Sunday, September 09, 2012

The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the iPhone

Over at Mystical Paths, Reb Akiva noticed my recent post (in item 7) about Christian pastors turned geirim, who believe in the Rebbe as mashiach from the dead.

He cites it as:
….I don't know what to make of (other site). In comments there and elsewhere, they are very much in favor of this belief in (not mainstream Moshiach position). …they describe how they are geirim (from a background of high level involvement in their previous religions)... Is this just switching from one false messianism and idolatry to another? 
The reason I point it out is that so many of the discussions on the English Geulah blogs are framed by people with outside influences, be they "Noahides" (non-Jewish believers in the Torah laws of Noah and non-Jews), baalei teshuva (Jews without a religious background who learned and took on observant Jewish practice and belief or Jews of observant practice who left it and then returned), gerim (converts), or Xians
Because many people focus only on the "not mainstream Moshiach position" and its legitimacy in isolation, I decided to author this follow-up post. Can one kvetch Jewish sources to support a wacky "not mainstream Moshiach position"? Sure. (Though I will debate you whether these kvetches are correct.) But that, in and of itself, does not make something false messianism and idolatry.

Rather, it is the convergence of several different non-mainstream beliefs which leads to the idolatry.

It is like the iPhone. There were touch-screens before the iPhone. There was Internet. There was mobile wireless Internet. There was software. There were phones, including mobile phones. There were digital cameras. But put them all together in one unit, and you get a whole which something so much more than the individual parts.

Let us consider the individual parts:

1. That mashiach can come from the dead. This is certainly not a mainstream Jewish position, and is rejected by the Rambam and Ramban. They managed to kvetch about five sources from all of Rabbinic literature. But fine. Consider it officially kvetched.

2. That one can direct requests to deceased tzaddikim. The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch puts forth the fairly normative misnagdish belief that one can only daven to Hashem in the presence of the deceased tzaddik, with the idea that the merit of the tzadik will aid. But that directly addressing the tzaddik is doresh el hameisim, a prohibited practice of seeking favors from Hashem. Chassidim, and Lubavitch, maintain that one can direct a request to the tzaddik to bring forth the request before Hashem.

They also focus their requests on a single individual, the Rebbe, zatzal, rather than any random tzaddik.

3. That one can communicate in two-way communication with the Rebbe via Igros Kodesh. That is, one can ask a question, place it in a book at random, and then interpret the letter on the resulting page as a response from the Rebbe. This has a precedent the goral hagra, but this was a complicated ritual involving a sefer Torah where the query was posed to Hashem, rather than a person.

4. That the common folk should not deal directly with Hashem, but that one needs an intermediary, who is the tzaddik. This was idea really formulated in full by Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk. But others might well argue that this is the correct path in Judaism. For Lubavitch, when the Rebbe was alive, this was the Rebbe. And now that the Rebbe zatzal, is dead, he continues to be the focal point.

5. That the primary focus in our generation should be mashiach, and the mashiach's coming. There are 613 mitzvos in the Torah, and other groups focus, for example, on yishuv haAretz, or talmud Torah, or connecting to Hashem, but in Chabad, there is an incredible emphasis on mashiach. Many other mitzvos are viewed as a means to this end. This was encouraged by the Rebbe, zatzal.

6. That the Rebbe is mashiach.

7. The idea that the previous (and thus current) Rebbe was atzmus umehus bilvush gashmi, some sort of physical manifestation of Hashem on earth. Based on the Zohar, and spoken by the Rebbe, but still controversial.

8. That the tzaddik is a miracle worker, and can decree changes in reality via tzaddik gozer veHakadosh Baruch Hu mekayem. That the tzaddik has supernatural knowledge, via ruach hakodesh or sod Hashem liyre'av. That the tzaddik does not possess a yetzer hara, under the kabbalistic (rather than Talmudic) definition of a tzaddik.

Considered in isolation, each of these beliefs might (or might not) be problematic but not necessarily overwhelmingly so. But the convergence of these beliefs led to an extremely problematic whole.

Now consider the convergence.

The Rebbe is mashiach (#6), the Rebbe is the tzaddik that everyone must use as their intermediary (#4). Now that the Rebbe is deceased, we have an invisible power in Heaven, alongside HaKadosh Baruch Hu, and people should direct themselves to this alternate invisible power. And this specific invisible power is still present, and still plays a central role in Judaism, since mashiach can come from the dead (#1). And this invisible power is Omniscient and Omnipotent, and entirely good (#8).

People direct requests to this invisible power in Heaven, separate from Hashem, at the Rebbe's ohel (#2), to the exclusion of any other tzaddik. When uncertain how to act, they ask the Rebbe, this invisible power in Heaven, separate from Hashem, and receive their answer, using the Igros (#3). Because the Rebbe is mashiach (#6) and the primary focus of Judaism is mashiach (#5), they perform mitzvos for the sake of the Rebbe and mashiach, this invisible power in Heaven which stands alongside HaKadosh Baruch Hu, rather than doing mitzvos to fulfill the ratzon Hashem. Add to it (#7), equating the invisible power in Heaven with some manifestation of Hashem, and you have apotheosis, and idolatry. But you have this even without adding #7.

In other words, in and of itself, belief in a mashiach from the dead might be controversial, but would not be catastrophic. If mashiach is Daniel, Chizkiyahu, or David, I am fine with that. But if the particular mashiach from the dead is already the focus of your Judaism, then being mashiach and being dead moves this focus into the realm of a second power in Heaven, which does strike me as catastrophic.

I wrote in the previous linked post:
In comments there and elsewhere, they are very much in favor of this belief in mashiach from the dead which, in ways, often borders on idolatry. And meanwhile, on their blog, [REDACTED], they describe how they are geirim, and used to be, respectively, an "ordained a pastor in the Methodist Church" and a "Christian minister in the African American community both in Chicago and Los Angeles for 14 years". Is this just switching from one false messianism and idolatry to another?
Hopefully I've explained sufficiently in this post how the belief in mashiach from the dead can, in ways, often border on idolatry.

It is a belief that there is a mashiach who died and is now an invisible power in Heaven, apart from Hashem (or worse, equal in some aspects to Hashem), that will come back and redeem the Jews. And this power in Heaven is one who communicates with people, and properly acts as an intermediary between the Jews and Hashem. And the full focus of the religion should be in bringing this invisible mashiach and power in Heaven to the fore.

Consider now someone who is an ordained Christian minister or pastor, who believes that there is Jesus, a mashiach who died and is now an invisible power in Heaven, apart from Hashem, the God of the Old Testament (and who is, indeed, part of the Divine), that will come back and redeem the Jews. And this power in Heaven is one who communicates with people (when they pray and introspect), and that one should address prayers to this deity. And the full focus of religion should be on serving Jesus, and in bringing him to the fore, so that he will come back and redeem mankind.

If someone converted from this sort of Christianity directly to this sort of false Jewish messianism, I wonder whether this conversion was to Judaism or to Rebbe-worship. I'd need to know more about this person's specific beliefs and history of conversion, but it would certainly give me pause.


Anonymous said...

As a BT I resent being lumped together with people who have strong xn influences in their lives. There may be a few BTs who were born Jewish and brought up in other religions, but most are probably Jews who are unaffiliated, not just with respect to Judaism, but to any religion. The writer, who works in kiruv, should be more aware of his target audience and be a bit more sensitive towards them.

joshwaxman said...

the writer is me, not Reb Akiva. i don't work in kiruv.

sorry for lumping you together. to clarify what i mean, take a baal teshuva who does not have a religious background, and then does not have a fostered sense of what is kosher and mainstream, and what is fringe. he takes as a teacher another baal teshuva, with similar lack of this fostered sense. and then they go out and preach fringe beliefs.

or someone who is a baal teshuva and is a relative am haaretz in revealed Torah (meaning such topics as Tanach and Gemara). and then he goes off preaching to this community of relative know-nothings all sorts of kabbalistic mysteries, because suddenly he is a deep thinker in kabbalah.

or a baal teshuva who does not know anything, and when the Noachides or Christians put forth things outside our tradition, and those who know that it is outside our tradition state it is outside our tradition, he voices his learned opinion that it is just fine and dandy.

this is not necessarily you.

this is also quite possibly hurtful. but pointing out that these rather important Jewish idea are being framed by people who don't know what they are talking about -- well, that strikes me as an important point to make.

geirim and baalei teshuva, by the way, are awesome and admirable.

kol tuv,

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

The problem isn't that you "don't know what to make" of that site. It's that you know exactly what to make of it, and it's extremely troubling.

in the vanguard said...

Josh - you have a way with words meant to inject poison, when you could search a little deeper to try and understand. Dragging Torah-talk into heretical territory is a charlatan's way to discuss Torah. You twist what the Rebbe spoke of into talk that sounds absolutely repulsive.

Nowhere but in Chassidus is there the concept of a conduit between the Jewish people and Hashem. There ae two sorts of conduits. The only single one that is pure and does not contain a personal element is that of the tdaddik hador's. So don't piss on that concept. Every generation has a Moshe Rabbeinu, whether you like it or not. Hashem did not need Moshe Rabbeinu to take the Jews out of Egypt - not any more than a human can be created without a head - but that's how Hashem wants the world to run - with a leader of the generation - and with a physical head on the Jewish body.

Trivializing Chassidus was tried now for centuries and thank God has nearly been wiped away. Why you continue to harp against Moshiach concepts will in the end get you nowhere.

in the vanguard said...

Another thing, Josh. That you don't work in kiruv is suspect. You want to tell me the purpose of your blog is something other than kiruv? Do you really NEED the readership as opposed to spreading genuine Torah?

joshwaxman said...

"Nowhere but in Chassidus is there the concept of a conduit between the Jewish people and Hashem."

I believe that is what I said. I don't agree with that concept, but I didn't "piss" on that concept either.

I merely pointed out that possibly innocuous belief, when combined with other Chabad beliefs, such as mashiach from the dead, the whole is much more than the component parts. The end result is idolatry, or something quite close to it.

"You want to tell me the purpose of your blog is something other than kiruv"
Yes, the purpose of the blog is not kiruv rechokim. It is expression of my Torah thoughts and other thoughts. Why do you think that that means that I NEED the readership? Or that the purpose cannot be to increase discussions of Torah, on a high level?

kol tuv,

in the vanguard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
in the vanguard said...

Josh - have some humility! How can you even think to agree or disagree with that concept from Chassidus when you never learned about it?

As for your "I don't agree with that concept", you said that about a particular Rashi too. Yes, I know you came up with your chidush - but nothing in Torah is new under the sun, and Rashi was a holy man, probably the Nassi of his generation, and along comes Josh, with a "degree" from a university or smichah and "pow", delivers a right blow to prove Rashi wrong, or to think the Rebbe wrong.

Before disagreeing with that concept, which means disagreeing with the Rebbe, at least pick up a ma'amer of the Rebbe where the issue is discussed, learn it, and THEN, QUOTE FROM IT - and THEREBY, and only thereby, show where you disagree; Just as you do other times when you support your position. (If you don't want to learn chassidus, or a ma'amer, then don't vociferate.)

The misnagdish ego must be reined in, my friend. Your blog is a testament of Torah so make humility - as in Mount Sinai - as in the Rambam's exhortation to exceed in humility despite other midos that need navigate between both extremes - as in "הצנע ללכת" - your scholarship notwithstanding,
or דוקא because of it.

joshwaxman said...

in the vanguard:

I don't intend this post (or comment section) to be for a discussion of the merits of the individual positions listed above. At the same time, I don't have to endorse the concepts either. Misnagdim are entitled to their own, sourced, theological beliefs as well.

What I consider on topic is that these beliefs (take 'em or leave 'em), when put together with the "mashiach from the dead" belief, produce a brand new animal. And so, while it is indeed a productive exercise to consider whether the belief (in mashiach from the dead) is heresy or not, has basis in sparse Jewish sources or not, to do so is to lose sight of how this idea intersects with other existing beliefs held by meshichist Lubavitch. If the new combined belief is heretical or idolatrous, then that is something that people should realize.

As I said elsewhere, I personally don't have any *theological* opposition to David, Chizkiyahu, or Daniel from the dead as mashiach. (I can point to textual reasons to oppose it, such as Midrash Rabba in Vaychi about the death of Shimshon leading Yaakov Avinu to realize that Shimshon was not mashiach.) But I do have theological objections to the combined beliefs.

and now, for the digression. :)

It is not only Chassidus that has the idea of conduit to Hashem, by the way. The generation of Enosh, as described by Rambam, also had a similar idea. Hilchos Avoda Zara 1:1: בִּימֵי אֱנוֹשׁ טָעוּ בְּנֵי הָאָדָם טְעוּת גְּדוֹלָה, וְנִבְעֲרָה עֲצַת חַכְמֵי אוֹתוֹ הַדּוֹר; וֶאֱנוֹשׁ עַצְמוֹ, מִן הַטּוֹעִים. וְזוֹ הָיְתָה טְעוּתָם: אָמְרוּ הוֹאִיל וְהָאֵל בָּרָא כּוֹכָבִים אֵלּוּ וְגַלְגַּלִּים אֵלּוּ לְהַנְהִיג אֶת הָעוֹלָם, וּנְתָנָם בַּמָּרוֹם, וְחָלַק לָהֶם כָּבוֹד, וְהֶם שַׁמָּשִׁים הַמְּשַׁמְּשִׁים לְפָנָיו--רְאוּיִים הֶם לְשַׁבְּחָם וּלְפָאֲרָם, וְלַחְלֹק לָהֶם כָּבוֹד. וְזֶה הוּא רְצוֹן הָאֵל בָּרוּךְ הוּא, לְגַדַּל וּלְכַבַּד מִי שֶׁגִּדְּלוֹ וְכִבְּדוֹ, כְּמוֹ שֶׁהַמֶּלֶךְ רוֹצֶה לְכַבַּד עֲבָדָיו וְהָעוֹמְדִים לְפָנָיו, וְזֶה הוּא כִּבּוּדוֹ שֶׁלַּמֶּלֶךְ.

Or people in the time of Rabbi Yudan who would direct prayers to Michael or Gavriel. In Yerushalmi Berachot 9:1: רבי יודן אמר משמיה דידיה בשר ודם יש לו פטרון אם באת לו עת צרה אינו נכנס אצלו פתאום אלא בא ועמד לו על פתחו של פטרונו וקורא לעבדו או לבן ביתו והוא אומר איש פלוני עומד על פתח חצירך שמא מכניסו ושמא מניחו. אבל הקב"ה אינו כן אם בא על אדם צרה לא יצווח לא למיכאל ולא לגבריאל אלא לי יצווח ואני עונה לו מיד. הה"ד (יואל ב) כל אשר יקרא בשם ה' ימלט.

And so on and so forth. I have reasons not to seek out "conduits".

kol tuv,

in the vanguard said...

You see, Josh, how you GO TO THE SOURCES, there read up on the issue, then write about - EXCEPT when it comes to CHASSIDIC concepts. Here you demarcate a bias. Here you will only take the stuff second hand. Here - you will not read what you write about. The other stuff you write about you go to the source. But chasidic concepts you keep at arm's length. Not fair, is it? (But if that is how you want to treat chassidus, then stop criticizing about it, because second-hand info never captures first-hand essence.)

joshwaxman said...

again, this is a digression, because my adoption of these chassidic concepts is a non-issue.

personally, i am not interested in chassidic concepts (to be convinced they are real) because chassidus is based on kabbalah. vehameivin yavin.


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