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Thursday, April 24, 2014

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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 
    1. Gefilte fish
    2. Chicken Soup
    3. Chicken
    4. Fruit compote for desert
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. There are 3 tishes every Shabbos which everyone must attend
  6. All the men dress exactly the same down to the boots that they all wear.
  7. There is complete separation between men and women
    1. separate sidewalks, one side men one side women, married couples aren't allowed to walk together
    2. separate waiting rooms at the doctor
    3. mechitza buses
    4. 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? 

15 Comments:

At 12:03 PM, Blogger Avi Shevin said...

So they completely ignore the Shulchan Aruch (and Talmud) when it comes to Zmanei Tefilah?

Color me not surprised.

 
At 12:56 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

According to what the writer says the violence that has happened in New Square over the past few years regarding those who wished to make a new minyan is the Rebbi's full responsibility!

 
At 4:22 PM, Blogger dlz said...

#3 doesn't sound like a bad idea.

 
At 4:53 PM, Blogger adam said...

I do believe Skver is a cult but this reporting is grossly inaccurate.

There is a very well known & popular bakery in New Square called Taam Eden that exports all over the greater Monsey area. There are supermarkets outside New Square who Taam Eden is their only source for baked goods.

I suspect there are also take out food sections inside New Square supermarkets but even if not, right outside New Square is Hatzlacha Supermarket with very large take out concessions inside.

 
At 5:33 PM, Blogger dlz said...

I asked a former resident of New Square, and he said the facts in this article are grossly inaccurate.

 
At 5:36 PM, Blogger Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

Some of the allegations are actually not bad. The idea of merging simchas, for example, does away with the "Keeping up with the Goldsteins" mentality that drives other Orthodox simcha budgets into orbit.
Similarly you could find merit in a specific Shabbos menu which means there's no competition between households to produce lavish dinners that strain family budgets. Besides, it says "chicken" but perhaps they're allowed different chicken recipes.
I also doubt there are no prepared foods. If there's gefilte fish then, unless they're catching the carp, skinning it and then pounding it they're using prepared foods. It's also unlikely they don't have a bakery for Shabbos challah and the like.
Otherwise yeah, they're pretty creepy.

 
At 5:57 PM, Blogger bluke said...

DLZ, I am only reporting what was written in Mishpacha.

Garnel, yes you can find merit in some of the things (specifically no competition) but taken as a whole I stand by what I wrote that it is "cult" like.

 
At 6:15 PM, Blogger dlz said...

I realize it is a quote from Mishpacha - I wasn't criticizing you, just pointing out the alleged inaccuracy of the facts.

 
At 6:16 PM, Blogger dlz said...

Avi - about zman tefilla, they are certainly not the only Chassidim to do that - even the Sfas Emes, who was a universally-acknowledged gadol, davened after the zman.
There are various halachic defenses of the practice.

 
At 11:07 PM, Blogger Nachman said...

Cult or not shouldn't ever be a real issue; the real question is if it is a dangerous cult.

 
At 4:31 AM, Blogger G*3 said...

It's not cult "like." If the post is a valid description of life in New Square, then New Square is a cult.

It has all the markers: A Great Leader, focus on conformity, unusually large blocks of time devoted to cult activities, no individuality (mass simchas), and a steady flow of large amounts of money from the cult members to the leadership. The only thing it doesn't have is active recruitment, which given typical Chassidishe birthrates, probably isn't necessary.

 
At 7:33 AM, Blogger Shmuel Z said...

I'm supposed to believe this article? It's nonsense.

I do realize that it's a community that values conformity - perhaps too much, and tries to enforce it - perhaps too much, as well.

But the claims here simply don't pass the smell test. The claim about bakeries is simply not true. And the claim that everyone without exception eats the same exact menu is hyperbole at it's finest. How in heaven's name would the author even begin to check that out?

As for the "no separate simchas", either the author is an idiot, or you are totally misunderstanding what was written. Keeping the candy throwing to one time period, instead of turning the whole kriah into a circus, and sticking to one kidush in shul has nothing to do with whether there are separate simchas. It's about keeping the shul functioning. Or are you claiming that this is proof that all bar mitzvah boys have ONE joint party each week, and all weddings are done en mass with a group chupa and the meal in one hall?

I have no idea about the other items, and some of them are probably partly true. But it's hard to give much credence to an article that's sooo poorly done. On the other hand, it's not surprising, coming from the Hebrew Mishpacha.

 
At 9:24 AM, Blogger bluke said...

Shmuel,

The writer was a reported he talked to many people and they all told him that everyone eats the same food.

Regarding the simchas, the article states "whoever is looking for individual simchas should look elsewhere".

 
At 5:35 PM, Blogger Mighty Garnel Ironheart said...

What was the tone of the article? Was it "Boy are these guys over the top!" or "Wow, this is what a REAL Jewish community looks like!"?

 
At 9:50 PM, Blogger bluke said...

The tone of the article was very positive. It was part of a supplement where they detailed their Shabbos experience at various places.

 

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