Maccabee's Wars

A venting rage against the ills of our society with some hopeful observations.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Truth, Justice and the Chassidic Way? Look Up In the Sky. It’s Supermen!

Recently a Chassidic newspaper published an article with derogatory remarks against the author of a 3 volume work regarding the Vilna Gaon. Unfortunately the article and its author is the one deserving of the remarks while the author of the 3 volume treatise deserves accolades.

Dr. S.Z. Leiman, in his most recent shiur, said the vitriol against the Vilna Gaon books stem, in large part, from its author’s contention that the Vilna Gaon was correct in his battle against Chassidism, and in part to its author’s belief that R’ Ya’akov Emden was displeased with Chassidic practice. The newspaper said that this last notion was an outrageous fabrication.

It is not.

R’ Emden published at least 2 works indicating his dissatisfaction with Chassidic practice. In one, entitled Mishna Lechem, in a comment on the first Mishna in Meseches Peah, which states that the learning of Torah has no limitation, R’ Emden was extremely critical of those that insist on learning Zohar and Kabbalah to the exclusion of much else. At first, R’ Emden referred to the followers of the false Messiah Shabbsai Tzvi, but then to a lesser extent, R’ Emden began his critique of certain groups of Chassidim who do the same and pray for extended periods of time and move about during prayer as whirling dervishes.

Of course, today, Chassidism is well accepted and considered on equal footing with Misnagdim and the battle with the Vilna Gaon is no more. Moreover, R’ Emden, despite his aforementioned objections, is well respected in Chassidic circles. In fact, a commentary of his on Pirkei Avos was recently published with Haskamos from great Chassidic scholars. Copies of the alleged siddur of R’ Emden can be found in many Chassidic homes and their bookstores.

The issue, at hand, then is not who was right when the “war” began, but historical accuracy and the respect of Jews for each other.

Dr. Leiman, ended with an anecdote told to him personally by, I believe, the Shkolyer Rebbe. When the Ba’al Shem Tov’s soul was told to come down to earth to be born, the Ba’al Shem Tov asked, who would be alive during his lifetime. He was told that the Penei Yehoshua would be one of his contemporaries. The Ba’al Shem Tov was impressed. Additionally, he was told that the Node BeYehuda would be the leader of the Prague community. Again, the Ba’al Shem Tov was heartened. Finally, he was told that R’ Ya’akov Emden would be a contemporary during his lifetime. The Ba’al Shem Tov replied, ‘Oib Azoi, Ich Fir Zich Nisht’ i.e. “If so, I’m not going.” He knew that R’ Emden would have great fortitude in the “battle” for Torah and he did not want to be involved with him in a lengthy adversarial role.

The Ba’al Shem Tov was told not to worry. He had nothing to fear from R’ Emden. R’ Yonason Aybshutz would also be a contemporary and he would be taking up all of R’ Emden’s time.

In the end, R’ Aybeshitz was vindicated, as was the Ba’al Shem Tov, as well as the entire Chassidic movement.