The Melody of Modzits




obj2239geo1735pg57p9MODZITZ occupies a high place in the History of Chassidic musicology. What Chabad did for the philosophy of Chassidism, Modzitz did for its music. The Founder of the Dynasty was Rabbi EZEKIEL of KIJZMIR (KAZIMIERZ) 1806-56. He was born in Plonsk, son of Zvi Hirsch, one of the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov. He died at the age of fifty, and wrote a commentary on the Pentatuch “NECHMOD MIZAHAV” (“More precious than gold”).

Rabbi EZEKIEL left four sons: one of these, Rabbi DAVID ZVI of Neustadt, the Founder of the Yablona Dynasty, followed the traditions of KOTZK, and paid little attention to music. The family tradition was maintained by Rabbi ELIJAH of ZWOLIN (1818-88) who was gifted with a fine voice. “The law of God is perfect”, he declared, “therefore melody, too, must be perfect. Great responsibility rests upon the singer. He has to prepare and purify himself most carefully. Nor should he deviate one iota from the song, lest he transgress the precept ‘Thou shalt not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it’ ” (Deut. 4:2).

All the five sons of Rabbi Samuel Elijah were music – lovers: the eldest, Rabbi MOSES AARON (1837-1918) succeeded his father, but made his home in Nubi Debar. Another son, Rabbi CHAYIM YERACHMIEL TAUB, studied under Rabbi JOAB-JOSHUAH WEINGARTEN of KINSK, and eventually settled in Warsaw, at sixteen Pavia Street. He composed many subtle melodies. His father, Samuel Elijah, was his musical mentor, and would lead the prayers during the High Holidays. Samuel Elijah remarked that ‘throughout the year he was sustained by the pleasure he had derived from his son’s prayers on the Days of Awe’.. The inspired Cantor rarely concluded Musaph before 5. 30 p.m., for he was apt to lose all sense of time when he sang before his Heavenly Father.

The baton of Rabbi Ezekiel, however, fell to Rabbi Israel (born 1849). Even as a young child, he had been musically inclined. At the age of fourteen, he married the daughter of one of the most outstanding Baalei T’fillot of Poland, Chaim Shaul Freedman of Ozarow, and for the next fifteen years lived with his parents-in-law, devoting all his time to intensive study.

In his work “Divrei Yisrael” (“Words of Israel”), Rabbi Israel devotes a lengthy excursus to music. “They say”, he writes, “that the Temple of Song is adjacent to the Temple of Repentance. I say that the Temple of Music is the Temple of Repentance”. He likened the seven tones of the musical scale to the seven spheres in the Cabbalistic Theory of Creation and to the seven days of the week.

Rabbi Israel lived in Modzitz for twenty years, attracting followers from far and wide. In 1913, he fell dangerously ill and one of his legs was amputated in Berlin. Pain did not extinguish his fiery spirit, nor crush the music of his soul. On the operating table, he composed a soaring song known as “EZKEROH” – l will remember and pour my soul within me’ –, and what the “Rabbi’s Song” was to Chassidim of Lubavitch, “EZKEROH” became to the Chassidim of Modzitz. The surgeons marvelled at the composure of their venerable patient. “In the next room”, the surgeon, Professor James Adolf Israel (1848-1926) remarked, “I have a patient who is a Cabinet Minister: he moans and complains constantly. I said to him: “You ought to be ashamed of yourself. I have here an aged Rabbi, and whenever he is in pain, he sings”. In 1914, Rabbi Israel settled in Warsaw, and died seven years later.

The next in the line of the Modzizer melody-makers, was Rabbi Israel’s son, Rabbi Shaul Yedidiah Taub, who was born at Ozarow in 1887. Rabbi Taub received no formal grounding in the rudiments of musical theory, yet there was music in his veins. Maskillim as well as Chassidim, Cantors from all over Poland, music lovers, Jew and Gentile, flocked to Otwock to listen to the compositions of this untutored genius. What other Rabbis achieved through scholarship, Rabbi Taub achieved through music. He is said to have composed more than seven hundred melodies.

He narrowly escaped the Holocaust, journeying via Siberia and Japan to the United States. Rabbi Taub could not, however, resist the call of the Holy Land, which he had visited in 1925, 1935, and 1938. There, he settled in 1947, but was not destined to live there very long. He died on November 29th, 1947, on the day the United Nations passed a Resolution prescribing the Partition of Palestine into a Jewish / Arab State, and the internationalisation of Jerusalem. He was the last person to be interred on the Mount of Olives in 1947.

His son, Rabbi Shaul Yedidiah Eliezer Taub, lives at 36 Rehov Diezengoff in Tel Aviv. He was born in Lublin in 1905, and settled in Tel Aviv in 1935, and was for a time a Member of the Tel Aviv Rabbinate. Rabbi Tarb, author of five hundred melodies, has published “lmrei Shaul” (“Words of Saul”), discourses by his great father. Though an Israeli, he keeps the SECOND HAKAFOT (the night after Shruini Azeret), “If our fellow Jews in the Diaspora are celebrating, we should, and must participate in their joy”. The sixth circuit of the HAKAFOT (OZER DALIM) he dedicates to the memory of the ‘Six Million Jews’. Lights are dimmed and special melodies are sung. Chassidim in the Land of Israel are endeavouring to lead people back to the principles preached by the great teachers of Israel.

(From: Cantors’ Review, September 1972)