Chasidim And Old Order Amish: A Comparison
Chasidim and Old Order Amish: A Comparison
The two groups to be examined are the Chasidim and the Old Order Amish. We will begin with a brief look at the history of each group.
The Chasidim, or Hasidim, as more commonly known, are a cult within the tradition of Judaism. The word “Hasid” derives from the Hebrew word for “pious”. Hasidism dates back to the early eighteenth century and originated in central and Eastern Europe. Its founder was a man named Israel ben Eliezer (c.1700-1760). He is otherwise known as the Baal Shem Tov. In Hebrew “Baal Shem” means, “master of the [good] name”. It is a title given to men who are endowed with mystical powers. According to Hasidic belief, Adonai (God) chooses these men.
The Baal Shem Tov taught a new way of practicing Judaism that was strikingly different than what was considered acceptable at that time. It was his contention that God was everywhere and in all things—including man. There was no need for rigorous study of Torah (the Pentateuch, or Five Books of Moses). A man’s education—or lack thereof, is unimportant. Accordingly, an honest prayer from an unlearned Jew is just as powerful than a prayer made by a talmid chachem (an expert in Talmud). The Besht insisted that unity with God was possible through spontaneous prayer, ecstatic emotion, song, and dance. Jews were to embrace their raw emotions, release their passions—and not to suppress them as they might interfere with the analytic study of Judaism. This new way of worship was unlike anything that had been previously seen in Judaism. It appealed to great numbers of Jews, namely the uneducated masses.
The rise of popularity of Hasidism was also aided by its timing. As Leo Rosten writes about the Baal Shem Tov in his book The Joys of Yiddish, “He brought the excitement of hope into the lives of Polish Jewry, who had been decimated during a decade of savage Cossack progroms.” Despite the renewed enthusiasm it engendered, it also found strong opposition, namely from the misnagdim. For the misnagdim, study figures as the supreme religious act. This is not so for the Hasidim. The teachings of the Besht place an emphasis on the doing of mitzvahs. The literal translation of this Hebrew word is “commandment” but when used commonly “mitzvah” refers to any virtuous deed. The Talmud-studying community considered the Baal Shem Tov outrageous and heretical. However, this did not appear to bother the Besht over-much as he “…derided the learned Talmudists, branding them sterile pedants who “through sheer study of the Law have no time to think about God.”” Despite the opposition the Hasidim grew to include approximately 10,000 Jews.
After the death of the Baal Shem Tov in 1760, Rabbi Dov Baer took over as the leader of the Hasidim. It was during his leadership that the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov were organized into a set doctrine. Hasidim membership grew during this period, causing Jewish authorities to grow concerned and subsequently to impose a ban on Hasidim. Nevertheless, Hasidism continued to thrive in Europe until the rise of the third Reich. It was after the devastation of the Holocaust that the Hasidim immigrated to the United States. The decision to leave Europe for America did not come easily, “Many Hasidim feared that the religious and political freedoms of the United States would finish the job that Hitler could not finish in the ovens of Auschwitz.” .
Like the Hasidim, the Amish descended from a larger religion. In their case, the Amish stem from the Anabaptists. The Anabaptists were a sixteenth century religious group. Anabaptist beliefs included adult baptism and worship held in the home and not at a church. These are beliefs that the present-day Amish hold. The Anabaptists suffered a split as a result of disagreements over basic religious practices. Menno Simons, a Dutch Anabaptist, founded one of the splits. His followers were known as the Mennonites. This group faced heavy persecution and eventually fled to Switzerland. It is from the Mennonites that the Amish descend; Jakob Amman, a Mennonite preacher, founded his own branch which came to be known as the Amish.
Jakob Amman’s main reason for starting