Tuning the Soul: Music As a Spiritual Process in the Teachings of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlavby Chani Haran Smith (IJS Studies in Judaica: Brill Academic) is an in-depth study of the function of music in religious experience according to Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav. It provides new insights on his unique doctrine of the “Good Points”, which represent the core of loving kindness and holiness in the human soul, and the musical context in which they become both a means and a metaphor for spiritual transformation. Drawing on midrashic and kabbalistic sources, the book explores Nahman’s perception of different types of “tzadiqim” (religious leaders), including himself, and the special role music plays in their leadership. It highlights the importance of creativity and renewal in the messianic process that involves both music and loving kindness. All those interested in key aspects of Nahman of Bratzlav’s world view and self-perception, the place and transforming power of music in human life, spirituality and religious leadership.
Chapter One: The Doctrine of the ‘Good Points’ and its Kabbalistic Sources
Chapter Two: Music as a Spiritual Process
ChapterThree: The Dual Personality of the Tzadiq: Moses and Joseph
Chapter Four: New Time, New Song
Music is universally recognised as fundamental to human life, and although manifestations of music vary from one culture to another, no society in the world exists without its music. Music consists of sounds that are organised for the purpose of arousing a response. The nature of its organisation or the wished-for response will vary according to time and place, cultural conventions, artistic ideals and aims.
The important role that music played in the life of the Jewish people from its inception is evident throughout its literature. The following examples demonstrate some of the functions fulfilled by music in the Bible. The timbrel accompanied Miriam and the daughters of Israel in their song of thanksgiving and dance at the banks of the Sea of Reeds, the shofar (ram's horn) heralded the divine revelation at Sinai and was used by Joshua and the Israelites in the battle of Jericho, David soothed King Saul's melancholy with his lyre, and Elisha summoned musicians to play music to induce prophecy.' When the Temple became the focus of religious worship, the Levites' singing, accompanied by musical instruments, was central to the communal ritual.
After the destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the Jewish people, the rabbis issued a ban on secular music and musical instruments as a mark of national mourning. The use of musical instruments in the synagogue on the Sabbath and festivals was prohibited on halakhic grounds, with the exception of the shofar blowing on high holidays. Nevertheless, music did not disappear altogether. The tradition of public reading of the Torah by chant—cantillation—continued unbroken from very early days." In time, instrumental music was integrated in religious celebrations such as weddings, dedications of new Torah scrolls etc., and bands of professional Jewish musicians were formed to fulfil this function. The music itself diversified, absorbing elements from local host cultures, adopting popular/folk traditions.
Once the synagogue became the focus of communal worship, with prayers replacing the Temple sacrifices, and rabbis replacing the priests as communal leaders, the musical function of the Levites was delegated to the lay representative of the congregation (sheli'ah tzibur) and eventually, the professional solo singer—the cantor (hazan)—as leader of prayer.' However, the notion of Temple, priests, Levites and their music did not entirely die out but was transferred to the celestial domain in classical rabbinic literature and, above all, in the early mystical texts of the heikhalot and merkavah literature. These writings vividly describe the songs of the ministering angels in heaven, which are performed in a manner mirroring the Temple rituals and in a sense continues them, albeit in a spiritual, visionary way.
The notion of spiritual, heavenly music continued to feature in later mystical texts. The 13th century zoharic literature similarly ascribes musical function to the angels. However, in contrast to the heikhalot mystics, whose goal was to 'ascend' to heaven, and who aspired to learn the angelic music so that the gates to the heavenly court would open to reveal the throne of glory, the kabbalists maintained that by the theurgic means of song, prayer and study, they would be able to prompt the angels to sing and thus promote harmony in the divine realm."
Abraham Abulafia and his students, the prophetic/ecstatic school of Kabbalah, focused on achieving mystical union, to which end they employed practices involving chanting divine names according to the vowel points, often in solitary contemplation.'' Some of their techniques reemerged in the writings of Cordovero and other 16th century Safed kabbalists.
The Safed kabbalists stressed the importance of music in prayer, and composed many poems, often lengthy hymns, alluding to mystical ideas and set to music (zemirot), to accompany the various rituals that they developed. Most popular among these poems are lekhah dodi (come my friend) by Shlomo Alqabetz for welcoming the Sabbath Bride, symbolising the Shekhinah, and the three zemirot by Isaac Luria (known as the Ari) for the statutory Sabbath meals.
The hasidic movement, which spread in Eastern Europe from the second half of the 18th century, adopted many kabbalistic traditions. It emphasised the importance of serving God with joy, and singing was regarded as the best means to achieve this. What emerged as a unique kind of hasidic song was the nigun—a wordless melody, often sung to repeated syllables such as dai dai (slow) or biribiribom (fast). The wordless nigun was a departure from vocal music in which the melody was generally regarded as subservient to the text. The nigunim accompanied religious services, social gatherings—particularly during the Sabbath and festive meals at the Rebbe's house, joyous celebrations, dancing and private prayer.23 Other forms of music in hasidic and general Eastern European Jewish life included biblical cantillation, synagogue cantorial music famed for its power to stir the emotions, and instrumental (klezmer) music. Klezmer music was performed by small bands of Jewish musicians on joyous occasions. In addition, the Jews encountered the folk music of their non-Jewish surroundings, and sometimes adapted it for religious purposes.
This study presents Nahman of Bratzlav's view of music as a vehicle for personal and cosmic transformation. It focuses on the musical dimension of his doctrine of the 'good points, which has received only limited scholarly attention so far, and which deserves to be acknowledged as one of his central tenets.
Nahman's doctrine of the 'good points' is made up of three main components: (1) the inner core of loving-kindness (hesed) which constitutes the holiness inherent in every Jew; (2) music—the playing and composition of nigunim; (3) renewal, both personal and cosmic. The association between these apparently discrete ideas will be examined in the context of Nahman's kabbalistic sources, tracing its development from his earliest torot to his last.
The term nigun (from the verb N.G.N—to play music), although associated in Hasidism specifically with wordless melody, can also imply music in general, as well as signifying a large range of concepts associated with music, such as 'chant' 'melody, 'rhythm' and more.29 As will be demonstrated below, Nahman employs the term broadly, for both instrumental and vocal music, either with or without words. For this reason, I often translate nigun as plain music, unless a specific meaning is indicated by the context.
The present study does not deal with music from a musicological perspective; rather it concerns the theological and ontological dimensions of music. It attempts to explain Nabman's approach to music as a process that involves and transforms the 'spirit', understood as a force that originates in God, animating all life. According to Nahman, the spirit encompasses the emotional and imaginative dimensions of human existence, while at the same time having an impact on the cosmic domain.
Music does not represent anything but itself; it is not a 'language' that can be translated into words. One therefore often resorts to metaphors and symbolic language to describe the experience of music or to convey its meaning. According to Storr, our musical perception is "analogously determined," and he illustrates this with our tendency to describe music as 'moving' when it is a succession of separate events in time. Similarly, we refer to music as 'ascending' or 'descending', applying spatial terms to an acoustic phenomenon that relates to the frequency of air-waves and has nothing to do with motion 'up' or 'down. Many of the sources quoted in this study, including Nahman's own texts, employ this kind of metaphoric language to describe music, and in some cases, I have had to do the same.
References to music, both vocal and instrumental, are strewn across Nahman's entire literary corpus. They collectively extol the power of music to animate, heal and transform, to induce prophecy and to energise all life. His approach to music is informed primarily by the kabbalistic tradition with which he was familiar. Idel has discerned three modes of conceptualising musical activity in the Kabbalah:
The human attempt to have an impact upon the divine intra-structure—an activity which may be described as theurgy; attempts to manipulate nature, which could be described as magic; and, finally, attempts to shape the inner state of consciousness, which are more specifically mystical approaches.
Idel emphasises the important point that Jewish music is generally conceptualised as serving theological ideals, while the artistic/aesthetic values ascribed to it are negligible. His models focus on the power of music to influence the divine world, nature and the human soul. These categories, however, are not sufficient tools for analysing Nahman's concept of music inasmuch as they are exclusively concerned with end-goals, while Nahman also addresses the origin, process and essence of music, on which he offers original insights. Furthermore, Nahman's view of music and its effect combines the end-goals of Idel's three models, but goes beyond them in endowing music with an additional messianic role.
The key to understanding Nahman's view of music is his concept of the 'good points' expounded mainly in Liqutei Moharan I, 54:6 and 282, which focus on loving-kindness as the source of music and its transformative force. This idea runs like a thread through many of Nahman's teachings, whether or not he refers to it explicitly in terms of 'good points'. To demonstrate this, I have often had to deconstruct Nahman's teachings, to link corresponding ideas and concepts, which I have drawn from discrete sources, and to reconstruct them into a coherent whole.
I have tried to expose Nahman's midrashic, kabbalistic and hasidic sources, giving special consideration to the mystical allusions contained in the kabbalistic material. In Nahman's teachings, as in other kabbalistic texts, ideas and concepts are often linked to one another by virtue of alluding to the same sefirah, which points to their esoteric meaning. [Sefirah (pl. sefirot)—this relates to the kabbalistic doctrine of the ten sefirot—ten hierarchically arranged 'aspects' or manifestations of the divine light, representing distinct divine qualities. The ten sefirot link the divine and terrestrial domains through the flow of divine bounty through them. Each sefirah is alluded to by various names and symbols. It starts at the most transcendant aspect of God—the ein-sof (the 'Infinite') or Keter (`crown'), emanating via hokhamah (`wisdom', 'beginning') and binah (`understanding') to the lower, more 'revealed' sefirot. These consist of hesed (loving kindness, grace), gevurah (`power, `judgement'), tif'eret (`glory'), netzah (`endurance'), hod (`splendour'), yesod (`foundation'), and ending with malkhut (`kingship', shekhinah). For the doctrine of the ten sefirot, see Gershom Scholem, Major Trends, pp. 211-230.]To establish these underlying connections is therefore a crucial hermeneutic tool. In addition, the analysis of Nahman's use of sources, highlighting his congruence with or deviation from their original contexts, leads to an appreciation of his innovative insights, and opens up additional layers of meaning. My interpretation of Nahman's ideas is based mainly on his own words as they have come down to us, and on his sources. I have not considered the subsequent Bratzlav commentaries which his work has attracted.
Nahman's corpus consists of the following: his magnum opus, Liqutei Moharan—a collection of his sermons [Hereafter LM. The first part of this book was first published in Ostrog in 1798, while the second part was first published in Mohilev in 1811, after Nahman's death. The book was revised and republished by Nathan Sternhartz (hereafter 'Nathan') in two parts in Ostrog in 1821.]; Sefer Hamidot—alphabetically arranged principles of conduct and aphorisms on ethical topics and various religious ideals, and Sipurei Ma'asiyot [this book, also known as Sefer Ha'aleph Bet, was written partly in Nahman's youth, and first published in Mohilev, 1811. In spite of the brevity of the statements contained in this book, it reflects many of the ideas elaborated on in his later torot. See Gries, Sifrut Hahanhagot, vv. 231-232,249-275.]—his 13 'canonical' tales.' In addition, there is an extensive biographical literature written by Nahman's disciple and chief scribe, Nathan Sternhartz, as well as numerous books on Nahman's teachings and life, produced by subsequent generations of Bratzlav hasidim.
There is a vast field of scholarship on Nahman and Bratzlav Hasidism. Relevant works are referred to at particular points throughout the dissertation, but I would like to mention the few studies which more than others have informed and inspired my research.
Moshe Idel's work on music in the prophetic Kabbalah and on the magical and theurgic aspects of music in Jewish writings of the Renaissance provides the essential background to many aspects of Nahman's notion of music. Zvi Mark's detailed study of Nahman's nigun highlighted the influence ofPerek Shirah and Cordovero's works on Nahman's mystical dimension of music.44 However, Mark also interprets Nahman's approach to music in relation to the Lurianic myth of the 'broken vessels, suggesting that the nigun is a means to elevating 'holy sparks' and 'good points'. Linking music to the 'holy sparks' and the myth of the 'broken vessels' invests Nahman's concept of music with pessimistic connotations. Against this I will argue that Nahman's 'good points' imply a positive notion of God's immanence in the soul, an optimistic notion which frames his views on the power and purpose of music.
In the course of my research, I came to realise that Nahman assigns different types of music to three different categories of humanity: the ordinary person, the 'ordinary' tzadiq (hasidic leader), i.e., every worthy tzadiq, and the supreme tzadiq who stands above all other tzadiqim, and who alone operates within the supernal world. This insight led to a study of the typology of the tzadiq in Hasidism, and in particular in Nahman's teachings. Here I drew on the seminal work of Joseph Weiss, who opened up Bratzlav Hasidism to modern scholarship, and who was the first to point out that Nahman's numerous statements on the nature of the tzadiq are all self-referential. Arthur Green in his biography of Nahman, and Zvi Mark in his recent publication of Nahman's Megilat Setarim ("scroll of Secrets"), an esoteric exposition of Nahman's messianic vision,48 have further explored Nahman's perception of the tzadiq and highlighted its important messianic and autobiographical dimenanalysis of the tzadiq's function in society as well as in the suspension. My analysis realm shows how his own personality reflects his dual role. I identify one role with Nahman's portrayal of Moses, and the other with his portrayal of Joseph.
Mendel Piekarz's analysis of the 'innermost point' in hasidic thought relates most directly to my own research topic. Piekarz recognises Nahman's 'good points' as a central feature of his doctrine, and he highlights the earlier sources of the idea.
Yehuda Liebes stressed the importance of novelty in Nahman's self-perception, and has inspired my research into the creative dimension of the tzadiq's music and its messianic aspect. Two other studies by Liebes were invaluable to my research: his exploration of the concept of `point', and his work on the Zohar's protagonist, Rabbi Shim'on bar Yohai. Both studies provided the kabbalistic background to Nahman's own concepts of 'points' and tzadiq respectively.
This book is divided into four sections. The first introduces Nahman's doctrine of the 'good points. It explores the rich kabbalistic symbolism of 'points' as sefirot that represent 'beginning' or 'centre' in time, space and the human soul, as well as their use in the sense of musical notes. It examines the connection that Nahman makes between 'good points, loving-kindness (hesed), and animation of both body and soul.
The second section focuses on Nahman's use of the talmudic legend of David's lyre and its kabbalistic interpretations. David, the 'skilled musician' subdued his imagination and overcame negative spiritual forces. From this Nahman concludes that by playing a well-tuned musical instrument skilfully, a person effectively tunes his soul and attains holiness. Various aspects of Nahman's doctrine are linked to earlier sources from the writings of Abraham Abulafia and Isaac Arama, pointing to possible influences of both prophetic Kabbalah and Renaissance ideas.
The third section deals with the typology of the tzadiq. The 'Moses' type is depicted in Liqutei Moharan I, 64 as the `tzadiq of the generation' who operates within society, concerned for the redemption of fallen souls. By virtue of his supreme faith, he merits the highest form of music, a nigun, invested with the power to elevate to holiness every person, even a heretic. In Nahman's tale of 'the Heart and the Spring', this type of tzadiq is the beggar who collects acts of loving-kindness from every individual in order to sustain the world in existence. By contrast, the 'Joseph' type or `the true tzadiq' is rooted in the upper worlds and operates within them. He is innovative and, in Liqutei Moharan I, 282, is described as a cantor and composer who raises people to holiness by means of his original melodies. In the tale 'the Heart and the Spring', this type of tzadiq is identified with the True Man of Kindness, who renews the world by transforming loving-kindness into time. Drawing on Nahman's various portrayals of these two modes of the tzadiq, I shall examine the relationship between them, and distinguish between their respective types of music.
The fourth section explores Nahman's concepts of 'time' and 'above-time. While the goal of religious praxis is adherence to the eternal divine domain that lies beyond the confines of time, the world's very existence depends on a daily renewal and the creation of new time, which requires human action. We shall highlight the importance of creativity and renewal in Nahman's worldview, expressed in the simultaneous transformation of human loving-kindness into melodies and into time. Many motifs from Nahman's earlier teachings converge in his last sermon, which is his vision of the messianic future and its music (Liqutei Moharan II, 8). Paradoxically, music—a temporal art par excellence, is made to bridge the gap between human experience, which is finite and temporal, and the infinite, ex-temporal quality of the transcendent God.
The doctrine of the 'good points' developed in stages, with each stage adding a new element. So far, we have examined the two earliest layers. The first, in Liqutei Moharan I, 34:8, introduced the concept of the 'innermost point' and its intrinsic holiness. In the second stage, in Liqutei Moharan I, 31:6, Nahman combined the concept of 'points' with the notion of 'goodness' (loving-kindness, hesed) to create a completely new concept of the 'good points', From this, two new ideas emerged: (1) 'good points' are created out of yearning for holiness; and (2) when 'good points' join each other by means of love and desire, they increase spirituality (create souls'), and have the capacity to animate and unite both human beings and words.
The next chapter will describe the third stage (Liqutei Moharan I, 54:6), where Nahman associates the 'good points' with musical notes for the first time, and offers every individual a spiritual path by means of playing music. The Kabbalistic literature introduced above, and in particular the Lurianic-Saruqian strand, provides the background for Nahman's developing doctrine of the 'good points, with its imagery of ensouled points, which gather to create letters and words, and consequently, the world. The ambiguity we discerned in early kabbalistic sources concerning the linguistic and musical nature of 'points' may account for Nahman's association of the 'good points' with both vowel points that create words and musical notes that create melodies. The musical dimension of the 'good points, which will be explored in the following chapter, can be regarded as an extension of the same ideas expressed in LM I, 31.
The religious path described in Liqutei Moharan I, 54:6 in musical terms is accessible to every individual and does not necessarily require musical skill. Elsewhere, Nahman speaks also about other kinds of music, which are exclusive to the tzadiq, as will be discussed in the next chapter. Nevertheless, the person chosen to epitomise the path that is open to every person is King David, the skilled musician, whose musical efforts underpin his victory over the darkness of midnight and evil spirits, enabling him to engage in Torah study, song and prayer.
In the Kabbalistic literature, David is usually associated with the sefirah malkhut, which is sometimes characterised by its oscillation between good and evil. This changeability makes David a fitting example for the ordinary man's struggles with the negative forces within his psyche. David/ Malkhut is the last of the ten sefirot, closest to the lower world and humanity's gateway to the divine realm, while at the same time, it also symbolises the entire congregation of Israel (keneset Israel). By emulating David's midnight vigil, every person is called by Nahman to overcome the evil within himself by means of his own music, and to rise in holiness.
The movement of loving-kindness from the lower to the upper worlds, as described in the tale and in Liqutei Moharan I, 282, represents a process taking place on the human plane, known in kabbalistic terminology as 'an arousal from below, which affects the divine sphere, and on which the dynamics of the sefirotic realm depend to some extent. Nahman illustrates the various stages of this process, which starts with acts of loving-kindness performed by individuals, and continues with their collection by the beggar. As these acts are transferred from the beggar to the True Man of Kindness, they are transformed into time and music, which are given as a gift to the Heart of the World, and from the Heart of the World to the Spring. All of these characters and symbols represent progressive levels of spiritual attainment of devequt—the integration of the human soul with the divine.
The tzadiq, who draws 'good points' from every individual, acts as an intermediary between earth and heaven by combining in his personality, so to speak, two figures with two distinct functions. On earth, he is a beggar/Moses/a humble leader who attained the highest level of dvequt within the confines of time and space. But whereas Moses is active in the human/social plane from its lowest stratum, Joseph's influence is in the eternal realm of the sefirot. For Nahman as the socially engaged hasidic leader, Moses is the prototype, while for Nahman the mystic, Joseph represents the 'truth' and the true 'reality, and on him he projects his highest aspirations.
As yesod in the divine realm, the True Man of Kindness nourishes the Heart of the World with hesed that has been transformed into 'time, thus maintaining the divine relationship between the Heart of the World and the Spring. This relationship is modelled on the special kabbalistic connection between the lowest sefirah malkhut (the Heart of the World) and the second sefirah hokhmah (the Spring), which represents the beginning of creation. In their union, all of creation is encompassed and sustained.
The transformation of loving-kindness into time in the tale parallels the transformation of the 'good points' into melodies described in LM I, 282, which places the tzadiq/cantor at the centre of this creative process. The role which music plays in this transformation is the subject of the next chapter.
The function of music in religious experience as described by Nahman is manifold. It leads David, who represents the ordinary person, to devequt, communion with the divine. Music is part of the mechanism that induces the necessary frame of mind for divine service, and is part of the service itself. It helps purify the soul and arouses joy, prompting prayer in praise of God.
For Moses, representing the tzadiq who operates on the earthly level, both silence and music have a particular function. His extra-ordinary faith and ability to remain silent in the face of unanswerable questions about God takes him beyond the gaping abyss that these questions open up. Once this abyss has been crossed over, he is able to access the most sublime music, and use it to elevate others to holiness.
Joseph, however, who represents the one and only supreme tzadiq, who bridges the gap between the ordinary hasid, the earthly tzadiq and the divine realm, has another musical and messianic mission, which extends beyond the individual and his religious needs. With his unique ability to compose original melodies—wondrous creations—hidush, he transcends the ontological difference between man and God. His melodies renew the world, leading it towards a messianic future, purified from evil and ruled by direct divine providence.
Through the combined endeavors of the lower and upper tzadiq, 'good points'/acts of loving-kindness are gathered in the world and joined/ strung together to create new melodies and new time. According to Nahman, the creative aspect of music—the composition of new and exquisite melodies—is in itself messianic work.
Human creativity mirrors God's creation. Echoing kabbalistic descriptions of 'points' joining together to form the alphabet by which the world was created, Nahman 'creates' the world by means of 'good points' of loving-kindness. The transformation of acts of loving-kindness, performed by ordinary people and collected by the tzadiq, into time and music, enables every person, tzadiq and hasid alike, to take part in God's work.
In the tale of the Heart and the Spring, Nahman relates that "When day comes from wherever it comes, it arrives with riddles and marvellous songs in which all wisdom lies." According to Nahman, how time and timelessness are bound together in the human heart is a riddle that cannot be fathomed by the intellect. Grasping the marvellous songs that each day brings requires the unification of the here and now with that which lies beyond it, the present moment with eternity. Only then can the world be redeemed, which Nahman expresses in terms of a universal new song that will be played by God on strings made out of human loving-kindness.
Intertextuality in the Tales of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav: A Close Reading of Sippurey Ma'asiyot by Marianne Schleicher (Numen Book Series: Brill Academic Publishers) Until 1806, Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav (1772-1810) disseminated his thoughts on redemption through homilies. In 1806, however, Nahman chose the genre of tales as an additional and innovative means of religious discourse. An academic close reading of all of the tales, known as Sippurey Ma'asiyot, has not yet been undertaken. As the first comprehensive scholarly work on the whole selection of tales and contrary to previous scholarship, this book does not reduce the tales to biographical expressions of Nahman's tormented soul and messianic aspirations. Instead, it treats them as religious literature where the concept of "intertextuality" is considered essential to explain how Nahman defines his theology of redemption and invites his listeners and readers to appropriate his religious world-view.
All those interested in religion, especially Judaism, mysticism, and religious literature, as well as scholars interested in textual and cultural studies.
Marianne Schleicher, Ph.D. (2003) in Comparative Religion, has published on Jewish mysticism and scripture. In 2004 she was awarded the University of Aarhus Prize for the best Ph.D. dissertation, of which this book is a revised and expanded version. She currently holds a position as Assistant Professor in Jewish Studies at the Department of the Study of Religion, the University of Aarhus, Denmark.
This study is a revised and expanded version of Schleicher's Ph.D. dissertation was completed and carried out at the Department of the Study of Religion, Faculty of Theology, University of Aarhus under the supervision of Peter Steensgaard Paludan and Kirsten Nielsen. Arthur Green discussed the project in its initial stage and Rachel Elior shared her vast knowledge on Hasidism.
Sippurey Ma'asiyot' consists of thirteen tales that have many traits in common with fairy tales. The thirteen tales are replete with fantastic plots in fantastic settings in indefinite time and space. They are replete with heroes and heroines, villains, devils, and demons. Supernatural forces intervene to assist the good characters and punish the evil ones. Nevertheless, these tales refuse to reveal a coherent meaning by themselves, as fairy tales ought to do.' Even if one pays attention to every single textual component, be it sentence, word, and sign, and to plot and structure--if one combines these, and if one tries to use one to understand another, one will still be left pondering without a satisfactory insight into their meaning. The content of these tales only becomes accessible if one accepts that the content derives meaning through the interaction with external sign systems taken from the cultural environment to which it refers. The fact that external sign systems bestow meaning upon the sign system of the tales encourages me to consider this transposition a matter of "intertextuality" as coined and developed by Julia Kristeva.
The tales were told by Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav over a period of four years from 1806 to 1810. Until 1806, Nahman disseminated his religious thoughts through homilies. From 1806 and onward, however, Nahman consciously chose the genre of tales as an additional and most important means of communication. Schleichert employs Hayden White's concept of "tropology" to address Nahman's discursive turn to telling tales.
Nahman grew up in a Hasidic community in the Ukraine. Hasidism at that time was Nahman's historical context. Yet, the tales often portray some of the characters and values known to be Hasidic in a critical way, which evokes the notion that a dialogue, even a tension, exists between the tales and Hasidism. To create this dialogue and tension, Nahman applies imagery from biblical and rabbinical literature, from various mystical trends, and particularly from the Kabbalistic text corpus Sefer haZohar. Schleicher also uses theories on "dialogic language" and the "revolutionary potential of language" as formulated by Mikhail Bakhtin and Kristeva, and furthermore include Paul Ricoeur's interpretation theory and its extension to metaphoric and symbolic expression to benefit from his explanation of what happens to the listener/reader when s/he is exposed to the informative and performative impact of split reference and tension, characteristic of figurative language.
It is known from Nahman's homilies and from biographical texts about him that Nahman, in the preponderant part of his adult life, conceived of himself as the fifth and last Zaddik haDor. A Zaddik haDor is a person who supposedly draws upon his righteousness and divine insights in order to redeem the entire generation of which he is a part. The four other Zaddikey haDor were Moses, Rabbi Akiva, Shimeon bar Yohai, and Nahman's great-grandfather the Ba'al Shem Tov. These were precursors in the process of redemption; yet, they had failed to go far enough. Revisioning their failed achievements, Nahman had to envision a theology and practice of redemption with which to supercede them and accomplish what they had failed to do. To describe Nahman's wrestling with these past heroes, Schleicher draws upon Harold Bloom's theory on the anxiety of influence.
As already mentioned, Nahman orchestrates a transposition of sign systems from the cultural environment into the tales. These sign systems often have their origin in Jewish scriptures whose canonical status transfers legitimizing authority onto the tales. This scripture-based transfer of authority mirrors Nahman's attempt to position the tales as similarly privileged texts by claiming to be the sender of divinely deputized authority similar to that of biblical prophets, cf. his role as Zaddik haDor. Accordingly, he offers the tales as a mystical means to his listeners/readers to access his divinely sanctioned thoughts. To enable an address of Nahman's composite scriptural Schleicher differentiates between two scriptural aspects: the canonical and the mystical.
The work opens summary presentation of the above-mentioned theories that informs Schleicher's methodological strategy, which enables her to trail the primary purpose of this study; that is, to contribute to the ongoing academic discussion about Sippurey Ma'asiyot.
An exegetical consequence drawn from this theoretical platform is the acquirement of knowledge about the context, in which the tales were told, and especially about Nahman's immediate sociohistorical and religious contexts. Schleicher next offers a summary of Nahman as a religious leader within Hasidism and as a theologian who disseminated his thoughts through homilies before he turned to telling tales as a new kind of discourse. This part of the study is primarily derived from the works of other scholars.
Next earlier scholarly commentaries of Nahman and on the tales are reviewed as the groundwork through which Schleicher is inspired to consider or find alternatives. A brief outline of the development in scholarly opinions about the tales begins with the opinions held by Nahman's followers. Nathan Sternhartz, Nahman's close follower and secretary, who recorded the tales and published them in 1815, and Rabbi Nahman of Tsherin, who published his commentary on the tales in 1912, formulated guidelines for interpretation. The guidelines from these two leading Bratslavers suggested a focus on allegory and a more or less automatic translation of these allegories, which would be in accordance with Nahman's theology known from his homilies and with the expectations which these followers had to Nahman as Zaddik haDor. Many of the early academic scholars paid attention to these guidelines. However, the conception of the tales changed within academia when Joseph Weiss and later Mendel Piekarz' argued that everything Nahman said and wrote focused on Nahman and his understanding of himself as Zaddik haDor. Inspired by Weiss and Piekarz', Joseph Dan took their point one step further. Dan argued that the tales should be considered literary creations, dependent on the context in which they were told. Yet, the content of the tales, despite its references to theological concepts and texts prevailing in this context, could not be revealed to contain any didactical message--theological or ethical--unless one succumbed to conjecture. One should therefore, according to Dan, conceive of the tales as literary expres¬sions of Nahman's tormented soul and his attempts to come to terms with his Messianic aspirations to redeem the world according to his identity as Zaddik haDor. Scholarly publications on the tales has ever since have distanced themselves from the purely autobiographical approach. Instead they have argued that the tales have an autobiographical as well as didactical content, while everybody agrees that Nahman's perception of himself as Zaddik haDor is crucial to any attempt of understanding the tales.
Schleicher overall purpose reveals that the didactical wing needs greater attention. Schleicher focuses on the informative and performative function of the tales. Her exegeses of the tales, therefore subordinates the autobiographical aspect of the tales. Not to the extent of calling for "the death of the author" as Roland Barthes did. In fact, Schleicher derives an apt sufficiency by applying Bloom's thoughts on a poet's wrestling with great precursors and their oeuvres. Schleicher figures that the telling of tales is a tool for Nahman as Zaddik haDor to further redemption. Yet, her close reading of the tales reflect a conviction that Nahman did not constantly believe that he was the only one upon whom redemption depended. A clear address to others to engage in the process of redemption is revealed in her exploration the didactical aspects of the tales. Thus, the tales should not be interpreted sole as purely autobiographical, as the autobiographical cadre of scholars has claimed, or as involved with precursor struggles alone.
For Schleicher if one is to take into account the literary characteristics of the tales, then one has to adopt a literary approach, as opposed to a biographical approach. The literary approach gives supremacy to the tales in cases of falsification, whereas a biographical approach reads the tales in consonance with the biographical material about Nahman, where the latter is only a matter of verification. Since references to external sign systems may be overt as well as covert, it is necessary to read the text as closely as possible. Furthermore, since the act of interpreting figurative language involves conjecture, as Dan complains, one must interpret as large a collection of material as possible to allow this material to counter one's guesses if necessary. This is crucial in the academic project of turning conjectures into substantiated hypotheses. Schleicher therefore analyzes all thirteen tales in Sippurey Ma'asiyot. This is the bulk of the book, fresh translations with detailed exegesis.
Other commentaries to all thirteen tales do exist. Arnold J. Band, who focuses on the relationship between texts and historical contexts in Jewish literature within the larger field of comparative literature, has published a translation including a two-to four-page commentary on each tale. Aryeh Kaplan, a Bratslaver, has published a translation, as well with footnotes commenting on details in all thirteen tales. However, only Schleicher offers an academic close reading, which presents an analysis with argumentation for the interpretations of each and all of the tales.
This is book the first comprehensive scholarly work on the whole selection of tales. In conducting her close reading of all thirteen tales, the first priority was make sure that every word of the tales has been touched upon.
Therefore she decided to translate the tales. Schleicher contacted Chaim Kramer, publisher at the Breslov Research Institute, and explained to him that she needed a copy of the pure Ma'asiyot as reflected the original 1815 bilingual Hebrew-Yiddish version. Chaim Kramer sent a copy or the original.
In cases of doubt during the process of translating these tales, Schleicher consulted the translations of Band and Kaplan to be able to include their translation of specific words and phrases in my considerations. Schleicher translation is inserted in the analyses, where their coherence has been the measuring stick for dividing each tale into separate passages.
Based on the analyses, Schleicher concludes by systematizing the informative and performative function of all thirteen tales. She also offers a consideration of the plausibility and the characteristics of the tales of Sippurey Ma'asiyot.
This study represents the first comprehensive scholarly work on the whole selection of tales in Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav's Sippurey Ma'asiyot. It reflects the recognition that the preponderant part of these tales derives its meaning through the interaction with external sign systems: Accordingly, Schleicher chose an intertextual approach. Markers of this intertextuality often take the form of imagery with implicit references to biblical, rabbinical, and mystical literature, particularly to Sefer haZohar. These references serve a function on multiple levels. By drawing upon the canonical aspect of Jewish scriptures in the tales, the listener/reader is likely to include Nahman, his theology and practical instructions within the boundaries of what Jewish tradition considers proper religious doctrines and forms of practice. In this way the authority of the canonical writings becomes a legitimizing factor in Nahman's attempt to transform Judaism from within. The intertextual references also create a tensive dialogue between various established trends in Judaism and the tales. The effect of the tensive dialogue is similar to the effect of the informative and performative impact of split references in figurative language. Figurative language adds a surplus of meaning and offers a new understanding of reality, which is the informative function of figurative language. Its performative function is to make the listener/ reader appropriate this information and act accordingly. If the tales convince the listener/reader to such appropriation, Nahman succeeds in causing a religious revolution by means of tales. So the tales are both profoundly conservative and innovative at the same time.
By focusing on the informative and performative function of the tales, Schleicher is closer to the didactical stand within scholarship on Nahman than to the autobiographical stand. The theology of the tales is shown to serve the overt purpose of legitimizing every call imbedded in the tales for a change in the worldview and the behavior of the listener/reader. No listener/reader who has come to accept the theological description of God, the mythical historiography and its consequences, the present state of the world, the possibility of changing it through individual and universal tikkun, and the Messianic expectations, can ignore the overt encouragement to engage in individual tikkun by turning to those who can effect universal tikkun.
The tales address anyone who is prepared to listen to and accept the conveyed understanding of reality. Nahman's followers, Hasidim in general, traditional Jews, gentiles, and seculars are addressed. The universal address is urgent because of the present state of the world and disseminates the following: God is sovereign master of the universe. Man has to recognize his/her dependency on God, convert to Judaism, replace human perception with simplicity of faith, submit the body to the soul, turn to the Zaddik haDor, repent, long for redemption, relate minimally to this world, live according to Torah and the commandments, confront evil, and elevate the divine sparks within oneself.
Attaching hope to the redeeming agents--God, Shekhinah, evil, the Messiah, and the Zaddik haDor and his community--and assisting them in the process of redemption are presented as the sole alternative to loneliness, isolation, dissatisfaction, restlessness, misery, sadness, depression, doubt and social decline, affliction, punishment, death, and universal destruction. Even from the most selfish point of view the tales provide every reason to obey the performative call of the tales.
One can choose to focus on the autobiographical aspect of the tales, which is an absolutely legitimate purpose. Even though Schleicher has not focused on such aspects. By considering Nahman's discursive turn to telling tales as his revolutionary weapon in pursuit of redemption, Schleicher makes a biographical claim, as when she points out when Nahman positions himself as having superseded his precursors, alias the four other Zaddikey haDor, or when she claims that the tales aspire to be Scripture through Nahman's mystical expositions of the primordial Torah. But despite such biographical aspects, one cannot exclude the didactical/performative aspect of the tales as their central characteristic.
The tales provide guidance to anyone who wants to approach God and be a follower of Nahman's theology. The follower's approach to God is described as a dialectical process of listening to Nahman's oscillating recounts of what the world is, according to God, and what reality is, according to the follower, until the follower is convinced that man's perception of reality falls short of protecting the follower and of securing him the benefits that God is prepared to provide. Listening to the tales and acting according to the guidance imbedded in these tales is a prerequisite for individual as well as universal redemption and for crossing the threshold to the Messianic age. Schleicher's study is the most substantial study of the universal significance of Bratslaver Hasidim for world historical studies of redemption. This study deserves a wide and diverse readership.
God's Voice from the Void: Old and New Studies in Bratslav Hasidism edited by Shaul Magid (SUNY Series in Judaica-Hermeneutics, Mysticism, and Religion: State University of New York) Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav was one of the most celebrated masters of late Jewish mysticism and Hasidism, and his writings have become classics. This volume brings together translations of three seminal studies on Rabbi Nahman in German, Hebrew, and Yiddish with six new studies from scholars in various fields of Jewish studies. The presentation of new scholarly work widens the conversation about Hasidism in general and Rabbi Nahman in particular by viewing his ideology from the perspective of contemporary hermeneutic, philosophical, and literary perspectives incorporating the insights of postmodernism, gender theory, and literary criticism. New ground is covered in essays on Rabbi Nahman's attitude toward death, his approach to gender, his interpretation of circumcision, the impact of his tales on Yiddish literature, and his hermeneutic theory. The combination of classic and new studies in God's Voice from the Void offers a window into the trajectory of scholarship on Hasidism, including ways in which contemporary scholars of Hasidism and Hasidic literature both continue and develop the work of their predecessors.
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