Practising the Faith
"Religion in Brody"
The Struggle Between Hasidism and Haskalah
Hasidism was another important movement that arose in Galicia in the 18th century. This movement had been founded by Israel ben Eliezer (c.1698-1760). Born near Brody in the village of Okup, he had married a woman from Brody and resided in Brody for a time. Orphaned as a boy, he was a dreamer, fond of wandering off instead of devoting himself to his studies. Eventually, however, he acquired a reputation as a healer and miracle-worker and was widely known as the Ba'al Shem Tov, the "Master of the good name," or the Besht, an acronym standing for Ba'al Shem Tov. At the heart of the doctrine promulgated by the Ba'al Shem Tov was the idea that a person who keeps God in his heart at all times is superior to someone who steeps himself in Talmudic learning in order to enhance his reputation. The Besht believed that worship could best be accomplished through celebration and encouraged singing, dancing, and enjoyment of the fruit of the vine.
Haskalah, which literally means "enlightenment," was the movement that finally took hold in late 18th-century Brody, spreading there from Berlin, with which Brody had close commercial ties. The acknowledged father of the Enlightenment was Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786?), a German Jewish writer and philosopher. The approach to religion devised by Mendelssohn was basically rationalist, assimilationist, and pragmatic. Although Mendelssohn stressed the importance of adhering to traditional Jewish values, he advocated greater participation of Jews in non-Jewish secular life and in the cultural and intellectual milieu of European society.
As detailed in the Encyclopedia of Judaiasm, Haskalah stressed secular studies, including knowledge of the language of the countries in which Jews lived. However, it also stressed the value of a Jewish education that included Jewish history and the study of Hebrew (though not Yiddish). In its liberalism, Haskalah was the precursor of Reform Judaism. In its recommendations that Jews broaden their economic base by striving to enter less traditional Jewish occupations like agriculture, though, it was also linked to the concept of "return to the land" that helped to produce Zionism. The liberal tenets of Haskalah appealed to the Jews of Brody, and Brody became known as one of the most important centers of Haskalah in Eastern Europe.
Haskalah clashed philosophically with Hasidism. A struggle between these two religious movements was inevitable. It came in the early 19th century.(14)
Hasidism versus the Haskalah:
A Review of the Nineteenth Century Conflict Between Two Major
Movements of Jewish History in Galicia and in Russia
Adam J. Rosen
Introduction: Hasidism versus the Haskalah in the Early Nineteenth Century
The pressures of life which the Jews of Europe experienced generated different responses in their defense, including the Haskalah and Hasidism. The Jewish Enlightenment, known in Hebrew as the Haskalah, was a rationalist movement that originated in Germany during the eighteenth century. Hasidism also emerged in the 1700s, but farther to the east in the Ukrainian provinces of Podolia and Volhynia, as a social movement influenced by a strain of messianism. The Hasidim, the followers of Hasidism, sought to renew the vitality of the Jewish religion and to make it relevant to people's lives. Both of these reformist campaigns threatened the stranglehold of authority which traditional rabbinical Judaism held over European Jewry. Initially Hasidism and the Haskalah simultaneously attacked the traditionalism embodied by the Jewish scholar and spiritual leader, the Gaon, Rabbi Elijah of Vilna. As Hasidism and the Haskalah spread through Austro-Hungarian Galicia and in Russia the conflict between these new forces intensified.
"The excesses of Hasidism -- quackery, drinking, blind faith in the wonder-rabbi [the zaddik], superstitious beliefs in ghosts and exorcism of ghosts -- all these were mercilessly attacked. The devotees of Hasidism, the Hasidim, persecuted the Maskilim [the followers of the Haskalah] for their heresies and so-called atheism. It was an internecine and complicated war that lasted well into the end of the nineteenth century and, in some remote hamlets and townlets of eastern Europe, till the First World War."1
However, the characteristics of their battles varied across Europe. In this paper I will review the clashes between the Maskilim, adherents of the Jewish Enlightenment, and the Hasidim in the first half of the nineteenth century, from approximately 1800 to 1850. By examining this aspect of eastern European Jewish history in Galicia and in Russia, I intend to explain the interaction between Hasidism and the Haskalah, two of the most important social movements in modern Jewish history.
The followers of the Haskalah in Germany sought to integrate Jews into the national fabric of the countries where they resided, while still maintaining a strong commitment to Judaism as a religion. Moses Mendelssohn, the preeminent thinker of the Haskalah and its founder, explained that the philosophy of this enlightenment effort was predicated on the idea that "the state regulates the relationships between man and man, [but] religion -- through the church [or the synagogue] --concerns itself with relationships between man and G-d."2 The goal of the rationalism driving this effort to differentiate religion from the rest of one's life was to allow Jews to behave as fully functioning, productive members of the society where they lived. Judaism would continue to be practiced, but in private, using a revived Hebrew language as a cultural tool uniting Jews across national boundaries. However, these Maskilic thinkers reiterated the imperative to learn the language of one's home as essential to the process of integration.3 As the Haskalah spread across eastern Europe the desire to join mainstream society, guided by rationalist arguments, remained the drivingforce behind all efforts to acculturate the Jews into gentile, or non-Jewish, European society, while still practicing Judaism.
The sense of alienation and mistrust created by the intellectualism of rabbinical Judaism made this period ripe for Hasidism to emerge among the Jews of eastern Europe. This movement appealed to the Jewish excesses because of Hasidism's emphasis on "the joy of living, love of G-d and man, service to G-d and man, sincerity and dedication...[that enabled] the man in the marketplace...[to] draw as near to his Father in Heaven as could the scholar in his study."4 The ability of all Jews, regardless of one's social or economic status, or of one's knowledge of the Torah or the Talmud, to connect with G-d appealed to a wide cross-section of the Jews. The significance of happiness and emotion in Hasidism, principal elements in themselves, is manifested in devekut, or communion with G-d. This kabbalistic, or mystical, element of Hasidism was a central facet of the movement's appeal to the masses. In contrast to traditional interpretations, Hasidic rabbis explained that everybody is capable of reaching this level of spirituality. However, "devekut is...not a state but is in itself a Path comprising an infinity of ever more intimate communions."5 The emotional, populist attraction of Hasidism was entirely opposed to the rationalism of the Haskalah and portended a contentious future for the Jewish Enlightenment. The growth of these movements involved a fierce battle for the hearts and minds of European Jewry that was to last for several decades.
II. The Battle for Galicia
The activity of the Jewish Enlightenment in Austria-Hungary faced harsh opposition from Hasidism, which had a plethora of followers in this Habsburg province. Amidst the fighting the officials of the Austro-Hungarian Empire played a significant role. Being that a primary aim of the Haskalah was to make Jews into full members of gentile society, it was logical for the Maskilim to turn to the government for assistance. However, the Hasidim were strengthened by broad popular support because of the government's oppressive policies towards its Jewish subjects. In the battle for Galicia imperial legislation and accommodations affected the interaction between the Maskilim and the Hasidim.
The Austrian government levied two particularly harsh taxes on its Jewish subjects: the candle tax and the kosher meat tax. The candle tax, imposed in 1797, was a harsh form of revenue collection. In Jewish homes, women lit candles to, metaphorically, welcome the beginning of the Sabbath on Friday night. According to the law "every Jewish woman was required to pay the candle tax of ten kreutzers [an Austrian currency] on two candles to the tax lessee before the Sabbath began, whether or not she had any money to buy candles."6 However, many Jews were incapable of making these payments. The tax on kosher meat was originally instituted in 1784, but it steadily increased through 1816, with numerous Jews deprived of meat from their diets. The poverty of Galician Jewry required the government to issue exemptions or to reduce the size of the tax for almost 20,000 families. "To seek solace from their grievous needs and sufferings...the enslaved Jewish multitude...turned to the Hasidic movement."7
The Hasidim embodied an ideology based on charity and on solidarity that strongly appealed to these Jews. Hasidism believed that charity was a spiritual duty of every Jew, from which anybody could benefit. This mutual responsibility was an important element "in the egalitarian tendency that was expressed within Hasidism."8 The significance of charity to the Hasidic movement was acknowledged in official reports of the Austrian government. Although charity was traditionally an important value among Jews, the composition of the Hasidic movement from the lower classes of society may have influenced the ideology of Hasidism to place a higher premium on this virtue. Traditional Orthodox Jews, commonly referred to as the Mitnaggedim, supported the imperial government in Vienna. Thus, the Maskilim found a friendly shoulder among the Mitnaggedim upon whom they could rely for support. This relationship and the general Hasidic animosity toward the Maskilim may have resulted in restrictions on people's ability to accept money from donors who were not Hasidim. These conclusions are largely based on the character of Hasidism and the Haskalah, in Galicia, as it is explained in Raphael Mahler's Hasidism and the Jewish Enlightenment: Their Confrontation in Galicia and Poland in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century.
Galician Hasidism was characterized by a sense of solidarity extending from the movement's egalitarianism. This unity was a strong defense against attempted inroads by the Maskilim. The close relationship between the government and the Haskalah's thinkers may have tainted the popular image of the Jewish Enlightenment, hindering the establishment of a strong foothold in this part of Europe. Hasidism facilitated passive resistance against the payment of the candle and meat taxes, and helped Jews to evade military service.9 The unavoidable problem of the Haskalah, in breaking the influence of the Hasidim, was the Maskilic insistence on integration and Germanization of the Jews into society prior to their achieving equal rights.
The support of Hasidism for widespread resistance to official edicts and the Jews' desire to be left alone by the government was an obstacle for Galicia's Maskilim. This problem was acknowledged by Joseph Perl, a leading Maskil of this period, in a report to the government which stated "that, in his view, Hasidism had already captivated the Jewish people to such an extent that there was almost nothing left to save."10 Perl, who was an active denouncer of Hasidic activity, urged the government to restrict the use of the battei midrash, Jewish houses of worship, because they were commonly used by Hasidim for secret meetings. In 1838, after submitting one of his last denunciations to the imperial authorities, these battei midrash were either subjected to the 1823 decree restricting prayer gatherings or simply closed by Austrian police officials.11 Perl's determination to hinder the freedom of Hasidim to meet in places for religious and political activity raised the tension in Galicia and inevitably influenced Haidic actions.
Meat was considered important to people's diets. The meat tax was a cruel burden for the poor Galician Jews. Hasidim issued bans on the consumption of meat and used their own shohatim (ritual butcher, plural) to secretly slaughter animals throughout the early 1800s. Periodically, the government tried to circumvent these boycotts by convening rabbinical assemblies "that issued bans against all those who 'defrauded' the government by avoiding payment of the candle and kosher meat taxes."12 However, this was usually ineffective and the solidarity of the Hasidim enabled them to force communities to use a Hasid as their shohet (ritual butcher, singular), "thereby wielding considerable power, as, for example, they would pronounce meat from the ritual slaughter of other shohatim nonkosher."13 In this manner meat boycotts that 'defrauded' the empire were continually in operation. This strengthened the Hasidic movement against other groups, particularly the Maskilim. The threat of an Hasidic ban was enough to deter inividuals from buying meat and thus paying the tax. By controlling those who declared whether meat was kosher, the Hasidim could prevent people from avoiding their boycotts. Thus, Hasidim continued to be a powerful force with which the Haskalah was required to reckon.
Ridicule was a popular weapon of the Haskalah against Hasidism. A skilled user of this tool was Joseph Perl (1773-1839). Perl came from a well-to-do family and grew up in Tarnopol, the city that later became the center of the Galician Haskalah, and was heavily influenced by Hasidism during his youth. As Perl's father began sending him on business trips throughout eastern Europe, Perl met leaders of the Jewish Enlightenment who taught him languages and sciences that motivated him to join this rationalist movement. In 1813, once again residing in Tarnopol, Perl established there one of the first modern Jewish schools which he called the Deutsche-Israelitische Hauptschule, that combined secular studies with the Bible and the Talmud. This educational institution was a significant tool in the struggle against Hasidism in Galicia, and was a model for schools in other parts of Europe.14 While this was a big achievement for Perl, he is particularly famous for his satirical works, which were a powerful element of the askilim's arsenal against Hasidism. These works were published in:
"three books of scathing, mocking criticism against the Hassidic movement: Uber das Wesen der Sekte Chassidim aus ihren eigenen Werken gezogen im Jahre 1816 (On the Nature of the Sect of Hassidism, Drawn from Their Own Works in the Year 1816); Megalleh Temirin [Revealer of Secrets] (Vienna, 1819) and Bohen Tzaddik [The Test of the Righteous] (Prague, 1838)."15
Before a book was published the manuscript had to be submitted to the government for approval by the official censor. On December 2, 1816 Joseph Perl sent his booklet entitled Uber das Wesen to the Baron Franz von Hauer, the governor of Galicia, asking for permission to dedicate it in von Hauer's honor, hoping that this would ensure its publication. The baron sent the manuscript to the Supreme Imperial Police and Censorship Office, in Vienna, with a note informing the censor of his decision to reject Perl's offer of a personal dedication. Subsequently, the Censorship Office refused to approve the book for publication, fearing reactionary repercussions if it were to become accessible to society at large.16
Uber das Wesen has eight chapters discussing "Hassidism, its essence, development, customs, leaders and influences and cites passages from the book Shivhei HaBesht (Praises of the Besht [Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov]) to point up the negative aspects of Hassidism."17 This theme of Hasidism as a well-organized threat reappears in the denunciation memoranda that Perl submitted from this time until his death in 1839. Perl wrote Uber das Wesen in German to target the Austrian authorities as his audience "whose power he sought to enlist against what he viewed as the growing menace of the Hasidic sect."18 Although this did not reach the Austrian public, "there was an increase in the repressive measures against the Hasidim, including several searches and confiscations of Hasidic books."19 To avoid similar problems Joseph Perl published the rest of his works in Hebrew, targeting a readership among the Jewish masses. These manuscripts, in addition to their innate power as a weapon against Hasidism, reminded the imperial ensor of the harm that Hasidism could inflict on Austria-Hungary, prompting the government to crack down, once again, on Galicia's Hasidim.20
The books Revealer of Secrets (Megalleh Temirin) and Bohen Tzaddik (The Test of the Righteous) are parodies of Hasidic activities and the reaction of Hasidism to attacks of the Maskilim. Written in an epistolary fashion, Megalleh Temirin (1819) is considered the first Hebrew novel. The 151 letters written by 26 people, discuss the appearance of an anti-Hasidic tract, written in German, being circulated among Austrian officials. The main correspondents, Reb Zelig Lititchiver and Reb Zaynvl Verkhievker, are in hot pursuit of this book in an attempt to destroy all extant copies.21 When Revealer of Secrets was published the Hasidim initially though that the author was a fellow Hasid. However, upon learning that it was actually a satire they sought out and burned many copies.22 In order to confuse his intended readers, Perl structured Megalleh Temirin like traditional holy books, even including fake approbations giving the text their 'legitimate' imprimatur. By adopting this method, accomplished so convincingly, Dv Taylor insists that "Perl must have had two readers in mind when he wrote -- one a simple Jew, unsophisticated, oblivious to satire and double entendre -- the other a maskil, who would understand Perl's hidden meanings and be entertained by his literary subterfuge."23 The use of quotes from Shivhei HaBesht was intended to cast Hasidism in the worst possible light. The book that the characters are hunting for reveals to the Austrian nobility the intrigues and deceptions of the Hasidic movement. The epistolary format adds to the comic element by enabling Perl to provide several perspectives that contradict one another. He also uses a corrupted form of Hebrew, common among rabbis, to make the text appear authentic, thus increasing the comic effect. Revealer of Secrets sought to parody important components of Hasidism. This is primarily accomplished by using a book of importance to Hasidism, Shivhei HaBesht which:
"constitutes the impetus for Perl's novel, provides its legendary backdrop, furnishes some of its characters and events and serves as a source of quotations impressed into the enemy service. It is the visible or invisible adversary on every page of Revealer of Secrets and represents for Perl, as well as for many of his fellow Maskilim the quintessence of Hasidism."24
Joseph Perl's third book, Bohen Tzaddik (The Test of the Righteous) (1813), is also a satire of Hasidism and it too serves as a sequel to Megalleh Temirin. The plot revolves around the search for the perfectly honest man, with all members of Jewish society examined.
"The parade of failures here includes not only hasidim, but also rabbis, traders, craftsmen and even maskilim. As the search concludes, the honest man turns out to be neither a tsadek nor even a maskil, but a pious farmer in a Jewish agricultural utopia somewhere in southern Russia. Perl's vision of utopia thus rejects not only Hasidism but also the idea of a return to Palestine, envisioning instead a life of productive labor in the Diaspora."25
Hasidism is generally blamed for destroying Judaism and causing the abandonment of productive lifestyles. The idea of belonging to a productive profession, usually in agriculture was an essential component of the Maskilic ideology of Perl and other Galician Maskilim. They viewed "the old, unproductive [bourgeois] Jewish occupations as a curse"26 and believed that only under these new economic conditions would Jews be able to reach the ideal state in which they would be fit for legal equality within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In this case, returning to Palestine was unnecessary and might even be self-destructive. Perl and the Maskilim of Galicia believed that individuals could be fulfilled in the Diaspora as Austrians of the Jewish persuasion. There was no evidence available to me proving there was a response from the Hasidim to Bohen Tzaddik similar to the backlash against Megalleh Temirin. However, examination of archival material may provide a contrary conclusion.
The integration of Galician Jewry into mainstream Austrian society required a process of Germanization that the Hasidim and the Maskilim bitterly disputed, with the limited intervention of the Austrian government. Attempts to Germanize people were considered destructive of religion and faced strenuous opposition from Hasidim. The Yiddish language and traditional modes of dress were stubbornly defended by Hasidic rabbis because they believed that changing these innately Jewish characteristics would harm their chance for redemption by the Messiah. This "national trait of Hasidism, rather than its popular religious character and mystical basis,...prompted the Austrian government to oppose this movement so rigorously from the onset."27 The problems the government encountered with education resulted in a harsh policy towards Hasidim that aimed to suppress this religious sect. In 1824, the provincial governor of Galicia introduced greater toleration, but maintained repressive measures against the Hasidic rabbis. In 1838, in the Galician city of Lemberg, the police director proposed reimposing the old policy. However, the Galician governor refused on the grounds that Hasidism differed little from other types of Judaism. These rulers also saw that Hasidic conservatism was similar to the imperial hatred of progressivism. The Maskilim's request to educate Jews was also rejected because of these concomitant conservative sentiments.28 The ability of Hasidism to withstand the constant attacks of the Maskilim and their official supporters, and the success of Maskilic efforts, was a testament to the continued strength of these movements in Galicia.
III. The Fight for Russian Jewry
Table of Contents -
Chapter 1 -
Chapter 2 -
Chapter 3 -
Chapter 4 -
Chapter 5 -
Chapter 6 -
Chapter 7 -
Chapter 8 -
Chapter 9 -
Chapter 10 -
Guest Book -