On the Times

On the Times

A woman looking at her watch can't believe it's 2012 already
It’s not 1896! Take off that chinush jabot, mammele, and get with the times!

In some ways, Hasidim are completely stuck in the past. They behave, dress, speak, experience culture and observe Yiddishkeit as if it were two centuries ago. In other ways, they are masters of modernity, technology and fashion. I can’t completely make sense of this contradiction.

There is no doubt that even if Hasidim tried to resist the times, the explosion of advancements in the last two hundred years has made it nearly impossible to do so. And Hasidim aren’t foregoing opportunities to exploit these advancements for their own good either. Where technology can aid religiosity, be it to detect some living germs on lettuce or to send lab analysis of Rabbi’s voice recordings to prove authorship, the role technology plays in Hasidic life is significant. Unlike the Amish, there’s no shying away from onslaught of technology. Instead, Hasidim modify it and adopt it.

The new theory I am developing is that the Hasidic society survives by a system of Structured Adoption (henceforward… ehhem…SA). This means that Hasidim adopt outside ideas but in extremely specific and limited ways. Whenever change or progress is made in the secular world, these changes affect the Hasidic community. There is initially some floundering and struggles to adopt these influences in ways that don’t threaten pious seclusion, but after a while leaders legalize a form of structured adoption (SA, like I said!). For example, thirty years ago our parents had much more liberty in dress and behavior, even in Satmar. After some time, the Satmar Rebbe codified the Satmar American dress code, devising for instance, specific Palm tights, and from that point on Western dress became a non-threatening expression of fashion in a particularly Hasidic way. The adoption became more structured when t-shirts were ruled unkosher except under a shirt or over a shirt.

A current example would be when a new hairstyle is released or a new style of music arrives on the scene. Rabbis and the people are ambivalent about what goes and what doesn’t, but after some contradictory stances rabbis pretty much codify the exact stance, i.e., new music by Lipa is assur but by Weber is ok, the Rachel Cut is okay, but reaching below the shoulder is not.

These structured adoptions (SA!) help Hasidism survive as they are also changing.

It is yet to be seen if my theory will hold with the biggest threat to Hasidism: internet.

PS: I’d originally really wanted to do this cartoon with a rebbeh at his tish instead of a chasunadika lady, but submitted that it would be entirely unrealistic for a rebbeh to use a modernity like a wristwatch.

  • Vus a chilik
    Posted at 12:57h, 03 March Reply

    Bshem kul hakuhol hakoidesh hazah we would like to recognize the zchiah we had that we finely got blessed with another great article from ohy vay cartoons..Its a bchinah of “bishvilly nivruh hoilem” its all about the yiden.. i think the internet is part of a gift that god gave to the rabunem so they can keep themselves busy, who else as good as god knows how capable they are to destroy his world so now they have what to play with…
    I cant wait for the concept about 3D to develop in the hasidic community, not only do we need to pray each tfilah 3 times but every aveirah adds up to 3..
    Keep up the good work..

  • Ashmedai
    Posted at 13:10h, 03 March Reply

    Rather then an indictment, this phenomenon would seem laudetaury.
    In fact, there are real differences in different chassidic ‘hoif’n’ (yards).
    Lubavitch adopted the radio, which was tumeh in places like satmar.
    These days satmar would be giving kiddush if thats all they had to deal with.
    Belz, from what I hear, has melamdim trained by psychologists in the play areas
    at lunchtime to study & observe the children who may not be happy, or lacking
    friends etc.
    New Square of course has recently discovered lighter fluid intended for barbeques
    and adopted it for their own religious purposes.

  • Shragi
    Posted at 19:12h, 03 March Reply

    When are they going to perform a structured adoption of the NY Times? I mean it’s been around for like 500 years!

  • Anonymous
    Posted at 08:14h, 06 March Reply

    I think it’s a pick and choose situation.
    Anything cooking/house appliance is usually accepted, it’s only when external influences or woman come into play that there’s a problem (like a lad’s voice on GPS)

  • prag
    Posted at 08:15h, 06 March Reply

    I think it’s a pick and choose situation.
    Anything cooking/house appliance is usually accepted, it’s only when external influences or woman come into play that there’s a problem (like a lad’s voice on GPS)

  • Yoelish
    Posted at 13:39h, 10 March Reply

    You might have wondered, if a wristwatch was an abomination, how did the rebbe catch the train on time? One answer is that he indeed didn’t. But another answer is that as the locomotive made its first appearance and started passing by the shtetel, it was in fact considered a product of modernity and was shunned by certain Hassidim. Now their descendants still uphold those edicts and shy away from dangerous wristwatches and locomotives; instead, they use the less modern “smart phone” to tell time, and airplanes to travel. 🙂
    But on a more serious note, it has been said about, I think, the Shinever Rov that he didn’t allow his followers to don the now-ultimately-Hassidic beaver hit, which at the time was new and modern. Later when he himself would already wear them, he explained his seeming inconsistency by saying that the hat itself isn’t wrong, but it’s the idea of being in tune with the zeitgeist. Once fashion becomes mainstream or outdated, it’s perfectly fine to adopt for practical reasons.
    That might explain the inexplicable resistance to “harmless” aspects of mundane life: Long pants, buttons on shirts, low-cut shoes, bicycles, wristwatches. For the most part, they’re no longer resisted, but they’re still those who continue the original practice. And that – the perpetual and zealous resistance to aspects of life that is no longer considered modern – brings me to the second point at play here: conservationism and an inflated nostalgia for a past that is often a comforting figment of the contemporary imagination. This concept is as old as human civilization. And on that subject, please allow me to quote from A Provocative People by Sherwin Wine when writing about early civilization (I could have looked for more scholarly voices, but this passage came to mind and was the book handy):
    The technology of a developing agricultural world started with polished stone and added copper and tin. The age of metals provided more strength and more flexibility to tools and weapons. It also enhanced the options for artistic expression. Wealth in metals, including silver, gold and iron, were now added to the old wealth in wood and stone. But each new change challenged the authority of the ancestral spirits and gods. Religion was essentially conservative, feeding on the approval of the past. If the ancestors knew only stone, then the use of metal became suspect. The most sacred objects and substances were those first used. Innovation had to prove that it was “old” in order to be accepted. time and ingenuity usually managed to trace what was new back to the distant past where it could enjoy the endorsement of ancestors.

  • Gerry
    Posted at 22:45h, 11 March Reply


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