While the Jewish elite focused on and found comfort in Talmud study, the impoverished and uneducated Jewish masses hungered for a new approach.
Fortunately for the Jewish masses, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (1700-1760) found a way to democratize Judaism. As a young man, he traveled around Jewish villages, healing the sick and helping the poor.
After he married, he went into seclusion in the mountains and focused on mysticism.
As his following grew, he became known as the Baal Shem Tov (abbreviated as Besht) which means “Master of the Good Name.”In a nutshell, the Baal Shem Tov led European Jewry away from Rabbinism and toward mysticism.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some Orthodox Jews sought to modernize somewhat by accepting modern technologies.
Those Orthodox Jews who continued to adhere tightly to established traditions became known as Haredi Jews, and were sometimes called "Ultra-Orthodox." Most Jews of this persuasion dislike both terms, however, thinking of themselves as the truly "orthodox" Jews when compared to those Modern Orthodox groups who they believe have strayed from Jewish principles.
Raisy was initially reluctant to talk to me—Orthodox communities tend to be wary of outsiders, and a good Crisis that has in recent years caused a panic throughout Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish enclaves in New York and New Jersey.
The crisis stems from two factors: the rapid growth of the ultra-Orthodox and the marriage-age differential between men and women in their communities.
They are helping the men and women—especially the women—fulfill the primary social responsibility of their community: to get married.For the ultra-Orthodox, religious restrictions against the “mingling” of genders prevent singles from taking advantage of contemporary coupling opportunities. Marital aspirants meet almost exclusively through the intercession of like this group in Borough Park.A matchmaker—usually a woman, but men provide the service as well—finds a match and informs the parents on each side.If all goes well, the matchmaker makes an introduction.One chilly afternoon this fall, I met with one of the five Borough Park matchmakers—let’s call her Raisy—in her basement sanctum.A further subset of the Heredic Jews is the Hasidic Jews, a group that focuses on the joyful spiritual aspects of religious practice.Hasidic Jews may live in special communities and, Heredics, are noted for wearing special clothing. The movement originated in Eastern Europe in the 18th century, at a time when Jews were experiencing great persecution.Some of the larger and more well-known Hasidic sects include Breslov, Lubavitch (Chabad), Satmar, Ger, Belz, Bobov, Skver, Vizhnitz, Sanz (Klausenberg), Puppa, Munkacz, Boston, and Spinka Hasidim.Like other Haredim, Hasidic Jews don distinctive attire similar to that worn by their ancestors in 18th and 19th century Europe.And the different sects of Hasidim often wear some form of distinctive clothing—such as different hats, robes or socks—to identify their particular sect.Today, the largest Hasidic groups are located today in Israel and the United States.