Monday, July 31, 2006

The heretic RaMCHaL?

I agreed to join a local study group which is exploring the book "Derech HaShem" by the RaMCHaL. I had heard this rabbi's name before, but really did not know too much about him. I decided to look him up in Wikipedia. What I found there, sounds very disturbing to me...

The turning point in Luzzatto's life came at the age of twenty, when he made the claim that he was receiving direct instruction from a mystical being known as the maggid. While such stories were not unknown in kabbalistic circles, it was unheard of for someone of such a young age. His peers were enthralled by his written accounts of these "Divine lessons," but the leading Italian rabbinical authorities were highly skeptical and threatened to excommunicate him. Just one hundred years earlier another young mystic, Shabbatai Zevi (d.1676), had rocked the Jewish world by claiming to be the Messiah. Although, at one point, Zevi had convinced almost all European and Middle Eastern rabbis of his claim, the episode ended with him recanting and converting to Islam becoming an apostate to Judaism. The global Jewish community was still reeling from that, and the similarities between Luzzatto's writings and Zevi's were perceived as being especially dangerous.

These writings, only some of which have survived, describe Luzzatto's belief that he and his followers were key figures in a messianic drama that was about to take place. He identified one of his followers as the Messiah son of David, but assumed for himself the role of Moses, claiming that he was that biblical figure's reincarnation. According to his writings, Moses was ranked higher than the Messiah and was the real catalyst for the Redemption. Furthermore, he described all of his corporeal actions as a playing out of the redemptive process: his wedding and the consummation of his marriage, for example, were explained as representing the necessary union of the male and female aspects of the mystical Judaic notion of the Godhead according to Judaism.

Threatened with excommunication, Luzzatto finally swore not to write the maggid's lessons or teach mysticism. In 1735, Luzzatto left Italy for Amsterdam, believing that in the more liberal environment there, he would be able to pursue his mystical interests. Passing through Germany, he appealed to the local rabbinical authorities to protect him from the threats of the Italian rabbis. They refused and forced him to sign a document stating that all the teachings of the maggid were false. Most of his writings were burned, though some did survive.

I assume that people are aware of these events in the RaMCHaL's life. Does no one find this disturbing? Why would we be studying a man's writing who was so out there that he was threatened with excommunication by the prominent rabbis of his day?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

People did the same with the has happened before that people who bring controversial or heretical views during their lifetimes are appreciated and recognized for teir brilliance only AFTER their deaths...

July 31, 2006 8:45 PM  
Blogger B. Spinoza said...

people respect him because the Villna Gaon gave his endorsement

August 01, 2006 4:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

> Why would we be studying a man's writing who was so out there that he was threatened with excommunication by the prominent rabbis of his day?

Hello? Have you been living in a bubble?

August 01, 2006 6:34 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Anonymous #1,

I agree to a certain extent, but it seems like the particulars of the ban on the Rambam and the Ramchal are very different. Claiming that certain parts of the tradition are allegorical seems different than claiming that you communicate with a mystical being and that you are personally ushering in the Messianic age.


I agree that the GRAs endorsement is a big component of it, but the question is why did the GRA feel like the Ramchal warranted this endorsement, given his history.

'Anonymous' #2,
I may have been living in a bubble. We all got to where we are today by different paths. Frankly, I am not sure what you are alluding to. Perhaps you could start a blog to elucidate it for me :)

August 01, 2006 7:26 AM  
Blogger Tobie said...

Brings up the interesting question of whether the art can be seperated from the artist. However out there Luzzato himself may have been, his books are, or at least are taught as, pretty pareve books of inspirations. "Be good, be better" and so forth. So perhaps it's irrelevant that the man himself was out there when he didn't seem to have put much of it in his work?

August 01, 2006 12:04 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


Brings up the interesting question of whether the art can be seperated from the artist.

Or theology from prophet. I think we would all be uncomfortable studying Christian or Muslim religious texts even though many often the same pareve admonitions.

August 01, 2006 1:23 PM  
Blogger Jim N said...

Oh well - I am listening to a set of CDs from a couple - Esther & Jerry Hicks. Esther channels someone named Abraham that reveals fundamental truths. This spirit guide is not the Abraham it is an Abraham. Go figure - a person that believed not long ago in a dead, alien, indifferent absurd universe, going along and accepting someone claiming to be channeling a spirit guide. The revelations - whether concocted or channeled seemed to contain "truthiness" and value - so I take it for what its worth.

August 16, 2006 7:38 PM  
Blogger Jim N said...

And don't forget Jesus was a good Jew - he was looking for some reformation of the priesthood in the temple. Paul took these truths and really ran with them - the Romans did the rest.

August 16, 2006 7:40 PM  
Anonymous About Ramchal said...


Maybe it shouldn't be people on wpedia to decide which Jewish Rabbi you should study and which one not.
And if you think that those fine writers of wpedia should be in charge of your study criteria, I think that 5 minutes from now they might recommend mickey mouse or superman or whatever. Will you follow their advice?
Why don't you ask your Rabbi? He knows better if a book is kosher or not. And he will certainly tell you that Ramchal's Derech Hashem is a fantastic choice...

February 02, 2009 7:43 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

I am shocked that anyone would view the Ramchal as a heretic. Who ever does defenitely knows nothing about his works and his life.
I've studied Mesilas Yeshorim, Derech Hashem, Daas Tevunos, various maamorim from him, and various liktim from his more kabbalistic works.
I also read an indepth biography on him and read a number of letters he wrote to his students.
There is nothing in his writing or his life that was'nt 100% authentic Torah and in no way was he ever motivated by anything but love for Hashem
Yes there was a ban on his works, but anyone who really understands that it was simply a understandable over reaction by that Rabbinate in Padua because of the Shabtai Tzvi debacle.
Actually there are a number or letters of some of the Rabbis who authorized the ban who wrote they themselves regretted doing so.
Aside from the fact that the Gra, Maggid of Mezrich, R'Yisrael Salanter spoke very very highly of him.
Also aside from the fact that he basically has been accepted by basically all of klal yisrael for the past like 200 years.
Seriously, please put some more time and effort into doing some research before you post someting entitled "Blank...the heretic".
There is still an issur of loshin horo on dead people and I would be very afraid to say loshon horo on someone like the Ramchal.(his kever is by Teverya if you would like to go ask mechilla)

October 13, 2010 7:07 PM  
Blogger Michael said... has a good article on the Ramchal's life and his works.
In the future please get your history from reliable orthodox sources. That article on wikipedia is inaccurate, biased and is probably based primarily on the early letters written by the Rabbis who instituted the ban who were more so reacting based on fear than concerete information

October 13, 2010 7:16 PM  

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