Photo Credit: Yishai Fleisher
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Whenever I see these misguided Jews dancing in the streets, I think of the mass dancing frenzies that spread throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. The bizarre Saint Vitus’ dance, where thousands of hysterical x-ians took to the streets and danced themselves to the mental asylum, while shouting profanities to the heavens, all in the name of religious fervor. Yet at the root of their dancing was fear and anxiety: fear of the Black Death; fear of the clergy and of witches; terror that the Jews might poison their wells; or steal their children for matzo. In short, they were spiritually and mentally diseased people. The manic dancing of these Breslovers is not an expression of “serving Hashem with joy,” as some would have it. It is an outlet for those with psychological problems to vent their frustration. The problem is that madness in the name of religion doesn’t kasher the illness. It simply hides it. Uman is actually a symptom of a greater problem that is particularly prevalent in Israel, where the search for the sacred often leads to the profane. The power of any popular movements devoid of Torah thought is the same with every movement that encourages the abandonment of the rational mind for an artifice of joy. They present easy solutions to complex issues that cannot be resolved by any guru or text. Chants and mantras are the life blood of all cults, be they “Jewish” or otherwise. Only a commitment to true Torah ideals and halacha can give a Torah person clarity. And the perfection of the Jewish soul sometimes necessitates the skills of a psychologist. The time of the Uman pilgrimage is upon us, and we dare not ignore the opportunity to highlight the danger. Presumably, a great many tickets have already been bought. Yet the annual spectacle should be a time to condemn it as un-Jewish activity. Rabbonim should raise their collective voice and state unequivocally that for a host of reasons (and they should elaborate on all of them), it is improper to travel to Uman. Rabbinical Opposition Over the years certain Rabbis have come out against this practice, though not nearly enough. An Arutz Sheva news brief from 2010, “Zionist Rabbis Against Uman On Rosh Hashannah” noted a survey of leading Zionistic Rabbonim who opposed the trip to Uman. The list of notable names included the following distinguished Rabbis: Eliyahu Zini, Yakov Ariel, Dov Lior, Uri Sharky, Shlomo Aviner. Rabbi Zini’s response is particularly memorable: “Whoever leaves the holiness of the Land of Israel for the defilement of exile, it is unclear whether he does not believe in the Torah, or is just mentally ill or maybe just unlearned …I have no doubt that Rabbi Nachman, if he were alive today, would be vehemently opposed to this. It is likely that most of the innocent passengers do not know they are wrong. Visiting our holy city of Jerusalem or the Tomb of the Patriarchs is a thousand times more important.” Other Rabbonim that have also opposed the trip in recent years include Rav Ovadiah Yosef, zt’l, and Rav Bar-Chaim of Machon Shiloh. Earlier this year, Arutz Sheva reported that the Ukrainian Parliament passed a bill which would charge Chasidim a $100 dollar fee for a day’s visit to the shrine. Naturally, many Breslover Chasidim were furious with this gentile imposed “Uman tax.” Hopefully, the additional financial burden will discourage Jews from heading into rural Ukraine, rather than fighting a holy war over their right to do so. So I implore my fellow Jews of Israel and the diaspora: This Rosh Hashanah, stay home with your families. Daven to the Ribono Shel Olam like a proper Jew, and not to the grave of any man, regardless of his merits. Understand that Hakadosh Baruch Hu alone is where we are permitted to direct our tefilot, and He alone is the source of repentance. As the classic piyut informs us, the formula is readily available for those who wish to change:

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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.

54 COMMENTS

  1. Donny you think you smart, but fools always do… Learning some humility will open your brain… Our entire Holy Torah is based on Ahavat Israel learn the meaning of that… Rebbi Nachman and the true Breslovers stand on there own merit's I won't give you the satisfaction to explain them to you… Your loss…

  2. I'm not a Jew but a Christian. I found this to be an extremely informative and well written article. I can clearly see the parallels that exist as discussed here with those in Christianity, mainly as stated the Mary-ology Mr. Fuchs describes from certain parts of the Catholic church as well as those I see in the modern hyper-Pentecostal movement that seems to be looking for an "experience" than knowing Hakadosh Baruch Hu himself.

  3. And by the comments posted, I also clearly see that like hyper-Pentecostalism, if you write or say anything in disagreement with them, out comes their disguised vile vitriolic nature.

  4. It's been a few thousands of years since the first Tisha B'Av, and WE still did not learn NOTHING!!!!
    Why spreading this Loshon Hara???? Why spreading the HATRED???
    Avinu Malkeinu!!! May He find Rochmonot, looking at all this, to forgive us in this month of Teshuva and may He hear our prayers on Rosh Hashana!!!! V'imru AMEN!!!!

  5. It would have sufficed to simply say "I disagree with R'Nachman, all prominent Breslov leaders and many aspects of chassidism in general". Once you describe your position (rational judaism) and your view of many traditions, there is no use to slander large groups of jews who you are clearly misinformed about. I have been priveledged to meet many leading Breslov figures, hundreds of Breslov chassidim and thousands of others who to travel to Uman, who do not transgress a single halacha in their doing so. (I have also met and engaged with many na nachs, who turned out to be incredibly intelligent and sweet people.) Completely harmless. I am sorry that they often represent a religion which you'd like others to see as a completely rational/intellectual movement, but that is no reason to put them down. Among your many mistakes or misrepresentations, money has no role in the surge of people travelling to Uman, although it may be convenient to stereotype it along with other segulos etc. Breslov chassidim don't pray to R'Nachman. To point at several misguided people, tactics, stories etc in order to paint a picture of a dysfunctional group with no intellect is completely wrong and not rational either. Your words will have no impact on anybodies travel plans. At best, you will entertain those who already had no interest in this "cult". While you mention your deep concern for jews who are lost to these ideals, your impure intentions are revealed in your gross exaggerations, poor research and general tone throughout the article. Shame on any religious institution that publishes this garbage.

  6. I have no doubt that there are thousands of wonderful misguided Jews who go to Uman. I know quite a few of them myself. That doesn't make the pilgrimage or the motivation behind it, any more kosher. Shame on you for propagating this as if I am attacking a legitimate expression of yahadut. And I'll let Hakadosh Baruch Hu determine the purity of my motives, rather than you.

  7. Ironic, how readily such types resort to ad hominem attacks without addressing one point. Betrays the psychology of these "happy types" who react with anger with such ease rather than the love they espouse. Shmaya,I am less angry at you than you are at me. You are misguided.

  8. Donny Fuchs you have brazenly judged the motivations behind 30,000+ fellow jews, compared their traditions to idol worship, insulted their intellect, etc…. and you take offense to someone judging you for something that you publicly write!!???

  9. Shmaya Gestetner I do not take offence with disagreement, except for the offence, of not reading the article properly and checking out the halachic sources. Or discussing the matter on a point by point basis, rather than trying to inaccurately
    generalise the article on one foot.

  10. David Singer- I would venture to say that the greatest quality of gedolim that gets overlooked for miracle stories are the words of chochmah and sensitivity that an adam gaol provides to one who comes to him. I find these stories much more inspiring.

  11. Donny Fuchs I have read your article, but you haven't learned R'Nachman's works or quoted a credible Breslov leader who you could have asked your questions to. Your article, despite halachic sources, is based on many generalizations. As someone who has been going to Uman for 10 years, I know that you are making a big mistake. So don't expect anybody who knows better to take your article seriously and start looking up sources. Besides, I am not a rabbi to decide or even debate on the halachic issues. We have very learned rabbis, g-d fearing, who have a mesora to travel to Uman for Rosh Hashana. Not sure why anybody would have a problem with that…

  12. Halachic/Hashkafic ISSUES. There is more than one issue here. And they are related to very problematic prohibitions. As far as assuming what I know about such movements,or the literature, do not assume anything. You would be wrong.

  13. Point 1: Some of the most prominent poskim in history had a problem with even going to cemeteries. Even with proper intentions. We can only analyse this issue by first identifying which poskim would permit going to cemeteries, which ones would permit davening/Torah study, and then the problems that arise even for those who permit some form of davening.
    Because the wrong machshavah relates to the prohibition of necromancy, even if it isn't absolutely similar.

  14. Donny Fuchs , I don't stereotype. There are many poskim who do allow going to cemeteries and praying there. In fact, the custom to go to a cemetery on erev rosh hashana is mentioned in halacha (the Rama I believe). Granted, there are those who disagree, but Breslov chassidim are obviously not of that halachic opinion. Nothing "cultish" there. There are poskim who hold that it is forbidden to leave eretz yisrael, even to visit the graves of tzaddikim. Again, Breslovers don't follow this position. Nothing "cultish" there. It is also helpful to know that the cemetery surrounding R'Nachman's grave does not exist anymore, aside for the clearly marked grave of R'Nachman, which as a tzaddik, has special status. These points are almost irrelevant compared to your accusation that Breslov chassidim daven to their rebbe. If that were the case, there is no need to get into borderline/debatable halachic issues. This is simply not true. If you would retract the inaccurate statement, we can simply write each other off as 2 jews who follow different opinions. rabbis and paths towards self-betterment.

  15. Have you ever gone to Uman? Your self righteous yellow journalism and the tone of your reposes, is a v telling statement of your "love" of fellow Jews. Sad. I suggest you really think before you publicly present your views.

  16. Richard Gere- I thought you were a Buddhist. You obviously misunderstood Parshat Korach. Korach was a dangerous popults who lacked respect and understanding of the authentic Torah leader who has mastery over the Halacha.

  17. I agree with you that the NaNachmans are superstitious nuts but so are you. You just represent the establishment religion You also believe in things that run against ration thought such the existence of various forms of malachim (the "rationalist" RamBam goes into much detail on this and you also believe in supernatural miracles, but they are in a written book you believe written by "HaShem" so that's ok. It's a book with talking snakes and donkeys, giants and demi-gods and prescribes genocide for people that "HaShem doesn't like. Actually I love that book, the Torah. however I appreciate it as a cultural treasure and study it with the aid of modern knowledge from the natural sciences, anthropology, history, archeology, literary analysis and modern text criticism. They are more "aboriginal" as you state but perhaps they are seeking to supply something your self righteous, dry, boring and hypocritical approach to Judaism doesn't offer them. Stop picking on them. As the old saw goes "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw bricks".

  18. Donny Fuchs From my understanding Korach convinced his following that we don't need the tzadik and they can connect to Hashem on their own merit alone, as you suggested. The truth is that we need all the help we can get when coming before Hashem.

  19. Thought provoking article. It makes you wonder about where the limit of cult, gimmick and mainstream Judaism ("yahadut" – lol) lies. Particularly however, it begs the question of certain communities such as the Sephardi world which doesn't necessarily follow this fairly litvish line that you (and I) take. What is there to say of the Hilloulas for tzadikim in North Africa? And in a more modern sense, these communities look at Chabad and Breslov and do not really see some of their practices to be that alien.

  20. I feel sorry for this guy.If he were honest he would also talk to many of the Holy Rabbis who are for going to Uman and even go in order to hear their take on it and Breslev..It is obvious from the article that he has no knowledge of the Zohar or the Ari or a basic understanding of Chassidus.He is not interested in seeing anything but the "rational" side of Torah leaving it's supra-rational levels behind.This is an affront to the whole concept of Torah itself and causes a diminishing of Hashem's name. (See the introduction to Eitz Chaim)He disregards the fact that the Torah is a living thing that reveals more and deeper levels of Herself through great and unique Tzaddikim that Hashem places in the world to prepare and strengthen each generation as we come closer to Redemption. He's obviously pushing an agenda that seems to lack humility.One can't hope to see the truth or find the Tzaddik Yesod Olam with such an approach.This kind of approach turns the Torah into an"elixir of death" and pushes off the Geula and THAT is true avoda zara! r"l

  21. Donny – The issue as I see it is that you called an entire segment of our people who are Torah observant Jews a cult. This is a very strong term and something that I have NEVER heard ANY gadol ever say eve if they disagree with going to Uman. You can make your points but to call it a cult which is a quantum leap which was taken as a personal insult by many kosher Jews. I don't know if you would be humble enough to ask a Rav that you deem important to determine whether the title you chose for your article may have been rechilut or lashon hara. Good luck to you. . . And again the only way to reaching true EMET is taking into account and researching all the sides. This has been the way of our people from time immemorial and the humble and the ONLY way to know you have actually reached EMET from alef to mem to tav,. Shabbat Shalom. Ktiva vechatima tova.

  22. What does kaparos have anything to do with this? And if you are honest or knowledgable, you will know that kaparos is not universally performed by all religious Jews, although it is probably the norm for most Jews. Moreh Nevuchim is for a limited audience, although the Rambam embedded many safeguards within to preserve the truth for the select few who can understand it.

  23. Kaparos is believed to have first been mentioned in the period of Geonim. Interesting point. The first editions of the Shulchan Aruch contains Rav Yosef Karo’s assessment that it was a “silly minhag” (His words not mine!) whose observance should be “checked.” If I am not mistaken, later editions omitted this under Rav Moshe Isserles’s influence. Follow your minhag. Have a gmar tov!

  24. I don’t recommend or advise the reading of the Moreh for popular consumption. There are rabbinic personalities who can point to specific sections that are proper to read. Don’t know why you brought the Moreh up.

  25. What does kaparos have anything to do with this? And if you are honest or knowledgable, you will know that kaparos is not universally performed by all religious Jews, although it is probably the norm for most Jews. Moreh Nevuchim is for a limited audience, although the Rambam embedded many safeguards within to preserve the truth for the select few who can understand it.

  26. Kaparos is believed to have first been mentioned in the period of Geonim. Interesting point. The first editions of the Shulchan Aruch contains Rav Yosef Karo's assessment that it was a "silly minhag" (His words not mine!) whose observance should be "checked." If I am not mistaken, later editions omitted this under Rav Moshe Isserles's influence. Follow your minhag. Have a gmar tov!

  27. Donny Fuchs Our gedolim never ever ever called Breslov a cult or every use ANY of the out of control slanderous comments you have made about kosher frum Jews. Our gedolim have said that people should not go to Uman. But you have written an article that is completely slanderous with extreme stereotypes of an entire group of Shabbat observant Jews. Do you know all the people in this group to put them all under your disgusting extreme descriptions:
    “On top of these very problematic halachic points, these people are so fundamentally detached from reality they don’t even consider the effect on their family life. These men abandon their families on the chag!” (Do they all abandon??? Did you go to everyone’s home and listen in to their intimate conversations perhaps its a mutual agreement?). What gives you the right to write this generality?
    “This is not Judaism. The cult of Uman has much more in common with the “Mary-ology” of devout Catholics who believe in the worship of shrines, icons, relics, and saints, with the fervency of a hoodoo/voodoo practitioner.” Who gave you the right to say this???? Did any Rav ever say this??? Did you hear these words from any kosher Rabbi????? Our gedolim just spoke about Uman. What gave you the right to go to these extremes?????
    Would Rav Soloveichik approve of this? Did he ever refer to Bresolv in these words or even hint to this???? I highly doubt this.
    “As I see it, the contemporary Breslov movement offers nothing to the thinking Jew, save a host of spiritually dangerous notions which oppose fundamentals of Torah.” You are a complete chutspan. You have written an article that is completely malicious. That is rechilut and lashon hara in public. Your article is a greater chillul Hashem than going to Uman will ever be.
    Stick to the halacha. Your malicious side comments are totally vicious and have no place in print.

  28. This article reminds me of a Ben Ish Chai story of an am haarets who saw his neighbor lighting a fire on Shabbat. So he takes his umbrella opens it up and goes over to his neighbor to rebuke him. Meanwhile, this man in an attempt to rebuke the grave sin of making fire on Shabbat brought his umbrella into the public domain, opened it up, squeezed out all the water. . . When we rebuke we must be so careful not to speak rechilut, create machloket and other such DeOraita violations. which are not justified in the name of rebuke.

  29. You are not on the level to decide what is appropriate here. Only for yourself can you decide. Do you know that one of the top magidei shiur in Mir- Yerushalayim (R' Tzvi Cheshin) is in Uman every year for RH? Is he also a "non-thinking" Jew? What about the gedolei Breslov such as R' Yaakov Meir Shechter – Rosh Yeshiva of (non-Breslov ) Shaar Shemayim in Yerushalayim- who tells all his followers to go? He is also not a thinker? You yourself say that you prefer the rational approach of Rambam. Maybe this Uman stuff doesn't jive with you because it isn't rational? But just because something isn't rational doesn't mean it isn't legitimate. I agree with you that on the surface, the whole Uman thing does seem a bit strange, but for you do right an article opposing it in a public forum, when there are people much greater than yourself who support it is very arrogant. It would be like me taking a stand on issue that was a disagreement between Rav Kook and R' YC Sonnenfeld. Who am I to publicly express my opinion?

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