Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Is Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi's Passing Precedent For Denial of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Death?

In one of the few posts on parshablog that sparked reader comment, a posting about an article in the Five Towns Jewish Times that seems to suggest that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was not dead, but just pining for the fjords, an anonymous commenter commented:
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.
I posted what I think is a good response in the comments there, which I will reproduce here as a post. This is a good example of the tendency to spout random statements of "Chazal" without carefully considering them inside and seeing what they actually say. In this instance, there seems to be a complete misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the gemara and the Ya'betz, which leads to justification of the false belief that it is acceptable to believe that the Rebbe is not dead. Here is my response:
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.

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.

Upon no response (prbably because it was a hit and run posting):
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

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 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.

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