The Hasidic dynasty of Belz is named after Belz, a town in Ukraine. The dynasty dates back to the nineteenth century.
Its founder was Rabbi Shalom also known as the Sar Shalom. One of the dynasty's unique characteristics was its "Yoshvim" program. Married men would remain in the synagogue all day and study the Talmud and pray. "Yoshvim" were supported by businessmen and merchants in the community. They had no income of their own. Food and other necessities would be brought to them at the synagogue so that they wouldn't have to leave the synagogue for even a short time. Some "Yoshvim" would sleep in the synagogue on a bench. They would typically remain in the synagogue immersed in Torah study, prayer and deriving inspiration from the Rebbe until the Rebbe would tell them to go home to their wives.
When World War II arrived, the Hasidim (followers) devised a rescue plan for the Rebbe. They managed to obtain the services of a driver who drove the Rebbe and his brother Rabbi Mordechai of Bilgorai (father of the current Belzer Rebbe), across the border using falsified documents. They would pretend to be Government officials in the course of performing their duty. They were stopped at the border, their identity was questioned and they were about to be detained when three high-ranking officials ordered that they be allowed to pass the border. Hasidim believe that those three men were the first three Belzer Rebbes sent from heaven, as their identity was never discovered.
The Rebbe escaped to Israel. He settled in Tel Aviv, where there was a small Hasidic community. Belz suffered considerable loss in the Holocaust. Like some of the other communities originating from Poland Belz was nearly wiped out. Some Hasidic followers from other communities joined Belz, after the war and the deaths of their Rebbes. The Belz Rebbe was considered to be extremely holy. He weighed only 90 pounds after the war, and rarely ate anything. People said that he is really in heaven and that only his body remained in this physical world.
He died in 1957 and thousands of admirers following his casket. The funeral was held in Jerusalem in Israel. His admirers outnumbered those who considered themselves to be, strictly-speaking, followers of his. He was believed to be among the last of the old-generation Hasidic Rebbe's. His nephew Yissucher Dov was appointed Belz's Rebbe soon thereafter.
Yissucher Dov was born after the war and was only eighteen when he was appointed leader of the Belz community. He adopted a somewhat revolutionary policy, by Hasidic standards, of engagement with the secular government of Israel.The Satmar dynasty was very angered by his decision to send delegates to the secular Israeli Knesset and by his decision to instruct his followers to vote.
The Belz Rebbe responded to the Satmar allegations in 1981. He replied that he knew well enough on his own what Belz should be like, and allegedly insulted the already deceased former Satmar Rebbe, Joel Teitelbaum. Satmar was angered even more and managed to obtain signatures from significant segments of the Hasidic and Ultra-Orthodox communities in an attempt to denounce and ostracize the Belz's Rebbe. This created a huge and lasting rift between the Belz and Satmar communities.
In the 1980s the Rebbe also launched what is probably the biggest modern Hasidic construction project ever. Plans called for a huge and magnificent synagogue in the Belz section of Jerusalem. That building would, additionally include wedding and Bar Mitzvah halls, sub-synagogues, libraries, study halls and many other community and civic centers. Unlike in the US, where Rebbe's find it relatively easy to raise money, in Israel most local Hasidim do not have much to spare. Yet the community rallied behing the Rebbe where the average member gave $10,000 towards the building. Additionally, he resorted to various fund-raising projects overseas among his followers and supporters throughout the '80s and '90s.
At the turn of the century (2002), the structure was completed and can be seen to this day in "Kiryat Belz " in Jerusalem.
Major Hasidic groups
Dominant Hasidic groups (arranged by size) include: