History of the Jews - Vol. 5

By Heinrich Graetz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX.
THE NEW CHASSIDISM.

The Alliance of Reason with Mysticism -- Israel Baalshem, his Career and Reputation--Movement against Rabbinism--The "Zaddik" --Beer Mizricz, his Arrogance and Deceptions--The Devotional Methods of the Chassidim--Their Liturgy--Dissolution of the Synods "of the Four Countries"--Cossack Massacres in Poland --Elijah Wilna, his Character and Method of Research--The Mizricz and Karlin Chassidim--Circumstances prove Favorable to the Spread of the New Sect--Vigorous Proceedings against them in Wilna--Death of Beer Mizricz--Progress of Chassidism despite the Persecution of its Opponents.

1750-1786 C.E.

As soon as an historical work has performed its service, and is to undergo a change, new phenomena arise from various sides, and assume a hostile attitude, either to alter or destroy it. It might have been foreseen that the rejuvenescence of the Jewish race, for which Mendelssohn had leveled the way, would produce a transformation and decomposition of religious habits among Jews. The innovators desired this, and hoped, and strove for it; the old orthodox party suspected and dreaded it. The process of dissolution was brought about also in another way, upon another scene, under entirely different conditions, and by other means, and this could not have been foreseen. There arose in Poland a new Essenism, with forms similar to those of the ancient cult, with ablutions and baths, white garments, miraculous cures, and prophetic visions. Like the old movement, it originated in ultra-piety, but soon turned against its own parent, and perhaps hides within itself germs of a peculiar kind, which, being in course of development, cannot be defined. It seems remarkable that, at the time when Men

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