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Late Rebbe’s Brother Installed As New Rebbe for House of Ger

In a surprise move, Rabbi Pinhas Menahem Alter has become the new rebbe of the Hasidic house of Ger.

Rabbi Alter, 66, is the younger brother of the late rebbe, Simcha Bunim Alter, who died last week at the age of 95.

The Hasidim had expected the post to go to the late rebbe’s only son, 52-year-old Rabbi Ya’acov. But the rebbe made no provision for a successor in his will, and Ya’acov resolutely refused to accept the position, deferring to his uncle.

The new rebbe was installed on Tuesday evening, hours after the shiva mourning period ended for his brother. Thousands of Hasidim from all over the country, and hundreds more from overseas, filed past the new rebbe for more than three hours and then joined the community in a festive prayer service.

Alter, a noted Talmud scholar, has served until now as dean of the flagship Gerer yeshiva, S’fat Emet in Jerusalem, and as chairman of the Agudat Yisrael party. In that capacity, he led the party, in 1977, into its long-lived alliance with the Likud — an alliance which formed the basis of the right-religious governments that ruled Israel for 15 years.

The new rebbe has five children. A sixth, Arye, was killed in a road accident five years ago at the age of 27, leaving a young widow and son.

Ger is the largest Hasidic house in Israel, numbering some 4,000 registered families and an estimated total of close to 30,000 men, women and children. It has branches in the United States, Britain and Belgium.

But the sect had suffered through a frustrating period during the long years of the late rebbe’s illness, when he was largely confined to his home and did not officiate at services or at the “tish,” the festive Shabbat meals that are the heart of Hasidic life.

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