Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Crossing the Line

The discussion about pre-WWI Belz, and the living conditions (and conduct expected) there, prompted reader Yosef718 to send the following in to the editor. We thank him profusely for this fascinating piece of history, one that tells us of a Yid who decided to leave the comforts of the West in Prague and join the huddled Chassidic masses in the East. Just as today there are many that decide to leave the fold, citing how uncomfortable and stifling life can be for them, so was the case then. Actually, we now have only a fraction of the problems living like that caused for the young people who were caught up in the ideas of the time. Similarly, although the numbers may not be as high, there were those that left the creature comforts of a Western (Torah?) life, one comparable to Modern Orthodox today (maybe not exactly, but you get the idea), and went searching for a life of Yiddishkeit that included Hiskashrus to the great Chassidic Masters of the day, and adapting the lifestyle of their adherents. Another famous author who made a similar transition pre-WWI was the author Aron Marcus, although their original level of observance may have differed.

Jeri Mordecai Langer, Czech poet and writer, writes of his visit to Belz in 1913. Raised in an acculturated upper middle-class Jewish family, he was longing for something mystical, and found it in the Belz of the time. It seems like he was irreligious at the time, which makes his life's change even more spectacular, since there was no outreach at the time, and he made it all on his own. He eventually moved to then-Palestine, after the Nazi invasion of his native Czechoslovakia, where the relationship with Belzer Chassidim flourished again. Baalei Tshuveh of today can easily find parallels to what they go through while trying to adjust to the Chassidic lifestyle. The mistrust and cold shoulder was maybe more prevalent in those days, and may have been more difficult to shake off too. Yet, we see how he persevered, and was able to realize and achieve the essence of Chassidus Belz, eventually seeing the "ice-wall of mistrust" begin to thaw, even if that had to come with him adopting the Belzer mode of dress, the one Reb Nochum Mordche'le was so afraid of.





15 comments:

Mottel said...

Langer and Kafka

Camp Runamok said...

The culture shock of that first pre-shabbos mikvah I can certainly relate too; right down to the fascinating aromas present at the time of the great group plunge...

Hirshel Tzig said...

No Mikveh you experienced can compare to the legendary Mikeveh in Belz. Shock is an understatement as to what he must've felt that first Friday.

Anonymous said...

If you read the hakdoma in his book (which was written by his brother), you can see the disdain felt by "cultured" Austrio-hungarian Jews towards the OstJudden (even when the erstwhile ostjud is your brother.)

Prager said...

1. Pleeeease, it's Jiri (Jiří)

http://www.behindthename.com/name/jir18i10

2. Belz was part of Austro-Hungarian empire from 1795 to 1918, and so was Prague. Not all jews in the empire were assimilated, that was just in the Austrian and Bohemian (Czech) part. On the other hand, Hungary, Ruthenia and Galicia had a lot of frum jews.

schneur said...

Please tell me where you got the info that upon arrival in palestine his relationship with Belz flourished again. I understand that he as never again a hasid, and until the arrival of the Belzer ruv in 1944 , I do not believe there was a Belzer shtibel in Palestine ?
Jiri langer was a very complex figure and wrote about subjects that its better and nicer not to discuss publically.

Prager said...

BTW if you believe Belz was brutal, read Langers description of Kotzk... I guess Tzig should skip the part about the Kotzker and how Chabad was involved...

Anonymous said...

The article was lately translated into Hebrew with great footnotes By Gelernter in Hiechel Habesht, its a masterpiece.

bahaltener said...

Anonymous: 100%. His brother didn't approve of it in the least.

BTW the boook contains some unique chasidic traditions.

Guravitzer said...

Thank you, Mottel. I was going to mention Kafka.

Hirshel Tzig said...

Prager:

The article says Jeri, who am I to argue?

Schneur:
I heard from Belzer Chassidim that he hooked with them in Palestine, that's not to say he became a Belzer. There were Chassidim there before the Rov's arrival too, you know the rescue story. Besides, I believe he died before the Rov arrived to EI anyway.

chchick said...

Rows of cattle, horses, geese and large PIGS grazed undisturbed in the large town square, which was enclosed on three sides by the Synagogue, House of Study and the large house of the town rabbi.

If this was the norm, what's a little mud in the mikvah going to bother anyone?

n said...

I had heard about this person before but forgot about him...did he write an autobiography?

bahaltener said...

http://www.amazon.ca/Gates-Chasidic-Mysteries-Jiri-Langer/dp/0876682492

Anonymous said...

In his book Meaet Tzeri he writes that he was involved in a Munkatch Zionist Hachshara Org. but I heard from a close relative that he remembers him davening in the Belzer Klauz in Munkatch dressed in a non chasic fashion and he was known as the baal teshuva of the Frierdege Rov(RYD)