Sunday, March 12, 2006

The Weird, Wild Hasidic World

If you haven't heard, there is a new movie out called A Gesheft - "A Deal." Oh yeah, and it's in Yiddish.

This movie was produced on the fringes of the insular world of Hasidic Jews, intended for consumption within that community. Even though the movie goes to great lengths to be pious, it has attracted a fair amount of negative attention -- not only were adds placed in two major Hasidic newspapers denouncing the movie (not for its content, but for being a movie), but moreover my informants tell me no one in the Hasidic community is admitting watching it.

Well, not being Hasidic, I had no problem seeing it. It was good, and though far from slick it was a lot more professional than I had expected; it was professionally edited, and as it turns out I know the editor slightly -- the world of Yiddish enthusiasts is not vast. In a way, the existence this movie shows that Hasidic culture is in more contact with the outside world than is generally presumed. One aspect of the movie, though, mitigates this; the main action of the movie takes place in the present, but there are several extended flashback sequences, one of which, onscreen titles inform us, takes place forty years ago. In this sequence, not only are there a number of conspicuous technological items that did not exist forty years ago, but a key plot element involves a fancy-looking computer with a flatscreen color monitor. To me this suggests not ignorance on the part of the people making the movie; who doesn't know, especially in the increasingly wired Hasidic world, that there weren't flatscreen color monitors in the past? No, this is due, rather, to a willingness to disregard historical context that is unthinkable in non-Hasidic American culture.

I was told about this scene before I saw the movie, so it wasn't exactly a surprise, but seeing it in context was still shocking to me, given the general competence of the movie-making. I had expected a much more homemade film, in which blatant anachronisms are par for the proverbial course.

On a related note, the Yiddish edition of Wikipedia has changed radically over the last few months. A lot of work has gone into it, and I'm particularly fond of the news headlines on the first page, which are charmingly gossipy. Still, though, there are vestiges of the old Yiddish Wikipedia; several months ago I posted about a Hasidic blog I loved for its (perhaps inadvertent) quirkiness. Soon this blogger quit blogging and devoted his attention to Wikipedia. Thanks to him, if for some reason you wished to read the Yiddish Wikipedia article on shoes, you would find out,
With shoes you can walk on glass and stones without any pain or injury, shoelaces keep them tight and help you walk without any problems.
I don't wish to mock this; my point is to show that inspite of the considerable contact Hasidim have nowadays with the outside world, there are still people who are sufficiently unfamiliar with encyclopedias that they think this is a reasonable article. In a way, that's a beautiful thing.

Speaking of the Yiddish Wikipedia, through its news section I found an article in the Forverts, the oldest Yiddish newspaper, that mentioned a paper I gave at a conference recently. Pretty cool, eh?


Hasidic-Feminist said...

lars shsalom said...

very interesting