Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Frumkeit Chase: Emulating Chasidim

RMF and wife in the JO (Somehow Frum
One of the things that has disappointed me about the direction Orthodox Judaism is taking is the way the Lithuanian Yeshiva world has embraced the trappings of Chasidus. One may say that the Yeshiva world is not Chasidic in any way. On the surface, that may seem to be the case. But if one looks at what has happened over the last several decades, one cannot help but see a major shift from the way the Yeshiva world of the past to the Yeshiva world the present. Which has taken on many of the trappings of Chasidim.  

I am absolutely convinced that the influence of Chasidim in America has changed the face of the Lithuanian Yeshiva world into one that hardly differs from the Chasidic world in some very important ways. Chumros that never existed in the Yeshiva world are now de rigueur because that influence.

There are so many examples of this - I don’t even know where to begin. Just to cite one that comes to mind is the idea that a Rosh Yeshiva or Mashgiach is given icon status. This, I beleive is a direct result of Chasidic influences. This has stripped the ability of some Yeshiva student of their ability to make decisions on even trivial  matters. The Rosh Yeshiva, or Mashgiach, or Rebbe has taken on an Aura of Chasidic Rebbe in this sense. Many Yeshiva students see their Rosh Yeshiva as having so much Torah knowledge and Yiras Shomayim (fear of heaven) that they are seen as the  closest thing to God. Much the same way Chasidim see their Rebbe! This is not the way Lithuanian Roshei Yeshiva were seen in Europe.

This is an ongoing process that seems to have no end. And yet when the subject is broached the Yeshiva world seems to think that either it has always been that way, or that they are returning to the way it used to be before modern influences affected them.  

There is not a doubt in my mind that the great melting pot called America is responsible for this in the following way. Chasidim in Europe generally lived in different geographical locations. There were exceptions to this, but I think it was mostly the case. So their influences on each other were minimal. There was also a residual (or at least subliminal) animosity by the Lithuanian Yeshiva world against Chasidim left over from the era of the Gra who was a vigorous opponent of Chasidim.

That division no longer exists. Nor does that animosity - it appears. America has no real geographic barriers that between Chasidim and Lithuanian Yeshiva world. There is far more interaction between the two groups. We all live together and influence each other. (This works both ways. For example here in Chicago, many community type Chasidic Kollelim have popped up – emulating those in Lithuanian Yeshiva world.)

It is inevitable that a world that sees Frumkiet as the epitome of Judaism will want to emulate a world that has more trappings of it. Chasidim clearly have those trappings. It is therefore my considered opinion that the Chasidic influence is responsible for much of this. 

Which I believe is also responsible for the relatively recent ban on publishing pictures of women. The recent flap between Mishpacha and Hamodia demonstrates this quite clearly when comparing this phenomenon to the common practices of just a few short years ago.  

A blog called Somehow Frum posted some photographs from the now defunct Jewish Observer. Picture after picture shows women together with men, some of whom were considered Gedolei HaDor! The Jewish Observer was the mouthpiece of Agudah. They did not move without the approval of their Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. If there was a picture of Rav Moshe Feinstein in the same frame with a woman, they clearly had permission to do so. In fact, my guess is that publishing a picture of a woman was so clearly not an issue that they didn’t even ask their Poskim. They just published it to no objection by anyone. There was never any thought that it might be problematic.

And yet today, virtually all of the Charedi magazines do not publish pictures of women as a matter of policy – saying that  it is immodest and presents a Halachic problem to do so.

Mishpacha was criticized by Hamodia recently for publishing a distorted picture of Hillary Clinton. They responded by saying that they consulted their Poskim who allowed them to publish a picture in this distorted fashion.

What kind of Poskim think they are Frummer than R’ Moshe who had no issue at all with being published together with an undistorted picture of women? If this isn’t clear evidence of a Frumkeit chase having nothing to do with Halacha, I don’t know what is.