Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Secular Jews touring Haredi Neighbourhoods


Israel's secular press is, as we all know, not too friendly towards the haredi population. Publishing a real negative juicy article about a Haredi molesting a child, abusing his family, about Mother Taliban and her Baalei Teshuva Breslov freaks (Elior Chen) and even the Mea Shearim abusive mother from Toldot Aharon is more than popular. Today it is Eli Yishai, tomorrow it is Chabad or Satmar. This, however, attracts plenty of readers and not only the Israeli press has dicovered such headlines. Now the German press is following suit. The Germans who killed hundreds of thousands of Chassidim in the Holocaust still hate frum Jews. Haredi Jews who wear these "funny" clothes and these strange "fur hats". Just recently the German magazine "Der Spiegel" published a hate article about the religious Jews in Zfat and their resistance against the Arabs who run after Jewish girls and try renting apartments in town.

Because of the constant negative press, the haredi world should do some public relation and don't let secular leftist Jews destroy their reputation. J have had the experience that actually many seculars are interested in the haredi world and would love to know more. But where do you learn details about haredi, in particular chassidic, history or customs ? In fact, there are some peoples offering tours. Calling themselves lecturers or researchers and showing off with "knowing" the haredi world in detail. Mostly those "experienced" people only read books and Wikipedia but have never been an active part of haredi society itself. Personally, I think it is more than important to have been part of society in order to teach about it. Simply because the lecturer needs the feeling. You need to feel Chassidut, haredi atmosphere and life. You have to breathe it. Otherwise it doesn't work telling people about a world you have never been part of. An astronaut would tell the greatest stories about being in space but what would I say about space ? Maybe just sound like an enyclopedia but missing the whole point and enthusiasm.

Now Chabad is supporting a new initiative for showing seculars around haredi neighbourhoods. Taking them to Tishes and so on. I think the idea is great, as a Haredi showing people around always works better. Nevertheless, when I hear "Chabad is showing around", I immediately think of CHABAD. Chabad ideology and here comes my stigma: Most Chabadnikim only know about Chabad but nothing about other chassidic groups. Although, lately, I did meet some Chabadnikim who even knew about Munkatch or Koznitz.
The article also mentions haredi families providing Shabbat hospitality for secular tour groups. I just wonder what kind of families do this. For tour groups ?
I have never come across this in Mea Shearim and only know families who invite a certain kind of people. Mostly other Frummies, Yeshiva people or their friends and neighbours.

Years ago, there was a family in Mea Shearim inviting tour groups even for this reason: To show the secular world that Mea Shearim is not a fundamentalist abyss. I know the guy who did this and in Mea Shearim he is very well known for his kindness and hospitality. He was born into Breslov but now is a Toldot Avraham Yitzchak Chassid. A few months ago I spoke to him and he told me that he had to stop the "hospitality business" due to his neighbours. First a few secular Israelis came to his house in the Mea Shearim market. Then people started bringing their friends and then whole tour buses rolled in on Erev Shabbat. The groups didn't care about Shabbat and parked their bus nearby in HaNevi'im Street. This behaviour drove the Chassid's neighbours wild and they demonstrated in front of his house. This way, the seculars destroyed the opportunity of getting to know Mea Shearim.

The truth is that even when someone offers tours, the seculars will always be limited in getting to know the haredi world. Showing up in tours is always a disadvantage and usually you have more success by going alone.


  1. The truth is, there are many groups who welcome those with sincere interest in getting to know the Chassidische veld... Skverrer has people who are specifically trained to reach out to the secular world, for instance. So do Belz and Gur, among others.

  2. B"H

    Yes, and I have been invited myself but the problem starts with a tour group. Who, as a chassidic family, wants a entire group in the house and who is able to afford it ? Sometimes the families don't even have enough food for themselves.

  3. I must disagree with you concerning the knowledge Chabadnikim have on other chassidus. It is true that the average CHabadnik never hear about other chasidus. But, it's different with the Chabad Yerushalmite community. They have a very broad and genuine knowledge of other chasidus because they live with them on a daily basis and generaly speaking, Chabad Yeshivos in Jerusalem are attended by Chasidim from many different folks througout the year. The same is true for Chabadnikim who live in Monsey. What I want to say is the farrer Chabadnikim live from other chasidim the lesser they know about them, and generaly speaking Chabadnikim tend to live in areas where they are the only chasidim there. So, they don't know about others, but where Chabadnikim live among other chasidim (Meah Shearim, Bnei Brak, Monsey, etc.), they generaly have a good and broad knowledge about other derech haChasidus than Chabad.

  4. B"H

    I have had the experience that Jerusalem Chabadnikim don't know much but rather the one's from New York or even from Zfat.

  5. Moshe, Chabad yeshivas in Jerusalem are most certainly NOT attended by students from other Chassidic sects. That is simply grossly incorrect. Perhaps you know the one exception.

  6. Yosi

    Lets stay away from such arguments. We know well that no one has checked up on every chassidic yeshivah and checked the rosters and yichus of every student attending.

    With that said, in Israel it wouldnt make sense for a anyone to go to a Yeshivah that doesnt fit with their minhagim and hashkafah as everything in Israel is available. America would be different.

    What is the point of debating this idea anyway?