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Joel Guthwert


[L]: Joel Guthwert, Finland, ca 1910-15
[R] Cantor Moses Guthwert


Joel Guthwert
as a young man
Finland, 18xx

Joel Guthwert was born in Radzilow in 1850. He became a learned and religious young man. When he was drafted into the army of the Russian Czar, his family could not afford the payment to exempt him from service, and so in 1872 he went, with a document in his hands (the letters from the Rabbi's of both Radzilow and Lomza) to Russian-occupied Finland, where he duly served, then married and raised his family there. He died in Helsinki in 1928. His son Moses became a highly respected cantor. Most of Joel's descendants live in Finland to this day.

Background of the Letters:

The first Rabbi wrote a short commendation about the student Joel. The second Rabbi in Lomza thought it was way too understated and wrote a more impassioned piece on behalf of the student. Although it was possible to pay off the officials so that a boy didn't have to serve, in this case the "redemption fee" had gone up and Joel's family could not afford to redeem him. So the rabbis are worried that he might not get kosher food in the army and want to forgive him in advance if he has no choice but to eat forbidden food. The letters are written in perfect Hebrew using some Aramaic words here and there.

Letter From Radzilow Rabbi


Letter By Rabbi Surawicz, Rabbi of Radzilow

To my teachers and students, given in the hand of the worthy young man, Yoel, who has been taken into the company of soldiers [to indicate] that he is a precious young man who walks in the paths of integrity, is God-fearing and distinguished in the study of Torah. He has sat in the Bet Midrash [devoted] always to Torah and to the service of God. May the Holy One grant him whole-heartedness and the strength to conduct himself well while in the army, so that his service will be one of integrity, with the help of the Creator who speaks of righteousness.
Sunday, 20th day of Adar Rishon [Adar 1],
the year 5632 [1872] here in Radzilove
(Signed) Rabbi Shimon Aryeh HaKohen [Surawicz]

Follow-up Letter By Rabbi Maisel, Rabbi of Lomza

[The remarks were added to the same sheet of paper, right after Rabbi Surawicz's note]

I have seen the words of Rabbi Shimon Aryeh HaKohen of Radzilow, the great Rabbi [known for] his righteous ways. He has been brief when he should have gone on at length, for he has not related some of the praise that is to be given for this worthy, learned and precious young man who has been a diligent student and of respected (sincere) character.

Letter From Lomza Rabbi


[Indeed] this year the cost of redeeming one so that he not serve in the army has gone up, so that his relatives and the people of his small town cannot pay this redemption. Therefore, by the authority that is vested in me  (...?)  I speak out of love for him, to draw him near and to support him wherever he may come to be, so that, God forbid, he not find himself in a polluted situation; [I seek] to save him from [having to eat] forbidden foods. May he continue to be involved in Torah study without [worry about] forbidden food, God forbid.

I do hope that just as he has walked with integrity in the paths of the Lord and of Godís Torah, so he will be whole-hearted before the Emperor and the people of his government in his service; so that all will acknowledge his worthiness and he will find favor in the eyes of the army leaders.

(From the seal of the letter) The signature seems to be: Rabbi Maisel, the head of the Rabbinical Court of the community of Lomzhe [Lomza]


Translation courtesy of Max Ticktin and Olga Zabludoff

Additional Material:
Read about Rabbi Surawicz
   Return to Shtetl Life; Return to Radzilovers, Part 17