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Let’s Call Them Modern Chasidim

2603_MEDIUMYesterday, in an article in Newsday, the world was introduced to the term Tuna Beigel. Now it’s time to retire it.

A little Googling will yield plenty of results for the term and almost all of them are negative. It’s used to describe people born to chasidic families who modernize. They keep many of the exterior elements of chasidishe life but lead lives that are not insular at all. They are familiar with popular culture, they have less rigid ideas about modesty, and they live outside the chasidic enclaves. However, I would say that these people are by and large orthodox. If they leave orthodoxy they leave this group.

For non-chasidim, these people can seem odd. They don’t speak English well, they are under-educated, they have chasidishe foibles and tendencies. Because of these barriers they don’t really integrate perfectly into the mainstream yeshiva world or into the modern orthodox world. Hence, they have their own group and their own name. The separate name and their lack of integration are an indictment of the frum world. Non-chasidim must do a better job of welcoming those who left insular community. Titles that mock their difficult choice would not a good way of doing this.

The problem is that Tuna Beigel is a pejorative. It is used to mock their Yinglish and I am told that many people use it derisively and many feel derided by the word. Of course there are many people from this group that use the word proudly. They are not insulted by the word at all. But too many people find the term offensive for it to be used in civilized conversation.

Personally, I compare it to using the “off the derech” to describe someone who left orthodox Judaism. I try very hard not to use that description because I think it is offensive. It tells those who left orthodox Judaism that they are off the path which implies that they are defective. While it’s true that orthodox Jews believe there is a path and those who left are not on the path, calling attention to that is implicitly offensive. Now, some people who fit into that category don’t find it offensive. That’s cool. But it doesn’t mean that we should use it. You’ll not find a single mention of that phrase on this blog unless I am quoting or paraphrasing someone else. That’s because I find it offensive.

Similarly, the term for modernized chasidim should not be offensive. In fact, I believe they should be celebrated and embraced. They are heroes. They are choosing our life. And it’s even more impressive that they are staying within the confines of orthodox Judaism even after having left the insular community. That’s the interesting thing about the article in Newsday. It’s a growing phenomenon and we hope it continues to grow.

In my private life I don’t use the word Tuna Beigel. In my public life I do not want to use it either and I don’t want others to use it. Try Modern Chasidim if you need a title. That’s what I use and I think it is a respectful and accurate description. (Modern Orthodox doesn’t work because that group stands for Torah U’Mada, excellence in secular education and high professional accomplishment. Hopefully the next generation of Modern Chasidim can grow into that.)

Let’s stop using this ugly term to describe Modern Chasidim. Let’s do a better job of helping them integrate into the non-chasidic world. If I offended anyone by my association with the article in Newsday, please forgive me. I admire the Modern Chasidim (and you ex-hasids too) and did not intend to hurt anyone. I hope we can work together to end the use of this term and create a brighter future for those who choose not to stay in the insular chasidic community.

(Also, I think the article is interesting. I was quoted a few times too.)

Link: Newsday


21 Comments
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  • Sol Hershkowitz

    As I tweeted yesterday: It’s a sad day when a nick name invented to poke fun of trapped freedom-seeking people is officially acknowledged.

    And no, there aren’t ‘many people from this group that use the word proudly’, in fact, I have yet to meet a single person that didn’t feel hurt and ashamed when they were pointed at as being a ‘tuna beigel’. (It feels similar to when a stay-at-home Chassid tells them sarcastically that “you will always like cholent”, yes they will, but that just shows how manipulative their upbringing was, it’s not something to make fun of, it’s sad, it’s like poking fun of an obese person when they eat cholent).

    • laboyzz

      I know people who proudly call themselves tuna beigals. I went to yeshiva with some guys like that…..

  • Dov Kramer

    Although I agree with the overall message of this post, I think some clarification is in order, based on each person’s perspective.

    I don’t think it’s fair to expect, nor should we try to encourage, those who are still in the community to refrain from using such terms. Those of us outside the Chassidic communities should avoid using the term “tuna bagel,” but for those living within it, whom this “bagel” rejected (to some extent), insisting that a negative term should not be used for someone who has, from their perspective, done something negative, is not realistic. They would be wise not to use such a term when talking with such a person, but can’t take issue with their using when talking about them.

    Similarly, those who are in the OJ community should not be taken to task for using the term “OTD” when referring to those who have abandoned a Torah lifestyle. They shouldn’t use it when speaking with those who have left the community, but it is a fair (and accurate) term when used to refer to those who have left.

    I’m not sure “Modern Chasidim” works either, BTW, although not because of any negative connotation. There are plenty of Chasidim who do not consider themselves to have “left” Chasidus, even if they do not fully shun anything and everything that is “modern.” How about “Non-Shtetl Chasidim”?

  • Yak Friedman

    Re: “Torah uMada”

    This is an unfortunate term. Even though it lists Torah first, it clearly puts Mada on the same level as Torah. And the lives of its adherents reflect this. Sad. This is a slippery slope that leads to deep integration into the secular world, mindset and eventually values. As the President of the OU Mandell Gantrow once horribly said with pride, without any compunction and apparently without any understanding of the tragedy he was trumpeting: “we are proud that our constituents are avid sports fans and film-goers!” Really really sad.

    Re: “The modern Orthodox… that group stands for … excellence in secular education and high professional accomplishment.”

    Yes, Fink, you are right. That’s EXACTLY what the so-called Modern Orthodox stand for. That seems indeed to be their highest value. Very sad indeed.

    :(

    • http://2nd-son.blogspot.com/ G*3

      Following
      sports and watching movies is a tragedy? Because…?

      • Dov Kramer

        He didn’t say “following sports and watching movies is a tragedy.” He said that being proud that their constituents were was. There is a BIG difference.

        Not that I agree with the gist of his comment, but if you want to take issue with it (and you can, and so can I, but about the implication that everyone who falls under the “Torah U’Mada” banner focuses mostly on the latter, rather than using the latter to enhance the former), at least be accurate about it, so that the point can be better made and more likely accepted.

    • ksil

      some people believe that the whole point of the is for us to live IN THE WORLD and in fact this world is itself torah! science, math, history…its ALL torah in a sense.

      Others believe they should just seclude themselves from the rest of the world and read ancient books over and over again that have no relevance to anything

      grown ups can disagree

      • laboyzz

        “some people believe that the whole point of the is for us to live IN THE WORLD and in fact this world is itself torah! science, math, history…its ALL torah in a sense.”

        Yes, as long as ALL realize that Torah is the guidebook we use to navigate the secular world. It is the priority even though we have an obligation to learn “secular studies” in order to fulfill our obligation to do our hishtadlus to enable ourselves to find parnassa to support our families.

        Sometimes that focus is totally lost in Modern Orthodox circles…

  • Shades of Gray

    Labels have their place, but are limited.

    Perhaps the difference is between people categorizing vs God. People need categories,
    whether halachically or sociologically, to speak about community. However, “ki ha’adam yireh l’enayim v’hashem yireh laleivav”(Shmuel), and its possible that some visibly OTD are better in a certain aspect than some “On the Derech” people, if one factors in “nekudas habechirah”, for life situations.

    Also, there can be “undercover” almost-off- the- derech, as mentioned in a Mishpacha Article(10/20/10):

    “The “kids-at-risk” phenomenon, in which children rebel against their family’s mesorah in an external manner, has been in the headlines and headspace of the chareidi community for more than a decade. But astute mechanchim from around the globe warn that a far greater challenge is plaguing our youth today, one that hides beneath the surface: they are inundated with cases of seemingly mainstream boys and girls who exhibit no external signs of rejecting Yiddishkeit , but who are sorely lacking some basic elements of basic elements of emunah and yiras Shamayim that were assumed”

    Regarding the “At Risk” category, it’s useful and necessary, but then everyone is at
    risk to an extent–“al ta’amin b’atzmacha etc.”. From the AMI “Imposters Among Us” article:

    “Adults at risk” is really a broad category. Rabbi Shai Markowitz, who runs the Six Constant Mitzvos program, told me that he sees pretty much every Jew as an adult at risk, because we all need added emunah and vibrancy in our Judaism .”

  • Steven Schlesinger

    WOW!! I myself am a “Modern Chasid” And I believe i even coined the phrase. I Have been using that phrase for well over 2 years now! Cant believe it’s finally becoming a ‘thing’!!

  • Glatt some questions

    I also don’t like the term “off the derech” but for a different reason…it implies that there is only one road to connecting with Hashem and finding religious meaning and purpose in one’s life, when in fact there may be multiple derachim.

    • Adam Kenigsberg

      “The Derech” is like the 405 freeway. It has 70 lanes. However, someone walking on Venice Beach cannot claim to be on the 405 – even if he is walking parallel to the 405, he is nowhere near the on-ramp.

      This is the holy work that R’ Fink does; he brings in Jews who are (both literally and figuratively) on Venice Beach, shows them the 70 lanes of “The Derech”, and helps them merge into one of them.

      Each of the 70 lanes differ in language pronunciation, mode of dress, customs, style of prayer; but the practice of shmirat hamitzvot is what unites these disparate lanes as one Derech.

      TunaB- uh, modern Chassidim, didn’t go off the derech. They merely changed lanes. Unlike the actual 405, no one need honk at them for keeping two wheels in one lane, and two wheels in another lane. There’s plenty of room on The Derech for lane sharing.

      One such lane-sharing group that has emerged among hippie / neo-Chassidim in Israel, is called ChaBaKuk.

      Besides being the name of a Tanakh prophet, this ideology combines the teachings of Chabad, Breslov, and Rav Kook.

      Every Jew must find his/her lane, or lane sharing system, to maximize happiness and joy, through the dutiful observance of Gd’s holy directives.

      THAT is real pluralism.

      • Glatt some questions

        Beautiful analogy, Adam. And certainly the way it should be. Unfortunately, in my experience, when someone uses the term “off the derech”, there aren’t 70 lanes on their road. There aren’t even 2 or 3. To coin another phrase, for these folks it’s either “my way or the highway”.

      • MarkSoFla

        I like this. A lot. But we also need to remember that even for people not on any of the 70 lanes, it is still better to keep them close by and maintain good relationships with them, than to discard them and write them off. They are still part of “us.”

        • tesyaa

          Why is it better to keep them close even if they want to be distant? Tribal affection? National solidarity? Future hope for kiruv?

          If people want to exclude themselves from Judaism, I’m not sure why it’s necessary to keep them close – unless you have a self-serving agenda. Good family relationships are always important, but that has nothing to do with Judaism.

          • MarkSoFla

            It is better to keep them close if (and only if) they want to remain close. And I mean close in the colloquial sense – in contact with friends, family, etc. Why is it good? For the same reasons it’s good for any other nation or group of people.

  • Jonathan Baker

    isn’t that also pejorative? after all, many of them grew up with teachers who used “modernishe” to deride the acculturated Jews.

  • Eli

    Come on, “modern” is a curse word amongst chassidim. Are you that clueless?

    • http://finkorswim.com E. Fink

      Not among the people who are becoming more modern. It’s them I don’t want to offend.

      • Dan Ratherson

        I think that most moderate chasidim would not appreciate being called modern. In the chasidic community the term “modern” (or “modeyrn”) has a connotation of being overly American culturally, and not just a label in the religious-secular spectrum. I think the families and relative of these chasidim will look down more on the “modern” label, than the “tuna-beigel” label (different stroke for different folks). I like the idea, but I think we have to be more creative.

  • SWS224

    WOW!! I myself am a “Modern Chasid” And I believe i even coined the phrase. I Have been using that phrase for well over 2 years now! Cant believe it’s finally becoming a ‘thing’!! I feel as if modern chasidim are becoming more an more common, they arent TunaBygles, rather they are regular guys (and girls) who grew up with really chasidish backgrounds (ie., father wears a streimel) But now they went to more litfish yeshivos and dress more yeshivishly as opposed to chasidishly. These type of bochurim are usually wearing regular bent down hats and regular davening jackets, but often sport a small gartel, or some peyos behind their ears. They have some working vocabulary of yiddish but mostly thats all. They keep to most of their chasidish background but still look like regular, more “modern” litfish bochurim. this is the new breed called modern chassidim.