A Great Jewish Historian Tells the Story of an Unusual Hasidic Rabbi

March 4 2019

Meir Balaban (1877-1942) was part of the founding generation of Polish Jewish historians. During the 1920s, he contributed regularly to both Polish- and Yiddish-language Jewish newspapers. In the column excerpted here, first published on February 6, 1931 and recently translated by Avinaom Stillman, Balaban describes Rabbi Berishl Ba’al T’shuvah (Ber the Penitent), a well-known figure of the Krakow Jewish quarter who devoted his life to study and charitable works, and was treated as a ḥasidic rebbe by many locals. Ber was born in Hunsdorf, Austria-Hungary (now Huncove, Slovakia) in an area populated by the Gorals (“mountaineers” or “highlanders”), an ethnic group speaking a dialect of Polish who inhabited the mountainous region at the juncture of Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic:

In Hunsdorf live only Gorals, and the Jews who live there have also become, with time, slightly like Gorals. Once, many years ago, a Jew named Ber Hartzblut settled there and [founded] a Jewish settlement that grew and became entangled in a Goral village. The Jews kept themselves busy by working in the fields, cutting trees in the forest, and taking beams to the sawmill. They used to dress just like the Gorals, had their own “elders,” and lived well together with their Gentile neighbors. . . . To one of these elders of the Jewish Gorals, Akiva Hartsblut, (a grandson of Ber Hartsblut), was born a twelfth son, Berishl. . . .

Akiva didn’t want his son to fall away entirely from his Jewish roots. He chose to send him to . . . the Hungarian village of Tertse [modern-day Tarcal]. There, the wild, uncontrollable mountain peasant was sent to study Judaism with a teacher. . . . The village-boy Berishl had a very good head. He quickly made a name for himself with his aptitude for learning. One of the Neolog [the Hungarian equivalent of Reform] Jews noticed him and began to claim that he should become a Neolog and start studying [at one of the denomination’s seminaries]. The boy, who at that time was already drawn to knowledge, allowed himself to be convinced by that Jew. On one fine sunny day he ran away from Tertse to Budapest, where he began to study at the expense of the Neolog community there.

After two years he graduated and became a student of philosophy in Budapest University. But then, by chance, he was walking [down one of the Jewish quarter’s main streets and] heard a very beautiful voice emerging from a house. The student went into that house. There he encountered a rebbe, sitting with Ḥasidim, the likes of whom he had never yet seen. The hearty voice he heard was actually the voice of the rebbe Hertzka Ratzferter, a student of the rebbe of Tsanz, Ḥayyim Halberstam.

Ratzferter had set as his goal to turn the coarse Hungarian Jews toward the good. He used to travel all around Hungary, and everywhere he preached ethics [musar] to the Jews. [Berishl] heard just such an ethical sermon from Hertzka, and the rebuke had an effect. He decided never to leave the rebbe.

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Read more at In geveb

More about: baalei teshuvah, Hasidism, History & Ideas, Polish Jewry

 

The Attempted Murder of Salman Rushdie Should Render the New Iran Deal Dead in the Water

Aug. 15 2022

On Friday, the Indian-born, Anglo-American novelist Salman Rushdie was repeatedly stabbed and severely wounded while giving a public lecture in western New York. Reports have since emerged—although as yet unverified—that the would-be assassin had been in contact with agents of Iran, whose supreme leaders have repeatedly called on Muslims to murder Rushdie. Meanwhile U.S. and European diplomats are trying to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran. Stephen Daisley comments:

Salman Rushdie’s would-be assassin might have been a lone wolf. He might have had no contact with military or intelligence figures. He might never even have set foot in Tehran. But be in no doubt: he acted, in effect, as an agent of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Under the terms of the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1989, Rushdie “and all those involved in [his novel The Satanic Verses’s] publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death.” Khomeini urged “brave Muslims to kill them quickly wherever they find them so that no one ever again would dare to insult the sanctities of Muslims,” adding: “anyone killed while trying to execute Rushdie would, God willing, be a martyr.”

An American citizen has been the victim of an attempted assassination on American soil by, it appears, another American after decades of the Iranian supreme leader agitating for his murder. No country that is serious about its national security, to say nothing of its national self-worth, can pretend this is some everyday stabbing with no broader political implications.

Those implications relate not only to the attack on Rushdie. . . . In July, a man armed with an AK-47 was arrested outside the Brooklyn home of Masih Alinejad, an Iranian dissident who was also the intended target of an abduction plot last year orchestrated by an Iranian intelligence agent. The cumulative weight of these outrages should render the new Iran deal dead in the water.

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Read more at Spectator

More about: Freedom of Speech, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy