Hasidism Was for Women, Too

March 12 2020

A recently published history of the ḥasidic movement, composed by a number of prominent scholars, has been attacked in academic circles for having an insufficient number of female contributors. By contrast, Glenn Dynner offers a far more substantive critique: that the book’s authors vastly understate women’s role in Ḥasidism. Yes, most East European ḥasidic synagogues had seating for men only, and the crucial gatherings around the rebbe’s table were male-only affairs. But the book’s assertions that “female members of ḥasidic households did not historically define themselves as Ḥasidim, nor were they defined as such by others,” and that there were no specifically ḥasidic rituals in which women participated are wrong:

Many ḥasidic women cultivated (and still do cultivate) a distinctive lifestyle and worldview: their household customs and foodways differ [from those of traditional non-ḥasidic women, as well as from one ḥasidic sect to another]; their celebration of certain Jewish holidays are affected by the absence of their husbands [who would often spend the entire holiday in the company of the rebbe]; they follow ḥasidic liturgical changes; their clothing is distinctive; and their marriages and wedding ceremonies hold special meanings.

Since the early 19th century, ḥasidic women have made pilgrimages to tsaddikim [the “righteous men” or rebbes who lead individual ḥasidic sects] during times of crisis, with or without the accompaniment of a man, bearing petitions that requested the tsaddik’s blessing, advice, and divine intercession. Early tsaddikim like Israel of Kozienice (d. 1815) were attacked by non-ḥasidic opponents for their popularity among women and their willingness to grant “a hundred blessings” for fertility.

Certain ḥasidic women emerged as activists and major patrons of the movement, influencing its very course. Part of my research has focused on Temerel Sonenberg-Bergson, a major 19th-century patron of Ḥasidism whose spectacular financial successes during the Kingdom of Poland’s incipient industrial revolution enabled her to groom, promote, and support tsaddikim, finance ḥasidic institutions, and intervene with officials on behalf of the movement. Not surprisingly, ḥasidic sources refer to Temerel as a “Ḥasidah” [i.e., a ḥasidic woman].

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Read more at Marginalia

More about: East European Jewry, Hasidism, Women in Judaism

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy