A Life of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav
Publication Year: 1979
“If Hasidism begins in the life-enhancing spirituality of the Baal Shem Tov, it concludes in the tortuous, elitist and utterly fascinating career of Nahman of Bratslav (1722–1810) whose biography and teaching Arthur Green has set forth in his comprehensive, moving, and subtle study, Tormented Master.
“Arthur Green has managed to lead us through the thickets of the Bratslaver discourse with a grace and facility thus far unequaled in the English language literature on Hasidism. Tormented Master is a model of clarity and percipience, balancing awed respect and honor for its subject with a ruthless pursuit of documented truth. . . . Tormented Master is sufficiently open to the agonies of religion in general and the issues of modern religion in particular to make Nahman a thinker utterly relevant to our time.
“Nahman of Bratslav is unique in the history of Judaism, Green emphasizes, for having made the individual’s quest for intimacy with God the center of the religious way. He was a Kierkegaard before his time, believing in the utter abandon of the life of faith and the risk of paradoxicality. . . . He was, more than all others, the predecessor of Kafka, whose tales, like Nahman’s, have no explicit key and rankle, flush and irritate the spirit, compelling us—even in our failure to understand—to acknowledge their potency and challenge.”
—New York Times
Published by: The University of Alabama Press
Series: Judaic Studies Series
Contents [Includes Acknowledgments]
The role of biography in the history of religion is a changing and problematic one. From time immemorial, pious devotees of various masters and saints have sought to compose memoirs of their teachers' lives that were to serve as sources of moral and spiritual edification for those who came after them. ...
1. Childhood and Early Years: 1772–1798
The latter half of the eighteenth century was a time of great and radical transformations in the history of European Jewry. At the very same time that Western cultural 'enlightenment' and political emancipation were effecting a revolution in the lives of Jews in Germany and the West, the much larger Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, centered in Poland...
2. Nahman’s Journey to the Land of Israel
Nahman's journey to the land of Israel in 1798-99 has long been seen as a major turning-point in his life. No wonder: Nahman himself, both in direct statements and through various half-hidden references, first revealed the centrality of this event to any understanding of him. Though he had already overcome his great reluctance and taken on a small band...
3. Conflict and Growth
The opening decade of the nineteenth century was a period of tremendous inner growth and outward expansion for the Hasidic movement. Large numbers of zaddiqim flourished in the Ukraine, Byelorussia, and Galicia, now largely unchallenged by rabbinic and communal authority. ...
4. Bratslav: Disciples and Master
Nahman's first attempt to have himself recognized as the greatest of all the zaddiqim had ended in utter failure. Two years after having settled in Zlotopolye and having issued his challenge to the popular Hasidism of the Zeide, he departed in humiliation. ...
5. Messianic Strivings
The zaddiq, as he appears in the literature of early Hasidism, is a leader with many faces. We have seen that in Bratslav he takes on the quality of axis mundi, being possessed of the soul that lies at the center of his entire generation. He is also portrayed, in Bratslav and elsewhere, as parent, teacher, spiritual guide, intercessor in prayer, healer, and protector from...
6. Nahman’s Final Years
The feverish pitch of activity that characterized Nahman and those around him during the years 1805 and 1806 abated considerably as it became clear to them that the attempt to bring redemption had been a failure. We are told that "many" of the disciples were overcome by obstacles, undoubtedly their own doubts as well as the taunts of others,...
Appendix: The Death of Rabbi Nahman
A Brief Chronology of Nahman’s Life
Excursus I. Faith, Doubt, and Reason
In telling the tale of Nahman's life, we have been blessed by the fact that the sources for such a biography are extraordinarily rich and abundant. The detail is so surprisingly comprehensive, and Nahman's reflections on himself and the meaning of his life so constant, that it becomes hard to imagine any work based on these sources not turning out to be somehow...
Excursus II. The Tales
We have had occasion many times, while telling the story of Nahman's life, to make reference to his Tales, which of course constitute an important and highly interesting portion of his creative work. For a long time it was primarily for the Tales that Nahman's name was known outside Hasidic and scholarly circles, this in no small part due to the influence of...