“But Me No Buts”: The Theological Debate Between the Hasidim and the Mitnagdim in Light of the Discourse-Markers Theory

In: Numen

The linguistic theory of discourse markers may often help us to decipher the roots of theological controversies in traditional cultures, where both of the parties declare loyalty to the same doctrines. According to this theory, if two sentences are coupled by “but,” the conjunction bears the implicature that the statement that comes after the “but” is the one that the speaker wishes to emphasize, or grant salience over the statement that comes before it. Examined on the theological texts of the Hasidim and the Mitnagdim, the theory is proved useful: for the Hasidim, statements on the Simple Unity of God are placed after “but,” while the Mitnagdim place statements on the multiplicity in which it appears in our world.

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  • 1

    See Chiarcos Claus and Grabski 2011:1–30; Errington 1988:149–151; Verschueren 1999:173–175.

  • 6

    Jacob Joseph of Polnoe 1781:55a. See also Jacob Joseph of Polnoe 1781:88a. This is cited with some light modifications by Aharon of Apta (1795:5a–5b). This parable has many parallels in hasidic literature. For a detailed discussion of different interpretations see Brown (Hoizman) 2009 esp. 114–115.

  • 9

    Jacob Joseph of Polnoe 1780:20a 129c. For additional sources reflecting this approach see Menachem Mendel of Gorovtchov 1938: section 2 n. 4.

  • 10

    Jacob Joseph of Polnoe 1781:99b. The editor of the collection Baal Shem Tov Al HaTorah holds that the allegory was not offered in the original source as an answer to “the philosopher’s question” and that the connection between them was mistakenly made by the printers. See Menahem Mendl of Gorovtchov 1938:252–253. Lacking any proof or evidence his argument appears to be apologetic.

  • 20

    See also Jacob Joseph of Polnoe 1781:54b. In Kabbalah the name “Lord” is attached to the attribute of ḥesed (lovingkindness) which reflects the divine measure of unity; ḥesed is also called “gedulah” i.e. greatness.

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