Hasidism

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Hasidism

Hasidism or Chassidism (both: hăs´ĬdĬz´əm, 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 cent., Hasidim are 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).

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