The Modern Orthodox Hasidic Revival, Its Predecessors, and Its Discontents

Jan. 10 2022

In the early-to-mid 20th century, the Jewish thinkers Martin Buber, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Hillel Zeitlin constituted what Shai Secunda terms a “neo-ḥasidic triumvirate,” all of whom to one extent or another stood outside of Ḥasidism, but sought to draw on its ideas to address the challenges of modern Jewish life. In the 1960s and 70s, they were followed by a second triumvirate of the mystical guru Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the charismatic musician Shlomo Carlebach, and the scholar Arthur Green, who focused less on abstract ideas and more on Ḥasidism’s ecstatic and experiential tendencies. Secunda also writes of a third wave of neo-Ḥasidim, which include the popular American therapist and podcaster Rabbi Joey Rosenfeld and the late Israeli talmudist Rabbi Shimon Gershon Rosenberg, whose main goal is to use ḥasidic vibrancy to breathe new life into Modern Orthodoxy. In a review of several works, Secunda describes a series of talks Rosenfeld gave at a New Jersey synagogue:

His subject, the Sabbath, couldn’t have been more familiar, but he approached it from an unexpected angle, speaking of it as the “death of the week.” Rosenfeld invoked well-known rabbinic sources, which he read in conversation with the striking formulations of the Zohar, ḥasidic teachings, and Naḥman of Bratslav’s tales. He also made reference to Western literature—but it wasn’t Shakespeare or Kant, but Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. The final talk of the weekend was a postmodern mashup titled “The Redemption of Doubt” that riled a few in the audience, especially those still loyal to Yeshiva University’s litvishe (Lithuanian) rationalism. What, some unsympathetic congregants wondered, was this wild rumpus all about?

In his podcasts, Rosenfeld returns again and again to themes of divine concealment and paradox, faith and doubt, anxiety and depression, joy, desire, and self-realization. Remarkably, this somewhat Kierkegaardian list is not a course of angst-ridden hurdles to be overcome, or at least contained, by the behavioral certainties of Jewish law. Rather, it reflects a divine reality in which these supposed negatives are accorded a position within God.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Abraham Joshua Heschel, Hasidism, Martin Buber, Modern Orthodoxy, Shlomo Carlebach

 

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