build a temple but a stately mansion almost the size of a palace. Here he lived until his death, receiving thousands of pilgrims from among his devotees every year. He died in 1850.
Two of his sons succeeded him at Sadagora. Two others went to Roumania to Israel’s followers there, and the two youngest to Czortkow (now in Poland) and Husiatyn. His son, David Moses, who died in 1903, was succeeded by the latter’s son, Israel, who has just died, as the Czortkower rebbe. And now, the dynasty is continued by Rabbi Isael’s two sons.
The roots of Chassidism, which produced such dynasties as the Friedmann in which the Czortkower rebbe represented the sixth generation in an unbroken line of Chassidic rebbes, and which has survived the ridicule of its opponents for more than two hundred and fifty years, may perhaps, be found in the simplicity that the Ba’al Shem Tov, founder of Chassidism, brought into the worship of God. At the time of the Ba’al Shem Tov, a dry and intricate formalism was the rule in Jewish religious observance, with the ignorant masses of Jews far removed from the elaborate knowledge required for holy rite. The Ba’al Shem Tov introduced worship in which the main feature was a simple faith, expressed in ecstasy in prayer by means of physical gestures. He also taught that it was not necessary for a man to be versed in the intricacies of the Talmud and other learned works in order to be a good Jew. To become a “righteous man,” he declared, was the essence of true religion.
THE DOCTRINE SPREADS
When the Ba’al Shem Tov died, the doctrine of the “righteous man” or “Zaddikism”, spread until it became the essence of Chassidism. The pupils of the Ba’al Shem Tov separated and established their own positions in the towns of the Ukraine, in which Chassidism immediately secured a great hold. The Zaddikim, their followers declared, worked miracles, healed the sick and interceded with God in the interest of followers. They devoted their whole time to holy work. Gradually, each Zaddik acquired his own following, men who believed in him fanatically and turned to him for advice and help in all the problems that beset them. When a Zaddik died, his son took his place, and the virtues of the father were transferred to the son.
However, as Chassidism, with its great appeal, began to spread to other parts of the East European Jewish world, it encountered much opposition. The great rabbis of Lithuania fought Chassidism, and even secured the help of the Russian authorities in their fight. Chassidism was attacked by the conservative Jewish rabbis, secular scholars and by the Russian authorities, who regarded it as a subversive movement, which denied authority.
In time, the conflict between the Chassidim and their opponents, known as “Mithnagidm”, ended and the two groups began to intermarry. Previously, the regular rabbis had forbidden intermarriage with Chassidim. Today, the ridicule which Chassidism once inspired has given way to a recognition of its contribution to Jewish life. Its influence on Jewish life in many of its complex phases is revealed in Jewish literature.
Chassidism itself is by no means ended. It is not a movement of the past. In the main, it has held its own in Europe. The Chassidic dynasties continue. Neither ridicule, oppression or the demands of modern life have succeeded in diverting thousands from the teachings of the Ba’al Shem Tov and his successors.