Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
On Thursday, August 21, a beis din ruling was issued by Rabbi Yechiel Babad, Rabbi Yitzchok Chaim Zeltenreich, Rabbi Avrohom Boruch Rosenberg, Rabbi Yitzchok Dov Berger, and Rabbi Yekusiel Zalman Gross in regard to the controversy and division within the Bobov Chassidic community following the passing of Rabbi Naftali Zvi Halberstam, zt’l (1931–2005), late Bobover Rebbe. The Bobover Kehillah divided into two—one faction following Rabbi Ben Zion Halberstam and the other following Rabbi Mordechai Dovid Ungar.
Rabbi Ben Zion is the younger brother of Rabbi Naftali Zvi, and Rabbi Mordechai Dovid is the son-in-law of Rabbi Naftali Zvi, each being held as the successor Bobover Rebbe. Highlights of the beis din ruling were the designation of the title of “Bobover Rebbe” on Rabbi Ben Zion and the restriction of the use of the name Bobover imposed upon Rabbi Mordechai Dovid. Adaptation of the name Bobover with some addition by Rabbi Mordechai Dovid was allowed by the beis din. The assets of the original Bobover kehillah were to be retained by Rabbi Ben Zion and monetary payment of more than $6 million must be paid by Rabbi Ben Zion to Rabbi Mordechai Dovid.
On Wednesday, August 2, 2000, an estimated 50,000 mourners converged on the Bobover Beis Medrash on 15th Avenue at 48th Street in Boro Park, to bid a tearful goodbye to one of the generation’s great chassidic leaders, Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam, zt’l (1907–2000), revered and beloved Bobover Rebbe and author of Kerem Shlomo, who passed away at the age of 92. Rabbi Shlomo was the last surviving major chassidic rebbe from before the Holocaust. His older son, Rabbi Naftali Zvi, was crowned as his successor, and his younger son, Rabbi Ben Zion Aryeh Leibish, was appointed as rav of the Bobover Kehillah. Rabbi Shlomo was the son of Rabbi Ben Zion Halberstam, zt’l (1873–1941), Bobover Rebbe and author of Kedushas Tzion; son of Rabbi Shlomo Halberstam, zt’l (1847–1905), founding Bobover Rebbe; son of Rabbi Mayer Noson, zt’l (1823–1855), son of Rabbi Chaim Halberstam, zt’l (1797–1876), venerated Sanzer Rebbe and author of Divrei Chaim.
Sadly, Rabbi Naftali Zvi was in failing health. For many months before he passed away, he was in a coma. Chassidim would bring newborn sons and place them upon the rebbe’s lap for the bris milah. One late Wednesday afternoon, March 23, 2005, thousands of mourners converged on the Bobover Beis Medrash to bid a tearful goodbye to one of the most beloved chassidic leaders, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Halberstam, zt’l (1931–2005), revered and beloved Bobover Rebbe who passed away at the age of 74.
At the time of the funeral, security guards were stationed in front of the buildings of the Bobover Kehillah, yeshiva, and girls’ school. The division within Bobov unfolded and the guards were there to prevent a takeover. Followers of Rabbi Mordechai Dovid were ardent and secured the use of several large facilities for kehillah functions. The huge assembly hall of the Bais Yaakov building on 15th Avenue at 45th Street was rented for tefillos. As the beis medrash of the Bobover Kehillah is on 48th Street and the followers of Rabbi Mordechai Dovid were using a facility at 45th Street, followers of Rabbi Ben Zion were referred to as “Bobov 48” and followers of Rabbi Mordechai Dovid were referred to as “Bobov 45.” Both Bobovs have developed into huge independent kehillos.
Amid speculation whether the two sides would follow the ruling of the beis din, a decision was made to pursue peace so that the two kehillos would live in harmony. Rabbi Mordechai Dovid has chosen to be identified as “Bobov 45.”
Rabbi Mordechai Dovid is the son of Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Ungar, zt’l (1932–2002), Dombrova Rebbe; son of Rabbi Benzion Ungar, zt’l Hy’d, Dombrova Rebbe; son of Rabbi Mordechai Dovid Ungar, zt’l (d. 1916), Dombrova Rebbe in Sanz; son of Rabbi Yisroel Elimelech Ungar, zt’l (1819–1867), Zshabna Rebbe who served for less than one year; son of Rabbi Yosef Ungar, zt’l (1800–1866), Dombrova Rebbe; son of Rabbi Mordechai Dovid Ungar, zt’l (1770–1846), founding Dumbrova Rebbe. Rabbi Mordechai Dovid (d. 1916) was a son-in-law of his great-uncle, Rabbi Moshe Ungar, zt’l (d. 1887), son-in-law of Rabbi Chaim Halberstam, zt’l (1797–1876), Sanzer Rebbe and author of Divrei Chaim. After Rabbi Moshe Ungar passed away in Palestine, his son-in-law established a beis medrash in Sanz.
The first major event that is identified using the officially sanctioned new title of Bobov 45 is the rebbe conducting a Shabbos in London on Shabbos Vayishlach. The participation of tens of thousands of chassidim is anticipated. The rebbe left Brooklyn on Sunday afternoon, November 30. Beginning at 4:00 p.m., in anticipation of the rebbe leaving to the airport, thousands of chassidim and yeshiva students lined up to escort the rebbe towards 15th Avenue, from outside the rebbe’s home at 1443 50th Street, holding flags and torches. Ladies and girls, sectioned off, also participated. The event was accompanied by music and song. In London, a grand kabbalas panim reception was held to welcome the rebbe at the Bobov 45 beis medrash there on Monday.
Accompanying the rebbe were thousands of chassidim from New York, Canada, Antwerp, and Israel. Thousands more are expected to join for Shabbos Vayishlach, December 6–7. Several committees have been working diligently to arrange lodging for traveling chassidim.
In London, for Monday and Tuesday the rebbe will be hosted at the family home of Rabbi Shlomo Frishwasser, Sasover Rav and grandson of the Kedushas Tzion. From Wednesday to Thursday, December 11, the rebbe will be the guest at the home of Rabbi Yechezkel Schlaf, Bilava rosh kollel.
In order to shelter the mass of chassidim during tefillos and tisch, a giant heated tent will be raised. As we go to press, a vast steel framework has been erected and is in place. v
Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum is the rav of B’nai Israel of Linden Heights in Boro Park and director of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.