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.

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Read more at Book of Doctrines and Opinions

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

 

Europe-Israel Relations Have Been Transformed

On Monday, Israel and the EU held their first “association council” meeting since 2012, resuming what was once an annual event, equivalent to the meetings Brussels conducts with many other countries. Although the summit didn’t produce any major agreements or diplomatic breakthroughs, writes Shany Mor, it is a sign of a dramatic change that has occurred over the past decade. The very fact that the discussion focused on energy, counterterrorism, military technology, and the situation in Ukraine—rather than on the Israel-Palestinian conflict—is evidence of this change:

Israel is no longer the isolated and boycotted outpost in the Middle East that it was for most of its history. It has peace treaties with six Arab states now, four of which were signed since the last association council meeting. There are direct flights from Tel Aviv to major cities in the region and a burgeoning trade between Israel and Gulf monarchies, including those without official relations.

It is a player in the regional alliance systems of both the Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean, just as it has also become a net energy exporter due to the discovery of large gas deposits of its shoreline. None of this was the case at the last council meeting in 2012. [Moreover], Israel has cultivated deep ties with a number of new member states in the EU from Central and Eastern Europe, whose presence in Brussels bridges cultural ideological gaps that were once much wider.

Beyond the diplomatic shifts, however, is an even larger change that has happened in European-Israeli relations. The tiny Israel defined by its conflict with the Arabs that Europeans once knew is no more. When the first Cooperation Agreement [between Israel and the EU’s precursor] was signed in 1975, Israel, with its three million people, was smaller than all the European member states save Luxembourg. Sometime in the next two years, the Israeli population will cross the 10 million mark, making it significantly larger than Ireland, Denmark, Finland, and Austria (among others), and roughly equal in population to Greece, Portugal, and Sweden.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Abraham Accords, Europe and Israel, European Union, Israeli gas