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Zvi Mark – The Religious Thought of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov part 2 of 3

Continued from part one here

Zvi Mark offers his own intellectual development starting with his study at Yeshivat Har Etzion under Rabbis Lichtenstein and Amital, his being turned on to Hasidut by Hillel Rachmani of Machon Herzog, his entrance into the world of Rav Shagar that brought literature, art, and hasidut into one’s Torah study and his support from Machon Hartman, and his deep allegiance to the methods and ideas of Moshe Idel on Jewish mysticism. Currently, he is working on the religious poetry of Zelda.

If the Rav Nachman as Existentialist is not correct then why the attraction to Breslov? When I run into Zvi in the store buying burekas and rugelah in Talpiot, he does not play childish war games in the aisles and attack the owner of the store as leader of the French army. Personally, I {AB} am not attracted to Breslov, so let us turn to three reviews of the Hebrew edition of the book to ask about the upshot of the book.

Barukh Kahana of Machon Herzog reviewed the book in Hazofeh.
He asks the questions directly. If Green distorted Rabbi Nachman and Mark get him right, Are we any closer to explaining the attraction of Rabbi Nachman for a post-modern age? Why do Israelis take the pocket edition of Likkute Moharan with them to India? If Mark has accepted the path of the intellect and become an academic, how do we hear the crazy message of Rabbi Nachman?


Hamutal bar Yosef in Haaretz
explains how Rabbi Nachman was attractive to secular Jewish authors such as Pertz Berdichevsky, and Buber. They were modern secular Jews seeking a path for the uncharted course of reclaiming Judaism after enlightenment and emancipation . In this they were following early 20th century patterns in German and Russian literature which sought mysticism. Even in Israeli literature rabbi Nachman speaks to secular authors like Pinchas Sadah, Naomi Shemer, Binyamin Shevili, or Ella Bat-Zion. For the Israelis, rabbi Nachman offers complete abandonment, facing extreme psychological conditions, and the belief that the creative inner life can heal.

Regardless of the literary expropriations, Zvi Mark shows us that Rabbi Nachman was not against Hasidic devekut, he connected to the kabbalah of the Ramak, and his insanity is connected to early modern constructions of dibukkim. She notes the heavy dependence of Zvi Mark on Moshe Idel’s categories of magic and mysticism, as well as the magical messianic orientation of Idel’s non-rational world. Hamutal bar Yosef concludes that the experiential challenge in relating to Rabbi Nachman transcends the world of the rational academic.

Yoni Garb, Professor at Hebrew University who also studied under Moshe Idel, offered a thought piece in lieu of a straight review at Eretz Acheret
Garb agrees with Mark’s reading of rabbi Nachman as mysticism and madness. Garb notes that Rabbi Nachman said “there is no hiddush (innovation) such as him since the creation of the world.” Garb notes” What greater craziness!! How can a person think they are the greatest innovation in the world and in Judaism since creation? Hence his influence was limited a small group. But in the Post Modern world people love this outlandish rhetoric: “he will redeem,” “he is greater than the Torah”

For Garb, a modernist understanding would have been compelled to enter Rabbi Nachman into the world of the rational and engage in psychoanalysis of him, as did Art Green. A post-modern understanding treats Rabbi Nachman is a phenomena without judgment as did Zvi Mark who analyzed the texts fully.

Garb points out that crazy saints are common, for example in Tibetan Buddhism there is an idea of Crazy Yogis. The sixth Dalai Lama Tsangyang Gyatso was crazy yogi who rejected the monastic life. The 14th Dalai Lama, the current one,Tenzin Gytso says we don’t have crazy lamas anymore

Garb considers madness through the writings of Michel Foucault, where madness is connected in the modern era madness with institutionalization of outcastes from society. A prison for those who don’t follow the construction of society Garb writes that Breslov is a means to break out of the regiment of truth around us. Whereas for Foucualt the goal is freedom attained by means of critique, for Rabbi Nachman freedom is by madness and mysticism The madman leaves society for good and the mystic leaves society in order to return to society

For Rabbi Nachman – Mizvot are play and imagination, worship of God is a creative imaginative act. Mizvot are the means by which one breaks the regiment of truth of society. MIzvot teach one to be crazy.

Academics are rational and bureaucratic, so they cannot capture the message of Breslov. Artistic expression, especially the movie Ushpizin captured the world of Breslov – a world of complete faith- of poverty- of buy an etrog that one cannot afford, of stealing a sukkah, of criminals outsiders and underachievers.

Garb concludes that Rambam was for modernity- Rabbi Nachman is for the post modern era.