Friday, 16 September 2011

The Trouble With Uman

A couple of weeks ago I was having Shabbos lunch with a friend who has strong ties to the Chasidic world.  As he does every year at this time, he mentioned wistfully that he wished he could be in Uman for Rosh HaShanah to pray at the grave of Rebbe Nachman.  Having done it before he craved the spiritual uplift such an experience provided him.
Now maybe I'm too much of a rationalist but I felt I had to challenge him on that.  I noted that Yerushalayim, not Uman, is the centre of the world.  Unlike much of the last 2000 years, including the years in which Rebbe Nachman, z"l, lived we have access to our spiritual centre up to the Kotel itself.  If we are looking for the one place on Earth where a connection to the Ribono shel Olam is strongest it's right there in Israel.  If Rebbe Nachman was alive today would he insist his followers stay in Uman instead of making aliyah to be closer to God?  Why go to Uman when you could go to Israel?
My friend (I think he still is) smiled and said that I was indeed being rational and logical which is fine except that in matters of spiritualism rationalism and logic simply don't lead to the right conclusions.
Me, I think crap is crap no matter how much incence you blow around it.
Look at all our holy writings.  Has there been any land imbued with holiness other than Eretz Yisrael?  Are we advised to seek out God anywhere other than Yerushalayim?  If we choose to elevate ourselves are we told of any other place in the world where we can maximize that elevation other than Israel?
What's more, the choice is between a grave and the site of our holy Temple (may it be speedily rebuilt).  Yes, Rebbe Nachman was a great and influential man with an amazing legacy but he was just a man and we are talking about a piece of land upon which the Shechinah once manifested itself.  How can one compare the two?
Fortunately it doesn't seem that I'm alone in thinking that this pilgrimage represents a certain abandonment of specific Jewish principles in the name of a spiritual high:
An Israeli rabbi has come out against the increasingly popular custom of married men traveling to the tomb of Rabbi Nachman of Breslav in Uman, Ukraine for the Rosh Hashanah holiday without their families. There is no justification for leaving one's family to take the trip, Rabbi Ratzon Aroussi told Arutz Sheva.
“We must extend blessings to every movement that brings Jews back to Torah, each in his own path, particularly in these days of repentance,” he said. “However, we must speak the truth: the unity of the family is above everything else. It is a very precious thing in halakhah [Jewish law].” He quoted a passage from the Talmud in which a rabbi told his student, “If you have a family, stay with your family.”
The same spiritual benefits can be had in Israel, he continued. “Do we not have tombs here? The forefathers of our nation are buried here, why go abroad? What about the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Rachel's Tomb, the tombs of the great and mighty of our nation... ?”
Rabbi Aroussi, the rabbi of Kiryat Ono and a member of the Rabbinic Council of the Chief Rabbinicate, explained that visits to a chassidic leader on holidays can be problematic for the same reason. “The spiritual connection to the Admor [Torah leader – ed.] is important – but not at the expense of your home,” he declared.
“Whoever leaves his family and goes to his rabbi or 'admor' (Chassidic leader, ed.) for the holidays, whether in the Holy Land or even more so, outside the land, is violating halakhah,” he stated. Those who wish to connect to their spiritual leaders on the holiday “should take care to bring their families with them, but G-d forbid that they should leave their families,” he added.
Rabbi Aroussi stated that a one-time trip to visit the tombs of rabbis buried outside Israel would be permissible, “because it is a trip undertaken for a holy purpose, in order to kindle the flame of faith.” However, such trips should not be taken on an annual basis, he added, and not on the holidays.

Or am I just missing something here?
Israel is the centre of our universe.  There is no comparison between the holiness in our Land and the tumah which envelopes the rest of the world.  To volutarily bypass an opportunity to be in Israel in order to go somewhere else for inspiration would seem to me to miss the whole point of how one should become Jewishly inspired.

18 comments:

Adam Zur said...

now you have put me on the defensive. I am used to criticizing breslov. (It is my favorite area to criticize) - Yet I never intend my attack to refer to Rebbi Nachman himself or major theses which he proposed. The problem here revolves around the fact that Rebbi Nachman did see deeply into the human soul. Maybe more than any other thinker philosopher or mystic. And his advice in many areas does address the human condition deeply and profoundly. The problem is that Rosh Hashanah is simply not something that can be defended rationally. (And if getting a spiritual high was the thing then you would be right that that is not a valid reason.)
It depends completely on a person saying to himself: "Rebbi Nachman's advice helped me in a specidfic some area that I was having trouble with. I had tried everything under the sun and nothing helped. Then as a last resort I tried the advice of Rebbi Nachman and I was helped. So maybe I ought to listen also when he said to be by him on Rosh Hashanah."
There is nothing else that can defend it as you noted so well in your critique.

Bob Miller said...

Garnel,

Despite the many reasons why we ought to be living in Israel right now, we both still live in Galut. So there are practical considerations that can cause us to be outside Israel for the time being.

Rebbe Nachman ZY"A valued the Land of Israel highly in all his written works and risked his life to visit there in wartime.

Have conditions so changed with the establishment of the State of Israel that Rebbe Nachman would have wanted the annual Uman gathering moved to Israel at that point? How can we really know the answer without taking into account the Breslover traditions as passed down to this day?

Some Breslovers have wanted to reinter the Rebbe's body in Israel, but the broad consensus has been not to do so.

To get the full story, I suggest that you contact one or more of the major Breslov groups easily reachable through the Web.

For example:

http://breslov.org/contact-us/

http://breslovcenter.blogspot.com/2010/05/about-us.html

http://www.nachalnovea.com/#

Anonymous said...

Non of the other chasidic groups apart from Satmar travel there. I think even during his lifetime he was not accepted by the others. He was a great grandson of the Baal Shem and wrote extensively but he was still not the leader. Its mainly sefardim today or others who were never real chasidim who have joined this cult. It has similarities to chabad and is no less a cult. It was never what chassidus was supposed to be about. Since they dont have a living rebbe they have many mashpiyim or madrichim who each have their own closely guarded circle. This of course does not bode well since each are trying to enlarge their own. Most unlike other chasidim prefer to live off charity and dont work. It is more of a cult than chasiddus.

Adam Zur said...

The question is not the many subgroups. The question is Rebbi Nachman himself. whether he was a leader of Chasidut is also not the question,. If anything judging bu Chasidut today anyone accepted as a leader of chasidut would have to be judged as a dangerous insane charismatic fanatic.
The one and only thing that makes Rebbi Nachman stand out is that he was a world class thinker that saw deeper into the human soul than any other thinker or mystic. As opposed to the scam of psychology that makes a living off of pretending knowledge of the human soul--he did actually have a deep insight into the human condition.
And i disagree with anonymous. It is not the same as Chabad. Breslov does not worship rebbi nachman. they do not say or think that he is the messiah or God. And unlike the cult of chabad they never hide their beliefs or lying about them to get supporters. They don't kiss the asses of rich secular Jews like Chabad does. In fact they cater especially to the broken and hurt Jews that have no hope and no where to go. If you have not been through out of at least a few yeshviot then you don't even qualify as breslov.

Anonymous said...

You mistake my post.I didnt mean present chabad I meant the real one. I suppose you mean thrown out but your spelling is faulty. That is exactly what a cult does. That he was great in his way is not in doubt. The question is if its the Jewish way. I think all other chasidim except satmar think it isnt. And of course the non-chasidim. It is not only going to his grave but his whole philosophy. One wonders if he was not the great grand son if he would also have so many followers. I suspect some of his mashpiyim or madrichim today are in it for themselves not because of being his chasidim. This lubavich cult is only of today, the previous rebbes apart from the last but one had no opposition. I dont know that much about breslav but I do sometimes daven in their shuls and dont find them inspiring.

Adam Zur said...

If Rebbi Nachman is the Jewish way is a good question. I see several strands of thought in Torah.--basically the Ari axis and the Rambam, Saadia Geon axis.
In this I am trying to understand the great thinkers of Torah thought and to separate them from the mediocre hacks. I see no way of deciding between Kabalah and the Rambam.
And as for the question if Rebbi Nachman is the Torah way, I admit here my philosophical bias. I am on the side of Plato and the Rambam's fairly radical Aristotelian approach is something that I have trouble with--not because of the Rambam, but because of Aristotle himself. I can defend a Kabalistic-Platonic approach but I can't defend a Aristotelian approach. I cant even undersatnd what Aristotle holds about substance much less defend it.
And as for Breslov shuls I agree with you completely. In my view people should just go to a regular shul in which Gemara, Rashi, Tosphot is learned and during Musar seder I would think that Rebbi Nachman's books can be helpful. But I would think one should in general stay away from all Chasidic Shuls. It seems to me that walking into a Chasidic shul is a great cure for the desire to learn Gemara and rational thought.
Also there are serious problems with old Chabad. The problems with succession began immediately with the son of the Baal HaTanya and a disciple (Reb Aaron). (You can find the books of Reb Aaaron in the back of the red Zohar.) The problem of succession were in every generation. Also the question of legitimacy of the teachings of the Baal Hataya were raised by the appointed successor of the Magid from Mezritch himself, Menachem Mendal of Vitbsk.
For example one good question is that Chabad teaches pantheism. This is not traditional Torah not to the Rambam or the Kabalah. And the fact that it is represented as traditional Torah raises the question of intellectual honesty of Chabad-- even the older Chabad.

Anonymous said...

I would reply on your own breslov blog but you dont accept anonymous comments.

Friar Yid said...

To me the real interesting issue here is R. Aroussi proclaiming that spending time with your family supersedes the "need" to make a pilgrimage to your rebbe. This argument (minus the rebbe being dead part) goes back to the beginning of Hasididut in the 1700s and was still being hashed out in the early 1900s in Europe. There were lots of non-Hasidic rabbis that were not big fans of the practice since it usually meant the husband would drop everything and travel a long way to see the rebbe, abandoning his wife to take care of the kids and the household during the holiday.

It's even mentioned in a few I.B. Singer books.

Anonymous said...

Garnel,

How do you like your blog as a forum for wild accusations?

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

Anonymous, you could adopt an identity. That might allow you to comment at Adam Zur's blog.
At any rate, I like that this conversation has taken on a life of its own. Wild accusations can be a great basis for discussion.
I also like Friar Yid's comment. There is a family element that is often overlooked and I agree with him that there is tremendous importance to it.

Anonymous said...

Your blog doesnt demand I adopt an identity so why should his. No wonder he has no comments at all. I dont mind calling myself something but just cant be bothered going through the whole adoption process.

Adam Zur said...

As for the question of being by a tzadik on yom tov. I had a rosh yeshiva that wanted me to be with him on Simchat Torah. His own Rosh Yeshiva was the Rosh yeshiva of Chayim Berlin so I thought it would be fun to check out Yeshivat Chayim Berlin on Yom Tov. When I returned my Rosh Yeshiva was so mad that the shiduch with his daughter was broken off. Would this be construed as idolatry? Obviously not. Lots of people go on business trips and because of it are stuck in all kinds of places on Yom Tov and because of business are even absent from their families on Yom Tov. Attacking Rebbi Nachman because of this is disingenuous.

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

Adam, the two cases are not analogous at all. First of all, were you specifically leaving a place because you thought you were going to a holier one for the holiday?
Secondly, were you leaving a place because you felt something physical like a gravestone would cause your prayers to be better accepted in Heaven?
It's one thing to say "Hey, Bob's going to Uman and I like to spend RH with Bob so I'll go too." It's another to say that one can truly have a better spiritual experience anywhere in the world outside Israel.

Friar Yid said...

I personally think that "better spiritual experience" is in the eye of the beholder. However there is no denying that someone whose job took him away from his family for most, if not every holiday would be sacrificing some element of his family's happiness (and wife's sanity) on the altar of his business.

So too with the idea that a man's spiritual uplift can only occur in the rebbe's presence and that this gives him carte blanche to absent himself from his family.

If people feel their holiday is only complete when they make a pilgrimage to Uman, Sfat or Postville, then go for it. But when people narrow the focus of the point of Yom Tovim to exclusively "What makes MY prayers/soul higher", they ignore the roles and responsibilities of a father to educate and be a role model for his children, or to help his wife to run their household during what can often be a stressful and busy time of year. In other words, it's selfish.

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

Not only that but it ignores the whole concept of God being an objective entity completely beyond our control. Most of the mystical stuff in Judaism relies on this concept, that God's immanence or bounty or whatever you want to call it can be accessed but only in specific ways like through prayer, Torah study and the performance of mitzvos. But there are rules around how each of those have to be done and if you don't do it that way you can be as sincere as you want, the connection does not form.
In this case, we have an article of faith that Israel is the centre of the spirtual universe and all the other things it does to enhance one's personal level. Uman doesn't. I think you're on to something with your last comment - this is how I feel more spiritual as opposed to looking at objective "What does the Torah ask me to do to be more spiritual?"

Bob Miller said...

We say HaShem is more accessible for our teshuva in Elul. Do any mavens here object even to that?

MIghty Garnel Ironheart said...

No objections but a clarification would be in order. HaShem, by definition, does not change. He is not more omnipresent in Elul or Tishrei than the rest of the year. The change is from our perspective - we are spiritually able to access him with more success during Elul, something He programmed into reality because, being time-bound creatures, we need dates and specific times to work with.

Adam Zur said...

I went during Chol Hamoed Sukkot when nothing was going on in my yeshiva and I just stayed for Simchat Torah in the area. I did not go because I thought it was more holy but because I was curious about Chaim Berlin and the Great Yeshivot (especially the Mir) in general. They had the reputation for the greatest level of learning. The rosh yeshiva of the Mir (Shmuel Berenbaum) who I had never met had a reputation that "If you can understand his shiur, you can understand anything in the world." (This exact statement was what people were saying about him everywhere in the yeshiva world) I.e. he had the name for being the deepest Talmudic thinker of the time. So sure I was curious.
The Mir and Chaim Berlin were in the same area so i stayed to join in the action. I had no idea my own rosh yeshiva would be upset. I knew he felt the level of learning in his yeshiva was no less that the great yeshivot and so there might have been room for a question but in general i had never heard him speak anything but the warmest praise of his own rosh yeshiva --so why would I not want to met him?