Biala Rebbe

Rabbi Yechiel Yehoshua Rabinowitz, Biala-Jerusalem Rebbe

The Biala Hasidic Dynasty is branch of the Peshischa (Przysucha) dynasty whose first rebbe was Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak, known as the Holy Jew of Peshischa, a disciple of Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak of Lublin (the Seer of Lublin). The Seer was a disciple of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, who was a disciple of Rabbi the Maggid (preacher) of Mezritch, the successor to the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism. Tonight begins the Yahrzeit of the Bailer Rebbe of Jerusalem, Rabbi Yechiel Yehoshua Rabinowitz (1900 – 21 Shevat, 1982).

The Rebbe was born in Shedlitz, Poland to Rabbi Yerachmiel Tzvi of Biala-Shedlitz, the son of the first Biala Rebbe, Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Rabinowitz, who was the son of Rabbi Nathan David Rabinowitz of Shidlovtza, the son of Rabbi Yerachmiel Tzvi Rabinowitz of Peshischa, son of Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Rabinowitz, the Holy Jew of Peshischa.

At six years old, the young Yechiel Yehoshua was sent by his father to study under his maternal grandfather, Rabbi Aryeh Leib of Urzhov. He was soon recognized as a child prodigy by many of the great Rabbis of Poland. His father passed away at a young age and he was raised by his uncle, Rabbi Meir Shlomo Rabinowitz of Mezritch. In 1924, Rabbi Yechiel Yehoshua was recognized as the Biala Rebbe by the followers of his late father in Shedlitz. In 1935, the Rebbe made an attempt to move to the Holy Land, but was unable to at the time. It was during that year that the Rebbe completed his study of the entire Talmud for the fourth time.

When the Nazis arrived in Shedlitz, the Rebbe was imprisoned together with the other residents of the town. The Rebbe and his family managed to head east and escape to Russia, and thus were spared the worst horrors of the Holocaust. However, the Communists exiled the Rebbe to Siberia where he was subjected to torture, then put to hard labor. In Siberia, the Rebbe did not give up even the smallest of his religious practices. He broke the ice of rivers for daily mikvah immersion, once almost being shot by a Russian guard who mistook the Rebbe for an animal in the river. Despite the suffering he faced there, the Rebbe managed to clandestinely organize a congregation of Jews for communal prayer and Torah study. In the late hours of Sabbath nights, after returning from forced labor, the Rebbe lead Hassidic “tishen” (celebrations around a Rebbe’s table). Once, on Rosh Hashanah, the Rebbe was standing in devoted prayer, leading a congregation, when Russians guards entered. The entire congregation fled in fear, but the Rebbe was unaware of the guards’ entrance amidst his intense prayer, and was severely beaten by them.

The Rebbe spent five years in Siberia, and then returned to Poland, to find his entire former life destroyed. In 1947, he moved to the Holy Land, where he was able to rebuild the Hasidic dynasty of Biala, and preserve the chain started by the Holy Jew of Peshischa. The Rebbe settled in Tel Aviv and was well received by the Holocaust survivors from Poland there. All who saw the Rebbe were in awe of his righteousness. He would spend most of the day in his tallit and tefillin immersed in prayer and study.

In 1955, the Rebbe moved to the Jerusalem, where he spent the rest of his life. The great rabbinical leaders of the generation, even those who were not Hasidic, were amazed by the intensity of the Biala Rebbe’s prayers. Grand Rabbi Yisrael Alter of Garr lived next door to the Biala Rebbe and would open his window on the night of the Sabbath to hear the Biala Rebbe recite Kiddush (sanctification of Sabbath wine). The Gaon Rabbi Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, the famed Brisker Rabbi, would stop when he passed by the Biala Rebbe’s synagogue in the morning, to hear the Rebbe recite Kriat Shema (acclimation of the unity of God).

In his final years the Rebbe fell very ill, suffering from a stroke in 1976. Many great Rabbis would come to visit the Rebbe in his illness and were amazed at his great efforts to perform the mitzvot, such as lighting Chanukah candles, despite his condition.

The Rebbe was buried in the Mountain of Olives Cemetery in Jerusalem. He was succeeded by his son, Grand Rabbi David Mattityahu Rabinowitz. He had three other sons, who also became Rebbe’s: Rabbi Yerachmiel Tzvi Rabinowitz, was the Biala-Peshischa Rebbe in the Har Nof section of Jerusalem; Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Rabinowitz is the Biala Rebbe in the Ramat Aharon section of Bnei Brak; and Rabbi Ben Tzion Rabinowitz is the Rabbi of Lugano, Switzerland.

The Rebbe authored many Hasidic books, including Kedushat Chelkat Yehoshua and Seder HaYom.