Chasidim And Amish

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