The Belzer Rebbe, Rav Aharon Rokeach zt”l, Upon His Yahrtzeit, Today, 21 Av


rav-aharon-of-belzRav Aharon Rokeach zt”l was the fourth rebbe of the Belzer dynasty. He led the chassidus from 1926 until his passing in 1957. Rav Aharon inherited the mantle of leadership from his father, Rav Yissachar Dov Rokeach, upon the latter’s petirah in 1926. Known for his piety, Rav Aharon inspired thousands.

Rav Aharon’s rule as rebbe saw the devastation of the Belz community, along with that of many other chassidic kehillos in Galicia and elsewhere in Poland during the Holocaust. During the Holocaust, Rav Aharon was high on the list of Gestapo targets as a high-profile rebbe. He and his brother, Rav Mordechai of Bilgorai, spent most of the war hiding from the Nazis and moving from place to place, with the support and financial assistance of their chassidim both inside and outside Europe. Eventually, they were taken out of Europe via a series of escapes.

His son-in-law, Rav Shmiel Frankel perished in Premishlan on Erev Yom Kippur in 1942, together with his wife, Rivkah Miriam, and their children, Levi Yitzchok, Pinchos, and Toby. His eldest son, Rav Shlomo, perished later in the month of Cheshvan.

Rav Aharon and Rav Mordechai immigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine in 1944. The two lost their entire extended families, including their wives, children, and grandchildren. Both remarried shortly after arriving in Eretz Yisroel, although only Rav Mordechai produced an heir, Rav Yissachar Dov Rokeach. After Rav Mordechai’s sudden passing in 1948, his son was groomed by Rav Aharon to be the next Belzer Rebbe. Under Rav Aharon’s leadership, Belz  was reborn after the war in Israel and, to a lesser extent in the United States.

Rav Aharon was clearly touched by the Holocaust. Unlike some others who had survived the Holocaust, it was Rav Aharon’s personal custom to never speak of the Belzer chassidim who had died during the war, particularly members of his own family.

On one occasion, Arthur Hertzberg, a descendant of Belzer chassidim, visited the rebbe and attempted to talk to him about Belz before the war:

“He talked willingly of [my] grandfather, remembering that… [he] had been his teacher when he was young, but he was totally silent when I mentioned my mother’s father and her brothers, who had been his disciples until they were murdered during the war. I was upset. This strange behavior was later explained to me by his principal assistant: the rebbe had not once said any of the prescribed prayers (Yizkor, Kaddish) for his wife and children because those who had been killed by the Nazis for being Jews were of transcendent holiness; they were beyond our comprehension. Any words about them that we might utter were irrelevant and perhaps even a desecration of their memory.”

For Rav Aharon, the only proper way to respond to the near-destruction of Belz and chassidus, and honor the memory of the kedoshim, was to build new institutions and slowly nurture a new generation. This task has been continued and largely accomplished by his nephew, the present rebbe of Belz.

{Shmiel Newscenter}



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