Tuesday, July 5, 2022

The Hasidic Underground


In those days (the late 1970s) Aryeh Kaplan, who was already well known as an Orthodox writer, lived on the outskirts of Boro Park. His books on Kabbalah had been published by Samuel Weiser, who owned a New Age press from Maine. This bothered some of the more conformist Haredim in Boro Park, and thus I think Kaplan’s decision to live on the margins of Boro Park was more than symbolic. An ultra-Orthodox Jew of Sephardic descent, who was a baal teshuvah himself and once served as a rabbi in a Conservative synagogue (which in Boro Park is basically the same as a church), Kaplan decided to stay on the margins of that world. A deeply pious man, he would have an open house after Friday night dinner, and we sometimes walked there to listen to him. The neighborhood was not safe at night, and thus going to Kaplan’s home itself required a modicum of emunah (faith). His dining room was adorned with a series of bizarre oil paintings. At some point, with no training as an artist, Kaplan decided to refrain from study for a year and devote himself to painting. After the year he stopped and never painted again. Those paintings were the product of his experiment.

He would gesture to someone to ask him a question about the weekly Torah portion and then he would just spin off of that for what seemed like hours (it probably wasn’t). In any event, Kaplan emphatically did not like Dovid Din. It was a kind of fissure in the scene because there was a lot of overlap in those years between Dovid and Aryeh Kaplan. Kaplan saw something in Dovid he didn’t trust, but he didn’t know what. We just never mentioned Dovid in Kaplan’s presence. Many years later Kaplan’s intuitions about Dovid turned out to be right. He was hiding something.

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