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Chasidim [1]

( חֲסַידַים . i.e. Saints; comp. Ἀσσιδαῖοι .  1 Maccabees 7:13), a name which among the ancient Jews was given to all who manifested their attachment to the Jewish creed in some extraordinary manner. In a more special sense it was given to a sect which was organized for the purpose of opposing Hellenistic innovations, and uniting the true believers by voluntary imposition of works of supererogation. In the time of Judas Maccabaeus the sect readily joined the great leader of the true Jewish faith. The essential principles of the Chasidim were as follows: most rigidly to observe all the ritual laws of purification; to meet together frequently for devotion, carefully preparing themselves for it by ablutions, and wearing their phylacteries longer than others; to seek diligently for opportunities of offering sacrifices (Nedarim, 10, a); to impose upon themselves voluntarily great acts of self-denial and mortification; to abstain from wine and all intoxicating liquors sometimes for several weeks, and sometimes for their whole lives; and to observe, like the priests, the Levitical purifications during the time of their being Nazarites, and sometimes longer. It also appears from the Mishna that they frequently had all things in common (Aboth, 5:10); that they sometimes withdrew altogether from general society, and devoted themselves entirely to contemplation, and to the study of the written and oral law, while others of the sect, by pursuing secular avocations, procured the common means of support; that they would not talk much to their own wives, and would not at all look at strange women.

The Mishna states (Sota, 3:7) that these principles were carried by some to extravagant excesses. In the course of time the association was split up into parties, those insisting upon the rigid observances forming themselves into separate denominations, such as the Essenes, etc., while the moderate party retained the name Chasidim. In the Talmudic period (A.D. 200-500) the meaning of Chasidim was on the whole again that of the word in the Old Testament, denoting those who are pious, temperate, mild, forbearing, benevolent, etc. There were, however, occasionally zealots among them who would not, for instance, extinguish a fire which broke out on the Sabbath; but they were an exception. In the post-Talmudic period, and in the Middle Ages, the philosophical school appears to have understood by the term those who possessed simple piety in contradistinction to scientific knowledge. The Karaites claimed the name for those who earnestly strove to know God as he is, and only gave it to their spiritual heads. The German and French schools also fixed so high a standard for the qualifications of a Chasid that few except the Rabbins could attain it. In these schools it somewhat approaches the asceticism of the old sect, and still more was this the case in the Cabalistic school representing the Sohar, in which a rigorous observance of externals and mortifications is insisted upon.

The Chasidim were reorganized as a special sect in the eighteenth century by Rabbi Israel ben-Eliezer Baal-Shem ( בִּעִל שֵׁם , "lord of the name" = Θεοῦργος , a man who by words of conjuration and other formulas knows how to exercise a power over the visible and invisible world), also called Besht, בע 8 שט , from the initials of בִּעִל שֵׁם טוֹב . Baal-Shem made his public appearance about 1740 in Tlusti, in the district of Czartkow, from whence he subsequently removed to Medziboze, in Podolia. His miraculous cures and prophecies attracted attention in large circles; his mode of. life, consisting of contemplation, study of the book Sohar, giving advice to all applying for it, and frequent washings in rivers, soon spread a halo round him, while his liberal views on the gratification of sensual wants, which he declared to be more conducive than prejudicial to true godliness, disposed a large number to become his disciples. To promote the separate organization of a sect, his disciples circulated many miraculous reports; for instance, that his father had been visited by the prophet Elijah, to predict his birth, and that his mother was a hundred years old when she was delivered of him; that, when a youth, he had victoriously struggled with evil spirits, etc. all of which may be found in the book שׁבְחֵי חִבֵּע 8 שט , published in 1815 by the grandson of Baal-Shem, R. Bar Linz. Baal-Shem and his successors received the name Zadik ( צָדַיק , i.e. righteous), and his fame attracted multitudes of Jews from all parts of Poland, who were desirous to submit themselves to his guidance, and become members of the sect. The following are the chief principles and tenets of the sect:

1. The great aim of every Chasid is to be in intimate communion with ( דְּבֵקוּת ), or wedded to the Deity ( זוּוּג שְׁכַינָה ), who is regarded as a bride. This communion is effected through prayer, and more especially through frequent contact with the Zadik, or spiritual head, who is espoused to God, and who, as his delegate upon earth, can do all manner of wonderful things. The Zadik is therefore the king and supreme judge of the community; has absolute power over their thoughts, words, and deeds; is richly supported by the voluntary contributions of his followers; they perform pilgrimages to him to spend the Sabbaths and festivals with him, when the rich sit with him at the table, and the poor esteem it the greatest privilege to touch the hem of his garment, or even to catch a glimpse of him.

2. Revelation and the reward of all good works depend upon Absolute Faith, which is greatly interfered with by research and philosophy.

3. Miracles must be implicitly believed in; the greatest devotion is to be manifested during prayer, and hence shouting, clapping of hands, singing, dancing before the Lord, etc., must be resorted to, so as to preclude the intrusion of profane thoughts.

4. Repentance and conversion are essential to salvation; a man must always prepare himself for them, and never despair.

5. The Chasid must keep aloof from profane knowledge, and from the love of mammon, which leads to unbelief, but worship God, even in the performance of business.

6. He must be exceedingly cheerful, contented, unselfish, benevolent, peaceable, charitable in judging others, courageous, temperate in his dress and mode of living, etc. In every town or village where ten Chasidim are to be found, they must meet separately for prayer and meditation, and use the Spanish form of prayer, introducing into it the Cabalistic elements.

The Chasidim derive their doctrines from the Bible, the Talmud, and more especially from the Sohar. At the death of Baal-Shem, his three grandsons, Bar of Meseritz, Mendel of Przemislan, and Michael of Kolk, continued to govern the sect, which at that time numbered about 40,000 members, and became firmly established in Poland, Wallachia, Moldavia, Gallicia, and Palestine, in all of which countries it still exists, though divided into several parties. Into Hungary it was introduced in 1809, by R. Moses Dattelbaum, one of the ablest men that have thus far belonged to the sect.

The Chasidim have published a number of works in defense of their doctrines. The following are some of them:

1. A small work called תִּנְיָא (Tradition), by Senior Salman Lidier, 1780, reprinted in Konigsberg, 1823;

2. שִׁעֲרֵי הִיַּחוּד וְהָאמֵוּנָה (Gates Of Love And Truth), by R. Aaron the Levite, Sklow, 1820;

3. יְשׁוּרוֹת הִנְּהָגוֹת , a book of ethics, arranged in alphabetical order by R. Nachman, 1821. See Kitto, Cyclopedia, 1:475 sq.; Herzog, Real- Encyklop. 2:637 sq.; Jost, Geschichte Des Judenthums Und Seiner Secten, 3:185 sq.; Ben Chananja, 2:1, 49, 145, 193; F Ü rst, Bib. Jud. 1:74. (See Assidaean).