History of Hasidism
The Hasidic Jews beliefs and practices date back to the Eighteenth century. Hasidism - the Hasidic Judaism movement was founded by Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov. There are many mystical stories surrounding his great personality. Hassidic Jews tell over a very interesting story on the birth of the founder of Hasidism Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov. His father Rabbi Eliezer was a very pious Orthodox Jew, who together with his wife Sara was childless till close to age 100.
R' Eliezer and his wife always did the great deed of taking in guest, as called by Orthodox Jews - Hachnasat Orchim. There was great admiration in heaven for the great deeds of R' Eliezer and his wife Sara. The court of heaven decided that they must be rewarded.
Hasidic Jews relate the story further. The Satan argued that he wants to test R' Eliezer if he will take in as a guest even poor and dirty person. The court of heaven agreed. The Satan dressed up as a poor person dressed in rags and dirty from head to toe. He had a terrible body odor and knocked on the door of R' Eliezer and asked if he can stay there. R' Eliezer and Sara agreed. He asked for food, and behaved in a very immoral fashion. He asked for more and more food and later requested to sleep in R' Eliezers bed. All his needs were fulfilled.
As soon as the Satan returned to heaven, the heavenly court decided that he must be rewarded. Hasidic legend goes that it was decided in heaven that Sara give birth to a son with a holy soul, a soul that merits to come on earth only once in a thousand years.
Little Srulik was born, and his parents died when he was at very young age. Srulik devoted his childhood years for deep learning of Torah. Hasidism history started then at his very young age. Hasidic Jews accept many stories about his holiness in his very young age. His devotion to Hashem (God), his love for every fellow Jew and his happiness to every Mitzvah (commandment) of Hashem (God), were seen at his very young age.
As Rabbi Yisroel grew older he looked around on his fellow Orthodox Jews. He looked around and saw many of them very broken hearted and upset with their Judaism. He started to go around to towns and villages where Orthodox Jews lived, and taught Hasidic Jews Beliefs. He explained the love of Hashem (God) to every single Jew, the importance of love to every fellow Jew, and the vision of doing every commandment of Hashem with great love.
R' Yisroel, or as Hasidic Jews call him the Baal Shem Tov (the man with the Great Name) starting gathering around him many followers. This is when the Hasidic Judaism movement started. It was at the beginning of the eighteenth century that he started gaining followers in the thousands.
Many many stories are retols by Hassidic Jews on the divine power of R' Yisroel. His blessing worked wonders. Childless parents were blessed with children, the sick were healed and the lost were found through his blessings. Even gentiles came to him for his blessing. He would be able to say what's happening on the end of the world, and tell in advance on upcoming events. His followers and Hassidim today believe in him as heavenly divine sage.
It is important to stop here and explain a little of the beliefs of Hasidic Judaism beliefs of Hasidic Judaism, in order to understand the later development of Orthodox Hasidic Jews and its movements. The Baal Shem Tov emphasized the importance of singing to Hashem and the value of every small deed. The following is a list Hasidism beliefs which can describe the definition of Hasidism:
At the outset of the Hassidic Jewish movement there was great opposition. Many great Jewish leaders were against the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov and his followers. They feared that it is a start to a shift away of authentic Judaism. They looked at it as a beginning of a new movement, somehow like reform or Conservative Judaism that later developed. These fears turned out later to be baseless, as the Hassidim devoted their life to even stricter Orthodox Jewish standards. You can read more on the history of the opposition to Hassidism here.
Hitnagdut - Opposition
After the passing of the Baal Shem Tov, Hasidism spread in the nineteenth century from Ukraine to Russia, Poland and Lithuania. It is in these years that the Hasidic Jews clothing style started to develop. Hasidic Jews started to grow in the numbers of hundreds of thousands under many different leaders, all of them disciples of the Baal Shem Tov. Pictures of Hasidic Jews in those days can be found in museums and old books. The Hasidic Jews photos of those days show the Hassidic Jews dressed in long black garbs, small caps on their head and big nice curls to their side.
As Hasidism progressed it started becoming more organized. It developed into multiple streams and sects, all of them following the basic teaching of the Baal Shem Tov. It's hard for someone that isn't a Hassid to understand the many differences. There are a few dominant sects within Hassidic Judaism.
Satmar - Lead by late Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum. Rabbi Teitelbaum was the one of the greatest Rabbis to rebuild Hassidism in New York after WW2. He revived Hasidic Jews in America. Most Brooklyn Hasidic Jews are from his followers, of influenced by them. He also known for his strong anti- Zionist views. He believed that the Jews are not to have their own State before the coming of Messiah.
Breslov. Breslov Hasidim believe in Reb Nacmen of Breslov, a grandson of the Baal Shem Tov. They don't have a leader today, only so called Mashpi'im (influencers). They practice Simcha (hapiness), love for every Jew and all other principles of Hasidism. Reb Nachmen added to Hasidism the importance of Hitbodedut - standing alone with Hashem (God). They Breslov Hassidim will lock themselves in a room or go out in the woods and communicate with Hashem.
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