Tag Archives: zvi Mark

Zvi Mark – The Scroll of Secrets Part 1 of 2

I was planning on reviewing Zvi Mark’s follow-up book next week. Before I had a chance, we have a nice review by Justin Jaron Lewis. The missing book is not an esoteric Kafkaesque secret, rather a vision of the role of the Messiah as healer and singer in the messianic age. The reviewer makes a great discussion point about the role of secrecy and esotericism in religious doctrine. As he points out, Breslov is becoming more public. On the other hand, many of the current teachers of “emunah” rely heavily on secrecy.

Zvi Mark. The Scroll of Secrets: The Hidden Messianic Vision of R. Nachman of Breslav. Brighton Academic Studies Press, 2010 Reviewed by Justin Jaron Lewis (University of Manitoba)
A Secret Messianic Vision Revealed

At the heart of this book is a vision of the Messiah as a healer, teacher, and master of song, who will bring the world to unity and peace “with neither war nor struggle, in light of his beauty and their longing for him” (p. 60).

Surprisingly, there have also been writings ascribed to Rebbe Nachman himself that were never printed. Indeed, these writings remained secret, unknown even to most Breslav Hasidim. In the last several years, however, Mark has brought to light two hidden stories
attributed to Rebbe Nachman, as well as the “Scroll of Secrets,”which is the subject of this book.[1]

Mark’s discoveries surely justify Moshe Idel’s call, some twenty years ago, for cooperation “between scholars and mystics,” academic scholars and traditionalist practitioners of Jewish spiritual traditions. It is with the help of Breslav Hasidim that Mark was able to access, decode, and publish this Scroll.

This is not (contrary to prepublication rumors) the “burnt book” that Rebbe Nachman wrote and then ordered destroyed; apparently, that work was indeed burned to ashes. Rather, the Scroll consists of notes, ascribed to Rabbi Nathan of Nemirov, on two discourses by Rebbe Nachman about the coming of the Messiah. These notes were largely in “acronyms and abbreviations” (p. 24).

Mark’s commentary on the Scroll takes a number of different tacks,the Jerusalem Temple (the focal point of politically dangerous messianic agitation in our own time) is not mentioned; its place seems to be taken by the person of the Messiah himself.

Mark also explores influences that the Scroll, while still hidden from all but a few, may have had on two of the newer movements inspired by Rebbe Nachman, the Rav Schik group of Yavniel, and the Nanachs, each of which display unusual messianic fervor.

Mark’s conclusion–to be taken seriously in view of his familiarity with the literature and with today’s Breslav communities–is that Rebbe Nachman is seen, at most, as the Messiah son of Joseph who, in some legendary traditions, dies while preparing the way for the final Messiah, son of David (p. 203).

in a thoughtful chapter on “The Scroll as Esoterica.” Here, he explores ways in which, regardless of the Scroll’s content, its aura of secrecy has played a significant role in Breslav communities. This chapter is worth reading in conjunction with Hugh Urban’s seminal _Economics of Ecstasy_ (2001), which explores the functions of religious secrecy as a “discursive strategy,” which must be seen “in contrast to mere silence plain and simple.”[3] The choice of some Breslav Hasidim to abandon this time-hallowed strategy by cooperating with Mark was indeed a momentous decision. At the same time, some of them insisted “that there is a real difference between … knowing what is written in [the Scroll], and actually understanding its secret meaning”–which perhaps remains as hidden as ever (p. 42).

in the annual Breslav pilgrimage to Rebbe Nachman’s grave in Uman, Ukraine, on Rosh Hashanah 2007, the recent publication of Mark’s Hebrew edition of this book was a topic of conversation. The Hasidim we spoke with were not unhappy about the publication of this secret material, but they were not eager to read
it either: “Nu, do we already understand the teachings of Rebbe Nachman that were _not_ kept secret?”

[1]. The two hidden stories have been published in Hebrew. See Zvi Mark, “The Tale of the Bread: A Hidden Story of R. Nahman of Braslav,” _Tarbiz_ 72, no. 3 (2003): 415-452; and Zvi Mark, “The Tale of the Armor: From the Hidden Chambers of Bratslav Censorship,”
_Zion_ 70, no. 2 (2005):191-216.

Full Review Here

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.

Zvi Mark – The Religious Thought of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav Part 1 of 3 updated

Next month is the scheduled release date Rodger Kamenetz’s Burnt Books, his Nextbook work comparing Kafka and Nachman of Bratzlav. The book, as all other volumes in the Nextbook series, will be reviewed by every Jewish publication.

However, the innovative work on Rabbi Nachman that everyone should be reading and reviewing is Zvi Mark, Mysticism and Madness, The Religious Thought of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav which was translated last summer and attracted no reviews from editors.

Zvi Mark in Mysticsm and Madness shows that the Existential approach to Rabbi Nachman is incorrect. Rav Nachman is not a forerunner of existential doubt or living with the paradox of an absent God, rather he is literally stark raving mad in order to cast off his intellect to reach God.

Almost a century ago, the journalist Hillel Zeitlin went from atheistic Schopenhauer follower to Neo-hasidic theologian advocating the creation of an elite group of those who truly understood religion seeking religious experience, prophecy, and mysticism. For Zeitlin, neither the rationalism of secular materialism nor the vitalism of Nietzsche pointed to God, rather the madness, stories, and songs of Rav nachman offered a means of reaching God.

Joseph Weiss, Scholem’s student, presented Rav Nachman as living in paradox of the absence of God. The secret of Kabbalah is that the process is an illusion and that we don’t know if God really exists, so we cannot tell the common folk who could not bear the truth. Neither could Weiss, who committed suicide to escape the painful paradoxes of life.

Arthur Green continued the approach of Weiss and presented Rabbi Nachman as a non mystical approach based on expressing one’s existential needs in I-Thou dialogue with God, and the need to face the modern Enlightened challenges to faith by an Existential leap of faith. And in
Green’s brilliant excursive on faith and doubt in Rabbi Nachman, Green shows that the deep secret of creation is that there is ordinary heresy and a deeper heresy from God himself, implying that the secret of Kabbalah may be that God does not exist. Green further develops this absent God from one of Rav Nachman’s stories where the portrait of the King in the story is both found in a reflection in a mirror (implying to Green that it is our own projection) and that the King shrinks away (implying that there is no KIng). Green’s work has been translated in several languages and is taken as the actually meaning of Rabbi Nahman in academic circles and literary readers like Rodger Kamenetz.

Zvi Mark comes along and says No! No! No! Rabbi Nahman is not an existential, he is not waking close to heresy, and he is not suffering the paradoxes of modern life. Rabbi Nachman is a mystic. In Zvi Mark’s presentation, Rabbi Nachman is not fascinated by the Enlightenment and its heresies.

Rabbi Nachman thinks that the intellect can never reach God. A Litvak, a Maimonidean, or a Maskil are all the same in that they each, God forfend, use their intellect and the only way to God is by the imagination. One can only know God through song, story, and prayer. One must entirely cast off the intellect to be religious. Madness is a paradigmatic life of casting off the intellect. One can also use crying, joking, dancing, play or hand-clapping.

The goal of Rabbi Nachman is the creation of mystical consciousness. Mark states that previous studies “neglected the mystical goal at the center of his thought.” Imagination is needed for belief and mysticism, and prophecy. Revelation is not just without intellect but from the removal of intellect Therefore deeds of madness and casting away the intellect is good. There are many levels of mystical experience – highest is the stripping away everything including speech and belief.

In order to shorten the Hebrew edition for the English version, the discussions on the role of blood, humors, bile and biology were removed, these situated Rabbi Nachman in Early Modern views of knowledge, the soul and pnuma. (For me, some of this material were the best parts.)
When Rabbi Nachman says that “Every blame of grass has a song” to him it is a magical power known to shamans and baalei Shem. Rabbi Nachman removes our need to resort to sorcery to manipulate nature since we can use prayer and song. Following Moshe Idel, Reb Nachman is credited with an approach that treats Renaissance music as magical. So too, medicine and doctors work by magical and astrological influence, so Rabbi Nachman offers songs and prayers instead.

Hitboddedut, speaking at length with God is only the first stage of Rabbi Nachman’s full theory of hitboddedut , the higher stage and higher goal is the annihilation of self awareness into a mystical oneness. Joseph Weiss & Arthur Green treat hitboddedut as an i-thou relationship. Green states that an “inner openness and of a person’s speech with his maker are in a certain aspect all that is truly important.”

For Marks, Rabbi Nachman’s goal was cleaving to the light of the Infinite One. The goal is a unification with God but that unification was difficult even for Moses who could not completely overcome his intellect. Rabbi Nachman’s mysticism is not love or erotic. It is casting off of intellect.
For example, when Rabbi Nachman was in Istanbul on the way to the land of Israel, he performed foolish and childish acts in the marketplace. Regressive play is a means of casting off the intellect. It is a liminal return to a border of adult existence where one does not even know how to hold a book.

There is a famous maamar of Rav Nachman called “Bo el pharaoh” where Rabbi Nachman discusses the void of creation. Arthur Green explains it as the end of our seeking reveals a paradox at end, that the whole process is illusory and we have a doubt about God existence at the core of faith. Zvi Mark states that Green neglected the parts of the passage where Rabbi Nachman writes that the heresy is raised by song. And song as a form of casting off the intellect can solve problem and lead to a union with the Divine. Mark notes that in this case, Zeitlin was more correct than later scholars in that he understood the role of song as mysticism in the passage. For Green, –we cannot know if there is a God.To reach the highest level we ask God to have our faith shaken. For Mark, not knowing is not a lack of knowledge of God but the wondrous nature of God, a mystical union from casting off the intellect.

Continue reading part II here in which I give links to some of the reviews in the Hebrew Press

Zvi Mark also edited, deciphered and published Rabbi Nachman’s lost book of secrets as well as working to recover the content of the lost teachings. I will deal with some this in later posts.

Update from Rodger Kamenetz
In Burnt Books, I view Kafka not as an existentialist but as Scholem did, a possible kabbalist. That is my investigation. And also, just as Alan Brill asks, I too ask, what is the role of imagination in mysticism, how fundamental is imagination and more particularly literary imagination to the Jewish mystical experience?
Very I would say. That is my book.

I am glad to see here a review of Zvi Marks’ very important study. It came to my hands as I was just finishing
Burnt Books but I was eager to learn from it and include some of his comments on Rabbi Nachman’s mystical
practice of “smallness.” It is a book that any serious student of Rabbi Nachman’s work will want to read.