Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Man, the University, the Mystery!

Do you recognize this man?

I decided to turn my attention to a man who has gained a great amount of popularity during his lifetime for his Torah, charisma, soul-stirring discourses and never-ending efforts for the sake of strengthening Judaism in America and the world-over; רבי מנחם מענדל שניאורסון (a name, I recently discovered, which was once changed from "שניאורי", which obviously meant "son of שני-אור", after שני-אור זלמן מליאדי).

I was having a conversation with some gentlemen over at "Dixie Yid"s blog last week (very nice blog by the way) about the ruling of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Scheerson concerning the impropriety of university attendance. I countered with something that has always bothered me about Chabad Chassidim; the fact that they adhere to relatively fundamentalist viewpoints of "the Rebbe", while Rabbi Schneerson himself could have been seen as somewhat of a modernizer. In this example Rabbi Schneerson advised against university attendance, while he himself had attended a number of universities in both Germany and France. Other obvious examples include his comparative "modernity" of dress (in his circles what he was wearing was quite outlandish!), while the official dress of his Chassidim is of much more of a Traditionalist-Polish-Jewish fashion, and his including sources from secular knowledge into is discourses, while he, again, advised against the acquisition of such knowledge.

The gentlemen I was talking with responded that Rabbi Schneerson's university studies cannot be taken as an example to others, considering he was less susceptible to the undesirable influences of the university environment. One of them suggested that it wasn't even the idea of Rabbi Menachem Mendel at all, but that he was sent by his father in law, the Rebbe of Lubavitch.

I started to take a bit of interest in this seeming shift in interests of Rabbi Sheersohn, and tried to discover for what reason he attended in the first place (according to records Rabbi Schneerson first attended University of Berlin for little more than a semester, then attended a technical school in Paris where he received a licence for engineering, and then studied math at the Sorbonne until the war broke out).

From what I read online, it seems that Rabbi Schneerson, having studied Torah under his illustrious father and having received Rabbinical ordination from the famed Rabbi Yosef Rosen (צפנת פענח), harbored a keen interest in general knowledge and languages, having learned Russian on his own while still at home. He later visited the (then) Rebbe of Lubavitch for the first time (who had only daughters), and quickly became engaged to one of his younger daughters (the conditions of which are not clear). After the marriage his father in law was criticized for his son's dressing in modern clothing, and having somewhat of a secular education.

The couple then made their famous trip to Germany, where both Rabbi Schneerson and his wife would be able to continue their studies. Rabbi Menachem Mendel audited a few interesting courses at the University of Berlin, and his newlywed wife, Chaya Mushka (Musenka), took some classes at the "Deutsche Institute". It seems that Rabbi Schnerson was somewhat dismayed by the lack of seriousness among the students, and decided instead to spend his time acquiring knowledge (both secular and holy) on his own pace, in the university library and at Hildesheimer (Rabbinical Seminary). During this time he was said to have met with men who were to themselves become Jewish leaders in America. I'm speaking of course about Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveichik and Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner. They both attested to his piety and his keeping of strict religious practices in unlikely conditions. The couple was supported by her father, who, it's suggested, took interest in the idea of his son in law learning a reasonable trade, in order to support himself.

He allowed himself the liberty of this secularism, seemingly, because he was not in line to become the next Rebbe. The Rebbe's eldest daughter was already married to someone by the name of Rabbi Shemaryah Gur-Ari (a name slightly familiar to me from hearing Crown Heights people talk Chabad politics with each other), who spent all his time with the Rebbe, and produced a healthy son, something Rabbi Schneerson had yet to produce.

An even more informing proof that that Rabbi Scheerson had an acute desire to acquire knowledge, and did not think he would succeed his father in law, is that the couple subsequently moved to Paris, and lived in an upscale neighborhood with their brother and sister in law (where they were reportedly "very modern"). He succeeded in completing a two year course at ESTP (a technological college for construction and industrial engineering), and obtained a licence for electrical engineering (which he ended up taking advantage of for Tikun-Olam in America towards the end of the war). He then continued to register at Sorbonne, where he studied math until the war broke out (obviously not to obtain a degree of any kind).

It has become my conviction, though, that his opinions about modernism changed radically when he came to the United States, and was found to be a more promising candidate for Rebbe then that Rabbi Shemaryah fellow. His piousness, Torah knowledge, general knowledge and charisma really left Rabbi Gur-Ari no match for him, and he was eventually chosen (by some sort of general consensus it seems) to be the next Rebbe. Once he was the Rebbe, and the movement started growing tremendously under his leadership, I think the movement started taking on some Polish-style colourisations. Though the Rebbe didn't wear the traditional fur hat, his adherents started looking more and more "Polish". He began advising against university study and began to adhere to a more supernatural approach to things as a result of the responsibilies and possibilities of his post.

This is a letter sent by the Rebbe, for example, about the ideologies of Samson Raphael Hirsch about secular university, and why he feels Hirsch's opinions cannot be applied to the situation in the United States. I must say, while I do not disagree with many of the points in this letter (but do admit that some of the points are debatable), I feel that it is possible that his change in his public stance on these subjects came as a direct result of the responsibility he felt he had to Jewry as the Lubavitcher Rebbe (in other words it wasn't his personal opinion, but his "professional" opinion).

These are some some of the sites I used to gather this somewhat controversial info:

Wikipedia. (Of course!)


"Failed Messiah".

עבדא דמרא-


Crawling Axe said...

You don’t get it. What the Rebbe is, who the Rebbe is and why. Charisma, shmarisma. Have you learned a single ma’amor of his? Any sichos? Chabad is not about personalities (I don’t see where you get the Polish line). It’s about the teachings of the Rebbe.

The idea regarding study of chochmas chitzoinius in Chabad goes back to A"R.

Whether or not the Rebbe thought he would be the next Rebbe didn’t matter.

Comparison with that man — feh.

Rachel said...

Okay, I only skimmed through it. (Skimmed is an understatement.)

You're first line made me CRINGE. (Cringe would also be an understatement.)

And since when do you call holy men by their first name? (If you have more respect than to call your parents Bob and Stacy, you should know better in this case too. Seriously.)

Moshe said...

Nice. You did, however, forget to mention something else that the Rebbe did and that the Lubavitch mostly don't do. He learned the whole shas and supposedly he knew it by heart too. His followers, on the other hand, limit themselves to his ma'amors and sichos. There are some "OTDs" who learn gemorah but these are not a majority.

To those who have a problem with this post, let's not forget certain Lubavitch groups and individuals against who no one speaks out. If you don't speak out against them, that means you agree with them and only have yourself to blame.

There's a group that believes that Rebbe is God and they claim that most Lubavitch believe this and are just afraid to say it out loud. I read this in their news paper.

One guy told me that Rebbe didn't die. At the funeral, the Satan clouded people's vision and tricked them into believing that Rebbe died. In reality, Rebbe is alive and well.

My neighbor overheard a kindergarten morah tell her charges to look at the pretty flowers and to thank Rebbe for creating such nice flowers.

Crawling Axe said...

Moshe — some more shtus. Every Lubavitcher takes upon himself on 19th Kislev a mesechet to finish by next 19 Kislev.

Are you not ashamed of yourself? Not for saying loshon ha’rah, not for spreading lies, but even for believing this? Not something an intelligent human being should do.

The whole anti-Chabad rhetoric seen on some blogs just smells bad. It’s not on your level (or whatever politically correct equivalent you want to use — “not your path”, “not your sphira”, “70 faces in Torah”, whatever) to follow Chabad teachings? Fine. But don’t trash something you didn’t give yourself a chance to expose yourself to.

Moshe said...

I worked in Crown Heights for 3 years. Not one of my coworkers, including the boss, learned gemorah.

I was exposed to it and I learned tanya and have it at home.

Believing this? First hand accounts dude. If you say it's not true, speak out. Why is no one speaking out against those people?

Granted, most of these people are BT but they didn't come up with these ideas by themselves. When they're told, while becoming frum, that the Rebbe is the one and all, what do you think is gonna happen?

Oh, and nothing pisses me off as much as Lubavitch trying to convert people who are already frum.

Crawling Axe said...

And I worked with three Jews, and all they did is steal money, kill X-ian babies and beat their wives. (Also, they never showered.)

Are we expected now to lower ourselves to blood libels?

Re: mishigoyim — there are mishigoyim in every group. Since Lubavitch doesn’t reject anyone, it attracts mishigoyim. Halevai there were just mishigoyim. Nay, you have open halacha breakers. Followers of Rav Soloveitchik whose Halacha observience is on the level of Conservative or Reform Jews. Should I now attack him because they used his movement to break Halacha?

This is all regarding one particular group, whose views are incompatible with Halacha. But many things that you said and thought (what with Rebbe being alive or Mashiach) are compatible with Halacha (even though you may disagree or think them foolish).

Who told you that we don’t speak out? People have been saying for 14 years now that the methods these people employ to advertise their believes are damaging to Lubavitch, specifically because they attract criticism of amei ha’aretz or ba’alei machloikes.

You have “learned tanya and have it at home”? Yasher koach. Wait, I’ll go look for a medal. I guess this makes you a boki in Chassidus Chabad. Seven generations producing tens to hundreds of volumes of works, analyzing every aspect of Torah in detail from various perspectives (and this is just in nistar), and you pass judgments from having merely learned one book (until which chapter, pray tell?).

Crawling Axe said...

… tens to hundreds of volumes of works each.

Crawling Axe said...

Also, the whole thing about supposedly not learning Gemara just cracks me up. Were you holding a candle? It’s a bit like saying “I’ve know this man for twenty years. I’ve never seen him kiss his wife once — there was no romance in that family.” Who the hell do you think you are?

Also, who do you think you are to learn Gemara on subway? To learn it in a workplace when you can’t concentrate properly? Is this a detective novel, a Math problem? You are learning Hashem’s Ratzon and Chochma, one with His Etzem (since you’ve learned some Tanya, I supposed you may have gotten to chapter 5). I sometimes think that people who learn Gemara everywhere and all the time (including on Shabbos, on Yom Tov, on Yom Kippur, on Tisha b’Av) also learn it in a bathroom.

The Rebbe said that a child who learns Chassidus before learning Gemara is more connected to Eibeshter than a big “godol” who has learned Gemara (without Chassidus) all his life. The first one sees Hashem in a daf Gemara; the second is boki in the haskala of cows, oxes and lost talleisim.

One baby that is alive is a greater achievement than ten stillborn babies.

Moshe said...

I didn't "not see them learning", they said so themselves.

"a child who learns Chassidus before learning Gemara is more connected to Eibeshter than a big “godol” who has learned Gemara (without Chassidus) all his life."
Sounds exactly the same as what the new age kabbalists say. Why go through all the crap, when you can go straight to the heart of the matter.

If Rebbe is alive, why do you go to his grave?

Crawling Axe said...

I didn’t say I believe that. I said that belief is not treif.

What do people mean when they say that the Rebbe is alive? That the Rebbe is hiding somewhere under a table — perhaps with Yakov Avinu? Some people are crazy, sure. But not everyone is crazy.

Should we perhaps look a little deeper — at what it means for a tzaddik to be alive?

Read what the Rebbe himself said regarding the passing of the Previous Rebbe.

Re: what they said themselves — I don’t care. Do Chassidim learn Gemara? Yes. Are there individuals who don’t learn Gemara — yes, in every group of people. Thinking that Chabad Chassidim are the most prominent group in this aspect is poshut narish.

Crawling Axe said...

Sounds exactly the same as what the new age kabbalists say. Why go through all the crap, when you can go straight to the heart of the matter.

And when you go to a mikveh, it looks like baptism. When you make kiddush, it looks like…

A human being should not think in a knee-jerk fashion. If I am I am because you are you, and you are you, because I am I, I am not I, and you are not you. What are you bringing the new-age kabbalists for? Read what the Rebbe said, in what context, for what reason.

It’s the same story in every discussion.

Crawling Axe said...

This is besides the point that back in the day, people disagreed, but they had derech eretz. Now things seem to have gone back to the days of original machloikes. But the misnagdim of the day were brilliant scholars, and their leaders great tzaddikim, whose machloikes was leshem shomayim.

Today it’s just embarassing — on all fronts.

Moshe said...

The guy said that the Rebbe is in fact alive and hiding somewhere.

I guess it's just my luck that of all the Lubavitch I know, the majority don't learn gemorah and are crazy and think that everyone should be Lubavitch and daven nusach Ari, the one and only true nusach.

Moshe said...

So do something. I don't see anything anywhere denouncing those groups. I don't see any signs on 770 or online. The most vocal are the crazy ones. How come?

Crawling Axe said...

I don’t know. Perhaps we are too busy bringing Mashiach.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

Crawling Axe (the part directed towards me): "Chabad is not about personalities"- I don't know, man, that's going a little far. If Chabad was lead by someone else than the Rebbe I really don't know if it would have grown to the extent that it did in America. True, it's not "all" about personalities; there are myriads of variables which cause events (including Divine), but to minimize her personality I feel is incorrect. Even his "sichos" could have been said in a way that was uninteresting (not that he spoke in the most "emotional" manner, but his speeches and their messages were definitely well liked).

"The idea regarding study of chochmas chitzoinius in Chabad goes back to A"R."- Unfortunately the information is not on me, but I also read that his father in law even cunsulted Sigmond Freud at one point. One of the earlier Rebbe's encouraged opening trade-schools. There are a lot of examples..(I'm just concurring)...

"Whether or not the Rebbe thought he would be the next Rebbe didn’t matter."- I'm not going to ask "so why did he become so negative about going to college" since you have already stated your opinion about that to me.

"Comparison with that man — feh."- Obviously it's not a comparison of personalities or something, just what he has (weather he approved or not) to many of his followers in a historical sense.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

Rachel: You didn't even read it?!

"You're first line made me CRINGE."- What? "Do you recognize this man"? Joking. Yeah, it should be edited, I guess, in a way that seems more respectful. ..I mean, if I wouldn't want Moroccan Rabbis of the past to be spoken of in terms that show disrespect, then I shouldn't discuss Russian Rabbis in such terms.

"And since when do you call holy men by their first name?"- In this point you actually stand on very shakllow ground. Historically last names are recent for Jews (especially Jews in Europe). Even the term "Rav" is somewhat new ("Hillel" and "Shamai", "Abayei" and "Rabba", etc). Even today, in traditionalst Sephardic communities (like that in Brooklyn) Rabbis are still addressed by their first names (for example "H'akham Ovadia" as opposed to "Rav Yosef" or something). In regards to parents there has always been a law (not connected to Rabbis) not to call them by their names. But again, I shall look into changing parts that might be taken as disrespectful.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

Whoah, I started a whole discuassion btween Moshe and Crawling Axe here! I gotta' take a moment to read through it..

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

Moshe: thanks man! A sympathetic ear!

"His followers, on the other hand, limit themselves to his ma'amors and sichos."- Yes, well I didn't mean this as a critique of Chabad Chassidim in general, but is has been something disturbing to me when I visited their areas. Especially from a "Litvish" or Talmudic" perspective it seems to distance them from the meat and potatoes of Judaism. In essence though, I wouldn't put it so much in terms of a lack of Gemara study, but a certain removal from the esentials of textual Judaism. I think one of the biggest flaws among their scholars and students is a disinterest to learn or read anything that's specifically related to Chabad in some way (especially Rabbinic writings (of the "Rishonim" and "Acharonim" periods. In my opinion weather someone is Sefaradi or Ashkenazi, Litvish or Chabad, Orthodox or Conservative, they should not withold from themselves the wealth of knowledge that our Rabbis from EVERY age and EVERY country have given us.

Now don't misunderstand me, I also feel we should read the writings of the Chabad Chasidic dynasties. My Rebbe in High School (who was quite "Litvish", once saw one of the students reading the "דבר מלכות" Chabad newsletter. He told him "don't you have anything better to read?"! I disagree with that. Like Crawling Axe said, the religious writings the Chabad Rebbes produced are insirational and universal, if someone is reading them, it is a good thing. It's no different from reading any other "sefer" from Rabbis of the past.

"If you don't speak out against them, that means you agree with them and only have yourself to blame."- I don't know if I'd go that far. If you don't speak out it means you have little interest in them.

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

Re: Ensuing Discussion:

"Followers of Rav Soloveitchik whose Halacha observience is on the level of Conservative or Reform Jews."- Good point. Which is why it also upsets me when people associate the "Meshichistim" (or whatever they're called) with other elements of Chabad (the Rebbe for example). Their existence though, is undeniable, I myself spent some time alongside Rabbi Kalmanson in Cincinnati, who is known to be the leader of the part of Chabad who believe in the Messianism of the Rebbe..

"Also, who do you think you are to learn Gemara on subway?"- Yes, I'm also a proponent of studying "lighter" things when it's difficult to concentrate.

"..the second is boki in the haskala of cows, oxes and lost talleisim."- Ha. "The haskala of cows"! That's a funny way of putting it.

"..and think that everyone should be Lubavitch and daven nusach Ari"- Yeah, again, another sign of the lack of diversity within Judaism that they show. If they respected other Jewish traditions they would, for example, have different kinds of siddurim for people who might come who aren't Chabad (yet!). Which is why I kind of look at their "kiruv" programs with somewhat of a critical eye, because it's not clear if it's Judaism they're spreading or Chabadism. Obviously that can be countered with statements like "the mitnagdim are also only displaying their brand of Judaism" or something. Still, I feel that the Chabad brand is much more specific.

Rachel said...

Uh, you do realize that the term Chacham Ovadia is nowhere near calling him Ovadia, right?

Read the post. I think of all of the great things he did, the fact that you decided to mostly dwell on a mere university education is silly.

(... And I won't even bother writing about the gag-inducing sinat chinam the post created here. I'm not Chabad, nor a misnaged, but those ludicrous ideas Moshe seems to believe in are funnier than the stupid things televangelist viewers fall for.)

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

Rachel: "..the fact that you decided to mostly dwell on a mere university education is silly"- Perhaps. But again, something both you (and Moshe, I guess) failed to understand is that this was a post only about the Lubavicher Rebbe's university experience, and any possible reasons why he may have ultimately discouraged thousands of Jews to remain uneducated (in a university sense). It was not to praise or show disfavor for the Rebbe (there are already enough people doing both of those, and writing about things would be both bias and not add to anyone new knowledge).

"you do realize that the term Chacham Ovadia is nowhere near calling him Ovadia"- In any writing (especially in a biographical or hagiographical writing), addressing someone by the same title repeatedly can get monotonous. When using a persons name over and over again different forms should be used (as I wouldn't mind Rabbi Yisrael Abuhassera being referred to as "Yisrael" in a biography). Secondly, titles such as "Rabbi" may not have been applicable to a person their entire life. Third, like I mentioned before, it would be more that a little hypocritical to refer to the Talmudic sage "Rabbah" as such, and to add endless titles to later sages.

"..those ludicrous ideas Moshe seems to believe in are funnier than the stupid things televangelist viewers fall for"- There is no question that there are many Jews who believe in the Messianism of the Lubavicher Rebbe. Like I said, I've met with Rav Kalmanson a number of times. He does not hide his beliefs.


Crawling Axe said...

Sorry, I don’t have time to read all the comments, but I’ll just say one thing (and then go hide from the angry Lubavitch mob trying to beat me up for revealing the dirty laundry). There are three types of Lubavitchers (and by this I mean true chassidim, who study all of Yiddishkeit, from Chumash with Rashi and other meforshim, to Shas, to Shulchan Aruch and other rishoinim, to Rogatchover et al., to Tanya, to the Rebbe’s sichos — and keep Halacha):

1. Those that believe that the Rebbe is Mashiach and think the world needs to know.

2. Those that believe that the Rebbe is Mashiach, but think it doesn’t need to be advertised. What needs to be advertised is geulah, Mashiach and revelation of ein od milvadoi. Once the person learns these things in depth, obvious things will become obvious. If not, you can’t force something so intimate on someone else.

3. Those that believe that the Rebbe is not Mashiach but that he should be, and the current situation does not make sense — from nistar or nigleh points of view. Nevertheless, we have a kasha and we have to live with it. These people recognize the kasha no less than the first two groups, but at the same time, don’t prevent the kasha from distracting them from what they believe is a more proper interpretation of halacha.

Now, the first two groups can be split in two sub-groups: those that believe what they believe based on a hergesh or emotion and those that believe what they believe based on clear and obvious intellectual foundation, deep understanding of Halacha, Kabbala and Chabad Chassidus.

Anybody who believes that the first two groups are halachically wrong, heretics, should be avoided or suppressed, doesn’t know what he is talking about and hasn’t studied the issue in depth.

Just to be clear.

Moshe said...

You forgot about those that believe Rebbe is God.

Crawling Axe said...

No I didn’t.

Read what I wrote carefully.

Moshe said...

I did, still don't see it.

I have no problem with group 2. Believe what you want but don't take it upon yourself to educate me in "the error of my ways".

Crawling Axe said...

To clarify. Believing that a human being is G-d is against Halacha. Believing that a naturally diseased human being is Mashiach is, not against Halacha. It may be foolish or wrong in your opinion, because it contradicts Rambam (for example), but believing in foolish things is not against Halacha. It’s not herecy or avoida zarah.

This is besides the point that there are people of the opinion that Rambam does not contracit an idea of a diseased person being Mashiach. Now, you may personally disagree with that statement and think that’s not what Rambam rules, but it doesn’t mean that those who think otherwise are necessarily wrong (halachically). They just hold a different interpretation of Rambam, based on looking at Rambam’s ruling in context.

From strict point of view, ostracizing people who interpret Rambam differently from you is like ostracizing sephardim, because they eat rice on Peisach.

Crawling Axe said...

I may be a little out of touch with mishichist community, but do they go out and educate people that they are wrong in not believing that the Rebbe is Mashiach? Is that what they do, e.g., on mivtzoim? Or do they simply advertise the idea (which they believe needs to be advertised) in their own community and shull?

The second group also believes that ideally, this idea needs to be advertised (not because of the Rebbe — the personality — but because of who he is, the source of Chassidus Chabad). It’s just the particular way the first group does it is wrong, or that advertising it in general is counter-productive (since when people hear an idea of a particular person being Mashiach — chv"sh we actually believe Mashiach is not an abstract idea — they think of you know who, you know who, and the other you know who; i.e., people are immature and emotional, it’s unfortunate, but it’s the reality, and we need to accommodate to it).

Moshe said...

But you do believe that saying that Rebbe is God is herecy, right? Because you keep omitting and/or rephrasing that.

Yeah, you are out of touch. Apparently proselytizing none chabad coworkers is a holy mission. And me being Russian and going to a Russian shul that is not chabad, well that's just wrong.

Crawling Axe said...

This sounds like some sort of interrogation. I clearly said it’s against Halacha. You being Russian and not going to a Russian shull is something else entirely. As to proselytizing — in general, this is nothing wrong with that according to Judaism. It’s a myth, just like that there is no Hell. What is wrong due to being disrespectful is invading other communities — which Chabad doesn’t do.

I don’t know why we are discussing this? What is it you propose everybody should do? Every time somebody does something which is not wise, everyone should speak out? Say l"h? As I said, people are concentrated on making actual difference. Not one little thing at a time, but one major thing at once, as soon as possible. They don’t have time for narishkeit. And certain individual do speak out both publicly and privately.

Crawling Axe said...

Also, if there wasn’t so much hisnagdus to Chabad in general (and don’t tell me it’s because of the particular issues — first it was kedusha, then it was learning Chassidus in yeshiva, recently it was not sleeping in sukkah, not eating seuda shlishis, being less careful with zmanim, eating breakfast before shachris, believing that someone alive could be mashiach, believing that someone dead could be mashiach — at the end of the day, it’s hatred of specifically Chabad), people would speak out more. But because there is, people are more defensive and are more likely to criticize other people for minor things when there is an all-out war against the movement (whose efforts are to bring geulah in our generation).

Crawling Axe said...

“…less likely”, I mean.