top of page

Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav: The Tales

Saturday, March 6, 2021, 6 pm Pacific

Facilitator: Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak will teach on the stories of R. Nachman, focusing on The Lost Princess and The Seven Beggars.

The critic and translator Ruth Wisse wrote that Jewish civilization seems to depend "on the relation of the Jewish people to its sacred teachings." But what is a sacred teaching?

It isn't necessarily found in the classical-canonical core of the tradition. Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, one of the most important figures of the early modern period, was an oral storyteller. He told his stories in Yiddish. Not Hebrew or Aramaic.

And yet Nachman's stories, persona, and influence--all in the vernacular--have acquired a near-canonical status among generations of his followers. Today, in the annual pilgrimage of thousands of Hasidim to Uman,

Ukraine, to venerate the Master's teachings and memory, the sacred element burns.

It would not be far fetched to say that Nachman of Bratslav was, and remains-- like his great-grandfather, The Baal Shem Tov--a bona fide Jewish folk hero. Hasidism was, and remains, an Ashkenazi folk revitalization movement. Nachman's stories are, in this sense, a remarkable artifact of Jewish cultural experience and moral imagination, as refracted through the mind of a spiritually striving Hasid.

From a literary standpoint, Rabbi Nachman's tales are not typically read for lyricism or technique. When recited at Lubavitcher and some other Hasidic weddings, the performance is typically cursory and terse. A brief reference is enough, since the stories are already known to the listeners. The fantastical and paradoxical content of Nachman's stories is what captures both the religious and literary imagination.

Rabbi Beliak recommends Marianne Schleicher 's book, Intertextuality in the Tales of Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, attached below, as a path into the forest of images and plot twists in R. Nachman's tales. Schleicher reveals the dense intertextuality of the thirteen tales, focusing on Nachman's style of embedding stories-within-stories that trace back to the Biblical canon.

Intertextual analysis can be applied not only to Rabbi Nachman's and the Jewish sacred tradition's past but also forward, beyond Rabbi Nachman's place and time. Allusions to Nachman's stories and persona appear frequently and with central significance among works that YSIT has been reading: Dara Horn (The World to Come), S. An-sky (The Dybbuk), and, soon, Der Nister (The Family Mashber).

These streams of intertextuality, the spiritual quest and the literary imagination, moving backward and forward in time, keep Rabbi Nachman's stories alive as a resource for the Jewish people.

-- Gelya Frank


Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak was ordained at Hebrew Union College in 1976. At the Claremont Colleges, as Chaplain and Hillel rabbi, he mentored scores of students and colleagues, with whom he and his family are still close today. Rabbi Beliak steered his career as social justice activist and teacher with unusual independence and vision. His projects have included: StopMoskowitz: Justice for Hawaiian Gardens and Jerusalem; Jewish-Palestinian and Interfaith Relations; First Amendment Rights and Freedom ("Jews on First"); and Jewish Renewal in Poland. Not least, he is co-founder of Yiddish Schmoozers in Translation.


"JOY is not merely incidental to your spiritual quest. It is vital." --R. Nachman, Breslover Website


What to read:

Read "The Thirteenth Tale: The Seven Beggars" in the translation by Arnold Band titled Nahman of Bratslav: The Tales (see cover image above). If reading more, include "The First Tale: The Lost Princess." Also be sure to read Band's Introduction and notes on these stories at the back of the book. Used and new copies on Amazon:

New! Sources added 3/1/21, and Message from Haim:

"The Arnold Band edition of the stories is quite adequate for participating in our gathering. . .

For those who want to go deeper, I have added four additional readings. The two short essays by Rabbi David Sears are "official" explanations of the stories from the Breslov publishing center.

The David Roskies article is a good general background to the Hassidic phenomena in the context of Rabbinic Judaism's development. Shaul Magid is an incredibly versatile thinker and his essay while a bit challenging is the most convincing explanation of the stories.

Also, Rodger Kamenetz' Burnt Book , comparing Rabbi Nachman and Franz Kafka, Chapter 10 ,and many other places provide important contextual information."

Download • 145KB

Download • 1.01MB

Rabbi David Sears Nahman of Breslov Part
Download • 79KB

Download • 42KB

As previously posted, here is the work by Marianne Schleicher, in which you might read The Seven Beggars, pp. 543-618.

Intertextuality in the Tales of Rabbi Na
Download • 2.79MB

Images below: The gravesite of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav in Uman, Ukraine, and pilgrims praying at Uman. For more information about the pilgrimage as a recent phenomenon, go to

100 views0 comments


bottom of page