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Orenstein Family

Wealthy and prominent rabbinic family. Many members of the Orenstein family filled major rabbinic posts in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Galicia, especially from the middle of the eighteenth century. The first to bear the family name was Mordekhai Ze’ev Orenstein (1745–1787), who by an early age had served as rabbi in several Polish communities. Following the First Partition of Poland, he held the position of assistant district rabbi in Galicia (1776–1778), and later as rabbi of Lwów until his death.

Between 1776 and 1888, the office of rabbi of Lwów remained almost exclusively in the hands of the descendants of Mordekhai Ze’ev. One of his sons, Mosheh Yehoshu‘a Heshel (1774–1824), was the rabbi of a number of Hungarian and Galician communities. After Mosheh Yehoshu‘a Heshel died, his nephews published his book Yam ha-Talmud.

Another famous son was Ya‘akov Meshulam Orenstein (1775–1839). After five years of serving as rabbi of Żółkiew, he was appointed rabbi of Lwów and served in that position for many years. Ya‘akov Meshulam was a prominent leader who exercised influence over the Galician rabbinic elite. Publication of his most important halakhic work, the 10-volume Yeshu‘ot Ya‘akov, began during his lifetime (the first volume, on Shulḥan ‘arukh, Even ha-‘ezer, was published in 1809). He opposed both the growing influence of the Hasidic movement and the beginnings of Haskalah in Galicia.

In 1816, a ban of excommunication was proclaimed in Lwów against a circle of maskilim that had begun forming in the city, the most prominent members of which were Yehudah Leib Mieses, Yitsḥak Erter, and Shelomoh Yehudah Rapoport. The maskilim claimed that the excommunication had been drawn up on the instructions of Ya‘akov Meshulam Orenstein. They raised questions about his learning and argued that his halakhic works were not original. Under pressure from Galician authorities, Ya‘akov Meshulam was forced to deliver a sermon in German in one of the synagogues in the city, in which he declared that he had no objections to the German language or to secular studies.

Ya‘akov Meshulam’s grandson Tsevi Hirsh Orenstein (1816–1888) was also a well-known rabbinic leader. In 1863, he published an annotated edition of his grandfather’s Yeshu‘ot Ya‘akov, and a year later was appointed to serve as rabbi of Brisk (Brześć Litewski; Brest-Litovsk) in the Pale of Settlement. In 1873, Russian authorities forced him to quit his position and return to Galicia, where he was chosen to be the rabbi of Rzeszów. In 1875, he was appointed rabbi of Lwów in place of Yosef Sha’ul Natanson.

The process by which Tsevi Hirsh was appointed rabbi was one of the first issues in a controversy that developed between the Orthodox leadership and the liberal intelligentsia of the city. He was appointed with the support of the liberal Shomer Yisra’el Society, despite the opposition of the more conservative circles in the city. This notwithstanding, Orenstein was counted among the leaders of Orthodoxy in Galicia, and at the end of the 1870s, he worked to prevent the establishment of a rabbinical seminary in Galicia. In 1882, he helped to organize a rabbinic assembly initiated by the Galician Orthodox organization, Makhzikey ha-Das, in the course of which an attempt was made to influence the nature of the charters of the Galician Jewish communities. Orenstein also filled various public roles in Jewish communal institutions and the city council. Some of his responsa were published in the book Birkat Retseh (1889).

Tsevi Hirsh Orenstein’s son-in-law Aryeh Leib Broda (1840–1928) assisted him in rabbinic and communal responsibilities. In 1907, Broda too was chosen to serve as rabbi of Lwów. His grandson Mordekhai Ze’ev Broda (Braude; 1869–1950) completed a doctorate in philosophy. From 1901, he served as rabbi and preacher in the liberal community in Stanisławów, and from 1912, in Łódź. Between 1924 and 1927, he served as a representative in the Polish Sejm. He was an active Zionist leader, and was involved in the development of the educational system and research of Ḥokhmat Yisra’el (Jewish Studies) in Poland.

Suggested Reading

Majer Bałaban, “Shalshelet ha-yaḥas shel mishpaḥat Ornshten-Broda,” in Sefer ha-yovel li-khevod Mordekhai Ze’ev Broda (Warsaw, [1931]), pp. i–x, 3–47; Azriel Meir Brauda, Mishpaḥat Broda (Warsaw, 1937/38), pp. 51–65; Salomon Buber, Anshe shem (1895; rpt., [Jerusalem, 1967/68]), pp. 111–112, 149–151; Ḥayyim Nathan Dembitzer, Kelilat yofi, vol. 1, pp. 144–156 (1888; rpt., Jerusalem, 1988/89); Rachel Manekin, “Tsemiḥatah ve-gibushah shel ha-ortodoksiyah ha-yehudit be-Galitsyah” (Ph.D. diss., Hebrew University, 2001).



Translated from Hebrew by David Strauss