Sunday 29 January 2023

415) The changing face of mysticism in the evolution of Chassidism


The Grand Synagogue of R. Yisrael of Ruzhin (der heiliger Ruzhiner) in Sadigur. 


This article, drawn extensively from the research by Professor Benjamin Brown, looks at how Chassidism, which started out as a mystical movement, slowly redefined its mysticism and, over time, replaced it with various substitutes.[1] 

From what began as a small movement in the eighteenth century with relatively common mystical ideas, the nineteenth century brought with it:

“deep ideological transformation…the vast majority of which were not mystical” (Brown 2017:247).

The mystical fervour of the early generations soon dissipated and became ‘neutralised’ by Chassidic substitutes. We shall look at a number of such examples. 

Sunday 22 January 2023

414) Did the first three Rebbes of Chabad credit the Vilna Gaon for saving Chassidism?

Mekor Baruch R. Baruch Halevi Epstein (1860-1941)


In a most interesting source found in Mekor Baruch, the first three Rebbes of Chabad are said to have acknowledged the Vilna Gaon for his role in keeping Chassidism within the framework of traditional Judaism. Considering that the Vilna Gaon was Chassidism’s most ardent opponent, this seems like quite an outlandish and unlikely claim.

Mekor Baruch

Mekor Baruch was written by R. Baruch Halevi Epstein (1860-1941) and is a four-volume collection of memoirs and recollections from leading personalities of previous generations. His father, R. Yechiel Michel Epstein (1829–1908), the author of Aruch haShulchan, is said to have studied together with R. Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch (1789-1866) the third Chabad Rebbe, known as the Tzemach Tzedek.

Sunday 15 January 2023

413) Did R. Nachman meet Napoleon?

Napoleon's unsuccessful attempt to siege Acre in 1799


This article, based extensively on the research by Professor David Assaf, looks at the historicity of the claims by a veritable literary tradition that the 26-year-old R. Nachman of Breslov had met with the 29-year-old Napoleon while both were in the Holy Land.[1] 

Sunday 8 January 2023

412) Can Targumim clarify a Torah text?


Targum Yonatan fragment in the Cairo Geniza.


This article, based extensively on the research by Dr Raanan Eichler, explores whether the study of Targumic texts (=Torah translations into Aramaic) can sometimes lead us closer to the original intent of the Torah text.[1] 

Sunday 1 January 2023

411) The Baal Shem Tov of “Okopy”?

The legendary synagogue of the Baal Shem Tov in Piatra Neamț in Western Moldavia


All the literature we read on the Baal Shem Tov (1690[1]/1698/[2]1700[3]-1760) gives his birthplace as Okopy, in Podolia, Western Ukraine. However, relatively recent research by Romainian-born Professor Moshe Idel,[4] upon which this article is extensively based, suggests that his birthplace may have been “in the state of Walachia." 

It is amazing how names, dates and ideas sometimes become accepted as truths just because they are repeated often enough. The same thing may apply to the town of Okopy which is always given as the birthplace of the Baal Shem Tov (Besht). Idel draws our attention to the fact that there is no “reliable” (Idel 2011:69) source to corroborate this detail.