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The Chassidic way of life and living was a fierce and integral part of our ancestors lives. In all of my interviews that I conducted with the elder generation of our family, they all told me that all of the Tachna's in Poland were devoutly Orthodox in religion and fervent followers of the Chassidic philosophy and way of life. Particular to their following, the Tachna's were members of the Ger Chassidic sect and they followed the teachings and spiritual leadership of the Ger Chassidic Rebbes.
Chassidus has been an integral part and influence in my own life and living and I know it as a beautiful and harmonic system of worship and prayer. It is not archaic and antiquated nor is it strictly of the realm of insulated and closed-off ultraconservative severists who don't recognize the present times and the modernity of the present day ways of life.
Chassidus transcends the times just as all Judaism has. It carries itself from the oldest and most ancient foundations to the most modern cycles of thought and wisdom. Today, thanks largely to the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson (of whom I had the intense experience of meeting in 1987), Jews of all spectrums are returning to and rediscovering their Jewish world roots and ways of living and being.
Chassidus doesn't judge...it looks at all of the levels of living and inspires people of every means to connect with and be part of the overall goodness and intrinsic spiritual nature of living reality.
I must also state the profound knowledge that there are some members of the Tachna family who are direct descendant's of the Ba'al Shem Tov - the founder of the Chassidic movement. They are the husband, children, and grandchildren of Janice (nee Wayne) Binstock, great granddaughter of Juda Nyson and Ester Maria (nee Wajnberg) Tachna, whose husband Anthony Michael Binstock is a direct 7th generation great grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov. So therefore too his and Janice's son and daughter Jamie Wayne Binstock and Kelly Leanne (nee Binstock) Hopkins are 8th generation direct descendants of the Ba'al Shem Tov. Jamie's son Joshua Benjamin Binstock and Kelly's daughter Chloe Mia Hopkins are 9th generation direct descendants of the Ba'al Shem Tov.
I now present an expose on the basic definitions and philosophy of Chassidus and a brief on the Ger Chassidim and their Rebbes. The information is taken from various collected sources.
From the dictionary:
Chassidus is a pietistic and mystical movement in Judaism that originated in 18th century Poland. It was a reaction against rigid legalism and Talmudic learning in favor of a joyful form of worship that served as a spiritual outlet for the common people. Chasidism began with the preaching of the man later known as the Ba'al Shem Tov. Teaching that G-d was immanent in all things and that piety was more important than scholarship, he won followers known as Chasidim. The great maggid Dov Baer founded the first Chasidic community in 1710 and countless small communities soon sprang up in Poland, Russia, Lithuania, and Israel, each led by a tzaddik. Communal services were marked by dancing, shouting, and singing, through which participants reached a state of spiritual ecstasy. Chasidim continued to flourish. By the 19th century Chasidism had become a movement that was accepted by the Orthodox as legitimate. Huge numbers of Chasidim fell victim to the Holocaust but their survivors established vital movements in Israel and the United States.
As Chassidus is heavily influenced by Kabbala, here is a brief description of Kabbala from Chabad.org:
Kabbalah is an ancient Jewish tradition integral to the Torah. Often referred to as the "soul" of the Torah, the Kabbalah teaches the deepest insights into the essense of G-d, His interaction with the world, and the purpose of Creation. Kabbalah teaches the essential Jewish cosmology, intergral to all other Torah disciplines. Sometimes called "the inner Torah" or the "Wisdom of Truth", it offers a comprehensive overall structure and plan for the universe, as well as a detailed understanding of the particulars of our lives. The student is made aware of the personal as well as the collective rectification process and is encouraged to play an active part in it.
On Chassidic Judaism from Wikepedia:
Chassidic Judaism or Chassidism, from the Hebrew meaning "piety" or "loving kindness", is a branch of Orthodox Judaism that promotes spirituality through the popularization of Jewish mysticism as the fundamental aspect of the faith. It was founded in 18th century Eastern Europe by Rabbi Israel Ba'al Shem Tov as a reaction against overly legalistic Judaism. His example began the chartacteristic veneration of leadership in Chassidism as embodiments and intercessors of Divinity for the followers. Chassidic teachings cherished the sincerity and concealed holiness of the unlettered common folk, and their equality with the scholarly elite. The emphasis on the Immanent Divine presence in everything gave new value to prayer and deeds of kindness, alongside rabbinical supremacy of study, and replaced historical mystical (kabbsalistic) and ethical (musar) asceticism and admonishment with optimism, encouragement, and daily fervour.
Israel ben Eliezer, most commonly known as the Ba'al Shem Tov, claimed in his writings that he invented Chassidic Judaism while taking long walks alone in the forest at night where he received revelations about the Almighty G-d of Israel.
The interpretations initiated by the Ba'al Shem Tov and developed by his successors, took ideas from across Jewsih tradition, and gave them new life and meaning. It especially built upon the mystical tradition of Kabbalah, and presented it in a way that was accessible for the first time by all Jews. Until then the Jewish mystical tradition had only been understandable and reserved for a scholarly elite. The innovative spirituality of Chassidism, sought to leave aside the advanced and subtle metaphysical focus of Kabbalah on the Heavenly Spiritual Worlds, to apply the Kabbalistic theology to the everyday life and Jewish observance of man. The common folk could feel the spiritual warmth within these new teachings, as they were now related to inner human psychological experience. The creative and insightful new teachings, offered the whole community a description of Divine immanence present in all of Creation, and an experience of Divine love and meaningful purpose behind every occurrence of daily life. With this mystical revival, every person could feel valuable, and Jewish spirituality accessible. This was especially important to the Jewish societies of 18th century Eastern Europe, who had been crushed by persecutions and disillusionment.
The Ba'al Shem Tov, and his successors, offered the masses a new approach to Judaism, that valued sincerity and emotional fervour, in addition to advanced learning. This was conveyed through inner mystical interpretations of Scripture and Rabbinic texts, sometimes conveyed by imaginative parables, as well as hagiographic tales about Chassidic Masters, and new dimensions to melody (Nigun) and customs (Minhag). The soulful warmth of this new level of Torah captured the hearts of the masses, while the deep ideas underlying it also attracted great scholars. The Chassidic movement became one of the most successful revival movements in Jewish history.
The Ba'al Shem Tov taught by means of parables and short, heartwarming Torah explanations that encapsulated profound interpretations of Jewish mysticism. The unlearned, downtrodden masses were captivated by this new soul and life breathed into Judaism, while the select group of great disciples around the Ba'al Shem Tov, could appreciate the scholarly and philisophical significance of these new ideas.
On Chassidic Conduct, also from Wikepedia:
Chassidus teaches that bonding with G-d is the highest form of G-d's service and the ultimate goal of all Torah study, prayer, and fullfilling of the 613 Mitzvot. The highest level of bonding is an elevated state of consciousness in which the soul divests itself of the physical senses of the body and attains a direct perception of the Divine in all things. The very act of striving toward this is meant to elevate one's spiritual awareness and sensitivity, and to add life, vigor, happiness and joy to one's religious observance and daily actions.
Character refinement is an important element in Chassidic philosophy. Negative character traits, such as arrogance, jealousy, resentment, prusuit of physical pleasures as an end in itself, and the seeking of materialistic wealth or honor, are considered a hindrance in man's ability to achieve a bonding with G-d. This goal is common to all historical paths in Rabbinic Judaism. Maimonides, the great exponent of Medieval Jewish philosophy incorporates character refinement in his Code of Jewish Law, as an inherent goal and obligation within Jewish observance.
In Chassidus, breaking negative traits is viewed as a temporary stage in spiritual developement. The ideal is to reach the higher level of transforming negative tendencies into Divine service. This is to be achieved through contemplation of Chassidic mystical thought, until the understanding awakens the mystical fervour of bonding with G-d.
Through incorporating this into daily life, habitually the natural, material traits of man can be taught the superior delight of G-dliness. Chassidic thought explains that the natural instinctive drives possess an advantage of superior strenght over the more concealed holy inclinations. Once they are transformed into aiding Divine service, their vigour enables a higher and deeper level of Jewish observance. This correlates with Chassidus's identification of Divine Omnipresence and hidden goodness in all Creation.
G-dliness is in all Matter. Chassidus emphasises the previous Jewish mystical idea to extract and elevate the Divine in all material things, both animate and inanimate. As taught in Kabbalistic teachings, all worldly matter is imbued with Divine sparks, which were disseminated through the "Breaking of the Vessels" brought about through cosmic processes at the beginning of Creation. The Chassidic follower strives to elevate the sparks in all those material things that aid one's prayer, Torah study, religious commandments, and overall service of G-d.
A related concept is the imperative to engage with the Divine through mundane acts, such as eating, sexual relations, and other day to day activities. Chassidus teaches that all actions can be utilized for the service of G-d when fulfilled with such intent. Eating can be elevated through reciting the proper blessings before and after, while maintaining the act's intent as that of keeping the body healthy for the continued service of G-d. Business transactions too, when conducted within the parameters of Jewish law and for the sake of monetary gain that will then be used for fullfilling commandments, serve a righteous purpose.
Chassidus emphasizes joy and the rejection of asceticism. It emphasizes joy as a precondition to elevated spiritual awareness, and teaches the avoidance of melancholy at all costs. Furthermore, the Chassidic masters warn that excessive obsession with trivialities and minutia of Jewish law can become an unnecessary hindrance in the service of G-d due to its potentially disheartening nature. For the same reason, Chassidus shuns the practices of asceticism known to Kabbalists and Ethical followers, as having the potential to induce downheartedness and a weaker spirit for G-d's service.
Chassidus calls for the valuing of the Simple Jew and rejection of admonishment. Despite the elite intellectual profundity and scholarly attraction of Chassidic philosophy, Chassidus became wildly popular for its soulful embrace of the simple, unlearned Jewish masses of the time. The prevailing attitude when the Ba'al Shem Tov began spreading his new teaching, extolled advanced Talmudic learning and belittled the non-scholar. This traditionally placed Torah study as the ultimate spiritual activity in Rabbinic Judaism. However, this had developed a chasm between the scholarly elite and the disenfranchised masses. Chassidus, through its emphasis on bonding with G-d as the ultimate purpose of all commandments, relegated Torah study to being merely one, albeit one supremely important, commandmant. Among some Chassidic interpretations, prayer superseded study, as the spiritual vitality which could infuse all other activities. This was born out in the interpretation of the Alter Rebbe, Schneur Zalman of Liadi's interpretation of the traditional Jewish concept of learning Torah for its own sake to mean learning Torah in order to cleave to G-d, rather than to perform the commandment of Torah study itself.
Furthermore, with its shunning of arrogance, Chassidus emphasizes the equality of all who approach the service of G-d with sincere intent, going so far as to elevate the ignorant but sincere simpleton over the haughty scholar. It similarly rejected the tradition in Musar literature that sometimes focused on admonishment and reward and punishment as initial stages in worshiping G-d. At one time popular preachers would tour Jewish communities offering admonishment as spiritual incentive. The Ba'al Shem Tov and his circle opposed this as disheartening and unproductive. It was also superficial and portrayed G-d in a way that appeared oppressive, rather than the true source of Goodness. Through the early influence of the Ba'al Shem Tov, the new message of encouragement and love of the common folk spread.
Chassidus teaches that knowledge of G-d is the essence of the Torah and of everything in the world. Chassidic philosophy, along with Kabbalah, is also known as "Pnimiut HaTorah", the Inner Dimension of the Torah. The first premise of Chassidus is G-d and His unity: that G-d transcends all forms and limitations, even the most sublime. To G-d all forms are equal, and so His intents can be discovered in all of them equally. All existence is an expression of His Being. In the Ba'al Shem Tov's words, "G-d is everything and everything is G-d."
This premise means that everything is an infinite revelation of G-d, even the smallest and most trivial thing. This leads to four points which are the pillars of the Ba'al Shem Tov's approach:
Torah: According to the Ba'al Shem Tov the Torah is all G-d's "names." This means that every detail of the Torah is an infinite revelation of G-d, and there is no end to what we can discover from it. Just as G-d is infinite so is the meaning of the Torah infinite. The Ba'al Shem Tov often explains a verse or word in unconventional, and sometimes contradictory ways, only to show how all of these interpretations connect and are one. The Ba'al Shem Tov would even explain how all of the combination of a word's letters connect.
Divine Providence: a) According to the Ba'al Shem Tov every event is guided by Divine Providence. Even the way a leaf blows in the wind, is part of the Divine plan. b) Every detail is essential to the perfection of the entire world. If things were not exactly this way, the entire Divine plan would not be fulfilled. c) This Divine purpose is what creates and gives life to this thing. Thus, its entire existence is Divine. Based on this, the Ba'al Shem Tov preached that one must learn a G-dly lesson in everything one encounters. Ignoring His presence in any factor of existence is seen as a spiritual loss.
Inherent Value: The Ba'al Shem Tov teaches that even a simple Jew is inherently as valuable as a great sage. For all Jews are "G-d's children", and a child mirrors his father's image and nature. And, just as G-d is eternal and his Torah and Commandments are eternal, so are his people eternal. Even the least Jew is seen as a crown that glorifies G-d.
Brotherly Love: The command to love another, according to the Ba'al Shem Tov, does not mean simply being nice. Rather, one must constantly strive to banish negative traits and cultivate good ones. This command encompasses one's entire life.
Other aspects of the Ba'al Shem Tov's approach: One should strive to permanently rectify negativity and not just supress it. The effort in one's divine service is most important. If G-d wanted perfection, He would not have created us with faults and struggles. Rather, G-d desires our effort and struggles and challenges.
Ger is a Chassidic dynasty originating from Ger, the yiddish name of Góra Kalwaria, a small town in Poland.
Prior to the Holocaust, Ger was probably the largest and most influential Chassidic group in Poland. Today it is one of the largest Chassidic dynasties in the world. It is now based in Jerusalem. The Rebbes who led the movement have the family name of Alter. The founder of this group was Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter (1798 - 1866), known as the Chiddushei HaRim after his primary scholarly work by that title.
After the death of the Kotzker Rebbe in 1859, the vast majority of his Chassidim chose Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Alter, the Kotzker Rebbe's brother-in-law and his closest disciple, as their new Rebbe. At the time, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir was appointed as Rav and Av Beit Din (head of the rabbinical court) of Ger. Relocating to Ger, he became the founding Rebbe of the Gerrer dynasty. During his seven years of leadership, the Chassidus flourished, causing it to be known as the "seven years of plenty".
After Rabbi Yitzchak Meir's death in 1866, his Chassidim wanted his eighteen-year old grandson, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, to succeed him. When Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib refused to accept this position, most of the Chassidim became followers of the elderly Chasid, Rabbi Chanokh Heynekh Ha-Kohen Levin, formerly rabbi of Prushnits and Krushnevits and now retired to Alexander. After Rabbi Chanokh Heynekh died in 1870, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib (who became known posthumously as the Sfas Emes) acceded to the request of the Chassidim to become their next Rebbe. Despite his youth, he was quickly accepted amongst the Rebbes of Poland.
The Gerrer movement flourished under the leadership of Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib asnd his eldest son and successor, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter (known as the Imrei Emes). In 1926, in a bold departure for Polish Chassidim, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai established a yeshiva in Jerusalem, naming it for his father, the Sfas Emes. The first rosh yeshiva was Rabbi Nechemiah Alter, a brother for the Imrei Emes. Today the yeshiva remains the flagship of the Gerrer yeshivas. A branch was set up in Tel Aviv, later to be called Yeshivas Chiddushei HaRim.
Almost all Gerrer Chassidim living in pre-war Europe (approximately 200,000 Chassidim) perished during the Holocaust. Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, who managed to escape, set about the task of rebuilding the movement in the British Mandate of Palestine.
Under its post-war leaders, the movement began to flourish again. Presently, on major occasions such as Shavous, more thaqn 12,000 Chassidim may gather in the main Gerrer beth midrash.
Large communities of Gerrer Chassidim exist in Israel in Ashdod, Bnei Brak, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv, as well as in New York, Lakewood, New Jersey, Los Angeles, London, Antwerp, Zurich and Toronto. Several satellite communities have also established in small towns in Israel, such as Arad in the Negev desert, Hatzor HaGlilit in the Galilee, Kiryat HaRim Levin in Tel Aviv, Beit Shemesh and Kiryat Gat. Ger maintains a well developed educational network of Talmud Torahs, yeshivas, and kollels, as well a Beis Yaakov schools for girls. Its leaders dominat the Agudat Israel religious movement and political party in Israel.
The Gerrer Dynasty Leadership:
Yitzchak Meir Alter (1798 - 1866)
Also known as the Chiddushei HaRim. He is considered to be the first Rebbe of the Ger Chassidic dynasty, which he founded in the town of Góra Kalwaria (known as "Ger" in Yiddish), Poland. He headed the Kupath Rabbi Meir Baal Haness Kollel Polen. He was also known as the Chidushei HaRim for his Torah books. He is sometimes reffered to fondly as Reb Itche Meir by his followers.
He was born in Magnuszew, Poland in late 1799. He came from a very distinguished family of rabbis, among the most prominent in Germany and Poland. He was a descendant of Rashi and the Tosafist, Rabbi Meir ben Baruch of Rothenburg.
He married Geigele Lipszyc, daughter of Moshe "Halfon" Lypszyc, in 1811, and settled in Warsaw. They had fourteen children, most of whom died in infancy.
He also became known as a Talmudic goan (genuis). At first he was close to the rebbes of Kozhnitz. After some years he was drawn to the Rebbe, Reb Simcha Bunim of Prshischa, whose close adherent he became. After the demise of the Rebbe, Reb Bunim, He became a disciple of Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, known as the Kotzker Rebbe, who was famous for his acerbic wit and Talmudic brilliance. He was soon followed by a large number of Reb Bunim's followers. He and the Kotzker Rebbe eventually became brothers-in-law, when the latter married Chaya Lipszyc, the sister of his wife Feigele.
He is also known for his talmudic commentary, though he wrote on many other areas. Extant published works are:
Chidushei Harim on Choshen Mishpat.
Chidushei HaRim on Torah.
Chidushei harim on Bava Batra.
Chidusei HaRim on Bava Metzia.
Chidushei Harim on Bava Kama.
Chiddushei haRim on Shavuot.
Chidushei HaRim on Gittin.
Chidushe HaRim on Ketubot.
Chidushei HaRim on Pirkei Avot.
Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter (1847 - 1905)
Also known as the Sfas Emes, was a Chassidic rabbi who succeded his grandfather, Rabbi Yitxchak Meir Alter, as the av beis din (head of the rabbinical court) and Rav of Góra Kalwaria, Poland (known in Yiddish as the town of Ger), and succeeded the Rebbe, Reb Heynekh of Alexander, as Rebbe of the Gerrer Chassidim.
He was born in 1847 and named Yehudah Leib, he was known to family and friends as Leybl. His father, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, died when Yehudah Leib was only eight years old, and his mother died before that. Orphaned of both parents, he was brought up by his grandparents, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter and his wife. When he was bout ten years old, his grandfather took him to visit the Kotzker Rebbe, an event which left a lifelong impression on him.
He married Yocheved Rivka, daughter of Reb Yidl (Yehuda) Kaminer.
When his grandfather, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir, died in 1866, many of the Chassidim sought to bestow the mantle of leadership upon eighteen year old Yehudah Aryeh Leib. He refused that position, and leadership of the Chassidim went to Rabbi Chanokh Heynekh Ha-Cohen Levin of Aleksander. After the death of the latter in 1870, the Chassidim succeeded in gainning Yehudah Aryeh Leib's assent to become their Rebbe.
During the Russo-Japanese War may of his young followers were drafted into the Russian Army and sent to the battlefieldds in Manchuria. The Rebbe was very worried over these devotees and would constantly write to them. His health suffered, and he died at the age of 57 on January 11, 1905.
Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib was one of the greatest Torah scholars of his generatioin, teaching students such as Rabbi Nachman Shlomo Greenspan and many others. His output was prodigious, and his works, all entitled Sfas Emes, deal with the Talmud, the ethics of the Midrash, and mysticism of the Zohar.
His Torah homilies as delivered to his Chassidim, and arranged according to the weekly parashah and the festivals, were the first to be published posthumously under the name Sfas Emes. The title was taken from the closing words of the final piece he wrote: Sfas Emes, Vayechi 5665. His chiddushim (original Torh thoughts) on many Talmudic tractates, and on Yoreh De'ah, have been published under the same name.
He has said as one of his sayings:
"One of the greatest religious problems is that people fear having a relationship with G-d and consequently distance themselves from Him. Just as angels serve G-d without fear despite their lower status in comparison to G-d, so too human beings should take their model (walk amongst them) and not be afraid of developing a relationship with G-d and serving Him. This represents a wholeness that we as human beings are capable of only if we think of ourselves as walking amongst angels."
Avraham Mordechai Alter (1866 - 1948).
Also known as the Imrei Emes after the works he authored, he was the third Rebbe of the Chassidic dynasty of Ger, a position he held from 1905 until his death in 1948. He was one of the founders of the Agudas Israel in Poland and was influential in establishing a network of Jewish schools there. It is claimed that at one stage he led over 200,000 Chassidim.
He had eight children by his first wife, Chaya Ruda Czama, daughter of Noach Czamy, a prominent Gerrer Chosid in Biala. His eldest son, Rabbi Meir Alter, who was a Torah scholar and businessman, perished in Treblinka death camp during the Holocaust with his children and grandchildren. His second son, Rabbi Yitzchak Alter, died in 1934 in Poland.
In 1922, his wife Chaya Ruda died. Some time later he married his niece, Feyge Mintshe Biderman, who bore him his youngest child, Pinchas Menachem Alter, in 1926.
In 1924, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai visited Palestine together with his brother-in-law, Rabbi Hirsh Heynekh Lewin, his son-in-lae Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter and the Sokolover Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchak Zelig Morgensztern. Over a six week period, they visited Jerusalem, Safed, Hebron, Tiberias, and Tel Aviv.
During World War Two, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai was a prime target of the Nazi authorities in German occupied Poland. He managed to escapt to Palestine in 1940 with several of his sons and began to slowly rebuild his Chassidic dynasty.
With the outbreak of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War he was trapped in Jerusalem. He died during the holiday of Shavuot of natural causes during the siege of the city by the Jordanian Arab Legion. As bodies could not be removed to the Mount of Olives during wartime, he was buried in the courtyard of the Sfas Emes yeshiva, located near the Mahane Yehuda market in downtown Jerusalem.
After his death, the dynasty continued with his three remaining sons, who became the consecutive next three heads of the Gerrer Chassidim worldwide.
The Hebrew acronym for Rabbi Avraham Mordechai is Re'em. A religious moshav in central Israel is named for the Rebbe, Bnei Re'em as well as the nearby junction of highway 40 and highway 3.
Yisrael Alter (1895 - 1977)
Also known as the Beis Yisroel after the works he authored, was the fourth Rebbe of the Chassidic dynasty of Ger, a position he held from 1948 until 1977.
He escaped from Poland during the Holocaust and settled in Palestine during 1940. In 1945 he learned that the Nazi regime had murdered his wife, daughter, son, and grandchildren. He remarried but had no children.
Following the death of his father, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, the third Rebbe of Ger, in 1948, he became a forceful leader of his growing followers in the Ger Chassidic movement, as well as became very active in the political life of the new State of Israel. He would go around at night by himself to the various yeshivas, even the non-Chassidic ones, and check on the students. He would also have one of his agents call an especially good student to talk to him, thereby gaining many new and outstanding followers.
He married Perl Weidenfeld daughter of Reb Dovid.
Rabbi Yisrael also known as the Sharfer Rebbe, left a great impression on people from all walks of life who came in contact with him, and was highly respected by all Chassidic circles. His idea was to elevate every person to somehow become one level higher than his present state. There are countless stories from individuals, Chassidim and non-Chassidim, who met the Rebbe, relating how he had a tremendous spiritual impact on them and how this strong impresson will never leave them. What makes this even more impressive is that many of these encounters with the Rebbe were for a very short period of time.
Rabbi Yisrael actively encouraged a strong competitive rivalry between the young men in his Yeshivos. In particular, early morning learning, prayers, and meals led by the Rebbe on Sabbath and Holidays.
A charismatic leader with a dynamic personality, quick wit and an unpredictable nature.
Made his visitors tremble as they never knew when he would attack them verbally or physically by a slap on the face.
Rabbi Yisrael became a powerful force within the Agudat Israel of Israel party and guided its work in the Israeli Knesset, concluding alliances with various other political parties to further the causes of Haredi Judaism in the Jewish state.
Simchah Bunim Alter (1898 - 1992)
Also known as the Lev Simcha after the works he authored, was fifth Rebbe of the Chassidic dynasty of Ger, a position he held from 1977 until 1992.
Being a Palestinian citizen, he and his family were able to enter Mandate Palestine during 1940 to escape Nazi persecution in Poland. Prior to becoming Rebbe of Ger, he was a businessman dealing in real estates.
During the time of his leadership, the Ger Chassidism grew greatly in the State of Israel. He continued the family tradition of vigorous leadership of the Agudat Israel of Israel party whose representatives in the Israeli Knesset represent the interests of Haredi Judaism in the Jewish state. It was during his stewardship of the party that the non-Chassdic Degel HaTorah party split when Rabbi Elazar Shach broke with Agudat Israel and its Chassidic leadership, led mainly by the rebbe of Ger.
1n 1980 he instituted Yerushalmi Yomi, the daily learning of a page of the Jerusalem Talmud, similar to the renouned Daf Yomi for the Babylonian Talmud.
He died on the 7th of Tammuz 5752 (1992) and was interred in the cave of the Gerrer Rebbes in the Mount of Olives cemetery.
Pinchas Menachem Alter (1926 - 1996)
Also known as the Pnei Menahem after the works he authored, was the sixth Rebbe of the Chassidic dynasty of Ger, a position he held from 1992 until his death in 1996.
Pinchas Menachem was born in Falenits, near Warsaw, Poland. He was the only offspring of the second marriage of his father, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, the third Rebbe of Ger, to Feyge Mintshe Biderman. Pinchas Menachem had four half-brothers and two half-sisters from his father's first marriage, including the fourth Rebbe of Ger, Rabbi Yisrael Alter, and Rabbi Simcha Bunim Alter, the fifth Rebbe of Ger.
Pinchas Menachem's bar mitzva took place near Ludmir (now Ukraine) not long before the outbreak of World War Two in 1939. After the war, he married his cousin, Tzipora Alter. In the 1950's, he was appointed rosh yeshiva of Sfas Emes, the flagship yeshiva of Ger in Jerusalem, Israel.
He succeeded his half-brother, Rabbi Simcha Bunim Alter, to become Rebbe in 1992. His position as rosh yeshiva of Sfas Emes Yeshiva was assumed by his son, Rabbi Shaul Alter, who is widely regarded as an eminent Talmudic scholar.
During his tenure, Rabbi Pinchas Menachem continued the policies of his half-brothers, Rabbi Simcha Bunim and Rabbi Yisrael, by supporting the political work of the Agudat Israel of Israel party, promoting the interests of Haredi Judaism in the Israeli Knesset. He reached a rapproachement with his non-Chassidic Ashkenazi Haredi fellow-rabbis, in particular with Rabbi Elazar Shach, leader of the rival Degel HaTorah party. Together they created the United Torah Judaism party in order not to lose residual votes in the Israeli proportional representation system, and thereby potentially obtain an extra seat for the newly united party in Knesset elections.
Rabbi Pinchas Menachem died in 1996 after less than four years at the helm of the Ger dynasty. He was buried beside his father, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter, in the courtyrd of the Sfas Emes Yeshiva. A brick ohel in the shape of a house was built over the two graves. Both graves are visited frequently by students in the yeshivah.
Yaakov Aryeh Alter (born 1939)
He is the seventh and current Rebbe of the Chassidic dynsty of Ger, a position he has held since 1996. He lives in Israel and has followers in Europe and the United States. Ger is probably the largest single Chassidic group in Israel today.
His father was Rabbi Simcha Bunim Alter, also known as Lev Simcha, the fifth Gerrer Rebbe. When Rabbi Simcha Bunim died in 1992, he was succeded by his half-brother, Rabbi Pinchas Menachem Alter. Upon the latter's unexpected death in 1996, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter was chosen as the next Rebbe of Ger, resulting from a pre-agreed-upon consensus for succession.
The Rebbe has displayed his father's style of vigourous leadership in the religious and political domains in Israel. He and his Chassidim fully back and have a major say in the Agudath Israel of Israel pary in the Israeli Knesset, supporting the needs of the Haredi community in Israel. The Rebbe encouraged the party to retain its alliance with the non-Chassidic Ashkenazi litvish Degel HaTora party within the United Torah Judaism party representing almost all Ashkenazi Haredi Jews in Israel.
He has introduced significant innovations in the curriculum of the educational institutions operated by the Gerrer Chassidim in Israel and abroad - primarily broader knowledge of the expanse of the Talmud, while abolishing the learning of iyun (learning in smaller portion of the Talmud in-depth).
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