Hasidic philosophy or Hasidus (Hebrew: חסידות), alternatively transliterated as Hassidism, Chassidism, Chassidut etc. is the teachings, interpretations of Judaism, and mysticism articulated by the modern Hasidic movement. It includes the charismatic folk religious elements of Hasidism, but mainly describes its structured thought, expressed in its range from theology to philosophy.
The word derives from the Hebrew "hesed" (kindness), and the appellation "hasid" (pious) has a history in Judaism for a person who has sincere motives in serving God and helping others. Some earlier Jewish movements were also called by this name, such as the Hasidei Ashkenaz of medieval Germany. However, today, the Hasidic philosophy and movement invariably refers to the mystical, populist revival of Judaism, initiated by Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (The Baal Shem Tov) in 18th century Podolia and Volhynia (now Ukraine). His close disciples developed the philosophy in the early years of the movement. From the third generation, the select leadership took their different interpretations and dispersed across Eastern Europe, from Poland, Hungary and Romania, to Lithuania and Russia.
Hasidic tradition and thought has gained admirers from outside its immediate following, and outside Orthodox Jewish belief, for its charismatic inspiration and insights. Distilling a culture of Jewish religious life that began before the arrival of modernity, its stories, anecdotes, and creative teachings have offered spiritual dimensions for people today. In its more systematic and intellectual articulations, however, it is also a form of traditional Jewish interpretation (exegesis) of Scriptural and Rabbinic texts, a new stage in the development of Jewish mysticism, and a philosophically illuminated system of theology that can be contrasted with earlier, mainstream Jewish Philosophy. This quality can bridge and unite the different disciplines of philosophy and mysticism (in the older Jewish tradition of Kabbalah, experiential connection with spirituality takes place through a highly elaborate conceptual theology and textual interpretation, in contrast with some common, more intuitive definitions of mysticism; new ideas derive authority from Scriptural interpretation, and therefore gain an intellectual organisation). Hasidic thought builds upon Kabbalah, and is sometimes called a new stage in its development. However, this generalisation is misleading (although implicit in Hasidus are new interpretations of Kabbalah, that can be drawn out and related to its new philosophical positions). Kabbalah gives the complete structure of traditional Jewish metaphysics, using subtle categorisations and metaphors. This studies the Divine interaction with Creation, through describing the emanations that reveal, and mediate Godliness. Because of the concern to divest these ideas from any physical connotations, Kabbalists traditionally restricted their transmission to closed circles of advanced scholars, for fear of misinterpreting sensitive concepts. Hasidus leaves aside the Kabbalistic focus on complicated metaphysical emanations, to look at the simple essence of Divinity that it sees permeating within each level, and transcending all. Hasidus looks to the inner spiritual meaning within Kabbalah by relating its ideas to man's inner psychological awareness, and conceptual analogies from man's observation. This independence from the esoteric nature of Kabbalah, gives Hasidic thought its ability to be expressed in its spiritual stories, tangible teachings, and emotional practices, as well as the ability to pervade and illuminate other levels of Torah interpretation, not only the hidden ideas of Kabbalah. Hasidus only utilises Kabbalistic terminology when it explains and enlivens the Kabbalistic level of Torah interpretation. This distinctive ability to bring Kabbalah into intellectual and emotional grasp, is only one of the characteristics and forms of Hasidic thought. The more involved Hasidic writings use Kabbalah extensively, according to their alternative paths within Hasidism, but only as a means to describe the inner processes of spirituality, as they relate to man's devotional life. The spiritual contribution of the range of Hasidus avoids the concerns that traditionally restricted Kabbalah, and for the first time, offered the whole population access to the inner dimensions of Judaism.
Read more about Hasidic Philosophy: Overview in Historical Context, Schools of Thought, Notable Works, Musar, Key To All Wisdom, Connection To The Jewish Messiah, English Literature On Hasidic Thought
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“The sun of her [Great Britain] glory is fast descending to the horizon. Her philosophy has crossed the Channel, her freedom the Atlantic, and herself seems passing to that awful dissolution, whose issue is not given human foresight to scan.”
—Thomas Jefferson (17431826)