Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Hasidism in America

Hasidism in America

Marc B. Shapiro

There is a tape of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik in the 1950s saying that there is no real Hasidism in the United States. He says that he saw real Hasidism in Warsaw, and America does not have it. When the Rav made this statement, I think most non-hasidim would have agreed that Hasidism did not have any real future in the United States. The 1950s was a time when the focus was on the melting pot. In such an era, Hasidism would have been as out of place in wider American society as Muslim women walking down the streets of New York City or Los Angeles wearing hijabs. How things have changed!

There are many reasons for the great success of Hasidism in the United States, among them the turn to multiculturalism which has made the public square more welcoming of a variety of lifestyles. The coarsening of the wider culture has also pushed religious people to a more inward direction, and those looking to escape from this culture can easily be drawn towards Hasidism. Also important is that for many young hasidim the wider culture does not have the same draw it once did. And for those who do want to be part of the wider culture, in today’s day and age one can be a hasid and live a much more open life, even if only virtually, then people did a generation or two ago. The rise of the welfare state has also been crucial to hasidic growth, as without the welfare state hasidic communities as we know them would be unsustainable.[1] Finally, there is one other element that has been important to hasidic growth, and also to its fracturing, and that is the leadership that has been able to provide guidance in post-war America.

Samuel Heilman’s engrossing new book discusses this very point, that of leadership. Its title is Who Will Lead Us? The Story of Five Hasidic Dynasties in America, and it is required reading for anyone interested in the contemporary hasidic world.


The dynasties Heilman focuses on are Munkács, Boyan, Bobov, Satmar, and Lubavitch. There is also an introductory chapter on succession in Hasidism which itself is an important issue. I do not know if people in the hasidic world give it much thought, but for non-hasidim the whole matter of succession is somewhat strange, since by what right should a son (sometimes even a very young son) or son-in-law be able to take over religious leadership? Very few outsiders will be impressed with the hasidic concept of “holy seed,” as in the non-hasidic world, at least until recent years, it was understood that one rises to greatness based on one’s own achievements, not based on who one’s father was (though that always helps). It is thus interesting to learn that in the early years of Hasidism the concept of family succession did not exist.[2] Yet as we all know, for many years now succession has been based on lineage and in that way the hasidic court is just like the royal court.[3] (I was struck by Heilman’s use of the term “dowager” to describe the widow of the rebbe. I have never seen the term used in this way but is a good usage.) Of course, there have been times when there were disputes as to who should be the rightful successor, and this always had the potential to lead to a split in a hasidic group, a point we will return to.

Heilman was fortunate that he “was helped immensely by several rebbes who graciously consented to be interviewed and who for long hours and over many months and years opened their lives to me” (p. xv). Some readers might find it strange for a rebbe to be so open with an academic researcher, but it shows that at least some rebbes are interested that academic discussions about them be accurate, and that their perspectives be taken into account.[4]

Heilman’s chapter dealing with Munkács is riveting, and never before has the story been told in print. By “story,” I have in mind the life of R. Baruch (Boruchel) Rabinowitz, the rebbe of Munkács, who did what is almost unheard of, namely, giving up his “rebbeship.” Freed from this role, he was able to become more “modern” and publicly abandon the anti-Zionism so much associated with his father-in-law, R. Hayyim Eleazar Shapira, the first rebbe of Munkács. While living as a rabbi in Brazil (the “chief rabbi” of São Paulo), he even acceded to his new wife’s wishes to get a dog (which he himself walked). He read widely in secular literature, earned a university degree in philosophy and psychology, and taught philosophy at the University of São Paulo. (p. 51).

While some have seen the Holocaust as changing R. Baruch’s outlook, it appears that this is not entirely the case. As Heilman informs us (p. 44), during the Munkácser Rebbe’s famous 1930 trip to the Land of Israel, in which R. Baruch the future son-in-law accompanied him, R. Baruch snuck out at night to meet secretly with R. Yaakov Moshe Charlop, the leading follower of R. Kook. (Heilman refers to R. Charlop as head of Yeshivat Merkaz ha-Rav, but that would only happen after R. Kook’s death.) This shows that already in his youth he had a much broader perspective than his future father-in-law.

By the time his metamorphosis is complete, it appears that R. Baruch should be categorized as a Religious Zionist – or perhaps even a Modern Orthodox – rabbi. There is a picture in the book of him with Ben Gurion. Unfortunately, Heilman does not identify the other rabbi in the picture – R. Shlomo Goren. Here is another picture of R. Baruch in the Sinai desert after the 1967 war.[5]



Because R. Baruch had given up the role of rebbe, this meant that it was to pass to his son. Yet R. Baruch did not seem too happy about this and appears to have never regarded it as a real option, as he did not raise any of his sons to become a rebbe. Heilman does a wonderful job describing how it came to pass that the young Moshe Leib became the rebbe. The story he tells is also one of great sadness, of a deep human tragedy, as in the end there was a complete break between R. Baruch and three of his children from his first marriage (which includes the current Munkácser Rebbe), even to the extent of R. Baruch forbidding them to attend his funeral or to say Kaddish for him. (You can see R. Baruch's letter here.)  Is there anything more tragic for a family than this?

While it is often stated that the hasidim rejected R. Baruch because he became a Zionist, the truth is that he rejected them, in that he chose not to continue as the rebbe. The bitter and public break with his children was a real family tragedy, but it is difficult to read the book and not conclude that the fault for this lay in R. Baruch’s unresolved issues – Heilman speaks of “Oedipal overtones” (p. 63) – seen most vividly in R. Baruch’s shocking behavior at R. Moshe Leib’s wedding. The result of all this is that R. Baruch has been completely erased from Munkács history and has no significance to the movement. When a book with his approbation is reprinted, such as R. Joseph Lustig’s Amudei Esh le-Veit Yosef, it is not surprising that the approbation is removed. Here is the title page of the edition with the approbation removed.


Despite the family tragedy, it must be said that R. Baruch’s son and successor, R. Moshe Leib, has been remarkably successful in leading a revival of the dynasty. He has also played a role in wider Jewish affairs, both publicly and behind the scenes, and is a fine example of what a successful rebbe can be.

Let me add a few more points about R. Baruch that are not mentioned in Heilman’s book. One might have assumed that as R. Baruch became more modern he would distance himself from his father-in-law, a man very much identified with extremism. But that did not happen. Until the end of his life he continued to display awe for R. Hayyim Eleazar Shapira. In Binat Nevonim (2012 ed.) pp. 153-154, he defends R. Shapira against the accusation that he was a “ba’al machloket.” What about his well-known attacks against the Religious Zionists and those non-Zionist Orthodox who wished to go on aliyah intending to work the land?[6] R. Baruch explains, very unconvincingly, that R. Shapira reacted the way he did because he hoped that the Messiah would soon arrive and people would then be able to immigrate to the Land of Israel without confronting any irreligiosity. R. Baruch’s own opinion comes a few pages later, p. 157, where he writes that the ingathering of Jews, including non-religious, to the Land of Israel is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Only later will God send His Holy Spirit to purify the people from all of its sins, and then He will send the Messiah. Such a perspective is very much at odds with what R. Shapira advocated.

Interestingly, in dealing with the accusation that his father-in-law was a “ba’al machloket,” R. Baruch says nothing about R. Shapira’s battles against the Agudah and its rabbis,[7] or his battles against non-Agudah rabbis and rebbes, in particular the Spinka Rebbe, R. Isaac Eizik Weiss, and the Belzer Rebbe, R. Yissachar Dov Rokeah. In the latter case, R. Shapira’s actions were very extreme, and it was alleged that he even attempted to get the government to expel the Belzer Rebbe from the city.[8] He attacked the Belzer Rebbe personally and referred to his hasidim as חזירי בעלז.[9] His attacks on Belz did not stop even after the Belzer Rebbe’s death, and the Belzer community of Munkács decided to separate from the wider Orthodox community of the city which was controlled by R. Shapira.[10] Since they were not legally allowed to create another Orthodox community, they officially became the Neolog community of Munkács. Although they were as distant from the Neologs as their persecutor, R. Shapira, declaring themselves as Neolog was the only way for them to create their own community which would be recognized by the government.[11]

In Binat Nevonim, pp 173-174, we see very clearly R. Baruch’s Religious Zionist feelings. He reviews the modern growth of the Land of Israel beginning with the early immigrations, and mentions how Jews hoped that this growth was the beginning of the redemption. He even states that the British did not live up to their expected role when they removed a large part of biblical Israel from the Jewish homeland. Could anything be further from the old Munkács approach than the following words from R. Baruch, after summarizing the various nineteenth-century attempts to build up the Land of Israel (p. 174)?

הארץ השוממה מתחילה לנשום ולהחיות מחדש. היא מתחילה להעלות תקווה בלב יושבי הארץ ובלב העם היהודי כולו, שהנה הגיע הזמן של שיבת ציון של חזון הגאולה לעם ישראל ולחזון הגאולה לכל העמים שעם יהודי נשא בקרבו מאז אברהם אבינו דרך הנביאים עד היום הזה.

He recognizes that we have not yet reached the end of the road, but like any Religious Zionist he is confident that the time is coming when the State of Israel will live up to its promise (p. 176):

עם ישראל, זה הנולד לגדולות ולנצורות, לא בדור הזה שהוא כדורו של דוד המלך ייהפך לאור לגויים, לא בדור הזה יהפוך את מדינתו למדינה לדוגמא. אבל יבוא הדור, דור שיהיה דומה לדורו של שלמה, דור שידע מנוחה, דור שלא יצטרך לנהל מלחמות, דור שידע להעמיד את כח החכמה לפני כח הגבורה – והדור הזה יקים את המדינה לדוגמא, מדינה שבה מדע התורה, המוסר, והצדק, והשוויון ישמשו תשתית לחיי האנושות, ואז יבוא משיח צדקנו, נצר דוד מלכנו ומציון תצא תורה ודבר ה' מירושלים.

In discussing the Holocaust, R. Baruch states that we cannot ask why God was silent and did not hear the cries of the millions of victims (p. 158). He strongly rejects the notion that the Holocaust, which was an unparalleled national suffering, can be explained as due to any particular sins (p. 198). Regarding the Holocaust, it is also important to mention that R. Baruch was very involved in the efforts to save Hungarian Jewry.[12]

Returning to Heilman, the story of Boyan, which he tells with great skill, did not have the conflict and tragic aspects that were described in the chapter on Munkács. Yet here too we find the same theme, namely, a dynasty without an obvious successor. And again, we see that with the right man, and with proper guidance from the hasidic elders, he can grow into the role. As with Munkács, the Boyaner Rebbe has blossomed into a respected rebbe, either overcoming his more modern background (as some would say), or using this background to allow him to better understand the Jewish people as a whole.

For those interested in conflict in religious life, the chapters on Bobov and Satmar, focusing on the split in these movements, provide plenty of that. In fact, even before the dispute over who would be the current Satmar rebbe, conflict was a basic feature of Satmar life already in Europe. Heilman writes, “For Satmar hasidim conflicts served as a form of socialization and identity formation. . . . [T]his relish for conflict, framed as a steadfast ideological purity, would become the essential identity of Satmar Hasidism.” (pp. 163, 164)

In addition to discussing the conflicts over succession, Heilman also provides the necessary background to understand matters. Thus, in the chapter on Bobov, long before we get to the conflict that led to the split in the movement, Heilman reviews the history of Bobov, its fate during the Holocaust, and its rebirth after the war. Heilman does the same in all of the chapters, allowing readers to appreciate the unique aspects of each of the different Hasidic groups. In his chapter on Satmar, here is how Heilman summarizes what defined this group for its rebbe, R. Joel Teitelbaum.

The struggle to remain apart as well as distinctive and to argue that these positions were the only and authentic way of being Jewish not only made Yoelish’s followers feel that they were part of a great cause and the true defenders of Jewry and Judaism but made Satmarism and its inventor a kind of model for what steadfast Orthodox Judaism was meant to be, a vanguard of contra-acculturation and authenticity. Second, he had to make sure that his educational system did not provide his hasidim with the skills that would make leaving the enclave easy. Third, he had to demonize the world outside so that his followers would either be afraid of entering it or be confident that their own ways were infinitely superior. (p. 173)

I would like to add a few final comments and corrections.

I am not sure why Heilman includes a chapter on Chabad. While obviously the story here is not the fight over succession but the fact that there has not been a succession, for those who read Heilman’s and Menachem Friedman’s biography of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the material in Who Will Lead Us? focusing on R. Menachem Mendel is not new. The first half of the chapter deals with prior Lubavitcher rebbes, not really the focus of the book which deals with the American scene, but helpful to understanding later events.[13]

It seems that spending so much time among the hasidim has led some of their hagiography to rub off on Heilman. How else to explain his statements that R. Baruch knew Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed by heart (p. 42) and R. Joel Teitelbaum “was able to review a folio of Talmud at age five” (p. 156)? Both of these men were scholars, and thus the hagiography focuses on their scholarship. I would be interested to know if in the hagiography about current rebbes, and in particular the ones discussed by Heilman, is scholarship even mentioned. Do current hasidim even assume that their rebbes are great Torah scholars?

In the preface, p. xiv, Heilman tells us that he will look at five different successions. In Munkács and Boyan a successor was lacking. In Bobov and Satmar two individuals claimed the throne. In Habad, the “hasidim denied a need for a successor at all, claiming that their rebbe had never really died.” While it is true that the Habad hasidim have no interest in a successor, there is only a very small number who claim that the Rebbe did not die (and thus they do not go to his grave). The mainstream messianist view is that the Rebbe indeed died and will be resurrected as the Messiah.[14] Even those who do not write זצ"ל or זי"ע do not deny that the Rebbe died and was buried. Yet they assume that his soul is still involved in this world and as such they do not want to treat him as someone who has passed from the scene.

P. 58. Heilman writes that the Lubavitcher Rebbe “claimed to have attended the Sorbonne and other European universities.” (p. 58) I do not understand the use of the word “claimed,” as it appears to cast doubt on what the Rebbe said. Yet in Heilman’s book, The Rebbe, he himself mentions that the Rebbe was a registered student at both the University of Berlin and the Sorbonne.

Pp. 85-86. Heilman states that R. Yerucham Gorelick “came from Slutzk, Belarus, and had studied in the famous non-Hasidic yeshiva there.” This is incorrect as R. Gorelick studied in Lomza, Radin, and also in Brisk, but not in Slutzk. In fact, in 1923 (when R. Gorelick was twelve years old) the Slutzk yeshiva moved to Kletzk.

P. 169. In discussing the Kasztner train and the inclusion in it of the Satmar Rebbe, Heilman writes: “Kasztner was persuaded, after someone paid a ‘huge sum,’ to include Yoelish and some of those connected to him among the 1670 in the train.” Why the leading anti-Zionist, R. Joel Teitelbaum, was included on the Kasztner train is a question that has never been convincingly answered. A popular legend is that Kasztner’s mother appeared to him in a dream and requested that he include the Rebbe. Yet even if this explains why the Rebbe was included, there were also other anti-Zionist rabbis who were on the train, which was a microcosm of larger Hungarian Jewish society.[15]

Before reading Heilman’s book, I had never heard that it was only money that enabled the Rebbe to be rescued. The source Heilman provides for this is a Satmar biography of the Rebbe that relied on an item that appeared in the Satmar paper Der Yid. These are precisely the sorts of sources that have to be used very carefully, and in many cases are simply useless if one is trying to find out the truth. At the very least, Heilman should have written that it is “alleged” that someone paid a huge sum, rather than state it as fact. One of the “problems” of the Satmar Rebbe’s biography is that despite being saved by the Zionist Kasztner, there is no evidence of the Rebbe ever having expressed any gratitude towards Kasztner or the Zionists as a whole for saving his life, something that has often troubled people. However, if the only reason the Rebbe was on the train was because of a simple monetary transaction, then he would have no reason to feel grateful to Kasztner or the Zionists. To put it another way, there is good reason for Satmar writers to portray the event this way in order to burnish the reputation of the Rebbe. As such, the unsubstantiated report Heilman relies on here must be treated with a great deal of suspicion.

The hasidic world is obviously of great significance in Orthodoxy. There are so many different hasidic groups that just when I think I know them all, I see an article about another rebbe whom I have never heard of. In fact, some years ago someone produced a “yellow pages” of all the hasidic rebbes. There are 554 listed, and by now no doubt a few more need to be added. Here is the first page.


There are significantly more rebbes now than a hundred years ago. Marcin Wodzinski has written that “there were approximately three hundred tsaddikim active in 1900.”[16]

What I know from friends in the hasidic world is that there are also people who should be regarded as “independent hasidim.” I first heard this expression a few years ago in Budapest where I became friendly with a visiting American hasid. When I asked him which group he was part of, he replied, “independent.”

Here was a man who looked like a hasid, who considered himself a hasid, who valued the hasidic way of life, and yet he did not have a rebbe. Since then I have met other “independent hasidim,” and their story is pretty much the same. They grew up as hasidim and love Hasidut, but they do not find any of the rebbes appealing. Some of them have also seen things that caused them to be disillusioned with the contemporary rebbes. They do not deny the value of a rebbe, and believe that great rebbes existed in the past. It is just that today they do not see such figures.

I would love to see an article dealing with the phenomenon of the independent hasidim. Is this something that can continue in a family over generations, or is it a one generation event, with the children brought up in such a family generally joining a hasidic group or linking up with the yeshiva world? Interestingly, Wodzinski notes the existence of independent hasidim around the time of World War I, and I wonder when they first appeared. In Wodzinski’s words: “During the war and after it, shtiblekh sprang up, gathering the half-rejects and half-deserts from the Hasidic world, shtiblekh unaffiliated with any court.”[17]

The independent hasidim should be distinguished from what Wodzinski has termed “à la carte Hasidism.” This is a phenomenon that also existed in the early twentieth century, and consisted of “young Hasidim who sampled different courts, picking various festivals with different tsaddikim depending on individual taste or indeed on the way different tsaddikim enacted different elements of Hasidic ritual.”[18]

Another point of interest which has not yet been analyzed is the position of the rebbe when he was still a child and teenager. Heilman’s book discusses this with regard to the current Munkácser Rebbe, but when he was young there was not yet an expectation that he would become the rebbe. What about those who knew that they would become rebbe. What type of childhood did they have? Did they have friends like other children, or were they regarded as too special to mix with the masses? And how about when they were teenagers and realized the significance of their fathers, who served as rebbes? It would be fascinating to hear from current rebbes about how they experienced childhood and young adulthood. People often forget that even the most important figures were once young and enjoyed the same sort of fun that all young people do. I actually have a photo of a young Shlomo Halberstam (1907-2000) in his bathing suit having fun in a lake. Heilman discusses in detail his experiences during the war and how after the war he rebuilt the Bobov dynasty, a task that fell to him as his father, R. Ben Zion, was murdered by the Nazis.[19] Yet the photo I just mentioned reminds us that even future rebbes were able to enjoy themselves like everyone else.

* * * * * *

Since this post deals with Hasidism, it is a good place to call attention to an unfortunate example of censorship in the writings of the Hatam Sofer. Here is the title page of volume 2 of the Derashot of the Hatam Sofer, first published by R. Joseph Naphtali Stern in 1929. R. Stern’s edition is based on the Hatam Sofer’s own manuscripts.




Beginning on p. 371a one can find the eulogy for the Hatam Sofer's teacher, R. Nathan Adler. On p. 373a, in speaking of the great piety of R. Adler, the Hatam Sofer writes: ולא כחסידי הזמן ח"ו.


Now take a look at the Pressburg 1881 edition of Torat Moshe, Va-Yikra, p. 41b. You can see that the words ולא כחסידי הזמן ח"ו do not appear. It is not known if the publisher was responsible for this censorship, as he informs us in the introduction to volume 1 that some of what appears in the book was copied from the Hatam Sofer’s manuscripts and sent to him.


And while on the topic of censorship, here is another example dealing with a leading student of the Hatam Sofer, R. Moses Schick. Here is Derashot Maharam Schick, p. 30b, published in Cluj around 1936.[20]


You can see that he mentions Wessely’s Yein Levanon. Now take a look at the Derashot Maharam Schick published in Jerusalem, 2003.



As you can see, the reference to Yein Levanon has been removed. R. Moses Schick believed that Yein Levanon was a fine book, worthy of being quoted. However, the publisher thought differently. Ironically, the new edition was published by Makhon Maharam Schick. Here is the title page


So we have a publishing institute named after R. Moses Schick, and the people who run it would no doubt insist that they have the greatest respect for R. Schick. Yet this respect does not include respecting the sanctity of what he actually wrote.

R. Moses Schick refers to Wessely's comment to Avot 1:1. In the new edition of Yein Levanon (Rishon le-Tzion, 2003), p. 44, the editor points out that R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary to Avot 1:1, also cites Wessely by name. While this comment appears uncensored in the English translation of Hirsch's commentary, in the Hebrew translation Wessely's name has been replaced by “one of the commentators.” The editor adds: “The translators think that they are wiser  and more understanding than R. Samson Raphael Hirsch.”

* * * * * *

In Changing the Immutable, p. 211, I write that R. Hayyim Vital “records” and “mentions” certain negative information about Israel Najara. Yitzy Weinberg commented to me that I neglected to state a very important point, namely, the source of R Vital’s information. Weinberg feels, and others probably do as well, that knowing the source is important, since if R. Vital recorded information that he had personal knowledge of it would have more significance than if it came from another source.

Before coming to this point, I must note from a modern perspective, it is hard not to conclude that R. Vital was overly credulous. He was ready to believe the most far-fetched tales of angels, demons, magic, spirit possession, and exorcisms, and has no reticence in describing personal experiences with some of these things. He himself was even possessed by a powerful evil spirit. Morris M. Faierstein has recently discussed this episode and reaches the following striking conclusion: “Within the universe of Lurianic Kabbalah and the stories found in Vital’s mystical diary, the Book of Visions [Sefer Hezyonot], it can only be Jesus of Nazareth who was the evil spirit that possessed Hayyim Vital.”[21] 

Knowing all this, I do not believe that the information about Najara quoted by R. Vital should be accepted at face value,[22] especially when the charges made (homosexual behavior and sexual relations with a non-Jewish woman) are so serious. I would say this even if the ultimate source of this information was R. Vital himself.[23] 

Nevertheless, I agree that I should have mentioned that the information recorded by R. Vital came from a spirit that had entered a woman (a phenomenon that only after R. Vital’s time came to be known as a dybbuk[24]). Furthermore, in the book I noted: “Because of this, Vital wrote that ‘the hymns that he has composed are themselves good, but whoever speaks to him and whatever leaves his mouth is forbidden, because he always used foul languages and was a drunkard his whole life.’” This too is a statement from the spirit.

Among the information revealed by the spirit was that “between the fast days,” Najara “prepared a meal at that hour at the house of Jacob Monides, put his hat on the ground, sang songs in a loud voice, ate meat, drank wine, and even became drunk.”[25] R. Vital writes that Najara admitted that this incident occurred, meaning that in this case R. Vital wants us to know that the spirit spoke the truth. R. Vital does not record asking Najara about the spirit’s more serious accusations, and he would have told us if he had.[26]

Despite what I have just written, some seem to assume that everything that appears in R. Vital’s Sefer ha-Hezyonot must be attributed to himself, even if he attributes it to a spirit. Thus, Lawrence Fine writes: “In his dream diary, Vital alleges that Israel Najara engaged in homosexual behavior in his drunkenness, and contends, in connection with Damascus, that ‘there is much homosexuality . . . in this land.’”[27] As you can see, Fine does not mention the spirit but states that “Vital alleges.”

Another example is that Israel Zinberg writes that “Vital declares,” and then cites the passage I quoted in my book, which first appeared in Shivhei R. Hayyim Vital.[28] “The hymns that he has composed are themselves good, but whoever speaks to him and whatever leaves his mouth is forbidden, because he always used foul language and was a drunkard his whole life." Zinberg does not mention the spirit.

Avraham Amazleg writes as follows (emphasis added)[29]:

שם רח"ו גם בפי הרוח דברי גנאי וביקורת על נג'ארה. רח"ו או הרוח אמנם מודים שהפזמונים שהוא חיבר הם טובים, אבל אסור לאומרם או לדבר עם המחבר, כי פיו דובר נבלה, וממילא הוא שיכור כל ימיו.

Almog Behar writes[30]:

המקובל רבי חיים ויטאל, תלמיד האר"י, בן תקופתו, כתב עליו ב"ספר החזיונות" שלו.

I could bring a number of additional examples where the words of the spirit are attributed to R. Vital, but I think readers get the point.

Although in all texts of Shivhei R. Hayyim Vital Najara’s name was deleted – it first appeared in the 1954 edition of R. Vital’s Sefer ha-Hezyonot – it was not too difficult for Zinberg and others to figure out who was being referred to. R. Moses Sofer appears to have also been aware of the passage in Shivhei R. Hayyim Vital, or perhaps there even was an oral tradition about the more serious charges against Najara that only appeared in print in 1954. I say this because when asked by his son why he did not sing Najara’s spiritually moving Y-ah Ribon, the Hatam Sofer replied: “Rather than telling you why I do not sing it, it is better to sing it.” From that point on he sang Y-ah Ribon.[31]

* * * * * *

R. Yechiel Goldhaber is well known as an outstanding scholar, whose many publications are always enlightening.[32] Not many know that he also offers tours of the Old City of Jerusalem. Having had the pleasure of participating in one of his tours, I highly recommend it to all who are interested in the history of Jerusalem (which I believe includes all Seforim Blog readers).

My own Torah in Motion tours to Europe in summer 2018 have also been announced. You can read about them here.

The young scholars R. Yisachar Dov Hoffman and R. Ovadiah Hoffman are known to many Seforim Blog readers. R. Yisachar has authored Avodat Ovadiah which focuses on practices of R. Ovadiah Yosef. R. Ovadiah Hoffman is a Seforim Blog contributor, and both of them have published three volumes of Ha-Mashbir, dedicated to studies on R. Ovadiah Yosef. I think readers will be interested to know about an event they are organizing to commemorate the yahrzeit of R. Ovadiah Yosef. It is to take place on Sunday, October 22, 2017, from 6:25pm-9pm (refreshments available), followed by maariv. It will be an evening of shiurim dealing with contemporary halakhic issues and reflections on the legacy of R. Ovadiah Yosef. It will be held at Beis Midrash Kerem Shlomo, 1880 East 27th Street (between Ave. R and S), in Brooklyn. The scheduled speakers are R. Herschel Schachter, R. Aryeh Ralbag, R. Yitzchok Yisraeli, and R. Betzalel Rudinsky. It promises to be a fascinating evening.



[1] See Heilman, Who Will Lead Us, p. 193, where he mentions that in 1984, under the leadership of R. Moshe Teitelbaum, the Satmar were officially designated by the government as a “disadvantaged minority, which allowed them access to various government benefits.”
[2] R. Hayyim Halberstam, Divrei Hayyim,vol. 2,  Hoshen Mishpat. no. 32, writes against the practice of family succession when it comes to the Rebbe, and contrasts this with the position of town rav where there is such a concept:

ועל דבר ירושת הכבוד הנה במח"ת כ"ת הבוררים הרבנים וכי רבני החסידים שליטתם בתורת משרה כמו רב שבנו קודם הלא ידוע שהקדוש ר"א ואביו הק' זלה"ה לא היו רבנים ורק מחמת גודל קדושתם ויראתם נשמעו דבריהם לכל הגליל וינהו אחריהם ללמוד תורה ויראה מהם גם נתנו להם נדבות לכבד יראי השם כמותם ירבו בישראל ושאלו עצות כאשר ישאל איש בדבר אלקים כי היו בעלי רוח הקודש ותפלתם ודיבורם בקדושה עשו פרי ומה נעשה אם הבאים אחריהם אין בהם קדושה זו. מה ירשו לשאול עצה דעת אין בהם. אם להתפלל מי יודע העולה למעלה לא ידעתי שום צד ירושה בזה. והנה מצינו למופת כגון הרב הקדוש איש אלקים רשכבה"ג מו"ה דוב בער זלה"ה ממעזריטש השאיר הגדולה לתלמידיו הרב הק' מברדישטוב ומאור עינים ואור המאיר זלה"ה, וכן רבו הבעש"ט הניח המשרה זו לתלמידיו לא לבנו שהי' קדוש ה' וכן רבינו הקדוש בעהמ"ח נועם אלימלך הניח המשרה לתלמידיו לא לבנו הגם שהיו קדושים למאד כידוע לכן אין בזה שום ירושה ורק מעשיו יקרבוהו ומעשיו ירחקוהו.

[3] In R. Zvi Yehudah Kook’s recently published Sihot R. Zvi Yehudah: Emunah, ed. S. Aviner (Jerusalem, 2017), p. 200, Berdyczewski is quoted explaining what led him to abandon traditional Judaism. In short, it was seeing how his learned grandfather had to humble himself before a young rebbe. While Hasidism and attachment to a (worthy) rebbe are wonderful things, one should always remember what R. Kook states in Orot, p. 146, about the possible dangers:

הדבקות בצדיקים, כדי שיתערב כח המציאות שבנשמתם עם הנשמה הבלתי-נשלמת, היא דבר נכבד מאד במהלך התפתחות הנפשות, אבל צריך שמירה גדולה, שאם יטעה בצדיק אחד, וידבק בו דבקות פנימים הויתית, וידבק ג"כ בחסרונותיו, הם יפעלו לפעמים על הדבק במדה גרועה הרבה ממה שהם פועלים על האיש המקורי. אשריהם ישראל שהם דבקים בנשמת האומה, שהיא טוב מוחלט, לשאוב על ידה אור ד' הטוב

[4] Heilman never mentions a rebbe by name as his source, but on p. 53, in quoting the recollections of an unnamed family member, it is the Munkácser Rebbe who is being quoted. There were only two family members who were present at the event discussed, the Rebbe (R. Moshe Leib) and his brother, Chaim Elazar. Since Chaim Elazar spoke on the record and on numerous occasions is mentioned by name as the source for information, the “unnamed family member” must be the Rebbe himself. The Rebbe must also be the source for the information on pp. 57-58, where Heilman records what R. Baruch told the young Moshe Leib, including his recommendation that Moshe Leib attend university. Heilman also mentions what Moshe Leib told his father: “Today, if someone puts a college diploma on his wall, his rebistve is finished.”
[5] The picture comes from this article. For a bar mitzvah video made by one of R. Baruch’s grandsons, see here.
[6] See Yitzhak Alfasi, Ha-Hasidut ve-Eretz Yisrael (Jerusalem, 2010), pp. 175-176; Menachem Keren-Kratz, “The Politics of Jewish Orthodoxy: The Case of Hungary 1868-1918,” Modern Judaism 36 (October 2016), 8pp. 232-233.
[7] As part of his battle against the Agudah, he also took on Daf Yomi which in his mind was simply ridiculous:

טפשות וצחוק מכאיב

“For how can one learn a page every day when the pages almost always end in the middle of a subject.” Divrei Torah (Brooklyn, 1998), vol. 6, no. 82. Elsewhere he explained that the great danger in joining a Daf Yomi group is that one might be led to adopt the Agudat Israel ideology, "and Heaven forbid to join with them." Iggerot Shapirin (Brooklyn, 1983), p. 319. He also accused the Agudah of initiating the Daf Yomi in order to have at its disposal ready-made groups that could be used to colonize the Land of Israel. See Sha’ar Yisaschar (Brooklyn, 1992), p. 382.

For other examples of rabbinic opposition to Daf Yomi, due to its association with Agudat Israel, see Tikun Olam (Munkács, 1936), p. 106; Aharon Rosenberg, ed., Mishkenot ha-Ro'im (New York, 1987), vol. 3, pp. 901-902; Nitzotzei Or 3 (Elul, 5758), pp. 33-41. While I do not think that R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik can be called an opponent of Daf Yomi, I was present at a shiur in the summer of 1985 where he expressed his dismay that due to the growing popularity of Daf Yomi, people were no longer studying all six orders of the Mishnah, much of which has no Talmud and is thus not included in the Daf Yomi cycle. (For reasons that are unclear, Middot and Kinnim are the only tractates of Mishnah included in Daf Yomi.)
[8] See Yeshayahu A. Jelinek, The Carpathian Diaspora: The Jews of Subcarpathian Rus’ and Mukavchevo, 1848-1948 (New York, 2007), p. 172; Shmuel ha-Kohen Weingarten, “Pulmus Munkács-Belz,” in Yehudah Erez, ed., Entziklopedyah shel Galuyot: Karpatoros (Jerusalem-Tel Aviv, 1959), p. 230; and my Changing the Immutable (Oxford, 2015), p. 229.
[9] See Weingarten, “Pulmus Munkács-Belz,” p. 230.
[10] Not surprisingly, this dispute led to violence. The topic of violence, which has been a part of certain hasidic courts, is worthy of a study. Let me offer a few relevant sources. There is a report of hasidim murdering a mitnaged. See Mordechai Wilensky, Hasidim u-Mitnagdim (Jerusalem, 1970), vol. 2, p. 178. This report, contained in the early anti-hasidic text Shever Posh’im, includes names and places and was written not long after the event described. Nevertheless, I would not accept the story as historically accurate without confirmation from other sources, which as far as I know has not been found. See also S.'s post here which discusses another alleged murder by hasidim. (I do not believe there is any truth to this story.)

There are, unfortunately, hasidic stories that present violence as an acceptable option to settle disputes. It is safe to assume that such teachings have an impact on some impressionable minds (think New Square). For example, in Sippurei Niflaot mi-Gedolei Yisrael (Tel Aviv, 1969), p. 279, it reports that R. Menahem Mendel of Kotzk thought that R. Shmelke of Nikolsburg made a mistake when he forced his "enlightened" opponents to leave the city. What he should have done, according to the Kotzker, is have them killed.

Some relevant material is found in the book Zikhron Asher (1980) by R. Asher Edelstein. This book is not found on Otzar ha-Chochmah or hebrewbooks.org. I learnt about it from R. Nahum Abraham, Darkhei ha-Ma’amarim (n.p., 2017), section Peti Ya’amin le-Khol Davar, pp. 113-114 (who cites the stories I mention). Here is the title page.


Here is pp. 14-15 where we are told that the Kosover Rebbe tried to drown the follower of another rebbe. Following this it mentions how each of the rebbes discussed would bring punishments upon the followers of the other rebbe.


Here is pp. 31-32 where it records that the Kosover Rebbe was angry that one of his hasidim went to the Belzer Rebbe, and this anger caused the man’s factory to burn down. It also tells a story of violence that took place at the wedding of one of the Ruzhiner Rebbe’s sons. This story ends with the death of the man who during the wedding had stabbed the Kosover Rebbe with a needle. 


Here is pp. 63-64 where it describes how the rebbe R. Yissoschar Berish Eichenstein once removed a fly from his plate on Shabbat, in violation of the halakhah. When this was mentioned to him by R. Menahem Mendel Stern, the rav of Sighet, R. Eichenstein replied that a man had been reincarnated in this fly, and he had to be metaken it. R. Stern replied that he does not seen any tikunim but only regular Shabbat violation. The story ends that R. Eichenstein’s brother cursed R. Stern and R. Stern returned the curse, leading to the brother’s early death and R. Stern not having any “nachas” from his descendants. According to this website, R. Stern only had one daughter and no grandchildren are listed.


None of the pages I have reproduced are found in the 2004 edition of Zikhron Asher. Here is the title page.


Yitzhak Even, Mahloket Sanz ve-Sadegura (New York, 1916), has a lot to see about violence between the Sanzer and Sadegura hasidim. On p. 68, he tells how some Sanzer hasidim murdered a Sadegura hasid. On pp. 79-80, he discusses the stabbing of a Sanzer hasid and further violence against Sanzer hasidim. He also mentions a report that in response to being attacked, the Sanzers murdered an elderly Sadegura hasid. See also pp. 83, 86-87. I do not know how reliable Even’s information is.
[11] See here. This action led to R. Shapira issuing the following statement in 1929, declaring that the Belz community is to be regarded as no different than the Reform community:

הן כבר הודענו כי אותן שמחזיקים בבית התפלה של הנעאלאגים דפה – דינם כמו שאר הנעאלאגים האוכלים נבילות וטריפות – ופשוט שאין להם נאמנות וחזקת כשרות כלל.

See Weingarten, “Pulmus Munkács-Belz,” col. 230 n. 2. See also ibid., col. 232, that originally the Belzers wished to be recognized as a Status Quo community. Only when the government did not agree to this, did they then request, and receive, government recognition as a Neolog community. Weingarten’s father was the secretary of the Munkács community. See Weingarten, “Ha-Admor Mi- Munkács, Rabbi Hayyim Eleazar Shapira,” Shanah be-Shanah (1980), p. 447. Even though Weingarten was a Zionist, he still had a very good relationship with R. Shapira. See Weingarten, Perurim mi-Shulhanam shel Gedolei Yisrael (Jerusalem, 2004), pp. 17-37.
[12] Regarding this, see Binat Nevonim.
[13] On p. 216, Heilman mentions that already the Tzemach Tzedek sent out shluchim to the wider Jewish world. Apropos of this, I know that some have wondered why Chabad calls its emissaries שלוחים and not  ,שליחי which any Hebrew dictionary will tell you is the plural of שליח. Yet as R. Meir Mazuz points out, in rabbinic Hebrew the plural is indeed שלוחים. Thus, we find in Rosh ha-Shanah 18a: על ששה חדשים השלוחין יוצאים. Also, Maimonides has a section in the Mishneh Torah that is called הלכות שלוחין ושותפין. See R. Mazuz’s note to Hannah Peretz, Patish he-Hazak (Bnei Brak, 2013), vol. 2, p. 384 n. 26, and his recently published Mi-Gedolei ha-Dor, vol. 3, p. 129 n. 2. R. Mazuz thinks that the term שליחים originates in Christian circles, and that it was perhaps because of this that Jews used the term שלוחים. Yet as far as I know there is no evidence that Christians used the term שליחים in the days of the Mishnah. 

I do not believe that the term  שלוחappears in classic rabbinic literature, but we do have it with a suffix. E.g., Mishnah Berakhot 5:5: ששלוחו של אדם כמותו. See Ben Yehudah’s dictionary, s.v. שלוחשליח. Ben Yehudah, s.v. שלוח, explains the difference between שלוח and שליח as follows:

[שלוח] זה שנשלח, בהבדל מה מן שליח, שתפקידו הקבוע הוא לשמש כנשלח בשליחות.

In s.v. שליח he writes:

ואפשר שבא שליח בעקר כצורה ארמית שליח, שליחא במק' שלוח בעבר.


[14] The only time I have ever had contact with a Chabad group that apparently denies the Rebbe’s death was in New Delhi. Here is a picture of the sign in front of the Chabad House and the stamp that is found in its siddurim and seforim.





ללא שינוי דגניזה means that the Rebbe’s soul continues to function in his body as there was no death.
[15] R. Jacob Elimelech Panet, the rav of Dej, Hungary, was on Kasztner’s list as one of the rabbis to be saved. However, R. Panet refused to leave the Dej ghetto and was later murdered in Auschwitz. See Shlomo Spitzer, Kehilot Hungaryah (Jerusalem, 2009), p. 111.
[16] “War and Religion; or, How the First World War Changed Hasidism,” Jewish Quarterly Review 106 (Summer 2016), p. 289 n. 20.
[17] Wodzinski, “War and Religion,” p. 305.
[18] Wodzinski, “War and Religion,” p. 299.
[19] In the recently published English translation of R. Pinchas Hirschprung’s Holocaust memoir, The Vale of Tears, trans. Vivian Felsen (Toronto, 2016), pp. 152-153, he discusses the Shabbat he spent with R. Ben Zion in Lemberg shortly after the start of the war. This memoir originally appeared in Yiddish in 1944. Fortunately, it was not translated by ArtScroll or one of the other haredi publishing houses as I am certain they would have deleted some of R. Hirschprung’s wonderfully honest comments. See e.g., p. 222, where he confesses that he thought of suicide. On p. 156, he writes, “I slept well, woke up past noon and recited the morning prayers far too late.” P. 160: “I was envious of this woman’s profound belief in divine providence.” P. 166: “I stealthily took some water from the town ritual bath.” On p. 221, he writes that R. Chaim Ozer Grodzinski told him that he was not worried about Lithuania losing its independence, a view that was soon shown to be incorrect. On pp. 246-247, he writes about how R. Chaim Ozer told him that he and his yeshiva should not take the visas for Curacao that were available, but should remain in Vilna. Had R. Hirschprung and his colleagues listened to R. Chaim Ozer it would have meant their deaths. I do not think that a haredi publication would ever record such an error in Daas Torah. R. Hirschprung also mentions how a hasid who was with him argued that precisely because R. Chaim Ozer, the misnaged, said not to get the visas, that this was a sign from heaven to do the exact opposite.

Regarding R. Hirschprung, in 1985 I was present at a siyum ha-shas where R. Shlomo Goren said that R. Hirschprung was the only person alive who knew the entire Talmud by heart. I found two talmudic notes published by R. Hirschprung when he was only fourteen years old. See Or Torah )Lvov) 1 (1926), p. 18, Beit Va’ad le-Hakhamim )Satmar), Adar 5686 (1926), p. 67. See also ibid., Kislev 5687 (1927), pp. 37-38. When he was sixteen he began to edit the Cracow Torah journal Ohel Torah. Regarding R. Hirschprung’s book Peri Menahem, which was written when he was apparently only thirteen years old, see Gedulat Pinhas (Brooklyn, 1999), p. 14; Yaakov Shmuel Spiegel, Amudim be-Toldot ha-Sefer ha-Ivri: Be-Sha’arei ha-Defus (Jerusalem, 2014), p. 65.

At a future time I can discuss the rabbis who told people to remain in Europe even after World War II had begun. Since in this post I have discussed the Satmar Rebbe, I will only mention that R. Asher Anshil Yehudah Miller reports that during the Holocaust the Rebbe told his followers to remain in Hungary, which in hindsight was clearly a wrong decision. See Miller, Olamo shel Abba (Jerusalem, 1984), p. 309. R. Miller writes:

בשעה שהיהודים עמדו במבוכה ולא ידעו להחליט האם כדאי לברוח, מכיון שלא הכירו את מזימתם ואכזריותם של הגרמנים, עשו הוראותיו של האדמ"ר מסאטמער רושם עצום על כל יהודי חרדי "לא להבהל ולא להמלט, כי קרובה הישועה לבוא". לדאבונינו לא כך היו פני הדברים – אלפי נפשות של יהודים טובים עם בני משפחותיהם הגיעו למחנות השמדה, למרות שהתגוררו בקרבות הגבול.


[20] There is no publication date on the title page, but the introduction is dated 1936.
[21] See Faierstein, “The Possession of Rabbi Hayyim Vital by Jesus of Nazareth,” Kabbalah 37 (2017), p. 36.
[22] In his introduction to Jewish Mystical Autobiographies (New York, 1999), p. 12, Morris M. Faierstein writes:

A related question is how are we to deal with Vital’s assertions when he cites the dreams and visions of others that were supposedly told to him, or when he recounts various “omens” that foretold his greatness in his childhood or youth. Similarly, when he ascribes certain thoughts or actions to others, should we assume that he is a reliable reporter or that these are his own invention? Data that cannot be verified from external sources, and this includes most of the contents of the Book of Visions, must be treated as Vital’s perception or belief. It would not be helpful to use judgmental terms like fantasy or invention or say that Vital “alleges” this or that. It is obvious that we are dealing with a “visionary” document and it should be approached from that perspective.

Regarding the larger question of how seriously we should take accusations found in written works, especially when we know that the author had negative feelings about the person he was writing about, I saw something relevant in Pawel Maciejko's new book, Sabbatian Heresy. This is a very helpful book, which includes translations of a number of important texts. In the introduction, p. xxiv, Maciejko writes as follows:
While Sabbatians did not always display a positive or even tolerant attitude toward non-Jews, they never ignored other religions and traditions. They studied them with an intensity that sometimes bordered on obsession (according to contemporary testimony, Rabbi Jonathan Eibeschuetz developed an "uncontrolled urge to read books of the priests"). 
What is the source for the information about R. Eibeschuetz? None other than R. Jacob Emden, who said all sorts of negative things about R. Eibeschuetz. Thus, I do not feel it is appropriate to refer to such a source as "contemporary testimony." 
[23] Israel Zinberg, who died before the most serious accusations against Najara were published, wrote as follows:

To be sure, Hayyim Vital is not a completely reliable witness. Apparently, he had some personal scores to settle with the poet. Furthermore, the vain and arrogant Vital envied Najara, because Isaac Luria was so enchanted by his verses. Luria used to say that even among the “family on high” Najara’s hymns are received with great enthusiasm, and that his soul is a “spark” of no less a soul than that of King David, the godly poet of the Psalms. (A History of Jewish Literature, trans. B. Martin [Cincinnati and New York, 1975], vol. 5, p. 95)

It is one thing to say that R. Vital believed in all sorts of superstitions, but Zinberg crosses the scholarly line by casting aspersions on R. Vital’s character. See also Meir Benayahu, “Rabbi Yisrael Najara,” Asupot 4 (1990), pp. 234-235, who defends Najara against the attacks on him, in particular by R. Menahem Lonzano. He writes:

ואולי דווקא משום הדרשות לתשובה שהיה ר' ישראל נאגארה דורש ורבים חסידים וישרים נלקטו אליו בג'ובאר, שכל מעיינם היה בתיקון עצמם וקירוב זמן הגאולה, קינאו בו וטפלו עליו דברים שלא כן?

In his criticism of Najara, R. Lonzano pointed to what he regarded as the totally inappropriate erotic language used by Najara in describing the loving relationship between man and God. See Benayahu, “Rabbi Yisrael Najara,”, pp. 223ff. One example of such erotic language is found in Najara’s poem ידד שנת עיני  (Shirim, ed. Tova Beeri [Tel Aviv, 2015], pp. 126-127):

לו אהיה יונק ואתה אומני
אינק שדי יופיך צמאי אשברה
דוד נעלה חמדת מהללי . . .

לו אהיה אהל ואתה שוכני
נתעלסה אהב בגיל נתאזרה
דוד נעלה חמדת מהללי

לו אהיה לשון ואתה מעני
אשקיט יקוד חשקך בשיר ואזמרה
דוד נעלה חמדת מהללי

Here is my attempt at a translation:

If I were a suckling infant and You my wet nurse
I would suckle at Your beautiful breasts, quenching my thirst
My beloved, exalted and praiseworthy . . .

If I were a tent and You dwelled within
We would revel in love, gird ourselves in joy
My beloved, exalted and praiseworthy

If I were a tongue and You my response
I would calm my flaming desire for You with song
My beloved, exalted and praiseworthy

The first line of the last stanza is difficult. I have followed Prof. Joseph Yahalom’s suggestion. Prof. Tova Beeri in her note to the passage believes that the translation should be, "If I were a tongue and You the enabler of my speech," based on Prov. 16:1. See also here s.v. פירוש. At this time, let me thank the incomparable Peter Cole for his e-mails to me discussing some of the problems of translations of poetry.

Najara would no doubt defend himself against R. Lonzano’s criticism by stating that he was following in the path of Song of Songs. Cf. Andreas Tietze and Joseph Yahalom, Ottoman Melodies Hebrew Hymns (Budapest, 1995), p. 19.
[24] See Encyclopaedia Judaica, s.v. Dibbuk.
[25] Faierstein, Jewish Mystical Autobiographies, p. 71.
[26] Sefer ha-Hezyonot, p. 34. Benayahu, “Rabbi Yisrael Najara,” p. 231, quotes all the bad things the spirit said about Najara and writes (emphasis added):

הרח"ו ראה בכך אשמה כבדה ולכן סיפר לנאג'ארה על כל אשר נאמר עליו, והוא כותב: "והודה לי שכן היה".

Yet this is incorrect. As I indicated in the text, R. Vital did not speak with Najara about the more serious accusations.
[27] Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos: Isaac Luria and His Kabbalistic Fellowship (Stanford, 2003), p. 176.
[28] A History of Jewish Literature, vol. 5, p. 95.
[29] Ha-Moreshet ha-Musikalit shel Kehilot Yisrael, vols. 7-8 (Tel Aviv, 1986), p. 76.
[30] See here.
[31] Minhagei Ba’al Hatam Sofer, ch. 5:14 n. 1; Zemirot le-Shabbat Beit Soferim (London, 2015), p. 57. See also here.
[32] A recent video of a lecture of his on “Mesoros of Esrogim” can be seen here.

1 comment:

Chalk1 said...

Fascinating article. Thank you.
However, a small but important point: I suggest that when you describe the actions of a Rebbe, as for example, 'the Kosover Rebbe tried to drown the follower of another rebbe', you describe exactly what you mean [i.e. the man almost drowned and the event was ascribed as being due to his having aroused the ire of the Rebbe] as not all your readers will be familiar with the Hebrew vernacular or bother to read your sources.

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