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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Zhidachov-Komarno Hasidic Dynasty

Galician Hasidic dynasty that flourished in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, during the third and fourth generations of Hasidism. Its tsadikim (lit., “righteous ones”), renowned for their esoteric learning and even purportedly for performing miracles, attracted many disciples. The dynasty continues to exist, primarily in the United States, although many of its members and leaders were murdered during the Holocaust.

Chart: Zhidachov-Komarno Hasidic Dynasty

The first of the dynasty, Tsevi Hirsh of Zhidachov (Yid., more properly Zhidetshoyv; 1763–1831), was one of the most important Galician tsadikim of his day. He was the eldest of the five sons of Rabbi Yitsḥak Ayzik Eichenstein (d. 1800). Tsevi Hirsh’s brothers were also learned rabbis and authors: Mosheh of Sambor (d. 1840); Aleksander-Sender of Komarno (Pol., Komárno; Yid., more properly Kmarne; d. 1818), rabbi of Zhidachov, Zhuravno, and Komarno; Lippa of Sambor, who died young; and Yisakhar Ber (Berish) of Zhidachov (d. 1832). This last brother did not leave behind any significant written works, but his son, Yitsḥak Ayzik of Zhidachov, quotes his father’s teachings in his own books.

Tsevi Hirsh came to Hasidism through his brother Mosheh of Sambor. After visiting the courts of a number of tsadikim, he became a leading disciple of Ya‘akov Yitsḥak, the Seer of Lublin. Tsevi Hirsh’s books—mainly expositions of the Zohar and of the works of Ḥayim Vital, along with commentaries on the weekly Torah portion—were often reissued. He had no male descendants, and after his death his disciples attached themselves to various members of the family. Thus the dynasty’s second generation of tsadikim consisted of the Tsevi Hirsh’s nephews (and disciples): Yehudah Tsevi of Rozdol (d. 1847), who was Mosheh’s son; Yitsḥak Ayzik of Zhidachov (d. 1872?), who was Yisakhar Ber’s son; and Yitsḥak Ayzik Yehudah Yeḥi’el of Komarno (1806–1874), Aleksander-Sender’s son.

Yitsḥak Ayzik of Komarno was the most interesting and original of the dynasty’s leaders in its second generation. In effect, he founded a new Hasidic dynasty, that of Komarno, and was known by the name Safrin, whereas other members of the family were called Eichenstein. After his marriage he studied with his father-in-law, Avraham Mordekhai of Pińczów, but when his teacher died he became a prominent disciple of his uncle, Tsevi Hirsh. Eventually the dynasty was known by the double name Zhidachov-Komarno.

When Tsevi Hirsh died, Yitsḥak Ayzik (Aleksander-Sender’s son) moved from Zhidachov to Komarno, where his father had served as rabbi. Yitsḥak Ayzik of Komarno wrote many books—most of which were published in his lifetime—expounding the Torah, the Mishnah, and the Zohar. The principal thrust of his writing is mystical, and as the title pages proclaim, his works are based on the teachings of the Besht, the Zohar, and Yitsḥak Luria. In addition to his kabbalistic texts, Yitsḥak Ayzik also wrote a book of meditative visions, Megilat setarim (1999), modeled after the visionary texts of Ḥayim Vital, revealing what he calls the source of his soul and hinting that he is the Messiah of the House of Joseph.

Yitsḥak Ayzik of Zhidachov and Yitsḥak Ayzik of Komarno attracted many disciples. Although they were very close, the two men did not agree on the proper interpretation of their uncle’s esoteric teachings, Yitsḥak adhering more closely to Tsevi Hirsh. Ultimately the two were reconciled, although apparently they stopped meeting in person.

The third and fourth generations of the Zhidachov-Komarno dynasty were also steeped in mystical lore and, like their predecessors, were prolific teachers and writers. Unlike their ancestors, however, they also enjoyed prosperity and worldly comfort, living within elaborate Hasidic courts.

The maskilim, who supported religious modernization and secular learning in Galicia, were unrelenting in their fight against the Zhidachov-Komarno dynasty, and against Tsevi Hirsh in particular. The battle was led by the writer Yosef Perl, whose denunciations also led to persecution of Hasidim by the state authorities. Tsevi Hirsh’s violent opposition to any form of Haskalah came to a climax at the end of his life, when a cholera epidemic affected Galicia and Hungary in 1830–1831. In a well-known letter to his followers in Munkács (Mukačevo), he advised against consulting physicians during the epidemic—which in the end claimed his life and, it seems, that of his wife.

The outlook of the tsadikim of Zhidachov-Komarno’s first generation—based on the thought of the dynasty’s founder, Tsevi Hirsh—revolves around a number of central ideas: the elevation of the tsadik; the study and dissemination of mysticism; freedom of thought in matters of personal faith; total rejection of philosophy and science; and very strict adherence to the observance of the commandments. Tsevi Hirsh saw the position of tsadik as entailing a duty to bring about order in every sphere: cosmic, historical, and human. True, this position was bestowed by God, but once bestowed, it gave the tsadik power to act according to his own will, and even to override divine decrees.

The dynasty’s tsadikim advocated the study of both halakhah and Kabbalah. A man’s soul would become more sublime the more he delved into the esoteric, even at the risk of falling into sin. Esoteric knowledge was necessary to serve God properly; the proper service of God was a mystical service. The mystic’s power to act within the highest spheres was unlimited.

Tsevi Hirsh believed that there was room for complete freedom of thought in matters of personal belief. That is why there could be different interpretations of mysticism, which was defined by the individual essence of each soul. This freedom of thought derived its legitimacy from the conviction that human speculation and investigation would discover nothing new, but would only reveal ancient truths. All that was true had already been received. For all this openness, the Zhidachov-Komarno dynasty forbade the reading of philosophical books or those that might be tainted by Sabbatianism. Tsevi Hirsh referred to such works only in general terms, but Yitsḥak Ayzik of Komarno provided an exact list of books that were worthy of study and books that were to be avoided.

With respect to observance of the commandments, the dynasty’s leaders were extremely demanding; they conveyed not the least hint of ritual heterodoxy, and did not excuse even the slightest leniency on the basis of mystical or spiritual fervor. The commandments, they taught, must be followed without any regard for individual choice or for new understandings of God’s will. Transgression, whatever its motivation, was not permitted; the only legitimate freedom was freedom of the mind.

Suggested Reading

Ḥayim Yehudah Berle, R. Yitsḥak Ayzik mi-Komarno (Jerusalem, 1964/65); Raya Haran, “‘Olam hafukh: Tefisat ha-‘olam ha-radikalit ba-hagut shel R. Tsevi Hirsh mi-Ziditshov,” Tarbits 71.3–4 (2002): 537–564; Raphael Mahler, Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment, trans. Eugene Orenstein, Aaron Klein, and Jenny Machlowitz Klein (Philadelphia, 1985); Israel Oppenheim, “Li-Demutah shel ha-hanhagah ha-ḥasidit be-Galitsyah: Sugyot be-mishnato ha-ḥevratit uve-fo‘alo shel R. Tsevi Hirsh mi-Ziditshov, 1763–1831,” Gal-Ed 12 (1991): 45–50; Isaac Judah Jehiel Safrin (Yizḥak Isaac Safrin of Komarno), Jewish Mystical Autobiographies: Book of Visions and Book of Secrets, trans. Morris M. Faierstein (New York, 1999), pp. 267–306, 332–336; Dov Schwarz, “R. Tsevi Hirsh mi-Ziditshov: Ben kabalah le-ḥasidut,” Sinai 102 (1988): 241–251; Tsevi Hirsh mi-Ziditshov (Zevi Hirsch Eichenstein), Turn Aside from Evil and Do Good, trans. Louis Jacobs (London and Washington, D.C., 1995).



Translated from Hebrew by Anna Barber