I have always been drawn to the teaching of the Rebbe of Kotzk. His approach was predicated upon uncompromising truth and intellectual independence.This allowed him to be fearless and never to succumb to societal pressures.
He knew that Judaism was so much deeper and more profound than the way it was perceived by the masses and bent by religious populism.
These essays, although not necessarily Kotzker in essence, are certainly Kotzk inspired.
101) R. PINCHAS OF KORETZ WRITES THAT BRESLOVERS ARE 'NOT JEWISH' - MISPRINT, TAMPERING OR INTENTIONAL?
Midrash Pinchas by R. Pinchas of Koretz
R. PINCHAS OF KORETZ AND HIS PARADIGM SHIFT:
Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz (1728-1790) was a talmid chaver (student
and contemporary) of the Baal Shem Tov, and rose to become one of the leading
lights of the new Chassidic movement.
R. Pinchas received a thorough Lithuanian style Torah education and wrote many Talmudic
and Halachik novellae while still a young man. He was also
interested in the writings of the Rishonim (medieval scholars and philosophers)
and additionally mastered secular studies like engineering science and mathematics. This may have been because he was influenced by the
Gaon of Vilna who placed great emphasis on secular education for Torah scholars (see here). Apparently a page of Euclides which was translated into Hebrew
under the Vilna Gaons’s instruction, made its way to R. Pinchas and he studied
it with the same diligence with which he applied to his Talmudic studies.
However, with time he eventually ‘grew tired’ of science and
philosophy and was drawn to mysticism particularly the Zohar and became one of
its greatest proponents ever (see here).
His father, R Avraham Abba Shapira was a staunch opponent of
the Chassidic movement, but after fleeing from his hometown of Shklov he happened
to meet the Baal Shem Tov. He changed his views and became a follower.
Pinchas became one of the Baal Shem’s closest friends (although they may only have
met on four occasions).
There is some debate as to whether R. Pinchas was indeed his best friend or his
closest disciple. The
Baal Shem entrusted the education of his grandson R. Baruch of Mezhibuzh to R.
R. NACHMAN OF BRESLOV:
R. Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) arguably created a movement
that almost rivalled that of Chassidism’s founder, the Baal Shem Tov himself.
This brought him into sharp focus by many of his contemporary rabbinic
colleagues and caused him to be constantly surrounded by great controversy.
This controversy came from both Chassidic and Mitnagdik sources.
Some Mitnagdim felt he was even more radical in his teachings than the Baal
Shem himself - while some Chassidim saw him as a threat because he didn’t
believe in the concept of dynastic rule which was already well entrenched
within the general Chassidic movement.
In the early 1800’s R. Nachman moved to Zlatipol, a town in
the Ukraine. This move was seen by some as a challenge to the authority of R.
Aryeh Leib known as the Shpoler Zaide (1725-1812) who resided in Shpola,
a mere two miles away and under whose jurisdiction the town of Zlatipol fell.
Although the Shpoler Zaide, who was 75 years old at the time, had originally
supported R. Nachman he now became one of his fiercest opponents. It seems as
if R. Nachman chose the Shpole Zaide as a symbol of the mainstream Chassidic
Rebbes he had set out to oppose.
The Shpoler Zaide was a student of R. Pinchas of Koretz, and
he now accused R. Nachman of deviating from the path of the Baal Shem Tov!
I would like to propose the following question:
Did the Shpoler Zaide draw from an alleged text (or even
just from the tenor) of his teacher R. Pinchas of Koretz, to justify his negative
opinion of Breslov?
About a century later in the early 1900’s, R. Meir Shapira the head of the Bet Din of Lublin (who also happened to be a direct descendant of R. Pinchas of Koretz) once told about how in his youth he was drawn towards the teachings of R.
Nachman. However, he records that his father had expressly forbidden him
from reading any of R. Nachman’s books.
His father, on his own admission, based his opposition
to R. Nachman upon something he had read in Midrash Pinchas, a work
of (his ancestor) R. Pinchas of Koretz (loose translation follows):
“(R. Pinchas of Koretz) rebuked his students, after he
heard them speaking (positively) about R. Nachman of Breslov, because Breslov
was not part of traditional Judaism!”
However, R. Meir paid no heed to his father’s words (nor to
the alleged proof text from his own ancestor) and defiantly continued to
surreptitiously study R. Nachman’s teachings.
Once, his father caught him secretly studying R. Nachman
writings by candlelight in his bedroom, and became very angry. This tension between
honoring his father and needing to study R. Nachman, deeply affected the young
man and tore at his soul.
Then, one day R. Meir met the illustrious R. Avraham
Mordechai of Gur (1866-1948) author of Imrei Emet. R. Meir asked what he thought
about the shocking comment against Breslov as recorded in Midrash Pinchas.
The Gerer (Gur) Rebbe responded:
“The words printed there (in Midrash Pinchas) are a huge mistake. For in the
original hand written manuscript it reads that R. Pinchas would rebuke his
students who (incorrectly) said that Breslov was not part of traditional
[The difference appears to me as to whether the original text said the R. Pinchas would rebuke those he heard speaking MEY- for- or AL – against- CHASSIDEI BRESLOV.]
Thus, according to this reading of the text, R Pinchas was a
supporter and not an opponent of the Breslov movement.
Now R. Meir must have felt justified in his secret studying
of R. Nachman’s works against the wishes of his father!
He then went back to his father and asked him to check his original
handwritten copy of Midrash Pinchas (which he happened to have in his
possession probably as a family heirloom) and indeed it was in accordance with
the version of Gerrer Rebbe! (Although
the printed and published versions ran with the contversial text.)
Original grave site of R. Pinchas in Shepetovka, Ukraine.
The whole matter of the handwritten manuscript is rather
confusing in the first place:
R. Pinchas refers to
the term ‘Breslover Chassidim’ in his manuscript. The problem is that R.
Pinchas of Koretz passed away when R. Nachman was only 19 years old. At that stage R. Nachman did not yet have a
following and he certainly wasn’t yet living in Breslov (where the followers
were only later referred to as Breslover Chassidim).
A probable answer is that the actual words quoted
from Midrash Pinchas were not written by R. Pinchas himself but perhaps by his student R. Refael of Bershid who (writing some time later) took the liberty of referring to them as Chassidei Breslov!
It’s also interesting to note that both the Shpoler Zaide
and R. Baruch of Mezhibuzh had issues with R. Nachman, and both were (coincidentally?)
taught by R. Pinchas of Koretz!
Either way, it turns out that there is a significant
discrepancy between the apparent original handwritten manuscript and the
subsequent printed versions.
The difference between the two spells the difference between
the Midrash Pinchas - a work of one
of the most respected Chassidic leaders - either endorsing the early Breslov
movement, or distancing itself from them in the strongest of terms by going so
far as describing Breslovers as no longer being within the pale of Judaism
The question is:
- Was it just a simple printer’s error?
- Or was this indicative of a more sinister agenda?
His father was R. Avraham Abba who was a descendent of R. Natan Shapira, author
of Megale Amukot.
Pinchas is said to have visited the Besht twice and the latter visited him
twice as well.
The Baal Shem Tov is said to have had some followers who were more learned than
him. Nonetheless he could still teach them more than they could have learned
from books. It appears as if R. Pinchas
may have been one of these, hence the appellation talmid chaver.
See introduction to Shivcho Shel Tzadik (second page); “...R. Nachman was
birthed in conflict and defined by it”. This was something R. Baruch of
Mezhibuzh already made reference to at his nephew’s brit milah. [‘Ki
hamachloket hayeta hechrach hametziut’.]