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January 08 , 2010

Men of Silk: The Hasidic Conquest of Polish Jewish Society


Hasidism, a kabbalah-inspired movement founded by Israel Baal Shem Tov (c1700-1760), transformed Jewish communities across Eastern and East Central Europe. In Men of Silk, Glenn Dynner draws upon newly discovered Polish archival material and neglected Hebrew testimonies to illuminate Hasidisms dramatic ascendancy in the region of Central Poland during the early nineteenth century. Dynner presents Hasidism as a socioreligious phenomenon that was shaped in crucial ways by its Polish context. His social historical analysis dispels prevailing romantic notions about Hasidism. Despite their folksy image, the movements charismatic leaders are revealed as astute populists who proved remarkably adept at securing elite patronage, neutralizing powerful opponents, and methodically co-opting Jewish institutions. The book also reveals the full spectrum of Hasidic devotees, from humble shtetl dwellers to influential Warsaw entrepreneurs.

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