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Friday, April 27, 2007


The Keen Wisdom of Rebbe Dovid’l Tolna

This Shabbos, the 10th of Iyar, is the 125th yahrzeit of the first Rebbe of Tolna, the world-renowned Reb Dovid'l (1808-1882). He was born in the year 1808 in the Ukranian town of Chernobyl, where his father, Rebbe Mordechai was the Rebbe. Rebbe Mordechai's father, Rebbe Menachem Nachum - the Maggid of Chernobyl, disciple of the Baal Shem Tov and towering figure in the galaxy of Chassidic masters gathered around the Baal Shem Tov's successor, the Maggid of Mezritch. Rebbe Mordechai had eight sons, all of whom became Rebbes in different towns throughout the Ukraine.

Around 1835, Rebbe David became the first Rebbe of the town of Tolna in the Kiev district of Ukraine. In Tolna, he found the authorities more disposed to the Jews. Thousands of Chassidim adhered to Rebbe David, and the town of Tolna soon became one of the largest Chassidic centers in the Ukraine.Upon his arrival in Tolna from Vusylkuv, a folk tune was composed: "Rebbe Dovid’l from Vusylkuv is now in Tolna," which his Chassidim sang to a fervent melody. Rebbe David was very fond of Negina, and chazanim found a place of respect in his court. Even in mid-week he was eager to hear chazanim and various niggunim. The Rebbe even had clocks which played music. His court had its own baal menagen/chazan, R. Yossele Tolner, whose melodies became popular among the masses in Russia and Poland. Another favored chazan of the Tolna Rebbe was R. Nissan Belzer...

All of this, and more, can be found in last year's post,
Rebbe David of Tolna Saves a Jewish Soul with a Niggun.


And as last year, we have the privilege of bringing you the following story, excerpted from Not Just Stories, by Rabbi Avraham J. Twerski, who shares some common ancestors with Rebbe Dovid'l.

The Keen Wisdom of Rebbe Dovid'l Tolna
A Chassid of the Tolna Rebbe was a lumber merchant, and had reached an understanding with the poritz [feudal lord] to buy a section of his forest for lumbering. No contract was written, and when the price of lumber fell, the merchant wished to renegotiate the deal, claiming that he has not legally bound by the verbal agreement. The poritz knew that according to civil law, the merchant was right, and he therefore suggested that they take the dispute to the Rebbe for a decision according to Jewish Law.
The Rebbe listened to both sides, then ruled that although there was no legal contract, the Talmud pronounces a severe curse upon one who reneges upon a verbal agreement, and that certainly the merchant would not wish to subject himself to this. He therefore found in favor of the poritz.
The poritz was most pleased with the decision in his favor, but remarked, ''In our courts there is a much longer process, and if a litigant is displeased with the court's decision, he can appeal to a higher court, and there are several levels of appeals available to him. Suppose the merchant wished to appeal your decision. What recourse does he have?''

The Rebbe smiled and said, ''One time a wolf attacked a flock of sheep, and the animals dispersed. The wolf pursued one of them, but before he had a chance to seize it, a lion emerged and pounced upon the sheep. The wolf protested that the prey has his, because he had caused the sheep to leave the flock, but the lion said that he had as much right to the sheep as the wolf, since neither had paid for it. They agreed to take their dispute before the fox, who was the wisest of all the animals."
"The fox ruled that the sheep should be divided equally between the two, and proceeded to cut the sheep in half. Noting that one portion was larger than the other, he nibbled away a bit, but then, seeing that now this portion was smaller, he nibbled away a bit of the other. This 'equalization' process continued until the fox had consumed almost the entire carcass, leaving nothing but the bones for the wolf and lion.
''In your courts,'' the Rebbe continued, ''there are indeed many appeals, with the result that the lawyers on each side nibble on the disputed assets. By the time a final decision is reached, all that is left for the litigants are the bare bones. We may not have an appeals process, but both litigants are likely to benefit from our judgment.''
Adds Rabbi Twerski:
The Rebbe said this in 1840. Was it by his wisdom or prophetic foresight that he so accurately described the judicial system of our own times?
Zechuso Yagein Aleinu -- May the Rebbe Dovidl's merits protect us!

UPDATE! See Dixie Yid's follow-up post [to this one] about Judicial Economy.

Wow! Such a wise man. It's so true today, and I guess it has always been.
Shabbat Shalom

This piece has a lot of great stuff, both about the ideal Beis Din, and about the comparisons with the secular legal system. As a law student in the evenings after work, I'm interested in both. So I wanted to add a couple of things, in no particular order.

The dispute in the Tolner Rebbe's story between the Lion and the Wolf is exactly parallel to the first case every law student studies in his 1st year Property course, Pierson v. Post, from 1805 in New York. That was a case of a fox hunter (Post) who was in hot pursuit of a fox and, using his hounds (here, the fox didn't get to be the judge!) almost had it when and a Johnny-come-lately interloper, (Pierson), swoops in and kills the fox before Post can finish it off. Based on this case, the common law became that one acquires the animal when one captures or mortally wounds it, not merely chases it for a long time, so the Lion should have gotten the whole sheep, and shouldn't have had to split it, as the fox ruled. That case predated the Tolna rebbe's story by almost 40 years, but apparently the fox didn't follow the British/American Common law precedent!

Also, regarding the dispute between the Chassid and the Poritz, relating to the enforcement of a verbal contract for the sale of goods; The Statute of Frauds was passed in 1677 and says that certain types of contracts have to be in writing to be enforceable in a court of law. One type of contract that must be in writing to be enforceable is that of an interest in land. Here, the Chassid is buying a section of forest for the purpose of lumbering, so it is an interest in land. Therefore, it would be within the Statute of Frauds, and would have to be in writing to be enforcable according to British/American common law. Here, the civil courts in Tolna must have had a similar law because the story said that the Poritz knew he wouldn't be able to enforce the contract in civil court.

With regard to the Rebbe's mashal, which teaches us how the Beis Din is far superior to secular courts partially because the cost of litigation is so much less, and the awards aren't eaten away by those pesky lawyers; There was an interesting article from 2 days ago at Law.com about a little employment law case that got so bitter and drawn out, that at the end one side sued the other for $150,000 in attorney's fees for a simple overtime dispute!

I've written up these comments in a post of my own that links to yours at the following link:


Thank you Yitz for a great post!

-Dixie Yid
Great post Yitz!
thank you for posting this. Are you related. R' Dovid Tolner was my great-great-many times back grandfather. Yasher koach.
Nice stuff
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