Understanding Chabad
(Back to main page)

What is Minus?

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 of min. 
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, Jews.

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 are 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 ultimately lead?

"...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's 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 to duty." 

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, Nevuchadnezer
"...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 secrets..."
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 (i.e., 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 altogether?

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.