Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

One in a Thousand

Dr. Pearl Herzog

When Rebbetzin Sarah Bayla Hirschenson arrived in Eretz Yisrael in the mid-1800s, she found desolation. With tenacity, ingenuity, and wisdom, she helped bring both spiritual and material sustenance to the people of theHoly Land.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

jerusalem “Ask Sarah Bayla” — it was an oft-repeated refrain during Rebbetzin Sarah Bayla Hirschenson’s lifetime. Whenever help was needed, she was there.

Born in Pinsk, Belarus, in 1816, Sarah Bayla earned acclaim for her innovative thinking, helped her husband establish yeshivos in Tzfas and Jerusalem, brought Jews back to Yiddishkeit, and hosted yeshivah bochurim and dignitaries alike.

A magnetic personality, Sarah Bayla also stepped in when intervention was needed between Jews and government officials in Eretz Yisrael, especially when tension arose because of the expansion of the Jewish community. The mother of two was the first Ashkenazic woman of her time to learn Arabic, giving her a unique ability to resolve disputes with local Arabs.

It is perhaps no wonder then that Rav Shmuel Salant, Jerusalem’s chief rabbi at the time, would stand up for Sarah Bayla when she entered his presence.


A Home of Torah

Sarah Bayla’s family tree is a veritable “who’s who” of Torah giants. She was a descendant of Rav Shlomo Luria, as well as Rav Yechiel Shlomo Heilprin, chief rabbi and rosh yeshivah in Minsk and author of Seder HaDoros. Her family was related to the Vilna Gaon and Rav Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor, as well.

Her father, Rabbi Yehudah Leib, was a venerated talmid chacham. Known for his generosity, he was a trustee of the philanthropies of the two wealthiest men inPinsk — Shaul Karliner Levin and Moshe Yitzchak Levin — who were known as the “Rothschilds of Pinsk.” (See sidebar)

From an early age, Sarah Bayla was given a complete Torah education. Like other girls at the time, she studied Menoras HaMaor, Tzenah Ure’enah, Nachlas Tzvi, and Nefet Tzufim. In addition, she was taught Tanach, Pirkei Avos, Chovos HaLevavos, and Sefer HaKuzari of Rav Yehudah HaLevi.

In those days, shidduchim were made at a very young age and Sarah Bayla’s husband —Rabbi Yaakov Mordechai — was handpicked by her father when he was only nine years old. Even as a small child, Yaakov Mordechai, an orphan, was known as an illuy. To encourage the boy’s growth in Torah, Rabbi Yehudah Leib engaged the services of a private rebbi — Rabbi Yaakov Meir ofPadua — and then sent him for a number of years to the yeshivah of Brisk.

Upon his return, Yaakov Mordechai married Sarah Bayla. After shanah rishonah, Sarah Bayla, following in the footsteps of Rabi Akiva’s wife Rachel, urged her husband to continue learning in Brisk while she remained inPinsk.

By the time he came back home, Yaakov Mordechai was acclaimed as a distinguished scholar and was offered rabbinic posts from large cities inRussia. He demurred because he did not want to uproot Sarah Bayla, who was active inPinsk’s charities and her father’s affairs. He chose, instead, to head the yeshivah inPinsk. Still, his fame spread rapidly.


To read the rest of this story, please buy this issue of Mishpacha or sign up for a weekly subscription.

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

Top-Down Theory
Shoshana Friedman Our true currency, the accomplishments we value most
Strive for What Binds Us
Yonoson Rosenblum The chareidi community represents something of an oasis
Embracing Victimhood
Eytan Kobre Combating the allure of victimhood
The Kids Are Going to Camp, the Parents Are Going Broke
Miriam Klein Adelman Mindy has to feel good; it doesn’t matter that I feel ba...
Work/Life Solutions with Carlos Wigle
Moe Mernick “Rejection is Hashem’s protection” 
How to Create a Simple 900-Page Novel
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman All of us can reset the titles of our own lives
Stand There or Do Something
Baruch S. Fertel, MD, MPA, FACEP It’s called collaborative care, and it works miracles
I'm Here — Are You Ready?
Riki Goldstein Upbeat and catchy, but still makes listeners think
Back in Time
Riki Goldstein "I wish I could recapture that excitement"
Mixed Messages
Riki Goldstein The unsung craftsmen who give albums their special touch
Go in Peace
Faigy Peritzman Inner peace makes us vessels for blessing
All Work and No Play
Sarah Chana Radcliffe A life only about doing your duties loses all its color
Dying to Believe
With Rav Moshe Wolfson, written by Baila Vorhand Emunah peshutah is the force behind Jewish continuity