Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov, and the real history of Chassidut – Part II

Part II

(Read Part I HERE.)

I would say that about 97% of ‘the story’ that we’ve all been told about how Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezeritch took over from the BESHT; and then how Shneur Zalman of Liadi basically rose to the top of chassidut as the ‘cream of the crop’ comes from….Chabad.

And no other independently-verifiable source.

The problem is, that each time I tried to take a ‘Chabad story’ at face value, and to track down real-life people, with real names, real dates, real information, a real footprint in the real world – I failed miserably.

Over time, I came to the conclusion that for some bizarre reason, Chabad appears to have been lying about just about everything.


Over in the hallowed halls of secular Jewish researchers, this fact has apparently been known for many decades.

But for me, naive as I still was 6-7 years ago, all this came as a massive shock.

At this stage, I believe all these ‘lies’ about Jewish history are directly connected to the Sabbatean-Frankist-Mason take over of our Jewish community, over the last 350+ years.

That began with the false messiah Shabtai Tzvi, aka the big Torah commentator from Vilna, the SHACH, who apparently went mad after the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648-9, that hit places like Vilna particularly hard.

But the cover-up and takeover has continued, right down to our days, our time.


In the second part of this post about the BESHT’s real successor, R YECHIEL MICHEL of ZLOTCHOV, we are going to learn what was apparently the real basis of the ‘war’ between the chassidim and the mitnaggdim.

And no – you won’t find any mention of the Vilna Gaon facing off against Shneur Zalman.

That never happened.


The following information was gleaned from Mor Altshuler’s PhD thesis on the Maggid of Zlotchov, and if you have a few free hours, I highly, highly recommend you read the long version ,available for free as a PDF, HERE.

For everyone else, I will try to sum it up succintly – and of course, that means oversimplification. That’s how it works.


The BESHT dies in 1760 – apparently from a the hole in his heart caused by the whole disputation with Jacob Frank’s band of ‘Sabbatean believers’ that occurred in 1758, and ended with tens of thousands of Jews in Poland publically converting to Catholicism.

Many of these Jews had the best yichus money could buy…. To say it was a shonda on a massive scale to their (secret-Sabbatean) relatives who stayed in the Jewish fold is the genealogical understatement of the millenia.

And these Frankists didn’t just disappear and go low-profile – they literally became the most well-known bankers, financiers, jurists, philosophers, writers, artists….

Everyone knew who they were, and where they’d come from.


So the BESHT passes away as a result of this terrible blow to the Jewish people in 1760.

And then according to Chabad, the BESHT designates Dov Ber Friedman, the Maggid of Mezeritch, as his successor.

Back in the ‘real world’ – there is simply no firm trace of the Maggid of Mezeritch, at least in terms of who his ancestors were. He just materialises out of nothing and nowhere, and his descendents are also shrouded in a dense fog of mystery.

There was almost certainly a follower of the BESHT called ‘Dov Ber’. More than that, I can’t say.


In the meantime, the Chabad fairytale continues that Dov Ber basically favors the young Shneur Zalman to take chassidut forward when he passes away in 1772 – and the rest is (Chabad made-up) history.

But that’s not what really happened.


This is a direct quote from Mor Altshuler herself:

“Amongst other things, there is reason to doubt all the historical events that HABAD literature presents as central to the history of Hasidism.”


The BESHT was actually surrounded by many different senior disciples that you almost never hear anything about these days, as the ‘fairytale’ has mostly scrubbed everyone else out of the picture.

For example, one of the BESHT’s leading disciples was Yaakov Yosef of Polonnye.

Another was (apparently….) R Pinchas Shapira of Koretz (more on him in a moment).


And it’s this latter who was actually surrounded by a very wide circle of disciples – apparently that included Shneur Zalman of Liadi – and who was involved in some very deep mystical attempts to ‘bring the geula’.


The chassidic doctrine of the ‘Tzaddik of the generation’ also begins in earnest with R Yechiel Michel’s circle – the BESHT never referred to himself in these terms.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.


First, let’s introduce you to some of R YECHIEL MICHEL’s leading disciples.

They are people you rarely hear anything about in any other chassidut chronicles, but who do crop up in the Breslov writings about Rebbe Nachman’s life, from this time period.

I.e. – we have Rabbenu’s guarantee that they are actually real people.


One of the reasons this information has remained hidden for 200+ years is because like many of the ‘mystical groups’ operating within the Jewish community at that point in time, including the Sabbateans, and what spun-off as the Frankist-masons, secrecy was a very big deal.

And it was enforced with oaths, and other mechanisms, to keep the group, and its activities and beliefs, away from unfriendly prying eyes, both in the Jewish and the non-Jewish world.


So from direct sources collated by Mor Altshuler in her PhD thesis, R YECHIEL MICHEL’s disciples include:




(Apparently, he is the Rebbe of ELEAZAR ZEV of BUCHETCH, whose daughter seems to have married the great-grandson of Yechiel Michel. This appearts to be the ancestor of Rav Berland.)


R ZEVI HASID – who is actually the brother of R MENACHEM MENDEL of PREMISHLAN, who is buried in the old graveyard of Tiberius, next to Rabbenu’s grandpa, R NACHMAN HORODENKA.


Then, there are other sources from the mitnagdim world who identify others of this group from the outside.

The main anti-chassidic work is called ‘Breaking of Sinners’, by one DAVID MAKOV.

He lists the following, as being disciples of YECHIEL MICHEL:


(He provided one of the two haskamot Rabbenu chose to have printed in the Likutey Moharan. The other haskama is from Ephraim Zalman Margoliot of Brody.)


R MORDECHAI OF NESKHIV (mentioned in Rav Natan’s Chaya Moharan, etc)

R LEVI YITZHAK of BERDICHEV (mentioned in Chaya Moharan, buried in Berdichev’s Jewish cemetery).


R ZUSYA OF ANNIPOLI (brother of the NOAM ELIMELECH – both mentioned in Chaya Moharan)


(Chabad sources claim ‘AMDUR’ chassidut got absorbed into CHABAD.)


‘Breaking of Sinners’ then identifies other disciples that play are more tangential or uncertain role in YECHIEL MICHEL’s circle of disciples.

That includes:

SHNEUR ZALMAN of LIADI (mentioned in Chaya Moharan)

R ELIMELECH of LIZHENSK (mentioned in Chaya Moharan)




As mentioned in the previous post, once the BESHT and R YECHIEL MICHEL had passed away, there were key people within chassidut who were trying to publicise that the BESHT had accepted much of the Sabbatean teachings of HESHEL TZOREF of VILNA.

Mor Altshuler explains these people included:





At this point, that is a big red flag that suggests these people themselves may have had ‘Sabbatean’ leanings, but it’s not definitive.

For sure, the BESHT, and Rabbenu after him, was also busy trying to ‘raise the sparks’ out of the Sabbatean teachings, to sweeten this whole, horrible klippah.

For example, the BESHT’s second wife was a great-granddaughter of none other than Shabtai Tzvi / SHACH.

And perhaps in Part III, we’ll try to take a closer look as AVRAHAM GERSHON KITOVER of BRODY, the BESHT’s brother-in-law, who also descends directly from the SHACH / Shabtai Tzvi.

Meanwhile,  it seems that YECHIEL MICHEL and his group were also busy trying to do the birur with the Sabbatean teachings, particularly the emphasis on making aliya to Eretz Israel.

Read on.


OK, the date is leil Shavuot, 1777 – the same time that MENACHEM MENDEL of VITEBSK and a small group of messianic-minded Chassidim make aliya to Eretz Yisrael.

MENACHEM MENDEL of VITEBSK and his group are going through awful difficulties. He wrote a letter back to Brody, where YECHIEL MICHEL was then located, explaining that his group of chassidim had to move to Tiberius, because:

[The Sephardim in Tsfat were] “completely wicked, believers in Shabtai Tzvi, may his name be erased.


As a result of the Sabbatean takeover of Tsfat, MENACHEM MENDEL of VITEBSK decides in 1778/ 9 that he needs to organise a seperate, independent fundraising channel for his group of non-Sabbatean chassidim.

This effort involves:


R ELAZAR (ELIEZER) ZUSSMAN (who is sent to raise funds in Istanbul and Holland) and

R SOLOMON ZALMAN VILNER, who is sent to raise funds for the Chassidim in Vilna and Brody.

(I am now wondering if this could actually by ‘SHNEUR ZALMAN’ of Chabad… but we’ll park that for now.)


Yes – it’s that same ‘Vilna and Brody’ that shortly afterwards wrote letters trying to excommunicate the Chassidim.

As you can see, none of this makes sense if you believe the Chabad fairytale version of Chassidic history.


At that point in time, the main charity fundraiser for Eretz Israel in the BRODY KLOIZ is called R CHAIM SEGAL LANDAU.

He is the paternal first cousin of the virulently mitnagged NODA be YEHUDAH.

Yet, CHAIM SEGAL LANDAU tells SOLOMON VILNER that not only is he willing to forgive all of the chassidic group’s debts, to date, he is also going to pay MENACHEM MENDEL of VITEBSK  a regular stipend.

Meanwhile, the charity fundraisers for Israel in VILNA at this time are one R ELIEZER ben CHAIM SHABTELS, and his brother SHMUEL.

SHMUEL is married to CHAIM SEGAL LANDAU’s daughter.


SHMUEL and ELIEZER are apparently close relatives of the VILNA GAON.

I spent a good few hours trying to unpick that bit of the family tree, and that lead me straight back to the LURIE family again, who the Rav said arrived in Eretz Yisrael with crates full of golden dinarii.

It also turned up a whole bunch more fake names and false Jewish history, that needs straightening out.

We’ll keep that bit of the story for another day.


For now, it’s enough to know that the direct, close family members of the ‘VILNA GAON’ and the ‘NODA BE YEHUDA’ were very happily funding the Chassidic aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, in 1778-1779.

This is 18-19 years AFTER the BESHT died, and at least 6-7 years AFTER the Maggid of Mezeritch is meant to have died, too.


Then, starting July-Sept 1781, the mitnaged decrees against ‘the chassidim’ begin.

Mor Altshuler makes a very convincing case that these ‘chassidim’ are actually R YECHIEL MICHEL (1726-1781) and his disciples.

And no, there is no ‘Vilna Gaon’ in sight.

Or at least, not with the name ‘Eliyahu ben Shlomo’.

Read on.


While MENACHEM MENDEL of VITEBSK is trying to settle the Holy Land, back in YEHIEL MICHEL’s hometown BRODY, his disciples are gathered around for a super-secret ‘Tikkun Leil Shavuot’.

The disciples of YECHIEL MICHEL who attend this mystical ‘Tikkun Leil Shavuot’ are sworn to strict secrecy about what was really going on, and who was involved. Altshuler spends many pages bringing various sources from the disciples’ later works, to piece the story together.

Long story short, it appears that YECHIEL MICHEL and his followers, including MENACHEM MENDEL of VITEBSK, were trying to ‘force’ God’s hand to bring the geula.

But it backfired stupendously.


This small, secret group of tzaddikim were waiting for word from MENACHEM MENDEL of VITEBSK, who apparently had his own ‘mystical job’ to do, that heavenly permission had been given for the geula to begin in earnest.

It never came.

Instead, the mitnaged storm against YECHIEL MICHEL and his secret group of disciples fanned up into a raging inferno, beginning 1781.

YECHIEL MICHEL’s books were publically burnt, he was hounded out of his home in Brody and ended up in the small backwater town of Yampol – where he died soon after, on the 25th of Elul 5541, September 15th, 1781, at the age of 55.

Apparently, from a broken heart.


In Israel, MENACHEM MENDEL of VITEBSK also died shortly after his Rebbe, at the relatively young age of 50, similarly broken by his experiences, vicissitudes and disappointment.


So, what actually happened here?

And why was YECHIEL MICHEL of ZLOTCHOV and most of his disciples almost totally scrubbed out of real Jewish history?

Let’s see if we can unpick a bit more.


As well as the ‘failed’ attempt to re-settle Eretz Yisrael, and to try and pry it away from the established Sabbatean communities infesting it since the ‘aliyah’ of Yehuda Chassid in 1700, if not before, some other things happened in 1781, that began the persecution of YECHIEL MICHEL of ZLOTCHOV.

Firstly, YECHIEL MICHEL had created a set of what is known as ‘Hasidic Practices’, that he and his disciples had been keeping secret.

But in anticipation of the Moshiach coming, and geula beginning, the decision was made to print these practises publically.

This was part of the effort to fulfill the Baal Shem Tov’s words in his famous epistle to his brother-in-law, Avraham Gershon Kitover of Brody, that the Moshiach would only come when the BESHT’s teachings of chassidut had been spread throughout the world.

(I know Chabad ‘stole’ this story and cast Shneur Zalman as the main character in it. As I keep telling you, most of what we were told by Chabad is half-truths, at best.)


So, YECHIEL MICHEL and his disciples have a ‘rule book’ of Chassidic practices, that include:

HISHTANUT – translated as the rule of ‘equanimity’.


PERISHUT (‘austerity’)



HISHTANUT was the basic idea that whatever God does to a person, for the seemingly good, or the seemingly bad, a person should accept what is happening with equanimity – because everything is God’s doing.

PERISHUT seems to mean living simply, without ostentation and seeking kavod, especially not for a person’s Torah learning.

And HITBODEDUT and DVEKUT we know from Rabbenu’s teachings.


It’s a side note, but it seems that YECHIEL MICHEL of ZLOTCHOV was the first cousin of Rabbenu’s father, SIMCHA HORODENKER.

NACHMAN HORODENKER’s wife, SIMCHA’s mother, seems to have been the sister of R YITZHAK DROHOVITCHER MAGGID, the father of YECHIEL MICHEL of ZLOTCHOV.

Again, all these people all got ‘scrubbed’ out of standard Jewish history.


OK, so this ‘Chassidic Rule Book’ was published in 1781 (5541) in Koretz, and was called Maggid Devarav Le’Yaakov (‘He Imparts His Words to Jacob’).

While it was later attributed to ‘Dov Ber the Maggid of Mezeritch’, he actually died nine years earlier (if he even existed as described.)

But YECHIEL MICHEL was still alive at this point.

According to Altshuler (page 332), the words ’Dov Ber’ was often added in afterwards, to ‘hide’ the real ‘Maggid’, whose works were being shared.

(When you see what happened next, and also, when you learn about the depth of the murderous opposition Breslov’s ‘true tzaddikim’ also suffered at the hands of the fake Sabbatean ‘rebbes’ trying to keep their grip on the power structure in the Jewish community, all this becomes far easier to understand.)


Altshuler says:

“There is no simple explanation for the opposition to Hasidism.”

Especially, because the story they told us all is mostly pure fabrication.

Meanwhile, the manifest that was sent in 5532 (1772) – 12 years after the death of the BESHT – by the Vilna community to Brody and Brisk describes the hasidim as ‘bands of the wicked’.

(At the end of this post, we’ll return to what was really going on in 1772 to spark this off….)

While the 1781 ‘ban’ against the chassidim also talks about them as a ‘The sect of subversives and agitators’, it’s actually in the informal mitnaged writings like Breaking of Sinners that you get a hint of some of the real concerns, which include:

  • The strong messianic beliefs and character of the movement (a big ‘no-no’ after the Shabtai Tzvi / SHACH catastrophe); and
  • A widespread belief in reincarnation.



When I was reading through Altshuler’s work, I was trying to figure out myself where ‘the Sabbateans’ were really hiding out in this story.

I’m still not totally sure.

Much as the Rav appears to be doing in our days, YECHIEL MICHEL himself seemed to have been sailing very close to the Sabbatean wind, with some of his ‘sweetening’ efforts.


For example, the Sabbateans had a whole set of ‘codes’ and ‘symbols’ that they were using to describe Shabtai Tzvi, and Sabbatean philosophy.

This is how Altshuler describes some of this, on page 344:

“Personifying the quality of the Red Heifer is characteristic of the Sabbatean Tradition, in which the Red Heifer is interpreted with reference to a particular individual, Shabtai Tzvi, and seen as the secret key to his messianism.”


If you’ve been following the current ‘obsession’ with the Red Heifer in recent days, this whole passage maybe is giving you more of a pause for thought.


Here’s another quote from Altshuler (p 360) that might ring some more bells for you:

“R YECHIEL MICHEL deliberately incurred public degradation, and bore it with indifference.”

And the following is a footnote on p 364, which is taken from the Shivchei HaBesht, 8b, and also appears in ‘Ways of the Just’ 5b, and also in the book ‘Precious Gleanings’, but Meshullam Feivush Heller, one of Yechiel Michel’s main students:

“Even though they demean him, he should be silent and not respond at all to the one who demeans him, lest these disparagers distract him from the service of the Creator.

And he should not be concerned that he will thereby not be appreciated among people and will be unable to attain his goal.

[Rather,] he should direct his thought on high, to the supernal world and in His service, may He be blessed, and should commune with and trust in Him that he will attain his goal.”


This is the root of Rabbenu’s own teachings on bizayon.

As practised by the Rav’s probable ancestor, and the real tzaddik who was trying to carry on the BESHT’s teachings, YECHIEL MICHEL of ZLOTCHOV.



OK, so much more to say as always – including how the Mir Yeshiva and Chabad chassidut appear to have been set up by exactly the same family, who all descend from the known Sabbatean, the Meir Panim.

For example.

But for now, let’s end with the story that seems to have really ignited the firestorm of opposition against YECHIEL MICHEL and his disciples.

It occurred in Koretz in 1772 – that year when the very first edicts against the ‘chassidim’ were written in Vilna, and sent around to Brody and Brisk.


Back in Koretz, R PINCHAS SHAPIRA of KORETZ’s son, MOSHE, held the communal position of being able to levy the meat tax on the kosher meat being slaughtered.

This ‘tax’ on the kosher meat provided a third of the Jewish kahal’s annual funding, and it was a very rich vein to mine, for the people who held the right to tax.


You can read the whole story in Altshuler’s PDF beginning on page 64, but the basic story is this:

Moshe Shapira operated a kosher abbatoir, and had a monopoly on the community’s kosher meat, which YECHIEL MICHEL believed he was abusing, to charge exaggerated prices for kosher meat – which hit the poorest families the hardest.

(There is literally nothing new under the sun….)


R Pinchas Shapira of Koretz took the side of his son, and before long, to quote Altshuler:

The dispute, originating in matters related to kosher slaughter, developed into a wide and open conflict that implicated additional issues related to divine worship.

Pinchas of Korets took umbrage at “the Maggid’s” manner of prayer and could not tolerate “people gesturing in the manner of the Maggid” and extolling his prayer.

Pinchas’s criticisms imply opposition to the demonstrative nature of the Maggid’s prayer, hint at vulgar bodily movements, and disparage the Maggid’s pretensions to penetrate to the upper realms with his prayer.


Allusions to the dispute can be found as well in a tradition attributed to R. Pinchas of Korets, which tells of “a certain resentment between R. Mikhel and R. Pinchas” related to matters of prayer. Their rivalry was expressed in R. Yechiel Mikhel’s “grudge” against R. Pinchas and R. Pinchas’s reaction:

“The grudge that he bears in his heart against me because he cannot discern my prayers in the heavens is a vain grudge; for he is not alone in being unable to discern my prayers. Even the angels cannot discern them, for I have made my way directly to the Holy One, Blessed be He.”


Again, very long story short, Pinchas Shapira of Koretz ended up leaving town, and then shortly afterwards, the first epistles against ‘the chassidim’ appeared, in 1772 (as mentioned above).

But the ‘ban’ didn’t take at this point – because it seems obvious that most people understood that the complaint against the monopoly on kosher meat was justified.


A long time ago, when I was trying to figure out who the ‘real Vilna Gaon’ actually might be, I had a dream that just repeated over and over again:

Pinchas is Eliyahu.

And now, here we have a story that seems to be the real beginning of the ‘rift’ between the chassidim and the mitnagdim, except instead of ‘Eliyahu the GRA’, we have ‘Pinchas Shapira of Koretz’.


There is still so, so much to unpick here.

But that will do for today.

BH, there are about 200 different ‘spin offs’ from Altshuler’s information, so we’ll see where God guides this research next.

In the meantime, the Rav also came out with a stunning shiur recently, so my next project is to translate that ready for Wednesday, when I am back online again, BH.

Until then.

2 replies
  1. M
    M says:

    Thank you Rivka for taking the time and care to translate the Rav’s shiurs. Why doesn’t the ravberland website publish more translations of his lessons like you do? I visit there often with very few updates seemingly happening. I’m currently reading the prayer books you helped get out to the world. Thank you for that, too! Please never underestimate the impact of the work you do!

    • Rivka Levy
      Rivka Levy says:

      The site is run 100% by volunteers, and they do a great job of translating what is on the Rav’s Hebrew site.

      But I’m translating from the Shivivei Or newsletter, and most people just don’t have access to that.


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