Analysing the political relations between the Kingdom of Poland and the hasidic movement, this book examines plans formulated by the government and by groups close to government circles regarding hasidim, and describes how a hasidic body politic developed in response. Marcin Wodzinski demonstrates that the rise of hasidism was an important factor in shaping the Jewish policy of both central and provincial authorities and shows how the creation of socio-political conditions that were advantageous to the hasidic movement accelerated its growth. While concentrating on the dynamic that developed in the Kingdom of Poland, the discussion is informed by a consideration of the relationship between the state and the hasidic movement from its inception in the Polish - Lithuanian Commonwealth. The novelty of this study lies in the fact that, whereas most analyses of political culture concentrate on states and societies with well-established electoral systems of representation, Wodzinski focuses on the under-researched area of political relations between a non-democratic state and a low-status community lacking authorized representation. Applying concepts more often associated with cultural history, his analysis draws a distinction between the terms of reference of high-level political debate and the actual implementation of policy middle- and low-level officials. Similarly, in analysing hasidic responses he differentiates between high-level hasidic representations in the state and the grassroots politics of the community. This combination enables a broad contextualization of the whole subject, integrating the social and cultural history of Polish Jewry with that of Polish society in general.
‘The study of Hasidism . . . has been transformed recently by a new generation of researchers who have mined Polish archives for documentation on the movement. Professor Wodziński is one of the most notable of this group and this monograph is a path-breaking contribution to the understanding of how Hasidism operated in Poland in the first half of the nineteenth century and how it spread . . . crucial to any collection that deals with Hasidism and east European Jewish life but it is no less important for the study of religion and politics in general.’
Shaul Stampfer, Religious Studies Review
‘A worthy successor to the author's path-breaking Haskalah and Hasidism in the Kingdom of Poland . . . one of the leading scholars in the field, and he brings to his subject a wide familiarity with Polish and Jewish sources in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, and other languages and, most notably, the fruits of his thorough combing of national, regional, and local Polish archives . . . He has thus been able to free the historical narrative from the long-regnant approaches of Simon Dubnow and Raphael Mahler, looking afresh at the complex and developing relationships between Polish authorities and Polish Jewry in general, and the rapidly expanding Hasidic movement in particular . . . a notable addition to the growing number of studies focusing on the long-neglected topic of Hasidism in the nineteenth century . . . a carefully nuanced and contextualized portrait of a complex topic that in earlier historiography suffered from stereotyping and oversimplification . . . an excellent book that should interest students of Polish and Jewish history alike.’
Gershon Bacon, Slavic Review
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