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Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works

 

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Judah ben Samuel he-Ḥasid
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Hebrew Name(s): יהודה בן שמואל החסיד
Other Names: Judah ben Samuel of Regensburg
Period: Rishonim — 11th–12th Century
Location: Germany
Dates: 1140–1217

Biography:
Judah ben Samuel he-Ḥasid was born in Speyer. He studied at the schools of the Tosafot and was himself a Tosafist. His title He-Hasid (meaning, The Pious) is derived from the great respect accorded to him as initiator of Chassidei Ashkenaz in Germany* in the 12th–13th Century. Judah ben Samuel studied kabbalah under his father Samuel HeHasid (R. Shmuel HaChassid) who was the Bet ha-Midrash in Speyer. Together with his father and other like-minded Jews (e.g., memebrs of the Lehr and Kalonymus families) Judah formed a group who took an oath of piety. Their philosophy is explained in Judah ben Samuel's Sefer Ḥasidim (Sefer Chassidim) and the liturgical poem An'im Zemirot which is recited on the Sabbath in many Ashkenazi synagogues.
Judah ben Samuel he-Ḥasid established a yeshivah in Regensberg (c. 1195) from which emerged many famous students: Moses ben Jacob of Coucy, Isaac ben Moses of Vienna (Or Zarua), Baruch ben Samuel of Mainz (Sefer ha-Ḥokmah) and Eleazar of Worms (Ha-Rokeaḥ.)
 
The work, Sefer Ḥasidim, deals with all aspects of human life and reflects Judah's vision to create a pietistic movement of Jews completely dedicated to the religious and ethical commandments, who, separating themselves from the non-Ḥasidic communities, would constitute an elite led by the Wise (he-Ḥakham). Judah's disciples, especially R. Eleazar of Worms (Eleazar Rokeach,) did not continue in the same direction, and tended to stress the individual rather than the social aspects of religious perfection.
 
A large part of Sefer Ḥasidim was written by Judah ben Samuel he-Ḥasid but the work also contains sections and editorial which were added by his students after his death—important additions were made Eleazar Rokeaḥ, to the extent that authorship has at times been ascribed to Rokeach. Sefer Ḥasidim deals with ethics, ascetics and mysticism, intermingled with elements of popular German lore. Subjects include: piety, reward and punishment, repentance and the hereafter.
 
Another work attributed to Judah ben Samuel is Sefer ha-Kavod, of which only fragments survivie. After his death, Judah ben Samuel's son, R. Moses, wrote a summary of his discussions on the Parashat Hashavuah (The Weekly Torah Portion.)
 
Judah ben Samuel he-Ḥasid's student Eleazar Rokeach was the teacher of Moses ben Naḥman (Naḥmanides)
 
*The Chassidei Ashkenazi movement moved to Spain following the migration of Jews after the Rindfleish Massacres in the early part of the 13th Century. Their descendents became the great Kabbalists of the Golden Age of Jewish Culture Spain in the 13th Century. The movement ceased to exist in the 14th Century.

Works:
Sefer Ḥasidim (Book of the Pious); Sefer ha-Kavod (Book of Glory)

Comments:
Sefer Ḥasidim describes the life of the authentic hasid in terms of asceticism, humility, serenity, piety and ethical behavior. The book provides the combined teachings of the founders of the Chassidei Ashkenazi movement (Medieval German Hasidism) through the writings of Judah ben Samuel he-Ḥasid and the editorial work of his disciples, especially Eleazar Rokeaḥ. The work also provides a valuable account of everyday life for Jews in Medieval Germany.
Sefer ha-Kavod  is now a lost work known only by quotations in the work of other authors.

 

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