Hipster, Hassidim and Morethodoxy – Rabbi Barry Gelman

This past Saturday the Wall Street Journal had a story examining the growing tension between the Hassidic and Hipster communities. The tension exists because both groups live in the same neighborhood, Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

While the article focuses on turf wars I wish to offer another insight regarding these two groups and, of course, where morethodox Jews come into this brouhaha.

The Hassidim and the Hispters could not be more different from each other. I am not referring to religious practice (in fact, I do not know much about the religious practices or beliefs of Hipsters), I am referring to “belonging”.

Hipsters, in general, do not want to belong to a specific group and they protect their independence and individuality – although it does seem to me that they all dress alike. One manifestation of this preference is that it has been reported that the hipster have not participated in the census. By refusing to fill out the senses the Hipsters are declaring that they do not wish to be labeled or identified.

I am sure that many of us find aspects of this “free- spiritedness” very appealing.  After all, the opportunity to follow dreams and live out fantasies is very attractive. Opportunities to do that are not always available to those who choose to join groups and be conventional.

Hassidim, on the other hand, are the ultimate joiners. Even though Hassidism started as a rejection of the prevalent character of the Jewish community, currently, Hassidism is all about joining and conforming to the norms of the group. Being a Hassid means following the rules of a specific rebee and living in accordance with detailed and strict guidelines of the specific group.  Hassidism is highly symbolic, and virtually every activity is ritualized according to longstanding tradition.

This approach can be very alluring as well. There is a certain confidence that one gains by knowing they are part of a group – a certain strength of conviction. Belonging to a strong group with strong roots, a clear definition of what success means and a proven plan on how to achieve success is very comforting.

While occupying the same physical space, these two groups are very different.

I believe that morethodoxy falls somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. We must be very careful to guard our past and remain a vital part of the greater orthodox world. At the same time, we must exercise our independence and not fall into the trap of demanding that all things be done the way they always were. Morethodox Jews should be willing joiners of the alliance of Orthodox Judaism and, at the same time, stand a bit outside the club, calling for new approaches and fresh perspectives.

This s the ground that we should occupy.

2 Responses to Hipster, Hassidim and Morethodoxy – Rabbi Barry Gelman

  1. Skeptic says:

    “although it does seem to me that they all dress alike”

    You hit the nail on the head here. Hipsters *do* want to belong to a group, but they want the group to be an antinomian one. Hasidim want to belong to a group, but they want it to be traditional. That’s why each wears his respective ‘uniform’ to fit in. The problem for modern Orthodoxy is that it can’t precisely define its group — is it traditional? is it innovative? — and since it can’t define it clearly, by its very nature, it can’t provide the group cohesiveness that is offered by the extremes of the spectrum.

  2. Ultimately, all groups want to belong to something, if merely their alleged autonomy.

    What is interesting, as noted in the Wall Street Journal story cited, is that it appears to be the Hasidim rather than the so-called “hipsters” who are more open-minded and have a better sense of humor about the two groups’ cultural chasm.

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