Tzava’at Harivash is one of the early publications of Chassidism, but was printed later than the works of the Maggid and R. Ya’akov Yossef of Polnoy. Thus one cannot ascribe to it special significance, because most of its teachings appeared already in those earlier books. Nonetheless, it became a primary target in the attacks by the opponents to Chassidism. Their criticisms against Chassidic teachings refer specifically to Tzava'at Harivash and they had public burnings of the book. 1 Two reasons may account for singling out this work:

1) Tzava'at Harivash is a very small book. It may even be called a pamphlet. The first editions consisted of 48 small pages (including the title-page), approximately 3 by 5 inches. Thus it must have been quite inexpensive, allowing for wide distribution. Moreover, the smallness of the book as a whole, and the brevity of its individual teachings, make it a very readable text for friend and foe alike, unlike the earlier texts that were much bulkier and much more intricate. Little wonder, then, that it gained great popularity: there were at least seven editions between 1792 and 1797! 2 This must surely have concerned the Mitnagdim (adversaries to Chassidism) and aroused their ire.

2) Tzava'at Harivash is a specialized anthology of Chassidic teachings. It consists of pericopes that present explicit guidance, “instructions and rules of proper conduct,” taught by the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid, the founders and leaders of the Chassidic movement and Chassidic philosophy. It is a manual for the religious life and observance of the chassid. It addresses the masses no less than the scholars. Our text can then be seen as an easily identifiable manifesto of Chassidism. Thus it became the logical choice to be a prime target for those who opposed Chassidism.

The adversaries’ accusations against the teachings in Tzava'at Harivash are as follows: 3

(a) Sect. 41 is a denigration of Torah and Torah-study. 4 (b) The segment of sect. 44-46 furthers illicit frivolity. 5 More specifically, sect. 44 errs in dismissing depression and in calling thoughts leading to depression “evil”; 6 sect. 45 (as well as sect. 107) errs in dismissing weeping in prayer; 7 and sect. 46 suggests anti-nomianism. 8 (c) Sect. 64 (as well as sect. 96), dealing with yeridah tzorech aliyah, suggests anti-nomianism. 9 (d) Sect. 68 is crude imagery leading to licentiousness. 10(e) Sect. 74 is a denigration of Torah-study and the normative religious lifestyle. 11 (f) Sect. 87: i. To say that one need not fear anything but God is absurd and contradicts Scripture. ii. To say that a Divine life-force is vested in all beings, including animals, is blasphemy. iii. To say that everything happening to man is by Divine Providence is to justify all wrongdoing and to exempt all wrong-doers from punishment. 12 (g) Sect. 108: to say that in prayer one becomes unified with God is unfounded “worthless illusions.” 13 (h) Sect. 109 furthers licentiousness and anti-nomianism by suggesting the indulgence of all desires. 14 (i) Sect. 120 is blasphemous for stating that the Shechinah is vested in all human beings. 15 (j) Sect. 127 errs i. in relating the Divine glory to creatures; ii. in stating that there is a Divine emanation in all beings; iii. in stating that one is to love and fear God alone; and iv. to identify speech with the vital force of God inherent in man is a blasphemous attribution of man’s lies and evil speech to God. 16 (k) Sect. 137: i. To say that one must always be “merry and joyous” is wrong, because rejoicing is restricted to the celebration of the festivals in the Holy Temple, and is not allowed even in prayer. This statement thus proves that “they are of the cult of Shabbatai Tzvi,” because it assumes that the Messiah has come already. ii. To believe that “the kindness of God dwells upon man and embraces him” contradicts Scripture which relates that Jacob was afraid in spite of the Divine promise to be with him everywhere (Genesis 28:15). Thus “one cannot establish this kind of trust in God.” iii. To say that “man sees God and God sees man” is a blasphemous ascription of corporeality to God. 17

Not surprisingly, there is an implicit attack on the concept of sublimation of alien thoughts, 18 though without a specific reference. 19 The over-all criticism by the Mitnagdim of the Chassidic adoption of the Lurianic-Sefardi liturgy 20 also touches upon Tzava'at Harivash, for sect. 143 explains a notable difference between that text and the Ashkenazy one.

Eight of the references cited above appear in the slanderous accusations before the Czarist regime by Avigdor Chaimovitch of Pinsk against R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi. Avigdor submitted two depositions: the first was addressed to the authorities, and the second one was to be given by them to R. Schneur Zalman for his response. There are notable differences between the two: Avigdor is much more careful with the criticisms in the second deposition, omitting many of his alleged refutations. He must have realized that they were blatantly absurd, thus easily dismissed. Even so, there is a consistent thread of misquotation and distortion running through both. 21 R. Schneur Zalman exposes these distortions, and offers clear and convincing explanations which vindicated Tzava'at Harivash and the Chassidic philosophy, and brought about his acquittal and liberation from imprisonment. 22

The criticism of sect. 120 was again submitted to R. Schneur Zalman in a private (and apparently friendly and respectful) communication from Mitnagdim. His elaborate response, analyzing the relevant principles in great detail, implicitly answers also most of the criticisms against sect. 87 and 127. It overlaps in many respects with his lengthy response on sect. 87 in the court-case. 23