Saturday, November 19, 2011

New Book on Hassidim Published

I have been informed:

For those who have been attracted by these stories of controversial moments in the history of Hasidism, I have good news: Professor Assaf is about to release his monograph on Dov Ber of Leova’s desertion and the conflict between the Hasidim of Sadigora and Sanz (NowySącz), perhaps the greatest Hasidic scandal ever.

Dov Ber who?


...R' Berenyu, the fourth son of R' Israeltche [the Ruzhiner Rebbe](born in 1810) had even as a youth excelled among his brothers with his earnestness and desire for learning, studying and considering the results...the Rambam opened R' Berenyu's eyes to the reasonable law of nature and gave him a rationalistic world outlook that was the absolute reverse of the Hasides doctrine. That is how the great rift in R' Berenyu's soul was created, the soul that with all the cynicism of his nature was far from every manner of cynicism. As a leader of a community of Hasidim who represented a saint and a holy man to them, he was also torn by doubts, not only in the path of Hasides, but also in the truth of the traditional religion. He had established a contact with enlightened people, Jews and non-Jews and first in Hush [Gîsca] (Moldova), where he was (contact with Dr. Olmugin) and then in Leowa (Moldova, on the border of Beserabia), where he moved his court. After a trip abroad in Futory, where he made friends with a Jewish doctor, a maskil [adherent of the Enlightenment], he returned home loaded even more with “apikorses” [heresy]

At the same time that R' Berenyu was corroded by the bizarre discrepancies between the behavior of a Hasidic and his new convictions; he also experienced great psychological pain in his personal life. He had gotten married at the age of 14 to Sheyndl, the daughter of a well known, R' Motele Tchernobiler. The marriage was not a happy one particularly because they did not have any children, but also because of the lack of harmony in the characters of the couple. The rebetsin Sheyndl was of an ambitious nature and had a strong character and she ruled over her husband. R' Berenyu also in his erotic life had struggled between the strong love toward his wife and his inner strivings to free himself from her dominance over him. Strongly erotic by nature and not satisfied with his relations with his wife, in his late thirties sought several opportunities to have intercourse with other women.

R' Berenyu, the inwardly torn person, did not live peacefully with his brothers either, having the conviction that they had abused him: he felt himself wronged, because the brothers had made the point of assigning him the rabeish seat in such a faraway shtetl as Hush [Gîsca]. He had complaints about the division of his father's inheritance, though he had a part with his brothers in the current estates, and the value of his possessions was estimated at about 60 thousand ruble in cash, plus houses, jewelry and gold and silver. Of all his brothers, R' Berenyu was closest to R' Nahumnyu from Szczepanowice and he loved him with all his soul.

...In his Zalesier solitude R' Berenyu sought the company of the Christian intelligentsia of the shtetl. He became very friendly with the telegraph operator there, a meshumed [an apostate Jew who has been baptized] and spent a lot of time with him either to learn electro-magnetism or because the few intelligentsia of the shtetl and environs used to get together there. This created a great restlessness among the Hasidim until they besieged the house in order to find out why they dallied there so long. As time went by, rumors that made their restlessness hard to bear were spread that British missionaries had arrived in the shtetl in order to meet R' Berenyu and that he, the Leower, let himself go in long conversations.

It was 1869. At that time, R' Berenyu had suffered a severe depression after his beloved brother R' Nahumnyu died the previous winter. He would chase away Hasidim from him no matter how infrequently they visited him, though they did not cease believing in him. He used to keep to himself all day in his kheyder meyukhed [secluded chamber] or stay with the telegraph operator for a lengthy time. Then, at that time, suddenly like a thunderbolt, news came out that R' Berenyu was preparing to convert. The local pharmacist, taking personal revenge on the rebbe for having avoided buying remedies at his pharmacy, sent a telegram to the metropolis of Jasi, that R' Berenyu is willing to take on the Greek Orthodox religion. R' Berenyu's nervous wife with his brothers decided to take drastic measures: after a doctor had put R' Berenyu to sleep, he was brought to Sadgora. From the guesthouse there, he was immediately brought to the house of his oldest brother, R' Abraham Yekobnyu. R' Berenyu was a captive of his brother.

The news of the captivity of R' Berenyu reached his friend. It appears that the city official from Jasi had also gotten involved with this. In any case, the police found R' found R'Berenyu and took him away from his brother's house. At his request, the policemen brought him to Chernivtsi. In the capital of Bukowina, R' Berenyu wanted to meet with the head of the Jewish community, but he was not at home. R' Berenyu took the representative of the roshekool [leader of the community], the lawyer Dr. Yehuda Leyb Reytman. An episode in the life of the wretched Leover had begun. In a short time, it made him a renowned hero in the Jewish world and ignited the bitter quarrel between Sandz and Sadogora.[19]

...R' Berenyu had not only not cut off his beard and peyes [side curls] but he had not changed his rabeishe thinking. But the fact in itself the a son of R' Israeltche Ruhziner stayed with a Maskil and ate with him caused the greatest sensation and news of it spread at once in the Jewish and, thanks to the press, also in the non-Jewish world. Among the Sadgora Hasidim confusion and sadness reigned...

Assaf's latest publication in English:

Untold Tales of the Hasidim: Crisis and Discontent in the History of Hasidism

the idea of which was investigate the “crisis and discontent,” that is, the moments in the Hasidic movement that Hasidim themselves already considered controversial, if not scandalous, which they had either hidden away or whitewashed with reinterpretations...

Some details:

Chapter 2, one of the book’s genuine pearls, gathers and analyzes the available information concerning the conversion of Moshe, the eldest son of Shneur Zalman of Liadi who was the founder of one of the mightiest Hasidic dynasties known as Habad...about the life and conversion of Moshe of Liadi...The third chapter is devoted to a well-known episode in the history of Polish Hasidism: the fatal accident of the tsadik Yaakov Yitzhak Horowitz (1754?-1815), known as the Seer of Lublin, who fell from a window and died some nine months later...the fourth chapter which focuses on the persecutions suffered by followers of the tsadik Nachman of Bratslav...Chapter 5 studies Akiva Chajes of Tulchyn. Once a fervent Misnaged, this controversial figure became a leader of the Hasidic community in a small Ukrainian town...The following two sections, devoted respectively to Menahem Nahum of Itskan (chapter 6) and Yitzhak Nahum Twersky of Shpikov (chapter 7), are linked through their shared crucial topic: individuals who struggle with the social roles imposed upon Hasidic leaders and the conflict between the anti-modernization ethos of the Hasidic community and the challenges of the modern world...

I read it in Hebrew and was entralled.


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