Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Gra's meeting with the Baal HaTanya - Tradition of HaRav Yosef Soloveitchik zt"l

Regarding the failure of the Gra to meet with the Baal HaTanya. I just heard from Rav Shurkin that Rav Soloveitchik had a family mesora that there were strong theological disagreements between them. He claimed that the Gra was afraid that if he met the Baal HaTanya he would be so overwhelmed by him that he would stop disputing him.

He also said that Rav Soloveitchik was enthralled by the Baal HaTanya's profoundity. He related that Rav Solveitchik gave a daily 5 hour shiur in the summer after his wife was niftar. At the conclusion of this he insisted on giving a shiur in Tanya. He also has extensive writings on the Tanya.

A similar assertion regarding the meeting is reported in Wikipedia:

According to Chabad tradition, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Horodoker were sent to the Vilna Gaon by the Maggid of Mezeritch and the Gaon refused to meet with them. Rabbi Leibel Shapiro, the current Rosh Yeshiva of Tomchei Tmimim Miami, has said that at a Yud-Tes Kislev farbrengen in Boston, Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik described this event the way it was passed down through the Brisk dynasty (Rabbi Chaim Volozhin the scion of the Brisker dynasty was the prime student of the Vilna Gaon) and in this version, the Alter Rebbe was accompanied by Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev. Rabbi Soloveitchik said that the Gaon's reason for not meeting with the Hassidic Rebbes was that he saw the holy features of the Alter Rebbe's face and realized that if he let him in "after two hours he would leave the room and join them in spreading chassidus".[2]

However R' Eliach in his sefer on the Gra page 907-912 concerning the reason for not meeting with the Baal HaTanya does not mention such a view. There is also a story - which he rejects - that claims that the Gra's mother prevented her son from meeting with the Baal HaTanya. R' Eliach does cite the Brisker Rav [page 910 note 57] who stated that the Gra didn't meet with him because he thought it was a waste of time becaue they had irreconcilable views in hashkofa. There is in fact a letter from the Baal HaTanya to his chasdim in Vilna telling them to not waste time on debates because of the differences in hashkofa are irreconcilable.

It is also clear that the Gra considered them kofrim - and simply didn't want to argue with apikorsim. These views makes much more sense.

Thus this assertion that the Gra was afraid of being influenced by the Baal HaTanya is not a tradition amongst the Chassidim, is not mentioned in the letter of the Baal HaTanya dealing with the failed meeting and was not mentioned by the Brisker Rav, and is apparently unknown in the extensive literature on the subject - including R' Eliach

17 comments :

  1. We are talking here about a Mesorah! The Rav said explicitly if I recall correctly that there are lots of fanciful versions, but that he could only relate the view of Beis HoRav. That sounds very authoritative to me!

    Why would you expect Chassidim to know the view emanating from inside Beis HoRav given that the Gro's mother helped him climb out when the Baal HaTanya was at the door.

    The Rav was very very careful about Mesorah, and he was quite outspoken when it came to "Meyselach". Take the word of Beis Horav as true.

    PS. As I said in another post, the Rashab and Reb Chaim shared a nice Shavuos lunch at the Rashab's house exchanging divrei torah. Hardly sounds like Reb Chaim would do that if Beis Horav considered them Kofrim or similar.

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  2. Isaac Balbin said...
    We are talking here about a Mesorah! The Rav said explicitly if I recall correctly that there are lots of fanciful versions, but that he could only relate the view of Beis HoRav. That sounds very authoritative to me!
    ==========================
    1) The Baal HaTanya writes that it was R' Menachem Mendel who accompanied him - no mention of Kedushas Levi. So Rav Solveitchik's mesora contradicts the eyewitness account of one of the partipants.
    2)The Brisker Rav doesn't mention it but says it was because of bitul Torah.
    3) Reb Chaim did not need to accept the view of the Gra. The issue is the attitude of the Gra - not how later geneations viewed the situation.

    Is there any source for this assertion other than Rav Soloveitchik? If not then even if it is a mesora which Rav Soloveitchik truly believed in - it doesn't make it true.

    Regarding the Gra's awe of others. The Baal HaTanya mentioned that the essence of their dispute involved the Arizal. Rav Chaim Voloshner was concerned enough about this view that he asserted - in the introduction to the Gra's commentary to Sefer Tzenusa - that chas v'shalom the Gra didn't value the Arizal.

    Where is there any source that says the Gra even respected the Baal HaTanya? It is not as if this is an area where little as been written and that it wasn't a major public issue. His mesora sticks out as being inconsistent with all the other data that we have. Why is Rav Soloveitchik apparently the sole source for this information regarding something which happened two hundred years ago? As a family mesora - who else has mentioned such a thing?

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  3. fwiw remember that the Rav was very influenced in his youth by his lubavitch melamed.
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  4. Rav Shurkin also mentioned that Reb Chaim Brisker was offered and accepted a teaching position in the Chabad yeshiva in Minsk by the Lubavticher Rebbe. His chasidim came to him very upset and said that because Reb Chaim is such a tzadik and is a fascinating teacher - the young chasidim in yeshiva are in danger of losing interest in chassidus. The Rebbe agreed and withdrew the offer.

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  5. Recipients and PublicityJuly 10, 2008 at 8:59 AM

    Understanding the GRA in the context of Halachah and Hashkofa is a complex busines.

    Whilst we are at it, it is important to note that Minhag Ashkenaz is not the Minhag HaGRA because the GRA developed his own views on Halachah, most of which were not adopted in the length and breadth of the lands where Ashkenazi Jews found themselves. The exceptions are those few of his talmidim muvhakim who took on themselves his minhagim and his followers who made it to Yerushalayim where the GRA's minhag becme the so-called "Minhag Yerushalayim".

    Thus the Jews of Litte (Lithuanian Jewry) while mostly rejecting Chasidus as per the GRA, did not follow his derech in tefila and Halachah but rather continued to follow in the derech of the Chayei Odom that was later reinforced by the Mishna Brura and most notably the Igros Moshe that does not go down the path of Halacha delineated by the GRA.

    It was the Bais HaLevi who somehow reached back to the GRA and created that unique so-called "Brisker derech" that is machmir in so many ways and justifies itself by relying on the GRA, while at the same time, those Litvaks who reject the Briskers and their chumras, notably most of the talmidim of Slabodka and disciples the Alter of Slabodka, especially those like Rav Ruderman, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, and Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel, and in the case of Rav Hutner he made a point of even calling himself a "talmide HaGRA" in Kabbalah but did NOT follow the GRA's piskei Halachah Lema'aseh since they all taught and held that the Mishna Brura was the posek ha'acharon and that the Igros Moshe went along such a path, neither of which paskens like the GRA. (Unlike the Briskers and Rav Moshe Shternbuch, who is a Briker after all, who still fight the GRA's wars...against Chasidim and whatever and whoever else meets their disdain.)

    It is known that the GRA's son wrote that his father was not allowed to complete three things min hashamayim: making a golem; moving to Eretz Yisroel; and writing a final updated Shulchan Oruch reconciling all the dei'os and shittas once and for all. The reason for the latter not happening was that the GRA's derech was not the only universal derech, there were others and most notably the Baal HaTanya's Shulchan Oruch haRav became the definitive answer of Chasidus to the claim that they were not oisgehalten al pi Halacha, yet if the GRA would have written a "Shulchan Oruch" noone would have been able to dispute him (monopolies are never a good thing it seems, even in Halachah and Avoda !)

    Thus when talking about the GRA, one MUST proceed with great caution, because there are complex layers of how he is to be understood and taken.

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  6. You are either saying that Beis HoRav mixed up the Berditchever with Reb Menachem Mendel, or that the Rav forgot the Mesora from his Zeyde. I think that if it was Reb Menachem Mendel, that the first possibility is certainly plausible unless you believe in infallibility.

    The Brisker Rav doesn't mention it. There can be lots of reasons for that, including the explanation of bittul torah (which is a tad hard to accept given that according to the thesis you seem to prefer the Gro should have been Mekayem Hochaich Tochiach and steered the Baal Hatanya into the "proper" derech)

    Reb Chaim explicitly accepted the mode of psak of the Gro as passed onto the Volozhiner where no tzirufim should ever be used in Psak. It is far more plausible to assume that Reb Chaim woudn't hang around with the grandchildren who were continuing the alleged "apikorsus" of the Baal HaTanya.

    Do people really think that the Rav's Melamed caused him to invent some false mesorah?
    You might (re)listen to the Rav speak about the differences between Nefesh Hachaim and Tanya.
    Enlightening when it comes from someone who understood both exceedingly well.

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  7. You can hear a shiur where the Rav says all this at http://www.bcbm.org/ - Click "Machshava/Other" and the shiur is called "Chabad and Gaon".

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  8. The Hershbergs said...

    You can hear a shiur where the Rav says all this at http://www.bcbm.org/ - Click "Machshava/Other" and the shiur is called "Chabad and Gaon".
    ===================
    thanks! Rav Soloveitchik clearly acknowledges that the family mesora is a mixture of fact and legend. The supposed fear that the Gra had that he would end up a chasid of the Baal HaTanya is not one of the things he insists was a fact. Since there is absolutely no other source for this purported attitude of the Gra - it is safe to say that there is no basis for it and that even Rav Soloveitchik didn't believe it was true.

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  9. "I just heard from Rav Shurkin that Rav Soloveitchik had a family mesora that there were strong theological disagreements between them."

    Wow, I am sure that without such a tradition no one would know that.

    "He claimed that the Gra was afraid that if he met the Baal HaTanya he would be so overwhelmed by him that he would stop disputing him."

    He may have been saying that in a jocular vein, if he indeed stated such.

    "He also said that Rav Soloveitchik was enthralled by the Baal HaTanya's profoundity."

    That's your answer there. RYBS was corrupted by his Lubavitcher melamed in his youth - girsa diyankusa - who surreptitiously indoctrinated him with Lubavitcher theology against the explicit directive of his employer, the father of RYBS.

    By the way, how often did he mention, give shiurim in Toras HaGR"A vs. in that of the baal Hatanya ? It seems that he may have beikkar learned tanya first and if he learned the Toras HaGRA (I mean like the lesser learned parts, Hashkofo, etc., not biur HaGRA on shulchan oruch) it was later.

    Rav Eliach writes more than what you wrote. He writes that the GRA didn't want to meet them as that would have give them recognition, credibility and legitimacy. Also, I believe that since they were in cherem then, the GRA didn't want to violate the cherem.

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  10. L said wrote:

    "I just heard from Rav Shurkin that Rav Soloveitchik had a family mesora that there were strong theological disagreements between them."

    Wow, I am sure that without such a tradition no one would know that.
    -------------------------
    DT responded
    Your sarcasm is not appropriate. There are views that claim that the dispute was more of a question of politics or stability of the community.
    ===========================
    IS wrote:
    "He claimed that the Gra was afraid that if he met the Baal HaTanya he would be so overwhelmed by him that he would stop disputing him."

    He may have been saying that in a jocular vein, if he indeed stated such.
    =============
    DT wrote:
    Please refer to the link in one of the comments to the mp3 of Rav Soloveitchik saying it
    =========================
    IS wrote

    Rav Eliach writes more than what you wrote. He writes that the GRA didn't want to meet them as that would have give them recognition, credibility and legitimacy. Also, I believe that since they were in cherem then, the GRA didn't want to violate the cherem.
    ------------
    DT wrote:
    There are many explanations given. The Baal HaTanya wrote that the Gra in fact agreed to meet him - if they would pay a large sum to tzedaka. The Gra held that there was nothing to talk about since they each had fully formed opinions which were incompatible. Therefore the Gra held it was a waste of time- that could only be justified if something meaning was produced i.e., money for tzedaka.

    BTW I spoke to Rav Meiselman this Shabbos and he said he never heard Rav Soloveitchik's mesora regarding the meeting.

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  11. Daas Torah (sic) said:

    Rav Soloveitchik clearly acknowledges that the family mesora is a mixture of fact and legend. The supposed fear that the Gra had that he would end up a chasid of the Baal HaTanya is not one of the things he insists was a fact.

    Hmmm, the Rav actually goes back over the story and says that a) the stories that were related in Brisk were generally true, and that b) he discussed this one within Beis Horav including his father AND Uncle and other disciplies of Volozhin that he felt the salient parts of the story are more or less true story. He included the bit about the Gaon being afraid that he would not be able to resist his charm.

    You've got to wonder, really. If it's as other misnagdim now allege, then his Uncle, Father and other Talmidei Volozhin would have explicitly said (especially as Misnagdim!) that the Gaon wanted to uphold the Cherem and that it was Ossur to see the Baal HaTanya.

    It is fanciful to believe that the Rav all of a sudden either invented or adopted a romantic explanation as to why the Gra escaped for 2 months or so. The Rav clearly said that the bit about "Moshiach" coming was a Lubavitch interpretation [and not part of his story]. To imply that the Rav was "corrupted" in his youth or that he said so because he knew Tanya before Nefesh Hachaim is demeaning to the Rav. Indeed, you can hear the Rav inducing laughter at the suggestion that he had become a Lubavitcher. He joked about being tagged a clandestine chabadnik. He was hardly the individual to not say exactly what he thought!

    We are lucky there is a recording and do not need to ask a) or b) what they did or did not hear from the Rav.

    Finally, please explain how Reb Chaim didn't feel compelled to distance himself completely from the Rashab and why he had lunch with him on Shovuos. If the Gro's Cherem was intact then surely Reb Chaim would not have done so. Reb Chaim was no fan of Chassidus, that much we know. Other non brisker misnagdim would never have done what Reb Chaim did. It seems plausible that the version recounted by the Rov is quite consistent with later hanhogo of Reb Chaim.

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  12. Additional evidence that Rav Soloveitchik's views were not known to others. Besides Rav Meiselman who said he never heard the mesora on this matter, the Brisker Rav who says the reason with bitul Torah, Baal HaTanya said also that the Gra viewed it as bitul Torah.
    Just heard Rabbi Rakkefet's tape on the meeting of Rav Soloveitchik and the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
    http://www.yutorah.org/showShiur.cfm/719953/Rabbi_Aaron_Rakeffet-Rothkoff/2006-01-02_Special_Chanukah_Shiur_-_The_Rav_and_The_Lubavitcher_Rebbe

    at 14 minutes he says "the Gra left town rather than be in the same city as an apikorus."

    I also asked Rav Shurkin - who had a very close relationship with Rav Soloveitchik for 25 years if it is possible that this idea came from his Lubavitch tutor. He said it is possible but he does know that that Rav Soloveitchik presented the idea as a family mesora.

    The Baal HaTanya did write in one of his letters that the Gra was in fact willing to meet with him - but since the Gra knew that they would not convince each other it was a waste of time. However if the Baal HaTanya was willing to give a large sum to tzedaka - that would justify the time lost at the meeting. The Baal HaTanya did not agree and the meeting never took place.

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  13. Daas Torah: Bimechilas Kevodo, the conjecture is misplaced. We have the Rav speaking and speaking clearly! I don't see all the other comments from others as being as definitive! Are we to take Rabbi Rakefet's interpretation of the Rav over the Rav himself!

    Sorry, but the suggestion that the Rav, a great Gaon, would forget whether it was his childhood melamed (for a short time) who was the source of the Brisker Mesora or his father and uncle AND the Talmidei Volozhin is too far fetched, clearly.

    I'm still waiting to understand why the Rashab's "apikorsus" was more acceptable to Reb Chaim then the Gaon's acceptance of the Baal HaTanya's "apikorsus". Did Chassidus change? Are you suggesting Reb Chaim simply didn't agree with the Gaon and annulled the cherem?

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  14. I am not really sure what Isaac Balbin's concern is at this point other than he is bothered by the fact that Rav Soloveitchik's view is not being given credence by anyone other than Chabad - even though it seems to contradict what the Baal HaTanya wrote on the matter.

    The evidence is clear that there is no other source for the allegations about the Gra being afraid of being overwhelmed by the Baal HaTanya other than Rav Soloveitchik. On the other hand there is clear and consistent evidence that the reason was because the Gra had irreconcilable differences with the Baal HaTanya and that the Gra held these views were kefira. Why should he debate an apikorus? There is no need to invoke the cherem to explain the failure to meet. Thus the cherem is irrelevant. [I have not seen any source citing it as the basis of their not meeting]

    He acknowledges that Rav Solveitchik is not infallible. And thus could have recalled incorrectly what he was told or he could have mixed up sources.

    The bottom line is the assertion that the Gra was afraid of the influence of the Baal HaTanya and was concerned that he would become a chasid - is bizarre and makes no sense given what we know of the Gra. It also is a rather insulting comment to the Gra.

    Given the total lack of support by other sources, the total failure of any mention of this - except by Chabad quoting Rav Soloveitchi - and the strong evidence of explanations which are inconsistent with the explanation - it deserves no more than a footnote as a curiosity.

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  15. This has nothing to do with the Chabad recollection of the events. I haven't even mentioned them in my responses.

    It has everything to do with a primary source --- an audio recording of the Rav --- against secondary sources and interpretations of the alleged Brisker Mesora on the event.

    This is hardly a footnote and the suggestion that a primary source is but a footnote is disingenuous.

    Finally, there is in fact ample grounds to say that the Rav's account is consistent with later events SUCH AS the fact that Reb Chaim clearly didn't consider the Rashab an Apikorus. There is a seeming reluctance to understand that event.

    In contradistinction, I would never have expected Rav Shach and the Lubavitcher Rebbe to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea, let alone a Shovuos lunch.

    There may well be grounds to suggest that Hisnagdus had its own momentum which eventually diverged from the Gro's Talmidim themselves.

    Furthermore,

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  16. This issue should have died many years ago. Why do you feel a need to feed into this old machlokas. Much that is being said here is hearsay many years after the fact.

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  17. May I suggest something, which is only my personal opinion, that: those writing above are deluded in believing that they can read The Gaon's mind, and tell us what The Gaon was thinking at the time. Interstingly this comes down to us in stories: "He, who has this important status, told him who told this important him etc." This is not the proper way to learn and think, but is typical of the propaganda and fairy tales which are going around our communities. Jonathan Fishman.

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