Wednesday, March 1, 2006
CE: Change Is Good.
בהמשך to the Anybody Got An Answer? thread; Here's CE weighing in.
I didn't want to jump in here, but since nobody else said it, I guess I will...
This is the way I understand it: The Gedolei Hamisnagdim were great men, and I think your Emunas Chachomim can remain intact (at least as far as this case is concerned). The Debate between the Chassidim and Misnagdim was, as you pointed out, not really about a difference in theology, or halachic matters; rather, it was over a far more significant problem. Many Talmidei Hamaggid even state similarly, that the Misnagdim were not bad in any way – they were just not using the right tact, or the best approach, for the generation.
Perhaps we can use America in the 60's as an example: All the conventions and values of 1950's America were overturned and questioned by the 60's generation. Similarly, Chassidim turned main-stream Judaism on its head. At that point the culture of main-stream yiddishkeit, endorsed by the establishment, believed in Judaism that was the precise opposite of the Chassidic version, such as:
The establishment stressed somberness, the Chassidim stressed joy.
The establishment valued Torah knowledge and prowess, the Chassdidim valued perfection of the self and simplicity.
The establishment centered around the most scholarly, Chassidim centered around the most saintly.
The establishment valued study over prayer, Chassidim valued prayer over study.
The establishment recognized the mystical, but only for the elite, Chassidim promoted the mystical for the common man (this, of course, not long after the proliferation of the mystical during the Shabbtai Tzvi disaster).
(There are more, but these are the easy one that I come up with at the moment)
The Misnagdim represented the old-guard, and as all old-guards do, they were opposed to radical change. Had the Chassidim been peddling a difference of halacha or theology it was have been a much simpler problem – however the Chassidim were actively attempting to change all the prevalent values, culture, structure and emphasis of Judaism. It should be easy to see why that was considered intolerable by the establishment, for their beliefs and values were being rejected and attacked. The entire future of Judaism was at risk in their view. I think it is very understandable that the response required was the most extreme possible – and I think this was understood by the early Chassidim.
I also think this was why the Vilna Gaon refused to meet Chassidim, and should explain how falsehoods were accepted by Rabbonim, Batei-Denim, etc. It wasn’t about the specific charges, be they true or false, it was about maintaining conventional Judaism! These Chassidim were a shock to the system, and changing the traditions in a religion that lives by tradition – therefore, even though they could make a convincing case and win many a debate, it was unacceptable. The Gaon didn’t care what R’ Mendel Vitebsker and the Baal HaTanya would say; I’m sure that he knew that they were very knowledgeable and convincing, it’s just that in his opinion it was irrelevant. He believed that Yiddishkeit should remain as the mesora had been, and any revolution to the definition of the main-stream was – in his eyes – inherently unacceptable in the extreme.
I hope that I did a decent job of articulating what I’m trying to say here. I won’t get into any debates here with anyone about the merits of Chassidus, and I don’t intend to comment more on the matter. I just wanted to explain why I think Gedolei Torah can be respected, even though they supported what may be considered to be shocking activities.