There’s No Such Thing As Mainstream Judaism

The summer before I left for Israel to study in Mayanot (a baal teshuva yeshiva in Jerusalem) for the first time, I had gone to a Shabbos lunch at a rabbi’s home in St. Louis, where my parents live. At first, the lunch went well, and I was enjoying myself. Everyone was very friendly.

But then, they asked me what I was up to that summer. I told them that I was going to Israel to study in yeshiva. They asked me what yeshiva. I told them, “Mayanot.”

And I remember one of the people looked up at me, eyebrow raised, and said, “Isn’t that a Chabad yeshiva?”

And I nodded, like the innocent baal teshuva I was, and looked back down to eat my food.

He kept looking at me, though, and when I looked up, I realized that they were all looking at me.

Within a few minutes, they were spending their time trying to explain to me why I shouldn’t go to Mayanot. They were careful not to disparage all of Chabad right away, but they spent much of their time arguing that it was important to go to a “mainstream” yeshiva. Otherwise, I would be in danger of being on the “outside”. And, they were worried for me. They wanted me to be a part of the majority.

I wasn’t sure how to feel about it. I still went to Mayanot, but the thought that I might be out of the mainstream of Judaism stuck with me.

As I started to meet more people in different yeshivas, and learned with some people outside of Mayanot, I continued to hear this theme: “Mainstream Judaism” is where it’s at.

Eventually, I asked a friend if I could speak to someone about studying somewhere else. I wasn’t sure how I felt about Chabad, but I didn’t want to pigeon-hole myself.

This friend set up a meeting between me and his rosh yeshiva.

I went to his place in Har Nof, sat down with him and listened to as he explained to me, in much the same way as the people in St. Louis tried to explain to me: Chabad was on the outskirts. And, hey, he didn’t have anything against Chabad. No, no, really. He just wanted to allow me to be open-minded. Kind of like a person who goes to college shouldn’t major right away or something, so they don’t get stuck in a career they don’t want.

And again, the idea of “mainstream” came up.

It was interesting sitting there, listening to him parrot the words of the same people in St. Louis, of experiencing this feeling of deja vu as he spoke, hearing him tell me how I would be left out of something important, of how this choice was important for marriage, for life, for happiness.

What was even more interesting, though, was that as he spoke, I felt a completely different reaction than the time I heard the guys talk to me in St. Louis. Now, instead of being scared, I almost laughed. Instead of taking him seriously, I couldn’t help but feel, intuitively, like he was full of it.

I didn’t understand why I felt like that at the time. I remember being even more confused as to why I would react that way.

And as I thanked him for his time, and walked out, knowing I would never speak to the man again, I tried to interpret my reaction.

It took me a few months to fully understand what happened that day.

But as I spent more time in Mayanot, and as I spent more time exploring Israel as an on-the-scenes reporter for, I remember starting to slowly understand my own reaction.

St. Louis is a different place than Israel. In St. Louis, there is one main contingent of orthodox Jews: Litvak (their beliefs stem from a Judaism that originated in Lithuania) Ashkenazim.

And while almost all of them are extremely accepting of others, and few except for those people I talked to at the lunch tried to turn me against Chabad, it’s understandable why they might feel like they’re the “mainstream”.

But in Israel, and especially in Jerusalem, you get a very different angle of vision on the Jewish world.

Walk through Nachlaot and you see colorful hippie-Hasidim, Sephardim, Chabadniks. Walk through Mea Shearim and you see Super-Duper Hassidim. Walk through Katamon and you see rich old Dati Leumi folks.

Then explore the settlements, and you see even more kinds of Jews. Exploring Israel means seeing Asian Jews and Ethiopian Jews, and realizing that Sefardim aren’t one separate group, but countless groups holding different beliefs and traditions.

When I looked and look back on that encounter with that rabbi in Har Nof, it becomes painfully clear why I didn’t take him seriously. He was living in his ghettoized home, his closed off world, trying to convince himself that he was part of some majority, some group of people that set an agenda that other Jews needed to observe.

In Israel, such a belief is so obviously empty, so insanely contrary to reality, that buying into it means not opening your eyes to the world around you.

As a Sephardi Chabadnik, this truth has become even more evident to me.

Thank G-d, Israel exists, and people realize more and more that there is no such thing as mainstream Judaism, and that the people who are trying to turn us into a colorless, white, empty, collection of ghettoized trained monkeys are liars, whether they realize it or not.





23 responses to “There’s No Such Thing As Mainstream Judaism”

  1. prag Avatar

    The picture is awesome, did you gather all these people yourself?

    1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      I wish. Just found it somewhere on the web. You’d be surprised how hard it is to find a picture of such a diverse group of Jews.

    2. jewmaican20 Avatar

      Those guys are part of an ensemble HaLev v’HaMa’ayan, all extremely talented musicians. Check their stuff out.

  2. Yaakov Jacob Komisar Avatar

    My wife and I interviewed for a position with the OU JLIC program. I learned at Mayanot before going on to learn for semicha at a mainstream hesder yeshiva. When the rabbi in Efrat who is in charge of the JLIC program saw “Mayanot” on my resume, he spent the rest of the interview asking us in a million different waysif we bbelieve the rebbe is moshiach, if we believe the rebbe is dead, etc… It simply showed how narrow and small minded that rabbi was.

    1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      Yikes. In America, you could sue someone for that.

  3. Avrohom Becker Avatar

    Well Put! Unfortunately,these people don’t realize that the world around them doesn’t take anything away from their singular,separate and unique identity,but only expounds upon,and adds to it. The outside world is what makes them who they are. Without the outside world,they would never have an identity to begin with. They take their singular identity and make it whole,complete,and absolute. Its time for these people to realize and to accept the paradox of their identity. They are both oneness through negation and oneness through inclusion,at the exact same time. It comes with the territory of being a G-Dly person.
    Unfortunately,They see themselves as G-D. Worshipping yourself is the worst form of idol worship.

  4. Zecharya Avatar

    The picture is of the band “The Heart and the Wellspring” (Naor Carmi, Oren Tzur, Chilik Frank, Ariel Eliyav, respectively) or “HaLev VeHaMaayan” or “הלב והמעיין” and they are definitely the BEST band ever, and dafka on this blog they should be celebrated. The most talented, skillful, fun music you’ll ever hear in this Jewish world, and perhaps b/c only Chilik is frum from birth, they know how to rock. Their concerts and farbrengens bring you “there” where you thought you could only reach at past goyishe concerts…. PLEASE Elad, support them and promote them!! They have 4 or so albums, including an all-chabad disc, with another coming out, and a couple “offshoots” with several members and others.

    1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      Thanks so much for the info!!!! Do you have a link to a place I can get digital copies of their music? Are they still around?

      1. Zecharya Avatar

        just sent you an email

  5. Rebecca Klempner Avatar
    Rebecca Klempner

    Well, I wouldn’t call them “ghettoized trained monkeys,” but pretty much else, I’d agree with.

    Look, I’m an Ashkenazi Litvak (with some actual Litvak ancestors, no less!). In this world where there are so few people who want to attach themselves to a life of Torah and mitzvos, one of our biggest jobs as Jews is accept anyone who wants to jump on that bus. If they want to wear a fedora/streimel/kippah sruga/turban while on the bus–who cares? If they pull out a phone to call a rebbe, a chacham, or their rosh yeshiva while on the bus–who cares (so long as it’s halachically acceptable advice, broadly defined)? Who cares if they eat vegan/glatt/beit yosef/yashan/chalav stam/chalav yisroel while on the bus?

    Just be happy they’re on the bus.

    We’ve got Torah to learn! Mitzvos to do! G-dliness to bring into the world through art/parenting/whatever. Anything else is a big fat waste of time.

    1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      Hi Rebecca. Totally agree with everything you said, and very well-worded!

      I also want to just make clear that although this post is strongly worded, relative to other posts, I want to make clear that I’m not talking about Ashkenazi Litvaks as a whole, or trying to say something like Chabad is better or anything like that.

  6. Zecharya Avatar

    Whoops, forgot to post on the content also – its a bit sad but S. Louis is known as anti-chabad. Living there for 8 years as the gabbai of the chabad house there was NOT easy. Davening at the kollel during the week, we were constantly annoyed and teased by sitting at the “Chabad table” or with the “Gartel group,” etc., and i’m not sure how many times people corrected me saying I was making a bracha l’vatala on the way we wrap our tallises… A particularly misnagdishe community, and I wish I didnt know which rav said what he said to you, but its happened to too many people to not know.

    Anyway, we have to be proud and happy that the Rebbe gave us the vision to love and accept all yidden and am yisroel for who they are, and to do kiruv, maybe specifically, on those that are already close to us. My very VERY misnagid brother used to be more accepting until i started being able to give over the Rebbe’s torahs, and now that a new, bright light is being brought before him that he cant contain, the answer is to fight and be against it.
    But thats the point, the light of chasidim, of pnimious of Torah, is so bright and shiny, that its very difficult for everyone to grasp it. The same way its humorous to me that someone frum could actually shave, i realize how funny it could be to others that after sitting in shul for 2 hours, i still havent started karbanos. We have to move beyond this sad outlook and accept others ourselves, and try to shower them with love, the inner dimension, and acceptance. And perhaps then, well, we can actually live something the Rebbe told us.

    1. josh Avatar

      While my family loves Chabad, before I made aliyah, my father was president of our Orthodox shul. Chabad from the city was somewhat active in our suburb and local day school, but at a certain time, someone decided to take up shop in the area and create a Chabad House upstairs from a strip mall. It was fine to have shiurim about Chasidut in the middle of the week, but then the shaliach (who had been coming to our shul to daven and I never found out if he was a real sanctioned shaliach) would actively try to pull people away to his prayer services. It was not a nice way for us to know Chabad like this.

  7. NeilSHarris Avatar

    That is the beauty of E”Y. We, in chutz l’Eretz and the blogosphere, tend to label and put people and sub-cultures into easily definable groups. The real world isn’t like that. Great post. You might enjoy my own take on being “mainstream”:

  8. josh Avatar

    I know what you mean. I live in Israel and consider myself Askenazi dati-leumi but like to be more well-rounded and daven occasionally at other communities, including Chabad and Sepharadi rabbis. I do not send my kids to the local mamad, instead another torani school in the city, and we’ve sort of been subtlety ostracized in the community for not being part of the mainstream. The fact that we have keep the torani school alive, as it was under threat of closing due to low attendance for a period as well as the city hall (under influence from the ‘mainstream dati-leumi’) was also a bone with some people who thought they could generate a monopoly of what dati means in our city, people who considered themselves pluralistic and welcoming of non-religious.

  9. tzipporah Avatar

    Hey Elad- my husband was begging me to read this article and when i saw ur name i knew it sounded familiar. Small world-we currently live in st.louis. Never knew ur family lives here. What r the odds 2 sephardie lubavitchers from ASU with connections to MO. Exciting you write for some fancy newspapers-so great! Look forward to reading ur work. All the best! Tzipporah (albina)

    1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      So cool! Thanks for reaching out, and glad you like the blog. Maybe I’ll see you in St. Louis sometime.

  10. Akiva Landsman Avatar


    I’m a new reader to this blog, and I happen to identify a lot with your journey towards Judaism while remaining true to the self. I find many of these post inspiring and good reads. I like your word-play, and I like your agenda.

    With that being said, I am going to disagree with your post. I am definitely not a Chabad hater, although my path has lead me away from Chabad teahings. I must say that the Chabad movement does find itself in a very peculiar place inside the Jewish world. I understand many of the mystical teachings that articulate and build the relationship between a Chabadsker and the Rebbe זצ”ל, and I don’t take big issue with that philosophy as much as I take issue with their PR practices. Most people in the Jewish world don’t understand the mystical underpinnings and don’t know enough to contextualize the Mashiach movement inside of Chabad teachings.

    To articulate this argument, I’m going to describe two different pedagogical modes. The Baal ShemTov and the Maggid of Mezeritch, who publicized a palatable set of teachings to a largely uneducated people, but taught their deepest teachings to the select, educated disciples who surrounded them. The Chabad movement, since its inception with the Alter Rebbe, has taught the deepest teachings to multitudes of people. (This was a noted disagreement between the Maggid and the Alter Rebbe). The current movement is trying to publicize, not always teach, a very deep teaching to the masses who are uneducated in Chabad teachings through every present flyers and flag waving. In fact, I once heard a Chabad rabbi say at a pro-Israel rally that “the Rebbe is the source of all blessings” in such a matter-of-fact manner, that one might have thought he had said something unilaterally understood and agreed upon. In doing so, Chabad will inevitably confuse and alienate the uninitiated. Consequently, I don’t blame those Litvaks at that Shabbat lunch for feeling uncomfortable with your decision. I applaud you for your open-mindedness, and I don’t think you need to be open-minded to close-mindedness, but I don’t think discomfort with Chabad is close-minded. I think that the Rav you met with lives in a ghetto of his doing and also due to the polarizing Chabad philosophy that constitutes a very visible segment within the Jewish world today.

    If you follow my line of reasoning, you might see how a highly publicized movement that dances around Israel claiming the Rebbe’s continued vitality and role as messiah could be frowned upon by the uninitiated and could cause discomfort. I’m happy you went to Maayanot and found your path there (I was considering learning there myself only less than a year ago) but you may open your heart to the Jews in the world who can’t possibly contextualize the Mashiach movement and can only see it as alien to all they know. While there are plenty of philosophical movements that these same Jews could never understand (the depths of Breslov, the challenges of Ishbitz, or the openness and generality of Martin Buber and AJ Heschel), these movements are quiet in comparison with the Mashiach movement.

    1. Elad Nehorai Avatar

      Hey Akiva,

      Sorry I’m responding to this so late. Pesach and all that.

      Just so you know, I don’t disagree with most of what you said. I do think a lot of what you mention is an issue, and that some Chabadniks tend to get so caught up in their worldview that they forget to translate it for others (although I think most American shluchim learn this lesson quickly).

      The only thing I think is off-base about your comment is the dudes at the lunch and the rabbi I met with. These were the examples I gave because I believe they went beyond the “uncomfortability” you mentioned to basically being bigoted. Uneducated at the very least. Because there’s a difference between seeing problems with a movement and fighting against it actively. Especially when you don’t know much about it.

      Anyway, I could go on. But whatever. The point is that there are “worries” and then there is going beyond worries into another realm. That’s what I’m talking about here.

  11. Joelle Nitka Avatar
    Joelle Nitka

    Great, great post!

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