Hasidism – Home | University of Calgary

Posted By on January 14, 2016

Note: The Hebrew word Hasid means "pious" and is employed in classical Jewish sources to designate one whose spiritual devotion extends beyond the technical requirements of Jewish religious law. The term came to denote an adherent of the popular East European Jewish religious movement whose history and doctrines are outlined below. Background to the Rise of Hasidism 17th- Century Massacres and Pogroms

In addition to the death tolls, the impoverished Jewish communities had to cope with excessive taxation, support for widows, orphans and disabled; and extortion from bandits and Christian clergy

These events were followed by church-instigated pogroms.

The Ba'al Shem Tov was providing an effective antidote to the overwhelming demoralizing forces that beset Polish and Russian Jewry when he taught his followers to feel good about themselves and their relationships with God.

He encouraged the cultivation of joy through activities of singing, dancing, story-telling, drinking, etc.

Hasidic doctrine explained that peasant love songs and fairy tales were in reality profoundly allegorical religious texts (e.g., the songs that the Levites had sung in the Holy Temple, expressing the love of God and Israel) that were now being "restored" to their proper purpose.

Unlike the "fire-and-brimstone" preaching that was so common in his time, the Ba'al Shem Tov eschewed asceticism and self-imposed deprivations as expressions of lack of faith in a loving Father.

The Ba'al Shem Tov's doctrine of prayer imbued it with two important mystical ideals:

Hasidism also encouraged the participation of all limbs and forms of expression in worship: through gesticulation, dance, song, etc.

Rooted in Kabbalistic doctrines, the Tzaddik was a charismatic figure of extraordinary spiritual calibre. Since the common folk who made up the majority of the Hasidic movement did not possess the material or spiritual means to achieve full religious perfection, the Tzaddik would provide a vicarious fulfillment. By devoting oneself to a worthy Tzaddik, the individual could benefit from the latter's spiritual guidance and achievements.

The first generation of Tzaddikim consisted of the actual disciples of the Ba'al Shem Tov, and included individuals of remarkable stature. The cultivation of personal charisma resulted in an immense variety among the individual Hasidic communities, as each was stamped with the imprint of its leaders, emphasizing different aspects of religious piety.

Some of the better known leaders include:

Nevertheless, the movement continued to produce several remarkable leaders and religious models, as well as inspiring instances of devotion among the followers.

Although they suffered gravely from the devastation of the European Holocaust, many Hasidic groups continue to exist and thrive on the contemporary Jewish scene, especially in the United States and in Israel. Hasidic factions play prominent roles in both the Naturei Karta anti-Zionist movement, and in the Aguddat Israel.

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Hasidism - Home | University of Calgary

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