Researchers Discover the Census Records of One of the 18th Century’s Greatest Rabbis

After his ascension to the throne of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1764, Stanislaw Poniatowski—Poland’s last king and a former lover of Catherine the Great—enacted a series of reforms intended to modernize his country in the face of external threats and internal disorders. As part of these reforms, he organized the first national census that would include the Jewish population. Lithuanian archivists, combing through the census records, have recently found information about one of the foremost rabbis of the day. Yochai Ben-Ghedalia writes:

The census documents are scattered over the archives of all the various states whose territory was then part of the kingdom of Poland. . . . The Lithuanian State Historical Archives in Vilnius houses numerous censuses, including examples from the early 1760s, as well as later censuses, [including that] taken in Vilnius (then: Wilno) in 1765.

The census was arranged according to streets. A few pages are dedicated to one of the main streets of old Vilnius—Niemieckiej, now known as Vokiečių Street (both names mean “German Street”), an area highly populated by Jews at the time. On one of the pages dedicated to the right side of the street, we find one Eliasz Zelmanowiz, his wife Chana, his son Zelman, [and] his daughter Basia, as well as the servant Nachama. The name of the paternal head of the family, combined with the names of the other family members, reveals that we are dealing with Rabbi Elijah, son of Shlomo Zalman, better known as the Vilna Gaon.

The rabbi was forty-five years old at the time. He lived in Wilno and dedicated his life to the study of Torah, but did not serve in any official position in the community. Of his eight known children, only two are mentioned here. Some of them passed away as infants, others were not born yet, and two of the older girls may have been married at the time.

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Read more at The Librarians

More about: Lithuania, Polish Jewry, Vilna Gaon

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism