I have heard people say that Chassidus is all different kinds of things. Probably the most often said thing I have heard is that it emphasizes avodas Hashem be'simcha. Now while that might be true, it's a Torah principle and not something made up by a (relatively) modern movement.

I have not learnt much Chassidus and so I'm not familiar myself with what the revolution is/was, so I'm wondering what it was that was so new and how Chassidus defines itself?

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  • Are you asking about the chassidus of Satmar, Ger, Belz et al, or about the older "חסידים" that are mentioned in mishnayos? ....for the former, I can't help you; for the latter, read מסילת ישרים (esp his הקדמה) – MTL Oct 28 '14 at 22:19
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    I'm talking about the movement that began or was based on the Ba'al ShemTov. – Gavriel Oct 28 '14 at 23:01
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    How does the fact that something is a Torah principle preclude a modern movement being defined by a special emphasis on that principle? – Yirmeyahu Oct 28 '14 at 23:41

The Lubavitche Rebbe said that there are four explanations on "What is Chassidus":

  1. The [Jewish] world was in a faint, and the Baal Shem Tov woke them up.
  2. A Chossid does more than the law requires
  3. Through Chassidus, a person can change his natural traits to G-dly traits.
  4. Chassidus innovated that even a simple unrefined person can understand G-dliness

The Rebbe said that these are the "result" of a deeper explanation of Chassidus - that Chassidus is a new light from "Pnimiyus Atik".

Later on, the Rebbe said that it's a "foretaste" of the Torah of Moshiach, which is a revelation of Hashem's essence.

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    Are these historical facts about what the Baal Shem instituted, or conjecture of the theoretical chassid? Is number two a reality of the way first and second generation chassidim lived their lives? There were claims made against them that a full set of Shaas couldn't be found amongst an entire town. – user6591 Oct 29 '14 at 0:56
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    @user6591, those claims were lies. – Yishai Oct 29 '14 at 1:40
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    @Yishai That's what the groups descended from those chassidim say. People who trace their heritage to the Gra and Reb Chaim Voloshin would not agree. – user6591 Oct 29 '14 at 3:03
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    @user6591 we don't need descriptions. The Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch was clearly written by a lamdan. R' Levi Yitzhok of Berdichev was clearly a Lamdan (as he was a Rov of Pinsk before politics through him out). They wouldn't have been followers of some "Am Haaretz". It's like saying that Reb Chaim Kanievsky and R' Shmuel Vosner would go be the Chossid of the Rosh Yeshiva of Aish HaTorah. No offense to anyone, it's just not going to happen. – Shmuel Brin Oct 31 '14 at 6:17
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    @Maimonist, I can't imagine what you were expecting me to read when you didn't quote anything. – Yishai Jul 21 '15 at 17:08

You seem to be asking two things:

  1. "what it was that was so new" – past tense: when chassidus was a new thing

  2. "how Chassidus defines itself" – present tense: chassidus today

So, in very short form:

  1. Increasing emotional attachment to Judaism by incorporating aspects of kabbalah into daily life (esp. prayers and rituals) under the closer supervision of a very learned scholar, a rebbe.

  2. Adhering to the guidance, customs, and enactments of the current (or last) rebbe.

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    @Ypnypn The Gra was also into Kabbalah, yet wasn't a Chossid. Sefardim bring Kabbalah into Halacha more than Chassidim, yet aren't generally called "Chassidim" – Shmuel Brin Oct 30 '14 at 20:17
  • the name chassidim and misnagdem were both created by the people who apposed the approach of the the baal shem tov. chassidim being meant to be mocking them for having false piety. The baal shem tov called his students reim ahuvim – Dude Sep 13 '16 at 15:22
  • @Dude. True, but I don't think the OP meant that. – Adám Sep 13 '16 at 18:47

The most susinct summation of what the Ba'al Shem Tov innovated I have seen is from the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe in Kuntres Toras HaChassidus:

מורנו הבעש"ט נ"ע פתח צנור היכולת בעבודת השי"ת, בהוראה והדרכה אשר כל אחד ואחד מישראל יכול לעבוד את הוי' באהבה וביראה. גם אנשים פשוטים הנה על ידי תמימות עבודתם באמירת תהלים - אף גם כשאינם יודעים פירוש המלות - ואהבת ישראל מתקרבים המה בהתקרבות פנימי אל ה', להיות כי העיקר הוא המעשה והעבודה בתם לב

Out teacher the Ba'al Shem Tov opened a way in the ability to search Hashem in showing and instructing that each and every Jew is able to serve Hashem with love and fear. Including simple people through their sincerity in their service of reciting Tehilim - even if they don't know what the words mean - and love of their fellow Jew they become close with an inner closeness to Hashem, because the main thing is the action and service with a sincere heart.

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