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Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry Volume 1Poles and Jews: Renewing the Dialogue$
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Antony Polonsky

Print publication date: 2004

Print ISBN-13: 9781904113171

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: February 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781904113171.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM LIVERPOOL SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.liverpool.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Liverpool University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in LSO for personal use.date: 24 October 2021

The Secular Appropriation of Hasidism by an East European Jewish Intellectual: Dubnow, Renan, and the Besht

The Secular Appropriation of Hasidism by an East European Jewish Intellectual: Dubnow, Renan, and the Besht

Chapter:
(p.151) The Secular Appropriation of Hasidism by an East European Jewish Intellectual: Dubnow, Renan, and the Besht
Source:
Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry Volume 1
Author(s):

Robert M. Seltzer

Publisher:
Liverpool University Press
DOI:10.3828/liverpool/9781904113171.003.0012

This chapter studies the role that Hasidism played in the thought of the modernized Jewish intelligentsia of Eastern Europe toward the end of the 19th century. Simon Dubnow played a pivotal role in the emergence of this new image of Hasidism. In his autobiography, Dubnow describes in some detail the influence on him at that time of Leo Tolstoy and Ernest Renan. The influence of Renan's History of Christianity is quite evident in the structure of Dubnow's History of Hasidism as well as in some of Dubnow's solutions to problems of interpretation. Like Renan, Dubnow opened with a discussion of the social and intellectual background of a movement that can be traced to a founder known only for a long time through oral sources which retained the character of legend or saga. Applying Renan's statement that such pious biographies have a historical core, Dubnow stripped the life of the Baal Shem Tov, as recorded in the Shivhei ha-Besht, of its supernatural elements to reveal a simple, humble man who loved nature, especially the forests of the Carpathian mountains; a man who had immense affection for the common people and disdain for the proud, aloof scholars of his time and who preached a lofty doctrine of religious pantheism and universal brotherhood.

Keywords:   Hasidism, Jewish intelligentsia, Eastern Europe, Simon Dubnow, Ernest Renan, Baal Shem Tov, Shivhei ha-Besht

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