Sunday 26 February 2023

419) Priestly politics, Calendar wars and early Jewish mysticism


The Dead Sea Scrolls from around the 3rd century BCE to the 1st century CE


The Hebrew Calendar that we use today has undergone some dramatic transformation over time. What is most interesting is it seems that control over the calendars was often directly related to control over mysticism. In this article, based extensively on the research by Professor Rachel Lior,[1] we examine some of the fascinating developments of the Hebrew Calendar. Much of this information has only come to light in relatively recent times. It must be emphasised that these are Elior's views and not everyone necessarily agrees with the position she takes. Nonetheless, her observations are of great interest.

Sunday 19 February 2023

418) Sefer Chassidim: A little-known, unpublished and anonymous anti-Chassidic manuscript from 1818


The anonymous anti-Chassidic polemic, Sefer Chassidim, 1818


If you are interested in texts and manuscripts with their varying Hashkafot (worldviews), then you may find the anonymous 1818 work, entitled Sefer Chassidim[1] to be of interest. This little-known work, a polemic (theological argument) against Chassidism, is a challenge to some of the then-new principles of the Chassidic movement. The manuscript was never published. In this article, based extensively on a review[2] by Professor Jonatan Meir, we look at some of the content of this manuscript, without necessarily taking any one particular side. 

Sunday 12 February 2023

417) The shift from experiential Chassidism to an expansion of Chassidic literature.


Toledot Yakov Yosef (1817 edition) by R. Yakov Yosef of Polonnoye.


This article, based extensively on the research by Professor Zeev Gries, deals with the often-overlooked role of the editor in producing Chassidic texts and in communicating Chassidic doctrines.[1] Many are familiar with the impressive stories of the great Rebbes but very little is known about the: 

“scribes, copyists, editors, and printers who, for better or for worse, have determined the shape in which hasidic tradition has come down to us and dictated the course and pace of its transmission” (Gries 1996:141). 

We shall also examine how these editors helped shift Chassidism from what started out as an experiential movement with little concern for an authoritative literature, to one that is today defined by this very literature. 

Sunday 5 February 2023

416) What really happened on the last Friday night in Kotzk?


A letter written by the Kotzker Rebbe's son, R. David in 1855. It was penned during the period of his father's seclusion and R. David requests from one of the followers: that he collect the debts from our people, for the house of [our master, my father..] may he live long, good days…and Hashem should give him success.”


This article, based extensively on the research by Dr Morris Faierstein examines the various accounts of the last night the Kotzker Rebbe spent with his followers in Kotzk.[1] 

The popular version

The popular version of the story goes like this: One Friday night in 1839, R. Menachem Mendel of Kotzk (1789-1859) sat with his followers and in front of them he either smoked a pipe or extinguished the Shabbat candles, proclaiming “Leit din veleit Dayan,” (there is no Law and there is no Judge). Thereafter he excused himself from the gathering and secluded himself (or was forced into seclusion by his family) for the next twenty years until his passing in 1859. 

Faierstein, however, presents a series of the written accounts that led to this popular version and deconstructs them in an attempt to better understand the evolutionary process behind this story. We will look at six different written sources to see how they depicted the alleged events of that ‘last night in Kotzk.’