Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Why stress that the delusional tractor driver Nir ben Artzi is not a rabbi?

A tractor driver,
though not a delusional one
As part of my post on Nir ben Artzi, a little while back, I wrote:
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.

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.
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.

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 5771
This 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'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.
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.

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.[17][18][19][20] 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.[21] In another incident, Edward was said to have used foreknowledge to hot read in an interview on the television show Dateline.[22] 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."[23]
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". 

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."
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.


Devorah said...
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Devorah said...
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zach said...

Nir ben Artzi, Yitzchak Kimmel, John Edwards. They are all of a kind, no "lehavdil" needed. And they aren't getting their information from the "other side" or from "demons". They are scam artists, plain and simple.

Concerned Jew said...


Once again you miss the point about the Rabbi thing. Getting semicha because you passed a bunch of tests does not make you a rabbi. Number two, one can be a rabbi and great Torah scholar and not ever take semicha tests. That is a fact and known throughout the Jewish world. Plenty of Rabbanim in the Chareidi and Yeshivish world that are Talmidei Chachamim do not have "official semicha." Given this, this is not an issue for the person under discussion.

Quoting Rabbi Shlomo Aviner on the person under discussion doesn;t really prove anything, since Rabbi Shlomo Aviner has also come under investigation for certain issues pertaining to Niddah, which are well known in the Dati-Leumi world.
Notice how I still call him Rabbi, even though I myself disagree with him vehemently.

The fact that HaRav HaGaon Shmuel Eliahu, who everyone in both camps in Israel (Chareidi and Dati-Leumi)respect has tacitly endorsed the person under discussion, it is disrespectful to discuss his name in the way you, he being a "Real Rabbi" or not. My assumption is that he probably knows more Talmud than yourself as many Cab Drivers can probably be accredited scholarly status as well.

Remember I am not debating whether his words are truth and whether we should agree with them, I am only directing you to your lack of respectful discourse.

Anonymous said...

Oh my! Another blog about Rabbi Ben Artzi? Why do you insist on continuing to discredit another Jew? Tomer Devorah explained things quite clearly : "How ironic that a man who has only called for "good" and "mercy" and "unity" for Am Yisrael has become the subject of such sinat chinam."

It may be, that some Jews may feel threatened by those who call for aliyah. A call for change can be both overwhelming and frightening. What do you think about helping Jews overcome their fears by promoting aliyah on your parashablog? B'Hatzlachah! (Anonymous A)

Anonymous said...

You people have nothing better to do with your time but to LH this man who nobody has any idea anything about? How are you not ashamed? Clucking your tongues like this. Pathetic. As if we don't have enough to deal with as a result of LH - you add?

joshwaxman said...

Concerned Jew:
Firstly, you entirely miss MY point, which I made quite clear. Perhaps the delusional tractor driver himself can make it clearer. Via Tomer Devorah once again:
"About the powers that he was endowed with, says HaRav Nir Ben Artzi: "It's a gift from Hashem and I use it only for the good of the People of Israel. It’s impossible to explain.""

He is a psychic. He says so himself, in this quote. He exhibits no Torah scholarship, and is NOT claiming that this comes from kabbalistic knowledge.

Sorry, but Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu's tacit acceptance does not do much for me. Consider how he heartily endorsed the Mama Rachel in Gaza story, which I demonstrated here is most probably a hoax, based on comparing it with the initial report, from Rabbi Lazer Brody. And no, kavod does not spread virally. Do you know how many great rabbanim were taken in by Shabtai Tzi?

I speak of him like this, "delusional tractor driver Nir ben Artzi" because it is accurate, conveys extremely effectively what I am trying to convey, and counters the inaccurate Harav Nir ben Artzi shlita business which is FALSE and confuses people into thinking that he is a great talmid chacham and kabbalist. A very important point in this context.

Sorry, but "respectful discourse" will only lead people to think that this is a matter of legitimate machlokes, where one knowledgeable person says X and another says Y. This is not the case. Nir ben Artzi is a psychic, probably a delusional fake one, and the people who follow him are acting foolishly.

joshwaxman said...

Anonymous A:
Surely you could select a better pseudonym!

Oh my! Another blog about Rabbi Ben Artzi? Why do you insist on continuing to discredit another Jew?
Yup. That someone is a fellow Jew does not mean that is immune to being discredited. He is taking a leadership role on the basis of his purported psychic abilities. And a bunch of fools are following him. It is NOT right for everyone to move to Israel at this point. For some people, for example, the demands of shalom bayis, talmud Torah, or parnassa here and lack of parnassa there trump the mitzva to make aliya. To decide whether it is right, one should consult his or her own RABBI/spritual advisor who knows him and his particular situation. One should NOT be scared into a stupid and catastrophic life decision because a complete am ha
aretz who thinks he is psychic proclaims false prophecy that the sky is falling.

The way to oppose Nir ben Artzi, and to remove the bor be'reshus haRabbim, is to make it clear to people just what he is and what he isn't. As Devorah said above, In the beginning, I was under the impression that he was a rabbi. I assume that Tomer Devorah also thought that. However, the truth should be pointed out, because if someone is telling us to move to Israel, we should at least know more about him.

Do you disagree with that? Do you think people SHOULD be under the false impression that he is a rabbi / kabbalist?

It may be, that some Jews may feel threatened by those who call for aliyah.
Aliyah is a great mitzvah, and for those who can do it, kol hakavod. but false prophecy / threats / the 'apocalypse is coming' is not the right way of doing it. And aliyah is ONE mitzvah in the Torah. It is not the beginning and the end, which trumps all else.

Anonymous B:
You people have nothing better to do with your time but to LH
Yes, you are right! Any true statement which is negative about another Jew is lashon hara! There is a fellow down the street who is telling people they don't need to keep their eyes open when they cross the street because he will just bless them and all will be alright. I should NOT warn the people that he is a lunatic, because that would be lashon hara. "Lo Taamod al Dam Reiecha" is NOT a pasuk in the Torah. Better to let people get hit by cars. Or in this case to sell their homes at below-market prices (because of the rush), frantically quit their jobs, move to Israel, only to discover that their job does NOT translate well to the Israeli economy, such that they have to move back to America, destitute, in 6 months. That is MUCH better.

No, I am not ashamed. I don't share your assumptions.

Anonymous said...

re: "Via Tomer Devorah once again:
"About the powers that he was endowed with, says HaRav Nir Ben Artzi: "It's a gift from Hashem and I use it only for the good of the People of Israel. It’s impossible to explain.""

It comes out sounding like it was Tomer Devorah that said " says HaRav Nir Ben Artzi:" but it's actually taken from the Kikkar Shabbat articlethat she translated and reposted. So the author of that article called him "Harav."

I was sure you'd want to make sure people understood that and so you wouldn't be misleading anyone.

joshwaxman said...

You probably were misled by Tomer Devorah's latest post, where she falsely accused me once again of lying, because she disagrees with me. No, I was NOT trying to mislead in the above quote you just made. My point is about his own claims of psychic powers, which that quote demonstrated.

But if she has decided to be his mouthpiece, and is translating his videos/missives to the world, and in the course of this translation, faithful to the original missives puts his title as HaRav Nir ben Artzi shlita, then she IS presenting him to the world as a talmid chacham / great kabbalist. And a defense that SHE only personally uses "Rabbi" misses the point. Presumably, the hamon am reads her blogs. What do THEY think? What impression will THEY get? It is not reasonable then, to correct this false impression people are getting, by stressing that he is professing psychic powers, rather than arriving at this via mastery of nigleh and nistar? Did Tomer Devorah, in countering my previous post, utterly miss this obvious point? I think she did. And I point it out and get accused of being a liar.

I also find it amusing that she is not confident enough to provide LINKS to people who disagree with her.

Now that I have clarified the meaning of my words, let us see if she will retract her own false accusations, when she writes "Two bloggers have now been demonstrated to have publicly and baselessly lied."

kol tuv,

Sarah said...

Less than 100 years ago, the title Rav had lots of meaning and many great talmidei chachamim of those generations did not have that title and it was not applied to them.

Nowadays any guy who learns in kollel and writes a dvar Torah for the kollel's weekly gets the title "harav hagaon" - while you are right that people are being called Rabbi who don't have any semblance of smicha, that doesn't make them worthy of the title!

I see a valuable toeles with pointing that someone making predictions that others will follow (in belief or action) is not authorized by Gedolei Yisroel.


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