The Genius of Our Generation. by Larry Lefkowitz
The Merlov Hasids were divided – not for the first time. Their master and teacher for 30 years had, sadly, gone to the world of eternal rest. Abraham — the rabbi’s only son (he had seven sisters) — was the obvious candidate to replace him.
But then there were those who advocated Menachem.
“Menachem is by far the better interpreter of the Talmud,” his chief backer Raphael insisted.
Naftali, the leader of the supporters of Abraham, was no less insistent. After enumerating the points in his candidate’s favor, including the fact that he could claim descent from a long line of honored rabbis, he added, “And Abraham is not a machine whereas Menachem is a machine!”
“You dare call Menachem a machine! True, his 240 bodily parts are resistors, capacitors, gears, and sprockets, yet his mental abilities are far superior to those of a machine.”
“Okay, a brilliant machine, but do you want a machine to be the master and teacher of the Merlov Hasids?” asked Naftali, palms upraised in protest.
“You would call the rabbinic authority of our generation a machine?” retorted Raphael. “Menachem is the height of artificial intelligence development. He even took care of our revered master and teacher at his bedside, preparing chicken soup that our rabbi of blessed memory said prolonged his stay in the world of the living. And his intelligence is far from being artificial – that is simply a working definition. I would call it ‘frum intelligence.’ ”
“Frum, shmum. Shemmai would turn over in his grave at the whole idea.”
“Shemmai maybe, not Hillel,” replied Raphael. “Hillel had breadth of vision. He would have embraced Menachem. And Rabbi Loew of Prague, creator of the Golem, would have approved of Menachem – a 21st century improvement on his model.”
“Rabbi Loew was not the first Golem creator. Did you know that?”
Raphael covered up his lack of Golemic erudition with the traditional shrug.
Naftali was not about to let him off so easily. “In the third century Rabbi Rava created a Golem. True, Rabbi Hanina and Rabbi Oshaya were less successful, managing only to produce a very small calf, on which they dined. Rabbi Shlomo ben Gabirol was more successful, he created a woman Golem. The book of Raziel specifies a way of Golem creation. Ben Sira and his father, the prophet Jeremiah, created a Golem. Rabbi Aharon of Baghdad and Rabbi Hananel produced golems. So did Rabbi Elazar of Worms, and also Abraham Abulafia. The last Golem created was that of Rabbi Loew. So you see, your Golem is not so unique.”
“By your own words,” retorted Raphael, “Menachem is a descendent of a long line of honored Golems.”
In truth, Raphael had not listened to all of Naftali’s Golem megillah because early on into Naftali’s recitation, Raphael feared it would be irrelevant as well as fatiguing. And so, he had dozed off for some minutes, having adopted the “listening posture” of head-propped-on-hand, as if following in deep concentration Naftali’s brilliant homily—until Naftali (had he discovered his ploy?) woke him up by raising his voice in delivering his penultimate and ultimate sentences. Raphael’s claim that Naftali’s oratory supported Menachem’s pedigree caused Naftali to abandon history and return to the matter at hand. “Nu, and if the machine, the latest Golem – ok, stop frowning, Menachem — is the Hassidic embodiment of the Gaon of Vilna, what then? Do we have to be bound by his pronouncements?”
“If they are brilliant, why not?”
Naftali sighed. “I can’t get used to the idea.”
“Get used,” Raphael urged him. “The Sabbath clock which automatically puts on the light on the Sabbath, you are used to.”
“A beneficial machine,” agreed Naftali.
“There is no machine — or person, for that matter – more versed in the Talmud than Menachem. Not only the greatest of our generation, but also the greatest of the next generation!”
“Alright – one year Menachem as master and teacher, one year Abraham, and so on.”
“The seven days of plenty followed by the seven years of famine.”
“I’ll ignore that. We have to come to a decision soon. We don’t want a schism that will continue unto the next generation.”
What was the decision?
Nu, the answer is by now clear as evidenced by a fifty-volume exegesis of the Talmud (produced in record time) under Menachem’s hand (so to speak) that has taken the ultra-orthodox community by storm. Because of it, Menachem was crowned “the new Rashi”. Even the staunchest former deriders of Menachem shook their heads in wonder and affixed to his name the respectful acronym wishing him a long and goodly life, amen. But maybe the Talmudic effort was too much for our master and teacher. He has ceased giving sermons He has stopped chairing meetings of the Council of Sages. He complains about migraines. He has begun to kvetch. Naftali maintains that such developments reflect the fact that being a master and teacher was simply too much of a challenge for a machine. Maybe in the end, a master and teacher of flesh and blood is preferable. A sage has to possess more fortitude than a mechanical entity, for all of its intelligence — particularly when it comes to holding the Merov flock together. Not for nothing are Merov Hasids called by other Hasids “the contentious Hasids”, a name, incidentally, that they, with their chutzpa, are rather proud of.