Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Shapiro, Kalonymus Kalmish ben Elimelekh of Piaseczno

(1889–1943), Hasidic master and educational theorist; communal leader of special prominence during the Holocaust. Son of Elimelekh Shapiro of Grodzisk and a descendant of Yisra’el Hapstein (the Magid of Kozhenits [Pol., Kozienice]), Kalonymus Kalmish Shapiro was the rabbi of Piaseczno, a small town just outside Warsaw; he later moved his main residence to Warsaw.

In 1923, Shapiro founded the yeshiva Da‘at Mosheh, which became one of the largest Hasidic yeshivas in Warsaw. In 1932, he published his first educational work, Ḥovat ha-talmidim (The Students’ Obligation). The text, which received an enthusiastic review by Hillel Zeitlin, conveys deep love and respect for children, assuring them of their worth and limitless potential. Young readers are reminded that they are descended from the biblical prophets and are capable of achieving sublime spiritual states. Even beginning students are introduced to the rudiments of Hasidic spirituality and Kabbalah. Works for more advanced students stress the importance of song, music, and dance and introduce meditative techniques such as visualization, guided imagery, and quieting the mind (hashkatah).

Shapiro encouraged the formation of small fellowships for Hasidim seriously interested in developing a gentle type of inner spirituality within communities of fellow seekers. He outlined guidelines for such communities in a small work titled Bene maḥashavah tovah (Fellowship of Positive Thought). Shapiro’s system as a whole might be called “Sensitization to Holiness”; in line with the traditions of Polish Hasidism, it stresses the unique path of each individual and the requirement to cultivate one’s personal spiritual signature within the larger world of Judaism and Hasidism.

Shapiro ministered to the needs of the Jewish masses as a traditional Hasidic , dispensing blessings along with considerable material support. He was also known for his knowledge of modern medicine, which he apparently learned from Jewish physicians in Warsaw. His followers were proud that his prescriptions were accepted and filled by pharmacies in that city.

Shapiro lost his only son in the bombardment of Warsaw during the first weeks of World War II; his daughter was deported later. Despite personal devastation, Shapiro continued teaching and leading his community during the entire period of the Warsaw ghetto; he composed and buried copies of his discourses shortly before the ghetto was destroyed. Discovered and published after the war under the title Esh kodesh (Holy Fire; 1960), these teachings are a remarkable record of spiritual courage and faith. Each discourse is dated according to the weekly Torah portion and can be correlated with contemporaneous events.

The most striking theme in Esh kodesh is divine weeping and suffering. Shapiro comforts his community with the assurance that God shares the Jewish destiny and suffers infinitely on account of their suffering; indeed, the main target of the enemies of the Jews is God himself. Yet in line with early Hasidic theology, Shapiro teaches that ultimately all is good; God’s presence is everywhere, even in evil; and the demonic itself will one day be transmuted into a sacred angel, signifying blessing for Israel.

Suggested Reading

Kalonimus Kalmish ben Elimelekh (Shapiro), Sefer derekh ha-melekh (Jerusalem, 1990/91); Kalonimus Kalmish ben Elimelekh (Shapiro), Conscious Community: A Guide to Inner Work, trans. Andrea Cohen-Kiener (Northvale, N.J., 1996); Mendel Piekarz, Ḥasidut Polin (Jerusalem, 1990); Nehemia Polen, The Holy Fire: The Teachings of Rabbi Kalonymos Kalman Shapira, the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto (Northvale, N.J., 1994).