The hasidic managing editor as an agent of culture

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THE religious ideals and social institutions of the hasidic movement have aroused considerable scholarly interest as well as popular fascination. By contrast, the history of the hasidic book has attracted little attention. The reason for this seems obvious: while the study of the mystical doctrines of hasidism and their paradoxical, often controversial, expression in communal life tends to revolve round extraordinary personalities and dramatic events, the history of the publication and dissemination of hasidic texts inevitably features more pedestrian processes and relatively colourless personalitiesthe little-known scribes, copyists, editors, and printers who, for better or for worse, have determined the shape in which hasidic tradition has come down to us and dictated the course and pace of its transmission. The present chapter is an attempt to redress the balance of hasidic scholarship by focusing on the history of hasidic books and on the individuals who saw them into print. In their humble way, they played a crucial part in the process of converting oral traditions to literary documents and thus of constructing not only the collective memory of the hasidic movement but also our own critical perception of its history.

Much of the vast literature of hasidism was derived from the verbal addressessermons or homiletic discourses in Yiddish-delivered by the leaders of the movement to the gatherings of their followers at their ‘courts’, usually for the third sabbath meal or on festival days. The address of the hasidic leader would be committed to memory first and only later, once the holy day was over, would the ‘court’ scribe record it in writing. However good his memory, though, the scribe was unlikely to produce a verbatim record of the oral discourse since his written version was invariably not only a transcript but also a translation from Yiddish into Hebrew. Like all translations, it contained a certain element of interpretation while also elevating the popular idiom of the original to the more scholarly idiom of Hebrew-a feature which was inherent in the process of translation from Yiddish into Hebrew in general.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHasidism Reappraised
EditorsAda Rapoport-Albert
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherLiverpool University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781909821712
ISBN (Print)9781874774358
StatePublished - 1996

Publication series

NameLittman library of Jewish civilization


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