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Can someone be chasidish (or a chasid) if they don't dress in a distinctively "Jewish" way or don't keep all the minhagim such as "cholov yisrael", saying tehillim on rosh chodesh, etc? Does it depend on which chasidus? In other words, is chasidus mainly in the "philosophy" and internal thoughts and beliefs or is it mainly external things like dress and minhagim, or are both required?

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btw, halav israel is not a minhag, is simple halacha. –  Avraham Dec 27 '10 at 14:32
    
@Avraham, The minhag/chumra/kula aspect kicks in when you ask whether milk from modern dairies under government supervision counts technically as Chalav Yisrael. R' Moshe Feinstein famously decided that it does, at least in the US (mi.yodeya.com/questions/2926/…). Some follow his ruling, and others don't. The latter are called (perhaps slightly incorrectly) "having the minhag of chalav yisrael." –  Isaac Moses Feb 8 '11 at 19:39
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Nevertheless worth noting. A friend once accepted milk when visiting the Dominican Republic on business, unaware that Chalav Yisrael is a real problem in certain countries. –  Barry May 30 '11 at 16:30

4 Answers 4

Complex question.

I believe in the past there have been Hassidic thinkers who did not adopt the garb, but today we usually associate the two (but not necessarily). (Was it the Kotzker who was a Hassidic thinker but not dresser?)

Rabbi Dr. Moshe Dovid Tendler recalls an interesting conversation he had with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneurson, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe zt'l:

I asked him, “Why is it that your sheluchim (emissaries) take a fellow and make a Chasid out of him by putting a kapote (long black coat) and hat on him – even though he knows nothing at all about Judaism?” The Rebbe answered me, “But it works this way. If we tried it any other way, it would not work.” A person has to know that he belongs to the rest of his community before he can actually become part of it, and these outward signs allow him to do so.

You could read into that what you will; I'd read into it that for the masses, adopting a complete brand is most effective. But if some hybrid works for you, why not? (The Rebbe didn't answer "because keeping kosher is useless unless you wear a black hat!")

As for what to keep, I can refer you to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's responsum whether someone who has worn traditional Polish Jewish garb who moves to America must maintain it; he writes that you should keep the minhag (customs) of your ancestors, but not their chumras (choices to be extra-strict); for instance (I would gather), if you accept R' Moshe's logic that chalav yisrael in America today is a chumra, then you wouldn't be bound by your family's adoption of that chumra. Minhag would be more like whether to stand or sit for kiddush. He also writes that in his (pointedly non-Hassidic opinion), the evolution of Hassidic garb was that a great rabbi chose to wear a long garment (considered more modest, and the sign of a scholar) and make it out of silk (to avoid prohibited mixtures of wool and linen); it wasn't that the rabbi made an enactment that his followers should follow his example, just that they chose to emulate him on their own. (Rabbi Feinstein further argues that American clothing today is "American Jewish garb" and no worse than "Polish Jewish garb.")

I'm sure there are still Hassidic groups that operate with very strict definitions of "in" and "out", but in today's world, more and more people find themselves in different ways; if the way that works for you to believe in G-d and Torah and keep 613 is by using Belz tunes, Lubavitch philosophy, and Lithuanian customs, at the end of the day I'd stay you're still a good Jew. (But that's my opinion.)

Now if you choose to hybridize legitimate streams of Orthodoxy, be aware that some people will be more okay with this than others, that it might be worth thinking about what practices to do publicly vs. privately, given your environment; and that some bridges are best not burned. That's a path you have to find for yourself.

Much hatzlacha (success) in your journey!

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A person can be a Hasid without necessarily belonging to a specific group. In my experience and from what I heard in the name of many Rebbe's, some of the greatest Hasidim they knew did not dress the part and did not blindly follow whatever the other Hasidim were doing. It does not mean that one can just pick and choose, rather one should be a thinker and adopt those practices that will help him in his service of Hashem and not adopt those practices which will hinder his service of Hashem.

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Chasidus strongly believes in keeping the Minhagim and dress of the previous generations. Thus someone that would not keep the Minhagim is not really being Chasidish. However there are different Chasidishe groups that dress in different manners (Lubavitch wears bend down hats, Stolin wears regular brim up hats, Bobov wears high beaver hats, Satmar wears low beaver hats). Thus you can be Chasidish in many different modes of dress if you follow the dictates of that particular Chasidus.

My father always tells me that when the Torah talks about a murderer it is talking about a Frum Jew that has murdered someone. He does everything a Frum Jew does yet he went ahead and murdered someone. Thus there are people that may consider themselves Chasidish even if they are not doing everything 100% right.

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I think that Breslov is "mainly in the philosophy" as you say. Though Breslovers often have distinctive dress, on the whole they're much more varied than other branches of chassidim. As far as minhagim, the central points that one is supposed to adopt are very private (spending Rosh HaShanah in Uman is not so private, but the other two central pillears, shemirat haberit and hitbodedut, are very private).

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