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Hassidic Literature, Media, and Secular Modernity

Sun, December 16, 4:15 to 5:45pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Harborview 1 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


This panel explores the ways Hassidic literature and culture has engaged with secular modernity and new media culture, both Jewish and non-Jewish, since its very inception. Our approach is a literary one and ethnographic one, with an exploration of dialogues between modern Jewish secular writers and Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, between Hassidic hagiographies and the 19th century philosophical tradition of Individualism, between secularized American Jews in the post-Holocaust period and Hassidic Tales and between the “video legacy” of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the new video technology being used to immortalize survivors of the Holocaust for future generations. The questions we address include: How do literary readings of Hassidic hagiographies and Hassidic tales shed light not only on their participation within, but their fundamental influence on modern Jewish secular literary movements? To what extent are Hassidic tales, while viewed today as representative of traditionalist Judaism, actually cutting edge in their modern sensibilities, being, as they were, always already engaged in the challenges of modernity? How does the relative modernity of Hasidic literature within the Jewish literary complex uniquely position it to be used in efforts to reinvigorate Jewish culture and Jewish community during both the post-Enlightenment and the post-Holocaust period? Finally, how are mediated encounters with the Rebbe and Holocaust survivors both tied to aspirational visions of messianism, striving to end intolerance, and ushering in a secular messianic age?

Chen Edrei-Mandel (ABD, U Maryland), in her paper, explores the way that Hassidic hagiography, in its own Galician context and its own historical moment of the mid-nineteenth century, provided a platform for explorations of the romantic philosophy of the individual through its praxis of storytelling. In his focus on “The Talush, The Madman, and the Hassid,” Yitzhak Lewis (PhD, Columbia) highlights the homage paid to R. Nachman of Bratslav by these turn-of-the-twentieth-century literary “types” in the works of Y.L. Peretz, S.Y. Agnon, Y.H. Brenner and S.J. Abramowitz. Sheila Jelen (Associate Professor, U Kentucky) looks at how Hassidic literature is mobilized in an American context to enhance Jewish literacy among secular Jews, through an exploration of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s presentation of Hassidic literature in his elegy to East European Jewish life after the Holocaust. Finally, Jeffrey Shandler, (Full Professor and Chair, Rutgers) discusses the way that new media practices have been deployed to defy human mortality in both Hassidic and Holocaust survivor cultures.

We hope, with this panel, to create a forum in which to continue the productive and exciting engagement with Hasidic texts from a contemporary literary and new media perspective. Comprised of a full professor, an associate professor, a lecturer, and a graduate student from four separate institutions, two women and two men, we believe that our panel fulfills the diversity requirements specified by the AJS call for papers.

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