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Responsa by Rabbis in Germany

Should a Public Fast Be Appointed?

Question: Hamburg, Sunday of the [Torah] Portion "And let them make me a Sanctuary" [Terumah], 5703 [1943].

To: The distinguished Rabbi in Berlin

I wish to tell you, Sir, what happened to us last week. During the winter we assemble to pray in one of the rooms in the Community House – and in this room there stands a cupboard in which there are two large Scrolls of the Law. We therefore brought a third, a smaller one, from the Synagogue, to exchange it. And when we looked at the small Scroll we saw that it had several imperfections, there were letters that had faded, erasures and corrections, and therefore we decided not to read from it in congregation. And when we took out another Scroll it happened, may the Merciful Lord Preserve us, that the small Scroll fell to the ground.

And now, according to the common custom we must declare a fast for all the people who were in the room and who saw what took place; and this matter touches upon another matter, which is this: the people who always or sometimes are concerned with the ritual cleansing and burying of the dead must try their souls [fast] on the eve of the New Moon before the month of Nisan , and in my humble view this is a great trial, especially so because some of these people are not in sufficient health. I thought to myself that perhaps the two fasts should be observed together on the eve of the New Moon referred to above.

I beg forgiveness that this time, too, I trouble you with my question. But what shall I do? For my people look to me, and I knew myself that I was not fit to instruct them, and particularly as long as the voice of the Torah is heard in our land, praise be to the Almighty, from the mouth of his honor, who is distinguished in the Torah .

Set down by Jacob Hacohen Katzenstein.

Reply: With God's help, Berlin, Wednesday in the week of the Portion of Terumah 5703.

We must not impose upon the people, on the contrary, because of and owing to the troubles and persecutions that are breaking our spirit – this is not the time to torture ourselves. For this reason it is to be preferred to be sparing with scourging and torture....

With respect
Your faithful servant
Michael Chaim Gescheit

Building a Mikveh [ritual bath]

With God's help, Hamburg, on the eve of the holy Sabbath [Thursday night], of the Portion "And I will show them the way" [ Yitro ], 5703.

To the Rabbi, our Teacher and Mentor, Rabbi Michael Chaim Dr. Gescheit, in Berlin.

Herewith I send a copy of a memorial scroll which I composed in honor of the Almighty and in praise of the people who labored and troubled on the building of the new mikveh , which has now been completed with the aid of Heaven, and this scroll has been hidden among the stones of the wall of the mikveh in order to fulfill the commandment "Let the stones cry out from the wall...."

To his Honor, the great scholar and outstanding rabbinical authority, Rabbi Jacob Katzenstein in Hamburg.

I received your esteemed letter of Thursday in the week of the Portion Yitro , together with the copy of the memorial document and I am indebted to your honored Excellence for much gratitude, for despite the sad contents I read your beautiful verses with great pleasure. We must assuredly mourn the shrinking of the Hamburg community, but it nevertheless remains a great city in Israel and, despite the very difficult conditions, its leaders carry out their duties as it is commanded. Through this service they will hasten the day when sons will return to the Land, and when you will inscribe on a stone plaque on the wall what you have now hidden between the stones of the wall, in order to tell future generations of the devotion of the spirit and courage of your heart at a time of trial and oppression.

It has also been an example for us, for what happened to you happened to us. The building in Raben Street, which housed our mikveh, has been sold, and we may perhaps be able to use its purification water for the present week...and may the Almighty open up for us soon wells of purification and the wells of salvation... Amen.

Your faithful servant,
Michael Chaim Gescheit

Source: "She'elot u-Teshuvoth ben Hamburg le Berlin " ("Responsa between Hamburg and Berlin"), Beth Jacob, Yarhon le-Inyene Hinuh, Sifrut u-Mahshava ("Monthly for Education, Literature and Philosophy"), No. 22 (1961), p. 23.

Source: Yad Vashem