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Breslov (also Bratslav, also spelled Breslev) is a branch of Hasidic Judaism founded by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772–1810) a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism. Its adherents strive to develop an intense, joyous relationship with God and receive guidance toward this goal from the teachings of Rebbe Nachman. The movement has had no central, living leader for the past 200 years, as Rebbe Nachman did not designate a successor. As such, they are sometimes referred to as the טויטע חסידים, or the Dead Hasidim, since they have never had another formal Rebbe since Nachman's death. However, certain groups and communities under the Breslov banner refer to their leaders as "Rebbe".

The movement weathered strong opposition from virtually all other Hasidic movements in Ukrainemarker throughout the nineteenth century, yet at the same time experienced tremendous growth in numbers of followers from Ukraine, White Russia, Lithuania and Poland. By World War I, thousands of Breslov Hasidim were located in those places. After the Bolshevik Revolution, Communist oppression forced the movement underground in Russia. Thousands of Hasidim were imprisoned or murdered during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, and killed by Nazis who invaded Ukraine in 1941. The movement regenerated itself in England, America, and Israelmarker by those who managed to escape.

History

"Breslov" is the name used nowadays by Breslover followers for the town of Bratslavmarker, where Rebbe Nachman lived for the last eight years of his life. Bratslav is located on the Bug rivermarker in Ukrainemarker (latitude 48.82 N longitude 28.95 E.), midway between Tulchin to the south and Nemirovmarker to the north — 9 miles (15 kilometers) from each. Bratslav should not be confused with Wrocławmarker, formerly known as Breslau (also pronounced "Breslov") which also was a renowned Jewish center.

Prior to his arrival in Breslov in 1802, Rebbe Nachman lived and taught in other towns in Ukraine such as Ossatin, Moheilov, Zlatipolia and Odessamarker. But upon his arrival in Breslov he declared, "Today we have planted the name of the Breslover Hasidim. This name will never disappear, because my followers will always be called after the town of Breslov."

Later, followers said the name of the town dovetailed with the Rebbe's teachings: He encouraged Jews to remove the barriers that stood between themselves and a closer relationship with God. They noted that the Hebrew letters of the word Breslov (ברסלב) can be rearranged to spell lev basar (לב בשר —the "ס" and "ש" sounds are interchangeable), "a heart of flesh"—echoing the prophecy in Ezekiel (36:26): "I [God] will take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." (For this reason, some adherents spell the name of the Hasidut, Breslev, stressing the lev or "heart". Rabbi Shmuel Moshe Kramer also noted that the gematria ("numerical value") of the Hebrew letters of Breslov (ברסלב) is 294, as is the Hebrew spelling of Nachman ben Faiga (נחמן בן פיגא) (Nachman son [of] Faiga) — the names of Rebbe Nachman and his mother.

Religious approach

The Breslov approach places great emphasis on serving God through the sincerity of the heart, with much joy and living life as intensely as possible. Its Hasidim see Torah life as the means to a joyful existence, and their approach to worship is very personalized and emotional, with much clapping, singing, and dancing. Rabbi Nachman said, "It's a great mitzvah (good deed) to always be happy."

Rebbe Nachman also placed great emphasis on Jewish prayer. Besides the regular daily services in the synagogue, Rebbe Nachman advised his followers to engage in hitbodedut (literally, "self-seclusion") on a daily basis. In this distinctively Breslov practice, the individual Hasid engages in a free-flowing verbal communication with God for one hour a day. During hitbodedut, the individual pours out his thoughts and concerns in his mother tongue, as if talking to a close personal friend. The goal is to establish a close, personal relationship with God and a clearer understanding of one's personal motives and goals.

A few Breslovers also use a form of mantra meditation by repeating a word or phrase over and over. Rebbe Nachman himself used the phrase, Ribono Shel Olam ("Master of the Universe" — i.e., God), which he pronounced with the Yiddish intonation as: Ree-boy-noy shell oy-lahm. (Some say that the Yiddish pronunciation allows one to pour every possible emotion into the "oy" syllables). A spin-off group of modern-day Breslovers, colloquially known as Na Nachs, use the Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman mantra, which is based on the Hebrew letters of Nachman's name. This mantra was not used by Rebbe Nachman himself, but was taught in the 20th century by Rabbi Yisroel Ber Odesser. However, this group is not part of mainstream Breslov, and is rejected by most adherents.

Rabbi Nachman always maintained that his high spiritual level was due to his own efforts, and not to his famous lineage or any other circumstances of his birth. He repeatedly insisted that all Jews could reach the same level as he, and spoke out very strongly against those who thought that the main reason for a Rebbe's greatness was the superior level of his soul.

The Rosh Hashana kibbutz

Another specifically Breslov practice is the annual Rosh Hashanah kibbutz, a large gathering at the grave of Rabbi Nachman in Uman, Ukrainemarker on the Jewish New Year. Rabbi Nachman himself said:

My Rosh Hashanah is greater than everything. I cannot understand how it is that if my followers really believe in me, they are not all scrupulous about being with me for Rosh Hashanah. No one should be missing! Rosh Hashanah is my whole mission.


During his lifetime, hundreds of followers spent the holiday with him; after his death, his closest disciple, Nathan of Breslov ("Reb Noson") organized an annual pilgrimage to his grave starting with Rosh Hashanah 1811, the year after Rebbe Nachman's death. Until World War I, thousands of Hasidim from Ukrainemarker, Belarusmarker, Lithuaniamarker and Polandmarker joined the holiday prayer gathering. The Rosh Hashanah kibbutz operated clandestinely and on a smaller scale under Communism, when public prayer gatherings were forbidden. The pilgrimage was officially reinstituted after the fall of Communism in 1989, and continues to this day, with upwards of 20,000 men and boys arriving each Rosh Hashanah from all over the world.

Breslovers also make individual pilgrimages to their Rebbe's grave at other times of the year. An organized women's pilgrimage has been introducted on Purim, in honor of the Feast of Esther. Visiting the grave at any time is deemed beneficial, because Rebbe Nachman said:

Whoever comes to my gravesite and recites the Ten Psalms of the Tikkun HaKlali ("General Remedy"), and gives even as little as a penny to charity for my sake, then, no matter how serious his sins may be, I will do everything in my power — spanning the length and breadth of Creation — to cleanse and protect him. By his very payos ("sidecurls") I will pull him out of Gehenna (purgatory)!


Important books of Breslover Hasidism

The main Hasidic texts revered and studied by Breslover Hasidim are those written by Rebbe Nachman and Reb Noson. All of Rebbe Nachman's teachings were transcribed by Reb Noson. Additionally, Reb Noson wrote some of his own works.

Rebbe Nachman's magnum opus is the two-volume Likkutei Moharan (Collected Lessons of our Rebbe), a collection of 411 lessons displaying in-depth familiarity and understanding of the many overt and esoteric concepts embedded in Tanakh, Talmud, Midrash, Zohar and Kabbalah.

Upon the Rebbe's instructions, Reb Noson collected all the practical teachings and advice contained in Likkutei Moharan and published them in:
  • Likkutei Eitzot (Collected Advice)
  • Kitzur Likkutei Moharan (Abridged Likutey Moharan)


Rebbe Nachman's other works include:
  • Sefer HaMiddot — a collection of aphorisms on various character traits; published in English as The Aleph-Bet Book
  • Sippurei Ma'asiyyot — 13 mystical parables, published in English as Rabbi Nachman's Stories
  • Tikkun HaKlali (The General Remedy)—a specific order of 10 Psalms (16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137, 150) which counteract the "p'gam habrit kodesh" (blemish to the holy sign of the covenant, i.e., the organ of procreation), and other general, spiritual problems


After the Rebbe's death, Reb Noson wrote down all the conversations, fragments of lessons, and interactions which he and others had had with the Rebbe during his lifetime. He published these in the following collections:

  • Shevachei HaRan (Praises of the Rebbe) and Sichot HaRan (Conversations of the Rebbe) — published in English as Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom
  • Chayei Moharan (Life of the Rebbe) — published in English as Tzaddik


Reb Noson also authored these commentaries and novellae:
  • Likkutei Halachot (Collected Laws) — an 8-volume Hasidic commentary on Shulchan Aruch which shows the interrelationship between every halakha and Rebbe Nachman's lessons in Likkutei Moharan.
  • Likkutei Tefillot (Collected Prayers) — 210 direct and heartfelt prayers based on the concepts in Likkutei Moharan.
  • Yemei Moharanat (The Days of Reb Noson)— an autobiography
  • Alim LeTerufah (Leaves of Healing) — Reb Noson's collected letters
  • Shemot HaTzaddikim (Names of Tzaddikim) — a list of the tzaddikim of Tanakh, Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah, and Hasidut, and Geonim of Torah in general.


Breslovers do not restrict themselves to Rabbi Nachman's commentaries on the Torah, but also study many of the classic texts, including the Tanakh, Talmud, Midrash, and many others. They may also study the writings of Rebbes from other dynasties.

Students of Reb Noson, their students, and their students' students added to Breslov literature with further commentaries on the Rebbe's teachings, as well as original works.

Beginning in the 1970s, Breslov works in English began to appear, most notably Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan's Gems of Rabbi Nachman. The Breslov Research Institute, founded in Jerusalem in 1979, publishes authoritative translations, commentaries and general works on Breslov Hasidut in the major languages spoken by modern-day Jewish communities: English, Hebrew, Spanish and Russian.

Breslov today

Today Breslover communities exist in several locations in Israel, as well as in major cities around the world with large Jewish populations, including Los Angelesmarker, New Yorkmarker, Parismarker, Londonmarker, Montrealmarker, and Lakewood Township, New Jerseymarker.

In Jerusalem, a large number of classical Breslov Hasidim are affiliated with the Edah HaChareidis. Their community is led by Rabbi Yaakov Meir Shechter and Rabbi Moshe Kremer.

Baal teshuva followers of Breslov

Rabbi Eliezer Berland, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Shuvu Bonim in the Muslim Quartermarker of the Old Citymarker of Jerusalemmarker, has brought tens of thousands of Jews from secular backgrounds closer to the Torah path. One of Berland's students, Rabbi Shalom Arush, went on to found the Chut Shel Chessed Institutions in Jerusalem. Arush leads a group of Sephardic followers of Breslov Hasidut, who mainly originated in the baal teshuva movement.

Notes

  1. See Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau, for example.
  2. Tzaddik #115.
  3. Breslev on the net.
  4. Shevachei HaRan #26.
  5. Tzaddik #403.
  6. Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #141.
  7. Rabbi Eliezer Berland shlit"a. shuvubonim.org


See also



References

  1. See Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau, for example.
  2. Tzaddik #115.
  3. Breslev on the net.
  4. Shevachei HaRan #26.
  5. Tzaddik #403.
  6. Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #141.
  7. Rabbi Eliezer Berland shlit"a. shuvubonim.org


Sources

  • Greenbaum, Avraham (1987). Tzaddik. Jerusalem/New York: Breslov Research Institute. ISBN 0-930213-17-3.
  • Kramer, Chaim (1989). Crossing the Narrow Bridge. Appendix B: Breslov Books. Jerusalem/New York: Breslov Research Institute. ISBN 0-930213-40-8.


External links




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