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Sefer Chasidim

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Sefer Chasidim

For other people who used this name, see Judah HeHasid.
Rabbinical Eras

Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg (born 1140 in Speyer - Feb. 22, 1217[1] in Regensburg), also called HeHasid or 'the Pious' in Hebrew, was a leader of the Chassidei Ashkenaz, a movement of Jewish mysticism in Germany considered different from kabbalistic mysticism because it emphasizes specific prayer and moral conduct.

Judah settled in Regensburg in 1195. He wrote Sefer Hasidim (Book of the Pious), Sefer Gematriyot (a book on astrology) and Sefer Hakavod (Book of Glory), the latter has been lost and is only known by quotations that other authors have made from it. His most prominent students were Elazar Rokeach and Moses ben Jacob of Coucy.

Rabbi Avraham Aharon Price, a 20th-century rabbi, wrote a commentary on Sefer Hasidim.


Judah was descended from an old family of kabbalists from Northern Italy that had settled in Germany. His grandfather Kalonymus was a scholar and parnas in Speyer (died 1126). His father Samuel, also called he-Ḥasid (= "the pious"), HaḲadosh, and HaNabi,[2] was president of a bet ha-midrash in Speyer, and from him Judah, together with his brother Abraham, received his early instruction. Samuel[3] died while Judah was still young.[4] About 1195 the latter left his native place and settled in Regensburg (Ratisbon), on account of an "accident"[5] – most probably a ritual murder accusation Feb. 13 1195 (see e.g. Israel Yuval: Two Nations in Your Womb (2006) p. 171) and the following persecution experienced by the Jews of Speyer.

He founded a yeshiva in Regensburg and secured many pupils. Among those who became famous were Eleazar of Worms, author of the Roḳeaḥ; Isaac ben Moses of Vienna, author of Or Zarua; and Baruch ben Samuel of Mainz, author of Sefer ha-Ḥokmah. Eleazar applies to his teacher in several passages terms expressive of the highest esteem, such as "father of wisdom".[6]

Judah left one son, Moses Zaltman,[7] author of a commentary on several parts of the Bible.[8] It has been erroneously supposed that Judah had two other sons, Aaron[9] and David.[10]

Legends of his life

Legend describes Judah as an excellent bowman who at the age of eighteen was ignorant of the daily prayers. When, however, enlightenment suddenly came upon him he performed many miracles. He restored fertility to a young married woman. The prophet Elijah is said to have partaken of his "Seder" meal and to have been seen by him in a synagogue. He miraculously prevented a Jewish child from being baptized, and knew the exact year of Israel's redemption. He maintained social intercourse with the Bishop of Salzburg and acted as seer for the Duke of Regensburg.[11]


It is rather difficult to determine in what the new and important departure ascribed to him by legend consisted, since the obscurity spread over his works is as impenetrable as that surrounding his life. The study of the Talmud, especially as it was treated by his contemporaries, seemed to him fruitless. Still, occasionally a halakhic writing, Gan Bosem, is quoted as his;[12] a decision of his is found in TaSHBaẒ, § 219,[13] in R. Isaac's Or Zarua' , and in Meïr Rothenburg's collection of responsa;[14] and he is found in social intercourse with celebrated halakists of his age.

His commentary on the Pentateuch, written down by his pupils after his lectures, was known only by citations in later commentaries.[15] Yet, in 1975, Rabbi I. S. Langa has published Judah's commentary on the Pentateuch, but he was forced to publish a second censored edition, due to revolutionary commentaries of Judah (on Gen. 48:20; Lev. 2:13; Deu. 2:8).[16]


He composed liturgical songs, but the authenticity of those attributed to him is uncertain. As regards his Shir Hayichud (seven parts; the eighth is called Shir HaKavod), printed in Tihingen, 1560,[17] there is very great divergence of opinion, and the question of its authorship is still undecided. According to Zunz,[18] it seems to be genuine, as do also his prayer Yechabeh Dim`ati and his selicha Gadol Yichudcha Elohim Beyisrael. More probably, according to the sources,[19] his father, or a certain Samuel Ḥazzan, who died as a martyr at Erfurt in 1121, composed the Shir ha-Yiḥud, and Judah himself wrote a commentary on it.[20] Several prayers are erroneously attributed to Judah; e.g., Zunz wrongly ascribes to him the alphabetical teḥinnah Ezkera Yom Moti.[21] He wrote also commentaries on several parts of the daily prayers and on the Maḥzor.[22]

Judah collected the notes of travel of his fellow citizen Pethahiah, though incompletely and without any order.[23] His chief literary work was an ethical and mystical one. Undoubtedly genuine is his Sefer HaKavod, which is mentioned by his pupils. Although there is some doubt,[24] it is generally accepted that the person who wrote ethical will Tzava'at Rabbi Yehudah Hechasid, printed in 1583 and translated into Judæo-German, Prague, seventeenth to eighteenth century was Harav Yehuda HeChasid Shapiro.[25] This testament contained regulations regarding the dead (§§ 1-15), the building of houses (§§ 16-21), matrimony (§§ 22-32), prohibited marriages between stepbrothers and stepsisters and between cousins, and various customs and superstitious prescriptions (§§ 33-end).

He was also a talmid, student, of one of the authors of Tosafot, and was the Rebbe, teacher, of the Maharam M’Rottenberg who was the Rebbe of the Rosh, Asher ben Jehiel and the Mordechai.[26] He also taught the author of the Or Serua and the Smag.[26] Some say all the items in the will were written through ruach hakodesh, or divine inspiration.[27] Some commentaries go so far as to say that none of the Neviyim, Prophets of the Bible, came to the level of Rav Yehuda HeChasid.[28] Many people are very careful with all the items listed in the will.[29] Some say one who is not careful with the items in the tzavah will have to give a din and cheshbon.[28] The reason why the will is generally not really brought in Shulchan Aruch is because the dangers mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch and Gemorah are real dangers, while the items in the will are not real dangers, but things which one must distance himself from.[30]

There are also ascribed to Judah an astrological work, Gemaṭriot,[31] handed down by his pupils and seen by Azulai, and Sefer ha-Ḥokmah, on prayers and customs and the writing of scrolls of the Law.

Sefer Ḥasidim

Main article: Sefer Hasidim

The principal work, however, with which Judah's name is connected is the Sefer Ḥasidim (Bologna, 1538; Basel, 1580, and often reprinted).[32] The book contains ethical, ascetic, and mystical sentences, intermingled with elements of German popular belief. It deals (§§ 1-13) with piety (heading, Shemuel; so-called Sefer HaYir'ah); (§§ 14-26), reward and punishment, penitence, the hereafter, etc. (heading, Sefer HaḤasidim; so-called Sefer Teshuvah); (§§ 27-489), authorship of the book, pride, the hereafter and retribution, penitence and sinful desires, fasting and fast-days, suspicion, public mortification, martyrdom, etc. (heading, Zeh Sefer ha-Ḥasidim); (§§ 490-638), the Sabbath; (§§ 639-746), tefillin, ẓiẓit, mezuzot, books; (§§ 747-856), the study of the Law; (§§ 857-929), charity; (§§ 930-970), reverence for parents; (§§ 971-1386), piety, worship of God, prayer, visiting the sick, etc.; (§§ 1387-1426), excommunication and oaths; the final paragraphs repeat and amplify upon matter previously discussed.

The Sefer Ḥasidim is not a uniform work, nor is it the product of one author. It has been said that Samuel he-Ḥasid is the author of the first twenty-six sections.[33] In its present form the book contains, according to Güdemann, three revisions of the same original work,[34] of which Judah is undoubtedly the author; and both the contents and language of the book indicate that it originated in Germany. Important additions were made also by Judah's pupil Eleazar Roḳeaḥ,[35] for which reason the authorship of the whole work has sometimes been ascribed to him. On account of the fact that collectors and copyists used varying recensions, sometimes the same passage occurs two or three times in different parts of the Sefer Ḥasidim. Some fragments of other books are inserted (as § 33, Isaac Alfasi's Halakot; § 36, Saadia Gaon's Emunot we-De'ot; § 431, Yerushalmi Berakhot; §§ 30-32, R. Nissim's Megillat Setarim). It consists, according to the edition of Basel, of 1,172 paragraphs; according to the last edition, of 1,903. Chosen parts have been translated into German by Zunz.[36] The Book of the Pious is an exceedingly rich source for the Kulturgeschichte of the Jews in the Middle Ages.[37] Judah he-Ḥasid has often been confounded with Judah Sir Leon of Paris,[38] who is also called he-Ḥasid, which is nothing but an honorable title usual in his age. The fact that French words are to be found in the Book of the Pious and that it reflects French conditions caused Grätz also to attribute its authorship to Judah Sir Leon he-Ḥasid. But the reasons given by Grätz are not tenable.


The precise importance of Judah ben Samuel it is difficult to determine. Side by side with the official, dogmatic religion of the Church or the Synagogue there has always existed a mysticism dealing more largely and more intimately with the personal relation of the individual to God, which at times was in opposition to the religion of the Synagogue. Judah's mysticism was in such a stage of opposition; he therefore undervalued the study of the Halakhah and indulged in marked departures from the accepted religious practises. He endeavored to deepen the feeling of devotion and piety and emphasized the importance of studying the Bible rather than studying the Talmud. He deals mystically with prayer, regarding it as more important than study. It was really he who introduced theosophy among the Jews of Germany. The occasional quotations from his Sefer HaKavod present the salient points of his views.

The conception of a personal relation to the Lord was long since felt by Jewish thinkers to be inconsistent with His spiritual nature. Judah and his school, therefore, though not the first ones, distinguished between the Divine Being ( 'Eẓem) and the Divine Majesty (Kavod). The Divine Being, called also Ḳedushshah, dwells in the west, invisible to men and angels. The Divine Being is superior to all human perception. When God reveals Himself to men and angels, He appears in the form of the Divine Majesty. The Divine Majesty, then, dwelling in the east and created out of divine fire, holds the divine throne, true to its nature of representing to human eyes the Divine Being. The throne is draped on the south, east, and north, while it is open to the west in order to allow the reflection of the Divine Being dwelling in the west to shine upon it. It is surrounded by the heavenly legions of angels, chanting to the glory of the Creator.[39]

Lacking the philosophic training common among the Spanish Jews – although he was acquainted with Ibn Ezra, Saadia, some of the Karaites, and perhaps Maimonides – Judah did not reduce his mystic-theosophical theories to a system, and they are therefore difficult to survey. His intellectual importance is on the whole not clear.[40] Zunz says of him: "To vindicate whatever is noble in human endeavors, and the highest aspirations of the Israelite, and to discover the inmost truths alluded to in the Sacred Books, seemed to be the ultimate purpose of a mind in which poetic, moral, and divine qualities were fused."[41]

Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography

In addition to the works cited in the article,

  • Julius Fürst, Bibl. Jud. i. 169;
  • S. A. Wertheimer, Sefer Leshon Hasidim, two parts, Jerusalem, 1899;
  • Reifmann, in Oẓar Ṭob, 1885, pp. 26 et seq.


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