The Seer of Lublin - Yaakov Yitzhak haLevi Horowitz-Sternfeld
(1745, Józefów Biłgorajski - 15 August 1815, Lublin)
Yaakov Yitzhak haLevi Horowitz (Hebrew: יעקב יצחק הורוביץ), also known as “Lubliner” - tzadik, one of the spiritual leaders of the Hasidic movement, called haHozeh miLublin - "the Seer", "the Clairvoyant" of Lublin.
Life and work of Yaakov Yitzhak Horowitz before moving to Lublin
Yaakov Horowitz was born in Józefów Biłgorajski, a small town south of Lublin, where his father Eliezer was a rabbi. His family struggled with everyday financial difficulties. Little Yaakov Yitzhak was distinguished by his serious attitude, reading scriptures and praying. He studied under many illustrious rabbis - in Sieniawa, he studied the Talmud under rabbi Shmelke, later he studied in Leżajsk under the famous rabbi Elimelech and afterwards he stayed in Łańcut.
He was betrothed to the daughter of a tavern keeper from Krasnobród and forced by his father to marry her. Right after the ceremony, he fled from his wife and the guests and embarked on a wayfaring from one Hasidic court (a community consisting of a tzadik and his students) to another. He is known to have stayed in the courts of Shmuel “Shmelke” Horowitz of Nikolsburg (Mikulov), Dov Ber of Mezeritch (Mezhirichi) and Levi Yitzhak ben Meir of Berdichev. The biggest influence on the Seer came from the last of his teachers - Elimelech of Lizhensk (Leżajsk).
Some time later, the Seer rebelled against his master Elimelech and, disobeying his prohibition, established his own court. As a result, Rabbi Elimelech cursed Horowitz and his followers.
Having left his master, the Seer went to Łańcut and Rozwadów. As Maier Balaban wrote, "soon heavens told him to leave that place as well and go to Wieniawa. An angel had charged a simple but godly man with the task of delivering the message. At first, Yaakov Yitzhak did not believe him, and it was only when the heavens repeated the order for the third time that he understood that it was the will of a superior strength, and obediently moved to Wieniawa."1 The Seer settled in Wieniawa in the 1790s.
>>> more about Wieniawa
The Seer’s uncommon abilities
It was probably Rabbi Elimelech who discovered the Seer’s great gift: the ability to read the past, foresee the future and “see” people and events in most distant places (“Lubliner” saw, for example, what was happening at the Austrian court). The Seer could also unveil the genealogy of a soul, that is, tell about its previous incarnations. While living in Wieniawa, he was famous for his healing powers and therefore crowds of suffering and ill people were coming to him, especially in holiday periods. “Lubliner” became one of the biggest authorities among the Hasids.
The Seer’s court in Wieniawa
Lublin was not one of the cities that were frequently visited by tzadikim and Hasids. When the Seer established his court in the nearby Wieniawa, that small town soon became the capital of Polish Hasidism. The Seer’s growing popularity was fairly surprising, especially because Rabbi Azriel Horowitz, famous for his sharp criticism of the Hasids, was living in Lublin at that time. Since the Seer had settled in Wieniawa, Hasids were coming from all over the former Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom. In the biographical note in "Polski Słownik Judaistyczny" (Polish Dictionary of Jewish Studies), Jan Doktór wrote that Yaakov Horowitz was the teacher of all Polish tzadikim. Although he never started his own dynasty, he nurtured a vast group of followers.2
Argument between the Seer and the Iron Head
The Seer’s arrival in Wieniawa sparked a protest from Rabbi Azriel Horowitz of Lublin, known as the Iron Head. At that time, Wieniawa was a small, administratively independent townlet (it even had its own qahal), so theoretically, the power of Rabbi Azriel did not extend to its dwellers. However, for Rabbi Azriel, the arrival of the Seer almost in the outskirts of Lublin meant disgrace and shame. He openly deprecated the Seer and his followers.
The argument between the two Rabbis became notorious in the entire Lublin region, with followers of each Rabbi taking part in it. Rabbi Azriel mocked the Seer’s followers’ need to use alcohol in order to enter the mystic trance, as well as the miracles made by Lubliner which, he thought, were just clever tricks for simple men. Meanwhile, the Hasids quickly gave him the nickname “Iron Head”. It meant that Rabbi Azriel is resistant to knowledge and divine marvels and he is unable to acknowledge anything that he can not understand. For the quarrel actually concerned the age-old struggle between the transcendent and the real, that is, the mystique experienced by the few and the arguments of reason which can be verified empirically.
The argument between Rabbi Iron Head and the Seer ended when people of Lublin became to sneak out to Wieniawa hoping for the favour of seeing the great “Lubliner”. It secured the acknowledgement of the Seer’s authority and led to expansion of the group of his followers and eventually to his decision to move to Lublin.
The Seer from 28, Szeroka St.
In Wieniawa, the Seer was receiving wealthy people as well, including officials of the qahal. One of those rich men offered to pay for Rabbi’s move to Lublin. He argued as follows: If Rabbi will settle in our city, the glory will also reach its citizens, Lublin will become famous and future generations will learn about it from books. Apart from that, the current citizens will benefit as well, as grace will be passed onto them by the Seer, moreover, many pilgrims will come to Lublin and they will need to be taken care of.
Lublin, Szeroka 26 i 28, 1934,
Author: Stefan Kiełsznia
Lublin, Szeroka 28 i 30, 1934,
Author: Stefan Kiełsznia
Against Rabbi Azriel’s strong objection, the Jews ceremonially led Rabbi Yaakov into the city. He settled at 28, Szeroka Street, on the first floor. In the backyard of the house, there was a wooden beth hamidrash, called "Bożnica Rebego" (Rebbe’s Synagogue). Allegedly it was so huge that several hundred Jews could come inside. Historian Robert Kuwałek wrote that "it was probably the first house of prayer in central Poland that belonged to the Hasids and was used officially. Already in the early 19th century, one part of it was administered by the local Jewish community."3
The death of the Seer
Rabbi believed that the evil powers might attack him when he would be alone. And, allegedly, that exact thing happened. He was sick, lying alone in his room and on the following day, although the window was closed, one of his students found him outside, in bushes, covered in blood. Since that day he reportedly suffered from illness for one more year and died in great pain.
The Seer of Lublin was buried in the old Jewish cemetery. Today, Hasids from all over the world still pilgrimage to his grave, living the kvitlech, small sheets of paper with requests for blessings, next to it. The Seer died on the date that marked the anniversary of the destruction of both the first and the second Temple in Jerusalem. For the faithful, this is the proof of his greatness and sanctity.
His tombstone bears the following inscription:
"The stone attests that this saint Matzevah is, by the grace of sanctity, our Rabbi,
by sublimity our strength, the light of our eyes, the love of our heart.
This is the day of the death of a holy man,
pride of our times, a venerable Rabbi, godly and famous,
from one end of the world to the other,
Sir Yaakov Yitzhak, son of Teacher
Sir Abraham Eliezer Levi Horowitz
Many entered his home and many journeyed in his light."4
Rabbi Yaakov Yitzhak Horowitz did not establish his own tzadik dynasty. Some members of the Horowitz-Sternfeld family remained in Lublin and in the Lublin region until 1939. One of the Seer’s sons - Israel - was a rabbi in Tarczyn and the other one became a renowned Lublin merchant. Rabbi Yaakov’s great nephew - Zysie Sternfeld - was a Rabbi in Piaski (a suburb of Lublin) in mid-19th century.5
Stories about the Seer of Lublin
The Seer of Lublin has become surrounded by many legends. Memory of Yaakov Yitzhak Horowitz remains alive among today’s Hasids. It is boosted by the stories about Rabbi’s miraculous feats. Apart from the story of his death, two of them have become especially famous. The first one is taken from Maier Balaban’s book "Żydowskie miasto w Lublinie" (The Jewish Town in Lublin).
One evening, as the Rabbi of Nieśwież recounts, Yaakov Yitzhak had got lost in a forest and was wandering around, tired and hungry. Suddenly, he beheld a distant light. When he came closer, he saw a brightly lit window of an uncommonly beautiful house. He entered the house and an extraordinarily beautiful woman stood in front of him. She immediately offered him food and drink and then she sat down next to him and began to seduce him. Frightened, the young man sprung to his feet and set about reciting the laws that married men should follow. As the woman would not give up, he raised his hand and called The Name of The Almighty to the rescue. All of a sudden, there was a thunder, and a bolt of lightning hit the house, knocking it down. The woman disappeared in the ruins, while he came out of that fight with the devil of temptation victorious and unscathed.6
The other story can be found in book by Ewa Basiura. Ewa Basiura gave it the title "How Yaakov Yitzhak Horowitz got the epithet the Seer of Lublin”. The legend has it that once upon a time, a rich man walking through Wieniawa saw a shammes running from door to door, calling people to the morning prayer. When he knocked on Rabbi Yaakov’s door, the rabbi opened and told him to wait. After a while, he brought him a bowl full of water and told him to wash his hands. The shammes obeyed, thanking the tzadik tenfold. When the shammes left Yaakov’s house, the rich man asked him to explain the incident. The shammes explained that, being in a hurry, he had run out of his own house without washing his hands, thus disobeying a religious law. Rabbi Yaakov, by telling him to wash his hands, had saved him from sin. The rich man quickly spread the word of the event in Lublin and people began to refer to the tzadik of Wieniawa as “The Seer”.7
The most important sources of knowlegde about Yaakov Yitzhak haLevi Horowitz-Sternfeld are Martin Buber's books.
Compiled by Monika Szabłowska-Zaremba
Translated by Jarosław Kobyłko
2 See: Doktór J., Horowic Jaakow Icchak ha-Lewi z Lublina in: Borzymińska Z., Żebrowski R. (ed.), Polski słownik judaistyczny. Dzieje, kultura, religia, ludzie , t.1, Warszawa 2003, p. 613-614.
7 See: Basiura E., Widzący z Lublina in: Basiura E., Żydzi polscy w legendzie i opowieści, Kraków 1997, pp. 65-77 and
Basiura E., Widzący z Lublina, [w:] Basiura E., Żydzi polscy w legendzie i opowieści, Kraków 1997, s. 65-77.
Doktór J., Horowic Jaakow Icchak ha-Lewi z Lublina, [w:] Borzymińska Z., Żebrowski R. (oprac.), Polski słownik judaistyczny. Dzieje, kultura, religia, ludzie , t.1, Warszawa 2003, s. 613-614.