Rare file reveals the escape of the Ruzhiner Rebbe from Tsarist Russia

The rare find reveals many new things including the Rebbe’s interests, integration and absorption into Sadhora’s communal life and even includes three handwritten signatures.

The file of Rabbi Yisrael Friedman, the Ruzhiner Rebbe, at Kedem Auction House, Jerusalem
A case file recently unearthed at Jerusalem’s Kedem Auction House has revealed unique documents shedding light on the hassidic Rabbi Yisrael Friedman, known as the Ruzhiner Rebbe, who fled Tsarist Russia for the town of Sadhora (Sadigura in Yiddish) in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The rare find reveals many new things including the Rebbe’s interests, integration and absorption into Sadhora’s communal life and even includes three handwritten signatures. The Rebbe was known to have difficulties in handwriting, and so his signature is extremely rare and valuable. The documents also include intricate details of his daring escape from the Russian authorities.
In 1838, after a two-year investigation into the murder of two Jewish informers, the Rebbe was arrested by the Russian authorities and jailed for nearly two years without a trial. After release, he was placed under the surveillance of the Tsar Nicholas I’s secret police. A few weeks later, the Rebbe learned from a reliable source that by direct order of the Tsar he was to be exiled from the Jewish Pale of Settlement, and sent to one of the remote regions of Russia. The Rebbe decided to flee Russia to the relative sanctuary of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and, after a stay in Moldavia, an exit visa was arranged under a false name, that of Yisrael Donnenfeld, a Sadhora resident who had disappeared some 40 years before, so that he could cross the border safely. The file includes the French travel document which helped smuggle the Rebbe across the border from Moldavia into Austria.
According to the case file, the Rebbe’s escape commenced on the Jewish Sabbath – on the 4th of the Hebrew month of Shevat in the Hebrew year, 5602 (January 15, 1842) – and even though traveling on the Shabbat is forbidden in Orthodox Judaism, the Rebbe found himself in such a life-threatening situation that he felt compelled to follow the ruling that saving a life takes precedence over the keeping of Shabbat. After his successful escape attempt, the Tsarist authorities requested he be extradited back to Russia. According to the Kedem file, although the Austrian authorities concluded that the Rebbe was illegally smuggled across the border, they found extradition to be unnecessary on condition that a sum of 10,000 florins was paid, and he was granted residency by Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I.
“The investigative file on the Admor [Rebbe] of Ruzhin is an exclusively unique item,” said Meron Eren, of Kedem Auction House. “It gives us a one-time glimpse into one of the most famous events in the Hassidic world in general and to the Ruzhin Hassidic sect in particular. At the same time, it reflects the special, steadfast character of the Admor during one challenging stint of time in his life. Items of this kind that incorporate such a significant historic-Jewish blend are particularly unusual as they include so many documents and details that were previously unknown.”
After living in Sadhora for several years, and establishing a base of tens of thousands of hassidim, he died in 1850 and his six sons then established their own hassidic courts in different parts of the empire. His second son, Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Friedman, assumed the mantle of leadership of the Sadigura Hasidim, becoming known as the first Sadigura Rebbe.
Today, Sadigura Hassidism is centered in Bnei Brak.
The file will go on auction on Tuesday, July 7, at:
Kedem Auction House
8 Ramban St, Jerusalem