The NY Times On the Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Bnei Brak


the-vizhnitzer-rebbe-of-bnei-brakThe following is an article by Joseph Berger in the NY Times on the passing of the Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Bnei Brak:

Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, the leader of one the world’s largest Hasidic sects, the Viznitz Hasidim, and a participant in Israeli politics who encouraged moderation on issues like the expansion of settlements in the occupied territories, died early Wednesday in Bnei Brak, east of Tel Aviv. He was 95.

He had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, said Alexander Rapaport, a follower who runs the Masbia soup kitchens in Brooklyn and Queens.

The depth of affection for Rabbi Hager was evident not only in the tens of thousands of Hasidim who surged around his body, shrouded in a prayer shawl, at his funeral on Wednesday in Bnei Brak, but also in the hundreds of Brooklyn followers who, because of the time difference, were able to fly to Israel to attend the service.

Later, hundreds streamed into Kaser, an almost exclusively Viznitz village in Rockland County, N.Y., to pay their respects to Rabbi Hager’s younger brother, Mordechai, who heads the sect’s American branch, as he began observing shiva, the seven days of mourning.

The Viznitz sect numbers 5,000 families in Israel and perhaps as many in North America in the Borough Park and Williamsburg sections of Brooklyn; Lakewood, N.J.; Montreal; and other places.

The group’s roots go back at least to the first half of the 19th century, to the village of Vyzhnytsia in what is today western Ukraine. The mother of Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, had a Viznitz background. The Viznitz men dress in the black suits and hats characteristic of Hasidim but distinguish themselves by wearing the hat bow on the right side.

Rabbi Hager, who wore a long, white beard and black eyeglasses, was reputed to study 70 pages of the Talmud a day, and was known for his scholarly discourses on ethics. Unlike some Hasidic leaders, he did not shun the intrigue of Israeli politics, and for many years he was president of the Council of Torah Sages of the Agudat Israel party, now part of the United Torah Judaism coalition, which has five seats in the Knesset.

In that capacity, Mr. Rapaport said, Rabbi Hager discouraged the more expansionist visions of the settlers’ movement: that the Jews of Israel were entitled by biblical prophecy to inherit the entire West Bank.

Rabbi Hager explained his position by recalling a story about his grandfather, a grand rabbi, who had visited followers in a distant town. There he was asked whether he preferred to worship in the small Viznitz synagogue or in a prayer hall that could hold a larger crowd. He responded with a Yiddish rhyme – “klein und mein” (small and mine) – suggesting that it is better to have smaller territory that one controls than larger lands under dispute.

Despite a housing shortage, he forbade his followers to live in the West Bank. And in 1990 he was willing to join Shimon Peres, a liberal, in a governing coalition, though that arrangement never materialized because of opposition from other ultra-Orthodox members of the Knesset.

He was so esteemed in the wider Hasidic world that, in the manner of the royal families of old Europe, marriages were arranged between his daughters and the sons of three different dynasties. The sons-in-law became grand rabbis. Among the daughters, the eldest, Chana Chaya, married Rabbi David Twersky, the grand rabbi of the Skver sect based in New Square, N.Y.; Sarah married Rabbi Yisachar Dov Rokeach, grand rabbi of the Belz Hasidim in Jerusalem; and Sosha married Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, chief rabbi of the Satmar faction in Kiryas Joel, N.Y.

In addition to those daughters and his brother, Rabbi Hager is survived by his second wife, Sheindel; two sons, Yisrael and Menachem Mendel; another daughter, Hinda Erenster; and a sister, Tzipora Friedman. There has been a struggle between the two sons over who will succeed Rabbi Hager.

Moshe Yehoshua Hager was born on April 16, 1916, in Grosswardein, today known as Oradea, Romania. His father and grandfather were both grand rabbis, who moved their headquarters to more Western areas of Austria-Hungary during World War I because Russian soldiers were wantonly killing Jews.

In the midst of World War II, the young Rabbi Hager established a yeshiva in Grosswardein. But not long after, the Nazis occupied Hungary, and the rabbi and his family were smuggled over to the Romanian side; from there they made their way to British Palestine. Many Viznitz followers were murdered in massacres and concentration camps. Rabbi Hager and his father re-established the community’s remnants, first in Tel Aviv and then in Bnei Brak. In 1972, Rabbi Hager inherited his father’s mantle.

Among his distinctions was his emphasis on the customs of the mikvah, the ritual bath. Mr. Rapaport said that Rabbi Hager had encouraged Viznitz men to immerse themselves every morning as a way of purifying themselves for the day of study and prayer ahead.

While all mikvahs require that a small portion of “natural” or “living” water, like rainwater, be blended with faucet water, Rabbi Hager required that the mikvah for women in Bnei Brak be composed entirely of rainwater. That was a particular challenge in Israel’s dry and torrid climate, but the mikvah has continued to operate that way today, using water collected in rainstorms.

{NY Times/ Newscenter}


  1. What’s the big deal when an anti semetic anti Israel newspaper writes an article like this?
    Take a look back in history, article written about Jewish people or it’s nation very seldom will you find one in favor. It’s just very suprising & hurtful so many of us support them with subscriptions to the NYT.

  2. “”Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, the leader of one the worldÂ’s largest Hasidic sects, the Viznitz Hasidim, and a participant in Israeli politics who encouraged moderation on issues like the expansion of settlements in the occupied territories, died early Wednesday in Bnei Brak, east of Tel Aviv. He was 95.””

    Leave it to the self hating Jewish owned NY Times to not miss an oppertunity to take a shot at Israel in the very first sentence. No wonder they are near bankrupruptcy, which is right were they belong being.

    Alteh Bucher

  3. #3 “Reb Yisroel was crowned Rebbe and successor
    Mazel Tov!!!”
    nobody was crowned there are 2 brothers with their own large kehilos. Mazel tov to both of them. This was the biggest Kidush Hashem ever how the two brothers acted during theese trying times.