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Yosef Yitshak Schneersohn’s Yiddish Writings and the Revival of Hasidic Storytelling in Interwar Chabad

Tue, December 18, 10:15 to 11:45am, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Beacon Hill 1 Complex


The paper examines the corpus of Yiddish Hasidic stories produced by Yosef Yitshak Schneersohn (1880-1950), the 6th rebbe of Chabad, and the role they played in the transplantation of the Chabad community from the Soviet Union to Poland in the 1920s and 1930s. Despite the volume and sophistication of Schneersohn’s Yiddish works, the scholarship on the topic considered them cursorily and only as a potential source to early Hasidic history. Instead, my presentation will explore the conspicuously modern character of Schneersohn’s literary production and situate it as part of the broader Hasidic renaissance that was taking place in interwar Poland. Against the marginalization of the Hassidic story in Chabad, I will show how Schneersohn singlehandedly granted the story a place of honour in the Chabad’s literary corpus. The major factor for this change, I will argue, was Schneersohn’s exile from the Soviet Union to Latvia and Poland. In this context, Yiddish stories became one of many means—including the intensification of publishing activities in general, founding a journal and setting up a yeshiva network—aimed at creating a new Chabad community capable of attracting followers exposed to lures of acculturation on the one hand, and to other, more powerful Hasidic courts, on the other hand. Ultimately, my paper will reclaim Schneersohn as a Yiddish writer and argue that his literary works blurred the boundaries between the Hasidic and the neo-Hasidic literature.