Major Hasidic courts, 1815–1929. (Based on a map prepared for the exhibition "Time of the Hasidism." by Elżbieta Długosz, The Historical Museum of Kraków—Old Synagogue)

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Chekhanov Hasidic Dynasty

Avraham Landau of Chekhanov (Ciechanów; 1784–1875) was an important rabbi and Hasidic leader in central Poland. He was primarily a disciple of Fishel of Strikov (1743–1822), one of the founders of Hasidism in central Poland. Landau became rabbi of Chekhanov in 1820 and remained there for the rest of his life, despite offers from larger communities. He did not formally become a tsadik until after the death of his friend, Yitsḥak Me’ir of Ger (1789–1866), when many of the latter’s Hasidim came to him.

Landau had close relations with and was admired by many contemporary tsadikim. He was a recognized halakhic authority, religiously very conservative and opposed to modifications in Jewish life and practice. Active in communal affairs, he had joined with Yitsḥak Me’ir of Ger to strongly oppose the changes in Hasidic dress sought by the tsarist government in the 1840s. Landau was also the only Hasidic tsadik who did not follow the Lurianic form of the liturgy (nusaḥ Sefarad) but continued to use the Ashkenazic, even after becoming a rebbe. His sons did not follow this practice, but adopted the Lurianic form.

Landau was the author of several works, though he did not write during the last 40 years of his life. His major works were Zekhuta de-Avraham (1865), consisting of sermons and Talmudic novellae; Bet Avraham (1899), a collection of responsa; and Ahavat ḥesed (1897), made up of novellae on the Talmudic orders of Nashim and Tohorot. Two of his sons, Ze’ev Volf of Strikov (1807–1891) and Dov Berish of Biała (1820–1876), became significant Hasidic leaders.

Landau’s oldest son, Ze’ev Volf, became a disciple of Menaḥem Mendel of Kotsk (1787–1859), and was considered one of the wisest and most learned of Menaḥem Mendel’s disciples. After Menaḥem Mendel’s death, Ze’ev Volf became a disciple of Yitsḥak Me’ir of Ger; and after Yitsḥak Me’ir’s death in 1866, he was part of the delegation of Yitsḥak Me’ir’s disciples that implored his own father, Avraham, to become their rebbe. Ze’ev Volf became a tsadik at age 68, after his father’s death in 1875. Ze’ev Volf’s spiritual path followed the teachings of Kotsk.

Ze’ev Volf was known for his elegant Hebrew style and his advocacy of Hebrew as a spoken language. He also wrote Hebrew poetry. His discourses on the Torah and festivals were published in Zer zahav—keter Torah (1901). His grandson published Mikhtavim (Letters; 1926), a collection of Ze’ev Volf’s correspondence, poems, and discourses. The Strikov dynasty was continued by Ze’ev Volf’s sons, Mordekhai Motl of Strikov (d. 1917) and Menaḥem Mendel of Gombyn (1852–1936).

Dov Berish of Biała, Ze’ev Volf’s younger brother, followed a different Hasidic path: he studied with and became a disciple of Yitsḥak Kalish of Vurke (1779–1848). After Yitsḥak’s death, Dov Berish became a disciple of Yitsḥak’s son Menaḥem Mendel (1819–1868), serving as his spokesman and considered to be his closest disciple. After Menaḥem Mendel’s death, the majority of Vurke Hasidim accepted Dov Berish as their new rebbe.

Dov Berish never accepted a rabbinical position, but supported himself through business ventures. When his enterprises failed, his wife opened an inn to support them. He was an ascetic who fasted regularly, and it was said that he used a stone as a pillow. He became known as a miracle worker and attracted many followers. Although his teachings were never formally collected, they are quoted in a number of works. His primary intellectual heir was Yeḥi’el of Aleksander (1828–1894), though other disciples and Dov Berish’s five sons all became tsadikim.

Suggested Reading

Aaron Zeev Aescoly (Eshkoli), Ha-Ḥasidut be-Polin (Jerusalem, 1998); Meyer Edelbaum (Me’ir Edelboim), “Le-Toldot ḥasidut Byalah,” Sinai 63 (1968): 86–90; Yehudah Leyb Levin, “Rabi Ze’ev Volf mi-Strikov,” in Bet Kotsk, vol. 1, pp. 88–102 (Jerusalem, 1959).