Neo-Hasidism in Messianic Judaism

Neo-Hasidism is the name given to the revival of interest in Hasidic Judaism amongst non-Orthodox Jews. Neo-Hasidism is all about an unrealistic and overly-romanticised picture of Hasidic Judaism in the minds of non-Orthodox Jews. Whilst Hasidism is an expression of religious belief and joy for frummers, Neo-Hasidism often tends to be an identity marker for non-Orthodox Jews.

What I find interesting here is that much of the UMJC-MJTI-Hashivenu-style Messianic Jewish theology seems to be heavily influenced by neo-Hasidic teachers such as Shlomo Carlebach and Abraham Joshua Heschel. You can read here the UMJC praising Carlebach’s kiruv outreach, and read here the MJTI promoting Herschel quotes.

Should we really be praising Carlebach’s kiruv outreach, in the light of the serious accusations about his sexual conduct from the Awareness Center? What does this imply for the Messianic movement – that these things don’t matter? Think how we feel when Protestants glorify Martin Luther without thinking about his anti-Semitism – this may be the same way Carlebach’s alleged victims would feel to hear us quoting Carlebach.

The MJTI openly speak of “Jewish renewal in Yeshua.” Yet MJTI followers should also be aware that the concept of Jewish renewal draws not from mainstream Orthodox Judaism, but instead from the mystical philosophy of Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Reb Zalman’s ideas on Gaia consciousness, Spiritual Direction, Four Worlds Judaism and Psycho-Halakhah seem to chime strangely with the teachings of Yeshua.

In order to understand the role of Messianic Jews within the Jewish world, we need to understand the historical developments of Judaism, and how different Jewish groups relate to each other. For this reason we at RPP have produced a document called Hasidic Explosion, telling the story of the way Hasidic Judaism emerged within Eastern Europe, and how it is opposed by the misnagdim to this day.

The further you explore Judaism’s development, the more questions and the less answers you’ll have about where Messianic Jews fit in to all this.

Here are just a few:

Are our religious practices identity markers, or expressions of joy?

Are we aware of the outside influences on Messianic Judaism, and how do we protect ourselves against falling into them completely?

If, as Messianic Jews, we’re in love with Hasidic Judaism, what do we have to say to the mitnagdim?

Do we want to be a trend-setting Messianic movement, or a movement that simply follows Hasidic sects?

Finally, how are we conveying the message that the natural joy we have in Yeshua is far greater than the joy engineered by Hasidic and neo-Hasidic Judaism?

66 thoughts on “Neo-Hasidism in Messianic Judaism

  1. I am not surprised by these comments after all MJ is an attempt to imitate real historical Judaism and its customs, even though they are all post Jesus/Yeshua. I wonder if any of you see the problem in that?

    • It concerns me too, seems quite anachronistic to me.

      I don’t mind Messianic Jews keeping Jewish customs for cultural, moral, spiritual or Biblical reasons – I think that’s a good thing – but I can’t see how we can pick and choose what we want from the theology of contemporary Orthodox Judaism.

      I think we should have an independent Messianic theology that doesn’t need to refer back to Hasidic teachers, as it doesn’t make sense. If our arguments hold up Biblically then that’s enough, and I can see many strong and convincing Biblical reasons for Jewish believers in Yeshua keeping Torah.

      • Why reject just contemporary Judaism? I think the problem is that you need a theory of what would and what would not be acceptable. For example, I cannot see the justification in MJ for following any post talmud custom.

        • There is no justification or obligation, just cultural identification with Jewish heritage and the ability to appreciate the good bits! Yeshua celebrated Hanukkah, something The Almighty did not command in the Tanach, but it was part of being Jewish at that time, so he kept it, this is the example set by Yeshua and a principle extrapolated to other practices that are not in conflict with God’s revelation in the Tanach and Brit Hahadasha.

        • I do not see Chanukah as a counter example. It predated. (As to ‘command’ it depends on if you accept the authority of the religious leaders as being Biblical or not.)

          The problem here is that while you might say that keeping a Shabbat or the like occasionally is not philosophically in contradiction, to regularly adopt customs of a religion that you feel has no value seems a contradiction an a problem. What if an Indian Christian would continue to observe some Hindu custom they found meaningful for them? (Although it does seem that much of the Church’s customs came about through this type of ‘borrowing’.)

        • Good point – we also see in the Bible how God can use non-Biblical ideas to communicate to his people, such as the appropriation of the solar invictus in Malachi, so perhaps it’s okay too to speak of Jewish renewal in Yeshua.

        • I am not sure what your point here is. Are you ignoring the commands to not follow in the ways of the nations around them? Wouldn’t that apply to historical Judaism’s customs, since they also deny Christianity?

        • No, Christianity is the nations following an originally-very popular Jewish movement, not the other way round.

        • Sorry Joseph that is wrong on a few counts.

          1 It was not ‘very popular’. It was not even on the map when it was a majority Jewish.

          2. We only know of it in early 2nd century non-Jewish sources where the followers were gentiles who denied any relationship to Judaism. (They could have claimed to be a type of Judaism and been free of Roman persecution at the time.)

          3. Even if the first followers were Jewish, that does not make it a part of Judaism any more then Communism is a part of Judaism.

        • Moshe,

          What Judaism are you referring to?

          Orthodox, who elevate man-made rules and regulation above God’s word?
          Reform, who ordains gay rabbis and perforem same sex marriages?
          Conservative, who are not here, and not there?
          Reconstructionists who took God completely out of the picture?
          Lubavitch, who believe the “Rebbe,” a man as messiah?

          What judaism are you talking about? and why, I, a jew should want to join one of these ?

        • Never heard of these Jewish denominations…LOL! But even if I did, who decids on what is traditional Judaism? Do reform or conservative have their own traditions? Yet, for the Orthodox they are not considered Jews? who gave them the authority to decide?

          I know Moshe that I am rehashing our conversation via e-mails, but since you stop responding to my e-mails i thought we can continue the discussion here?

        • Dan, history is history. Traditional Judaism is what it has been for 2000 years. As to reform and Conservative. Reform started in Germany as an attempt to Reform traditional Judaism. Conservative started in America as a Reform movement of Reform.

          As to Reform and Conservative Jews, whether they are or not has to do with rules in force long before these groups came into existence.

          As to our private emails, I said you should write me if you had a question about it.

        • Dan, it appears your grasp of recent Jewish history is very weak. The overwhelming majority of Jews killed by Hitler were in Eastern Europe which was the center of Orthodox. Communism tried to wipe out Judaism also at this time. America was a total wasteland. However since that time, Orthodoxy, which numerically had been in decline, is growing. You are aware it does take a certain amount of time for a child to be born and grow to maturity? As it is with the high Orthodox birth rate (the ultra Orthodox average 7+) and the low rate of non-Orthodox (under 2) has seen a slow change in the balance. Add in intermarriage, and you see what is happening. Israel is similar. The Orthodox percentage of the population there is rising due to similar factors. It takes time.

        • >>> Traditional Judaism is what it has been for 2000 years. <<<

          Ken must question the validity of this statement.

        • >>> there is a direct line going from the Pharisees before Jesus to the present day Orthodox Judaism. <<<

          Would you agree that the direct line curves theologically speaking?

          I see changes in expectations of Messiah between the rabbis BEFORE He came and those of the rabbis after His coming. That suggests their theology changed to accomodate their prejudices.

        • I am not aware of any theological issues which have changed over that time which effects the differences between Judaism and Christianity. Remember in the NT Peter was unaware of a concept of a Messiah who needs to die and come a second time. (See Matthew 16:21-22). It is also clear that they were waiting for a Messiah who would bring a physical kingdom and end Roman/gentile oppression. (A view documented in the Dead Sea Scrolls also.) These views are clearly and openly stated in the Tenach and are the ones maintained by Judaism from that time until today. (It should be noted that the Karites also maintained such a belief.)

          There have been differences of practice and custom over the years, which can be documented. But these occur within a stable legal system. (A good example I have tried to point out is with the way the Passover is celebrated.)

      • There certainly is more reason to believe in the crossing of the red sea then in the census of Luke or the Matthew’s killing of the children in Bethlehem.

        There are two points on this:

        1. While the Exodus was at time when there is little documentation for any event no matter what to was, Jesus lived in a time when there was a considerable amount. Josephus wrote as lot about the time. For him to have left out these two events would be like someone writing about WWII and forgetting about the Atom Bomb.

        2 There is evidence for it as Velikovsky collects in his books. In Egypt there are two sources: Ipuwar papyrus and a stele at al arish. The former dealing with the plagues and the later with Pharoah dying in the water. He also brings cooberative accounts from places as far away as China and South America.

  2. There is no Shandah to praise something that is good. I challenge MJ to look at Chabbad structure of communities, they are second to none.

  3. There is a connection between Christianity and Chasidut.
    While the Baal Shem Tov was a mystic (not a theologian) still his statements were did indicate a pantheistic m approach. This approach was definitely not that of the rambam or saadia geon or any of the medieval Jewish thinkers. (Called the rishonim) so it is curious from where did the pantheism of the Baal Shem Tov come from? Is it more than a coincidence that the doctrine of the Russian Orthodox Church is Pantheistic? I don’t say that this is a blemish on the Besht (heaven forbid) after all he and his disciples borrowed from many sources to create a type of spiritual doctrine which was unique. Perhaps it has gone downhill in recent years but still the original chasidim seem to have been in fact great saints.

      • Leto and Moshe,

        I welcome respectful differences of opinion. This is the American Way… tolerance.

        Let me ask you this. Why has not the greater Jewish community expressed concern for the sexual immorality of its errant rabbi?

        I refer to–
        Should we really be praising Carlebach’s kiruv outreach, in the light of the serious accusations about his sexual conduct from the Awareness Center?

        Or am I mistaken? What do your respective Jewish groups do when a rabbi has “sex talk” with a person other than his wife? I blush to even write this.

        (We have worse in our evangelical-fundamentalist-charismatic community of faith. When gross sin is revealed, it is our common policy to seek repentence and take the errant pastor out of ministry for a time until he establishes a proven moral lifestyle record. Only then can he return to ministry.)

      • Ken, you probably do not know that Rabbi Carlbach has been dead for over 10 years and when he was alive he was not approved of by the Rabbis, and was excluded from a number of communities. (Although he did make a lot of well known nigunim.)

  4. It was popular: according to Acts thousands of Jews believed in Yeshua – 3000 turned to Yeshua in one day alone after Peter’s sermon at Shavuot in Acts 2.

    Even today, there are far more Jews who believe Yeshua is moshiach than Jews who believe Schneerson is. There are an estimated 300,000 Jewish believers in Yeshua worldwide – from Torah-observant Messianic Jews to fully-assimilated Christians of a Jewish background. That’s about 2% of all Jews worldwide – a significant number.

    What’s the difference between us and other Jewish movements? Ours is more popular amongst the nations.

    • You don’t really expect me to believe ‘Acts’ as authoritative? It is not G-d’s word, and quite frankly the NT has problems with historical accuracy. Take Luke’s census, Matthew’s slaughter of the children, and all those great miracles it claims at the crucifixion that no one seems to have seen but him. (I wonder if it really occure3d on Purim :) )

      • Dan, the talmud predates the dictionary by a couple of years :) You have this, as is usual for you, backwards. The dictionary is trying to explain the talmud. But if you would look in th etalmud you would see that afikomen is something WE DO NOT EAT. Historically later it became the name of the last matzah we do eat. The obvious connection being that since the talmud understands afikomen as ‘desert’, and the last matzah is the last thing eaten like a desert, it got that name. There is such a thing as truth, unfortunately it usually goes against what the messianics would like things to be.

  5. I bet you cannot recite what ruls “that were in force” the reform and conservative broke? And where does it say that if you break these rules one is not a Jew anymore?

  6. Nothing surprises me any longer with UMJC-MJTI craziness. I would prefer it, if they just converted to Hasidic Judaism lock stock and barrel, go follow some other false Messiah and allow us real MJ’s (of the seed, rather than converts) to get on with it.

    Thanks for your help TOMJ’s but no thanks!

    • “allow us real MJ’s (of the seed, rather than converts) to get on with it.”

      Hey, the “real MJ”, just get on with it – why do you need some “TOMJ’s” to “allow” you to do something, what’s holding you back? I think you’ve already got on with whatever it is you want to get on long time ago.

      • Thanks, the Real MJ’s are going on with it. My hand is on the plough now and so are other Hebrew brothers (for the sake of clarity those with Jewish parents).

        I’ve lived with the Hasidic in the promised land and in England and nothing would want me to go back. It’s a shadow of the truth.

        One of our members came from a Hasidic background and while still attends Synagogue he is also happy with his new calling.

        I don’t get why Gentile believers want to convert Hasidic Judaism?

  7. Modern Messianic Judaism and its practices is a reaction primarily to Christianity, not Orthodox Judaism. This occurred for several reasons:
    1. Jews who believed Jesus is the Messiah asked why they should have to lose their identity as Jews as was the case throughout history. MJ is an attempt at a solution for Jewish believers.
    2. Gentiles began to realize that it was never the intention of Jesus or his followers that the Torah would be nullified. Again, MJ is an attempt at a solution.
    3. As far as Rabbinic halacha goes, I agree that there is something hypocritical about performing certain Rabbinic enactments on the one hand and disparaging the Rabbis on the other.
    4. The underlying issue, on a practical level, regarding halacha, is that it is almost impossible for Jewish believers to worship and socialize together with Gentile believers and maintain strict adherence to all Rabbinic halacha. Hence the mish-mash.

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