Men of Silk
My friend Glenn Dynner has just published a book, Men of Silk : The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewish Society. The book has already received positive reviews from a number of important scholars in the field. Rachel Elior has said that,
“Men of Silk is an original research study which contextualizes the emergence of Hasidism as a wide ranging popular movement taking place throughout central Poland between the years 1754 and 1830. The book presents recently discovered archival material from Poland pertaining to the social and cultural aspects of the Hasidic movement and introduces new questions concerning the internal and external dimensions of the development of Hasidism. The author contributes to a better understanding of the challenge offered to the social historian in the presentation of Hasidic Jewry in its social and political context, while not losing insight into inner Jewish life.”
I asked Glenn for a short summary of his methodology and findings and he was kind enough to send the following to me.
“The success of Hasidism in Eastern Europe has been explained from a variety of perspectives: contemporaneous opponents who claimed the movement’s leaders manipulated the naive massses; scholarly depictions of Hasidism as a social revolution on behalf of the masses (Martin Buber, Simon Dubnow, Raphael Mahler and others); theological analyses restricted to Hasidic doctrine (Gershom Scholem, A.J. Heschel and disciples); and recently, Moshe Rosman’s archival discoveries that indicate early Hasidism’s social elitism. While Rosman’s represents a great leap forward, Immanuel Etkes (The Besht) argues that his overwhelming preference for contemporaneous documentary sources caused him to downplay the significance of vital sources like In Praise of the Baal Shem Tov (Shivhei Ha-Besht) and homiletic literature in capturing the image of the Besht, the movement’s founder. David Assaf also implicitly challenges Rosman’s strict documentary approach, in that he draws upon hagiographical sources (Hasidic traditions, tales, etc.) in his biography of R. Israel of Ruzhin (“The Regal Way”).
My book continues Rosman’s archival-based approach in contextualizing early nineteenth century Polish Hasidism; yet I also try to capture the movement’s inner life through Hasidic sources in a manner similar to Assaf. I analyze all available sources- archives, anti-Hasidic polemics, Hasidic correspondence, and Hasidic hagiography. The latter may often be less reliable than contemporaneous documentary sources, yet it can be sifted for vital information available nowhere else. My depictions of Hasidic leaders like the Seer of Lublin, the Maggid of Kozienice, Levi Isaac of Zelechow/Berdyczew, Simha Bunem of Przysucha, etc. thus draw upon a combination of internal and external sources.”
I have no doubt that anyone interested in the history of Hassidim will gain much from reading