Friday, August 20, 2004

Peyos and Queus (part 2)

Most Chassidim do not look down on Goyim. The reason Goyim get the impression that we do, is because they misinterpret our lack of common courtesy and consideration, as a sign of disrespect. In fact this is our normal behaviour and we dole it out fairly and in equal measure to Jew and Goy alike.

One could argue that informality in religion is the hallmark of Chassidus. The Shtiebel differs from a Shul (Synagogue) in precisely that. Where the Shul is supposed to be strictly a place of worship, the Shtiebel was created to be a kind of clubhouse for hanging out with God. Thus standing around and chatting it is allowed in a Shtiebel but not in a Shul. In addition to prayer the Shtiebel is used for feasting and study, research and learning, chatting and singing and communal gathering, while none of the latter is allowed in a Shul.

The Chassidic culture too is one of informality and within the confines of our bubble it works remarkably well. It is this familiarity and lack of ceremony which allows the rich and the poor, the old and the young to be part of the same social group. The successful lawyer, the physician and the (literally) great unwashed can mingle together and fuse into the single group. All strengths complement all weaknesses and few communities can claim to be as classless as ours. It is important to remember though, that informality is a concession that has to be granted. It is all well and good between consenting adults but hardly appropriate with strangers outside.

Chassidim are not taught to hold the door open for another to pass nor do they beg their excuses before pushing past. They think nothing of interrupting two people talking and are not averse to taking the last piece of schmaltz herring - even after six of them when others have had none. Chassidim among themselves are used to this and indeed expect nothing else. Just as between siblings it is neither unusual nor sinister to hear “Shut up moron.”, but on the street it is both, much of our casual behaviour in Shtiebel is inappropriate outside. Indeed I have heard from many who came to Chassidus later in life that that this is one of the hardest adjustments they have to make.

Unfortunately as we Chassidim become ever more insular and isolated so we are losing touch with the impression we make on those outside. What to us seems like friendly informality often comes across as arrogance and callousness and disrespect. So next time a chassid pushes you out of the way as you read the notice board, or a child allows a door to swing closed in your face, try telling them that what they just did is called rude. He will probably snigger and question your lineage but at least it’s occuring inside and, frankly, who

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