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Hasidism as One of the Popular Jewish Sects Research Paper

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Updated: Aug 28th, 2020

Diversity is one of the main characteristics of our world. There are different landscapes, weather conditions, plants, animals, etc. Every area of our planet is characterized by the specific combination of all the above-mentioned aspects that results in the appearance of its unique image. This fact could not but impact the mentality of people who inhabit almost all regions of the Earth. The diversity of the environment in which individuals lived preconditioned the significant convergence in their points of view, cultures, beliefs, and the ways numerous communities evolved. These differences also impacted all significant aspects of peoples lives and contributed to the creation of a coherent society. Thus, religion was one of the above-mentioned issues that were impacted by peoples mentality and the environment. Being one of the main tools of self-cognition and communication with the Universe, it was created by communities to satisfy their current needs and provide a spiritual rationale for the further development of their society. One should realize the fact that the rise of a certain religion or sect should be preconditioned by the appearance of a set of numerous factors that impact its evolution. For this reason, we could observe several different religions, confessions, and sects in the modern world. Hence, being a part of Judaism, which is one of the most ancient religions, Hasidism could be considered one of the Jewish sects that are popular nowadays.

It arose as a specific religious movement on the territory of the contemporary Ukraine which, though, belonged to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at that period. In the late 17th century, Jews who lived in this state started to promote the mystical lore of Kabbalah (Kabbalah and Hasidism” para. 6). Besides, Hasidism could also be related to Baal Shem Tov, who lived in Mezhybozhe and had numerous pupils who also wanted to understand the basic ideas of kabbalah. Thus, the activity of the members of this movement was opposed by rabbis who adhered to traditional Judaism. However, despite this fact, the sect continued to gain popularity. Yet, researchers tend to consider the crisis peculiar to the Jewish community of that period and pogroms, organized by Cossacks headed by Khmelnytskyi, the main causes for the high places of the evolution of the Hasidic movement. Being dissatisfied with existed religion and suffering from discrimination, people wanted to create a new sect that would help them to feel more comfortable and obtain some inner balance.

Nevertheless, Hasidism does not refuse the orthodox customs and traditions. On the contrary, people belonging to this sect proclaimed their respect to these postulates and demonstrated their readiness to follow them. However, some significant differences preconditioned the appearance of a great convergence between the orthodox and Hasidic Jews in the future. Besides, this sect emphasizes the personal divine experience and experience of God (Wodzinski 669). Additionally, adherers of the movement demonstrate the unique significance of joy and happiness at worship and religious life as the key elements of the understanding of God. To become happy and find his/her place, a person should be ready to believe and follow all customs and traditions, though enjoying every aspect of Hasidism. Furthermore, there are several differences in the main ceremonies and rituals peculiar to this sect.

Besides, any Hasidic community is traditionally organized in a sect, or court headed by a Rebbe who combines both spiritual and social leadership and is also the head of this certain group of people. Thus, its members might also believe that the latest Rebbe is the messiah and could help them to become better (Blondheim and Kaz 90). Additionally, Sabbath is another significant form of Hasidism that determines its character and plays a fundamental role in its rise. It emphasizes devotion, ritual separation, and joy. Usually, Sabbath impacts the whole life of a person and outlines certain activities that should be performed. Therefore, Hasidim also follows a strict dress code. They wear a white shirt and black trousers combined with a cloth jacket called rekel. On holidays, they wear white bekishe which symbolizes their happiness and joy. Finally, almost every representative of this sect considers the pilgrimage to the place where Hasidism appeared one of his/her main tasks. For this reason, every year thousands of Hasidim came to Uman, to visit the grave of Nachman of Breslov who is one of the founders and significant contributors to the rise of this sect.

However, like any significant religious movement, Hasidism did not remain unchanged. Its rapid rise and the increase in some followers preconditioned the appearance of significant convergences between the perspectives on its further evolution. Moreover, the death of its founder Baal Shem Tov also resulted in the first attempts to create different movements within the sect. Yet, in 1772 Hasidism split into several branches (Wodzinski 672). Menachem Mendel founded a significant Hasidic community in Vitebsk which continued its rise and became very influential. Shneur Zalman became the founder of Chabad, another popular branch of Hasidism that nowadays has numerous admirers all over the world (Wodzinski 672). Levi Yitzchok also created a community in Vitebsk and became a great leader of this sect. The further evolution of Hasidism was characterized by the appearance of new differences between these branches. Resting on the same ideas, they, however, had small details and peculiarities of customs and rituals that preconditioned the further alteration of this religious sect. At the moment, there are only orthodox Hasidim who proclaim their adherence to the original customs and emphasize the necessity of their observation.

Thus, all the above-mentioned facts contributed to the rise and comparatively high popularity of Hasidism in the world. Another factor that preconditions its blistering growth and spread is a great number of children peculiar to a traditional Hasidic family. According to the latest researches, the average number of children in a common family is from 6 to 8 when there could be even 9 and more (Bacon 356). For this reason, it is possible to predict the further significant increase in the adherers of this sect. At the moment the percentage of the representatives of this movement among the orthodox Jews is not very high. Only 2% of Jewish people consider themselves representatives of this sect (Balog par. 9). However, minding the above-mentioned tendency, one could easily predict the further increase of the percentage and alteration of the current structure of Judaism.

Thus, being founded as a local religious movement with an extremely low number of adherers, Hasidism managed to guarantee its evolution and becoming one of the significant Jewish sects that impact the lives of many individuals nowadays. Revolving around the number of people who belonged to the movement at the initial stages of its rise, it is possible to state the percentage was extremely low. Less than 0,5% of all Jewish people wanted to follow the new ideas provided by a person living somewhere on in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Balog par. 5). However, the gradual evolution of this movement and its strong socio-cultural positions could not but attract new admirers and contribute to its gradual rise. Moreover, the conditions for the rise of Hasidism were beneficial. People suffering from discrimination and experiencing different hardships needed some support and the movement became one of this sort. In this regard, if to compare the number of Hasidim at the first stages of the evolution of this movement with the current state, we could observe a great difference. Moreover, Hasidism is no longer taken as the main opponent of orthodox Judaism (Shore 505). On the contrary, they go along and support each other, promoting the spread of this religion all over the world and its empowerment. In this regard, being able to cope with numerous hardships of the 20th century, Hasidism entered the 21st with great perspectives and hopes. Its positions are strong. At the moment there are about 1,5 million people all over the world who adhere to it (Bacon 356).

Thus, the impact this sect had on the evolution of society and religion could hardly be overestimated. One should not doubt the fact that it contributed to the creation of a unique social and cultural class comprised of people with their own beliefs and customs. Being active members of different social events, Hasidim created their communities that took part in the functioning of different states. Additionally, Hasidic people also contributed to the appearance of religious discourse in the society which resulted in the further rise of tolerance and a better understanding of the peculiarities of other religions. Finally, Hasidism also became one of the important aspects of the consolidation of Jewish society and its further evolution.

Yet, despite numerous problems that this movement faces nowadays and the complexity of different processes that occur within this sect, there are still numerous perspectives for its further development. Hasidism will preserve its positions in states where it was traditionally powerful. Moreover, considering the aspects that might be taken beneficial, this sect could also become even more influential and attract new members. However, it is also crucial to mention some threatening facts related to it. First, Hasidism appeared as an alternative to orthodox Judaism. However, the last several decades could be characterized by their rapprochement. This process could result in the blur of borders between these religious movements and the disappearance of the above-mentioned sect.

Altogether, Hasidism appeared in the 17th century in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Its rise was predetermined by the unique combination of different conditions needed for its becoming one of the significant Jewish sects. Besides, years of evolution could not but impact this movement and resulted in its split into several branches that had their unique peculiarities. However, Hasidism remains an important part of the numerous communities existence as it impacts their evolution. Hasidic customs are different from the orthodox one and contribute to the unique image of this sect. Therefore, there are still numerous problems that might prevent Hasidism from the further growth; however, the gradual rise of the number of its admirers could be taken as the guarantee of the further survival of Hasidic Judaism.

Works Cited

Bacon, Gershon. “Review: Marcin Wodzinski, Haskalah and Hasidism in the Kingdom of Poland.” European History Quarterly, vol. 38, no. 2, 2008, pp. 355-35. Web.

Balog, Yeshayahu. “Hasidism: A Mystical Movement Within Eastern European Judaism.” EGO. 2010. Web.

Blondheim, Menahem and Elihu Kaz. “Religion, communications, and Judaism: the case of digital Chabad.” Media, Culture & Society, vol. 38, no. 1, 2015, pp. 89-95. Web.

“Kabbalah and Hasidism.” Harvard Divinity School. 2017. Web.

Shore, Marci. ” The Jews in Eastern Europe: New Historiography.” East European Politics and Societies, vol. 21, no. 3, 2016, pp.503-519. Web.

Wodzinski, Marcin. ” The Socio-Economic Profile of a Religious Movement: The Case of Hasidism.” European History Quarterly, vol. 46, no. 4, 2016, pp. 668-701. Web.

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