Door-to-door Hasidim?
May 5, 2006 11:37 AM   Subscribe

Two Hasidim just came into my office, looking for Jews to pray with. What's going on? [Question contains lots of Jewish terminology.]

The weirdest thing just happened. At about half past two in the afternoon, two young Hasidic men just came into the law office where I work, and asked if there were any Jewish people working there. Now, my boss is fairly devout, and I couldn't very well respond in the negative what with the mezuzah on the door and various Judaica art on the walls, so I said yes. They then held up a small bag and said they had brought a prayerbook and tefillin, and asked if anyone wanted to pray with them. I politely told them that there were no Jewish people in the office at that moment, which was true, and they thanked me for the time and left.

I was raised Jewish, and while I was never a Hasid, I'm fairly well versed in the religion and its various traditions. Even so, I have never heard about walking door to door looking for a minyan, which is what I presume they were doing. Is there some kind of tradition or mitzvah of which I was previously unaware? I was hoping someone could shed some light on the incident.
posted by Faint of Butt to Religion & Philosophy (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
this is how the chasids prosletyze. although it is a mitzvah supposedly to help fill out a minyan, the chasidic groups that prosletyze use that (jewish guilt?!?) to try and get those of us less observant jews to join in on the fun.

and sometimes, to be honest, the chasids are kinda fun. just sometimes.
posted by elsar at 11:44 AM on May 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Well, all this time I thought minyans were for funerals only. I guess I'm proven wrong.
posted by GoodJob! at 11:44 AM on May 5, 2006

I have no answers, but I experienced this on a bus in Toronto a few months ago.

A young Hasid, probably about 16, approached me and asked if I was Jewish. When I told him I was, he asked if I had done tefillin that day, and if I'd like to do it with him on the bus.

Good question, I look forward to seeing if anyone has any information, as I'd never seen this before.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:46 AM on May 5, 2006

Best answer: Those fellows were these guys. The Mormons of Judaism, they are.
posted by huskerdont at 11:48 AM on May 5, 2006

Last year my mother, a Reform Jew, told me that she'd been walking downtown and had been approached by a Hassidic man asking if she wanted to pray with him (it might have been some other ritual, I don't remember exactly). I think it was on some important Jewish day, though, so we just chalked it up to that.

Interesting, because I wouldn't expect that they'd be indiscriminate about gender like that.
posted by bubukaba at 11:55 AM on May 5, 2006

I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, which is right next to a very large Hasidic community in Crown Heights. Everyday while walking down the street there's always someone walking along asking people "are you Jewish?". They're looking to convert people.
posted by skwm at 11:56 AM on May 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

I work in Manhattan and the same thing happens to me (a receptionist at a fancy boutique) at least once every few months. Being a Midwestern wasp (and the furthest from Jewish a westerner can be), I've figured their visits correspond with one of the more obscure holidays.

When I tell them that our office is nothing but goyim, they respond--rightly so--with "Really? Not even one Jewish person works here?"

Whenever I get asked "Excuse me, sir, are you Jewish?" by a Hasidim on the street I respond with "I'm flattered, but no." No Hasidim has ever found this funny.
posted by incomple at 12:00 PM on May 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Actually, they aren't looking to convert people. They are looking to make other Jews more religious. That's why they ask if you're Jewish. Also, here in Brooklyn, they have RVs called Mitzvah Tanks, with big sound systems. I kinda like 'em. Then again, they don't talk to me, as I son't even look like I could remotely be Jewish.
posted by dame at 12:00 PM on May 5, 2006

Best answer: The Wikipedia article on Chabad-Lubavitch has a lot of good information about their reasons for doing this and the different forms it takes.
posted by bubukaba at 12:03 PM on May 5, 2006

Ah! This explains why I was similarly asked years ago in Chicago if I was Jewish. I also responded with the "I'm flattered, but no" response. It also didn't go over well.
posted by scody at 12:10 PM on May 5, 2006

As others have said, they were most likely Chabad guys looking to bring you into the fold. They're pretty big on doing this through "mitzvah campaigns." For added excitement and understanding, you can watch a video of the now-departed Lubavicher Rebbe explaining (in Yiddish, with subtitles) why he believes it's so vital to get Jewish men to lay tefillin, even just once.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:23 PM on May 5, 2006

My response to the Lubavitvhers who approach me always works. They ask "Are you Jewish?" and I say yes. They ask if I would like to step into their waiting "MitzvahMobile" (synagogue-in-a-van) to put on tefilin with them. I tell thyem, in Yiddish "A shayne danke, aber ikh bin shoyn oysgedavent" (Thanks a lot, but I'm already prayed out.") It works.

And most Hasids are definately not like the proslytizing Lubavitchers.
posted by zaelic at 12:26 PM on May 5, 2006 [3 favorites]

Scody and Incomple, I had better luck with this... when they asked me if I was Jewish, I said awkwardly, "No... But I love Jews!" which they both seemed to think was very funny.
posted by hermitosis at 12:35 PM on May 5, 2006

I'm with zaelic....

(As a sidenote, if they were looking for a minyan, they wouldn't have tried to pray you up in the office; you need 10 people (traditionally, men) for a minyan.)
posted by inigo2 at 12:39 PM on May 5, 2006

My Irish-German-Polish Catholic friend used to respond to their "excuse me, are you Jewish?" routine with a hearty "no, but my brother is!", which confused them mightily, so they eventually left him alone.

(His brother converted prior to his marriage to a Conservadox girl.)
posted by Asparagirl at 12:46 PM on May 5, 2006

Mitzvah Tanks
posted by ereshkigal45 at 12:52 PM on May 5, 2006

And don't miss!
posted by ereshkigal45 at 12:56 PM on May 5, 2006

I'm sorry but when I read the first sentence I thought this was a set-up for a great joke...
posted by ob at 12:59 PM on May 5, 2006

A shayne danke, aber ikh bin shoyn oysgedavent

Damn, I wish I were still in NYC so I could try this. Those guys stopped me all the time (and no, I don't look Jewish), and I never could figure out a good response. ("No" is so boring...)
posted by languagehat at 1:01 PM on May 5, 2006

Response by poster: ob, I almost made the page title "Two Hasidim walk into a law office..."

Thanks, everyone, for your answers. It turns out that my boss is actually quite close to the local Chabad community, and she says that they don't go around like that around here. Maybe it was one of the splinter groups that think the Rebbe was the Messiah. She'll do a little bit of investigation.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:07 PM on May 5, 2006

They're not trying to get non-Jews to turn into Jews. This is forbidden. They're trying to get bagel-eaters to get down with the God-man (God is not a man in Judaism, sorry). This is stated on the wikipedia page, and on other links, but I figured I just put it here for completeness.

I personally think it's tacky, but I've done it a few times... I did the entirety of Havdalah one saturday night as I walked from the D train (?) out through the tunnels to 8th Ave. It was amazing to watch this guy negotiate other pedestrians, light candles, hold the prayerbook, pour wine, all while having me follow along. I don't usally go for it, but what can I say, I like Havdalah.
posted by zpousman at 1:13 PM on May 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Chiming in on the "not Jewish, but was grilled about it" part. A nice, polite woman persistently asked me if I might possibly be Jewish on the Maple Leaf just after it left Toronto.
posted by oaf at 1:33 PM on May 5, 2006

This happened to me in college. Knocked on my dorm door and asked for me by name. I was so shocked (never saw a prosletyzing Jew before) I let them wrap the tefilin around me. My three roomates were, um, shall we say, aghast.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 1:53 PM on May 5, 2006

at 2:30 PM, on a friday especially (Sabbath begins at sundown), and holding a velvet bag...

they have to be Chabadskers!
posted by Izzmeister at 2:00 PM on May 5, 2006

Years ago in college we would get strangers asking if we were Jewish. Turns out that they were Jews for Jesus. Does that group still accost people?
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 2:16 PM on May 5, 2006

I've seen this happen on an El Al flight to Israel. The odds are good I suppose of finding a Jew, but it's a really rude place to do it, in my opinion, since people can't really walk away.
posted by AuntLisa at 2:30 PM on May 5, 2006

Does that group still accost people?
posted by necessitas at 3:10 PM on May 5, 2006

My three roomates were, um, shall we say, aghast.

I don't remember that.

When I was asked if I was Jewish walking down the street, I said "Not today" and they did find that amusing which was surprising because I thought it was a little lame.
posted by Aghast. at 4:51 PM on May 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Please excuse my lack of terminology as I'm still learning-- even having been married to a Jewish man and having a Jewish father unaffiliated ( long story and too much for here)
what is "laying tefillin"? I've never heard that term.
posted by GoodJob! at 4:56 PM on May 5, 2006

GoodJob!: Tefillin
posted by hootch at 7:52 PM on May 5, 2006

A friend of a friend is orthodox. The sort of orthodox Jew who, if you were to see him, you would think to yourself "There's a man who probably had tefillin on this morning." For some reason he's still occassionally propositioned by the Chabad outreach workers. When he has time he tells them why it's really not appropriate to put on tefillin at just any random time of day. According to orthodox tradition at least. I think over time this would probably prevent the Chabadniks from approaching you. It probably only works if you look like the sort of Jew who could defend this position with chapter and verse.

The last (only?) time I had tefillin on was when this friend offered to guide me through the process. I was still groggy enough that I didn't think to politely decline.

Also, AuntLisa, I suspect when it happens on El Al flights that the motive is genuinely to drum up a minyan and not (at least primarily) outreach to less observant Jews.

Here's an excerpt written by Saul Bellow about flying next to a young Chasidic man.
posted by stuart_s at 8:28 PM on May 5, 2006

Isn't that a classic hasidim pickup line...?
posted by MadamM at 10:19 PM on May 5, 2006

Yeah, when I worked at a video store in Los Angeles, this hassidic guy would come in at least once a week, asking me and the other Jewish guys who worked there to wear tefillin with him. I did it a couple of times for fun, but after a while I lost interest, and his persistence started to piss me off.

Jews For Jesus do indeed prostletize, but a) they're Christians , and b) it's easy to tell them apart from hassids.
posted by bingo at 10:43 PM on May 5, 2006

bingo: Jews For Jesus do indeed prostletize, but a) they're Christians ...

Nope. They are not Christians. They only target Jews and they have no interest in Christian non-jews or anybody else. I refuse to look into their theology.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 11:00 PM on May 5, 2006

Thankyou hootch for that informative link. I had knowledge of the head tefillin only. I appreciate your response.
posted by GoodJob! at 4:51 AM on May 6, 2006

Nope. They are not Christians.

Yes, they are Christians. That's why they're "for Jesus." You can "refuse to look into their theology" all you like, but that doesn't change it. They're Christians.

And what difference does it make who they target? That's a very strange criterion to apply. To be a Christian, you have to try to convert everybody in the world? There are lots of Christians who don't try to convert anybody, in case you didn't know.
posted by languagehat at 5:34 AM on May 6, 2006

I had some guys approach me, a non jew, but somehow we still ended up stepping into the nearest shop and doing the tefilin thing. I found it relaxing, I'd do it again.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:05 AM on May 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Jews for Jesus are definitely Christians. The whole point of their existence is to bring us unsaved Jews to Jesus. Thanks, everso.
posted by astruc at 11:57 AM on May 6, 2006

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