Non­fic­tion

Under­stand­ing the Tanya

Rab­bi Adin Stein­saltz; Yaa­cov David Shul­man, trans.; Meir HaNeg­bi, ed.
  • Review
By – March 9, 2012

Rab­bi Adin Stein­saltz is not only one of the most pro­lif­ic writ­ers of our gen­er­a­tion, but he is also one of the great com­mu­ni­ca­tors, bring­ing peo­ple of all back­grounds to the study of clas­sic rab­binic lit­er­a­ture. There­fore, it is only nat­ur­al that Rab­bi Stein­saltz, a mem­ber of the Chabad move­ment, should use his prodi­gious tal­ents to intro­duce us to the world of Tanya—one of the core works of Hasidism. 

Authored by the first of the Chabad Mas­ters, Rab­bi Shneur Zal­man of Lia­di (1745 – 1812), Tanya was the first sys­tem­at­ic book of the phi­los­o­phy of the Hasidic move­ment. Com­prised of fifty-three chap­ters, it begins with an analy­sis the beinoni” — the aver­age per­son — and the strug­gle that such a per­son faces in seek­ing greater spirituality. 

Rab­bi Stein­saltz has already pub­lished the first two vol­umes of his com­men­tary on Tanya, and with the pub­li­ca­tion of Under­stand­ing the Tanya, Rab­bi Stein­saltz has now com­plet­ed Rab­bi Shneur Zalman’s dis­cus­sion of the beinoni” (Tanya chap­ters 27 – 37). Based upon lec­tures deliv­ered by Rab­bi Stein­saltz, this vol­ume, as the pre­vi­ous ones, was edit­ed by Meir Neg­bi and trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish by Yaa­cov David Shulman. 

Each chap­ter of Under­stand­ing the Tanya begins with a pre­sen­ta­tion of the orig­i­nal text in trans­la­tion, fol­lowed by a near line­by- line com­men­tary, which expands and explains the ideas pre­sent­ed in the original. 

How­ev­er, it should be not­ed that while Rab­bi Steinsaltz’s com­men­tary is based upon pop­u­lar lec­tures, and con­tains con­tem­po­rary metaphors and sto­ries, this is work that needs to stud­ied, because its ideas span the world of Jew­ish thought, mys­ti­cism, and belief. As a result, each chap­ter begins with a brief intro­duc­tion, which places that chap­ter into a broad­er con­text, and the entire vol­ume includes an exten­sive glos­sary (41 pages) to fur­ther explain rab­binic terms and con­cepts includ­ed with­in the text of the commentary. 

As with oth­er works of Rab­bi Stein­saltz, this is a mas­ter­ful text, which affords so many access to this great work of Hasidism.

Leonard A. Matanky, Ph.D., serves as asso­ciate super­in­ten­dent of the Asso­ci­at­ed Tal­mud Torahs of Chica­go, direc­tor of its Mor­ris and Rose Gold­man Com­put­er Depart­ment for Jew­ish Stud­ies, dean of Ida Crown Jew­ish Acad­e­my, and rab­bi of Con­gre­ga­tion K.I.N.S. of West Rogers Park (Chica­go).

Discussion Questions