Breslov is a branch of Hasidic Judaism founded by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism. Its adherents strive to develop an intense, joyous relationship with God and receive guidance toward this goal from the teachings of Rebbe Nachman, his disciples, and the students of his disciples. Breslov Hasidut is best known for the fact that it has had no living rebbe for the past 200 years, as Rebbe Nachman did not designate a successor.
The movement weathered strong opposition from virtually all other Hasidic movements in the Ukraine throughout the nineteenth century, yet at the same time experienced tremendous growth in numbers of followers from Ukraine, White Russia, Lithuania and Poland. By World War I, thousands of Breslov Hasidim were located in those places. After the Bolshevik Revolution, Communist oppression forced the movement underground in Russia. Thousands of Hasidim were imprisoned or murdered during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, and killed by Nazis who invaded Ukraine in 1941. The movement regenerated itself in England, America, and Israel by those who managed to escape Russia. Today, Breslov Hasidism claims an estimated ___ Hasidim worldwide.
View on Noahides
Rabbi Nachman never refers to Noahides, however in his works "Rabbi Nachman's Stories", "Likutei Maharan" and "Likutei Halachos" by Rabbi Noson, there are substantial sections which are generally interpreted to refer to non-Jews, the seventy nations, their purpose and ultimate rectification.
The name Breslov is derived from the town of Breslov where Rebbe Nachman spent most of the last eight years of his life. Breslov is a small town located on the Bug River in Ukraine, latitude 48.50 N longitude 28.55 E. It is situated midway between Tulchin to the south and Nemirov to the north; 9 miles (15 kilometers) from each.
Prior to his arrival in Breslov in 1802, Rebbe Nachman lived and taught in other towns in Ukraine such as Ossatin, Moheilov and Zlatipolia and Odessa. But upon his arrival in Breslov he declared, "Today we have planted the name of the Breslover Hasidim. This name will never disappear, because my followers will always be called after the town of Breslov" (Tzaddik #115).
Later his followers would note that the name of the town dovetailed with the rebbe's teachings encouraging his followers to remove the barriers that stood between themselves and a closer relationship with God. They noted that the Hebrew letters of the word Breslov (ברסלב) can be rearranged to spell lev basar (לב בשר —the "ס" and "ש" sounds are interchangeable), "a heart of flesh"—echoing the prophecy in Book of Ezekiel (36:26): "I [God] will take away your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Rabbi Shmuel Moshe Kramer also noted that the gematria ("numerical value") of the Hebrew alphabet of Breslov (ברסלב) is 294, as is the Hebrew spelling of Nachman ben Faiga (נחמן בן פיגא) (Nachman son [of] Faiga) -- the names of Rebbe Nachman and his mother.
The Breslov approach places great emphasis on serving God through the sincerity of the heart, with much joy and living life as intensely as possible. Its Hasidim see Torah life as the means to a joyful existence, and their approach to worship is very personalized and emotional, with much clapping, singing, and dancing. Rabbi Nachman said, "It's a great mitzvah (commandment) to always be happy." Even in the Nazi concentration camps, the Breslovers strove to find joy in life.
Rebbe Nachman also placed great emphasis on Meditation#Judaism. One distinctively Breslov practice is called hisbodedus (hiss-bo-de-dooss), also called hitbodedut (hit-ba-de-doot Israeli Hebrew). This literally means "to make oneself be in solitude." The Breslov form of hisbodedus is a personalized form of free-flowing verbal prayer which is practiced by the individual Hasid, in addition to the regular daily services in the synagogue. Breslover Hasidim try to spend an hour alone with God each day, pouring out their thoughts and concerns in whatever language they speak, as if talking to a close personal friend. Rabbi Nachman said that the best place to do this is alone in a field or a forest, but if this is not possible, one can do it in a private room.
Some people mistakenly believe that some Breslovers also use a form of mantra meditation, by repeating a word or phrase over and over. Rebbe Nachman himself used Ribono Shel Olam ("Master of the Universe") which he pronounced with the Yiddish intonation as: Ree-boy-noy shell oy-lahm. (Some say that the Yiddish pronunciation allows one to pour every possible emotion into the "Oy" syllables.) However, there is no such thing as "mantra meditation" in Breslov chassidism. This can be verified with any Breslover chassid.
A small group of modern-day Breslovers use the Na Nach Nachma mantra, which is based on the Hebrew letters of Nachman's name. This mantra was not used by Rebbe Nachman himself, but was taught in the 20th century by Rabbi Yisroel Ber Odesser. However, this group is not part of the Breslov mainstream, and is rejected by the mainstream of Breslovers.
Rabbi Nachman always maintained that his high spiritual level was due to his own efforts, and not to his famous lineage or any other circumstances of his 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 Rebbe's greatness was the superior level of his soul (see Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom, Kaplan English edition, page 29).
The Rosh Hashana kibbutz
Another specifically Breslov practice is the annual Rosh Hashana kibbutz (Breslov), a large gathering at the grave of Rabbi Nachman in Uman, Ukraine on the Jewish New Year. Rabbi Nachman himself said:
- My Rosh Hashanah is greater than everything. I cannot understand how it is that if my followers really believe in me, they are not all scrupulous about being with me for Rosh Hashanah. No one should be missing! Rosh Hashanah is my whole mission (Tzaddik #403).
During his lifetime, hundreds of followers spent the holiday with him; after his death, his closest disciple, Nathan of Breslov ("Reb Noson") organized an annual pilgrimage to his grave starting with Rosh Hashanah 1811, the year after Rebbe Nachman's death. Until World War I, thousands of Hasidim from Ukraine, White Russia, Lithuania and Poland joined the holiday prayer gathering. The Rosh Hashanah kibbutz operated clandestinely and on a smaller scale under Communism, when public prayer gatherings were forbidden. The pilgrimage was officially reinstituted after the fall of Communism in 1989, and continues to this day, with upwards of 20,000 men and boys arriving each Rosh Hashanah from all over the world.
Breslovers also make individual pilgrimages to their Rebbe's grave at other times of the year. Plus, there is now an organized women's pilgrimage on Purim, in honor of the Feast of Esther. Visiting the grave at any time is deemed beneficial, because Rebbe Nachman said:
- Whoever comes to my gravesite and recites the Ten Psalms of the Tikkun K'lali ("General Remedy"), and gives even as little as a penny to charity for my sake, then, no matter how serious his sins may be, I will do everything in my power -- spanning the length and breadth of Creation -- to cleanse and protect him. By his very payos ("sidecurls") I will pull him out of Gehenna (purgatory)! (Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom #141).
Important books of Breslover Hasidism
The main Hasidic texts revered and studied by Breslover Hasidim are those written by Rebbe Nachman and Reb Noson. All of Rebbe Nachman's teachings were transcribed by Reb Noson. Additionally, Reb Noson wrote some of his own works.
Rebbe Nachman's magnum opus is the two-volume Likutey Moharan (Collected Lessons of our Rebbe), a collection of 411 lessons displaying in-depth familiarity and understanding of the many overt and esoteric concepts embedded in Torah, Talmud, Zohar and Kabbalah.
Upon the Rebbe's instructions, Reb Noson collected all the practical teachings and advice contained in Likutey Moharan and published them in:
- Likutey Eitzot (Collected Advice)
- Kitzur Likutey Moharan
Rebbe Nachman's other works include:
- Sefer HaMiddot (The Alef-Bet Book)—a collection of aphorisms on various character traits
- Sippurei Ma'asiyyot (Rabbi Nachman's Stories)—13 mystical parables
- Tikkun HaKlali (The General Remedy)—a specific order of 10 Psalms (16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137, 150) which counteract the pegam habrit kodesh
After the Rebbe's death, Reb Noson wrote down all the conversations, fragments of lessons, and interactions which he and others had had with the Rebbe during his lifetime. He published these in the following collections:
- Shivchei HaRan (Praises of the Rebbe) and Sichot HaRan (Conversations of the Rebbe)—published in English as "Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom"
- Chayei Moharan (Life of the Rebbe)—published in English as "Tzaddik"
Reb Noson also authored his these commentaries and novellae:
- Likutey Halachot (Collected Laws)—an 8-volume Hasidic commentary on Shulchan Aruch which shows the interrelationship between every Halakha and Rebbe Nachman's lessons in Likutey Moharan.
- Likutey Tefillot (Collected Prayers)—210 direct and heartfelt prayers based on the concepts in Likutey Moharan.
- Yemei Moharanat (The Days of Reb Noson)—an autobiography
- Alim LeTerufah (Leaves of Healing)— Rebbe Nachman and Reb Noson's collected letters
- Shemot HaTzaddikim (Names of Tzaddikim)—a list of the tzaddikim of Tanach, Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, Kabbalah, Chassidus and Gueonim of Torah in General.
Breslovers do not restrict themselves to Rabbi Nachman's commentaries on the Torah, but also study many of the classic texts, including the Tanakh, the Talmud, the Midrash, and many others. They may also study the Rabbinical literature from other dynasties.
Students of Reb Noson, their students, and their students' students have added to the literature with further commentaries on the Rebbe's teachings, as well as original works. Beginning in the 1990s, English-speaking readers were introduced to Breslov teachings in translation, accompanied by a growing body of original Breslov works in English language.
Today Breslover communities exist in several locations in Israel, as well as in major cities around the world that have large Jewish populations, including Los Angeles, California, New York City, Paris, and London, and Lakewood.
- Nachman of Breslov
- Nathan of Breslov
- Levi Yitzhak Bender
- Yitzhak Breiter
- Moshe Breslover
- Abraham Chazan
- Nachman Chazan
- Nachman Goldstein
- Yisroel Halpern
- Yisroel Ber Odesser
- Abraham Sternhartz
- Yitzhak Sternhartz
- Alter Tepliker
- Na Nach Nachma
- List of Hasidic dynasties
- Greenbaum, Avraham (1987). Tzaddik. Jerusalem/New York: Breslov Research Institute. ISBN 0-930213-17-3.
- Kramer, Chaim (1989). Crossing the Narrow Bridge. Appendix B: Breslov Books. Jerusalem/New York: Breslov Research Institute. ISBN 0-930213-40-8.
- Breslov on the Internet—a link launcher to resources from many Breslov groups.
- Breslov—Judaism with Heart—the Breslov Research Institute, publisher of many Breslov works in English.
- Questions and Answers about Breslov -- a basic FAQ about the movement.
- Virtual library of core Breslov literature in Hebrew and English
- Virtual library of core Breslov literature in Hebrew
- Will the Real Breslov Please Stand Up? Article explaining the wide diversity of groups within the Breslov movement today.