From Publishers Weekly
Shalomi sets himself a difficult assignment with this book: to get to the heart of Hasidic inner life and spirituality. While he lauds both Gershom Scholem and Martin Buber for bringing Hasidism to the consciousness of modern readers, he thinks they did not venture far enough because neither participated in the vibrant musical and ritual life of the Hasidim, as he has. Hasidism, he writes, cannot be assessed by reference to texts alone, since it has always valued ecstatic experience over knowledge. The book, which contains lectures Shalomi delivered to audiences at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colo., is unevenly successful. The opening essay is dry and academic, but the book picks up steam from there. Shalomi includes stories from many different Hasidic masters, including Reb Nachman, the Ba'al Shem Tov and seven generations of Chabad rebbes (including Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the last Lubavitcher rebbe, who died in 1994 and was one of Shalomi's teachers). The book is best when Shalomi personally engages with the texts, using the stories and teachings as catalysts to discuss key issues in Jewish spirituality.
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Originating in Eastern Europe in the 18th century, Hasidism is a movement in Judaism that focuses on the joy of living and of dedicating one's life to God. Stressing social justice, this spiritual movement is based largely on parables and stories that encourage the potential for personal transformation. From the initial writings of the Ba'al Shem Tov to the 20th-century guru and artist Reb Shlomo Carlebach, this volume contains a chronological collection of the variety and diversity of voices that represent Hasidic teachings. Collected here are both the original works of the Hasidic masters in new translations—including teachings, tales, parables, prayers, and melodies—and a comprehensive introduction to the meaning and value of these classic stories. Rabbi Schacter-Shalomi, a leader within the Jewish Renewal Movement, tries to capture the essence of this spiritual movement by bringing many voices to this collection. Shore anecdotal biographical sketches precede each selection and vividly bring to life the masters and their teachings. As an introduction to Hasidism, this is a very useful sourcebook. Recommended for all Judaica collections.—Herbert E. Shapiro, Empire State Coll. of SUNY, Rochester (Library Journal
, April 15, 2003)
This important book is a culmination of Rabbi Schachter-Shalomi's lifelong study of the Hasidic masters. Drawing from traditional Hasidic texts, modern studies of Hasidism and his own well-honed knowledge and intuition, the author portrays these teachers and rabbis as inspired individuals, wrestling with the eternal questions. It is, without doubt, the most important book about the Hasidic masters since Martin Buber's "Tales of the Hasidim." (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 7, 2003)