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Orthodox Judaism: Warka Hasidic Dynasty

Warka is a hasidic dynasty from Poland.

Its founder, ISAAC (KALISH) OF WARKA (1779–1848), became one of the most noted ẓaddikim in central Poland in the first half of the 19th century. Born at Zolochev, after his marriage at the age of 14 he moved to Zarek (Bremberg). He officiated as rabbi in Gowanczow and then in the village of Ruda. His teacher, David of Lelov (Lelow) , would travel with him to the "courts" of ẓaddikim, and in this way he became a student in the bet midrash of Jacob Isaac ha-Ḥozeh (the "Seer") of Lublin, and a disciple of Simḥah Bunem of Przysucha and his son, Abraham Moses. After the early death of the latter in 1829, Isaac settled in Przysucha , becoming the acknowledged leader of the Ḥasidim there. Some time later he moved to the small town of Warka (Warsaw district), where he gathered many disciples round him, including ẓaddikim and admorim such as Jacob Aryeh of Radzymin , Dov Baer (Berish) of Biala, Shraga Feivel of Goerits (Gorzyca), Jehiel of Aleksandrow , and others. He was also a friend of Menahem Mendel of Kotsk and Mordecai Joseph of Izbica Lubelska , and often visited Israel Ruzhin and Meir of Peremyshlyany.

Isaac of Warka negotiated with influential people on behalf of the Jews to obtain the abrogation of hostile decrees, including the conscription of young Jews for military service ( Cantonists ; 1827), and the prohibition forbidding the Jews to wear their traditional dress (1845). To achieve these he attempted to invoke the assistance of Sir Moses Montefiore and the British government in influencing Czar Nicholas I . In 1846 Isaac met Sir Moses when the latter passed through Poland.

Because of his activities Isaac was given the appellation "Lover of Israel." A characteristic story relates that Menahem Mendel of Kotsk sought Isaac of Warka in the upper world after the latter's death, and passed through the heikhalot (upper halls) until he found him in a field by a river, where he was standing, bent, leaning on his stick and looking at the river – made by the tears of the Jewish people – unable to move from there. Tales concerning him and his novellae on the Torah were collected in Ohel Yiẓḥak (Piotrkow, 1814) by Meir Walden, and in Huẓẓak Ḥen (1947), by Noah Weintraub.

Isaac of Warka's son, JACOB DAVID OF AMSHINOV (1814–1878), founded the Amshinov dynasty. Born at Zarek, he was a pupil of Menahem Mendel of Kotsk. After his marriage he lived at Gur ( Gora Kalwaria ), and later at Przysucha, becoming in 1849 the leader of a large group of Ḥasidim at Amshinov. Like his father he was active in Jewish affairs. Following enactment of the law prohibiting Jews from growing a beard and sidelocks, he was put in prison with R. Isaac Meir of Gur on the charge of inciting the masses to revolt against the government. However, he succeeded in obtaining revocation of the decree and received a personal certificate of protection from a minister in Warsaw, forbidding anybody to harm him. He died in Italy where he had gone for medical treatment. His son MENAHEM (1860–1918), continued to head the Amshinov dynasty for 40 years.

The second son of Isaac, MENAHEM MENDEL OF WARKA (1819–1868), continued the Warka ḥasidic dynasty. He was known as the "silent ẓaddik." In contrast to his brother Jacob David, in his youth he was not very studious. After his father's death he refused to take over the leadership. However, Shraga Feivel of Goerits, who substituted for him, died six months later, and Menahem Mendel then became the leader against his will. He usually secluded himself and conversed and taught little on Torah, mainly speaking briefly and by implication. Most of the time he spent in silence in accordance with the scriptural saying, "To thee silence is praise" (Ps. 65:2). In Menahem Mendel's opinion, one should not speak of the Torah unless one is overflowing with it. The real cry of prayer is worship within the heart, without uttering a sound, and on this point he would preach with quotations from many biblical verses. In his words, man possesses three fine things: an erect bow, a silent shout, and a motionless dance. From what his pupils related it would appear that silence was his mode of speech. Tales describe meetings between him and contemporary ẓaddikim where not a word was uttered, all sitting in complete silence. His pupil, Dov Baer of Biala, testified that he sat with the rabbi and all his Ḥasidim around the table in dead silence: "I felt that all my blood vessels were about to burst, so closely did he examine me, but I passed the test and gave replies to all his questions." Menahem Mendel was even gay in his silence, preaching forgetfulness of the cares of the morrow, and was given to strong drink, which in his opinion led to the love of God, and joy.

Menahem Mendel's son, SIMHAH BUNEM (1851–1907), emigrated to Ereẓ Israel in 1887. He was imprisoned by the Turks and expelled after spending some months in Tiberias. He went back to Poland, staying in Otwock, and returned to Ereẓ Israel in 1906. At first he lived in Jerusalem but settled in Tiberias shortly before his death.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

A.Y. Brombeg, Mi-Gedolei ha-Ḥasidut, 3 (1952); N. Benari, Ha-Ẓaddik ha-Shotek (1965); R. Mahler, Ha-Ḥasidut ve-ha-Haskalah (1961), index; J. Shatzky, Geshikhte fun Yidn in Varshe, 2 (1948); M. Buber, Tales of the Ḥasidim, 2 (19663), 290–302; L.I. Newman, Hasidic Anthology (1963), index.