Posts

I think we’re probably going to get up to part 99 of this saga, the way things are going…

You know, I love a good mystery, and I love the ‘thrill’ of figuring things out. But I have to say, that even I am starting to be overwhelmed by all the twists and turns in the tangled web of ‘Jewish genealogy’ I’m caught up in the moment.

If you haven’t been paying attention, I’m trying to figure out a few things, not least:

  1. How exactly the Vilna Gaon and the Alter Rebbe are connected.

I know they are close family members – brothers, cousins, maybe even father and son, but I haven’t pinned it down exactly yet.

2. Why there are so many deliberate lies and distortions going on around the family trees of Yonatan Eybshutz, the Vilna Gaon, the Alter Rebbe and Jacob Frank (amongst many others…)

As I’ve mentioned, there are a few ‘gatekeepers’ on the geni.com website who keep popping up again and again and again, when I input certain family names.

Whenever I’m pursuing an interesting avenue, all the leads suddenly dry up, and it’s as though these people sprung fully formed from the head of Zeus.

No parents, no siblings, no other children…. always at those intersections where I would start to see how one group, one specific family, might link to another.

But Hashem is sending me more and more leads all the time, and BH, even with all the lies being told, we’re going to figure this out.

====

3. How is it, that so many of the ‘leading lights’ surrounding the Vilna Gaon apparently had double identities as the leaders of the haskalah movement?

Let’s give a concrete example.

If you go HERE, you’ll find the following information about ‘Rabbi Yehoshua Zeitlin’, a leading figure in the community of Shklov and the surrounding areas (I’ve screenshotted all of this, to make sure it doesn’t disappear…)

====

====

According to this rosy write up, Rav Yehoshua Zeitlin was a gaon, and a talmid of the Vilna Gaon and Rav Aryeh Leib Ginsburg, the Sha’agas Aryeh.

He was also wealthy – we’re told by this write up, from hamodia.com – and ‘supported many talmidim from his own pocket’.

Now it lists three of his ‘many talmidim’:

  1. Rabbi Menachem Leffin
  2. Rav Binyamin Rivlin
  3. Rav Boruch of Shklov

Here’s where it gets really interesting.

====

When I went to look up ‘Rabbi Yehoshua Zeitlin’ (1742-1822, born in Kherson) – this is what I discovered.

He was a Baron – Joshua Von Zeitlin – and the main supplier for Potemkin’s Russian armies, during the Turkish-Russian wars that began in 1768. Count Potemkin was a favorite of the Russian Empress Catherine the Great. You can read more about Potemkin HERE.

Here’s what the translation from an article in alef magazine (now mysteriously taken off line…) said about Baron Joshua Von Zeitlin:

“Yehoshua Zeitlin (1742–1822) is a personality not yet fully appreciated by historians. Meanwhile, he was the first prominent Jewish figure in Russia to combine deep rabbinical scholarship with a passionate desire to familiarize his fellow tribesmen with Russian public life. A prominent Hebraist and subtle interpreter of the Talmud, he at the same time highly appreciated Russian culture.

Yehoshua was a native of Shklov and came from a well-known and noble Jewish family…”

There’s more. Let’s continue. Another one of Catherine the Great’s boyfriends, Count Semyon Gavrilovich Zorich (1745-1799) is ‘retired’ to Shklov in 1777, where he soon creates a court to rival that of St Petersburg. Semyon has bad middot (to put it mildly…) and creates a very loose, immoral atmosphere in Shklov.

====

Somehow or other, Rabbi Yehoshua Zeitlin and his brother become Semyon’s main helpers and advisors:

Yehoshua (together with his brother, who was sent by Zorich to Riga to buy antiques and “soft junk” there at a reasonable price) becomes his assistant. It is not known what exactly the Count’s assignments were carried out by Zeitlin, but there is evidence that in the 1770s and 1780s he often visited Berlin on the instructions of this tyrant.

Fortunately, from such voyages, our hero [i.e. Joshua Zeitlin] received not only commercial benefits, but also abundant food for the mind.

He became close to the leaders of the Berlin Haskala and became a frequent visitor to the house of the founder of Jewish enlightenment, “Jewish Socrates” Moses Mendelssohn (1729–1789). Friendship ties tied him with such prominent Maskilim as the Chief Rabbi of Berlin, Hirsch Lebel (1721-1800); the outstanding linguist and exegete Naftali-Hertz Wesseli (1725-1805); the herald of reformism in Judaism, David Friedlander (1750–1834), and others. (Emphasis mine.)

====

Before I continue, let’s just recap what we’ve discovered.

On the one hand, ‘Rabbi Yehoshua Zeitlin’ is being lauded as a gaon and a tzaddik, author of the Amudei Gola sefer in the pages of Hamodia.

And on the other, we discover that he’s a leading proponent of ‘haskalah’ in Eastern Europe, and is hanging out with Moses Mendelssohn and others who were men known for pushing the ‘enlightened’ and ‘reform’ agenda.

What in the world is going on?

====

So now, I wanted to find a screenshot of Baron Joshua Zeitlin’s sefer, the Amudei Gola, and God sent me another mystery.

First, here’s the screenshot of the book, from here:

====

Sit down for this next bit.

The two people who gave Joshua Zeitlin’s book an approbation are R’Chanoch Henich Shick of Shklov – and the Baal HaTanya, Rav Shnuer Zalman Baruchovitch of Liadi.

Apparently, the auction house tells us that: ‘This is one of the few approbations of the Baal HaTanya that has seen print.’

So now, you tell me how it is that ‘Rabbi Yehoshua Zeitlin’s’ book has got an approbation from the Alter Rebbe, when he is described as being a close student of the Vilna Gaon.

And while you’re at it, please also tell me why one of the ‘few approbations’ of the Alter Rebbe should be found in a book written by a man who was a leading maskil.

And also, why Joshua Zeitlin is listed as the father in law of ‘Reb Alexander Sender’ – apparently one of the Alter Rebbe’s favorite talmidim:

Alexander Sender of Shklov was an outstanding chassid of the First Chabad Rebbe, a generous businessman of exemplary piety. When he passed away, the Alter Rebbe paid a condolence call to his father and testified that he had seen his soul “in exceptionally bright, shining garments” (Beis Rebbe). His grandson, Aharon, was the father of the fourth Rebbe’s wife, Rivka.

In fact, he was SO beloved by the Alter Rebbe that the 6th Rebbe, the Rayatz, wrote a whole chapter about him in his work ‘Her Husband’s Crown’, which you can read for yourself HERE.

====

Hey, even more interesting!

That link that I had in the comments section on this post: https://rivkalevy.com/curiouser-and-curiouser/, linking to this: http://www.sichos-in-english.org/books/sefer-hatoldos-admur-maharash/15.htm – has now disappeared.

It seems Chabad have now taken the book offline.

(I downloaded it all anyway, because I had a feeling something like that might happen.)

But hey Chabad, what do you have to hide?

Why remove the sichot of the Rayatz, describing his ancestor’s family tree, and particularly his links to his follower, ‘Reb Alexander Sender‘, and the story of Rebbetzin Lea Golde Broda, mother of the 4th Rebbe?

(Honestly, I’m starting to have a theory about that, but let’s continue.)

====

Let’s go back.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about ‘Baron Joshua Zeitlin’:

Joshua Zeitlin (1742 in ShklovBelarus – August 18, 1822, in KhersonNovorossiya) was a Russian rabbinical scholar and philanthropist. He was a pupil of the Talmudist Rabbi Aryeh Leib ben Asher Gunzberg who was the author of Sha’agat Aryeh; and, being an expert in political economy, he maintained close relations with Prince Potemkin, the favorite of Catherine II. During the Turko-Russian war, Zeitlin furnished the Russian army with various supplies, and managed that business so cleverly that he was afterward appointed imperial court councilor.

On retiring from business in the civil rank of Court Counsellor, Zeitlin resided on his estate Ustzia, where he was occasionally consulted by rabbis with regard to rabbinical questions. He rendered pecuniary assistance to many Talmudists and scholars, and supported a magnificent beit midrash, in which many Jewish scholars were provided with all of life’s necessities, so that they could pursue their vocations without worries of any kind.

Among the scholars who benefited from his generosity were: Rabbi Nahum, author of Tosafot BikkurimMendel Lepin, author of Cheshbon ha-Nefesh; and the physician Baruch Schick

====

Mendel Lepin = ‘Rabbi Menachem Leffin’ (1749-1826)

(He may well also be the same ‘Menachem Mendel Levin’ who authored a sefer called ‘Cheshbon HaNefesh’.)

Here’s what we learn about ‘Mendel Lepin / Lefin / Levin’ from the Jewish encyclopaedia:

LEVIN (LEFIN), MENAHEM MENDEL (1749–1826), early Haskalah author, translator, and educator. Born in Satanov, Podolia, he had a traditional Jewish education but also studied sciences, mathematics, and medieval philosophy in his youth.

From 1780 to 1783/84 Levin lived in Berlin, where he met Moses *Mendelssohn, through whom he established contact with the leaders of the Haskalah. …

Levin taught mathematics and philosophy to Czartoryski’s children, which was rare at that time, and dedicated his unpublished philosophical treatise, “Aus dem Nachlass eines Sonderlings zu Abdera,” to Czartoryski’s wife. When the great Sejm met in Warsaw (1788–92), Levin participated in discussions on contemporary problems.

Toward the end of the 18th century, he resided in Ustye and in St. Petersburg in the home of the wealthy philanthropist J. *Zeitlin, serving as tutor to his grandson. After 1808 he lived in Brody and Tarnopol, where his influence on the maskilim in Galicia, notably N. *Krochmal and J. *Perl, was so considerable that he is regarded as the father of the Galician Haskalah.

====

Isn’t that shocking?

Yet again, we see that the people being lauded as the main disciples of the Vilna Gaon are one and the same as the people mamash leading the haskalah in Europe.

What on earth is going on here?

====

I’m still  looking into ‘Boruch of Shklov’ and ‘Rabbi Binyamin Rivlin’, (amongst other things) so expect this series of ‘curiouser and curioser’ to continue for some time.

But there are some very serious questions bobbing up here about who exactly the Vilna Gaon really was, who his students really were – and what they really stood for – and how the Alter Rebbe and Chabad chassidut connects into this whole hot mess.

TBC

(Unless someone in 770 decides to try and take my blog out of action again 😉

====

UPDATE:

Here’s what I found about Baruch Schick of Shklov:

He was another radical maskil, and another ‘student’ of the Vilna Gaon. And he’s connected to the Rabbi Chanoch Henich Shick of Shklov who gave approbations for that sefer, above, together with the Ba’al HaTanya:

====

SCHICK, BARUCH BEN JACOB (also known as Baruch Shklover , from the name of his birthplace, Shklov; 1740?–after 1812), rabbi, physician, and one of the pioneers of *Haskalah of Eastern Europe.

Schick was ordained as a rabbi in 1764 and subsequently served as dayyan in Minsk. In his youth he was already attracted to the Haskalah and general knowledge. His first scholarly work and his other works were lost in a conflagration. He traveled to London to study medicine and there joined the Freemasons. After qualifying as a doctor he moved to Berlin, where he became acquainted with the maskilim of the town, including Moses *Mendelssohn and Naphtali Herz *Wessely.

In 1778, on his way back to Minsk, he visited Vilna and was in the group associated with Elijah b. Solomon (the Gaon of Vilna), in whose name he published a statement on the need for scientific knowledge for an understanding of the Torah…. He stated that the Gaon of Vilna advised him to translate scientific works into Hebrew in order to make their contents available to Jews….

After some time he settled in Shklov, and there he belonged to the maskilim whose needs were supplied by the wealthy Joshua *Zeitlin of Ustye near Shklov….

Schick devoted his energies to arousing his fellow Jews to the need for studying the arts and sciences. He regarded the neglect of the sciences as caused by the exile. He repeated the accusations of his predecessor, Israel Moses ha-Levi *Zamoscz, against the fanatical rabbis and leaders who persecuted and condemned the maskilim. To restore science to its former place of honor, he pleaded for a revival of Hebrew, in which scientific works intended for his people should be written.”

====

UPDATE #2:

The link to the Chabad writings is working again. Baruch Hashem.

UPDATE #3:

Here’s a screenshot mentioned by Aliza, below, in the comments section, that comes from this book:

The Secret Doctrine of the Gaon of Vilna Volume II: The Josephic Messiah, Leviathan, Metatron and the Sacred Serpent

From what I remember from the comments of Netanel Simcha, who mentioned that ‘Metatron’ is the reason Acher turned into an anti-Torah heretic, it seems that this angel is back in the picture here, too.

The book is written by the descendant of the Vilna Gaon’s brother, R Avraham Ragoler, and sets out the Vilna Gaon’s ‘kabbalah’ connected to geula and moshiach.

You’ll notice that the Gaon apparently refers to HIMSELF as Moshiach ben Yosef….

Which is interesting, hey?

====

====

You might also like this article:

 

 

 

 

 

 

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been consumed over the last few weeks with ‘getting to the bottom’ of what really happened in the Jewish community 200 years ago.

Literally every day for three weeks, I’ve sat at my computer for 10 hours a day, poring over genealogical tables, reading every description of Jewish life in Podolia and Belarus I could get my hands on, and generally praying long prayers that God should show me what He wants me to be doing with all the information that’s been turning up.

Yesterday, on Shabbat, I did another prayer-a-thon, to try to get some clarity on this issue in a whole bunch of different ways.

This morning, I woke up with an answer, a derech, to how to get at least some of the information ‘out there’ in a useful way, that will hopefully start to heal the divisions within the Jewish community, instead of exacerbating them further.

====

The Sitra Achra is so clever.

It’s been pursuing a strategy of ‘divide and conquer’ amongst us for thousands of years, already. We could say all this started with the Tsadukim, (Sadducees) – but we’d be totally wrong about that.

All this traces back to Korach, the first ‘tzaddik’ and ‘talmid chacham’ who put his ego ahead of what was best for the klal, and who fractured the Jewish people into different camps, for and against Moshe.

And it traces back to the spies, who slandered the land of Israel and then fractured the Jewish people into different camps for and against making Aliyah.

And even, it traces back to the 4/5 of the Jewish people who died in Egypt in the plague of darkness, because they lacked the emuna to really want to leave their exile.

====

I could probably keep going, all the way back through history, where each time there was divisions and hatred between different family members, until we arrive at Kayin and Hevel.

Kayin believed the world was too small for both of them, so he did away with the competition.

And now, it’s time to try to start fixing this problem, by welding things back together.

====

In the Jewish world of today, the Sitra Achra has done an excellent job of dividing us up smaller and smaller into warring factions.

Just some of the camps we’ve been shoved into are:

  • Religious vs secular
  • Left vs right
  • Ashkenazi vs Sephardi
  • Dati Leumi vs Haredi
  • Chassidic vs Litvish
  • Zionist vs anti-zionist
  • And of course, today we also have pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine, and pro-mask and anti-mask, and pro-Trump and anti-Trump….

The list goes on and on.

====

Over time, I’ve learnt that the people who are so mercilessly pushing their agendas, their viewpoints, onto other people are at least a touch mentally-ill.

I was in that space myself until a few years ago, trying to ‘force’ all my relatives outside of Israel to make Aliyah, and trying to ‘force’ my children into wearing socks all the way up to their toosik, and also trying to ‘force’ myself into all sorts of boxes that just didn’t fit, because I’d been brainwashed into thinking that’s what God wanted.

But I digress.

Let’s get back to the main point of today’s post.

====

In all my digging around in the genealogical tables, I realized a lot of interesting things.

One of the most interesting things that I realized is that so many of the groups listed above were and are being led by members of the same small set of families. Many of these families trace back – via multiple ancestors – to the Maharal of Prague and the Maharam of Padua, and beyond.

Way, way beyond.

One we realized just how ‘connected’ the Jewish people really are, by blood, by marriage, by history – then it becomes totally ridiculous to start pointing fingers at the other groups, and claiming there is something ‘wrong’ with them that isn’t also ‘wrong’ with us.

How can we accuse other groups of consisting solely of ‘erev Rav’ when we have the same parents and grandparents in common?

How can we claim that our gene pool, our yichus,  is somehow superior, when that same gene pool produced the biggest tzaddikim – and also the biggest gangsters, murderers and idolators?

(If you’re getting a bit stuck with this concept, pick up a copy of my book Unlocking the Secret of the Erev Rav, where I clearly set out how to really deal with the problem.)

====

Bad people, bad Jews, bad ‘Erev Rav’ are not just on the other side of the debate.

The Sitra Achra has been working so hard to make us think that this is the case, because when we can pretend to ourselves that only lefties are bad; or that only people who don’t vaccinate are bad; or that only Bibi is bad….

[Fill in the blank]

We are totally missing the whole point.

The point is to work on ourselves, our own bad middot, our own lack of emuna, our own issues, and to stop spending all our time pointing out the ‘bad’ in others.

To put this another way:

All of us contain bad. And God expects all of us to work on it, and uproot it.

And whenever someone is running around shrieking that only their group, their path, their derech contains ‘good’ – well.

They’re wrong.

====

So now, of all the many millions and billions of bits of information that I could share with you to make the point, I’ve settled on this:

The Vilna Gaon and the Alter Rebbe were very close family members.

This information has been so heavily and deliberately obscured (for reasons that I am choosing to not go into, at least for now) that you will probably have great difficulty in believing me.

But even with all the deliberate disinformation, and the deliberate changing of dates and names, and the conspiracy of silence that has grown up around this topic, last week, I finally figured enough out to tell you that they are definitely very close relatives.

====

Here’s how I think they are related.*

They are all members of the same Rivlin family.

Eliyahu Rivlin (the Vilna Gaon) was the father or possibly grandfather of Shlomo Zalman Rivlin, aka Schneur Zalman (the Alter Rebbe).

Shlomo Zalman Rivlin had a brother called Tzvi Hirsch Rivlin.

Tzvi Hirsch Rivlin’s daughter, Shifra, married Shlomo Zalman’s Rivlin’s son, Moshe.

But that’s not all.

====

Most of the ‘Vilna Gaon’s’ closest disciples appear to also have been his family members, his sons / grandsons.

Those people were also the very close relatives of the Chabad rebbes.

Many of those people – all the same members of the Rivlin family – moved to Eretz Israel.

Some came dressed as chassidim, some came dressed as Perushim, some came dressed as secular chalutznikim – and many of them became the ancestors of the main players in what became the modern State of Israel.

====

Clearly, I’m leaving out some big parts of this story.

Take a look at Joshua Zeitlin (whose alter ego in the ‘frum’ Jewish world was Natan Neta Notkin), the father-in-law of ‘Reb Alexander Sander’, a very popular figure in Chabad mythology, and also, Zeitlin is strangely connected on a very deep level to many of the Vilna Gaon’s students.

And many of those students are credited with being the ‘fathers’ of the haskalah movement.

Whoever has eyes to see, will see.

But let me end with this.

====

====

Did you know that Binyamin Netanyahu, whose family surname was originally ‘Milikovsky’, is a descendant of the Vilna Gaon?

See here for more information:

Nathan Milikowsky Netanyahu was born to Zvi in Krevo (Vilna area)
in 1875, a descendant of the Gaon from Vilna. He studied at the
Volozhin Yeshiva for 8 years and then became an orator preaching about Zionism. He migrated (with his children who were born in Warsaw) to Palestine in 1920 and served as headmaster of various Hebrew high schools in several towns before settling in Jerusalem as an official of the World Zionist Organization.

On his arrival in Palestine, Milikovsky changed the family name to Netanyahu (“Lord has given”). He was from the beginning a supporter of right-wing views in the Zionist movement, a tendency which deepened in the next generations of his closely knit family. He passed away in 1935.

====

It’s all just one, big (unhappy….) family….

TBC

====

* Many of these people have multiple names and multiple identities, depending on what ‘role’ they are playing.

Slowly, slowly, I’m unpicking it all. But clearly, there’s ample room for error here, especially with all the deliberate cover-up, so I am presenting this as a best guess for how they are related, and I will refine it as new information comes to light.

====

You might also like this article:

What was really the disagreement, between the Vilna Gaon and the early leaders of chassidut?

If we’ve learnt anything at all about the fight between the followers of the Baal Shem Tov and chassidut, and the followers of the Lithuanian path of mitnagdim, as exemplified by the Vilna Gaon and his followers, this is probably what we believe:

The Vilna Gaon and the mitnagdim became ‘anti’ the chassidim and the followers of the Baal Shem Tov, because they were worried about ‘false messiahs’ in the wake of the Shabtai Tzvi affair.

Right?

That’s what we think the whole disagreement was about? That the Baal Shem Tov started this new ‘Tzaddik-centric’ approach to Judaism, and all the Litvak rabbis decided to excommunicate the people practicing chassidut because they were worried that another ‘false religion’ would spring up.

Guess what…that’s not really what happened. Or at least, not at the beginning of this whole story, back in the 1700s. As I started to set out in THIS POST, geula-fever was alive and well in the 18th century, fueled by kabbalistic speculation that the time for ‘the End’ had come, and geula was about to happen.

As I covered in that post, there were a few key dates that the kabbalists had pegged for the final coming of Moshiach, all based on the gematria of the word ‘dawn’, and allusions to that word in the Zohar and in the book of Daniel.

These years were:

1748 – which was proceeded by an ‘elite aliya’ of the Jewish world’s leading kabbalists to Israel, including the Ohr HaChaim from Morocco, the RaMCHaL from Italy, and many kabbalists and mystics from the Ashkenazi world too, including Rabbi Gershon of Kutow, the BESHT’s brother-in-law.

1753 – when three huge kabbalists in Israel including the CHIDA, Rabbi Shalom Sharabi (the Rashash), and Rabbi Chaim de la Roza tried to ‘force’ the end of days via kabbalistic uses of Hashem’s mystical names. Heaven forced them to stop, and the CHIDA had to go into exile for 5 years.

1781 – which was again proceeded by a ‘chassidic’ aliya from the Ashkenazi world, which was led by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk.

(The last official ‘date’ as the last possible date for the ‘in its time’ redemption, was 1840, but we’ll leave that alone for this post.)

====

Between 1748 and 1781, so many of our leading rabbis believed that the geula was imminent, and the Vilna Gaon and the Lithuanian rabbis were counted firmly amongst them.

In fact, pretty much the only leading rabbi at that time who was saying that geula was NOT going to happen imminently was the Baal Shem Tov. I know I quoted this in the previous post, but let’s bring his letter written to Rabbi Gershon in 1747 again here, to keep all the pieces together in one place. The BESHT wrote:

“I asked the Messiah when he would be coming. “This is how you will know,” he replied. “When your teachings become public and revealed to the world, and your wellsprings of my teachings, which you will have mastered, overflow to the outside, so that [others], too, will be able to perform mystical unifications and ascents of the soul like you. Then all the klipot will be eradicated and a time of [Divine] desire and salvation will come.”

The Baal Shem Tov continues:

“[This reply] left me puzzled and severely troubled. Such a long time! When can it possibly come to pass?”

The Baal Shem Tov was explaining to Reb Gershon that the Moshiach is going to come, and the end of days is going to happen, only when the Jews start to really connect to God, and experience ‘ascents of the soul’, and to really learn and understand Torah on the deep level of chassidut.

Moshiach wasn’t just going to show up, regardless of the spiritual state of the Jews, and regardless of all their bad middot and lack of emuna. He was only going to come when the Jews got real, learned some humility, and started talking to God sincerely every single day, and including Him in every aspect of their life.

====

So now, the question is:

Why did the mitnagdim fall out so badly with the chassidim, if everyone at that time was eagerly anticipating Moshiach and geula, and the Lithuanian rabbis were pressing for aliya and for ‘the end’ to come just as much as the chassidim?

The answer lies in the different approaches the Vilna Gaon and the chassidim were trying to take, to bring the geula.

We can set it out like this:

1747 – The Baal Shem Tov writes a letter explaining that Moshiach is only going to come when the Jews make teshuva, and approach their yiddishkeit in a more ‘chassidic’ way.

The BESHT’s leading student, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye, sat on that letter for over 30 years, but then published it in 1780, when it started to become obvious that Moshiach was not coming imminently, after all.

In the meantime, the Vilna Gaon had spent years trying to resolve all the kooshiot, or difficulties in the Torah, using just his superb logical abilities and ‘cleverness’. According to documents found by researcher Arie Morgenstern which quotes the Vilna Gaon’s students and sons, as brought in his book The Gaon of Vilna and his Messianic Vision, the Vilna Gaon believed he could bring the Moshiach:

“[B]y force of his supreme halachic authority. [T]he Gaon proposed to move to Eretz Yisrael and write the final halacha there, in order to hasten the redemption. As Joseph Karo[1] had done, so would the Gaon of Vilna do. He wished to be the final arbiter, not in order to write the halacha for its own sake, but rather to hasten the redemption and conclude the ‘sorting’ (birur) process that would usher in the Messiah.”

Here’s what the Vilna Gaon himself wrote, about his aspirations[2]:

“Every unresolved issue is a klipah, and emanates from the Erev Rav that intermingled with the Israelites…This is how unresolved issues insinuated themselves into the halacha. The answer to the unresolved issues is the repair of the klipah.

Elsewhere, he wrote[3]:

“At the end of the galut, in the footsteps of the Moshiach, the tree of life, the Law of Moses will be revealed.”

One of the Vilna Gaon’s senior students, Rabbi Israel of Shklov, explained[4] that his mentor had managed to resolve all the issues in the whole Torah (!) except for in two passages in the Zohar. The Rabbi of Shklov says:

“Had the Gaon resolved these issues, he would have brought the birur (‘sorting process’) to its end, and the path to the Messiah’s arrival would have been readied for use.”

As it was – he didn’t, and it wasn’t.

====

The Vilna Gaon set out for Israel in 1778.

But first travelled to Amsterdam, where he hoped to track down copies of the books and manuscripts that would help him resolve his two last remaining ‘issues’, before he made aliya, wrote a new ‘perfect’ Shulchan Aruch in Israel, and ushered in the redemption.

But God didn’t let him do that, his mission to Amsterdam was a failure, and the Gaon returned home to Vilna, without attempting the trip to Israel.

Once home, he decided to take a different tack, and for the first time in his scholarly career, he decided to teach an elite group of students his approach to learning Torah, with a particular emphasis on these students moving to Israel, and helping to lay the practical foundations for the Jews to return to their land.

====

In the meantime, nearly all the Chassidic rebbes dealt with the ‘moshiach let-down’ of 1781 by starting to put the emphasis on personal redemption, as opposed to national redemption, and taking the emphasis off of moving to Israel.

Everyone, that is, except Rabbenu and Breslov chassidut.

Rebbe Nachman continued to stress the importance of living in Eretz Yisrael, as well as the importance of working on the ‘inner dimension’ and developing the good middot that would enable each person to achieve their ‘personal redemption’, too.

====

1781 approaches, the make-or-break date for ‘geula in its time’, and the Vilna Gaon realizes that his approach of trying to ‘perfect’ Torah, and engage in ‘perfect’ mitzvah observance is out of reach, and that he can’t bring Moshiach this way. Instead, he looks to kick-start redemption by placing ‘boots on the ground’ in Eretz Yisrael, and directs a group of his elite students to make aliya after his death.

Meanwhile, after 1781, the different Chassidic leaders put much more focus on the idea that redemption is internal, not necessarily land-based.

Israel is out of reach, so turn inwards and work on your personal and communal redemption instead, wherever you live!

Only Breslov chassidut actually combined these two, very different approaches, continuing to stress the practical aspects of aliya to the real Eretz Yisrael, together with emphasizing the inner work and importance of being connected to the True Tzaddik and praying for redemption.

But there was so much opposition to Rebbe Nachman, and then to Breslov, that this message was muted back then, and really has only begun to flourish in our days.

====

So now, what happened with the excommunication of the chassidim by the Lithuanian rabbis, headed by the Vilna Gaon?

As usual, it’s a sordid tale of petty politics and ego-mania.

In the years leading up to the first ‘excommunication’ of the chassidim, in 1772, The Vilna ‘kahal’, or community leaders had been locked in a vicious struggle with the town’s chief rabbi and rabbinical judge, a fellow by the name of Shmuel ben Avigdor.

Shmuel ben Avigdor had been ‘bought’ his position – as was the custom of the time then, and in many ways still is today – by his wealthy father-in-law. The kahal leaders felt that Shmuel ben Avigdor was throwing his weight around, was out of his depth when it came to making halachically-binding decisions, and – most crucially of all – was impinging on their income by trying to butt into communal affairs that they felt he should play no part in.

So, the kahal went to war against their very wealthy, very connected chief rabbi, to try to get him ousted. His father-in-law had bought him the rabbinate ‘for life’, so the kahal leaders could only get him out of the way if they could prove his was guilty of gross, ‘anti-Torah’ misconduct. So that’s what they set about trying to show.

According to Arie Morgenstern[5]:

“The methods used were illegitimate:…false testimonies, silencing of witnesses, preventing the presentation of exculpatory evidence about the defendants under threat of excommunication, forbidding the lodging of complaints with the rabbinical court by the same means, and even forbidding the rabbinical judges to listen to cries of protest against the abuse being committed.”

Plus ca change.

And having waged war against their town rabbi by dirty means, the kahal then just applied their ‘abilities’ against the chassidim in their midst, too.

====

Why did the Vilna kahal turn against the chassidim?

Some researchers claim they were egged on by the Vilna Gaon (more on that in a moment), while others claim that the kahal leadership were worried that people flocking to chassidut would diminish their clout in the Jewish community, and their own legal status vis-à-vis their non-Jewish rulers. (Which in turn, would diminish their ability to levy taxes on the Jewish community….)

In the meantime, the horrible, dirty machloket between the Vilna kahal leaders and their chief rabbi Shmuel ben Avigdor raged almost without let up for approximately 30 years (!) It was so poisonous, Vilna’s Jewish residents were frequently arguing on street corners, and fights would regularly break out in public, even between the women.

That only stopped when the community was hit by a terrible tragedy.

In 1771, an outbreak of plague killed hundreds of small children in Vilna’s Jewish community. It was clear to the kahal leaders that this was some ‘punishment from Heaven’, but rather than accept that their own machloket against the Chief Rabbi could be the cause, they searched around for a scapegoat – and found one, in the nascent movement of chassidim.

According to the mitnaged Maggid of Makow, the reclusive Vilna Gaon was totally unaware of any problem with the chassidim, until the kahal leaders – who were giving the Vilna Gaon a salary of 1400 guilders a year and a rent-free home, even though the Vilna Gaon fulfilled no public duties as rabbi – brought a bunch of false witnesses to slander the chassidim as a ‘deviant cult’.

Rabbi David the Maggid writes:

“Due to his devotion to the Torah and his perseverance, the holy Pious One [the Vilna Gaon] was oblivious to all these matters, until the righteous and honest learners cried out… Then he became their enemy, fighting them and pronouncing the great excommunication of all their rabbis and students… The excommunication went into effect in 1772, after Pesach.”

But none of the other four major Jewish communities in Lithuania, including Horodno, Brisk, Slutsk and Pinsk, joined in with the excommunication of 1772, because they understood that the Vilna kahal was trying to deflect the spiritual heat off its own bad behavior, by using the chassidim as scapegoats. Very quickly, the excommunication died away, and the Lithuanian communities happily sent money to support the Chassidic aliya that began in 1777 – ahead of the ‘end of times’ date of 1781.

====

THE SECOND EXCOMMUNICATION

But then, there was a second excommunication of the chassidim that happened in 1781 – and that one stuck, and widened out into a veritable war against chassidut.

What triggered this second attack against chassidut? A few different things:

  • More and more people were flocking to the ranks of chassidut.
  • Chassidut became increasingly organized as a communal force within the Jewish community, and so appeared to be more of a threat to the existing leaders’ status, influence, and ability to use their communal position to make money.
  • The Baal Shem Tov’s students started to print and disseminate some of their ideas and teachings – notably Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye, who published Toledot Yaakov Yosef in 1780.
  • May 1781 came and went without Moshiach showing up, and a wave of frustration overtook the Jewish community and led to a whole bunch of internecine fighting.

====

The chassidim were not totally blameless, for the war erupting.

By this point, many of them were openly mocking the Lithuanian rabbis for being out of touch with their communities and overly hung-up on pietism and asceticism, instead of serving God joyfully, with their hearts. There were also some Chassidic leaders who were publically complaining about the behavior of other Chassidic leaders, and that might also have fueled external criticism of the movement.

Meanwhile, the mitnagdim communities and their rabbis were having to deal with all these ‘miracle stories’ that started circulating about the Baal Shem Tov – including his infamous ‘conversation’ with Moshiach, in 1747 – after Rabbi Yaakov Yosef’s books came out. To put it bluntly, it was hard for the Lithuanian rabbis to compete, when there was a Tzaddik of the caliber of the Baal Shem Tov wooing their congregants away with his supernatural abilities and awesome, soul-inspiring advice.

In other words: they got jealous.

Plus ca change

====

There’s one last thing I want to add here, because clearly what I’m describing above has continued to play itself out in our day and time, too.

At its highest level, there was a dispute for the sake of heaven going on, between the Vilna Gaon and the Baal Shem Tov, about the way to bring Moshiach and geula.

The BESHT said:

Geula will only come when all the Jews make teshuva, and start to serve God sincerely, and not just to pay ‘lip service’ to the external commandments and mitzvoth. And God will wait as long as it takes, for that to happen.

The Vilna Gaon said:

Geula will come ‘in its time’, once we fix the halacha perfectly. And whoever is not on that level of perfection at that time, won’t make it through to the world-to-come.

(I should mention here, that the Vilna Gaon was kind of obsessed with the Erev Rav, and that he and his students both talked and wrote about them a great deal.)

This mirrored the debate that took place in Sanhedrin 97b, between Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol, and Rabbi Yehoshua, that you can read about HERE.

And we are still having that debate today in the Jewish world.

====

On the one hand, there are the people saying geula is ready to come NOW!!! Today!!! And that the world is full of evil erev rav types that just can’t change, and won’t make it through, and that millions of people are going to die before Moshiach is revealed, because they just aren’t on the level to make it.

This is the ‘Rabbi Yehoshua’ approach.

On the other hand, we can see with our own eyes that each of these ‘end times’ keeps coming and going; and that the predicted wars keep fading away. And, that the whole ‘erev rav’ approach is basically unworkable in practice (as I cover in my book), and that with daily hitbodedut, regular visits to Uman, and a strong connection to our True Tzaddikim, people can and do transform into better Jews in some fantastic ways.

This is the ‘Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol’ approach.

====

The note from Rav Kook, describing Rabbi Berland as a'spark' of Eliezer HaGadolA few years’ ago, Rabbi Dov Kook of Tiveria famously wrote a note where he stated that Rabbi Eliezer Berland is a spark, or reincarnation, of that selfsame Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol.

God is waiting for us all to open our eyes, and see what’s right in front of them.

After 200 years of trying the ‘Rabbi Yehoshua’ approach – which has clearly not worked to bring Moshiach and redemption – God is waiting for more of us to adopt the ‘Rabbi Eliezer HaGadol’ approach of sincere teshuva, talking to God, and connecting to our True Tzaddikim, instead.

And when we get that message, geula will finally happen.

====

FOOTNOTES:

[1] The author of the Shulchan Aruch.

[2] Vilna Gaon’s commentary on Ra’aya Mehemana, Konigsberg, 1858, 28a.

[3] Yahel Or, Commentaries on the Zohar, Parshat Mishpatim 114b (Vilna, 1882).

[4] In his preface to the book: Pe’at Ha’Shulchan.

[5] Page 237, The Gaon of Vilna and his Messianic Vision

====

You might also like these articles: