Hasidism and Politics

BookHasidism and Politics

Hasidism and Politics

The Kingdom of Poland, 1815-1864

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


March 31st, 2013

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Analysing the political relations between the Kingdom of Poland and the hasidic movement, this book examines plans formulated by the government and by groups close to government circles regarding hasidim, and describes how a hasidic body politic developed in response. Marcin Wodzinski demonstrates that the rise of hasidism was an important factor in shaping the Jewish policy of both central and provincial authorities and shows how the creation of socio-political conditions that were advantageous to the hasidic movement accelerated its growth. While concentrating on the dynamic that developed in the Kingdom of Poland, the discussion is informed by a consideration of the relationship between the state and the hasidic movement from its inception in the Polish - Lithuanian Commonwealth. The novelty of this study lies in the fact that, whereas most analyses of political culture concentrate on states and societies with well-established electoral systems of representation, Wodzinski focuses on the under-researched area of political relations between a non-democratic state and a low-status community lacking authorized representation. Applying concepts more often associated with cultural history, his analysis draws a distinction between the terms of reference of high-level political debate and the actual implementation of policy middle- and low-level officials. Similarly, in analysing hasidic responses he differentiates between high-level hasidic representations in the state and the grassroots politics of the community. This combination enables a broad contextualization of the whole subject, integrating the social and cultural history of Polish Jewry with that of Polish society in general.


‘Marcin Wodziński, in another masterful book on Hasidism, turns his expert attention to analyzing the political history of the Kingdom of Poland and its relationship to the Hasidic movement . . . best suited to the scholar or serious student.’
David Tesler, AJL Reviews

‘The study of Hasidism . . . has been transformed recently by a new generation of researchers who have mined Polish archives for documentation on the movement. Professor Wodziński is one of the most notable of this group and this monograph is a path-breaking contribution to the understanding of how Hasidism operated in Poland in the first half of the nineteenth century and how it spread . . . crucial to any collection that deals with Hasidism and east European Jewish life but it is no less important for the study of religion and politics in general.’
Shaul Stampfer, Religious Studies Review

‘A worthy successor to the author's path-breaking Haskalah and Hasidism in the Kingdom of Poland . . . one of the leading scholars in the field, and he brings to his subject a wide familiarity with Polish and Jewish sources in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, and other languages and, most notably, the fruits of his thorough combing of national, regional, and local Polish archives . . . He has thus been able to free the historical narrative from the long-regnant approaches of Simon Dubnow and Raphael Mahler, looking afresh at the complex and developing relationships between Polish authorities and Polish Jewry in general, and the rapidly expanding Hasidic movement in particular . . . a notable addition to the growing number of studies focusing on the long-neglected topic of Hasidism in the nineteenth century . . . a carefully nuanced and contextualized portrait of a complex topic that in earlier historiography suffered from stereotyping and oversimplification . . . an excellent book that should interest students of Polish and Jewish history alike.’
Gershon Bacon, Slavic Review


Author Information

Marcin Wodziński is Professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Wrocław.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Half Title2
Title Page4
Preface and Acknowledgements8
List of Illustrations12
Note on Transliteration, Place Names, and Sources14
List of Abbreviations16
1. To ‘Civilize’ the Jews: Polish Debates on the Reform of Jewish Society, 1788–183028
1. The Framework of the Debate32
2. Diagnosis33
3. The Goal43
4. Measures: What are ‘Civil Christians’?47
5. What Does ‘To Civilize’ Mean?50
6. Conclusions58
2. Origins: Controversies over Hasidic Shtiblekh61
1. Before the Kingdom of Poland63
2. Nameless: The First Ruling on Hasidic Shtiblekh71
3. Kitajowcy: Investigation in Plock73
4. Michalki: Shtiblekh, Mikveh, and Burial Societies83
5. Conclusions93
3. The Great Inquiry, 1823–182496
1. Hussites: The Beginnings of the Investigation96
2. Hasidism Is Banned103
3. Counteroffensive106
4. Deputation: Stanislaw Staszic against the Tsadikim114
5. Hasidism Delivered: Conclusions130
4. Between Words and Actions134
1. Big Politics, Small Politicians137
2. Silent Turning-Point: Hasidism in the Politics of the Kingdom after 1831147
3. The Last Investigation152
4. Ignorance, Inertia, Frustration158
5. Who Profited? On the Ostensible Equality of Hasidism162
6. Epilogue: In the 1860s176
7. Conclusions181
5. The Hasidim Strike Back: The Development of Hasidic Political Involvement184
1. Beginnings: Berek Sonnenberg and his Circle188
2. Offensive: Meir Rotenberg of Opatów194
3. Triumph: Isaac Kalisz of Warka197
4. The Third Phase217
5. Digression: Corruption225
6. The Local Context: Conclusions231
6. Communal Dimensions of Hasidic Politics237
1. Who? Agents of Hasidic Communal Politics239
2. Whom? Protagonists248
3. Why? Goals252
4. How? Means259
5. Local or Universal?268
6. Conclusions284
7. Haskalah and Government Policy towards Hasidism285
1. The Role of Hasidism in the Political Activity of the Polish Maskilim287
2. The Role of Maskilim: Myth and Reality290
3. How Did a Maskilic Shtadlan Differ from a Hasidic One?300
4. Conclusions304