In the southeastern corner of the Lithuanian–Polish Commonwealth sometime in the middle of the 18th century, small circles of Jewish pietists began to gather around spiritual healers, charismatic rabbis, and those they considered to be holy men—often ba’aley shem, masters of the mystical name of God, who would come to be called, in Hebrew, zaddikim (righteous men) or, in Yiddish, rebbes. From these modest beginnings emerged a movement that eventually named itself Hasidism (“piety”). The term echoed not only with the virtues of piety that the movement espoused but also with an emerging attitude of ecstatic joy in their service of the Almighty and the practice of Judaism. This joy stood at first in radical contrast to the relatively more austere ethos of scholasticism that ...

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