The recent death in Vienna of the noted Czortkower Rebbe, Rabbi Israel Friedmann, of the famous Chassidic dynasty of rabbis founded by Rabbi Baer of Mezheritz, pupil and successor of the founder of Chassidism, the Ba’al Shem Tov, has brought sorrow to his numerous American followers, who regard his passing as a major catastrophe for the Chassidic world. However, his 52-year-old son, Rabbi Nahum Mordecai Friedmann, will carry on as successor to his father and the line of Chassidic rabbis begun in the latter part of the eighteenth century will continue in an unbroken line. He has a younger brother, the 30-year-old Rabbi David. Rabbi Nahum, it is said, plans to return to Czortkow, where he will rebuild his father’s house, destroyed during the late war.
American followers of the Czortkower Rebbe are said to number thousands here in New York and through the rest of the country. They are reluctant to discuss the miracles attributed to him although they were willing enough to talk of his greatness, his marvelous scholarship, his imposing personality, his versatility, and the respect shown for him by Gentiles. Rabbi Israel never opened a secular book after his thirteenth birthday, yet, according to them, he could discuss the most recent scientific developments, astronomy, physics and other subjects such as world politics. The rabbi, his followers said, remembered names and dates, and once unerringly recalled the name of one of his followers after thirty years, even telling him the name and ages of his children in the proper order.
REDEEMED FROM DEVILS
An aged New York rabbi told of an episode to which he himself had been a party. A pious young Jew in an American city was beset with devils. Every time he said his prayers, images of devils, who took various forms, appeared to harass him. Through the rabbi, he appealed to the Czortkower Rebbe in Vienna for aid. Following Chassidic custom, Rabbi Israel sent him a reply in the form of a letter containing a blessing. For a time the evil stopped, only to return later. A second appeal to Rabbi Israel for help brought the reply that the young man was a first-born son and had not been properly redeemed according to Jewish law. When the young man investigated, he found that it was so. He sent Rabbi Israel money for the redemption ceremony. The rabbi called in three Cohanim, descendants of the priestly tribe, and carried out the redemption ceremony. Since that time, the pious young man has been able to recite his prayers undisturbed.
Rabbi Israel, according to his followers, had an enormous income received from his followers all over the world. So great was his generosity to the poor and indigent, however, that he was constantly in debt. From the United States alone, it was said, he received an annual income of some twenty thousand dollars. Every year his followers made it a point to visit Rabbi Israel to strengthen their belief and obtain his blessing. It was customary for each pilgrim to leave a contribution for the upkeep of the rabbi’s establishment.
When Rabbi Israel lived in Czortkow, it was a common occurrence for him to be host on the Sabbath to several hundred guests who included famed Chassidic rabbis, followers, men prominent in the business world and scholars with all of whom he enjoyed discussion.
The establishment at Czortkow included the immediate followers of the rabbi, men who transacted his business and usually a group of singers including a Cantor who sang the prayers on Sabbath. Many of the famous European cantors came to Czortkow, especially for the purpose of singing before the rabbi. Music and the love of music are integral parts of Chassidism and the Czortkower Rebbe, like his ancestors, was deeply devoted to it.
Although Chassidic custom forbids rabbis from writing, the work of Rabbi Israel was gathered by his followers and published in two volumes, “Tiffereth Israel” and “Yismach Israel.”
Followers of Rabbi Israel declare that he was modern in his views, was very much concerned with world affairs on which he kept well-informed, and very much interested in the United States, about which he was always eager to acquire information.
FRIEND OF LUBLIN RABBI
Rabbi Israel was a close friend of the Lubliner Rabbi, the late Rabbi Meier Shapiro. When Rabbi Shapiro founded the Yeshiva “Chachmei Lublin”, Rabbi Israel appeared in Lublin for the ceremonies attended by thousands of followers.
The Czortkower Rebbe is also credited with the foundation of an orthodox organization in Czernowitz, Roumania, in 1912, known as the Agudath Chareidim. It was later transformed into the ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel.
The Friedmann dynasty, one of the greatest and most famous in the entire history of Chassidism, had its widest sphere of influence during the life of Israel the Ruschiner, grandson of Baer of Mezheritz, one of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s most ardent disciples.
Israel the Ruschiner was born near Kiev in 1797 and became rabbi of Ruschin at the age of sixteen. Possessed of a brilliant mind and a handsome appearance, Israel the Ruschiner early attracted great numbers of followers throughout Russia. He lived in great pomp and luxury, almost as a king, surrounded by devoted disciples. Members of the Russian and Polish nobility flocked to him for advice and counsel along with the thousands of his followers in all walks of life.
IN PRISON, A MARTYR
His great wealth, his lordly way of life and his aristocratic garb and bearing became legendary. He lived in a beautiful home, kept a carriage drawn by four horses and maintained a private orchestra to play for him.
Israel’s great hold over his multitudinous followers disturbed Czarist officials who had him imprisoned in the Kiev fortress in 1838. He spent twenty-two months in prison during which he was acclaimed as a martyr. On his release he went to Jassy and conducted negotiations with the Austrian government for permission to settle in Sadagora. This he received after some delay.
In Sadagora, he resumed living on a scale so grand that his neighbors declared he was planning to build a new Temple of Jerusalem there. Israel the Ruschiner did not