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Tsadok ha-Kohen of Lublin

(1823–1900), Hasidic master. Born in Kreuzberg, Courland, to a Latvian and Lithuanian family related to the Gaon of Vilna, Tsadok ha-Kohen (Zadok Rabinowicz) showed great promise as a child, and was married early into a wealthy family, facilitating his continued study. After a few years of marriage, however, he sought a divorce because of rumors about his wife. He eventually became a follower of Mordekhai Yosef Leiner of Izhbits. In 1888, following the death of Tsadok ha-Kohen’s friend and colleague Leibele Eger—who was, similarly, a disciple of Mordekhai Yosef and who had been a rebbe in Lublin continuing the traditions of Izhbits Hasidism—Tsadok ha-Kohen inherited his friend’s position.

During many years of “silence,” that is, the years of Leibele Eger’s “rule,” when Tsadok took no public role whatever, Tsadok ha-Kohen filled many notebooks with ruminations of varied sorts, nearly all reflecting his approach to Hasidic thought. The notes illustrate his wide erudition not only in traditional rabbinic texts, but also in kabbalistic and Hasidic literature. To all of these sources he brought a traditionally oriented critical intelligence, a gift for synthesis, a keen historical sense, and an awareness of trends in the world at large and in the world of Jewish scholarship. None of his insights is devoid of interest, but undoubtedly the most interesting from several points of view is his understanding of knowledge derived from study of the Torah.

Tsadok ha-Kohen’s teachings were incorporated within a Hasidic system strongly influenced, but not slavishly so, by Shneur Zalman of Liady, Naḥman of Bratslav, and Maharal of Prague, an ancestor. But despite the ease with which his sources can be identified, his system of thought far transcends the traditional framework out of which it grew. Unlike his teacher, Mordekhai Yosef, whose radical views on free will he mitigated, Tsadok ha-Kohen’s religious thought is marked both by a strongly historical bent and by the invocation of the personal, historical, and cosmic principle “First darkness, then light” (Be-resha’ ḥashoha’ ve-hadar nehora’): that is, failure begets success, and success or accomplishment is in proportion to the failure that preceded it. This principle, he taught, was inscribed in the cosmos: when God created the universe, darkness preceded light, and so it is and ever will be. The pattern recurs historically—as when the birth of the Jewish people in Egypt had to be preceded by a period of abject slavery—and in the lives of individuals, when great religious or secular achievements come only after great failure.

In Tsadok ha-Kohen’s view, the development of Torah paralleled that of secular wisdom—gentile or, in this case, Greek wisdom—the two unfolding apace and in parallel, in accordance with the principle of Ecclesiastes 7:14, “One opposite the other did the Lord make.” Thus, just as Babylonian magic and sorcery gave way to Greek philosophy, so did prophecy give way to Talmudic reasoning and logic—and in both cases, the later stage was superior to the earlier one. This upending of the traditional understanding of the decline of the generations was an idea that Tsadok ha-Kohen attributed to Mordekhai Yosef. The process continues, so that the arc of Torah knowledge rises and falls, culminating with the coming of the Messiah, when all will be revealed.

A dialectical oral and written process is at work as well. A written text attracts comment and interpretation, which leads to new, creative interpretations that eventually are codified with the promulgation of a new compilation, which then attracts more comment and, in turn, leads to another round of creative interpretation and subsequent compilation. This theological, historical paradigm turns up in all sorts of contexts, and runs through Tsadok ha-Kohen’s thought.

It is hard to avoid seeing an autobiographical aspect to Tsadok ha-Kohen’s writings—especially in his earliest, and arguably greatest, work, Tsidkat ha-tsadik (1902). Among his other Hasidic writings are Dover tsedek (1911) and Maḥshevot ḥaruts (1912). Two volumes of his responsa, Tif’eret Tsevi (1909), were also published. While Tsadok ha-Kohen was highly esteemed in his own time as a scholar and thinker, it does not seem that this reputation translated into a large following. The esoteric nature of his teachings may have had something to do with that, along with the split in the Izhbits Hasidic movement.

Suggested Reading

Alan Brill, Thinking God: The Mysticism of Rabbi Zadok of Lublin (New York and Jersey City, 2002); Avraham Bromberg, Mi-Gedole ha-ḥasidut, vol. 7 (Jerusalem, 1954); Yaakov Elman, “The History of Gentile Wisdom According to R. Zadok Hakohen of Lublin,” Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 3.1 (1993): 153–187; Alter Elisha‘ ha-Kohen Peksher, Sefer ha-Kohen: Masekhet ḥayav shel R. Tsadok ha-Kohen mi-Lublin (Bene Berak, Isr., 2004).