September 12, 2012 On Uman
We’re reading some of Reb Nachmen of Breslev’s writings this semester in college. Yes, of all things we study at Sarah Lawrence, Reb Nachmen’s works made the cut for my modern Jewish literature class, and I’m looking forward to it.
Reb Nachmen was a prolific writer, called by some the most innovative of all Hasidic Rebbes in his unusual tales. He was described in Gottlober’s Yiddish memoir as a total fruitcake who wandered off in the woods and took off into poetic spheres that bordered on crazy. His disciples follow his fruitcake path piously to this day. You see them in the streets dancing to the n-n-nachmen music with those waterfall-tipped yarmulkas, and you meet them in the parks trying to smuggle indecipherable pamphlets into your bag. One Breslever attacked me with a long Hebrew rant, which I appreciated only because it was an opportunity to practice Hebrew in New York. These men are indefatigable. The Breslevers are probably the only remaining group that is Hasidic and not reactionary and purely rigid.
Breslever draw some of their people out of mainstream Hasidism. A friend of mine’s husband somehow got drawn to their spirited movement. Oy, it vas not goot. Some family members disowned him, but worse, my friend had no control over the whole situation. We were all wary of him. He went to Uman, spent hours in his kupka and grew long payos to his naval and read trippy mystical writings. He was not “normal” – this being the ultimate sin. Wouldn’t he make the basis of a fine fiction story? I think so. Ironically, his behavior sounds like authentic old-school Hasidism. To people like him, Breslev provides an outlet of nonconformity and individuality that does not completely compromise the Hasid’s relationship to the Hasidic community. Of course, that goes for men only. Women have no such opportunities. Women can knit a gartle if they like.
Breslev or not, half the world population is congregating in Uman – where Reb Nachmen was buried – for the high holidays. From reports, it seems at Uman they pull all-nighters and bathe and purify in lakes buck-naked. But — no girls allowed. Signs are hung all over Israel prohibited women from joining. Women are meant to sit home and go off their rockers for two/three long days with their children licking honey all over them. I think this is an opportune time for me to Rosa-Parks-ride in and join the fun. Especially the bathing. Reb Nachmen will wake from his grave alright, and roll over. And I’ll do my mean n-n-nachmen dance.
A feminist Breslever. What thinks you?!