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Dramaturgy Packet
By Anh-My Tran, Production Dramaturg
August 2012
Sacramento, CA
Production History
Glossary of Terms and Concepts
Art Concepts Glossary
Author’s Biography
Baal Shem Tov and the Foundation of Hasidim
History of Lubavitch Hasidim in Russia
Hasidism in America
Clothing Customs
History of Art in Judaism
Just for fun: Real life (Famous) Hasidic Jews
Arden Theater Company/Philadelphia, PA
Playpenn (developmental workshop)/ Philadelphia, PA
Marin Theater Company/Mill Valley, CA
2009 Sept-Oct, WEST COAST
Delaware Theater Company/Wilmington, DE
2010 Feb
Roundhouse Theater Company/Bethesda, MD
2010 Mar-Apr
Milwaukee Repertory Theater/Milwaukee, WI
2010 Sept-Nov
Minnesota Jewish Company/Minneapolis, MN
2010 Oct-Nov
New Jewish Theater/St. Louis, MO
2010 Oct
Pacific Theater/Vancouver, BC, Canada
Lyric Stage Company/Boston, MS
2011 Feb
Lakewood Playhouse/Lakewood, WA
2011 Feb
Arizona Jewish Company/Phoenix, AZ
2011 Mar-Apr
Cleveland Playhouse/Cleveland, OH
2011 Apr
North Coast Repertory Theater/San Diego, CA
2011 Jun
Barrington Stage Company/Pittsfield, MA
2011 Aug-Sept
Long Wharf Theater/New Haven, CT
2012 May
Teatron Jewish Theater/ Toronto, Canada
2012 Nov
The ancient Jewish tradition of the first orally transmitted mystical interpretation of the Bible. It
reached the height of its influence in the later Middle Ages and remains significant in Hasidism.
The ‘other side” signifying the forces of evil that underlies all of reality; as in “the side opposite
of the holy one” in the Kabbalist tradition.
(Often the Sabbath) A day of religious observance and abstinence from work kept by Jews from
Friday evening to Saturday evening and by most Christians on Sunday.
A 2,000 year old custom of singing table songs of holy joyousness within the Jewish soul in
honor of the Sabbath and other Jewish holidays.
(Often Chasid, Chassid, or Hassid) A member of a highly religious and strictly orthodox Jewish
sect that originated in Eastern Europe during the 17th &18th centuries. There are many Hasidic
groups, e.g. Lubavitchers, Belzers, Satmerers, etc. The names often come from the city or town
where the sect originated.
Honor of or respect for one's father.
Master of the Universe. A name for the Almighty.
Leader of the fight against the Hellenist conquerors of ancient Israel. Their victory is celebrated
with the candle-lighting Festival of Lights, Hanukkah.
It means foolishness, silliness, or nonsense.
“May peace be upon him.” A term applied with respect to people who are no longer living.
Earlocks or sidecurls worn by many Hasidic or Orthodox Jewish men. They are worn as a
reminder of the Covenant between God and the Jewish people.
Literally, “Oh, it hurts me!” More colloquially it means, “Woe is me.”
Ladov is a fictional town in Russia, invented by Chaim Potok for this story. This particular sect
bears the most resemblance to the Lubavitch Hasiddim, based in Brooklyn, New York, one of the
most open and worldly of the Hasidic groups.
An Orthodox Jewish college or seminary usually applied to orthodox schools.
Jewish term for the Passover festival.
A Jewish prayer book containing prayers and other information relevant to the daily liturgy.
The law of God as revealed to Moses and recorded in the first five books of the Hebrew
A many volume exposition of the Torah concerning the body of Jewish Law and legend dealing
with every aspect of human conduct.
A crisp biscuit of unleavened bread, traditionally eaten by Jews during Passover.
An informal, derogatory term for a non-Jew.
A Yiddish term for a synagogue.
A small object that is decorative rather than strictly functional; a trinket.
The name means “Head of the Year” and is observed for two days and begins the first day of the
Jewish year. It is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, and
their first actions toward the realization of mankind’s role in God’s world.
A Yiddish term for rabbi, especially a religious leader of the Hasidic sect who is the absolute
leader and held as the wise arbiter of all things. The use of the term Rebbe is unique to Hasidic
Christ and the Good Thief, (c. 1566)
(Italian High Renaissance Painter, ca.1485-1576) Titian also known as Tiziano Vecelli or
TizianVecellio, was an Italian painter and one of the most influential artist of the 16th-century
Venetian school. He was born in Pieve di Cadore, near Belluno in the Republic of Venice.
Titian was one of the most versatile of Italian painters. He was an expert in
portraiture, painting landscape backgrounds and frequently used mythological and religious
subjects. His use of color as a method in his painting had a great influence on other painters of
the Italian Renaissance and on latter periods of well.
The Raising of the Cross (c. 1633)
(Dutch Baroque Era Painter and Engraver, 1606-1669) Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijnwas
was a Dutch painter and etcher. He is considered to be one of the most important painters in
Dutch history as he contributed much to art and influence in the Dutch Golden Age when he
painted portraits, self-portraits as well as illustrations of biblical themes. Rembrandt possessed
great knowledge of classical iconography. His knowledge of specific texts and his observation
of the Dutch Jewish population formed many of his biblically themed paintings.
The Praying Jew (1914)
White Crucifixion, (c. 1938)
(Russian Jewish painter, 7 July 1887 – 28 March 1985) Marc Chagall was a Russian-French
artist born in Vitebsk, Byelorussia to a poor Hassidic family. He was one of the most successful
artists of the 20th century and was an early modernist. He was an artist in many mediums with
works that included paintings, book illustrations, stained glass, stage sets, ceramic, tapestries and
fine art prints.
His paintings were inspired by the Hassidic world and themes from the Bible. He completed
over 100 etchings illustrating the Bible; many of which contained elements from Jewish folklore
and from religious life in Vitebsk.
David, 1505
Pieta, 1499
Centered in New York City, 1946 to 1960's, Abstract Expressionism is a type of art in which the
artist expresses himself purely through the use of form and color. It non-representational, nonobjective art; which means that there are no actual objects represented.
The Eberhard Faber Company was a brand of school pencils and other art supplies. The company
originated in 1922 in Germany as a pencil factory and was later founded in New York in 1861.
A traditional solvent used by oil painters and was made from distilled pine tree resin. Turpentine
is a strong solvent that dissolves produces toxic fumes and should only be used only with
adequate ventilation.
(1929-2002) Chaim Potok was born in the New York to
orthodox Polish Jewish Immigrants. From a young age he
was interested in art and painting and was inspired to become
a writer after reading Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead
Revisited” and James Joyce’s “A portrait of the Artist as a
Young Man” both of which stood in conflict with his
conservative upbringing as he made efforts to pursue a
literary career. In 1950, however he graduated from a
Yeshiva University, a Jewish School, with a degree in
English literature followed by becoming an ordained
Conservative Rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary of
America and soon after began to teach at several Jewish
Colleges. In 1956-1959, Potok earned a Ph.D as a scholar in
residence at Har Zion Temple and pursued a doctorate on Philosophy at the University of
Pennsylvania. Potok’s body of literary work includes articles and reviews, poems, children’s
books, plays, non-fiction as well as fiction in which he explored themes of confrontation between
individuality and culture or religion in “The Chosen,” “The Promise,” “Davita’s Harp,” “My
Name Is Asher Lev” and “The Gift of Asher Lev.”
Sources:,“Chaim Potok”, “Biography”
He is the co-founder and former artistic director of the Arden
Theatre Company (1988-2006) based in Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania where “My Name is Asher Lev” was directed and
adapted by Posner himself and received its world premiere in
2009. He is also a former artistic director of New Jersey’s Two
River Theatre Company (2006-2010). Posner directed more than
40 productions at Arden and also worked as a director and
playwright at major regional theatres including Folger
Shakespeare Theatre, Portland Center Stage, Arizona Theatre
Company and Actor’s Theatre of Louisville. He also works to
adapt literature for the stage. In 1999, he worked with Chaim
Potok to adapt his novel “The Chosen” for the stage which won
the 1999 Barrymore Award for Best New Play and also worked on
adaptations of “Who am I This Time?” By Kurt Vonnegut Jr, “Echoes of the Jazz Age” by
Authors of the 1920s, and “Third & Indiana” by Steve Lopez. He is originally from Eugene,
Oregon, he graduated from Northwestern University and is an Eisenhower Fellow.
Sources:, “Aaron Posner Interview: Fully Committed”, “Institute Instructors”
Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov (literally: “Master of the Good
Name”) (1698-1760) was born in a village called Okopy,
originally a part of Poland and now is part of present day
Ukraine. Preceding his birth in 1648-1649, European Jews
suffered under Pogroms leaving thousands of Jews dead and in
poverty. As a result, it caused a socio-cultural gap in the next
generation with a bias between the elite population of Jews who
could afford to give their children a Torah education versus the
impoverished Jews who did not have access to the proper
knowledge but were as equally pious and devout.
This was the social environment that Baal Shem Tov was born into. However, since he was the
son of a Tzaddik, a type of Jew that is unusually pious, devoted and full of humility but one who
chooses to remain hidden in society, from his father, he was taught to love every Jew with the
same level of compassion no matter whom it is. He took this idea that was ingrained in him since
childhood to heart. In his adult years, he became surrounded and mentored by other Tzaddikim
and therefore continued in his knowledge of Tzaddikim spiritual teachings.
After Baal Shem Tov became a leader of a Tzaddikim secret fellowship and studied Kabbalah,
or Jewish mysticism, he developed a deep insight into human nature and became a healer for
both mind and body. Around this time, he also began to set the foundation for his ideas and
teachings. In 1734, he began to preach openly and ushered in of a new era of Jewish thought but
was met with strong opposition from traditional Jewish teachings.
He differed from traditional Jewish thought with his the belief that the Torah places an emphasis
on optimism and joy; thus, it should be the way to serve God. He also promoted the idea that
Godliness permeates even through the most mundane everyday task and preached that the simple
intent and devotion of an unlearned Jew was just as holy as one who devoted his life to advanced
Torah study and that everyone could have a direct and authentic relationship to God and
therefore, all Jews are equal. Emphasis of the study of Kabbalah and mysticism were also
Today though, Hasidic Jews are surprisingly seen as being Ultra-Orthodox, but they were once
viewed as revolutionaries of Judaism at the dawn of Hasidism. To learn the Torah, especially
amongst the Lubavitch sect, is still believed to be one of the most important obligations as
Hasidic Jews follow the Torah’s 613 commandments; but personal piety is still a just as
important attribute as originally taught by Baal Shem Tov.
Sources:,“The Baal Shem Tov-A Brief Biography”, “A life Apart: Inside the Community: a Holy Life.”
The Hasidic movement, founded by Baal Shem Tov, spread throughout Poland around the mid1700s. However, due to the partition of Poland in 1772, 1793 and 1795 caused by Russia, Prussia
and Austria wanting to claim the territory, new borders of the country were eventually drawn. In
1791, Catherine the Great of Russia invaded Poland and two years, claimed half the territory.
This left thousands of Jews newly incorporated into the Russian empire splitting the Hasidic
community of Poland. As a result, it gave rise to the different formations of Hasidic courts or
sects based on the different ideas and doctrines of Rebbes who spread Hasidism through
emissaries throughout Eastern Europe with theoretical schools and institutions. As the
communities became consolidated and more secluded within the new territory, the court became
their unifying center for worship and community which is how the role of leadership of the
Rebbe developed into such a dynastic style.
The Lubavitch sect of Hasidism emerged in Russia around this time and was organized by Rebbe
Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812) and was succeeded by his son Dovbar Schneur who
became the second Lubavitch Rebbe in 1812-1827. The term “Lubavitch” is from the name of
the town in southern Russia; it means “City of Brotherly Love.” Rebbe Schneur Zalman
preached a new school of Hasidic thought called the Chabad movement which mirrored the Baal
Shem Tov’s teachings of looking deep within one’s soul as a source of piety and remembering to
have love and compassion for all Jews. Chabad and Lubavitch are now interchangeable terms
referring to the same sect. The followers today are often called “Chabadniks.”
In 1797, the Hasidic movement fell under an accusation of conspiring against political leaders
which lead to Rebbe Schneur Zalman being imprisoned in St. Petersburg and left a following
suspension of all other Hasidic Jews.
However, due to the partition of Poland, a portion of Poland’s Jewish community found
themselves under the Russian rule. Because they had an autonomous religion and culture they
were pressured to assimilate into the greater society as they did not fit the conception of Slavic
identity. Under the policy of Alexander I in 1804, the community was forced to either assimilate
or renounce their religion; and so they were organized into a Pale of settlement, a boundary in
which the Jews were to become a legal entity and subject to the Russian law. However, while all
Jews were required to live in the Pale of Settlement, Rebbe Schneur Zalman was released by
Alexander I and was given an exemption and permission to continue his religious teachings.
Meanwhile, as Jews were becoming more assimilated into the Russian society, they ironically
remained impoverished as better health care led to higher birth rates but at the same time there
was an increase in competition for employment. Additionally, around 1827, the Jews were
subject to continuous policies under Nicholas I who sought to alienate them from their religion
by forcing them to enlist into the army and also approving of an organized kidnapping of Jewish
children in order to re-educate them within the Christian religion and serve as “Cantonists” or
child soldiers under this system.
Followed by the industrial revolution in the 1860s in which Jews started to participate in
intellectual and cultural life with careers in law and entrepreneurship, the elevated position of
Jews consequently, caused a negative reaction and sparked waves of Slavophile nationalism
which only worsened after being blamed for the assassination of Alexander II in 1881 and then
being attacked by anti-Semitic campaigns and pogroms until 1905.
Despite all of this, the mission of Lubavitch emissaries however, were as strong as ever as they
continued to spread their doctrine to Jewish communities across the Czarist Empire, sought to reeducate the unlearned descendants of the Canonists and to also increase Jewish education and
standards of religious practice in all of the communities.
The third Chabad leader Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok Schneursohn (1880-1950), who took the name
from his Rebbe descendants with the patronymic Schneursohn from Schneur, was the leader of
the Lubavitch court around the time of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 as well as the Stalin Era
beginning in 1928. As Joseph Stalin established the Soviet Union, his new policy of Socialism
denied the existence of any national identity. Thus, the Jewish population was once again
uprooted and disrupted, the practice of Judaism and religious education was banned, Synagogues
were closed down, religious books and objects confiscated and the Hebrew language became
outlawed. Additionally, around this time, all Jews, particularly Hasidic Jews were arrested,
exiled or put to death and suffered through about 2,000 pogroms leaving 100,000 Jews dead and
about 500,000 homeless.
Nevertheless, Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok Schneursohn vowed to preserve Judaism in the Soviet
Union. In 1924, he organized ten branches of religious underground institutions, places of
worship and education in hundreds of towns and cities across Russia. The Rebbe, who was under
constant surveillance by the communists, was arrested in 1927 and then banished from Russia.
He then spent some time in Palestine and Poland. In 1940 he was then granted diplomatic
immunity to come to America and he settled in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York where he
immediately started a campaign to establish Jewish schools for children and adults, printing
presses and other institutions for other arriving Hasidic Jewish immigrants.
However, Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok’s banishment did not halt the fight to preserve Judaism in the
Soviet Union as his nephew Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneersohn took his place around 1941
and continued to fight for the Jews of Russia. He sent couples posing as tourists, or emissaries to
help strengthen the underground institutions. The emissaries would memorize hundreds of names
and addresses across the many cities and towns carrying with them hidden kosher foods, Jewish
books and other materials to remind the Jews of Russia that others outside of the country
remembered and cared.
The presence of Jewish religious life in Russia today owes its existence to the underground
institutions and to the Jews that vowed to fight for and preserve their Judaism in the Soviet
Sources:, “Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745–1812)”, “The Former Soviet Union”,“Beyond the Pale”, “History of Russia-Till Today and Lubavitch Today”, “Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidism”, “Historical Overview”
The Hasidic Jews from across Europe that were displaced by the Holocaust (1933-1945) and the
Stalin regime (1922-1952) resettled across the globe in to Western Europe, Israel, Canada,
Australia and the United States with the largest communities of Hasidism in Los Angeles and
New York to join the waves of Rebbes who already began to establish Hasidic courts and smaller
communities as early as 1912 in Boston, Baltimore, Ohio and Chicago.
The New York Hasidic Jewish communities were established after World War II and, as recently
as 1998, had approximately 165,000 Hasidic Jews who live in 3 neighborhoods in Brooklyn.
The Satmars (of Hungary) and Klausenbergs (of Romania) reside in Williamsburg, the Bobover
(of Poland) and Belz (of Ukraine) in Boro Park, and the Lubavitch (of Russia) in Crown Heights;
each make up about 60 courts of a few small families and their Rebbes. In the mid-1960s, the
number of Hasidic Jews in New York was about 40 to 50 thousand and in the next following
twenty years the population doubled to about 100,000 in the 1980s.
The Hasidic Jews formed a closed community in order to keep themselves spiritually clean by
observing biblical values of purity and contamination. A separation from the greater American
secular society is seen as a mode of self-protection that allows them to be united around religion
to maintain its sacredness and also to provide a sense of identity and roots. Their observance of
strict rules allows them to preserve their traditions and keep a close community.
Children are educated in a separate school system or attend private schools known as Yeshivas in
which religious studies and instruction in Yiddish and Hebrew is the main focus. However,
Hasidic students are now required by law and by the U.S. constitution to learn additional secular
curriculum such as math, science, art and English.
College and graduate education is discouraged as it is a source of cultural contamination. As a
result, many seek jobs that allow them to stay close to their community and instead favor secular
education for employment that involves technical training, go into retail and manufacturing or
are self-employed. Women are usually employed by relatives, run small businesses or work as
teachers or social workers in the community.
Though Hasidic Jews seek to maintain a separate community, most sects do however use
technology as a means to enhance and strengthen their culture and connections to other Hasidic
Jews worldwide. Yet many of the Hasidic courts are divided on the limit of how open they
should be to technology or to other secular customs. The Satmar court are one of the most closed
and separatist community who actively resist all influences from the greater secular culture;
whereas the Lubavitch court are one of the most visible and embrace technology, approve of
some secular customs such as baseball, encourage religious and secular education for women
and are active in community and global outreach. Lubavitch Rebbe Menachem Mendel
Schneursohn taught that modern technology does not contradict spirituality. He emphasized this
idea in his teachings of unity of opposites; and so modern technology such as television, satellite
feeds and the internet are encouraged to spread the religious message.
In fact, the Lubavitch are so visible that it they maintain a worldwide organization in order to
uphold the honor and traditions of Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok Schneursohn and Rebbe Menachem
Mendel Schneursohn who fought to maintain Jewish religion and life in Russia during the Stalin
and Holocaust era by establishing the underground religious institutions and schools.
Also, many families act as shluchim (emissaries or representatives) of the Rebbe and Lubavitch
Hasidim and promote outreach to all Jews outside of the Hasidic community with friendliness,
compassion, tolerance and self-less dedication to strengthen religious education and spiritual life.
The Lubavitch organization has over a thousand institutions around the world and has, for
example, 300 institutions in Israel, 90 in Russia, 60 in Canada, 15 in South Africa, 10 in Italy, 3
in Spain as well as 600 establishments across the United States.
Sources:, “Chabad-Lubavitch”, “Voices of New York”, “A Life Apart: Inside the Community: a Holy Life.”, “Introduction: New World Hasidism”
The different sects of Hasidism dress in the tradition of the late-medieval polish nobility that
originated 300 years ago. Additionally, each community that emerged throughout Europe
adapted to the different customs and styles based on their sect’s European origins.
Hasidic Jews place emphasis on uniformity in dress in order to distinguish themselves as being a
part of the orthodox Jewish community. Tznius (modesty) also plays a fundamental role in the
dress for both genders. Each gender has a certain style of clothing and must be made of a certain
fabric, maintain a certain length and other rules which govern how and when to wear specific
religious garments.
The tallit is a four-cornered prayer shawl with fringes and the tzitziz is attached to the corners.
Each is worn in order to observe the commandment that states, “Speak to the children of Israel,
and bid them that they make them fringes on the borders of their garments throughout their
generations...” (Numbers, 15:38). Two sets of the tzitzit each hang in the front and back and each
corner has eight complete strings that symbolize the four directions of East, South, West, and
North to represent that that God is everywhere.
The larger prayer shawl is known as tallit gadol (“big tallit”) which is simply a piece of material
that is worn over the shoulders during morning prayers. It is usually made in a variety of colors
and made in any material except one cannot use both linen and wool on the same garment as it is
forbidden by the Torah. Additionally there is a smaller tallit which is a garment that looks like
an apron hanging out from under a vest or shirt.
Married men are required to wear tallit and it is the custom to start to wear the tzitzit when a
young boy reaches age 3.
The payos (pronounced pay-us) and beard are worn in
observance to a commandment of the Torah, “You shall not
round the corners of your heads, nor mar the edges of your
beards” (Leviticus, 19:27).
At age 3, all Hasidic boys undergo a haircutting ceremony
called upsherin, in which they receive their first haircut. It is
cut back to the skull except for the payos side- locks which are
kept long enough to curl around the finger. At this time, a boy
also receives his first tzitzit. The upsherin signifies that he is no
longer a baby, but he is now a child. However, the Lubavitch
Hasids, unlike the Bobov or Satmar, do not wear payos as
adults, and the tradition is only practiced until the young
Lubavitch boy is old enough to grow a beard. Beards are also a
part of the commandment and it is not to be cut but may be
trimmed back.
The skullcap, yarmulke (Yiddish) or kippah (Hebrew) are worn by both Hasidic Jews as well as
non-Orthodox Jews. It is a less frequent custom that women in Conservative and Reform
communities may wear them. It represents that God is always above them. Boys usually start to
wear them at age 3. The yarmulke was originally an indoor hat; but it is a custom now that a
yarmulke is worn under a hat. A yarmulke is worn throughout the entire day even when the
Hasidic person is sleeping and, unlike Western customs where one must take their hat off at the
dinner table, a Hasidic man will keep a yarmulke or the hat on even during family meals and if
not wearing it, one will be asked to put one on.
Lubavitch men wear yarmulkes that will vary in color from dark blue velvet with elaborate gold
stitching or a simple black cotton yarmulke with no embroidering. Lubavitch men wear the
black Borsalino fedoras with their yarmulke to distinguish themselves as being a part of the
Hasidic community.
The Lubavitch Rebbes and married men of the Satmar sect of Hungary and Klausenberg sect of
Romania wear a shtreimel, a fur hat that is worn during Shabbos, other Jewish holidays and
weddings. It is symbolic of wearing a crown and is one of the most expensive Hasidic clothing
items as it custom made from genuine fur from the tails of foxes or sables. The shtreimal costs
around $1,000-$4,000.
It is the custom for Hasidic and non-orthodox Jewish Women to cover hair after marriage with
any type of head covering such as a sheitel (a wig), a hat or a scarf. Many women however prefer
to keep their own hair very short because it is easier to put under a wig. Satmar women shave
their heads completely, wear a sheitel and also wear a scarf over it. But in general there is no
religious requirement to shave one’s head. Bobov women wear a tichl, which is something that
looks like a turban and often fastened with a brooch whereas Lubavitch women often wear
snoods. Though it is encouraged for Lubavitch women to wear sheitels in public but wear snoods
at home.
Some Rebbes have concerns over the wearing of wigs as they look so natural that one would not
be able to tell the difference between a wig and a woman's real hair. So, many women, to
indicate that there hair is covered, wear synthetic wigs instead of one made with real hair.
The standards of traditional clothing for Hasidic women depend on each sect. Some sects avoid
wearing bright colors; especially the color red and tend to stick to black and white colors. Shirts
must have sleeves that at least should cover the elbow and collarbone. For some Hasidic Jewish
women however, it is acceptable to wear shirts with shorter sleeves or have the collarbone
For the most part, skirts should be loose fitting, must cover the knees while sitting and may not
have a slit. The Satmar sect, for example, must wear skirts that are 4 inches below the knee.
Skirts are worn by Hasidic Jewish women because it is prohibited to wear clothing that reveals
the shape of the legs. Also, the women must not wear pants as it is seen as men’s apparel and
must obey rules biblical rules against cross dressing. Also they may not even wear pants at home.
Girls start w
earing stockings at age 3 to 6 years old. Women wear stockings that range in a lighter nylon to
heavier seamed stockings depending on the level of modesty as prescribes by each sect.
Hasidic men often wear black because it is
seen as a conservative color and it is symbolic
for a lack of ego. Also, all Hasidic men must
wear suits. After a boy’s bar mitzvah at age 13,
he starts wearing a dark suit with a brimmed
hat or a fedora. Lubavitch men in particular,
wear black suits with a waist length jacket with
a white or blue shirt. Most married men wear a
long black Kapoteh (frock coat) with a unique
waist seam with four buttons in the front as
well as a slit in the back.
When it comes to wearing glasses, some Hasidic sects only wear a certain style of plastic glasses
in order keep accessories as traditional as possible. Metal framed glasses are considered modern.
Mostly the Satmar follow this custom of keeping accessories as traditional as possible.
Additionally, watches are the only acceptable form of jewelry amongst all the sects.
Sources:, “Why the Long Black Coat?”, “Rebbe to Wear”, “Jewish Clothing”, “Modesty: Not Just for Women”, “The user-friendly FAQ on Hasidism (Chassidism): PART 2 of 3”
The Jewish religious law of the Torah governing the rules of art is called Halakha. It guards
against any practice of idol worship or creating any representations or depictions of God. The
Torah explains, “Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is
in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus,
20:4). The rules of Halakah are also used as a counter statement against paganism. Throughout
the Middle Ages the Jewish law took note that Christianity practiced idolatry through the
iconography of Jesus Christ. So for centuries, the Jewish culture did not make any significant
contributes to art. But despite the rules of Halakha, Jewish art did existed in various practices
from everything from architecture, to ceremonial and ritual art to religious iconography; and in
the early 19th century to the present there was a surge of re-defining art in the Jewish culture.
Torah crown. ca. 1886-1922. Yeshiva University Museum.
Throughout antiquity, Jewish art made by Jews had always existed in some way or another.
Initially art was used for ceremonial and ritual objects such as for Torah crowns, havdalah spice
boxes and kiddush cups.
Bezalel, the first known Jewish artist on record, was a sculptor, an architect and designer of holy
garments as well as being well-known for building the now lost Ark of the Covenant which was
a portable temple commanded to be built by God to Moses and was carried by the Israelites
wandering the deserts of Egypt.
Likewise, there were records of Jewish architecture that utilized religious iconography. For
example, the first temple in Jerusalem built by King Solomon in 957 BC was said to be overlaid
with gold and decorated with cherubim. A third century synagogue in Syria contained frescoes
that portrayed human figures in biblical scenes. Also, Israel’s sixth century Beit Aleph
synagogue depicted human figures in scenes from the binding of Isaac. Other Jewish art included
images of community life such as birth, bar mitzvahs, marriage and rabbis. However, there was a
great loss of early Jewish art prior to the 16th century as a result of many exiles and pogroms.
Jews found ways around the rules of Halakha though the interpretation of verses about types of
graven images and applied it to Orthodox Judaism. Through textual analysis of the Halakha with
statements such as, “It is forbidden to make complete solid or raised images of people or angels,
or heavenly bodies except for the purposes of study” (Exodus, 141:4-7), Jews were able to justify
the incorporation of angels, astronomical bodies and other mythological figures with the clear
intent to not use them as idols or for worship; so as to differentiate themselves from pagans who
did worship heavenly bodies.
Thus, many artistic depictions in the Middle Ages were of
mythical creatures such as the most well-known illustrated
manuscript the “Bird’s Head Haggadah” made in Germany
around 1300 and was used for Passover rituals. In this
manuscript, the humans were depicted has having bird
heads which were thought to represent griffins who wore
conical hats and clothing that Jews were required to wear
in Germany in the Middle Ages. Since humans with bird
heads do not exist, it was therefore reasoned that these
images would not violate the rule of depicting “anything in
the heaven above, on the earth below, or in the water
below the land” (Exodus, 20:3-6).
Bird’s Head Haggadah.
More recently in history, the 18th century European enlightenment began a period of cultural
emancipation with new ideas and social change emphasizing education and the encouragement to
establish art academies. Jewish art also peaked at this time and also coincided with the
beginnings of the nationalist Zionist movement in 1880 in Palestine. In 1906, the first Jewish art
academy, the Bezalel School of Arts, was founded in with the mission to develop original
Jewish art, to support Jewish artists and to promote the newfound spiritual and national culture
and identity of the land of Israel.
Today there is a new art Gallery called Betzalel in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York that
opened in May of 2012 under ownership of two Hasidic men, Shmuel Pultman, an art dealer
from Boro Park and Dovy Andrusier, a Businessman from Crown Heights. The art gallery
focuses on themes of rabbis, Talmudic scholars and Israel that make up the collection of Jewish
art. The content is not necessarily made solely by Jewish artists, but should reflect Jewish
themes. The Betzalel Art Gallery also joins the Hassidic Art Institute of Crown Heights owned
by Zev Markowitz since 1977 as an emerging appreciation of art in the conservative Hasidic
Sources:, “About Bezalel”, “Brooklyn’s Hasidic Art Scene Expands with New Gallery”, “A Jewish Art Gallery Opens in the Heart of Brooklyn's Hassidic
Community”, “Ancient Jewish Art”, “The Lost Ark of the Covenant”, “Attitude of Judaism toward Art”, “Jewish Art: A Brief History: Contrary to popular perception, Jewish art
dates back to Biblical times”, “On Being Proud of Uniqueness”, “Part II: Yoreh De'ah: Chapter 11 – IDOLATRY”, “Understanding the Roots of the Haggadah”
Rapper Finds Order in Orthodox Judaism in Israel
November 10, 2010
The rapper Shyne at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. “My entire life screams that I have a Jewish
neshama,” he said, using the Hebrew word for soul.
JERUSALEM — The tall man in the velvet fedora and knee-length black jacket with ritual
fringes peeking out takes long, swift strides toward the Western Wall. It’s late in the day, and he
does not want to miss afternoon prayers at Judaism’s holiest site.
“We have to get there before the sun goes down,” he says, his stare fixed behind a pair of RayBan sunglasses, the first clue that this is no ordinary Jerusalem man of God. It’s the rapper
Shyne, the Sean Combs protégé who served almost nine years in New York prisons for opening
fire in a nightclub in 1999 during an evening out with Mr. Combs and his girlfriend at the time,
Jennifer Lopez.
“My entire life screams that I have a Jewish neshama,” he said, using the Hebrew word for soul.
Living as Moses Levi, an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem (he legally changed his name from Jamaal
Barrow); he shuttles between sessions of Talmud study with some of the most religiously
stringent rabbis in the city and preparations for a musical comeback.
His transition from troubled adolescent in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, shot at the age of 15,
to celebrity gangster rapper turned prisoner turned frequenter of yeshivas, is the latest chapter in
a bizarre journey that began with his birth in Belize 32 years ago. He is the son of a lawyer who
is now that country’s prime minister and a mother who brought him to the United States and
cleaned houses for a living.
“The science of Judaism” as Mr. Levi refers to it, has become his system for living, a lifeline that
connects him to God and becoming a better human being. He sees no conflict fusing the hip-hop
world with the life of a Torah-observant Jew.
Mr. Levi speaks in the style of the urban streets but combines his slang with Yiddish-accented
Hebrew words and references to the “Chumash” (the bound version of the Torah, pronounced
khoo-MASH) and “Halacha” (Jewish law, pronounced ha-la-KHAH).
As in: “There’s nothing in the Chumash that says I can’t drive a Lamborghini,” and “nothing in
the Halacha about driving the cars I like, about the lifestyle I live.” As a teenager he started
reading the Bible, relating to the stories of King David and Moses that he had first heard from his
grandmother. At 13 (bar mitzvah age, he notes) he began to identify himself as “an Israelite,” a
sensibility reinforced after finding out his great-grandmother was Ethiopian; he likes to wonder
aloud whether she might have been Jewish.
He was already praying daily and engaged in his own study of Judaism at the time of his arrest
but only became a practicing Jew, celebrating the holidays, keeping kosher and observing the
Sabbath under the tutelage of prison rabbis. In Israel, he said, he had undergone a type of pro
forma conversion known as “giyur lechumra” (pronounced ghee-YUR le-kchoom-RAH).
On the December night in 1999 that Mr. Levi walked into a Times Square nightclub, he was a
21-year-old enjoying the fruits of his first record deal and the hip-hop high life. The details of
what happened inside remain muddled, but after an argument broke out between Mr. Combs,
then known as Puff Daddy, and a group in the club, shots were fired, and three people were hurt.
Mr. Combs was charged with gun possession but later cleared in a highly publicized trial. Mr.
Levi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for assault, gun possession and reckless endangerment.
The police said he fired into the crowd. He maintains he shot in the air to break up the dispute.
He would not say whether he took a fall for his former mentor.
“That’s the past, I got so much going on,” he said. “We move on.”
What Mr. Levi has moved on to since being released from prison last year is a life in which he is
often up at daybreak, wrapping his arms with the leather straps of tefillin, the ritual boxes
containing Torah verses worn by observant Jews for morning prayers. Throughout the day he
studies with various strictly Orthodox rabbis.
“What are the laws?” he said, explaining his decision to adhere to the Orthodox level of
observance. “I want to know the laws. I don’t want to know the leniencies. I never look for the
leniencies because of all of the terrible things I’ve done in my life, all of the mistakes I’ve
On the sprawling stone plaza of the Western Wall, crowded with tourists and worshipers, he
clutches a worn prayer book whose leather cover was torn off by prison officials for security
Here he encounters a group of young Ethiopians singing in Hebrew and Amharic about
Jerusalem. For a moment he links arms with them, and together they spin, dancing in concentric
circles at dizzying speed.
With him is his local sidekick, a burly and bearded 30-year-old named Eli Goldsmith who used
to run nightclubs in London (his uncle is a prominent music promoter) before he too became
Later, with Mr. Goldsmith in the rental car he uses to get around, Mr. Levi sampled tracks from
two new albums, “Messiah” and “Gangland,” that are to be released in a joint venture with Def
Jam Records. The deal suggests the clout he holds despite not having released an album since
2004. He put the volume on high as he drove through the traffic-clogged roads of an ultraOrthodox neighborhood.
In songs like “Am I a Sinner?” he casts his spiritual quest as an escape from prison life and pain,
with lyrics like, “Look in your soul and you will find vision that you can’t see through the eye.”
Three more albums are scheduled to follow. Touring in the United States remains uncertain; he
was deported after his prison release as a felon who does not have citizenship, a ruling he is
Arriving at a small hummus restaurant, he recited the blessing for bread over a piece of warm
pita. With him were two rabbis. Jeffrey Seidel, one of the rabbis, said he been moved by the
depth of Mr. Levi’s intellectual curiosity and dedication to Judaism.
Their current focus of study together: Sabbath laws. For Mr. Levi they help explain his attraction
to Judaism.
“What I do get is boundaries,” he said. “Definition and form. And that is what Shabbat is. You
can’t just do whatever you want to do. You have to set limits for yourself.
“All these rules, rules, rules,” he said with his hand on an open page of the Talmud. “But you
know what you have if you don’t have rules? You end up with a bunch of pills in your stomach.
When you don’t know when to say when and no one tells you no, you go off the deep.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 10, 2010
An earlier version of this article misstated the number of people hurt in the December 1999
nightclub shooting incident.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 16, 2010
An article on Thursday about the rapper Shyne, who is living as an Orthodox Jew in Jerusalem,
misstated his age in 1999 when he was involved in a shooting incident that resulted in a 10-year
prison sentence. He was 21, not 19.
From neo-Nazi to Hasidic Jew: Former skinhead who discovered his
Jewish roots to speak in Montreal
By Katherine Wilton
Postmedia News Mar 27, 2012 – 12:32 AM ET | Last Updated: Mar 27, 2012 12:36 AM ET
Pawel Bromson, a former Polish neo-Nazi, will speak at a fundraiser for Chabad Westmount in
Montreal Tuesday.
Pawel Bromson grew up in Poland where he and his skinhead friends sometimes roamed the
streets of Warsaw, terrorizing Jewish, Arab and black children.
On one occasion, he and his mates boarded a train to Auschwitz and vandalized the former
concentration camp. They hurled insults at staff members, telling them “the genocide should
have been bigger.”
Bromson and his peers were suspicious of outsiders and disliked Jews, whom they blamed for
Poland’s economic troubles under the Communist regime.
“I wasn’t just anti-Semitic, I was anti-everyone,” Bromson recalled.
But Bromson’s life changed forever 14 years ago after his young wife visited a genealogical
institute in Poland. His wife suspected she had Jewish roots and while sifting through papers, she
noticed the names of Bromson’s maternal grandparents on a register of Warsaw Jews.
When a stunned Bromson confronted his parents with the news, they acknowledged their Jewish
“I thought my life was finished. It was a catastrophe,” he said of the news.
Like many Jewish families who had survived the Holocaust in Poland, Bromson’s parents hid
their religion from their children in order to protect them from persecution.
Over time, Bromson accepted the truth about his Jewish identity and began to explore the
religion. He went to synagogue and spoke at length with a senior rabbi about Judaism.
He eventually took the major step of converting to Judaism and became a Hasidic Jew.
Bromson, 36, will speak about his unlikely journey from neo-Nazi skinhead to Hasidic Jew on
Tuesday night at a fundraising event at the Chabad of Westmount, an educational centre that
teaches about Judaism.
Bromson buried his head in shame Monday afternoon when he was asked about his neo-Nazi
“Please, don’t ask me,” he said in halting English. “I try to forget, but I can’t.”
‘I thought my life was finished. It was a catastrophe’
Bromson said the Poland he grew up in has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Over
the past few years, some Jews in Warsaw have rediscovered their roots and Bromson said there
are now about 600 Jewish families in the city.
Before 1939, there were three million Jews in Poland. About 90 per cent of them died in
concentration camps during the Second World War.
Although he said he feels comfortable walking around Warsaw, his long beard and black hat
sometimes draw stares and comments from his fellow Poles.
About two months ago, he bumped into an old friend from his youth. Bromson said the man’s
children were baffled about why their father was talking to a Hasidic Jew. “This guy is your
friend?” they asked.
Deborah Shanowitz, program director at the Chabad of Westmount, said the centre decided to
bring Bromson to Montreal because he has a very unusual story.
“He was a neo-Nazi who hated Jews and all minorities,” she noted. “After embarking on a path
of finding out what it is to be Jewish, he decided to go back and be like his great-grandfather.”
Hasidic reggae-rapper Matisyahu shaves beard
By Emily Wax, Published: December 27, 2011
When Matisyahu’s signature dreidel-shaped disco ball is lowered and the devoutly religious
reggae-rapper takes the mike at the 9:30 Club on Wednesday, it probably won’t be his music that
fans are talking about.
The 32-year-old Hasidic performer first made headlines the week before -Hanukkah when he
shaved off his iconic beard and tweeted: “No more Chassidic reggae superstar.”
The artist’s untrimmed beard was central to both his musical persona and his piety, since many
Hasidic Jews believe that male facial hair is sacred. It’s also an outward symbol of their religious
Since Matisyahu burst onto the scene in 2005 with the Top 40 hit “King Without a Crown,” his
lyrics have been filled with his love of Torah and devotion to God, albeit with a Caribbean
patois. He’s known to sing the key Jewish prayer, the Shema, at his concerts, and his fans are
largely Jewish, though he does draw some rastas.
For Matisyahu, shaving his beard is akin to Tim McGraw taking off his cowboy hat. In a stark
photograph that shows him cleanshaven and without his Hasidic black garb, he goes on to tweet:
“Sorry folks all you get is me . . . no alias. When I started becoming religious ten years ago it was
a very natural and organic process. It was my choice. My journey to discover my roots and
explore Jewish spirituality — not through books but through real life. I felt that in order to
become a good person I needed rules — lots of them — or else I would somehow fall apart. I am
reclaiming myself. Get ready for an amazing year filled with music of rebirth.”
Then last week he kicked a female photographer who was taking pictures at his Hanukkah show
in Brooklyn. He tweeted that he “snapped” because of the flash in his face. He later issued an
apology, saying he “reacted impulsively.”
Befuddled fans have flooded Facebook with questions about the Grammy-nominated singer, who
is a hero to some in the Jewish world. He was the most visible example of the blending of an
ultraOrthodox religious lifestyle with the creative counterculture of reggae and hip-hop. Hasidic Jews
separate the -sexes, for instance, and married men are forbidden to touch women who are not
their wives or blood relatives. (Matisyahu reportedly once had to turn down an invitation by
Madonna to hang out at a Passover Seder.)
Matisyahu declined to be interviewed for this article.
But California-based Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, who writes the blog Fink or Swim, called the tweet
“The Shave Heard Around the World.”
“Is his music truly good enough that he will continue to be successful when he is no longer a
poster boy for anything other than himself?” asked the irreverent online magazine Heeb, which
also joked that the tweet by the “artist formerly known as Matisyahu” was so shocking “it even
triggered a JTA [the global Jewish information service] news alert which is normally reserved
for terrorist attacks.”
Was the Hasid in the hoodie — who is known to fuse beatboxing with orthodox Judaism’s style
of songful prayer — forgoing his faith? Or was he simply dialing back his belief? Would his
highly religious lyrics — like those to “One Day,” which was played as background music in
some television coverage of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and asks God for a day without
violence — vastly change?
So far the answer appears to be no. Matisyahu has been photographed wearing a yarmulke and
tweeted that he would pray just as always. On his Twitter account, he also thanked fans who
made him kosher food while on tour.
But the events have stirred a passionate debate about just how and if the two worlds can blend. A
Chabad-Lubavitcher rabbi who knows Matisyahu well, but who asked not to be named, said he
felt the pressure was just too much. “While Reggae mirrors some of the warmth in Hasidic life, it
has nevertheless a looseness and freedom that just doesn’t jibe with Jewish structural life,” he
said. “I pray he finds his way back.” The rabbi’s words speak to a long-running debate in the
Hasidic Jewish community: What is the relationship between creative expression and devout
It’s a struggle chronicled in the Chaim Potok novel “My Name Is Asher Lev,” in which a Hasidic
painter struggles to balance his art and his faith.
Lani Santo is executive director of Footsteps, a secular organization that provides support to
those who leave Judaism's ultra-religious communities. The organization’s Internet mailing list
was flooded after Matisyahu’s shaving tweet. “Across the board it’s very challenging for our
participants to balance the pursuit of individual creative expression with an ultra-Orthodox
lifestyle. There’s not a lot of gray areas,” she said. “What Matisyahu worked to do was really an
anomaly in that community.”
Matisyahu is known as a Ba’al T’shuva, which means he was born a secular Jew, but decided to
take on a religious lifestyle. He was born Matthew Miller and was a musician who, by his own
account, started taking hallucinogens and following the rock band Phish on tour. But he changed
his name after becoming a follower of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, a branch of Hasidic
Judaism that is seen as more open than others because it reaches out to unaffiliated Jews, often
on college campuses, and to Jews living abroad.
In many ways, Matisyahu was their most famous member, becoming Billboard magazine’s
reggae artist of the year in 2006. (He left Chabad to explore other branches of Hasidism in 2007,
saying, “I felt boxed in.” But he continued, for a while, to live with his wife and children in their
official headquarters of Crown Heights, Brooklyn.)
“It’s a really fascinating moment. But for young Chabadniks who were excited by Matisyahu’s
success as a validation of their entree into the mainstream, I’m sure it’s disappointing,” said Sue
Fishkoff, author of the book “The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch.”
“He’s a young man searching for his spiritual path,” she said. “He may go through other
iterations, like many of us do.”
While some of his fans wonder if he shaved to bolster ticket sales, his friends say they respect
what they see as his honesty about his spiritual journey. “It will be interesting to see how things
will play out — if he keeps the signature beard and payos [sidelocks] off,” said Erez Safer, chief
executive of Shempseed, a recording label that has worked with Matisyahu and other religious
“It had become his brand.”