Anarchism and Orthodox Judaism

Anarchism and Orthodox Judaism

While there is no organized Orthodox Jewish anarchist movement, various anarchistic ideas are common in the works of many Kabbalists and Hasidic teachers. Since the antiquity, some Jewish mystical groups were based on anti-authoritarian or radically communal principles, somewhat similar to the Christian Quakers, Dukhobors and other similar movements. Some secular Jewish anarchists, such as Abba Gordin and Erich Fromm, had noticed remarkable similarity between anarchism and many Kabbalistic ideas, especially in their Hasidic interpretation. Martin Buber, a deeply religious philosopher, although not an Orthodox Jew, had frequently referred to the Hasidic tradition.

Some Jewish anarchists of the 20th century had explicitly combined contemporary radical thought with traditional Judaism, insisting, that Judaism calls for abolishment of the state, private property and class exploitation. These Orthodox Jewish anarchists observed the Halacha and had almost nothing in common with lifestyle anarchism, but they advocated the social system of communist anarchism or anarcho-syndicalism.

A British Orthodox Rabbi Yankev-Meyer Zalkind, was an anarcho-communist, a close friend of Rudolf Rocker, and a very active anti-militarist. Rabbi Zalkind was also a prolific Yiddish writer and a prominent Torah scholar, who authored a few volumes of commentaries on the Talmud. He believed that the ethics of the Talmud, if properly understood, are closely related to anarchismcite book
authorlink=Moshe Goncharok
title=ПЕПЕЛ НАШИХ КОСТРОВ, Очерки Истории Еврейского Анархистского Движения (ИДИШ-АНАРХИЗМ)
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The Kabbalist Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag believed in a religious version of libertarian communism, based on principles of Kabbalah, which he called altruist communism. Ashlag supported the Kibbutz movement and preached to establish a network of self-ruled internationalist voluntary communes, who would eventually dismantle the government and the system of law enforcement. [] "Altruistic Communism will finally annul the brute-force regime completely, for “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”" .. "Indeed, there is nothing more humiliating and degrading for a person than being under the brute-force government." ] . However, most contemporary followers of the Ashlagian Kabbalah seem to be unaware of his anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian political stance.

Russian revolutionary and Territorialist leader Isaac Nachman Steinberg, whose ideas were essentially anarchist, although he defined himself as a left eser or left narodnik, was an Orthodox Jew. Like Martin Buber, Steinberg supported the idea of binational solution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and tried to establish a compact self-ruled Jewish settlement somewhere else outside the Middle East.

Rabbi Abraham Yehudah Khein (1878-1957), a prominent follower of the Hasidic Chabad tradition, was eloquently committed to pacifism and non-violence during the days when the Jewish community in Palestine was battling the Arabs and the British. He tried to relate his readings of Leo Tolstoy and Pyotr Kropotkin to Kabbalah and Hasidism. Rabbi Khein deeply respected Kropotkin, whom he called "the Tzadik of the new world", whose "soul is as pure as crystal" [ [ Jewish-Christian Relations :: Universalist Trends in Jewish Religious Thought: Some Russian Perspectives ] ] [ [ Cedars of Lebanon: "Sanctify the Ordinary" ] ] [ר' אברהם חן, ביהדות התורה, v.1 p.79]

Rabbi Yehudah-Leib Don-Yakhia from Chernigov was known as a Tolstoyan and frequently quoted Leo Tolstoy in his synagogue sermons [ [ Jewish-Christian Relations :: Universalist Trends in Jewish Religious Thought: Some Russian Perspectives ] ] .

Rabbi Shmuel Alexandrov, also close to Chabad Hasidism, was an individualist anarchist, whose religious thought was marked by some degree of antinomianism [Luz, Ehud 1981 "Spiritualism and religious anarchism in the teaching of Shmuel Alexandrov" (Hebrew). Daat, no. 7 (summer): 121-138.] .

Historical and Legendary Communities

The Period of the Judges

The Bible indicates, that the pre-monarchic Israelite society was anarchistic:"In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes." (Judges, 21:25); The prophet Samuel harshly criticized the Jews for trying to establish a monarchy [Samuel 8:7-18] . Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, referring to the above-mentioned verse, believed, that the future society will be libertarian communist .

The Essenes

The Essenes were a monastic Jewish sect, that flourished from the 2nd century BC to the 1st century AD. Although the Essenic society was divided into four strictly hierarchic orders, they rebelled against the establishment, lived a radically communal life, kept vegetarian diet and supported themselves by manual labor, usually agricultural. New initiates to Essenism took some vows, including an oath not to force personal views or authority on others.

The Account of Eldad ha-Dani

Eldad ha-Dani was a merchant and traveler of the ninth century, who professed to have been a citizen of an "independent Jewish state" in eastern Africa, inhabited by people claiming descent from the tribes of Dan (hence his name, "ha-Dani" = "the Danite"), Asher, Gad, and Naphtali. According to his travel narratives, there is somewhere in the world a large land, encircled by the mysterious river Sambation, inhabited by descendants of Moses. ‎The inhabitants of this land have beautiful houses and live happy, wealthy and extremely long lives; they are all equal and farm their land by themselves, because they don't have servants; no one of them locks their doors at night, because they would consider it a shame; unlike the other tribes described in the story, no king or authority is mentioned [] .

Eldad ha-Dani's fanciful travel narratives were accepted by his contemporaries as true and were very popular in the Jewish world until recent times. Even today, there are a few people, who believe that this mysterious land exists, perhaps somewhere in a parallel dimension [In the highly unconventional Yiddish booklet by the Hasidic composer and lyricist Yom Tov Ehrlich, "‫קול מבֿשׂר ‬", the author suggests a connection between the Land of Lost Tribes and Shambhala] . Regardless of the factual truth of Eldad ha-Dani's account, it indicates that many medieval Jews believed that such a utopian society is possible and has been actually implemented.

Mystical Communities in Eastern Europe

According to Eastern European Jewish legends, before the establishment of the Hasidic movement by the Baal Shem Tov, there existed a secret society of Kabbalists, who hid their mystical knowledge and refrained from public positions and honors. Some of these mystics, according to the legends, had establishing self-ruled agricultural settlements, which emphasized individual autonomy, solidarity and compassion, closeness to nature and living by their own labor. The sixth Lubavitcher rebbe, Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, said that the village of Lyubavichi took its origin from such a settlement, established by a mystic, named Reb Meyer, whose love to his fellows, both Jews and non-Jews, was boundless, and who also showed great compassion to all living beings. According to the legend, the village was originally named "Luba", meaning "love" both in Russian and Polish. [Lubavitcher Rabbi's Memoirs, Volume One, Chapter One, Kehot Publication Society, 1993] .

The Hasidim

Some Hasidic rebbes had proposed social structures that emphasize equality and anti-authoritarian principles. Kalonymus Kalman Shapira of Piasetzno had organized a mystical circle of Hasidim, focused on spiritual development and meditation. Rabbi Shapiro had insisted that his organization should refrain from choosing the chairman, vice chairman etc., as it was a custom in many organizations, because "in a place, where holiness is revealed, there is no rulership and honors" [בני מחשבה טובה , page 8, ועד חסידי פיסנצה, 1989] .

Another interesting example of Hasidic anti-authoritarianism are some sectors of the Breslov community, who refuse to obey any contemporary authorities and follow only the teaching of rebbe Nachmen and his disciple, reb Nosn. The Breslov community in general is very decentralized and includes followers of diametrically opposite political opinions, such as far-right settlers of the West Bank and Neturei Karta.

Many Hasidic masters, especially Simcha Bunim of Peshischa and
Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica, had emphasised individual choice, freedom, spontaneity and dynamism of thought and action. [Hasidism on the Margin: Reconciliation, Antinomianism and Messianism in Izbica & Radzin Hasidism, by Shaul Magid, The University of Wisconsin Press,2003]

Related Themes in Judaism


According to the Hasidic panentheistic view, God is the true nature of all reality and the true self of the human soul ("the soul of the souls"). All duality and multiplicity is an illusion, resulting from the Tzimtzum. The contemporary Hasidic researcher Immanuel Schochet had described this view as monistic acosmism [The Great Maggid: The Life and Teachings of Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezhirech, Volume One, page 205, by Jacob Immanuel Schochet, Kehot Publication Society, 1990] . Everything in the world is everchanging and lacks intrinsic reality [בונה ירושלים, נ׳] [לקוטי תורה, פ׳ ואתחנן, pp. 3-4, Kehot Publication Society, 1998] , while the only true reality - God - is beyond all definitions and boundaries, including time, space, personality and even substantial existence [בשעה שהקדימו - תער״ב, vol.2, p. 1144, Kehot Publication Society, 1992] [ משנת חב״ד, מר׳ משה לייב מילער, ערך עצמות, pp 6-12] [דרך מצותיך, מצות האמנת האלקות, ד׳-ה׳, pp. 94-101, Kehot Publication Society, 1996] . Such views of reality are common in the Chassidic literature, although many contemporary Chassidim are unaware of these teachings and might consider them too esoteric.

The appearance of God as a personal being in the world of Atzilut is also a result of the Tzimtzum and, according to the teachings of the Lubavitcher rabbi, is a reflection of the to-be-created human personality [מאמר ועשית חג שבועות - תשכ"ה, Ma'amar Veasisa Chag Shavuos 5725, published by Lahak Hanachos, 1999] , though some other Chassidim might consider such views bordering on heresy. In Kabbalistic and Hasidic literature, God is commonly called "Ein Sof" (the Infinite) or, sometimes, "Ayin" (Nothingness). The purpose of "worshiping" God is the realization of the Absolute Reality and unification with it.

Such esoteric view of God differs radically from conventional monotheism and resembles the Eastern concepts of Nirguna Brahman, Suchness and Dharmakaya. Thus, Mikhail Bakunin's and Daniel Guérin's critique of religion can be only partly applied to such a theology.


According to the Hasidic esoteric philosophy, the Halacha is not a set of laws, imposed by an external authority (since in panentheistic view God is never "external"), but a framework of means for spiritual self-development, somewhat similar to the Eastern concept of Dharma. The reward of fulfilling the commandments is the inner development itself [דגל מחנה אפרים, פרשת צו] ; the punishment for the sin is the destructive spiritual impact of certain actions [מי השלוח, פ׳ בראשית, הערה י״ח] . Thus, the religious laws are seen as natural (and, at same time, divine and supernatural), as the laws of physical nature. Halacha itself is open to inquiry, though actual change or violation of halachic norms, according to traditional Hasidism, usually requires extensive expertise and mystical knowledge, and should be taken with great caution [Controversy and Dialogue in the Jewish Tradition: A Reader, p. 113, 139, 144. Routledge, 2005. "When Moses ascended to heaven to receive the Torah, on every issue he was shown forty-nine aspects to forbid and forty-nine aspects to permit. He asked the Holy One, blessed be He, about this, and He said that it is delegated to the scholars of Israel of each and each generation, and the ruling will be made in accordance with their view."] . According to some Kabbalists, in the Messianic world the standardized Halacha will be abolished, because everyone will realize his/her personal spiritual path by personal intuition. Such views are very common in the classic Chassidic literature, although many contemporary Chassidim might consider these teachings too esoteric and view the Halacha primarily as "law".

ocial System

The are two clearly anti-authoritarian passages in the Talmudic tractate Pirkei Avot: "Love labor, hate mastery over others, and avoid a close relationship with the government" (Avot, 1:10); "Be careful with the government, for they befriend a person only for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the time of his distress" (Avot 2:3).

Another passage in Pirkei Avot lists four possible social relationship schemes: "He who says, "What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours", is the median type, though some say that this is the quality of Sodom. He who says, "What's mine is yours and what's yours is mine", is a simple (or, according to other readings, an ignorant) man. He who says, "What's mine is yours and what's yours is yours", is a pious man ("Hasid"). And he who says, "What's yours is mine, and what's mine is mine", is wicked." (Avot, 5:10). According to Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, consistent application of this ethical rule by all members of the society leads to voluntary communism [] "Communism must be turned away from the concept, “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours”, which is sodomite rule, to the concept, “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours”, meaning absolute altruism"] .

Mutual Aid and Solidarity

Traditional Judaism is often viewed as a national religion, concerned mostly with internal affairs. However, many well known Torah scholars called for international solidarity, cooperation and compassion. For example, Rabbi Pinchas Elijah Horovitz, the author of "Sefer ha-Bris", who lived in 18th century Lithuania, had insisted, that the Jews are obligated to love their neighbors, Jews and non-Jews alike, like themselves, which implies compassionate international solidarity, mutual aid and cooperative labor. Rabbi Horovitz encouraged productive labor and strongly criticized people who live at the expense of others [,ספר הברית , pages 522-575, יריד הספרים, 1990] . Similar anti-capitalist teachings are found in the classic Mishnah commentary Tiferes Yisroel by Rabbi Israel Lipschutz [Tiferes Yisroel on Avot, 1:10] .


Contemporary Judaism rejects capital punishment and, at least in theory, almost never advocates physical coercion, except for some rare cases, such as forcing a husband who refuses to give a get to his wife, who wants to be divorced.

The Talmud teaches: "Who is mighty? One who controls his passions" (Pirkei Avot 4:1); "Who is the mightiest of heroes? He who makes an enemy into his friend" (Pirkei Avot, 5:11); "Be of the persecuted rather than the persecutor" (Bava Kama 93a).

A number of anti-Zionist rabbis, especially, Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the late Satmar rebbe, condemned the violence of the Israel Defense Forces, including the Six-Day War, although many observers considered this war an act of "preventive self-defence".

Critical Approach to Organized Religion

Judaism is a principally decentralized religion, that lacks a central clerical body. Rabbis are supposed to be just more knowledgeable people, who serve as advisors and analyze how the Halacha applies to different situations, although some rabbinical figures and organizations impose their authority though coercive means. Some rabbis have secular jobs and refrain from being supported by the community. Even in the most authoritarian Jewish communities it's very common to disobey the rabbis for various reasons, and to organize new independent groups, who would choose their own rabbis, or, sometimes, would refuse to obey any living authority. For example, some Satmar Hasidim refuse to recognize their current leadership and rely solely on the teachings of the late Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum; most Satmar Hasidim do not recognize and harshly criticise all Zionist and pro-Zionist rabbinical institutions, especially the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Some educated Orthodox Jews do not affiliate with any particular rabbi or group, and choose halachic opinions on their own, by researching rabbinical literature and comparing opinions of different rabbis. The tradition of decentralization and a critical approach to authoritarian structures is deeply rooted in all sectors of Orthodox Judaism, especially among the Hasidim, who are divided into over 100 independent sects.

Relativity of Power Structures

The Kabbalistic and Hasidic literature often views hierarchies, dichotomies and casual relationships as relative and overturnable, based on the ontological principle of Sefer Yetzirah, that "the beginning is wedged in the end, and the end is wedged in the beginning", and the monistic concepts of unity and interrelated nature of all things. For example, Malkhut, which usually represents the feminine aspects of Reality in Kabbalah, is the lowest and, at the same time, the highest of the Sephirot, because in its root it's identical with Keter; according to the teachings of Chassidus, Moses had lost some "sparks" of his spirituality due to the misdeeds of the Jews in the desert, because the leader is in some aspect lower the leaded, "like the head, that can not go without the feet, in which aspect the feet become the head" [תורה אור, פ׳ בראשית] ; the empty part of a book or a Torah scroll is considered more ontologically significant, because it enables the very existence of the text; repentance can elevate a sin to the level higher than a Mitzvah; destruction can be a creative force, like the seed, that must be destroyed in the soil, in order to grow into a new plant.

In general, the dialectic of Kabbalah often closely resembles deconstructivist philosophy [ [] The Doctrine of Coincidentia Oppositorum in Jewish Mysticism, by Sanford L. Drob] .


Judaism accepts, that truth is relative to some extent and that the opposite Halachic opinions can both be right, although this idea is usually not generalized beyond some traditional contexts. Rabbi Menachem Nochem of Chernobyl had stated, that even contradicting descriptions of historical reality can both be, and sometimes are, true [מאור עינים, פ׳ שמות] . According to Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, the true knowledge is denial of any final knowledge; when a person reaches the "peak" of one spiritual world, all his/her previous knowledge is nullified by the new knowledge, that he discovers in the next world. However, one must seek and follow his or her personal truth, in order to keep "climbing" to the higher worlds and new levels of the knowledge, which have no end [ שׂיחות הר״ן, ב׳ ] .


Some classic rabbinical commentaries, e.g. Rambam hold, that Samuel did not criticize monarchy "per se", because, in their opinion, it's supported by the Torah ("Deuteronomy 17:15"), and because the belief in the eventual coming of the king Moshiach (Messiah) is one of the cardinal tenets of traditional Judaism. However, according to other classic interpretations, the Torah only tells what limitations are supposed to be put on the king's power and possessions, if the Jews decide to choose monarchy, which is an option, not a commandment. According to Isaac Abrabanel, the "king" Moshiach will be a universally accepted spiritual teacher and a judge, but not a monarch; the state will be abolished and humanity will eventually return to the original Edenic harmony [Encyclopedia Judaica, on Isaac Abarbanel] .

A number of Hasidic teachers consistently rejected or spiritualized the idea of a future Messianic "kingdom", and viewed Messiah as a compassionate teacher and advisor, but not a coercive ruler [ תולדות יעקב יוסף, פ׳ שופטים ] . According to the Hasidic interpretation, the Messiah will "fight" God's eschatological "wars" by providing a role model of a great Tzadik [Rabbi Nachmen of Breslov once said, "Moshiach will "conquer" the world without a single bullet or gunpowder"] .

There is a seemingly monarchist passage in the Talmud: "Pray for the stability of the kingdom, for were it not for the fear of its authority, a man would swallow his neighbor alive" (Avot 3:2). However, Isaac Abarbanel, Israel Lipschutz and a number of other classic commentators hold that this passage only stresses the need for social order ("kingdom"), which might be organized by the people, and not necessarily by the king [נחלת אבות on Avot 3:2] .

There are many violent stories in the Tanakh, such as military conquest, capital and collective punishment for various sins. However, the Talmud and the later commentators often give some non-literal explanations for these stories or reduce them to some unique contexts. For example, the Talmudic requirements for corporal punishments are so complicated and unrealistic, that render them virtually impossible even in the biblical times and certainly impossible today. The Talmud says, that a Sanhedrin, who would put someone to death even once (or, according to another version, more than once) in 70 years, deserves to be called a "bloody Sanhedrin". According to Kabbalah, the purpose of these rare punishments was the spiritual "correction" of the sinner's soul, in order to liberate it from the Klipot.

During the Middle Ages, the Jews commonly practiced usury against the non-Jews, while condemning it within the Jewish community. Most medieval rabbis approved of such practice, which helped the Jews to survive in antisemitic states, where they were excluded from most professions. However, a number of prominent rabbis had explained, that usury is unethical in nature, and is not allowed against people, who treat Jews well [ הגהות מהרש״א , יורה דעה, 159:1; ] .



:* Love labor, hate mastery, and avoid relationship with the government (Avot, 1:10)

:* He who says, "What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours", is the median type, though some say that this is the quality of Sodom. He who says, "What's mine is yours and what's yours is mine", is a simple man [Accordind to the reading of Rabbeinu Yonah, who viewed this social scheme as positive; Rambam interpreted this term as "an ingnorant man"] . He who says, "What's mine is yours and what's yours is yours", is a pious man ("Hasid"). And he who says, "What's yours is mine, and what's mine is mine", is wicked. (Avot, 5:10)

Simcha Bunim of Peshischa:* In worship of God there are no rules - and this statement is also not a rule.

Mordechai Yosef Leiner:* Someone whose spiritual root is good does not have to restrict himself. Whatever he does is good in God's eyes.

Kalonymus Kalman Shapira of Piasetzno

:* In a place where holiness is revealed, there is no rulership and honors.

Yehuda Ashlag:* Altruistic Communism will finally annul the brute-force regime completely, for “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” .. Indeed, there is nothing more humiliating and degrading for a person than being under the brute-force government [] .

Orthodox Jewish anarchists

*Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag
*Isaac Nachman Steinberg
*Rabbi Yankev-Meyer Zalkind
*Abraham Yehudah Khein
*Shmuel Alexandrov
*Daniel Sieradski

See also

*Anarchism and religion
*Christian Anarchism
*History of anarchism
*Islam and anarchism
*Jewish anarchism
*Jewish left


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