KabbalahKabbalah is the name applied to the whole range of Jewish mystical activity. While codesof Jewish law focus on wha...
you together leave the land. So . . . the Blessed Holy One said as follows: Israel, whatshould I do with you? I have alrea...
Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov (Besht)                                       (1698 – 1760)The early life of Rabbi Yisrael ben...
teacher for young children. He became acquainted with Rabbi Ephraim of Brody, whosomehow discovered that Yisrael was not t...
direct quotes from the Baal Shem Tov. Other major sources for the teachings of the BaalShem Tov are Keser Shem Tov, Tzavaa...
There are perhaps a dozen major Hasidic movements today, the largest of which (withperhaps 100,000 followers) is the Lubav...
He started to whistle, the one thing he knew he could do beautifully; he wanted to offerhis whistling as a gift to God. Th...
movements various outreach programs-there are dozens of other Hasidic dynasties in theUnited States (many of them located ...
successor. Chabad leadership decided that he would be the final rebbe, this decisionsparked much speculation and expectati...
The Seven Noahide LawsWhile Jews are commanded to observe hundreds of laws, non-Jews are expected to followseven that are ...
who drew him into his inner circle giving him various responsibilities; five years later, inWarsaw, he married the Rebbes ...
Breslov HasidismThe Breslov movement was founded by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810), who wasthe greatgrandson of the ...
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Chassidim Handout


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Chassidim Handout

  1. 1. KabbalahKabbalah is the name applied to the whole range of Jewish mystical activity. While codesof Jewish law focus on what it is God wants from man, kabbalah tries to penetratedeeper, to Gods essence itself.There are elements of kabbalah in the Bible, for example, in the opening chapter ofEzekiel, where the prophet describes his experience of the divine: "... the heavens openedand I saw visions of God.... I looked and lo, a stormy wind came sweeping out of thenorth-a huge cloud and flashing fire, surrounded by a radiance; and in the center of thefire, a gleam as of amber" (1:1,4). The prophet then describes a divine chariot and thethrone of God.The rabbis of the Talmud regarded the mystical study of God as important yet dangerous.A famous talmudic story tells of four rabbis, Azzai, Ben Zoma, Elisha ben Abuyah, andAkiva who would meet together and engage in mystical studies. Azzai, the Talmudrecords, "looked and went mad [and] Ben Zoma died." Elisha ben Abuyah became aheretic and left Judaism. Rabbi Akiva alone "entered in peace and left in peace." It wasthis episode, the later experiences of individuals who became mentally unbalanced whileengaging in mystical activities, and the disaster of the false Messiah Shabbetai Zevi thatcaused seventeenth-century rabbis to legislate that kabbalah should be studied only bymarried men over forty who were also scholars of Torah and Talmud. The medievalrabbis wanted the study of kabbalah limited to people of mature years and character.The most famous work of kabbalah, the Zohar, was revealed to the Jewish world in thethirteenth century by Moses De Leon, who claimed that the book contained the mysticalwritings of the second-century rabbi Simeon bar Yochai. Almost all modern Jewishacademic scholars believe that De Leon himself authored the Zohar, although manyOrthodox kabbalists continue to accept De Leons attribution of it to Simeon bar Yochai.Indeed, Orthodox mystics are apt to see Bar Yochai not so much as the Zohars author asthe recorder of mystical traditions dating back to the time of Moses. The intensity withwhich Orthodox kabbalists hold this conviction was revealed to me once when I wasarguing a point of Jewish law with an elderly religious scholar. He referred to a certainmatter as being in the Torah, and when I asked him where, he said: "Its in the Zohar. Isthat not the same as if it was in the Torah itself?"The Zohar is written in Aramaic (the language of the Talmud) in the form of acommentary on the five books of the Torah. Whereas most commentaries interpret theTorah as a narrative and legal work, mystics are as likely to interpret it "as a system ofsymbols which reveal the secret laws of the universe and even the secrets of God"(Deborah Kerdeman and Lawrence Kushner, The Invisible Chariot, p. 90). To cite oneexample, Leviticus 26 records "a carrot and a stick" that God offers the Jewish people. Ifthey follow his decrees, He will reward them. But if they spurn them, God will "set Hisface" against the people: "I will discipline you sevenfold for your sins...." and "I willscatter you among the nations" (26:28, 33). At the chapters conclusion, God says: "Yet,even then, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them or spurnthem so as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them, for I am the Lord, theirGod" (26:44).On this series of admonitions, the Zohar comments: "Come and see the pure love of theBlessed Holy One for Israel. A parable: There was a king who had a single son who keptmisbehaving. One day he offended the king. The king said, I have punished you so manytimes and you have not [changed]. Now look, what should I do with you? If I banish youfrom the land and expel you from the kingdom, perhaps wild beasts or wolves or robberswill attack you and you will be no more. What can I do? The only solution is that I and 1
  2. 2. you together leave the land. So . . . the Blessed Holy One said as follows: Israel, whatshould I do with you? I have already punished you and you have not heeded Me. I havebrought fearsome warriors and flaming forces to strike at you and you have not obeyed. IfI expel you from the land alone, I fear that packs of wolves and bears will attack you andyou will be no more. But what can I do with you? The only solution is that I and youtogether leave the land and both of us go into exile. As it is written, I will discipline you,forcing you into exile; but if you think that I will abandon you, Myself too [shall go] alongwith you."There are many strands of teaching in the kabbalah. Medieval kabbalists, for example,were wont to speak of God as the En Sof (That Which Is Without Limit). The En Sof isinaccessible and unknowable to man. But God reveals Himself to mankind through aseries of ten emanations, sefirot, a configuration of forces that issue from the En Sof . Thefirst of these sefirot is keter (crown) and refers to Gods will to create. Another sefira,binah (understanding), represents the unfolding in Gods mind of the details of creation,while hesed (lovingkindness) refers to the uncontrolled flow of divine goodness. Most ofthe sefirot are regarded as legitimate objects for human meditation; they represent a wayin which human beings can make contact with God. Through contemplation and virtuousdeeds, human beings can also bring down the divine grace to this world.The greatest scholar and historian of kabbalah in this century was the late ProfessorGershom Scholem of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Scholem, himself a nonobservantJew, was fond of explaining how he became attracted to so esoteric a discipline: "Mydecision to study Jewish mysticism came the day I visited the home of a famous Germanrabbi, a person with a reputation for scholarship in the kabbalah.... Seeing on his shelfsome mystical texts with intriguing titles, I had, with all the enthusiasm of youth, askedthe rabbi about them. This junk, the rabbi had laughed at me. I should waste timereading nonsense like this? It was then . . . that I decided here was a field in which Icould make an impression. If this man can become an authority without reading the text,then what might I become if I actually read the books?"As a rule, mekubbalim (people who actively study and practice kabbalah) are skeptical ofmen like Scholem, who studied kabbalah as a university discipline and not from apersonal conviction of its truth. One mekubbal, Rabbi Abraham Chen, declared on oneoccasion before a seminar of Scholems students: "A scholar of mysticism is like anaccountant: He may know where all the treasure is, but he is not free to use it."A precisely opposite view on the value of kabbalah was taken by the late Professor SaulLieberman, the great Talmud scholar of the Jewish Theological Seminary. In anintroduction to a lecture Scholem delivered at the seminary, Lieberman said that severalyears earlier, some students asked to have a course here in which they could studykabbalistic texts. He had told them that it was not possible, but if they wished they couldhave a course on the history of kabbalah. For at a university, Lieberman said, "it isforbidden to have a course in nonsense. But the history of nonsense, that is scholarship."Liebermans caustic comment aside, kabbalah has long been one of the important areas ofJewish thought. Ideas that many contemporary Jews might think of as un-Jewishsometimes are found in the kabbalah, most notably, the belief in reincarnation (gilgulneshamot). Between 1500 and 1800, Scholem has written, "kabbalah was widelyconsidered to be the true Jewish theology," and almost no one attacked it. With theJewish entrance into the modern world, however-a world in which rational thinking wasmore highly esteemed than the mystical-kabbalah tended to be downgraded or ignored.In recent years, there has been an upsurge of interest in kabbalah, and today it iscommonly studied among Hasidic Jews, and among many non-Orthodox Jews who arepart of the counterculture. 2
  3. 3. Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov (Besht) (1698 – 1760)The early life of Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer, also known as the Baal Shem Tov (Besht), issurrounded by mystery. As founder of what is possibly the single most importantreligious movement in Jewish history, Chassidus, many legends have grown around himand it is difficult for us to know what is historical fact. Even the year of his birth is amatter of controversy, some sources say it was 1700.Rabbi Yisrael was born in Okop, a small village in the Ukraine on the Polish Russianborder (Podolia). His parents, Eliezer and Sarah, were quite old when he was born andthey passed away when he was a still a very young child. Many legends are told aboutEliezer, the father of the Baal Shem Tov. We are told that his last words to his son were"Fear nothing other than God."The young orphan was cared for by the community and presumably received the sameeducation most children received. Nevertheless, he was different from most children. Hewould wander in the fields and forests surrounding his home and seclude himself,pouring out his heart to God. Young Yisrael had an unusually strong emotionalrelationship with God. This relationship was perhaps the defining characteristic of thereligious approach he would ultimately develop and which came to be known asChassidus.When he entered his teens the communitys responsibility to support him ended and hewas given a job as a teachers assistant (bahelfer). One of his tasks was to escort thechildren to and from school, a task which he performed in his own unique way, leadingthe children in song and praise to God.His next job was as a caretaker in the local synagogue. This provided the young Yisraelwith the opportunity to study and develop. During this period he attained an outstandinglevel of knowledge in the entire body of Jewish knowledge, including eventually, themysteries of Kabbalah. Nevertheless, he publicly maintained an image of simplicity, andthe townspeople were completely ignorant of his stature.According to legend, during this period Yisrael developed a relationship with otherhidden tzadikim (righteous men). Most significant was a tzadik named Rabbi Adam BaalShem, who bequeathed his writings to Yisrael.He also apparently married during this period, but his wife passed away. At some pointafter the death of his first wife he moved to a town near Brody where he was hired as a 3
  4. 4. teacher for young children. He became acquainted with Rabbi Ephraim of Brody, whosomehow discovered that Yisrael was not the simple fellow he appeared to be. He was soimpressed with Yisrael that he offered his daughter, Leah Rochel, to Yisrael for a wife.However, Rabbi Ephraim passed away a short time later, so when Yisrael went to Brodyto marry his wife, he met the brides brother, Rabbi Gershon Kitover, also a majorscholar. When Yisrael presented himself as the groom, Rabbi Gershon was shocked, sinceYisrael was dressed in the manner of an ignorant peasant. However, Yisrael produced aletter of engagement and Rabbi Gershon begrudgingly agreed. Leah Rochel however, wasapparently more perceptive and saw that there was more to Yisrael than appeared on thesurface. After their marriage, Rabbi Yisrael and his wife moved to a small town in theCarpathian Mountains. Supported by his wife, he spent this period in study and worship.Finally, when he was thirty-six years old in the year 1734, Rabbi Yisrael revealed himselfto the world. He settled in Talust and rapidly gained a reputation as a holy man. Hebecame known as the Baal Shem Tov, Master of the Good Name. (The title Baal Shem(Master of the Name) was used for holy men who were known as miracle workers sincethey used the power of the Name of God to work miracles.) He was also known by theacronym of "Besht." Later he moved to Medzeboz in Western Ukraine, where he lived forthe rest of his life.Rabbi Yisraels fame spread rapidly. Many important scholars became his disciples. Itwas during this period that the movement, which would eventually be known asChassidus (piety), began. The Baal Shem Tovs teachings were largely based upon theKabalistic teachings of the AriZal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534-72) but his approach madethe benefits of these teachings accessible even to the simplest Jew.He emphasized the profound importance and significance of prayer, love of God, and loveof ones fellow Jews. He taught that even if one was not blessed with the ability oropportunity to be a Torah scholar, one could still reach great spiritual heights throughthese channels. It is important to note that while the Baal Shem Tov taught that Torahstudy was not the only way to draw close to God, he did not teach that Torah study wasunimportant or unnecessary. On the contrary, he emphasized the importance of having aclose relationship with a rebbe, a great Torah scholar who would be ones spiritual mentorand leader. Furthermore, it should also be noted that while Chassidus was (andcontinues to be) of great benefit to the unsophisticated, it is a very sophisticated systemof thought. As anyone with any experience in Jewish studies can attest, the many majorChassidic works were written at a very high level of scholarship by men who had reachedthe pinnacle of Torah knowledge.There is no way that this essay can really do proper justice to the teachings of the BaalShem Tov. Let us simply conclude that while there was no particular element in histeachings that could be viewed as new to Judaism, nevertheless his teachingsrevolutionized the Jewish world. At the time of his death the Chassidic movement hadgrown to approximately ten thousand followers and after his death it grew to include asignificant portion of European Jewry.The Baal Shem Tov felt a powerful love for the land of Israel and his entire life he wantedto immigrate there. Many times he attempted to do so, once even reachingConstantinople, but always something prevented him from fulfilling his dream. Despitehis personal inability to move to the land of Israel, the Baal Shem Tov succeeded ininspiring many of his disciples and followers to do so.The Baal Shem Tov did not write down his teachings, and today we only know themthrough the writings of his disciples. Much of what we know is from the writings of theBaal Shem Tovs foremost disciple, Rabbi Yakov Yosef of Polonoye, the author of the firstChassidic work ever published, Toldos Yakov Yosef. He also published Ben Poras Yosef,Tzafnas Paneach, and Kesones Pasim. Together these works contain literally hundreds of 4
  5. 5. direct quotes from the Baal Shem Tov. Other major sources for the teachings of the BaalShem Tov are Keser Shem Tov, Tzavaas HaRivash, Magid Devarav LYakov (written bythe Mezericher Maggid, the Baal Shem Tovs succesor), Degel Machaneh Ephraim, andOhr HaMeiir.In 1759, about a year before the Baal Shem Tov passed away, there was an incident thatillustrated his immense love for his fellow Jew. At that time there was a heretical sect ledby a man named Jacob Frank. These Frankists had begun agitating amongst theChristian authorities against the Jews with specific emphasis against the Talmud. (In aprevious "debate" in 1757, the Frankists had succeeded in causing the Talmud to beburnt in Lvov.) The bishop of Lemberg decreed that a debate should be held between theJews and the Frankists. The Baal Shem Tov was a member of the three man delegationthat represented the Jews. They were successful in averting this evil decree, and theTalmud was not burnt. At the same time however, the defeated Frankists were thenforced to convert to Christianity.While most of the Jewish leaders were happy at the downfall of these evil men, the BaalShem Tov was not. He said. "The Divine Presence wails and says, So long as a limb isattached to the body there is still a hope that there can be a cure, but once the limb is cutoff there is no cure forever. And every Jew is a limb of the Divine Presence."The Baal Shem Tov passed away on the second day of Shavuous, in the year 5520 (1760).He left behind a son and daughter and a movement which continues to be significantforce in the Jewish world today. He was succeeded as leader of the Chassidic movementby Rabbi Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezritch. HasidismThe Hasidic movement started in the 1700s (CE) in Eastern Europe in response to a voidfelt by many average observant Jews of the day. The founder of Hasidism, Rabbi IsraelBaal Shem Tov (referred to as the "Besht," an acronym of his name) was a great scholarand mystic, devoted to both the revealed, outer aspect, and hidden, inner aspect of Torah.He and his followers, without veering from a commitment to Torah, created a way ofJewish life that emphasized the ability of all Jews to grow closer to God via everythingthat we do, say, and think. In contrast to the somewhat intellectual style of themainstream Jewish leaders of his day and their emphasis on the primacy of Torah study,the Besht emphasized a constant focus on attachment to God and Torah no matter whatone is involved with.Early on, a schism developed between the Hasidic and non Hasidic (i.e., Misnagdim, lit."opponents") Jewish movements, primarily over real or imagined issues of halachic (legalmatters discussed in the Talmud) observance. The opposition was based on concern thatthe Hasidim were neglecting the laws regarding appropriate times for prayer, andperhaps concern about the exuberance of Hasidic worship, or a concern that it might bean offshoot of false messiahs Shabbtai Zvi or Jacob Frank. Within a generation or two,the rift was closed. Since then, many Hasidic practices have influenced the Misnagdim,while the Misnagdim, in turn, moderated some of the extremes of early Hasidism.Nevertheless, the dispute between particular groups of Hasidim and Misnagdimcontinues to this day, especially in Israel.Today, Hasidim are differentiated from other Orthodox Jews by their devotion to adynastic leader (referred to as a "Rebbe"), their wearing of distinctive clothing and agreater than average study of the inner aspects of Torah. 5
  6. 6. There are perhaps a dozen major Hasidic movements today, the largest of which (withperhaps 100,000 followers) is the Lubavitch group headquartered in Brooklyn, NY. Othergroups include the Bobov, Bostoner, Belzer, Gerer, Satmar, Vizhnitz, Breslov, Puppa,Bianer, Munkacz, and Rimnitz. In Israel, the major Hasidic groups besides the Lubavitchinclude: Gor (Gerer), Viznitz and Bealz (Belzer). Hasidim And MitnagdimAlthough contemporary Jews often use the word "Hasid" as a synonym for ultra-Orthodox, Hasidism, a religious movement that arose in eighteenth century EasternEurope, was originally regarded as revolutionary and religiously liberal. Its opponents,known as Mitnagdim, were themselves Orthodox Jews. More than any thing else, thestories that each group told about its rabbinic leaders exemplify the differences amongthem. The Mitnagdim were proud of the fact that their leader, the Vilna Gaon, haddelivered an advanced discourse on the Talmud when he was only seven years old, andthat he studied Jewish texts eighteen hours a day.The founder of Hasidism, Israel Baal Shem Tov, was the hero of very different sorts oftales. The Hasidim told of how he spent his teenage years working in a job with lowstatus, as assistant in a Jewish elementary school, a cheder. He would round up thestudents from their homes each morning and lead them to school singing songs. Later,after he married, he and his wife went to live in the faroff Carpathian Mountains. There,the Baal Shem Tov worked as a laborer, digging clay and lime, which his wife then soldin town. The couple later kept an inn.During these years, the Baal Shem Tov spent much time in the nearby forest inmeditation and solitude. His Hasidic followers subsequently likened this period to theyears of isolation and meditation that Moses spent in Midian, tending the flocks of hisfather in law.Around 1736, the Baal Shem Tov revealed himself as a healer and a leader. His lastname, which literally means "Master of the Good Name," was one that was frequentlyapplied in Jewish life to miracle workers and healers. In 1740, he moved to Meziboz, atown near the borders of both Poland and the Ukraine, and not far from Lithuania.Disciples started coming to him from the surrounding countries, but the talks deliveredby the Baal Shem Tov differed dramatically from lectures offered at a yeshiva (arabbinical school); they focused far more on an individuals personal relationship withGod and with his fellowman than on the intricacies of Jewish law. The stories Hasidimlater told about the Baal Shem Tov — usually referred to by his acronym, the Besht —invariably depict him with a pipe in hand, telling seemingly secular tales with deepreligious meanings. He died in 1760, leaving behind Dov Baer Maggid of Mezrich as hissuccessor. Shortly before his death, the Besht told the people standing near his bed: "Igrieve not at my death, for I can see a door opening while the other is closing."Many of the dominant themes in the Beshts teachings became the central emphases inthe Hasidic movement that his followers developed. There were statements of the Besht,not entirely innovative, which placed great stress on aspects of Judaism that theMitnagdim generally ignored: the heart, for example. The Besht was particularly fond ofa talmudic statement, "God desires the heart" (Sanhedrin 106b), which he interpreted asmeaning that for God, a pure religious spirit mattered more than knowledge of theTalmud.It is told of the Besht that one Yom Kippur a poor Jewish boy, an illiterate shepherd,entered the synagogue where he was praying. The boy was deeply moved by the service,but frustrated that he could not read the prayers. 6
  7. 7. He started to whistle, the one thing he knew he could do beautifully; he wanted to offerhis whistling as a gift to God. The congregation was horrified at the desecration of theirservice. Some people yelled at the boy, and others wanted to throw him out.The Baal Shem Tov immediately stopped them. "Until now," he said, "I could feel ourprayers being blocked as they tried to reach the heavenly court. This young shepherdswhistling was so pure, however, that it broke through the blockage and brought all of ourprayers straight up to God."Another ancient Jewish doctrine that was given particular emphasis by the Baal ShemTov was based on a verse in Isaiah: "The whole world is full of His glory" (6:13). If thewhole world is full of Gods glory, the Besht reasoned, then the Mitnagdim and theascetics were wrong in thinking that one had to turn ones back on the pleasures of theworld. "Dont deny that a girl is beautiful," the Besht would say. "Just be sure that yourrecognition of her beauty brings you back to its source-God." If one could do that, theneven physical pleasures could bring about spiritual growth.Because the world was full of God, the Besht believed that a person always should bejoyful. Indeed, the greatest act of creativity comes about in an atmosphere of joy: "Nochild is born except through pleasure and joy," the Besht declared. "By the same token, ifone wishes his prayers to bear fruit, he must offer them with pleasure and joy." Thisdoctrine was a strong challenge to many ideas current among Jews in the Beshts time.Many religious Jews, particularly among the kabbalists, preached asceticism, andadvocated that Jews fast every Monday and Thursday. The Baal Shem Tov warnedpeople against such practices, fearing that they would lead to melancholy, not joy.To outsiders, unaccustomed to the Beshts teachings, Hasidic prayer services sometimesseemed undignified, even chaotic. In fulfillment of the Psalmists ecstatic declaration, "Allmy bones shall say, Lord, who is like You?" (Psalms 35:10), worshipers were capable ofperforming handstands. Characteristically, the Besht defended such practices at Hasidicservices with a story. A deaf man passed by a hall where a wedding reception was beingcelebrated. When he looked through the window, he saw people engaged in exultant andtumultuous dancing. But because he could not hear the music, he assumed they weremad.The Besht also taught that the Tzaddik (the religious leader of the Hasidim) should serveas a model of how to lead a religious life. However, he did not emphasize the doctrine ofthe Tzaddik nearly as much as some of his successors, particularly Dov Baer of Mezrich,who made it central to Hasidism. Dov Baer, the leader of the Hasidim after the BaalShem Tovs death, taught that God revealed Himself through the Tzaddiks most trivialactions; one of Dov Baers followers said, "I didnt go to him to learn Torah, but to see himunbuckle his shoes." Dov Baer taught that the ideal Tzaddik had a closer relationship toGod than the average Jew, and could bestow blessings on people. In return, it wasunderstood that the Hasidim must bring their Tzaddik gifts.The belief in the power and greatness of the Tzaddik became one of Hasidisms strongest-and most controversial-ideas. Hasidisms opponents charged that the Tzaddikim (plural)often enriched themselves at the expense of their followers. In the generation after DovBaer, numerous new Hasidic groups were formed, each with its own Tzaddik, referred toas a rebbe. These rebbes became a kind of Jewish royalty. When one died, he wassucceeded by either his son or son in law. Those Hasidic groups that established eminentfamily dynasties became successful. Many Hasidic groups, however, went into declinewhen their rebbe died and left behind less capable successors.The best known group of Hasidim in the United States are the Lubavitcher, who areheadquartered in Brooklyn. Their current rebbe is Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, theseventh leader since the movement was founded in the late 1700s. But though Lubavitchis the one Hasidic group non Orthodox Jews are most apt to meet-because of the 7
  8. 8. movements various outreach programs-there are dozens of other Hasidic dynasties in theUnited States (many of them located in Brooklyn) and in Israel.In their early years, the Hasidim were actively persecuted by the Mitnagdim, who fearedthey would become another heretical sect, similar to that of Shabbetai Zevi. But in itsformative stages, Hasidism wisely put its primary emphasis on personal religious growthrather than on national salvation, and it downplayed the messianic element. This wasnot enough, however, to appease the Mitnagdim. Other Hasidic traits, such as theirlaissez faire attitude toward the appropriate hours for prayer, bitterly provoked theiropponents. The Hasidim answered that they couldnt legislate precise hours for recitingeach of the three daily prayer services; they prayed with such intensity (kavannah) thatthey couldnt do so while looking at a watch.The Israeli historian Jacob Katz has documented how other practices provocativelyseparated the Hasidim from their neighbors. For example, Hasidim advocated using asharper knife when slaughtering animals than the one used by the Mitnagdimsslaughterers. Such stringency had a socially divisive effect: The Hasidim no longer couldeat at the Mitnagdims houses. The Hasidim also adopted a different prayerbook, so thattheir synagogue service differed somewhat from that of other Jews and had to beconducted separately. Their most brilliant act of "public relations" was labelingthemselves Hasidim, the Hebrew word for both "pious" and "saintly," while calling theiradversaries Mitnagdim, Hebrew for "opponents." These terms made the Hasidim seemlike the more dynamic and positive of the two groups.With the passage of time, the Hasidim and Mitnagdim recognized that their differenceswere increasingly inconsequential, particularly after both groups found themselves facinga common enemy: the nineteenth century Haskala, or Jewish Enlightenment. Jewishparents who once feared that their Hasidic or Mitnagdish child might go over to the othercamp, were now far more afraid that their child might become altogether irreligious.An additional factor that lessened the HasidicMitnagdish split was nineteenth andtwentieth century Hasidisms increasing emphasis on Talmud study. As the movementexpanded, it put less emphasis on meditation and communing with God, and more ontraditional Jewish learning. As a result, Hasidim today are no longer regarded asrevolutionaries; in fact, they are the conservative stalwarts of Orthodox Judaism, easilyrecognized by the eighteenth and nineteenth century black coats and hats worn by mostof their male adherents.Nonetheless, the Hasidic approach to Judaism significantly differs from that of theMitnagdim. Hasidism generally places a much greater stress on simcha shel mitzvah —the joy of performing a commandment. Lubavitch and ChabadLubavitch Hasidism, most commonly presented through its organizational arm, Chabad,is an international movement with headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York.The Chabad-Lubavitch movement formed from the writings of Rabbi Shneur Zalman ofLiadi, who published the Tanya, in 1796. The Tanya contains the key to Jewish mysticaland spiritual awareness, according to Chabadnicks. Following Schneur Zalman, therehave been seven other Lubavitcher Rebbes, each designated by his predecessor.Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson was chosen as the seventh Lubavitcher rebbe in1950. Schneerson, known as the Rebbe, served as the heart and soul of Chabad for 44years, he was the spiritual leader, as well as, intellectual and organizational leader of themovement. In 1994, Schneerson, at the age of 91, died childless and with no designated 8
  9. 9. successor. Chabad leadership decided that he would be the final rebbe, this decisionsparked much speculation and expectation that Schneerson was the Messiah. Many feltthat the Chabad movement would dwindle and collapse after his death, but just theopposite occurred.The Lubavitch movements infrastructure has expanded almost 30 percent since theRebbes death. It has become a world-wide Jewish outreach movement. More than 3,700emissary couples work in more than 100 countries worldwide. Since 1995, more than 400shlichim (emissaries) were assigned to new posts and more than 500 new Chabadinstitution have been established, bringing the total to nearly 2,600 institutions(seminaries, day camps, schools, etc) worldwide. According to headquarters, almost onemillion children participates in Chabad activities worldwide in 1999.The movements major thrust focuses on observing for ones self and transmitting toothers the beauty, depth, awareness and joy inherent in the Torahtrue way of life. Bydoing so, it strives to revitalize Jewish life by intensifying the individuals relationship toGd, and deep sense of devotion and love towards ones fellow man.The name Chabad (Chochmah, Binah, Daat) refers to the three intellectual sephiros(Divine Emanations). The philosophy of the founder, the Alter Rebbe, stressed the use ofthe intellect to guide the emotions. Thus, each individual hasid had to work onhimself/herself, rather than simply rely on the Rebbe/Tzaddiks saintliness. Anothername used in Lubavitch Hasidism is ChaGat (Chessed, Gevurah, Tiferes), which refers tothe first three of the seven emotional sephiros/character attributes that derive fromChabad. The emphasis in Chagat Chassidus is on emotional fervor and devotion.Consequently, a hasid must attach himself/herself to the Rebbe and let his righteousnesscarry the hasid along.The Lubavitch Rebbe, as Nasi HaDor (leader of the generation) has the responsibility ofsetting the direction of the generation.ChabadLubavitch operates an extensive outreach effort to encourage Jews to return totraditional practices. As part of this effort, Chabad operates the Mitzvah Campaigns toencourage Jews to perform 10 specific mitzvot, the intention being that through theirfulfillment, the individual and the family will come to experience a deeper and morefulfilling relationship with their Jewish heritage. These mitzvot are:1. Ahavas Yisroel: The love of ones fellow Jew.2. Chinuch: Torah Education.3. Torah Study.4. Tefillin: The donning of Tefillin, every weekday, by men and boys over 13.5. Mezuzah: The Jewish sign on a doorpost.6. Tzedakah: Giving charity every weekday.7. Possession of Jewish Holy Books.8. Lighting Shabbat and Festival Candles.9. Kashrut: The Jewish dietary laws.10. Taharas Hamishpocho: The Torah perspective on married life.Chabad also urges that efforts be made to inform the public at large about the nature andmeaning of the Seven Laws of Noah. 9
  10. 10. The Seven Noahide LawsWhile Jews are commanded to observe hundreds of laws, non-Jews are expected to followseven that are presumed to date from the time of Noah. Judaism regards any non-Jew whokeeps these laws as a righteous person who is guaranteed a place in the world to come.1. Not to deny God.2. Not to blaspheme God.3. Not to murder.4. Not to engage in incestuous, adulterous, bestial or homosexual relationships.5. Not to steal.6. Not to eat a limb torn from a living animal.7. To set up courts to ensure obedience to the other six laws. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994)Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the leader -"the Rebbe"- of the Lubavitchmovement of Chassidic Judaism for forty four years, was a paradoxical man. While hebarely set foot outside his neighborhood during his entire leadership, his influence wasfelt worldwide. While he was considered one of the worlds foremost religious scholars, hewas also recognized as a brilliant scholar in mathematics and science. While he appearedto be an Old World leader whose community was somewhat cloistered, he was thoroughlyknowledgeable about the modern world and reached out enthusiastically to society atlarge, to Jew and non-Jew alike, encouraging the pursuit of virtuousness education, andunity.Menachem Mendel Schneerson was born on April 18, 1902 (the eleventh day of Nissan,5662), in Nikolayev, a town in the southern Ukraine. His father, Rabbi Levi YitzchockSchneerson, was a renowned scholar, his mother, Rebbitzen Chana Schneerson, was anaristocratic women from a prestigious rabbinic family. He had two younger brothers,Dovber and Yisroel aryeh Leib.. When Menachem Mendel was five years old, the familymoved to Yakaterinoslav, now Dnepropetrovsk, where his father was appointed chiefrabbi.From early childhood, Menachem Mendel displayed prodigious mental acuity, leavingschool for private tutoring. By the time he reached bar mitzva, he was considered a Torahprodigy, and during his teenage years, he immersed himself in the intricacies of Torahstudy. In 1923, he met Rabbi Yosef Yitzchock Schneerson - then the Lubavitcher Rebbe- 10
  11. 11. who drew him into his inner circle giving him various responsibilities; five years later, inWarsaw, he married the Rebbes second eldest daughter, Chaya Mushka (1901-1988).A short while later, the couple moved to Berlin, where Rabbi Menachem Mendel hadalready begun studying mathematics and science at the University of Berlin.Because of the Nazi rise, the young Rabbi and his wife left Berlin in 1933 for Paris, andhe continued his studies at the Sorbonne. Primarily, however, he immersed himself inprayer and religious study, and was referred to by his father-in-law on various matters,including the preparation of Lubavitch publications. He also served as his father-in-lawsprivate secretary and traveled on his behalf to visit various Jewish leaders in Europe.When the Nazis occupied Paris, the couple was forced to escape the city. On June 23,1941 they arrived in New York, where Rabbi Yosef Yitzchock Schneerson appointed hisson-in-law head of Lubavitchs educational arm, as well as the movements social-serviceorganization and its publishing house.In 1950, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchock passed away. Although Rabbi Menachem Mendel was theobvious successor, he was initially reluctant to accept the mantle of leadership. A yearlater he formally assumed the title of Rebbe, explaining to members of the movementthat while he would be devoted to his work as leader, each man and women wasultimately responsible for his or her own actions, and for his or her pursuit of Godliness.The ensuing forty-four years of the Rebbes leadership saw Lubavitch grow from a smallmovement nearly devastated by the Holocaust to a worldwide community of 200,000members. The Rebbe, recognizing the unique needs of the current generation andanticipating the societal needs of the coming decades, began to establish education andoutreach centers, offering social-service programs and humanitarian aid to all people,regardless of religious affiliation or background. He established a corps of Lubavitchemissaries (shluchim) and sent them out to build Chabad - Lubavitch centers worldwide,to serve the spiritual and material needs of the local communities. Today there are morethan fourteen hundred Chabad-Lubavitch institutions in thirty-five countries on sixcontinents.By blending his intense religious and secular training with deep compassion and insight,the Rebbe quietly became a leader to whom other leaders - those in politics, business, andreligion - turned for advice. Beginning in 1986, he would personally greet thousands ofvisitors each Sunday, distributing dollar bills that were meant to encourage the giving ofcharity; many people saved the dollar bills as a memento of their visit with the Rebbe, atestament to being moved by his presence.With the fall of communism and the miracles during the gulf war, the Rebbe stated thatthese are heralding a time of peace and tranquillity for all mankind, the time of Moshiach(messiah). To this end the Rebbe placed much emphasis on the traditional Jewishteachings regarding the time of Moshiach, placing great emphasis in the studying ofthese concepts. The Rebbe also oft repeated the statement of our sages that throughdoing just one good deed we can usher in the era of Moshiach. May it be speedily in ourdays.In 1992, at the age of ninety, the Rebbe suffered a stroke; he passed away two years later,on June 12, 1994. Shortly thereafter, a bill was introduced in the U.S. House ofRepresentatives by Congressmen Charles Schumer, John Lewis, Newt Gingrich, andJerry Lewis to bestow on the Rebbe the Congressional Gold Medal. The bill passed bothHouses by unanimous consent, honoring the Rebbe for his "outstanding and lastingcontributions toward improvements in world education, morality, and acts of charity". 11
  12. 12. Breslov HasidismThe Breslov movement was founded by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810), who wasthe greatgrandson of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism. Breslover Hasidimusually refer to him as "Rebbe Nachman" or simply "the Rebbe" (different from theLubavitcher Rebbe). Rebbe Nachman is buried in Uman in the Ukraine.Each year, Breslover Hasidim travel to Uman to celebrate Rosh Ha-Shanah near thegravesite. Plans are currently under way to build a Breslov synagogue there.The name "Breslov" comes from the town of Breslov, also located in the Ukraine, whereNachman spent most of the last eight years of his life. Some people also see the name asa play on words in Ashkenazic Hebrew: "Bris lev" means "covenant (or circumcision) ofthe heart." The Breslov approach places great stress on serving Gd with joy and living lifeas intensely as possible. "Its a great mitzvah always to be happy," Nachman taught.One distinctive Breslov practice is hisboddidus (hitbadedut), a personalized form of free-flowing prayer and meditation. In addition to the regular daily services in the prayerbook, Breslover Hasidim try to spend an hour alone with Gd each day, pouring out theirthoughts and concerns in whatever language they speak, as if talking to a close personalfriend.Rebbe Nachman stressed the importance of soulsearching. He always maintained thathis high spiritual level was due to his own efforts, and not to his famous lineage or anycircumstances of birth. He repeatedly insisted that all Jews could reach the same level ashe, and spoke out very strongly against those who thought that the main reason for aTzaddiks greatness was the superior level of his soul. "Everyone can attain the highestlevel," Nachman taught, "It depends on nothing but your own free choice... for everythingdepends on a multitude of deeds."Although Rebbe Nachman died almost 200 years ago, he is still considered to be theleader of the movement through the guidance of his books and stories. Breslover Hasidimtoday do not have a "Rebbe in the flesh," and each Hasid is free to go to any guide orteacher with whom they feel comfortable. No single person or council of elders is "incharge" of the Breslov movement, and no membership list is kept.Most of the information in this handout came from “The Jewish Virtual Library”. Thecontact details are:http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/index.htmlMitchell G. Bard, Ph.D.Executive Director,American-Israeli Cooperative EnterpriseEmail. mgbard@aol.com 12