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Modernization and the Hasidic renaissance in interwar Poland

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

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


The interwar period (1918-1939) saw dramatic developments for Hasidism in Poland. Faced with the war losses, mass relocation, urbanization and rampant secularisation, Hasidic leaders looked for new ways of re-engaging their followers. They reorganized communal and educational institutions, participated in politics, and deployed modern literary genres to spread their influence. Despite the avowed anti-modern orientation of Hasidism, the interwar Hasidic renaissance acquired a conspicuously modern character.
Our panel interrogates the various ways in which Hasidic leaders employed strategies of modernity in their projects of Hasidic renewal in interwar Poland. Examining unused or overlooked sources, participants in the session will emphasize the scope and volume of the modernization tendencies in the interwar Hasidic ethos. Ora Wiskind-Elper, Associate Professor at Michlalah College, Jerusalem, offers a fresh reading of Kalonymus Kalman Shapira of Piaseczno’s use of modern philosophical and psychological concepts in his project of translating the Hasidic experience into a language relevant for interwar Polish Jews. Wojciech Tworek, Ray D. Wolfe Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Toronto, looks at Yosef Yitshak Schneersohn’s Yiddish stories in particular, and the revival of Hasidic storytelling in the interwar Chabad in general, against the background of the burgeoning neo-Hasidic literature. Uriel Gellman, Assistant Professor at Bar Ilan University, offers a pioneering glimpse into a lesser tsadik, Moshe Yehiel Elimelekh Rabinowicz of Lubartów’s thought, by examining his radical concept of Hasidic education, which the tsadik saw as the vehicle of the renewal of the original spirit of Hasidism. The panel will be moderated by Ariel Evan Mayse, Assistant Professor at Stanford University.
We hope that the panel will enhance the understanding of the development of Hasidism in the interwar years, a grossly under-researched period in the history of Hasidism and shed new light on Hasidism’s complex relationship with modernity and its post-Holocaust revival.

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