Courtesy: Anthony Kerstein
During World War II, between 1939-45, all the European Chasidic communities were virtually wiped out in the Holocaust. The Chasidim suffered proportionately more than any other group. One third of world Jewry was killed, but probably over 90 per cent of the Chasidim were. One third to one half of the three million Jews murdered in Poland and adjacent territories were Chasidim.Modern Groups in the West (the Survivors)
After the death of Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezzerich, the Chasidim split into many different sects (today 120, led by dynasties named after the towns of their origins, these are; Lubavitch, Bobov, Bostoner, Belz (Belzer), Ger (Gur), Satmar, Vizhnitz, Breslov, Puppa, Bialer, Munkacz, and Rimnitz, in the USA (Espec. New York), Israel and the UK (espec. Stamford Hill in North London, the London North-West Frontier -- cabbie talk for Golders Green etc. -- Manchester and Gateshead. The largest (100,000 and growing fast) and most well known, because they are the only ones who continue the missionary outreach work of the original founders, Besht and Dov Baer, are the Lubavitch or the Chabad.
Source: www.religiousmovements.lib.Virginia.edu.and and A World Apart by Harry Rabinowicz.
There are only an estimated 250,000 (possibly nearer 270,000, see below re. H. Rabinowicz on Israel) Chasidim world wide, 200,000 in the USA, 100,000 in New York State alone. Most American Chasidim live in Brooklyn, especially Crown Heights HQ of the Lubavitch (15,000), Williamsburg (HQ of Satmar) and Boro Park. Boro Park is home to the Bobover, a Bobover split-off called Bobover 45th Street, Satmar, Munkatch, Spinka, Pupa and others. Within 40 blocks there are more than 30 synagogues and numerous educational institutions. 10% of American yeshivot are Chasidic. Because of their high birth-rate and social cohesion their impact on the Jewish world belies their relatively small numbers.
There are over 40 Shtieblech in Stamford Hill (North London), the largest dynastic groups being Satmar, Lubavitch (Chabad), Bobow (pron. Bobov), Belz, Ger, Baila, Premishlaner, Nadvorna, Ruzhyn, Square, Spinka, Klausenburg (Cluj), Munkacs and Sadagora/Ruzhyn.
Harry Rabinowicz, writing in 1997, states that “Israel is …home to many of the surviving dynasties. Chasidic courts flourish in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Bnei Brak. And new Chasidic yeshivot are being established. Nearly 60,000 support the Aguda and the most numerous sect is Ger.” Kiryat Sanz (see Klausenburg below) is just outside Netanya and Kiryat Vishnitz is in Bnei Brak just outside Tel Aviv.
In 1997 there were 1,300 Chasidim in Antwerp (Belgium) led until 1976 by a reputed miracle-worker, R. Moses Isaac Gerwirtzman (1882-1976). There are also sizeable groups in Australia, South America and Canada.
Some of the different dynasties and their present state.CHABAD: USA
In Crown Heights, New York, in 1997 they had 1000 families. The two following rebbes were responsible for the growth of the Chabad empire. It was at 770 Eastern Parkway, the nerve centre of the movement, that the last Lubavitch Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson held court.
When R. Joseph Isaac Schneerson (1880-1950) arrived in New York in 1940, he began to rebuild Chabad educational institutions and life, founding Machne Yisroel Inc., (Camp of Israel) and Merkaz L’Inyonei Chinuch (Centre for Educational Matters). He began the rapid expansion of Chabad.
More controversially, during the War years he published a frequent but irregular journal called HaKriah VeHaKedusha in which he stated that he believed that the Germans would win the War, which was the war between Gog and Magog predicted in the Bible, presaging the advent of the Messiah. When his confident prediction proved wrong and the Allies won, the journal abruptly ceased publication and was no longer mentioned.
This defeatist attitude not only gave aid and comfort to the our enemies at a crucial time, but also exposes the falseness of their implied attitude that they somehow have some kind of mystical hotline to God.
Source: An anecdotal quote from a University College London talk possibly attributed to Gershon Greenberg.
Menachem Mendel Schneerson (Lubavitcher Rebbe) (1902-94)
He succeeded his father in 1950. Under his leadership the Chabad began to grow and spread even further even including the Sephardi world. North African Chabad branches are in Casablanca, Marrakesh, Serfou and Meknes.
Chaim Bermant calls him the greatest religious leader of his age, but ruthlessly points out his sometimes very serious mistakes. Regarding the first part of that sentence, I suspect that Bermant means the most powerful rather than the greatest, especially in view of his subsequent criticism of the Rebbe, especially on three major points. A) Although he had never set foot in Israel, he has repeatedly and mistakenly tried to interfere in its politics. E.g. He opposed the returning of territory for peace and interfered in matters of personal status, e.g. over-ruling the Israeli Chief Rabbi, Shlomo Goren, who tried to free the Langer twins from the stigma of Mamzerut (bastardy). In the November 1988 election he instructed his followers to vote for the Aguda. B) Although the Rebbe supposedly never claimed to be the Messiah, he did nothing to stop the “bizarre, expensive messianic campaign” with “we want Moshiach now “ as its slogan. Some followers (fortunately not all) still believe that he will return from the grave as the Messiah. C) Although childless, he never designated a successor, possibly out of a mystic belief that there would be seven rabbis in the Lubavitch line or even that he thought of himself as the Messiah. Seven and its multiples are considered to be auspicious, Chabad’s HQ is 770 Eastern Parkway, New York. At present there is no recognised successor, but this does not seemed to have affected their growth and expansion. A plaque put up at 770 Parkway commemorating the death of the Rebbe is regularly defaced by some Lubavitch Chasidim who still do not believe that he is dead.
In IsraelAs well as the usual institutions, Chabad is the only Chasidic group to have a kibbutz, called Kfar Chabad.
The Chabad Organisation outside the USA and Israel.Britain, Europe and everywhere else. (They are not on the moon yet, but when mankind does colonise the moon, they won’t be far behind.)
Their main headquarters in Stamford Hill are the former extensive premises of the Jewish Blind Society.
In 1997, there were 1,500 children in Lubavitch schools, cared for by 80 teachers.
In Redbridge, Rabbi Suffrin is a popular and respected member of our local Ilford community, and his Chabad drugsline line does valuable work amongst drug addicts. As well as their thriving centre in Gants Hill, Chabad, at the time of writing (2005), is proposing to establish a presence in Buckhurst Hill, Essex.
Although there is no one successor, the organisation goes from strength to strength. They seem to have become the main source of new rabbis for the United Synagogue, as well as placing its emissaries (usually a committed family), setting up their own synagogues and reviving Jewish life in the remotest and most moribund communities all over the world. Their missionary activities amongst Jews have spread to 30 countries, six continents, “from Hawaii to Hong Kong, Columbia to Costa Rica, and Venezuala to Vancouver. Their Mitzva tanks (vans in which Jews who have given up laying, or have never laid tephillin, are offered a chance to do so), and on Chanukah, their public menorahs in, e.g. Gants Hill and Golders Green, and the tops of cars, have become a familiar sight. Their actions are more controversial in the Eastern European communities, where, in some places they seem to be involved in a power struggle with the local Jewish religious authorities.
They are, initially at least, not judgmental about the level of belief in other Jews and seek to ‘ignite’ the spark of Judaism within all Jews, even if they do not join their sect.GER (Heb. Gur, Gura-Kawaria) In Israel
Ger’s great strength is in Israel, where they fully recognise the state, and participate in the government (or according to some, play the system). In 1997, there were 4,000 Ger families there.
When R. Abraham Mordechai died, four weeks after Israel became a state, in 1948, he was succeeded by R. Yisroel Alter (1892-1977). He was involved in the Agudat Yisroel which he called ‘the Agudat Yisroel of my father’ and was one of the leaders of the Moetzet Gedolei HaTorah (the Aguda Council of Sages). He supported the Aguda religious establishments, the Chinuch Atzmai, the big Tel-Aviv yeshiva, the Yeshivat Chidushei HaRim and the Yeshiva Sefat Emet in Jerusalem. 100,000 people attended his funeral in 1977.He was succeeded by his brother, Simcha Bunem (1889-1992), who was chosen by ten senior Chasidim. He settled the Mekor Baruch district of Jerusalem in 1934. He returned to Poland in 1939, but as a Palestinian citizen, was allowed, with his family, to return to Palestine in 1940. He was a modest man who remained in his small apartment and was against lavish (and ruinous) wedding celebrations. He pioneered cost-price stores for Chasidim and encouraged young couples to settle outside Jerusalem and Bnei Brak in low rent apartments in Arad, Ashdod and Hazor. He tried to stop El Al from flying on Shabbat and the establishment of a Mormon university on the Mount of Olives. As a member of Agudat Yisroel and the Moetzet Gedolei HaTorah he encouraged the Aguda to join the coalition government. Like his namesake, he was a shrewd entrepreneur who expanded Ger yeshivot in Israel. At the sixth Knessiya Gedolah he instituted a Daf Yomi (Daily study of a page) of the Yerushalmi (Palestinian) Talmud along with the already existing Babylonian Talmud Daf Yomi. In England
In Lampard Grove, Stamford Hill, there is a Ger Bet HaMidrash and a yeshiva and a Ger Bet HaMidrash in Golders Green.SATMAR (named after the N.W. Rumanian town, Satu Mare where R.Yoel Teitelbaum was the rabbi from 1934). Harry Rabinowicz describes them as the most distinctive and vigorous of all Orthodox Jewish sects in the world today. Within three decades they numerically surpassed all other Chassidic groups. Their anti-Zionism and unrelenting opposition to the secular Jewish State make them also the most controversial.
Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum (1887-1979) was born in Sighet, in Hungary and was the great-great- grandson of Moses Teitelbaum of of Ujhely (see above). He started as a rabbi in Yenice in 1911, became Rabbi of Karolle Carei (Nagy Kallo), Transylvania, in 1924. He was elected as Rabbi of Satmar in 1929, but owing to some opposition, only took up his post in 1934 and, using his political, organisational and scholarly skills, he proceeded to make it into a leading Orthodox centre, including a yeshiva with 350 students. His first wife died in 1936, two of his three daughters died before, and the third after the 2nd World War.
On 3rd May 1944 he and his second wife, Alta Feige Rachel, were arrested taken first to the Ghetto of Klausenberg (Cluj- Rumania, in Hungary as Kolozsvar, from 1940-44) and then to Bergen-Belsen, staying until December 1944.
His anti-Zionism didn't however stop him joining the first and only rescue convoy of 1684 leading Hungarian Jews, organised by Rudolf Kastner. His rescue on 7th December 1944 (21 Kislev) is treated by Satmar Chassidim as a festive day. He found sanctuary first in Switzerland and then in Israel. His readiness to desert his ‘flock’, many who only stayed in Eastern Europe at the instigation of himself and other Chassidic leaders, and subsequent attitude was in great contrast to the courage of the great reform rabbi, Leo Baeck. He did all he could to get Jews out of Germany before the War and refused to leave Theresienstadt, despite many offers, until all the other remaining Jews were rescued.
The Source of his anti-Zionism
This was based on his interpretation of a Talmudic passage, Ketuvot 111a which stated that 1) Jews should not “forcibly breach the wall” i.e. enter Israel. 2) They should not rebel against the nations of the world. 3) The nations of the world should not excessively oppress the Jews. However, since 3) has not been adhered to, 1 and 2 do not apply. Also, with the Balfour Declaration and the United Nations vote, the nations of the world did give the Jews permission to settle in Israel. In any case, this passage was also written after the disastrous Bar Kochba rebellion, so should not apply in different circumstances. He went as far as blaming the Holocaust on Zionism and (with others) the Reform movement in Germany, overlooking the fact that it was mainly the Zionists and the Reformists who survived, and the Chassidim who were almost wiped out.The Story of Yemeni families (Source: New York Daily News 4th June 2004)
70 Jewish families fled the Yemen with the help of Satmar operatives. They wished to protect them from the secular society in Israel and America. One group of six were ‘rescued’ by the Jewish agency. They claimed that they were surrounded by Yiddish speaking Satmars, isolated from mainstream America and treated like indentured servants. They taken by their Satmar handlers to fund-raisers to talk about the hardships that they endured in the Yemen. The Satmar ‘watchers’ then pocketed the money. The president of the Yemeni Jewish Federation, Ephraim Isaac, said that he found them living in “sub-human conditions… practically held as hostages”. The Satmar leaders blamed this on rogue elements of their sect.The Succession Rabbi Yoel’s nephew, Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum, (born Sighet, Hungary, 1915) and brought up by Yoel Teitelbaum, became head of the movement when Yoel died. Some, including Yoel’s widow oppose his leadership. Getsel Berger (1895-1977) was a property magnate described by Rabinowicz as “the life and soul of Satmar”, funding much of their activities. Born in Galicia, he lived and studied in Rumania, where he met Yoel Teitelbaum. He first exported oil to Galicia. In 1923 he arrived penniless in Britain. He then opened a garment factory and during the war, in 1940, a successful torch factory (for the blackouts). In 1950 he began his career as a property magnate. He, then one of his sons and grandson became one of the largest landlords in Britain with 100,000 rented units in 1997. He gave large amounts to charity and his charity trusts Truedene, The Gershon Berger Association and the Keren Association support Torah institutions in England, Israel and the USA.
In New York
Chief Rabbi Y. Herz offered R.Teitelbaum the chance to enter Israel when he arrived there in 1945, but instead he went to Williamsburg, New York, an area where many Rumanian, Hungarian and Czech Chassidim settled. There he established Kehal Yitev Lev DeSatmar, its building containing one of the world’s largest yeshiva. It is a self-sufficient community, with its own welfare network, butcher and other shops, schools, yeshiva, kollel, and publishing house. The welfare organisation includes a holiday fund for orphans, an employment agency, a clinic with female gynaecologists, an oxygen, emergency rescue and nursing service, insurance and pension schemes and of course a burial fund. Satmar girls can take commercial or teaching courses. Satmar boys start with Talmud Torah, go onto Yeshiva, and eventually, Kollel (adult study of e.g. Shulchan Aruch, for married men). He was consulted over all major decisions, often seeing 100 people a day. He helped set up many Chassidim in business. Many politicians have sought his support.
In the 1970’s he founded Kiryat Yoel in Monroe, New York to accommodate the new immigrants who emigrated to the U.S.A.In Israel In 1953 Yoel Teitelbaum became the spiritual head of a group called the Eda Haredit in Jerusalem, which included a group of 300 led by Amram Blau, called Neturei Karta. They speak Yiddish for daily activities, not Hebrew, do not vote, serve in Israel’s army or pay taxes. They refuse to register as citizens to acquire identity cards. At least they do not rely on the state and the ‘despised’ secular tax-payers to support them or their institutions like the other ‘Black Hats’. By definition, they also do not support the settler movement, one of the major obstacles to peace, at least on the Israeli side. Despite the respect and praise shown in Robinowicz’s writings toward Satmar, on page 11 of his book he contradicts himself. There he describes the virulently anti-Zionist Neturei Karta as “a tiny but highly vocal group of militant followers of Satmar, but the vast majority of Chassidim reject the ideology of these zealots and are repelled by them”. In fact all the Satmar are virulently anti-Zionist and have organised anti-Zionist demonstrations in London and New York, often supporting Israel’s worst enemies. This contradiction can partly be explained by the fact that unlike Ger, most of Satmars’ strength is in the Diaspora, especially London, New York and Antwerp, not Israel. In England. It is probably the fastest growing sect in Stamford Hill, where they have three Batei Midrash (study houses), two synagogues, a 350 pupil cheder (religion school), a girls’ school, a girl’s seminary, a junior yeshiva and a Kollel. Their leadership is one of the dominant voices that our Chief Rabbi has to constantly look over his shoulder for, in case they disapprove of something he says or writes.
I worked for a short period for a member of the Satmar community in Stamford Hill. Despite our double ideological differences (me being a Zionist and Liberal Jew), I found them friendly and cheerful (we had many interesting discussions).
When Aaron Rokeach died in 1957 and his nephew Issachar Dov (known as Berele) (b.1948) succeeded him in 1966. Berele’s wedding, in 1965, was attended by 30,000 guests from all over the world. After becoming leader, he settled in Jerusalem. He expanded the Yeshiva, set up a Kollel for Russian Baalei Teshuva (ex secular born again Jews) and a girls’ school Bet HaMalka for 1,500 pupils, as well as many yeshivot and Talmud Torah centres. In 1984, work started on a massive synagogue and world centre for Belz. One group of Belz Chassidim did not recognise Berele as leader and chose instead Joshua Rokeach of Bnei Brak the great, great grandson of Issachar Dov Rokeach of BelzIn England
The split affected the UK Belz Chassidim too. Those in charge of the original site of the Belz HQ in Bethune Rd. do not recognise Berele, but only Joshua Rokeach. This site has a 120 seat dining room, dormitories for 50 students, flats for teachers, a matzah bakery and mikva.
Belz is the second largest community (Satmar is the largest) in Stamford Hill and its UK leader is Dayan Yosef Dov Babad.
In 1982, a new Belz centre, comprising seven large houses, and extensive grounds, was opened at ‘Woodlands’ 96-8 Clapton Common. This houses a synagogue, a 300 pupil Talmud Torah, a junior yeshiva and early morning kollel, starting at 6 a.m. A 200 pupil girls’ school (Bet Malka), started in 1981, is in another building as is a kollel. In 1982, four inspectors from the Department of Education found the schools deficient in secular studies and criticised the safety of the buildings and the lack of physical education, demanding that they be rectified in nine months or be forced to close. The schools governors appealed in 1985 on the grounds that the inspectors knew neither Hebrew nor Yiddish, the languages of instruction. The appeal was upheld, although some changes had to be made, i.e. the introduction of p.e. and more hours for secular subjects, at a cost of £70,000. The schools teach English as a second language and watching television is forbidden and can lead to expulsion.
Two of dynasties that owed their inspiration to Chaim Halberstam of Zanz (or Sanz, known as the Zanzer, after the name of the town)(1793-1876) were Bobov and Klausenberg
BOBOV (or Bobow).In America After R. Benzion Halberstam’s death in 1942, he was succeeded by his son Shlomo Halberstam (d.2000). He was sent to a labour camp near Crakow (Poland) but escaped with his mother and sister to Grosswardein and then via Rumania and London to New York, first to Manhattan, then to Crown Heights and finally Boro Park, Brooklyn, remarrying in 1947. He founded a large yeshiva in Boro Park, a 50 classroom girls’ school, a 1,000 pupil Talmud Torah, a large Kollel, centre to train provide computer training for young men, his yeshiva industrial Trade School and Bobov Holiday Camp. In 1997 abortive plans were made for a housing project. He was succeeded by his elder son, Naftali Tzevi (1931-2005). He was captured by the Gestapo on the Polish border, but escaped to Israel, rescued by a Bobov Chasid bribing a Gestapo officer. In 1948 he was called by his father to New York to take over fundraising and other financial responsibilities. (source: Jewish Chronicle 27/5/05) In Israel
Kiryat Bobov in Bat Yam was started 1958. In 1963, O. Freshwater (the Rebbes brother-in-law) funded the building of Yeshiva Kedushat Zion and the Beth Yehoshua Synagogue. Also in 1963, an old age home, Segula, was opened. There are a number of Bobov premises in Bnei Brak (Tel Aviv) and a Kollel in Jerusalem. The yeshiva provides medical services for its students.
Their community centre has occupied both sides of Egerton Rd., Stamford Hill, the Joel Emanuel Almshouses since 1980 and the old New (United) Synagogue premises since 1995. In 1997 it had a Bet HaMidrash, Talmud Torah and a yeshiva with living accommodation for 35 students, mostly from abroad. They also have a Kollel and organise summer camps (Shalva) in the country.
Josias (Osias)Freshwater (d.1976) was a great benefactor to the Bobov Chasidim and was known by them as HaNadav HaYedua the Well Known Benefactor. At the start of World War 1 his father wanted him to go to America to avoid conscription, but he was advised by the Rabbi of Belz to do his two years in the army, and not go to America, “as the very stones were trief (non-kosher)”. That piece of sage advice cost him the life of his first wife and his children during World War ll. He worked at a bank in Danzig before World
War II helping Jews at the transit camp on the island of Troyl. At this time Danzig was known as the Island of Tears, a place where Jews hoped to escape to the West. Freshwater obtained a British visa and left Poland three days before war was declared. His wife, children and brother took refuge in his father-in-law’s home and were later killed in the Holocaust. In 1947 he married Benzion’s daughter, a widow with two children. After being a textile merchant, he became a property magnate, becoming Britain’s biggest private landlord in the 1970s. He established an orphanage for 50 refugee boys after the war. His stepdaughter married a Hungarian born Harvard graduate called William Stern, who joined Freshwater’s business in 1960, expanding it throughout London, before setting up his own company in 1971.
Rabinowicz mentions William Stern’s business acumen, his generosity and where he prays, but not the fact that he has gone bankrupt three times. In 1974 his business collapsed owing £143 million to the banks, making him Britain’s biggest bankrupt. In 1979 he repeated the performance owing £118 million and again in 2000 owing £14 million. He continues to own a variety of expensive homes. (source Daily Telegraph 9/2/2000 and 19/4/2000.Other Places
There are Bobov communities in Belgium, Montreal and Toronto.KLAUSENBURG (CLUJ in Rumania) R.Yekutiel Yuda Halberstam (1904-94) was a descendent of the Zanzer . He was born in Rudnik, and spent 20 years as the rabbi of Klausenburg, before being interned in various labour camps, the Warsaw Ghetto and finally Auschwitz. USA In 1947 he settled in Williamsburg in New York. ISRAEL He left New York and settled in Netanya, founding the Chasidic settlement of Kiryat Sanz. In 1976 he founded the Laniado Hospital or Sanz Medical Centre which serves the 300,000 population in the Netanya area. ENGLAND They have a Bet HaMidrash and a Kollel in Stamford Hill. These were founded by R.Yekutiel who visited London in 1956.
THE RUZHYN/SADAGORA DYNASTY (the Friedmans).
Owes its inspiration to its founder, Israel Friedman of Ruzhyn (1797-1851) as well as the dynasties that his six sons founded, i.e. Sadagora, Husiyatan, Boyan, Bohush and Vasloi. (see Part 1)
There were Ruzhyn Chasidim in Palestine in the 19th century. The Bak family, Ruzhyn Chasidim, who were pioneers of Hebrew printing in Palestine are mentioned by Sir Moses Montefiore’s (1784-1885) secretary, Dr. Louis Loewe (1809-88), who became friendly with them. In 1843, Sir Moses gave them a new printing press. The Ruzhyn are now based in Tel Aviv.
A Bnei Ruzhyn and Sadagora Shteibl was established in England as early as 1899 in Buxton St. One of its founders was a milliner, Jacob Meir Binstock (1870-1939). He was a descendent of Moses Chayyim Ephraim of Sudlikov (d.1800), one of the Besht’s grandsons and the best source of his original quotations (see Part 1). In 1955 it amalgamated with the Ruzhyn sheibl in Old Castle St. which originally was a Chabad Sheibl. In 1984, a Ruzhyn/Sadagora shteibl was established in Stamford Hill and dedicated by R. Yitzchak Friedman of Bohush (d.1992). In 1994 a Sadagora shteibl was established in Golders Green and dedicated by R. Abraham Jacob Friedman, the Sadagora Rebbe of Tel Aviv and was guided by his only son, R. Israel Moses Friedman.THE DEAD (TOYT) CHASIDIM (The Bratslav or Breslova Chasidim)
These are called that because after the death of their original founder, Nachman of Bratslav (Braclaw in the Ukraine)(1772-1811), (a great grandson of the Besht), they never chose another leader (See Part 1). As shown in part 1,they are based in Mear Shearim in Jerusalem, and every year go on a pilgrimage to his grave in Uman, in the Ukraine. His throne like chair stands beside the ark in the Bratslaver synagogue.
The www.forward.com website describes them as being regarded as a wild card among Israeli religious sects due to their lack of an authoritative leadership. In December 2003 a group of 16 avoided an army checkpoint to pray at Joseph’s Tomb, in Nablus. They were attacked by local Arabs, eight were injured, two seriously and had to be rescued by the Israeli authorities, also unnecessarily putting soldiers and police lives at risk. The mob sacked the shrine after they left.
The Bratslvers reputation for unruliness is compounded by the emergence of a Rabbi Nachman cult amongst young Orthodox Israelis in the last 10 years, especially on the West Bank. Professor Ze’ev Gries, professor of Jewish Thought at the Ben-Gurion University in Beer Sheva describes them as nuts who are prepared to risk their lives for nothing.BIALA
UK and Italy
There is a Biala shtiebl in Tottenham which was opened by a grandson of the late Biala Rebbe of Jerusalem in 1991. It owes its allegiance to the present Biala Rebbe, R.Benzion Rabinowitz who was also the rabbi of the Via Moderna Synagogue in Lugano, Italy.
There are 500 Biala families in Israel, including in Jerusalem, Bnei Brak, Haifa, Ashdod, Bet Sefer and Bet Shemesh.GENERAL INFORMATION ON CHASIDIM IN BRITAIN Education
Yiddish is the first language and mother tongue of the Chasidic world, but it is not taught in the schools. Neither its grammar or needless to say, its rich but brief non- Chasidic literary heritage are taught.
Secular subjects are tolerated as a concession to the authorities and girls are actually prevented from acquiring too much secular knowledge, as further education would delay early marriages. They study in religious seminaries to become teachers or office workers in religious institutions. Boys learn useful trades or computer skills, but not as part of yeshiva study. The purpose of the yeshiva is not to create rabbis, but religiously educated laymen (baalei batim). The Chasidic dislike and distrust of secular Zionism means that modern Hebrew is not taught and Israel Independence Day and Jerusalem Day are not celebrated. H. Rabinowicz wrote (in 1997) that six million pounds were spent on education in Britain, and of the about 40 strictly Orthodox educational institutions- kindergartens, kollelim, yeshivot and girls’ seminaries, only two were state aided in 1997. In 1997, only £1,123,000 of Hackney’s £93 million education budget was allocated to the 4,000 children from Chasidic and other Orthodox homes.Relations between men and women The laws restricting physical contact between men and women, yichud and negia and family purity taharat mishpacha are adhered to. Mixed swimming and dancing are forbidden and social functions require separate seating. Families
Unless there are serious medical reasons, birth control and abortion are forbidden and the ideal marriage age is 17/18. Marriages are arranged based on the suitability of the families, but only with the approval of both participants and the blessing of the rebbe. Divorce is lower than the general population, but rising.
Mental illness is no longer regarded as a stigma (shanda) and psychiatry is used sparingly (perhaps the more sparingly the better). The average number of children in a family is five, with eight to ten being common, which is why my 1997 figures are probably out of date.
Most are members of the Union of Orthodox Congregations (Adath pron. Adass Yisroel Burial Society) but some, like Ger and Ruzhyn and some others are not officially affiliated, the latter paying a lump sum (£1,000 in 1997) rather than an annual contribution (£35 in 1997).
Kashrut, dress and the Beth Din (Religious Law Courts)
The Chasidim support the strictest Kashrut committee, the Kedassia, the Joint Kashrut Committee of the Union of Orthodox Congregations. Chasidim are also well represented on the Beth Din, the UOHC Orthodox religious court. There is also a laboratory to check for Shatnes the forbidden mixture of wool and linen. Women are expected to dress modestly with long dresses and covered arms. Married women must cover their hair, either with a scarf or a wig called a Shietl often more attractive than the original hair. The mens’ clothing is based on that of 17th and 18th century Polish aristocrats.
All groups always seem to try to outdo each-other in dreaming up extra religious restrictionsThe Media
Although TV is usually forbidden, radio is not, and they have their own newspapers, The Jewish Tribune (in English and Yiddish) and Hamodia (in English). Satmar patronises Der Yid (New York in Yiddish) and Belz Machne HaChareda (Jerusalem in Hebrew) or Dos Yiddishe Vort published by the Aguda in New York.Charity and Mutual Support
Begging does not have the same stigma attached it in Jewish culture as it does in some other cultures. It is called Tzedaka (righteousness), the donor grateful for the beggar giving him or her the opportunity to receive a spiritual reward. Jewish beggars even turn up at private functions and are tolerated. A Meshullach (plural- Meshullachim) is an emissary, usually from Israel seeking funds for rabbinical or other religious charitable institutions, staying with charitable individuals often on a rota, often as many as 20 at any one time. Wealthy families or individuals have set up charitable trusts, e.g. S & W. Berisford , the Berger Family Trust, The Cymerman Trust Ltd. The Rieschman Bros. (The Canadian brothers who built of Canary Wharf) etc. H. Rabinowicz writes that two Satmar Chasidim collect annually over £100,000, ensuring a bi-annual (Pesach and Rosh HaShana) food distribution to the needy. “No other Chasidic group in England matches their charitable endeavours… they provide philanthropic services to all sections of Jewry”. The Satmar welfare organisation in New York has also been mentioned. The Satmar Bikkur Cholim (visiting or supporting the sick) is one of the best, and supports all Chasidim. Rabinowicz quotes a Chasid “I do not like Satmar, but if I was sick, I would like to be in their midst”.
There have been both Labour and Conservative Chasidic councillors. One, Joe Lobenstein (b.1927), is the leader of Hackney Council’s Conservative opposition as well as writing (under the pseudonym Ben Yitzhok) a regular column for the Jewish Tribune. A few years ago there was a scandal about Chasidic voters who were allegedly non-existent, or not eligible to vote.
Trades and Professions.
Professions popular with the Chasidim are: the diamond trade and jewellery trade (in Hatton Garden), kitchen design, textiles, dealing in second hand Volvos (pre-dented), computer programmers and property (especially Satmar).
Hackney (along with Newham and Tower Hamlets) is one of the most deprived boroughs in England with Britain’s largest concentration of Orthodox Jews, 30% of its population. In 1997 non of its houses were allocated to Chasidic homeless families, but lately Chasidim seem to be moving into some council flats and in 1997 more than 200 Chasidic families settled in South Tottenham . Attempts to found a new community near Milton Keynes have so far been rejected.CHASIDIC AND OTHER ORTHODOX GROUPS ATTITUDE TO ISRAEL The Rising Power of the ‘Black Hats’ in Israel.
The term ‘Black Hats’ or simply ‘Blacks’ refers to the Orthodox groups and their political lobbies who dress in black suits and hats. Not all are Chasidim, some are of Mitnaggedim origin, and not all dress in black, however, many, perhaps nearly half of them are. The following passage is an extract from, ‘A long, dark shadow’, from the book of the late Chaim Bermant’s Jewish Chronicle articles, On the Other Hand.
He first praises Israel’s achievements in immigrant absorption, science, medicine, agriculture, industry etc., but then writes “…it is only when one turns to politics and religion that the horizons darken, possibly because one has become intermingled with the other to the detriment of both.
Israel, in terms of observance at least, is obviously a much more religious country than it was a generation ago and now has more students in its yeshivot than in its universities…Yet the great religiosity has not given rise to a more benign social climate. Israel has not become a more considerate, more just or more tolerant society, for what we have is not so much greater religiosity as greater Orthodoxy, and an Orthodoxy, moreover, which was formed by the exigencies of exile rather than of nationhood….
They still have the mentality of exile, except that where they were once timid, they are now arrogant; where they once beseeched, they now demand; where they once looked to the Gentile Shabbos Goy to cope with the intricacies of observance, they now have Jewish ones…. They have no commitment to democracy- indeed they scorn it- but they have learned to manipulate the defects of the political system and the deficiencies of politicians for their own ends.” In the following piece, ‘A light unto the nations?’ he writes: “I would invite him (Lord Jacobovits) to quote one action or utterance of a leading Israeli rabbi or leader of a religious party to suggest a concern with humanity or justice, for I could quote any number to show a perversion of everything that Judaism has traditionally stood for.
In the last resort, however, the chief rabbi (then Lord Jacobovits) and I are arguing about words. I believe that a man is religious if he acts religiously, and not because he festoons himself with the appurtenances of religion and spouts religious teachings. In that sense, Israel was a good deal more religious in its secular phase than it is now”.
AN OVERALL ASSESSMENT OF CHASIDISM AND OTHER ULTRA-ORTHODOX GROUPS
At the beginning of this essay I quoted Robert M. Seltzer concerning giving meaning to ordinary actions. I believe it is worth repeating because it is relevant to the lives of the rest of us. “Thus Chasidism shifted the centre of gravity in the Kabbalah from metaphysical speculation to mystical psychology, from a theory about the origin and repair of the cosmos to a method for attaining inner bliss”. Victor E.Frankl, the founder of Logotherapy, one of the more useful schools of psychotherapy, makes a similar point in secular terms. People need to feel that their lives have a purpose. In Man’s Search for Meaning he points out the importance of taking pleasure in, and giving meaning to ordinary everyday acts and events.
There is also much to admire about the closeness, warmth, great charitableness and mutual support network of the Chasidic community. Chaim Bermant points out that this is in part due to the fact that they don’t drive on Shabbat and festivals, so need to be within walking distance of their synagogues and other religious facilities, as well as their own families.
The downside is that their reluctance (shared with other closed communities) to wash their dirty linen in public and the tendency to close ranks, often means that it never gets washed at all, especially if the victims are women or even children. When rabbinic inaction forces the victims of abuse to seek redress outside the community, they are attacked as Mosers (informers) by some sections of the community, and are thus doubly victimised. This happened in a case in 1991 when a Chasidic baby sitter was accused of molesting a five-year old. The child’s parents were forced to move to a safe house through the actions of young Chasidic zealots.
There is also a danger in the Chasidic mystical ideal of Bittul HaYesh, the annihilation of the individual’s ego can also be mistranslated as altruism. Altruism actually means abandoning yourself to a human group or a cause, rather than God. There is great danger in abandoning our critical faculties in this way. If altruism is misused, or used by inappropriate groups, it results in mob rule and some of the worst horrors in history, including the Holocaust and the worst horrors of communism. Arthur Koestler in his book, The Ghost in the Machine (p.251) describes this phenomenon in the phrase: “the egotism of the group feeds on the altruism of its members”. The Halachah (Jewish religious law) and Chasidism’s fragmented nature has partly limited the damage that this could cause amongst the Chasidim themselves, Their strategy of ignoring the outside world as much as possible, whilst relying on it, is also dubious. Ignoring the ideas from the outside world also leaves one ignorant of the changes going on in it.
Whether the deteriorating situation in Eastern Europe in the 19th and early 20th cent. were warnings by God or a historical trend, the Chasidic leaders were wrong to ignore them. It reminds me of the story of the man of faith in a house threatened by rising floodwaters. A car, then a boat and finally a helicopter offered to rescue him, but each time he replied that he believed that God would rescue him. When he finally drowned the angels asked God why he didn’t rescue this man who had so much faith in him. God replied “I sent him a car, than a boat, than a helicopter, what more do you want me to do?” The pogroms and upheavals should have given them enough warnings that things were only going one way- downhill. However, to be fair, the nearly three million Jews that left went as individuals, but Chasidic communities tend to move on masse, as a community, so emigrating presented far harder a task, and posed a great risk to the cohesiveness of their communities.
This led them to ignore the warnings of the Holocaust and may have further shocks for them, even now. Even if they ignore the outside world, it won’t ignore them. As their community grows, they will be forced to live in more mixed areas and adjust their attitudes toward them accordingly. They will also find new technologies threatening to breach the walls of their self imposed ghettos. It is possible to ban books and televisions, but television programs are now increasingly available on the internet. Do they intend to ban computers? Computers are becoming a vital tool in business, in addition, the internet is now available to new mobile phones, do their leaders also intend to ban them?
New DNA detection technology could also pose a threat to them. A Mamzer, (a child of a forbidden union) could only marry another Mamzer. However, if a Mamzer did manage to marry a Jew or Jewess, there was a tacit and by some authorities, even explicit, understanding not to check to hard, so that their offspring would, in practice, be regarded as Jewish. Some would like to use this technology to check the status of non-Orthodox Jews who wish to marry. This is a two edged sword. Mischief-makers can check the DNA of Orthodox individuals through hair clippings or even abandoned coffee cups. At any rate, genetic information is becoming a routine and vital part of our medical records, so who knows what skeletons will come tumbling out of their cupboards, and play havoc with their carefully constructed genealogies. Unless a more sensible and humane attitude is taken, this could split entire communities apart.
The question of size is also important. A small community can get away with things that a larger community cannot because it comes under much greater public scrutiny. This applies to Israel, perhaps even more than the Diaspora.
Sources: The Jewish Virtual Library and the New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia eds Ceil Roth and Geoffrey Wigoder, A History of the Jews by Paul Johnson, Hasidic Thought and the Jewish Religion by Louis Jacobs, The Encyclopedia of Jewish History, eds. Ilana Shamir and Shlomo Shavit. A World Apart by Harry Rabinowicz. The Jews and On the Other Hand by Chaim Bermant, Tales of Hasidim, Early Masters, Tales of Hasidim, Later Masters both by Martin Buber, Souls on Fire by Gershon Scholem, Jewish People Jewish Thought by Robert M. Seltzer, Vallentine’s Jewish Encyclopaedia, eds. Albert M. Hyamson and Dr. A.M. Silbermann, A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People, ed. Eli Barnarvi