A Heart Afire: Sto­ries and Teach­ing of the Ear­ly Hasidic Masters

Zal­man Schachter-Shalo­mi and Netanel Miles- Yepez; Arthur Green, fwd.
  • Review
By – September 16, 2011

Speak­ing in one voice as I,” Reb Zal­man and his stu­dent Miles-Yepez com­ment on dif­fer­ent voic­es in Hasidism, from the mys­ti­cal rab­bis who pre­ced­ed the Ba’al Shem Tov, Yisra’el ben Eliez­er, founder of Hasidism, to the teach­ers and dis­sem­i­na­tors of the 18th and 19th cen­turies who fol­lowed him. The authors seek to recon­nect read­ers with the con­tem­pla­tive prac­tice of Hasidic tra­di­tion. They offer new inter­pre­ta­tions of the teach­ings of Rashi, Yitzhak Luria, the Ba’al Shem Tov, Mikeleh of Zlotchov, Pin­chas of Koretz, Ya’akov Yosef of Polonoyye, the Mag­gid of Mezritch, Rab­bi Reb Melekh, and the writ­ings about them. Schachter-Shalo­mi and Miles-Yepez ques­tion the zeal of dis­ci­ples whom they feel lost touch with spir­i­tu­al­i­ty by repeat­ing words with­out under­stand­ing or by manip­u­lat­ing sto­ries so that text pre­vent­ed words of prayer from fill­ing with light and ris­ing up to heav­en. In this mis­sion to keep open the divine con­nec­tion between God and peo­ple and to widen the cir­cle of men and women Hasidism might inspire, the authors also dis­cuss Adel Ashke­nazi, the Ba’al Shem’s daugh­ter, as a heal­er and herbal­ist, and forge con­nec­tions to Bud­dhism and Sufism.

Flu­id and pas­sion­ate, A Heart Afire draws on the authors’ per­son­al knowl­edge and the sources them­selves to pro­mote spir­i­tu­al reflec­tion and to pro­vide new rel­e­vance for read­ers both inside and out­side of Hasidic prac­tice. Appen­dix, bib­li­og­ra­phy, glos­sary, notes.

Sharon Elswit, author of The Jew­ish Sto­ry Find­er, now resides in San Fran­cis­co, where she shares tales aloud in a local JCC preschool and vol­un­teers with 826 Valen­cia to help stu­dents write their own sto­ries and poems.

Discussion Questions