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Abraham Joshua Heschel of Apta


ABRAHAM JOSHUA HESCHEL OF APTA (Opatow ; d. 1825), Polish Ḥasidic *Ẓaddik, known as "the Rabbi of Apta." He was the disciple of *Elimelech of Lyzhansk (Lezhaisk) and possibly also of the maggid*Jehiel Michel of Zloczow (Zolocher). He served as rabbi of the communities of Kolbuszowa Apta (Opatow) from 1809 to 1813 and Jassy (Moldavia), in 1813–14 settling in Medzibozh (Podolia), where he lived until his death. Abraham strongly opposed the maskilim in Brody for disseminating what he considered heretical ideas among Russian Jewry. Following the discriminatory legislation passed by Czar *Alexanderi, depriving Jewish contractors (arendars) and taverners of their livelihood, Abraham and Isaac of Radzivilow ordered a public fast. As president of the Volhynian kolel, he was active in fundraising for the community in Ereẓ Israel. Acknowledged as an authority by many ẓaddikim in his old age, Abraham was called upon to excommunicate deviationists in the controversy between the Bratslav and*Przysucha (Pshiskha) Ḥasidim, and did his best to promote unity and peace in the ḥasidic camp.

Abraham left instructions that his sole epitaph should be Ohev Yisrael (a lover of Israel), a description by which he is remembered among the Ḥasidim. The problems of Jewish leadership and care for his people exercised his imagination, and he would recount fantastic "reminiscences" about the events he said that he had witnessed in former incarnations as high priest, a king of Israel, nasi, and exilarch. His revelations were regarded by the Hasidim as mysteries of the type experienced by *Rabbah b. Bar Ḥana. A religious ecstatic, he delivered homilies on Sabbaths and festivals emphasizing love of the Creator and the importance of cleaving (*devekut) to Him. He exerted a wide popular influence. His adherents believed that the violent gestures with which he accompanied the sermons denoted hitpashetut ha-gashmiyyut (the shedding of bodily existence). One of Abraham Joshua Heschel's contemporaries recounts that "in the midst of the meal, when the spirit was upon him, he cried out in a loud and dolorous voice and gesticulated; his head fell back almost to his heels, and all the people who sat round the sacred table… trembled and feared… and he started to relate secrets of the Torah and hidden mysteries; he opened his saintly mouth and spoke with great fervor; his face was [like] a torch, he raised his voice in ecstasy." Nevertheless, Abraham Joshua Heschel concentrated on the system of practical Ẓaddikism and held that the ẓaddik "through his wisdom lifts up Israel to bind them to heaven and to bring prosperity, blessing, and life from the source of blessings." His works include Torat Emet (Lemberg, 1854) and Ohev Yisrael (Zhitomir, 1863).

Abraham's son isaac meir (d. 1855) succeeded his father as ẓaddik of Medzibozh, later moving to nearby Zinkov. His grandson meshullam zussia (d. 1886) was also ẓaddik in Zinkov; he edited his grandfather's sermons, Ohev Yisrael. His descendants continued to be revered as ẓaddikim in various places in Podolia (Krolevets, Kopycznce, Ternopol).


L.I. Newman, Hasidic Anthology (1934), index, s.v. Apter: M. Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, 2 (1948), 107–22; A. Berger, Eser Orot (1910), 102–25; M. Guttmann, Mi-Gibborei ha-Ḥasidut, 1 (1953), 172, 232; Dubnow, Ḥasidut, 1 (1930), 314–5; Horodezky, Ḥasidut, 2 (1923), 177–88; idem, in: Tarbiz, 27 (1957/58), 372–9; Haberman, in: yivo Bletter, 39 (1955), 278–83.

[Avraham Rubinstein]

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