I happened to be reading some of the – always interesting – documents about the ban on R. Natan Slifkin’s books (available here) recently and had an interesting thought. R. Slifkin recounts in significant detail how he was given warning about the ban on his books but when he tried to meet with the ban’s signatories they all refused to grant him an audience. (I had likely read this before, but I guess I had forgotten it.)
Now, this seems like a strong reaction. Many would find it appropriate to personally meet with an author prior to banning his book, but at the very least one would think that if the author desired an audience with the proponents of his ban, he would receive it.
Within a day, however, I thought about a somewhat similar occurrence from over 200 years ago. Not being all that familiar with the story, I did a google search. This yielded a few interesting results. As the Daas Torah blog wrote in 2008, Wikipedia states the following:
According to Chabad tradition, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Horodoker were sent to the Vilna Gaon by the Maggid of Mezeritch and the Gaon refused to meet with them.
Rabbi Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman Kremer of Vilna
As might be expected for a story which is both chassidic and over 200 years old, there are various versions and interpretations to the story. (The first telling of the story that I recall didn’t mention the Maggid of Mezeritch. Also, at least one version – perhaps the predominant one – has the Vilna Gaon not just refusing an audience with the Baal HaTanya but fleeing town. This is mentioned in one of the comments to that post.)
But whatever the specifics, this story seems to provide a parallel to that of R. Slifkin. For one thing, they are both stories of the establishment banning the upstart without giving the upstart a chance to argue his case. (The Vilna Gaon – besides being the Vilna Gaon – had 25 years on the Baal HaTanya.) Additionally, they are both bans which are clearly ignored. Hasidism flourished unrestrained by the Gaon’s ban, and R. Slifkin has many, many supporters in the Orthodox world.
I feel quite confident that the ban’s signatories did not harbor the same feelings toward Chasidim as did the Vilna Gaon. (For example, one of them served on the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah alongside Chasidic rabbis.) I’m not sure what to make of this, though.
Can we assume that those who signed the ban simply put little significance in refusing to meet with somebody, i.e. that they thought it possible that the anti-Slifkin and anti-Chasidic attitudes were questionable but STILL ban-worthy? Did they feel that they were more qualified as judges of R. Slifkin than the Gaon was as a judge of Hasidism?
I don’t know that we can draw any conclusions from here, I just found the similarities between the two stories interesting.
The second thing I found out was that somebody (almost certainly a Chasid) removed the paragraph quoted above from the Vilna Gaon’s Wikipedia article. It’s still in the archive history but is not part of the current article on the Vilna Gaon.