Q: Is it too sensitive to ask how the
‘veneration’ of Chasidic rebbes (or just Chabad? I don’t know) is
different than non-Chasidic groups? Is that what defines Chasidic Jews
as Chasidic? Are there some without ANY rebbe? Do non-Chassidic Os
venerate their rabbis? And how is a rebbe different than a rabbi? Which
is what in relation to a rav?
A. My personal (non-Chassidic) relationship with my rabbi is described here. In Chassidic communities, the whole structure of the community centers around the Rebbe (pronounced reh-buh). He is venerated, respected with awe, trust, and love, and consulted on major and minor decisions. He is approached for a blessing before travel, before business dealings, and before matchmaking one’s children. He is approached for prayers and blessings in times of crisis, before a medical procedure, and when marriages falter. He is honored at every milestone, wedding, bar mitzvah, and holiday.
Where the Rebbe is no longer alive, and no successor appointed, as with Chabad or Breslov, the deceased Rebbe is still venerated in memory and via his teachings as the core place of inspiration for the Chassidus (Chassidic sect).
It is a central part of being Chassidic, but it’s not the only thing that defines Chassidic living. Insularity and eschewing of secular culture is another major factor, as well as joy, passion and song.
Chabad is different in that its Rebbe (called “the reh-bee” by the more culturally American adherents or “the reh-buh” by its more Chassidic-oriented adherents) passed away around 15 ago and, childless, did not appoint a successor (as is usually the practice). That’s how Chabad came to be a Chassidus with no living rebbe.
Non-Chassidic Os definitely venerate their rabbis but not to the same degree. Typically it would be either their congregational or community rabbi (called a “rav“) or a rabbi from their educational years at yeshiva (called a “reh-bee“). All of them, in English, are rabbis.
Plurals (I find a lot of people use term one when they mean term two):
1. Rebbeim (ra-bay-im): plural for day school/yeshiva teacher rabbis
2. Rabbanim (ra-buh-nim): plural for congregational or community rabbis
3. Rebbes (reh-buzz): plural for Chassidic rabbis
That was a very clear lay-out of terminology. As for the non-Chassidic Orthodox communities, I've read that the approach to one's rosh yeshiva can take on some of the roles that a chassidic rebbe might also serve, in some black hat communities. Obviously, the Modern Orthodox community is quite different. (I try to explain the differences to some of my non-Jewish colleagues. Sometimes it communicates. Other times- not so much.)
I think that their wives are all "rebbetzin" in Yiddish, and "rabbanit" in Hebrew. Are there differentiations that I'm not aware of, there?
I'd love to hear more about the relationship of the modern Orthodox community to its rabbi. I'm not that familiar. You are correct that one's rosh yeshiva (dean of yeshiva) may take on the rabbinic role. In fact, young men are strongly encouraged to develop that "rabbinic" relationship with at least someone during their lives – whether it's a former Rebbe, a rosh yeshiva, or a congregational rav – so that he is asking questions and remains "plugged in" to a spiritual source.
MOST of the wives would be Rebbetzins in Yiddish. Rabbanit would be reserved more for Israeli, modern Orthodox, or Sephardic communities, I believe. A rosh yeshiva's wife or day school rebbe's wife may or may not be a rebbetzin – it depends what types of roles she fills in the the community. A young day school rabbi who is in his 30's – his wife would most likely NOT be a rebbetzin. A congregational rabbi's wife would nearly always be termed "rebbetzin."
Thanks, helpful. So I thought you (Ruchi) are non-Chassidic AND all about joy, passion and song. Are Chassidic Jews more so? Are you atypical for non-Chassidic Os in your own joy, passion and song?
It describes more the learning/praying style of man than actual personalities. Plus, nowadays there's so much mix and crossover. My grandparents were all Chassidic, so there's some residue there 🙂
men, not man.
For an explanation of the chassid-rebbe relationship, see Hidden in Thunder, by Esther Farbstein, pp. 68-75. These pages are almost all available on Google Books.
As I understand it, the chassidic movement started to a large extent as a response to a societal over-emphasis on excellence in Talmud study and devaluation of the contribution of non-intellectuals. The chassidim emphasized the emotional side of connecting to God. I would actually leave passion out of the comparison because I think the intellectuals were equally passionate, just in a different way.
Really, we all have minds and emotions, and we're supposed to use both in our religious lives. Fortunately, over the centuries the two groups have moved toward each other.
Another question, if it's not too personal: If all your grandparents were Chassidic, how did you come to be not-Chassidic? If you have Chassidic cousins, how do you handle the differences (which apart from degree of Rebbe-veneration and more song in prayer I'm still not clear on)? Do the Chassidic Jews have conflictual relations between their various groups, and do they see non-Chassidic Os as not fulfilling all the commandments (sort of the way Os see Rs or Cs, in my understanding)?
And I gather the Kabbalah-mysticism part is more on the Chassidic side, because it's less 'rational'?
Grr, I wrote a whole response that got swallowed by Firefox. Take 2.
I'm not entirely sure why or how the Chassidish-ness got mellowed over time. Here are some possibilities.
1. The major yeshivas available in this country after the war were the ones that were transplanted from pre-war Lithuania. So my grandparents, whose parents were all totally Chassidish before the war, birthed sons who attended the Lithuanian (decidedly non-Chassidish) yeshivas. Of course the customs, pronunciations, et al, were affected.
2. Also, my grandparents themselves were "less" Chassidish after the war. Why? I don't know. Maybe because their formative years were spent in Auschwitz and their primary years of education interrupted. Maybe they were just trying to make it in this country with their Shabbos observance intact.
3. My grandparents, and many of their peers, were very keen on their children, the baby-boomers, getting a decent college education, as opposed to "going into business" as they themselves did. Was this some form of trying to protect their children against victimization? Again, I couldn't say. But it definitely contributed in some measure to the "Americanization" of that generation.
We do have cousins who have retained the Chassidish roots. The main differences are not Rebbe veneration or singing, but rather customs relating to dress, insularity, and Yiddish being their main language. Cultural more than philosophical. There are also some extra customs that are important to them that we don't observe (ie staying up all night before a baby's bris to learn Torah – that sort of thing) but don't disagree with either.
How do they view us? Probably they feel we're missing out on some spiritual aspects of our faith. But they respect our fidelity to halachah, which is the bottom line in Orthodoxy. Ironically, my brother has chosen to return to our Chassidic roots and now lives that lifestyle.
The Kabbalah/mysticism thing is part our education (like I said, there's a lot of overlap today so we learned some of these ideas even in our more "standard" Orthodox education) and part personality. Although I do kid my husband that he's a closet Chassid. He sees spirituality everywhere. I'm more mathematical, believe it or not.
Thanks for all this great explanation, it is a personalized slice of Jewish history that I'm pleased to understand better.
So the Chassidic yeshivas (did they have Yeshivas?) didn't make it to the USA post-Shoah. And some got Americanized. Does this mean that you are 'more observant' than your grandparents were (after they settled down in the USA)?
I'm in a former East German town right now for work, and my host here was mentioning a developing Jewish congregation while showing me around. I asked him for more details, but he isn't sure.
Former West German big cities have visible Os around, but I doubt they are here in a smaller eastern town, and I'm not sure they aren't American transplants anyway. Interesting to know how Jewish communities in Germany reconstitute themselves a few generations post-Shoah (and in Germany, big difference, obviously) vs. your grandparents' generation in the USA. If they aren't O here, I imagine they might be Russian, but not sure at all.
I am not sure when/how the Chassidic groups became well-established enough to create their own strong yeshivos in this country. Maybe others who are more knowledgeable can weigh in.
Am I more "observant" than my grandparents were? I doubt it. Maybe in some areas of halachah we are privileged to have learned more than our grandparents whose connection to home and access to education was brutally severed, but I still think that in basic faith, love, and relationship to God, especially after having gone through what they did, they were/are my masters. Even within my four grandparents, there's such a range. One is American-born and did study in yeshiva for many years. One died before I was born, so I don't know. My two grandmothers are very different from one another.
One day you'll have to do a guest post on Orthodox life in Germany in life post-Holocaust. That would be fascinating.
It would also require me to go deep undercover. Sounds like an excellent plot for a thriller. 🙂
Where exactly do you work right now, SBW?
I have connections to O communities here in germany, living here myself. Maybe I could answer a few topic-related questions from my limited perspective. 😉
Kat, I'm just here for another week, not long-term. Sounds like you could do the reportage without the spy training.
🙂 However, I'd like to have an exchange with you. Would it be possible to get e-connected with you via Ruchi? Ruchi, would you do that? We could both send our e-mail addresses to you and you get us in touch? That would be soso great!
What would be interesting for you all about post-shoa German Judaism? Maybe I could provide some infos…
This was so helpful, Ruchi! Thank you for explaining all the differences in the meaning AND in the pronunciation.
I'm going to weigh in here as a wannabe-'chassidiste' [female chasid] of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I went in the opposite direction from Ruchi – my forbears were staunch Hungarian "perushim" (ie non-chassidim).
The attachment of a chasid to his rebbe is the most important component of chassidic life and what defines one as a chasid. For us, he embodies the Moshe Rabeinu of our generation, the leader above all others.
Insularity and eschewing of secular culture is not practiced in Lubavitch, although many "litvish" i.e. non-Chassidish communities, do live this way, so I wouldn't call it definitive of Chassidism.
Joy, passion and song were introduced to Torah Judaism by the Baal Shem Tov, but as you have pointed out, these have long since been accepted by praciticing Jews everywhere.