Hasidic Commentary on the Torah

Ora Wiskind–Elper

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ISBN: 9781906764128

Publication: March 13, 2018

Series: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

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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.

Ora Wiskind-Elper is the author of Wisdom of the Heart: The Teachings of Rabbi Ya’akov of Izbica-Radzyn (2010) and Tradition and Fantasy in the Tales of Reb Nahman of Bratslav (1998). She is associate professor in the Graduate Programme in Jewish Thought at Michlalah Jerusalem College and at Ono Academic College, Israel.

Note on Transliteration Introduction 1. Dimensions of Collective Self-Understanding Beginnings Receiving, Revealing ‘When Your Wellsprings Will Flow Forth’ To Create New Worlds with Words ‘They Made Their Souls Anew’ To See and to be Seen ‘Well said, Moses!’ 2. Modes of Reading Metaphors We Live By A Parable in Wait Imagining the World The Essence of Being Human Bread-Eaters and Dreamers Know Me in Translation Conclusions So Far How to Teach, How to Learn To Know or Not to Know Finding the Words The Secret of Exile The Secret of Redemption Summing Up 3. Responses to a Shifting Landscape Introduction The Space in the Middle ‘For the Times They are A-Changin’ ’ Reason for Hope The Inward Turn Modernity and Its Discontents ‘God is in the Detail’ Prophets of the Past, Prophets of the Future Deep Blue Sky and Yellow Stars Song of Dust and Ashes Postscript Bibliography Index

‘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


'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


Format: Hardback

Size: 235 × 155 mm

230 Pages

ISBN: 9781906764128

Publication: March 13, 2018

Series: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

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