Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

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

Wegmeister, Joel

(1837–1919), entrepreneur, Jewish community leader in Warsaw, follower of the Ger Hasidic dynasty, and member of the Polish Council of State. Nothing is known about Joel Wegmeister’s family background. As a successful merchant and entrepreneur, he was active in a large number of mainly religious associations, some of which he founded, as well as in the Warsaw Jewish community. In addition, he strove to increase the influence of Ger Hasidism on Polish Jewry.

Throughout his life, Wegmeister was among the most prominent members of the Warsaw Jewish community; however, it was during his final three decades that his activities on its behalf peaked. He served many terms as a member of the Jewish community’s administration; additionally, he was a trustee of funds for Jews living in Palestine. He founded an association for the study of the Mishnah and presided over a fund to enable poor children to attend Jewish schools. Wegmeister sat on many committees that crossed the various religious factional lines and that were designed to aid crisis situations; these included the Cholera Committee of 1892 and a committee founded in 1905 to assist victims of pogroms in Russia.

In 1901, with other prominent representatives of Warsaw’s Hasidic population, he founded Ezra, a modern-type philanthropic society. More than 2,000 members strong, it did much to alleviate the suffering of the city’s Jews during the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905) and the subsequent 1905 Revolution. Also in 1905, at the instigation of the leadership of the newly opened (1902) Jewish Hospital, he initiated Ḥevrat Aḥim Raḥmanim, a confraternity for the care of patients. Widely known and recognized, Wegmeister repeatedly interceded for the Jews of Warsaw and Poland in Saint Petersburg as a shtadlan. In agreement with Avraham Mordekhai Alter, the leader of the Ger Hasidim, he took part in the foundation of Agudas Yisroel in Kattowitz (Pol., Katowice; then in the Prussian province of Silesia) in 1912 as the latter’s representative.

During Germany’s occupation of Poland during World War I, Wegmeister exerted considerable influence on Polish Jewish affairs through his extensive contacts with representatives of observant German Jewry affiliated with the military administration. Thanks to this influence, he was permitted to found Agudat ha-Ortodoksim (The Orthodox League) in 1916, out of which Agudas Yisroel emerged after the war. This also led to his serving alongside Mosheh Pfeffer and Kazimierz Natanson as a representative of Polish Jewry in the Polish Council of State (established November 1916).

Suggested Reading

Gershon C. Bacon, The Politics of Tradition: Agudat Yisrael in Poland, 1916–1939 (Jerusalem, 1996), p. 36; François Guesnet, “Chasydzki klal-tuer wobec metropolii i nowoczesnosci: Joel Wegmeister z Warszawy, 1837–1919,” in Żydzi Warszawy: Materiały konferencji w 100. rocznicę urodzin Emanuela Ringelbluma, ed. Eleonara Bergman and Olga Zienkiewicz, pp. 41–57 (Warsaw, 2000); Jacob Shatzky, Geshikhte fun yidn in Varshe, vols. 2–3 (New York, 1948–1953).



Translated from German by Deborah Cohen