Saturday, December 1, 2007

Rabbinical Lunatics Part 2

Enter Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lidai, the founder of Chabad.

Shneur Zalman of Liadi
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Shneur Zalman of Liadi
Alter Rebbe

Full name Shneur Zalman Borukhovich
Main work Tanya, Shulchan Aruch HaRav
Born 1745-09-04 OS
Died 1812-12-15 OS
Pena, Kursk Oblast, Russia
Buried Hadiach
Dynasty Chabad Lubavitch
Predecessor Dovber of Mezeritch
Successor Dovber Schneuri
Father Boruch
Mother Rivkah
Wife Sterna Segal
Issue Dovber Schneuri
Chaim Avraham

Devorah Leah

Shneur Zalman of Liadi (Hebrew: שניאור זלמן מליאדי‎) (September 4, 1745 – December 15, 1812 O.S.), was an Orthodox Rabbi, and the founder and first Rebbe of Chabad, a branch of Hasidic Judaism, then based in Liadi, Imperial Russia. He was the author of many works, and is best known for Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Tanya and his Siddur Torah Or compiled according to the Nusach Ari. He is also known as Shneur Zalman Baruchovitch, Reb Shneur Zalman, RaZaSh, Baal HaTanya vehaShulchan Aruch, the Alter Rebbe ("Old Rebbe" in Yiddish), Rabbeinu HaZokein, Rabbeinu HaGodol, the GRaZ or The Rav.

Contents [hide]
1 Biography
1.1 Early life
1.2 In Lithuania
1.3 Philosophy: Chabad
1.4 Opposition to Napoleon and Support for the Tsar
1.5 Arrests
1.6 Liadi
1.7 Subsequent history of Chabad
2 Works
3 References
4 External links


Early life
Rabbi Shneur Zalman was born in 1745 in the small town of Liozna, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (White Russia). He was a descendent of the mystic and philosopher Rabbi Judah Loew, the "Maharal of Prague". He was a prominent and youngest disciple of Rabbi Dovber of Mezeritch, the "Great Maggid", who was in turn the successor of the founder of Hasidism, Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer known as the Baal Shem Tov.

Until the age of twelve, he studied under Rabbi Issachar Ber, in Lyubavichi (Lubavitch); he distinguished himself as a Talmudist, such that his teacher sent him back home, informing his father that the boy could continue his studies without the aid of a teacher.

At age fifteen he married Sterna Segal, the daughter of Yehuda Leib Segal, a wealthy resident of Vitebsk, and he was then able to devote himself entirely to study. During these years, Shneur Zalman was introduced to mathematics, geometry and astronomy by two learned brothers, refugees from Bohemia, who had settled in Liozna. One of them was also a scholar of the Kabbalah. Thus, besides mastering rabbinic literature, he also acquired a fair knowledge of the sciences, philosophy, and Kabbalah.

He became an adept in Isaac Luria's system of Kabbalah, and it is thought that this is when he became an admirer of Rabbi Dovber of Mezeritch. For twelve years he lived in Rabbi Dovber's house, and took an active part in the propagation of Hasidism.

In Lithuania
During the latter portion of Rabbi Dovber’s life, his students dispersed over Europe, and after Rabbi Dovber's passing, Rabbi Shneur Zalman became the leader of Hasidism in Lithuania, along with his senior colleague Menachem Mendel of Horodok. When Rabbi Menachem Mendel died (in 1788), Rabbi Schneur Zalman was recognized as leader of the Chassidim in Lithuania. [1]

At the time Lithuania was the center of the misnagdim (opponents of Hasidism), and Shneur Zalman faced much opposition. In 1772, together with Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk, he attempted yet ultimately failed to create a dialogue with the Vilna Gaon who led the Misnagdim and had launched a ban (cherem) against the Hasidim (see Vilna Gaon: Antagonism to Hasidism and Hasidim and Mitnagdim).

Undaunted by this antagonism, he succeeded in creating a powerful network of Hasidic centers. He also involved himself in opposing Napoleon's advance on Russia by recruiting his disciples to the Czar's army,[2] and canvassing financial support for the Jewish settlements in the Land of Israel, then under the control of the Ottoman Empire.[citation needed]

Chabad Hasidism
As a Talmudist, Rabbi Shneur Zalman endeavored to place Kabbalah and Hasidism on a rational basis. In his seminal work, Tanya, he defines his approach as "מוח שולט על הלב" ("mind ruling over the heart/emotions"). He chose the name "Chabad" for this philosophy — the Hebrew acronym for the intellectual attributes (sefirot) Chochma ("wisdom"), Bina ("understanding"), and Da'at ("knowledge”).

Both in his works and in his sermons he "indicated an intelligent and not a blind faith"[3], and assumed an intellectual accessibility of the mystical teachings of the Kabbalah. This intellectual basis differentiates Chabad from other forms of Hasidism - in this context referred to as "Chagas"[4] — the emotional attributes (sefiros) of Chesed ("kindness"), Gevurah ("power"), and Tiferes ("beauty").

Opposition to Napoleon and Support for the Tsar
While many Jewish leaders supported Napoleon or remained quiet about their support, Rabbi Shneur Zalman openly and vigorously supported the Tsar. While fleeing from Napoleon he wrote a letter explaining his opposition to Napoleon to a friend, Rabbi Moshe Meizeles:[5]

“ Should Napoleon be victorious, wealth among the Jews will be abundant. . .but the hearts of Israel will be separated and distant from their father in heaven. But if our master Alexander will triumph, though poverty will be abundant. . . the heart of Israel will be bound and joined with their father in heaven. . . And for God's sake: Burn this letter. [6]

[end wikipedia]

The complete article can be found at

Next the article mentions Alan Dershowitz's paraphrasing of what Rabbi Zalman wrote which is "Alan Dershowitz argues that Rabbi Shneur Zalman believed that suffering was good for the Jews. Suffering would inspire asceticism and bolster the Hasidic cause.[8]"

Understand this well. The dude who founded chabad, thought that poverty was beneficial to the Jews thinking that an economically successful Jew will automatically be a heretical Jew in the eyes of orthodoxy. This is absurd for the fact that there are plenty of economically successful jews who are orthodox, however in my personal experience the idea that poverty is good for the Jews is still around in orthodox Judaism to one extent or another.

In my view, Judaism is capitalist due to the fact that in Judaism there is private ownership and rules for fair play in business. And in capitalism, the pursuit of happiness be it a bigger house, a more expensive car, that huge home entertainment system, or whatever, is exactly the motivation for one to work hard and improve his life.

It seems to me that the intent of the Torah is for people to do whatever makes themselves happy as long as the Torah does not disallow it. It would thus also seem to me that for Rabbi Zalman to view poverty as being good for the Jews is insane, and his view needs to be condemned by Orthodox Judaism.


aj said...

Remember though -- R Shneur Zalman was preaching to a very poor constituency, who had prior grievances against the local population, as well as the (relatively richer) Mitnagdim. Some of R Shneur Zalman's rhetoric might have been focused on uplifting the people. If you are told that being poor is ideal, you will be happier. He did not live in a Western/capitalist/upwardly mobile society.

SJ said...

AJ, thank you for posting. You should check up on my blog once a week, and I encourage you to post often.

The thing is if R Zalman intended his letter to be uplifting why would he want it to be burnt?

aj said...

Maybe he wanted it to be burned because he was scared if Napoleon won and he saw it, there would be problems for the Jews, or at least for his Chassidim (a pretty rational fear).

When I referred to his rhetoric, I meant not only in his letter, but as a theme that affects the rest of his work (which may be unfair, as I have barely read his other works).

SJ said...

Aj, I'll grant that you gave one possible interpretation, although my interpretation is also possible, and both interpretations are possible as well.

However, the very thought that the Jews are better off impoverished has no place in today's world.