My Recent Discussion with a Chabadnik

Currently, my family and I belong to a really warm and exceedingly friendly “Modern Orthodox” shul. It was originally a small, traditional community synagogue that broke away from the local Conservative place two decades ago and many of the families who founded it can still attend. Occasionally, we have “visitors” from the local Chabad-Lubavitch outpost, whose missionary efforts are in full swing among our membership. These subverters attend when they need to escort someone over to their home whom they have invited for a meal. They also show up to shul functions, working the crowd as if they are the hosts, even though they have opened their own meeting hall right up the road. It is well-known that their entire presence in our shul is for the purpose of a long-sighted coup d’état – through erosion, not force – and it would be comical if it weren’t so sad.

While I normally do my best to ignore them, there are times when I can no longer take their suffusive know-it-all comments and I engage them. I have called-out several Chabadniks who have quoted passages from the “Rambam” that do not exist, asking them to open the Mishneh Torah and “prove it,” and I have had to break it to them that their Torah scrolls are not “the most kosher” but are actually pasul, etc.  A few nights ago after `Arviyth I decided to educate one of them about the heretical nature of his beliefs about God, good and evil, and creation. As I later told the community rabbi, “Someone has to keep them honest. Plus, I tire of their continually confident ignorance about Judaism.”

Most people only see the externals of dress, apparent piety, and the ease of participation in Jewish rituals that Lubavitchers offer. Underneath, however, lies an entangling web of heresy and `avodhah zarah. The theology of Hasidism in general – and of Chabad-Lubavitch in particular – stands in complete opposition to Judaism in its most basic definition of monotheism. I cannot tell you how many times that I, after expressing concern over their core beliefs, am told, “But they do so much good work! And they are non-judgmental and accepting. Many of the Jews who go to their functions would never even observe Shabbos if it wasn’t for them. At least it’s something.” Yet I am completely sure that if these same Jews were going to functions sponsored by Jews for Jesus, none of these same individuals would make reference to “all the good work” that Jews for Jesus does in an effort to excuse their religious doctrines – even if they were to, for some reason, hold them on Shabbath. Instead, their hospitality would be seen as predatory and the greatest fear of these same people would be the possible conversion of these irreligious Jews to another religion altogether. All “the good work” they do would be viewed as drawing these poor Jews into a religious trap.

Before I relate the contents of the discussion I had with this “rabbi,” I want to emphasize a point of central importance. When the majority of the world was not monotheistic, it was incumbent upon religious monotheists, such as Muslims and Jews, to philosophically explain what they meant by the “unity” and “incorporeality” of the One God. Even Christians entered the discussion, albeit with a paganized form of Platonism that, on the one hand rejected the pantheon, but on the other hand was not truly monotheistic, as it admitted multiplicity, corporeality, and spatial reference in regard to God (has wa-halilah). However, in our post-modern and post-monotheistic society today, most people assume that professing a belief that “there is only one God” is enough to qualify for being called a “monotheist.” Since most people in our times who believe in God do not accept explicit polytheism, the ability to explain the philosophical tenets of pure monotheism has fallen largely into disuse. According to the Rambam and others, learning them is a misswath `aseh (cf. Mishneh Torah, Hilkhoth Yesodhey HaTorah 1:4[6]).

In Shu”t HaRiva”dh, Mori Yusef Qafih z”l is asked the following question (p. 3):

TEXT

שאלה: מדוע פותח הרמב”ם את חבורו בהלכות יסודי התורה דווקא – ח אדר תשנ”ט

תשובה: הרמב”ם פתח ספרו בעניני אמונה. הוא סבור כי ללא אמונה טהורה ומזוקקת אין יהדות טהורה והקימה להלכות ודינים

TRANSLATION

Question: Why is it that the Rambam begins his work [i.e. the Mishneh Torah] with Hilkhoth Yesodhey HaTorah [dealing primarily with the philosophical tenets of pure monotheism]? (8 Adar 5759)

Answer: The Rambam began his book with matters of belief.  He is of the opinion that without pure and unadulterated belief [one’s] Judaism is [thus] not pure and so he put it first, before halakhoth and diniym.

Books such as Kellner’s “Must a Jew Believe Anything?” and Shapiro’s “The Limits of Orthodox Theology,” while making some important observations and raising some good points, attempt to place the “blame” for the concept of necessary beliefs on the shoulders of the Rambam, who formulated the 13 Principles of Jewish Faith (as they are popularly known), and act as though necessary beliefs are not an authentic Jewish value. However, this is incorrect as both the Mishnah and the Gemara make statements regarding basic necessary beliefs, as well as the division between Judaism and heresy, in just as strong a fashion. Aristotelian philosophy, despite what many may prefer to believe, was not the source of Jewish “dogmatics.” Instead, it was Hazal who made these determinations in the mesorah they authored for us. The answer to Kellner’s question is “Yes” and the actual limits that Shapiro is looking for are likely more narrow than he envisions. [1]

Twice in the Mishneh Torah the Rambam refers to pure monotheism as “she-zeh hu `iqqar ha-gadhol she-hakol taluy bo – this is the greatest principle [of belief] upon which everything depends” (cf. Mishneh Torah, Hilkhoth Yesodhey HaTorah 1:4[6] and Hilkhoth Qiryath Shema` 1:2). In other words, if an idolater were to outwardly live an “orthodox lifestyle,” but inwardly was an atheist, a polytheist, or believed that the Transcendent God is subject to physicality, then none of his mechanical carrying-out of the commandments would matter – it would be nothing more than an act of futility. In fact, this is exactly what Mori Yusef Qafih z”l writes in his introduction to his edition of the Moreh HaNavokhiym (Intro, p.17):

“…For a great many are those who are involved with the intricate details [of halakhah] and forget the principle above all other principles [of belief], and there are those who indeed turn to a path of personal piety, but submerse their days in intricate halakhic analyses and in casuistry regarding far-fetched and invented situations, which who knows if they will ever occur in actuality, and yet they neglect the foundation of foundations and the pillar of wisdom, that is the [proper] knowledge of HaShem – Blessed is He – just as the Rambam began his greatest book [i.e. the Mishneh Torah], ‘It is the foundation of foundations and the pillar of wisdom to know that there is a Prime Being, and He causes to exist everything that does exist, and everything that exists, whether in heaven or earth or that which is between them, does not exist except by the verity of His existence…and this [concept] is what the prophet means when he says, And HaShem, God, is true.’ For without knowing this greatest fundamental [principle], as much as is possible [2], a person is liable to be externally observant of the commandments without ever becoming aware of this. According to the opinion of the Rambam, the essence of these commandments performed with external appendages without [proper] knowledge of the One who commanded them and without knowing their nature or purpose, are merely (in the definition of Rambam in [the Moreh HaNavokhiym] III:51, ‘like one who turns the soil with the spade or hew trees in the forest.’ [i.e. those who perform intensive yet mindless labors]”

[I would encourage anyone who is able to read the 51st chapter of the third volume of the Moreh for a complete overview of this concept.]

My discussion with this particular Chabadnik was as follows. Although I have taken great care to preserve the content and verbiage, in the interest of organization I have taken some constructive liberties in laying out the material (much like Rav Yehudhah HaLewiy did in putting together the Kuzari). The topic begins as seemingly innocuous, but it progresses to become more serious and comprehensive. This was not the first difficult conversation he and I have had, but it was our first time discussing these particular issues.

***

As I was walking out of evening prayers last Friday night and wishing everyone “Shabbat Shalom,” I was met by a local Chabad “rabbi” who greeted me with a hollow, “Good Shabbos. It’s good to see you.” I responded jokingly as follows:

Me: “Jews in shul is always a good thing…that is unless we are hiding from someone!”

Chabadnik: “Even then there is good. There is good in everything.” 

Me: “Except in evil of course. There is no good in evil.” (This is where I essentially baited him, knowing he would immediately object.)

Chabadnik: “That’s not true, everything is a mixture of good and evil. The Tanya says…” (He began to make a reference to the Lubavitcher “bible,” Likkutei Amarim Tanya, a collection of discourses and letters by the first leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch hasidic sect, Shneur Zalman of Liady, which explain the kabbalistic doctrines of Hasidism. )

Me: “Now, rabbi, the idea that there is evil even in good is a latter-day Hasidic doctrine and it belonged to the followers of Shabbetai Tzvi before it belonged to you. The Rambam says that evil is not a positive substance, but is the absence of good. Evil is a privation. Have you read the Moreh HaNavokhiym? The Ramban also refers to the Moreh on this subject in his commentary on the Torah. Don’t Lubavitchers study the Rambam?” (cf. Rambam, Moreh HaNavokhiym III:10-12 for an explanation of evil from a Jewish philosophical perspective. In the Kabbalah, God has a “right” and a “left” emanation, the left being Sitra Ahara [Aramaic for “the Other Side”] and the source of evil. For kabbalists, evil is just another action of God – has wa-halilah. This entire idea flies in the face of Hazal in Bereshiyth Rabbah 1, “No evil comes down from above” – which, of course, is twisted around by kabbalists to be a proof for their error that, since they hold that evil comes from God, all evil is actually good since “No evil comes down from above.”)

Chabadnik: “So there’s no such thing as evil, then?” (This was not a genuine inquiry. He actually thought this was going to be a “gotcha” moment.)

Me: “No, there is evil, but evil is not a positive creation, it is the absence of good. Like darkness is the absence of light and not a substance in and of itself. God is not the source or the Creator of evil.” (See the Moreh there where Rambam utilizes this very metaphor. The Rambam in the Moreh, Rav Sa`adyah Gaon in Emunoth wa-Dhe`oth [1:3], Ralbag in Milhamoth HaShem, and many others among the Rishonim who quote or refer to these works, affirm that God is indeed not the author of evil. Saying “evil is not a positive creation” or “evil has no positive reality” is not the same as the kabbalistic notion that “evil is an illusion,” which means that things which we perceive as being evil – tragedies, sickness, disabilities, starvation, rape, murder, etc. – are really “good” [halilah] and, according to such a view, it is only our perspective that is skewed.)

Me: “But even those who hold that evil has positive existence among the Rishonim do not hold that good can be found in it. They hold them to be polar opposites.” (Rabbenu Nissim in Meghillath Setariym appears to [possibly] espouse an ontological understanding of evil, as does Rav Yehudhah HaLewiy in the Kuzari [i.e. those things which lack the `inyan elohiy].)

Chabadnik: “So what about a pig?”

Me: “What about a pig?”

Chabadnik: “It’s evil isn’t it?”

Me: “No, it’s just a pig.”

Chabadnik: “But you can’t eat it.”

Me: “You can’t eat your children either. Are they evil?”

Chabadnik: [Looks a bit stunned, but continues] “So why can’t we eat it?”

Me: “Because HaShem forbade it to us as a tamei animal.”

Chabanik: “Well, isn’t tum’ah evil?”

Me: “No. When your wife has children she becomes tamei’ah, right? Is having children evil or sinful? When you have relations with your wife, you become tamei, right? Is a married couple having relations evil?” (In the kabbalah, as well as the superstitious environment that preceded it, ritual impurity is understood to have an objective reality, whereas the Rambam in the Moreh [III:66] explains ritual impurity as being [essentially] a legal state meant to deter an over-emphasis of the temple cultus (and also to keep us from handling harmful, unhygienically-filthy objects, e.g. carcuses, corpses, bloody cloths, etc.). The Mishneh Torah is explicit that the concepts of ritual impurity – tum’ah – and purity – taharah – are legal concepts meant to impress themselves on the human intellect, being divorced from any physical reality [Hilkhoth Miqwa’oth 11:15[12].)

Chabadnik: [At a bit of a loss, but setting up for another intended “gotcha” moment.] “So where does my energy come from?” (I assumed when he said this that he meant “negative” energy, but then he waved his hand over his entire body, indicating that he meant the entirety of his “energy.”)

Me: “It’s a beriyyah (a creation). It’s not the essence of God, if that’s what you mean. You are a creation of God, not a piece of God. God does not have pieces or parts. Again, this is right in the Rambam.” (I was referring to the Hasidic/Kabbalistic idea that every Jew is a “chelek elokai mimaal mammash – a literal ‘piece’ of God above” – cf. Tanya, chapter 2 – which Lubavitchers love to cite since it features popularly in their ideology.)

Chabadnik: “So there’s something outside of God? How can there be anything but Him?”

Me: “Are you referring to the misreading of ein `odh milevado? Look at the pasuqiym again in context and with the traditional commentators. It means ‘there is not another God beside HaShem,’ not that God is the only thing in existence. God is not inside of you, this table, the trees, or anything else.” (In context [cf. Devariym 4:35-39], this is meant as a statement against polytheism, not against the reality of the created world. דו”ק)

Chabadnik: “Why can’t God be inside of everything? Why can’t everything be an emanation of God?”

Me: “Again, don’t you Lubavitchers learn the Rambam? He writes very clearly in the third Principle of Jewish Faith that “eyno guf” – He is not a physical body – “wa-lo koah be-ghuf” – and He is not a force that resides within bodies. God is transcendent and completely separate from the creation. This is a central tenet of monotheism!” (cf. Rambam, Piyrush HaMishnayoth, Sanhedriyn 10:1 – The word ‘body’ here is being used here it the philosophical sense of ‘an object or entity which has substance and/or form.’)

Chabadnik: “So you’re saying that HaShem is not continually recreating the world and bringing it into existence at every moment?” (This Gnostic idea is another major doctrine in Hasidism.)

Me: “Yes. The world has been created already and now continues on it’s natural course, as it says in the Gemara, ‘`olam ke-minhago nohegh.’ He does not need to ‘redo’ anything after He has decreed it.” (cf. b.`Avodhah Zarah 54b – In other words, since the time of creation, the universe moves along its natural course. The Rambam in the Moreh [2:29] discusses this very principle in regard to the nature of miracles and whether they should be seen as innovations within, or permanent/temporary changes to, the natural order.)

Chabadnik: “So then what does it mean when it says, ‘ha-mechadesh b’khol yom tamid maiseh breishis’?” (This is from the first berakhah of Qiryath Shema` in the morning recitation. This text of the berakhah also appears in the seder tefiylloth of the Rambam in the Mishneh Torah and in the siddur of Rav Sa`adyah Gaon.)

Me: “That is a Hasidic misinterpretation of the text of the berakhah. It says explicitly in the Gemara that ‘ha-mehadhesh be-khol yom tamiydh ma`aseh bereshiyth’ refers to the sun coming up and re-illuminating the darkness of night. Look at Rashi there and you’ll see how it was understood originally.” (cf. b.Haghighah 12b – This is an explicit explanation of exactly what is meant by the wording of this berakhah, and it has nothing to do with a supposed continual recreation of the universe. Rather, it is referring to the darkness of night being dispelled by the light of rising sun, and vice-versa, thus “re-enacting” the original “Let there be light” of Bereshiyth 1:1-3. Rashi appears to re-interpret the simple meaning of the Gemara  to make it fit with his own understanding of astronomical processes, but it is nevertheless a astronomical process being related by Hazal, not a Gnostic process of continual emanation –

TEXTS

Haghighah 12b - Ma`aseh Bereshiyth - Text

Haghighah 12b - Ma`aseh Bereshiyth - רשי

TRANSLATIONS

Gemara – “…Rather, morning enters and night exits, and [He thereby] ‘mehadhesh be-khol yom ma`aseh bereshiyth – renews daily the Work of Creation’…”

Rashi – “Morning enters – into its container and the light becomes visible. And night exits – from its container and spreads out beneath the light, and behold the world becomes dark. And this is His ‘daily renewal of the Work of Creation.'”)

Chabadnik: “Well, the Ramban (Nachmanides) talks about a continual creation.”

Me: “I don’t believe you. But if you can produce it, I would love to see it. Another Chabad rabbi who comes here regularly quotes fictional Rambams. You guys are in the habit of misquoting things.”

Then the community rabbi interrupted us and asked if we would lock up before we left. We both responded that we were just leaving. I ended up walking the rabbi home. He was amused at my confrontation with the Chabadnik. I just told him that I was just “having some fun.”

I will try to publish updates and answer questions as they come up.

Kol tuv,

YB

NOTES:

[1] I in no way intend to express disrespect for the work of either Dr. Menachem Kellner or Dr. Marc B. Shapiro, for whose scholarship I have a great respect in many ways. I only intend to strongly disagree with their assessments of the nature and necessity of correct beliefs within Judaism and Jewish tradition.

[2] “As much as is possible” is an important point to note, since it is meant to assuage fears that the proposition of proper beliefs necessarily damns those who, either by mistake or by mental incapability, cannot fully grasp them.

2 thoughts on “My Recent Discussion with a Chabadnik

    • לק”י

      Shalom, Hirsh.

      Thanks for your question.

      Actually, the problem is not just with Chabad, but with most sifrey torah produced today. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of them are not kasheriym according to halakhah, but are at most fancy humashiym, as stated explicitly in Hilkhoth Sefer Torah 10:1. There the Rambam lists twenty aspects of the construction of a sefer torah which, if any of them are lacking or violated, the sefer torah is pasul (invalidated). Related to the sifrey torah of today, the main reasons for this today are as follows:

      [1] According to halakhah, a sefer torah must be written on either gewiyl (“jawil” – unsplit hide) or qelaf (cf. Hilkhoth Sefer Torah 7:4). In fact, writing a sefer torah on gewiyl is le-khatehilah and is a Halakhah le-Mosheh mi-Sinay (cf. Hilkhoth Sefer Torah 1:8-9).

      [2] It is a well-established fact that the definition of both qelaf and dukhsustos that were subsequently adopted by the author of the Shulhan `Arukh were in error and based – at least in part – on a faulty reading of the Rambam in Hilkhoth Sefer Torah 1:7 where the printed versions read the later as being “the side of the flesh” and the former as being “the side of the hair.” However, in actuality, the opposite is correct (see there, Yemenite versions and the commentary of Mori Yusef Qafih z”l).

      [3] Whether written on gewiyl or qelaf, they must be me`ubadh (processed) in accordance with halakhah and for the purpose of the misswah specifically (cf. Hilkhoth Sefer Torah 1:7-11). Most “klaf” today (which is really just a form of dukhsustos) is processed using lye in accordance with European methods.

      [4] The writing of a sefer torah requires proper kawwanah throughout the process. Thus, if a Jewish heretic or a goy were to write a sefer torah, it would be pasul – even if in all other ways it strictly conformed to the halakhah (cf. Hilkhoth Sefer Torah 1:13). The gross and explicit departures of Chabad from pure monotheism and the mesorah in this regard from Hazal, disqualify them from producing any hefssey qedhushah or divrey misswah. As if their literalistic version of Panentheism wasn’t enough, Chabadniks tend to focus their “kavanah” on their “rebbe,” Menachem Schneerson. From their writings and open admissions it is clear that they not only pray to him, but have a similar theology to that of Christians regarding the “indwelling” of [Yesh”u] in their hearts vis-a-vis Schneerson. They even sing songs of praise to him (halilah)! I have also heard the bewildered comments of those associated with Chabad leadership who have been told by some Lubavitchers that their “kavanah” during intercourse with their wives is “focused on the rebbe.” Yes, it is this insane. There is also a disturbing trend to equate Schneerson with emanation of incarnation of God Himself (halilah wa-has). In short, they are not to be trusted with any misswah requiring proper observant, religious, monotheistic kawwanah.

      [5] It is universally recognized that the text of the Aleppo Codex is the most original and accurate version of the Torah. Many believe that individual traditions of the text of the Torah should still be maintained since there is no “living mesorah” to write sifrey torah according to its text. This, however, is completely false. First of all, the Yemenite community has always maintained their tradition of writing sifrey torah – which is identical to the Aleppo Codex. Not until relatively recently (i.e. after Lurianic Kabbalah and the rulings of the Shulhan `Arukh began to displace authentic traditions in certain Yemenite circles) did some Yemenite soferiym begin to produce some sifrey torah not in accordance with halakhah. Second, their traditions in this regard mirror the original text of the Rambam in Hilkhoth Sefer Torah. It is incontestable halakhah that Torah scrolls are supposed to be written a certain way, and only due to latter-day replacement theology, as it were, did that change. There is even record of European scholars changing the text of the Rambam so that it would conform to their own [aberrant] tradition!

      This being the case, there are two other elements that must be considered: petuhoth/setumoth and differences in wording. Writing open paragraphs as closed ones or closed paragraphs as open – even in just one place – is enough to render a sefer torah invalid (pasul – cf. Hilkhoth Sefer Torah 7:9,11). And, with the exception of דכא being spelled with an alef, there are at least thirteen differences in spelling and paragraphs that are correct in Yemenite/Aleppo Codex scrolls, but are incorrect in the sifrey torah of Chabad (all other sifrey torah misspell דכא as דכה).

      So, this is what is “wrong” with their sefer torah. The reason that I address this point with some of them is simply to erode their confidence in the “perfection” of Chabad tradition. They act as though they represent the “13th gate” that all Jews should come through and project a superiority, not based on halakhah, but on supposed revelations received by their successive “rebbes.” Further, they also claim to learn the Rambam with particular depth, but the fact is that they dismiss him quite regularly in favor of their own texts and in many, many places do not live up to the criterion of the halakhah as codified in the Mishneh Torah. Thus, proving to them – from the text of the Rambam, no less – that their sifrey torah are really nothing more than expensive humashiym with no real qedhushah is hitting close to the jugular. And while doing this may not sway the devotion of their cult members, it destroys their credibility in the minds of those on whom they target in their missionary efforts.

      Hope that this adequately answered your question.

      Kol tuv,

      YB

      Like

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