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Interpreting Hasidism

- Abstract

In the October 1961 issue of COMMENTARY, Gershom Scholem, commonly regarded as the leading authority on Jewish mysticism, criticized MARTIN BUBER’S interpretation of Hasidism for failing to pay sufficient attention to the actual history and philosophy of the movement and for reading into its texts a number of Buber’s personal speculations. Early this year, Rivka Schatz-Uffenheimer, in the German collection, The Philosophy of Martin Buber (W. Kolhammer Verlag), also criticized Buber on somewhat the same grounds. The following essay-translated from the Ger- man by MAURICE FRIEDMAN-was written in response to these two critics.

THERE ARE two different ways in which a great tradition of religious faith can be rescued from the rubble of time and brought back into the light. The first is by means of historical scholarship that seeks to be as comprehensive and exact as possible. The scholar takes this former tradition as an object of knowledge; he edits and interprets the texts of its teachings, investigates its origins and background, its phases of development, and the ramifications of its schools. The primary and controlling purpose of this type of investigation is to advance the state of historical knowledge about the body of religious faith in question-though it may also contribute to the instruction of future generations in the faith. Such a task of historical reconstruction and clarification requires the objectivity and detachment that make the scholar what he is. He must, to be sure, decide which materials are important and need to be treated directly and fully, and which are secondary and can be left in the background. In arriving at these decisions, however, he must follow strictly the principles of historical research and present the primary data as comprehensively and exactly as possible.

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