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SIDIC Periodical VIII - 1975/1
Aspects of Jewish and Christian Prayer (Pages 04 -13)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French

Three types of Jewish piety
Gershom Scholem


Let me open by quoting a talmudic story.

Rabbi once opened his storehouse of victuals in a year of scarcity, proclaiming: Let those enter who have studied the Scripture, or the Mishnah or the Gemara or the Halakha or the Aggada. There is no admission, however, for the ignorant. R. Jonathan ben Amram pushed his way in and said: Master, give me food. He said: My son, have you learnt the Scripture? He replied: No. Have you learnt the Mishnah? No. If so, he said, then how can I give you food? He said to him: Feed me as the dog and the raven are fed. So he gave him food. After he went away, Rabbi's conscience smote him and he said: Woe unto me that I have given my bread to a man without learning! His son ventured to say to him: Perhaps it is Jonathan ben Amram, your pupil, who all his life has made it a principle not to derive material benefit from the honour paid to the Torah. Upon inquiry, it was found out that it was so; whereupon Rabbi said: All may now enter. 1

You can talk about a religion and its specific world in many ways. You can describe or analyse its theology and dogma, that is to say, its teaching about God and Creation and the place of man in such a scheme of things. You can also describe its ritual and way of life (Lebensordnung) and in particular I would say that often the liturgy, the order of prayers and the life reflected in them serve as a true mirror to the spiritual life of a religion. Some of the best works on Judaism or Christianity have brought out the particular colour and life of such groups by looking closely at liturgy. But this is not what I propose to do this time. I wish to talk here about the basic attitudes, about the ideal human types, which the history of rabbinic Judaism has evolved and I should like to discuss the tensions that are possible between them. The basic tension in the religious society of Judaism is that between rational and emotional factors, rational and irrational forces. The ideal types formed by this society will necessarily reflect such tension.

Let me put it another way: How did the Jews see themselves, what were the ideal Jewish types of piety which Judaism knew in its classical forms over the last two thousand years? Such human types represent embodiments of a scale of values or of more or less independent highest values which have been offered as an example to imitate or to be striven for by other people. Such ideals of highest values realized in human lives will allow us an insight into what living Judaism meant for its people.

Now I do not think that there can be any doubt as to what these types of the ideal Jew are. They are, if you allow me to use the popular Hebrew terms, talmid hakham, the rabbinic scholar, the tsaddik, the Just Man, and the hasid, a term which it is not easy to translate although its meaning will be made quite clear to us. Everybody has heard about these types in a more or less vague way, but we shall try to take a somewhat closer look at the meaning of each of them. Let me say at once that I am not here discussing biblical religion. I am discussing Judaism as constituted in its talmudic and rabbinical forms to which Jewish philosophy or, for that matter, Jewish mysticism has added other dimensions without basically changing its substance.

That is the reason why I am not talking in this context of the prophet as an ideal type. Prophecy as seen in Judaism is not something for which you can prepare yourself, which you can make an ultimate aim of your way towards the realization of religion. The prophet is a man chosen by God for a mission to his people whatever his preparation or lack of preparation for such a mission may be. You can neither educate your pupils for such a state nor can you set it as your own aim. It depends on something utterly beyond you, not to be foreseen and not to be sustained in a continuous frame of mind or as an attainment available ad libitum. You may argue that we hear about schools of prophets in old biblical times, but they have no relation to Judaism as a historical phenomenon as it crystallized after the Babylonian exile. For the philosophers of Judaism, such as Maimonides, prophecy was indeed a highest spiritual state but not one to which we could aspire in our time and place. It was something belonging to the past, to the creative periods of Revelation, in other words: something belonging to biblical theology but not to the concrete requirements within the framework of our own life as Jews.


I mentioned in the first place the figure of the talmid hakham, the rabbinic scholar, or, as the extremely modest term would have to be translated literally: « the pupil of a sage. » Now what is meant by this term? It is, above all, an intellectual value and a value of a life of contemplation. It has no essential relation to an emotional scale of values. What is asked of the scholar? A rational effort of the mind and its concentration. He is a student of Scripture and tradition who has fully mastered the ways and means by which these two spheres—or should I say sources of the religious life of Judaism?—are connected. Let us pause here for a moment. Judaism, like other religions based on the principle of Revelation, has a canon, an established collection of sacred Scripture, and the Holy Writ contains the truth about human life. The basic assumption of a religious constitution based on Revelation and tradition, as historical Judaism obviously is, can be formulated in a simple and yet far-reaching way which has profound implications of its own. The truth is given and known once and for all. It has not to be discovered. It has been laid down. The great task is to pass it on and to develop its meaning for every subsequent generation.

Modern man is prone to think highly of originality. Now, I would stress the fact that originality is not a value highly considered by the great religions. They do not think that truth has still to be discovered. It is there, in Revelation, for all to see. It is the tremendous conflict between the modern and the traditionalist mind that they clash over this evaluation of originality and the discovery of truth. But even within the old framework, there is still immense room for the exercise of originality—but of an originality that does not acknowledge itself as such. Rather does it hide behind the unassuming name of commentary, as though all that remained to be done was to elicit and to develop what is laid down, perhaps only in a general way, in the documents of Revelation.

The tradition of rabbinical Judaism constitutes a method of exploring the meaning of Scripture. It has gone to great lengths, sometimes in a highly colourful and paradoxical way, to stress this point, namely, that whatever a confirmed and genuine scholar of Scripture can say about its meaning and application at any given time has been hidden away somehow in Scripture itself and is a part of Revelation in its more general sense, comprising what in Judaism is called the Oral Law, torah shebe'al peh. Let me illustrate this by a famous story told in the Talmud about Rabbi Akiba in the second century, that is to say, about a man who was always considered as the perfect embodiment of the type of which I am talking and who did more than any other single great teacher in Judaism to bring about the crystallization of rabbinical Judaism into a system of extraordinary vitality. The story, for all its simplicity, is not without sublimity and depth or a twinkle of irony.

When Moses ascended on high he found the Holy One, Blessed be He, engaged in affixing coronets to the letters. Said Moses: Lord of the Universe, who stays Thy hand? (That is to say: is there anything wanting in the Torah that these additions in the form of coronets are necessary?) He answered: There will arise a man, at the end of many generations, Akiba ben Joseph by name, who on each title will expound heaps and heaps of laws. Said Moses: Lord of the Universe, permit me to see him. He replied: Turn thee around. Moses went and sat down behind eight rows (of Akiba's disciples). But he was unable to understand their arguments and this made him alarmed (because he was unable to follow the discourses on the Torah given by himself); but when they came to a certain subject and the disciples said to the Master: whence do you know this? and he replied: it is a teaching given unto Moses on Sinai, he was comforted. Thereupon he returned to the Holy One, Blessed be He, and said: Lord of the Universe, Thou halt such a man and Thou givest the Torah by me? He replied: Be silent, for such is My decree. 2

The genuine talmid hakham, in the eyes of tradition, cannot say anything utterly new, but only what was always known and contained in the source of Revelation. His specific task in the world of Judaism is, then, a twofold one. First of all, he brings out what was implied in the Torah, he is in full command of the art of reading and interpreting the sacred text. And secondly, he is able to apply this interpretation to the changing needs of the community. All this leads to one more point: the real sage who so unpretentiously is called only a pupil of the sages, is the teacher of his community. His is not a prophetic quality; what is expected of him is his sobriety and rationality by which he is able to expound the values that have come down and been upheld by tradition, and his clarity of mind which makes him an educator, handing down those values to the next generation. He need not be ashamed to call himself what he is. We would think it pretty strange if somebody came along announcing: I am a tsaddik or: I am a hasid, and the very statement would in our eyes disprove itself. But the Talmud says: If you come to a foreign place where you are not known, it is proper for you to say: I am a pupil of the sages. It is a measure of the sobriety of which I have spoken, of the reticence with which this type is described, that for many generations, in European Jewry, the highest praise you could pay to somebody was the deceptively simple sentence Er kann lernen (He knows how to learn). No more modest formula could be found to express the highest valuation. The little verb lernen (to learn) has an enormous implication. Lernen does not only mean studying, but it means complete mastery of the talmudist's world of intellectual tradition. He, of whom this can be said is at the same time the teacher of his generation.

The scholar, in the sense in which I have tried to describe him, is at the same time an aim of education; I might say the highest aim of education which the Jews have had over the last two thousand years of their history. I think that it is a tremendous thing and speaks for the extraordinary vitality that has gone into the making of this type of Jew, that it has been able to maintain its unbroken power over such a period and in the face of all the vicissitudes of Jewish history. It is an ideal towards which you can educate people and develop institutions that might produce it. And it is an ideal that held equally for Jews wherever they lived, be it in Yemen or Russia, in Babylonia or France. Even today the power of this ideal has not been broken, although the last generations have made heavy inroads into the traditional ideals of Jewish life and we are witnessing revolutionary changes, both in Israel and the Diaspora, which affect the basis on which this life was built. But still, it might be said that the number of students in Israel studying in the Yeshiva—that institution which is intended to develop this particular ideal type—is approximately as large as the number of students in the institutions of secular higher learning. At the same time it is significant for the depth of the crisis in which we live that to a great extent these institutions have ceased to fulfil that central social function which was one of their greatest claims to fame in our history. The talmid hakham, as I have described him, had a central social function in the Jewish community, he had authority in the world of tradition but he did not evade his responsibility for the application of the Old Torah in his own time. It is this evasion, this shying away from taking on responsibility, which is one of the more distressing facets in the clash of ideals that we are witnessing now in Israel.

I said that the figure of the talmid hakham had a deep rational significance. But its aura has pervaded Jewish society far beyond rational limits. The magic of the names of the great representatives of this type spread far and wide and became household words to millions. The Gaon of Vilna, or Rabbi I tzhak Elhana, the Ray of Kovno, to name only two outstanding figures, were such archetypal representatives of the ideal talmid hakham.

Controversy about the value of this phenomenon has not been lacking since the first days of Christianity. It was open to attack, I might even say it invited attack, from a more emotional point of view and from those who sought the centre of religion and religious life in other spheres of a more emotional character. It is not for me to take sides in this discussion. What I want us to understand is the structure, the build-up and the meaning of this type which, after all, has given to the Jewish people that particular class of intelligentsia for which they have been, rightly or wrongly, praised or condemned.


When we come to speak of the two other ideal types, the tsaddik and the hasid, we enter a different sphere. The values represented by the « pupil of the sages », the rabbinical scholar, belong, as I said before, to the sphere of contemplation. The scholar transfers himself into the world of the Torah, which for him is a vehicle to a purely spiritual life. He studies actions, but he studies them not in their active quality; he transforms them into subjects for contemplation, intellectual concentration and judicious penetration. The tsaddik and the hasid, however, are judged not by the perfection of their intellectual penetration, but by the way in which they perform the discharge of their religious duties in action. They are, to put it briefly, ideals of the active life. Of course, the types are not exclusive of each other. A scholar may well-nigh be a tsaddik or a hasid at the same time and vice versa. Each is to be judged by his own scale of values. If the talmid hakham represented an intellectual value in its perfection, the tsaddik or the hasid represents what we would call ethical values, values of the heart and of the deeds of man.

In popular parlance and even in some parts of the old rabbinical sources, there are no clear-cut distinction and separation between the two conceptions. There is a tendency to speak of the tsaddikim and to ascribe to them the widest range of virtues and qualities, and very often the terms could be exchanged. The great figures of biblical literature are characterized almost throughout as tsaddikim, but, on the other hand, if the Talmud tells some extraordinary story about a feat of religious performance, or a miracle vouchsafed to a pious man, it opens mostly: ma'aseh behasid ehad, « there is a story of a hasid... » But we may safely say that, for the religious consciousness of Judaism as it developed from talmudic times and crystallized in the Middle Ages, the difference between the two types and their specific characteristics became more and more distinct and significant. Particularly, we have a very large literature on the ethical behaviour and the moral ideals of Judaism, a literature which stretches over almost a thousand years and which was not so much destined for the use of the scholar, but which appealed in general to the common reader with a moderate or even less than moderate knowledge of things Jewish. It is this literature, in contradistinction to the proper halakhic or talmudic literature, which not everybody had the prerequisites to understand, that was most influential in bringing the message of Judaism to the widest circles. It is in such sources, but also in many other documents of Jewish life from those times, that the distinction between the two types becomes crystal-clear. They may still be mentioned together as a kind of formula (such as in the benediction in the Shmoneh Esreh prayer, opening: Al hahasidim ve'al hatsaddikim), but, instead of being understood as some kind of synonyms, they are now perceived as two basically distinctive qualities.

Then term tsaddik originates in forensic language. A tsaddik is somebody who has been before the courts and has been found « not guilty ». In this very sober vein the term has entered Jewish ethics. The tsaddik is the Jew who tries to comply with the commandments of the Law. He would be a tsaddik in the eyes of God if, brought before his court, it would be found that he has fulfilled his duties at least more than fifty percent. If the scales of the balance swing slightly in his favour, he is reckoned among the tsaddikim. We mortals, however, do not know how the scales of God's justice will work. In the eyes of his fellow men, the tsaddik is he who tries his best to fulfil the Law as far as it lies within his power. For him, all commandments, all duties put upon him by religion are of equal importance; he tries to pay attention to all of them equally without stressing any particular part of them. To accomplish this, no special grace is required. Everybody is called upon to do his duty to the best of his capacity, and everybody is equipped with sufficient strength and innate judgment to try and succeed. He may not succeed fully, for there are many pitfalls in the way of man. But the tsaddik does not lose sight of the goal; he may stumble seven times, but this will not prevent him from going on and dividing his energies between the manifold tasks which he is called upon to fulfil. He is the man who puts harmonious order into his life, or at least tries to do so and essentially succeeds. This order is the order of the Torah, an all-comprehensive ideal of harmony in the deeds and activities of men that leaves no room for extravagance. The tsaddik, as the Talmud says, is not expected to be a man of words, he is to be a man of deeds. He may be a great scholar in the sense that I have described, but even though he may be devoid of intellectual attainments, if he were a simple and unsophisticated man, he still could be a tsaddik. And even if he fulfils his task fully and is as successful in its realization as could be wished, he is still a tsaddik and nothing else. And this, indeed, in the eyes of Jewish ethics is very much. The tsaddik, let me put it in a sententious way, is the ideal of the normal Jew and if he fulfils all that he sets out to do, he is still the embodiment of the normal Jew at his best. This is the main point, stressed by the tradition of our moralist literature.

In the moral sphere, indeed, the ideal of the tsaddik contains an element in common with the ideal of the scholar. This is the sobriety of the ideal, the absence of emotionalism. The Just Man is balanced in his actions, there is something deeply composed and cool-headed about him, however intense the passion to fulfil the Divine command that drives him may be. He does not lose control of himself. And this is, of course, the reason why righteousness, the quality of the tsaddik, is generally considered in Jewish tradition as something that can be taught, for which you can be educated and trained. The classical manuals of Jewish morals describe such training for the state of tsaddik, none more stringently than the famous treatise Mesillat Yesharim (The Path of the Upright), by the Italian poet and mystic Moses Hayim Luzzatto (1740), no doubt one of the noblest products of Hebrew literature. The author, who tried to combine the two ideals of the talmid hakham and the tsaddik, sets out to teach the beginner, step by step, how to achieve these goals, which are within the rational grasp and within the power of goodwill implanted in all of us and open to systematic development. Or, as five hundred years before him another moralist, Bahya ben Asher, defined it:

The main principle of the Torah and its foundation consist in the command that man should break his passions and natural drives and subjugate them to the domination of the rational soul. Whoever accomplishes this and makes his intellect the master of his passion, and subdues his animal soul, is called a tsaddik. 3

This harmonious and judicious function of the tsaddik who tries to dispense justice by his actions is maintained widely and has been greatly stressed by the mystics of Judaism. One of the great Kabbalists said about seven hundred years ago, pursuing the line of thought which I have just indicated:

For this is the reason why the tsaddikim are called Just Men, because they put everything in the world, both in the inner and outer world, in its rightful place, and nothing oversteps its prescribed limits, and this is why they are called Just Men. 4

This definition dominates large spheres of Jewish ethics, especially in the ethics of the Kabbalists and the hasidim. The tsaddik puts everything in its proper place. This appears to be a very simple sentence. But the simplicity of this definition should not deceive us as to the messianic implication and the utopian power lodged in such a sentence. For, in the eyes of Judaism, a world where everything is in its proper place would be precisely what is meant by a messianic world, a world redeemed. The idea of the Just Man is thus linked with the messianic idea. The tsaddik who puts everything into harmonious order and causes things to dwell together in this world undisturbed and undivided brings about the Revelation of God's unity through the harmonious unity of the world. The disorder in the world is at heart of injustice, the objectionable and reprehensible are connected to disorder. Therefore, the Just Man, for whom the Torah is a law of order and the guide to order, is concerned with putting the world in order and keeping it so. There is a messianic spark in his activities.


In speaking of the tsaddik, I have described the ideal of the average Jew, I might even say, the ideal ba'al-bayit, the family man and citizen of the community. He measures his steps, he weighs his actions, he considers the demands made of him, and, by doing so and combining his efforts with those of his like, he creates as it were the Jewish community in its highest form. Of course, he will be called upon to resist temptation, to prove his worth and to overcome great difficulties, but nothing essentially extraordinary is asked of him. The hasid, whom I am going to discuss now, represents a very different type, is in fact at an opposite pole in the world of human values. In the ethical literature of Judaism and generally wherever the terms are used with more or less precision and a sense of discrimination, being a tsaddik means always distinctly less than being a hasid. Whereas the tsaddik is the ideal embodiment of the norm, the hasid is the exceptional type of man. He is the radical Jew, who, in trying to follow the spiritual call, goes to extremes. The kind of extremism practised by such devotees has changed considerably in the course of time, but its nature has not. The hasid does not, like the tsaddik, do what is demanded of him, but goes beyond it. He is never content with the middle road, he does not count his steps. He is the enthusiast, whose radicalism and utter emotional commitment are not to be deterred by bourgeois considerations. The self-r e s t r a i n t, characteristic of the behaviour of the tsaddik, is foreign to his nature. Whatever he does, he does in a spirit of spontaneous exuberance and of supererogation, that is to say, far beyond the requirements of duty.

The Hebrew word hesed is not easy to translate. It combines the meanings of charity, loving-kindness and grace. When we speak of God's hesed, in contradistinction to his justice and rigour, we indicate the quality of his boundless generosity, the exuberant and spontaneous nature of his benevolence and grace. The usual translation of hasid, « pious », does not really render its meaning. When the Psalmist says of God that he is a hasid in all his deeds, he does not refer to his piety but to those qualities which I have just described. And the human hasid, in his own limited sphere, still represents the same basic qualities which he has made the cornerstone of his moral being. He adds to the severity of the prohibitions by forbidding himself things which even under the Law are permissible, and he adds to the commandments by doing a lot of things which under the Law he is not required to do. He demands nothing of others, everything from himself. The « Sayings of the Fathers » in the Mishnah have the famous definition of the four qualities in man:

He who says: Mine is mine and thine is thine is the average man, and some say, it is the quality of Sodom. Mine is thine and thine is mine, that is the ignorant. Mine is thine and thine is thine, that is the hasid. Thine is mine and mine is mine, that is the wicked.

The tsaddik follows a law valid for all. I would say that he is the Jewish disciple of Kant in ethics. The hasid follows a law that is valid and binding only for himself. That often makes him an extravagant figure, bound to arouse antagonism and opposition by the very radicalism of his doings. There is something non-conformist and even an element of holy anarchism in his nature. It is true, in his outward behaviour he submits to the established law in all its rigour, but he transcends it by his spiritual fervour. In rabbinical usage, the term hasid never means or implies an attitude of mind alone, it always carries the connotation of the practical application of such an attitude. The old talmudic phrase significantly puts together the two terms hasidim ve'anshe ma'aseh, « hasidim and men of action ».

This element of radicalism is always present when the great authorities of Judaism speak of the hasid and of his quality called hasidut. Maimonides explains' that a man who gives equal attention to every mitsvah or commandment, is a tsaddik, but a man who singles out one mitsvah in order to exalt it, to go to extremes in its performance and thus leave the middle road, is a hasid. It is clear from all this that there is a peculiar emotional element in the hasid. The intensity of emotion which he pours into the execution of the special duties that he has taken on himself makes him an enthusiast. Over and over again we hear of hasidim who take one of the 613 commandments and make it a life task. They elaborate it in richest detail. If they are scholars at the same time, they try to work out all its ramifications and combine sophistication with enthusiasm. If they are unlearned—and, a famous saying of the Mishnah notwithstanding, a man could be a hasid quite independent of learning and even innocent of learning—they think out the widest application of the one great mitsvah for which they live. There were among them specialists in chastity or in charity, specialists in walking in the fear of God or in the application of love.

If a man decides to take the path of hasidut, he has to suffer for it. It is even said that he gets a special angel to guide him on the way of suffering, to enable him to stand up to the tribulations of his career. There is thus a basic element of self-denial and asceticism in this figure, and this, in my opinion, explains a phenomenon of great importance in Jewish history. For all the high evaluation of the hasidic type, there is at the same time some noticeable reservation towards him or even a certain distrust. This finds its expression in the fact that, throughout a period of at least fifteen hundred years, no organization of hasidim as a group has been allowed to come into being. This is all the more remarkable as there was no lack of books propagating the hasidic type as something of the highest value, both among Spanish and Ashkenazic Jews.

One of the most famous works of mediaeval Hebrew literature is a rather extensive book called Sefer Hasidim (the Book of the Hasidim).6 It was written during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Germany and expressed the ideals of a religious movement called the German hasidim. Here the virtues and qualities forming the true hasid were lauded: the renunciation of profane pleasure, the conquering of the temptations of ordinary life, imperviousness to insult and the bearing of shame without flinching, the acting in every respect within the line of strict justice and the like. But even though there was such a tendency to put the highest value on such qualities, the hasid remains always an exceptional, an unconventional case, a highly individualistic and strange phenomenon in his milieu. No advice is given as to how to organize such people into a common framework; on the contrary, it is taken for granted that every one of them would be active within the framework of the community of the common people and not strive to build a community of their own. Therefore we find such hasidim here and there, in large and small places, but it is obvious that the tendency of the rabbinical authority was to integrate them into the general Jewish community and not to encourage separatism.

This is in marked contrast to similar tendencies within Christianity, in which parallel tendencies of Christian radicalism have found their expression in the discipline of monastic life, where much of what we would call hasidic behaviour was preached and practised. Judaism has frowned upon such separate organization of the people of spirit, of a separate class which was expected to enact the demands of religion in everyday life and leave it to the rest to muddle through as well as they could. There is an essentially sober streak to Judaism, which, for all its intellectual and emotional commitment to its religious tenets and demands, strove to prevent just this stratification of a religious society which we find in mediaeval Christianity. It tried, instead, to bind together the disparate elements into one community and to allot to each type, be it the scholar, the hasid or the tsaddik, an organic function within this framework.

I have said that the hasidim were single figures. Let me illustrate this from a very authentic source. We have lists of martyrs slain in many parts of Germany during the persecutions of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Many communities used to record their names for remembrance by subsequent generations and they were recited at the Yizkor service (in memory of the dead) on high holydays. Many of these lists have been preserved and published by historians. They mention the names of the men and women concerned and are extremely reticent in conferring honorific titles. They say that somebody was a scholar or a rabbi, and there are several men of this type in most communities. But only here and there, used very sparingly and obviously meant as the highest sign of distinction, we find the title hasid or hasidah added to the name of a man or a woman. None of these hasidim are at the same time characterized as scholars. And this at a time when the ideals of German Hasidism were widely propagated in these communities.'

Whether you are a hasid or not is basically a matter of gift and character. It is a propensity which you have or have not. If you have it, you can develop it. But you cannot educate everybody to become a hasid, as in principle you could educate everybody to become a tsaddik. Rabbi Hayim Vital, one of the great Kabbalists of Safad in the sixteenth century, offers the following explanation of the terms, which still clearly indicates the superiority of the hasid.

He who conscientiously keeps the 613 commands of the Torah, who perfects his rational soul but has not yet made his good propensities part and parcel of his being and still has to fight for them against his evil inclination—such a one is called a perfect tsaddik. But when his good propensities have become an integral part of his own nature and come to him so naturally as to make him keep the Torah in loving joy without having to fight his evil urge, because his body is purified as if the good was his nature since he came out of his mother's womb—such a one is indeed a perfect hasid. 8

Even in that great manual of moral values which I have mentioned, Moses Hayim Luzzatto, when starting to discuss the hasid, in contradistinction to the tsaddik, insists that all the advice or analysis which he can give is of no avail. The main thing is, according to him, that only those who have been vouchsafed a gift of Divine grace, who have a particular spark in their soul, may strive for the quality of a hasid. He embarks on polemics against the vulgar and easy use of the term to denote what he calls « practices that are empty or against common sense or sound judgment, with constant weeping and excessive bowing and strange mortifications of the flesh, such as immersions in ice-cold water or rolling in the snow. But it is not on them that hasidut rests». But whatever Luzzatto's own lofty ideal of the hasid, which is largely identical with what we would call a saint, it is clear that he and his contemporaries had a very definite type in mind when speaking of hasidim and hasidut. There existed a pattern of common behaviour which characterized the hasid as a visible and a very pronounced radical in Jewish society, although there may have been quite a number of invisible though no less pronounced radicals. This pattern showed no basic differences in Turkey, Italy, Holland or Poland.


I have tried to delineate three types which, together, give us a picture of the moral ideal of Judaism. In the course of history, all kinds of combinations and alterations have made their appearance. Especially as to the popular usage of tsaddik and hasid in an imprecise way many examples could be adduced. But, surely, no stranger example can be found than the metamorphosis of the terms in the hasidic movement of the eighteenth century originating in Podolia and Volhynia and centred around the figure of Israel Ba'al Shem Tov, who died in 1760. It is in many ways a striking illustration of some of the points that I have made here, particularly regarding the organization of the people of hasidic type. For only as an organization where all kinds of people gathered around a central guru who was of truly hasidic type could Hasidism maintain itself.

If the leaders had clung together and formed a body composed exclusively of people of their own type, the movement would have succumbed under the onslaught of old-fashioned rabbinical Judaism, whose antagonism it could not fail to arouse anyway. We would not be talking of a specific world of Hasidism, in the sense of the word as it is used with regard to this movement, some of whose ramifications are still with us, were it not for its success in placing the figure of the Jewish saint as a radical Jew into an organic Jewish social body.

A very curious metamorphosis of terms has, however, taken place here. Never would it have occurred to earlier generations, either in literature or in life, to give the title of hasidim to people who admired hasidim. But this is precisely what has happened here. People who admired the living embodiments of hasidic ideals called themselves hasidim, a rather paradoxical, if not to say scandalous, usage of the word—and the true hasidim, those who live up to the ideal, now came to be called tsaddikim. This novel turn of terminology is surely highly confusing. A tsaddik in the hasidic sense has nothing to do with what the term meant in the traditional usage which I have tried to explain, but rather connotes the « super-hasid ». It is beyond the scope of this lecture to explain the historical reasons for this change and the processes by which it came about. What we are concerned with is the understanding of the essential meaning of the three types, of the phenomena themselves, by whatever names they may be known.

Let me close with a remark about a figure of Jewish popular tradition in which the original figure of the hasid has reached a climax. This is the concept of the so-called hidden or concealed tsaddikim, which, since the time of the hasidic movement, has held a place of honour in Jewish legend. Its roots are very old. The famous teacher Rabbi Simon ben Yohai in the second century was credited with the saying: « The world never lacks thirty tsaddikim like Abraham ». They protect the world, just as Abraham did in his own time. Later on, another talmudic teacher maintained that in every generation the world has no fewer than thirty-six just men, who are vouchsafed the vision of the countenance of God. This is the source of the concept of the thirty-six hidden tsaddikim of the popular legend, called in Yiddish Lamedvovniks, according to the Hebrew notation of the number thirty-six. It is on them and their merit that the world rests 10.

There are two types of tsaddikim, those who are hidden and keep to themselves and those who manifest themselves to their fellow-men and are working, as it were, under the public eye. The former is called a nistar, that is, « a concealed one », and the latter mefursam, that is, « famous ». The hidden tsaddikim are of the higher order, because they are not tempered by the vanity almost inseparable from a public career n. Indeed, some of them take it upon themselves to build up an image in sharp contradiction to their true and hidden nature. They may not even be aware of their own nature and go about performing their good deeds in secret without knowing that they are of the elect. They are hidden not only from mankind but from themselves. Eastern Jewish folklore was indefatigable in elaborating these aspects and particularly their paradoxical side. Legend has it that one of the thirty-six is the Messiah and would reveal himself as such, if only his generation were worthy of redemption. You can never know who these highest bearers of moral standards are. One of them, and this is the final moral to which this idea points, may be your neighbour.

Professor Scholem is President of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and a member of, among other learned societies, the Royal Dutch Academy. His most recent English publication was a collection of essays under the title The Messianic Idea in Judaism.

Reprinted, with permission, from Ariel (Jerusalem), Number 32, 1973. 4

1. b. Baba Bathra 8a.
2 b. Menahoth 29b.
3. Kad Ha-Kemah, ed. Ch. Breit, vol. II, fol. 10a.
4. J. Gikatilla, Sha'aret Tsedek, 1785, fol. 16a.
5. Maimonides in his commentary on the Mishnah, tr. Avot V § 7.
6. Cf. my Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Ch. 3, pp. 91-99.
7. This holds true even for later periods. Isaac Mar-Icon remarked (in his article in the last volume, 79, of the Monatsschrift fUr Geschichte and Wissenschaft des Judentums, 1939, published without pagination), how restrained the usage of the term hasid still was between 1650 and 1750.
8. Vital, Sha'arei Kedusha I, § 3. His source was Maimonides, Shmona Perakim, ch. 6.
9. Mesillat Y esharim, ch. 18.
10. Cf. my essay on this concept of the Hidden Tsaddikim in Judaica I, 1963, pp. 216-225.
" This is stated by Benjamin of Zalozits, Torei Zahav, 1816, f. 34b, and Amtahat Benjamin, fol. 78c.


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