Rabbi Michal Dorfman

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Rabbi Michel Dorfman
Rabbi Yechiel Michel Dorfman (1913, Kamenetz-Podolsk - July 30 2006, Jerusalem) was the de facto head of the Breslov (Hasidic dynasty) Hasidim living in post-Stalinist Russia. Due to his persistence and planning, the annual Breslover Rosh Hashana kibbutz (Breslov) (prayer gathering) at the grave of Rebbe Nachman of Breslav in Uman, Ukraine, which began in 1811, continued on a small scale despite the Communism ban on religious gatherings.


Rabbi Dorfman was born near Kiev and became a Breslover Hasid in his early teens. He moved to Uman at the age of 15, where he married Rivkah, the granddaughter of Rabbi Abraham Sternhartz, a leading Breslover figure.

During the Great purge of the Ukraine in the late 1930s, Dorfman escaped to Saint Petersburg, where he survived World War II. However, after the war he was arrested by the NKVD and incarcerated in the Lubyanka prison in Moscow for two years. Afterwards he was exiled to Siberia for another four and a half years. Upon the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, he was given a reprieve and allowed to settle in Moscow.

Rabbi Dorfman was certified as a shochet (ritual slaughterer) by the Rabbi of Poltava. He alternately supported his family as a tailor, shoemaker, and bookbinder during his years in Russia.

Breslov leader

After World War II, the few remaining Breslover Hasidim in Russia moved far away from the government center in Moscow, to areas such as Tashkent, where religious practices were still forbidden but government scrutiny was less intense. During the year, these scattered Hasidim did not keep in contact with each other. However, before each Rosh Hashanah, they would go to public pay phones to call Rabbi Dorfman in Moscow, who updated them on details of the upcoming holiday pilgrimage to Uman. Rabbi Dorfman also corresponded with Hasidim who lived in remote areas, encouraging them to come to Uman.

Rabbi Dorfman served as one of the prayer leaders at the secret Rosh Hashanah services, which were held every year in a house near Rebbe Nachman's gravesite. In contrast to the hundreds of Hasidim who participated in the Rosh Hashana kibbutz (Breslov) during the 19th century and early twentieth century, only enough men for a minyan (prayer quorum of 10 men) risked the annual pilgrimage in post-Stalinist Russia. Often the police would raid the gathering and take down names of participants, threatening them with imprisonment.

In the mid-1960s, Rabbi Dorfman began escorting United States citizens to Uman to show them Rebbe Nachman's gravesite. During World War II, a fierce battle between the Russians and Nazism for control of Uman had demolished the ancient cemetery in which Rebbe Nachman was buried. The cemetery was razed and housing lots were constructed on it. The grave of Rebbe Nachman was rediscovered and relocated in the yard of a private house. Only with the aid of someone like Rabbi Dorfman, who traveled to the gravesite several times a year, could foreigners hope to locate it.

By aiding foreign tourists, Rabbi Dorfman placed himself in great personal danger. The government only issued tourist Visa (document)s to large cities like Kiev or Odessa, not to Uman; thus, Rabbi Dorfman was aiding illegal tourists. Due to his efforts, however, several hundred United States and Israeli citizens were able to visit Uman. The increasing number of visitors and requests for visas to Uman in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s put pressure on the Soviet government to ease its restrictions. Finally the gates opened entirely with the fall of Communism in 1989.

After 38 consecutive years of petitioning the government through official and private channels, Rabbi Dorfman and his wife finally received their exit visas in 1972 and emigrated to Israel. In recognition of his self-sacrifice on behalf of the Breslover cause in Russia for decades, Rabbi Dorfman was appointed Rosh Yeshiva of the Breslov Yeshiva in Meah Shearim. He died on 5 Av 5766 (July 30, 2006).


  • Fleer, Gedaliah (2005). Against All Odds. Jerusalem: Breslov Research Institute. ISBN 1-928822-05-3
  • Kramer, Chaim (1989). Crossing the Narrow Bridge. Breslov Research Institute. ISBN 0-930213-40-8.

See also

  • Breslov (Hasidic dynasty)
  • Nachman of Breslov
  • Rosh Hashana kibbutz (Breslov)