Zvi Mark – The Religious Thought of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov part 2 of 3

Continued from part one here

Zvi Mark offers his own intellectual development starting with his study at Yeshivat Har Etzion under Rabbis Lichtenstein and Amital, his being turned on to Hasidut by Hillel Rachmani of Machon Herzog, his entrance into the world of Rav Shagar that brought literature, art, and hasidut into one’s Torah study and his support from Machon Hartman, and his deep allegiance to the methods and ideas of Moshe Idel on Jewish mysticism. Currently, he is working on the religious poetry of Zelda.

If the Rav Nachman as Existentialist is not correct then why the attraction to Breslov? When I run into Zvi in the store buying burekas and rugelah in Talpiot, he does not play childish war games in the aisles and attack the owner of the store as leader of the French army. Personally, I {AB} am not attracted to Breslov, so let us turn to three reviews of the Hebrew edition of the book to ask about the upshot of the book.

Barukh Kahana of Machon Herzog reviewed the book in Hazofeh.
He asks the questions directly. If Green distorted Rabbi Nachman and Mark get him right, Are we any closer to explaining the attraction of Rabbi Nachman for a post-modern age? Why do Israelis take the pocket edition of Likkute Moharan with them to India? If Mark has accepted the path of the intellect and become an academic, how do we hear the crazy message of Rabbi Nachman?


Hamutal bar Yosef in Haaretz
explains how Rabbi Nachman was attractive to secular Jewish authors such as Pertz Berdichevsky, and Buber. They were modern secular Jews seeking a path for the uncharted course of reclaiming Judaism after enlightenment and emancipation . In this they were following early 20th century patterns in German and Russian literature which sought mysticism. Even in Israeli literature rabbi Nachman speaks to secular authors like Pinchas Sadah, Naomi Shemer, Binyamin Shevili, or Ella Bat-Zion. For the Israelis, rabbi Nachman offers complete abandonment, facing extreme psychological conditions, and the belief that the creative inner life can heal.

Regardless of the literary expropriations, Zvi Mark shows us that Rabbi Nachman was not against Hasidic devekut, he connected to the kabbalah of the Ramak, and his insanity is connected to early modern constructions of dibukkim. She notes the heavy dependence of Zvi Mark on Moshe Idel’s categories of magic and mysticism, as well as the magical messianic orientation of Idel’s non-rational world. Hamutal bar Yosef concludes that the experiential challenge in relating to Rabbi Nachman transcends the world of the rational academic.

Yoni Garb, Professor at Hebrew University who also studied under Moshe Idel, offered a thought piece in lieu of a straight review at Eretz Acheret
Garb agrees with Mark’s reading of rabbi Nachman as mysticism and madness. Garb notes that Rabbi Nachman said “there is no hiddush (innovation) such as him since the creation of the world.” Garb notes” What greater craziness!! How can a person think they are the greatest innovation in the world and in Judaism since creation? Hence his influence was limited a small group. But in the Post Modern world people love this outlandish rhetoric: “he will redeem,” “he is greater than the Torah”

For Garb, a modernist understanding would have been compelled to enter Rabbi Nachman into the world of the rational and engage in psychoanalysis of him, as did Art Green. A post-modern understanding treats Rabbi Nachman is a phenomena without judgment as did Zvi Mark who analyzed the texts fully.

Garb points out that crazy saints are common, for example in Tibetan Buddhism there is an idea of Crazy Yogis. The sixth Dalai Lama Tsangyang Gyatso was crazy yogi who rejected the monastic life. The 14th Dalai Lama, the current one,Tenzin Gytso says we don’t have crazy lamas anymore

Garb considers madness through the writings of Michel Foucault, where madness is connected in the modern era madness with institutionalization of outcastes from society. A prison for those who don’t follow the construction of society Garb writes that Breslov is a means to break out of the regiment of truth around us. Whereas for Foucualt the goal is freedom attained by means of critique, for Rabbi Nachman freedom is by madness and mysticism The madman leaves society for good and the mystic leaves society in order to return to society

For Rabbi Nachman – Mizvot are play and imagination, worship of God is a creative imaginative act. Mizvot are the means by which one breaks the regiment of truth of society. MIzvot teach one to be crazy.

Academics are rational and bureaucratic, so they cannot capture the message of Breslov. Artistic expression, especially the movie Ushpizin captured the world of Breslov – a world of complete faith- of poverty- of buy an etrog that one cannot afford, of stealing a sukkah, of criminals outsiders and underachievers.

Garb concludes that Rambam was for modernity- Rabbi Nachman is for the post modern era.

7 responses to “Zvi Mark – The Religious Thought of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov part 2 of 3

  1. Rebbe Nachman is for the post-modern era in the same way that (l’havdil) Dogen (the 13th century founder of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism) is for the post-modern era. One can ignore their Orthodoxies and pick & choose their cool stuff, like casting off the intellect to reach God.

    “Casting off the intellect” is very post-modern.

  2. avraham rosenblum

    Rebbi Nachman is not the same category as post modern rebellion against morality and values. But where does he fit?
    His attraction is based on many things but he did discover the depths of the soul. (The zimzum he places in the human soul.) He tends to answer large questions in a simple manner. Troubling arguments between great people? –no problem. He says a whole lesson on that. Sexual anxiety? He gives help for that. Rabbis that learn Torah but are evil? No problem. He explains that.
    But he does not place service of God on unquestionable doctrines but on personal service.
    But the difficulty in understanding him is that he does come in a context. Talmud, the Arizal, the Besht.
    Trying to understand him without the proper background is the source of misunderstanding and of the abuse of Rebbi Nachman by the present day rabbis of breslov that tend to think they are themselves Rebbi Nachman, the messiah and God all rolled into one. They seem to be trying to hitch a ride off of rebbi nachman. They can’t be charismatic `enough to get their own following so they use him as bait for the unsuspecting.

  3. Can you do explain further or do a post on why you are not attracted to Breslov?

  4. I am a Maimonidean Litvak student of the Rav, who is an academic. Now, what is your question?

    • Dr. Brill –
      Thanks for the reply. I love and value the blog and I enjoyed your Kabbalah class at Revel. I’ve become a bit attracted to Breslov in recent years. Perhaps the older I get, the more I realize the limits of intellectualism. As moderns, we can explore and explain the most complex scientific and technological systems, but we always reach a wall that perhaps only radical and passionate faith can surmount. Maybe. It’s funny, I wouldn’t have pegged you as a Maimonidean Litvak given your expertise in mysticism (although you are certainly an incomperable academic and I really value and appreciate your work)! Your post inspired me to purchase Zvi Mark’s book.
      Thanks and best regards,
      Josh

  5. I choose Shaarei Orah over Meir Ibn Gabbai, Abulafia, or Todros Abulafia, Ramak over Ari, and Gra & Reb Zadok over Rav Nachman.

  6. I was puzzled by Dr Brill’s pitting of Reb Zadok over Reb Nachman.
    For me the shnei kohanim hagedolim (Reb Zadok as well as Rav Kook) brought me to Reb Nachman. He was wont to tell his chassidim I want you to be a Litvak in learning and hassid in the heart (true attribution?). However he defies the usual taxonomy of hassidish vs litvish no?
    I too have difficulty with the appropriation of Breslov by both charismatic baalei teshuva who do not see the context of his writings in the history of Jewish intellectual thought (be it kabbalistic or otherwise) as well as the mea shearim kanaaim who have sanitized breslov with the veneer of haredi lifestyle and praxis.

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