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Rubinstein, Yitsḥak

(1880–1945), rabbi and Zionist leader. Born in Dotnuva, Lithuania, Yitsḥak Rubinstein studied at yeshivas in Kovno, Slutsk, and Volozhin as well as at the University of Moscow. He was appointed rabbi of Genicheck, Ukraine, in 1906, and in 1910 was chosen as the government-appointed rabbi of Vilna, with the support of the Orthodox community. During World War I, he remained in Vilna, representing the interests of Jews before the Russian and German authorities, and was one of the heads of the Merkaz le-‘Ezrah, a center for providing humanitarian aid.

During the Polish occupation (1919–1920), Rubinstein helped liberate Jews from internment camps, and during the brief period of Lithuanian government (1920), he was appointed to represent Vilna Jewry in the Office of Jewish Affairs. After Vilna was returned to Polish rule, Rubinstein was elected to the Polish senate (1922), a position he held until 1939. He was an executive member of the Jewish parliamentary faction (Koło) between 1922 and 1928 and its vice president in the second half of the 1930s. In his work, he struggled to preserve the democratic character of the Jewish communities and delivered speeches against governmental and public antisemitism. In particular, he emphasized the harm done to Jewish educational budgets and noted attacks on Jewish university students.

At the same time, Rubinstein engaged in Zionist activity. He was president of Mizraḥi in Polish Lithuania in the 1920s and chairman of its party committee in Poland at the end of the 1930s. He also initiated the establishment of the Taḥkemoni schools in Polish Lithuania, which functioned in the spirit of Mizraḥi, and he served as president of Mizraḥi’s educational network, Yavneh, in Poland.

In 1929, the Vilna community chose Rubinstein to be its chief rabbi. His appointment in preference to Ḥayim Ozer Grodzenski provoked harsh opposition on the part of the Orthodox. The resulting friction affected the functioning of the community’s institutions and clouded relations between Mizraḥi and many rabbis in Poland. Three years later, a compromise was reached, according to which Grodzenski was appointed as a second rabbi in the city. Rubinstein then fulfilled the representative and formal aspects of the position, while Grodzenski functioned as the community’s religious leader.

In 1939, Rubinstein participated in the World Zionist Congress in Geneva. With the outbreak of World War II, he returned to Vilna, where he assisted in welfare and rescue activities. He escaped from the city when it was occupied by the Soviets in 1940, reaching the United States in 1941. He taught at Yeshiva University in New York City until his death.

Suggested Reading

Gershon Bacon, “Warsaw, Radom, Vilna: Three Disputes over the Rabbinical Posts in Interwar Poland and Their Implications for the Change in Jewish Public Discourse,” Jewish History 13.1 (1999): 103–126; Isaac Brojdes, Vilna ha-tsiyonit ve-‘askaneha (Tel Aviv, [1939]); Asaf Kaniel, “Ha-Mizraḥi be-Polin ben shete milḥamot ha-‘olam” (Ph.D. diss., Bar Ilan University, 2004).



Translated from Hebrew by Carrie Friedman-Cohen