Why do many Chassidic groups isolate themselves from the modern world?…ask the rabbi

February 22, 2016 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Rabbi Raymond Apple answers your questions…


Rabbi Raymond Apple

Rabbi Raymond Apple

Q. Why do many Chassidic groups isolate themselves from the modern world?

A. The Chassidic world lost over 90% of its members in the Holocaust, and today’s Chassidic groups are adamant that Chassidism will not only survive but thrive.

They have their enclaves in most major locations, and they have large families and strict standards which have allowed such an orthodox expansion in recent decades that not only is their survival assured but they have had an influence throughout the Jewish world.

Most Chassidic groups keep away from modern phenomena like cinema, television, radio and even unrestricted cell phones. They see such things as a waste of time, a distraction, and a danger to fundamental Jewish ideas and commitments.


Q. I am surprised that the beautiful Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my Shepherd”) is not part of our daily prayers. Surely it should have been included?

A. Though not statutorily required, Psalm 23 is often said, for obvious reasons, on occasions of sickness or bereavement.

It is also often sung on Shabbat at Se’udah Sh’lishit, the third meal, which is usually eaten late on Shabbat afternoon. At this moment Shabbat is ebbing away and the psalm offers a comforting assurance of Divine protection, even when we leave the serenity of Shabbat and turn back to the stresses and strains of the workday week.

The traditional translation of the psalm is deservedly famous, but not entirely accurate. The phrase “tzalmavet”, for instance, probably does not mean “the shadow of death” but “dark gloom” – not that this changes the meaning long associated with the word; the late Rabbi Israel Porush said that its message was, “Even when I find myself in the depth of darkness and despair I trust in God and am not afraid.”

This and other psalms are not only for the synagogue. In our own individual lives the Tehillim ought to be an invaluable companion. Life requires us to articulate both agony and ecstasy, and the Psalmist has the uncanny ability to assist us to frame the words.

This is what is behind a comment on the opening sentence of the sidra of Sh’mot. The first five words are “V’eleh sh’mot b’nai Yisrael haba’im” – “And these are the names of the Children of Israel who came (to Egypt)”. The final letters of these Hebrew words make up the word Tehillim, Psalms, indicating that wherever one may be, Tehillim are a precious guide.


Q. Why do we have two months called Adar?

A. An ordinary year has only one Adar. In a leap year there are two – Adar Rishon (Adar I) and Adar Sheni (Adar II).

Leap years, seven times in every 19 years, ensure that the Jewish lunar calendar is able to tally with the solar calendar.

Since there is normally a discrepancy of about 11 days between them, without leap years the 11 days would mount up, so that Pesach, for example, would move from one season to another, whereas the Torah requires (Ex. 13:4, 23:15, 34:18; Deut. 16:1) that it be a spring (“aviv”) festival (in the southern hemisphere it is in the autumn). The additional month re-connects the two types of years.

All this comes at the end of the list of months, so that whereas an ordinary year ends with one Adar, a leap year ends with two.

This creates a further question – since Purim is in Adar, in which Adar does it fall in a leap year?

The answer is Adar II, which is closer to Nisan, the month of Pesach, than Adar I. Why Purim and Pesach should be so close is because both are festivals of redemption, the one concerned with the redemption of the Jews of Persia and the other the whole of the Israelite people.

What do we do on 14 Adar I, which might feel slighted to be superseded in favour of 14 Adar II? We call it Purim Katan (“the little Purim”) and we have a modest celebration by leaving out the supplicatory prayers that day and, according to the Rema (Orach Chayyim 697), we should also have some sort of festive meal.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem.



One Response to “Why do many Chassidic groups isolate themselves from the modern world?…ask the rabbi”
  1. Paul Winter says:

    I must beg to differ, Rabbi. Isolating one’s group is anti-social and while it may be a reaction to an hostile host community, that cannot be the case in most Western nations and certainly not in Israel. There is no excuse for dressing like European cults following one or other rabbi. There is no excuse for evading military service; my wife’s very religious second cousins did community service and their husbands serve in elite combat unit. There is no excuse for shirking work and spending all day studying talmud; European hassids in shtetls worked and supported their families. Worse still, their representatives have got themselves into positions of power where they blackmail Israeli governments into funding schools where only talmud is taught and they control ministries dealing with marriages and conversions applying the most rigid, most pitiless interpretations of torah and demanding that all Israeli Jews conform to those standards. They hassids need to open the doors of the both their minds and the doors of their self imposed ghettos.

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