Debate over the Tanya continues
A few weeks ago a synagogue in England cancelled a class on the Tanya because of ideas which were contained in the book that it felt were racist. See this post at Ishim ve-Shitot for some discussion of these ideas within the context of kabbalistic literature. The Jewish Chronicle has pro and con columns regarding the question. I don’t know much about kabbalistic literature, so I can’t comment much on the question, although I identify with some of these thoughts that were written in the Chronicle.
While it is anachronistic to accuse any work before the 19th century of “racism”, we have to decide how to approach texts which can be read as such nowadays. Of course, it would be wrong to judge the Alter Rebbe, the author of the Tanya, for this, just as one cannot condemn Shakespeare for Shylock. Both authors were geniuses whose works must be understood and appreciated in their context. There is nothing wrong in studying and teaching the Tanya, just so long as every word in it is not regarded as holy writ. But we would do well to get a grounding in classical Jewish sources first.
If our local church allowed a course of lectures uncritically teaching the racial or spiritual inferiority of Jews, we would be rightly upset and expect it to be stopped. We must not expect less from ourselves than we do from our neighbours. The question is: is “our” racism better than “their” racism?