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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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

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

 

Europe Dithers While Iran Enriches

Jan. 20 2020

In May, when Tehran announced that it would no longer abide by the limits set by the 2015 nuclear agreement on its enrichment of uranium, Europe found legal excuses not to react. When, earlier this month, the Islamic Republic went a step further, renouncing any limits on enrichment, the EU—led by France and Germany, both parties to the deal—at last initiated a formal process that might lead to the re-imposition of sanctions. Bobby Ghosh comments on the dangers of European apathy:

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More about: European Union, France, Germany, Hassan Rouhani, Iran, Iran nuclear program