In a previous post, I bemoaned the fact that Haredi anti-zionists who declared that the State of Israel and those who supported it were responsible חס ושלום for the Holocaust, hid behind a proverbial rock and were seemingly afraid to assert their views publicly. This was later buttressed by the observation that the video of Melbourne’s R’ Beck was pulled from the youtube site (although I have retained a copy for download). Many of us are uncomfortable stating our views publicly and unambiguously (where possible). I understand perfectly well that it’s not always wise to do so. I also accept that we are not always wise 🙂
Most of us are cognisant of the fact that it is challenging for a Hasid to consistently exist as part of a Hasidic framework without a (physical) Rebbe. With the tragic departure of a Rebbe to עולם האמת, there is a dearth of live Torah. There are no private audiences. The room is barren and the seat is void. The atmosphere spasmodically mourns the electric ambience that was. Assuredly, the memory lives on. The mission carries on and may presume a new strength and, of course, דוד מלך ישראל חי וקיים. Visits to a Kever
are harrowing and melancholic—some may even refuse the experience while others will be inveigled by proximity. Torah from a Rebbe is demoted to unpublished or hidden archives, new compilations, exercises in synthesis and newly organised anthologies of existing material. Those seeking essential counsel resort to second and third-best options, including the somewhat questionable practice of randomly opening volumes of old letters in order to seek the elusive advice to a new problem.
The sense of emptiness is not exclusively the domain of the Hasid, although one expects that reliance of a Hasid on their Rebbe is more amplified than the interdependence of the non-Hasid and their own רב המובהק. All Jews are distressed by a grim feeling of dislocation when a רב המובהק, a mentor, a guide and sage, travels to another world leaving an incontestable void
See this 2007 link from Mississippi Fred McDowell’s great blog for more about Rav Heller. Both the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Rav used to meet regularly at the home of Rav Chaim Heller in Berlin, but I digress.
When a Jew, Hasid or otherwise, has difficulty dealing with the loss of their mentor, there are perhaps three principal reactions:
- Deny that the נפטר has passed onto another world; or
- Accept that the נפטר had passed onto another world, but consider this phenomenon a temporary dislocation in the sense that the נפטר will return at the time of גאולה as part of the somewhat undefined process of redemption—תהליך הגאולה; or
- Accept that the נפטר has passed onto another world and aspire to meet again with the advent of תחיית המתים, the resurrection of the dead.
Amongst Hasidim, the two groups who have not replaced their Rebbe and continue to flourish are Breslav and Lubavitch. Breslav is not a new phenomenon. Habad Lubavitch is comparatively new and its overt asssertion that the late and last Rebbe was the Mashiach to be, attracted much controversy.
We are led to believe that Habad is split between those who believe he is [still] Mashiach and those who do not. How many are in each camp? I feel that most Habadniks actively conceal their views. Why? Why do they not display the courage of their convictions? Why would they be ashamed to state their opinion on such a matter? Is it because they are not sure, or is it because they do not want this to be a known opinion because it may turn others off?
People who accept approach 1, above, constitute a group that I do not even begin to comprehend. Some would suggest that this group would benefit from psychiatric therapy. Let’s put them to one side.
Approach 2, in my estimation, encapsulates some 95% of Habadniks whilst the remaining 5% associate with approach 3. These are just my feelings. They are not supported by statistics. They cannot be supported by statistics given that Hasidim are reluctant to state their views unambiguously and on the record.
Within approach 2, though, I assert there are 3 nuances:
- The Rebbe will come back as the Moshiach and it is impossible for anyone else to be Moshiach since the Rebbe is the Nosi HaDor and the Dor HaShvii (I don’t know the definition of Dor, but no matter).
- The Rebbe may come back as Moshiach. He is also likely to, but it is not certain. הקב’ה may decide that Moshiach is someone other than the last Rebbe.
- The Rebbe is not Moshiach, but he will greet Moshiach, resurrected, together with other great figures of Judaism.
I posit that most Habadniks subscribe to nuanced position number 1. Nuanced position number 1 is also most attuned and consistent with the chanting of יחי אדונינו וכו
Let’s consider the difficulty in eliciting clear statements of conviction by looking at my own stomping ground, the Yeshivah Center in Melbourne. Where does the Yeshivah Center stand? It is a matter of interpretation. In my opinion, most in the Center do not have the courage to express their convictions publically. Instead, they camouflage behind the bold יחי sign hanging at the back of the main shule and allow this to passively stand testament to their views. Why should this be an issue captured by a sign?
It has always been policy to never disenfranchise people by having the courage of one’s convictions to state one’s views on non halachic matters where those views may not be accepted. There are things that are only said in whispered tones amongst אנשי שלומינו (i.e. card carrying Hasidei Habad) and things which are concealed from עמך—the rest of us.
A good example is the tendency to add the following words to the bottom of a wedding invitation or other appropriate announcements:
ונזכה זען זיך מיט’ן רבי’ן דא למטה אין א גוף ולמטה מעשרה טפחים והוא יגאלינו
Have a close look next time you get a wedding invitation with these words on them. Do they appear in the English text as well? Why not?
Consider these anachronisms as support for my thesis that as long as nobody is looking they will express the courage of their convictions:
- The boys’ school casts a blind eye to the daily chanting of יחי, three time after the obligatory היום יום. This chanting would seem to me to be diametrically opposed to the psak of Rabbi Groner ז’ל. Transparent games are being played when it is claimed that “it’s not the main shule” or it’s “not an “official” minyan of the school“. Of course, both of these propositions are just fallacious deflections.
- The boys’ school has a יחי sign in the Mesivta room proper. Did Rabbi Groner allow two signs? When? I heard his psak with my own ears.
- At Chabad Youth Camps, יחי is chanted not once but three times a day, after שחרית מנחה and מעריב. When asked about this, the response is that “it’s not official policy“. Sure thing! Can we expect spontaneous tolerance for the singing of התקוה three times a day as well?
- Each שבת during the time of סעודה שלישית young budding chassidic boys sing traditional and haunting melodies which serve as a great source of inspiration. I used to experience this myself as a boy and fondly remember singing beautiful niggunim בצוותא. And now? The words of יחי are cleverly overlaid onto various traditional niggunim. This is the new התקשרות
- On a Friday night, when the Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivah Gedola is not in attendance the בחורים, sing יחי. When he is there, they won’t. Does the Rosh Yeshivah not know what goes on? Is there an innate tension in the air?
- New reprints of older publications fail to remove שליט’א even when it’s obvious it’s not a simple reprint of a שיחה. Indeed, one recent publication for י שבט listed the period of each Rebbe’s “reign” or נשיאות. Unsurprisingly, the last Rebbe did not have an end date nor was the ubiquitous שליט’א elided.
- How many parents put יחי yarmulkas on their children, but don’t have the fortitude to wear them themselves.
I’m not one of those, like Professor David Berger, who allegedly contends that the יחי chanters are idolators or apikorsim and Chabad should be marginalised as a result. I’ve read Rabbi Berger’s book and I don’t find many of the arguments compelling. The chanting of יחי does bother me—it bothers me to a great extent. I know, though, there is nothing I can do about it except present my views. I know those views are largely ignored and inconsequential.
What I have difficulty with, though, is the pretence. Let’s call a spade a spade. The Yeshivah should come out openly and either say they support the saying of יחי as per nuance 1, or outlaw it across the organisation. If they wanted to outlaw it, they could. They hold the purse strings and salaries of many in the organisation.
Have the courage of your convictions. Pull out those yellow flags and wave them with gay abandon?