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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Apt Hasidic Dynasty

Hasidic dynasty of the Heshel family, originating in the nineteenth century. Its main influence was in Podolia, Bucovina, Moldavia, and Bessarabia. The founder of the Apt dynasty was Avraham Yehoshu‘a Heshel (ca. 1748–1825), a disciple of Elimelekh of Lizhensk. Heshel was born in Żmigród Nowy in Galicia to a distinguished rabbinical family. By about 1786 he was rabbi of Kolbuszowa, where he first became acquainted with Hasidism and began to function as a rebbe. In 1800, Heshel went to serve as the rabbi of Apt (Opatów), and, as the “Apter Rebbe,” was known by the name of that town for the rest of his life, even when he became rabbi of Jassy (Iaşi; 1809) and, later, of Mezhbizh (Międzyboż, Medzhibizh; from 1814 until his death).

Heshel’s Hasidic leadership was characterized by a firmness that sometimes led to friction, both with members of the communities in which he lived and with other Hasidic leaders. Nevertheless, he supported pluralism and did not claim exclusivity or preference with regard to Hasidic leadership. He was respected by the tsadikim of his generation, especially later in his life, when he was regarded as the “eldest tsadik.” His activities included appointing and discharging ritual slaughterers and other religious functionaries, collecting money for the Land of Israel, and resolving disputes within the Hasidic community.

Heshel’s influence transcended the boundaries of his communities, extending to the southern Pale of Settlement and even outside Russia. For example, he issued a proclamation calling for a public fast “in all Jewish towns,” in response to plans of Russian authorities to forbid Jews to earn a livelihood by leasing and to expel them from villages (1823). He was known to be a hearty eater and was famous for telling tall stories, which even his admirers regarded with jocular skepticism. Still, these traits were regarded by his followers as concealing profound secrets.

Heshel’s teachings are typical of the spirit of the period: he gave extensive attention to the doctrine of the tsadik, and treated exile and redemption as spiritual concepts related to individual experience. He apparently had reservations about the desire of several contemporary tsadikim to popularize the study of Kabbalah, although he did not refrain from writing approbations to kabbalistic texts or from including such contents in his own books. His letters are collected in Igrot ha-ohev Yisra’el (Letters of a Lover of Israel; 1999), and his teachings appear in Torat emet (Torah of Truth; 1854) and Ohev Yisra’el (Lover of Israel; 1863; an expanded edition, Ohev Yisra’el ha-shalem, was published in Jerusalem in 1980). Ohev Yisra’el became another of Heshel’s sobriquets.

Only one of Heshel’s two sons, Yitsḥak Me’ir (ca. 1776–1855) of Zinkev, Podolia, became a Hasidic rebbe, and during his father’s lifetime he administered Heshel’s court while serving as a rabbi in several communities. He increased the power of Apt Hasidism and established it as a dynasty. After Yitsḥak Me’ir’s death, his son, Meshulam Zusya of Zinkev (ca. 1813–1864), took his place.

In the generation of Meshulam Zusya’s sons, the dynasty split into three main branches. The main branch was founded by Avraham Yehoshu‘a (ca. 1832–1880), the rebbe of Mezhbizh. His sons Yisra’el Shalom Yosef (1852–1919) and Meshulam Zusya (ca. 1871–1920) were rebbes there as well. Another son, Yitsḥak Me’ir (1861–1935), was the rebbe of Kopitshinits in Galicia. After the outbreak of World War I, Yitsḥak Me’ir fled to Vienna with his children, where he attracted followers and was active in community affairs, especially during the war. He also participated in Ḥaredi organizations and was a member of Agudas Yisroel. This branch of the Kopitshinits dynasty remains active today in Jerusalem. Another son, Mosheh Mordekhai (1873–1916), was a rebbe in Warsaw. His son was the theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972), who studied in Berlin before immigrating to the United States, and was renowned as a scholar and teacher of Judaism at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

The second branch of the dynasty was headed by Ḥayim Menaḥem (ca. 1837–1893), whose sons Pinḥas (ca. 1872–1916) and Mosheh (ca. 1879–1923) served as rebbes in Zinkev. A third branch was led by Shemu’el (ca. 1840–1862), the rebbe of Murovanye Kurilovtsy in Podolia, and who was succeeded, after his early death, by his brother Yeḥi’el (ca. 1843–1916).

Suggested Reading

Yitsḥak Alfasi, Ha-Rav me-Apta: Ba‘al “Ohev Yisra’el” (Jerusalem, 1980/81); Israel Halpern, Yehudim ve-yahadut be-Mizraḥ Eropah: Meḥkarim be-toldotehem (Jerusalem, 1968/69), pp. 348–354; Gershon Kitzis, “Rabi Avraham Yehoshu‘a Heshel: ‘Ohev Yisra’el’ me-Apta,” Sinai 92.3–4 (1983): 153–171; Mendel Piekarz, Ha-Hanhagah ha-ḥasidit (Jerusalem, 1999), pp. 228–231.



Translated from Hebrew by Jeffrey Green