Originally published in Zionist Record and S.A. Jewish Chronicle, 10th January 1964.
TRACT ON ECSTACY: By Dobh Baer of Lubavitch: Translated from the Hebrew with an introduction and notes; by Louis Jacobs. Vallentine Mitchell, London: 25/-.
The current interest in Jewish mysticism today urgently calls for an adequate supply of basic textual matter which is presented in such a manner as to lessen rather than increase the confusion which exists in this field.
For this reason a text translated, edited and annotated by that fine authority on mysticism Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs, is to be warmly welcomed.
Dobh Baer of Lubavitch was the son of Schneor Zalman of Liady (1747-1813), the founder of the Habad sect of Hasidism. This, briefly, was the movement which saved Hasidism from the perils of an untrammelled wallowing in emotionalism into which the pristine Hasidism was developing. Originally a kind of revolt of the ordinary ignorant Jew against the barren, cold spiritual and intellectual pride of Rabbanism, Hasidism looked as if it might become a superstitious kind of emotional mysticism which could lead to all kinds of excesses. Schneor Zalman stemmed this development and fostered an intellectual form of the movement. While still highly charged with emotion, the emphasis and trend remained intellectual.
Schneor Zalman developed a complex theory of ecstacy which Jacobs sets out with admirable lucidity in his introduction. Dobh Baer clears up misconceptions of his father’s theory of ecstacy and argues that a distinction must be drawn between authentic and inauthentic forms of that experience. He, too, rejects the purely emotional approach. He says there is no esoteric teaching in Habad. Ecstacy can be an ideal for all. It is, indeed, the true test as to whether contemplation of the Godhead has achieved its aim.
Habad is only opposed to spurious ecstacy, not to its pure forms. “Even shouting aloud in prayer, which rumour has it, is strictly forbidden, is only proscribed if it is contrived. Where it is a spontaneous effusion of delight in contemplation or a groan from the heart because of remoteness from God it is of great value.”
The tractate therefore thoroughly deals with the subject of ecstacy. It distinguishes between the authentic and spurious; it describes the six stages. It defines the five stages of the “divine soul”; it goes into the 12 types of ecstacy. It rebukes Hasidim for not showing sufficient concern for the whole subject.
The translation is as lucid as the subject permits. The notes, which almost constitute a running commentary, are wisely printed on the text itself so that he who runs may read.
There is selected bibliography, but an index is not provided.