Hasidim in Rabbinic Traditions

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<p>Rabbi Dennis Beck-Berman Dennis Berman, Hasidim in Rabbinic Traditions, SBL 1979 Seminar Papers (New York, 1979),2:15-3316Nothingis known concerning theor eventual fateofor even about their sizeand influenceduringthebrief five' years for which their activityis documented.Josephus ignores the Hasideans inhis account of the Macca-beanrevolt; perhaps he consideredthemtoo insignificatlt tosingleout for mention.19Thereis no reference tothe Hasi-deans' inrabbinicliterature, nor is there anybasis for tifying'themwitheither thePhariseesor the Essenes.20Noris there anysolidevidence for identifying themwiththe has-idimincertainpost-exilicPsalms.Rabbinic Literature. 21Inthe Bible the hasidis apious,person. Rasidis rarely found inrabbiniceratureinthis general senseoutsideof a rewoccasions .whenits useis influencedbybiblical exegesis. The hasidinrabbinic literatureis kind andmerciful, butstill morehe is completelyselfless, sihless' and devout. He is notsimplypious, for inhis zeal tofulfill the Lawhegoes beyondthe norm. A .qualityof exuberance and extreme pietypervadesthe rabbinic hasidtraditions. However, the hasidis nevercharacterized. as a martyr or an ascetic.22RelatedConcepts. The abstract noun l)asidut (literally,hasid-ness) that qualitywhichtheembodies. 23Invarious contexts it has the senseof mercifulness,total honesty and scrupulous regard.for the Law.4 InR.Pinhas b. Yair's (l:&gt;eg.iii). progressionof virtues Q"asidut ranks'near the top, after diligence, cleanliness, purity, holiness, humilityand fear of sin (M. Sota 9.15). One versionevenranks it above the spirit of holiness, 25 onlyone stepbe-lowthe resurrectionof the dead (TYShab.3c), while anotherinsists that l)asidut is thegreanest of themall.26Gemilut l)asadimis a comprehensive termfor all Jewishsocial VI"rtues, althoughoriginaltly itwas limitedtoacts ofpietyinwhich one fulfilledthe ethical or cultic command-ments . But such"acts of lovingkindness" were considered anormative and fundamental part Of the value systemof rabbinicJudaism. Like any pious,Jewthe hasidwould'undoubtedlyper-formthem, but there are no hasidtraditions explicitlycon-nectedwithgemilut hasadim. 27_. .- '29Hasid andgaddik. 28Inadditiontoitsrare meaning"lo-vely"sometimes used inrabbinicliteratureinthegeneric senseof "pious, good,Insuchcasesthereis anoccasional interchange betweenhasid and But usually the rabbis carefullydistinguishbetween t e two. 32Thus an aphorism(ca.ii CE) statesthat the hasidburns hisnail parings, theburi7s wickedman throws themaway.33 Ingeneral, the a good man who does his besttoavoid sinand obey themoral andritual commandments: the average man. However, the hasidgoes beyondthe bounds.of duty. He passionatelystrives for absoluteperfection andcompletedevotion. Of course, being a'the hasidshares the rewardof therighteous inthe hereater. 4Methodol0.liervations. The primary sources for astUdyof must be those texts whichexplicitlyrefertohasidor l;1asidut. 35Rabbinic, interpretations of hasid inScripture andtradltions whichdescribe attitUdes.or conduct verysimilar tothose found inthe primaryhasidtraditions arealsosignificant, when they concernfigures who arecalledhasidim. However, not everyidea or17practiceattributedto anidentifiedhasid shouldautomati-callybe consideredessentiallycharacteristicof the hasid,but only 'those which actuallyappear inthe primaryhasidtraditions." Several scholars (B{lchler, Baer, Sarfatti, Safrai,Urbach, Vermes) sometimesthat a certainfigure wouldhave beencalled a hasid, then.proceedtouse that person as akindof archetypical hasid, subjectively emphasizirlg someattributes for whichparallel traditions are adduced. Such anapproachruns theriskof turning everypious man into a hasidand every formof Jewishpietyintol;1asidut. it is importanttorealizethat the same man who is acan function in. various roles, e.g. friend, rabbi, ?addikor evenmiracle-worker. Indealingwiththe sources necessarytocare-fUllydistinguishthosequalities andactivities whichcharac-terize the hasid hasid fromthose which probablyreflectother suchroles. Mlsconce tions. Inlight of these strictures severalscholars Buchler, Sarfatti, Urbach, Vermes) . appear tohaveplacedundue emphasis onthe relationshipbetween hasidimandmiracle-workers. There is onlyone taleof a hasid'whois .askedtobringraihand thenhaltit (T. Taan. 2.13) andhereitis not this activitybut rather the exceptionalness of the manthat is underscored by callinghima hasip. 6While Haninab. Dosa (end i-beg.ii) maywell have been ahasid,37 he' was alsoconsidered a miracle-worker ("a man ofdeed") par excellence (M.Sota Indeed, the sources care-fully.distinguishbetween hasidimand "menof deed."38-. Despitethe contentionof several (Baer, Falk) there is no evidence that the hasidimcreated aseparatelegal traditionwhich rabbinic law. Thesources speakonly about thepractices of pious individuals'there is no reference to an autonomous community of hasidim'or. their teachings. 39Awork calledthe Scroll of the Pious - . hasidim) is mentioned several(ca.ii-iv), butappears tohave been an ethical treatise. 0Jewish Law. Anumber of rabbinic teachings intheMishrta and elsewhereare characterizedby an attitudeof suchextreme pietythat theyarebetter. suitedfor the hasidthanthe average man. But these need not be attributedto a hasidiclegal corpus. Presumably the same rabbis who advocate suchteachings areperfectlycapable of creating them. Intheirinterpretationof the Bible and formulation of the Oral Lawthesages were guided by a viewof Torah as the revelationof God'sideal for human conduct and character. This spirit of pietyand idealismwhich pervades Jewish lawR. Judah's(d.299) suggestionthat whoever wishes to become a hasid shouldstrivetofulfill the rabbipic precepts concerning social res-ponsibility, honesty inbusiness,concern for the property andwell-beingof others. Another sage recommends heeding theteachings of the religio-ethical tractateAvot. Still otherssuggesttractate on divineworship, prayer and blessings. 41But all three are'complementary. The hasid is zealous inritual observance and scrupulous inhis conduct; he'is intense-ly devout andperfectlyrighteous.EarlyHasidim. There are a fewtraditions (most stem-ming fromca. CE) about the early hasidim, the pious men of18yesteryear (j;l'asidimharishonim). They wouldwait an, hour be-fore prayer to their minds to God. 42They affixedthefringes totheir garments as soon as three handbreaths werewoven insteadof simplywaitinguntil theywere ready towear. 43 R. Judah (mid.ii) states that since God didnot allowthemtofall intosin, intheir eagerness tobring a sinoffer-ing they,tooka naziritevowwhichnecessitatedone. 'However,'R. Simeon b. Gamaliel (mid.ii) denies that the earlyhasidimmade a naziritevow, which he considers sinful, and claimsinsteadthat theyhrough a' free-will offeringwhenever theywished. 44 R. Judahalsorelates that shortlybeforedeath theywereafflictedintestinal which purged themsothat theyenteredparadise 'inThehasidimengaged"in conjugal relations onlyonWednesdays, believing'that therebytheir wives would not 'givebirth4gn the Sabbathand soavoid anydesecration ,of, the,holyday. They wouldburythorns and qlass deepintheir fields' whereit couldnevercause any harm. 4And theygave precedence tovisitingthemourner's home before attendingthewedding Neither the name itself nor the character of thesetraditions suggests that the referenceis to an organizedgroupof pietists. The expression"earlyhasidiIil" apparentlyreferl;lto the pious folkof times past ingeneral, frombiblical timesuptothe destructionof the Temple (endCE), whose greatpietyhad become legendary. The rabbis consideredmanybibli-cal figures hasidim. 49tradition (ca.ii) nUffiPers Abrahamand Haninab. Dosa (endi-beg.ii) among the pious men of yes-teryear.50 If'therabbis picturedbiblical saints actinginsuch ways theywere largelyprojectingback the practices of.the hasidimof their own day andrecent memory.51 Bydistin-glUshing between the "earlyhasidim" and contemporary (ii CE) the rabbis seemto endowthe former withan aura of 'superiority. The tendencytoglorifythe past, especiallytheperiod up until the destructionot the Temple, is rabbinic circles.52This tendency probablyunderlies thehyperbolic lament:, "When R. Yose Katonta died, hasidimdis- The oldest known figures who might be consideredamong the earlyhasidimare Bava b. Buti (end i BCE) 54 andYose b. Yoezer (first half ii BCE) .55The Tales. The 'over two dozentales of '''a'certainhasid" (ma"aseh beQasid eJ;1ad) constitute an important bodyofhasidWhile most of the tales beginningwiththis'formula stem' fromca. ii CE Palestine, their contin-ued on intothemiddle ages, when newtales sprang up. Thehasidtales usuallyfunction'as exempla, that is" anecdoteswhich point to,a moral, il'lustrate a, Scriptural verse or sus-tain'anargument. Stories about the hasid's miraculous rewardwould inspire piety,56 while tales decrying his guilt of anincrediblytrivial sin.admonished diligence inthe minutiaeof rabbinic law. 57'The rabqinic conceptionof the hasid runsthrough these tales. Indeed, itis unthinkable torelate suchstories about "a certainman."58 Structurally, the core of thetaleis the test towhich the exceptional pietyof the hasidisput. He,usually emergesbut notFor noman is perfect, not even theSeveral amus1ng talesinject an element of hyperbole60or irony.61 Some 'have a leg-endaryor supernqtural touch, whil,e others may well be "his- ,torical" with a bit of embellishment. However, the historicalimportance 6f these tales liesintheir accurateportrayal of the image of the hasidheld by the who19createdand retold them. The character of the hasidthatemerges fromthetales corresponds withthat found intheother hasidtraditions.Paragonof Virtue. Because of his urgetocompletelyfulfill the Lawand even go beyond it the hasidis inherentlya perfectlyrighteous man. The notionthat the hasid leads atotallyblameless lifeisreflectedin ,several tales62andmidrashim63and aisounderlies a groupof traditions aboutYose b. Yoezer and R. Judahb. Bava (endi-beg.ii).64 It issignificant that the latter i's depictedas fUlfilling the dic-tumthat all one's deeds should be for the sake of heaven,whose author, R. Yose (endi-beg.ii), is calleda hasidby histeacher', R. Yohanan,.b. ZqkkaL65 .The hasidstrives toserveGod inhis everyactivity.66 Inadditiontothetales aboutthe hasid's remarkable honesty and faithfulness evento Gen-tiles,67 thereare a number of aphorisms (ca;ii) inwhich thehasidepitomizes thevirtuous man, incontrast to' the'averageand wicked man.68But while the hasidoftenserves as themodel of ethical perfection, therearealsomany traditionspraisinghis zealous observanceof theritual laws. Thehasid's exuberance extends toboththemoral and culticpre-cepts of the Torah.Protests. Although, the hasidis generallytoutedasthe ideal Jew! thereare a,few critical oflar R. Joshua (endcondemns the hasidwhose excessive pietyoccasions unnecessary loss of,life.70'Ina similar vein Rabba b. R. Huna (d.322) says thatthe sages were displeasedwith those hasid'im(ca.ii) who werepeeved by the killingof snakes and scorpions on the Sabbath(TB Shabo 121b). Several statements disparage the pietyofthe'amhaaretz, the Jewwho does not meet'with the rigorousrabbInic standards of religious education and observance.The sages considereddedicated study and observanceof Scrip-ture andall the minutiaeof the Oral Tora! indispensible forthe attainment .of religious perfection.7lSoHillel (endi BCE-beg. i. eE) remarks: ",The'amhaaretz is not (apt tobe') ahasid."72 But even those ignorant men who we1'e hasidimwere, despise? some sages because of their enmity for the'am 'haaretz.7'AnOnymity. Although thereare hundreds of rabbinic, .traditions extollingthe pietyof numerous sages, most traditions arerelatedabout anonymous hasidim. - There is onestorywhich was originallytoldinPalestine about R. Judah b.Bava but inlater Babyloniancircles was relatedas- "a taleofa certainhasid."74 It may be that a confusionof this tradi-tionunderlies the pUZZling Babylonian cl.aim: "Everywhere itsays 'ataleof a certainhasid' it refers to R. Judahb. Bavaor R. Judahb. IlaL"75 There are a fewBabyloniantraditions. (ca. iv-v) which also suggest that stories toldabout specificsages were soon popularized about anonymous hasidim. 76This islargelybecause the hasidtraditions oftenfunction as exempla.They are primarilydidactic; theyextoll the virtuerather thanglorifythe 'particular saint.Society.' It is only natural that hasidiminrabbinicliteratureoftenappear as sages. Yet the sources refer tohasidimamong all.segments of society: men and women, richandpoor, townsman and farmer, scholar and amhaaretz, priest andlayman.</p> <p>Peoplewere very the , pietyof their contem-poraries. The conferredthe ep1thet has1donly upon those rareindividuals who deserved it.77They evendistinguishedlevelsof greatness among the hasidim. 78People hadgreat pridein'and respect for hasidim.79Special burial caves were set asidefor them. 80 Indeed, one of the highest honors was tobeeulo-gizedas a hasid.81Role Model. Rabbinic Judaismdevelopedthreedistinctideal types of p1ety. The scholar who studies, develops andtransmits the revealed Lawis the highest aim,of Jewisheduca-tionand the ideal,of intellectualThethejust andvirtuous man who fulfills the Torah, is the 1dea ofthe activelifeandethical perfection. Althoughthe two arenot exclusiveof eachother, theyrepresent the embodiments offundamentallydifferent values. The hasidis alsoanideal oftheactivelife, but he is distinguishedby his radicalism,spiritual fervor and'zeal' for the r.aw. InprincipLe, though,not everyone couldbe educatedtobecome a hasid; itisbasic-allya matter of gift and character.82Nevertheless, thehasidwas held up as a model to emulate before the common man as wellas the sage, who was expectedtoset an outstanding example ofpietyinhis ownright.S3This may be attributedto'the ideal-isticnatureof Judaism' ingeneralalsotothe concept ofthe "joyof the Law," that everyJewperformthe commandmentslovingly and enthusiastically, which was a fundamental tenetof rabbinic Judaism. 84NOTES1. I have focused here onthose traditions which prob-.ablydate betweenca. i-vi CE; cf. n.58. Note the followingab_breviations: ARN=Avot de-Rabbi Natan/ EJ=EncyelopediaJudaica(1972); M=Mishna; T=Tosefta; TB=BabylonianTalmud; TKF-S. Lieb-erman, ToseftaKi-fshutah (1955- ); TY=PalestinianTalmud.2. See M.H. Pope, "Hasidim," lOB 2:528.; J. Morgen-sterninHUCA 38 ,(1967) :59-73; K.D. SaKenfeld, The MeaningofHesed inthe Hebrew'Bible (1978); I. Heinemann,-vaesed; HasId-(Hebrew) 3:221-25. ' .'3. Mainly inPsalms (25 timesllt may have been a poeticconvention. Most of the attestations arepost-exilic.4. Jer.3:12; cf. Ps.145:l7; ,Ex.34:6; ,Sakenfeld, pp.193ff.; TB R.H. l7b.5. Cf. 2 Sam.22:26=Ps.18:26. Man/Israel performsgeseg for God'by faithfullyupholding the high moral andculticstanards of the covenant; cf. Sakeneld, pp.175ff. AlreadyintheBible (but perhaps not until thepost-exilicperiod) 9isedhas the senseof "pious acts;" see S,akenfeld, pp.15l-58; c n.27; TYSa...</p>