Memory Lane: Reb Yissaschar Thau
Standing up for the Honor of Shabbos in 1922
On November 11, 1922, a letter appeared in the Yiddishes Taggeblat column “licht un shotten” (light and shadow) column in the paper, and it read as follows: “Chillul Shabbos at the construction of a Shul. When I recently passed by, with my son, in front of the new Temple…. (name omitted)… and my son witnessed as they are completing the temple, and the laborers are standing and working on Shabbos, my son asked me; ‘is this not a chillul Hashem, and would gentiles have allowed that work should take place at their church on a Sunday?!’
“I must admit that I did not know what to answer him. I have thus decided to inquire with the leaders of that temple through the intervention of the Taggeblat, since they [the leaders of the temple] most likely have an implicit acquiescence of this chillul Shabbos—and the broader public is entitled to hear their defense.
With great respect,
1501 48th Street, Brooklyn.
It is interesting to note that this address—the home of Mr. Thau—was later, and to this day, the residence of the Bobover Rebbe, at the corner of 48th Street and 15th Avenue.
So who was this man for whom the honor of Shabbos was so precious as to compel him to stage a public outcry—in Boro Park of 1922?
Mr. Thau was an exceptional philanthropist—a community elder, and generous patron of numerous institutions both in New York, in Eretz Yisroel, as well as for his landsleit back home.
He hailed from the shtetl of Zabłotów in Romania and when he arrived in the United States in 1899, he settled in a Tenement on the Lower East Side—like so many Jews from Eastern Europe who got their first taste of the goldene medinah in the squalor and the grime of the tenements. Tragedy struck the family soon after, when a daughter was lost to them in infancy.
He would go on to become very wealthy, evidently, his poverty during this era did not prevent him from community involvement. In 1900, he was among the founding committee of the “Rabbeini Mendel Hager Zoblotower organization for helping the sick” which purchased a plot on Mount Hebron Cemetery, and his name appears to this day on the fence surrounding it.
Thereafter he made his fortune in the lamp business, and his company, Mutual Sunset Lamp Manufacturing Company, which employed hundreds of people, was headquartered at the Empire State Building. This coincided with the interwar period, following WWI which ravaged hometown of Zabłotów. Thus we find related in the Zoblotower Yizkor book how Yissachar Thau spearheaded the efforts to build a school in Zoblotow, and how he raised huge sums of money for relief efforts. He remained a liaison to his old hometown, and would make frequent trips back home.
A grandson relates: “My mother died in a car accident when I was a boy—and my grandfather became an even more important part of my life. I would spend Shabbos at his home, when the scholars and community leaders would frequent his home.” It was due to this large role in his life that he kept the name Thau, so as to remain connected to his maternal grandfather whom he so admired.
This is the story of Yissachar Thau of Zabłotów and Borough Park, and it should come as no surprise that he merited descendants who are Shomrei Shabbos. They are, after all, following the example of their ancestor who stood up for the honor of Shabbos nearly a century ago, in Boro Park of yesteryear.