A commenter pointed me to this recently. Kabbalah is possibly my area of least interest because I don’t understand a word of it and I don’t take much meaning from mysticism. Ashlag is some sort of Kabbalist (I don’t even know what that technically means) who wrote a book called the Ladder. I assume it refers to Jacob’s ladder in VaYetzeh.
The only thing I know about Ashlag (does his name mean Rabbi Potassium?) is that he is the father of the teacher of Yehuda Berg of the Kabbalah Center. Kabbalah Center is like the Scientology wing of Judaism. Really creepy and whacked out. I’ve got no problem with it and won’t raise a din about it, but wouldn’t go near it my self, and would warn others to stay away lest they become persuaded to hand over large amounts of money to Berg.
But anyway, I went through this article of Ashlag’s, and the best pasuk I can find to paraphrase it is “אפס, כי עז העם” – that pivot the 10 spies made to freak everyone out of settling Israel. They began with the good news about the land, and then turned. A little bit of truth, and then a pumped-up story to pull the fear strings.
Ashlag’s economic vision, which is really a totalitarian vision, begins the same way. The first paragraph talks about the division of labor, how everyone tries to make profits, and how an economy works through exchange. Fine. True.
And then he starts to turn, just like all power hungry fearmongers do. He sticks with truth, but slowly adds bad words into it. Turns you off to it. Makes it sound bad. Competition can lead to theft. If everyone is looking out for himself, people can fight. It can get very bad.
Well, yes, this is true. Some people steal. OK. Therefore what? Then he gets into the plain lies and falsehoods, interspersing the lies between true sentences. (Lies in bold.)
מכיון שהבסיס הוא סיפוק עצמי, נמצא שהאדם היחיד נתון בתוך חברה שלימה, של מליוני אנשים, שכל אחד משקיע במסלול כלכלי מסוים, עמ”נ לצבור רווחים. הדבר דומה לאדם שנמצא בתוך ג’ונגל של חיות רעות, שכל אחת מעונינת לטרוף למען סיפוק עצמי, כך גם במישור הכלכלי, האדם נמצא בלחץ חברתי גדול, מטעם הנ”ל, ובדאגה מתמדת לשלום עסקיו, מטעם האיום החברתי הסובב, המאיים לבלעו, באשר אין רחמים וסנטימנטים בג’ונגל החיים האכזר, אשר בו כל אחד נאבק למען השרדות, ובצורה הטובה ביותר.
ד) מכיון שכל המניע הוא צבירת רכוש וסיפוק עצמי, לכן היותר מוכשרים בחברה, היותר פעילים ואקטיביים, היותר מהמרים, הם אשר מקימים מפעלים גדולים וכדומה, ומעסיקים פועלים רבים בשכר מינימום, מנצלים את כוחותיהם מעל ומעבר לסביר, עמ”נ לצבור רוחי ענק, בעוד שהפועל הקטן, מחמת חוסר כשרון ומעוף, אינו מסוגל להתמודד מול החיים עם משכורת המינימום שלו. נמצא אשר המוכשרים מנצלים בכל יכולתם את החלשים.
The basis of economics, he says, is self satisfaction. Therefore, the individual finds himself amongst an entire society of millions of people where everyone invests in a different path in order to earn profits. It’s similar to a man in a jungle of wild animals, where everyone wants to tear apart the other for personal gain. So too in the economic realm…the surrounding social threat of everyone that threatens to swallow him, there is no mercy, with everyone fighting for survival in the best way possible.
Because the only motive is building wealth and self satisfaction, the more talented people, the more active ones, the risktakers will build factories and the like and hire lots of people at minimum wage, take advantage of them to make profits to the point where the average worker dies of exhaustion. We see that the powerful take advantage of the weak as much as possible.
This is right out of the damn Communist Manifesto. It’s so unoriginal it’s practically plagiarism.
The first outright lie is his comparison of a human economy with a jungle of wild animals. ארץ אוכלת יושביה היא. An economy is based on trade. Trade is mutually beneficial for both parties. Two people agree, and they trade. Both win. Both want what the other has. They trade, and the economy grows through cooperation.
In a jungle, there is no trade. There is only conquering. The strongest animal kills challengers and threatens the rest, and takes the females. This is not an economy. This is totalitarianism by brute strength. In an economy, people don’t threaten one another as a rule of thumb. When that happens, we’re talking about crime. In an economy, they try to trade with one another, see who can benefit from what they have in exchange. It requires communication and working together. It is constructive rather than destructive.
An animal society in the jungle is destructive inherently. Nature keeps things in balance by killing off numbers if they become too big, meaning if the herd consumes too much. Since they cannot grow more food than is there and construct things, they will die when resources run out, allowing the resources to regrow on their own and the cycle begins again. Nothing but bare subsistence.
Humans can build things, and grow things, and develop nature. It happens through trade, not through taking advantage. And that takes us to his second paragraph full of lies. The talented people in society will be the entrepreneurs. They will take the most risks to build. But they will not hire a bunch of people at minimum wage until they all die of exhaustion.
He will offer money to workers who want it. He will have to compete with other entrepreneurs who also want these workers. The workers will go to whoever offers them the best conditions, not the worst ones. Or, they don’t have to take jobs at all. It’s entirely their choice. Before the entrepreneurs came, they did not have salaried jobs. Now they can take them if they want them, or they can go back to do whatever it was they were doing before. Picking fruit or whatever. Who knows.
The workers will get the market rate for whatever it is they do. The more capital equipment the entrepreneurs build, the higher their real wages will be, meaning regardless of the number of money units they get, they will be able to buy more stuff with it, because capital increase productivity.
So what’s Ashlag’s solution to his make believe problem? Well, he doesn’t like the idea of people stealing, so he’s just going to head all of society and tell everyone what to do on pain of punishment. He just Judaizes the idea of Stalinist totalitarian evil with a few psukim:
והנה רבינו בעה”ס החל לרקום תכנית להקמת סוג חדש של כלכלה, והיא כלכלה אשר תהיה מיוסדת בחברה, שאנשיה מקבלים על עצמם את העקרון של צורת חיים המבוססת על “ואהבת לרעך כמוך”. המוטיוציה והכח המניע של הכלכלה הזו, אינה צבירת רכוש, והגדלת האגו של האדם הפרטי, גם לא בניית חברה מוצלחת, אלא המוטיוציה היא – החיבור עם בורא העולם. כי ע”י חיים בדרך “ואהבת לרעך כמוך” מתחבר האדם עם בורא העולם, באשר זוהי תכונת האופי של הבורא – אהבת זולתו.
Our Rabbi then puts together a program for a new kind of economy, one that will be founded in a society where people accept the principle of “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself”. The motivation behind this economy will not be personal gain and growing the ego, and not even building a successful civilization, but only connecting with the creator (his bold) because through “Love Thy Neighbor” man connects with his Creator, since this is the characteristic of the Creator.
WOW! You want to see something cool? Watch this:
Our Comrade then puts together a program for a new kind of economy, one that will be founded in a society where people accept the principle of “From Each According to His Ability, To Each According To His Need”. The motivation behind this economy will not be personal gain and growing the ego, and not even building a successful civilization, but only connecting with the love of his State and Country because through “From Each According to His Ability” man connects with his Country, since this is the characteristic of his Sublime Government.
This sounds like it was written by a 5 year old.
Ashlag then goes into how all goods would be given away, no money would exist, “society” would educate everyone, and blah blah blah.
If Ashlag had his way, the division of labor would break down, there would be mass death and starvation in the streets, purges, and “Love They Neighbor” police patrolling down your neighborhood block.
He’s worse than Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, and that says a lot.
So according to Ashlag some people steal. Therefore, his ultimate solution is “Put me in charge, and I’ll tell everyone what to do, and if they disobey my commands I’ll kill them and take their stuff and give it to someone else.”
Do I really think that if Ashlag or people that think like him were in charge they would engage in mass murder? Yes, I really do think that. Because mass murder is the only way to keep a society going where mutually beneficial exchange is illegal.
The guy who forwarded this to me says it is “crypto communism”. I don’t see anything crypto about it.
6 thoughts on “The Fascism of Rabbi Yehudah Leib HaLevi Ashlag, “ZaTzaL””
One more thing:
We tend to underestimate the magnetism of theory, no matter how silly, taught unopposed for decades. As I said, no one in his captive-readership is familiar with meshumadim like Rothbard and Mises (and sites like yours are not approved by many internet filters, because of occasional language). Nor are they reading Gary North’s series showing the Torah to be capitalistic. All anyone has to do is point out some supposedly “socialistic” laws to convince thousands of loyal Jews of Godless communism. Sad.
You wondered how to define Kabbalah. Well, it’s like philosophy, where half of the job is defining what philosophy even is. Our friend relates the term to the literal “getting”. Unfortunately, his crank economics is no trivial part of his mystical system (hence the word “crypto”). In his many books he elaborates on the “evil” of the Profit Motive as “giving to get”, teaching that the whole point of Judaism is rather “getting to give”, like God (with spiritual and monetary “Shefa”). This is his explanation of “Lishma”, etc. (Rabbi Ashlag was a system-builder).
In my own tiny pond he is a huge fish, and his opponents must face the hurdle of המוציא מחברו עליו הראיה. His afterlife influence includes: A: Rabbi Dessler and his “Michtav Me’eliyahu” (Strive for Truth in English) which popularized some of his ideas; especially his most harmful, in the infamous essay regarding the “deeper meaning” of Chessed and marriage. B: His descendants have founded several large Chassidic sects. C: Moshav “Ohr Haganuz” is a living attempt to apply his Utopian views.
Here is another unfortunate sample from Rabbi Dessler:
“There are some who take the maximum and give the minimum.” (Avos)
These are the merchants and middlemen who take advantage of every opportunity for profit, without ever considering whether the effort and work they have invested really bear any relationship to the profits gained. When they bend their efforts to benefit from their neighbor’s failures or take advantage of his ignorance, can this really be distinguished from plain, unvarnished deception?
Not to speak of those who amass their fortune by usury, battering on other people’s hard-won earnings, or who exploit their workers, paying them a pittance for hard and exacting toil, or who oppress whole nations, ruling them with a tyrant’s hand (even though some incidental benefit may accrue to their people) – all these and their like are examples of “much taking and little giving.”
(Strive for Truth Vol. I, 121-22)
Interesting. Perhaps I’ll go through my posts and censor to get past the filters. I never thought of that, thanks for the mussar. Ashlag is hardly the first mystic or religious leader to harp on the evils of time preference. The first half of Rothbard’s Austrian Perspective on the History of Economic Thought deals with figure after figure railing against interest rates.
There does exist in Judaism a discouragement of high profits (אונאה), and that’s fine, as long as profiteers are not punished by the State. As for Moshav Ohr HaGanuz, that’s fine too, if a group of people want to get together and try to abolish money and live by an impossible system. If they want to, go for it. If you’re in Bnei Brak, send me an email. I’m near there once a week.
I don’t live in Bnei Brak yet, but an Israeli “support group” for closet-libertarians sounds great!
By the way, the “ladder” title of his opus on Zohar, as explained in his preface, definitely comes from Wittgenstein, not Jacob’s vision:
(Yes, he is known to have been familiar with secular works.)
Thanks for the article; wrongheaded Jewish economic writings from a religious perspective need to be debunked for those who have never heard of either Krugman or Ron Paul (like myself a few years ago). This is not just a problem in Yeshiva. It is high time accurate economic works from a specifically religious perspective are written by and for Israeli Charedim, with all the appropriate realia, exempla, and tone.
All the best.
Vive la bourgeoisie!