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Lewin Brothers

Rabbis and political activists. Aron Lewin (1879–1941) was a leader of the Agudas Yisroel movement and a deputy in the Polish parliament. His younger brother Yeḥezkel Lewin (1898–1941) was a Zionist leader and rabbi of the progressive (Reform) community of Lwów. They were sons of Natan Lewin, rabbi in Rohatyn and Rzeszów, and maternal grandsons of the noted scholar Yitsḥak Shmelkes of Lwów.

Aron Lewin received his early education in his grandfather’s household, participating in Shmelkes’s scholarly and communal work. Lewin acquired fluency in German and Polish and achieved renown as a promising Talmudic scholar. In 1904, he was elected rabbi of Sambór, and in 1913 he was awarded the title of Kaiserlichen Rat (imperial counsel), the first Orthodox rabbi in Galicia awarded such an honor.

As a refugee in Vienna following the outbreak of World War I, Lewin was appointed supervisor of provincial refugee camps intended for Jews fleeing Galicia. First elected to the Polish Sejm (parliament) in 1922 as a nonpartisan deputy from the Sambór district, once there he joined the Agudas Yisroel faction. Although he attracted public attention with his oratorial skills, he, as was true of his fellow Jewish deputies, devoted much of his time to resolving individual and communal problems between Jews and Polish officials.

Lewin was an early and ardent supporter of the Agudas Yisroel Party in Galicia. He attended the first world gathering of Aguda (Kenesiyah Gedolah; Great Assembly) in Vienna in 1923, where he was elected chair of the central committee of the world Aguda, a position he held for the rest of his life. Following the death of his father in 1926, Lewin was invited to succeed him as chief rabbi of Rzeszów, serving in that capacity beginning in 1927. His greatest electoral triumph occurred in 1930, when he was elected to the Sejm from the Warsaw district on an independent list. (Two other Aguda representatives were returned to the Sejm and Senate on the government list.) He was removed from political life by the election law of 1935, which empowered government-dominated local assemblies to authorize candidates.

In the years preceding World War II, Aron Lewin devoted himself to writing while still serving on public committees, such as the anti-German boycott committee. With the outbreak of the war, Lewin fled with his family to Lwów. He made several unsuccessful attempts to escape to Romania and Lithuania, and when the Germans entered the city in July 1941, Lewin was arrested and executed.

Aron Lewin’s published works include Davar be-‘ito (sermons, 1899); Mateh Aharon (sermons; 1905); Birkat Aharon (Talmudic commentaries; 1913); Avne ḥefets (responsa; 1934); and Ha-Derash veha-‘iyun (sermons; 1928–1939; posthumous volumes, 1980–1982).

Aron’s younger brother Yeḥezkel received a traditional education and was ordained as a rabbi. In addition, he received a doctorate from Jagiellonian University in Kraków after completing a dissertation on Neoplatonism and Judaism. Following distinguished service as a rabbi in Katowice, in 1928 he assumed his post in Lwów. Lewin served as president of the Jewish National Fund and Keren Hayesod in Poland. He wrote two books on philosophy and was a frequent contributor to the Jewish press, writing in Yiddish and Polish. During the two years of Soviet rule in Galicia (1939–1941), Lewin stayed at his post despite pressures and incentives to take on other public duties. With the German invasion of eastern Galicia in late June and early July 1941 and Ukrainian attacks against local Jews, Lewin appealed personally to Metropolitan Andrzej Szeptycki to stop the attacks. Although the church leader offered Lewin sanctuary until peace was restored, Lewin refused to abandon his community. Upon his return home, he was arrested by Ukrainian militiamen and taken to a local prison, where he was murdered.

Suggested Reading

Gershon C. Bacon, The Politics of Tradition: Agudat Yisrael in Poland, 1916–1939 (Jerusalem, 1996); Isaac Lewin, ed., Eleh ezkerah: Osef toldot kedoshe, 5700 –5705, vol. 1, pp. 40–63; vol. 4, pp. 65–69 (New York, 1961); Isaac Lewin, The Jewish Community in Poland: Historical Essays (New York, 1985), pp. 199–214; David Yosifon, “Yeḥezkel Lewin,” in Entsiklopedyah shel ha-tsiyonut ha-datit, ed., Yizḥak Raphael, vol. 3, cols. 126–129 (Jerusalem, 1965).