Monday, April 03, 2006

The Rambam Part IV (Answer to the Implication Question)

At the end of my last post, I wrote that after having demonstrated the fallacy of Gil Theory in interpreting the Rambam, and having presented an alternate, far more plausible interpretation, there is still a question against the rebbe's candidacy.
The question was best expressed in an email that I received:
Granted that the Rambam is not presenting a Condition of Failure in this Halacha. But, the fact that the Rambam can speak of someone "that did not succeed to this extent" already implies that there must be an expiration date on someone's candidacy, because, if this were not the case, how could we ever know about anyone "that he did not succeed to this extent"? Perhaps he will come back from the dead to finish the job!

The answer to this question is simple. The Rambam is speaking of someone, who, in historical retrospect, "did not succeed to this extent." Let us take Chizkiyahu Hamelech as an example. Chizkiyahu is clearly not Moshiach, even if it were possible for Chizkiyahu to return from the dead, because the galus that we need redemption from today is a different Galus, the efforts to bring about the geulah are different efforts, and, in short, history has moved on from the Bnei Yisrael/ Ashur conflict, to new conflicts. In a similar vein, Bar Kochba, who died in the war that he was fighting against the Romans, and whose army was devastated in that same war, will clearly not come back to be Moshiach, because his war was lost. Similarly, Shabtai Tzvi, who converted to Islam, is clearly not Moshiach.
In any of the three above cases (as well as numerous others) a person could say that the candidate was moshiach, the candidacy failed, and the Geulah will not come about through Moshiach any more. To this, the Rambam Paskens that "If a person did not succeed to this extent, he is not the one about whom the Torah promised." The real Moshiach will finish the job!
So, Moshiach candidacies do have expirations, but the expiration does not have to be something as concrete as death. History tells us that a person's Messianic movement failed, and, at that point, we can look back at that candidate, and realize that "this is not the one about whom the Torah promised."
An even stronger condition for an expiration of a Messianic movement can be found in the Rebbe's comments on in Likutei Sichot, Volume 35 pg. 206, footnote 6. (The text can be viewed at You have to navigate to the Likutei Sichot, Vol. 35, and then put in the page number) The rebbe writes there, explaining why, according to the Psak of the Rambam, we cannot find Dovid Hamelech to be Moshiach, by saying "It would seem to be impossible to say that Dovid himself will be Moshiach, who will be "their prince, forever", because the beginning of the effect of Melech Hamoshiach must take place before the redemption, as is explained in the rambam, and certainly before the time of techiyat hameitim."
(Astoundingly, there are some who have quoted this point of the rebbe as a proof against his candidacy)
This would exclude all leaders of past generations, who, while their teachings continue to have an impact on the Jewish nation, cannot be said to have carried out "the effect of Melech hamoshiach." So, if there were someone who were to say, for example, that the Ba'al Shem Tov is Moshiach, one could say that the Psak of the Rambam excludes him, and, about such a person, the Rambam might teach us that we should not make the error of thinking that the Baal Shem Tov was Moshiach, and that his efforts failed, and we will no longer merit the coming of Moshiach, but rather, "This is not the one about whom the Torah promised."

If, on the other hand, the Geulah comes soon, through the work of the Rebbe, it will be true that "the effect of Melech hamoshiach began in the time before the Geulah" because the Rebbe's work will have been the work that brought about the Geulah.

Just re-emphasize the main points.
1) The Rambam's Psak is not about who can or cannot be Moshiach, it is about not thinking that a failed Moshiach was Moshiach, and that the geulah has been lost.
2) The implication that there must be some condition that makes someone a failed Moshiach does not neccessarily imply that this condition must be death. Rather, it could be what I have called "historical retrospect". Since we have no evidence that death is considered a Condition of Failure, there is no reason to think that it is.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

My Orthodoxy test

Bored, I was looking at some old posts and came across the Orthodoxy test created by Lamedzayin.
I took it and here are my results User Test: The Orthodoxy  Test.
I thought that was kind of funny.
I have to say that I answered truthfully to all the questions, but I had to leave out a few answers, for example, the question about female Orthodox Rabbis, Segulos and the conflict between science and Torah all did not have any answer with which I agreed, so I had to skip them.
Afterwards, I was kind of chuckling, because I think that many Lubavitchers that take that test would probably score a ?Huh?

The Rambam III (My Interpretation)

The proper interpretation of the Rambam, in my opinion, can be understood by looking at the first question that I asked two posts ago.

The issue is: It is important to understand that the Rambam’s book of Halacha is a carefully sourced work. (While the Rambam does not provide sources for his work, he certainly had them) In the vast majority of cases, Rambam does not make statements of his own; he only restates Halachic rulings from the two Talmuds and the Midrash. In rare cases, Rambam steps out of this constraint to deliver a refutation to a position that had some currency in the world of Jewish thought.
However, in this case, according to Gil Theory, neither condition is met. There is no known Talmudic or Midrashic source for the Rambam’s ruling, so it cannot be taken as a restatement, It can only be relevant as a response to a position of some currency. However, up to the time of the Rambam there was no Jewish position that held this way. As such, the Rambam’s ruling, if it is understood as a Condition of Failure, can only be taken as a display of Ruach Hakodesh so mind-bogglingly accurate that it must be prophecy.

But, if we look at the Rambam in a different way, we can solve this problem.

There is a passage in the Talmud Sanhedrin 98b, which reads as follows. Said Rav Gidel: Said Rav: Israel will, in the future, consume the days of Moshiach [Rashi: The satiety that will be in those days, will be for Israel.]. Said R’ Yosef: This is obvious. Who then will eat them? Will Chilik and Billik eat them? This comes to exclude the opinion of R’ Hillel, who said: There is no Moshiach for Israel, for they have already consumed it in the days of Chizkiyah.
On 99a, the Talmud reads: “R’ Hillel said: There is no Moshiach for Israel, for they have already consumed it in the days of Chiziyah. Said R’ Yosef: May R’ Hillel’s Master forgive him! When was Chizkiya? In the time of the First Temple. And Zechariah prophesies in the time of the Second Temple. And he says: Rejoice exceedingly, daughter of Zion, celebrate, daughter of Jerusalem, behold your king comes, he is righteous and saved, he is a poor man, riding on a donkey.

The opinion of R’ Hillel, which is rejected by the mainstream of the Talmud is that, although Israel was promised redemption through Moshiach, they forfeited that promise by failing to merit that redemption when the redeemer arose, in the time of Chizkiyah. Thus, the prophecy that the Rambam quotes from Bilam, about “A star arising in Jacob” and the prophecies of Yeshayahu and Micha, and the others, who speak of the King Moshiach, were supposed to have been fulfilled in Chizkiyah, and, since Israel did not merit the full redemption at that time, we have lost the privilege of being redeemed by Moshiach. (Rashi takes the position that R’ Hillel’s opinion is that the redemption would still happen, only not through the Moshiach, rather G-d himself will redeem the people.)

The Talmud rejects this position, with Rav Yosef refuting it through demonstrating that, long after Chizkiyah, there were still prophecies about the coming of Moshiach.

I would suggest that it is this rejection which the Rambam is codifying in what we have called Clause C of Melachim 11:5. Suppose there does arise a king who begins to carry out the tasks of Moshiach. But, the king does not succeed. (Leave aside the question of how we can demonstrate that he did not succeed.) Let us just take this as a given that the man has been clearly shown to have failed in his efforts to redeem Israel. Someone might suggest that all the promises of the Torah about King Moshiach were directed at this King. And, since he failed, Israel has forfeited that promise, and we should no longer await the coming of Moshiach.
Just to make it more concrete, let us take Bar Kochba as an example. Bar Kochba was believed by many Jews to be Moshiach. (Rabbi Akiva applied to him Bilam’s prophecy, and this is where he got his name.) Looking back, it is clear that Bar Kochba did not, and will not, bring about the redemption of the Jewish people. Bar Kochba’s war was lost, and the Roman’s utterly destroyed him, his army and his kingdom. History has moved on and the Jewish redemption cannot even take the form of a victorious war against the Romans, because they don’t really exist anymore. So, the logical thing to do would be to accept the fact that R’ Akiva’s description of Bar Kochba as the fulfillment of Bilam’s prophecy was not correct.

But, we are confronted with a Neo-R’ Hillel.
Neo-R’ Hillel claims that, in fact, Bar Kochba was the one about whom the Torah promised when it said “A Star shall go forth from Jacob.”
But, Neo-R’ Hillel’s listeners argue, Bar Kochba did not bring about the redemption of the Jewish people.
Neo-R’ Hillel nods sadly. This is true, he concedes, but, Bar Kochba was the one about whom the Torah promised. Unfortunately, he did not merit carrying out his mission.
So, say the listeners, shouldn’t we continue to await the coming of Moshiach?
No, says Neo R’ Hillel, there will be no Moshiach for Israel; the Jews have already consumed that merit in the time of Bar Kochba.
But, the listeners rage, isn’t that position rejected in the Talmud? Don’t the majority of the scholars disagree with this idea?
At this, Neo R’ Hillel smiles. Why did they reject the position? Because there were later prophecies that confirmed the coming of Moshiach, after Chizkiyah’s death. Bar Kochba, on the other hand, came after all those prophecies. Clearly, he is the one about whom the Torah promised, and we should no longer look for any future Moshiach!

At this the Rambam steps in and codifies the Talmud’s rejection of R’ Hillel’s position: He states clearly: If he does not succeed to this extent… then he is NOT the one about whom the Torah promised. No, R’ Hillel, the Torah’s promise of Moshiach must be fulfilled in entirety. If a man fulfills only part of the promise of the Torah, we should not assume that the promise has been lost. Rather, we should assume that the king that you thought might be Moshiach is not Moshiach, he is just a regular, good Jewish king. Any resemblance to Moshiach is there only as a fulfillment of the prophecy in Daniel, which states: Some of the wise men will stumble, to purge, to refine, and to clarify, until the appointed time, for it is yet to come.

I am sure that it is clear to the intelligent reader that this approach resolves three of the four questions that I posed to Gil Theory.
1) What is the Rambam’s Talmudic source for his codification? Answer: The Talmud in Sanhedrin, which rejects the opinion of R’ Hillel. [Very important note: I am not suggesting that the Neo-R’ Hillel position that I invented was one that was current among the Jews in the time of the Rambam, or any other time. Since the Rambam is restating a ruling from the Talmud, it does not have to thrust against any real position held by any Jew. This is not the case in Gil Theory, where the Rambam is not restating a Halacha from the Talmuds. ]
3) Why does the Rambam say that “This is not the one about whom the Torah promised,” instead of simply saying “This is not Moshiach.” Answer: Because the thrust is not against saying that someone is Moshiach. The thrust is against saying that someone was not Moshiach, but he used up the prophecy of Moshiach in the Torah. To this the Rambam replies “This is not the one about whom the Torah promised.”

4)Why doesn’t the Rambam state explicitly “If he died,” rather than using the phrase “if he did not succeed to this point? (According to Gil Theory, this was a problem, because Gil Theory suggests that the Rambam is saying that someone who dies cannot be Moshiach, but the Rambam is talking to someone who believes that someone who dies may yet “succeed to this extent,” so, why does the Rambam leave out his main thrust?) But, according to our interpretation there is no problem. The Rambam is talking to someone that agrees that the candidate did not (and will not) “succeed to this extent.” He is stating that such a person cannot be considered the “one about whom the Torah promised.”

The only question left to answer is 2) Why does the Rambam say “If he did not succeed to this extent, or was killed”?
I would suggest that the answer here may be that the Rambam is using the method of Lo Zu Af Zu, a common method in Halachic literature, where one presents two cases, in order of novelty. The Rambam is saying that not only can the Neo-R’ Hillel not be right in the case of “He did not succeed to this point” he also cannot be right in the case of “he was killed.” Because, the Neo R’ Hillel might argue the following. True, Chizkiyahu is not the one about whom the Torah promised. But, we know this (not because he did not succeed, but) because, after he won the war against Sancheiriv, he did not continue to attempt to carry out the Messianic mission, (of returning the exiled tribes of Israel.) So, clearly he was not the one. But, Bar Kochba continued to try, to the end of his life, to redeem Israel, and he was killed in doing so. So, perhaps he was the intended Moshiach, and his death was the foiling of the Messianic prophecy. To this, the Rambam adds, that not only the one who did not succeed to this extent, but also the one who was killed, cannot be the one about whom the Torah promised, and the real Moshiach is yet to come.

I think that if you read these three posts with an open mind, you will see that my explanation of the Rambam is far more plausible than Gil’s. So, there is nothing Halachically wrong with believing that the Rebbe is Moshiach.

There is still one question on this, and that is that the fact that the Rambam alludes to someone that did not succeed creates a condition of failure by implication. So, doesn’t that exclude that Rebbe, indirectly?I have already alluded to the answer to this question in an earlier part of this post, and I will address it more fully, later.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Rambam (Part II)

(Continued from prior post.)
When I posted my previous post, I omitted a fourth objection to Gil’s theory that the Rambam rules out the Rebbe from being Moshiach. I had taken such a long time to put the previous post together, that I wanted to get it up already.
This objection requires a bit of subtle reasoning, but, I think that it is quite strong. According to the Gil theory, the thrust of the Rambam in clause C is to rule that if someone dies before bringing the Geulah, he can no longer be Moshiach.
Let us bypass our objection #1 in the previous post by imagining a group that we call proto-Lubavitch, who believed that their dead leader was in fact Moshiach. According to the Gil theory, the Rambam is speaking to them and negating their belief, informing them that since their leader has died, he can no longer be considered a possible Moshiach.
If this is, in fact, what the Rambam is doing, he certainly has a funny way of going about it. Let us use the terms of symbolic logic to examine the Rambam’s words. Let the proposition P be “the leader has died” and the proposition Q be “the leader is a possible Moshiach.” If Gil theory is correct, what the Rambam is saying is “if ‘P’, then ‘not Q’.” The Rambam should say “If he died without accomplishing these things, then he is not Moshiach (and he will not succeed in accomplishing these things in the future.)”
But, in fact, the Rambam does not say this. He says, according to Gil Theory, “if not Q, then not Q.” He says “If he does not succeed to this extent, then he is not Moshiach (and will not succeed to this extent.) Or, to simplify, he is saying “If he did not succeed to this extent, then he did not succeed to this extent.” This statement is a meaningless tautology. The only thing that gives it meaning is the way the Gil’niks read in to this statement. They say that the Rambam’s statement can only be understood if you stick in the following words “If he did not succeed to this extent (because he died and once he died he cannot come back to life and complete the job) then he will not succeed to this extent. IOW, the Gil’niks make the Rambam comprehensible by reading him as saying “if not Q (because p = not q) then not Q.” So, the only information conveyed to us by the Rambam is that information that is unstated and left to be reasoned out by the reader.
The Talmudic expression for this objection is “HaIkar Chaser Min Hasefer” - “The principle part is missing from the text.” This objection is not fatal, but it does make Gil Theory more dubious. As I will demonstrate in my next post, there is another interpretation of the Rambam that resolves this problem, as well as the three that I presented in my previous post.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Rambam (finally)

Here is the Rambam, Hilchot Melachim, chapter 11, section 4. A good bit of this was censored by the Christians, and you will not find it in standard editions, and I will put the censored part in brackets. I have also lettered the paragraphs for easy reference.

A. If there will arise a king from the house of David, well versed in Torah, and occupied in Mitzvot as David, his ancestor, in accordance with the written Torah and the oral Torah, and he will compel all Israel to go in it, and to strengthen its breaches, and he will fight the wars of G-d, behold, this one is in the status of being considered Moshiach;
B. and if he did all this and was successful, and built the Temple in its place, and gathered in the exiles of Israel, he is certainly Moshiach, and he will correct the world to go in the way of G-d, as it is written, “for then, I will transform the nations to have a clear speech, that they all should call in the name of G-d, and serve him in unity.”

C. [And if he did not succeed to this extent, or he was killed, it is known that he is not the one about whom the Torah promised, rather he is like all other Jewish kings that are Kosher, that died. And G-d has only sent him to test the multitudes, as G-d only caused him to arise in order to test the multitude. As it is written [Daniel 11:35], "Some of the wise men will stumble, to purge, to refine, and to clarify, until the appointed time, for it is yet to come."

D. Also Jesus of Nazareth who aspired to be the Mashiach and was executed by the court was also spoken of in Daniel's prophecies [Daniel 11:14], "The renegades among your people shall exalt themselves in an attempt to fulfill the vision, but they shall stumble.” Can there be a greater stumbling block than this? All the prophets spoke of Moshiach as the redeemer of Israel and their savior, who would gather their dispersed ones and strengthen their mitzvos. And he caused the Jews to be slain by the sword, their remnants to be scattered and humiliated, the Torah to be altered, and the majority of the world to err and serve a god other than the L-rd.

E. Nevertheless, the intent of the Creator of the world is not within the power of man to comprehend, for [Yeshayahu 55:8] His ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts our thoughts. [Ultimately,] all the deeds of Jesus of Nazareth and that Ishmaelite who arose after him will only serve to pave the way for the coming of Mashiach and for the improvement of the entire world, [motivating the nations] to serve G-d together, as it is written [Zephaniah 3:9], "I will make the peoples pure of speech so that they will all call upon the Name of G-d and serve Him with one purpose.

F. How will this come about? The entire world has already become filled with talk of Messiah, as well as of the Torah and the mitzvos. These matters have been spread among many spiritually insensitive nations, who discuss these matters as well as the mitzvos of the Torah. Some of them say: "These commandments were true, but are not in force in the present age; they are not applicable for all time." Others say: "Implied in the commandments are hidden concepts that cannot be understood simply; the Messiah has already come and revealed them."

G. When the true King Moshiach will arise and prove successful, exalted and uplifted, they will all return and realize that their ancestors endowed them with a false heritage; their prophets and ancestors cause them to err.]

The key clause is clause C above. Those who attack Lubavitch with this clause say that the Rambam is clear that if the Moshiach candidate dies, he is no longer fit to be Moshiach. It is very important to note that this reads clause C as a “conditions of failure clause.” In other words this position reads clauses A, B, and C as a “success and failure” formulation. Rambam states the conditions for Moshiach’s success, followed by the conditions for Moshiach’s failure. This is a fairly standard formula followed by Rambam throughout the fourteen volumes of his work. If condition x is met, the Get is valid, if condition y is met, the Get is invalid. If condition x is met, the food is Kosher, if condition y is met, the food is not Kosher.

Now, while this formula is very common in the Rambam’s work, I will argue that it is not the formula being used in this Halacha. I will demonstrate that reading Clause C as a “conditions of failure” (COF) clause is creates tremendous difficulties, and leaves the Rambam nearly incomprehensible. I will not argue that this position is completely untenable, only that it is very forced, and that another reading, which leaves the Rebbe’s candidacy for Moshiach open, is much more plausible.

Before, I proceed to that part of the discussion, it is important to tie up some loose ends. There is Mishichist literature that addresses this point (it is too obvious to be ignored) and they attempt to resolve it, while retaining the overall assumption that clause C is a COF clause. They point out that the Rambam says that a person is rendered “not Moshiach” through a) “not succeeding to this extent,” or b) “being killed.” He clearly does not give “dying” as a COF. They argue that this demonstrates that the Rambam did not mean to consider merely dying as a COF. Rather a person would be a failed candidate only if he announced that he was giving up his effort (not succeeding to this extent), or if he was killed in the very wars of Moshiach. Being killed in the wars of Moshiach would be a clear demonstration that the Moshiach was a failure. But, merely dying would be nothing more than taking a short break, and Moshiach could very well return to finish the job.
This position has been refuted by many writers, including Gil, and they may have some strong points.

Now, I will add another objection to this position. It is obvious that many Mishichisten believe that the Rebbe began to fulfill the “success conditions” listed in Clause A of the Rambam above. They argue that the Rebbe was learned and pious, initiated the worldwide Teshuva campaign, and, they argue the Rebbe fought the wars of G-d. Although this did not take place on the physical level, they argue that the wars of G-d may be understood metaphorically, as referring to battling the forces of Kelipah, by bringing Torah to the world. Now, taking into account that the wars of G-d that Moshiach fights take place on the spiritual plane, would it not also be logical to argue that the “killed in battle” that the Rambam lists as a failure condition would also be on the spiritual plane. And, if this is so, it is not clear that the Rebbe’s death, coming so soon after he intensified his efforts to bring about the redemption, raising those efforts to unprecedented levels, would constitute “being killed in battle?”

So, I reject the notion that this can be a satisfactory response to the problem that this Halacha presents.

However, the question is: Is Clause C meant to a COF clause in the first place?

Here are the objections to that position:
1) Suppose, in fact, Clause C is a COF clause. In this case, the thrust of the Rambam’s ruling is that if a person was a candidate as Moshiach, and then dies, that person must be abandoned as a Moshiach candidate. In other words, the Rambam is speaking directly at Lubavitch. We could almost call Clause C “the Lubavitch Clause.”
The trouble with this reasoning is that, in the time of the Rambam, there was no Lubavitch. How did the Rambam know that, 900 years later, a movement would arise and make the very claim that he negates so presciently in his work?!
While this objection sounds facetious, it is not. It is important to understand that the Rambam’s book of Halacha is a carefully sourced work. (While the Rambam does not provide sources for his work, he certainly had them) In the vast majority of cases, Rambam does not make statements of his own, he only restates Halachic rulings from the two Talmuds and the Midrash. In rare cases, Rambam steps out of this constraint to deliver a refutation to a position that had some currency in the world of Jewish thought. For instance, Rambam’s statement that one should not make the mistake of believing that G-d forces a person to act righteously, or wickedly, this being the opinion of “most blockheads of Israel.” Although there may not be a direct Talmudic or Midrashic source for this thrust, it is nevertheless a statement that the Rambam makes, because it addresses a position that holds currency within Jewish thought, namely, that man’s life is fatalistic. However, in this case, neither condition is met. There is no known Talmudic or Midrashic source for the Rambam’s ruling, so it cannot be taken as a restatement, so it can only be relevant as a response to a position of some currency. However, up to the time of the Rambam there was no Jewish position that held this way. As such, the Rambam’s ruling, if it is understood as a COF, can only be taken as a display of Ruach Hakodesh so mind-bogglingly accurate that it must be prophecy.

And please, please, don’t make the mistake of claiming that the Christians hold this belief, and the thrust of the Rambam is against Christianity. They most certainly do not. As I hope to explain in a later post, this is not the Christian belief at all. Additionally, the rest of the Halacha is taken up with a complete refutation of the possibility that J was Moshiach. Obviously, then, this first part, where the Rambam addresses a case where the dead king is like “All Kosher kings of Israel” is not an allusion to the Christian founder.

2) If the clause is a COF, the question obviously presents itself: Why does the Rambam use the words “did not succeed to this extent, or was killed”? Why not just include it all in the phrase “and if he died before succeeding to this extent”? If this is a COF clause, doesn’t the Rambam’s singling out the condition of “was killed” seem to exclude the condition of “dying”?
Gil put together a booklet in which he attempts to demonstrate with Lomdus that the Rebbe cannot be Moshiach. Of course, he knows that this question is a serious one against his position, so he posits the following fantastic interpretation of the Rambam. He claims that the COF of failure clause must be interpreted in the following way: “If he did not succeed to this extent” [Gil: This means that he died before accomplishing the building of the Beit Hamikdash, ingathering of the exiles, restoration of all the laws of the Torah to their ideal state, leading all the nations to serve one G-d, etc.] “or he was killed” [Gil: This means that he was killed AFTER accomplishing all those things] “then it is certain that this is not the one about whom the Torah has promised.”
So, Gil is conceding that, unless one accepts the notion that a person can do everything that the Rambam says that he has to do to be Moshiach Vadai (The assured Moshiach) and still be disqualified through being killed after having built the Beit Hamikdash, ingathering the exiles, etc, etc, etc, then, one must admit that reading this clause as a COF clause has a serious hole.
Now, it does not take much effort to reject Gil’s ludicrous notion here, but let’s do it anyway. 1) The Rambam says that once a person has accomplished the slate of things that Moshiach must accomplish, he is Moshiach Vadai. Vadai means that the game is over, the Geulah has come. To say that Moshiach being killed after this would disqualify him beggers logic. 2) The Rambam, L’Halacha, holds that it is perfectly feasible for Moshiach to die. If this is the case, why should his being killed after bringing the Geulah disqualify him?
So, since Gil’s position is pretty weird, we are left with the question: If this is a COF clause, why the redundant awkward language instead of a straight, simple statement?

3) If this is a condition of failure clause, why does the Rambam alter his failure language from his success language. Clause A says that if Moshiach achieves ABC, Harei Zeh B’Chezkas Moshiach. Clause B says that if Moshiach achieves XYZ, Harei Zeh Moshiach Vadai. So Clause C should say that if Moshiach does not accomplish ABCXYZ, Harei Zeh Eino Moshiach. Why does the Rambam use the lengthy phrase “It is known that this is not the one about whom the Torah promised”?

So, we have introduced three serious objections against reading this clause of the Rambam as a COF clause. In my next post, I will introduce an alternate understanding of this clause of the Rambam, in a way that all three objections are resolved. We will demonstrate that the Rambam is, in fact, restating a Talmudic ruling, that both phrases (did not succeed, and was killed) are necessary, and that the best way for the Rambam to negate the Messianic status of the individual under consideration is to use the phrase “This is not the one about whom the Torah promised.”

Friday, November 18, 2005

Addressing the Sources

Many people that have a problem with Chabad believing that the Rebbe is Moshiach really have a lot of other problems with Chabad.
1) People don’t like Chabad’s relationship with the Rebbe.
2) People don’t like the trailblazing attitude that Chabad has in its global work, often circumventing “normal” Jewish channels and going of on their own projects.
3) People have a problem with Chabad’s attitude that their way Judaism is better than everyone else.
4) There are certain circles where hatred of Chassidim is traditional, and a means to becoming a prominent figure in one’s community. Certain individuals in these communities became “Gedolim” on the strength of their attacks against Chabad.
But, there are also some people who truly believe that Chabad is wrong for believing that the Rebbe is Moshiach because of various srouces that these people claim contradicts the possibility that Moshiach can be someone that has died. Rabbi Gil Student, in his book Can the Rebbe Be Moshiach, purports to “prove” that this is not the case. In the next several posts, I will address what I feel are the main two objection sources.

(In Gil’s book, he brings several other sources, but many of them are not even worth replying to. If anyone looks at the book and finds a convincing argument, please email me and I will try to respond to it, or admit to being wrong.)

The most important “source” is the Rambam in Hilchot Melachim. This source is exceptionally important, in fact, the Rebbe himself gave it great weight, in his talks against the religious Zionist movement, who claimed that the founding of the state was the beginning of the Geulah. In talk after talk, the Rebbe argued that this is impossible, because the Rambam rules that the order of the Geulah is 1) wars of G-d, 2) building of the Beit Hamikdash, and 3) ingathering of the exiles. The Rebbe stressed that, although there may be Midrashic sources for the ingathering of the exiles happening as an “Itchalta D’Geulah” – a beginning of the redemption, these sources cannot be used to contradict the Halachic ruling of the Rambam, whose authority in this area was unchallenged by any other Halachic authority.

Thus, if it can be demonstrated that the Rambam clearly rules against the possibility of the Rebbe being Moshiach, an honest Lubavitcher would surely be obligated to admit that the Rebbe either cannot be Moshiach, or must be alive.

However, in my opinion, the Rambam does not give this ruling at all. Attempts to conclude that the Rambam does do so are based on a faulty analysis of the Rambam’s words. In my next post, I will attempt to demonstrate that there is an alternate way to understand the Rambam’s ruling, and that this alternate way is actually more plausible than the way that leads to the conclusion that the Rebbe cannot be Moshiach. At the outset, I will freely admit that I approached this Rambam with precisely this intention in mind, and, therefore, my conclusions are not the result of purely objective analysis. I would, however, argue, that the same can be said for people like Gil, who understand the Rambam as rejecting the Rebbe’s candidacy as Moshiach. These people did not approach the Rambam without the preconceived assumption that it would support their position.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The people that believe that the Rebbe is alive.

(continued from previous post)
The point that I am getting at, of course, is that there is a strong tradition within Judaism to say that, when Torah contradicts an event that one witnessed, one dimply denies the event, and treats it as a Nisayon. A well known example of this is the Midrash about Avraham on the way to the Akeidah.
While many may disagree with this approach, it certainoly has its place within the Jewish world.
The Tzfatim believe that every word of the Rebbe is Torah. They further believe, based on several statements that the Rebbe made, that the Rebbe assured the Chassidim that he would not die. As such, they deny the fact of the Rebbe's death.
Now, after the Rebbe passed away, in 1994, there was obviously a large disagreement over this, and many other issues. In 1996, the most extreme Tzfatim found themselves to be a significant portion of the Yeshiva in 770, and decided that, in order to demonstrate their position, they would begin holding Tefilot at the traditional time of the Rebbe's Tefillot. They also began a campaign to encourage Israeli Bochurim to travel to New York each Tishrei, to "spend Tishrei with the Rebbe."
Each year, the visiting group would come up with a new way to demonstrate that "nothing has changed." One year, they added "the Rebbe's Lulav." Another year, making a path for the Rebbe to "walk" through. This has taken on a life of its own.
The obvious question is: If very few people in Lubavitch actually believe that the Rebbe is alive, why do they allow this to go on.
I think that the answer lies in several areas.
1) Although they don't agree that the Rebbe is alive, many Lubavitchers do believe that the Rebbe is Moshiach. As such, they are hesitant to "take on" such a vibrant, energetic group that is more or less aligned with their way of feeling.
2) Many people with whom I have spoken believe that, while the Rebbe did pass away, he is still our Rebbe. Thus, they feel that proactively fighting this group is "cooling off Emunah."
3) Many residents of Crown Heights relish the sense of vitality that these people bring when they come for Tishrei. For years, Crown Heights would take on an incredible energy during Tishrei, and the Tzfatim bring that energy, still.
Now, it is important to stress that, while most Lubavitchers disagree with these people, they do understand where they are coming from. They do not view them as psychotic, or dangerous.
My personal opinion is that these people are wrong.
While I do not disagree with the premise that when there is an out and out contradiction between the Torah and the world, that one should believe in Torah and deny world, I nevertheless feel that this idea should be used very, very sparingly. I do not think that the few statements of the Rebbe, which ought to be interpreted as hopeful wishes, rather than predictions. rise to this level at all.
I also feel that Lubavitch is doing itself a great disservice by allowing the Tzfatim to run 770. I believe that their approach to this issue shows a fatal theological immaturity, and it is a great mark of shame on those Lubavitch leaders who believe in the continuing Nesiut of the Rebbe to allow this to go on unchecked.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The People That Believe That the Rebbe is Alive

The People That Think The Rebbe is Alive.

I thought about moving this blog from light to heavy, first dealing with the question of whether Chabad is heretical for saying that the Rebbe is Moshiach, and moving slowly upwards. But, then, I figured, why not start at the top?
Miriam Shaviv has a post on her blog, that links to a video showing the Tzfatim (and others) acting as if the Rebbe was in the room with them, during Tefilot and Kosh Shel Bracha. She follows it up with another one, and the usual suspects have their friendly Chabad Bash-in.
DovBear has a comment that sums up what a lot of the ordinary people of the world are probably thinking. In that same comments section, you can find rants from many commentors, calling this belief "kefirah" "heresy" "psychosis" and lots of other fun stuff.
Now, I am in a bit of a dilemma here, because I, personally, do not believe this stuff. I feel that the "rebbe is alive" crowd is very destructive, and that they are misguided. So, I don't really feel like defending a position with which I disagree. But, I will say that I think that it is important for people to understand where these people are coming from. So, I am going to inaugurate this effort by posting an explanation of this perspective.

First of all, let me say that I am very puzzled by the assertion that this is a reflection of "heresy" or "Avodah Zarah." It definitely is not. Even if there were absolutely no basis for it, it is not heresy. Having mistaken, or even ridiculous opinions does not a heretic make. If a Jew is convinced that the moon is made of green cheese, and claims that this belief is based on a careful reading of the Rambam, he is not a heretic. You can call him a fool, but that is where it ends. The fact that there are so many people that call this "heresy" "dangerous", etc. shows me that there is a lot of Chabad-Hatred latent in the discussion.
Secondly, let me say clearly that I have spent a lot of time talking with a lot of the Tzfatim. They are definitely not psychotic. There is a guy named Ariel Sokolovsky, who posts on various sites. He is psychotic. There is a guy named Shmarya, who has an anti-Chabad site, he is delusional. These guys are neither. Many of them are very smart, and clear-headed. They get things done, live normal lives, marry, raise families, observe Halacha, etc. Their problem lies, in my opinion, in one basic mistake.
I will try to explain their perspective (and, hopefully, show how it is mistaken.) But, before I do so, I want to pose a question:
Suppose there was an assertion in the Torah, in which you believed without a shadow of a doubt. And, then, something happened that contradicted that assertion. How would you handle that event?
Would you:
1) decide that the Torah assertion was wrong, and discard your belief in Torah.
2) decide that both were right, and seek to reconcile them.
3) decide to disbelieve the event that you witnessed, and, instead, to believe the assertion of the Torah.
(to be continued)