Hasidic Judaism

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Hasidic leaders in Jerusalem

Hasidic Judaism (also Chasidic, etc., from the Hebrew: חסידות Chassidus, meaning "piety", from the Hebrew root word חסד chesed meaning "lovingkindness") is a Haredi Jewish religious movement. Some refer to Hasidic Judaism as Hasidism, and the adjective chasidic / hasidic (or in Yiddish חסידיש khsidish) applies. The movement originated in Eastern Europe (what is now Belarus and Ukraine) in the 18th century.

Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (1698–1760), also known as the Ba'al Shem Tov [1], founded Hasidic Judaism. It originated in a time of persecution of the Jewish people, when European Jews had turned inward to Talmud study; many felt that most expressions of Jewish life had become too "academic", and that they no longer had any emphasis on spirituality or joy. The Ba'al Shem Tov set out to improve the situation. In its initial stages, Hasidism met with opposition from several contemporary leaders, most notably the Vilna Gaon, leader of the Lithuanian Jews, united as the misnagdim — literally meaning "those who oppose".

Contents

History

Prelude

In Poland, where the bulk of Jewry had established itself since the 13th century, a struggle between traditional Rabbinic Judaism and radical "Kabbalistic" mysticism became particularly acute after the Messianic movement of Sabbatai Zevi in the 17th century. Leanings to mystical doctrines and sectarianism showed themselves prominently among the Jews of the south-eastern provinces of Poland, while in the Lithuania provinces, rabbinical orthodoxy held sway. In part, this division in modes of thought reflected social differences between the northern (Lithuanian) Jews and the southern Jews of Ukraine. In Lithuania the Jewish masses mainly lived in densely-populated towns where rabbinical academic culture (in the yeshivos) flourished; while in Ukraine the Jews tended to live scattered in villages far removed from intellectual centers.

Pessimism in the south became more intense after the Cossacks' Uprising (1648 - 1654) under Chmielnicki and the turbulent times in Poland (1648 - 1660), which completely ruined the Jewry of Ukraine, but left comparatively untouched that of Lithuania. The general population of Ukraine itself declined and economic chaos reigned, especially due to these events and the subsequent Turkish Invasion which left this region depopulated and barren. After the Polish Magnates regained control of southern Ukraine in the last decade of the 17th century, an economic renaissance ensued. The magnates began a massive rebuilding and repopulation effort while being generally welcoming and benevolent towards the Jews. A type of frontier environment pursued where new people and new ideas were encouraged. The state of the Jews of what would later become southern Russia created a favorable field for mystical movements and religious sectarianism, which spread in the area from the middle of the 18th to the middle of the 19th century.

Besides these influences, deeply-seated causes produced among many Jews a discontent with Rabbinism and a gravitation toward mysticism. Rabbinism, which in Poland had become transformed into a system of religious formalism, no longer provided a satisfactory religious experience to many Jews. Although traditional Judaism had adopted some features of Kabbalah, it adapted them to fit its own system: it added to its own ritualism the asceticism of the "practical cabalists" just across the border in the Ottoman Empire, who saw the essence of earthly existence only in fasting, in penance, and in spiritual sadness. Such a combination of religious practices, suitable for individuals and hermits, did not suit the bulk of the Jews.

Hasidism gave a ready response to the burning desire of the common people in its simple, stimulating, and comforting faith. In contradistinction to other sectarian teaching, early Hasidism aimed not at dogmatic or ritual reform, but at a deeper psychological one. It aimed to change not the belief, but the believer. By means of psychological suggestion it created a new type of religious man, a type that placed emotion above reason and rites, and religious exaltation above knowledge.

Israel ben Eliezer

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The founder of Hasidism, Israel ben Eliezer, also became known under the title of the "Master of the Good Name" (the Ba'al Shem Tov, abbreviated as the Besht). His fame as a healer spread not only among the Jews, but also among the non-Jewish peasants and the Polish nobles. He allegedly could successfully predict the future.

To the common people, the Besht appeared wholly admirable. Characterized by an extraordinary sincerity and simplicity, he knew how to gain an insight into the spiritual needs of the masses. He taught them that true religion consisted not only of religious scholarship, but also of a sincere love of God combined with warm faith and belief in the efficacy of prayer; that the ordinary person filled with a sincere belief in God, and whose prayers come from the heart, is more acceptable to God than someone versed in and fully observant of Jewish law who lacks inspiration in his divine service. This democratization of Judaism attracted to the teachings of the Besht not only the common people, but also the scholars whom the rabbinical scholasticism and ascetic Kabbalah failed to satisfy.

About 1740 the Besht established himself in the Podolian town of Mezhbizh. He gathered about him numerous disciples and followers, whom he initiated into the secrets of his teachings not by systematic exposition, but by means of sayings and parables that contained both easily graspable insights, for the laymen, and profound Kabbalistic depth, for the great scholars. These sayings spread by oral transmission; later the founder's disciples set them in writing, developing the thoughts of their master into a system. The Besht himself did not write anything.

The spread of Hasidism

Israel ben Eliezer's disciples attracted many followers; they themselves established numerous Hasidic courts across Europe. After the Besht's death, followers continued his cause, under the leadership of the Magid, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezritch. From his court students went forth; they in turn attracted many Jews to Hasidism, and many of them came to study in Mezritch with Dov Ber personally. Hasidic Judaism eventually became the way of life of the majority of Jews in Ukraine, Galicia, Belarus and central Poland; the movement also had sizable groups of followers in Hungary. Hasidic Judaism began coming to Western Europe and then to the United States during the large waves of Jewish emigration in the 1880s.

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Rabbis Chaim Elazar Spira of Munkacs and Meir Shapiro of Lublin in Marienbad (Now Mariánské Lázně, Czech Republic), 1923

After the passing of Rabbi Dov Ber, his inner circle of followers, known as the "Chevraya Kadisha," the Holy Fellowship, agreed to divide up the whole of Europe into different territories, and have each one charged with disseminating hasidic teachings in his designated area.

Hasidism gradually branched out into two main divisions: (1) in Ukraine and in Galicia and (2) in Litta (Greater Lithuania). Three disciples, Dov Ber of Mezritch (Elimelech of Lizhensk, Levi Yitzchak of Berdychev, and Menachem Nahum of Chernobyl), besides the grandson of the Besht, Boruch of Tulchin, later R' Boruch of Mezhbizh, directed the first of these divisions. Elimelech of Lizhensk affirmed belief in Tzaddikism as a fundamental doctrine of Hasidism. In his book No'am Elimelekh he conveys the idea of the Tzadik ("righteous one") as the mediator between God and the common people, and suggests that through him God sends to the faithful three earthly blessings: life, a livelihood, and children, on the condition, however, that the Hasidim support the Tzaddik by pecuniary contributions ("pidyonos"), in order to enable the holy man to become completely absorbed in the contemplation of God. Lithuanian Hasidim followed Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, who founded Chabad Hasidism, and Rabbi Aharon of Karlin.

Opposition

Template:Main Early on, a serious schism evolved between the hasidic and non-hasidic Jews. Those European Jews who rejected the Hasidic movement dubbed themselves misnagdim (literally, "opponents"). Critics of Hasidic Judaism:

  • decried the apparently novel hasidic emphasis on different aspects of Jewish law;
  • found problematic the overwhelming exuberance of hasidic worship;
  • distrusted as non-traditional hasidic ascriptions of infallibility and miracle-working to their leaders;
  • expressed concern that hasidism might become a deviant messianic sect (which in fact had occurred among the followers of both Shabbatai Zvi and Jacob Frank, and which according to some is currently taking place within Chabad-Lubavitch).
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The Vilna Gaon, the head of the Misnagdim and the most famous opponent of Hasidism

Some other important differences between hasidim and misnagdim included:

  • Hasidism believed in miracle workers; they believed that the Ba'al Shem Tov and some of his disciples literally performed miracles. Stories of their miracles became a part of Hasidic literature. The Misnagdim held such views as heretical, based on classical rabbinic works such as Saadia Gaon's Emunoth ve-Deoth. (Ultimately, their descendants were to regularly tell identical stories about respected Misnagdic leaders.)
  • The hasidic way of dress was seen as a way to outwardly appear pious; this was opposed as improper.
  • Hasidic philosophy (chasidus) holds as a core belief that God permeates all physical objects in nature, including all living beings. According to the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe, Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, Baal Shem Tov used to say, that God is all and all is God. In opposition many Jewish religious rationalists misunderstood this seemingly pantheistic doctrine as a violation against the Maimonidean principle of faith that God is not physical, and thus considered it heretical. In fact, Hasidic philosophy, especially the Chabad school, views all physical and psychological phenomena as relative and illusionary; God, the absolute reality in itself, is beyond all physical or even spiritual concepts and boundaries. Contemporary Hasidic researcher rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet defines this quasi-pantheistic view as acosmic monism.
  • Hasidism teaches that there are sparks of goodness in all things, which can be redeemed to perfect the world. Many held such a view to be false and dangerous.

On a more prosaic level, other misnagdim regarded hasidim as pursuing a less scholarly approach to Judaism, and opposed the movement for this reason. At one point hasidic Jews were put in cherem (a Jewish form of communal excommunication); after years of bitter acrimony, a rapprochement occurred between hasidic Jews and their opponents within Orthodox Judaism. The reconciliation took place in response to the perceived even greater threat of the Haskala, or Jewish Enlightenment. Despite this, the distinctions between the various sects of Hasidim and other Orthodox Jews remain.

In the Soviet Union

The Bolshevik revolution and the rise of Communism saw the disintegration of the chasidic centers such as Chabad, Breslov, Chernobyl and Ruzhin.

Many chasidim, primarily those following the Chabad school, but also the Tshernobler Rebbe and the Ribnitzer Rebbe, remained in the Soviet Union (primarily in Russia), intent on preserving Judaism as a religion in the face of increasing Soviet opposition. With yeshivos and instruction in Hebrew outlawed, synagogues seized by the government and transformed into secular community centers, and Jewish circumcision forbidden to all members of the Communist Party, most chasidim took part in the general Jewish religious underground movement. Many became so-called "wandering clerics," travelling from village to village and functioning as chazzanim, shochtim, mohels, and rabbis wherever such services were needed. These figures were often imprisoned and sometimes executed.

Current position

Template:Main The Holocaust brought final destruction to all chasidic centers of Eastern Europe. Most survivors moved eventually to Israel or to America, and established new centers of Hasidic Judaism modeled after their original communities.

Some of the larger and more well-known chasidic sects that still exist include Belz, Bobov, Breslov, Ger, Lubavitch (Chabad), Munkacs, Puppa, Sanz (Klausenburg), Satmar, Skver, Spinka and Vizhnitz.

The largest groups in Israel today are Ger, Chabad, Belz, Satmar, Breslov, Vizhnitz, Seret-Vizhnitz, Nadvorna, and Toldos Aharon. In the United States the largest are Lubavitch, Satmar and Bobov, all centered in Brooklyn, New York, and Skver in Rockland County, New York. Large chasidic communities also exist in the Montreal borough of Outremont; Toronto; London; Antwerp; Melbourne; the Fairfax neighborhood of Los Angeles; and St. Louis Park, a Minneapolis suburb.

Religious practice and culture

Fundamental conceptions

The teachings of Hasidism are founded on two theoretical conceptions: (1) religious panentheism, or the omnipresence of God, and (2) the idea of Devekus, communion between God and man. "Man," says the Besht, "must always bear in mind that God is omnipresent and is always with him; that God is, so to speak, the most subtle matter everywhere diffused... Let man realize that when he is looking at material things he is in reality gazing at the image of the Deity which is present in all things. With this in mind man will always serve God even in small matters."

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A Hasidic celebration in Borough Park, Brooklyn, New York

Deveikus (communion) refers to the belief that an unbroken intercourse takes place between the world of God and the world of humanity. It is true not only that the Deity influences the acts of man, but also that man exerts an influence on the will of the Deity. Every act and word of man produces a corresponding vibration in the upper spheres. From this conception is derived the chief practical principle of Hasidism - communion with God for the purpose of uniting with the source of life and of influencing it. This communion is achieved through the concentration of all thoughts on God, and consulting Him in all the affairs of life.

The righteous man is in constant communion with God, even in his worldly affairs, since here also he feels His presence. A special form of communion with God is prayer. In order to render this communion complete the prayer must be full of fervor, ecstatic; and the soul of him who prays must during his devotions detach itself, so to speak, from its material dwelling. For the attainment of ecstasy recourse may be had to mechanical means, to violent bodily motions, to shouting and singing. According to Besht, the essence of religion is in sentiment and not in reason. Theological learning and halakhic lore are of secondary importance, and are useful only when they serve as a means of producing an exalted religious mood. It is better to read books of moral instruction than to engage in the study of the casuistic Talmud and the rabbinical literature. In the performance of rites the mood of the believer is of more importance than the externals; for this reason formalism and superfluous ceremonial details are injurious.

Hasidic philosophy

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Hasidic Philosophy teaches a method of contemplating on God, as well as the inner significance of the Mitzvos (commandments and rituals of Torah law). Hasidic Philosophy has four main goals:

1. Revival: At the time when Rabbi Yisrael Ba'al Shem Tov founded Hasidism, the Jews were physically crushed by massacres (in particular, those of the Cossack leader Chmelnitzki in 1648-1649) and poverty, and spiritually crushed by the disappointment engendered by the false messiahs. This unfortunate combination caused religious observance to seriously wane. This was especially true in Eastern Europe, where Hasidism began. Hasidism came to revive the Jews physically and spiritually. It focused on helping Jews establish themselves financially, and then lifting their moral and religious observance through its teachings.

2. Piety: A Hasid, in classic Torah literature, refers to one of piety beyond the letter of the law. Hasidism demands and aims at cultivating this extra degree of piety.

3. Refinement: Hasidism teaches that one should not merely strive to improve one's character by learning new habits and manners. Rather a person should completely change the quality, depth and maturity of one's nature. This change is accomplished by internalizing and integrating the perspective of Hasidic Philosophy.

4. Demystification: In Hasidism, it is believed that the esoteric teachings of Kabbalah can be made understandable to everyone. This understanding is meant to help refine a person, as well as adding depth and vigor to one's ritual observance.

Liturgy and prayer

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The Tosher Rebbe concentrating on prayer

Most Hasidim pray according to one of the variations of the nusach (prayer book tradition) known as Nusach Sefard, a blend of Ashkenazi and Sephardi liturgies, based on the innovations of Rabbi Isaac Luria (also known as the Arizal). However, many Hasidic dynasties have their own specific adaptation of Nusach Sefard; some, such as the versions of the Belzer, Bobover and Dushinsky Hasidim, are closer to nusach Ashkenaz, while others, such as the Munkacz version, are closer to nusach Sefarad of the Arizal. Chabad-Lubavitch has a distinctive variant known as Nusach Ari.

The Baal Shem introduced two innovations to the Friday services: the recitation of Psalm 107 before Mincha (the afternoon service), as a prelude to the Sabbath, one gives praise for the release of the soul from its weekday activities, and Psalm 23 just before the end of Maariv (evening service).

In regard to dialect, many Hasidim, in common with most Ashkenazi Haredim, pray in Ashkenazi Hebrew. This dialect has nothing to do with Hasidism in its origins, nor was it chosen deliberately. It just happens to be the Yiddish dialect of the places from which most chasidim originally came. Thus, there are significant differences between the dialects used by chasidim originating in different places, such as Poland, Belarus, Hungary, and Ukraine.

Hasidic prayer has a distinctive accompaniment of wordless melodies called nigunim (or in America "nigguns") that represent the overall mood of the prayer; in recent years this innovation has become increasingly popular in non-Hasidic communities as well. Hasidic prayer also has a reputation for taking a very long time (although some groups do pray quickly). Some hasidim will spend seven seconds of concentration on every single word of the prayer of Amidah.

Hasidim have a reputation for having a lot of kavana, mental concentration, during prayer. Overall, chasidim regard prayer as one of the most paramount activities during the day. In fact, one of the most controversial innovations of hasidic practice as practised in several courts involves the near-abolition of the traditional specified times of day by which prayers must be conducted (zemanim), particularly shacharis (the morning prayer service); the preparations for prayer take precedence and may extend into the allotted time. The Kotsker Rebbe allegedly originated this practice, which is prevalent to this day in Chabad-Lubavitch. It is controversial in many other chasidic courts, who place more emphasis on praying earlier and not eating before praying, according to the interpretation of Halacha (Jewish law) which is followed by the vast majority of other Hasidic and non-Hasidic Orthodox Jews.

Daily Immersion

Template:Main Many male Orthodox Jews customarily immerse in a mikvah (ritual pool of water) before major Jewish holidays (and particularly before Yom Kippur), in order to achieve spiritual cleanliness. Chasidim have extended this to a daily practice preceding morning prayers. Although daily immersion in a mikva is not mandated by halacha, Hasidism places great emphasis on this practice, because the Arizal taught that each time one immerses in a mikvah he adds holiness to his soul. Immersion in a mikva is practised by many non-Hasidim as well. The reason for this is the "Enactment of Ezra" (that one must immerse in a mikva following a seminal emission before studying Torah or praying; although this enactment was later nullified by the Sages, many pious Jews still today try to keep this enactment).

Dress

Template:Main Hasidim have a reputation for their distinctive attire. Even within the Hasidic world, one can distinguish different groups by subtle differences in appearance. Many details of their dress are shared by other Haredim. Much of Hasidic dress was historically the clothing of all Eastern-European Jews, but Hasidim have preserved more of these styles to the present day. Furthermore, hasidim have attributed mystical intents to these clothing styles.

Chasidim button their clothes right over left. Most hasidim do not wear neck-ties (with the exception of some Russian Hasidim, such as those stemming from Ruzhin, Karlin, and Lubavitch.

Hasidic men most commonly wear suits in dark (usually black or navy blue) colors with distinctively long jackets, called rekelekh. On the Jewish Sabbath they wear a long black satin (or similar of a cheaper material, such as polyester) robe called a zaydene kapote (Yiddish, lit. satin caftan) or bekishe. On Jewish Holy Days a silk garment may be worn. On the Sabbath the rebbes of chasidim traditionally wore a white kapote rather than a black one; this practice has fallen into disuse except for a minority of rebbes, such as Toldos Aharon and Lelov, and by Hungarian rebbes such as Tosh and Satmar. Many rebbes wear a black silk bekishe that is trimmed with velvet (known as strokes or samet).

Some Hasidim wear a satin overcoat, known amongst Hungarian and Galitsyaner chasidim as a rezhvolke, over the regular bekishe. Some Hasidic literature refers to this garment as an Or Makif, referring to the Kabbalistic concept of "Surrounding Light". A rebbe's rezhvolke might be trimmed with velvet. Some rebbes wear a fur-lined rezhvolke known as a tilep (Template:Lang-yi fur coat). The fur is referred to as pelts.

In many hasidic sects the rebbe wears a white or black, and in those of Hungarian lineage a gold designed or other coloured, tish bekishe or khalat during the tish or during the prayers that come right before or after the "tish".

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Dombrover Rebbe of Monsey with the Nadvorna Rebbe. Note the pelts (fur coat) worn by the rebbes.

Contrary to popular belief, Hasidic dress has little or nothing to do with the way Polish nobles once dressed. The Emancipation movement originated this myth in the late 19th century in an attempt to induce younger Jews to abandon the outfit. Interestingly, secular Yiddish writers of old, living in Eastern Europe (Sholom Aleichem, for example) appear to have no knowledge of the "Polish origin" of the dress. Likewise, numerous Slavic sources from the 15th century onwards refer to the "Jewish kaftan". The Tsarist edict of the mid-19th century banning Jewish outfits mentions the "Jewish kaftan" and "Jewish hat" - as a result of this edict chasidim modified their dress in the Russian Empire and generally hid their sidelocks. Modern Chabad Lubavitch dress - where the Prince Albert frock coat substitutes for the bekishe - reflects this change, as does the Gerrer substitution of the spodik for the shtreimel.

Generally Hasidic dress has altered over the last hundred years and become more European in response to the Emancipation Movement. Modern Hasidim tend to wear Hasidic dress as used just prior to World War II - numerous pictures of Hasidim in the mid-19th century show a far more Levantine outfit (i.e. a kaftan lacking lapels or buttons) that differs little from the classical oriental outfit consisting of the kaftan, white undershirt, sash, knee-breeches (halbe-hoyzn), white socks and slippers - this outfit allegedly had a Babylonian origin before its later adoption by the Israelites, Persians and lastly the Turks, who brought it to Europe where it became the basis of the modern western suit (note the 16th-century European outfit of frock coat, knee-breeches, silk stockings and slippers). The Polish nobility adopted its 16th-century outfit from the Turks - hence (allegedly) the vague similarity between the Hasidic outfit and Polish nobles' clothing. (Similarly, Hasidic dress has a vague connection with Shia Muslim clerical dress - the Shia clergy adopted this dress from the Persians.) One Hasidic belief (taught by the Klausenberger rebbe) holds that Jews originally invented this dress-code and that the Babylonians adopted it from Israelites during the Jewish exile in Babylon of the 6th century BCE. This belief is not widely held or well known among hasidim.

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Hasidic rebbes and Hasidim in traditional dress. Note the shtreimels, black bekishes, and the gartels. The rebbes are distinguished by the velvet lining on their bekishes.

Some claim that the Sabbath dress of Hasidim resembles the description of the High Priest's dress in the Bible but there does not seem to be a serious similarity. Many Hasidim also believe that Hasidic dress supports fundamental Judaic concepts - for instance white socks tucked in short pants so one's trouser-bottoms never touch the floor or ground (which in former times was likely to be a source of waste, which is problematic during prayer); and slippers (shtibblat) without buckles or laces so one never need touch one's shoes - which would ritually defile one's hands, requiring ritual purification through washing with a special vessel.

  • Kaftans (bekishes, kapotes, chalat) serve as a sign of modesty, covering the entire body.
  • A sash or gartel divides one's lower parts from one's upper parts, and are mentioned in the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch as a way to "prepare to meet your God".
  • Knee-breeches mean that a man's private parts remain covered when walking up stairs (cf Exodus 28:42, 20:23).

Headgear

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Rabbi Moshe Leib Rabinovich, Munkacser Rebbe, wearing a kolpik

Hasidim customarily wear black hats during the weekdays as do nearly all Haredim today. A variety of hats are worn depending on the sect. Hasidim wear a variety of fur headdresses on the Sabbath:

  • Shtreimel is worn by most Hasidim today, including from Galicia and Hungary such as Satmar, Munkacs, Bobov, Breslov and Belz, and some non-Galician Polish Hasidim, such as Biala, as well as some non-Hasidic Haredim in Jerusalem.
  • Spodik – name given by others to the shtraml worn by Polish Hasidim such as Ger, Amshinov, Ozharov, Aleksander.
  • Choibl or "Soyvl" was worn in Poland prior to the Holocaust, and has fallen into disuse.
  • Kolpik (Template:Lang-pl) is a traditional Slavic headdress, worn by unmarried sons and grandsons of many Rebbes on the Sabbath. The kolpik is worn by some Rebbes on special occasions other than the Sabbath and major Biblical Holidays, such as Hanukah, Tu B'Shvat, and Rosh Chodesh.
  • The dashikl was a peaked cap worn during the week, prior to the Holocaust. It was worn in Poland, Belarus and Ukraine, and was worn by poorer Hasidim on Shabbat. Its use began as a result of the Tsarist decrees banning other traditional Jewish headdress. In these geographic areas, generally only rabbis wore black hats. Today, some Hasidic children, under the age of 13, wear a kashket cap on the Sabbath. In the sect of Belz, the kashket has been reintroduced for boys under the age of 15 to wear on weekdays.
  • Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidim wear black felt fedoras, dating back to the style of the 1940s and 50s. They are the same as the hats worn by many non-Hasidic Haredim, as well as by some more "modern" Hasidim who are followers of a particular Rebbe without being part of a Hasidic community. Chabad Hasidim often pinch their hats to form a triangle on the top. They wear their fedoras even on the Sabbath and Holidays. However, some Chabad Hasidim in Jerusalem wear a shtreimel on the Sabbath, if that was their family's custom for generations in Jerusalem.
  • Various forms of felt open-crown (a type of hat with a rounded top, such as a bowler) hats are worn by many Hasidim. Affiliation can sometimes be identified by whether there is a pinch in the middle of the top or not, as well as the type of brim. This is called a shtofener hat in Yiddish. Ger and Slonimer Hasidim wear a round topped hat, while Stolin and Emunas Yisrael wear a pinched hat. Many Satmar laymen wear a type of open crown hat that resembles a bowler hat with rounded edges on the brim.
  • Samet (velvet) or biber (beaver) hats are worn by Galician and Hungarian Hasidim during the week and by unmarried men on Shabbat as well. Some unmarried men only wear a samet hat on the Sabbath and a felt hat during the week. There are many types of Samet hats, most notably the "high" ("hoicher") and "flat" ("platcher") varieties. The "flat" type is worn by Satmar Hasidim, and some others as well. Some Rabbis wear a "round" samet hat in a similar style to the shtofener hats, however made from the Samet material. They are called beaver hats even though today they are made from rabbit.
  • A small fur hat called a kutchma (Template:Lang-uk) is worn by many Hasidic laymen during weekdays in the winter. Today this hat is sometimes made from cheaper materials, such as polyester. This hat is referred to as a shlyapka (шляпка), by Russian Jews.
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Young Hasid age 22.

Other distinct clothing

Many Hasidim traditionally do not wear wristwatches; they wear a watch and chain ("zeigerel") and a vest (also right-over-left). Others do wear wrist watches.

Gerrer hasidim do not wear breeches or long white socks, rather they wear "hoyznzokn" — long black socks that they tuck their pants into.

Some hasidim from Eastern Galicia might wear black socks with their breeches on the Sabbath, as opposed to white ones, particularly Belzer Hasidim.

Many Hungarian Hasidic and non-Hasidic laymen wear a suit jacket that lies somewhere between being a rekel and being a regular three-quarter double breasted suit-this is called a "drei-fertl" (Yiddish for "three-quarter"). It is distinct from a regular three-quarter suit inasmuch as the right side covers the left, like a rekel.

Many Skverer hasidim wear knee-high leather boots (shtifl) with their breeches on the Sabbath. This manner of concealing the stockings was introduced as a compromise prior to a family wedding when one side had the tradition of wearing white stockings and the other did not. The Skverer Rebbe and his family wear such boots every day, and so do some other rabbinical families affiliated with other Hasidic groups.

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The Dorohoi Rebbe in his traditional rabbinical Sabbath garb

Hair

Template:Main Following a Biblical commandment not to shave the sides of one's face, male members of most Hasidic groups wear long, uncut sideburns called payoth (Ashkenazi Hebrew peyos, Yiddish peyes). Many Hasidim shave off the rest of their hair on the top of their head. Not every Hasidic group requires long peyos, and not all Jewish men with peyos are Hasidic, but all groups discourage the shaving of one's beard (although some Hasidic laymen ignore this dictum). All Hasidic boys receive their first haircuts ceremonially at the age of three years (though Skverrer Hasidim do this at their second birthday). Until then, Hasidic boys have long hair. Many non-Hasidic (and even some non-Orthodox) Jews have adopted this custom.

Tzitzit

Template:Main The white threads seen at the waists of Hasidim and other Orthodox Jewish males have the name tzitzit. The requirement to wear fringes comes from the Book of Numbers: "Speak to the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes on the borders of their garments throughout their generations" (Numbers 15:38). In order to fulfill this commandment, Orthodox males wear a talles katan, a square white garment with the fringes at the corners. By tradition, a Hasidic boy will receive his first fringed garment on his third birthday, the same day as his first haircut. Most Orthodox Jews wear the talles katan under their shirts, where it is unnoticeable except for the strings that many leave hanging out; many Hasidim, as well as some other Haredim, wear the talles katan over their shirt instead.

Women

Hasidic women wear clothing of less distinctive appearance than that of their male counterparts, but which answers to the principles of tzeniut (modest dress in the sense of Jewish law). As with all Haredi women, the standard is long, conservative skirts, and sleeves past the elbow. Otherwise, female Hasidic fashion remains on the conservative side of secular women's fashion. Most Hasidic women do not wear red clothing.

In common with all Haredim, Hasidic men will not touch or even shake hands with anyone of the opposite sex other than their wife, (mother, offspring); the converse applies for women.

In keeping with Jewish law married Hasidic women cover their hair. In many Hasidic groups the women wear wigs for this purpose. In some of these groups the women might also wear a tichel (scarf) or hat on top of the wig either on a regular basis or when attending services or other religious events. Other groups consider wigs too natural looking, so they simply put their hair into kerchiefs (called tichels - a tichel often covers a shpitzel). In some groups, such as Satmar, married women are expected to shave their heads and wear head kerchiefs. All allow uncovered hair before marriage.

Families

Template:Main Hasidic men and women, as customary in Haredi Judaism, usually meet through matchmakers in a process called a shidduch, but marriages involve the mutual consent of the couple and of the parents. Expectations exist that a bride and groom should be about the same age. Marriage age ranges from 17-25, with 18-21 considered the norm. No custom encourages an older man marrying a young woman.

An old myth asserts that Hasidic couples have intercourse through a sheet with holes in it. This is not true. Many scholars have posited that this myth originated in the speculation of outsiders upon seeing the poncho-like tallit katan drying on a clothes line. Since the tallit katan resembles a small square sheet with a hole in it (for the wearer's head to go through) and Hasidim were known for extreme modesty, a new myth was born. However, while this story is a myth, many pious Hasidic couples follow strict regulations regarding what types of sexual relations are allowed and how (what positions etc.) Hasidic thought stresses the holiness of sex. The Jewish religion stresses the importance of married couples enjoying the pleasure of sexual intercourse as a divine command.

Hasidic Jews, like many other Orthodox Jews, have a reputation for producing large families; the average chasidic family in the United States has 7.9 children.[1] Many sects follow this custom out of what they consider a Biblical mandate to 'be fruitful and multiply.'

Languages

Template:Main Most Hasidim speak the language of their countries of residence, but use Yiddish amongst themselves as a way of remaining distinct and preserving tradition. Thus children are still learning Yiddish today, and the language, despite predictions to the contrary, is not dead. Yiddish newspapers are still published, and Yiddish fiction is being written, primarily aimed at women. Films in Yiddish are being produced within the Hasidic community, and released immediately as DVDs (as opposed to the Yiddish movies of the past, which were produced by non-religious Jews).

Some Hasidic groups actively oppose the everyday use of Hebrew, which is considered a holy tongue. To use it for anything other than prayer is profane. Hence Yiddish is the vernacular and common tongue for Hasidim around the world.

See also

Footnotes

  1. meaning "Master of the Good Name", abbreviated as Besht.

References

Books

Websites

Further reading

  • The Great Mission: The life and story of Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov. Compiled by Rabbi Eli Friedman, translated by Rabbi Elchonon Lesches. Kehot Publication Society, 2005, ISBN 0-8266-0681-4.
  • Holy Days: The World of a Hasidic Family. Lis Harris. Simon & Schuster New York, 1985, ISBN 0-684-81366-1.
  • Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels. Hella Winston. Beacon Press Boston, 2005, ISBN 0-8070-3626-9.
  • Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters. Elie Wiesel. Simon & Schuster New York, 1982, ISBN 0-6714-4171-X.

External links


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