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Portraits of anarcho-Judaism
Author: Hayyim Rothman

The previously unexplored legacy of religious anarchism in traditional Jewish theology is examined for the first time in this book. Probing the life and thought of figures whose writings have gone largely unread since they were first published, Hayyim Rothman makes, in the first place, a case for the existence of this heritage. He shows that there existed, from the late nineteenth though the mid-twentieth century, a loosely connected group of rabbis and traditionalist thinkers who explicitly appealed to anarchist ideas in articulating the meaning of the Torah, of traditional practice, of Jewish life, and the mission of modern Jewry. Supported by close readings of the Yiddish and Hebrew writings of Yaakov Meir Zalkind, Yitshak Nahman Steinberg, Yehuda Leyb Don-Yahiya, Avraham Yehudah Hen, Natah Hofshi, Shmuel Alexandrov, and Yehudah Ashlag this book traces a complicated story about the intersection, not only of religion and anarchism, but also of pacifism and Zionism, prophetic anti-authoritarianism, and mystical antinomianism. Bringing to light, not merely fresh source material, but uncovering a train of modern Jewish political thought that has scarcely been imagined, much less studied, No masters but God is a groundbreaking contribution.

Hayyim Rothman

This chapter considers the life and work of R. Samuel Alexandrov. Raised in a Habad hasidic home and having attended elite institutions of rabbinic learning, this fascinating figure played a leading, and often notorious, role in the great debates of his day. Both maskil and mystic, he developed an idiosyncratic religious philosophy, combining hasidic thought, kabbalistic tradition, and cultural Zionism with German idealism, the Russian sophiology of Vladimir Solovyov, and Proudhon’s anarchism. The chapter begins with a discussion of Schellingian influences on Alexandrov’s thought and proceeds to an analysis of Alexandrov’s Spinoza/Schelling-inspired epistemology. It then proceeds to trace his ideas as to the fall and redemption of mankind and the way he synthesizes kabbalistic and Schellingian sources to articulate it. In essence, it involves the shattering and eventual restoration of the individual ego and the Absolute. His understanding of this process is then used to frame his notions of cosmopolitan nationalism, the mission of Israel, the abrogation of the law, pacifism, and diasporism. The chapter concludes by examining the way such ideas shaped Alexendrov’s Zionism.

in No masters but God
Hayyim Rothman

This chapter discusses the life and thought of R. Yaakov Meir Zalkind. His journey led through the elite institutions of Eastern European rabbinic learning, the Western European university, the ferment of London’s East End, and finally to British Mandate Palestine. In these wanderings, R. Zalkind accumulated the ideological material — Zionism, pacifism, communism, and anarchism — with which he progressively constructed his own unique worldview. Both the theoretical content of that view and also how he applied it in his career as an activist, journalist, translator, and communal rabbi are considered. It is argued that in spite of his apparent eclecticism, Zalkind’s fundamental commitments remained consistent and that he drew on various ideologies to defend them.

in No masters but God
Hayyim Rothman

This chapter considers the life and work of R. Judah Ashlag. Well known for his voluminous commentaries on the Zohar, Ashlag has, until recently, been largely dismissed by the scholarly community. The chapter begins with discussion of recent scholarly efforts to rehabilitate his image. It then proceeds to examine less appreciated elements of Ashlag’s thought. Namely, the libertarian socialism that he defended on religious grounds. Analysis begins with a discussion of Schopenahauer’s influence on Ashlag and the way that the kabbalist addressed Shopenhauerian pessimism by introducing a dichotomy of wills. Not merely a directionless force, will is subject to a dialectic: a divine will to give, a creaturely will to receive. This distinction leads to a moral division between egoism and altruism. Like Schopenhauer, who envisioned a mystical or mythical overcoming of the ego, Ashlag advocates mystical connection to God. Ashlag’s use of the dichotomy between egoism and altruism to critique state socialism and to promote libertarian socialism grounded in religious insight and practice is then addressed. The chapter concludes with a discussion of Ashlag’s understanding of Jewish nationalism and the Jewish mission as informed by his theology.

in No masters but God
Hayyim Rothman

This chapter discusses the nexus of Tolstoyan anarcho-pacifism and Jewish tradition in the life and thought of R. Yehuda-Leyb Don-Yahiya. Beginning with a discussion of his biography and role in the foundation of Mizrahi, the religious branch of the Zionist movement, it proceeds to discuss his belief that the value of non-violence constitutes the core and essence of Judaism and of Jewish identity. The centrality of faith both as a mode for articulating human fraternity, and also for supplying it with firm existential foundations, is then examined. Don-Yahiya’s sympathy with the revolutionary cause and his insistence that this much came about via a revolution of the heart is then addressed. The chapter closes with analysis of Don-Yahiya’s efforts to ground the Tolstoyan prescription for social and political change through passive resistance in Jewish sources.

in No masters but God
Hayyim Rothman

This chapter discusses the life and thought of Isaac Nahman Steinberg. The scion of an enlightened rabbinic family, steeped in traditional learning, he went on to study law in Western Europe. Ultimately returning to Russia, he participated in the 1917 Russian revolution and, as a member of the Left-Socialist Revolutionaries assumed — prior to the Bolshevik coup — the position of Commissar of Justice as an openly observant Jew. Recent scholarly interest has alighted on his later leadership of the Territorialist movement, but here focus is placed on his largely anarchistic vision for what Jewish autonomy would look like. The chapter begins by examining his efforts to formulate a concept of Jewish tradition that is both authentic and mutable, such that it is able to inform efforts to synthesize morality and politics. Steinberg’s views on revolution are then addressed, followed by a discussion of his approach to revolutionary violence and his critique of Bolshevik and Tolstoyan camps alike. This is followed by an analysis of his views on the link between socialism and anarchism, the anarchization of the Jewish world, and the idea of the Jews as a vanguard people. Finally, his reflections on Zionism are considered.

in No masters but God
Abstract only
Paul Fouracre

Here the origins of the use of light in worship are traced back to the Mosaic books of the Old Testament. How the injunction to keep a light burning at all times was adopted into Christianity despite opposition. The gifts the Emperor Constantine made to churches for lights are discussed against the background of declining oil production in the later Roman period. Early evidence from Italy, Spain, England and France is discussed and comparative analysis of the spread of the lights is made. There is emphasis on the economic background and discussion of the emergence of localized production of olive oil, alongside a switch to wax as an acceptable substitute fuel for the lights.

in Eternal light and earthly concerns
Abstract only
Paul Fouracre

The Conclusion to this study returns to the initial question of the social and economic consequences of maintaining a light burning at all times in the church. It outlines the ways in which, as the costs were spread throughout society, the consequences grew. Society was not structured around the lighting, but providing for the lights did have an effect on social structure in certain circumstances, such as the rise of the censuales in Germany, or the organization of parishes around guilds. Comparison was made with other cultures, and it was observed, finally, that the lighting of candles to signify eternity was comforting, and common. The huge number of candles lit to mark the death of Diana, Princess of Wales make the point.

in Eternal light and earthly concerns
Elite practice
Paul Fouracre

This chapter shows how resources dedicated to the lights were institutionalised in the different parts of Europe. This was against a background of an increasing shortage of olive oil. Miracles which related to the shortage are analysed. Frankish charters of immunity receive close attention for they show how rulers invested the lights. The situation in France, Italy and Spain is compared in order to investigate what the social consequences were of making people contribute to the costs of the lights.

in Eternal light and earthly concerns
Belief and the shaping of medieval society
Author: Paul Fouracre

In early Christianity it was established that every church should have a light burning on the altar at all times. This unique study is about the material and social consequences of maintaining eternal lights. Never before has the subject been treated as important to the political economy, nor has it been explored over the whole medieval period. The cost of maintaining the lights meant that only the elite could afford to do so, and peasants were organised to provide funds for the lights. Later, as society became wealthier, a wider range of people became providers and organised themselves into guilds or confraternities in support of the church and with the particular aim of commemorating their members. Power over the lights, and over individual churches, shifted to these organisations, and, when belief in the efficacy of burning lights was challenged in the Reformation, it was such people who were capable of bringing the practice of burning eternal lights to a sudden and sometimes violent end. The study concludes that the practice of keeping a flame on the altar did indeed have important material and cultural consequences. Because it examines the relation between belief and materiality at every turn, the book also works as a guide to the way in which Western Europe developed, from the decline of the Roman Empire to the advent of the Protestant state.