Thursday, July 1, 2010


Photo: Miriam Woelke


It is not always the best positive way to only concentrate on haredi society or any Rabbi / Rebbe from today. What does it help me when I know who Rebbe so - and - so is but I don't know Torah, Talmud and the entire chassidic history and literature ?

People say that in order to understand Talmud, you have to know Torah, Midrash and Halachot. The same regarding kabbalistic studies.
I can confirm that this is true when I remember how many times I got caught up in kabbalistic commentaries where I had to go back to certain Mishnayiot and even into the Shulchan Aruch. In the meantime I got lost in further commentaries and sometimes I didn't even solve my original problem.

In order to understand and live Chassidut, we have to study Torah and all kinds of religious Jewish literature including history events. Why does Rabbi / Rebbe so - and - so react(ed) in such a way and how history caused different events.

On my blogs I like to focus on religious studies as well and not only write about where Rebbe so - and - so is eating dinner and the colour of his underwear. I am not interested in that. Understanding and living Chassidut includes many further details and not only using the Sidur of the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria). It means 120 years of study and improving Midot (character traits).


Why did the Sabbatian movement rose ? Why did so many Jews go for Shabbtai Zvi ?

Usually the commentaries claim that the messianic movement could rise due to the "Chmielnicki Massacres" taking place in Eastern Europe in 1648. Nevertheless, Gershom Sholem is asking the question why then "Meshiach", in this case the false Meshiach Sabbtai Zvi, had to come from Palestine. Why did he have Jewish followers all over the world ? Jews from Yemen to Morocco. Why didn't a Meshiach rise in Poland ?
As a matter of fact, Sholem doesn't see the Sabbatian movement having its roots in the Chmielnicki disaster.

I personally think that it is much more interesting studying any kinds of sources and Talmud than sometimes running around in Mea Shearim. Once a chassidic woman from Chassidut Erloi said to me:
"Do you think we Chassidim are spiritual all the time ? Do we meditate before all the prayers (see Talmud Berachot on Meditation before Prayers) ? Do we have time for all that ? Consider that we have to live our daily lives but our main concern is not flying up in the air due to a few Baal Shem Tov ideas but rather studying Torah and the basics".

The "Chmielnicki Massacres"

The "Chmielnicki Massacres" started in 1648 and basically ended in 1649. I am saying "basically" because there were some further pogroms following.

When we look at Jewish history, it is nothing unusual at all that from time to time, someone claimed to me the Meshiach or that the redemption (Ge'ulah) wouldn't be too far anymore. Some rabbis even gave specific dates, means years, when the Meshiach is due to arrive.

Especially after the expulsion from Spain in 1492, Jewish mysticism changed. The Middle Ages hardly included any good times for Jews and if so, they didn't last for too long. Although Spain had be the new almost perfect homeland of the Jews for many centuries, everything came to an end in the 15th century. Some years later, the same happened to the Jews in Portugal. Due to all the traumatic experiences, Kabbalah became more and more apocalyptic and the Jews started to long for Meshiach. And as I already mentioned, specific dates for the arrival of the Meshiach were stipulated and one of those dates was the year 1648. But instead of the redemption, the year 1648 only brought disastrous events for the Jews in Eastern Europe.

The "Chmielnicki Massacres" actually took place in a vast area. Today the names of most of the places are unknown to us unless someone is dealing with chassidic history. More than 300 years ago there were areas called Podolia, Volhynia, Cherginov and Poltava. Today those are parts of the Ukraine and Poland. And in those days, these areas were ruled by Poland and the economy was in the hands of the noblemen whereas the Jews suffered from the conflict between the nobility and the serfs and between the conflict between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. And, as in most centuries before, also the Jews had high positions in the country's economy system which made the Polish Gentiles see them as supporters of the rich (of Capitalism).

Already in 1637, militant Cossacks called for killing the Jews but were stopped by the Polish army. Unfortunately, the Jews missed getting the hint. The hint that if a pogrom was about to start and be stopped, there may be another one. The Jews didn't understand any warning and instead proclaimed that they were saved due to Kabbalistic (zoharic) influences. And the year 1648 should be the year of Rdemption and Meshiach anyway. Until 1648, the Cossacks, however, had improved a lot and became much more organized. Their leader was Hetman Bogdan Chmielnicki whose goal was to get the Cossacks officially recognized and, at the same time, getting rid of the Jews. First, the Jewish communities in the Dnejper region were wiped out. Survivors either converted to Christianity or were sold into slavery. Afterwards the Cossacks continued their massacres in Nemirov where 6000 Jews were slaughtered. I am using the word "slaughtered", as it was more than only a brutal murder. The Cossacks cut throats, drowned Jewish children and used any kind of torture one can imagine. Synagogues and Torah scrolls were destroyed and the parchment of the Torah scrolls was used for making sandals. Later, the following communities were wiped out: Tulchin, Polonnoye and Narol. Eventually Chmielnicki made an agreement with the Polish King John Casimir about the recognition of the Cossacks. Jews, on the other hand, weren't allowed living in places where Cossacks lived.

But not only in Poland, the massacres took place. The Jews in Lithuania and White Russia also had to suffer. There, the Cossacks stormed the communities Moghilev, Vitebsk and Vilna. When Sweden conquered Poland in 1665, there was a short period of time when the Jews could return to their normal lives, as they were friendly with the Swedes. The Polish, on the other hand, saw this kind of friendliness as a betrayal and it came to further massacres. There is an official opinion that during the years 1648 – 1658, 300 Jewish communities were wiped out.

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