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Posts Tagged ‘Chassidim’

Reb Elimelech M’Lizhensk (Part X)

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

To the misnaged-opponent, chassidus was not perceived as a different strand of normative Judaism, nor as a movement to uplift downtrodden Jews – but as an existential threat to Judaism itself. And the threat was no longer viewed as a futuristic potentiality; it was a real and imminent danger, for the movement was no longer limited to just the commoner but had infiltrated the ranks of scholars.

Accordingly, the opponents and their leadership concluded that the time had no longer come to halt the proliferation of the aberrant chassidic movement – but to annihilate it. If there was anything they had learned from the Sabbetai Zvi and Jacob Frank debacles, it was how important it was to crush false prophets at the very first signs, before affording a chance to influence and spread.

Those that had decided upon issuing a cherem (excommunication) against chassidim meant they had decided upon war. Any other move would be too little and too late.

The first stage occurred in 1771 when letters circulated regarding the heresy of chassidus. By 1772 full-fledged excommunication was in the works under the direction of no less a spiritual giant than the Vilna Gaon. The result was that the chassidim were ostracized and excommunicated in Lithuania and Galicia, and a rift had been wedged into the Jewish community.

The war against the chassidim continued to rage after the death of the maggid on 19 Kislev, 1772. With the master’s passing the chassidim concluded that it was time to formulate a counterstrategy. Until then, the battle had remained isolated enough that a single leader was capable of guiding the situation. But this was no longer the case. The battlefront stretched from Sokolov to Vilna, from Slutzk to Pinsk, and from Brisk to Brodi.

The chassidic camp universally felt that there was a need for leaders that were richly endowed with energy and charisma, those who would know how to guard chassidic interests and even be prepared to engage in battle. The candidate who they felt best filled this description was Reb Elimelech, who was to assume the mantle of leadership in Galicia and Poland.

Reb Elimelech was the son of Reb Eliezer Lipman, a leaseholder in the township of Lapachi, near Tiktin. Tradition maintains that Eliezer Lipman was an individual wholly committed to the sake of G-d and His people, outstanding in his love for all Jews. For this reason, chassidic folklore attributes the “crown of charity” to Reb Eliezer Lipman who was known to work sedulously to redeem the imprisoned and repay the debts of poor tenants incarcerated by their rapacious landowners. Everything he did was performed with complete anonymity.

Eliezer Lipman’s wife, Mirish, was also a holy personality who devoted her days to good deeds. Every Erev Shabbos she would travel to Tiktin to dispense alms. One story relates how a group of poor people came to her home. Among them was a leper covered in boils. Everyone avoided this poor soul, but Mirish did not shy away from the opportunity. She exerted herself on his behalf and cared for his needs. Just before the group’s departure, the leper blessed her by saying, “May your children be like me.”

Mirish was frightened, indeed in no small measure revolted by the blessing. But before she could respond, the entire entourage of poor people disappeared. She then understood that she had been subjected to a Heavenly test to gauge her resolve and commitment. Accordingly, the blessing that she received was G-dly in nature and intended for her good.

Mirish was illiterate and did not even know how to read from a siddur. Yet Reb Zusha would testify that when his mother would recite the blessings (which she obviously knew by heart) the Shechinah would hover there. (Obviously only an angel such as Reb Zusha could make such an assertion.)

This pious couple, who lived initially in destitution, were pained that their children were not learned in Torah. As they agonized over their plight, the Baal Shem Tov came to their town. This unknown itinerant would gather crowds of simple folk and regale them about the value of holy and pure prayer and the value of donating to places of worship. The couple was mesmerized by what this man had to say.

The Evolution Of American Orthodoxy: An Interview with Yeshiva University Librarian Zalman Alpert

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Books. Some people love them; others claim they can do without them. For Zalman Alpert, they are essentially his life.

For the past 35 years, Alpert has served as a reference librarian at Yeshiva University (YU). Educated at Columbia University’s School of Library Services and New York University’s School of Education, where he attained a master’s degree in Modern Jewish History, Alpert is one of those individuals who knows a little (sometimes a lot) about everything. Over the years, he has contributed articles to such works as Encyclopedia of Hasidim; Jewish American History and Culture: An Encyclopedia; Encyclopedia of Jewish American Popular Culture; Midstream; and The Jewish Press.

The Jewish Press: In your three decades as a YU librarian, what would you say was your most interesting experience or encounter?

Alpert: Well, one recent one took place last summer when I noticed a Catholic priest in the library. I started talking to him, and through conversation it became clear that his mother was a little girl during the Holocaust, was hidden by non-Jews, and never came back to Judaism. She adopted the Catholic religion and eventually married a Catholic in Poland.

For some reason, however – I guess because of the pintele yid inside her – she and her husband moved to Israel in the 1960s or so. This young man was born there and attended Israeli schools, but the family later left Israel and moved to a Polish enclave in New Jersey. Subsequently this young man returned to Poland, studied for the Catholic priesthood, got a doctorate in Old Testament studies using the Hebrew he had acquired in Israel, and is now a professor at a Catholic theological seminary in Poland.

I couldn’t really get this priest to admit he felt Jewish although he knew the halacha and didn’t deny he was Jewish. He said he came to the library to familiarize himself with midrashic literature because he wanted to see how the Jewish rabbis interpreted the Bible.

Have you ever met people in the library who would otherwise never dare step in YU due to ideological reasons?

Absolutely. In fact, many of the more interesting people I have met over the years are chassidic rabbis from Williamsburg. The Pupa dayan, for example, was here, as was the spiritual head of the Organization of Young Satmar Chassidim.

They come because everything is in one place, and many of them don’t want to go to the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) for theological and halachic reasons. In recent years, though, there’s been a marked decrease in the number of chassidim who come here because of the availability of such databases as HebrewBooks.org, Otzar HaHochma, etc.

Many people claim JTS’s library is far better than YU’s. True?

If you’re doing research that requires use of old manuscripts, JTS is better. But if you’re doing research that involves books published in the last few hundred years, I would say YU compares favorably to JTS and in some areas is even better.

Why does JTS have a better manuscript collection?

They started building their collection a lot earlier than YU. When Solomon Schechter took over the seminary in 1902, he brought part of his library with him, which included a lot of Cairo Geniza fragments. Also, Schechter brought faculty members with him who were very interested in creating an academic library, and they went to Europe actively seeking manuscripts and rare books.

In contrast, YU’s college was first created in the 1920s and the Jewish studies graduate school only started in the late 1930s. YU’s library only really became very professionalized after World War II.

How many Jewish books does YU own?

I would say 300,000-400,000. We also have something like 50 incunabula, which are books printed before 1500.

You possess something of an interesting family background. Can you share?

My parents were Holocaust survivors from Lithuania/White Russia. In Europe, my father was part of the Lubavitch community, but my mother came from a misnagdic background. I attended Lubavitcher school in New Haven for many years growing up, and then went to YU later on.

Do you consider yourself Lubavitch?

The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, said there were three sorts of Lubavitcher chassidim: chassidei ha’geza, i.e., people descended from Lubavitcher chassidim; chassidei ha’nusach, i.e., people who live their lives according to Lubavitcher minhagim; and chassidei Lubavitch, which I imagine means people who study Chabad chassidus and have a personal connection to the Rebbe. I would put myself in the first two categories.

Chassidic Surfers And Psychedelic Judaism: Daniel Weinstein’s Art

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Daniel Weinstein: Surfboards & Psalms
July 17 − September 1, 2008
J Klaynberg Gallery
121 West 19th Street, New York
http://www.jklaynberg.com/

 

Viewers who read Daniel Weinstein’s list of artistic influences on his website will get the impression they are dealing with an unusual sort of Judaica, even before they see the art. The “menagerie of sights and sounds” in Weinstein’s work draws upon the sacred and the secular: Hallel, Tehillim (Psalms), Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), the Israeli city Tsfat (Safed), South Beach, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, the Breslov singer Yosef Karduner, Rastafarian reggae musician Bob Marley, American rock band Alice in Chains, Chassidut, Dr. Seuss, Israel-based Lubavitcher painter Baruch Nachshon, the 1998 comedy “The Big Lebowski,” and Weinstein’s wife Leah Malka and son Aron.


On his site, Weinstein explains his seemingly incongruous inspirations with a quote from Psalm 100: “Serve Hashem with gladness, come before him with joyous song.” In an interview, he elaborated. “The concept of living daily life from a Torah perspective means that you don’t need to separate from society,” Weinstein wrote in an e-mail. “On the contrary, we need to bring a piece of G-d down here to our everyday lives. We are all influenced by many different things. The key is to channel it all into a worthwhile direction.”


To make this channeling work, Weinstein added, artists must not be afraid of separating art and life, even Torah-based life. “If I wake up one morning and decide Metallica’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ would make a great soundtrack for a five-minute animation of Matan Torah, I’m going to roll with that idea and not worry about whether it is appropriate or not,” he said, “because in the end, those five minutes of guitars, flames, and lightning bolts will find its audience and open somebody’s mind to the intensity and awesomeness of that moment.”

 

 


Seventh Hakafa.

Image by and courtesy of Daniel Weinstein

 

By now it should be clear that Weinstein’s Jewish art is quite a different blend from Chagall’s or Moritz Oppenheim’s works. For one thing, Weinstein’s works are not paintings in the strict sense of the word. They are Gicleé prints (“spray” in French and pronounced Zhee-Clay), which use ink-jet printers, pixels, and archival ink instead of canvas, gesso, and turpentine.

They also use a very different palette from historical Jewish art. Take “Psychedelic Simchat Torah,” which shows 16 Chassidic men − each wearing a shtreimel (fur hat), prayer shawl, and sunglasses and carrying a Torah − flying through the air over a couple dozen skyscrapers colored in “highlighter” shades of purple, orange, yellow, red, pink, and blue.

 

 


Psychedelic Simchat Torah.

Image by and courtesy of Daniel Weinstein

 

Simchat Torah is surely a holiday of intense joy in celebration of the revelation and receiving of the Torah at Sinai, but psychedelics usually evokes the counterculture of the 1960s and its drug-induced rock music. What place can this have in the context of a sacred celebration of the receiving of the Law? 

Weinstein points to British writer Aldous Huxley, author of the Utopian novel and psychedelic drugs-influenced Brave New World and The Doors of Perception, to respond to the charge that his works are contradictory. “The Torah has so many twists and turns and can be understood on myriad levels,” he said. “Each door you open opens another door.”


Weinstein’s art then, is about “stripping away” layers of the mundane and getting to the truth, which exists in a different reality. “I strive to use Judaism as a vehicle to find an altered and more beautiful state of reality and translate that onto canvas,” he said. In the case of “Psychedelic Simchat Torah,” Weinstein’s flying men draw upon a saying of a wise Rebbe: “A true Chassid must have his head in the clouds, but keep his feet on the ground.”

 

 


Yirmiah 5:22.

Image by and courtesy of Daniel Weinstein

 

“Yirmiah 5:22″ draws upon the biblical text, which tells of one of the many times Jeremiah is tasked by G-d to bear bad news to the Jews, though he is assured that they will ignore his accusations and predictions of the Temple’s imminent destruction. In chapter five, G-d sends the prophet to the house of Jacob and Judah to reproach the “nation of fools,” which has no heart and is blind and deaf despite its seemingly functional eyes and ears. “‘Do you not fear me?’ so says the Lord,” quotes Jeremiah in verse 22. “‘Will you not shake in front of my face; I placed the sand as a border to the sea, an eternal order which it cannot pass, and the waves throw themselves without lasting, and they cannot cross it.’”

Scavenging the text for visual elements to appropriate, a classical artist might show the prophet with a white beard, dressed in a biblical tunic, screaming at a chaotic mass of irreverent bystanders who turn their backs on him, mock him, and maybe even throw things at him. Perhaps a few believers in the crowd cover their faces in fear, or fall to the ground weeping.


But Daniel Weinstein’s “Yirmiah 5:22″ shows a very different scene, which does not even include Jeremiah. In the print, three bearded Chassidim, wearing big white kippot over their flowing side curls, run not to synagogue but along the beach. They wear sunglasses and carry surfboards decorated with logos that evoke “Hot Wheels”.


Weinstein often includes poems or other texts alongside his works, and the text accompanying Yirmiah derives from the final scene of the 1991 movie Point Break (about surfers and bank robbers), in which the character Bodhi says, “Time to dance with the universe.” Over e-mail, he added, “The scene here is depicting how at times we live on the edge, almost challenging G-d. We were just assured another flood will never come. So here we are, ready to catch the next wave with no worries.”

 


Waiting for the Sun.

Image by and courtesy of Daniel Weinstein

 

In “Waiting for the Sun,” the Chassidim (this time donning tallitot and tefillin) wait for the sun to rise to begin the Morning Prayer. The figure in the foreground plays an electric guitar, whose headstock seems to lift up the rising sun. “Wake up the dawn! Fury is the night. Glory is the morn,” explains Weinstein’s poem. “Instead of snoring can you hum me a bar? Three… two… one nicotine caffeine MODEH ANI.” On a metaphorical level, the work also illustrates Psalm 97, in which the “upright in heart” await the Holy Light, which is “sown for the righteous.”

Daniel Weinstein’s prints are certainly an acquired taste, and some viewers will no doubt examine them quickly and decide that they are too mesmerizing and hypnotizing, too colorful and too funky. But the form and the content come together in “Seventh Hakafa,” wherein hundreds of Chassidim (who appear somewhat abstracted and inhuman) dance around in circles in a spiral that descends to the center of the painting. “‘On Simchat Torah,’ goes the Chassidic saying, ‘we rejoice in the Torah, and the Torah rejoices in us; the Torah, too, wants to dance, so we become the Torah’s dancing feet,’” writes Weinstein in the accompanying poem. “The choreographic style of traditional Hakafot − Revolutions − reminds us there is no beginning and no end.”


Indeed there is an eternal and dizzying aspect to the Jewish tradition and its holidays. Perhaps classical paintings, with their muted colors and naturalistic treatment, cannot arrive at the sort of Jewish experience Weinstein captures. If Hakafot are supposed to be passionate circular dances, why shouldn’t they be depicted as psychedelic?


MENACHEM WECKER welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, DC.


For more information on Daniel Weinstein’s art, see his site: http://www.danweinsteinsart.com/.

Desecration At The Ohel Of Rabbi Elimelech Of Lejask

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

         It was only last week that thousands of Chassidim went to Lejask (Lizhensk) in order to commemorate the 222nd yahrzeit of the tzaddik, Noam Elimelech of Lejask (1717-1786). As always, these pilgrimages are a boon to the local community and usually bring good relations between the two groups.

 

         Just days after thousands of Chassidim had been to the town, someone had gone and spray-painted the holy Ohel (burial chamber) with swastikas on every side of the building.

 

         The Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland has said that the damage will be cleaned up as soon as possible, and the site will be ready for the coming commemoration in two weeks. It has been said that the plans to greatly expand the guest facilities will continue.


 


 

 


 

 


 


(Photos by Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland)


 

Q & A: Gebrockts (Conclusion)

Wednesday, May 21st, 2003

QUESTION: When I recently got married, I discovered that my wife has a different custom regarding Passover, namely, not eating matza and matza products that have been soaked or cooked in water, also known as the practice of ‘brocking’. What is this based on? Whose practice should prevail in our home?

Name Omitted By Request


ANSWER: Last week we began our discussion by noting the concept of the wife accepting her husband’s customs after marriage, whether they are more stringent or more lenient than
her former practices, just as an individual who moves to a new city accepts the prevalent customs in his new location. We also defined what constitutes matza sheruya, or gebrockts, and noted that the elderly who cannot handle hard matza may definitely use it.

This week we review some halachic opinions regarding the basis of this custom.

* * *

The Gaon R. Yosef Grossman, zt”l, in his Otzar Erchei HaYahadut (p. 297), explains: “‘Matza sheruya’ is matza that, after having been baked, is soaked or comes in contact with water in some other manner. Pious and practical men do not eat matza that is soaked in either water or soup. However, they are not as stringent regarding milk or fruit juice. In the diaspora, they are lenient in this regard on the eighth day of Passover; they do eat soaked matza – even those who are most scrupulous on the other days of Passover.”

R. Grossman continues, “This custom [of not eating matza sheruya] has no basis in halacha, as matza that has been baked cannot ferment, which would result in prohibited chametz; even so, Chassidim are meticulously careful not to eat matza sheruya, and they are also careful not to use any utensils that contained soaked matza.”

R. Grossman concludes, “One may not override customs that one’s fathers have embraced for many generations without nullification by a sage following a she’elat chacham.” (See Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 228:1.)

Similarly, the author of Likutei Maharich (p. 107) cites Derech Pikudecha by R. Tzvi Elimelech Spira (mitzvat lo ta’aseh 12), which states that all matters of stringency (chumrot) above and beyond the [halachic] requirement that one accepts upon oneself on Passover, do not have to be observed on the eighth day of Passover, because by keeping these stringencies the erroneous inference may be drawn that any leniency would result in chametz gamur, absolute chametz that is biblically forbidden. It is not proper to cast aspersions on a large segment of Israel by suggesting (even merely through one’s well-meaning actions) that they are careless in their observance of the prohibitions of chametz. Thus, many Tzaddikim, Admorim, Chassidim and other pious individuals have a custom to eat matza that is not shemura (i.e., matza made from wheat that was not under constant supervision from the time of the actual cutting of the wheat, which many people, including the above pious Jews, avoid during the first
seven days of Passover) on the eighth day. They do, of course, take care not to violate any prohibition of chametz on that day.

We do see some support for a halachic basis of the custom to avoid matza sheruya or gebrockts in the responsa of the Ba’al HaTanya, R. Shneur Zalman of Lyady. At the end of Vol. 4 of his Shulchan Aruch HaRav (responsum 6) he states: “I have seen at times matza that has on it bits of flour after it was baked, because the dough is hard and has not been properly kneaded. This could result in a biblical violation [if it comes into contact with water, providing a basis for the custom of the avoidance of eating soaked matza]…yet I would not come out against those of the general populace who are lenient in this matter, as they have upon whom to rely…”

Finally we quote from Nefesh HaRav by R. Hershel Schachter, shlita, Rosh Kollel of R.I.E.T.S. This sefer represents the views of his rebbe, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt”l. R. Schachter writes (p. 188): “Even though mitnagdim [as opposed to Chassidim] are not accustomed to refrain from eating gebrockts (matza sheruya) on Passover, the Beit Halevi [the Gaon R. Yitzhak Zeev Soloveichik] and after him his son, the Gaon R. Chaim Soloveichik, were both careful to refrain from eating gebrockts on the first day of Passover because of Rambam’s ruling [in Hilchot Chametz U'Matza] that one should not eat matza ashira on the first day of Passover, even when not eating it for the specific purpose of mitzvat matza at the Seder. Cooked matza is likened to matza ashira in this regard, and this chumra (stringency) is a tradition from R. Chaim of Volozhin.”

Thus, though we do find a halachic basis for stringency regarding gebrockts, every person should follow his family’s minhag, and in the merit of our diligent study and observance of His mitzvot, may Hashem bless us all with the ultimate redemption, speedily in our days.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/torah/q-a-gebrockts-conclusion/2003/05/21/

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