In Israel, there are any number of towns that identify themselves as primarily religious. There are none, however, that are as distinct or well-known for being as intensely religious as Bnei Brak.

Bnei Brak is actually a historic location. A city of this name is mentioned in the Book of Joshua (19:45) as part of the territory of the tribe of Dan. Additionally, the location is also mentioned in the Haggadah concerning five great Torah sages who gathered in the city to discuss the Exodus.

Bnei Brak today is a city that is almost entirely Chareidi (the term used in Israel to designate the “ultra-Orthodox), and this actually conforms to the nature of the settlement as it was when Bnei Brak was first founded. The year was 1924, and the settlement was founded by a man named Yitzchok Gerstenkorn. Established as an agricultural settlement, the Polish chassidim who settled there built their lives around Jewish tradition. It was even noted that one of the first buildings that was built in Bnei Brak was a Beit Midrash, a house of study, because after a full day’s labor, the men wanted to go there to resume their learning immediately.

Although its original settlers were traditional, Bnei Brak’s transformation into a center of religious Judaism was not immediate. An important role, however, was played by some of the significant leaders who took up residence there. Among them were Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz (the Chazon Ish), one of the most influential rabbis of the earlier part of 20th century Israel, who moved to Bnei Brak from Vilna in 1933. Bnei Brak was also home to his brother-in-law, Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, also known as “the Steipler,” and the Steipler’s illustrious son, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, who until his recent passing, was often the final address for Jews around the world seeking religious guidance.

In 1944, after the original Ponevezh Yeshiva in Europe was destroyed, the yeshiva was brought to the city by Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman whose dream of building a large building in what he envisioned would be the new Ponevezh Yeshiva teeming with students filled to capacity, became a reality. Drawn by the Torah leaders and the yeshiva, by 1950, the population of Bnei Brak was large enough for it to be granted city status. Shortly thereafter, chassidic communities began to settle in Bnei Brak alongside the yeshivot. The first was the Vizhnitzer Rebbe and his chassidim, who came in the 1950s. The next decade saw many chassidic groups from the Ukraine and elsewhere settle in Bnei Brak.

Located to the east of Tel Aviv, many of Israel’s most influential religious figures today live in Bnei Brak.

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