Hasidic People: A Place in the New World

By Jerome R. Mintz | Go to book overview

2
The M'lochim

The Malach

With the immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe cut off in the mid- 1920s by proscriptive legislation, a new religious landscape developed. The percentage of Jews adhering to Orthodox precepts greatly eroded, along with public expression of their faith. Even in those neighborhoods still marked by the immigrant population, few men wore kaftans even on Shabbes, or covered their heads with yarmulkes outside of the synagogue, and even fewer women wore wigs or attended the ritual bath to purify themselves following menstruation.

In this new permissive environment clothing was selected for style and there was less concern for its modesty. There were new foods to taste, and acceptable ways for men to pass the time in the evening and on Shabbes other than at Torah study. The line distinguishing the social behavior of Orthodox and secular Jews also became less distinct. Orthodox Jews and Hasidim attended the theater, and courting couples could go to the movies without stirring community gossip and disapproval.

Despite the general diminution of Orthodox ritual, some who held to the ways of the past were regarded with special reverence. Such a man was Rabbi Chaim Avraham Dov Ber Levine HaCohen, a respected Lubavitcher rabbi and sage who was known as the Malach (Angel). In 1923 he had emigrated to the United States where he received the respect and honor accorded a distinguished Talmudic scholar. 1

In Europe the Malach had been held in high esteem by Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn ( 1860-1920), the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Sholom Dovber had selected him to tutor his own son, Joseph Isaac Schneersohn ( 1880-1950), who was destined to succeed his father as the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe. As we shall see, the honor brought the Malach disappointment and frustration and led to his estrangement from the Rebbe. Nonetheless, in the New World the Malach initially maintained

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