Thursday, February 23, 2017

In Praise of Chassidic Folly

And reason—what of reason? Does the Chassidic advocacy of holy folly entail an hysterical leap into the irrational? Far from it.

 “Make me not the reproach of fools!” (Psalms 39:8)

Now this is not the place to summarize, much less givean account, of what Western philosophers since Immanuel Kant have developed from various angles as the critique of reason. Suffice it to say that,since the sun of the Enlightenment began to set at the end of the 19thcentury, when the application of reason in the sciences was just beginning to pick up speed, reason in its broadest parameters has no longer been regarded as the only, or even the exemplary, means of access to the truth. As Hamlet warns his best friend: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” This “more” embodies the critical point of the Chassidic critique of reason, namely that reason is not wrong—reason is just not enough. There is more.

Like the Maccabee resistance to the spiritual empirethat Alexander built on Aristotle’s ideals, what the Chassidic doctrine of holy folly is suspicious of, in other words, is the hegemony of reason,reason as a totalitarian intellectual regime, wherein the Torah is submitted to a reductionism in which only the rational and sensible precepts ofthe Torah pass muster, and everything else must be discarded as nonsense. In this regime, by the same token, the temperature of a Jew’s passionate love for G‑d’s Torah is humbled by reason’s supercilious gaze, lowered to a cool, dispassionate, scientific,all-too-sensible approach to truth.

What the Chassidic doctrine of holy folly is suspicious of, in other words, is the hegemony of reason.

If the nostalgic reluctance to loosen the hegemony of reason, which still holds some Western academic minds enshackled, has been thrown off by the best Western philosophers of the last century, the academic training of the mind’s eye, the discipline that trains the mind to see with its own intellectual vision,holds it back from practising a certain self-nullification that would allow it to share, periscopically, as it were, in the vision of an eye above the mind.The latter praxis belongs to the discipline of Chassidic thought.

Commentary on the work Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohnby Michael Kigel  

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