The young heir to the Aleksander Hasidic dynasty at a summer resort, Ciechocinek, Poland, 1926. The photographer wrote, “He strolls about the resort accompanied by three Hasidim and stands at attention if one asks to photograph him.” Photograph by Menakhem Kipnis. (Forward Association/YIVO)

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Aleksander Hasidic Dynasty

The Aleksander dynasty, the second most important Hasidic dynasty in Poland after Ger, was based in the small town of Aleksandrów Łódzki, near Łódź. The founder of the dynasty was Shraga Feivel of Gritsa (Grójec), who moved to Aleksander after his teacher, Yitsḥak of Vurke (1779–1848), died at the end of Passover, 1848. Shraga Feivel died six months later on Shemini Atseret of 1848. His son, Yeḥi’el (1828–1894), did not wish to succeed him as rebbe, but became a close disciple of Menaḥem Mendel of Vurke (1819–1868), the son and successor of Yitsḥak of Vurke. After Menaḥem Mendel’s death, Yeḥi’el became a disciple of Berish of Biała (d. 1876) and was finally persuaded to become a rebbe in Aleksander only after Berish’s death, living on the stipend he received as rabbi of the town. Yeḥi’el’s teachings followed the Vurke emphasis on concern for the Jewish community, love of Torah, joy, and simple faith. He wrote no books, but his sayings were preserved in his son’s book, Yismaḥ Yisra’el (1911).

Yeḥi’el was succeeded by his son, Yeraḥmi’el Yisra’el Yitsḥak (1854–1910), the most renowned member of this dynasty. He was a Talmudic scholar, and his reputation for wisdom made him an influential figure even among the non-Hasidic community in Łódź. He surrounded himself with a group of learned disciples; at the same time, he remained concerned about the spiritual needs of the ordinary Hasidim who were the majority among his followers. He was a strong opponent of modernity, and his book, Yismaḥ Yisra’el, was considered one of the most important Hasidic statements about the dangers to traditional Jewish life and faith posed by modernization. A key aspect of his spiritual teachings was a belief in “the inner point,” a spiritual potential inherited by every Jew from the Patriarchs down and an eternal characteristic of the Jewish nation. Heresy and secularization among Jews, he believed, were only a distorted external manifestation, but the “inner point” still linked all Jews, consciously or unconsciously.

Yeraḥmi’el Yisra’el Yitsḥak had no children and was succeeded by his brother, Shemu’el Tsevi (d. 1923), who had been a businessman until he became the rebbe. He was not a distinguished scholar, but was a good-hearted, humble leader who was concerned about the welfare of his followers. He did not become the rabbi of the community, but was the rebbe; the rabbinic position was filled by his son-in-law. Shemu’el Tsevi’s teachings emphasized the Vurke–Aleksander values of simple faith and good works.

Yitsḥak Menaḥem (1880–1943) succeeded his father, Shemu’el Tsevi, and continued his father’s spiritual path. He encouraged the development of a network of yeshivas in Aleksander and Łódź and retained the Aleksander tradition of remaining neutral in politics, although in certain towns, where the dynasty had some political power, they ran their own party in local elections. The outbreak of World War II found him in Warsaw. He and most of his family died in Treblinka. In 1947, Yehudah Mosheh Tiehberg (1898–1977) of Bene Brak, Israel, a grandson of Yitsḥak Menaḥem, became the rebbe of the Aleksander Hasidim. He was succeeded by his son, Avraham Menaḥem Mendel.

Suggested Reading

Abraham Isaac Bromberg, Mi-Gedole ha-ḥasidut, vol. 4, Admore Aleksander (Jerusalem, 1952); Mendel Piekarz, Hasidut Polin (Jerusalem, 1990), pp. 65–68, 122–156.