Ger (Yiddish: גער, also Gur, adj. Gerrer) is a Polish Hasidic dynasty originating from the town of Góra Kalwaria, Poland, where it was founded by Yitzchak Meir Alter (1798–1866) known as the "Chiddushei HaRim". Ger is a branch of Peshischa Hasidism, as Yitzchak Meir Alter was a leading disciple of Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (1765–1827). Before the Holocaust, followers of Ger were estimated to number in excess of 100,000,[1] making it the largest and most influential Hasidic group in Poland.[2][3] Today, the movement is based in Jerusalem, and its membership is estimated at 11,859 families as of 2016, most of whom live in Israel, making Ger the largest Hasidic dynasty in Israel.[4][5] However, there are also well-established Ger communities in the United States and in Europe.[5] In 2019, some 300 families[6] of followers led by Shaul Alter, split off from the dynasty led by his cousin Yaakov Aryeh Alter.[7] [8]

History

Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter with his entourage
Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter with his entourage

In his early years, Yitzchak Meir Alter became a close disciple of Simcha Bunim of Peshischa, who preached the ideals of Talmudic-rationalism, and the pursuance of personal authenticity, which would later go on to be foundational tenets of Ger Hasidism. After Simcha Bunim's death in 1827, Yitzchak Meir Alter was among his more radical supporters who followed Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, rather than Simcha Bunim's son, Avraham Moshe. The Kotzker Rebbe continued in the ideological tradition of Peshischa, and after his death in 1859, the vast majority of his followers, accepted Yitzchak Meir Alter as his successor, rather than his son Dovid. Yitzchak Meir Alter was living in Warsaw at the time, where he operated a Kotzker shtiebel. Shortly after accepting the role of Rebbe, Yitzchak Meir was appointed as the Av Beit Din of Góra Kalwaria (Ger in Yiddish), where he established his own Hasidic court. After his death in 1866, his followers wanted his eighteen-year-old grandson, Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, to succeed him. When Yehuda Aryeh Leib refused to accept this position, most of the Hasidim became followers of the elderly Hasid, Chanokh Heynekh HaKohen Levin, after whose death, Yehudah Aryeh Leib, acceded to the request of the Hasidim to become their next rebbe. The Gerrer movement flourished under the leadership of Yehudah Aryeh Leib and his eldest son and successor, Avraham Mordechai Alter, known as the "Imrei Emes". In 1926, in a bold departure for Polish Hasidim, Avraham Mordechai established a yeshiva in Jerusalem, naming it for his father, the Sfas Emes. The first rosh yeshiva was Rabbi Nechemiah Alter, a brother of the Imrei Emes. Today, the yeshiva remains the flagship of the Ger yeshivas.Under the leadership of the fifth Gerrer Rebbe, Yisrael Alter, known as the "Beis Yisrael", the Ichud Mosdos Gur or Union of Gerrer Institutions, was established as the responsible body for funding all the educational institutions affiliated with Ger in Israel. Currently, there are about 100 such institutions.[citation needed] The Beis Yisrael helped rebuild the Ger movement after its virtual destruction in World War II.[9]

Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter in Europe
Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter in Europe

Distribution of Gerrer Hasidim

Gur Yeshiva in Har Shalom, Bnei Brak
Gur Yeshiva in Har Shalom, Bnei Brak
Graves of the Imrei Emes and his son Pinchas Menachem in Mea She'arim, Jerusalem
Graves of the Imrei Emes and his son Pinchas Menachem in Mea She'arim, Jerusalem

Almost all Ger Hasidim living in pre-war Europe (approximately 100,000 Hasidim) were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust.[9] Avraham Mordechai Alter, who managed to escape, set about the task of rebuilding the movement in the British Mandate of Palestine.[9] It is generally accepted that he was released by the Nazis, and was then able to move to Palestine, because of a very large ransom paid by his followers to the Nazis.[citation needed] Under its post-war leaders, the movement began to flourish again. With approximately 12,000 families, Ger is the third-largest Hasidic dynasty in the world today, comprising 9.2% of the world population of Hasidim.[5] Large communities of Gerrer Hasidim exist in Israel, in Bnei Brak (2294 families / 19% of the Hasidic population), Ashdod (2218 families / 45%), and Jerusalem (1921 families / 12%), and a slightly smaller community of 1,027 families (6% of the Hasidic population) exists in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.[5] Smaller communities with hundreds of families have also been established in Israel, such as Arad, Beit Shemesh, Kiryat Gat, Hatzor HaGlilit, Haifa, Tel Aviv, and Petah Tikva.[5] Internationally, hundreds of families reside in London, Antwerp, Zurich (where they are the largest Hasidic sect), Manchester, Monsey, and Lakewood, with tens more living in Los Angeles, Queens, Montreal, Melbourne, and Chicago.[5] Ger maintains a well-developed educational network of Talmud Torahs, yeshivas, and kollels, as well as Beis Yaakov schools for girls. The dynasty is the wealthiest in Israel, and its leaders dominate the Agudat Israel political party.[7][10][11]

Center

The Great Beth Midrash in Jerusalem
The Great Beth Midrash in Jerusalem

The group's headquarters is located in Jerusalem. During and after the British Mandate, the group's beth midrash was at the Sfas Emes Yeshiva, near Mahane Yehuda. Later on, the synagogue moved to Ralbach Street in the Geula neighborhood, and in the late 1990s, the Great Beth Midrash Gur was inaugurated on Yirmeyahu Street, near the Schneller Orphanage complex. In 2015, an extension to the building was begun, and on Rosh Hashanah 2018 (5779), the second wing of the Beth Medrash was inaugurated.[12] In 2022, the building was finished when the two wings were joined,[13] making it the largest synagogue in the world, with the main sanctuary seating up to 20,000, and having an area of approximately 35,000 m2 (380,000 sq ft).

Beginning with the emigration of Avraham Mordechai Alter to Israel, the rebbes of Ger lived in Jerusalem, with the exception of the current Rebbe Yaakov Aryeh Alter, who moved to Jerusalem only in 2012. The group has "shtibelekh" in most ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in the city. As other Hasidic courts, Ger also expanded in Jerusalem following the immigration of young couples from Europe and the United States.

Identifying features of Ger

The men are distinguished by their dark Hasidic garb, and by their pants tucked into their socks, called hoyzn-zokn (not to be confused with the breeches, called halber-hoyzn, worn by men in some other Hasidic groups). They wear a round felt hat, and a high, almost-pointed kapel. They raise their sidelocks from the temples, and tuck them under the yarmulke, nearly hiding them. On Shabbos and Jewish holidays, married men wear the high circular fur hat of the Polish Hasidim, called a spodik by Galicianers (not to be confused with the much flatter shtreimel worn by married men in Hasidic groups which do not hail from Congress Poland).[citation needed] Ger has produced some of the most prolific composers of Jewish liturgical music of all time such as Yankel Talmud (1885-1965), who was known as "the Beethoven of the Gerrer Rebbes".[14]

Kehilas Pnei Menachem

In October 2019, some Gerrer Hasidim under the leadership of Shaul Alter, formed a new kehilla called "Kehilas Pnei Menachem" which is independent of the mainstream Gerrer hassidic court.

On November 8, 2021, the Jerusalem Post reported that Kehilas Pnei Menachem numbers some 500 families in Israel, with another 300 in the USA, while the mainstream Gur community in Israel is thought to number as many as 100,000 people[6] (the equivalent of 11,494 families, according to a November 2021 report by Israel's National Economic Council which averages 6.7 children per Haredi family).[15]

History of Kehilas Pnei Menachem

On October 22, 2019, the Ger Hasidic dynasty split for the first time in its history, following a public Sukkot event held by Shaul Alter, the cousin of the Gerrer Rebbe, Yaakov Aryeh Alter, at which donation and school enrollment forms for the new group were passed out for children of the attendees.[16] Tensions between the two rabbis had appeared repeatedly over the preceding two decades, in particular after Yaakov Aryeh in 2016 closed the prestigious Sfas Emes yeshiva in Jerusalem, at which Shaul Alter was the Rosh Yeshiva, and failed to invite Shaul Alter in 2019 to the wedding of his grandson.[17][18][19]

Gerrer dynastic leadership

Takanot

Ger is known as having the strictest views among Orthodox Jews regarding sexual relations.[20] In 1948, Rabbi Yisrael Alter established the "Ordinances on Holiness", known as the takanot (called takunes in the vernacular of Yiddish used by Ger Hasidim), which regulate daily living. The rules were passed on verbally, and were never written down until 2016,[21] when a former member of the Ger Hasidic sect published them on Facebook.[22] The takanot prescribe, for example, that a couple should not have sex more than twice a month, should do so silently and quickly, and the man should always be on top.[21][23] In addition to rules about sexual relations, they include prohibitions for men on everyday activities such as combing one's hair, using soap on days other than Friday (in preparation for Shabbos), smoking, and reading the newspaper.[22] The ordinances are reputed to have had a detrimental effect on the demand for Gerrer bachelors in the Hasidic match-making market.[21]

In 2009, a Gerrer woman, Sarah Einfeld, appeared in a short documentary film, titled in English Shrew (in Hebrew, Soreret). During the filming, she decided to desert Ger, and to adopt a secular way of life. In her blog, she reported on the "repression" of women in Ger, highlighting the suppression of sexuality under the regime of these rules.[21]

See also

References

  1. ^ Estēr Farbšṭeyn (1 October 2007). Hidden in Thunder. Feldheim Publishers. p. 82. ISBN 978-965-7265-05-5. Retrieved 31 July 2013. During this venerated rebbe's lifetime, the Ger court spread farther than ever before; some estimates of the number of his followers before the Holocaust exceed 100,000.
  2. ^ Skolnik, Fred; Berenbaum, Michael (2007). Encyclopaedia Judaica. Vol. 8. Macmillan Reference USA. p. 424. ISBN 978-0-02-865936-7. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
  3. ^ Spector, Shmuel; Wigoder, Geoffrey (2001). The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life: Before and During the Holocaust. NYU Press. p. 1430. ISBN 978-0-8147-9356-5. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
  4. ^ Simeon D. Baumel (2006). Sacred Speakers: Language And Culture Among The Haredim In Israel. Berghahn Books. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-84545-062-5. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Wodzinski, Marcin (2018). Historical Atlas of Hasidism. Princeton University Press. p. 207.
  6. ^ a b Sharon, Jeremy (8 November 2021). "Breakaway hassidic leader greeted joyfully in US". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 10 November 2021.
  7. ^ a b "Religious Affairs: The Gerrer rebellion". The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com. Retrieved 2020-12-03.
  8. ^ "Followers Of Rav Shaul Alter Purchase 40 Million NIS Property Near Jerusalem Entrance". www.baltimorejewishlife.com. 13 September 2021. Retrieved 7 November 2021.
  9. ^ a b c "Gur Rabbi Dies in Israel; Leader of Hasidim Was 82". The New York Times. 1977-02-22. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-05-18.
  10. ^ "The ultra-Orthodox rabbi at the center of the crisis that almost toppled Israel's government". www.haaretz.com. Retrieved 2020-05-21.
  11. ^ Sugarman, Daniel (October 24, 2019). "Ger, one of the largest chasidic dynasties in the world, splits after 160 years of unity". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved May 21, 2020.
  12. ^ Archived at Ghostarchive and the Wayback Machine: "Israel's Largest Synagogue Under Construction - World Center Of Gur Hasidism In Jerusalem".
  13. ^ Shaul Kahana (January 9, 2022). "גור קיבלו טופס ארבע - לבית הכנסת הגדול בעולם". Kikar HaShabbat (in Hebrew).
  14. ^ Bleich, Chanania. "Remembering Reb Yankel Talmud". Ami, 1 September 2013, pp. 128–132.
  15. ^ Hanau, Shira (23 November 2021). "Nearly 1 in 3 Israeli Jews will be haredi Orthodox by 2050, per Israeli economic projections". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  16. ^ Sugarman, Daniel (October 24, 2019). "Ger, one of the largest chasidic dynasties in the world, splits after 160 years of unity". www.thejc.com. Retrieved 2020-12-01.
  17. ^ "U.S. 'Leftists' vs. the Israeli establishment: Tensions rise in the Ger Hasidic sect". Haaretz.com. Retrieved 2020-12-01.
  18. ^ "The split in Israel's biggest Hasidic court shows that no rabbi is immune". Haaretz.com. Retrieved 2020-12-01.
  19. ^ Rabinowitz, Aaron (October 22, 2019). "Opposition Within ultra-Orthodox Ger Sect Declares Historic Split". Haaretz. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  20. ^ Rabinowitz, Aaron (2019-12-22). "Sexual Assault Allegations Rock an Israeli Hasidic Community". Haaretz. Retrieved 2020-03-05.
  21. ^ a b c d "Sexual Abstinence of Married Men Roils Hasidic Sects". Tablet Magazine. 2019-02-14. Retrieved 2020-03-05.
  22. ^ a b Ettinger, Yair (2016-07-03). "Ger Hasidim's Secret Rules on Male-Female Relations Revealed by Ex-Member". Haaretz. Retrieved 2020-03-05.
  23. ^ Marienberg, Evyatar (2014). "Contemporary Haredi Sexual Guidance" (PDF). New Perspectives on Gender and Jewish Life. Frankel Institute Annual 2014.