Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Rabbi Nahman’s scribe, Nathan Sternhartz of Nemirov, wrote a biography, edited two volumes of the Rabbi’s sermons and ethical teachings and a collection of his prayers, and transcribed his stories. Nahman had ordered that his writings be destroyed in 1808; his disciples refer to this as The Burned Book.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Rabbi Nahman’s achievement lies in the faith that his stories inspired. Powerfully spiritual, his work became the guiding force for the Bratslav sect of the Hasidim. As writer Howard Schwartz noted, Rabbi Nahman’s view was that “every act, no matter how small, held potentially great significance.” In many cases, Rabbi Nahman’s work was not original; rather, it was often adapted from much older Russian and Ukrainian folklore. His quest was to create religious allegories that would hold deep significance to the ordinary human condition. As he wrote in the introduction to his story “The Losing of the King’s Daughter,” “I told this story and everyone who heard it had thoughts of repentance.” Ultimately, Rabbi Nahman’s literary success stemmed from his use of major theological issues to stimulate thought while disguising them as entertainment.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Green, Arthur. Tormented Master: A Life of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav. University: University of Alabama Press, 1979. This text is widely acknowledged as the definitive biographical work on Rabbi Nahman. It includes a chronology of his life and a special section, entitled “Excursus II: The Tales,” on the stories. Green includes detailed notes, including the schema he used for the transliteration of Hebrew and Yiddish. A useful glossary is helpful for non-Yiddish or non-Hebrew speakers. Both the primary and the secondary bibliographies are extensive, and an index is included.

Kaplan, Aryeh. Until the Mashiach: Rabbi Nachman’s Biography: An Annotated Chronology. Edited by Dovid Shapiro. Jerusalem, Israel: Breslov Research Institute, 1985. An extensive biography of Nahman, with indexes.

Liebes, Yehuda. Studies in Jewish Myth and Jewish Messianism. Translated by Batya Stein. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993. Rabbi Nahman is examined in the volume, part of the SUNY Series in Judaica. Includes bibliographical references and an index.

Nahman of Bratslav. Nahman of Bratslav: The Tales. Edited by Arnold J. Band. New York: Paulist Press, 1978. This edition of Rabbi Nahman’s stories is invaluable for the accompanying commentary and biography provided by Band. The commentary goes story by story, and Band is scrupulous in his translations and interpretations, making this text a good English version to consult. A brief bibliography and a detailed index are included.

Polsky, Howard W., and Yaella Wozner. Everyday Miracles: The Healing Wisdom of Hasidic Stories. Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson, 1989. Polsky and Wozner present the cultural and theoretical background to Hasidic short fiction, including the role of the stories in Hasidic society. They use a multitude of different Hasidic stories to illustrate their points. Contains an appendix on the linguistic foundation of Hasidic stories, a glossary, a transliteration guide, references, a title list of the stories used, and an index.

Wiesel, Elie. Souls on Fire. New York: Random House, 1972. Wiesel devotes a complete chapter to Rabbi Nahman, including in it biographical details and examples of his work. Wiesel evaluates the tales from a religious, mystical perspective within the context of Hasidism. Includes a synchronology of all the Hasidic masters profiled in the book as well as some historical background notes.

Wiskind-Elper, Ora. Tradition and Fantasy in the Tales of Reb Nahman of Bratslav. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998. Examines the themes of fantasy and tradition in the short fiction. Provides bibliographical references and an index.