The Lakhovits-Kobrin-Slonim Hasidic dynasties, from Belorussia, trace their origins to the third-generation Hasidic leader Avraham of Kalisk (d. 1810), and more specifically to his opposition to Lubavitch’s aggressive approach to the propagation of Kabbalah. This dispute generated a network of dynastic lines within Lithuanian and Belorussian Hasidism that adopted more conservative forms of Hasidic piety, eschewing the popularization of mystical contemplation.
The three main dynasties are Lakhovits, founded by Mordekhai of Lakhovits (1742–1810); Kobrin, founded by Mordekhai’s disciple Mosheh ben Yisra’el Polier of Kobrin (1784–1858); and Slonim, founded by Avraham (I) Weinberg of Slonim (1804–1883). Mordekhai of Lakhovits is regarded by Slonimer Hasidim to this day as the progenitor of their conservative, pietistic approach to Hasidism. His teachings were perpetuated by his son, Noaḥ (1774–1832), in Lakhovits and by Mosheh Polier in Kobrin. But it was Avraham Weinberg of Slonim—the first titular Slonimer rebbe, serving from 1858—who was primarily responsible for establishing the sect’s unique doctrine, one that came to be deeply influenced by the Misnagdic yeshiva culture dominating nineteenth-century Jewish Lithuania and Belorussia.
By the late nineteenth century, the Lakhovits and Kobrin dynasties were eclipsed by the rapid growth of Slonimer Hasidism. Still, Mosheh of Kobrin’s successors—a grandson, Noaḥ Naftali (d. 1889), and a great-grandson, David Shelomoh (d. 1918)—maintained the small Hasidic center in Kobrin through the end of World War I. The last Kobriner rebbe in Europe was David Shelomoh’s son, Mosheh Aharon, who was killed in 1942 by the Nazis. In the post-Holocaust period, the few surviving Lakhovits-Kobrin Hasidim were absorbed entirely into the Slonimer Hasidic community, centered in Jerusalem, Bene Berak, and Tiberias.
According to Hasidic sources, before becoming attracted to Hasidism under the influence of Noaḥ of Lakhovits and later studying with Mosheh of Kobrin, Avraham of Slonim was a respected “establishment” rabbinical authority and, from 1830 to 1843, rector of the prominent Misnagdic yeshiva in Slonim. On the death of Mosheh of Kobrin in 1858, the majority of Kobriner Hasidim accepted Avraham as successor, though a minority named Mosheh’s grandson Noaḥ (d. 1889) as rebbe. Avraham quickly emerged as the leading figure, and as the most prolific and scholarly articulator in his era of Hasidism in Lithuania and Belorussia.
Avraham achieved renown as the author of two major mystical works, the kabbalistic tract Ḥesed le-Avraham (1886) and the influential Yesod ha-‘avodah (1892), which remains the foundational source for the Slonimer version of Hasidism to this day. He also wrote kabbalistic homilies on the midrash Mekhilta’, edited and published posthumously as Be’er Avraham (1927). Yesod ha-‘avodah articulated the foundations of Slonimer theology and was intended for a wide readership; it was reprinted numerous times, most dramatically in Shanghai, China, in 1943, by a tiny group of Slonimer Hasidic Holocaust refugees. It is both a Hasidic challenge to Ḥayim of Volozhin’s purely scholarly definition of the concept of Torah li-shemah and a forceful refutation of Lubavitch’s aggressive popularization of kabbalistic studies.
Aside from forging this literary sythesis of Hasidic piety and Misnagdic Talmudism, Avraham was the architect of Slonimer Hasidism’s social distinctiveness, establishing a major Hasidic court with its headquarters in a city hitherto completely dominated by Misnagdim and thereby creating the first significant Hasidic sect that coexisted harmoniously with an anti-Hasidic rabbinical establishment. Another important aspect of his legacy was the establishment of a beachhead for Slonimer Hasidism in the Land of Israel via the immigration of his grandson Noaḥ (d. 1927) to Tiberias, where the first Slonimer yeshiva, Or Torah, was established in 1898.
Upon Avraham’s death in 1883, his grandson Shemu’el (1850–1916) was designated the second Slonimer rebbe. During World War I, the center of Slonimer Hasidism shifted from the town of Slonim to nearby Baranovichi. Shemu’el’s lasting impact on the Slonimer Hasidic community was largely the result of his tireless efforts to unite the ultra-Orthodox communities, both Hasidic and Misnagdic, in the struggle against the intrusion of modernity into towns such as Slonim and Baranovichi. Along with the leading Misnagdic rabbis of the era, including Yitsḥak Elḥanan Spektor of Kovno and Ḥayim Ozer Grodzenski of Vilna, Shemu’el was instrumental in founding the first pancommunal organization of Orthodox communities in Eastern Europe, Keneset Yisra’el, a short-lived predecessor to the Agudas Yisroel movement.
After Shemu’el’s death in 1916, there was a split within the ranks of the group, a minority clinging to his oldest son, Yisakhar Aryeh (1873–1928), who remained in Slonim, while the majority anointed his younger son, Avraham (1884–1933), as the Slonimer rebbe, in Baranovichi. Avraham the Second continued the conservative tendency of his progenitors with regard to kabbalistic studies and mystical practices and deepened the commitment of Slonimer Hasidism to Talmudic studies. In 1918, he founded the first truly Lithuanian-style Hasidic yeshiva in Europe, Yeshivat Torat Ḥesed—in Baranovichi, a town that thereby became unique in being home to both a leading Hasidic yeshiva and one of the most fabled Misnagdic yeshivas, Ohel Torah, led by the famous Misnagdic scholar Elḥanan Wasserman.
After Avraham’s death, 20-year-old Shelomoh David Yehoshu‘a was officially named the Slonimer rebbe in 1935. He served as rebbe during the German occupation, heroically maintaining the Slonimer tradition of simple piety and emunah peshutah (unquestioning belief) in the midst of the Nazi onslaught, until he was murdered in 1944 in a labor camp just outside of Baranovichi.
A. Baranovitchai, “Yeshivat Bet Avraham bi-Yerushalayim,” in Baranovits: Sefer zikaron (Tel Aviv, 1953), pp. 270–271; Mattityahu Barzovsky, “Merkaz shel Torah ve-Ḥasidut,” in Baranovits: Sefer zikaron (Tel Aviv, 1953), esp. pp. 235–251 and 262–270; Mosheh Ḥayim Klainman, Or yesharim: Kolel toldot u-ma’amre ḥasidut (Piotrków Trybunalski, Pol., 1924); Kalman Likhtenshtain, Pinkas Slonim, vol. 1, chap. 18 (Tel Aviv, 1961); Wolf Zeev Rabinowitsch, “Mikhteve bakashah me’et ge’one Lita el Admor ḥaside Lita be-emtsa‘ ha-me’ah ha-19,” Tsiyon 33 (1968): 180–189; Wolf Zeev Rabinowitsch, Lithuanian Hasidism from Its Beginnings to the Present Day (New York, 1970), pp. 150–201; Aharon Surasky, Yesod ha-ma‘alah: Divre ha-yamim le-yishuv ha-ḥasidim be-Erets Yisra’el, 2nd ed., vol. 1 (Bene Berak, Isr., 2000).