Ḥasīd (Hebrew: חסיד, "pious", "saintly", "godly man"; plural חסידים "Hasidim") is a Jewish honorific, frequently used as a term of exceptional respect in the Talmudic and early medieval periods. It denotes a person who is scrupulous in his observance of Jewish law, and often one who goes beyond the legal requirements of ritual and ethical Jewish observance in daily life. In the Mishnah, the term is used thirteen times, the majority of which being in the Tractate Pirkei Avot.
The Hebrew word Ḥasīd appears for the first time in the Torah (Deuteronomy 33:8) with respect to the tribe of Levi, and all throughout the Hebrew Book of Psalms, with its various declensions. In classic rabbinic literature it differs from "Tzadik" ("righteous") by instead denoting one who goes beyond his ordinary duty. The literal meaning of Ḥasīd derives from Chesed (חסד) (= "kindness"), the outward expression of love (lovingkindness) for God and other people. This spiritual devotion motivates pious conduct beyond everyday limits. The devotional nature of its description lent itself to a few Jewish movements in history being known as "Hasidim". Two of these derived from the Jewish mystical tradition, as it could tend towards piety over legalism.
Usage in rabbinic texts
As a personal honorific, both "Ḥasīd" and "Tzadik" could be applied independently to the same individual with both different qualities. The 18th-century Vilna Gaon, for instance, at that time the chief opponent of the new Jewish mystical movement that became known as "Hasidism", was renowned for his righteous life. In tribute to his scholarship, he became popularly honored with the formal title of "Genius", while amongst the Hasidic movement's leadership, despite his fierce opposition to their legalistic tendencies, he was respectfully referred to as "The Gaon, the Ḥasīd from Vilna".
A general dictum in the Talmud (Baba Kama 30a) states: "He that wishes to be pious (Aramaic: ḥasīda), let him uphold the things described under the indemnity laws in the Mishnaic Order of Neziqin." Rava, differing, said: "Let him observe the things transcribed in Pirkei Avot." (ibid.)
Of the few known pious men in the early 2nd century, the Talmud acknowledges the following: "Wherever we read (in Talmudic writings), 'It is reported of a pious man', either R. Juda b. Baba it meant or R. Judah, the son of R. Ilai."
In the aggregate, "Ḥasīd" may also refer to members of any of the following Jewish movements:
- the Hasideans of the Maccabean period, around the 2nd century BCE
- the Ashkenazi Hasidim, an ascetic German mystical-ethical movement of the 12th and 13th centuries
- Hasidic Judaism (Yiddish: "Chassidische movement"), a movement which began in Ukraine in the 18th century
- Danby, H., ed. (1933). The Mishnah. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-815402-X., s.v. Hagigah 2:7; Avot 2:8; (ibid.) 5:10; (ibid.) 5:11; (ibid.) 5:13; (ibid.) 5:14; (ibid.) 6:1; Berakhot 5:1; Sukkah 5:4; Sotah 9:15; Kiddushin 4:14; Keritot 6:3, et al.
- Torah: Deuteronomy 33:8, translated as "thy holy one"; Book of Psalms: Psalm 4:4; Psalm 12:2; Psalm 16:10; Psalm 18:26, translated here as "the merciful"; Psalm 31:24; Psalm 37:28; Psalm 145:17, translated here as "gracious"; Psalm 149:1, translated here as "saints"; Psalm 32:6, translated as "one that is godly"; Psalm 86:2, translated as "godly", et al.
- Saadia Gaon (2010). Qafih, Yosef (ed.). Book of Psalms, with a Translation and Commentary made by Rabbi Saadia Gaon (תהלים עם תרגום ופירוש הגאון רבינו סעדיה בן יוסף פיומי זצ"ל) (in Hebrew). Kiryat-Ono: Makhon Moshe (Makhon Mishnat haRambam). p. 80. OCLC 741156698., s.v. Psalm 18:26
- Babylonian Talmud (Temurah 15b - end); Jastrow, M., ed. (2006), Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, p. 487, OCLC 614562238, s.v. חסיד