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.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

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

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount