Yesterday, in an article in Newsday, the world was introduced to the term Tuna Beigel. Now it’s time to retire it.
A little Googling will yield plenty of results for the term and almost all of them are negative. It’s used to describe people born to chasidic families who modernize. They keep many of the exterior elements of chasidishe life but lead lives that are not insular at all. They are familiar with popular culture, they have less rigid ideas about modesty, and they live outside the chasidic enclaves. However, I would say that these people are by and large orthodox. If they leave orthodoxy they leave this group.
For non-chasidim, these people can seem odd. They don’t speak English well, they are under-educated, they have chasidishe foibles and tendencies. Because of these barriers they don’t really integrate perfectly into the mainstream yeshiva world or into the modern orthodox world. Hence, they have their own group and their own name. The separate name and their lack of integration are an indictment of the frum world. Non-chasidim must do a better job of welcoming those who left insular community. Titles that mock their difficult choice would not a good way of doing this.
The problem is that Tuna Beigel is a pejorative. It is used to mock their Yinglish and I am told that many people use it derisively and many feel derided by the word. Of course there are many people from this group that use the word proudly. They are not insulted by the word at all. But too many people find the term offensive for it to be used in civilized conversation.
Personally, I compare it to using the “off the derech” to describe someone who left orthodox Judaism. I try very hard not to use that description because I think it is offensive. It tells those who left orthodox Judaism that they are off the path which implies that they are defective. While it’s true that orthodox Jews believe there is a path and those who left are not on the path, calling attention to that is implicitly offensive. Now, some people who fit into that category don’t find it offensive. That’s cool. But it doesn’t mean that we should use it. You’ll not find a single mention of that phrase on this blog unless I am quoting or paraphrasing someone else. That’s because I find it offensive.
Similarly, the term for modernized chasidim should not be offensive. In fact, I believe they should be celebrated and embraced. They are heroes. They are choosing our life. And it’s even more impressive that they are staying within the confines of orthodox Judaism even after having left the insular community. That’s the interesting thing about the article in Newsday. It’s a growing phenomenon and we hope it continues to grow.
In my private life I don’t use the word Tuna Beigel. In my public life I do not want to use it either and I don’t want others to use it. Try Modern Chasidim if you need a title. That’s what I use and I think it is a respectful and accurate description. (Modern Orthodox doesn’t work because that group stands for Torah U’Mada, excellence in secular education and high professional accomplishment. Hopefully the next generation of Modern Chasidim can grow into that.)
Let’s stop using this ugly term to describe Modern Chasidim. Let’s do a better job of helping them integrate into the non-chasidic world. If I offended anyone by my association with the article in Newsday, please forgive me. I admire the Modern Chasidim (and you ex-hasids too) and did not intend to hurt anyone. I hope we can work together to end the use of this term and create a brighter future for those who choose not to stay in the insular chasidic community.
(Also, I think the article is interesting. I was quoted a few times too.)
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About the Author: Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, J.D. is the rabbi at the famous Pacific Jewish Center | The Shul on the Beach in Venice CA. He blogs at finkorswim.com. Connect with Rabbi Fink on Facebook and Twitter.
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