Page 91 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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BERGER / RABBI NAHMAN
85
pera te bu t not despairing . Weiss regards the tales as a “spiritual-
mythological au tob iography ,” in which the heroes are primarily
forms o f N ahman himself. He is the viceroy who rescues the
princess, the Clever Man and the Simple Man, both o f the
changelings and , naturally, the Man o f Prayer in the tale bearing
tha t name. Weiss has also developed N ahm an ’s powerful though
paradoxical dialectic tha t God’s Presence may be deduced from
His appa ren t absence from ou r world. Toward the end o f his
short life, Weiss also wrote a fine bibliographical study on the
probable content o f an esoteric manuscript, the so-called “bu rn t
book” which Nahman o rdered his trusted companion to destroy,
as well as ano ther study on the “Secret Scroll”
(Megillat Setarim),
a
messianic tract tha t seems to be still ex tan t in the Braslav archives.
Mendel Piekarz often takes Weiss to task for his dogmatism in
organizing in a systematic way N ahm an ’s unsystematic thoughts.
A lthough Piekarz added little to ou r understand ing o f Nahman ,
he has provided us with a fuller unde rs tand ing o f the background
o f the im po rtan t events in N ahm an’s life, such as the “messianic”
crisis in 1806 and his last days in Uman in contact with local
“maskilim.” Piekarz devotes th ree chapters o f his own work to the
reception o f the “Tales” by N ahm an ’s disciples and by la ter com­
mentators.
NEW BIOGRAPHICAL WORK
A rthu r G reen ’s book
Tormented Master, A Life ofRabbi Nahman of
Braslav,
University o f Alabama Press, 1979, is the first full-
fledged biography o f Nahman in any language and a com p rehen ­
sive commentary on his actions, though ts and tales. This book
grew out of a Brandeis University doctoral dissertation un d e r Dr.
Alexander A ltmann .2 In my opinion, this work constitutes one o f
the finest studies on grea t religious personalities. T he p rio r
studies o f Weiss and Piekarz provide some o f the foundations on
which a magnificent edifice has been built. Green employs his
own independen t judgm en ts and makes full use o f the per tinen t
hasidic and kabbalistic literature. His book is not only a major
2 Two other doctoral dissertations, by Yoav Elstein, U.C.L.A., 1974, and Martin
Mantel, Princeton, 1977, are as yet unpublished. Both are studies o f the Tales.