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Hasidism: Lifting the Veil of Obscurity

Evening Program with Book Signing

Tuesday, December 19, 2017 - 6:45 p.m.
Code: 1A0039

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A Hasidic rabbi and his grandson, Hebron, early 20th century (Courtesy of Tel Aviv Museum of Art)

Hasidism is one of the most dynamic religious movements in the modern world.  Originating in the southeastern corner of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-18th century, it became a mass movement among the Jews of Eastern Europe.  Hasidism transformed the Jewish religion in several significant ways. It taught the importance of joy in the worship of God. It also organized itself around charismatic leaders, called rebbes (in Yiddish) or tsaddikim (in Hebrew). The followers of each of these leaders were called Hasidim, a word that means “pietists.” 

The rebbes established courts—which were often opulent—to which their Hasidim made pilgrimage. In many cases, the leaders founded dynasties, some of which have lasted since the 18th century. In these ways and others, Hasidism created forms of religiosity that were entirely new in the history of Judaism.

The Holocaust destroyed the Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, which were the heartland of Hasidism. But remarkably, the movement regenerated itself with its surviving rebbes and their Hasidim finding new homes in Israel, North America, and elsewhere. Hasidim today may number as many as three-quarters of a million adherents. Although Hasidism claims to be opposed to the modern world, it has adopted many of the innovations of modernity in order to thrive and grow. 

The sect has been chronicled in Hasidism: A New History (Princeton University Press), the product of a unique collaboration of eight scholars from the United States, Israel, and Poland. Three of these co-authors come together to discuss their work in documenting nearly four centuries of intellectual, religious, and social history: David Assaf, professor of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University, David Biale, the Emanuel Ringelblum Distinguished Professor of Jewish History at the University of California, Davis, and Samuel Heilman, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

Hasidism: A New History is available for sale and signing.


S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)