|A tractor driver, |
though not a delusional one
Should I collect the sifrei haTorah from my shul and send them to Eretz Yisrael? After all, a former tractor driver, who everyone calls "HaRav" or "Rabbi" even though he has not demonstrated scholarship and has no semicha, has said so! Who should I listen to, Hashem or a delusion tractor driver claiming he speaks for Hashem?Some, particularly those who think him genuine, took exception to that. For one prominent example, Tomer Devorah wrote:
So, what about the charge that he falsely uses the title "rabbi?" The so-called smicha that is given today is not truesmicha handed down from rabbi to student since Moshe Rabeinu. That was lost in antiquity. All it means today is that the person who uses it has passed a test qualifying him to answer halachic questions in a given subject. And not every rabbi is qualified in every subject, regardless of the title.Yes, there are different paths to getting called by the title 'rabbi'. For instance, here in the United States, I heard (IIRC) Rav Schachter remark once, you can get semicha from the printers of the phone book. When they call to ask you your name, you say you are Rabbi Ploni, and they print it that way.
But, there is another situation in which rabbi is very commonly used, especially in Israel. Students very commonly call their teacher "rabbi" whether he has smicha or not. Now, Rabbi Ben Artzi has a large following of students and to date, I have not heard him discourse onhalacha or pretend that he is capable of discoursing onhalacha. His students are within accepted bounds to refer to their teacher as their rabbi.
Yet, it is one thing for students to refer to their own teacher as Rabbi X -- though in such situations, usually, this is to a teacher of Torah, not to a psychic -- or for people who don't know to refer to talmidei chachamim, who don't happen to have semicha, as 'Rabbi'. And sometimes there are rabbinic positions people fill without having semicha, such that one can function as the rabbi of a shul and be referred to as rabbi.
I know that for myself, I did not assume the title Rabbi and often corrected people who granted me that designation, prior to obtaining semicha. And I try to correct people who strip the title 'rabbi' from people they disagree with -- and I even correct them when I disagree strongly with the positions or actions of those particular rabbis. (See here for but the most recent example.)
Here is the basis for my objection. Consider how they are referring to this delusional former tractor driver who is an am ha'aretz in both nigleh and nistar:
MESSAGE TO THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL IN THE LAND AND ACROSS THE WORLD, from the mouth of HaRav Nir Ben Artzi, shlita on Parshat Pekudei - Sheqalim 5771This is from Tomer Devorah's own hand. Yes, shlita technically indicates well-wishes. And HaRav often substitutes for Rabbi as a title. But these designations are used for talmidei chachamim, and prominent ones at that. I don't know the situation in Israel, but while Tomer Devorah wrote that
Students very commonly call their teacher "rabbi" whether he has smicha or not.I don't know that students very commonly call their teacher HaRav Ploni, shlita, whether he has semicha or not. I would strongly guess that they do NOT. And people who are not their students do not have to call this person by the title Rabbi.
But here is the crux of the issue. People are discussing Nir ben Artzi's words. And in doing so, they talk about this Israeli rabbi, or this Israeli kabbalist. They assume that he has some sort of rabbinic background, in nigleh and nistar. And they then use that to evaluate his words.
I would have referred to HaRav Yitzchak Kadurai, zatz"al, as HaRav Yitzchak Kadurai, shlita, within his lifetime. And this would be a way of conveying my respect, that he is one of the Gedolim, and acknowledging that he has much expertise in nigleh (revealed Torah) and nistar (hidden Torah, meaning kabbalah).
I would not refer to Nir ben Artzi as HaRav HaGaon Hemefursam Moreinu Harav Nir ben Artzi, shlita. Or even as HaRav Nir ben Artzi, shlita. Or even Rabbi Nir ben Artzi. Why not? Because in this context, it is critical that people understand where he is coming from. They should not think that this is a rabbinic leader who has plumbed the depths of kabbalah and thus arrived at this conclusion. Rather, he is saying all this merely as a psychic.
Now, he might in theory be legitimately psychic. Or, he might be a charlatan, for there are many psychics who are charlatans. Or, he might simply be a delusional meshuggena, and these psychic predictions are merely his crazy ramblings. Knowing what he is and what he is not, people can then draw their own conclusions. But, one should not cloud the issue by calling him rabbi, because then they think he is a great kabbalist. And I will point out that he is not a rabbi, to stop people from clouding the issue.
As an aside, the same is true for other kabbalists. I really would not like them to assume the title rabbi unless they truly have semicha. Take for example Rabbi Yitzchak Kimmel, a kabbalist in Midwood, in Brooklyn. I have heard the claim that he falsely claimed to have semicha from Rabbi Alfasi:
She also was very upset to learn that Kimmel is claiming he earned semicha (was ordained) by Rabbi Elfassi--because the rabbi had a yeshiva with 10 students and this yeshiva did NOT teach kabbalah."His PR guy, Moshe Handler, rejected this by stating categorically that:
1. Rabbi Kimmel has never claimed to have received Semicha from Rabbi Alfasi. What I know about Rabbi Kimmel and Rabbi Alfassi is that they spoke (either by telephone or in person) at least hundreds of times over the years.Yet, does Rabbi Kimmel have semicha? I would have liked to have that clarification, because if NOT, I would refer to him just as Yitzchak Kimmel. And if not, by using the title Rabbi and describing his close connection to the kabbalist Rabbi Alfassi, where he served as a gabbai (I think), one gets this false impression, even if not explicitly stated. This is misleading, because people will take Rabbi as a claim to some level of knowledge. (If he does have semicha, then I retract the above and will continue to refer to him as rabbi.)
This is an important point, because from what I can see from the public relations blog of Rabbi Kimmel, Rabbi Kimmel is Real, about what makes Rabbi Kimmel a really special mekubal:
For one thing, Rabbi Yitzchak Kimmel has never needed anyone to open Holy books, never calculates Gematria (numbers,) never looks at palms or foreheads or needs to to "see deeply" into any person. He needs no "Shaimos" (Holy Names) to operate. His abilities are completely natural.It is no shame for other mekubalim to resort to these methods. Even though I happen to think it is bunk, these are legitimate, long-standing practical kabbalist methods. The Zohar describes chochmas hapartzuf. And if they are applying their kabbalistic knowledge, good for them.
It's uncanny to watch him work. I can start talking about a person and before I even mention the persons name, he is able to give me details about the person. Even though I have observed him thousands of times over the years, I am still amazed.
To say that "his abilities are completely natural" is quite possibly to say that his abilities are not in anyway kabbalistic. I mean by this that if he is a tzaddik and he sees with ruach hakodesh, that is one thing. It is another thing to say that the abilities are natural. This means that he is naturally empathic and intuitive. And there are many empathic and intuitive people. Fake psychics, like John Edward, pretend to talk to dead relatives, but really employs this sort of naturalistic technique:
Critics of Edward assert he performs the mentalist techniques of hot reading and cold reading. Choosing the first reading from a two hour tape of edited shows as a sample, magician and skeptic James Randi found that just three of twenty three statements made by Edward were confirmed as correct by the audience member being read, and the three statements that were correct were also trivial and nondescript. In another incident, Edward was said to have used foreknowledge to hot read in an interview on the television show Dateline. James Underdown of the Skeptical Inquirer attended a Crossing Over show in November 2002 and said "there were no indications of anyone I saw collecting information... none of his readings contained the kind of specific information that would raise an eyebrow of suspicion. ... John Edward was a bad cold reader. He, too, struggled to get hits, and in one attempt shot off nearly forty guesses before finding any significant targets."When someone is not a great talmid chacham and not a genuine kabbalist, but happens to be Jewish and sets up shop as a psychic under the title kabbalist, people ought to beware. And most of the hamon am are not James Randi to be able to evaluate whether someone is conducting a hot or cold reading. Now I don't know enough about Rabbi Kimmel to categorically say this is the case, but his promotional material on the Derech David website and elsewhere, that he charges money for visits, and indeed the very words of praise used on this promotional blog make be exceptionally suspect.
And the same goes for Nir ben Artzi. If people think he has ruach hakodesh yet he is not a great talmid chacham or great kabbalist, then he is a psychic operating under the title of Rabbi, HaRav, shlita. And one should not worry about questioning his credentials, because of his being a great rabbi.
I strongly suspect that this is in part what motivated someone who actually is a big talmid chacham and rabbi, namely Rabbi Aviner, took pains to make clear that Nir ben Artzi is an utter am haAretz. To quote myself:
Rav Shlomo Aviner... is not an anonymous nudnik, so we can weigh what he says in light of his reputation. He said: ""ניר בן ארצי אינו תלמיד חכם אלא עם הארץ, עד עצם היום הזה. כמו כן, אינו המשיח, ואינו מבשר המשיח, ואינו בעל רוח הקודש", כך פתח הרב שלמה אבינר את "גילוי הדעת" הראשון שלו בעניין. ברשימות הבאות מוסיף אבינר ומבהיר ש"אין מדובר בתלמיד קטן שלא הגיע להוראה, אלא בעם הארץ גמור שלא למד מאומה", וש"לצערנו כת משיח השקר ניר בן-ארצי הנם הוזים".This is also why it is not rabbinic elitism / snobbery to point out that he is not a rabbi and that he is an am ha'aretz. An am ha'aretz can still be a good person and have good ideas, and a non-rabbi can still offer tremendous insights into Torah. Of course! But if he is acted all mystical and ruach-hakodeshy, then one must understand that these "deep" insights into Hashem's plan do not come from Torah study or Jewish tradition, but rather from his own self, in which case one might evaluate him the same way one would evaluate any patient in the in-patient unit at Bellevue Psychiatric, or any random fellow on the street.
To roughly translate:
"Nir ben Artzi is not a Torah scholar but rather is an ignoramus, until this very day. So too, he is not mashiach nor an announcer for the mashiach, nor is he one who possesses ruach hakodesh... We are not speaking about a small student who has not reached the level of being able to rule, but rather of an ignoramus who has not learned anything... To our pain, the messianic cult of Nir ben Artzi, they are hallucinating."