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The Hasidic Rabbinate, Part II

by Dr. Yehuda Klausner


Map of Hasidic dynasties emanating from Mezritsh ( Miedzyrzec), located  in present-day Ukraine. Click the image for a larger view. From the Hebrew version of this article.

In the first part of this article (Klausner, "The Hasidic Rabbinate, Part I")(R3) we presented the historic background concerning the birth and foundation of the Hasidic movement and the persons responsible for its formation - the Baal Shem Tov (Besht) and his early collaborators. We discussed some aspects of the rivalry between the newly conceived movement and the counter movement, the "Mitnagdim," under the direct leadership of R. Eliyahu Hasid the Gaon (HaGRA), and also listed the names of the members of the second and third generations of the movement.

In this second part we will discuss the latter generations and describe the organization of the movement, the "dynasties."

Hasidic Generations

Against all odds...the Hasidic movement took off and found appeal among the underprivileged people in the small towns and villages of the Pale of Settlement.

Against all odds, especially the opposition of the Mitnagdim Rabbinate, the Hasidic movement took off and found appeal among the underprivileged people in the small towns and villages in the Pale of Settlement, who were deprived of any social, cultural and financial status. The movement that started in Podolia spread to the Ukraine, Galicia, Moldavia, Romania in the near vicinity, and to the more distant Austria-Hungary, Poland, Belarus, Lithuania, and Russia.

As Israel b'EIiezer (1700-1760), the Besht, is considered the founder of the movement, his disciples are considered the second generation. This generation includes R. Dov Ber (1704-1773), known as the Magid of Miedzyrzec [Mezritsh] (later generations used the surname Friedman), senior to the Besht in accomplishments, who helped the Besht educate and indoctrinate the second generation of disciples, mostly accomplished rabbis themselves who, excited by the new movement, came and joined it.

R. Dov Ber was the teacher of the second and third generations of Hasidic rabbis as well, while they in turn were the masters of the fourth generation and so on.

Eight generations can be traced from the time of the Besht until the present day (see Appendix).

In each generation there were disciples that stood out and had the appeal, charisma, and stamina to form and head Hasidic dynasties, some of which are still viable today. On the other hand there were disciples who did not form Hasidic dynasties, and their names, in the first and second generation, were given in the first part. (see Appendix to "The Hasidic Rabbinate, Part I," Klausner 2001).

Hasidic Dynasties

The following distribution of dynasties according to generations and the names of their founders is based on Alfasi (Alfasi 1977) (R1). The succession of generations is given below.

R. Dov Ber was the teacher of the second and third generation...Many of his disciples founded their own schools, established dynasties, and were surrounded by followers.

R. Dov Ber was the teacher of the second and third generation, as mentioned above. Many of his disciples founded their own schools, established dynasties, and were surrounded by followers. A few of them became teachers themselves and their disciples became the teachers and leaders of new dynasties of the subsequent generations. See Appendix for the succession of generations. The teachers in each generation are marked with an asterisk*.

The list of dynasties in the Appendix contains around one hundred original dynasties, each headed by an Admor with its original location. Some of the dynasties were small and localized, while others enjoyed thousands of followers and were spread over many towns. They formed sub-dynasties headed by new Admorim, who were sons, sons-in-law, or relatives of the main Admor, and the sub-dynasty was named after the location of the new Admor. For instance, one of the largest and most viable dynasties, the Twersky dynasty of Chernobyl, was subdivided into over 30 secondary, tertiary, etc. dynasties. Most of the Twersky Admorim perished in the Holocaust. Those few who survived restored the dynasties and reside today in New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Montreal, London, Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, and Bnei-Brak. Another moderate-size but not less important dynasty is that of the Hagers of Kosow, with sub-dynasties established now in New York, Monsey, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Bnei Brak.

Two Hasidic movements, Habad and Braslav, did not promote the dynasty concept through sub-dynasties:

1. The Habad movement of R. Shneor Zalman of Lyady remained a centralized organization with one Admor at its head. At his death, he was replaced by a new Admor. However, Habad made extensive use of Shlihim - emissaries or envoys - sent by the Rabbi to remote or less remote places in order to bring the message of the organization and the Rabbi to those places. Habad became a large, perhaps the largest, and most influential Hasidic movement. Habad is unique within the Hasidic movement and differs in many other ways from the regular dynasties.

2. The Braslav Hasidic movement founded by R. Nachman (1772-1810) of Bratslav, a great-grandson of the Besht (the son of Feige the daughter of Edel the daughter of the Besht), did not establish a dynasty. R. Nachman was a unique personality of high qualities and appeal. Later in his life, he moved to Uman where he eventually died. His followers did not install, after his death and to the present, any new Rabbi to lead them. The Braslaver Hasidism is nevertheless an influential and growing movement today.

The Admor

The Tzaddik was admired and respected by the people and was thus awarded the title Admor...and was called affectionately 'Rabbi' or 'Rebbe.'

The principles of Hasidism, mentioned in the first part (Klausner 2001)(R3), state that the level of the God-fearing and righteous Tzaddik, the highest level in approaching God, might be attained by prayer and total devotion to God. The person who attained this level would merit being the leader of the congregation and could mediate between God and the people. The Tzaddik was the one in whom the people could confide, who would comfort them in their misfortunes and grief, advise them in their daily endeavors, pray for them, bring their grievances before God, and share their happiness and rejoice in their feasts. The Tzaddik was admired and respected by the people and was thus awarded the title Admor, an acronym for Adonenu Morenu v'Rabbenu (our Master, Teacher and Rabbi) and was called affectionately 'Rabbi' or 'Rebbe.' Out of respect, admiration, and esteem for the Rebbe, his followers named their newborn boys after him. They also formed around him a sort of court, with the Admor at its head.

While most Admorim were humble and modest in their daily life and in the relationship with their followers, there were a few whose behavior was different. R. Shalom Shachna b'Dov Ber of Prochowice, for example, after his father the Magid of Miedzyrzec died installed a regal style in his court, with all the pomp and show, including changes in his clothing style. His son R. lsrael Friedman of Ruzhin, the founder of the Ruzhin dynasty and a much-respected figure by both Hasidim and Mitnagdim, continued with that style. R. Zvi Hirsh b'David Hager of Pistiany, the grandson of the founder of the Kosova dynasty, built for himself a large Bet Midrash and his brother R. Yechiel Mechl b'David Hager of Strojineti built a big house where he was surrounded by his followers. Hasidim supported their Admor to the best of their ability and felt proud to be concerned with his well being, even to the extent of making Hasidim of other dynasties envious.

While many attained the level of Tzaddik and the title of Admor on their own merit and achievement, particularly in the early generations, in the latter generations the title was passed on by inheritance from father to son, and was not necessarily based on scholastic record. Charisma was an additional factor that was considered when naming an Admor. There were also some extreme cases such as R. Shlomo Benzion b'Yeshaya Meshulam Twersky who was named Admor of Chernobyl in the United States at the age of 13. An even more extreme case was that of R. lsrael b'Asher Perlow of Stolin who was orphaned at the age of 4, became Admor at age of 6 and was called the "Yenuka of Stolin" ("the Child-Rabbi of Stolin"). He grew up to be a wise educated Rabbi versed in the sciences and an accomplished composer, and had thousands of followers.

The behavior of the Admorim was diverse. There were some that were detached from the people, lived in seclusion, prayer, meditation and study, making provisions for receiving only those in need of consultation. On the other end there were those who felt free to come to the community and communicate directly with the public and were easily accessible by their flock. And of course there were those in between.

Many Admorim practiced various forms of Tzedaka (charitable deeds) like Pidyon Shvuyim (redemption of prisoners) and support of the poor, with some even spending all their earnings on this. There were others with eccentric and odd habits. R. Yitzchak b'Mordechay Leifer of Stanislawow faced his followers with his face covered, R. Benyamin b'Yechiel Leifer of Cluj never tasted meat, R. Shlomo Zalman b'Avraham Frenkel of Debica never slept in his bed, R. Shabtay b'Shlomo Zaunina Zuckerman of Ruscova in the United States used to feed the animals each morning. Some rabbis pursued hobbies or practiced some trade or craft: R. Mordechay b'Yochanan Twersky was a brass and silver carver in Jerusalem, R. David b'Mordechay Zusha Twersky of Hotzalas and R. Avraham b'Chayim Meir Yechiel Shapira of Drohobycz-Jerusalem were accomplished and recognized artists.

Still, the rabbis led a very ascetic life of self-denial, fast, and devoted prayers. Although not removed from their followers in their personal practice, they kept away from earthly pleasures. They served God with their body and soul. Therefore singing and dancing were part of Hasidic gatherings and prayers, and the festive communal meals (the "tish") were led by the rabbis themselves, who sometimes composed the tunes that were sung. Some were famous for composing the tunes for various prayers, which drew many worshippers to the synagogue. Sometimes an entire dynasty, like the Wisznice dynasty, was renowned for its tunes that were sung on every occasion. The Hagers of the Kosow-Wisznice dynasty and the Taubs of the Kuzmir-Modzsitz dynasty are also famous for their musicality and have a long line of musically endowed Admorim. Other dynasties also had composers and lyricists who contributed their share to Hasidic music.

Literary and Scientific Endeavor

In spite of the fact that Hasidic rabbis were generally not considered Talmidei Hahamim, many of them were indeed real scholars, bright and witty.

In spite of the fact that Hasidic rabbis were generally not considered Talmidei Hahamim (Torah scholars), many of them were indeed real scholars, bright and witty. R. David b'Yitzchak Twersky of Skavira, for example, completed the Mishna every month. In-contrast to the common belief, there were Admorim who also served as Posek (rabbinic arbitrator). The literary work of Hasidic rabbis and Admorim was restricted mainly to rabbinic literature, commentaries on the Torah and the Talmud as well as Responsa literature. The vastness and abundance of that literature permits us to quote only a few works and their authors:

Avne Nezer by R. Avraham b 'Zev Nachum Bornstein
Beer Mayim Chayim by R. Chayim b'Shlomo Tierer
Bne Yisachar by R. Zvi Elimelech b'Pesach Shapira
Chidushe HaRIM by R. Yitzchak Meir b'lsrael Alter
Darche Tshuva by R. Zvi Hirsh b'Shlomo Shapira
Divre Chayim by R. Chayim b'Arye Leib Halberstam
Imre Emet by R. Avraham Mordechay b'Yehuda Arye Leib Alter
Imre Noam by R. Meir Yechiel b'Eliezer Horovitz Rubin
Lev Sameach by R. Chanoch Heinich b'Shmuel Meir Rokach
Maor Vashemesh by R. Klonimus Kalman b'Aharon Epstein
Minchat Elazar by R. Chayim Elazar b'Zvi Hirsh Shapira
Noam Elimelech by R. Elimelech b'Eliezar Lipman Weissblum
Ohev Israel by R. Avraham Yoshua Heshl b'Shmuel Manes
Sfat Emet by R. Yehuda Arye Leib b 'Avraham Mordechay Alter
Tanya by R. Shneor Zalman b'Baruch of Lyady
Yismach Moshe by R. Moshe b'Zvi Teitelbaum
Yitav Lev by R. Yekutiel Yehuda b'Elazar Nisan Teitelbaum

Several Admorim had very wide interests, and were even open and receptive to general culture and science, while others studied general or Jewish philosophy. R. Shalom b'David Halperin of Vaslui, R. David Yehuda Arye b'Avraham Yoshua Heshel Twersky of Kantyn, and R. Natan b'Chayim Gedalya Rabinovitz of Izbica were interested in science while R. Menachem Mendl b'Levi Yitzchak Shneurson of New York had an engineering education from the Sorbonne. Some Admorim mastered medicine and often helped the sick among their people. R. Aharon b'Shimshon Gardiya, doctor of Miedzyrzec, was the physician of the Prussian King and R. Dov Ber of Miedzyrzec became his patient. In imparting cures for the maladies and relief in the daily burdens of their followers, some of the Admorim were much revered and looked upon with awe. On the other hand, there were many that practiced "healing," wrote kameot (amulets), and were considered "miracle workers."

Hasidic Persecution and the Holocaust

Opposition to the Hasidim came from within the Mitnagdim and from the authorities as well. R. Klonimus Kalman b'Aharon Epstein, one of the founders of the Krakow-Neustadt dynasty, was excommunicated by R. Yitzchak b'Mordechai Halevi, the Av Beit Din (head of the rabbinic court) of Krakow, and was subjected to years of humiliation by the community.

The Mitnagdim sometimes went so far as to denounce the Hasidim to the authorities, which twice led to the arrest of R. Shneor Zalman of Lyady, the leader of the Lubavich dynasty (Habad). Many rabbis were arrested under the Soviet regime. Some were exiled to Siberia, others were killed by the mob as Jews, like R. Shlomo b'Moshe Gotlieb of Karlin and R. Avraham Eichenstein of Baranowicze. Against R. Avraham Moshe b'Emanuel Weltfried of Rozprza the blood libel was raised.

The Holocaust superseded all these persecutions and in the period of five years approximately 350-500 Hasidic rabbis and Admorim were murdered.

The Holocaust superseded all these persecutions and in the period of five years approximately 350-500 Hasidic rabbis and Admorim were murdered. The list of victims can be found in many publications. It should be remarked here that there were rabbis who rejected opportunities to escape and preferred to go to their deaths together with their community, among them R. Eliezer b'Yechiel Mechl Halperin Halevi of Korets, R. Shlomo Chanoch b'Yechezkel Rabinovitz Hakohen of Radomsk, R. Kalmish b'Israel Yosef Finkler of Radoszyce, R. Avraham b'Yosef David of Damits, R. Baruch b'Shalom Safrin of Komarno, and others.

Many Hasidic rabbis survived the death camps, and after their liberation immigrated either to Israel or the United States, where they reestablished their Hasidic court and dynasty.

The Hasidic Immigration to Eretz Yisrael

Eretz Yisrael played a central role in the Hasidic movement from its conception.

Eretz Yisrael played a central role in the Hasidic movement from its conception. The Baal Shem Tov himself and some of his close disciples toyed with the idea of leaving Europe and going to the Holy Land, but for technical reasons their desire never materialized. Baal Shem Tov's bother-in-law, however, R. Avraham Gershon Ashkenazi of Kitow, was the first Hasid who immigrated to Eretz Yisrael in 1747 where he lived for 14 years until his death.

A continuous immigration of individual rabbis or small groups followed. Some came for a short visit while others decided to stay permanently. There were also those who came to settle but due to hardships of life and climate or health problems had to leave.

Some Hasidic rabbis supported the religious parties, the Mizrachi or the Agudat Israel and even non-religious Zionist movements like Hovevei Zion. The Hasidic movement did not act uniformly in its relationship to the many Zionist groups that were organized. At first, they opposed Zionism in general, but with time and the tireless efforts of Rabbi Israel b'Moshe Friedman (1854-1933) of Czortkow, some of the leading rabbis joined Agudat Israel and others like the Hungarian Teitelbaum rabbis and the Romanian Hager rabbis supported the "Mizrachi" line. The main opposition came from R. Yisachar Dov b'Yoshua Rokach (1854-1927) of Belz, who had his own organization "Machzikei Hadat." It is impossible to mention all supporters of Aliya to Eretz Yisrael and certainly not the hundreds of rabbis that actually immigrated to the Holy Land defying their leaders' wish and instruction. Immigration was halted by World War II and the Holocaust, but most of the surviving rabbis and their Hasidic flock settled in Israel. Some settled in the United States. Some leaders deserve mention for their special contributions.

R. Menachem Mendl b'Moshe (1730-1788) of Vitebsk immigrated in the middle of the 18th century to the Holy Land and settled in Safed and Tiberias in spite of the fact that his close colleague R. Shneor Zalman was a fierce opponent of the Zionist movement.

R. lsrael Chayim b'David Morgenstern (1840-1905) of Pila was an ardent Zionist. He pleaded for the Aliya of 1,000 rabbinic families to Eretz Yisrael, but was met with intense opposition by R. Yehuda Arye Leib b'Avraham Mordechay Alter (1847-1905) of Gora and consequently the response was limited.

R. Avraham Yakov b'lsrael Friedman (1884-1961) of Sadegora survived the Holocaust. When he came to the Holy Land, he took it upon himself to sweep its streets in recompense of being forced to sweep the streets of Vienna.

Contrary to all Habad leaders before him, R. Menachem Mendl b'Levi Yitzchak Shneurson (1902-1995), the last leader of the Habad movement, took a Zionist stand and supported Aliya more than any of the other Hasidic leaders. A detailed account of the Hasidic immigration and settlement in Eretz Yisrael, including names, may be found in Alfasi (Alfasi 1986) (R2).


The name of the Tzaddik is repeated not only by his close or extended family but by his disciples and followers.

It is important as genealogists to say a few words about names, specifically the "given" name. We are accustomed that given names in the family repeat themselves every third generation in the honor and memory of the grandfather. In the Hasidic dynasties this custom is highly intensified. The name of the Tzaddik is repeated not only by his close or extended family but by his disciples and followers. For example, the names Elimelech, Melech that were a rarity at the beginning, became widely used after R. Elimelech b'Eliezer Lipman Weissblum (1717-1786) of Lezajsk.

The affiliation of a member to a dynasty could be, in many cases, detected by his name. In the Friedman dynasty of Miedzyrzec the names Avraham, Shalom, Israel, and Yitzhak became frequent. Meir and Aharon became frequent in the Przemysl dynasty. Yehiel was a common name in the Magid of Zloczow's dynasty, in the Twersky dynasty of Chernobyl the names Nachum, Mordechay, and David returned again and again. In the Hager dynasty of Kosow the names Chayim and Menahem were frequent. The Rabinovitz dynasty of Przysucha used the name combination Yakov Yitzhak and the Teitelbaum dynasty of Ujhely used the name Yekutiel. The Rokach dynasty used the names Shalom, Elazar, and the combination Yisachar Dov. In R. Yakov Yosef's dynasty of Ostrog one-third of the rabbis were named Yakov Yosef and another third were named Elyakim. In the later generations, due to inter-marriages between dynasties the name peculiarity and distinction has disappeared.


1. Alfasi, Yitzchak. HaHasidut. Tel Aviv, Sifiiat Maariv, 1977. (Hebrew) (return)

2. Alfasi, Yitzchak. HaHasidut v'Shivat Zion. Tel Aviv, Sifi-iat Maariv, 1986. (Hebrew) (return

3. Klausner, Yehuda. "The Hasidic Rabbinate, Part I." Sharsheret HaDorot, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2001.

Dr. Yehuda Klausner is a Civil Engineer with BSc, CE, MA from the Technion IIT Haifa and PhD from Princeton University. He served as Professor of Civil Engineering at Wayne State University Detroit and The Negev Institute of Arid Zone Research, Beer-Sheva, and since 1970 is a practicing Civil Engineer specializing in industrial structures and foundation engineering. He published many professional papers and a book on Continuum Mechanics of Soils. In 1982 he became interested in genealogical studies and now his database comprises several families that he is researching. E-mail:  

This article was originally published in Sharsheret Hadorot (Journal of Jewish Genealogy of the Israel Genealogical Society), June 2002, Vol. 16, No. 3, and is reproduced with kind permission of the editor, Yocheved Klausner.