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Magid Shaul Hasidism on the Margin Izbica and Radzyn

Magid Shaul Hasidism on the Margin Izbica and Radzyn

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Published by levinas
MAGID, SHAUL. Hasidism on the Margin: Reconciliation, Antinomianism, and Messianism
in Izbica and Radzin Hasidism. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press,
2003. xxvii400 pp. $45.00 (cloth); $29.95 (paper
MAGID, SHAUL. Hasidism on the Margin: Reconciliation, Antinomianism, and Messianism
in Izbica and Radzin Hasidism. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press,
2003. xxvii400 pp. $45.00 (cloth); $29.95 (paper

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: levinas on Jan 14, 2010
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Book Reviews143
 wars associated with religious causes is one of the major reasons there is only a declaration on religious freedom rather than a covenant open to ratificationby individual nations” (15–16). Religion, all religion, Drinan acknowledges, hasa lot to answer for. Why does it deserve special legal privileges?The finessing of the relationship between religious freedom and freedom of conscience allows Drinan to avoid addressing this question head-on. Some of the most absolutist statements in this book are about conscience: “Conscienceshould
be violated” (231); “Each person is entitled to respect for thebasic reason that each person is unique and has a conscience” (104); “Every nation must offer the fullest possible protection so that no individual will berequired to go against the dictates of her or his conscience” (66). Yet it seemsself-evident for many reasons, including the many injustices committed in thename of religion, that no law can, or should, defer to each person’s con-science. Law has its own values, values expressed in the rule of law and subject to judicial and legislative oversight. In the past, religious traditions have at times been a form of proxy for conscience—but in radically disestablishedpluralistic societies religious authority, and therefore conscience, is reduced tothe individual. Law arguably has no way of acknowledging “authentic” claimsof “conscience,” except through the political process. A related troubling and unresolved tension at the heart of Drinan’s argu-ment, as well as at the heart of the current political conversation about thissubject, is his treatment of Islam. As a general rule, Drinan is religiously in-clusive in his rhetoric while being open about his own religious commitmentsas a Jesuit priest and his liberal and expansive reading of what he understandsto be
Christian understanding of the importance of religious freedom. But, while he finally refers on page 186 to the Qu’ranic prohibition on coercion inmatters of faith, in most of the book Islam is presented as
obstacle to theenforcement of religious freedom, indeed as a religion that always demandsstate enforcement of Shari’a, that sponsors terror, and that has a limited tol-erance for the rights of women. Muslims are swept into a monolithic “Islam” while other religionists have individual consciences that ought to be respected.Ultimately what Drinan fails to acknowledge directly is the hypocrisy at theheart of legal protection for religious freedom: you cannot call it religiousfreedom if you mean only freedom for the right kind of religion. W
American Bar Foundation.
, S
Hasidism on the Margin: Reconciliation, Antinomianism, and Mes- sianism in Izbica and Radzin Hasidism 
. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press,2003. xxvii
400 pp. $45.00 (cloth); $29.95 (paper).In
Hasidism on the Margin 
, Shaul Magid undertakes close readings of the pri-mary texts of the Izbica/Radzin school of Hasidism, which emerged in Con-gress Poland in the second half of the nineteenth century. Although modernscholars have tended to dismiss nineteenth-century Hasidism as the pale re-mains of what had been in the late eighteenth century a vital revivalist move-ment, the audacious expression of antinomianism and determinism in Izbica/Radzin Hasidism has attracted no little scholarly attention. Antinomianism anddeterminism are the central concerns of Magid’s study as well, explored by means of a novel methodology that focuses upon the hermeneutical construc-tion of these notions.
Hasidism on the Margin 
is a model study of how Hasidic
The Journal of Religion144
masters read canonical texts and the ways in which they explore philosophicaland theological issues in exegetical frameworks.Magid begins the work with an exploration of the concept of a “PrimordialTorah of Abraham” in the 1890 Introduction and Preface monograph written by R. Gershon Henokh of Radzin. (The grandson of the dynasty’s founder, R. Mor-decai Joseph, R. Gershon Henokh is regarded by Magid as the real architect of this school of Hasidism. He therefore subjects the grandson’s systematic mono-graph to a thorough treatment, whereas earlier scholars focused upon the boldaperc¸us of R. Mordecai Joseph.) This “unwritten and originary” (2) Torah, whichpreceded Sinai and its commandments, constitutes esoteric Judaism. Intention-ally shrouded by the classical rabbinic tradition and only partially revealed inthe Kabbalah, R. Gershon Henokh argued, this secret Judaism could be retrievedthrough a synthesis of insights gleaned from the Zohar (Kabbalah) and Mai-monides (philosophy) when suffused with Hasidic faith-devotion.Magid continues by exploring the Izbica/Radzin readings of the Bible andthe ways in which antinomianism and determinism are read into and out of its narrative structure. Magid shows “the exegetical development of variousbiblical and rabbinic figures as they are used to construct a deterministic re-ligion whereby free will dissolves as the messianic personality emerges in theprotomessianic world” (110). Thus the biblical characters of Genesis, as arche-types, are shown to represent stages in the attainment of a redeemed person-ality—in which the illusion of free will is overcome through unity with God. While “Joseph Jews” take a halakhic (legal) approach to Judaism, they cannot see what “Judah Jews” know to be true: “that God’s will is the fabric of allof creation” and thus that “divine will can sometimes be fulfilled outside therealm of halakha” (199). Magid stresses that what is unique to Izbica/RadzinHasidism is its placement of the redeemed personality in the here-and-now“exile,” living in (and in tension with) normative Judaism before messianictimes. The tension with normative Judaism is the focal point of the third andfinal section of the book, which is devoted to the nature of Izbica/Radzinantinomianism. After discussing the history and varieties of antinomianism,Magid argues that Izbica/Radzin Hasidism should be considered a kind of “soft antinomianism.” This category is meant to describe “antinomian strains in highly nomian systems” that justify only “interim abrogation of halakha” (215). Moreprofoundly, this “soft antinomianism” challenges the normative view of the ha-lakha as the sole arbiter of God’s will. In Izbica/Radzin Hasidism, personal il-lumination grants individuals the authority to determine God’s will for them at any given moment, whether or not such will is in conformity with the halakha.Magid approaches Hasidism, as Gershom Scholem might have put it, as thelatest of the major trends in Jewish mysticism. Where earlier scholars of mys-ticism have placed their emphasis upon Hasidic ideas, Magid’s innovation isto shift attention to the “hermeneutical schemes and methods employed by Hasidic exegetes” (251). Ironically, while Magid’s work can serve as a modelfor inquiry into other forms of Hasidism, it seems to me that Izbica/RadzinHasidism is so exceptional that for all its illumination, the hermeneutical ap-proach should have been augmented to provide a more holistic understandingof the phenomenon. Many readers will want to know more about the contextsin which these fascinating texts were written and read. After all, texts are not radical only in relation to previous texts; they are (or are not) radical in re-lation to their readers. What is radical to one community is a given to another. We cannot fully understand these texts, then, without knowing more about the
Book Reviews145
Izbica/Radzin community and how this community received (and lived by?)them. What did it mean to be part of an ultra-Orthodox community led by “soft antinomian” masters who granted individuals the authority to act outsidethe law? More broadly, how did the radical notions traced in such detail by Magid reflect and engage with larger trends in the outside world? ThoughMagid declares that R. Gershon Henokh’s project was designed to “stem thetide of modernity,” the book provides little discussion of the relation of Izbica/Radzin Hasidism to modernity.That said,
Hasidism on the Margin 
is an exemplary and innovative study of Hasidic hermeneutics. Though the book may be described as Magid’s readingof Izbica/Radzin readings and thus very much inside its texts, the theoreticalapproach and clear argumentation make it not only accessible but meaningfulto a broad scholarly readership. J. H. C
University of Haifa.
, L
From Deborah to Esther: Sexual Politics in the Hebrew Bible 
. Min-neapolis: Fortress, 2003. xi
154 pp. $15.00 (paper).S
Just Wives? Stories of Power and Survival in the Old Testament and Today 
. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003. vii
136 pp.$14.95 (paper).S
, D
God, Gender and the Bible 
. New York: Routledge, 2002. vii
184 pp. $27.95 (paper).These books all analyze some key biblical texts about women. They differ,though, in the specific texts on which they focus: only Sawyer considers textsfrom the Christian tradition. More important, they differ in the overarchingquestions they address.Sakenfeld’s interests are theological/hermeneutical and multicultural—theological/hermeneutical given Sakenfeld’s concern with the meaning that the texts she examines have “for people in their own situations today,” multi-cultural given Sakenfeld’s acknowledgment “that meaning . . . is not thesame” for those of different national, racial, ethnic, religious, and class back-grounds (1–2). Sakenfeld’s book thus presents (1) her own analysis of thestories of eleven different biblical women (Sarah, Hagar, Ruth, Naomi, Vashti,Esther, Michal, Abigail, Bathsheba, Gomer, and the ideal woman of Proverbs31), using an approach that describes the sociocultural background and rhe-torical design of each text, and (2) interpretations offered by other contem-porary readers and hearers of Sakenfeld’s focal texts. The book is furthermorean invitation to us; in Sakenfeld’s words, she seeks “to encourage you [thereader] to think your own thoughts and even lend your own voice to the on-going conversation” (2). Despite, then, Sakenfeld’s avowed concern with hertexts’ sociocultural background, the stress is really on reading biblical stories“today” (as indicated in Sakenfeld’s subtitle). The primary title,
Just Wives? 
,alludes to the fact that all the women considered are presented in the Bible“primarily in their role as wives” (3), although, as Sakenfeld’s use of a questionmark suggests, she thinks their significance transcends marital identity.Klein’s book is a collection of seven essays about sixteen different women (the“eleven fully differentiated females” found in the book of Judges [9] and Han-

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