Hasidic Leader Yaakov Friedman, the Admor of Sadigura, Dies at 84

Rabbi's death comes at a time of deepening rifts, leadership crisis in ultra-Orthodox community.

Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov Friedman, 84, the Admor of Sadigura, died at his home in Bnei Brak on Tuesday morning after a long illness. The admor (the title given to the leader of a Hasidic dynasty) collapsed at his home; after protracted efforts to resuscitate him, he was declared dead at the Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center, a Bnei Brak hospital which combines medical character with the “special characteristics” of halakha, the Jewish religious law.

Friedman was buried on Tuesday in the Nahalat Yitzhak cemetery in Givatayim alongside his father, Rabbi Mordechai Sholom Yosef Friedman, who had been the fourth Admor of Sadigura.

Sadigura, which has several hundred members in Israel and Europe, is a branch of the Rezhiner Hasidic dynasty, founded in what is now Ukraine about 170 years ago. Although it is not one of the largest Hasidic courts, Sadigura has always held an important place in the ultra-Orthodox leadership.

Avrohom Yaakov Friedman had been Sadigura's admor since the death of his father in 1979; under the son's leadership the Hasidic court, which his father established in North Tel Aviv (he was dubbed the Admor of Tel Aviv), migrated to Bnei Brak, though the Sadigura beit midrash on Tel Aviv's Pinkas Street is still active. Sadigura also has communities in Jerusalem, Modiin Illit, Ashdod, Beitar Illit, Elad, London and Antwerp.

Like his father, the late admor was a member of Agudat Yisrael's Council of Torah Sages. But in contrast with other ultra-Orthodox leaders, he was close to right-wing circles, visited the settlements and actively opposed the Oslo Accords and the disengagement from the Gaza Strip. The World Headquarters to Save the People and the Land of Israel (SOS-Israel ) this morning mourned the passing of "the greatest of those fighting to save the Land of Israel."

With the Sadigura Rebbe's death, the Agudat Yisrael Council of Torah Sages has lost one of its last members. A few months ago the president of the council Admor of Viznitz Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, died. The Admor of Boston, another council member, died 2½ years ago. Heirs of admors are not automatically named to the council, and neither was replaced. The only living official member of the council, Admor of Arloi, is in very poor health.

The death of the Sadigura Rebbe three weeks before the Israeli election comes at a time of crisis in the ultra-Orthodox community, where key rabbis have died and there is friction between many others. The Council of Torah Sages, founded in 1912 Kattowitz, Germany (now Katowice, Poland) to create a public ultra-Orthodox leadership which would make all the decisions, is all but forgotten. As Agudat Yisrael's official spiritual leadership, it still serves as a model for three powerful rabbinical councils still active today – those of Degel Hatorah, the roof body for the Lithuanian Mitnaged branch of Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodoxy, the Sephardi Shas and the Hasidic Agudath Israel in the United States.

The original Council of Torah Sages, in which several generations of admors participated and which has guided Agudat Yisrael since the establishment of the state, has ceased to function in recent years and has no active leadership. (Some individual admors are still active, instructing their political representatives and calling on their followers to take part in the election campaign.) Politicians and wheeler-dealers have stepped in to fill the vacuum.

The Council of Torah Sages of the Lithuanian Degel Hatorah, which has been active since 1989, is also in crisis. Council member Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach rejects the authority of the body's head, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman. Auerbach's followerssss are threatening to run a breakaway party called Netzah in the January 22 elections, to compete with United Torah Judaism, the joint Agudat Yisrael-Degel Hatorah ticket.

Rabbi Avrohom Yaakov Friedman of Sadigura