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A Pocket Book of Wonders – Tablet Magazine

A Pocket Book of Wonders – Tablet Magazine

Jewish hagiographies have constituted one of many profound genres of Hebrew and Yiddish literature because the late Center Ages, though biographical tales dedicated to outstanding spiritual figures of Judaism could also be traced as early as in biblical and Talmudic narratives. The unfold of tales concerning the kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria of Safed (Ha-Ari, 1534-1572) established a canon of comparable writings that turned extraordinarily well-liked amongst Ashkenazi Jewry in Japanese Europe. The Hasidic motion that originated within the Polish lands within the second half of the 18th century, and that to this present day stays a thriving phenomenon all through the diaspora and Israel, positioned hagiography on the centre of its fashionable exercise.

The publication of Shivchei ha-Besht with Hebrew and Yiddish variations of tales concerning the Baal Shem Tov (the alleged founding father of Hasidism), paved the best way for a wealthy literature that coated giant volumes and brief booklets alike. In his elementary guide The Hasidic Story, Gedalyah Nigal signifies typical options of such narratives. The tales revolve round a wondrous act carried out by the tsaddik, incessantly leading to decision of an issue. There is just one protagonist, whereas different people, Hasidim or easy individuals, seem primarily as his devoted shoppers. The tales happen in Jewish and non-Jewish environments, however descriptions of landscapes and nature seem solely by the way. Even at first of the 20th century such literature continued to draw the curiosity of Orthodox readers and developed in accordance with trendy requirements of writing, modifying and publishing. Nevertheless, it took a number of many years earlier than Shmuel Rothstein—a veteran enjoyable der ortodoksisher prese—revealed in Warsaw his well-written books on the Tsanz and Sadagora Hasidic dynasties. This essay, nevertheless, will give attention to a a lot earlier instance of Hasidic literature, a “pocket ebook of wonders” of extra conventional character, however however trendy in its common utterance.


Mayses Noyroim (Hebrew: Ma’asiyot Nora’im, The Deeds of Awe) is a Yiddish booklet revealed within the yr Tav-Ayin-Dalet-Resh (1913 or 1914) in Pietrkov (Piotrków Trybunalski), central Poland. It was the product of the publishing home of Avraham Yosef Kleiman, a local of Kołbiel (Otwock county), whose identify seems on many unique and unlawful editions of Hasidic and kabbalistic literature printed in Poland on the flip of the 20th century. In accordance with the opening web page, this small-format publication of merely 41 pages was written by Moshe Aaron Bergman of Radzymin. Within the late 1960s the booklet was photocopied and republished in Tel Aviv by one other Hasidic publishing home, Pe’er ha-Sefer.

The work paperwork wonders carried out by Ya’akov Arie Guterman (1792-1874), a Hasidic chief lively from the start of the 19th century, additionally recognized by his fashionable identify: Reb Yankele Radziminer. He was one of the crucial distinguished figures of the Hasidic motion in Congress Poland. His path led him by way of courts of famend tsaddikim: The Seer of Lublin, The Holy Jew, Simcha Bunim of Pshiskhe (Przysucha), and Yitzhak of Vurke (Warka). The final two had the deepest affect on Guterman in his youth. They represented a imaginative and prescient of scholarly management, essential towards materials tsaddikism and its attribute manifestation: wonders carried out on behalf of straightforward people.

Later Guterman established his personal courtroom within the city of Radzymin, about 50 kilometers northeast of Warsaw. Regardless of a slightly radical ideological background, his fame as a miracle man unfold extensively throughout Poland and was strengthened by well-liked writings revealed after his demise. He outlived most of Simcha Bunim’s direct college students. The blessing of arichat yamim (lengthy life) turned him right into a zaken ha-admorim, an elder amongst Hasidic leaders, whose affect could also be measured not solely by the variety of followers but in addition by age. Deeds of Awe is a set of tales gathered by the writer, Moshe Aron Bergman, to a big extent from the oral testimonies of native witnesses and people who participated within the courtroom life. Bergman himself was apparently a Mashba”okay on the courtroom in Radzymin (Meshamesh ba-kodesh, actually, one who serves in holiness; an individual who performs private providers for the Rebbe), in all probability in the course of the tenure of the third Rebbe of the Guterman dynasty, Aharon Menachem Mendel. In addition to sparse references to the ritual customs of the Radziminer, in addition to a handful of his precepts, the textual content focuses on the esoteric dimension of the chief’s multifarious actions.

The title web page of a New York version of ‘Mayses Noyroim.’ (Photograph courtesy the writer)

The pocket guide begins with a sworn statement that Ya’akov Arie Guterman was a person of God’s prophecy and “all the things hidden had been revealed earlier than him.” Rebbe’s miraculous skills remained hid for more often than not. Solely his closest pals have been capable of sense “the scent of his incense” and develop into thus impressed to decide on him for a pacesetter. The introduction is adopted by a brief enumeration of Guterman’s most distinguished followers and apprentices in rebestve (tsaddik’s lore and duties): the 2 Hasidic leaders of the Alexander dynasty, Yechiel and Yerachmiel Israel Itzhak, the Admor of Gostynin Yechiel Meir, in addition to Baruch Shapira Shtutsiner. The listing is additional supported by a sworn statement of Reb Eliezer Ha-Kohen, the Rabbi of Maków, Pułtusk, Płock and Sochaczew. In a fashion typical of Hasidic hagiographies, it quotes a press release ascribed to the Rebbe of Kock (Kotsk) that there are two nice tsaddikim on the planet: the one in Radzymin and the one in Sochaczew. It’s essential to note that each Menachem Mendel Kotsker and Avremele Sokhachever have been influential leaders of their era. Subsequently, all of the aforementioned parts of the introduction, the 2 testimonies and the listing of exceptional college students, have been meant to current an image of the protagonist as an necessary Hasidic determine, an impressive hyperlink within the golden chain of generations.

The booklet then briefly recounts the story of Guterman’s life, to current his individual in supernatural circumstances. It does this, nevertheless, in a moderately restrained method. A lot of the particular person voices registered right here share doubts whether or not the unorthodox recommendation of the tsaddik of Radzymin is purposeful. Typically the trail to salvation is filled with obstacles: The tsaddik scolds his followers, throws them out of his room or just denies them entry to his cheder meyuchad (a private chamber). Such circumstances are usually interpreted (not as paradoxical because it appears) as an indication of his favor.

Allow us to flip again for a second to Guterman’s early years. In line with the ebook, he was born within the city of Warka to a father who was a well-to-do mercer. Each mother and father have been recognized for his or her piety and the charity they carried out, virtues that usually characterised households of well-known tsaddikim. The purity of his mom is emphasised by a remark that she would burn the sheets after each childbirth. As a younger scholar, Guterman demonstrated distinctive studying capabilities and shortly married a daughter of a wealthy householder from Ryczywół. When his father-in-law fell into debt, the area people provided younger Guterman a rabbinic submit with a modest wage. The worsening monetary state of affairs brought on battle between the protagonist and his spouse, however salvation got here quickly with the assistance of his departed masters. One Rosh Hashanah, through the new-year service within the synagogue, he had a imaginative and prescient, by which the Seer of Lublin and the Maggid of Kozienice (one other necessary determine of Polish Hasidism on the flip of 19th century) introduced to him the modifications that have been coming. The identical yr he was provided a rabbinic place in Radzymin, a proposal that made it potential for him to grow to be a Hasidic grasp and an influential chief.

This era of Hasidic historical past caused a visual shift within the guidelines of inheritance. A rising variety of tsaddikim have been leaving their positions to a son, son-in-law, or grandson. The method of the emergence of nice Hasidic dynasties had began a lot earlier. In the course of the Napoleonic wars it was already seen in Ukraine and Lithuania, however in Congress Poland it developed with a delay of some generations, within the second half of the 19th century. An important followers of the Rebbe of Kotsk created their very own courts by gathering a noticeable variety of supporters round them. Once more, most of them began separate dynasties this manner. The shortage of such holy ancestry was disadvantageous for the tsaddik of Radzymin. The extra essential was the which means of his religious lineage. The booklet states that the second he moved to Radzymin, Guterman was already referred to as an in depth apprentice of Simcha Bunim of Pshiskhe. In line with one of many tales, the latter disclosed to him a secret identify which allows one to be raised from the lifeless. Nevertheless, Reb Simcha Bunim did so given that his younger follower would by no means avail himself of the chance. When he ultimately did make use of it, Guterman suffered a critical illness, mendacity unconscious for a few days, till he awakened and described to his kin the trial carried out towards him by the heavenly tribunal.

The power of the affiliation between Guterman and his nice predecessor from Przysucha is attested to by the narratives that comply with: Each night of Yom Kippur the tsaddik of Pshiskhe would ship his follower from Radzymin a kvitl, which was fairly a singular customized, a affirmation of the latter’s place as an autonomous chief. Each time he had many guests and wanted assist in receiving kvitlech, Simcha Bunim requested Guterman for help and said that it’s “all the identical” whether or not the supplications are given to him or to his younger counterpart. One other instance of Guterman’s shut relations with the Rebbe of Pshiskhe is a narrative during which the latter would journey to spas solely with a gaggle of his closest college students. One yr the tsaddik of Radzimin didn’t take part on this tour, however however he might inform precisely the place, when and the way his grasp carried out prayers and even smoked his pipe!

Much less typically, though in an identical method, the ebook presents shut ties between Guterman and the primary Rebbe of Ger (Góra Kalwaria), Itzhak Meir Alter. In accordance with one of many tales, the homeowners of Radzymin got here to Chidushe Ha-Ri”m, because it was named after a title of his Torah commentaries, for recommendation relating to candidates for the rabbinic publish of their city. The primary Rebbe from Góra Kalwaria steered they need to converse with a younger rabbi of Ryczywół. In response to one other story Chidushe Ha-Ri”m as soon as despatched him a pidyon, an apparent act of recognition of the protagonist’s standing as a Hasidic chief. It appears fascinating, nevertheless, that among the many tales collected in Mayses Noyroim a lot lesser consideration is accorded to Guterman’s final instructor and grasp, the Rebbe of Vurke.

One other authority who endorsed the holy standing of the tsaddik of Radzymin was the Maiden of Ludmir. The writer of the booklet devoted a whole web page to remind the readers of a prophetic present the one feminine tsaddik employed for the sake of Jewish religion. Following a narrative of an unlawful marriage between a kohen and a grushe (a lady expelled by her former husband), the ebook quotes a sworn statement, based on which the Maiden of Ludmir described younger Guterman because the one who runs round the home of prayer inflicting angels to tremble. It’s fascinating to note that one other lady, the protagonist’s personal spouse, additionally noticed a flame dancing round him throughout prayer. Nevertheless, the phenomenon disappeared simply after she brazenly described her imaginative and prescient. This motif of female acceptance of the tsaddik’s holiness requires additional research.


When the tales lastly concentrate on Guterman’s wonders, they typically cowl three elements of exercise. Based on the principles of fabric tsaddikism, strengthened by the authority of Elimelech of Lizhensk (Leżajsk) and the Seer of Lublin, a Hasidic chief is answerable for offering his followers with bene, chaye, and u-mezone: youngsters, life (or well being), and technique of subsistence. Though this ideally suited can be later criticized by the Hasidic faculty of Pshiskhe, the three parts constituted fundaments of happiness and fulfilment of a person in conventional Jewish society, and subsequently remained necessary motifs of the connection between tsaddikim and their believers. In Mayses Noyroim the group of those that might anticipate salvation by advantage of the blessing of the tsaddik could be very broad. It consists of Hasidim, who often have to cross a check of religion to accumulate the Rebbe’s help, but in addition individuals of decrease ethical standing. Based on the tales, Guterman helped a easy smith, a Jewish ignorant who took off his hat whereas visiting the Rebbe’s courtroom, overcome his infertility, in addition to a childless landowner’s spouse (a Christian, Es iz do fil goyim, loz zayn nokh a goy). When on one other event a Polish noble requested him to remedy his mute son, Guterman did so by hitting the boy with a gartel. Instantly the boy began to shout: “Tato, Żyd mnie bije!” (“Father, the Jew is thrashing me!” a phrase written in Polish with Hebrew letters)—proof that, no matter its foulness, the kid acquired the tsaddik’s blessing.

However the booklet additionally offers some intriguing particulars about Guterman’s weltanschauung. Within the case of a lady who bore a toddler within the eighth month of being pregnant, he forbade her to discuss the toddler as a nakhtl (an akhtl). Certainly the tsaddik himself shared the long-lasting perception, very a lot depending on the Ptolemaic system of the universe, in response to which an toddler born within the eighth month is extraordinarily weak (because of the affect of the planet Saturn). Even this wealthy catalogue of miracles doesn’t show, nevertheless, the tsaddik’s omnipotence. As soon as a follower introduced him a supplication within the identify of a childless brother-in-law, however regardless of intensive religious endeavours the case seemed to be hopeless. On one other event Guterman had to decide on whether or not he would assist a mom, or the infant in her womb. The reply was: Az dos lebt, loz dos shoyn lebn (Let her reside, if she lives already).

With a view to carry out acts of miracles, particularly whereas therapeutic the sick, Guterman was imagined to problem the heavenly tribunal. This problem assumed the type of discovered polemics, however each side of the trial might additionally resort to tips and deception. As soon as he satisfied the tribunal to not kill a person till he, the tsaddik himself, completed smoking a pipe. In the midst of smoking he put down the pipe and left the unfinished tobacco, so the person might reside for lengthy years. On one other go to in entrance of the tribunal he scolded and drove away a pregnant lady, who was anticipating a harsh sentence, and subsequently saved each her and the kid she was carrying.

One other common motif showing in most tales about 19th-century Hasidic leaders within the context of therapeutic is the cholera epidemic. Towards cholera, a illness that Guterman noticed within the deadliest durations of its onset, he beneficial an amulet containing the identify of Avraham’s mom (Amtalai bat Carnuvu)—a standard measure of sensible Kabbalah. It will be inappropriate, nevertheless, to categorize this Hasidic chief as a person hostile in the direction of extra refined drugs. In a number of totally different tales within the booklet he has been portrayed looking for the recommendation of recent physicians, particularly in Warsaw, each personally or by sending his shames (servant).

The brief pocket ebook abounds in testimonies of the tsaddik’s interventions aiming at making certain the monetary well-being of his followers. Guterman is depicted as an individual who is freed from the corruption which cash often brings. He has no concept about it: He’s depending on his shames and loves cash as a toddler would, unaware of its true worth. Then again, the Hasidic courtroom in Radzymin apparently had fairly strict guidelines relating to charges paid to the tsaddik for his consideration. An viewers value 25 rubels and Guterman demanded the identical sum from a childless smith, in addition to from a dealer whose cows have been dying out. When a poor man tried to haggle a decrease payment, the tsaddik advised him that he needed to pay 150 rubels and never a rubel much less. Preventing for technique of subsistence is a troublesome process, states one of many tales, as a result of because the Temple had been destroyed all the world’s wealth lay within the arms of gentiles. However, the tsaddik is able to assist Christians too, as was within the case of a Curland German guarding the Krasiński Backyard in Warsaw.

In accordance with Bergman’s sources, Guterman’s interventions on behalf of Jewish brokers have been frequent, and native nobles advised tales about an previous Jew who visited them throughout their sleep. Such circumstances created events for using his prophetic skills, as was the case when he foretold the dying of a Christian suitor for a tavern lease. As soon as once more, the tsaddik’s actions weren’t restricted to demonstrations of religious powers. He engaged in negotiations between Jewish brokers and landowners, wrote letters and suggested his followers to pay the the Aristocracy correct curiosity. A Jewish fisherman was as soon as informed by the tsaddik to fulfil all ritual obligations, particularly the night prayer on Thursday, as a result of Jewish and Christian fishers would drink collectively on Thursdays. The impact was prompt: The fisherman began to catch 800 rubels value of fish each day. Over a few years he amassed monumental wealth, however his luck modified as instantly as earlier than, when he forgot about the actual cause for his fortune.

Aside from the three elementary points of youngsters, well being and cash, there have been additionally different, kind of typical instances, that discovered their method into the booklet. The issue of sholem bayis (peace of the house) is expressed in a narrative of a dealer whose spouse seems to be wiser than he might anticipate. Additionally, the issue of obligatory conscription is addressed within the tales the place Guterman gives recommendation on tips on how to keep away from conscription or desert the military.


The order of the tales is deeply chaotic. With a couple of exceptions they often bear no title and nearly no bibliographical references, which renders troublesome the method of differentiation between testimonies gathered by the writer and older traditions. A few of them haven’t any clear reference to the protagonist. For instance, a narrative informed by “the present Rebbe of Radzymin,” heard from the grandfather of the third Radziminer tsaddik, describes the Maggid of Kozienice performing a day by day tub. The Maggid was supposed to scrub his head for the rationale of aliyat neshama: Throughout his mystical ascendances into heaven he needed to cross rivers of fireside, and afterwards used bathing to chill off the heated soul.

By the top of the booklet, a reader comes upon a piece entitled Zayne Tayere Verter (His Pricey Phrases). It constitutes a small assortment of Guterman’s sayings and teachings based mostly upon quotations taken from the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud and Rashi. This a part of the booklet resembles conventional Ashkenazi kashes (kashiyot), troublesome exegetic issues, often burdened with (at the very least obvious) illogicalities. They have been used in the middle of polemical challenges (pilpulim), and often so throughout Toyre zogn, a tsaddik’s lecture given by the Sabbath meal. One of many lectures focuses on the story of Bilaam, who, guided by God, didn’t curse the individuals of Israel however blessed them as an alternative (Numbers 23, 7-10). The tsaddik of Radzymin asks: Why has Bilaam instantly was a very good pal of the Jews, when he was none? To reply this query Guterman takes benefit of well-liked interpretations of Lurianic Kabbalah. Blessed by a depraved man, the individuals of Israel would derive their happiness from kelipot, the unclean shells of sin. This act of religious diversion was unsuccessful solely as a result of the Chosen Individuals had already been blessed by God himself.

After a number of paragraphs, nevertheless, the theme modifications, once more with none formal indication. The ultimate excerpt mentions one other occasion of proof of the prophetic skills of the tsaddik of Radzymin: When requested by a Hasid if there was any hope for a dying cantor, Guterman answered within the adverse. Inquired later by his son, Yehoshua Shloyme, he tells a narrative a few imaginative and prescient he had throughout a daytime nap. The episode finishes with none further formulation, as does the entire booklet. As an alternative of benedictions, which one might look forward to finding on the finish of a Hasidic hagiography, Mayses Noyroim is closed solely by a floristic decoration.

The tales are immersed within the actuality of Congress Poland, particularly its province of Masovia. The occasions happen in Radzymin and Warsaw, however references to different cities and villages of this area are fairly frequent. Some surnames of native nobles appear to be intriguing materials for additional research as nicely. The Yiddish language used there’s enriched with Polish phrases that don’t seem in Jewish texts originating from lands and not using a Polish-speaking majority (kuratsye, napady, kovol, drozhkazh). Additionally they bear some traces of native dialects. Furthermore, very brief quotations in Polish are recognizable and recommend that the writer was considerably accustomed to the language.


The title Mayses Noyroim means that we’re coping with an emblematic hagiography that mirrors the ma’asiyot nora’im of Isaac Luria, the eponymous big of the Lurianic Kabbalah, in addition to another Hasidic pocket books dedicated to masters and leaders of the motion. To some extent this notion holds true, particularly in relation to such attribute motifs as Guterman’s modest background, religious lineage and the wonders that he carried out. The tsaddik is ready to be in two locations on the similar time and keep invisible, because it occurred in the course of the viewers of a Basic Governor. He can see what occurs in distant places, for instance on the residence of the rabbi of Czyżew. The beforehand talked about options of a typical Hasidic story are usually current right here, though typically extra consideration is accorded to secondary characters, whereas Guterman himself appears to regulate the occasions from behind the scenes.

Nonetheless at the least the miraculous elements of the booklet seem surprisingly rationalistic so far as the circumstances are involved. Usually talking, these usually are not naive accounts impressed kind of by older traditions, however relatively testimonies of much less direct engagement of the tsaddik. The effectiveness of his interventions is usually defined by the upper ethical requirements of the previous generations. “Jews of that point have been pious”—the writer repeats a number of occasions, giving the reader an perception into the possible motives for publishing the guide. This hagiography is just not a lot about Guterman (though it accommodates scattered details about his particular person methods and customs) as about easy individuals, the “on a regular basis Jews,” who might earn the fitting to expertise wonders—simply as their fathers and forefathers did—in the event that they return to the trail of piety. The Hassidic method of Pshiskhe, emphasizing the moral virtues of a charismatic determine, is expressed even there, the place working wonders appeared to prevail.


This text first appeared in Polish in Studia Historiae Scientiarum 16:four (2017). It’s reprinted in English with permission of the writer. You possibly can assist help Pill’s distinctive model of Jewish journalism. Click on right here to donate right now.

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