Chassidus: Honesty in Identifying Torah Deviance


Moshe Ben-Chaim


Reader: Shalom! I read your article tilled “Praying to the Dead”. I am a littlie confused and need some direction. Firstly I like to know your Jewish denomination. Secondly I like to know how you feel about Chabad and Chassidic movement. Is your objection aimed toward the reader, or all of Chassidic movement? I have started becoming more observant recently and am very attracted to the Chabad movement and attending a Chabad shul. Do you have any further instruction for me to follow my spiritual journey? Thank you, Nissan


Mesora: The article to which you respond attacks a specific practice, not the entire group. However, feel free to search our site to read of other deviations in Chassidus, which violate Torah. It comes prior in this discussion to define “Chassidus”. If it refers to a system of truths based in Torah, then in fact, it is “Torah”, not Chassidus. And if we refer to ideas extraneous to Torah, then it is not proper to follow, as God did not miss any points. Chassidus cannot create “anew” anything said to be Torah. So one must distill what is meant by Chassidus. Chassidus is just a few hundred years old. Notions central to Chassidus veer from original Judaism in two dominant themes: in distinguished clothing/hairstyles, and in their beliefs. Judaism does not ask that one wear black, or grow a beard. I am certain no Chassidic group would accept as their leader, as their Rebbe, a clean-shaven man. That is absurd, to judge man based on facial hair. In the Prophet Tzefania 1:8, Radak discusses how God punished certain Jews who dressed different than the rest of the people, they desired to look more distinct and pious. The Radak calls their ways “evil”. This makes sense that they were punished. As God did not command Jews in a certain dress (other than prohibiting cross-gender-dressing, dressing in idolatrous garb, and immodesty) the step Chassidim took to dress in black and white is not part of Judaism or Torah. And if one would claim this is a “religious” issue, he violates the prohibition to add to the Torah. There is no obligation to grow a beard or dress in black and white. If these were important actions, God would have commanded them. But He did not, so we should not seek dress or hairstyling as a means of approaching God, because it has nothing to do with approaching Him. A wicked man would be no more perfected if he grew a beard, and a righteous man loses nothing if he shaves.


Another deviation is their focus on Rebbes, and all the fabricated stories of their miracles. Rebbes became more popular than God. And miracles became an inherent attribute – essential for validating a Rebbe. Conversely, God does not say miracles are necessary to validate one’s piety, nor are they possible for man to enact. It is clear that these Chassidim do not value a Jew as following God on the highest plane, unless he performs miracles. This is unfortunate, as these Chassidim will invariably meet other Jews who are good, but they will not value them as much as those surrounded by miraculous stories. This approach veers from Judaism’s fundamental, that perfection is internal; it is due to one’s knowledge and application of truths to his life, his concern for others, and his diligent adherence to mitzvos, while avoiding sin. Chassidism praises something else as the mark of man’s perfection: miraculous stories. If miracles or prophetic visions validate someone, then Bilaam and Lavan – two evil people – should be vindicated by their visions. But they remain evil, so miracles or prophetic vision are proven not to be validation of one’s perfection.


I don’t see why one feels obligated to recognize this movement as a “Torah” movement – I see it as purely “cultural”. If one wishes to follow the accurate teachings of Chassidus, he is free to do so, provided he avoids the errors initiated by some original Chassidim. Originally, Chassidim felt that God permeates all, even sin, so they allowed a “Tzaddik” to sin, as they felt there is some “Godliness” in sin too. These were grave mistakes.


Reader: Then is there a way to separate the good (“Judaism’s original form”) from the bad (“other deviations in Chassidus”)?

Mesora: The way to separate true from false, is first to learn clearly what are Judaism’s tenets, understand why they are true, and finally, be careful to observe them and avoid any deviations. There is no need to become part of a group, or to assume that since a “group” exists, even in large numbers, that their numbers in any way validates their views. But this is most difficult for a large majority of men and women; people automatically, with absolutely no thought, will attribute validity to opinions when vocalized by a group of large numbers, or one of recognized status. But according to this position, Christianity too must be recognized as true. You see, this position ends in an irresolvable contradiction.


Continue engaging in regular, honest Torah study, and fulfill the commands. Study the commands, learn why they are reasonable and why God desires we observe them. Most importantly, understand the ideas behind each command, as much as you can. Torah study and understanding is the most important activity. Do not be swayed by what the Jewish masses do, for they deviate in many areas. Rather, be guided by the Torah’s words, the Rabbis, and the great thinkers, who will teach you through their writings what makes sense - what is true Judaism.


A Rabbi recently lectured that we view the command as a means to understand the underlying themes of Torah. “Kedoshim tehiyu” (be sanctified) teaches that even with that which is permissible, one must seek to sanctify himself. One must not overeat or engage too frequently in sex. Although permissible actions, one who acts this way is referred to as “disgusting within the boundaries of Torah law”. Hence, he who keeps all the commands, bereft of the understanding of their higher objective, sorely misses the goal of perfection.