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7. Yearning for Sacred Place: Wiesel's Hasidic Tales and Postwar Hasidism

Steven T Katz Indiana University Press ePub

WIESEL'S HASIDIC TALES AND POSTWAR HASIDISM

NEHEMIA POLEN

IN SOULS ON FIRE,1 Elie Wiesel begins his chapter on the School of Pshiskhe with the story of Eizik son of Yekel of Kraków, who dreams of treasure in Prague, but after his journey discovers that the treasure is really to be found in his own home.2 The point of the story is not, as is sometimes suggested, that since the treasure you seek is really already inside of you, you don't need to make the journey, nor even that you need to make the journey in order to discover that the truth is inside you. Recall that, as Wiesel writes, Rabbi Simha-Bunam of Pshiskhe would tell this story each time he accepted a new disciple.3 Rabbi Bunam did accept disciples; he did not send them all back home where they came from. Apparently Rabbi Bunam wanted precisely those disciples who realized that they didn't have to be there, who knew that their spiritual growth was in their own hands, not in those of the master they had sought out. The tale reflects on the School of Pshiskhe, its culture and values, the independence and boldness of spirit it sought to cultivate. In this understanding, the story and the journey, the tale of the rabbi of Pshiskhe and his disciples, each inform the other, reflect the other, interrogate the other, assist in defining the other.

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23. Wiesel's Contribution to a Christian Understanding of Judaism

Steven T Katz Indiana University Press ePub

JOHN K. ROTH

Where are we going? Tell me. Do you know?

—Elie Wiesel, “A Mother and Her Daughter,” in A Jew Today

THE BEST OF ELIE WIESEL'S versatile writing includes the brief Holocaust-related dialogues that appear in his books from time to time. Spare and lean, they often consist of a few hundred words or less. These dialogues are distinctive not only for their minimalist quality but also because their apparent simplicity, their unidentified settings, unnamed characters, abrupt and open beginnings and endings raise fundamental questions in moving ways. In Wiesel's A Jew Today one of these dialogues comes from “A Mother and Her Daughter.” “Where are we going?” it begins. “Tell me. Do you know?” The mother tells her daughter, “I don't know,” but then when the child asks again, “Where are we going?” her mother says, “To the end of the world, little girl. We are going to the end of the world.”1

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18. Wiesel's Testament

Steven T Katz Indiana University Press ePub

OREN BARUCH STIER

I WOULD LIKE TO BEGIN on a personal note: when I was graduating from college everyone had the opportunity to insert a quotation or two into a space next to our yearbook photographs. One of the quotations I chose was from the epigraph to Elie Wiesel's novel, The Gates of the Forest, which, as already cited by several contributors to this volume, recounts the tale of a Jewish mystical technique utilized by a succession of hasidic leaders for averting a divine decree of harsh judgment against the Jewish community, despite the progressively fading memory of the actual technique: in the end, the story alone is enough. The parable concludes, we will recall, “God made man because He loves stories.”1 That last sentence is the passage I chose for my yearbook statement; I selected it because I was enamored of the redemptive vision of the tale, and for the implication of a lonely and bereft divine universe had humans either never existed or, perhaps worse, existed without the ability to tell tales. Now, in revisiting that epigraph, I am struck both by the threat of divine judgment hovering in the background and by the testimonial aspect of the story—and the story within the story—told not just to entertain God, but to defend Jews—always, as it were, in a cosmic courtroom.

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1. Alone with God: Wiesel's Writings on the Bible

Steven T Katz Indiana University Press ePub

WIESEL'S WRITINGS ON THE BIBLE

JOEL ROSENBERG

BETWEEN 1976 AND 2004, Elie Wiesel published four books devoted partly or wholly to biblical retellings: Messengers of God in 1976, Five Biblical Portraits in 1981, Sages and Dreamers in 1991, and Wise Men and Their Tales in 2004.1 While, properly speaking, impossible to view in isolation from his other output of this period, this material in fact forms a meaningful chapter in the history of Jewish biblical interpretation, in addition to being writing that touches the soul. Around the time the last book was published, Wiesel, along with Harvard-based biblical scholar Frank Moore Cross Jr., participated in a joint interview for Biblical Archaeology Review conducted by its editor, Hershel Shanks.2 Cross was the quintessence of the historical-critical scholar, immersed in ancient Near Eastern epigraphy and Northwest Semitic pagan poetry, committed to archaeological research and scientific historical method. Here counterposed to him, as it were, was the Jewish storyteller, still bearing within himself the yeshiva bokher: the perspective of the Eastern European Jewish village—suspicious of “biblical criticism,” steeped in the rabbinic worldview, and cherishing the naive vision of childhood. (Wiesel's upbringing and education were in fact more complex than this profile implies, but I'll let this conception prevail for now.) “I'm interested,” said Wiesel in the interview, “in [the Bible's] layers of meaning, but my relation to it is much more an emotional one. It's been my passion almost from my youth. I want to go back to the child I used to be, and to read with the same naiveté.”3 Cross, for his part, spoke of the rabbinic realm, what he called “late Judaism,” as a place where “you can't even swing a cat without hitting three demons and two spirits.” (In this respect, I should add, he found it similar in outlook to the New Testament.)4

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11. Wiesel's Post-Auschwitz Shema Yisrael

Steven T Katz Indiana University Press ePub

ALAN L. BERGER

A WRITER, ATTESTS ELIE WIESEL, is “Someone who can say no to the system, no to the surroundings, sometimes even no to God.”1 After a statement such as this, it is fitting to pause and follow with the Nobel Prize winner's favorite phrase, and yet his “No to God” is simultaneously a questioning of the deity. It is more fitting to substitute the word “why” for “no,” since for Wiesel the Holocaust is “the question of questions. It is both man's way of questioning God and God's way of questioning man. And there is no answer coming from either side.”2 I shall return to the issue of questioning shortly. Beginning with his classic memoir Night, which is central to all of his work—the rest is commentary—Wiesel poses endless questions to a God who is apparently unable or unwilling to listen. He employs irony to underscore this preoccupation, viewing traditional theological claims through a Holocaust lens. Therefore the Shema Yisrael prayer, Judaism's central confession, bears special scrutiny in Wiesel's oeuvre.

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