Hasidism has been a seminal force and a source of controversy in the Jewish world since its inception in the second half of the 18th century. Indeed, almost every ideological trend that has made itself felt among Jews since that time - from Zionism and Orthodoxy to contemporary Jewish feminism and movements within the yeshiva world - has claimed to have derived some inspiration from this vibrant movement. While this is sure testimony to its vitality and originality, it has also given rise to many misconceptions as to what hasidism is about. The monumental volume that Ada Rapoport-Albert has produced is a critical history of this intriguing movement in English. It offers a comprehensive treatment of the subject in all its aspects by what is effectively the entire present generation of scholars working in the field. With contributions ranging from the history of theology and of ideas through social and economic history to sociology, Hasidism Reappraised encompasses a complete field of contemporary scholarship in a discipline that is central to our understanding of modern Jewish history and the contemporary Jewish world.
This text shows an intellectual world at an important juncture in its development. The study of hasidism was long dominated by scholars trained by Gershom Scholem, the great master of academic Jewish mysticism, but their achievements are now being questioned in a process of post-Scholem revisionism. This book captures this mood and points forward to the direction in which hasidic scholarship is likely to develop in the years to come. But the extent to which the figure of Scholem still dominates the field is clear from the introductory section of this volume: the personal correspondence of the late Joseph Weiss, one of the leading historians of hasidism, with Sara Ora Heller-Wilensky, a fellow student of Scholem's and later professor of Jewish philosophy and kabbalah. These letters, written over a period of many years, offer an insight into the complex intellectual and emotional relationships that Scholem inspired. The 28 authors who have contributed to the main body of the book are almost without exception established scholars with international reputations; those who are not are well-known in Israel for their scholarship but have previously published little in English.
Their contributions are arranged thematically under seven headings: the social history of hasidism; the social functions of mystical ideals in the hasidic movement; distinctive outlooks and schools of thought within hasidism; the hasidic tale; the history of hasidic historiography; contemporary hasidism; and the present state of research on hasidism. The book also incorporates an extensive introduction that places the various articles in their intellectual context, as well as a bibliography of hasidic sources and contemporary scholarly literature.