Thursday, January 20, 2011

about hasidic judaism

The world of Asher Lev is set firmly in the Hasidic tradition of Judaism.  While it's impossible to sum up an entire religious movement in a few paragraphs, I thought it would be nice to have a little background info on what it means to be a Hasidic Jew.  Much thanks to Rabbi David Mivasair for his assistance in weeding through the information online to find the facts.

The Hasidic movement began in the 18th century in Eastern European Jewish communities as the teachings of Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (also known as the Baal Shem Tov or “Master of the Good Name”) spread like spiritual wildfire among the masses of impoverished Jews. Beginning as an attempt to open the Jewish religion more to the common people, Hasidism moved away from a focus on strict execution of rituals to the experience of the divine presence in everyday life. With an emphasis on God’s closeness to everyone, Hasidism made living a richly fulfilling Jewish religious life more accessible to the masses. It became incredibly popular.

Today there are many groups within the Hasidic movement, and all are united by a philosophy of joyful observance of God’s commandments, heartfelt prayer, and boundless love for God and the world God created. All Hasidim are Torah-observing Jews, keeping the same Orthodox laws as other observing Jews. This includes keeping kosher, observing the Jewish Sabbath, saying daily prayers, and keeping Jewish holy days.

Each Hasidic group is led by its own Rebbe. The Rebbe is is usually but not necessarily a rabbi, but is a saintly mystic who is seen to be more enlightened and have a closer relationship with God. He advises his followers on all matters and is the spiritual master of the group. Because each group follows their own Rebbe, beliefs and practices, such as style of service, customs, and style of dress, can differ from group to group. Therefore, something that is accepted by one group may be rejected by another. For example, some Hasidim believe that creating any visual representation of a creature (ie: a painting of a person) is forbidden, whereas for others it would be considered alright so long as it is not worshipped.

The modern Hasidic movement is sometimes referred to as Ultra-Orthodox, representing a shift in the practice back to the strict adherence to law and ritual that Hasidism originally rose to soften. Because of this there is now a “Neo-Hasidic” movement, stepping back from the formalities and returning to the basic principle of the closeness of God through experiencing the divine presence in everything around and inside us. These differences demonstrate the simple fact that Hasidic groups include a wide variety of individuals with different beliefs and preferences, much like other religious groups.

My Name Is Asher Lev runs at Pacific Theatre until February 25

1 comment:

Moshe Sharon said...

In the building of the Tabernacle as described in the the last four Parashahs of Shemos (Exodus) G-d commanded that Shittim (Acacia wood) be used for the Ark, table, carrying poles and support beams. Since the Jews were in the desert where nothing grows, as Rashi points out, the only way they could have had the wood available was if they carried it from Egypt. Thus, Rashi concluded that Jacob brought seedling Acacia trees from Canaan and transplanted them in Goshen in anticipation of the need to fulfill the Mitzvah of building the Tabernacle. So it appears that Shittim wood was part of the plan and when called for, the lumber was prepared and ready. The Acacia tree has a rough exterior with a thick homely bark and long sharp thorns growing out of its branches while sporting lush green leaves and beautiful flowers at certain times of the year. Thus in order to make this tree suitable for such Holy service the rough exterior has to be peeled off and the wood must be smoothed over with an abrasive cloth. This procedure is called refinement and it indeed is a painful process. But, when we apply this principle to ourselves we can see that every hardship we endure individually and as a nation is a gift because with every moment of suffering HaShem brings us closer to the eternal rapture of basking in His G-dly light.