Sunday 2 September 2018


A very rare1821 edition of Likkutei Moharan, secretly printed in Breslov, by R. Natan at his illegal press, due to persecution by authorities and others. The city of Ostroh appears on the Title Page, but the actual location (Breslov) was kept secret. "By operating an illegal press, Reb Noson could be construed as putting not only himself but the Breslov community at risk, since there were enough people who would have been only too happy to take collective revenge..."[1]


After researching R. Moshe, son of the Baal haTanya - where it appears that he (Moshe) converted to Catholicism and thereafter had his approbations removed from his father’s books – it was even more surprising to discover what may have transpired with some of the descendants of R. Nachman of Breslov.


Some years ago, according to an article in Ynet[2]- which was copied in RISU (Religious Information Service of the Ukraine) – two leading Breslover rabbis went on a mission to locate some of R. Nachman’s lost progeny, “dozens of whom who were scattered across the former Soviet Union”. Many of these descendants had assimilated and were living as non-Jews.

In one instance, R. Yisrael Pinto of Jerusalem and R. Yisrael Natan Barzel of Uman journeyed to Uzbekistan and identified two older women who were direct descendants of R. Nachman.

During World War Two, a certain Tzvi Herschel fled the Ukraine for Uzbekistan and bore two daughters in his new homeland. They were now old and living in poverty, but in one of their houses was a dusty library filled with very valuable first edition Breslover books, which their father had originally brought along with him. These books turned out to be of great interest to the Breslover community.

The rabbis tried to persuade the women to move to Israel but the matter was complicated because their daughters had married gentiles and now there were grandchildren, some allegedly studying in Catholic institutions. They then paid $5,000 to a Catholic monastery - in a country where the average monthly salary is just $30 – to have the children released. However, there were issues and apparently, the children produced were not the right children.

The Breslovers launched a worldwide campaign to “bribe clerks, priests – all in order to return lost daughters to Judaism...[but] many details still remain confidential for legal reasons.” According to the Breslovers in Uman: “We’ll do anything to get [R. Nachman’s] descendants to Israel.


These were the words spoken by R. Nachman again and again, as if he knew that there were going to issues with his descendants. In the last few decades, dozens of such descendants have been discovered and identified, many of them having no knowledge of their ancestry. And the search is ongoing.


R. Nachman married his first wife, Sashia and had six daughters and two sons. Two daughters died in infancy and his two sons both died within a year or so of their births. The remaining daughters were Adil, Sarah, Miriam and Chaya.[3]

R. Nachman’s wife, Sashia died in 1807 and a month later he got engaged to a woman from Brody, who apparently was the daughter of the wealthy Yehoshua (or Yechezkel?) Tractenberg. It is uncertain what his second wife’s name was, but it has been suggested that it was Devora.


To illustrate just how complicated the story becomes, what follows is an extract from a contemporary self-described ‘Catholic Jew’ who claims to be a direct descendant of R. Nachman!

[NOTE: I wish to stress that I have no way of verifying this claim, nor any of the information this writer provides. Some of his suggestions are so radical that I cannot quote them without proper evidence and reliable sources. However, I will share the kernel of this story, because I do recall hearing vague references to something like this from within the Breslov community itself. Also, it is very difficult to find information on some of R. Nachman’s descendants for reasons that may become apparent.]

He writes:

“... groups such as those led by Reb Moshe ben Zalman the son of the Alter Rebbe and some of Rebbe Nachman and Rav Nosan of Nemirov's children and grandchildren [including Rebbe Nachman's daughters Udil Auerbach (Della O'Brien) and Chaya Zaslavski (Catherine Lavin)] also were baptised (though more quietly) and took Gentile names and occupations but within a few generations their descendants also had lost their Jewish identity.”

He also claims that: 

“Rebbe Nachman of Breslov was married twice. His first wife Sashia of Brody (Alexandra Body/ Braude) was the daughter of the secret Frankist Rebbe Benjamin Ephraim Braude (aka Alexander Margoliot/ Sender Brody) of Sheklov. She was the mother of most of his children. His wife died in 1807 and he remarried soon after to Devorah Brody (Braude) a daughter of the Frankist Rebbe of Sheklov and his second wife Rachel Mayer a granddaughter of Rebbe Jacob Frank. In 1808 Rebbe Nachman disappeared with his new wife to Lvov for 8 months to await the secret birth of his son named Jacob ben Rebbe Nachman (BaRoN) who he left with the Frankists to rear. This son later used the name Yankel Baron...”

The writer claims to be descended from the daughters of R. Nachman.

“Yankel Baron (b.1808 Lvov) married Bracha Zaslavski (b.1819) a daughter of Aharon Zaslavski and Chaya (b.1801) a daughter of Rebbe Nachman [i.e. he married his niece]. Bracha's sister Miriam Chaya Zaslavski (1820-1860) married Michael Brennan (b.1820 Sheklov) a grandson of Rabbi Nathan (Nosan) of Nemirov the Chief Disciple of Rebbe Nachman. Michael's father was Moshe ben Rabbi Nathan of Nemirov (BReNaN/ BRENN) who became a follower of the Alter Rebbe's son Moshe ben Schneur Zalman [who had become the leader of the Jewish Catholics (secret Frankists)]. Moshe (b.1795 d.1865 Kilkenny Ireland) and his wife Sarah Auerbach (b.1807) (daughter of Adil and R. Yoska) was removed from the family tree and records of the family by the Jewish community...”

According to this account, Moshe, the son of R. Shneur Zalman of Liadi married into the family of R. Nachman. (The reader is urged to read the full story of Moshe as per link above.)[4]

 He continues:

“...I do not want people to misunderstand my tree - not everyone on it became Catholics. The descendants of Yaacov Baron and Bracha (Brocho) Zaslavski remained mostly Jewish. It is Miriam Chaya Zaslavski and Michael Brennan that became Catholics. Their daughter Mary Phoebe (Miriam Feige) Brennan reverted to orthodox Jewish...”

I emphasize, again, that I am not suggesting that this account is accurate. He appears to know his ancestry but even if he is inaccurate on some of the very controversial details, it still shows how confused and entangled the lines became.[5]

Arthur Green writes “...the record on Nahman’s daughters’ marriages becomes somewhat confused...[6]


R. Nachman writes, perhaps rather tellingly, about 'controversies within households':

The whole world is full of controversy...and even within a household...and children...
For each one in the household represents a particular nation; their challenges to one another are like the wars between the nations...
...this war can spread out among his household...
The controversies that go on in the tzaddik’s house also contain the wars of the nations...[7]

In another place he writes:

Believe me, I have the power to make peace with the entire world...but what can I do when there are certain heavenly rungs which can only be attained by means of conflict...”

On Erev Pesach 1798, R. Nachman announced his plan to travel to Eretz Yisrael. His daughter asked what would become of the family while he was away. He replied:

You will go to your in-laws. Someone will take your older sister as a household servant. Your younger sister will be taken into someone’s home out of pity. Your mother can find work as a cook, and I shall sell everything in the house to cover expenses for the journey.[8]

"It is also interesting to note that there is no mention of his [R. Nachman's] saying Kaddish for his father."[9]

"When Rabbi Nachman was about eighteen, his mother-in-law [in whose home he was living] passed away. When his father-in-law remarried, the new mistress of the house made it very difficult for the young Tzadik to engage in his usual devotions. He then moved to the nearby town of Medvedevka..."[10]


On the issue of R. Nachman’s relationship with Sabbateans and Frankists, though, there is much scholarly debate. Some say that the influential R. Yehuda Leib of Shpola (the 'Shpola Zeida') accused R. Nachman of being connected to the Sabbateans and Frankists.

According to Mendel Piekarz, there are documents which appear to connect R. Nachman with certain teachings of the false messiahs Shabbatai Tzi and Jacob Frank. This led him to believe that the suspicions and accusation levelled against R. Nachman as being a secret Sabbatean, may have been true.

One document suggests that “...Frank married a Jewish girl from our city (the opponents of the Bratslav Hasidim said she was of the family of MaHaRan (R. Nachman)...there were many [Frankists] there [in Bratslav] who held onto the ways of Sabbatai Sevi...other Hasidim, led by the old one (Shpoler Zeide) accused him of being a follower of that sect and a Sabbatian...”

However, Arthur Green[11] completely discredits the document as an ‘obvious forgery’. He writes: “...hard evidence to support the claim that Nahman was accused of Sabbatianism is lacking.”

He continues: “Lacking authentic historical sources on the nature of the Zeida’s complaints against Nahman, we may attempt some surmises of our own.”

And then he suggests that the Shpola Zaide’s opposition may have been nothing more than a ‘turf war’ or hasagat gevul against “...the young man [R. Nachman] [12] who so obviously and brashly challenged him...” 

Another Breslov source suggests the controversy was centred around R. Nachman permitting his followers to imbibe alcohol before the morning prayers in order to pray with deeper emotion.[14]

Another suggestion was that R. Nachman was accused of plagiarising his grandfather, R. Nachman of Horodenker’s teachings, of which he was said to have had a secret collection.[15]

According to Shevachay HaRan

"He [R. Nachman] made a joke of this rumor, saying, 'My grandfather was really good to me! He left me lessons fitting each occasion, no matter what happens. It all fits what people need to hear...' 
...The Rebbe said that those who knew Rabbi Nachman Horodenker, knew that his grandfather was not capable of revealing such lessons...he was not an outstanding innovative scholar."

Green is joined by other scholars such as Joseph Weiss and Yehuda Liebes who show that R. Nachman was clearly familiar with the teachings of Shabbatai Tzvi and Jacob Frank but that he studied their teachings in order to combat them!

In fact, Liebes shows that part of the main mission of R. Nachman’s life was to struggle against and then to rectify the sin of the Sabbateans. (His Tikkun haKelali, for example, was instituted to combat the overt promiscuity of the Sabbateans. See here for more on the Sabbateans.)

 R. Nachman of Breslov wrote: 

For that Shabbatai Tzvi...led astray a number of the greatest men of the generation and outstanding scholars...they left the fold and spoke evil regarding the Oral law...but when a Tzadik sweetens their words, he transforms their sayings back into Torah.”[17]

Finally, to the best of my knowledge, Arthur Green does not mention the alleged Christian descendants anywhere in his well-researched book. (I mention this as a great irony because Green denounces any Sabbatean and Frankist influences and makes no mention of non-Jewish descendants – yet I have been told by some Breslovers not to have his book in my library!)

Whichever way one chooses to take the story and the varying and controversial interpretations thereof, there certainly does appear to be a great deal of entanglement and uncertainty one way or the other.

We shall probably never know the real facts - but if lost descendants can be found and brought back to Judaism, then the tumultuous journey over all these generations may have been worthwhile.

[1]Through Fire and Water, by R. Chaim Kramer, p.620.
[2] Operation Breslov: Tracing Rebbe’s Descendants, by Akiva Novik, 10.31.10 
[3]There are conflicting accounts as to the number of children.
[4] In the article on Moshe, his wife’s name is given as Shifra - although this does not exclude the possibility of him marrying a second time.
[5]See Rabbi Nachman' s Wisdom, p. 430, for the Breslov version of the Family Tree.)
[6] Tormented Master, by Arthur Green, p. 129. This note is referring to another matter but I quoted it to show that a degree of uncertainty overshadowed at least some factual aspects of their marriages. To give some idea of the degree of speculation regarding just who married who, what follows are some random extracts from an internal Breslov source; Through Fire and Water:  "It is not known when Reb Avraham Ber was born, but he was probably about fifteen years old when he married (notwithstanding the Czar's decree yo marry after the age of 18; since birth certificates were not issued, it was difficult for the authorities to follow up the exact age)...Erb Noson wrote to his son Reb Yitzchak mentioning that he had spent the entire week in Sherevitz for sheva brakhos... Reb Noson does not state who the bride and groom were, but we are assuming they were Moshe Chenkes' daughter and Reb Avraham Ber for the following reasons. We can exclude Reb Noson' s children, as his older sons were already married, while Reb Dovid Zvi did not marry until 1835. If it was Chana Tsirel's first wedding, the celebrations would have been in Breslov, nor Sherevitz, and Reb Yitzchok, as a brother, would have been aware of where Reb Noson was for the celebrations. On the other hand, Moshe Chenkes came from Sherevitz , which was a little village next to Breslov...We therefore conclude that this wedding was that of Reb Avraham Ber to Moshe Chenkes' daughter, which can be dated to October, 1830." (Through Fire and Water, by R. Chaim Kramer, p. 624.)
[7] Sichot 77.
[8] Shivchey II 6.
[9] Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom, translated and annotated by R. Aryeh Kaplan.
[10] Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom. p. 432. 
[11] Tormented Master, by Arthur Green, p. 103, 126.
[12] Parenthesis mine.
[13] Rabbi Nachman' s Wisdom, p. 433.
[14] Yemet haTela’ot, p. 174.
[15] Sichot 211.
[16] Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom p. 347. 
[17] Likkutei Moharan 1:207


  1. Does Assaf say anything about R Moshe son of the Alter Rebbe in terms of joining the Frankists?

    1. I speak under correction but I don't recall that he does.

  2. I believe you are sighting Brother Gilbert from Australia?,

  3. You are correct Mevashir. This is why I wrote:

    "To illustrate just how complicated the story becomes, what follows is an extract from a contemporary self-described ‘Catholic Jew’ who claims to be a direct descendant of R. Nachman!

    [NOTE: I wish to stress that I have no way of verifying this claim, nor any of the information this writer provides. Some of his suggestions are so radical that I cannot quote them without proper evidence and reliable sources. However, I will share the kernel of this story, because I do recall hearing vague references to something like this from within the Breslov community itself. Also, it is very difficult to find information on some of R. Nachman’s descendants for reasons that may become apparent.]"