The Rambam (Teshuva, 3; 7) writes
Five (types of people) are called minim
one who says that there's no G-d and the world has no director; one who
says that there is a director, but there are two or more; one who says
that there is one master, but he has a body or image; also one who says
that He wasn't uniquely alone (when He) created everything; and also
one who serves G-d and another besides in order to act as an
intermediary (meilitz) between him and the Master of all Worlds.
The Ra'avad, however, argues that one who visualizes HaShem in physical
terms shouldn't be considered a min
as he was (most likely) simply confused by subtle passages in Tanach or
midrashim. It would seem, according to the Ra'avad, that adopting
improper beliefs through honest error would not give a Jew the status
How are we to understand this debate?
The Chazon Ish
Perhaps surprisingly, The Chazon Ish (hilchos Akum, 62; 21) suggests
("efshar") that even the Rambam would agree that a Jew is not a min
if, through honest ignorance,
and thinking his beliefs conform to Torah tradition, he believes HaShem
has physical properties. Conversely, the Chazon Ish also proposes
that the Ra'avad would label as a min
someone who understands that the Torah doesn't allow for belief in a
physical god, yet who nevertheless ascribes the creation of the world
to physical beings.
If this is correct (and assuming the Chazon Ish even meant it as a
halachic statement), then one could say that most Lubavitchers (and,
indeed, most secular Jews) cannot be considered minim
, but kosher, albeit confused,
However, for various reasons, we're not at all sure that the Chazon Ish
intended that these ideas should be applied in halacha. For one
thing, we don't think it's possible to apply both suggestions at the
same time, as that would seem to require that the Rambam and Ra'avad
agree on all points (and we don't know anyone who would be comfortable
reading it that way).
In addition, the Rambam himself in More Nevuchim (at the end of section one, chapter 36) clearly explains his opinion:
"If you think that there is an excuse for those who believe in the corporeality of G-d on the ground of their training (i.e., background), their ignorance or their defective comprehension, you must (then) make the same concession to the (actual) worshippers of idols; (after all) their worship is (also) due to ignorance or to early training (see Chullin 13a). …There is no excuse whatever for those who, being unable to think for themselves, do not accept (G-d's incorporeality)…"
R' Elchonon Wasserman
This is the best known treatment of the subject. In Kovetz
Ma'amorim, R' Elchonon quotes R' Chaim Brisker's explanation of the
Rambam. Since emunah is an absolute requirement for "membership"
in Klal Yisrael, lack of emunah (resulting from any cause at all),
qualifies as minus. The Ra'avad argues that belief in a god with
physical qualities can be the result of a person's reliance on what he
perceives as the correct meaning of the complicated seforim he has
read. The Rambam (according to R' Elchonon) would counter that,
had the person really wanted to believe, he would have found proper
explanations for those complex passages and that it therefore all
really comes down to personal choice.
According to this approach (which, though it wasn't necessarily said in
a purely halachic context, certainly can't be ignored), we are left
with an unresolved machlokus on a matter d'oraisa.
R' S.R. Hirsch
As part of his monumental exchange of letters with R' Seligman
Bamberger (the Wurtzberger Rav) on the subject of secession, Rabbi Hirsch
offered a precise and thorough definition of minus
. The approach R' Hirsch
chose formed the foundation of his halachic opinion that, given the
choice, a loyal Jew is clearly obligated by halacha to separate from a
kehilla dominated by Reformers.
The source for much of this presentation is the English edition of
Hirsch's Collected Writings, Volume VI, and in particular, pages
277-301 (extensive excerpts from these letters can be found in Hebrew
in Shemesh Marpe, shu"t 46).
R' Hirsch notes that a mummar is someone who, for one reason or
another, "subscribes in practice to ideas contrary to Judaism" - he
simply desecrates Shabbos. A min
however, "subscribes to such views (also) in thought and attitude"
(emphasis added) - he feels it's the correct thing to do. This is
what is meant by "aduk" (see, for instance, Chulin 13b, Rashi "min
"), that he is attached to his
theology; his whole personality is defined by it in principle.
Further, it makes no difference whether the min observes other mitzvos
and/or considers himself a loyal Jew (even if he is a child of minim),
his principled defection in a crucial area of the Torah, testifies to
his self-exclusion from the Torah nation. We are, therefore,
required to distance ourselves from him, regardless of his general
level of observance or warmth to Judaism (see Avodah Zarah 17a on
Mishlei 5; 8).
As proof, R' Hirsch quotes the Rambam (Avodah Zarah, 2; 5)
And also the Jewish minim
not like Jews for any matter at all...and the minim
foolishly err after the
thoughts of their hearts in those areas we've discussed.
The Rambam here ("in these areas we've discussed") refers a previous
halacha (A"Z 2; 3), where he had described the many intellectual and
theological inquiries that could lead a person to minus
. "Sometimes he will
explore avodah zarah and sometimes Unity; maybe He exists, maybe He
doesn't; what's above, what's below...sometimes (he'll explore the
possibility that) nevuah is authentic, sometimes that it
isn't..." And to where, writes the Rambam, do these inquiries
"...until they end up transgressing
essential elements of the Torah in spite and with impunity and they say
'there is in this no sin'
This is the Rambam's definition of minus
A person who embarked upon a journey of investigation into Torah
principles and who came, perhaps in all honestly, to the wrong
conclusions ("they say: 'there isn't in this any sin'") ...he is a min
! He "lacks the status of
'Jew' in every respect!"
Remember R' Hirsch's principle: minus
is attitude, not practice. We're not worried that he might
transform some medicine or sefer Torah into a tool for avodah zarah,
we're worried that he might leave his impression upon us ("shani minus
d'mashcha"). And this, says R' Hirsch, we see in the final words
of the Rambam himself "u'machsheves min l'avodah zarah". Note: it
doesn't say "stam machshavos..." which would imply that we're worried
that, say, at the moment of a min
shechita, he was thinking about his gods. But rather, it's that
the attitude of a min is naturally and constantly drawn to his
philosophy of defection.
And, adds R' Hirsch (among other proofs), it must be thus: otherwise,
how would you explain Tzadok and Baysus? They reached their
conclusions based on a misunderstanding of their rebbi's Torah, and
would anyone argue that they are not minim
(see, for instance, the Aruch brought by Rashi to Avos 1; 3)?
So the opinion of the Rambam lies before us. But what about the
aforementioned Ra'avad in Hilchos Teshuva? R' Hirsch observes
that Ra'avad says nothing about our Rambam in Hilchos Avodah
Zarah. But if he truly held that minus
reached through honest error
wasn't minus, shouldn't he have noted his opinion where the Rambam
attests to the contrary so clearly? Rather, writes R' Hirsch, it
would seem that the Ra'avad agrees with Rambam everywhere except in the
third category from Hilchos Teshuva which "refers only to the
misconception of the essence of G-d, an error that is purely
metaphysical, without any relevance to the practice of Jewish devotion
At most, then, the Ra'avad (and only the Ra'avad) might consider a Jew
who associates his rebbe with HaShem as a "min
in error," but even he would
agree that davening to a rebbe or ascribing to one's rebbe any quality
of infiniteness (or, for that matter, thinking him a navi on the level
of Moshe) is full heresy in all its horror.
Is davening to a human being actually an act of avodah zarah?
Amazing as it might sound, we've actually encountered individuals who
weren't sure. So let's look at the evidence.
Nefesh Hachaim (R' Chaim m'Volozhin) Sha'ar 3, ch. 9 writes that, not
only is it prohibited to worship or serve any force or creature besides
G-d, it is equally forbidden to worship that which is godly in a human
being. One may not, therefore, pray to the Divine spirit (ruach
hakodesh) that may rest on a prophet or holy man.
A source for this prohibition can be seen in the book of Daniel where,
having heard his dream successfully described and interpreted,
"...fell on his face, bowed to Daniel
and expressed a desire to offer a libation to him, saying: 'it is true
that your G-d is the G-d of gods Who guides kings and reveals
It is clear, observes R' Chaim, that Nevuchadnezer didn't think Daniel
himself was G-d, rather, he wanted to venerate that manifestation of
G-dliness that Daniel had demonstrated through his inspired
interpretation. Yet Daniel refused to allow the offering and, according
to the gemara (Sanhedren 93a), considered the act idolatrous (and
himself, the involuntary object of avodah zarah - presumably because
the king had bowed).
Similarly, R' Chaim notes that Yakov sought to be buried outside of
Egypt, fearing that the Egyptians would venerate him (see Rashi to Gen.
47; 29). Even though the Egyptians' intention would have been the
worship of what was G-dly within Yakov (and not of Yakov himself), the
act was still considered idolatrous.
R' Chaim adds
"...even though the primary prohibited
act of idolatry is through one of the four paradigm acts of worship
[i.e., animal sacrifice, incense, libation and bowing], nevertheless,
now that worship through prayer (accompanied by hishtabdus halev)
stands in the place of sacrifice, it [i.e., prayer directed anywhere
but towards G-d] is certainly idolatry."
So praying to any man, living or dead - even to the ruach hakodesh
within a man - is idolatrous.
What conclusions can we safely draw from everything we've seen so
far? That, even if we focus on nothing but the writings of the
Alter Rebbe and the Rebbe, Menachem Mendel, there are enough problems
to seriously consider reassessing the kashrus of the movement's
ideology. And, further, that these beliefs have been successfully
transmitted to at least some in Chabad's current generation.
But so what? Both the Alter Rebbe and his distant descendent are
now dead and we've only seen relevant quotations from a handful of his
followers. Is there any proof that all, or at least most modern
Lubavitchers are minim
that they daven to their rebbe and/or consider him synonymous with G-d)?
Well, it's certainly true that there is no clear demographic
information on the subject. But, bearing in mind the fierce
loyalty and adoration demonstrated uniformly by all Lubavitchers for
their rebbe (and the broad and profound familiarity they all have with
his writings), it's hard to imagine that any of them would reject an
established teaching that lies so close to the center of his whole
theological system. And if a Lubavitcher would reject it: knowing
its true meaning and implications, wouldn't he leave the movement
If, then, a Lubavitcher still expresses loyalty to his rebbe, we can't
imagine how it could be interpreted in any way but that he's a min
. Prove us wrong.