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In this series
The Chain of Tradition Series Volume V: Hasidic Thought
First published 1976
THE HASIDIC MOVEMENT arose in Podolia and Volhynia in the first half of the eighteenth century. So rapid was the progress it made, in spite of-or because of-the fiercest opposition, that by the end of the century a large proportion of Polish and Russian Jewry had become hasidic. Even today the movement numbers many thousands of adherents, and thanks to the popularizing efforts of Martin Buber and Louis I. Newman and the scholarly work of Professor Gershom Scholem and his school, it is well known in both general and academic circles. There are books enough on hasidic. The excuse, if such is required, for adding another is that there has been little investigation of the actual texts of the hasidic masters. So far as I am aware, none of the texts presented here has ever before been translated into English.
Historical details about practically every aspect of hasidic life are readily available. (Bibliographies and much useful historical information are to be found in the numerous articles on hasidic and the Hasidic masters in the new Encyclopedia Judaica, on which I have relied, mainly, in the matter of dating.) Only those historical details essential to an understanding of the texts have been supplied here.
The reader is advised to read through the brief introduction to each series of texts before studying the texts themselves. The chart at the end of the book places each of the masters considered in the hasidic “chain of tradition.”
The method adopted is that of the other four volumes in the Behrman House Chain of Tradition series, to which there are occasional crossreferences. The text in English translation is printed in bolder type, with the explanatory notes inserted in the text in lighter type so that “he who runs may read.” The titles to the various pieces in the table of contents are mine, not those of the original authors. They are intended to encourage the reader to choose, in the first instance, the topics with a special appeal for him, with, as the Hasidic would say, something belonging to the root of his soul. In any anthology the principle of selectivity is complicated. But I have tried to choose passages from the main books used by the Hasidim and those which convey something of both the flavor of Hasidic thought and the rich variety of Hasidic expression. For this reason only one or two examples have been given of movements which developed a life of their own and produced a literature of their own within Hasidism-the Habad movement, for instance. Emphasis has been placed on texts from standard Hasidic books rather than on aphorisms and the like quoted in the name of Hasidic thinkers, with the exception of such tendencies in Hasidic thought as Ruzhyn, Kotzk, and Belz, which produced fascinating Hasidic leaders but no literature to speak of. Although a real attempt has been made to be fair to the Hasidic masters, it would have been inexcusable to omit from this anthology that which might be called the darker side of Hasidism-Moses Teitelbaum’s attitude regarding women or Zadok Ha-Kohen’s strong opposition to all general learning, for example. The Hasidim often speak of the special value of that light produced from out of the darkness, and, in any event, a round picture of what Hasidic thought is really like has been the aim of this book.
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