Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thousands pay last respects to Vizhnitz Hasidic dynasty leader 

Tens of thousands of people attended the funeral on Wednesday of the long-time leader of the Vizhnitz Hasidim, whose death is likely to set
off a split in Israel's second-largest Hasidic sect.

Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, the admor
(rabbinic leader ) of Vizhnitz and head of Agudath Israel's Council of
Torah Sages, was laid to rest in Bnei Brak after 40 years at the sect's
helm. He died Tuesday night at the age of 95 after a lengthy battle with various illnesses.

All of the leading Ashkenazi rabbis in Israel attended the funeral,
including the admor of Gur, Israel's largest Hasidic sect, and Rabbi
Aharon Leib Steinman, a leader of the "Lithuanian" (non-Hasidic )
ultra-Orthodox community. Also present were Hager's three sons-in-law:
the admors of the Belz, Satmar and Skverer Hasidim. The latter two flew
in from the United States, along with many followers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called to offer condolences to MK Menachem Eliezer Moses, Vizhnitz's
representative in the United Torah Judaism faction, while Knesset
Speaker Reuven Rivlin delivered a eulogy from the Knesset podium,
calling Hager a "great leader" and a "righteous man."

Even while Hager was still alive, his two
sons - Yisrael and Menachem Mendel - were at odds over who would succeed him, and with his death, the sect is likely to split into two. On
Wednesday, both men were crowned admor by their respective followers.
But most Vizhnitz Hasidim, as well as most of the community's financial
assets and politicians, are following the elder son, Yisrael, who is
considered conservative on religious issues, including modesty and the
use of technology.

Both brothers put on a display of unity
Wednesday: They stood side by side at the funeral and agreed on the
funeral arrangements. Nevertheless the community is tensely awaiting the reading of Hager's will, which may - or may not - crown one of the two
as his successor. Thirty years ago, Hager unexpectedly banished Yisrael
and named Menachem Mendel as heir to his dynasty, but in 2002 he
reversed himself and brought Yisrael back from exile in the United
States, and since then, the elder son has built up a power base.

Though Hager's health problems, which
included Alzheimer's disease, meant his public role has been minimal for the last decade, until then he was considered one of the most important ultra-Orthodox leaders, and was particularly admired for his
contribution to rebuilding the Haredi world after the Holocaust.
"He came to Tel Aviv with his father and
another four disciples, and today, there are tens of thousands of
[Vizhnitz] Hasidim worldwide," said Shlomo Roznshtein, the Vizhnitz
representative on the Jerusalem City Council.

Not everything went smoothly, however. In
the late 1980s, a battle between Hager and the then-leader of the
Lithuanian Haredim, Rabbi Eliezer Schach - over Hager's defense of the
Chabad sect, which Schach sought to excommunicate, among other issues -
contributed to a rift between the Hasidim and the Lithuanians. He also
antagonized the secular community when, in 1993, he blamed the country's security problems on secular education, and was one of the first Haredi leaders to favor buses with separate seating for men and women.

Yet in some ways, Hager was very open to
the secular world: For instance, he regularly hosted secular guests at
his tischen (festive public meals ). And Yisrael Meir Lau, the Chief
Rabbi of Tel Aviv and former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, a relative of Hager's, related that when Hager's own sister left the Haredi world
and went to live on a secular kibbutz, "the rabbi didn't reject her."
Hager's leadership, Lau said, was always characterized by "moderation
and an atmosphere of love for the people of Israel."


Did he also love the mordim that he expelled from his shul?


and an atmosphere of love for the people of Israel."
does this include the mordim that he expelled from his shul?


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