Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ariel Evan Mayse - Kindler of Hearts and Illuminator of Letters

Kindler of Hearts and Illuminator of Letters:
An Essay in Memory of Reb Levi Yitzhak ben Sara Sasha of Berdyczów
by Ariel Evan Mayse
For my wife Adina,
whose illuminating words never fail to inspire.

Relatively few Hasidic masters have enjoyed the enormous and enduring popularity of Reb Levi Yitzhak ben Sara Sasha of Berdyczów (1740-1809), perhaps with the exception of the Ba'al Shem Tov himself. Beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing to the present day, written texts and oral stories have consistently portrayed Reb Levi Yitzhak as a charitable folk hero and beloved communal leader. In these traditions he is an unwavering advocate for the Jewish people who intercedes on their behalf with temporal authorities below, and never fails to plead their case before the Divine tribunal above. In the early twentieth-century, two interesting volumes solely devoted to recalling the inspiring stories of Reb Levi Yitzhak were printed just one year apart, together spanning over one hundred pages of hagiographical tales.[1] Though one of these works was composed in Yiddish and the other in Hebrew, both were obviously intended for a popular readership extending beyond the scholarly elite. Martin Buber also devoted a significant portion of his later collection of Hasidic tales to bringing Reb Levi Yitzhak's charitable deeds to an even wider audience.[2] Finally, the charismatic image of Reb Levi Yitzhak as a beloved leader, one who was willing to indict the Holy One and put God Himself on trial for His insensitivity to Jewish suffering, has even spilled into the non-Jewish world: a lyrical text traditionally attributed to the Hasidic master inspired American singer and polymath Paul Robeson to write the moving piece "Hassidic Chant" and, on 9 May 1958, even performed “The Hassidic Chant of Levi Isaac" at Carnegie Hall.[3]
The popular memory of Reb Levi Yitzhak of Berdyczów seems only to have increased and expanded from one generation to the next. However, aside from his unforgettable reputation for being an incandescent public leader, it should also be noted that Reb Levi Yitzhak was a brilliant scholar and innovative religious thinker. His homilies, which are framed as a running commentary on the Torah and holidays, were combined with a number of longer, more abstract philosophical excurses to fill the eponymous volume Kedushat Levi. This text is atypical amongst the majority of other early Hasidic works, for a sizable portion of this text was penned by Reb Levi Yitzhak himself and published within the master's lifetime.[4] The remainder was collated and reprinted alongside it within a few years after his death.[5] It has also been suggested that he had an important role in editing and disseminating the posthumously assembled volume of teachings attributed to his teacher Reb Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezritch (Magid Devarav le-Ya'akov), though this point has not been irrefutably proven.[6] Reb Levi Yitzhak wrote a tremendous number of haskamot, rabbinic approbations that served as temporary copyrights for new printings, for a wide variety of books, and was involved in running a Hebrew-language publishing house.[7] Furthermore, his scholastic efforts were not limited to Hasidic philosophy: in what is perhaps amongst the more humorous machinations of the literary Fates, Reb Levi Yitzhak's lesser known commentary to the Mishnah was published alongside that of the Gaon of Vilna in some nineteenth century Polish printings.[8] With these accomplishments in mind, it is safe to say that any comprehensive understanding of Reb Levi Yitzhak of Berdyczów must synthesize the scholastic acumen clearly visible in his philosophical teachings with the popular image of an inspiring and emotional communal leader.[9]
Over the past several decades there has been a tremendous outpouring of critical research exploring the theological and mystical facets of Hasidic thought, as well as new studies that reexamine the socio-economic and historical aspects of the Hasidic movement. However, with the exception of the Ba'al Shem Tov,[10] Nahman of Bratslav,[11] and Israel of Ruzhin,[12] nearly all of the Hasidic masters (early or late) still await a critical biography. There are no holistic scholarly accounts of the lives of great Hasidic luminaries such as the Magid of Mezritch (d. 1772), Ya'akov Yosef of Polnoye (d. 1783), Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (Gerer Rebbe, and author of Sefat Emet, d. 1905),[13] or, most recently, even Reb Sholom Noah Berezovsky (Slonimer Rebbe and author of Netivot Shalom, d. 2000),[14] to say nothing of the dozens of other important Hasidic rebbes and leaders who contributed to the spread Hasidism and creative energy of Hasidic thought.[15] Writing critical biographies of great men of spirit like these must necessarily include the difficult task wading through hagiographical traditions that are in some cases nearly two centuries thick, as well as examining archive materials in multiple languages aside from the Hebrew and Yiddish in which most chroniclers of Hasidism are used to working. Yet the value of these studies is paramount, and let us hope for the continued expansion of this burgeoning and exciting new field of research, in which individual Hasidic masters are the subject of academic studies that integrate historical fact, intellectual thought, and popular memory.
Given this general desideratum, it should be unsurprising we still lack a comprehensive scholarly analysis of Reb Levi Yitzhak of Berdyczów's life and philosophy reflecting these historiographical values. This is not to say, however, that he has been marginalized or ignored by the academic community.[16] Samuel Dresner and Michael Luckens have both devoted excellent monographs to examining the figure of Reb Levi Yitzhak, and it is to their works that I defer the reader interested in the specifics of his biography.[17] Yet neither of these works fully satisfies the lacuna noted above. Dresner's book, although quite detailed and painstakingly researched, was not written solely (or even primarily) with an academic audience in mind, and the majority of his most interesting points are necessarily exiled to the endnotes. Lucken's dissertation, which remains unpublished, was written nearly four decades ago and must be updated to reflect methodological and technical advances in the study of Hasidism. An illustrative article by Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern has helped to contextualize our understanding of Reb Levi Yitzhak within the social and cultural background of Eastern Europe, but in a bibliographical footnote reviewing the literature about this Hasidic master, he does not hesitate to remark that Reb Levi Yitzhak's biography has not been adequately chronicled.[18] Regarding the analysis of his actual teachings, Moshe Idel has convincingly refuted Scholem's thesis attributing eschatological and even antinomian sentiments to Reb Levi Yitzhak, demonstrating that Reb Levi Yitzhak's theological philosophy was decidedly traditional (at least, within the context of early Hasidism).[19] To my knowledge, Arthur Green's entry in the new YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe is the most recent detailing of Reb Levi Yitzhak's biography, and while this lucid and succinct article will provide an excellent starting point for a full-length academic study, the final word on Reb Levi Yitzhak's life has not been written.[20]
It is true that no critical examination of the life or philosophy of Hasidic rebbe can avoid dealing with the pitfalls of historical memory. At this point we should ask ourselves the following question: is the image of an altruistic Hasidic leader who inspired the common people and broke down barriers between the rabbinic elite and the downtrodden laity is indeed an accurate picture of the "historical" Reb Levi Yitzhak? Though it is nearly impossible to definitively resolve this quandary in one direction or the other, and while we must certainly be wary of basing our opinions solely on late hagiographical collections of tales or posthumous publications,[21] it seems quite unlikely that this portrait is a late attribution fabricated ex nihilo. Just the opposite is the case: the image of Reb Levi Yitzhak as a popular figure and dynamic leader appears to have been forged quite early on in the history of Hasidism. Indeed, he even received positive mention in early anti-Hasidic polemics and was praised as a learned scholar, but was at the same time bitterly criticized for fraternizing overmuch with the common people.[22]
It is my contention that the image of Reb Levi Yitzhak as an inspirational pneumatic leader on one hand, and the evidence that he was accomplished Hasidic exegete and author on the other, should not be framed as inherently contradictory or mutually exclusive. In fact, I suggest that the theoretical groundwork for the popular image attributed to Reb Levi Yitzhak is clearly anticipated by his homiletic teachings. In other words, a model of ideal spiritual leadership nearly identical to the portrait of Reb Levi Yitzhak found in the later hagiographical traditions is already visible in his own theological writings. Examining a few key passages of Kedushat Levi will help us to illustrate this point, and allow us synchronize the images of the Hasidic master as a popular charismatic as well as an gifted intellectual and talented writer.
Reb Levi Yitzhak of Berdyczów devoted a significant portion of his magnum opus to formulating his conception of the exemplary leader. To employ the terminology of the Hasidic masters, much of his work outlines the function of an ideal tzadik (alt. rebbe) - a righteous spiritual guide who is the heart of any given Hasidic society and the focal point around which the entire community rotates.[23] There is scarcely a homily contained in our volume that does not address this theme in some way. Let us begin with a passage in which Reb Levi Yitzhak compares two fundamentally disparate styles of religious service in relation to the archetypical Hasidic leader:
There are two types of tzadikim who serve the Creator: one of them worships God with great fervor, but does so entirely for himself. [This type of tzadik] serves God in isolation, without [seeking] to draw in the wicked and allow them to serve Him as well. Yet there is another kind of tzadik who worships the Creator, [while also] inspiring the wicked to return [from their folly], so that they too may serve Him. Such was the case with the patriarch Abraham, who converted idolaters.[24] It is taught in the writings attributed to Rabbi Isaac Luria that Noah was punished because he did not rebuke the wayward ones of his generation.[25] Therefore, it was necessary for him to be reborn as Moses, who constantly reproved Israel [and returned them to worshipping God].[26]
The binary distinction drawn between the two kinds of tzadikim in this passage is crucial for understanding Reb Levi Yitzhak's conception of an ideal religious leader. The first of the models is that of a righteous individual who has achieved much in the realm of personal spiritual devotion, but whose accomplishments are solely limited progressing along his own religious path. This model is immediately contrasted with a second type of tzadik, viz. a leader whose fundamental approach to Divine service includes reaching out to people who are on much lower spiritual plane, leading them away from sin and enkindling their sense of piety. An individual of the first, more self-centered model is still considered a saintly person and deserving of the title "tzadik," but he is clearly of a lower order. Even in this basic comparison it is not difficult to see the author's thinly veiled displeasure with a religious individual who neglects communal responsibility and focuses solely upon his own journey.
Reb Levi Yitzhak's critique becomes even more explicit in the final lines of our passage, as the same typological distinctions between tzadikim are hermeneutically mapped onto biblical characters. He compares an individual who follows the self-absorbed model of religious devotion to the decidedly negative image of Noah presented in some rabbinic understandings of the flood story. These accounts suggest that the post-diluvial Noah incurred Divine wrath because he was unable (or perhaps simply unwilling) to adequately reprove the wicked of his generation, or inspire them to repent.[27] The analogy drawn by Reb Levi Yitzhak between this picture of Noah and the first type of tzadik is quite clear, and the author's underlying position is unmistakable: spiritual fulfillment at the expense of aiding one's compatriots is both aloof and errant. He then contrasts this mode of piety with the figure of Moses, a leader remembered (even within biblical text itself) for having consistently reproached the infelicitous Israel and returned their allegiance to God. Moses is here presented as the antipathy of Noah and the embodiment of the second, higher model of tzadik, namely a leader who does not shy away from connecting with and ministering to even the wrongdoers of his community.
Elsewhere Reb Levi Yitzhak employs even stronger terms in articulating the preeminence of a tzadik whose religious service includes the people around him. He explains that drawing in prodigal individuals is not only a praiseworthy effort, but an absolute prerequisite for the tzadik's own experience of Divine favor:
The core of the High Priest's spiritual level is that he atones for all of Israel, and therefore he must be on a higher rung than them. The Shekhinah rests upon one who is a worldly leader, engaging with every person and returning him to the service of God - each according to his particular level. [This tzadik] merits the Divine Presence because of the merit of his interaction with the masses in helping them to return. The Shekhinah does not dwell with a tzadik who is only for himself and does not bring people near to the worship of God, since he lacks their merit.[28]
This forceful teaching reinforces the preferred model of religious service outlined in the previous passage, but adds that the Divine Presence resides only with those leaders who uplift the fallen and encourage the wicked to repent. According to Reb Levi Yitzhak, bringing the fallen back into the fold should not be considered mere altruistic outreach by the tzadik on their behalf - it strengthens and even adds to the tzadik's spiritual acumen as well. Indeed, the tzadik's own experience of the Divine Presence hinges upon his willingness and ability to help others.
The strength of the argument in the text above is by no means sui generis - Kedushat Levi is full of similarly emphatic formulations. To cite but one other example:
This is the meaning of the Tanna's statement, "do not withdraw from the community"[29] - do not back down from instructing them in the path of divine service, and [showing them] the way of His awe and fear, and cleaving to Him. The explanation of his words: that although it is certainly fitting and proper to do this out of love for the Creator ... I will show you that [helping others] is of great importance for yourself as well. The teaching of our Sages, "anyone who confers merit upon the masses, no sin shall come about through him,"[30] is well known. Perhaps you may say that you have no need for this, since you have already reached a very high level of awe. In that case, he [the Sage] has taught that you do not see things as the really are - don't believe in yourself! That is, when you are just for yourself alone, not assisting the masses and [thus] lacking their merit with you in this world, do not believe in yourself.[31]
Reb Levi Yitzhak recognizes that it may be tempting for some individuals to withdraw away from the world and strive to attain their own spiritual goals wholly undistracted. However, he explains that such an effort will doubtless prove totally futile, for the tzadik's capacity to reach the heights of religious service is totally dependant upon having the merit of those around him.
Reb Levi Yitzhak is not unaware of the dangers that come along with a model of leadership in which the leader must wholeheartedly engage with persons of much lower spiritual caliber. However, despite the perils inherent in descending to their level, Reb Levi Yitzhak's admonition is clear: it is the duty of the tzadik to uplift the fallen and wayward, thereby returning them to the service of God. In one passage he writes:
The essence of the tzadik's service is to uplift the lowest levels to the Creator, as it is written in the Tikkunei Zohar: "[the lower waters say,] we want to stand in front of the Supernal King!"[32] Yet there is great danger for the tzadik to descend in order to raise them up - [while doing this], he must cleave to the Ein Sof.[33]
It is the tzadik's permanent state of attachment to the Infinite Divine that enables him to descend to the lower levels and uplift them without becoming permanently ensnared below. Note that he uses the superlative term "essence" (ikar) in describing the role of uplifting the fallen in a tzadik's spiritual regimen. Similarly, Reb Levi Yitzhak writes:
It is known that all of the holy sparks yearn to worship the Creator, just as the angels and holy serafim wish to fulfill the desire of their Creator in fear and awe. However, we must understand why a tzadik may sometimes experience a corporeal desire for something like money, or any other desire of this world. How is it that a tzadik could crave something physical, since a tzadik's only [true] longing is to worship the Creator? ... It is because the tzadik is a servant of the Divine, going after the wicked to reprove them and bring them under the wings of the Shekhinah. Since [such leaders] uplift the wicked ones to serve their Master, a tzadik must wage a sacred battle against the external forces by removing the holy sparks from the husks into which the deeds of the wicked have cast them. The tzadik raises them up to holiness, and it is from this [engagement with the lowest rungs] that he experiences desirous thoughts for things of this world.[34]
Descent to the lower levels has an undeniable effect upon the tzadik, since it allows him to be accosted by the physical desires that would ordinarily have no purchase. However, rectifying the fractures of this world by uplifting fallen sparks and ingathering his wayward coreligionists is an essential component of his raison d'etre.
We have seen that Reb Levi Yitzhak enjoins the tzadik to descending to the lowest levels in order to uplift the wicked, despite the accompanying risks to himself, but we are still left wondering exactly what sort of a process the master has in mind. In his attempts to inspire piety, should the tzadik violently rebuke his fellows with fiery words meant to strike fear into the hearts of the listener and transform them into quaking penitents? Or, perhaps the author imagines another manner of reproach that might prove more effective than accosting them. In this matter the Reb Levi Yitzhak's answer is unequivocal: the tzadik must use kind words in his effort shepherd the fallen back to a life of religious devotion. Furthermore, it will become clear that both components of this formula are crucial. It is necessary for the tzadik to be warm and compassionate, but it is equally so that words serve as his primary tools for engendering piety:
There are two types [of leaders] who rebuke Israel and exhort them to do the will of the Creator. One reproves [the wicked] with kind words, explaining to each person the greatness of their spiritual rung, and reminding him of the Source from which his soul was hewn, since the souls of the Jewish people are fashioned from the Throne of Glory on high.[35] [He tells him of] the great pleasure, as it were, that the God receives from the mitzvoth he performs, and the great joy in all of the worlds when a Jewish person does one of the Creator's commandments. In this way he inspires the hearts of all Israel to do His will ... the other [kind of leader] reproaches them with harsh words and shameful statements, until they are forced to obey the Creator. The difference between them is that the one who reproves with pleasant words uplifts the Jewish soul higher and higher. He recounts the righteousness and greatness of Israel, and how tremendous is their power above - such [a person as this] is fitting to be a leader, [but] one who rebukes with caustic words is not of this caliber.[36]
Reb Levi Yitzhak has once more outlined a dyadic hierarchy of religious leaders. The lower of these two models is an individual who rebukes the Jewish people by means of invectives and fierce castigation. True, he is able to force them into a state of contrite repentance, but he does totally without enlivening or uplifting them. In contrast, Reb Levi Yitzhak's then describes a much higher sort of leader who can reproach Israel with supportive encouragement and accolades. Elsewhere he reinforces this by explaining that proper tzadik never uses anger in his reproof.[37] Indeed, since he is by definition already quite spiritually refined, the words of the tzadik are so potent that he must be particularly careful about never speaking unjustly.[38] The ideal spiritual guide has the capacity to utter gentle words with that enkindle the hearts of those who have gone astray, inspiring them to return under the most positive of terms.
As mentioned above, I believe that it is no accident that the tzadik must guide and inspire his community through the sublime medium of language. To be sure, ideal tzadikim also use words in their private devotions to bring themselves to the state of mystical nothingness.[39] However, in the following passage the unique nexus between language and leadership is made most explicit:
The rule is thus: a tzadik should reprove the sinners [and enjoin them] not to act against the Holy Blessed One or against the Torah ... [However,] there is another kind of tzadik - when he rebukes the iniquitous, the letters of reproach exiting his mouth illuminate the eyes of the sinner, who is then able to return [to God] and repent. This person has merited the experience of the [tzadik's] letters shining upon his face and inspiring him, enabling him repent with ease.[40]
It is the role of all tzadikim to reprove and rebuke their wayward comrades, specific method notwithstanding. However, tzadikim of the highest level have the capacity to inspire wicked individuals to change their ways through speech alone. That is, the both the content and the numinous quality of the tzadik's words incline the heart of the listener towards repentance. In another passage he writes:
There are two types of tzadikim who admonish Israel to follow in the ways of God. One kind of tzadik uses his speech [alone] to influence [others], subduing the heart of the wicked and inspiring him to the way of God. He does not need to give lengthy justification to explain himself, nor must he be a gifted orator - he states the upright path and his [very] words make an impression, entering the heart of the listener.[41]
It is clear that Reb Levi Yitzhak has outlined a strong performative component to the tzadik's speech acts. That is, the inspirational nature of his words derives not only from their literal message and the information conveyed therein, but perhaps even more importantly from the method of their delivery and the refined spiritual nature of the one who has spoken them. Elsewhere Reb Levi Yitzhak concedes that some tzadikim must provide inspiration through their deeds and physical action, but insists the most exalted spiritual leaders can accomplish this goal with nothing but words alone.[42] When operating within the plane of language, even sharing a mundane conversation with ordinary people is an opportunity for the tzadik to uplift them - his holy thoughts during their interactions raise fallen sparks.[43]
It should be noted that Reb Levi Yitzhak's attribution of such power to the speech of the tzadik is based on a more fundamental theological perspective in which the animative force of language itself lies at the very core of existence. God created the world through speech, and although He Himself cannot be apprehended or understood through any letter or semantic symbol,[44] His divine words continue to animate all existence.[45] According to the worldview in which perceivable reality is actually an imprint created from the midst of the holiest of all texts, each and every Jewish person represents (or instantiates) a letter of the Torah.[46] Language is the primary method by which humankind (both tzadikim and ordinary people) are able to channel God's effluence into this world.[47] However, as is evident in the following teaching attributed to Reb Levi Yitzhak, above all the task of the tzadik is intrinsically bound up with harnessing the tremendous potential of language:
There are two categories of tzadikim: one type of tzadik receives illumination from the letters of the Torah and prayer. The other, greater kind of tzadik is one who imbues the letters with brilliance drawn from above. Although the letters are in the supernal world, this greater type of tzadik brings new a luminosity into the world which cannot enter except through being enclothed in the letters - without this garment of the letters, the world would be unable to bear the [raw intensity of the] illumination. Verily, the letters soar upwards once the luminosity has descended, and the illumination remains below. This tzadik achieves such a high spiritual level because he speaks with all his might and with great devotion, entering into the words that he utters with all two hundred and forty-eight limbs and bringing new illumination into them.[48]
The lower type of tzadik is himself inspired by the holy incandescence that exists within the letters used in religious service. Put differently, he appears to be a rather passive recipient of the divine energy concealed within language. However, Reb Levi Yitzhak's second model of a tzadik is far more dynamic: he is an active leader whose command of the linguistic aspects of prayer and Torah study gives him the power to reinfuse the world with a store of brilliance drawn from on high. When spoken by a tzadik with this type of mastery over them, words are transformed into vessels for focusing new channels of divine energy and effluence into this world.
Reb Levi Yitzhak's conception of the ideal tzadik, clearly expressed in these passages and in the myriad others throughout Kedushat Levi examining this same theme, is that of a communal leader who does not demur from interacting with people of a lower spiritual grade. Not only is he permitted to engage with the wicked in an effort to draw them back to a life of pious observance, but Reb Levi Yitzhak demands that this be one of his foremost goals, and even describes it as a precondition for experiencing the Divine presence. He accomplishes this task not so much by setting a good example with his actions, though this is undoubtedly crucial as well. The tzadik's capacity to inspire those around him is rather manifested primarily in his words, since the very letters he articulates have the power to draw down energy from the supernal worlds and illuminate those in need of religious guidance and spiritual reorientation. Though there are undeniable dangers of mutual influence associated with descending to their level, the tzadik's spiritual abilities grant him the capacity to uplift his wayward coreligionists out of their erroneous ways without becoming mired in their corruption. With all of these points in mind, I hope that the following story, transcribed by one of Reb Levi Yitzhak's disciples shortly after his master's death, will serve as a poignant way of summing up our discussion:
Sometimes the tzadik needs to bring in the wicked more than fitting persons, for a iniquitous person allowed to do as he wishes will be consumed by his degeneracy, God forbid, and never repent. However, one who is already walking along the upright path might become conceited, and for this reason it is appropriate [for the tzadik] to send him away at times. Such was manner in which the holy rabbi [Reb Levi Yithak], his soul is at rest in the treasuries on high, rabbi of the holy congregation of Berdyczów, conducted himself: he drew near other people more than his own students.[49]
Zekher tzadik livrakhah,
may the memory of Reb Levi Yitzhak ben Sara Sasha of Berdyczów be a continued blessing.

Ariel Evan Mayse ( is a third-year doctoral candidate in Jewish Studies at Harvard University, where he is studying with Prof. Bernard Septimus and Prof. Arthur Green (of Hebrew College). His research focuses primarily on the question of language in Hasidut and Kabbalah. Special thanks to the editors (and readers) of the Seforim blog for their gracious consideration of this essay.
[1] Tiferet Beit Levi (Jas: 1910), available here (; Nifla’os Beis Levi (Warsaw: 1911), available here (
[2] Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim (New York: Schocken, 1991), 203-234.
[3] See Jonathan Karp, “Performing Black-Jewish Symbiosis: The ‘Hasidic Chant’ of Paul Robeson,” American Jewish History 91:3 (March 2003): 53-81. As noted by Karp, The “Hassidic Chant”… is a version of the Kaddish (Memorial Prayer) attributed to the Hasidic rebbe (master), Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev … a piece also known as the “Din Toyre mit Got” (“The Lawsuit with God”). According to tradition, Levi Yizhak had composed the song spontaneously on a Rosh Hashanah as he contemplated the steadfast faith of his people in the face of their ceaseless suffering. He is said to have stood in the synagogue before the open ark where the Torah scrolls reside and issued his complaint directly to God,” and the author used a translation adapted from arranger Joel Engel’s version originally published, in 1923, by the Juwal Publication Society for Jewish Music, under the title “Kaddisch des Rabbi Levi-Jitzchak Barditzewer,” and reprinted as “Rabbi Levi-Yizchok’s Kadish,” in Nathan Ausubel, ed., A Treasury of Jewish Folklore: Stories, Traditions, Legends, Humor, Wisdom and Folk Songs of the Jewish People (New York: Crown Publishers, 1948), 725–727.
[4] Kedushat Levi al Chanukah u-Furim (Sławuta: 1798).
[5] Kedushat Levi al ha-Torah, (Berdyczów: 1811). All citations in this study refer to Kedushat Levi ha-Shalem (Brooklyn: Mekhon Kedushat Levi, 1995).
[6] Rivka Schatz-Uffenheimer, Maggid Devarv le-Ya’akov (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1990), xiv-xxiii.
[7] See Samuel Dresner, Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev (New York: Shapolsky Books, 1986), 202-213, n28); Glenn Dynner, Men of Silk: The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewish Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 203; Zeev Gries, “The Hasidic Managing Editor as an Agent of Culture,” in Ada Rapoport-Albert, ed., Hasidism Reappraised (London: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1997), 151-152.
[8] (Warsaw: 1860/1861).
[9] I would like to thank Arthur Green our shared conversations in which he helped me to formulate this point.
[10] See Moshe Rosman, Founder of Hasidism: A Quest for the Historical Ba’al Shem Tov (University of California Press, 1996), the early review by Immanuel Etkes, “The Historical Besht: Reconstruction or Deconstruction?” Polin 12 (1999): 297–306, followed by Immanuel Etkes, Ba’al ha-Shem (Merkaz Shazar, 2000), translated as Immanuel Etkes, The Besht: Magician, Mystic, and Leader, trans. Saadya Sternberg (Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2004). For a recent overview of the state of “Beshtian studies,” see Prof. Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, “Hasidei de’Ar’a and Hasidei Dekokhvaya’: Two Trends in Modern Jewish Historiography,” AJS Review 32:1 (April 2008): 141-167.
[11] See the early and important scholarly biography by Arthur Green, Tormented Master: The Life of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav (Alabama: The University of Alabama Press, 1979), as well as the recent volume by David Assaf, Bratslav: An Annotated Bibliography - Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, His Life and Teachings, the Literary Legacy of His Disciples, Bratslav Hasidism in Its Context (Jerusalem: Merkaz Zalman Shazar, 2000; Hebrew), third updated edition available here (, and see the important collection of articles on Bratslav in Shaul Magid, ed., God’s Voice from the Void: Old and New Studies in Bratslav Hasidism (New York: State University of New York Press, 2002), as well as the recent article by Batsheva Goldman Ida, The Birthing Chair: The Chair of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav - A Phenomenological Analysis,” Ars Judaica 6 (2010): 115-132.
[12] David Assaf, The Regal Way: The Life and Times of Rabbi Israel of Ruzhin, trans. David Louvish (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002)
[13] Though see the studies by Yoram Jacobson, “Exile and Redemption in Gur Hasidism,” Da’at 2-3 (1978-1979): 175-216 (Hebrew), and Yoram Jacobson, “Truth and Faith in Gur Hasidic Thought,” Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 3 [= Studies in Jewish Mysticism, Philosophy and Ethical Literature Presented to Isaiah Tishby] (1986): 593-616 (Hebrew); Mendel Piekarz, “‘The Inner Point’ of the Admorim of Gur and Alexander as a Reflection of their Ability to Adjust to Changing Times,” Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 3 [= Studies in Jewish Mysticism, Philosophy and Ethical Literature Presented to Isaiah Tishby] (1986): 617-660 (Hebrew); and Michael Fishbane, “Transcendental Consciousness and Stillness in the Mystical Theology of R. Yehudah Arieh Leib of Gur,” in Gerald J. Blidstein, ed., Sabbath: Idea, History, Reality (Beer-Sheva: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press, 2004), 119-129.
[14] See Shaul Magid, “The Holocaust as Inverted Miracle: Shalom Noah Barzofsky of Slonim on the Divine Nature of Radical Evil,” in Howard Kreisel, Boaz Huss, & Uri Ehrlich, eds., Spiritual Authority: Struggles over Cultural Power in Jewish Thought (Beer Sheva: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, 2009), *33-*62; Shaul Magid, “In Search of a Critical Voice in the Jewish Diaspora: Homelessness and Home in Edward Said and Shalom Noah Barzofsky’s Netivot Shalom,” Jewish Social Studies: History, Culture, Society n.s. 12:3 (Spring/Summer 2006): 193-227; Allan Nadler, “The Synthesis of Hasidism and Mitnagdic Talmudism in the Slonimer Yeshivot,” in Immanuel Etkes ed., Yeshivot u-Batei Midrashot (Jerusalem: Merkaz Zalman Shazar, 2006), 395-415 (Hebrew), and Mordechai Meir, “‘On the Miracles and Wonders’: The Slonimer Rebbe After the Release of the Western Wall,” Tzohar 14 (2003): 81-89 (Hebrew).
[15] On the contemporary difficulties of writing Hasidic history, see David Assaf, Untold Tales of the Hasidim: Crisis and Discontent in the History of Hasidism, trans. Dena Ordan (Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2010), a translation of David Assaf, Ne’ehaz ba-Sevakh: Chapters of Crisis and Discontent in the History of Hasidism (Jerusalem: Merkaz Zalman Shazar, 2006; Hebrew), and see Ada Rapoport-Albert, “Hagiography with Footnotes: Edifying Tales and the Writing of History in Hasidism,” History and Theory 27:4 (Beiheft 27: Essays in Jewish Historiography) (December 1988): 119-159.
[16] For examples of early scholarly work dealing with Reb Levi Yitzhak, see: Shimon Dubnov, Toledot ha-Hasidut (Tel Aviv: 1959), 151-159. See also: Yisra’el Halperin, “Reb Levi Yitsak mi-Berdits´ev ve-Gezerot ha-Malkhut be-Yamav,” in Yehudim ve-yahadut be-Mizra Eropah (Jerusalem, 1969), 340–347; Hayim Liberman, Ohel Rahel (New York: 1980), 1:66–68; Mordekhai Nadav, Pinkas Patua: Mekarim be-Toldot Yehude Polin ve-Lita’ (Tel Aviv: 2003), 79–82; Yohanan Twersky, Haye Reb Levi Yitsak mi-Berdits´ev (Jerusalem: 1960). This list has been reproduced for the readers convenience here, but originally appeared as “suggested reading” at the end of Arthur Green, “Levi Yitsak of Barditshev,” in Gershon David Hundert, ed., YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe (New York: 2010), available here ( The only study of Reb Levi Yitzhak currently underway of which I am aware is Or Rose’s forthcoming dissertation on the concept of leadership in Kedushat Levi.
[17] Samuel Dresner, Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev (New York: Shapolsky Books, 1986), and Michael Luckens, “Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev,” (PhD dissertation, Temple University, 1973).
[18] Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, “The Drama of Berdichev: Levi Yitshak and His Town,” Polin 17 (2004): 83-95, esp. 83n1.
[19] Moshe Idel, “White Letters: From R. Levi Isaac of Berditchev’s Views to Postmodern Hermeneutics,” Modern Judaism 26:2 (May 2006): 169-192.
[20] Arthur Green, “Levi Yitsak of Barditshev,” in Gershon David Hundert, ed., YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe (New York: 2010), available here (
[21] See Joseph Dan, “A Bow to Frumkinian Hasidism,” Modern Judaism 11:2 (May 1991): 175-193
[22] See Samuel Dresner, Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev, 209; Mordechai Wilensky, Hasidim u-Mitnagdim (Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 1970), 1:116, 2:358.
[23] See Arthur Green, "The Zaddiq as Axis Mundi in Later Judaism," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 45:3 (1977): 327-347.
[24] Cf. Bereishit Rabbah 39:14.
[25] Based on Sha’ar ha-Gilgulim, Hakdamah 29.
[26] Kedushat Levi, Noah, 13.
[27] Cf. Zohar, 1:67b, Devarim Rabbah 11:3.
[28] Kedushat Levi, Shemini, 273-274.
[29] Pirkei Avot 2:5.
[30] Pirkei Avot 5:18.
[31] Kedushat Levi, Pirkei Avot, 636-637.
[32] Tikkunei Zohar,19b.
[33] Kedushat Levi, Lekh Lekha, 39.
[34] Kedushat Levi, Noah, 15.
[35] See Zohar, 3:29b.
[36] Kedushat Levi, Hukat, 344-345.
[37] Kedushat Levi, Bereishit, 7; Cf. Likutim, 471-472.
[38] Kedushat Levi, Lekh Lekha, 32.
[39] Kedushat Levi, Likutim, 444.
[40] Kedushat Levi, Va-Yera, 51.
[41] Kedushat Levi, Va-Era, 153.
[42] Kedushat Levi, Korah, 341.
[43] Kedushat Levi, Hayeh Sarah, 62.
[44] Kedushat Levi, Rosh Ha-Shanah, 411.
[45] Kedushat Levi, Bereishit, 6; Shavu’ot, 326.
[46] Kedushat Levi, Likutim, 474.
[47] Kedushat Levi, Shekalim, 255-6; cf. Matot, 364.
[48] Toledot Aharon, Noah (Benei Brak: 1999), 40a. In his article mentioned above, Moshe Idel has presented a brilliant exposition of this passage from a somewhat different angle. Though for reasons of maintaining conceptual and stylistic consistency within this study I have elected to provide my own somewhat freer translation of the passage, this English rendering of the text and my interpretation is based on that of Moshe Idel.
[49] Toledot Aharon, Toledot, 12b. I wish to offer a special thanks to my father-in-law, Prof. Nehemiah Polen, for pointing out the significance of this story.

1 comment:

Anonymous said... celine handbags price real hermes bags dialogue eyebrow louis vuitton locations in ny calf leather handbags original louis vuitton bags louis vuitton shoes for men ineluctable handbags online usa birkin hermes bag ebay celine handbags 2012

Print post

You might also like

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...