Originally published in The Times – Literary Supplement, 14th May 1964.
Dobh Baer of Lubavitch: Tract on Ecstasy. Translated by Louis Jacobs. 195pp. Vallentine, Mitchell. 25s.
Dr. Jacobs here translates for the first time into any European language a work of Jewish mysticism described by Dr. Scholern, the greatest living authority on the subject, as “a penetrating analysis of various forms and stages of mystical rapture and ecstasy””. The translator supplies notes on the text, and these stand beneath the translation. He also supplies a valuable introduction on the Hasidic sect of Habad, to which Dobh Baer belonged, and of which he became the leader on the death of his father—though there was a split in the sect and part followed a rival leader. Dr. Jacobs gives an account of the controversies among the various sections of the Hasidim on the nature of ecstasy, and then offers an account of the life and writings of Dobh Baer, who lived from 1773 to 1827. Of the contrast between his practice of ecstasy and his rival’s, Dr. Jacobs says that whereas his rival “used to pray with a great shouting so that all who observed him praying were themselves moved to ecstasy “, Dobh Baer “would stand immobile in prayer for as long as three hours at a time and at the end of his prayer his hat and shirt would be soaked with perspiration”.
The introduction is followed by many pages of full and learned notes, while at the end of the volume Dobh Baer’s first letter is translated and there is a further appendix on his technique of contemplation. Dr. Jacobs has evidently worked much and read widely in the field of Jewish mysticism and has made a valuable addition to the literature in English.