Hasidic Mysticism

Hasidism spread mystical ideas to the masses of East-European Jewry.

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The Hasidic doctrine of the tzaddik differs in key elements from the Sabbatean notion of the Messiah. The tzaddik is empowered to speak on behalf of only his own Hasidim, and only during his own lifetime. He seldom is called upon to act in cosmic and messianic matters but almost exclusively in questions of daily life and of redemption and sin. Still, the echoes of Nathan and Shabbetai Tzvi were certainly there.

Despite those echoes, the Hasidic belief that, as the Torah said, “there is no place that is empty of [God]” would lead Hasidism not only back into the fold, but to a position of unprecedented conservatism within Orthodoxy.

The Besht taught that one could show devotion to the Almighty in everything one did. There is a famous story about a Hasid who traveled hundreds of miles to worship with a particular rebbe; when asked why, he said, “I wanted to see how he ties his shoes.” Driven by their concern with even the tiniest of quotidian details, Hasidic Jews, even today, fol­low halakhah (Jewish law) with a determination and even rigidity that is unparalleled in the Jewish world. Regardless of which branch of Hasidism one belongs to, the strict adherence to even the most minute details of halakhah is essential.

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George Robinson

George Robinson, author of Essential Judaism, is the recipient of a Simon Rockower Award for excellence in Jewish journalism from the American Jewish Press Association. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsday, Jewish Week, and The Detroit Jewish News.