GORA KALWARIA (Yid. Ger; Heb. Gur), town 19 mi. (30 km.) S.E. of Warsaw, Poland. The town, known popularly as Nowy Jeruzalem, obtained a charter in 1670 which included a clause prohibiting the settlement of Jews there. Jews were first permitted to settle in the town after it passed to Prussian rule in 1795. Subsequently Gora Kalwaria became celebrated as the seat of the hasidic Gur dynasty, founded by Isaac Meir Alter and headed by his successors (see below). The community numbered 2,919 in 1897 (55.1% of the total population) and 2,691 in 1921 (48.9%).
On the eve of World War II there were approximately 3,500 Jews living in Gora Kalwaria. When the German Army entered on Sept. 8, 1939, a reign of terror began for the Jewish population. During April and May 1940 several hundred Jews from Lodz and nearby Pabianice and Aleksandrow were deported to Gora Kalwaria. In January 1941 all the Jewish inhabitants of the small localities around Gora Kalwaria, numbering approximately 300, were also concentrated there. On Feb. 25–26, 1941, all the Jews in the town were transferred to the Warsaw ghetto where they shared the fate of Warsaw Jewry, hundreds dying of disease and starvation and the rest deported to the death camps in August 1942. The Jewish community was not reconstituted after the war.
The Gur (Yid. Ger) ḥasidic dynasty, one of the most celebrated of the dynasties, existed in Poland from 1859 to 1939; subsequently the center moved to Ereḥ Israel, under the Gur rabbi residing in Jerusalem.
Gur Ḥasidism is based primarily on the trend in Hasidism developed by
of Przysucha (Peshiskha) and
of Kotsk (Kock) but has taken an individual direction. It also derives ideologically from the philosophy of
*Judah Loew b. Bezalel
of Prague (the Maharal).
The founder of the dynasty was ISAAC MEIR ROTHENBERG ALTER (1789–1866), whose father R. Israel was a disciple of
of Berdichev and rabbi of Gur. Isaac Meir grew up under the tutelage of Israel Hofstein, the maggid of
, who influenced Isaac considerably. At an early age he distinguished himself in Torah study, showing originality and intellectual acumen. He subsequently studied under Aryeh Leib Zinz, rabbi of Polotsk, and won a reputation as a brilliant young scholar.
After the death of the maggid of Kozienice, and a short period with the latter's son and successor Moses, Isaac Meir left him to become a disciple of
of Przysucha, and after his death, of Menahem Mendel of Kotsk. He continued to give unreserved support to Menahem Mendel throughout the stormy controversy which divided Kotsk Ḥasidism and during the period when Menahem Mendel was in isolation, enabling Kotsk Ḥasidism to survive its acute internal crisis. After Mendel's death in 1859 Isaac Meir was acknowledged as their rabbi by the majority of the Kotsk Ḥasidim. His work entitled Ḥiddushei ha-Rim (Warsaw, 1875), novellae on Talmud tractates and the Shulhan Arukh, became basic texts for study in the yeshivot and are still acknowledged as classic works on the pilpul (dialectical) method of exposition. Isaac Meir is frequently referred to by the name of his work as "Hiddushei ha-Rim." Isaac Meir displayed a ready awareness of public needs and was well acquainted with Jewish problems in Poland. He
fought uncompromisingly to preserve the traditional Jewish way of life and headed opposition to the regulations imposing changes in dress issued by the government and upheld in Jewish circles by the maskilim, refusing to make concessions even when imprisoned by the authorities. During the Polish uprising of 1830 he was suspected of sympathizing with the Polish loyalists. He changed his name from Rothenberg to Alter. In his private life he experienced considerable suffering, losing his 13 children during his lifetime.
Although Isaac Meir derived the principal part of his teaching from the Przysucha-Kotsk school of Ḥasidism, in practice it revealed radical divergences. Instead of withdrawing from contact with the masses he tried to win them over, and interested himself in day-to-day problems. He made himself available to all who sought him out, receiving them kindly. However, like the Kotsk school he placed Torah study at the center of spiritual life. As one of the most eminent scholars in Poland of his day he developed among his followers enthusiasm for Torah learning. He also followed the Kotsk method in emphasizing profundity of thought in the search after truth and the inner promptings of the heart, and in continuous striving after self-perfection.
The period of his leadership, which lasted only seven years, had a formative influence on the development of Hasidism in Poland. Gur Hasidism became a powerful element in Orthodox Polish Jewry, and retained a leading position until the Holocaust.
JUDAH ARYEH LEIB ALTER (1847–1905) son of Abraham Mordecai (the eldest son of Isaac Meir), was orphaned as a child and brought up and educated largely by his grandfather. In 1870, after the death of
*Ḥanokh of Aleksandrow
, the successor of Isaac Meir as Gur rabbi, Judah Aryeh Leib became the head (admor) of Gur. In this position he wielded a wide influence and established the leadership of Gur Hasidism in Congress Poland. A distinguished scholar, modest in behavior, Judah Aryeh Leib won the confidence of rabbis and communal leaders throughout Jewry. Like his grandfather he also played a role in public affairs, concerning himself with contemporary Polish Jewish problems. Through his influence Hasidism in Poland dissociated itself from Zionism. Judah Aryeh Leib devoted much energy promoting Torah study and attracted many of the youth. His writings are collected under the title Sefat Emet (2 vols., 1905–08), after which he is also known. The five sections on the Pentateuch include addresses on Sabbaths and festivals, distinguished by the profundity of their ideas and clarity of exposition, and reflect the marked influence of Judah Loew b. Bezalel (the Maharal) of Prague. The sections on the Talmud, on tractates Mo'ed and Kiddushin, evidence his wide Jewish scholarship and ability to penetrate to the intended meaning and provide a lucid exposition of the problem, in contrast to the dialectical pilpul method followed by his grandfather.
Judah Leib was succeeded by his eldest son, ABRAHAM MORDECAI ALTER (1866–1948), the last of the dynasty in Poland. Under his leadership Gur Hasidism reached the height of its influence. He restored the recitation of morning prayer to the regular time and enjoined a break during the Sabbath service for public study. A lover of order and precision, he gave Gur Hasidim an organized framework.
In the period preceding the Holocaust Abraham Mordecai was the most prominent figure in European Orthodox Jewry and one of the founders of
. Particularly sympathetic toward young people and concerned with their needs, he was instrumental in establishing schools and youth organizations. As well as being a scholar, he was an ardent bibliophile. He visited Erez Israel many times and acquired property there. On the outbreak of World War II he escaped from Gur to Warsaw, and finally to Ereẓ Israel in 1940. During and after the Holocaust he was active in rescue work and in the material and spiritual rehabilitation of refugees. He died on Shavuot at the height of the siege of Jerusalem in 1948 and was buried in the precincts of Yeshivah Sefat Emet which he had founded.
Abraham Mordecai's son, ISRAEL ALTER (1892–1977), succeeded him as Gur rabbi. A noted scholar of great personal charm, he had an influence far beyond the immediate circle of his followers. As head of the various Gur institutions and yeshivot he did much to enhance the reputation and influence of Gur Ḥasidism. Thousands of visitors traveled to his court in Jerusalem each year to see him and receive his blessing.
Two sons of Abraham Mordecai, SIMḤAH BUNEM (1898–1992) and PINḤAS MENAHEM (1926–1996), took over after the death of Israel Alter, and were in turn succeeded by YA'AKOV ARYEH (1936–), eldest son of Simhah Bunem. In the early 21st century, in addition to Israel, Gur hasidim were concentrated in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, New York.
[Abram Juda Goldrat]