The Przysucha school of Hasidism, as articulated by the Yehudi, Reb Simhah Bunim, and then Reb Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, offered the 19th century world of Polish Jewry a fascinating and somewhat iconoclastic alternative to other prevalent Hasidic approaches. It was singularly nonkabbalistic focused and non-Zaddik focused, while emphasizing both intellectual study and prayer. Its cornerstone was an unyielding pursuit for personal authenticity as the path to coming closer to God. It rose to a position of dominance and the ensuing opposition by other Hasidic groups makes for fascinating reading, as does the immensely psychological orientation of the various sayings and perspectives attributed to its three leaders, none of whom committed their thoughts to written form. Rosen’s decision to present certain material in addenda, which if integrated into the chapters would have vastly improved the reading experience by contextualizing historically, intellectually, and religiously the meteoric rise and eventual decline of the Przysucha approach, is puzzling. Nonetheless, I would encourage all those fascinated by Hasidism and its development to discover a surprisingly open, progressive, and “counterculture” worldview, with lessons relevant for the thoughtful spiritual life in the 21st century. Addenda, bibliography, glossary, indices, source.
William Liss-Levinson is vice president, chief strategy & operations officer of Castle Connolly Medical Ltd., a consumer health research, information, and publishing company. He holds a Ph.D. in education and is a member of the board of directors of the Jewish Book Council.