Thursday, July 31, 2008

Infallibility - Are our religious leaders infallible?

In order to make any advance in the discussion of Chabad - we need to get a clarity of a single point - the doctrine of infallibility.

Was the Lubavitcher Rebbe infallible? Was his father-in-law? Did they ever make this claim? Is there any source that the Baal HaTanya made such a claim?

My citation of a Chabad discussion group that this is mainstream Chabad theology has been question by:
Anonymous wrote:

chabad.fm is NOT sanctioned by the organized Chabad movement. Full stop.
Where does one learn what is and has been acceptable in Chabad chassidus?

Any discussion with Chabad seems to be predicated on the axiom that they have an infallible doctrine and by definition anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. Consequently Chabad does not engage in genuine dialogue but rather views it as an opportunity to educate their opponents of the error of their ways. This is in fact the reason that the Baal HaTanya said the Gra did not want to meet with him.

There is obviously no discussion possible. It also means that any one who questions this doctrine is being disrespectful to Chabad in general and to their rebbbe's in particular.

I am interested in the origin of this doctrine of infallibility. The "proofs" that Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver offers on his blog seem to indicate that only the Chabad rebbes are infallible and we know they were infallible because they made decisions without giving explanations - they just knew the right answer.

Do any other chassidic groups claim infallibility for their leaders?

Regarding the non-Chabad chaasidic world - Daas Torah is often cited as an meaning infallibity. However R' Avi Shafram - spokesman for the Agudah of America stated unequivocally

Da'at Torah is not some Jewish equivalent to the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility. Not only can rabbis make mistakes of judgment, there is an entire tractate of the Talmud, Horiut, predicated on the assumption that they can, that even the Sanhedrin is capable of erring, even in halachic matters. What Da'at Torah means, simply put, those most imbued with Torah-knowledge and who have internalized a large degree of the perfection of values and refinement of character that the Torah idealizes are thereby rendered particularly, indeed extraordinarily, qualified to offer an authentic Jewish perspective on matters of import to Jews - just as expert doctors are those most qualified (though still fallible, to be sure) to offer medical advice.[1]
Similarly I cited the Shocachover Rebbe that Jewish leaders are not infallible.
אגלי טל (מעינה של תורה חלק ד' עמוד יז) ד"ה ואלה שמות בני אהרן הבכר נדב...אלה שמות בני אהרן הכהנים המשחים (ג- ב,ג) כפילת לשון זו למה? ברם, בידוע שכהני הדתות של אומות העולם נחשבים לברואים על אנושיים, שלעולם אינם עלולים לבוא לידי טעות. לפיכך משמתמנה אדם מהם לכהונה, מיד נותנים לו שם אחר, להודיע בזה שכלל איננו אותו אדם שמלפני כן וכי ניתן לו עתה גוף אחר לגמרי, ואילו אצל בני ישראל שונה הדבר תכלית שינוי, אפילו האדם היותר גדול נחשב בם הוא לבשר ודם העלול לבא לידי טעות, "אין אדם צדיק בארץ אשר יעשה טוב ולא יחטא" וכן: "הן בקדושיו לא יאמין". אף כי מחוייבים אנו לנהוג כבוד בתלמידי חכמים, הרי זה רק בזכות התורה שהם לומדים ומקיימים, כשם שאנו נוהגים כבוד רב בספר התורה, אף על פי שאין היא אלא קלף רגיל, מפני שעל הקלף הזה כתובים דברי התורה הקדושה: אולם אין אנו גורסים כל עיקר כי החומר גופו שונה מהחומר של שאר בני אדם. הילכך, אחר שמנה כבר הכתוב את שמותיהם של בני אהרן, הריהו חוזר ואומר: אלה בני אהרן הכהנים המשוחים" - שאפילו אחרי המשחם ככהנים לא ניתנו להם שמות אחרים, כי אם נחשבו לנבי אדם כמקודם

The Agudah does represent Chasdim as well as Litvaks - and yet their spokesman is rejecting the idea of rabbinic leaders being infallible.

In sum. I am interested in respectful discussion with and about Chabad. But they also have to accept that their leaders and doctrine are not viewed as infallible by the rest of the Jewish world.

13 comments :

  1. Look, this isn't a chabad phenomenon. I was almost lynched 5 years ago when I suggested to a Gerrer Chosid that the Belzer Rebbe might have been disingenuous during the holocaust by leaving and telling his kehilla that all would be well. It's a Gemora (I think in Shabbos). Forget Yehoishophot. Ein Tzadik B'Oretz asher Ya'aseh Toiv ... see Tosfos there. I think there is a Maharal on that too ... it's been a long time.

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  2. Daas Torah said...

    "Any discussion with Chabad seems to be predicated on the axiom that they have an infallible doctrine and by definition anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. Consequently Chabad does not engage in genuine dialogue but rather views it as an opportunity to educate their opponents of the error of their ways. This is in fact the reason that the Baal HaTanya said the Gra did not want to meet with him."

    About what you have said regarding the GRA not wanting to meet the Baal Hatanya because he felt that he would be debating with a wall, This is the first time that I have heard this. Do you have a source for this?

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  3. This is just a side point. I also just want to make a disclaimer that what I am about to say is strictly my observation with Lubavitch. Somebody with more facts might blow me away in a debate over what I am about to say.

    I think that the way they address history is a major contributer to the problem. Lubavitchers are taught from the time that they are children that the coming of Moshiach was already predicated on the success of the branch of the Baal Hatanya. Not just the Baal Shem Tov. This is taken quite seriously. Most chassidim (non-Chabad) that I have spoken to except the fact that many people feel that there way is the most important so they do not take themselves too seriously.

    Another thing is the issue on how twentieth century history is taught. They are taught to believe that the most signifigant Jewish challenge to Stalinist Russia was from the previous rebbe. Sacrifices and imprisonments of other rabbonim are minimized or not discussed. I am aware that there were other projects happening at the time that were non Lubavitch. Such as secretly tweeking the construction of public baths in order to to make them kosher mikvot etc... These are not things that are discussed.

    Even earlier issues such as attemps by other rabbonim to cushion the blow of the May laws on the general population.

    Also not discussed are the various rescue efforts that rabbonim like Rav Ahron Cutler during the second world war. The creation of the war refugee board which was a result of rabbinical lobbying. It is estimated that over 200,000 people were rescued through its efforts. Lubavitchers were not participants in these issues. Nor were they the main group in the field after the war helping Jewish DP's and trying to reignight Yiddishkeit amongst them.

    They are also led to beleive that there efforts in the US were the most significant in terms of preserving Yiddishkeit as well as kiruv. Now to give them credit where it is do, Lubavitch does Kiruv in places where no one else will go. However to say that they had the most important impact on US communities while ignoring everybody else is hallucinatory.

    In otherwords they have a general world view that makes them the quarterback of modern Jewish history. This is a major problem and a source of false programming. Let's put it this way. I think that with a view like that it is no wonder that many Lubavitchers had such a spiritual crises when the Rebbe passed away. After all if they are the quarterbacks, what will be if the quarteback takes one in the head during the fourth quarter? They then have to create a quarterback or sense that the quarteback is with them in spirit winning the game for them like Obe Wan Kinnobe.

    Please pardon the football and Star wars analogy.

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  4. "Any discussion with Chabad seems to be predicated on the axiom that they have an infallible doctrine and by definition anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. Consequently Chabad does not engage in genuine dialogue but rather views it as an opportunity to educate their opponents of the error of their ways."

    There is a basic difference between the way that Jews think and the way that Christians think. As a rule, many Christians are taught to have blind faith. That is their springboard, and that way of thinking permeates all their religion. If they do not understand something, they simply believe what their priests or other leaders teach them.

    In general, Christians do not arrive at their beliefs logically. Christian missionaries arrive at their beliefs through faith, and often blind faith. So argument does not really sway them. They will tell you that faith is the most important thing to have, and that we must have faith.

    Jews study the Talmud, which is applied logic. When we believe something, when we have faith, it is because we have studied it, we have examined it, we have looked it up ourselves, we have attempted to discover if it makes sense, we have double-checked to make sure we got it right, we argued with our Rabbis to make sure we received it correctly, we check to see if it fits into everything we learn.

    If we hear a new idea, we look it up and see if it makes sense. If it does not conform to what the Torah teaches us, we will not believe it. If it conforms to what the Torah teaches us, we believe in it. Why? Because we have faith.

    So when Christianity came on the scene, we double checked the Torah to see if it fits into what the Torah teaches us. It didn't. It still doesn't. And when we discuss Christianity with a missionary, that's the tack we often take. Our purpose is to see what Hashem wants us to do. How do we know what Hashem wants us to do? Hashem gave us a Torah, and told us to follow the Torah always.

    So, there is no point whatsoever in explaining things to missionaries, or even talking to them at all. They are simply not equipped to accept our way of thinking. Most Christian missionaries got converted by emotional means, and they cannot understand rational ones. They can't even realize that rational reasons exist.

    In short, his blind faith has convinced him that he alone is right, and that he is correct to try to convert everyone else. I, as a Jew, resent his attempting to convert Jews. And I, as a Jew, am required to repulse him any way I can, and save my soul from his clutches.

    I have lived and studied Judaism all my life. I have also spent many years studying the christian bible. I have spent years discussing Judaism and christianity with my christian friends. (To be clear on this, some were Catholic, some were Protestants of various types, especially Baptist.) I have also spent years of my life debating, arguing, and generally wasting my time with christian missionaries. I know what they have to say, I know why they say it, and most of the time I know what they are going to say before they say it. My faith is based on a deep study of Judaism, and quite a detailed exposure to christianity. My faith is not blind at all. But I no longer see any point in debating, especially with people who aren't open to listening to me at all. One-sided "discussions" are at best a waste of time.

    From http://www.beingjewish.com/toshuv/missionaries.html

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  5. The errors of great men are venerable because they are more fruitful than the truths of little men.
    - Friedrich Nietzsche

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  6. I suggest you read Satmar/Klausenberg/(fill in the blank) history of the coming of their respective leaders to the USA, and you will find that they all respectively saved yiddishkeit singlehandedly in the USA (or anywhere else post-war).

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  7. rscg

    That is incorrect. Their claims are only regarding Hungarian and maybe some Polish Yidishkeit but not Russian. Also this is only Stamar doctrine I don’t think that Klausenberg exposes this dogma.

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  8. Bartley Kulp said...

    Daas Torah said...
    About what you have said regarding the GRA not wanting to meet the Baal Hatanya because he felt that he would be debating with a wall, This is the first time that I have heard this. Do you have a source for this?

    =====================
    DT wrote: I already posted this in the discussion of the Gra not meeting with the Baal HaTanya. There are also several letters written by the Baal HaTanya that state this.


    "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."

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  9. This "dogma" is found by everyone. Look at their publications.

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  10. I think we should seriously consider that the attitude of the Da'as Torah movement towards "gedolim" is quite close to the attitude of Chassidim towards "rebbes". I submit that the GR"A would have banned the Da'as Torah movement.

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  11. "Also this is only [Satmar] doctrine I don’t think that Klausenberg exposes this dogma."

    I don't know about Satmar but I'm inclined to say I haven't seen this out of Klausenberg either.

    It's like the claim that all chasidim believe their Rebbe will be Moshiach. Pleanty of assertion...little documentation.

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  12. "Any discussion with Chabad seems to be predicated on the axiom that they have an infallible doctrine and by definition anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. Consequently Chabad does not engage in genuine dialogue but rather views it as an opportunity to educate their opponents of the error of their ways."

    Well, you're putting it quite pejoratively, but I would word it like this:

    Perspective of a Chosid

    A Chossid accepts the words of his Rebbe fully and unconditionally with pure emunas Tzadikim as emes la'amitoi (the absolute truth). If he is indeed a Chossid, he has not the slightest shadow of doubt that what he is told by his Rebbe is Shechina medaberes mi'toch grono of the Rebbe. Does he understand what his Rebbe says? Not necessarily. But his approach is not predicated upon intellect, but upon emunah.

    Thus it is out of the question for him to "second-guess" his Rebbe, G-d forbid, and decide that he knows better in some case. Not that he can't try to understand why his Rebbe would have told him as he did; on the contrary, he can and he should. But even if he doesn't understand, he accepts and obeys regardless because of his pure emunah that Hashem is speaking to him through his Rebbe.

    This is also an approach that according to various non-Chabad chasidishe stories I've heard is found in all Chasidic groups, and it's one of the main differences between the way that a Chossid looks at his Rebbe and the way a non-Chossid looks at his gadol.

    Perspective of a non-Chosid

    However, a non-Chossid is not expected to have this degree of reverence (though he should respect him in general, of course), because he hasn't accepted that person as Rebbe. This is perhaps similar to the concept in Chazal that kabolas malchus Shomayim must precede kabolas ol Mitzvos, because a king only has authority over those who have accepted him as such. Members of all countries should accord respect to a king, but only the king's subjects, who have accepted his sovereignty, are expected to obey his every command. Not that a king can't direct himself to those who are not his subjects, but those words are be more properly categorised as suggestions, not commands. You can see the difference in the way the people who went past the Rebbe to receive dollars spoke to the Rebbe and the way the Rebbe spoke to them. It was all very different if it was a non-Chossid.

    So, too, here. If the Rebbe taught something that you personally choose not to accept, that's up to you. But the Rebbe was a tremendous talmid chochom and Tzaddik, so at least respect what he said. Don't go around bashing it. Thus if Chassidim do or say things at the Rebbe's instruction, leave them alone.

    It should also be noted that whenever the Rebbe came out with an instruction that he encouraged all Jews to follow, which he did on many occasions, he would always explain the necessity for it at length, quoting traditional Torah sources and Rishonim and Achronim. He would respond to those who raised criticism based on halachic claims. These explanations and responses (e.g., concerning Mivtza Tefillin, Mivtza Mezuzah) are printed in Likutei Sichos. The Rebbe wanted his suggestions to klal Yisroel to make sense to them, so they would adopt them willingly and not necessarily out of a sense of obedience, and it appears to me that at least part of the reason for this was precisely because the Rebbe knew that they were not Chassidim.

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  13. "I suggest you read Satmar/Klausenberg/(fill in the blank) history of the coming of their respective leaders to the USA, and you will find that they all respectively saved yiddishkeit singlehandedly in the USA (or anywhere else post-war).....This "dogma" is found by everyone. Look at their publications."

    This is motzei shem ra, as are most attempts at over-generalization. The Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe zt'l had great hakaras hatov to Rav Shraga Feivel Mendelowitz zt'l for his great assistance to the Rebbe when he arrived in the U.S.

    This hakaras hatov was echoed in comments by the Sanz-Klausenberg Rebbe shlita within the last several months.

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