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Untold Tales of the Hasidim
Crisis and Discontent in the History of Hasidism
David Assaf

The Tauber Institute Series for the Study of European Jewry

2010 • 360 pp. 20 illus. 6 1/8 x 9 1/4"
Religion / Jewish Studies / Modern Jewish History

$40.00 Paperback, 978-1-61168-194-9
$34.99 Ebook, 978-1-61168-305-9

Check your ebook retailer or local library for ebook availability.

David Assaf digs deep into a pile of scandals from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The book’s title promises tantalizing details that will remove the veil of righteousness from... [continued in Reviews below]”—Commentary

Reveals the untold tale of shocking events and anomalous figures in the history of Hasidism

This fascinating volume reveals some of the dark, dramatic episodes concealed in the folds of the hasidic cloak—shocking events and anomalous figures in the history of Hasidism. Using tools of detection, Assaf extracts historical truth from a variety of sources by examining how the same events are treated in different memory traditions, whether hasidic, maskilic, or modern historical, and tells the stories of individuals from the hasidic elites who found themselves unable to walk the trodden path. By placing these episodes and individuals under his historical lens, Assaf offers a more nuanced historical portrayal of Hasidism in the nineteenth-century context.

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews / Endorsements

“David Assaf digs deep into a pile of scandals from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The book’s title promises tantalizing details that will remove the veil of righteousness from the pious. But this is no mere scandal sheet about a religious group that has jealously guarded nasty secrets from public scrutiny. It is a demanding exercise of historical study that exhaustively analyzes all the evidence surrounding some controversial episodes in an attempt to arrive at a balanced, if belated, truth. . . . History has rightly relegated the scandals Assaf analyzes to footnotes, notable exceptions on the margins of the Hasidic narrative. In Untold Tales of the Hasidim, Assaf corrects those footnotes and provides a lesson in the danger of historians with social or political agendas.”Commentary

“Since the early years of the 20th century, Hasidim has been romanticized . . . and made to convey a profound message for modern readers. Similarly, for their own purposes, Hasidic leaders have made strenuous efforts to purify it of embarrassing incidents. Assaf, a critical scholar of Hasidism at Tel-Aviv Univ., has taken the opposite tack: his sober account, which first appeared in a Hebrew version in 2006, sets out to show a number of less appealing aspects of the movement and to reveal the self-censorship employed by the guardians of its traditions . . . Assaf reveals the various techniques by which these inconvenient truths were—and still are—erased from collective memory. Recommended.”Choice

“Notwithstanding the bifurcated polemical reactions to its Hebrew original, Untold Tales is not an exercise in scoring points either against or for Hasidism. Rather, Assaf, who is careful not to generalize about [Hasidim] as a whole, brings to the fore a gallery of actual, flawed human beings caught between a demanding familial and religious tradition encompassing all aspects of life and the modern values of freedom and individuality. Of course, for most Jews today, the very notion of a binding turmoil has been rendered so obsolete that the agonizing inner turmoil of Assaf’s Hasidim is more likely to arouse curiosity than empathy. But for orthodox Jews and others who retain a commitment to the transmission of past wisdom and religious commandment . . . the conflicts that beset this book are bound to resonate. As for those who still adhere to the principle that religious authority trumps intellectual honesty, Assaf’s remarkable detective work suggests that, one way or another, cover-ups will eventually be uncovered.”Jewish Ideas Daily

“A revised translation of a controversial work of history by a leading Israeli historian of Hasidism, this book looks at little-known or repressed events in Hasidic history in the 19th and early 20th centuries . . . Assaf masterfully explores how historical facts are guarded, repressed, or twisted by Hasidic guardians of traditions, mitnagdic and maskilic opponents as well as by modern historians; and how the winds of modernity touched the traditional Hasidic world in modern times. The book is an important addition to any academic library.”American Jewish Libraries

“By dealing with a number of issues viewed by Hasidim as problematic, this volume serves as an important corrective to the many hagiographical works on Hasidism.”—
Religious Studies Review

“This book is a fine piece of scholarship (and literature), an evocative work that invites the reader to rethink received wisdom.”—
AJS Review

“Assaf’s book is a much needed addition to work being done by Jonathan Garb, Boaz Huss, Jonathan Meir, Aubrey Glazer, and others in Israel and the diaspora who study neo-Haredi sub-cultures.”—
Jewish Review of Books

“[Untold Tales of the Hasidim] is a highly innovative and illuminating study, an exemplary combination of meticulous research, brilliant analysis, and thought-provoking critique of the process of ‘production of memory’ in different forms and guises.”—
Slavic Review

“David Assaf here uncovers some fascinating and little-known events in the tumultuous history of Hasidism. A fascinating peek into the ‘closet’ of what may still turn out to be modern Judaism's most important religious movement.”—Arthur Green, Rector, Rabbinical School, Hebrew College

“The book illuminates a series of little known dramatic episodes, tragic events, and anomalous figures in nineteenth to early twentieth century Hasidism, each representing a moment of crisis whose memory has been suppressed or obscured for apologetic reasons. The author has reconstructed them meticulously out of newly discovered or carefully assembled fragments of information, producing a historical narrative as compelling as a detective novel.”—Ada Rapoport-Albert, University College London

“This book presents case studies illustrating the difference between history and collective memory. By analyzing the historical events at the foundation of various hasidic traditions, Assaf enables the reader to understand how interested parties fashioned history into a remembered usable past. Reversing the dynamic, Assaf decisively removes the hasidic experience from the realm of folklore and hagiography, placing it firmly within the purview of history. Assaf’s hasidim lived in the real world as actual human beings rather than idealized saints. Their response to modernization ranged from repudiation, to hesitating rejection, defensive accommodation, de facto acquiescence, and even acceptance.”—Moshe Rosman, Bar Ilan University


Runner-up for the National Jewish Book Award (2009)

David Assaf is Professor of Modern Jewish History at the Department of Jewish History, Tel Aviv University. His field of expertise is the history and culture of traditional Eastern European society, of Hasidism especially.

Thu, 14 Mar 2019 13:08:18 -0500