Aesthetics of Renewal: Martin Buber's Early Representation of Hasidism as Kulturkritik

Aesthetics of Renewal: Martin Buber's Early Representation of Hasidism as Kulturkritik

Aesthetics of Renewal: Martin Buber's Early Representation of Hasidism as Kulturkritik

Aesthetics of Renewal: Martin Buber's Early Representation of Hasidism as Kulturkritik

Excerpt

Any new treatment of the work of Martin Buber (1878–1965) on Hasidism has to take into consideration the debate that arose in the wake of Gershom Scholem's critical reexamination of the premises underlying Buber's interpretation of Hasidism. “The theoretical literature,” Buber held, “is the gloss, the legend is the text, and in spite of the fact that it is a legend which has been handed down in an extreme state of corruption, and which it is impossible to recover in its purity, it would be foolish to object that [the] legend cannot transmit the reality of Hasidic life.” Objecting to this, Scholem argued that what Buber claimed to be the “essence” of Hasidism was not central to the intellectual landscape of the movement. Rather, in Scholem's view the theoretical literature, with its theosophical, mystical doctrines, constituted the spiritual basis of Hasidism. But Buber had an agenda that was different from that of the historian of Jewish mysticism. The Hasidic legend, he explained, is a category of meaning anchored in transformative religious values or qualities, and as such it promotes an ethos of action. The historical-philological method, he contended, brackets off questions of meaning. From this perspective, the theosophical doctrines related in the theoretical writings of Hasidism could indeed be regarded as the intellectual domain of a small elite.

Starting in the 1960s, the Scholem-Buber controversy, which was a debate both on scholarly method and on Jewish identity, became one of the fundamental controversies in Jewish studies. During his lifetime, Scholem's criticism, reiterated by his disciple Rivka Schatz-Uffenheimer, remained virtually unchallenged. After Scholem's death in 1982 his scholarly legacy, and his own motives for studying Jewish mysticism, gradually came to be reconsidered. From the mid-1980s, scholars from various academic disciplines introduced new perspectives into the ongoing debate.

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