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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Vurke Hasidic Dynasty

Line of Polish rabbinic leaders. The Vurke (Pol., Warka) Hasidic dynasty was established by Yitsḥak Kalish (1779–1848), whose activities as an intercessor (shtadlan) with the government signaled the predominance of Hasidism among Jews in the Kingdom of Poland.

Chart: Selected Genealogy of the Vurke Hasidic Dynasty

Kalish was recruited by David of Lelov to the court of Ya‘akov Yitsḥak Horowitz (the Seer of Lublin), but inclined toward his disciple, Ya‘akov Yitsḥak Rabinowicz (the Holy Jew of Pshiskhe). After the latter’s death in 1813, he followed Simḥah Bunem of Pshiskhe until he too had died, at which point Kalish became devoted to Bunem’s son Avraham Mosheh. Yitsḥak leased the government tobacco monopoly in Żarki and managed the holdings of Temerl Sonnenberg Bergson in Ruda. He served as rabbi in Gowarczów and Ruda, and became a rebbe in Vurke (near Warsaw) upon the death of Avraham Mosheh in 1829. In this capacity, he provided a gentle alternative to the hot-tempered Menaḥem Mendel of Kotsk (1787–1859). Yitsḥak’s discourses appear in Ohel Yitsḥak (1914).

Yitsḥak became one of Polish Jewry’s premier intercessors to the larger community. Capitalizing on legislative inconsistencies and constitutional guarantees, he persuaded officials to reverse a ban on ‘eruvim (enclosed boundaries permitting Jews to carry on the Sabbath; 1835); to render Jewish prisoners less vulnerable to army conscription and less compelled to violate halakhah (1841); to relax civil divorce requirements in favor of halakhic decisions (1842); to contravene the tsarist army recruitment decree for Polish Jews (1843); and to appoint official Jewish inspectors at kosher butcher stalls (1845). Yitsḥak and other rebbes failed, however, to persuade Sir Moses Montefiore to help prevent a tsarist decree outlawing traditional Jewish modes of dress (1846). Although Yitsḥak resisted the government-appointed Jewish Committee’s educational and occupational reforms, he supported its efforts to attract Jews to agriculture.

Yitsḥak’s eldest son Ya‘akov David (1814–1878) founded the Amshinov (Mszczonów) dynasty, still functioning today in Israel and the United States. He continued his father’s intercessory activities and was briefly imprisoned with the Gerer rebbe, Yitsḥak Me’ir, for inciting Jews to resist the clothing decrees. Most Vurke Hasidim, however, transferred their allegiance to Yitsḥak’s colleague and disciple Shraga Feivel Danziger of Gritsa (Grójec) (d. 1848), founder of the Aleksander dynasty. Upon Feivel’s death, Yitsḥak’s younger son Menaḥem Mendel (1819–1868), the “Silent Tsadik,” reluctantly became the rebbe of Vurke. He was so taciturn that he was accustomed to sit among his Hasidim in silence for an entire night, reportedly a moving experience.

Menaḥem Mendel’s son and successor, Simḥah Bunem of Otwock (1851–1907), was renowned for his ecstatic dancing despite being clubfooted, as well as for his dietary observances and resistance to innovations that were extreme even by late Hasidic standards. Simḥah Bunem settled in Otwock and then left permanently for the Land of Israel in 1905 despite the remonstrance of his wife, children, and congregation. His younger brother Shim‘on (1858–1926) was rebbe in Torchin and then Skierniewice. Shim‘on’s son and successor Yosef Tsevi (1885–1957), the last rebbe of the Skierniewice dynasty, settled in Bene Berak in 1934. Simḥah Bunem’s eldest son Mendele (d. 1919) studied Russian to qualify for the crown rabbinate, but his father thwarted those pursuits and installed him as rabbi in Sobinie Jeziory. Upon his father’s departure for the Land of Israel, Mendele presided over the court in Otwock and relaxed its more austere conventions, ‘according to the memoirs of Mendele’s daughter, Ita Kalish.

Suggested Reading

David Assaf and Israel (Yisra’el) Bartal, “Shtadlanut ve-Ortodoksya,” in Tsadikim ve-anshe ma‘aseh: Meḥkarim ba-Ḥasidut Polin, ed. Rachel Elior, Israel Bartal, and Chone Shmeruk, pp. 65–90 (Jerusalem, 1994); Abraham Yitsḥak Bromberg, Mi-Gedole ha-Ḥasidut, vol. 3 (Jerusalem, 1952); Aaron Ze’ev Eshkoli, Ha-Ḥasidut be-Polin, ed. David Assaf (Jerusalem, 1998); Ita Kalish, “Life in a Hasidic Court in Russian Poland toward the End of the 19th and the Early 20th Centuries,” YIVO Annual of Jewish Social Science 13 (1965): 264–278; Zvi Meir Rabinowitz, Ben Pshisḥah ve-Lublin: Ishim ve-Shitot be-Ḥasidut Polin (Jerusalem, 1997); Marcin Wodziński, “Hasidism, Shtadlanut, and Jewish Politics in Nineteenth-Century Poland: The Case of Isaac of Warka,” Jewish Quarterly Review 95.2 (2005): 290–320.