Friday, February 27, 2009

Melech HaMoshiach

I recently had a conversation with one of my old friends from yeshiva about my religiosity. He remarked that even if I no longer believe in god, I must surely admit that the Rebbe was (is?) a great man.

Was the Rebbe a great man? I don't know.

He was responsible for the religious indoctrination of thousands of children; isn't that a bad thing? Does it make it any better if he truly believed it was the right thing to do? Is it evil to do an evil thing if you think it's the right thing to do?

You have to understand, that when I was growing up, we pretty much considered the Rebbe to be almost a god, perfect and infallible. My religion was all about the Rebbe: the Rebbe wants you to go on mivtzoim, the Rebbe loves you, etc... My parents and teachers talked about the Rebbe more than they talked about Hashem. So it's probably understandable that I started to harbor bad feelings towards the Rebbe once I began to realize that my religious beliefs were (probably) false. I thought that the Rebbe had lied to me about everything, so how could he be considered a good man? It's hard not to feel betrayed by someone who you idolized all you're life.

I guess I'm not really qualified to answer the question objectively, since my emotions are so deeply entangled in this matter.


  1. How does one define great?

    Use your example of the Rebbe. He turned a small-time Chasidic clan into the predominant kiruv force in the world. He creaeted a multi-billion dollar empire and revolutionized Jewish outreach. He produced dozens of books and influenced countless people.

    Look at Bill Gates. He took someone else's ideas (the windows concept was stolen from Apple) and turned it into a trillion dollar empire that continues to dominate the computer world.

    You may completely disagree with their goals and beliefs but if greatness is the scale of one's accomplishments, it can't be debated they were both great leaders.

  2. I agree that the Rebbe accomplished much, in that sense he is great, as is Hitler.

    What I wonder is whether the Rebbe's impact was "good". In other words, did he have an overall positive effect on civilized society, in the utilitarian sense.

  3. The problem with absolutism is that it breeds arrogance.
    To wit: the religious guy who is sure God exists and thinks that non-believers are idiots.
    But equally: the non-religious guy who is sure that God doesn't exist, chas v'shalom, and thinks that believers are idiots.
    The problem many of us have with the latter group is that at the same time they condemn "frummies" they also deny that their absolute certainty of atheism and hatred of religion isn't the exact same thing as what they're railing against.
    In other words, whether it's some rabbi dismissed the non-religious as freaks and Dickie Dawkins dismissing all believers as insane, it's no different. But when you confront Dawkins followers, they refuse to admit it.
    For example, did the Rebbe have a positive utilitarian effect on society? If you're a Lubavitcher, then he did. If you're against Chabad, then he didn't. But to be against Chabad, feel that he didn't and then say that anyone who disagrees is wrong is simple arrogance and best avoided.

  4. Some authority on arrogance is Garnel.

  5. OTD,

    Thanks for commenting! I'm a fan of your blog.


    Most people who call themselves atheists (myself included) are not absolutists. I don't know for sure that there is no god. I also don't know for sure that there is no flying spaghetti monster living in the Andromeda galaxy. Both those claims have the same evidence.

    I know that Lubavitchers believe that the Rebbe had a positive effect on the world, I was just asking whether someone with a secular perspective would come to the same conclusion.

  6. Hush OTD, the adults are speaking.

    And no, I don't think someone with a secular perspective would come to the same conclusion, which is hardly a surprise. It doesn't change the value of what the Rebbe accomplished but its impact on a secular person would be minimal.

  7. you are wrong garnel. chabad besides being an outreach movement it is also a community service one. you need only look at the forest fires in california. tsunami in indonesia and katrina to see that a its a great movement even from a secular perspective.

  8. Thank's Fakewood, that is what I meant by secular utilitarian benefits. So the question is: Does all that secular goodness outweigh the brainwashing of innocent children? The same could be asked of the catholic church.

  9. everyone "brainwashes" children any society. the only way you could accomplish what you are looking for is to put a person in a bubble and then you wouldn't have a life. religion is such a broad term that it can be apllied to pretty much any doctrine if you spin it a certain way. as for does it outweigh its faults. i will quote you chassidus here maase hu haikar.

    my question to you is what are the things that you find disturbing about chabad specifficaly and judaism in general.

  10. Sure, we don't grow up in bubbles, but there are certainly degrees of evil. Brainwashing a child to become a suicide bomber is worse than brainwashing him to be scared of hell which is worse than teaching him to love capitalism, for instance.

    I just think that we should never force our children to believe anything, they should be given the freedom to come to their own conclusions.

    As to what I find disturbing about Chabad and Judaism: there are too many things to list now, but that's probably what many of my future posts will be about. But to relate to this discussion, they both advocate child indoctrination.

  11. every social system does thats how human live and it isnt so terrible.

  12. Fakewood,

    I think we can do better. At least we should try.

  13. i don't believe there is better personally because i do believe in the religion even if i don't agree with how certain people follow it. i have looked at alternatives and haven't found anything that makes me happier and fulfilled. fulfilled isn't really the word im looking for but i cant think of another word that describes the feeling.

  14. Each person needs to find their own purpose. I personally find meaning in relationships with fellow humans and the quest to understand the universe. I never felt fulfilled serving a deity who's existence could not be confirmed.

  15. as i contemplate about g-d i find more and more about myself. i prefer not to speak to people if it was up to me i would live in my own world all by myself. unforunatly thats not what g-d wants from me so i push myself to help other people in any way i can.

  16. As a teacher of young children, I can attest to the ability to teach them anything. Stick a child in a room by himself with all necessities he needs and he may learn to survive, but that is about it. Children need directives and instruction to develop.

    It happens to be that my job is to teach children how to share, be polite, learn to care for themselves, to socialize, to color, to zip their backpacks, to put on their socks, to eat, to play, to throw a ball, to jump, to count, to cut with scissors, to talk. Is that indoctrination?

    But when I teach them to make brachos, to give tzedaka, to help others because it is a mitzva, about Shabbos and Yomtov, about the Parsha; that's indoctrination, right? Suddenly, I'm not teaching, I'm brainwashing.

    Who decided that teaching a child to say "Thank You" is better than to say "Modeh Ani"? Why learning to count a great achievement while learning the parsha considered giving him no option to choose?

    Children need to be taught, to be shown. They follow by nature. If you teach your child "to choose his own path" before he can really think for himself, you are just educating him to be a cynic. Yes, a person must choose his own path, but a child must be taught in order to later think for himself.

    And if a parent would choose not to teach his son what he feels is the truth, what kind of parent would he be?

  17. C, when you teach them to tie their shoes, you're teaching them survival skills. When you teach them religious studies, you're teaching them beliefs that may or may not be true.

  18. Maybe he should just figure it out on his own. Have him hold the laces in his hands for a few years until he can figure it out.

    Seriously now, I think that teaching young children about G-d and religion opens their mind up to be able to think for themselves in the future. If a child is not taught anything about the subject, when he finally confronts it one day, he will be overwhelmed and unable to comprehend the ideas brought forth. That is ignorance, not intelligence.