Heschel and Hasidic Judaism
Abraham Joshua Heschel glorifies Eastern European rabbinic culture as an advanced, pious sect of Judaism, offering equality to men and women, an easily comprehensible and fair hierarchy of religious power, purity of mind and spirit, and a straightforward and simple path to heaven. Heschel; American rabbi, and leading Jewish theologian and philosopher, describes Hasidic Judaism as a near perfect religious society. Heschel references many Jewish ideologies that assist in proving the superiority of Hasidic Judaism to various other religions; including dissimilar sects of Judaism. Though Heschel's argument is strong and he makes many valid points supporting the superiority of the Hasidim, such as the increased vivacity of Jewish life, there exists numerous instances in which he glosses over an ugly, hidden reality of Hasidic life in order to produce a more pristine picture of Hasidic existence. What Heschel fails to mention in his essay, are the numerous power struggles endured by Hasidic leaders, false claims of messianic power, clear evidence of sexism, and an institution that includes an obscure hierarchy that imparts confusion and uncertainty to both leaders of Hasidism and followers alike. Scholars; Jacob Frank, Baal Shem Tov and Solomon Maimon offer new insight, and dissimilar views on the merits of Hasidism in Eastern European culture. Like the distinguished Christian reformists known as the Puritans; the Jewish sect of Hasidism transpired from the dissatisfaction of a small minority who sought to improve the individual's religious experience by assuming more stringent methods of observations and religious rituals and practices. Eighteenth century Poland served as the venue for this particular religious revitalization. The Hasid recognized strict, relatively inflexible practices that focused even the most mundane, routine chore around the worship of the Jewish God. Hasidism; the plural of Hasid derives from the verb "Hasid" meaning pious or devote. Unlike previous sect of Judaism who's followers worshipped God only in the vicinity of a temple on Friday nights, the Hasid show devotion to God through everyday actions and practices. In his essay; East European Jews In Two Worlds: Studies From the Yivo Annual, Heschel depicts how the Hasid revitalize Judaism through the democratization of Jewish study and worship, a renewed sense of proximity to deity, the introduction of God into everyday activity, a consciousness of the significance of personal actions, and a new sense of self importance and personal responsibility to God.
Hasidic Judaism appeals mainly to Jews who feel the conventional form of religious worship and study has become stale and unsentimental. Many of the Hasid grew to resent the tired hierarchal religious structure found in Jewish communities. Hasidism was able to provide the discontent with a renewed feeling of individual significance and proximity to God. The Hasid succeeded in democratizing the study and worship of God, expelling the tired patriarchal rule of worship, and re-instating an egalitarianism society in which each individual experienced a personal relationship with God.
In his eulogy on Jewish life in Eastern Europe, Abraham Joshua Heschel discusses the numerous developments made by Rashi, and the Hasid who's ambition it was to revitalize Jewish religious, and everyday life. By combining both everyday chores, and religious worship, the Hasid were able to establish a way of life that was constantly illuminated by God's love and glory. Heschel comments on the infusion of religious piety into everyday life. He explains how worship and religious studies evolved from mundane weekly choirs, to an outlet in which life maintained vigor and meaning.
"The pattern of life was not limited to religious activities. Not only what is to be done on the Sabbath, but also what is to be done in...