Doctrine of the distant tzaddik: Mysticism, ethics, and politics

Tsippi Kauffman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This essay examines the notion of the tzaddik in the religious teachings for Rabbi Avraham of Kalisk. It argues that scholars must draw a distinction between the teachings that R. Avraham conveyed directly to his disciples in Tiberias, represented by the published homilies, and his letters, which were sent to his disciples abroad. These corpora represent different— if imbricated—dimensions of his theological legacy. Moreover, rather than seeking to identify either mysticism or ethics as the fundament of his teaching, this essay examines themes such as faith, cleaving to God, love and fear of Him, tzimtzum [divine contraction], and self-nullification feature prominently, along with loving one’s fellow, equality, the divine within the human, humility in one’s relations with others. Careful review of the letters shows that as a “distant tzaddik,” R. Avraham had to pursue a dual approach: he needed to consolidate his authority and spiritual abil-ities while simultaneously relaxing his hold on them, trusting them, and strengthening their companionship.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)182-216
Number of pages35
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

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  • Ethics
  • Hasidism
  • Mysticism
  • Religious leadership
  • Tzaddik


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