review of "Saturday Night, Full Moon"
by Yanki Tauber
author of Beyond the Letter of the Law, The Inside Story, Once Upon a Chassid,
translator of Opening the Tanya by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz-Eben Yisrael
With Saturday Night,
Full Moon, Yrachmiel Tilles has produced a rare gem: a work of authentic
Chasidic storytelling. Chasidic stories are very popular, and quite a number
of volumes have been produced in answer to that popularity. Most of them, however,
tell these stories either as fanciful fairy tales, or as moralizing lessons.
In either case, the reader is condescended to, and cheated of the unique experience
that imbibing a Chasidic story can be. As a rule reader seeking an authentic
Chasidic storytelling experience could only turn to such Hebrew classics as
Shivchei haBesht and Zevins Sipurei Chasidim, or to English translations
of these classics. What Tilles has done is produce an original English work
in the tradition of the great masters of the Chasidic story. Certainly, there
is drama and mystique, and life lessons aplenty, in Tilles renditions;
but first and foremost, these are presented as true-life stories (or at the
very least--as per the famous Chassidic adage--stories that certainly could
have happened) which draw the reader into the enchanted yet very real world
of faith, passion and joy that is the universe of Chasidic life.
Saturday Night, Full Moon
is a volume that is long overdue. Tilles has been penning these stories, which
he adapts from various written and oral sources (including a few which he heard
directly from the protagonists themselves) for decades, in his capacity as literatus-in-chief
at the legendary Ascent institute of Safed. Of the nearly 1,000 stories Tilles
has produced through the years for the institutes periodicals and e-mail
lists, thirty-three have been included in this volume, the first of a promised
Not every story in this
collection is, strictly speaking, a Chasidic story. The first four stories in
the book feature Safed Kabalists of the 16th and 17th century, predating the
Chasidic movement by more than a century. But the voice and atmosphere is that
of classic Chasid storytelling. Indeed the reverse is also the case: the mystique
of holy city of Safed, whose rarified air Tilles has been breathing for these
past 36 years, wafts through the entire work, lending a Kabalistic flavor to
the other thirty stories as well. Tilles may well have invented a new genre--the
Kabalistic-Chasidic Story--whose enchanting blend of spiritual aromas may well
explain the why a new Tilles tale in the e-mail inbox is such a weekly delight
for his thousands of subscribers.
Add to that Tilles
attention to detail, his meticulous sourcing for each story, background bios
of the sages and rebbes who people the stories, and a plethora of other useful
tools and addendums, and we have a work that is sure to become a classic of
modern Chasidic literature.
available for purchase:
or Menorah Books (the publishers).