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[Pages 137-145]

CHAPTER V

The Halberstam Rabbis

Rabbi Chaim Halberstam was born in the city of Tarnograd in 1793 when Poland was again partitioned. His father, Arieh Leibush, was a scholar and later assumed the post of dayan, or religious judge, of Przemysl, Poland. His mother was the daughter of a Rabbi Dawid of Brody, Galicia. On his father's side, he is a descendant of Rabbi Tzwi Hirsch, Rabbi of Halbershtadt, Germany; this is where the family name is derived from. According to tradition, the Rabbi changed his name to Halberstam in order not to grant recognition to a non-Jewish place. Rabbi Chaim traced his fatherly lineage to the great Rabbi Marshal, and on his mother's side to the great Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi of the 17th century.

He was a sick and lame child. The Hasidic tradition, however, told the story that the assistant teacher hit him on his leg, resulting in a permanent injury. As a young student, he already showed great intellect and erudition. He became fascinated by the Hasidic movement. His first Hasidic Rabbi was Yossel Halewi, a brother of the famous Rabbi “Hoze,” or “Seer,” of Lublin who lived in Tarnograd. On his insistence, the father, who was opposed to Hasidism, took him to see the Rabbi “Hoze” of Lublin.

He was so impressed by him that he continued to visit him until the “Hoze” passed away in 1814. Even after his death, Rabbi Chaim always honored the memory of the Rabbi of Lublin and frequently quoted him or his writings, and referred to him as our great saintly Rabbi of Lublin.

His great Torah idol was the Rabbi and head of the Yeshiva of Leipnik in Moravia, Czechoslovakia: Rabbi Baruch Teumim Frenkel, who later became world famous as the author of the “Baruch Teum” book.

Rabbi Chaim Halbershtam married, at the age of seventeen, the daughter of the Rabbi of Leipnik, Rachel. He lived with his father-in-law for a full year and studied at his yeshiva. At the home of the Leipniker Rabbi, Halbershtam developed a great interest in the book “More Nevuchim,” a guide for the perplexed by the Jewish religious philosopher Rabbi Maimonides. He continued to study Maimonides and became very familiar with his rational philosophy.

At the age of eighteen, Rabbi Chaim Halbershtam was appointed Rabbi of Rudnik in central Galicia. The place was near the shtetl of Ropczyce, where the famous Rabbi Naphtali “Ropshitzer” lived. The relationship between the two rabbis was very smooth despite of the great age difference. The older Rabbi treated the young Rabbi as an equal. Rabbi Halbershtam fell under the spell of the Ropshitzer Rabbi and adopted many of his views, notably with regard to charity, and the combination of Hasidism with scholarship. All three elements are basic forms of the Sandzer Hasidic court. Rabbi Chaim always considered himself a student of the Ropshitzer Rabbi and always referred to him as “my saintly teacher and rabbi.” He was imbued with the intelligence of the Ropshitzer court and borrowed from it many tunes that he brought to Sandz.

Following the death of the Ropshitzer Rabbi in 1827, Rabbi Halbershtam became restless and decided to leave the small hamlet of Rudnik. In 1828, he was invited to become “moyre tzedek,” or righteous teacher, of Sandz. No community could have two official kehilla rabbis. If a community wanted someone desperately, they appointed him to the position of spiritual leader until the rabbi's seat became vacant. It is no accident that the invitation stipulated that the post being offered was that of “more tzedek,” or righteous teacher, and not the position of rabbi, because Sandz had a Rabbi in the person of Baruch ben Moshe Dawid Landau. Rabbi Halberstam did not accept the invitation. He left Rudnik for the small shtetl of Zolin in the same area. Here he remained for a short period of time and moved to Kalow in Hungary where he remained rabbi for two years. He finally accepted, in 1830, the position of Rabbi of Sandz when the officiating rabbi passed away.

Rabbi Halberstam then remained his entire life in Sandz from 1830 to 1876, and became known throughout the world as “Rabbi Chaimel the Sandzer.” Sandz became a center of Hasidism with the residence of Rabbi Halbershtam. Not only Hasidim of Galicia came to the court, but also Hasidim from all over Eastern Europe. Thousands of Hasidim came to the Rabbi on Saturday and holidays from Galicia, Slovakia, Carpathian-Russia, Hungary and the other parts of Poland. Together with the Hasidim also came famous rabbis and pious Jews, especially from the center of Galicia.

Rabbi Chaim Halberstam married three wives in succession. The first two were daughters of the Leipniker Rabbi mentioned above. He had a large family as one can see by looking at the genealogical chart. Most of his sons became rabbis in Galicia and his daughters married rabbis. The influence of

 

now137.jpg
The tombstone of Rabbi Chaim Halberstam in Sandz
(Picture donated by Jean Krieser of Paris, France)

 

the family was extremely powerful amongst the Jewish masses in Galicia. The Rabbi himself assumed the leadership of Hasidism in Galicia and shaped it into a powerful instrument of conservatism. In many aspects he accepted pragmatism; but when it came to religion or religious tradition, he would not budge an iota from the past.

He supported the cheder or traditional rote learning. He opposed general education and even Jewish education like Jewish history or bible study. He stressed Talmud study. Although himself an erudite scholar, he did not support such ideas for the majority. He insisted on absolute faith and devotion to it without hesitation. He wrote extensively and interpreted religious law. He answered and solved many theological questions that were written to him from many places. He has volumes of questions and answers that reveal a great deal of the period in question. He was accepted as a religious authority and as leader of the Jewish community of Galicia, especially the smaller townships. He passed away in Sandz in 1876. Rabbi Chaim Halberstam is buried at the cemetery, which is visited by Sandzer Hasidim to this day.

 

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The tombstone of Rabbi Mordechai Ze'ev Halberstam and Rabbi Baruch Halberstam
(Picture donated by Jean Krieser of Paris, France)

 

As mentioned previously, Rabbi Chaim Halberstam had a number of sons and daughters. This is the tombstone for two of his sons: Rabbi Mordechai Ze'ev Halberstam and Rabbi Baruch Halberstam. The Latter became rabbi of the city of Rudnik where his father was once rabbi. He had several children and wanted them to be appointed as rabbis in Jewish communities in the region.

The post of rabbi of Zmigrod became available when the presiding rabbi passed away. Rabbi Baruch Halberstam and other Halberstam rabbis urged their followers to support Rabbi Sinai Halberstam, son of Rabbi Baruch and Pessel Halberstam to the post of Rabbi of Zmigrod. The Jewish community of Zmigrod was predominantly Hasidic and the majority were followers of the Sandzer Rabbi, Rabbi Chaim Halberstam. The kehilla considered it a great honor to have as rabbi a direct descendant of the famous rabbi, Chaim Halberstam . But there was some vocal opposition. Rabbi Barch Halberstam had to visit Zmigrod several times in order to get the appointment of Rabbi Sinai Halberstam. He was finally confirmed.

Rabbi Sinai Halberstam was born in 1869. He married Rukhama and they had the following children: Aaron, Yaakov, Dawid, Baruch, Chaim Juda, Awraham Yehezkel, Pessel, Israel and Arieh.

The kehilla considered it a great honor to have as rabbi a direct descendant of the famous rabbi. He assumed his task and administered the spiritual needs of the community and the surrounding areas where Jews lived, namely the village of Osiek. Rabbi Halberstam followed in the footsteps of his grandfather and father, namely strict orthodoxy. He opposed the slightest of changes in spite of the great changes that faced Jews in Poland. Rabbi Halberstam had a large family and lived modestly for the community of Zmigrod was a relatively poor Jewish community.

The economic status of the Jews in Zmigrod was in a steady decline and the Polish government did everything in its power to speed up the process of Jewish pauperization. The community steadily lost young people in search of economic existence. Even Rabbi Sinai Halberstam left Zmigrod and appointed his son Aaron Halberstam to be rabbi of Zmigrod and Osiek. The latter shared the fate of the Jews of Zmigrod at Halbow with his entire family. Rabbi Sinai Halbershtam wound up in Russia during World War II, where he died of starvation. The Zmigroder society in New York always honored his memory. They even erected a memorial for him and his immediate family at the Zmigroder cemetery near New York City.

 

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The Zmigroder Society in New York memorialized Rabbi Sinai Halberstam, his wife Rukhama, and his son Rabbi Aaron and his family

 

The Sandzer Hassidic movement split into several branches with time; namely Bobow-Sandz, Sadigora-Sandz, Klausenburg-Sandz and Zmigrod-Sandz. The latter branch continues to exist to the present.

 

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