Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Mashiach from the Dead in The Five Towns Jewish Times

I was surprised to read an article in the Five Towns Jewish Times last week which seemed to propound the belief that either a) the Rebbe is not really dead, or that b) he will return from the dead to be mashiach.

The article, "Gimmel Tammuz," was written by Yanki Tauber and also appears at Chabad.org. When reading such articles, one needs to realize that it is an art form to hint at these matters without explicitly saying so, so that there is plausible deniability. And what is not said is almost as important as what is said.

Gimmel Tammuz is the yartzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, tz"l. So one would expect a mention that the Rebbe is dead - a zecher tzaddik livracha. Now, perhaps he omits this based on this statement by the Rebbe, which he cites from the Rebbe. (Though depending on how he understands this statement and why he thinks it is an important statement to mention, that might be further proof that he believes the Rebbe to not truly be dead.) However, when there are people around who actively believe that the Rebbe is not really dead, or that he went into hiding and will return, then omitting it carries meaning, and if one wishes to avoid that meaning, one should use zatzal.

Further, thoughout the article, he never mentions that the Rebbe has died. He talks about the funeral and the cemetery, but omits the fact that the Rebbe died:
I remember hearing the news early Sunday morning (Israeli Time) and rushing to the airport. I remember arriving at the cemetery hours after the funeral, in midst of the throng still pouring in, as it would through the night and the days and nights to follow, from all over the world.
He omits what the news is, and talks around it by mentioning cemetery and funeral, such that his readers know to what he is referring while cleverly avoiding a statement that the Rebbe died.

The closest he gets to stating that the Rebbe died is the following:
I remember thinking: The Rebbe, who has redefined virtually every aspect of life, has also redefined death.
The Rebbe thus did not die, but rather redefined death.

Wow. Could you elaborate? He writes later in the article:
In one of his talks, the Rebbe quoted the Talmudic dictum that "Sleep is one sixtieth of death." Well, said the Rebbe, if sleep is a form of death, then death is a form of sleep. Sleep is not a termination or even an interruption of life -- it is a time of foment, the means by which body and soul recoup their energies for a fresh and refreshed onslaught upon the coming day. So is death. Death, said the Rebbe, is a "descent for the sake of ascent," a retraction of the arrow of life so that it can be impelled by the bow of vacuity with redoubled force.
The Rebbe, zatzal, was presumably talking about death in general, for everyone, and eventual techiyat hameitim. In the context of this article, it is talking specifically about the Rebbe.

The impression one gets (or one could get) from this quote is that, unlike normal people who simply die, the Rebbe redefined death. Death is a form of sleep, so he is not dead, just resting. ("No, no, 'e's uh,...he's resting.") He is in hiding somewhere obscured from us, in a "descent for the sake of ascent." It is a retraction of the arrow of life so that it can be impelled by the bow of vacuity with redoubled force. And that redoubled force is presumably the Rebbe's Second Coming.

(Alternatively, the Rebbe is dead, but his death is preparation for his eventual Second Coming.)

Early in the article, he writes:
There was shock and incredulity. There was grief and agony. There was passionate disagreement and fervent expectation and many, many unanswered and unanswerable questions.
What does he mean by these "unanswered and unanswerable questions?" The Rebbe had died. What are the questions?

He answers at the end, after citing the Rebbe that
Death, said the Rebbe, is a "descent for the sake of ascent," a retraction of the arrow of life so that it can be impelled by the bow of vacuity with redoubled force.
he writes:
How? When? Why? The unanswered questions remain unanswered. But we know what we need to do. And we're doing it. You can go see for yourself -- if you reside on planet earth, chances are that you are within driving distance of a Chabad-Lubavitch center.
Thus, the unanswered questions about the Rebbe's death -- or in the later context, it seems the Rebbe's return (being "impelled by the bow of vacuity with redoubled force") -- are: How? When? Why?

What does he mean by these questions? My best guess is: How will the Rebbe return? When? Why did he need to remove himself from the world?

But they know what to do -- to bring the Mashiach -- just as Chabad is always focused on. And they are doing it.

To me, this seems the correct elucidation of this deliberately oblique article. My question is if the editor of the paper realized this as well.

I wonder whether there will be any Letters to the Editor regarding this.

Anyway, consider this blogpost a sign of my "Orthodox Difference."

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Don't be so surprised. The editor/ owner of the 5 Town J Times is Larry Gordon, who has Chabad roots. His father was Nissan Gordon, who wrote for the Algemeiner Zhournal.

Not that its a bad thing, but Larry Gordon has Chabad sympathies. This came out some time ago as well when the paper featured some scathing critiques of David Berger's (scathing) critiques of Chabad.

Anonymous said...

5tjt (www.5tjt.com) runs Lubavitch pieces all the time. They regularly feature pieces by Tauber and similar. Sometimes people may not realize that they are Lubavitch, however, as they often disguise them with titles such as 'from the Chassidic masters', or general Jewish sounding ones.

Larry Gordon is intelligent. He doesn't put the Lubavitch stuff front and center, on the front page, in your face. He doesn't want to turn off people or appear too far out of the mainstream. However, the Lubavitch stuff is there, you just gotta turn some pages till you get to it.

Anonymous said...

Another good example of this recently was how 5tjt handled an article by Marvin Schick that appeared in the Jerusalem Post criticizing some aspects of Lubavitch.

Whereas elsewhere it was published alone, Gordon didn't publish it at first, only doing so when he had a Lubavitch rebuttal to put alongside it.

joshwaxman said...

very interesting. thanks.

I have no problem with Lubavitch articles. In fact, IIRC, there was another article in the same paper which did not strike me as problematic. What surprised me was *meshichist,* moshiach from the dead, Lubavitch articles. and I wonder if the editor, Larry Gordon, realized this about this specific piece, or if it just slipped by his notice.

joshwaxman said...

update:
I've had some correspondence with the editor and it is clear that he saw nothing in the article that implied that the Rebbe ztz"l did not die or that the Rebbe would return from the dead as mashiach. and he continues to see nothing in the article that implies this. he thinks I am way off on this and believes I have an agenda or a desire to have something to blog about.

Anonymous said...

Josh - I support you. Larry Gordon is just defensive on this due to his background and doesn't want to concede your point.

Anonymous said...

why is all hell breaking loose when you see talmidim of a rebbe, that can not come to terms with the demise of their teacher, dosen't chazal tell us that by rabenu hakodesh the talmidim said whoever will proclaim that rebbe died will be stabbed with a sword look in the yevetz on the spot.

joshwaxman said...

cite this "Chazal" inside, please, rather than making fuzzy reference to it and drawing broad conclusions on its basis.

That is, you should not say "Chazal," but rather, "The gemara in Ketubot 104a states," and then give an exact quote. Then give an exact quotation of the Yabetz. Then explain why you think these two cases are parallel. Simply stating "Chazal" and giving an inaccurate summary of the gemara might serve to persuade people who are not familiar with the gemara, but does a disservice to arriving at truth.

first, I'll respond broadly, and then specifically to your point.

the major difference is that this is many years after, and in a situation in which this belief is tangled up in a belief that the Rebbe is mashiach. and so, the belief that the Rebbe is alive props up false messianism. (see how exactly the same thing occurred in Christianity and Sabbateanism.) furthermore, there is a difference between private emotional denial and someone who teaches the public by, for example, writing many articles, who will thus spread the false belief.

that is my broad response. my specific response to the sources will follow.

joshwaxman said...

and here is my response, rooted in the source you mentioned.

The gemara in Ketubot 104a (which can be read here) states:

ההוא יומא דנח נפשיה דרבי גזרו רבנן תעניתא ובעו רחמי ואמרי כל מאן דאמר נח נפשיה דר' ידקר בחרב סליקא אמתיה דרבי לאיגרא אמרה עליוני' מבקשין את רבי והתחתוני' מבקשין את רבי יהי רצון שיכופו תחתונים את העליונים כיון דחזאי כמה זימני דעייל לבית הכסא וחלץ תפילין ומנח להו וקמצטער אמרה יהי רצון שיכופו עליונים את התחתונים ולא הוו שתקי רבנן מלמיבעי רחמי שקלה כוזא שדייא מאיגרא [לארעא] אישתיקו מרחמי ונח נפשיה דרבי אמרו ליה רבנן לבר קפרא זיל עיין אזל אשכחיה דנח נפשיה קרעיה ללבושיה ואהדריה לקרעיה לאחוריה פתח ואמר אראלים ומצוקים אחזו בארון הקדש נצחו אראלים את המצוקים ונשבה ארון הקדש אמרו ליה נח נפשיה אמר להו אתון קאמריתו ואנא לא קאמינא

That is, they stated this not when Rabbi Yehuda haNasi was already dead, but rather when he was *sick* and on the verge of death.
When bar Kappara saw that Rabbi Yehuda haNasi died, rather than tell them directly, such that the pain would cause them to say that bar Kappara was worthy of being pierced with a sword, he spoke in allegory. They immediately surmised that he meant that Rabbi Yehuda haNasi had died and they exclaimed, "he has died." He then told them, "You have said it and not me."

That is, bar Kappara, immediately upon seeing Rabbi Yehuda haNasi had died, tore kriya and accepted that his Rebbe had died. When bar Kappara told the Rabbanan in careful terms, they also immediately surmised that Rabbi Yehuda haNasi had died.

*After* hearing that he had died, they did NOT continue to deny that he had died.

Now it is your turn. Argue based on sources quoted directly.

joshwaxman said...

since you haven't responded yet, let me help you out by giving the text of the Ya'betz you mentioned. what do you think it means, and what relevance does it have to the case at hand?
(i'll wait a little bit, and then provide and explanation about how it is irrelevant to the case at hand, and perhaps how you are misreading it in a meshichist manner -- and why this is a misreading)

ידקר בחרב:
שמא מתוך שגזרו כך לא היה יכול למות, מאחר שאין אדם רשאי להודיע דבר מיתתו, א"כ כשימות ואין רואה ומודיע להתעסק בקבורתו, יהא מוטל בבזיון, לפיכך מתוך כך לא היה יכול להפטר מן העולם, ולא קרב אליו אדם לראותו עד שנתנו רשות לבר קפרא

joshwaxman said...

to translate:
"[he who informs us that Rabbi Yehuda haNasi has died] shall be pierced with a sword:
Perhaps by decreeing this he was not able to die. For once no man is permitted to make known the matter of his death, when he dies and no one sees and makes it known to take care of his burial, he would remain in a state of disgrace. Therefore, because of this, he was unable to pass from the world. And no one came close to him to see him until they game permission to Bar Kappara."

Now, what does what the Ya'betz say have anything whatsoever to do with students in denial of their teacher's passing? If anything, his words take any aspect of an emotional state of denial from the story. So, in sum, this oblique reference to "Chazal" and Ya'betz is simply incorrect.

UNLESS...

Unless you did not intend a state of denial at all in reference to the Ya'betz. Unless you are a meshichist, and think that the first ferw words of his commentary, cited out of context - שמא מתוך שגזרו כך לא היה יכול למות - is relevant to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zt"l. That similarly, since some of the Rebbe's students are in a similar state of denial, the Rebbe actually is NOT dead and is in fact alive.

If so, I can understand why you would only make oblique reference rather than spelling it out.

And just to make clear to all, this is not a sensible explanation of the Ya'betz's commentary.

The Ya'betz was NOT saying that there is a mystical state of affairs that if students of a rebbe deny his death, he is still alive. Rather, quite clearly, the Ya'betz is saying that when Rabbi Yehuda haNasi was still alive, a decree like this would be efficacious to keep him alive, since Hashem would not want Rabbi Yehuda haNasi's body to rod and remain in a disgraceful state. In comparison, the students of the Lubavitcher Rebbe *have* been informed of his passing, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe was in fact buried by the community with great honor. And the Rebbe, tz"l, has been dead already for many years. The lesson simply does not translate.

Note, BTW, that I would take issue even with the Ya'betz's explanation of the gemara. After all, the gemara states ונח נפשיה דרבי as a result of the maidservant's actions, BEFORE they gave permission to Bar Kappara to check on Rabbi Yehuda haNasi's state.

7 said...

B"H
You quote sources on non literal reading of midrashim in some posts and bash mashichistim in others.
What I think you are missing is that for someone like Yanki Tauber Rebbe being still alive means Chabad is strong and growing as he writes in the end of the article.
And Rebbe used this terminolgy about the Previous Rebbe including sometimes using term "shlit"a" .
The reason the sages said midrashim in the form they did is to provoke emotional response increase of simple faith and practical actions "acts of goodness and kindness" among the people.
And "enlightened" portion ofthe audience understood immidiatly or later what was meant.
But same way you shouldn't bash people for saying in Shacharis that Hashem sits on a chair or flys on the cheruvim or has strong hands (even though it's possible that a portion of the mispalelim children in particular or others with strong imagination and weak abstract thinking are imaginaning these things literally as they pray) you shouldn't bash Chassidim and others Chabad in particular for teaching that Rebbe lives eternal life etc.
The people who are teaching it usually understand it in the context of the Chassidic teachings and not as literally as you seem to think and the students understand it on their level with time growing in understanding.
The Rambam himself writes in Moreh Nevuchim that most people shouldn't be taught explanations of deep consepts at 1st as it will ruin them.
Why does it bother you that there are thousands of Torah observant Jews that believe in one form or another that Rebbe has eternal life and this usually propels them to be better people ?
Why does it bother you more than seeing people who believe in absolutky litral Eliyahu coming to seder table or angels friday night or children and others who may imagine Hashem sitting on a great throne while praying.
Seemingly to be evenhanded about this you should not only bash Chabad but walk around slapping stickers on Chumashim Sidurim and Talmud etc. reminding people that anthropomorphisms are not to be taken literally to prevent them from being minim (according to Rambam) if at the moment of reading they may imagine these things literally.
Rambam writes in Moreh Nevuchim that there are religious dogmas and teachings based on real truths and those based on necesary truths.
That G-d "gets angry" at sinners is no more "literal" than Lubavitcher Rebbe living in eternal phisical body yet both of these dogmas have positive effects on their audiences when taught.
They "bring G-d closer" to persons emotions so to speak...
It's writen in midrash that Jews will not be redeemed untill they are united in love for one another.
Write an article explaining the genius of the Rebbe using his great Torah knowlege creating an eternal movement dedicated to spreading goodness and kindness and ushering the final redemption thus attaining the "eternal life" (see this Sicha A Lifetime Renewed: (
Eternal Life In This World http://www.sichosinenglish.org/books/sichos-in-english/51/19.htm
for himself and others.
G-d gives one seichel and circumstances to become a Torah scholar to bring peace and goodness into the world not to use ones Torah as a sword to kill innocent people and to incite others to "kill" each other.
May you use your G-d given intelegence and Torah knowlege to build bridges between Yidnand not to blow them up.

joshwaxman said...

7:

Thanks for your response. I will try to response to you point by point, but since I am rushed for time, I will do this gradually, in a series of comments.

First off, I think it would have been most honest of you to make clear at the outset that you yourself believe that the Rebbe is mashiach and is alive (however you conceive of this second point), as is clear from following the link on your name "7," that is http://www.otzar770.com/.

Being a true golem, I'll actually refer to your last point first (because it is actually the most important):

"G-d gives one seichel and circumstances to become a Torah scholar to bring peace and goodness into the world not to use ones Torah as a sword to kill innocent people and to incite others to "kill" each other.
May you use your G-d given intelegence and Torah knowlege to build bridges between Yidnand not to blow them up."


Just a few examples of some who would disagree with you here:

1) Rambam, who opposed those who read sources in pesukim and gemaras to imply the corporeality of God.
2) The Rambam's opponents who burned Moreh Nevuchim.
3) Ibn Ezra who opposed the Karaites.
4) Rav Saadia Gaon, who opposed the Karaaites.
5) The Ramchal's contemporaries, who banned the kabbalistic works he wrote which were dictated to him by a maggid (a malach).
6) Shadal, who argued strongly against kabbalah, because he felt (perhaps correctly) that it was idolatry.
7) The Gra, who argued (perhaps correctly, as we see where it has brought us to today!) against Chassidut.
8) Rav Yaakov Emden, who argued (most likely correctly) against Rav Yonatan Eibeshetz for being a closet Sabbatean.

I'll try to response to you point by point in later comments.
Kol Tuv,
Josh

joshwaxman said...

Oh, and I forgot:

Chazal of the gemara against the Tzedukim and Baysusim.

Shalom does NOT always trump emet, especially in matters of establishing Jewish theology.

joshwaxman said...

"You quote sources on non literal reading of midrashim in some posts and bash mashichistim in others."

In fact, while citing sources on non-literal reading of midrashim, if you read all of my posts on the subject, you'll see I am actually arguing for the *LITERAL* reading of many of those midrashim. This really has no relevance to the topic at hand, but I just thought it would be good to clarify.

The examples that you give are actually pesukim, not midrashim, but you are correct that some (e.g. Maharatz Chayes's reading of Rambam on perek Chelek) say that Chazal's statements implying corporeality of God should me taken as allegory, just as the pesukim are intended allegorically.

(Though of course one must consider the possibility that just as contemporaries of Rambam could have thought God to be corporeal and cited the pesukim and midrashim as proof, so *MIGHT* SOME of Chazal in the time of the gemara have thought as well. And furthermore that the Rambam may have been led to interpret the sources this way under the influence of Aristotelean philosphy. But this is just a digression and word of caution in terms of interpreting sources.)

Indeed, I am mostly in agreement with the idea that these (particular midrashim) were intended allegorically. However, that does NOT mean that they were content to let people not in the know think these were intended literally.

Deep and sublime concepts are difficult for many to comprehend, so Chazal used a mashal, an allegory, to help describe these concepts. This does NOT (necessarily) mean that those listening were to think that these were true on a literal level - they were to understand it was allegory.

The Rambam considers the non-corporeality of God to be one of the 13 ikkarei emuna, and worked hard to convince his contemporaries of this fact. It is difficult, to say the least, to imagine that he would be content with people going their whole lives thinking God has a body.

As Rambam writes at the end of section 1, chapter 36 of Moreh Nevuchim:

"If you think that there is an excuse for those who believe in the corporeality of G-d on the ground of their training (i.e., background), their ignorance or their defective comprehension, you must (then) make the same concession to the (actual) worshippers of idols; (after all) their worship is (also) due to ignorance or to early training (see Chullin 13a)... There is no excuse whatever for those who, being unable to think for themselves, do not accept (G-d's incorporeality)..."

joshwaxman said...

What I think you are missing is that for someone like Yanki Tauber Rebbe being still alive means Chabad is strong and growing as he writes in the end of the article.
And Rebbe used this terminolgy about the Previous Rebbe including sometimes using term "shlit"a" .


In fact, I mentioned that "And Rebbe used this terminolgy about the Previous Rebbe including sometimes using term "shlit"a"" when I wrote, and linked to the statement, writing:

"Now, perhaps he omits this based on this statement by the Rebbe, which he cites from the Rebbe."

However, as I continued:

"(Though depending on how he understands this statement and why he thinks it is an important statement to mention, that might be further proof that he believes the Rebbe to not truly be dead.)"

That is, people cite even the Rebbe's statement as further evidence that the Rebbe is not physically dead.

If this is ALL that Yanki Tauber means by the Rebbe still being alive (and not that, e.g., therefore the Rebbe can still be mashiach), then he should say so publicly and directly in an article at least once, or else he leads the public to heretical beliefs.

And if all that he means is that, please explain directly the meaning of his "unanswered questions," when he writes How? When? Why? The unanswered questions remain unanswered. But we know what we need to do. And we're doing it. You can go see for yourself -- if you reside on planet earth, chances are that you are within driving distance of a Chabad-Lubavitch center.

These are unanswered questions which were raised by the news.

What, *specifically*, is meant by:
How?
When?
Why?

joshwaxman said...

I have to run out now. I'll post more of a response later.

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