Monday, July 19, 2010

A Final Word to Chaim Rapoport

A final word to Chaim Rapoport’s continuing need to comment on our book
by: Menachem Friedman & Samuel Heilman

While we hoped our last posting would be our last word on this subject, since the Seforim
Blog has posted Rapoport’s rejoinder simultaneously (a courtesy never offered to us), we
want to add a brief postscript, which we have been assured by the blog moderators will
be the last posting on our book.

We are happy Rapoport checked the Paris directory and found the listing of the Engineer
Schneerson. Why he failed to note this listing (which as Rapoport at last reports was
noted in our book) when he attacked us over our error on the envelope, he will have to
explain to his readers. But in his long riff on the listing Rapoport misses the point we
made, and which was lost in the laughter over our use of the envelope as the graphic
proof. What was MMS interested in announcing about himself?

Rapoport seems to think we thought that MMS used the directory in which he
listed himself not as “Rabbin” but “Ing. Elec and Mecan” was a “venue for joy and
thanksgiving.” Not at all. We say it was a sign of pride at his accomplishments (p.121),
a way of publicly identifying himself – not as a rabbi but as what he saw himself:
engineer. It was MMS who chose to put his listing in as this; not the Paris telephone
service. He wanted the public to know. As for revealing his dreams, we have already
covered that in our book (p. 119). It was in his letter to his father that he made that
abundantly clear. We urge readers to look at the letter and judge for themselves if after
years of study for this degree in 3 countries, when he wrote to his father and said in his
own words that engineering was his “dream” he meant it as a fantasy. In any case, we
did not say it was his “ultimate goal in life,” as Rapoport puts it. Apparently, the
Hasidim know best what that was; we are not nearly as categorical.

As for what ‫ חלום‬means, we’ll simply say that we believe Rapoport’s twist on this
word is actually a dream in the sense of fantasy. His explanation puts nothing to rest,
much as he might wish it to be the case.

Rapoport’s dance around MMS’s pursuit of the engineering degree is to assure us that he
wanted this only for parnassa, the classic haredi explanation for any secular studies by
those they deem religious. He adds to this that this was driven by the realization that he
could not be a rabbi in the Stalinist USSR or that he could thereby observe the Sabbath
better there. But MMS had no intentions of returning to the Stalinist regime from France
and affirmed this in his affidavit to the French when he sought French citizenship, (see
pp. 122-3 in our book). All of Rapoport’s tortured efforts to write off the long pursuit of
an engineering degree by MMS as nothing other than a quest for a side job are simply not
credible, as our book demonstrates time and again.

Rashag, he tells us was also involved in “commerce and the like.” Rashag was Rayatz’s
right-hand man, completely taken up with that task; something MMS was not. The
revision of the Gourary history continues.

We are accused of “not letting the man speak for himself.” The writings and speeches of
Menachem Mendel Schneerson are all over the internet, in countless books and distributed by Lubavitchers wherever they can. Our job is not to let the Rebbe speak for
himself. The Lubavitchers do that, and sometimes they also speak for him. No one could
accuse us of hiding his words. If anything, our book has made many more people
interested in reading his words. Our book is a framework against which those words may
now be looked at from a new perspective.

Rapoport once again tries to teach us about academic standards. We’ll simply say that on
that we shall by judged not by a Lubavitcher hasid with an axe to grind and venom to
spew but by our peers.

The discussion of the ‘local’ synagogue nearer to MMS’s residence is a new wrinkle in
Rapoport’s argument. Readers will recall he told us how much the man liked to walk and
assured us it was no problem for him to walk to the synagogues in the Pletzel. Now
suddenly he talks about this large nearby synagogue (which he wonders that we did not
mention nor did he, why?) but conveniently fails to mention that MMS was not seen
there, nor did he take any active role as teacher in this synagogue. Where is the evidence
he went there?

As for distances, as one will discover the distance from 7 Robert Lindet to the synagogue
on 10 Rue Dieu where Zalman Schneerson his cousin prayed (see our p. 140) is 8.5km or
5.3 miles one way and to Rue de Rosiers is according to Google Maps a walk of between
1 hour 18 minutes (3.8 miles via rue de Vaugirard, as we said) and 1 hour and 27 minutes
(4.25 miles via rue du Bac) one way. Apparently, in Rapaport’s thinking MMS had
kefitzat derech. We hope this puts this matter to rest, unless in Rapoport’s geography the
world shrinks when his Rebbe walks upon it.

With regard to the testimony of Mr. Shochetman’s recollection about his father’s visits,
we shall simply say that we did not find this recollection persuasive when we came upon
it in the JEM recordings. This is the same man who claimed in Yemei Melech that MMS
was a student who studied engineering at Sorbonne, something that has been shown to be
false in our book. Suffice it to say even if we accept its veracity, a report of one person
studying Torah with him in Paris does not make the case for MMS being one who was an
active teacher of Torah in his Paris years. Where is the rest of the evidence of the after-
school Toarh classes he set up for children besides this testimony? Where are the
children and their parents? The “100 witnesses” to borrow Rapaport’s expression; where
are they? And the argument that MMS spent those years as Rapaport asserts, “primarily
engaged” in his own learning of Torah simply does not persuade us. He did not have to
go to Paris for that; he could have stayed at the Rebbe’s court.

As for the letters from Levi Yitzchak to his son, we shall simply repeat our reading of
them and readers of our book can judge for themselves. Obviously, Rapoport reads them
with his special esoteric understanding. In his readings ‫ חלום‬is not dream, words take on
new meanings. Rapoport does this as well when we asked for a straight declarative
sentence in which MMS states unequivocally that he is neither immortal nor the Messiah.
Instead Rapoport refers to “the Rebbe’s vernacular” which does not use language as
others do, words he will “be happy to explain” to us. Reading Rapoport one is reminded of Humpty Dumpty: "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful
tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - - that's all."
(Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6)

In his typical approach of half truth or falsification, Rapaport claims we did not mention
that Levi Yitzchak added a blessing that his son have a son but that we took this from
him. Apparently he missed p. 128 of our text where we write exactly that.

On the beard, we have said all we need to say. But we’ll just add that in his long
quotation on Rayatz’s talk at the sheva brachot about beards, Rapoport leaves out the
following words: “Then he denounced those who trimmed their beards or who shaved
them off altogether. All of this he said while his new university bound son-in-law with a
beard that for all intents and purposes looked as if it were trimmed sat there, and his two
younger daughters (one of whom was the bride), who everyone in the room likely knew
shared an outlook of modernity, were in a room nearby.” We maintain that with all he
could have talked about, Rayatz chose this not because, as Rapaport ludicrously asserts, a
few “elder Chasidim in town had been trimming their beards….”

Rapoport wants us to list accolades Rayatz gave to MMS. That is a task for him and his
hagiographers. We note the relevant communications where MMS refused to accompany
Rayatz on his missions, where he collected books for him, where he actually did things
for his father-in-law. In Rapoport’s mind, our book should, as we said in our original
response, have been a book of praises. For that, he will have to go to Chabad.

Nowhere did we write that “mamesh” was an “innovation.” We do say that when MMS
used it after the honors from President Reagan, he added the phrase “with all its
interpretations.” (p. 215). Readers would do well to see what we wrote and at the
context rather than depending on Rapoport’s twist.

We are happy that Rapoport at last acknowledges the view held by some Hasidim,
including Lubavitchers we spoke to and observed, that the “graves of the righteous” are
accepted as not being defiling of a Cohen. He of course sidesteps the issue of the lack of
curtains around the graves opposite the ohel entrance with the word that it is “awkward.”

Once again in his quotation of our book, Rapoport makes use of ellipses to twist the truth.
In noting why we had to be careful with Lubavitcher sources, we wrote (and he fails to
quote these words) “To believers it cannot be that the man who stands between them and
God could have had a life like any other. Even that which seems prosaic is understood as
appearing so only to the uninitiated, and therefore things can never be what they seem.
For believers, beneath the surface reality there is to be found a deeper truth. Only one
who has the key can thus unlock the whole truth, and that key is possessed only by those who are truly Hasidim,” (p. 65) Yes we did use Lubavitcher sources, but not all and not
always if we could find more reliable ones elsewhere.

The assertion that the late Barry Gourary, z’l hated his uncle “with a passion” is yet
another of the libels Rapoport perpetrates against a man who cannot defend himself
against such calumnies. The very accusation he later makes against us! Shame on you.
Where is there any evidence to support such a hateful accusation, one that has been
refuted by Zalman Alpert and others, who actually knew and spoke to him.

Our book is our final word on how we explain matters; references to earlier interviews by
one or another of us in the papers are not relevant. In the course of the book and
discussions between us the narrative evolved. By this we should be judged. Not by a
reporter’s characterization nor by a blogger’s or a hasid’s.

We “intimate” nothing. That is a word Rapoport uses to characterize our work. We are
very careful in our language. When we know something, we say it and when we do not,
we leave matters as open questions. We say Moussia and Mendel “may have” attended a
theatre (we know she did even after he became Rebbe). We never say they chose that
over attending synagogues as Rapoport accused us of saying or intimating. And yes, they
may have attended the theatre – chances are they did. Horrors.

On the matter of the purloined copy of the uncorrected galleys, Rapoport, who apparently
is in charge of the portfolio on “ethics” for Lubavitch see here:
( now adds yet another lie
– time for teshuva, Rabbi, teshuva. The Seforim blog was never sent a copy of the
uncorrected galleys that you claim to have received from them. We cannot vouch for
when and from whom Rabbi Rapoport received his purloined copy, but it adds insult to
injury for him to continue to claim it was all above-board. That the Seforim blog will
allow itself to be a tool of his lying and post this claim of course adds to our dismay.

Finally, Rapoport once again claims that our book constitutes an effort “to malign the
name of a great man after his death.” We believe our book does quite the opposite and
shows how this great man was a complex, fascinating and extraordinary man. We have
devoted years of our lives to this task. We believe the truth is as one person close to
Chabad who wrote us after reading the book said – and we shall quote him and if he
chooses to reveal his identity, he may and if not that is his right (having seen how people
like Rapoport attack and twist the words those with whom they disagree) and maybe a
good idea. This reader wrote:
“While I am sure that there are many within the movement who are
dissatisfied with your treatment of the Rebbe as a human being effected [sic] by
his time and human emotion, I believe that the perspective brought by you both
has done a great service to those who wish to better understand the phenomenon
of Chabad generally and the Rebbe in particular. Rather than diminish the Rebe
[sic] and his accomplishments, you have magnified both by placing them in
context. The "Great Oz" has not been shown to be a mere mortal, but rather, a
mere mortal has been shown to be the "Great Oz" (L'Havdil).”

We think this reader of ours got it right, and we hope this will be the last word on the
subject here, as we have been promised by the Seforim Blog that it would be.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You have produced a view of a man who exemplified the emotional & religious wrestling typical of his Orthodox peers (such as R. Sloveitchik, Ms. Leibovitz et al..
A chassid can not find peace in discord; those who could became the leaders. Thank you for another view of generational giant & his wife.

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