Departmental Bulletin Paper Hasidism:The People’s Kabbalah

Mark N. ZION

(Vol.25)  , pp.1 - 25 , 2017-03-15
Here I will discuss a few mythological perspectives of a traditional group: the Hasidim (Hasid meaning “Pious” in Hebrew). Beginning in eighteenth-century, in what is today’s Eastern Poland and Western Ukraine, Hasidism brought together a constellation of values and practices from older spiritual traditions. Some may think that the word, “People’s,” in my title denotes liberal values: social equality and human rights from the Enlightenment (1685-1815). In the context of movements within Orthodox Judaism, however, I simply mean “non-elitist” (Schatz 1994:98). An intellectual class had always led movements in Judaism. The Hasidic movement, by contrast, founded by Israel ben Eleazar (c. 1698-1760), was spread by itinerate preachers (usually with no formal education) who addressed ordinary people directly, often outside established religious organizations (Dan 1983:6). What did Hasidism incorporate from earlier kabbalistic movements? How is it different from other Orthodox movements and from Conservative and Reform Judaism? These are just a couple of the questions I will consider here. Hasidism has been remarkably open, through its great optimism, toward democratizing experiential elements of Kabbalah, and this remains itstrademark today.

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