YUDE-LEYB TSIRLSON (JUDAH LEIB ZIRELSON) (December 23, 1859-September 23, 1942)
He was born in Kozelits (Kozelets), Chernigov (Chernihiv) Province, Ukraine. He was educated in the Talmud and commentators, and thanks to his immense talents, he mastered several European languages. In 1885 he sat for the examinations into the rabbinate, and in 1907 he assumed a rabbinical post in Pryluky. In 1910 he was named chairman of the rabbinical commission for religious Jewish affairs under Tsarist authorities. During the Beilis trial in 1911, he published in the Russian press a protest against the blood libel. With the outbreak of WWI, he worked on behalf of war victims and the homeless, and he continued his activities under the subsequent Russian authorities. Through this work, he became the chief rabbi of Bessarabia. In 1922 he was elected deputy in the Romanian parliament, where he appeared several times to gave speeches on the condition of Jewry, among other items to support Hebrew and Yiddish as languages of instruction in Jewish schools. In 1926 he was elected senator from Kishinev. When the Senate unlawfully did not support publication of his speech against Romanian anti-Semitism in the official state archives, Tsirlson resigned his senatorial post. He was among the most prominent authorities in the Orthodox Jewish world. He was a leader in Agudat Yisrael in Bessarabia and president of the Orthodox Kenesia Gedola (World congress) in Vienna, among other positions. In 1920 he founded in Kishinev an Orthodox Hebrew high school. Already in 1898 he participated in the All-Russian Zionist conference in Warsaw and from that point worked for the settlement in the land of Israel and for preparatory agricultural training for those planning to settle the land, make aliya, and build, which he expressed in the years before the Holocaust. He published essays in a variety of Hebrew-language newspapers, such as: Hamagid (The preacher), Hashavua (The week), Hamelits (The advocate), Hapeles (The balance), Hatsfira (The siren), and Hapisga (The summit). He published two religious works of questions and answers, Gevul yehuda (Judah’s territory) and Atse halevenon (The trees of Lebanon), and a collection of essays and poems entitled Derekh haselula (The paved road); pamphlets in Russian on the Russo-Japanese War and “soap bubbles” (a polemic work). In Yiddish he published essays in the Warsaw Orthodox daily newspaper Der yud (The Jew), in the Kishinev dailies Der morgn (The morning), Der yud, and Unzer tsayt (Our time), and he also published the pamphlets: Genug shlofn (Enough sleep) on behalf of the Herzl Forest, Hilf far hilf (Help for help) on behalf of etrogs in the land of Israel, Kol-koyre (Appeal) on behalf of Agudat Yisrael, and Loy zo haderekh (That’s not the way) concerning the death of Professor Jacob Israël de Haan. For a time he also published an Orthodox weekly entitled Der funk (The spark) in Kishinev. He was murdered in Kishinev at age eighty-two with a portion of his community.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 3; American Jewish Yearbook (1943); Sh. Z. Mozes, in Dos idishe vort (New York) (Iyar-Sivan [= April-June] 1961; Tamuz-Av [= June-August] 1964); Ele ezkara (These we remember), vol. 1 (New York, 1955/1956), pp. 164-76; Shloyme Bikl, in Tog (New York) (September 19, 1964).
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