Is Chabad Heresy?

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Heresy accusations have a way of returning with a vengeance. R. Samson Raphael Hirsch was known by some as a heresy hunter. He harshly attacked historians such as R. Zechariah Frankel and Hirsch’s one-time protege Heinrich Graetz. He even attacked as heresy an essay by the halakhist, R. David Tzvi Hoffmann. In an ironic historical twist, one of R. Hirsch’s essays was attacked as heretical (or, implausibly, a forgery) in the Slifkin Torah-Science Affair a few years ago.

A recent debate in an educational forum (link) about the propriety of teaching kabbalah in yeshiva high schools led to a debate over the theological soundness of kabbalah and, in particular, the founding treatise of Chabad Chassidus, the Tanya. This debate about the Tanya is hardly new. Indeed, the charges were first raised by none other than the Vilna Gaon. (Note that R. Eliyahu of Vilna is also known as the Gra and Vilna Gaon. R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi is also known as the Alter Rebbe and Ba’al Ha-Tanya.)

After an impostor posing as the Vilna Gaon’s son claimed that his “father” had reversed his negative evaluation of Chassidus, the elderly sage issued a letter in 1796 denying a change of heart. After the authenticity of this letter was questioned, the Vilna Gaon in 1797 issued another letter detailing his problems with the movement. The letter was circulated and published the next year in the Slutzker Maggid’s book and many times since. I take it from Mordechai Willensky’s Chassidim U-Misnagdim (Mossad Bialik, 2nd ed. vol. 1 p. 187ff.). In the middle of his list of accusations against Chassidim, written in flowery rabbinic Hebrew, the Vilna Gaon states (p. 188, in loose translation):

דור מה רמו עניו, ומילין לצד עלאה מללו: אלה אלקיך ישראל, כל עץ וכל אבן, ומגלים פנים בתורה שלא כהלכה בפסוק: ברוך כבוד ה׳ ממקומו, ובפסוק: ואתה מחיה את כולם. הוי על הרום הרעים שבהם שבדו מלבם משפט חדש ואולפין חדת, ושתו תלמידים הבאים אחריהם, ושם שמים מתחלל על ידיהם…

Oh how the generation lifted its eyes and spoke words directed above: “This is your god, Israel” (Ex. 32:8), every tree and rock. They reveal the Torah contrary to law in the verse: “Blessed is the glory of God from His place” (Ez. 3:12) and in the verse: “And you preserve them all” (Ne. 9:6).

As Willensky points out in his footnotes, these are accusations of heresy. The Vilna Gaon charges Chassidim with believing in panentheism, that God is present in everything, even inanimate objects. The Tanya (2:Yichud Ve-Emunah:1) states that God is present in inanimate objects and in this next chapter explains Ne. (9:6) similarly. It also explains (1:42) Ez. (3:12) in this manner.

It is not clear how the Vilna Gaon knew the contents of the as-yet unpublished Tanya. Historians suggest he saw an unpublished draft or an early printing. It is irrelevant because his understanding of Chabad philosophy was confirmed by the Ba’al Ha-Tanya. In an undated letter, first published in 1857 and then many times since, the Ba’al Ha-Tanya explains his philosophical disagreement with the Vilna Gaon.

The following is from his letter (Willensky, vol. 1 pp. 200-201, also in loose translation):

ולפי הנשמע אין במדינות ליטא מי שירום לבבו שלא לבטל דעתו מפני דעת הגאון החסיד ולאמר בפה מלא אין בפיהו נכונה ח״ו, כ״א במדינות הרחוקות כתוגרמא ואיטלייא ורוב אשכנז ופולין גדול וקטן. ובזאת חפצתי באמת, ובפרט בענין האמונה אשר לפי הנשמע במדינותינו מתלמידיו אשר זאת תפיסת הגאון החסיד על ס׳ ליקוטי אמרים ודומיו, אשר מפורש בהם פי׳ ממלא כל עלמין ולית אתר פנוי מיניה כפשוטו ממש, ובעיני כבודו היא אפיקורסות גמורה לאמר שהוא ית׳ נמצא ממש בדברים שפלים ותחתונים ממש, ולפי מכתב מעלתם ע״ז נשרף הספר הידוע, ובפירוש מאמרים הנזכרים יש להם דרך נסתרה ונפלאה, ומלא כל הארץ כבודו היינו השגחה וכו׳.

ומי יתן ידעתיו ואמצאהו ואערכה לפניו משפטינו להסיר מעלינו כל תלונותיו וטענותיו הפילוסופיות אשר הלך בעקבותיהם לפי דברי תלמידיו הנ״ל לחקור אלקות בשכל אנושי, וכאשר קבלתי מרבותי נ״ע תשובה נצחת על כל דבריו.

It is heard that no one in Lita will be so arrogant as to fail to submit to the Vilna Gaon’s view and say openly that he was wrong, only in distant lands like Turkey, Italy, most of Germany and Poland major and minor. This is what I truly want, particularly in matters of faith that, according to what is heard in these lands from his students, that this is what he thought about the Tanya and similar: They say explicitly that the meaning of “He fills all the worlds and there is no place empty of Him” literally. In the Vilna Gaon’s eyes it is complete heresy to say that God exists literally in mundane, lower things…. [In his view] these sayings have a hidden meaning, that God’s providence fills the world, etc.

If only I could find him and arrange my case before him to remove all of his philosophical complaints, which according to his students followed in his study of God with his human intellect, as I have received from my teachers successful responses to all his words….

The Ba’al Ha-Tanya continues to base his views on the Arizal and Zohar. He also claims that the Vilna Gaon did not believe that all of the Arizal’s kabbalah all came from Eliyahu, much of it originating with the Arizal’s genius and therefore subject to rejection. (The truth of this claim is certainly disputed but irrelevant to our current discussion.)

We see that the Ba’al Ha-Tanya accepts the Vilna Gaon’s description of his views as panentheism. However, he defends this theological view as authentically Jewish while the Vilna Gaon rejects them as heresy.

In particular, the Ba’al Ha-Tanya portrays himself as the defender of tradition and the Vilna Gaon as the radical philosopher, the innovative theologian trying to determine on his own the nature of God.

I do not care to decide between these two great scholars. In my circles, we value the works of both without deeming either heretical. In particular, R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, an intellectual descendant of the Vilna Gaon, strongly recommended studying the Tanya.

What I find most interesting is that the Vilna Gaon himself accused the Rambam of being misled by his philosophical pursuits (Bi’ur Ha-Gra to Yoreh De’ah 179:13, see Jacob Dienstag’s article on this in Talpiot, July 1949). Eventually, the Vilna Gaon was accused of the very same thing. History’s irony continues.

See also this post: Reflections on Returning from an Uncle Moishy Concert

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.


  1. I do not care to decide between these two great scholars. In my circles, we value the works of both without deeming either heretical. In particular, R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, an intellectual descendant of the Vilna Gaon, strongly recommended studying the Tanya.

    Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler in Michtav MeEliyahu also very often quotes both the Tanya and Ruach Chayim and Nefesh HaChayim (by Rabbi Chayim Volozhin).

  2. “The truth of this claim is certainly disputed”

    My understanding is that the Ba’al HaTanya’s statement was quite accurate. IIRC R’ Dovid Kamenetsky has an article about the GRA stance towards the Ari and he basically agrees with the Ba’al HaTanya statement.

  3. “Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler in Michtav MeEliyahu also very often quotes both the Tanya and Ruach Chayim and Nefesh HaChayim (by Rabbi Chayim Volozhin).”

    R’ Dessler also claims that they don’t argue and it was only a misunderstanding.

  4. I think you meant 1700s rather than 1800s

  5. “After an impostor posing as the Vilna Gaon’s claimed that his “father” had reversed his negative evaluation of Chassidus”
    –I think an important word is missing before the word “claimed.”

  6. I’ve heard that Bobover Chassidim do not learn the Vilna Gaon’s perush on Tanach because of how he understands the Zohar—not in accord with Arizal. (Probably this holds for other Chassidic groups as well.)

  7. I once heard a Chasidic Rebbe teach an esoteric matter not in accordance with the Arizal, so apparently the Arizal wasn’t universally accepted.

  8. What an offputting title to a post. I realize you end up in the right place. But the idea that you or the people you quote are remotely qualified to render judgments on two of the greatest contributors to Jewish theology in modern times is so laughable and farfetched as to border on the offensive. Even someone whose spent years reading Kabbalistic texts and understands the implications of the Kabbalistic terms at play might be flummoxed and confused by this debate. It really relies to a great extent on arcana of how you read Lurianic and Zoharic texts which are not explicit on this point. Also on how you parse a few disputes in 13th cent. Kabbalah which are not at all clear. I really don’t think more than half a dozen or so people in the world are qualified to weigh in on this question from either traditional or academic perspectives. Certainly not to render definitive judgments. This is like headlining a post “Was Descartes Wrong?” or “Socrates, what a moron!” without really understanding the entire oeuvre and reading copious amounts of secondary material. Its provocative to juxtapose a picture of the Alter Rebbe with some trash talk. What it isn’t is productive.

  9. 2 points:
    1) you need to sharpen the distinction between pantheism and panentheism. The Gra accused Chabad of the former, but the latter is a more accurate categorization of the Tanya’s theology.
    2) Rav Kook can be added to the list of those who was an heir to both traditions.

  10. How Is Chassidic Thought Different than Pantheism?

  11. Baruch Friedman

    Who said the Gaon saw the Tanya at all? He probably was told about the teachings of its author. If you look closely at what the Gaon attributes to the Tanya, it is clear that the Tanya never wrote that. He says that the Tanya believes that since G-s is present in everything, by extension everything is G-d (and could therefore be worshipped). Gra doesn’t disagree with the contention that there is no space devoid of G-d. His prime disciple in Nefesh Hachaim explicitly states this, and it is unthinkable that he would adopt an opinion considered by his rebbe to be heresy.

  12. Gil
    In light of adderrabbi’s claims, this post needs claificationif not revisions. According to you the GRA held that Panentheism, the belief that the entire world is enfused with God, but that God has existence outside the word, is kefira. On what basis? it certainly does noit volate any of the 13 ikkarim of the Ramabam (which is not to say that Rambam though panentheism was correct).

    Adderabbi suggests another account entirely. According to him theGRA accused the BT of Pantheism, that God has no existence outside of the universe.. This is an extre acccusation which seems hard to beleive. THe BT was no spinosist or pagan. As such this entire discussion is moot. The GRA was ill informed about Chabad theology, that all.

    Either way the GRA’s position needs clairifaction here.

  13. Baruch Friedman: it is not unthinkable.

  14. This needs more discussion and is discussed comprehensively elsewhere, e.g. in the ספר הגאון מאת הרב דב אליאך
    Nevertheless, since it is posted, I think a few comments are in order.

    1) There are various aspects of Habad theology that are problematic. Here you just focused on one of them. To be a more complete discussion about the propriety of such, other aspects of Habad teachings, such as the Tanya’s teachings about the soul, about the Chassidic Rebbe, as well as messianism, should be included, as touched on in the Lookjed discussion, which evidently brought about this post.

    2) “In particular, R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, an intellectual descendant of the Vilna Gaon, strongly recommended studying the Tanya.”

    A) Perhaps in some aspects RYBS was an intellectual descendant of the Gaon, but not necessarily in others. RYBS was compromised in that respect when his Lubavitcher melamed taught him Tanya in his tender years surreptitiously, against the expressed wishes of his father, R. Moshe.

    B) IIRC, he taught Tanya in the summer to some students in MA, who gathered with him there then after his Rebbetzin passed away. But that was a limited group, of advanced students, bein hazmanim (outside the formal study semesters/periods). Where do you see that he advocated and did it in a broader sense? For all students, as in Lubavitcher schools?? Do any MO schools do that? Do his leading students today (e.g. Rav Hershel Schachter, etc.) teach and advocate same?

    3) It is a mistake to portray this as just the Vilna Gaon vs. the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, when Sephardic mekubbalim also reject the Tanya – e.g. “The Ben Ish Hai, Rav M. Sharabi, Rav Kaduri, Rav Darzi, Rav Attias, Rav Hedayya, Rav Shalom Shmueli and Rav Tzion Berakha all consider the Tanya to contradict the Eitz Haim.”, as reported at

    The Sephardim also reject the Lubavitchers claim that their nusach is the real nusach Ari. Let us not ignore the Sephardic gedolim here.

  15. Moshe Shoshan

    ” Do his leading students today (e.g. Rav Hershel Schachter, etc.) teach and advocate same?”

    RHS is not a leading student of the Rav with regard to hashkafa.
    I am not sure claims to be one either.

    In either event, the point is that the evidence suggests that the Rav did not think that Tanya was in any way heretical regardless of the place he thought it should have in the general curiculum.

  16. It would be interesting to know how many folks in either camp actually ever think about these issues?On how many folks does it have any concious impact on their daily activities and specific actions? In practice what is the rate of cross fertilization (e.g. perhaps chassidim who are punctilious on zmanim, litvish roshei yeshiva becoming rebbi-like)

  17. Moshe Shoshan

    In general I think that Gil’s call to “ban the ban” needs to be applied to some degree to heresy hunts as well. pretty soon the accusation of “kfira” becomes just another way of saying “I strongly disagree”.

  18. We should realize before going too far with this that the author of the LookJed post that started this discussion would ban the Gra’s theology too — anything that smacks of Qabbalah.

  19. “their nusach is the real nusach Ari”

    The Ari, being an Ashkenazi, probably davened nusach Ashkenaz. He had no nusach of his own; what we call “nusach Ari” is basically Chabad’s form of the real “nusach Ari,” which is basically what Ashkenazim call “nusach Sephard,” which was invented by chassidim and is basically nusach Ashkenaz with a few Sephardic and kabbalistic elements thrown in.

  20. I just took my recently bought copy of Morgenstern’s The Gaon of Vilna and his Messianic Vision off the shelf to scan in regard to this issue (I have not yet read it). There is no direct mention of the GRA and Tanya, but it seems evident that this issue cannot be understood without the broader context of the time. In particular, Chapter 7 (pp. 231-285) on The 1772 Excommunication of the Hasidim in Vilna; and Chapter 11 (pp. 345-374) on The Gaon of Vilna Attempts to Discover the “Secrets of the Torah” in Order to Write the Final Halachic Code.

  21. Can someone clarify? Does Chabad/ Tanya try to make a distinction between their theology and Pantheism, or do they really hold that Pantheism is a permitted belief in Judaism?

  22. “This debate about the Tanya is hardly new. Indeed, the charges were first raised by none other than the Vilna Gaon.”
    “It is not clear how the Vilna Gaon knew the contents of the as-yet unpublished Tanya.”

    it should be noted that the GRA called the hasidim heretics already in 1772(5532) based on accusations from the sages of shklov and declared that they must be persecuted. the tanya was published in 1797 the year the GRA died. the baal hatanya writes in igrot qodesh (p.86-7)on this event that the gaon viewed their interpretation of a certain passage in the zohar as heresy. this interpretation was claimed by them to be revealed via gilui eliyahu.

  23. In general I think that Gil’s call to “ban the ban” needs to be applied to some degree to heresy hunts as well.

    Gil did not call to “ban the ban” and I doubt he meant that either. His conclusion simply was “I do not care to decide between these two great scholars. In my circles, we value the works of both without deeming either heretical.” (Of course, by not deciding you are actually implying the Vilna Gaon is wrong as the alternative is that Chabad is suspect, which is contrary to the implied intent of this resolution.)

  24. I think that ADDeRabbi may be oversimplifying the distinction, since a great deal of chassidus and the Tanya in particular really hints at a sort of monism rather than panentheism. Monism might be heretical, as among other things, it is very close to pantheism.

  25. Fotheringay-Phipps

    “It is not clear how the Vilna Gaon knew the contents of the as-yet unpublished Tanya. Historians suggest he saw an unpublished draft or an early printing. It is irrelevant because his understanding of Chabad philosophy was confirmed by the Ba’al Ha-Tanya.”

    If you ask me, it’s completely unclear that the Gra was referring to the Tanya.

    There could have been any number of Chassidim of that era who said similar things, and there’s no reason to believe that when the BHT wrote this in his work he was promulgating a new and original concept.

  26. MiMedinat HaYam

    though the ari’s father was ashkenazi, he was raised by his maternal uncle as a sfardi. though he developed some sort of nusach, that the baal hatanya adopted and amended.

    the nusach sfard today is used by more than just chassidim, though they predominate.

  27. Pantheism: God is identical with the physical (finite) universe.

    Panentheism: The physical universe is entirely contained within the infinite God, and nullified beside It as any finite number is nullified in comparison with inifinity. We as created beings have a soul which is chelek Eloak mimaal, a part of God Above, but we cannot perceive it.

    Acosmism: There is no physical universe, it is all God-stuff, just that because of the (spiritual) tzimtzum, we are effectively screened from perceiving the God-nature of ourselves and everything around us.

    The first is clearly incompatible with pretty much any form of Judaism that hews to tradition – it’s essentially the god of Spinoza or R’ Mordechai Kaplan.

    The second and third are simultaneously and “paradoxically” (Rachel Elior’s characterization in “the Paradoxical Ascent to God”) held by Chabad. Elliot Wolfson (“Open Secret”) uses the terms to translate Chabad’s concepts of “lower unity” and “upper unity” (yichuda tataah, yichuda ilaah).

    Elijah J. Schochet, a Gra einikl, reads the letters about “the Chabad will worship the trees and stones” literally to say that the Gra disagrees with Chabad acosmism.

    Allan Nadler (“The Faith of the Mithnagdim”) claims instead that the Gra and the Baal haTanya agreed on acosmism, but the chasidim held that the godliness was perceivable by the non-initiate, while the Gra held that one needed to be a kabbalistic initiate to perceive our God-nature. The letter would thus be interpreted to say that the non-initiates, who cannot perceive the God-nature in the trees and stones, will worship the trees and stones as trees and stones, not as parts of the One God Unchanging.

    This is further complicated by the inter-group brangling and making up of stories to discredit the Other. E.g., the Chabadniks (via R’ Nissan Mindel, I think, I’m not sure what he was translating, possibly some [pseudo-]historical writings by the Previous Rebbe) claim that a) the Gra was influenced to oppose Chasidism by lying maskilim, and b) that the Baal haTanya sent emissaries to explain his position to the Gra, and the Gra snuck out of the house when they came to call.

    Then there’s R’ Rakeffet’s theory – that the Gra, during his attempt to move to Israel, passed through Chasidic areas, and saw how they were playing fast & loose with halacha, and decided that he had to stay in Europe and fight them rather than make aliyah. The example R’ Rakeffet gave was that in a Boro Park chassidic, he saw a minyan where, when there was a kohen present, but the gabbai wanted to give the first aliyah to a money guy, the kohen was sent out of the room. I think he had some kind of evidence that the Gra had seen something similar.

  28. Charlie Hall: Oh, and there’s some speculation on Chabad forums that the Lubavitcher Rebbes drew their kabbalat ha-Ari from R’ Yisrael Sarug, rather than R’ Chaim Vital.

  29. MiMedinat HaYam

    throwing out a kohen — R Ovadia Yosef says call up the yisrael saying (paraphrase) “oolam yesh kohen she’lo rotzeh la’azov ya’amod ploni yisrael”. (would be particularly vicious, since sfardim do not call up by name.)

    numerous stories of real misnagdim leaving their children’s education to chassidim. was RMS so naive? also story of RMF attending nursery with the lubavitcher rebbe’s wife, as a child. (see 8th volume of IM, in the family drafted biography; its good reading, that will never appear in artscroll.

  30. Moshe Shoshan

    The ARI was from Egypt and he presumably davened the local nusach. See Goldshmidt’s article on nusach sefard in his collected writings.

  31. OK, but he certainly didn’t daven “Nusach Ari.”

    “was RMS so naive”

    No; he was the Rav of a Chabad town, for interesting historical reasons. The cheder rebbe was Chabad; there was nothing else.

    Throwing out kohanim is an old topic, not exclusive to Chassidim.

  32. Taking incompatible philosophies and claiming they can be reconciled is disturbing. Call it Chassidus, call it whatever you want. The challenge of Chassidus is, it contradicts the 13 Ikarim, the idea being you don’t have to be a genius or a great Talmud Chacham to call it false if it can’t be reconciled with the Ikarim.

  33. If you are interested in learning about topic of Chabad’s view of G-d’s relationship with the world as opposed to just commenting about, her is a place to start:
    Why I Became a Chabad Chossid by Rabbi Shmuel Braun

  34. Chabad is the only Jewish movement that has Elokists:
    people who believe that their Rebbe is G_d.

  35. Given the discussion here, I found this downright entertaining:

    [the author appears to be a Chabad Rabbi at “The Shul at the Lubavitch Center” in Baltimore.

  36. ” R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik……strongly recommended studying the Tanya.”

    Source(s)? Quotes to that effect? If we would have such to examine, perhaps we could get a better handle on his attitude toward it. For example, did he do so because he a) fully accepted it, or was his position b), as I heard regarding a certain leading Litvishe Rosh Yeshiva in the US (of Lubavitch descent) zt”l who would learn Tanya, from someone close to him, that he was a big misnaged, but held that Tanya was a great sefer – so perhaps he didn’t agree with everything in it, but just held that it was an important work, with some worthwhile parts and others that he did not accept, c) perhaps there is an element of דע מה שתשיב in learning Tanya from a Litvishe standpoint? If so, that explains why he did not advocate it on a broad scale, as Lubavitchers do, as not everyone is on the level of sorting out the acceptable from non acceptable parts, and being involved in דע מה שתשיב activity.

    Also, even if this was true in the past (though IMO the statement is too broad), he might not have said so in today’s climate. Like at the Telz yeshiva, where they learned Tanya many years ago, in Europe, but then stopped. It is one thing if people learn it בצנעא, but broadcasting it can give the wrong message, people might think that those looking at it are closet or becoming Lubavitchers. With the agressive proselytizing by Habad in recent times that is a significant concern. And the messianism issue could very well be a factor too.

  37. I know that Machon Shilo’s Rav David Bar-Hayim posits that current theologically deviant positions of Habad are rooted in the Tanya.

  38. “The challenge of Chassidus is, it contradicts the 13 Ikarim,”

    could you possible expand on this statement. It seems quite outrageous, but I would like to hear your case before.

  39. Well, having a rebbe intercede for you with God is a pretty big one.

  40. What do you do when all current views of the Tanya (that is, by Lubavitchers and by others) seem to be colored by communal/political biases? Is there a really straight interpretation of the Tanya’s basic theories that we can read?

  41. Nachum,

    Did not Moshe intercede with God on behalf of Miriam and the Jews?

  42. First of all it is important to note that this has nothing to do with Chabad in particular. These ideas and the Baal HaTanya are accepted by ALL the contemporary chassidic world. This is the old debate between chasidim and misnagdim. The view of most chasidim (not just Chabad) is that the Gra was misled by some of his close followers. Of course many followers of the gra would deny that and they are entitled to their opimion.

    Some of the greatest kabbalists today such as Rav Morgenstern rosh yeshiva of toras chochom a kabbalistic yeshiva in Jerusalem are the greatest proponents of Tanya and Chabad chassidus in general so to say that Tanya goes against the ari is nonsense. The author you quoted above and have a link to has since retracted his opinion as can be seen on his blog and he has even begun to write a commentary on Tanya.

  43. Moshe Shoshan

    Well, having a rebbe intercede for you with God is a pretty big one.

    How is this kefira?

  44. How about Moshe interceding with Gd for the people. Do we have the same version of the Chumash? How about chazal saying that if someone is sick in your household go and ask a Talmid chochom to pray for you? Do we have the same version of the Gemara? How about the rambam saying in sefer hamitzvos (one of the first ones) that in order to cleave to Gd you need to cleave to a Talmid chochom?

    Just be aware that the majority of frum Jews today do not consider the ideas of chassidus to be in any way heretical and it’s obviouse to all chasidim (and most others) that nothing they believe is against anything in the 13 ikarim.

  45. It seems to me that framing this as about “heresy hunting” vs. as about the underlying theological issues (as to which you claim no qualifications and your discussion is rather thin) makes this post fail steve brizel’s favorite “it and not about it” test…

  46. emma: I agree that this is a historical post. How is that bad?

  47. What a relief. I thought this was going to be another case of “flogging a dead horse”. The Chasidim/Misnagdim machloket has been over for a very long time, and it’s a shame when people try to rehash the old issues.

    Still, a headline like that is the blog equivalent of a blood-red tabloid headline; it cheapens this site’s credibility (ever so slightly)…

  48. this is a historical post

    Is it?

  49. perhaps i just have a bad taste from your reference to that lookjed outburst, appropriately characterized by some of the posters as “unfortunate” and “bizzarre,” as a “discussion.”

    but i do think you are skirting between genres and therefore not doing any of them justice. it’s not quite historical, not quite theological.

  50. I’m a rule breaker.

    Yes, I thought it was improper for them to discuss whether the Tanya is heretical without quoting what the Gra and Ba’al Ha-Tanya wrote about the subject. And I added some spice to make it more interesting and timely (heresy hunting).

  51. “emma: I agree that this is a historical post. How is that bad?” its misleading but might be right anyway.

  52. “Aw on January 3, 2013 at 9:44 am

    First of all it is important to note that this has nothing to do with Chabad in particular. These ideas and the Baal HaTanya are accepted by ALL the contemporary chassidic world.”

    I am not sure that is true. Lubavitchers may want to believe that is so. Just like they claim that Yud tes Kislev is ‘Rosh Hashanah Lachasidus’ but in reality, is basically just a Lubavitcher holiday, like the recently added Lubavitcher Hei Teves holiday, not followed by other Chasidim.

    Do other Chasidim learn and place a stress on Tanya the way Lubavitchers do? The answer is very clear – no! Lubavitchers say it is the ‘Torah shebiksav’ of Chasidus’ and it is taught to youngsters, women…Maybe some other Chasidim learn it, but nowhere near the extent that Lubavitchers do.

    Lubavitchers like to believe that they are the highest, most pure form, and vanguard of the Chasidic movement, but other Chasidim differ.

    “The author you quoted above and have a link to has since retracted his opinion as can be seen on his blog and he has even begun to write a commentary on Tanya.”

    I looked at his blog, and it is true that he stepped back from what he originally wrote somewhat. However, he still says that the Tanya says things different than the Etz Chaim of the Arizal. See e.g.

    “Shmuel on January 3, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    What a relief. I thought this was going to be another case of “flogging a dead horse”. The Chasidim/Misnagdim machloket has been over for a very long time, and it’s a shame when people try to rehash the old issues.”

    Huh? Do you learn mishnah? Gemara? If so, you are rehashing old machlokes all the time. Do להגדיל תורה ולהאדירה and דרוש וקבל שכר mean something to you?

    You say “Chasidim/Misnagdim machloket has been over for a very long time” – I believe that you are making the error here of conflating two different things. One is what is sometimes called the active phase of the machlokes from 200 plus years ago, when there was banning and cheirem. That came to an end, when the Russian government ordered that Chasidim be accepted and things died down. Then the two sides made common cause against Reform and haskalah and differences were played down. However, there remained and remain to this day, differences in belief and practice between the groups. While they may not be as prominent and visible now as at times in the past, they still exist.

  53. The difference between chabad and other chassidim is that chabad take everything seriously. In Rizhin they say gimmel cheshvan is yom kippur. I never saw anyone wear a kittel because of it. Chabad take their rosh hashana as seriously as a mitzva derabonon.

  54. The Gra’s successor, R’ Chaim Volozhin, was mevatel the cherem and moreover, wrote a sefer Nefesh Hachaim, which directly borrows from the shitos of the Alter Rebbe as opposed to the Gra. The philosophical debate has been over since that generation, but people like you continue to revive long dead machloikisim.

    Worse still is that in this weakest and most ignorant of generations, you are planting doubts about shomrei Torah uMitzvos, maaminim bnei maaminim. Shame on you.

  55. a few points and apologies for not being able to provide all the references id like to but alas sitting ib a hospital with only a phone has its limitations…

    jon baker the story you quoted about the Gra running away to avoid meeting the AR is not chabad urban myth as u seem to suggest but was related by RJBS at a public gathering in boston IIRC was yud tes kislev . there is arecording of the speech available on net,

  56. here is the link of RJBS relating story of GRA avoiding meeting AR i mentioned earlier

  57. there is a lengthy letter from the LR detailing 4 opinions on tzimtzum and the LR proves that R chaim volozin does not agree with opinion of GRA and goes one step closer to opinion of AR though does not agree fully with AR
    here is english translation

  58. in torah shleima from R Kasher in hashlomos at back i think of Shmos he has a legthy discussion on the machlokes of GRA and AR and iirc brings several clear proofs for opinion of AR

    Re R Dessler, fair to assume his views may have been influenced by famous chabad chosid r itche der masmid who spent alot of time together. this has been discussed at length on the blogosphere, search and you shall find.

  59. “Chosid on January 4, 2013 at 12:40 am

    The Gra’s successor, R’ Chaim Volozhin, was mevatel the cherem”

    Where did you get that from? Not true.

  60. R. Soloveitchik z”l was a great man, but he is not representative of mainstream Litvak thinking, particularly when it comes to Lubavitch. As mentioned above, he was compromised by his Lubavitcher melamed at a young age, who, against the state wishes of his father R. Moshe, taught him Tanya (by the way, I challenge any of the Lubavitchers here to admit that the Lubavitcher melamed was wrong in doing so). So therefore, even if he made statements as alleged above, they are not necessarily authoritative.

  61. *stated wishes

  62. The post title is sensational; it can also be titled: “Was the Gra a Heretic?”… (for holding – according to some – עזב ה’ את הארץ…)
    In perspective of history the Ba’al Ha-Tanya ‘won’ this argument:
    The Nefesh HaChaim doesn’t accept the position of his teacher regarding tzimtzum. His position mostly accedes to that of the Tanya.
    R. Dessler has gone as far as trying to reconcile this machlokes – by aligning, or revising, the opinion of the Gra to fit ‘mainstream’ kabbalah.
    See the letter of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe on the subject.

  63. “In perspective of history the Ba’al Ha-Tanya ‘won’ this argument”

    Yes, how true. The Rebbe, descendant of the Baal Ha-Tanya viHAshulchan Aruch, is called nosi hador and not Rav Soloveichik. Go into 770 and it says yechi the Rebbe, and not the Rav (not even in YU do you see yechi the Rav signs). Of course the Rebbe won!

  64. “The Nefesh HaChaim doesn’t accept the position of his teacher regarding tzimtzum. His position mostly accedes to that of the Tanya.”

    A debatable claim-some belief that Rav Hayyim Volozhin accepted the details of R Schneur Zalmans exposition of tzimtzum-certainly Chabad and the Lubavitcher Rebbe have made that claim, others including I believe the Rav don’t accept that position but rather that the Nefesh Hachayim accepted the essentials of the Gaons position of tzimzum but adapted certain details of RSZalmans exposition.

  65. I think there is some very important context missing here.

    1) The traditional Jewish belief was – and still is – that such esoteric, theological, and kabbalistic matters, are not for the masses, and are restricted to older, advanced scholars. It was known, that great problems (e.g. Sabbatean – Sabbetai Zevi – movement and Frankists) can come from the masses not on such levels getting into such material. Chassidic works like the Tanya broke with this tradition, and this bothered the opponents of the Chassidim. They maintained that the human intellect is limited and certain things should not be focused on, as the ancient Rabbis taught us.

    In hindsight we can see that they were right to be so concerned, as the Lubavitch community, where Tanya is concentrated on most, is the one hit hard with cases of very problematic related beliefs, such as the Rebbe being (chas veshalom) ‘atzmus umahus baguf’ (G-d in a body), advocating a deceased person as messiah, and praying to a human being, among others, more than elsewhere.

    2) There is a stress here on the meaning of מלא כל הארץ כבודו. But there also needs to be a way to understand ברוך כבוד ה’ ממקומו as part of this puzzle, to get the full picture. To explain one without the other can leave things out of whack.

  66. Everyone agrees that revealing kabbalistic concepts to the masses is not ideal. The leaders of chasidim realized though that we are not living in ideal times. They felt it necessary to reveal chassidus specifically in their generation , a generation much lower that all the prior generations, because only this would give strength to Am Yisroel to withstand the tests and nisyonos of the time and our time.

    The proof is in the pudding. It was only the chasidim who in large numbers were able to withstand the haskala and be moser nefesh for Judaism in communist Russia. (Of course this is not a blanket rule but see kisvei chofetz chaim coming next) The chofetz Chaim calls the chassidim an iron wall protecting true Judaism from haskala (see the back of kisvei chofetz chaim the part were his son brings down things his father told him). Lubavitcher chasidim were the ones moser nefesh to teach Alef beis to children in communist Russia many sent to Siberia and killed because of this. It is known that many litvisher would only trust chasidik melamdim for their children because they knew they would not be tainted by haskala. Hence the ravs father sending him to a chasidic

  67. Melamed. And Rav shlomo eiger the son of Rav akiva eiger sending his son to a chasidic yeshiva (and he became a chasidic rebbe reb laibele eiger). So yes there are dangers but it was felt and was proven to be true there is no choice. There is less danger following chassidus than not following it.

  68. … Of course this is not an excuse for anyone and everyone will be held accountable in shomayim ….

  69. I think AW takes the prize for offensive and self-aggrandizing historical inaccuracies.

  70. I think you deserve the prize. Speak to any frum litvisher from Europe (like my old rebbe) and he will tell you the same thing ( the history part ) also see for yourself the kisvei chofetz Chaim.

  71. Actually your right I should also get the prize. I noticed I wrote “it was proven to be true” obviously this cant exactly be considered a proof. the other side of the argument would not consider this a proof. My bad.

  72. First of all, you’re using “chassidim” and “Lubavitch” interchangeably. There are other chassidim, you know.

    Secondly, you write as if haskalah was some inherent evil. It isn’t, of course. There were and are lots of frum maskilim.

    Next, you overinflate Chabad’s role in Russia and causes for it. There were few other Jews in Russia proper to begin. 90% of Litvaks were killed while only 50% of Hungarians were. Of course, lots of people left pre or post war.

    As I wrote above, the Rav’s father sent him to a Chabad melamed because it was a Chabad town- there was no one else. When he found he was learning Tanya, he pulled him out and taught him himself.

    That’s representative of your “facts.”

  73. I should, however, say that the story of how the Rav received regards from his melamed fifty years later is one of the most touching I’ve ever heard.

  74. I was surprised by the tabloid-style heading to this article. It seemed beneath the caliber of the usually intellectual level of this website.

    Would you title an article, “Is the Gr”a a Heretic”?
    It seems that for a bit of attention this ‘blog’ is willing to vilify large segments of klal yisroel, finding them an easier target than say the Gra, R’ Yonasan Eibshitz, Ramchal, Rambam who have all been called heretics by other gedolim.

    Current Orthodox belief in the oneness of Hashem sharply disagrees with the Gra’s view. We have [starting with R’ Chaim Volozhin] repudiated the Gr”a on his main criticism of Chassidus.

  75. I am continuously surprised by the Chabad reaction to (just) the title of this post. They seem to be totally unaware that there are still plenty of Misnagdim who ask such questions, honestly and without malice. I think you should take this as an opportunity to venture beyond your circle into the wider Yeshiva community, where many different viewpoints on such issues exist.

    The acceptance of Chabad within the broader Orthodox community is not a given and has been losing ground over the last twenty years. Reach out and you may be able to further unite Torah Jewry.

  76. Dovid,

    I have to protest your comment. In no way is it accurate to say that mainstream orthodoxy “sharply disagrees” with the view of the Gaon about Divine unity, let alone that Gaon’s foremost student does.

    The first claim is self-evidently ludicrous, the second can be disproved both by common sense and by a close reading of the Nefesh HaChaim. Claims by certain sects otherwise are baseless.

  77. Yes it is just the title of this post that is offensive. Putting a picture of the Baal hatanya next to the words heresy is offensive to many. I dont think this would be considered appropriate by Rav Vozner, or Rav Nissin Karelitz or Rav Chaim kinevsky. These are the leaders of non chassidic Jewry yet they all signed on a recent kol korei encouraging the study of the Ravs shulchan oruch. On the kol korei the Baal hatanya is called “Rav hadome lmalach hashem tzevakos ” and “kiechod meiHarishonim”.

  78. Aa: “Rav Nissin Karelitz or Rav Chaim kinevsky. These are the leaders of non chassidic Jewry yet they all signed on a recent kol korei encouraging the study of the Ravs shulchan oruch. On the kol korei the Baal hatanya is called “Rav hadome lmalach hashem tzevakos ” and “kiechod meiHarishonim”.

    1) The poster shows his ignorance and disrespect by mangling the names of the non Lubavitch gedolim. Displaying common Lubavitch illiteracy in that and other ways.

    2) If you will go to the link posted you will see that it says הרב הדומה למלאך וכו – however, the story states that those words were added in by hand by the Belzer Rebbe – so may not have been in the text the Litvishe leaders were shown. Which in general raises the question of what the Litvishe leaders saw, if they actually signed such a thing (the thing is printed and not hand written). It may well have been altered after they signed it (if they actually did so).

    3) The tactics of Lubavitch are well known. They are trying to break out of the ostracism and isolation they have been in in recent years, esp. in the Litvish oriented Torah world, which intensified after they plunged into open messianism and fighting toward the end of the life of the Rebbe and continuing to this day. They try to seize on occasions like the two hundredth yahrtzeit of their first Rebbe and other things to pose as mainstream frum Yidden. As time goes by, the memory of some of their messianic excesses (which still continue, cf 770), are forgotten by some and they think they can regain ground lost due to the passing of Moreinu hagadol Rav Schach zt”l with new propaganda campaigns.

    But the mesorah of המנהיג הגדול, לוחם מלחמות השי”ת למען האמונה הטהורה המסורה לנו מדור דור, הרה”ג והרה”צ מרן רב אלעזר מנחם מן שך זצוקלה”ה and other true gedolim is still alive and well and people will not be fooled, even if Lubavitch sometimes succeeds in duping some Litvaks here and there. Oy, how we miss Rav Schach today. What a great leader, who spoke the truth.מי יתן לנו תמורתו. בתפלה שהשי”ת ירחם עלינו ויושיענו במהרה

  79. Ah, so the truth comes out. How we long for the days of machlokes. How we hate when people try to get together.

  80. Aa: You want to get together?

    I challenge you, and other Lubavitchers, paraphrasing Ronald Reagan,

    Mr. Lubavitch: Tear down that Yechi sign!

  81. I tear down any yechi signs I can get my hands on.

  82. I’m not a Chabad hater. All I’m saying is that the perspectives on Chabad are very different from the outside, even from what Lubavitchers say is going on on the outside. It’s not that everyone is out to get Chabad or that everyone loves Chabad. There are many different types of relationships.

    Although I don’t know anyone who does not consider the Ba’al HaTanya a great tzadik and talmid chakham.

  83. I can agree to that. I’m not accusing you of Chabad hating. It just got my adrenalin going seeing the words heresy next to the Baal hatanya. Just my emotional issue I guess.

  84. “Rav Vozner, or Rav Nissin Karelitz or Rav Chaim kinevsky. These are the leaders of non chassidic Jewry yet they all signed on a recent kol korei encouraging the study of the Ravs shulchan oruch.”

    They are choshuveh gedolim, but a) they don’t speak for all non Chassidic Jewry, and b) astute people realize that they may have been pestered to sign without being told the hidden agenda behind it (to break down the important mechitzos between their followers and Lubavitch). Since these are gedolim whose time is so important, who don’t want to waste any of it from תורה ומצות, they may have gone along, just to get rid of those who who were bothering them and wasting their time, and be able to return to לימוד תורתנו הקדושה.

    Let’s see you get an Eretz Yisroel Brisker (from משפחת הגרי”ז) to sign on. They can sniff out your true intentions from far away.

  85. Rav Shach was on the mark regarding the dangerous messianism encouraged by Rav Schneerson.

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