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.
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.” 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?”
. 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.