By David Assaf
Nineteenth-century Hasidism has been a comparatively neglected topic in Jewish historiography largely because of the traditional view that the movement was in a degenerate state during this period. The natural interest that scholars found in the eighteenth-century origins of the movement, alongside their personal dislike of the nineteenth-century Hasidic courts and their machinations, led them to concentrate on,the earliest years and the more recent phases of Hasidism.
The book is in four parts. Part I draws on surprisingly rich non-Hasidic sources as well as on Hasidic materials to recreate the early life of Rabbi Israel from his childhood to his leadership of a Hasidic community. Part II concentrates on his activities as a famous spiritual leader, his adventures in Russia, and his final years in Austria. In Part III, the author analyzes major aspects of Rabbi Israel's career and thought as a Hasidic leader and public figure, with emphasis on his approach to materialism, wealth, and luxury. Part IV describes in detail the royal Hasidic court of Rabbi Israel and his sons -- its formation,buildings, economics, social structure, functionaries, and administrative organization.