Friday, June 08, 2007

The Regal Way: The Life And Times Of Rabbi Israel Of Ruzhin

David Assaf, Stanford University Press, 2002

David Assaf, who is professor of Jewish history at Tel Aviv University, has published a number of books of interest on Chassidut. This is a wonderful study of one of the most contentious figures of early 19th century Jewry, the Rebbe of Ruzhin. Known as the exemplar of a controversial style of leadership, he was known neither for his great scholarship nor his writings, but for his extravagant life-style and noble demeanour. He was the originator of a dynasty that adopted ‘the regal way’, a life of overstated grandeur, which was justified on the grounds that the tzaddik needed to centralise all the resources of the community in order to elevate them. Assaf’s presentation is easy to read and quite fascinating, especially the accounts of the problems Rabbi Israel faced, his imprisonment, his flight from Russia to Austria and the opposition he faced from both the non-religious world and even Chassidic antagonists. Assaf’s study shows the incorporation of hagiography into academic study and demonstrates a light and non-judgemental outlook. A good read, for all sorts of reasons.

The Regal Way