Chasidim of Kock (Kotzk)
[Yiddish, Kotzker chasidim] - A Chasidic group
founded by Menachem Mendel Morgenshtern (1787-1859), known as the
"Kotzker Rebe", a pupil of Yaakov Yitzhak Ha-Levi Horovitz of Lublin and
Yaakov Yitzhak of Przysucha.
In 1829, Menachem Mendel settled in Kock and founded a Chasidic
center. He backed the November Uprising, urging his supporters to aid
the insurgents. In order to avoid persecution, he escaped to the
Austrian partition, where he lived for several years under the assumed
In his teachings, he emphasized the importance of spontaneity
zealousness in faith. The author of many aphorisms, he said that "people
have a soul, not watches", thus justifying the rejection of superficial
religiosity dictated by ritual, and not by one's inner need. He taught
that "it is not possible to serve God out of habit", and that "God is
wherever you let Him in". He placed great importance on striving for
perfection in serving God with all one's soul, which is what he saw as
the sense of life.
During a Sabbath evening meal in 1840, he
extinguished the candles (which was against religious law), and,
according to tradition, said, "there is no Judgment and there is no
Judge". For the next twenty years, until his death, he lived in
isolation, in a closed room adjacent to the synagogue, refusing any
contact with people. Some of his supporters, including Rebe Mordechai
Josef Leiner, left him, saying he had been possessed by "evil spirits";
most of the Community nevertheless remained with him in the belief that
his behavior was a sign of the struggle with the forces of evil.
After his death, his followers chose the founder of the Chasidic
dynasty of Gora Kalwaria, Rebe Yitzchak Meir Rothenberg Alter, as their
tzaddik. A small group stayed with the son of Menachem Mendel
Morgenshtern, David (1809-1893).
He was succeeded by his son, Chaim Israel
(1840-1905), who in 1888 moved to Pulawy. He actively supported Jewish
settlement in Palestine; he believed the duty of every Chasid is to
build religious life in the Holy Land. Another of David's sons, Yitzchak
Zelig (1866-1940), was rabbi in Sokolow Podlaski, where he taught in a
yeshiva he had founded. In addition to having been trained to be a
physician, he was also active in politics, and was a co-founder, and
then member, of the Agudas Isroel party. Chaim Israel was succeeded by
his son Moses Mordechai (1862-1929), a well-known bibliophile who had a
rare book collection, which he moved to Warsaw in 1914.