Second Thoughts: Unknown Yiddish Texts and New Perspectives on the Study of Hasidism

In: Zutot


This study explores an important Hasidic manuscript rediscovered among the papers of Abraham Joshua Heschel at Duke University. The text, first noted by Heschel in the 1950s, is a collection of sermons by the famed tzaddik Judah Aryeh Leib Alter of Ger (d. 1905). These homilies are significant because they were transcribed by one of his disciples, in many cases capturing them in the original Yiddish. Comparing this alternative witness to Alter’s own Hebrew version (called Sefat emet), printed shortly after his death, reveals substantive differences in the sermons’ development, structure, and themes. But the manuscript’s importance extends beyond a critical new perspective on Alter’s teachings. It offers a snapshot of the processes behind the formation of Hasidic books, and calls for scholars to consider the unavoidable divergences between Hebrew and Yiddish, between orality and textuality, and the transmission of ideas from a teacher to his disciples, vectors of change that inhabit all Hasidic literature.

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