In the recent few months the Hassidic Community has been getting quite a bit of media attention. It started with Oprah (video attached to the link) interviewing and doing a segment on Hassidic Jews living in a small Brooklyn sector called Crown Heights. Then there was the story with Debora Feldman on The View (video attached to the link). There was Pearl Perry Reich on Dr. Phil (video attached to the link); and now this thing with The Asifa (lit. Gathering; which was to discuss the dangers of the internet in a Jewish Religious home and what the solution should be).
This article will discuss about what we as Hassidic Jews, myself included (as I was raised in a Hassidic home), go through, what we are taught, what we experience, and what is the outcome. But before I go into that I would like to give you a general idea of how Judaism as a religion is set up.
1. Jewish History 101
You see, we are a very small minority in the world; there are many reasons to that, due to persecution, libels, oppression, and our Halachic (Torah) views on accepting converts. But the main reason is simply because God Almighty wants it to be that way. It says in the Torah; “And you shall be to me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6) God has chosen the Jewish nation to be the chosen people and their aim in life is to act as role models onto the world; the fact that we have such a divine task, earns us the title of “chosen people.” Furthermore, we are the only religion in the world that actually discourages converts, whereas all other religions, conversion are one of their main behaviours.
Now, God has a very interesting way of running His world, it’s called Free Choice. God gave us the freedom of choice to choose how we would like to serve Him or not. The main reason is that it should come from a genuine place in our hearts. This is not only true to Jews but rather to all the nations of the world. The way God gave over the message onto the world is through the Bible or rather what we call Torah. The Torah is the foundation to most if not all religions, laws and traditional conduct as we know it today; some simple examples are the laws of not killing, not stealing as well as ethical laws such as not cheating and not lying. After God gave the Torah to Moses on Mt. Sinai He expected us to study the Torah and come to our own personal understanding. This will allow our own personal connection to the so called development of the Torah. Now what I mean by “development” is simply the uncovering of the hidden “code” that is in the Torah; this was done through very special groups of Rabbis that started right after the time of Moses, known as the Zekeinim (Elders), all the way down to the Authors of the Talmud and beyond (Ethics of our Fathers Chapter I). The Rabbis that were given authority to interpret and teach these new findings in Torah had to be of a very special and unique status and character.
Now with this whole preface on Jewish history, you can see how there is so much room for interpretation; seventy to be specific. The Talmud relates that “The Torah has seventy faces” (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15) In other words the Torah can be interpreted seventy different and unique ways. Why you ask? Because God wanted to “Enlarge the Torah and make it Mighty” (Isaiah 42:21) also, wouldn’t it be nice to be served in so many various ways?
2. The Variety of Jewish Traditions
Here comes the juicy part of history and the main focal point of understanding modern Judaism.
There is a hierarchy “ladder” system in Jewish groups.
That’s not it. These Categories are divided by demographical categories.
- Sefarad (of decent from Spain and most Arab or Muslim countries)
- Ashkenaz (most European countries including Russia as a whole)
- Mizrachi (quite recent; sort of a little bit of a mix of the two above; but is predominantly Sefarad)
The above categories only tell us from where the individuals get their traditions. Note each of these demographics had their Rabbis and leaders that had Halachic rulings associated with their culture and surroundings.
But wait, only to complicate things a bit more; these categories have sub-categories as well:
- In the Liberal Group
- In Traditional and Modern Orthodox
- Lots of groups that have different names depends on the community they come from
- Bnei Akiva
- Hebrew Academy
- Rabbi Shlomo Carlibach
- Dati Leumi (Nationally Religious)
- Litvish (Yeshivish)
- And so many other European and Russian/Ukrainian Groups
Yup = you guessed it… These groups themselves have sub-divisions, which I will not get into.
You see, our religion is so freak’n complicated, which conceives a whole bunch of confusion; no not only to you, not only to the world, but even to us.
Couple all that confusion and the need to survive all our persecution and you get one of two things or something in between.
- Extreme Right-Wing Fundamentalist
- Extreme Left-Wing Liberals
Today any sane Jewish individual has to find the healthy balance of the two; depending in which community they live in.
3. Observation on these recent developments
This part may include some of my personal resentment; it may include some of my personal judgments and prejudices; therefore please take this with a grain of salt and follow me through the logic and philosophical part of this.
Now that you got a very basic history lesson on Judaism in a nutshell, it will be a little easier to explain these recent stories that are being followed by the media.
People like Deborah Feldman and Pearl Perry Reich come from super ultra-orthodox communities. These people (trying not to judge) have a lot of personal issues with modern society and with anything outside the religion. In my personal research and analysis, I have concluded that a lot of this comes mostly from WWII – Nazi Germany and their reach. The community leaders tried their best to keep a close knit community to try and protect their members from getting lost to the world. They laid down some restrictions. As usual the common natures of people will be that some will take these restrictions to the extreme and some will find a healthy balance. The extremists had a higher chance of raising a dysfunctional home that will cause their children to possibly “run-away” or find another route.
Taking my personal story as an example:
I grew up in similar conditions; my family comes from the Traditional category. Our origins are traced back to Morocco and originally from Spain; that makes me of Sefaradi decent. My Father grew up in a very dysfunctional home. In order to escape his memories and the mistakes he has made in his personal life; he figured that he needed to become more religious. He chose Chabad; which is Ultra-Orthodox. This jump was extreme for the family and very stressful on me as a six year old child. My mother at the time was not ready to hear of it. I grew up in confusion until the age of nine and a half when my mother chose to join my father in his extreme religious views. I say extreme because my father had no real rabbi to guide him in his growth. He just jumped right to it and started mimicking people of the community around him. At this point; let’s add the beautiful ingredient of pain. I was abused; physically, mentally and even sexually. It has never stopped, it still goes on today.
4. The Point
This is not meant to be a sob story, therefore I will stop here. The point I am trying to make is:
- Judaism is a very small minority in the world, everything that happens in our small circles gets magnified. I strongly believe and it will be naïve of me to think that the abuse and extreme religious behaviours don’t exist in other religions and beliefs.
- Judaism has been under the radar for a while, mainly because it is too complicated to understand and to the protection of community leaders. I actually commend the media for trying to learn more of our culture, but I personally ask – do your proper research first; understand us fully before you look at individual and unique cases.
- There are mentally stable people and not so stable people in every culture, community and sector in society; that is normal life.
- Judaism is a stunning culture, a privilege to be, and so incredible in every shape and form. I personally now go to reputed Rabbis, read reputed books and follow my personal intuition. I do not rebel against my religion; I simply tell myself that unfortunately the information I have been fed in the past has been skewed and manipulated. The ill nature of the one who taught me is what confused me. I have the freedom to find my God in my own way. I believe that His Torah is absolutely amazing and full of wisdom, that everyone, not only the Jewish People can greatly benefit from this sea of knowledge. My only take on things is get educated properly and remember there is good and bad in everything; use your common sense.
Personally I think that “the Asifa” (Internet Gathering) was a beautiful thing. To see Forty-Thousand Jewish people in one very large stadium, not to mention all the other thousands that were viewing in through YouTube and other Internet Media sources. Woops, did I just say Internet Media sources??? Yes I did!
Furthermore, the event was sponsored by an Internet Filtering company. What relevance does that make? The solution was that every household needs a Filtering system in order to use the Internet.
For those Marketers and Business specialists that are reading; Yes it is funny and “$$Kaching$$”
For us simpletons; how are we supposed to react to this?
- You’re telling me not to go on the internet without a filtering system (what is that anyways?) yet you broadcast your event on YouTube (did I mention that you cannot filter YouTube? Filtering software such as K9, which is the one I have, blocks YouTube completely and I need to authorize it I would like to use that website. If I allow it, I have unblocked the entire website! Think about it).
- The only solution the Rabbis came up with; was to have a filter on my computer and I know that it was a Filtering Company that funded your event.
The Rabbis are not talking about the reasons why we even go on the internet in the first place; nor do they discuss why we need to explore the world beyond the doors of our synagogues and Rabbinical Colleges. Since when did these Rabbis become so Tech Savvy if they themselves have spent all their times in Synagogues and Rabbinical Colleges?
I can safely conclude that I am full of doubt, lack of trust and absolutely confused. How am I supposed to accept and respect these Rabbis?
I hope this has clarified a little on our communities and surroundings. My personal request from all the readers is to please not judge and assume anything about us. Come over and speak to us, speak to more than one of us, do your research and use your common sense.
I would love to hear back from the readers and share in dialog on this topic and it will be my pleasure to answer any of your questions if you have any.
- What Women’s Media Needs to Know About Chassidic Women (xojane.com)
- Hassidic women and the kosher bedroom (timesofisrael.com)
- Rabbis tell 60,000 Jews in NY: Get rid of the Internet if you know what’s good for you (timesofisrael.com)
- Against the future: inside the Jewish anti-internet rally (theverge.com)