Who are the Hasidim?
Hasidic Judaism is one movement within Haredi Judaism.
Hasidic Jews are called Hasidim in Hebrew. This word derived from the Hebrew word for loving kindness (chesed). The Hasidic movement is unique in its focus on the joyful observance of God’s commandments (mitzvot), heartfelt prayer and boundless love for God and the world He created. Many ideas for Hasidism derived from Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah).
The movement originated in Eastern Europe in the 18th century, at a time when Jews were experiencing great persecution. While the Jewish elite focused on and found comfort in Talmud study, the impoverished and uneducated Jewish masses hungered for a new approach.
Fortunately for the Jewish masses, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (1700-1760) found a way to democratize Judaism. He was a poor orphan from the Ukraine. As a young man, he traveled around Jewish villages, healing the sick and helping the poor. After he married, he went into seclusion in the mountains and focused on mysticism. As his following grew, he became known as the Baal Shem Tov (abbreviated as Besht) which means “Master of the Good Name”.
Are there many different types of Hasidim?
There are over a hundred different Hasidic groups and dynasties.
A Hasidic dynasty is a dynasty led by Hasidic Jewish spiritual leaders known as rebbes (rabbis), and usually has some or all of the following characteristics:
- Each leader of the dynasty is often known as an ADMOR (abbreviation for ADoneinu MOreinu Rabeinu — “our master, our teacher and our rabbi”) or simply as Rebbe(or “the Rebbe”), and at times called the “Rav” (“rabbi”), and sometimes referred to in English as a “Grand Rabbi”;
- The dynasty continues beyond the initial leader’s lifetime by succession (usually by a family descendant);
- The dynasty is usually named after a key town in Eastern Europe where the founder may have been born or lived, or where the group began to grow and flourish;
- The dynasty has (or once had) followers who, through time, continue following successive leaders (rebbes) or may even continue as a group without a leader by following the precepts of a deceased leader.
There are some smaller Hasidic groups that have very small or followings or whose line has been discontinued following the death of the rebbe or the destruction of the village where the group began.
Why do Hasidim men wear different clothing?
It is a sign of humility — orthodox Jews are not supposed to wear anything colourful or flashy. Additionally, women are encouraged to wear long skirts to cover their body before God.
In medieval times, the church made Jews and other lowly parts of society wear black clothes in contrast to the gaudy, colorful garb of the elite. This way they were easily recognized as “Jews.” They have since taken it upon themselves willingly as a sign of modesty and as something that separates them from others so that they always keep in mind that they are different, and out of respect for God.
Note that it is not required — the Law simply requires them to wear “modest” clothing (for women, covering the collarbone, elbows, and knees) and that men and women cannot wear each other’s clothes.
Why do Hasidic women wear scarves and wigs?
This is based on a particular verse in the book of Numbers, a part of the Torah or Old Testament. The Wig must then be worn as a head covering for the rest of her life even if divorced or she becomes a widow. Not all Jewish women observe this custom, only the extremely orthodox.
Why do Hasidic men wear hats?
Religious male Jews (not just Hasidim) wear a hat to cover the head in respect for God. Covering the head reminds us that there is a Creator, a Higher Power, above our own limited minds. Any head covering will do, but some people like a certain style of hat to identify their group. Others simply have personal preferences about hats.
Hasidic hat styles are often based on the styles, which were worn in the part of Eastern Europe where the particular group originated, or the style that their Rebbe wore in the Old Country. In some Hasidic groups, everyone wears the exact same style, usually manufactured by one or more hat makers within their group. In other communities, the choice is up to the individual.
What are the laws of tz’ni’ut (modesty)?
Tz’ni’ut means modesty, simplicity, a touch of bashfulness, and reserve. But perhaps above these, it signifies privacy. It is the hallmark of Jewish marriage, and the rabbis refer to it as the specific quality to look for in the ideal mate.
Modesty is the foundation of Jewish values and is one of the fundamental underpinnings of the Jewish family. It is popularly thought to apply primarily to women, but it is a desirable quality in men as well. Although the term is generally used for relations between men and women, it is meant to apply to people in all situations.
Why are Hasidic men and women separated for public events?
All Jewish practices have their simple reasons as well as deeper, more spiritual explanations.
One obvious benefit of separate seating in a synagogue is that it helps ensure that the main focus is on the prayers and not on the opposite gender. There is no question that we don’t act the same in a mixed crowd as we do in a same-gender one. There is nothing wrong with that. It is good and healthy that we are attracted to each other, but during prayers we shouldn’t be trying to impress anyone other than G-d.
In addition to that, a synagogue should be a welcoming and inclusive place. No one should feel left out. Many single people feel extremely uncomfortable at a function or event at which everyone seems to be with a partner except them. No one should ever feel this way at a synagogue. When men and women sit separately, there is no discrimination between singles and couples. (There will always be a chance for singles to mingle afterwards at the Kiddush!)
But it goes deeper than that. Women and men are very different beings. Not only are we physically different; our thought processes, emotional states and psychology are all different. This is because our souls are different — they come from complementary but opposite sources. The prayer experience is supposed to be an opportunity to be with your true self, to communicate with your soul. Men and women need space from each other to help them become intuned to their higher selves.
Ironically, it is by sitting separately in prayer that we are able to truly come together in the other areas of our lives; because it is only when both male and female spiritual energies are allowed to flourish that we are complete as individuals, families and a community.
Do Hasidim date?
Depending on the denomination, Hasidim date and meet each other in a variety of ways. Mainstream orthodox couples meet in much the same way as the rest of the world — weddings, events, synagogue, friends, and increasing online.
Certainly an amount of supervision is given, but there is ample time for the couple to get to know one another.
Stricter Jewish people continue to employ the shidduch system — this is a “date” with the eventual idea of marriage. It is usually arranged by family or friends, but matchmakers are still commonplace.
According to one orthodox Jew: ”This can be really informal, with a friend saying “hey, I have a potential shidduch for you” and describing the guy — and if you like the sound of him, you go on a date… or really formal, starting with the girl writing up a “shidduch resume” listing details about themselves and what kind of guy they’re looking for, giving it to the shadchan (matchmaker), who then lets them know about potential dates… to super strict, where the shadchan talks to the girl’s and boy’s parents and they decide who is appropriate, and only then do the kids find out about one another (that tends to be how it works in Hasidic circles).”