Liqqutei Amarim (Tanya). By RABBI SCHNEUR ZALMAN OF LIADI. Translated by Nissan Mindel. New York: Kehot Publication Society. 38s, 6d.
The Tzemach Tzedek and the Haskala Movement. By RABBI JOSEPH I. SCHNEERSOHN. Translated by Zalman I. Posner. Same publishers. 8s. 9d.
The “Tanya” of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad movement in Chassidism, is justly famed as a classic exposition of chassidic theory. Dr. Mindel’s translation is of the first part of the work only, which deals with Chabad psychology. In the opinion of many, the second part, treating of the Chabad theory of Divine immanence, is both more interesting and more important and this still awaits translation.
The translation is competent, but it is doubtful whether the uninitiated reader will be able to follow the very recondite themes of the book in the absence of explanatory notes more comprehensive and informative than those given and without a much more substantial introduction. One misses, too, biographical details of the author and the movement in general and its place in Jewish thought.
Subtleties of thought
Admirers of the subtleties of Chabad thought will, none the less, find here statements of a puzzling, even of a repellent nature, for instance, the doctrine that only Jews have a “divine soul” and that even the animal soul of a Gentile is derived from the unclean “Shells” so that a Gentile is incapable of a disinterested act.
The second of these books deals with the efforts of Rabbi Schneur Zalman’s grandson, a doughty opponent of Haskala, to frustrate the designs of Russian Maskilim. The work is of a highly partisan nature. It is as unfair and unhistorical to see all the Maskilim as either scoundrels or pitiful dupes of the corrupt Tsarist régime as to see all the Chassidim as obscurantist fanatics.
Both volumes adopt a negative attitude to general culture (see especially the concluding paragraphs of Chapter 8 of the “Tanya”), an attitude to which encouragement was recently given by pronouncements of the present Lubavitcher Rabbi. Those of us who are attracted by much of Chabad teaching often wonder if this can be presented to modern Jews divested its medieval garb. There is nothing in the two volumes reviewed to suggest that any such attempt would be viewed with favour in movement’s official circles.