Hasidism

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Hasidism

or

Chassidism

(both: hăs`ĭdĭz'əm, khă–) [Heb.,=the pious], Jewish religious movement founded in Poland in the 18th cent. by Baal-Shem-TovBaal-Shem-Tov
, c.1698–1760, Jewish founder of modern Hasidism, b. Ukraine. His life is the subject of many tales that circulated even before his death. Originally named Israel ben Eliezer, he is said to have been born of elderly, poor parents and to have been orphaned at
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. Its name derives from HasidimHasidim
or Chassidim
[Heb.,=the pious], term used by the rabbis to describe those Jews who maintained the highest standard of religious observance and moral action. The term has been applied to movements at three distinct times.
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. Hasidism, which stressed the mercy of God and encouraged joyous religious expression through music and dance, spread rapidly. Baal-shem-tov taught that purity of heart is more pleasing to God than learning. He drew his teaching chiefly from Jewish legend and aroused much opposition among Talmudists, who in 1772, pronounced the movement heretical. Hasidism shows the influence of the Lurianic kabbalah (see kabbalahkabbalah
or cabala
[Heb.,=reception], esoteric system of interpretation of the Scriptures based upon a tradition claimed to have been handed down orally from Abraham.
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; Luria, Isaac ben SolomonLuria or Loria, Isaac ben Solomon
, 1534–72, Jewish kabbalist, surnamed Ashkenazi, called Ari [lion] by his followers, b. Jerusalem. In his 20s he spent seven years in seclusion, intensely studying the kabbalah.
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). After the death of the Baal-shem-tov, the single most important characteristic of the movement—the leadership role of the zaddik—developed. The zaddik, the charismatic leader around whom various Hasidic groups gather, serves as an intermediary between his followers and God. Leadership is passed from father to son (or in some cases to son-in-law). By the 1830s the majority of Jews in Ukraine, Galicia, and central Poland were Hasidic, as were substantial minorities in Belarus and Hungary. In the 20th cent., Hasidim are the staunchest defenders of tradition against increasing secularism in Jewish life. Since the HolocaustHolocaust
, name given to the period of persecution and extermination of European Jews by Nazi Germany. Romani (Gypsies), homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, the disabled, and others were also victims of the Holocaust.
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, the main centers of Hasidism are in the United States and Israel. The most notable Hasidic community in the United States is composed of the followers of the Lubavitcher rebbe, who are noted for their outreach to other Jews as well as for their messianic fervor. Romantic reworkings of Hasidic doctrine by Yiddish writer I. L. PeretzPeretz or Perez, Isaac Loeb
, 1852–1915, Jewish poet, novelist, playwright, and lawyer, b. Zamosc, Poland.
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, theologian Martin BuberBuber, Martin
, 1878–1965, Jewish philosopher, b. Vienna. Educated at German universities, he was active in Zionist affairs, and he taught philosophy and religion at the Univ. of Frankfurt-am-Main (1924–33).
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, and others have become popular outside traditional Hasidic circles.

Bibliography

See G. Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1946, repr. 1961); M. Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man (tr., 1958, repr. 1966) and The Origin and Meaning of Hasidism (tr., 1960); E. Wiesel, Souls on Fire (1972); H. Rabinowicz, Hasidism and the State of Israel (1982) and Hasidism: The Movement and Its Masters (1988); G. D. Hundert, ed., Essential Papers on Hasidism (1991).

Hasidism

 

a mystical religious tendency in Judaism that arose in the first half of the 18th century among the Jewish population of Volyn’, Podolia, and Galicia in opposition to official Judaism, and to the rabbinate in particular. The founder of Hasidism was Israel Bal Shem Tob (1700–60), known as the Besht.

Hasidism is characterized by religious fanaticism, belief in miracles, and adherence to the teachings of the zaddiks (holy seers), who are allegedly in communication with god as well as being gifted with supernatural powers and having all creation in their control. The zaddiks, like the rabbis, were fanatically opposed to any education of the popular masses; they also had a fanatic hatred of the revolutionary movement. Based on this similarity of views, the Hasidic movement gradually found a way to compromise with the rabbinate and was recognized by the synagogue.