Among the Chabad nigunim in the online archive are two sung by a Mendel Berlin who heard it from his grandfather “Reb Zalman.” Do we know who they were?
By Anash.org staff
The story posted about the online archive of niggunim sung by Reb Shmuel Galperin, a”h made waves, and brought on much discussion about some of the other nigunim in the same collection.
One nigun that drew attention was the tune “Khabadnitse,” which is song #11 on CD#3. In age-old Chabad jargon, Chabadnitze is the nickname for the dedicated cheder sheni – side room – in Lubavitcher shuls where chassidim could daven at great length, b’avodah.
The one singing the tune is “Mendel Berlin” and he is singing a tune sung by his zeide “Reb Zalman.”
Who is Mendel Berlin and who was his zeide Reb Zalman?
At first, some thought that Mendel Berlin must be related to Reb Shaya Berlin, son-in-law of Reb Schneur, the son of Reb Nochum, the son of the Mitteler Rebbe. Reb Shaya was also a grandson of the Tzemach Tzedek, since his mother-in-law, Roda Freida, was the Tzemach Tzedek’s daughter. Reb Shaya was a great gevir and was a major supporter of the Rebbe Rashab’s public projects.
However, Reb Shaya passed away on 12 Tammuz 5668/1908 and, sadly, did not have any children. Thus, Mendel Berlin could not have been his descendant.
However, we do know of a Mendel Berlin, who was Reb Shaya’s wife’s nephew and an adopted eynikel. This Mendle Berlin’s maternal grandfather was a prominent chossid by the name of Schneur Zalman – Reb Schneur Zalman Fradkin, author of the responsa Toras Chesed.
The “Toras Chesed,” as he is known, was one of the great chassidim of the Tzemach Tzedek. He was a great gaon known for his phenomenal memory. He was known as “Reb Schneur Zalman Liadier,” since he originated from Liadi, though he later became the rov in the prestigious communities of Polotsk and Lublin.
In 5652/1892, Reb Schneur Zalman moved to Eretz Yisroel and established a chassidishe Beis Din there. For a short while, he also accepted a rabbonus in Yerushalayim. He passed away on 5 Nissan, 5662/1902, and is buried in the Chabad chelkah (section) on Har HaZeisim.
According to genealogical websites, Mendel Berlin was born in 5644/7884 and was therefore only 8 years old when his zeide moved to Eretz Yisroel in 5652/1892. It’s nonetheless plausible that he heard it as a young child and remembered it or he heard it from his parents who heard it from his zeide.
Some may challenge that this Mendel Berlin lived in Riga and then London. However, this recording has no location marked, so it may not have been recorded in the shtetlach as the other recordings. So it may very well be that the one singing is Mendel Berlin, grandson of the Toras Chesed, and he is singing his illustrious grandfather’s nigun.
One reader brought to our attention that there was a shochet in Shventzyan near Vilna named Reb Moshe Mendel Berlin. In fact, Reb Shmuel Dovid Raichik mentions him as being of assistance to the Otvotzker Bochurim who were escaping the Nazis and were on the way to Vilna in late 1939/5700. Was he the singer perhaps? Did the An-ski research even reach those areas?
What do you think? Please contribute to the discussion in the comment box below.
Listen to the nigunin:
11. Khabadnitse 0:34
A tune without words. Performed by Mendl Berlin, 56. The performer heard this melody from his grandfather, Rabbi Shneur. The place and date of the recording are unknown [1910-1920’s]. Cylinder #1165/1.
12. Redele 0:20
A round dance. Performed by Mendl Berlin, 56. The performer heard this melody from his grandfather, Rabbi Shneur. The place and date of the recording are unknown [1910-1920’s]. Cylinder #1165/2.