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Chasidim of Ger (Gora Kalwaria)

[Yiddish, Gerer chasidim; chasidim Ger] - One of the largest and most influential Chasidic groups in Poland, founded by Yitzchak Meir Rothenberg Alter (1789-1866), who was known as Rebe Itchie Majer. Even as a child, he was renowned for his quickness of mind and originality of thought.
Alter studied under Israel ben Shabtay Hepstein of Kozienice, Symcha Bunem of Przysucha, and then with Menachem Mendel Morgenshtern of Kock. He married Morgenstern's sister, and after Morgenstern's death in 1859, most of his students went to study with Itchie Majer. Alter's work, published posthumously, Chidushey RIM (Hebrew, The New Interpretations of R[abbi] I[tzhak] M[eir], 1875) became one of the basic works on Jewish ritual studied in yeshivas in Poland. Alter believed a Jew's most important duty was to study the Torah, stressing the joy that Talmudic studies bring. He also opposed the belief in the miracle-working powers of the tzaddikim, and was active in politics. He was, for example, involved in the struggle to lift the "Cantonist decrees" [regarding the conscription of Jewish boys into the army - Ed.].
In 1843, he became an honorary member of the Warsaw rabbinate, which strengthened Chasidic influence. Alter was succeeded first by his friend, Rabbi Henoch Henich Kohen Levin of Aleksandrow, and beginning in 1870, by his grandson, Yehuda Arie Leyb Alter (1847-1905). During the period when he was active, the Chasidic group from Gora Kalwaria became one of the most influential Chasidic groups in the Kingdom of Poland. Yehuda Arie gained not only the trust of the rabbis, but also of the Warsaw synagogue board, despite the fact that some of its members supported assimilation. He spoke out strongly against Zionism. His writings were collected in Sefat Emet (Hebrew, The Language of Truth, 1905-1908).

Yehuda Arie was succeeded by his oldest son, Abraham Mordechai Alter (1864-1948), under whose leadership the Chasidim of Gora Kalwaria became a well-organized group and gained widespread influence, which contributed to a rebirth of Orthodoxy. He supported the development of religious schools, including girls' schools, and encouraged the study of Polish. He was held in high esteem among Europe's Orthodox Jewry, and was one of the founders of the Agudas Isroel party. At first, this group was decidedly against Zionism, but during the 1930's, it advocated Jewish settlement in Palestine. He visited Israel many times. In 1940, he succeeded in leaving Poland and settled in Jerusalem, where he rebuilt the Chasidic institutions from G�ra Kalwaria.
After his death, Abraham Mordechai Alter's sons succeeded him: Israel Alter (1895-1972), Symcha Bunem (1888-1992) and Pinchas Menachem (b. 1923). The Chasidic dynasty from Gora Kalwaria still has many followers in Israel and the United States.
(H.W./CM)

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