Snuffboxes, Seder Plates, and Maps Lend a New Perspective on Hasidism

While their exotic dress may be their most salient characteristic to outsiders, hats, caftans, and stockings are far from the only religiously significant objects for Ḥasidim. In Hasidic Art and the Kabbalah, Batsheva Goldman-Ida explores a wide array of objects that have come to be invested with meaning, and often elaborate mystical symbolism, in ḥasidic thought and culture. Glenn Dynner writes in his review:

What exactly constitutes a sacred object can be rather surprising. Seder plates and prayer shawls, to be sure. But pipes, snuffboxes, and chairs? The sacralization of functional objects illustrates Ḥasidism’s infectious optimism about the potential holiness of things. That optimism even extended to non-Jewish decorative art forms like galanterie (luxury objects) and Russian lubok (folk) prints, which heavily influenced the designs of multitiered, intricately engraved seder plates. From the ḥasidic perspective, the foreign art forms were redeemed through their incarnation as ritual objects, [the “redemption” of the profane being a fundamental concept of ḥasidic mysticism]. . . .

Each of the objects detailed in [Goldman-Ida’s] pioneering contribution to Jewish art history alludes to an aspect of the divine for those who are in the know. . . . The letters in a prayer book rendered in unique calligraphy, we learn, hint at the letters with which God spoke the world into existence. . . . A prayer-shawl ornament known as an atarah [meaning “crown”] evokes the crown that angels weave from our prayers and place on God’s head. The rebbe’s pipe helps him uplift souls’ [sacred] sparks and reenact his own entry into the divine realm.

In a very different way, Marcin Wodziński’s Historical Atlas of Hasidism helps readers visualize this religious movement—not through art, but through geography. Dynner writes:

Several [of this volume’s] maps reflect real ingenuity. Who would have thought to produce a map of the socioeconomic status of ḥasidic groups based on contemporaneous accounts of each dynasty’s relative affluence? Or a series of layouts of ḥasidic courts and prayer halls in various towns? Yet here they, furnished with vivid photographs of spaces, places, documents, and people wherever possible. . . . Perhaps the most intriguing maps are those based on tallying up hundreds of early 20th-century prayer halls (shtiblekh) affiliated with ḥasidic dynasties, which are used to gauge each dynasty’s popularity. . . . Together, such maps constitute the most complete sketch of ḥasidic dynastic expansion available.

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More about: East European Jewry, Hasidism, Jewish art, Kabbalah, Religion & Holidays

Is There a Way Out of Israel’s Political Deadlock?

On Tuesday, leaders of the Jewish state’s largest political parties, Blue and White and Likud, met to negotiate the terms of a coalition agreement—and failed to come to an agreement. If none of the parties in the Knesset succeeds in forming a governing coalition, there will be a third election, with no guarantee that it will be more conclusive than those that preceded it. Identifying six moves by key politicians that have created the deadlock, Shmuel Rosner speculates as to whether they can be circumvented or undone:

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Election 2019, Israeli politics