Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Chabad - can only be understood from inside by those who accept its beliefs I

One of the critical issues that keeps being brought up in the dispute over Chabad is that which is stated below by Rabbi Oliver - a Chabad teacher. Namely that one can not criticise Chabad because you don't know it. If you knew and understood it you would not criticise it. Also if you look on his blog you will notice that he says that tzadikim are infallible. [See the Chabad forum which discusses this in great detail] Thus it is impossible that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was wrong. Consequently Chabad has an in impregnable defense. If you don't accept these beliefs you can't understand them and thus your criticism is a result of your lack of understanding. If you understood them you would not be criticizing them. Furthermore the tzadik or rebbe simply can't err and to state such means you don't understand what you are talking about.

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.


  1. 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.

    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.


  2. If you re-read what I said, 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.

  3. I find a number of things about your 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.


  4. JOEL MARCUS (2001). The Once and Future Messiah in Early Christianity and Chabad. New Testament Studies, 47, pp 381-401


    "The recent history of the modern Chabad (Lubavitcher) movement of Hasidic Judaism provides insight into the development of early Christianity. In both movements successful eschatological prophecies have increased belief in the leader's authority, and there is a mixture of ‘already’ and ‘not yet’ elements. Similar genres of literature are used to spread the good news (e.g. miracle catenae and collections of originally independent sayings). Both leaders tacitly accepted the messianic faith of their followers but were reticent about acclaiming their messiahship directly. The cataclysm of the Messiah's death has led to belief in his continued existence and even resurrection."

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  6. micha,

    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.

  7. 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. A 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.


  8. micha,

    Anyone who is intellectually honest enough to learn the sicha in context and see the sources from Chazal (e.g., that a malach is called Havayeh at the time of the shlichus) quoted in the sicha, instead of misquoting a phrase out of context (and usually mistranslating too--the original doesn't say "enclothed" but "vi er hot zich areingeshtelt"--"as he put himself") will see that the Rebbe is simply talking about the concept found in many earlier sources in Chazal etc. that Hashem is revealed to the world through the Tzaddik (not that the Tzaddik's guf is itself etc. ch"v, as some people here wish to twist it into saying).

    As I said, there are many, many sources that corroborate this idea, and they are compiled in the sefer "Al Hatzaddikim," from Reb Avrohom Boruch Pevzner. If you are serious and intellectually honest about understanding this idea instead of using it as a reason to bash other Jews, I recommend you study this text.

    It also seems no coincidence that the ones who insist on reading that intention into these words are the ones who've exposed themselves to Buddhism and Christianity.

    Legufo shel inyan of the comparisons with other religions, someone who wants to go down that path will find comparisons galore between all Torah thinkers and those of other religions in numerous areas. And the reason is very simple: because all truth stems from Torah, which is absolutely true and perfect, and other religions l'havdil are a mixture of truth and falsehood. So if there is a certain comparison with Torah, so what? That's only to be expected, because that's where they draw their truth from.

  9. I just stumbled on this discussion. I will not get into the details here, just one point:
    R' Micha says their is no parallel etc.
    I would humbly refer you to the following source:
    The vort I refer to is on page 60-61 of the pdf file, on the Posuk Ve'atah Tetzaveh.
    I have not found this brought elsewhere in the context of this discussion.

  10. Except that neither the original sichah nor "Al haTzaddiqim" stop at calling the mal'akh (angelic or human) Havayah. From the 2nd line of pg 3: "umetareitz, sherebbe hu memutzah hamechabeir VEHQB SHOREH BO" (emphasis mine).

    You're downplaying the use of "Atzmus uMahus", to insure the listener knows we're not talking about Or Ein Sof.

    Also, the closing words of section 2, "veHQBH shochein ad beqirbo".

    And then chapter 3 begins with an explanation of "HQBH medabeir mitokh gerono shel Moshe in terms of the observation that since bitul eliminates the wall between man and G-d, it is HQBH speaking. Not it is "like" He is speaking. But that the wall between man and G-d is gone -- beyond the bitul of an eved in front of his king. Ad she'ein hatalmud chakham metzi'us atzmo kelal ukelal... (nr top of page 4) The person is gone, all that is left is G-d.

    Yes, I think there is a fuzziness being used between saying the person is a merkavah (as the avos were), the person's BODY is a merkavah and the person is gone, the person being called G-d vs the person is god, etc... But that's just identifying the source of the fundamental error.


  11. I'm a bit confused as to what you are trying to say. The sefer's explanation is straightforward enough to me: It's saying that because of the tremendous bittul of the tzaddik to Hashem, Hashem is revealed in and through the Tzaddik.

    Thus, when the Tzaddik speaks, it is not he who speaks, but Hashem who speaks through him, and this is the same explanation for the pesukim that speak about malachim with shem Hashem, e.g., "bi nishbaati ne'um Hashem," which was said by the malach since it was in a state of tremendous bittul at the time of the shlichus. Not that the malach is literally Hashem, ch"v.

    So, too, with Tzadikim, that due to their tremendous bittul, Hashem speaks to us and is revealed to the world through them--but not that they are Hashem ch"v. It's really not so complicated if someone is open to it, and I see no fuzziness.

  12. Yes, the seifer says that Hashem is revealed through the tzadiq. And then, without explaining the jump, he then speaks of the tzadiq's total bittul meaning that only Hashem is there.

    The rebbe spoke of Atzmus uMahus, not nevu'ah or even "Shechinah". The language is quite specific and intense, speaking of the Core Self (Atzmus) which in the case of humans he contrasts with any thoughts we might have. He may give sources for saying that person can see G-d through a tzaddiq who acts entirely according to Hashem's Will, but then he does leap (that's the conflation I spoke about yesterday) from there to saying that G-d Himself -- emphasizing through repetition of words for Divine Essence (not Or Ein Sof), Atzmuso uMahuso -- is within the Tzadiq.

    You write: "Thus, when the Tzaddik speaks, it is not he who speaks, but Hashem who speaks through him, and this is the same explanation for the pesukim that speak about malachim with shem Hashem..."

    (FWIW, the Rambam gives a totally different explanation, since people only communicate with mal'akhim in the body of nevu'ah.)

    Notice that your argument leads you to say that a tzadiq speaks in accordance with Hashem's will, "asei Retzono kirtzonkha". And then you leap from their to say it's Hashem doing the talking. It's the same fallacy. And it's not only a flawed argument, it's a theology most rabbanim would label apiqursus.


  13. micha,

    I don't see any "leap". Multiple sources are given that Hashem Himself speaks through a Tzadik. That is what the Rebbe is saying in the sicha. It's clear when one understands the sources what that means.

    Elsewhere throughout Chabad Chassidus we find the discussion of the famous statements of Chazal: "man pnei Adon Hashem do Rashbi"; "Ano simono be'almo"; "asidim tzadikim she'yomru lifneihem kodosh"--where Chazal are obviously trying to tell us something important--and others. The explanation of Chabad Chassidus (I can cite some sources, though it's best to buy the sefer Al HaTzadikim) is that Hashem is revealed in and through the Tzaddik because of his bittul to Hashem. I.e., not that the entity of the Tzadik is itself ch"v (as the misnagdim persist in twisting the Rebbe's words to be saying ch"v), but that on the contrary, BECAUSE the Tzadik is in a state of total bittul, i.e., he has no independent metzius (existence), therefore Hashem is able to reveal Himself THROUGH the Tzaddik. That's what I wrote in my last post.

    To somehow take this as if it's being said that the Tzadik IS etc. ch"v, when the meaning of the revelation of G-dliness in Tzadikim is being explained very clearly so that no one could think that it means what some people are twisting it to mean, is downright disingenuous, and that's an understatement.

    As for the Rambam: So, the Rambam may give a different explanation--so? Shivim ponim laTorah. This is the one given in Chassidus in many places, as cited in the sefer Al HaTzadikim.

  14. R' Oliver,

    You leave me in an odd situation.

    I'm convinced that you're wrong, that R' MM Shneerson did identify being a vehicle for Hashem's presence with embodying God himself. It seems self-evident from the words "Atzmus uMahus", as well as the rest of the ma'amar after that sentence. I really believe I showed this with selected quotes in an earlier comment.

    However, I can't possibly argue that point. Because if I "win" that debate, all I succeeded in doing is giving people reason to believe in heresy.

    And so, I must bow out.

    I am perfeectly happy leaving you a non-heretic due to your refusal to take the rebbe's words as saying what they say.


  15. micha,

    As I said, proper study of the sicha, seeing the explanation that the Rebbe gives and not taking a phrase out of context, will simply not yield such an interpretation. I learnt the sicha several times while in Yeshivah and it never occurred to me to interpret it in the way that those who have no background in Chassidus (but plenty in other religions, apparently) insist on doing. (Also, this was before I'd even heard of the sefer Al HaTzadikim, which exists not to explain the concept to Chasidim, but to defend the Rebbe from the attacks of those who seek to twist his words.)

    And this is the way that all Chasidei Chabad with whom I've discussed the sicha understand it (and other similar sources).

    All this is especially so considering that anyone remotely familiar with Chasidus Chabad knows that its whole purpose is to explain the concept of Achdus Hashem, how Hashem has not changed whatsoever by creating the worlds, and that the focus on this belief is the entire centre of one's avodah (see, for example, Tanya ch. 33). Thus, if anything, the emunah of one who learns it is all the more strong than one who hasn't, and of all people, such a person is the least prone to thoughts of heresy in terms of Hashem.

    In conclusion, it's quite unfair (again, I'm understating) of you to attribute such a status (I'm not repeating the term you used) to an entire group of frum Yidden based on your outsider, beginner-to-Chassidus interpretation.

  16. And I think it's unfair that you assume I'm ignorant. It argues against your point if all you can do is repeat charges that anyone who disagrees must be ignorant. The truth is, you have no idea how much machashavah I learned, and which derakhim's works I've gone through.

    In any case, if your reply to my quoting lines from the texts is just "if you saw the whole thing inside", I'll add to my earlier observation that it's unwise for me to maintain this discussion that it's also impossible as you leave me nothing to discuss.

    The whole discussion of memeutza hammechabeir in a tzimtzum lo kepeshuto context is too large for a chain of comments anyway.

    Just one last teaster, note that the rebbe in the same maamar is quite clear that Yisrael ve'Oraisa veQBH is also a case of memutza hammechabeir and also quite clear that it is not about qesher but actual identity. And then goes on to deny that the qesher of chassid to rebbe really ends (in the ideal) with hisqashrus "nar es vvert kula chad mamash" (opening paragraph of 10 Shevat #41).


  17. 1. So I shouldn't assume ... Are you saying that I'm wrong, and that you're actually quite learned in Chassidus Chabad (the school of thought that you're seeking to discredit)?

    2. Actually, it's a maamar, not a sicha. Looks like you know so little about Chabad that you don't know the difference.

  18. This marks the end of my 5th attempt to get you to explain how the rebbe's words say what you claim they do that just caused Rabbi Oliver to criticize my ability to read the words myself. My citing phrases from your source text didn't help elevate the plane of conversation. I am forced to conclude that he does not in fact have an actual explanation, that it's simply a faith decision that the rebbe couldn't have possibly meant what he clearly wrote.

    To leave on a more positive note, I'm glad to hear that in your neck of the Lubavitch community most people "spin" those words so as to avoid their saying something my rav would consider apiqursus.

    As for my knowledge of machashavah, I suggest you read my work and decide for yourself. I'm not going to sit here and play up my credentials. My ego doesn't need massaging that badly.



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