Strange Bedfellows, Episode 2: Yogis, Swamis—and Rabbis

[Be sure to read Episode 1 of this series before moving on to this sequel.]

American Evangelical Christians these days get all worked up about what they perceive as spiritual deception in our time that is tending toward an ecumenical movement of all world religions. Which would mean, of course, eventually a “one world religion” headed by an Antichrist figure.

What most seem to not realize is that this is not something “new” at all.

In 1893, the city of Chicago hosted the World Columbian Exposition, an early world’s fair. So many people were coming to Chicago from all over the world that many smaller conferences, called Congresses and Parliaments, were scheduled to take advantage of this unprecedented gathering. … One of these was the World’s Parliament of Religions. The Parliament of Religions was by far the largest of the congresses held in conjunction with the Exposition.

The 1893 Parliament, which ran from September 11 to September 27, had marked the first formal gathering of representatives of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions. Today it is recognized as the occasion of the birth of formal interreligious dialogue worldwide. …

The conference did include new religious movements of the time, such as Spiritualism and Christian Science. The latter was represented by its founder Mary Baker Eddy.

The Parliament of Religions opened on 11 September 1893 at the World’s Congress Auxiliary Building which is now The Art Institute of Chicago. On this day Swami Vivekananda gave his first brief address. He represented Hinduism. Though initially nervous, he bowed to Saraswati, the goddess of learning and began his speech with, “Sisters and brothers of America!”. To these words he got a standing ovation from a crowd of seven thousand, which lasted for two minutes.

When silence was restored he began his address. He greeted the youngest of the nations in the name of “the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of sannyasins, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance.” And he quoted two illustrative passages in this relation, from the Bhagavad Gita—”As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take, through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee!” and “Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths that in the end lead to Me.” Despite being a short speech, it voiced the spirit of the Parliament and its sense of universality. [Wikipedia: Parliament of the World’s Religions]

Although some “eastern mystics” had come to American shores earlier in the 1800s, it was this particular “Swami,” Vivekananda, who whipped up a literal “fad” for such “holy men” among a segment of American society.

Swami Vivekananda  (1863-1902)
[From the Wiki article on Vivekananda]

He is considered a key figure in the introduction of Indian philosophies of Vedanta and Yoga to the “Western” World, mainly in America and Europe and is also credited with raising interfaith awareness, bringing Hinduism to the status of a major world religion during the end of the 19th century CE. …

He is perhaps best known for his inspiring speech which began: “Sisters and Brothers of America,” through which he introduced Hinduism at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893. …

He conducted hundreds of public and private lectures and classes, disseminating Vedanta and Yoga in America, England and Europe. He also established the Vedanta societies in America and England. …

Dr. Barrows, the president of the Parliament said, “India, the Mother of religions was represented by Swami Vivekananda, the Orange-monk who exercised the most wonderful influence over his auditors.” He attracted widespread attention in the press, which dubbed him as the “Cyclonic monk from India”. The New York Critique wrote, “He is an orator by divine right, and his strong, intelligent face in its picturesque setting of yellow and orange was hardly less interesting than those earnest words, and the rich, rhythmical utterance he gave them.” The New York Herald wrote, “Vivekananda is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions. After hearing him we feel how foolish it is to send missionaries to this learned nation.” The American newspapers reported Swami Vivekananda as “the greatest figure in the parliament of religions” and “the most popular and influential man in the parliament”.

Swami V started a veritable invasion of Hindu Swamis, Yogis, and gurus in the coming decades. In fact, a professor of the College of the City of New York published a book titled Hinduism Invades America in 1930. Dr. Wendell Thomas wrote about Swami V, but in particular about a young man who had been born the same year that Swami V had wowed ‘em at the Parliament of Religions, 1893.

Yogi Yogananda had spent his youth seeking “enlightenment,” which he claimed to have found at age 17 at the feet of a famous guru in India:

Yogananda’s seeking after various saints mostly ended when he met his guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, in 1910, at the age of 17. He describes his first meeting with Sri Yukteswar as a rekindling of a relationship that had lasted for many lifetimes:

“We entered a oneness of silence; words seemed the rankest superfluities. Eloquence flowed in soundless chant from heart of master to disciple. With an antenna of irrefragable insight I sensed that my guru knew God, and would lead me to Him. The obscuration of this life disappeared in a fragile dawn of prenatal memories. Dramatic time! Past, present, and future are its cycling scenes. This was not the first sun to find me at these holy feet!” [Wikipedia article, Yogananda]

“Antenna of irrefragable insight” … for some reason, a certain segment of Americans in the Roaring Twenties just ate up this kind of gobbledygook. Here’s what Thomas had to say in his book about his encounter with Yogananda;

I came to Paramahansa Yogananda many years ago, not as a seeker, but as a writer with a sympathetic yet analytic and critical approach. I found in him a rare combination. While steadfast in the ancient principles of his profound faith, he had the gift of generous adaptability, so that he became Christian and American without ceasing to be Hindu and Indian. With his quick wit and great spirit, he was well fitted to promote reconciliation and truth among the religious seekers of the world. He brought peace and joy to multitudes.

Wow … becoming a Christian without ceasing to be a Hindu! That’s quite a trick. He seems to have tricked lots of folks into believing in such possibilities:

In 1920, Yogananda went to the United States aboard the ship City of Sparta, as India’s delegate to an International Congress of Religious Liberals convening in Boston. That same year he founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) to disseminate worldwide his teachings on India’s ancient practices and philosophy of Yoga and its tradition of meditation. For the next several years, he lectured and taught on the East coast and in 1924 embarked on a cross-continental speaking tour. Thousands came to his lectures. During this time he attracted a number of celebrity followers, including soprano Amelita Galli-Curci, tenor Vladimir Rosing and Clara Clemens Gabrilowitsch, the daughter of Mark Twain. The following year, he established an international center for Self-Realization Fellowship in Los Angeles, California, which became the spiritual and administrative heart of his growing work. Yogananda was the first Hindu teacher of yoga to spend a major portion of his life in America. He lived there from 1920—1952, interrupted by an extended trip abroad in 1935–1936 which was mainly to visit his guru in India though he undertook visits to other living western saints like Therese Neumann the stigmatist of Konnesreuth and places of spiritual significance enroute. [ibid]

“Celebrity followers”—that puts one in mind of another famous Hindu Holy Man from a later generation:

Yogi Maharishi Mahesh invented the process of Transendental Meditation in 1955, and by 1967 had gotten a worldwide audience, including Ringo Starr’s wife. Through her, the Beatles ended up under his influence for a while.

This fascination with gurus with Hindu Roots remains strong among some circles in the US to this day. Here’s how one author put it in a 2002 article, “God-Men” or “Con-Men”: Are some gurus, swamis and yogis “tricksters”?

The burgeoning growth industry of self-improvement within the United States continues to include exotic spiritual mentors. And India has been a fount for a litany of purported “gurus,” “swamis,” “yogis” and other would-be “god-men” that have enthralled Americans.

But in India such supposedly “spiritual” types are increasingly seen as simply tricksters or confidence men. And the police in Bombay are busting them, reports Reuters.

One Indian official who has exposed more than a few explained, “[Our] campaign is meant to be an eye-opener. We want to put a complete stop to those posing as god-men.”

But in the United States the First Amendment precludes putting a “complete stop” to any “religious” endeavor. So many of the “god-men” of India have immigrated to a more open market. After all, why work Bombay when you can come to America and make the big bucks?

Since the sixties a virtual wave of Indian gurus has washed upon the shores of North America. And seemingly gullible Americans have proven over and over again that they are willing to buy the wares of these “god-men” and a few “god-women” too.

The list of such spiritual entrepreneurs keeps growing.

There was Swami Satchidananda (now deceased), Guru Sri Chinmoy (still carrying on in Queens New York), Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (perhaps the richest guru on earth), Guru Maharaji (a boy wonder), Swami Prabhupada (deceased founder of “Krishna Consciousness”), Sai Baba, Swami Muktananda (deceased founder of Siddha), Yogi Bhajan of 3HO, Swami Rama and let’s not forget the notorious Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who was deported before he died.

A new female “guru” is breaking into the American market named “Chalanda Sai Ma.” She is apparently a former pupil of Sai Baba and others, but is now touring solo.

What is it about swamis and yogis and gurus that seems to appeal to folks who likely went to Baptist or Methodist or Roman Catholic Sunday Schools in their youth?  The author of the comments above may have pinpointed one aspect—

Of course the United States appears to have plenty of homegrown flim flam, which includes an assortment of psychics, faith healers, mediums and even snake handlers. And American authorities are often far less vigilant than their Indian counterparts, when it comes to protecting the public.

Still, despite easily accessible homegrown holy men, there seems to be something about flowing saffron robes, mantras and exotic India that excites the imagination of many within the US spiritual marketplace. Many “god-men” seem to know how to tap into that market, or that is, turn on the tap to cash in.

The bottom line may be that some folks get so jaded about “the familiar” over their lifetime, so disappointed that there seems to be nothing “magical” about their own faith background, that they are primed to be attracted to the unusual and the exotic. This notion is practically a cliché in our society … witness all the cartoons about people arduously climbing to the top of a mountain in Tibet or some other far-flung place so they can ask the robed/and/or/turbaned turbaned Holy Man there the Meaning of Life.

In fact, many such dabblers seem to not even notice when the Hindu Holy Men (and women) they end up fawning over and promoting to their friends and family are Faux Versions, who have donned the robes and learned the mantras and “put on” the aura of the exotic. When, in fact, they are really plain white-bread Americans playing a part.

Frank Jones from Brooklyn is now “god-man Adi Da,” Fred Lenz was called “Zen Master Rama,” a former New York housewife Joyce Green calls herself “Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati,” Mike Shoemaker became “Swami Chetananada” and Donald Waters became “Swami Kriyananda,” just to name a few. [ibid]

And then of course, there was Swami Carnac.

Yes, for over 100 years now, Americans from all walks of life have been promoting real or fake Hindu Swamis and Yogis to lend a sense of spirituality to things.

But most of those doing the promoting have been religious “liberals” enthusiastic about all things “ecumenical,” or bored California socialites of the 1920s wanting their own personal Yogi to or Swami to impress their friends, or more recently people fascinated by New Age-y do-it-yourself “spirituality.” One thing you haven’t seen in all that time is ministers in Christian conservative and evangelical circles inviting Swamis or Yogis into their pulpits to regale their congregations.

That’s the source of the title of this series … Strange Bedfellows. No, it’s not about Christian ministers inviting Yogis and Swamis to share their pulpits. It’s about such ministers inviting Rabbis to share their pulpits. Which in the greater historical and theological sense is seen by many as just as strange.

What is going on here? As the author above put it about Hindus …

…there seems to be something about flowing saffron robes, mantras and exotic India that excites the imagination of many within the US spiritual marketplace.

One might paraphrase this to address an increasingly common phenomenon in evangelical … and particularly charismatic… churches across the land in our time.

There seems to be something about shofars, prayer shawls, yarmulkes, and torah scrolls—and the hint of the exotic Holy Land—that excites the imagination of many within the US Christian spiritual marketplace.

The next episode of this series will take a closer look at this development.  It has a number of strange parallels with the invasion of Hinduism … and will eventually lead us back to that Black Bapticostal Bishop mentioned in the first installment of this series.

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Strange Bedfellows, Episode 1: The Black Bapticostal Bishop

For a few weeks in January/February 2012, religious news outlets were dominated by stories and video clips of a Close Encounter of the Weird Kind between a Black Bapticostal Bishop and a lily-white pseudo-Jewish quasi-Messianic self-ordained Rabbi.

And therein lies a tangled tale, which will take three or four blog entries to untangle. Today’s entry:

The Black Bapticostal Bishop: Eddie Long

Wikipedia has this to say about Bishop Eddie:

Eddie Lee Long (born May 12, 1953) is the senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, a megachurch in unincorporated DeKalb County, Georgia, United States, near Lithonia. When Long started as pastor for New Birth Church in 1987, there were 300 church members. Since his installation, membership has grown to 25,000.

Eddie Long attended North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina where he received a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in 1977. …

Long holds a doctorate in “Pastoral Ministry” from the unaccredited International College of Excellence…

Eddie is part of what is often termed the “Word Faith” … or “name it and claim it” … movement. (For a detailed overview of this movement, see my Field Guide to the Wild World of Religion profile of the movement.) He considers the famous “Velcro Bishop” T. D. Jakes as his prime mentor, and travels in the same circles as Benny Hinn and the rest of the Word Faith/Prosperity Gospel stable of televangelists. His “theology,” such as it is, is centered solidly around the Prosperity Gospel. As one article titled “Head-LONG into HERESY” put it…

Long has a Bentley ($350,000) with bodyguards. He wears clothes that display his prosperity theology. Long who once wore a Jewish star necklace around his neck instead of a cross and had a handkerchief sticking out from his suit pocket in the shape of a crown (TBN Sept. 7, 2003) is adorned with expensive tailored suits, a Rolex watch, gold necklaces, and diamond bracelets he steps up to the pulpit to show them how it works.

Some typical Eddie quotes (see the article linked for the names of the tapes that were the sources for these quotes):

We don’t want to accept that God calls us gods!…But just as soon as you realize that, ‘I am a god.’  And as revelations reveal, ‘I am a king.’  He is King of kings.  He is God of gods!”

…”Yes!  Ye are gods!”

“I don’t make poor gods!  You know why some of you haven’t got a financial breakthrough?  It’s because, first–You ain’t recognized who you are.  And you don’t recognize as a god you have territory.  So God cannot release your wealth because you still don’t know you have a territory.. But just as soon as you realize that, ‘I am a god.’  And as revelations reveal, ‘I am a king.’  He is King of kings.  He is God of gods!  But you know what?  Some of you still, you will go to work and mess this up in a testimony.   ‘I was at church and Bishop Long said — I ain’t say you were gods!  God said it!  Show them the Scripture.”

“You need to understand when folk start talking about stuff and how evil things are.  You’ll look at them and say, ‘But, I ain’t going out like that!’  Well how come?  Because, I’m god!  I’m little ‘L.’  I’m not going out like men.  I believe what God said about me!  How you going to kill god?  That’s a good question.  How you going to kill god?  How you going to kill him?  So if you look like Him then you’ll talk like Jesus.  What did Jesus say?  ‘Ain’t nobody going to take my life.  When it’s time to go I’ll lay it down.’  But ain’t nobody taking my life

My whole objective in life is to be His image, His duplicate, His witness and to show folk what He look like because, before nobody seen Him.  Somebody say, ‘I want to see God.’  Here He is, look at me!”

You’re not a king if you don’t have any spoils!  You’re not a king if you’re not ruling and conquering and having dominion!  Where you’re taking finances out of the world’s system and bringing it into the Kingdom! …Praise-A-Thon is not a telethon!  It is a reporting of the kings of what they have done!”

You have been saved too long to be broke!…You wanna know why you broke?  Cause you’re friends are broke and you assemble around that problem…The door was open.  Which means you already rich.  You decided to live poor!  You already healed!  You decided to be sick!…God ain’t broke!…And it won’t, it does not take Him a long time to fill your pockets.”

“Do you believe that this situation can change?  Then speak to it!…Talk your way out of it.  Prophesy your way out of it.  Stop looking at what you see and call what you want it to be.  You’re on fertile ground and whatever you speak got to happen!  Whatever you say got to happen!”

Well, you have to admit Eddie’s methods (in spite of his lousy grammar…)  have gotten him out of being broke, and filled his pockets. He lives in a million dollar home.

He drives in that $350,000 Bentley convertible.

And flies in his own Gulfstream jet.

In fact, Eddie’s ministry was one of the six included in a Senate investigation opened in 2009 by Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa which tried to determine whether those ministries were “improperly using their tax-exempt status as churches to shield lavish lifestyles.” The other five were “Paula White, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn. Three of the six – Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar – also sit on the Board of Regents for the Oral Roberts University.”

Up until that investigation, most public exposure for Long and New Birth Church was pretty positive. For instance in 2006:

Over 14,000 people gathered for Coretta Scott King’s eight-hour funeral at the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Georgia on February 7, 2006 where daughter Bernice King, who is an elder at the church, eulogized her mother. The megachurch, whose sanctuary seats 10,000, was better able to handle the expected massive crowds than Ebenezer Baptist Church, of which Mrs. King was a member since the early 1960s and which was the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral in 1968.

U.S. Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and their wives attended. The Ford family was absent due to the illness of President Ford (who himself died later that year). Former First Lady Barbara Bush, had a previous engagement and also did not attend. Numerous other prominent political and civil rights leaders, including then-U.S. senator Barack Obama, attended the televised service. [Wikipedia]

Eddie got real chummy with then-President Bush:

Eddie  had long been praised by many conservative religious leaders for his outspoken leadership in the efforts to stem the spread of “gay marriage” rights: “A 2007 article in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s magazine called him ‘one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement.’”

In 2004, Long led a march with Bernice King to the grave of her father, Martin Luther King, Jr. The march was a protest against same-sex marriage and in support of a national constitutional amendment to limit marriage rights to couples comprising “one man and one woman.” [Wikipedia]

But it’s been downhill for Eddie since 2009.

There was the financial scandal that devastated some of his parishioners, described in this October 2011 article:

Bishop Eddie Long is embroiled in another lawsuit; this time from his own parishioners who accuse him of using his influence to endorse a financially troubled company, which they claim was little more than a fraudulent Ponzi scheme.

The 10 current and former members of Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Georgia allege the Bishop persuaded them to invest in a scheme that wiped out at least $1 million in their retirement savings.

In October 2009, Long invited Ephren Taylor to a three-day financial seminar called the “Wealth Tour Live.” Taylor convinced members at the seminar to invest in “socially conscious investments” that would provide “guaranteed income,” according to the lawsuit filed in DeKalb County State Court.

However, it transpires Taylor was not licensed to sell investments and his company City Capital Corp was insolvent, information Long and New Birth should have known, according to the lawsuit filed in DeKalb County State Court.

“The entire Wealth Tour Live event and subsequent investments made by plaintiffs turned out to be nothing more than a fraudulent scheme designed to perpetuate an ongoing Ponzi scheme,” said the lawsuit.

One church member, Lillian Wells, 60, says she lost her entire life savings of $122,000, and her home is now facing foreclosure next month.

“Long used his power and authority to coerce plaintiffs and other church members to trust defendants Ephren Taylor” and his companies, said the lawsuit.

Earlier this year, the megachurch pastor posted a video on YouTube video asking Taylor to return the money.

“Please do what’s right,” Long said, addressing Taylor in the video. “You’re a great fellow, a great man and you do great things. Let’s settle this so these families can move on.”

Although it is unclear whether Long participated in the scheme, or if he knew of City Capital’s financial standing, but the lawsuits contents both the church and Long were compensated for soliciting the investment.

“Socially conscious investments”? Well, a February 2011 report by Fox News of Atlanta was a little clearer about just WHAT folks had been investing in:

Atlanta’s Fox 5 aired an extensive investigative report last week about the latest controversy swirling around Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, a mega-church based in Atlanta.

Earlier this month, Long posted a YouTube video asking that Ephren Taylor of Capital City Corporation reimburse Long’s New Birth Missionary parishioners for $1 million in investments that they had made.  Taylor shot back with a press release saying that parishioners had already been contacted regarding reimbursements and that Long was engaged in character assassination.

According to the Fox 5 investigation, Long allegedly told his congregation that everything Taylor said was based “on the word of God.”  Trusting churchgoers thought that their investments would be sound, based on their pastor’s endorsement.

Taylor allegedly said that when he was in high school, he created a $3.5 million dollar company that was a website that sold job postings for high school kids.  His new idea, which he sold as an investment opportunity to Long’s congregation, was sweepstakes video game machines.  While the paperwork stated that there was no guarantee about investment returns, investors from the church received certificates of guarantees that promised that they would receive revenue that was equal to or greater than the amount invested.

The company that sold the game machines was indicted for operating an illegal gambling enterprise.  Last September, Fox 5 revealed that police in Virginia raided a number of sweepstakes store fronts and charged 11 owners and companies with illegal gambling.

City Capital sent a letter to investors promising to pay back 100% of the investments in cash or stock , but according to Fox 5, the stock may be worth pennies.

Long refused to talk to reporters, but in his video, claimed that he received no “financial blessing or gift” from Ephren Taylor for promoting the Capital City investment opportunity.  Taylor countered, saying that Long had received a cut of all books and cds sold to church members.  A spokesperson for Long told the news station that this money was collected only to pay expenses.

Parishioners invested substantial sums of money, with some investments ranging from $10,000 to over $200,000, representing their lifetime savings.

That kind of scandal would have normally been enough to keep a Bapticostal Bishop’s lawyers pulling their hair out. Unfortunately for the Bishop … and his long-suffering lawyers … it was the least of his problems at the time.

But that is another story for another day. Stay tuned for the next Wild World blog entry which will introduce the other player in the Strange Bedfellows Saga, the lily-white pseudo-Jewish quasi-Messianic self-proclaimed Rabbi.


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The True Believer Revisited

Some time in the late 1960s, my husband George and I both read the popular book by Eric Hoffer, The True Believer. Hoffer had done an extensive study on the methods used by mass movements to make and keep converts. His book shared his conclusion that most of them, both secular and religious, use many of the same tactics.

George and I were both amazed at the wealth of insight and wisdom flowing from the pen of this self-taught former longshoreman. He made it clear just what in the psyche of the potential Communist Party Member, or the potential religious cult member, led them to get involved, and stay involved, with groups which most thinking folks would see right away were dangerous or outlandish at worst, and unreasonable and controlling at best. He seemed able to spot much of the foolishness out there in the marketplace of ideas, and label it for what it was. Except, of course, for the one marketplace idea near and dear to our own hearts. Although the religious group we had become involved with as young university students sure seemed to have many of the questionable characteristics that he brought out in the book, we figured that we were the exception that proved the rule.

Time went by. In 1974, I returned to Michigan State University to do some graduate work in the fields of education, social science, and psychology. In my “Social Psychology of Social Movements” class I met Hoffer’s writings once again.

They were joined by another classic in the field of Social Psychology, When Prophecy Fails. This book explored the history of groups that had predicted/prophesied “the End” to come in their own time in history, and how the members responded when the prophecy failed. (For details on the conclusions in that book, see the When Prophecy Fails section of my Field Guide website  .) I shared the book’s information with George. Once again we were both amazed how closely the facts in the book lined up with our real-world experiences with the group we belonged to. Indeed, a date had been set by the leader of our group related to the events of the End Times, and that date had come and gone with no fulfillment. And the reactions of most in the group, including us, had been exactly what the book said they would be. So did we apply the rest of the author’s evaluation and commentary to our own experiences?

Of course not. Because, you see, the groups covered in the book were all false movements and churches. We, on the other hand, were absolutely sure that we were members of the “Only True Church of God on Earth Today.” Once again, we were, in our own minds, the exception that proves the rule!

Proving the Exception

It was many years after the incidents described above before we were able fully to face our own folly … and realize we had merely avoided making some hard, painful judgments. (For more details on our personal spiritual journey, see the About the Webauthor section of the Field Guide.)

We realize now that there really are some solid signs that a religious group or teacher is attracting and keeping followers through humanly coercive methods, rather than through biblical methods blessed by God, and through the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. If a few, some, many, or all of the factors below seem to apply to a group you are involved with, or considering involvement with, you can save yourself a lot of grief by facing reality and taking steps to get free now. If you choose, as we did, to remain in irrational denial, you may find some day that you wasted much of your life in bondage to mere men rather than in true service to God.

Signs of trouble

Does the group or leader:

Demand the exclusive loyalty of followers?

Condemn any serious questioning of the integrity of the leadership, even if followers have access to strong evidence of irregularities in matters of finance, morals, or ethics?

Condemn any serious questioning of the policies or tactics of the leadership, even when such policies or tactics have been clearly shown to lead to emotional, mental, spiritual, or perhaps even physical suffering of followers?

Forbid anyone with even minor questions or concerns about the leadership from expressing them to others in the group?

Insist any questioning of the leadership is tantamount to questioning God, and is an affront to Him personally?

Twist scriptures regarding authority, particularly in the Old Testament (e.g., “the rebellion of Korah”), to make it appear that there is a direct correlation to contemporary circumstances, and that God’s wrath will be felt once again by those who reject authority within the group?

Make grandiose claims to such biblical roles as prophet or apostle, with nothing more than self-aggrandizement to establish the validity of such claims?

Insist that the average person is unable to understand the Bible through independent study, but instead should rely entirely on the interpretations and explanations of the leader or group?

Make extremely excessive demands on the time and financial resources of followers, to the point of physical or financial exhaustion?

Insist or strongly imply that there is a direct correlation between financial contributions to the group and God’s blessings and protection on the donor?

Threaten that God will withhold blessings from—or perhaps even inflict His wrath upon—those who resist the leader’s or group’s demand for sacrificial giving beyond even the “prescribed” amount (such as the tithe)?

Forbid or strongly discourage followers from reading or listening to material produced by any outside source?

Encourage or demand that followers seriously reduce, or cut off entirely, relationships with family members outside the group?

Discourage or forbid the development of relationships with friends who are not part of the group?

Make decisions to expel members through a secret process not open to the observation of the average member?

Encourage or demand that followers cut off all contact with former group members, even though such ex-members have not been found guilty of, or even publicly charged with, any flagrant violation of biblical standards of morality or ethics?

Few groups display all the characteristics above. If someone suddenly realized that the group they were involved with did have all of these characteristics, I would recommend that they run, not walk, to the nearest exit, and never look back!

But even if one recognized only two or three of these problem areas in a group, that should raise some very bright red flags. Quite frequently, new followers do not realize that many more of these conditions may exist within a group than are obvious on the surface. Only as they become more deeply involved than just getting some literature, or visiting group meetings a few times, will the “rest of the story” become clear. The time to look for danger signals is before one has invested so much time, effort, emotions, and resources into involvement that it becomes almost impossible to disengage without significant trauma.

The truth of the Bible will remain the truth, and remain accessible to you, even if you find you must withdraw from support of the person or group that first pointed out that truth to you. There are no scriptures that put you into bondage to a human group or a human leader, no matter how persuasively some group or teacher may have tried to convince you that there are.


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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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“Onward, Schneersonian Soldiers”

In 1974, a new apparition began to make its appearance in the streets of Manhattan. Even in that hubbub of crowd and clamor, this strange vehicle attracted attention.

It was a standard van of the “U-Haul” or “Ryder” variety. Its back door was rolled up, showing a cargo of one large wooden table, two wooden benches, and a dozen young men with beards and black hats. From a loudspeaker taped to its roof issued forth a medley of Chassidic songs played on high volume—that is, high enough to make itself heard above the din of a Manhattan street corner. Large posters taped to the sides of the moving van proclaimed: “MITZVAH TANK”, “Teffilin on board” and “Mitzvot On The Spot For People On The Go.”

The article History of the Mitzvah Tank on goes on to explain that the late “Rebbe,” Menachem Mendel Schneerson, had “sent his tanks into the battle for the soul of the American Jew.”

These Mitzvah Tanks, sponsored by a small branch of Judaism called Chabad Lubavitch, have been on the streets of New York and many other large American cities ever since then, as well as in Israel. After Schneerson’s death in 1991, they have been remodeled at times to do double duty as Messiah Mobiles. For pics of this incarnation, see the previous article in this blog series, Messianic Jews—Without Jesus.

For many of Schneerson’s followers, who were suspicious before his death that he might be the promised Messiah (Moschiach in Hebrew) to come, became absolutely convinced after his death that he was … no, IS … indeed the Messiah. Some believe he didn’t really die, but was just “hidden from view” until it is time for him to be revealed in his King Messiah role. Others believe he did die, but will soon be resurrected to take up his crown. And some even believe that he is, in some sense, so close to God now that he has become a version of God himself, being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.

Having been in his “spiritual army” for years promoting his Mitzvah Tanks and related ideas, they have now added being the emissaries of King Messiah.

But let’s go back to the original Tank maneuvers first, as described on

If a large part of American Jewry had ceased to come to shul [synagogue] each morning to don tefilIin [see picture at left] and pray, the Rebbe was going to bring the tefillin to them. He was going to send one of his students to stop the American Jew on a city sidewalk. “Excuse me, sir,” the lad would say. “Are you Jewish?” If the answer is affirmative, the young man would continue: “Would you like to put on tefillin today? It’s a mitzvah.” The American Jew will be invited to step up onto the truck, roll up his left sleeve, bind the tefillin to his arm and head and recite a short prayer.

If the American Jew is a she, she would be offered a free kit containing a small tin candlestick, a candle, and a brochure with all the information necessary to light Shabbat Candles that Friday evening—the proper time (18 minutes before sunset), the blessings in Hebrew and English, and a short message on the importance of ushering Shabbat into her home. He or she would also be offered literature on the Rebbe’s other “mitzvah campaigns” or assistance in anything from having a mezuzah checked to finding Jewish school for their child.

Eventually, the Ryder vans were replaced with mobile homes equipped with shelves for books and comfortable seating for a quick discussion or even an impromptu class. But the concept remained the same: Go out there and get a Jew to do a mitzvah. “Mitzvah” means “commandment.” A mitzvah is one of the 613 divine instructions to the Jew contained in the Torah. The word also means “connection”: a deed that connects the human being who performs it with G-d, who commanded it.

Before the Rebbe’s “mitzvah campaign”, the mitzvah was a private deed, performed by the “religious” Jew at home or in the synagogue. So it was only natural that the Rebbe’s approach raised many an eyebrow: “Tefillin on a hippie?” “What’s the point of doing one mitzvah on the way to lunch in a non-kosher restaurant?” Mitzvot were seen as the details that made up a religious Jew’s lifestyle—pointless when not part of the whole package.

The Rebbe saw things differently. As a connection between man and G-d, as a bridge between Creator and creation, a mitzvah is a deed of cosmic significance, a deed of infinite value unto itself. Citing Maimonides, the Rebbe repeated time and again: a single person performing a single mitzvah, could be the deed that tips the scales and brings redemption to the entire world and all of creation.

And of course, redemption of the entire world is another phrase for “the coming of the Messiah” to set up his kingdom.

(Note the comment on this poster: “Long live the Rebbe, King Moshiach forever.”)

 To understand a bit more about how Chabad, a small branch of Judaism, ended up making the amazing claim that their late leader is actually the Living Messiah of the whole world, we need to explore their history a little. First you need to know about Hasidism. This word comes from a Jewish word that means, essentially, “piety,” or “loving kindness.” The Jewish Virtual Library defines this Jewish movement this way:

 The Hasidic movement started in the 1700’s (CE) in Eastern Europe in response to a void felt by many average observant Jews of the day. The founder of Hasidism, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (referred to as the “Besht,” an acronym of his name) was a great scholar and mystic, devoted to both the revealed, outer aspect, and hidden, inner aspect of Torah. He and his followers, without veering from a commitment to Torah, created a way of Jewish life that emphasized the ability of all Jews to grow closer to G­d via everything that we do, say, and think. In contrast to the somewhat intellectual style of the mainstream Jewish leaders of his day and their emphasis on the primacy of Torah study, the Besht emphasized a constant focus on attachment to G­d and Torah no matter what one is involved with.

…Today, Hasidim are differentiated from other Orthodox Jews by their devotion to a dynastic leader (referred to as a “Rebbe”), their wearing of distinctive clothing and a greater than average study of the inner aspects of Torah.

…There are perhaps a dozen major Hasidic movements today, the largest of which (with perhaps 100,000 followers) is the Lubavitch group headquartered in Brooklyn, NY.

Out of this movement in the 1700s came several branches. One of them was the Chabad-Lubavitcher Hasidic Jews:

 What is Chabad? Chabad-Lubavitch is a large movement of Hasidic Jews that originated in the Belarus town of Lubavitch in the late 18th century. “Chabad” is a Hebrew acronym that means wisdom, understanding and knowledge. Often called just Chabad or Lubavitch, the movement is based in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn and is known for its aggressive outreach, a campaign waged by young couples dispatched around the world as emissaries or shlichim. There are more than 4,000 emissary families worldwide, working in places as unlikely as the Congo. The organization estimates that nearly 1 million children attend Chabad schools, camps and holiday programs.

The first Chabad-Lubavitch rebbe was Shneur Zalman. The movement was centered in Lubavitch from its beginnings until the early 20th century. The persecution of Jews leading up to World War 2 led to the sixth rebbe, Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, escaping to America and setting up a new world headquarters for the group in Brooklyn.

Schneersohn had no sons from which to pick a successor to his dynasty. At his death in January 1950, it was obvious that one of his two sons-in-law would inherit his role as the Lubavitcher Rebbe. In January 1951, his son-in-law Menachem Mendel Schneerson accepted pressure from many of the members of the movement to assume the leadership of the Chabad-Lubavitch group. Here are Schneersohn and Schneerson in the 1940s.

For the next forty years, until a stroke slowed him down in 1992, followed by his death in 1994, Schneerson’s leadership and many projects changed the face of Lubavitch from an obscure sect of Judaism to one of the most influential and widely-known Jewish groups in the world.  And … perhaps the most controversial—especially since the move by many within its ranks to widely and publicly promote the Messianic claims for Schneerson after his death.  Its influence far outreaches the number of its dedicated adherents.  One estimate of its financial clout is that it is a “billion dollar” movement.

A 2010 article titled “American Messiah” put it this way:

 Lubavitchers make up about one quarter of 1 percent of the world Jewish population. Yet it would be hard to find an engaged Jew, of any denomination or none, who does not have an opinion about Chabad, usually a strong one. Many admire Chabad for its institution-building, the devotion and selflessness of its emissaries, and its bold representation of Judaism in the public square—whenever a huge menorah is illuminated somewhere, from Washington to Moscow, it is usually a Lubavitcher who built it. That is why so many Jews who are not Orthodox, and sometimes not even particularly observant, praise Chabad and help to fund its activities.

Or as the Wiki article on Chabad noted in a more earthy and poignant way about its wide influence:

One of the great figures of Israeli Orthodoxy, Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman is reputed to have said:

 “I have found two things in every city I have visited, Coca-Cola and Lubavitcher Hasidim.”

But the claims by many Lubavitcher’s that Messiah has come doesn’t mean that his coming has brought “peace on earth” just yet … even within the Chabad movement. Not only do many Jews from other branches of Judaism vehemently reject the messianic claims for Schneerson, but the claims have split the “Chabadniks” themselves into two warring camps. An article titled “The Lubavicther Rebbe as god” noted:

… The voice of moderates who believe the Rebbe is in fact dead (though most of this group still adhere to his belief of his ultimate resurrection and coronation as messiah) is increasingly cowed, with violent brawls breaking out and spilling on the streets on a regular basis leading to scores of hospitalizations and arrests.

One Israeli media article described an incident in 2007 when the “messianic” faction and the “anti-messianic” faction of the organization both decided to hold conferences at the same time at the headquarters in Brooklyn:

When the messianists convened on one side and their opponents on the other, it was only a matter of time. It started with the messianists singing a song about the Rebbe being the Messiah, continued with fisticuffs on both sides and broken benches, and ended with the local police called in and a number of people arrested.

This, along with the Mitzvah Tanks and Schneerson’s military metaphors for ministry, leads me consider a twist on an old Christian hymn…

“Onward Schneersonian soldiers, marching as to war.”

But actually I can’t imagine that the Rebbe himself would ever have condoned the fisticuffs! What’s wrong with this picture? (Not that it is a whole lot different from similar brouhahas that have broken out in “Christian” settings throughout history right up to the present between opposing factions over doctrinal or procedural matters! I’m pretty sure that Jesus wouldn’t condone most of what goes on “in His name” at rancorous church meetings all the time either!)

What is it about the Schneerson messianic claims that has led to this unusual state of affairs? Stay tuned for details in the next Wild World of Religion blog entry.

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Messianic Jews—WITHOUT Jesus

When many people hear the term “Messianic Jew,” they immediately think of the evangelistic group “Jews for Jesus.” JFJ was founded by Moishe Rosen, a man who was Jewish by birth but who came to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah –the one “anointed” to be the savior of the world—predicted by the Jewish scriptures. The JFJ ministry has two primary goals—to attempt to convince Jews that Jesus is their Messiah, and to raise the consciousness of non-Jews that Jesus was himself a Jew, and that the roots of the Christian faith sprang up not from paganism, but from the Judaism of the first century.

There are, all over the world, groups of Jewish people who do believe in Jesus as the Messiah, and who choose to describe themselves as Messianic Jews. But what many non-Jews do not realize is that there is a whole other world of Messianic Jews who have no interest in Jesus of Nazareth—because they have their own Messiah already. And they are just as eager to tell other Jews—and the world—about him as non-Jewish Christians and the Jews for Jesus are to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

They usually refer to this Messiah by the Hebrew term “Moshiach” or “Mashiach.” And just as Christians refer to Jesus as the King of Kings, these Messianic Jews refer to their Moshiach as King Moshiach. Here is the “King Moshiach” banner that they use in their efforts.

If you are expecting this Moshiach to be a be-robed and be-sandaled character from ancient times, prepare to be surprised. The Moshiach proclaimed by these Jews was named Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died at age 92 in 1994.

He is believed by many members of one very large branch of the Jewish religious world to be the Messiah prophesied in the writings of what Christians refer to as the Old Testament. Some of them believe that he did die in 1994, but will soon be resurrected and actively take up his role of Messiah, rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem and ushering in the Messianic Age on Earth. Others believe that he didn’t really die, but is now “hidden” and will be “revealed” in the near future. The most controversial claim made by some of his supporters is that he is now equal to God Himself, and is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient.

 The rallying cry of these Messianic Jews is “Long Live our Master, our Teacher, and our Rabbi, King Messiah, for ever and ever.”  It is printed, in English or in Hebrew, on posters, banners, “prayer cards,” and even around the rim of the little kippot—prayer caps—that Orthodox Jewish men wear all the time.

It’s also printed on the sides of vehicles, which are used in caravans that drive through the streets for “evangelizing” efforts.

Billboards have been established around the country in cities where Jews live, proclaiming “The Messiah is Here!” Jewish music concerts are being promoted with posters where in Hebrew it proclaims “King Messiah” is alive. Utilizing a fleet of 10 Ford vans topped with loud speakers, flanked with yellow flags and a large image of Schneerson on the side, they drive around tourist areas in Miami, Houston, Chicago, New York, Seattle, Denver and New York City passing out religious tracts reporting “messiah is here.” Last April, Schneersonists drove a whopping 59 RV’s in procession through New York City. The words “messiah is here” were written on the RVs in various languages such as English, French, Arabic, Russian and others. And this is not only a U.S. phenomenon, Schneersonists are across the globe spreading Schneersonism with anyone who will listen…

It’s hard not to notice the similarity between these vehicles and the ones used recently by the efforts of supporters of Harold Camping to spread his message that the Messiah was coming on May 21 in 2011 to “rapture the church”!

See the next Wild World of Religion blog entry for an overview of this unusual Messianic Jewish Movement that has formed around the claims about Schneerson.

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Welcome to the companion blog to the Field Guide to the Wild World of Religion website.

News, documentation, and commentary on the the past, present, and future of the Wild World will be regularly featured here.

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