Controversial Claims for a Modern Messiah

This is the final installment of a three part series on the Messianic claims for the late Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994. Be sure to read the first two installments first if you have not done so:

Messianic Jews—WITHOUT Jesus

“Onward, Schneerson Soldiers”


Allan Nadler:A Historian’s Polemic Against ‘The Madness of False Messianism’”:(a book review of) The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference by David Berger   (Bolding added for emphasis)

For the past two millennia, Jews have powerfully resisted – often with their very lives – the Christian notion that the messiah arrived, was betrayed by refusals to accept him and then perished physically, only in order to undergo apotheosis, or rebirth as part of the Godhead.

In a religion that is otherwise relatively unconcerned with doctrinal heresy, the idea of Christ as messiah reborn and God incarnate defined idolatry for Judaism in the post-pagan world. Moreover, the Jewish rejection of the concept of a messiah who dies without having fulfilled the biblical prophecies of redemption but is reincarnated to save those who accept him into their hearts lies at the center of the historic Jewish-Christian theological dispute.

The grand exception to the rabbinic principle that retains the Jewishness of non-observant members of the community (captured in the talmudic dictum, “An Israelite, though he has sinned, remains an Israelite”) is a Jew who voluntarily accepted the belief in a false messiah.

Yet as Rabbi David Berger, a Brooklyn College professor and former president of the Association for Jewish Studies, reports in his compelling new polemic, “The Rebbe, the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference,” one of the most prominent movements in the contemporary Jewish world – Lubavitch – is preaching a form of messianism that is, theologically speaking, almost indistinguishable from Christianity. To make matters worse, Rabbi Berger writes, the vast majority of Orthodox Jews don’t seem to mind.

…. “Lubavitcher chasidim appear to pray to the image of the rebbe, whose portrait can be seen adorning the mizrach (eastern) walls of their synagogues (in blatant violation of Jewish law), and write of him as if he were God incarnate. To cite just one Lubavitch source from Rabbi Berger’s book, an article in the chabad journal Beis Moshiakh concludes with the following line that transposes the popular Sabbath hymn “Eyn K’Eloheinu” from God to Schneerson: “So, who is Eloheinu [our God]?… The Rebbe, Melekh Ha-Moshiakh, that’s who.”

… One of the most dangerous consequences of the messianic carnival that has overtaken Lubavitch society during the past two decades has been its exploitation by fundamentalist Christian missionaries. Reporting on a California highway billboard with the phone number of a Christian mission to the Jews, a picture of Schneerson and the words “Right Idea: Wrong Person,” Rabbi Berger concludes with sadness that “the profound theological differences between Judaism and Christianity have been reduced to a matter of mistaken identity.”

 … Still, he is certainly correct in claiming that the majority of Orthodox Jews – ranging from the fervently Orthodox Agudath Israel to the modern Orthodox mainstream – seem to care little if at all about Lubavitch messianic heresy. But it seems to me that this is because so few of them today retain the traditional, passive belief in miraculous messianic redemption. Jews are living in a de facto post-messianic era, not in the sense that the messiah has come, but rather because supernatural redemption is not nearly so sorely needed as it was in the pre-modern era of Jewish powerlessness and incessant suffering. The establishment of Israel has realized politically the most difficult aspects of the messiah’s mission. What has been left for the savior to do – such as the establishment of animal sacrifice in a rebuilt temple – is not something that most Jews today, including the Orthodox, exactly relish, though they give it lip-service in their daily prayers.

In other words, in a time like the bondage in Egypt, the Israelites were thrilled that God sent a savior, Moses, to lead them to freedom. And throughout much of history since the first century, Jews have been persecuted and downtrodden. This was true in 1492 when the Inquisition drove all Jews out of Spain; in the period shown in Fiddler on the Roof… Czarist Russia of the late 1800s and early 1900s; and obviously culminated in the Holocaust of Hitler. During all these periods the yearning for the Messiah to come and set them free and set up His righteous kingdom on Earth, where they would be the rulers, not the ruled, was intense.

But now Israel is a nation. Now large proportions of the Jewish population, at least in the US, are extremely prosperous—even powerful at times. What do they need a “physical Messiah” for? As the author of the above piece sarcastically put it …

The good Modern Orthodox members of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue or the Hampton Synagogue [houses of worship in very wealthy settings in New York] are hardly waiting on the rooftops of their town houses and seaside mansions to be redeemed from the misery of their earthly existence, only to be able to slaughter sheep and pigeons in Jerusalem.

As mentioned in earlier posts in this series, the Lubavitch movement that promotes the Messianic claims regarding Schneerson has been involved in extensive charitable works that benefit Jews around the world since the 1950s. So many Jews overlook—or downright ignore—their unusual claims and activities related to promoting their Messiah. Just HOW unusual and unconventional in Jewish society are those claims and activities?

From: “The Lubivitcher Rebbe as a god

… Along a tight passageway and up an uneven stone staircase in a Safed [a city in Israel] building is the library that sits at the heart of Lubavitch. In this ancient city can be found one of the movement’s pre-eminent institutions.

A few hundred students are grouped around desks in a cavernous library, in a scene identical to those in hundreds of Yeshivas [educational institution where the traditional literature of Judaism, primarily the Talmud and Torah, is studied] around the world. The din produced by the animated discussions contrasts with the silence of non-theological academic libraries.

While some of the students, who come from all over the world, are learning traditional Jewish texts, many are studying the works of M.M. Schneerson.

A list of monthly award recipients (the prize is a set of Schneerson’s complete works) reveals that of the 10 scholars who will receive prizes this month, four are named “Menachem Mendel,” as is the rabbi who chose the recipients. This is not due to the rabbi favoring a namesake, for around one third of the Yeshiva’s 400 students are so named.

Massive posters bearing Schneerson’s image adorn every wall. A sign instructing the students to keep their dormitories tidy concludes by invoking the “Living” Rebbe.

…Why do they think that Schneerson is alive? “The Rebbe was no normal human being,” is the response. He was a polymath [personal with wide knowledge in many areas] who “studied under Einstein in Berlin” before “inventing the atom bomb.”

How do they view the connection between Schneerson and God? “The Rebbe is not something different from God – the Rebbe is a part of God,” says a British teenaged student.

Does this not ‘idolize’ Schneerson, in the literal sense? “We cannot connect to God directly – we need the Rebbe to take our prayers from here to there and to help us in this world. We are told by our rabbis that a great man is like God and the Rebbe was the greatest man ever. That is how we know he is the messiah, because how could life continue without him? No existence is possible without the Rebbe.”

Would they go so far as to describe the Rebbe and God as one and the same, as some extreme Messianists have done? “No, some people have gone too far and described the Rebbe as the creator.

“They say that God was born in 1902 and is now 105 years old. You can pray to the Rebbe and he will answer, and he was around since the beginning of time. But you must be careful to pray only to the Rebbe as a spiritual entity and not the body that was born in 1902.”

… Does the Rebbe have a will of his own? What if the Rebbe and God disagree? “That is a ridiculous question! They are not separate in any way.”

So the Rebbe is a part of God. “Yes, but it is more complex than that. There is no clear place where the Rebbe ends and God begins.”

Does that mean the Rebbe is infinite omnipotent and omniscient? “Yes of course,” an Argentine student says in Hebrew. “God chose to imbue this world with life through a body. So that’s how we know the Rebbe can’t have died, and that his actual physical body must be alive. The Rebbe is the conjunction of God and human. The Rebbe is God, but he is also physical.”

As for unusual practices… thousands come from around the world to visit his gravesite in Brooklyn:

“People also leave behind little paper messages to the rabbi, as is the custom with prayers to God at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The little papers are collected three times a week and burned. “Going up to heaven with the smoke,” a Lubavitcher spokesperson told Newsday.”

If someone can’t come and leave a note in person, they can fax their messages to the Rebbe!

How does he answer? There seem to be no claims of a booming voice…

From the “Igrot Kodesh—Your answer from the King Messiah” Website

Every person encounters difficult moments throughout his life that requires guidance and assistance in order that he/she will be able to return to and go about his routines with peace and tranquility. Generally speaking, difficulties are personal and arise from health problems, married couple interaction, love, family, job, a traumatic experience and the list goes on and on.

Today we can receive the Rebbe שליט”א King Messiah’s advice, blessing and guidance through the “Igrot Kodesh”. Those who turn to the Rebbe Shlita via this channel receive immediate answers with amazing precision and merit assistance at no charge and completely confidential.

It’s an easy and comfortable way of turning to the Rebbe שליט”א King Moshiach for problem resolution. Over the years the Rebbe wrote thousands of notes and letters to people who turned to him for advice, guidance and blessing. The appeals and answers dealt with an array of topics that relate to all facets of life that include society, education, family, politics, livelihood, business, military service, art, Torah study and more.

In the year 1987 the Rebbe gave instructions to publish these letters as part of the “Igrot Kodesh” series. Since then twenty three volumes have been printed and available to the public. Bear in mind that that Rebbe’s blessing as a prophet and leader of the generation guarantees a complete and true solution for any problem or adversity!

How does one ask for a blessing?

One washes both hands without a blessing, three times on both hands alternately, starting from the right hand, then the left and back again to the right. This is done in order to purify the body and soul before submitting a request.

Write whatever is in your heart in any language on the application for requesting a blessing. It’s important for the person requesting a blessing to write the full Jewish name and the name of his/her mother. Judaism declares that these names characterize the person, not the last name.

Make a firm resolution i.e. one decides to perform a mitzvah such as putting on tefillin, keeping kosher, keeping Shabbos and performing good deeds for the benefit of another. One declares, “Long live our master, our mentor and teacher, the King Moshiach, forever and ever!” and sends the request that reaches one of the volumes of the “Igrot Kodesh” as they were scanned on the Internet site. The software on site randomly and immediately responds with an answer.

The request is sent to the system that responds immediately with an answer that should be studied upon receipt. For assistance and advice contact us or the Chabad center nearest you.

Yes, this is a website with an Automated Ask the Rebbe “search engine”! Except no actual “search” is done looking for an answer that might seem to fit, based on the words of the request. A passage from the Rebbe’s 30 volume collection of answers to letters he received in his lifetime is chosen by the site’s computer totally randomly.

(It’s a bit like the old “fortune telling 8 Ball” … you ask your question, and try to decipher from the obscure comments in the window of the 8 Ball just what your answer is.) The site also includes a page of “Miracle Stories” of how people have been blessed by answers from the Rebbe. Those who don’t have access to the Internet can do the same thing with bound editions of the Rebbe’s writings. They just ask their question out loud, open one of the volumes to a random page, close their eyes and stab their finger on the page, and read what is there, believing that somehow the Rebbe guides the process. This sooth-saying method, a type of “bibliomancy,” is evidently common among many Lubavitchers.

There is a Honk4Joy Moschiach Club on the web also. All you have to do to join:

If you believe that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is indeed His Majesty King Moshiach, who will be revealed immediately, show to God your trust in the Prophet by applying the simple password to freedom “Long Live The Lubavitcher Rebbe King Moshiach forever and ever!” with joy and vitality. Empower yourself to see the perfect world of Moshiach by signing the Petition To God.

And then there is the ritual of the Red Chair:

At the front of the main room at Chabad headquarters in Crown Heights sits the Rebbe’s empty chair – its cushions unruffled for more than 12 years. The chair is kept as it was during his lifetime.

Before the daily afternoon prayers, a number of the men perform the ritual of unfurling a Persian rug, moving the Rebbe’s chair out from under a desk, fiddling with his prayer shawls and books as if he were about to walk in and take his seat.

The prayers conclude as normal, but the service is followed by singing and chanting with Hora dancing around the central podium. “Long live our Master, our Rebbe, King Messiah,” sing the dancing men and boys as they form conga lines – a routine part of this thrice-daily ritual.

The dancing suddenly stops and a sudden hush silences the room. Four young boys each brandishing a large yellow flag bearing the Rebbe’s crest part the dancers and move alongside the platform that supports the Rebbe’s chair and desk.

Raising the flags high they chant in unison: “We want Moshiach now! We want Moshiach now! WE WANT MOSHIACH NOW!”

A man of about 40 years of age carefully reverses the rituals that had prepared the Rebbe’s chair for prayers as the rapt crowd watches. The service terminated, the men stand at ease. Many are wearing yellow lapel-pins, signifying commitment to extremist messianism.

You can see the enthusiasm for the chair in the video below… notice that at one point, the crowd seems to part as if they “sense” that the Rebbe himself has arisen from the chair and is passing by.

Some branches of Judaism have mostly ignored all this hoopla around the claims for the Rebbe. Many Jewish and non-Jewish onlookers assumed that the Lubavitchers’ enthusiasm, which ran extremely high shortly after Schneerson’s death in 1994, would dissipate as the years went by and the Rebbe did not “reveal” himself again. But this has not been the case. There is no question that the Lubavitchers themselves are doing everything they can to spread the Good News.

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One Response to Controversial Claims for a Modern Messiah

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