Marc Shapiro On Rav Shach

In 2008, Marc Shapiro emails the Daas Torah blog:

* I would like to clarify my [1993 email] posting about Rav Shach. In fact I actually hinted to this in my first sentence (if I remember correctly). What I wrote does not actually reflect my personal feelings. That is, I really don’t get upset at what Rav Shach says because a lot of people say things I disagree with and it doesn’t pay to always get angry. However,
what I posted is a reflection of the anger I have heard from a number of people including some well known rabbis whose names many people on this list would recognize. Since messages are not sent in anonymously I chose to have my name appear and represent all of the people who feel this way. In fact, all of the private mail I received was supportive, although I don’t know how many of them are from Lubavitchers.

I wanted to see how the community of Mail Jewish readers would respond to what were common sentiments (but never actually formulated in writing — one exception being the journal Ha-Maor), so the post was a bit of a gambit, which now comes back to haunt me.

My thoughts on R. Shakh are actually found in the Torah in Motion lectures referred to below

“Yes — when I was much younger and more foolish. In those days
the internet didn’t exist and we didn’t realize that everything we
wrote would be around until the end of times, to embarrass us . . .

But I have subsequently, in both writing and in speaking said that R. Shach understood some aspects of Chabad a lot better than the rest of us. Now I certainly can criticize much else he said, including some of what he wrote about Chabad, but it would be done with more tact and respect. I never expected this e-mail to live on.”

I have three lectures on R. Shakh at

My thoughts on him are found there and I don’t think even his biggest fans will find much to criticize in them.

In 1993, Marc fired off this to a Jewish email group:

From: Marc Shapiro
Date: Sun, 26 Dec 93 16:26:26 -0500
Subject: Re: Rav Shach

There has been a lot of talk about gedolim and especially about Rav Shach. Before people make any judgements I think it is important to know something about the man and his teachings. If what I say appears harsh, let me assure the readers that I have said the same things to many rabbis and they have agreed with me. Since the views I will be expressing are also those of numerous others it would be best for the moderator not to censor it. I realize that others are afraid to speak out so I will say what everyone else is thinking. Needless to say, the Lubavitchers have spoken out and been a great deal harsher than I will be but that is for good reason. Rav Shach has branded the rebbe a heretic. Furthermore, he has branded the entire movement as heretical. Most people respond harshly when they have been called heretics, Especially since the other gedolim seem to have no great problem with Habad. They don’t support everything Habad does but you don’t have other gedolim using the inflammatory rhetoric of R. Shach.

In fact he is very inconsistent. He mocks the Lubavithcher rebbe’s Rambam learning program saying that people knew about the Rambabm before Lubavitch came around and that no one should follow Habad’s program and it is forbidden to innovate and yet he praises Daf Yomi. Well, people knew about learning Talmud before R. Meir Shapiro. The difference is that when Rav Shach likes something, when it comes from his circles, then it is ok. However if an innovation, no matter how good, comes from another circle then he viciosly attacks it.

In general, everything that comes out of his mouth is criticism. He does not believe in building but in destroying. All of his volumes of letters are attacks against everything from Lubavitch, to religious Zionism, to Hesder yeshivot, to Rav Goreh (who has no yirat shamayim according to Shach), to R. Steinsaltz (another heretic). When the rest of he Jewish world was celebrating the Entebbe raid and R. Moshe said it was an open miracle Shach gave a talk saying that what the Government did was forbidden. This is exactly what the Satmar rebbe said! He gave his famous talk last year viciously attacking the kibbutzim. Why? We all know that they don’t keep kosher there but why attack them. Is this the way to bring people together and bring them to yiddishkeit? Is this love? Lubavitch knows how to be mekarev, they do it through love. Shack simply attacks. And then he attacked President Herzog for no reason. Herzog did more for religious Jewry than any president and he is a fine man but Shach viciously attacks him just like he attacks the kibbutzniks who have laid down their lives so that he could live in peace. And he expects the secularists to keep subsidizing the yeshivot at the massive rate they have been?

Rav Shach has no value in his life other than that of learning Torah. People can’t feel good about anything other than learning Torah. There is no value to the State of Israel other than that it enables us to learn Torah and its destruction would be no great tragedy if Torah continued to be learnt. He opposed the annexation of East Jerusalem and Golan because it will get the goyim mad. He doesn’t recognize the concept that Jews should see something positive in annexing our capital– East Jerusalem. He also speaks of not provoking the Gentiles, a concept which has no validity when Jews have a state, although he thinks that the State is just as much a galut as N. Y. and London. He says that Jews in Israel should act as if they were dancing before the Polish nobleman. In other words, the fact that Jews now have a state means nothing about how they relate to the world. They still must have this inferiority comples. There is something wrong with having pride and holding one’s head up.

His views have infected the Haredi community. We all know that they dodge the draft but it is even worse. They refuse to say a mi shebarakh for IDF even though the latter protect them from the Arabs. They refuse to say a prayer for the government which gives them millions of dollars. In the diaspora they alwasy said a prayer for the government but not in Israel. In the Diaspora they always acted patriotic and if there was a moment of silence for war dead they wouldn’t dream of breaking with the practice. However in Israel while everyone stands at attention on Yom Hashoah they go about their business. Do they realize how much of a hillul hashem this is and how it hurts the feelings of others who are remembering loved ones. Of course they know but they don’t care. Unlike Lubavitch they enjoy confrontation.

For R. Shach there is only one truth. He has no conception of Jewish history and doesn’t realize that there can be disputes in matters of hashkafah, as long as we all accept Torah and halakhhah. Thus when R. Ovadiah decided to join the government he threatened to ban all of the latter’s books No other gadol has ever made such irresponsible statements and acted in such a dictatorial manner.

Everything I have described so far is written in his books. I have not made any of it up and if gets you mad hearing what he believes trust me that this is only the tip of the iceberg and there is no way that anyone who reads this line should regard him as an important gadol, since everything most of us view as important he mocks (he even says its forbidden to form rabbinic organizations).

To give one final example of this let me refer to Rav Shach’s attack on R. Soloveitchik in vol. 4 of his letters. As everyone knows, there were always disputes in hashkafah between the Rav and other gedolim. However this never stopped the Lubvavitcher rebbe or R. Moshe or R. Aharon Kotler from being on close personal terms with the Rav and respecting his gadlus. Obviously R. Moshe and the Lubavticher Rebbe, as well as the Rav, believed that their own approach was correct and the others were wrong. But they never said that the approach of the other’s was forbidden. It was just misguided. Similarly, the Rav never said that everyone had to learn secular studies, that other aproaches were invalid. Rather, only that his approach was also legitimate.

Rav Shach has a different approach, one which shows all of his feeling of knowing everything and his belief that he, and only he, knows the truth, the one and only truth. In discussing the Rav’s book Hamesh Derashot he doesn’t say that we have a different view or that the Rav is wrong. No, what he says is that it is forbidden to listen to what the Rav says. Forbidden. the Rav goes against Daat Torah and the Rav has completely distorted Daas Torah (one wonders whose Daas Torah. Doesn’t the Rav have his own Daas Torah?) Since anyone who goes against Daas Torah speaks heresy it is forbidden to listen to what the Rav says! Does he realize who is talking about? This is not some Mizrachi functionary he is mocking (not that this is forgivable either). He is speaking about R. Soloveitchik, whom R. Tendler called the greatest Rosh Yeshivah of our generation, whom the Lubavitcher rebbe stood up for etc. etc. May God forgive him for degrading our teacher! Furthermore, R. Shach continues, it is the Rav’s secular studies which are responsible for these distortions. Woe are the ears which hear such nonsense. What chutzpah, to say that secular studies distorted the Rav’s Torah! Rav Shach goes on for a few pages without any respect for the fact that the Rav was a gadol and he is entitled to have different hashkafah, also throwing in some irrelevancies about how Hesder yeshivot have destroyed any notion of striving for greatness in Torah learning. (He also hates hesder because their students actually get a job. For R. Shach, and Israeli Haredim, as oposed to American haradim, there is something negative about actually working for a living. There is no concept of a Baal ha-Bayit. That is why he put Leo Levi’s book Shaare Talmud Torah in Herem, since it advocates a Torah im Derekh Eretz [i. e.earning a living] approach). Shach is also confused how come the rabbis in the U.S. did not protest The Rav’s opinions and furthermore that they contributed to the book Kevod ha-Rav . This is a great hillul hashem since by giving the Rav a book in his honor and praising him the yeshivah students will see this and think that is ok to follow in the Rav’s path, God forbid, and will absorb his views which are completely “pasul”.

I could go on but I think everyone gets the point. When it comes to gedolim we should consult R. Eliashiv, R. Shlomo Zalman, the chief Rabbis, R. Ovadia etc. We should not even take Rav Shach’s opinion into consideration. By adopting such a hateful tone and being so opposed to everything we consider decent he is not really different than the Satmar rebbe, who was, as R. Aharon Soloveitchik told me, a great scholar who made a terrible blunder. So too with Rav Shach. He has slandered great
gedolim and for his sake we should hope that it was all done le-shem shamayim. When I asked R. Aharon why we don’t put him in Herem in accordance with the pesak of the Rambam re. anyone who slanders a gadol all he could say was that we no longer use the Herem. One thing must be said for Lubavitch, even thought R.Shach says they are heretics and that their rebbe is one of the greatest sinners alive, and going straight to gehinnom, they have not lost their cool. I don’t think there will be any rejoicing in Crown Heights when he passes away. They realize that this whole affair is very sad. Unfortunately, however, when the rebbe passes away there will be rejoicing in Ponovezh because one is supposed to rejoice at the death of a heretic. What have we come to!

P. S. As I already pointed out, everything I have said in this letter has met with the approval of rabbis, none of whom are in the Lubavitch camp.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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