Belz Hasidim

Belz Hasidim (Yiddish: Belzer chasidim) – Hasidic dynasty founded by Shalom Rokeach (1789–1855).

Rokeach was known as the “Belzer Rebe” and studied under many prominent tzaddikim, including Yaakov Yitzchak HaLevi Horowitz of Lublin. Shalom Rokeach settled in Belz ca. 1815. His followers regarded him a miracle-worker – it was believed, for example, that he was able to free human souls that had been imprisoned inside animals and exorcise dybbuks from the bodies of the possessed. He put great emphasis on observing religious laws and performing good deeds, which he considered more important than in-depth knowledge of the Talmud. He opposed the Haskalah, and was famous for discussing many matters with his wife, Malka. His followers also emulated his open attitude towards women, which differed from that characterising traditional Judaism. Rokeach had five sons, all of whom became well-known scholars. His youngest son, Yehoshua (1825–1894) became his successor, and was widely esteemed for vast knowledge. He was one of the first Hasidic tzaddikim to be involved in politics.

In 1878, he founded the group Machzikei Hadas [Hebrew: “Upholding the Faith”]. He was recognised as the informal leader of Orthodox Jews in Galicia, and strove to maintain the principles of traditional Judaism. He was succeeded by another son of Shalom, Yissachar Dov (1854–1927), who became famous in Chernobyl, where he lived for several years. Like his father, he was involved in politics, and supported the organisation of religious schools for girls known as Beit Yaakov schools. His son and successor, Aharon (1880–1957), also actively participated in the social life of the Jewish community. He for example petitioned to Prime Minister Kazimierz Bartel for subsidies to be granted to schools run by Orthodox organisations. During World War II, Aharon resided in several ghettos, where he hid under various aliases.

In 1944, he managed to leave for Palestine, where he settled in Tel Aviv. All of his children had perished in the Holocaust, so after his death in 1965, he was succeeded by his nephew Yissachar Dov (born in 1948), whom he had raised. Yissachar  expanded the yeshiva founded by Aharon in Jerusalem, and opened a nearby synagogue. To this day, he remains one of the most influential Hasidic tzaddikim.

Hanna Węgrzynek

The entry was originally published on the Diapozytyw portal, previously owned by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute. It is an excerpt from the book Historia i kultura Żydów polskich. Słownik by Alina Cała, Hanna Węgrzynek, and Gabriela Zalewska, published by the WSiP.

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