Sunday, January 30, 2005

Isaiah Berlin and the tendency to totalitarianism in the Chareidi world

In a posting about a review of Isaiah Berlin's diaries, DovBear provides a link to Leon Wieseltier's obituary of SIr Isaiah Berlin from 1997. It contains a masterly and elegaic summary of the ideas that drove this outstanding thinker (during his lifetime regarded as the UK's 'wisest man'). Some folks commenting on the Rabbi Slifkin controversy should read it. Chareidi society is showing more and more features of classic totalitarian regimes - and the reactions of its 'citizens' demonstrate it day by day- see some of the comments on this blog recently, and perhaps more clearly the 'discussion' on fear of speaking out in the comments to this posting on DovBear .
As Leon Wieseltier notes, Isaiah Berlin was a Schneersohn (on his maternal side). I once sat next to him on a shabbat morning in Oxford shul (1972-ish), at which he was an infrequent attender. (This occasion was a bar mitzvah.) He told me that he, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and Yehudi Menuhin were all equal cousins to each other. I could only speculate on what genes their common progenitor must have possessed! Isaiah Berlin had inherited the tefillin of the Alter Rebbe, and now and again Chabadniks would trek out to Oxford, knock on his door and ask to hold the precious articles for a few seconds. His mother, who lived to a grand old age, lived in London, and was a close friend of the Chayya Mushke, the late Lubavitcher Rebbetzin, who used to come to London frquently to visit her, where they would go to art galleries and the theatre together ..... (personal information from a leading Chabadnik in London).

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