Stop stereotyping Chasidim

Stop stereotyping Chasidim

I’m a gay socialist anarchist Jew raised in the Reform Movement.  You won’t find anyone to the left of me on the political spectrum or prouder to be a gay man.  And I have a message for my progressive Jewish friends: stop stereotyping Chasidim.  If I of all people can see Chasidim as a diverse community of human beings with real value to offer the Jewish people, so can you!

I was raised in the Reform Movement and am proud to say so.  I founded and led teen services at my synagogue, served on youth group boards, helped re-write the movement’s sex-ed curriculum, did service work in Argentina with Reform Jews, led the Reform Chavurah on my college campus, and currently help craft young professionals programming at my Reform shul.

One of the values I was taught as a Reform Jew was to respect and honor other cultures and communities.  The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism does a tremendous job of advocating for social justice for African Americans, Latinos, immigrants, the disabled, LGBT people, and other minorities.  This is in our blood and our neshama and we rightfully view tikkun olam as essential to our Judaism.

Yet I’ve heard, from Reform, Conservative, and secular Jews many comments that caused me to think of Chasidic and “ultra-Orthodox” Jews (we’ll come back to why I hate that term- I prefer Chareidi) as monolithic, hateful, and bigoted.  Against Reform Jews, women, gay people, you name it.  I was taught about the Reform Kindergarten in Israel burned down by extremists, I read in the press about Orthodox men stabbing people at pride parades, and I was told that Chasidim are overly hierarchical and chauvinistic.

While some of these stories are true and in every stereotype there may be a bit of reality, I wonder why we don’t afford our Chasidic brothers and sisters the same understanding we offer other minorities.  For example, African Americans tend to be more socially conservative than Reform Jews, with 76% of Jews supporting same-sex marriage, but only 42% of African Americans.  And yet, progressive Jews’ support for African American civil rights is a matter of our faith and values, not whether they have the same values (though a growing number certainly do- they are a diverse community like all others).  My support for African American civil rights is not conditioned on them supporting my civil rights, though I certainly welcome it.

If we can show beautiful solidarity and support for African Americans, why are we so reluctant to engage with our Chasidic brothers and sisters from our own faith?  First of all, without realizing it, many progressive Jews have a double standard.  Bigotry in other minority communities is correctly diagnosed as only one perspective among a diverse group of people.  And yet, we don’t offer that same generosity of spirit to Chasidim.  We say they are all chauvinistic, they are all homophobic, they are all violent extremists.  To this, I say “sha!”.

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I recently read an interesting poll from the Pew Center.  It said that 70% of Chareidi Jews (both Chasidic and Litvish) think homosexuality should be discouraged.  There are two ways to read the poll, one pessimistic and the other quintessentially Jewish.  The pessimist (who already may view Chasidim with suspicion) would say: “wow what a bunch of bigots!”.  To which I say, “I never would’ve possibly imagined that a full third of this community would not want to discourage homosexuality”.  How beautiful it is to find this nugget of truth- that among “ultra-Orthodox” Jews there are a lot of people who don’t want to make their Judaism about ignorance and hate.  It gives me hope.

Speaking of diversity, for example, we acknowledge diversity within Latino communities (national origin, age, geography, language, etc.).  That is fantastic and very important in figuring out how to reach out and understand another group of people.  But Reform Jews (and I think progressive Jews in general), have done precious little to understand “ultra-Orthodox” Jews.  And let’s dissect that term for a moment.  I find it deeply prejudiced.  Ultra implies excess, fanaticism, too much, overwhelming, and out of control.  Since “ultra-Orthodox” Jews don’t call themselves that, let’s use “Chareidi” to talk about the Litvish and Chasidic Jews that term compromises.  Furthermore, the term “ultra-Orthodox” lumps almost a million people into one group.  Besides the fact that Litvish and Chasidic Jews have had ideological differences for centuries (which were quite passionate back in Eastern Europe), even within Chasidic Judaism you have different ideologies.  You’ve got the “outward looking” Chabad movement that seeks to bring non-Chasidic Jews into their community.  And you have the other Chasidic sects like the Satmars, Bobovers, Skeverers, and others who are more focused on preserving what they see as the essence of Judaism internally.

Non-Chabad Chasidim, because they are more focused on preserving their learning and culture rather than recruiting new members, place a strong emphasis on Yiddish.  For these Chasidim (and to a degree Chabadniks), language, kashrus, and clothing are what help keep their community distinct from the goyish world they’re surrounded by.  One of the things I appreciate about this, besides the fact that they’re sustaining the Yiddish language more than any other Jewish movement in the world, is that they don’t want to assimilate.  While the Reform Movement today has a healthier balance of innovation and tradition, in its early days it was formed as a way for Jews to assimilate into Protestant culture (at the time, in Germany and the U.S.).  Services reflected Protestant norms so Jews could “fit in” with their neighbors.  While I certainly understand the impulse for Jews to want to fit in after 2,000 years of persecution, I think assimilation is the wrong solution.  Why do the persecutors’ work for them?  We should embrace all that is different, “weird”, and unique about Judaism rather than aiming to pleasure the majority.  I love this radical rebelliousness on the part of Chasidim and I think there is great value to progressive communities in learning about it as we craft our own practices.

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Which brings us to an interesting point.  So many progressive Jews (and non-Jews) decry the poverty rate of Chasidic Jews and their high unemployment.  If some of the words progressive Jews used to describe Chasidim were applied to other lower-income minorities, they’d be seen as prejudiced.  Rather than bemoan the fact that Chasidim “study all day” (something we wish our own kids would do!), why can’t we appreciate the good Chasidim are doing for the Jewish people?

An entire language would be dead by now if it weren’t for the Chasidic community’s diligence.  After World War II, American Jews rapidly assimilated and part of the compact they made in exchange for social advancement was to leave “weird” Jewish stuff behind, like Yiddish.  At one time spoken by millions of American Jews, it rapidly declined over the subsequent decades.  The few secular or progressive Jews trying to keep the flame alive (I’m one of them- I recently started studying the language) get little or no support from Jewish funders or institutions.  While there is somewhat of a renaissance of people (especially my generation) learning the language thanks to groups like the Workmen’s Circle, YIVO, and Yugntruf, most American Jews are uninvolved.  Their parents and grandparents didn’t pass on the language.

Yet recently, something curious happened.  While up to 2000, the number of Yiddish speakers in New York was declining, it jumped from 113,515 speakers to 121,917 in 2010.  This might sound small, but that’s a 7.4% increase in 10 years, at a time when other immigrant languages from the 20th century like Italian and Greek are rapidly declining.  They don’t have a core of passionate, dedicated speakers like Yiddish does, and we are blessed to have them preserving 2,000 years of Jewish history every day.

Due to high Chasidic fertility, you can expect those numbers to go up rapidly over the next 10, 20, 30 years and beyond.  Rather than criticizing Chasidim for having large families, I frankly think we should thank them.  Not only are they pulling off a tremendous feat, bring a child into the world (and on a low budget), they are nourishing that child with Torah, with Chesed, with love.  Would that we had the kind of energy for 7 children!  It’s truly astonishing and while we might not choose it for our own families (progressive women, breathe a sigh of relief), we can acknowledge and appreciate the tremendous sacrifice these families are making.  And they are strengthening the Jewish people at the same time.

If progressive Jewish leaders were creative, they’d see this burgeoning Yiddish resurgence as an opportunity.  Rather than telling Chasidim to learn English or take “modern” jobs (though contrary to stereotypes, many do work), let’s think about some ways in which this could benefit our own Judaism.  For example, often for ideological reasons, some Chasidism choose to leave the community.  Estranged from their background but in search of something new, they are forced to leave Yiddish in the home, since our capitalist economy has decided it’s not a valuable “work skill”.  Putting aside the speciousness of the idea that speaking such a rich language is not a valuable skill, let’s acknowledge that many ex-Chasidim have trouble in the job market.  How about this for an idea.  While some ex-Chasidim, although fluent in Yiddish, may not want to work as teachers, some may.  What if we pooled our resources to train those interested in teaching the mameloshn and created a corps of teachers who could revive Yiddish teaching in progressive Judaism?  While obviously this is a proposal for Ashkenazi Jews (though certainly anyone could learn it!), it could be inspiration for similar programs for Ladino or other Jewish languages.  Let’s give deserving people new job opportunities while creating Jewish richness for our own community.

All of which is to say, Chasidim are people.  Just as we would never assume that the unelected heads of the hierarchy of the Reform Movement or Conservative Movement speak for all members of those movements, we should apply similar scrutiny to statements from Chasidic rabbis.  Yes, Chasidim often revere their rabbis, but there are also plenty of schisms in communities, competing rabbis, and more importantly, grassroots Chasidim who may have different opinions, voiced or not.  Like we’d approach any sociological setting, let’s not assume that one person talking on behalf of thousands speaks for them all.

In the end, Chasidim are diverse.  They have real problems, ranging from chauvinism to sexual abuse.  Real problems that our communities have experienced too.  Let’s not be afraid to point out those problems to address them, but let’s not forget our shared humanity and fallibility.  Chasidim come in all shapes and sizes, just like us.  I challenge my progressive Jewish friends- Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Yiddishist, atheist, secular, Humanist, and Renewal- to join me in committing to learn more about the fascinating Chasidic community.  Read a book, visit a website, learn Yiddish, go to Chasidic neighborhoods, go to the source.  The more stuff you engage with actually written by or produced by Chasidim, the more authentic your knowledge of them will be.

When I visited New York in March, I wore jeans and a sweater (with a teal streak in my hair), and headed to Williamsburg, a Chasidic neighborhood.  I went to a bakery and found the man very quiet.  But once I started speaking in Yiddish and said I was visiting from Washington, D.C., his eyes lit up as he grabbed me some babka.  I spent hours perusing a Judaica store as well, filled with the latest in Yiddish illustrated books for children.  These books were gorgeous and creative and engaging.  If they were translated with pretty covers and called “graphic novels”, you might be curious enough to buy them for three times the price at an independent bookstore.  The shop owner was generous and kind and welcoming, even though I clearly wasn’t a member of the community.  I bought a black velvet yarmulke, to fit in a little and as a keepsake, but my teal streak still strong enough to make clear I was a bit of an outsider too.

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That is my hope for your engagement with Chasidim.  There’s no need to lose your “teal streak”, that progressive bent which makes your Judaism unique and powerful.  Instead, come with your authentic voice, show respect for the local community like you would with a Muslim community, and engage.  Chasidic people may never write this kind of blog encouraging their community to engage with progressive Jews (though that’d be awesome).  But in the end, I don’t care.  I’m not doing it for them so much as I’m doing it for my own Jewish values, taught to me by the Reform Movement.  Ve’ahavta le’reacha kamocha.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  Your Latino neighbor, your black neighbor, your disabled neighbor, and yes, your Chasidic ones too.

It’s time to step outside our comfort zone and get to know our fellow Jews, our fellow human beings.

Amen.

-Matt Adler (פסח מיכאל)

 

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28 thoughts on “Stop stereotyping Chasidim

  1. I truly enjoyed your thoughtful piece but throughout my reading I kept thinking… Yiddish is not the language of our Torah (I choose to not pronounce it toyrahh😘)
    Hebrew is.
    When I, an open orthodox female Jew try to engage a Charedi male Jew in conversational Hebrew, in my experience the Charedi male young adult:
    1. can’t look me (a 49 year old wife/mother/mother-in-law/entrepreneur/healer and not so closet mystic) in the eye because he has not been exposed to a coed life aside from his sisters and mother
    2. Carry on a conversation in our national language… Hebrew because his first language is Yiddish and Hebrew is only taught for the sake of learning.
    3. Respect my orthodox lifestyle which does not center around my skirt/sleeve length or my sheitel
    that behavior has rightfully affected my views but I totally understand and respect your desire to change the general populations feeling towards this passionate and dedicated group of people. The beauty of our people is that we are all meant to learn from each other. If God wanted us all to be the same She wouldn’t have gifted us with free will. I think you are awesome! Keep up the great work. Let me know if you are ever in Houston.

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    1. Thanks Dorit for your kind words and thoughtful comments! I totally understand why, as a woman, you may feel discomfort or at times chauvinism when dealing with the Chasidic community (though I would emphasize that all communities are made up on individuals and we shouldn’t judge a large group of people just based on a few interactions). That being said, I take issue with your views on Hebrew and Yiddish. Hebrew and Yiddish are both languages of the Jewish people- one does not supersede the other. For about 2,000 years, Hebrew served as the language of study and prayer, not conversation. Yiddish served that purpose and for many Chasidic Jews, thank G-d, still does. Modern Hebrew is, as its name indicates, a very recent phenomenon, certainly grounded in older forms of Hebrew, and is a beautiful language in its own right. However, the fact that Chasidim are continuing to preserve an old and precious language is worthy of praise, not criticism. Hebrew is in no danger of disappearing, with full state backing in Israel, and taught in Jewish schools the world round. Yiddish, however, has much less support, so we should be grateful Chasidic communities are keeping it dynamic and alive. I personally speak both Yiddish and Hebrew and love them both. Much like you wouldn’t (hopefully!) scold a Latino for not speaking to you in English, I’d hope you’d instead choose to learn some Yiddish instead of criticizing Chasidim for not speaking Hebrew. Then you’d also learn that Yiddish has actually strongly influenced Modern Hebrew, enriching your Judaism as well! For example, “Mah nishma?” (what is heard?) actually is a direct Hebrew translation of the Yiddish phrase “Vos hert zakh?”. The more we learn about each other, the more trust we create and the more stereotypes we dispel. I’m not asking you to deny your experiences nor the real problems that are out there, but rather to come to engage the Chasidic community with an open heart and with respect for their culture and practice. Kol tuv & mit vareme grusn, Matt 🙂

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    2. I did not understand your above comment when you wrote “my orthodox lifestyle that does not center around…”
      Orthodoxy is defined as adherence to the Torah and it’s laws as regulated by the Talmud and understood by authoritative codifiers of Jewish Law.
      The Talmud and the traditionally accepted codifiers of Jewish law mandate hair covering, and the covering of certain portions of the arms and legs.
      If your life does not center around adhering to observance of the Law you are being disingenuous about your Orthodoxy.
      Of course a person is free to make whatever decisions they want. I just think it is silly for non Orthodox people to insist on being identified as Orthodox.

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  2. Thank you! The chareidi community is very diverse. For example while I would not say I am pro- homosexuality I do not hate “gays” and certainly would be appalled at any attempt to harm them. I believe that G-d does not need me to judge others, G-d can judge people without my help. And there are many other chareidi stereotypes I would not fit.

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    1. Thank you for your feedback! I believe Chareidi and non-Chareidi Jews don’t need to agree on everything in order for us to treat each other with respect and dignity. Kol yisrael areivim zeh bazeh. We are a diverse people and we should appreciate all the good things each of us brings to the table. Thanks again for reaching out and reading the article!

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  3. Thank you Matt for an important piece. I grew up.super left wing humanist and became a chabad baalei teshuva about 35years ago, blown away by the spirituality and way of life. Since then have had many upset and downs, inspiration and bitter disillusionment. And as you said so.well,the community is not at all heterogeneous, but most assume it is. I’ve met some of the most truly radical, progressive people, along with the opposite . I hate that veil.of suspicion, that stepping back.and closing down I feel so often from other Jews. I wrote a memoir to try to honestly break down that barrier a little, but its an uphill battle. Thanks for the chizuk. We all have so much to gain from each other! Bbracha, Miriam Karp

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    1. Thank you Miriam for your beautiful comment and kind words! I agree with you that the Chasidic community is indeed diverse. Once we acknowledge that a community is diverse, it’s much harder to stereotype or lump everyone into one category. Diversity is a source of richness for our people and we should appreciate it! Every person deserves to be judged on their own merits, not just the name of their community. I loved everything you had to say, thanks again for sharing and please keep in touch! Together we can make peace in our Jewish community. 🙂

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  4. Bsd

    Dear Matt טייערער פסח מיכאל ני”ו

    Thanks for a beautiful article long overdue. א געזונט אויף דיר

    We may not agree on many things, but we have plenty that unites us, and that’s what we can focus on. And we may even agree to disagree, when done with respect, and accepting the others differences and opinions.

    We live in times that tolerance and acceptance for diversity has become the norm, When it became political correct to stand up for minorities, and hardly any one will dare to show open-discrimination towards any group, from African-Americans, Muslims, to LBGTs and any other groups.

    The only group it is perfectly okay to hate belittle and openly harass and discriminate are the Haredim/Hasidim.

    Public officials politicians and reporters as well as too many individuals on social media can express hate and bigotry against Hasidim on a level that we have not seen in years, and statements are said and written, and actions dome, that if they were said or done against any other group there would be repercussions protests and boycotts, but when it’s only against Hasidim, it’s tolerated and accepted, and hardly countered.

    Unfortunately in plenty of those cases even brothers of our own faith, Modern, progressive or secular Jews, will join ranks with those, and have no issue expressing bigotry against Hasidim. Do they really think the anti-Semites will hate them less, for being against their own brethren? History has proven otherwise.

    It gets even worse, when an individual Hasid has an alleged run-in with the law, that he may or may not have committed a crime or sin, then its field day and all out against ALL Hasidim. That person is crowned overnight by the press as a Rabbi, so the negative sensation will have a greater impact. Hasidim are not privileged to the benefit of the doubt, and the term “innocent until proven guilty” doesn’t apply to Hasidim. Furthermore, even if an individual has done a wrong, do you blame all African-Americans , Muslims, or all LBGT for the shortcomings of one? Only Hasidim have a different standard.

    Not all Haredim are saints, but not all are criminals, in every tree there may be a few rotten apples, the same percentage or maybe even slightly less than in any other group or community, They just don’t make headlines saying LBGT guy accused of… they don’t stereotype or blanket-group all into one basket, as they do when a Hasid is accused of anything wrong.

    Why don’t we get the same civil-rights to live with our culture and faith as every other group?

    So I applaud you for saying it out loud, your article eloquently brings forward the point, that in the same way we’re accepting and tolerating other diversity, you need to extend the same to the Hasidim.

    Most Hasidim live an insular pious life of live and let live, we hold on to our tradition strongly, and try to avoid negative influences from society against our faith, but at the same time we carry no hate to others who live differently, we respect every human being, and the diversity life-styles of other’s, it doesn’t matter if we approve your lifestyle or we don’t, we still respect you as a human being, and your right to your own opinion.

    Unfortunately the fact that the outside world hasn’t got much insight into the insular Hasidic world, and many Hasidim don’t even see the newspapers or TV reports, it has become free-for-all to say an write anything about Hasidim, and their choice to live with tradition and avoid negative influence of modern of culture is mistakenly seen by those who don’t understand the lifestyle as bigotry or chauvinism.

    There is one other important point you didn’t mention, there is more to Haredim-Hasidim then the Yiddish Language.

    Haredim are light towers to the world in matters of Chesed-Kindness, there is so much volunteering going on in every aspect of life, from medical help, to Roadside assistance, all done with no monetary gains, just for Tikun-Oilem, because it’s a Mitzvah!

    So many acts of kindness stories pass behind the radar of the same who continuously shine their mainly-negative spotlight on the haredim/Hasidim, but will mysteriously fail to report on lives saved by Haredi Hatzolah member on a flight, by Haredi Hatzolah and Zaka at every major incident in Israel or elsewhere internationally, or about Chaverim members helping out with lock-outs and road side assistance anyone they encounter, or about the numerous Bikur-Cholim (help for the sick organizations) arranging transportation for the sick, serving daily home-made meals in the Hospitals, Advocating and helping with medical referrals, or about the numerous Haredi Kidney and Stem-Cel donors going under the knife and giving away an organ to save strangers they hardly know.

    And his is a very small list of the kindness that is going on a daily basis, that when asked for help they don’t check if you’re Haredi reform or LBGT, they run and help.
    Kindly excuse me for the lengthy comment, and the less-then -perfect grammar, English is my 3rd language, I speak Yiddish, Hebrew, English, some words of French and Hungarian, my family are fluent in the above plus Spanish.

    Zei Gezunt!

    Epes Ah Chosid
    Brooklyn, NY

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    1. Sholem aleikhem Epes Ah Chosid-

      A sheynem dank! Thank you for your extremely thoughtful comments and kindness. As a people, Jews must learn to respect each other’s differences if we’re going to continue to preserve our heritage and make peace in the world. I love that you speak so many languages (I speak several too!), it’s a real source of joy to be able to communicate and think in so many ways! You are absolutely right that there are many things in addition to Yiddish preservation that the Chasidic community deserves praise for. The social service network you mentioned is certainly one of them (and could probably fill an entire blog itself- maybe it’ll be a future topic of mine!). Thanks for raising my awareness about this issue, if you have any resources you could share with me about this incredible Chasidic chesed support network, I’d love to learn more!

      Shkoykh,

      Matt 🙂

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      1. Here are a few resource links that may help you jump start this project:

        http://www.chesed.org/Orgs lists numerous organizations and their specialty service.
        http://www.jewishmediaresources.com/542/the-shopping-bag-ladies article on the holy work of Satmar bikur Cholim
        http://www.thechessednetworknews.org/
        http://chesed.org/Content/Kosher_Guide_2014.pdf
        http://www.chesed.org/
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaverim_(volunteers)
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hatzalah
        http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/life-and-death-the-story-behind-united-hatzalah-of-israel/2014/05/10/0/?print
        http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/19/health/tedmed-beer/
        http://www.wnyc.org/story/hatzalah-ambulance-story/
        https://www.google.com/?ion=1&espv=2#q=bikur%20cholim
        http://www.vosizneias.com/29091/2009/03/18/new-york-interest-free-loans-gemilath-chasudim-steeped-in-jewish-tradition/
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gemach
        http://www.nj.com/hudson/index.ssf/2015/01/jersery_city_mayor_announces_new_community-based_9.html
        http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ambulance-takes-30-minutes-respond-press-conf-article-1.1400008
        http://jewinthecity.com/2016/02/the-orthodox-jewish-doctor-who-saved-a-life-at-30000-feet/
        http://matzav.com/hatzolah-volunteer-saves-life-on-el-al-flight-emergency-landing-in-norway/
        http://jewinthecity.com/
        http://jewinthecity.com/category/kiddush-hashem-corner
        https://www.chesedshelemes.com/
        http://www.misaskim.org/
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZAKA
        http://www.monsey.com/kidush-hashem-monsey-gathers-to-bury-lone-elderly-man/149911
        http://collive.com/show_news.rtx?id=37934&alias=rechnitz-surprises-us-soldiers
        https://www.pinterest.com/YalehVeyavo/positive-informative-reads/
        https://www.pinterest.com/YalehVeyavo/hasidic-kindness-volonteers/

        I would love to help you more, but it takes time, so It will have to wait for when i am not so pressured and have some extra time to spare.

        Good Luck. Keep up the Positive work. Spread the light of “v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha” and respecting each other.

        Epes Ah Chosid.

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      2. Wow wow wow! This is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing these resources with me, I can’t wait to read them! Thanks for your encouragement, you’re already making me feel like we are neighbors 🙂 Gut shabbes and gut yontif!

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  5. This is such a beautiful, and hugely important article. Thank you for taking the time to share your love for our brothers and sisters with the same vehemence, compassion and respect that is expected for any other demographic beyond the Jewish community. It is very inspiring and heartening to see members of the Jewish community applying the values of social justice in such a caring way- achdus!! Thank you!

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    1. Thank you Ashira for your heartwarming words, I’m sitting here smiling and kvelling as I read them! Achdus, indeed! We should treat our fellow human beings with love and dignity, and that most definitely includes our own people! Sometimes in all the fighting, we lose track of that, but we must remember we were all created btselem elohim so let’s work together to make am yisroel and the world a better place! Your comment inspires me to continue to engage in tikkun olam- thank you! 🙂

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  6. I’m a gerrer chassid and while I know I’m not the norm in my chassidus, I am very respecting and a live and let live person. I agree with every word you said and I thank you for this great article. I don’t have to agree with anyone’s lifestyle to respect them as a person created in hashems image. I do my part by having a blog about the positives of my chareidi lifestyle. And some of the comments on here are gold. Take care!

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  7. As a Chabad woman, I appreciated this article immensely! You have a very clear perspective and presented our society beautifully. Many Chasidic Jews ARE pious and worldly, devout and accepting, religious and grounded. All the best!

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  8. I truly appreciate your article and am happy it is getting a lot of shares. It is a sad situation, but very true, that tolerance extends to everyone but orthodox Jews, and especially Hasidic Jews. Historically, the issue is much older than World War Two, as a discriminatory attitude towards Torah Judaism started in the 19th century. One of the ways that reformers went about gaining followers was to denigrate and stereotype orthodox Jews. One way to see this prejudice today, ask a Jewish parent if they would rather their child marry a Hassid or a Buddhist… I wish you great success with your Yiddish studies and visit us in LA some time!

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    1. Thank you Rabbi Yonah for your kind comments! Unfortunately, I think you’re right that this prejudice goes back many generations. Even if I follow a different Jewish path, I admire that Chasidic Jews want to preserve their traditions instead of assimilating. It’s beautiful to keep alive a religion and a culture going back millennia. All Jews should approach Judaism with passion for carrying forward our civilization and faith. Judaism is beautiful and I value the efforts of all those who seek to keep it alive, including Chasidim! Thanks again for your loving response and may hashem bless you!

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  9. Thanks for your sensitive, thoughtful article! As someone raised reform/secular and now living a chassidic lifestyle, I appreciate how well you exemplify many of my favorite modern values, such as seeking the value of differing perspectives. In that spirit, I want to submit my perspective on male-female social interactions in my experience in the Chabad community. Before I became more traditional in my religious practice, conversation with the opposite sex commonly had an edge of flirtation, even between upright and polite people (and you can imagine what the less polite version was). At times, with both men and women, there were uncomfortably explicit descriptions of people’s personal attractions and activities, as well as ratings of my value based on my appearance and my willingness to gratify others’ physical desires. When I became part of the Chabad community, these phenomena lessened to just about nil. I interact primarily with women, and we focus on common interests, spiritual aspirations, family, work, and giving each other emotional support. Since we are not competing to gain the attention of men, we do not concern ourselves with each other’s appearances. (We may be concerned, however, if a friend seems to be putting a whole lot of extra attention into looking alluring in public. Why does she think that she should be more sensational? Does she feel as if she isn’t good enough already? That she has to put herself on display to be seen as valuable? We would be concerned for her.) In interactions with men, there is no cultural permission for men to publicly express opinions about women’s appearances. I never get “checked out,” because the men train each other not to look at women in this way. I have experienced this as profoundly liberating. I now live in a society that acknowledges me more for making a positive contribution than for being pretty. Sisterhood with other women is a social reality, more than ever before in my life. The “male gaze” is nonexistent or well controlled, and it is the men who are taking responsibility for it. While my experience is not universal, and I have not addressed all issues related to gender, and none of us are perfect, I hope that others might be inspired to look deeper into the models that the Chabad community offers for integrity in relations between men and women.

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