My name is Mordechai Housman. I live in a very Jewish village in New York State. I am Hassidic, a fifth-generation Karlin-Stolin Chosid by patrilineal descent, though my ancestors on both sides have been Chassidim of various types ever since the Bal Shem Tov’s times. (The Bal Shem Tov, born in the year 1698, was the founder of modern Chassidus.)
There is a common fallacy that the word “Chassidus” is synonymous with “Lubavitch.” Many people do not even know that there are many Chassidic groups. They picture all Chassidim as being Lubavitch, and wearing long, curled sidelocks and round furry hats. Actually, there are many different Chassidic groups, but since Lubavitch has a very effective outreach movement they have become one of the largest groups in the world today. (What’s ironic is that Lubavitch is from Russia, where most Hassidic Jews did not have those long sidelocks and did not wear the round furry hats. So those two concepts — all Chassidim being Lubavitch and the so-called “Hassidic look” — don’t even belong together at all!)
My father’s family has been Karlin-Stoliner Chassidim for five generations. (Karlin-Stolin is from Belorus, and many of us don’t wear the long sidelocks or the round furry hats either. Those of our group that live in Jerusalem, however, do have those, because that has long been the customary clothing of all Ashkenazic Jews in Jerusalem, though some newcomers there no longer keep that custom.) Before that, some of my ancestors were Ziditchoiver Chassidim, some were Pinchiver Chassidim. On my mother’s side, some were Kusenyew Chassidim, some were Vizhnitzer Chassidim, etc.
My father of blessed memory was born in the Old City of Jerusalem, and had his bris milah (Covenant of Circumcision) at the Koisel — the Western Wall (back when that was possible, before the Israeli War of Independence — my father was born in 1927). His father and grandfather lived in Jerusalem. Before that they lived in Hebron, and before that they came from Hungary over, 150 years ago.
We have always been Chassidim, and before the Chasidic Movement began, we were whatever they called Charedi (Ultra-Orthodox) Jews back then.
I have studied in a number of yeshivos (full-time Jewish religious schools), and I have gained a diversely Orthodox background. I began in Yeshivah Toras Emes Kaminetz, which is a non-Hasidic Orthodox Yeshivah.
The average yeshivah in Brooklyn teaches the religious curriculum in the mornings, until around 2 or 3 o’clock, and then teaches the secular curriculum until around 5 or 6 o’clock. This is what I did from first grade until I graduated high school. (It is possible that in first and second grades we were let out earlier than 5 o’clock; I really don’t recall too clearly.)
I learned for two years in Lubavitcher Yeshivah (6th and 7th grades). From 8th grade to 10th grade I studied at Yeshivah Chaim Berlin. Yeshivah Chaim Berlin is a well-known non-Hasidic yeshivah. Yeshivah Chaim Berlin follows the traditional style of Talmud study that has been used by many Charedi (Ultra-Orthodox) Jews for hundreds of years. Their approach is the classic “Litvish” (Lithuanian) approach, which is to focus heavily on each passage of Talmud, delving into the commentaries at length and depth. Most especially, Litvisher yeshivos tend to focus on a great many commentaries from the more recent past, written by Rabbis from within the past four hundred years or so. The movement that popularized that style of Talmud study was started in Lithuania and its environs, and was spearheaded by the great Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin (a city in Lithuania), who was a student of that extraordinary Rabbinical genius, Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna (another city in Lithuania, now called Vilnius).
From there I switched to Stoliner Yeshivah, from where I graduated. Stoliner Yeshivah is an atypical Chassidic Yeshivah, in that they study in the Litvisher method, though without going to the extremes for which some yeshivas are noted.
After graduation from high school, I continued my Jewish studies in various post high-school academies, which we call “Beis Medrash.” Literally, that means “study house.” Just like in my childhood, I moved around to various yeshivos, though this is not what most people do. The advantage to this was that I picked up various methods and styles, as well as having learned under numerous great Torah teachers.
I studied at Yeshivah Emek Halachah, under the Torah Leader Rabbi Tuvia Goldstein; at Yeshivah Kaminetz in Jerusalem, under Rabbi Asher Lichtenstien; in the Mattesdorfer Kollel, under the Mattasdorfer Rov, Rabbi Toiseg; in Yeshivah Gedolah Merkaz Hatorah of Montreal, under Rav Motel Weinberg of blessed memory; and at Yeshivah Sh’or Yoshuv, under the acclaimed Rav Shlomoh Freifeld, of blessed memory. At Yeshivah Sh’or Yoshuv, I became familiar with full-time teaching of newcomers to Judaism, though it was not my first exposure to that sort of environment.
I have been teaching newcomers to Judaism, what we call “kiruv richokim” (outreach), for many years now. I have also been involved in refuting missionaries ever since I was about 13 years old. Kiruv Richokim, though, has always been my main thrust. A few years ago, I decided to create my own web site, to reach out and dispel the myths about Jews and Judaism, and explain some of the more important and lesser known aspects.
Though I currently do not learn in a full-time Yeshivah, I do not neglect my Torah studies. I study only the Torah of accepted Gedolei Torah (Torah Leaders), or that which has been approved by the Gedolei Torah.
Of course, just about everything I write I first show my wife, to get her considered opinion, which I value.
I have been affiliated with the Sperling Adult Learning Center, created and presided over by Rabbi Tzvi Mandel Shlita, and I have given numerous classes there. I used to give the yearly Shavuos night class there, but now they go out of town for Yomim Tovim, making big Shabbatons (Yom-Tov-tons?), and it is difficult (as well as costly) for me to go with a family. I gave a series of classes on the Ramchal’s Derech Hashem (Way of G-d — a seminal work on Jewish thought and practice, published by Feldheim Publishers, and available at good Jewish book stores, especially Tiferes Stam), as well as a class on how to refute missionaries.
For a while I was involved with Partners In Torah. It is an organization that arranges for classes and one-on-one Torah study at your level, all over the world. It can be done in person, or over the phone. I highly recommend it.
I must stress that everything I say I try to base on what has been said before me, by my Rabbis, or in the books written by Gedolei Torah. Whenever I venture to suggest something of my own I will always clearly state that it is my own. And every concept of my own I first discuss with my various Rabbis and other Torah scholars I know. I am very close with Rabbi Chaim Boruch Wolpin Shlita, a student of Rabbi Reuven Grodzofsky of blessed memory and of Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendelovitch of blessed memory. Rabbi Wolpin is the Rosh Yeshivah (Head of the Yeshivah) of Yeshivah Karlin Stolin in Brooklyn, NY.
Another person I constantly consult is my posek (Rabbi who is qualified to pass rulings of Jewish Law), Rav Yaakov Boruch Ledereich, the Rabbi of the Karlin-Stoliner Shul in Borough Park. In addition, I am in constant touch with numerous talmidei chachomim (Torah scholars), as I mentioned above. I am not ordained as a Rabbi.
I like to think of myself as primarily a writer and editor. My work has been published in numerous magazines and newspapers. I have also authored a new translation of the Passover Haggadah, published by JM Publishers. (Unfortunately, they no longer exist.) I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism and in Judaic Studies, with a strong background in public speaking.
I am happily married, thank G-d. I am rather proud of my wife’s achievements as a writer (she, too, is a published writer), and you can enjoy her website about the Jewish Woman’s Point of View.