Hasidism in the early works of Martin Buber: Ostjuden or “light from the Orient”?
HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY
The article analyses mystical teaching of Hasidism in the early works of Martin Buber (before publication of “I and Thou” in 1923) in the context of the concept of Orientalism by E. Said. Analysis is based on the M. Buber’s appeal to Hasidic sources in the 1900s-1910s (in particular, in his first two collections, “Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav” and “The Legend of Baal Shem”). Two factors allow examining Hasidism in the early Buber’s writings in the context of Orientalism: a growing interest in the Orient in the circles of European Jewish intellectuals during late 19th cent, as well as the negative stereotype of traditional East European Jew (Ostjuden, “an Eastern Jews”) present in the modernized Jewish society. The article demonstrates that this stereotype is closely related to the criticism of Hasidism by representatives of the Jewish Enlightenment (Haskalah). In particular, the accusations of traditional Eastern European Jews of inclination to vanity and prejudice, as well as of subjugation to the infinite power of the miracle workers (tzadikim), clearly have a source in maskilic criticism of Hasidism.
The Buber’s turn towards Hasidism took place in mid-1900s. It was connected with Buber’s interest in Oriental mysticism, and with his social activities as “cultural Zionist”. Overcoming the “Ostjude” stereotype turned out to be an essential part of Buber’s cultural program. Buber reconstructs Jewish mysticism as an integral phenomenon, the subject of academic study. According to Buber, the most striking manifestation of this phenomenon is the Eastern-Euro pean mystical movement of Hasidism. It is from Ostjuden that the source of Hasidic wisdom is linked, which in the essays of the cycle of “Judaism” is a true “light from the East.”
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