Thursday, February 18, 2021

Venahapoch Hu - ונהפוך הוא - When Chasidim Become Misnagdim - The Stories Less Heard

There is a quite interesting book that came out within the last year, a biography of the great Rav Noach Weinberg z"l of Aish HaTorah fame, by the well known scribe Yonason Rosenblum.

In the beginning of the book, in a chapter on his roots, an interesting aspect of R. Noach is mentioned. There it is related that he used to remark in his later years that despite his eminent Chasidic roots (he was a great-great grandson of the first Slonimer Rebbe, with close connections to other Rebbes and Chasidim as well), 'somehow he was born a Misnaged' (p.25). It goes on to say that when his father used to try to relate Hasidic tales to him as a youngster, he resisted. Perhaps, as a person who determinedly sought אמת, even in his youth he was put off by the questionable veracity of "Chasidishe Mayses", a genre notoriously credibility challenged, as stated by great Rebbes themselves (documented here in the past, see e.g. here, and here). 

The point I want to make, however, is that this brings to light something that exists, but perhaps is not as well known as it should be. Namely the phenomenon of Chasidim, people of Hasidic descent, going Litvish, taking a non-Chasidic path, joining the non-Hasidic frum world. While there is a Hasidic genre going back to the early days of the Hasidic movement of tales of non-Chasidim that became Chasidic, the other side of the coin, the reverse phenomenon is not as well known. But it definitely exists, and has for a long time, encompassing many, many people, בע"ה, from banshakim (plural of בנש"ק = בנן של קדושים, a Chasidic expression for those of Rebbishe descent), to common Chasidim. Perhaps for various reasons, people involved and in the know didn't dwell on, make an avodah of such stories, as Chasidim did with their opposite numbers. Anyway, Rav Noach is just one person in that category, in his close circle alone there are multiple similar examples, some prominent ones being his brother R. Yaakov Weinberg z"l, his Rosh Yeshiva Rav Ruderman z"l, and on and on. In an earlier time, a very prominent example was the great gaon R. Aizel Charif of Slonim, and of course there was the Steipler Gaon not so long ago. And there are many Chasidim influenced by the Litvishe world, in various other ways, even if they don't openly switch over (something that can be difficult for some, due to family ties, and other factors).

Since we are now in the month of אדר, approaching the great Yom tov of Purim, the season of ונהפוך הוא, it is a good time to turn the regular perspective around, and look at the other side of the coin. 

A bit to whet the appetite. ואידך זיל גמור.

א פרייליכען חודש


  1. "Perhaps for various reasons, people involved and in the know didn't dwell on, make an avodah of such stories, as Chasidim did with their opposite numbers."

    I don't believe Chassidim make an avodah of these stories. It comes up more frequently than in Litvish contexts because the the first few generations of Rebbes and chassidim were all coming from nonchassidic backrounds as we know it. There was no organized or centralized "Chassidic movement" before that.

    "And there are many Chasidim influenced by the Litvishe world, in various other ways.."

    And I find this to be wonderful.
    But you have expressed in the past that everyone should keep to their own mesorah. And you're certainly not a fan of the chassidish influence on Litvaks.
    So what exactly is the point of this post? Seems to me you're just saying "na na na kish kish I got you back".

    Either way, if I were you, I'd be very wary of the Chassidim turned Litvaks. They might influence the purebred Litvishe mesorah.

  2. The vast majority of Litvish Jews today descend from Chassidim. Most of Lithuanian Jewry was influenced by haskallah and later decimated by the Holocaust. If you don't believe me do a survey of your friends and neighbors.

    1. "The vast majority of Litvish Jews today descend from Chassidim."

      Who told you that? Some Lubavitcher in Crown Heights? Some guy in your local shtiebel? Some other "unbiased" source? I would guess that Litvishe demographics vary by location. The populations of various places, for example Lakewood, NYC, Yerushalayim, Bnei Brak, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Baltimore, etc., etc., each have their own history, characteristics, and makeup. In a place like Brooklyn, NY you might have more Litvishe of Hasidic descent, in other places less.

      Making such a claim is a way of diverting attention from an issue some such people may want to go away, namely why did these Chasidim, some from elite Chasidic or Rebbishe families, leave and join the Litvishe velt?

      Interestingly, in terms of your general claim, a similar claim can be made, with strong basis, about Chabad-Lubavitch. How much of Chabad-Lubavitch today goes back to the Alter Rebbe? According to Lubavitcher writer Reb Chaim Dalfin, 'Not many Lubavitchers today can say they go back to the Alter Rebbe - you can count them on your hand. Very few. Most that do consider themselves gezha (a term for old Chabad-Lubavitch yichus) go back to the Tzemach Tzedek.' Dalfin himself has a greater Vizhnitzer gezha yichus than Lubavitcher. You don't have to believe me, you see him say it here, (4:07-) -

      A great amount of Lubavitchers are relative newcomers to Lubavitch, from top leaders such as Krinsky, Hodakov, Kotlarsky, to famous, iconic families such as Hecht (Sanzer roots), Fried/man (Avraham Fried, the singer's family), of background similar to Bobov, and on and on.

      How much of New Square is from Ukrainian Sqverer roots? 2% maybe?

    2. Seems highly unlikely. But there's one thing we can say with absolute certainty: 100% of chasidim are descended from non-chasidim. At some point, some people just decided to go chasidic.

    3. 1) What seems to you highly unlikely? What I wrote about New Square and Lubavitch? They are facts.

      2) What's the point? Someone might say that 100% (give or take) of Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and unaffiliated Jews are descended from Orthodox Jews. So what?

      The point here is that people move around, some become Chasidic, others leave Chasidus, some become Modern Orthodox, some become Chareidi, other people move from one Chasidic group to another, etc., etc.

  3. 1) Chasidism make an avodah of mayselech in general, and such stories are part of the general body of Chasidic tales.

    2) "But you have expressed in the past that everyone should keep to their own mesorah." The mesorah of אשכנז Yidden is not Chasidus. So therefore great poskim have ruled that Chasidim should return to nusach Ashkenaz, for example.

    3) "Either way, if I were you, I'd be very wary of the Chassidim turned Litvaks. They might influence the purebred Litvishe mesorah."

    We keep an eye on them, don't worry too much. ;-)

  4. Let me share a story. About 17 years ago I attended a shul whose Rabbi was Chabad(I knew nothing about Chabad at that time.) Someone wrote an article in the Jewish Press about the history of Kiruv n America, but gave short shrift to Chabad. The following week a Lubavicher wrote in to complain that Chabad's rightful position wasn't discussed. I brought this up to the Rabbi and argued that it's irrelevant who gets the credit for promoting Kiruv since we're all doing Hashem's work. The Rabbi turned apoplectic ranting that the world must know that the Rebbe invented Kiruv. I thought to myself, "Silly me I always thought that it was Avraham who founded the Kiruv movement. The point I'm making is simple. Does it really matter whether the Litvish Derech triumphs over the Chassidish. If you know you're acting properly in Hashem's eyes that's all that should matter. The greatest Jew I ever met was a Chassidishe Rebbe but he knew Shas with all Tosafos by heart. let's stop being so provincial.

  5. I once heard R' Dov Landau of Slobodka could have been a Rebbe by descent, but turned his back on the option.

    Does anyone here know more?

    1. I think he is a descendant of the Strikov Rebbe(s) of Poland, and I think a Rebbe of their's davened nusach Ashkenaz. Something like that.

      There are many people and families who have changed. The great R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach זצוק"ל was of Chasidic roots, he was a descendant of the Divrei Chaim of Sanz, and his grandfather was a Chasidishe Rebbe. R. Scheiner z"l of Kamenitz, who was just niftar, was a Galitzianer, who joined the Litvishe Kamenitz family.

      The main thing is, as a commenter earlier alluded to, to do what is right in the eyes of הקב"ה. I am not saying we should become tribal and provincial in a petty way, חס ושלום. The point here is just to point out that the reality is more different and complicated than the propaganda coming from certain writers and media outlets, and from some Chasidic and Neo-Chasidic circles, by way of a few examples. ואידך פירושא, זיל גמור.

    2. More info, with much detail, on R. Dov Landau here -

  6. R' Shaul Brus ZTZ"L can be added to this list.
    While accounts of Misnagdim turning Chassidic tend to be legendary, stories of the opposite nature tend to be lesser known.
    This is because Chassidim always wanted to add as many people as possible to their ranks, and actively attempted to lure people of Non Chassidic persuasion into accepting Chassidus. In cases where they succeeded they publicized such incidents to show their great victories. We Misnagdim, on the other hand, inherently have no agendas and therefore don't "take pride" when people leave their Chassidic origins.