Monday, January 03, 2011


Ha Ha, Na Nach

After our previous article, a layman's understanding of the different positions of Chabad including Meshichistim, we received this question…

Since you just did a segment on Chabad I thought now would be a good time to ask about the Na Nach community. I feel very close to Breslov chassidus and used to feel especially close to the Na Nach movement (after all that is how I sort of came to Breslov Torah). I had all the paraphernalia and one time in class my rabbi noticed I was using the petek card as a place holder in my sefer. He is an extremely open minded and understanding rabbi who I respect and consider to be quite intelligent. By no means is he someone who tries to push his opinion or hashkafos on anyone else but he did tell me that the Na Nach movement is somewhat of avoda zara and is based is not based on legitimate sources but an old story that was not Rebbe Nachman leaving a note for his chassid but someone who wanted to comfort him. I know there is good in every group and I love the simcha those who consider themselves "Na Nachs" exude but is my rabbi correct in saying what he said? Even if the story is not true and really Rebbe Nachman did leave the petek has it not become somewhat of a religion onto itself?

Great question.  Let’s go on a journey through Breslev!

Breslev chassidus is unique as a chassidic movement.  ALL chassidic movements started with the Baal Shem Tov.  Then came his lead disciple, the Maggid of Mezerich, Rebbe Dov Ber.  The Maggid codified chassidus and tied it all back to the Torah and Shulchan Aruch.  The Maggid’s circle of talmidim each became the founder of a specific chassidic group, each going off to a different geographic area.  And if any of them swayed a bit far or delved too deeply into the mystical side or too far outside of normative Torah, the holy circle reigned them back in.  (There’s some specific stories to this effect with the founder of Karlin chassidus, who was one of the talmidim.)

Every chassidic group of today is either a direct chain of the one started by those talmidim of the Maggid of Mezerich or an offshoot of one of those chains.  Every one EXCEPT for Breslev.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslev was the great grandson of the Baal Shem Tov.  As such he received his great-grandfather’s chassidus, the original source, in the original explosion of kedushah prior to it’s codification and organization tying it down to the Torah and halacha.  Rebbe Nachman was a young man when the other chassidic leaders, the talmidim of the Maggid, were entering their later years and solidifying their movements for the next generation.

As one coming with another burst of kedushah while the mainline chassidic movements were struggling with acceptance and persecution by the mainstream Ashkenazi Torah leadership, the misnagdim, Rebbe Nachman was strongly rebuffed by the chassidic leaders.  Rebuffed to the point that certain chassidic groups began to persecute the followers of Rebbe Nachman to the same extent they were being persecuted by the misnagdim.

In a few short years Rebbe Nachman produced an awesome quantity of holy teachings.  He gathered a moderate but very committed following and instructed his followers that there was to be no Rebbe after him, and passed away and the young age of 38.  His primary disciple, Reb Noson of Breslev, published his Rebbe’s works as well as codified them (into what’s known as Likkutei Halachot – a huge publication with a mix of halachot with relating chassidus and kabbalah).

Breslev has since stood out for being the chassidus without a Rebbe but with an intensity in their teachings that many other chassiduses lack.  That intensity includes some strong beliefs including it’s a mitzvah to be happy all the time (literally) and that shefa (sustenance) is from heaven (literally) and therefore you’ll get whatever’s coming to you whether you go to work or sit and learn.

Now I’m going to jump to modern times and the Breslev factions of today.

Breslev is the most democratic of chassidic movements.  Or rather, the one that acts as a true meritocracy.  Meaning while almost every chassidic movement started through a group of very talented spiritual men, they perpetuated through their children and family relations.  Almost every rebbe traces his lineage back to the original talmidim of the Maggid.

Breslev, however, has a small group of outstanding tzadikim that arise from among the chassidim in every generation.  These become the leaders and teachers of the next generation.

One who arose 2 generations ago was Rabbi Yisroel Oddesser, today known as Saba.  Saba arrived in Eretz Yisroel in the early years of the yishuv and learned and survived in great poverty in Teveria (Tiberius).

Now this is where things get weird.  Saba was a great believer in the mitzvah of being happy all the time, as Rebbe Nachman taught.  He literally laughed at his many very serious troubles and thanked Hashem for them constantly.  During his time learning a “note” appeared to him with, according to a teaching of kabbalah, the perfect phrase and a phrase that will bring Moshiach.  It’s a pattern and a gematria (I don’t remember exactly what someone was trying to explain to me) and is the know very well known Na Nach Nachma Nachman m’Uman.  Here’s a published explanation: Members of the Na Nach group claim that the phrase Na Nach Nachma Nachman Muman is the Song of Redemption mentioned in the Tikunay Zohar and Likutay Maharan. Kabbalistic tradition reveals the existence of ten songs throughout the history of mankind. Nine of the ten have already been used while one song remains for the purpose of redeeming the Jewish Nation from the final exile.

According to one story Saba was crying out in personal prayer and then found this note, delivered from heaven.  According to another story his roommate heard the always happy Saba crying and wrote the note to cheer him up.

Saba took the note to show the leading Breslev rabbaim, who blew him off.  So he took this sign from heaven to understand it was up to him to lead everyone to be happy all the time to bring Klal Yisroel to where we should be.  Oh, and since the rabbaim wouldn’t except it, clearly they were discredited as rabbaim.  Being surprisingly charismatic, Saba developed a following for his version of Breslev philosophy and his new message from Rebbe Nachman and developed a movement.  The Na Nachers and the Oddesser foundation exist to this day.

So today we find Breslev broken into 3 primary categories:

#1 “Black Hat Breslev”.  Black Hat Breslev are Breslev chassidim that study Torah and Gemora heavily and appear as any other chassidim you might find in Meah Shearim or Monsey, NY.  Their only distinction is also learning Likkutei Mohoran from Rebbe Nachman and some occasional personal prayer (hitbodedut) as taught by Rebbe Nachman.  And of course they travel to Uman for Rosh Hashana if they can.  Many of these Breslevers have been such for generations of their families.  In other words, perfectly normal chassidic Jews in every way by everyone’s standards.

#2 “The Great Breslev Leaders”.  Every generation of Breslev has students that become chassidim that become great leaders and tzadikim.  Not hereditary Rebbe’s or rabbi’s, but those who excel and reach the levels that everyone acknowledges are the goals of Torah, chassidus and the teachings of Rebbe Nachman.  In our generation these leaders are Rabbi Kenig, shlita of Tzfas, Rabbi Berland, shlita of Shuvu Bonim, and Rabbi Arush, shlita, of Chut Shel Chesed and the author of the Garden of Emunah series.  Many of their followers are from other chasdduses, non-chassidic Jews, and many previously non-religious Jews.  They are dynamic and bringing Torah and their Rebbe’s message to the current generation.  [ There are other such leaders as well, but they have smaller followings, perhaps are younger, and will be the big leaders of the next generation. ]

#3 “The Na Nachers”.  The Na Nachers are not part of the normative Breslev community.  They are broken down into 2 sub-types:

A – The serious ones and the Foundation.  These are Na Nachers that are deadly serious about their philosophy and getting their message out.  They raise serious money to publish select works of Rebbe Nachman and Saba at cost and publish Na Nach materials, billboards, and so forth.  They have a leadership structure and an organization, but not rabbinical leadership.  They firmly believe the rabbis of today have lost their way and are no longer legitimate and that only by accepting the path charted by Saba are we going to make it.  Be happy and say Na Nach, dammit!

B – The happy ones.  These Na Nachers are going to be happy all the time, whatever it takes, and say Na Nach a lot.  For many this means using controlled substances.  They’re going to share their happiness with everyone around them, thereby making everyone else happy.  These are the guys with the Simcha Vans blasting music in traffic and occasionally getting out in the middle of the highway and dancing and going to various locations playing music and dancing – music that others wouldn’t play (as religious Jews) and places that others wouldn’t hang out (as religious Jews).  They don’t hold by rabbinic leadership and are often going around acting a bit weird (or more than a bit).  Their philosophy is often semi-incomprehensible, and sometimes they are too.

Now what’s the problem with this?  It may best be shown with a billboard that’s on the Tel Aviv highway.  It shows a picture of Saba and simply says “Say Na Nach Nachma Nachman m’Uman, it works!”

If this is a way of calling out to Hashem (an odd way but a way), then normative Judaism would say “weird, but ok”.  If it’s a way of calling out to Rebbe Nachman of Breslev (which is certainly the words), then you have Jews calling out to basar v’dom – flesh and blood.  Kind of like l’havdil calliing out to a saint.  And we don’t do that!

Now according to a published explanation, “It is a strong belief amongst the Na Nachs that just uttering, singing or chanting this phrase can bring about healing and salvation. They claim that it is a very powerful concentration that condenses all the (kabbalistic) spiritual teachings and energies into one little sentence.”  That seems to say it’s a way of calling out to Hashem, in some spiritual kabbalisticly believed way.  And basically that’s (probably) ok.

And of course they don’t accept (current) rabbinic leadership.  This is because “they strongly believe in the authority of Rabbi Odesser and consider him the sole transmitter of the Breslov tradition in this generation.”   That would be fine if he was still around and interacting with other rabbaim.  But accepting no rabbinic leadership?  We as a nation have been down that road in the distant past, didn’t work out so well then.

So we come to the questions I finished with on the Chabad article.

Type 1, Black Hat.  Is perfectly normative charedi chassidic Jews in every way.  Nobody has a problem with them in this generation.  Any hashkafic arguments are buried in the past.

Type 2, Leadership.  Is also normative chassidic Jews with good focus on a dynamic chassidic Judaism tailored for our generation.  I admire this Breslev meritocracy.  Shuvu Bonim has had a tremendous affect on the youth of Israel.  And Rav Arush’s books have had a great affect on many Jews around the world.

Type 3, Na Nachers.  Na Nachers don’t live within the golden mean of Judaism.  They are almost obsessive about their happiness and/or about their Na Nach phrase.  That extreme focus naturally makes people nervous.  We’re not sure…is it for real, are they serious, what do they really mean and really believe? 

That said, IN MY OPINION, if you read their philosophy for what it is, it’s disruptive and not sustainable but it is not treif (not non-kosher).  They are not praying to Rebbe Nachman, they believe they’re calling out to Hashem via a special gate.

And they believe everyone else needs to also.  That’s annoying but again it’s within the realm of kosher.

Yes there are some extremists who go beyond that.  But in general I’d say…mostly harmless and fun in small doses.

*** IMPORTANT NOTE.  My knowledge of Breslev is more external than my knowledge of Chabad.  While I have met and read materials from all three types, in a few areas I filled in some knowledge gaps with questions to R. Nati (who is a Breslever) and some online queries.  I do not guarantee perfect accuracy or understanding.

(“Petek” photo courtesy of Zissil.)


  1. What a thorough explanation. You've answered many questions I had. Thank you. Could you categorize the third group who use controlled substances as sort of the juvenile, immature group who will eventually grow up through the stages to the first, normative group? Does growth in the group follow this pattern or do these na na nachers stay in this level till they are gray in the beard?

  2. The Na Nach movement as a formal concern is only 29 years old, apparently Saba didn't formally get things going until he was at the end of his life and had "studied the petek thoroughly".

    So the majority of the oldest Na Nachers are only middle age now. And I have met a number of middle aged ones, as well as grey bearded Na Nachers. And they're still out of balance. Maybe not using substances (or maybe so), and yes being married and having children.

    But still outside of the normal range.

    So, at least in some cases they're staying on their path. For others that just get in for the thrill, yes I do think they fade off to more normative paths as they get a bit older.

    That said, Na Nach seems to have staying power somehow.

  3. Thank you so much for this explanation. As a Noachide and now heading into conversion, I'm very drawn to Breslover Chassidim for many reasons, but mostly their acceptance of everyone. Yet I come across people being very dismissive of Breslovers, sometimes angrily. When I ask why, people usually don't have a reason except that some "act too crazy". Thank you very much for this breakdown of Breslov, it's exactly what I've been wondering about and answered all my questions.

  4. In many places in Rebbe Nachman's teachings it is stated that the main thing is to lift a Jew up and to give him a good feeling. I.e. "There is no despair" or "Mitzvah to be happy always" etc. More than any other group, the NaNach's are doing just that - Arousing the spirit of the Jewish people. Its not for nothing that almost automatically a baal-teshuva places a Nanach kippa on his head.
    I am myself a Nanach and have never witnessed drugs, chas veshalom. Nanach even brings the druggies close to Hashem.
    To sum up with what a fellow Tel-Avivian Jew said to me: "I hate Hareidim, I hate Judaism, but I love Rebbe Nachman, you know ..... the NaNachs" .... I think this says everything.

  5. He ... instructed his followers that there was to be no Rebbe after him.

    What Rebbe Nachman said was that "his fire would burn until the coming of Moshiach". When the followers approached Reb Noson to be the Rebbe after Rebbe Nachman, Reb Noson refused, saying "I know I'm not the Rebbe!" Thus, there has never been nor will there ever be a Rebbe in Breslov besides R' Nachman.

    Your categorization of "serious" Na Nachs vs. "happy ones" is inaccurate. All hardcore Na Nachs do hafatza, whether it be van hafatza or some other method. They do not need drugs to dance for hours on end, and in fact are completely against drugs. You may meet people who have a history of drug use who have found their way to Na Nach, but these are the newbies, not the hardcore.

    Na Nachs will ask practical sheilos of contemporaries rabbis when the need arises. However, when it comes to hashakafa and spiritual guidance, Na Nachs subscribe exclusively to the mesora of Rebbe Nachman--Reb Noson--R' Moshe Breslover--R' Yisroel Karduner--R' Yisroel Dov Odesser. Rebbe Nachman left behind wonderous advice in Likutei Moharan, Likutei Etzot, etc. and there is no need to look elsewhere.

    While Breslovers have been succesfully guided by Rebbe Nachman's teachings for over 200 years, the so-called "rabbinic leadership" outside of Breslov has failed to address the spiritual needs of the majority of Jews and have left even those Jews who have remained affiliated stuck with a depressing, pilpulistic derech. Na Nach is the Song of Redemption that is setting us free from this condition.

  6. I missed your article about Chabad, what was called and the date posted?

  7. Links requested by Tuvia:

    Stay Away from Chabad???

    Oy, Chabad and Moshiach

  8. What did Rabbi Yisroel Ber Odesser mean when he said, "I am Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me'Uman!"...?

    Is "Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me'Uman" a sentence? If so, what does it mean? Wikipedia and assorted links gave various interpretations.

  9. i'm not 'na-nach' but there are several inaccuracies with this piece. the na-nachs who drive in the vans are varied. some are strictly halachic jews. they do not all use substances. i don't know of any who do, but there may be some. you listed three groups, but didn't list the many observant jews who consider themselves breslov, but are not black-hatters. you termed the na-nach leaders as 'say na-nach damnit' and this is a strange and inaccurate description.
    personally, i don't know about the petek, how true it is. they do have a hechsher from rav moshe feinstein which should be taken seriously.
    my main problem with your piece is that it purports to accurately summarize na-nach but it doesn't.
    i have been around some of the na-nachs personally. the ones i met from israel were amazing in their devekut and ahavat yisrael. some of the ones on the net who make videos are not too bright, unfortunately (am referring to the nanach videos with one guy talking about nanach).
    na-nach has brought a good image of breslev and hassidus to many jews especially in israel so instead of castigating them, i think a more balanced approach is good. you can still make accurate criticisms. for example, there are statements from odesser that i think are 'out there'. but i think this piece is a dis=service. so many jews have a positive feeling and view of observant jews from seeing the na-nachs.

  10. i have to comment on your article when you speak of rabbi yisroel dov odesser. i would have commented as well on the na nachim but i beleive that others sufficiantly did so.
    when one speaks of a tzaddik one must speak w/ the greatest respect, and if a bystander thinks that a tzaddik's honor has been put down chas vishalom then he must speak up to restore that honor. i understand that you do not know anything of this holy tzaddik or you would have spoken very differently. any one who ever came into contact with rav yisroel dov oddesser knew that he was an outstanding tzaddik, baal middos talmid chachom, an extremely holy man, and a true breslover chassid, (which is very difficult to accomplish). you make it seem as if he were some simple man that can be chas vishalom belittled. his whole intire life was dedicated to avodas Hashem and bringing his fellow jews closer to Hashem. he suffered greatly during his lifetime but due to his amazing emunah and dvekus to Hashem was able to not only make it through the hardships in his life but was even able to reach the most exalted level of praising G-D for his suffering. such a level is very hard to comprehend for us, but we know that tzaddikim through years of intense avodas Hashem come to levels of kedusha to where they see only the tachlis and can therefore rejoice in situations that others wouldn't even be able to just simply get through. please go and do very thorough research on rav oddesser and you'll see that the way you speak of him is a great busha for someone of his spiritual level. level


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