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  The Chasidic movement was established in the 18th century, in Eastern Europe, and should not be confused with a party of the same name who restored the Torah in Israel during the Maccabaean revolt (2nd century  BCE). Its founder, Israel ben Eliezer, the Ba\'al Shem Tov, (‘Master of the Good Name’, 1700-1760), stressed the sincere and joyful performance of the commandments above the learning which was the usual source of religious prestige at the time. Although early Chasidim were criticized by their contemporaries for laxity in observance, innovations in prayer and study and alleged magical powers, their present-day successors are known for their stringency and conservative lifestyle. The Chasidim popularized mystic teachings which until then had been the preserve of small groups of initiates. Rabbi Dov Baer, the Maggid (‘preacher’) of Mezritch (1772-1827), was persuaded to join the movement, beginning a tradition of wandering charismatic preachers, but the strength of the movement was the belief in saddikim (‘the proven ones’ or ‘righteous ones’), leaders who were like spiritual directors, mystics who could guide their followers and develop their spiritual powers. They were attacked for assuming the powers of mediators between God and ordinary people. As it developed, the movement split into local groups, each with a rebbe, who was revered as a leader, and perhaps as a miracle worker, another source of concern to their more rationalist critics.

Teacher-disciple rabbinic succession developed. Today, the best-known Chasidic dynasty is Lubavitch. The name derives from the small village in the south of Russia where their first rebbe, Scheur Zalman (1745 - 1813), came from. Based in New York since 1917, with a charismatic and saintly leader many regard as the Messiah, they actively seek to draw all Jews into stricter observance of the commandments and pursuits of wisdom and understanding. The movement is becoming so successful in so many countries that it has been compared with the Christian revival movements. They have always encouraged the Return to Israel. RM

Further reading H. Rabinowincz, Hasidim and the State of Israel; , P. Signal, Judaism; the Evolution of a Faith.



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