Monday, September 22, 2008

Breslov - Rav Nachman's burial place dispute

Jewish Chronicle reports:

Visitors driving into Jerusalem these days will not infrequently be accosted at major crossroads by young men in Chasidic garb offering them books and CDs of the teachings of their Rebbe, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, among the most colourful and controversial figures in the 250 years of Chasidism. These enthusiasts are known as the Na-Nach-Nachman Chasidim, a sobriquet they received from Rabbi Yisrael Odessa who claimed to have received not only a visit from Rabbi Nachman, but also a small note bearing this enigmatic phrase. All over Israel the stuttered name now appears on walls, in public spaces, or is utilised as a car sticker.

But the Na-Nach-Nachainites don't stop at publicising their Rebbe's spiritual heritage. They want to transfer his physical remains from their location in the Ukraine to Mount Zion in Jerusalem.

"There is no reason why the remains of Rabbi Nachman should not be moved to Eretz Israel," said Sharone Tel-Tsur, president of the World Council for Rabbi Nachman of Breslov in the Land of Israel.

"What use is it having him buried in Uman?" Sharone's assistant, Nadav Etlinger adds: "Ukraine is one of the world centres of prostitution. It is not a seemly place for those who visit the grave on Rosh Hashanah."

Rabbi Nachman (1772 -1810), great-grandson of the Ba'al Shem Tov - founder of the modern Chasidic movement - led a tempestuous life, moving from place to place, including a perilous journey to Eretz Israel and finally, weakened by tuberculosis and shattered by the death of his children, reached Uman, a small city in Ukraine, where he declared "Dor is gut tzu leigen," "Here is a good place to die."

His followers took this to mean that his burial place was permanent. There were two pogroms here, the Rebbe had explained, in 1749 and 1768, which had left behind upwards of 20,000 martyrs, mainly, in his words, of "simple Jews."

Rabbi Nachman felt obliged to "rectify" these souls. In addition, he said, Uman was a centre of the nascent Haskalah (Enlightenment) movement. The souls of those caught in this trap also needed "rectification".

Since Rabbi Nachman's demise, the Uman site has attracted many pilgrims, even when reaching it (during the Soviet regime, for example) was dangerous. But about 15 years ago, the Na-Nach-Nachman group, led by Rabbi Odessa, began campaigning to bring the Rebbe to the Holy Land. According to Rabbi Chaim Kramer, of the Breslov Research Centre: "This group is very small,"

His colleague, Rabbi Natan Maimon (deputy president of the World Breslov Centre), states: "Ninety-eight per cent of the Breslov community are against moving the Rebbe's remains."

Despite these denials, statements of support for the move have come from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the late President Chaim Herzog, the first Prime Minister of Independent Ukraine, Leonid Krachuk, Ehud Olmert, and Shimon Peres. Ariel Sharon signed a permit for the group to acquire 15 dunam of land on Har Zion for the purpose of the new grave site.

This last document was also signed by Rabbi Yechiel Dorfman, chairman of the World Council of Breslov Chasidim, who died two years ago, aged 96, and considered a major force in the old guard of the Breslov community: he was initially opposed to moving the grave for all the traditional reasons. "The reason he changed his mind," explains Sharone, "is that he was disturbed by what was going on in Uman itself."[...]


  1. This is pathetic. For 2000 years we pray to return home to worship God in the land of Israel and what do these guys do? They run to a "shrine" in one of the most anti-Semitic places in the world. How does that make any sense?

  2. Reb Garnel,
    I don't care for your tone. Why is it fundmentally different than going to the kever of the Chafetz Chaim in Poland?

  3. If the CC held the typical Litvisher position -- and I don't know if he did or didn't -- he would have thought visits to his grave site to be quite odd.

    BTW, anyone want to chip in on a business idea? I want to make large white yarmulkas that read "E, El, Eliy, Eliyahu miVilna"! Have to be at market at least a week or two before Mar 10, 2009.


  4. Michoel,

    > I don't care for your tone.

    Well I don't care that you don't care so there!

    > Why is it fundmentally different than going to the kever of the Chafetz Chaim in Poland?

    a) large throngs of people don't descend on the CC's kever on a regular basis
    b) most of the CC's followers realize that God is everywhere and can be prayed to from everywhere as well.

  5. Garnel Ironheart said...

    This is pathetic. For 2000 years we pray to return home to worship God in the land of Israel and what do these guys do? They run to a "shrine" in one of the most anti-Semitic places in the world. How does that make any sense?

    Although the Uman phenomenom seems very excessive to me, the idea of going to daven at kivrei tzadikim is well established.

    For Jews (even those living in Eretz Yisrael) to travel, on occasion, to visit the kevarim of tzadikim and daven seems perfectly reasonable to me. I personally, have never done so (except in Eretz Yisrael), but I would like to if I could afford the expenditure of time and money.

    As for anti-semitism, as long as there is no actual danger, this not seem to have any bearing on the holiness of the site.

  6. Okay, take a step back and look at the forest instead of the trees.

    Where are Jews meant to be? In Israel. Which is the holiest place in the world? Israel. Is someone had handed Rebbe Nachman an ElAl ticket to Lod, where would he immediately have gone? Israel.

    We are told that the neshama of the dead person returns to Heaven, leaving the body an empty shell which has to be buried with respect because of what it once was. If this is so, then what's the point of davening in a shrine where a tzadik's body is buried?

    If it's to inspire your kavannah, then fine. But if it's to use the merit of the dead tzadik to help your prayer get to Heaven, that's awfully close to some kind of shituf.

    There's a reason we don't know where Moshe Rabeinu's grave is. Of course, even if we did the Breslovers would still go to Uman...

  7. Garnel,

    Your questions are valid. In the final analysis, however, the practice of tefilah at kivrei tzadikim is very well established in numerous mainstream sources. Your questions cannot change that, they can only be used as a basis for a discussion of why this should be so.

    You cannot criticize Breslov on the basis of questions on a mainstream and established practice. Whether you understand or approve of the practice, it remains an accepted practice.

    While I think that there is what to criticize in the Uman phenomenom, and I have never been comfortable with it, I think that your specific critique is not valid.

  8. Reb Lazera,
    We think the same but you have much better derech eretz.

  9. Reb Garnel,
    You just called a practice of some 30,000 Yidden pathetic, right before Rosh Hashana. Even if you don't care about what I think, perhaps you should express less certitude about what the Ribbono Shel Olam thinks.


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