Unlike so many stories one hears about famous scholars (which usually reflect on their childhood brilliance), the tales regarding Rabbi Judah Hachasid (the Pious) describe him as a free-spirited youth who excelled at marksmanship with a bow and arrow. He was, however, the scion of a long line of renowned scholars of the Kalonymus family, and his adulthood proved that he absorbed much from the people surrounding him in his childhood.

Born (1150) in Speyer, Germany, Judah ben Samuel left his hometown in the wake of the havoc of the Crusades and made his new home in Regensburg, Germany. He established a yeshiva that attracted many students who would go on to make a name of their own, such as Baruch ben Samuel of Mainz and Eleazer Rokeach of Worms. In addition to his rabbinic studies, Rabbi Judah is reputed to have had an intellectual  relationship with the Duke of Regensburg and the city’s Bishop.

Rabbi Judah Hachasid is best known for his Sefer Hachasidim (Book of the Pious Ones), which is still studied today. It emphasizes piety, prayer and proper interpersonal relationships. It also discusses, at great length, the significance of one’s behavior with the general non-Jewish population, a necessary distinction in the Middle Ages. Sefer Hachasidim is also considered a fascinating historical document in that it presents a view of the ways and customs of the time and place in which it was written.

Rabbi Judah Hachasid was a leader of a movement called the Ashkenazi Chasidim (German Pietists, different from the modern chassidic movement that developed in Eastern Europe several centuries later). While their studies often focused on the esoteric and mystical , their moral philosophy had an important impact on Jewish culture in Germany.

Rabbi Judah Hachasid passed away on 9 Adar in 1217.

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