Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Joseph Weiss, Amos Weisz and Gershom Scholem: 50 Years of Reflection on Hasidism

23 September 2019–24 September 2019, 6:30 pm–4:00 pm

Joseph Weiss

A conference organised by the Institute of Jewish Studies, UCL

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







The Institute of Jewish Studies


Gordon House 106, 29 Gordon Square
& IAS Forum, Ground Floor, South Wing, UCL
Gower Street
United Kingdom

Fifty years ago, in August 1969, one of the world’s most distinguished historians of Hasidism took his own life at the age of 51. This was Joseph Weiss, described by his teacher, the great scholar of Kabbalah Gershom Scholem, as his closest and most talented disciple. A great mind in his all-too-brief life, Weiss was a fascinating character, well worth recalling today in his productive years of scholarly work, his tortuous relationship with religious faith, his sickness and his tragic death.

Born in Budapest to a Reform Jewish family, he studied in Jerusalem with Scholem at the Hebrew University, eventually becoming Professor of Hebrew and Director of the Institute of Jewish Studies at University College London, where he was soon recognised as one of the most prominent Jewish Studies scholars in England and beyond. But his career, as well as his personal life, were marred by mental instability and marked by radical shifts between an Orthodox lifestyle and secular nihilism.

His only son, who inherited from his father his sensitivity for language and penetrating observation, became a poet, taking the Hungarian spelling of the name: Weisz But he was also bequeathed his father’s depressive illness. In 2008 Weisz jumped from his 12th-story flat, taking his own life after years of struggle.

As Kabbalah and Hasidism continue to attract the attention of scholars and laymen alike, Weiss’ work is arguably more relevant today than it was when he was alive. His investment in questions of faith and doubt and his interest in religious radicalism and heresy remain very much a part of the contemporary discourse in the study of Hasidism and Jewish spirituality.

Above text with acknowledgements to an article by Shaul Magid and Noam Zadoff. Please find the article here.

 As well as marking the anniversary of Weiss’s tragic death this conference celebrates the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the Institute of Jewish Studies, UCL




Venue: Gordon House 106, 29 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0PP

  • 18.30  Opening remarks
  • 18.45   KEYNOTE LECTURENoam Zadoff (University of Innsbruck): On Guilt, Shame and Succession of Generations: Joseph Weiss, Amos Weisz and Gershom Scholem


Venue: IAS Forum, Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS), South Wing, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT

  • 09.30   Opening remarks 
  • 09.45   Zvi Leshem (National Library of Israel, Jerusalem):  ​Joseph Weiss: Trailblazer in Hasidic Research
  • 10.30   Ada Rapoport-Albert (UCL):  Between Faith and Mysticism in Joseph Weiss’ Concept of Hasidism
  • 11.15   Coffee break
  • 11.30   Chani Smith (Leo Baeck College):  “Via Passiva” and “Via Activa” through the prism of R. Naḥman of Bratslav’s nigun
  • 12.15   Lily Kahn (UCL): The reception of Nahman of Breslev’s Tales (Sippure Maʿaśiyotin contemporary Hasidic society  
  • 13.00   Lunch break
  • 14.30   Tali Loewenthal (UCL): Mystical Transactions and the Habad Hasidic Discourse
  • 15.15   Ian Fairley (Leeds University): Father's Son: A Reading of Amos Weisz
  • 16.00   Tea