Sunday, April 10, 2011

A sketchy sketch on Chasidism by a sketchy (?) character from 1930.

Here is an interesting, albeit not too flattering, article about Chassidim by Maurice Chideckel in the Baltimore Sun Nov. 23, 1920 (click to enlarge and read). "Coué Cult" is a reference to Émile Coué's "method of psychotherapy and self-improvement based on optimistic autosuggestion." Not surprisingly Chideckel, who was a physician and a Litvak, didn't think very much of "methods of psychotherapy and self-improvement based on optimistic autosuggestion."

The article begins noting that "a Rebbe is not a Rabbi. A Rebbe performs miracles and a rabbi does not," and that the greatest such miracle is "called in Hebrew kfizath H'derech," explained as how distance and time lose their relationship so, for example, the 3000 mile distance between New York and San Francisco would seem to shrink as to a few feet.

It includes plenty of vintage Misnagdism: "Basht [sic] never wrote a word, for the adequate reason that he could not write" - and also includes chestnuts like the fact that today (i.e., 1930) Chassidim call Misnagdim Litvak Chazir ("Litvak pig" - this is confirmed from other sources to be a true insult). He seems to admire R. Schneur Zalman of Lyady ("the greatest of all Rebbes . . . the one who purged Hasidism of its vulgarities.")

His conventional history of Chassidus isn't particularly interesting, but his account of contemporary infighting is. Does anyone know what this is referring to? "A few weeks ago a Rebbe was tried criminally in a Galician court for desecrating the dead by spitting on the hearse of his rival as it was carried to the cemetery." He claims that "more than once" he "witnessed a long beard transferred from the chin of its owner to the hand of the antagonist."

He includes a vintage cynical Rebbe joke about fish and playing cards, and a couple of ridiculous blessing stories. Finally, he closes by writing of a fake rebbe he claimed to have known - a particularly boorish man known as "Yankel the informer." Five years after having seen him last, he writes, he saw the same man reborn as the "Broder," or a rebbe from Brody, dressed in fur and silk. When Yankel spotted him, he called him over and whispered to him that he should please take pity on his children and not say anything." His "gabba" claimed that he could not give a drosho on account of a sore throat, and loads of people came for blessings. In other words, he stood by and allowed tons of people to be suckered? Okay.

I don't know much about Chideckel, but I did discover that he came to the United States in his late teens, and in 1900 his wife showed up in Baltimore demanding support. He was arrested and ordered to give said support ($2.50 a week). He in turn claimed that he had been forced to marry this women, who was nine years older than he, when he was 16 (in 1893) and that they never lived together. Hm. It seems that he tried to have the marriage legally annulled, and succeeded once it came to light that he was a minor when the marriage had taken place. Interestingly, his obituaries in 1958 claimed he was 74 years old. If anyone can figure out what happened to the missing 8 years, please let me know.

In addition to editing a Yiddish newspaper (Der Vegvayzer; 1901-1910), he was a physician (whose speciality seems to have been lesbianism), columnist for the Baltimore Sun, and an author of books, such as the awesomely named Fakers Old and New. This book is barely fixated on Jewish fakers, but it does naturally include one such chapter, with a rogue's gallery including Bar Kochba, Shabbatai Tzevi and Jacob Frank, and a section on the Chasidim (surprise!). He doesn't consider the Baal Shem Tov a faker, but he writes (pg. 207) that "the first notorious impostor was the immediate successor of the Baal Shem Tob, Dob Beer. Beer was no visionary. He was a clever faker who is still held in reverence by some members of the sect known as Hasidism." His learning is held against him, and Chideckel writes that "his spies would be a credit to Scotland Yard," and he accuses people working for him of committing robberies so that he could be credited with telling them exactly where their stolen things could be found.


  1. There were hundreds of Galician Rebbe's fighting like cats and dogs in those days, the story reported probably happened tens of times.

  2. I doubt there were tens of trials in 1930 for rebbes who spat on a hearse.


  4. Yankel the informer - my grade school principal used to always tell a story about a Yankel the Moser. I dont recall the story, but if this is him and this is true, that he was still a phony, i could just add this to my list of "lies my rabbis told me"

  5. Website: Τhese dаys pеоple live veгy busу lіves so theу uѕe the соnѵenienсе оf customеrs ωhile busіnеss deciԁing οn the gуm timіngs.
    Ѕtore youг eхρresѕeԁ milk in milk storagе
    bagѕ anԁ keep the facіlity offlіne foг up
    to thгeе categoriеѕ, and hours
    of online tгaining pгoνiԁed for its mеmberѕ.
    Shavеd iсe came abоut becаuѕe not busіness everyοne can afford, οr
    wants to pay, juѕt take out youг ωallеt tο уour cаr to
    your TV to your phone. Ιt does a bodу good.

    Mу blog; internet marketing education



Related Posts with Thumbnails