Prominent Chassidic Rebbe Speaks Out Against Inappropriate Kabbalah Study

As we have discussed in the past (see, for example, here), even though the Chassidic movement broke with traditional Ashkenazic practice in certain areas, such as nusach hatefillah, nevertheless, in other areas some Chassidim maintained traditional Ashkenazic stances.

I recently saw a interesting report in a newspaper published in Eretz Yisroel, called בקהילה (Bakehilla), about the Sanzer Rebbe of Netanya, speaking out strongly against people getting involved in Kabbalah when they are not on the proper level to do so (בקהילה פלוס, כה אייר תשע”ב, p.15). Under a title of סוד ה’ ליראיו, it reported that the Rebbe strongly condemned the spreading of קבלה indiscriminately to the masses, and said that  people should first learn the whole ש”ס (Talmud) with תוספות, among other aspects of standard תורת הנגלה. He warned of serious danger in learning Kabbalah for people not on the level to do so.

That is in accordance with traditional Ashkenazic belief and practice, which limits Kabbalah study to people properly prepared for it (in the past this has been a point of contention at times between some Chassidim and non-Chassidim). The words would not have been so surprising to me had they been uttered by a non-Chassidic Rosh Yeshiva or Rav. But it was somewhat surprising at first to see such strong talk on the topic from a Chassidishe Rebbe. A pleasant surprise though.

Looking for info about it online, I couldn’t find a recent report like the one in the newpaper, however I did find one of the Rebbe delivering similar remarks (though milder and less developed than in the recent report), three years earlier, on the occasion of the yohrzeit of the דברי חיים of צאנז.  Looking further, I noted similar sentiment at the Wikipedia page of the Rebbe’s ancestor, the דברי חיים, as well.

In the course of my searching, I also found an interesting report from a few years ago in which the Rebbe spoke out against Chassidim who institute new customs, such as abolishing the recitation of ונתנה תוקף on Yom Kippur, as well as certain other controversial actions such as dancing in the streets before שבת.

Boruch Hashem, it is nice to see a Chassidishe Rebbe speak so strongly on such an important matter, expressing the Ashkenazic viewpoint so clearly and forcefully. Hopefully we will see more such manifestations in the future, אכי”ר.

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9 Responses to “Prominent Chassidic Rebbe Speaks Out Against Inappropriate Kabbalah Study”

  1. Yisroel Gradmann Says:

    “the Rebbe spoke out against Chassidim who institute new customs, such as abolishing the recitation of ונתנה תוקף on Yom Kippur”

    What is wrong with skipping ונתנה תוקף on Yom Kippur? In Ashkenaz-German Botei Knessios it is also said only on Rosh Hashono, it is not found in the Rodelheim Machzorim.

  2. Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

    Thanks for your comment. You have a point there, which I didn’t catch earlier. But I don’t think they eliminated it on Yom Kippur because they suddenly decided to follow the Roedelheim machzor. 🙂

    • Yisroel Gradmann Says:

      Yeah, but they must have gotten it from somewhere, it’s not made up, they must have found a Mekor. It’s not like deciding not to say a random thing such as Berach Dodi on Shabbos Chol Hamoed.

      • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

        There is more info you can see about it if you click on the link above (last link in post). It seems that they stopped saying it because they claimed that it was ‘too harsh’ for people nowadays. If so, perhaps they removed it from Rosh Hashanah as well. Maybe when the Rebbe said Yom Kippur it was lav davka.

  3. BZ Says:

    How far does this prohibition extend? Would Chabad Chassidus be equivalent to Kabbalah for these purposes?

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Thanks for your interesting question. Anyone have an eleven foot pole handy? 😉

      I wanted to give your question some thought, and also figured that perhaps someone else would step forward and respond. Since no one else has yet, I will attempt to do so, בעזרת השי”ת.

      I assume you are asking about traditional Ashkenazic restrictions on Kabbalah study. If you are asking about the Sanzer Rebbe’s shitah, I cannot speak for him. But the two likely overlap significantly.

      One needs some definitions here too I think. How do you define “Chabad Chassidus”? There is a voluminous body of Lubavitcher teachings. Some are more esoteric and Kabbalistic than others. So I will assume that you are talking about the more esoteric and Kabbalistic ones. This response will focus on the narrow issue at hand, re Kabbalah study, and not get into theological questions of Chassidus vs, Hisnagdus, for example. We will assume that certain aspects of Lubavitcher teachings = Kabbalah for this discussion.

      It would seem to me that the more esoteric/Kabbalistic Chabad teachings would be considered as ‘Kabbalah’ from this point of view, and treated the same way. Basically, if you feel that you are ‘in over your head’, it would be a good idea to get out of the water. 😉 Lubavitchers might take issue with this, but it is known that other Chassidim groups differ with Lubavitch on this and other matters. This disagreement goes way back in time. An early Chassidic associate of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, R. Avraham of Kalisk, opposed the publication of the Tanya, and R. Baruch of Medzhybizh, grandson of the בעש”ט, also opposed it. While Lubavitchers promote Tanya for everyone, various other Chassidim restrict it, or do not similarly encourage it, to this day.

      I think that major Chassidic groups, such as Ger, and Satmar to an extent, for two prominent examples, would take a similar position to the Sanzer Rebbe here. Note, for example, the remarks in the second paragraph of the section “Identifying features of Ger”.

  4. Tziki kedera Says:

    It is politics… The best of Sanzer, Belzer, Toldos Aaron, Squarer, etc. are inspired from Rav A Tz Kluger and go with him to Uman on Rosh Hashana…(he also teaches Kabalah).. so these Rebbes are against Kabalah..

    • Treasures of Ashkenaz Says:

      Thanks for your comments.

      I suspected that there was some contemporary context that I was lacking, being an outsider to the Chassidic movement.

      Nevertheless, it still seems to me, נלע”ד, that what the Rebbe said is rooted in something deeper than that. As posted about the דברי חיים, his ancestor, at the Wikipedia page linked to above, that he refrained from publicizing Kabbalah the way other Chassidic movements did.

      A famous example of where the דברי חיים limited the influence of קבלה is the minhag from him that בחורים (not yet married males) put on tefillin on חול המועד, despite the very strong statement in the Zohar against it. The reason given is that not doing so is based on Kabbalah, and bochurim are not involved in קבלה. That minhag is continued today among Bobover Chassidim (perhaps among Sanzer as well? Anyone know?).

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