Monday, June 7, 2010
I had defended Yehupitz when he was attacked for stating his opinion about some of the Chabad bashers. I called him someone who had a "love for the Rebbe" among other things. Yehupitz has graciously accepted my offer to put his thoughts about Chabad in his own words.
Thank you for the defense, but I would like to clarify my position.
"Loves the Rebbe" is too strong for my taste. I would prefer it said that I admire the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l. Contrary to your guess, my admiration did not begin with my witnessing "his experience l'maan Haklal."
I attended Litvishe Yeshivos, whose Roshei Yeshiva, who all davened Nusach Sefard, had a strong hisnagdus to Chabad. Since my youth I have been fully aware of all the tainos, and some of those tainos still bother me. My admiration for Chabad began with learning the Chabad seforim: Tanya, Torah Or, Likutei Torah, Derech Mitzvosecha etc. Until I got into Chabad learning, I thought Kabbala and Chassidus were just a wacky form of science-fiction. I then began to see that they deal with philosophy in a way I had never seen in anything else. Learning the Rebbe's Maamorim and them some of the sichos, and talks that expressed attitudes towards Kiruv (or hafatza if you prefer) that mirrored or fortified my own views, led me to admire the Rebbe, despite/because of all the "chiddushim" he introduced.
I am not blind to the significant differences that Chabad has with the rest of the Frum world. Namely:
1) A level of Leader-reverence and a focus on said leader that far outweighs respect traditionally shown to Talmidei Chachomim and Tzaddikim. Does it make me feel uncomfortable? Often, yes. But I can appreciate that the Rebbe fostered this kind of attitude to fire up his followers to accomplish great things. The negative consequences are obvious to me as they are to the Litvishe world. And no, I do not think that even this exaggerated form of reverence should earn them the title of "cult". And I am able to appreciate the positive consequences and remain optimistic that they will outlive the negative.
2) The emphasis on bringing Moshiach. That some chassidim think the Rebbe never died, or will rise again etc. is disturbing to me. Yet again, I see a carefully designed, non-violent messianic expectation as a positive development for Klal Yisroel and the world. David Berger, coming from his studies in early Christianity, thinks this is the beginning of a new Christianity which must now be nipped in the bud. I say that if this happens, we'll throw them out then. I see no need for a preemptive strike on a movement that may or may not turn heretical in 200 years. Until then, the hope is merely on low simmer, and irrelevant to most Shluchim's work and teaching. I can live with that.
3) A different kind of emphasis on Talmud Torah K'neged Kulam from the Rebbe and Chabad in general since the days of the Alter Rebbe. I've never learned in a Chabad Yeshiva, but I've visited a few. They learn plenty. The sedorim are filled, with open gemaras and "real" seforim. So I know that the talk about "amaratzus" is unwarranted. But taking learning to a practical level (Talmud meivi lidei ma'aseh) is not a bad thing. I think frum Klal Yisroel needs at least one group that doesn't fool itself into thinking that "Ein Li Ela Torah" is a positive thing. "Afilu Torah Ein Lo." "Mutav Lo She'lo," etc.
4) The changes the Rebbe made to Halacha. I think this is a huge canard. I read the talks about Shalosh Seudos and Sukka-sleeping. The accusations made are absurd. The Rebbe never said that the Chassidishe Toira uproot the mitzvos in question. He used the Chassidishe Toira to justify why the previous Rebbes were meikil like the Yeish Omrim opinions of the Mechaber and Rama in contrast to their usual practice to be "mehader" and follow the stricter views.
5) Chabad think they're better than everyone else. They think the Rebbe's bigger than everyone else. I say "So what?". If you disagree and think your Rebbe or Rosh Yeshiva is bigger, i.e. has a better plan for Klal Yisroel, knows more Torah etc. good for you. The elitism that frustrates so many people doesn't bother me. The way I see it, the Baal Shem Tov (or Mezritcher Maggid, or Baal Hatanya) didn't go about his mission because the thought he'd introduce a new flavor into the Eilu V'Eilu market. He thought Klal Yisroel was lacking an emphasis that needed to be added, or reintroduced if you will. You disagree? So write a Nefesh Hachayim. But the etzem taano of "superiority" of hashkafa doesn't disturb me. Do I wish there was less sinah? Of course. But I still haven't figured out who to blame for that. Maybe human weakness on all sides plays a role there.
My thoughts here on constantly in flux, and I have no problem adjusting or rephrasing if shown to be inaccurate.