Luxury as the Great Pitfall for Hasidim
In a telephonic lecture this past Tishoh beav, Saul Klein excoriated the haredi trend to pursue luksus (luxury) at the expense of basic necessities and a profanation of God’s name. The 40-minute lecture was given in a program called hotzi shiur (half measure) accessible on the Kol Mevaser telephone hotline. Klein belongs to the Old Guard, harboring memories of R. Joel Teitelbaum and the formative years of Satmar hasidus in America. He has distinguished himself as an expert in haredi education and he is also a columnist on the Aaronite newspaper Di Zeitung.
Klein cited several examples of the luksus he despises:
- An advertisement in a hasidic paper showing a burger with the subtitle “decadent”.
- An advertisement for a haredi group cruise on a yacht, with a concert, and with gourmet meals served by uniformed white-gloved servants.
Aside from the crass ungodly materialism such a lifestyle entails, Klein criticized it on the grounds that its adherents neglect to abide by more basic communal and familial financial commitments, e.g. the one who was behind four months in tuition but somehow had the funds to travel to Uman for Rosh Hashonoh.
People are naturally xenophobic, says Klein, e.g. the post 9-11 animosity toward Muslims. When we flaunt our wealth and employ legally questionable methods to maintain our profligate lifestyle, we trigger the ire of the gentiles and sometimes even that of modern Jews.
When the federal government hands down an indictment against a Hasid accused of defrauding a welfare program, “the media do not go to Saul Klein to get an expert explanation; they go to Samuel Heilman” and what Heilman tells them is that Hasidim lead a legally-defined poverty-laden life by choice, even as the community’s coffers are full and even as many recipients of welfare programs have plenty of money for other things. What Heilman does not acknowledge, bemoans Klein, is that the costs of maintaining a haredi lifestyle are so high that even with the underreporting of income haredim are still indigent and morally justified in seeking government aid.
Nevertheless, Klein exhorts, if we would economize more and not splurge on unnecessary material comforts we would not be compelled to seek government aid fraudulently and the resultant antagonism toward hasidim could be averted.
Samuel Heilman is the author of a dozen books on hasidism, including the recently published Who Will Lead Us whose ripples have been felt among hasidim, e.g. this KaveShtiebel forum thread
Kol Mevaser lectures are popular with Internet-barred young hasidic lads who resort to Kol Mevaser’s telephonic technology to access words of wisdom by haredi rabbis and experts, as well as a steady stream of news.