Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


Dancing with Other Men — and Liking It!

posted by David Klinghoffer

I attended a Chasidic wedding Tuesday night and came away with a thought about religion generally, sparked also by an insight on economics, not my own. 

On Monday I heard a great lecture by my friend Jay Richards at the Discovery Institute on his new book Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem. Jay pointed out a fallacy that many liberals hold that drives their hatred of capitalism. They compare the actual economic system in our country with a fantasy, a utopia that never existed and never will exist until such time as the Messiah comes and establishes God’s kingdom on earth.
Same things goes in Judaism, as in other faiths. Chasidic Judaism is constantly sniped at, and there are things about it I’d find fault with. But this is comparing a reality to a fantasy. Compared to other versions of Judaism that are actually in existence in the real world – Orthodox and non-Orthodox — it has all the competitors beat.

The wedding I attended was so joyous and innocent. Dancing and dining were both segregated by sex. Since World War II, this has become customary in traditional Jewish circles. So men danced in circles with other men. Lots of sweaty men with arms around each other. The groom danced atop a table held aloft by other men, despite the safety hazard and admonitions from the hotel staff. It was all about wishing the groom a great, warm mazal tov on his joy in getting married. I’m among the most uptight, emotionally repressed people you will meet. But even I can get into it. Just imagine — me, dancing, in public, with other men – and liking it!
The same upbeat mood pervades Chasidism, at least in its Chabad variety that I know best. For all that Chabad attracts criticism from other Jews, what it reflects back is totally devoid of negativity. Nor is the cheerfulness without intellectual weight. Anyone who has tried studying the classic work of Chabad philosophy, the Tanya, knows how challenging and how rooted in ancient sources it is. Chabad is not perfect but it is full of qualities to admire.
When I try to compare it to other strains in Judaism, they all come up short — whether for lack of joy, lack of authenticity, or both.


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Steve Shay

posted May 13, 2009 at 11:22 am


David, The title of this column should have been “The Strains of Judaism.” I will buy into your observation that men dancing with other men is innocent. But what guilt does a man possess for dancing with a woman? Is it dirty? When a boy at his bar mitzvah dances with his mother, is that oedipal?



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David Klinghoffer

posted May 13, 2009 at 12:31 pm


Steve, I don’t see anything dirty about a bar mitzvah boy dancing with his mother. :) But men and women dancing in public, especially as it’s done now, can’t be said to be innocent. Incidentally, sometime I should scan and post the photo of me from my own bar mitzvah (1977) posed with 2 interestingly attired “disco dancers” who lead the assembled gathering in the Hustle.



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Mark Lewis

posted May 13, 2009 at 5:29 pm


I agree, David, with your favorable impression of Chabad. I’ve visited the Chabad center in Little Rock (Ark.) several times, and have always been impressed by the warmth of the members. They’ve never been anything but friendly and welcoming to me–and I’m not even Jewish! The rabbi, Pinchus Ciment, has always impressed me as wise, thoughtful, and caring. The same goes for his sidekick, Benzion Pape.



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Jerome

posted May 13, 2009 at 10:36 pm


Of all the Chassidim Chabad is the most intellectual. Chabad is actually an acronym of three different words (all kabbalistic sefirot) that all translate more or less as divine wisdom. Some other Chassidic groups are characterized as belonging to a larger grouping described as ChaGaS, an acronym of the more emotional sefirot. The stereotype is that these groups are not really focused on intellectual Torah study and complex meditations (as are involved in learning Tanya), but rather focused on their connection with their rebbe, who in effect does the intellectual things on their behalf. Not all other Chassidic groups fit into this framework, though. Breslov, which I identify with most, is an example — there is an emphasis on daily Torah study, including Chassidut, Talmud, and practical Halacha, but also a great emphasis on being joyful and happy, and spending long periods (ideally an hour a day) pouring out your heart to G-d and meditating (hitbodedut). I don’t have much experience, and have great respect and awe for the wonderful accomplishments of Chabad, but my personal impression is that Chabad sometimes seems a little cold when compared to the warmth and happiness of Breslov. I also think the stress on personal prayer in one’s own language is something really important that’s left out of the daily practice of many and perhaps most non-Breslovers, even though it’s arguably really central to the historical Jewish path, and central to elevating onesself spiritually and accomplishing one’s spiritual mission.
Most Jewish streams are quite distinct and separated, but there is a lot more admixture and blending in identities and practices than one might think. There are modern orthodox types who study and practice Hassidism fervently, Chassidim with modern orthodox theology, people who study both non-Chassidic mussar and Chassidut, people who identify with more than one strain of Chassidism, Orthodox Jews into vegetarianism or meditation, etc. As the Orthodox population grows people will come to appreciate this complexity a bit more.



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Your Name

posted May 14, 2009 at 11:58 am


IN EVERYTHING YOU DO,CHECK WITH THE VALUES YOU HOLD AND PRACTICE BEFORE FORGING AHEAD.DOING EVEN THE SIMPLEST THING,IF IT IS AGAINST
YOUR OWN WILL,IT BECOMES A GUILT.



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M. L. Melech, Shayni

posted May 14, 2009 at 2:24 pm


The TANYA is a racist document, which claims that the “Jewish soul” – not a metaphor, but an actual entity- is not merely different BUT SUPERIOR to the souls of non-Jews. In other words, gentiles are lesser beings.
The pratical results of this belief can be seen in the Postville Agriprocessors scandal. If you truly believe that non-Jews are lesser individuals, why not treat them badly? Thus, the tone of the ultra-Orthodox defense of the owners, the Rubashkins (see, e.g., Avi Shafran’s screeds): As long as the kashrut of shechita (ritual slaughter) was being followed with exacting precision, so what if many gentile/civil laws were violated? Anyway, doesn’t the entire meat processing industry enagage in similar practices? (Mainstream Judaism, by contrast, would say that all people are God’s creation and are to be treated equitably.)
Secondly, the TANYA calls for “negation of the individual,” making it easy for the dynastic elite to practice social control over people, by insisting upon total deference and implicit, unquestioning obedience to His Holiness, the Rebbe. By contrast, in the Bible, individuals are allowed/entitled to question authority and can even argue with God- Abraham, David, Moses and Job did.
Thirdly, there is Rabbinic halacha (derived from the Talmud and codes) and then there is Lubavitch-Chabad halacha (derived from the say-so of the Rebbe, and which often conflicts with rabbinic halacha). The Talmud, e.g, expressly forbids clapping and dancing on Shabbat and Holidays (Yom Tov). By what authority does the Rebbe presume to override the Talmud? In reality, at worst, Chabad borders on heresy, and at best, should be considered a version of right-wing Reform Judaism. When the late Rabbi Schacht, the great Haredi authority, was once asked what religion came closest to Judaism, he answered “Chabad.”



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Thomas Beck

posted May 14, 2009 at 7:01 pm


Have you bothered reading the Bible? Specifically where G-d says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor”? Because I’m wondering, if you read it, do you have any idea what it means? Do you actually *know* any liberals? I know plenty, and I don’t know a single one who “hates capitalism.” Not one. If you had any decency, not to mention honesty, you’d stop spreading these propagandistic lies. I don’t hate capitalism, nor do any of my liberal friends. We hate crony capitalism. We hate corruption. We hate greed and favoritism and lobbyists buying access to power. We want capitalism to do its job fairly and properly, and to pay its fair share of the costs it imposes on society and on the planet. Only a right wing extremist could possibly confuse that with hatred. Meet and talk with some actual liberals next time before smearing us with your right wing extremist delusions and fantasies.



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David Klinghoffer

posted May 14, 2009 at 7:36 pm


Do try to calm down, Thomas. Relax. It’s good for you. I live in Seattle so yes, I’m familiar with liberals. There is surely more unease with capitalism, running to distaste, on the Left than on the Right. And the sun rises in the east. Am I really telling you things you don’t know already?



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Yehudis

posted May 14, 2009 at 9:15 pm


“M.L.Melech, shayni” indeed? Translate that Martin Luther King, Junior and what do you get? An obvious agenda to misappropriate the name of Reverend King –obviously not your true name–in an attempt to use a Hebrew sounding name to garner attention. Negative attention.
This just isn’t the Jewish way, at all, and, by the way, the Tanya does explain what shayni REALLY means. It doesn’t simply mean ‘second’ or ‘junior’ as your crude Hebrew translation may imply (although there is nothing wrong with simplicity of faith, by any means.) Shayni is a term connected to, for example, the holiday Passover. What if one was prevented or otherwise unable to participate fully in the holiday of Passover? Must a person be resigned to wait until next year? We do say after all, “Next Year in Jerusalem” during the Passover seder!
However, another option for anyone who could not celebrate Passover was instituted and it is called in Hebrew “Pesach Shayni.” All the blessings and rituals of the 8 days of Passover are concentrated and contracted without any loss of meaningfulness or godliness into one amazing day. For this day, there is no cleaning of leavening, there is no lengthy liturgical service, and there is no chagrin because on this day, the spiritual meaning of Passover is laser bright.
Certainly some people- perhaps most people- need to physically, emotionally, spiritually and psychologically “clean house” before they can successfully walk away from whatever enslaves them. Most good changes take place as a process over time and in collaboration and support of a community. This can be called Pesach or Passover, a celebration of freedom and human dignity…and it is the oldest continually celebrated holiday for good reason!
There is that exceptional soul however, who can rise above the mire that is bondage and enslavement, in an instantaneous, brilliant moment of clarity! The unbreakable connection to G-d may have been obscured by the pain of whatever keeps us feeling distance from the Al-mighty, but this can be the vehicle for Revelation. It is like living under an eclipsed sun for a lifetime then experiencing the solar corona! Perhaps the purpose for concealment of the spiritual within the confines of the physical is to actualize both in the revelation of the Oneness of G-d.
Do you need a Pesach? or a Pesach Sheni? Only you know, but remember, the option to choose freedom is there for the taking.



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Jerome

posted May 14, 2009 at 10:14 pm


Thomas Beck has a valid point. It’s unfair to talk about liberals’ hatred of capitalism. Liberals and conservatives are both strongly in favor of some variety of regulated capitalism — they just differ in the types and amount of regulation they advocate. Wanting to regulate markets and corporations more and differently doesn’t make one a hater (if so Judge Posner is now one!). Of course there are communists and anarchists (and a few plain liberals) who really do hate capitalism, and compare it to an idealized world that has never existed. But if most liberals are comparing capitalism to anything at all, it’s America as it was a few decades ago, or other capitalist democracies like Canada, the Antipodes, and Europe.



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David Klinghoffer

posted May 15, 2009 at 2:25 am


Jerome, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, you are being a little over-literalistic here. Is it true that every liberal hates capitalism? No, literally, of course not. But there is a rhetorical mode that involves a bit of legitimate exaggeration. Thus Thomas accuses me of having no “decency,” of being a “right wing extremist” who never met a liberal. So wait a minute, are these not rhetorical exaggerations? A writer credits his reader with being able to interpret and see behind rhetoric, then make a judgment as to who has the more valid point.



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genuine yid

posted May 15, 2009 at 12:26 pm


Yehudis’ ad hominem rant was out-of-place and disrespectful. Since he could not refute Shayni’s facts and argument about Chabad, instead, he felt compelled to throw mud by introducing a red herring discursus about Passover.
Also: this “Dancing” blog entry seems to have been abridged from the time it first appeared. As I recall, the original version contained a reference to Mr. Klinghoffer and “disco dancing”. Why the change?



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David Klinghoffer

posted May 15, 2009 at 12:43 pm


The reference to disco dancers was in my reply to a comment; still there.



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Jerome

posted May 15, 2009 at 2:34 pm


David, these days it’s hard to tell whether someone’s exaggerating or not, since liberals and conservatives often demonize each other in over-the-top ways without apparent irony or self-awareness (maybe Thomas’s post is an example; who knows?). But the point of my reply was not to be nitpicky, but to point out that it’s not about hatred or dislike or whatever; it’s about differing views — based on philosophy, ethics, empirical results, comparisons to other capitalist societies, or what have you — of how we ought to regulate capitalism. This gets the substance, and not just the rhetoric, of what you said Richards was saying about capitalism and liberals.



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Yonah Ovadiah

posted May 18, 2009 at 12:47 am


There’s twelve (12) sheves, tribes, different flavors of Yahadus that may float your boat, fron neo-Orthodox Torah im Derech Eretz Hirschians, Kookian Religious Zionists, Sephardim, Breslovers, Lithuanian Mitnagdim, no need for one to say that this is IT, as long as they are shomer Shabbos, shomer mitzvos…



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Yehudis

posted May 22, 2009 at 5:14 pm


(Reb [Genuine] Yid, with all due respect, Yehudis is a lady’s name.)
And maybe red herring is the only kosher dish to go with the loshen hara that is calling Tanya a racist document.



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