Saints of Germany

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Heb. Hasidey Ashkenaz, a group of pietists in twelfth-and thirteenth-century Germany. The German Saints were not organized as a movement but flourished as individual followers of a particular saintly path in the towns of Regensburg, Speyer, Worms, and Mayyence. The main leaders of this tendency were Samuel He-Hasid (second half of the twelfth century); his son, Judah He-Hasid (d. 1217); and Judah's disciple, Eleazar of Worms, (d.c.1230). The major works produced in this circle are the Sefer Hasidim and the Rokeah of Eleazar of Worms. In these works the novel ideas of the group, influenced to some extent by the Christian monasticism of the period, are given expression. Naturally in the period of the Crusades, there is particular emphasis on martyrdom for the sanctification of God's name. The Hasidim were ready at all times to suffer martyrdom if need be (see HASIDISM). Repentance for these Saints was not reserved for extreme sinners but was an essential ingredient in the life of piety. The Saints were ever conscious of their sinfulness and engaged in self-mortification both as a penance and as a means of overcoming the temptations of the flesh. The Hasid was expected to be exceedingly generous in relieving the fate of the poor. Confession of sin, usually in Judaism a purely private matter between the individual and his God, was made to a spiritual mentor who advised the ‘sinner’ on how to rectify his faults. The tension between saintliness and learning (see SAINTS) is particularly evident among the Hasidey Ashkenaz. Many of these men were learned in the Torah but the ideal of saintliness in the circle was quite independent of learning. It was possible for a simple Jew, with only a bare knowledge of the Bible, let alone the Talmud, to become a Hasid. The influence of the Christian background on the Hasidim is evident too in the superstitions (see MAGIC AND SUPERSTITION) referred to in the works of the Hasidey Ashkenaz. In their whole activity there is to be observed a remarkable blend of popular religion and mystical thought of the highest order.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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