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)