Established by members of the Friedman family and consisting of several dozen rebbes (admorim), the Ruzhin (Yid., more properly Rizhin) Hasidic dynasty originated in the town of that name in Kiev province, Russia. It continued to flourish in Sadagora (Sadegere; in Austrian Bukowina) and had many offshoots in Galicia and Romania. In the 1870s, this branch of Hasidism and its unique approach to the religious life were the subject of a fierce controversy because of a ban pronounced on it by Ḥayim Halberstam of Sandz (Nowy Sącz) in 1869. The loyalty of thousands of Ruzhin Hasidim to their leaders was unaffected, however, and the ban’s purpose was not achieved.
At the outbreak of World War I, many leaders of this dynasty abandoned their courts in Galicia and resettled in Vienna, where most of them remained until the Holocaust. Many favored the ideals of the Ḥibat Tsiyon movement, and some in fact settled in the Land of Israel and reestablished their courts there. Today the only active branches of the dynasty are Sadagora (in Bene Berak) and Boyan-Ruzhin (in Jerusalem).
The dynasty was founded by Yisra’el Friedman of Ruzhin (1796–1850; great-grandson of Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezritsh), who, by virtue of his personality and unique Hasidic doctrines (the “regal way”), successfully headed the largest and most influential Hasidic community in the southwestern districts of the Pale of Settlement. After fleeing Russia (1842), Yisra’el settled in Sadagora, where he reestablished his opulent court. The stature of this dynasty, with its thousands of followers and considerable material wealth, was also reinforced by the marriages of his 10 children and many grandchildren to members of other Hasidic dynasties and to scions of rich banking families from Berdyczów (Berdichev). The dynasty of tsadikim descended from the Friedman family, whose center was in Sadagora (with important offshoots in Ştefăneşti, Czortków [Chortkiv, Tshortkev], Husiatyń, Buhuşi, and Boyan), occupied a prominent and highly influential position in Hasidic society in Ukraine, Bucovina, Galicia, and Romania until the Holocaust.
After Yisra’el’s death, his six sons remained at the family estate in Potok Złoty. The eldest, Shalom Yosef (1813–1851), groomed during his father’s life to be his successor, presided at Sadagora for less than a year, dying shortly after his father. The better known of Shalom Yosef’s two sons was Yitsḥak of Buhuşi (1834–1896), who established his court at Buhuşi in 1860, becoming the most important tsadik in Romania in the second half of the nineteenth century. He supported the Jewish community in the Land of Israel, helping the founders of Rosh Pinah.
After Shalom Yosef’s death, the Sadagora court was led by the eldest of his younger brothers, Avraham Ya‘akov (1819–1883). Over the years, Shalom Yosef’s four other brothers established their own courts, while recognizing Avraham Ya‘akov’s superiority and the centrality of the Sadagora court.
Avraham Ya‘akov was a gifted leader and organizer. In 30 years as a tsadik, he further reinforced the dynasty, consolidating its position as a flourishing branch of Hasidism. In 1856 he was imprisoned in Czernowitz on suspicion of having sheltered a forgery operation in his home. Only after considerable efforts and the payment of large bribes was he released after 15 months in jail. Active in public affairs, he was among the founders of the Makhzikey ha-Das (Defenders of Faith) organization; he was also in contact with various celebrated personages, including Moses Montefiore and Laurence Oliphant. He actively supported Sadagora Hasidim in the Land of Israel, heading the Volhynia kolel and collecting funds for the construction of the Tif’eret Yisra’el synagogue in Jerusalem, which was named for his father. Avraham Ya‘akov’s elder son, Yitsḥak (1849–1917), established a court at Boyan in 1886, making it a major Hasidic center, while his younger son Yisra’el (1852–1906) succeeded his father at Sadagora.
Dov Ber (1821?–1876), nicknamed Bernyu, was the center of a tragic and dramatic scandal and a fierce controversy. After officiating as rabbi in several Moldovan villages, he settled in Huşi in 1852, moving around 1866 to the nearby town of Leova in Bessarabia. Disillusioned with Hasidism and with his role as tsadik, he began to keep company with maskilim. In 1868, following the death of a brother, he experienced a profound personal crisis and decided to abandon his standing as a Hasidic rebbe. Attempts to persuade him to recant failed, and rumors abounded regarding alleged contacts with missionaries and his desire to convert to Christianity. Fearful of the damage to the reputation of the dynasty, his wife and brothers brought him forcibly to Sadagora in 1869, but maskilim from nearby Czernowitz secured his release with the help of the police. He stayed at the home of a communal elder, a lawyer named Yehudah Leib Reitman; was openly lax in his religious observance; and published a declaration in the Jewish press rejecting Hasidism and espousing Haskalah values. A storm ensued: maskilim lauded him as a hero, while his former Hasidim believed he had gone mad. After one and a half months, Bernyu repented his actions and returned to his brother’s court at Sadagora. He did not resume his rabbinical duties, however, and lived in solitude until his death.
Bernyu’s actions and his followers’ reluctance to denounce them (some of his Hasidim claimed that he had not sinned at all, attributing his behavior to some inscrutable religious mystery) inspired Ḥayim Halberstam of Sandz, an extremely conservative rebbe and important halakhic authority, to attack Sadagora Hasidism, condemning their regal style of life and pronouncing a ban upon its members as long as the four “brothers” remained unrepentant and refused to acknowledge their misdeeds in public. The controversy was marked by violence and split the Hasidic communities of Galicia and Hungary; bans and counterbans flew back and forth. Sadagora Hasidim in the Land of Israel excommunicated Reb Ḥayim at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and dozens of vitriolic polemical pamphlets were published. Only after the deaths of Bernyu and Halberstam (both in 1876) did the dispute die down, but the warring camps remained hostile to one another for many years thereafter.
Menaḥem Naḥum (1825?–1868) set up court in the small town of Shtefanesht (Ştefăneşti, in mod. Moldova) in 1852. He was succeeded by his only son Avraham Matityahu (1847–1933). Both adopted the methods of the founder of the dynasty: they taught almost no Torah, but ruled their admiring Hasidim with an iron hand. One extraordinary figure in this branch of Hasidism was Menaḥem Naḥum of Itskan (Ițcani; 1879–1933), great-grandson of Yisra’el of Ruzhin, who combined a Hasidic lifestyle, rabbinical scholarship, and a broad knowledge of philosophy and general education. (He wrote a commentary to Tractate Avot of the Mishnah, as well as philosophical essays such as “On Beauty,” “On Truth and Falsehood,” and “On Man.”) Despite his eclectic interests and his open sympathy with Zionism, he was expected to succeed his uncle Avraham Matityahu, who had no children; but he died one month before him. The Ştefăneşti dynasty thus came to an end in 1933.
The ornate ceiling of besmedresh of the Tshortkever rebbe of the Ruzhin Hasidic dynasty, Czortków, Poland (now Chortkiv, Ukr.), ca. 1920s. Photograph by Alter Kacyzne. (Forward Association/YIVO)
David Mosheh (1827–1903) first remained at Potok Złoty, where he presided as tsadik until 1869. Around the year 1870 he established a magnificent new court in Chortkiv, Galicia, which became very popular and was famed for its regal opulence. He outlived all the other sons of Yisra’el; many other tsadikim admired him; and he too was associated with messianic expectations. He was succeeded by his son Yisra’el of Chortkiv (1854–1933), who transferred the court to Vienna after the outbreak of World War I and was active in the leadership of the Agudas Yisroel political party.
Mordekhai Shraga (1834–1894) was the youngest son of Yisra’el of Ruzhin. He was already a Hasidic leader in 1852, in the Galician town of Mikulińce and elsewhere. Around 1865 he moved the court to the Austrian sector of the border town of Husiatyń. Like all Ruzhin courts, his was wealthy and lavish. Keeping company with rich merchants, he did not often teach or preach. He was succeeded by his son Yisra’el of Husiatyń (1857–1949), who also moved to Vienna in 1914 and immigrated to the Land of Israel in 1937.
Yisra’el of Ruzhin’s four daughters also married into distinguished families. Ḥayah Malkah (d. 1840) married Mendel of Zińków (grandson of Avraham Yehoshu‘a Heshel of Apt) and, after the latter’s death, the rebbe Yitsḥak Twersky of Skvira. Gitl Tova married Yosef Monzohn, son of a rich Berdyczów banker. Her two sons, Levi Yitsḥak of Ozeryany (1844–1916) and Ḥayim David of Brody (1850–1932), officiated as rebbes because of their mother’s descent, as their father had not been a rebbe. Miriam (d. 1882) married Menaḥem Mendel Hager (1830–1884), younger son of the tsadik Ḥayim of Kosov, founder of the Vizhnits dynasty. Leah married David Heilperin, son of another Berdyczów banker, Ya‘akov Yosef Heilperin; he too never served as a rebbe, but their son Shalom Yosef (1856–1940) established the Vaslui Hasidic dynasty in 1896.
David Assaf, Derekh ha-malkhut: Rabi Yisra’el mi-Ruz´in u-mekomo be-toldot ha-ḥasidut (Jerusalem, 1997), pp. 449–466; David Assaf, The Regal Way: The Life and Times of Rabbi Israel of Ruzhin, trans. David Louvish (Stanford, Calif., 2002); David Assaf, “Ḥasidut u-filosofyah: ‘Olamo shel R. Menaḥem Naḥum Fridman me-Itskan,’” Alpayim 26 (2004): 129–165; Yitsḥak Even, Maḥloket Sanz ve-Sadigurah (New York, 1916); Yitsḥak Even, Fun’m reben’s hoyf: Zikhroynes un mayses (New York 1922); Raphael Mahler, “Di makhloykes Sants-Sadigere,” in Seyfer Sants, pp. 291–341 (Tel Aviv, 1970); Dov Ber Rabinovits, ed., Igrot ha-rav ha-kadosh mi-Ruzhin u-vanav, 3 vols. (Jerusalem, 2003); Me’ir Vunder, “Fridman,” in Me’ore Galitsyah: Entsiklopedyah le-ḥakhme Galitsyah, vol. 4, cols. 145–236 (Jerusalem, 1990).
Translated from Hebrew by David Louvish