Monday, June 11, 2018

The Best Hashkafa

YU Mashpia R' Moshe Weinberger - proponent of Neo-Chasidus (Jewish Action)
I must admit that I don’t really know much about Neo- Chasidus. Although it has recently become a public topic of discussion and controversy, I haven't really paid that much attention to it. But an article about it by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer in the Times of Israel got me to thinking about Hashkafos in general. What indeed is the best path for the Jewish people to live their lives in the way God intends us to?

My understanding about Neo-Chasidus is embodied in the title of an article about it in a past issue Jewish Action:  Rekindling the Flame: Neo-Chassidus Brings the Inner Light of Torah to Modern Orthodoxy.

If I understand it correctly it is - in short - a phenomenon that embraces much of the Hashkafic teachings of Chasidus without any of the overt Chasidic trappings. Neo-Chasidus does not for example include the typical look or mode of Chasidic dress. No Kapote. No Shtreimal. No long Peyos. No long beards. One can dress and look modern and while embracing their more uplifting method of relating to God. 

This includes the inspirational messages taught by Chasidic Rebbes; participating in more joyous modalities such singing and dancing; or enjoying a Tisch. A Tisch is defined as Chasidim sitting at a large table (on Shabbos)  filled with food. They sing Zemiros (Shabbos oriented tunes) and participate with their Chasidic Rebbe sitting at the head. He hands out Shirayim (portions of food he began eating) to the assembled and then tells inspirational stories to them.

Neo-Chasidus seems to have caught on with some of the Modern Orthodox younger element. Especially it seems with some of those that have been educated in Yeshiva University (YU) type schools. YU is based on the Lithuanian (Litvak) Yeshiva model, which focuses on Torah study as the prime area of concentration. Mitzvah observance (and sometimes Mussar - Jewish ethics) is taught matter of factly and dryly.

The charge against this method by adherents of Chasidus is that it is sterile and uninspiring. Students have difficulty relating to their faith that way. In fact one of my closest friends is a hardcore Litvak who has led him to jokingly remark in a self deprecating way that it is against their Hashkafos to ever smile or laugh. They are supposed to be serious, dour, and depressed.

That is clearly not the way most Litvaks live. But with the exception of family Simchas - that is apparently how many see themselves. There is no joy in Mudville. 

Modern Orthodox Jews do not live that way either. There is plenty of ‘joy’ in their lives. However with the same exceptions of family Simchas - it is often outside the context of Judaism. Which leaves a vacuum of sorts in their spirituality that might need rekindling. I suppose that this works for some people. But what works for some, may not work for others. 

So which Hashkafa is the best fit for all - or even most of us? Those who thought I was going to say my own Centrist Hashkafa may be surprised to see that this is not my answer. Although I do believe it represents the best way of doing God’s will, it is clearly not the way most observant Jews feel - as evidenced by the vast number of disparate groups within Orthodoxy. 

What I would like to see is the elimination of these groups. No more labels. Just one Judaism where belief in God and following His word is all that matters. How we each approach that should be left up to one’s own background, teachings, intelligence,  and life experiences. There ought not be Chasidim or Litvaks, Centrists and Charedim. No Left. No Right. No Religious Zionists. No Satmar. Just a Jewish people dedicated to serving God in the best way we can each understand His will.

If someone likes to sing and dance as a way of being inspired, that’s great. If someone is inspired by full time deep Torah study, that is just as great. If someone is inspired by uplifting others, that’s great too. If one believes that studying Mada is a value, that should not disqualify him to those that believe it isn’t. 

We can each seek different ways of finding meaning in our observance without resorting to partisanship of any kind. That doesn't mean we can’t believe in our own personal way of doing things. But it does mean accepting how others do it too, without making any judgments about which way is better. What works for me doesn’t have to work for you. And vice versa.

The bottom line is that we judge each other’s approach to observance favorably. The important thing is to believe in God and His Torah; follow His word as directed by it - and interpreted by the sages and the great rabbis of each generation throughout history; and to not depart from long held tradition without the wisdom of those rabbis. As long as your Hashkafa does not impede the Hashkafa of a neighbor in any way, or cause a Chilul HaShem then we should embrace our individual diversity without the need to divide ourselves into groups. 

We are after all each individuals with our own strengths and capabilities - but at the same time one people – chosen by God to do His will. And as long as these parameters are met we can unite as a people. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all see each other that way – and do away with factionalism?