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Karlin Hasidism (Cont'd)

H. The Final Tragedy and the Present Situation (1921 - 1974)

After the death of R. Yisrael of Stolin (Rosh Hashanah, 1921), the Karlin hasidim gathered together in Stolin. R. Yisrael had six sons. After considerable argument, [162] it was decided that one of them, R. Moshe, should remain as Rebbe in Stolin; a second son, R. Avraham-Elimelekh, should take up residence as Rebbe in Karlin; a third, R. Yohanan, should settle in Lutsk (Volhynia); while, a fourth, R. Yaakov, received a call from the Karlin hasidim who had emigrated to America. However, the association between hasid and Rebbe was not determined by place of residence, but -- and this was characteristic of the hasidic movement -- by the personal attachment of the individual hasid to the Rebbe, 'according to the deepest needs of his soul.' Hence, there were Karlin hasidim in Stolin, and Stolin hasidim in Karlin. In this way, Karlin hasidism lost some of its homogeneity and unity. Thus, for example, of the two hasidic houses of prayer in Pinsk, one belonged to the Stolin hasidim (the followers of R. Moshe), and the other to the Karlin hasidim (the followers of R. Elimelekh). The same phenomenon recurred much later -- in the thirties of the present century -- in Tel Aviv; while R. Yohanan in Lutsk and R. Yaakov in America used both names -- Stolin and Karlin -- of themselves. Another son of R. Yisrael's, R. Asher, lived in Stolin. A talented musician, his gifts won the acclaim of musical authorities, and he went to study at the conservatory in Berlin.

A special place among the sons of R. Yisrael was reserved for R. Aharon (R. Aharele). Despite the requests of many of the hasidim, R. Aharon refused to become a Rebbe. A completely unworldly man, he settled in Warsaw (where, too, there were Karlin hasidim) and lived a life of austerity, devoting himself to helping the sick, the poor and the wretched. His selflessness was known and admired not only in hasidic circles. He died a martyr's death in Warsaw during the Nazi Holocaust (apparently in 1942). The stories told of his martyrdom have a legendary ring which bears eloquent testimony to the nobility of his spirit and the loftiness and purity of his self-sacrificing saintliness. His character has also been commemorated in verse. [163]

R. Moshe of Stolin, a qualified Rav and a man of general education, made a name for himself by his practical energy. He also showed sympathy for the idea of Jewish nationalism. He visited Palestine twice (in 1933 and 1937), and expressed himself in favor of the partition of the country between Jews and Arabs -- the question of the moment then -- in order to make the free immigration of Jews immediately (1938) possible. [164] He had a way with young people and concerned himself for their education, founding (in 1922) a yeshivah in Stolin. This was a new phenomenon in the history of Karlin hasidism. The yeshivah was called Beth Yisrael and the main subject taught was Gemara, the aim being to achieve a synthesis of Lithuanian talmudic scholarship with the spirit of Karlin hasidism. The yeshivah quickly became a center of religious learning for the whole district, with as many as a hundred pupils. R. Moshe himself bore the burden of running the institution, [165] which continued in existence until the Nazi Holocaust.

R. Moshe's last years were tragic indeed. In 1939, when Stolin was occupied by the Russians, the Soviet authorities evicted him from his house. [166] He used to wander like a shadow about the streets of Stolin, beloved of his fellow Jews whose sufferings he shared, until he was killed three years later, together with all the Jews of Stolin, when the town was destroyed by the Nazis (29th Elul, 1942). Of his last days we have the following account by an eye-witness: 'The last time I saw the Rebbe and his family... was the day before the great deportation... The ghetto was plunged in dreadful darkness... Everyone felt that the end was approaching... The angel of death hovered over Stolin... We (my husband and I) went to the Rebbe's house. It was after midnight. In the Rebbe's house all was dark. In the hall we found the Rebbe's wife and her daughter-in-law, Perele, and heart-rending cries rose from the courtyard… We entered the Rebbe's room through an open doorway. There in the darkness we made out the shadows of men sitting at the table, wrapped in talithoth [prayer-shawls] and swaying rhythmically to and fro. I could just recognize the Rebbe R. Moishele and his eldest son, Nahum-Shelomo... Now, the Rebbe went up to the prayer-desk and his whispered words reached our ears (my husband caught several expressions and explained to me afterwards that they were part of the vidduy [confession of sins]). Suddenly, the Rebbe raised both his arms and called out with great emotion: "Our Father, Our King, have mercy upon us and upon our children!" He then broke out into bitter sobbing... On the morning of the eve of Rosh Hashanah, 1942, when all the Jews of Stolin were collected in the market-place to be sent to the slaughter, peering at the terrible spectacle from our hiding-place through a crack in the wall, we did not see the Rebbe and his family there... When I visited Stolin in 1945, I asked the local Gentiles what had happened to the Rebbe. They, and also the Ukrainian policemen who had been there on that grim day in the market-place, told me that they had not seen the Rebbe among those sent to their death. Some of them reported that, according to one story, the Rebbe and his brother, R. Asherke, and also their brother-in-law, R. Yaakovele, had hidden themselves with their families in the bath-house in the Rebbe's courtyard. Three days after the slaughter, a fire mysteriously broke out there and all of them were burnt alive. The faithful shepherd followed his flock: the beloved and the lovely, in life and in death they were not divided.' [167]

Thus was the Stolin center of Karlin hasidism ravaged and destroyed.

R. Elimelekh's taking up residence in Karlin led to the revival of the hasidic community there, though its influence did not extend beyond the limits of its own narrow circle. On the days of Rosh Hashanah, when the shofar was being sounded or when R. Elimelekh was being escorted to tashlikh [the ceremonial purification from sin], and on Simhath Torah, when the hasidim used to dance in hakkajoth ['circuits'] with the Scrolls of the Law until late into the night, almost till dawn, after spending the whole of the eighth day of Sukkoth in song and dance in the Rebbe's sukkah [booth] -- on those days it was still possible to see in Karlin something of past hasidic glories and to hear an echo of former days. [168]

Amongst R. Elimelekh's guests in Karlin on the Jewish Festivals were hasidim from Polesia, Volhynia, Poland and Erets Yisrael. R. Elimelekh also took an interest in political and cultural problems connected with Jewish life. Thus, for example, he was well versed in modern literature about hasidism (Buber and similar writers), and treated both the writers and their works with respect. Like R. Moshe in Stolin, R. Elimelekh, too, founded a yeshivah in the neighboring town of Luninyets (between Pinsk and Stolin) and raised the necessary funds for its maintenance. In contrast to the heavily philosophical spirit of the musar [morality] movement prevailing in the mithnaged yeshivah in Karlin, near to the Rebbe's house, his own yeshivah was dominated by the spirit of Karlin hasidism, with its joyous affirmation of life. This contrast brought out the essentially hasidic character of the yeshivah, though its primary purpose, like that of its mithnaged counterpart, was the teaching of the Talmud. R. Elimelekh won the special esteem of veteran hasidim, and the elders of the Jerusalem community -- both in the Old City and in Meah Shearim as well as inhabitants of Tiberias and Safed, were among his followers.

Between 1922 and 1939, R. Elimelekh paid several visits to his followers in Palestine. On one such visit to Jerusalem, he inaugurated there -- as commemorated by a special tablet -- the Karlin yeshivah bearing the name Beth Aharon ve-Yisrael. R. Elimelekh kept up a regular and frequent correspondence with his Palestinian followers, for whom his visits to the Holy Land were occasions of festive rejoicing. [169] R. Elimelekh visited Palestine for the last time in the summer of 1939, shortly before the Second World War. Returning to Karlin, he met a martyr's death there in the Nazi Holocaust. Here are eye-witness reports of his last years: 'On a grey morning in Elul, 1940 [at the time of the Bolshevik occupation of Pinsk], I happened to visit the house of the Rebbe [of Karlin], of blessed memory. The Rebbe was not at home. He had not yet returned from morning prayers in the beth midrash. When I entered the house a most distressing picture of poverty met my eyes, wherever I turned. Particularly stark was the total absence of any kind of furniture in the room, apart from a long, narrow, uncovered table which had once been used for the festive hasidic gatherings on Sabbaths and Festivals, especially for the "third meal" and the melavveh malkah, when the hasidim used to sit after the meal singing zemiroth and other tunes. In the doorway of the kitchen stood a thin woman, clothed in a ragged dress, with a torn kerchief over her head. This was the Rebbe's wife, of blessed memory. Her face was so haggard and sunken that I had difficulty in recognizing her. In great pain and distress she told me of "the fresh trouble" that had come upon them: they had been ordered by the housing department of the Town Council to take in a non-Jewish tenant, a government official, and to share their kitchen with him. This meant that the Rebbe's family was in fact deprived of the use of the kitchen, since the new tenant, a pure Russian from Greater Russia, naturally paid no heed to matters of kashruth... and even used to roast a small pig in the oven. Moreover, he was intending to bring the rest of his family to live with them... I left the house greatly depressed... On the intermediate days of Sukkoth, 1940, when I was working as the director of the stores of the government consumers' association in the province of Pinsk, some of the Rebbe's followers came to me... After repeated representations, they succeeded in getting the Rebbe registered for work as a night-watchman for the stores... They did this in order to "qualify" the Rebbe as a citizen possessing the full rights of a permanent local employee, and thus ensure that he would not be forced to leave the Pinsk province, like the other "non-productive elements" in Pinsk who were expelled by order of the authorities to remote small towns, a distance of fifty kilometers from the city's boundaries... Presumably, the Rebbe R. Elimelekh did not himself perform the duties of watchman late into the night, but the few of his loyal adherents that remained used to take his place in turn, all through the night till the morning. This went on, to my knowledge, until the 6th November, 1940... and perhaps the Rebbe continued to hold this post for a long time after this.'

'My friend, Mr. Nathan-Note Weiner, of Vladimirets near Visotsk... one of the long-standing followers of the Rebbe, also told me that, on the eve of Purim, 1941, he visited the Rebbe at his home in Pinsk in connection with some family matters of his own, and found him in a state of great depression and looking very ill and distraught. The Rebbe told him that he had stopped receiving his followers in his usual manner, since every day brought new and even greater exactions, miseries and persecutions upon him, and matters had reached such a pitch that he was afraid even of the members of his own circle. "My life is so bitter, because I do not know who the people dancing around me are" -- such were the Rebbe's words, as reported by the above-mentioned Mr. Weiner.' [170]

We do not know any details of how R. Elimelekh lived during the Nazi occupation of Pinsk or of how he met his martyr's death. But we have an eye-witness account of the tragic end of his daughter, Hannele. To save herself from a shameful death at the hands of the Nazis, she took her own life by swallowing poison. [171] The same eye-witness does not remember whether he saw R. Elimelekh in the Pinsk ghetto. The 14th Heshvan, 1942, is considered by the hasidim to be the date of R. Elimelekh's death, whereas the Pinsk-Karlin ghetto was destroyed on the 18th - 20th Heshvan, 1942.

R. Yaakov, the son of R. Yisrael, was called to the United States in 1923 to become the spiritual leader of his father's followers. He, too, displayed an interest in general Jewish problems. There were in New York originally four shulkhens [prayer houses] of the Stolin hasidim. One of these, which was close to the Rebbe's house and had been purchased by the Stolin hasidim, was called Beth Aharon. In Detroit, too, there was a Stolin shtiebel [hasidic prayer-house], founded by Stolin hasidim working as mechanics in the city's factories. On the Penitential Days, the Rebbe's followers from various towns used to come to him to pray together with him for a good year. R. Yaakov, for his part, used also to visit his followers in the towns where they lived. His personality provided a rallying point for the faithful adherents of Karlin hasidism. He died in 1946, while visiting his followers in Detroit, and was buried there.

The youngest of R. Yisrael's sons, R. Yohanan, was the spiritual leader of the Karlin hasidim in Volhynia and its environs up to the outbreak of the Second World War. It is related that, when the Nazi forces advanced on the town where he was living, Lutsk, R. Yohanan, together with his wife and two daughters, escaped with the partisan fighters to Russia, where his wife and elder daughter died. After many hardships on the long journey from the Soviet Union through Germany, R. Yohanan and his surviving daughter finally reached Palestine in 1946, thanks to the intercession of his followers, and settled in Haifa. Practically all the Karlin and Stolin hasidim, who had been left leaderless by the deaths of R. Moshe and R. Elimelekh, recognized him as their Rebbe. In addition to the already existing Karlin houses of prayer in Safed, Tiberias and Jerusalem, another one was built in Tel Aviv, and a Karlin minyan came into being in Haifa. Next to the Karlin yeshivah which had previously been established in Jerusalem, R. Yohanan set up another, smaller yeshivah for beginners. On the Penitential Days and on Simhath Torah, the Karlin hasidim used to come to their Rebbe in Haifa where it was still possible to hear the traditional Karlin melodies. In 1948, R. Yohanan went to the United States, in response to a call from the Karlin hasidim there, and took up residence in the same house in which his brother, R. Yaakov, had lived previously. He established a yeshivah there and sent regular contributions to the yeshivoth in Jerusalem. The Karlin hasidim living in America looked to him as their spiritual leader.

R. Yohanan published the Siddur Beth Aharon ve-Yisrael (New York, 1952), incorporating the rites and customs of the Karlin dynasty of Tsaddikim. Included in this prayer-book are sayings and homilies of the Karlin Tsaddikim, taken from the original Beth Aharon and arranged according to the order of the prayers. At the end of the book there are 'holy letters' written by the Karlin Tsaddikim, also taken from the original Beth Aharon. This siddur is intended to make the religious teachings of Karlin hasidism more widely known. It is still used daily by the Karlin Hasidim.

For Rosh Hashanah, 1955, R. Yohanan paid his third visit to his followers in Israel (his previous visit had been in 1938), and spent the Festivals of the month of Tishri with them. Now a Karlin Yeshivah is being built in Jerusalem, a large edifice financed by contributions from R. Yohanan's followers in Israel and the United States. R. Yohanan himself went back to America, intending to return to Israel and settle there permanently. But shortly after reaching America, he fell ill and died on the 21st Kislev, 1955 -- the last representative of the Karlin-Stolin dynasty. After his death, the Karlin hasidim brought out the volume Beth Aharon in a third edition by... our Teacher R. Yohanan of blessed and pious memory' (Brooklyn 1952, as printed in Brody 1875). On the 18th Adar II, R. Yohanan's followers brought his body from the United States to Israel and chose Tiberias as his final resting place -- the city in which the Karlin hasidim had first settled in the Holy Land, and which had exercised a spiritual influence on the whole Karlin dynasty. When R. Yohanan died, the last remaining Karlin hasidim were left leaderless. [172] The Karlin melodies still sung here and there in Jerusalem and New York by the still surviving Karlin hasidim are the last flickerings of the bright ray of light which, for six generations, illuminated the darkness of the galuth for the Karlin hasidim.

Signatures of the Karlin Tsaddikim

1. Signature of R. Aharon the Great
2. Signature of R. Asher the First
3. Signature of R. Aharon the Second
4. Signature of R. Asher the Second
5. Signature of R. Yisrael, 'the Child'
6. Signatures of the Sons of R. Yisrael

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The prayer-house of the Karlin hasidim in Tiberias,
erected in Tiberias by R. Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk
in the last quarter of the 18th century

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In the early days of hasidism it was customary for the teachers and leaders of the movement to show a special personal interest in certain of their disciples and sometimes even to educate them in their own homes. After the Rebbe's death, some of his followers would choose as his successor the one of these favorite disciples with whom they felt most spiritual affinity. The deceased teacher's disciples would usually continue to propagate their master's doctrine, founding an independent 'dynasty' of their own, side by side with that of their master. This was the way in which the movement spread and branched out. Of the Karlin Tsaddikim only R. Aharon the Great and R. Shelomo trained up disciples of this kind. R. Shelomo of Karlin was, as already noted, the disciple of R. Aharon the Great (though he was also one of the disciples of the Maggid of Mezerich); and R. Shelomo's disciples were R. Asher of Stolin, R. Mordekhai of Lakhovich, and R. Uri of Strelisk. Karlin hasidism thus had four offshoots -- in Lakhovich, Koidanov, Kobrin, and Slonim -- whose influence was confined, in the main, to the territory of Lithuania.


The Libeshei Dynasty

There were in Pinsk hasidim of three hasidic dynasties that did not owe allegiance to the Karlin heder (or school). These were the dynasties of Liubeshov (popularly called "Libeshei"), Horodok and Berezna, all of which originated in Volhynia. The Libeshei and Berezna dynasties were genealogically related. [173] The founder of the Libeshei dynasty was the son-in-law of R. David Halevi of Stepan, the well-known Volhynia Tsaddik and Maggid and author of the volume Hanhagath Adam, and the disciple and son-in-law of one of the Besht's disciples, R. Yehiel-Mikhal of ZIochov. And the founder of the Berezna dynasty was this same R. David Halevi's son.

The founder of the Libeshei dynasty, R. Shemaryahu (Weingarten), was the son of R. Avraham-Abba-Yosef of Soroka (in Bessarabia), a disciple of the Great Maggid, R. Baer of Mezerich. [174] At the beginning of the 19th century' (according to hasidic tradition, in 1802), R. Shemaryahu was Rebbe in Liubeshov-Libeshei, a small town close to Pinsk, at the same time officiating as Rav in Libeshei and in the neighboring town of Kobrin. [175] He had adherents in the small towns round about Pinsk (Yanovo, Telekhan, Homsk, Motele and others). His sphere of influence stretched between Pinsk and Kobrin, and even in these two towns themselves there were "Libeshei tables". In the terms of the official rabbinical appointment which, according to hasidic tradition, R. Shemaryahu obtained from the Jews of Kobrin, the position of Rav in Kobrin was vested in him and his sons in perpetuity, and he was also empowered to appoint dayyanim [Jewish judges] and ritual slaughterers in the town as he thought fit. Consequently, the dayyanim and slaughterers of Kobrin were hasidim, even though most of the Jewish population were mithnagdim. R. Shemaryahu's following was also swelled by some of the mithnagdim from the neighboring small towns. In this way hasidism spread, to a limited extent, in this part of the region of Polesia, including Pinsk.

The appointment of the Tsaddik of the Libeshei dynasty as Rav of all the neighboring small towns -- the only instance of its kind in Lithuanian hasidism -- is confirmed by the writer Hayyim Chemerinski in his memoirs. His eye-witness accounts throw light -- albeit from the satirical standpoint of a maskil -- on the state of Libeshei hasidism and on the attitude adopted to it by the hasidim of the Kobrin branch of the Karlin movement. [176]

R. Shemaryahu died in Pinsk in 1846. Libeshei hasidim from Pinsk and from the surrounding region used to visit his grave to kindle a memorial light over it.

R. Shemaryahu's successor was his son R. Yehiel-Mikhal, and after him his second son, R. Avraham-Abba, who was Rav of the nearby small town of Yanovo (between Pinsk and Kobrin) and in Libeshei. [177] At this time, after the death of R. Shemaryahu, the influence of the Libeshei dynasty in Kobrin itself passed, as a result of dissension, to the Kobrin 'court' (R. Moshe of Kobrin, R. Meir Meirim). [178]

After the death of R. Avraham-Abba in Pinsk (1861), the position of Rebbe was held first by his son R. Hayyim-Yitshak (from 1861 to 1879) and then by his grandson, R. Yaakov-Leib (from 1879 to 1922). According to information from hasidic sources, the Libeshei hasidim in those days numbered up to two thousand. The fact that his son-in-law, R. Eliezer-Lippa Klepfish, was Rav in Libeshei [179] shows the extent of R. Yaakov-Leib's influence over the whole Jewish population. At the same time (1886), another son of R. Hayyim-Yitshak's, R. Abba, took up residence as Rebbe of a small town of Yanovo. The small area of Libeshei hasidim was thus split between two factions, with consequent dissensions and conflicts. Of these we can read in the satirical description written in 1886 by a native of Yanovo, Yisrael Levin. [180] According to this source, the Libeshei dynasty was originally founded in the small town Yanovo, and its hasidim were originally named after this town. It was R. Avraham-Abba, the son of the founder of the dynasty, R. Shemaryahu, that transferred his place of residence to Libeshei. As already stated, these two small towns were very close to Pinsk, and therefore Libeshei hasidim penetrated to some extent into Pinsk too, especially since some Libeshei hasidim moved into that town.

R. Abba died about 1924.

R. Yitshak-Aharon, the son and successor of the above named R. Yaakov-Leib in Libeshei, also lived in Pinsk, where he had his followers and his synagogue. On Friday evenings, after the Sabbath eve meal, the men would leave their families and come to the Rebbe in Pinsk to sing Libeshei melodies, and sometimes also to hear an expository commentary on the Torah.

In the period between the two World Wars, he several times visited his adherents in America. In this period, while he was living in Pinsk, he gave his support, like the Tsaddik of Karlin, R. Elimelekh, who was then living in Karlin, to the Tifereth Bahurim ["Exemplary Young Men"] evening institute for the study of Torah and Talmud by young men after their day's work.

He died a martyr's death in the extermination of Polesian Jewry. Of his tragic end we have an eye-witness report by David Epstein, a native of the town of Libeshei. He writes as follows: 'I saw how the Gestapo took our holy Rebbe, R. Yitshak-Aharon Weingarten, and his two handsome sons and dragged them off by their long, comely beards and side-whiskers to a dark, dank cellar, where they tortured them horribly… This was on the morning of the 9th Av, July [?] 2nd 1942 [?]... They made them run to work. The holy Rebbe too... went... to work... They cut off one half of his [sc. the Rebbe's] beard… stripped him naked, and ordered him to sing and dance and shout... They ordered him to the horses with his tallith katan [the fringed vest worn by orthodox Jews, great Arba Kanfoth]. After an hour, members of the Ukrainian police and the Gestapo surrounded the cellar and began to drive out the wretched people inside... beating them on the head with rubber truncheons. Our holy Rebbe, R. Yitshak-Aharon, had not the strength to walk, so they took him in a cart... and transported him... to the other side of the river Stuhod... There they ordered them... to dig pits for themselves... When, after hard labor, they had completed the digging, all the Jews were ordered to take off their clothes... A board was placed over the pit, and they were ordered to stand on the board, five at a time. In this way, they were all shot. And the holy Rebbe and his two sons were tortured... before they were killed. The killing of our holy Rebbe and his sops… ended on July 3rd.

Although Libeshei hasidim originated and developed in the center of Lithuanian Polesia in and around Pinsk, it was essentially an offshoot of the hasidism of Volhynia, the home of the founders of its dynasty. In character it belonged to the whole hasidic movement of the time, in giving the cult of the Tsaddik predominance over all the other principles of hasidic doctrine. The Libeshei Tsaddikim left no written works. They were opposed to fasting and stressed the importance of joyfulness, though they did not know how to realize this principle in their lives as Karlin hasidism did. They also had their own hasidic melodies. A characteristic phenomenon of Libeshei hasidism was that its Tsaddikim held the office of Rav in Lithuanian towns (Kobrin, Yanovo and Libeshei). This is evidence of the good relations prevailing between them and their predominantly mithnaged environment, and also of the authority wielded by the founder of the Libeshei dynasty, R. Shemaryahu. This is further demonstrated by the fact that R. Shemaryahu's son married the daughter of the then famous Pinsk Rav, R. Hayyim, the son of R. Perets Hacohen, [181] who settled in Palestine. [182]


The Horodok Dynasty

At the beginning of the 19th century, an independent hasidic dynasty was established in the small town of David-Horodok, near Pinsk and close to StoIin. The adherents of this dynasty were known in the region of Polesia, and particularly in the neighborhood of Pinsk and in Pinsk itself, as 'the Horodok hasidim' (not to be confused with the followers of R. Menahem-Mendel of Vitebsk, who were also called by this name). This was the smallest of the offshoots of the hasidic dynasties in Lithuania, its followers being confined to the small area stretching between David-Horodok, Lakhva, Luninyets, Pinsk and Kozban-Horodok. While the Libeshei hasidim gained a foothold west of Pinsk, between Pinsk and Kobrin, the small Horodok branch established itself to the east, between Pinsk and Lakhva.

The founder of this dynasty was R. Wolf, known to the hasidim as Wolfche (Ginsburg), the son of the Tsadiilk R. Shemuel Halevi of Koshivka (a small town in Volhynia not far from the well-known hasidic center of Neskhizh). [183] R. Shemuel was the close friend of a well-known Volhynia Tsaddik, R. Mordekhai of Neskhizh. [184] From a letter written by R. Asher the First of Stolin to R. Wolf (between 1802 and 1826) it transpires that there were friendly relations, and also marriage connections between these two Tsaddikim. [185] We do not know exactly how R. Wolf managed to establish an independent dynasty in the heart of 'the Karlin domain. The only hasidic source that mentions R. Wolf describes him as 'the Rav and Av Beth- Din. [186] There was also a popular tradition that R. Wolf was first chosen as Rav in David-Horodok and only afterwards, apparently on the strength of his distinguished ancestry, was also appointed Rebbe in the same town. Precise information about his personality, his life, and the date of his death is lacking, but the various popular legends about his death are evidence of the extent of his renown and influence.

His successor as Rebbe was his son, R. David, who, according to popular tradition, was not a person of much consequence. Thus, for example, his name is not mentioned at all in the short family biography of hasidic provenance. [187] In contrast to this, his son, R. Yisrael-Yosef Halevi, was one of the chief figures in this branch of hasidism. He made a name for himself as an erudite talmudic scholar, and kept firm control of his followers. He was feared and respected by the inhabitants of his small town, and also by those of the surrounding district. In the Karlin suburb of Pinsk, there was a synagogue in which his hasidim, who were living in the town, used to pray. This synagogue was called 'Horodoker Shulkhen' ('The Synagogue of the Horodok hasidim'). R. Yisrael-Yosef's followers included also Jews of high social standing (for instance, the well-known Pinsk family of the Tseitlins used to pray in this synagogue), and even some from the mithnaged homes. Thus, for example, whenever he visited the Horodok house of prayer in Pinsk, the official (government) Rabbi of Pinsk, the public worker and maskil, Beilin, [188] would come to his 'table,' as would other leading local figures. R. Yisrael-Yosef was a personal friend of the well-known Volhynian Tsaddik, R. Yitshak of Neskhizh, with whom he was also connected by marriage. His dependence on R. Yitshak is clear from his letters to him (from the years 1856, 1861, 1864). When he writes 'I entreat and beseech... that he should not forget us... that I may be able to dwell in my house in peace and quiet,' [189] he is apparently referring to the quarrel that arose at that time between his own followers and the Karlin-Stolin hasidim, who regarded the Horodok hasidim as their inferiors. The form of prayer in the Horodok synagogues was close to that of Volhynia.

When R. Yisrael-Yosef died in c. 1899, a common structure [ohel] was erected over his grave and those of his father and grandfather in the Horodok cemetery.

On the state of Horodok hasidism after the death of R. Yisrael-Yosef, and on the difference between the hasidim of Horodok and those of Karlin-Stolin, we find the following first-hand account in a book of memoirs written by a native of the town. [190] 'David-Horodok had its own dynasty of Tsaddikim. The sons and grandsons of the old Rebbe…, R. Yisrael-Yosef, still dwell in the town... His sons and daughters lived in the street in which stands the beth midrash of “the old Rebbe." They lived in poverty, but enjoyed general respect reflected from the cold, distant light of the star that had gone out -- their grandfather, "the old Rebbe." It was otherwise in the prayer-house (shtiebel) of the Stolin Hasidim. Here all was happiness and joy, especially when the Rebbe from Stolin came to the small town. On those days even the mithnagdim used to go to their prayer-house in secret and pressing themselves to the side of the roads, for fear of a blow on the neck or back from some drunken Stolin hasid. Still worse was the plight of the followers of "the old Rebbe" who were downcast and depressed in spirit. David-Horodok was the "capital" of the Rebbe, R. Yisrael-Yosef, just as Stolin was the "capital" of R. Aharon.'

The difference between the spiritual and social life of Horodok hasidim and Stolin-Karlin hasidim in this period is commented on by another eye-witness, a native of the town of Luninyets, near Pinsk, where too there were Horodok hasidim. Some passages from these memoirs are quoted here, [191] since it may be assumed that they reflect the mutually appreciative attitude prevailing between the two groups in Pinsk too, although apparently there were fewer Horodok hasidim in Pinsk than in Luninyets.

'The large prayer-house known to the Jews as "Die Alte ShuI" was the center of the Stolin hasidim, while "Die Horodoker Shul" was the center of the Horodok Hasidim… Most of the Stolin hasidim prayed according to their own special form of prayer and with the fervor characteristic of the Stolin-Karlin Hasidim… The Stolin hasidim prayed at the top of their voices and with great fervor, to the accompaniment of hand-clapping, beating on the bench, stamping or running from place to place and from corner to corner of the beth-midrash… What they mainly paid attention to was the kavvanah [intensity of the prayer], and some of their prayers truly made a tremendous impression… The "third meal" that they conducted in the prayer-house after the minhah [afternoon prayer] on Saturday are a chapter in themselves. The singing of the zemiroth [liturgical poems] by the unconducted hasidic choir rose to ever greater heights of ecstasy... to the "exaltation of the spirit". Then the hasidim stood up from the tables, formed a ring, and began to dance around the pulpit, their arms linked or their hands on each others shoulders. Here all distinctions and contrasts disappeared: rich and poor, scholar and simple man, old and young -- they all merged into a single mass of dancing Jews. The beth midrash of the Horodok hasidim was the second in the town... In the old beth midrish most of the worshippers were from "the town's high society" --rich timber merchants; here [in the Horodok beth midrash] most of them were artisans... The founders and builders were simple folk... and this beth midrash had a popular character. Here the prevailing atmosphere was... of modesty and simplicity. The Rebbe of the Horodok hasidim also conducted himself with simple modesty... The Horodok hasidim did not have just one Rebbe, but the whole of the Ginsburg family: R. Bobele (R. Wolf), R. Alterke, and later the young Rebbe, R. Velvele, the son of the Rebbe R. Itsikel (R. Yitshak). Most of the Horodok hasidim were... cobblers, carters, carpenters and the like... Their prayers were not noisy but restrained, the words and tunes well known and moderate. The gabbaim [wardens] were simple men... Here, too, "third meals" [on Saturday] were held, but in a more modest manner… The Horodok hasidim had their own zemiroth and melodies. They, too, danced, but without the ecstatic fervor of the Stolin hasidim. Here they besought not only the national blessing of "salvation and solace," but also such more personal boons as: "May we soon drink at your daughter's wedding! "… and the like... In the prayer-house of the Horodok hasidim a liberal spirit prevailed... There was always general rejoicing amongst the Horodok hasidim during the traditional visit to the town Luninyets of one of the Horodok Tsaddikim (R. Bobele, R. Alterke or the young Rebbe, R. Velvele). The rejoicing went on for a whole week... R. Bobele made a deep impression on those who knew him by his remarkable good-heartedness and modesty. He was greatly loved and revered by his followers.'

These memoirs give us a picture of the relations prevailing between these different branches of hasidim, although in Pinsk this difference was not felt on account of the small number of Horodok hasidim in the town. The memoirs testify to the way of life characteristic in those days of each separate branch, as seen through the eyes of 'enlightened' [maskilim] contemporaries.

Of R.Yisrael-Yosef's descendants, his grandson, R. Yitshak (d. 1908) still had a certain influence. 0f the latter-day descendants of R. Yisrael-Yosef of Horodok mention should be made of R. Aharon, who lived in nearby Luninyets. He was not an official Rav or Rebbe, and was supported by the local inhabitants arid the Horodok hasidim. He spent all his days studying Torah and was in the prayer-house the acknowledged spiritual leader, a noble and modest man who lived in poverty and want. He did not preach or expound, but taught the Torah to all. He was killed by the Nazis, together with all the population of Luninyets.

R. Aharon's brother, R. Moshe, was the last Rebbe of the Horodok dynasty. R, Moshe studied Torah and Talmud in the yeshivoth of Volozhin and Lida. A gifted preacher, he became a supporter of Zionism. His tragic death at the hands of the Nazis is described by eye-witnesses: 'Three weeks after the mass murder of the men in Horodok, a women's ghetto was created… Amongst the women there were men disguised in women's clothes, one of them being the Rebbe, R. Moshe, the son of R. Velvele Ginsburg. He was recognized by the Gentile citizens who were examining the faces of the women on the transport, taken off and killed.'

Apart from the letters of R. Yisrael-Yosef, which have already been mentioned, the Horodok Tsaddikim left no written records. The dynasty came into being, it would seem, with the choice of the son of a Tsaddik as Rav, who thus became both Rav and Rebbe at the same time. In this respect, the rise of this dynasty was similar to the rise of Libeshei dynasty. In the small Horodok branch of hasidism, the only outstanding personalities were the Tsaddikim R. Wolf and R. Yisrael-Yosef, who somewhat increased the number of hasidim in this corner of Polesia. [192]


The Berezna Dynasty

Unlike the Libeshei and Horodok dynasties, which arose in Polesia, the Berezna dynasty came into being in Volhynia -- where there were also Karlin hasidim -- and penetrated into Polesia from there.

The founder of the Berezna dynasty, R. Yehiel-MikhaI, known amongst the hasidim as R. Mikhele (Pichenik), was the son of the Tsaddik and Maggid, R. David Halevi of Stepan in Volhynia. He at first lived at Stolin in the house of his father-in-law, R. Leib. [193] Later, presumably after the death of his father (1809), [194] he took up residence as one of his father's successors, in the small town of Berezna not far from Stepan (between Sarny and Rovno). According to hasidic sources, he settled in Berezna on the invitation and with the support of the local porits [Gentile aristocrat and estate-owner] who hoped, by establishing a hasidic 'court' in Berezna, to develop the town to his own material benefit. [195] The ties formed by R Mikhal with the Jews of Stolin during his residence there continued after his departure, and both in StoIin itself and in the surrounding district (Pinsk, Luninyets and other towns), there were 'Berezna houses of prayer,' even though the actual number of Berezna hasidim in these towns was small. It is quite possible that R. Mikhal was helped in making a name for himself in Stolin by the fact that this was the time (after 1810) when R. Asher the First left Stolin and moved to Karlin.

R. Mikhal died in 1848. [196]

His son and successor, R. Yitshak, was the leader of the Berezna hasidim till 1865. [197] He gained a reputation as a wonder-worker and his main influence was with the simple masses. Even Christians frequently turned to him for advice or to obtain his blessing. [198]

After R. Yitshak's death, the dynasty split into two. One group, including the Berezna hasidim living in Polesia, recognized R. Yitshak's son, R. Yosef, as their leader; while the other chose his son-in-law, R. Hayyim (Taubman), who was also the son of the Libeshei Rebbe, R. Yehiel-Mikhal. R. Hayyim founded his own dynasty in Berezna. He died in 1907.

R. Yosef died young in 1869.

His eldest son and successor, R. Avraham-Shemuel, faithfully preserved the heritage of his fathers for forty years, till 1917. He won the esteem of the mithnagdim, and used to pay regular visits to his supporters in the towns of Polesia (Stolin, Pinsk, Luninyets) in order to maintain his links with them.

Here is an eye-witness description of R. Avraham Shemuel himself and of the life led by the Berezna hasidim: 'R. Shemuel was a faithful leader and good father to the hasidim of Berezna and the surrounding district, up to Pinsk and Luninyets… He was a short, broad-shouldered man, with fiery eyes, penetrating and wise. He had a long whitish-yellowish beard, and wore a silk or satin caftan and white trousers. All this gave him a dignified appearance. On Simhath Torah, the Berezna hasidim flocked to the Rebbe's house where the "court" musicians competed… And on Hanukkah nights, hasidim of all classes flocked to his house -- merchants and artisans, every one of whom, according to, and even beyond, his means, gave Hanukkah money to the Rebbe and enjoyed Maoz tsur [the Hanukkah hymn] sung in the special Berezna fashion. On Sabbaths they came towards evening, to the 'third meal' to obtain the privilege of a crumb or a piece of "gefilte" fish... When the Rebbe began the havdalah prayer in a low voice with "Behold God is my salvation," the hasidim listened intently to these words and firmly believed in the God of salvation… Prayers and supplications in the town: the Rebbe is ill! For whole nights Psalms were read, and on the last night the people of Berezna did not close their eyes. As the reports on the Rebbe's condition came in one after the other, the foreboding grew that he was about to depart this life. Berezna mourned his death for a whole year.' [199]

R. Avraham-Shemuel of Berezna was succeeded by his three sons. The first, R. Yitshak the Second, also held the position of Rav in Berezna, [200] and used to visit his followers in Polesia, Pinsk, Luninyets, and other places. He died in the autumn of 1939. The second son, R. Nahum, was Rav and Rebbe in the small Volhynian town of Dombrovits (between Berezna and Stolin). He was killed by the Nazis in 1942. The third son, R. Yosef, settled in Sarny. [201] The successor of R. Yitshak the Second, R. Aharon, settled in Rovno. He died of cold and hunger while hiding with the partisans in one of the forests of Polesia, and his grave was dug there by his two daughters. His other son was R. Yehiel-Mikhal.

The parallel branch of the Berezna dynasty was headed first by the sons of R. Hayyim, R. Gedalyah and R. Aharon, and after R. Aharon, by his son, R. Hayyim. R. Gedalyah and R. Hayyim died as martyrs, together with their followers.

One of the grandsons of R. Avraham-Shemuel of Berezna, R. Ben-Zion Rabinovich, emigrated to America and founded a synagogue in Detroit named, after his grandfather, Beth Shemuel, the Berezna hasidim who lived in Pinsk were, in later years, loyal followers of their Tsaddikim – R. Avraham-Shemuel, to whom they used to make the 'pilgrimage' from Pinsk and its environs on Rosh Hashanah; [202] his son, R. Yitshak the Second; [203] and finally the latter's son, R. Yehiel-Mikhal. The 'Pinsker Shtime' newspaper of August 12th 1938 contains the following report: 'A Distinguished Visitor to Pinsk. The Rebbe of Berezna, Our Righteous Teacher and Rav R. Yitshak Pichenik of Berezna is staying in the house of Feivel Minkovski... and for the coming Sabbath the Rebbe will travel to Luninyets.' R. Yehiel-Mikhal was an enthusiastic Zionist, who made the aliyah to Erets-Yisrael with his family in 1922 but because of a serious illness returned to Poland in 1928, and settled in Karlin as the Tsaddik of the Berezna hasidim in Pinsk. In 1935 he went back to Berezna and succeeded his deceased father as Tsaddik there. He was killed in the Holocaust. [204]

The Berezna dynasty left no book or other written record. Like the Libeshei and Horodok dynasties, that of Berezna was the product of the Volhynia hasidic movement and resembled it in character, being free of the tendency to talmudic scholarship which was found in other branches of hasidism at the time. Most of the Berezna hasidim were simple people whose unquestioning belief in their Rebbe strengthened their trust in God and gave added joy to their lives.


Of, the more than forty synagogues and batei midrash in Pinsk and Karlin from the middle of the last century onwards only six were hasidic: two synagogues of the Karlin-Stolin dynasty, one of each of the other dynasties mentioned above -- Libeshei, Horodok, Berezna -- and one synagogue called Konfederat [from 'confederation'] Shulkhen, frequented by 'foreign' hasidim who did not belong to any of the hasidic dynasties in Polesia. The small number of the hasidic synagogues in Pinsk and Karlin shows that, despite the great importance of the Karlin hasidim in the history of hasidism, Pinsk was a mithnaged stronghold.


Together with the destruction of the Karlin-Stolin dynasty in the Nazi Holocaust went the loss of the Stolin genizah, the great store of hasidic historical documents. These archives, which served as a basis of this present study and which have been frequently mentioned in this monograph, were referred to by the hasidim themselves as 'the holy writings.' They were housed in the cellar of the old Rebbe's residence (the 'court') in Stolin and comprised the following items: the correspondence of the Karlin Tsaddikim and of the Tsaddikim of other important dynasties, from every period of the hasidic movement; regulations governing various associations; wills; manuscripts, published and unpublished; pledge of loyalty (shetar hith-kashruth) given by R. Yitshak Luria's and R. Hayyim Vital's disciples in 1575; old books; a talmudic compendium of Alfasi, printed in Venice in 1522; Sefer ha-Tsoref (1,400 pages, 22 x 35) -- a manuscript written by the Shabbatean, R. Yehoshua-Heshel Tsoref; a manuscript, said to have been written by R. Yehudah Liva (Maharal) of Prague; and other writings.

'Accompanied by the granddaughter [of the 'Rebbe's wife]' -- so wrote the late David-Tsevi Bakhlinski -- 'I went down to the cellar and took out several files full of various letters. I now discovered that, when I had entered the cellar for the first time the year before, I had seen only the tenth or twentieth part of all the treasure hidden there. I estimate that there are there about a thousand letters and other writings of the leading hasidic figures of all periods.'

Thus were lost important original documents which could have provided valuable source-material for the study of Jewish history.


The Manuscripts from the Stolin Genizah of the Karlin Dynasty

The asterisk (*) indicates that a copy of the original ms. is in the present author's possession.

Aharon the Great of Karlin; His postscripts in the Nesvizh pinkas.
Idem; Letter to one of his hasidim about principles of hasidism.
Aharon the Second of Karlin, Proclamation on behalf of the Jewish community in the Holy Land.
* Idem; Proclamation after buying the prayer-house in Tiberias, which had previously been erected by R. Mendel of Vitebsk.
* Idem; Letter to Kozhenits hasidim.
Idem; A short prayer.
Idem; Letter to his hasidim about their payment to the 'court' fund.
* Idem; Letter to his family about doctors [in the possession of his descendants].
* Idem; Letter to his daughter Miryam and to his son-in-law R. Avraham-Yaakov [in the possession of his descendants].
* Idem; Letter to his daughter Miryam and to his son-in-law R. Avraham-Yaakov of Sadagora (29.7.1866) [in the possession of his descendants].
Regulations of Mishnah-reading society in the town Yanovo, signed by R. Aharon the Second of Karlin (1830).
Deeds of sale relating to houses bought in R. Aharon's name in Jerusalem and Tiberias. Letters to R. Aharon the Second of Karlin from the recipients of the halukkah, appointing him as the 'chief general administrator' of all the funds sent to the Holy Land and his son, R. Asher the Second of Stalin, as his assistant.
* Asher the First of Karlin; Letter to R. Yosef of Pinsk about the persecution of his followers.
* Idem; Proclamation on behalf of the Jewish community in the Holy Land.
* Idem; Letter to the Tsaddik R. Yisrael of Kozhenits [in original and a copy].
Idem; Letter to the salt merchants of Kremenets (Volhynia) that they should not desecrate the Sabbath.
Idem; Letter to one of his followers explaining the value of the hasidic-style prayers on Rosh-Hashanah.
Idem;
Various letters to his son R. Aharon the Second about family affairs.
Idem; List of his books.
Idem; His lucky charms and other proved means of warding off illness.
Idem; Receipts for various sums of money sent by R. Asher to the Holy Land.
Idem; Pinkasim comprising testamentary and family matters.
Asher the Second of Stalin; Letter signed by him and sent to his hasidim [in the possession of A. Ben-Ezra].
Avraham Of Kalisk; Letter to R. Nahum of Chernobyl about contributions of money for the Holy Land.
Avraham-Yehoshua-Heshel of Apta; Letter of New Year greetings to R. Asher the First of Karlin.
Idem; Letter about the ritual slaughterers of Olevsk (1810).
Barukh of Mezhibozh; Letter to a certain R. Yaakov-Shimon about the journey of a family to Rashkov (1810).
David Halevi of Stepan; Letter to the Jews of the town of Rokitno about their behavior.
Dov-Baer of Mezerich; Letter to R. Eliezer Halevi and R. Hayyim of Pinsk on behalf of R. Aharon the Great.
Hayyim Vital; Tract in manuscript, attributed to him.

Levi-Yitshak of Berdichev; Decision in the matter of a dispute between two Jews of Petrikov (1780).
Mordekhai of Chernobyl; Letter to R Shemaryahu of Olevsk about the ritual slaughterer's license.
* Mordekhai of Kremenets; Testament.
* Moshe-Yehudah-Leib of Sasov; Letter to the Hasidim (1796).
* Pledge of loyalty [shetar hithkashruth] given in 1575 in Safed by disciples of R. Yitshak Luria and R Hayyim Vital.
* Resolutions in the pinkas of the Nesvizh community (1769).
* Shelomo of Karlin; Letter to R. Aharon Segal of Vitebsk.
Shemuel-Avraham Shapiro of Slavuta; Reply to invitation to R Aharon the Second of Karlin's wedding.
Yehiel-Mikhal of Zlochov; Letter.
Yehoshua-Heshel Tsoref, Sefer Ha-Tsoref [The Book of the Refiner], in manuscript.
* Op. cit.; page 61.
* Op. cit.; Forewords and Postscripts by the copyists of the manuscript.
Yisrael of Kozhenits; Letter to R. Asher the First of Karlin, after the death of the latter's wife.
Yisrael of Ruzhin; Friendly letter to R. Aharon the Second of Karlin (1848).
Idem; Letter to R. Aharon the Second of Karlin about the funds collected on behalf of the Jewish community in the Holy Land.
Yisrael of Stolin; Testament to the family (1921). Copy belonged to a Stolin hasid closely associated with R. Yisrael of Stolin.
Idem; Testament to his hasidim (1921). Copy belonged to the above-mentioned hasid.
Deeds of sale relating to houses bought in R. Yisrael's name in Jerusalem and Tiberias.

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