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Meisels, Dov Berush

(1798–1870), Talmudic scholar and rabbi of the Jewish communities of Kraków and Warsaw. Hailing from a prominent family of Galician rabbis, Dov Berush Meisels grew up in Kam’ianets’-Podil’s’kyi (Ukraine) before moving to Kraków in 1820, where he married Freydl Bornstein, the daughter of wealthy leaseholder Zalman Bornstein. With his father-in-law, Meisels founded a successful bank. However, his support for the failed Polish uprising of 1830 brought the business to the brink of financial ruin.

In 1832, Meisels applied for the position of rabbi of Kraków. As a Misnaged (Orthodox opponent of the Hasidim), he obtained the post only in the face of determined opposition. After the death of Ḥayim Dawidsohn in 1854, Meisels succeeded him as chief rabbi of the Warsaw community, a position he held for the rest of his life. In Kraków, Meisels had openly advocated the instruction of Jewish schoolchildren in nonreligious subjects; in Warsaw, he introduced a corresponding curriculum into the Talmud Torah schools.

During the November uprising of 1830, Meisels secured credit for the purchase of weapons by the rebels. Meisels also supported the leaders of the Galician uprising of 1846 for including equal rights for Jews among their demands. In November 1848, he was sent to the first Austrian Reichstag in Kremsier. With the subsequently famous dictum “I Sit with the Left because the Jews Have No Right(s),” he joined the left-wing parliamentarians. As chief rabbi of Warsaw, Meisels carried on his political activities, seeing the issue of equal rights for Jews as inextricably bound to the general political emancipation and independence of Poland. This attitude found symbolic expression in his participation at the funeral of five protestors who were shot to death by police during a patriotic demonstration on 2 March 1861.

The Russian governor issued an order for Meisels’s arrest on 28 October 1861, together with that of the Jewish lay preacher Markus Jastrow. In February 1862, Meisels was expelled from the country, returning to Warsaw in the summer of that year only to be expelled for a second time, briefly, after the January uprising in 1863. The last years of his life were spent in Warsaw, under strict police supervision. Shortly before his death, Meisels published Ḥidushe Mahardam, a book of commentaries on Sefer ha-mitsvot by Maimonides.

Suggested Reading

Markus Jastrow, “Bär Meisels, Oberrabbiner zu Warschau: Ein Lebensbild auf historischem Hintergrund nach eigener Anschauung entworfen,” The Hebrew Leader 15.25, 16.1–10 (April–June 1870); Mosheh Kamelhar, Rabi Dov Ber Maizels: Gadol ba-Torah, medina’i ve-loḥem (Jerusalem, 1970); Ephraim F. Kupfer, Ber Meisels i jego udział w walkach wyzwoleńczych narodu polskiego, 1846, 1848, 1863–1864 (Warsaw, 1953); Magdalena Opalski and Israel Bartal, Poles and Jews: A Failed Brotherhood (Hanover, N.H., 1992); Jacob Shatzky, Geshikhte fun yidn in Varshe, vols. 2–3 (New York, 1948–1953).



Translated from German by Deborah Cohen