Zemba, Menahem

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ZEMBA, MENAHEM (1883–1943), Polish rabbinical scholar. Zemba came from a poor ḥasidic family. While still a young man, he distinguished himself by his erudition in his approach to the study of the mishnayot and a freedom from pilpul for its own sake, which was prevalent in his time in Poland. He studied for 20 years, during which time he was supported by his wealthy father-in-law. On the death of his father-in-law (about 1917) Zemba was forced to take over the running of his business, but he was not successful and after years of hardship he agreed in 1935 to become a member of the Warsaw rabbinical council. Until then he had been active in the *Agudat Israel movement, was secretary of the Mo'eẓet Gedolei ha-Torah, and a member of the council of the Warsaw Jewish community. Zemba was one of the last Warsaw rabbis to remain in the ghetto after the first wave of extermination. At a meeting of its surviving leaders on January 14, 1943, he gave rabbinic approval for the uprising. In an inspiring address, he stated: "Of necessity, we must resist the enemy on all fronts.… We shall no longer heed his instructions…. Sanctification of the Divine Name manifests itself in varied ways. During the First Crusade, at the end of the 11th century, the Halakhah … determined one way of reacting to the distress of the Franco-German Jews, whereas in the middle of the 20th century, during the liquidation of the Jews in Poland, it prompts us to react in an entirely different manner. In the past, during religious persecution, we were required by the law 'to give up our lives even for the least essential practice.' In the present, however, when we are faced by an arch foe, whose unparalleled ruthlessness and program of total annihilation know no bounds, the Halakhah demands that we fight and resist to the very end with unequaled determination and valor for the sake of Sanctification of the Divine Name." On the eve of the revolt, Catholic circles offered their assistance to save the three remaining rabbis of Warsaw, but Zemba gave a ruling against it and died a martyr's death in the ghetto.

Zemba's works acquired great renown among students since they were an unusual amalgam of the dialectical approach common in Poland and the logical and penetrating method of the Lithuanian yeshivot. He published Zera Avraham (1920), responsa dialogue with R. Abraham Luftbehr (son-in-law of R. *Meir Simḥah ha-Kohen of Dvinsk); Toẓe'ot Ḥayyim (1921) on the Law of carrying on the Sabbath; Oẓar ha-Sifri (1929), Oẓar ha-Sifra (1960), and a number of articles which appear in various collections. The manuscripts of many other important works were lost in the Holocaust. Among these were Menaḥem Yerushalayim, on the Jerusalem Talmud; Maḥazeh la-Melekh, on Maimonides; four volumes of responsa; and a volume of sermons and dialectics which he had prepared for press. Zemba's remains were reinterred in Jerusalem in 1958.


S. Rothstein, Rabbi Menaḥem Zemba (1948); O. Feuchtwanger, Righteous Lives (1965), 23–27; Elleh Ezkerah, 2 (1957), 38–51; A. Shurin, Keshet Gibborim (1969), 98–100; H. Seidman, Diary of the Warsaw Ghetto (1957), 281–5; I. Elfenbein, in: L. Jung (ed.), Guardians of Our Heritage (1958), 605–16; A. Rothkoff, in: Jewish Life (Nov.–Dec. 1969), 41–46.

[Aryeh-Leib Kalish]