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Family of Rabbi Yosef Zundel Salanter, The

By Chaim Freedman, 2005

Study and comparison of the 1765 and 1784 census of the Jewish community in Salant, Lithuania reveals the family of the famous Rabbi Yosef Zundel Salanter and provides the name of a previously unknown ancestor.

Rabbi Yosef Zundel (better known as simply Zundel) Salanter was born in 1786 in Salant. Little is known of his antecedents [1]. He was descended from a rabbi of Vilna, Fayvush Ashkenazy (late 17th early 18th century) and his father was Benyamin Beinush, a scholar of Salant, who served there as a shokhet and cantor. Rabbi Yosef Zundel provided the spiritual inspiration for his most famous student, Rabbi Yisrael (Lipkin) Salanter (1810-1883), the founder of the Mussar Movement. Rabbi Yosef Zundel settled in Jerusalem in 1837 where he functioned as one of the leaders of the Ashkenazi community. His son-in-law Rabbi Shmuel Salant became Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. Rabbi Yosef Zundel died in 1866 and was buried on the Mount of Olives.

Since Yosef Zundel was born in 1786, he would not be expected to appear on the 1784 census. There is a Beniamin who appears on the 1784 census, but without corroborating information he cannot be clearly identified as Yosef Zundel’s father.

This evidence is found in the 1765 census where the last entry is:

Kantor Zundel y Zona

  Syn Aron y Zona

  Syn Beniasza y Faywus.


  Cantor Zundel and his wife.

  Son Aron and his wife

  Sons Beniasha and Faywus.

Since Rabbi Yosef Zundel’s father, Rabbi Benyamin Beinush was cantor in Salant, and since the family was descended from Rabbi Fayvush Ashkenazy, the correlation of the personal names indicates that this is the family of Rabbi Yosef Zundel Salanter (not born at the time). Furthermore it seems likely that Rabbi Yosef Zundel (born in 1786) was named after his grandfather “Cantor Zundel” and that the latter’s son on the 1765 list, Beniash, since he also became cantor in Salant, apparently followed his father in that occupation.

Given the presence of Beniash in the 1765 census, it would be expected that he appear on the 1784 census. On that census appears: 

Zyd Beniamin zona Pese.


 Jew Beniamin and wife Pese.

Note that the names Benyamin/Beniamin and Beinash/ Beinush are couplet names which may be recorded separately as in these two census lists.

In order to confirm whether Beniamin of the 1784 list is the same person as Beniash of the 1765 list, and that he was the father of Rabbi Yosef Zundel Salanter, it is necessary to ascertain what the name was of Rabbi Yosef Zundel’s mother. That appears in a biography of Yosef Zundel [2] which gives her name as Pese, the same name as the wife of Beniamin who appears on the 1784 census.

So the overlap of information in the 1765 and 1784 census, with known biographical information about Rabbi Yosef Zundel Salanter, not only enables the identification of his parents in the 1784 census, but provides previously unknown information: that his grandfather was also called Zundel and that he was a cantor in Salant (like his son Beniamin), and that Rabbi Yosef Zundel’s father had two brothers Aron and Fayvush.

Since Yosef Zundel was born in 1786 his namesake grandfather would be expected to be dead by that date. Was he dead at the time of the 1784 census? There was one Zundel in the 1784 census who appears as the son-in-law of a widow Leie. But there is no supporting information to establish whether this was the grandfather of Yosef Zundel. If he was, another person in the family might be identifiable, namely Yosef Zundel’s great-grandmother Leie.

Since two uncles of Yosef Zundel, Aron and Faywus, appear in the 1765 census, they may appear also in 1784 with their families.

In the 1784 census appears: 

   Fifth house: Feywiz, son-in-law Ayzyk and his wife Gitka, and:

  Jew Orel and his wife Leie (Orel is a form of Aron).

These are the only heads of households bearing the names of Yosef Zundel’s uncles, but that is insufficient evidence to identify them as such.

Perhaps the 1795 and 1816 census may add more information about this family.

[1] “Musar Movement” Katz, Dov, 1945; English Edition translated by Oschry Leonard, Tel Aviv, Israel 1975. Pages 114-115.

[2] “Toldot Rabi Yosef Zundel from Salant” Rivlin, Eliezer, Jerusalem 1927, reprinted 1983, page 3.

about the author
Chaim Freedman

Chaim Freedman’s family originated in the Raseiniai district of Lithuania. David Hoffman coordinated the Raseiniai researchers for the LitvakSIG and they developed a collegial relationship over several years. Hoffman accumulated documentation about his family’s oral tradition of a relationship to the Vilna Gaon. He discussed this with Chaim Freedman, who was studying the family of the Gaon. Freedman became very supportive of Hoffman’s efforts to obtain early 19th century Russian Empire revision lists and 1784 and 1765 censuses from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Together they traced some lines of their families back to the 18th century.