The Hasidic Rabbinate, Part II
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
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
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."
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
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).
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
|| by R. Avraham b 'Zev Nachum Bornstein
Beer Mayim Chayim
|| by R. Chayim b'Shlomo Tierer
|| by R. Zvi Elimelech b'Pesach Shapira
|| by R. Yitzchak Meir b'lsrael Alter
|| by R. Zvi Hirsh b'Shlomo Shapira
|| by R. Chayim b'Arye Leib Halberstam
|| by R. Avraham Mordechay b'Yehuda Arye Leib
|| by R. Meir Yechiel b'Eliezer Horovitz Rubin
|| by R. Chanoch Heinich b'Shmuel Meir Rokach
|| by R. Klonimus Kalman b'Aharon Epstein
|| by R. Chayim Elazar b'Zvi Hirsh Shapira
|| by R. Elimelech b'Eliezar Lipman Weissblum
|| by R. Avraham Yoshua Heshl b'Shmuel Manes
| Sfat Emet
by R. Yehuda Arye Leib b 'Avraham Mordechay Alter
|| by R. Shneor Zalman b'Baruch of Lyady
|| by R. Moshe b'Zvi
|| by R. Yekutiel Yehuda b'Elazar Nisan
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."
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
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.
Holocaust superseded all these persecutions and in the period of
five years approximately 350-500 Hasidic rabbis and Admorim
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.
Yisrael played a central role in the Hasidic movement from its
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
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).
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.