Aesthetics of Renewal: Martin Buber's Early Representation of Hasidism as Kulturkritik

University of Chicago Press
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Martin Buber’s embrace of Hasidism at the start of the twentieth century was instrumental to the revival of this popular form of Jewish mysticism. Hoping to instigate a Jewish cultural and spiritual renaissance, he published a series of anthologies of Hasidic teachings written in German to introduce the tradition to a wide audience. In Aesthetics of Renewal, Martina Urban closely analyzes Buber’s writings and sources to explore his interpretation of Hasidic spirituality as a form of cultural criticism. For Buber, Hasidic legends and teachings were not a static, canonical body of knowledge, but were dynamic and open to continuous reinterpretation. Urban argues that this representation of Hasidism was essential to the Zionist effort to restore a sense of unity across the Jewish diaspora as purely religious traditions weakened—and that Buber’s anthologies in turn played a vital part in the broad movement to use cultural memory as a means to reconstruct a collective identity for Jews. As Urban unravels the rich layers of Buber’s vision of Hasidism in this insightful book, he emerges as one of the preeminent thinkers on the place of religion in modern culture.
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About the author

Martina Urban is assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Vanderbilt University.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
May 15, 2009
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Pages
240
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ISBN
9780226842738
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Language
English
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Genres
Religion / General
Religion / Judaism / General
Religion / Judaism / History
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The anthology is a ubiquitous presence in Jewish literature--arguably its oldest literary genre, going back to the Bible itself, and including nearly all the canonical texts of Judaism: the Mishnah, the Talmud, classical midrash, and the prayerbook. In the Middle Ages, the anthology became the primary medium in Jewish culture for recording stories, poems, and interpretations of classical texts. In modernity, the genre is transformed into a decisive instrument for cultural retrieval and re-creation, especially in works of the Zionist project and in modern Yiddish and Hebrew literature. No less importantly, the anthology has played an indispensable role in the creation of significant fields of research in Jewish studies, including Hebrew poetry, folklore, and popular culture. This volume is the first book to bring together scholarly and critical essays that investigate the anthological character of these works and what might be called the "anthological habit" in Jewish literary culture--the tendency and proclivity for gathering together discrete, sometimes conflicting traditions and stories, and preserving them side by side as though there were no difference, conflict, or ambiguity between them. Indeed, The Anthology in Jewish Literature is the first book to recognize this habit and genre as one of the formative categories in Jewish literature and to investigate its manifold roles. The seventeen essays, each of which focuses on a specific literary work, many of them the great classics of Jewish tradition, consider such questions as: What are the many types of anthologies? How have anthologists, editors, even printers of anthologies been creative shapers of Jewish tradition and culture? What can we learn from their editorial practices? How have politics, gender, and class figured into the making of anthologies? What determinative role has the anthology played in creating the Jewish canon? How has the anthology served, especially in the modern period, to create and recreate Jewish culture. This landmark volume will interest educated laypersons as well as scholars in all areas of Jewish literature and culture, as well as students of world literature and cultural studies.
This volume presents the theory of culture of the Russian‐born German Jewish social philosopher David Koigen (1879–1933). Heir to Hermann Cohen’s neo‐Kantian interpretation of Judaism, he transforms the religion of reason into an ethical Intimitätsreligion. He draws upon a great variety of intellectual currents, among them, Max Scheler’s philosophy of values, the historical sociology of Max Weber, the sociology of religion of Émile Durkheim, Ernst Troeltsch and Georg Simmel and American pragmatism. Influenced by his personal experience of marginality in German academia yet the same time unconstrained by the dictates of the German Jewish discourse, Koigen shapes these theoretical strands into an original argument which unfolds along two trajectories: theodicy of culture and ethos. Distinguished from ethics, ethos identifies the non-formal factors that foster a group’s sense of collective identity as it adapts to continuous change. From a Jewish perspective, ethos is grounded in the biblical covenant as the paradigm of a social contract and corporate liability. Although the normative content of the covenantal ethos is subject to gradual secularization, its metaphysical and existential assumptions, Koigen argues, continue to inform Jewish self-understanding. The concept of ethos identifies the dialectic of tradition as it shapes Jewish religious consciousness, and, in turn, is shaped by the evolving cultural and axiological sensibilities. In consonance, Jewish identity cannot be reduced to ethnicity or a purely secular culture. Urban develops these fragmentary and inchoate theories into a sociology of religious knowledge and suggests to read Koigen not just as a Jewish sociologist but as the first sociologist of Judaism who proposes to overcome the dogmatic anti-metaphysical stance of European sociology.
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