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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Munkatsh Hasidic Dynasty

Ultraconservative Hungarian Hasidic sect. The spiritual progenitor of Munkatsh Hasidism was Tsevi Elimelekh of Dinov (d. 1841), an outspoken opponent of the Haskalah and prolific author who served briefly as rabbi in Munkács (Hun., more properly Muncács; Cz., Mukačevo; Yid., Munkatsh; now Ukr. Mukacheve; the most commonly used transliteration by English-language scholars is the semi-Polonized spelling Munkacz) from 1824 to 1826 before returning to Galicia in the wake of conflicts with the town’s other rabbis.

Tsevi Elimelekh’s grandson, Shelomoh Shapira (1832–1893), a disciple of Ḥayim Halberstamm of Sandz, held numerous rabbinical posts in Galicia before reestablishing his grandfather’s Hasidic court in Munkács in 1882. A rigid opponent of the Haskalah and Neolog (Hungarian Reform) movements, he is regarded as the formal founder of Munkatsh Hasidism.

Shelomoh’s son, Tsevi Hirsh Shapira (d. 1913), who served as head of the rabbinical court in Munkács from 1882 to 1893, was a renowned Talmudic and kabbalistic scholar under whose leadership Munkatsh became one of the largest and most influential Hasidic courts in Hungary. Tsevi Hirsh wrote several seminal works, the most famous of which is an exhaustive commentary on the Yoreh de‘ah section of the Shulḥan ‘arukh titled Darkhe teshuvah (7 vols.; 1893–1904)—one of the few halakhic works by a Hasidic rebbe that was universally accepted as an authoritative source for halakhic adjudication by both Hasidim and Misnagdim. He also wrote a lengthy commentary on the obscure kabbalistic tract Tikune Zohar, be’er laḥai ro’i (3 vols.; 1903–1921), along with halakhic responsa published as Tsevi tif’eret (1912).

Tsevi Hirsh was a leading advocate of Hungarian separatist Orthodoxy, strongly opposing innovations in liturgical practice, Hasidic dress, and traditional education. He strictly forbade his followers to send their children to state-sponsored Jewish schools that offered instruction in German and Hungarian. He also fought against any collaboration between his own community and the modern Orthodox “Status Quo” movement in Hungary.

Tsevi Hirsh’s son Ḥayim El‘azar Shapira (1872–1937) extended and deepened his father’s tradition of rabbinical scholarship combined with extreme religious, social, and political conservatism. He assumed the mantle of leadership of Munkatsh Hasidim on the eve of World War I, and the dramatic events of the early years of his rabbinate left an indelible mark on his thinking. Ḥayim El‘azar viewed the vicissitudes of his day as sure signs of imminent messianic redemption, and a Manichean, apocalyptic view of contemporary history increasingly came to dominate his thinking. A gifted polemicist, he railed against his ideological foes, demonizing them in hyperbolic, cosmic terms.

Shapira was an uncompromising opponent of even the minutest changes in traditional Jewish social, political, and religious life. A bitter opponent of Zionism, which he portrayed in demonic terms, he was in the forefront of the ultra-Orthodox Hungarian rabbis’ dispute with the Agudas Yisroel movement. In 1922, he convened a conference of several hundred regional, mostly Hasidic, rabbis in the Slovakian town of Czap, whose main purpose was to denounce Agudas Yisroel.

Shapira visited Palestine in 1930 and returned even more convinced of the evils of Zionism, which he believed had been taken over almost completely by Satanic forces. (A kind of meditative diary of this journey, Masa‘ot Yerushalayim, was published in Munkács in 1931.) He forbade his followers to participate in political affairs, particularly those connected with Jewish immigration to either Palestine or the Americas, insisting that they remain in Europe and await redemption. In his messianic work Sefer mashmi‘a yeshu‘ah (1920), written in the aftermath of World War I, Shapira characterized all modern Jewish political movements, from Zionism to Jewish territorialism and pacifism, as agents of Satan and predicted that the final apocalypse would occur in the fall of 1941.

Shapira earned a reputation as the most fanatical and contentious European rabbi of his era, not only on account of his tireless battle with modern Jewish political factions, but also because of his many feuds with leading Polish and Galician Hasidic figures. He attacked Avraham Mordekhai Alter, the Gerer rebbe, for his support of Agudas Yisroel and his tolerant attitude to the alleged “heresies” of the chief rabbi of Palestine, Avraham Yitsḥak Kook. When Yisakhar Dov Rokeaḥ, the Belzer rebbe, arrived in Munkács in 1920 as part of a large wave of postwar refugees from Galicia to Czechoslovakia, Shapira hounded him until he left the town in 1922. Shapira later denounced Me’ir Shapira, the revered dean of the illustrious Yeshivat Ḥakhme Lublin, for what he considered forbidden pedagogical innovations when Shapira introduced his program for the daily study of a folio of the Talmud(daf yomi). Shapira feuded with many other Hasidic leaders on account of their willingness to take charitable donations from non-Orthodox Jews in exchange for blessings.

Shapira is often referred to by the name of his important series of responsa, Minḥat El‘azar (8 vols.; 1902–1938). He wrote more than a dozen other works, among them his collected teachings, Divre Torah (9 vols.; 1922–1936) and Ḥamishah ma’amarot (1922); sermons (Divre kodesh; 1929–1930); discussions of liturgical customs (Darkhe ḥayim ve-shalom; 1940); homilies on the Jewish festivals (Sha‘ar Yisakhar, 3 vols.; 1939–1940); and commentaries on the Shulḥan ‘arukh: Nimuke oraḥ ḥayim (1930) and Darkhe teshuvah ‘al hilkhot mikva’ot (1936). Many other collections of Shapira’s teachings and descriptions of his personal customs were published posthumously, along with several hagiographies.

After Shapira’s death in 1937, the leadership of Munkatsh Hasidism was inherited, for a brief period, by his son-in-law, Barukh Yehoshu‘a Yeraḥmi’el Rabinowicz (b. 1912). After the Holocaust, Rabinowicz moved to Israel, whereupon he was condemned by traditional Munkatsher Hasidim as a Zionist. He eventually renounced all claims to the leadership of the dynasty, which he bequeathed to his son, Mosheh Yehudah Leib Rabinowicz (1940– ), who replaced him as Munkatsher rebbe in Boro Park.

Suggested Reading

Yitsḥak Alfasi, “Rabi Ḥayim El‘azar Shapira mi-Munkatsh,” in Shishim giborim, pp. 132–137 (Jerusalem, 1998/99); Allan Nadler, “The War on Modernity of R. Hayyim Elazar Shapira of Munkacz,” Modern Judaism 14.3 (1994): 233–264; Aviezer Ravitzky, Messianism, Zionism, and Jewish Religious Radicalism, trans. Michael Swirsky and Jonathan Chipman (Chicago, 1996), pp. 40–51; Shmuel ha-Kohen Weingarten, “Ha-Admor mi-Munkatsh, Rabi Ḥayim El‘azar Shapira: Ba‘al teḥushah bikortit,” Shanah be-shanah (1980): 440–449.