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.
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