The movement and tendency within Hasidism which places particular emphasis on the role of the intellect in the life of religion. Habad (often spelled Chabad in English) is an acronym formed from the initial letters of the three Hebrew words: Hokhmah, Binah, Daat, standing, respectively, for Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge; in this context these refer to the three unfoldings of the divine mind taught in the Kabbalistic doctrine of the Sefirot.
The founder of the Habad tendency, Shneur Zalman of Liady (1745–1813), became a foremost disciple of Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezhirech (d. 1772), disciple of the Baal Shem Tov and organizer of the developing Hasidic movement. Shneur Zalman evidently owes many of his specific ideas to the Maggid and his son, known as Abraham the Angel ; ideas to which Shneur Zalman gave systematic form. Although an offshoot of Hasidism, Habad is essentially a movement of its own, looked at with a degree of indifference and, on occasion, hostility, by the other Hasidic masters who, while admiring Shneur Zalman himself, believed that the Habad understanding of Hasidism is too intellectually orientated and too close to philosophy for comfort. Shneur Zalman's successor in the leadership of the Habad group was his son, Dov Baerof Lubavitch (1773–1827). Dov Baer was succeeded by his son-in-law and nephew, Menahem Mendel of Lubavitch (1787–1866). Menahem Mendel's descedants served in the main as successive masters of the Lubavitch dynasty but a few established Habad schools of their own in opposition to Lubavitch, although their followers were eventually absorbed in Lubavitch.
Habad theology involves a radical interpretation of the Kabbalistic ideas of the famed sixteenth-century Safed mystic, Isaac Luria, known as the Ari. In the Lurianic Kabbalah, the first step in the divine creative process is a withdrawal or contraction of the En Sof, the Infinite ground of being, God as He is in Himself, ‘from Himself into Himself’. This act of divine limitation is known as Tzimtzum. As a result of the Tztimtzum an ‘empty space’ is left into which the light of En Sof then streams forth eventually to produce, through a further series of contractions, the Sefirot and through these all the worlds on high and the material world experienced by the senses.
The basic problem is how the Tzimtzum and especially the ‘empty space’ are to be understood. The Kabbalists generally understand the ‘empty space’ in other than spatial terms, as a metaphor for that which is other than God, very few entertaining the bizarre notion that there really is a kind of immense circular hole in En Sof into which the universe has emerged. But even if the Tztimtzum is understood in more sophisticated terms to denote spiritual processes in the divine realm taking place outside space and time, humans do have the experience of space and time and the physical world certainly seems real enough. Since this is so, the problem the doctrine of Tzimtzum was intended to solve, how there can be a universe apart and separate from the limitless and infinite En Sof, still remains as obdurate as ever. In Habad thought the extremely radical solution is that, from the point of view of ultimate reality, there is no universe. The universe and the creatures who inhabit the universe only appear to enjoy existence. From our point of view, the world is indeed real, but not from God's point of view, as the Habad thinkers put it.