In my writing, I very purposefully label my ultra-Orthodox non-Hasidic community of origin the “Yeshivish” community or sect, although I know it is a strange label for some, like Ezra Glinter, who in a footnote to his thoughtful and thorough essay “Ex-Hasidic Writers Go Off the Path and Onto the Page,” questions my use of the term, calling it “irritating.”
“Vincent” he says “…trades in cliché, since it is easier to slot her community into the Hasidic sect-based model familiar to readers of other ex-Orthodox memoirs than it is to deal with the vagaries of denominational hair-splitting.”
There are plenty of ultra-Orthodox non-Hasidic people who don’t fit under the Yeshivish umbrella, but a significant percentage does. And while there are many sub-sects within the Yeshivish community (as the joke goes — two Jews, three opinions), the Yeshivish community is at least as homogenous as the Hasidic community, which manages to stretch wide enough to encompass sub-groups as divergent as Satmar and Lubavitch, Belz and Breslov. One might even say that the Yeshivish community is as homogenous as a single Hasidic sect like the deeply fractured Satmar Hasidim.
Racheli Ibenboim chats with writer Tuvia Tenenbom./Photo by Isi Tenenbaum
For those who haven’t read much of the work of Tuvia Tenenbom, his most recent column has understandably raised some eyebrows and not a few tempers. Asking a Haredi politician, or any public figure, about her personal life (and her wedding night) would seem to be, at best, an indelicate journalistic approach to gaining wisdom about the practices of her community.
This particular column has led to an unusual outpouring of displeasure directed at the traditionally (and perhaps unfortunately) uncontroversial arts and culture section here at the Forward. And as the editor of this section (albeit one on vacation in Chicago this week) I take the concerns of our readers seriously.
My own relationship with Tenenbom is about one year old. I encountered him first as the author of “I Sleep in Hitler’s Room,” a rollicking travelogue about anti-Semitism in Germany, which also raised eyebrows and tempers while becoming an unlikely bestseller in Germany. When I learned that Tenenbom was planning a sequel, this one set in Israel, I was eager to have him on board as an occasional contributor, filing his impressionistic reports about the individuals, controversies and circumstances he encountered.