Israel ben Perez of Polotsk

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ISRAEL BEN PEREZ OF POLOTSK (d. about 1785), ḥasidic rabbi, one of the leading disciples of *Dov Baer of Mezhirech. He excelled as a preacher, and as an emissary for his teacher together with Azriel of Polotsk, he won over many Jews to Ḥasidism. After the death of Dov Baer in 1772, Israel settled in Polotsk and with several of the Maggid's disciples helped *Menahem Mendel of Vitebsk to spread Ḥasidism in Belorussia. In the month of Adar 1777, as a result of the persecutions by the *Mitnaggedim in Lithuania and Belorussia, he went to Ereẓ Israel with Menahem Mendel and *Abraham b. Alexander Katz of Kalisk at the head of a group of 300 Ḥasidim. They reached Ereẓ Israel in Elul 1777 and settled in Safed. Because of their economic difficulties, Israel was sent abroad a year later to organize the collection of funds and to arrange for regular maintenance of Ḥasidim who settled in Ereẓ Israel, his qualities as a speaker and organizer making him suitable for this task. His first stop was Constantinople where he collected a considerable sum of money. From there he continued to his native Belorussia where he contacted *Shneur Zalman of Lyady and Issachar Baer of Lubavitch. With them he headed the Ḥasidim in Belorussia when the movement was banned for the second time by the Mitnaggedim in 1781. Israel was instrumental in introducing the custom of ma'amadot (collection of funds for regular maintenance of Ḥasidim who settled in Ereẓ Israel) among the Ḥasidim. He intended to return to Ereẓ Israel, but became ill and died in Fastov, Ukraine, where he was buried. His detailed letter written in Jassy in Iyyar 1778 to the trustees of the charitable funds in Vitebsk contains important information on ḥasidic settlement in Ereẓ Israel and the situation of the Jews there, and on his visit to and activities in Constantinople. Israel conceived the establishment of a permanent fund for Ḥasidim who settled in Ereẓ Israel. The few teachings attributed to him concern ways of repentance. He did not found a ḥasidic dynasty.


Dubnow, Ḥasidut, index; Yaari, Sheluḥei, 608–11; idem, Iggerot Ereẓ Yisrael (1943), 312–6; I. Halpern, Ha-Aliyyot ha-Rishonot shel ha-Ḥasidim le-Ereẓ Yisrael (1946), 20–37; Horodetzky, Ḥasidut, index; W.Z. Rabinowitsch, Lithuanian Ḥasidism (1970), index.

[Wolf Zeev Rabinowitsch]

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Israel ben Perez of Polotsk

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