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.