Chabad’s Very Own Messianic Rasta #7: “Deconstructing” Jewish Law

The Algemeiner Journal, a Chabad mouthpiece published in Brooklyn, has a piece written by a Chabad shaliach, Rabbi Levi Brackman, defending Matisyahu:

… There
is a fundamental difference between the Kabbalistic and the
non-Kabbalistic views of Judaism. Up until the French Revolution in
1789, society was divided into three groups: the church, the
aristocracy and the peasants. In the terminology of the post-modern
French philosopher Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), the landowners and the
church were the centre and the peasants were the periphery. The two did
not mix. Education, money and power were restricted to the elite; the
peasants enjoyed no such privileges. After the French Revolution, the
periphery was also given some of the privileges that were previously
the exclusive right of the centre. With this came the emancipation of
the Jews. Although the landowners and the educated were still regarded
as the centre, the difference now was that peasants had the possibility
of entering this exclusive domain.

 

The
post-modern era, according to Derrida, was a time of “deconstruction.”
All things were seen in pairs, one superior to the other: rich and
poor, educated and ignorant, powerful and powerless, etc. The
deconstructivist view is that rich is not necessarily superior to poor,
in fact, being poor can be more advantageous. Seen from this
perspective, poor is the new centre and rich is the periphery. Derrida
goes one step further and says that hierarchy should not exist at all;
rather, all boundaries between centre and periphery should be
deconstructed [1].

 

Western
society is a deconstructed civilization in many ways. Whereas in the
past women were seen as inferior, today they are often regarded as
superior to men. Similarly, modern human rights laws have ensured that
the views of vulnerable minorities are respected and listened to.

 

Non-Kabbalistic
Judaism, in general, does not deconstruct boundaries. According to this
school of thought, the centre should be distinct from the periphery.
Here we have the concept of ‘enclave Judaism,’ which clearly marks out
the boundaries between the holy and the profane. The fact that this
type of Judaism disagrees with Matisyahu’s style of music and choice of
audience is no surprise, for it regards the mixing of the centre with
the periphery as an obvious desecration of G-d’s name.

 

The
Kabbalah as interpreted by many Chassidic schools, however, adds a
deconstructive element to Judaism. To be sure, Kabbalah (Jewish
mysticism) and Halacah (Jewish law) are two parts of a single Torah,
mirroring each other in perfect seamlessness, like a body mirroring a
soul. Halacah is the pragmatic counterpart of mystical Kabbalah. The
authentic masters of Kabbalah and Chassidism were great masters of
Halacah as well and saw halachic boundaries not as limitating, but as
structural patterns reflecting the energy zones of life and the cosmos.
Yet within the halachik system itself, the Kabbalists revealed a new
light, often one that deconstructs bouandries, merging the finite and
the infinite in an extraprdinary fashion.

 

The
Kabbalah teaches, for example, that in the messianic epoch women will
be perceivably greater than men, because inherently feminine energy is
superior to masculine energy. The Kabbalah also deconstructs the
boundaries between the physical and the spiritual. Whereas
non-Kabbalistic Judaism holds spirituality superior to physicality, the
Kabbalah maintains that in the final analysis the physical is more
potent, the body deeper than the soul.

 

The
principle is simple: the higher the source the lower it reaches. Esau
is thus seen as having a higher spiritual antecedent than Jacob. One
who meditates may reach lofty spiritual heights; however, the essence
of G-d will remain elusive. Ironically, Kabbalah teaches that the only
way one can connect to the Divine essence is through the physical.
Spiritual levels are by definition constantly cognizant of their
dependency on their sources. Conversely, physical objects project auras
of egocentricity – they seem to depend on nothing other than themselves
for their existence. This aura is, in a sense, parallel with the nature
of the Divine essence whose existence is truly independent [2].
According to the Kabbalists, the ex nihilo nature of the creation of
the physical universe necessitates direct intervention of the Divine
essence. It is this intervention that allowed the physical to assume
its egocentric aura. Thus, there is a unique similarity – at least in
terms of language – and connection between the physical and the Divine
essence [3].

 

This
sheds light on the Jewish phenomena of Mitzvoth, which are mainly
physical acts rather than mystical meditations. It is precisely through
the physical act of a Mitzvah that the most profound connection with
the Divine is forged. In fact, according to a Midrash [4] – adopted by
the Kabbalists – the purpose of creation was for humans to unveil the
Divine essence found in those parts of the universe which are most
devoid of G-dliness [5]. This stresses the inherent value of the
mundane and unrefined aspects of the universe – where the mission is
most intense [6].

 

This
completely deconstructs the boundaries. What was once the centre –
without the Kabbalistic explanation – can now be seen as the periphery
and vice versa [7]. Thus, by bringing a G-dly message to the intensely
profane one in a sense is fulfilling the purpose of creation in the
most profound manner possible. Indeed it is this ideology that has
caused me to choose to live in secular Evergreen, Colorado rather than
in a Chasidic enclave of Brooklyn, New York.

 

By
his own admission, Matisyahu is being guided by the Chabad School of
Kabbalistic thought. Thus, as long as he adheres to Jewish law and does
not get carried away with stardom and the narcissistic celebrity
culture of modern-day America, his music may be considered, in my
opinion, a sanctification of G-d’s name.

~~~~~~~

[1]
See Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, John Hopkins, (1976). [2] See
Maimonides, Hilchos Daeos, 1:3. [3] For a more in-depth analysis of
post-modern parallels with the Chassidic School of Kabbalistic thought,
see Naftali Loewenthal’s forthcoming article, “Jewish Mysticism in a
World of Change: Pre-Modern, Modern and Post- Modern Perspectives,”
which in part inspired this article. [4] Bamidbar Rabba, 13:6. This
Midrash was quoted most frequently by the seventh Lubavicher Rebbe,
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn. [4] For a complete treatise on this
subject see Faitel Levin, Heaven on Earth, Kehot Publication Society
(2002). [5] Inherent in deconstructing boundaries is the danger of
losing all sense of limits, and thus raising the possibility of further
concealing the Divine essence. To forestall this possibility the
Halacha (Jewish law) must be steadfastly adhered to at all times.

This is the same argument made by the followers of Shabbatai Tsvi and the Frankists to defend their heresies. While Judaism has, in more recent times, had a concept of descent for the purpose of (later) ascent, this never entailed the intentional descent into  base physicality or sin – except in the theology of the Sabbatians and Frankists. As for the rest of Rabbi Brackman’s hogwash about deconstuction and halakha, the theology Rabbi Brackman represents is not Jewish – at least not Jewish in a way Jewish legal scholars for millenia would recognize or endorse. And that speaks volumes about today’s Chabad and its minstrel prophet, Matisyahu.

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3 Comments

Filed under Chabad Theology, Matisyahu

3 responses to “Chabad’s Very Own Messianic Rasta #7: “Deconstructing” Jewish Law

  1. Paul Freedman

    deconstruction is bs to begin with–i would probably disagree there’s Sabbatean slant of what this guy is trying to do–he’s trying to be “hip” imho; deconstructionism is, oth, arguably Frankism in secular garb–but that Shabbatai guy may have less “dialectically” oppositional than his followers

  2. Paul Freedman

    and let’s note that the au couarant Rabbi really does take back the whole point of deconstruction by adding: “inherent in deconstructing boundaries is the danger of losing all sense of limits, and thus raising the possibility of further concealing the Divine essence. To forestall this possibility the Halacha (Jewish law) must be steadfastly adhered to at all times.” Why? Well, because deconstruction really doesn’t work for a normative system.

  3. Simon Cohen

    Rabbi Brackman has given a wonderful explanation that is extremely relevant to Judaism in the twenty-first centaury.

    The reality is that it is not only Chabad which has taken on the deconstructive ideology, indeed Aish, Ner Le’Aleph and others have done this as well.

    There is not doubt that the concept of, “Redemption Through Sin” practiced by Fankism and Sabaitiaism (see Scholem’s famous article) is a distortion of Kabbalisitc theology, however to say that the entire concept of deconstruction as described by Rabbi Brackman is not Jewish smacks of incredible ignorance.

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