Hasidism was found in the mid-eighteenth century by Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, known as the Besht, or Baal Shem Tov.
The central beliefs of the Hasidic movement is pantheism and devekut. According to pantheism, God is present in all natural physical objects. This was a big problem for Jews as it opposed the view that God did not have any physical presence. Devokut is a state of ecstatic communion with God that is open to every Hasid.
On a trip through Poland and the Ukraine, the Behst taught that emotional communion with God and love of fellow Jews was of much bigger importance than technical Torah scholarship. He emphasized sincere prayer, as opposed to study.
Hasidism spread quickly throughout Eastern Europe during the eighteenth century, running into opposition everywhere it went. Despite that, various sects were formed as groups followed the teachings of certain rebbes, or spiritual leaders. The movement thrived until World War II and the Holocaust, when Hasidic Jews were executed and their home towns and homes were destroyed. Most Hasidic Jews immigrated to Israel or the United States after this.
These days Hasids are best identified by the way they dress. Attire differs slightly from sect to sect, but most Hasidic men wear a long black coat, prayer belt, black hat, and white threads called tzitzit hanging outside their clothes at the waist. Men are not allowed to shave the side of their faces either, which is the reason many Hasidic Jews wear curls(or payot) and beards. Female attire is not as uniform, but more severe. They are required to wear long skirts and sleeves, while married women must cover their hair.
Hasidic Jews dress the way they do to preserve as many of their customs as they can from the eighteenth century. They also want to stand out from secular society and look Jewish by doing this. This has resulted in them going from looked upon as radical in in the past to being looked upon as quite conservative these days.
- Hasidism also refers to a group that existed during the third century BC. These Hasidic Jews were conservative and opposed assimilation which was promoted by Hellenistic Jews.
- Not all the Hasidic sects see eye to eye. The Chabad sect supports the State of Israel while the Satmer sect is anti-Zionist.
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Source: The Intellectual Devotional