In This Article Hasidism in Poland

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Collected Volumes
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Context
  • Politics
  • Demography
  • Geography
  • Polemics and Confrontations
  • Gender
  • Warsaw
  • Holocaust
  • Material Culture

Jewish Studies Hasidism in Poland
by
Marcin Wodzinski
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0133

Introduction

Hasidism is a mystical pietistic movement that originated in the 18th-century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and by the mid-19th century became the most influential religious, cultural, and social force among east European Jews. However, by Hasidism in Poland, or Polish Hasidism, both the scholarly literature and the Hasidim themselves usually understand Hasidic movement as developing on territories of central Poland, and not of the pre-partitioned Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This is, thus, territory significantly narrower than pre-partitioned Poland-Lithuania, or even ethnic Poland. It is usually understood as synonymous with the 19th-century Kingdom of Poland, or Russian Poland, also known as Congress Poland, created in the wake of the 1815 Congress of Vienna. Indeed, the division of Hasidism into its major geographical branches, Polish, Russian, Lithuanian, Galician, Ukrainian, Hungarian, and Romanian, reflects 19th-century political and cultural divisions of eastern Europe. Thus, a “Polish Hasid” is a follower of the tsadik of Ger (Góra Kalwaria) or Alexander (Aleksandrów) in central Poland, but not of Galician Bełz or of Volhynian Trisk (Turzysk). This might be confusing, because at times scholarly literature––especially by historians of the early modern period––does speak also in a much broader sense about Polish Hasidism as opposed to medieval Hasidei Ashkenaz, German Hasidism. In this latter meaning “Poland” equals the pre-partitioned Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, that is, the cradle of Hasidism. In this article we shall follow the narrower meaning of Poland, that is, territories of the 19th-century Kingdom of Poland with some concessions for the whole territory of interwar Poland and territories of occupied Poland during World War II and the Holocaust. It should be also noted that the very concept of dividing Hasidism into geographical entities, Polish Hasidism among them, has been repeatedly criticized on the ground of the argument that the geographical spaces in which Hasidism operated crossed political frontiers and that the descriptive categories commonly ascribed to Hasidim from the various regions are inaccurate and simplistic.

General Overviews

The oldest overview of the history of Hasidism in Poland was a 1867 treaty by Alexander Zederbaum, followed seventy-five years later by an essay written in 1942 in Polish by Ignacy Schiper (Schiper 1992). The latter is very little known, even though original and distinguished among early studies by its high scholarly quality. Several years later a small overview was written, Aescoly 1998 (originally published in 1952), followed by a series of studies by Raphael Mahler, cumulated in a groundbreaking study Mahler 1985 (Hebrew original in 1961). Mahler Zionist-Marxist interpretations are very influential to this day, even though criticized by many historians. Rabinowicz 1997 is a useful collection of biographical essays on Polish tsadikim, but made very little impact on the field because of its uncritical, sometimes hagiographic approach. Dynner 2006 follows both Schiper and Mahler in their interest in social perspectives as well as their drive to use both internal Hasidic and external non-Jewish sources. Gellman 2011 is possibly the most successful attempt at merging social and intellectual perspectives on development of Hasidism in Poland, that is, the two dominant, and often competitive schools of contemporary scholarship on Hasidism.

  • Aescoly, Aharon Ze’ev. Ha-Hasidut be-Polin. Jerusalem: Magnes, 1998.

    E-mail Citation »

    Published originally in 1952 and republished in critical edition with the introduction by David Assaf, this is a concise but influential survey of Polish Hasidism up to World War I. In Hebrew.

  • Dynner, Glenn. “Men of Silk”: The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewish Society. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195175226.001.0001E-mail Citation »

    Highly readable and very influential account of the mechanisms of Hasidic expansion in central Poland from the 1760s until the 1820s. Notable for its innovative analyses of the role of financial elites in propagation of Hasidism and the interplay of populist and elitist approaches.

  • Gellman, Uriel. “Ha-Hasidut be-Polin ba-Mahatzit ha-Rishonah shel ha-Me’ah ha-Tesha-esreh: Tipologiot shel Manhigut ve-Edah.” PhD diss., Hebrew University, 2011.

    E-mail Citation »

    A masterful collective biography of a group of tsadikim active in central Poland between the years 1780 and 1830. Excellent source basis, disciplined methodological approach, and critical reading of the earlier histories (both hagiographic and apparently scholarly) resulted in one of the most innovative studies on Hasidism. Recommended as the entry into the new tendencies in scholarship on Polish Hasidism and on Hasidism in general. In Hebrew.

  • Mahler, Raphael. Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment: Their Confrontation in Galicia and Poland in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century. Translated by Eugene Orenstein, Aaron Klein, and Jenny Machlowitz Klein. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1985.

    E-mail Citation »

    English translation of fundamental work on Polish and Galician Hasidism, originally in Hebrew (Ha-Hasidut ve-ha-Haskalah [be-Galitziyah u-ve-Polin ha-Kongresa’it ba-Mahatzit ha-Rishonah shel ha-Me’ah ha-Tesha-esreh, ha-Yesodot ha-Sotziyaliyim ve-ha-Medinayim] (1961)), providing a Zionist-Marxist interpretation of socioeconomic foundations of the movement. The Hebrew version contains a useful appendix with archival materials, mostly in Polish.

  • Rabinowicz, Tzevi M. Bein Peshisha le-Lublin: Ishim ve-Shitot be-Hasidut Polin. Jerusalem: Kesherim, 1997.

    E-mail Citation »

    Non-scholarly, but very instructive collection of biographical essays on sixteen most distinguished tsadikim active in central Poland from the 1760s to the 1860s. Full of useful biographical detail, yet not always critically selected. In Hebrew.

  • Schiper, Ignacy. Przyczynki do dziejów chasydyzmu w Polsce. Edited by Zbigniew Targielski. Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, 1992.

    E-mail Citation »

    Written in Polish in the Warsaw Ghetto, in 1942, and found miraculously nearly fifty years later. The earliest overview of Hasidism in central Poland, distinguished by its strong social perspective and contextualization within general Polish history. Several sections appeared in Hebrew translation as “Le-Toledot ha-Hasidut be-Polin ha-Merkazit.” In Tzadikim va-’Anshei Ma’aseh. Mehkarim be-Hasidut Polin, edited by Rachel Elior, Israel Bartal, and Chone Shmeruk, 23–63. Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1994.

  • Zederbaum, Alexander Halevi. Keter Kehunah, o Divrei ha-Yamim le-Kohanei ha-Emunah ha-Yisra’elit u-Venoteiha. Odessa, USSR: n.p., 1867.

    E-mail Citation »

    The first overview of the history of Hasidism in Poland. Non-scholarly, polemical treaty. In Hebrew.

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