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Gitele the gabete part 2: how Gitele became known as the Koriv 'angel'

Updated: Dec 29, 2022

Continued translation from Rabbi Tuviah Gutman Rapoport's 'Biography of a generation' in the Koriv Yizkor Book. See part 1 for a description of how Gitele measured the Koriv cemetery.

How Gitele attained the name ‘malekhte

Gitele rose to the rank of ‘angel’ as the result of something very different. In Koriv, like in all other small shtetls, fires used to break out almost every summer, and in those days fire extinguishers were still unheard of. People would grab buckets, cans, whatever they could get their hands on and run to the pump, to the well, sometimes even to the mikve [ritual bath], and with these vessels they put out the fire. The only ‘rescue service’ was a barrel of water which in summertime stood by the administrative office in the square (sometimes it was also empty), with a hose (we called it ‘the shpritser – the sprayer or fire hose.’) But before the barrel and hose could arrive at the scene, half the shtetl would already be aflame. However, as soon as Gitele became a koriverin, [i.e. settled in Koriv] the fires stopped. For a whole ten years, there was not a single fire in Koriv. And this (so all the women believed) was by virtue of Gitele the angel, who added to her daily prayers an ‘extra tefile’ [prayer], which protected the town from fire.

Gitele the malkehte leaves Koriv, and calamity strikes immediately

Once it happened that Gitele the malekhte travelled to Vonvolits (Wawolnica) to visit her parents’ graves. And what do you know, the very next day after she left town, a fire broke out and almost half of Koriv burned down. (I remember how my mother, may she rest in peace, the clever Matele, often spoke of that fire, and doing so said with certainty ‘It was really such bad luck. If Gitele hadn’t left, the fire definitely would not have happened.’)

Gitele was the women’s rebe and the men made fun of her

From the stories about the great fire I heard told in the synagogue in my childhood years, Gitele was only an angel and a rebe [title given to a Hasidic leader] in the women’s section. The men, especially the Hasidic Jews, cracked jokes at the expense of the women’s rebe. They even knew some of her prayers, that is to say, every day when she prayed in the women’s section of the synagogue, the men would eavesdrop, and heard that when she came to the tfile [prayer, in modern hebrew 'tefilah']eyzehu mekoymon shel zvokhim – what is the location of the sacrifices’[1] and she reached the words ‘porim hanisrofim usirim hanisrofim – [regarding] the bulls and goats that are burned’[2] she would immediately add [in Yiddish], ‘Raboyne shel Oylem, vos s’iz geven, iz shoyn geven, ober fun haynt on un vayter zoln shoyn kholile azoyne sreyfes nisht geshen – Master of the universe, what’s done is done, but from today on may no further such fires – God forbid – occur.’

But who cares what those Koriv smart-alecks might have come up with? As it is clearly written ‘There is no generation without scoffers’, and Gitele was and remained the Koriv women’s rebe and angel.

The arc, holding the Torah scrolls, in the Koriv synagogue where Gitele used to pray each day in the women's section, taken from the Koriv Yizkor Book cited below. The caption, which is difficult to read here says 'The arn koydesh in the Koriv shul, which was one of the oldest and most remarkable in Poland. Photographed in 1937 by the Parisian Jewish artist Y. Montshnik (murdered in the Holocaust) and Hersh Fenster. Sent to us by the Koriv artist L. Eichenrand (Paris.)

Translator’s notes

The prayers Gitele is described as reciting here, the fifth chapter of Zevakhim (Sacrifices) from the fifth order of the Mishnah, Kodshim (Holy things), was and still is recited by many Jews before Shacharit (morning prayers.) It deals with the laws of temple sacrifices, as they were once carried out by Israelite priests, and is thought to replace the sacrifices themselves which since the destruction of the temple are no longer practiced. The author does not seem to believe the stories he heard about her from men, who were intent on making fun of her so we can’t be sure whether she actually prayed in this way or whether it was made up. Either way – whether Gitele could and did actually recite these passages of Mishnah every morning, adding her own interpretation, or whether this was a story made up by men, perhaps to make fun of the way she would interpret holy texts – she was clearly a remarkably learned woman. Since women are, according to the Talmud, exempt from the requirement to pray at fixed times of the day, the fact that Gitele observed the mitsvah of morning prayer, and in the synagogue rather than at home, is already striking – as Rabbi Gutman Rapoport noted in the beginning of this passage (see my previous post) by emphasising the fact that she prayed communally.

In the section which follows this one, Rabbi Gutman Rapoport describes how Gitele formed a partnership with his grandmother, Beyle, distributing money donated by Beyle to poor women in Koriv. It is perhaps because of activities like this that he first described Gitele as a ‘Gabete’ – a community functionary. It is also possible that she was known as ‘Gabete’ because her deceased husband had been a Gabe (the more common male title, in modern Hebrew Gabbai) – but there is no evidence to suggest this, and it seems like Gitele may have been one of the rare women who earned the title ‘Gabete’ on her own merit, and not simply because she was the wife of a Gabe. [1] From the Mishnah, Zevachim 5, 1. [2] Zevachim 5, 2.

Source: Yizker-bukh Ḳoriṿ = Sefer yizḳor, matsevet-zikaron le-ayaratenu Ḳoriv = Izkor book, in memoriam of our home-town Kurów. Tel-Aviv : Irgun Yotsʼe Ḳoriv in Yisroel, 1955.

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