Thursday, February 19, 2004

I got an email today from someone asking why I am out to dirty the name of Chassidim. The letter was signed A. Chassid. It was not a remarkable one at all, and its tone was decidedly tame compared to many of the others I have received since starting this blog. He did not threaten me with anything, not even eternal damnation!

However it did catch me in a pensive mood so I left it open on the screen as I sat there thinking whether I am indeed baschmutzing the name of chassidim everywhere. This is the result. So I dedicate this posting to you, Big Chassid.

There are two kinds of rebels who buck the mould. You have what are known in Yiddish as the ‘laidigayers’, literally empty-heads. An unfortunate result of the over intellectualised culture we have created and which Chassidism was designed to overcome, these are (usually) young men who do not have the ability or desire to spend their lives studying. At best marginalised often shunned they have no choice but to create lives for themselves on the margins of our society. As our educational system does not provide education in any technical fields, these lives are often destined not to amount to very much. When they reach the obligatory yeshiva years the lucky few will be allowed to occupy themselves with the menial jobs like working in the kitchen or arranging the yearly Purim play. The rest will vegetate for a few years until they reach a marriageable age and someone ‘suitable’ can be found to take them. Artists, musicians and holders of other natural talents are often to be found in this category and in any other system they could develop into highly successful people. In our community there is no appreciation of such frivolity however, so living as second-class citizens seems to be their lot.

The other kind is the intellectual who either disagrees with the system or does not feel able to restrict his thoughts to those prescribed by the yeshiva curriculum. They are the Shgatzim (plural of Shaigetz). There are fewer of these but they are perceived as a far greater threat to the perpetuation of the Chassidic way of life and thus if they can be identified they will usually be expelled. Girls who do rebel tend to fall into the second category although I have seen some notable exceptions where hormones were the more likely suspects. Strangely enough I do not know of any boys who glitched for that reason.

The funny thing is that Chassidism was designed to be a Judaism for the masses. Before Chassidut Judaism was all about study. Anybody who could not or did not was called an Am haaretz (ignoramus) and was marginalised by the elite. The Baal Shem Tov brought a new vision. It was all about serving God in simple ways. Hence the birth of the Shabbos Tish (literally table).

Everybody was welcome to joyously celebrate the Shabbes meal with the Rebbe. A wee dram and lots of singing and dancing were the only ingredients needed. Through exploring the mystical significance of everyday activities like eating food and making love thousands of simple Jews found themselves involved in a religion they had thought excluded them and Chassidut captured the imagination of the masses.

It seems to me that the laidigayers and the Shgatzim are the real Chassidim of today, and the studious yes-men the usurpers.

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