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September 02, 1988 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-09-02

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Photos by Scott Areman

A street scene in Brooklyn, the Chasidic capital of the world.

the calamities of everyday life.
The Baal Shem and his successors
established the broad principles of
Chasidism (or Chasidus, literally "the prac-
tice of righteousness"). Essentially, the
principles were the hallmarks of a kind of
folk Kabbalah, the bookishly esoteric tradi-
tion of Jewish mysticism and magic
brought down to unpretentious, populist
roots. They emphasized an uncanonical
spontaneity in prayer, the incantatory ex-
pressions of music and dance as a legiti-
mate route to the divine light, and in
general, the elevation of qualitative
kavanah (conviction of feeling) over quan-
titative lamdus (scholarship).
Speaking of the model Chasid, one sage
wrote, "Such a man's mitzvahs are those
which fly ever upward in joy and satisfac-
tion to draw down from there every kind
of blessing and flow of grace to all worlds."
The irresistible simplicity and power of
this philosophy swept up the rustic, unlet-
tered inhabitants of the shtetl, so that by
1800, half the Jews of Europe counted
themselves Chasidim.
The legendary rebbes who drew adher-
ents to the movement after the Baal Shem
rIbv included Dov Baer, the Maggid of

Meseritz, who sent out emissaries to
preach the Chasidic gospel; Rabbi Jacob
Joseph and Schneur Zalman, founder of
Chabad, or Lubavitcher Chasidism, who
undergirded a primarily emotional faith
with a rigorously pursued scholasticism,
and Reb Nachman of Bratzlav, the Baal
Shem's grandson, a celebrated storyteller
whose preternatural sensitivities were said
to have attuned him to the moaning of cut
There were even, in this unbending
patriarchy, anomalous but revered female
figures, like Hannah Rachel, who after one
harrowing graveyard trauma, took upon
herself to don tallis and tfillin and deliver
Ibrah discourses that won her unbegrudg-
ing acclaim.
But as swiftly and strongly as Chasid-
ism gained followers, it provoked vociferous
opposition. The rabbinical authorities in
the Eastern European urban centers, home
to the traditional Talmudic yeshivas, were
repelled by the Chasidic notion that fervor
and joy is more important than 'Ibrah
study. They also considered this cult of per-
sonality formed aroud the rebbes as
In 1772, the cherem — order of excom-


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