An extensive line of tsadikim of the Hager family, active from the end of the eighteenth century in Galicia, in Bucovina, and especially in Transylvania and Subcarpathian Rus’. Its descendants serve as rebbes to this day in Israel, the United States, and Britain.
The founder of the dynasty was Menaḥem Mendel of Kosov (ca. 1768–1825), the son of the disciple of the Besht, Ya‘akov Koppel Ḥasid. Menaḥem Mendel was born in Kolomea, and after his marriage he moved to Kosov; from 1790 he served as rabbi there. After the death of his teacher, Tsevi Hirsh of Nadvorne (Nadwórna), in 1802, Menaḥem Mendel began to serve as a Hasidic rebbe and was the most important promulgator of Hasidism in Subcarpathian Rus’. His teachings, collected in the volume Ahavat shalom (1833), are studded with gimatriyot (numerological interpretations) and include much kabbalistic content, dealing extensively with the connection to the tsadik, to Shabbat, to charity, and to sexual purity.
A controversy regarding the succession to Menaḥem Mendel’s leadership was settled by mediation, following which his eldest son, Ḥayim (ca. 1795–1854), took his place in Kosov, and his second son, David (ca. 1797–1848), moved to nearby Zablotov, where he established a new Hasidic dynasty. When David died, his branch of Hasidism was split between his two sons: Ya‘akov (ca. 1813–1881) became the rebbe of Zablotov, while Menaḥem Mendel (ca. 1827–1894) settled in Demichi, outside Zablotov. Among their descendants, the division became a rivalry; and the branch of Hasidism established by David ceased to exist during the Holocaust.
Ḥayim of Kosov was more widely known and was one of the most important tsadikim active in Bucovina and Galicia. His teachings were gathered in Torat Ḥayim (1856). All of his three sons were rebbes, but after his death most of his Hasidim followed his youngest son, Menaḥem Mendel (1830–1884), who established a Hasidic court in Vizhnits (Rom., Vijnița; Ukr., Vyzhnyts’a), Bucovina, where he served as both rabbi and rebbe. He married Miryam, the daughter of the tsadik Yisra’el of Ruzhin, and these family connections also helped him to strengthen the grip of his dynasty on the communities of Transylvania and Subcarpathian Rus’. His teachings were published in Tsemaḥ tsadik (1885).
Menaḥem Mendel’s eldest son, Barukh (ca. 1845–1893), was the Vizhnitser rebbe for a short time. After his death, most of Barukh’s sons served as rebbes in Otynya and Horodenka (Galicia); in Storozhinets, Zaleshchiki, and Suceava (Bucovina); and in Borşa (Transylvania). Each of these had offshoots, but the most prominent branch was the one descended from Yisra’el (1860–1936), Barukh’s eldest son and his successor in Vizhnits.
When World War I broke out, Yisra’el moved his court to Oradea in Transylvania. He continued to lead the Hasidim there and became the most influential rebbe in Kosov-Vizhnits Hasidism between the two world wars. Almost all of his sons served as rebbes in Oradea, Siret (Sereth), and Vishova (Vişeu de Sus) in Transylvania and in Vizhnits.
Some of the leaders of the dynasty, such as the rebbes of Borşa, died during the Holocaust, but others managed to immigrate to the Land of Israel. Three sons of Yisra’el of Vizhnits moved there: Ḥayim Me’ir (1887–1972), Eli‘ezer (1891–1946), and Barukh (ca. 1895–1964; he led the Hasidic branch known as Seret). In Israel they renewed Vizhnits Hasidism in two main centers, Bene Berak and Haifa. A later branch of the dynasty, which emerged because of disputes over inheritance issues, is active in New York today.
The rebbes of Vizhnits were known as vigorous leaders, and they and their Hasidim were involved in controversies with other Hasidic leaders over appointments, areas of influence, and the distribution of funds intended for the Land of Israel. One well-known controversy was that between Menaḥem Mendel of Kosov and Yitsḥak of Radzivil (Radziwiłł; d. 1832), the son of Yeḥi’el Mikhl of Zlotshev (1726–1781). There was also a longstanding rivalry, which began in the lifetime of Ḥayim of Kosov, with the Teitelbaum family, an important family of rabbis and rebbes in Hungary.
Most of the members of the dynasty were also community rabbis and only became rebbes when their fathers died. From the beginning of the twentieth century, most were increasingly active in the ultra-Orthodox community. Some were among the leaders of Agudas Yisroel and opposed Zionism, but others expressed sympathy for settlement in Palestine and even for the Mizraḥi movement. The rebbes established yeshivas and were active in recruiting students and in determining the curriculum. The best known of their yeshivas was Ahavat Yisra’el (Love of Israel), a unique institution in Bucovina, which Yisra’el of Vizhnits founded in 1903. The yeshiva was closed in 1914 and was reopened in 1922 by Yisra’el’s son Eli‘ezer.
Nigunim (spiritual melodies) and music had a prominent place in the Vizhnits dynasty from the time of its inception. The rebbes themselves accorded great importance to this aspect. Many original nigunim were composed in the courts of Vizhnits; they often reflect the incorporation of musical traditions from surrounding cultures. There were also active choruses and bands.
Yitsḥak Alfasi, Tif’eret shebe-malkhut: Bet Kosov Vizhnits, 4th ed. (n.p., 1980); Shmuel ha-Cohen (Weingarten), “Le-Korot ha-yehudim be-Karpatorus,” in Entsiklopedyah shel galuyot, vol. 7, Karpatorus, cols. 17–88 (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 1960); Ya‘akov Mazor, “Merkaziyuto shel ha-Admor be-hitḥadshut ha-ḥayim ha-musikaliyim be-Ḥatser Viz´nits bi-Bene Berak, 1950–1972,” Dukhan 12 (1989): 130–158; Mendel Piekarz, Ha-Hanhagah ha-ḥasidit (Jerusalem, 1999), pp. 242–244; Tzvi M. Rabinowicz, The Encyclopedia of Hasidism (Northvale, N.J., 1996), pp. 162–169; Me’ir Vunder, “Hager,” in Me’ore Galitsyah: Entsiklopedyah le-ḥakhme Galitsyah, vol. 2, cols. 7–82 (Jerusalem, 1982).
Translated from Hebrew by Jeffrey Green