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Distributed for Brandeis University Press

Defender of the Faithful

The Life and Thought of Rabbi Levi Yitshak of Berdychiv

Distributed for Brandeis University Press

Defender of the Faithful

The Life and Thought of Rabbi Levi Yitshak of Berdychiv

The first scholarly biography of Levi Yitshak of Berdychiv in English in over thirty-five years.
Defender of the Faithful explores the life and thought of Levi Yitshak of Berdychiv (1740–1809), one of the most fascinating and colorful Hasidic leaders of his time. This is an intellectual and religious biography, a reading of the development of his thought and career. Featuring examples of Levi Yitshak’s extraordinary texts alongside insightful analysis by scholar and theologian Arthur Green, Defender of the Faithful is a compelling study of both Levi Yitshak’s theology and broader philosophy.

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“Arthur Green, a modern master of Jewish thought, explores the life and thought of Rabbi Levi Yitsḥak, one of the towering, formative figures in early Hasidism. In Green’s lucid presentation, Levi Yitsḥak emerges as a mystic, but also a realist who faces the fact that we live in a world seemingly not guided by divine will. Boldly, Levi Yitshak claims that a righteous individual can actually implant a new will within God. A fascinating, profound book.”

Daniel Matt, author of Becoming Elijah: Prophet of Transformation and the multivolume annotated translation The Zohar: Pritzker Edition

“A brilliant intellectual biography of a spiritual hero, a leading eighteenth-century Hasidic master and leader, a mystical revolutionary thinker who took upon himself to act in a world seemingly not guided by divine intervention, hidden or revealed. Skillfully and felicitously written by one of the world’s leading scholars of Hasidism, it presents new dimensions of the thoughtful, profound, and original author of Kedushat Levi (1798), and contextualizes the mystical-Hasidic phenomenon in the spiritual and historical circumstances in which it evolved.”

Rachel Elior, John and Golda Cohen Chair in Jewish Philosophy, Hebrew University

“In this stunningly interesting study, Arthur Green sets aside the legendary Levi Yitshak of Berdychiv in pursuit of the historical figure, whose life and thought Green explores with his signature combination of extraordinary erudition and finely-honed sensitivity to the psychological and spiritual dimensions of classical Hasidism. A wonderfully crafted landmark study of a seminal figure, richly contextualized and bringing to light many of the complexities that characterized Hasidism in its early stages of development.”

Lawrence Fine, author of Physician of the Soul, Healer of the Cosmos: Isaac Luria and His Kabbalistic Fellowship

“Arthur Green blends meticulous historical scholarship with delicate textual analysis and poetic writing to help us understand anew the life and teachings of one of the most important leaders of early Hasidism, a daring theologian who was also remembered as a popular spiritual hero and an iconic Jewish leader. Much like his pathbreaking intellectual and religious biography of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, Green inspires us again. This book is a must read for scholars and seekers alike!”

Biti Roi, Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, and author of Love of Shekhina

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments

Part I: Levi Yits?ak as Hasidic Leader
1. The Life and Times of an Eighteenth-Century Rabbi
2. Levi Yits?ak in the Maggid’s Circle: The Challenge of Leadership
3. First Steps: The Evidence of Shemu‘ah Tovah
4. The Hasidic Tsaddik and the Quest for Models
5. The Mezritch Circle: A Later Look

Part II: Mystic Disciple and Teacher
6. Translating the Transcendent
7. The Mystic and the Religious Revival
8. The Question of Miracles
9. An Emerging Religious Personality
10. Power and Pleasure in Serving God
11. Defending the Commandments
12. Interpreting Torah
13. Looking into the Future?

Abbreviations Used in Notes

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