Monday, October 28, 2013

Ethical Transcendence and Hasidut: Towards a Practical Theology of Hebrew Catholic Spirituality

The famous Jewish writer on Hasidism, Martin Buber, wrote: “Among all movements of the same kind, certainly none has, as much as Hasidism, heralded the infinite Ethos of the now.”[1] This “infinite Ethos of the now” refers to the Hasidic way to holiness in the ordinary activities of the ordinary believer in the here and now. The French Jewish post –modernist philosophy and Talmudist, Emmanuel Levinas, refers to “an original ethical event” in which theology and sanctification would rendezvous and interact.[2]  Glenn Morrison a Catholic of Jewish background uses this Levinasian concept of “ethical transcendence” in developing his “Trinitarian praxis of Holiness” for Catholic theology.[3] This essay will seek, through a form of Levinasian post-modernist ‘bricolage’,[4] a rendezvous of Levinas and Hasidut (the ethical teachings of Hasidism) for a Hebrew Catholic “praxis of holiness”. This “praxis of holiness” is a practical spirituality appropriate for those Hebrew Catholics (or Catholic Jews) who desire to live out their election as Israelites in the Church in a Jewish manner.

            The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) states that “the Old Covenant has never been revoked”.[5] The United States Bishop’s Catechism until recently taught that the Mosaic Covenant had eternal validity for the Jewish people:  “Thus the covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them” [the Jewish people].[6]  Cardinal Leo Burke, the President of the Apostolic Signatura (High Court of the Vatican), stated in an interview in 2010 to the Association of Hebrew Catholics:
...We see this kind of understanding that certain observances are not contrary to the faith. Circumcision is not a denial of the Catholic faith. A certain care about eating some foods out of respect for others doesn’t deny your Catholic faith... There should not be anything in Jewish practice which is in itself a denial of the Catholic faith because everything that our Lord revealed to His chosen people was in view of the coming of the Messiah. So all of those rituals and practices understood properly are going to be able to be carried out and practiced by Hebrew Catholics, once again, with a fully Catholic faith...[7]
The late Cardinal Jean Marie Lustiger of Paris himself a Hebrew Catholic, who insisted on his continuing Jewishness, wrote:
...the Old Testament has not been “invalidated” the coming of the Messiah, but, on the contrary, has been made accessible and open to Gentiles, who without him, would not have had access to it... The Old Testament is not a propaedeutic teaching, a literary preface, nor a collection of themes and symbols: it is a true pathway, both necessary and relevant- relevant, not because of its anecdotal connections, but by communion and obedience to God, the present spiritual reality of entry in to the mystery of the Election...[8]
            Buber considered Hasidism the latest and highest development of Jewish mysticism and that it transformed the Kabbalah into ethos.[9] Father Lev Gillet a famous Russian Orthodox priest[10] of the first half of the 20th century wrote about Hasidism as important in developing a Jewish form of Christian spirituality.[11] He considered that the Hasidic concept of the mediation of the Tzadik (Rebbe) between men and God to be one area of fruitful convergence.[12]  Israel Koren writes that Buber’s interpretation of Hasidic thought “represents an interesting meeting point between the disciplines of Kabbalah and Hasidism and that of twentieth century Jewish thought.”[13] An authentically Hebrew Catholic spirituality relevant to our times would also need to take this approach in a post-modernist or post-post modernist world.

            The concept of Tzadik and Messiah are crucial to any such Hebrew Catholic theology and spirituality. Hasidism calls the Messiah the Tzemach Tzadik (the Righteous Branch) based on Jeremiah 33:15 and Zechariah 6: 12. Gershom Scholem downplayed the messianic element in Hasidism however Mor Altshuler believes that the messianic concept is central to Hasidism.[14] Altshuler states that the tradition of the Tzadik as Messiah did not begin with with the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of modern Hasidism). [15] The soul of the Messiah in Kabbalah is associated with Adam Kadmon (the Primordial Man). This Divine Man’s body parts are associated with the ten Sefirot in Kabbalah which has at its source three sparkling lights.[16] In Hasidut these ten Sefirot (Attributes/ emanations)[17] and three lights (alluded to in Genesis 1 as the ten sayings and the three fiats) become associated with the thirteen aspects or qualities of Divine Mercy (alluded to in Exodus 34:6-7).  Rabbi Yitzach Ginsburgh teaches:
...Another way of explaining the differing emphases of Kabbalah and Chassidut is to say that Kabbalah focuses on the "vessels" (kelim) of Creation while Chassidut deals with the "lights" (orot) that fill these vessels. This distinction is apparent even in the names attached to these two mystical traditions: The word Kabbalah in Hebrew is derived from the root kabal, "to serve as a receptacle or vessel," while the word Chassidut is constructed from the root chesed, "lovingkindness," an attribute often referred to symbolically as the "light of day."...[18]
These lights are the inner lights or powers of the soul.[19] The ultimate soul is the Soul of the Messiah who is Adam Kadmon.[20] Every human is made in the image of this Adam Kadmon. The Rabbis link this ‘soul or spirit of the Messiah’ with the mention in Genesis 1 of the spirit of Elohim hovering over the waters.[21]

            The thirteen midot (qualities)of  hasidut (lovingkindness or mercifulness) are shiflut (lowliness), emet (truth), temimut (sincerity), bitachon (confidence/ boldness), rachamim (compassionate mercy), yirah (fear/ awe), ahavah (love), simchah (joy), Bitul (humility/ total self negation), yichud (union), taanug (pleasure), ratzon (will), emunah (faith/ trust).[22] Through an ascent of these ethical qualities of service to the ‘other’ the Hasid serves the ‘Other’ (Avodah Hashem/ the Work of God). This is a process of Levinasian ‘ethical transcendence’ following the mystical path of the reshimu (trace or imprint)[23] which leads to each Hasid (merciful one) becoming a tzadik (righteous one) through union (devekut/ yichud) with the transcendent “Other” who is encountered immanently in the ‘other’.[24] The lived-out manifestation of the Hasidic qualities (middot) leads to a life of ‘tikun ha’kelali’ (universal reparation) and tikun ha olam (repair of the world). This Hasidic life of merciful acts and deeds of reparation parallels the concept of the  Eucharistic life mentioned by Morrison as part of his “trinitarian praxis of holiness”.[25] This “trinitarian praxis of holiness” is part of the process of divinisation and doing the acts of everyday life while living in the Divine Will.[26]

            Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan believed that Hasidut was the logical extension of the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah. Kabbalah brought man to God, Hasidism brought God to man.[27] Kaplan writes:
...The gateway to God is thus opened to everyone- even the lowliest of the low. All that is asked is that a person truly desire God-with all his heart- and that he do his very best to worship and serve Him. There is no place so degraded that God cannot be found there, and no person so wicked that he does not have a spark of Truth. All that one must do is grasp onto that spark, and he can climb Jacob’s ladder to the loftiest heights...[28]
The array of the Sefirot (with its paralleling Midot) is ‘Jacob’s ladder’ in Jewish mysticism and the New Testament hints that the person of the Messianic ‘Son of Man’ is ‘Jacob’s ladder’.[29] This is a spiral (lullim) ladder (sulam) like the stairways in the Temple, like the side-curls (payot) of the Hasid, and like the triple braids of the challah (Sabbath bread).[30]  The Midrash Mekilta states "The Torah could only be given to Manna eaters."[31] The Melkilta states that the true interpreters of Torah are the manna eaters who are linked to the heave-offering eaters (Terumah offering). The Terumah is the dough-bread or challah offering.[32] Thus the concepts of the manna and challah are united as types of the Eucharistic Bread. These both allude to the Eucharistic sacrifice and communion of the New Covenant.

            Matthew 13:33 states “Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”[33] We can give this parable a Levinasian and Morrisonian interpretation of ‘trinitarian praxis’. The three measures (portions) or braids represent the three points of the Trinitarian praxis - eschatology, Eucharistic life and ethical transcendence.[34] I would add that ethical transcendence is also the mystery of the Incarnation and Annunciation in God’s thought in immemorial or primordial time of Genesis 1, representing the Divine Blueprint.

            The first sefirah on Jacob’s Ladder is Malkhut / Shekhinah (Kingdom / Presence ) and one enters the kingdom through the midot (quality or measure) of shiflut (lowliness). This is the lowliness of a Messiah who comes riding on a donkey[35] and a lowly handmaid (shifcha).[36] Hasidic Rebbe Levi Yitzchok teaches:
...For this reason, the God revealed at the Red Sea was that of a young man [lad under the age of puberty]. A young man does not have any hair, and God appeared without any garments and not clothed in spiritual universes...This is alluded to in the teaching , ‘A maidservant [shifcha associated with Miriam] saw at the Red Sea what Ezekiel did not see in his visions’...”.[37]
This lowliness is especially associated by Hebrew Catholics with the lowliness of Our Lady in the Magnificat.[38] This concept of shiflut could be summed up as ‘humble thyself’.[39]  Shiflut also is the concepts of modesty, considerateness and sympathy.[40] The next step on the ladder is emet (truth) via the path of tav (the way of the cross) which could be summed up as ‘know thyself’. This is not just a cerebral knowing of truth but an active truth. The final three letters of the immemorial Creation account in Genesis 2:3 “BarA ElohiM la’asoT “ (God created to do) spell out the Hebrew word for truth- emet.  The Talmudic Sages believe this means we are called to be co-workers with God in the ‘doing’ (reparation/ tikkun) of His Creation.[41] This is associated with the Tzadik of Truth (tzadik emet). This Tzadik is also linked to the Hidden Tzadik of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov’s teaching and stories, who is associated with the concept of Joseph and Messiah son of Joseph.[42] This is the Tzadik who is granted the power to decree that God’s promises to Israel would be realised and put into action. [43] Everyone has the potential within their soul to be united to the Hidden Tzadik and participate in this work of transforming potential into actuality.

            The third stage on this journey of the soul of the Hasid is to the level of sincerity (temimut). This is the level of the Tam (simple, down-to earth person) who is also considered as ‘complete’.[44] Temimut has a Trinitarian application of sincerity of will (a trace of the Father), sincerity of heart (a trace of the Son) and a sincerity of action (a trace of the Spirit).[45]  The Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman and Jacob Frank all stressed their desire to be ‘tam’ or a simple Jew. The fourth stage of Hasidut is bitachon which is having boldness or confidence in asking God for what one or others need.[46] The fifth stage is rachamim (compassionate mercy) in which one identifies with the life situation of the ‘other’ even though he appears unworthy of that compassionate mercy. At the stage of rachamim one feels so much for the ‘other’ that he sees himself as an extension of the ‘other’.[47] This has a real Levinasian thrust to it.

            The next two stages are yirah (reverential fear or awe) and ahavah (love) that are like two wings of a bird.[48] These two midot together, lead to compassionate mercy which is linked to the sefirah of Beauty (Tiferet). The word ahavah (love) is thirteen in gematria and ahavah is linked to the sefirah of chesed and the thirteen aspects of Divine Mercy. Simchah (joy) is the eighth stage and one of the major qualities that outsiders notice about the Hasidim, especially the Breslov Hasidim.  This joy is called omek acharit (depth of the future) which is the joy of the world-to-come and can be linked to the concept of eschatology in Morrison's “Trinitarian praxis of holiness”. This future or eschatological joy manifests in the ‘now’ as Eucharistic life and leads one to healing of wounds and hurts and their roots in the immemorial past of ethical transcendence. It a sense this is where joy and melancholy rendezvous.[49] One medical study reported in 1990 19 cases of personality disorders among the Breslov Hasidim. Of the 19 cases only one was born into a Breslov family, the rest were adult converts, many who had served in the army. This study reveals little, except that wherever there is spiritual life and loving acceptance of those who are different, they will be drawn to that life and seek healing there. [50] Gillet states that the free, happy and cheerful disposition of the Hasidim remind him of Franciscan joy.[51] The trust in Divine Providence and seeing all is for the best “good” in Hasidism is also like the early Franciscan spirituality.[52]

            The ninth level is called Bitul (self negation or selflessness) associated with the Sefirah of Wisdom (Hokhmah). There are two aspects to this higher humility of Bitul. Bitul ha yesh is the lower Bitul in which one can work on surrendering their independent being or somethingness (yesh). This may have a Levinasian application.[53] The higher form of bitul is bitul b’metziut in which one is given the gift to become “nothing’ and spiritually and mystically merged with all Creation.[54] The tenth aspect of Hasidut is Yichud (union/ togetherness) which Catholic mysticism calls the mystical betrothal or marriage. This is linked to the Hidden Sefirah of Da’at (Knowledge of the Divine Will).[55] Beyond this are the three sparkling lights (tzach tzachtzachot) associated with ta’anug (Divine Pleasure or Desire to Create), ratzon (Divine Will to Create) and emunah (Faith or Trust). This is another form of Trinitarian praxis. Ginsburgh links the term Emunah to Man hu (literally Who is He) and Manna[56] and for the Hebrew Catholic this gives the concept of emunah a Eucharistic focus.

             It is now time for Hebrew Catholics to experiment with their own form of Hebrew Catholic spirituality and theology that could include an Hasidic paradigm that would be appropriate to a post-modernist generation,[57] that could enrich the whole Church- both Jews and Gentiles.  I consider the Breslov teachings of Rebbe Nachman and his openness to others the best form of Hasidism for a start in this endeavour but also drawing from other Hasidic and non-Hasidic strands of Judaism, and from Catholic mysticism and spirituality. The Modern Orthodox (Dati Leumi) under the inspiration of Rav Shagar has successfully used, through a post modern lens, Rebbe Nachman and certain aspects of Hasidut and the teachings of Rav Kook, for a new flowering of creativity in spirituality in the areas of poetry, art and music.[58] This would be also an effective approach for Hebrew Catholic theology and spirituality.

            There is much more detail needed in order to fully understand Hasidut and the lifestyle of the Hasidim in their numerous dynasties with their differing emphases. Along with a Hasidic input, Levinas’ philosophical concepts, that have a Jewish origin, could be a helpful philosophical source for the development of a Hebrew Catholic theology and spirituality. Then with the development of Levinas’ concepts in Catholic theology by Morrison into a “Trinitarian praxis of holiness”, united with the best of the phenomenological approach, could lead to an exciting adventure in this development of a living and life-giving form of Hebrew Catholic theology and spirituality. Hasidism and especially the concepts of Breslov Hasidism have universal (catholic) appeal. This may help bring us to that time when the mother-form of Catholic Faith[59]- the church of the circumcision[60]- will be returned to its ‘full’ glory and place of honour in the ‘fully’ universal Church (Kehilla K’lali).[61] This ‘fullness’ of a mystical ‘resurrection from the dead’ should lead to a new flowering of creativity in art, music, poetry, science, dance and literature as well as an outpouring of spiritual and mystical fire in tune with the earlier Hasidic and Franciscan movements that will bring great joy to the ordinary believer whether Jew or Gentile.

 [1] Quoted in Lev Gillet, Communion in the Messiah, (Cambridge: James Clarke & co, 1942), 147.
[2] Glenn Morrison, “A Theology of Alterity: Levinas, von Balthasar and Trinitarian Praxis” (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press, 2013), 212.
[3] Morrison, “A Theology of Alterity: Levinas, von Balthasar and Trinitarian Praxis”, 211-212.
[4] Liesbeth Korthals Altes, “A Theory of Ethical Reading” Theology and Literature: Rethinking Reader Responsibility (Palgrave Macmillan; Gordonsville VA, USA, 2006), 17.
[5] CCC 121
[6] It was removed recently from the Catechism due to the confusion of some Catholics that it was promoting a “dual covenant”. The Bishop’s spokesman stressed that it was not being removed because it was theologically wrong but they had decided it needed more theological explanation than was appropriate in this kind of Catechism.
[7] “An Interview With Archbishop Raymond L Burke” The Hebrew Catholic No. 88, (Winter 2010-2011), 34.
[8] Cardinal Jean Marie Lustiger, The Promise, (USA:Erdmans Publishing, 2002), 72-3.
[9] Gilya Gerda Schmidt, Martin Buber's Formative Years: From German Culture to Jewish Renewal, 1897-1909 (Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1995), 97.
[10] Father Gillet drew on the teachings of Paul Levertoff a former Hasidic Jew who became an Anglican priest and was one of the editors of the Socino “Zohar”..
[11] Gillet, Communion in the Messiah, 141-147.
[12] Gillet, Communion in the Messiah, 147.
[13] Israel Koren, The Mystery of the Earth: Mysticism and Hasidism in the Thought of Martin Buber (Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 210), 189.
[14] Mor Altshuler, Messianic Secret of Hasidim, (Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2006), 3.
[15] Altshuler, Messianic Secret of Hasidim, 4.
[16] St Faustina of the Divine Mercy revelations also speaks of these three lights within the Godhead and God’s attributes.
[17] St Maximus the Confessor calls them energions or logoi. Blessed Raymond Lull also calls the Attributes logoi.
[18] Rabbi Yitzach Ginsburgh, Basics in Kabbalah: The Powers of the Soul to Experience God,
[19] Ginsburgh, Basics in Kabbalah: The Powers of the Soul to Experience God,
[20] Rabbi Raphael Afilalo, Kabbalah Dictionary: Translation and Explanation of the Kabbalah (Kabbalah Editions; Quebec, 2005), 25,46-7.
[21] Genesis Rabbah viii. 1.
[22] Ginsburgh, Basics in Kabbalah: The Powers of the Soul to Experience God,
[23] Morrison, “A Theology of Alterity: Levinas, von Balthasar and Trinitarian Praxis”, 212-217.
[24] Ephraim Meir, “Judaism and Philosophy: Each other’s Other in Levinas” Modern Judaism, Vol. 30 #3 (Oxford University Press, October 2010), 357.
[25] Morrison, “A Theology of Alterity: Levinas, von Balthasar and Trinitarian Praxis”, 226-7.
[26] As found in the writings on Divine Will of the Servant of God Luisa Piccarreta.
[27] Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, The Light Beyond: Adventures in Hasidic Thought, (New York/Jeruslaem:Maznaim Publishing corporation, 1981), 2.
[28] Kaplan, The Light Beyond: Adventures in Hasidic Thought, 3.
[29] John 1:51
[30] Linked to the parable of the leaven discussed in the next paragraph.
[31] Midrash Mekilta, Beshalach 17.
[32] Rabbi C Chavel (translator), Ramban Nachmanides: Commentary on the Torah, Genesis (Brooklyn, NY: Shiloh Publishing House, 1999), 20-21.
[33]  KJV. Also found in Luke 13:21.
[34] Morrison, “A Theology of Alterity: Levinas, von Balthasar and Trinitarian Praxis”, 210-54.
[35] Sanhedrin 98a based on Zechariah 9:9 whee it states that the Messiah is a humble Tzadik
[36] Associated with Rachel. Miriam the sister of Moses and Our Lady.
[37] Kaplan, The Light Beyond: Adventures in Hasidic Thought, 48.
[38] Luke 1:46-55
[39] James 4:10 and Exodus 10:3
[40] Gillet, Communion in the Messiah, 143.
[41] Ginsburgh, Basics in Kabbalah: The Powers of the Soul to Experience God,
[42] Likutey Moharan 67
[43] Ginsburgh, Basics in Kabbalah: The Powers of the Soul to Experience God,
[44] Ginsburgh, Basics in Kabbalah: The Powers of the Soul to Experience God,
[45] In Hebrew Temimut ha ratzon (sincerity of will), temimut ha lev (sincerity of heart) and temimut ha ma’asseh (sinceirtity of action).
[46] Ginsburgh, Basics in Kabbalah: The Powers of the Soul to Experience God,
[47] Ginsburgh, Basics in Kabbalah: The Powers of the Soul to Experience God,
[48] Ginsburgh, Basics in Kabbalah: The Powers of the Soul to Experience God,
[49] Morrison, “A Theology of Alterity: Levinas, von Balthasar and Trinitarian Praxis”, 210-54.
[50] “A very Narrow Bridge:Diagnosis and Management of Mental Illness among Bratslav Hasidim” Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, Vol 27 (1), (Spring 1990), 124-131.
[51] Gillet, Communion in the Messiah, 143.
[52] Rabbi Ozer Bergman, Where Earth and Heaven Kiss: A Guide to Rebbe Nachman’s Path of Mediation, (Jerusalem/ New York:Breslov Research Institute, 2006), 188-189.
[53] Morrison, “A Theology of Alterity: Levinas, von Balthasar and Trinitarian Praxis”, 36-37.
[54] Ginsburgh, Basics in Kabbalah: The Powers of the Soul to Experience God,
[55] Ginsburgh, Basics in Kabbalah: The Powers of the Soul to Experience God,
[56] Ginsburgh, Basics in Kabbalah: The Powers of the Soul to Experience God,
[57] Alan Jotkowitz, “And Now The Child Will Ask: The Post Modern Theology of Rav Shagar” Tradition 45.2 (Summer, 2012), 51.
[58] Jotkowitz, “And Now The Child Will Ask: The Post Modern Theology of Rav Shagar”, 61.
[59] Louis Bouyer, The Church of God: Body of Christ and Temple of the Spirit (USA: Fransican Herald Press, 1982), 568.
[60]  Lustiger, The Promise, 125.
[61] Romans 11
“An Interview with Archbishop Raymond L Burke” The Hebrew Catholic No. 88, (Winter 2010-2011), 34.

“A very Narrow Bridge: Diagnosis and Management of Mental Illness Among Bratslav    Hasidim” Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, Vol 27 (1), (Spring 1990), 124-131.

Catechism of the Catholic Church USA: CEPAC, 1994.

Afilalo, Raphael (Rabbi). Kabbalah Dictionary: Translation and Explanation of the Kabbalah Kabbalah Editions; Quebec, 2005.

Altes, Liesbeth Korthals. “A Theory of Ethical Reading” Theology and Literature: Rethinking Reader Responsibility (Palgrave Macmillan; Gordonsville VA, USA, 2006), 15-28.

Altshuler, Mor. Messianic Secret of Hasidim, Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2006.

Bergman, Ozer (Rabbi) Where Earth and Heaven Kiss: A Guide to Rebbe Nachman’s Path of       Mediation, Jerusalem/ New York: Breslov Research Institute, 2006.

Bouyer, Louis. The Church of God: Body of Christ and Temple of the Spirit USA: Franciscan          Herald Press, 1982.

Breslov, Rebbe Nachman of. Likutey Moharan Vol 8 (Lessons 64-72), Jerusalem/New York:         Breslov Research Institute, 2005.

Chavel, C. (translator), Ramban Nachmanides: Commentary on the Torah, Genesis Brooklyn, NY: Shiloh Publishing House, 1999, 20-21.

Gillet, Lev. Communion in the Messiah, Cambridge: James Clarke & Co, 1942.

Ginsburgh, Yitzach (Rabbi). Basics in Kabbalah: The Powers of the Soul to Experience God,   

Jotkowitz, Alan. “And Now The Child Will Ask: The Post Modern Theology of Rav Shagar” Tradition 45.2, Summer, 2012, 49-66.

Kaplan, Aryeh (Rabbi). The Light Beyond: Adventures in Hasidic Thought, New York / Jeruslaem: Maznaim Publishing Corporation, 1981.

Koren, Israel. The Mystery of the Earth: Mysticism and Hasidism in the Thought of Martin             Buber (Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 210), 189.

Lustiger, Jean Marie (Cardinal). The Promise, USA:Erdmans Publishing, 2002.

Meir, Ephraim. “Judaism and Philosophy: Each other’s Other in Levinas” Modern Judaism, Vol. 30 #3 Oxford University Press, October 2010.

Morrison, Glenn. “A Theology of Alterity: Levinas, von Balthasar and Trinitarian Praxis” Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press, 2013.

Schmidt, Gilya Gerda. Martin Buber's Formative Years: From German Culture to Jewish             Renewal, 1897-1909 Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1995.

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