Hassidim praying 521.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The resurrection of Aleksander Hassidism from the ashes of the
Holocaust is a remarkable tale. A lone scion of the dynasty who had made it to
the shores of British Mandate Palestine in 1934 reestablished and rebuilt the
community far from its original home in Aleksandrow Lodzki on Polish soil, after
it had been almost entirely wiped out during the Holocaust. Today Aleksander
Hassidim can be found around the world.
In 1934, Esther Perl, the
daughter of the then-Aleksander rebbe, and her husband Rabbi Yehuda Moshe Tyberg
(Emunat Moshe, 1892-1973), immigrated to the Land of Israel. At the behest of
the surviving remnant, Rabbi Yehuda Moshe assumed the leadership of the
Aleksander Hassidim after the Holocaust.After his death, he was
succeeded by his son, Rabbi Avraham Menahem Dancyger (Imrei Menahem, 1921-2005).
At first glance, it appears that father and son had different surnames. However,
the truth is that in a bid to broadcast continuity, and out of respect for his
predecessors at the helm of the Aleksander Hassidim, R. Yehuda Moshe took his
wife’s surname, the surname that all previous Aleksander rebbes had –
A further name anomaly can be found in the Aleksander Hassidic
Rabbi Avraham Menahem had four daughters and three sons – Yisroel
Zvi Yoir, Shneur Zalman and Yehiel. The older son’s name was compiled from one
of the names of each of the three brothers who served as masters of Aleksander
Hassidim: Rabbi Yerahmiel Yisroel Yitzhok (Yismah Yisrael, 1853- 1910), Rabbi
Shmuel Tzvi (Tiferet Shmuel, 1860-1923), and Rabbi Betzalel Yoir (1856-1934).
The third son was named after the first Aleksander rebbe, Rabbi Yehiel
But what about the name of the second son, Shneur Zalman?
The doublebarreled name is common in Chabad circles – in honor of the early
hassidic master and founder of Chabad Hassidism, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi
(1745-1812). Why does a Polish hassidic rabbi choose to give his son a name most
associated with Chabad? The answer to this puzzle lies, once again, with the
womenfolk. Rabbi Avraham Menahem married Esther Leah Halperin (d. 2006), who
came from a prominent Chabad family: She was the oldest daughter of Rabbi
Hananya Yosef Halperin, rabbi of the Chabad community in Jerusalem’s Beit
Yisrael neighborhood. Many of her siblings served, or continue to serve, in
leadership roles in the Lubavitch community in Israel. The Halperin family is
descended from Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, so it is unsurprising that Esther
Leah sought to name a son after her illustrious ancestor – much as the first and
third sons had been named after the illustrious forebears of her
In 1983, Rabbi Avraham Menahem visited the Lubavitcher rebbe,
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (Ramash, 1902-1994) in New York, and the two
hassidic leaders held a private meeting that a few loyal disciples of Rabbi
Avraham Menahem attended. The transcript of the meeting relates that the two
masters discussed, inter alia, the encounter between the Ramash’s father-in-law
and predecessor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzhok Schneersohn of Lubavitch (Rayatz,
1880-1950), and Rabbi Avraham Menahem’s great-uncle Rabbi Yerahmiel Yisroel
Yitzhok Dancyger of Aleksander in Warsaw in 1905.
At the end of the
meeting, just before leaving, Rabbi Avraham Menahem presented his son Schneur
Zalman to the Ramash, telling the Lubavitcher rebbe that the boy was named after
the Ramash’s ancestor, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, and requesting a blessing
for young Shneur Zalman. The Ramash responded by saying that there was
significance in a name, and since the boy bore such a name, he had a great
Rabbi Shneur Zalman Dancyger is currently the Aleksander
rebbe in Cleveland, Ohio. He published a work entitled Pe’er Hapur (Bnei Brak,
1994) – an edited compilation of the laws of Purim and Megilat Esther, with a
commentary from hassidic masters associated with the Aleksander
More recently, he published an annotated volume of the first
10 sections of the halachic work Aruch Hashulhan (Brooklyn, 2006) written by
Rabbi Yehiel Mikhel Halevi Epstein (1829-1908).
Thus, in Aleksander
Hassidic leadership, there was a hassidic master who took his wife’s name for
the sake of tradition and continuity, and his grandson had a name that sounded
like he belonged in the Lubavitch Hassidic milieu. The influences on our lives
may indeed be varied.
The writer is on the faculty of Pardes Institute of
Jewish Studies and is a rabbi in Tzur Hadassah.
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