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Tuesday, November 30, 2021
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Rabbi Gedaliah Jaffe, a Jewish leader in Middlesex County, serves simultaneously as shul rav of Congregation Ahavas Yisrael in Edison and Judaic studies teacher in both Yeshivat Frisch in Paramus and Naaleh Yeshiva High School in Fair Lawn. From what he has seen in all three settings over the past two decades, the teachings of Chassidus are drawing an increasing interest among teenagers and adults of all ages.

Rabbi Jaffe explains that “Chassidus is a verb” and traces its origins to Rabbi Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, who lived in the early-mid 1700s. The Baal Shem Tov lived in an era when many Jews faced persecution and, to encourage their perseverance, he put an emphasis on aspects of Yiddishkeit that uplifted people’s spirits.

Rabbi Jaffe identified the phrase “Ivdu es Hashem b’simcha” (Serve God with joy) as perhaps the rallying cry of Chassidus. He defined the central tenets of Chassidus as:

A tremendous sense of hope and optimism

Focus on happiness & joy in prayer and mitzvah observance

Achdut: the interconnectedness of all Jews and all of creation

The impulse to find merit in all Jews

Rabbi Jaffe first encountered Chassidus as a not-yet-observant high school student in Los Angeles’ School for the Arts. He was a music major, and his father suggested that he take a class on Tanya, which he now references as “The Torah she’b’ketav” (the written Torah) of Chassidus. From that first class, Jaffe developed an abiding interest in Chassidus that has lasted nearly 30 years.

Along his journey into observance, the rabbinate and chinuch, Rabbi Jaffe has encountered a few leading rabbonim who guided him on how to espouse and teach Chassidus, including Rabbi Moshe Wolfson of Borough Park and Rabbi Moshe Weinberger of Aish Kodesh in the Five Towns. He has also found a few Chassidic seforim that he feels speak to him directly, such as “Nesivos Shalom” by Rabbi Shalom Noach Berezovsky; “Sippurei Maasiyos” by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov “Likkutei Sichos” by the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe; and “Avodas Avodah” by the Rav of Tosh (Rabbi Meshulem Feivish Loewy).

As Rabbi Jaffe forged his career path, he has increasingly incorporated lessons on Chassidus into his sermons and classes as rav at Congregation Ahavas Yisrael and as a Judaic studies teacher at both Frisch and Naaleh.

In the shul he now teaches lessons on Shabbat afternoons in “Likkutei Sichos,” which are 39 volumes of transcriptions of speeches of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He finds that many of the talks address practical matters of observance, and shul members respond enthusiastically to the ideas in these talks. On Shabbat mornings he teaches stories from “Sippurei Maasiyos” by Rebbe Nachman, and congregants have responded positively to these as well. He estimates that 80-90% of the shiurim he teaches in the shul have their roots in Chassidus.

A few years ago he gave dozens of shiurim on “Avodas Avodah” to his shul and recorded them, posting them later on the online YU Torah platform. These recorded shiurim have allowed Rabbi Jaffe to expand his reach outside of New Jersey: He reports receiving “all sorts of calls and emails” in response to the classes, including one from a Chabad Shaliach at a Satmar shul in Palm Springs, California, that attracts Tosh and Chabad Chassidim.

At Frisch and Naaleh, Rabbi Jaffe has offered special classes in Chassidus that have attracted strong interest. At Naaleh he leads a weekly club on Tanya, entitled “Waze for the Neshama,” which has 14 girls from different grades. In the 2020/2021 school year at Frisch he offered a Tanya elective for seniors.

Rabbi Jaffe’s experiences with the growing appeal of Chassidus are reflected on the national scene as well. A winter 2014 news story in the OU’s Jewish Action magazine reported, “Now YU offers weekly shiurim in Chassidic thought, monthly farbrengen with Rabbi Weinberger, as well as a Rosh Chodesh musical minyan.” The news story also cited then-new courses in Chassidus at TABC in Teaneck and Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, as well as quarterly tischs in the Pico-Robertson area of Los Anglees and classes on Tanya and Netivot Shalom (the teachings of the Slonimer Rebbe) in a Boca Raton shul.

Comments from a congregant at Ahavas Yisrael and a former yeshiva student of Rabbi Jaffe underscore the stirring impact of his teachings about Chassidus.

“Rabbi Jaffe is an incredible teacher and I always looked forward to his class,” said Dahlia Mohl, a recent graduate of The Frisch School in Paramus. “Each lesson was filled with thought-provoking ideas and stories. Through his teachings I now have a deeper understanding and appreciation for Chassidus, and his class gave me a solid foundation to continue my studies in Israel.”

“What I particularly appreciate about Rabbi Jaffe’s drashas is his ability to incorporate meaningful insights into the theme of the parsha in a way that everyone can relate,” said Mordechai Schaier, a member of Congregation Ahavas Yisrael in Edison. “Nearly every Shabbos he quotes a Chassidic teaching or story. I have noticed that chassidic teachings in particular are aimed at inspiring the heart to grow in our middos and connection with Hashem.”

By Harry Glazer

 

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