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

January 10, 2022 | Shai Secunda
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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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