In his final book, completed a few weeks before his death, one of the most beloved religious leaders of our time gives us a moving and meaningful ...Show synopsisIn his final book, completed a few weeks before his death, one of the most beloved religious leaders of our time gives us a moving and meaningful exploration of how the great religious teachers of tradition affect and shape our own personal spirituality.Hide synopsis
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Heschel's final book is a study of Hassidut in general, and about Kotzker Hassidut specifically. He demonstrates the elasticity of the Hassidic movement in showing the tremendous disparity between the Ba'al Shem Tov's original platform of Hassidut and how the Kotzker re-engineered many aspects of Hassidut to the point that certain aspects of Kotzker Hassidut are diametric opposites of the Ba'al Shem's original.
Heschel also compares the Kotzker to the great Christian philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard. Like Kierkegaard, the Kotzker's Judaism was sometimes austere and highly self-critical. The pursuit of truth, which is the basis for this book's name, was paramount for both 19th century theologians. Thus, both espoused the belief that true religionists - be they Jewish or Christian - were a rare commodity, and that true religion is not something possessed by the masses.
It is a fascinating read, even though it's not written in a scholarly fashion. There are almost no footnotes to speak of, so if you're not familiar with the basic principles of Hassidut and are searching for sources you may be at a loss.
While I feel that Heschel may have overstated his argument about the Kotzker's austerity of approach (to the point where the Kotzker is portrayed as being more austere than many of the "cold" mithnagdim of his time), his observations are certainly very telling and worthwhile.
While mainstream Hassidut is willing to sometimes put "truth" qua truth on the backburner, the Kotzker was unable to do so, and this emerges in his worldview. Indeed, the struggle that all religionists have in their pursuit of truth vs. inspiration, celebration, and reverence, is an important universal message that warrants further study.
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