A recent news story about the wealthiest rabbis in Israel raises questions of when rabbinic behavior becomes unacceptable. Even the most tolerant of people recognize that at some point they must object to deviant, borderline criminal, behavior. However you define your red line, there is some person or group who lies beyond it, past the threshold of unacceptability. Engaging in that tricky business of rejection is a necessary part of tolerating those within the bounds. If every group is acceptable, even cults and criminals, then inclusion is meaningless.
A little over ten years ago, R. Shlomo Aviner published a collection of his letters against a cult rabbinic figure in the book Bein Or Le-Choshekh: Bein Chakhamim Amitiyim Le-Admorim Mezuyafim. Without naming anyone (in the book), R. Aviner reproduces his attempts to convince adherents that the charismatic leader of a specific religious group is a fraud. Watching R. Aviner walk this tightrope of opposition is a profound lesson in the limits of tolerance.
The specific leader claimed paranormal powers, the ability to see into people’s lives, tell the future and communicate with the dead, which he attributed to prophecy and messianic claims. I would have objected that he is merely tricking people but this would probably have proven unsuccessful. R. Aviner, instead, accepted that he performs these amazing feats. However, he argued, it is all irrelevant because it proves nothing.
Paranormal powers are documented among many different people, including those non-religious and non-Jewish. Police investigators sometimes even consult with such seers. This man’s abilities only demonstrate a rare gift, not prophetic power. R. Aviner quotes two incidents of apparent prophets, one from Vilna and the other Kovna, about which R. Chaim Volozhiner testified that the Vilna Gaon denounced as non-prophetic activities (introduction to Sifra De-Tzeni’usa; Keser Rosh, Ma’amarim 6-8). Similarly, a student of R. Tzvi Yehudah Kook was amazed by someone who could tell him intimate details of his private matters. R. Kook dismissed the entire matter.
Continue reading at Hirhurim