Which books are fundamental in terms of presenting the philosophy / theology of mainstream chasidut?

I know Chabad has Tanya, and Breslov has Likkutei Moharan.

Which sefarim are philosophically fundamental to non-Chabad, non-Breslov chasidim? Does this differ by sect? Are Tanya and/or Likkutei Moharan fundamental for them as well?

I imagine that R. Elimelech of Lizhensk's Noam Elimelech would feature on this list. What else is there?

I'm looking for philosophical works, not collections of stories or chassidishe vertelach, unless these are used (explicilty or implicitly) by chasidim to inform their philosophy.

  • 1
    The yismach Moshe wrote several works and his decendents becamebsatmar although I don't know if his Torah is considered fundamental amongst satmar chassidim today. Tanya while originating in chabad is a foundational work that is relevant to all chassidim. Although there are other works of chassidus as a subject to learn it is most developed in chaside chabad
    – Laser123
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 9:55
  • Are you asking for books authored by chassidic authors (masters) or by anyone?
    – Oliver
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 20:15
  • Many hasidic followings study Tanya.
    – msh210
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 0:34
  • As @msh210 mentioned, the study of Tanya is not limited to Chabad.
    – ezra
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 3:48
  • @Oliver - anything really. But I'm looking for books that chassidim themselves use to inform their philosophy as chassidim. So not looking for works by outsiders describing chassidic philosophy, nor for books which are fundamental to Judaism as a whole rather than chassidut specifically. So I imagine any answers would probably be listing works by chassidic masters. Did you have anything in particular in mind?
    – Joel K
    Commented Sep 27, 2017 at 3:52

4 Answers 4


In a comment OP notes interest in "anything really" but also what "chassidim themselves use to inform their philosophy as chassidim"; I'll attempt to list some of both types.

Of the same genre as Tanya or LM none come to mind, but there are many "classics" which from them different theological concepts and philosophies for Chassidism are drawn. I think the reason that there are maybe a handful of the former type is because the Chassidic masters didn't necessarily have a systematized arrangement of philosophies and possibly didn't even want to focus on such "scientific" systems. But the reasons and backdrop for this is somewhat off topic. My point is, much of the Chassidic ideas etc. are gleaned from the classics I mentioned. So to begin with, for one not so familiar with the Chassidic literature I'd suggest a perusal of Aryeh Kaplan's 1) The Light Beyond and 2) Chasidic Masters. Also worthwhile is Louis Jacobs' Hasidic Thought (as well as his couple entries in the EJ). A good anthology of Chassidic thought on a multitude of topics is Louis Newman's Hasidic Anthology.

Per Hebrew classics, besides those you already mentioned, I'd name: דגל מחנה אפרים, תולדות יעקב יוסף, קדושת לוי, פרי הארץ, מגיד דבריו ליעקב, עבודת ישראל. Although these are Torah collections, much Chassidic thought and doctrines are culled from different lessons given over by their respective authors. The בני יששכר is more kabbalistic bent although is also a classic. Then of course the later on in generations you go the more books were published and the more volumes were inducted into the "Hall of Fame", e.g. ערבי נחל, אוהב ישראל מאור עיניים etc.


Keser Shem Tov and Tzavaas HaRivash, along with Toldos Yaakov Yosef and Degel Machane Efraim are perhaps the earliest works that one can use to get a sense of the Baal Shem Tov's teachings. As the BeShT left no written legacy, his earliest students compiled his teachings into a number of sefarim.

As you get further down the chain of transmission you see divergences among the various chassidic schools of thought that resulted from the branching out of different tzaddikim and their students into the other areas of Europe; while the fundamentals still hold true, particular systems will emphasize different aspects of the path of the Baal Shem Tov, informed in part by their own areas of expertise as well as the demographic they were catering to/encountering in their milieu.

A fairly recent listing of what can be boiled down to the ten basic points of the Baal Shem Tov's path can be found as a stand-alone essay in the Divrei Shmuel of Slonim's eponymous sefer (I can't upload the page at the moment).

More recently, Belz has been putting out a series of sefarim that takes an in depth (yet accessible) look at chassidus as a conceptual framework entitled Mesilos b'Ohr HaChassidus.

Good luck!


I'm surprised no one has yet mentioned Kedushas Levi by Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev.

  • 1
    It’s mentioned in Oliver’s answer
    – Joel K
    Commented May 15, 2022 at 17:24

Update: per comments by the OP, addressing non- (namely pre-) chasidic "books that chassidim themselves use to inform their" etc.

Reishit Chokhmah has not been mentioned. But especially Tikkunei Zohar deserves special emphasis; of all sefarim, with TZ R' Nachman was regularly involved the most, even year-round and not only Elul (Sichot Haran #128). He prescribed to learn all the holy books (Sichot Haran #76, a schedule of learning). In Shivchei HaRan #7 more books are enumerated that he learned:

וְהָיָה מַתְמִיד בְּלִמּוּדוֹ מְאֹד. וְלָמַד הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד שַׁ"ס וּפוֹסְקִים וְתַנַ"ךְ וְעֵין יַעֲקֹב וְסִפְרֵי הַזֹּהַר וְתִקּוּנִים וְכָל כִּתְבֵי הָאֲרִ"י־ז"ל, וּשְׁאָר סְפָרִים הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד וְסִפְרֵי מוּסָר הַרְבֵּה מְאֹד. The Rebbe [Nachman ztz"l] devoted every available moment to his sacred studies. He spent much time studying the Talmud, the Shulchan Arukh,9 the Bible, the Ein Yaakov,10 and the mystical books of the Zohar,11 the Tikkuney Zohar12 and the writings of the holy Ari.13 He also delved into many other sacred works, especially those involving Mussar.14

וְאָמַר: שֶׁכָּל הַסְּפָרִים קְטַנִּים הַמְדַבְּרִים מִמּוּסָר כֻּלָּם הָיוּ בְּבֵית אָבִיו. וְלָמַד מִכֻּלָּם. גַּם לָמַד הַרְבֵּה "רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה" וְאָמַר בְּפֵרוּשׁ: שֶׁלָּמַד אֶת סֵפֶר "רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה" פְּעָמִים אֵין מִסְפָּר. The Rebbe said that his father’s library contained all the small Mussar books and that he went through every one. He also spent much time with the Reishit Chokhmah,15 stating that he reread this remarkable work countless times.

וְגֹדֶל בְּקִיאוּתוֹ בְּכָל הַסְּפָרִים כְּפִי מַה שֶּׁרָאִינוּ בְּעֵינֵינוּ קְצָת הָיָה בְּלִי שִׁעוּר וּבִפְרָט בְּסִפְרֵי תַּנַ"ךְ וְ"עֵין יַעֲקֹב" וְכָל כִּתְבֵי הָאֲרִ"י וְסִפְרֵי הַזֹּהַר וְתִקּוּנִים, לֹא נִמְצָא דֻּגְמָתוֹ בָּעוֹלָם. The Rebbe’s unique expertise in all sacred literature was obvious. He was particularly unique in his knowledge of the Bible, the Ein Yaakov, the Ari’s writings, and the Zohar and Tikkuney Zohar, to the point that literally no one could be compared to him. כִּי כָּל הַתּוֹרָה כֻּלָּה הָיְתָה מוּכֶנֶת לְפָנָיו וְשָׁגוּר בְּפִיו כַּשֻּׁלְחָן הֶעָרוּךְ מַמָּשׁ, כְּדָבָר הַמֻּנָּח לִפְנֵי הָאָדָם לִפְנֵי עֵינָיו שֶׁיָּכוֹל לִקַּח לְעַצְמוֹ מַה שֶּׁיִּרְצֶה, כֵּן מַמָּשׁ הָיוּ כָּל הַסְּפָרִים הַקְּדוֹשִׁים מוּכָנִים לִפְנֵי עֵינֵי שִׂכְלוֹ הַקָּדוֹשׁ בְּכָל־עֵת שֶׁרָצָה. וּקְצָת מִזֶּה יְכוֹלִים לִרְאוֹת וּלְהָבִין בִּסְפָרָיו הַקְּדוֹשִׁים. He was fluent in the entire Torah. He could quote anything in the sacred literature as if the book were opened in front of him. It was like a table set before him, where he could see everything and choose what he desired. The entire scope of our sacred literature was like this, standing ready before his mind’s eye to be used whenever he desired. This can be seen to some extent in the Rebbe’s writings.

Also it should be noted regarding the term and concept "philosophy" - חקירה - (philosophy; rationalism; questioning or undermining the tenets of faith) - it is something direly warned against in particular in Breslev. "Derekh" or "way" might be better term in your question.

For example, https://www.sefaria.org/Sichot_HaRan.32.2

צָרִיךְ לְחַזֵּק אֶת עַצְמוֹ בֶּאֱמוּנָה וְלִבְלִי לִכְנֹס בַּחֲקִירוֹת כְּלָל, וְלִבְלִי לְעַיֵּן כְּלָל בִּסְפָרִים שֶׁל מְחַקְּרִים, רַק לְהַאֲמִין בְּהַשֵּׁם יִתְבָּרַךְ בֶּאֱמוּנָה לְבַד בְּלִי שׁוּם חֲקִירוֹת כְּלָל. Strengthen yourself in faith, completely avoiding all speculation. Do not look into philosophy, but believe in God with innocent faith.

... (see there)

And there's an entire section in Chayey Moharan against Chakira:

About the philosophical books he told us a great deal, many times. And he utterly, utterly forbade us to even look at them at all, God forbid. He put extraordinary stress on the severity of this prohibition, because they very much confuse one's religious views with alien views that do not at all agree at all with the views of our Holy Torah. They [the authors of these philosophical books] also do not believe in demons whereas all the words of the Talmudic Sages say the opposite. Especially now that we've been privileged to [the revelation of] the Zohar, the books of the Arizal and the Baal Shem Tov of blessed memory and so forth, which are all founded on Ruach Hakodesh and greatly inspire a person in truly serving His Blessedness.

... (see there)

  • Reishis Chochmah is very, very much not a sefer of Chassidish philosophy. It is a mussar sefer drawing heavily from the Zohar (as the mechaber was a talmid of the RaMaK). Also - "philosophy" in this context translates well to "hashkafah." It doesn't mean Greek philosophy or sifrei chakirah in any way.
    – Yehuda
    Commented May 16, 2022 at 21:17
  • @Yehuda You're right. I mis-read the question and thought it was asking what were the source books from which Chassidut derived. Deleting answer. Commented May 16, 2022 at 21:58

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