Chava Weissler: Havurah Neo-Hasidism vs. Renewal

Chava Weissler who is writing a book about Jewish Renewal and was recently interviewed in Zeek. She offers a nice distinction between the cerebral Neo-Hasidism of the Havurah movement with their emphasis on textual study and the ecstatic approach of renewal where even Artscroll is emotionally moving.

CW: I often use the following metaphor: the Havurah movement represents the Misnagdim and the Renewal movement the Hasidim of the Jewish counter-culture. The style of the Havurah movement is more cognitive, and the style of Renewal is more expressive and devotional. Also, the Havurah movement has a deep aversion to the “rebbe” model, while the Renewal movement has seen it as a way into a heightened spirituality.

ZEEK: The Hasidim/Misnagdim analogy is a fascinating one, though I can see how some folks in the Havurah movement might have bones to pick there.

CW: Especially because we saw ourselves as reinstating Hasidism, or parts of it. Some years ago, a well-known Renewal teacher taught at the Havurah Institute. I asked him how he felt it compared to the Kallah and Renewal. And he said, ‘the havurah movement is so unspiritual, it really bothered me… when they have a study class, they go in, open the text, study, close the text and you’re done. When I teach a class, we sit in silence, we open our hearts to the text, we sing a niggun, we study the text, we process what’s happened to us, then we sing another niggun and sit in silence again to receive what we’ve received.’

My havurah friends were outraged that he would say the Havurah movement isn’t spiritual! But it’s a different model of spirituality and also of study. The point of the study is — and this isn’t so true in the higher-level classes, but — the point of the study isn’t primarily intellectual.

ZEEK: I think that in a lot of Renewal retreat experiences, we’re trying to reach people who may not have access to the traditional model. I know that fifteen years ago if someone had handed me an Artscroll I would have been lost. These days I’ll happily daven out of any siddur, because if it’s in a Renewal context, I know there’s going to be a lot of heart even in the most traditional structure.

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