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Ḥayim Ḥaykl of Amdur

(d. 1787), Hasidic leader. Ḥayim Ḥaykl ben Shemu’el was a leading disciple of Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezritsh, and did much to introduce Hasidism in Lithuania. According to Hasidic tradition, he had begun his career as a cantor in Karlin, and had been a close disciple of Eliyahu, the Gaon of Vilna, before coming to Hasidism.

After the death of Dov Ber, Ḥayim Ḥaykl established a Hasidic court in Amdur (Indura) in the Grodno region in 1773 and remained there until his death. He attracted followers from Lithuania to the emerging Hasidic movement and was the subject of fierce attacks by Misnagdim in the 1770s and 1780s. A long letter of instruction to Ḥayim Ḥaykl’s followers, with guidelines for ethical practice (hanhagot), was published in 1794 in Mezyrów. Ḥayim Ḥaykl’s son, Shemu’el, succeeded his father and led the court until around 1798.

Ḥayim Ḥaykl’s teachings were collected in a volume titled Ḥayim ve-ḥesed, which appeared first in Warsaw in 1891. In his teachings, Ḥayim Ḥaykl promoted the doctrine that encouraged Hasidim to attach themselves to a tsadik and support him. Espousing the idea of the tsadik as a metaphysical figure mediating between heaven and earth, he stated that his Hasidim could communicate with the Holy One only through him. Ḥayim Ḥaykl also emphasized the necessity of nullifying the human will before the divine will—that is, of embracing a way of life in which the Hasid abjures physical reality (mitbatlin mi-metsi’ut) and fulfills the divine commandment to strip away physicality (hitpashtut mi-gashmi’ut). Echoing the doctrines of the Magid, Ḥayim Ḥaykl said one should aspire to make the self into nothingness by means of adopting indifference to this world and its pleasures.

Religious ecstasy and joy were central to Ḥayim Ḥaykl’s teachings, but he vehemently criticized empty or wanton joy. He taught that a life of joy arises from religious awe, devotion, and the proximity to God one achieves by minimizing preoccupation with the physical and the worldly. He advocated experiencing “seclusion with the Creator, as if you have already departed from the world, and nothing is there except you and the Creator.” Hasidic traditions, in fact, note that Ḥayim Ḥaykl followed an ascetic path, involving fasting and mortification.

By contrast, in the writings of the Misnagdim Ḥayim Ḥaykl’s court is portrayed as a place where joy reigned and sadness was forbidden—and where, for example, the ecstatic turning of somersaults or cartwheels was common. Among these Misnagdim was David of Makev (or Makov; Pol., Maków), whose polemical anti-Hasidic work Shever posh‘im made frequent and pejorative mention of Ḥayim Ḥaykl’s court, the unworthy behavior of his attendants, and the mischief of his Hasidim. David of Makev also noted the practices of confessing sins to the tsadik, the tsadik’s setting of penance, and the giving of a “redemptive gift” (pidyon) to the tsadik.

Suggested Reading

Simon Dubnow, Toldot ha-ḥasidut, 3 vols. in 1 (Tel Aviv, 1930–31); Mendel Piekarz, “Ha-Ma’avak ‘al megamat peniyah shel ha-ḥasidut ba-maḥatsit ha-sheniyah shel ha-me’ah ha-18: Lekaḥim ra‘yoniyim-historiyim me-kitve R. Ḥayim Ḥaika’ me-Amdur,” Gal-Ed 18 (2002): 83–123, Hebrew pagination; Zeev Wolf Rabinowitsch, Lithuanian Hasidism from Its Beginnings to the Present Day (London, 1970); Avraham Rubenstein, “Ha-Kuntres Zimrat ‘am ha-arets bi-khetav yad,” Areshet 3 (1961): 193–230; Mordecai Wilensky, Ḥasidim u-mitnagdim (Jerusalem, 1970).



Translated from Hebrew by Jeffrey Green