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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 2.10:
What is Breslov Chasidism?

Answer:

The Breslov (sometimes called Bratzlav) movement was founded by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810), who was the great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism, through his granddaughter Feige. For this reason, Rebbe Nachman often called himself "Nachman, son of Feige." Today, Breslover Chassidim usually refer to him as "Rebbe Nachman" or simply "the Rebbe" (different from the Lubovitcher Rebbe described above). Rebbe Nachman is buried in the town of Uman, Ukraine. Each year there is a major pilgrimage of Breslover Chassidim and others, who travel to Uman to celebrate Rosh Hashanah near the gravesite. This custom dates back to the very beginning of the Breslov movement, when Rebbe Nachman's Chassidim would gather with him on Rosh Hashanah each year. After his death, his closest disciple, Rabbi Nathan of Nemirov, organized the first pilgrimage to Uman. During the Communist years, it was very difficult for Jews to travel to Uman but, with the fall of Communism in 1989, it became possible to make the pilgrimage again. On Rosh Hashanah 5758 (1997) an estimated 7000 Jews participated in this pilgrimage. Plans are currently under way to build a Breslov synagogue there. You can read about one Breslover Chassid's personal experiences in Uman at http://www.pinenet.com/~rooster/uman.html.

Why "Breslov" and not "Bratzlav?" Because Breslov is not the same place as Bratzlav or Breslau or Bratislava, although all of these errors occur in academic works about Rebbe Nachman's life. The Breslov where Rebbe Nachman lived is a small Ukranian town, located on the Bug River, latitude 48.50 N longitude 28.55 E, midway between Tulchin to the south and Nemirov to the north; 9 miles or 15 kilometers from each. At the end of the eighteenth century, Breslov had a Jewish population of just over a thousand. It had a main synagogue and six small prayer houses, one of which was known as the Baal Shem Tov synagogue.

Some people also see the name Breslov as a play on words in Askenazic Hebrew: "Bris lev" means "covenant (or circumcision) of the heart." The Breslov approach places great stress on serving G-d with joy and living life as intensely as possible. "It's a great mitzvah always to be happy," Rebbe Nachman taught.

One distinctively Breslov practice is "hisboddidus" (hitbadedut), which literally means "to make yourself be in solitude." Hisboddidus is a personalized form of free-flowing prayer and meditation. In addition to the regular daily services in the prayerbook, Breslover Hasidim try to spend an hour alone with G-d each day, pouring out their thoughts and concerns in whatever language they speak, as if talking to a close personal friend. (One does not have to be a Breslover Chassid to practice this technique.)

Rebbe Nachman stressed the importance of soul-searching. 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," Rebbe Nachman taught, "It depends on nothing but your own free choice... for everything depends on a multitude of deeds." (See Rabbi Nachman's Wisdom, p.29)

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 Chassidim today do not have a "Rebbe in the flesh," and each individual Chassid is free to go to any Jewish guide or teacher he (or she) feels comfortable with. There is no single person or council of elders "in charge" of the Breslov movement, and there is no membership list.

Further information about Breslov can be found in the reading list on Chassidism at http://www.scjfaq.org/rl/joc-index.html and at the "Breslov -- Judaism with a Heart" website (http://www.breslov.org). The Breslov on the Internet page at has a link launcher to many other Breslov-related sites.


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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