« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

Karlin Hasidism (Cont'd)

B. R. Shelomo of Karlin (1772 - 1792)

The year 1772 was a hard year for the hasidic movement as a whole, and in particular for Karlin hasidism. After the Passover Festival of that year, the first herem against the hasidim was proclaimed in Vilna. Three weeks after the proclamation of the herem, the Vilna community sent letters to the Brisk [Brest-Litovsk] community [50] and to the other communities in Lithuania and White Russia [51] informing them of the step taken. At the instigation of the Vilna community, a herem was now also proclaimed in Brody. The Pinsk community, too, must undoubtedly have received the broadsheet announcing the excommunication of the hasidim, for in the minutes found in the Vilna communal archives we read: 'The leaders of the five principal communities in Lithuania have already taken measures to put a stop to this aberration, in the year [5]532 [=1772].' [52] At the same time, the collection of anti-hasidic writings, Zemir Aritsim ve-Harvoth Tsurim, was circulated among Lithuanian Jewry. The Lithuanian communities were now divided by a spirit of bitter factional strife. In the hasidic camp the worst sufferers were the Karlin hasidim, who lost their leader, R. Aharon the Great, just at that time when the Vilna kahal forcibly dispersed the 'Karlin minyan.'

At the end of 1772, in the month of Kislev, the hasidic movement suffered a further blow with the death of its teacher and leader, the Great Maggid of Mezerich. The same year saw the first partition of Poland, which resulted in the severance of White Russia from Lithuania. In consequence of this great political change, the Karlin hasidim were largely deprived of the spiritual and organizational support which they had been receiving from the hasidim in neighboring White Russia led by R. Mendel of Vitebsk and R. Yisrael of Polotsk. The new political frontier did not, it is true, cut off the Jews on either side of it from all communication with each other. Thus, for example, the decisions on religious questions and on points of Mosaic law handed down by the Beth-Din of the Brisk or Vilna community [53] were still binding on all the Jewish communities. Similarly, the relations between the Lithuanian hasidim and their counterparts in White Russia continued uninterrupted. But since the main attack on hasidism was launched in Lithuania, the Karlin hasidim suffered more than those in White Russia. It was not until after the second and third partitions of Poland, in 1793 and 1795, that the two regions were once again united under Russian rule.

The war against the hasidim was jointly waged by the Rabbanim and the heads of the kahal, which continued to be recognized by the secular authorities even after the abolition of the Vaad ha-Medinah (1761). [54] Thus, for example, the anti-hasidic broadsheets were signed not only by the Rabbanim, but also by communal leaders, [55] and sometimes --as in the case of the broadsheets of 1781 -- even by the latter alone. [56] The sheets were sent from one town to another addressed to both the Rabbanim and the kahal. [57] The participation of the leaders of the kahal in these anti-hasidic activities provoked the hasidim into a deliberate attempt to shake off the kahal's jurisdiction, a struggle in which they were considerably helped by the general dissatisfaction of the masses with the rule of the kahal. The fight against the kahal was begun by the Karlin hasidim and ended in their complete emancipation from its control (1793), but only after a long and bitter struggle.

Prompted by the 'bans' of 1772, the mithnagdim proceeded to hound the hasidim, spying on them, boycotting them socially, and refusing to intermarry with them. The kahal forcibly closed their prayer-houses, and the hasidim were compelled to say their prayers and hold their meetings clandestinely. In this critical period, the heavy task of the physical and spiritual leadership of the hasidim was assumed by R. Aharon the Great's most devoted disciple, R. Shelomo, to whom the Karlin hasidim turned for protection. He headed the Karlin movement throughout these troubled years (1772 - 1792). After a life full of suffering he was driven out of his native town, Karlin, and died a martyr's death in his place of banishment, Ludmir [Vladimiir-Volhynsk].

R. Shelomo, the son of R. Meir Halevi of Karlin, was born, according to hasidic tradition, in 1738. [58] Of his birthplace and childhood nothing certain is known. Even hasidic records on these points are very scanty. [59] Like his teacher, R. Aharon the Great, R. Shelomo was also one of the Great Maggid's chief disciples, and he is mentioned by the Maggid in the latter's letter to the Pinsk Moreh-Tsedek, R. Eliezer Halevi. [60] When R. Aharon set up his beth midrash in Karlin, R. Shelomo became one of his most devoted disciples [61], and used to travel together with him to Mezerich. And when, after R. Aharon's death, R. Shelomo took over the leadership of the Karlin hasidim, he made himself responsible for the upbringing of R. Aharon's son, R. Asher, who was to be the next Tsaddik in the Karlin dynasty founded by his father.

At this very same time (1772 - 1773), another of the Great Maggid's disciples, R. Hayyim-Heikel, who was also a disciple of R. Aharon's and had in his youth been a hazzan [synagogue cantor] in Karlin, established another hasidic center in Lithuania -- in the small town of Anldur [Indura, near Grodno]. R. Hayyim-Heikel's extreme and uncompromising anti-rabbinism still further exacerbated the relations between Rabbanim and hasidim in Lithuania. [62] Karlin and Amdur were the two main strongholds of Lithuanian hasidism in those critical days. In the other parts of Lithuania, especially in Vilna and the region of Polesia, the hasidim were few in number. This difficult period in the history of Lithuanian hasidism is well summed up in Solomon Maimon's statement: 'AIl that now remained of this sect was a few isolated and scattered remnants.' [63]

In White Russia at this time were living R. Mendel of Vitebsk, R. Yisrael of Polotsk, R. Avraham of Kalisk, and R. Shneur-Zalman of Ladi, then still a young man. The main hasidic leader in this region was R. Baer's elderly disciple, R. Mendel of Vitebsk (who was also known as R. Mendel of Minsk) and, later R. Mendel of Horodok. Still in the Great Maggid's lifetime, R. Mendel had taken up residence in Minsk in the 'Province of Lithuania,' and made it his center for the propagation of hasidic doctrine. In the small volume Zemir Aritsim ve-Harvoth Tsurim, published in 1772, we read the following: '...the holy community of Minsk where dwells the symbol of bigotry... in whose company there is a band of wicked men, like R. Mendel of Minsk. On this R. Mendel we have the testimony of two and more witnesses [that he has done] disgraceful and ugly deeds such as are forbidden in Israel...' From a deposition made by a mithnaged in the year 1772, we learn that Minsk was then a hasidic pilgrimage center: 'R. Hirsch the son of R. Iser of Horodno [Grodno] wrote down all the names [of the men]... who wanted to travel to Minsk, and [the mithnagdim] prevented them from going.' The 'house of the hasidim' in Minsk, which served as a refuge for the persecuted adherents of the movement, is also mentioned by R. David of Makov. [64] It is quite possible that R. Mendel's presence and activities in Minsk were among the factors that decided the Minsk kahal to intensify its attacks on the Hasidim just at that time. R. Mendel was forced by the harassment of the mithnagdim to leave Minsk and take up residence in the small town of Horodok (close to Vitebsk). R Mendel's forced departure from Minsk took place about ten years before R. Shelomo's banishment from Karlin and R. Levi-Yitshak's expulsion from Pinsk.

In c. 1775 R. Mendel of Vitebsk and R. Shneur-Zalman went to Vilna in an attempt to explain the tenets of hasidism to the Gaon and to make peace between the two warring factions. But the Gaon refused to see them. They then tried to meet the mithnagdim of Shklov for the same purpose, but there, too, they were rebuffed. [65] As a result of this hostile attitude on the part of the mithnagdim, the leaders of the hasidim in White Russia, with the sole exception of R. Shneur-Zalman, decided in 1777 to emigrate to Palestine. Since R. Shneur-Zalman maintained that he was not yet fit to be their Rebbe, the hasidim of White Russia were left without a leader and used to address their enquiries to R. Mendel of Vitebsk in faraway Palestine. [66] In this interregnum (1777 - 1781) – 'between one king and the next,' to use the hasidic expression -- R. Shelomo of Karlin began to extend his influence into White Russia, and many hasidim there chose him as their Rebbe. [67]

Preserved among the hasidic writings is a letter of farewell from R. Shelomo to the hasidim of Shklov in White Russia. He writes as a Tsaddik and leader to his followers: 'I beseech the Lord that they [sc. the hasidim living in Shklov] may be granted grace through me and no one else.' [68] This provides further evidence that the links between the Jews in the two northern provinces of Lithuania and Reissen were not broken by the political partition of Poland: R. Mendel of Vitebsk and R. Shneur-Zalman travel to the Vilna Gaon to debate the doctrines of hasidism with him, and conversely R. Shelomo of Karlin's influence penetrates from Lithuania, across the frontiers of Poland, into White Russia.

Found amongst the 'holy writings' in the Stolin genizah is the following letter from R. Shelomo of Karlin to R. Aharon of Vitebsk:

'Greetings to my very dear friend, the learned and renowned hasid... R. Aharon Segal, may his light shine out!

'Now... about the matter that has occurred in your province I have much to say to your honor, only it is not possible to explain everything in writing, but only face to face. However, the truth is with us, for God performs wonders unaided, even against the laws of nature... in all places and at all times. Fare you well. From him who prays that the love of the Creator shall be shown to Israel, Shelomo, the son of... R. Meir Segal of blessed memory.

'I request you to send me two glass bottles.'

The letter bears no date nor does R. Shelomo specify what he means by 'the matter that has occurred in your province [sc. Reissen: Vitebsk].' But possibly this letter, which is addressed to one of R. Shelomo's followers or supporters, belongs to the period under discussion. [69]

As is well known, it early became one of the most important principles of hasidism for every hasidic group to be headed by a leader and teacher. Hence it was inconceivable for any such group to exist without a Rebbe, i.e., without a Tsaddik. The anti-hasidic broadsheets of 1781 show us how significant the role of the Tsaddik was even in those early days.' [70] Hence the great importance of R. Shelomo of Karlin for the now leaderless hasidim of White Russia. The conditions of the time made it impossible for R. Shelomo to extend the influence of the hasidic movement; and indeed any such attempt would have been foreign to his wholly pacific temperament. His task was the more modest one of holding together and strengthening the already existing groups of hasidim in White Russia, by becoming their Rebbe after their own Tsaddikim had left them to fend for themselves.

In these same years -- up to 1781-- Karlin hasidism gradually began to provide itself with a proper internal organization. During a lull in the attacks of the mithnagdim, R. Shelomo was able to devote himself to the task of giving Karlin hasidism its own distinctive form. He placed special emphasis on two principles. The first of these was the manner of praying that he had taken over from his own teacher, R. Aharon -- with the maximum of intellectual intensity [kavvanah], emotional fervor, and spiritual devotion. 'For he used to move mountains with the power of his prayer, since he devoted his whole soul to the Almighty.' Hasidic tradition relates that, when a friend once invited R. Shelomo for the following day, he replied: 'You stupid man! This evening I must say the evening prayer and read the Shema, which means devoting my spirit to God. Then comes sleep, and the next day I must pray again, and in prayer there are several worlds till the reading of the Shema is reached. And then there is prostration in prayer, which is also a devoting of the spirit to God, and it is still uncertain whether the Almighty will grant my wish [sc. to remain alive]. Yet you want me to promise you that I shall come to your house tomorrow!' A similar story is also told of R. Uri of Strelisk, a devoted disciple of R. Shelomo of Karlin. It is related that, before going to say the morning prayer, he used every day to take a fond farewell of his wife and children and tell them his last wishes, in case he should depart this life while praying, as a result of the intensity of his devotion to God [devekuth). To illustrate the intensity of R. Shelomo's belief in the power of prayer, particularly of his own prayers, the hasidim relate that, once it was charged in the Court of Heaven that the children of Israel were no longer praying with true kavvanah. A certain king therefore determined to forbid all prayer. In the commotion that ensued, the Tsaddikim in Heaven were first asked if they agreed to the decree. Then R. Shelomo of Karlin was asked. He prayed with such fervor that, when he passionately declared that he undertook to pray for all Israel, the decree was forthwith annulled.

These and similar stories, as well as various teachings attributed to R. Shelomo, show that the 'Karlin manner of prayer' was his creation. From his correspondence with R. Shneur-Zalman we learn that R. Shelomo 'used to despise the natural piety [i.e., the non-ecstatic prayer]' of the mithnagdim all around him. R. Aharon the Great, the thinker, taught that' every act performed by man on earth should be a kind of Divine worship or prayer. R. Shelomo on the other hand, the man of feeling, is said to have taught that all other acts are only ways leading to the true worship of the Creator which is prayer, and prayer is therefore of greater importance than anything else. He is reported to have said that the greatest miracle is to teach a single Jew to pour out his heart to the Almighty.

The second main principle developed by R. Shelomo in Karlin hasidism was the concept of tsaddikism. The essence of this idea was that the Tsaddik is not merely a spiritual leader and teacher, but also has the power to help his followers in worldly affairs: From being a spiritual leader, he thus becomes a wonder-working saint. Hasidic tradition, which refers to R. Shelomo as 'the little Baal Shem,' reports him as saying: 'In Heaven a measure is kept of the fields and woods traversed by the hasid on his journeys to the Tsaddik' In its conception of the Tsaddik, Karlin hasidism differs considerably from Habad hasidism and is closer to the southern branch of the movement in Volhynia and Podolia. R. Shelomo's doctrine with regard to the importance and power of the Tsaddik was still further developed by R. Asher, his successor as head of the Karlin dynasty, and readied its climax in the time of R. Asher's son, R. Aharon the Second. R. Shelomo's teaching was also propagated after his death by his two most important disciples, besides R. Asher: R. Mordekhai of Lakhovich, and R. Uri of Strelisk, 'the Seraph.' [71]

There was originally nothing at all conceited or vainglorious in this exaggerated conception of the Tsaddik's importance. On the contrary, it was accompanied by a profound awareness of the value of every individual Jew, even the most insignificant. The following parable of R. Shelomo, which R. Aharon the Second of Karlin was in the habit of quoting, testifies to this remarkable awareness of the great individual worth of every single Jew in the sum total of the whole Jewish nation: 'All Israel together are a single edifice, and every individual Jew is needed to make this edifice complete. It is like a man who has to get something lying in a very high place and who hasn't a ladder to reach that place. What does he do? He stands many men on each other's backs, from the floor up to the place where the object he wants is lying. Can it be said that a single one of these men, even the smallest of them, is superfluous? If a single one of them moves, they will all fall down. So it is with the whole people of Israel. Every single Jew completes the edifice, each according to his own size and worth, small and great alike, and all together they can ennoble this world and raise it to ever greater spiritual heights.'

At this time, the well-known Tsaddik R. Levi-Yitshak (of Berdichev) was Av Beth-Din and Rosh Yeshivah in Pinsk. This R. Levi-Yitshak was remarkable, not only for his own individual interpretation of hasidic doctrine, [72] but also for his talmudic scholarship. He was elected Rav in Pinsk in 1775 or 1776, during the lull in the mithnaged attacks on the hasidim. The only information that has come down to us about his pro-hasidic activities consists of a few popular legends, according to which the leaders of the kahal were displeased with him for devoting most of his time to prayer and the like, instead of dispensing halakhic rulings. It was evidently the lull in the hostilities between mithnagdim and hasidim in tile later 1770s that made it possible for a Tsaddik like R. Levi-Yitshak, who aspired to putting hasidic doctrine into practice in his daily life, to be elected Av Beth- Din in Pinsk. [73]

However, the wrath of the Lithuanian mithnagdim was soon aroused again by a combination of factors -- the great success of hasidism in the south, the stubborn resistance of the hasidim in the north, and the hasidic attack on the rabbinical method of talmudic study and on the whole rabbinical philosophy of life. The leaders of this attack were R. Shelomo of Karlin (as we learn from his correspondence with R. Shneur-Zalman), and also the second Lithuanian Tsaddik of that period, R. Hayyim-Heikel of Amdur, and others. Especially infuriating to the mithnagdim was the publication of the first hasidic book, Toledoth Yaakov Yosef, by R. Yaakov-Yosef of Polonnoye (1780), without the consent of the Rabbanim. The renewed conflict which now (1781) broke out was even bitterer than that of 1772 and the Karlin hasidim were now persecuted even more severely.

In the summer of 1781, the Lithuanian communities for the second time proclaimed a herem on the hasidim. At about the same time, R. Levi-Yitshak defended hasidism in a public debate in Warsaw with the Rav of Brisk, R. Avraham Katzenellenbogen. On the 20th Av, 1781, the herem was read out in all synagogues and batei midrash in Vilna. Four days later the Vilna community sent a letter to all the other Lithuanian communities, calling on them, too, to impose the herem on the hasidim and to boycott them. Two emissaries were sent for this purpose to the Lithuanian fair at Zelva (near Grodno), where all the heads of the Lithuanian communities had gathered together. At the instigation of these emissaries, and on the authority of the Vilna herem, a ban on the hasidim was now proclaimed in Zelva, too (1st Elul). [74] The communal leaders informed their communities in writing that the hasidim were to be placed under the ban and persecuted relentlessly. The representatives of the Grodno community, headed by their Av Beth-Din, wrote to their members to this effect on the self-same day. [75] On the next day, the Av Beth-Din of Brisk, the well-known adversary of hasidism, R. Avraham Katzenellenbogen, who was also present at the Zelva fair, drew up a public proclamation containing a bitter, vengeful denunciation of the hasidim. Similar action was taken by the representatives of Pinsk [76] and Slutsk. [77] On the return of the emissaries to Vilna (13th Elul), the herem was again proclaimed in that city, this time with the solemn ritual of blasts on the shofar, lighting of black candles, and so on.

The letter drawn up by the representatives of the Pinsk community and sent from Zelva to Pinsk is important for our study, because of the proximity of the latter town to Karlin. The text of the letter reads as follows:

'On the occasion of our being here in the community of Zelva on the day of the market, the Lord willed that we should meet... a great and esteemed member of the holy community of Vilna, the learned scholar... David Moreh-Tsedek... and his compeer, the renowned scholar... Zelig. They showed us a letter... which the Lord prompted... the leaders of the holy community of Vilna [to write], together with the Rav of Vilna and also our Master the pious Gaon [sc. R. Eliyahu], who... girded up their strength to fight zealously for the Lord of Hosts and built a fence to repair the breached edifice [of the Torah]... as was explained at length... They were surely right in all that they said, that there should be one Torah for them all, joined together and united in a lasting bond… Therefore we, too, do fully and firmly endorse... all the words…of the leaders of the above-mentioned holy community [of Vilna] together with the above-mentioned Gaon, as written... in their aforementioned letter. It is fitting and proper for God-fearing men of perfect faith to strengthen and support each other and restore the crown [sc. the Torah] to its former glory, that they should not be separated from each other, but should be joined together like one man, as of old. We have agreed to the enforcement of the great herem proclaimed in the... glorious community of Vilna and of the words uttered and heard in the holy community of Zelva on the day of the market. All that hear this... shall cease to be... separated from the community of the Lord… and [shall cease] to reject the authority of the early Sages, who from of old have followed their thoughts which are based on... the truth...

'In confirmation whereof we, the leaders and officers of the Pinsk community, gathered here in Zelva on the day of the market, do herewith sign our names, on the sixth day of the week, the 3rd Elul, [5] 541 [=1781].

Nahman, the son of Eliezer Segal;
Yaakov, the son of Avraham;
Yehudah-Leib, the son of Elhanan;
Menahem-Nahum, the son of R. Meir;
David, the son of... Feivel;
Shalom, the son of Eliyahu;
Tsevi-Hirsch, the son of Dov-Baer.'

Unlike the public proclamation issued by the heads of the Grodno and Brisk communities, which was also signed by the Av Beth-Din of the town, the call of the Pinsk leaders does not bear the signature of the Av Beth-Din, since in this particular year this office in Pinsk was held by R. Levi-Yitshak.

The letters from the Vilna kahal and from the Rav of Brisk, R. Avraham Katzenellenbogen, are particularly strongly worded. Realizing that the weapons employed against the hasidim in 1772 -- the closure of hasidic prayer-houses, the forcible breaking up of hasidic groups and the like -- had been completely ineffective, the Rabbanim this time decided to ban the hasidim from all social contact with the Jewish community and therefore decreed that no one should eat at their table or have any dealings with them at all. This new wave of bans and boycotts that swept through the towns of Lithuania must have constricted R. Shelomo of Karlin's sphere of influence again and confined it to Karlin which, together with Amdur, once more became the refuge of Lithuanian hasidism.

In this desperately critical time for the hasidic movement, a new figure came to the fore --the youngest and most spiritually gifted of the Great Maggid's disciples, R. Shneur-Zalman. The main center of R. Shneur-Zalman's influence was in White Russia and he was, in fact, the founder of hasidism in these northern districts. He gave this hasidism a distinctive character of its own, which marked it off from both the hasidism of Karlin and that of Volhynia and Podolia.

R. Shneur-Zalman, known for short as 'the Rav,' was born and educated in White Russia. He acquired an erudite knowledge of both revealed teaching [Gemara] and hidden lore [Kabbalah]. At the age of twenty (in 1768) he went to the Great Maggid in Mezerich and became one of his most devoted disciples. It was the Maggid that assigned him the task of compiling a Shulhan Arukh [codification of halakhic law] in the spirit of hasidism (the so-called Shu!han Arukh shel Ha-Rav). In the course of two years R. Shneur-Zalman compiled the main sections of this work. After the Great Maggid's death, R. Shneur- Zalman did not seek to become a Tsaddik, like most of his Teacher's disciples, but, together with the Maggid's son, R. Avraham Hamalakh, he continued his study of Gemara and Kabbalah. Eventually, he became one of the close associates of R. Mendel of Vitebsk, whom he accompanied on his journeys to ViIna (c. 1775) and Shklov to take part in debates on hasidism. When, as described above, the leaders of the White Russian hasidim emigrated in 1777 to Palestine, R. Shneur-Zalman -- apparently at R. Mendel's request -- settled in White Russia. According to hasidic tradition, R. Mendel designated him his successor. Nevertheless, R. Shneur-Zalman refused to take over the leadership of the hasidim at once. It was not till three years later that he agreed to accept this responsibility. During these years, as already stated, White Russia came under the influence of R. Shelomo of Karlin. Also living in this region at this time were R. Yisrael of Polotsk (who had returned from Palestine) and R. Yissakhar-Baer of Lubavich with their own hasidic groups of followers.

In c. 1781 R. Shneur-Zalman assumed the leadership of the hasidim in White Russia and created what came to be known as the Habad brand of hasidism [an acronym of the Hebrew words hokhmah = wisdom, binah = understanding, daath = knowledge]. He introduced into hasidism something of the spirit and character of the talmudic 'Lithuanian' Jews of the northern provinces. He also enriched hasidic literature with his work on the philosophy of hasidism, Likkutei Amarim, better known as Tanya. In connection with the polemical debate between the mithnagdim and the hasidim, it is especially important to note that R. Shneur-Zalman did not regard hasidism as a protest against rabbinism, but rather as its complement; just as he did not consider the head of a hasidic community to be a wonder-working Tsaddik, but merely a spiritual guide and leader. A Jew needed to study hasidism just as much as he needed to study the Talmud, and vice versa; and therefore the religious opinions and way of life of talmudic scholars were not to be despised. The essence and spirit of Judaism were to be learnt from all the available sources; and every form of prayer -- not necessarily or solely that of Hasidism -- brought the Jew closer to his heavenly Father.

R. Shneur-Zalman's name rapidly became widely known. His influence was not restricted to White Russia (Vitebsk, Mohilev, Shklov, etc.), but spread also to a section of the Lithuanian hasidim, especially those in nearby Vilna where the hasidim were being particularly violently persecuted and had no Tsaddik or spiritual guide. The Vilna hasidim were called 'Karliners' already in the time of the Great Maggid, [78] and the name continued to be applied to them still later (1800), [79] even though they had never actually been followers of the Karlin Rebbe. We hear nothing about any relations between R. Aharon the Great and the two propagators of hasidism who were then in Vilna -- R. Hayyim and R. Iser -- or indeed about R. Aharon's whole attitude to the Vilna hasidim. Hence, when R. Shneur-Zalman appeared on the historical scene, most of the hasidim in Vilna regarded him as their leader and Rebbe, though the mithnagdim continued to refer to them as 'Karliners,' a name which had for them become synonymous with 'hasidim.' The hasidim of White Russia, some of whom had from 1777 to 1781 looked to R. Shelomo of Karlin as their leader, now also went over to R. Shneur-Zalman. The sphere of influence of Karlin hasidim within the territory of Polesia was thus little by little reduced at the beginning of the 1780s.

Under the pressure of the mithnaged attacks from outside and of the contraction of his influence from within, R. Shelomo was forced to abandon the old home of hasidism, Karlin, and seek another shelter for himself and his beth midrash. According to hasidic tradition, he had originally intended to withdraw to the small White Russian town of Beshenkovich (in the province of Vitebsk), where several of his followers lived. But, in the meantime, R. Shneur-Zalman's influence had become predominant there and R. Shelomo found himself obliged to ask his consent to the move. [80] R. Shneur-Zalman is said to have made his consent conditional upon R. Shelomo's undertaking not to show contempt for taImudic scholars and scholarship, not to dismiss as worthless the performance of mitsvoth even without kavvanah [true devotion], and not to teach that the Tsaddik has the power to help his followers in everything -- that 'the Tsaddik carries the whole flock.' R. Shelomo accepted the first two demands, but rejected the third, and was therefore compelled to give up the idea of settling in White Russia. This hasidic tradition is evidence of the difference of opinion between these two hasidic teachers on the place and function of the Tsaddik in the life of the hasidic community. It further confirms that, in Karlin hasidic circles just as in other branches of the hasidic movement (R. Yaakov-Yosef of Polonnoye, R. Hayyim-Heikel of Amdur, R. Avraham of Kalisk, and others), the orthodoxy of the mithnagdim was contemptuously dismissed as a purely formalistic observance, and their method of talmudic study was likewise treated with scorn. From the written approval by R. Shelomo prefaced to the volume Kethker Shem Tov, we learn that in 1784 -- the year of the book's publication – he was already in Ludmir. He signs the approval as follows: 'Shelomo of Karlin, at present in the holy community of Ludmir.' [81]

From what is known of R. Aharon Segal of Vitebsk, to whom the above-quoted letter from R. Shelomo was addressed, it may be assumed that R. Shelomo's words -- 'about the matter that has occurred in your province I have much to say to your honor, only it is not possible to explain everything in writing... However, the truth is with us' -- refer to differences of opinion, perhaps even to a dispute about their respective authorities 'in your province' (i.e., White Russia), between R. Shelomo and R. Shneur-Zalman. R. Aharon Segal of Vitebsk was originally a loyal adherent of R. Shneur-Zalman, and the latter refers to him in one of his letters (apparently from the early 1780s) as 'the renowned Rav and hasid.' Subsequently however, he became one of R. Shneur-Zalman's opponents. R. Avraham of Kalisk was obliged to come to his defense in a letter which he wrote to R. Shneur-Zalman: '... Let the wise man hearken and learn to be reconciled with the friend of the Lord, the aged and venerable Rav, the Teacher R. Aharon Halevi of Vitebsk; for it is to his honor to support him and to esteem him as formerly... There is no greater profanation of the Divine Name than to humiliate such a man.' In one of his later letters -- after 1805 -- R. Shneur-Zalman writes disparagingly of R. Aharon Segal: 'It is my duty to warn our followers... to keep far away from the band of agitators and seducers who travel with the letter of the Rebbe of Tiberias [sc. R. Avraham of Kalisk], led by the well-known old man from beyond the river of Vitebsk.' R. Shneur-Zalman here refers to R. Aharon Segal as the 'old man' (the appellation used by R: Avraham of Kalisk), without explicitly naming him. R. Shelomo of Karlin and R. Aharon of Vitebsk joined forces in opposing R. Shneur-Zalman. It is to the ferment created in hasidic circles as a result of this joint opposition that R. Shelomo is referring in his above-quoted -letter to R. Aharon.

Just as R. Shelomo had been forced by the pressure of the mithnagdim to leave Karlin before 1784, so R. Levi-Yitshak was in 1785 driven out of Pinsk by the local population. On the 18th Tammuz, 1785, he was still a Rav in Pinsk: that is the date on which he wrote his approval of the book Halakhah Pesukah (Shklov, 1787) by R. Shelomo Katz of Pinsk. But on the 25th Tammuz, 1785, when he wrote his approval of the book Kanfei Yonah, by R. Menahem-Azaryah (Korets, 1786), he signed it 'here in the community of Berdichev.' It follows then, that in the week between the 18th and 25th Tammuz, 1785, R. Levi-Yitshak must have moved from Pinsk to Berdicbev. According to the hasidic sources, physical force was used to expel him and his family from Pinsk. This indignity was no doubt brought about by the violently worded letter from the heads of the Vilna kahal, led by the Gaon R. Eliyahu and the Rav R. Shemuel, to 'the leaders of... the holy community of Pinsk.' [82] Here is the text of the letter:

'May the righteous flourish... the leaders... and sages... of the holy community of Pinsk...

'We have received your appeal... couched in words of truth and good will to come to your aid... against the man who has been set up in your community as a Teacher and Gaon, yet supports doers of iniquity that throw off the yoke of the Torah and mitsvoth and have introduced new manners and practices unthought of by our holy forefathers. They are the sect of the suspect, the self-styled kasidim [i.e., pious ones]... The leaders and officers of the principal communities, together with the Rabbanim and Geonim, after giving great thought to the matter, have firmly resolved to fight zealously for the Lord of Hosts... to root out the thorns... and to disperse those wicked bands of men and drive them far away from their confines, and to put an end to their practices which are different from, and opposed to, the religion of our holy Torah. It is the Lord's will that they [sc. the leaders] have successfully stood firm in the breach... to subdue them and make them like the dust of the earth, so as firmly to establish the true faith... However, Satan is still at work among us... for the above-mentioned sect have spread... their uncleanness... so far that even the leaders of our community are till now members of the sect, and... follow the new practices... which they have introduced... We warned them in letters, informing them of the bans and excommunications... proclaimed by... the leaders... together with the Rabbanim and Geonim, against the above-mentioned sect and against those that support them... But the members of your community did not incline their ears and shut tight their eyes, even though there have always been in your community renowned and God-fearing men. Being oppressed by the supporters of the above-mentioned sect, they longed [to shake off the oppression] but had not the strength, until they could endure no more and determined to requite their adversaries. Thereupon the leaders of your community arose and took the courage... to lift up the stumbling-block and remove the stones from the highway, and they gave instructions to the Gaon in your community... It was desirable that you should take away the crown from the Rav and Gaon. But after we saw that you agreed not to dismiss him... we, too, confirmed your agreement, in the hope that he might turn back from his misguided way and no longer lead the people astray. But if he obstinately refuses... we have already admonished you in our letter and do so now again... We order you, according to the resolution of the province [sc. Lithuania], to remove the crown from the above-mentioned Rav, the Av Beth-Din of your community... He shall neither teach, nor judge... but shall be utterly expelled. As for their [sc. the sect's] fabrication that the true Gaon... R. Eliyahu (may his light shine out!), has changed his mind and that we, too, have had second thoughts about the bans... imposed till now, this is a lie and another crooked invention of theirs. On the contrary, every day their shame is publicly made known according to the books of the above-mentioned men [sc. of the sect]… We have always supported all the bans, that you should take care to observe what our whole province [sc. Lithuania] has undertaken to do -- that the above-mentioned sect be neither seen nor found in our province -- and should proclaim... in your community [sc. Pinsk] and the community of Karlin and the districts which are now under your jurisdiction, that, under pain of utter excommunication; no one shall perform... the abominations of that sect. And as for those that support and assist them... you shall draw up a list of their names and deeds, for they are a root from which poison grows and spreads. They that call their leader "Rebbe," and he is the chief of sinners, in your community and in the whole community of Karlin and in the other communities under our jurisdiction, those men must be rooted out. Be strong... in zealously fighting the battle of the Lord of Hosts... and do not rest. We are confident that you will give heed to these our words and assert your authority in the land... to drive out the sinners... from the bounds of your holy land, to harass and pursue [the members of the sect] to the utmost of your power, and to utterly wipe out this filth. Such is our just request.

'Written by the heads... of the holy community of Vilna... together with our Master, the Teacher and Rav, the great and renowned Gaon, the Av Beth-Din of the community of Vilna and also the great, pious and famed Gaon, Eliyahu (may his light shine forth!). In witness whereof we have signed our names on this fourth day of the week, the 6th Tammuz, [5]544[=1784].

'Shemuel, Rav of the above-mentioned holy community, and
Eliyahu, the son of R. Shelomo-Zalman of blessed memory.'

This letter is dated 'Wednesday, the 6th Tammuz, 5544 [=1784].' No names are mentioned in the letter and there is an error -- as Dubnow pointed out -- in one detail of the date, since in the year 5544 the 6th Tammuz fell on a Friday, not a Wednesday. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that the following passages -- 'the man who has been set up in your community as a Teacher and Gaon, yet supports doers of iniquity... to remove the crown from the above-mentioned Rav, the Av Beth-Din of your community... He shall neither teach nor judge' -- must refer to R. Levi-Yitshak, since these appellations do not fit R. Shelomo of Karlin. The letter also throws some light on the sequence of events in Pinsk and on the attitude of the Pinsk community to R. Levi-Yitshak before his expulsion from the town. The Jews of Pinsk 'did not incline their ears and shut tight their eyes' to the warnings of the Vilna kahal, 'being oppressed by the supporter of the above-mentioned sect.' Even though 'the leaders of your community [sc. Pinsk] arose and took the courage'... to lift up the stumbling-block and remove the stones from the highway,' and 'it was desirable that you should take away the crown from the Rav and Gaon,' nevertheless 'you agreed not to dismiss him... we, too [sc. The Vilna kahal], confirmed your agreement, in the hope that he might turn back from his misguided way,' From another sentence in the letter -- ' As for their [sc. the sect's] fabrication that the true Gaon, the pious Rav R. Eliyahu... has changed his mind and that we, too, have had second thoughts about the bans' -- we learn that, even at that time, the hasidim were already trying to spread it abroad that the Gaon of Vilna had revised his hostile opinion about them, a step which he did not actually take, as we know, until ten years later.

At this very time --according to one document, on the 8th Tammuz, 1784 -- R. Levi-Yitshak was violently attacked by the Rav of Brest-Litovsk, R. Avraham Katzenellenbogen, in a bitterly-worded open letter. [83] The 'officers of the kahal' in Pinsk this time acceded to the demand of the leaders of the Vilna kahal that 'he shall be utterly expelled.' R Levi-Yitshak would appear to have continued to feel an attachment to Pinsk and to have hoped to return there one day, since he signed his approval of the work Meir Nethivim by R. Meir Margolioth (Polonnoye 1791), dated the 4th Iyyar, 1791, as follows: 'Av Beth-Din and Rav of the holy community of Pinsk and the district, at present Av Beth-Din of the holy community of Berdichev.' This is exactly the same formula as that used by R. Shelomo of Karlin, when he signed his approval of the book Kether Shem Tov: 'SheIomo of Karlin, at present in the holy community of Ludmir.' But the two men never returned to their respective towns.

Karlin was thus left without a Tsaddik. Of R. Shelomo's life in Ludmir very little is known, and we have to rely on hasidic oral traditions. His authority as a disciple of the Great Maggid and of R. Aharon the Great must have helped him in rapidly gathering a new circle of disciples and followers. His adherents in Polesia, who remained faithful to him, must also have visited him regularly in his place of exile. His loyal disciples, R. Asher (the son of R. Aharon the Great) and R. Mordekhai of Lakhovich, accompanied their Rebbe to Ludmir; and there he was apparently joined by a third disciple, R. Uri of Strelisk. R. Shelomo left no written works, unlike others of the Great Maggid's disciples, but teachings attributed to him and legends about him can be found in the following works by his own disciples: lmrei Kadosh ha-Shalem by R Uri of Strelisk (Lvov, no date of publication), and Beth Aharon by R. Aharon (the Second) of Karlin (Brody, 1875). [84] All his life he was known as 'R. Shelomo of Karlin,' and that is the name by which he is referred to in hasidic writings down to the present day.

R. Shelomo died a martyr's death during the wars between Russia and Poland, on the 22nd Tammuz, 1792. Many legends have grown up around his death. One of them, which is true to his spiritual nature, runs as follows: During the war between Russia and Poland, the Russian commander gave his troops permission to do as they pleased with the Jews of Ludmir for two hours. This was on the Sabbath eve, when almost all the Jews of the town had taken refuge in the synagogue in which R. Shelomo of Karlin was in the habit of praying. R. Shelomo was standing by the table and saying the kiddush [blessing over the wine] with his usual intense devotion. Just then, a lame Cossack passed by the synagogue and aimed a rifle at R. Shelomo. R. Shelomo's small grandson, who was standing next to him, saw what was happening and tugged at R. Shelomo's robe to rouse him from his trance. At that same moment the Cossack fired at him and wounded him. R. Shelomo said that if his grandson had not roused him from his trance of devotion, the Cossack would not have had the power to harm him. The hasidim wanted to take R. Shelomo out of the synagogue, but he refused to move until he had finished sanctifying the Sabbath. When he had finished his prayer, they laid him on a bed, and while they were dressing his wound he asked for the Zohar to be brought to him. The volume remained open in front of him till his soul departed.

The hasidic legend adds that the lame Cossack was actually Armilus who, according to the Midrash, is to kill the Messiah the son of Joseph [the Messiah of suffering who was to precede the Messiah the son of David]. R. Shelomo himself used to say: 'I am ready to be the Messiah the son of Joseph, provided that the Messiah the son of David comes at last.' The hasidim believe that every generation has its Messiah the son of Joseph, who by his sufferings and devotion brings nearer the final redemption, and R. Shelomo was this Messiah in his generation. His nameless grave was dug in Ludmir. Over it there is an ohel [structure over the grave] containing a large stone with two holes in which written requests can be placed, and a narrow opening for the lighting of a ner tamid [perpetual light]. The hasidim used reverently to point out the place where R. Shelomo, for twenty years the leader of Karlin hasidism, was laid to rest after a life full of trials and tribulations.

In addition to his role as Rebbe and spiritual guide in a period of crisis, R. Shelomo's other great claim to a place of honor in the history of Lithuanian hasidism was that he provided it with its future leaders. After his death, the 'Karliners' overcame the opposition of the mithnagdim and achieved equal and independent status in communal affairs. By the 1790s Karlin hasidism was already enjoying its second heyday, which R. Shelomo had not been spared to see. Two of his disciples, R. Asher and R. Mordekhai, returned to Polesia and established hasidic centers there. What R. Shelomo himself had been unable to do was achieved by his disciples and their successors, who, at the end of the eighteenth century and throughout the nineteenth, succeeded in propagating the doctrine of hasidism not only in Lithuania and White Russia (R. Asher of Stolin, R. Mordekhai and R. Noah of Lakhovich, R. Shelomo-Hayyim of Koidanov, R. Moshe of Kobrin, R. Avraham of Slonim), but also in Volhynia (R. Moshe, the son of R. Shelomo, and his descendants) and Galicia (R. Uri of Strelisk, R. Yehudah-Tsevi of Stretin).

C. The Second Ascendancy of Karlin Hasidism (1792 - 1794)

After R. Shelomo left Karlin and moved to Ludmir (before 1784), his followers in Karlin remained faithful to their Rebbe and his teachings. The hasidic way of life and mutual loyalty instilled into the Karlin hasidim by R. Aharon the Great proved strong enough to withstand the mithnaged excommunications and persecutions (in the period 1772 - 1781), just as the hasidism of neighboring White Russia withstood the decrees passed by the mithnaged assemblies in Shklov and Mohilev (1784). Although the mithnagdim impeded the spread of hasidism in Lithuania and undoubtedly slowed the pace of its development, they could not check it entirely. The number of Karlin hasidim in the second half of the 1780s, and particularly in the first half of the 1790s, steadily increased, until by 1793 they were strong enough to advance from passive to active resistance. Characteristical1y enough, the Karlin hasidim began their fight in the small towns, most of whose inhabitants were already hasidim, directing their offensive against the mithnaged community of Pinsk and, more particularly, its Rav, R. Avigdor, who was also Rav of the entire district.

R. Avigdor the son of R. Yosef-Hayyim -- in Russian documents 'Haimovich' – had formerly been Rav of the little town of Lesli in Poland, and was probably called to the Rabbinate of Pinsk and its district in 1785. This date can be inferred from the petition presented by him to the Russian government in 1800, in which he writes that the hasidim 'drew out the matter for almost six more years,' in addition to the one year that had passed after his deposition. It follows, then, that R. Avigdor was removed from the position of Rav in Pinsk seven years before he presented his petition -- that is, in 1793. In another place R. Avigdor writes that he paid a large sum to obtain the post of Rav in Pinsk for a period of ten years, and that he lent money without interest to the Pinsk community for the same period of time. He then adds: 'This sect... expelled me with great ignominy two years before my appointed time,' i.e., after he had served as Rav of Pinsk for eight years. From this it would follow that R. Avigdor was appointed Rav of Pinsk in 1785. This inference accords with the conclusion reached above concerning the year of R. Levi Yitshak's expulsion from Pinsk and his withdrawal to Berdichev, for hasidic sources assume that it was R. Avigdor that was responsible for this expulsion. [85] R. Avigdor's approval of R. Eliezer the son of R. Meir Halevi's book Siah ha-Sadeh (Shklov 1787) is dated 1787, and his approval of the work Reiah ha-Sadeh by the same author (Shklov 1795) is dated 1791, both of them being signed by him in his capacity as the Pinsk Av Beth-Din. It will be remembered that Rabbi Eliezer son of R. Meir Halevi, the Rav of the synagogue and Moreh-Tsedek of the holy community of Pinsk, was one of the first persecutors of the hasidim in Pinsk, as early as the time of R. Aharon the Great, and, as has been described above, it was to him that the Great Maggid of Mezerich appealed concerning these persecutions. The joint opposition to hasidism of the Moreh-Tsedek and of the Av Beth-Din, of the author of the two volumes and the writer of the approvals to them, apparently brought the two men closer together.

Chronological considerations apart, the date of R. Avigdor's appointment as Rav in Pinsk cannot be placed any earlier, since the description of contemporary events given in his petition does not accord with the difficult plight of Karlin hasidism during the period of the first and second bans pronounced against them (1772 - 1781), nor with the time of R. Shelomo's departure from Karlin (c. 1784). The fact that R. Avigdor occupied the Pinsk rabbinical office which a short time before had been occupied by the Rav R. Rafael Hacohen Hamburger, and also the fact that he was asked to give his approval of books, is evidence that he was widely known as a great talmudic scholar and halakhic authority.

R. Avigdor's petition (in Russian to the Russian government), written in 1800, is an important document for our understanding of the development of Karlin hasidism during the last fifteen years of the eighteenth century, containing as it does important details about the struggle of those years, especially in Pinsk itself. [86]

In the passages describing the situation in Pinsk and its surroundings, including Karlin, we read as follows:

'... I am now emboldened to lay my petition in fear and awe before your Majesty's revered throne. I confess that, when I was chosen Av Beth-Din of Pinsk and of the thirty small towns belonging to the city [i.e., the district], I did not wish to have any dealings whatsoever with the sect that had arisen there, and I was pleased not to have any. However, I endeavored, through preaching, to persuade them to return from their errings to the right way, but when I saw that this effort had no effect on them at all, and when there came into my hands their clandestinely printed books in which law and justice were most insolently distorted, I was perplexed in mind, for I did not know how to frustrate their designs. Even though I was the Av Beth-Din, I no longer had the power to burn their books publicly, for in all the towns under my jurisdiction the majority already belonged to that sect.

'I was accordingly obliged to inform the late Gaon, R. Eliyahu of Vilna, of what had happened, since he was the greatest of our Sages, both in revealed teaching [Talmud] and in hidden lore [Kabbalah]. I told him of the contents of the books of this sect and requested wise counsel from him, for I feared that since their books contain for the most part vain and insolent words, and since they call themselves our brethren, the matter might come to the notice of the authorities, and therefore [action must be taken] to prevent the innocent from suffering for the crimes of evil-doers. Moreover, I proved to him [sc. the Vilna Gaon] that, since their books lead the simple man astray from the straight way, according to the Mosaic Law their books should be publicly burnt in the presence of all the people. And this was indeed done in Vilna, where the order was given to burn the books of this sect in public in front of the synagogue [Tsavvaath ha-Ribash]. When this became known to the sect and they discovered that I was opposed to their ideas, they rose up as one man against me, and deprived me of my livelihood, and even eventually incited the others [sc. the mithnagdim] not to give me my due. For who would not lend a willing ear to such advice? And so I was greatly impoverished. In the three towns of Zlobin, Stolin and Dobrovich, which were under my jurisdiction but where the heads of the community were in each case members of this sect, they many times prevailed on the local authorities to forbid me to set foot in them. Afterwards they grew stronger and more numerous in Pinsk and, before the term of my appointment had come to an end and it was time to choose another Av Beth-Din, they took the post from me by force and, to my great shame, removed the chair intended for my use from the synagogue, and on the place where it had stood scattered sand and earth... According to the religion of Israel it is a custom among us that he who serves as Av Beth-Din, even if he has been appointed for a certain period only, cannot be dismissed [from his position as Rav before the end of his term of office]. But the sect did not observe this custom, and expelled me with great ignominy two years before the appointed time, and deprived me of all my income. When I saw how they were treating me, without consulting me, unlawfully, l laid a complaint against them, in accordance with your Majesty's decree, before the magistrate, who ordered that it be publicly announced in our synagogue that I was to remain in the rabbinical seat until the court should pronounce its decision. In furtherance of the execution of this order, the magistrate sent his secretary to the synagogue to announce his decision in person. When this became known to the sect, they determined, on solemn oath, to bring about the annulment of the magistrate's decision. They chose one of their persuasion as head of the community and, when the secretary tried to enter the synagogue in order to announce [the magistrate's decision], they took up their stand in front of him arid did not let him enter.

'According to Your Majesty's exalted decree it is laid down that, in every town where there are people of our religion, the Rabbanim shall be the judges in all matters pertaining to our faith. They [sc. the Rabbanim] must be men of learning. But the sect dismissed them [sc. the men of learning] and chose in their stead the people they wished, totally lacking in experience. They elected Hershel Kolodner as head of the community, only because he and his family belonged to the sect. He traveled to the governor of the province, Neplyuyev, and in return for libelous tale-bearing against me obtained an injunction not to pay me the remainder of the salary due to me, both for the last six years and for the years before that. Further, he [sc. Hershel Kolodner] ordered, and this too in the name of the governor of the province, that it be publicly announced that everyone whom I had either treated dishonestly or from whom I had taken money unlawfully should make a declaration to this effect in the town hall before the governor of the province. Despite the profound humiliation caused me by this order, I was glad of it, for I was sure that even among the sect there would not be a single person capable of saying ill of me. I had never favored a wealthy man, if he was guilty, and thereby ignored the rights of a poor man. On the contrary, I had always wished, to the utmost of my ability, to help the poor. When a full year had passed after the publication of this same announcement and no complaints against me had been received, the governor of the province issued me a certificate of probity. After the town council had thus been convinced that I was in the right, my enemies drew out the matter for almost six more years. All this time I did not cease to demand the 3,000 chervontsy. And although I subsequently went to Minsk more than ten times, and showed the town council [in Pinsk] the order issued by the governor of the province and by the governor-general, Tutelman [Tutolmin], my efforts have still not borne fruit. My case drags on and on, and meanwhile I have been so greatly impoverished that I have been forced to sell all my possessions. I and my family have been left in utter destitution. But I have not lost my faith in Almighty God, as it is written: "If you do afflict them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry" [Exodus xxii, 22]. I have placed my trust in our exalted laws, that offer refuge to the oppressed. And, indeed, who is better fitted to do this [sc. to offer refuge to the oppressed] than our mighty master, the Tsar Paul I?...

'... It is, therefore, with a heart bursting with indignation that I humbly and respectfully present this petition to Your Majesty. In years past I was rich, whereas now, in my old age, I have been reduced to poverty together with all my family. I therefore wait hopefully for Your Majesty's decision, seeing that it is beyond my power to demonstrate by witnesses the harm done to me by the sect...'

The state of Karlin hasidism, both in the 'principal community' of Pinsk itself and in the small towns in the surrounding district, is well summed-up in the following sentences from R Avidgor's petition: 'Afterwards they [sc. the hasidim] grew stronger and more numerous in Pinsk... They chose one of their persuasion as head of the community... They even eventually incited the others [sc. the mithnagdim] not to give me my due... The heads of the community [in the three towns] were in each case members of this sect.'

The struggle against hasidism was waged by the mithnagdim, from the start, as a 'holy war' fought for the purpose of rooting-out a dangerous heresy. In this war, R. Avigdor sought the aid of the Gaon of Vilna, since in the hasidic books, which were 'clandestinely printed,' 'law and justice were most insolently distorted' and the 'books contain for the most part vain and insolent words' which 'lead the simple man astray from the straight way.' In the end, the struggle spread outside the confines of the community in which it had begun. R Avigdor sought the protection of the Russian authorities, and the hasidim retaliated by doing the same. The removal of R. Avigdor from the position of Rav in Pinsk took place, as has already been shown, in 1793. [87] This year, then, is to be regarded as the year of the victory of Karlin Hasidism over its opponents.

This growth in the influence and power of the KarIin hasidim in Pinsk and its surroundings must certainly have been known to the disciples of R. Shelomo of Karlin, with whom the Karlin hasidim presumably maintained contact. R Shelomo's successor in Ludmir was his son, R Moshe. In the writings and history of hasidism neither this R. Moshe nor his Descendants -- his son, R. Shelomo; his grandson, R. Nahum; and his great-grandson, R. Gedalyah -- figure at all prominently. These descendants became Tsaddikim of the not so large Jewish community in Ludmir and the surrounding district, but only thanks to the reflected glory of their ancestor, R. Shelomo of Karlin. Two of R. Shelomo's disciples, R. Asher and R. Mordekhai, went after their master's death to R. Barukh of Mezhibozh, [88] the grandson of the Besht and the father of R. Shelomo's daughter-in-law. R. Asher was also, for a short time, a disciple of the Maggid, R. Yisrael of Kozhenits. [89] The study of hasidic doctrine as propounded by these two leading advocates of tsaddikism, R. Barukh of Mezhibozh and R. Yisrael of Kozhenits, must undoubtedly have had an effect on the future leaders of the hasidim of Polesia.

R. Asher apparently at first lacked the courage to return to his native province, Polesia. He lived for a short time in Zhelikhov, which seems to have led to a dispute between him and R. Levi-Yitshak of Berdichev. [90] Amongst the 'holy writings' of the Karlin Tsaddikim in the Stolin genizah, there was a letter from R. Asher to R. Yisrael of Kozhenits in which mention is made of the Zhelikhov dispute. [91] This letter also informs us that R. Asher was one of the disciples of R. Yisrael of Kozhenits. From Zhelikhov R. Asher returned to his native province, but evidently felt that the time was not yet ripe for him to go to Karlin itself and to try to revive the hasidic center there. He therefore first made his way to the nearby small town of Stolin where he remained for a while, only later (after 1810) returning to Karlin. The exact date of R. Asher's arrival in Stolin is difficult to determine. In Sefer ha-Vikkuah, the work of R. Yisrael-Leibel published in 1798, the author makes no mention at all of R. Asher, though he does mention – and even challenges to a public debate -- the two other Tsaddikim of the same region of Lithuania: R. Mordekhai of Lakhovich, and R. Shemuel, the son of R. Hayyim-Heikel of Amdur. Nor is there any reference to R. Asher in R. Avigdor's written petition of 1800, in which he recounts how he was not allowed to set foot in Stolin, describes in detail the 'holy war' declared against him by the hasidim, and demands that the 'Karliner leaders' be imprisoned. As against this, the hasidic tradition informs us, in connection with 'the fifth light' of Hanukkah (see below), that in 1798 R. Asher was being held in prison together with R. Mordekhai of Lakhovich. In a letter from R. Asher to R. Yisrael of Kozhenits, written (as will be shown below) between 1801 - 1802 and 1807, the address is explicitly given as Stolin. Stolin, as already stated, was one of the three small towns that closed their gates to R. Avigdor, since the majority of its Jewish community and their leaders were Karlin hasidim.

From the time that R. Asher settled in Stolin he became known throughout the hasidic world as 'R. Asher of Karlin or Stolin'; and the Karlin hasidim were henceforth called, in addition to 'Karliners,' 'Stolin hasidim.'

R. Shelomo of Karlin's second disciple, R. Mordekhai, chose as his place of residence the small town of Lakhovich (also in Polesia) which, according to the administrative division given in the 'Pinkas of the Province of Lithuania,' came under the jurisdiction of the Pinsk community. [92] Stolin and Lakhovich immediately became hasidic centers on the border between Lithuania and White Russia.

R. Shelomo of Karlin's third disciple, R. Uri, was also installed as Rebbe. He settled in the small town of Strelisk in Galicia. [93] From hasidic writings we learn that R. Uri was one of the Tsaddikim that aspired and attained to lofty purity of soul, in the spirit and after the manner of the first teachers of hasidism. His character is still a living influence in hasidic doctrine. On account of his fervently impassioned manner of praying, which he learnt from his master, R. Shelomo of Karlin, he is still known in hasidic circles as 'the Seraph.' [94]

R. Asher in Stolin and R. Mordekhai in Lakhovich soon made a name for themselves throughout Polesia, and even outside its borders. R. Mordekhai of Lakhovich is mentioned in the polemical pamphlets Zimrath Am ha-Arets and Shever Posheim; and the well-known fanatical mithnaged, R. Yisrael-Leibel, writes in his work Sefer ha-Vikkuah (published in 1798) that R. Mordekhai had a great influence on the hasidim, who believed in his 'wonders.' Thus, for example, they were sure that it was only through the influence of R. Mordekhai that the provincial govern- or, Radziwil, was dismissed from his post because of his hostility to the hasidim, and another governor appointed in his place. Amongst the Tsaddikim whom R. Yisrael-Leibel challenged to a public debate on the perverse ways of Hasidism, we find -- together with the Tsaddikim of Amdur, Ladi and Chernobyl -- also R. Mordekhai of Lakhovich, who had gained adherents even in the stronghold of rabbinism in Vilna. [95]

This was the second period of ascendancy for Karlin hasidism. The first such period, in the time of R. Aharon the Great (1765-1772), had provoked a violent mithnaged reaction which had plunged Karlin hasidism into a crisis lasting twenty long years (1772 - 1792). This time, the offensive was started by the hasidim and ended in their victory, the first fruits of which were the deposition of R. Avigdor and their own achievement of equal communal rights. By virtue of their determined struggle for equal and independent status in the 'principal communities' of Lithuania, the Karlin hasidim occupy a special place in the history of the mithnaged-hasidic conflict and of the hasidic movement as a whole. It was they that actually transformed the mithnaged attack on the hasidim into a hasidic attack on the mithnagdim. From now onwards it 'only remained for them to obtain de jure recognition of the equality of communal status that they had previously gained de facto. However, the mithnagdim also showed that they were determined not to give up the struggle. The Karlin hasidim were therefore obliged, together with other branches of the movement, to fight a further bitter engagement with the Rabbanim and the kahals, which ended in their final victory only in the year 1801. The Pinsk Rav, R. Avigdor, was once again in the forefront of the fray on the mithnaged side together with the Vilna kahal. Although, on the hasidic side this last engagement was actually fought mainly by the founder of Habad hasidism, R. Shneur-Zalman of Ladi, and not by the Karlin hasidim, yet in all the relevant documents R. Shneur-Zalman is referred to as 'the leader of the Karliners.'

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Pinsk, Belarus     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Max Heffler

Copyright © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 19 Dec 2002 by LA