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Religious-Zionist Youth Stream to Hassidism

Many colorful knitted yarmulkes stood out brightly at the various recent “Chabad New Year” celebrations – and Ramat Gan yeshiva dean explains why.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 12/8/2009, 11:31 AM / Last Update: 12/8/2009, 11:33 AM

Many colorful knitted yarmulkes stood out brightly at the various recent “Chabad New Year” celebrations – and the head of the Ramat Gan yeshiva explains why.

Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira heads Yeshivat Ramat Gan, a leading Tel Aviv-area religious-Zionist yeshiva in which prayer, study, joy, devotion and introspection vie for the students’ and rabbis’ concentration.

Sunday was the 19th of the Jewish month of Kislev, known as the New Year of Hassidism in Chabad/Lubavitch circles. Events held on that day commemorate the death in 1722 of the Maggid of Mezritch, who succeeded his teacher, the Baal Shem Tov, as head of the Hassidic movement, and also the release from prison in 1798 of Chabad founder Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.

Rabbi Shapira himself took part in a large “19 Kislev” commemoration on Saturday night in Jerusalem, and explained that he is a descendant of one of the Chabad Rebbes, known as the Tzemach Tzedek.

He was asked to relate to the growing phenomenon of religious-Zionism combined with Chabad and/or Breslover Hassidut, especially among the youth. “There is a growing desire and sense of need,” Rabbi Shapira said, “to draw from all the great lights of previous generations as one. The special flavor of the inner meaning of Torah as revealed in Hassidism gives a deep and Divine flavor to our lives – and the fact that appreciation for this is growing each day is a positive development.”

Is Something Missing?
Asked if this phenomenon means that “something is missing” in their lives, Rabbi Shapira said, “Yes, certainly something is missing; as long as the Redemption has not yet come, something is missing. We are searching and longing for the taste of Redemption and of Divinity. There are various approaches to dealing with this, but the manner in which Hassidism helps us deal with this is amazing and unparalleled. One who does not delve into the flavor provided by Hassidism is missing a part of Torah. In addition, our youth today, specifically, has a great need for this, and Hassidism provides it with warmth, vitality and holiness that cannot be found elsewhere.”

Shelter of Last Resort? Not At All
Rabbi Shapira deflected the age-old criticism that Hassidut provides a refuge for those whose spiritual status is not the highest: “Of all sectors, the religious-Zionist sector is not one to make this claim. Religious-Zionism has always cooperated and united, in the army, government and the like, with Jews who wished to undermine the holiness of Judaism… It’s true that sometimes great and holy ideas have been abused, and Hassidism is no exception, but this is not a significant aspect of Hassidism. We are fortunate that our youth is searching for the unification of all aspects of Torah that Hassidism has to offer.”

Rabbi Kook
Rabbi Shapira, a student of the Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook school of Jewish thought, concluded by saying, “The approach of Rav Kook always concentrated on the unification of the various approaches. Different branches have emerged from this school with different emphases, but this is truly a manifestation of Elu v’elu – all are words of the Living G-d.”