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Publishing in the Spirit of Unity: Four Hasidic Masters

In April of 1977, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel stood before the Notre Dame community and spoke about Hasidic Judaism—a tradition dear to his heart. His lectures marked the ninth occurrence of the Ward-Phillips Lecture, an event still hosted annually by Notre Dame’s English Department. Through the course of his address, Wiesel probed the interior lives of four great Hasidic masters (or “rebbes” as they were known to their communities), revealing the profound psychological challenges faced by those called to be leaders of their faith. Amid such a massive undertaking, these individuals persevered in their commitment to their calling and to their community. Wiesel’s Ward-Phillips Lecture stands as a profound moment in Notre Dame’s history as well as a monumental meeting between two great world religions: Judaism and Catholicism.

In celebration of Notre Dame Press’s 75th anniversary, we reflect on the deep privilege it was to publish Elie Wiesel’s lectures in book-form as Four Hasidic Masters and Their Struggle Against Melancholy (recently published afresh with a new introduction by Rabbi Irving Greenberg). This publication, and the occasion that it commemorates, beautifully illustrates the Press’s power to act as a force for good in the world.

The foreword to Four Hasidic Masters, written by Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, reflects on the magnitude of Wiesel’s visit to Notre Dame, highlighting his remarkable ability to inspire the ND community despite cultural and religious differences. Wiesel indeed addresses his audience in a spirit of connection and reverence for the distinctions between Judaism and Catholicism. Rather than glossing over or ignoring these differences, Hesburgh reflects, Wiesel leans into them, seeking to build bridges of understanding between two communities of faith. As Hesburgh writes, “there is a wholeness in the union of the two traditions, a wholeness which cannot so clearly be gained as long as the traditions remain separate and unable to speak genuinely to one another.”

Notre Dame Press is proud to play a part in engendering this wholeness. In line with Notre Dame’s Catholic mission and identity, we seek to elevate all that is good and holy in the world’s religious traditions, and we cherish the opportunity to highlight the important work of Elie Wiesel—an indispensable voice of 20th century literature and a profound spokesperson for the Hasidic Jewish tradition. To quote the introduction-writer Rabbi Greenberg, “Catholics as well as Jews, Christians as well as seekers of every faith, can learn from this book how faith and doubt, love and despair, melody and angst, can coexist.”

We hope that all who pick up this book will feel the spirit of unity that Wiesel’s lectures so strongly exemplified.

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