Friday, May 26, 2017

The Road From Uman to the Vatican - Understanding the Astounding

A few weeks ago an astounding video was published online, proceeding to go viral in short order. It showed a group of ostensibly Haredi Jews dancing and singing (during sefirah, with instruments no less) before the Pope in Vatican City to the words of Tehillim, אורך ימים אשביעהו ואראהו בישועתי (I will satiate him with long life and show him my redemption).

A firestorm of criticism erupted online. R. Yair Hoffman, a newspaper writer (along with a Lubavitcher shliach that was removed from his post years ago, by the name of Shmuley Boteach), attempted to tampen down the outrage, but many others took a much harsher view of the event, including Lubavitch, which took action against their shliach that participated.

I want to comment on an aspect that has not received much, if any attention. That is the Uman-Breslov connection involved.

A great amount of the participants in the singing and dancing are alumni of the annual Breslov Uman Rosh Hashanah gatherings. One of them even has his own large minyan there. Zvi Gluck is an Uman veteran. While perhaps Rabbis Pinson and Gluck senior didn't attend, nevertheless the majority or overwhelming majority of the participants appear to be Uman alumni. R. Pinson, although of Chabad-Lubavitch background, has close ties to the Uman group, and spoke for them a number of months ago in a trip in the Middle East.

The Uman Rosh Hashanah gathering has been described as a sort of Jewish Woodstock (Of course, not all Breslovers and Uman visitors are the same. There are different types of Breslovers, and different types of minyanim at Uman. Nevertheless, for some there it has the atmosphere of such a giant festival). Coupled with Breslov teachings about simcha, and doing foolish things to make merry, and the lack of a current supreme Rebbe in Breslov, one can see that the door is left open, or it is encouraged for people to come up with various jolly stunts. In this case, the stunt is singing and dancing a Shlomo Carlebach song in various places around the world.

With most of the participants being younger people with limited life experience and knowledge of Jewish-Catholic relations, and with that Breslover mentality, we can understand how the astounding event came to pass. What is more surprising, however, is how the (by far) senior member of the group, Rabbi Edgar Gluck, born before WWII, went along with it. Perhaps it is part of the pre-messianic confusion of פני הדור כפני הכלב in which the youth lead the elders, instead of the reverse, as the Torah mandates.

Also interesting is how Haredi media reacted to it. Interestingly, it appears that major Haredi media, including Yated Neeman and Hamodia, as well as major website Matzav.com, did not report the story at all. A blackout was imposed. Perhaps they felt bewildered and had trouble explaining the idea of a group of ostensible Haredim from Brooklyn, NY, with the leader in full Hasidic dress, came to sing and dance before the pope. And they were not singing מה יפית either, though perhaps in a way it was somewhat analogous. One could imagine if non-Orthodox leaders would have done the same thing, or some from left-wing Orthodoxy, what kind of an outcry likely would have ensued, in protest of breaching of traditional religious boundaries.

The bottom line is that it was a stunt of a few people, and not representative of mainstream Haredi Judaism. The people involved are not major Rabbis. Despite the seemingly impressive title of chief Rabbi of Galicia, R. Edgar Gluck has not given up his longtime home state of New York, where he continues to be active in local affairs, as an askan or shtadlan. Chief Rabbi of Galicia pre WWII would have been impressive. Now, however, what remains of Judaism there is a miniature shadow of its former self.

I have doubts that Reb Nachman of Breslov himself would have approved.

Let us hope that in the future people will act more responsibly, and curb frivolous instincts they may have, or at least not publicize inappropriate behavior around the world.

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