Nanachs and Punk Judaism

By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © July 25, 2016

Many people prefer the older, more established forms and methods of worship. That's wonderful, however music and worship styles, like everything else, evolve and change over time whether we like it or not. What is often referred to as "Punk Judaism" is a newish form of Jewish expression. For many Jews who have always felt like "outsiders" in established Judaism, this form is a good fit. Some Punk Jews are religious, others are not. Some are involved in shuls, others have not been in a synagogue in a very long time. To the Punk Jews it makes no difference. All Jews are family. Punk Judaism invites all Jews to find and be themselves in a non-structured, non-judgemental community of their peers. While its roots are in the Punk youth culture, these reforms reach back through the centuries and express the crying out of the Jewish heart, the lamentations and pleadings of the Jewish people to be heard by HaShem and by our society. Indeed, the band Moshiach Oi has a powerful song entitled Avraham Was A Punk Rocker that makes this very point:

Avraham Was A Punk Rocker

Orthodoxy in every sense (i.e. not just Jewish religious) always faces the danger of stagnation followed by social irrelevancy. This is one of the main reasons why the Baal Shem Tov of blessed memory was inspired to develop Chassidus. His reforms were wild and freeing yet solidly Torah and Tradition based. Many viewed Chassidus as a threat to Tradition, some still do! These people are known as the Misnagdim

In time Chassidus too largely became rote in its observance and other masters (ravs) arose to reinvigorate Chassidus and Judaism at large. These ravs included the Lubavitcher Rebbes, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (April 4, 1772-October 16, 1810), Rabbi Natan (aka Reb Noson) of Breslov (January 22, 1780 – December 20, 1844), and many others. For Nanach Jews, the Saba ("Grandfather," Rabbi Yisroel Ber Odesser; 1888-October 23, 1994) belongs in this noble category of Jews who reinvigorate our observances. They see Breslov (the Chassidus of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov) as largely stagnant today and in need of revitalization. They believe that Saba and his Petek (his "letter from Heaven", shown to the right) serves this vital purpose. Many Jews today share the frustrations of the Nanachs with contemporary Judaism and express these in diverse ways. This is why the Punk Jews came to be.

For their part, Nanachs see most of non-Orthodoxy as non-observant and hence unacceptable. They see much of Orthodoxy as stagnant and hypocritical. In both cases, these "Punk Jews" view themselves as spiritual jumper cables. Their intention is to be a shock to reboot and realign the system.

Reform movements have always existed within Judaism as in other religions and cultures. Usually, these groups attract their followings and gradually either pass away as fads, become heretics to Judaism, like Christianity, or they eventually merge with greater Judaism and become recognized movements, like Chassidus (Chabad, Breslov, etc.), the non-Orthodox movements (Reform, Conservative, Jewish Renewal, Reconstructionists, etc) and others. Thus far Nanach and greater "Punk Judaism" remain in the reformist stage, neither fully accepted nor rejected.

As for the Nanachs, they rely on Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's comment that his "fire will burn until the coming of Mashiach," and on their conviction that Saba received the Petek as he explained. Based on these two points, Nanachs believe they are the next phase in the revelation of the Truths of the Baal Shem Tov and Rebbe Nachman. In other words, that they are Breslov and that Breslov is Judaism. This final point is what leads some Nanachs into what many view as extremism.

My Opinion:

Evaluating reform movements is never easy, except for the "true believers" of the reform. For the "Believers" it all seems so clear and obvious. I believe these occasional shocks to the system are vital for the well being of the organism. This does not mean they should be accepted without challenge and critique however. This is vital. ALL reforms to Judaism must be Torah consistent; Nanach is. Other Punk reforms must be evaluated on their own merits. My main focus here is Nanach.

Unfortunately, in my opinion, some Nanachs push the envelope too far and enter the realms of lashon hara and rechilut against the leaders of our people. This is usually a tendency of all reform movements since they are seeking to reform what they consider the mismanagement of the rabbinim in some area. One should take great care to avoid this without fearing to act when needed. Sometimes one must speak up because those who fail to do so have a share in the wrong. The rabbinim are collectively the leaders of our people. Like all humans, they are fallible and make mistakes, sometimes serious ones. Jews who love our shared Traditions and our people do well to seek reforms that enhance our community and lead to our collective development and the betterment of the world. Tikun Olam should always be the kavanah of all Jewish reformers.

As I discuss elsewhere, I personally believe the Petek was given to Saba as he described. I believe this "Note from Heaven" can be a tremendous blessing to both our people and to the world. To this end, I am personally on board with the Nanachs. For the good of everyone I do hope they will moderate their sometimes harsh critics however. The message of the Petek, like everything else associated with Rebbe Nachman, should increase joy, happiness, and Jewish unity.

Shalom to all.

         Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman!

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