Major Hasidic courts, 1815–1929. (Based on a map prepared for the exhibition "Time of the Hasidism." by Elżbieta Długosz, The Historical Museum of Kraków—Old Synagogue)

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Izhbits-Radzin Hasidic Dynasty

One of the most radical dynasties in nineteenth-century Hasidism. Although the Izhbits-Radzin (Pol., Iżbica-Radzyn) Hasidim never attracted a large following, their influence on contemporary Hasidic and non-Hasidic Judaism has been profound. The dynasty was founded by Mordekhai Yosef Leiner (1800–1854) and continues to thrive both in Brooklyn, New York, and in Bene Berak, Israel.

As was true of most Hasidic dynasties in nineteenth-century Poland, the Izhbits-Radzin dynasty originated in the circle of the Hasidic master Ya‘akov Yitsḥak Horowitz, the Seer of Lublin. The Seer’s disciple Ya‘akov Yitsḥak Rabinowitz, known as the “Holy Jew,” taught some of the more advanced students who came to the court of the Seer. After Rabinowitz’s untimely death in 1814, he was succeeded by his disciple Simḥah Bunem of Pshiskhe. Two young acolytes who became students of Simḥah Bunem were Mordekhai Yosef and his childhood friend Menaḥem Mendel Morgenstern of Tomaszów (later known as Menaḥem Mendel of Kotsk). After Simḥah Bunem died in 1827, Mordekhai Yosef was a disciple of Menaḥem Mendel for 13 years, until the former left under mysterious circumstances during the festival of Simḥat Torah in 1839. Mordekhai Yosef never saw his master again, and their disciples fought for at least a generation. Menaḥem Mendel soon went into seclusion, and so spent the remainder of his life.

Mordekhai Yosef’s teachings appear in Me ha-Shiloaḥ, published posthumously in 1860. Uniquely among Hasidic texts, it was printed by a non-Jewish publisher, Anton della Torre of Vienna. Some scholars conjecture that this was because of its radical doctrines of determinism and its suggestion that the divine will can sometimes be fulfilled outside observance of the commandments. Aside from his progeny, Mordekhai Yosef’s two most important disciples were Yehudah Leib (Leibele) Eger (1816–1888), the grandson of the renowned Talmudist Akiva Eger, and Tsadok ha-Kohen of Lublin (1823–1900). The former served as the head of the Izhbits Hasidic community in Lublin and was succeeded by the latter—whose many published writings served to spread the fundamental principles of Izhbits, even though he, a native of Lithuania, developed his own brand of Hasidic teaching that was influenced by the intellectual schools of Lithuania.

Mordekhai Yosef’s son Ya‘akov Leiner (1828–1878) moved from Izhbits to Radzin sometime after his father’s death and served as a rebbe there. His teachings are collected in the multivolume Bet Ya‘akov. Ya‘akov’s son Gershon Henikh (1839–1891) was by far the most prolific member of the Leiner family, editing and redacting Me ha-Shiloaḥ for publication in 1860. He claimed to have discovered the tekhelet (azure dye used in Temple times) for the tsitsit (the fringe of the prayer shawl) and published his findings in three volumes: Ma’amar sefune ḥol (1887); Ma’amar petil tekhelet (1888); and ‘En ha-tekhelet (1892). He also collected rabbinic discussions about purity laws—which under the title Sidre tohorot first appeared in 1873—and constructed Talmudic tractates on those Mishnaic tractates for which we have no extant Talmudic commentary. Henikh aroused intense opposition among a majority of Polish Hasidic leaders; in particular, they rejected both his “discovery” of tekhelet and his “construction” of the lost Talmudic passages.

Among Henikh’s other works was an important introduction to Izhbits-Radzin Hasidism titled Sefer ha-hakdamah veha-petiḥah (reprinted in 1996 under the title Sha‘ar ha-emunah vi-yesod ha-ḥasidut). This work argues that Hasidism reveals the esoteric Torah that was partially disclosed by the Zohar and later imparted by Maimonides in his Guide for the Perplexed. By showing how the Zohar and Maimonides both contain fragments of the pre-Sinaitic Torah of Abraham, says Henikh, Hasidism, in translating the intellectual observations of both into principles of devotional practice and faith, constitutes the final phase of exilic history before the advent of the messianic era.

Henikh’s younger brother Avraham Yehoshu‘a Heshel of Khelm (1843–1930) attracted some of his father’s disciples, but most went to Henikh’s son Mordekhai Yosef El‘azar (1877–1929), who settled in Warsaw. His collected teachings, Tif’eret Yosef, appeared in 1935. He was best known as a social activist and led the Hasidic campaign to prevent Jewish males from being forcibly conscripted into the Russian and Polish armies.

El‘azar had four daughters. His only son, Shemu’el Shelomoh (1909–1942), a strong opponent of Zionism, was murdered by the Nazis in 1942. Yeruḥam Leiner (1888–1964), son of Avraham Yehoshu‘a Heshel, settled in London in 1934 and was a noticeable presence in London Orthodoxy after World War II. He accepted more modern ideas than had his predecessors and published widely in scholarly journals. After he moved to Brooklyn, he opened a Radzin synagogue, which his son Mordekhai Yosef (1918–1991) took over after his death. That synagogue is now run by Mordekhai Yosef’s son Ya‘akov Leiner (1962– ).

The radical nature of Izhbits Hasidism is twofold. First, it avers that free will is illusory and that all human acts are determined by God. (“All is in the hands of heaven, even the fear of heaven”). Second, it claims that there are times when doing God’s will requires a Jew to act against Jewish law. There is a link between these two ideas. If a righteous person has a desire to act in a way that is counter to the law and has ascertained that such a desire is not the product of base appetites, then that act is permissible even though it is transgressive. Alternatively, if one committed such a transgression, even if it was not from pure motives, the act is viewed as having reflected “the will of God.” This is particularly true with respect to the messianic personality. Although Izhbits-Radzin Hasidism rarely discusses messianism overtly, the belief in an impending era underlies much of its doctrine.

We have no indication that any of the Izhbits-Radzin masters ever acted on this principle. Moreover, in Bet Ya‘akov, Mordekhai Yosef’s son and others try to soften the often jarring and cryptic comments in Me ha-shiloaḥ. In any event, this idea, reminiscent of Sabbatian antinomianism, is a most radical concept for Hasidism, especially after the second generation.

The popularity of Izhbits-Radzin Hasidism outside the small circle of followers of the dynasty is largely due to the teaching of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (1925–1994), who revived Me ha-shiloaḥ as a text that spoke to the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s. Most non-Hasidic Jews who know and study these texts first heard about them as a result of Carlebach’s direct or indirect influence.

Suggested Reading

Morris M. Faierstein, All Is in the Hands of Heaven: The Teachings of Rabbi Mordecai Joseph Leiner of Izbica (Hoboken, N.J., 1989); Shaul Magid, “‘A Thread of Blue’: Rabbi Gershon Henoch Leiner of Radzyn and His Search for Continuity in Response to Modernity,” Polin 11 (1998): 31–52; Shaul Magid, Hasidism on the Margin: Reconciliation, Antinomianism, and Messianism in Izbica/Radzin Hasidism (Madison, Wis., 2003); Joseph George Weiss, “Torat ha-determinizm ha-dati le-R. Yosef Mordekhai Lerner [sic] mi-Izbitsa’,” in Sefer-yovel le-Yitsḥak Ber, ed. Samuel Ettinger, pp. 447–453 (Jerusalem, 1960/61); Joseph George Weiss, “A Late Jewish Utopia of Religious Freedom,” in Studies in East European Jewish Mysticism and Hasidism, pp. 209–248 (London and Portland, Ore., 1997).