Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Slonimer Sensation, or Overactive Imagination?

A few days ago, I read with interest a piece at a new high level Jewish website about an alleged "Slonimer sensation".

Someone reading the piece, about a past leader of one of the factions of Slonimer Chasidim, referred to as the Nesivos Shalom, by the name of his written work, could emerge from it thinking that Nesivos Shalom has surpassed the Mesilas Yeshorim in popularity, ר"ל, and that it is the greatest thing to hit the Orthodox world since sliced bread and daf yomi.

It is so overdone, that a reality check is sorely needed, which hopefully will be accomplished here, since I don't see others addressing it.

While it is true that the Nesivos Shalom has gained in popularity in recent years, the piece, however, is compromised by hyperbole. It conjures up images of people in suburban America, worlds apart from, and limited in knowledge of contemporary Chasidic life, nevertheless viewing themselves as experts on it. Though they may be quite knowledgable in some aspects of it, they may be lacking in other areas, such as context.

Let me address some of the arguments of the writer now, in some detail.

A) The writer posits the existence of a "Slonimer sensation", taking the Jewish world by storm with a 'stunning degree' of popularity.

Based on what? Numbers of google results. Ahhh. Rebbe Google, the posek hador, strikes again. Google paskened that Nesivos Shalom > Mesilas Yeshorim > Alei Shur. The problem is that Rebbe Google is a sheigetz. And an am haaretz gamur. And not only in limudei kodesh, in limudei chol as well!

If you follow that same yardstick, you could also conclude that Donald Trump > George Washington > Thomas Jefferson > Abraham Lincoln  (google Donald Trump = around 482,000,000 results, George Washington = 346,000,000, Thomas Jefferson = 87,2000,000, Abraham Lincoln = 54,500,000), something I haven't heard from even his most ardent supporters.

Additionally, many of the results for Netivot Shalom in google are not for the Slonimer work, but rather for left leaning congregations, and other irrelevant for this discussion entries.

B) The writer claims that since some people allegedly refer to the Nesivos Shalom simply as "The Slonimer", that shows a special degree of affinity that exists for him. I, however, suspect that they call him that because they know of no other Slonimer. They don't know about the Litvishe history of Slonim. But even on the Chasidic side, they don't know that Slonimer Chasidus has been divided for many years, and that multitudes of Slonimer Chasidim did not accept the Nesivos Shalom as their Rebbe. To these people, however, Slonim = Nesivos Shalom, hence the Nesivos Shalom is "The Slonimer", as if he were the only Slonimer Rebbe ever, rather than one of many over the years. However, the truth is that even when he was serving as Rebbe for his faction, he was not the only Slonimer Rebbe. He was only the leader of one part of a divided sect.

To refer to him then, as "The Slonimer", unqualified, is like calling The Rebbe of Satmar in Kiryas Joel "The Satmarer". Is it absolutely wrong? No. But it is only part of the truth. Satmar is divided into two (main, there are other smaller ones as well) factions. Bobov is divided into two. Vizhnitz has two Rebbes. Other groups have more than two Rebbes.

For more about the divisions in Slonim, see this Hebrew Wikipedia entry.

The parallel English Wikipedia entry, although it has much less information about the split in Slonimer Chasidus, at least mentions it.

However, the Nesivos Shalom English editions (this recent volume, for example), seem to contain no mention of the fact that Slonim has more than one Rebbe. Which leads people to assume that all Slonimers are united as followers of R. Berezovsky. I think that at least it should allude to it, and not give people the impression that the Nesivos Shalom was the undisputed Slonimer Rebbe.

C) The writer posits that R. Berezosky was unique, as he came from a background which combined both Chasidic and non-Chasidic influences, as well as other non-Slonimer Chasidic ones, due to his teaching at a Lubavitcher Yeshiva in adulthood.

As to the first point, other Yeshivos - Chasidic, Misnagdic, and other) also had varied influences and faculty, perhaps more than Slonim as well.

Re the second point, his teaching in a Lubavitcher Yeshiva for a time, I am afraid that that is not as unique as it is made out to be as well. For example, Maran HaRav Schach, זצוקללה"ה זי"ע, taught in a Chasidic Yeshiva too, for a number of years, of Karliner Chasidim, upon the invitation of their Rebbe. Rav Yisroel Gustman זצ"ל taught at a Lubavitcher Yeshiva for a while as well.

The view from here

The reality as I see it, is that, yes, of course, the Nesivos Shalom has attained a degree of popularity beyond his home community (thanks to articulate fans in places like California and Minnesota promoting him to the English speaking world, in their language, in part), but much less so than a casual reader of the Lehrhaus piece might think. Some individuals who are eclectic in their tastes may enjoy him. Some of those types otherwise affiliate with the Litvishe-Yeshivishe world, but, maybe to inject some variety into their lives (perhaps they are on a too narrow contemporary Litvishe spiritual diet, as opposed to the more broad based, balanced, and holistic diet advocated by gedolei Lita such as Gaon of Vilna) occasionally look to the Chasidic world for something different. In the past (and perhaps present too), some such types looked to Reb Tzadok of Lublin, or the Sefas Emes, in the way they look at the Nesivos Shalom now. Some may think it is 'cool' to throw in some Chasidic sources at times (I am reminded of a time when I heard a prominent Litvishe type speaker addressing a crowd, citing 'the heilige Slonimer Rebbe, the Nesivas Shalom' ['the holy Slonimer Rebbe, the Nesivas Shalom']. He was such a big Slonimer Chasid, בלשון סגי נהור, that he didn't even get the name of the sefer right), or do it as an attempt to show that they are more broadminded than they may seem. But overall, I don't believe the Litvishe-Yeshivishe World as a whole has flocked to the Nesivos Shalom en masse (for example, is there any standard Litvishe yeshiva that has a regular seder in it?).

In conclusion, while I have taken issue with some of the piece about the Nesivos Shalom, particularly the former part of it, I think that the analysis and ruminations in the latter segment on spiritual leadership are valuable and worthy of consideration. Litvaks (Misnagdim, or non Chasdidim) should consider why some who generally affiliate with their world, nevertheless, sometimes look elsewhere for inspiration, and ponder if that indicates an imbalance in some of their institutions, which should be addressed with wisdom, if necessary.

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