National Jewish Book
for the Nahum N. Sarna Memorial Award for Scholarship, 2018.
Hasidism, a movement of religious awakening and social reform, originated in the mid-eighteenth century. After two and a half centuries of crisis, upheaval, and renewal, it remains a vibrant way of life and a compelling aspect of Jewish experience. This book explores the profound intellectual and religious issues that the hasidic masters raised in their Torah commentary, and brings to the fore the living qualities of their sermons (derashot).
Ora Wiskind-Elper addresses a spectrum of topics: creation, revelation, and redemption; hermeneutics, epistemology, psychology, Romanticism, poetry and poetics, art history, Hebrew fiction, cultural history, and tropes of Jewish suffering and hope. Fully engaged in the texts and their spirituality, she brings them to bear on postmodernist challenges to traditional spiritual and religious sensibilities.
This is a comprehensive study, unique in pedagogy, clarity, and originality. It uses the full range of critical scholarship on hasidism as a social and ideological movement. At the same time, it maintains a strong focus on hasidic Torah commentary as a conveyor of theology and value. Each of its chapters presents a fundamentally new approach. Wiskind-Elper’s translations are in themselves an innovative moment in the tradition and spiritual history of the passages she offers.
Reviews'Hasidism, for Ora Wiskind-Elper, is the crucible into which the whole world flows: creation, revelation, redemption; hermeneutics, epistemology, Freudian psychology, Romanticism, poetry and poetics, autobiography (which she calls “self-perception”), art history, Hebrew fiction, social history, the challenge of modernity, and the major catastrophes that befell the Jewish people in the twentieth century. In order to produce this definitive, synoptic work on Hasidic Torah commentary, she has mastered the entire corpus of critical scholarship; the different schools of Hasidic thought from master to disciple; the relevant methodologies of reading and interpretation; and last but not least, a social-historical guide to the early and later masters and their disciples, down to the present day. Hasidic Commentary on the Torah is magisterial; unique in its scope, pedagogy, clarity and original insight.'
David G. Roskies Sol & Evelyn Henkind Professor of Yiddish Literature and Culture Jewish Theological Seminary, New York
‘Ora Wiskind-Elper’s ability to utilize the fullest range of academic scholarship on Hasidism as a cultural and religious movement, in all its diversity is exemplary, and always done with the stronger focus on the role and dynamics of the Hasidic derashah. . . . [her] choice of thematics – from the self-conception of the masters, to their hermeneutics and use of language and tradition, and including the role of historical or social factors to condition the thematics, is not only superb, but brings to the forefront the living qualities of these spiritual sermons, and demonstrates the powerful hermeneutics at play . . . we get an excellent survey of issues . . . one is brought to a new level of comprehension and also spiritual-hermeneutical insight.'
Michael Fishbane, Nathan Cummings Distinguished Service Professor of Jewish Studies, University of Chicago