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“It is forbidden to light with an old candle” – Chanuka and the Oral Torah
“It is forbidden to light with an old candle” – Chanuka and the Oral Torah
What does it mean for Chanuka to be the only major holiday invented in the post-biblical era?  Through hassidic sources, we will explore Chanuka’s message regarding novelty and creativity in our Torah and in our lives.
Was the Golden Calf so Bad? Literary and Kabbalistic Perspectives on Avodah Zarah [Alien Worship] in the Tanakh
Was the Golden Calf so Bad? Literary and Kabbalistic Perspectives on Avodah Zarah [Alien Worship] in the Tanakh
The making of the Golden Calf is usually viewed as the primordial collective sin of the Jewish people, indeed often taken as a model for understanding the most grievous religious errors throughout the centuries. Surprisingly, many key texts in the Jewish tradition found it difficult to specify exactly what made it sinful. Classical kabbalists, prolific creators of the most elaborate myths about infinite numbers of structures and personages in the divine realm, also found this to pose a difficult issue, giving rise to complex and even shocking expositions. This session was led by Daniel Matt, is a Kabbalah scholar and professor at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA. He is best known for his work translating the Zohar into English.
Legends of the Cave: Biblical, Rabbinic, and Kabbalistic Quests for Ancestral, Mystical, and Messianic Truth in the Dark (part 1 of an 8-session course)
Legends of the Cave: Biblical, Rabbinic, and Kabbalistic Quests for Ancestral, Mystical, and Messianic Truth in the Dark (part 1 of an 8-session course)
Click here to listen to the other class sessions. Cave stories are deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition.  In the Bible, caves serve as the eternal resting place of our our ancestors (the Patriarchs and Matriarchs), as a place of eros and drama (Lot and David), as a place of visions of the divine (Moses and Elijah).   In imagining numerous elaborations of such stories, rabbinic literature foregrounds the mysteriousness of the cave.   Midrashim portray the cave as a meeting place of the human and the divine,   seeing it as an image of the cosmos into which the divine Presence flows, even as the World-to-Come.  It was, however, the story of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s 13-year sojourn in a cave, and of the spiritual heights he attained there, that became so influential for the Jewish imagination, particularly in medieval kabbalah.  The Zohar, kabbalah’s central work, is replete with elaborate stories of revelations that transpire in caves, of mystical figures encountered there, of esoteric books lodged in their depths.  In this course, we will explore selections from all these literatures, as well as comparing the Jewish legends of the cave with Plato’s, exploring the relationship between cavernous depths and spiritual experience.
Intensity and Embrace: The Mystical Life in the Sfat Emet & the School of Ger
Intensity and Embrace: The Mystical Life in the Sfat Emet & the School of Ger
Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter of Ger, better known by the title of his classic workSfat Emet, was one of the greatest and most creative chassidic masters of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At once highly traditional and strikingly modern, the Sfat Emet articulated a powerful mystical theology that speaks to the spiritual needs of the individual seeker situated within the community as a whole. His teachings reflect a careful synthesis between the mystical beckonings of the Infinite, on one hand, and the mandate that humankind perform their primary spiritual work here, in the realm of the mundane and corporeal. In addition to exploring these core ideas, we will touch upon some of the salient processes involved in the creation of chassidic books, such as the relationship between Hebrew and Yiddish and between oral and textual traditions as well as the transmission of ideas from teachers to students. We will see how the recent discovery of new manuscripts of Rabbi Alter’s teachings has changed the way we study chassidic texts.
The Founding of Polish Chassidut: Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk
The Founding of Polish Chassidut: Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk
Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk, a founder of Polish chassidut, is also one of the most original and complex of the early chassidic thinkers. Among the tensions explored in his thought – and embodied in his life – is that between love and criticism. He was, in a sense, a “specialist in rebuke,” and yet his prescription of this form of spiritual guidance coexists in his thought alongside an expansive notion of love. In this session, we will explore this interplay between love and rebuke as well as Rav Elimelech’s conception of the “tzadik,” which he describes in his work Noam Elimelech, and for which he is perhaps best known. Finally, we will touch upon the deep influence of Rav Elimelech on his successors in Polish chassidut, in particular the Kotzker Rebbi.
A Yearning for Unity: The Fulcrum of Chabad Chassidut
A Yearning for Unity: The Fulcrum of Chabad Chassidut
Throughout the literature of the Chabad movement, from its first written expression in the Likutei Amarim of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi to the writings of the most recent rebbe, a singular vision remains constant: the essential unity of God within the chaotic multiplicity that characterize our limited perception of reality. The teaching of Chabad emphasizes that even what appear to us as fragmentation and darkness is, in its essence, unity and light. Ein od milvado—“there is nothing but God.” We are called upon to transmute our experiences to reflect this reality. In this session, we will explore this calling, focusing on texts from the first Rebbe of Chabad, the Baal haTanya, with commentary from the subsequent six generations.
Cultivating Holiness: Insights and Challenges from the Chassidic Tradition
Cultivating Holiness: Insights and Challenges from the Chassidic Tradition
Through study of selected Chassidic texts, we will explore the contemporary relevance of several models of sacred living found in the writings of Chassidic masters, with an eye to conceptions of holy time and space and the ways in which the sacred is expressed through human deeds.
A Student’s Obligation: The Legacy of the Piaseczno Rebbe
A Student’s Obligation: The Legacy of the Piaseczno Rebbe
What does it mean to be a good person and a good Jew in 2015? How can we educate ourselves and our community in an attempt to enact that vision? We will explore answers to these questions from Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, Rebbe of Piaseczno and the Warsaw Ghetto and author of several works including Derech HamelechChovat Hatalmidim, and Aish Kodesh.
Infatuation or Alienation: Where Does Your Relationship with God Stem From
Infatuation or Alienation: Where Does Your Relationship with God Stem From
Lover? Stranger? How do we experience God’s presence in our lives? How do we navigate our journey between these two waves of emotion? And the gifts / challenges of each of these paradigms, what are they? Our Chassidic Masters, seasoned with a few other voices of the mystics will accompany us on this exploration.
The Problem of Perfection
The Problem of Perfection
The existence of Evil seems incompatible with the presence of a perfect God. The Chassidim were particularly sensitive to the dimensions of this problem. Does a Chassidic philosophy, especially one that has God as story-teller, provide new and distinctive options for addressing the existence of Evil? And, what role does human freedom have to play in all of this? Part of Winter Week of Learning 2014
God in the Story and God Outside of the Story
God in the Story and God Outside of the Story
Several Chassidic texts present God as a story-teller, and the world as God’s story. We will examine the philosophical questions created by this depiction and some of the philosophical and theological problems that it helps us to solve. Part of Winter Week of Learning 2014
Holding Patterns
Holding Patterns
In order for our contact with light to be sustainable, the light must be held in a proper container, or home. We will explore the relationship between light and vessels for light, and by extension the issue of checks and balances. We will study biblical and midrashic sources that describe the catastrophic consequences of exposure to light that one is ill-equipped to hold and the redemptive possibilities when one finds a fitting container. Part of Winter Week of Learning 2014
Homeward Bound
Homeward Bound
Channukah is the only holiday that must be observed at home. What makes a space into a home? We will explore how the halakhic definitions of home (is it where you sleep? where you pay rent?) open into a discussion in Chassidut of what it means to be at home. We will learn, based on kabbalistic and Chassidic sources, how these definitions shed a light into the essence of Channukah. part of Winter Week of Learning 2014
Dreaming of Light
Dreaming of Light
As Channukah is a rabbinic holiday, it becomes in Chassidut a metaphor for the power and potential of oral law. By lighting Channukah candles, we become exposed not only to the unrevealed part of Torah but to unrevealed realms of our own lives and surroundings. How can Channukah be understood as a celebration of potential not yet actualized and dreams not yet made real? Part of Winter Week of Learning 2014
What’s All the Fuss About? Chassidut and Its Opponents
What’s All the Fuss About? Chassidut and Its Opponents
We will explore the theological and political debates surrounding the emergence of Chassidut in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Specifically, we will address the history behind the movement and the type of social friction it generated in kitchens and study halls throughout eastern Europe. part of Winter Week of Learning 2014
“Sweetening Judgment:” Readings in Rabbi Nahman of Breslov, in Hebrew (part 1 of a 2-session class)
“Sweetening Judgment:” Readings in Rabbi Nahman of Breslov, in Hebrew (part 1 of a 2-session class)
Click here to listen to the second session. The notion of din - a central motif in Kabbalistic literature - is reformulated and reframed throughout the works of the founder of Breslover Chasidut. What can a sensitive understanding of Rabbi Nahman's symbolic and cryptic teachings reveal to us regarding the existential and spiritual questions many of us engage with today?  
Law, Narrative, and Piety: the Original Chasidic Stories
Law, Narrative, and Piety: the Original Chasidic Stories
Intimacy and Peace of Mind- The Netivot Shalom (Slonimer Rebbe)
Intimacy and Peace of Mind- The Netivot Shalom (Slonimer Rebbe)
In praying to God, we express our personal theology and theodicy, alongside our simple faith an trust, with every utterance. For the chassidic masters the worlds of prayer expand beyond the boundaries of the siddur and fixed times of the day. The focus of this class is the Slonimer Rebbe.
Meditation and Prayer: Silence and Sound as Paths to Connect with the Divine
Meditation and Prayer: Silence and Sound as Paths to Connect with the Divine
Our liturgy oscillates between a mindset of closeness, or love of G-d, and a mindset of reverence, or fear of G-d. How do we experience the unity within this paradox?
A Moment of Revelation- The Mei HaShiloach (Ishbitzer Rebbe)
A Moment of Revelation- The Mei HaShiloach (Ishbitzer Rebbe)
In praying to God, we express our personal theology and theodicy, alongside our simple faith an trust, with every utterance. For the chassidic masters the worlds of prayer expand beyond the boundaries of the siddur and fixed times of the day. The focus of this class is the Ishbitzer Rebbe.
Angels Ascending and Descending the Ladder: Early Chassidic Masters
Angels Ascending and Descending the Ladder: Early Chassidic Masters
In praying to God, we express our personal theology and theodicy, alongside our simple faith an trust, with every utterance. For the chassidic masters the worlds of prayer expand beyond the boundaries of the siddur and fixed times of the day. The focus of this class is the early chassidic masters.
Taamei MaMitzvot in the Zohar
Taamei MaMitzvot in the Zohar
An exploration of the Zohar`s understanding of the mitzvot, how they impact us, and our expectations in performing them.