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Jewish Studies Hasidism
by
David Biale

Introduction

Hasidism, an eastern European movement of religious pietism (the word hasidut means piety), has played a key role in Jewish life for the last 250 years. Starting in the mid-18th century, it infused the Jewish religion with new values by democratizing access to the divine and created a new social structure around wonder-working rabbis (rebbes or zaddikim). It also excited intense opposition, first among the Polish-Lithuanian rabbinical elite, which in turn devised new cultural values in order to refute Hasidism. In the 19th century, it became the target of sustained attacks by the new movement of Jewish enlightenment (Haskalah), which also developed its ideology at least partly in contradistinction to Hasidism. Despite these opponents, Hasidism gradually became the most influential religious movement among eastern European Jews by the mid-19th century. However, its power was eroded by the forces of modernization, urbanization, and emigration and it was dealt a near-death blow by the Holocaust. Nevertheless, the remnants of the movement reconstituted themselves, particularly in the new state of Israel and North America to the point where Hasidism has now once again become a force to be reckoned with in Jewish religious life.

General Overviews

The scholarly study of Hasidism only began in the 1890s, once the bitter polemical battles between the Hasidim and their opponents had waned. Simon Dubnow, the dean of east European Jewish historians, was the first to systematically collect Hasidic sources. His 1931 history of Hasidism (Dubnow 1931) focuses on social and institutional dimensions of the movement from the early 18th century through the early 19th century. Samuel Horodezky was another early scholar of Hasidism who was inclined to romanticize the movement so his work should be read with this in mind (Horodezky 1922). Scholem 1941 and Scholem 2008 pioneered the study of Hasidic thought as a late manifestation of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah). Scholem’s student, Joseph Weiss, became a leading scholar of the movement in his own right. A collection of his writings on Hasidism can be found in Weiss 1997. Specifically, Weiss contrasts Bratslav Hasidism with Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidism in order to contest the notion that Hasidism can be reduced to one essence. Idel 1995, representing the generation of scholarship after Scholem, takes issue with some of Scholem’s conclusions. Baumgarten 2006 provides the most comprehensive recent history covering both institutions and thought. Jacobs 1972 treats the important subject of prayer, one of Hasidism’s most innovative features. Piekarz 1999 is a longitundinal study of different forms of Hasidic leadership.

  • Baumgarten, Jean. La naissance du hasidisme: Mystique, rituel et société. Paris: Albin Michel, 2006.

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    The only recent one-volume survey of Hasidic history and thought, covering the 18th through the 19th centuries by a French scholar of Yiddish literature and Ashkenazi culture.

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  • Dubnow, Simon. Toldot ha-Hasidut. Tel Aviv: Devir, 1931.

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    Dubnow (1860–1941), the dean of east European Jewish historians, began his studies of Hasidism in the 1890s using Russian government sources as well as the texts and tales of the Hasidim themselves. The first and only attempt to write a comprehensive history of early Hasidism.

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  • Horodezky, Samuel. Ha-Hasidut ve-ha-Hasidism. 4 vols. Berlin: Devir 1922.

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    Hasidic history and thought in the 18th century with a selection of Hasidic texts from the same period by an early student and enthusiast for the movement who often romanticized his subject.

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  • Idel, Moshe. Hasidism: Between Ecstasy and Magic. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995.

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    A contemporary Israeli scholar of Jewish mysticism, Idel challenges the popular notion of Lurianic Kabbalah as the primary intellectual influence on Hasidism. Instead, his heavily theoretical text proposes that the 18th-century mystical movement owes far more to Cordoverian and other Kabbalistic systems.

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  • Jacobs, Louis. Hasidic Prayer. London: Routledge, 1972.

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    Hasidism made prayer more important than study and it emphasized how, through prayer, the average Jew might achieve devekut or communion with God. This volume examines the different characteristics of prayer as well as the Hasidic prayer book and prayer house.

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  • Piekarz, Mendel. Ha-Hanhagah ha-Hasidit: Samkhut ve-Emunat Tsaddikim be-Aspaklariyat Sifruta she ha-Hasidut. Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1999.

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    A sweeping survey in Hebrew of the doctrine of Zaddikism (spiritual leadership) from the inception of Hasidism through the Holocaust.

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  • Scholem, Gershom. Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. New York: Schocken, 1941.

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    Scholem (1897–1981) was the founder of the scholarly study of Jewish mysticism. The last chapter of his pathbreaking lectures on the Kabbalah deals with the doctrines of Hasidism. A classic text.

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  • Scholem, Gershom. Ha-Shlav ha-Aharon: Mehkere ha-Hasidut shel Gershom Scholem. Edited by David Assaf and Esther Liebes. Tel Aviv: Om Oved, 2008.

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    The editors have gathered all of Scholem’s studies of Hasidism, which appeared in a variety of scholarly journals. An indispensable collection that supplements the foundational chapter in his Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (see Scholem 1941).

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  • Weiss, Joseph. Studies in East European Jewish Mysticism and Hasidism. Edited by D. Goldstein. London: Valentine Mitchell, 1997.

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    A student of Gershom Scholem examines the social origins of Hasidism, questions of piety and prayer devekut, passivity, and the role of the zaddik. Weiss contrasts Bratslav Hasidism with Habad in order to contest the notion that Hasidism can be reduced to one essence.

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Anthologies

In lieu of a single general history of Hasidism, several anthologies offer the best overviews. Hundert 1991 has collected both older essays and more recent works of scholarship. Etkes, et al. 1999 is a collection of essays written in memory of Mordecai Wilensky, an Israeli scholar who studied the conflicts between the Hasidim and their Opponents. The collection includes articles on Hasidic thought and history as well. Assaf 2001 has collected essays focusing on the social history of the movement. Rapoport-Albert 1996 is the most comprehensive collection of essays by recent scholars.

  • Assaf, David, ed. Tsadik ve-Edah: Hebetim Histori’im ve-Hevrati’im be-Heker ha-Hasidut. Jerusalem: Merkaz Shazar, 2001.

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    A leader in focusing attention on the social history of Hasidism (as opposed to the intellectual or theological dimension, which had been the main concern of earlier scholars), Assaf brings together some of the best examples of this more recent development in scholarship.

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  • Etkes, Immanuel, David Assaf, Israel Bartal, and Elchanan Reiner, eds. Within Hasidic Circles: Studies in Hasidism in Memory of Mordecai Wilensky. Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1999.

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    A volume in memory of the Israeli scholar of the polemics against Hasidism. The three sections are on the mitnaggdic opposition to Hasidism, the Haskalah opposition, and internal Hasidic doctrines and institutions (“within Hasidic circles”). With one exception, the essays are all in Hebrew.

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  • Hundert, Gershon David, ed. Essential Papers on Hasidism: Origins to Present. New York: New York University Press, 1991.

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    Collects many of the most important essays on Hasidism by the founders of scholarship in the field (Simon Dubnow, Benzion Dinur, Raphael Mahler, Shmuel Ettinger, Martin Buber, and Gershom Scholem) as well as more recent scholars (Mordecai Wilensky, Ada Rapoport-Albert, Moshe Rosman, and Louis Jacobs).

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  • Rapoport-Albert, Ada, ed. Hasidism Reappraised: Proceedings of the International Conference of the Institute of Jewish Studies in Memory of Joseph G. Weiss, University College London, 21–23 June 1988. London: Valentine Mitchell, 1996.

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    An extraordinary collection of essays that grew out of a conference in memory of Joseph Weiss. Covers the full range of Hasidism’s history with contributions by the foremost recent scholars in the field.

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  • Rubinstein, Avraham, ed. Perakim be-Torat ha-Hasidut uve-Toldedoteha. Jerusalem: Merkaz Zalman Shazar, 1977.

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    A selection in Hebrew of some of the most important articles on Hasidism primarily by scholars of the first half of the 20th century: Geshom Scholem, Benzion Dinur, Martin Buber, Shmuel Ettinger, Avraham Rubinstein, and Isaiah Tishby. Also includes a selection of Eliezer Zweifel’s Shalom al-Yisrael, the only “scholarly” 19th-century study of the movement.

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Reference Works

The best overall reference works in English are Skolnik and Berenbaum 2007, updated and expanded from the 1971 edition (in addition to the general entry on Hasidism, there are many entries on individual Hasidic leaders), and Assaf, et al. 2008, a very good synthesis of Hasidic social history and thought that discusses Hasidic teachings and literature, everyday life, music, and dance. Rabinowicz 1996 is a one-volume encyclopedia dedicated to Hasidism. In Hebrew, the Entsiklopedia la-Hasidut reflects Orthodox scholarship.

  • Assaf, David, Joseph Dan, Louis Jacobs, and Yaakov Mazor. “Hasidism.” In The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. Vol. 1. Edited by G. D. Hundert, 659–673. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008.

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    A superb recent synthesis of social history and Hasidic thought with subentries on teachings and literature, everyday life, music, and dance. Excellent bibliographies. The encyclopedia also contains separate articles on specific Hasidic groups. The work as a whole focuses on eastern Europe.

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  • Parush, Shalom Hayim, and Yitshak Alfasi. Entsiklopedya ha-Hasidut. Jerusalem: Mosad Ha-Rav Kook, 1980–2004.

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    A reference work by Orthodox scholars. As of 2012, three volumes have come out on Hasidic personalities and one on Hasidic books. The most comprehensive reference work of this kind.

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  • Rabinowicz, Tsvi, ed. Encyclopedia of Hasidism. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1996.

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    Brief entries on personalities and themes in the history of Hasidism. Especially useful for its capsule biographies of leading Hasidic figures.

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  • Skolnik, Fred, and Michael Berenbaum, eds. Encyclopedia Judaica. 22 vols. 2d ed. Farmington Hills, MI: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007.

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    The most important English-language reference work for the field of Jewish studies, originally published in 1971. Its extensive entry on Hasidism has been brought up to date in a 2007 edition. This edition is also available in a searchable online version. In addition to the general entry on Hasidism, there are many entries on individual Hasidic leaders such as the Baal Shem Tov, Nahman of Bratslav, and others.

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Primary Texts

Hasidic literature includes some three thousand titles, mostly in Hebrew, but also in Yiddish. The main genres of this literature are theoretical Kabbalistic works, sermons, prayers, and tales of the zaddikim. The most important works are from the early, foundational period of the movement from roughly 1780 (when the first Hasidic book, Toledot Yakov Yosef, was published) to the second decade of the 19th century when the tales of the The Baal Shem Tov (Shivhei ha-Besht) appeared. But the largest number of books stemmed from the second half of the 19th century when many different collections of hagiographical works about the zaddikim circulated.

Anthologies

Newman 1944 and Lamm 1999 present extensive collections of teaching and parables. Dan 1983 and Jacobs 1976 offer short theoretical texts from a range of Hasidic teachers, mostly from the fertile first half century of Hasidism’s history. Jacobs 1976 and Green and Holtz 1977 are both collections of sources on Hasidic doctrines of prayer, one of the distinguishing characteristics of the movement. Nigal 2008 is an edited collection of Hasidic tales in Hebrew, while Buber 1947–1948 and Wiesel 1982, both highly sympathetic to the movement, feature a collection of tales rewritten for a modern audience.

  • Buber, Martin. Tales of the Hasidim. Translated by Olga Marx. New York: Schocken, 1947–1948.

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    The 20th-century German-Jewish philosopher collected and rewrote Hasidic tales as inspirations for modern spirituality. Although not entirely faithful to its sources, the anthology remains one of the most accessible entry points to Hasidic literature. Organized chronologically by name of Hasidic teachers covering “Early Masters” and “Late Masters.”

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  • Dan, Joseph. The Teachings of Hasidism. New York: Behrman, 1983.

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    A collection by a leading history of Kabbalah of the teachings of the 18th-century Hasidic masters. The editor’s notes explain the Kabbalistic meaning of symbolism in the texts.

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  • Green, Arthur, and Barry W. Holtz, eds. and trans. Your Word Is Fire: The Hasidic Masters on Contemplative Prayer. New York: Paulist Press, 1977.

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    Hasidism made prayer more important than study and it emphasized how, through prayer, the average Jew might achieve devekut or communion with God. This volume, edited by the leading English-language scholar of Hasidism, provides an excellent sampling of Hasidic texts on prayer.

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  • Jacobs, Louis. Hasidic Thought. New York: Behrman, 1976.

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    An excellent anthology of Hasidic texts primarily from the 18th and 19th centuries. The texts from each thinker are introduced with a short biography. Each text is followed by helpful commentaries by the editor.

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  • Lamm, Norman. The Religious Thought of Hasidism: Text and Commentary. New York: Yeshiva University Press, 1999.

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    A voluminous collection of Hasidic teachings arranged by subject with extensive notes by a leading Orthodox scholar and former president of Yeshiva University. With contributions by Allan Brill and Shalom Carmy.

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  • Newman, Louis I., ed. The Hasidic Anthology: Tales and Teachings of the Hasidim. New York: Bloch, 1944.

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    A very extensive collection of Hasidic sayings and teachings organized alphabetically by subject ranging from “the after-life” to “the zakkik.” The author provides a voluminous bibliography of Hasidic texts from which the selections were drawn.

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  • Nigal, Gedalyah, ed. The Hasidic Tale. Translated by Edward Levin. Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2008.

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    A scholarly anthology of Hasidic stories by a leading scholar of Jewish magic and folklore. Differs from other collections in its choice of subjects such as “Transmigration of the Soul and Dybbuks,” “Matchmaking and Marriage,” “Apostasy,” and “Ritual Slaughterers.”

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  • Wiesel, Elie. Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters. New York: Summit, 1982.

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    An imaginative modern recasting of Hasidic stories by the Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

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English Translations

The majority of Hasidic texts translated into English are from the first half-century of the movement’s history, such as Dov Baer ben Samuel 1970, Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl 1982, Nahman of Bratslav and Band 1978, and Sheneʾur Zalman of Liyadi 1973. Salomon Maimon was the first outside observer of Hasidism (Maimon 1991). Yehudah Leib Alter was an important Hasidic thinker and leader in the 19th century (Alter 1998).

  • Alter, Yehudah Leib. The Language of Truth: The Torah Commentary of the Sefat Emet, Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger. Translated by Arthur Green. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1998.

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    The leader of the Gerer Hasidism in the late 19th century, one of the most important sects in Poland. A distillation of his voluminous commentary on the Torah, his most important work.

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  • Dov Baer ben Samuel. In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov [Shivhei ha-Besht]: The Earliest Collection of Legends about the Founder of Hasidism. Translated and edited by Dan Ben-Amos and Jerome R. Mintz. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970.

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    The classic collection of tales about the Baal Shem Tov, first published in 1814, more than half a century after his death. The stories often feature the Besht as clairvoyant or a master magician and resemble folktales in other cultures. There is debate about whether any of the tales can be considered historical.

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  • Maimon, Salomon. “On a Secret Society and Therefore a Long Chapter.” In Essential Papers on Hasidism: Origins to Present. Edited by Gershon Hundert, 11–24. New York: New York University Press, 1991.

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    The author (b. 1753–d. 1800), raised in the Lithuanian talmudic tradition, immigrated to Berlin where he became a minor figure in the German Enlightenment. His autobiography describes life in eastern Europe and includes this text, the first external firsthand description of the court of Dov Baer, the Maggid of Miedzyrzec, the most important disciple of the Baal Shem Tov.

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  • Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl. Upright Practices: The Light of the Eyes. Translated by Arthur Green. New York: Paulist Press, 1982.

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    A student of both the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Miedzyrzec, Menahem Nahum was a founder of Ukrainian Hasidism. His eight grandsons established dynasties, some of which still exist today. This text, first published in 1798, became a favorite because it makes the esoteric teachings of Hasidic Kabbalah accessible to a wide audience.

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  • Nahman of Bratslav and Arnold J. Band. The Tales. Translated by Arnold J. Band. New York: Paulist Press, 1978.

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    Nahman’s inventive, Kabbalistically inspired tales in a highly readable translation.

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  • Sheneʾur Zalman of Liyadi. Likkute Amarim: Tanya. London: Soncino Press, 1973.

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    The most important theoretical text by the 18th-century founder of Chabad/Lubavitch Hasidism.

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Hebrew Texts

The texts included here, representing a tiny fraction of the total Hasidic library, with the exception of Dov Ber ben Samuel 2005 and the Die Geschichten vom Baʾal Schem Tov (Shivhei ha-Besh) (Groezinger 1997), are those not available in English translation. Dov Ber of Miedzyrzec 1976 and Jacob Joseph of Polnoy 1780 were the leading contemporaries of the Baal Shem Tov. Elimelech of Lyzensk 1978 represents the next generation, the followers of Dov Ber of Miedzyrzec.

  • Dov Ber ben Samuel. Shivhe ha-Besht. Edited by Avraham Rubinstein. Jerusalem: Reuven Mas, 2005.

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    The most scholarly Hebrew edition of the classic tales about the founder of Hasidism.

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  • Dov Ber of Miedzyrzec. Maggid Devarav Li-Ya’akov. Edited by Rivka Shatz-Uffenheimer. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1976.

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    The most important theoretical work, first published in 1781, by the Besht’s disciple who institutionalized the early Hasidic movement. Dov Ber’s Kabbalistic theory is based on a Platonic idea that everything in the material world has its roots in divine archetypes. Excellent notes explain the difficult symbolism in the work.

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  • Elimelech of Lyzensk. No’am Elimelech. 2 vols. Edited by Gedalya Nigal. Jerusalem: Mosad Ha-Rav Kook, 1978.

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    A leading disciple of Dov Ber of Miedzyrzec who developed in this important text the theory of the zaddik as intercessor between the Hasid and God.

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  • Groezinger, Karl E., trans. Die Geschichten vom Ba’al Schem Tov. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz Verlag, 1997.

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    Another scholarly Hebrew edition of the Shivhe ha-Besht with a German translation and an essay by Rachel Elior on “Der Baʾal Schem Tov zwischen Magie und Mystik.”

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  • Jacob Joseph of Polnoy. Toldot Yakov Yosef. Korets, Ukraine, 1780.

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    The author was one of the Baal Shem Tov’s leading disciples and his book was the first published Hasidic text. Contains teachings that the author attributes to the Baal Shem Tov himself and thus constitutes a key source for those scholars who believe it possible to reconstruct the worldview of the founder of Hasidism.

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  • Nahman of Bratslav. Likkutei Muharan. Jerusalem: Hadisei Breslav, 1969.

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    Nahman’s sermons, originally given orally in Yiddish and then translated into Hebrew. The core of his theoretical, Kabbalistic teachings.

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Polish Origins

Hasidism’s origins were in the peculiar conditions of 18th-century Poland, a kingdom on the eve of partition by its more powerful neighbors. For a variety of reasons, rabbinical authority weakened during the 18th century, culminating in the abolition of the supra-communal Council of the Four Lands in 1764. As the Jewish population of Poland increased significantly in size, it dispersed into small villages, further weakening traditional communal structures. Weinryb 1973 provides a survey of Polish Jewish history from the Middle Ages to the 18th century, while Hundert 2004 specifically examines the 18th century. Hundert 1992 and Rosman 1990 investigate relations between Jews and Polish nobles, a key element in the social background of Hasidism since many Jews lived in private towns owned by the nobility. Halpern 1968 includes a number of specific studies about the history of Jews in eastern Europe.

  • Halpern, Israel. Yehudim ve-Yahadut be-Mizrah Europa. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1968.

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    A collection of essays on the 17th and 18th centuries by the dean of Israeli historians of eastern Europe. Includes three essays on Hasidism.

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  • Hundert, Gershon. The Jews in a Polish Private Town: The Case of Opatów in the Eighteenth Century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992.

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    A detailed social history of the Jews of a town owned by a Polish nobleman, the setting for many of the Jewish communities in Poland of this period.

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  • Hundert, Gershon. Jews in Poland-Lithuania in the Eighteenth Century: A Genealogy of Modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

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    An argument for why the Jews of Poland underwent a different path to modernity by one of the leading social historians of this community.

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  • Rosman, Moshe. The Lord’s Jews: Magnate-Jewish Relations in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.

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    Argues that Jews in early modern Poland existed symbiotically with the nobility. In exchange for crucial economic services, Polish magnates provided security and freedom. Hasidism was not a response to crisis, oppression, or failed messianism, but was rather a religious movement that probably had close ties to the Jewish establishment, and perhaps the Polish magnates, too.

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  • Weinryb, Bernard. The Jews of Poland: A Social and Economic History of the Jewish Community in Poland from 1100 to 1800. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1973.

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    A highly readable history of the Polish Jews from the Middle Ages through the 18th century. The author argues that Poles and Jews generally coexisted harmoniously, despite episodes of tension and violence. Since the book ends with the rise of Hasidism, it provides a useful way of situating the movement in the longer course of Polish-Jewish history.

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Religious Background

The social background to the rise of Hasidism was a network of loosely organized, elitist conventicles (havurot) that met to observe various mystical, ascetic, and penitential practices, described by Piekarz 1978, Weiss 1951, and Weiss 1997. These groups grew out of a medieval tradition of mystically inspired ascetic pietism, also called Hasidism (the word itself means “piety”), which continued in 18th-century Poland. Dinur 1991 holds that Hasidism was nourished by the Jewish messianic tradition, while Elior 2006 argues that the pietistic groups in Poland drew on the Lurianic Kabbalah––or mysticism––that developed in Safed, Palestine, in the 16th century. The Hasidic movement proper would apply these mystical doctrines to the daily life of its adherents.

  • Dinur, Benzion. “The Origins of Hasidism and Its Social and Messianic Foundation.” In Essential Papers in Hasidism: Origins to Present. Edited by Gershon Hundert, 86–208. New York: New York University Press, 1991.

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    One of the founders of Jewish studies in Israel, his argument about the messianic roots of Hasidism fits in with his larger Zionist philosophy of Jewish history as a persistent desire to return to the Land of Israel.

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  • Elior, Rachel. The Mystical Origins of Hasidism. Translated by Shalom Carmy. Oxford: Littman Library, 2006.

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    Hasidism emerged out of an intellectual rather than a social movement. The author sees its founding fathers as charismatics who created a radical, mystical doctrine in a traditional framework. Among Hasidism’s most successful innovations was its new conception of the relationship between man and God.

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  • Piekarz, Mendel. Be-Yemei Tsemihat ha-Hasidut. Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1978.

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    The author demonstrates that wonder-working shamans (baʾalei shem) populated the Polish countryside in the half-century before the rise of Hasidism. It was out of this milieu that the Baal Shem Tov emerged and against which he partially reacted.

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  • Weiss, Joseph G. “The Beginnings of Hasidism.” Tsiyon 16 (1951): 46–105.

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    A circle of pre-Hasidic mystics in Poland responded to the crisis of Sabbatianism with a doctrine of the “descent” of the zaddik into the realm of evil. While they preached the suppression of evil thoughts, the Baal Shem Tov created a new doctrine in which the zaddik must redeem these thoughts by uplifting them to their divine origins. In Hebrew.

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  • Weiss, Joseph G. “A Circle of Pneumatics in Pre-Hasidism.” In Studies in East European Jewish Mysticism and Hasidism. Edited by D. Goldstein, 27–42. London: Valentine Mitchell, 1997.

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    Discusses the circle of Nahman of Kosov, a spiritualist group that believed in prophecy. The author holds that circles like this one served as a bridge between the Sabbatian movement and the Hasidism founded by Israel Baal Shem Tov.

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The Baal Shem Tov

One practitioner of early-18th-century Polish pietism was Israel Baal Shem Tov (c. 1700–1760), known widely by his acronym: the Besht. He is regarded by the movement as its founder but there is scholarly debate about how much can reliably be known about him. Rosman 1996 thinks that most of the sources attributed to the Baal Shem Tov were of later provenance, while Etkes 2004 argues that more of the later sources, such as the 1814 collection of tales, In Praise of the Besht, are authentic. Much of this debate revolves around a letter that the Besht sent to his brother-in-law that appears to claim messianic aspirations for his movement. Pedaya 2005 holds that this claim can be attributed to the Besht. Mark 1999 does not take a position on the authenticity debate, but sees the 1814 tales as evidence for the views of early Hasidism around questions of divine communion and demonic possession.

  • Etkes, Immanuel. The Besht: Magician, Mystic and Leader. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 2004.

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    Challenges the view that the Baal Shem Tov was merely one of many Jewish shamans in 18th-century Poland. His spiritual power distinguished him from other mystics. The author’s conclusions rely in part on the argument that the Shivhei haBesht—stories about the Baal Shem Tov often regarded as folklore—contain some historical truth.

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  • Mark, Zvi. “Dibbuk and Devekut in In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov: Notes on the Phenomenology of Madness in Early Hasidism.” In Within Hasidic Circles: Studies in Hasidism in Memory of Mordecai Wilensky. Edited by Immanuel Etkes, David Assaf, Israel Bartal, and Elchanan Reiner. Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1999.

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    Examines the mirror-image relationship between devekut (communion with God) and dibbuk (demon possession) in this collection of early Hasidic tales. The first is associated with spirituality and the second with madness, but they are closely related, both linguistically and phenomenologically. In Hebrew.

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  • Pedaya, Haviva. “The Baal Shem Tov’s Iggeret Hakodesh Toward a Critique of the Textual Versions and an Exploration of Its Convergence with the World-Picture: Messianism, Revelation, Ecstasy and the Sabbatean Background.” Tsiyon 70 (2005): 311–354.

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    Gives a philological analysis of the three versions of the Baal Shem Tov’s letter to his brother-in-law that contains a messianic element. The ecstatic messianism of the letter bears little relationship to later Hasidic messianism, but does contain traces of 17th-century Sabbatianism. In Hebrew.

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  • Rosman, Moshe. Founder of Hasidism: A Quest for the Historical Baal Shem Tov. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1996.

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    The author discovered a tax document that proves that the Baal Shem Tov was not an outsider, but as a magical healer employed by his community. Argues that the Besht did not establish a movement or leave a written doctrine. A minimalist interpretation of which sources can be authentically traced to the founder of Hasidism.

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The Beshst’s Disciples

After the death of the Besht in 1760, his disciples developed their own teachings. Scholars differ as to how much they actually took from him and whether he was even regarded at this time as the founder of a movement. In the next half-century, Hasidism would be a very small movement with limited numbers of disciples clustering around the followers of the Besht. But it was in this period that the major theoretical teachings and institutions of Hasidism received their first and often most creative expression.

Institutions

With Dov Ber, the Great Maggid of Miedzyrzec (d. 1772) and his circle of disciples, Hasidism began to take on institutional shape and opened up to contact with the wider society. The zaddik, or charismatic holy man (also known as rebbe in Yiddish), now became the focal point of the group, and his court a site of worship alongside the traditional synagogue. The disciples of the Maggid established their own Hasidic courts. Heschel 1985 describes the various personalities in the Baal Shem Tov’s circle of disciples. Rapoport-Albert 1996, Pedaya 1995, and Teller 2006 describe the way the movement spread from small circles of disciples to the “courts” of the rebbe, while Green 1987 examines the types of leadership that the early movement developed. Finally, Gris 1992 and Gris 2006 show the way Hasidism moved from an oral to a written movement.

  • Green, Arthur. “Typologies of Leadership and the Hasidic Zaddiq.” In Jewish Spirituality: From the Sixteenth Century Revival to the Present. Vol. 2. Edited by Arthur Green. New York: Crossroad, 1987.

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    Early Hasidism mined the earlier Jewish tradition for models of leadership. The zaddik is variously described as a priest, king, prophet, and rabbi.

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  • Gris, Zeev. Sefer, Sofer, ve-Sippur be-Reshit ha-Hasidut. Tel Aviv: Ha-Kibbutz ha-Me’uhad, 1992.

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    An expert on the history of the Hebrew book, in the first citation, the author discusses early Hasidic writings and how they came to be published, as well as the writings of the opponents of Hasidism. The last chapter gives a useful discussion of the scholarly historiography on Hasidism.

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  • Gris, Zeev. The Book in the Jewish World, 1700–1900. Oxford: Littman Library, 2006.

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    The author locates Hasidic literature in the larger context of the dissemination of Jewish books in the 18th and 19th centuries. New forms of printing and distribution created a new readership, including women, for what had earlier been elite types of knowledge.

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  • Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Circle of the Baal Shem Tov. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.

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    In these colorful portraits of four zaddikim close to the Besht, Heschel, the 20th-century Jewish philosopher and scion of a 19th-century Hasidic dynasty, shows that early Hasidism had diverse and competing outlooks. This argument anticipates claims by more recent scholars that the circle of the Besht consisted of equals rather than mere disciples.

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  • Pedaya, Haviva. “On the Development of the Social-Religious-Economic Model of Hasdism.” In Dat Ve-Kalkalah. Edited by M. Ben-Sasson, 331–333. Jerusalem: Merkaz Shazar, 1995.

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    Argues that the transformation of Hasidism from the social structure of a sect to a court and from the embrace of poverty to embrace of wealth already began within the life of the Baal Shem Tov himself. In Hebrew.

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  • Rapoport-Albert, Ada. “Hasidism after 1772: Structural Continuity and Change.” In Hasidism Reappraised: Proceedings of the International Conference of the Institute of Jewish Studies in Memory of Joseph G. Weiss, University College London, 21–23 June 1988. Edited by A. Rapoport-Albert, 76–140. London: Valentine Mitchell, 1996.

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    One of the most important recent revisions of the older historiography, the author shows that Hasidism was not a centralized movement under the Besht that splintered only after R. Dov Ber (the Maggid of Miedzyrzec) died in 1772. Even as Hasidism expanded, fragmenting, by necessity, the romantic memory of the Besht as a singular authority helped zaddikim consolidate power within their own courts.

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  • Teller, Adam. “Hasidism and the Challenge of Geography: The Polish Background to the Spread of the Hasidic Movement.” AJS Review 30 (2006): 1–29.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0364009406000018Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Just as the Polish state, local magnates, and Catholic mendicant orders had to develop strategies for operating in a decentralized geography, so Hasidism used similar decentralized strategies for exerting influence over widely scattered followers. By imitating Polish networks of influence, Hasidism ultimately conquered local rabbinical institutions.

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Doctrines

Since the Baal Shem Tov evidently did not teach a uniform doctrine, the early Hasidic leaders developed a variety of teachings depending on their own personalities and appropriations of early Kabbalistic ideas. Dresner 1960 examines one version of the doctrine of zaddikism, while Rapoport-Albert 1979 looks more broadly at how God and the zaddik became the central axes of Hasidic thought. Scholem 1971 focuses on the central category of devekut or communion with God. Schatz-Uffenheimer 1993 gives an account of the teachings of Dov Ber, the Maggid of Miedzyrzec; Dresner 1994 offers a colorful portrait of Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, a disciple of the Maggid’s; and Krassen 1998 examines Meshullam Feibush Heller, a late-18th-century rebbe from Eastern Galicia.

  • Dresner, Samuel H. The Zaddik: The Doctrine of the Zaddik According to the Writing of Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy. London: Abelard-Schuman, 1960.

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    One of the Baal Shem Tov’s earliest disciples, Yaakov Yosef of Polnoy also wrote the first Hasidic book, Toldot Yaakov Yosef. This engaging and accessible study shows the earliest roots of zaddikism, even though Yaakov Yosef never established his own Hasidic school.

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  • Dresner, Samuel H. Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev: Portrait of a Hasidic Master. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1994.

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    Describes the life and times of Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, a Galician-born Zaddik and disciple of the Maggid. The author relies primarily on unsubstantiated folklore and does not intend the book as an academic study.

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  • Krassen, Miles. Uniter of Heaven and Earth: Rabbi Meshullam Feibush Heller of Zabarazh and the Rise of Hasidism in Eastern Galicia. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

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    A learned discussion of 18th-century Hasidic doctrines through the lens of a lesser-known leader who was a disciple of two of the foremost members of the circle of the Besht. Considers the problem of corporeality and Hasidism’s solution through Torah, the sacred calendar, devekut (divine communion), and the role of the zaddik.

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  • Rapoport-Albert, Ada. “God and the Zaddik as the Two Focal Points of Hasidic Worship.” History of Religions 18.4 (May 1979): 296–325.

    DOI: 10.1086/462825Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The Hasidic version of devekut, or cleaving, did not offer the common man direct access to the divine, but rather direct access to the zaddik, who in turn could commune with God. Hasidism maintained the elitism of its predecessors but achieved popular appeal by creating parallel relationships between Jews and rebbes, and rebbes and God.

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  • Schatz-Uffenheimer, Rivka. Hasidism as Mysticism: Quietistic Elements in Eighteenth-Century Hasidic Thought. Translated by Jonathan Chipman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.

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    A study focused primarily on Dov Ber, the Great Maggid, whose teachings were among the least messianic among the early Hasidim. The author sees parallels with 18th-century German pietism around the phenomenon of quietistic mysticism.

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  • Scholem, Gershom. “Devekut or Communion with God.” In The Messianic Idea in Judaism. Edited by Gershom Scholem, 203–226. New York: Schocken, 1971.

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    A classic essay tracing the idea of “communion” with God from the medieval Kabbalah to its most radical expression in the teachings of Dov Ber, the Maggid of Miedzyrzec, where it becomes an ecstatic union with the divine and an annihilation of the ego. The author cautions that the Maggid’s teacher, Israel Baal Shem Tov, did not necessarily subscribe to such a radical doctrine.

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Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidism

The youngest disciple of Dov Ber, the Maggid of Miedzyrzec, was Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812). Shneur Zalman founded the Chabad or Lubavitch (the Russian town in which the movement was based during the 19th century), the second longest-lived Hasidic movement. Chabad is an acronym for “Wisdom” (chokhma), “Understanding” (bina), and “Knowledge” (daʾat), three of the emanations of God according to the medieval Kabbalah. Shneur Zalman combined deep Kabbalistic theory with Hasidic practice to create a more intellectual movement than was characteristic of other Hasidic groups. Elior 1993 and Foxbrunner 1993 describe the paradoxical theology of the founder of Chabad. Ehrlich 2000 gives a more general history of the leadership of the movement, while Loewenthal 1990 looks at how the second Chabad leader created the characteristic system of the movement based on the teachings of his father. Katz 2011 looks at the role of the visual in Chabad’s spirituality.

  • Ehrlich, Avrum. Leadership in the HaBaD Movement: A Critical Evaluation of HaBaD Leadership, History and Succession. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 2000.

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    Starts with an account of Hasidic leadership in general before describing Chabad leaders from Shneur Zalman to Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The author is a follower of the movement but tries to meet standards of historical scholarship.

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  • Elior, Rachel. The Paradoxical Ascent to God: The Kabbalistic Theosophy of Habad Hasidism. Translated by Jeffrey M. Green. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

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    A detailed study of the Kabbalistic teachings of Shneur Zalman, the 18th-century founder of the Chabad movement. The ascent to God requires a descent into the material world, a two-fold dialectical movement that the zaddik carries out for the sake of his disciples.

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  • Foxbrunner, Roman. Habad: The Hasidism of R. Shneur Zalman of Lyady. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1993.

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    An attempt to trace the origins and describe the thought of Rabbi Shneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Hasidism. The author argues that his often paradoxical theology was ultimately a message of love and fear. Only through these qualities, which are accessible to all through the meditation of the zaddik, could Jews properly serve God.

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  • Katz, Maya Balakirsky. The Visual Culture of Chabad. New York and Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

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    The only book-length treatment of visual images of Chabad rabbis. While the early leaders of Hasidism were opposed to visual images, the sixth Chabad rabbi, Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson, embraced photography as a tool of leadership. With his successor, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, images of the rebbe became central to the cult of the zaddik.

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  • Loewenthal, Naftali. Communicating the Infinite: The Emergence of the Habad School. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

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    An excellent study of the way Dov Ber, the second Lubavitch rebbe, communicated Shneur Zalman’s esoteric teachings of self-abnegation to a non-learned audience and thereby created the unique system of Chabad. The author is an academic scholar who also belongs to the movement.

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Contemporary Chabad

Under the leadership of the seventh Chabad rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson (b. 1902–d. 1994), the movement became one of the most dynamic Hasidic groups in the post-Holocaust era. Schneerson organized a worldwide missionizing campaign that was connected to growing messianic expectations often projected onto Schneerson himself. Fishkoff 2003 gives a popular account of the movement under Schneerson’s leadership. Wolfson 2009 is by one of the leading contemporary scholars of Kabbalah and examines the Kabbalistic roots of Schneerson’s messianism. Indeed, the messianic character of the contemporary movement generated much controversy, exemplified by the polemic in Berger 2001 against Chabad in the era after Scheersohn’s death. Rapoport 2002 is an attempt to answer Berger’s accusations from a Chabad point of view. Schneerson envisioned a special role for women in the messianic drama. Handelman 1998 and Morris 1998 investigate this role from different angles. For a biographical look at Schneerson, consult Friedman and Heilman 2010, which is the first scholarly attempt to reconstruct the life of the seventh and last rebbe of Lubavitch. The authors show that the rebbe led a partially secular life in Europe before fleeing to America in 1941.

  • Berger, David. The Rebbe, the Messiah and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference. Oxford: Littman Library, 2001.

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    A polemic by an Orthodox scholar of medieval Jewish-Christian polemics against contemporary Chabad messianism, arguing that the belief that Menachem Mendel Schneerson remained the Messiah even after his death in 1994 is no less heretical than the belief in Jesus as the Messiah.

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  • Fishkoff, Sue. The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch. New York: Schocken, 2003.

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    An excellent journalistic exploration of the contemporary movement examining such innovations as public lighting of Hanukka menorahs, celebrity telethons, and political lobbying in addition to the missionizing activities of the movement’s emissaries.

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  • Friedman, Menachem, and Samuel C. Heilman. The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010.

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    The first scholarly attempt to reconstruct the life of the seventh and last rebbe of Lubavitch. The authors argued that the rebbe led a partially secular life in Europe before fleeing to America in 1941. His ascendancy to the Lubavitch throne was less the result of his Kabbalistic scholarship than of his organizational ability and command of Chabad sources.

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  • Handelman, Susan. “Women and the Study of Torah in the Thought of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.” In Jewish Legal Writings by Women. Edited by Micah D. Halperin and Chana Safrai, 143–178. Jerusalem: Urim, 1998.

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    The last Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, believed that women should study Torah not only for the purpose of performing everyday mitzvot, but also as a valuable act in itself. Handelman, a Lubavitcher and professor of English, suggests that the theological shift should be seen in the context of the coming messianic era.

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  • Morris, Bonnie J. Lubavitcher Women in America: Identity and Activism in the Postwar Era. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

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    A scholarly study of Lubavitcher women in postwar America. They developed an alternative to feminism in response to the secular women’s liberation movement, which they saw as a gentile phenomenon.

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  • Rapoport, Chaim. The Messiah Problem: Berger, the Angel and the Scandal of Reckless Discrimination. Ilford, UK: Ilford Synagogue, 2002.

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    A well-informed defense of Chabad in the face of David Berger’s attack on Chabad messianism by a scholar within the movement who has also written a number of other apologetic books meant for audiences outside of Chabad.

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  • Wolfson, Elliot. Open Secret: Postmessianic Messianism and the Mystical Revision of Menahem Mendel Schneerson. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

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    The author, one of the leading contemporary scholars of Kabbalah, argues that the paradoxical “open secret” of Schneerson’s messianism was the product of a more general set of paradoxes of revelation and concealment. A challenging text.

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Lithuanian Hasidism

Lithuanian Hasidism had been neglected by scholars because of the persecution its adherents faced at the hands of mitnagdim (opponents) who were stronger there than in Poland. But a number of important sects originated in Lithuania. Rabinowitsch 1971 provides the only survey of this important subcommunity of Hasidism.

  • Rabinowitsch, W. Z. Lithuanian Hasidism. New York: Schocken, 1971.

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    The author discusses how Lithuanian Hasidism evolved in the context of the struggle between Hasidism and its opponents. Focuses on the Karlin dynasty, Lithuania’s first and largest Hasidic sect, and covers the 18th through the 20th centuries.

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Bratslav Hasidism

One of the most original of the early Hasidic masters, Nahman of Bratslav (b. 1772–d. 1810) was the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov. He gathered an elite group of disciples, labeled himself the “true zaddik,” and, as Mark 2006 shows, cultivated an esoteric messianic doctrine. This doctrine may have owed some of its particulars to the vestiges of Sabbatianism (the 17th-century messianic movement). Nahman’s teachings revel in paradoxes in which faith requires immersion in the paradox. In contrasting irrational faith with reason, Nahman may have been taking aim at the nascent movement of Jewish enlightenment (Haskalah). Some see him as a Jewish forerunner of the 19th-century Danish Christian existentialist, Søren Kierkegaard. After Nahman’s death, he had no successor, yet his movement continued with his disciples persisting, to this day, in following their dead rebbe. Green 1979 provides the best biography of Nahman for which there is a rich array of sources. Magid 2002 collects some of the most important scholarly articles including several translations from Hebrew. Biale 1996 and Mark 2009 examine the role of psychological states in Nahman’s teachings, while Liebes 1993 focuses on the central role of sexual sin and atonement. Assaf 2000 is an annotated bibliography of works by and about Nahman that demonstrates how central he is to scholarship on Hasidism. In addition to his Kabbalistic sermons, Nahman also told highly allegorical tales that cast the mystical drama of exile and redemption in folkloric terms. These tales are some of the most original contributions to Hasidic literature and are the subject of a study by Wiskind-Elper 1998. In addition, Nahman believed that through music, one could unite the terrestrial and the bodily with the upper spiritual world. See Smith 2010, the work of a Jewish studies scholar and a professional musician.

  • Assaf, David. Breslav: Bibliografiya Mu’eret. Jerusalem: Merkaz Shazar, 2000.

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    Contains 1,110 citations of works on or by Bratslav Hasidism in all languages.

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  • Biale, David. “Between Melancholy and a Broken Heart: A Note on Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav’s Depression.” Graven Images 3 (1996): 107–111.

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    Author shows how Nahman developed a typology of depression, giving his own emotional states Kabbalistic meaning. Explores the relationship between affective disorders and spirituality.

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  • Green, Arthur. Tormented Master: A Life of Nahman of Bratslav. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1979.

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    An extraordinary biography of this most complex Hasidic leader that investigates the relationship between Nahman’s biography and his spiritual teachings. A classic text.

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  • Liebes, Yehuda. “Ha-Tikkun Ha-Kelali of R. Nahman of Bratslav and Its Sabbatean Links.” In Studies in Jewish Myth and Jewish Messianism. Edited by Yehuda Liebes and translated by Batya Stein, 115–150. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.

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    Nahman was preoccupied with sexual sin and especially masturbation. Author shows how the “general repentance” he devised for such sins had its roots in 17th-century Sabbatian teachings. Connection suggests that Nahman’s messianic Hasidism may have owed something to Sabbatianism.

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  • Magid, Shaul, ed. God’s Voice from the Void: Old and New Studies in Bratslav Hasidism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.

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    Includes translations of older studies by Hillel Zeitlin, S. A. Horodezky, and Joseph Weiss together with recent works of scholarship by (among others) Shaul Magid, Elliot Wolfson, David Roskies, Nathanel Deutsch, and Martin Kavka.

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  • Mark, Tsevi. Megilat Setarim: Ha-Hazon ha-Meshihi ha-Sodi shel Rabbi Nahman mi-Bratslav Ramat Gan. Israel: Bar-Ilan University Press, 2006.

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    The most extensive investigation of Nahman’s esoteric messianic teachings concerning, among other things, Nahman’s own identity as the Messiah.

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  • Mark, Tsevi. Mysticism and Madness: The Religious Thought of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. London and New York: Continuum, 2009.

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    A series of essays on different aspects of Nahman’s teachings and spiritual practices, including the roles of imagination, music, laughter, illness, paradox, illness, and madness in his unique brand of mysticism.

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  • Smith, Chani Haran. Tuning the Soul: Music as a Spiritual Process in the Teachings of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav. Boston and Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004183810.i-232Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The role of music in Nahman’s theory of his own spiritual leadership and its connection to the soul. The author is both a Jewish studies scholar and a professional musician.

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  • Wiskind-Elper, Ora. Tradition and Fantasy in the Tales of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

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    A literary analysis of Nahman’s tales that pays attention to their mystical meaning and to their place in the larger history of Jewish sacred literature.

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Messianism

Scholars differ greatly about whether Hasidism was driven by a desire for messianic redemption or by a more quietist effort to rechannel messianic energies to the here and now. Since Hasidism was not a centralized movement, but rather the product of loosely related groups of charismatic leaders and their disciples, it is not surprising that one can find the full range of opinions from the frankly messianic to the anti-messianic. Dinur 1991, Tishby 1967, and Altshuler 2006 emphasize the messianic strain in early Hasidism. Scholem 1971 and Shatz-Uffenheimer take the opposite position. Halpern gets at the question a different way: by looking at various Hasidic migrations to the Land of Israel and their connection to messianic ideas. Elior 1998 and Loewenthal 1996 examine the acute messianism of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in the second half of the 20th century.

  • Altshuler, Mor. The Messianic Secret of Hasidism. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2006.

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    Rejects the Scholem argument that Hasidism “neutralized” the messianic. The author reads the Besht’s “Holy Letter” as frankly messianic and devotes most of the book to Rabbi Yehiel Mikhel, the Maggid of Zolochev, a disciple of the Besht’s, whose teaching she argues was also messianic. Sees the messianism of late-20th-century Lubavitch-Chabad falling within this Hasidic tradition.

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  • Barnay, Yaakov. Egrot Hasidim me-Eretz Yisrael. Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi, 1980.

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    Hasidim began to immigrate to Palestine starting with some of those in the Baal Shem Tov’s circle. In 1777 they founded the first Hasidic community in the Galilee. The letters collected here shed light on the redemptive aspects of this return to the Land of Israel.

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  • Dinur, Benzion. “The Origins of Hasidism and Its Social and Messianic Foundation.” In Essential Papers in Hasidism. Edited by Gershon Hundert, 86–208. New York: New York University Press, 1991.

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    One of the founders of Jewish studies in Israel, his argument about the messianic roots of Hasidism fits in with his larger Zionist philosophy of Jewish history as a persistent desire to return to the Land of Israel.

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  • Elior, Rachel. “The Lubavitch Messianic Resurgence: The Historical and Mystical Background, 1939–1996.” In Toward the Millennium: Messianic Expectations from the Bible to Waco. Edited by Peter Schafer and Mark R. Cohen, 383–408. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1998.

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    Traces contemporary Chabad-Lubavitch messianism to the sixth rebbe, Yitzhak Yosef Schneerson’s response to the Holocaust, and his attempt to make sense of it in terms of the mystical tradition.

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  • Loewenthal, Naftali. “The Neutralisation of Messianism and the Apocalypse.” Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 13 (1996): 59–73.

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    A study of the sixth and seventh Chabad rebbes, starting in the 1940s, and their formulation of a dual messianic doctrine, the one private and the other national.

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  • Schatz-Uffenheimer, Rivka. Hasidism as Mysticism: Quietistic Elements in Eighteenth-Century Hasidic Thought. Translated by Jonathan Chipman. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.

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    A study focused primarily on Dov Ber, the Great Maggid, whose teachings were among the least messianic among the early Hasidim. The author sees parallels with 18th-century German pietism around the phenomenon of quietistic mysticism.

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  • Scholem, Gershom. “The Neutralization of the Messianic Element in Early Hasidism.” In The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality. Edited by Gershom Scholem, 176–202. New York: Schocken, 1971.

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    The author sees Hasidism as a reaction against the apocalyptic messianism of 17th-century Sabbatianism. Rather than banishing messianism entirely, the founders of Hasidism “neturalized” it by channeling the “redemption of sparks” away from the eschatological end of history and toward the everyday.

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  • Tishby, Isaiah. “The Messianic Idea and the Messianic Tendencies in the Beginnings of Hasidism.” Zion 32 (1967): 1–45.

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    Challenging Gershom Scholem’s argument that Hasidism “neutralize” the messianic, the author, Scholem’s first student, shows that messianism permeated the Kabbalistic literature immediately preceding Hasidism and that, with the exception of the Maggid of Miedzyrzec, most of the next generation of rebbes followed the Baal Shem Tov in seeking messianic redemption. In Hebrew.

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Hasidic Tales, Dance, and Music

Hasidism pioneered three artistic genres, the tale, music and dance, all having spiritual meaning. Stories about the zaddik allowed the reader (or listener) to partake of his power. Dan 1975, Elstein 1983, and Elstein 1998 analyze the way these stories work. Music and dance were part of Hasidic practices of prayer as described by Fishbane 1999 and Smith 2010. Geshuri 1954–1955 has collected a vast array of both of these characteristic Hasidic expressions.

  • Dan, Joseph. Ha-Sipur ha-Hasidi. Jerusalem: Keter, 1975.

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    Analysis of Hasidic stories from literary and mystical perspectives by a leading scholar of Jewish mysticism. After a historical background to situate the stories in a longer Jewish literary tradition, the author examines In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov, the stories of Nahman of Bratslav, and concludes with the renaissance of the Hasidic story in the second half of the 19th century.

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  • Elstein, Yoav. Ma’ase Hoshev: Iyyunim ba-Sippur ha-Hasidi. n.p., 1983.

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    A literary analysis of stories from In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov and Nahman of Bratslav from a scholar trained as a literary critic.

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  • Elstein, Yoav. Ha-Ekstasa ve-ha-Sippur ha-Hasidi. Ramat Gan, Israel: Bar Ilan, 1998.

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    Divided into two parts, the first of which deals with precise definitions of the Hasidic story and its relationship to non-Jewish literature. The second part investigates the role of ecstasy in the Hasidic story and its role in defining the relationship between the zaddik, his followers, and his opponents.

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  • Fishbane, Michael. “‘The Mystery of Dance’ According to Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav.” In Within Hasidic Circles: Studies in Hasidism in Memory of Mordecai Wilensky. Edited by Immanuel Etkes, David Assaf, Israel Bartal, and Elchanan Reiner, 335–350. Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1999.

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    Dance was––and is––an integral part of Hasidic worship. Nahman of Bratslav believed that through dance, one could unite the terrestrial and the bodily with the upper spiritual world. This is the best theoretical discussion of the role of dance in Bratslav Hasidism. In Hebrew.

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  • Geshuri, M. S. Ha-Niggun ve-ha-Rikud be-Hasidut. Tel Aviv: Netsah, 1954–1955.

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    A comprehensive survey of Hasidic songs and dances collected in Russia in the early 20th century.

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  • Smith, Chani Haran. Tuning the Soul: Music as a Spiritual Process in the Teachings of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav. Boston and Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2010.

    DOI: 10.1163/ej.9789004183810.i-232Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The role of music in Nahman’s theory of his own spiritual leadership and its connection to the soul. The author is both a Jewish studies scholar and a professional musician.

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Gender and Sexuality

Hasidism was predominantly a male movement and was even accused by its opponents of breaking up the family by inspiring its male followers to make long pilgrimages to the court of the zaddik. Although women at times visited the rebbe for blessings and spiritual aid, the court was primarily a male religious site. Biale 1992 examines the implications of this social division for Hasidic attitudes toward sexuality. An exception to male dominance in Hasidism was an extraordinary 19th-century woman who took on the male role of a zaddik. Her story and its implications for gender in Hasidism are treated by Rapoport-Albert 1988 and Deutsch 2003. Loewenthal 1999 argues that the Chabad tradition gradually created increasing empowerment of women, an interpretation echoed for Hasidism more generally by Handelman 1998 and by Polen 1992 and Polen 2007. Morris 1998 provides an account of how gender relations work in the Chabad movement in America, while El-Or 1994 is a study of the education of Hasidic women in Israel.

  • Biale, David. “The Displacement of Desire in Eighteenth-Century Hasidism.” In Eros and the Jews: From Biblical Israel to Contemporary America. Edited by David Biale, 121–148. New York: Basic Books, 1992.

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    Argues that early Hasidism advocated an ascetical relationship to the body and to sexuality, even as it transposed the Hasid’s erotic desire toward the shekhina (the female aspect of God in medieval Kabbalism).

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  • Deutsch, Nathaniel. The Maiden of Ludmir: A Jewish Holy Woman and Her World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

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    An experimental study of the Maiden of Ludmir, who took a vow of celibacy and acted for a period of time as a rebbe. The author imaginatively weaves the evidence about the Maiden with his own quest for the evidence.

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  • El-Or, Tamar. Educated and Ignorant: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Women and Their World. Translated by Haim Watzman. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1994.

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    A study focusing on the women of the Gerer Hasidic movement in Israel that breaks many of the stereotypes of this largely closed world.

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  • Handelman, Susan. “Women and the Study of Torah in the Thought of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.” In Jewish Legal Writings by Women. Edited by Micah D. Halperin and Chana Safrai, 143–178. Jerusalem: Urim, 1998.

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    The last Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, believed that women should study Torah not only for the purpose of performing everyday mitzvot, but also as a valuable act in itself. Handelman, a Lubavitcher and professor of English, suggests that the theological shift should be seen in the context of the coming messianic era.

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  • Loewenthal, Naftali. “Women and the Dialectic of Spirituality in Hasidism.” In Within Hasidic Circles: Studies in Hasidism in Memory of Mordecai Wilensky. Edited by Immanuel Etkes, David Assaf, Israel Bartal, and Elchanan Reiner, 7–65. Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1999.

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    Argues that Hasidic contemplation (focused here primarily on Chabad) shifted from the 18th to the 20th centuries from the “upper unity” to the “lower unity” (i.e., the material world) and thus allowed for the empowerment of women as relatively equal spiritual agents. Gives special attention to the role of the Beis Yakov ultra-Orthodox schools for girls. In Hebrew.

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  • Morris, Bonnie J. Lubavitcher Women in America: Identity and Activism in the Postwar Era. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

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    A scholarly study of Lubavitcher women in postwar America. They developed an alternative to feminism in response to the secular women’s liberation movement, which they saw as a gentile phenomenon.

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  • Polen, Nehemia. “Miriam’s Dance: Radical Egalitarianism in Hasidic Thought.” Modern Judaism 12 (1992): 1–21.

    DOI: 10.1093/mj/12.1.1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Seeks to modify the contention in Rapoport-Albert 1988 that Hasidism perpetuated the patriarchal system of rabbinic Judaism. Polen points out that there were radical currents visible in certain Hasidic texts, particularly with respect to the place of women in the messianic era. In practice, though, he agrees that the actual role of women did not change.

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  • Polen, Nehemia. “Rebbetzins, Wonder-Children and the Emergence of the Dynastic Principle in Hasidism.” In The Shtetl: New Evaluations. Edited by Steven T. Katz, 53–84. New York and London: New York University Press, 2007.

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    Reconstructs the role of two mothers of Hasidic prodigies: Chava, the mother of Israel of Ruzhin, and Sarah Devorah Shapiro, the mother of Israel Perlow of the Karlin-Stolin dynasty. Against the assumption that little is known of prominent women in 19th-century Hasidism, the author shows how these two women, themselves descendants of important Hasidic families, participated in the construction of dynasties.

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  • Rapoport-Albert, Ada. “On Women in Hasidism.” In Jewish History: Essays in Honour of Chimen Abramsky. Edited by Ada Rapoport-Albert and Steven J. Zipperstein. London: P. Halban, 1988.

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    An investigation of the 19th-century figure of Hannah Rokhel, the so-called Maiden of Ludmir, who took a vow of celibacy and acted for a period of time as a rebbe. Far from demonstrating that Hasidism was egalitarian with respect to women, the author shows that the Maiden’s behavior reinforced a strict gender division.

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Opponents

The Hasidim often constituted a counter-community to the established institutions of Jewish life and, as a result, Hasidism excited opposition from a number of quarters. On the local level, disputes broke out over who would control ritual slaughter. The Hasidic zaddikim at times appeared to challenge the authority of traditional rabbis, even though many were trained in the same rabbinic law. As the documents assembled by Wilensky 1990 demonstrate, the opponents of Hasidism accused the movement of all manner of outrageous and antinomian behavior, some of it real and some imaginary (at times, the opponents appear to have confused the Hasidim with the Sabbatians who were notorious for their antinomian practices). As early as the 1770s, Lithuanian and Galician rabbis issued a ban against the new Hasidim. This movement of opposition gained authority when the noted Lithuanian scholar, Elijah the Gaon of Vilna, lent his name to the cause. Etkes 2002 provides an account of the Gaon’s thought and his influence. Later, as described by Nadler 1997, the disciples of the Gaon developed a movement that became known as mitnagdism (from the Hebrew word for “opposition”), which founded new rabbinical seminaries and deliberately coopted the Kabbalistic idea of devekut (mystical union with God) for study rather than prayer. A bitter battle also developed early in the 19th century between Hasidism and the new movement of Jewish enlightenment (Haskalah). The maskilim (adherents of Haskalah) targeted the Hasidim with satirical polemics, branding their opponents as superstitious obscurantists. These anti-Hasidic tracts were some of the earliest writings of these eastern European modernists. The very first of these was Joseph Perl’s Megalle Temirin (Revealer of Secrets) that Perl published anonymously in 1819. A modern translation supported by annotations and other scholarly apparatus is available in Perl 1997. One of the few maskilim to defend Hasidism was Eliezer Zweifel. His semi-scholarly Shalom al-Yisrael is available in a modern edition, Zweifel 1972. Mahler 1985 examines the history of the conflict with an emphasis on a Marxist interpretation, while Wodzinski 2005 looks at its social history on a local level.

  • Etkes, Immanuel. The Gaon of Vilna: The Man and His Image. Translated by Jeffrey M. Green. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

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    The figure most associated with opposition to Hasidism, the Gaon was an outstanding legal and Kabbalitic scholar from Lithuania. Although he never held any formal position, he inspired a movement of talmudic scholarship and the establishment of new yeshivot (seminaries).

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  • Mahler, Raphael. Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment: Their Confrontation in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1985.

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    Examines the conflict between the Hasidim and their modernizing opponents in Galicia and Poland from a Marxist point of view.

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  • Nadler, Allan. The Faith of the Mithnagdim: Rabbinic Responses to Hasidic Rapture. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

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    The most systematic investigation of the philosophy of opposition to Hasidism that coalesced around the new yeshivot (rabbinical seminaries) in Lithuania.

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  • Perl, Joseph. Joseph Perl’s Revealer of Secrets: The First Hebrew Novel. Translated by Dov Taylor. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1997.

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    The most important Haskalah satire of Hasidism, first published in 1819, and the model for later attacks on the movement. The editor and translator argues that Perl’s satire should be seen as a novel.

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  • Wilensky, Mordecai, ed. Hasidim U-Mitnagdim: Le-toldot ha-pulmus she-benehem ba-shanim 532-535. Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1990.

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    A superb collection of sources in Hebrew of attacks on the 18th-century Hasidic movement by its opponents. Includes a spurious Hasidic text fabricated to make the Hasidim look especially outrageous.

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  • Wodzinski, Marcin. Haskalah and Hasidism in the Kingdom of Poland: A History of Conflict. Translated by Sarah Cozens. Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2005.

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    A recent analysis based on in-depth research in Polish archives that allowed the author to recover lost voices of the Polish Haskalah. Distinguished by an emphasis on the local contexts of the conflict. Includes an appendix with nineteen primary sources never before translated.

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  • Zweifel, Eliezer. Shalom al-Yisrael. Edited by Avraham Rubinstein. Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1972.

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    A sympathetic account of Hasidism by a 19th-century Russian maskil who argued that the early movement had original ideas similar to those of Spinoza, although he saw the movement in his own day less favorably. Although criticized by his contemporaries, the book had an impact on Simon Dubnow (see Dubnow 1931 cited under General Overviews) and others who created the first histories of Hasidism.

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Nineteenth-Century Hasidism

In the early 19th century, Hasidism was still a very small, largely elite movement of rebbes and their circles of disciples. Over the course of this century, Hasidism gradually became a popular movement of rich and poor, educated and uneducated. From its beginnings in eastern Poland (see Polish Origins), it spread westward into the rest of Poland as well is into Galicia, Hungary, and Romania. As the forces of modernity––industrialization, urbanization, and secular education––encroached on this world, the Hasidim made common cause with their erstwhile Opponents to fight for their traditional way of life. Where Hasidism in the 18th century was a movement of religious innovation and revival, it became synonymous with extreme conservatism during the course of the 19th century. In Hungary and Galicia, especially, Hasidic groups were among the most radical opponents of everything modern. Assaf 2002 shows how the Ruzhin dynasty created a new form of popular Hasidism, while Assaf 2010 reveals how 19th-century Hasidic tradition tried to suppress evidence of dissent and scandal within its ranks. Challenging the belief that Hasidism was primarily a movement of the poor, Dynner 2006 investigates the role of well-to-do merchants and their relationship to the zaddikim in the spread of the movement in Poland. Elior et al. 1994 treats Polish Hasidism more generally. Brill 2002 and Magid 2003 are studies of specific individuals and schools.

  • Assaf, David. The Regal Way: The Life and Times of Rabbi Israel of Ruzhin. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002.

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    A social history of one of the most populist of the 19th-century Hasidic dynasties. The founder, Israel of Ruzhin, eschewed the Kabbalistic speculations of other rebbes. Instead, he constructed an opulent court and a regal relationship to his numerous Hasidim that imitated European royalty.

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  • Assaf, David. Untold Tales of the Hasidism: Crisis and Discontent in the History of Hasidism. Translated by Dena Ordan. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 2010.

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    Author reconstructs unusual episodes in Hasidic history—the Seer of Lublin’s plunge from a high window and the apostasy of Chabad founder Shneur Zalman’s mentally ill son––repressed or fictionalized in Hasidic memory. Places emphasis on dissent and internal disputes, paying particular attention to relatively high-profile Hasidic figures.

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  • Brill, Alan. Thinking God: The Mysticism of Rabbi Zadok of Lublin. New York: Michael Scharf Publication Trust of the Yeshiva University Press, 2002.

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    Explores the shift toward individualism in the theology of the 19th-century Rabbi Zadok ha-Cohen of Lublin. A Mitnaged-cum-Hasid who may also have been influenced by the Haskalah, Zadok brought a rational, modern, and highly introspective dimension to Hasidism. He believed that achieving mystical union with God—devekut—was an intellectual rather than a contemplative process.

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  • Dynner, Glenn. Men of Silk: The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewish Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

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    Challenging widespread beliefs, argues that, far from a populist movement of the poor, Hasidism in early-19th-century Poland was led by wealthy merchants who used shrewd marketing strategies to build a mass following.

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  • Elior, Rachel, Israel Bartal, and Chone Shmeruk, eds. Tsadikim ve-Anshe Ma’ase: Mehkarim be-Hasidut Polin. Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1994.

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    Essays by the leading contemporary scholars on a variety of figures, starting with Yaakov Yitzhak, the Seer of Lublin, and covering many of the succeeding streams in Polish Hasidism into the early 20th century. The last essay, by David Assaf, evaluates the state of research on Polish Hasidism and gives a bibliographical overview.

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  • Heschel, Abraham Joshua. A Passion for Truth. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973.

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    The scion of a Polish Hasidic dynasty, the author was one of the leading Jewish philosophers of the 20th century, as well as a scholar of Hasidim. Here, he treats Menachem Mendel of Kotsk, one of the most severe early-19th-century rebbes, who secluded himself from his own Hasidism and taught an extreme form of asceticism.

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  • Magid, Shaul. Hasidism on the Margin: Reconciliation, Antinomianism and Messianism in Izbica/Radzin Hasidism. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.

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    A study of the exegetical works of this Polish school that flirted with doctrines at times subversive of Orthodox Jewish law.

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Twentieth-Century Hasidism

The 20th century brought an acceleration of trends already present in the 19th century. Jews were already moving in massive numbers to western European and American cities. But even greater dislocation was caused by World War I, the Russian Civil War of 1918–1921, and the Holocaust during World War II. Hasidic sects had to adapt to this new geography. With its traditional homeland in eastern Europe decimated by war, Hasidism had to find new homes elsewhere. From tiny groups that had escaped the Nazis, Hasidic courts gradually rebuilt in North America, particularly in Brooklyn, New York. Meanwhile, other Hasidim found their way to the new State of Israel, a political project toward which they were generally quite hostile. Dan 1996 gives a survey of how Hasidism has fared in the 20th century.

  • Dan, Joseph. “Hasidism: The Third Century.” In Hasidism Reappraised. Edited by Ada Rapoport-Albert, 415–426. London: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1996.

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    A useful introduction to the history of Hasidism in the 20th century by one of the leading scholars of Jewish mysticism.

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Neo-Hasidism

The dominant Jewish ideology of the 19th century was rationalist and Hasidism appeared to be a throwback to a less rational age. But with the onset of the 20th century, neo-Romantic authors tried to recuperate vital spiritual messages from Hasidism. Seen now as equally as the wisdom of the folk and as mystical teachings that might speak to modern men and women, a number of writers translated and rewrote Hasidic tales and sayings for consumption by a secular audience. Horodezky 1944 and Minkin 1971 are two examples of this tendency to romanticize Hasidism. The most famous of these neo-Hasidic authors was the German Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. In Buber 1958 and Buber 1960, Buber developed his own existentialist philosophy of Judaism in the form of a reinterpretation of Hasidism, while Buber 1947–1948 is his most extensive collection of tales. Scholem 1971 criticized Buber for the latter’s unhistorical approach to his subject. Rus 2010 is a scholarly study of the phenomenon of early-20th-century neo-Hasidism.

  • Buber, Martin. Tales of the Hasidim. Translated by Olga Marx. New York: Schocken, 1947–1948.

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    A charming, if not entirely historical, collection of Hasidic tales by the philosopher who did so much to popularize Hasidism in the 20th century.

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  • Buber, Martin. Hasidism and Modern Man. Translated by Maurice Friedman. New York: Horizon Press, 1958.

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    Argues that Hasidism consecrates the world and is therefore a product of the Jewish prophetic tradition. Also contains many retold Hasidic tales and epigrams, including the author’s reworking of the Baal Shem Tov’s ethical will.

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  • Buber, Martin. The Origin and Meaning of Hasidism. Translated by Maurice Friedman. New York: Horizon Press, 1960.

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    Buber’s most sustained treatment of Hasidism’s thought and its history. Focuses on where Hasidism should be situated in the long tradition of Jewish messianism.

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  • Horodezky, Samuel. Ha-Hasidut ve-Torata. Tel Aviv: Devir, 1944.

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    A summary of Hasidic history and thought in the 18th century, with a selection of Hasidic texts from the same period by an early student and enthusiast for the movement who often romanticized his subject.

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  • Minkin, J. S. Romance of Hassidism. North Hollywood, CA: Wilshire Book, 1971.

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    Originally published in 1935, the first comprehensive English-language history of Hasidism by a popular, rather than academic, historian. Mostly organized by themes, provides an overview of the origins and expansion of Hasidism, as well as sympathetic portraits of its major personalities.

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  • Rus, Nihem. Masoret Ahuva ve-Snuya: Zehut Yehudit Modernit ve-Ketivah Neo-Hasidit be-Petah ha-Me’ah ha-Esrim. Beersheba, Israel: Universitat Ben-Guryon ba-Negev, 2010.

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    The best scholarly study of the phenomenon of neo-Hasidic writing, emphasizing the ambivalence at the heart of the rediscovery of Hasidism by secular writers.

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  • Scholem, Gershom. “Martin Buber’s Interpretation of Hasidism.” In The Messianic Idea in Judaism and Other Essays on Jewish Spirituality. Edited by Gershom Scholem, 227–250. New York: Schocken, 1971.

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    Against Buber’s argument that Hasidism “hallowed the everyday,” the author argues that the Hasidic relationship to the material world was nihilistic, epitomized by the demand to “annihilate reality” (bittul ha-yesh).

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The Holocaust

The Nazis murdered the vast majority of Hasidism’s adherents in eastern Europe. Several Hasidic leaders, notably Joel Teitelbaum, the Hungarian leader of the Satmar Hasidim, and Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson, the sixth Lubavitch rebbe, escaped the inferno, but many others went to death with their followers. Eliach 1982 is a collection of tales recounting the martyrdom of Hasidic leaders. Schindler 1990 examines how Hasidic thought generally responded to the Holocaust, while Polen 1994 treats a Hasidic rebbe who led his flock in the Warsaw Ghetto. Piekarz 1990 gives a broader history of Hasidism in Poland both before and during the Holocaust.

  • Eliach, Yaffa, ed. Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

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    Wonder-working tales of Hasidic leaders and followers set in the maelstrom of the Holocaust. Hasidic women often features in these stories. The editor at times fails to distinguish between truth and fiction, but the book is a valuable source for how the Hasidim use their traditional literature to make sense of the Nazi genocide.

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  • Piekarz, Mendel. Hasidut Polin Bein Shtei HaMilhamot uviGzerot TASH-TASHAH (HaShoah). Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1990.

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    Polish Hasidism started in the early 19th century as a radical movement, but became gradually more conservative in its opposition to modernity. In response to persecution between the two world wars and to the Holocaust, Hasidic leaders developed a sharpened sense of Israel’s uniqueness.

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  • Polen, Nehemia. The Holy Fire: The Teaching of Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1994.

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    Shapira, who led his Hasidim in the Warsaw Ghetto, developed a response to the Holocaust that is among the most profound Hasidic––and generally Orthodox––theologies in the face of catastrophe.

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  • Schindler, Pesach. Hasidic Responses to the Holocaust in the Light of Hasidic Thought. Hoboken, NJ: KTAV, 1990.

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    Argues that Hasidic responses to the Holocaust were shaped largely by Hasidic doctrine. Popular rationalizations of the catastrophe hinged on quietism, notions of divine benevolence, and beliefs about pre-messianic catastrophe. Coping with tragedy within their theological framework allowed Hasidim not only to maintain their faith, but also to offer resistance.

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Zionism and Israel

How to react to Zionism was one of the dominant questions that challenged Hasidism in the 20th century and that led to new forms of political activity. The Hasidic leaders were almost unanimously opposed to Theodor Herzl’s secular nationalist movement, which was founded in 1897. As Ravizky 1996 shows, they were vehement in rejecting Zionism both for its secularism and for usurping God’s role in the messianic reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty. After the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the Satmar Hasidim, hailing from Marmaros area of the Carpathian Mountains, became the most militant in rejecting Zionism. This group blames the Holocaust on the Zionists as a punishment for the sin of false messianism. On the other hand, the Lubavitch Hasidim, although also opposed to secular Zionism, have embraced the Israeli army as a model for their own activities and have opposed the return of lands conquered in the 1967 war. Studies of the Hasidim in contemporary Israel and their role in the broader ultra-Orthodox world as well as in Israeli politics are Heilman 2000 and Landau 1993. El-Or 1994 is a study of the education of women in Israeli ultra-Orthodox communities

  • El-Or, Tamar. Educated and Ignorant: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Women and Their World. Translated by Haim Watzman. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1994.

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    A study that focuses on the women of the Gerer Hasidic movement in Israel that breaks many of the stereotypes of this largely closed world.

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  • Heilman, Samuel. Defenders of the Faith: Inside Ultra-Orthodox Jewry. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000.

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    A sociological study of the Haredim or ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel. Hasidim make up a major portion of this community.

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  • Landau, David. Piety and Power: The World of Jewish Fundamentalism. New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.

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    Written as the ultra-Orthodox (parties consisting of Hasidim and non-Hasidim) were achieving greater power in Israel, Landau, an Israeli journalist, seeks to explain their political activity and considers the possibility of a looming schism in Judaism. The book is at times quite critical of contemporary ultra-Orthodoxy, but also provides a glimpse inside a largely closed society.

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  • Ravizky, Aviezer. Messianism, Zionism, and Jewish Religious Radicalism. Translated by Michael Swirsky and Jonathan Chipman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.

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    Places Hasidism’s attitude toward Zionism into the context of its messianic theology. Treats other modern Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox groups as well.

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North America

During and following World War II, small groups of Hasidim found refuge in North America and particularly in Brooklyn, New York. There, they began to rebuild their shattered communities. Some, such as the Satmar and Bobov Hasidim (to mention two of the larger groups), tried to seclude themselves from modern society (see Rubin 1972 and, more generally, Mintz 1992). Poll 1969 is a study of Williamsburg, New York. Chabad-Lubavitch is unique in its attempts to missionize non-Hasidic Jews and to influence American society. Fishkoff 2003 provides an accessible study of this movement; Friedman and Heilman 2010 examines the charismatic leader of Lubavitch, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

  • Fishkoff, Sue. The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch. New York: Schocken, 2003.

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    An excellent journalistic exploration of Chabad-Lubavitch in North America in the 1990s and 2000s. Examines such innovations as public lighting of Hanukkah menorahs, celebrity telethons, and political lobbying in addition to the missionizing activities of the movement’s emissaries.

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  • Friedman, Menachem, and Samuel C. Heilman. The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010.

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    The first scholarly attempt to reconstruct the life of the seventh and last rebbe of Lubavitch and how he organized the movement’s spectacular success in the decades after it reestablished itself in North America in the 1940s.

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  • Mintz, Jerome R. Hasidic People: A Place in the New World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

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    Mintz, an anthropologist, offers a sweeping if somewhat fragmented portrait of Hasidic life in the 20th-century United States. Describes Hasidic practices, beliefs, and politics. Although the focus is primarily on large sects like Satmar and Lubavitch, also discusses more obscure groups such as the M’lochim.

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  • Poll, Solomon. The Hasidic Community of Williamsburg: A Study in the Sociology of Religion. New York: Schocken, 1969.

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    A study of the community populated primarily by the Satmar Hasidim that originated in Hungary and that is perhaps the most extreme in its rejection of the modern world.

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  • Rubin, Israel. Satmar: An Island in the City. Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1972.

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    A study of this highly segregated Hasidic sect that is now somewhat dated.

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LAST MODIFIED: 08/29/2012

DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780199840731-0001

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