Rabbi Mordechai Hager, Leader of Large Hasidic Sect, Dies …

Posted By on March 17, 2018

Like most Hasidim, he believed Israel should have never been created as a state until the arrival of the Messiah. Nevertheless, he recognized that the state was a practical reality and honored those ultra-Orthodox legislators who took part in the Israeli government.

That stance often put him at odds with the Satmar Hasidim, Americas largest and arguably most austere sect and the dominant one in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where the Viznitz also have a significant presence.

Rabbi Hager did not let himself be bullied by Satmars power. When a Satmar grand rabbi wanted to stretch the length of the Sabbath day as a mark of extra piety, Rabbi Hager refused to go along, indicating that he wanted to be faithful to the traditions of his ancestors.

And he opposed the public school district that was created for disabled students in the upstate Satmar village of Kiryas Joel; he said he was not pleased that the school, because it was public, would not be able to teach its students to say Jewish blessings or explain the concept of a Jewish god.

More recently he was not happy that Orthodox Jews who do not send their children to public school nevertheless dominated the board of the public school district of East Ramapo, N.Y., which embraces Kaser. He viewed the situation as unnecessarily provocative.

He spoke his mind, said Mr. Rapaport, himself a Viznitz Hassid. He did not believe in public confrontation with the secular world. He believed in quiet diplomacy, and if it doesnt work, it doesnt work.

More than anything, Rabbi Hagers Hasidim venerated him for his deep knowledge of the Talmud. He was said to study its volumes and commentaries 18 hours a day, and when diabetes left him blind about 10 years ago, he had teams of volunteers read the rabbinical legal debates to him.

Mordechai Hager was born on July 20, 1922, in Oradea, Romania, known among Yiddish speakers as Grosswardein. His father, Chaim Meir Hager, was the fourth grand rabbi of Vyzhnytsia (Viznitz in Yiddish), the village in the Carpathian foothills in what is today western Ukraine; the village had been the seat of this Hasidic dynasty since its beginnings in the mid-19th century.

During World War I, Russian soldiers wantonly murdered many of Viznitzs Jews, forcing the dynasty to shift its base to Grosswardein, in a region that vacillated between Hungary and Romania. The mother of Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Prize-winning author and teacher, and his grandfather were Viznitz Hasidim, and Mr. Wiesel, though he was not Hasidic, had a deep knowledge of Viznitz melodies.

At an early age, Rabbi Hager displayed maverick traits. Grosswardein did not have a Hasidic yeshiva, and young Mordechai, feeling isolated from schoolmates, ran away to the Hungarian village Satu Mare to study in a yeshiva operated by the Satmar (Satu Mare in Yiddish) dynasty.

When, during World War II, the Germans occupied Hungary Grosswardein was now within its borders the Hager family made its way to Bucharest, Romanias capital, with the help of a Hasidic smuggling network. Bucharest had become a kind of Hasidic Casablanca, with desperate refugees, including the grand rabbis of Skver and Bobov, seeking documents that could take them to the United States or Palestine.

In Bucharest, Rabbi Hager married Feige Malka Twersky, the daughter of the grand rabbi of Skver, whose followers are now clustered in New Square in Rockland County. She died of an infection a few months later, and Rabbi Hager married her sister Sima Mirel.

The couple had eight sons and six daughters. Rabbi Hagers wife died a decade ago. The eldest son, Pinchas Sholom, died in 2015.

The seven surviving sons, each of whom heads a Viznitz congregation in either London, Montreal, Israel, New York City or Kiamesha Lake, N.Y., are Yisroel, Mendel, Yitzchok Yochonon, Aron, Dovid, Eliezer, and Boruch.

The daughters, each of whom is married to a rabbi with distinguished Hasidic pedigree, are Tziporah, Malka Chana, Hinda, Chava Reizel, Golda and Bracha. Rabbi Hager also leaves a sister in Israel, Tziporah Friedman.

His older brother, Moshe, received a certificate to immigrate to British-controlled Palestine. In 1972 he became the head of the other major Viznitz community, centered in the town of Bnei Brak. He died in 2012.

Rabbi Hager could not get a visa to Palestine, but he and his father-in-law were able to immigrate to the United States in 1948.

Rabbi Hager settled in Williamsburg and became the head of the cavernous Viznitz synagogue at 6 Lee Avenue.

With the advent of the 1960s, Rabbi Hager was concerned that the society around him was becoming too free and less modest in dress and behavior. He decided to settle his tribe in the hamlet of Monsey in the town of Ramapo, where Orthodox families were already living and where there was a ready infrastructure of yeshivas, kosher stores and ritual baths.

The Hasidim needed expansive houses and apartments for their large families, but Ramapo zoning laws discouraged such building. Viznitz leaders decided in 1990 to carve out their own village, just as Satmar had done in Kiryas Joel in Orange County and the Skver Hasidim had done in nearby New Square.

The village name, Kaser, is the Hebrew word for crown when spoken with a Yiddish inflection. It became an independent municipality in 1990. With 5,300 residents squeezed into one-tenth of a square mile, it is considered the most densely populated in the state, and the fifth most densely populated in the nation.

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Rabbi Mordechai Hager, Leader of Large Hasidic Sect, Dies …

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