ESSAYS ON HASIDISM
HASIDISM AND HISTORY
History has a special meaning to Hasidim, as they explicitly ground themselves in the past--from their literal interpretation of the text of the Torah to the importance they place on traditional dress, and the social status accorded those individuals of prestigious Hasidic ancestry. The Hasidic tales put every Hasid on a "first-name basis" with the "great masters"(as significant rebbes are often called), of successive generations of Hasidim. Hasidim cultivate a personal and intimate relationship with these tales of the past, finding in them a daily source of inspiration and guidance.
As Humanities Advisor Eli Lederhandler points out,
It is not history as we think of it that is important to the Hasidim, rather, it is memory, a collective enterprise that is highly selective, anecdotal, testimonial, and ritual. There is a tendency to mix up past and present in one spiritual reality (hence the first-name basis with people of centuries ago). Time is not "then vs. now," but a continuous present. The past is useful only insofar as it justifies the present; the present is not of value in itself or autonomous, but subject to the image of the past. Hasidim typically do not indulge in writing "histories," but they incorporate the past in custom and ritual in the present.
For example, Ben Zion Horowitz, a Bobov Hasid, repeatedly told the filmmakers how important it is to him to uphold the memory of his great-great-grandfather, and that every time he dresses in his long garb, he feels closer to this relative he never met. And, then, speaking of the eighteenth century founder of Hasidism, the Baal Shem Tov and his time:
I read about the Baal Shem Tov, and saw lithographs and prints of that time, how it looked. I personally hold that it's almost the same as today. The only difference is that they were put in a ghetto and we, thank God, live in a beautiful neighborhood. But the tradition and everything, from A to Z, the melodies, the way we dress, it's the same.
To create a comprehensive appreciation of Hasidic identity, A LIFE APART briefly relates the rich and dramatic history of Hasidism, using narration, scholarly commentary, and oral history, with art and archival images, often focusing on the special meaning of history, and the way in which their mythologized past resonates to Hasidim today.
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