- Dr. Tsippi Kauffman, z"l1970–2019
Since she left this world in September 2019, the unique being that was Tsippi has transformed itself into fragments of memories clothed in the conversation, thoughts, and words engraved in her writings and in the hearts of her students, friends, and loved ones. Dr. Tsippi Kauffman was a senior lecturer in the Department of Jewish Thought at Bar-Ilan University. She was an esteemed teacher, a brilliant and original researcher, a wonderful colleague and, above all, a woman of intellect and a fabulous human being.
Tsippi wrote many important works in the field of Jewish mysticism and was among the best-known and most influential scholars in the study of Hasidism. Her first book, Bekhol derakhekha daʿehu. Tfisat haʾelohut vehaʿavodah begashmiyut bereshit haḥasidut (In All Your Ways Know Him: The Concept of God and Worshiping God through Corporeality in the Early Stages of Hasidism, Ramat Gan, 2009), which was based on the doctoral dissertation she completed under the supervision of Professor Moshe Idel, is a broad-ranging and incisive exploration of Hasidic conceptions of the divine. This issue continually preoccupied Hasidic thinkers and had many practical implications for the development of Hasidism as a socioreligious movement over the generations. The book focuses on how the first Hasidic thinkers, members of the circle of the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples, conceptualized the relationship between the divine and the material world and between a human being and their God. Tsippi laid out a comprehensive phenomenological analysis of divine immanence and of the concept of "worship through corporeality," showing how, even in the earliest circles of Hasidic thinkers, there was a range of different understandings of these foundational concepts of Hasidic theology. [End Page 344]
Her scholarship was rigorous and scientific to the highest degree. But her approach to the subjects she was researching was not simply that of a detached external observer. She was connected with every fiber of her being to the spiritual realities of Hasidism, to the teachings, tunes, and tales of the Hasidim. When she taught or spoke, the profound feeling and soulful connection she brought to these topics was palpable. But this true love never interfered with her keen discernment, her integrity, her down-to-earth honesty. The topics she wrote about reflected her character, her curiosity, and her ambition to uncover new depths and to describe them with precision and nuance.
Along with her research into Hasidic thought, Tsippi also turned to the literary realm and became an outstanding scholar of the Hasidic tale. She pioneered a new and innovative discourse that brought to bear theological and gender readings of the Hasidic tale, which she saw as a variegated phenomenon, rich in multilayered meanings. She aspired to forge connections between her two great loves—the hagiographic and the homiletic Hasidic literature—constructing new methodologies and tracing the literary influence of various works from the long and multifaceted tradition of Jewish mysticism. Tsippi also wrote on a host of other topics, including the figure of the legendary Tsaddik Rabbi Zusha of Hanipol, the teachings of Rabbi Abraham "the Angel," son of the Maggid of Mezrich, and the practical kabbalistic rituals in the Hasidic practice of immersion in a mikveh, on which she authored several groundbreaking studies.
Tsippi's critical sense often led her to conclusions that diverged from the established consensus in Hasidic studies. For example, her work on women and gender in Hasidism offers a complex vision of the movement, which recognizes the unfavorable status of women in the social fabric of Hasidic society yet highlights the participation of women, in their own distinct manner, in the Hasidic religious experience. Tsippi presented her position in a dispassionate and balanced manner, while respectfully differing from colleagues with whom she took issue. Indeed, her amiability and gentleness manifested themselves clearly in her relationship with her intellectual opponents. I recall an episode that took place when Tsippi was invited to give a talk at an evening program dedicated to a book I coauthored. A few days before the event, I met with Tsippi, and she shared with me the gist of her talk, which, in addition...