Yaakov Klein and Neo-Chassidus: Let’s Stop the Rejectionism and Consider Things Better

Yaakov Klein’s The war has already been won: The modern-day revival of Hasidus and the future of Orthodoxy sends mixed messages. On the one hand, it depicts a noble quest for closeness to God and a deep appreciation for Judaism, which the author argues is to be acquired by delving into the works of the Chassidic masters, internalizing their teachings and being sparked by their inspiration. Few would take issue with this, and I am confident that it can be a source of great and positive things for many people.

On the other hand, one comes away from Mr. Klein’s article with the sense that Neo-Chassidus is not merely an enhancement and an additional level to “standard” non-Chassidic traditional Judaism, but that it brings with it a clear air of rejection of non-Chassidic traditional Judaism. It is this air of rejection that is quite disconcerting.

Mr. Klein associates non-Chassidic traditional Judaism with a “stagnant and uninspired hashkafa (world view)”. In response to Rabbi Noach Shafran’s letter affirming the traditional, non-Chassidic approach, Mr. Klein writes:

The more loudly these opinions are expressed, the less the Jews who know what is really going on are paying heed. This generation is reclaiming our yiddishkeit. We are demanding more. We refuse to be denied the soul of the Torah, the truths of our relationship with Hashem that has been closeted away from us and shuttered behind all kinds of sophisticated excuses and explanations.

This is true hubris. In contrast with Jews who are steeped in Talmud study and who learn traditional sifrei hashkafah and mussar (books of Jewish philosophy and self-improvement) – the normative yeshiva curriculum – Mr. Klein asserts that adherents of Neo-Chassidus are “the Jews who know what is really going on”. He also alleges that the traditional approach, as articulated by Rabbi Shafran, has “denied (other Jews) the soul of the Torah, the truths of our relationship with Hashem that has been closeted away from us and shuttered behind all kinds of sophisticated excuses and explanations”. Readers should judge for themselves the appropriateness of Mr. Klein’s words.

Mr. Klein correctly describes a “terrible lack of connection and interest in Judaism” that are depicted with keen accuracy by an astute Modern Orthodox teen. Neo-Chassidus has been suggested by Mr. Klein and others as the antidote to the sterile spiritual environment that permeates much of Modern Orthodoxy. A shot of robust inspiration and enthusiasm is assuredly lacking and needed, although it is debatable whether or not Neo-Chassidus is the place to turn for it.

Mr. Klein, quite revealingly, writes:

Friends, our generation is fed up with cold potato knishes. We are no longer satisfied with a page of Gemara or Mesillas Yesharim that doesn’t emit the most wondrous fragrance of Hashem’s presence.

This shallow and unappreciative stance toward some of our most sacred texts is alarming. While Mr. Klein surely did not intend to express disrespect, his divorcing of the Talmud and Mesillas Yesharim from a sense God’s Presence is very disturbing. Aside from any other message that this statement sends, it indicates that the values of Neo-Chassidus, as presented by Mr. Klein, are not enhancing traditional Judaism but are in part supplanting it.

Furthermore, before rejecting non-Chassidic Orthodoxy, it might just be worth considering that the very inspiration nobly sought by Mr. Klein and others is already there, but must be uncovered and patiently appreciated?

About the Author
Rabbi Gordimer is a kashruth professional, Chairman of the Rabbinic Circle at Coalition for Jewish Values, a member of the Rabbinical Council of America, and a member of the New York Bar. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.