Saturday, March 17, 2007


The Jewish Encyclopedia entry for Hasidim tells us:

Ḥasidism is a religious movement which arose among the Polish Jews in the eighteenth century, and which won over nearly half of the Jewish masses. In its literal meaning the word "Ḥasidism" is identical with "pietism" ("Ḥasid" = "the pious"), and the Ḥasidic teachings resemble the synonymous Protestant teachings in so far as they both assign the first place in religion not to religious dogma and ritual, but to the sentiment and the emotion of faith.

In other words Pentecostalism and Hasidim have Pietism in common and are basically antinomian. Pietism is associated with Lutheranism and with Jacob Boehme, a popular occultist commonly cited today in Theosophical circles. Arising as it did in Protestantism, it would be classified as a Roman Catholic heresy.

Hasidism was not accepted by all of the Jews as a legitimate development in the faith. The Jewish Encyclopedia tells us:

There has been apparent from time immemorial a struggle for supremacy between two principles in Judaism: the formalism of dogmatic ritual and the direct religious sentiment. The discipline of the Law was in continual conflict with mystical meditation, which gave considerable latitude to individual inclinations in the domain of religion. Such was the nature of the struggle between Pharisaism and Essenism in ancient times, between Talmudism and the Cabala in the Middle Ages, and between rabbinism and the mystic-Messianic movements from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century.

When it arises, inevitably there is a conflict between those adhering to the mystical and those who adhere to Church doctrine. The same is true within Judaism:

In Poland, where since the sixteenth century the great bulk of the Jewry had firmly established itself, the struggle between rabbinism and mysticism became particularly acute after the Messianic movement called into being by Shabbethai Ẓebi.

Today in Protestantism we see that Toronto Blessing has gone over the edge into bizarre behavior not unlike what has happened down through the centuries when mysticism rejected doctrine.

Within Judaism the same tendency to place emotion above reason prevailed in Hasidism:

In contradistinction to other sectarian teaching, Ḥasidism aimed not at dogmatic or ritual reform, but at a deeper psychological one. Its aim was to change not the belief, but the believer. By means of psychological suggestion it created a new type of religious man, a type that placed emotion above reason and rites, and religious exaltation above knowledge.

As with Christian mysticism, Hasidism also produced phenomena:

The founder of Ḥasidism was a man of the obscure Podolian Jewry, Israel b. Eliezer Ba'al Shem-Ṭob (BeShT). His personal fame as a healer spread not only among the Jews, but also among the non-Jewish peasants and the Polish nobles. He often cured the Jews by fervent prayer, profound ecstasies, and gesticulations. He also at times successfully prognosticated the future, and revealed secrets. Soon acquiring among the masses the reputation of a miracle-worker, he came to be known as "the kind Ba'al Shem" ("Ba'al Shem-Ṭob").

It led to religious pantheism in the Jewish community according to the Encyclopedia:

The teachings of Hasidism, as laid down in the sayings of Besht and his first disciples, are founded on two theoretical conceptions: (1) religious pantheism, or the omnipresence of God, and (2) the idea of communion between God and man.

Focus was not on liturgy, but rather on ecstasy, opening the door to questionable practices:

For the attainment of ecstasy recourse may be had to mechanical means, to violent bodily motions, to shouting and singing. According to Besht, the essence of religion is in sentiment and not in reason.

It also led to a rejection of negativity:

It is necessary to live and to serve God in a cheerful and happy frame of mind: sadness and sorrow darken the soul and interfere with communion; hence the injuriousness of asceticism.

With that attitude, the seeds of destruction have been sowed, since the concept of sin is negative.

The phenomena made of the Zaddik, the holy man, a sort of ruling potentate that some took advantage of:

The Ḥasidim were, however, particularly noted for the exalted worship of their "holy" ẓaddiḳim. The logical result of Ḥasidism, Ẓaddiḳism in many places actually prepared the soil for it. The appearance of some miracle-working ẓaddiḳ very often led to the general conversion of the local inhabitants to Ḥasidism. Crowds of credulous men and women gathered around the ẓaddiḳ with requests for the healing of bodily ills, for blessings, for prognostications, or for advice in worldly matters. When the ẓaddiḳ succeeded in affording relief in one of the many cases, or gave fortunate advice, his fame as a miracle-worker was established, and the population of the district remained faithful to the cause of Ḥasidism. ...

The profitable vocation of zaddik was made hereditary. There was a multiplication of zaddik dynasties contesting for supremacy. The "cult of the righteous" as defined by Besht degenerated into a system of exploitation of the credulous. Baruch, the grandson of Besht, deriving an immense income from his adherents, led the life of a Polish lord. He had his own court...

Hasidism split the Jewish community. Some followed the Rabbi, others followed the Zaddik, until it almost appeared that two religions existed side by side in Judaism.

...the Hasidic dogma of the necessity of maintaining a cheerful disposition, and the peculiar manner of awakening religious exaltation at the meetings of the sectarians--as, for instance, by the excessive use of spirituous liquors--inspired the ascetic rabbis with the belief that the new teachings induced moral laxity or coarse epicureanism.

The Rabbis saw the Zaddik as a competitor. The disagreements caused a decline in Hasidism, but

Nevertheless Hasidism is so deeply grounded in Russo-Polish Judaism that it has proved impossible to uproot it.

Today Chabad is considered the intellectual movement in Hasidism according to My Jewish Learning.

Chabad theology involves a radical interpretation of the Kabbalistic ideas of the famed sixteenth-century Safed mystic Isaac Luria.

The Lurianic cosmology which requires that God withdraw himself to permit a place for creation prevails in Chabad, and is contrary to Roman Catholic theology. According to the website "The Chabad view is basically one of acosmism ("there is no universe") or pantheism ("all is in God"). It is not difficult to see how monism, the philosophical belief of the Theosophists, can develop from the "all is in God" concept.

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