the matter was settled (Rabbi Dov Katz wrote about this subject in his book “Tnuat Musar” (“The Musar Movement”) p. 199).
When World War I broke out, Horwitz decided to move the yeshiva from the border. He did not permit the yeshiva to remain in Novardok. In 1914/1915, Horwitz set out for Ukraine in search of new quarters for the yeshiva. Before leaving, he told his students that if the Germans neared Novardok, they should flee in the direction of Ukraine. Horwitz found quarters for the yeshiva in Homel. In the meantime, the Germans conquered the area near Novardok, and the yeshiva students fled to Homel. In Homel, they lived in the home of Rabbi Yaakov Katz. Soon, it became so crowded that they had to move to a nearby beis medrash, and then to various shuls in the city. By the end of the summer of 1915, 80 students had reached Homel, and the yeshiva was reestablished.
During Succos 1919, the Russians made pogroms in Kiev, killing hundreds of Jews. Many Jews in the area sought shelter in Horwitz’s home, believing that they would be spared in his merit. On Simchas Torah, the situation worsened, but Horwitz instructed his students to conduct hakafos as usual. The rioters fired at the windows of his house. Everyone dropped to the floor – except Horwitz, who remained standing at the head of the table, kiddush-cup in hand.
Death and burial
After Succos, a typhoid epidemic broke out in Kiev, taking the lives of thousands of its residents. Horwitz’s home soon filled with invalids to whom he personally attended. In Kislev, he contracted the disease, and never recovered from it. Still, he continued to attend to the needs of the invalids. He died on December 9, 1919.
Jews of Kiev and its suburbs streamed to his funeral. The last to eulogize him was his student, Rabbi Dovid Budnik. Forty-three years later, his students transferred his coffin to Israel, and in the summer of 1963 he was reinterred in the Har HaMenuchot cemetery in Jerusalem.
Horwitz was exposed to criticism from Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor. Rabbi Burshtain from Tavrik, Lithuania and Rabbi Itzchok Jankef Reines from Lida also opposed Horwitz's way of musar. The Rabbi of Novardok, Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein, although not a follower the musar movement, helped Horwitz to succeed.
Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz particularly rejected elements of the Novardok philosophy, such as their extreme self-effacement and anti-social behaviors.
In consonance with his stress on unwaivering bitachon (trust in Divine providence), Horwitz's followers would board trains in time of civil war with no fear and establish hundreds of yeshivas in Russia. After the rise of communism, the students of these yeshivas fled to Poland, crossing the border to Poland illegally.
Eventually, the movement got involved in a financial dispute with other yeshivas over funding. The leaders were claiming each Novardok yeshiva should be considered as one entire yeshiva. Opponents wanted all Novardok yeshivas to be considered as one. The Novardok yeshivas were all called "Yeshivas Beis Yosef" in honour of Horwitz.
The directors of these yeshivas were in constant contact with Horwitz, who guided and visited them, spending nearly every Shabbos in a different town. Since he was quite elderly by that time, his closest students tried to dissuade him from making such journeys. He would respond by citing the verse (Genesis 12:9), “And Avraham journeyed, continuously traveling,” on which Malbim comments, “He went to sanctify Hashem’s name.”
Horwitz had three sons-in-law: Rabbi Alter, Rabbi Isroel Yankef Lubchanski and Rabbi Avrom Yoffen. Rabbi Alter was a renowned scholar and was a follower of the derech hapilpul. He was not a follower of Horwitz's way of musar. In the end, Rabbi Alter left Novardok and became the head of the yeshiva in Shchuchyn. Rabbi Lubchanski followed the direction of his father-in-law. He was the supervisor of the yeshiva in Baranovichi, "Ohel Torah", which followed the way of musar. In later years (from 1921), Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman was the head of the Yeshiva. Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Gutman was the principal till the last day of its existence. Rabbis Lubchanski and Gutman were killed by the Nazis together with the Jewish community of Baranovichi. Rabbi Yoffen was the head of the Novardok Yeshiva in Białystok.
After the Holocaust
Two branches of Novardok were founded in Jerusalem; one under the leadership of Rabbi Ben Zion Bruk and the other under the direction of Rabbis Shmuel and Eitan Jofen. Additional branches were started in New York by various of Rabbi Avrom Jofen's children and grandchildren. For instance, Rabbi Yechiel Perr of Far Rockaway, New York started Yeshivas Derech Ayson, a.k.a. Yeshiva of Far Rockaway, Rabbi Moshe Faskowitz of Queens, New York started Yeshiva Madregas Ha'Adam, and Rabbis Mordechai Jofen and Yisroel Zvi(Heshy) Nekritz started Yeshivas Beis Yosef of Brooklyn along with Rabbi Yaakov Drilman, a lifelong friend, and a talmid of Rav Yitzchak Hutner.
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- "Great Leaders of Our People". ou.org.
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- See Avner, Esther Leah (June 2011). Learn, Live, Teach. Brand Name Books. ISBN 978-965-7552-00-1.
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