4-Part Series, Hassidus in Relationship to History, Tradition and Reform (Part 1, From the Bible to the Rabbis: "History" (not history) to Historical "Memory" (not memory) with Marc Michael Epstein
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Rabbinism and Kabbalism: Mutually Exclusive Systems?
Jewish life was for centuries based around halakhah (Jewish law). It still is, in the sense that Jews either live within its bounds in one way or another, or they react to it by rejecting it. But how many lawyers you know are also mystics? It would seem at the outset that there is a perhaps unbridgeable gap between the apparently hard-headed down-to-earth pragmatism of the legal profession, and the seemingly transcendent metaphysical concerns of mystics and magicians. In Hassidus, these divergent poles converged. To understand this, we must introduce Kabbalah as a system that tugged Judaism in an antinomian (anti-halakhic) way, but which was “tamed” in a mostly nomian (halakhah-abiding) manner in Hassidus.
Sectarianism and Denominationalism: What Are The Limits of Diversity?
There is a LOT of sects and parties in Judaism. This is not a typo. Jews are incredibly geographically, theologically, ethnically, and liturgically diverse. Hassidus was very successful in creating a new distinction between and among Jews that became so popular that its opponents were called, simply, Misnagdim (the opponents, the Protestants). We will explore the full range of Jewish diversity, ask what are the boundary markers of what is “Jewish,” and consider where Hassidus is situated in the complex thicket of traditions and “flavors” that constitute Jewish identity and observance.
Leadership models: Rabbis and Rebbes
What do you think of when you think of a rabbi? Someone in a robe or tallis who tells you to stand up and sit down and read responsively on page 16 when you are in shul? A preacher of sermons? A comforter in times of trouble and sadness? An explainer? A judge? If we use the term “rebbe,” an entirely different set of associations may emerge—or, we may have none at all. So what’s the difference between a rabbi and a rebbe? Does one proceed from the other? Is one more, or less intimate from the other? And where do rabbis and rebbes fit in the long list of other leadership models— from prophet to shamash (synagogue caretaker) that have existed among Hebrews, Israelites and Jews throughout their history?
Many Messiahs: Ultimate Leadership
Mashiach means “anointed one”—literally “greasy.” What’s the relationship between oiliness and leadership? Is Messiah a divine title? At the pinnacle, or somewhere else in the hierarchy of leadership? Is it a gendered term? Is the Messiah a human or a divine being? Or is the Messiah something, somehow, in between? We will investigate this term from its biblical origins to its rabbinic political reimaginings, to its further reconfiguration in Hassidus and beyond.
Sponsor: Orange County Community Scholar Program (CSP)