Hasidism

The Hasidic movement in Judaism was founded by Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (1700–1760), known as the Besht, or Ba’al Shem Tov (Master of the Good Name), in the mid-eighteenth century. The core beliefs of Hasidism are pantheism and devekut. Pantheism holds that God is present in all natural physical objects. This caused great unrest among Jews as it conflicted with the widely held belief that God did not have any physical presence. Devekut is a state of ecstatic communion with God, open to every Hasid.

Traveling through Poland and Ukraine, the Besht emphasized that emotional communion with God and love of fellow Jews was more important than technical Torah scholarship. He placed a great stress on heartfelt prayer, as opposed to study. In the eighteenth century, Hasidism quickly spread throughout Eastern Europe, encountering opposition to its beliefs wherever it went. Still, various sects were formed, as groups adhered to the specific teachings of certain rebbes, or spiritual leaders. The movement thrived until World War II and the Holocaust. With much of their population executed, and their homes and towns destroyed, Hasidic Jews mostly emigrated to either Israel or the United States.

Today Hasids are often most strongly identified with their manner of dress. While specific attire differs from sect to sect, most Hasidic men wear a long black coat, prayer belt, black hat, and a set of white threads, called tzitzit, hanging outside their clothes at the waist. Additionally, men are not allowed to shave the sides of their faces, which is why many Hasidic Jews wear curls, called payot, and beards. The requirements for Hasidic women are less uniform but quite severe. Women are required to wear conservative skirts and blouses with long sleeves, and married women must cover their hair.

Hasidic Jews chose this manner of dress to preserve as many of their customs as they could from the eighteenth century. They also believe it is important to stand out from secular society and look Jewish. Thus, a group that was once radical is today seen as quite conservative.

ADDITIONAL FACTS

  1. The word Hasidism can also be used to refer to a group of Jews during the third century BC. These Hasidic Jews were conservative and opposed Hellenistic Jews, who advocated assimilation.
  2. Not all Hasidic sects get along. The Satmer sect is anti-Zionist while the Chabad sect supports the State of Israel
 
 
 

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