The Tisch: What’s in a name?

In Aleksander Hassidic leadership, there was a hassidic master who took his wife’s name for the sake of tradition and continuity.

Hassidim praying 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
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 – Dancyger.
A further name anomaly can be found in the Aleksander Hassidic milieu.
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 (1828-1894).
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 husband.
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 responsibility.
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 tradition.
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.