Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam
American rabbi
Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam
Yekusiel Yehudah Halberstam was an Orthodox rabbi and the founding rebbe of the Sanz-Klausenburg Hasidic dynasty. Halberstam became one of the youngest rebbes in Europe, leading thousands of followers in the town of Klausenburg, Romania, before World War II. His wife, eleven children and most of his followers were murdered by the Nazis while he was incarcerated in several concentration camps.
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  • 1994
    Age 89
    Halberstam died on June 18, 1994, and was buried in Netanya.
    More Details Hide Details In his will, he divided leadership of the Sanzer Hasidim between his two sons, His elder son, Zvi Elimelech Halberstam, became the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe (also known as the Sanzer Rebbe) of Netanya; Samuel David Halberstam became the Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe of Brooklyn.
  • 1982
    Age 77
    In addition to his achievements in rebuilding the Sanz-Klausenberg dynasty and establishing many communal institutions, one of the Rebbe's most far-reaching accomplishments was his establishment of "Mifal HaShas" ("Talmud Factory") in 1982.
    More Details Hide Details This worldwide project encourages thousands of Jewish men and boys to study copious amounts of Talmud and Shulchan Aruch and complete written tests on 20–30 pages per month in return for a monthly stipend. Mifal HaShas continues to operate today worldwide. The Israeli and European operations are under the leadership of Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Halberstam, the Rebbe's oldest son and current Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe of Israel. The North American operations are under the leadership of Rabbi Samuel David Halberstam, the Rebbe's other son and current Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe of Brooklyn. The Rebbe recorded his Torah novellae in Shefa Chayim and She'eilos Uteshuvos Divrei Yatziv.
  • 1981
    Age 76
    After the 2008 Mumbai attacks it had become very widely discussed among Orthodox Jews that the event was propheciesed by the Rebbe in 1981 in an audio-recorded lecture.
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  • 1980
    Age 75
    The vision for establishing the hospital originated during the Holocaust. At the cornerstone-laying for the second building in 1980, he told the assemblage in Yiddish:
    More Details Hide Details I was saved from the gas chambers, saved from Hitler.
  • 1968
    Age 63
    In 1968 he founded another Sanz community in Union City, New Jersey, and afterwards divided his time between that community and his residence in Netanya.
    More Details Hide Details The Rebbe is known for having established Laniado Hospital, a voluntary, not-for-profit 484-bed hospital in Kiryat Sanz, Netanya. The hospital is run according to Jewish law.
  • 1962
    Age 57
    He petitioned the authorities for a building permit, but was not granted one until the left-wing Minister of Health left office in 1962 and the Health Ministry was given to a religious party.
    More Details Hide Details Halberstam spent 15 years raising funds to build the hospital, which would come to be named Laniado Hospital, after the Laniado brothers, two bankers from Switzerland whose estate provided a $300,000 donation for the Rebbe. The hospital's first building, an outpatient clinic, opened in 1975. In the next few years, a maternity ward, emergency room, internal medicine department, a cardiology unit, and an intensive-care unit opened. The hospital continued to expand, and today encompasses two medical centers, a children’s hospital, a geriatric center and a nursing school, serving a regional population of over 450,000.
  • 1960
    Age 55
    The Rebbe moved permanently to Israel in 1960, settling in Netanya and directing both the community there and in Williamsburg.
    More Details Hide Details He also founded battei medrash and schools in other cities in Israel, and established the Kiryat Sanz neighborhood of Jerusalem as well.
  • 1958
    Age 53
    The Rebbe's decision to move to the United States was not a permanent one. Throughout his travails in the Holocaust, he always had in mind the goal of settling in Israel. Toward that end, he established the Kiryat Sanz neighborhood in the beachside city of Netanya in 1958.
    More Details Hide Details In so doing, he was the first Rebbe to establish a Haredi neighborhood in an Israeli development town. Over the next few years, he raised money for the establishment of key neighborhood institutions, including girls' and boys' schools and yeshivas, an orphanage, and an old-age home.
  • 1947
    Age 42
    On Friday, August 22, 1947, he married his second wife, Chaya Nechama Ungar, the orphaned daughter of the Nitra Rav, Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Ungar.
    More Details Hide Details The match was made by Rabbi Michael Ber Weissmandl, Ungar's son-in-law who had survived the Holocaust and re-established his yeshiva in Somerville, New Jersey. The tenayim were held in Weissmandl's Nitra Yeshiva, while the chuppah and dancing were held at Yeshivas She'aris Hapleitah, the Rebbe's yeshiva in Somerville. Although the Klausenberger Rebbe had gone to great lengths to allow agunos and widowers to remarry after the Holocaust, relying on testimonies from people who had seen their spouses being led "to the left" in the Nazi selections rather than documented evidence, the Rebbe did not rely on the testimonies of his first wife's death. Instead, he sought the approval of 100 rabbis and sat on the ground for half an hour in mourning for his first wife before he remarried. He and his second wife had five daughters and two sons. His sons, Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Halberstam and Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Halberstam, succeeded him, respectively, as Sanzer Rebbe of Netanya and Klausenberger-Sanz Rebbe of New York.
    He established his court in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, in 1947.
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  • 1946
    Age 41
    In spring 1946 the Rebbe made a special fund-raising trip to New York on behalf of She'eris HaPleita, raising $100,000, a huge sum in those days.
    More Details Hide Details That fall, he embarked on another fund-raising trip and decided to resettle in New York to strengthen the American Jewish community there and to continue working for Holocaust survivors from that side of the Atlantic.
  • 1945
    Age 40
    In fall 1945, Halberstam moved to the new DP camp of Föhrenwald, a larger location in Munich which he turned into the center of religious Jewish life for all the DP camps.
    More Details Hide Details Here the Rebbe created a communal survivors organization called Sh'erit ha-Pletah ("the surviving remnant"), which operated religious schools for boys and girls and yeshivos for young men in 19 different DP camps. In addition, Halberstam set up a kosher slaughterhouse; built a kosher mikveh; acquired and distributed religious articles such as tzitzit, tefillin and mezuzot; raised money to help couples marry; and established Halakhic (Jewish legal) guidelines for men and women who had no proof of their spouse's death, enabling them to remarry and start new families. On Yom Kippur, 1945, General Dwight D. Eisenhower visited the camps and came to see Halberstam, who had received a reputation as a "wonder rabbi". However, the Rebbe would not speak with him until he had finished his prayers. Afterwards he told the general, "I was praying before the General of Generals, King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He. The earthly general had to wait." Impressed by the rabbi's leadership and frankness, Eisenhower asked him if there was any way he could help him in his efforts. In typical fashion, Halberstam asked for a small sample of the Four Species so that the survivors could properly celebrate the upcoming Sukkot holiday.
  • 1941
    Age 36
    Between 1941 and 1944, the Rebbe never stopped studying Torah and praying for the Jewish people. On March 19, 1944 the Germans invaded Hungary and Gestapo chief Adolf Eichmann immediately organized the round-up, ghettoization, and deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz. The Klausenberg ghetto was established on May 1, 1944, and was liquidated via six transports to Auschwitz between late May and early June.
    More Details Hide Details Knowing that the Gestapo targeted community leaders first, the Rebbe hid in an open grave in a cemetery for several weeks. He then fled to the town of Banya, where he was conscripted into a forced-labor camp along with 5000 other Hungarian Jews. Though hunger was not a problem here—the barbed-wire enclosure had a back exit through which Jews could buy bread and milk from non-Jews—the Hungarian soldiers constantly badgered and searched inmates for their valuables. The Rebbe shaved his beard as authorized by the Hungarian Chief Orthodox Rabbinate. He continued to conduct prayer services and even a Shabbat tisch. Conditions were not harsh, and he and many prisoners bribed the authorities to refrain from labor. About a month after the Rebbe's arrival, the Arrow Cross took over Hungary. The inmates underwent selection, and He was ferried to the Auschwitz labor camp. Several months beforehand, the Rebbe's wife and nine of their children who remained with her were also sent to Auschwitz on a transport from Klausenberg. They did not survive. Halberstam, however, survived Auschwitz, and was later released.
  • 1927
    Age 22
    In 1927, at the age of 22 and at the behest of his remote uncle Joel Teitelbaum, Halberstam accepted the post of Rav of the "Sefardi congregation" in Klausenburg, Romania.
    More Details Hide Details The group, comprising mainly hasidim, split from the official Orthodox community because of the alleged Zionism of Rabbi Moshe Glassner. They used a clause which allowed them to maintain an independent ("Status Quo") congregation. Although he was relatively young, he impressed the community with his charismatic personality, wisdom, and warmth toward Jews of all backgrounds. During the 16 years he spent there, he exhibited many of the qualities that would set him apart during his imprisonment by the Nazis. He slept only three hours a night, often on a synagogue bench, and he often ate only one meal a day, reserving bread for the Sabbath. He spent much of his day in prayer and study. His love for and faith in God was legendary. He also paid special attention to children, founding a yeshivah in which 100 students learned in Klausenberg.
  • 1921
    Age 16
    In 1921, Halberstam married his second cousin, Chana Teitelbaum, the daughter of Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Teitelbaum, the Rav of Sighet, Romania.
    More Details Hide Details She was also a descendant of the Divrei Chaim: her maternal grandfather, Rabbi Sholom Eliezer Halberstam, was the sixth of the seven sons of the Sanzer Rav and his paternal grandmother was a sister of her paternal grandfather. The young couple lived in her father's house for the next five years.
  • 1905
    Age 0
    Born on January 10, 1905.
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