Friday, August 15, 2008

Prophecy II - Validate by foretelling the future?

I discussed the issue of how the Lubavitcher Rebbe was a prophet with a Chabadnik last night. He said every Lubavitcher has heard amazing stories of prophetic ability regarding the Rebbe and thus he obviously was a prophet. The following are two stories that he personally knows the people involved and vouches for their authenticity.

1) An 8 year old Romanian Jewish girl was seriously burned. The family took her to the hospital where she was given intensive care. They were told that she needed to be left alone for two weeks and that the family should return then. Two weeks later they were informed that she died. But the way the information was conveyed they realized the nurses were lying and that she probably had been kidnapped. After searching to the best of their ability they lost hope of ever seeing her and emigrated to Israel. She had a brother who grew up to be a serious talmid chachom. At the age of 17 he developed cancer and the doctors gave up on him. In desperation he went to to New York to get the Rebbe's beracha. The Rebbe told him not to work that everything would work out. Then he decided to ask for a beracha to find his sister. The Rebbe gave him an extra dollar and told him that miracles would happen in 5761 - nine years in the future.. He returned to Israel,his condition rapidly improved and he was considered cured. He got married and settled in Bnei Brak. The family grew. One day his wife complained to him that she was overwhelmed taking care of the kids and also cleaning the house. He promised her that he would get help so he went out to the area where the foreign workers hung out and found a young lady who agreed to come and help clean. Things worked out fine, but he had a strange feeling when ever he looked at the worker. He found out she was Romanian and started talking to her in Romanian. She stated that she didn't remember too much about her childhood having been separated from her family at the age of eight. But she did have a picture of her mother. Lo and behold it was his mother - it was his long lost sister - and it was the last week of the year the Rebbe had said miracles would happen. The rabbi who told me the story noted that this was even a harder call since Romanian workers were only common in Bnei Brak for one or two years in recent history.

2) An Austrailan acquaintance of this rabbi had a Bobover chasid friend. The Bobover chasid took the chabadnik to meet the Bobover Rebbe. The Bobover Rebbe told them about a recent tradgedy. A young woman had married several months before. Despite all predictions of a happy marriage it was a disaster. The woman protested that she wanted to get out of the marriage - but she was ignored and told just be patient. At some point she couldn't take it anymore and simply ran away. The Bobover Rebbe asked the chabadnik to please ask the Lubavitcher Rebbe for help in locating the young woman. The Chadnik stopped by 770 on the way back to Australia and told the Rebbe the problem. The Rebbe told him. When you arrive back in Melbourne immediately take the next flight to Brisbane. The Chabadnik did as he was told and found himself on a flight to Brisbane without the foggiest idea of what to do next. There was a woman sitting next to him who seemed very curious about him and his religion. After an extended conversation she said, "What does your religion hold about people who desert their religion?" The Chasid was surprised by the query but answered simply that one can never leave Judaism but there is always hope of persuading the person to return. She then told him, "I am the owner of a chain of clothing stores in Brisbane and I just got a new worker who used to be an Orthodox Jew - perhaps you could speak to her and persuade her to return to her religion." It of course turned out to be the missing wife. He was able to arrange for her to receive a get and she moved to Israel where she now lives with her new family and many kids.


  1. This may make me sound like a "kalte litvak" but these stories have no relevance to granting someone the halachic status of a navi.

    Furthermore, similar stories have been told of innumerable gedolim throughout the ages until today, yet no one (outside current Chabad) has ever claimed that these stories constitute halachic evidence of nevuah.

    Nevertheless, these stories do cause me a degree of cognitive dissonance. I tend to think that some of the stories told of the LLR are probably true (though I may be falling prey to the "Big Lie" phenomenom), yet I have difficulty accepting that a leader as flawed as I believe he was would have been granted such siyata d'shmaya.

    There are a number of possible ways to resolve this, none of which are entirely satisfying (with the possible exception of Sefer Chasidim 206, which, in a sense, would be a powerful limud zechus).

  2. LazerA said...

    This may make me sound like a "kalte litvak" but these stories have no relevance to granting someone the halachic status of a navi.

    What exactly is the procedure for establishing a prophet?

    In my previous post I quoted the Rambam's Letter to Yemen. Rav Kapach rejects the validity of this section because he says according to the Rambam such a person would be viewed as a prophet and there would be an obligation to listen to him!

  3. What does Sefer Chasidim 206 say? LazerA, I have the same issue that you do. Also, some of the maasehs have been said over by know, big people. I would like to know how you or others make sense of it all.

  4. Daas Torah said...
    "What exactly is the procedure for establishing a prophet?

    In my previous post I quoted the Rambam's Letter to Yemen. Rav Kapach rejects the validity of this section because he says according to the Rambam such a person would be viewed as a prophet and there would be an obligation to listen to him!"

    Actually, I was thinking of commenting on that, as it bothered me too.

    As to the procedure, from Hil. Yesdoei HaTorah 10, it seems that the prophet must present himself to the people as a prophet, and then he must be tested by making a "many" predictions which must come true in every detail.

    While that description might apply to the "prophet" described in the Igeres Taimon, I don't see that it can possibly be applied to the LLR.

    First of all, he never explicitly presented himself as a prophet. Although I believe he clearly intended his followers to believe it, he never actually said it.

    Secondly, he was never actually tested by making formal predictions before the fact that were later demonstrated to be true. Instead what we have are amazing stories of predictions that were shown, after-the-fact, to be accurate. In many cases, such as both of the stories you presented, they weren't really predictions at all, just vague statements of counsel that resulted in amazing success. While I concede that these stories are impressive, I don't think they would suffice for testing a prophet for the simple reason that they aren't falsifiable. How would you know that the prediction did not come true?

    Thirdly, the LLR, in his sicha on this issue, relied heavily on the halacha that a prophet who is confirmed by another prophet does not need to be tested. To the degree that this sicha was a declaration of his own prophetic status, this statement is essentially a concession that he had not been tested. It is also a "very problematic" argument in its own right.

    So, the LLR is really not comparable to the prophet of the Igeres Taimon, who had a much better case.

    Nevertheless, I think it is obvious that the prophet described by the Rambam was a false prophet, as his main prophecy (the coming of Moshiach by a specific date) was falsified. How are we to understand that, if he apparently satisfied the criteria? (Other than using R' Kappach's argument, which may be the best solution. It should be noted that the text we are discussing is not in the standard editions of the Igeres Taimon.)

    One solution that I originally considered was the possibility that, until his Messianic prophecy was falsified, the man did, indeed, have the halachic status of a prophet. (Note that the Rambam uses fairly positive language about this man throughout the narrative.) The halachic status of a prophet (other than Moshe Rabbeinu) is always contingent on a number of factors. For example, the Torah discusses a prophet who arises, gives signs, and then instructs us to change the Torah or worship idols. Although such a prophet initially passed the test, once he oversteps these bounds he is considered a navi sheker. The Rambam describes the status of a prophet as analogous to witnesses, in that we don't really know with certainty that they are speaking the truth, but once they satisfy the halachic criteria we are required to believe them. It follows, then, that just as witnesses can be falsified, ending their reliability, a navi can also lose his halachic status.

    The problem with this answer is that, if so, why did the Rambam's father, an important Torah figure, tell people not to follow this prophet? Moreover, why does the Rambam continue to use positive language ("may his memory be blessed") to describe the "prophet" even after his prediction was falsified?

    So, without an answer to that question (anyone?), we have to find another way.

    Another possibility, perhaps, is that the formal testing and determination of status of a navi must be through a beis din. (Although the Rambam doesn't appear to say this in Hil. Yesodei Hatorah, it appears to be the implication of Hil. Avodah Zara 5:7.) If this is correct, then, absent such a psak, the prophet is not a navi, regardless of his amazing predictions. This would explain the opposition of the Rambam's father. Unfortunately, this still does not seem to explain the Rambam's positive language about the false prophet.

    Perhaps we can take a modified version of R' Kapach's position. While the basic story is true, the text of the Igeres was slightly corrupted to include the phrase "may his memory be blessed." If we remove (or change) those three words, the rest of the positive language can be understood as explaining why so many were deceived.

    (We are still left with a possible historical problem, as it appears that the man identified in the Igeres, Mar Moshe Dar'i, mentions him, in a respectful manner, in one of his teshuvos.)

    Ok, those are my thoughts.

  5. Michoel said...
    "What does Sefer Chasidim 206 say?"

    I'm sorry Michoel. I violated my own policy (which I've criticized others for) against citing sources without explanation.

    I did this, because, frankly, applying the Sefer Chasidim's statement to a known individual is rather disconcerting.

    In any case, I will rectify my error.

    Sefer Chasidim 206 (rough and ready translation):
    If you see a man who prophecises about moshiach, know that he has been involved in "maaseh kishuf", or "maaseh sheidim", or "maaseh Shem Hameforash" (utilizing the Divine Name), and because these troubled the angels, the angels spoke to him about moshiach in order that it be revealed to the world and in the end he will be shamed and embarrassed before all the world because he troubled the angels. Or the sheidim will come and teach him calculations and secrets to shame him and to shame those who believed in his words."

    I said that, in a sense, this is a limud zechus, for two reasons.

    A) It means that he was sincere and truly believed what he was saying.

    B) You have to be pretty big in the first place in order to mess up like this. Most of us wouldn't be able to "trouble the angels" even if we tried. There are certain hazards that only exist for great people.

  6. I was at this gas station once in Arkansas and you know who was pumping the gas? Elvis! Yeah, and Jim Morrison did my windows. But the best part is that I only had a $20 and the gas cost $19 so when I went into the shop to get my change, you know who gave me the dollar bill? The Rebbe! Yeah! No really! I can personally vouch for it!

  7. Shtissim mit lockshen

  8. Stock pickers also make predictions and some of them (Warren Buffet, anyone?) are very accurate.
    But since the matter of the LLR's claim to nevuah has been raised, it is necessary to note that he certainly made incorrect predictions throughout his career. For instance, his oft-repeated claim that the 1978 Camp David accords "weren't worth the paper they were written on" has obviously been proven dead wrong by history (whatever you think about the Egyptians and their intentions, 30 years of cold peace and the lives thereby saved is certainly better than war).
    Also, his many guarantees to his shluchim in South Africa that things would be just fine hardly fits the reality of violence and financial hardship that they now face. Just what, precisely, has been fine?
    Now, since LLR has claimed to be a navi, and has been demonstrably mistaken, does that not make him a navi sheker?

  9. Regarding story #2, I have spoken to the Baal Hamaseh and this story is very questionable - see Circus Tent of July 9th.

  10. I've seen the Rebbe of Tosh (Canada) predict astounding things that have come true. I have eye/ear witnessed three of these events. He is a great Tzadik....I've yet to hear of someone calling him a Prophet.

  11. Thanks, Rabbi Eidensohn, for posting these beautiful stories.

  12. Hadoid said...

    Regarding story #2, I have spoken to the Baal Hamaseh and this story is very questionable - see Circus Tent of July 9th.
    What was questionable about the story?

  13. Daas Torah said...
    "In my previous post I quoted the Rambam's Letter to Yemen. Rav Kapach rejects the validity of this section because he says according to the Rambam such a person would be viewed as a prophet and there would be an obligation to listen to him!"

    I just saw, over Shabbos, that Rav Yitzchak Shilat discusses this issue at some length in his edition of the Igros HaRambam. He considers the text to be legitimate and he responds to most of R' Kapach's arguments.

    As for the critical issue, of nevuah, R' Shalit argues that we don't find in the narrative that Rav Moshe Daari ever actually claimed to be a navi in any halachic sense, claiming nothing more than to have had dreams.

    As such, R' Moshe Daari would be neither a navi emes nor a navi sheker.


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