Ḥasidic Tales through a Labor-Zionist Lens

Menachem Mendel Morgensztern of Kotzk (1787–1859), known simply as “the Kotzker,” was one of the leading figures in Polish Ḥasidism in his day. He has been much romanticized by those—among them Martin Buber and Abraham Joshua Heschel—wishing to bring ḥasidic ideas to a non-ḥasidic audience. Jonathan Boyarin has recently translated a Yiddish-language collection of stories, compiled (or authored) by one Menashe Unger, in which a very different image of Morgensztern emerges. Alan Brill writes:

Even though the Kotzker died in 1859, the early 20th century saw his reputation ascend through many works that painted him as a master epigrammist with a sharp wit. . . . The major collections of his sayings appeared in 1929 and 1938. [In these collections and other writings,] the Kotzker was variously recast as an individualist, truth-seeker, opponent of the religious establishment, and, in later years, as a proto-existentialist. . . .

Menashe Ungar . . . [was] the son of a prominent ḥasidic rabbi, receiving rabbinic ordination at the age of seventeen; he then turned his back on the religious world to attend university and join the Labor-Zionist movement. He worked as a stonemason and journalist, and eventually immigrated to America, where he spent the remainder of his life writing about East European Jews, their histories, folk tales, and wisdom. . . .

Centered around a core narrative of crisis in ḥasidic leadership, Unger’s stories [about Morgensztern] offer a detailed account of everyday ḥasidic court life—filled with plenty of alcohol, stolen geese, and wives pleading with their husbands to come back home. . . . First published in Buenos Aires in 1949, Unger’s volume reflects a period when East European Jewish immigrants enjoyed reading about ḥasidic culture in Yiddish articles and books even as they themselves were rapidly assimilating into American culture.

Read more at Book of Doctrines and Opinions

More about: Abraham Joshua Heschel, American Jewish History, East European Jewry, Hasidism, History & Ideas, Martin Buber

Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security