Rabbi Jacobs starts this lecture with an overview of the origins and early history of hasidism. He notes that the term ‘hasid’ existed well before the 18th century, appearing as early as in biblical and rabbinic literature, to denote exceptionally pious, scrupulous individuals, who stood out not necessarily for their erudition, but rather as God-seekers.
In the medieval period, the custom arose for such individuals to gather around one particularly charismatic leader. And in the early 18th century, the Ba’al Shem Tov attracted a small crowd of followers, many of whom followed the instruction of his most distinguished student, the Maggid of Mezeritch, and spread out to establish courts of their own throughout eastern Europe.
Finally, Rabbi Jacobs lists and develops on a few motifs in hasidic thought – the doctrine of the Tzadik, the theological doctrine of panentheism, the emphasis on prayer over Torah study – which differentiated hasidim from their opponents, the mithnagedim.
The lecture was followed by a Q&A session.