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Chasidim of Kozienice

[Yiddish, Koznitser chasidim] - A Chasidic group founded by Israel ben Shabtay Hepstein (Hapsztejn, Hofstein, 1733-1814), known as Magidem [Hebrew, "preacher"] of Kozienice, a sorcerer and tzaddik, one of the main Chasidic leaders. He had been a pupil of Dov-Ber of Miedzyrzecze, Elimelech of Lezajsk and Levi Yitzhak of Berdyczow. At a young age, he became a melamed in the Przysucha cheder. According to legend, on his deathbed, Elimelech of Lezajsk touched his heart, imparting him with great goodness and sensitivity.
Around the year 1765, he settled in Kozienice. He led an ascetic life, and was also known for his charity work. He was a valued Talmudist and Kabbalist, as well as the author of Avodat Israel, published posthumously (Hebrew, Work of Israel, 1848). His teachings were characterized by clarity, despite many kabbalistic allusions. He wielded an enormous influence on his audience, and gained many followers thanks to the ecstatic way in which he led prayers. He also was known as a miracle worker and healer, particularly among women who were barren. According to him, the main task of a tzaddik was spiritual leadership and helping the faithful to come closer to the Creator. Criticized by rabbis opposed to Chasidism, he tried to convince the tsarist government to forbid anti-Chasidic publications. He was active in politics, and was for example a member of a delegation requesting authorities of the Duchy of Warsaw to lower the taxes on Jews. He was a well-known bibliophile, and had a collection of old prints and manuscripts.
His son, Moshe Elyachim Bria (1757-1828), succeeded him. Bria believed that tzaddiks should live as close as possible to his followers and try to raise the level of their spiritual level. His successors were Eleazar (1806-1862); Yehiel Yaakov (?-1866); Yerachmiel Moshe (1860-1909); Aron Yehiel (1889-1942), who left Kozienice and then lived in Lodz, Warsaw and Otwock. He died of typhus in the Warsaw ghetto.
(H.W./CM)

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