This research project is dedicated to Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin. Born in Lithuania, and a student of the Maggid of Mezritch and R. Aharon “the Great” of Karlin, he was persecuted by Misnagdim (opponents of Hasidism) and driven out of Karlin in 1786. Rabbi Shlomo had intended to stay in White Russia at the request of his followers. However, due to the resistance of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (the founder of Chabad) to this idea, he found himself unwillingly exiled to Ludmir, close to Galicia. Thus, he became one of the first exponents of Hasidism in Galicia.
These milestone places of Rabbi Shlomo’s impact – Lithuania, White Russia and Galicia – encompass a wide range of introspective historical narratives, reveal hitherto unknown events and provide fresh insight into the history of early Hasidism. A renewed analysis of these events exposes new evidence on the opposition movement to Hasidism, on fundamental disagreements regarding the Hasidic way, and on as yet unexplored intra-Hasidic controversies. It will also uncover new perspectives on the Hasidic Aliyah to the Land of Israel, as well as on the intellectual activities and customs of Tsadikim (holy leaders).
Both the academic literature and traditional scholars have insufficiently explored this chapter of the early history of Hasidut, a chapter crucial to understanding the processes leading to its development. They have failed to discern the intra-Hasidic dispute in Karlin involving the “Rabbi of Wolpe”; are unaware of the full extent of Rabbi Shlomo's massive influence in White Russia; do not realise the depth of his disagreements with Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Laidi regarding the Hasidic way, and have even largely ignored Rabbi Shlomo's vast influence on Galician Hasidism.
In contrast, an extensive examination of this topic – one which includes philological analysis of Hasidic writings, their Divre Torah (lectures on Torah subjects) and Hasidic traditional texts – of both the Karlin and Chabad traditions – can clarify more plainly the historical and ideological developments which stemmed from the encounter between the two differing approaches.
Among the issues our research will touch upon, of particular note are the connections between the wider political developments in Eastern Europe surrounding the Polish-Russian War of 1792, Rabbi Shlomo's murder in the same year, and the questions these affairs prompted within Jewish and Hasidic society; Rabbi Shlomo's relationship while in Galicia with Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotshov; and the reputation Rabbi Shlomo had in Galicia, as a “Baal Shem” (Kabbalistic master of using God's name to perform miracles), in contrast to how he was perceived in Lithuania.