New Square: Total Conformity, is this what Judaism is about?
Mishpacha magazine (Hebrew) published an interesting supplement for Pesach where they had a writer spend a Shabbos in different places and describe the experience. One of the places was New Square.
The piece emphasized the total conformity in New Square in every aspect of life. Here are some example:
- There are no restaurants, bakeries, prepared food stores in all of New Square. The only supermarket sells only basic items, no prepared food, no national brands. Everyone eats the same few staples
- Everyone eats the exact same food on Shabbos. For example, the menu in every family in New Square for the Friday night meal without exception is
- Gefilte fish
- Chicken Soup
- Fruit compote for desert
- There are no individual simchas. Every Shabbos there are approximately 10 aufrufs and ten bar mitzvas, they only throw candy at the end for everyone and there is 1 small kiddush after davening
- There is only 1 shul with only 1 minyan. On Shabbos morning at 8AM they start saying Tehilim for 3 hours, at 11AM they start Shacharis which takes over 3 hours
- There are 3 tishes every Shabbos which everyone must attend
- All the men dress exactly the same down to the boots that they all wear.
- There is complete separation between men and women
- separate sidewalks, one side men one side women, married couples aren't allowed to walk together
- separate waiting rooms at the doctor
- mechitza buses
- women leave shul after kedusha so that when the men leave there isn't a woman around
Another aspect mentioned in the article is the fact that the Rebbe is in total control of the town. The mayor, city councilmen, city workers are all appointed by the Rebbe and nothing happens without his say so. Since, the Rebbe is the absolute focus of the town, before anyone does anything they consult the Rebbe. Consulting the Rebbe is not cheap, first you have to pay the Kvitel writer, then there is a Gabbai in charge of the door to the Rebbe's room, you have to pay him as well. Last but not least you need to leave money for the Rebbe himself when you finally meet him.
I understand the importance of minhagim and mesora but this seems completely stifling. Where is the room for the individual? Everyone is not made from the same mould. Does saying tehillim for 3 hours every shabbos morning really talk to everyone? Aren't there people who could use their time more productively (in a spiritual sense)? Can everyone sit 6 hours in shul? What if a person wants to daven vasikin? Daven before סוף זמן תפילה? Must everyone eat the same exact food? Where is the opportunity for individual spiritual growth? The opportunity to use your own כוחות? To think for yourself?
The level of control that is described here seems "cult" like to me. The individual has basically no autonomy to do anything, everything is completely regimented. Is this really the way Hashem wants us to live, as faceless automatons all doing the exact same thing?