May 19, 2008
Despite the severity of their dress—black from skullcap to shoes for men, ankle-length skirts and head scarves for women—the Hasidim are not a somber people. The founder of the movement, the Baal Shem Tov, taught that God wants his creatures to approach him with enthusiasm and joy. His followers (Hasidim means "the pious") put singing and dancing at the core of their ultra-Orthodox worship.
Disciples of the Baal Shem Tov, who lived in the 18th Century, spread his message in little villages, shtetlach, of Eastern Europe where the bulk of Jews then lived.
Wherever a rabbi settled, a dynasty was founded bearing the name of the village—Lubavitch, Satmar, Belz—names that survive in the movement's branches. The communities vanished in the Holocaust, though some rabbis escaped to refound dynasties in Israel and the United States.
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