Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Breslov I - Why viewed negatively?

I recently received an offer to have Breslov explained from the inside. The offer came from someone while not being a Breslover himself, has invested much time and energy to acquire an understanding of Breslov which he wants to share with us. He would prefer not having his name attached to these posts so I will refer to him by his email Elrport where he can be reached for any direct questions. For the intial post I asked him why Breslov's are viewed negatively.
There are also several posts on A Simple Jew that are helpful

Guest Post: Elrport wrote:

You wanted to know why people have the impression of Breslov which they do. I believe that it is a combination of several factors. (1) The ideological/ political differences that Breslov has had with other schools of Chassidus, both (a) historically and (b) today (2) the lack of understanding of the true dynamics and demographic make-up of the Breslov movement, and (3) as believing Jews, who believe that there is an element of "hasgacha pratis", as will be explained.

I believe that the most prevalent factor is the second one. People meet "interesting" individuals who claim to be affiliated with Breslov, and build their impression of a movement of several thousand people based on that. The results are, that many people think that Breslov is either a leaderless, hippie like movement, or some other wrong impression. Many people think that Breslov teaching makes people crazy.

What your readers should know is as follows, without getting into the whole history of Breslov. Up until the 1970s, post-holocaust Breslov existed as a relatively small group based in Meah Shearim with a yeshiva in Bnei Brak. Because of their size and other factors, much of the Charedi world did not know too much about them. All this time, they were for all purposes a regular, normal group of Chassidim.

This is the "real" Breslov, the original Breslov. If so, who are all these wackos?

Since the 70s, many baalei teshuvah have been attracted to Breslov. There was a BT yeshiva established for them called Shuvu Banim. The Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Lazer Berland, although a big masmid and talmid chochom, is himself somewhat of a "wild" personality, and the BTs started imitating his every move, thinking that it he was the role model of everything Breslov. At the same time, some BTs found an older chassid living in a nursing home, R' Yisroel Ber Odeser, who in his apparently senile old-age believed that he had received a letter min hashamayim. There developed a group around him, also, with a culture of copying his senile behavior.

The behavior of these groups has nothing to do with Breslov, just with their members trying to copy their leaders. Reb Lazer Berland himself is a choshuve person, its just that he has his own personal quirks which get grossly exaggerated by BTs trying to copy every hand movement that he makes.

To make a long story short, these BTs were never accepted into Breslov proper, but established their own groups. But once a culture of wild-BT Breslov had been established, any BT looking for Breslov either joined their groups, Shuvu Banim and Nanach, or started additional groups that incorporated elements of their culture, such as white yarmukes and long frazzled payos. These, and other funny things, are not mentioned anywhere in Breslov writings. Besides these behaviors, these people may sometimes also be following the Breslov derech, but that's an individual thing.

There was a small movement in the late 1990s by members of Shuvu Banim, already holding by the 2nd generation, to "chap" bachurim from the original Breslov into their group. It was successful for a few years until Reb Yaakov Meir Shechter and Reb Noson Liebermensh, leaders of the original group, waged a heavy campaign against them. For this reason you sometimes find "heimishe" Breslovers who are also trying to imitate the culture of copying Reb Lazer.

There's also a phenomenon called "pitzuey hanachal" which is the Breslov version of kids-at-risk. The Breslov paradigm makes it extremely difficult to take "going off the derech" as a serious option. (This could be explained another time) Instead, their "problem kids", usually from Shuvu families, created a sub-culture of Breslov in which they mixed in mishigassen, usually just for the fun of it.

I understand that I've been mekatzer and that there's a lot left to be explained. Let this be an opening for more discussions, or you can ask questions on other issues in Breslov.


  1. Important question: is a leader to be judged by his words/actions or his followers?

    For example, Rav Mei Kahane said many important and far-sighted things but surrounding himself with a bunch of first class morons. Was he a good leader or not?

    Same thing with Rebbe Nachman. Apparently a first class genius and spiritual person, but then you run into the Na-Nach guys and wonder what they've been smoking.

  2. That is just the point that this person is trying to make. These people are self proclaimed followers without a connection to the original mesora of Rav Nacman. For instance in Safed you have a lot of people who identify themselves as Breslov. Only a small percentage of them answer to Rav Keonig who is the head of the breslov community here. Rav Keonig is a direct descendant of Rabbi Nosson who was the main Talmud of Rabbi Nachman. He himself has mekarved many people. The difference is that they are not Na Nachers and they do not smoke Marajuana.

    They also do not support the Yeshiva through gimmicks of selling segulas and they do not harass people on the streets to buy their books or solicit donations.

  3. While this statement is certainly reasonable:

    Up until the 1970s, post-holocaust Breslov existed as a relatively small group based in Meah Shearim ... All this time, they were for all purposes a regular, normal group of Chassidim.

    Nevertheless, pre-Holocaust Breslov was certainly never free of controversy. This might be of interest:

  4. Garnel Ironheart said...

    Rav Mei Kahane ... surrounding himself with a bunch of first class morons. Was he a good leader or not?

    Same thing with Rebbe Nachman. ... the Na-Nach guys....

    Kahane surrounded himself with the morons. That does, indeed, raise serious questions about him. (There are many other serious questions about Meir Kahane.)

    The Na-Nach group didn't even come into existence until almost two centuries after R' Nachman was niftar. That is a very different thing.

  5. Since Chabad and now Breslov, both Chasidic movements were/are being discussed,perhaps we ought to discuss some issues in the Litveshe world.
    Would you start a new subject such as "Rav Shach:His attacks on The Lubavitcher Rebbi,Lubavitch in general,Rav JJ Soliveichick,Rav Adin Shteinzaltz,Rav Shlomo Goren and many others his way if expressing Ahavas Yisroel?"
    I doubt it just as I doubt that you will post this blog.Who Knows.

  6. Correction: Rav JB Soloveichick not JJ.


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