FROM THE BETH DIN JUDGES TO THE FAMILY COURT JUDGE
A FIVE HUNDRED AND FIFTY YEAR SAGA
By DR. NEIL ROSENSTEIN
FOUNDER AND FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE NEW YORK GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY
When thinking about writing this article, the biblical verse that came to my mind was from the Book of Samuel I, Chapter 18:7:
“Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands.”
Five hundred and fifty years ago Rabbi Meir Katzenellenbogen, 1482-1565, the Av Beth Din, that is, Head of the Rabbinical Court of Padua, Italy, known by the acronym “MaHaRaM Padua,” was the respected judge of hundreds, if not thousands of litigants. About the same time, his distant relative, Rabbi Moses Isserles, 1520-1575, known by the acronym ReMA, the eminent Ashkenazic rabbi, Talmudist, decisor and judge, renowned for his fundamental work of Halacha (Jewish Law), entitled HaMapah, which is a commentary on the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) and served as the Head of the Rabbinical Court of Cracow, Poland.
Their 21st century famed descendant, Judge Judy, is known and admired by millions of TV viewers for her reputation as one of the toughest court judges in the United States.
Judge Judy was born Judith Susan in Brooklyn in 1942 to Murray Blum, a dentist, 1917-1989 and Ethel Silverman, 1922-1980. Murray was the son of Jacob (Jake) Blum, a plumbing shop owner in Brooklyn, 1874-1950 who married Lena Mininberg, 1884-1968. Jacob’s original surname was Israelit when he arrived in New York in 1903. Two years later he was naturalized. His family was known for its rabbinical roots which were from Novogrudok. Jacob’s father was Samuel Israelit who lived in Novogrudok with his wife, Rebecca, and was in the business of selling sickles in partnership with other family members in Novogrudok. Samuel was the son of Rabbi Moses Mordecai Israelit, 1797-1884, a distinguished wealthy merchant, surnamed
Israelit after his father-in-law, Naftali Herz Israelit of Novogrudok. He was an official of the Novogrudok Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society) for 37 years. Another son of Rabbi Moses was Rabbi Elimelech Israelit, a Zionist and author, born in Novogrudok on January 30, 1851 and died in Jaffa on September 22, 1939. He was married in Zhetl on January 17, 1873 to Miriam (died 1922 in Jerusalem), the daughter of Menachem Rabinovich of Zhetl. He joined the Zionist movement after yeshiva graduation and immigrated to Palestine in the summer of 1891 with his wife and children, settling in 1896 in the then southernmost settlement of Be’er Tuvia (initially called Castina) where he was a farmer and worked for the Zionist Congress. He was in correspondence with Herzl during the early part of the 20th century and the family has letters from 1901-2 in their possession. (See the adjacent 1902 letter from Herzl.) In 1922 he moved to Jaffa where he died. He was the author of Zichron LeRishonim, a family genealogy, published in Jaffa, 1914; Zichron LeRishonim veTorah LeAchronim (part two with comments for his children and grandchildren); Kastina Moshava BeNegev Eretz Yisrael; HaKikayon; HaPrida (his last years and his gifts to the Jewish National and University Library); and HaChibur HaAcharon (his last work with additions to HaPrida).
Unfortunately we do not know who Rabbi Moses’ father was, but his mother was Brayna, daughter of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Eisenstadt, Av Beth Din of Lyubcha (Lubetsch in Yiddish) and Mir. He is recorded with his wife (his first cousin), Ita, in the 1784 census of Lyubcha. Rabbi Zvi Hirsch was the son of Leah, who married Rabbi Michael Eisenstadt, Av Beth Din of Kletsk and Mir, son of R. Meir Eisenstadt (1670-1744), known as the MaHaRaM Eisenstadt or MaHaRaM Ash or Esh, and author of Panim Me’irot (see adjacent epitaph). His Novellae (novel insights) can be found in Ketonet Or, (published Frankfurt on Oder 1754) to which he wrote an approbation. They had seven sons.
His mother, Brayna was descended from a very large family that was extensively researched by the late Bernard Kouchel, noted Jewish genealogist and founder of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Broward County, Florida, who died in 2013.
Leah, mentioned above as the wife of Rabbi Michel Eisenstadt, was the daughter of Rabbi Judah Leib Mirkes (his original surname was Meisels; Mirkes was either his mother or mother-in-law) who was the Av Beth Din of Mir and had married the daughter of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch, son of Rabbi Gershon of Prague (a descendant of the Tosfot YomTov, R. Lipman HaLevi Heller, 1579-1654). Rabbi Judah Leib was the son of Rabbi Solomon Zalman Meisel(s), named after his maternal grandfather, Av Beth Din of Mohilev who married the daughter of R. Joseph, son of R. Simha, Av Beth Din of Mohilev, R. Solomon Zalman, son of Rabbi Simha Bonem Meisels of Mohilev, son of R. Judah Lieb of Cracow, son of R. Simha Bonem Meisels, Av Beth Din of Cracow (1545-1624), son-in-law of R. Moses Isserles of Cracow. Rabbi Simcha Bonem of Cracow was the son of Rabbi Judah Meisels, a seventeenth century printer and author in Cracow.
Rabbi Simcha Bonem of Mohilev was the son-in-law of R. Solomon Zalman Katzenellenbogen, son of Rabbi Abraham Abrashky Katzenellenbogen, son of Rabbi Saul Wahl Katzenellenbogen, who was said to have been a Polish Jewish King “for a day” (or perhaps one night). Saul Wahl is the topic of an in-depth historical book I wrote (Saul Wahl: Polish King for a Night or Lithuanian Knight for a Lifetime) and was published in 2006.
Saul Wahl was the son of Rabbi Samuel Judah Katzenellenbogen, Av Beth Din of Padua and Venice, son of Rabbi Meir Katzenellenbogen mentioned above.
We have, in this article, traced the illustrious ancestry of a popular and prominent New York personality, generation for generation back to multiple prominent chief rabbis of large East European communities, some being the greatest of their generation, of four of the most prominent Jewish families of Ashkenazic origin, Eisenstadt, Heller, Katzenellenbogen and Meisels – surnames that were in use for centuries before the Jewish masses adopted their own surnames.
Neil Rosenstein, M.D, a retired surgeon, was one of the founders in 1977 of the Jewish Genealogical Society, Inc. and was its first president. He has accumulated a vast collection of material on Jewish genealogy, especially in the field of rabbinic families and dynasties and is the author of many works on the subject. His magnum opus, “The Unbroken Chain,” was published in 1976 in a single volume; republished in 1990 in two volumes; and will be published again in 2014 in three volumes with much new material and a detailed names index.