The first Hasidic sect established in Lithuania, and one of the major protagonists in the historic feud between the Hasidim and their rabbinic opponents, the Misnagdim. The founder of the Karlin-Stolin dynasty was Aharon ben Ya‘akov (1736–1772), known by generations of his followers as Aharon ha-Gadol (Aaron the Great). A disciple of Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezritsh, he founded a Hasidic prayer house in Karlin, a suburb of Pinsk, in 1762, whose devotees disseminated his teachings throughout Belorussia and Lithuania, including in the cities of Minsk and Vilna. The rapid dissemination of Hasidism by the disciples of Aharon of Karlin is what initially aroused the ire of the establishment rabbis (eventually known as the Misnagdim) who, in the early 1770s, began a vociferous campaign against the “Karliners,” as Hasidim were often referred to in the early Misnagdic polemical literature.
Aharon of Karlin is best known for his personal asceticism and for the mystical nature of his prayers. The bizarre histrionics performed during the Karliner Hasidim’s ecstatic prayers proved particularly irritating to Misnagdim, who banned attendance at their synagogues and condemned their mannerisms during worship. Although he published no works, Aharon left a highly influential ethical will, along with azharot (warnings) concerning the proper worship of God, which was reprinted in later Karliner publications. His Sabbath hymn, “Yah ekhsof no‘am Shabat” (God, I Yearn for the Joy of the Sabbath), included in many Hasidic prayer books and set to more than 20 different melodies, is sung on Friday evenings in a variety of Hasidic courts to this day. The eighteenth-century memoirist Salomon Maimon has a vivid passage in his memoirs on the young charismatic leader.
Aharon was succeeded by his closest disciple, Shelomoh ben Me’ir ha-Levi of Karlin, who became the undisputed leader of Lithuanian and Belorussian Hasidism for 20 years after Aharon’s death. Renowned, as was his master, for his intense worship of God, which often occupied him for much of the day, Shelomoh established what became known as the Karlin form of prayer, characterized by its ecstatic form and temporal length. In 1786, Shelomoh was obliged to leave Karlin and moved to Ludmir in Volhynia. He died from gunshot wounds inflicted by a Russian soldier.
After Shelomoh’s death, the leadership of Karlin Hasidism reverted to Aharon’s son, Asher Perlov (1765–1826), who had attracted followers of his own in nearby Stolin during Shelomoh’s lifetime. Revered by his followers as a miracle worker and despised by the Misnagdim precisely on account of such supernatural claims, Asher had been excommunicated by one of the most vociferous rabbinical opponents of Hasidism, Avigdor of Pinsk, resulting in his banishment from Karlin to Żelechów, Poland; he eventually returned to Lithuania and settled in Stolin. As a consequence of the denunciations of the Misnagdim, Asher was jailed by the tsarist authorities in 1798. After he was released from prison he returned to Karlin around 1800 and remained there until his death in 1826. Although Asher’s experiences of persecution by the Misnagdim, along with the resulting imprisonments, were common to that of the other major Hasidic leader in the region, Lubavitch founder Shneur Zalman of Liady, Asher dissociated himself from Shneur Zalman during the latter’s protracted dispute with Avraham Kalisker.
Aharon (II) Perlov of Karlin (1802–1872) succeeded Asher, and it was during his exceptionally long rule, which began in 1826, that Karliner Hasidism experienced the height of its growth and popularity in both Lithuania and Volhynia. Aharon composed the classic compendium of Karliner Hasidism, Bet Aharon (1875), which includes his own homilies on the Torah along with the teachings, ethical wills, and letters of his ancestors. In 1864, Aharon II, like Asher before him, was obliged to move his court to Stolin. (He had become embroiled in a dispute with the wealthy Lurie family.)
For exactly one year following Aharon II’s death eight years later, his son Asher II (d. 1873) was the Karliner rebbe. His untimely death left the Karliner Hasidim with no heir to the leadership beside his four-year-old son, Yisra’el (1869–1921). Nonetheless, the Hasidim appointed the child the Yenuka fun Stolin (the child tsadik of Stolin), and he ultimately grew to be a highly effective and widely respected leader, particularly during the challenging interwar period. Among Yisra’el’s achievements was that, despite the circumstances of his initial rise to leadership, he eventually earned the admiration of the Misnagdim, effectively ending their century-long feud with the Karliner Hasidim. Although, like most Hasidic leaders, Yisra’el was an opponent of Zionism, he supported settlement in the Land of Israel by his followers.
Following Yisra’el’s death, the leadership of Karlin-Stolin Hasidism was divided among his four sons, with the eldest, Mosheh, becoming the rebbe in Stolin. Mosheh’s brothers became rabbis in other Karlin-Stolin communities: Avraham-Elimelekh in Karlin itself; Yoḥanan in Luts’k, Volhynia; and Ya‘akov in Brooklyn, New York. Mosheh (d. 1942) and Avraham-Elimlekh (d. 1943) both died during the Holocaust; Yoḥanan escaped by fleeing to the Soviet Union and lived anonymously in Germany for a year after the war’s end. In 1946, Yoḥanan immigrated to Palestine, where he lived in Haifa as the Stolin-Karlin rebbe. In 1950 he moved to the United States, where he died in 1955. The leadership of Karlin-Stolin Hasidism was inherited by Barukh Me’ir Ya‘akov Shoḥet (the maternal grandson of Yoḥanan)—first in Brooklyn, and, since 1991, in Jerusalem.
The offshoots of Karlin-Stolin Hasidism—the Ludmir and Sambor Hasidic dynasties—were led by the descendants of Shelomoh of Karlin, beginning with his sons Mosheh of Ludmir (d. 1829) and Dov Ber of Tultshin (d. 1833). There are Sambor rebbes today in the Bronx, New York, and in Buenos Aires.
Aryeh Avatiḥi and Yoḥanan Ben Zakai, eds., Stolin: Sefer zikaron (Tel Aviv, 1952); Kovets Bet Aharon ve-Yisra’el (Jerusalem, 1985– ), in-house journal of the Karlin-Stolin Hasidim in Israel, publishes important studies and documents related to the history of the movement; Mordechai Nadav, “Kehilat Pinsk ben ḥasidut le-hitnagdut,” Tsiyon 34 (1969): 98–108; Mordechai Nadav, “Toldot kehilat Pinsk,” in Pinsk, vol. 1, pt. 1, pp. 148–194 (Tel Aviv, 1973); Wolf Zeev Rabinowitsch, Lithuanian Hasidism from Its Beginnings to the Present Day (London, 1970); Ya‘akov Yisra’eli, Bet Karlin-Stolin (Tel Aviv, 1981).