The History of the Munkács Community Before the Holocaust
Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapira – the Munkaczer Rebbe
Elazar Shapira was born in Strzyżów, Galicia in 1871 and served as Head of the Beit Din in Munkács. With the passing of his father, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Shapira, in 1913, Chaim Elazar Shapira became the Admor (Grand Rabbi) of Munkács.
Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapira was the Admor of a well-known sect of Hasidim, renowned for his Torah genius. His followers and enemies alike spoke very highly of him, and his influence spread far beyond Munkács, to Subcarpathian Rus' and Hungary. Lacking a formal secular education, he acquired a high-school certificate from the town of Nitra in Slovakia so that he could fulfill the Hungarian authorities' requirement for a general education in order to serve as rabbi.
Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapira was extreme in his opinions, unrelenting in his fight against all those who he believed endangered his hegemony of rabbi of the town and the region. He administered his community and its institutions with a firm hand.
In 1922, the town established its great yeshiva, "Darchei Teshuva," that drew large numbers of students from across Hungary and Czechoslovakia and soon became one of the largest yeshivot in Hungary. He became head of the yeshiva, giving his lessons within its walls. During his tenure, some 200 students learned at the yeshiva, which won recognition from the Czech authorities as an official institution for instructing rabbis.
In 1930, Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapira visited Eretz Israel. One of his disciples, Rabbi Moshe Goldstein, accompanied him, writing about his rebbe's visit in his book Masa'ot Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Travels). During his visit, the neighborhood of Batei Munkács was established in Jerusalem; his signature appears on the regulation booklet of the neighborhood. After his return to Munkács, he sent a letter to his colleagues in Jerusalem, in which he wrote:
"And believe me, I loved the Holy Land so much, and in particular you, one of us, and are zealous for the Lord, Whose Torah and faith you love with all your soul…
In 1933, the rabbi's only daughter, Chaya Frima Rivka, married Baruch Yehoshua Rabinowitz, the son of a family of Admorim. Thousands flocked to the wedding from across Europe and overseas. The wedding was covered extensively by a wide range of media, turning it into the town's largest public event.
Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapira was known for his fierce objection to Zionism, in all of its manifestations, as well as immigration to Eretz Israel. He saw Zionism as an untimely encouragement of the Messianic Era, a wound in the faith of the great miracle of Redemption, and a denial of the Messiah. He even objected to the Agudath Yisroel organization, because of its activities in support of Eretz Israel. In 1936, he initiated the publication of a book against the Zionist enterprise, in particular the Mizrachi and Agudath Yisroel organizations, in which he cited different rabbis on the topic. The book was endorsed by 150 rabbis. Rabbi Shapira also did not cease in his criticism of American Jewry, who, according to him, desecrated the Sabbath; all the while requesting from them financial support.
In 1937, Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapira passed away, and thousands accompanied him on his final journey. He was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Munkács, in the tomb of the Munkács Admorim, where his father, Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Shapira, and his grandfather, Rabbi Shlomo Shapira, were also buried. In the 1970s, the Munkács Jewish cemetery, including the graves of the Admorim, was moved to a new cemetery in the adjoining town of Kerepec.
Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapira wrote numerous books, including Sefer Ot Chayim, Sefer Divrei Kodesh, a series of books (9 volumes) called Divrei Torah, Sefer Darchei Teshuva, Sefer Hagahot Hayerushalmi, Sefer Chamisha Ma'amarot (five parts) and Sefer Sha'ar Yissachar. His collection of responsa known as Minchat Elazar led to his nickname: Ba'al HaMinchat Elazar.
After his death, his son-in-law Rabbi Baruch Yehoshua Rabinowitz succeeded him as chief rabbi of Munkács and Admor of the Munkács Hasidim.