The Beginnings of Beshtian Hasidism in Poland

By Doktór, Jan | Shofar, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

The Beginnings of Beshtian Hasidism in Poland


Doktór, Jan, Shofar


Polish Hasidism emerged in Poland in the second half of the seventeenth century on a wave of messianic hopes. Its ideology was elitist par excellence. It could be pursued only by a chosen few who focused in their life on Hasidic ideas. After several splits and transformations in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth it eventually developed into a mass movement in the late eighteenth century with unique characteristics unimaginable in any other historical or geographical context. The pivotal moment in the shaping of ascetic Polish Hasidism was the messianic campaign of the year 5500 (1740). The messianic fever lasted several years, and the pilgrimages and discussions caused many Hasidim to abandon the ascetic paradigm, which had been understood as the road to holiness and salvation. This gave rise to new, anti-ascetic trends in Hasidism, from which there emerged the Hasidism known as Beshtian Hasidism.

Hasidism, which emerged in Poland in the second half of the seventeenth century, was related to a wave of messianic hopes, and after several splits and transformations in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth evolved in the mid-eighteenth century into Beshtian Hasidism, alive to this very day. Notwithstanding random groups of seventeenth-century Hasids who were active in non-Polish Ashkenazi areas, such as German and Czech lands, Beshtian Hasidism, differing from earlier Hasidic movements, was born in Poland. All its major metamorphoses also occurred there, and it was in Poland that it eventually developed into a mass movement in the late eighteenth century with unique characteristics and tones which were unimaginable in any other historical or geographical context.

For a long time a widespread assumption, derived from early Hasidic hagiography, has had it that Baal Shem ??? was the actual founder of Hasidism, which was thought of as a popular, folk movement from its very beginning. Those scholars who supported this view were undoubtedly inspired by the personality of Baal Shem ??? himself, a plebeian mystic, healer and miracle worker.1 Even Gershom Scholem affirmed that "Hasidism was founded shortly before the middle of the eighteenth century by the famous saint and mystic Israel Baal Shem."2 It seems implausible that he could have been a religious authority in the Kabbalist elite circles. As a common wandering healer and enchanter he was thought to attract mainly ordinary and uneducated folk. Highlighting the folk mien of Hasidism helped to explain its rapid expansion, all the more so as in the late eighteenth century it in fact acquired many features of a mass folk movement. Yet the premises of such an image of Hasidism are hardly satisfactory, while the image itself, thus ideologically tinted, misses some crucial elements and inspirations of the emerging Hasidism.3

This picture was questioned for the first time by Gershom Scholem's student, Joseph Weiss, in the essay Some Notes on the Social Background of Early Hasidism, which was published posthumously and after the death of his master Gershom Scholem in 1985, in a collection of his works, Studies in Eastern European Jewish Mysticism:* "For too long research has been concentrated mainly on the legendary biography, or occasionally also on the personality, of Israel Baal Shem (1700-1760), often called in both scholarly and popular literature the founder of Hasidism."5 And he added: "Research could be focused more on the historical and sociological setting of scattered small marginal groups of religious enthusiasts that existed within the Eastern European Jewish communities during the first half of the eighteen century."6 His call made no impression on scholars.

Early Hasidism and Its Development

The earliest groups of Hasidim emerged in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the late seventeenth century in the wake of Shabbatai Zevi's rise. The following decades were marked by the growth of the Hasidic movement, which was in fact elitist though increasingly appreciated and supported among the Jews. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Beginnings of Beshtian Hasidism in Poland
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.