Warsaw Ghetto monument Poland 311 (R).
(photo credit:Agencja Gazeta/Reuters)
During the inter-war period, the Aleksander Hassidim were one of the largest
hassidic groups in Poland. The center of the Aleksander Hassidim was in
Aleksandrow Lodzki, less than 15 kilometers outside Lodz, a major textile center
and then the second-largest city in Poland.
The first hassidic master to
serve in the town was Rabbi Hanoch Heynech Hakohen Levin (1790-1870), who served
for the last four years of his life as an interregnum for the Gerrer
Hassidim. During that period, he returned to Aleksandrow Lodzki, where he
had previously served in the rabbinate, and a grand beit midrash was
A few years later Aleksandrow Lodzki once again became a notable
hassidic center: Rabbi Yehiel Dancyger (1828-1894) was the son of the hassidic
master Rabbi Shraga Fayvel Dancyger of Grojec (d. 1848) and a disciple of the
Warka Hassidic dynasty. Around 1876 – while serving in the rabbinate of
Aleksandrow Lodzki – he accepted the mantle of hassidic leadership. When
his followers increased, Rabbi Heynech’s beit midrash was purchased. This court
was to become the Aleksander Hassidic dynasty.
Rabbi Yehiel was succeeded
by the oldest of his three sons, Rabbi Yerahmiel Yisroel Yitzhok Dancyger
(1853-1910), known by the title of his posthumous work Yismah Yisrael (Lodz,
1911-1912). The Yismah Yisrael died childless and was succeeded by his brother
Rabbi Shmuel Tzvi Dancyger (1860-1923), whose work Tiferet Shmuel (Lodz,
1925-1930) was also published posthumously. In 1914, the third brother, Rabbi
Betzalel Yoir Dancyger (1856-1934), moved from Aleksandrow Lodzki to Lodz and
served as rabbi of the local Aleksander Hassidim. Rabbi Betzalel Yoir
also received people as a rebbe.
The Tiferet Shmuel was succeeded by his
son Rabbi Yitzhak Menahem Dancyger (1879- 1942), who established a network of
schools called Beit Yisrael, named after his uncle who had died childless.
Unlike many groups, in particular the Gerrer Hassidim, the Aleksander leadership
consciously chose not to be involved in Polish politics during the inter-war
The Holocaust brought devastation: At the beginning of the war,
Rabbi Yitzhak Menahem fled to Lodz and later to Warsaw, where he spent two years
in the ghetto. After refusing an opportunity to escape, he was murdered in
Rabbi Yitzhak Menahem’s entire family, as well as the majority
of the Aleksander Hassidim, perished during the Shoah. Rabbi Yitzhak Menahem’s
insights were later collected and published under the title Akeidat Yitzhak
(Bnei Brak, 1989).
Today, two remnants of Aleksander Hassidism remain in
Aleksandrow Lodzki – a building and a cemetery. Rabbi Yitzhak Menahem’s
residence still stands and is used by the Nicolaus Copernicus High School as a
dormitory. In the Jewish cemetery, gravestones mark the burial places of Rabbi
Yehiel and his two sons Rabbi Yerahmiel Yisroel Yitzhok and Rabbi Shmuel Tzvi.
In January 2010, more than 300 Aleksander Hassidim traveled to Aleksandrow
Lodzki to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Rabbi Yerahmiel
The founding Aleksander rebbe, Rabbi Yehiel, requested
not to be accorded any rabbinic title and asked his followers not to place notes
with requests on his grave as is traditionally done with a hassidic master.
Aleksander Hassidim, therefore, bring such notes to the grave, read them out and
then, in accordance with the wishes of Rabbi Yehiel, they do not place them on
the grave. Rather, they place them on the nearby grave of Rabbi
How did Aleksander Hassidism survive the Shoah? In 1934, Rabbi
Betzalel Yoir’s daughter Esther Perl and son-in-law Rabbi Yehuda Moshe Tyberg
(1892-1973) immigrated to the Land of Israel. After the destruction of European
Jewry, the surviving remnant of Aleksander Hassidim asked Rabbi Yehuda Moshe to
assume the leadership. He was a prolific writer and published a number of
works, including Responsa Hashava Letava (Lodz, 1933) and another volume that
contained two works: Kedushat Yitzhak
and Nahalat Zvi
(Jerusalem, 1952) – the
former on the hassidic masters who precipitated Aleksander Hassidism, and the
latter comments on the weekly Torah portion. Rabbi Yehuda Moshe also spoke to
survivors and collated their recollections of Aleksander Torah in Meoran Shel
(Bnei Brak, 1971). His main collection of thoughts on the Torah and the
festivals was published posthumously under the title Emunat Moshe
1976-1991). More of Rabbi Yehuda Moshe’s writings and correspondence were
published in Tzaddik Be’emunato
(Bnei Brak, 2003).
Rabbi Yehuda Moshe was
succeeded by his son Rabbi Avraham Menahem Dancyger (1921- 2005), whose hassidic
insights are currently being printed under the title Imrei Menahem
accordance with Rabbi Avraham Menahem’s will, his oldest son – Rabbi Yisroel Zvi
Yoir Dancyger – currently serves as Aleksander rebbe. The second son,
Rabbi Shneur Zalman Dancyger, is the Aleksander rebbe of Cleveland.
number of years ago, a group of hassidim broke from the main branch of
Aleksander and set up another branch in Boro Park (alongside the main branch
that also has a presence in Boro Park). This branch was led by Rabbi Yehiel Meir
Singer, a descendant of Rabbi Shmuel Zvi’s daughter and son-in-law – Rabbi
Yitzhak Meir Zynger, the head of the rabbinical court in Aleksandrow Lodzki
before the Holocaust.
Currently, Rabbi Yehiel Meir’s son, Rabbi Yosef
Singer, serves as the head of this branch; and another son, Rabbi Boruch Singer,
serves as the rebbe of Vurka-Aleksander.
Today, the main centers of
Aleksander Hassidim are in Bnei Brak, Modi’in Illit and Jerusalem.
Significantly, hassidim who preserve the Aleksander heritage by studying the
works of the masters of Aleksander and by naming their children after those
masters can be found around the world.The writer is on the faculty of
Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and is a rabbi in Tzur Hadassah.