Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Demolishing Dumb Arguments: Bray's Appeal to Authority

I don't mean to pick on Bray, but his post yesterday does provide us with the opportunity to say a few things about logical reasoning.

He wrote:
...the fact that the [Hasidic] movement captured the hearts and minds of such intellectual and spiritual giants as the Alteh Rebbe, the Hafloah, the Kotzker, the Rim, the Divrei Chaim, the Sfas Emes, the Bnei Yissoskhor, the Lubliner Kohen, the Khelkas Yoav, the Kozhiklover, Rav Meir Shapiro and Rav Menachem Ziemba to name but a few, belies the conventional wisdom that Besh"tian Khasidus was a grass roots movement meant to serve the unlettered and unwashed masses.
The errors here are multiple. First, it's an appeal to authority. We're asked to accept that Hasidut is valid because the "hearts and minds" of various " intellectual and spiritual giants" were captured by it. Using Bray's logic you can also argue for the validity of Christianity on the basis of Newton, Amselem, Abelard, Thomas Aquinas, and the other intellectual giants who embraced it.

Second, the passage suggests that the Alteh Rebbe, et al, were all fully grown adults, living solid anti-Hasidic lives, when in an instant they were "captured" by the Baal Shem Tov and his irrefutable arguments. However, not one of the people on Bray's list ever met the Baal Shem Tov, and one, the Hafloah, was in no sense a Chasid.

Several of the listed Rabbis were born long after the founder of Hasidut died, and long after his movement had transitioned, as all movements do, into something else entirely.  Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter (the Sfas Emes), Rabbi Yoav Yehoshua Weingarten, (the Chelkas Yoav), Rav Meir Shapiro, and Rav Menchamem Ziemba were active in the 20th century. Like their predecessors Rav Zvi Elimelech Spira (The Bnai Yissacher) and Rav Chaim Halberstam (the Divrei Chaim), they were born to Hasidic parents in a Hasidic universe. In no sense can any of these men be described as being "captured" by the Baal Shem Tov, or his teachings. In fact, with the exception of the Alter Rebbe, and the possible exception of the Kotzker and Lubliner Kohen, who were born Misnagdim in a time and place where a new form of Hasidut was ascending, not one of the people on his list can properly be considered converts to the Baal Shem Tov's movement.

Though Bray might believe (as he wrote) "If they were as smart as you they would have walked away." such a statement reveals two fundamental misunderstandings (1) You generally DONT walk away from things you're born into (See Newton, Abelard, and other geniuses who didn't "walk away" from Christianity) --moreover, in that time and place, such rebellions were exceedingly rare; and (2) by the time almost all the Rabbis on Bray's list emerged, Hasidut had transitioned into something unlike the Baal Shem Tov's original movement. 

Adds "S"  
The Kotzker was a chossid of R. Bunim of Pshishcha who is otherwise known for intellectualizing Chassidus. R. Tzadok was a talmid of another talmid of R. Bunim. R. Menachem Ziemba, etc. was a Gur chossid, and Gur also came to the world through R. Bunim.
So . . . these are not examples which prove that at the beginning Chassidus was not a mass movement for Jewish peasants who loved their schnapps. Maybe you can prove it, but not from the intellectual revolution which occurred 75 years after the Baal Shem died.


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