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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Pshiskhe Hasidic Dynasty

Line of Polish rabbinic leaders. The Pshiskhe Hasidic dynasty emerged from the town of Przysucha (Yid., Pshiskhe), which along with Kozienice (Kozhenits) and Lublin became a major center of Polish Hasidism. Pshiskhe was a school as well as a dynasty. Its founder, Ya‘akov Yitsḥak Rabinowitz (or Rabinowicz; 1766–1814; known as the Holy Jew), introduced an elitist, rationalistic Hasidism that centered on Talmudic study and formed a counterpoint to the miracle-centered Hasidism of Lublin.

Chart: Selective Genealogy of the Pshiskhe Dynasty

Ya‘akov Yitsḥak was born in Przedbórz into a well-known rabbinic family, and studied under several famous teachers. After being recruited by David of Lelov to become a devotee of Ya‘akov Yitsḥak Horowitz (the Seer of Lublin), he came to be called the Holy Jew, probably to distinguish him from his master. Horowitz entrusted him with the education of his scholarly followers. Eventually, Ya‘akov Yitsḥak broke away and established his own court in Pshiskhe, an episode that was to find dramatic expression in Martin Buber’s novel Gog und Magog (1949; first published in English translation as For the Sake of Heaven, 1945). Ya‘akov Yitsḥak introduced a rigorous Talmudic curriculum and demanded uncompromising self-scrutiny of his disciples. He conceived his role as less miracle worker than spiritual guide, proclaiming that miracle working was much easier than the task of becoming a “good Jew.” Most controversially, he encouraged his followers to delay prayers until achieving a state of mental preparedness. His discourses appeared posthumously in Nifla’ot ha-yehudi (1908).

The main inheritor of the Pshiskhe method was Ya‘akov Yitsḥak’s disciple Simḥah Bunem (1765–1827), a cosmopolitan rebbe who had studied in the yeshivas of Mattersdorf and Nikolsburg (now Mikulov); achieved proficiency in German, Polish, and Latin; and was a pharmacist and a merchant in Danzig and Leipzig. Notwithstanding these secular predilections, he opposed educational and occupational reforms when he was a delegate to a government advisory committee on Jewish affairs. Simḥah Bunem’s combination of scholarly Hasidism and worldliness made him the most popular yet most controversial Polish rebbe of his day. The Pshiskhe approach was nearly placed under ban by other Hasidic leaders at a famous wedding in Uściług (now Ukr., Ustyluh), principally because of its disregard for prescribed times of prayer and its alleged Sabbatian tendencies. At the deliberations, presided over by Avraham Yehoshu‘a Heshel of Apt (Opatów), Simḥah Bunem was defended successfully by several star disciples and his rival Yeraḥmi’el Tsevi, Ya‘akov Yitsḥak’s son. The Pshiskhe approach continued to flourish in later courts, including Kotsk, Ger, Vurke (Pol., Warka), Aleksander, Izhbits, and Byale (Biała Podlaska).

Ya‘akov Yitsḥak’s sons reverted to miracle working. His eldest, Yeraḥmi’el Tsevi (1784–1839), was a watchmaker who reluctantly established a court in Pshiskhe. Yeraḥmi’el Tsevi’s son and successor, Natan David of Szydłowiec (1814–1865), was then followed his own son, Ya‘akov Yitsḥak (1847–1905), who founded the Byale court and reintroduced the practices of Pshiskhe. The latter Ya‘akov Yitsḥak’s son Yeraḥmi’el Tsevi (1878–1905) was a Talmudist, violinist, and artist who died young and was succeeded by his son Yeḥi’el Yehoshu‘a (1901–1982), who escaped the Holocaust through Siberia and Kurdistan, arriving in Israel in 1947. All four sons of Yeḥi’el Yehoshu‘a became rabbis. The Holy Jew’s son Yehoshu‘a Asher (1801–1862) was a rebbe in Żelechów and Parysów (Yid., Purisov), where he established a notable court. His son Ya‘akov Tsevi (d. 1889), who succeeded him as the “Purisover Rebbe,” was an ascetic whose own son and successor, Uri Yehoshu‘a Asher Elḥanan of Kolobiel (1870–1941), died in the Warsaw ghetto. The Holy Jew’s youngest son, Neḥemyah Yeḥi’el (1808–1853), while he became an utterly devoted follower of Yisra’el of Ruzhin, also established his own Hasidic court in Bychawa (Yid., Bekhev), near Lublin.

Suggested Reading

David Assaf, “Ha-Ḥasidut be-hitpashtutai: Deyokno shel R. Neḥemyah Yeḥi’el mi-Bikhova, ben ‘Ha-Yehudi Ha-Kadosh,” in Ke-Minhag ashkenaz u-Polin: Sefer yovel le-Ḥonah Shmeruk, ed. Israel Bartal, Ezra Mendelsohn, and Chava Turnianski, pp. 269–298 (Jerusalem, 1993); Aaron Ze’ev Eshkoli, Ha-Ḥasidut be-Polin, ed. David Assaf (Jerusalem, 1998); Raphael Mahler, Divre yeme Yisra’el, vol. 6, pp. 57–77 (Tel Aviv, 1976); Raphael Mahler, Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment, pp. 311–342 (Philadelphia, 1985); Harry Rabinowitz, The World of Hasidism (London, 1970); Zvi Meir Rabinowitz, Ben Pshisḥah le-Lublin: Ishim ve-shitot be-ḥasidut Polin (Jerusalem, 1997).