The New International Encyclopædia/Chasidim

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CHASIDIM, kă-sḗ'dīm (Heb., saints). A name employed at different periods of history to designate a sect of Pietists among the Jews. (1) Beginning in the time of the high priest Simon the Just (B.C. 300-270), a sect of Jews arose which was distinguished by its strict observance of ceremonial regulations. They firmly opposed all Hellenizing tendencies, and clung closer and closer to the ceremonies of Judaism. The members even suffered death in preference to transgressing the rites of their religion. They carried out to the letter the Sabbath laws and incurred loss and personal danger rather than extinguish a fire on that day; but they were no less stringent in carrying out the purely ethical features of the law, and were noted for their kindness and charity. Under Mattathias, the Hasmonean, they took part in the Jewish wars for independence, and were keen patriots, although lacking the ardor and spirit of the Hasmoneans themselves. In the days of John Hyrcanus, when Judæa was again independent, the Pietists withdrew into a life of retirement, and became the sect of Essenes (q.v.), while those of the Chasidim who were not willing to resign participation in political affairs branched off into the sect of Pharisees (q.v.). These Chasidim are mentioned in the Apocrypha (cf. I. Mac. ii. 42), as ‘Asidæans’ or ‘Hasidæans.’ Consult Hamburger, Realencyklopädie für Bibel und Talmud, Vol. II. (Leipzig, 1896).

(2) In modern times the name Chasidim is applied to a sect which originated in Poland under the leadership of Israel of Miedziboz (died 1759), and after his death of Beer of Mizricz (died 1772). Israel was called ‘Baal Shem,’ ‘master of the name,’ because he professed to perform miracles by using the name of God, and the sect that followed him was characterized by a belief in miracles, and in the approach of the coming of the Messiah. They opposed Talmudic learning, because their leader was not a Talmudist. Their worship became characterized by its noisiness and the almost frenzied gyrations of its devotees. Beer was dignified with the title ‘Zaddik’ (righteous), and claimed to represent God upon earth. The members of the sect formed a kind of fraternity, and it spread rapidly, numbering about fifty thousand in 1770. The new division provoked great opposition on the part of the Talmudists, and in 1781, in Vilna. the Chasidim were declared to be heretics, but the sect continued to flourish, and to-day has a large number of adherents. With their antipathy to the Talmud on the one hand, the Chasidim combine an aversion to all modern culture on the other, their literature consisting of mystical, cabalistic works. Consult Schechter, Studies in Judaism (New York, 1896).