We have been learning from Sefer Chassidim for the past few days, and I would like to share a biographical sketch of its author and background to the sefer. The author of the Sefer is Rav Yehuda Chasid, son of Rav Shmuel Chasid. Rav Shmuel Chasid is best known as the author of the Shir Hakavod, also known as Anim Zemiros, which is recited in some shuls every shabbos, and by some only on the yamim noraim. He lived in Germany in the early period of the Baalei Tosafos. They were known for their phenomenal acts of chassidus, of going beyond the letter of the law in their avodas hashem. They were well versed in kabbalah.
Rav Yehuda HaChassid was niftar in 1217 c.e. It is not entirely clear when he was born, but it is suggested that he was born around 1150 c.e.
Sefer Chassidim covers a vast range of topics. Rav Yehuda HaChassid’s method was to give vast amounts of examples and use the examples as a vehicle to teach halachic concepts. His sefer follows the Gemara in that regard, and contrasts later halachic seforim which try to compile general halachic klalim.
Other seforim he wrote include his tzava’ah, his ethical will and testament, which includes many practices he wished his family practice. Some have become practiced by all of Klal Yisroel, but there is much discussion about what components of the tzava’ah, if any, are binding on Klal Yisroel as a whole. One should discuss any questions with their rav.
Rav Yehuda HaChassid also wrote a sefer on gematria and a sefer on taamei hamitzvos. He may have written a peirush on Sefer Hayetzirah. He was the rebbe of the Rokeach, and the Ri Or Zarua. Many of the sources for minhagei Ashkenaz stem from these seforim, essentially meaning that they likely stem from Rav Yehuda HaChassid.
Some secular sources have tried to paint Sefer Chassidim as against the standard halachic process of the baalei tosafos. This idea is incorrect, and stems from those sources’ own superficial understanding of the learning process.
Some have suggested that Rav Shmuel HaChassid may have contributed to Sefer Hachassidim, and that there may have been a third contributor as well. Be it as it may, it has become accepted in Klal Yisroel, and was popular amongst the general populace due to its ease of use and its many examples and stories.
Be’ezras Hashem, tomorrow we will begin the next Klal.