Chapter

Rabbis, Rebbes and Other Humanists: The Search for a Usable Past in Modern Yiddish Literature

Ezra Mendelsohn

in Studies in Contemporary Jewry: XII: Literary Strategies: Jewish Texts and Contexts

Published in print April 1997 | ISBN: 9780195112030
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199854608 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195112030.003.0004

Series: Studies in Contemporary Jewry

Rabbis, Rebbes and Other Humanists: The Search for a Usable Past in Modern Yiddish Literature

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This chapter discusses modern Jewish literature in Eastern Europe where the rise of secular forms of Jewish self-expression coincided with the Kulturkampf between Hasidism and Haskalah. It explains that the image of the rabbi and rebbe (a.k.a. zaddik, or guter yid), which became the battleground for the hearts and minds of the impressionable masses, is used to stake one's claim to the future. Even a new translation of the Book of the Proverbs into the Yiddish vernacular could be used by the reformers (wolves in sheep's clothing) to draw a firm line between the biblical zaddik, glossed as an erlekher, or a koshere neshome, and the usurpers of that title in the present. Meanwhile, in the rival camp, hagiographic tales about the great zaddikim of old were used for propaganda and popular education from 1815 onwards.

Keywords: Jewish literature; Eastern Europe; Kulturkampf; Hasidism; Haskalah; rabbi; rebbe; zaddik; Yiddish vernacular; zaddikim

Chapter.  13465 words. 

Subjects: History of Religion

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