The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav Reads Sefer Ha-Brit

The lecture is dedicated to the early Maskilic encyclopaedic treatise by Pinkhas Halevi Hurwitz «Sefer Ha-Brit» (1797) and its influence on the texts of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav.
The ambivalent position of Pinkhas Hurwitz, bearing the ideas of the early Haskalah, on the one hand, and seeking to make them acceptable to the orthodox Jewish reader, on the other, has made the book very popular, including in the Hasidic circles.
Many researchers (M. Piekarz et al.) have pointed out that Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav quotes or draws facts or opinions from that book. Later Bratslav texts contain many references to it.
But how does Rabbi Nachman use the knowledge he has gained from that treatise?
The lecture presents the result of analysis of about 40 quotes from «Sefer Ha-Brit» in «Likutei Moharan», «Likutei Sikhot» and other early Bratslav texts. The quotations were analysed by subject, method of quotation and way of use.
It shows that, in most cases, Rabbi Nachman quotes the fragments on natural science of XVII-XVIII cent. (such as gravitation, the nature of fire, air and water, meteorological phenomena, as well as human physiology). Special attention is paid to the issue of how Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav uses these quotations in the structure of his sermons. Most often, new knowledge of natural laws is used to construct analogies with the mechanisms of Divine worlds. In some cases the sermon by its structure could be read as a mystical interpretation of the ideas of the modern European physics, taken directly from «Sefer Ha-Brit». The correspondence between the order of sermons in some parts of «Likutey Moharan» and the order of sections of «Sefer Ha-Brit», quoted in them, allows to suggest that reading this popular encyclopedia may have influenced the structure of «Likutei Moharan»