‘Religious macho’ among Shuvu Banim

Interesting piece on the quest for macho reckless behavior among the Shuvu Banim followers. Nice quotes from Zvi Mark on their quest for adventure and spontaneous activities. Undertaking a risk places one at a higher level of emunah.

‘Religious macho’
Just three days ago, the Hasidim of the Shuvu Banim Yeshiva, situated in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, were informed that their rabbi, Eliezer Berland, would be returning today from the United States… Berland is an extreme mystic who aspires to be a tzaddik, a righteous person, in the image of Rabbi Nachman. His Shuvu Banim community of Bratslavers numbers more than 700 families. At Pesach one of the students, Ben-Yosef Livnat, was shot to death by Palestinian policemen

But no one denies that Berland has for years urged the Hasidim to visit Joseph’s Tomb and other dangerous places in the West Bank.

According to Dr. Zvi Mark, a scholar of Judaism and an expert on the Bratslav doctrine at both Bar-Ilan University and the Shalom Hartman Institute, Berland wants his followers to visit Joseph’s Tomb precisely because it is dangerous, and not in spite of the danger. “Even people who view highly dangerous backpacking trips by their children to all corners of the globe as a healthy outlet of youthful energies, accuse the Bratslav community of being adventurers,” Mark notes. “This is based on the concept of a separation between the vibrant secular way of life and religiously observant life, which must be spiritual and mystical, without earthly passions. Let them pray quietly in the synagogue and not disturb us during the siesta. But that dichotomy is remote from the Bratslav religiosity.”

The Shuvu Banim community describes Berland reverently as the spearhead of the visits to the tomb of Rabbi Nachman in Uman, Ukraine, that began in the 1980s – with the aid of forged passports and the ability to give the KGB the slip. The Soviet authorities offered a reward of thousands of dollars to anyone with information that would lead to Berland’s arrest. A similar mythology sprang up about his trips with followers to the graves of the patriarchs in the territories during the second intifada, under fire, and was bolstered by the more recent high-speed night rides across highways in northern Israel.

Some of the Hasidim said that Berland had instructed them to elude “dinnim,” negative forces that try to stop their motion, such as traffic lights, road signs and policemen. According to N., Berland taught him that “the moment you undertake a practical endeavor that entails a certain risk, it connects you with the tzaddik at a higher level.” And in the case of Nablus, with the biblical figure Joseph.

Another Hasid, Benny Mahleb, one of the organizers of the visits to Nablus, said: “When I go to Joseph’s Tomb, I know that something is liable to happen to me, but I believe in the rabbi [Berland] and I have a sense of security. I call this the adrenaline of holiness. You enter a city where there are terrorists – and we have already encountered gunfire – but you enter with faith, pray at the tomb and understand that by means of faith and prayer it is possible to change even nature.”
How many Hasidim have been hurt on the way to Joseph’s Tomb?

“One was injured and he has been in a vegetative state since 2003, and one, Ben-Yosef [Livnat], was killed. With all the grief – both were my friends – you have to view it in relation to the level of risk and you understand that it’s nothing, it’s beyond nature.”
Drawn to the Haredi world

The Haifa-born Berland is a product of the state-religious education system and the Bnei Akiva youth movement. He met his wife, Tehila, the daughter of the late Rabbi Shalom-Avraham Shaki – a Knesset member from the National Religious Party in the first half of the 1960s – when they were both members of a settlement group in the Nahal paramilitary brigade, bound for a religious kibbutz. Berland was already drawn to the Haredi world then, and no one was surprised when he entered an ultra-Orthodox Lithuanian yeshiva instead of the IDF.

Dr. Mark, who met Rabbi Berland a few years ago, says: “He has great knowledge. He interweaves material from different aspects of culture. In the course of a conversation he opens an encyclopedia and explains how storms happen and then switches to expert talk about a kabbalah manuscript. That is quite impressive.” Mark adds that, in contrast to other Bratslav rabbis who saw themselves, at least implicitly, as reincarnations of Rabbi Nachman, “I did not find any such claim in Rabbi Berland. On the other hand, I have never seen another Bratslaver rabbi whose demeanor is so close to that of Rabbi Nachman. If you ask yourself how the Hasidic movement started, what it was that people looked for in the tzaddikim, why people went to them, suddenly you have a powerful living example of just that.”

Mark points out that “some Bratslav Hasidim see Rabbi Nachman as being a saintly figure removed from them. Rabbi Berland sees him as a role model. He suddenly goes to Tiberias, suddenly goes to the United States – that is a very familiar pattern to those who know the behavior of Rabbi Nachman. Part of Rabbi Nachman’s ethos was always to renew himself and to change. If you are drawn to something, take action, go with what you feel. ‘Flow.’ Rabbi Berland is exactly that kind of character. If he feels the need to do something in the middle of the night, he will not put it off until morning but will go and do it immediately.”

“As a boy, Rabbi Nachman prayed he would die as a martyr to God,” Mark says. “He lived in Bratslav, but toward the end of his life said he wanted to die in Uman, because thousands of Jews who were martyred in pogroms were buried there. The whole ethos of Joseph and his devotion is interwoven in Rabbi Nachman’s life from beginning to end, and is also interwoven in the life of Rabbi Berland – from his trips to Uman when it was under Soviet rule, to his forays to Joseph’s Tomb.”

Do the Bratslav Hasidim consider the Palestinians, or the IDF soldiers stationed around Nablus, as “dinnim,” who need to be evaded or perhaps confronted?

“They don’t throw stones and don’t hurt anyone,” Mark says, about the Bratslavers. “It is an ethos of confidence in God or in the tzaddik. They take a chance and rely on Rabbi Berland, but they have no intention of hurting a living soul. It’s religious macho, not military macho. They say, ‘We go about without weapons, defenseless, and place our lives in God’s providence.'”
Read the full article here.

5 responses to “‘Religious macho’ among Shuvu Banim

  1. Similar to ecstatics drinking poison?

  2. I was in jerusalem on Purim day visiting shuvu banim and I can say I have never seen such joy love before outside uman.

  3. Yitz,
    Want to give a full report with detailed description of events?

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