Lithuania - Soloveitchik Brothers with Same Given Name #lithuania

Perry Shorris

My fourth-great-grandfather was Movsha Shames, and Lithuanian records indicate that his brother was Meyer Soloveitchik - part of the rabbinic dynasty. One of Meyer’s brothers was Moshe Soloveitchik, the rabbi of Kovno in the late 1700s. My understanding is that “Movsha” and “Moshe” are essentially the same name. Could Movsha Shames and Moshe Soloveitchik been brothers, given the normal Ashkenazi tradition of not giving brothers the same given name?


I am trying to understand the situation. Are you saying that there are two men, who you think are brothers, one of whom has the last name Shames and the other Soloveichik? This seems very unusual, although there are situations in which this may be true. I have considered several situations according to the information you already presented, but my thoughts are mostly conjecture, because I think there is very little information presented, and it would help to know all the details available to you, including the specific names, dates, places, events, documents that mentions these data, and the exact quotations made in the available documents that present the information.

Perry Shorris

Thanks for the response.  I am not troubled by the different surnames.  In the late 18th century, when surnames were a new phenomenon for Jews in Lithuania due to laws that had been passed, it was not uncommon for siblings to take different surnames.  My concern is the given names - two “brothers” with essentially the same given name.  The 1834 Revision list identifies my fourth-great-grandfather as the brother of Meyer Soloveitchik and son if Itsik.  The listing contains a specific note - “brother of Meyer Soloveitchik.”. Meyer Soloveitchik was indeed the son of Yitzhak, seemingly cooborating the notation that Movsha Shames was the son of Yitzhak.  We know that Meyer Soloveitchik was also the brother of Moshe Soloveitchik, rabbi of Kovno in the late 1700s.  Putting this all together suggests that Movsha Shames and Moshe Soloveitchik were brothers.  So my question comes back to the Ashkenazi practice of not giving siblings the same given name - is there an explanation for Movsha Shames and Moshe Soloveitchik being actual brothers, or is there another twist - i.e., they were half-brothers, or Movsha Shames was adopted and/or a foster child, etc.

Jeremy Lichtman

I've seen this where a child dies, and then later on another child is named after him/her. That doesn't look like the case here.

There can be errors in transcription of those revision lists (the handwriting is sometimes very hard to read), and there can also be errors in the original lists.

It's possible that Movsha and Moshe are one and the same person.

Aaron Slotnik

I think I found the Revision List entries you're referring to in the Litvak SIG All Lithuania Revision List Database in Vilijampole.  Setting aside the rabbinical issue for the moment and just going by what I see, I would take the index at face value that Movsha 'Shames' and Meyer Soloveitchik were brothers.  I would want to see the original because they appear to be in the same household listing as well, although didn't come up that way the search results presentation for some reason as would typically be the case.  Movsha is a typical Russian form of Moshe . . . I would not consider them to be different names.

Note that the children and grandchildren of Movsha have question marks after that 'Shames' surname which implies to me that the indexer assumed that was their surname.  It's important to note that 'Shames' is also an occupation in the synagogue.  So, this could have been referring to his occupation or it could be that this was the secular surname that he took and was referred to in official documents, while he was known in the community as Movsha/Moshe Soloveitchik.

So, if this were my research I would take the working hypothesis that Movsha 'Shames' and Moshe Soloveitchik were the same person and then conduct additional research to prove/disprove that to be the case.  You're fortunate to have these revision list entries that will greatly assist with that.  If this is indeed a rabbinical family, there should be additional rabbinic sources that can be consulted that would help.  I don't see the corresponding 1818 Revision List entry for the family . . . I'm not sure if it has been indexed yet but you should seek that out as well.  Hopefully this helps!

By the way, as the previous responder suggested it's always best to include specific information in a question so that other researchers can assist without having to reproduce it themselves.

Aaron Slotnik
Chicago, IL

Perry Shorris

Thanks, Aaron.  Given that surnames were a new phenomenon in Eastern Europe for Jews, the fact that they had different surnames does not necessarily mean that someone made a mistake in the records.  Different surnames within a family were not uncommon.  I think you are right that “Shames” most likely signified his profession, which was the shames of the synagogue - a role distinct from that of a rabbi.  I would also add that the children took the surname “Shores,” named after their mother and Movsha’s wife’s given name, Sora.  As you can see from my surname, that surname survives to this day.

You make some good points, but I think we can discard the theory that Movsha Shames and Moshe Soloveitchik were the same person.  Moshe Soleveitchik is documented as the person who took on the Mayor of Kovno in 1782 in a trial over a Jewish expulsion order.  He is heralded in a scroll for winning that trial and obtaining damages for the victims and two-week imprisonment of the mayor.  As a result, he became the rabbi for the community in 1782.  In 1782, Movsha Shames was approximately 11 years old and would not have been this celebrated rabbi.  In 1834, Meyer Soloveitchik was listed as head of the household of Movsha Shames wife and children.  I think that represented a strong connection between Movsha Shames and Meyer Soloveitchik, who may have took on the responsibility of seeing that Movsha’s family was taken care of.  I have read that there was an exception for naming children after living relatives who were rabbis, but I don’t know that we can make that leap here, where Movsha Shames was born before Moshe Soloveitchik became a rabbi.  

l am also from the Chicago area, and I do not foresee a trip to Lithuania any time soon.  When you mention “additional rabbinic sources,” do you have anything in mind that I would be able to access from here?

Thank you for the time you put into this.  I am new to this discussion group, so I was a little hesitant to make my question overly long when I first posted, and I was not sure that every detail was necessary to answer the question.  I will take the suggestion about including specific information.  With this post, I think you and everyone have all of the pertinent facts that I know at this time.


Irwin Keller

Hello Perry,

That's an interesting bit about children taking their mother's name. I know that often to distinguish between cousins of the same name, probably named after the same recently deceased ancestor, they'd be identified by their mother's given name. Thus giving rise to Jewish surnames like Dvorkin, Chaikin, Sorkin, Rivkin, Rachlin, Estrin, etc., that are all women's names in a genitive case.

But is there something else going on here? I have relatives who also came from Soloveitchiks on their great grandmother's side, whose great grandfather took his wife's name when they reached Chicago. (There they made it Solovy.) I always presumed that her name had more prestige, or was easier for Americans than his difficult name (Knishevitsky). But your "Shorris" story makes me wonder if there was some naming custom alive in the Soloveitchik clan that made taking a mother's surname more common somehow...

I get that there's a difference between being referred to as your mother's before the era of surnames, and consciously choosing your mother's (or wife's) surname after the era of surnames. 

Still, your story, specifically as a Soloveitchik whose family chose Shorris, made my mind start to wonder...