Thoughts on Judaism

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Worthy Goal?

Around the Chabad observance of Yud Shvat (the yahrzeit of the 6th Rebbe), much discussion is expended on the Holocaust, anti-Zionism, mesiras nefesh, and particularly, the ultra-frum response that kept hundreds of thousands from fleeing Europe. The 6th Rebbe of Chabad indeed advised that, given the proper service of Jews, there might be no war. This fits with Chasidus and with the principles of bitachon and emunah, as taught in Chabad. Indeed, stories are told of the Rebbe simply ignoring the dangers of jail when he was on death row in 1927, and that this is how he overcame the evil decree and was set free. Other gedolim advised their followers to stay, counseling that a secular Zionist Israel or a free America would cause damage to the people's frumkeit. Similarly, at Chaf Dalet Teves, the yahrzeit of the first Chabad Rebbe, much discussion centers on the fact that the first Rebbe supported the oppresive Czar over the forces of egalite' under Bonaparte.

As a justification in these cases, Chabadniks will point out that frumkeit remained strong in Russia, but it did not in France. Similarly, they felt it was better for the people to die in Europe than to live in America and risk diminishing their Jewish observance. Granted that when people came to America, many did do away with some of the frum observance. Also, granted that Russia was a frummer place than France, both before and after the Napolean wars.

However, my question is on the logic. Since when do we push away pikuach nefesh vadai on a safek (perhaps they will lapse in frumkeit). Would not a better course have been to save themselves and the people and then attend to them in the new places with extra kiruv, extra leadership, as has occurred thoughout the history of Judaism? Now, we get to the real point. Did these Rabanim not have faith in their own ability to lead? Did they prefer millions of dead Jews or Jews living in squalor and oppression to having to face up to their own insecurity in their abilities to shepherd the flock? Was it more important to keep them nursing from pure dogma than to save them from almost certain death?

Chabad was certainly not the only exporter of this philosophy. Satmar, Munkatz, all of the major Chasidic groups favored this approach in WWII. Complicating the pure philosophy, great efforts were expended to save the king bees themselves. The Rebbes of Chabad, Satmar etc. DID ESCAPE Europe and came to Israel and America, and they did start up their religious bases anew, as most of the communities back in Europe were destroyed by the war. The justification I heard this year is the most amazing that I have heard yet. According to one kiruvist rabbi, these Rebbes saved themselves so that their communities would not lose hope in the future. Also, they saved themselves while advising others to die so that the communities wouldn't take the attitude that they were willing to die personally, but they were not willing to allow their Rebbes to die, so the Rebbes saved themselves so that the people would follow their directives to stay. That's right! The Rebbes left so that the people would allow themselves to be killed!!

An aside about the example from Napolean, many chabad point out that the yeshivas remained in Russia but not in France. I would respond though that France was not a frum place before Napolean and continued not to be frum after Napolean. Would it not have been better to live in freedom and depend on Jewish leadership to stem the religious problems? Isn't that the definition of Jewish leadership or even just plain leadership? If these Rebbes were such great leaders, and they had people willing to sacrifice their lives for them in Europe and Russia, why were they so insecure that they could lead a refugee community to remain frum?

So, here we are today, with Israel and America never stronger in Judaism. People practice Judaism with impunity, spread the word and even get sponsored and protected by government officials to do so. Europe has very few if any of the old yeshivas, and they are all far weaker after the war, owing to the fact that most of their support DIED in the WAR! Russia, so far superior to France in frumkeit that the Czar was preferable to Napolean, was almost devoid of Judaism until about 17 years ago, and it is now being reintroduced. I also grant that much of this is due to the leadership of the 7th Chabad Rebbe, in the environment of freedom that exists today. I would argue that it is the environment of freedom, though, that allows these things to flourish, and that during the time of Communism, for instance, very few inroads were made.

So, with Iran flexing its muscle and trying to replace Naziism, I hope that future leadership is less shortsighted than in the past. I hope no one will say better dead than possibly frei (possibly not). Rather, I hope they will lead ... and live. After all, it is our children and grandchildren we are talking about. Now that is a worthy goal.


  • Hey, you must go to different farbrengens than I do. None of this is ever discussed, outside of failed messiah and mentalblog. Seriously, is there a chassidic history source that acknowledges that rebbeim chose to counsel their followers to leave ? I would love to see that.

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  • Eizehu chacham? Haroeh es hanolad.

    By Blogger The Jewish Freak, at 2:55 PM  

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:47 PM  


    RJ (aka Rebel Jew),

    First off, I did not "attack" OSM. Nor did I suggest that her kids might poison other Jewish kids (though shiduchim is something entirely different). I was specifically addressing the fact that from her blog it sounds as though in real life she poses as one thing while on her blog and, more significantly, on the inside she is something else altogether. Better yet, OSM did not seem to take it as an insult and actually answered this part of my question very directly. (I did insult her gross caricature-like generalizations about "chabad practices")

    As to the substance of your comment: I do not think that OSM has any questions left. In my view, her mind is made-up; she is just sharing her conclusions with the world (yes in a sarcastic and mocking way).

    Now, from a purely human point of view, it is repugnant to mock those that had helped one find ones way to Yiddishkeit. Today OSM feels Chabad is not for her. Fine, that's legit; Chabad is not for everyone (at least in its hard-core form). Let her move on, find a place within the Jewish milieu where she will feel at home and say, "Thank you Chabad for being my stepping stone." But to do what she and many other disgruntled BTs do is nothing less than kfias tova - one of the most repulsive character traits, IMHO.

    You think that expressing these thoughts is contrary to the Rebbe's vision. I don't. You see, I do not for a moment believe that the Rebbe came to undo the age-old Jewish truths like the authentic attitude toward "maligim" (scoffers). Perhaps in your view all scoffers are just 'asking difficult questions (even if the questions are asked sarcastically)'. I disagree with this take. And I think I can tell the difference between the two.

    Btw, in my view you belong to the same category. And if, as you say, you were once a shliach of the "Chabad Rebbe" (and what an a-hole way for a former shliach to refer to the Rebbe!), then shame on you! Have you no decency left, Sir?

    By Anonymous MP, at 12:17 PM  

  • Hey MP
    You are just another apologist Lubab.When will you grow a brain?

    By Anonymous was-a-lubab, at 3:16 AM  

  • only difference is now, if the rabbaim said "run" where would / could we run to? America? the Carribean??? India?

    By Blogger Miriam, at 1:30 PM  

  • I'm not sure if any of these points actually adress the crux of your post; but I felt the need to make them anyway.

    1)It was fairly universal in all the ultra-orthodox communities in Europe that the Rebbeim and the people didn't actually know how bad the situation was until it was too late. The advice thy gave their followers was probably based on limited information, and it is possible that they would have advised differently had they known everything.

    2)It is a noted historical trend that orthodoxy took a severe tailspin pretty much everywhere in the wake of Napolean and everything he caused. That statement is a little general; but what I mean is, he was the first of the era to bring the concept of equal rights for all into a European country. This option of being a citizen with full rights tempted many of the skeptics who had stuck with the community until now simply because they had nowhere else to go. As other countries followed France's lead, the trend spread over Western Europe.

    3)During the era of communism, Chabbad did a huge amount of work sneaking shluchim behind the Iron Curtain and getting people out of there, and they also did a lot of programming, setting up schools and stuff. You can't really say they were inactive in Russia before communism fell.

    By Blogger Miri, at 6:40 PM  

  • The most reasonable explanation is that up to the moment the Holocaust took place, nobody Jewish or non-Jewish really thought it would take place, at least not on the extent that it did. They may have expected persecution of Jews as had been the norm for the previous 2000 years, but not extermination. (Even in Germany the Nazis ruled for about 8 years before setting up concentration camps.) So the chassidic rebbes did not see it as "vadai pikuach nefesh". They turned out to be wrong, which should make us doubt whether they had "ruach kakodesh", but does not make them evil or even especially irresponsible people.

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