English Summaries V
Paul B. Fenton
Two Pietist Schools - the Hasidey Ashkenaz and
the Jewish Sufis in Egypt 5
The Baal Shem Tov, R. Jacob Joseph of
Polonnoye, and the Maggid of Mezhirech:
Outlines for a Religious Typology 25
The Novelty in Hasidism according to
R. Barukh of Kossow 75
The Novelty of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav 91
Faith and Heresy in the Doctrine of
Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav 105
FentonSacred Dance in Jewish Spirituality -
Hasidic Dance 135
Books Received 147
Paul B. Fenton
TWO PIETIST SCHOOLS - THE HASIDEY ASHKENAZ AND THE
JEWISH SUFIS IN EGYPT
Curiously in two totally different parts of the XIIIth century Jewish world, two distinct pietist movements simultaneously saw the light of day, both calling themselves hasidism. Despite the difference of their geographical and cultural origins, these two movements bear several traits in common. The author discusses the historical context of their respective emergence, the personalities involved in their leadership, the principles of their authority, their mystical doctrines, their attitude to the non-Jewish environment, and the sectarian values which characterized them. The latter point leads to speculation on the general characterisation of Jewish sectarianism.
THE BAAL SHEM TOV, R. YA'AKOV YOSEF OF POLONNOYE, AND
THE MAGGID OF MEZRITCH: OUTLINE FOR A RELIGIOUS
In this paper, an attempt is made to determine what may be gleaned from a
comparative examination of those books which are explicitly mentioned as
having been studied by the Baal Shem Tov and testimonies relating to the
contents of his own religious experience. We find that the Besht was drawn to
complex theoretical texts with a strong emphasis on revelation, in which the ecstatic and magical mystical experience are interconnected with one another to the point of being unrecognizable - first and foremost the book Berit Menuha and the Hekhalot literature.
His relationship to the Hekhalot literature, on the one hand, and the fact that the Amidah prayer during public worship frequently served as the structural axis for his ecstatic religious experience, on the other, are perceived as being of great significance for understanding the structural shaping of the mystical path by his disciples.
The Baal Shem Tov had two distinct religious paths. The one: ascent to the Hekhalot; the other, attachment to the light of the Infinite present in the letters. We have attempted to distinguish two attitudes to the light: as present within the letters, or as needing to be drawn -down into the letters. The aim of this distinction is to sharpen the claim that the center of gravity of the Besht's religious experience is to be found in the identification and uncovering of this immanent Divine dimension, and not in the attempt to draw it down.
The former approach (ascent in the Hekhalot) is associated with extreme trembling of the body, with "separation" of the soul from the body (state of trance), and the seeing of visions. These frequently occur during public worship, particularly in the context of times of trouble for the public or in the ritual timing of the Days of Awe. The second approach (contemplation of the light of the letters) is connected with a state of introspective reflection and deepening of the integration between the soul and the body, and likewise emphasizes the integration between the light and the letter.
The Besht's religious personality united these two paths as two modes of intensive religious experience, of both the introverted and extroverted type.
Did the Besht already create the correlation between ascent to the Hekhalot as entities and chambers, and the understanding of progress within the prayer liturgy as a journey through the words and letters, understood as rooms?
The following directions are suggested for describing the disciples of the Besht: The Maggid is portrayed as one who systematically developed the Besht's flickerings and flashes of visions and images within the Amidah, related to the Hekhalot, into a kind of structured path in which the worshipper understands the words from the onset as heavenly palaces.
R. Yaakov Yosef of Polonnoye likewise sharpened the correspondence between progress during the course of worship towards the Amidah as representing the World of Emanation and the moment of unification, and progress within prayer as a journey through the Hekhalot.
THE NOVELTY IN HASIDISM
ACCORDING TO R. BARUKH OF KOSSOW
The Hasidic teaching of R. Barukh of Kossow, who belonged to the circle of the first East European Hasidim, is an abstraction of the Kabbalistic cosmology of the Ari (R. Isaac Luria). In R. Barukh's view, the creation of the worlds, as described in Lurianic Kabbalah through the imagery of light and sexuality, manifests the process of divine thinking. The mechanism of human thinking and feeling is constructed along the same lines.
In addition, suggests R. Barukh, there is an infinite chain of mental-spiritual paired entities of master and disciple. The master's intellect surrounds that of the disciple, thereby creating a constant and multi-directional dynamic of thought between them. Through an erotic connection, this emotional and mental interaction generates new creations and insights that ascend the ladder of apprehension. The human soul is such an entity and its position in the ladder of ascent is determined by the extent of its love and knowledge.
These perceptions have moral and social implications: religious labor and creativity (studying Torah and certain forms of religious devotion) are analogous to the Creation and implemented through necessarily intimate relations between the master and the disciple (corresponding to the relational structure of the world).
Because it takes place within thought, which is eternal, the religious practice changes our picture of the world as it relates to the concept of life and death and the notion of time. In contrast, physical action takes place in the temporal dimension of this world and its dream-like reality. This position dictates: (a) equanimity with regards to the ongoing occurrences in this world; (b) one's awakening to intensive life in the actual reality of religious creativity and labor.
This arousal consitutes a cognitive change that impacts reality, for reality is that which is perceived in thought. Though highly personal, this demand for arousal paradoxically requires a broad social framework of studying and instruction. It is a demand for creativity, and creativity is generated in relation to others. The circles of Kabbalists, which were closed, isoteric and elitist, became the general norm. The change involved the character of the new groups, the consciousness of its members, and their interpersonal relations.
THE NOVELTY OF RABBI NAHMAN OF BRATSLAV
Novelty (hiddush), the very word by which R. Nahman tended to characterize himself, may account for his influential power in the last two centuries. Paradoxically, R. Nahman viewed novelty as a means of reestablishing precisely the old ways of faith and religion. With keen insight, he perceived the depth of the crisis of modernity and the great danger it presented to religion. He also realized that this crisis could not be confronted by conventional means. Though in the beginning R. Nahman thought to cure the malady of his generation by adopting ways similar to those of the enlightenment movement (Haskalah), as can be inferred from the first section of his Likkutei Moharan, it did not take him long to give up this attempt and become the worst enemy of the Haskalah. The latter offered a fixed system of thinking combined with accepted behavior, whereas R. Nahman insisted upon constant change and renewal, by which he even defined Judaism. Moreover, R. Nahman would not settle for mere renewal, by which he even defined Judaism. Moreover, R. Nahman would not settle for mere theoretical and verbal novelty (in which he was second to none), for he recognized its inadequacy in overpowering modern heresy. Thus, his main novelty is to be found in non-semantic dimensions of existence, such as improper and undignified behavior (katnur), music, dancing, storytelling, yearning, and above all - silence. The ultimate non-semantic novelty that R. Nahman offered his Hasidim was his own existence and personality. For himself he found a solution in the non-semantic devotion of his Hasidim. When this ceased to be a novelty, and the Hasidim began to bore and annoy him, once again he needed the talks of the maskilim. So he went to Uman to seek their company and there he died.
FAITH AND HERESY IN THE DOCTRINE OF RABBI NAHMAN OF BRASTSLAV
Though the issue of faith and heresy in Rabbi Nahman’s doctrine has been extensively researched, no attention has been paid to the fact that it originates in the Kabbalistic concept of faith in its three main principles: (a) Faith has an ontic-metaphysical status in divinity, while human faith is simply its result and the reflection; (b) In this ontic-metaphysical status, faith manifests itself in various degrees, corresponding to the hierarchic scale of the ten sefirot; (c) The ten sefirot thus automatically become an objective set of criteria for grading human faith. This point however is crucial for understanding Rabbi Nahman’s central discussion of faith and heresy, which appears in the sixty-fourth teaching of his Likkutey Moharan. Here faith and heresy are perceived mostly in their ontic-metaphysical significance, through the dialectic of Yesh and Ayin - correspondingly, the presence and absence of God in the empty void, which directly resulted from the Zimzum (contraction) of the Ein-Sof. By identifying heresy, and more precisely, the heresy that he calls Epikorsut of the second type, with the void Rabbi Nahman makes a most innovative and daring move. For he thus grants heresy a very high ontic-metaphysical status, which is almost at the top of the Yesh ladder, very close to the Ein-Sof. In this sense, there appears to be no recognizable difference between heresy and faith, since the Ein-Sof is established as the direct root of both of them, in their ontic-metaphysical status.
This might suggest that Rabbi Nahman's unequivocal decision in favor of faith, rejecting heresy in any form and declaring a total war on it, is not grounded on ontic-metaphysical considerations; so that faith turns to be paradoxical in essence. In fact, however, the opposite is true. For R. Nahman, human faith in its highest degree - the perfect faith of the true Zaddik, who is like Moses - reflects, and connects itself to, its highest root, namely, faith in its supreme ontic-metaphysical status as embodied in the point of Zimzum, which is above and beyond the empty void. As such, its validity and truth are absolute.
The evidence for such an understanding of Rabbi Nahman's approach to the given issue is to be found in his discussion of the Niggun, with which he concludes the theoretical part of his homily. We learn from it that by its very nature, the true Zaddik's apparent silence in front of the silence of the void and the heresy emerging from it, is actually a supreme Niggun, which is totally identical with the supreme and prefect faith. Through the magical power of this Niggun, the true Zaddik is able to confront the empty void and perform his redemptive role of rescuing the souls that have fallen there.
Paul B. Fenton
SACRED DANCE IN JEWISH SPIRITUALITY - HASIDIC DANCE
Although sacred dancing (reqidah) is a central ritual in Hasidic practice, unlike Hasidic music, it has received little attention. The present contribution proposes a rapid outline of its spiritual significance within Hasidism, with special emphasis on the importance of the Davidic model (2 Sam. 6, 14-16) as a paradigm for Hasidic dance. The author also deals with dance in the Bratslav school where its practice takes on a "cathartic" value. The Davidic dimension is again illustrated by a unique description of the sacred dance of the Munkacer Rebbe, R. Hayyim Eleazer Shapira (1872-1937) as faithfully recorded by one of his disciples.