Ger (Hasidic dynasty)

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Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter with his entourage

Ger (Yiddish: גער, also Gur, adj. Gerrer) is a Polish Hasidic dynasty originating from the town of Góra Kalwaria, Poland, where it was founded by Yitzchak Meir Alter (1798–1866) known as the "Chiddushei HaRim". Ger is a branch of Peshischa Hasidism, as Yitzchak Meir Alter was a leading disciple of Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (1765–1827). Before the Holocaust, followers of Ger were estimated to number in excess of 100,000,[1] making it the largest and most influential Hasidic group in Poland.[2][3] Today, the movement is based in Jerusalem, and its membership is estimated at 11,859 families (as of 2016), most of whom live in Israel, making Ger the largest Hasidic dynasty in Israel.[4][5] However, there are also well-established Ger communities in the United States and in Europe.[5] In 2019, Rabbi Shaul Alter and his followers split off from the dynasty, which was up to that moment led by his cousin Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter.[6]

History[edit]

After the death of the Kotzker Rebbe in 1859, the vast majority of his followers chose Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter, the Kotzker Rebbe's closest disciple, as their new rebbe. At the time, Alter lived in Warsaw and led the main Kotzker shtiebel there (on ul. Zelazna). Shortly after accepting the role, Yitzchak Meir was appointed as Rav and Av Beit Din (head of the rabbinical court) of Góra Kalwaria (Ger). Relocating to Ger, he became the founding rebbe of the Gerrer dynasty. During his seven years of leadership, the group flourished, causing it to be known as the "seven years of plenty".

Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter in Europe

After Alter's death in 1866, his followers wanted his eighteen-year-old grandson, Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, to succeed him. When Yehuda Aryeh Leib refused to accept this position, most of the Hasidim became followers of the elderly Hasid, Rabbi Chanokh Heynekh HaKohen Levin, formerly rabbi of Prushnits and Krushnevits and then retired to Alexander. After Rabbi Chanokh Heynekh died in 1870, Yehudah Aryeh Leib (who became known post-humously as the Sfas Emes) acceded to the request of the Hasidim to become their next rebbe.

Graves of the Imrei Emes and his son Pinchas Menachem in Mea She'arim, Jerusalem

The Gerrer movement flourished under the leadership of Yehudah Aryeh Leib and his eldest son and successor, Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter (known as the Imrei Emes). In 1926, in a bold departure for Polish Hasidim, 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 of the Imrei Emes. Today, the yeshiva remains the flagship of the Ger yeshivas.

Under the leadership of the fifth Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Yisrael Alter, known as the Beis Yisrael, the Ichud Mosdos Gur (Union of Gerrer Institutions) was established as the responsible body for funding all the educational institutions affiliated with Ger in Israel. Currently, there are about 100 such institutions.[citation needed] The Beis Yisrael helped rebuild Ger after its virtual destruction in World War II.[7]

On October 22, 2019, the Ger Hasidic dynasty split for the first time in its history following a public Sukkot event held by Rabbi Shaul Alter, the cousin of Gerrer Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter, at which donation and school enrollment forms for the new group were passed out for children of the attendees.[8] Tensions between the two rabbis have appeared repeatedly over two decades, in particular after Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh in 2016 closed the prestigious Sfas Emes yeshiva in Jerusalem, at which Rabbi Shaul was the Rosh Yeshiva, and failed to invite Rabbi Shaul in 2019 to the wedding of his grandson.[9][10][11]

Distribution of Gerrer Hasidim[edit]

Gur Yeshiva in Har Shalom, Bnei Brak

Almost all Ger Hasidim living in pre-war Europe (approximately 100,000 Hasidim) were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust.[7] Avraham Mordechai Alter, who managed to escape, set about the task of rebuilding the movement in the British Mandate of Palestine.[7] It is generally accepted that he was released by the Nazis, and was then able to move to Palestine, because of a very large ransom paid by his followers to the Nazis.[citation needed] Under its post-war leaders, the movement began to flourish again.

With approximately 12,000 families, Ger is the third-largest Hasidic dynasty in the world today, comprising 9.2% of the world population of Hasidim.[5] Large communities of Gerrer Hasidim exist in Israel, in Bnei Brak (2294 families / 19% of the Hasidic population), Ashdod (2218 families / 45%), and Jerusalem (1921 families / 12%), and a slightly smaller community of 1,027 families (6% of the Hasidic population) exists in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.[5] Smaller communities with hundreds of families have also been established in Israel, such as Arad, Beit Shemesh, Kiryat Gat, Hatzor HaGlilit, Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Petah Tikva.[5] Internationally, hundreds of families reside in London, Antwerp, Zurich (where they are the largest Hasidic sect), Manchester, Monsey, and Lakewood, with tens more living in Los Angeles, Queens, Montreal, Melbourne, and Chicago.[5]

Ger maintains a well-developed educational network of Talmud Torahs, yeshivas, and kollels, as well as Beis Yaakov schools for girls. The dynasty is the wealthiest in Israel, and its leaders dominate the Agudat Israel political party.[12][13][14]

Center[edit]

The group's headquarters is located in Jerusalem. During and after the British Mandate, the group's beth midrash was at the Sfas Emes Yeshiva, near Mahane Yehuda. Later on, the synagogue moved to Ralbach Street in the Geula neighborhood, and in the 2000s, the Great Beit Midrash Gur was inaugurated on Yirmeyahu Street, near the Schneller Orphanage complex. It is one of the largest synagogues in the world (nearly 30,000 sq. feet).

Its construction is not complete yet. In 2015, the plans were changed, and construction of an extension to the building was begun. On Rosh Hashanah 2018 (5779), another wing of the Beth Medrash was inaugurated (together 80,000 sq. feet).[15]

Beginning with the emigration of the Imrei Emes to Israel, the rebbes of Ger lived in Jerusalem, with the exception of the current Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter, who moved to Jerusalem only in 2012. The group has "shtieblach" in most ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in the city. As other Hasidic courts, Ger also expanded in Jerusalem following the immigration of young couples from Europe and the United States.

Identifying features of Ger[edit]

The men are distinguished by their dark Hasidic garb, and by their pants tucked into their socks, called hoyzn-zokn (not to be confused with the breeches, called halber-hoyzn, worn by men in some other Hasidic groups). They wear a round felt hat, and a high, almost-pointed kapel. They raise their sidelocks from the temples, and tuck them under the yarmulke, nearly hiding them. On Shabbos and Jewish holidays, married men wear the high circular fur hat of the Polish Hasidim, called a spodik by Galicianers (not to be confused with the much flatter shtreimel worn by married men in Hasidic groups which do not hail from Congress Poland).[citation needed]

Ger follows the way of Menachem Mendel of Kotzk in stressing service of God in a sharp and objective way, as opposed to the mystical and spiritual orientation of other Hasidic groups. Ger also places much emphasis on Talmud study.

Notable Ger[edit]

Ger Hasidut produced one of the most prolific composers of Jewish liturgical music of all time, Yankel Talmud (1885-1965). Known as "the Beethoven of the Gerrer Rebbes".[16]

Gerrer dynastic leadership[edit]

  1. Rebbe Yitzchak Meir Alter (1798 – March 10, 1866), also known as the Chiddushei HaRim. Notable student of the Kotzker Rebbe, and a prominent contemporary posek. Assumed leadership of the Hasidim in 1859.
  2. Rebbe Chanoch Heynekh HaKohen Levin of Aleksander (1798 – March 21, 1870),[17] colleague of Yitzchak Meir. Gerrer Rebbe from 1866 to 1870.
  3. Rebbe Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (1847–1905), also known as the Sfas Emes. Born in Warsaw, Poland. Died in Góra Kalwaria. Wrote Talmudic works and Maharal-style Torah commentaries that are known within and outside Hasidic streams. Grandson of Rabbi Leib Alter. Gerrer Rebbe from 1870 to 1905.
  4. Rebbe Avraham Mordechai Alter (December 25, 1866 – June 3, 1948), also known as the Imrei Emes. Son of Rabbi Leib Alter. Gerrer Rebbe from 1905 to 1948.
  5. Rebbe Yisrael Alter (October 12, 1895 – February 20, 1977), also known as the Beis Yisroel. Son of Rabbi Avraham Mordechai. Gerrer Rebbe from 1948 to 1977.
  6. Rebbe Simchah Bunim Alter (April 6, 1898 – August 6, 1992), also known as the Lev Simcha. Son of Rabbi Avraham Mordechai. Gerrer Rebbe from 1977 to 1992.
  7. Rebbe Pinchas Menachem Alter (June 9, 1926 – March 7, 1996), also known as the Pnei Menachem. Son of Rabbi Avraham Mordechai. Gerrer Rebbe from 1992 to 1996.
  8. Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter (born 1939). The only son of Rabbi Simcha Bunim. Gerrer Rebbe from 1996 to the present.
  9. Rebbe Shaul Alter (born 1957). The second son of Rabbi Pinchas Menachem. Gerrer Rosh Yeshivah and leader of a split-off from the Ger dynasty from 2019 to the present.[18]

Takanot[edit]

Ger is known as having the strictest views among Orthodox Jews regarding modesty and sexual relations.[19] In 1948, Rabbi Yisrael Alter established the "Ordinances on Holiness", known as the takanot (called takunes in the vernacular of Yiddish used by Ger Hasidim), which regulate daily living. The rules were passed on verbally, and were never written down until 2016,[20] when a former member of the Ger Hasidic sect published them on Facebook.[21] The takanot prescribe, for example, that a couple should not have sex more than twice a month, should do so silently and quickly, and the man should always be on top.[20][22] In addition to rules about sexual relations, they include prohibitions for men on everyday activities such as combing one's hair, using soap on days other than Friday (in preparation for Shabbos), smoking, and reading the newspaper.[21] The ordinances are reputed to have had a detrimental effect on the demand for Gerrer bachelors in the Hasidic match-making market.[20]

In 2009, a Gerrer woman, Sarah Einfeld, appeared in a short documentary film titled in English Shrew (in Hebrew, Soreret). During the filming, she decided to desert Ger, and to adopt a secular way of life. In her blog, she reported on the "repression" of women in Ger, highlighting the suppression of sexuality under the regime of these rules.[23]

Abuse scandal[edit]

In December 2019, the son of Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter was accused of abusing male yeshiva students.[24][25] Ger allegedly did not notify authorities, and paid money to stop publication of these reports. A number of sources describe a cover-up of the incidents that allegedly took place over years and were known to at least one senior figure within Ger.[24][25]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Estēr Farbšṭeyn (1 October 2007). Hidden in Thunder. Feldheim Publishers. p. 82. ISBN 978-965-7265-05-5. Retrieved 31 July 2013. During this venerated rebbe's lifetime, the Ger court spread farther than ever before; some estimates of the number of his followers before the Holocaust exceed 100,000.
  2. ^ Skolnik, Fred; Berenbaum, Michael (2007). Encyclopaedia Judaica. 8. Macmillan Reference USA. p. 424. ISBN 978-0-02-865936-7. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
  3. ^ Spector, Shmuel; Wigoder, Geoffrey (2001). The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life: Before and During the Holocaust. NYU Press. p. 1430. ISBN 978-0-8147-9356-5. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
  4. ^ Simeon D. Baumel (2006). Sacred Speakers: Language And Culture Among The Haredim In Israel. Berghahn Books. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-84545-062-5. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Wodzinski, Marcin (2018). Historical Atlas of Hasidism. Princeton University Press. p. 207.
  6. ^ "Religious Affairs: The Gerrer rebellion". The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com. Retrieved 2020-12-03.
  7. ^ a b c "Gur Rabbi Dies in Israel; Leader of Hasidim Was 82". The New York Times. 1977-02-22. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-05-18.
  8. ^ Sugarman, Daniel (October 24, 2019). "Ger, one of the largest chasidic dynasties in the world, splits after 160 years of unity". www.thejc.com. Retrieved 2020-12-01.
  9. ^ "U.S. 'Leftists' vs. the Israeli establishment: Tensions rise in the Ger Hasidic sect". Haaretz.com. Retrieved 2020-12-01.
  10. ^ "The split in Israel's biggest Hasidic court shows that no rabbi is immune". Haaretz.com. Retrieved 2020-12-01.
  11. ^ Rabinowitz, Aaron (October 22, 2019). "Opposition Within ultra-Orthodox Ger Sect Declares Historic Split". Haaretz. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  12. ^ "Religious Affairs: The Gerrer rebellion". The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com. Retrieved 2020-12-03.
  13. ^ "The ultra-Orthodox rabbi at the center of the crisis that almost toppled Israel's government". www.haaretz.com. Retrieved 2020-05-21.
  14. ^ Sugarman, Daniel (October 24, 2019). "Ger, one of the largest chasidic dynasties in the world, splits after 160 years of unity". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  15. ^ "Israel's Largest Synagogue Under Construction - World Center Of Gur Hasidism In Jerusalem".
  16. ^ Bleich, Chanania. "Remembering Reb Yankel Talmud". Ami, 1 September 2013, pp. 128–132.
  17. ^ The State Archive in Lodz/Archiwum Państwowe w Łodzi: "Jewish Civil Registry of Aleksandrow Lodzki", 1870, death (akt) #10, age: 76, marital status: widower, date: March 21
  18. ^ https://www.kikar.co.il/333834.html
  19. ^ Rabinowitz, Aaron (2019-12-22). "Sexual Assault Allegations Rock an Israeli Hasidic Community". Haaretz. Retrieved 2020-03-05.
  20. ^ a b c "Sexual Abstinence of Married Men Roils Hasidic Sects". Tablet Magazine. 2019-02-14. Retrieved 2020-03-05.
  21. ^ a b Ettinger, Yair (2016-07-03). "Ger Hasidim's Secret Rules on Male-Female Relations Revealed by Ex-Member". Haaretz. Retrieved 2020-03-05.
  22. ^ Marienberg, Evyatar (2014). "Contemporary Haredi Sexual Guidance" (PDF). New Perspectives on Gender and Jewish Life. Frankel Institute Annual 2014.
  23. ^ "Sexual Abstinence of Married Men Roils Hasidic Sects". Tablet Magazine. 2019-02-14. Retrieved 2020-03-05.
  24. ^ a b Rabinowitz, Aaron (2019-12-22). "Sexual Assault Allegations Rock an Israeli Hasidic Community". Haaretz. Retrieved 2020-03-05.
  25. ^ a b "Chasidic earthquake: son of Ger sect leader accused of sexual abuse". +61J. 2019-12-27. Retrieved 2020-05-15.
  • Alfasi, Yitzchak (2005), בית גור The House of Ger (2 vols) (4th ed.), Bnei Brak: Moriah
  • Leff, Nosson Chayim (2010), Personal Correspondence

External links[edit]