Izbica Radzyn

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IZBICA RADZYN , ḥasidic dynasty in Poland. R. mordecai joseph leiner of izbica (1800–1854), the founder of the dynasty, was born in Tomaszow, Poland, to a rabbinic family of means. He was 19 when he sold all his possessions and traveled to Przysucha to become *Simḥah Bunim's disciple for nine years, until the latter passed away in 1827. After Simhah Bunim's death he moved back to Tomaszow and accepted his older friend, Menaḥem Mendel Morgenstern of *Kotsk, as his rebbe. Gradually he realized that he opposed Menaḥem Mendel's religious leadership. He started teaching his own original, independent ideas, until the schism became evident on Simḥat Torah in 1839, which he spent in Kotsk, after which he parted company with Menaḥem Mendel. He returned to Tomaszow, but because of the hostility of Menaḥem Mendel's followers he moved to Izbica, where he lived until his death in 1854. Unlike Menaḥem Mendel, he was in constant company with his followers, challenging them by upsetting religious conventions on the one hand and comforting them with his guidance on the other. Continuing Przysucha's strong emphasis on the study of Talmud, he lectured on the Talmud a few hours each weekday.

Among his eminent disciples were Judah Leib Eiger of Lublin and. *Ẓadok ha-Kohen of Lublin, both of whom became rebbes and central ḥasidic leaders in the second half of the 19th century.

Mordecai Joseph did not leave behind any writings. After his death his grandson gershon Ḥanokh henikh (1839–1891) collected testimonies of his homilies and published them under the name Mei ha-Shiloaḥ (1860). After publication, Gershon continued collecting testimonies and they were published by his brother Mordecai Joseph as Mei ha-Shiloaḥ, Part 2 (1922).

Mordecai Joseph generated much controversy, initially because of the schism between him and Menaḥem Mendel. Afterwards it was his novel and daring teachings that were under attack. Gershon Ḥanokh Henikh, being aware of this, writes in the introduction to Mei ha-Shiloaḥ (1860) that some of the ideas expressed in the book are going to be "difficult to hear." From the early 1960s, Mordecai Joseph attracted attention in academic circles as well as in religious movements seeking religious renewal. R. Shlomo *Carlebach was a key figure in this trend.

jacob (1818–1878), his son, succeeded him and relocated the dynasty to Radzyn. His writings include Beit Ya'akov (1890–1937), homilies on the Torah, and Sefer ha-Zemanim (1903–73), homilies on the holidays. Jacob's son, Gershon Ḥanokh Henikh, succeeded his father to become the "Radzyner Rebbe." The latter's grandson, samuel solomon, was the rebbe of Radzyn during the Holocaust. He called upon his followers to flee to the forest and fight against the Nazis. Upon hearing this, the Nazis murdered him. He is the hero of Yitzhak *Katzenelson's poem "Dos Lied vegan Radziner" (1943).

Mordecai Joseph's Teachings

The principal innovation of Mordecai Joseph's thought is introduced in his homilies, where he endorses the sins of biblical heroes (the famous and most controversial example being Zimri). He states that they acted in accordance with "God's will" – a phrase that suggests an alternate way of life to the rational, halakhic route. The very idea that "God's will" is at variance with halakhah undermines the common traditional view.

This path, in harmony with "God's will," may be called voluntarism – the view that at the dawn of history, when God created the world, he determined its course according to his will. God's will is understood as the only free will in existence. Mordecai Joseph asserts that God's free will, as the very definition of free will, does not lend itself to formulation in general rules – the identifying feature of rationality. In contrast, halakhah is a system that follows general rules. In accordance with "God's will" different and even opposed actions can be justified when they are performed by different people or by the same person in different contexts, as long as they are consistent with God's will. "God's will" can manifest itself in infinite possibilities of human action.

"God's will" is described as a deterministic awareness in people who follow this path, understanding themselves as vehicles executing God's will. The belief that God's will determines the entire course of our lives is a way of thinking that calls for the humble overcoming our illusion of free will. Rare individuals who attain such a spiritual level live and act decisively (tekufot). At the same time, some homilies characterize the followers of "God's will" as people who bravely bring themselves to face uncertainty (safek). In doing so they put aside all halakhic conventions, all norms, trying to do God's will despite the uncertainty and danger of failure. In the hereafter the commonly shared illusion of human free will will give way to the true understanding of "God's will," which will be recognized by all.

In contrast to the path of "God's will," homilies that emphasize the important religious role of halakhah can be found as well. This makes it necessary to interpret the relationship between "Gods will" and the halakhic approach in Mordecai Joseph's' teachings. There are several ways to overcome this difficulty. One is to understand "God's will" as relevant only in the messianic era. Another reads "God's will" as relevant for the pre-messianic era as well, seeing the halakhah as a first necessary stage on the way to perfection – then only can "God's will" become a practical way of life. Yet another interpretation is to understand halakhah as worship of God out of fear, an inferior way to worship God. Halakhah, which is the veneer (gavan) of God's will, contrasts with worshiping God out of love, which enables one to find the depth (omek) of God's Will. It is also possible to understand "God's will" and halakhah as two systems that Mordecai Joseph approves of. He is aware that they are in conflict with each other, as he realizes that the nature of human religious experience is complex and incoherent.

As daring as Mordecai Joseph's ideas are, we should understand that he was the leader of an orthodox hasidic community which organized its praxis according to halakhah, just as he did.

It is generally agreed that his thought was strongly individualistic, a tendency typical of Przysucha Ḥasidism. Yet the social environment in which he was rooted was one of intense community life. Accordingly, his individualism should be seen not as a call for seclusion but rather as a quest for one's personal religious path while part of a meaningful community.


H.S. Leiner, Dor Yesharim (1925); idem, Zikkaron la-Rishonim (1950); R. Mahler, Ha-Ḥasidut ve-ha-Haskalah (1961), 343–49; J. Weiss, in: F. Baer Jubilee Volume (1961), 447–53; idem, in: Studies in Eastern European Jewish Mysticism (1985), 209–48; R. Schatz, in: Molad, 21 (1963), 554–61; S.Z. Shragai, Bi-Netivei Ḥasidut Izbiza-Radzyn (1972–74); M.M. Faierstein, All Is in the Hands of Heavens (1989); R. Elior, in: Tarbiz, 62/63 (1993), 402–32; J.I. Gellman, The Fear, the Trembling, and the Fire (1994), 23–58.

[Y. Ben-Dor (2nd ed.)]