The Rav and Chabad and the Rebbe

My sweeping and largely postulating interpretations are that:

  1. The Rav appreciated the emotional and warm element of old-time and simple chassidim, the emotional part of which was missing from his own upbringing and its purely intellectual approach to Yahadus
  2. Chabad chassidus is an intellectual branch (Tanya in particular) and the Rav could more likely associate with some elements.
  3. The Rav had no time for “incredulous” chassidic stories of mofsim and pilei ploim. The Rav thought that most were exaggerated at best.

    Alter Rebbe
  4. The Rav was closer to the Rayatz than he was to the last Rebbe.
  5. The Rayatz respected the Rav greatly.
  6. The Rav had a great appreciation of the Ba’al HaTanya and thought that the Alter Rebbe was the equal of the Gaon and the greatest of all the Chabad Rebbes.
  7. The Rav felt that the Rebbe thought he was Mashiach and was delusional in this regard.
  8. The Rav felt that much of the so called machlokes between the Gaon and the Alter Rebbe and others was due to “askonim” on both sides who were basically clueless and had an agenda (what has changed?)
  9. The Rav felt that the Rebbe wasn’t able to be as effective as he could have been because he simply lacked enough quality chassidim and had failed to produce these.
  10. The Rav felt that many if not most chasidim didn’t really understand Tanya let alone were in a position to teach it to the masses
  11. The Rebbe felt that the Rav was wishy-washy because he was susceptible to changing his mind on issues based on political or societal pressure. As such, he felt the Rav could not be relied upon.
  12. The Rebbe had a very high regard for the Rav’s intellect and personal yiras shomayim
  13. The Rav held that the Rebbe had a Geonishe Kop and was the icon of a manhig
  14. The Rav was a follower of elements of both the Vilna Gaon and the Alter Rebbe, but in the end was his own man.

    Vilna Gaon
  15. The Rav felt the differences between the Nefesh HaChaim and Tanya were not significant, and most people didn’t have the acumen to properly understand the differences.
  16. The Rebbe was implacably against the concept of a “State” of Israel vis-a-vis any religious connotation. For the Rebbe, any part of the world could be transformed into “Israel”.
  17. The Rav was against the State being seen as the “beginning” of the redemption, but was a strong supporter of the State as a religious entity embodying the “psak” of hakadosh baruch hu.
  18. The Rav and Rebbe had wives who were both strong and unique people in their own right.
  19. Both the Rav and the Rebbe were severely affected after their wives passed away.

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

23 thoughts on “The Rav and Chabad and the Rebbe”

  1. Isaac,

    Congratulations – I came across this site today and have read your posts. It’s fantastic to find someone writing without any agendas, gripes or issues. Very refreshing – I look forward to many more posts

    In terms of this post I have a question regarding the Rav and his thoughts on the Rebbe being delusional in believing himself to be Moshiach – do you have proof of this. We all know that Rav Shach verbally addressed thus but I am unaware of any statement from the Rav

    Also, with regards to his thoughts on the Chabad Chassidim being below par – in what aspect were they below par, intellectually. In their ability to follow the will of their Rebbe, please explain


    1. Interested Reader: Thanks for your nice comments.

      The Rav, in my opinion, was nothing like Rav Schach in respect of being vocally anti-chabad. It doesn’t even begin to get close. Rather, he had his own private views about the Rebbe, as did the Rebbe about the Rav. Both of them were exceedingly great men, and they didn’t rush to issue quotable quotes which would have achieved nothing except stir up angst among the masses. They were both far too sophisticated and smart.

      There is the famous visit by the Rav to the Rebbe. There is the video of Rabbi Hershel Schacter (father of Rabbi J. J. Schacter) (not to be confused with HaRav Hershel Schachter, Rosh Yeshiva/Kollel at YU and Posek for OU). The account of Rabbi Schacter is slightly different to that of Rabbi Sholom Ber Kowalski (in respect of what was said in the car on the way back from a trip there). It also gels with the “inaudible” comment in Rabbi Holzer’s book when it comes to what the Rav said about the Rebbe. The word “delusional” is my own license to colour. Whatever the situation was, it was most certainly not the type of issue that stopped the Rav visiting the Rebbe or indeed the Rebbe wanting to visit the Rav. They couldn’t be expected to agree on everything. They certainly agreed about the importance of Kiruv, and the Rav saw Kiruv as a component in his failed foray into the SCA. They had different nuanced approaches and both were hugely successful in their own way.

      The Rav said that to effectively teach Tanya and Chassidus, you have to be a top notch chossid and that whilst the Rebbe was expanding Chabad at a very great rate, he didn’t have enough top notch soldiers. I don’t think anyone would argue with that notion. They might argue that the Shluchim can still be effective if they aren’t necessarily “top notch” soldiers. That’s a different issue perhaps. Let’s not forget that sadly many of Chabads very best and finest perished during the holocaust. These were Chassidim who were totally Botel, and the real McCoy that the Rav experienced in Khaslavitchy. Indeed, at that time, the so called “tzugekumener” to Chabad was also usually someone who was an incredible Talmid Chacham. Today, of course, things have changed, not only in Chabad. Perhaps the Rav was blind to the effect that a Shaliach can have even if that Shaliach isn’t the most sophisticated or learned chossid.


  2. #8 doesn’t resonate with me (e.g. R’YBS would say some of the GRA’s (& his rabbinic followers/successors) practices – being more machmir on sitting in sukkah on shmini atzeret – was to go against the “minim”)

    #17 seems a bit of an overstatement – I don’t think R’YBS objected to the possibility of the beginning of the redemption but rather focused on the halachic nature of the return to Zion.

    #19 has always fascinated me in the context of “mourning too much” as being wothy of further examination from a halachic viewpoint.



    1. Thanks for your comments Joel. I don’t think that the Rav held that (Chabad) Chassidim were in any way Minim. There are at least 3 different versions of what happened when the Alter Rebbe tried to meet the Gaon, but certainly no version that I read indicated that the Gaon ran away because he though the Alter Rebbe was a Min.

      On #17 he was implacably opposed to using definite terms like “Reishis Tzmichas” and certainly was opposed to them being inserted as part of Tfilla.
      On #19 I have never seen it as “mourning too much”. To me, both the Rebbe and the Rav were plainly and simply depressed after their beloved passed away. It is a human side that doesn’t detract from greatness; it enhances their greatness.


      1. He was quoting R’ Chaim IIRC – a bit jocular but he meant that their practices were wrong imho.

        agree on terms but not that it couldn’t be, just that that should not be our focus

        see Rambam hilchot avel 13:11 for definition of “too much” (especially interesting for R’YBS who until that time was the classic “will vincet omnia”


    2. Thanks for your comments Joel. We know why the Gra did things and we know that the Rav related this, but I don’t think the Rav himself felt the Gra would consider them minim today? You even see the Rav having his own explanation as to why they sat outside of the Succah on Shmini Atzeres (and the Rav’s explanation is not that of the Gra). I am also not sure at all whether the whole Chabad business of Makifin D’Bina was even happening at the time of the Gra. I suspect many Chabadniks actually slept in the Succah!

      On #17, the Rav said, and I quote in response to a question from Rabbi D. Holzer “Is there any validity to hakamas hamedina as fas as geula or shivas tziyon is concerned?”

      Answer (from the Rav): “No. Yimay Moshiach? No. Since it contributed greatly to the survival of our people it is very important. This itself is important. But all this stupidity – aschalta d’geula, geula – I am against it.”


      1. The book you quote from is somewhat controversial but imho the Rav was objecting to the narrow focus on this issue vs. other halachic priorities .
        Joel Rich


        1. Joel it is controversial in the sense that the family were not enamoured by the fact that it was published but I’m not sure there is much there by way of the accurate transcriptions that doesnt reflect the rav’s views. Certainly as the words of conversation it doesn’t have the carefully constructed and beautiful prose.


  3. Isaac nice post but could you please let us know which statement’s are your own assumption and which are based on fact


    1. 4. Is more my feeling than fact
      7. I believe is fact that is being hidden. There are places where it is hinted at and hidden. R’ Chaim Soloveitchik is the person who can definitely affirm it, but I am not sure he’d be willing to talk about it.

      The other points can be supported by fact/information.


    1. It is indeed a beautiful letter. To me it showed also what I tried to indicate: that the Rav coming from the pure halachist tradition (eg the Gra and his Talmidim never visiting graves, as per the Shita of the Rambam) was tempered by his youthful exposure to real chassidim from chabad. In that letter he says explicitly that he fights the inner schism between emotions (which his father didn’t exhibit) and the pure halachic man.


  4. Unlike the way you are presenting matters, the Jewish world does and did not revolve around neither Rabbis Soloveitchik or Schneerson.

    You may want it to be so, but that is a far cry from the reality of the “frum” Jewish world.

    Besides the whole world of Sfardim (Eidos HaMizroch), Teimonim, Yekkes, Kooknicks, other Chassidishe groups, etc., etc. neither personality cited should be considered to be the be all and end of all of all Torah luminaries in the past couple of generations. Fascinating people as they were, the were not alone.

    Expand your visions, Isaac. Check out the action. There are hidden treasures out there you may haven’t even heard about in the Beis Medresh or shteebl.

    There is more to Torah than two people.

    Also, the Rov was far more focused on the Rambam than any other Torah scholar in post-Talmudic history. And only did his grandfather, Reb Chaim Soloveitchik, play a significant role in forming the Rov’s personality and Torah understanding; so I gather.


  5. Both the Rebbe zy”a and the Rav zy”a not only had different educations, and different personalities but critically they saw their Shlichus through a different paradim.
    One saw his role to spiritually energize the souls of every Jew he could find where that Jew could be found.In order to do that he needed to educate a generation of Chassidim who would feel that imperative as their own and ” go out into the field”.
    Thousands were needed and thousands have been found.
    The Rebbe’s gadlus however is not limited to this work alone.
    His countless Sichos and Maamorim attest to his Torah Genius, whether as Talmud Scholar of a superlative level or as Master of all the secrets of Chassidus or Kabbala and his encyclopedic knowledge of Halocho.
    We cannot also forget the countless Blessing he bestowed upon hundreds of thousands of people over 40 years via mail or in person.
    The other saw his role as the Teacher of Torah Par Excellence, his scholarship and erudition was without compare. He crerated at least two generations of Talmidim who went out into the world with confidence about the eternal message of Torah, who are able to teach at the highest level in their Shuls, Yeshivos and communities.Further thousands of people who entered the professions of law medicine and beyond are faithful adherents of the Rav.His contribution continues to be enormous.
    Their differences pail into insignificance compared to the Kiddush HaShem their life works generated.
    Obviously other great men made enormous contributions and through their legacies and through legacies their presence is still felt, I highlight the Rebbe and the Rav because I humbly content that their ”stars’ shine with a very special luminous effect on our time


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