Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters

by Elie Wiesel

Book, 1972



Call number

213 WIE


New York, Random House [1972]


"In Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters, Elie Wiesel reenters, like an impassioned pilgrim, the universe of Hasidism. "When I am asked about my Jewish affiliation, I define myself as a Hasid," writes the author. "Hasid I was, Hasid I remain."" "Yet Souls on Fire is not a simple chronological history of Hasidism, nor is it a comprehensive book on its subject. Rather, Elie Wiesel has captured the essence of Hasidism through tales, legends, parables, sayings, and deeply personal reflections. His book is a testimony, not a study. Hasidism is revealed from within and not analyzed from the outside." ""Listen attentively," Elie Wiesel's grandfather told him, "and above all, remember that true tales are meant to be transmitted - to keep them to oneself is to betray them."" "As a critic appearing on the front page of The New York Times Book Review has written, "The judgment has been offered before: Elie Wiesel is one of the great writers of this generation." Wiesel does not merely tell us, but draws, with the hand of a master, the portraits of the leaders of the movement that created a revolution in the Jewish world. Souls on Fire is a loving, personal affirmation of Judaism, written with words and with silence. The author brings his profound knowledge of the Bible, the Talmud, Kabbala, and the Hasidic tale and song to this masterpiece, showing us that Elie Wiesel is perhaps our generation's most fervid "soul on fire.""--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member StephenBarkley

Every time I set this book down after reading a chapter or two I was filled with an odd sense of melancholy mixed with frustration, but above all, sadness.

Hasidic Judaism, one of the branches of Orthodox Judaism, began in 1700 with the birth of Israel Baal Shem Tov. In Souls on Fire, Wiesel
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paints biographic sketches of the major figures in Hasidism, filling the chapters with stories, parables, and larger-than-life personas.

My biggest surprise was the cavalier attitude that the Hasidic masters had towards God. Instead of approaching God in reverence, some of their attitudes were stunningly arrogant! Take Israel of Rizhin for example. On approaching God in prayer he said, "I am not a slave come to ask favors of the king. I come as a counselor to discuss matters of state" (158).

The thing that had the greatest impact on me was the constant longing and despair at the non-arrival of the Messiah. The pages are filled with Hasidic Masters stating how if only [insert condition here] then the Messiah would come. Their extreme boldness plays a role here, too. Some of the Masters believed they could make force the Messiah to arrive if only ...

Perhaps because of this unfulfilled longing for the Messiah, "all [of the masters], to varying degrees, struggled against melancholy" (106). Instead of reading about the life of "Souls on Fire," I learned about the lives of smoldering wicks trying to maintain hope in the face of an apparently uncaring deity. I'm unsure how much of this attitude is true of the Hasidic Masters themselves and how much is imposed by Wiesel—a man who has endured more than anyone's fair share of suffering (see: Night).

In the end, my Christian narrative—that the Messiah has indeed arrived and was largely unrecognized by his own people—added a level of pathos that made the book difficult to read.
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LibraryThing member rondoctor
Elie Weisel is sympathetic to the Chasid movement, and counts himself one of them. However, my overall impression after reading this book is that the much revered Tsaddikim he describes were suffering from bipolar ... alternating bouts of ecstasy and depression abound in his descriptions of their
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lives. Weisel liberally sprinkles quotations from the masters throughout the book, but these quotations and their accompanying parables come across as amateur pop psychology. In the end, I can understand the attraction of Chasidism in its time and place, but Weisel's descriptions of the Chasidic masters'' behavior and self-justification do not benefit the cause he propounds. The book has too much repetition and appears too trite. Surely there must be more to Chasidism than this.
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0394464370 / 9780394464374

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