[RG #110] Towards a New History of Hasidism
September 1, 2007 - August 21, 2008
David Assaf (Tel Aviv University)
Against this background of remarkable resilience, successful transplantation and postwar resurrection, Hasidism has long been the subject of conflicting evaluations. It attracted the admiration of neo-Romantic authors and poets, while being denigrated and even demonized in modern historiography. Under the impact of Jewish Enlightenment values, nineteenth and early twentieth century historians viewed Hasidism as the expression of obscurantist religious fanaticism, obstructing Jewish integration in modern European society and culture.
Sweeping political and cultural changes marking the second half of the twentieth century -- the Holocaust, the establishment of the State of Israel, the Cold War and the collapse of communism -- have inevitably altered the scholarly perspective on Hasidism. In particular, the opening up of Eastern European archives following the fall of communism, and the current multicultural discourse in which religion, once again, features as a fundamental aspect of human experience, have given rise to revisionist academic research.
Hasidic scholarship of the past three decades reflects these changes, but much of it has been fragmented, with individual scholars working in descrete disciplines, each tackling an aspect of the subject from the point of view of his or her own particular field of research. The idea of bringing together a group of leading scholars of Hasidism, who would be drawn from a variety of academic disciplines and employ a wide range of methodologies, sprang from the recognition that the Hasidic movement is a complex cultural phenomenon that cannot be properly understood within the framework of any one field of enquiry. The aim of the group is to break down the disciplinary boundaries that keep apart our respective approaches to Hasidism. We hope to integrate, for the first time, all the Hasidic scholarship of recent years, so as to establish a common basis for future research.