Menu JTA Search

Rabbi Israel Alter Dead at 82

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

Some 50,000 persons attended the funeral service yesterday of the Hasidic Rabbi of Gur, Rabbi Israel Alter, who died here yesterday at the age of 82. The stream of people followed the rabbi’s bier from the Orthodox Geula quarter through East Jerusalem to the burial site on the Mount of Olives. At the rabbi’s request there were no eulogies.

Alter headed the largest Hasidic sect in Israel, with branches in New York City, London, Antwerp and other cities with Orthodox Jews. His followers, numbering in the tens of thousands, were, however, the decimated remnants of what had been the largest Hasidic movement in pre-Hitler Europe.

The rabbi’s first wife, children and grandchildren were killed by the Nazis. Alter, his aged father and some other members of the family managed to escape. The rabbi remarried but had no children with his second wife. Sources close to the Gur establishment said today that no last testament has been found signed by Alter designating a successor.

Alter built an ultra-modern “beit midrash” and home in one of Jerusalem’s Orthodox quarters, and this served as the focal point for his bearded, black-clad followers who can be seen in their distinctive garb in all of Israel’s main towns. As behind-the-scenes head of the Aguda Party, Alter exercised considerable indirect influence in Israeli politics, though this waned in his later years when he became more secluded and less involved in general affairs.

He was consulted on personal, financial and other problems by Jews of all shades of Orthodoxy and all walks of life. Twice a day he would receive people–and the long queues always represented a cross-section of Israeli society–alongside the “regulars”–the bearded Hasidim. Alter was famed for his razor-sharp wit and penetrating mind.

NEXT STORY