Friday, September 3, 2010

Rebbe Judaism, the Vilna Gaon and Kupat Ha’ir

I am sitting in my room flipping through the latest Kupat Ha'ir brochure, declaring that Haredi Gedolim have ASSURED contributors "a good, sweet, year with no distress or serious ailments." Back in my day it was enough to simply wish people a "sweet new year," a "good signing and sealing" and believe that "repentance, prayer and charity overturn evil decrees." According to the brochure, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman are in the habit of meeting to discuss Kupat Ha'ir. "Why? There's no answer to this question. It's impossible for human logic to fathom." For those of us still bound by in the realm of human logic, Rabbi Kanievsky informs us that Kupat Ha'ir is the reason why we have not had a "Second Holocaust."

What really caught my attention in this brochure was the fact that it mentions the eighteenth century Rabbi Elijah of Vilna (the Vilna Gaon), comparing the crowds gathering outside to catch a glimpse of Rabbi Kanievsky and Rabbi Steinman talking about Kupat Ha'ir to the people, who supposedly gathered in the town of Meretz to catch a glimpse of Rabbi Elijah of Vilna when he visited. As anyone familiar with Jewish history will tell you, Rabbi Elijah of Vilna was a highly reclusive individual, who hardly left his house, and was hardly, during his lifetime, the sort of famous personality to attract crowds. His one major public act was the excommunication ban on the early Hasidic movement and his subsequent campaign against them.

One of the major shifts in Orthodox Judaism over the past few decades has been the "Hasidic" turn even among Lithuanian Jews, who claim ideological descent from Rabbi Elijah of Vilna. As Kupat Ha'ir is a good example of, even Lithuanian rabbis now offer blessings and claim miraculous powers; the sort of thing that used to be the province of Hasidic rebbes.

If Rabbi Elijah of Vilna were around today, he surely would point to Kupat Ha'ir as an example of how necessary it was to excommunicate Hasidim in the eighteenth century and proceed to excommunicate those presently involved with Kupat Ha'ir. So how about it.

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