Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Dovid Bashevkin - Perpetual Prophecy: An Intellectual Tribute to Reb Zadok ha-Kohen of Lublin on his 110th Yahrzeit

Perpetual Prophecy:
An Intellectual Tribute to Reb Zadok ha-Kohen of Lublin on his 110th Yahrzeit
by Dovid Bashevkin
Reb Zadok ha-Kohen Rabinowitz of Lublin (hereafter: “Reb Zadok”) was born in 1823 into a noted rabbinic family. From a young age, we are told, he displayed signs of astonishing genius.[1] While many of these stories are questionable, it is evident that by the time he celebrated his bar mitzvah he was extremely thoroughly familiar with the standard rabbinic corpus and could navigate it easily.[2] By the time he turned twenty he had already written several works on Talmudic law and showed his interest in matters historical. From studying his earlier works it becomes abundantly clear that even prior to his later Hasidic transformation he was quite an original thinker. Though many of his works are in the form of traditional rabbinic writing, there is much that is truly striking, both in terms of the topics which he broached, which included historiography, chronology,[3] and astronomy, and the manner in which they were discussed. From an early age he was quite fond of amalgamating the normally distinct worlds of legal Talmudic discussion and aggadah.
During the mid-twentieth-century, Reb Zadok’s thought was first taught in America by R. Shraga Feivel Mendowitz, who gave classes on his works during his tenure as administrator and Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivas Torah V’Daas.[4] The works of Reb Zadok also deeply influenced the works of R. Eliyahu Dessler,[5] R. Gedaliah Shor,[6] and R. Yitzchak Hutner.[7] These roshei yeshiva brought Reb Zadok’s works to American yeshivot. Often unknown to those studying the works of these aforementioned rabbis, some of who rarely, if at all, cite Reb Zadok by name, the thought and influence of Reb Zadok is manifest in their work. It is fair to say that the resurgence of the study of what has become known as “mahshava” in contemporary yeshivot truly owes a great deal of credit to the works of Reb Zadok.
The academic study of Reb Zadok is surely in debt to Prof. Yaakov Elman, who brought the thought of Reb Zadok to the English speaking academic world in a series of articles published over the past twenty-five years.[8] His analysis of many of the central themes simultaneously charted new grounds in Hasidic scholarship and remain the standard from which subsequent scholarship on Reb Zadok is measured.[9]
Recently, Reb Zadok has begun to receive much deserved attention from the academic community. Historians, theologians, and sociologists have begun to explore the works of “The Kohen,” as he is often referred to colloquially, for his timeless and penetrating approach to Jewish thought. On the occasion of Reb Zadok’s 110th yahrzeit, a brief history of Reb Zadok’s thought, as expounded in the last few generations and a never-before-published original essay (“The World as a Book: Religious Polemic, Hasidei Ashkenaz, and the Thought of Reb Zadok”), is presented for the readers of the Seforim blog.
The turning point in Reb Zadok’s life was his divorce from his first wife. At the age of twenty-one, after getting married in his mid-teens, he decided to seek a divorce. The reasons for his insistence on a divorce are not clear, though it seems that Reb Zadok was led to believe that his wife had not maintained the level of piety that was required for him, as a Rav and Kohen. His wife, however, refused to accept a bill of divorce, forcing Reb Zadok to travel as an itinerant scholar throughout Europe in order to obtain a heter meah rabbanan.[10] Of the many rabbinic personalities he met during the trip, it was R. Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica who would completely transform Reb Zadok’s life.[11]
After his encounter with the Rebbe of Izbica, Reb Zadok decided to begin living as a Hasid. Though such a transition, as pointed out by Alan Brill, was certainly not as dramatic as it would have been several generations earlier, when the Hasidic-Mitnaggedic feud was in its fullest thrust, the cultural change was still quite significant. Reb Zadok spent nearly a decade at the court of R. Leiner after which he left to remarry and settle near Lublin. His second marriage, sadly, did not produce any children. For the remainder of his life, Reb Zadok remained immersed in study and contemplation from which he produced volumes of writings, none of which were published in his lifetime. He spent thirty-four years, from 1854 until 1888, in seclusion. It was only during the final thirteen years of his life, following the death of his dear friend R. Leible Eiger (who had succeeded R. Leiner after his death in 1854), that Reb Zadok functioned as a traditional Hasidic Rebbe.[12] On the ninth of Elul (Monday, 3 September 1900), in the seventy-seventh year of his life, Reb Zadok passed away.
Reb Zadok incorporated his own life struggles and frustrations into his own work. Over the course of his life there were two struggles that loomed large: his divorce and subsequent wandering through Europe, and his childlessness. Regarding the former, it is difficult to find even an allusion to the emotional toll which this difficulty took on Reb Zadok’s life. However with regard to the latter, it is quite clear that his childlessness was a major theme in his works. The title of Reb Zadok’s sermon collection, Pri Tzadik, is an allusion to his own perception of his children (referred to Rabbinic literature as pri [“fruits] of an individual) being the Torah teachings imparted to his students.[13] Additionally, Reb Zadok dedicated an entire work, entitled Poked Akarim (“The Visiting of the Barren”), first printed in 1922, for this theme to be made apparent.
The only source of directly autobiographical information from Reb Zadok is his fascinating work, Divrei Halomot (“The Message of Dreams”), first printed in 1903, of his own documentation of his dreams. The dreams, which are dated starting in 1845 and end in 1883, are mostly theological or Talmudic in nature, but many autobiographical insights can be gleaned from them as well.[14] Particularly, as been noted by several scholars, the third dream recorded, dated 1843, has provided particularly rich insight into Reb Zadok’s self-perception:
“I dreamt a dream [when I was present in Izbica] in which certain ideas were reveled to me from the roots of my soul. And among the ideas which were told to me is that the generation of Messiah will consist of those souls of the Generation of the Wilderness… whom are in turn comprised of the souls of the Flood… and they (the Generations of the Flood) corrupted their ways and sinned in what is known in rabbinic works as the sin of youth[15]… and the rectification of this is in the Generation of the Wilderness for which is was called ‘the kindness of youth.’ As it is written “I have remembered for you the kindness of my youth.” (Jeremiah 2:2).”[16]
Undoubtedly, this text, described by Reb Zadok himself as “the roots of my soul,” is the most authoritative presentation of Reb Zadok’s self-image in his extant writings. While its interpretation is ambiguous, the thrust of the dream is the powerful religious energy which is present even in sins and the potential to channel such energy into positive direction, ultimately resulting in the redemption. Why this relates to “the root” Reb Zadok’s soul is less clear. What emerges from this dream is THE central role the Hasidic idea of “descent in order to elevate” played in Reb Zadok’s life, where in his methodology, as articulated by Yaakov Elman, “the great Lurianic drama of cosmic catastrophe and slow rebuilding takes on a decided epistemologic cast.” This “cosmic drama,” which Reb Zadok brilliantly presents through his mastery of halakha, aggada, and the unfolding of Jewish History, was just as evident in the story of his life.
While the following appendix is, of course, not an exhaustive presentation of Reb Zadok’s thought, the following brief essay should serve as a call for scholars from across academic disciplines to carefully re-consider Reb Zadok’s contribution to modern intellectual thought.
The World as a Book:
Religious Polemic, Hasidei Ashkenaz, and the Thought of Reb Zadok
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this is our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything
-William Shakespeare (As You Like It, Act II, 1.14-17)
Mainstream Orthodox Jewish religious thought views the Bible as the exclusive representation of God’s will. Certainly, experiential reality may serve as testimony to His will or may inspire others to follow His will, however the arbiter of what His will precisely is, is restricted to the domain of the Bible. This view is clearly reflected in the oft-cited formulation of the Zohar that “God looked into the Torah and created the world.”[17] The all encompassing will of God is clearly represented in the statement by the Torah, while “the world” is merely an expression of its truth. The world is not given any independent status as a prophet of sorts for the word of God.
Yet, a second model exists. Reb Zadok cites that he has heard from his master, “That God created a book, and that is the world, and the commentary (on the book), and that is that Torah. For the Torah is akin to a commentary of God’s possessions.”[18] This analogy clearly places a greater focus on the world as a repository for Godly revelation. While the Torah clearly functions as a means of deciphering for the revelatory code of the world, it still remains to be seen within this analogy if the world can relate the will of God without the expository aid of the Torah. Moreover, does this analogy leave room for the possibility that the World may contain truths that do not even exist within the Torah? In order to understand the broader implications of this analogy, this essay will explore its origins and counterparts predating Reb Zadok and its specific influence on his general theology.
The notion that the word of God is revealed in two books, the Bible and the “Book of Nature,” dates back to beginning of the Common Era.[19] Throughout the centuries this idea was developed by many thinkers, each of whom expanded and evolved the scope and nature of the implications of this concept. While discussing its relationship to the Hasidei Ashkenaz, which will be discussed later, Haym Soloveitchik has argued that the analogy of the world as a book played an essential role in medieval thought:
“This implicit doctrine of dual revelation bears a familial resemblance to the common idea of the ‘book of creatures,’ which, in one form or another, shaped the entire medieval perception of the outside world and, as it also underlay most of its art, found expression in every frontal, portal, and stained-glass window of the cathedrals of the time. The doctrine taught that God has declared Himself in two manifestations: in the Holy Scriptures and in the Book of Nature. The world of sense is what it appears to be – a structure of physical objects – but it is at the same time a mirror and mystical typology of the attributes of the Creator Himself.”[20]
Following the humanistic revolution and the Renaissance the notion of the “Book of Nature” lost its prominence in Christian theology. The advances of science and humanistic thinking forced Christians to focus on other ideas to further their own theological agenda.[21]
Overall it seems there are two primary themes that can be culled from the vast array of presentations this analogy has taken in Christian thought relate to its objective and its substance. Firstly, in regards to its objective, the analogy served an important polemical role in the Church’s battles with the Cathar heresy which maintained that a “radical dualism of evil matter and divine spirit” existed in the world. Cathar dogma was founded upon the notion that two Gods existed, one evil who was the creator of matter, and one good, who controlled the world of spirituality.[22]
This approach is innovative for two reasons. By definition, proposing that God has revealed Himself outside the explicit prophetic revelation of Scriptures is novel to a normally prophetically based religion. Yet Christian theologians were uniquely innovative in that they actively pursued God’s implicit revelation in nature in its most basic sense, namely, flora and fauna. While other theologians were content with the first innovation, it was a markedly Christian exercise to search for Gods message in the pedals of roses and the contours of a nut.[23]
Eventually, with the advent of the scientific revolution, the Church and its sacrosanct “Book of Nature” faced tremendous controversy. The Galileo affair managed to shift the astronomical view of our universe and consequently redefine the essence of the Book of nature.
In response to a letter from his student Castelli, who informed him of the concerns of the Grand Duchess Christina regarding the relationship between religious dogma and Copernican theory, Galileo wrote her a short essay entitled “Letter to the Grand Duchess.” It was in these letters, to his student Castelli in 1613 (“Letter to Castelli”) and to the Grand Duchess in 1615, that Galileo began to release the shackles restricting the Book of Nature to the Domain of the Book of Scriptures. Later, in 1623 Galileo finally made it abundantly clear in which domain the Book of Nature resided.[24] He wrote:
“Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the letters in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it; without these, one wanders about in a dark labyrinth.”[25]
The sacred Book of Nature, which had for so long served as theological tool of the Church was now beginning to lose its authority. Galileo was careful not to deny the authority of the Book of Scriptures; it was with the interpretive framework of the Book of Nature that he took issue. Criticizing the Church’s claim as the exclusive authority in the Book of Nature’s interpretation, he felt the church had overstepped its boundaries in so narrowly defining the scope of legitimate interpretation. In his opinion the Church believed that, “Theology is the queen of all the sciences and hence must not in any way lower herself to accommodate the principles of other less dignified disciplines subordinated to her; rather, there others must submit to her as to a supreme empress and change and revise their conclusions in accordance with theological rules and decrees.”[26] Galileo did not seek to delegitimize the Church’s claim to truth in the Book of Scriptures; he just wanted that the Book of Nature be approached and understood on its own terms as a concurrent source of truth, rather than a truth subordinate to the truth of the Church.
Scholars have pointed out that it was not Galileo’s intention to engage in religious polemic, and he was, in fact, quite hesitant to respond to the Duchess, due to his concern that his innovative ideas would shake her faith. Most notably, Galileo never published the letter, a testament to his honest intentions to simply allay the Duchess’s theological concerns. However the letter did eventually circulate locally and found its way into the Congregation of the Holy Office in Rome, eventually setting the stage for Galileo’s trial of 1633 and the placement of Copernicus’ De revolutionibus on the banned Index of the Church.[27]
Ultimately Galileo’s presentation of the parallel truths of the Book of Nature and the Book of Scriptures did not help mitigate the attacks of his persecutors. As described by Biagioli, “The book of nature, therefore, was a Trojan horse: it seemed to pay homage to the theologians and their regime of truth, but it would have restricted their authority if they allowed it through their gates.” The Church did not allow itself to be fooled.
Emerging from this entire affair is a new chapter in the evolution of the interpretive framework of the Book or Nature. No longer was nature a hermeneutical resource for theological pontification, now it had a life and a message of its own, independent from theological dogma.
As the “Book of the Nature” received serious attention in the world of Christian theology, it also managed to infiltrate the medieval world Hasidei Ashkenaz. In a pioneering study, Haym Soloveitchik presented the primary text of the Hasidei Ashkenaz as Sefer Hasidim and explained that “underlying much of Sefer Hasidim, is the idea that the will of God, the rezon ha-Bore has not been cabined or confined within the overt dictates of the Torah, written or oral.”[28] The author of Sefer Hasidim seemed convinced that a vast body of unexpressed commandments exists outside of the explicit ruling of the Torah. Soloveitchik suggested that such an assumption is derived from “the vast disparity between Biblical and Rabbinic norms, and the testimony of God’s actions (both His wrath and His favor) in the Bible and in daily experience, [which] stand witness to the operation in history of standards of judgment other than those articulated in the Torah.”[29] Indeed, the introduction to Sefer Hasidim makes this goal quite clear:
“[This book] is written for those who fear God and are mindful of His name. There is a hasid whose heart desires, out of love for his Creator, to do His will, but he is unaware of all these things-which thing to avoid and how to execute profoundly the wish of the Creator. For this reason the Sefer Hasidim was written so that all who fear God and those returning to their Creator with an undivided heart may read it and know and understand what is incumbent upon them to do and what they must avoid.”[30]
Perhaps this statement may not at first glance seem relevant to the previous discussion, but it underlying assumption is extremely important to the general notion of the Book of Nature. Heretofore in Jewish theology it was generally assumed that all of God’s commandments were explicit either in the Written Law or the Oral Law which was simultaneously handed to Moses on Sinai. Generations following the canonization of the Talmud viewed it is the final authority on Jewish law not only in terms of deciding existing law but also in determining which laws even existed. Those within the Hasidei Ashkenaz were revolutionary in the sense that they suggested that the Law as revealed through the existing Torah was incomplete and an independent set of directives could be derived implicitly that had not been previously expounded in the Bible or Talmud.
To be sure, as Soloveitchik is quick to point out, the notion of a separate implicit revelation played significantly different roles in Hasidic thought and Christian theology. The differences, as presented by Soloveitchik, were as follows:
“The Hasidic doctrine dealt with Divine imperatives, the Christian one with Divine attributes; the former asserted deductions of new truths, the latter symbolic reflections of known ones. They share, however, one common assumption: outside the binding, canonized corpus, a ‘larger scripture,’ as it were, exists which can yield up religious truths upon proper inspection.”
Regardless of Soloveitchik’s distinction, the innovation of the Hasidei Ashkenaz serves as a powerful precedent in Jewish theology for extra-Biblical revelation. Reb Zadok employs the analogy of “The Book” in several different places and contexts.
As previously mentioned, in Reb Zadok’s first work after becoming joining the Hasidic ranks of Izbica, he presents the following:
“Every day there are innovations in Torah, for God recreated every day his works of the world, and the works of the world (maaseh bereishit) is through the Torah as cited in the beginning of Bereishit Rabbah,[31] and logically the recreation of the world as well is though the Torah. And it is for this reason that after the blessing [of the Shema] ‘Yotzer ha-Meorot,’ which relates to the recognition of the recreation of the world every day, [the Rabbis] established a second blessing which functions as a blessing on the Torah as explained in [TB] Berahot 11b (i.e. ‘Ahava Rabba’). One requests (to God) to know the innovations of the Torah which are through the recreation of the world. And as I have heard, that God created a book, and that is the world (olam),[32] and the commentary (on the book), and that is that Torah. For the Torah is akin to a commentary of God’s possessions.”[33]
As is typical of much of Reb Zadok’s writings in Tzidkat ha-Tzadik, he is quite brief and does not go onto lengthy expositions as found in his later writings. In this passage it is seems clear that he is following traditional Jewish thought in ascribing precedence to the book of God (i.e. the Torah) over the book of Nature. His citation of the classical passage in Midrash Rabbah, aside from lending traditional pedigree to his thought,[34] clearly articulated the traditional Jewish view that the world is an outgrowth of the Torah and not vice versa. After establishing this traditional premise, Reb Zadok proceeded to present an atypical understanding of the relationship between the Torah and the world, namely, that the World is a book while the Torah is mere commentary. Certainly it seems fair to presume that a commentary is ancillary to the book to which it is attached; therefore this relationship must be more carefully examined and defined in the context of broader Jewish thought and the full scope of Reb Zadok’s writings.
In his work Mahshavot Harutz, Reb Zadok returns to and elaborates upon the usages of the book analogy.[35] In this essay, he proposed that the essence of all existence in this world is comprised of the letters of the Torah. Similar to his previously cited comments, he once again invokes the oft-quoted passage in Bereishit Rabbah that the Torah is the blueprint of the world. However in this passage he elaborates much further upon the concept of the world as a book and its relationship to the Torah.
Reb Zadok began the essay by citing the Talmudic passage that on Rosh Hashanah “three books are opened”: The book of the righteous, the book of the wicked, and the book of the ambivalent. Each of these books, in Reb Zadok’s thematic archetype, corresponds to a different expression of spiritual existence. The book of the righteous corresponds to the objective truth contained in the Written Torah, which in effect corresponds to the world of writing. The book of the ambivalent corresponds to the Oral Law thus representing the world of speech. While the Book of the wicked, corresponding to the implicit essence of spirituality, which is the only vestige of spiritual connectivity which remains for the wicked, this, says Reb Zadok, is the world of thought. Such a presentation is counterintuitive, for it posits that the highest expression of truth is found in the Book of the Wicked. Yet, it is precisely the transcendental nature of this concealed element of Godliness which demands that it be referred to as “The Book of the Wicked;” for the only remaining grasp which the wicked have into the world of spirituality exists within this book.
Though Reb Zadok expands his tripartite correspondence, what is crucial for our discussion is his explanation as to why the Talmud ascribes the description of “writing” to all three books, even the book of thought. He writes:
“And the language of writing is relevant in all (three books). For all of them are called books…and also on the book of thought its writing is the physical world which is a remnant of the letters of thought which are faintly recognizable through their (i.e. the wicked) actions. And so I have received that this entire world is a book which God created. And it appears to me that as a child I saw such a formulation in the work Me’or Einayim[36] which cited the formulation in a gentile work of pedagogy. Seemingly, it was found there a slight parallel of this idea that all of the creations of the world are the forms of the letters which God inscribed in his book, the worlds. The Torah is the commentary on that book and adorns the world with truth for within the Torah the letters of thought are explicitly manifest, as opposed to in the World which only presents vestige and a remnant. And through the Torah we are able to understand the hints of the remnants and recognize that within the worldly actions contain the thoughts of God. Nevertheless, one must bear in mind, that all worldly actions and creations of the world are a Book unto themselves on which the letters of God’s thoughts are inscribed through great concealment. There is no creation which is not marked for a specific purpose in the mind of God.”[37]
In this remarkable passage, Reb Zadok presents more clearly his understanding of the relationship between the Book of Nature and the Book of Scriptures. Reb Zadok believed that the experiential world functioned as a means of revelation, though the cryptic revelatory language of the world is chiefly deciphered though the explanation of the Torah. Yet all of the experiences of the world are infused with spiritual and theological significance through which God’s glory can be revealed. It is clear from the passage that “The Book of Nature” in Reb Zadok’s thought it not restricted to mere flora and fauna, but encompasses more broadly the entire experiential world. Whether such experiential revelation can ever occur without the aegis of the Torah still remains to be seen.
Another point worthy of note in this passage is Reb Zadok’s willingness to cite a Gentile work which obscurely alludes to his idea. In fact, citing the controversial work Me’or Einayim, is in itself quite noteworthy bearing in mind the scathing criticism the work endured in previous generations. Certainly such citations should be seen in light of Reb Zadok’s general open mindedness to scholarly inquiry, particularly historical studies,[38] and his nuanced attitude toward gentile wisdom, all of which have been previously noted by scholars.[39] Ironically, this controversial citation may very well be justified based on the import of the very idea he is citing it for, namely, that all of creation, even gentiles, are passages in the God’s grand book: The World.
Reb Zadok’s view of the “Book of Nature” contrasts strongly to the Christian conception. Whereas Christians took a markedly literal approach to the theological messages of nature, in Reb Zadok’s works such messages are restricted to experiential sentiments and personal directives. Reb Zadok’s avoidance of homiletical deductions from nature’s structure sidesteps the potentially officious theological implications of the Book of Nature which arose for the Church during the time of Galileo.
Reb Zadok’s conception of the revelatory consequences of the “Book of Nature” appears in his novel understanding of the “bat kol” (trans: heavenly voice). Departing from the more traditional description of the bat kol,[40] which understood the phenomena quite literally, Reb Zadok proposed a new approach (which seems to be theologically rooted in his aforementioned conception of “The Book of Nature”):
“And our Rabbis have revealed to us stories which discuss the bat kol, which is defined as listening to the voices of everyday people who are discussing daily matters and do have other intentions. Rather one listener is able to be informed, through their words, what is required of him… Namely, God articulates the will of his voice through regular people. Even though they have their own intentions when they speak and the directives do not seem to emanate from God with intention and clarity, rather His will relates to us implicitly…For example when God wishes good it is manifest personally in each of his creations according to their conception of good. The Jewish people relate according to their conception of good, gentiles relate each according to their own conception…and so it is with all creations according to their own conception. And therefore it is nearly impossible to define what is the implicit will that God intends to impart since it is manifest through different being, each with their own conceptions and notions of that message.”[41]
Undoubtedly, Reb Zadok maintains that there are vital messages contained in the Book of Nature. However, the implicit revelatory message through which the Book of Nature operates often obfuscates our ability to properly decipher its contents. The Torah contains God’s explicit spoken word, while Nature, or more precisely experiential life, only relates implicitly God unarticulated will. Yet all of Nature remains, as Reb Zadok often quotes from his Hasidic predecessor R. Simha Bunim of Przysucha, “a means of acquiring God.”[42]
Indeed, Reb Zadok allowed for the actual interpretation of Natures message, yet only by those properly initiated to the methods of interpreting bat kol, as demonstrated in a widely-told story:
“As is well known in the name of Zusia of blessed memory that he was once walking along the road and it chanced upon him that a Gentile wagon driver, who was transporting hay, fell over. The man requested help, to which he responded, ‘I cannot.’ The Gentile said to him, “You can, but you just do not want to.” Regarding this Rebbe Zusia said to himself that it must be an allusion to the fallen hey (referring to the fifth letter in the Hebrew alphabet) represented in God’s name. It has fallen and it is in my power to pick it up, I just don’t want to. And so it is with all occurrences that chance upon a person, for all worldly events are really spiritual allusions.”[43]
Reb Zadok believed that the everyday experiences of life are in truth lessons which provide spiritual guidance. Often these experiences can compel one to reexamine or develop a novel approach to Torah scholarship. As Reb Zadok relates in several places, the Talmud classic presentation of a legal opinion, “A’leiba d’man d’amar,” derives from the leiv, the experiential heart, of each scholar.[44] Yet unlike to the Christian conception, which allowed viewed the Book of Scriptures and the Book of Nature as competing voices, Reb Zadok only considers the Book of the World on matters which have not yet been clearly articulated in the Torah. Though the prophetic gates of the Book of Scriptures have closed, God continues to speak.

Dovid Bashevkin studied for several years at Yeshivat Shaalavim and at Ner Israel Rabbinical College, and is completing his rabbinic ordination at RIETS (Yeshiva University), and holds an MA in Jewish philosophy the Bernard Revel Graduate School (Yeshiva University), where he focused on Polish Hasidut and the writings of Reb Zadok ha-Kohen of Lublin and studied with Prof. Yaakov Elman. The article was written on the occasion of the sixth yahrzeit, on 2 Ellul, of his grandmother, Zlata Golda bas Gershon Binyamin ha-Levi a”h. The author would like to offer a tremendous thanks to his mentor, Prof. Yaakov Elman, who continuously offers selflessly of his time, energy, and much saged advice to an ever inquiring and searching student, and under whose guidance this essay was privileged to have been written. Special thanks, as well, is extended to a very dear and longtime-friend, the ever patient and indefatigable Menachem Butler, for his assistance in many of the nuances of this essay, and to the editors (and readers) of the Seforim blog for their gracious consideration of this essay. Of course, any errors contained in this essay are the responsibility of the author, and he can be reached here (
[1] For some astounding tales of genius and piety from Reb Zadok’s youth, of which include recitation of a blessing on his mother’s milk and the ability to count how many leaves were on a tree, see Abraham Isaac Rabinovitch, Malachei Elyon (Jerusalem: Otzar HaSippurim, 1966), 19 (Hebrew). For more general information on Reb Zadok’s life, though mostly hagiographic, see ibid. 18-32; see also Shlomo Zalman Sheragaʼi and Avraham Bick, be-Heikhal Izbica-Lublin (Jerusalem: Mosad ha-Rav Kook, 1977; Hebrew) which includes some fascinating, though almost certainly apocryphal, tales about Reb Zadok’s initial meeting with R. Mordechai Yosef Leiner. Also see the more recent work, Sefer ha-Kohen (Bnei Brak: Mekhon Shem Olam, 2004), 11-24 (Hebrew).
[2] The sermon delivered at his bar mitzvah has been subsequently published in Collected Writings of Reb Zadok of Lublin, vol. 2 (Jerusalem: Mekor ha-Seforim, 2001), Meishev Tzedek, 69-78 (Hebrew), and bears the mark of a mature and erudite scholar. Additionally see Reb Zadok, Or Zaruah, 53, which contains some remarks he wrote at the age of thirteen.
[3] See Reb Zadok, Kuntres Zikeron la-Rishonim printed in Sinai 21 (Nisan, 1947) and Kuntres Shemot ba-Aretz which discuss, respectively, the history and chronology of the prophets and the post-Talmudic sages. Reb Zadok himself dates Zikeron la-Rishonim as being written in 5597 (1837), thus placing this astounding work under the pen of a thirteen year old!
[4] This was reported to me by several students who attended these classes. See, as well, Aharon Suraski, Sheluha de-Rahmana (New York: Feldheim 1992), 126. I am especially grateful to Prof. Shnayer Z. Leiman for his assistance in locating this source.
[5] For example see Mikhtav me-Eliyahu, vol. 3 (Bnei Brak: Committee for the Publication of the Writings of E.L. Dessler, 1964), 277-278 (Hebrew).
[6] For example see Or Gedalyahu: Sihot u’Mamarim ‘al Mo’adim (Brooklyn, 1981), esp. the talks on Hanukkah.
[7] R. Hutner’s relationship with Reb Zadok’s work is particularly mysterious. Nowhere in Pahad Yitzhak does R. Hutner mention Reb Zadok explicitly by name, though those familiar with Reb Zadok’s work can sense his influence throughout. The only explicit reference to Reb Zadok can be found in an introductory letter to the publication of work Alfasi Zuta, later republished in his collected letters #80, where R. Hutner cites a passage from Reb Zadok’s Sefer Zichronot, one of his lesser studied works, explaining the permissibility to learn the works of the students of the R. Yisrael Sarug, despite the ban imposed by R. Hayyim Vital on learning Kabbalah of the Arizal from any sources other than his own. R. Hutner’s citation of this obscure passage in R. Zadok’s works definitely betrays his intimate familiarity with his works. Why Reb Zadok is never cited by name in Pahad Yitzhak is a matter which must be considered and see Steven S. Schwarzschild, “An Introduction to the Thought of R. Isaac Hutner,” Modern Judaism 5:3 (October 1985): 235-277, who discussed some of the influences of Reb Zadok’s Rebbe, R. Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica on the thought of R. Hutner, and noted (in 264n27) that “R. Hutner occasionally cites R. Zadok, in a heavily chassidic, messianic context: cf. e.g. ‘This Week’s Biblical Lesson’ (Yiddish), Algemeiner Journal, Dec. 23, 1977, p. 5, col. 5,” and see also Yaakov Elman, “R. Zadok Hakohen on the History of Halakah,” Tradition 21:4 (Fall 1985): 20-22 (“Addendum”). Surprisingly, the recent exhaustive and important work by Shlomo Kasirer, “Repentance in the Thought of R. Isaac Hutner,” (PhD dissertation, Bar-Ilan University, 2009; Hebrew) does not consider the influence of Reb Zadok on R. Hutner.
[8] Shai Hadari should certainly be given due credit for his Hebrew works on Reb Zadok, the first academic presentation of R. Zadok’s works, in Shai Hadari, “Roshei Hodashim be-Mishnei R. Zadok ha-Kohen,” Sinai 56:1-2 (1965): 84-99 (Hebrew); idem, “Purim be-Mishnato shel R. Zadok ha-Kohen mi-Lublin,” Sinai 46:6 (1960): 333-369 (Hebrew); idem, “Shir Shel Yom,” Sinai 53:1-6 (1963): 75-91 (Hebrew). In addition, an excellent biographical portrait can be found in Alan Brill, Thinking God: The Mysticism of Rabbi Zadok of Lublin (Jersey City, NJ: Ktav Publishing House, 2002), 15-51, though (to date) the most comprehensive analysis of Reb Zadok’s overall works and thought remains Amira Liwer, “Oral Torah in the Writings of Reb Zadok ha-Kohen of Lublin,” (PhD dissertation, Hebrew University, 2006; Hebrew), and see, as well, her earlier work in Amira Liwer, “Paradoxical Themes in the Writings of Reb Zadok ha-Kohen of Lublin,” (MA thesis, Touro College, 1992; Hebrew). Those interested in comparative theology would certainly enjoy Chaim Hirsch, Ahavat Tzedek (Jerusalem, 2002; Hebrew), which compares the thought of Reb Zadok to that of R. Kook. In a similar vein, see Bezalel Naor, “Zedonot Na’aseh ki-Zekhuyot be-Mishnato shel ha-Rav Kook,” Sinai 97 (1983): 78-87 (Hebrew); and see also idem, “Hashpat Nefesh ha-Hayyim al Reb Zadok ha-Kohein mi-Lublin,” Sinai 104 (1989): 186-188 (Hebrew). Much can be learned from the overlap and nuanced differences of these innovative thinkers. For a comprehensive bibliography of Reb Zadok’s works, and secondary works discussing Reb Zadok’s life and scholarship, see Gershon Kitsis, ed., Me’at Latzadik (Jerusalem: Beis Publications, 2000; Hebrew), and Alan Brill, Thinking God, 378-390 (Appendix I).
[9] See Yaakov Elman, “R. Zadok Hakohen on the History of Halakah,” Tradition 21:4 (Fall 1985): 1-26; idem, “Reb Zadok Hakohen of Lublin on Prophecy in the Halakhic Process,” Jewish Law Association Studies 1 (1985): 1-16; idem, “The History of Gentile Wisdom According to R. Zadok ha-Kohen of Lublin,” Journal of Jewish Thought & Philosophy 3:1 (1993): 153-187; idem, “Progressive Derash and Retrospective Peshat: Nonhalakhic Considerations in Talmud Torah,” in Shalom Carmy, ed., Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah: Contributions and Limitations (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1996), 227-87; and idem, “The Rebirth of Omnisignificant Biblical Exegesis in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,” Jewish Studies Internet Journal 2 (2003): 199-249.
[10] A heter meah rabbanan is a document signed by one hundred rabbis which allows one to take a second wife in the event that the current wife refuses to willingly accept a divorce. The specific Halakhic details of this document, while fascinating, are beyond the scope of this paper. For more on the issues surrounding this document see “Herem de-Rabbeinu Gershom,” Encyclopedia Talmudit, vol. 17, cols. 378-454, esp. 447-452 (Hebrew).
[11] See Alan Brill, Thinking God, 24, for an impressive list of some of the personalities encountered during his travels. Notably, Reb Zadok is mentioned in R. Joseph Shaul Nathenson’s Shoel u-Meshiv 6th ed., no. 54.
R. Mordechai Yosef Leiner, originally a student of R. Simcha Bunim of Prysucha, and afterwards of R. Menachem Mendal of Kotzk, famously departed Koztk in 1840 to establish his own Hasidic court. For more details on the life of R. Leiner and the reasons for his schism with R. Menachem Mendel, see Morris M. Fairstein, All is in the Hands of Heaven: The Teaching of Rabbi Mordechai Joseph Liener of Izbica (New York, 1989), and, more recently, in idem, “Kotsk-Izbica Dispute: Theological or Personal?” Kabbalah 17 (2008): 75-79. A more detailed discussion of Izbica’s radical philosophy of determinism and sin can be found in Aviezer Cohen, “Self-Consciousness in Mei haa-Shiloah As the Nexus Between God and Man” (PhD dissertation, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, 2006; Hebrew), and Aviezer Cohen, “Capability as a Criterion for Observance and Non-Observance of the Mitzvot: Religious Existentialism in the Thought of Franz Rosenzweig and Rabbi Mordechai Leiner of Izbica,” in Haviva Pedaya and Ephraim Meir, eds., Judaism, Topics, Fragments, Faces, Identities: Jubilee Volume in Honor of Rivka (Beer-Sheva: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press, 2007), 525-575 (Hebrew). See also the important work by Shaul Magid, Hasidism on the Margin: Reconciliation, Antinomianism, and Messianism in Izbica/Radzin Hasidism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003), and Don Seeman, “Martyrdom, Emotion and the Work of Ritual in R. Mordecai Joseph Leiner’s Mei ha-Shiloah,” AJS Review 27:2 (November 2003): 253-280.
[12] R. Leible Eiger was the grandson of the pre-eminent Rav, R. Akiva Eiger and the son of R. Shlomo Eiger, a major rabbinic figure in his own right. Similar to Reb Zadok, he also left his Lithuanian upbringing for the world of Hasidut. Initially he began as a student of R. Menachem Mendel Morgenstern, the Rebbe of Kotzk, however he left in 1840 with the court of R. Mordechai Yosef Leiner to Izbica. Reb Zadok’s and R. Leible’s similar life trajectories made them natural friends and they remained as such their entire lives. For more on the life of R. Leible, see the three volume work Yehudah leKasho (Tel Aviv, 1999) and for a letter from Reb Zadok to R. Leible, responding to the former’s legal query regarding the laws of circumcision, see Collected Writings of Reb Zadok of Lublin, vol. 5 (Jerusalem: Mekor ha-Seforim, 2001), Levushei Tzedakah, 34-35 (Hebrew). R. Leible’s works, Torat Emet and Imrei Emet, have not received any attention in the academic community and a complete study on the intellectual oeuvre remains a scholarly desideratum.
[13] See Elchanan Dov’s biographical sketch appended to Reb Zadok, Otzar ha-Melekh (Bnei Brak: Yahadut, 1968), 3, who cited Midrash Tanhuma, Noah 3, which reads: “When a person leaves the world without children he is pained and tearful. God says to him: Why are you crying? Because you did not grow any fruits in this world? There is a fruit more beautiful than children…the Torah of which it is written, ‘The fruits of the Righteous is the Tree of Life.’”
[14] See the important study by Martin Ritter, “Scholarship as a Priestly Craft: Harry A. Wolfson on Tradition in a Secular Age,” in Klaus Herrmann, Margarete Schlüter, and Giuseppe Veltri, eds., Jewish Studies Between the Disciplines: Papers in honor of Peter Schäfer on the Occasion of his Sixtieth Birthday (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2003), 435-455, who has noted that “only by a careful reconstruction of the scholar’s complete writings is [the reader] able to discover the speculative underlying dimension that is often inter-woven with dry and long-winded interpretations. For later generations it thus remains a complex challenge to reconstruct the ideas of those polymaths from their vast publications, correspondence, and papers” (436). The same methodological inquiry, suggested Ritter, could be extended to Henry Corbin, Étienne Gilson, Erwin R. Goodenough, Gershom Scholem, and Leo Strauss, and one would not be incorrect to also include Reb Zadok, and R. Nahman of Bratslav, R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, among others.
[15] This is a rabbinic euphemism for the sin of wasting seed, about which see Shilo Pachter, “Shmirat ha-Berit: The History of the Prohibition of Wasting Seed,” (PhD dissertation, Bar Ilan University, 2006), esp. 247-255, for a discussion of Reb Zadok. Recently, Reb Zadok’s theology has been used to formulate an appropriate response to the growing issue of sexual impropriety within the Modern Orthodox community, as discussed in Jennie Rosenfeld, “Talmudic Re-Readings: Toward a Modern Orthodox Sexual Ethic,” (PhD dissertation, City University of New York, 2008), esp. 73-123 (“Nineteenth Century Polish Hasidism’s Radical Ethics: R. Mordekhai Yosef Leiner of Izbica and R. Zadok ha-Kohen of Lublin”), and though her interpretations and applications are often questionable, the discussion is nonetheless fascinating. For an additional perspective, listen to the lecture by R. Mayer Twersky and Dr. David Pelcovitz, “Maintaining Kedusha in an Overexposed Society,”, delivered on 8 February 2009, available here (
[16] See Alan Brill, Thinking God, 27.
[17] Zohar, vol. 2, 161a.
[18] This comment is prefaced with “sha’mati” (trans: I have heard) indicating, as all of his comments which such prefaces, that he heard this from his Rebbe, R. Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica. For more on the phrase “I have heard” in the writings of Reb Zadok and its relationship to the similar “I have received” found in his works, see Amira Liwer, “Oral Torah in the Writings of Reb Zadok ha-Kohen of Lublin,” (PhD dissertation, Hebrew University, 2006), 426-428 (Hebrew). Yaakov Elman, “The Rebirth of Omnisignificant Biblical Exegesis in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,” Jewish Studies Internet Journal 2 (2003), 224n62, cites the comments of Mei ha-Shiloah on TB Nedarim (22b) as a source for Reb Zadok’s words. However, Liwer points out, 373n26, that the aforementioned source in Mei ha-Shiloah does not present the analogy of the world as a book, but rather relates that the Torah incorporates all of the knowledge of the world. Liwer does, however, cite two sources in Mei ha-Shiloah which refer to the Jewish people as a book, which, as will be discussed later, seems to be the essential point and source of Reb Zadok’s comments.
[19] For a detailed history of this concept see E.R. Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. W.R. Trask (New York: Harper & Row, 1953), 304, who cites an early Babylonian reference to stars as “the writing of the sky.” See also Ilse N. Bulhof, The Language of Science: A Study of the Relationship between Literature and Science in the Perspective of a Hermeneutical Ontology. With a Case Study of Darwin’s The Origin of Species (Leiden: Brill, 1992), passim, and C.J. Glacken, Traces on the Rhodian Shore: Nature and Culture in Western Thought from Ancient Times to the End of the Eighteenth Century (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 204.
[20] Haym Soloveitchik, “Three Themes in the Sefer Hasidim,” AJS Review 1 (1976): 315-16.
[21] For a more detailed discussion of the interaction of science and nature in Christian theology, see David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers, eds., God & Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).
[22] See Per Binde, “Nature in Roman Catholic Tradition,” Anthropological Quarterly 74:1 (January 2001): 15-27. In regards to its substance, the analogy has a markedly literalist tone to its message. Nature was not simply a product of God’s handiwork, but His spiritual message can be deciphered from within Nature to inspire man. Émile Mâle cites a gross example of literalism from Adam of Victor who, while contemplating a nut, remarked, “What is a nut if not the image of Jesus? The green and fleshy sheath is His flesh, His humanity. The wood of the shell is the wood of the Cross on which that flesh suffered. But the kernel of the nut from which men gain nourishment is His hidden divinity.” See Émile Mâle, The Gothic Image: Religious Art in France of the Thirteenth Century (New York, 1953), 30, citing Adam of St. Victor, Sequentia. Patrol, cxcvi, col. 1433. Mâle also noted other literalist interpretations of the spiritual message within nature such as Peter of Mora musing on the roses of a pedal and Hugh of St. Victor thoughts of the dove.
[23] This is not to say that such ruminations do not appear in Jewish theology. Certainly, reflections on the significance of the structure of nature are only to be found scattered in Jewish thought (see for example TB Eiruvin 100b). However the centrality and seriousness of this discipline is entirely absent and on whole the practice altogether disappeared following the redaction of the Talmud.
[24] See Mario Biagioli, “Stress in the Book of Nature: the Supplemental Logic of Galileo’s Realism,” MLN 118:3 (April 2003): 557-585, for a detailed analysis of evolution of the Book of Nature in Galileo’s thought.
[25] Galileo, “The Assayer (1623),” in Stillman Drake, trans., Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo (New York: Doubleday, 1957), 238.
[26] Galileo, “Letter to the Grand Duchess (1615),” in Maurice Finocchiaro, The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 99.
[27] For more details on the affair, see Maurice Finocchiaro, The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989).
[28] Haym Soloveitchik, “Three Themes in Sefer Hasidim,” 313.
[29] Ibid., 314.
[30] “Introduction,” in Judah Wistinetzki, ed., Sefer Hasidim (Berlin: M'kize Nirdamim, 1891), trans. Soloveitchik, in ibid., 312. For a related article on the background of Sefer Hasidim, see Ivan G. Marcus, “The Recensions and Structure of Sefer Hasidim,” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 45 (1978): 131-153; and on the early 152 sections of Sefer Hasidim (dubbed "Sefer Hasidim I"), see Haym Soloveitchik, “Piety, Pietism and German Pietism: 'Sefer Hasidim I' and the Influence of Hasidei Ashkenaz,” Jewish Quarterly Review 92:3-4 (January-April 2002): 455-493. See, as well, the recent symposium about Sefer Hasidim that appeared in Jewish Quarterly Review 96:1 (Winter 2006).
[31] Most likely this is referring to the first passage in the introduction to Bereishit Rabbah which, based on Proverbs 8:30, refers to Torah as an instrument of a craftsman used in order to fashion the world.
[32] Our translation of the word “olam” as “the world” is important as it clearly varies from the Christian concept of “The Book of Nature.”
[33] Tzidkat ha-Tzadik 216.
[34] Reb Zadok truly made an art out of finding traditional textual support for otherwise innovative ideas. His expertise in this area was twofold. Firstly the very act of finding sources for ideas which were genuinely innovative and oftentimes radical. Secondly his command of such a wide ranch of sources allowed him to ‘create’ fascinating connections between texts which were seemingly unrelated. Oftentimes he would find support for Kabbalistic idea in Halakhic texts. For a more detailed discussion regarding Reb Zadok’s methods of interpretation, see Amira Liwer, “Oral Torah in the Writings of Reb Zadok ha-Kohen of Lublin,” (PhD dissertation, Hebrew University, 2006), especially 379-382 (Hebrew).
[35] Mahshavot Harutz #11.
[36] Written by Azariah de’ Rossi (1513-1578). For more on the thought of Azariah de Rossi and the work Me’or Einayim, see Lester A. Segal, Historical Consciousness and Religious Tradition in Azariah de’ Rossi’s Me’or ‘Einayim (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1988), Giuseppe Veltri, “The Humanist Sense of History and the Jewish Idea of Tradition: Azaria de’ Rossi’s Critique of Philo Alexandrinus,” Jewish Studies Quarterly 2:4 (1995): 372-393, the very important scholarly contribution in Azariah de Rossi, The Light of the Eyes, trans. Joanna Weinberg (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001), as well as Giuseppe Veltri, “Conceptions of History: Azariah de’ Rossi,” in Renaissance Philosophy in Jewish Garb: Foundations and Challenges in Jewish Thought on the Eve of Modernity (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2009), 73-96.
[37] Mahshavot Harutz ibid.
[38] See the work of Reb Zadok, “Kuntres Zikeron la-Rishonim,” published many years later in Sinai 21 (Nisan, 1947) and Kutres Shemot ba-Aretz which discuss, respectively, the history and chronology of the prophets and the post-Talmudic sages. For further discussion regarding Reb Zadok’s iconoclastic approach to historical study and scholarly analysis see Gershon Kitsis, ed., Me’at Latzadik (Jerusalem: Beis Publications, 2000), 255-268 (Hebrew).
[39] For a detailed analysis of Reb Zadok’s innovative approach towards Gentile wisdom, see Yaakov Elman, “The History of Gentile Wisdom According to R. Zadok ha-Kohen of Lublin,” Journal of Jewish Thought & Philosophy 3:1 (1993): 153-187.
[40] About “bat kol,” see Encyclopedia Talmudit, vol. 5, cols. 1-4 (Hebrew). See also Aspaklarya, vol. 4 (Jeruslaem: Hotzat Aspaklarya, 1998), 381-385 (Hebrew).
[41] Dover Tzedek #111.
[42] Reb Zadok cites this statement of R. Simcha Bunim, which is a Hasidic reinterpretation of Psalms 104:24, in several places. For some examples see Tzidkat ha-Tzadik #232, Mahshavot Harutz, ibid. Reb Zadok was deeply influenced by the thought of Przysucha and in many ways his thought is built upon the foundation built by Przysucha. Though Reb Zadok personally never studied under R. Simcha Bunim, his Hasidic master, R. Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica, was initially a student of R. Simcha Bunim. Thought much has been written about the influence of Izbica on Reb Zadok’s thought, sadly, the effects of Przysucha have been generally neglected by the scholarly community. For more on the life of R. Simcha Bunim of Przysucha, see the very important work by Michael Rosen, The Quest for Authenticity: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim (Jerusalem: Urim Publication, 2008), and see the earlier article by Alan Brill, “Grandeur and Humility in the Writings of R. Simha Bunim of Przysucha,” in Yaakov Elman and Jeffrey S. Gurock, eds., Hazon Nahum: Studies in Jewish Law, Thought, and History Presented to Dr. Norman Lamm on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 1997), 419-448.
[43] Pri Tzadik Nassoh #13. See also Pri Zadik Balak #2. This approach, that the experiential life of man serves as a repository for God’s messages, can also be found in other Jewish thinkers, most notably R. Nahman of Bratslav (in, for example, Likkutei Moharan 54:2). For more on the intriguing relationship between Reb Zadok and R. Nachman’s writings, see my unpublished essay “Between Bratslav and Lublin,” written as a graduate seminar paper for Prof. Jonathan Dauber at the Bernard Revel Graduate School (Yeshiva University).
[44] See Likkutei Amarim #7, Divrei Halomot #23, and Pri Tzadik, Naso #5.


Anonymous said...

r. lamm points to parallel between r. tzadok and sefer hasidim in his article in war and peace in the jewish tradition, pp. 230-231

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