Shapira, Kalonymous Kalman

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SHAPIRA, KALONYMOUS KALMAN (1889–1943), ḥasidic rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto. Born in Grodzisk, Shapira was a descendant of the seer of Lublin (*Jacob Isaac ha-Ḥozeh mi-Lublin) and the maggid of Kozienice (Israel ben Shabbetai Hapstein *Kozience). After his father died when he was three, a family member took charge of his education. Married at 15, at the age of 20 he became a rebbe and then the rabbi in Piaseczno, near Warsaw. In 1923 he founded a yeshivah, Daas Moshe, which became an important ḥasidic institute in prewar Poland. His educational goals were ambitious. He wanted nothing less than to create, in the words of his biographer, Nehemia Polen, a "core group" of students of "sublime stature" to revitalize the ḥasidic movement. The goal of education as he envisioned it was that a child must experience the inner life of Torah. He outlined his goals in his first book, Ḥovat ha-Talmidim ("The Student's Responsibility") published in 1932, the only work to be published while he was alive. He emphasized joy and renewed vitality for the yeshivah world.

Polen describes him as physically imposing, "handsome and well groomed, distinguished and elegant." An account of his early war experience was published in the Forward on March 30, 1940. Refusing to abandon his flock in Warsaw, he saw his son, daughter-in-law, and sister-in-law killed in the first days of the German bombings, and a few weeks later his mother died.

Shapira tended to the religious needs of the community, including its mikva'ot, and worked with relief kitchens that served 1,500 people a day assisted by the *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. He also continued to teach Torah week in and week out, composing impassioned derashot on the weekly portion that related not only to the words of the Torah but to the conditions of ghetto life. They were preserved and published under the name Esh Kodesh ("The Holy Fire," 1960).

His one remaining daughter was deported during the great Aktion of the summer of 1942. She was murdered in Treblinka. The rebbe remained in the ghetto and lived through the Ghetto Uprising, where he was captured and incarcerated. He died in Trawniki. Of Esh Kodesh, Polen concludes: "It is testimony to faith in learning, teaching, human communication, language, and – most of all the redemptive power of compassion."


N. Polen, The Holy Fire: The Teachings of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, The Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto (1994); K.K. Shapira, Sacred Fire: Torah from the Years of Fury 19391942, ed. D. Miller, trans. J.H. Worsch (2000).

[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]

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Shapira, Kalonymous Kalman

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