Two views on Nahman's joy-filled dancing

In his biography of Nahman of Bratslav, Tormented Master, Arthur Green writes that Nahman's view of dance was completely unique within Judaism. Dance was for Nahman and his followers "a purely private ritual act," being equivalent to the mitzvot, but operating outside of the framework of the commandments. For Nahman, dance went beyond producing joy and had a divine, almost magical power. It could counteract evil in the world, working against the acts of the Russian regime and the maskilim (secularized, "enlightened" Jews).[1] about Nahman's teachings on dancing as a spiritual cure for depression: "[Nahman] was aware that (religious) joy may be regenerated from the most natural and seemingly frivolous of acts. Hence simple dance — when performed in the service of religious ends, and not purely private passions — may induce a catalytic catharsis and lead to a higher healing.... In one teaching, Rabbi Nahman stresses how depression is an illness, a hola'at, when the cords of joy are snapped and one is put in a bad temper, so to speak. The antidote or cure (refu'ah) is the joy of dance (mahol). Its circular swirl draws the heavenly Shekhinah (or feminine gradation of supernal Divinity) down to the earthly realm, where it may alight upon the sick soul (holeh) in healing union."[2]


[1] From: Green, Arthur. Tormented Master. Copyright 1996 by Arthur Green (Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing). p. 144-45.
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[2] Fishbane, Michael. "To Jump for Joy." The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, Vol. 2, no. 6 (1977). P. 375.


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