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Imagining holiness : a source-critical, historical and thematic study of collections of Hasidic tales with particular focus on the works of Israel Berger and Abraham Ḥayim Simḥah Bunem Michelson.

Publication | Library Call Number: BM532 .L49 2003

A literary and historical study of traditional collections of Hasidic tales, as a contribution to the cultural history of Judaism, with a focus on the work of two prolific Hasidic collectors in the decade before the First World War. The Introduction includes a review of scholarship and disputed issues. For example, some scholars depict Hasidic tales as sacred literature while others dismiss them as trivial entertainment. Part I addresses this question among others, while placing the tales in historical and literary context. A nuanced view of the status of Hasidic tales within their own culture is advanced. Martin Buber's still prevalent decontextualized idealization of Hasidic stories and their values is shown to be inadequate, while some conclusions of more recent scholarship are problematized. In particular, criteria for “authenticity” proposed in Joseph Dan's writings on Hasidic tales are shown to be unworkable. Part II explores the tales' relationship with earlier Jewish texts. Chapter 1 shows how Talmudic sources inform the language and structure of many tales, creating an equivalence between the Hasidic Rebbes and the Sages of rabbinic Judaism. Chapter 2 notes tensions between halakhah (Jewish Law) and the central narrative figure of the Rebbe whose personal freedom and supernatural powers may clash with legal norms. Chapter 3 examines whether the early mystical Hekhalot texts can be seen as models for tales of Rebbes' ascents into heaven. Part III finds a key to the stories in the theme of corporeality, with the holy body of the Rebbe as a focal point (chapter 1), the material world as an area of difficult spiritual struggle (chapter 2, taking food and eating as an example) and the presence of strong female characters as a disruptive factor (chapter 3). Chapter 4 of this part extends the scope of the study by looking at a narrative response to the destruction of Jewish bodies on an unimaginable scale during the khurbn (Holocaust). Finally, Part IV analyzes one story in depth, finding, in keeping with previous chapters, that the tales express tensions in Hasidic and general Jewish culture that could not be communicated more directly.

Lewis, Justin Jaron, 1961-
Record last modified: 2018-05-25 09:44:00
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