Friday, December 16, 2011

The Influence of Chasidim on Orthodox Jewry

Guest Post by Bray of the Fundie

The following guest post was submitted by an anonymous blogger who - using the above pseudonym comments frequently on various J-blogs. It was originally posted yesterday on his blog, HaMavdil. The views and opinions expressed are solely his and do not necessarily reflect my own.

Today is the 19th of Kislev. It is a day celebrated by Chasidim in general as the Yuhrzeit of the Mezritcher Magid and by Chabad Chasidim in particular as the day that the Alter Rebbe (AKA the Rav and the Ba'al HaTanya) was liberated from his first incarceration in Czarist Prison and referred to as ראש השנה לחסידות . As such it got me, a non-Khusid, thinking about how Chasidish we have all become.

In pre-war Eastern Europe the various Jewish regions were basically culturally secluded from others. The Litvaks, Byelorussians and Latvians were, by and large, Misnagdim. The Germans, mostly Reform and, if observant, Hirschian. While great swaths of Poland, Galitzia, Hungary, Rumania and Ruthenia were Chasidish each region had it's own flavor of Chasidus and idiom of Yiddish.

Not so in the post war era. In almost every large Jewish population center around the world Holo-survivors of all of the aforementioned groups and their descendants began living cheek-by-jowl with one another along with indigenous frum populations that were there before the war and, at least in the immediate post-war years, attending the same schools and "intermarrying".

And so, cultural osmosis was inevitable. Yet it's clear that the Chasidim have had the far greater influence on the rest of us, in particular on the Yeshivisha velt than vice versa. Below I present a partial list of ways and mores that were once associated exclusively with Chasidim that have made great inroads among "the rest of us" (in no particular order).

Chumras in Kashrus: Cholov Yisroel and Glatt Flaisch although TBF if memory serves, Yoshon and heightened bug/ cychapod/ Toloim awareness began in Yeshivisha Kraizen.

Taareevos / Qedusha /Tznius: Mekhitzas Mekhitzas everywhere, weddings, simchas, dinners, kiddushim, buses, and they keep getting higher and more opaque. No pictures of even Tzanua women in print. No sitting in the same sections of buses. No mention of kallahs names in engagement announcements. Shortened courtship in shidduchim. Greater pre-first date screening / vetting in shiduchim. Fewer kallahs coming to the mens side during כיצד מרקדים . A shaitel being an anathema in certain quarters (primarily Chardal and Chavakuks. Although TBF I don't know f this is sourced in Chasidisha or Sfardisha influences). Suffice it to say that a generation or two ago none of this existed in Yeshivish, Yekkish and MO circles.

Levush/ Grooming: No color, lots of black and white even among the females. The doffing of ties and cuff-links. Long gatkes and no cuff shirts. Near universal peyos and many a pre-wedding beard. Khalakas-Upsherins for the three year olds. Near universal Shaitels / hair covering (yes Virginia, a generation or two ago very few MO women covered their hair at all, not to mention some other coverables, and even quite a few prominent Litvisha Rebitzens went bareheaded and smoked to boot!). RAK forbade Shtreimels in BMG. RMF allowed the use of certain electric razors. RYYR ejected bokhrim who grew beards from NIRC משום יוהרא (IINM this obtained in Telshe as well). There was nary a gartel to be seen in any Yeshiva or Young Israel. Straw hats in the summer were the norm, even among Roshei Yeshiva including some Panama Hats.

Tekheiles used to unheard of outside Radzyner survivors and a few pockets of Breslovers. While the Tekheiles that is all the rage in MO circles today is Rav Herzogs and not Rav Gershon Henikhs, it is an undeniable historical fact that it was he who began the Renaissance of this long forgotten mitzvah, and in a certain sense the whole, let's-do-mitzvos-we-haven't-done-in-decades/centuries/ millenia movement so popular today (Shiluach hakan, Yoshon, Pidyon peter khamor, Zroya V'lkhoayim wearing Tefilin the live-long day and donning them at home then walking to name a few)

Anti-Zionism: Munkatcher/ Satmar ideology on the topic is triumphant and near universal in the Yeshivisha velt. Even among Khardals there has been some serious re-examination of the cornerstones of their Religious-Zionist ideology in the wake of the Gush Qatif evacuation. This is apocryphal but I've heard tell that in 1949 in Chevron Yeshiva they said Hallel on Yom HaAtzmaut. That Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach said that going to IDF military cemeteries is visiting kivrei Tzadikim and that Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz opined that the IDF casualties were like famous martyrs in the time of the Khurban. Let's see them try and get away with that now.

Hostility to Secular Education: A generation ago at least in American Yeshiva High Schools, students received a quality secular education and more than 40-50% went on to receive University degrees. Today in boys Yeshivas secular studies are an open joke, Hanholos compete for Khashivus at least in part by how successfully they can marginalize the secular studies. Today Litvisha High School graduates are mostly functional illiterates and speak a pidgin English like their Chasidisha counterparts. Albeit with less of an accent .

Kiruv and Missionary-like desire to spread the faith: אימתי קאתי מר was once an exclusively Chasidic anthem and ethos. While it's true that Novardhok did have a missionary proselytizing zeal even before the war they have melted away into history. Any fair historian must connect the dots of all Litvisha Kiruv Yeshivas and organizations back to Chabad. The fact that young khinukh couples will occasionally move to the boonies and that "Kiruv rabbi" has now joined the list of respected Qlei Qodesh, joining Mohalim, Shokhtim, Sofrim, Rabonim, Melamdim and Roshei Yeshiva represents a sea-change in mainstream Judaisms thinking compared to 40 years ago.

Segulos: Chai Rotel Mashkeh, Amuka, Pigeons-to-cure-hepatitis, Kupat HaIr and Vaad HaRabonim marketing. Enough said.

Hagiographies: as was always the norm among Khasidim non-kasidisha Gedolim must now also be Qedoshim M'Rekhem Eemom. If they had to hide it. If they had growing pains... best to dissemble about it.

Kivrei Tzadikim: Always a big inyan by Chasidim it has gained much cache among the rest of us in the past few decades. From Carlebach fans flocking to Shlomos kever on Har Hamenukhos, to Chasidim rediscovering RJJ as a Tzadik, to invading Arab territory for Yosef Hatzadik, to Rav Pesach Krone led Heritage tours of Eastern Europe, to all the non-Chasidim on the Charter flights to Berditcehv and Lizhensk, Kever hopping has gone mainstream.

Especially universal is the Uman experience. You could roll all the mainstream and Looney-Tune sub-sects of Breslov into one, triple it and there would still be no accounting for the enormous RH crowds in Uman. It seems as though everyone is entitled to love their own stripe of Judaism....and Breslov too!

Leadership: the kind of sense of infallibility, un-challenge-ability, ability to intercede in prayer, efficacy of granting brachos, expertise in fields that they were not trained in once attributed only to Chasidic Masters is now the norm in relating to Litvisha gedolim. Ironically IMO todays Yeshivaleit have out-chasidished the Chasidim in these departments and whereas many contemporary Chasidim, especially in those Hoifen that have been riven by internal infighting and schisms, display a "healthy" skepticism towards their own leaders the average Yeshivaman is totally mevatel himself and independent thought to Daas Torah. Are their more sought after Brakhos granters or eitzeh gaibers in the world today than Rav Chaim Kaniefski ZGZ and his shver?

Ancillary to this is another originally Chasidish dimension of leadership. Goyim have celebrities who are otherwise talent free but "famous for being famous", Chasidim have almost always had some Masters who were "Leader because they led". They were not famous for Geonos or even necessarily tzidkus or for their ability to work miracles. This is especially true since dynasties became almost exclusively hereditary rather than moving from Master to Disciple. This brings me to a current event that really sparked this post. But as this post is too long for anyone to read already I'll save it for a part two. Stay tuned.

The only serious question left is: With this much הפצת המעינות why does Moshiach continue to tarry?

בא המבדיל והעמידן על אחת - "Those who cannot tolerate Havdala cannot appreciate Qedusha"