Hi, my name is Rabbi Jeff Amshalem and I’m an amateur — as in “doing it for love” — student of Hasidism (though since I started this blog I’ve become a slightly more formal student — studying for a PhD in Hasidic thought at Ben-Gurion University). I’ve been learning and teaching it, formally and informally, for several years now, and I’ve found that people are really thirsting for it. I decided to start this blog because, despite all the interest in Hasidism, there’s still little out there for anyone not able to read the sforim in the original Hebrew. So I thought I would post my own English translations of teachings by the masters on the parshah, prayer, and chagim, ones that I thought would especially speak to this audience. Ok, so who is this audience? Well, I hope you’ll tell me, but the people I have in mind are Jews (or non-Jews) dedicated to growth though not necessarily very grown yet, who appreciate the beauty and power of traditional Judaism while also realizing that we may differ on a lot of things, and who believe, like me, that you don’t need to pick “a” Judaism — that you can be modern and free-thinking yet not necessarily line up with modern movements within Judaism, that you can be traditional and observant without necessarily being Orthodox. There are plenty of blogs on Hasidic teaching out there, done by people far more learned and experienced than I am, and I encourage you to check them out; but I want to put something out there for “the rest of us” — that doesn’t require knowledge of Hebrew and “Yeshivish” terms, that doesn’t expect the reader to already have extensive Torah learning, and that doesn’t assume the reader accepts a priori all the claims of the tradition. Some people might ask what right I have to even present, much less comment on, these teachings, and the question is a good one and one I ask myself. All I can say, in addition to my original disclaimer that I am only an amateur, is that I’m only following the example of the masters themselves, who a) sought to bring the power of Torah to “the rest of us” of their own day (who, nostalgia aside, were often less educated than many modern Jews) and b) had no misgivings about turning traditional texts on their heads and using them to teach something that was clearly not the original intent. My own understanding of Torah is that the meaning was there all along, waiting to be revealed, whatever the “author” intended, and that Hasidut, as part of Torah, works the same way. Yes, it’s a bit chutzpadik for me to claim to find some “hidden Torah” in the Besht or Kedushas Levi, but isn’t that what being Jewish is about?
I welcome any and all comments, criticisms, stories, or whatever you want to share. This includes adding your own posts, if you feel so inclined. You are also welcome to use anything you find on this blog; I only ask that you do me the favor (and the mitzvah) of saying where it came from and sharing with me how you used it and how it went over.
Thanks and please be in touch!