Hasidism, a form of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, developed in eighteenth-century Eastern Europe as a spiritual backlash against overly meticulous religious approaches. Hasidic sects were quickly established, creating dynasties of charismatic leaders, called rebbes, who were named after the communities they led. Alongside rebbes stood ravs - rabbis who served Hasidic and non-Hasidic communities as legal authorities, but were less spiritually oriented.
Known as the Puper Rav, also spelled Pupa or Puppe, Rabbi Yaakov Yitzhak Neumann was head of Montreal’s Hasidic Belz community from 1953 until his death in 2007. Neumann was born in Pupa, Hungary, but was a Belzer Hasid. After surviving the Holocaust, in which his only son, Nuchem, was killed, Rabbi Neumann served as head of the remaining Hungarian Puper community, from which he gained the title, Puper Rav.
After Rabbi Neumann served briefly in Melbourne, Australia, the Puper Rebbe (charismatic leader of all the Puper Hasidim) suggested Neumann’s appointment in Montreal’s Belzer community, to which the Belzer Rebbe approved. Rabbi Neumann arrived in Montreal in 1953 in the company of several followers from Melbourne, and helped guide the bourgeoning Belzer community.
In Montreal, most of the Belzer Hasidic community is of Hungarian origin (though the town of Belz itself can now be found in Western Ukraine). The community’s initial humble beginnings in Montreal greatly expanded following the Second World War. The Montreal shtibl (a small house of prayer and study) for the Belzer Hasidim is the Hassidei Belz Umachzikei Hada’as (Hasidim of Belz and Upholders of the Faith), located on Jeanne-Mance in Mile End. Since Neumann’s death, the community has expanded and built another shtibl.
Known as the “kleiner” (small) Puper Rav due to his short stature, Rabbi Neumann became the head of the Montreal Belz kehilla (community). Well-liked for his good-natured personality and clever wit, Rabbi Neumann served in Montreal until his death. His influence outside Montreal was evident when after his passing he was mourned by the Puper Hasidim of New York.
Compiled by Marian Pinsky.
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*Images courtesy of HaMachne HaChareidi