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Rev. Wolf Brin in Chicago

Although Wolf Brin reported in the 1910 US Census that he was a retail merchant running a grocery store in Chicago, by the time of the 1920 Census he reports that he was a ‘Reverend’ (his tombstone contains that appellation) but gives no further details. Sandra Bonar has clarified this vague description, stating that Wolf was a shochet and a mohel (moyel). In any case, it seems clear that Wolf Brin received a traditional Jewish education in Biržai attending Heder, a purely religious school in which secular subjects were not admitted.

In his extensive article on the Jews of Birzai during the years prior to WW II, Yosef Rosin reports the following:

Most of Biržai Jews were Mithnagdim (middle of the road Orthodox Jews opposed to the Hassadim and to Enlightened Jewry) who maintained two Beth-Midrasim. There was also one Synagogue, two Klois (prayer houses): one of the shoemakers the other of the  Shamashim (caretakers of prayer houses). In addition, the Hasidim who had their own prayer house as well as several Minyanim, among them one of Chabad and another of Po’alei Tsedek.

Jewish children had the choice of studying among the various existing schools: the Hebrew Tarbuth school with about 180 pupils, the religious Yavneh school with about 40 pupils, several Chadarim, or in the Yeshivah which was not established until the 1930s  by the local rabbis. There was also a Jewish Kindergarten with about 30 children. A branch of the Yiddish Culture League operated a library with about 300 books, but with only 40 subscribers.

In a word, during his Chicago years Wolf Brin, was responsible for the Shechita, the ancient practice for ritual slaughter of meat, specifically meat destined for consumption in the Jewish homes in his community. As a shochet, Wolf followed the tractates of slaughter as set forth in the Torah. Drawing a Hallaf long thin knife of extraordinary sharpness) across the animal’s throat and allowing the blood to drain out of the animal so treated, was a procedure which stood in direct opposition to the inhumane methods usually applied at the meat packing houses in Chicago (meat packing capital of the US at the time). Indeed, in ritual slaughter it is actually the animal who, in conjunction with the Diety, is being thanked for giving up his life, so that humans might partake of its flesh.

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Shechita: the ancient practice of ritual slaughter

But how did Wolf enter this profession? Only a Jew specially trained for Shechita can perform the rite. He is required to study for a number of years and then is examined in theory and practice, in the laws of shechita, animal anatomy and pathology. He serves an apprenticeship with an experienced shochet before becoming fully qualified. The position of shochet, as a God-fearing person of integrity, is a respected one in the Jewish community.

That Wolf could read and write Hebrew with ease is well attested. So, it would simply have been a matter of putting in his apprenticeship and passing the appropriate exams in the US monitored by the rabbinate, in order to for him become a shochet.

But then the question arises, for what reason did Wolf own a Sefer Torah, since he led no congregation of his own. Was it a present, or did he purchase this expensive scroll (c.$30,000 in today’s market) with his earnings?

It so happens that The Rabbis count among the mandatory precepts incumbent upon every Jewish male the obligation to write a copy of the Torah for his personal use. The passage: “Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach it the children of Israel” (Deut. xxxi. 19) is interpreted as referring to the whole Torah, wherein “this song” is included. One who is unable to write the scroll himself should hire a scribe to write it for him; or if he purchases a scroll he should have it examined by a competent Sofer. If a Jew inherits a scroll it is his duty to write or have written another. He must not sell his copy, even in dire distress, except for the purpose of paying his teacher’s fee or of defraying his own marriage expenses. Clearly then, Wolf was following the letter of the law when he purchased his personal Sefer Torah.

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Rev. Wolf Brin, his wife Jennie Snyder, and their 6 children c. 1910. Wolf was a retail merchant who ran a grocery store in Chicago. In addition, he was a shochet L-R: Sarah, Hanna, Wolf, Edith, Celia, Leila, Jennie, and Rose.

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The Brin Family: 1910 Census for Chicago, IL: Celia was born in Birzai, Imperial Russia; Rose, Sarah, and Hanna in Philadelphia PA; and Leila and Edybell (Edith) in Cleveland, Ohio where Wolf had a sister who married a relative of the Ellerin Family.

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Photograph of Jennie Brin taken in Atlantic City, NJ at The PEOPLE’S STUDIO located on the Boardwalk.

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Jennie with a number of her grandchildren in Chicago

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