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Yeḥi’el Mikhl of Zlotshev

(1726–1781), Hasidic leader in Galicia. Yeḥi’el Mikhl was born in Brody. His father, Yitsḥak of Drohobycz (d. ca. 1760), a scholar and kabbalist, was a magid, rabbi, and dayan in Ostróg, Brody, and other towns. A Hasid of the “old” type, Yitsḥak had contact with the Besht but nevertheless remained independent. Renowned both as a wonder worker and as an uncompromising person, Yitsḥak was undeterred by friction with important contemporary rabbis.

After marrying, Yeḥi’el Mikhl lived in Biała Cerkiew and later in Borysław. Some time later he became a melamed and magid in Brody, where he probably led a group of Hasidim. He subsequently taught in other townships, including Złoczów (Yid., Zlotshev; mod. Ukr. Zolochiv), and in his last years lived in Iampol (Yampol), Volhynia. He was fiercely attacked by Misnagdim, particularly in Brody, and that may have led to his frequent relocations. He met the Besht in person and later attended the court of Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezritsh, and cited teachings in his name.

Traditions about Yeḥi’el Mikhl dwell on his constant striving for devekut (mystical communion) with God. Little is known of his actions as a Hasidic leader; he has been portrayed as a humble mystic who shunned the pleasures of the material world and refused to accept a rabbinical position despite his extreme poverty, but also is portrayed sometimes as a leader who favored the “regal way” of Hasidic leadership and was not averse to worldly wealth.

Almost all Hasidic leaders of the next generation were admirers of Yeḥi’el Mikhl, the most prominent among these being Meshulam Fayvush Heller of Zbarezh (Zbaraż), Avraham Yehoshu‘a Heshel of Apt, and Mordekhai of Neskhiz. Yeḥi’el Mikhl’s teachings were not collected in a single volume; some of them were published in an anthology of early Hasidic teachings (Likutim yekarim; 1792), but more were quoted in the writings of his disciples and descendants.

Yeḥi’el Mikhl’s five sons were important Hasidic leaders in eastern Galicia and Ukraine, founding dynasties from which dozens of tsadikim emerged: Yosef of Yampol (d. 1812), who succeeded his father and was leader of the Volhynia kolel in the Land of Israel, and Yitsḥak of Radziwiłł (d. 1832), a Hasidic leader in many communities (including Nadwórna and Rymanów as well as Radziwiłł), were two of his sons. Most of the latter’s teachings remained in manuscript until the publication of Or Yitsḥak in 1961 (in Jerusalem). In the book, which reflects the style of a public sermon, the author relates his mystical experiences and also quotes his father’s teachings and reports traditions about him. Yitsḥak’s own teachings are rather extreme, sometimes bordering on religious anarchism; he stresses the role of sin and at times intimates that religious praxis is merely a temporary necessity.

Other sons of Yeḥi’el Mikhl were Ze’ev of Zbarezh (d. 1822) and Mosheh of Zvihil (d. 1831), who became a tsadik in the first decade of the nineteenth century and lived in the town of Zvihil (Novograd Volynsk), Volhynia, and was the only one of Yeḥi’el Mikhl’s sons whose dynasty survives today (in Jerusalem). The fifth son was Mordekhai of Kremenets (d. 1820), who succeeded his brother Yosef as leader of the Volhynia kolel, a position he shared with the tsadik Avraham Yehoshu‘a Heshel of Apt. Mordekhai’s most prominent disciple was Me’ir of Premishlan (Pol., Przemyślany). Yeḥi’el Mikhl’s son-in-law, David Halevi of Stepin (Pol., Stepan; d. 1809), was his disciple. David Halevi served as magid in Stepin, where he founded an independent Hasidic dynasty.

Suggested Reading

Mor Altshuler, Ha-Sod ha meshiḥi shel ha-ḥasidut (Haifa and Lod, Isr., 2002), pp. 35–138; Simon Dubnow, Toldot ha-ḥasidut (Tel Aviv, 1966/67), pp. 188–191, 321–324; Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Circle of the Baal Shem Tov: Studies in Hasidim, ed. Samuel H. Dresner (Chicago, 1985), pp. 152–181; Miles Krassen, Uniter of Heaven and Earth: Rabbi Meshullam Feibush Heller of Zbarazh and the Rise of Hasidism in Eastern Galicia (Albany, N.Y., 1998), pp. 23–31; Mendel Piekarz, Ha-Hanhagah ha-ḥasidit (Jerusalem, 1999), pp. 238–242; Rivka Schatz Uffenheimer, Hasidism as Mysticism: Quietistic Elements in Eighteenth Century Hasidic Thought (Princeton and Jerusalem, 1993), pp. 129–135.



Translated from Hebrew by David Louvish