The founder of the dynasty, Shalom Roke’a? (1779–1855), came from a distinguished family descended from R. Eleazer Roke’a? of Amsterdam. Orphaned as a child, Shalom studied under his uncle, Issachar Baer of Sokal whose daughter he married. At Sokal he was introduced to ?asidic teachings by Solomon of Lutsk , a devoted follower of Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezhirech. Later Shalom became a disciple of Jacob Isaac Horowitz, ha-?ozeh (“the Seer”) of Lublin, Uri of Strelis, the maggid Israel of Kozienice, and Abraham Joshua Heschel of Apta. On the recommendation of Horowitz, Shalom was appointed rabbi in Belz.
After Horowitz’ death in 1815, Shalom was recognized as a ?addik as his following increased. He built a splendid bet midrash in Belz. Thousands of ?asidim flocked to him, including rabbis and well-known ?addikim, and Belz became the center of Galician ?asidism. Many legends tell of the miracles he performed. Shalom was also considered an authoritative talmudist; he stressed the importance of talmudic study and strengthened the principle of learning in ?asidism. Active in public affairs, he served as a spokesman for Galician Jewry, taking part in the struggle to improve the severe economic conditions, and opposing Haskalah. Excerpts from his teachings have been frequently quoted. They are collected, with legends and tales of his activities, in Dover Shalom (1910).
Many of Shalom’s descendants served as ?addikim, including his son-in-law ?enikh Of Olesko and his son Joshua (1825–1894) who succeeded him. The latter provided Belz ?asidism with the organizational framework which maintained it as the focus of ?asidism in Galicia and ruled his community strictly. One of the leaders of Orthodox Jewry in Galicia, he was prominent in the opposition to Haskalah. He initiated the establishment of the Ma?azikei ha-Dat organization and the Orthodox newspaper Kol Ma?azikei ha-Dat.
As a result of the cultural and social tensions in Galician Jewry, the Belz ?addikim adopted an extreme stand and resisted every new idea emanating from non-Orthodox circles. Some of Joshua’s teachings are published in Ohel Yehoshu’a (printed with Dover Shalom, 1910).
Joshua’s successor Issachar Dov (1854–1927) was greatly influenced by Aaron of Chernobyl although Aaron taught a form of Hasidism that differed radically from that of the Belz school. Issachar Dov was an exacting leader of Galician Orthodoxy and headed the Ma?azikei ha-Dat. He opposed the Agudat Israel and denounced any innovations. He strongly opposed Zionism in any form. In 1914, when the war front reached Belz, he fled to Hungary and lived in Újfehértó where he succeeded in winning many Hungarian Jews to Belz Hasidism. In 1918, he moved to Munkács (Mukacevo) and became embroiled in a bitter quarrel with the ?addik of Munkács which gave rise to a voluminous exchange of polemics. In 1921, Issachar Dov returned to Galicia and settled first in Holschitz, near Jaroslaw, moving back to Belz in 1925.
His son and successor Aaron (1880–1957) deviated little from the pattern set by his father. He lived an ascetic life and instituted a lengthy order of prayers. The influence of Belz Hasidism had considerable impact on Jewish life in Galicia because its adherents entered all spheres of communal affairs and were not afraid of the effects of strife within the community. Many rabbis accepted the authority of the Belz ?addikim. In the parliamentary elections the Belz Hasidim did not join the Jewish lists but voted for the Polish government party.
On the outbreak of World War II, Aaron escaped to Sokol and then to Przemysl where 33 members of his family were murdered. After confinement in the ghettos of Vizhnitsa, Krakow, and Bochnia, he was sent to Kaschau (now Kosice), then in Hungary, at the end of 1942 and subsequently to Budapest. In 1944, he managed to reach Ere? Israel. There he revised his political views and directed his followers to support the Agudat Israel. He established yeshivot and battei midrash throughout the country. His home in Tel Aviv became the new center for the followers of Belz Hasidism throughout the world. His grave is a place of pilgrimage where many gather on the anniversary of his death. He was succeeded by his nephew, Issachar Dov (1948– ), who established a bet midrash in Jerusalem and an independent kashrut system. Large numbers of Belz Hasidim also inhabit the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, New York.
Belz is Israel’s second largest Hasidic group. In 2022, for the first time, the sect agreed to teach the core curriculum in its elementary schools, including math, science, Hebrew and English. Many schools refuse to teach core curriculum and refuse state funds rather than accept what they regard as secular interference in religious studies.
According to MK Moshe Tur-Paz, “They said they came to their decision over the need to earn a living and the need to finance their institutions, with the understanding that without core curriculum they would not be able to progress and their students would remain barred from the job market.”
L.I. Newman, Hasidic Anthology (1934), index; M.I. Guttman, Rabbi Shalom mi-Bel? (1935); A.Y. Bromberg, Mi-Gedolei ha-?asidut, 10 (1955); M. Prager, Ha??alat ha-Rabbi mi-Bel? mi-Gei ha-Haregah be-Polin (1960); Y. Taub, Lev Same’a? ?adash (1963); N. Urtner, Devar ?en (1963); B. Landau and N. Urtner, Ha-Rav ha-Kadosh mi-Belza (1967); M. Rabinowicz, Guide to ?assidism (1960), pp. 93–96.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
David Hellerman, “Massive Hasidic sect to include secular curriculum in revolutionary shift,” The Jewish Voice, (January 30, 2022).