September 28, 1997
Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich
29 Shchekavytska Street
Dear Rabbi Bleich:
Given that you are a prominent public figure who often expresses views concerning Ukraine to large audiences — as in the 60 Minutes broadcast The Ugly Face of Freedom, on the pages of The Ukrainian Weekly, or before Jewish groups in the United States — you will understand that it is natural for Ukrainians to want to know what values and beliefs you stand for. Ukrainians may wish to ascertain whether you are a force of healing or of wounding, of reconciliation or of divisiveness, of the strengthening of their nation or the undermining.
Now we have already seen (in my letter to you of September 27, 1997) that Israel Shahak argues that some doctrines of orthodox Judaism once were — and possibly today still are — oriented toward the inculcation of hatred, duplicity, and exploitation, and which thus if exported to Ukraine might be expected to have the effects of wounding, dividing, and undermining. The reason that I write to you today is that Israel Shahak singles Hassidic Judaism out as a movement which — even today — is particularly strongly characterized by hatred and other retrogressive tendencies:
My final, more general example is, if possible, even more shocking than the others.
It concerns the attitude of the Hassidic movement towards non-Jews. Hassidism — a
continuation (and debasement!) of Jewish mysticism — is still a living movement,
with hundreds of thousands of active adherents who are fanatically devoted to their
"holy rabbis," some of whom have acquired a very considerable political influence
in Israel, among the leaders of most parties and even more so in the higher
echelons of the army.
What, then, are the views of this movement concerning non-Jews? As an example, let us take the famous Hatanya, fundamental book of the Habbad movement, one of the most important branches of Hassidism. According to this book, all non-Jews are totally satanic creatures "in whom there is absolutely nothing good." Even a non-Jewish embryo is qualitatively different from a Jewish one. The very existence of a non-Jew is "inessential," whereas all of creation was created solely for the sake of the Jews.
This book is circulated in countless editions, and its ideas are further propagated in the numerous "discourses" of the present hereditary Fuehrer of Habbad, the so-called Lubavitcher rabbi, M.M. Schneurssohn, who leads this powerful world-wide organisation from his New York headquarters. In Israel these ideas are widely disseminated among the public at large, in the schools and in the army. (According to the testimony of Shulamit Aloni, Member of the Knesset, this Habbad propaganda was particularly stepped up before Israel's invasion of Lebanon in March 1978, in order to induce military doctors and nurses to withhold medical help from "Gentile wounded." This Nazi-like advice did not refer specifically to Arabs or Palestinians, but simply to "Gentiles," goyim.) ...
The fact that ... Habbad can be publicly supported by so many top political figures owes much to the thoroughly disingenuous and misleading treatment by almost all scholars who have written about the Hassidic movement and its Habbad branch. This applies particularly to all who have written or are writing about it in English. They suppress the glaring evidence of the old Hassidic texts as well as the latter-day political implications that follow from them, which stare in the face of even a casual reader of the Israeli Hebrew press, in whose pages the Lubavitcher rabbi and other Hassidic leaders constantly publish the most rabid bloodthirsty statements and exhortations against all Arabs.
A chief deceiver in this case, and a good example of the power of the deception, was Martin Buber. His numerous works eulogising the whole Hassidic movement (including Habbad) never so much as hint at the real doctrines of Hassidism concerning non-Jews. ... But while ostensibly opposing Nazism, Buber glorified a movement holding and actually teaching doctrines about non-Jews not unlike the Nazi doctrines about Jews. ... But the consequences of deception are incalculable. Buber's works were translated into Hebrew, were made a powerful element of the Hebrew education in Israel, have greatly increased the power of the blood-thirsty Hassidic leaders, and have thus been an important factor in the rise of Israeli chauvinism and hate of all non-Jews. If we think about the many human beings who died of their wounds because Israeli army nurses, incited by Hassidic propaganda, refused to tend them, then a heavy onus for their blood lies on the head of Martin Buber.
... [T]here had once been a great deal of justified criticism of the Hassidic movement. Their mysogynism (much more extreme than that common to all Jewish Orthodoxy), their indulgence in alcohol, their fanatical cult of their hereditary "holy rabbis" who extorted money from them, the numerous superstitions peculiar to them — these and many other negative traits were critically commented upon. (Israel Shahak, Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, Pluto Press, London and Boulder Colorado, 1994, pp. 26-28)
Now in view of Israel Shahak's statement above, I think that there may be more than a few Ukrainians who would be interested in hearing your answers to the following questions:
(1) Even though in the 60 Minutes broadcast The Ugly Face of Freedom, you were introduced as the "chief rabbi of the Ukraine," and even though on your letterhead you describe yourself as the "Rabbi of Kiev and of Ukraine," is it not the case that you represent only the Hassidic sect and thus have no authority to speak for Ukrainian Jews generally? If this is the case, then would you not agree that your introduction on 60 Minutes was misleading, and that your letterhead is less than forthcoming? Would it surprise you to learn that these two examples give the impression that you are attempting to hide your Hassidic affiliation?
(2) What is your relationship to Habbad, which Israel Shahak describes above as "one of the most important branches of Hassidism" and which he singles out as being particularly virulent in its inculcation of hatred toward non-Jews?
(3) What was your relationship to the late Lubavitcher rabbi, M.M. Schneurssohn of New York? Do you think that Shahak is justified in referring to rabbi Schneurssohn as the "hereditary Fuehrer of Habbad" or in referring to some of the statements issuing from Habbad as "Nazi-like"? Do you agree with Shahak that some of rabbi Schneurssohn's writings are rabidly bloodthirsty? In your own upbringing in Brooklyn, were you exposed to the teachings of rabbi Schneurssohn and were you influenced by them? Did you share with some Hassidic Jews the belief that rabbi Schneurssohn was the messiah and that some supernatural event was imminent which would demonstrate that fact?
(4) Do you own a copy of Hatanya, which Shahak describes as the "fundamental book of the Habbad movement"? Would you agree with Shahak that the Hatanya teaches that "all non-Jews are totally satanic creatures" and so on? What role would you say that the Hatanya plays in your own current thinking and teaching?
(5) Are you aware that Hassidic rabbis exhorted Israeli doctors and nurses to deny medical aid to Gentiles during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1978, and that some of these medics did in fact deny such aid to Gentiles? Do you think that in cases where such medics had emigrated to Canada or the United States that there might today be grounds for the Canadian or American governments to charge them with war crimes or crimes against humanity? What is your professional attitude toward a denial of medical aid based on a consideration of the religion of the patient?
(6) Do you agree with Shahak's claim that the nature of Hassidism is not accurately revealed in English publications, and that one can learn more about it by turning to the Hebrew press?
(7) Putting aside for the moment Shahak's accusation of Hassidism's alcohol abuse and mysogyny as having no immediate relevance to Ukrainian-Jewish relations, there does remain the highly relevant core accusation that Hassidism is particularly virulent in its inculcation of hatred toward Gentiles. In your estimation, does Shahak's accusation have substance? If Shahak is in fact correct in his accusation, what do you estimate will be the chief effect of your activities in Ukraine?
(8) In view of the possibility that there is some substance to Shahak's accusations, would you not agree that before giving their unequivocal support to a revival of Hassidism within Ukraine, Ukrainians would be prudent to enquire what the characteristics of that revival might be, and what doctrinal changes the leaders of that revival had instituted so as to avoid a repetition of mistakes of the past? As a first step in the direction of avoiding a repetition of mistakes of the past, would it be unreasonable for Ukrainians to request that your weekly recitation in Kyiv of the Khmelnytsky prayer be modified or abandoned?