Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mendelssohn in Lubavitch eyes

An evil star has risen in Germany: Moses [Mendelsohn] of Desau, may his name be obliterated. A man of Torah filled with bitter, rotten grapes. He mixed a batter combining apostasy and Torah, spoiled and rotten. He made a honey-cake (Tzelil Devash, the name of his book) and he fed it to his friends and students. As on the wings of the wind, his students fanned out across the land, making a tumult for the approach “Be a Jew at home, and a citizen in the street.” In a short time, Germany was poisoned, ruined by Mendelsohn and his colleagues. Like a pillar of fire eats through straw, the Rabbis of Germany were devoured right and left. Mendelsohn created a crater in Germany; he ran off with Jewish skulls. He stole the children of Jacob, and he broke the leaders of Jewry; he placed them all in the burning fireplace of the sciences.
This passage appears on a Lubavitch website, I think written by the previous Lubavitcher rebbe, who is known for partisan distortions of history to advance a Chabad agenda.

A tendentious distortion of history. Mendelssohn a"h did not, h"v, say, or maintain in his personal life, that one should be a Jew in the home and a man in the street. That was YL Gordon, a hundred years later. The ones who encouraged the sciences were the Gra and his disciple Boruch Shick of Shklov - the Gra being another person whom Lubavitch writers distort. He was not "under the influence of maskilim" when he critiqued Chassidus, nor did he believe in "tzimtzum kipeshuto", he held his positions out of true knowledge and belief, and believed in the same tzimtzum in the ohr as Chassidim.

Furthermore, all of this was the ORTHODOX haskalah of the first few generations. Reform was something else, a formalization of the wholesale abandonment of Judaism. Many gedolim of the 19th century honored Mendelssohn's commentary, the Biur, and used it themselves. R' Aryeh Kaplan used it for his commentary in the 20th century. The Netziv used it for the Ha'amek Davar. And while the Chasam Sofer banned it, his own children and grandchildren held the Biur in high esteem. This is the historical truth, not distortions meant to keep chasidim uneducated in the ways of the world away from non-chasidic ideas.

Mendelssohn was not the Hitlerish caricature that the writer of this passage uses. Mendelssohn was closest to, I think, the Rav YB Soloveitchik, except that the world was not ready for him. His own children, some stayed Jewish some did not. Why? Because there was no support structure yet for Jews who lived with one foot in the yeshiva, one foot in the secular academy, and one foot in the courts of the mighty. And his children did not have his strength of character, so trying to live his way failed. Because Reform took advantage of the open German society, to become non-religious, is no reason to blame Mendelssohn. Better to blame Napoleon, Voltaire, Rousseau, etc. who preached the open society.

I couldn't really say that over there for fear my userid would be suspended.


micha said...

Although to be fair, L went after the French Revolution too -- and far more proactively.

R' Mendel Satonover (Cheshbon haNefesh) was the Galitzianisher Mendelsohnn. Does he get similarly condemned?

I wonder if L also shuns the Maharitz Chayes.

In any case, chareidi memories of the haskalah are colored by maskilim who actively set out to destroy chareidi life, even down to malshinus. It's not emes, but not surprising that they heap calumnity on anyone remotely involved.


Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

In general the haskalah period makes heads explode, because the reality is that haskalah and maskilim came in many different flavors and sizes and times and periods.

However, the one thing they (including the aforementioned R. Mendel Lefin Satanower) shared almost without exception was a deep loathing of Chassidus, which they viewed as the most extreme and obvious symptom of what ailed the Jewish people. In fact, the Chassidim and the Maskilim gave and got in pretty nasty ways, and it's often hard to tell who was victim and who was persecutor. But it is certainly understandable why Chassidim viewed the Maskilim as their mortal enemies, and conversely why the Maskilim viewed the Chassidim in the same way.

Interestingly, Chabad historiography has much in common with what we might call Maskilic historiography, in that it places the Gra and his circle as close to Haskalah. Of course, one saw and sees it le-shevach and the other le-genai.

As for anyone "even remotely involved," that's exactly what I was alluding to concerning the complication. Many, many people of upstanding and outstanding reputation were "remotely involved," or more, in haskalah. And for various reasons 'chareidi history' accepts them, except for an occasional frummer-than-thou who knows his history who tries to make a tumult and oust such a person from the kosher collective memory.

As for malshinus, *everyone* informed on each other. Of course everyone felt outraged by it, but all camps did it. I might even give a word in defense of malshinus, in that at the time Jews lacked any power, and they had an antagonistic boot at their throats. Little wonder that they all learned how to manipulate that boot to gain slight advantages. It was another sorry and sordid legacy of the sad persecutions Jews faced in the 19th century.

Anonymous said...

RYYS is refering to the approach of the haskala in being a jew in home man on the street as he says clearly. it is not a quote of mendelsohn but a quote of the haskala. The term mendelsohn haaror is not a creation of Lubavitch or of RYYS who you accuse of twisting things knowingly for his agenda.It became the common term after the time passed and they saw the destruction that flowed from it. What haskala led to in germany is pretty clear. You can read any of the biographies of the luminaries of that movement and it leads to a path away from halacha and the destruction of orthodox jewry.

Anonymous said...

to continue the discussian about which dirrection did it take jews closer to G-d and torah or in the other direction. I think history is clear where it lead...
The Jewish enlightenment By Shmuel Feiner

The Jews of Germany: A Historical Portrait By Ruth Gay

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Anonymous, a case can be made that modernity did religion in, not "Haskalah," a moderate version of which might be said to have been the savior of Judaism in Germany.

The same tale is told all over the world, where modern European civilization collided with traditional cultures. Indeed, the fact that you are now typing and probably thinking in English means that some form of compromise with modernity was eventually achieved, but not without much growing pains and casualties along the way. The idea that in Germany it could have been resisted entirely by not giving in to any of modernity's temptations is nice, but it would have resulted in a handful of hardline rabbis without a flock, as such a position would not have taken into account the realities and tempermants of German Jews, who were indeed ready for and on the cusp of speaking in German and the like. They were, in fact, chaleshing for it, and it would have happened with or without Mendelssohn, only perhaps without him it would have taken on the form of total apostacy. Or not; I could be wrong. But the point is that modernity itself was a powerful force seducing away from traditional religion.

Anonymous said...

let me put it another way. haskala was the embrace of modernity while insisting that this was compatible with halachick judaism.

In truth elements could be slowly intergrated and halachic Judaism could have survived. Much as Islam lehavdil needs a slow change if it is to change and survive.

haskala tried to merge "Modernity" 18th 19th century thought, way of thinking, and aculturating with their elastic judaism.

chanukah now..how long did it take for greek philosophy to become part of "orthodox" Rabbinic Judaism? the rambam?
no schools of Jewish thought flowing from Philo. no Judaism flowing from there...they were swallowed up it was too fast..

Shmuel said...

Can you provide a link to where this passage came from?

Anonymous said...


thanbo said...

It seems to come from Sefer Toldos Admor Mehurayatz, vol 3 p 290, cited in "Mind over Matter", on google books, but the original sefer isn't online, AFAIK.

Hirshel Tzig - הירשל ציג said...

lots of chassidic groups - especially Galician ones - shun Maharitz Chajes.

Mikewind Dale said...

See David Sorkin, "Enlightenment and Emancipation: German Jewry's Formative Age in Comparative Perspective", pp. 89-112 in Comparing Jewish Societies, ed. Todd M. Endelman. 1997: University of Michigan. Online here.

Sorkin portrays Mendelssohn as being basically Orthodox, as wanting only to revitalize Orthodox Judaism by reinstituting serious study of the Tanakh and Jewish philosophy. This is exactly the same as what Rabbis Hirsch and Kook called for, but Professor Sorkin does not mention them. Sorkin says it was only the later haskalah figures who, driven by the prospects of emancipation, turned haskalah into something completely different than what Mendelssohn wanted.

And Professor Michael Silber, in his famous article on Hungarian Ultra-Orthodoxy ("The Invention of a Tradition"), has an entire footnote listing German Neo-Orthodox newspapers (of Rabbi S. R. Hirsch's milieu) that praised Mendelssohn as one of their own.

Anonymous said...

This story is a tragedy, but it is not the first time in Jewish history that great minds have been so to speak "assassinated". Remember the Rambam, and in modern times R. Yechye Kappach.