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Natan Sternhartz of Nemirov

(1780–1844), disciple of Naḥman of Bratslav and disseminator of his teachings. Natan Sternhartz served as informal leader of the Bratslav Hasidic sect following his master’s death. He was never considered to be the rebbe of the community, however, and Bratslav Hasidim thus remain faithful to the group’s founder.

Sternhartz, who came from a well-to-do and Misnagdic family, met Naḥman and became his disciple in 1802, after having made disappointing visits to various other Hasidic courts. In Naḥman he found a master with the combination of seriousness of spiritual purpose and understanding of human failings that addressed his own needs. Throughout his last years, Naḥman relied heavily on Sternhartz, especially as the editor of his teachings. Although Sternhartz represented himself as Naḥman’s chief disciple, there is evidence that not all of Naḥman’s other followers, including some of his earliest disciples, accepted his leading role.

The same was true after Naḥman’s early death. Sternhartz lived in Bratslav for most of the following 35 years and led the community from there; however, some of Naḥman’s disciples stayed outside his sphere of influence. Sternhartz devoted himself fully to the task of publishing and disseminating Naḥman’s teachings and biography, recording the latter in great detail and treating the account as a sacred narrative. Sternhartz also wrote his own memoirs (Yeme Moharnat), which were published many years after his death, in 1876.

Sternhartz’s most important work is Likute halakhot (ca. 1846–1861), a wide-ranging commentary on Naḥman’s thought and an application of it to daily religious life, following the order of the Shulḥan ‘arukh. In addition to editing Naḥman’s writings, he also published a collection of original prayers (Likute tefilot), following Naḥman’s adage to “make my teachings into prayers.” Sternhartz also wrote a fierce anti-Haskalah booklet, Kin’at ha-shem tseva’ot (The Zealous Lord of Hosts).

There was considerable conflict revolving around Bratslav Hasidism during the era of Sternhartz’s leadership. Haskalah writers considered the Bratslavers, who were extreme in their behavior and lacking in political power, to be fair game for the most derisive of their polemics, beginning with Yosef Perl’s Megaleh temirin (Revealer of Secrets; 1819). Other Hasidic groups also attacked them, however, and the term Misnagdim, when found in Bratslav writings, generally refers to these anti-Bratslav Hasidic groups. From 1835 to 1839, Mosheh Tsevi of Savran led a particularly vicious campaign against the Bratslavers, calling for their total excommunication from Jewry.

This period of trials for Bratslaver Hasidim is recorded in Avraham Ḥazan’s Yeme ha-tela’ot (Times of Tribulation; 1933). Following Sternhartz’s death, the Bratslav community was led by Naḥman of Cheryn, one of the few Bratslav Hasidim who served as a communal rabbi and av bet din (head of the court), who also edited and published several of Sternhartz’s writings.

Suggested Reading

David Assaf, Breslav: Bibliyografyah mu‘eret; R. Naḥman mi-Breslav, toldotav u-morashto ha-sifrutit (Jerusalem, 2000); David Assaf, “Ashre ha-nirdafim: Ha-Ma’avak be-ḥaside Breslav,” in Ne’eḥaz ba-sevakh: Pirke mashber u-mevukhah be-toldot ha-ḥasidut, pp. 179–234 (Jerusalem, 2006); Chaim Kramer, Through Fire and Water: The Life of Reb Noson of Breslov (Jerusalem and New York, 1992); Mendel Piekarz, Ḥasidut Breslav (Jerusalem, 1995), pp. 259–267.