Tuesday, December 16, 2014


RE: the JA article on neo-chassidism -- It’s very hard for me to understand why some have reacted by arguing that chassidus has no place in YU because chassidus exposes the masses to kabbalah (or some other reason), while there is no objection to teaching Milton at YU even though you can’t read Milton without some exposure to Christian theology. Milton is OK, but R’ Nachman not?

I also don’t understand some of the other objections to chassidus and/or neo-chassidism that try to sketch out what misnagdus is all about but end up with platitudes that anyone, misnagid or chassid, would have no problem with.

L'shem framing the issue, three questions, one historical, one about the present, one looking toward the future:

1) It’s hard to object to (or embrace!) something without defining it first.  Is chassidus just a shift in emphasis, e.g. greater emphasis on tefilah, on joy, on kabbalah?   You say tomato, I say tomah-toh; I say Ba-RUCH, you say BOO-reech?   Hard to accept that the GR”A had such a problem with that. What was the philosophical chiddush/paradigm change that the BeSH”T brought about that others found so objectionable?   (See The Piecezna in Mavo haShe’arim ch 4 and kuntres Toras haChassidus by the Rebbe RaYaT”Z for answers, and if anyone knows other mareh mekomos that directly address this question, I would appreciate if you would send them to me.)  

2) Is it the appeal of this BeSHTian worldview that makes neohassidus so attractive, or is a neohassid just a mitnaged who likes Carlebach niggunim, feel good spirituality, and plays the part of a counter-cultural (relative to the rest of his community) rebel by adopting the dress and other customs of chassidus?  Yes, that is a reductionist and somewhat coarse way to put it, but you get my point. Again, are we speaking about a “mere” difference in emphasis or a philosophical shift?

3) Lastly, to what degree will this infatuation with chassidus in the modern orthodox world last? Is it a passing fad, or a movement that will alter modern orthodoxy for the future?


  1. My own guesses as a non "Neo-Chassid" (HATE the label) who attends a Carlebach minyan semi-regularly....

    1 & 2- I think it's a shift to the experiential, rather than the more cerebral Judaism of the Litvak. And Chassidus happens to have been the most successful experience and emotion focused movement of the past couple of centuries. So, it is a shift in ideological emphasis which is itself about "lik[ing] Carlebach niggunim, feel good spirituality, and plays the part of a counter-cultural ... rebel."

    3- I'm guessing that it will primarily be a "passing fad". Much of why such trends in spiritual experimentation work is because they're a vacation from the rut. If someone is in it long enough for it to become the new rut... Aside from a couple of places like Aish Kodesh, where there is a full supporting infrastructure. But as a trend... I expect it will be short lived.

    That said, it may well leave a passing reshima beyond the couple of surviving shuls. It depends if the fad lasts long enough to touch the next generation's nostalgic memories of their youth before dissipating.

    1. >>>I think it's a shift to the experiential, rather than the more cerebral Judaism of the Litvak.

      And for that the GR"A refused to even meet the Ba'al haTanya? (Is chabad chassidus not cerebral enough?)

  2. Chabad chassidus isn't actually about learning. Yes, they value Tanya study and other learning, but the actual means of redemption center on davening, tehillim, the fabrengin, the seviva of a rebbe or mashpia, etc...

    Also, I do not think YU's hiring a mashpia shows a departure from RIETS' Lithuanian roots. After all, Rabbi Blau still leads the same team of mashgichim. This is offering more alternatives. No one derekh speaks to everyone, and this gives those with more feeling-oriented spirituality who need a steady diet of experiences an avenue under their umbrella.

    As for the Gra's refusal, may I suggest a more recent source, one of RYGB's favorite quotes by R EE Dessler (vol V pg 39):

    “In our times: The qualities of ‘Emet’ that personified the Ba’alei Mussar are already extinct. We no longer find individuals whose hearts are full with profound truth, with a strong and true sense of Cheshbon HaNefesh. We have reached the era of Ikvasa d’Mashicha, generations that Chazal described as superficial. If we find an individual who does learn Mussar, we find that he is primarily interested in the intellect of Mussar, the profound philosophy and psychology that are linked to Mussar. Even if he learns Mussar b’hispa’alus [with the emotional impact of nigun – melody – and shinun – repetition – that R.Yisroel prescribed], rarely does this activity lead to Cheshbon HaNefesh.

    “Contemporary Chassidus lacks the component that was once at its core: Avodas Hashem with dveykus. All that remains is the external form of Chassidus, something that appears like hislahavus. There is nigun, but the soul of nigun is no longer. Hitlahavus in davening is almost a thing of the past.

    “For today’s era, there remain only one alternative: To take up everything and anything that can be of aid to Yahadus; the wisdom of both Mussar and Chassidus together. Perhaps together they can inspire us to great understandings and illuminations. Perhaps together they might open within us reverence and appreciation of our holy Torah. Perhaps the arousal of Mussar can bring us to a little Chassidic hislahavus. And perhaps the hislahavus will somewhat fortify one for a Cheshbon HaNefesh. Perhaps through all these means together we may merit to ascend in spirituality and strengthen our position as Bnei Torah with an intensified Judaism. May G-d assist us to attain all this!”

    Of course REED gives a focus on Mussar which -- to my very deep dismay -- isn't in the general MO discussion. (Jewish Action had an issue dedicated to the topic --- two articles and a book review -- in Winter 5764, but it didn't take hold. Yet!) YU could do much with their legacy of R' Lessin and R' Dovid Lifshitz as well. And for that matter, for some talmidim, a Ben Ish Hai society might be a stronger option than any of those Ashkecentric movements. Vechulu.

    "חנך לנער על פי דרכו, גם כי יזקין לא יסור ממנה" -- the presence of other derakhim doesn't threaten mine, it only threatens the departure rate.

    1. >>>Chabad chassidus isn't actually about learning.

      Chabad "learns" the story of the Besht's revelation that moshiach will come when "yafutzu mayanosecha chutza" means chutza to the intellect. The name - chabad -- as opposed to chagat, says it all. Does Tanya de-emphasize learning? I think you are looking at the behavior of chassidim rather than at the philosophy of chassidus as taught by its Rebbeim.
      How does the quote from R' Dessler explain why the GR"A refused to meet the Ba'al haTanya? This was the first generation of chassidim, the soul of the movement was just being born.

    2. Actually, the Rebbe Rashab (in Qunerus haAvodah) says it's about meditation.

      But in any case, we're shifting the conversation from Neo-Chassidus to Chassidus.

      As I understand him, REED is arguing that in an era where Tomechei Temimim no longer carries the Rebbe Rashab's and his predecessor's fire, and where Chevron barely displays the Alter of Slabodka's fingerprints, the Gra's response is no longer appropriate. That in today's pale climate, where movements that used to be an idealist's Ism is now minhag and often mitzvos anashim meilumadah, accretion and synthesis are more appropriate responses.

    3. The question is how to create that synthesis. I would venture to guess that even if they agree with R' Dessler's point, many if not most in the yeshiva and chassidic worlds would not see a Carlebach minyan, for example, as an appropriate expression of that synthesis.

    4. Getting back to Neo-Chassidus... My feeling from a front row spectator seat is that the main attraction is Chassidus's experiential elements. I think that without resolving our dispute about the actual theory of Chassidus, we can agree that its experiential elements are more prominent and accessible than in what survived from Litta (meaning: after the murder of the Mussar Movement in WWII).

      The interest in Tanya and Nesivos Shalom and chassidishe and qabbalah (eg R' Kook's) sefarim in general follows as a consequence of that core draw. They justify a worldview that is in concert with those experiences.

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  3. Gush VBM is running an excellent series right now by Rav Elyakim Krumbein on the GR"A's halachic and religious philosophy, based on analysis of his rulings, writings, and practices. Rav Krumbein indicates he will address (soon) the GRA's deep split with Chassidus. See http://vbm-torah.org/archive/gaon75/08gaon.htm.

    From what I see so far, it appears Rav Krumbein is building a case that for the GR"A, true avodas hashem entails understanding the original, authoritative Torah/Chazal source for whatever we do. For the GR"A, to adopt a religious practice based purely on one's spiritual enthusiasm or emotion -- even if well-meaning, but not well-grounded in a mekor of chazal -- must never be confused with "real" avodas hashem and is often forbidden or discouraged.

    If so, it makes sense that the GR"A would view original chassidus -- which celebrated personal, spontaneous, sincere-but-informal religious expression as a very praiseworthy form of avodas hashem -- as being profoundly misguided and very dangerous. To the GR"A, treating the singing of a made-up, soulful nigun as if it were an act of avodas hashem in the same league as a well-grounded halachic obligation is a terrible falsification of Torah, not (just) bitul from learning.

    The original schism between GR"A and chassidus may have centered more on this fundamental disagreement about how to define avodas hashem, and not on a (mistaken) characterization of chabad or of all chassidus as being anti-learning or anti-intellectual.

  4. In the sefer Zichron Yaakov (memoirs of the secretary of Reb Yitzchok Elchonon) he writes that the main hashkafic objection the Gra had to chassidus was the idea that Hashem is literally present everywhere (Hashem is here, Hashem is there...)