Response to a Critique - Chapter 3 Part 2
By Gil Student
The truth is however, that anyone who maintained that based on the fact that the corpse is not impure we derive that that person is not dead, can likewise claim that someone who "dies" from a divine kiss does not really "die," -- after all his body does not become impure. The reasoning is no less valid when called a death by divine kiss than it was when we called it death because it appeared that way.
The critic errs here in assuming that this is a proof that righteous people die. That was not the intention of this section. Rather, this is an alternate explanation, and a much more plausible one that is based on solid rabbinic sources, to the claim by Meshichisten that righteous people do not die. Rather than proving that righteous people die this section explains the “proof” that Meshichisten bring in a way that is consistent with what we already know about Daniel - that righteous people do, in fact, die.
Jacob the Patriarch
First, the passage about the seven lives spanning all of history may indeed disagree with the passage of Jacob not dying, it would not be the first time there was a disagreement in the Talmud.
However, standard talmudic methodology is to minimize disputes and to assume that two passages agree unless compelling evidence is offered to the contrary. It is quite simple to harmonize the passage about Jacob with all of the other passages indicating that Jacob died so there is no reason, other than a deep-rooted emotion, to claim that the passages are contradictory and that Jacob is still literally alive.
Rabbi Judah the Prince
The author draws a correlation between the statement of the Sefer Chasidim to the commentaries who, while comparing Jacob to Rabbi, regard Jacob as dead. By doing so he attempts to sweep under the carpet the novel contention of the Sefer Chasidim that Rabbi is alive enough to fulfill a ritual obligation on behalf of the living, an indication that he is uniquely alive. This is not a feature mentioned by those who consider Jacob dead, and there is no reason to believe that they agree with it. The author has accepted that Rabbi or any righteous person, like the Rebbe, is alive enough to perform a ritual obligation on behalf of the living, but he has failed to provide a shred of evidence that despite this sign of life he is dead.
At this point the critic seems to have missed an important argument. Sefer Chasidim says that Rabbi would return to this world and recite kiddush for his living relatives. It also says that all righteous people can do this. Therefore, Jacob, who was also righteous, must also be able to return to this world and recite kiddush for others. Daniel as well. However, since it was already established that Daniel and Jacob are dead yet they can still return to this world and recite kiddush for others, this passage cannot prove that Rabbi is still alive. If Daniel and Jacob are dead and can do this then it cannot be an activity that proves life.
The author gives no reason why we should accept the Rebbe's interpretation of Rashi, the reader is still free to read Rashi as it appears and to conclude that Jacob is distinguished from other dead Jews in his being alive.
This is, of course, correct. However, since the author’s task here is to explain why there are no talmudic “proofs” that the Rebbe is still alive his use of an explanation of the Rebbe is warranted. For one to accept that the Rebbe is still alive one would need to reject the explanation of the Rebbe in exchange for a novel and unprecedented interpretation. A tentative and novel interpretation that contradicts an explicit teaching of the Rebbe cannot be considered a “proof” of anything.
But this is completely irrelevant, because in truth the author has severely misinterpreted the lecture. You can go and read the lecture yourself, so I will just summarize.
The critic gives us his word that the lecture has been misinterpreted. However, the lecture itself lends itself towards the interpretation of the author and therefore, the critic’s word notwithstanding, the author’s explanation still stands.
The author finishes this chapter with the baseless conclusion that the Rebbe is dead.
Quite the opposite. Given the assumptions stated at the beginning of the chapter, assumptions with which most reasonable readers would agree, there is no plausible claim that the Rebbe is still alive. Rather, like Daniel and Jacob, the Rebbe has sadly passed away.
© 2003 Gil Student