Hasidic Judiasm is a form Orthodox Judaism that was founded in 18th-century Eastern Europe. Considered to be a radical movement within Orthodox Judaism in its early beginnings, Hasidism emphasized personal religious experience over dry religious legalism. Hasidic Jews place a high value on living a pious life within the religion of Judaism. The Hebrew word "Hasid," which is the root word of Hasidism, means “pious.”
Baal Shem Tov, the rabbi who founded Hasidic Judaism, believed that Jews should be less concerned with academic Judaism and more concerned with the mystical experience of the religion. He believed the heart of the worshipper was more important than having extensive knowledge of Jewish religious writings. Although he did not seek to make major changes to Jewish beliefs themselves, he did advocate that Jews approach their beliefs from a more mystical perspective.
Hasidic Jews believe the first five books of Moses, called the Torah, to be the literal word of God. They strive to follow all 613 commandments in the Torah, which have to do with ethical duties to humans and ritual obligations to God. The commandments, which are collectively called the “mitzvot,” detail, among other things, the kosher dietary laws and the behavioral expectations for the Sabbath.
Spiritual Significance of Physical
Hasidic Jews look at the physical world as a source of true pleasure for people because it was created by God. The scripture in Isaiah 6:13 declares, “The whole world is full of His glory.” Baal Shem Tov stressed the importance of acknowledging God as the source of physical pleasures.
Duty of Joyfulness
Hasidic Jews believe that people have a duty to be joyful all the time because the world is full of God and his glory. In contrast to more ascetic Jewish sects, the Hasids do not believe in extensive fasting because it is not conducive to joyfulness. Baal Shem Tov said that Jews must approach prayer in a state of joyfulness. He declared, “If one wishes his prayers to bear fruit, he must offer them with pleasure and joy."
Example of the Tzaddik
Hasidic Jews believe that the tzaddik, the religious leader of Hasidic Jews, provides an important example to others on how to live a proper religious life. One of the major Hasidic teachers, Dov Baer of Mezrich, taught that God revealed himself in the tzaddik's everyday actions, such as buckling his shoes. He taught that the tzaddik enjoys a closer relationship with God than other Jews and could bring divine blessings to people.
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