Friday, November 27, 2009

Why do people think chasidim are more religious?

I was just thinking about this over breakfast...

Anyhow, I think that it's a spill over from the secular culture and for that matter, Xtianity. To the Xtians, they look at the Amish as this separated religious group. Now, I know the chasidim don't like being compared to the amish but, I think their mode of dress facilitates such thought.

Since the greater society thinks of the amish as the more religious Xtians, so it is when people think of chasidim, this is how they think of them. People think of them as the Jewish version of the amish. As much as they complain about this comparison, look at how they indulge in the resulting reputation of piety. I think, though, those of us already Orthodox Jews know better. However, it works on incoming prospective converts and prospective BTs.


  1. I don't know that we "indulge in the resulting reputation of piety," especially not people my age. I don't think that it is primarily tied to the Amish, but I think that it happens to be that the more people seem different and separate, the more they seem to be into their own thing, and thus with Jews, the more religious they would be. I have seen baalei teshuva and gerim who have assumed that Chasidim are more religious, and so they tried to become Chasidish because they thought it would make them more authentic or something. I have always attempted to discourage these people from becoming Chasidish unless they actually identified or felt close to Chasidus itself, or to a Chasidishe community.

    I happen to think that the notions of extreme piety and religiosity work strongly to our disadvantage. It makes people assume that we are malachim (admittedly, some people within our community do enjoy this reputation), but then when we prove to be regular human beings, it makes people think worse of us than they would think of someone else who is discovered to simply be human.

  2. I think, actually, it's more the Chabad Chasidim who enjoy it, especially since their mission is to reel in the BTs. Although, I think they would protest the idea, they would enjoy the outcome-that the BTs come to them and not another group.

    I have also seen BTs and gerim who assume the Chasidish way is somehow better. When I was in a conversion program, I asked one of the girls to study with me one Sunday. She told me she couldn't because she was going to a Tanya class at the Chabad. I tried to explain to her, that Tanya is only something the Chabad study and not essential to a conversion and she didn't care or think I knew what I was talking about.

    I later discovered that instead of making borai nefashos after fruit, she was doing one little blurb from Al Pri Haetz. As I've mentioned before, they really let alot of people go under the radar not knowing what their doing. Ok, train of thought has derailed.

  3. The Chassidim are usually seen as more religious because the definition of a chassid is one who takes on more than the law requires.

  4. (Response to Michaltastik)
    Well, if you feel that Chabad is a Chasidic group, then I suppose you're right. Chabad not only asserts their superiority when dealing with non-frum people, but they attempt to do the same when dealing with frum people. It causes alot of friction between Chabad and Chasidic groups, and it has very, very little to do with their opinions about their rebbe.

  5. There's a more general problem here. For many non-Jews and for many of the less knowledgeable irreligious Jews the term "chassidic" and "ultra-orthodox" are synonyms. It is surprisingly difficult to get people to understand what other junk this was.

    I remember in highschool if someone made this mistake while trying to argue about some basic aspect of Judaism, I'd just light into them. At one point, I asked a girl how she could possibly think she had anywhere near the knowledge to have any opinion on what she was talking about if she didn't know something this basic. Then she burst into tears. (I don't think I've made anyone cry by calling them ignorant for some time now. I'm getting better)

    The real question is how can we get people to understand that ultra-orthodox, chassidic, black-hat are all different things. (There's I suppose some degree of confusion in that the term ultra-orthodox is sometimes found offensive but charedi is sometimes used to be UO but mitnagid).

    I suppose that most Jews and even most Christians don't have very clear understanding of what all the differences are between the different Protestant denominations. But that doesn't seem the same sort of thing. Maybe because there are so many or maybe because the differences are in many respects much tinier (I had a religious studies professor who used to say that American Protestants have so many denominations so they can pretend to be more diverse than they are)

  6. Bee Zee,
    I personally think of Chabad as chasidic but separate from all other chasidic groups.

    There's a guy I know who wants to convert. All he ever says is, "I want to be chasidic." What kind? Chabad. Why? In his mind they are more religious than other types of Judaism.

    Most people like to repeat others opinions and don't know what they are talking about.

    As a former protestant, who even went to a protestant college, there really is no difference between most of the denominations and often two of the same denomination are nothing alike. For example, a black baptist church is NOTHING like the baptist church I used to attend where everyone was white. I bet the women wear pants at the black baptist church. I wore pants to church one Sunday and I got more looks than I did when I wore a pantsuit to an Orthodox shul early in my conversion.