Historical Atlas of Hasidism is a seminal work no library or university can be without if serious about Jewish studies, geography, demography, and political science. Individuals from Hasidic backgrounds or “living the life” will find this book enormously enlightening, educational, and entertaining.
Hasidism was inspired and nurtured by suffering immiseration and centuries-long prolific anti-Semitism. This atlas identifies the founders of Hasidic sects and Hasidic leaders. “Much attention has been given to mapping the rank-and-file, their prayer sites, pilgrimage routes, economic life, or contemporary dispersion.”
Hasidism grew as a religious movement heavily influencing all facets of life across the European continent, Russia, America, and Israel. It fractured into sects with followers establishing loyalties to emerging religious leaders each of whom interpreted Jewish law with nuance but all loyal and dedicated to the word of Torah. “”Hasidism has been conditioned by the spatial characteristics of the movement not only in its social organizations, but also in its spiritual life, type of religious leadership, or cultural articulation.”
Historical Atlas is the quintessential book on the entirety of Hasidism and its adherents. The book offers a unique visual approach to examining, explaining and demonstrating a divinely inspired multi-national movement’s past, from the 18th century, and present, through maps, pictures and text that graciously intertwine. The authors devote about 115 pages to Hasidism in the Old World, and a near equal number to Hasidism in the New Worlds. They provide maps and explanations of Hasidic sects thriving from Brooklyn to Jerusalem. It is well documented with an extensive bibliography and index.
The book is the first cartographic presentation of Hasidism printed on heavy slick paper in bright and bold colors. I make sure my hands are clean and turn each page every time I return to the book with sensitivity not to leave a fold or mark. Each of the 61 maps, pictures and illustrations is a work of art. The authors chart the courts, shtebl’s and synagogues, layouts of the shtetls and towns, and name names in the Old World and Modern World post-Holocaust.
The book, “Offers the first in-depth analysis of Hasidism’s egalitarian—not elitist—dimensions” revelatory and inspiring to a novice on the subject. Disciples of the Great Maggid of Międzyrzecz embarked on large-scale missionary work (among male Jews) to spread their leader’s glory and learning. Disciples of the Besht began arriving in 1747 in Palestine. The Besht was the first Hasid who wished to settle in the Holy Land but could not. The authors tell the stories and show the locations of Hasidim who made aliyah and built thriving communities in Israel some with strong political and cultural sway today.
Here is one final story capturing the magic and enchantment of history through maps in this atlas. My wife’s family was murdered during the war. Her mother repeatedly told her about the town in Poland from which she came at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. My wife with some anxiousness opened Historical Atlas searching the maps. There was her family’s town for decades if not centuries right at the foot of the Mountains her mother so lovingly described. My wife was mesmerized and went back to the map several more times.
My father’s family is German Jews. Unfortunately, the authors offer no explanation why Hasidic movements did not take hold in any important number in Germany. That might make an interesting chapter in itself.
Dr. Goldmeier is an award-winning businessperson and consultant. He teaches international university students in Tel Aviv and offers free public speaking presentations to community and business groups. His articles and book reviews appear regularly. I was not compensated for this review except to receive a publisher’s review copy of the book. firstname.lastname@example.org