A review of "Saturday Night, Full Moon"

by Yanki Tauber

author of Beyond the Letter of the Law, The Inside Story, Once Upon a Chassid, and

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 Zevin’s 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 institute’s periodicals and e-mail lists, thirty-three have been included in this volume, the first of a promised three-volume series.

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.


Amazon Rivkah Lambert Adler Batya Medad Daniel Keren

Now available for purchase:
through ASCENT-in-Safed or Menorah Books (the publishers).


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