Hasidism Beyond Modernity

BookHasidism Beyond Modernity

Hasidism Beyond Modernity

Essays in Habad Thought and History

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


December 18th, 2019

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The Habad school of hasidism is distinguished today from other hasidic groups by its famous emphasis on outreach, on messianism, and on empowering women. Hasidism Beyond Modernity provides a critical, thematic study of the movement from its beginnings, showing how its unusual qualities evolved. Topics investigated include the theoretical underpinning of the outreach ethos; the turn towards women in the twentieth century; new attitudes to non-Jews; the role of the individual in the hasidic collective; spiritual contemplation in the context of modernity; the quest for inclusivism in the face of prevailing  schismatic processes; messianism in both spiritual and political forms; and the direction of the movement after the passing of its seventh rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in 1994. Attention is given to many contrasts: pre-modern, modern, and postmodern conceptions of Judaism; the clash between maintaining an enclave and outreach models of Jewish society; particularist and universalist trends; and the subtle interplay of mystical faith and rationality. Some of the chapters are new; others, published in an earlier form, have been updated to take account of recent scholarship. This book presents an in-depth study of an intriguing movement which takes traditional hasidism beyond modernity. 

'Chabad has become a global movement, powered by dedicated emissaries fuelled by a belief in the sacredness of their task and holy potential of every individual, whether Jew or Gentile. Dr Loewenthal masterfully links these ideals and the activism they inspire to their theological roots.'
Dr Harris Bor, The Jewish Chronicle

'Loewenthal has dug deep into the heart of Chabad’s philosophy... his work is destined to be more than another dusty tome read only by a select cohort of colleagues in his field. Throughout the book, he maintains his humanity, a personal voice that compromises neither his objectivity nor his convictions. The observations of the scholar are considered side-by-side with the insights of school girls. There is no more moving testament to the challenge and the resilience of a postmodern movement; the prior categories exploded, the either/or thinking rejected, while the nucleus—present since the inception—is retained.'
Chana Silberstein, Lubavitch Magazine

Author Information

Naftali Loewenthal is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, University College London, and the director of the Chabad Research Unit. He is the author of Communicating the Infinite: The Emergence of the Habad School (1990).

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Note on Transliteration10
Part 1: From the Ba’al Shem Tov to Modern Outreach42
1. Hippy in the Mikveh: The Hasidic Ethos andthe Schisms of Jewish Society44
2. The Ba’al Shem Tov’s ‘Sacred Epistle’ and Contemporary Habad Outreach64
3. The Hasid and the ‘Other’90
Part II: Dimensions of Rationality138
4. Reason and ‘Beyond Reason’ in Habad Hasidism140
5. Finding and Transcending the Individual199
6. Habad Contemplation in Context236
Part III: The Feminine Principle270
7. Women and the Dialectic of Spirituality in Hasidism272
8. From Ladies’ Auxiliary to Shluchos Network: Women’s Activism in Twentieth-Century Habad316
Part IV: Towards the Future332
9. Habad Messianism: A Combination of Opposites334
10. ‘From the Source of Mercy’: Graveside Prayer in Habad Hasidism350
11. Habad, the Rebbe, and the Messiah in the Twenty-First Century368