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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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The Winds of Mysticism

"Na, nach, nachman meuman" is a mantra used by some sub-groups of the Breslov Hasidic Jews, and written on all kinds of places around Israel.

"Na, nach, nachman meuman" is a mantra used by some sub-groups of the Breslov Hasidic Jews, and written on all kinds of places around Israel.
Photo Credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90.

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As I was browsing through some of the news media, blogs, and other social network media that I frequent (as source material from my blog), I came across a number of articles that seemed to have a common theme. There seems to be an increase in the number of ads for mysterious Segulos as well as announcements about getting Brachos from rabbis. So too are there all kinds of spiritual messages being ‘seen’ in various events of the day – like blaming a tragedy on a defect in Klal Yisroel that needs to be ‘repaired.’

While there may be sources for all of these things, it seems like there is much greater focus on them than ever. The message is that no matter how much we try and fulfill the word of God, it isn’t enough. That we must seek some sort of ‘magic’ bullet to grant our heavenly requests, whether for Parnassa or the health of a loved one who has fallen ill, or praying for fertility… what have you.There is an increasing number of cryptic avenues of this type being touted for successful resolution of one’s needs.

This used to be more the province of Sephardim and Chasidim. But lately it has affected the non Chasidic Ashkenazic Yeshiva world as well.

One e-mail I received contained a picture of a poster hung in a Shul with the announcement that Rav Shach’s grandson, R’ Yissochar Bergman, is collecting “Kvitlech”(written prayer requests – usually accompanied by a donation) for Rav Chaim Kanievsky. This used to be only a Chasidic custom. But now it is ‘catching on’ in the Yeshiva world. You can’t get more Yeshivish than Rav Shach.

There is also the custom of going to Uman on Rosh HaShana. This used to be reserved for Breslover Chasdidm since their Rebbe is buried there. Now there are hundreds of non Chasidim going there too. That has in fact been sharply criticized in the past. It is one thing for a Breslover Chasid to do that – although I question even that. It is another thing for others to do it. The idea of leaving your family behind and going to Uman for Rosh HaShana is perverse to my way of thinking. But now a venerated sage, R’ Aharon Leib Steinman seems to be giving his blessing to it. As pointed out in a post on Rafi’s blog:

This year Rav Shteinman was asked his opinion on the matter. His answer was, reportedly, along with a backhanded compliment, “What’s so bad about them going to Uman? It wont do any harm. Just the opposite – with such a large crowd, there will definitely be a minyan of people davening properly…”

In another post in that same blog is the following:

According to Bechadrei, Rav Birnzweig, a rav in the Mirrer Yeshiva, claimed during his mussar shiur, that Rav Elyashiv was murdered. He said:

Recently we have heard of gedolei yisroel who have passed from this world, everybody must arouse themselves [to teshuva]. Rav Elyashiv and the Admor of Shomrei Emunim were murdered due to the yeshiva bochurim and kollel avreichim who use smartphones.

Right! Rav Eyashiv’s “untimlely” death at age 102 was actually murder due to smartphone use. And who is making this wild speculation? A Rosh Yeshiva in the Mir!

These people are not fringe people. These are respected, serious, mainstream Yeshiva world people. And they are beginning to sound like charlatans and snake oil salesman!

Is this the direction the Charedi world is going in? Is this the unity we should be looking for? A melding of the Chasidic and Yeshiva world that encompasses the entirety of all Asheknaz Charedim? Is the focus becoming mysticsm over rationalism? I know that there is more of a focus on mysticism among Sephardim. But Ashekanzim in the Yeshiva world have never focused on that. Until now.

I realize that not all Charedim buy in to this stuff. Most moderate Charedim do not. But there are so many indicators of this kind of thinking permeating the Charedi world it that I am beginning to wonder if it is the wave of the future? Will it become more mainstream? Is Judaism becoming a religion of mystical Segulos, and Rebbeshe Brachos, blaming every tragedy on the perceived communal ill of the day? Or will we instead be of a religion of merit based on rationality, personal behavior, adherence to Halacha, and direct prayer to God? It would seem that the former is becoming more of a possibility based on these reports.

I guess that is one of the differences between Modern Orthodoxy and the Charedi world. Modern Orthodox Jews tend to shy away from these kinds of things – if not outright reject them. This not to say that Modern Orthodox Jews are perfect. Far from it. But in this one area at least, I think they are on a better track than Charedim.

I have been saying for some time now that the majority of Orthodox Jewry in the future will consist of the “New Centrists” – a melding of Moderate Charedim with right wing Modern Orthodox Jews. I still believe that. But the mysticism of Sephardim and Chasidus seems to be making in-roads. Especially with mainstream rabbinic figures supporting it. I sure hope this is only a passing fad.

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About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.


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3 Responses to “The Winds of Mysticism”

  1. Uri DeYoung says:

    Very good article. Just one point: I'm not sure why you seem to maintain that this retreat into mysticism is to be "expected" from the Sepharadim, and is therefore "OK for them" — but not for "us." We are all one people, and what's bad for one group of Jews is bad for all groups. Our flight into mysticism was picked up by various communities in the dark exile as a response to our suffering and feelings of powerlessness. Many of the practices are clearly not in accordance with normative halakha, and they are certainly inappropriate in today's Jewish reality.

  2. Yosef Shomron says:

    I remember when my school aged children use to bring home "hamsas" from their religious zionists schools and simchas – I made them throw them away with the admonition that we only believe in the G-d of Israel. kol hakavod for highlighting a problem in today's Jewish world.

  3. Shalom Dym says:

    I don't think this is a passing phase. Also, contrary to what you write, it seems that non-charedim are even more interested in hassidut kabbalah and mysticism, including R' Nachman, than charedim.

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Binyamin and Chaya Maryles, uncle and aunt of Emes Ve-Emunah author Harry Maryles.
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