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.