GOOD MORNING!  Two men from a small town in Alabama in America's deep south came to New York city for the first time. As they got off the bus in Port Authority they saw two long-bearded men with big broad black hats, long black coats and pant legs tucked into high white socks. "What's that?" one fellow asked his friend. The friend replied in his deep southern drawl, "Ha-si-dim." The first fellow replies, "I see them, too ... but what are they?"

Why do Hasidim (a branch of Orthodox Judaism that arose in the late 1700's that focuses on piety and joy ... and hasn't changed their mode of dress since) -- dress the way they do? Obviously, not the norm of dress in our generation, it draws reactions from people, especially from Jews who don't dress that way. I once heard the story of a woman on a bus who turned around to a bearded man, with a big black hat and long black coat and read him "the riot act" -- "Why can't you dress like everyone else? Why do you have to be different? You're an embarrassment to the Jewish people!"

The man replied, "Madame, I am Amish." Deeply embarrassed, the woman profusely apologized and told him how wonderful it was that he kept the customs of his forefathers and their traditions...

So, why do Hasidim dress the way they do? My friend, David Baum Baum, explains it well in his fascinating book, The Non-Orthodox Jew's Guide to Orthodox Jews:

"During our years of slavery in Egypt - the very first experience the Jewish people had of living among non-Jews - we avoided assimilation by standing fast on three issues: our names, our language and our clothes. The Talmud describes how these three points maintained our sense of identity. When we looked into the mirror, we saw a Jew. When someone called our name, we heard that we were a Jew. And when we spoke or thought in Hebrew, we existed as a Jew. Our identity was constantly reinforced.

"On the other hand, if we dress like non-Jews, speak the same language as non-Jews and share the same names as non-Jews, the opposite message is reinforced. We are constantly reminded that we are no different from them.

"Until the modern era, all Jews throughout the world differentiated themselves in these three ways. And today, the Orthodox continue to do so. We are identifiable by our clothing, most of all our yarmulkes and the modest way women dress. We have Hebrew or Yiddish names, and Yiddish, a combination of Hebrew and German with a sprinkling of Slavic words, is still spoken in many Orthodox homes, although the numbers are dropping. Until most of the Sephardic Jews from around the Mediterranean moved to Israel after 1948, Ladino, a combination of Hebrew and Spanish, was their spoken language.

"When the modern era burst open, there were groups of Jews in Eastern Europe who felt that the danger of assimilation was so dire, they undertook added stringencies to isolate themselves.

"The roots of Hasidism are based in the Ukraine. Eventually it spread to the rest of Russia, Poland, Byelorussia, Hungary and Romania. At the beginning they dressed no differently than any other Jew in the area. But when they saw the dangers of getting swept up in the illusion of "equality," they decided to do the opposite. They were not going to budge. This is why they still dress in the style of eighteenth-century Polish nobility. They did this to protect themselves from being part of any new movement or "ism" and from becoming identified with the modern, secular world.

"But it is only the Hasidim's manner of dress that hasn't changed. Every other aspect of their lives is modern. They are not riding around on horses and buggies. Their homes are up to date; they drive cars, operate businesses, use computers and utilize every modern convenience. But they did not want to be part of a general, integrated society. So when the ghetto walls came down they took measures to make it impossible to integrate. And they have succeeded. You can spot them a mile away."

There are two lessons for us -- 1) Tolerance and understanding for others -- even though it grates against our own sensitivies. 2) What is uniquely Jewish about us that makes us Jewish -- and recognizably Jewish to ourselves, our children and others?


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Torah Portion of the week

Lech Lecha, Genesis 12:1 - 17:27

The Almighty commands Avram (later renamed Avraham) to leave Haran and go to "the place that I will show you" (which turned out to be the land of Canaan -- later renamed the Land of Israel). The Almighty then gives Avram an eternal message to the Jewish people and to the nations of the world, "I will bless those who bless you and he who curses you I will curse." Finding a famine, Avram travels to Egypt (once renamed to be part of the United Arab Republic) asking Sarai (later renamed Sarah), to say she is his sister so they won't kill him to marry her (the Egyptians were particular not to commit adultery ... so they would kill the husband instead).

Pharaoh evicts Avram from Egypt after attempting to take Sarai for a wife. They settle in Hebron (also known as Kiryat Arba) and his nephew Lot settles in Sodom. Avram rescues Lot -- who was taken captive -- in the Battle of the Four Kings against the Five Kings.

Entering into a covenant with the Almighty (all covenants with the Almighty are eternal, never to be abrogated or replaced by new covenants), Avram is told that his descendants will be enslaved for 400 years and that his descendants (via Isaac, "... through Isaac will offspring be considered yours" Gen. 21:8. Isaac, not Ishmael!) will be given the land "from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates."

Sarai, childless, gives her handmaid Hagar to Avram for a wife so that he will have children. Ishmael (the alter zedeh -- the grandfather -- of our Arab cousins) is born. The covenant of brit mila, religious circumcision, is made (read 17:3-8), God changes their names to Avraham and Sarah and tells them that Sarah will give birth to Yitzhak (Isaac). Avraham circumcises all the males of his household.

* * *

Dvar Torah
from Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

The Torah states:

"There was quarreling between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and herdsmen of Lot's livestock -- and the Canaanite and Perizzite were then dwelling in the land. So Abram said to Lot, 'Please let there be no strife between me and you ... we are brothers" (Gen. 13:7-8).

Beginning with the Five Books of Moses to the most recent writings of mussar (ethical teachings) we are repeatedly adjured to avoid internecine strife and divisiveness. We are promised unlimited blessings and success if only we are united. There is no worse curse than can befall us, than pitting one Jew against another.

In the above verse, the Torah tells us that the quarrel between Abram's and Lot's herdsmen occurred at a time when "the Canaanite and the Perizzite were then dwelling in the land." Abram's plea to Lot was, "Please let there be no strife between me and you." Abram was saying, "Here are two different nations, the Canaanite and Perizzite, living side by side in peace. Why do we, who are blood relatives, have to quibble and live in dissension?"

Abraham's plea continues to reverberate in our ears throughout our history. We Jews are children of one ancestor, why must we be at odds? We can give various reasons for our disagreements. I firmly believe that these are nothing but rationalizations.... Inasmuch as senseless divisiveness would be intolerable to rational people, we ingeniously formulate rationalizations to justify why we cannot live in harmony. Rationalizations are logical-sounding reasons that serve as excuses, but they are not the true reason.

We can easily find more reasons why we should be together than why we should be apart. But we can find them only if we so desire!


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October 27
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Quote of the Week

Unity -- begins with you ...



In Loving Memory of My Father
Louis Reinstein

In Loving Memory of
Oscar Boruchin


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Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Kalman Packouz

Copyright © 2021 Rabbi Kalman Packouz