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Book Notes: Hasidism Reappraised, Ada Rapoport-Albert (ed.)

Edgar Samuel

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Hasidism Reappraised - Proceedings of the International Conference of the Institute of Jewish Studies in memory of Joseph G. Weiss, University College London, 21-23 June 1988, edited by Ada Rapoport-Albert (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, London &amp; Portland, Oregon 1996) ISBN 1-874774-20-X. xxvi + 514 pp. ?65. This is a volume of twenty-nine essays by different authors on a single major theme. The editor has grouped them logically and systematically under the follow? ing headings: 'Joseph G. Weiss as a Student of Hasidism'; 'Towards a New Social History of Hasidism'; 'The Social Function of Mystical Ideals in Hasidism'; 'Distinctive Outlooks and Schools of Thought within Hasidism'; 'The Hasidic Tale'; 'The History of Hasidic Historiography'; 'Contemporary Hasidism'; and 'The Present State of Research on Hasidism: an Overview'. She also explains that not every paper delivered at the UCL conference has been included, while a number of monographs by authors who did not attend do appear. This enhances the quality and importance of the volume. It is not possible in a short review of a symposium of this nature to do justice to all the essays in the book, so comment will be limited to six of them - a mere fifth of this important collection of studies. Moshe J. Rosman's 'Social Conflict in Miedzyboz' studies life in this stetl during the period that Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov lived there. His idea of searching the Czartoryski archives for evidence of life in 18th-century Miedzyboz was brilliant. What emerged was a series of complaints made by its Jews to their overlord about each other. This tells us a lot about the Miedzyboz stetl and its inhabitants, and illuminates their social tensions, but does not tell us very much about Israel Baal Shem Tov, except that he was a respected resident of the stetig he laid no complaints before Prince Czartoryski and no one complained about him. Ada Rapoport-Albert's contribution, entitled 'Hasidism after 1772: Structural Continuity and Change', is a major monograph on the leadership, succession and governance of the Hasidic movement, after the partitions of Poland and the death of the Maggid of Mezhirech fragmented the movement's centralized structure. Yoseph Salmon's stimulating essay, 'R. Naphtali Zevi of Ropczyce ("the Ropshitser") as a Hasidic Leader', discusses the career of an important later 241</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes leader of the Hasidic movement. Rabbi Naphtali Zevi was a well-connected member of the Polish rabbinate with a full talmudic training, who held office as a town rabbi. He became intoxicated by the mystical teachings of Hasidism. There is no doubt that a well-educated leader of his quality helped to win converts to the movement in Poland, yet he left no Halachic opinions. The thrust of his teaching was to build up the importance of the Tsadik, as the mediator between the Hasid and Heaven. The Tsadik would win the Hasidim salvation by his vicarious atonement for their sins. Chone Shmeruk's Titzhak Schiper's Study of Hasidim in Poland' tells the remarkable story of Schiper's composition of his important history in Polish of Hasidism in Central Poland, which he wrote in the Warsaw ghetto in 1942, before his death in Maidenek in July 1943, and the miraculous survival of his manuscript. He then summarizes and reviews the contents of Schiper's history of the move? ment in Poland. Some of the most interesting essays in the volume deal with the theology or ideology of Hasidism. Rabbi Louis Jacobs's essay on 'The Dogma of the Decline of the Generations' discusses how Hasidism claimed to be an authentic develop? ment of Rabbinic Judaism, while at the same time seeking to substitute the teach? ings of their own leaders for those of the Tannaim and Amoraim. This was achieved by two arguments. Firstly that the Tsadikim were close to the forthcoming Mes? sianic age and therefore received new direct revelations and secondly that they were reincarnations of Tannaim and as such possessed their religious authority and hotline to Heaven. Mendel Pierkaz's 'Hasidism as a Socio-Religious Movement on the Evidence of Devekuf, deals in some detail with belief and the mystic importance of the tsadik as a two-way intermediary between Heaven and the believer. The Hasidic reinterpretation of the Kabbalistic doctrine of Devekut, or cleaving to the Divine, is a topic of sophistication and complexity which is discussed in detail. Although in any symposium of thirty authors there must be some variation in quality, this volume is probably the most important analytical study of the Hasidic movement to have appeared in the English language, and it can be read with profit by anyone seriously interested in Jewish history. Edgar Samuel</page></plain_text>

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