An Introduction To The Toldos Aharon Sect

The Toldos Aharon sect is in my opinion, the most serious, devout, intense, and insular of any Hasidic sect. If you are familiar with Second Temple Jewish history, I consider Toldos Aharon to be the closest it gets to modern-day Essenes. The sect is centered in the Meah Shearim neighborhood of Jerusalem across from the Breslov Shul and right near the intersection of Rechov Meah Shearim and Rechov Shivtei Yisrael.

The History

Toldos Aharon is an offshoot of the Shomrei Emunim sect, which was founded by Rav Aharon Roth in Satu Mare (Satmar), Romania and later in Jerusalem. Rav Aharon Roth known as “Reb Arele” was known for his piety and religious devotion from a very young age. The Shomrei Emunim sect is still a very active sect and is headquartered in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak.

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The exterior of the main Toldos Aharon beis medrash in Jerusalem

Reb Arele’s son took over the Shomrei Emunim sect, while his son-in-law Reb Avrohom Yitzchak Kahn founded Toldos Aharon. After his death, Reb Avrohom Yitzchak’s eldest son founded a sect called Toldos Aharon Yitzchak, while his son-in-law Reb Dovid Kohn became the next Rebbe of Toldos Aharon. Reb Dovid is the current Rebbe and he splits his time between Jerusalem and Monsey, the center for Toldos Aharon Chassidus in America.

This is the succession laid out as simply as possible:

Reb Arele (Shomrei Emunim) → Reb Avrohom Yitzchak → Reb Dovid Kohn (current Rebbe)

Language and Dress

Toldos Aharon Hasidim strictly speak Yiddish to each other and avoid speaking Hebrew as their everyday language. There are three reasons for this: The first is that Hebrew is lashon hakodesh (a holy language) and must therefore be used strictly for praying and learning. The second reason they give is that modern Hebrew is considered to be “the language of the Zionists” and the sect is vehemently anti-Zionist. Finally, they do not want their children knowing modern Hebrew in order to shield them from Western culture and mainstream Israeli life.

Toldos Aharon Hasidim are best known for their unique way of dressing, even within the Hasidic world. During the week, married men wear long “zebra” coats, which have black and white stripes. On their heads they wear large white knitted kippahs below their black hats. Their pants are short and they always wear black socks that reach their knees. The black shoes they wear never have laces so that they can avoid touching their shoes. The reason for this is that according to the Shulchan Aruch, one who touches his shoes is considered impure and must wash his hands before he can pray or learn Torah. Unmarried men do not wear the “zebra” coats and instead wear regular long black coats. The Hasidim strictly wear their uniforms even during the hottest days of the summer.

On Shabbat, all males above the age of thirteen wear long shiny gold and blue striped coats, which are only worn by the Hasidim living in Jerusalem. In addition to these unique coats, all the men wear shtreimels including those who are unmarried. The only difference in appearance between married and unmarried men on Shabbat, is that the married men wear white socks, while the unmarried men wear black socks.

Toldos Aharon puts the most emphasis of any Hasidic sect on tzniut (modesty). Women wear extremely modest clothing making sure to wear stockings, long skirts, and long sleeves. They tend to wear dark colored clothing in order to avoid drawing any attention to themselves. Unmarried girls have their hair in two braids, unlike other Hasidic communities where girls wear their hair in a ponytail. Married women do not cover their hair with wigs and instead only use scarves. Furthermore, married women shave their heads in order to avoid even one strand of hair being seen by the public. Throughout the sects writings, there is a lot of emphasis placed on women’s modesty both in public and within the home.

Purity

Being tahor (pure) is a very important concept within Toldos Aharon. The Hasidim have a number of practices focused on purity:
  • Each Chossid must dip in a mikvah on a daily basis. Any Chossid that does not dip daily may not lead prayers. Even within a mikvah, a Chossid must always keep his head down and may not take off his tzitzit until the moment he enters the mikvah.
  • Reb Arele emphasized having a pure heart and a pure mind. In order to ensure pure thoughts, the Hasidim avoid secular mediums such as TV or Internet. On the street, the Hasidim are instructed to shield their eyes from passing women.
  • The Hasidim are encouraged to avoid impure thoughts by completely immersing themselves in the study of Torah, even thinking about Torah when walking in the streets.

Takanot

In addition to Jewish law, Toldos Aharon Hasidim are required to follow a set of rules called takanot in order to be a part of the sect. Every year the Hasidim gather and each signs a document promising that they will keep all of the rules. The takanot are the most unique aspect of Toldos Aharon and it is what sets them apart most from other Hasidic sects. The Rebbe encourages his Hasidim to review the takanot each day after morning prayers. The goal of the takanot is to add additional stringencies, ensure group collectivity, and clarify a set of strict standards for the community.

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The main ark inside the Toldos Aharon beis medrash
The takanot serve as a guide for nearly every aspect of a Chossid’s life from where he may live to how he should eat. For example, a Chossid is forbidden to leave Jerusalem for more than three days without getting permission. Moreover, in order to remain part of the group, Hasidim must pray at the main Toldos Aharon beis medrash on Shabbat morning and must attend seuda shlishit on Saturday afternoon. Hasidim that do not keep the takanot are banned from the community and may not even enter the Toldos Aharon shul. In a future post, I plan on writing in detail about some of the most interesting takanot.

Community

Toldos Aharon is likely one of the most close-knit communities in the world. The sect’s seforim put a lot of emphasis on social cohesion and getting along with others in the group. The Rebbe forbids holding a grudge against another person in the sect no matter the case. For example, if one chossid tells the Rebbe that another chossid is breaking the takanot, the chossid who sinned is forbidden to hold a grudge against the informer. Moreover, a member of the sect is forbidden to deny another member a loan if he asks. And if a member of Toldos Aharon is sick, every member of the community is obligated to daven for that person at a communal recitation of Tehillim.

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Toldos Aharon has a minhag to light candles each day of the week for members of the community that have passed away
The community has many institutions to help its poor such as a free soup kitchen, medical facility, and gemach. In addition to putting a lot of emphasis on helping the community’s needy, they set up these institutions in order to avoid using an State institutions.

Anti-Zionism

Like Satmar, Toldos Aharon is known for being vehemently anti-Zionist. Members of the sect avoid using anything related to the State such as buses, medical facilities, and schools. They are even forbidden from going to the Kotel because there is a large Israeli flag hanging at the Kotel Plaza. In their literature, the sect refers to Zionists as reshaim (evil). It must be noted that unlike many other sects of Hasidism, Toldos Aharon refuses to accept even a single penny from the Israeli government, which in my opinion is praiseworthy.

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Sign in Meah Shearim imploring residents not to join the Israeli army

In addition to separating themselves as much as possible from Israeli society, the sect avoids Western culture as much as possible. Secular books are forbidden and the use of Internet is out of the question. Overall, the sect is one of the most extreme in the Haredi world, but certainly one of the most fascinating as well as devout.

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8 thoughts on “An Introduction To The Toldos Aharon Sect

  1. Definitely a pretty extreme group but I think there is a lot to be said for their focus on maintaining the community’s integrity. Even there they seem fairly extreme but it is for a good purpose: protecting the community’s integrity and looking after everyone in it.

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  2. If you are in Jerusalem, I would encourage you to meet the Toldos Aaron Rebbe’s son, Rabbi Moshe Kahn. He speaks English and enjoys having guests from diverse backgrounds (this is what I remember when I lived in Jerusalem over 15 years ago, but I assume it is the same now).

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