Is Tanya Heresy? Rambam Wants to Kill Chabad.

Perusing my email from Lookjed, I notice that the topic is a very interesting one: “Is Kabbala at Odds with Torah?

Now, for most of us, Kabbala is something that is obviously a part of Torah. So how can it be “at odds” with Judaism?

Well, depending who you ask, Kabbala can definitely be at odds with Torah. For our example, we’ll focus on the example furnished by one commenter on the thread.

It comes from Chapter 2 of Tanya, where the Alter Rebbe states “ונפש השנית בישראל היא חלק אלו-ה ממעל ממש “, which can be translated (according to Chabad.Org) as “The second, uniquely Jewish, soul is truly “a part of G-d above.”

And here is the commentary from Chabad.Org on this statement:

 A part of G-d above”1 is a quotation from Scripture (Iyov 31:2). The Alter Rebbe adds the word “truly” to stress the literal meaning of these words. For, as is known,some verses employ hyperbolic language. For example, the verse describing “great and fortified cities reaching into the heavens” is clearly meant to be taken figuratively, not literally. In order that we should not interpret the phrase “a part of G-d above” in a similar manner, the Alter Rebbe adds the word “truly”, thus emphasizing that the Jewish soul is quite literally a part of G-d above.”

Now, when I saw this quoted, I thought this must be someone twisting the (perhaps risky) metaphor of the Alter Rebbe. But, in fact, it is from Chabad.Org, as we already noted. Why would anyone ever say our souls are part of God?

If God is infinite, He cannot have “parts”, and it must be our souls are all one, and are all God. Thus, we are God. That sounds heretical, right?

Indeed, according to Rambam, there is no question that this is heretical, and anyone who holds this opinion has to be hated and destroyed.

Let’s list which of Rambam’s 13 principles this statement contradicts:

First Principle – “…For unity and mastery are only God’s, since He is sufficient to Himself. All else, whether angels or celestials and whatever is in them or below them, needs Him to exist. This first fundamental principle is taught in the Biblical verse: “I am the Lord your God” (Ex. 20:2).”

From Tanya we learn that unity actually belongs to us as well, and that angels might be below God, but we’re not, since we are Him. Furthermore, God isn’t “your” God, unless He’s talking to Himself, which throws a whole new meaning on prophecy.

Second Principle – ”…God, rather, is uniquely one.”

According to this interpretation of Tanya, that means God is one…other than the fact that he is one with US, right?

Fifth Principle -Only He, blessed be He, is rightfully worshiped, magnified, and obeyed. One must not pray to anything beneath Him in existence: angels, stars, planets or elements, or anything composed of these.

Again, presumably we can pray to ourselves, since our souls are God. Indeed, if I’m not mistaken, Spinoza came to this conclusion about prayer after he decided that everything is God2, and he promptly decided that prayer is most likely haughty, since it is just God worshiping Himself.

We could go on, and I encourage you to investigate how impossibly large the gap is between Rambam and this statement in Tanya. I’m pretty sure Rambam would have had a conniption had he read it.

Now, as we noted before on this blog, you should be careful before you go around hating and destroying people who disagree with the 13 principles, since that category includes many more great rabbis and sages than you’d think.

Additionally, in the tradition of telling Rav Soloveitchik stories on Modern Orthodox blogs, I should mention that the Rav studied Tanya and had a deep and strong respect for Tanya and Chabad. Indeed, he learned it as a child and it is not uncommon to come across an idea from Tanya in his writings.

On a more personal note, I attended a Chabad school for 2 years in high school, and can personally testify to the total devotion to Torah and Mitzvot that my Chabad friends and their families have, and I hope that no one takes too harsh a view of this wonderful community.

In conclusion, I have no idea if Tanya is at odds with the Torah, but I do think that Rambam would be convinced that it is. (And have you seen the first chapter on souls? Rambam would have a field day with that!)

So what does that mean for us?

Well, I have no idea.

1This is not the correct translation. So odd!

2I can’t remember if he was a pantheist or a panentheist though, sorry.

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29 Comments

Filed under Rationalism

29 responses to “Is Tanya Heresy? Rambam Wants to Kill Chabad.

  1. Jason

    It might be worth noting that it is probably better to learn the second chapter of Tanya in its entirety instead of two lines from chabad.org, before making baselss conclusions. Believe it or not the rambam is addressed in that very same chapter. Doh

  2. Jon

    Did you learn the second chapter of Tanya? Do us all a favor

  3. Yitzchak Sprung

    His discussion of rambam makes perfect sense woth the point I made…

  4. Yitzy, i love u, but i think u have to be very careful wat u publicize. Please make sure ur right before u call the alter rebbe (who was, in both niglah and chassidus, one of the greatest minds that ever lived) any names.
    maybe, just maybe, u got it wrong
    urs truely
    jeddy
    ps the world accepts wat the baal shemtov paskins that tzimtzum is not kepshuto only ‘OHR’ ein sof can be metzamtzem not EIN SOF ch”v
    i.e. hashem is here hashem is there, hashem is truelly everywhere!
    moshiach now!
    hope ur doing well otherwise!

    • Yitzchak Sprung

      Jeddy, I would absolutely not call the Alter Rebbe any names, and from my standpoint, I simply pointed out he is on a long list of people who disagree with rambam on very important issues.
      Additionally, this point is very famous, so I wasn’t adding anything, but simply posting what is already a well known discussion.
      Again, my point was really yes, there are those who say Kabbala is not a part of Torah, and here is a famous example. I simply posted an interpretation which I think is correct, and I apologize if it is a sensitive topic, but controversial as the title may be, it seems to be rambam’s meaning.
      However, in contrast to the point I publicized here, I invite you to read rabbi Gil student’s post here: http://torahmusings.com/2008/03/rav-soloveitchiks-confrontation-with/
      Hope all is well!
      All the best,
      Yitzy

  5. oh and just for fun i thought i would add that I dont know of anyone in the world who learns Rambam more than Chabad, i reckon he gets a lot of nachas from that
    http://www.chabad.org/1367238
    good shabbos

  6. Russ Shulkes

    Perhaps more interesting than the article itself is the responses. For your respondents not to recognize that the 1st Lubavitche Rebbi is a heretic, nigla, by many great Jewish thinkers just shows that perhaps they ought to read more than just the rest of the Tanya’s 2nd chapter as well. I commend Yitzy for publishing what ought to be obvious to all Jews: Chabad Chassidus is for some the ultimate truth for Jews, but it is Kfira for others; no amount of animadversions cast at Yitzy will change that.

  7. i know Yitzy very well, i have know idea who you are, i am sure u are a wonderful person, im not trying to change anyones opinions, and i have no interest to get into any arguments or discussions about who is right.
    it makes no difference who is right, but i think that everyone should respect my beliefs the same way i respect theirs.
    publicizing something that claims that according to rambam, chabad is heresy, is disrespectful and hurtful.
    u surely know that one of the mitzvos is ahavas yisroel, no…

    • Yitzchak Sprung

      Well, now we have to find out what “respecting” someone else’s beliefs means, since I think I do respect your beliefs. I don’t think this contradicts my right to analyze them, perhaps in comparison with rambam’s 13 principles…
      Besides, surely you admit there must be a balance between respecting others and the search for truth. Just because someone believes something doesn’t automatically put it out of bounds for even very strong disagreement.
      What should I have done, in your opinion, when I noticed this (important) disagreement? I think it’s good to respectfully disagree with each other, and that is, I think, a great form of ahavat yisrael.
      Besides, I have to again note that I wasn’t calling the alter rebbe’s opinion heretical, but simply noting that some do. I have to admit, I don’t see the value in suppressing that information.

      • Yitzchak Sprung

        Actually, I should have remembered to mention that in rambam’s opinion ahavat yisrael is dependent on keeping his 13 principles. Therefore, that isn’t a problem in regards to someone who disagrees.
        Again, I don’t think publishing this is a violation of love for my fellow, but this is a relevant point none the less.

  8. searching for the truth and analysing my beliefs can be done in a private way, ie not on the internet, no need to balance anything
    what u should have done… 1) unbias research 2)more unbias research
    then if you come to a conclusion, keep it to yourself.
    before publicizing that rambam would oppose chabad one should be 100% sure that this is true. if your even 99% sure then kindly remove the artical.

  9. and back to your article i thought i’d expound based on my very limited understanding how these are in no way a contrdiction
    as i stated before, G-d is everywhere. to take it a step further we say in olainu ‘bashamayim mimaal v’al ha’aretz mitachat ein od’ means that there is nothing other than Him in the heavens and earth. you can simply translate this to mean that there is no G-d hiding in the ski or under the ground. but that is obvious and the verse should have removed the words bashamayim mimaal v’al ha’aretz mitachat if unnecessary. for as we know there is not a single superfluous word in the torah, these words are not coming to teach us that there isnt another G-d hiding somewhere but rather that there is nothing other than G-d in the heavens and the earth.
    so how do we feel like we are not a part of G-d, because this world which is the lowest of all worlds is created from the only thing that feels self existence which is… G-d himself (not G-dliness)

    • Yitzchak Sprung

      “….there is nothing other than G-d in the heavens and the earth.
      so how do we feel like we are not a part of G-d, because this world which is the lowest of all worlds is created from the only thing that feels self existence which is… G-d himself (not G-dliness)”
      To be clear, in your opinion it only seems like we are not a part of God, but this is an illusion, and in fact we are?

  10. when we say that G-d is one we are not only saying that there is one G-d but that He is a singular existence with no other true existences besides Him.
    The Rambam says in the first principle “All else, whether angels or celestials and whatever is in them or below them, needs Him to exist” this is the speech of G-d that constently creates the world anew every instant and gives it the ability to exist. because creation ex nihlo is unlike human ‘creation’ with is really just changing something to something else. creation something from nothing needs a constant creator because its ‘nature’ is non-existence

    • Thanks Jeddy. It’s been great to discuss this with you, and i hope you come back. additionally. please consider yourself as having an open invitation to guest post on this matter if you want, or on other matters regarding chassidus, etc. If you don’t want to but you know someone else who does, then please have that person get in touch with me on facebook.

  11. Rami

    To be fair to the Alter Rebbe, he is just continuing a major theme in Kabbalistic thought, namely that the source of a Jewish soul is in the Godhead (see Tishbi’s Mishnat HaZohar, vol. 2 “Nefesh Ruach v’Neshama”). As ibn Gabai (1480-1540) states in his book Avodat HaKodesh: “The source of the Soul and its level is far above the ministering angels (i.e. in the sphirot). And, yes, ibn Gabai calls the Rambam’s view of the soul “kfira ba’ikar”!

    Yitzy, I think a good proof of your point (Rambam and Kabbalah don’t work together — not that you should need to prove it) are the Rambam’s many statements against the ‘proto-kabbalah’ (to use Kellner’s term) he saw in his day (see for example, his words agains Sefer Shiur Komah, amulets, etc.). Also, the fact that the some Kabbalists put forth (silly as it may be) that the Rambam went back on his philosophy after seeing the Zohar (for example, Migdal Oz on Yesodei HaTorah 1:10) shows they understood that they do not go together.

    I take comfort in the fact that if the mystics are right and the Rambam is an Apikoris, he probably would not want a share in their conception of Olam HaBa anyway and visa vera.

    • Yitzchak Sprung

      If I could click like, I would!
      I Har nothing to reply to this, other than it was both very informative and entertaining!

  12. http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1805534/jewish/Maimonides-Rationalist-or-Mystic.htm
    especially note the last few minutes from 37:15 onwards to directly address Kolner’s book

  13. Rami

    I am not sure what Dr. Loewenthal point is here. The passage in the guide does not support what he is trying to prove (that the Rambam accepted some sort of immanent conception of God’s presence). First of all, the fact that the ibn Tibbon translation was used by the Hassidim is irrelevant as it may be that Pines’ translation (who Schwartz mirors as well) is more accurate to what the Rambam wrote. Even if Dr. Loewenthal is right that ibn Tibbon’s rendering supports his thesis (I mantain it does not) he has given us no reason to prefer it over Pines (and Schwartz).

    Moreover, Dr. Loewenthal fails to provide any reason why we should think that the Rambam (even according to Tibbon’s translation) did not intend us to understand “Shcina” here as he defined it earlier in the Guide (I:25): השגחה על דבר-מה מתמידה (trans. Schwartz). The covering of the head is a sign of modesty and humility (Hil. Deot 5:6) necissary if a wise man wants to stay close to God and under his השגחה. Certainly my reding here is open to critique, but even if I am wrong– is one live enough to undermine Kellner’s thesis? What about the dozens of other proofs Kellner shows?

    In any event, it is a shame that Dr. Loewenthal did not keep reading that paragraph. The Rambam notes that beyond covering their heads, the wise men also spoke little and quotes a verse in Kohelet which states “The Lord is in the heavens and you are on the earth, therefor your words should be few”. This is reference to his use of the verse earlier in the Guide, (I:59) to show biblical support for his negative theology — a lynchpin of his transendental view of God.

    Also, as side note: Dr. Loewenthal is wrong about the term אלוהות, the Hassidim did not invent it. I do not know who did, but the Rambam uses it in Hil. Avodah Zarah 7:18. (Though I guess for Dr. Loewenthal the Rambam is a Hassid)

  14. Benign

    I recently came across the following in the Wikipedia entry for Freeman Dyson (the physicist):
    Dyson has suggested a kind of cosmic metaphysics of mind. In his book Infinite in All Directions he is writing about three levels of mind: “The universe shows evidence of the operations of mind on three levels. The first level is the level of elementary physical processes in quantum mechanics. Matter in quantum mechanics is [...] constantly making choices between alternative possibilities according to probabilistic laws. [...] The second level at which we detect the operations of mind is the level of direct human experience. [...] [I]t is reasonable to believe in the existence of a third level of mind, a mental component of the universe. If we believe in this mental component and call it God, then we can say that we are small pieces of God’s mental apparatus” (p. 297).

    Dyson isn’t Jewish so that might spare him from the Rambam’s wrath.

  15. Pingback: Are the Sefirot Heresy? Rashbash Takes On Kabbalah As We Know It | ThinkJudaism

  16. Just one very, very simple response:
    The word “truly” (“mamesh”) relates to “G-d Above,” not to “part.”

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