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GITTELSON, BENJAMIN

GITTELSON, BENJAMIN (1853-1 Jan. 1932), rabbi and scholar, was born in Lithuania, son of Judah Leib Gittelson. He was descended from a long line of rabbis, but fatherless and impoverished, he wandered from town to town for charitable donations enabling him to receive a traditional yeshiva education. He became rabbi of Avanta in 1878, leaving in 1883 to become rabbi of Trashkun. He remained very poor, because the Jewish community was unable to pay an adequate salary. In 1890, Gittelson was asked to settle in Cleveland by the growing community of Lithuanian Jews in the city, becoming rabbi at Beth Hamidrosh Hagodol, serving that congregation until 1901. He then assumed the pulpit of Oer Chodosh Anshe Sfard and remained its rabbi until his death. Gittelson was a quiet, learned man who eschewed an active communal role among Cleveland's Orthodox Jews. However, his religious knowledge as Cleveland's first rabbinic scholar led him to become the spiritual authority for other small congregations, among these Ohave Emuna Anshe Russia, Shaari Torah, and Agudath Achim. Gittelson provided the community with responsa and discourses on Jewish law and custom. He published 2 scholarly works: Ha-Poteah ve-ha-Hotem (New York, 1898), a collection of Talmudic discourses, many given before Cleveland congregations; and Seder Haggada shel Pesah 'im Be'ur Nagid ve-Nafik (Jerusalem, 1904), a detailed commentary on the Passover Haggadah. Additionally, he wrote a commentary on the prayerbook that was never published. Gittelson married Celia "Sippa" Alenik while still in Lithuania. They had 12 children: Louis, Abraham David, Reuben, Rachel (Klein), Rose, Lena, Albert, Minnie (Broida), Jack, Nathan, Sarah, and Rebecca. He is buried in Cleveland's Lansing Cemetery.


Finding aid for the Congregation Oer Chodosh Anshe Sfard Records. WRHS.