Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Bnei Brak: A Unique City

In Israel, there are any number of towns that identify themselves as primarily religious. There are none, however, that are as distinct or well-known for being as intensely religious as Bnei Brak. 

Bnei Brak is actually a historic location. A city of this name is mentioned in the Book of Joshua (19:45) as part of the territory of Dan. Additionally, the location is also mentioned in Haggadah.

Bnei Brak today is a city that is almost entirely Chareidi (the term used in Israel to designate the "ultra-Orthodox), and this actually fulfils that nature of the settlement as it was when Bnei Brak was first founded. The year was 1924 (June 13th), and the settlement was founded by a man named Yitzchok Gerstenkorn. Established as an agricultural settlement, the Polish chassisim who settled there built their lives around Jewish tradition. It was even noted that one of the first buildings that was built was a Beit Midrash, a house of study, because after a full day’s labor, the men wanted to resume their learning immediately.

Although its original settlers were traditional, Bnei Brak’s transformation into a the center of religious Judaism was not immediate. An important role, however, was played by some of the significant leaders who took up residence there. Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karlitz (the Chazon Ish), one of the most influential rabbis of the early 20th century Israel, moved to Bnei Brak from Vilna in 1933. In 1944, after the original Ponevitch Yeshiva in Europe was destroyed, the yeshiva was brought to the city by Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman. Drawn by the Torah leaders and the yeshiva, by 1950 the population of Bnei Brak was large enough for city status. Shortly thereafter, chassidic communities began to settle there along side the yeshivot. The first was the Vizhnitzer Rebbe and his chassidim, who came in the 1950s. The next decade saw many chassidic groups from the Ukraine and elsewhere settle in Bnei Brak.

 Located to the east of Tel Aviv, many of Israel’s most influential religious figures today live in Bnei Brak.

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