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Aharon Rokeach

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Aharon Rokeach (1877-August 18, 1957) was the fourth Rebbe of the Belz Hasidic dynasty. He led the movement from 1926 until his passing in 1957.

Rebbe Aharon inherited the mantle of leadership from his father, Yissachar Dov Rokeach (I), upon the latter's death in 1926. Known for his piety and mysticism, Rebbe Aharon was called the "Wonder Rebbe" by Jews and gentiles alike for the miracles they claimed he performed.

Rebbe Aharon's rule as rebbe saw the devastation of the Belz community, along with that of many other Hasidic sects in Galicia and elsewhere in Poland during the Holocaust. During the Holocaust, Rebbe Aharon was high on the list of Gestapo targets as a high-profile Rebbe. He and his half-brother, Rabbi Mordechai of Bilgoray, spent most of the war hiding from the Nazis and moving from place to place, with the support and financial assistance of their Hasidim both inside and outside Europe. Eventually, they were taken out of Europe via a series of escapes, many of whose episodes have since passed into Belzer and general Hasidic folklore.

His son-in-law, Rabbi Shmiel Frankel perished in Premeslan Yom Kippur eve 1942, together with his wife, Rivkah Miriam, and children, Levi Yitzchok, Pinchos, and Toby. His eldest son, Shlomo, perished later in the month of Cheshvan.

Rebbe Aharon and Rabbi Mordechai immigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine in 1944. The two lost their entire extended families, including their wives, children, and grandchildren. Both remarried shortly after arriving in the Holy Land, although only Mordechai produced an heir, Yissachar Dov Rokeach (II). After Mordechai's sudden death in 1948, his son was groomed by Aharon to be the next Belzer Rebbe. Under Rebbe Aharon's leadership, Belzer Hasidut was reborn after the war in Israel and, to a lesser extent, in the United States.

Rebbe Aharon was clearly touched by the Holocaust. He developed a very inclusive attitude to modern and even non-Orthodox Jews, which was a substantive change from Belz's pre-war practice of largely associating exclusively with other haredim. Rebbe Aharon's second marriage also indicated a shift in the Belz leader's thinking: the ceremony was conducted by Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman, a member of the religious Zionist Mizrachi movement, a group which Belz had also previously held at arm's length. Unlike some of his other Hasidic rebbe peers, who had survived the Holocaust and made a practice of acknowledging and honoring their deceased followers and recounting their own experiences, it was Rebbe Aharon's personal custom to never speak of the Belz Hasidim who had died during the war, particularly members of his own family. On one occasion, rabbi and author Arthur Hertzberg, a descendant of Belz Hasidim, visited the rebbe and attempted to talk to him about Belz before the war:

"He talked willingly of [my] grandfather, remembering that... [he] had been his teacher when he was young, but he was totally silent when I mentioned my mother's father and her brothers, who had been his disciples until they were murdered during the war. I was upset. This strange behavior was later explained to me by his principal assistant: the rebbe had not once said any of the prescribed prayers (Yizkor, Kaddish) for his wife and children because those who had been killed by the Nazis for being Jews were of transcendent holiness; they were beyond our comprehension. Any words about them that we might utter were irrelevant and perhaps even a desecration of their memory."

For Rebbe Aharon, the only proper way to respond to the near-destruction of Belz and Hasidus, and honor the memory of the dead, was to build new institutions and slowly nurture a new generation of Hasidim. This task has been continued and largely accomplished by his nephew, the present Rebbe of Belz.

Rebbes of Belz

  1. Rabbi Sholom Rokeach (1779 - 1855)
  2. Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach (1825 - 1896)
  3. Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach (I) (1854 - 1926)
  4. Rabbi Aharon Rokeach (1877 - 1957)
  5. Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach (II) (b. 1948)

See also

Sources

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