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Medal’e, Shemaryahu Yosef Leib Iankelevich

(1873–1938), rabbi in Russia and the Soviet Union. Born in Kretinga, Lithuania, Shemaryahu Yosef Leib Medal’e received his rabbinic ordination from the Slobodka yeshiva. His marriage into a Hasidic family brought him close to Lubavitch. In 1898, he was appointed rabbi of the provincial capital of Tula, outside the Pale of Settlement, and had to learn Russian to communicate with his congregation. He became rabbi of Korelichi (Belarus) in 1901. In 1907, he was chosen as rabbi of the provincial capital Vitebsk, the city where he officiated for many years and with which he is generally identified.

Medal’e was active in Jewish politics, taking part in several rabbinical conventions, including the last one held in tsarist Russia (in Saint Petersburg, 1910), where he was a delegate from Vitebsk province. In 1912, he attended the founding convention of Agudas Yisroel but left the organization a year later, claiming that a rabbi should be above party loyalty. Nevertheless, he was a founder and presidium member of the short-lived Orthodox political party Masoret ve-Ḥerut (Tradition and Freedom) in Russia in 1917.

In 1921, when the Evsektsiia (Jewish section of the Communist Party) in Vitebsk staged a much-publicized “trial” of the heder, depicting it as harmful to children, Medal’e spoke for the defense and shouted “the Torah is from heaven,” together with members of his congregation. He was then briefly arrested. His life in Vitebsk was made increasingly difficult, and at the beginning of the 1930s, after being forced out of his apartment—according to one report he had to live in the women’s section of the synagogue—he moved to Moscow. There he was a member of Rabbi Abba David Goldfein’s rabbinical court and was appointed rabbi of the main (Choral) synagogue after Rabbi Ya‘akov Klemes immigrated to Palestine in 1933.

In late 1937 or early 1938, a time of intensified persecution of clergy, Medal’e was arrested and charged with belonging to a counterrevolutionary terrorist organization as well for selling matzo and Torah honors in order to support illegal heders and yeshivas. He was condemned to death and shot in April 1938. His son Mosheh, a rabbi in Rostov, was also arrested about this time and disappeared. Medal’e was posthumously rehabilitated in 1957.

Suggested Reading

Leyb Abram, Y. Khintsin, and K. Kaplan, comps and eds., Der mishpet ibern kheyder (Vitebsk, 1922), pp. 69–71; Mendl Elkin, “Horav Shmarye Medalye: Der barimter vitebsker rov,” Vitebsk amol, ed. Gregor Aronson, Jacob Lestschinsky, and Avraham Kihn, pp. 478–488 (New York, 1956); Avraham Melamed, “Ha-Rav Shemaryahu Yehudah Leb Meda’lyeh,” in Vitebsk, ed. Baruch Karu, cols. 193–196 (Tel Aviv, 1956/57); Eliezer Rabinovich and Feiga Rabinovich, “Chief Rabbi of Moscow in the 1930s,” Jewish Press (5 June 1992): 22.

YIVO Archival Resources

RG 201, Abraham Liessin, Papers, 1906-1944.