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A Permanent Beginning
R. Nachman of Braslav and Jewish Literary Modernity
A Permanent Beginning

Yitzhak Lewis - Author
Price: $90.00 
Hardcover - 208 pages
Release Date: March 2020
ISBN13: 978-1-4384-7767-1



Situates a Hasidic master in the context of his time, demonstrating his formative influence on Jewish literary modernity.

The Hasidic leader R. Nachman of Braslav (1772–1810) has held a place in the Jewish popular imagination for more than two centuries. Some see him as the (self-proclaimed) Messiah, others as the forerunner of modern Jewish literature. Existing studies struggle between these dueling readings, largely ignoring questions of aesthetics and politics in his work. A Permanent Beginning lays out a new paradigm for understanding R. Nachman’s thought and writing, and, with them, the beginnings of Jewish literary modernity. Yitzhak Lewis examines the connections between imperial modernization processes in Eastern Europe at the turn of the eighteenth century and the emergence of “modern literature” in the storytelling of R. Nachman. Reading his tales and teachings alongside the social, legal, and intellectual history of the time, the book’s guiding question is literary: How does R. Nachman represent this changing environment in his writing? Lewis paints a nuanced and fascinating portrait of a literary thinker and creative genius at the very moment his world was evolving unrecognizably. He argues compellingly that R. Nachman’s narrative response to his changing world was a major point of departure for Jewish literary modernity.

“This is a groundbreaking study. There can be no doubt that it will constitute a basic work for understanding the theology and stories of R. Nachman, modern Judaism, and modern literature in general.” — Jonatan Meir, author of Literary Hasidism: The Life and Works of Michael Levi Rodkinson

“This book is a rare intellectual achievement. Lewis addresses the question of Hasidism’s modernity by analyzing key issues in the study of R. Nachman, such as the question of his Messianity. His answers are thought-provoking and convincing, and his exciting book dramatically extends our understanding of the challenges posed by R. Nachman’s tales and mystical texts.” — Hannan Hever, Yale University

Yitzhak Lewis is Assistant Professor of Humanities at Duke Kunshan University, in China.

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