Ger Hasidim; Hasidim from Góra Kalwaria

Ger Hasidim, Hasidim from Góra Kalwaria (Yiddish: Gerer chasidimchasidim Ger) – one of the largest and most influential Hasidic groups in Poland, founded by Yitzchak Meir Rothenberg Alter (1789–1866), known as Rebe Icie Majer.

Even as a child, Alter was exceptionally bright and became known for his originality of thought. He studied under Yisroel ben Shabbetai Hopstein of Kozhnitz (Kozienice), Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (Przysucha), and later under Menachem Mendel Morgensztern of Kotzk (Kock). He married a sister of the latter, and after Morgestern’s death in 1859, most of his disciples went on to study under Alter. Alter’s work Chiddushei HaRim (Hebrew: “The New Interpretations of R[abbi] I[tzhak] M[eir], 1875), published posthumously, became one of the fundamental works on the Jewish ritual studied in yeshivot in Poland. Alter believed that the most important duty of a Jew was to study the Torah; he emphasised the joy brought by Talmudic studies. He also opposed the belief in miracle-working powers of tzaddikim, and actively participated in the country’s political life. He was, for example, involved in the struggle to abolish the “cantonist decrees.” In 1843, he became an honorary member of the Warsaw rabbinate, which significantly strengthened the influence of the Hasidim within the institution. Alter was first succeeded by his friend, Rebbe Chanokh Heynekh HaKohen Levin of Aleksander (Aleksandrów), and then by his grandson, Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (1847–1905), in 1870. Under the leadership of the latter, the Ger dynasty became one of the most influential Hasidic groups in the Kingdom of Poland. Yehudah Aryeh gained not only the trust of the rabbis, but also of the Warsaw Synagogue Supervision, despite the fact that its members supported assimilation. He strongly spoke out against Zionism. His writings were collected in Sefat Emet (Hebrew: “The Language of Truth,” 1905–1908). Yehudah Aryeh was succeeded by his oldest son, Avraham Mordechai Alter (1864–1948). Under his leadership, the Hasidim of Góra Kalwaria became a well-organised group and gained widespread influence, which contributed to the rebirth of Orthodoxy among Jews. Avraham Mordechai supported the development of religious schools, including girls’ schools, and encouraged the study of Polish. He was held in high esteem by Europe’s Orthodox Jewry, and was one of the founders of the Agudath Israel party. At first, the political group stood decidedly against Zionism, but in the 1930s, it started to support Jewish settlement in Palestine. Avraham Mordechai made numerous visits to Eretz Israel. In 1940, he managed to escape from Poland and settled in Jerusalem, where he reconstructed the pre-war Hasidic institutions from Góra Kalwaria. After his death, he was succeeded by his sons: Yisrael Alter (1895–1972), Simcha Bunim (1888–1992), and Pinchas Menachem (1926–1996). The Ger Hasidic dynasty continues to have numerous followers in Israel and the United States.

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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