Hasidic People: A Place in the New World

By Jerome R. Mintz | Go to book overview

Introduction

Beginning in the latter half of the eighteenth century, the Hasidic movement revitalized Orthodox Jewish belief and ritual in Eastern and Central Europe. Hasidim share a common history, customs and dress, and language; they are renowned for their fervor in fulfilling the law and for awe of their Rebbes, who are reputed to have power to bless and to heal. To casual observers the Hasidic community may appear to possess a seamless exterior. Common features and devotion to Orthodox Judaism, however, mask differences between courts as well as factions that develop within courts during times of stress. Today, rather than a unified sect, the Hasidim comprise a tenuous alliance of courts and court members, with some courts on less than amicable terms.

This book is about the Hasidic people in the New York City area. It concerns family life, social organization, social change, and conflict within the Hasidic community. It also considers how the Hasidim have fared in relationships with other ethnic groups, in local-level politics, and in the American judicial system. This is a social history which examines the perspectives and cultural values revealed in the context of events and in life experiences.

The growth of the present community began following the Second World War with the arrival of the survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. This remnant of the once populous Hasidic communities of Eastern and Central Europe came to America with a greater sense of social continuity than had earlier immigrants. They came not as individuals seeking jobs, wealth, or adventure, but rather as refugees struggling to restore their communities.

The Hasidim are bound together in a common spiritual enterprise. The Hebrew word Hasidim means the pious ones. Like all Orthodox Jews, the Hasidim are dependent on the Holy Scriptures to govern and guide them. Their lives are circumscribed by the 613 mitzvot (commandments)

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