The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Between Social Being and Individual Consciousness: The Dialectics of Hitkashrut in Interwar Chabad

Hitkashrut, namely the bond between a Hasid and the tsadik, is one of the emblematic concepts of Hasidism. It provides the theological underpinnings for the faith in the tsadikim and the mutual obligations of a Hasid and a tsadik. With time, Hasidim developed a variety of practices, in which they performed this bond, including a written hitkashrut pledge, pilgrimage to a tsadik’s court or grave, handing a kvitl, or a private audience with the rebbe.
The followers of the rebbes of Chabad-Lubavitch, too, subscribed to these and similar practices. However, World War I, the revolution and the emergence of new nation states disrupted the Chabad community networks and changed the practices of the Hasidim. After a decade of wandering, arrest and exile, the erstwhile Chabad tsadik, Yosef Yitshak Schneersohn (1880-1950) moved abroad: first to Latvia, and then to Poland. Most of his followers remained behind in the Soviet Union.
In my paper, I will explore the impact of these events on the mystical concept of hitkashrut in interwar Chabad. I will examine Schneersohn’s teachings on hitkashrut in light of his attempts at preservation of his old community in Russia and his efforts to recruit new followers in Poland. I will examine the impact of the border, separating Schneersohn from his followers in the USSR, as well as the poor social and economic standing of his Hasidim in Poland on the re-definition of hitkashrut in his writings. Finally, I will examine various modern practices and tools, introduced by Chabad elites under Schneersohn’s guidance, aimed at fostering the bond between Chabad Hasidim and their leader, and between the Hasidim themselves. Applying tools of social and intellectual history and phenomenology of religion, I will use hitkashrut as a case study showing the impact of social and economic circumstances on theological developments in interwar Hasidism.