Led by the Halberstam family and including many dozens of tsadikim and subdynasties, the Sandz Hasidic dynasty was founded in the mid-nineteenth century in Nowy Sącz (Hasidim always refer to the place as Tsanz) in western Galicia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Many offshoots of the dynasty are still active today.
The founder of the dynasty was Ḥayim ben Aryeh Leib Halberstam (1797/99–1876). Besides being a venerated tsadik, Halberstam was also renowned as a distinguished scholar whose halakhic authority was universally respected. Born to a scholarly and non-Hasidic family, probably in Tarnogrod, he was already known in his youth as an accomplished Torah scholar, and he soon showed Hasidic leanings. After his marriage to the daughter of the respected rabbi of Leipnik, Barukh Fränkl-Te’omim, Halberstam served as rabbi in various townships of Poland and Galicia and was attracted to the court of the tsadik Naftali of Ropshits (1760–1827), whom he considered his major teacher. In 1828, Halberstam was invited to become rabbi in Sandz, but in view of objections to his appointment he moved there only in 1830, remaining until his death. In Sandz, Halberstam established a Hasidic court that became famous throughout the Jewish world and influenced the lives of thousands of Hasidim.
Sandz Hasidism adhered to pre-Hasidic values: cultivation of traditional Torah scholarship accompanied by extreme conservatism in all aspects of education, dress, and everyday life and in its attitude toward modernism generally. A sickly person who had a limp, Halberstam nevertheless engaged in frequent ritual immersion and self-mortification. It was told of him that, while praying vehemently, he would scratch his wounds until they bled. As a communal rabbi, he devoted most of his time to studying, teaching, and dispensing halakhic rulings, while at the same time remaining attentive to the needs of his Hasidim. He stressed the importance of ecstatic prayer that drew upon all one’s spiritual powers. And he gained renown for constantly distributing charity to the needy.
Halberstam’s stern, impatient treatment of anyone who disobeyed his instructions caused considerable friction, most notably in the case of the ban he pronounced in 1869 on the Sadagora Hasidic dynasty, headed by the sons of the tsadik Yisra’el of Ruzhin. The immediate cause of the ban was the conduct of the tsadik Dov (known as Bernyu) of Leova, who had abandoned his flock, joined the maskilim in Czernowitz, and denounced Hasidism in a public statement published in the Jewish press. More fundamentally, the controversy reflected essential differences between the two courts as to the nature of true Hasidism: simplicity and humility, as practiced at Sandz, versus the “regal way” of ostentatious materialism and hedonism characteristic of Sadagora.
Halberstam demanded that Bernyu’s four brothers, chief among whom was Avraham Ya‘akov of Sadagora, publicly condemn their brother and the “regal” way of life, which he considered a deviation from the original path of Hasidism and the real reason for Bernyu’s heresy. When they refused, Halberstam published harsh epistles in which he angrily called for excommunication of the “heretical” brothers and their Hasidim. Dozens of tsadikim and rabbis, including some who were not Hasidim, joined the fray, allying themselves with Halberstam, but others objected to his zealous approach and tried—unsuccessfully—to mediate between the two parties. The controversy soon engulfed many communities in Galicia, Hungary, Poland, and Russia, sometimes taking on particularly violent dimensions.
In the Land of Israel, where Sadagora followers were the majority of Hasidim, a counter ban was pronounced against Halberstam at the Western Wall—a provocative action that aroused considerable anger and intensified the dispute. Both sides produced a host of street posters and polemical tracts in the years 1869–1871, generating a treasure trove for historians of the period. Halberstam’s tremendous prestige, zealotry, and dogged tenacity fueled the dispute, which died down only after his death—though the tension between the two parties continued for several more decades. [On the conflict with Sadagora, see also Ruzhin Hasidic Dynasty.]
Halberstam wrote a series of books titled Divre Ḥayim, including novellae on the laws of ritual baths and divorce (1864), two volumes of responsa on all four parts of the Shulḥan ‘arukh (1875, and since then republished in a number of editions), and teachings on the Torah, the festivals, and the Babylonian Talmud tractate Bava’ metsi‘a (1877–1878). His hundreds of responsa, sent to all parts of the Diaspora, reflect his great prestige and authority. His teachings and personal customs, along with stories about him, have been collected in dozens of books.
Halberstam was the father of 15 children (with two of his four wives), and almost all his sons and sons-in-law became rebbes who founded their own dynasties. Most prominent of these was his firstborn son, Yeḥezkel Shraga of Sieniawa (1818–1898), who became a rebbe in his father’s lifetime (as did some of Halberstam’s other sons). He too was a forceful personality, not afraid to disagree with his father even in matters of halakhah and religious custom. He apparently made efforts to assuage his father’s rage at the Sadagora tsadikim, but having failed, he went off in the summer of 1869 to the Land of Israel, where he stayed for about a year and a half. Yeḥezkel Shraga’s homilies on the Torah and the festivals were collected after his death in the volume Divre Yeḥezkel (1901). He was also interested in Kabbalah and published a few kabbalistic works from manuscripts he brought back from the Land of Israel.
Another son, Barukh Halberstam of Gorlice (1830–1906), was his father’s closest associate and trusted assistant. Considered a strict, imperious person, he was accused by the Sadagora Hasidim of having persuaded his father to refuse any compromise. He later took the lead in opposing Zionism, thereby defining once and for all the anti-Zionist position of most Sandz rebbes. One of his most well-known descendants was his grandson Yekuti’el Yehudah Halberstam (1904–1994), who in 1926 became the Hasidic rabbi of the town of Klausenburg (Cluj), Transylvania, where he earned fame as a venerated rabbi, gifted public figure, and prolific author.
In 1944, Yekuti’el Halberstam was deported to Auschwitz, where he lost his wife and 11 children, though he himself survived. In 1947, he immigrated to the United States, where he worked tirelessly to rebuild the Hasidic world. In 1960, he moved to Israel and established a Hasidic court in the Kiryat Tsanz neighborhood of Netanyah. He was responsible for the construction of many Torah and charitable institutions, including a Hasidic hospital in Netanyah (the Laniado Hospital), and for the creation of Hasidic neighborhoods in other cities.
Shelomoh Halberstam (1847–1905), grandson of Ḥayim Halberstam by the latter’s fifth son, Me’ir Natan (1835–1855), became famous as the founder of his own Hasidic dynasty in the town of Bobowa (Bobov). Born in Tarnobrzeg-Dzików, he was orphaned at the age of eight and grew up in his grandfather’s Sandz court. He served as rabbi in various towns in Galicia, including Bukowsk and Oświęcim (Auschwitz). In 1880 he moved to Vishnitsa (Wiśnicz Nowy, Galicia), where he took on the lifestyle of a Hasidic rebbe and in 1888 founded the first Hasidic yeshiva—contrary to Sandz tradition, which frowned on yeshiva study. He was also involved in public activities, mainly in the Makhzikey ha-Das organization and in the struggle against modernism and Zionism. He was soon recognized as the most important tsadik in western Galicia. In 1892, he settled in the small town of Bobov, which gave his dynasty the name it still bears.
Shelomoh’s only son, Ben-Tsiyon Halberstam (1874–1941), who succeeded him as tsadik and as principal of the yeshiva, was known for his affectionate treatment of young people, in the hope that he would persuade them to remain within a Hasidic framework. Between the two world wars he founded an extensive network of about 50 yeshivas in Poland, known as ‘Ets Ḥayim, which together enrolled hundreds of students. The yeshiva at Trzebinia (Tshebin), where he lived from 1932, was particularly famous.
A large part of Ben-Tsiyon Halberstam’s time was devoted to the material needs of the yeshiva students, and to that end he established in each yeshiva an association called Tomkhe Orayta (Supporters of Torah). When World War II broke out, he escaped to Lwów, where he died in an anti-Jewish pogrom in July 1941. Ben-Tsiyon’s son Shelomoh Halberstam (1907–2000), who directed the yeshiva network in his father’s lifetime, managed to escape from the Nazis. In 1946, he reached the United States, and in 1967 he settled in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, New York. Thanks to his charismatic personality, he successfully reestablished the Bobov dynasty, making it one of the largest and most influential Hasidic sects of his time.
Other descendants of the Halberstam family founded dynasties in many towns and villages of Galicia, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary, including Rudnik, Chrzanów, Cieszanów, Czchów, Oświęcim, Żmigród Nowy, Bardiów, Nisko, Stropków, Dolina, and Grybów.
Abraham Isaac Bromberg, Mi-Gedole ha-ḥasidut, vols. 1 and 9 (Jerusalem, 1954 and 1955); Yitsḥak Even, Maḥloket Sanz ve-Sadigurah (New York, 1916); Raphael Mahler, “R. Khayim Halbershtam un zayn dor,” in Seyfer Sants, pp. 247–341 (Tel Aviv, 1970); Aharon Sorski (Surasky), Marbitse ha-Torah me-‘olam ha-hasidut (Bene Berak, 1986–1988), vol. 2, pp. 111–155; vol. 5, pp. 71–132; Me’ir Vunder (Wunder), “Halbershtam,” in Me’ore Galitsyah: Entsiklopedyah le-ḥakhme Galitsyah, vol. 2, cols. 404–550 (Jerusalem, 1981); Yosef David Weisberg, Rabenu ha-kadosh mi-Tsanz, 3 vols. (Jerusalem, 1976–1980).
Translated from Hebrew by David Louvish