Thursday, July 31, 2008
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:Where does one learn what is and has been acceptable in Chabad chassidus?
chabad.fm is NOT sanctioned by the organized Chabad movement. Full stop.
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.
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
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
To respond to Rabbi Oliver's puzzlement regarding my turning his comments into a post. It is simply the consequence of his being the only member of Chabad who is willing to try and communicate the Chabad position to non-Chabad Jews in this forum. Most of the forums discussing these issues are amongst people who have already accepted one particular view. Through the greatly appreciated efforts of Rabbi Oliver it is possible to at least attempt some type of dialogue on this significant issue.
BTW Rabbi Berger has in fact read Al Hatzaddikim - the Chabad attempt to show that identifying a person with G-d is found in many mainstream sources and is not an innovation of Chabad as well as Rabbi Posner's efforts to explain how a Lubavitcher understood the words "Atzmut placed in a human body."
Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver has left a new comment on your post "Chabad - can only be understood from inside by tho...":
I find it odd that every post of mine is blown up into a blog post. I responded to this post of micha in the earlier blog post, but I'll repost that response here.R' Micha Berger responded: "Chabad - can only be understood from inside by tho...":
My response was not to your post, but to the post on the blog, so I wasn't responding "off point." I have no clue what you know or don't know. I was commenting on my impression of the bloggers' very meager knowledge of Chabad teachings. As for your post, as soon as I see that you start discussing buddhism, I stopped reading it, being that I don't read avodah zara. The Rebbe never said that a Tzadik is the "embodiment" of G-d, ch"v, that's a gross distortion of what the Rebbe said in the original sicha, quoting sources.
In any case, I wonder how much background you have to the teachings of Chabad, how much in-depth study of Kabbalah and Chassidus (not just controversial excerpts) you've engaged in. I would venture a guess: very little.
Have you studied the book "Al Hatzaddikim," from Reb Avrohom Boruch Pevzner? It quotes extensively from Chazal, Kabbolo, and non-Chabad sources in defense of the Rebbe's sicha.
Your guess is wrong. I fancy myself a student of Jewish Philosophies of all (frum) sorts. I'm tired of your assuming that Lubavitch is so obviously right, the only possible reason someone would disagree is ignorance. Instead of just assuming my ignorance, reply to the point! Give a substantive response, or let the world assume that you are stooping to ad hominems because there is none.
I am tempted to post here my warm ties with Lubavitch organizations in practice. Because I know that if I don't write this paragraph, the usual next response is that I hate Lubavitch, always hated Lubavitch, and my opinion is therefore dismissable. Since you're insisting on the ad hominem route, that is your logical next step.
The words "Atzmus uMahus melubash beguf" does literally translate to "a Tzadik is the 'embodiment' of G-d"'s Essence. I fail to see how quoting words and translating them can possibly be "a gross distortion of what the Rebbe said in the original sicha". Is there some magic context in the sichah that turns A into not-A? Not in the copy I read!
Now, had Lubavitch had a more misnagisher version of creation and tzimtzum this would be altogether idolatry.
However, Lubavitch teaches an extreme form of the Chassidic doctrine that tzimtzum is figurative. In fact, that "ein od milvado" and tzimtzum is an illusion. Therefore, everything and everyone is G-d. Panentheism -- that the universe is of G-d, but He is greater than creation.
And therefore, the concept of a tzaddiq being Atzmus isn't as straightforward. Everything is G-d, but the rebbe, the generation's Yechidah Kelalis, who reached full bitul with respect to the Almighty, who is thus aware of that unity with the A-lmighty and pierced the illusion of tzimtzum, is Atzmuso.
This is the point I was making by saying the heresy is closer to Buddhism than trinitarian Xianity. I described a form of Buddhism which is theologically identical to Lubavitch. Replace their jargon for Hebrew and Yiddish, and it would match perfectly.
In sum: When any man says "the rebbe is the Core and Essence of G-d dressed in a body" you can rest assured that the majority of Jews (who are not his followers) will understandably shudder. There is no way to make those words work -- they contradict the most fundamental concept in Judaism.
How did the deification come about? (Let me emphasize that the deifiers were sharply condemned by Lubavitch rabbanim and their words repudiated. But freedom of speech, here and in Israel, is a reality and all one needs is money to put up billboards or advertise in The New York Times.)
It started with a statement made by the Rebbe. At the yahrtzeit of his father-in-law in 1951, the Rebbe, referring to the Rayatz (Rabbi Yoseph Yitzchak) stated, “Atzmut was placed in a body.” Atzmut means “essence,” the irreducible, unvarying core; God Himself, the Rebbe was saying, was “placed” in a human body. Some Mashichists, however, drew an inference, and then proceeded to draw inferences from that, culminating with deification.
The language of the Talmud calls for more than dictionary definitions. To understand Talmudic language, the student must have a background in Talmudic thought, or a teacher to explain the full meaning. Similarly, Chabad’s distinctive language can be misunderstood by the neophyte. This awareness is crucial in understanding what the Rebbe said.
A moment to define “atzmut.” We must be aware of two aspects when discussing man or God: essence and extension. In terms of man, essence is his soul; extension includes his thoughts, words, actions, ideals, etc. The latter is variable, developing, modified, even rejected and replaced. The essence remains constant.
For man, understanding God can mean understanding His thoughts—as expressed in Torah, or His emotions, such as kindness and compassion as manifested in His behavior towards us. But these are not His “essence” which is beyond us; God’s thought and actions are extensions of Him, similar to the rays of the sun being extensions, not the essence, of the sun.
Man’s awareness of self is a barrier between him and God. His acceptance of mitzvot—and the self-discipline involved in that acceptance—is a measure of self-nullification before God, a step closer to Him. The greater his self-nullification, the closer he approaches God, the more he is aware of Him. Ultimately he can reach the state of merkavah, when he becomes a “vehicle” for God. When this state is attained, as it was by the Patriarchs, man has no personal will. Man’s only will is God’s.
When the Rebbe, referring to his father-in-law, stated “Atzmut was placed in his body,” this, I would suggest, is what he had in mind: there was no separation between him and Him, no barrier, not that Rabbi Yoseph Yitzchak is God but that he is one with God. However, some tragically concluded that the Rebbe had implied a synonymy between his father-in-law and God. It didn’t take too much for some to then characterize the Rebbe himself in that way.
Not surprisingly, no one is big enough to correct the deifiers, to convince them that they err, even though their view is not part of Chabad teachings. Though they are vocal, the deifiers are small in number and enjoy little respect. They act without the support or approval of any individuals of stature within the Lubavitch community.
A little lesson in Chabad that might further illuminate the issue: The haftarah of the first day of Rosh Hashanah contains three words that demand explanation, “Kel dayot Hashem” (I Shemuel 2:3) roughly translated as, “For God is the God of intelligences.”
Why the plural, dayot? Kabbalah refers to da’at elyon and da’at tachton, supernal intelligence and “lower” intelligence. Two perspectives exist; either God’s view, which is spiritual, or man’s view, which is material. Thus, depending on the perspective, a question may have two responses. For example, if one were to ask, “What is ‘reality?’” the answer may be either the physical (body) or the spiritual (soul).
Da’at tachton—From our view, which is that of the physical universe, the very existence of the Creator is in dispute; we and our universe constitute yesh, existence, tangible, palpable reality, while the spiritual source is perceived as ayin, nothingness. God is hardly imaginable, taxing man’s finite intelligence. Man and his science deal with the observable; Man sees his body, while he can only imagine his soul.
Da’at elyon—The rare individualperceives the Creator, the source of all, the absolutely transcendent, as the true yesh. He sees the physical, the created, as ayin, nothingness, and totally dependent on the Source of all for its existence.
Man, with his almost ineluctable da’at tachton, can appreciate, to some degree, God’s wisdom as expressed through Torah. Through learning Torah at the highest levels, man and God merge; Man’s only thoughts are then God’s, since he is totally immersed in Torah. Another level of unification with God can be attained through man’s awareness of God’s “emotions.” Sensing his own insignificance, his dependence for every breath on God, man may experience his “nothingness” in the presence of greatness. He attains bittul, nullity, but still retains his sense of self, his existence, his physicality. His bittul, nullity, is not total, not absolute.
A few exceptional individuals can attain the highest plane—that of merkavah, becoming a “vehicle” that has no will of its own, an absolute ayin, focusing only on his “driver.” Hillel would apologize to his students when he interrupted learning for a bite of lunch. “I must do a kindness for my poor body,” he would say. Hillel was not his body. His body was simply a container for his soul, the real Hillel. In contrast, at the start of our daily prayers we thank God for the “soul You placed within me.” We identify ourselves primarily as bodies that have souls placed within. We, alas, are not Hillels.
We can now understand what the Rebbe meant. When the Rebbe spoke of “Atzmut placed within a body,” he was implying an incredible unity between God and a human. As stated above, atzmut or etzem, refers to the essence of the subject, not an extension, but the core, irreducible, constant, indivisible. In terms of a human, extensions may include thought, actions, emotions, beliefs, all subject to variation, growth, development, rejection. Core is unvarying, concealed. Etzem, transcending any manifestation of God including thought (as in Torah), refers to God Himself.
We noted earlier that man may attain a degree of bittul, self-negation, yet retain an awareness of self, the bittul being less than absolute. Any degree of bittul is praiseworthy for so few achieve any diminution of ego. Rarely does any man attain total bittul, as did the Patriarchs. Rav Yoseph Yitzchak, his successor asserted, achieved this level of bittul. “Atzmut placed in a human body,”—the physical body of the Rebbe did not conceal God within man. However, the Rebbe’s words were totally misconstrued and the result was—deification! Deification means seeing man as God; the Rebbe, of course never, said or, implied man could be synonymous with God. The distinction is awesomely critical. Unfortunately, there are those who failed to make the distinction and they are embarked on a treacherous path.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
If you re-read what I said [in his original comment] , you'll see that I never said that a non-Chabadnik must accept Chabad beliefs. I referred explicitly to "the proper emunah expected of a Chabad Chossid". I'll restate my points in case they weren't fully clear.====================
1. One who has not thoroughly studied what Chabad sources say from the original should not presume to comment based on 2nd- and 3rd-hand information.
2. The concept of tremendous focus on emunas Tzadikim, and similar concepts such as the revelation of G-dliness in the world through Tzaddikim, are not exclusive to the Chabad approach but are found in all Chasidic groups. See, for example, the classic Chassidic text Noam Elimelech. So the opponent to this belief in Chabad is really opposing the entire derech of Chassidus, and various sources that discuss this concept that predate the advent of Chassidus.
3. One should understand that since the beliefs of Lubavitchers (i.e., 99%, not a handful of crazies; in every group there are crazies) are based solidly on the Rebbe's words, criticism of Chabad is not a criticism of this or that approach of Chassidim, but a criticism and attack upon the Rebbeim of Chabad. One is able to choose to take this approach, obviously, but one should be aware that that is the path one has chosen, and ask oneself first whether this is indeed a wise course of action, considering that these are towering giants of Torah, Tzidkus, and mesiras nefesh.
Rabbi Micha Berger replied [to Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver original statement]:
I notice, though, that R' Oliver does not discuss Atzmus uMahus melubash beguf, and how it doesn't violate traditional understandings of the 5th ikkar emunah.Rabbi Micha Berger added:
Frankly, the only parallel I found to this before the LR's speech of 1951 was in Mahayana Buddhism. All of the world is an illusion, there is only the Absolute One; lehavdil Chabad's very literal take of "ein od milvado" and their whole understanding of yeish mei'Ayin (which by their explanation requires capitalization of the "A").
The bodhisattva, having been able to pierce this illusion, that creation holds distinct items hangs around this world to help others do the same. Compare to the L notion that while everything is G-d, because tzimtzum is taken as metaphoric, and the rebbe, as the yechidah of the national soul, is able to connect to that. HQBH medabeir mitokh gerono shel Moshe - haRebbe bedoro keMoshe bedoro.
The only difference, and it's not a small one, is that in Buddhism, they don't link the one-ness of Buddha nature to a concept of Divine Will, or Divinity altogether.
I find a number of things about your [above] reply interesting.
1- Why do you assume I didn't learn the sources myself? In fact, I learned the Tanya more than once, Liqutei Sichos vol II os 40, pp 510-511, the Igeres of 19 Shevat to R' Yerachmiel Benjaminson, etc...
This kind of ad hominem will lead readership to believe you don't have substantive responses.
2- You answered off point. I said nothing about Emunas Chakhamim. I wrote about the rebbe saying that a rebbe is actually the Essence and Substance of G-d, that that's what it means when one says "G-d speaks from his throat".
The comment to which you're replying is my second attempt to point out that this is uniquely Lubavitch (within Judaism) and thus Lubavitcher Chassidim should be unsurprised that many pasqen it crosses the line into shituf.
3- I explicitly said I'm basing my critique on a position of the last Lubavitcher rebbe when I quoted his words. I agree that I'm not only impugning the messianic and "qever never" crazies.
The rebbe said that a human being is to be obeyed because he is an embodiment of G-d. Are you surprised that to very many rabbanim, such a statement is kefirah?
If you feel it's appropriate for Lubavitcher chassidim to believe such things because their rebbe said so, then you can't be surprised when people who believe (as we've been saying for millenia now) that G-d doesn't dress Himself in bodies - consider you heretics.
Nice guys. Who do a lot of positive, constructive, things. But apiqursim.
Regarding the issue of infallibility - while it is true that non chasidim as well as chazal acknowledge the possibility of great people erring - is it really so that all chassidim view their tzadik or rebbe as infallible? I came across the following citation by the Sochachover Rebbe in his classic work Eglei Tal who was in fact a chassidic rebbe - the son in law of the Kotzker Rebbe. He says in no uncertain terms that Jewish authorities are fallible and that is one of the major differences between the Jews who accept that their leaders are fallible and the non-Jews who view their leaders as 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...==========================================
Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver comments to "Chabad III - R' Belsky vs R' Miller & R Heineman/M...":
The idea of emphasising the emunah in the Tzaddik in a way outsiders might think is exaggerated is not unique to Chabad, but is found in the entire derech of Chassidus (and in many respects, it is found in non-Chabad circles to an even greater extent).
In the Chabad approach this belief has taken on a specific form by Chabad Chassidim all based on explicit statements of the Rebbe himself concerning his holy father-in-law, in which he modelled for his Chassidim the proper approach of emunas Tzaddikim that is expected toward a Chabad Rebbe.
Those who are not chassidim altogether who blithely criticise from the outside simply demonstrate their ignorance on the subject at hand and their failure to study relevant sources concerning emunas Tzadikim in general, and the Rebbe's words concerning the proper emunah expected of a Chabad Chossid in particular. Don't condemn what you don't know.