Nu? What's New?
The E-zine of Jewish Genealogy
Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 7, Number 1 | February 19, 2006

Chaim Freedman Stirs the Pot
There are some people with names not very familiar to the general Jewish genealogy community who have made significant contributions to genealogy and Jewish history. In the past I cited Peter Lande's contribution to improving record access at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The person I would like to cite in this issue is Chaim Freedman of Israel. Chaim has made a number of breakthroughs in the realm of rabbinic genealogy. He is a descendant of the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797) and has devoted a lifetime to researching the genealogy of this great scholar and his descendants. Avotaynu published in 1997 the results of his research in Eliyahu's Branches: The Descendants of the Vilna Gaon and His Family. It identifies more than 20,000 descendants of the Vilna Gaon. But the important part of the book is not the list of descendants. It is the introductory portion where Freedman conjectures about the genealogy of the Gaon's family (how many children did he have, the order of their birth, etc.). It is this scholarly portion of the book that is Freedman's contribution to Jewish history. Freedman has also found entries for the Gaon's household in the 1764, 1784 and 1795 censuses of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. It helped him understand the order in which the Gaon's children were born.

Now Freedman is stirring the pot in areas of rabbinic genealogy that were previously considered proven. He claims he now has evidence that the MaHaRaL of Prague (1525-1609) was not descended from King David in the manner previously believed for three centuries. He has disproved the accepted pedigree of the MaHaRaL by a method seemingly lacking in rabbinic genealogy: primary source evidence. Much of rabbinic genealogy is based on lore; information passed down from one generation to another. Freedman disproved the MaHaRaL line to King David by examining the tombstone of the MaHaRal's alleged great-great grandfather, Yehudah Leib (Liwai) Hazaken. Apparently the tombstone was misread three hundred years ago and the error has been perpetuated. Yehudah Leib Hazaken died in 1540 not 1440 and, therefore, was a contemporary of the MaHaRaL not an ancestor. Freedman's evidence will appear in the Spring issue of AVOTAYNU.

Another yichus (pedigree) Freedman is challenging is that the Jaffe family can trace its ancestry back to King David through Rashi. Freedman claims there is no convincing evidence. He believes that the confusion arose from a comment by Yosef Levinstein on page 154 of Ir Tehilah published in 1885 where he states that Yekhiel Mikhel Epstein was a son-in-law of Mordekhai Jaffe, known as the Levush, and that the son-in-law of Yekhiel-Mikhel (Avraham Heilprin) was a descendant of Rashi. But that does not mean that the Levush was descended from Rashi. This error was perpetuated in the Jewish Encyclopedia (Funk and Wagnalls, 1903). Freedman is also planning an article on this subject.

I still recall that shortly after Freedman published his opus on the family history of the Vilna Gaon, I was contacted by one of the recognized experts on rabbinic genealogy who challenged some of Freedman's claims. "On what basis did Freedman conclude such-and-such," implying the expert was very knowledgeable on all known lore about the Vilna Gaon. My answer was "birth records."

A Reunion of the Descendants of King David is planned for June 2007. Information can be found at Additional information about Eliyahu's Branches: The Descendants of the Vilna Gaon and His Family can be found at You can subscribe to AVOTAYNU at

International Institute of Jewish Genealogy Receives Warm Reception
The first press release of the newly founded International Institute of Jewish Genealogy has received considerable attention in the Israeli and Anglo-Jewish press. This response demonstrates the growing interest in genealogy in the worldwide Jewish community. Typical was the front-page article in Ha'Aretz, a leading Israeli newspaper. The article can be viewed at

Most of the experts invited to make presentations at the Institute's first academic symposium on Jewish genealogy priorities have accepted. This seminal event will be held September 11-13 on the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University. Some of the topics to be discussed include the status of Jewish genealogical research and research priorities in such areas as rabbinical genealogy, onomastics, migration studies, Internet and DNA research. Also planned are papers on the status of teaching Jewish genealogy at the university level, and certification in and standards for Jewish genealogy.

Details about the International Institute of Jewish Genealogy can be found in the previous edition of Nu? What's New? located at

Winter Issue of AVOTAYNU To Be Mailed Shortly
The Winter issue of AVOTAYNU is at the printer. It is our "Human Interest" issue containing many stories of how family history research affected the lives of genealogists or those they touch. This year there seems to be an unusually large number of interesting ones. Many are Holocaust related. My contribution to the issue is "Evelyne Reclaims Her Identity." It is about how I assisted a Hidden Child to find family--the descendants of an uncle she did not know existed until she was 67 years old. Howard Margol, one of the pioneers of modern Jewish genealogy, relates how his renown in the Lithuanian Jewish community helped unite a Holocaust survivor with American relatives. Other Holocaust-related stories are titled "A Brief Life Story," "Remembering a Life and Personalizing Genocide," "False Leads, False Hope: A Cautionary Tale" and "Pages of Testimony Reunite Family."

One of the more fascinating articles is called "An Incident in Lviv." Victor Armony, the son of Paul Armony, president of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Argentina, was invited recently to lecture at a symposium in Lviv, Ukraine. The lecturer before him was a Ukrainian who made some comments that caused Armony's interpreter to become very uncomfortable. From the poor translation and his recognition of the Ukrainian word for "Jew," it became obvious to Armony that the man was making anti-Semitic comments--blaming Ukraine's current woes on the Jews. How did young Armony handle the situation? Did he walk out in protest? Did he use his ignorance of the Ukrainian language to give the impression he did not understand what the man was saying? Read the article and find out his solution to the situation. What he did was typical of what I call the New Jew--the Jew that fights back--as opposed to the Old Jew whose response too often was "don't make waves." The Ukrainian audience's reaction to Armony's comments are also of interest.

If you do not subscribe to AVOTAYNU, information is available at

New from Stephen P. Morse
The Stephen P. Morse site at has added portals to the UK census for all years from 1851 to 1901 located at It already had portals to the 1901 and 1911 Canadian censuses. Also added is the use of the database of to find information about persons, usually living, such as birth dates, telephone numbers and addresses. It is in the "Births, Deaths and Other Vital Records" section of the site.

Canada and Australia Censuses Now Have Opt In Plan
Two countries that will be taking censuses of their population this year will have an option on the census form that authorizes the government to release the information at a future date. The Australian 2006 censuses would release the information after 99 years; the Canadian census would release the information after 92 years. Unfortunately, failure to check off the release would mean the data is kept confidential forever. In many countries, including the United States and Great Britain, census data is made available to the public unconditionally after a number of years. In the U.S. it is 72 years; in Great Britain it is after 100 years.

Write an Article for AVOTAYNU
Sallyann Amdur Sack, editor of our flagship journal AVOTAYNU: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy, is in constant contact with the people who regularly advance the knowledge and understanding of Jewish genealogy. But often it is the everyday hobbyist who has information worth sharing with the Jewish genealogy community. We are always looking for new, never-before- published authors to write an article for AVOTAYNU. If you discovered an unusual resource, developed a novel way to find information, found a good way to stimulate interest in family history or to bypass a dead end, share your findings by writing an article for AVOTAYNU. Articles are typically 1,000-4,000 words.

We have also created a new column called "Grain of Truth" that describes stories about unusual family legends. Genealogists all have had the experience of hearing a family story only to discover that sometimes the details are wrong, but there really was a grain of truth. Submissions to this column usually are short; no more than 1,000 words.

Submit your material to Dr. Sack at

Last Chance for AVOTAYNU on CD-ROM at Special Price
Next month, Avotaynu will release a new version of "AVOTAYNU on CD-ROM." It will contain all articles that have appeared in the journal from 1985 to 2005. In the past 22 years more than 2,000 articles of interest to persons tracing their Jewish family history have appeared. You can view the titles to these articles at

The regular price of "AVOTAYNU on CD-ROM" is $99.95 plus shipping. As a pre-publication offer, if you place an order before February 28, 2006, the price is only $75.00 plus shipping. If you do not subscribe to AVOTAYNU, there is a package offer of the CD plus a 2006 subscription to the journal for only $99.95. Take advantage of the package offer and we will include the Winter 2005 issue free of charge (it will also be on the CD).

The CD includes a powerful search engine that permits multiple word searches, Boolean (And/Or) functions, wildcard and proximity searches. This time-saving method of doing research allows searching for every occurrence of a particular town, surname, or research topic of interest in the more than 3 million words published in AVOTAYNU since 1985. Every result is displayed on the screen and a Print function allows you to print articles. If you have been a loyal AVOTAYNU subscriber for years, the CD will allow you to find those references you have missed, forgotten about, or merely scanned.

If you already own the 1996, 1999 or 2002 version of "AVOTAYNU on CD-ROM," you can upgrade at a special reduced rate. Just return your current copy to our office with a check (U.S. bank only) for $29.95 plus shipping, and we will send you the 2006 version. Current users outside the United States can pay with Visa or MasterCard.

Pre-publication purchasers will not be charged until the CD is shipped. Current users of "AVOTAYNU on CD-ROM" should hold onto their CD until we announce the availability of the new version.

Order the CD at

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