Great Chassiduc Schools and Masters
Rabbi Dr. Ariel Evan Mayse, Zeev Kitsis, Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe / June 8, 2016
Three experts speak about the core teachings of major Chassidic schools and how these teachings can challenge and inspire us today.
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.
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.
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 work Sfat 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.
Rabbi Dr. Ariel Evan Mayse
Ariel Evan Mayse joined the faculty of Stanford University in 2017 as an assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies and serves as the rabbi-in-residence at Atiq: Jewish Maker Institute (atiqmakers.org). Previously he was the Director of Jewish Studies and Visiting Assistant Professor of Modern Jewish Thought at Hebrew College in Newton, Massachusetts. Mayse holds a Ph.D. in Jewish Studies from Harvard University and rabbinic ordination from Beit Midrash Har'el in Israel. His most recent publications include Speaking Infinities: God and Language in the Teachings for Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezritsh (University of Pennsylvania, 2020); Hasidism: Writings on Devotion, Community and Life in the Modern World (Brandeis University Press, 2020), edited with Sam Berrin Shonkoff, and The Language of Truth in the Mother Tongue (Magnes Press, 2020, in Hebrew).
Zeev Kitsis has taught Chasidut and Jewish thought for many years in Israel at Yeshivat Ma’aleh Gilboa and Bar Ilan University. His area of specialization is Chasidic tale and Nigun. Dr. Kitsis recently has been involved with a project of creating an exhaustive compilation of Hasidic stories under the auspices of the Ministry of Education, the Avi Chai Foundation, and the National Library. He lives with his family on Kibbutz Ma’ale Gilboa.
Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe
Shlomo Yaffe directs Chabad of Watertown, MA and the Institute for Judaic Knowledge. He is Dean of the Institute of American and Talmudic Law, based in New York, NY, and a regular lecturer for BatSheva Academy, an institution providing advanced, in-depth, and full-spectrum Torah study for women.