Any new treatment of the work of Martin Buber (1878–1965) on Hasidism has to take into consideration the debate that arose in the wake of Gershom Scholem's critical reexamination of the premises underlying Buber's interpretation of Hasidism. “The theoretical literature,” Buber held, “is the gloss, the legend is the text, and in spite of the fact that it is a legend which has been handed down in an extreme state of corruption, and which it is impossible to recover in its purity, it would be foolish to object that [the] legend cannot transmit the reality of Hasidic life.” Objecting to this, Scholem argued that what Buber claimed to be the “essence” of Hasidism was not central to the intellectual landscape of the movement. Rather, in Scholem's view, the theoretical literature, with its theosophical, mystical doctrines, constituted the spiritual basis of Hasidism. This book seeks to historicize the debate through a close textual analysis of select sections of Buber's Legende and the writings of the early Buber, which allows the author to revisit and clarify the underlying hermeneutical and aesthetic issues. Her intention is not to defend Buber against his critics. Rather, she aims to consider the variety of issues bearing on his hermeneutical task of mediating to the Jewish reader the nature and cultural significance of religious experience in Hasidism as it bears on aesthetics and thus on a Jewish modernism.
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