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September 16, 1977 - Image 56

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1977-09-16

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56 Friday, September 16, 1977 THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Late Gerer Rebbe's

Rabbi Yisrael Alter, the 82-
year-old spiritual leader of
the Gerer Hasidim:died re-
cently, some 60,000 of his
followers, mostly in the tra-
ditional black caftan and
hat of the Hasid, converged
upon Jerusalem. In sober si-
lence they followed the
body, of their revered rebbe
through the main streets of
Jerusalem, through the sub-
urbs of East Jerusalem and
onto the Mount of Olives
where Rabbi Yisrael Alter
was laid to rest, writes S.
Z. Herbert in the Israel Di-
Historian Cecil Roth de-
scribes Hasidism as a revi-
valist movement which
sprang up among Jews in
18th Centruy Poland and
eventually permeated all
sections of Jewish society.
Its first leader, Yisrael
Ben-Eliezer, known as the
Baal Shem Tov (Master of
the Good Name), stressed
piety over scholarship. He
taught that any man, no
matter how ignorant, could
reach communion with God
through spiritual exaltation
and abandonment of his
sense of self.
Disciples gathered around
the Baal Shem Tov and
their stories of his great-
ness and accomplishments
spread. The concept that
tzadikim (Righteous Ones)
could intercede on behalf of
men developed as well as a
hereditary tzadikate of
great rabbis who served as
intermediaries between
man and God.
At first, traditional Jewry
opposed Hasidism as a
deviant movement.
Through time, as Hasidism
became more traditional,
their opponents became
more tolerant and the bitter
antagonism receded. The

warmth and heartiness of
the Hasidim is credited by
some with having melted
their opposition. They were
convinced that every deed
is sacred if performed with
Prof. Howard Morley
Sacher has described Hasid-
ism • as having elements
which are superstitious,
primitive and crude, while
others which are beautiful
and meaningful including
their warm and wholesome
Martin Buber gave his in-
terpretation of the essence
of Hasidism in these
words; : "In spite of intoler-
able suffering man must en-
dure, the heartbeat of life
is holy joy, and that always
and everywhere, one can
force a way through to that
joy — provided one devotes
oneself entirely to his
By the 19th Century, a
majority of Eastern Eu-
ropean Jews were HaSidim.
Before the Nazi Holocaust
engulfed Europe, one of the
largest Hasidic groups was
that of the Rebbe of Ger (a
suburb of Warsaw), whose
following numbered in the
hundreds of thousands.
Many Gerer Hasidim per-
ished in the Nazi Holocaust,
including Rabbi Yisrael
Alter's first wife and chil-
dren. He, his two brothers,
and his father, barely suc-
ceeded in getting out of Eu-
rope, and establishing them-
selves in Jerusalem, where
the elder Rabbi Alter died
during the days of struggle
to establish the state of Is-
rael. In 1948 Rabbi Yisrael
Alter succeeded his fater as
leader, of the Gerer Hasi-
dim, undertaking the task
of maintaining the rem-
nants of his followers.
He was always aware of

erusalem Work Recalled

The late Rabbi Yisrael

his tragic role as leader of
the remnants of a once-
great Hasidic house, the
protector of a tradition that
had all but been destroyed.
He encouraged his disciples
in Israel and in other Jew-
ish centers around the
world to maintain the tradi-
tional garb of their fathers,
to study the classical works
of Gerer Hasidism, and to
adhere to the customs and
practices of Polish Ortho-
At the same time, he was
considered "modern" and
outward-looking in the con-
text of post-war ultra-Or-
thodoxy, an Orthodoxy
which others turned in-
wards, shunning the unfa-
miliar and unsheltered
world of the West.
He was active behind the
scenes in religious politics
in Israel, and exercised ef-
fective control of the Agu-
dat Yisrael party through
his leadership of its "Coun-
cil of Sages."
With his crisp mind add
sharp wit, Rabbi Alter
gained a reputation - for wis-
dom and good counsel that
extened far beyond the con-
fines of his own court.

His advice was sought on
personal, financial -and
other matters by people of
all shades of religious obser-
vance and from all walks of
Twice a day he would re-
ceive people in private au-
dience, and the long lines
outside his door always rep-
resented a broad cross-sec-
tion of Israeli society; with
soldiers, workers, business-
men and others alongside
the bearded Hasidim. The
line moved quickly. Some
came for a blessing, some
for advice, some for help.
Each was received and ap-
peared to go away satis-
Part of the Hasidic tradi-
tion is that of disciples tell-
ing of wonders performed
by their Tzadik, wonders
which defied natural laws,
or at least, appeared to
defy natural laws as under-
stood by the disciples.
The Gerer Rebbe dis-
claimed any wondrous
powers and disapproved of
stories alleging his "mira-
cles." Nevertheless, they
were, and are, circulated.
Many could be heard
among the mourners who
followed the rebbe to his
final resting place.
Once, two Jerusalemites
from a Sephardi back-
ground came to the Rebbe's
court. The first recalled to
Rabbi Alter that he had
been to see him seven
years earlier, upset be-
cause he and his wife did
not have any children. He
asked the rebbe's blessing
so that they would have a
The rebbe had" told the
man to go to Tiberias and
pray at the grave of Rabbi
Meir Baal HaNess (A "won-
der" rabbi buried near Ti-
berias many centuries

His diciples praised hi si)
ago.) This the man. and his
charisma, his simplicity,
wife did.
his warmth, his ability to
At the grave, after pray-
ing and reading psalms, the bring Jews together with
each other, including Hasi- I
man had fallen asleep and
dreamt that Rabbi Meir ap- dim and their opponents, de-
peared before him and
vout Jews and secular
started giving him valuable
Jews, his love, his wisdom
jewelry. He rejected it,
and understanding and in•PI
saying "I want a son."
sight. Even opponents of Ha-
sidism were honored to be
Rabbi Meir had replied,
close to _ him.
"You will have three daugh-
He ruled his court in Je-
ters, and then a son."
rusalem, the five Gerer
This had occurred seven
yeshivot, and the dozens of
years ago. And, so it had
affiliated centers around
been, the guest told the
the country with iron di.•.4
Gerer Rebbe. After giving
cipline, demanding an unos-
birth to three daughters, his
tentatious life of study and
wife had recently given
work from his Hasidim.
birth to a son. Now, he had
Boys and young men were
come with his friend who
was childless, the friend expected to rif. Ilk re
dawn every day,:. ..
seeking the blessing of the
their studies —
rebbe himself would often
A rabbi once went to the make surprise visits in the
Gerer Rebbe for a blessing
small hours to ensure that '
before setting out on an ex- this was the case.
tended trip abroad. The
Until his later years, heii
Rebbe surprised the peti-
would take long dawntime
tioner by telling him not to
walks through Jerusalem;
travel. So, the petitioner re-
and early risers in far-flung
mained in Jerusalem. Some
suburbs would often greet-4
time later, his father fell
him, striding along, swing-
very ill, and only the care - ing his stick, his young aide
tendered by the son was
panting to keep up. -
credited with saving his
His 80-year-old brother,_*
life. The the rabbi under- Rabbi Simah Bunim Alter,_
stood, "Thanks to the succeeded to the Tzadikate
Gerer Rebbe I was here to
of the Gerer Hasidim
save my' father."
(Rabbi Yisrael Alter's chil-.4
dren all perished in the
- Disciples of the Gerer
Holocaust.) Rabbi Simha.
Rebbe said of him that a
Alter's son, Rabbi Yaacov,
very sick person needs a
is considered the next in
great doctor. For the gener-
ation that survived the
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi .
Holocaust, a truly great
Shlomo Goren issued a
rabbi . was needed. And this
statement mourning the
was the Rebbe of Ger.
Gerer Rebbe as "a great
The stories are many.
Not only did Rabbi Alter spiritual light to the nation...,
of Israel...the teacher of
rebuild the Gerer Hasidim
tens of thousands of Hasi-
in Israel, he also attracted
dim, the Ark of the Lord, fa-
the remmants of disciples
ther of Polish Hasidism, the _
of other Hasidic groups
glory of the people and the
whose tzadikim had per-
ished in the Holocaust.


Hebrew U. Dig -Unearths Rem atns of Timna

JERUSALEM—Remains Mazar. archeological field
identified with Timna. the director. The four-week
Philistine city where Sam- project was conducted with
son courted Delila and slew a 40-member staff and vol-
a lion. have been uncovered unteer work force from the
by archeologists working in United States and- Israel.
collaboration with the In-
The excavations revealed
stitute of Archeology of the
a Canaanite city which was
Hebrew University of Je-
destroyed by fire near the
end of the late Bronze Age
The, team has just con-
(circa 1200 B.C.E.). The
cluded its first season of ex-
building remains of the Ca-
cavations at Tel Batash.
naanite city included a part
The tel, located in the
a large public building
Sorek Valley, seven kilome-
and a defensive city wall.
ters west of Beit Shemesh,
Among the finds were a Ca-
is the site of the biblical
naanite cylinder seal,
city of Timna.
bronze tools and weapons,
The expedition. sponsored
and typical Canaanite pot-
by an institutional con-
sortium, including New Or-
leans Baptist Theological
On the ruins of the Ca-
Seminary. Mississippi Col-
naanite city. remains of Phi-
lege and Louisiana College.
listine occupation were dis-
in collaboration with the
covered. Floors. ovens.
Hebrew University's In-
silos and typical Philistine
stitute of -Archeology, was pottery shards were recov-
under the direction of *Dr.
George L. Kelm. expedition.
During the latter part of
director. and Amihai the Iron_Age (the period of

the Israelite monarchy-
10th to Seventh centuries
B.C.E.). a fortified city ex-
isted on -the site. A mas-
sive. four-meter wide city
wall and the city gate were
exposed during the excava-
tions. The city gate was a
large complex about 16
meters square. On both
sites of the wide central pas-
sage. three piers created
guard rooms. The gate was
destroyed and reconstruct-
ed according to a modified
plan towards the end of the
Israelite period.
A well-protected ramp led
to the city gate along the
eastern slope of the tel. The
importance of this border
city between Philistia and
Judea is emphasized in the
biblical account of its cap-
ture by the Philistines dur-
ing the reign of King Ahaz,
and its mention in the ac-
count of Sennacherib's cam-
paign through Philistia in
701 B.C.E.

Part of the 60,000-strong funeral entourage which fol-
lowed Rabbi Alter's body through the streets of Jerusalem
is shown above.

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