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Rabbi Shimon Huberband, "On Religious Life"

On Religious Life
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw

Soon after its establishment by German authorities in October of 1940, the Warsaw ghetto emerged as an important site of Jewish life in occupied Europe. Working under extremely difficult conditions, the organizers of the secret Oyneg Shabes archive collected information on the culture, religion, and history of the ghetto. One key contributor was a young rabbi and scholar from the Kielce district of Poland named Shimon Huberband.1

Before the war, Huberband had made a name for himself as an essayist and researcher, founding the Society for Jewish Science and lecturing on Jewish history in the city of Piotrków Trybunalski. Huberband moved to Warsaw after his wife and child were killed in an air raid during the 1939 German invasion of Poland. There he joined the work of Emanuel Ringelblum and others, collecting testimonials from residents of the ghetto and carefully documenting Jewish rituals and folkways. Ringelblum also tasked Huberband with composing a study of Jewish legal practice among the rabbis of Poland.2 He managed to write only the first section, which was published after the war.3 

As a rabbi, the pious Huberband was an anomaly among the largely secular activists of Oyneg Shabes. Indeed, his unique contribution to the archive stems from his deep interest in topics related to Judaism. Yet Huberband’s compositions—covering topics as diverse as Jewish relics, holidays, and dialect—also bear the mark of a determined scholar. His writing style is restrained and descriptive, and he avoids personal interpretation or emotion. For example, Huberband's accounts of the Hasidim and their rebbes4 in the Warsaw ghetto do not share the flattering tone often adopted by religious Jewish authors writing about Jewish religious leaders.5  

The accompanying document is a brief outline Huberband created, apparently as the apparent basis for a longer, detailed study on the religious customs and practices of Jewish inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto. Only parts of the planned work survived—the remainder was either never produced or was lost during the destruction of the ghetto following the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Unearthed after the war in a cache of documents, publications, and artifacts compiled by Oyneg Shabes, Huberband’s tattered and stained outline describes some of the clothing and customs particular to Warsaw's Jews and testifies to the devastation of the community. 

While a handful of Huberband's scholarly works remain available for study, the rabbi himself was deported from the ghetto in the summer of 1942 and was killed in Treblinka.

For more on Rabbi Huberband and the Oyneg Shabes archive, see: Samuel D. Kassow, Who Will Write our History? Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2007). See also Shimon Huberband, Kiddush Hashem: Religious and Cultural Life in Poland During the Holocaust, Jeffrey S. Gurock and Robert S. Hirt, eds. (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 1987). 

The subject of this study was Responsa, a term referring to questions about Jewish law and practice sent to rabbis, to which they composed answers advising the writers.

Huberband was also responsible for transferring the writings of Rebbe Kalonymus Kalman Shapira to the Oyneg Shabes archive. See the related item in this collection Rebbe Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, Sermon for Chanuka 1941.


Hasidism is a Jewish religious sect that appeared during the 18th century in eastern Europe. Hasidim, the followers of Hasidism, are organized in individual sects that are each headed by its own leader, a rebbe. A rebbe is considered a spiritual authority. 

See Kassow, Who Will Write our History, 167-168. For more on Huberband’s work, see Lea Prais, “An Unknown Chronicle: From the Literary Legacy of Rabbi Shimon Huberband – Warsaw Ghetto, May-June 1942," Yad Vashem Studies 38, Jerusalem (2010): 61-104. 

Study houses.

Quorum of ten men required for public worship.


Torah scrolls.

Hasidic leaders.

Gathering of Hasidim.

Petition to a rebbe.

“Third Meal” eaten on Sabbath.

Meal after Sabbath.

Rabbinic court.

Wedding canopy.

 Symbolic sale of business to non-Jew during Sabbath.

Symbolic sale of Chametz to non-Jew during Passover.

Leavened bread products forbidden during Passover.

Fur hats.

Redemption of the first born (payment).


Readings from Talmud.


Ritual bath.

Laws of family purity.

Citron: fruit eaten during Sukkos.

Preparation of the body.

 A practice whereby Yeshiva students have their meals provided for them by a different family every day.

Religious community.

 Organization for aid of children and orphans.

 Lit: “Sanctifying of God’s name,” used in Yiddish to refer to martyrdom.

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On Religious Life

1. Praying – Synagogues, batei midrash,1 prayer houses, alone, gathering people for minyanim,2 nedarim.3

2. Sifrei Torah4 – torn and damaged.

3. Rebbes5 – Hassidic practices, tishn,6 kvitlekh,7 shalosh seudot.8 melave-malka.9

4. Rabbisdin Torah,10 chuppahs,11 divorces, shtar mechira12 (Sabbath), shtar mechira13 (Chametz14), questions.

5. Legal Status of Rabbis – Marriage certificates, birth certificates, registrations.

6. Beards – cut, burned, punishments for beards.

7. Clothing – changing of traditional long attire and Jewish headwear for European clothing. silk gabardines, Shtreymlekh,15 and women’s wigs.  

8. Celebrations – how are weddings celebrated, circumcisions, bar mitzvahs, pidyon haben.16

9. Torahchevra Shas,17 mishnayot18 […] reciting tehilim.19

10. Mikvot20taharat-hamishpachah,21 […], travelling to neighbouring towns, the Vistula, opening up the mikvot.

11. Ritual slaughter – slaughter of poultry, […] in houses, attics, cellars, outside of the ghetto, […]. 

12. Ethrogim22 – in 1940, in […]. 

13. Matzos – in 1940, in […]. 

14. Cemeteries – Taharah,23 funeral shrouds, burials on the Sabbath and on holidays, burial of women and men together, leaving bodies unburied.

15. HolidaysRosh-Hashanah, Yom-[Kippur], Sukkoth, Passover, Tisha-b’av, Shavuoth, in year 1940 and 1941.

16. School system – cheders, yeshivas, young men studying in prayer houses, esn teg,24 […].

17. Observing the Sabbath – Religious Jews profaning the Sabbath, reasons, profaning the Sabbath in the open, according to the rules, and in practice. 

18. Life for the provincial rabbis in Warsaw  –  subsidising the rabbis, events concerning the subsidising of rabbis. 

19. Ritual soup kitchens

20. Religious sectors – in […], kehilla,25 Leszno 13, “Tsentos”.26


Kidush hashem27

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Institute, Warsaw
RG Number 15.079M
Date Created
Author / Creator
Shimon Huberband
Warsaw, Poland
Document Type Manuscript
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