The Quest for Authen­tic­i­ty: The Thought of Reb Simhah Bunim

Michael Rosen
  • Review
By – March 5, 2012
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.

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