Chasidim and Old Order Amish A Comparison Essay

This essay has a total of 1811 words and 8 pages.

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 his own sect had to do with the practice of
Meindung. The Meindung is the practice of shunning members who do not conform. Absolutely
all contact is stopped, to the extreme that even the non-conforming member’s spouse must
have no further contact with him or her. Amman felt that the Meindung was not being
upheld—this is what precipitated his leaving the Mennonite movement and creating his own
group, a movement in which the Meindung played a most important role. “…it would be no
exaggeration to say that the Meindung is the heart of the Amish system of social control.”

Despite the fact that they owe their very existence to Jakob Amman, Old Order Amish do not
admire the personality qualities he is said to have had, qualities which made him such a
powerful leader. “The Old Order Amish are devout believers in humility, brotherly
love….they are suspicious of those with leadership aspirations.”

The Hasidim and the Old Order Amish are alike in that both groups formed in Europe and
then migrated to America. What needs to be further examined then, is the Revitalization
movement that each experienced and how it the migration to America played a role in
certain aspects of it.

The first and second substages of the Revitalization movement deal with the code by which
the group lives. The first substage of the Revitalization movement is the formulation of
a code. For both the Hasidim and the Old Order Amish, this took place previous to their
arrival in America. As previously mentioned, for the Hasidim, their dogma was formalized
in the period during which Rabbi Dov Baer led the movement. Jakob Amman was responsible
for formulating the code by which the Amish would live. Granted, Old Order Amish do not
live in accordance to forceful leadership. Nevertheless, they do practice the Meindung
and thus live by the code set down by Amman. The second substage has to do with the
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