Machberes: Inside The Chassidish And Yeshivish World
By Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum
The city of Munkacs. Archaeological findings indicate that Munkacs was settled before the Middle Ages, almost always under Russian influence. The city is known as Munkacs in Hungarian, Munkacheve and Muncacheve in Ukranian, Mukachevo in Russian, Muncaci and Munveag in Romanian, Mukacewo in Polish, Mukacevo in Czech and Slovakian, and Munkatsch in German and Yiddish.
Munkacs was settled by various Hungarian tribes from as early as 895. In the 1500s, Munkacs became part of Transylvania and was continuously under threat of being conquered by the expansionist Hapsburg Empire. In 1711, after the defeat of a revolt in Munkacs, the city came under Hapsburg control as part of the kingdom of Hungary and was made a key defensive fortress of the Hapsburg monarchy.
In 1919, after World War I, international agreements allowed Tomas Masaryk to incorporate Carpathian Ruthenia into Czechoslovakia and the whole region was occupied by Czechoslovak troops. On June 4, 1920, Mukacevo officially became part of Czechoslovakia. In November 1938, with the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, a part of the territory of the former kingdom of Hungary which included Munkacs was reannexed by Hungary. Munkacs was then the only town in Hungary with a Jewish majority until May 1944, when all of its 15,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz as part of the annihilation of Hungarian Jewry by the Nazis and Adolf Eichmann, yemach sh’mo.
State archive records date the Jewish community of Munkacs as early as the 1600s. Its Jewish population in 1825 was 2,131; in 1891, 5,049 (50% of the city’s total population); in 1910, 7,675; 1921, 10,000; and in 1930, 13,000 Jews resided in Munkacs.
The Rebbes. Munkacs’s Jews were led by a succession of Torah luminaries. Today’s vestige of the glorious Jewish community of Munkacs is led by Rabbi Moshe Leib Rabinovich, Munkacser Rebbe, headquartered in Boro Park. Today’s Munkacser Rebbe is the grandson of Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapiro, zt’l (1872–1937), Munkacser Rebbe and prolific author of Minchas Elazar; son of Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Shapiro, zt’l (1840–1913), Munkacser Rebbe and author of Darkei Teshuvah; son of Rabbi Shlomo Shapiro, zt’l (1831–1893), Munkacser Rebbe and author of Shem Shlomo; son of Rabbi Eliezer Shapiro, zt’l (1808–1864), Lantzuter Rebbe and author of Yodei Bina; son of Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Shapiro, zt’l (1784–1841) revered Dinover Rebbe and author of Bnei Yisoschor.
Today’s Munkacser Rebbe has visited Munkacs, in the Ukraine, often, and has invested resources to support the remnant Jewish community there, to preserve the cemetery and the burial places of his ancestors, and to acquire whatever old congregational facilities possible.
The 2001 bar mitzvah visit. To meaningfully celebrate the bar mitzvah of a grandson, the Munkacser Rebbe traveled to Munkacs in 2001. On Tishah B’Av afternoon of Sunday, July 29, a large group of chassidim assembled in the Malev Hungarian Airlines pavilion at Kennedy Airport. Most notable amongst the group was the Munkacser Rebbe, in preparation of boarding a flight to Budapest, Hungary. Their final destination was the city of Munkacs. The airline designated a counter to exclusively serve the gathering chassidim from many different cities in the United States and Canada.
On the flight, each member of the large group received a travel kit that contained various complimentary travel aids as well as numerous divrei Torah booklets, developing various themes in regard to tefillin, the 15th of Av, and the weekly reading of Va’eschanan. To break the fast, bags of rugelach were generously distributed to all aboard the flight.
The plane landed in Budapest on Monday morning, early enough for the group to proceed to the Kazinczy Shul, built in 1913 and still active. The shul was then being slowly, beautifully restored. It also has a well-maintained and lively courtyard in its center. There are also a number of apartments in which members of the community live. Throughout the year, the large shul, which has a beautiful wrought-iron wedding canopy behind it, a Jewish school, and a kosher restaurant, is sadly underused
Rabbi Aaron Gedalia Hoffman was then the rav of the Kazinczy Shul, located at utca 27. When the Munkacser group came for Shacharis, the shul once again reverberated with prayers. While the group ate a hearty breakfast in the adjoining social hall, the Rebbe honored Rabbi Hoffman by visiting him at his home.
In Budapest, additional chassidim from Israel and Europe joined the group as they boarded the many coach buses taking them to Munkacs.
After midnight, the buses pulled up to the Star Hotel in Munkacs. The Star Hotel is glatt Kosher and was established by Shmuel Aryeh (Alex) Rovt, a Munkacser offspring and a leading Boro Park entrepreneur. The hotel is noted for its free kitchen for the indigent. An elaborate meal was prepared and waiting for the hundreds of chassidim who came. Afterwards, the large group was divided and brought to several Munkacs hotels for lodging.
At dawn Tuesday morning, after a few hours’ rest and a quick dip into the then recently modernized Munkacs mikveh, preparations were made for the ascent to the gravesite of Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapiro, zt’l (1872–1937), revered Munkacser Rebbe and prolific author of Minchas Elazar. Upon approaching the ohel (mausoleum), an earnestness pervaded the group. As they followed the Munkacser Rebbe, the ohel became crowded. The Rebbe, standing at the tombstone of his grandfather, spoke to the group, tearfully imparting deeply felt emotions. Many were brought to tears as the Rebbe cried out. An international telephone hookup allowed the entire Munkacser Yeshiva in New York to hear the Rebbe’s every word.
After a complete reading of Tehillim at the gravesite, the group proceeded to the Minchas Elazar’s residence, a large multi-room facility presently being used by the Ukrainian military. The Rebbe was permitted to enter the room used by his grandfather for study and prayer. The room was called the “daven shtieb” by chassidim. There, in the spiritual headquarters of his grandfather, the Rebbe placed tefillin on his oldest grandson on his bar mitzvah day, a poignant moment that spanned generations of the Munkacser dynasty. Chassidim were allowed into the room only a handful at a time.
A large tent had been erected where the Munkacser beis medrash once stood, adjacent to the Minchas Elazar’s home. Shacharis was immediately begun, followed by a large breakfast served in the tent. The Rebbe’s grandson recited the traditional p’shetel Torah discourse. Amongst the many chassidishe rebbes and rabbis who were present were Rabbi Mordechai Beck, Monsey Rosh Mesivta; Rabbi Shlomo Yom Tov Breier, Berditchever Rav; Rabbi Mordechai Gelber, Bnei Brak Munkacser Dayan; Rabbi Boruch Avrohom Horowitz of Bobov; Rabbi Elisha Horowitz, Novominsker Rosh Kollel; Rabbi Yosef Horowitz, Munkacser Rosh Kollel; Rabbi Nochum Zvi Josephy (zt’l), Houstoner Rav; and Rabbi Chaim Elazar Rabinowitz, Munkacser Rosh Yeshiva.
The Minchas Elazar
The Minchas Elazar was the son-in-law of Rabbi Shraga Yair Rabinowitz, zt’l (1839–1912), Biala’varzig Rebbe and author of Oren Eidus. The Darkei Teshuvah was the son-in-law of Rabbi Chanina Horowitz, zt’l (d. 1881), Ulinover Rebbe. The Shem Shlomo was the son-in-law of Rabbi Yekusiel Shmelka Erblich, zt’l (1800–1861), Sasover Rebbe; son of Rabbi Moshe Leib Erblich, zt’l (1745–1807), Sasover Rebbe and author of Chidushei Ramal. The Yodei Binah was the son-in-law of Rabbi Yehoshua Heschel of Dukla, zt’l. The Bnei Yisoschor was the son-in-law of Rabbi Ben Tzion Yitzchok, zt’l, Koshiga Rav and brother-in-law of the Noam Elimelech, as well as of Rabbi Meshulam Zushe Lipman, zt’l (d. 1800), Anipoli Rebbe and author of Menoras Zahav.
Rabbi Chanina Horowitz, grandfather of the Minchas Elazar, was the son of Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, zt’l (d. 1837), Melitzer Rebbe, who was also known as the Baal Shem Tov Katan; son of Rabbi Naftali Zvi Horowitz, zt’l (1760–1827), Ropshitzer Rebbe and author of Zera Kodesh. Rabbi Chanina Horowitz was the son-in-law of Rabbi Eliezer Horowitz, zt’l (d. 1860), Djikover Rebbe and son of the Zera Kodesh.
Recognized as a Talmudic genius early on, the Minchas Elazar was appointed as Munkacser Rosh Beis Din in 1903 and succeeded his father upon his passing in 1913. A prolific author, the Minchas Elazar wrote more than 30 sefarim, several of which are multivolume works studied in all chassidishe and yeshivish centers of Torah study. With exceptionally great wisdom, he guided his community to growth, peace, and prosperity. Under his reign, the Jewish community grew to be the majority of Munkacs’s population.
World Jewry focused its attention on the Minchas Elazar when he traveled to Israel in 1930 and when he married off his daughter in 1933. Journalists from all over the world joined the more than 20,000 participants who came from Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and elsewhere. Photographers filmed the wedding, which today serves as one of the treasures of Munkacser chassidim, as well as Jewish and chassidishe history. The secular world, too, found greatness in the Minchas Elazar. Heads of state of many countries regularly sought his advice and guidance.
This year’s yahrzeit. The yahrzeit of the Minchas Elazar will be commemorated on Shabbos Parshas Naso, 2 Sivan (May 30–31). Thousands of Munkacser chassidim will converge on the main Munkacser beis medrash on 14th Avenue at 47th Street in Boro Park. Today’s Munkacser Rebbe is sought out routinely for advice and blessing by leading chassidishe rebbeim, roshei yeshivos, kehillah rabbanim, businessmen, and others. His address is well known as a wellspring of clarity and wisdom for those who are troubled. The Munkacser Rebbe will be conducting the tefillos, tisch, and a Siyum HaShas on the yahrzeit Shabbos.
The following times are approximate and have yet to be confirmed. Friday Minchah and Kabbalas Shabbos will begin at 8:40 p.m. Friday-night tisch will be at 11:30 p.m. and will last late into the night. Communal Tehillim recited by Munkacser children will begin at 9:00 a.m., with Shabbos Shacharis at 9:30 a.m., followed by a grand kiddush. The Siyum HaShas will be part of the yahrzeit tisch, which will begin at 6:00 p.m. Shabbos Minchah is at approximately 8:00 p.m., followed immediately by shalosh seudos.
Special groups of askanim have been working feverishly for the past few weeks to ensure that all the guests are comfortably accommodated. Local chassidim have opened up their homes, and rooms in the local hotels and dormitory rooms have been set aside to ensure that everyone will be hosted befittingly. All of the seudos on Shabbos will be held in the beis medrash building, where the age-old melodies and zemiros of the Munkacser Rebbes will be sung and divrei Torah will be discussed. The guests will have the special z’chus of having the Rebbe, shlita, join and conduct the Shabbos afternoon meal. To make a reservation to join the seudos Shabbos or for lodging arrangements, please call 347-962-8172. On Friday, in advance of Shabbos, refreshments will be served to all guests in the shul’s hall beginning at 5:00 p.m. 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 email@example.com.