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Haredi Judaism: History, Practices & Beliefs

Instructor: Benjamin Truitt

Benjamin has a Bachelors in philosophy and a Master's in humanities.

Haredi Judaism refers to ultra-religious groups within the Jewish religion who seek out a life that is separate from others and guided by the religious beliefs and texts that form the center of their lives. Updated: 05/05/2022

Haredi Judaism

If you've ever encountered a man with a long beard and untrimmed sideburns, often braided, wearing a long black coat and with white braided strings that run along their pants, you have seen someone who is part of the Haredi (or Charedi) Jewish community. The Haredi Jewish community refers to deeply religious or Ultra-Orthodox Jews who live and center their lives in accordance with written and oral Jewish law. The Haredi community are made up of a variety of groups with different approaches to Judaism.

Sects and Beliefs

The Haredi Movement is very diverse in the range of beliefs and practices that their communities engage in. While they are united by a common agreement that Judaism should be central to the lives of the followers.

Misnagid Judaism

Misnagid Judaism refers to the branch of Haredi Jews who tend to devote themselves to scholarship and practice in Judaism and tend to reject the spiritual awakening of the Hasidic movement. The Misnagid Movement traces back to the 18th century with Rabbi Elijah Zalman, or the Vilna Gaon, and emphasizes the importance of studying the Talmud (Oral law and rules) over the Kabballah and mystical texts. Like the Hasidic sects, Misnagid sects include differences between schools and synagogues in approach from those who follow the Litvishers (Lithuanian Jewish) to those who are devotees of the Solevechiks (From Brisk in Russia) in what texts and approaches they studied and followed in their lives.

A Misnagid Jew Praying at the Western Wall in Israel
 A Misnagid Jew Praying at the Western Wall in Israel

Hasidic Judaism

Hasidic Judaism refers to a variety of Jewish groups that believe in the importance of simplicity and spirituality and starts back to the 18th century with the teachings of Rabbi Israel Ben Eliezer or Bael Shem Tov in Jewish life and include sects like the Lubavitchers, Breslovers, and Na Na Nachers followers who vary in their approaches and philosophies concerning lifestyle and practice. The Hasidic communities tend to follow the teachings of a particular Rabbi who forms a strong following and who is looked to as a model for living. Most of those in the Hasidic movement tended to emphasize studying spiritual texts like the Kaballah over the Talmud.

Hasidic Jews praying at the Western Wall in Jersualem
Hasidic Jews praying at the Western Wall in Jersualem

History of the Haredi Movement

The separation of the Haredi movement from Judaism in particular traces back to the 19th century when modernization in Europe led many Jews to assimilate into broader society with the lowering of social barriers. The Haredi Movement united many sects of deeply religious Jews against the pull of modernity and sought to preserve many aspects of pre-modern Jewish life in Europe. Early leaders who united various Jewish factions under the Haredi movement include Rabbi Chaim of Volohzin and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (also known as the Chofetz Chaim) who were instrumental in developing the Aguda, a broad coalition of ultra-religious Jews and a response to modernism and Zionism. The Aguda was often defined by opposition to integration and to nationalism arguing for Jews to return to piety in their lives and to resist the development of a Jewish state until the return of the messiah.

Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan or the Choffetz Chaim who helped found The Aguna
Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan or the Choffetz Chaim who helped found The Aguna

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