(redirected from Chasidism)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
Related to Chasidism: Chasidim, Chassid, Hasidic Judaism


Hasidism or Chassidism (both: hăsˈĭdĭzˌəm, khă–) [Heb.,=the pious], Jewish religious movement founded in Poland in the 18th cent. by Baal-Shem-Tov. Its name derives from Hasidim. 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 kabbalah; Luria, Isaac ben Solomon). 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 and 21st cent., Hasidim have been the staunchest defenders of tradition against increasing secularism in Jewish life. Since the Holocaust, 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. Peretz, theologian Martin Buber, and others have become popular outside traditional Hasidic circles.


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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



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.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
1814), who viewed himself as an emissary of the Gra in the anti-Chasidic crusade, published attacks on Chasidism accusing the movement of claiming its founder was a "divine man," whose teachings obviated the need for studying Talmud.
There seems to be a relationship between Passover--with its yearning for Elijah, herald of the messianic era--and certain key events in the Gra's war against Chasidism. The campaign began during the intermediate days of Passover in 1772.
Reliance on such interpretations of this passage from Exodus remains central in Chasidism's self understanding.
In particular see, 204-211, in which Ben-Sasson argues that some of the Gra's commentary on the Book of Proverbs uses language that is similar to anti-Chasidic tracts emanating from his circle in Vilna and certain commentaries express his revulsion toward the tzaddik in Chasidism. Lamm concurs that this "is quite possible, even probable." (Torah For Torah's Sake, 333).
Militantly rationalistic, Dik was convinced early that the twin curses of Jewish life in Eastern Europe were Chasidism and the refusal of Jews to acquire Western education.
They wanted not the abolition of the Law, but a return to what they perceived to be the pristine practice of Judaism, freed of the mystical accretions of Chasidism, and the primitive superstitions licensed by "folk custom." They desired a return to decorum, rationality, and practical good conduct, seeing the spiritual purpose of Judaism as inculcating faith in a true God rather than breeding fear of imaginary demons; of building a Jewish moral character, which expressed itself in productive daily life and virtuous communal intercourse.
[achieved] a preeminent position in Jewish piety and religious thought by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries." (1) Berger is referring to kabbalah, particularly Lurianic kabbalah, which is the core of Chasidism, including Chabad.
Indeed, even the Mitnagdim, the Orthodox who so strongly opposed Chasidism at its inception some three centuries ago, accepted and embraced kabbalah and were represented among its leading scholars, including the Vilna Gaon.
Believing in kabbalah, they believe in Chasidism, especially its most successful exponent, Chabad.
We must remember that fear of claims for a false messiah -- it was not long since Shabbtai Zvi -- was the key factor in the opposition of the Mitnagdim to Chasidism. (6)
(7) As Idel has pointed out, the Chasidic tzaddik's unio mystica (mystical union with God) is based on Divine immanence, which was the Chasidic doctrine that was a key factor in the challenge of the Vilna Gaon and other Mitnagdim to Chasidism. (8) From the Lurianic doctrine of immanence as adopted and understood by Chasidism, it is a short step to the Chasidic doctrine of the Tzaddik's (the Rebbe's) ability to achieve mystical union (unio mystica) with God, and -- from there -- to the Rebbe's divine essence and status as messiah, which completes the implications of the Chasidic doctrine of immanence in terms of the Rebbe's relationship with God as part of the Divine unity.
In sum, if most of Orthodox Jewry, for centuries, have embraced kabbalah and Chasidism, which is its current embodiment, as a fresh new source of Jewish spirituality, it will be very difficult to show them convincingly that the claims made for the Rebbe are clearly false and outside any legitimate boundaries of Orthodoxy.