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Yissachar Dov Rokeach (II)

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Yissachar Dov Rokeach (II)
Fifth Belzer Rebbe
File:Belzer Rebbe.jpg
Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach of Belz
Term 1966–present
Full name Yissachar Dov Rokeach
Born 1948
Tel Aviv
Predecessor Aharon Rokeach
Father Mordechai of Bilgoray
Mother Miriam Glick
Wife Sarah Hager
Issue Aharon Mordechai Rokeach

Yissachar Dov Rokeach (II) (born 1948) is the fifth and present Rebbe of the Hasidic dynasty of Belz. He is the son of Rabbi Mordechai of Bilgoray, the grandson of the third Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach, and the nephew of the fourth Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Aharon Rokeach, who raised him. He has led Belz since 1966.

Early life and marriage

Rabbi Mordechai of Bilgoray and his half-brother (through his father), Rebbe Aharon, escaped Europe in a daring escape attempt and arrived in Palestine in 1944. Both lost their wives and families (Mordechai had a wife and daughter) to the Nazis. Both remarried in Israel; Rabbi Mordechai's second wife was Miriam,[1], the daughter of Rabbi Hershel Glick of Satmar.[2]. Only Rabbi Mordechai had a child, Yissachar Dov. A year after Yissachar Dov's birth, his father died suddenly. The boy was raised by his uncle, Rebbe Aharon, and was groomed to be the next Rebbe in the dynasty.

When Rebbe Aharon died in 1957, Yissachar Dov was only nine years old. For the next nine years, Belz was effectively without an active rebbe, as Yissachor Dov, then called the "Yanuka" (Child) by his followers, was educated by a small circle of trusted advisors. Yissachar Dov celebrated his bar mitzvah on 25 January 1961 (8 Shevat 5721) in the Tel Aviv beit medrash of Rebbe Aharon, where he sat by himself at the dais, greeting a few hundred guests.

In 1965, Yissachar Dov married Sarah Hager, daughter of Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, the Vizhnitzer rebbe, and moved to Bnei Brak to be close to his new father-in-law. Two years later, he returned to Jerusalem to assume leadership of the Belz dynasty. Standing at the gravesite of his uncle, the previous Belzer Rav, Yissachar Dov received his first kvitel from the Yavrover Rav, a descendant of the Belzer and Ropshitzer Rebbes, as is customary in Belz. He has led the dynasty ever since.

He and his wife have one son, Aharon Mordechai Rokeach, born in 1975. Aharon Mordechai married the daughter of the Makova Rebbe in August 1993, and has six sons and three daughters.

The re-invention of Belz

The majority of Belz Hasidim were killed in the Holocaust. Although some managed to immigrate to the United States and Israel, the post-war years saw the court of Belz's membership undergo a radical change, consisting largely of former members of other communities, or Haredim who had previously not belonged officially to any Hasidic group.

One of Rabbi Yissachar Dov's most important tasks was to take this diverse collection of followers and mold them into a unified community. He focused on building up Belz institutions, which were largely non-existent at the death of the previous Rebbe. As Belz slowly established an economic base, it began expanding its network of schools in Western Europe, America and Israel, as well as its yeshivas and its own Jerusalem enclave, Kiryat Belz. It also created its own newspaper, HaMachaneh HaCharedi, of which former MK Yisrael Eichler is a former editor.

An independent Rebbe

Rabbi Yissachar Dov has long had a reputation for being a maverick in the Israeli haredi community. The early years following his appointment as Rebbe saw him carefully forging alliances with other Hasidic courts (such as Ger and Vizhnitz), as well as the Misnagdic communities, particularly Degel HaTorah. He quickly became known as a political moderate and pragmatist, eventually even breaking what had earlier been something of a taboo: accepting funding and subsidies from the Israeli government.

Feud with the Edah HaChareidis

As Belz began to establish itself as an independent and successful group, it began to attract some negative attention, particularly after Rabbi Yissachar Dov's decision to accept money from the state. One group, the Edah HaChareidis, a coalition of several movements known for its strictness and traditionalism even among haredim, took particular offense at the "renegades'" disregard of what had earlier been a largely unchallenged status quo. This was compounded by Rabbi Yissachar Dov's willingness to participate in Israeli politics by encouraging his followers to vote, and sending emissaries to join haredi political parties. These disagreements turned from mere hostilities into a full-blown feud following Rabbi Yissachar Dov's announcement in 1980 that Belz was going to split from the Edah HaCharedis.

Prior to the split, Belz had been the only non-Eidah member that accepted and supported the authority of the Badatz, the Edah's rabbinical court, whose authority touched all matters of everyday haredi life, including kashrut certification. Early in the year, Rabbi Yitzchok Yaakov Weiss, the head of the Edah HaChareidis, issued a decree forbidding followers from sending their children to schools funded by state money. This represented a serious threat to Belz's moderate approach, which benefited greatly from state assistance.

In response, Rabbi Yissachar Dov decided to cut his community off from the Edah HaCharedis and establish his own system of religious services, including kashrut certification. While Belz maintained that it was only interested in certifying food for its own community, the move was met with rancor by the Edah HaCharedis, particularly the Satmar Hasidim, who were both outraged at Rabbi Yissachar Dov's defiance and concerned about Belz as potential economic competition.

This led to a large delegitimization campaign against Rabbi Yissachar Dov. Later in the year, when he visited the United States, he was assigned a security detail by the FBI in response to multiple death threats. The conflict in Israel, initially confined to insulting posters, gradually escalated to a series of particularly offensive pranks and, ultimately, physically violent clashes between followers. It should be noted that neither Rabbi Yissachar Dov nor Rabbi Weiss were ever involved in any of these activities, which are largely considered to have been the work of radical activists within both camps. Despite the opposition, Belz persevered, and tempers gradually cooled. While Belz and the Edah HaCharedis remain distant and implicitly hostile towards each other, the feud has, for all intents and purposes, ended.

2005 "work" speech

In 2005 Rabbi Yissachar Dov strongly encouraged his male followers to learn professions (specifically in white-collar work) during his annual Simchat Torah speech. He said,

Long-term students in yeshivas who are talented and have the economic means are fortunate, but students who year after year see that their studies are not going well, whether because of their skills or their economic situation, must learn a profession that earns a living. I'm not talking about getting rich but earning a living, so that one does not fall into debt. ... One can prepare for this in the yeshiva and devote a few hours a week in the evening to studying a profession.[3]

The Belzer Rebbe's speech is the latest in a growing trend of encouraging haredi men who would be more suited to work than study (or whose families are particularly financially needy) to join the workforce. (See Tal Law.) Rabbi Yissachar Dov's comments were noteworthy for their point that Orthodox Jews do not need to abandon their studies entirely in order to earn a living.


Every Jew must firmly believe that inside him there resides a pure soul. Regardless of what his situation may be, even if he has strayed from the right path, the inner essence of his soul — which is a portion of God — remains pure and unsullied. ... From this tiny center of the soul that has not been tainted by evil, the transgressor derives the strength to do teshuvah (repentance), make amends for all his failings, and soar to the loftiest spiritual heights. (1991)[4]

Everyone knows that the Arabs residing in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) — descendants of Ishmael — have only one aim: to drive the Jewish people out of Eretz Yisrael and to annihilate them. Now, when the Jewish people conduct themselves in the proper manner, the Arabs most certainly will have no power to harm them. To the contrary, the Arabs themselves will vanish from the scene. But even when Jews do not behave quite as they should, then the Holy One, Blessed be He, compares His nation with the nations of the world. And when viewed together, He finds that the Jewish people are the acme of perfection. ... For the Jewish people, when measured against the nations of the world, are absolutely flawless. In this merit, the Jewish people will defeat their enemies and crush them. (1990)[5]

Rebbes of Belz

  1. Rabbi Sholom Rokeach (1779 - 1855)
  2. Rabbi Yehoshua Rokeach (1825 - 1894)
  3. Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach (I) (1854 - 1926)
  4. Rabbi Aharon Rokeach (1877 - 1957)
  5. Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach (II) (b. 1948)

See also


  1. Landesman, Yeruchem. "The Younger Brother". Mishpacha Magazine, 15 November 2006, p. 27.
  2. Cohen, Yitzchok. "Glimpses of Greatness: My Brother-in-Law, the Bilgorayer Rav". Hamodia Features, 12 November 2009, p. C4.
  3. Ettinger, Yair. "Tough times push men out of yeshiva and into work." Haaretz, 23 December 2005.
  4. Finkel, Avraham Yaakov Finkel (1994). Contemporary Sages: The Great Chasidic Masters of the Twentieth Century. Jason Aronson, Inc. ISBN 1-56821-155-4.
  5. Ibid.


  • Samuel C. Heilman (1999). Defenders of the Faith: Inside Ultra-Orthodox Jewry. University of California Press, ISBN 0-520-22112-5
  • Ehud Sprinzak (1999). Brother Against Brother: Violence and Extremism in Israeli Politics from Altalena to the Rabin Assassination. Free Press, ISBN 0-684-85344-2yi:ישכר דוב רוקח

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