Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Chabad - Current generation misunderstands Kabbala?

LazerA comment to "Chabad - Tzimtzum - literal or figurative?":

Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver said...
"Excuse me, LazerA, who won't answer the question about his or her kabbalistic knowledge, exactly which kabbalistic concepts do you claim "Chabad" has "misunderstood"?"

At no point was I ever asked about my kabalistic knowledge, nor would I have bothered answering such questions. This discussion is not about me, nor, quite frankly is it relevant what my personal knowledge level might be. None of my statements have depended on substantive kabalistic knowledge.

In this entire discussion, I have focused on two points:
A) That the concept of figurative tzimtzum that is well-established in Chasidic thought (incl. Chabad) is also accepted by non-Chasidid sources, such as the Nefesh Hachaim, and, in fact, may be the opinion of the Vilna Gaon as well, as per R' Dessler. (R' Dessler was a brilliant talmid chacham with VERY substantive knowledge of kabalalistic sources. His opinion cannot be simply shrugged off as ignorant.)

B) That the dangers associated with kabalistic knowledge are real and have not disappeared simply because the gedolim have determined that that knowledge should be revealed.

Neither point is one requiring great kabalistic knowledge on my part.

As for Chabad, my criticism is restricted to "current Chabad". Clearly, the Baal HaTanya, the Tzemach Tzedek, and other Chabad rebbes were Torah giants and masters of kabalistic knowledge of the highest caliber.

Current Chabad, however, is rife with amateur "mekubalim", many with minimal Torah knowledge. I am personally aware of a number of ridiculous teachings emanating from classes taught by Chabad teachers based upon superficial readings and understandings of kabalistic ideas presented in the Tanya. There is no benefit in detailing these, as the specific errors are not representative of the movement. They do, however, indicate an openness within Chabad to kabalistic study and teaching by individuals that are clearly not qualified.

As for the movement as a whole, the biggest single issue is that many Lubavitchers have become very confused by kabalisitic concepts that identify a tzadik with Hashem. (Such ideas are also found in non-kabalistic sources.) This has led many Lubavitchers to identify their late rebbe with Hashem Himself, in varying degrees of literalness. This problem is widely recognized throughout the Torah world, but Lubavitchers continue to deny that the problem even exists.


  1. I think that there is a basic problem in quick definitions such as;
    Ain Sof, Ohr Ain Sof and Atzmut. I see them many times used in the wrong context.

    Also this whole psak din of the Rebbe being a Navi. I do not know where they get this. Nevua is not about predicting the future. Sometimes the future can be predicted through Nevuah but that is not its entire definition. One does not pasken one a Navi because he can sometimes predict future world events. This is ruach hakodesh. It can also be ESP. Jean Dixon had it. The Rebbe was a huge tzaddik who obviously had great ru7ch hakodesh but somebody ids going to have to prove to me that he predicted something through actual Nevua.

  2. You are making a valid point. I agree that there are some individuals who speak about topics without knowing enough about them, and I personally go to great lengths to study a topic in Chassidus in-depth before teaching about it. However, most chassidim I know "know when they don't know," and if they know that the topic is too advanced for them, they'll stick to simpler ideas that they know that they can grasp. The problem is much less with Chassidus Chabad, as so much of it is so self-explanatory. So when you're studying from a text, you keep reading and things become more and more clear. It's the ones who speak about topics without a solid basic in the text, or a broad knowledge, and invent their own explanations, who do a disservice to the Rebbeim of Chabad. But must shiurim in Chassidus are text based, so I don't think that this is as big as a problem as you are making out.

    However, in your claim that Chassidim interpret the sicha about revelation of Hashem in the Tzadik in the way that it is twisted to mean by certain outside elements, I totally do not agree. This is simply not the reality--chassidim do not think this, and it is also not what is written in the sicha, ch"v.

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  4. bartley, the Rebbe spoke about nevuah in our time in the sicha of Shoftim 5750, printed in Sefer HaSichos 5750 vol. 2 in Yiddish, and Hisvaduyos vol. 4 in Hebrew. That's where the Chassidim "get this" from.

  5. Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver said...
    "bartley, the Rebbe spoke about nevuah in our time....
    That's where the Chassidim "get this" from."

    Are you saying that there is a legitimate basis for the supposed "psak" that the late Lubavitcher Rebbe was a navi, in the full halachic sense of the word??

    There is no possible justification for applying the halachic status of a navi to the late rebbe. Any claim to the contrary does violence to the entire concept and is extremely dangerous.

    This, btw, is not a "kabalistic" issue, but one of basic halacha.

  6. "There is no possible justification for applying the halachic status of a navi to the late rebbe. Any claim to the contrary does violence to the entire concept and is extremely dangerous."

    So the Rebbe said something, and it was edited and officially released in his name, and you disagree. Guess you know something he doesn't. You must be a big halachic expert, a veritable posek hador.

  7. Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver said...
    "So the Rebbe said something, and it was edited and officially released in his name, and you disagree."

    Whoa! I'm note sure, but you seem to be saying that the late Lubavitcher rebbe paskened on himself that he was a navi. Is this correct?

    The Rambam (Hil. Yesodei Hatorah 10 and elsewhere) describes the process of establishing a navi. First the person must present himself as a navi to the Jewish people (I assume that this takes place before a beis din, but the Rambam does not say this). We then test him by requiring him to make a series of predictions which must come true in every detail. (If even one detail of any prediction does not come true the claimant is a false prophet.)

    Clearly, no one can pasken on themselves that they are a navi, as you seem to be saying.

    Moreover, the Lubavitcher rebbe was never subjected to any kind of formal testing. (To my knowledge, he never even made an explcit claim to the status.) Lubavitchers simply point to a number of predictions made by the rebbe (of the sort made by many gedolim) and conclude that he was a navi. That is clearly NOT the process described by the Rambam!

    I'd be interested in knowing in what manner the above statements contradict statements by the late Lubavitcher rebbe. If the rebbe did, in fact, pasken on himself that he was a navi, this would raise very interesting questions.

  8. Re the nevuah inyan: You really have to learn the sicha inside, from beginning to end; a summary here won't do justice. Then we can talk.

  9. Okay, I went to the trouble of finding the sicha online (it can be read, in English, at

    It was, unfortunately, worth the trouble. From the sicha, it is clear that the late Lubavitcher rebbe was attempting to ascribe to himself the halachic status of a navi. He never actually does so explicitly, which, incidentally, would appear from the Rambam to a necessary step in the process of a person becoming muchzak as a navi. This is actually a good thing, in a way, as it also eliminates the possibility of him being a navi sheker.

    Nevertheless, his self-declaration does verge on the explicit. For example:
    "Each person has to recognize himself, and publicize... that we need to accept upon ourselves the rulings and advice of "the judges" and "the advisers" of our generation. particular, this refers to the leader of our generation -- the judge, adviser and prophet of our generation. (emphasis added)"

    When spoken to a group of Lubavitchers, this statement can have only one reasonable interpretation. There is another similar statement a little later in the sicha as well.

    The only pseudo-halachic justification given for this claim is found in the following paragraph:

    "Furthermore, "A prophet about whom another prophet testifies that he is a prophet (as is the case with the Previous Rebbe, and is continued in the next generation through his disciples), he is accepted as a prophet and requires no investigation." He has to be obeyed immediately "even before he performs a sign." "It is forbidden to disparage or criticize his prophecy saying that it is perhaps not true." There is a specific negative commandment forbidding us to test a prophet more than necessary. After it has become known that he is a prophet, the people should believe in him, and they should not disparage or criticize him."

    This last gem is based on the halacha that, indeed, if an established prophet testifies that another individual is a prophet, that second individual is immediately muchzak as a navi and requires no testing.

    The assumption in the sicha is that, at some point in time, an established navi testified that the previous rebbe was a navi, and then the previous rebbe testified that "his disciples" (and we all know who "they" are) were neviim. Indeed, prophecy never really ceased at all! It just "ascended to a higher plane".

    Ok, so what are we left with? An individual claims (without ever actually saying it) to be a prophet. Ah, but, a prophet needs to be tested! Nope, not this prophet. Because, he tells us, another individual, who never publicly claimed to be a prophet, testified (in front of whom?) that he is a prophet! Did anyone hear this testimony? In fact, did anyone know that the first one was a prophet? Who established him?

    All of the sudden we have a whole history of "hidden prophets" (a bit of an oxymoron) that we must accept because this person tells us to.

    Ultimately, we have nothing to support any of this except this man's word. This is not the stuff of serious Torah. This is ridiculous!

    I would point out that I did not expect to find anything this bizaare. I thought I would find something that had been distorted by over-eager talmidim. Sadly, this sicha has convinced me that the late Lubavitcher rebbe was definitely engaged in deliberate campaign of false messianism.

    Until now I thought of the Lubavitcher rebbe as a flawed, but generally well-intentioned leader, who inadvertantly led his talmidim to "a place of bad waters" and "they drank and died." This has always been a risk for great leaders. I am now forced to conclude that situation was far worse.

  10. Lazera,

    I have had the distinct displeasure of trying to work things out with Mr. Oliver. Unfortunately, he is not able to understand these issues clearly, and resorts to insults and twising around comments to avoid substance. He will not likely respond, but if he does, watch out for it.


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