Tuesday, June 23, 2020

On Chasidism- Everybody Dumps on Chasidim but We Can't Do without Them!

Everybody Dumps on Chasidim but We Can't Do without Them!

       "Did the Hasidic Jewish community in New York bring coronavirus upon itself by refusing to cancel in-person Purim megillah readings?

That’s the narrative being pushed by The New York Times, which, in a news article, reported, “Celebrations of the Jewish holiday of Purim, which fell on March 10 this year, were canceled by many Reform, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox synagogues. But many Hasidic groups observed the festival, drawing people to gatherings where they may have been exposed to the virus.”

Then, the rest of us get blamed

Mayor De Blasio oversaw the dispersal of a large, tightly packed Hasidic Jewish funeral Tuesday night and lashed out at the mourners who had gathered in defiance of social distancing rules intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
“My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed,” de Blasio tweeted after police dispersed the funeral in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

(PS-De Blasio is not Anti-Semitic ,and is friendly with the Hasidic leaders ( who in turn, bring him votes, but he is known to get off base) but he is getting in hot water with them now)

New York Orthodox Jews make up HALF of all US plasma donors volunteering blood to help treat COVID-19 patients as the community turns 'tragedy into a superpower'.  More than 12,000 donors have signed up to various community programs donating blood plasma since April 4, donor organizers told the New York Times. Orthodox Jews from New York are 'punching way above their weight' when it comes to donating, one medic said .Several grassroots initiatives have sprung up in local New York communities, with the word spreading via synagogues and community newsletters .Experts and leaders say the drive comes from the community's traditional close-knit approach and the importance the religion places on human life. Borough Park, Williamsburg and Crown Heights in Brooklyn are all home to large Hasidic communities and they have all recorded high virus infection rates
[Note: latest data show Chasidic neighborhoods actually had rates comparable to other districts and better than other lower income districts in New York]

To be honest, we, urban, American Jews, have had a difficult relationship with our Chasidic cousins.

Eli the Fanatic, Philip Roth: ( better known for his pornographic" Portnoy's Complaint:": ) https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/eli-fanatic

Summary: Written after Holocaust, based on story of Haredi Jews who come to a NY town and are not made welcome by the community. In the real story, of Nitra yeshiva, the enemy is gentile, In Eli the Fanatic, the enemy is us, modern Jews
Roth singles out the Hasid's black suit as a highly visible sign of being a Jew ,a symbol of what assimilating Jews have tried to forget and, ironically, what they need to remember: their link to Judaism and their tie to victims of anti-Semitism. Eli Peck, lawyer persuaded by his fellow secular Jews to evict the Hasidim from encroaching on their territory.. . . the survivor gives Eli his black coat. After Eli impulsively dons the black garb, a transformation ensues. Slowly Eli becomes aware, perhaps for the first time, of what it has meant to be a Jew—the ostracism, the persecution, the stigma of being different, and also the fierce commitment to a moral code that involves compassion, charity, and a sense of justice."

So , about Chasidism:

It is the Jewish rebellion par excellence against the Jewish establishment- if they flout the laws, in US or Israel-it is an outcome of this tendency to rebel.
It is also a continuation of a major strand in Judaism which is most in line with the kind of religiosity of mystic movements, like the Sufi in Islam, an emphasis on the overwhelming sense of the presence of God,

Chasidism , therefore, was in direct conflict with Talmudic mainstream Judaism, classic Jewish philosophy, conflict with modern Jewish liberal trends of thought, conflict with the leading Orthodox Rabbis, even till now. Looked down upon, suppressed by Jewish leadership. It was especially so in the aftermath of the disasters of Shabbtai Zvi in the generations before and Jacob Frank in the early decades of Chasidism. For example, the founder of Chabad Chasidism , Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, a major Talmudic scholar, was  thrown in jail by the Jewish establishment, followers of the Gaon Rabbi Elijah of Vilna.. Only in 20th century, did it find a voice in mainstream Jewry:
 a) Martin Buber, from the outside, looking in
 b) Rabbi  Abraham Joshua Heschel, from the inside, breaking out
 c) Gershom Scholem, from the academic viewpoint.
d)  Rabbis Shlomoh Carlebach and Zalman Schachter- Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out
.[Note: I served as Rabbi Heschel’s student secretary for a year while in Rabbinical School. Rabbinical students at the Jewish Theological Seminary at that time were on full free tuition, but in exchange, had to do several hours a week of administrative help. My friends got to file papers in cabinets; I got to handle his correspondence with the Vatican and type pages of his manuscript on the Kotzker !]

Chasidism is not a unitary movement, so much as an attitude, therefore, that encompasses extremes, from very open, radical Breslav, mission to the Jews like Chabad, outgoing, or new age, like Aleph, the movement of R Zalman Schachter & Shlomoh Carlebach, or very hidebound, like Gerer Chasidim, or very rejectionist, Satmar, or absolutely bizarre, like the polygamous Lev Tahor cult, hiding out in the jungles of Guatemala.

Its origins lay  in the failure of both Kabbalistic and Talmudic Judaism to satisfy the spiritual hunger among East European Jewry that came after the devastation of the Chmielnicki pogroms in 1648, then the betrayal of  the false Messiah, Shabtai Zvi ( and later, Jacob Frank), and the beginnings of the attack of rationalism on religion, the European Enlightenment.

Israel ben Eliezer (ca. 1690–1760), known as the Baal Shem Tov ("Master of the Good Name", acronym: "Besht"), is considered the founder of Hasidism. Born apparently south of the Prut, in the northern frontier of Moldavia, he earned a reputation as a Baal Shem, "Master of the Name". A Baal Shem was a writer of amulets to bring God’s blessings- The Baal Shem earned the “ Tov” because of the virtue of his character. He moved to  Medzhybizh and became recognized and popular in all Podolia.

The geographic roots of Chasidism-  the realms of Galicia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Podolia and Volhynia in Tsarist Ukraine

Hasidic practices were distinct from mainstream Judaism in several ways. Hasidism brought Jewish mysticism to the masses, something that had traditionally been kept somewhat secret and restricted to a pious and learned few. It de-emphasized Jewish study in favor of Jewish practice, particularly prayer, and embraced a culture of folk tales that often had elements of magic and miracles. They would intentionally bend some Jewish practices, like the blade of the shochet (razor-blade sharp), or the times of prayer ( no fixed time, as God doesn’t have a clock). Hasidic Jews also blended Sephardic and Ashkenazic elements. a) rejected the traditional Ashkenazi prayer text and embraced a version that drew from both Ashkenazi and Sephardic sources, "Nusach Ari", attributed to the Kabbalist “ Ari”, Rabbi Isaac Luria . b)  Adoption of the long side curls, apparently influenced by Jews from Yemen that Chasidim met in Israel when they went to study Kabbalah.

Some key elements
1) Concepts from  Kabbalah- panentheism ( God pervades all space and matter)- nitzotzot hakodesh, the sparks of the Holy  that are found in all the universe, even in the darkest corners, that must be elevated through prayer and practice-dos pintele yid, the hidden Jewish spark in every Jew, even the worst- devykus, cleaving of the soul to God, combined with “bitul ha yesh”, self-effacement 2) The centrality of the tsadik, the righteous soul that is connected to higher realms and brings them down to the people.3) The art of story telling 4) Music- the nigun, melody, 5) the dance, tants because “kol atzmotai”, all my bones shall proclaim (from Psalms).
Look at some examples

Krakow Nigun-wordless melody- Carlebach

Dveykus-Cleaving to God-R Elimelekh of Lizhensk

Song of a Tsadik-Chabad Rebbe Schneerson

Dance- Lag B omer at Merom