by Alan Brill
I was recently recommended to read the volume Menachem Ekstein, Visions of a Compassionate World: Guided Imagery for Spiritual Growth and Social Transformation (Urim 2001) (Hebrew: Netzah 1960) based on the original Tennai Hanefesh leHasagat HaHasidut (Vienna, 1921).
I was told the book is an essential part of modern Hasidism along with the Piesetzna Rebbe. (In a recent PHD on the latter, there is a chapter on Ekstein.)
The book is a 1920s volume of guided imagery – image the sun, the entire planet, the animal kingdom, see all the fish in the sea. Then see your place on earth. Open yourself up to growth and infinite potential, see the potential for change and overcoming one’s limits. Avoid negative thoughts and images that hold you back. The goal is to wake up the senses and this is defined as Hasidism. As I was reading it, I realized that I read these visualizations before. They are from Jean Huston’s The Possible Human: A Course in Extending Your Physical, Mental, and Creative Abilities (1982). Jean Huston is a 1980’s hero of New Thought incorporating many 1920’s classic visualizations in her work. There are similar elements in Alice Baily Shakti Gwain, and Warren Kenton. A quick google search of any of the visualizations yielded dozens of new age sites with the same visualizations. I do not know which works Menachem Eckstein actually read in 1920’s Germany, I could not find a list of German New Thought books online (I already tried Wiki in German.)
I have been told from other sources that the book is very popular in the neo-hasidic national- religious Habakuk crowd, especially the hilltop youth. There is even a CD to listen to the visualizations. This book offers a traditional Hasidic version of new age. It authenticates their individualistic spiritual quests.
It is hard to see it as a Hasidic work, even if the author is a son of a Galitzianer Hasid because the book is printed in Vienna using modern Hebrew and the last chapter is a vision of a restored state of Israel after the Balfour Declaration.
After WWI, many Hasidim entirely left the tradition to become Zionists, Bundists, secular educated or just left to enter the modern world.
But there were also those, especially in Poland’s cities like Warsaw that remained somewhat Hasidic as they entered modern life. There were Hasidic journalists and authors, or least aspiring authors, and there was even a Hasidic boxing columnist . Some continued the traditional garb but living modern lives and other changed their garb but remained loyal in their hearts. The modern city makes all this possible. We could use a good study of interwar Warsaw. Hasidic story writers infused new vitality into Hasidic stories by using Rumi, the Golden Legend, and 1001 Arabian nights. Others advocated Kibbutz Hadati Torah veAvodah as a Kotzker holy rebellion against the establishment. This era rejected the stolid Hasidism of their parents 1880-1920, but still were sociologically part of the Hasidic world. Menachem Ekstein seems part of this world. He took the Western European NEW THOUGHT and metaphysical visualizations and cast it as the way of Hasidism.
If anyone knows more about him, then please let me know. I have just been informed that there is a someone working on him for an MA.
But should we call this inter-bellum period the post-hasidic?
The original text of the article may be found here.