Hasidism and the Habsburg Empire, 1788–1867
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This article discusses the attitude of the Habsburg empire towards hasidim in Galicia during the years 1788–1867. It is based on a range of laws regarding hasidim, including the private minyanim (prayer groups) laws. The main argument of the article is that hasidim, like all other Jews, enjoyed the Austrian policy of religious toleration, and could perform all their religious rituals and customs so long as they did not contravene civil law. The examples cited in the article, almost all based on newly discovered archival documents, demonstrate the failure of efforts, such as that of the maskil Yehudah Leib Mieses, to define Hasidism as Religionsschwärmerei (religious enthusiasm), and thus to prohibit hasidim from petitioning for a license to set up private minyanim. Other examples show that the Austrian imperial authorities rebuked some district authorities for wrongly detaining hasidic leaders, finding it necessary to explain the correct interpretation of the law to local officials who had misapplied it. Hasidim in Galicia were familiar with the law and quickly learned to protest when their rights had been violated. Contrary to Raphael Mahler’s claim, the story of government treatment of hasidim in Galicia was not one of persecution, but one that involved enforcement of civil law on the one hand, and the policy of religious toleration on the other.
KeywordsHasidism Eastern Europe Galicia Habsburg empire Political history Religious toleration
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