A very interesting comment on the Chabad blog AntiTzemach about Hasidism by ‘East Meets West’:
Hasidism and their leadership style are an Eastern European product. Eastern Europe was a haven for mystics and charismatic leaders. In Russia especially, the best example is Rasputin and the power he attained over the House of Romanoff.
In Western Europe their was more rationaalism as a result of the Haskalah. In the 20th century the big exceptions were the two evil charismatics, Hitler and Mussolini, but over all Western Europe and the West, in America and in those places it penetrates, like secular Israel, there is not much tolerance for the mystical, spiritual ways that had currency in Eastern Europe, or further afield, that can still be found in the Far East with belief in Gurus and the power of spirits and demons.
Thus, after the Holocaust, with the bulk of the world’s Jews living in the United States which is the dominant cultural power, and with the United States being a modern RATIONALIST, industrial, scientific and technological super-power, its ethos and Weltanschauung automatically undermine, weaken and even ridicules the Eastern European and Far Eastern outlooks based on mysticism (such as old-fashioned Hasidism) and charismatic leadership styles such as Chasidishe Rebbes, Oriental Gurus, and aspirant “Tzadikim” in favor of faceless technocrats, bureaucrats, scientists and rationalists of all kinds.
Proof is that the Nobel Prizes, the modern West’s highest awards, are mostly given to the scientific and rationalistic fields (the one exception being the award for literature.)
That there are no “Noble Prizes” in the world for “greatest spiritual accomplishments” or “greatest mystical leader” or “greatest books of religion” should tell you what the modern Western world values.
The fact that Hasidism, an inherently Eastern European phenomenon had to relocate to America, the pinncale of the Western world has come with a BIG price. On the one hand the freedom of religion in America and a great batch of initial Eastern Eoropean leaders allowed Hasidism to be established and grow. On the other hand the Western atmosphere and ethos of America has also had its impact on Hasidim and Hasidism and as the older Hasidic leadership passed away, the reality that was revealed was that the large numbers of Hasidim now to be found in the Western bastion of America had indeed been transformed into something new: “Western Hasidim” who were born into, exposed to, and imbued with — whether they liked it or not — greater degrees of Western values such as scepticism of the mystical world-view and of the claims of charismatics to be “wonder-men” or “healers” or “gutte-betters” so that ironically the West has pulled Hasidim away from the clutches of potentially predatory claimants to being “holy men” and moved them closer to the misnagdishe outlook that every person can and must have their own absolute direct kesher with the Eibisheter and that so-called “Tazdikim” are not such a necessity. Rebbes thus become nice to have around and to brag about (“meiner is besser vi diener”) but they are not the bread and butter, ki heim chayeinu ve’orech yomeinu of a Chosid’s life. As the old Yiddish song goes: Es iz nisht vi amul iz geven.
One could say that just as America’s gentiles, lehavdil elef havdolas, are more Protestant and less Catholic, so are all Jews in America influenced by this mehalech. Whereas Catholics teach that God can only be served by and through following the Pope, the Protestants teach that the Pope is not needed and that he actually interferes or worse. In Western history, the Protestant Reformation followed from the Renaissance. Similarly, lehavdil elef havdolas, with the bulk of the world’s Jew, frum and secular NOW living in the West for a long time already (WWII ended in 1945, over 60 years ago), whether they like it or not, they pick up the outlook that “Popes” and interlocutors with God can and MUST be questioned and jettisoned.
The American phenomenon is repeated in the State of Israel as the old-time Middle Eastern yishuv, with its roots in Eastern Europe is overwhelmed by the Westernization of Israeli society and with Haredim who are born and raised into a modern country and not into fardorbene shtetlach where a Rebbe was viewed as a ray of mystic light and grantor of salvation. Israeli Hasidim are not much different to any other Israelis, just that one group wears black and the other wears IDF army uniforms, but their mind-sets are more in sink with each other.
An Israeli Hasid today would have zero shaychos and compatability with his or her Eastern European elter-zaide and bubba. (Maybe one of the appeals and succes of Breslov today is that they have somehow discovred the “trick” of transporting people “back in time” to the grave of Rebbe Nachman itself in Umman in Ukraine which then evokes some kind of mystic paranormal psychic mental and spiritual reaction endemic to that part of the world, but that is another shmues.)
So to sum up, it’s not that there are no Tazdikim or that the todays’ Rebbes and Torah leaders leaders are on a lower intellectual or spiritual madreigah than previous dores, because there are more, not less, Hasidishe Jews and more, not less, genuine geniuses, and more not less talented and charismatic leaders available, but that they are havibg a harder time convincing the Haredi and Hasidic masses to follow in the way that previous doros in Eastren Europe lived and died by their Rebbes and rabbomin.
What has changed is the SURROUNDING CLIMATE, the avirah, the sevivah, it’s the meshaneh makom meshaneh mazel effect, and the people are raised and educated in a differnt way, and think differently. They are not so open to bubba meises. There is an open media. People can read books, magazines, newspapers, and yes the Internet. People know that the West is good. It has better doctors, houses, banks and everything is better under a Western lifestyle. In such a milieu, Rebbes, Gurus, mystics, and all sorts of charismatic leaders and styles are devalued and viewed with scepticism.