Photo Credit: Yishai Fleisher
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Disclaimer:My motivation behind this article is love for misguided Jews. I have no desire to needlessly upset people before the chag, but the troubling issue I raise in this article cannot be ignored. It represents the death of the Jewish mind, and every Jew who is drawn to this nonsense is another soul that has forsaken common sense and chochmah for a new age experience.

Craziness is contagious in the world of the non-thinker. Tragically, if someone in the Jewish world creates some new religious rite or practice, it doesn’t take long before the non-thinking masses get caught up in the hysteria. And then it spreads like a virus. Within a few years, it attains the status of an ancient tradition, particularly when there is money to be made.

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In Israel we see this in the prevalence of miracle shrines such as Amuqah, or the infamous “wonder workers” of Jerusalem who allegedly manifest your “ayin horas” as bubbles in a pot, and then magically make them disappear. Not only does the latter ridiculous practice encroach on a myriad of prohibitions, it also takes the real but terribly distorted concept of the “evil eye,” ayin hora, (a philosophical concept relating to human psychology which chazal understand), and distorts it into a primitive spell that a shaman might cast onto a frightened native.

The modern cult of Uman is another prime example of this frightening phenomenon, where un-Jewish practices are given the status of mitzvah. I was initially going to avoid this topic, since it encroaches on the complicated halachic/hashkafic issue of visiting/praying at graves which I already addressed several weeks back in my article “Talking to the Dead.” I only reconsidered after being inundated on Facebook with more evidence of this troubling annual event. And the trip to Uman entails other problems as well.

Going To Graves

The basic issue regarding the phenomenon of Breslover chasidim traveling to Uman to pray at the grave of their deceased Rebbe relates to the obvious halachic question of the permissibility of praying at graves. As I noted before, this is a complex halachic issue that is the source of Jewish debate. What is not debated is whether praying to the dead is permitted. This act is a biblical prohibition related to necromancy. Without a doubt most of those who travel to Uman are actually praying to “Rebbe Nachman.” Some of them may actually try to convince you that they are praying there in his merit, or asking him to intercede, but their words betray their true intentions. Their motivations and expectations are such that it is clear that they have come to Uman to “speak” to Rebbe Nachman. Many of them will tell you this outright. They believe that he has the power (and indeed, that he has given his promise) to answer their prayers! These misguided Jews will tell you, that Rebbe Nachman informed his students prior to his death that he would answer the prayers of those who came to daven at his grave. “It’s all in Rav Nachman’s hands,” they explain.

On the web at breslov.com, one can find such views explaining the “custom”:

“Rebbe Nachman made a promise that no other Tzaddik in the whole of Jewish history has ever made. Taking two of his closest followers as witnesses, he said: “When my days are ended and I leave this world, I will intercede for anyone who comes to my grave, recites the Ten Psalms of the General Remedy – the Tikkun HaKlali (The 10 specific chapters in the book of Psalms are: 16, 32, 41, 42, 59, 77, 90, 105, 137, 150. For further details, see Rabbi Nachman’s Tikkun, Breslov Research Institute, 1984.) – and gives some charity. No matter how serious his sins and transgressions, I will do everything in my power to save him and cleanse him. I will span the length and breadth of the Creation for him. By his payos I will pull him out of Hell!” (Rabbi Nachman’s Wisdom #141). “It makes no difference what he did until that day, as long as he undertakes not to return to his foolish ways from now on” (Tzaddik #122). This is avodah zarah (idol worship)!

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Donny Fuchs made aliyah in 2006 from Long Island to the Negev, where he resides with his family. He has a keen passion for the flora and fauna of Israel and enjoys hiking the Negev desert. His religious perspective is deeply grounded in the Rambam's rational approach to Judaism.
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