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Orthodox Judaism: Breslov Hasidism

The Breslov movement was founded by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772­1810), who was the great­grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism. Breslover Hasidim usually refer to him as "Rebbe Nachman" or simply "the Rebbe" (different from the Lubavitcher Rebbe). Rebbe Nachman is buried in Uman in the Ukraine. Each year, Breslover Hasidim travel to Uman to celebrate Rosh Ha-Shanah near the gravesite. Plans are currently under way to build a Breslov synagogue there.

The name "Breslov" comes from the town of Breslov, also located in the Ukraine, where Nachman spent most of the last eight years of his life. Some people also see the name as a play on words in Ashkenazic Hebrew: "Bris lev" means "covenant (or circumcision) of the heart." The Breslov approach places great stress on serving G­d with joy and living life as intensely as possible. "It's a great mitzvah always to be happy," Nachman taught.

One distinctive Breslov practice is hisboddidus (hitbadedut), a personalized form of free­flowing prayer and meditation. In addition to the regular daily services in the prayer book, Breslover Hasidim try to spend an hour alone with G­d each day, pouring out their thoughts and concerns in whatever language they speak, as if talking to a close personal friend.

Rebbe Nachman stressed the importance of soul­searching. He always maintained that his high spiritual level was due to his own efforts, and not to his famous lineage or any circumstances of birth. He repeatedly insisted that all Jews could reach the same level as he, and spoke out very strongly against those who thought that the main reason for a Tzaddik's greatness was the superior level of his soul. "Everyone can attain the highest level," Nachman taught, "It depends on nothing but your own free choice... for everything depends on a multitude of deeds."

Although Rebbe Nachman died almost 200 years ago, he is still considered to be the leader of the movement through the guidance of his books and stories. Breslover Hasidim today do not have a "Rebbe in the flesh," and each Hasid is free to go to any guide or teacher with whom they feel comfortable. No single person or council of elders is "in charge" of the Breslov movement, and no membership list is kept.

Sources: Shamash