Friday, October 27, 2006

Question & Answer With Chabakuk Elisha - A New Generation Of Chassidim

(Picture courtesy of a friend of Chabakuk Elisha)

A Simple Jew asks:

During Musaf on the first day of Sukkos, an elderly chassid originally from Kharkov, Ukraine davened at the amud. I sat in awe at the beauty and tenderness of his voice. As I sat there listening to him, I wondered how the Chassidic world will change once all the elder generation of Chassidim who were born in Poland, Russia, and Hungary pass away.

I approached this elderly chassid on the second day of Sukkos and asked him how he envisioned the character of the Chassidic world changing when we reached a time when the majority of Chassidim are born in the United States and Israel, and when they will not have an attachment to the generation born in Europe.

This chassid answered, "It will only get stronger."

I wish I could agree with the optimism of this chassid, but I tend to take a more pessimistic view.

What do you think? How do you think the Chassidic world will change once we loose our connection to the generation that was born in Eastern Europe ?

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

I'll keep up the age old Jewish tradition of answering a question with a question: What is our heritage? What is the specific significance of Eastern European culture? Jewish heritage has passed through many lands, cultures and eras. Is the Eastern European Jewish flavor more significant that Babylonian Amoraim, Holy Land Tanaim, Egyptian Ivrim, or Canani Avos? What of those? They were probably just as missed – should we not lament them the same way? Maybe we do.

I think that the Kharkover Jew represents all those countries and places – because it all trickled down to him. So who are these lost Jews and cultures? They are us. We are all those things. Modified, updated perhaps, but we – religious Jews of today – we carry on those tradition and bring them to our children. Are they the same? No. Do we lose something? Sure we do; that's the bumpy, curvy, road of history. It's never the same as the generation before – never – but we pick up some good things along the way as well. Nostalgia is a word precisely because this resonates so much – perhaps to Jews even more than to others. We feel attachment to places and people we never knew or visited – we only read or heard of them – but they are part of us, and will always be.

We will miss that Eastern European flavor, I know we will, because we look at those individuals as the bearers of those past traditions to our generation in a new country – probably not that different from the many similar transplantations experienced by Jewry in our history. But we look at those people as a piece of ourselves, and an important one at that – of course we don't want to lose that link! But with all that said, it's the ideals that we believe in, not the trimmings, and the ideals will live on – and I agree and hope that it will only get stronger. And the trimmings? We have them as a part of our makeup, and were creating new ones. We pass it all along with that ever growing package to the next generation, just as the last one passed it on to us.

A Simple Jew responds:

I agree with what you wrote, Chabakuk Elisha. But given the fact that Chassidus began in Podolia and Volhynia (Ukraine) and spread throughout Eastern Europe, it has a distinctive character that ties it to that particular region. How specifically do you think American and Israeli-born Chassidim will change this "Eastern European flavor" in the future?

Chabakuk Elisha answers:

Our environment has a great impact on out thinking. Avrohom Avinu points this out on his way to Egypt when the passuk tells us that Avrohom recognizes that Sara is a beautiful woman. Meforshim tell us that Avrohom was unaware of this before, but when he came to Mitzraim – the land of immorality – he suddenly recognizes her beauty. Why? Because our surroundings affect us – as the saying goes "vi es goy't zich, yid't tzich." Basically the secular culture and values get adopted and added to our identity – often even subconsciously.

Accent, pronunciation, clothing, attitudes, emphasis, it all provides color and feeling – and it all is changing. Take a kid from a chassidishe home in Williamsburg, Crown Heights & Yerushalayim, and you will see many differences in all these areas. Of course, accents differ in all different parts of the world, as do attitudes etc. There seem to be recently adopted American ideals of tolerance (live and let live), freedom and independence; that's fairly new. Liberal charity is a VERY new phenomenon – in Europe, people who had it tended to keep their money. I don't know really, it seems that we can see gradual opening of closed communities, lessening of once tight rules, more open/broad mindedness, perhaps less emotion, an unprecedented (perhaps misplaced) feeling of comfort in our environment… These things were probably not commonly found in European Chassidic communities.

The fact is that specific place & character is so transient… Chassidus as a derech is higher than a space or time – it is no less tied to a place, flavor or culture than it is tied to a year or a place in history; just like it's not 1812 forever, time has moved on, so too has the place and flavor "moved on." Also, Chassidus had long since moved into Russia, Poland, Galicia, Rumania, Hungary, Israel, etc, and they each have had their own flavor and character for some time now. Judaism as a whole has done and continues to do the same. Were all a work in progress, so if you find something meaningful – enjoy it while it lasts!


At October 27, 2006 at 10:42:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting dialog. I feel that chasidus will be getting stronger and stonger. It is need, perhaps, even more now than it was when it was founded. The more the world is steeped in gashmius the more we need to be forcefully extricated, and that is something that chasidus is uniquely able to provide.

At October 27, 2006 at 1:57:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Note: I may not have been clear enough in distinguishing between
negative influences of the surrounding culture (e.g. Mitzrayim) and more
compatable differences, such as American pashtus and
straightforwardness, tolerance, individualism, etc., or differing
emotional complexions of various societies and sub-groups...

(Thanks to the individual who pointed this out to me)

At October 27, 2006 at 3:22:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"American pashtus" can be a very negative thing, turning into superficiality.

At October 27, 2006 at 3:29:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was wondering where you were! But really I thought you'd have much more critiqe for this piece that that...

A gut Shabbos

At October 27, 2006 at 4:01:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this issue is much more sharp in relation to baaley thsuvo. Those who were raised frum have their "baggage" from birth. They grew up and developed certain way. What should a baal tshuvo do, who "came from the Moon"? He has to learn many things (dinim and halochoys, yesoydoys hoemuno and etc.) to become one who adheres to the Toyro. Very often one has to start when he is already an adult. But is it enough? What should he do with these "trimmings" how you call them? To say that Chasidus is above everything is a nice abstract idea, but it doesn't help in the least with this issue for those who don't have any "baggage" from before altogether! That's why I think there is something special in our connection with European Yiddishkayt. Baal tshuvo can't change himself according to Bovel etc. So this comparison is not so correct. Right - all traditioins are heylik, the one which was in Bovel as well. But our grandfathers and great grandfathers are much closer to us, than our ancestors from Bovel.

Some to change fail these things altogether - they do learn, they do mitzvoys, but their "trimmings" are basically the same as before. Others change them as well, because the feel a deeper connection to Yiddishkayt in this way. But how can they be changed, or better to ask to what? That's where this issue is coming out in full force.

At October 27, 2006 at 4:01:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A gut Shabes!

At October 28, 2006 at 5:53:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Yid: You said: "American Pashtus can be a very negative thing..." That's true, but so can be Russian heaviness and European sophistication! (And the Russian culture is really messed up, much worse than American (trust me I grew up there)). I think in the end it has to do with how much Jews are able to be maale nitzotzos of their host cultures. I happened to think that davka "American Pahstus" can be uplifted and used for very good things if done properly. Obviously, not everyone can do it properly, there are even opinions that hold that uplifting nitzotzos is a job for tzaddikim only, but I think it's more dangerous to just totally ignore one's host culture and just hold on to the "old" one. It seems that we have to do the best we can. There are many big rabbanim who have adopted the good parts of the American culture and it seems like they've done a descent job.

At October 28, 2006 at 6:40:00 PM EDT, Blogger yitz said...

I find this interesting that almost no mention is made here of Eretz Yisrael. I find ASJ's fascination with Eastern European Jewish life overdone. As CE mentioned, Chassidus moved on to other places quite a while ago.
I find this yearning for "the Old Country" somewhat out of place. What you guys need to do is make Aliya. Israel is "where it's happening". Moshiach is coming here, nowhere else, but why wait until he comes, and get a "bleacher seat" when you can still get a very good "box seat" beforehand?
Let us remember that the Vitebsker came here in the late 18th Century, approx. 230 years ago. Chassidus has been flourishing here ever since - Slonim, Lelov, etc. etc. And of course now, everyone's here...and this is where it's all happening. Yes, we will miss those born in Eastern Europe, but there is no Torah like that learned in Eretz Yisrael, & instead of looking nostalgically back to Eastern Europe, come here where you can regain what you're really yearning for - a closeness to Hashem that can only be felt in His Land. Shavua Tov to all!

At October 28, 2006 at 7:29:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yitz: I'm with you on that. I find that Eretz Yisroel has a unique influence that overrides any culture. Here we experience Hashem more directly - so there's less need for "trimmings".

At October 28, 2006 at 8:10:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yitz: Overdoing this (Eretz Yisroel "for its own sake", and not as a Eretz haChaim) isn't good as well and is called tziyoynus as known. Balance is needed everywhere.

Mosh: Trust me I know what it is, I grew up there too. About pashtus vs sophistication look in "Sipurey Maysies" mayse "Chchom veTam" (Prostek). It brilliantly illustrates this issue. Crooked sophistication infused with materialistic philosophy is bad. As well as foolishness as another extreme. What is needed - is good wisdom which is not easily attainable and requires tmimus, and not a crooked "inteligence". Read the whole mayse carefully and pay attention to details.

At October 28, 2006 at 9:04:00 PM EDT, Blogger ggg said...

Im chassid and my great grandfathers were from Morroco, Ierushalaim (and maybe chalab, Syria)


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