The convergence of the philosophy on liberty of Sir Isaiah Berlin and the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Thursday, 2 February, 2012 - 4:25 pm

Sir Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) was the distinguished Chichele Professor of Political Theory at All Souls College, University of Oxford, and is generally viewed as one of the greatest minds of the 20th century, universally known for his essay Two Concepts of Liberty, delivered in 1958.


In this essay, we will explore how Sir Isaiah’s essay on two concepts of liberty converges with an essay on liberty by his distant cousin, one of the greatest Jewish leaders of the 20th century, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), known as the Rebbe, who is widely recognised as having positively transformed world Jewry after the Holocaust.




The familial relation between the Rebbe and Sir Isaiah is recorded by Henry Hardy in Isaiah Berlin Flourishing Letters 1928-1946. They were both descendents of the 3rd Rebbe of Lubavitch, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known as the Tzemach Tzedek (1789 - 1866), after his major work on Jewish law. The Tzemach Tzedek married Chaya Mushka, granddaughter of the founder of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), known as the Alter Rebbe, and had six children, five sons and a daughter.


The Rebbe, also called Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the 7th Rebbe of Lubavitch, was descendent from the oldest son of the Tzemach Tzedek, Boruch Sholom, and his wife, Chaya Mushka, from the youngest son, Rabbi Shmuel, known as the Maharash, the fourth Rebbe of Lubavitch.


Sir Isaiah’s family descended from the daughter of the Tzemach Tzedek, Freida.


In brief, Freida married Schneur Schneerson, grandson of the 2nd Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rabbi Dov Ber, son of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, and had a daughter Frumma (c.1814-1916) and Chayetta (1842-1917). Frumma married Benjamin Zuckerman and had a son, Dov Ber Zuckerman (1865-1941). Dov Ber Zuckerman had a son Mendel Berlin (1884-1953), whose son was Sir Isaiah Berlin.


The name Isaiah is, however, actually after the great, great uncle of Sir Isaiah, as Chayetta Schneerson married Rabbi Isaiah Berlin senior (1841-1908), who adopted his nephew, Dov Ber Zuckerman (later Berlin), Mendel Berlin’s father, Sir Isaiah’s grandfather.


Incidentally, another famous relation of both the Rebbe and Sir Isaiah was Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1999), also descendent of the 3rd Rebbe of Lubavitch, although from another son, Yisroel Noach.


Sir Isaiah was thus 5th generation from the 3rd Rebbe of Lubavitch, the Tzemach Tzedek, and the Rebbe was fourth generation.


To what extent they knew each other personally is impossible to know, as Isaiah’s name does not appear in any of the Rebbe’s voluminous works and neither does the Rebbe appear in those of Sir Isaiah’s letters.


Correspondence between 6th Rebbe and Mendel Berlin


It is however known that Sir Isaiah knew of the previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson (1880-1950), the father in-law of the Rebbe. When Sir Isaiah was in NY in 1941 working for the British Foreign Office, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok corresponded with Sir Isaiah to find out about Sir Isaiah’s father, Mendel Berlin.


Among Isaiah’s letters are in fact two letters that mentions this correspondence (page 364 and 429). In one letter to his parents from Devon Hotel, on West 55th Street, New York, Sir Isaiah writes that Rabbi (Yosef Yitzchok) Schneerson wants to get in touch via his son in law, Rabbi Shemaryahu Gurary (Rashag), and sends greetings.


Similarly, writing from the British Embassy in Washington, DC, Sir Isaiah writes that Dr. Nissan Mindel, secretary of Rabbi I. Schneerson, has written asking for Mendel Berlin’s address and Sir Isaiah offers to forward the letters.


Close bond between senior Rabbi Isaiah (Shaya) Berlin and first cousin Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber Schneerson


While there does not appear to have been a close relationship between the 6th Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, and Sir Isaiah, there was certainly a very close bond between the families when one traces them back to a previous generation.


According to the Mendel Berlin’s family tree recorded in his memoir, published in the appendix to The Book of Isaiah, edited by Henry Hardy, Rabbi Isaiah Berlin senior and father of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok, Rabbi Sholom Dovber, 5th Rebbe of Lubavitch, were first cousins. Rabbi Isaiah Berlin married Chayetta Schneerson (1842-1917), as mentioned earlier, and her mother, Freida’s, nephew was Rabbi Sholom Dovber, 5th Rebbe of Lubavitch, son of Rabbi Shmuel, her youngest brother.


There are about fifty published letters between Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber Schneerson and Rabbi Isaiah Berlin of Riga, dated from the Hebrew date 6 Tevet until 22 Iyar 5663, corresponding to January to May, 1903.


These letters can be found in the five volume set of Hebrew letters of Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber Schneerson, Igeret Hakodesh. In Igeret Hakodesh, vol. 3, (p. 58), there is also a brief biography of Rabbi Isaiah senior, which describes the close relationship between them. It states: “Rabbi Isaiah (Yeshaya) Berlin was a very wealthy man and the principle supporter of the Yeshiva “Tomchei Temimim” that Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber Schneerson founded in the town of Lubavitch, as well as his other activities. The main business of Isaiah Berlin was the purchasing of forests, cutting its wood and selling beams. In every detail pertaining to his business, purchase and sale, he would consult the Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber Schneerson, and the Rebbe would answer him in detail.”


In Mendel Berlin’s above mentioned memoir, he also writes about his “grand uncle Shaya” but does not mention his inter-family philanthropy. He writes (p. 284), they (Shaya and Chayetta) were the “millionaires of the family, made their money in timber, chiefly by buying in his young days forest estates with the land, which have in course of time grown enormously in value. Shaya was practically the first Jewish timber exporter and saw-miller in Riga, which business he started about 1880.”


Mendel further describes him as "born and bred as a pious Chassid" and having a "very gay and generous nature". He was very philanthropic, contributed to public, mostly orthodox, funds and was the recognised undisputed leader of orthodox Jewry in Riga. Mendel adds that when Shaya died in 1908 he left legacies for his father, his brothers and himself, and this legacy certainly helped him in starting business on his own.


In the Select biographical glossary in Isaiah Berlin Flourishing Letters (p. 704), it quotes Sir Isaiah as saying that his father, Mendel Berlin, was “a timber and bristle trader, had an excellent brain and was always fairly, though not very, comfortably well off.”


It seems that it was this legacy, left by Shaya that allowed Mendel Berlin to start his own business and live fairly comfortably, that also permitted Mendel and his family to immigrate to England, buy a house in London and put his son Isaiah through St Paul’s school in London and Oxford.


This presents an interesting historical connection between Sir Isaiah in Oxford and his familial connection with the Schneersons. From the above footnote in Iggeret Hakodesh and the many letters between the senior Isaiah and Rabbi Shlomo Dov Ber, it is obvious that the connection between the Schneerson and Berlin families was not just as relatives but also personal, spiritual and material, as evident from the content of the letters.


Philosophical convergence between the Rebbe and Sir Isaiah


In this essay, we would like to suggest that although the above close relationship did not seem to have continued into the second half of the 20th century, intellectually, however, one can find a convergence between the ideas found in the thought of the Rebbe from a Jewish philosophical perspective and Sir Isaiah.


We would like to propose that the dichotomy between negative liberty and positive liberty in Two Concepts of Liberty, delivered famously in Sir Isaiah’s inaugural lecture in 1958 for the Chichele chair of political theory at All Souls college, University of Oxford, might also be found in the philosophy of the Rebbe in a lecture delivered in 1980, drawing on the 13th century Jewish philosopher and legalist Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, known as Maimonides (1135-1204), in relation to the Exodus.


The two concepts of liberty, in brief, presented by Sir Isaiah, can be understood as follows: Negative liberty is the absence of constraints or interference with individual action, as in a person being free to vote, write a book, or study art. Positive liberty is the human capacity for self-development and determination of one’s own destiny. For example, some people live in countries without negative liberties, which in turn hampers their positive liberty. Others with positive liberties may not be able to fully exercise them due to economic or social limitations.


Isaiah Berlin argued that, largely due to the Romantic and German idealist tradition, political theorists had been preoccupied with positive liberties as effects of particular forms of government. He believed that the idea of positive liberty was co-opted by both German national socialism and communism. In the case of communism, the goal of liberty became identical to the goal of state control in the name of “collective rationality.” For the Nazis, it was the destiny of Germany and its “master race” that became an overriding value affecting individual lives.


Berlin was an advocate of negative liberty in the tradition of John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), which emphasized the importance of minimal government constraint. In other words, he did not think government was a viable source of values or projects for individual life plans because when government did assume that function it was likely to become totalitarian and repressive.


Sir Isaiah for much of his life was critical of positive liberty, due to its historic associations, though towards the end of his life he is presumed to have reviewed his stance and become less critical.


Two concepts of liberty in Jewish philosophy


This distinction between negative and positive liberty can be found also in the thought of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson known as the Rebbe, presented in the context of an interpretation of a Jewish legal text of Maimonides in his Mishneh Torah.


Maimonides writes in Laws of Matza (7:1) pertaining to the Biblical injunction to remember the Exodus from Egypt on the night of Passover, the annual anniversary of the Exodus: “It is a positive commandment of the Torah to relate the miracles and wonders wrought for our ancestors in Egypt on the night of the fifteenth of Hebrew month of Nisan, as it states (Exodus 13:3): "Remember this day, on which you left Egypt," just as states (Exodus 20:8): "Remember the Shabbat day."


The Rebbe poses the question, why is there a need for Maimonides to compare remembering the Exodus to “Remember the Shabbat day”, since the Exodus has its own Biblical scriptural source?


Maimonides, in Sefer Mitzvot, also defines the injunction to remember the Exodus by comparing it to the Sabbath and quotes for this purpose the Midrashic work of the Mechilta. The Mechilta states: "Since the verse says, 'when your son will ask you,' you might think that you are required to discuss the Exodus only when he asks, and not otherwise. Therefore the Scripture states, 'And you shall tell your child,' even if he doesn't ask. I only know of the obligation to discuss the Exodus when the person has a child. How do I know this obligation applies when he is by himself or with others? The verse says, 'And Moses said to the people, "Remember this day" that G‑d commanded us to remember the Exodus just as He commanded us, 'Remember the Shabbat day to sanctify it.' "


The Rebbe rejects however the possibility that the text of Maimonides in Mishneh Torah is drawing on the same teaching of the Mechilta as in the Sefer Mitzvot. In the Sefer Mitzvot it seems the comparison of remembering the Shabbat is in order to clarify a particular aspect of the application of the commandment to remember the Exodus i.e. even when the person has no children and is by oneself. However, this does seem to be the context in Mishneh Torah, where the comparison with the Shabbat is related to the concept of the remembering of the Exodus itself.


Two concepts of rest on the Shabbat


The Rebbe proposes that the source for Maimonides’ text in the Mishneh Torah is not the same as his source in Sefer Mitzvot but rather a text from the Midrash Exodus Rabba (19:7). It states: “Warn Israel that just as I, who created the world, commanded them to observe the Sabbath, as a memorial of the work of creation, as it says: Remember the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:8), so also do you remember the miracle I performed for you in Egypt and the anniversary of the day of your departure, as it says: Remember this day, in which you came out from Egypt (13:3).”


Based on this general comparison in the Midrash between the Exodus and Shabbat, the Rebbe suggests that Maimonides in the Mishneh Torah is attempting to explain not just a particular qualification to the law regarding the Exodus but deriving from the Shabbat the definition of remembering the Exodus itself.


Maimonides defines the remembering of the Shabbat in two forms, positive and negative. In Mishneh Torah, laws of Shabbat (1:1) it states: Resting from labor on the seventh day fulfills a positive commandment, as (Exodus 23:12) states, "And you shall rest on the seventh day." Anyone who performs a labor on this day negates the observance of a positive commandment and also transgresses a negative commandment, for (ibid. 20:10) states, "Do not perform any labor on it."


Maimonides thus defines rest on the Shabbat as two concepts: the positive and the negative - the negative is to refrain from labour and the positive is to positively rest within oneself.


These two concepts of resting on the Shabbat can be found also in the structure of the two Scriptural texts relating to the Sabbath in the Torah.


In Genesis (2:1) it states: “And G-d completed on the seventh day His work that He did, and He abstained on the seventh day from all His work that He did. And G-d blessed the seventh day and He hallowed it, for thereon He abstained from all His work that G-d created to do.” This seems to imply the negative concept of rest from work.


In Exodus, however, it states (20:11): “Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it. For in six days the Lord made the heaven and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it.” This seems to emphasise the positive concept of rest.


Based on Maimonides’ definition of the two concepts of the Shabbat, the Rebbe argues, Maimonides is proposing that there are also two concepts of liberty: the negative - exodus from servitude of Egypt, and positive - self ownership as a free person.


These two concepts of liberty are found also in Jewish law pertaining to release of slaves in Leviticus. Maimonides in Mishneh Torah laws of Sabbatical and Jubilee writes (10:13-14):


“The observance of three matters are of critical importance with regard to the Jubilee year: the sounding of the shofar, the release of servants, and the return of fields to their owners. This is referred to as ’the release of land.’ From Rosh HaShanah (Jewish New Year) until Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), servants would not be released to their homes, nor would they be subjugated to their masters, nor would the fields return to their original owners. Instead, the servants would eat, drink, and rejoice, with crowns on their heads. When Yom Kippur arrives and the shofar is sounded in the court, the servants are released to their homes and the fields are returned to their owners.”


By structuring these two stages of releasing of slaves in two distinct stages, it is implying that these two concepts of liberty in Jewish philosophy are by no means one and the same, nor do they happen automatically. The removal of coercion does not necessary imply that one then has positive liberty. Positive liberty is a second stage that only follows if there is an external factor or effort that causes such a state of beain.


For this reason Maimonides defines the concept of remembering the Exodus in the positive, rather than the negative, comparing it to the Sabbath. Maimonides postulates that on the night of Passover, unlike the commandment to remember the Exodus daily, the requirement is not just to see oneself as no longer physically enslaved but as positively free.


Maimonides therefore writes his law in the positive: “It is a positive commandment of the Torah to relate the miracles and wonders wrought for our ancestors in Egypt on the night of the fifteenth of Nisan, as it states (Exodus 13:3): "Remember this day, on which you left Egypt," just as states (Exodus 20:8): "Remember the Sabbath day."


Maimonides is advocating the concept of not just to remember the need to be free from coercion – negative liberty – on the Passover but by relating also about the miracles and wonders that G-d performed, one may achieve an elevated sense of freedom and self ownership – positive freedom.


In the case of the Exodus, the Rebbe proposes that the positive liberty that was given at the Exodus was the concept of nationhood; becoming a people gave the Jews not just absence of external coercion and a foreign power but a positive liberty and self ownership as a people.


Problems with positive freedom


Sir Isaiah however is critical of positive liberty on the grounds that it can lead to oppression and totalitarianism, where the ideals of collective identity can override one’s personal freedoms. This problem is seemingly present also with the Exodus where slavery in Egypt was replaced in the Torah by the constraints of peoplehood and the covenant at Sinai and the six hundred and thirteen commandments of the Torah.


This substitution is expressed by the verse in Leviticus (25:55): “For the children of Israel are servants to Me; they are My servants, whom I took out of the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your G-d.


How is this different from the problem of positive liberty that Sir Isaiah poses?


Jewish philosophy addresses this problem with the fundamental notion in Jewish thought - the principle of free choice. Maimonides writes in Mishneh Torah, laws of repentance (3:1-3):


“Free will is granted to all men. If one desires to turn himself to the path of good and be righteous, the choice is his. Should he desire to turn to the path of evil and be wicked, the choice is his. This is the intent of the Torah's statement (Genesis 3:22): "Behold, man has become unique as ourselves, knowing good and evil," i.e., the human species became singular in the world with no other species resembling it in the following quality: that man can, on his own initiative, with his knowledge and thought, know good and evil, and do what he desires. There is no one who can prevent him from doing good or bad.


This principle is a fundamental concept and a pillar [on which rests the totality] of the Torah and mitzvot as (Deuteronomy 30:15) states: "Behold, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil." Similarly, (Deuteronomy 11:26) states, "Behold, I have set before you today (the blessing and the curse)," implying that the choice is in your hands.”


Maimonides thus insists that the concept of positive freedom found in Jewish nationhood and covenant at Sinai cannot be in conflict with the concept of negative liberty, as the covenant at Sinai is founded on the principle of personal freedom to choose.


Positive liberty and Jewish identity


In an essay in April, 1958, published in Hagadah shel Pesach Sharei Hagadah (p. 115), the Rebbe appears to attempt to explain the philosophical concept of positive liberty, six months before Sir Isaiah’s inaugural lecture in Oct, the same year. He explains, everything has its freedom. Vegetation for example is free when it is capable of growing, whereas an animal, if it would receive food and drink but is limited like a plant, unable to move, it would not be free.


Similarly, a human being with intellect is not free even if you allow him or her movement, as long as the person is unable to utilise the intellect to study and learn. The Jewish person then whose identity is a Jewish identity connected to a certain heritage and connection to G-d from Sinai, their true freedom is only when they are able to express that identity through the study of Torah and living by the Divine commandments given to them at Sinai. The essence of the Jew needs to be connected to G-d to have freedom. It was this ability to connect to G-d that was given at Sinai through the covenant.”


Accordingly, the Rebbe is arguing that positive freedom necessarily entails accepting an identity that is connected to one’s true self. The Torah and the Mitzvot would in this context be considered part of the essence of the existence of the Jewish people from Sinai and that would therefore be their positive freedom. The conflict between positive freedom and negative freedom would be only when there is either the expectation of a people to accept a culture that is not naturally their own as their primary culture, or if there is physical coercion, imposing upon a people even their own culture without any free choice.


While Maimonides deals with the problem of positive liberty in relation to freedom to choose, the Rebbe deals with the former problem of moral expectation within Judaism, thus satisfactorily reconciling negative liberty with positive liberty in Jewish philosophy.


Is positive liberty more important than negative liberty?


There is a possibility that in reality, there could be conflict due to politics in a particular country or other reasons between negative liberty and positive liberty and there is a choice to be made for one over the other. This debate took place when Russia was invaded by Napoleon in 1812.


According to historians, a debate raged within the Jewish community whether to support Napoleon or the Tsar. French historian Sir Colin Lucas explains that the debate consisted between those who supported authenticity over liberty or the reverse.


Authenticity of Jewish identity and heritage can be understood as positive freedom, whereas remaining under the Tsar would allow for less freedoms and civil rights for Jews but allow for greater connection to their heritage. Essentially, Napoleon would bring negative liberty but the loss of positive liberty with the enlightenment, whereas life under the Tsar encouraged religious tradition and identity – positive liberty - but les negative liberties.


Interestingly, one of the main rabbis to take a leading stand in this debate was the great ancestor of Sir Isaiah Berlin, the founder of Chabad philosophy, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, known as the Alter Rebbe. He came out strongly against the invasion of Napoleon, despite the negative freedoms that it would bring, as it will be at the expense of positive liberties - Jewish identity and self cultural expression.


This story is told in the memoir of the Berlin family written in 1946-9 by Mendel Berlin for the benefit of my son. He writes about Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi at some length (pp. 265-267) highlighting the position he took against Napoleon and for the side of the Tsar. He writes:


“I can trace the line of my paternal ancestors to the latter part of the eighteenth century. It begins with a certain R. Baruch who settled in the little townlet of Liosno in the Government of Mohilev c. 1750. His origin I don’t know; he is believed to have come from the Maharsha”l, Rabbi Shlomo Lurie, a very famous rabbi and Talmudist of the sixteenth century. His son was the famous R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi (commonly known as the ‘Alter Rebbi’), the founder of the Chabad system of Chassiduth. The family name Schneerson later has been derived from the name Schneur. He certainly was a most extraordinary and great man. His knowledge of the Jewish literature and Kabbalah was vast; at a very early age he was a recognized talmudical authority, and in is search for further knowledge he wandered to the Maggid of Meseritz, the pupil of R. Israel Baal-Shem, and during his years of study there developed his system – a system which drew hundreds of thousands of pupils and admirers, and which split the Russian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian Jewry into two sects, the Misnagdim and the Chassidim, with a lasting influence on their character and make-up. He became a legendary figure to Eastern and particularly Russian Jewry. Because of his schism and split among Jewry he was denounced by his adversaries to the Russian Government and the infamous III Division took up the case against him. He instituted the collection of money for the benefit of scholars and pious Jews in Palestine (the so called Rabbi Meir Baal Ness collection) and one of his enemies’ accusations was that he was collecting of money for Turkey against Russia. The Russian administration put him in prison in the notorious Petro-Paul Fortress in St Petersburg and he was only freed when after the assassination of Tsar Paul a more liberal spirit began in Russia with the assent of Alexander I.


Notwithstanding the humiliations he suffered under the tsarist Government he supported the Tsar effectively during the 1812 Napoleonic War. His contention was that while material and civic freedom will be the lot of the Jews under Napoleon, yet religion and spirituality will suffer under the liberating regime, and therefore the Tsar had to be supported. The intelligence system in the Russian Army was very poor, and the Rav mobilized his hundreds of thousands of followers (Chasidim) who lived all along the line of the advance of Napoleon’s armies into scouts and spies, and news of the armies’ movements, its provisioning and so on traveled quickly ahead of the armies and were regularly supplied to the Russian army. Because of this he had to flee when the French army came near his residence in Liadi (between Vitebsk and Smolensk) and he was helped in his flight by the Russian Commander. During this flight in the Russian winter he died and was buried in Gadiaz. There is on record a letter by his son to one of his friends telling him how sure the Rav was of Russian victory, a letter written from Viasma before the French entered Moscow, and how serene he was in all his plight and misery, in full conviction of ultimate victory. This is then our great ancestor.”


It would appear from this story interpreted by Mendel Berlin, as Sir Colin Lucas points out, as mentioned above, the concept of positive liberty, according to Rabbi Schneur Zalman, should be considered greater morally than negative liberties. This however needs to be qualified with the notion, as we explained, that the culture that the person is preserving is one’s own culture, thus one can argue that positive liberty, as long as it’s not coerced, has greater value than negative liberty.


Two concepts of positive liberty in Jewish philosophy


Since Sir Isaiah wrote his essay on two concepts of liberty, there has been much discussion regarding other aspects of liberty that go beyond simply negative or positive. I would like to propose that beyond negative and positive liberty in Jewish philosophy, there are two additional levels of negative and positive liberty within the concept of positive liberty itself.


These two concepts can be found in the principle work of the above mentioned great ancestor of Sir Isaiah Berlin, the founder of Chabad philosophy, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe, in his work the Tanya, published 1797.


This would provide an additional convergence between the thought of Sir Isaiah and his ancestral family, in the writings of his great grandfather Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, where the ideas of positive liberty are taken to a further level.


One of the main concepts in the work of the Tanya is the idea, drawing on the Talmud and Kabbalah, that there are three levels of moral freedom: the Tzadik (righteous), the Benoni (intermediate) and the Rasha (wicked).


He defines the wicked as one who is completely dominated by their impulses. The intermediate is one who has negative impulses but does not permit them to take control. The righteous is one who is a master over his or her impulses.


Accordingly, one can propose three additional levels of positive liberty. A person who is controlled by their impulses – wicked – may have political self ownership – positive liberty - but does not have moral self ownership and ought not to be considered free at all.


The Benoni is someone who is also influenced by negative impulses but chooses not to follow them. One can say such a person has negative positive liberty. The highest ideal of liberty is the person who has true positive liberty, whereby the person has conquered his or her impulses and has total moral self ownership.


The Tanya however asserts that while the concept of the righteous who has complete self ownership is the ideal state of being it is rarely attainable and one should strive towards the Benoni level, where the person has negative impulses but does not allow them to dictate his or her behavior - negative moral liberty. Were this to be achieved by most of humanity the world would indeed be a much more peaceful place.


We have thus demonstrated the convergence between an aspect of the philosophy of the Rebbe on liberty with Sir Isaiah Berlin and his major essay on liberty and argued that the Alter Rebbe sought to take the argument to liberty to a much further level, whereby the person aims to have true self ownership.


In the realm of ideas it would appear that there is much more in common between the philosophers and the rabbis, albeit from different walks of life than was is perceived.


This intellectual bridge between Sir Isaiah and the Rebbe is also suggested in The Book of Isaiah (p. 2) in an essay by Evan Zimroth, entitled In search of Isaiah Berlin, where he writes: “…the most famous descendent of Rabbi Zalman of Liadi is the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. He and Isaiah were distant cousins and perhaps had more in common than Isaiah thought: Schneerson, far from being intellectually narrow, studied mathematics at the Sorbonne and worked in Paris as an electrical engineer. He was greatly revered not only for his towering Talmudic learning but also for his practical wisdom. As a Lubavitcher Rebbe, he did not, of course, assimilate to the common culture, but then neither did Oxford dons”.


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