Day 67 of a 365-day portrait of Canada: Hasidic Jewish Men In Montreal

Hasidic Judaism (also transliterated as Chasidic etc., from the Hebrew: חסידות , Hasidut, meaning “piety”, from the Hebrew root word חסד chesed meaning “loving kindness”) is a type of Orthodox or Haredi Jewish religious movement. Some refer to Hasidic Judaism as Hasidism, and the adjective Chasidic / Hasidic (or in Yiddish חסידיש Khasidish) applies. The movement originated in Eastern Europe (what is now Ukraine) in the 18th century, and soon spread from Poland and Russia, to Hungary and Romania. As compared with other Jewish movements, Hasidic Judaism tends to focus on the role of the Rebbe (or Rabbi) as a spiritual conduit of God. Hasidic followers join worship groups associated with dynasties of Hasidic spiritual leaders. Each dynasty follows its own principles; thus Hasidic Judaism is not one movement, but a collection of separate individual groups with some commonality. There are some 9 major Hasidic groups, approximately 30 smaller Hasidic groups, and several hundred minor or extinct Hasidic groups. Though there is no one version of Hasidism, individual Hasidic groups often share with each other fundamental philosophy, worship styles, dress, songs, etc.

Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (1698–1760), also known as the Ba’al Shem Tov,[1] is seen as the founding figure of Hasidic Judaism. It originated in an age of persecution of the Jewish people, when European Jews had turned inward to Talmud study; many felt that most expressions of Jewish life had become too “academic” and that they no longer had any emphasis on spirituality or joy. The Ba’al Shem Tov set out to improve the situation. Hasidism met with opposition from the misnagdim—literally meaning “the opponents.” In its initial stages, the most notable opponent was the Vilna Gaon, leader of the Lithuanian Jews, who generally adopted this hostile approach.


One of the first things that Tim and I noticed about the Hasidic Jews is that they have what seem to be long, curled sideburns. They dress in a particular way as well-mostly in black, and now that it is winter, they wear large fur hats (which they cover with plastic bags to protect them from the rain and the snow).  Even though I had lived in Montreal in the past, this cultural group was still quite a mystery to me. To find out more about these people who live just a few blocks over from where we are staying, I turned to Wikipedia (where else?). I learned that there are many different kinds of Hasidic Jews who dress differently, depending on their custom and on the day of the week. Even after doing some research, I find that I still have more questions than answers.

Hair: Following a Biblical commandment not to shave the sides of one’s face, male members of most Hasidic groups wear long, uncut sideburns called payot (Ashkenazi Hebrew peyos,Yiddish peyes). Many Hasidim shave off the rest of their hair. Not every Hasidic group requires long peyos, and not all Jewish men with peyos are Hasidic, but all groups discourage the shaving of one’s beard.

Attire: Hasidic men most commonly wear dark (black or navy) jackets and trousers and white shirts. They will usually also wear black shoes. On weekdays they wear a long, black, cloth jacket called a rekel and on Jewish Holy Days the bekishe zaydene kapote (Yiddish, lit. satin caftan), a similarly long, black jacket but of satin fabric traditionally silk. The preference for black comes from a decree made by community rabbis in the 18th century stipulating that black outer garments be worn on the Sabbath and Jewish Holy Days out of the home, as opposed to the shiny, colorful kaftans that were worn prior to that time. The rabbis thought that brightly colored clothes might arouse resentment amongst non-Jews, which could lead to violence. Indoors the colorful tish bekishe indoors is still worn.

Hats: Samet (velvet) or biber (beaver) hats are worn by Galician and Hungarian Hasidim during the week and by unmarried men on Shabbat as well. They are usually only worn in the winter. Some unmarried men wear asamet hat on the Sabbath and a felt hat during the week. There are many types of Samet hats, most notably the “high” (“hoicher”) and “flat” (“platsher”) varieties. The “flat” type is worn by Satmar Hasidim, and some others as well. Some Rabbis wear a “round” samet hat in a similar style to the shtofener hats, however made from the Samet material. They are called beaver hats even though today they are made from rabbit.

There are probably close to half a million Hasidic Jews worldwide. The two main Hasidic communities in the United States are located inNew York and Los Angeles. Outside of the United States the largest Hasidic community is in Israel, located mainly in Jerusalem and its adjacent areas. The vast majority of Hasidic Jews live either in the United States or Israel but there exist large communities in Canada in Montreal, Britain and Belgium also. Hasidic Jews are known for having large families and as a result are experiencing tremendous growth.


1 Response to “Day 67 of a 365-day portrait of Canada: Hasidic Jewish Men In Montreal”

  1. September 25, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    It is good to see people preserving their cultural and religious traditions

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