Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Even old New York was once New Amsterdam...

This post began with some musings of how neighborhoods, cities, and even nations change composition. For example, how do neighborhoods turn over? You start out with a German neighborhood, and then some Poles move in. And at some point, the Germans are no longer predominant, and the character of the neighborhood definitely becomes Polish, and the Germans are the minority...

I started thinking about this as it could apply to Lubavitch, because I think they are a fairly unique group. Seems to me that the majority of growth in Lubavitch, since the Rebbe announced kiruv as a major goal, was accomplished by BTs to that movement, as opposed to some population explosion of core Lubavitch. The thing about these BTs is that for the most part they seem extremely well educated and intellectual. What is fascinating to me is that most of the children of these BTs wind up going to Lubavitch schools where, at least in my understanding, there is not a very strong emphasis on intellectualism.

So the first question is - how do the BT parents of these children feel about this? Are they upset over this; do they believe that in an ideal world their children should get the same type of education they did, or do they believe that the education they received is a bad thing and their children should be kept away from it?

Or is there a third possibility where for whatever reason, the parents had to make an either/or decision, because the Lubavitch community did not allow them to have both. Either you consider secular education and intellectualism to be valuable, in which case you will never truly become a part of the Lubavitch community, or publicly renounce this and become one of us. Could this be what is happening? And if that is the case, most BT parents would choose the latter?

So getting back to this idea of neighborhoods turning over - what if there were a rebellion in Lubavitch where enough of the BT families were able to essentially overthrow the old regime and allow a synthesis of secular education and chassidic Judaism. After all, Lubavitch always was considered the most theoretical and "bookish" of the chassidic movements? Would it be possible to create this "Modern Chassidic" branch of Judaism. Could you get some type of "ice nine" phenomenon to happen?

(BTW, this is purely a hypothetical, stream of consciousness idea. I have no stake in Lubavitch whatsoever)


Blogger -suitepotato- said...

I think of all the Charedi/Chasidic branches/varieties out there Chabad Lubavitch is the best positioned to create a Modern Chasidism.

One of the things that cemented by decision to head towards conversion (which I see as a nonstop process of change in myself for the better) was reading about the Baal Shem Tov. As was put in one book, a fool is someone who believes in all the stories or none of them. I think it wisest to read between the lines and see the great start of Chasidism represented by both conscience for G-d's interest in creation and for one's fellow man.

Chabad has great love for fellow Jews but is also the least hardcore "concentrate on other Jews" in attitude. They have an across the board feeling that looks good to anyone yearning to feel something more than they did before and something good.

Chasidism in general is /supposed to be about/ that great beginning. If it can be remade so more than the squabbling and persnickety stuff we see on the net periphery, and Chabad's style made more common... Yeah, MC could happen.

Which of course is NOT to diminish Breslovers or anyone else. I mean, read over Lazar Brody's site and see if there aren't times his outlook isn't quite a bit infectious.

I think though that the BT parents, as long as they outgrow the youthful non-thinking all-feeling over-enthusiasm that sometimes is seen, and grow with their families and kids as they become adults... Their secular side with regard to holding jobs and good careers will definitely be an influence.

I do hope the whole "Rebbe was the messiah" thing goes away quietly into their past though and they don't keep sliding in the cultish direction so many regard them as being firmly in already (which I think unfair).

January 22, 2008 6:02 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

suitepotato, are you converting, or have you converted through chabad?

January 22, 2008 6:22 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

speaking of baal shem tov, what happened to the vision of the BeSHT is not unlike the problem faced by anarchists, when they tried to organize into a movement. Or, I suppose, any movement which starts out as anti-estabishment, and grows to become so popular that they become the establishment...

January 22, 2008 7:37 PM  
Blogger Lubab No More said...

I can't speak for all Chabad communities everywhere but I can share my experience growing up as the child of BTs in Lubavitch.

My college educated folks had a number of Lubavitch BT college educated friends. All of their kids and I went to the local Lubavitch school where secular studies were kept to a minimum. I think we had maybe an hour of "english classes" a day. My parents and their friends fought via the PTA to increase the time alloted for secular studies. In the end I think they got it increased to an hour and a half.

However, there were also some Lubavitch BTs who didn't care about (or looked down on) a secular education.

There won't be a rebellion though. While there are many BT families in Chabad there are also the families who have been Lubavitch for generations. There is a bit of a caste system within Chabad. Let me be clear this is not a central part of Lubavitch culture but it does exist. It usually comes up when people make shidduchim or are selecting new leaders for the community. While there are many BTs the Lubabs with yichus pull just about all the strings.

January 22, 2008 8:54 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


I am aware of the caste system through some other blogs I read. What percentage of the movement do you think is BT/children of BT vs old school, big yichus Lubavitch?

January 22, 2008 9:04 PM  
Blogger Miri said...

I think the reason that so many intellectual BTs are attracted to Chabbad is that real harcore Chabbad Torah is practically pure intellectualism; with a nice dash of crazy kabbalah to keep things interesting. If you ever read any of the Rebbe's maamarim, they're basically all Rambam and Rashba. Chabbad Torah happens to be my favorite kind, bc it blends intellectualism with spirituality in just the right amounts. The crazy superstitious shtick is mostly recent and not really what the movement was ever supposed to be about.

As LNM said, some parents care more than others. One family I know removed their children from cheder and sent them to a more modern religous school that had a better secular education program; another family I know homeschooled their kids. Others just give up - they realize that a secular education is not necessary to lead a happy and fulfilled life in the Chabbad community, so why bother? It varies from family to family; but as a child of BTs myself (though not Chabbad ones) I can testify that there is a fairly prevalent phenomenon among them to abandon certain pre-frumkeit values, and to adopt those of the community, including, sometimes, a scorn of secular education and culture.

When I went to day school, we had two hours of secular studies. But maybe that's bc we had a great principal ;).

Also the caste system is a huge thing in summer camps. Believe me, when people are vying for positions, the politics goes on forever, and your family name plays no small part....

January 23, 2008 3:33 PM  

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